Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) – My sister recommended this one to me after she watched it on Netflix and found it fascinating. I didn’t know much about Aileen Wuornos before watching it. I’ve seen bits and pieces of “true crime” TV specials about her, but have never read extensively about her case or seen the popular Hollywood version of her story. Seeing Aileen’s backstory really gives a new perspective of her and of the crimes she committed. This documentary dares to humanize a killer — a type of person that the media usually goes to such lengths to dehumanize. A very thought-provoking watch. The score: 4/5

Cleanflicks (2009) – Cool documentary about a company called Cleanflicks and its imitators, which dedicated themselves to offering up “righteous” versions of Hollywood releases before the studios forced them to shut down. I had no clue companies like these existed, though I can’t say I’m surprised. I spent a good chunk of my childhood in small, conservative towns where my mom was once side-eyed for buying me an unedited B2K CD, so I can definitely see how there’d be a market for “clean” versions of films, haha. As for this documentary, it loses its storytelling steam about halfway through, catching the viewer’s interest again with a “double life” twist in the final quarter. It’s a pretty good watch, anyway, especially if you’re interested in the issues of censorship and piracy. The score: 3/5

The Grace Lee Project (2005) –  I love the idea behind this documentary, of tracking down a bunch of people who share your name. (I have a somewhat unique last name so my search would be very small if I tried to replicate it.) This is not only a story of the many Grace Lees of the world, but a story of the filmmaker’s journey of self-discovery. It’s a pretty good watch. It does lose its focus a bit, delving into questions of religion, nationality, parental pressure on teens… and obsessions with Grace Kelly. It doesn’t have time to fully explore all of the issues facing the Grace Lees of the world, since it runs at just over an hour. If it was a bit longer it may have been more successful, but it’s an interesting watch nonetheless.  The score: 3/5

Gravity (2013) – This film is ambitious, beautiful, full of suspense and technically superb. Seeing it in IMAX 3-D on its second day of release was a fantastic experience. The theater was packed for a 3:30 matinee, and having arrived a bit late I ended up sitting in the second row… so I felt even more immersed in the film than my fellow IMAX viewers! I left the theater completely in awe. I’m not sure how well the film will stand up when viewed at home since the enormous screen and 3-D effects did enhance the experience so wonderfully, but regardless it is a masterful addition to the filmography of Alfonso Cuarón. The score: 4.5/5

The Heartbreak Kid (2007) – A not-awful but not-good comedy, The Heartbreak Kid has more than its fair share of ridiculousness. It completely lacks likable or authentic characters, but there are a couple moments of mild entertainment. It’s a pretty typical Ben Stiller comedy. I just kept it on for background noise while studying for one of my midterms. The score: 1.5/5

Last Kind Words (2012) – I chose this on Netflix one day only because I used to live in Kentucky and know what a great backdrop the state makes for spooky stories. (We had more than a few ghostly legends in the town where I lived, including the ghost of a girl who supposedly haunted the high school’s football field!) Unfortunately, the film didn’t meet my expectations in any way. There is some decent atmospheric building at times, but this is terribly mis-marketed as a “paranormal horror” when really it’s a paranormal romance/mystery/drama. The acting is terrible, the dialogue is terrible and the cast includes such big names as Alexia Fast from Lifetime Movie Network’s Triple Dog. It’s almost comically bad, but it’s also so incredibly slow-moving that it doesn’t achieve Classic of the Corn status. I’m not sure why so many Netflix reviewers have given this high ratings. The score: 1/5

Ponette (1996) – This is another film I got on DVD from my mom, who deemed it too strange for her own personal collection after finding it in a bargain bin. It’s a French drama about a young girl, Ponette, whose mother passes away. After simply waiting doesn’t work, Ponette tries in every way she can think of to bring her mother back. Susan Stark wrote in The Detroit News upon the film’s release that “Victoire Thivisol gives the most emotionally demanding and truest performance captured on film. EVER, PERIOD!” While I’m not sure I agree that the film deserves quite that level of definitive praise, I did find it much more emotionally impactful than expected. Thivisol is actually the youngest performer to ever win the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival, taking home the big prize at age 4 (!) for this performance. The performances are definitely realistic, which lends the film a melancholy but honest air. The score: 4/5