Thursday, February 27, 2014

Music Review Roundup – January and February 2014

Kid Cudi – Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon
Review: Satellite Flight was originally intended to be an EP, building anticipation for Kid Cudi’s return to his successful Man on the Moon album series. It probably would have worked better if it had stayed an EP. As it is, the album basically just sounds like a typical Kid Cudi release, which was interesting and fresh when Cudi first came on the scene (in 2008), but now it just feels boring and stale. We have already heard these types of tracks from him before, and they were better too. Cudi is still an extremely talented artists and there are some fantastic moments (especially from his production soundscapes, which he shares with Dot Da Genius on three tracks), but all in all it is pretty disappointing. It might be time for Cudi to start working with new collaborating producers again to help grow his sound. 2/5 Available for download here

ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron
Review: The black hippy MC, ScHoolboy Q, has dropped an early contender for hip hop album of the year. Lyrically, Q is very conflicted about his place in the world. He is a budding rap superstar, but still feels connected to the streets – which can be very much heard in the sound of the album – and he still wants to engage in the party lifestyle, but he is a father now. It is definitely worth checking out for hip hop fans. 4/5 Available for download here

Broken Bells – After the Disco
Review: James Mercer and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) are back with another collaboration (or as some might say, a new The Shins’ album but with Danger Mouse producing and co-writing). After the Disco is a very catchy pop rock album that almost feels too tight and clean (maybe a byproduct of Mercer and Burton being great musicians). There is not much raw energy, leaving it feeling a bit stagnant, but at the same time the songs are all pretty great and infectious. Fans of The Shins will definitely find something to like here with After the Disco. 3/5 Available for download here

Dum Dum Girls – Too True
Review: Too True is the third album from this LA band. While lead singer Dee Dee’s emotive singing is still utterly compelling, the songs on Too True suffer from rather bland production. They seem to drift into the background, not demanding for the listener’s full attention. There is nothing wrong with that style of passive music, but it feels like a letdown given the groups usual striking raw quality that begs for attention. 3/5 Available for download here

St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Review: Annie Clark is again in fantastic form on her fourth solo album, working with for the third time with producer John Congleton. St. Vincent (the album) feels almost like a concept album as it focuses on themes of what it means to be a person in the digital age, an age in which we create the role of ourselves (or who we hope we will be) and then promote that role to the world digitally. Musically, this set of songs is Clark’s most ambitious. They are funky and accessible, yet still have a definite fringe aesthetic. It is the best album so far this year. 4/5 Available for download here

Warpaint – Warpaint
Review: Warpaint also hails from Los Angeles. There self-titled second album is a haunting, brooding experience of beautifully harmonized vocals that feels all consuming, and maybe even devastating if you let yourself be completely taken away. It oozes with atmosphere that may not immediately grab you; but once it does, it pulls you in and devours you – sirens calling you into the rocks. 4/5 Available for download here

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 13: 45-41

Rank: 45
Title: Barry Lyndon
Release Year: 1975
Genre: Period Drama
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Plot Summary: Barry Lyndon is an Irish rogue, who leads a grand life after winning the heart of a rich widow, assuming the position of her dead husband in 18th Century aristocracy.
What Makes It Special: Barry Lyndon is beautifully staged and shot by Stanley Kubrick and his cinematographer John Alcott. The use of candle light (and other sources of natural light) is phenomenal, creating such an elegant stylistic aesthetic look (like a series of Baroque paintings) while also giving this almost tall tale a feel of realism. It is a film known for its beauty, but sometimes belittled as being cold and slow. It does require dedication in its viewer, but the depth of its narrative and genuine charm of its aesthetic are well worth its viewing.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 44
Title: L’Atalante
Release Year: 1934
Genre: Romance/Drama
Director: Jean Vigo
Plot Summary: Juliette marries a river barge captain Jean and joins him on his ship; however, life on the barge is not all it has cracked up to be. The couple stops in Paris where Juliette, overcome with boredom, leaves to enjoy the city. Jean is enraged and leaves the city without her. Apart, the two realize how much they love each other, but is it too late?
What Makes It Special: Jean Vigo’s only theatrically released film (he died shortly after its completion), L’Atalante, is a tale about relationships that seems to find a depth of intimacy not often found in cinema. It speaks to us viewers on an incredibly relatable level, as Jean and Juliette’s relationship resembles the same experiences of our relationships and their feelings, hopes, dreams, doubts, and fears are ours as well. The film has poetic realism to it. L’Atalante is a simple film, a simple narrative, but Vigo finds the beauty in the simplicity of basic love, passion, frustration, and everything else that comes in a meaningful relationship between two people.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray (part of a collection) and Video On-Demand

Rank: 43
Release Year: 1943
Genre: War/Romance Drama
Plot Summary: Clive Candy has just returned to England from the Boer War when he is alerted to a former associate from his time in Africa spreading what he perceives as lies about the English, galvanizing the German people against the English. Even though he is told to stand down, Candy’s pride gets the best of him and he heads off to Germany to put this man in his place. Of course, the bullheaded Candy causes an incident which can only be remedied by engaging in a duel with a German officer (Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff). Both men are injured in the struggle and are sent to the same hospital to recover. At the hospital, they become close friends and fall in love with the same woman. The film tracks their friendship over the course of their lives, as well as Candy always searching for the woman of his dreams.
What Makes It Special: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a cinematic marvel – one that is usually forgotten when canonized lists of the best films are put together. It is an immense work of emotional depth, aesthetic beauty, and philosophical understanding. It is a war film that is about good versus evil –the decay of humanity in the hands of fanatics in power, who must be stopped and defeated at any cost. The film was released in 1943 by the Archers as England was in the grip of war with Nazi Germany (having suffered years of bombing raids), the severity of the evils perpetrated by the Nazi party only just beginning to become fully clear. The film is also about the world changing – the old world dying and the new world born in its place. Clive Candy is a relic of a age that has now passed, and yet he is holding onto the past as hard as he can.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 42
Title: The Leopard
Release Year: 1963
Genre: Period/War Drama
Director: Luchino Visconti
Plot Summary: The 1860s was a time of revolutionary social upheaval in Sicily. The Prince of Salina, a well-respected noble aristocrat of unquestionable integrity, strives to overcome the changing times, keeping his family and class intact.
What Makes It Special: The Leopard is yet another beautifully shot and designed period drama. It is also another film about a man struggling as the world he knows changes around him, leaving him and everything he hold dear behind. The production design is marvelous, with stunning costumes and sets. But on top of its beauty, the film also has an extraordinary dramatic depth and insight. The Prince of Salina fights for his place in the world but slowly must accept his own mortality. It is quite profound. The Leopard is also a film quoted by Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Cimino, and Martin Scorsese as being vital and influential to their own filmmaking.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 41
Release Year: 1946
Genre: War/Romance Drama
Plot Summary: Peter Carter is a pilot returning from a bombing mission over Germany. The rest of his crew is either dead or has bailed out. His plane is on fire and is going down, but he does not have a parachute. In his last moments, he contacts an RAF communication tower and speaks to a young American woman named June. They have a connection. Peter bails out, only to awaken the next morning still alive. He has a rendezvous with June and the two fall in love; however, he was meant to die and an angel comes to Earth to retrieve him. Peter appeals his death and must now return to Heaven and plead his case to remain on Earth.
What Makes It Special: A Matter of Life and Death is a fantastically engrossing drama. The opening scene is among the greatest scenes in cinema history. The use of both black & white and Technicolor photography creates a splendid dichotomy between Heaven and Earth. Like all of the Archers’ films of the 1940s, it is aesthetically magnificent as well as dramatically, philosophically, and emotionally compelling. Sadly, it is a film that mostly forgotten and unseen.
Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 12: 50-46

Rank: 50
Release Year: 1969
Genre: Western
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Plot Summary: As the Wild West disappears around them, a gang of aging outlaws looks to make one last big score.
What Makes It Special: Director Sam Peckinpah made a statement about violence in the world (possibly and probably directed at the conflict in Vietnam) with The Wild Bunch, especially in its final scene (a brutal shootout). With the death of the Production Code in 1967, films were suddenly much more graphic (films like Bonnie and Clyde and Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs), as a new generation of filmmakers began to completely transform cinema artistically and content wise. The Wild Bunch is also a testament to the death of the classic Western. The world was just no longer a place for clear cut heroes and villains.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 49
Title: M
Release Year: 1931
Genre: Mystery
Director: Fritz Lang
Plot Summary: There is a child-murderer on the loose in Berlin, and the police cannot seem to catch him. As fear and anxiety grip the city, criminals too join the manhunt (while the man they are looking for, Hans Beckert, feels the rope ever tighter around his neck).
What Makes It Special: M is a beautifully shot and wonderfully designed film, creating a dark and suspenseful moody atmosphere. Peter Lorre gives the performance of his career as Hans Beckert, a child-murdering psychopath. Director Fritz Lang masterfully captures the emotional depth of his characters, especially Beckert – in a way creating a protagonist out of a villain. Lang also sets up an absolutely gripping and thrilling third act. Arriving in cinemas in 1931, M became the benchmark by which all thrillers and mystery films would be judged – even today.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 48
Release Year: 1960
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Billy Wilder
Plot Summary: C.C. Baxter wants to get ahead at his company. He comes up with an idea of how to get in good with the executives. He will let them use his apartment for trysts. It is all going along splendidly until Baxter falls for one of the girls an executive brings to his apartment.
What Makes It Special: With The Apartment, auteur Billy Wilder made one of the quintessential romantic comedies, and possibly the best of the genre, a romantic comedy that would influence the genre for decades to come (something that continues today). The film works so well because its characters are developed very well and most importantly it is very funny. The romantic comedy developed out of the screwball comedy (taking out most of the physical comedy, but not all of it, and digging deeper into the characters their relationships).Wilder, one of Hollywood’s greatest writers, perfected the storytelling style for the genre with this film.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 47
Release Year: 1937
Genre: War Drama
Director: Jean Renoir
Plot Summary: During WWI, two imprisoned French soldiers try to escape from their German POW camp several times, until they are sent to an impenetrable fortress, thought to be impossible to escape from.
What Makes It Special: La Grande Illusion is an antiwar masterpiece from French auteur Jean Renoir. Set during The Great War, a war that was supposed to end all wars, and yet Renoir made this film just as the world was on the brink of WWII with Europe and Asia in chaos. But, La Grande Illusion goes deeper. Something that is always very powerful about combat is that from afar opposing forces appear as enemies, but close up, in different circumstances, these men and women in conflict find that really they are not so much different – that they all want, dream, and fear the same things, which then begs the question of why are they fighting each other, killing each other. Renoir touches on this beautifully in his film.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 46
Release Year: 1958
Genre: Mystery
Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Orson Welles
Plot Summary: After an American building contractor is killed (via car bomb) in a small US-Mexican border town, Mexican Narcotics officer Ramon “Mike” Vargas has to interrupt his honeymoon to investigate, as the bomb was planted on the Mexican side of the border. American Police Captain Hank Quinlan tries to take charge of the investigation and already has a suspect (a Mexican); however, Vargas catches Quinlan planting evidence on his suspect. Vargas now realizes that this crime goes much deeper and that he is alone in town run by corruption. He begins to go after Quinlan, but this leaves his new American wife Susie vulnerable as a target.
What Makes It Special: The long-take tracking shot that opens A Touch of Evil is alone enough to make this a cinema classic, as is Orson Welles’s villainous Captain Quinlan. Welles’s neo-noir mystery thriller is utterly gripping. The opening shot grabs the viewer and the cat-and-mouse game that follows keeps them hooked throughout. Welles displays a complex storytelling that is often not found in Hollywood films. The black & white cinematography is also top notch. The original theatrical release was edited from Welles’s true vision; however, his cut was released on DVD in 1998.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray

Monday, February 24, 2014

Movie of the Week – 8 ½

This week’s movie: 8 ½ (1963).

A director, constantly harassed and annoyed by all around him, struggles to make his new film, retreating into his memories and fantasies.

8 ½ is Italian auteur Federico Fellini’s masterpiece (and my favorite of his great films – which include: La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, and Amarcord). Fellini worked with excellent composer Nino Rota (who also scored The Godfather and The Leopard), cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo, and frequent collaborator production designer Piero Gherardi (who won an Oscar for costume design).

Marcello Mastroianni (who often worked with Fellini) stars in the film, with an ensemble of beautiful woman, including: Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo, and Barbara Steele.

The thing that really makes 8 ½ a standout film for me is its artistry. It is an aesthetically ambitious film as Guido Anselmi navigates between reality and his imagination, and a film that is often visually striking. I also feel draw to it in a way because it is a film about filmmaking, specifically directing (which nostalgically reminds me of my frantic days as a film student running around trying to make our little films). I am not especially well versed in Italian cinema, but 8 ½ is probably my favorite (with Bicycle Thieves, Nights of Cabiria, The Leopard, A Fistful of Dollars, The Battle of Algiers, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Life Is Beautiful up there at the top too). 8 ½ is a must-see for fans of Italian cinema, Federico Fellini, or wonderful cinema in general.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

TV Series of the Month – Robin Hood

This month’s TV series: Robin Hood (2006-2009).

The classic story of Robin Hood – a man who fought in the crusades for five years only to return to his home in England to find it is under the merciless rule of the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham. To make things right, Robin turns outlaw and with a band of merry men he robs the rich to feed the poor.

The series is created by Dominic Minghella and Foz Allan. Minghella is also known for his series Doc Martin, while Allan worked on Casualty for a long period of time.

The series has a great cast of fresh faces – a few of which have gone on to make bigger things. Jonas Armstrong stars as Robin Hood. Gordon Kennedy, Sam Troughton, Joe Armstrong, Richard Armitage (who you might recognize from The Hobbit), Keith Allen, Lucy Griffiths (who you might recognize from True Blood), Harry Lloyd, Anjali Jay, Michael Elwyn, David Harewood (who you might recognize from Homeland), Joanne Froggatt (who you might recognize from Downton Abbey), Lara Pulver (who you might recognize from Sherlock), and Toby Stephens (who is in the new series Black Sails) make up the strong supporting group.

This is one of the best incarnations of the Robin Hood character to date (my personal favorite is Disney’s Robin Hood – but mostly for nostalgic reasons, well and also because it is great). What works so well is that the TV series format allows for much more character depth for not only Robin but the supporting players as well. The show also balances a great light/heavy tone allowing it to maximize its comedic and dramatic moments. In many ways, it reminds me of a Joss Whedon show in that way – plus it does not pull its punches. It also offers something for female fans as well, as there are strong female characters that join the fight.  For fans of the Robin Hood story, this is a must-see.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD and Video On-Demand

Monday, February 17, 2014

Movie of the Week – Singin’ in the Rain

This week’s movie: Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

The musical is about a film production company and cast that have a difficult time transitioning to sound (taking place in the early 1930s).

Singin’ in the Rain is co-directed by Stanley Donen (the Hollywood director, responsible for such films as: On the Town, Funny Face, Charade, and Two for the Road) and Gene Kelly (responsible for the choreography). The directing team worked with composer Lennie Hayton, songwriters Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, cinematographer Harold Rosson, and art directors Randall Duell and Cedric Gibbons.

The film stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, with support from Jean Hagen and Millard Mitchell.

Singin’ in the Rain is probably the best musical in cinema history and one of the best films period of all-time. It marks the career highlight for all three of its stars, boasting brilliant song and dance numbers (O’Connor’s Make Them Laugh is incredible). On top of this being a phenomenal musical, it is also a fantastic look at the transition from silent to sound films, showcasing the extravagant and comedic lengths that production companies had to go through to make the change. It completely destroyed cinema, setting the visual medium back decades (some even believe that we still have not returned to the visual artistry on show during silent cinema’s prime). It also proved to be a massive shake up for actors as well. The film is a must-see for fans of musicals, film history, and those wanting to see all the greatest films of all-time (plus, it is among my personal favorites).

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Most Anticipated Films of 2014 – Part 2: Prestige and Fun Films

Prestige Films:

Title: Gone Girl
Release: October 3
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Plot: Amy Dunne mysteriously disappears on her wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick desperately looks for her, but many suspect that he may have killed her and disposed of the body, as their marriage had noticeably disintegrated in recent months leading up to Amy’s disappearance.
Director: David Fincher
Editor’s Thoughts: Who is not eagerly anticipating a new mystery-thriller from David Fincher, one of America’s great current auteurs. His past mystery-thrillers include Se7en, The Game, Fight Club (I suppose that counts, right), Zodiac, and his most recent film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Gone Girl very well could end up being one of the ten best films of 2014. Plus, it will be nice to see Rosamund Pike finally in a great Hollywood part.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Title: Foxcatcher
Release: Fall/Winter
Genre: Drama
Plot: Mark Schultz and his brother Dave are both phenomenal wrestlers: Mark competing in the Olympics and Dave a former Olympic Champion. But, this is the story of how paranoid schizophrenic John DuPont completely destroys their lives by killing Dave.
Director: Bennett Miller
Editor’s Thoughts: Foxcatcher seems like it should be a fantastic character-driven drama, built on strong leading performances. And, Bennett Miller is among Hollywood greatest new talents. This is his third feature, following up Capote and Moneyball. The question is, however, why was this film delayed from its original 2013 release? Sony Pictures stated that the delay is to give Miller more time to finish the film, but some wonder if it is just not up to the high standards of the top films of 2013 (a reason many former ‘awards’ films were pushed to 2014). I think that in all likeliness this will be a brilliant drama and was not pushed for quality reasons (after all, it did make this list).
Trailer: Here (if available)

Release: Fall/Winter
Genre: Drama
Plot: 1970s Los Angeles, Larry “Doc” Sportello, a drug-dependent detective, investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
Editor’s Thoughts: Paul Thomas Anderson has been on a role lately – his last two films being There Will Be Blood and The Master, both multiple Oscar nominees and among the ten best films in their respective years (and really, he has only made good films so far). Inherent Vice sees Anderson reteaming with Joaquin Phoenix (who has also been among Hollywood’s best leading men lately performance wise), leaving me excited to see another wonderful collaboration between the two artistes.  Another great collaboration on the film sees Jonny Greenwood again returning to provide the score. His work on There Will Be Blood and The Master is utterly dynamic; thusly, I am very interested to see what he does with this noirish narrative.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Title: Trash
Release: Fall/Winter
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Plot: Set in an unnamed Central/South American Third World country, three kids make a shocking discovery in a garbage dump. Finding something they should not have, they soon find themselves on the run from the cops and corrupt authorities.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Editor’s Thoughts: Trash sounds a little like Slumdog Millionaire – at least the parts involving the young kids running around the streets trying to survive in a world gone mad. Stephen Daldry is a very good director (three of his four films have been nominated for Best Picture, and three of the four are quite good – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was nominated for Best Picture but is not very good – my favorite of Daldry’s work is The Hours) and he is working with great screenwriter Richard Curtis. I also think the cast in support of the three young unknown actors playing the boys is excellent (Rooney Mara has really established herself as one of the very best young actresses and some will know Brazilian actor Wagner Moura from Elite Squad). This is probably under the radar on most ‘anticipated films’ lists for 2014, but I think it has a lot of potential to be in the mix for Best Picture.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Title: One of Terrence Malick’s Many in production films
Release: Unknown
Genre: Drama
Plot: Terrence Malick has three films that could potentially see release in 2014. The first is Knight of Cups. It is about a man dealing being a celebrity, the temptations and excesses. The second is Untitled and is about two love triangles that intersect against the backdrop of Austin’s music scene. Last is Voyage of Time. It is an examination of the birth and death of the known universe (picking up where The Tree of Life left off?).
Director: Terrence Malick
Editor’s Thoughts: Anytime we are treated to a new Terrence Malick film it is a great day for cinema. In 2013, Malick released To the Wonder, what is probably his weakest film, but that said it still plays as an aesthetically beautiful piece that deeply ponders love. I do not know for sure that any of these three films will get released in 2014, but I really hope one does. The sheer star power and acting talent involved is staggering. Plus, I really like Malick’s approach to filmmaking, as his films play much more like visual poems than cookie-cutter narratives (that have been done to death even when appearing new).
Trailer: Here (if available)

Fun Films:

Release: March 7
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Plot: Told through a series of flashbacks, the film is about the adventures of Gustave H, the legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the world wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
Director: Wes Anderson
Editor’s Thoughts: The Great Budapest Hotel looks like Wes Anderson’s most aesthetically magnificent film yet. It is no secret for those who read this blog a lot that Anderson is among my favorite filmmakers, and thus this is maybe the film I am most looking forward to in 2014 (well this and Interstellar). While Anderson’s fans know that his films have always been fantastic, the general public seemed to forget, only catching back on with Moonrise Kingdom (his most successful film to date at the box office). That said, however, The Grand Budapest Hotel looks very steeped in the traditions of film history and very much influenced by the films of the 1930s (European filmmakers like Ernst Lubitsch) with each time period being reflected by its appropriate aspect ratio (with some scenes shot in 1.37:1 which looks very odd now to modern filmgoers who are accustomed to widescreen), as well as the writing of Stefan Zweig. It is a film that will likely not play as well or go over the heads of many not well-versed in film history (especially in film’s golden era). I, myself, cannot wait to see it. It looks completely brilliant, and what a great cast. The film just debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival to very positive critical reviews – many calling it the first Oscar contender of the year.
Trailer: Here

Release: April 18
Genre: Sci-Fit/Thriller
Plot: Will is a brilliant scientist poised to change the world with his breakthroughs in technology. There is only one problem. He is terminally ill. In an attempt to save his consciousness, his mind is downloaded into a computer. Now, with unimaginable power, Will begins to change, embracing the power becoming unstoppable as he dictates his will upon the world.
Director: Wally Pfister
Editor’s Thoughts: Transcendence is Wally Pfister’s directorial debut. He is best known for his brilliant work as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer (shooting all but one of his films – his first called Following). This film looks like it takes a bit of its grand style from Nolan, who also serves as a producer on the film, but hopefully Pfister will showcase his talent and his own voice as well. I think it looks like a great thriller and it is one of the films I am most looking forward to this year. I also like the fact that it is an original story. Plus, it has a pretty great cast. Johnny Depp looks like he may have finally taken on a challenging character (instead of just coasting on the typical strange personas he has been relegated to lately).
Trailer: Here

Release: October 10
Genre: Comedy
Plot: TV talk show host Dave Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapoport get an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jon-Un. As they prep for the interview, they are approached by the CIA and asked to assassinate Kim.
Main Cast: Seth Rogan, James Franco, and Lizzy Caplan
Editor’s Thoughts: Writer-directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan delivered a very funny action-horror-comedy last year with This Is the End (probably 2013’s best comedy). Thus, The Interview certainly has the potential to be hilarious as well. Plus, the premise is just insane enough to really create lots of opportunities for fantastic comedy. Seth Rogan and James Franco also make a great comedy team. I cannot think of a comedy I am looking forward to more than this in 2014.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Title: Exodus
Release: December 12
Genre: Drama/Epic
Plot: The story of Moses leading the Israelite slaves out of Egypt.
Director: Ridley Scott
Editor’s Thoughts: Exodus looks like it is going to be a grand epic from Ridley Scott, a director known for his brilliant visual style – and he is working with a script by Steven Zaillian. I also cannot think of a better actor to portray Moses than Christian Bale (who is the most talented leading man of his generation). It will be interesting to see how Scott approaches this Biblical figure – whether it is played realistically or tending more towards the mystical.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Release: Fall
Genre: Thriller
Plot: The Enigma code was used by the Nazi’s to transmit secret messages throughout WWII. English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, made it is goal to crack to the code and help the allies win the war.
Director: Morten Tydum
Editor’s Thoughts: The Imitation Game is another film that is mostly under the radar, but it certainly has the potential to be one of 2014’s best thrillers. The cast is fantastic – who does not want to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing? And, Morten Tydum is a really great choice as director. His breakthrough film, the crime-thriller Headhunters, is wonderful and very much worth checking out. I also love WWII era narratives.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Most Anticipated Films of 2014 – Part 1: Blockbusters

Title: Noah
Release: March 28
Genre: Action/Adventure Epic
Plot: Noah is inundated with apocalyptic visions of the world ending – a sign from God that a massive flood is coming to cleanse the Earth. It is up to him to take measures to protect his family (and the many species of animals).
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Editor’s Thoughts: I have a feeling that Noah is going to be a somewhat polarizing film, because it comes loaded with religious implications/expectations. Will the film live up to what Christians believe it should be? Personally, however, I am more interested to see what Darren Aronofsky does with his first Hollywood big budget, special effects-driven film. He is a very talented writer-director, who has made a career making films that feature wonderful performances and have a great edgy tone (I particularly liked Black Swan). Aronofsky has a very good cast (including the reuniting of A Beautiful Mind’s Crowe and Connelly) and crew; thus aesthetically and performance wise, the film should be very good, which leaves only Aronofsky’s interpretation of the Biblical story in question. I think it is going to be a fantastically visual and visceral event film (that is likely to anger some in the religious community).
Trailer: Here

Release: April 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Plot: Following the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers struggles to assume his leadership role within S.H.I.E.L.D. He still finds his place in the modern world difficult. But when S.H.I.E.L.D. faces a major new threat from the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier, Rogers must fully embrace his role, as well as face past demons.
Editor’s Thoughts: Marvel’s phase II films have been very good so far, both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World are better than any of the phase I individual superhero films. Marvel’s cinematic universe has a great combination of action, adventure, comedy, and drama. Yet each film feels like its own thing too. The Winter Soldier looks like it going to be a great spy thriller style action film. The only question that I have regarding the film is the choice of directors, being that the Russo Brothers are primarily known for their work directing TV comedies (like Community and Happy Endings) and this is much different project. Marvel, however, is very pleased with their work and has already hired them to direct Captain America 3. Based on what I have seen, this looks like it very well could be 2014’s best superhero film.
Trailer: Here

Release: May 2
Genre: Action/Adventure
Plot: Peter Parker continues to live it up as Spider-Man, enjoy his relationship with Gwen Stacy, and digging deeper into the mystery involved in the disappearance of his parents with everything pointing at Oscorp. His life is thrown into turmoil, however, when suddenly faced with multiple supervillains, including Electro and The Rhino.
Director: Marc Webb
Editor’s Thoughts: While The Amazing Spider-Man served as a decent introduction to the rebooted world of Spider-Man, it was not a great overall film (especially when compared to Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films). That said, I do really like Garfield as Parker and Stone as Stacy. They are a great place to build from. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks like it potentially will be really good and entertaining. There has been a lot of complaining that it is overstuffed with villains (something many see as the downfall of Spider-Man 3), but the plan is for the series to stretch four films. Thus, if the character development is done right, it could be very satisfying to see Spider-Man exist in a bigger world, rather than just the typical new big bad of each film (which makes them all rather generic structurally). I am very excited to see if this lives up to its potential, as I am ready to enjoy good Spider-Man films again.
Trailer: Here

Title: Godzilla
Release: May 16
Genre: Adventure/Sci-Fi
Plot: Civilization trembles as a giant radioactive monster called Godzilla wreaks havoc and destruction upon mankind.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Editor’s Thoughts: For those who have seen Monsters, there is a particular excitement for Gareth Edwards directing of this new Godzilla film – one of gleeful anticipation, as Monsters is a great Godzilla-like thriller. Edwards also has a fantastic cast as well (including The Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch). A new Godzilla is not really a film that we really thought we needed, especially in the wake of the character’s terrible last iteration, but this film looks like it is going to be awfully good.
Trailer: Here

Release: May 23
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi
Plot: The future is doomed. Both humans and mutants find themselves dwindling in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In an effort to change the future, the remaining X-Men send Wolverine back to the past to find the younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr and avert the events that lead to this nightmarish future.
Director: Bryan Singer
Editor’s Thoughts: The X-Men franchise is all a bit of a mess. X-Men: First Class (easily my favorite of the series) probably should have just existed as a reboot instead of part of the same continuing series (a series in which the timeline makes no sense). But this is not the case. It is also too bad that Matthew Vaughn did not return, as he did a great job with First Class. Instead, Bryan Singer assumes the role as director again (having directed the first two films in the series – both very overrated). It is also too bad that Fox and Singer have decided to once again make this a Wolverine-centric film (when in the comics it is Kitty Pryde that goes back in time, a character I and many really like, and would have been a nice change, plus they have Ellen Page playing her). I am sick of Wolverine and Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of him (even though I did enjoy The Wolverine) in this series. But, all that said, there are some cool things about this too. The First Class cast is fantastic and mostly all returning, plus it will be brilliant to see the interaction between the old and new versions of the X-Men (if there are any). Also, Peter Dinklage as Boliver Trask will likely be wonderfully fun. The film features a ton of characters, but Singer has done a decent job in the past with large ensembles; so I am not as worried about that as I am about him as the director in general (being that he has never made a truly good film – The Usual Suspects does not hold up upon multiple viewings and is maybe the most overrated film of all time). Yes, there is a lot of potential for this to be fantastic and I hope it is; but like the X-Men franchise itself, there is just as much potential for it to be a big disappointing mess.
Trailer: Here

Release: July 18
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi
Plot: Jupiter Jones is just an average human woman (a janitor in fact), or so she thinks. Then one day she is targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe. Jones is rescued by an alien man named Caine who helps her begin her destiny to end the Queen’s reign.
Director: The Wachowskis
Editor’s Thoughts: Jupiter Ascending is the first chapter of The Wachowskis’ new Star Wars-like trilogy. It looks potentially really cool and ambitious. We have not had a good sci-fi series in cinemas for a while and it is a void that this can hopefully fill in a satisfying way. I really liked Cloud Atlas, a crazily ambitious film, and thus I have high expectations for this new project from the Wachowskis.
Trailer: Here

Release: August 1
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi
Plot: American pilot Peter Quill finds himself lost in the far reaches of Space. And even worst, he is the object of a galactic manhunt after he steals an orb greatly coveted by Ronan the Accuser. But Quill soon finds the aid of a group of warriors, who band together in an effort to stop Ronan from recapturing the orb.
Director: James Gunn
Editor’s Thoughts: Guardians of the Galaxy is a big move for Marvel’s cinematic universe. Firstly, it expands it greatly by introducing many new characters and worlds. Secondly, it tests the box office waters for non-Avengers’ movies. And lastly, it introduces an element of weird into the universe – something that could be fantastic if done right. James Gunn (the director of things like Slither and Super) seems like a great fit to bring a bit of weird to Marvel’s films. And, he has a really great cast with him. I am unfamiliar with the comics; but based on what I have read and seen, Guardians of the Galaxy has a lot of potentially to be something wonderfully entertaining and different – something very much needed in Summer blockbusters.
Trailer: Here 

Title: Interstellar
Release: November 7
Genre: Action/Drama/Sci-Fi
Plot: A recently discovered wormhole allows a group of explorers to surpass the limitations of what is available to humans in their knowledge of the universe and travel vast distances through Space and discover new worlds.
Editor’s Thoughts: There is not a lot known about Interstellar at the moment, and the teaser trailer is vague on the plot as well. What we do know is that it is a new film by Christopher Nolan, and really that is enough. For me, this is probably the film I am most looking forward to in 2014 (although, The Grand Budapest Hotel is right there too). Nolan’s last original film was Inception, a theist-thriller that succeeded on every level of grand filmmaking. The expectations for Interstellar are thusly the same.
Trailer: Here

Release: November 21
Genre: Adventure/Sci-Fi
Plot: Though reluctant, Katniss Everdeen becomes the symbol of rebellion against the Capitol (building on the events of the first two films).
Director: Francis Lawrence
Editor’s Thoughts: Let me first start by saying how sad I am at the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a wonderfully talented actor whose work I really enjoyed. He will be missed. I am excited to finally see a Hunger Games movie in which something interesting happens (or presumably happens, I have not read the books). In The Hunger Games, Katniss is let off the hook on having to make any truly difficult choices; and in Catching Fire, Katniss is left out of the loop (and so too are the audience by narrative design) and thus sidelined from the more interesting narrative going on behind the scenes, while we are left to watch what is basically the same movie as the first again. It feels like the audience, through Katniss, is finally being allowed to really get at the meat of the story – one that feels fitting in today’s times of social rife and staggering wealth inequality in large portions of the world. It will be interesting to see (at least for me) if Katniss actually becomes the real protagonist of her story for once and takes charge.
Trailer: Here (if available)

Release: December 17
Genre: Action/Adventure/Epic
Plot: Though Thorin and his company of dwarves have reached Smaug’s lair, can they defeat the dragon and reclaim their home? Will Bilbo, Gandalf, and the elves, men, and dwarves thwart the armies of orcs that come to face them in battle?
Director: Peter Jackson
Editor’s Thoughts: I enjoyed both An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, but it feels like There and Back Again will probably be the most satisfying of the three films (as it will provide closure, when the other two end just as things pick up). With only seventy pages left in The Hobbit, it will be interesting to see how Peter Jackson fills what is likely another long film, and how he connects it further with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Plus, the big battles that take place in this should be great.
Trailer: Here (if available)