Monday, June 30, 2014

Before Sunrise Review

My second journey through the Richard Linklater "Before" trilogy, and it was even more magical this time around. The story of Jesse and Celine as they first meet is the beginning of my favorite cinematic romance of all time, one that over the course of three films and 18 years is often times far from perfect, far from a fairy tale, but that is why I can't take my eyes off of them and the very authentic chemistry they share on screen. Romance portrayed in film is typically dripping in bullshit, the same story used year after year after year starring people like Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl and none of it works, none of it is believable. I cringe each time a new film is released that shows absolutely nothing resembling the real world and what a real relationship is like and yet people eat that shit up like it's a fine meal, while most people I meet have never even heard of Before Sunrise.

On paper the plot of Before Sunrise is just as guilty of being a horseshit story book romance, two young beautiful people meeting on a train and immediately connecting just screams of absurd sap, but my god this rather uneventful journey of two souls finding each other is on a whole new level of enchanting cinema. The first time I saw this film I will admit to being a bit taken aback by how heavy in dialogue and light on anything else it was, because I kept expecting some sort of typical Hollywood obstacles to test their fresh, profound feelings, but during this revisit I realized the entire situation is an obstacle. Time is their obstacle. Every word, every step, every passing minute is one step closer to a moment they both deeply dread yet don't want to think about until they have to: the idea that they will have to say goodbye and potentially never see each other again. 

The film brought me back to when I first met my wife and we had nothing to do one night so we just drove around and talked for hours, and these memories made me realize how absurd it is to say that nothing happens in Before Sunrise. The power of conversation, the tension between two people who are trying to determine the intensity of their feelings for each other, the fear of the unknown of what's to come. Sure, it would be easy to say we did nothing that night, just talked, drove around, but in reality everything happened that night. Every word set our future in motion and nine years later we have a daughter entering first grade. Was the night technically uneventful? Absolutely. 

Two human beings truly connecting doesn't get much more exciting than that.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Devil's Knot Review

Imagine you are sitting at my kitchen table and I offer you a piece of fresh baked apple pie, a delicious treat made with passion and an appreciation for every ingredient. Now imagine I never offered you that pie despite having it, and instead I hand you a store bought apple flavored rice cake.

This would be similar to having the Paradise Lost trilogy of documentaries, and yet when you express an interest in learning about the story of the West Memphis Three, I pop in Devil's Knot as your introduction to such horrific yet incredibly compelling events. Sure, the rice cake might somewhat appease your appetite, and there is some mild flavor to extract...but fuck, wouldn't you rather have the fresh baked pie?

Devil's Knot isn't guilty of being a bad movie technically, it is just so damn bland. For those who don't know, on May 5th, 1993, three young boys all aged 8 were brutally and disgustingly murdered one evening, a parents worst nightmare come true for what started as an innocent friendly bike ride resulted in the children never coming home again. This is a true story, and what resulted is a tale of police and government corruption as suspects were quickly named and apprehended despite having no real, hard evidence to link them to the crime. Those suspects were a troubled teenager named Damien Echols, his best friend Jason Baldwin and a third young man named Jessie Misskelley Jr. whom barely associated with the other two prior to this bizarre and unfortunate fateful night.

I will spare you all the details of the case because if you haven't yet done so, you really should watch all three Paradise Lost documentary films and engross yourself in this case that is still yet to be settled today. Devil's Knot essentially shows you reenacted events from the documentaries with phony feeling actors playing the roles, but it doesn't do anything special or teach us anything new at all. I suppose if you watched the film going in totally blind about the true events, you may enjoy it far more than the already informed, because as someone who has seen the docs repeatedly and prayed for their freedom and exoneration for years now I was flat out bored during Devil's Knot. Even so, if you were introduced to this case by this recent Atom Egoyan film and you feel like you had a positive cinematic experience, do yourself a favor and go back and watch the real footage, get a feel for the real people, feel the real heartbreak. What was achieved here fell short of even being in the same universe as the Paradise Lost films.

With such an incredible story demanding to be told to a more widespread audience, it is such a shame that this was the final product produced. Essentially what Devil's Knot can be compared to would be a decent made for the Lifetime Channel film or an above average episode of Law and Order, but with the talents of Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon and Dane Dehaan and others lined up to star in the film, the audience deserved better, they deserved more.

A boring and rather forgettable film telling a true story that is never boring and remarkably memorable. It isn't the worst film I have seen this year, not even close, but it should still be labeled a failure.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Alien Review

I walk into the cinema at around 11:50 PM, just ten minutes until the lights dim, but this isn't an ordinary midnight screening. A palpable buzz is in the air as a rather large crowd of people are taking their seats, and I find a nice comfy spot on the left side, a perfect view of the screen. I look around the room and realize every seat in the place is a perfect view. If I were forced to stand for the duration it would have qualified as a perfect view. A cinematic experience I will surely never forget is just about to begin, and I can't wait.

If you read my previous review of one of the finest films released thus far in 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, you may recall the fact that I shared my experience of walking into my local old fashioned theater, a place called the Tivoli in Downers Grove, Illinois. It is located roughly 5 minutes from my home and yet that night at the Budapest was my first ever trip there, and I was in awe of every tiny aspect of the place. The old fashioned architecture surrounded me and I couldn't help but look up and admire it all, a look on my face similar to a small child realizing for the first time that they reside in a rather big, beautiful world. In a world of 18 screen multiplexes run by nationwide corporate chains, I was overwhelmed by the charm of a spot like this. 

It felt like I had taken a time machine back to a different era of cinema, and tonight I got to experience this feeling again only this time two fold. A gentleman employed by the theater walks to the front and addresses the audience, and he asks "How many of you have never seen this film before?" and a startling number of hands fly into the air. A few laughs are scattered throughout, playfully mocking those that have never had the privilege to wander the dark, death filled halls of the Nostromo prior to this night, but I find myself envious of those raised hands. My god to experience a film like this for the first time in a setting like this, the way eager movie goers did back in 1979 upon its initial release. A part of me wishes I could somehow get my Alien virginity back just so I could lose it again in this romantic setting, like a couple of awkward nervous teens lying on a blanket under the stars.

Tonight I celebrated the 35th anniversary of one of the greatest pieces of science fiction and horror filmmaking to ever be witnessed, and it was so many kinds of wonderful that I can't really find the words to describe it. The anticipation of the iconic moments during the film became clear throughout the room, as people seemed to rush off to the bathroom to ensure they could be comfortably seated before a chest would burst open and a xenomorph would come crawling out. I had experienced these moments time and time again prior to tonight, but it all felt so fresh and alive in a way that transcends what can be elaborated on in a review. If I never get the chance to screen Alien again on the big screen, at least I can always remember these enchanting two hours of my life. 

Despite the many visits to this world from a spot on my couch in the living room, my eyes seemed more open and alert to the film, and my mind was racing as I really started to pick apart the brilliance in the craft of Ridley Scott. The camera says so much throughout it, especially at quieter times when the dialogue is not telling the story. We get some medium shots of crew members and locations and they scream of normalcy, so much so that in the back of my mind I realized what a false sense of security these moments portray, as if we can move off the edge of our seats for the time being and the goosebumps we are experiencing are no longer needed. Suddenly we are in the midst of a claustrophobic close up shot or a character is stuck in a tight space with no where to run, no where to hide, and even from the theater seat the tension feels unbearable. How does one create such a stunningly perfect film? How is it that all the creative potential of those involved just seems to align for that one filmmaking journey that never even slightly falters throughout? Human beings by their very nature are flawed, yet somehow a group of them got together and created this example of total artistic perfection. Alien is a cinematic miracle.

When the final frame went away and the credits rolled to the backdrop of infinite space, the crowd erupted into applause, a sign of the respect this film has earned as it continues to resonate with people of all ages to this day. Budgets may be skyrocketing, special effects are more stunning, and technology as a whole is evolving in ways never dreamed of before, but Alien is a work that could never be left behind no matter how much we move forward. It truly is one of the greatest films of all time.

I arrived at my car in the parking lot, and I noticed I checked the back seat before entering, something I typically never do. It wasn't as if I was expecting to see a creature lurking back there, to be honest I don't even know what I was thinking in that moment. That's the point, it doesn't matter what I was thinking. The execution of the vision of Ridley Scott, released five years before I was born, continues to haunt the subconscious and force people to quickly glance into darkened rooms and check the backseats of their cars because the paranoia of what could be there is terrifying. That in itself is an amazing achievement.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Under the Skin Review

I remember when the acclaimed science fiction film Looper was released, I was watching a critic award the film a C letter grade on the local news and I was surprised by this considering I had heard nothing but positive thoughts up to that point. I found the reason he gave for the mediocre grade to be baffling. Essentially, he said he would need to watch Looper more than once to understand it and that really bothered him. In his world, a film should be relatively simple to fully dissect and appreciate after only one viewing.

I don't live in his cinematic world.

Under the Skin is a 2014 film by director Jonathan Glazer and my lord is it a wondrous piece of filmmaking, a brilliant example of how diverse and layered the science fiction genre can be. The film follows one character throughout, a cold and strange woman named Laura who uses her physical appearance to draw the attention of various men she picks seemingly at random. The men follow her without much apprehension due to the possibility of the night ending in sex, but their unfortunate fates are sealed by their blind drive for lust as they are actually lured to their deaths. 

The film is completely baffling and utterly spellbinding thanks to incredible direction by Glazer, a mature and perfectly calculated performance by Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, an eerie, haunting musical score by Mica Levi and unforgettable nightmarish cinematography by Daniel Landin. We sit back and absorb what is essentially a game of man hunting by Laura and cringe knowing something awful will happen to them as a result of their sexual desires, but it is completely impossible to look away. I was forced to pause the film and take a break at one point from it, not due to the content or anything but because of a oh shit my kid is awake time to get her back to bed moment, and I spent this time processing everything I had seen thus far. The imagery danced through my mind and made my skin crawl as I told my daughter that there was nothing to be afraid of, but I'm not entirely sure I even believed myself. I couldn't wait to run back into the living room and press play again, hoping Glazer would keep pouring on the surreal and confounding and find new, creative ways to completely fuck with my mind.

Before I wrote this review I let the film resonate in my mind for roughly 24 hours as I wanted to try to assemble the true message of the narrative rather than simply enjoy it for being creepy and cool. Clearly the themes of gender roles and the female struggle to maintain the ideal physical form were vital pieces of the story, and I literally smiled and said "clever" aloud to myself during a certain scene involving Laura attempting to eat a piece of cake. Despite picking up some of the meaning intended by Glazer, I am absolutely positive I can dig up so much more with each revisit in the future, and I can't wait to try.

I adore the opportunity to pick apart an abstract work, and I have absolutely no problem admitting that I lacked comprehension after a single viewing of a film. The first time I witnessed a film like Mulholland Drive I had no friggin' clue what I had seen, but whatever it was infested my mind and I couldn't stop craving the chance to interpret the Lynch masterpiece over and over and over again. I have only screened the Shane Carruth baffler Upstream Color once, and when people ask me what it was about I tell them I have no idea, but I strongly recommend it anyways. For me, true art should demand that I work for it in order to appreciate just how much care and nuance went into its production. My love for films that are easier to digest remains as strong as ever, but a beauty like Under the Skin is why I find such joy in writing reviews and discussing the medium.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I, Frankenstein Review

I, Frankenstein in Spanish is Yo, Frankenstein. I spent the entirety of this film trying to come up with a television series idea based on this title.

Frankenstein is living a respectable life, but he has one major regret, one experience that eluded him and he wants to go back and give it one more shot: college. He applies for enrollment at the local University under the name Frank N. Stein and is accepted.

It is a brilliant idea, the rest of the show practically writes itself. You have Frankenstein dealing with the trials and tribulations of freshman year, a heavier workload than expected, trying to make new friends, attempting to pledge a fraternity, all while hiding his true identity. At some point later in the first season we introduce a love interest, something to build off of for sophomore year/season two. She can question why even on the warmest days Frank chooses to wear a turtleneck, which as we know is to cover up those bolts sticking out of his neck. Hilarity ensues.

Of course, it wouldn't solely be a comedy, but also a poignant message regarding the courage it takes to accomplish your dreams against all odds as well as the notion that you should always embrace who you are and love yourself no matter what (this would be addressed in the episode in which Frank's friends discover his secret but still appreciate him for who he is).

The show would run for exactly four years, no longer, regardless of the fact that it would likely be a massive ratings hit. This is the story of Frankenstein earning his degree and also finding his self worth along the way, nothing more.

The most heartbreaking episode of the series would be when he is forced to tell his special lady friend that their love could never be. She will ask why, and he responds "I can't love you until I know how to love me.". Near the end of the series they will reunite of course, and while we may technically never know the end of their story after they graduate, wearing their caps and gowns while driving off into the sunset, the audience can safely assume that their love was everlasting and true. Only a monster would have doubts about something so beautiful.

Oh shit, a review for this movie? It's terrible.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Transformers Review

I refuse to be someone who wastes time complaining about Michael Bay. At this point, if you sit down to watch a Bay blockbuster you should know exactly what to expect, and if you decide to screen one and you find yourself shocked at how stupid the content was during the film, you either entered the experience willfully ignorant or you are new to his work. The fact is, making films in Hollywood is a massive financial business and most creative decisions are made in order to maximize the production company's bottom line, and Michael Bay is rather fantastic at what he does in this regard. Of the ten features he has directed thus far, only one of them was a failure at the box office, that being the 2005 film The Island. Ironically his film from last year Pain & Gain (which might be my favorite of his entire filmography despite my nostalgic love for The Rock) was the lowest grossing film of his career yet even that made a healthy profit thanks to its rather small production budget.

This isn't even including the new Transformers film due out this Friday, which is pretty much locked in for a billion dollar worldwide take. So while you may hate his films and groan whenever a new one is announced, I promise you there are a bunch of suits sitting in a board room pumping their fists when a Michael Bay film is nearing its release. It doesn't take a massive amount of artistic integrity or sublime talent to fill the coffers, so don't mistake my words for some sort of idea that I believe him to be a visionary auteur or anything, but I also can't help but tip my cap to a man who does what he loves and he obviously is doing it well enough to entertain a whole shit ton of people.

This brings me to my thoughts on my revisit with the original Transformers this past weekend. I feel a strange level of conflict while absorbing this film for the first time in a few years because throughout the entire thing I kept noticing moments that I should despise and yet I kept on enjoying myself until the very end. Sure, Shia Labeouf has gone bat-shit crazy as of late, but honestly here he presents a lot of charisma and humor to the role of Sam Witwicky. The shameful aspect of Megan Fox in the film has nothing to do with her talent level or performance, but instead regarding the fact that we all know Michael Bay gave her the role for one reason, and probably had a private conversation with the costume department as well before shooting. The goal of her inclusion in the film was to put boys and men of all ages in the seats and tap into their fantasies of combining giant fucking robots with a really hot girl, and I can't literally prove that this actually helped the box office numbers but I can say with confidence it probably didn't hurt.

The various secondary characters all ranged from the mildly entertaining to the absurdly silly, but combined everything accomplished one singular goal: to create a spectacle that would dazzle the eyeballs and put smiles of those that were lining up to see a film such as this. Was Transformers some sort of important cinematic milestone that will be picked apart for generations, studied by film classes, adored by cinephiles long after I am in my tomb rocking to Call Me Maybe in the afterlife? Lord no. Is it entertaining enough to enjoy while laying on the couch on a Sunday afternoon? It sure is.

Keep doing what you're doing, Michael Bay. If I don't like it, I don't have to go see it.

Well scratch that, if what you're doing is a film similar to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, then stop right now and reconsider your decisions. Even with the financial success, that shit was terrible.


The Matrix Revolutions Review

If you believe you are a fan of the entire Matrix trilogy because you enjoyed them all to some degree upon their initial release in theaters, don't watch them all over the course of one weekend as a way to reevaluate your stance. The good news is, I doubt many of you are believers in the entire Wachowski vision for Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and the whole gang of dirty Nebuchadnezzar dwellers, as it seems relatively universal that what started with a modern science fiction masterpiece quickly went down the toilet in 2003 when we were hit with not one but both sequels in the same calendar year.

Perhaps went down the toilet is a tad strong because honestly, neither Reloaded nor Revolutions are awful films, but when closely compared to the way our minds were blown the first time around it is difficult to tone down the rhetoric to the proper level. The reason I advise against watching them all in such a short span of time the way I just did is, just how big of a fall from the first film to the third is jarring, a mind still coming down from the high of The Matrix tragically crash lands when faced with the drab and dull events of the Revolutions. The film is meant to be an epic conclusion to this amazing story and yet at times it feels so lifeless, especially as the focus is constantly on other side characters I couldn't even begin to give a shit about when the most interesting pieces of the trilogy are relegated to the sidelines.

The dialogue was so unique and interesting in the first film, a screenplay that was a breath of fresh air due to its originality, and yet here I found much of it so clunky and predictable. Honestly, at times it is almost hard to believe that the two films are related in any way because tonally they feel so different and the craftsmanship had taken such an enormous step backwards. While the second film was without a doubt a major disappointment, at least it did feel like an extension of the first film, just one that tried so damn hard to be a new level of cool that ironically it felt lame and phony, where I was wondering if perhaps they went over their neat sunglasses budget. This third film just felt totally off to the point that if I didn't know any better, I would assume the Wachowski's were only running the show for the first two films and then they were replaced by someone totally different to close it out.

The Wachowski's have dazzled me with the first Matrix film and the criminally unappreciated masterpiece Cloud Atlas. They have surprisingly entertained me with the glow of bright neon and an awe inspiring, innovative look at racing cars with Speed Racer. They have made me scratch my head in confusion over why they let their egos get the best of them with The Matrix Reloaded. This here, The Matrix Revolutions, is their true turd thus far, but in a way I can spin that as a compliment because even this film I don't hate. On the surface I am mildly entertained by various moments in the film and I will always find some appreciation in any sort of original work of science fiction, but no question an opportunity was squandered considering the incredible vision they initially presented to the world.

Another look at the bright side for the long term prospects of The Matrix Revolutions? Jupiter Ascending has been delayed until next February. Might a new king turd take the throne? We'll just have to wait and see.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Matrix Reloaded Review

Randomly one weekend I walk into a party with confidence and a bit of a swagger, but with just enough vulnerability and insecurities because I have previously never met a soul in attendance. I know I am cool and I fully believe I can impress the hell out of every single person I meet, yet I have no reason to be overconfident because nothing is yet proven. As the night goes on I can feel that everyone there admires the way I fit in so naturally and even what little flaws I have that are apparent are actually endearing rather than troubling. They are drawn to me because I flow from place to place so effortlessly and with authenticity, and as the night winds down and I announce my exit, the shift in mood is palpable, the joy and excitement that resonated in every moment is slowly drained away. Regardless, the night was a massive, life altering success, and as the others come to grips with my absence, rather than bemoan the void in the atmosphere the narrative shifts to one of anticipation of the next time they will see me. Sure, the disappointment of an amazing night ending still lingers, but it does so behind genuine smiles and the newly born memories of a special experience. "God I can't wait to see that guy again!" they say about me as they climb into their cars to head home themselves. "I could hang out with him every single night and never get tired of it!" is uttered by someone, and the thought is met with nearly universal agreement.

Over the next few years, I have spent countless nights revisiting that same group of people over and over and I remain the coolest guy in the room. I was original, I was unique, and it is a fact that no one there had ever met anyone like me before. I may not have returned to that party every night, every week or even every month for that matter, but I will always be there if I am needed. When a life becomes joyless, when an imagination needs to be sparked or simply when things feel bland and a dose of excitement is prescribed, I will walk through those doors and all will be right in the world. 

I am The Matrix.

Then one day I walk into that same party with an overwhelming amount of confidence and a ridiculous swagger, feeling no vulnerabilities or insecurities, absolutely nothing but a sublime belief that I am the only thing that matters in that room and nothing will ever be as cool as me. I have a larger than life presence that practically forces everyone in attendance to follow me with their eyes, but I feel no urge to make eye contact back. These people are beneath me and my existence is a blessing that enhances their own. As the night goes on I remain the center of attention, but something about the experience tastes sour this time around. They are drawn to me because I move from room to room with arrogance, but the effort needed to present this new persona is noticeable. As I announce my exit, minds consider what the proper emotional reaction for my departure should be. I had my moments that thrilled and reminded everyone of the old me, the one that could do no wrong, and these moments reignited a hope that I had returned to form, that a new yet equally amazing night would be in store for them. On the other hand, those dazzling moments were in fact few and far between, and the night that began with so much promise had ended lathered in disappointment, frozen behind frowns and a collection of memories that the guests may wish to forget. "Lord was that a bummer." they say about me as they climb into their cars to head home themselves. "I'm not sure I will ever want to hang out with that guy again." is uttered by someone, and the thought is met with nearly universal agreement. 

Over the next few years, I spent most nights waiting by the phone wishing they would call, wondering if perhaps I wasn't as cool as I considered myself to be. 

I am The Matrix Reloaded.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Matrix Review

When The Matrix was released in 1999, the film took the world by storm and at the time the overflowing positive response to the work seemed absurd. A cool science fiction film for sure, but treating it as if it was a game changing, landscape shifting achievement seemed a bit over the top, the typical initial reaction to something new and exciting before the hype would eventually die down. Don't get me wrong, I loved the film initially and I wanted to see it again and again, but was it possibly as good as everyone was making it seem?

Well, here we are fifteen years later and the hype was real, the praise well deserved, and because of The Matrix the game was indeed changed and the landscape shifted. Not only does the work hold up extremely well despite the various technological advancements and bigger, splashier budgets since then, the general aesthetic of the film remains fresh and spellbinding to the point that I can't help but wonder, how can something be dated if it was released ahead of its time? Perhaps the Wachowski's set the bar and then waited for the rest of the cinematic world to catch up. I am currently 30 years old and a film that was released when I was entering my sophomore year of high school remains just as visually jaw dropping as it was on opening night.

The screenplay is just as complex and stimulating today, as no matter how many times I view this film I can't help but admire the dialogue, an overlooked factor into what makes the experience so great. The action sequences are handled with such confidence and the set pieces are extraordinary. The Matrix is a film overflowing with big ideas, a masterful example of how exciting originality and innovation are in a world filled with uninspired, recycled concepts.

It would be a massive shame to allow the far lesser second and third films of the trilogy tarnish what was achieved here with The Matrix, a film that changed the course of the medium forever by opening our eyes and allowing our minds to process things that we never could have imagined on our own.

It has probably at least nine years since I last watched the other two Matrix films, and I want to give them a fair shake and reevaluate them. Expect those reviews soon, but even if they are as unfortunate as I remember them to be, nothing will ever change how incredible and unforgettable this first installment was. I am a huge fan of science fiction, and The Matrix tickles me in every possible way.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

The LEGO Movie Review

Seth MacFarlane nearly killed the comedy genre with his recent abomination A Million Ways to Die in the West. The concept of laughing was on life support. Phil Lord and Chris Miller found the cure.

What a treat it is to absorb joyous, clever comedic writing and a wonderful testament to imaginative filmmaking. I never anticipated finding so much to love in The LEGO Movie because I underestimated the minds behind the film. I certainly never anticipated having tears in my eyes after a shockingly touching third act twist was revealed.

My third viewing of this wonderful film, this time from the comfort of my couch after picking up the Blu-ray today, and I admire it even more now than I did the night I saw it at the cinema. It's one thing to simply make people laugh or throw some exciting visuals on the screen, but what is most impressive to me is the films ability to appeal to absolutely anyone willing to give it a chance. I know people whose ages range from 6 to 60 that all walked out of the theater and couldn't wait to see it again.

I have seen people refer to The LEGO Movie as "stupid fun", and while it is practically the prototype for fun, please don't ever call it stupid. To achieve what Lord and Miller did here, it isn't just smart, it's friggin' brilliant.


A Beautiful Mind Review

I find the concept of expectations and whether or not they are met to be fascinating, especially in regards to film criticism. Last night I finally saw the 2002 Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind for the first time, a mere 12 years after its release, and without a doubt it is a very good film, one that was elevated to that level through pretty great performances throughout but especially from the two leads. Russell Crowe is John Forbes Nash Jr. and Jennifer Connelly is Alicia, a student in his class that stuns Nash not just with her beauty but also the bold move she makes to solve a noise/temperature problem on his first day as her teacher. I truly did enjoy the film, yet the tone of this review will sometimes be negative because in the end, when a film wins Best Picture it is bound to be held to a higher standard.

Because of the lengthy amount of time since its release and the numerous viewings I have had of its competition at the 2002 awards,  it was virtually impossible for me to avoid comparisons to other, not even remotely similar works, but I tried really damn hard to block those thoughts from my mind and enjoy what was being presented in front of me. I really did try, but I failed. I have absolutely nothing against Ron Howard, in fact I am a fan, but I can't wrap my mind around how his directorial efforts here were awarded the highest honor over the work of other nominees like Peter Jackson and his handling of the first Lord of the Rings film, The Fellowship of the Ring, or especially the truly brilliant achievement by David Lynch with Mulholland Drive. I thought I would never be shocked again by this specific category after I was practically catatonic when Tom Hooper stole the award from David Fincher in 2011, but despite it being a trophy handed out nine years prior to that, I am almost just as baffled yet again.

Howard does a fine job handling the material, but for the most part it is a film that does nothing exceptional beyond the performances. Crowe plays the awkward role with fantastic presence and authenticity, especially during the first two acts when he is younger and is forced to deal with the balancing act of what plagues his mind and the progression towards some sense of normalcy through love and various friendships. Connelly truly is captivating in the film even when she is doing nothing at all, which is one thing that I did think Howard excelled at, allowing his performers to steal the scenes and stand out amongst a crowd. During the scene in which we are first introduced to Alicia, I normally try to observe every aspect of a frame and quickly appreciate the placement of everything included so I can better understand the importance of mise en scene in the moment, but I don't remember a single thing inside that classroom aside from Connelly, as she brought genuine beauty and warmth to a moment that changed the course of Nash's life. 

What stood out for me on the negative side was the third act of the film, which felt absurdly cookie cutter and sappy to the point of making the entire conclusion of the work feel downright phony, and this is coming from a person who doesn't fully know the true story of Nash and what really transpired during the more recent years being portrayed. After an intense examination into both aspects of his beautiful mind during most of the film, the utter brilliance and also the demons he battled, everything challenging and gritty and real seemed to be swept under the rug in order to present an "Aw shucks, so glad everything turned out great for those lovebirds!" happy ending, and I just didn't buy into it like I did the rest of the story. It felt like an ending that a test audience told them to go with to avoid any sort of hard truths and consequences because people love to exit a theater smiling and feeling warm, but what works for me is cinema that pulls me in during its entire running time and makes me feel like I am witnessing an honest depiction of actual events, not just 66 percent of it before turning on the schmaltz. 

A Beautiful Mind is a film I really liked that I expected to love, so in the end my expectations failed me, yet I have seen far worse works that left me feeling positive about the experience because I anticipated dread and yet discovered some delight. Whether it is fair to come down so negatively on a film for falling short of its Best Picture level status while praising a lesser film for surprisingly me with some fun, I'm not sure, but when you give a film a trophy for being the absolute best achievement from an entire calendar year I expect an incredible, moving and unflinching example of how cinema is meant to be, not just another addition to the massive pile of the very good.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Prometheus Review

I have been experiencing all sorts of new and fascinating cinema lately and it has been wonderful, but today while I was sitting at work daydreaming about being anywhere but there, I started feeling guilty about how much I have ignored my beloved Blu-ray collection lately. Since 2008 I have pieced together this amazing collection of films and television series, a total of over 330 things to watch placed into alphabetical order, and yet in the past month I believe I have only giving two or three of those discs a spin. A tear practically fell from my eye when I pictured my beautiful blu babies gathering dust, a profound moment that made me realize that this pattern of cinematic abuse must end.

After apologizing profusely to my wall of visually spectacular film options, I scanned it quickly to decide where I would begin on this journey of revisits and reanalysis, and I landed on Prometheus. Now, I know some of you are thinking, what the fuck is wrong with you? You own 300 damn films and the one you excitedly grab off the shelf is Prometheus? If you are thinking that, you are likely the other end of the spectrum, those that were filled with anger and disappointment after seeing the sorta prequel to Alien that made this film so polarizing. While I will admit to a very slight feeling of being let down initially when I exited the theater during opening weekend, that was only because I entered expecting a new masterpiece of science fiction cinema and that this is not. Once I could clear my mind and process how the much anticipated new journey actually did play out, I fell in love with it and that admiration actually grows with each revisit, tonight included.

See, if cinema is a drug, then I get friggin' high off of both the science fiction genre and a dark, brooding and ominous atmosphere, so in that sense Prometheus hit my god damn G-spot. Based solely off of technical aspects alone, it was impossible for me to truly hate this film, but what elevates it to something I cherish are the sense of wonder achieved from visiting a new, fictional world, the unsettling curiosity of what lurks in the darkness, and an inspired performance by the always stunning Michael Fassbender. I am not foolish to believe this is a perfect film, it is far from it, and a few specific portions of the story don't quite sit right with me and the script is occasionally lackluster. In the end none of that matters though, and I can't quite explain why. Everything I appreciate about Prometheus lifts the entire film so far above the flaws that I barely even notice them anymore, allowing me to get lost in Ridley's world and abandon the ability to nitpick.

You could literally list every single thing you hate about the film, and that is fine. You have the right to do that and feel the way you want, and trust me when I say I have heard every possible complaint before, but just accept that nothing you can say will tarnish this work even remotely for me. Prometheus is an intoxicating slice of Sci-fi, one that is somehow immune to my eye for careful analysis and judgement, and I will continue to grab it off the wall and turn the lights down low for this beauty time and time again.


Monday, June 16, 2014

I Killed My Mother Review

I couldn't really make a connection to the content of the film I Killed My Mother because honestly, I never had a relationship that strained with either of my parents. Sure, we had our issues and our ridiculous arguments and I sometimes would get too hyperbolic and announce my hatred for them, but isn't that essentially how every single teenager-parental relationship goes at some point? This lack of personal connection doesn't diminish a thing though, and instead of relating the events of the narrative to my life, I couldn't stop thinking about what I was like when I was 19 years old.

I was 19 years old in 2003, and I may have legally been an adult but without a doubt I was still a stupid kid. I never got in much trouble or anything, it wasn't as if I was a problem child, but I spent my time working part time and spending my money on illegally obtained alcohol, pornographic magazines, gambling, and the occasional stash of marijuana, all of which I hid from my parents. I was attending college courses, but attending is a loose term in this circumstance because I ended up walking away from the curriculum when I decided that taking a nap in my car was far more enjoyable than sitting in a lecture. Luckily for me I am really good at mathematics and accounting and acquired a job that said "College Degree Required" despite not being in possession of one, but I digress. 

When I was 19 years old, I didn't truly understand the depth of human relationships. Hell, I didn't even understand myself. When Xavier Dolan was 19, he was crafting this near masterpiece of a film with precision and maturity that even today I can barely comprehend. I am humbled by this level of talent at such a young age.

Despite the amount of angst and intensity portrayed on screen, not to mention a rather dark title, I Killed My Mother is a beautiful film filled with raw, genuine emotion, and the fact that Dolan himself admits the work is semi-autobiographical as it is based on his adolescence dealing with being a homosexual teenager probably adds to the depth of believable feelings being unleashed throughout the film. Dolan also plays the lead role in the film, which sometimes can backfire with such an unseasoned amateur filmmaker and yet I saw no issues with the double duty here. 

When watching the work of a young filmmaker I am always curious to see who may have inspired them, what films may have been playing in their minds when they realized their dream was to follow in the footsteps of past auteurs, and it is no secret than Dolan was heavily inspired by the work of Wong Kar-Wai, specifically the stunning masterpiece In the Mood for Love, his repeated use of one musical composition combined with slow motion sequences are too jarringly similar to ignore. Also the title of the film and where it is derived from is clearly borrowed from Truffaut's The 400 Blows, and while some may criticize these things as being some form of cinematic plagiarism, I admire the fact that a 19 year old kid is so familiar with such true artists that he can directly reference their work and do so with class. I walked away from the film feeling like Dolan was showing his respect for the cinema that motivated and captivated him, not that he was passing off a style or a storytelling device as his own.

The only aspect in which Dolan may have went a little overboard and overstepped his limits considering it was his first ever feature was with his usage of symbolic imagery, like he may have been trying a little too hard, but still, only once maybe twice at the most did any sequence feel out of place and make the flow of the story feel uncomfortable. Otherwise this really is a masterful work, and I found it exciting to watch something so brilliantly crafted come from a person that legally couldn't even buy a beer in the United States. To say I am impressed is an understatement. Do yourself a favor and watch I Killed My Mother for yourself, see just what I mean. 


Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

I understand comedy is subjective, and normally I can appreciate the concept of to each their own, what I may love others may loathe and vice versa...but seriously, fuck this movie, this awful, painfully unfunny nonsense. Everything Seth MacFarlane has done prior to this garbage is now rendered meaningless. He doesn't earn a pass for this pile of shit because he made Family Guy and a decently funny movie about a talking teddy bear. It may be difficult to watch anything associated with the man again, past or future work, because at this moment even hearing his voice makes me feel ashamed of what passes as comedic material these days.

Is it possible this was done intentionally as a joke? Like, perhaps MacFarlane knows this is offensively terrible and is just trolling the film industry to see if people would actually pay to watch such a cringe worthy 105 or so minutes. At one point he actually questions why what a character is doing is funny, and he turns towards the camera and asks someone near them why they are laughing? Is it possible that this was a breaking the fourth wall moment and he was actually asking the people in the theater, why are you laughing and how is this funny, referring to his own film? This moment comes immediately after they play a carnival game titled Runaway Slave, where they get the idea. This is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with this level of "comedy". There is nothing funny about this, and if you laughed at it you should feel some level of shame for it. No I am not being overly sensitive, this is a fact. The inclusion of a shooting slaves joke is literally just MacFarlane trying to be shocking and controversial, hoping they write articles about how edgy he is, how much he is willing to push the limits, when in reality he is just an uninspired asshole.

I am writing this with the film paused and still twenty some odd minutes to go, and you know what? I'm not going to finish it. I am not going to waste another second of my life watching something this horrible and boring and cynical and trying to find some decency in it. There is nothing redeeming or interesting about this gross attempt at humor.

I laughed more while at the hospital with my daughter while she was treated for a serious injury last week. The nurse that was helping to reattach her finger had a better grasp on comedy than Seth MacFarlane. Seriously, fuck that guy.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

I entered the cinema today to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 with seemingly impossible expectations, holding the first installment in my heart as one of the finest achievements in animation, and anything less than the same level of storytelling, emotional resonance and fun would have been a disappointment. In fact, its fair to say I expected an even better film than the first because as Hiccup and Toothless get older, I wanted the films to mature along with them, much like the progression of the Harry Potter series.

Typically when I sit down in a theater expecting this level of greatness, I inevitably exit feeling a tad disappointed because what I envisioned in my mind isn't fully realized to that level in reality. This was not the case with the absolutely sublime film I witnessed today. How to Train Your Dragon 2 not only met my expectations, it exceeded them. It is a film filled with heart and yet it is shrouded in far more darkness than the first. It is a film that understands that the characters were fully developed already, yet they should never stop growing. It is a film that does everything it needs to do to ensure that the kids in the audience will have a blast watching it, yet I was not the only adult in my general area wiping tears from their eyes towards the end. In a world filled with disappointing sequels, I can understand now why I saw so many mentions of The Empire Strikes Back from reviews I encountered recently, and before anyone acts like this comparison is sacrilegious and absurd, trust me, you are reading the words of a person who considers Empire to be the second greatest film of all time. I am not saying the films are on the same level by any means, but in terms of taking an already great first film and actually managing to make a stronger, darker, more mature work with the sequel, this film very much follows in those footsteps.

I laughed, I cried, I basked in the warmth and yet also loved the shocking dark turn DeBlois was willing to take with this film. If you have seen the film you will know what scene I am referring to, and I wanted to applaud the balls it took to go in that direction, not just what happens but HOW it happens. When I was in Target yesterday shopping, I went down an aisle filled with different types of toys and merchandise from this film, and any time you paint a popular character in a negative light it is taking a risk, a sign that creativity and artistic integrity rose above simply being concerned about the bottom line. I had to explain why it happened to my child, and I doubt I was the only parent forced into this situation, but rather than shy away from it I embraced it. I'm proud to show a film to my child that forces her to examine character motivations and the repercussions of their actions rather than just blindly making the world feel good and pure and absurdly blissful.

I have used the word animated repeatedly in this review, but I want to be clear that this work should not be relegated to the top of a genre heap and disregarded, shamefully not treated as a truly extraordinary film. I have witnessed some special cinema in 2014 thus far, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 shines brighter than the rest, my new favorite film as we approach the halfway point on the calendar. I entered the theater today with massive expectations and yet still I was blown away.

Every single day I learn of a newly announced sequel and I roll my eyes, criticize the lack of ideas in Hollywood and the fact that decisions are only made with the goal of making money and not producing influential, exciting art. That being said, bring on How to Train Your Dragon 3. As long as the same dedication to making exceptional films sticks around, I could revisit a world populated by these characters over and over and over again.


Willow Creek Review

I just don't understand why found footage films continue to be made. The Blair Witch Project fascinated audiences, myself included, with this innovative concept of making the viewer believe what they were seeing was real, but besides the occasional interesting film to come alone in the sub-genre since then, it mostly has lost its luster. Just recently this year the new Ti West film The Sacrament was released and while it was an enjoyable enough experience, the found footage aspect of it made it feel phony, and I walked away from it feeling as if it was a pretty good but not great missed opportunity. (My review for that film can be found here).

Willow Creek is the newest film by filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait, a man who I never believed I could take seriously until he delighted my dark comedy senses with his amazing 2009 film World's Greatest Dad, and then to a lesser but still enjoyable extent in 2011 with God Bless America. Here Goldthwait steps away from the depraved humor he presented in those two previous films to bring the world yet another found footage horror film, this one very much in the same vein as The Blair Witch Project as the story revolves around a young couple entering the woods together in search of the supernatural, in this case specifically looking for Bigfoot.

Much to my surprise, I actually really admire this film for having the balls to build the tension at such a slow pace that it honestly was borderline boring eventually, but it paid off. The final twenty minutes of Willow Creek are wonderfully realized, the most effective feeling of being terrified of what lurks outside in the darkness since a strikingly similar scene from The Blair Witch, both of which involve the characters residing inside a tent and the viewers never being allowed access to what approaches them. I felt my skin crawl and jumped on multiple occasions during this sequence, so credit is absolutely due to Goldthwait for keeping my eyes glued to a film like this for the first time in a while.

Another important aspect to note that made this film work was the brilliant editing and usage of sound to heighten the sense of realism that is so often missing in the world of found footage. The two main characters are constantly turning off the camera, so when it comes back on in the midst of something happening it feels very believable that what we are seeing is authentic, that it is at least possible that real people occupy the frame and they went hours without filming until they felt compelled to acquire more footage. Also, the way the dialogue sounds and the array of various noises that occur in the woods made me feel strangely paranoid despite knowing I clearly wasn't with them in nature, forcing me to look around the room quickly at least twice in response to the sounds before reminding myself how silly that was.

Despite all the praise that Willow Creek deserves, I still didn't love the film, and that makes me wonder if I will ever love a found footage work again. Goldthwait managed to pull off one of the better efforts I have seen here, and it still fell short of being something awesome because my mind simply will not allow myself to love a film like this ever again. The best compliment I can give it, one that I very rarely would say about a film of this nature, is that I will watch it again when I get the chance.


Friday, June 13, 2014

10 Most Anticipated Films Remaining of 2014 - #5 - #1

The second half of my list of the most anticipated films yet to be released in 2014.

#5 - How to Train Your Dragon 2
Director: Dean DeBlois
Screenwriter: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera

Alright, so yet to be released might not apply here as it has officially opened and plenty of people are screening this film as we speak, but as I have yet to see it (will be doing so over the weekend) I feel it must be included. I have never held Dreamworks Animation to a very high standard, and because of this I was floored by the 2010 animated masterpiece (that's right, masterpiece) How to Train Your Dragon. The original film filled me with joy, dazzled me at every turn, and appealed to both my inner child and also the adult I am today. After multiple wondrous viewings, I elevated the story of young Hiccup and his beautiful friendship with a dragon named Toothless to one of my three favorite animated films ever made, behind only the original Toy Story and the breathtaking Miyazaki feature My Neighbor Totoro.

With the intense love I feel for the first film, its impossible not to walk into the cinema this weekend with massive, potentially unreachable expectations. Who knows, perhaps DeBlois can deliver the Empire Strikes Back of animated films, a sequel that somehow manages to rise above the lofty standards set by the first. Regardless, even if it falls short, I can't wait to soar through the air with these wonderful characters again.

#4 - Boyhood
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenwriter: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane

Boyhood ranks as my number four most anticipated film, but I have this gut feeling it could end up being my favorite work of the year. The ultimate passion project, a film that redefines the idea of a coming of age story, Linklater wanted to do a story about the life of a boy, following him from the age of 6 through the age of 18 but he didn't want to follow a normal brief filming timeline and recast different kids to represent different ages. He wanted authenticity unlike anything seen in cinema before, so Boyhood literally took twelve years to film before completion, allowing us to watch the same boy grow up before our very eyes. That alone could be looked at as merely a gimmick, but the film is getting absolutely rave reviews after playing at various festivals, currently holding an absurdly high Metacritic score of 96/100 with the reviews of 8 critics posted thus far, not to mention recently winning the Best Film award at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Linklater might be best known for the iconic comedy Dazed and Confused, and for good reason considering what a fantastic and memorable film that is, but if you need proof that he can handle human relationships and emotions beautifully go check out his sublime Before trilogy, the love story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) beginning with Before Sunrise in 1995, followed by Before Sunset in 2004, and concluding with Before Midnight in 2013. Much like the release dates, the story picks up every nine years as well and we are updated on the status of their relationship, and no trilogy has felt more honest and real. I cannot wait to see how Linklater handles the entire adolescence of a child. Check out the trailer above.

#3 - Inherent Vice
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Benecio del Toro

There is a simple reason Inherent Vice ranks so highly on my most anticipated list: Paul Thomas Anderson. When he makes a film, I am seeing it, plain and simple. His last work was the flawless masterpiece The Master, and he returns here with an adaptation of the psychedelic noir work of fiction sharing the same title by Thomas Pynchon. When I read the book, I couldn't help but notice the striking similarities between its content and the film The Big Lebowski, which is never, ever a bad thing seeing as that is my all time favorite comedy. Inherent Vice follows a private detective named Larry "Doc" Sportello as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, and the farther he digs for the truth the more bizarre the story gets.

After watching the fantastic 2007 film There Will Be Blood by PT Anderson, I immediately started considering him a modern day Kubrick mainly because it seems like no matter what genre or subject matter Anderson attempts to tackle, he nails it. I am intrigued to see what he does with this Pynchon material as it is highly comedic, a total change of pace from The Master. Inherent Vice is due out in December, right during awards season, and don't be surprised to see quite a few Oscar nominations rolling in for this film when the time comes.

#2 - Gone Girl
Director: David Fincher
Screenwriter: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry

Much like the previous film Inherent Vice, look no further for a reason to see Gone Girl than the man listed as the director of the project. David friggin' Fincher, a man whose work I truly admire starting with the way he kept me up at night with Se7en when I saw it at an age far too young and he is still knocking them out of the park as of 2011 with his American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In my opinion his finest work came in 2010 when he released The Social Network, a film so perfectly crafted that it finds itself comfortably sitting in my top ten films of all time. Don't even get me started on the fact that it lost out on Best Picture to The King's Speech. Absolutely criminal.

The film is an adaptation of a pretty darn good but not great source material, the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn who is also handling screenwriting duties for the film. The reason to be optimistic that a pretty good source material can become something brilliant with transitioning to the big screen is that the man in charge will know exactly how to handle such a dark concept, a story of a missing wife and the lead suspect being an innocent husband with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Dragon Tattoo felt similar in terms of quality, a good but not great novel, and what Fincher did in terms of atmosphere along with the perfect Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score (also returning here) was spectacular entertainment.

#1 - Interstellar
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine

We have arrived at number one, the film I can am so excited about I can barely contain it. Interstellar is the first original work by Christopher Nolan since he blew away audiences worldwide with Inception, and everything about this massive in scope release seems to indicate it will garner very much the same reaction. Featuring an all star cast and a fascinating story based on real life scientific possibilities, the trailer (posted above) is stunning and Nolan's love for using IMAX cameras should produce a grand, majestic picture.

My expectations were always going to be high with a auteur like Nolan sitting in the directors chair, but they went through the roof when the release date was announced as November 7th. This may seem like no big deal to some, but with Nolan stuck in the summer tent-pole slot multiple films in a row prior to this, the move to November is a telling sign that Warner Bros. has high hopes for this one both financially speaking and in terms of award possibilities.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

10 Most Anticipated Films Remaining of 2014 - #10 - #6

2014 has been a pretty excellent year for film thus far, but as we enter summer blockbuster territory and look beyond to the releases coming this fall and winter sure to garner attention from the awards voters, I couldn't resist the temptation to put together a most anticipated list for the rest the year. Being excited for a film that is yet to be released is a truly awesome feeling, when you are allowed to play out the possibility in your mind that a work could be so special, so inspiring that it might change your perspective on life...or just have a total, mindless blast, if that is what you so desire.

That being said, here are the ten films I have circled on the calendar as potential year end favorites, in descending order:

#10 - Big Eyes 
Director: Tim Burton
Screenwriters: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams

It has been a long, long time since a Tim Burton film would have appeared on any of my personal most anticipated lists. more than a decade actually, back to when Big Fish was released in 2003. As a big fan of both that film and the excellent Edward Scissorhands, I have been begging the cinematic gods for a fresh and original Burton release, but the seemingly never-ending cycle of remakes adapted with a Burton twist and starring Johnny Depp has alienated my opinion on the filmmaker's entire career. I had written off Burton as any sort of true visionary and to be honest, I had trouble not rolling my eyes when hearing a mention of his name. It isn't that I considered him poor at what he does, as pretty much everything I have seen by him is fine and totally watchable, but his career path feels even more egregious because I know the talent is there. I know he has it in him to release an enchanting, exciting original work that can dazzle the imaginations of millions. It's almost easier to just be a bad filmmaker because you never expect a thing under those circumstances, but it's frustrating to watch the man who brought us Scissorhands not be able to provide any sense of wonder these days.

I can only hope I had written him off too soon, because this Christmas his new film titled Big Eyes will open nationwide and it has all the makings to restore my faith in the man. Starring Christoph Waltz as Walter Keane and Amy Adams as Margaret Keane, the film tells the biographical story of the married couple that dazzled the world with their art work during the 50's and 60's, with Walter being the star artist...or so it would seem. While Margaret was the one creating art from their basement, Walter would sign his name to the bottom and be the face of their joint celebrity. This eventually caused a bitter divorce battle over her anger that he was stealing her work and thus, the spotlight.

I hesitate to get too excited about a Burton film, but I sure do like the sound of this one. Just squeaks into the bottom of my list.

#9 - Life Itself
Director: Steve James

Where as I needed some convincing to get excited about a Tim Burton film, the upcoming documentary Life Itself had me from the moment I discovered it would be made. Adapted by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) from the 2011 memoir by Roger Ebert of the same title, this film began its production while Roger was alive but unfortunately was not completed prior to his passing. I am sure the fact that he is no longer with us will add to the power and emotional resonance of the film, but I would trade those factors in immediately for the opportunity to read a newly published Ebert review.

As long as I can remember, Roger Ebert was my go to source for a critical analysis of a film. I have spent my entire life living in the suburbs outside of Chicago, and the Sun-Times was always my newspaper of choice. Not because of the overall content or the layout or whatever typical factors sway a person to choose one publication over another, no, I read the Sun-Times because each week I could open it up and find the eloquent words of Roger Ebert inside it. I never had any contact with the man whatsoever, yet he felt like a friend. That was the power of his words, and I miss him and them every single time I get excited about a film and go searching for a review. I cannot wait to see what I hope to be an honest, beautifully crafted documentary that appropriately honors his life.

#8 - The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenwriters: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly

Despite being an enormous fan of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy, I couldn't quite muster up the excitement for his return to this world with the prequel Hobbit films. My concerns appeared to be justified after the release of An Unexpected Journey, which was by no means a bad film but a disappointment when compared to the majestic storytelling perfection achieved by the highly regarded Rings films. However, the second film of the new trilogy titled The Desolation of Smaug was a huge step in the right direction, with seemingly every aspect of the film feeling like an improvement over the first.

When An Unexpected Journey ended, I pretty much shrugged my shoulders and felt very little enthusiasm for seeing where the story would go, but the end of Smaug left me wanting more, and I am expecting a big, bold and exciting conclusion with The Battle of Five Armies. It's a film that will demand an IMAX screen, hopefully a beautifully crafted spectacle, and I can't wait.

#7 - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenwriters: Peter Craig, Danny Strong
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson

Despite being my number seven most anticipated film for the remainder of 2014, I approach this film with some lingering doubts and concerns. I read the series of novels that the movies are adapted from prior to the release of the first film, and I enjoyed the first book, absolutely loved the second (Catching Fire), and then the quality seemed to regress again with the third and final installment titled Mockingjay. What specifically concerns me when it comes to this adaptation is that I cannot wrap my mind around splitting Mockingjay in half for two films, a blatant cash grab by the studio that might harm the quality of a film based on an already suspect source material.

So why am I excited about the film then, despite those pessimistic thoughts? Because Catching Fire was an incredible film and Francis Lawrence remains at the helm to complete the story of Katniss Everdeen. He clearly understands how to handle the material, as he stepped in to direct the second film after the seat was vacated by Gary Ross and what resulted was a sensational sequel. I approach Mockingjay Part One with confidence in the minds bringing it to life that the cinematic approach to the film will succeed on a far deeper level than the novel did.

#6 - Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Screenwriters: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

Do I need to explain my excitement for Guardians of the Galaxy? Have you seen the trailer? Perhaps the tone of it doesn't work for you, which is totally understandable if it simply isn't your thing, but my goodness I was hooked after the first 30 seconds of the preview and I couldn't want to enter this Marvel universe created by filmmaker James Gunn. My top complaint about the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been their constant attempts at silly humor in expense of a darker, more serious tone, yet a film that looks to be completely bonkers and filled with laughs has me counting down the days until its release. It shouldn't make sense, but every moment I have seen from this upcoming space adventure feels absurdly entertaining.

In 2013, the second phase of the MCU kicked off with huge expectations after the Avengers destroyed the box office, but Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 fell short for me, both pretty good films but deeply flawed and leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. In 2014 we already have the amazing second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier, which I feel is the finest work from Marvel studios to date, and I am hoping Guardians of the Galaxy makes the year a massive success leading into the Avengers sequel next May.

Coming soon, my top 5 most anticipated films of what is left of 2014.