Note: this film screened in competition at 2013’s Phoenix Film Festival and won multiple awards. The film is set for a limited release this Friday, April 25. Here’s an extended version of my review from last year. 
As the title screen popped up ten minutes into the The Retrieval’s start, I was convinced of its potential. The film demonstrates that independent film can be just as moving, if not more so, than standard Hollywood fare so long as talent resides behind the screen. Eska commands with his direction, delivering a story that is equal parts coming-of-age tale, love story, and adventure all set during the Civil War. While that would normally ask for loud, large set pieces, this is a quiet, affecting film, observing a young boy as he works with his uncle to return a slave for money. They trick him, telling of his brother dying and him needing to visit, but they’re trying to make a living and doing what they need to. Almost every character in the film is a slave, making for a dynamic that works wonders; the commentary is slight and observant, but the characters are wholly realized and interact with immediacy and maturity (and the performances are assured and convincing). Symbolically and metaphorically the film is effective, as is the rewarding, emotional conclusion. At the time I saw the film, it held a resonance I hadn’t felt in months. It’s a prime example of minimalism making a film remarkable. 
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

Note: this film screened in competition at 2013’s Phoenix Film Festival and won multiple awardsThe film is set for a limited release this Friday, April 25. Here’s an extended version of my review from last year. 

As the title screen popped up ten minutes into the The Retrievals start, I was convinced of its potential. The film demonstrates that independent film can be just as moving, if not more so, than standard Hollywood fare so long as talent resides behind the screen. Eska commands with his direction, delivering a story that is equal parts coming-of-age tale, love story, and adventure all set during the Civil War. While that would normally ask for loud, large set pieces, this is a quiet, affecting film, observing a young boy as he works with his uncle to return a slave for money. They trick him, telling of his brother dying and him needing to visit, but they’re trying to make a living and doing what they need to. Almost every character in the film is a slave, making for a dynamic that works wonders; the commentary is slight and observant, but the characters are wholly realized and interact with immediacy and maturity (and the performances are assured and convincing). Symbolically and metaphorically the film is effective, as is the rewarding, emotional conclusion. At the time I saw the film, it held a resonance I hadn’t felt in months. It’s a prime example of minimalism making a film remarkable. 

Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a tremendous achievement in filmmaking, one of the most intimate studies of childhood I’ve seen. The film, shot since 2002, centers on Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a 5-year old boy at the beginning of the film who ages over the years to be an 18-year old adult by the film’s conclusion. Chronicling his trouble in a divorced home, he lives with his mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), as the former attempts to find a stable home for her children without a father. Their birth father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), is a fun-loving man who cannot take responsibility for his actions; the details that emerge near the film’s end about the pregnancy that led to the children is natural and believable. These are flawed human beings that grow over the feature, both literally and characteristically, and each are deserving of their own narratives. Yet they all occupy Linklater’s 165-minute film. 
Linklater remains one of the great humanistic voices in modern film, having tackled the greatest romance in the history of the movies with the Before trilogy and mixing independent and mainstream films with ease. What he’s able to do here and done before is address the most relatable issues in life as if they are new and perfectly adjusted to the characters. He has Mason deal with peer pressure and bullying with single scenes, Olivia handle the struggle of children growing up in a broken home along with spouses and their drinking problems, and Mason Sr. with children that he rarely sees and an immaturity that constantly nags at him. The film progresses methodically and at its own whim, and the performances are stellar. Hawke and Arquette look young and vibrant in the beginning and matured and stable by the conclusion. And Coltrane is an astute actor that feels like he sincerely grew up on screen. The film also works as a terrific time capsule of the 2000s, with a soundtrack that hits the right notes of the decade. Boyhood works for me because I feel like I watched some of myself grow up on screen, and it’s a great depiction of maturation.
Grade: ★★★★½ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a tremendous achievement in filmmaking, one of the most intimate studies of childhood I’ve seen. The film, shot since 2002, centers on Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a 5-year old boy at the beginning of the film who ages over the years to be an 18-year old adult by the film’s conclusion. Chronicling his trouble in a divorced home, he lives with his mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), as the former attempts to find a stable home for her children without a father. Their birth father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), is a fun-loving man who cannot take responsibility for his actions; the details that emerge near the film’s end about the pregnancy that led to the children is natural and believable. These are flawed human beings that grow over the feature, both literally and characteristically, and each are deserving of their own narratives. Yet they all occupy Linklater’s 165-minute film. 

Linklater remains one of the great humanistic voices in modern film, having tackled the greatest romance in the history of the movies with the Before trilogy and mixing independent and mainstream films with ease. What he’s able to do here and done before is address the most relatable issues in life as if they are new and perfectly adjusted to the characters. He has Mason deal with peer pressure and bullying with single scenes, Olivia handle the struggle of children growing up in a broken home along with spouses and their drinking problems, and Mason Sr. with children that he rarely sees and an immaturity that constantly nags at him. The film progresses methodically and at its own whim, and the performances are stellar. Hawke and Arquette look young and vibrant in the beginning and matured and stable by the conclusion. And Coltrane is an astute actor that feels like he sincerely grew up on screen. The film also works as a terrific time capsule of the 2000s, with a soundtrack that hits the right notes of the decade. Boyhood works for me because I feel like I watched some of myself grow up on screen, and it’s a great depiction of maturation.

Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

Finding Vivian Maier is the rare documentary that centers on a subject that wasn’t discovered until after their death. Vivian Maier was a nanny for various families that freelanced in photography, never showing anyone her captured moments until John Maloof bought all of her boxes at an auction for a history project he was doing. Who would’ve thought that his discovery would lead to one of the great artistic minds of the late 20th century? The film navigates secondhand accounts of Maier’s life, with people ranging from previous clients to old friends discussing Maier’s secrecy and intimate nature around her life. They not only talk about her talent, but also about her obsessive nature, abusive child-rearing, and psychological issues. It’s a film that has too many talking heads, taking away from the narrative’s impact and focus. Yet I find documentaries that focus on the darker elements of a person’s life to be the most balanced, and for that reason Finding Vivian Maier fascinates me. 
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)

Finding Vivian Maier is the rare documentary that centers on a subject that wasn’t discovered until after their death. Vivian Maier was a nanny for various families that freelanced in photography, never showing anyone her captured moments until John Maloof bought all of her boxes at an auction for a history project he was doing. Who would’ve thought that his discovery would lead to one of the great artistic minds of the late 20th century? The film navigates secondhand accounts of Maier’s life, with people ranging from previous clients to old friends discussing Maier’s secrecy and intimate nature around her life. They not only talk about her talent, but also about her obsessive nature, abusive child-rearing, and psychological issues. It’s a film that has too many talking heads, taking away from the narrative’s impact and focus. Yet I find documentaries that focus on the darker elements of a person’s life to be the most balanced, and for that reason Finding Vivian Maier fascinates me. 

Grade: ★ (out of 5)

Few movies are as relentlessly grim and morbid as Joe, David Gordon Green’s latest independent side project. He showed a remarkable return to form with last year’s understated, subtly moving Prince Avalanche, yet I cannot recall the last time a film navigated a landscape as brutal and uncompromising as the one shown here. The movie focuses on Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), an alcoholic ex-con who works on killing trees in an area in the South. He stumbles upon a young boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan) who is looking for work, although he’s often followed by his deadbeat drunk of a father named Wade (Gary Poulter). Their path is one of simple survival in a world where they have to face the consequences of their actions. But my question is this: why, in a world where we can find thematically similar coming-of-age stories, must we as an audience be subjected to such brutal depictions of humanity? Do we need to see a drunk beat a man’s head in after already being shown that this man is, indeed, a relentless drunk? Or to see the aftermath of a dog tearing apart another dog? Or to see a father beat his son multiple times because of his ambition? Tye Sheridan was terrific in last year’s Mud, a far better film at dissecting the nuances of growing up, and he’s fine enough here when the role works. As is Nicolas Cage, who shows a return to genuinely serious acting. But the film is one of the more gruesome depictions of humanity I’ve ever seen, and it’s rarely relatable. 
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)

Few movies are as relentlessly grim and morbid as Joe, David Gordon Green’s latest independent side project. He showed a remarkable return to form with last year’s understated, subtly moving Prince Avalanche, yet I cannot recall the last time a film navigated a landscape as brutal and uncompromising as the one shown here. The movie focuses on Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), an alcoholic ex-con who works on killing trees in an area in the South. He stumbles upon a young boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan) who is looking for work, although he’s often followed by his deadbeat drunk of a father named Wade (Gary Poulter). Their path is one of simple survival in a world where they have to face the consequences of their actions. But my question is this: why, in a world where we can find thematically similar coming-of-age stories, must we as an audience be subjected to such brutal depictions of humanity? Do we need to see a drunk beat a man’s head in after already being shown that this man is, indeed, a relentless drunk? Or to see the aftermath of a dog tearing apart another dog? Or to see a father beat his son multiple times because of his ambition? Tye Sheridan was terrific in last year’s Mud, a far better film at dissecting the nuances of growing up, and he’s fine enough here when the role works. As is Nicolas Cage, who shows a return to genuinely serious acting. But the film is one of the more gruesome depictions of humanity I’ve ever seen, and it’s rarely relatable. 

Grade: ½ (out of 5)

thezenhen: I see a Nymphomaniac Vol 1 review. Did you see Vol 2? I'm wondering if it's worth watching b/c cinemas in NZ are showing it as a full 5 hour movie.

I actually haven’t seen Vol. 2 yet, but I’ve heard mixed things. The first one is thoroughly engaging and complex, so I’m hopeful, but I’m also skeptical on what the second part can do. I’ll probably get around to seeing it sometime by the end of April, since I’ve got a lot of films lined up over the next two weeks.

noah-andrew: What are your plans for grad school?

I hope to one day teach film, which would require me to go through a fair amount of grad school. My honors thesis is effectively a master’s thesis, so I’ll get experience there, and I want to have more understanding of film and the industry before I leave for the real world!

Some Updates

Hey everyone!

I only have a few more weeks of school (my last final is May 8th) and then I am done with my junior year of college. It’s hard to believe it’s gone by so quickly. Nonetheless, I cannot wait for summer to get here. 

I’m hoping to make some changes with the website. I’ve noticed that I haven’t been gaining the amount of followers and subscribers that I used to because, well, I haven’t been posting content like I was last summer. Now that my time in school is winding down, though, and I’m realizing what I want to do (i.e., go to grad school), I know how to balance my time a bit better. 

I’ll be ending some internships and watching at least a film a day. That’s my minimum goal for the summer. I’ve created a list of films that I need to see over the next four months along with the theatrical releases I’ll be catching. My goal is to increase the amount of releases I see each year, and last year was around 150. I’m gonna need to pick it up to surpass that for 2014. 

I’m re-launching the website at some point when I figure out what I want to do with it. I think there’s potential in growing the brand I’ve tried to create and I want to allow for more creative voices to appear through the website. 

I’m really excited to make a lot of changes this summer and keep the people that have been loyal over the years. I couldn’t do this without any of you, so it’s greatly appreciated.

Oh, and if you want to ask me any questions, my ask box is always open right here.

Other than that, here’s to a very eventful end of the semester, and an even more eventful summer!

Oculus is an effective piece of psychological horror, an unpredictably terrifying look at a mirror that has tormented families for centuries. The movie centers on a brother and sister, played by Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillian respectively, who are both attempting to put their past behind them. The former has recently been released from a mental institution after murdering his father, who went on a murderous rampage, killing their mother and then attempting to kill the children. The sister’s convinced that the mirror that their father had led to his craziness, and she works with her brother to destroy (and outsmart) the mirror. The film has elements of The Shining (within its psychological breakdown of a family at the hands of a father) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (with an unsettling mixture of reality and fantasy along with a protagonist that thinks they can outsmart the presence), even if it borrows a bit too much from both. But the film’s engaging due to its set-up because it allows for an unpredictable, almost nonsensical nature. Oculus is made for atmospheric horror viewing, with not a lot of sense involved but a whole lot of dread and hopelessness. 
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

Oculus is an effective piece of psychological horror, an unpredictably terrifying look at a mirror that has tormented families for centuries. The movie centers on a brother and sister, played by Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillian respectively, who are both attempting to put their past behind them. The former has recently been released from a mental institution after murdering his father, who went on a murderous rampage, killing their mother and then attempting to kill the children. The sister’s convinced that the mirror that their father had led to his craziness, and she works with her brother to destroy (and outsmart) the mirror. The film has elements of The Shining (within its psychological breakdown of a family at the hands of a father) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (with an unsettling mixture of reality and fantasy along with a protagonist that thinks they can outsmart the presence), even if it borrows a bit too much from both. But the film’s engaging due to its set-up because it allows for an unpredictable, almost nonsensical nature. Oculus is made for atmospheric horror viewing, with not a lot of sense involved but a whole lot of dread and hopelessness. 

Grade:  (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

Draft Day never finds the right mixture of narrative excitement and NFL commercialism, falling flat in most regards outside of a fairly engaging final half hour. The movie follows Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, at the beginning of the most important day of his career. He’s facing strife from his girlfriend, Ali (Jennifer Garner), who runs the team’s finances, along with conflict from the owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), who wants him to make a splash at the draft. That would require getting a franchise QB, which everyone believes the team needs, but Weaver doesn’t see that; he likes linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster). The story follows his pursuit to get the #1 overall pick and make an impact for his team, but the process feels too safe and uninspired. It doesn’t lend itself well to a narrative feature because the added drama feels unnecessary and insincere in the context of the ruthless nature of building an NFL franchise. Costner is respectable in the lead, but this is one of Ivan Reitman’s weaker efforts. It feels like a film fit for documentary form, and never goes above what it needs to do to promote the brand of the NFL. 
Grade: ★★ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

Draft Day never finds the right mixture of narrative excitement and NFL commercialism, falling flat in most regards outside of a fairly engaging final half hour. The movie follows Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, at the beginning of the most important day of his career. He’s facing strife from his girlfriend, Ali (Jennifer Garner), who runs the team’s finances, along with conflict from the owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), who wants him to make a splash at the draft. That would require getting a franchise QB, which everyone believes the team needs, but Weaver doesn’t see that; he likes linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster). The story follows his pursuit to get the #1 overall pick and make an impact for his team, but the process feels too safe and uninspired. It doesn’t lend itself well to a narrative feature because the added drama feels unnecessary and insincere in the context of the ruthless nature of building an NFL franchise. Costner is respectable in the lead, but this is one of Ivan Reitman’s weaker efforts. It feels like a film fit for documentary form, and never goes above what it needs to do to promote the brand of the NFL. 

Grade: ★★ (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

Obvious Child shines a light on stand-up comedy and its connection with everyday life in an oddly affecting way. The movie centers on Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a Brooklyn comedian who often channels her personal life into her work, leading to a break-up that’s been imminent for months. She finds out the next day that her job is going out the window due to a store closure and that she’s pregnant within a few weeks’ time. Everything goes wrong. The movie’s a prime example of comedy emerging out of pain, with Donna facing constant turmoil and using comedy (and alcohol, often) as a catharsis for her emotional pain. Her relationship with Max (Jake Lacy), a straight-laced guy who finds himself out of his element when spending time with her, is the centerpiece of the film that makes this odd couple pairing thrive. Obvious Child proves that Jenny Slate should be leading a lot of raunchy comedies, since she commands the screen and helps bring out the nuances of Gillian Robespierre’s script. The movie’s atypical until its final five minutes, when it address its similarities to most romantic comedies, but its engagement with the topic of abortion is wholly unique and prime for comedy. The movie’s hilarious and daring.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

Obvious Child shines a light on stand-up comedy and its connection with everyday life in an oddly affecting way. The movie centers on Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a Brooklyn comedian who often channels her personal life into her work, leading to a break-up that’s been imminent for months. She finds out the next day that her job is going out the window due to a store closure and that she’s pregnant within a few weeks’ time. Everything goes wrong. The movie’s a prime example of comedy emerging out of pain, with Donna facing constant turmoil and using comedy (and alcohol, often) as a catharsis for her emotional pain. Her relationship with Max (Jake Lacy), a straight-laced guy who finds himself out of his element when spending time with her, is the centerpiece of the film that makes this odd couple pairing thrive. Obvious Child proves that Jenny Slate should be leading a lot of raunchy comedies, since she commands the screen and helps bring out the nuances of Gillian Robespierre’s script. The movie’s atypical until its final five minutes, when it address its similarities to most romantic comedies, but its engagement with the topic of abortion is wholly unique and prime for comedy. The movie’s hilarious and daring.

Grade: ★ (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

The Grand Seduction is a charming independent film that puts the mind at ease and engages with eccentricities. The movie centers on the small harbor of Tickle Cove, a fishing haven that is in dire need of a town doctor to help them convince a company to build a factory. The town is ravaged by the economy and has felt the effects of a changing world landscape; the movie’s protagonist, Murray French (Brendan Gleeson), had a strong fishing father but is on welfare now and sees his wife leave for the city to support them financially. These are straining times, and the help of Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) proves that they might be able to last. But they have to lie in order to convince him to stay, since their harbor isn’t the most exciting: they tell him that they love cricket (the doctor’s favorite sport), they tidy up every element of the town, plant money so he finds it everyday, etc. They make the town feel special. The performances are solid and the film’s script navigates the story with charm and slight commentary. It is a fairly simple film, but it’s fun and optimistic, a rarity in cinema nowadays.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

The Grand Seduction is a charming independent film that puts the mind at ease and engages with eccentricities. The movie centers on the small harbor of Tickle Cove, a fishing haven that is in dire need of a town doctor to help them convince a company to build a factory. The town is ravaged by the economy and has felt the effects of a changing world landscape; the movie’s protagonist, Murray French (Brendan Gleeson), had a strong fishing father but is on welfare now and sees his wife leave for the city to support them financially. These are straining times, and the help of Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) proves that they might be able to last. But they have to lie in order to convince him to stay, since their harbor isn’t the most exciting: they tell him that they love cricket (the doctor’s favorite sport), they tidy up every element of the town, plant money so he finds it everyday, etc. They make the town feel special. The performances are solid and the film’s script navigates the story with charm and slight commentary. It is a fairly simple film, but it’s fun and optimistic, a rarity in cinema nowadays.

Grade: ½ (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

Locke is an ambitious film that never captivated me in the way I had hoped. Steven Knight’s feature focuses on a man named Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a successful construction engineer that finds himself facing all of his life’s problems on one night. He is driving to meet a woman that he had an affair with since she is given birth to a child they conceived; he’s calling his wife and kids to let them know he won’t be there for the soccer game they’re supposed to watch (and letting his wife finally know about his lovechild); and he’s working out deals on the phone for a construction plan he has starting at 5:30 the next morning. The biggest problem I have with Locke is that the central character’s conflict is not convincing enough. We don’t see any supporting characters and the story cycles through the phone calls with predictability. There’s not a single shred of emotional detail that is not expected, despite an interesting twist on the fact that Locke’s father was never there for him. I admire what Knight attempts to do with the film, but I felt it was unengaging and monotonous. 
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

Locke is an ambitious film that never captivated me in the way I had hoped. Steven Knight’s feature focuses on a man named Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a successful construction engineer that finds himself facing all of his life’s problems on one night. He is driving to meet a woman that he had an affair with since she is given birth to a child they conceived; he’s calling his wife and kids to let them know he won’t be there for the soccer game they’re supposed to watch (and letting his wife finally know about his lovechild); and he’s working out deals on the phone for a construction plan he has starting at 5:30 the next morning. The biggest problem I have with Locke is that the central character’s conflict is not convincing enough. We don’t see any supporting characters and the story cycles through the phone calls with predictability. There’s not a single shred of emotional detail that is not expected, despite an interesting twist on the fact that Locke’s father was never there for him. I admire what Knight attempts to do with the film, but I felt it was unengaging and monotonous. 

Grade: ★½ (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

The Phoenix Film Festival started last night, so I went to opening night and then saw 4 films today. I also remembered I have an essay due Sunday morning, so I’ve been trying to stay awake to work on everything. 

The Phoenix Film Festival started last night, so I went to opening night and then saw 4 films today. I also remembered I have an essay due Sunday morning, so I’ve been trying to stay awake to work on everything. 

(Source: giphy.com)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most politically relevant superhero film since The Dark Knight. It’s a fierce tale of a man within a governmental program that is out-of-hand and morally corrupt, and more importantly it’s the first film Marvel has made that’s relevant to our time. The movie stars Chris Evans as the titular character in a post-Avengers world, working within S.H.I.E.L.D. as a superagent of sort alongside Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). They work with new agents and attempt to take care of a threat that originates inside of their own organization, leading to mass chaos and a return of a familiar face. Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce is a terrific presence that allows the film to explore the nature of the American government and its invasion of privacy. The effective mirroring of drone strikes, excessive governmental power, and corruption in a government agency designed to protect the people is such a perfect product of its time. And even without the film’s intelligent commentary, the film balances character development, great action scenes, and a sense of self remarkably. This is one of the best superhero films ever made. 
Grade: ★★★★½ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most politically relevant superhero film since The Dark Knight. It’s a fierce tale of a man within a governmental program that is out-of-hand and morally corrupt, and more importantly it’s the first film Marvel has made that’s relevant to our time. The movie stars Chris Evans as the titular character in a post-Avengers world, working within S.H.I.E.L.D. as a superagent of sort alongside Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). They work with new agents and attempt to take care of a threat that originates inside of their own organization, leading to mass chaos and a return of a familiar face. Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce is a terrific presence that allows the film to explore the nature of the American government and its invasion of privacy. The effective mirroring of drone strikes, excessive governmental power, and corruption in a government agency designed to protect the people is such a perfect product of its time. And even without the film’s intelligent commentary, the film balances character development, great action scenes, and a sense of self remarkably. This is one of the best superhero films ever made. 

Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

hajimete-travel: Any plans on reviewing "Saving Mr Banks"? I feel like this is such an underrated film and I'd love to see your feedback on it. Thanks in advance!

I actually reviewed it back in December! You can find it here. Hopefully that helps!