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!

Noah is a crazily ambitious tale of spirituality and artistic vision. Telling the tale of Noah and his ark while simultaneously crafting a story about man’s destruction of nature and corruption of self, Darren Aronofsky balances science and faith in an imperfectly effective way. The story focuses on Noah (Russell Crowe) and his visions from God that tell him he must save all of the animals and prepare for the destruction of everything that inhabits Earth. Everyone expects him to see fire scorching the soil and the Earth burning, but Noah sees people drowned and realizes that a flood is imminent. Along with his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his sons Ham (Logan Lerman) and Shem (Douglas Booth), and their adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), they build the ark with the help of the Watchers, fallen angels who are mostly enclosed in rocks and have immense strength. He won’t do any of this without a challenge, though, as Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) and the rest of his uncivilized, animal-eating men attempt to storm the ark and earn entry even if they do not deserve it. They claim they have followed His path because He put animals on this Earth for men to conquer, but Noah sees them as impure and continues to believe that God has given him the right mission and message. 
If this doesn’t sound like a Darren Aronofsky film, that’s because it’s more in the film’s style and second half that his thematic vision truly emerges. There’s no denying that this is a flawed picture. Yet the vision always remains that Noah is embattled within about following God’s word without much sign of hope, and the destruction of his family will come from his madness. Russell Crowe’s performance is a career best, understanding the complexities of his character lie within his actions and words; Jennifer Connelly, on the other hand, has a character that mostly relies on emotional outbursts. They are effective, and her performance is strong, but the female characters here rely on irrational emotions to define their characters. Watson and Lerman are good in their supporting roles, and Anthony Hopkins is strangely compelling. Where this film strays from the biblical tale is not up to my assessment; I can almost guarantee that the beautiful sequence where Noah describes the beginning of life and shows science and evolution was not in the Bible. But the film’s ambitious in scope and wonderfully directed by Aronofsky, and I feel that multiple viewings will reward both the religious and the doubters. 
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)
See my full video review right HERE.

Noah is a crazily ambitious tale of spirituality and artistic vision. Telling the tale of Noah and his ark while simultaneously crafting a story about man’s destruction of nature and corruption of self, Darren Aronofsky balances science and faith in an imperfectly effective way. The story focuses on Noah (Russell Crowe) and his visions from God that tell him he must save all of the animals and prepare for the destruction of everything that inhabits Earth. Everyone expects him to see fire scorching the soil and the Earth burning, but Noah sees people drowned and realizes that a flood is imminent. Along with his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his sons Ham (Logan Lerman) and Shem (Douglas Booth), and their adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), they build the ark with the help of the Watchers, fallen angels who are mostly enclosed in rocks and have immense strength. He won’t do any of this without a challenge, though, as Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) and the rest of his uncivilized, animal-eating men attempt to storm the ark and earn entry even if they do not deserve it. They claim they have followed His path because He put animals on this Earth for men to conquer, but Noah sees them as impure and continues to believe that God has given him the right mission and message. 

If this doesn’t sound like a Darren Aronofsky film, that’s because it’s more in the film’s style and second half that his thematic vision truly emerges. There’s no denying that this is a flawed picture. Yet the vision always remains that Noah is embattled within about following God’s word without much sign of hope, and the destruction of his family will come from his madness. Russell Crowe’s performance is a career best, understanding the complexities of his character lie within his actions and words; Jennifer Connelly, on the other hand, has a character that mostly relies on emotional outbursts. They are effective, and her performance is strong, but the female characters here rely on irrational emotions to define their characters. Watson and Lerman are good in their supporting roles, and Anthony Hopkins is strangely compelling. Where this film strays from the biblical tale is not up to my assessment; I can almost guarantee that the beautiful sequence where Noah describes the beginning of life and shows science and evolution was not in the Bible. But the film’s ambitious in scope and wonderfully directed by Aronofsky, and I feel that multiple viewings will reward both the religious and the doubters. 

Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)

See my full video review right HERE.

Divergent is bursting with potential but never seems to shine. It’s a film backed by an effectively nuanced lead performance by Shailene Woodley, along with a strong supporting cast that produces a sense of urgency about this post-apocalyptic world. The story centers around Tris (Shailene Woodley), a young girl who lives in a world divided by factions based on virtues. You choose your faction when you are of age, and 95% of children align with the faction in which they grow up. But Tris is “divergent,” which means she received multiple factions when she took her test. She chooses Dauntless, a militaristic group of people who are nothing like her family. People often say “faction before family,” but Tris has a hard time grasping that, especially when her family’s faction is accused of attempting to overthrow their government. The story is perfect for a novel but convoluted in film form; it’s heavy on exposition and light on the character development that thrives in this type of filmmaking. There’s also a traditional love story at the center, and even with a strong performance from Theo James, it still feels a bit grating. This film series has potential; I like the central concept despite the slightly foggy translation to film. The sequels will be a true test to prove whether it’s anything more than an intriguing idea. 
Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)

Divergent is bursting with potential but never seems to shine. It’s a film backed by an effectively nuanced lead performance by Shailene Woodley, along with a strong supporting cast that produces a sense of urgency about this post-apocalyptic world. The story centers around Tris (Shailene Woodley), a young girl who lives in a world divided by factions based on virtues. You choose your faction when you are of age, and 95% of children align with the faction in which they grow up. But Tris is “divergent,” which means she received multiple factions when she took her test. She chooses Dauntless, a militaristic group of people who are nothing like her family. People often say “faction before family,” but Tris has a hard time grasping that, especially when her family’s faction is accused of attempting to overthrow their government. The story is perfect for a novel but convoluted in film form; it’s heavy on exposition and light on the character development that thrives in this type of filmmaking. There’s also a traditional love story at the center, and even with a strong performance from Theo James, it still feels a bit grating. This film series has potential; I like the central concept despite the slightly foggy translation to film. The sequels will be a true test to prove whether it’s anything more than an intriguing idea. 

Grade: ★★ (out of 5)