The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty_

25Star

by Ken B.

When we first meet him, you can’t help but feel bad for Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller). He doesn’t believe he’s accomplished anything noteworthy. He lives in a cramped apartment. He’s not outgoing. He’s bored. To escape his life, he’ll often stare off into space and conjure up grand tapestries of a world where he is confident, focused, and brave, getting what he wants while taking down those who are against him. However, his constant imagination often affects his communication skills. This lack of focus proves dangerous when Life magazine, where he’s worked with photo negatives for sixteen years, downsizes to an online operation, and leaves poor impressions with Ted (Adam Scott), the manager in charge of choosing the employees for the company to keep.  Continue reading

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Upstream Color

Upstream Color_

3Star

by Ken B.

A corrupted but honorable merge of The Tree of Life and the collective work of David Lynch would lead to an aesthetic that could almost adequately describe the one presented Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. Much like Malick’s existentialism rush, it digs into insurmountable philosophical musings, and the Lynch gene is its bizarre imagery and multilayered sound design – one of the best I’ve ever heard. It’s a curious thinkpiece, original in such an overwhelming way that the fact that I even dared compare it to anything else would suggest a minimal understanding of the movie.

Customarily, a review spends the two paragraphs after the lead describing the first act or so of the story, in order to show the reader if he or she would like it, regardless of what the reviewer thought. I would do that here, if I could understand the plot. There is one, there is something driving the characters, but it’s never explicitly revealed what it is – never revealing the details behind something is definitely the driving force behind the movie, written by, directed by, edited by, shot by, composed by, co-produced by, and starring Carruth.

There’s a hypnotic nature to the elements at hand; an idiosyncrasy, from a pig farmer (Andrew Sensening) also dabbling in medical operations and sound editing like some sort of DJ-Foley mix, a surrealist first act where events start at a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) being kidnapped and experiencing events ranging from copying passages of Walden to waking up worms crawling under her skin. There is some connection, although it isn’t altogether certain what it is, between that and a following narrative, where against the backdrop of the relationship between Kris and a man named Jeff (Carruth) as they piece together that they have both been victims of whatever happened.

I am at a loss to “describe” Upstream Color, as it is, as I have mentioned, a movie beyond basic description. Typically, writing a review or summarizing an opinion is not a particularly difficult task, but when a movie like this comes along, each step of the writing process becomes more and more self-aware. I can start by saying that I do indeed recommend Upstream Color, but this comes with a whole house of caveats for the on the fence viewer. Those who don’t wish to read this guide can skip down these next three points:

  • First off, you’ll need an appreciation (or at least a tolerance) of the stereotypical textbook definition of “art house”. As I reiterate for the thousandth time, this is an exceptionally weird movie. I did not know Carruth’s character’s name was Jeff until the end credits. Recurring themes (pigs, matching shots in both urban and outdoors settings, characters doing just plain odd things) will be presented to you, and it is your job to selectively and personally interpret them.
  • Next, you’ll need the recognition that you are going to have to (and will want to, hopefully) rewatch this movie. Multiple times. The review you see here is not a document of my final thoughts on Upstream Color. Not by a mile. This might not even be the last article I specifically devote to it. This screams out as a film that requires further time dedicated to it in order to give the viewer the experiences it requests. I imagine this was an elementary foundation on which Carruth developed this project.
  • Lastly, before you watch Upstream Color, know that unless you have a very solid cinematic constitution, you will most likely have moments, no matter how fleeting, of undeniable frustration with this film’s 96 minutes. It’s open-ended and transcendent style can really work for some, but will break others. Tread carefully.

Okay, that’s done. I’m not sure whether I’m at a point where I can say much more. What I do know for sure is that Upstream Color is one of the most intriguing projects I’ve ever seen, never anything less than entirely absorbing. The acting, even when no words are being said, is compelling. The sound is nearly telling of what is important when: Towards the start, where characters are being manipulated, show powerlessness by making dialogue tinny and sometimes near-inaudible, focusing more on nature and related sounds. As the film progresses, and characters and interactions become vital, sound levels become more normal. The visuals, often washed out and in unassuming colors, elevates style, brimming with mystery and elusive concepts.

Shane Carruth’s second film has displayed the impression that a grasp on an idea is not exclusively the backdrop of appreciating a piece of work. The three star rating here is mainly ceremonial and done by self-set necessity, showing a crude symbol of my personal opinion (frustrating, but very, very, very immersive). Never before have I been so quick to recommend a movie I have had such a minimal grasp on.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

Upstream Color

 

Frozen

Frozen_

3Star

by Ken B.

Frozen trounces along for 102 minutes as a grandly musical and visually stunning film. It’s very much an example of classic Disney, from the mythical elements to the princesses to an underlying message of great importance. While it is not entirely perfect, for the most part, Frozen is a very much enjoyable film, escaping just a target audience of little kids and achieving the status of being a solid movie for just about everyone.

It is set in a fictional northern European kingdom, Arendelle, where since childhood Princess Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) has withheld the power to conjure ice and snow. She has been forced to hide it since an event in childhood where her sister Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) was nearly killed in an incident caused by her powers. All memories Anna withheld of Elsa’s abilities were magically modified to eschew any fantastical elements. As a result of the event, Elsa became deeply introverted and spent the remainder of her childhood largely alone, away from Anna.

In adulthood, following the death of her parents, Elsa, as the oldest child, is to be named queen. At a ball on the night of her coronation, after dismissing Anna’s request to marry a foreign prince (voice of Santino Fontana) because the two had only met earlier that day, Elsa accidentally unleashes her powers, and is alienated by those who see it. She subsequently runs away into the mountains, creates an ice castle, and casts an eternal winter over Arendelle. Anna then attempts to find her sister and reverse the curse cast over the kingdom, with the help of a local ice merchant named Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and Olaf (voice of Josh Gad), an anthropomorphic snowman created by Elsa.

The main attraction to Frozen ever since it was released was the music – namely Best Song winner “Let it Go”, a greatly empowering rally anthem for Elsa in the first act. As of this writing, the official clip on YouTube has 215 million views. The songs, by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, serve a decent effect for the story in developing characters and expanding upon plot points. As with any good musical, it adds an element to the production in total. Frozen genuinely needs and uses its musical numbers, they’re not just tacked on for the sake of tacking them on. While Broadway veteran Menzel has the strongest voice, the supporting cast can hold their own in a song. Another definitive positive is what the voices back – the animation, which is immaculate, from small character details to grand sweeping mountains.

I have a friend that considers herself some kind of a self-styled aficionado on  animated films, among other things, or really animation in general. She generally favors Japanese anime over American animation, but she did indeed see Frozen. She mainly enjoyed it, but said in no uncertain terms that she hated Olaf. I never asked why, but now having seen the film, I feel like the character does serve as a visualization (and cause) of one of the main problems with the movie. Olaf is a character largely in the film for comic relief, but his segments and jokes seem largely stuffed into the film for no apparent reason. Frozen is a film with some definite dark elements in its plot, but the overall mood of the picture gets quite lopsided when these are mixed with a talking snowman singing about how excited he is for summer. (The joke within, which is Anna and Kristoff debating internally whether or not to inform Olaf about what happens to snow when it gets warm, works much better than the song itself). This kind of comedic interweaving is there for kids, but it comes off as tonal inconsistency for everyone else, and undermines its overall impact.

Frozen isn’t flawless – the above mentioned problems as well as a quite conventional plot outline compared to the radical movements and filmmaking revolutions of Disney renaissance staples such as The Lion King keep this movie from among my favorite from this studio, but it still serves as an easy recommendation for both seasoned moviegoers and those wanting to introduce Disney to children. No matter how you slice it, this is a solid piece of cinema and animation from a studio where we have collectively come to expect nothing but the best (maybe because they’re quickly taking over the world’s media).

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray / Soundtrack

Frozen

World War Z

World War Z_

3Star

by Ken B.

When story after story piped out of Hollywood about the troubled big budget adaptation of the zombie novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel), critics and fans nervously wondered what kind of a calamity the final project might be.

And then it came out. It was actually pretty good, they said.

I agree. Marc Forster’s World War Z is a fast moving and exciting film, using up each of its 116 minutes for increasingly absurd but certainly not uninteresting entertainment. It follows a sudden and global outbreak of rabies-triggered zombie-itis. Cities fall in hours as those bitten turn almost instantly. Gerry (Brad Pitt) and his family experience this first hand, navigating through the Philadelphia as the epidemic tears through the streets.

Gerry’s a former UN employee who recently quit in the interest of becoming a stay at home dad. He uses his former connections to get his family on a warship, filled with military personnel. He’s then informed that he needs to be of some use if he’s going to be here – find Patient Zero of the disease, and therefore a gateway for the cure. So he does, bouncing around the world for answers whilst witnessing the collapse of the world, all whilst trying to keep contact with his wife (Mirielle Enos).

It’s all very engaging, as big action set pieces occur in settings from a huge wall in Jerusalem in which Gerry recruits a local soldier only known as Segen (Daniella Kertesz), to the hallways of a W.H.O. clinic in Wales, where Peter Capaldi plays a doctor. (Yes, Peter Capaldi plays a doctor for W.H.O. If that was intentional, what a wonderful idea.)

However, for all of its interesting moments and style, this movie isn’t perfect. The biggest complaint at hand with World War Z is how sloppily the conclusion is plotted. Apparently there was another one scripted, but this was scrapped for the current one, which is riddled with far-fetched events and in a generally unsatisfying manner. It’s understandable to be suspicious for a claim of “far-fetched events” being a negative aspect in a summer blockbuster about zombies, but suffice it to say that the matters in question are not a) disclosable without spoiling the end of the film and b) not related to the science of the undead. Another issue is a constantly shaking camera, especially at the start. This was most likely done for two reasons: Add “tension” and keep the violence obscured for a PG-13, in order to make more money. I dislike both justifications for doing so, mainly because of my dislike for the shaky cam in the first place.

World War Z still reigns triumphant as a fully fleshed and eerie thriller. Cinematography and logical sins notwithstanding, this is a solid evening’s entertainment, perhaps even carrying a steady rewatchability factor as disposable but competent fun. This is a recommendable and more or less engaging event, a cut above the average blockbuster.

Buy from Amazon: Book / DVD / Blu-ray / Blu-ray 3D

World War Z

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching Fire_

3Star

by Ken B.

A vast improvement over an underwhelming predecessor, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire works because it is darker and deeper and more thorough and engrossing. With new director Francis Lawrence, the manic, shaky, and generally incoherent cinematography of Gary Ross is left in the dust. It is a fuller look at the political underworkings and sociopolitical satire only mentioned in passing (or not at all) in The Hunger Games, with captivating second and third acts, leading up to a startlingly effective final fifteen minutes.

Following the 74th Hunger Games, victors Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are sent on a victory tour. In participating in this tradition, they head across Panem (a geographic area comprising mainly of real world North America), visiting all twelve districts and making speeches – an arrogant practice, considering that these are the winners of the competition in which members of eleven of these twelve districts saw two children from their homeland die. It is also around then when we see that the dystopian government under President Snow (Donald Sutherland), has grown even more militaristic and fascist, not hesitating to publicly flog or execute any political dissenters.

Now it is time for the seventy-fifth installment of the games. Snow and Hunger Games game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (one of the last major roles of Philip Seymour Hoffman) see Katniss as a threat, a possible spark for a revolution, and conclude that she must die. As a result, different rules for the year’s games are invoked where the field of competitors must be chosen from previous victors from the twelve districts. A new arena has been designed, with new and unique lethal challenges. Now, more importantly than ever, Katniss and Peeta realize the importance of forming alliances with other competitors. By far, the one with the most screen time is Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin), a self-assured and adept winner from not too long ago. Others include the mysterious Johanna (Jena Malone), the elderly Mags (Lynn Cohen), and the savvy Beetee (Jeffrey Wright).

The games, when they start, are regularly absorbing. While the 146 minute film has the tendency to drag every now and then, especially in the first act, it’s never for very long, and deemed even more insignificant by the great acting present. Of course there are good things to be expected by Sutherland, Hoffman, and Lawrence, but even the supporting actors leave a solid impression. I had never been previously very impressed by Josh Hutcherson as an actor, but he ups his game a bit here, as does Liam Hemsworth as Gale, in a smaller but important role. Relative newcomer Sam Clafin is quite good as Finnick.

The technical level of Catching Fire is exceptional. We’re finally allowed to see it now that the camera has stopped shaking. The set design of the decadent and corrupt capital of Panem is garish and eye-popping, matching the satirical nature of the costumes and hairstyles of its residents. The obstacles in the arena, from rabid monkeys to a vesicant in the form of fog, are eerie and well done. Early in the film, when the districts are toured as part of the victory tour, we see hundreds of nameless faces looking at Katniss and Peeta, symbols of the tyrannical nation they live in. This is benefited by atmospheric cinematography from Jo Willems, proving immersive in all of the vast places the movie takes us. While this is not a perfect film, with the aforementioned occasional sluggish pacing and minor plot quibbles (such as Katniss having a seemingly never ending supply of arrows), it is still efficient in its own right.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an absorbing middle entry in the popular franchise, not only working for the fans, but viewers in general. Too often filmmakers focus on adapting young adult novels for their supporters, and forgetting about the success and gratification that arises from making it an accessible film. The cast and crew under the leadership of Francis Lawrence have clearly not fallen under this trap, and with the knowledge that Lawrence will be helming the (unfortunately) two-part finale, we can rest assured that it will most likely be handled with similar amounts of the quality and skill on display here.

Buy from Amazon: Book / DVD / Blu-ray

Catching Fire

One Direction: This is Us

This is Us_

The final part of a six-part examination on recent documentaries, which was indeed finished by the end of the month!

2Star

by Ken B.

First, let me state my opinion on the band itself, as to avoid any misunderstandings. It seems like the standard stance for males from their teens to early twenties to immediately, entirely, and irreversibly dismiss anything whose target audience is tween girls. Despite sliding into such an age group, I don’t hate One Direction. I don’t like them either, but I consider them to be a regular, generic, and decent pop group with some catchy (and overtly basic) songs. I don’t hold a cynical grudge against the band, but I certainly could think of better things to do than listen to a whole album. Now that that’s cleared up, and you know where I’m coming from, let’s start the review:

Here is a kangaroo court of a documentary overseen by a Supreme Court justice. The judge is Morgan Spurlock, and the documentary is One Direction: This is Us. The film follows the ridiculously popular British boy band, from their roots as a money making venture foreseen by Simon Cowell after each was individually rejected from the TV show The X Factor, to their millions of Twitter followers before an album was released, to their worldwide tour, for which the concert footage in the film is generated.

Earlier this month, I saw Morgan Spurlock viciously expose the already painfully existent world of advertising and product placement in his third feature film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It is a biting and brilliant look, even though short and sometimes unfulfilling. This is Us gives no one any information of real value. A puff piece, pure and simple, it’s not particularly surprising to learn that Spurlock didn’t have final cut privilege over the final product, with such an honor left in the hands of the band’s management team and publicity drones. Perhaps this was first evident by the viewer’s (and the film’s) immediate impressions of Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, and Zayn Malik – These are nice guys. Talented, funny, polished, spotless.

Maybe too spotless. Any real feeling or especially eye-opening points are mainly missing from this documentary that feels as processed as Kraft “cheese”. The PR machine was hard at work preparing the 92 minutes released to theatres (a fourteen minute longer extended cut exists, but one may safely predict that it is more of the same). There are occasional moments of seeming realism or spontaneity – the band being cornered into a Nike store in Amsterdam by hordes of fans that conjures up images of many a zombie scene from a TV show, movie, or video game, and a sequence where the guys ponder where they would be if they weren’t One Direction, but times where the members of the band seem real and the fans anything less than non-intrusively adoring are rare. Snip, snip, says the publicist in the editing bay.

Much as there are occasional moments of realism, there are fleeting moments of actual entertainment for the non-devoted. These are mostly restricted to souped up concert scenes. From comic-ized sequences to obvious effects made for the 3D release, the quirkiness seems to feel like Spurlock must have something to do with it, as his personality and editing style in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold would suggest. Another event that provided personal legitimate enjoyment and a chuckle seems to exist purely for the people that were dragged along with small children to multiplexes playing the film; it sees Martin Scorsese with his granddaughter meeting the band members.

One Direction: This is Us is an inoffensive look at its namesake pop group. Like all bands that achieve global popularity, you wonder when their decline in fame will arise, how jolting or well handled it will be, and if there will be one that will continue a streak of fame even following (à la Justin Timberlake). It leaves little impression and is rather boring to the non-fan, so its status as well meaning propaganda for a sector of the world leaves it comfortable in the presence similar movies made for the likes of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (by the way, Spurlock was considered to direct films for those two, as well).

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray / Blu-ray 3D

This is Us

Captain Phillips – Review

Captain Phillips_

 

3-5Star

by Ken B.

The unrelentingly intense Captain Phillips is a showcase of acting and storytelling. Based on events collected in a memoir, regardless of how true or untrue they may be, Paul Greengrass’ film is another example of the director’s frequency in crafting atmospheric movies about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations, and doing it very well.

Tom Hanks is at his finest as Richard Phillips, who was captaining the cargo ship Maersk Alabama when it was hijacked by Somali pirates in April 2009, by a team led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi). They had been warned about this, now was the time to act. The rest of the crew is hidden in the depths of the engine rooms. He’s able to hold them off for a little while. Muse wants millions of dollars, but the ship only holds packaged food and $30,000. No matter. They force Phillips into a lifeboat and they’re off. During the nightmarish period that follows, the U.S. Navy becomes increasingly aware of what’s going on, and the film concludes during a desperate attempt at a rescue.

This is a very good movie. Not only is Hanks excellent, Barkhad Abdi gives a brilliant performance, certainly worthy of his Oscar nomination. Greengrass’ cinéma vérité style sometimes does give a convincing mood, but the shaky-cam method is occasionally done to excess and threatens temporary incoherency. However, such incidents are rare. Barry Ackroyd does a much better and cohesive job here as a cinematographer than he did on Parkland. The mood of the film is precise. It’s restless. It’s exhausting. It’s draining. Normally, these adjectives would be applied negatively, but when describing a film about a hostage situation, such ideas are no less than absolutely required. Captain Phillips perfectly meets these descriptors. We know how the story ends before going in, but there are true moments of mortality realized within the confines of the picture. The last scene features some of the greatest acting I’ve seen in a while.

Captain Phillips doesn’t push any politics. It would have been astoundingly easy to turn this into a jingoistic and sickening product, but this never happens. This is not a tired and failed depiction of misplaced and misportrayed patriotism that trips so many other stories of the like. There’s a heavily promoted scene that occurs during the initial hijacking, where Muse pulls Phillips aside and says “I’m the captain now.” Truly this event had been building up for some time before. There was a shot inserted earlier when both men look at each other through binoculars as the Somali speedboat approaches the Maersk Alabama. All of this leads to one fair conclusion that Greengrass accurately portrays: It’s force against force, man against man, captor against hostage. This also makes the film ultimately more compelling.

You’re probably going to feel pretty tired when Captain Phillips’ 134 minute runtime draws to a close. You have just played witness to an incredible display of cinematic craft. You will have seen something worthwhile, something poignant, something brave. Push aside the accusations of inaccuracies – this is a movie, and a great one at that.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

Captain Phillips

Blue Jasmine – Review

Blue Jasmine_

3Star

by Ken B.

Just about everyone around Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is rotten. Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) had numerous affairs and was eventually arrested over various financial corruption charges. Her divorced sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) refuses to stay away from a horrible boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). The dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) she works for is a harassing womanizer. Like I said, almost everyone around in her life is rotten. Even her.

This is what’s so intriguing about Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest film, which many have pointed out bears similarities to the plot of Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. There are good characters who have flaws you are willing to overlook, and there are bad characters with flaws you wouldn’t ignore if you were paid to. But is Jasmine good or bad? We know that something’s off about her. Either she’s the good saint of the movie, thrown off a good path because of what’s transpired in her life, or she’s the worst person of them all, lying, manipulating, and making stupid decisions (flying first class even though she adamantly states she’s broke). Anyway, to get away from the tragic ends of New York, Jasmine decides to move to San Francisco, where Ginger and Chili are. She wants to be an interior designer, and pays her way through the online classes required with the job as the dentist’s receptionist. The stress contained within her life before have driven her to depression and breakdowns. The character is seen popping pills enough times to solidify questions of a disorder.

Like any good character drama, there’s a lot of shouting, drinking, and a light dose of breaking things. But it has one thing that most of the like lack – the ability to induce nervous laughter. You’re going to laugh several times during this picture, but usually not because of a formal joke, but a genuine uncomfortable feeling over the transpiring events. It is fairly monumental the unfortunate existence that Jasmine lives, and the question impeccable on whether or not her apparent mental imbalance was the catalyst for much of the misfortune, or it was caused by it. However, there’s still an intense sympathy for the character, and the fact that you feel great interest in a pretentious, distant woman with faded delusions of grandeur is a testament to wonderful writing by Woody Allen and an absolutely amazing performance from Cate Blanchett. Blue Jasmine contains a truly marvelous cast, each needed to keep the film going through its 98 minutes. Seriously, everyone’s great, from Blanchett to Baldwin to Hawkins to Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger’s ex-husband. The only genuine issue could be the otherwise creative decision to seamlessly integrate flashbacks to Jasmine’s socialite life into the story. While it’s not hard to tell when a scene like that is in motion, it sometimes makes the overall flow a bit choppy.

Blue Jasmine isn’t a groundbreaker in even the lightest sense of the word, but that doesn’t change its quality, rich with many memorable details. Its title is symbolic of both the supposed naming history of the main character, and the emotions conveyed throughout. A particularly melancholy jazz piano rendition of “Blue Moon” travels throughout, a callback to the song playing when Jasmine and Hal first met. It is a worthy and layered film, tragic in its characters, brilliant in its portrayal.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

Blue Jasmine

Parkland – Review

Parkland_

2Star

by Ken B.

Going into Parkland, a movie about experiences that occurred on November 22, 1963 and the days following, I wondered if it would spend a lot of time on conspiracy theories regarding the assassination. What was received was the opposite of my questioning – it is never addressed. While this is good for the sake of preserving history and accuracy, it also ensures that the film is largely uninvolving and sometimes boring, especially after a fairly tense first 45 minutes have passed, featuring the goings on at Parkland Memorial Hospital. (It’s interesting how the same building in Texas could be the place of death of three central figures around this event; John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby. The movie never addresses the third person, but whatever).

Parkland is based on a book by Vincent Bugliosi (the lawyer who prosecuted Charles Manson), and there’s a relatively wide array of people examined. Charles “Jim” Carrico (Zac Efron) is the young doctor who is frozen in terror when the stretcher comes barreling into the ER. Marcia Gay Harden plays a head nurse. Colin Hanks plays Malcolm Perry, who performed a tracheotomy on the president in the initial minutes of the motorcade’s arrival. Curiously, there are a handful of characters that have nothing to do with the building the film is named for, including Abraham Zapruder (a very good performance from Paul Giamatti). Oswald is portrayed by James Badge Dale, his mother by Jacki Weaver, who went to the grave proclaiming her son’s innocence. Billy Bob Thornton plays a Secret Service agent, Forrest Sorrels. The fact of the matter is that the title is incorrect. The book is called Four Days in November. That works a lot better.

Film Racket recently ran an interesting piece by Mike McGranaghan, which makes the convincing argument that movies based on true accounts and events should feel free to take liberties in order to create a better product. I think it’s admirable for Parkland not to diverge from the confirmed line of events that occurred, but part of what makes movies exciting, such as this scene from Oliver Stone’s JFK, is willingness to examine ideas not necessarily true.

Parkland is unfulfilling. After 93 minutes, it leaves the viewer with a sense that there’s a lot more that was never tapped in to. The impact and legacy of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is fairly large, and it is worthy of, and receives, movies better than this. Despite a few strikes of originality in its format, Peter Landesman’s film is just not that memorable for a number of reasons, with only a handful of notable acting moments, a dareless score from James Newton Howard, and the legally required existence of old news footage. It’s also just far too jumpy for its own good, and leaves an unclear sense of what it was aiming for, and what should be learned from it at the end. We have an array of events presented to us, and then it moves on. What was the point? I like Parkland’s idea to look at the assassination from people outside of who you might suspect, but otherwise, it’s a slightly modified history lesson.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

Parkland

The Best 10 (2013)

by Ken B.

This better list contains the same disclaimer as the previous: this is my list, and my list only. I do not attempt to create charades of factual statements by ranking films on a numbered sheet.

Here is the start of the top 10 list of movies I reviewed in 2013 (not necessarily 2013 movies, for I’ve only seen eleven in theaters, and only one made the final 10 here), which is really more of a top 15 list, since I will include (but not elaborate on) five honorable mentions.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: (Ascending in ranking to #11): Saving Mr. Banks, , Gandhi, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Social Network

10. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (Zeitlin, 2012)

A powerfully acted and written drama, the largely DIY filmmaking process behind this one is about one of the brightest and most passionate cases that you could create.

9. THE DARK KNIGHT (Nolan, 2008)

What a terrifically made film! Christopher Nolan, a name you’ll hear a couple more times on this list (I am a horrible fanboy),  has crafted three movies that not only transcend the bounds of the “comic book genre”, but can be viewed as solid action dramas in their own right. The Dark Knight features an absolutely marvelous performance from the late Heath Ledger.

8. HOOP DREAMS (James, 1994)

Many viewers (and many critics) sometimes have an aversion to documentaries, seeing them as boring or unfantastical. Hoop Dreams contains far more exciting tension and involving events than many fictional films, also a prime example of good editing, taking hundreds of hours of footage and whittling it down to an immersive 171 minute experience.

7. FORREST GUMP (Zemeckis, 1994)

Everybody knows and loves Forrest Gump. It’s a crowd pleaser. Some would argue that it’s a fault of the picture, but I think it’s one of its best assets. It’s hard not to be swept away in its grand and epic existence, stretching over decades, wars, and continents.

6. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (Webb, 2009)

Most movies that can be billed as “romantic comedies” send a majority of men (and a good number of women) to a state of near insanity due to a number of recurring clichés and eye-rolling lines. (500) Days of Summer can be considered a deity within the otherwise trashed genre – it’s a how-to when making this certain type of film; the leads have great chemistry, it’s told in a fresh, unconventional way, there are good legitimate jokes, and it does not restrict itself to genre boundaries or one way of storytelling.

5. THE HOURS (Daldry, 2002)

Some films leave you rolling in the aisles, some films leave you refreshed and recharged, some films leave you with a need to sleep with the lights on, but there are a select few movies that leave you floored and emotionally drained; however, you’re glad you saw it. The Hours is such a picture. Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Nicole Kidman give excellent performances of varying screentime in this wonderfully interwoven story around one novel (Mrs Dalloway).

4. INCEPTION (Nolan, 2010)

Dreams. We all have them, we all wonder what they mean (the answer is still largely unknown). This great and inventive movie is ample evidence that there is a rare breed known as the intelligent blockbuster. Combine that with some absolutely amazing visual effects and you have a solid entry to my top 10 list.

3. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Nolan, 2012)

Pardon me for including Mr. Nolan once again. It is an unpopular opinion, but I see The Dark Knight Rises as the best entry in the most recent Batman trilogy, superior to both its predecessors due to a great and operatic scope, filled with a sense of completion and achievement.

2. GRAVITY (Cuarón, 2013)

Ninety minutes pass instantly in this terrifying, compelling, and unforgettable thriller. Sandra Bullock gives an amazing performance as Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut on a first mission that leaves her without a ship in the dangerous wide nothingness of space. Chalk this one up as another smart big budget adventure.

1. METROPOLIS RESTORED (Lang, 1927, 2010)

Considered by many to be the first true feature length sci-fi film, it still proves dazzling 86 years later. With a clear-but-unintrusive message and great visuals which leave an enormous legacy, Metropolis, now with 148 of its 153 original minutes available, is a movie that is not to be missed. The recent Blu-ray by Kino Lorber does this classic great justice.

And before we close the book completely on 2013, I’ll bore you with some stats collected from Microsoft Excel:

  • I reviewed 85 movies in 2013. The first review was written on January 8 and the last review on December 27.
  • 64% (55) of the reviews written this year were positive (3 stars and above). 25% (21) were mixed (2 and 2½ stars) and 11% (9) were negative (1½ stars and below).
  • My least active month was January, where I wrote five reviews. My most active months were March and July, with nine reviews written in both.
  • I gave out three four-star reviews.
  • I gave out no zero-star reviews.
  • I reviewed fourteen movies this year that were released in 2013. Two were available on and viewed on DVD when I got around to them.

And there it is. The best 10 movies I reviewed in 2013.