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 The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014 
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Ace wrote:
I'll have to check out those doppelganger films.


Enemy would be in my top 5 of the year.


Tue Mar 17, 2015 8:45 am
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Samm@el wrote:

Enemy would be in my top 5 of the year.


Nice

It holds up really well on a re-watch. I watched the Blu again last week.

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Wed Mar 18, 2015 6:23 pm
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18.The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Wes Anderson's latest film is told across several time periods. Most of the film takes place during the reign of legendary concierge Gustav H (Ralph Fiennes) who tends a European hotel. The film recounts his adventures alongside a lobby boy named Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), who becomes his unlikely sidekick and friend. Much of the film focuses on the recovery of an invaluable work of art entitled 'Boy With Apple', as well as the fate of a large and highly contested family fortune. All of this plays out against the backdrop of the war and a quickly transforming Europe.

The film has a comedic bent to it and is focused on one plot point flowing to another, but there are also interesting ideas bubbling beneath the surface. It's a melancholy story that's interested in the allure of nostalgia. Zero has learned from Gustav the value of being a consummate professional, that a loving care for those in the establishment goes beyond financial gain or even just the hotel's reputation. This sort of practice has sadly gone out of style. Indeed, as Zero remarks at one point, Gustav's world was already vanishing during his tenure as a young lobby boy. The longing for this lost world, among other lost things, is painfully evident on the elder Zero's face as he recounts these events from long ago. Yet these experiences retain their value even after all these years, shaping the man he is today and inspiring a new generation with the help of a curious writer.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention all the technical aspects that make this work. The film is accompanied by a very good original score, strong script writing, comedic timing, and quality acting all around (most notably Fiennes, who is excellent as Gustav). But the single most noteworthy element is the cinematography, which is simply brilliant. The camerawork and imagery pairs nicely with Wes Anderson's vibe. Also, because this is a story within a story the playful mechanics of the cinematography feel uniquely appropriate here, rather than just something that was adapted to suit Anderson's sensibilities. It's certainly one of the more creatively shot and best looking movies of the year.

As someone who loves Wes Anderson's previous two entries of Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, I have to admit that my initial reaction to The Grand Budapest Hotel was one of mild disappointment. I recognized it to be a good film, but it also seemed scatter-shot and perhaps too quirky even by Wes standards. A few days after seeing it I was having trouble recalling elements of the plot, which is extremely rare for me and sometimes a red flag. I knew I needed to give it a re-watch, and when it started appearing on a lot of top 10 lists (and topping a surprising number of them) I was left scratching my head. Since then I have re-watched the film twice. Each time I see it my appreciation has grown considerably. Normally this doesn't happen with me, but there's something so endearing about The Grand Budapest Hotel that I feel drawn to it time and again. I would welcome the opportunity for another visit.

17. The Dance of Reality

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Alejandro Jodorowky's long awaited return comes in the form of a sort-of biopic entitled The Dance of Reality. Produced, written, and directed by Jodorowsky, this is his first feature film in an astonishing 23 years. I'm pleased to say that it lives up to the hype, as it's one of the most delightfully imaginative movies I saw all year.

It's technically a biopic, but it's one of the most bizarre and artistic biopics ever made. The movie is about a young Alejandro Jodorowsky growing up in Chile, yet it's also a double narrative about his father's life experience and how his parenting methods helped shape the man Alejandro is today. It chronicles the events of this family, but it's also refreshing to see that Jodorowksky has not lost his energy or sense of absurdity with age. While the wisdom of his decision making may not always be clear to the audience, there is such a gleeful enthusiasm to the ideas and images he presents that you can't help but be captivated. The Dance of Reality has so many outlandish and wonderful sequences that I can't even begin to cover them all.

Jodorowky's film is a celebration of diversity and human experience - no matter the ideology we're all united in some way. There's a scene in the film where an eccentric holy-man hands a young Alejandro a cross, a star, and a crescent. He explains that while each of these objects represents a different religious worldview, they're all made from metal. If you were to melt them down, he explains, they would all become the same metallic compound. In another scene, a man is being interrogated by torturers demanding to know who Don Jose is. The man replies that everyone is Don Jose, which doesn't stop the beating but this scene continues the theme of universality. Even the father figure comes to recognize many of the same admirable traits in his enemy, Ibanez, that he idolized in Joseph Stalin. Jodorowsky seems to be arguing that no matter or religious or political ideologies, our common experience of consciousness and the human experience is what connects us all.

Of course, the movie is just plain bonkers and so much fun to watch. It features boxing circus clowns, singing amputee coal miners, a cardboard cut-out tank pasted onto a jeep, a dress-up dog show etc. and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Yet somehow it manages to be have thematic substance and genuine emotion. I really hope Jodorowsky keeps making movies. He's a mad genius and he creates things that - love them or hate them - you've never seen before.

16. Gone Girl

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Arguably David Fincher's best film, Gone Girl is a gripping mystery/thriller based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. Fincher has a history of elevating his source material. I actually liked the movie Fight Club more than I like Chuck Palahniuk's novel. I think that his version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is vastly superior to the Swedish one, even if neither film is working off what I'd consider a great story. But in this case it looks like we're getting a chance to meld Fincher's style with a really good story.

It's very difficult to talk about this movie without delving into spoilers, so I'm forced to be a bit cryptic in this write-up. That being said, if you're the type of person that doesn't even want slight hints or inferences you may want to watch the film or read the book first. I will say that the thing I like most about Gone Girl is its thematic focus on the unknown. This is a story where we're initially thrown into a literal mystery, a crisis situation involving a missing wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) and her husband and suspected killer Nick (Ben Affleck). We're trying to piece together the clues and solve the puzzle, all while law enforcement and the media are coming to their own conclusions. There are twists and turns along the way, and the truth is eventually revealed long before the credits roll. However, the themes linger long afterward. For me, the biggest thing was the concept of how difficult it is to know another person (even your spouse) and how it's nearly impossible to know what's really going on behind the closed doors of another family. Yet in our modern society of media saturation and social media, it's easy to fool yourself into thinking you have a pretty good grasp on what this couple's marriage is like or what this person's private life entails. A story like Gone Girl dumps some much needed cold water on this delusion. As a college professor of mine once said "Any time someone claims to know the mind of another person, that individual is engaging in self-deception."

As you might expect, this is also just a really stylish and captivating movie. There wasn't a moment where I wasn't either gripped by the story or enjoying the look and feel of it. Jeff Cronenweth has done another fine job here with the cinematography, using many of the techniques he's known for but also adding in some interesting use of color and more ambitious shots in the flashback sequences. Ben Affleck and Tyler Perry are not actors I'm typically a fan of, though I thought they did an alright job here. I enjoyed Kim Dickens performance as Detective Rhonda, but the real standout in this movie is Rosamund Pike. Some of it is no doubt due to the quality of her role, but man did she knock this one out of the park. I have to say it's one of the best female performances of the year.

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Wed Mar 18, 2015 7:07 pm
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Nice. I own 2 of these. Good stuff. Really like the stuff Anderson did with the aspect ratios for different time lines.


Thu Mar 19, 2015 2:25 am
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I dug Gone Girl but not as much as others did. Also Grand Budapest Hotel and every other Wes Anderson movie has to be viewed multiple times. It's just how his films work.

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Thu Mar 19, 2015 3:15 am
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Ace wrote:
Nice. I own 2 of these. Good stuff. Really like the stuff Anderson did with the aspect ratios for different time lines.


I know you own The Grand Budapest Hotel. I'm guessing the other is Gone Girl.

It was nice seeing how Yeoman and Anderson had fun with the different timelines in how they were presented.

MadMan wrote:
I dug Gone Girl but not as much as others did. Also Grand Budapest Hotel and every other Wes Anderson movie has to be viewed multiple times. It's just how his films work.


That's interesting because my appreciation of films like Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, and Fantastic Mr. Fox didn't change much upon further viewings. I probably got more out of them, but my opinion wasn't really altered one way or the other. Seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel multiple times gave me a much greater appreciation for it. I'm not sure why that is.

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Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:53 pm
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Gone Girl will be a film that lasts.


Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:54 pm
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IM THAT CUNT

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Fri Mar 20, 2015 4:57 pm
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15. Jodorowsky's Dune

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It's sometimes referred to as the most influential movie that was never made. Alejandro Jodorowsky was given a million dollars and carte blanche by Michel Seydoux to kick-start any project he could dream of. Without hesitation, he decided that he wanted to do the sci-fi epic Dune. He had not read Dune, but he had a friend who told him it was fantastic.

What followed is an amazing story of how Jodorowsky assembled his team of "spiritual warriors". He was working with a lot of untested people, but he was relentless in his pursuit of those he wanted for the project and ruthless in terms of his criteria. Despite the incredible special effects vision of the project, Jodorowsky even turned down Douglass Trumbull who had done the effects for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. He believed that Trumbull was not passionate enough and was too corporate to be one of his warriors. However, the team Jodorowsky did assemble was filled with names that are stunning to think about in retrospect. Some of the cast and crew included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Jean 'Moebius' Giraud, and David Carradine. These artists banded together behind Jodorowsky's vision of Dune, as well as his aspirations to change the world through cinema. He describes his tremendous ambition as wanting to create a film that would simulate the experience of taking LSD through the power of cinema.

Despite the admirable creativity involved in the project, one also gets the impression that Jodorowsky's reach was exceeding his grasp. What he was attempting was undeniably one of the most ambitious films in history. In fact, many described the scale of the project as being well beyond George Lucas' Star Wars, which would not be made until years later. Whether Jodorowsky is a madman or a mad genius is in the eye of the beholder, but I can easily see from watching this why the financiers of this project would get cold feet. They would have been investing in a director who did not care about budgets or deadlines and was completely uncompromising in terms of his vision. He was making a movie about a popular sci-fi novel, but he was telling his own story without even bothering to familiarize himself with the source material. I got the impression that this project could have been a huge failure, but it remains an inspiring and at times heartbreaking story of artistic ambition that was squashed by the mechanics of Hollywood.

While the film never saw the light of day, Jodorowsky and his team of warriors did develop an enormous storyboard. It was so elaborate and imaginative that it began to catch fire, as people began to pass it around within the industry as an inspirational curiosity. It's hard to say exactly how it correlates, but there's certainly a lot of evidence to suggest that the members of Jodo's team (like Giger with Alien) went on to use a lot of the work they had shelved in other films. The documentary also argues that elements of the failed project can be seen in some of the most seminal sci-fi films of all time ranging from Blade Runner to Star Wars.

So many unanswered questions surround the project to this day. Had the film launched and been a massive failure, perhaps studios never finance Star Wars. Imagine how different modern cinema would be if projects like that had never gotten off the ground? Or if it had received unlimited funds and been a massive critical and commercial success, can you imagine just how different the cinematic landscape would look after a drug-inspired sci-fi Jodorowsky epic became the gold standard? Regardless of what could have happened or should have happened, this is an incredible story. Anyone who loves motion pictures or art generally should seek it out.

14. Song of the Sea

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Anyone who saw The Secret of Kells will be familiar with Tom Moore's use of Irish folklore and unique visual style. I was a huge fan of Kells and I'm pleased to say that Song of the Sea maintains that very high standard of quality. This is a film that creates a world of pure magic, pulling you in with it's eccentricity and beauty.

The film begins with a young boy and his mother painting pictures on a nursery wall. Fast forward six years and we find that the mother has passed on. The newborn child, Saoirse, has grown into a young girl. She is mute and a bit mysterious, and we soon find that this is because she is a selkie — a child who turns into a white seal once she enters the sea — and she’s drawn to both the human world and that of the seals, whose bobbing heads beckon her into the water. However, her father does not fully understand the situation, so when Saoirse begins wandering the beach at night he fears losing another loved one to a tragic accident. Soon, Ben and Saoirse are taken away from their lighthouse home by their well-meaning grandmother, who believes it will be safer for them in the city. However, Ben and Saoirse both know that they need to return to the lighthouse and get back to the sea. Thus begins a fantastical journey home that is filled with numerous fairy tale creatures and wondrous imagination.

Although this is the type of film that will appeal to children, it seems almost wasted on kids to some extent. That's not to say that it won't appeal to children, but I imagine it will speak more to older and more sophisticated audiences. The plot feels very basic as it unfolds over its short running time, yet it's introducing a wide range of ideas and characters. It's only afterward that I started to realize just how much was going on. It's a testament to the quality of the script that it can make a story that kids and adults can follow along with, yet also have enough variety and thematic weight to warrant a re-watch. There are some weighty ideas in here about the importance of heritage and coping with tragedy which I'm sure a lot of younger viewers won't pick up on.

It's the sort of tale that harkens back to one's childhood, much like the mother's bedtime tales that she reads to Ben and Saoirse in the film. You don't need to be versed in Irish folklore to appreciate this, in fact, knowing little about the legends may add to the experience by making it feel more adventurous and new. All you need is a general appreciation of art and fables, as the production values here do the rest. The hand drawn artwork is unique and carefully crafted, allowing for grand epic scenes as well as smaller, detailed touches. All of this fantastic imagery is accompanied by a beautiful Celtic score, adding a level of emotion to the experience which is difficult to articulate in words.

13. God Help the Girl

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Stuart Murdoch, best known as the lead singer of Belle and Sebastian, has written and directed a film that will split people into camps. Some will find God Help the Girl unbearably twee. If you're the sort of person that dislikes musicals in general, then this almost certainly isn't for you. However, those who are receptive to its charms may come away feeling that this is one of the best movies of the year. Obviously, I fall into the latter category.

The plot centers around Eve (Emily Browning), who has taken her leave of a mental hospital and gone out into Glasgow for a change of scenery. She's a troubled young woman who is low on self-esteem, but she's also a musically inclined genius who sees the potential for song in everything around her. She soon crosses paths with James (Olly Alexander), an aspiring and opinionated musician who is trying unsuccessfully to put a band together. The two quickly form a connection as Eve takes up staying at James' place and helping him with his musical aspirations. Once Cass (Hannah Murray) comes into the picture they begin to recognize that they have something going here. The three of them begin to form a friendship centered around their music and decide that they should form a band.

The music in the film isn't just rehearsals or concert hall performances, though. It's the type of movie that has no problem with characters randomly bursting into song, yet it's also self-aware enough to joke about that. The song lyrics themselves can also shift from the humorous to the playful or poetic depending on the mood of the characters. Eve (Emily Browning) believes that you should sing what you know, so there's a non-linear style to a lot of the musical productions in this where she is simply recounting her activities or life experiences. It's not uncommon for the songs to focus on the newspaper purchased at a train station, or the cereal that was eaten for breakfast. The spontaneity is part of what gives this movie its fresh energy and appeal.

The two biggest selling points here are the music and the cinematography. A lot of those songs are ones I'm still listening to after seeing the film months ago. The juxtaposition of the music with the cinematography is simply incredible. There are very few films from 2014 that look this good, or that utilize such creative visual transitions from one shot to the next. Some of the visual treat here is due to the appearance of movement of the actresses and actors, particularly the photogenic Emily Browning. However, it's obvious that Giles Nuttgens has done a fantastic job here and that it's a huge part of why the movie works so well. There are musical sequences in here like 'Musician, Please Take Heed', 'Come Monday Night', or 'Down and Dusky Blonde' that have the production value of a great music video. These moments were show-stoppers for me that made me recognize I was watching something special.

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Sat Mar 21, 2015 5:27 am
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Samm@el wrote:
Gone Girl will be a film that lasts.


I think so, too. Its themes are timeless and it's well crafted.

cloak wrote:
IM THAT CUNT


That was you? I thought that was you...

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Sat Mar 21, 2015 8:21 am
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12. Edge of Tomorrow

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This action blockbuster uses the plot mechanics of the movie Groundhog Day and blends them with an alien invasion drama. While neither idea may be original in its own right, the two ideas merge together brilliantly in this case, making Edge of Tomorrow one of the most exciting movies of the past year.

Set in the near future, an alien race known as Mimics have invaded the Earth. They appear unbeatable by any conventional military standard, as they advance on every major corner of the globe. They also appear to have an uncanny ability to predict and intercept military intelligence, as though they were the enigma code breakers of the allies in the second World War. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a spokesman for humanity's effort against the onslaught, but as the tide of battle begins to look more hopeless he is unceremoniously thrown into a major combat operation by General Bringham (Brendan Gleeson). He has no formal military training and is killed almost instantly. However, the Major finds himself resurrected at the start of the day, as contact with an alpha mimic has thrown him into a time loop. The famed war hero Rita Vatraski (Emily Blunt) had herself been caught in that time loop before and recognizes the signs. She tells Cage to "come find me when you wake up". Thus begins a partnership between the two, as they must find a way to help him change the course of this war through living... and dying... over and over again.

Some of it reminds me of a video game, but the difference is that our protagonists are aware of this reset button phenomena and incorporate it into their strategies. They also have to decide how to utilize their knowledge of their future and who can be trusted, as the story sounds so incredible that it could lead to problems like the psych ward. This dynamic makes Edge of Tomorrow incredibly engaging, and the fast-paced editing which wastes no time between subsequent attempts works very well. I've seen this movie three times and I still find myself completely caught up in the characters' struggles with each viewing.

Perhaps the only thing I dislike about this film is the finale. I don't exactly hate it, but considering how great everything was leading up to it my initial reaction was one of disappointment. It has grown on me a bit since my initial viewing, but I still consider it to be the weakest part of the movie. Obviously, I won't spoil why by getting into the specifics.

It's a shame that this wasn't more successful at the box office, as it's one of the best movies of the year and seems to appeal to everyone who watches it. It's a really good sci-fi story and it features some impressive action and editing.. Emily Blunt's performance is probably the best of her career, as she's absolutely convincing in what may seem to be an unorthodox role. I would encourage anyone who's skeptical about this movie to watch it.

11. Citizenfour

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By now everyone should be at least be familiar with Edward Snowden's story. He was such an influential figure that he was nearly TIME's man of the year (Pope Francis ended up edging him out) and there was a period of several months where no matter where you turned his leaked information was either making headlines or inspiring heated debate among those calling him a traitor or a patriot. So what makes this documentary so good? Why is this story which some consider old news and many others argue "we knew all along" still worth delving into?

There are a number of reasons why this is essential viewing. First of all, Edward Snowden had planned his leaks long in advance. He was very much aware of the implications involved with being an NSA whistle-blower and had given it ample thought. As a result of this, he had contacted people like documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalists like Glenn Greenwald prior to any revelations being made public. The result is a documentary that plays out like a real-time spy thriller, rather than a retrospective analysis. We have the privilege of seeing Snowden interviewed before, during, and after the leaks. There is a palpable sense of danger here, as Snowden and those near him have to discuss nuanced moral decisions about liberty and security, as well as his personal livelihood.

While it's not pure advocacy cinema, Citzenfour is a film that views these issues of civil liberties and national security through the lens of Snowden. In doing so we see his motivations, and perhaps more truth than we'd care to about the dangerous implications of implementing those policies. There are also revelations in here that I did not get from media outlets during the leaks, some of which are difficult for me to explain given how important they seem. I normally trust my sources of news to bring me comprehensive information about pressing issues, but in this case I feel like they let me down. Regardless of your personal opinions about this subject, you owe it to yourself to see this documentary. The stakes for future generations and the moral ambiguity at play are too pressing to ignore. If nothing else it makes for a movie-going experience that you'll be thinking about long after seeing it.

For the record, I think there's far more to admire about Edward Snowden than there is to dislike about him. I respect what he did.

10. Force Majeure

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Written and directed by Ruben Östlund, Force Majeure tells the comedic story of a Swedish family on holiday in the French Alps. It's the perfect getaway for their picturesque family, yet somehow it all goes wrong. When they're at lunch at a mountainside restaurant, what is supposed to be a controlled avalanche upends their vacation. The torrent of snow keeps getting closer, the haze of snow reaching higher as panicked diners begin fleeing. Tomas' wife and children cry out to him, but sheer animal panic has set in. Rather than rush to save his family he retreats to safety, fleeing in a desperate attempt to save his own life.

That split-second decision weighs heavily on the entire film and the family's vacation. What was supposed to be a respite from work and the cares of everyday life quickly devolves into a nightmare. Ebba begins to doubt her husband, both as a partner and a father. Their friends, Mats and Fanni, are even unwittingly caught up in this drama upon their arrival. Not only must they deal with the insanity that this couple is going through, but they're forced to confront the situation as a hypothetical for their own relationship. Somehow, everybody gets caught up in these forces that they're powerless to alter. The vacation begins spiraling downward as each individual tries to maintain some semblance of sanity.

Force Majeure is obviously focusing on issues of gender politics throughout. However, for me, the most relatable and lasting theme of the film was how hard it is to be happy. The families and couples in the film are in an idyllic vacation spot. They have nothing but fresh powder and their loved ones beside them. The typical worries that occupy most peoples' thought in a given week have been removed - gone are work, finance, disease etc. It's a fantastic opportunity to enjoy life, yet due to unforeseen events these people are completely miserable during their stay. Anyone who has ever had an unpleasant family vacation, honeymoon etc. will be able to relate to this film. I feel like it's tapping into something inherent about the human condition, and it's doing this in a way that's intelligent and also very funny. There are moments in this film that had me laughing out loud but also recognizing the very real complications that exist in daily life. Try as we might, relationships can be fragile. We're often victims of circumstances beyond our control.

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Tue Mar 24, 2015 7:32 pm
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:heart: :heart: Edge of Tommorow.

Ciitzen Four was an eye opening experience. It kinda pisses you off how all this was brushed under the table.


Wed Mar 25, 2015 3:20 am
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Ace wrote:
:heart: :heart: Edge of Tommorow.

Ciitzen Four was an eye opening experience. It kinda pisses you off how all this was brushed under the table.


I don't think I've ever heard anyone say they didn't enjoy Edge of Tomorrow.

I was amazed at how many aspects of the Snowden story weren't more widely reported. So much of the coverage was about the meta-data of phone records and whether that constituted an invasion of privacy. It's a bit alarming to get the fuller picture and see all the 'inside baseball' stuff from Snowden's point of view.

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Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:17 pm
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Edge of Tomorrow shows that smartly made big budget sci-fi isn't dead yet.

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Wed Mar 25, 2015 7:12 pm
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9. Nightcrawler

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Some of my thoughts on Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler are similar to Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street from 2013. Both films feature an unhinged and narcissistic protagonist who is willing to do whatever is necessary to get ahead. Both are social commentaries on American greed, even if neither is delving below the surface or saying anything profound. And, of course, they're two of the most immensely enjoyable films of their respective years.

It's surprising just how much fun I had watching Nightcrawler when you consider how dark it is. Unlike a lot of plots which start from some place of morality and steadily degrade from there, we're thrown immediately into a world where our protagonist has no moral qualms whatsoever. He begins the film as a petty thief who is aspirational and articulate, yet he cannot find gainful employment. A chance encounter with a camera crew filming a fatal car accident changes all of this, however, when he realizes that filming crime scenes for TV news might be his calling. He seems proud of his ambition and his methodology, never once appearing apologetic. Part of this is an indictment of the economic conditions he finds himself in, which would explain how most people actually find themselves rooting for. Regardless of what you may think of Lou Blossom (Jake Gyllenhaal), he's fighting against the odds of his environment and succeeding.

Regardless of what one may think about the film's other aspects, this is an absolutely riveting ride. I watch a ton of movies in a given year and unfortunately I can usually sense where they're going. When I was watching Nightcrawler I really had no idea where it was headed most of the time. When you combine that with the pacing and momentum of the film, this becomes a visceral and entertaining experience. There are numerous sequences which had my jaw on the floor, laughing out loud, or just nodding my head in approval. It spans a broad range of emotions, but it is never dull for a moment.

There are several strong performances in this film such as Rene Russo and and Riz Ahmend. But the real standout here is Jake Gyllenhaal, who in my opinion gives the best performance of the year. A lot of people are going to focus on the weight loss, which is often an easy way to garner attention for a role. It's just one of many factors working together that make Gyllenhaal unrecognizable in this movie. I was never conscious of the fact that it was him I was watching on screen - of course, logically I knew going in who the star of the film was. But this is similar to the willing suspension of disbelief I might experience when watching anything. When you completely lose track of the technical details in something and become absorbed into it that's always a hallmark of quality in my mind. Watching this deranged psychopath on screen was engrossing and truly frightening.

8. Boyhood

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Richard Linklater's Boyhood is in some ways incredibly ambitious, but in other ways low key. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the project knows that this was filmed over the course of 12 years in order to depict life from the ages of six to eighteen. While there's not a complete shortage of dramatic scenes in here, a lot of viewers were caught off guard at the juxtaposition of the project's scope and how mundane or ordinary much of the film felt. Some might criticize this as a gimmick that doesn't amount to much, but I strongly disagree with that.

What this film does right is that it captures the fleeting nature of life and memory. I can only speak for myself, but when I think back to own childhood (and my own past generally) it's interesting to me what I remember and what I can't. For example, I recall sitting on the rocks beside a lake at summer camp one morning with a childhood friend. I remember going to an Orioles baseball game with my family one night, even though I've never been a fan of the team or even baseball generally. I can still taste the cheesecake my mother made for me during family holidays. I remember those times I spent playing catch with my father in the backyard when he'd lob a football over the fenced pool. I remember my first date in high school. Yet these memories and all the other ones I can think of only encompass a tiny fraction of my life. Even momentous occasions in my own life and those close to me are sometimes only vaguely recalled. The first time I recognized this was when my mother passed away and I was - and still am - surprised that I can't remember more of my time with her. Thousands upon thousands of hours spent someplace or with someone and what do we take from it? Maybe we recall a hundred hours vividly, give or take? Where did the rest of that time go? Why do we remember what we do and forget so much else?

It would have been very easy for this film to have given in to the dramatic. One person I spoke to believed that a reckless driving scene was sure to result in a catastrophic accident, perhaps because we've been conditioned to think that way in terms of how movies operate. Thankfully, Boyhood takes a different approach. That's not to say the movie is drama free, of course, but it's consistent with reasonable expectations of drama within any child's life. Instead, Boyhood chooses to focus on a mixture of smaller moments and more significant ones. In doing so, this story taps into something that I feel is deeply human. This restraint and understanding is what gives the film its cumulative power and makes it so emotionally resonant.

7. Interstellar

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It seems as though Christopher Nolan may be the most controversial filmmaker working today. Cinephiles and critics seem to react to his works with gushing admiration or absolute revulsion depending on who you talk to. His latest film, the sci-fi epic Interstellar, is arguably the most polarizing movie of 2014.

David Brooks of The New York Times had a piece about Interstellar entitled 'Love and Gravity'. In it, he writes that the film is revolutionary in its approach and something of a cultural event. It is about love, Brooks says, but not in the way movies traditionally are. There is almost no romantic love in Nolan's film, but rather a generational love between family members across space and time. In addition, there's the attenuated love our species has for the unborn in the form of frozen embryos, who may one day carry on humanity's legacy in a distant galaxy. Nolan wants us to see the magnetic forces behind these connections and its connection to quantum theory, such as the principle of entanglement - that two particles that have interacted can react similarly regardless of spacial distance or time.

There are religious and philosophical overtones to Interstellar, but it's a movie that mostly exists within scientific parameters. Largely because our understanding of the natural universe is ever evolving, we are uncovering perplexing realities that challenge our very notion of what it is to exist or what is to be conscious. The film explores relatively in terms of the gravitational bending of time, for instance. And if entanglement theory is correct that means that the world around us is communicating in ways that defy common understanding. In such a world one doesn't need faith to consider extreme possibilities like the ones in this film, only an understanding of modern science and a creative imagination. While this is definitely science fiction it's refreshing to see such a blockbuster grounded in real physics. Kip Thorne, who collaborated on the project, has a book out about the science of Interstellar. Even Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is often very critical of films for their falsehoods, gives Interstellar top marks for basing so much on known science.

It should also be noted that this is a riveting sci-fi adventure with far more heart than you'd expect from a Nolan movie. Often criticized for being emotionally distant in his execution, many people actually shed tears during this film. There are moments of sheer awe that tap into primal fears or the joy of scientific exploration. Even if you're completely uninterested in looking at this from a scientific or philosophical angle, this is worth watching as a visceral treat. There are moments which, juxtaposed with Hans Zimmer's very loud score, are simply brilliant. There are more casual moments of space travel that look incredible in IMAX 70mm, and there are incredibly tense sequences such as a docking scene and the one in the screen capture above which are worth the price of admission by themselves.

One of the major criticisms of Interstellar and Nolan's films generally is how the complex plots are presented to a wider audience. Many bemoan the fact that there is expository dialogue or that complex notions of quantum entanglement or the soul are reduced to populist words like "love" time and again. I'm of two minds about this, because on the one hand it does detract some from my experience when I see two of NASA's brightest minds talking about what a wormhole is moments before entering it. However, I also recognize that this is a calculated choice that exists for a reason. If Cooper had explained this to his younger daughter Murph 30 minutes earlier, much of the audience that presumably has no notion of astrophysics would be completely lost or wouldn't recognize the significance of the moment. Indeed, almost half of the criticism of this film is from people that say it is too confusing or didn't explain enough, even if so much criticism is coming from people who claim that Nolan needs to learn 'show don't tell'. There really isn't a balance that will please everyone, but I respect what is Nolan is doing here. He is making compromises to communicate ambitious ideas to a large audience.

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Fri Mar 27, 2015 12:15 pm
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Seeing Intersteller in your Top 10 was kind of expected. Boyhood above it though is a surprise. I still need to see Nightcrawler.

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Fri Mar 27, 2015 3:57 pm
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MadMan wrote:
Seeing Intersteller in your Top 10 was kind of expected. Boyhood above it though is a surprise. I still need to see Nightcrawler.


I think you'd really enjoy Nightcrawler

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Sat Mar 28, 2015 5:52 pm
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Oh yeah. Psychotic charismatic lead in a media driven film channeling the 80s has MadMan type of movie written all over it.

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Sun Mar 29, 2015 2:42 pm
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6. Whiplash

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Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash looks like the kind of movie that you've seen before. The poster features Miles Teller sitting at a drum set, accompanied by short blurbs from critics such as "Astounding!" and "Electrifying!" and it has the type of crowd-pleasing rating in the high 90s on the tomato meter that you might expect from an uplifting movie about an aspiring musician. So it's with a bit of surprise that this turned out to be one of the most disturbing and challenging movies of the year.

The story is about a drummer named Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) and his jazz teacher Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Neyman is a very talented young man who is committed to becoming a great player, but he's stuck practicing in obscurity and accompanying a second rate band. That is until Fletcher begins to take an interest in him, giving him the opportunity of a lifetime to earn his way into the top band in the school. But Fletcher is a man as well known for his ruthless methods as much as his accolades as a brilliant teacher, and the already driven Neyman is pushed to his breaking point as he is asked to sacrifice everything and risk losing his sanity in pursuit of greatness. What follows as an emotionally intense journey that goes to some dark places, raising provocative questions along the way.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Whiplash is how it deals with the topic of leadership. The character of Fletcher is ruthless in his methodology, believing that there is no limit to how far you can push a student. At one point he says that there are no two words more harmful in the English language than "good job", and he believes that someone like a Charlie Parker never would have let anyone or anything stand in the way of greatness. In a world of participation trophies and overprotective parents, this approach will strike many people as insane. Yet in some ways Fletcher's approach has merit. It's often alluded to in the film that his jazz orchestra is considered to be the best in the country. Neyman, as a result of being broken down by his teacher, pushes himself to places that he might never have gone to without that pressure. There are coaches like Dick Vermeil who love their players like family, adopting a tough but fair approach as they try to balance the personal and the professional. There are also coaches like Bob Knight who will line their players up and risk harm by throwing basketballs at them as hard as possible to make sure they catch it in a game. The question of whether Vermeil or Knight's approach is better, or whether there is some more ideal middle ground, is very much up for debate.

There's a lot else going for this film other than a spirited debate about where the line should be drawn. This is a brilliantly edited film that follows its own unique rhythmic quality that really draws the viewer in. For my money this is also one of the best acted films of 2014. I've been a big fan of Miles Teller ever since I saw him in a bit role in the film Rabbit Hole years back, and while he hasn't received major acting jobs since then I thought he was brilliant in The Spectacular Now. This film continues the trend of top-notch performances by him and I hope he goes on to have a very successful career. But J.K. Simmons in many ways is the star of the film, giving an iconic performance that is probably the best of his career. Some might argue that his character is over the top, but I think that's the point. He is so committed to the character of Fletcher that it elevates the film, becoming the center around which everything else operates.

5. The Guest

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Adam Wingard is best known for making a few of the VHS segments and the home invasion film You're Next. Personally, I wasn't a huge fan of his previous work, although I thought You're Next was alright. His latest directorial effort The Guest is a revelation, though. It's just an immensely entertaining and stylish movie from start to finish.

The story wastes no time getting started, as a mysterious young man named David (Dan Stevens) shows up at a family's doorstep. He tells them he was a friend of their son and that he served alongside him in combat overseas. David informs the family that he was with their son Caleb when he died, and that his final wish was for David to check in on the family and tell him that he loved them. Any suspicions they may have had are quickly dispelled by David's polite demeanor, as well as his presence alongside Caleb in a photograph that hangs over the family fireplace. David begins taking an interest in each member of the family and they begin to open up to him. However, as time goes by some mysterious events begin taking place, as David's past begins to have a way of catching up to him. That's about as much as I can say without delving into spoiler territory. So much of the fun of the movie is finding out exactly what's going on and watching the events play out piece by piece.

Set amidst the backdrop of Halloween for no real reason and featuring an 80s synth soundtrack, The Guest is a genre tribute movie that plays by its own rules and doesn't give a crap. It's working off a lot of different genre elements, but it's utilizing them in ways that are so exciting and multi-tiered. There are obvious differences, but the one movie it reminds me most of is Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. A lot of that is due to the heavily stylized look of the movies, the 80s vibe from the excellent soundtracks, the quality of the editing, as well as a mysterious protagonist who takes an interest in a family's welfare. I'm not saying that The Guest is a better movie than Drive, or even that people who are fans of one will necessarily be fans of the other. In fact, I imagine a lot of folks who found Drive boring will actually like this one.

It's hard to convey just how much fun I had watching this 1980s style movie. David is such a ridiculous character that you can't wait to see what this insanely intelligent and skilled man is going to do next, whether it's addressing a bullying issue with the younger son at school or attending a party with the daughter's social circle. There are some interactions in here that had me giddy with excitement or laughing out loud. At no point during this film was I even slightly disinterested with what was happening, as each successive scene had my undivided attention. I've already seen this movie several times and I would love to watch it again. It's such a blast that you owe it to yourself to check it out.

4. The Raid 2: Berandal

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The Raid was an unapologetic action film with about ten minutes of plot and the remaining run time consisting of people getting shot in the face or engaging in epic martial arts battles. A lot of people championed the first film for having very little script other than plagiarizing the highrise premise from Dredd's script. I was a big fan of that approach and the original film generally. In the sequel, however, we're taken deeper into the criminal underworld. That means a meatier script with a lot more complexity than we got the first time around, as well as a much lengthier running time.

It's not difficult to point out a lot of the flaws in Gareth Evans newest martial arts flick. The different approach with the script opens it up to legitimate criticisms about gangster film cliches, acting merits, character development etc. which isn't to say that the script is outright bad, but it's certainly not the selling point here. It's a serviceable plot that mostly serves to set up action set pieces and establish plausible scenarios for the fighting to take place in various locations. The first film didn't need all of that because the entire film took place in the same location. The sequel is far more ambitious when it comes to using its environments to its advantage, such as a muddy prison brawl or one of the most jaw-dropping car chase sequences ever put on film.

There are times where I feel like people get too caught up in what something isn't that they lose sight of what makes it valuable in the first place. When the characters in this film start fighting... wow. There are so many spectacular action sequences in this movie that a lot of the consensus all-time best action films pale in comparison here. You could make the argument that this movie has raised the bar to a new level that other films must now strive to achieve. The only movies I can think of in recent history that are comparable would be Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins and the original The Raid: Redemption. I remember leaving the theater with a couple friends, both of whom had until then been praising the new Captain America film for having really good action. One of the first questions they asked me after seeing Berandal was if I had gotten around to seeing Winter Soldier yet. When I told them no, they both informed that I wasn't going to like it now. Nothing, they explained, was going to live up to the action we'd just seen.

If you are in any way a fan of action movies this is essential viewing. The last twenty minutes alone are some of the most impressive action I've ever seen anywhere, even raising the bar on the already crazy standards established earlier in the movie. Those sorts of sequences make this one of the best movies of 2014 and very much in the discussion of greatest action movies ever.

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Mon Mar 30, 2015 12:01 am
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Whiplash was the most intense theater viewing I've ever been a part of. That film was brutal to watch.

The Guest blew me away so much that it lead to me breaking a cold writing streak and posting a decent review on my blog. It might be my favorite movie from 2014.

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Mon Mar 30, 2015 7:32 am
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MadMan wrote:
Seeing Intersteller in your Top 10 was kind of expected. Boyhood above it though is a surprise.


I actually re-watched Interstellar this evening since I got an early copy of the Blu Ray. I normally don't do this, but I just bumped it up a spot.

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3. Why Don't You Play in Hell?

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Sion Sono tends to make movies that defy conventional explanation. He's a bit of a mad genius / lunatic director that makes some of the most ambitious and eccentric movies anywhere. Sometimes I get the sense that he's talented enough to do anything, but he chooses to make these truly eccentric and wonderful films. He's not always easily accessible, but I think he's one of the best filmmakers working today. His 2013/2014 effort Why Don't You Play in Hell? may actually have the most mainstream appeal of movie I've seen from him. It's a little less challenging and more humorous than something like Love Exposure or Cold Fish. You could make the argument that, for Sono, this is almost a bit restrained by his usual standards. That's not to say this movie isn't a mad blast of decadence and over-the-top insanity, but it's just so damn funny that I think someone who has never seen Sono's work or Yakuza films could jump right into it and have a good time.

Why Don't You Play in Hell? features two simultaneous narratives. The first involves some young and aspiring filmmakers who call themselves the 'Fuck Bombers'. They've been pursuing their dream with a single minded obsession, but fast forward ten years and they have little to show for it. They're starting to wonder if their dreams of making a great movie will ever come true, or whether it's time to hang it up. Meanwhile, the tension between Muto's gang and the Ikegami has been bubbling for a decade. A series of ridiculously contrived events involving the two warring Yakuza clans and a toothpaste commercial from ten years ago (it makes sense in the context of the movie, I promise) finally give the Fuck Bombers the break they've been looking for. They will film the warring mafia clans, complete with a serious budget and 35mm cameras. The only catch is they'll have to film a lot of people getting killed, but this doesn't seem to phase anyone in their group.

It's incredibly funny and deranged, but it's also one of the best movies I've seen about making movies. I was reminded of all sorts of similarly themed projects while watching it, ranging from Fellini's 8 1/2 to Carax's Holy Motors. Obviously, this movie is its own beast and in many ways, but it's such a thrill to see a visionary director craft a love letter to movies. Why Don't You Play in Hell is an ode to Yakuza films and it's definitely pandering to film fans, since there are nods to things like 35mm and Bruce Lee track suits throughout. You don't have to be a cinephile to enjoy this, but it certainly helps.

Some have criticized the obviously contrived buildup to the finale, as it takes a while to tie all the different plots together. I never once found this to be a problem and would assure viewers that once the pieces come together the payoff is fantastic. However, I'll just give fair warning that there's a jingle from a toothpaste commercial in this movie that is re-played constantly. Good luck trying to remove it from your memory.

2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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Ana Lily Amirpour, an Iranian American making her feature film debut, gets my vote for best director this year. She's obviously smart and talented enough to draw on some of the best influences. I got hints of everything from Wong Kar Wai to Quentin Tarantino in this movie, which shouldn't be surprising considering that she's constantly wearing shirts with gigantic imprints of her idols - Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, Bruce Lee, Notrious BIG etc. Amirpour was interviewed on NPR not too long ago and (I'm paraphrasing) suggested that when given the opportunity to make a film, you might as well just go all out. Why not have it be filled to the brim with things you love? She's certainly doing that by drawing on the best elements of various genres and styles, yet the end product feels like a wholly unique vision.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night could be described as an Iranian Vampire Western. The story takes place in Bad City, a middle eastern ghost town filled with all manner of debauchery and sin. Arash (Arash Marandi) lives here, looking after his junkie degenerate father, who finds himself in debt to the local pimp/dealer. Dissatisfied with the father's lack of payment, he takes Arash's Thunderbird car instead. Meanwhile, walking among the clubbers and criminals is The Girl (Sheila Vand), pacing around at night wearing a dark chador and a striped sailor t-shirt, hungry for her next victim. Without giving too much away, Arash and The Girl find their paths intersecting on more than one occasion. Arash begins to take an interest in the mysterious young woman, but considering the logistical and supernatural circumstances that surround their relationship, can they really be together?

Amirpour's script is bold and the execution is fantastic on every level. It's an absolutely gorgeous film to look at, with stunning cinematography that is often juxtaposed with a mesmerizing soundtrack. The way one scene is shot or edited may be very different from the following one. It can also shift from creepy to humorous or from psychedelic to dramatic, but it doesn't feel like a scatter-shot production. Everything feels like it fits in this dark and stylish tale. There are a lot of little things to love about this film. When Sheila Vand and Ana Amirpour were preparing for it, they watched a lot of nature videos on predators. They saw that a lot of the hunters would mimic the actions of their prey, so they were clever enough to incorporate that into the character of The Girl. Things that would normally be unimportant in most films get blended in to great effect, whether it's the exhaustive casting used to find the right cat or the creative use of a young boy's skateboard.

Although it's in Farsi, it should come as no surprise that this wasn't shot in Iran. I can't imagine the ayatollahs would take too kindly to this film, even if it's not in any way political. Bad City is actually shot in the sprawl of California and the actors are people who are from Iran but do not live there. Amirpour doesn't believe that she could have ever become the director she did if her family had stayed in the country, but she and others involved with the project still find that their experiences there helped shape their identity. It's possible this may be the only Farsi movie she makes, as her next film is set to take place in Texas. It's a story about a community of cannibals, which prompted one interviewer to ask a serious question about whether there was some thematic theme at play here with vampires in one movie and cannibals in the next. Amirpour responded that she didn't really know why she chose cannibals, but she thought it would be cool. That's more or less how A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night operates. It may not be some profound insight into the human condition, but it is ridiculously good.

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Wed Apr 01, 2015 7:58 am
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I believe A Girl Walks Home At Night is going to be on Netflix Instant Viewing in April. Man I hope so.

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Wed Apr 01, 2015 2:14 pm
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MadMan wrote:
I believe A Girl Walks Home At Night is going to be on Netflix Instant Viewing in April. Man I hope so.


It should be coming to Netflix on April 21st.

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1. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

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Isao Takahata's The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is my favorite animated film. That's saying a lot considering how many great works have come out of Studio Ghibli alone, but it's the truth.

The script is based on a 10th century Japanese folktale known as 'The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter', a title that is symptomatic of the patriarchal world that existed at that time. Takahata's title rightly puts the focus where it belongs, on our spirited young heroine. Born of supernatural origin, Kaguya sprouts from a bamboo stalk in a mountain forest. An old bamboo cutter and his wife discover the mysterious child and choose to raise her as their own, believing that heaven has blessed them. The girl grows quickly and befriends the children of her village, sharing in their daily adventures and forging an emotional connection with her peers, particularly a young boy named Sutemaru. Theirs is a simple life of poverty and hard work, yet Kaguya seems perfectly content as she's enamored with the beauty and wonder of the natural world. However, when a second bamboo shoot discovered to have a bounty of gold, he believes that heaven has commanded him to take the young princess away from their humble lives and bring her to the city. Sparing no expense to make her a proper princess, she is thrown into a life of opulent luxury and suitors begin lining up to court the mysterious princess. Yet despite her enviable circumstances she finds herself ill-at-ease with her new life, longing for those lost days of her youth.

With few exceptions, the story is very faithful to the thousand-year-old tale. As a result, the film feels quite different from many modern stories that follow a three act structure. Adding to this sense of ancient storytelling is the film's unique use of animation. It's drawn with watercolors and sketches, giving it the appearance of a story scroll or even concept art stretched over a two hour running time. There are moments of transcendent beauty in here that seem traditional in their approach, but there are also times when the style breaks with convention in order to subvert reality. For instance, there is one scene in particular when the film takes a darker turn and Kaguya is overcome with emotion. She crashes through the sliding doors, running away into the night as fast as she can, her garments flying off her as she sprints back to the moonlit countryside. The animation in this scene is so untamed and fantastical that it is unlike anything I've ever seen before. These artistic choices are very fitting for the film and give it a distinct feel that no other anime has. There's the expression of "every frame a painting" and in that is quite literally the case here. Just about any shot from this film is something I'd feel comfortable having framed and put on my wall.

As you might expect from the man who directed Grave of the Fireflies, this is an emotional film with some heavy themes. It has a PG rating, but it doesn't shy away from the more honest or tragic elements of the story, making it a film that will resonate much more with adults than with children. What stood out most for me was the notion of being true to oneself and how challenging that can be. The world of ancient Japan may be alien to us, but every society throughout history has had its own set of cultural norms and pressures. Society's vision of the perfect life may not be consistent with one's own, and this becomes abundantly clear when we view Kaguya's world with over a thousand years of historical hindsight. There is also the notion of how the world is filled with grief and suffering, yet this is in many ways preferable to an insulated life without spontaneity or the full range of human experience. It's a similar idea to what the Savage talks about in the novel Brave New World, in which he claims the right to be unhappy. I won't delve into the specific scenes that highlight this for risk of spoiling them, but there are moments in here that are deeply emotional and at times profoundly sad.

It is the longest Ghibli film ever made at 137 minutes, but it honestly feels like it's too short. This is especially true when you consider that this is likely to be Isao Takahata's last film and could potentially be one of the last films by Studio Ghibli. When he was at TIFF, Takahata confirmed that the studio was running into major financial problems. So despite having so many other ideas that they're excited for, the 79-year-old admitted that he didn't know whether any of them would come to fruition. That's a damn shame because Ghibli hasn't just made some of the best animated movies of all time, they've made some of the best movies period. If this is, God forbid, the last movie that Studio Ghibli ever makes it would at least be a fitting end to their legacy. I can't imagine them going out on a higher note than this one.

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Fri Apr 03, 2015 2:43 am
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I actually got the chance to meet Ana Lily Amirpour last Summer when she came to my grad school and screened her film. She was so effortlessly cool, it was unbelievable.

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I think Whiplash does a good job of getting you so far into the characters' mindset that you sometimes think the insane teacher has a point. But he doesn't because his methods drive students to eventual suicide (and his Charlie Parker story is full of shit). Worth pointing out: the final sequence hides the audience's reaction in the darkness behind the spotlights. Any expectation the protagonist might once have had of connecting with his public is usurped by his feverish need to please his mentor, no matter how much he ruins his own body in the process.


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The Great One wrote:
I actually got the chance to meet Ana Lily Amirpour last Summer when she came to my grad school and screened her film. She was so effortlessly cool, it was unbelievable.


That's awesome! Everything I've seen from her in interviews or recorded events suggests she has an infectious personality.

Beau wrote:
I think Whiplash does a good job of getting you so far into the characters' mindset that you sometimes think the insane teacher has a point. But he doesn't because his methods drive students to eventual suicide (and his Charlie Parker story is full of shit). Worth pointing out: the final sequence hides the audience's reaction in the darkness behind the spotlights. Any expectation the protagonist might once have had of connecting with his public is usurped by his feverish need to please his mentor, no matter how much he ruins his own body in the process.


The film doesn't seem to shy away from the drawbacks and the dangers ex: the suicide story, the relationship with his girlfriend, the physical and mental harm endured in the process. But we're also presented with a lot of counter-evidence. The finale of the film is seen by a lot of people as a vindication of Fletcher's methods and Andrew's obsessive focus, the argument then becoming whether all the sacrifices made to reach that point are worth it. We see Paul Reiser's character, who until that time was the sole voice of opposition, looking in in stunned silence and admiration. The finale is highly subjective and while you may see the invisible audience as a sign of feverish obsession, others may look at it as being in the zone.

This is part of the reason why I like Whiplash so much, actually. It's not really taking sides. However, it does seem to suggest that there's an approach between the two extremes of Andrew's loser father and Fletcher. That scene in the jazz club where Andrew asks "isn't there a line?" gets at the heart of it. But this isn't the kind of movie that's telling us that Bobby Knight was wrong. We're shown Coach Knight throwing chairs and behaving like a lunatic, but we also see him become the winning-est coach in history by doing so.

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Sat Apr 04, 2015 3:45 pm
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I really loved A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, I actually had the experience of guest-hosting a film podcast and talking in depth about it when it was making the rounds last year.


Mon Apr 06, 2015 3:09 am
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The Bad Guy wrote:
The film doesn't seem to shy away from the drawbacks and the dangers ex: the suicide story, the relationship with his girlfriend, the physical and mental harm endured in the process. But we're also presented with a lot of counter-evidence. The finale of the film is seen by a lot of people as a vindication of Fletcher's methods and Andrew's obsessive focus, the argument then becoming whether all the sacrifices made to reach that point are worth it. We see Paul Reiser's character, who until that time was the sole voice of opposition, looking in in stunned silence and admiration. The finale is highly subjective and while you may see the invisible audience as a sign of feverish obsession, others may look at it as being in the zone.

This is part of the reason why I like Whiplash so much, actually. It's not really taking sides. However, it does seem to suggest that there's an approach between the two extremes of Andrew's loser father and Fletcher. That scene in the jazz club where Andrew asks "isn't there a line?" gets at the heart of it. But this isn't the kind of movie that's telling us that Bobby Knight was wrong. We're shown Coach Knight throwing chairs and behaving like a lunatic, but we also see him become the winning-est coach in history by doing so.


The movie doesn't pick a side, but I do. That's what I'm interested in discussing. It's certainly relevant that the film is open and ambiguous enough about its subject matter to warrant a debate. But that, to me, is square one. Once we establish the film isn't explicitly "saying" this or that about such and such didactic method, I think we can formulate where we stand in relation to what we see. I personally find it significant that, after so many movies about art and sports in which the final product (victory in a game, fulfillment through teamwork, self-actualization through creativity) is portrayed as unambiguously worthwhile, in Whiplash that factor is up for interpretation (the sheer fact that we can disagree on it is meaningful in and of itself). This is even more crucial when you consider that we live in a culture - or, at least, I grew up in one - in which all good things appear to be rooted in hard work. That Whiplash questions the merits of such hard work, by forcing us (to the very end) to contemplate its "drawbacks and dangers" (as you put them), seems to me uncommon. The final scene, importantly, doesn't allow us to escape "the zone" (through, for instance, a concluding celebration scene, or something of the sort, in which teacher and pupil can exchange winks and handshakes) and asks us examine its value from within (and appreciate the profound connection between the two protagonists in all its sick, twisted, perverse glory, as the two of them derive pleasure from their mutual, symbolic assaults).


Mon Apr 06, 2015 4:22 am
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Post Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Beau wrote:

The movie doesn't pick a side, but I do. That's what I'm interested in discussing. It's certainly relevant that the film is open and ambiguous enough about its subject matter to warrant a debate. But that, to me, is square one. Once we establish the film isn't explicitly "saying" this or that about such and such didactic method, I think we can formulate where we stand in relation to what we see. I personally find it significant that, after so many movies about art and sports in which the final product (victory in a game, fulfillment through teamwork, self-actualization through creativity) is portrayed as unambiguously worthwhile, in Whiplash that factor is up for interpretation (the sheer fact that we can disagree on it is meaningful in and of itself). This is even more crucial when you consider that we live in a culture - or, at least, I grew up in one - in which all good things appear to be rooted in hard work. That Whiplash questions the merits of such hard work, by forcing us (to the very end) to contemplate its "drawbacks and dangers" (as you put them), seems to me uncommon. The final scene, importantly, doesn't allow us to escape "the zone" (through, for instance, a concluding celebration scene, or something of the sort, in which teacher and pupil can exchange winks and handshakes) and asks us examine its value from within (and appreciate the profound connection between the two protagonists in all its sick, twisted, perverse glory, as the two of them derive pleasure from their mutual, symbolic assaults).


My father is a professor and has heard a lot of speeches at various universities over time. I forget exactly where this is from, but on several occasions he told me a story about a Summa Cum Laude speaker. The young man acknowledged that he had achieved everything he'd set out to do academically, but that he was often asked by others if all the sacrifices he'd made along the way in terms of personal and social pursuits was worth it. He basically told the audience that the answer was "No", it wasn't worth it.

For me, the question Whiplash is asking doesn't have a yes or no answer. I think that Fletcher's approach is clearly too extreme, even if that results in becoming the next Charlie Parker. I also think that the affable but unenviable father character of Paul Reiser is too far on the other end of the spectrum. Neither of them are the ideal.

What's interesting is that there's some grey area in between where the sweet spot exists. But where that lies on the spectrum is very much an open question. I actually tend to think it lies further towards Fletcher's end than it does with the father. I do think that hard work and perseverance are admirable, even when it involves compromising other life pursuits. However, I definitely think that it can be dangerous. I certainly don't live my own life the way Andrew does in the film, nor would I want to.

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Mon Apr 06, 2015 10:52 am
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Post Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Based on this list I immediately watched The Guest and Starred Up. Both were fantastic, for obviously very different reasons. I actually think that Starred Up is massively underrated all the way at 50th place. Can't believe they flew under my radar until now, though.

Going to watch Blue Rain tonight.


Wed Apr 08, 2015 4:25 am
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I don't believe you have to sacrifice everything to be great. However many have done so.

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Thu Apr 09, 2015 12:49 am
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