Friday, January 30, 2015

AFI Top 100: #73 "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Robert Redford & Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)

Say hello to the anti-Peckinpah western! I mean, sure, this came first, but you couldn't get two films more different and still in the same genre as #73 on the AFI Top 100 list, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and our #79 flick, The Wild Bunch. Both westerns were made in a fast-changing Hollywood landscape, both glorifying the life and freedom of the Old West bandit... in completely opposite ways. Where Peckinpah was gritty and depressing, Butch & Sundance is sepia-kissed and carefree.

The story is pretty encompassing of what we know about these two outlaws. Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) were primary members of the Wild Bunch gang, active at the turn of the 20th century. Their friendship, mutual love for the same woman, Etta Place (played by lucky-duck Katharine Ross), and eventual hop from the United States to Colombia to escape the law is the focus of the film. The leads gallivant around the countryside, robbing banks and train cars with a smile on their facenot opposed to shooting anyone or blowing up safes, but they would rather use their charm to talk the money out of peoples' pockets. Of course, this makes us love them even more.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Music Mondays: A Fine Frenzy "Blow Away"

I'm thinking the next few weeks might be a re-visitation of some of my favorite singer-songwriters, the ones I listened to during my last days of college. I've been listening to these old tracks a lot lately—some are sad, some are vibrant and energetic... but they're all beautiful and remind me of a very specific time, or person, or experience.

Today's song is maybe one of the only bright and happy tracks from this artist! A Fine Frenzy has been a part of my music repertoire for nearly a decade, and I can't even describe how many times I listened to "Almost Lover" any time I went through heartbreak. But not today! One of my favorite videos from her, the beautiful fire-haired Alison Sudol, is "Blow Away"—which is just cuteness personified.

I love seeing Alison make her way into acting and television (I freaked a bit when I spotted her in "Transparent"), but her music will always be I love most. I can't recommend this little waif highly enough. Enjoy!

Artist: A Fine Frenzy
Song: "Blow Away" | download | stream
Album: Bomb in a Birdcage

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Project 365: Movies 16 - 23

16 / 365: Foxcatcher (2014)
© Sony Pictures Classics

Oh Foxcatcher. It was supposed to be so good. Halfway through, I even tried to convince myself it was a great movie, because, well... I'm supposed to think that right? Sadly, it falls flat in more than one way. But one big way is really enough.

Based on a true story (that I didn't know anything about), Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic gold medalist in the sport of wrestling, as is his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Dave is confident, grounded, and successful—everything Mark dreams of being, but is unable to obtain. Until he gets swept off his feet by a wealthy financier by the name of John du Pont (Steve Carrell). Du Pont is one of the wealthiest men in the country, and despite his eccentricities, he woos Mark with the prospect of training in a world class gym with world class athletes at his family estate, Foxcatcher Farms. Everything seems all well and good, until Du Pont's own delusions and influence on Mark become evermore troubling.

This movie is wrought with tension. From beginning to end, it is unrelenting. Which is fine, normally. My favorite film of last year, Whiplash, is the same way. The difference is, this is tense for literally no reason at all. Sure, the true story of the film ends tragically, and I didn't have any idea what would happen. That can be intense, right? Thanks to the filmmakers, however, the movie let me know from the beginning things wouldn't end well, and then proceeds to build up EVERY. SINGLE. SCENE as if a massacre is about to happen... ALL THE TIME AT EVERY MOMENT. Why? How hard was director, Bennett Miller, trying to work to make sure we knew John du Pont is a total psycho? He must have pulled a muscle straining so hard. Seriously, we get it. Give the actors a little breathing room and let them carry the drama and the intensity themselves—stop trying to bogart the damn scene, Miller!

Alright, I'm sorry. I'm getting a little overwrought. The movie starts really well, and there are scenes that made me think Yes, okay, now we're onto something. Even Carrell and his creepiness had me spellbound. But when I spend the last hour of the movie making an active list of "How is this going to end horribly for everyone?" in my head, you're failing to capture my attention. Instead, you're distracting me. Because when everything finally does boil over, everyone in the theater thought Yeah well duh. Absolutely nothing could be as horrible and terrifying as the movie was building it up to be, and it deserved more than that. I feel like I might be in the minority here about this multiple Oscar-nominated flick, but I just don't care. It could have been way better, and I blame the direction.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

17 / 365: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
© Orion Pictures
This movie was the #74 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Blu Ray
Seen Before: Yes

18 / 365: Paris is Burning (1990)
© Miramax

This fascinating documentary is a ballsy look at the 'ballroom' culture in Harlem during the 1980s. Today, we really know it as "drag queen" culture, but this is a subculture all its own. Our documentarian, Jennie Livingston, throws herself into this detailed world of imagined extravagance, hierarchy, self-made family units, and, most interestingly to me, vocabulary. The film follows several "houses," or groups of gay men and/or transgender women who identify themselves as part of a single family, almost like a street gang. The members are primarily Black or Latino or mixed, and to be a part of these houses, you have to walk in the Balls, or compete. There are "Legends" (the seasoned queens) and the "Children" (the inexperienced queens), part of families like the House of Xtravaganza, the House of St. Laurent, and the House of Ninja, just to name a few.

Now, I watch a lot of "RuPaul's Drag Race," so some of the vocab lessons weren't new to me. Throwing shade or Reading or Voguing... fascinating inventions within this culture, so layered in meaning and history, this documentary is a true examination of their origins. "Drag Race" brought these concepts into the mainstream, but this ballroom scene in Harlem is as far away from mainstream as you could possibly get. Livingston does a remarkable job in showcasing the glamour and the excitement and the dedication of these House members... while simultaneously shining a light on the tragedy within the community itself. These are not rich or glamorous people when they are outside of the Balls, and even they can't escape the ravages of poverty or AIDS.

I love documentaries that read like anthropological studies, especially of a world so foreign from my own. These men and women have their own language, their own traditions. An underground culture that existed hidden from the white-dominated opulence in Manhattan... these Queens created their own opulence in the ballroom competition circuit. This film is an absolute gem, and I understand now why it's considered a classic.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

19 / 365: Sleeping Beauty (2011)
© IFC Films

A great idea does not a good screenplay make. The movie appears to be about Lucy (Emily Browning), a young, delicate bird-of-a-college-student popping around various menial jobs. She answers a want ad, of sorts, to waitress for what can only be described as a high-end fetish club for wealthy men. She quickly gets promoted from eye-candy pouring goblets of wine to the main gig: voluntarily being placed in an unconscious state to allow old men to fondle her and/or sleep next to her and/or yell things at her without even her as a witness. Like Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse", except terrible, with literally no stakes or discernible plot.

It started out promising. Elements of grooming, pressing the importance of utmost discretion. Even the cinematography and direction seemed solid. But nothing could overcome how desperately obtuse Julia Leigh's script is. It's like there's a gag order on all of these characters. Like they're not allowed to talk, or ask questions, or even make sense. Unless they're going to just say something crude and gross. "Match a lipstick to the color of your labia." Oh yeah, okay. Sure, lady-who-seems-important-but-who-we-never-see-again. When your dialogue reminds me of Showgirls but without the laughs, you're not in a good place.

The screenplay is intentionally vague, with scenes that go on and on but say nothing. It was the great Gertrude Stein who said, There is no there there. I'm gonna assume she was talking about this. You wait, thinking things will come together, that there might be some reveal... but it never comes. Overly emotional scenes are heavy and wrought with feeling... and we have no idea why. Characters appear to know each other in some significant way, but hey, why explain the connection when not knowing can turn into a pointless guessing game? I mean, why show or tell us anything when we can just infer based on little to no clues? Each scene literally feels endless. Not in a boring way but in a... What the hell is going on? way. I've never given a movie more side-eye than I did this one.

It feels like a script someone from my Intermediate Screenwriting class in college was trying to beat out every week to no avail. Your pitch may have been solid, Julia, but you can't string together cohesive scenes to save your life. And no matter how much you try, Emily Browning's beautiful face isn't going to salvage your movie. Nice try though. D for effort.

Okay, I might have way too many thoughts about how this movie failed. Ideas with potential do that to me.

Rating: ★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

20 / 365: The Heat (2013)
© 20th Century Fox

I missed this in the theaters, along with many movies in 2013, but I probably had more people prodding me to see The Heat more than any other. It didn't look too special to me, but the pairing of Sandra Bullock as a tight-ass, know-it-all FBI agent, and Melissa McCarthy as a foul-mouthed, disgusting Southie police detective can only be described as magic. Bullock's Agent Ashurn gets sent to Boston to work with local authorities to investigate a drug ring that appears to have a rising death toll. Ashburn gets reluctantly paired with McCarthy's Det. Mullins, and hilarity ensues.

The plot should matter, but honestly, it really doesn't. There were a few times when that annoyed me, like C'mon, ladies, we have a plot to progress, but in the end, they were funnier and more enjoyable than any murderous drug lords. Bullock can play a bitch in an almost eerily believable way, it's amazing we almost like her more that way. It is pretty satisfying watching the teacher's pet fall on her face once in awhile, and Bullock just nails that. Melissa McCarthy's brilliant comedic timing has been well-documented, but people really forget about Bullock. She cut her teeth in comedies as the ugly duckling, and only someone with that street cred can muss herself up as ridiculously as Bullock does in The Heat.

I also respect the movie for embracing its violent undertones. Where Bridesmaids committed to shitting in sinks, The Heat commits to blowing peoples' heads off—without abandoning the comedy, of course. Most of the movie, though, just feels like Bullock and McCarthy riffing with one another. Some of their choices I can't imagine were really written down anywhere. These two just take it and run with it. It's just too bad we may never see a sequel.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: HBOGo
Seen Before: No

© Sony Pictures

The recent sequel to the 2009 original, based on a children's book, this animated feature picks up right where the first left off. With the glitching "water into food" machine finally defeated, the world is now saved from monster food-weather! Phew! But our hero, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), and all his friends and family are told it's time to evacuate their island home for a very necessary clean-up by Flint's hero, inventor and owner of Live Corp, Chester V (Will Forte). Chester's questionable motives for 'helping' the island start to become clear when he recruits the starstruck Flint to help him find his lost machine, the FLDSMDFR. It doesn't help that the machine has begun to malfunction again, this time churning out food-animal hybrids that threaten to overrun the island.

Cloudy 2 is remarkably cute until you realize... it's a little boring. Something so odd and quirky and fun shouldn't be so uneventful. The third act picks up considerably, but it just takes too long to get there. Until that point, the focus is so firmly on being clever and tongue-in-cheek-y, it forgets to develop into a solid story. The first had far more character development and epic pacing. It was clever without relying solely on that to entertain. The same can't be true for the sequel.

Again, it gets better towards the end. Perhaps if it had a shorter run time, it wouldn't have been such a trial to get through. It's sad, because I'm pretty enamored with the animation, and the food-animals. I just... didn't care. Except for Berry the Strawberry. He might as well be a puppy. As far as I'm concerned, he carried the movie.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

22 / 365: Snowpiercer (2013)
© Weinstein Company

Watching this a 2nd time was a remarkably different experience. I thought I'd actually like it a lot less, but it was pretty consistent from viewing to viewing, even with my picking it apart. In my opinion, this was the movie of the summer last year. Which is surprising, considering it had "art house limited run" written all over it. Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic story, based on a French graphic novel, where the undoing of the Earth was—wait for it!—global warming! It sounds silly, like the wind being evil in The Happening, but stick with me. The year is 2031, 17 years after the Earth freezes over due to our naive attempts to cool the warming planet. The only human survivors to are the thousands of people piled onto the Snowpiercer, a 100+ car train with a self-sustaining eco-system and an engine that will run forever, invented by a man who may as well be God, Wilford.

The catch is, that eco-system depends on a vastly deficient class system determined by placement on the train: the people in the front, and the people in the back. Ne'er the two shall meet. Curtis (Chris Evans) is our young hero who leads a revolt of the steerage passengers, overtaking the cars one by one until they reach the engine, having little idea what they will find on the way.

So much about this movie is perfect. The ominous beginnings, the character introductions, the incorporation of back story while telling us so much about the present. This is not easy to do, especially in what can essentially be described as an alien world. There is a lot to reveal, a lot to explain, and little time to do it. Tilda Swinton's turn as Mason, the 2nd in command on the train, is mesmerizing and freakish. The brutality these people endure, and the circumstances in which they survive, is traumatizing to watch, but it never loses its intrigue. We only get more and more curious, and it captivates us every single second.

I do have one huge problem, though. The ending was all wrong. I felt it the first time I saw it, but it was confirmed the 2nd time. It is literally nearly flawless until the very, very end. I can't even say it's disappointing. It's just... an odd and confounding choice. The movie says so much about humanity, about survival, and every actor gives it their fighting best, but the end keeps it from perfection. What is this trying to say? No matter how hard I try (and trust me, I have), it will never feel right. Does that mean I wouldn't recommend this movie to you? Hmm... no, but I would certainly warn you. I'm a person who won't forget the good just because of the bad, so despite its epilogue, Snowpiercer is worth your time.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: Yes

23 / 365: In a World... (2013)
© Sony Pictures

I'm drawn to any movie, fiction or doc, that focuses on voice over work. I find it utterly fascinating; always have, ever since I was a kid and watched the voice over actors for "Daria" do a TV special. If I had the skill, it would probably be my dream job. Anyways, I watched writer, director, and star Lake Bell promote this film a few years back, and I'm shocked it took me so long to see it.

There's something very Bridget Jones about this movie, then like it had a baby with a sports movie. Because you guys, the voice over world is cut-throat! Cathy Solomon (Bell) is a struggling vocal coach, unable to escape the shadow of her father, voice over legend Sam Soto. That is until she steps out on her own and begins to make waves after scoring a movie trailer gig. The movie is pretty simple, and I'm not even sure that it has a lot to say beyond the expected. At the same time, Cathy is a delightful, quirky female lead, carrying around a tape recorder to capture odd accents or the voices of girls who talk like babies. You want to see her win in this world where women aren't even invited to play.

The B-plot is also really strong. Michaela Watkins appears as Cathy's sister, Danni, and I need her to be in every movie right now. I adore her. She can do comedy and drama without breaking a sweat, and her chemistry with Lake Bell reminds me of my own sister. I'm going to start playing the "sister code" card as often as possible with her now. Cute, harmless, and full of adorable side characters. It reminds me of movies I'd watch in the 90's on VHS tape when I was home "sick" from school.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

Thursday, January 22, 2015

AFI Top 100: #74 "The Silence of the Lambs"

Anthony Hopkins & Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The first and only horror film to take home the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Silence of the Lambs comes in at #74 on the AFI Top 100 list, and I find that to be way too low. There may have been a time when psychological horror flicks could be considered low-brow, but this, along with films like Se7en, prove just how beautiful and compelling a basic serial killer plot can be. And for the first time on our AFI journey so far, a movie is walking away with a perfect score from me.

Based on the Red Dragon / Hannibal Lecter series of suspense novels written by Thomas Harris in the 1980's, which focus on the life at varying stages of the enigmatic forensic psychiatrist and serial killer. The Silence of the Lambs is easily the most lauded adaptation of these novels for the screen. The film follows Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a young cadet at Quantico, training for the FBI's forensic crime division. Bodies are piling up as a serial killer dubbed Buffalo Bill alludes capture, and the FBI hopes to pick the brain of one Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), currently serving life in prison, in hopes of tracking Bill down.

Clarice is naive but particularly ambitious. She's sent to speak with Lecter, given specific instructions on how to be and not to be in his presence, but of course, Hannibal is just too charming to resist, even when his is talking about eating the liver of a census taker. Hannibal takes a liking to Clarice, and agrees to share his insights with her... so long as she shares details about herself with him. Deal! What could go wrong?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Taste of NOLA in Cleveland

Yesterday I wrote about wiling the day away in Cleveland's up-and-coming neighborhood, Tremont. John and I enjoyed our time there so much that we went back a few days later, this time to enjoy a late dinner. Again, I went back and forth about our options, and whether I felt like sushi, tapas, Spanish, or Thai. I always scour menus on websites before deciding on places, which means that by the time the hostess seats us at our table, I usually already know what I want.

One Tremont restaurant menu in particular caught my eye. The Bourbon Street Barrel Room offers a little taste of New Orleans creole fare.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Day in Tremont, Cleveland

I've finally gotten around to organizing my pictures from my time in Cleveland this past holiday. We spent a wonderful nine days there, and it was nothing like I had expected. Originally, I thought I would be sitting around, hunkered away from the freezing winter cold, only to venture out on the rare occasion we would run out of wine.

Instead, we were met with remarkably warm weather. For the Mid-West, that is, meaning it wasn't snowing, and hadn't quite gotten down to freezing--yet. I had done some research on neighborhoods in Cleveland proper that might be a good place to spend a sunny day, and immediately, I knew Tremont was the place to be.

Just south of Downtown Cleveland, it is apparently the up-and-coming neighborhood for young people and families, due to the newly opened bars, restaurants, shops, and monthly art walks. The area has completely revamped buildings and homes once abandoned in Historic Tremont, so a walk between 14th St and Professor, or Literary and 11th, is like a scavenger hunt for amazing holes in the wall.

The area is bookended by epic churches and sanctuaries, with a small park, ice cream shops, public graphic art, and cafes of all sorts sandwiched in between.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Vinyl Love on this Music Monday

You may have noticed a normal Music Monday post didn't go up today. I've found that I'm in a pretty big music rut! The same old songs have been playing on my same old iPod for months now, and I'm in desperate need of some new tunes. John and I recently set up a dedicated space for all of our music, specifically, our collection of vinyl records. Digital music has taken a bit of a backseat while I've devoured all my old and new records, but I normally don't have such a hard time discovering new (to me) music.

So in lieu of a specific song, I'm going to throw out a record recommendation! One of my favorite records, which I found years ago for $5 at Amoeba Records here in LA, is Julie London's first major release, Julie is her name. It features one of my favorite tracks, "Cry Me a River," as well as the incredible "I'm In the Mood for Love"... I can't recommend this 1950s singer and her entire discography enough.

That being said, I welcome any new music recs that you might have! In the meantime, I'll be here spinning my Julie records on repeat and sitting in the dark with a glass of pinot noir.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Project 365: Movies 10 - 15

10 / 365: L.A. Story (1991)
© TriStar

Don't we all feel freeway signs are giving tips just to us? Maybe it's just those of us living in Los Angeles. I'd seen this movie before, but John's family in Cleveland has gifted us the DVD for Christmas, and I was long overdue for another viewing, especially since I've been an LA transport for a much longer period of time.

Our story is told by Harris Telemacher (Steve Martin), a goofy local weather man entertaining the masses in the land of no weather. L.A. Story plays like a Mel Brooks comedy, with obvious jokes that just seem to land, even though you see them coming from a mile away. LA issues like traffic (we quite literally all talk about traffic, all the time), earthquakes, getting in your car to drive two buildings down the street, and the benefits of high colonics are shown or discussed with the heavy hand of irony.

Telemacher knows he's pretty much living a lie, and is secretly wishing for a way out. One night, a freeway sign calls out to him and begins to counsel him on how to better his life. The L.A. version of a New York therapist, if you will. Even with the ridiculousness of the movie as a whole, I totally buy this. It's delightful, and the least slapstick-y aspect of the film. Steve Martin is like a classic movie star. He has an old Hollywood way about him, like Cary Grant, only a million times funnier. He has a gift for playing roles that are quite literally insane people that you still wouldn't say no to having a drink with. This might be one of the best examples of his ageless charm.

I walk away from this movie wishing I cared so little about what other people thought that I could skip and spin down Venice Blvd just like Sarah Jessica Parker does in this, but then I remember that I saw a woman in West Hollywood doing that yesterday, and it wasn't cute or carefree. It was just crazy. Ah, c'est la vie.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

11 / 365: In the Heat of the Night (1967)
© United Artists

This movie was the #75 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

12 / 365: The Punk Singer (2013)
© IFC Films

What an accomplishment this documentary is. Clocking in at 80 minutes, it fully encapsulates the career of a woman that I personally knew nothing about, but who influenced the entire genre of punk music by creating her own. Feminist glam punk, and Kathleen Hanna is its mother. My preference when turning on a documentary I haven't seen is that the less I know, the better. This is both good and bad. Good, because expectations only set up for disappointment, but BAD, because I get ever-more distracted by my own curiosity while I watch... and this can lead to constant Google and Wikipedia searches until I realize I'm no longer paying attention to the movie.

For this, it ended up being very, very good. Kathleen Hanna had a remarkable career in multiple punk bands throughout the nineties & early noughts, including Bikini Kill, Julie Ruin, and Le Tigre. I... remembered none of these names. Her influence on not only the genre--coming out of the Pacific Northwest during the onslaught of Grunge--but in helping to perpetuate the idea of "3rd Wave Feminism" in a world where people were asking "Is feminism dead?" Kathleen's response? "How can something be dead when we're living it and feeling it everyday?"

I give the movie props for even talking about feminism, and also how activism negatively affected Kathleen's mental and emotional health. Her disappearance from the music scene in 2005 is also covered in great detail... I found the old footage, new footage, and interviews incredibly fascinating. One little anecdote that I loved was about Kathleen's friendship with Nirvana rocker, Kurt Cobain, and how he didn't come out of grunge... but rather feminist glam punk, just like Hanna. She also spoke about scrawling the words "Kurt smells like teen spirit" on his bathroom wall, and well... we know what came of that.

This flick is 80 short minutes, and a totally easy watch. The music was also incredible, prompting me to spend the whole next day listening to Bikini Kill and Le Tigre on Spotify. Reminds me so much of Chloe Chaidez. I would be shocked if Kathleen wasn't an inspiration for her. Especially when you see the connection between punk and electronica develop for Kathleen's music. Watch this movie, especially if you love music.

Rating: ★★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

13 / 365: Selma (2014)
© Pathé Pictures

I ran out to see this only days before the 2014 Academy Award nominations were announced. I didn't walk into the movie with a big question mark hanging over my head. I read my history books and remember studying this event in great detail. What I didn't know was how much or how little of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's life the film would attempt to include. That, alone, is what makes this movie stand out among other historical dramas/bio pics.

Selma tells the story of just that: the events in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and the march from Selma to Montgomery in protest of the treatment of Southern Black Americans--and their attempts to vote as citizens. Nothing else. The construction of this story is very tight, and portrayed on film without too much distraction. I wouldn't have blamed the filmmakers one bit for diverting from the events in 1965... the story of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and MLK's own story spread well beyond what can be confined in one film. Shockingly, though, director Ava DuVernay kept a tight reign on her story, and played out events with the assumption that the audience wasn't stupid. That we actually knew some of the context leading up to the events in Selma.

While I don't think this movie is just special because it made me cry (a lot), I do adore watching history play out on the screen. The script utilized the famous speeches and the private whisperings equally. This movie has "Kim bait" written all over it, because I love a good inspirational cry. It also has one of the best 'in closing' caption sequences I've seen in a long time. It didn't just reiterate history; it touched on individuals, and made everyone recognizable, tangible.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

14 / 365: American Sniper  (2014)
© Warner Bros.

One of my favorite Iraq War films is Stop-Loss. There is something raw and engulfing about it, like a modern day Best Years of Our Lives. This Clint Eastwood directed film (and now Oscar nominee for Best Picture) is a bit of a hybrid, a strange bastard child of Stop-Loss' 'when you return home' reality and The Hurt Locker's 'on the battlefield' grittiness. The difference is that both of the former films were focused, tight; American Sniper is chaotic and piece-y, covering years of the war, multiple tours of duty, and levels of personal tragedy—for our hero and the enemy.

This film chronicles the war career of the deadliest sniper in recorded American history. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is idealistic, a Texas patriot in the stereotypical sense of the word. He simultaneously fights for and against his own legendary status. The rest of Kyle's fellow SEALs are similarly idealistic, and sadly, kind of indistinguishable from each other. They slip in and out of frame regularly, and while they mean the world to Kyle, we don't really get it, because the movie doesn't take the time to make them matter to us. Eastwood makes a film that, on the surface, appears to be a powerful portrait of the war in Iraq, but ends up belittling itself by not going much deeper than that. Even its portrayal of PTSD feels overly simplistic... and it didn't have to be that way.

Perhaps it was the scope of the story, trying to tell too much in too short a time. How do you convey the complications, trials, terror, and yes, triumphs, of war in two hours? Well, for one thing, you create one, tangible enemy. Eastwood links our legendary sniper with Iraq's equally infamous sniper, Mustafa (even though they never really met on the front lines). This story manipulation is a clear attempt to give a long, tumultuous story some focus; also to ignite that "giddy-up, OO-WAH America!" feeling from the audience. Again, it works on the surface, but in the end, we're simply left with... what the hell was that all for? It's hard to tell what Eastwood's opinion is in this film—necessary heroes, or martyrs of an aimless cause.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

15 / 365: The Secret of Kells (2009)
© Flatiron Film

This movie reminded me of a side-scrolling Sega Genesis game. Like Disney's Hercules. The style is even similar to the Disney classic, and the animation is a throw back to that two-dimensional, geometric art--but with an Irish twist. It tells the story of Brendan, the young nephew of the Abbott in Kells, who has never ventured out of the Abbey walls into the dangerous world beyond. When an Abbot arrives from the land of Iona with an unfinished book, Brendan learns that "to gaze upon [the pages] is to gaze upon Heaven itself." He realizes then his mission is to help complete the book, which might mean leaving the confines of his home.

I didn't realize it while I was watching, but this Irish Book of Kells is indeed a famous manuscript, and The Secret of Kells recounts the legend of its creation. When you look at the pages of the book itself, you can see what inspired the animation. Dizzying layers of scenery, of details. Not just fantastical, but anti-realistic. A push against what looks human, embracing the finer details by showcasing their extremes. The abbey, the forest surrounding it... it it's like picking up the world's most complicated coloring book and finding it impeccably completed. That is what I find so stylistically unique. The creative displays, splitting screens in thirds to display continuous action across a distance.

Seriously though, can I have Aisling's hair? I'd make a deal with the devil for it. I think Avatar copied the scene where Brendan and Aisling first explore the forest. Seemed very familiar ya'll. Director Tomm Moore recently released his newest film, which features a very similar animation style, titled Song of the Seaand it looks mind-blowing. After seeing Kells, I will absolutely be heading to the theater to see this recently announced nominee for Best Animated Feature.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

Friday, January 16, 2015

New Laptop!

It's been a busy few days with not much posting on my end. I kept trying to squeeze it in here and there, but the truth is, I'm going through a bit of a transition, technology-wise. This is because I actually got a new computer! Finally, I've been able to replace a personal laptop that I haven't turned on in years.

Up until now, I'd been using my work computer for blogging and posts, which just isn't conducive to editing photos, utilizing the programs I really need, etc. I'm very excited to have a significantly more portable laptop option, and it will make working on bettering my photo skills a much less overwhelming prospect. It is also a 2-in-1, which means it can convert into a tablet in a pinch, folding over ever-so delicately. Just have to get used to navigating a touch screen!

This weekend will be its real maiden voyage. This is very, very exciting for me. :)

{photo via Jovo Jovanovic}

Thursday, January 15, 2015

AFI Top 100: #75 "In the Heat of the Night"

Sidney Poitier & Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night (1967)

I always want to follow the words "In the heat of the night" with "we are having a fiesta." Thanks Aqua, for the catchy tune. No? Just me? Okay. Anyways, this week's AFI Top 100 movie might be one of the lesser known flicks in the bunch. In the Heat of the Night may have won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1967, and marked a decade of brilliant staring roles from Sidney Poitier... but it's biggest claim to our memories comes in the form of one single, famous line: "They call me Mr. Tibbs!"

You've heard the line, that's for certain, though you may not have been able to name the movie it was from. Well. It's from this one. Set in the small Mississippi town of Sparta, it begins with a murder in the dead of night. The cops in this town are on the lookout to find a killer, and one unknowing Deputy Sheriff finds, sitting at the local train station, Mr. Virgil Tibbs (Poitier). Seeing this well-dressed, stoic black man immediately sets off alarms in this cop's head, and Tibbs is dragged in to meet with Sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger). None of these uniforms can stifle their hostile racism, and immediately assume Tibbs is their murderer.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Music Mondays: Sia "Elastic Heart"

Chances are, you saw this video the moment it was released last week. It was pretty much everywhere, and judging by the views in just 5 days... this probably isn't new to anyone. However! The brilliant Sia and her song "Chandelier" were the first Music Mondays selection for this blog, and I thought it only appropriate to include its sequel of sorts. Sia's new video for her song "Elastic Heart" is spellbinding. It features young Maddie Ziegler, the little sprite who gave a tour de force performance in the "Chandelier" video, now paired alongside actor Shia LaBeouf.

Immediately people made comments about this video as only rabid pontificaters online can about how "inappropriate" this video is, a young girl dancing with an older man. I find this so preposterous (and so does The Guardian is this wonderful article), but it's not a fight that even needs to happen. Really, you can't look at either of them as themselves. Maddie has been acting as Sia's doppelganger for some time now, and if anyone took 5 seconds to read about Sia's history, you would see the significance of this video immediately. Addiction, loss, abuse, and an inability to cope and move on. It's touching and brilliant, and I wanted to add to the masses sharing it by featuring it here today.

This song is wonderful, as is the video. I hope Sia continues this trend and releases videos for other songs off of her 1000 Forms of Fear album, one of my favorites released last year.

What are your thoughts on this video? Do you find anything wrong with it?

Artist: Sia
Song: "Elastic Heart" | download | stream
Album: 1000 Forms of Fear
Choreography by: Ryan Heffington
Featuring: Maddie Ziegler & Shia LaBeouf

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Project 365: Movies 1 - 9

1 / 365: Mad Max (1979)

I had never seen this movie before, which John couldn't believe. My interest was only piqued after seeing the new trailer for 2015's reboot Mad Max: Fury Road, which looks insane but completely amazing.

What I didn't realize is that the Mad Max most people talk about is the sequel, Road Warrior. Or the guilty pleasure Beyond Thunderdome. I found out that there's a reason no one talks about the first one: it's terrible.

Max Rockatansky is an Aussie cop of the future. What kind of future, it doesn't say. All we know is that it's a near lawless land with a motorcycle gang terrorizing the outback. It wasn't the ridiculous script that threw me, or even the terrible acting. It was the fact that every "logline" I found for this movie spoiled the end of the story. I'll tell you what it said, because I'm mean like that: "A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son." On IMDB. On Netflix, everywhere. I thought "OK, cool, I can dig a revenge flick." But turns out, his revenge kick doesn't start until 15 minutes before the end of the movie, which is when his wife and kid are killed! Yeah, sorry, spoiler alert! Even though you probably read the description before pushing play, you spend 70 minutes waiting for this to happen, when it should have happened within the first 20 minutes.

I don't think I've ever been so frustrated about the pacing of a movie before. It was completely unreasonable. Up until this point, there was no motivation for anything. Nothing is explained, and everyone is terrible. From what I hear, the next movie (Road Warrior) picks up where this left off, yet it fully commits to the "post-apocalyptic" world where it makes sense that Max is such a vengeful renegade. In closing, don't watch this movie. Just skip right to Road Warrior. I'm actually looking forward to that now, because not much could be worse than this.

Oh, I'm gonna ruin something else so you'll avoid it altogether: the dog dies. Yeah. No.

Rating: ★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

© MSNBC Films

Alright, this one'll be tough to talk about. I'd heard of this documentary by name only many years ago, but it really caught my attention when I saw a list posted in 2013 of the "Greatest Movies You Never Want to See Again," in which this movie scored the #1 spot. I immediately read everything about it on Wikipedia when my curiosity got the best of me, since it's an all too real and tragic story. Only now did I get up the nerve to finally watch it.

The harrowing tale of maybe the world's most beloved person, Andrew Bagby, a doctor in the mid-west who was killed by a crazy ex-girlfriend. The documentary is made by filmmaker and Bagby's best friend, Kurt Kuenne, who aims to create a tribute to his deceased friend, collecting memories and interviews with everyone in his life who knew and loved him. And oh my god, is this man loved. I'm tearing up just thinking about it. The real punch in the gut comes when it's discovered that Bagby's killer is pregnant with his child. The film takes on a whole new meaning and goal: chronicle Andrew's life for the son he'll never know. Kuenne also follows Andrew's (inspirational) parents and their struggle to gain custody of their grandchild.

This movie tore me apart in ways I didn't know possible. It's the most heart-wrenching story only exacerbated by the fact that it's true, and there's so much more to the tale that I can't even write here. If, like me, you feel the need to spoil yourself... well, you know what, I suggest you do. Read all about it, and then watch the movie. I'd have been inconsolable had I not known the outcome. Aside from the tragedy, it's also remarkably well-made. It's dramatic and emotional, a story that is so convoluted and nearly impossible to fit into the time constraints of one movie... but Kuenne excells beyond reason. He speed-talks through the narration and rapid cuts through the unbelievable details, the fervent energy and emotions are enough to bowl you over.

I can't stop thinking about Dear Zachary. I agree that it would be difficult to watch again, but I can't recommend it highly enough. Get ready to go through a box of tissues, and don't watch it right before bed like I did because it'll keep you up all night.

Rating: ★★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

3 / 365: The Interview (2014)
© Sony Pictures

So much surrounding the release of this movie, I'm not even going to go into it here. If you know nothing of which I speak, take a second to check out the full timeline here. I'll wait.

Alright, so now that we're all on the same page, it has to be said that this movie wasn't set to be anything special. It's a silly comedy aimed at the same people who adore Pineapple Express and This Is the End. Again, funny, but not ground-breaking. That is until all that stuff happened, and now it's uncertain but ultimately imminent release online prompted it to become the highest grossing VOD movie of all time, and way more attention was paid to it than anyone would have before.

It is about a fluff, celeb gossip TV talk show host, Dave Skylark (James Franco), and his producer, Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen), scoring an interview with long-time superfan and dictator of North Korea, Kim Jung Un. The FBI expectantly steps in and asks them to assassinate the guy, and complete high jinx ensue when it turns out Skylark is probably the world's dumbest man. It is, however, a properly paced movie with a lot of memorable laughs. The absurdity almost got too much at a few points, not to mention predictable, but there were political elements that the movie managed to incorporate surprisingly well. I can't say I'm against sneakily educating the unknowing, general public about politics between rampant honey-dicking jokes.

I didn't expect much, even with all the hype, but as it turns out, it's a surprisingly solid film.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: VUDU
Seen Before: No

4 / 365: Forrest Gump (1994)
© Paramount Pictures

This movie was the #76 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Blu-Ray
Seen Before: Yes

5 / 365: The Imitation Game (2014)
© The Weinstein Company

I didn't know very much about Alan Turing's story. Other than he was involved in top secret code breaking during World War II, and was a major contribution in the Allies beating Hitler. No small resume. The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as our main man, who is so talented and versatile it almost makes me sick. Anyways, Cumberbatch's Turing is brought in to work for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park (in Hut 8, to be precise), along with other cryptologists to crack the Nazi ENIGMA codes. To do this, Turing invents a machine to do the work for them, the incarnation of which is the birth of algorithms and, today, what we call "computers."

History played out on film delights me. I adore it, and even if I know how everything turns out, I live for the emotions behind discoveries. It's one of the reasons I enjoyed The Theory of Everything earlier this year, and why aspects of Imitation Game were so gripping.

That being said, I found a major flaw in this film. There is the code-breaking, yes, which is brilliantly done. Five solid stars. But then there is the B plot, interlaced with the rest of the story, zeroing in on Turing's personal life and not-so-secret homosexuality. At first, I thought this interesting. It was something about him I didn't really know. Sadly, it's an aspect that becomes remarkably distracting and poorly integrated. From my readings immediately after the movie, the filmmakers did the audience a huge disservice. There is so much more to Turing's story, so much more tragedy, which seems irresponsible not to even mention (i.e. the circumstances surrounding his death). The script touches on events leading up to it, but it doesn't go far enough. Just enough to be able to close the story with nice, touching captions about Turing's contributions as the Father of Computer Science.

Don't get me wrong. I love that part of the movie; the computer part. Why the writers felt the need to include a hugely important B plot that they would only kinda-sorta give you tidbits and cutaways about is beyond me. Either do his personal life justice by not keeping things from your audience, or don't talk about it at all. I get it, it's hard to wrap a movie up with a nice little "happy ending" bow if you end on a [debated] suicide, but... them's the breaks. I still recommend this one to people, because most of it is good. I just can't get past the dramatization and execution of the other defining aspect of Turing's life.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

6 / 365: The One I Love (2014)
© The Weinstein Company

I read an article a few months back that spoke of this movie. I won't repost the link here, because it purposefully spoiled a major plot point that... well, let's just say, you're better walking into this movie having literally no idea what the hell it's about. Even the trailer doesn't give anything away. In fact, it really just makes things all the more confusing.

There's no point in discussing the plot, other than to say that Sophie and Ethan are a young married couple trying to get their relationship back on track. They go away for the weekend, and... OK, that's all I'll say. While I may choose not to talk about what happens, I certainly want to talk about how this all feels. It feels like a horror movie, but it's not. Not at all. You'll watch it and think "OMG what the hell is going on should I be afraid I feel afraid," but don't worry. Stick it out, I promise. This is coming from the biggest scaredy-cat you'll ever meet. It's weird, and totally bonkers, but it is not scary.

What impressed me most about this movie was its commitment to not making things easy for you as the viewer. There's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of head-scratching--for us and the characters. But that's the fun of it. The comedy stems from that utter bewilderment. Of all the movies I saw this week, it's the one I'd want to watch again and again, just to see what clues were laid out for me to find. If you want to watch a movie that you can talk about over dinner, it's this one.

Rating: ★★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

7 / 365: Dredd (2012)
© Lionsgate

My sister warned me about this one. It's amazing, but so f'in violent, she said, so see it. John had been pestering me to watch it, too, so finally I caved. I'm gonna say right now, I know nothing about Judge Dredd. The comic or subsequent movies or anything. Nothing. Okay, for those of you like me who know just as much, here's a quick recap:

It's the future. The entire eastern seaboard has been consolidated into one massive city called Mega-City One, which has essentially been filled with human ant-hills of chaos and crime. Huge towering buildings filled with dozens of thousands of people. There is no criminal justice system because no system can keep up with the crime rate. That's where Judges come in. They are highly trained, skilled, and methodical, and experts in being judge, jury—and executioner. Judge Dredd is our hero. On the day he's meant to train a new Judge recruit, they answer a call about two murders in one of the major complexes, and, well... SHIT. GETS. BANANAS.

The world created here is really compelling. The plot is also impressively solid, and with so much to convey, they do a really great job! I never felt confused, and it would have been totally easy to do. Now, the violence... John and I watched this in public on our computer, and I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. It's really disgusting. Not really cartoon-y, either, which many movies try to work in so the violence is more acceptable. This is just gross. Gross gross gross, but whoa, completely fun still. Think Matrix but without the Kung Fu and way more blood.

It's hardly perfect. The script is a bit hokey at parts, and the SLO-MO sequences sometimes drag. Though... they're supposed to? Either way, I'm stoked we watched this finally. I was impressed and didn't expect that.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: VUDU
Seen Before: No

8 / 365: Nightcrawler (2014)
© Open Road Films

I knew I should have tried to squeeze Nightcrawler into my viewing list before finalizing my Top 10 of 2014. Without a doubt, this dark experiment in character would be on it. Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a man with seemingly no attachments other than to his houseplant. When out one night for a drive, he witnesses not only a fiery car crash, but a camera crew that stops to film it. It's like a light-bulb goes off in Bloom's head and he suddenly decides what he's meant to do with his life: find horrific accidents and crime scenes, film them, and sell the footage for cold hard cash to desperate local news outlets. You know, crime journalism.

The movie is set in Los Angeles, and I've never seen the city filmed this way. It's not dark and gritty, all Collateral-style; it's normal. It's got canyons and valleys and suburbs, not just the concrete inner city. Bloom is, for lack of a better or more all-encompassing word, a total sociopath. He has no empathy, no sympathy—but he does have drive, ambition, and obsession. Gyllenhaal is the best he's ever been. He rarely blinks, and he created this gaunt, confident but cold-blooded character who we can't help but watch. From a distance, of course.

He's ruthless, and systematically searches for ways to better his craft. Even if that means creating the news himself. I just couldn't look away. Writer/Director Dan Gilroy makes his directorial debut with this, and it might be the best debut I've ever seen. He contributed to writing The Fall, one of my favorites, so it doesn't surprise me that he constructed a script with such resonance. But where The Fall gripped with emotion, Nightcrawler grips with malice.

See this before it leaves theaters. It's Oscar-bound, for sure.

Rating: ★★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

9 / 365: Short Term 12 (2013)
© Demarest Films

Based on the short film of the same name (written and directed by the same person, Destin Daniel Cretton) this is a sweet indie picture about a group of young counselors dedicating their lives to Short Term 12, a foster care facility for teenagers stuck in the system. Some are there for a few months, some a few years, until they get properly placed, or they come of age. Our focus is on Grace, played by the delightful Brie Larson, the most seasoned of the group. She knows the ins and outs of dealing with these kids, because she's been there herself.

I was pulled in right away, during the very first scene. It was funny, which was refreshing since I thought I was walking into a heavy drama. The heavy was still to come, but it was a good reminder that the odds are best beaten when you can have yourself a laugh. Strategically, Cretton bookends his film this way. Absolutely perfect. Each counselor shares touching moments with the kids—some fun, but many tragic. There was a line I thought might be crossed... I don't know, maybe into cliche... especially when the kids take a risk and start to open up. Cretton is clearly a master in his reveals here, because he chooses to gift these characters with creative gifts that tell the story for him. A rap song. A children's book story. A little taste into the minds of at-risk youth trying to connect with like-adults who made it safely to the other side.

I wasn't blown away by everything. With so many little side plots going on, it can be hard to get into the nitty gritty of any one person. In the end, Grace is the only person we really know. I walked away wanting to know about everybody (especially the little boy with the stuffed dolls), but maybe that's the gift the movie gives us. It keeps us wanting more.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Netflix
Seen Before: No

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Project 365: A Year of Movies

I mentioned in my New Years post that I wanted to write more about movies. It goes beyond that really, because the truth is I want to watch more movies, too. I used to make more time for sitting down and enjoying a film every other night, but for the past few years, I forced myself to not to that. Like somehow it meant I wasn't having fun or getting out there to experience life.

OK, maybe that's kind of true.

This year, though, I want to challenge myself again. Get better at writing and talking about movies. Many photographers challenge themselves to complete a Project 365, and share a picture a day. I'm going to tweak that challenge a little bit. A huge undertaking, but I want to see 365 movies this year. Here are the rules I'm setting for myself:
  • Movies can be new or old
  • Movies can be ones I've seen before
  • Movies can only be counted on this list once
This will be a difficult task, but I'm confident that I can share, on a weekly basis, some incredible (and maybe not so incredible) movies with you all. I want to expand my horizons and use this as a chance to watch films I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Do you think I can do it? Yeah, I'm not sure, either. Even if it takes more than a year, I want to give it a go and post quick recaps of movies I see until I reach 365. It is just for fun, after all. :)

{photo via shotbart}

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wares & Things: Quill and Fox

It's been awhile since I've shared any Wares & Things, and after the holidays, there were so many items that really stuck in my head and I just had to share them. I found this shop via The Dainty Squid when she posted one of their cards, and once I popped over to the Etsy site, I was in love. Quill and Fox is a card and stationary shop hailing from Portland, Oregon, and their designs are right up my alley.

I'm terrible at sending cards, but I love to collect them. I have a whole collection of birthday, thank you, father's day, blank, you-name-it cards in my desk. I want to try to actually use them this year, and utilize my growing address book to keep in touch with dear friends that maybe don't live so close by. You know, be more than a proximity friend, and all that. ;)

The first item that caught my eye was that precious Dachshund card -- reminds me of my little Gretchen when she sits pretty for treats! Or for anything, really, she's always sittin' pretty, that one. The shop also has notepads, which I actually do use. All the freakin' time. In fact I have a stack of probably 15 notepads of various sorts littered throughout my apartment, because I never need an excuse to jot down a list of movies or books or grocery items or a party guest list that I would forget if I walked away for even a second.

Hopefully, I'll get back into the swing sharing wares and things of this nature. I try to support independent shops and artists whenever I can, and I think blogging is a great way to spread the love.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

AFI Top 100: #76 "Forrest Gump"

Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994)

"This movie is bizarre." That was the final thought of the one person in our AFI Top 100 movie group who actually hadn't seen the #76 film on the list, Forrest Gump. It's been 20 years since this Robert Zemeckis-directed story won the Oscar for Best Picture, and over the years, I've seen quite a bit of contention rise up around it. I remember in the nineties, I was hard-pressed to find someoneanyonewho truly hated this movie. Hate is such a strong word, and this movie is just too harmless. Maybe we were all less cynical then. I know I was.

The plot, for those who don't know, is a whimsical recount of the last half of the 20th century through the eyes of a fictional simpleton named Forrest Gump (played by the forever brilliant Tom Hanks). Forrest has below-average intelligence, but his mama (Sally Field) raised him to respect everyone and shrug off nay-sayers, so he grows up happy as a clam.

While the story weaves Forrest through every major event from the '50s through the '90s (Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, assassinations, Watergate, AIDS) with the convenient suggestion he somehow played a significant role in most of them, there is only one focus in the eyes of Forrest Gump: reunite with his one childhood friend and love of his life, Jenny (Robin Wright).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Top Ten Movie Moments of 2014

Yesterday I posted My Top Ten Movies of 2014, and today, I wanted to share my Top Ten Movie Moments from this past year. Sometimes a movie can be great all the way through (again, see my Top 10)—but other times, an okay, fun, or so-so movie can be made leaps and bounds more enjoyable by just a single scene. Not saying that's the case for all the films on the list to follow... but it is for a few.

Some of these scenes are serious. Some are absurd. But all of them stuck with me through the year and made my viewing experience exponentially better.

*WARNING: may contain spoilers*

10. Curtis (Chris Evans) accurately predicts the guards' guns don't have bullets in SNOWPIERCER.

9. Andrew (Miles Teller) hijacking his final performance in WHIPLASH.

8. Dancing Baby Groot in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

7. Donna (Jenny Slate) shedding subtle tears in the doctor's office in OBVIOUS CHILD.

6. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Brand's (Anne Hathaway) 40-min trip to the surface of Miller's water planet and arrival at their ship decades later in INTERSTELLAR.

The One I Love
5. Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) enter their vacation home to discover they have visitors in THE ONE I LOVE.

4. Amy (Rosamund Pike) "escapes" from Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) in GONE GIRL.

3. The epic battle between Godzilla and Mutos in GODZILLA. [watch scene here]

2. The Quicksilver scene in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. [watch scene here]

and the best scene of the year goes to...

1. Estranged twins Maggie (Kristin Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) lipsync to "Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now" in THE SKELETON TWINS. [watch scene here]

The Skeleton Twins
Did you enjoy any of these scenes as much as I did? I'm still playing that lip sync scene from Skeleton Twins over and over. Aaaaand now I'm off to watch it again!

Share some of your favorite scenes this year in the comments. :)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My Top Ten Movies of 2014

I had a few films to catch up on, which is why this is being posted a few days later than I would normally want. It's been a very long time since I've compiled a Top 10 of the Year list (3 years, if memory serves), and this year was pretty challenging. My goal for 2015 is to get back up to "movie fanatic" numbers, as far as how many new releases I managed to see... but my modest count of 40+ will have to do for this final listing. Most "Best Of" list-makers struggle with the pull between actual best of the year, and personal favorite.

For me, personal favorites win out every time. This is my blog and my opinion—not a predictor for Oscar gold. Though my tendency to lean pretty mainstream can't really be ignored either. I didn't see everything, and there were some potentially great ones that I missed, but that just means they'll be at the top of my To-See list in 2015.

So with that, my TOP TEN movies of the year.


This one had a bit of a rough start. By start, I mean the first 15 minutes. I wasn't feeling it. It took that long for it to find its footing, but once it did, it dug in tight. The pacing evened out and it figured out the kind of movie it wanted to be. It's a musical in the vein of Once, which surprises no one, since it was made by the same people. But it's the kind of musical that most people can get behind (not just me, who has no issue with people randomly breaking out into song)—these characters are musicians, and every song is prefaced with just enough introduction to tell us they're about to start singing. Instruments are also always in sight. No resounding orchestra when they're only playing an acoustic guitar. Oh, except that part where that does happen, but it's on purpose, so all's forgiven.

Keira Knightley stars as Gretta, and croons a few very sweet songs while we all look on in delight to discover she can actually sing. The tunes are sweet and very catchy, and the movie shares its love of music even when it gets all high and mighty about the state of the music industry. She's a songwriter who follows her boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine of Maroon 5, who shockingly is pretty great), to NYC from London, until he duh breaks up with her when he gets too big for his britches. Their break up scene is my favorite, because it feels so raw. Just enough emotions to have to sing it out, girl! Soundtrack is still on repeat rotation.

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