2014 ~ The Year In Film

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The top 10 films I saw in 2014 are:

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Boyhood
  3. Los Angeles Plays Itself**
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  5. Blue Ruin
  6. The LEGO Movie
  7. Snowpiercer
  8. Gone Girl
  9. Edge of Tomorrow
  10. X-Men Days of Future Past

Honorable mention to: Detective Detective Detective, The Babadook, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Dumb & Dumber To, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cheap Thrills, Interstellar, Fury, and Joe.

** = Technically, this film was completed and released in 2003, however it didn’t see widespread availability until being re-released this year.

This year, for the first time, I took a leaf out of Justin’s book and kept track of every single film I watched! Actually, it’s not hard to do. Just write down a film after you watch it.

Here are all of the 95 films I watched in 2014:

* = denotes theatrical viewing

– A Band Called Death
– Ace In The Hole
– The Babadook
– Big Hero 6*
– The Big Lebowski
– Biutiful
– Blue Ruin
– Boyhood*
– The Canterbury Tales
– Captain America: The Winter Soldier*
– Cheap Thrills
– Coneheads
– The Conjuring
– The Croods
– Dawn of the Planet of the Apes*
– Dead Silence
– Detective Detective Detective*
– Drinking Buddies
– Dumb and Dumber To*
– The Edge of Tomorrow
– A Fish Called Wanda
– The Fisher King
– Fracture
– Frozen
– Fury*
– Ghostbusters
– The Gift
– The Grand Budapest Hotel*
– Gone Girl*
– Good Will Hunting
– Gremlins
– Guardians of the Galaxy*
– Hairspray
– Heavenly Creatures
– Her*
– The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies*
– The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition
– Home Alone
– Homicide
– Hot Rod
– Hugo
– Humanoids From the Deep
– The Ice Storm
– Imprint
– Inside Llewyn Davis*
– Insidious
– Insidious Chapter 2
– Interstellar*
– Joe
– The Lady Vanishes
– The LEGO Movie*
– Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
– Logan’s Run
– The Long Goodbye
– The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition*
– The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Extended Edition
– Los Angeles Plays Itself
– Lovelace
– Mad Max
– The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
– Men In Black 3
– Minecraft: The Story of Mojang
– Mr. Bean’s Holiday
– The Muppet Christmas Carol
– My Left Foot
– Nacho Libre
– National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
– Nebraska
– Nymph()maniac Volume I
– Oculus
– Pacific Rim
– Philomena
– The Prestige*
– ReAnimator
– Scarlet Street
– Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
– Short Term 12
– Showrunners
– Singin’ in the Rain
– The Skeleton Key
– Snowpiercer
– Solomon Kane
– Stargate
– Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
– The Talented Mr. Ripley
– Tangled
– Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down!
– Transsiberian
– The Usual Suspects
– Wake in Fright
– The Way Way Back
– The Wind that Shakes the Barley
– X-Men
– X-Men Days of Future Past*
– Year One

2014 ~ The Year in Review Begins

2014 ~ The Year in ReviewAs this list coalesces from the sum of my temporal experiences in 2014, I realize that the amount of preparation involved is actually more than ever before… rendering the process a little less involved than past years. And so it feels half-hearted. But it’s not.

I live within striking distance of the second largest metropolitan area by population in the United States, and I have missed a number of things.

I missed seeing The Notwist in San Francisco in June – when I was actually in the city. My phone died, I had no means of transportation and it was dark. I should have gone anyway.

I missed seeing Whiplash, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Birdman, The Book of Life, Calvary, Force Majeure, Wild, The Imitation Game, Godzilla, Selma, and Inherent Vice, despite the fact that they all played nearby.

I missed going to Peasant in New York City and trying Frank’s Steak, based upon a recipe born in the middle ages after a battle where there were hundreds of dead horses on the ground. Never let a good horse go to waste…

I missed visiting the Guggenheim and the Met, my car broke down en route to a Padres home game that I subsequently missed, I also missed going on Drinkabout in North Park, swimming with the seals in La Jolla Cove, and going to a vertical tasting of every vintage of 3 Floyds Dark Lord.

Those are things I missed. Sometimes, dwelling on missed opportunities can obscure all of the caught opportunities and adventures the year had in store. This is my review of 2014, and I shall break it into some bite-sized, pop-culture-centric pieces for rapid consumption.

2014 ~ month by month

January – our good friend Cat and her daughter Kyla visit us in San Diego, CA for some fun in the sun, on the beach, eating sushi and unwinding. While driving around La Jolla, we get hungry and stop at the nearest Mexican place we could find – and thus, discover Oscar’s Mexican Seafood. THE BEST FISH TACOS EVER.

February – The Stone Brewing Co. “Calm Before the Storm” event allows me the chance to try nearly every single, retired Vertical Epic brew in their archive. Bree and I go to Urge Gastropub for a special Valentine’s Day dinner date and had some house-made truffles that were literally amazeballs. Tania and Bree make home made sushi after we did some shopping at an Asian supermarket down in San Diego.

March – I join the Bruery’s Preservation Society in order to get my hands on some fancy beers and expand my brew-consciousness. Anthony comes back to visit and ponder whether or not to move again to the great state of California and I take him to Churchill’s Renaissance to drink expensive beer. Tania, Bree, myself and John decide to hike to the top of Mount Woodson, home of the famous “Tater Chip Rock.” My second cousin Kaarin also comes to visit and we take her to Oscar’s for the BEST FISH TACOS EVER… and she agreed.

April – I travel to Richmond, VA for business.

May –

June – I travel to San Jose, CA for business. We move into a house – huge upgrade from being in an apartment. Bree is thrilled to spend our anniversary in a new location for once.

July – We attend my cousin Caleb’s wedding in Sylvania, OH, also we attend the San Diego Comic Con, also I return to Ohio (Columbus, this time) to be a groomsman in Sam Shepard’s wedding. I visit a lot of people in July. It is glorious and very expensive. Benji and Megumi put me up in their charming new home near the German Village in Columbus.

August –

September – I travel to New York City for business, arriving in the Big Apple on my birthday.

October –

November – I travel to Toronto, ON for business and then take a flight from the great, white north down to Tampa, FL for another cousin’s wedding. Bree comes from San Diego, separately.

December – For the holidays, Bree and I travel to East Texas to visit her family. We arrive on Christmas Eve and return to San Diego, which had just received a rare dusting of SNOW(!), on New Year’s Eve. Bree’s family all got sick while we visited, and so I finally succumb to it on the day we return. We ring in the new year huddled under blankets, drinking soup and ginger tea.

2014 ~ The Year In:

Photos

Food

Beer

Films

Music

The Desolation of Smaug – Thoughts

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Well, they’ve done it again. Those nerds at Weta Digital have conjured another fully-formed digital character that is expressive, fascinating, and generally quite evil.

Smaug, the stupendous.

After Gollum, Caesar, and all of those blue cat aliens, what else could they do to set the bar higher?

Get Benedict Cumberbatch to voice the character. That’s what.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug weirdly fractures its storyline and takes a great deal of focus away from the personal development of Bilbo, instead choosing to iris out for a much larger-scale view of the events which are so nicely encapsulated in the slender tome that makes up the printed, book-form story this film is based upon.

And yet it all works. There is a great deal more world-revealing going on in this film, and some of it even feels rushed. Gandalf virtually splinters off into his own, distinct storyline for the majority of the picture (which created something of an existential issue for Ian McKellan while shooting scenes for this particular installment.)

There are exotic locales and fantastic beasts of all kinds, and plenty of action. I found myself dreaming up a ridiculous sequence involving the dwarves’ Barrel-Rapids Escape® (future name of a ride at the inevitable Middle Earth World Theme Park) right on the cusp of when said sequence actually unfolded in the film. And my, what a cartoonish and incredible sequence it is. Full of Legolas and arrows and orcs and glory.

There are some vague, political themes floated at Laketown (pun intended) and Bard the Bowman is merely known as Bard the Barge-man. Stephen Fry does a delightful turn as the ignominious Master of Laketown, and Stephen Colbert plays one of his lackeys. Ryan Gage does his best to skirt the Wormtongue comparisons by pushing his character, Alfrid, into Gilliam territory.

Everything culminates in a ruined-Erebor action sequence that is really strange, but definitely awesome. And seeing this film in 3D is a must. The action is dizzying. And there’s Benedict Cumberbatch. His voice also utters the Black Speech of Mordor as the shapeless Necromancer.

No Gollum in this one. Kind of a bummer. Gotta love Smaug, though.

The Wind Rises

The Wind RisesI had the good fortune to attend a screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, Kaze tachinu (The Wind Rises) during it’s 7-day run at the Landmark in Los Angeles, CA. The film will see a “wide” release in the USA in February 2014, but for a week in November, it played in NY/LA to qualify it for the awards season.

Young Jiro

I love this film.

Entertainment, on the whole, is fascinating to me. As a society, we are surrounded by countless outlets that peddle to our desire to be entertained. We have ever-increasing avenues for instant gratification, and many of the most excessive and high-profile films to come out of our own entertainment industry reflect the kind of ADHD our society exhibits en masse through the never-ending multitude of “social media” platforms.

Be it monsters or aliens, mythical beasts or demigods, there is nothing much out of the reach of Hollywood’s talented phalanx of visual effects artists. The capacity to enchant and dazzle has been outsourced to high-performance computer arrays designed to render photorealistic effects to satisfy every outlandish flight of the imagination imaginable.

But here, in The Wind Rises, is something that portrays- often to aching levels of detail, the herculean effort poured into it at every moment. It is a hand-drawn, animated film produced in Japan by the venerable Studio Ghibli, and directed by the legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

Caproni and Jiro

Reviewing any film is, ultimately, an exercise in aesthetics. In the case of The Wind Rises, there is plenty to see and experience, and I had the distinct impression that what I saw on the screen was as pure of a distillation of Miyazaki’s imagination as has ever been committed to the form. I have been a fan for many years, and I have seen, with one exception, every feature-length animated feature the man has directed.

AmericanIn Japan, the film has apparently been a political lightning rod. I do not know to what extent you could characterize the story of the film as containing egregious, political grandstanding. If there is an agenda, it is conveyed in the most understated, laconic, and utterly assured way. Perhaps that is a hallmark of Miyazaki’s work: quiet conviction. There never seems to be much precipice-hanging uncertainty inherent to his work. If anything, the most stressful situations a character may be placed into seem a direct reflection of their own uncertainties about themselves, and they always rise to the challenge, often with a notable lack of poise. And they don’t always succeed.

Prior to viewing The Wind Rises, my favorite Miyazaki film had been Porco Rosso. Now, I am not so sure. There is a dark whimsy at work in this film. In the face of a catastrophic (as we know now,  in retrospect) conflict, the young airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi forges ahead with his dream of designing beautiful aircraft. The journey is fraught with perils that come in the form of outdated technologies (or lack thereof, as expressed by the Japanese defense contractor Mitsubishi utilizing oxen to haul airplane prototypes to the airstrip, which is paved with mowed grass.) Other obstacles include the dismal failure of crashed prototypes, and Jiro’s visit to Germany, which produces a feeling of awe and admiration, quickly tempered by the condescending attitude of his Third Reich hosts.

Painter GirlThere is a delicate, slow-buring love story that emerges midway through the film. This, perhaps, is the greatest fiction conjured in a story that has a great deal of historical context at its disposal. But it is a beautiful fiction, and executed with a mastery that cements this film as Miyazaki’s most emotionally stirring. I mean- dang.

The Wind Rises. We must live. – the title of the film is derived from a poem by the late French poet Paul Valéry. It’s meaning is both enigmatic and ominous. In a way, perhaps the nature of our modern world is to increasingly reduce the components of life down to modular commodities – healthcare, transportation, clothing, food, water.

There is a devastating earthquake early in the film. Every groan of the earth is represented though sound effects produced by human voices. Every airplane engine sputters to life and hums into the atmosphere with sounds that have been produced by human vocal chords. The bedraggled Japanese form forlorn lines marching for the hills, away from the fire and desolation. There is a shrine where many take refuge. The earth moans again and the shrine begins to crumble.

We contain the breath of life – a mysterious wind echoes from the depths of our souls. We must live as long as that wind rises.

2012 ~ The Year in Film

Admittedly, I didn’t see a great many “films” theatrically in 2012. I spent a decent portion of 2011 ingesting a glut of films for free at a theater that still used the actual medium of film, but in 2012, I daresay I saw perhaps only one legitimate “film.”

The Master
Enigmatic. Surreal. Mesmerizing. Discomforting.

That film, was The Master. By no means an endearing experience, it is nonetheless an unshakeable one. This film springs from a dusty, high, forgotten shelf of cinema  where a few peers may reside. Perhaps Aguirre: The Wrath of God? Perhaps The Thin Red Line? I don’t know what else to compare it to.  It’s just… extant. Great performances all around, but the connection between the film’s titular character and Scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard is tenuous and oblique. P.T. Anderson seems to have something to say about the apparent futility of soul-searching in a world replete with charlatans who employ technology as a means of enlightenment, but I’ll be darned if I know what it is.

Balin & Dwalin
Dwarf Lords from Under the Mountain

Now I am brought to my top 10 list of movies from 2012. The #1 spot is taken by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, unsurprisingly. I have been a Tolkien fan since my youth, and originally read The Hobbit from an illustrated version that my mother bought for my cousin. Gollum’s cave is etched deeply into my remembered childhood imagination. Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth is at once triumphant, cataclysmic, and like the arrival of a dear, old friend on your doorstep.

Bernie
Jack Black’s greatest role.

My second favorite film came as something of a surprise. I had known of Richard Linklater’s new(er) film, Bernie, for a while. Strictly speaking, the film was completed back in 2011, but it didn’t see the light of day as far as a distributor until 2012. Why on earth it took me so long to finally watch it, I cannot say. I do know I will NOT miss out on Linklater’s next project, a third entry in the Before Sunrise series, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I digress. Jack Black does something amazing, here. He inhabits the entire length, breadth, and width of his idiosyncratic, real-life character’s personality traits and proclivities, delivering a performance that is so bizarre and true, it could not have ever been invented. Read that last sentence aloud, without taking any breaths. Sorry about that.

And the list goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.

  1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  2. Bernie
  3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty)
  6. Looper
  7. The Avengers
  8. Les Misérables
  9. The Master
  10. The Dark Knight Rises

Here is a list of ALL 2012 releases which I have seen, specifically. An all-time low: total number equaling 18. I aim to do a little better in 2013.

  • Brave – theatrical
  • Les Misérables – theatrical
  • The Master – theatrical (film!)
  • Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty) – theatrical
  • The Avengers – theatrical
  • The Dark Knight Rises – theatrical
  • The Hunger Games – theatrical
  • Skyfall – theatrical
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – theatrical
  • Prometheus – theatrical
  • John Carter – theatrical
  • Looper – theatrical
  • Chronicle – theatrical
  • Moonrise Kingdom – RedBox
  • Bernie – Netflix
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi – Netflix
  • Take This Waltz – On-demand
  • The Innkeepers – DVD

Thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is a more fitting and visceral third act than any other superhero series hitherto created. I believe it will be successful and popular, though I also believe it will be open to rather broad interpretations by the audience.

I did not prepare for this viewing by re-watching the first two films. In point of fact, several years have elapsed since I last viewed Christopher Nolan’s second entry in his Batman saga, The Dark Knight. I watched it in true 15/70 IMAX in the theater on Navy Pier, Chicago, a place which was also one of the picture’s physical filming locations. The experience was one of titanic, mesmerizing awe. The Dark Knight Rises meets and/or exceeds this level of stunning grandeur in multiple ways.

Batman Begins was all about exploring the conditions and choices that lead Bruce Wayne to consider becoming the Batman. One of the core themes of the film is overcoming intense fear. “And why do we fall, Bruce?” is the memorable line delivered by Linus Roache, the actor who played Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, “So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

The Dark Knight was about ratcheting up the tension by confronting Batman with a chaotic force of evil, personified in Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, a villain so incomprehensible, even his own ‘explanations’ for his existence are laced with obvious falsehoods. Batman does battle with purposeful, wicked villains, and then he must deflect, and somehow diffuse, the chaos The Joker induces as well. By the end of The Dark Knight, Batman himself has become even more vilified by the city he is trying to protect, and suffers profound personal loss.

I’m not a huge Batman buff, meaning I haven’t obsessively read all of the comics, watched the television programs, and I didn’t grow up with the absurd, live action cartoons that Tim Burton directed, nor the two follow-up duds that killed the character’s Hollywood potential for a spell. Therefore, I cannot attest to the purity of these films’ vision concerning the translation of essential threads from the massive corpus of Batman stories that exist. What I can say is that Christopher Nolan has crafted a nuanced, layered, and thoroughly complete arc for Batman’s character in these three films. I find this to be a terrific achievement, and one that is likely more important and more astounding than many people presently realize (and it sure seems like a lot of people are in Nolan’s corner).

The completion of this trilogy is satisfying, contains tremendous action sequences, and exudes a richness in layers of subtext to be discovered and debated. And that is all I will say on the film.