Zombies have been a part of popular culture since the early 20th Century but were finally given their first big break with George A. Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. Currently experiencing an over decade-long revival with no end in sight, reanimated corpses are ubiquitous thanks to the continual stream of content like TV’s The Walking Dead (adapted from a comic) and the Brad Pitt-starring World War Z (which is somewhat adapted from a novel). Let’s take a look back at the signposts of the genre’s evolution with the best of the bunch: (more…)
Best of Summer 2014: The Arthouse
This past summer turned out to have a surprising amount of quality blockbusters (read that here), but how fared the more limited releases? If the below list is any indication, then the answer is remarkably well as there was a wide variety of fantastic flicks being released in what’s typically the critical dead zone of summer.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll consider April 4 the start of summer. That means stellar efforts like Grand Budapest Hotel, Nymphomaniac Volume I and The Raid 2: Berendal were all spring releases and will have to settle for appearing on a slew of end-of-year lists. Without further ado, the cream of the arthouse crop:
Under the Skin
Scarlet Johansson has had a banner year and Under the Skin is a big part of that. Eschewing larger films for an esoteric sci-fi thinker helmed by Jonathan Glazer should win over the last few film fans in the world not already under her spell. Minimal almost to a fault and equally haunting, Under the Skin evokes an unnerving mood that stays with you long after the end credits roll. Utterly unique and uncompromising, the film rewards those who can stare at it long enough to unlock its pleasures. Full review here.
Secret Weapon: Johansson commands the screen in a lead performance that asks a lot of her, but let’s call out the sound design and score for their key roles in the movie. So much of the oddness and alien nature of the character and the story itself is conveyed through sound and repetition, that without the keen audio much would be lost.
Emerging filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier wrote and directed this striking thriller that wraps suspense and bloodletting around a meditation on revenge that stands tall with classics from The Coen Brothers and Chan-wook Park. Macon Blair stars as a bearded vagrant living a meager existence with seemingly no purpose to live. That purpose is found when the criminal who tore apart his family is released from prison and he sets out on a mission for vengeance. The initial storyline, which would be a complete narrative in other films, (more…)
Best of Summer 2014: The Blockbusters
Headed into summer 2014 it looked as though there were a few bright spots in the schedule, but it was likely to be a mere appetizer on the road towards an utterly packed 2015. Lo and behold, Batman V. Superman got pushed to 2016 and Star Wars Episode VII was moved to late 2015, taking the shine off next summer.
Who could’ve predicted 5 months ago that Captain America’s second outing would successfully marry 70’s paranoid thrillers to modern action movies, or that the next Planet of the Apes would rocket the series into deserving A-list status? It was truly a summer of overachievers. Here’s a rundown of the best blockbusters that hit, in order of release date:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Cap’s second outing continues Marvel’s Phase 2 and delivers characterization, story , and epic action beats in equal measure. As directors, The Russo Brothers pivot from the first film’s gung-ho WW2-era jingoism to a more modern authority-questioning plot. Chris Evans continues to prove that he is the best choice for the role and brings a welcome lightness. The casting coup of Robert Redford pays thematic dividends and the rest of the cast shines as well: Anthony Mackie’s PTSD Falcon, Scarlett Johansson’s sly Black Widow, and even Sammy J’s squinting Nick Fury all get their moment in the sun. This is simply a well-balanced flick that set a high bar to clear in April (!) – which, I know, is not technically summer.
Secret Weapon: Sebastien Stan’s tortured and badass turn as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier. Chris Evans’ Marvel contract is 6 films – when that’s up could Bucky Barnes fill Cap’s shoes? It would bring the Marvel Cinematic Universe closer in tone to the comics and could make for a nice redemption story. Falcon could slot in nicely here as well.
Seth Rogen has become such a ubiquitous screen presence (last year’s This is the End mined similar territory and this fall sees him re-teamed with frequent collaborator James Franco for The Interview) that a new movie of his is hardly an event. Thankfully Neighbors shakes off the fatigue and brings the funny in spades. As opposed to the “Slobs vs. Snobs” plotlines of 80’s films, Neighbors has “Slobs vs. Slightly Older Slobs” as rowdy frat boys next door – led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco – face off against Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne’s new parents. Sharp writing, a stellar supporting cast, and an overall contagious party vibe make this another notch in Seth Rogen’s belt and contribute to a movie that is perfect for throwing on and hanging out with.
Secret Weapon: Zac Efron as the Alpha frat bro Teddy. He’s a surprisingly nuanced character in a movie that actually has empathy for both sides. Efron brings dimension to what could’ve been a one-note character and, (more…)