Best of 2014

Citizenfour

by Alan Rapp on November 7, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Citizenfour
  • IMDb: link

CitizenfourIn a film which will likely make you uncomfortable with the level of access the United States Government has into your private life, Laura Poitras documents Edward Snowden and his decision to reveal the NSA spying on law abiding American citizens without the warrants or even probable cause.

Citizenfour shows the meetings between Snowden, Poitras, and investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill who the intelligence officer handpicked to vet and leak the information to the public.

Despite the sensitive subject matter and worldwide manhunt for Snowden, Poitras is able to capture and present the story from her subject’s point-of-view crafting a shocking and detailed look at an unparalleled level of government access which caused Snowden to reveal the truth only to become a fugitive for doing so. Although presented from a specific point-of-view, Citizenfour educates and informs taking steps to explain not only the information which Snowden leaked but also the reasoning behind his actions and the cost of those decisions.

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Can a Song Save Your Life?

by Alan Rapp on July 2, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Begin Again
  • IMDb: link

Begin AgainWritten and directed by John Carney, Begin Again is simply a joy to watch. At times this tale of the mismatched pair of a record label exec (Mark Ruffalo) whose life is swirling around the drain and a young singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) dealing with crushing rejection of her now-successful longtime writing partner and boyfriend (Adam Levine) comes dangerously close to being too cute for its own good. Thankfully Carney’s choice to ground the film in serious issues such as heartbreak, betrayal, estranged families, and politics of the music business balances the film’s hopeful tone and message to prevent the movie from ever becoming too cliche or sappy.

While Ruffalo provides both angst and humor, Knightley is the soul of the film. Having only seen her sing in short segments of The Edge of Love (a movie worth seeing more for her performance more than anything else), I was thrilled to find a her lilting voice the perfect match for the indie songwriter thousands of miles from home dealing the emotional yo-yo of immediate heartbreak and at the same time a once-in-a-lifetime record offer.

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How to Train Your Dragon 2

by Alan Rapp on June 13, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • IMDb: link

How to Train Your Dragon 2Picking up five years after the events of the first film, How to Train Your Dragon 2 finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) dealing with new challenges including his father‘s (Gerard Butler) plans to hand over the kingdom of Birk to his son, an enemy (Djimon Hounsou) creating his own army of dragons to conquer the world, and the unexpected return of Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) who disappeared and has been presumed dead since Hiccup was a baby.

Returning the original cast of characters including Astrid (America Ferrera), Gobber (Craig Ferguson), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), the sequel leaves time for the events of the the television show to take place without forcing the viewer to have seen the series to make sense of the current state of events. Blanchett’s addition of Valka, a woman more at home with dragons than her own son, and that of Hounsou as the film’s new villain Drago Bludvist prove to be excellent choices, but the heart of the film remains Hiccup and Toothless.

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Chef

by Alan Rapp on May 23, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Chef
  • IMDB: link

ChefAlthough the storyline doesn’t veer far from well-established basic themes we’ve seen in countless films over the years involving reinventing your life, father-son dynamics, road trips, and overcoming adversity, with the right ingredients and cast writer/director/star Jon Favreau delivers a sumptuous treat as delectable as the various food on display. Calling on the help of a handful of his old Iron Man buddies, Favreau offers up his best film yet in front of, or behind, the camera.

When we first meet Carl Casper (Favreau) he’s a successful but unhappy head chef. Estranged from both his ex-wife (Sofía Vergara) and son Percy (Emjay Anthony), in a refreshingly honest take on a divorced family that doesn’t go for cheap hate-filled diatribes, Casper’s only brightspot his his enjoyable but mostly empty relationship with a waitress (Scarlett Johansson) which obviously isn’t going anywhere. With Johansson taking more and more roles as the sexy lead it’s great to see her step back into a more understated role reminding us that the actress can do more than just look good in tight pants and kick ass.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

by Alan Rapp on March 27, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • IMDB: link

The Grand Budapest HotelFor his latest film writer/director Wes Anderson takes his trademark style to the fictional Republic of Zubrowka and a once-proud mountainside resort known as The Grand Budapest Hotel with a rich history to share. Relying heavily on narration, the film struggles a bit to get going by beginning in the present and slowly peeling back layers (each jumping 20 years or so into the past) until we finally arrive in the pre-World War II 1930s and the story of fastidious old-school concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his the new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori).

During the overly-elaborate and unnecessarily complicated (although certainly not boring) first 20-minutes or so as the movie introduces an elderly author (Tom Wilkinson) beginning his own flashbacks to his time at the hotel as a younger man (Jude Law) when he happened to meet the elderly version of Zero (F. Murray Abraham) and thus learned his story, Anderson relies on a variety of his usual bag of tricks involving beautiful cinematography and set design highlighted by the use of some marvelous miniatures.

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