Monday, September 29, 2014

Third Quarter of 2014

We're 75% done with 2014 and it's time for my quarter end review. (And it's also a good time to refresh your memory on the films of the first quarter of 2014 and films of the second quarter of 2014)

Long time followers of my blog surely have noticed I skipped going to see a lot of the wide releases in theaters in the third quarter and have virtually stopped writing reviews altogether.  Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Flieder on Film, or perhaps it's just a much needed break after four years of doing this.  It's been a lot of work and for not much gain.  But I certainly haven't stopped watching films.  I'm just watching what I want when and where I want.  And truthfully there weren't many wide releases I was interested in this quarter, and based on mass critical and audience consensus, it doesn't sound like I was missing much. 

Below is a summary of my grades for the 75 films I saw released in the third quarter of 2014. Some of these (including #4,#5, and #6) are available right now on Video on Demand, so be sure to check out my What to See on VOD post for some lazy days of quality movie watching at home.
It certainly appears to have been a good quarter, with over half the films getting a B+ or above, but one should take note that, more than any quarter in the past, I have selectively not watched the movies I expected to be bad.  In other words, I have acted rationally and actually avoided having a bad evening which I used to do for FOX regularly for free.  Go figure!

Well of the mainstream, big budget, action-oriented wide releases I went to see, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Lucy, and The Maze Runner did not disappoint.  Though Snowpiercer is better than all of them, and went straight to video on demand alongside its modest theatrical release.  See it!

In the comedy category, audiences didn't really respond to Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight but I thought it was charming and enjoyable, thanks to Emma Stone and Colin Firth.  And if you loved The Trip and still want more road trip/food tasting/witty banter, The Trip to Italy is fun, though not quite AS fun as the first.  And if you want a wacky comedy with an all-star loveable cast, They Came Together is the one for you.  The latter two are both available on video on demand. 

The Hundred-Foot Journey really surprised me by how much I loved it.   It's terrific and the second Disney distributed Indian fish-out-of-water film of the year to surprise me by how great it was (with Million Dollar Arm being the first.)

The Drop is a crime drama featuring James Gandolfini's last performance, and he's as amazing as always, as is Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace.  It's a really great movie.

Hector and the Search for Happiness is this year's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and while not quite as good, I still found it inspiring, charming, and fresh.

Considering Big Chill-esque films come out by the droves, I really enjoyed About Alex, now available on Video on Demand.

If you love a good talkie play (and I do) then The Man on Her Mind is probably up your alley.

For docs, Life Itself got all the buzz, but Rich Hill is my favorite of the quarter and 112 Weddings comes in second.  To Be Takei and Dinosaur 13 are good too.  All on VOD.

Honestly, The One I Love and Coherence are two of the best films of the year, both best experienced without knowing anything about them, and both available on Video on Demand.  The former is a romantic dramedy unlike any you've seen before with some of the best performances I've seen all year and plenty of surprising turns.  It seems like it might take some dark turns, but it's really not a dark film.  The latter is a darker, low budget science based sci-fi that will blow your freakin' minds.  Love these two!  And if you're feeling adventurous and want to see a very ambitious and completely original film with a great performance by Robin Wright, also VOD The Congress.

And last, but the opposite of least, Boyhood stole all the attention from art house fans and awards afficionados.  And rightfully so.  It's tremendous, in part because it was filmed over a period of 12 years, and in part because it's just a damn good coming of age film.  I should think it will be heavily talked about and nominated come awards season, so see it now at your local art house theater if you want to be in the know.  However, after some deliberation, I think my favorite film of the quarter, and of the year so far is I Origins.  This may be personal taste, but I love a great science-based thinking person's sci-fi film.  This is that in spades.  It will make you think and make you feel, if you open your minds and allow it to.  Plus, the performances are amazing.  Though it's best experienced knowing absolutely nothing about it.  So don't even read a brief synopsis!  I'm serious!  Just see it when it comes to VOD, DVD, or Blu-Ray on a date TBD.
  1. I Origins       Grade: A+
  2. Boyhood      Grade: A+
  3. The Hundred-Foot Journey      Grade: A
  4. Snowpiercer      Grade: A
  5. The One I Love      Grade: A
  6. Coherence      Grade: A
  7. The Drop      Grade: A
  8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes      Grade: A
  9. Magic in the Moonlight      Grade: A-
  10. Lucy      Grade: A-
  11. The Congress      Grade: A-
  12. About Alex       Grade: A-
  13. Rich Hill      Grade: A-
  14. The Maze Runner      Grade: A-
  15. The Trip to Italy       Grade: A-
  16. They Came Together      Grade: A-
  17. Hector and the Search for Happiness        Grade: A-
  18. The Man on Her Mind      Grade: A-
  19. Life of Crime      Grade: B+
  20. The Zero Theorem      Grade: B+
  21. The Skeleton Twins        Grade: B+
  22. This is Where I Leave You      Grade: B+
  23. Third Person      Grade: B+
  24. Night Moves        Grade: B+
  25. The Calling      Grade: B+
  26. The Two Faces of January      Grade: B+
  27. Frontera      Grade: B+
  28. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby      Grade: B+
  29. The Purge: Anarchy        Grade: B+
  30. Tusk        Grade: B+
  31. 112 Weddings      Grade: B+
  32. A Most Wanted Man        Grade: B+
  33. Begin Again        Grade: B+
  34. Honeymoon        Grade: B+
  35. Life Itself        Grade: B+
  36. To Be Takei      Grade: B+
  37. Life After Beth        Grade: B+
  38. Dinosaur 13        Grade: B+
  39. The Longest Week      Grade: B+
  40. Very Good Girls       Grade: B+
  41. What If        Grade: B
  42. Guardians of the Galaxy      Grade: B
  43. Land Ho!        Grade: B
  44. Calvary      Grade: B
  45. Good People        Grade: B
  46. A Walk Among the Tombstones     Grade: B
  47. A Brony Tale        Grade: B
  48. The Nance        Grade: B
  49. White Bird in a Blizzard     Grade: B
  50. Love Punch        Grade: B
  51. Video Games: The Movie        Grade: B
  52. Ragnarok       Grade: B
  53. Starred Up      Grade: B
  54. Are You Here      Grade: B-
  55. The Prince      Grade: B-
  56. Wish I Was Here     Grade: B-
  57. The Damned      Grade: B-
  58. Frank        Grade: C+
  59. Moebius      Grade: C+
  60. Wetlands      Grade: C+
  61. 20,000 Days on Earth      Grade: C+
  62. Get on Up      Grade: C+
  63. Code Black      Grade: C+
  64. Mood Indigo      Grade: C
  65. And So It Goes      Grade: C
  66. Love is Strange      Grade: C-
  67. The Case Against 8      Grade: C-
  68. Happy Christmas      Grade: C-
  69. Monty Python Live      Grade: C-
  70. God Help the Girl      Grade: D+
  71. Among Ravens      Grade: D+
  72. Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory      Grade: D
  73. Louder Than Words      Grade: D
  74. Radio Free Albemuth      Grade: D
  75. Earth to Echo      Grade: D

Films Not Reviewed:
The Admiral: Roaring Currents
America: Imagine The World Without Her
An American in Hollywood
Another Me
As Above, So Below
Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt?
The Boxtrolls
Cabin Fever: Patient Zero
The Conformist
James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge
Deliver Us From Evil
Dolphin Tale 2
The Equalizer
The Expendables 3
Finding Fela
A Five Star Life
The Fluffy Movie
The Giver
The Green Prince
The Identical
If I Stay
Into the Storm
Jimi: All Is By My Side
Kelly & Cal
Last Days in Vietnam
The Last of Robin Hood
Let's Be Cops
A Letter to Momo
My Man is a Loser
My Old Lady
No Good Deed
The Notebook
The November Man
Planes: Fire & Rescue
Sex Tape
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
The Song
Step Up All In
A Summer's Tale
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
When the Game Stands Tall
Yves Saint Laurent

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fantastic Fest 2014


As regular readers of my blog know, I love movies.  In fact, movies and TV are what I love most in this world.  And therefore film festivals are on a short list of my favorite things.  And I've been lucky enough to attend a lot of them, including Sundance, Toronto, Telluride, Tribeca, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Nantucket, Savannah, and of course my hometown of Philadelphia.  It's pretty interesting how all of them are so different, in terms of the films they program, the events, the culture, and the attendees.  And while I've enjoyed all of them to at least some degree, obviously there are some that are just more fun for me than others.  It's just a matter of finding the best fit for me.  My current favorites are Nantucket, Tribeca, and Philadelphia for reasons that I could go into, but I'll save that for another blog.  Last week it came time for me try out a ten year old festival that's been on my radar for many of those years: Fantastic Fest.

Fantastic Fest marked my first visit to Austin, as well as Texas.  And it's known among film buffs for two things:  Genre films (mainly horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and the bizarre) and all around fun at the infamous Alamo Drafthouse.  Well I love genre films (at least when they're good) and the Alamo Drafthouse has the reputation of being the best theater in America.  And while I'm not really a party guy, who doesn't love fun?  So I've been looking to attend Fantastic Fest for years, and it's only the other competing festivals this time of year like Toronto, Telluride, Savannah, and Philly and limited vacation time and budget, that has kept me until now.

One of the many things that makes this festival unique is that it entirely takes place (except possibly for a few of the events) at the Alamo Drafthouse on 1120 South Lamar, which has nine screens.  This is the only festival I've been to that takes place at only one venue.  Most of the time, part of my festival experience is making sure I have time to get from one movie to another, which often involves lots of walking, running, taxis and/or subways.  And this involves factoring in movies potentially starting late as well as potential Q&A's afterward.  Fantastic Fest eliminates this problem completely, by having movie "rounds" whereby no movie in one round overlaps another (unless it's very long and specifically spans two rounds.)  Therefore it's impossible to miss a film and you needn't even worry.  Even better, Fantastic Fest completely solves the other big problem of film festivals: finding time to eat.  Usually I find myself subsisting on slices of pizza that I grab on the go and eat while walking from venue to venue or standing in line for the next film.  The Alamo Drafthouse is unbelievable in that, not only do they serve a full menu, quietly and efficiently to your seat in the theater before or during the film, but the food is varied, quite good, and very reasonably priced.  It's amazing!  Maybe you're up for a burger, pizza, or burrito?  How about something healthier like veggies, pita, and hummus?  No problem!  How about Creme Brulee French Toast for brunch?  You got it!  Perhaps some warm freshly baked chocolate chip cookies?  Yes please!  And of course, they have beer.  Though, as a water drinker, I personally loved that they have large glasses of water ready for you as you enter the theater just for you to grab and take to your seat.  Honestly, this is unbelievable.  And the wait staff is amazing and so nice considering they deliver your food hunched over in a darkened theater so that you can enjoy your experience.  The Alamo Drafthouse is designed to maximize your experience.  The stadium seating is drastically inclined so there are no heads in your way.  Attendees are warned during the custom made bizarre bits of film snippets of yore and yesteryear that they had better not talk or text or they will be thrown out.  And they mean it.  If someone is being an annoyance, and I certainly didn't witness any because folks wouldn't dare, all you need do is fill out an order card documenting the issue, and one of the wait staff will collect it and correct the problem.  If you've ever been to a mainstream movie theater in Philly, you'd know that this is all like living a dream.  In Philly, if you want water it's $5.  Your food options are popcorn and maybe shitty hot dogs and nachos that cost you an arm and a leg.  And talking and texting is part of the culture.  Locals come there to have conversations at full volume.  And a good screening is one where you leave without having been shot, stabbed, or burned.  I hate going to the movies in Philly (outside of screenings at our beloved Ritz theaters owned by Landmark.)  But even Landmark should take note of the way the Alamo Drafthouse caters to its audience.  I can only dream that one day the Alamo Drafthouse will open one up in Philly.  There's definitely an audience for it.

Fantastic Fest also solves many of the other problems and annoyances of other festivals by embracing technology, its core and devoted audience, and reinventing the queue system.  For one thing, there is no complicated ticket purchasing system.  In fact, they don't sell tickets at all!  Only badges: full 8-day ($309 - $409), 2nd half ($125), and Day Only ($75).  No one attends Fantastic Fest to see one or two films.  In fact, most attendees strive to see as many as possible during the 37 possible screening opportunities between 11:00 AM and 1:30 AM during the 8 day run.  This is unlike any other festival I've been to.  These fans are HARD-CORE!  Now, since they only sell badges, checking in and picking up your badge is a breeze (assuming you've sent them your picture electronically ahead of time.)  Choosing your films is also simple and unique to this festival.  Fantastic Fest pioneered a new fully automated ticketing system wherein every day you must log in (from a computer or your smart phone) between 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM and select your film preferences (usually up to five) for each of the five rounds of films for the next day.  Then, between 5:00 PM and 11:00 PM, through a random selection, they slot as many people into their first preference as possible.  And even better, if demand for a certain film is high, they simply show that film at that time on more screens.  Some of the films in highest demand played on 4 screens while I was there.  So, ultimately, I got all but one of my first choice films.  Amazing job, Fantastic Fest!  And as far as lines go, they don't exist at Fantastic Fest.  Instead, their ticketing system provides you a "boarding group".  When they call your boarding group, you may enter the theater.  This allows friends to congregate in the lobby or outside in between screenings until they are called.  This is truly the film festival of the future.

So with all of that said, one would think this would have been my greatest film festival experience ever!  And yet it wasn't, for a few reasons.

Obviously, the movies themselves are top priority at any film festival.  And while I've never attended a film festival that didn't show bad movies (and yes, to some degree this is a matter of opinion), I obviously prefer the festivals that show the highest percentage of movies that I enjoy.  I saw 36 films at Fantastic Fest, and generally speaking, a quarter were excellent, a quarter were good, a quarter weren't so good, and a quarter were just bad.  My complete list with my judgmental grades are below.  I know many attendees at the festival would disagree with me on some of them, but this is my particular opinion, and I fully acknowledge that there are a few that had I seen under better circumstances (e.g. not in the middle of 35 other films over 8 days) I might enjoy more, and so I intend to see a few of them again and maybe drastically change my grades.  But in general I think the programming could have been better.  Of course there are many challenges film festival programmers face when programming any festival, and I know of many of them.  But as an attendee paying, spending my vacation and my own money to attend, I don't and shouldn't care.  I want to see 36 great movies.  This will never happen, but only seeing 25% to 35% great movies just isn't enough.  And the good ones aren't always evenly spaced out, so when I hit a cluster of seven bad films in a row, it just kills my energy level.  (I also happened to catch a cold or something mid-festival, and while that's nobody's fault, it's an extra challenge sitting through bad and often subtitled bad films while I'm doped up on Dayquil trying to make it through the 15 hour day of movie watching.)

Another reason I didn't love the festival was because of the attendees.  (Fantastic Fest fans, please hear me out, I mean no offense.)  My first taste of the attendees, walking up to the Alamo Drafthouse on my first day, was such that I wouldn't fit in.  Superficially, I quickly noticed an abundance of big beards, tattoos, and black T-shirts ... not that there's anything wrong with that!  It's just not my look, and I felt like I wouldn't blend.  Though on day one I made a lot of effort to meet people, often butting into some of the many tight knit clusters in the lobby or outside, and starting conversation with those adjacent to me while inside the theater.  And while most everyone was very nice (bearded, tatted, black t-shirted, or otherwise), I really only made a handful of new friends that I ran into sporadically throughout the week.  Mostly it seemed like people come to this festival every year with their group of friends, and love the hell out of it, but weren't really looking to meet new people.  Like no other festival, I felt more like an outsider, which is strange considering these are all big film buffs and so am I!  Now, mind you, I'm not blaming anyone.  There were many times that I became introverted, particularly in the second half of the week when I had a cold, and didn't make any effort.  But, to be fair, it's not easy to bust into a group of people and introduce myself, and over the course of the week I'd say only three people actually initiated a conversation with me.  Though I am grateful for the few new friends I made and, should I return or they decide to come to Philly for our festival, I hope to see them again.

OK, without further ado, my grades are below.  I welcome your feedback on these (and anything I said above) but please know that I fully acknowledge I may have missed the boat on a few of these due to fatigue.  It's one man's opinion after binging on 36 films over 8 days (with a cold).  I'd like to revisit a few of them before year end under better circumstances at which time I may amend my grade.

(Note: I saw The Babadook in Philly before I came.)
  1. The Treatment    A+
  2. It Follows    A
  3. Nightcrawler    A
  4. Let Us Prey    A
  5. John Wick     A
  6. I Am Here     A
  7. The Absent One     A
  8. Force Majeure    A
  9. In Order of Disappearance    A
  10. Horns    A-
  11. Tusk    B+
  12. The Babadook    B+
  13. The Incident    B+
  14. Spring    B
  15. The Guest     B
  16. Everly     B
  17. Cub     B
  18. From the Dark    B
  19. Goodnight Mommy     B
  20. The Town That Dreaded Sundown    B-
  21. Whispers Behind the Wall    B-
  22. Blind    B-
  23. Closer to God    C+
  24. Tommy    C+
  25. The Hive     C
  26. Darkness By Day     C
  27. Open Windows    C
  28. Over Your Dead Body    C
  29. Waste Land    C
  30. The Stranger     C
  31. Tombville    C-
  32. The Editor     D+
  33. Realiti     D
  34. Wastelander Panda      D
  35. The Man in the Orange Jacket     D
  36. The Creeping Garden     D-
  37. Local God     D-

Friday, September 26, 2014

In Theaters Now - 9/26/14

(new releases in green)

Boyhood       Grade: A+

The Hundred-Foot Journey       Grade: A

The Drop       Grade: A

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes       Grade: A

Lucy       Grade: A-

The Maze Runner       Grade: A-

The Trip to Italy       Grade: A-   (also available on Video on Demand)

Hector and the Search for Happiness       Grade: A-

The Skeleton Twins       Grade: B+
This is Where I Leave You       Grade: B+

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby        Grade: B+

A Most Wanted Man        Grade: B+

Tusk       Grade: B+

Guardians of the Galaxy       Grade: B

Calvary       Grade: B

Good People        Grade: B   (also available on Video on Demand)

A Walk Among the Tombstones       Grade: B

20,000 Days on Earth      Grade: C+

Get on Up       Grade: C+

Love is Strange       Grade: C-

Additional Films Not Reviewed:

As Above, So Below
The Boxtrolls
Dolphin Tale 2
The Equalizer
The Giver
The Green Prince
If I Stay
Jimi: All Is By My Side
Let's Be Cops
My Old Lady
No Good Deed
The Notebook
The Song
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles