Friday, January 30, 2015

In Theaters Now - 1/30/15



(new releases in green)


Whiplash        Grade: A

A Most Violent Year        Grade: A

Wild        Grade: A

The Imitation Game        Grade: A

Birdman        Grade: A-

Wild Card        Grade: B+  (also available on Video on Demand)

The Wedding Ringer        Grade: B+

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I       Grade: B+

Foxcatcher        Grade: B+

Unbroken        Grade: B+

Black Sea       Grade: B+

Still Alice       Grade: B+

Cake        Grade: B+

Into the Woods        Grade: B+

American Sniper        Grade: B+

Selma        Grade: B+

Inherent Vice        Grade: B

Two Days, One Night        Grade: B

Mortdecai        Grade: B-

Black or White       Grade: B-

Mommy       Grade: B-

Big Hero 6        Grade: B-

Blackhat        Grade: C

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies        Grade: C

Mr. Turner        Grade: D+

The Theory of Everything        Grade: D




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
Annie
The Boy Next Door
The Loft
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Oscar Nominated Short Films
Paddington
Project Almanac
Strange Magic
Taken 3
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death 

Black Sea



Submarine films aren't generally something I look forward to but Black Sea ranks pretty high among the genre.  Jude Law headlines an ensemble as a laid off submarine captain who gathers a team of Russians and Brits to go treasure hunting for a sunken Nazi sub filled with gold.  It's tense.  It's gritty.  It's claustrophobic.  And it'll keep you on the edge of your seat right until the end credits.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  If you want a tense, claustrophobic, gritty submarine thriller, then this is a great choice for you this weekend.

Friday, January 23, 2015

In Theaters Now - 1/23/15



(new releases in green)


Boyhood        Grade: A+   (Also available on Video on Demand)

Whiplash        Grade: A

A Most Violent Year       Grade: A

Wild        Grade: A

The Imitation Game        Grade: A

Birdman        Grade: A-

The Wedding Ringer       Grade: B+

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I       Grade: B+

Foxcatcher        Grade: B+

Unbroken        Grade: B+

Still Alice       Grade: B+

Cake        Grade: B+

Into the Woods        Grade: B+

American Sniper        Grade: B+

Selma       Grade: B+

Big Eyes       Grade: B

Inherent Vice        Grade: B

Two Days, One Night       Grade: B

Mortdecai       Grade: B-

Big Hero 6       Grade: B-

Blackhat        Grade: C

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies        Grade: C

Mr. Turner        Grade: D+

The Theory of Everything        Grade: D




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
Annie
The Boy Next Door 
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Paddington
Song One  (also available on Video on Demand)
Spare Parts
Strange Magic
Taken 3
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death 

Mortdecai


Mortdecai is one of those strange films of which I can't figure out how it ever got made.  On one hand it's kind of a muddled mess that's clearly destined to be a box office flop.  But on the other hand it's pretty fun, bizarre and different making it a shame that it's destined to be a box office flop.  In fact, my money says this one will be remembered well come next year's Razzies.  But it's really not nearly as bad as all the reviews you're going to see will imply.  I think it might even be worth your time later in the year on VOD.  But you can certainly pass on seeing it in theaters.

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  I'm not really sure to whom this movie is targeted.  But it's plenty enjoyable enough if you allow yourself, walking the line between idiotic and fun.

Friday, January 16, 2015

In Theaters Now - 1/16/15



(new releases in green)


Boyhood      Grade: A+  (Also available on Video on Demand)

Match        Grade: A+  (Also available on Video on Demand)

Whiplash        Grade: A

Interstellar        Grade: A

Predestination        Grade: A   (Also available on Video on Demand)

Wild        Grade: A

The Imitation Game        Grade: A

The Gambler        Grade: A

Birdman        Grade: A-

The Wedding Ringer       Grade: B+

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I       Grade: B+

Foxcatcher        Grade: B+

Unbroken        Grade: B+

The Interview        Grade: B+

Into the Woods        Grade: B+

American Sniper        Grade: B+

Selma        Grade: B+

Big Eyes       Grade: B

Little Accidents       Grade: B  (Also available on Video on Demand)

The Phoenix Project       Grade: B  (Also available on Video on Demand)

Vice       Grade: B  (Also available on Video on Demand)

Inherent Vice        Grade: B

Big Hero 6       Grade: B-

Blackhat       Grade: C

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies        Grade: C

Top Five        Grade: C

Mr. Turner       Grade: D+

The Theory of Everything        Grade: D

Exodus: Gods and Kings        Grade: D

Preservation       Grade: D   (Also available on Video on Demand)




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
Annie
Horrible Bosses 2
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Paddington
Spare Parts
Taken 3
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death 

Match


Some movies just need to be seen on faith.  There's simply no way I can convey to you how good this movie is without you seeing it yourself.  I can tell you that, like a great play, it's completely dialogue driven and features virtually only three people in the entire film, Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, and Matthew Lillard, and yet it is enthralling.  I can tell you all three of them are absolutely brilliant.  Oscar worthy, if you ask me.  I can tell you that every minute of the brief 90 minute runtime is precious.  I can tell you that it's like having the best seat in the house at the finest Broadway play, but instead of travelling to Times Square you can watch it in the comfort of your own home on VOD.  But ultimately it's up to you to prioritize this movie this weekend rather than wasting your time at Woman in Black 2, Taken 3, or Blackhat.  It's your call.

Match is now in limited release in theaters and also available at home on Video on Demand.

Grade: A+

Who is this movie for?  Anyone who appreciates the finest of Broadway plays, with the finest actors, all at the tops of their games.  You may not agree with my A+, but if you like plays with both comedy and drama that blend superbly, you'll like this.  A lot.

The Wedding Ringer


Let's be honest.  This movie has terrible written all over it.  A comedy about a loser who has no friends but somehow manages to get a hot chick to agree to marry him, so he hires a wedding ringer to play his best man and provide the rest of the groomsmen?  Cast with an ensemble of B and C-listers?  I would have bet hard cash that this would've sucked the big one.  And yet, I laughed.  A lot.  I'm not proud of it, mind you.  But this movie is funnier than it has any right to be. 

Grade: B+ (and maybe should be an A- ... but I can't really give this an A-, can I?)

Who is this movie for?  Anyone with a stupid sense of humor who enjoys stupid movies like Dumb and Dumber and wants to enjoy a lot of laughs this weekend.  It may be a guilty pleasure, but whatever because it was a pleasure nonetheless.

Blackhat


The once bankable Michael Mann, responsible for such stylish and suspenseful crime dramas as the Miami Vice TV show and Heat, brings us this disappointing January cyber "thriller" featuring Captain Excitement himself, Chris Hemsworth.  Hemsworth plays an imprisoned hacker expert who the American and Chinese authorities sorely need to help them stop a master cyber criminal.  And only in Hollywood would a guy who looks like the captain of his high school football team be one of the world's best hackers.  Not since Getaway in 2013 when I was supposed to believe that Selena Gomez was also a skilled computer hacker have I seen casting this ridiculous.  Hey Hollywood, Hackers and computer geeks don't look like Hemsworth and Gomez.  They look like this

Unfortunately the rest of the cast does nothing to help this subpar "thriller".  Even the few action sequences don't have nearly the same style and excitement as Mann's earlier work.  And the sleepy score doesn't hold a candle to the Miami Vice theme or the entire kick-ass Heat soundtrack.  It's not that this movie's terrible, which it isn't.  But there's really just no good reason for you to see it.  You're better off getting your laugh on this weekend with Kevin Hart's surprisingly funny The Wedding Ringer.  Or even better, stay home and get your mind blown by Predestination or blown away by the Broadway-type Tony Award worthy performances in Match, both available on VOD.

Grade: C

Who is this movie for?  No one, unfortunately.  Pass.

Friday, January 9, 2015

In Theaters Now - 1/9/15



(new releases in green)

Whiplash        Grade: A

Interstellar        Grade: A

Predestination        Grade: A   (Also available on Video on Demand)

Wild        Grade: A

The Imitation Game        Grade: A

The Gambler        Grade: A

St. Vincent       Grade: A

Birdman        Grade: A-

Gone Girl        Grade: B+

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I       Grade: B+

Foxcatcher        Grade: B+

Unbroken        Grade: B+

The Interview        Grade: B+

Selma        Grade: B+

Into the Woods        Grade: B+

Big Eyes       Grade: B

Inherent Vice       Grade: B

Big Hero 6       Grade: B-

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies        Grade: C

Top Five        Grade: C

Mr. Turner       Grade: D+

The Theory of Everything        Grade: D

Exodus: Gods and Kings        Grade: D




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
Annie
Horrible Bosses 2
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Penguins of Madagascar
Taken 3
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death 

Predestination


OK, now here's a movie worth blogging about.  Sure, you could go to the theater to see Liam Neeson kick some more ass in Taken 3.  OR, you could just stay home and watch something totally original on VOD that will make your head spin!  If you like Ethan Hawke as much as I do and you dig twisty/turny sci-fi that really makes you think then Predestination is a must see.  It's more than a bit confusing so it demands your attention from start to finish, and will leave you wanting to immediately start it over from the beginning.  It's a sure bet it'll show up on my Most Overlooked Films of 2015 list.  So be cool like me and see it now before anyone else!

Predestination is now in limited release in theaters and also available in your home on Video on Demand and it's well worth your time and money.

Grade: A

Who is this movie for?  Fans of twisty/turny sci-fi films like Looper

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Is TV Better Than Film?


In my spare time, when I'm not working, sleeping, or seeing every movie of consequence released, I love getting caught up on the best that TV has to offer.  Frankly I've been a TV binge watcher since way before that term even existed, back before it was cool, when it was just called reclusive, antisocial, and obsessive/compulsive behavior.  Ah, the good ol' days!  But I've taken binge-watching to a new level as of late.  (This year my binging has included the complete series of The West Wing, Oz, and, best of all, over the last five days, Justified!)  I've long considered (and I'm hardly the first person to say this), TV is arguably better, or at least as good as anything you'll see on the big screen.  So I've composed a mini-essay on the subject.  Until now I've stayed away from reviewing or even commenting much about TV on this blog, not because I don't love it, but because I don't want to turn my play into work.  Plus, I don't really have much to offer in this category that hasn't been written about ad nauseam.  The fact is, unlike with film, I believe the critics, the fans, and the well informed public in general are already in the loop of the best TV has to offer.  Personally, like you, I don't have time to watch it all, so for TV I take my cues just like you do, from TV critics and those whose taste I share.  So I'm still discovering the treasures that many before me have found long ago.

As many TV critics have noted, we are without doubt in a golden age of TV dramas (often cited to begin in 1999 with The Sopranos, but also including some of my personal favorites, The Wire, Firefly, The Shield, and Battlestar Galactica to name a few.)  But in my opinion TV has never been better than right now.  (Though unquestionably the best shows of today were heavily influenced by those that came before them, and unfortunately came ahead of their time.  Yes, I'm looking at you, Twin Peaks and Homicide: Life on the Street.)  But I can think of several reasons why now is the best time to stay home, put on your slankets, or onesie PJ's, or whatever the hell you wear in the privacy of your fortress of solitude, and binge like you've never binged before.
  • Dramas are increasingly serial, rather than just stand alone episodes.  Networks (and more commonly cable) are secure enough to assume that their audience is willing to invest the time in seeing every episode rather than cherry picking.  Gone are the days when every show had to be a complete story and all of the Brady's problems were resolved and wrapped up in 22 to 24 minutes.  (Yes, I do remember the multi-episode story when they went to Hawaii and The Grand Canyon.)  Sure, that model still exists today and always will, and I like The Big Bang Theory just as much as the next guy or girl.  But let's face it.  It's not must see storytelling.  It's a pleasant diversion before you go to bed.  Serial dramas are of more substance.
  • Complexity isn't considered a negative anymore, and audiences are assumed to be sophisticated enough to appreciate that.  (Sometimes they're too sophisticated!  Even the smallest mistakes, inconsistencies, or less than credible storylines aren't tolerated by the fanboys and trolls on the internet.)  It's 2014 and we're smart enough to handle it when everything isn't spoon fed to us and explained in painful detail.  We don't need a narrator with a deep voice telling us what happened in the previous season or episode, or even worse, before the last commercial break.  We know.  We saw it.  Possibly more than once.  So don't waste our time.  (And I'm pretty sure even in the 70's we could have figured out that the Duke boys had gotten themselves in trouble again with Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane without the narrator telling us so.)
  • Length is variable.  Finally stories are now told in the length that best suits them.  I love this.  It used to be that a story was either told in under two hours (as a movie), 22 to 24 episodes (as a TV series), or as a mini-series (generally consisting of 2 or 3 two hour segments).  Cable shows are now customarily 12 to 13 episodes, thus allowing for better quality than forcing a quantity of 22 to 24.  But a show like True Detective was only 8.  How did they come to that unprecedented number?  Well I can only imagine that was, creatively, the optimal number of hours to tell the story they wanted to tell.  Imagine that.  This is very different than the current business model in Hollywood, stretching out every franchise into as many movies as possible, clearly just to maximize revenue.  (The Hobbit in three parts?!?)
  • Season and series storylines are arced out long in advance.  How can you tell a great story if you don't know where you're going way ahead of time?!  It almost always shows when a show is just winging it and meandering along until cancellation, and I just don't think you can get away with that anymore.
  • End dates are planned.  Lost was the first show I can ever remember that planned and even negotiated an end date.  This was groundbreaking, and although they had to go a little longer than they wanted (which was evident with all the filler) it opened the door to proper storytelling for TV.  Because to tell a proper story, you need to have a proper ending, and that usually has to be decided creatively and not driven by when the ratings decline.
  • A lot of the best talent increasingly wants to work in TV.  For one thing, assuming the show finds an audience, it's job security for the writers, cast and crew.  It also often allows them to work from their home city and go home every night.  But more importantly to us, the creative freedom, particularly in cable shows ... ummm ... shows.  You can't take creative chances on a movie with a budget of $250M.  With that size investment, studios can't afford to lose.  But a cable TV show targeted to only a few million people can be pretty damn edgy.  So why wouldn't the best writers or actors prefer to work in TV?  Well, salaries are still generally higher and the prestige is still greater in film.  For now.
  • The theme songs are often as good as the shows themselves.  Thank god we don't have cheesy, dreadful theme songs written by Alan Thicke anymore!  (Believe it or not - no pun intended, Thicke wrote the painful mind-numbing themes to Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life.)  Nowadays, if the theme is as good as it is in Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, or True Detective, I will listen to it repeatedly at the beginning of each episode as I binge.  A great theme really sets the tone for the show you're about to see rather than simply sticking in your head like an annoying radio jingle.  Though many of them are short, or in some cases almost non-existent (as is the case with the whirling sound effect used rather than any opening song for Lost.)
  • Binge away!  It's 2015 and we can pretty much watch what we want, when we want, and how we want.  You can stay in all weekend and watch entire seasons of an amazing show without notice on Netflix, Amazon Prime, DVR, VOD, DVD's from Redbox, etc... It's amazing! There's almost no reason to ever leave your home anymore!  And frankly, for the best shows, binging is the best way to appreciate them.  If too much time passes between episodes you forget the subtle but important details. 
But again, I'm really just stating the obvious.  You know all this already!  But for my money, here are 10 great reasons why TV over the last year + has (arguably) been better than film:
  1. True Detective
  2. Breaking Bad
  3. Justified
  4. Homeland
  5. The Newsroom
  6. The Walking Dead
  7. Boardwalk Empire
  8. House of Cards
  9. Fargo
  10. Dexter
Notable mentions go to:  The Blacklist, Game of Thrones, The Following, Hannibal, The Affair, Masters of Sex, The Leftovers, Low Winter Sun, and Sherlock.

And with that, I will return to my focus on this blog ... film.  I will continue to let you know which of the 700 or so movies released a year are actually worth your time and which are clearly not.  And you should do the same for me for any TV shows you happen across that are as good as or better than movies.  Just ... please ... no spoilers!  Or I'll kick your m#$%@#  f@#$%$#  @$$!

Friday, January 2, 2015

In Theaters Now - 1/2/15

 
 
(new releases in green)

Whiplash        Grade: A

Interstellar        Grade: A

Wild        Grade: A

Nightcrawler        Grade: A

The Imitation Game        Grade: A

The Gambler       Grade: A

St. Vincent       Grade: A

Birdman        Grade: A-

Gone Girl        Grade: B+

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I       Grade: B+

Foxcatcher        Grade: B+

Unbroken        Grade: B+

The Interview       Grade: B+

Into the Woods        Grade: B+

Big Eyes        Grade: B

Big Hero 6       Grade: B-

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies        Grade: C

Top Five        Grade: C

The Theory of Everything        Grade: D

Exodus: Gods and Kings        Grade: D




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
Annie
Horrible Bosses 2
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Penguins of Madagascar
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

State of the Blog


Keeping with tradition, I'll start the year out with my annual State of the Blog.  For anyone who cares, this is where I reflect upon the last year as well as the current state of this blog.

First, the stats:

I saw 567 movies in 2014. 111 of them I saw in the theater, excluding film festivals. I saw an additional 143 at the Tribeca, Nantucket, Fantastic Fest, and Philadelphia film festivals. The remaining 313 I watched at home, comprised of new releases that premiered on Video on Demand and those I missed in the theater (187), as well as older titles I either never saw before (51) or movies I was revisiting (75). In total, of the 567 I saw, 390 of them are 2014 releases, and you can see all of those ranked from A+ to F in my Rank of All Films Reviewed in 2014 blog post. Please note that many of the films I saw at film festivals haven't been released theatrically or on VOD yet, so they will carry over into my 2015 list. (It's more complicated than you thought, isn't it?)

I published 249 blog posts on here, where for the first 8 months of the year I wrote up reviews for the vast majority of the new releases I saw.   You probably noticed that for the last four months I stopped writing reviews.  But, of course,  I continue to post my 'In Theaters Now' every Friday to help you make the best selection for your weekend movie.

To date, I've gotten 136,350 page views.  I have no idea if that's 136,350 different people who have accidentally happened upon my blog, or if it's one obsessed fan that has checked in 136,350 times.  But I'd love to get that number up.  So, please tell your friends and family.  I can say that my page views have increased over 20% every year since I began this blog in September of 2010.  In 2014 I got almost 45,000 (an average of 123 per day), which is 27% higher than 2013.  So the trend is good.  But in order to keep this on the rise it is essential that, if you like this blog, you share it with your loved ones who love movies. Have them friend me on Facebook, like my Flieder on Film Facebook page, and/or follow me on Twitter @FliederonFilm so that you get notified whenever I post something new.  I don't do selfies, pictures of my kids or pets (as I don't have any), or of what I'm eating for dinner! I only post movie reviews and the occasional movie related content.  So please tell your friends.

As you all know I haven't been on TV since February.  Do I miss it?  Honestly, not at all.  Life is a hell of a lot easier without having to worry about seeing all the latest releases before they come out, figuring out what is best to say in 3 minutes on live TV, memorizing it, and then waking up before sunrise on Friday mornings to be prepared and camera friendly for my live satellite hit at the FOX 29 Philadelphia station.  And all for no money and no appreciation whatsoever.  Nope, I don't miss it, or virtually anyone I met in the process.

OK it's time for some thank you's.  (If too much graciousness nauseates you, as it often does for me, you may want to skip to the end.)

I want to thank all my friends at Allied-THA who invite me to all the advanced screenings. Not only do they allow me to see movies in advance, with reserved seating, with a guest, and for free, but they're also a pleasure to see every week!   Thank you Jesse, Kate, Michael, Joe, Ann-Marie, Rachel, Dave, Lisa, Matt, Zack, Maura, Tina, Gary, Steve, Julia, Marissa, Ed, Clarissa, and everyone else who greets me and is always so friendly and makes me feel like a VIP when I'm so not.

I also want to thank the Broadcast Film Critics Association for letting me be one of less than 300 members and voters for the Critics Choice Movie Awards! I still can't believe I'm in such an elite group.  You should definitely tune in to the awards show on Thursday January 15th on A&E. (I'll send out reminders as we get close.) Ratings for the award show are very important to the BFCA so please tell your friends to watch (especially if they are Nielsen families!)

I also want to thank all my friends at the Philadelphia Film Society. Sure, I'm a paying member so they have to be nice to me. But they're always a pleasure to see, and they do such a great job of providing free screenings and fun film events for their members year round, fostering a film community in Philadelphia, and putting on the Philadelphia Film Festival. It's one of my favorite events of the year, and if you're a film fan in Philadelphia and not yet a member, you really should be. In fact, you're crazy not to be. As a bonus, they recently restored and renovated the Roxy theater, which I love because it's a great place for film buffs in Philly to gather other than the Ritz theaters. I am even a founding member, so be sure to look for and sit in the Flieder on Film engraved chair when you go! (Just, please take good care of it, as it is my only legacy.) Thank you Andy, Pari, Alyssa, Alex, Mariah, and Rebecca!

Lastly, but certainly not least, I want to thank you. Yes, you and all the people that check out my blog, friend me on Facebook, like my Flieder on Film Facebook page, and follow me on Twitter @FliederonFilm. I spend virtually all of my free time watching films and posting what I think is interesting and unique content. So it's great to be able to share this with so many people, but even better when people tell me they enjoy it. I always appreciate when people are enthusiastic about it, either in person, on my blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter.  In particular, thank you's need go to Jeana, Adam, Celeste, Betsy, Mario, Jen RR, Ken, Chris N, Melanie, Joe, Luke, Justin, Scott, Zach and Maria, Renaye, Trinaty, Jeff, Lynne, Dan S, Erin, Mike S, Don, LeAnn, Paul, Dana, Wendy and Greg, Mike G and Elaine, John C, John M, Lisa, Courtney, and Pat and Kendra for your comments, likes, shares, and enthusiasm!  (I do hope I didn't forget anyone, though I'm sure I probably did!)

As many of you know, but some of you may not, I haven't made any money as a film critic, either on TV or with this blog. Zero. Zip. Bupkis. Nada. I do this in my free time because I love it, but also because hopefully you do too. So if you do enjoy what I provide, all I ask is that you make a real effort to tell your friends. Please forward my website, share my Facebook posts, and retweet my tweets as often as you can.  I spend most of my free time watching and reviewing films, but marketing and self promotion (and clearly web design) are not my strong suit.  Interesting content is really what I try to provide.  And hopefully you like it.

Well that about wraps it up. Enough self promotion, gratitude, and soliciting! (I'm even making myself sick already.)   I hereby declare 2014 dead to me.  It's 2015 and I'm totally ready for a new year of movies.  Though, the question is, to blog or not to blog?   Shall I continue with just posting grades?  Shall I put in the time for writing reviews?   Are there enough people who care?  I don't get a whole lot of feedback, so if you like what I do here and I've never heard from you, then be sure to say hi, either on here, on Facebook, on Twitter, or just email me at bflieder@gmail.com.  The future of this blog depends on you!