Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

I have a feeling this is going to be a running theme in the years to come when it comes to reviewing movies…

In the past few years, it’s not really a secret to my long-time readers (if there are any left) that a lot of reviews have been coming in later and later, if at all, even for some of the bigger movies. Case in point: I didn’t see three of this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees until after the ceremony itself. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the truth is, it’s just been difficult to keep up with all my different responsibilities, while also maintaining a personal life, as well as finding time for myself. This year, that has included trying to initiate a change in career from the full-time job I’ve held at the movie theatre for 13-plus years to getting my foot in the door as a film composer after having completed my Certificate program through the Berklee College of Music online. (More on that in my next music update.) While I love writing about movies, whether they are new releases or older films, that is what I ultimately have to focus on right now, so if I don’t get to some of the bigger releases in a timely manner, that’s kind of how it’s going to be for some time, and believe me, I won’t like it any more than you will.

The past four months, and start of 2015, has been less devoted to seeing movies in theatres, and more in catching up with the screener requests filmmakers have been sending me over the years. The past year, while trying to work through the loss of my father, I got even more behind than usual on these, but as we head into this summer, I’m pleased to announce that, for the first time in a few years, I am completely caught up with these requests, which will definitely help free up some time. Since I started receiving these requests on a regular basis in 2009, the films I’ve seen have been a memorable and vital piece of continuing my love of cinema. Not all of them are going to be as polished as your “Furious 7s” or “Kingsmans,” but the best ones are just as assured, and more rewarding, than anything Hollywood puts out. These films are also the reason this year’s viewing list is up to 26 rather than 10, with an even split between feature-length films and shorts currently. With luck, I won’t get that far behind again.

What follows is a rundown of the movies I’ve seen that qualify for my personal 2015 calendar year, and if you haven’t heard of a lot of them, don’t worry, but also, don’t let it dissuade you from seeking them out online. Check out the reviews, and you might discover something special you otherwise wouldn’t know about. That’s a big part of why I love checking out these requests, and it’s lead to some rewarding bonds with some of the actors and filmmakers involved. After that, you’ll see my list of the movies I’m most looking forward to this summer, and yes, the movie opening this coming weekend is at the top of this list.

The Cream of the Crop: Right now, my feature-length moviewatching has been limited pretty significantly, so I don’t have a whole lot in that arena to choose from. That said, what I have seen has been above average, for the most part– no one has hit that coveted “A+” realm yet. What’s stood out thus far, though, are short films; the only feature that really cracked this level so far is Alex Gibney’s hot-button Scientology documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”. In terms of shorts, the best ones have been character-driven jewels, like “It’s Not You”, “Leaving” and “Akibet (Aftermath)”, with a more experimental film in “World Spins Madly On” hitting those emotional notes while also being inventive in how it does so.

Genre Gems: A few films have found a way to work genre conventions into imaginative movie experiences. Starting with some shorts, there’s a supernatural thriller (“Junkie Heaven”) and a zombie comedy (“The Last Taxi Driver”) out in front, with a film noir drama (“That Terrible Jazz”) not far behind. And even though we don’t really think about musicals as genre films, they are, and the indie adaptation of “The Last Five Years”, with lovely, heartbreaking feeling as a relationships starts, and falls apart, is a moving experience with the best of this year, so far.

Serious Contenders: Before pointing out some of the year’s best dramatic offerings, and some of our first feature-length stand outs, some appreciation must be given to two comedic shorts (“Please Punish Me” and “No Headache Tonight”) that really hit the right notes, as well as an animated feature from Dreamworks (“Home”) that could have been a lot worse than it was, and is one of the best efforts from the studio in a while. Now, it’s time to highlight some dramatic efforts that work well, while also covering a lot of different ground in terms of perspectives and cultures. First up are the latest films from a couple of great filmmakers, Edgar Muniz (“Famous James”) and Spike Lee (“Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”)– neither are quite among their director’s best work, but they showed a lot of the singular vision and intelligence I admire from both. Next up are an intimate, odd little road movie about people going home for a personal event (“Different Drum”) and a glossy, Oscar-primed drama that brings true events to life, and history to the forefront (“Woman in Gold”)– both have strong virtues going for them, but neither will likely find their way among my favorites for the year.

More Genre Goodies: The next few films fit into certain genres, and even if they don’t have all it takes to be at the top of what I’ve seen this year, they’ve all had something to offer, be it a great ending and some wild action (“Furious Seven”); a diabolical spin on the spy formula (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”); some scary horror/thriller mood and images (“Desert Noir”, “Music Store Massacre” and “Do Not Press”); a personal spin of an iconic genre (the mob movie, courtesy of “My Father My Don”); some uncomfortable laughs (“The Best Birthday Ever”), and some stylish character work in a studio caper (“Focus”).

Studio Slip-Ups: First of all, the first two films here are passable entertainments, with the first one being a relative success. But all three have one thing in common– pandering to the lowest common denominator when it comes to giving audiences choices to watch in theatres. The first one, I can understand why it was made; the other two, both sequels, were pointless exercises in filmmaking-by-committee. Let’s start with “Fifty Shades of Grey”: if nothing else, it showed that Dakota Johnson was a more than capable star, because her performance as Anastasia Steele is the biggest thing going for this movie, and not just because of her frequent nudity, though I will admit that the soundtrack is pretty great to listen to. I’d like to see them avoid filming the follow-up books in E.L. James’s series, but since the movie was the year’s highest grossing until “Furious Seven” came out, there’s no chance that’s going to happen, meaning we could be seeing more “Fifty Shades” in the presence of pointless sequels like the other two films here, “Taken 3” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”. Neither needed to be made, and nothing in either film, even the memorable showdown between Blart and a peacock (with a pianist just blissfully looking on, not caring about Blart getting beaten up by a peacock), is strong enough to make me think otherwise. Hopefully, none of the sequels listed below will make me feel the same way.

Brian’s 8 “Must-See” Movies for This Summer
1. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” (5/1)- Joss Whedon and Marvel were a match made in heaven back in 2012. Now, it’s time to take “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” to Hell and back in Whedon’s second, and last, time at the helm of Marvel’s flagship.
2. “Jurassic World” (6/12)- Because executive producer Steven Spielberg seems to have found the right blend of fun and dramatic sci-fi after the last two “Jurassic” films flamed out.
3. “Inside Out” (6/19)- From the director of “Up,” my favorite Pixar film, comes another original family treat, about the emotions that make up a little girl. If it’s half as good as “Up,” we’re in for a real treat.
4. “Pitch Perfect 2” (5/15)- One of 2012’s biggest surprise hits gets a sequel. When Anna Kendrick sings, and gets to be snarky, it’s never a bad thing.
5. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (5/15)- George Miller finally got his fourth “Max” film made. The action looks like he hasn’t missed a beat in the 30 years since the third film– can Tom Hardy fill Mel Gibson’s post-apocalyptic boots as the hero? You can be sure I’ll be finding out.
6. “Ant Man” (7/17)- When Edgar Wright left this Marvel property after developing it over eight years, even I was ready to write it off as a rare Marvel misfire. But the two trailers we’ve seen point to, at least, a double a la “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor” from director Peyton Reed and star Paul Rudd.
7. “Straight Outta Compton” (8/14)- Ice Cube and Dr. Dre produce this drama about their start as the controversial rap group N.W.A. The director is F. Gary Grey, whose work includes “Friday,” “The Negotiator,” “Set It Off” and “The Italian Job,” and is typically entertaining and energetic.
8. “Tommorowland” (5/22)- Brad Bird is one of the most talented directors in Hollywood, and with the fourth “Mission: Impossible” movie, he took that talent to live-action filmmaking. Now, he’s using that skill set on a Disney adventure based on one of their long-time attractions. If anyone can make that special, it’s the director of “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.”

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com

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