Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Mad Men" Review: "A Day's Work" (Season 7 Episode 2) - "The most tedious wireless program I've ever heard..."

The seventh and final season of Mad Men continues with its second episode, “A Day’s Work,” and just as always, I have an in-depth review and analysis of the hour for your reading pleasure. To do the episode justice, this review contains spoilers – as always, do not read unless you have seen the episode.

Spoilers for “A Day’s Work” after the jump...

Review: Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" is a haunting, unforgettable masterpiece

Few films, if any, have left me as thoroughly shaken as Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. It is a film that can be reduced to one sentence narratively – Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious alien in the form of a beautiful woman who prowls the streets of London, seducing and trapping lonely young men, before having an existential crisis and abandoning her mission to further explore her human form – but is so much vaster than any verbal description can suggest, irreducible even to concrete thoughts or interpretations. The film is utterly hypnotic, aesthetically exhilarating and intoxicating to such extreme degrees that time becomes immaterial while watching – at 108 minutes, it feels both eternally long and impossibly short, seeming to last for a mere instant yet with the impact of a cinematic lifetime – and as much as any movie can, it lingers on the brain long after the credits roll, burrowing further and further into one’s psyche the longer one spends away from it. When the film ended, I wanted only to rush back to the box office and buy another ticket, and while that proved impractical at the time, I am positively chomping at the bit to revisit the film at the first opportunity I get. Under the Skin cuts deep and leaves an indelible mark, and while I imagine it will be too formally challenging for most, I believe it is worth a try for anyone interested in what cinema at its most extreme can do to us. The imagery, the ideas, the atmosphere, the deeper implications at play...all of it fascinated me in the moment, and has only rattled around in my head with increasing ferocity in the hours and days since leaving the theatre.

Continue reading after the jump...

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Weekly Stuff #83 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review & Discussion

It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, video gaming, and television. Remember to subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link!

As promised, this week’s episode finds Sean and I talking a lot about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which both of us loved (you can read my written review here). We dive into the story, characters, themes, and action sequences in our typical, in-depth, spoiler-filled fashion, so don’t listen to that segment of the episode until you’ve seen the film.

Before the main topic, though, there’s a good hour of non-Cap content, in which we discuss the firing of Martin O’Donnell, one of our favorite people in the video game industry, from Bungie, as well as some recent PS4 developments and some thoughts on Sony’s planned Sinister Six movie.


If you have questions, comments, or concerns about The Weekly Stuff, or would like to write in to the podcast to have your questions read on the show, please e-mail

The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman is a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Mad Men" Season Premiere Review: "Time Zones" (Season 7 Episode 1) - "This is the beginning of something..."

Mad Men has returned for the first half of its seventh and final season on AMC, and just as I did two years ago - I unfortunately had to take Season 6 off, due to circumstances beyond my control - I will be reviewing and analyzing each and every episode of the new season in depth, on Sunday nights shortly after the episodes air. We begin tonight with the season premiere, "Time Zones," and to do the episode justice, this review contains heavy spoilers - as always, do not read unless you have seen the episode. 

Spoilers for "Time Zones" after the jump...

Review: "The Raid 2" is brutal, fascinating, ambitious, and exhilarating

When I initially reviewed Gareth Evans’ The Raid back in 2011, I found myself split between utter awe and exhilaration at the film’s action sequences and fight choreography, and general indifference (if not outright confusion) towards the film’s plot and characters. Subsequent viewings have since adjusted my opinion, with my respect and admiration towards the action side of things increasing (the more one picks apart Evans’ construction of each set-piece, the more one marvels at how the man pulled off such remarkable feats), and my understanding of the film’s narrative approach coming into sharper focus. I still think the original film’s narrative is more about crafting the perfect set-up for an action film than it is about telling an interesting story, but there is such extreme tension inherent to the premise, and such a sly, understated development of character from fight to fight and floor to floor, that I’ve come to believe the film does have a surprisingly effective level of cumulative impact. It is perhaps the most perfectly simple action movie ever made, but it is also one you wind up investing in, especially on multiple viewings.

Yet as good and refreshing as the original Raid is, it winds up feeling like little more than an appetizer to the main event, for The Raid 2 is an extremely different – and wholly superior – beast in nearly every way imaginable. From the opening shot – a frame more compositionally rich and suggestive than any given frame in the original film – The Raid 2 has an ambition, style, voice, and sense of thematic, narrative direction that the original Raid – intentionally, as a function of its limited premise – just didn’t have, and what is most amazing to me is that Evans and company have pulled off this major transformation so completely. Going from exceedingly simple but wholly viscerally effective action film to thoughtful, atmospheric crime saga – with even more viscerally effective action sequences on top – should not, hypothetically, work, or at least not as smoothly as it does here. The gaps in ambition and intent between the two films are cavernous, and I think some fans of the original are going to feel isolated and turned off as a result. This is absolutely not an empty action film one sits down to watch with one’s brain switched off, and anyone going into it with that mindset is going to come out frustrated. That is exactly what I love about the movie, though, and while I am still sorting out my overall thoughts on The Raid 2, I think the fact that the more I ponder it – the more mental energy I expend engaging with the story, characters, themes, and overall direction of the piece – the more I respect, admire, and feel exhilarated by the film speaks volumes. It will take multiple viewings for me to fully wrap my head around what Evans and company have crafted, but I can definitively say that this is an impressive, remarkable achievement, and not at all what I expected going in.

Continue reading after the jump...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: Belated thoughts on the wacky, wonderful "Muppets Most Wanted"

Given how over the moon I felt for what Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, James Bobin, Bret McKenzie and company achieved on 2011’s Muppets reboot – it was my number 2 film of that year, a decision I still stand by in full – I find it a little baffling how long it took me to get around to seeing the sequel, Muppets Most Wanted. Considering both my lifelong love and enthusiasm for the Muppets and the knowledge that the majority of the previous film’s creative team (minus Jason Segel) had returned, this is a film I was very much looking forward to, but it’s been a busy few weeks, and the film somehow slipped through my fingers until now.

And having finally seen it, my only frustration remains with myself for not making time for the movie earlier. Muppets Most Wanted never reaches the dizzying heights of its predecessor, but it doesn’t have to – the entire point of The Muppets was to bring the characters back into cultural relevance, and that means that future sequels, like this one, simply get to tell fun, goofy Muppet stories without any baggage. That sense of creative freedom is something Muppets Most Wanted thrives on; it isn’t trying to be the emotional, nostalgic powerhouse the previous film provided, and I love how much Bobin and Stoller (who co-wrote the film, with Bobin again on directing duty) have leapt at the opportunity to make something different, something that pays homage to some of the Muppets’ more zany, international outings (like The Great Muppet Caper) without ever once feeling like a retread. This is creative, vibrant filmmaking, an inspired piece of comedy stuffed to burst with laughs, and containing just enough heart to feel substantive. The film is a blast from start to finish, a well-earned, celebratory comic victory lap that absolutely pays off on the artistic capital provided by the 2011 film. What more could I have asked for?

Continue reading after the jump...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Review: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a stirring new high for Marvel Studios

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best movie to come out of Marvel Studios to date, and that isn’t praise I give out lightly. I have been vocal since the beginning of my love for what Marvel has done as a film studio, making comic-book movies that are unashamed to be comic-book movies, to be unabashedly fun while still showcasing more character depth and resonance than most modern blockbusters, and I think they have made some of the all-time great superhero movies, with The Avengers, of course, marking their previous pinnacle. That film felt like the ultimate culmination of everything Marvel set out to do, nailing the tone, energy, and scale for comic-book storytelling on the big screen more effectively than anything that came before, while simultaneously developing the characters and their relationships to a point where the Marvel Cinematic Universe really did feel like one big, lived-in, vibrant movie community.

But if The Avengers was a perfection of the formula, The Winter Soldier is an evolution, and a major one at that, one that wears its comic-book foundations on its sleeves just as much as its predecessors, but that also inserts its narrative, themes, and characters into the real world much more heavily, and is several magnitudes more resonant in the process. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have crafted one of the most effectively atmospheric and provocatively thoughtful Hollywood blockbusters in years – superhero movie or no – while simultaneously fashioning the best action film and character piece Marvel Studios has seen so far. I think most fans assumed, given the sheer abundance of cinematic riches afforded by the crossover nature of The Avengers, that no Marvel standalone feature could ever reach those heights on its own, but The Winter Soldier leaves any and all expectations in the dust, shaking off the shackles of safety and predictability to not only recalibrate our understanding of what a Marvel movie is, but to upend the foundations of the existing canon for all Marvel movies to come.

Continue reading after the jump...