Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jonathan Lack at the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival!


One of my favorite things about living in Denver has always been the city’s extraordinary film culture.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t write movie reviews were I limited to the selection most cities get, because unlike many parts of the country, we are blessed with a number of theatres devoted to showcasing limited-run, independent, and foreign film.  The Landmark Theatres such as the Mayan and the Esquire are probably the best-known examples, but we also have the Denver Film Society, which typically exhibits even more obscure movies than Landmark.  I’ve visited their Starz Film Center on the Auraria Campus (which will soon be shutting down in favor of the new Denver Film Center on Colfax), but I’ve never had the opportunity to attend the Society’s Starz Denver Film Festival, the annual two-week showcase of film held every November.  I’ve wanted to go for years now, as many of my favorite films from a given year tend to make their Denver premiere at this festival, and there are plenty more movies that simply can’t be seen anywhere else.

So I’m very excited to announce that this year, I will be attending the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival.  It begins this Wednesday night, November 2nd; there will be more details after the jump, but to summarize: I’ll be attending thirteen films, including all three gala premiere nights, as well as most of the “special presentations.”  Festival coverage, including reviews of each and every movie I see, will be posted here on www.jonathanlack.com, so if you’re interested in reading about some of the best and most intriguing movies of 2011, stay close to this website for the next few weeks.  More details after the jump…

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: “Puss in Boots” the movie isn’t nearly as awesome as “Puss in Boots” the character

Film Rating: C+

I can think of few characters created in the last decade so instantly and irresistibly appealing as Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots.  The only other one that comes to mind is Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow; both came completely out of left field, stunning audiences and immediately earning iconic status.  Much of what makes both characters so exciting is the performance, the unwavering devotion and expertise the actors bring to otherwise pedestrian roles.  But where Sparrow is defined by his unorthodox physicality, Puss is an entirely vocal creation: great as the animation may be, the design is clearly guided by Banderas’ outstanding voice work.  In total command of every last syllable, Banderas and his rich Spanish accent can tell us everything we need to know about Puss with little more than a short phrase.  Puss is confident, keen, smart, talented, and dangerous, a ladies’ man with an eye for fashion.  We knew this the moment he appeared in “Shrek 2,” and just as Jack Sparrow’s popularity endures to this day, the novelty of this swashbuckling feline has never worn off.

Continue reading after the jump...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Season Premiere Review: The Brothers Carmichael return in "Chuck Versus the Zoom"


Episode Rating: B+

Chuck is back for its fifth and final season, and I've got a spoiler-filled review of the season premiere coming up after the jump...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Life and Times of “Chuck” – A Very Special TV Series Begins its Final Journey


I first heard about Chuck in a movie theatre during the summer of 2007; that was the season NBC began advertising new shows during the pre-movie commercial blocks, and though the swiftly-cancelled Bionic Woman received the majority of the hype, there was always room for a brief Chuck ad.  I was intrigued; it was hard to tell just what Chuck was from these ads.  The show was an enigma, and out of curiosity, I watched the pilot when NBC made it available OnDemand.  As soon as I finished watching, I began singing its praises to everyone I knew, the first bit of campaigning I did for the show.  When it premiered on Monday, September 24th 2007, I sat my parents and brother down in front of the TV and made them watch it again with me; they too agreed that this quirky spy comedy had potential.

Who wouldn’t think that?  By the forty-minute mark, there were many signs that Chuck was something special.  The characters were all well-defined and endearing from the outset, the Intersect brought with it some compelling mythology, and Chuck’s first adventure wasn’t just a throw-away exposition skeleton, but a fun spy story in its own right.  There were classic moments like Chuck singing the “Vicky Vale” song as Sarah walks up to the Nerd Herd counter for the first time, Morgan and Chuck being confronted by a computer-stealing ninja at the apartment, and of course, Chuck disarming a bomb with the “Irene Demova” virus (i.e. using pornography to save the day!).  But it was one of the final scenes that really indicated this show had the heart to go the distance:

Chuck is sitting on the beach, depressed about his new status quo, when Sarah comes in to comfort him.  On page, this scene isn’t anything special, just summarizing exposition; but Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski’s chemistry was so palpable, the heart and soul they lent these characters so vivid, that it was impossible not to fall in love with Chuck that very moment.  

“I need you to do one thing for me,” Sarah says.  “Trust me, Chuck.”

Trust he did.  Trust we did.  Five years and seventy-seven episodes later, I think few fans can properly explain the gifts that trust earned.  Tomorrow night, Chuck begins its fifth and final season on NBC.  It’s been a hell of a ride, and after the jump, I’d like to trace some of the major moments in the life of this incredible show. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Chuck" Season Four Retrospective Extravaganza! Fifth Season Begins this Friday Night!


Happy…er…Wednesday, Chucksters!  I know I promised this article for last Friday, but I decided to move it up to today as part of a mid-week launch of my Chuck – Season Five Reviews beginning this Friday evening (or I forgot to post it and am saving face with that lame excuse, take your pick).  Today I’m reposting my Chuck: Farewell Season 4 Extravaganza, a retrospective of the show’s previous season; tomorrow, I’ll be posting a memory about the show in a general sense, and my emotions heading into the final season of one of my favorite TV programs of all time.  And on Friday, of course, my review of the season premiere will go up shortly after the episode airs. 

Please enjoy, and come back for more “Chuck” tomorrow and Friday!  Article after the jump…

Monday, October 24, 2011

Music Review: "A Very She & Him Christmas" is an instant classic!


Album Rating: A

“A Very She & Him Christmas” is the best Christmas album I’ve ever heard, hands down.

That may sound like a bold statement, but from my frame of mind, it’s not exactly the highest praise I’ve ever given.  Christmas is my favorite time of the year; I live for December, for lighting the tree, decorating the house, spending time with family, watching Christmas specials, enjoying the snow, etc.  But Christmas music?  I find that to be a lot more hit and miss than the season itself, and I’m ultra-critical of Christmas music performances.  I just plain don’t like many artists’ renditions of the classics, and I’m always annoyed that no one seems to have written a new Christmas song in my lifetime.  I’ve grown up listening to my parents’ vast collection of Christmas music, and not only do I find it all somewhat hit-and-miss, but I’m also continually struck by artists’ inability to construct an actual Christmas album with momentum, flow, and steady thematic resonance.  Given the gargantuan number of songs at their disposal, the music industry should be able to do better, right? 

In short, I don’t think Zooey Deschanel (She) and M. Ward (Him) have a lot of competition out there for the title of “best Christmas album.”  That shouldn’t take anything away from the excellence of this record, though, because what Deschanel and Ward have accomplished here is absolutely remarkable, the new standard by which all future Christmas albums – and individual recordings, for that matter – should be judged.  More after the jump...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Michael Shannon is remarkable in haunting, thoughtful "Take Shelter"

Film Rating: A

Forget “Paranormal Activity 3,” because the scariest film playing in theatres this weekend is Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter.”  I can say this in full confidence without ever having watched a “Paranormal Activity” movie; annual horror event films exist for the sole purpose of scaring the viewer, and while there’s certainly a place for that, I find the subtle, psychological horrors a thoughtful drama like “Shelter” presents to be far more unsettling.  As a story about coping with mental illness, its horrors lie in a world that closely mirrors our own, a world we recognize and sympathize with; we may have family or friends who have struggled with the same issues, and the emotional honesty of “Shelter” – fueled by Michael Shannon’s captivating lead performance – is at times almost unbearably frightening.  Read more after the jump...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pay-Pal Donations Now Accepted on JonathanLack.Com



Running this website isn’t cheap.  Since I am not an official member of the press, I don’t attend the free press screenings most critics are invited to, and therefore, I have to pay full price for every movie I see.  Given the number of films I review, that adds up quickly.  It also applies to any DVDs, Blu-Rays, Video Games, or Albums I write about; each costs money, and that money adds up over time.  The dollar amount doesn’t take into account all the time I spent writing and posting these reviews: my three-part “Drive” analysis, for instance, was an all-day project I worked on from noon to eight pm.  I’ve got some very big, exciting plans for November and December, plans that will be bringing more new content to the site than ever before, but these projects come with a higher price tag than ever before. 

I am therefore announcing today that JonathanLack.Com is now accepting Pay-Pal donations.  You can find the donate button in the upper right corner of the webpage, and it will be included at the end of some articles.  Clicking on it will take you to the secure Pay-Pal network; with your Pay-Pal account, all major credit cards are accepted as well as bank transfers, you can choose any amount to donate, and you may pay with anonymity if you wish.

More details coming up after the jump, but I want to say one thing before we move on: I don’t want any reader to feel compelled to donate for following this site.  I don’t do this for money, I do this because I love it, and I have added Pay-Pal donations only as a means to recover certain expenses.  I value your readership above all else.  Continue after the jump to read about the benefits of reader donations…

Monday, October 17, 2011

Extended Thoughts on "Drive" - Part Three - The Themes of "Drive" - Death as Redemption

One month to the day after publishing my original review, I’ve written an in-depth, three-part analysis of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.”  The post for Part One explains the details, but in brief, here’s how it breaks down: in Part One, I explored how “Drive” compares to the James Sallis novel on which it is based; in Part Two, I examined the many ways in which the film uses sound to create atmosphere and meaning; and finally, in Part Three, which you are now reading, I dive into the film’s thematic content and what deeper meaning I perceived.

Read Part Three of my analysis after the jump….

Extended Thoughts on "Drive" - Part Two - The Sound of "Drive"

One month to the day after publishing my original review, I’ve written an in-depth, three-part analysis of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.”  The post for Part One explains the details, but in brief, here’s how it breaks down: in Part One, I explored how “Drive” compares to the James Sallis novel on which it is based; in Part Two, which you are now reading, I examine the many ways in which the film uses sound to create atmosphere and meaning; and finally, in Part Three, I dive into the film’s thematic content and what deeper meaning I perceived.

Read Part Two of my analysis after the jump….

Extended Thoughts on "Drive" - Part One - "Drive" as cinematic adaptation

There are movies that stick with you, and then there are movies that you just can’t get out of your head.  I experience the latter only once in a great while, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is one of those films.  By an absolutely spectacular coincidence, I first saw “Drive” exactly one month ago today, on September 17th, and since then I don’t think a single day has gone by when I didn’t find myself thinking about the film.  I wasn’t sure of my overall opinion when I wrote my original review, but over the last month, I’ve come to realize how much I loved and valued the experience, and I’ve been itching to see it again.

Today I did just that, and I’d like to share with you my extended thoughts on the film.  I don’t believe my original review was a strong critical assessment, and I mean to rectify that today in a three-part analysis of the film.  I’m going to discuss the entire film, which means there will be spoilers for those who haven’t yet seen the movie (which, it goes without saying, I highly recommend).  I’m going to examine “Drive” in a three different contexts: in Part One, which you are currently reading, I explore how “Drive” compares to the James Sallis novel on which it is based; in Part Two, I examine the many ways in which the film uses sound to create atmosphere and meaning; and finally, in Part Three, I dive into the film’s thematic content and what deeper meaning I perceived.

Read Part One of my analysis after the jump…

Sunday, October 16, 2011

IFS Review: "Point Blank" ("A bout portant") effectively reinvigorates worn action tropes

Film Rating: B+

As a film student at CU Boulder, I’m making an effort to review some of the films being shown here at the International Film Series (IFS), the University’s historic art-house series programmed since 1941.  For more information about the films, showtimes, and locations, visit www.internationalfilmseries.com

Today I’m reviewing the French action film “A bout portant” – “Point Blank” in English – which had a limited run in a few American cities this summer.  To the best of my knowledge, it is not coming to Denver any time soon, but I’d recommend keeping an eye out for it in theatres or on home video.  Review after the jump…

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: At the very least, the "Footloose" remake will help flesh out my 'ten worst films of 2011' list!


Film Rating: D

For those of you happily ignorant of eighties dance cinema: “Footloose” is the story of Ren McCormack, a teenager from Boston who moves to Bomont, Georgia with his Aunt and Uncle after his mother passes away.  Ren, a gymnast and dancer, is shocked to learn that after five teenagers died in a car crash coming home from an alcohol-fueled dance party, Bomont’s local preacher convinced City Council to impose a strict curfew, outlaw rock music, and worst of all, ban all public dancing!  HOW DARE THEY!!!  Ren soon grows frustrated with the harsh impositions of Bomont, and with the Preacher’s rebellious daughter Ariel by his side, decides to fight the dance ban. 

What a thoroughly silly premise.  I can’t speak to how the 1984 original treated this material – I’ve never seen it, and if you want a comparative perspective I’d point you towards Roger Ebert’s riotously funny take on the remake – but the only way to make that premise work would be to realize it with equally silly execution.  Craig Brewer’s remake, however, wishes to be taken absolutely seriously, slathering every scene in multiple coats of melodrama.  A serious film has certain narrative and ethical responsibilities that campier movies would not be beholden to.  “Footloose” fails because it neglects to meet any of these responsibilities, and that means there’s a lot more here to criticize than I initially anticipated.

Oh boy.

Read more after the jump...

"Chuck Versus the Last Details" and "Chuck Versus the Cliffhanger" Flashback Reviews (Season 4 Episodes 23 and 24 - Season Finale)


Happy Friday Chucksters!  Today marks the end of our look-back at season four of NBC’s Chuck, a series of re-posts of reviews I wrote for YourHub this spring.  This is the last of these “double-feature” reviews that have been going up each Friday in anticipation of the season five premiere on Friday, October 28.  Next week, on Friday the 21st, I’ll be posting a special retrospective about the fourth season, but for now, enjoy these reviews of the last two episodes:  #23 – “Chuck Versus the Last Details,” and the finale, “Chuck Versus the Cliffhanger.”  The latter is my absolute favorite article I’ve ever written about Chuck.   

Spoilers for both episodes after the jump…

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots: The Movie" - er..."Real Steel" - is a surprisingly good family flick

Film Rating: B+

There is not a singular original screw in “Real Steel’s” robotic body.  One can point to just about any element of the film and find an older movie that did the exact same thing, and from frame one, there’s never any doubt about where the story is going.  It is predictable as hell, an exceedingly familiar movie.  

But it’s also a very good one.  Director Shawn Levy takes a time-tested story and executes it extremely well, demonstrating how much energy and talent matter when crafting a film.  All involved clearly had a lot of love for the material, and that enthusiasm translates straight through to the viewer.  There’s enough heart on display to make these well-worn tropes exciting again, and I think kids especially will lose their minds for it.  Read more after the jump...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: Beware “The Ides of March” – It is a silly film…

Film Rating: C–

About an hour into George Clooney’s new political thriller “The Ides of March,” I felt a strong urge to imitate Graham Chapman’s no-nonsense General from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” by standing up and addressing the crowd thusly while the projection sputtered to a halt behind me:

“Right, right, stop it. This film's got silly.  Started off with a nice little idea about politics making people do bad things, but now it's got silly.  Evan Rachel Wood doesn’t even look like she’s a teenager.  The whole thing is silly and it’s very badly written.  So I’m stopping it.”

Review continues after the jump, along with some mild spoilers:

Doctor Who: Farewell Series Six Extravaganza on The Monthly Ten Podcast! (#14 for October 2011)


For this month’s podcast, co-host Sean Chapman and I are breaking the Monthly Ten format to bring you our exclusive Doctor Who: Farewell Series Six Extravaganza!  This is base on a feature I usually write for the end of TV seasons, recapping my thoughts on all the episodes, the season as a whole, the best moments, performances, guest stars, etc.  Sean and I go over all of that for the sixth series of Doctor Who in this month’s podcast – which ended one week ago today – and though we don’t count down anything in sets of ten (which is why this one isn’t coming out on the tenth of the month), it’s should still be a fun, insightful listen for Doctor Who fans.  Remember to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and if you already have, it should automatically download on your ‘podcasts’ page when you open the program.  If you haven’t subscribed yet, it’s easy, free, and can be done at any time!  Or….


We probably won’t talk about Doctor Who anytime in the near future, and after two months of fairly geeky topics, I’m planning on the next two or three installments of the podcast being broader.  November’s list will be all about a certain major motion picture hitting screens that month (hint: it’s not the one you’re thinking of), and December’s will focus on great Holiday films (and will go up in conjunction with a major Christmas-themed feature that will consume the site in December).  For now, though, enjoy this Doctor Who-themed podcast, and remember that it contains spoilers for those who haven’t seen/completed the sixth series.

Enjoy the show! 

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Chuck Versus the Wedding Planner" and "Chuck Versus Agent X" Flashback Reviews (Season 4 Episodes 21 and 22)


Happy Friday Chucksters!  We’re almost through with our look back at the fourth season of NBC’s Chuck, a series of re-posts of reviews I wrote for YourHub this spring.  The last of these “double-feature” reviews will go up next Friday, two weeks before the season premiere on Friday, October 28.  On the 21st, I’ll have a special retrospective about the fourth season.  Today we’re looking at the penultimate set of episodes, numbers twenty-one and twenty-two, “Chuck Versus the Wedding Planner” and “Chuck Versus Agent X.”

Spoilers for both episodes after the jump...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

IFS Review: "Shut Up, Little Man!" offers an intriguing look at a pre-internet viral sensation

Film Rating: B

As a film student at CU Boulder, I’m making an effort to review some of the films being shown here at the International Film Series (IFS), the University’s historic art-house series programmed since 1941.  For more information about the films, showtimes, and locations, visit www.internationalfilmseries.com

Today I’m review the documentary “Shut Up, Little Man! – An Audio Misadventure,” which also ends it run today at the Denver Film Center.  Review after the jump…

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Autobiographical "50/50" provides an honest, cathartic look at life with cancer


Film Rating: B+

In a dark moment of irony, the first thing I saw when I booted up my iPhone on the way out of the cancer film “50/50” was the news of Apple founder Steve Jobs’ passing.  As this is not an entertainment blog, I don’t feel it’s my place to dedicate a full article to the man, but news of his death certainly saddened me, and this is as good a space as any for a hearty “Rest-in-Peace.”  I use my MacBook Pro to write and publish everything you see on this site; I don’t go anywhere without my iPhone, and I love my iPad to death.  These are only some of Jobs’ contributions to the world.  He truly was a visionary, and through his innovative approach to our interactions with technology, he changed the world forever, and for the better.  I myself am an Apple convert for life.  Jobs will be missed. 

My review of cancer-comedy “50/50” coming up after the jump…

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Doctor Who" Finale Review - "The Wedding of River Song" (Series Six Episode 13)


We’ve finally reached the end of another season of “Doctor Who.”  Is “The Wedding of River Song” the finale we’ve all been hoping for?  Did it answer all our questions, capture our imaginations, and most importantly, provide a satisfying conclusion to what has been a very good season of television?  One thing’s for sure…Christmas can’t come soon enough…

My SPOILER-FILLED review of “The Wedding of River Song” coming up after the jump…