Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Michelle Williams is stunning in flawed biopic "My Week With Marilyn"

Film Rating: B+

“My Week With Marilyn” is a mediocre film anchored and enhanced by one of the most incredible feats of acting I have ever witnessed.  Michelle Williams stars as Marilyn Monroe, and delivers a captivating performance of blinding power, one I was completely unprepared for.  Though she looks little like the real Monroe, Williams inhabits the role flawlessly, tapping into everything that made Marilyn the icon she was with delicacy and nuance.  I can safely say I have never gained such insight into a historical figure by watching a film before, but little of that is due to the script or direction.  There is almost nothing remarkable about the narrative, aesthetics, or other performances.  What I loved about the movie starts and ends with Williams, who spectacularly elevates this material; when she wasn’t on screen, my interest didn’t just wane, it disappeared.  But when she is there, the film is absolutely, utterly captivating, and I have no qualms recommending the film on her performance alone.  

Continue reading after the jump...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" is a thoughtful, visually-groundbreaking examination of the power of film

Film Rating: A

Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” is another entry in the 2011 sub-genre of films exploring the nature of art in relation to life, including “Midnight in Paris,” “The Artist,” and, yes, “The Muppets.”  It’s been an incredibly fruitful topic this year, and though I don’t immediately love “Hugo” as much as those three films, it may very well be the most accomplished of the bunch for its profundity and execution of vision.  

On the surface, “Hugo” is entirely unlike anything Scorsese has ever created, but like all of his greatest works, it contains total narrative, visual, and thematic unity from start to finish.  It is just as dense a work as “Taxi Driver,” if not more so, but after decades of observing the eccentricities of the world, Scorsese now aims his lens inward to create something very personal.  Though the film examines multiple forms of art, the narrative clearly favors film as the ultimate outlet for our dreams, a belief Scorsese must hold very dear in his heart.  “Hugo” is perhaps the ultimate statement he will leave behind as a filmmaker, an explanation of why he devoted his life to the art form he loves so much.  When future generations study the history of cinema, “Hugo” must be required viewing, a lesson in the worth and power of the cinematic medium straight from the mouth of one its greatest masters.  Continue reading after the jump...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Announcement: All-Month December Feature - "The 25 Reviews of Christmas"


Happy Thanksgiving-eve, everybody!  As you may have noticed, there hasn’t been much on the site over the past few days; you could say I’m on vacation.  In the literal sense, I am, visiting family in Iowa.  But I’m also not posting much on the site this week.  The reasons are twofold.  1) This past month has been the busiest month for posting I’ve had in a long time, possibly ever thanks to the Starz Denver Film Festival, and I need a couple of days off.  2) More importantly, I’m using this week to make final preparations for a major, exciting feature that’s going to consume this site in the month of December….

And I’m finally ready to announce what that is.

I love Christmas.  It’s my favorite time of the year.  The entire month of December is just awesome, and not even my startling tendency to get violently ill or break limbs on or around Christmas Day had stifled my love of the Holiday Season.  I’ve always wanted to use my writing to celebrate Christmas, but until I started my own site, I haven’t had what I felt was an appropriate opportunity to go all out.  Now that there are no barriers, however, I’m going to do the all-out Christmas extravaganza I’ve always wanted to do, and it all starts one week from today! 

Starting on December 1st and continuing every single day through December 25th, there is going to be one review of a Christmas-related movie, TV special, album, etc. per day.  I’m calling it, not-so-cleverly, The 25 Reviews of Christmas.  Christmas media is a fascinating entity, sometimes good, often terrible, but always interesting.  This is a feature I intend to make annual, so this year’s focus is on my personal favorite Christmas movies, shows, and music; we’ll get to the really obscure, baffling stuff in the future.  This year is all about stuff I love, and I’ll have a few running features within the review series, such as highlighting a different version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” every five days.

But I want to keep most of this stuff a surprise…I think you’ll really enjoy what I have in store for the next month.  I won’t just be talking about the traditional Christmas fare we’ve all seen before; I’ve got a very good mix of material on the schedule. 

But regular movie reviews won’t stop, either, as there’s plenty of great stuff coming out in December I’m very excited to cover.  And, of course, there will be my annual Top Ten List once the 25 Reviews of Christmas have ended.  The films I’ve missed coming out today – such as Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” and “My Week With Marilyn,” will be reviewed when I get back from Iowa, this weekend and early next week.

So visit www.jonathanlack.com every day through the month of December for The 25 Reviews of Christmas and more!  Times have never been more exciting on “Jonathan Lack at the Movies!”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Monthly Ten BONUS Podcast #3 - "Legend of Zelda" Countdown of Epic Awesomeness!!!

Today, “Legend of Zelda” fans everywhere are rejoicing over the release of the latest game, “Skyward Sword” for the Nintendo Wii.  It’s widely acclaimed and anticipation couldn’t be higher, so in celebration, we’ve recorded a special BONUS installment of The Monthly Ten podcast for your listening pleasure!  With special guest star Thomas Lack, we count down the Top Ten Zelda Games of all time, and give first impressions of Skyward Sword.  Thomas hates public speaking and I’ve never really played a Zelda game, so it’s a very interesting podcast, to say the least….I highly recommend taking a listen, especially since this one is only 34 minutes long!  You don’t have any excuse!

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….


Enjoy the show!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: "Being Elmo" is inspirational, thoughtful, heartwarming, and the best documentary of 2011

Film Rating: A

Constance Marks’ documentary “Being Elmo” is the perfect companion piece to “The Muppets,” hitting theatres next week (you can read my review here).  Both explore the impact Jim Henson’s legendary characters have had on the world, how the Muppets inspire the best in the young people who follow them, and how their unbridled optimism still holds relevance in our increasingly dark, pessimistic world.  “The Muppets” does this through a fictional, celebratory meta-narrative, and “Being Elmo” covers similar territory be telling the life story of one of the most influential Muppeteers of all time: Kevin Clash, better known by his stage name – Elmo.  Continue reading after the jump...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anti-Review: Why I'm Not Seeing "Breaking Dawn"

Film Rating: ?

I need to issue an apology.  Throughout the publication of my “Twilight Challenge” article this week, I’ve been reporting that my review of the latest “Twilight” film, “Breaking Dawn,” would come out this afternoon.  And I really did intend to watch and review the film, just as I promised.  But as the week went on, and I heard all the early critical hype for “Breaking Dawn,” and I re-read portions of my “Challenge” article, and I continued to ponder the disgusting subtext of this series, I realized I just don’t have the stomach to sit through another one of these movies, especially “Breaking Dawn.”

I’m sorry!  If you were looking forward to my take on the movie, I hope I haven’t disappointed you too badly.  I assure you though, this wasn’t a split-second decision.  I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now, and I just don’t think a review would be worth the effort.  I believe my “Twilight Challenge” article says everything I have and need to say about this franchise, and anything more would just be redundant; as for “Breaking Dawn” specifically, other critics have done spectacular jobs summing up the awful inner-workings of the film. 

But I do want to talk a little bit about the movie that is going to earn unholy amounts of money this weekend, so after the jump, I’ll expand upon why I’m opting out of watching “Breaking Dawn,” and hopefully give readers some more food for thought.  Continue reading after the jump…

The "Twilight" Challenge: Part 5 - The Journey Ends Under a Dark, Malevolent "Eclipse"


The greatest journey of our time comes to an end!  This Friday, the latest film in the Twilight Saga “Breaking Dawn (Part 1),” hits theatres, and to “celebrate,” we’re spending this week examining the Twilight franchise in depth with my epic five-part investigation of the series: “The Twilight Challenge.”  Originally published on YourHub in June 2010, it’s been revised, expanded, and updated for 2011.  It chronicles my findings as I journey into the dark fathoms of this series, with reviews, analysis, and more!

Today the Challenge concludes with chapter seven, my review of the third “Twilight” movie, Eclipse, and the Epilogue, where I report my general findings from this crazy challenge!  !  You can read Part One of “The Twilight Challenge” here, Part Two here, Part Three here, and Part Four here.  

Read “The Twilight Challenge: Part 5” after the jump….

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The "Twilight" Challenge: Part 4 - Will I find a stray ray of light in this endless darkness under the "New Moon?"

The challenge enters its final legs!  This Friday, the latest film in the Twilight Saga “Breaking Dawn (Part 1),” hits theatres, and to “celebrate,” we’re spending this week examining the Twilight franchise in depth with my epic five-part investigation of the series: “The Twilight Challenge.”  Originally published on YourHub in June 2010, it’s been revised, expanded, and updated for 2011.  It chronicles my findings as I journey into the dark fathoms of this series, with reviews, analysis, and more!

Today we continue with chapter six, my review of the second “Twilight” movie, New Moon, and discover some startling results!  You can read Part One of “The Twilight Challenge” here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.  We’ve got one part left, and it will go up tomorrow morning, followed in the afternoon/evening by my review of the “Breaking Dawn” movie. 

Read “The Twilight Challenge: Part 4” after the jump….

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The "Twilight" Challenge: Part 3 - "Twilight" The Movie leads into the heart of an immense darkness - The Horror! The Horror!


Onward to the depths of despair!  This Friday, the latest film in the Twilight Saga “Breaking Dawn (Part 1),” hits theatres, and to “celebrate,” we’re spending this week examining the Twilight franchise in depth with my epic five-part investigation of the series: “The Twilight Challenge.”  Originally published on YourHub in June 2010, it’s been revised, expanded, and updated for 2011.  It chronicles my findings as I journey into the dark fathoms of this series, with reviews, analysis, and more!

Today we continue with chapter five, my review of the first “Twilight” movie (i.e. the moment where I began losing my sanity).  You can read Part One of “The Twilight Challenge” here, and Part Two here.  There will be two more parts, one each on Thursday and Friday.  On Friday afternoon, expect my review of the “Breaking Dawn” movie. 

Read “The Twilight Challenge: Part 3” after the jump….

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The "Twilight" Challenge: Part 2 - On the Terrors of Bella Swan, the Marvels of Comparative Feminism, and the woes of Vampiric Inaccuracies

The challenge continues!  This Friday, the latest film in the Twilight Saga “Breaking Dawn (Part 1),” hits theatres, and to “celebrate,” we’re spending this week examining the Twilight franchise in depth with my epic five-part investigation of the series: “The Twilight Challenge.”  Originally published on YourHub in June 2010, it’s been revised, expanded, and updated for 2011.  It chronicles my findings as I journey into the dark fathoms of this series, with reviews, analysis, and more!

Today we continue with chapters two through four, including my analysis of the horrifying protagonist, Bella Swan, a feminist analysis of Bella’s relationship with Edward, and finally, an examination of the franchise’s vampiric inaccuracies by guest writer Sean Chapman (co-host of the Monthly Ten podcast!).  You can read Part One of “The Twilight Challenge” here, and there will be three more parts, one per day until Friday.  On Friday afternoon, expect my review of the “Breaking Dawn” movie. 

Read “The Twilight Challenge: Part 2” after the jump….

An Early Review of “The Muppets” – Is This An Angel’s Wish for Fans?

Film Rating: A

If you get the Muppet in-joke in the headline, then you are going to lose your freaking mind for “The Muppets.”

And if you don’t know the lyrics to “Never Before, Never Again” by heart?  Don’t worry.  You too will fall in love with this film.  I can’t imagine a single person being immune to the movie’s charms.

But this film was made by the biggest Muppets fans in the world, and it’s aimed squarely at the hearts of those who remember the first time they saw Kermit ride a bicycle, fit right in at the Happiness Hotel, or cried as the gang sang “Saying Goodbye.”  “The Muppets” is a film made by fans for fans, and it may the most jubilant labor of love I have ever seen on the silver screen.  Writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller are one-hundred percent committed to the notion that the Muppets deserve to be a permanent fixture in pop culture, that the world is a better place with these furry felt creatures around, and for two straight hours, they prove that point again and again. 

I went in already in love with the Muppets, so the film merely reinforced that standpoint for me.  Its real test will be whether or not it can sway the rest of the world, and given that I saw the film with a crowd full of jaded college kids who all laughed, cheered, and applauded right along with me, I think it’s safe to say that “The Muppets” are back. 

If that isn’t movie magic at its purest, then I don’t know what is.

Extended, probably rambling thoughts on “The Muppets” after the jump…

Monday, November 14, 2011

34th Starz Denver Film Festival - Complete Review Round-Up!


I feel kind of empty today.  I’ve been intensively watching and writing about film for twelve days straight, and now that the Starz Denver Film Festival is over, I don’t know what to do with myself!  It was a really terrific festival though; of the fourteen films I saw, I really had a great time at twelve of them, a pretty impressive batting average.  I would expect at least four of the festival’s films to appear on my year-end top ten list, and I’m anxious for general audiences to see most of these movies as they start hitting theatres over the next few months.

But things aren’t slowing down on www.jonathanlack.com - this week I’m releasing my “Twilight Challenge” article in five parts, a dissection of the world’s most inexplicably popular tween craze, and there will plenty more movie reviews over the next two months.  For now, though, this post contains links to my reviews of all the films I reviewed during the festival, starting with those from Week 2:

“Shame” – Director Steve McQueen’s dark, brilliantly crafted look at sex addiction is an absolute masterpiece, interpretive, entertaining, and absolutely riveting from start to finish; Michael Fassbender’s performance is the best I’ve seen this year, brave, honest, and open to degrees few actors are willing to explore. Rating: A

“Coriolanus”Ralph Fiennes’ modern-day update of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works suffers from a number of issues, and is a failure as a whole, but contains great performances from Fiennes, Gerard Butler, and Vanessa Redgrave, and is easily the most cinematic Shakespeare film I’ve yet encountered. 

“We Need To Talk About Kevin”A brilliant look at the dark side of parenthood, with a searing lead performance by Tilda Swinton; it’s one of the year’s most challenging movies, and though masterful, is not recommended for the feint of heart. Rating: A

“The Artist”Tied with “Melancholia” for the best film of 2011; it is a silent, black-and-white film, but so much more than an empty throwback.  “The Artist” explores the power of cinema at its purest, and proves that all one needs to make a great film is a good story and lots and lots of heart; dialogue, sound effects, and color are unnecessary. Rating: A+

“Butter”You won’t get to see this one until March of next year, but when it does finally come out, make sure to see it; “Butter” is my favorite comedy of 2011, an endlessly entertaining riff on Midwestern politics fueled by a fantastic ensemble cast. Rating: A–

“A Dangerous Method”A disappointingly dull end to the festival; David Cronenberg’s look at the lives of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung doesn’t play like a film, but rather a long, drawn-out lecture on historical psychology.  Great performances by Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender can’t save the film.  Rating: C–

After the jump, links to the other eight films I saw at the festival:

The "Twilight" Challenge: Part 1 - The gauntlet is thrown as I review the first "Twilight" book!


This Friday, the latest film in the Twilight Saga hits theatres: “Breaking Dawn (Part 1).”  I’m sure it will be delightfully terrible.  In ‘celebration,’ we’re spending this week examining the Twilight franchise in depth with my epic five-part investigation of the series: “The Twilight Challenge.”  This was originally published on YourHub in June 2010, but I’ve revised, expanded, and updated it for 2011.  The premise of the article was this: after years of making fun of the series, I decided to put my money where my mouth was, issuing myself a challenge: read one of the books and watch all the currently released films.  Truly terrifying.  “The Twilight Challenge” is a multi-chapter report of my findings, with reviews, analysis, and some guest commentary from Monthly Ten co-host Sean Chapman.

It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.  Today I present the first fifth of the article, including the “Prologue” and “Chapter One,” where I issue myself the challenge and embark on this journey by reading the first novel.  There will be four more parts, one each day Tuesday through Friday.  On Friday afternoon, expect my review of the “Breaking Dawn” movie. 

Read “The Twilight Challenge: Part 1” after the jump….

Sunday, November 13, 2011

SDFF Review: David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" is disappointingly dull

Film Rating: C–

Your enjoyment of David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” will hinge entirely on whether or not you are willing to pay to sit through a 94-minute lecture on historical psychology.  If you are expecting an effective dramatization of the lives of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, something resembling an actual film, you will be very disappointed.  But if long rambling lectures are your idea of a good time, and you didn’t get enough of them in High School or College, then by all means, see “A Dangerous Method.”  Continue reading after the jump...

SDFF Review: "Butter" is one of the most entertaining, potent satires of recent times


Film Rating: A– 

This review has been re-published at We Got This Covered, and taken down from www.jonathanlack.com. Please click this link to read the full review. 

SDFF Review: Closing Night Selection "The Artist" is a jubilant, powerful love letter to cinema

Film Rating: A+

Tonight, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of traveling through time.

Being a film aficionado, I used this wondrous opportunity to travel back to 1927 and see a movie.  Of course, movies back then were shown very differently.  Instead of going to a Cineplex, I happened upon an Opera House, where a red carpet had been rolled out in celebration of a new silent film sensation.  Inside the Opera House, the screen wasn’t wide, as we are used to today, but square.  The film was black and white, and there was neither dialogue nor sound effects; this was a silent film, though a beautiful symphonic score filled the House, enveloping the audience with music that heightened every emotion.  This was cinema as I had never experienced before, pure, unfettered, gorgeous, and moving; I can scarcely believe that once upon a time, this was the norm.  It was one of the most spectacular cinematic experiences I have ever witnessed, a great use of my lone night of time travel.

Okay, so maybe I’m stretching the details a little bit.  I didn’t really travel through time.  Instead, I watched Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist,” a silent film made in the year 2011.  But given the nature of the film and its presentation, I felt as though I really had stepped into a time machine.  This was the Closing Night selection for the Starz Denver Film Festival, and like the other gala premiere events, it was screened at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the purest, most authentic venue for “The Artist.”  The Ellie is exactly the kind of location where silent films of the era saw their premieres, where one looks over a wide sea of people to see the gigantic, looming screen on the horizon; the curtain was indeed pulled to the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio early motion pictures were filmed in; and though there was no Orchestra, there may as well have been, for the original symphonic score sounded stunning within the incredible acoustics of the Ellie.  Film in a Cineplex simply doesn’t look or sound as special as it does in an Opera House, and as such, watching “The Artist” in the Ellie was as close as one could ever come to actually travelling through time.

But the presentation wouldn’t have mattered if the film weren’t special on its own, and “The Artist” is simply magnificent.  Watching in the Ellie only amplified the film’s brilliance.  The combination of movie and venue made for an evening I will never forget, an evening that recaptured the same wave of euphoria I felt when I was young and fell in love with movies for the very first time. 

I love “The Artist” so much that I doubt the rest of this review will be very coherent; but should you wish to learn more about the year’s absolute must-see film, continue reading after the jump…

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: Elizabeth Olsen is piercing in otherwise tepid "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

Film Rating: C–

I finally had a free afternoon from the Starz Denver Film Festival today, so I used it to go check out the acclaimed “Martha Marcy May Marlene” over at the Esquire in Denver.  It’s not a film I feel particularly strongly about one way or the other, and as such, I really don’t have the energy right now for a full review.  But after the jump, I’ll provide some of my thoughts on the movie, and if you’ve seen it, I’d leave to hear what you made of the film in the comments section.

Continue after the jump…

SDFF Review: "We Need to Talk About Kevin" provides a profoundly unsettling conversation

Film Rating: A

Two things before we get started:

1) – During a Q&A after the film, director/co-writer Lynne Ramsey and co-writer Rory Kinnear both enthusiastically complemented my Darth Vader “Star Wars” T-Shirt, which may very well have been the highlight of the festival for me.

2) – The following review is going to contain spoilers about one major plot point that some viewers may not want ruined.  I can’t think of a way to properly discuss the story without giving parts of it away, so I’m holding the review until after the jump.  That being said, I’m not going to reveal anything I hadn’t already heard going in (other critics are far less spoiler-phobic than me), and I don’t believe what I’m giving away will detract from anyone’s enjoyment of the film.  I just wanted to issue this warning in case any of my readers feel differently.  The review will still be here once you’ve seen the film, after all.

With that out of the way, you can read my review of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” after the jump…