Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blu-Ray Review: "The Secret World of Arrietty" offers a flawless Studio Ghibli experience


The films of Japan’s Studio Ghibli resonate with the heart more powerfully than any body of work I have ever encountered, and their latest film to reach American shores – “The Secret World of Arrietty” – is no exception.  It is a thoughtful, visually lush, deeply emotional work of art, the best film I have yet seen in 2012.  It failed to make a box-office dent upon its February theatrical release, but I hope that wrong will be righted on Blu-Ray.  Is Disney’s high-definition release worthy of the film, though?  Find out in my in-depth review of “The Secret World of Arrietty” on Blu-Ray after the jump…

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Mad Men" Review: "The Other Woman" (Season 5 Episode 11) - "Shall we address the men?"


The masterful fifth season of Mad Men continues with episode 11, “The Other Woman,” and as always, I’m here with my weekly review and analysis.  To do the hour justice, this review contains heavy spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode.

Spoilers for “The Other Woman” after the jump…

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: "Men in Black 3" takes the franchise to emotional new heights

Film Rating: B+

I walked into “Men in Black 3” with a fair amount of trepidation.  Following a ten-year gap since the disappointing sequel, I worried that director Barry Sonnenfeld and company would have trouble recapturing the magic of the 1997 original.  That film was a genuine surprise, a blockbuster that delighted audiences with reckless creative abandon at every turn (not at all incomparable to contemporary reaction to “The Avengers”).  It was funny, it was exciting, and thanks to the chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, it was even a little bit touching.  Most importantly, it felt like something that had never been done before, and that, more than anything else, makes “Men in Black 3” a creative uphill battle.  The things that made the original a breath of fresh air haven’t just been repeated within this franchise, but time and time again within blockbuster cinema of the 2000s.  The idea of mixing big laughs and even bigger effects isn’t quite the novelty it was back in 1997, and science-fiction is no longer underserved at the multiplex.  Could “Men in Black 3” possibly justify its existence so far past the series’ prime?

The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes, because “Men in Black 3,” while flawed, may be the best installment so far.  Avoiding mistakes made in “Men in Black 2,” Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen don’t settle for merely rehashing beats that felt fresh the first time around.  Instead, they use a clever, tried-and-true time travel concept to broaden the story’s scope and, more importantly, go far deeper with the main characters and their relationship than ever before.  The result is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012.  Continue reading after the jump…

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2 years after the "Lost" finale, a Retrospective on the series as a whole


Two years ago today, Lost ended with its beautiful series finale, “The End.”  The episode has become controversial since then among pickier fans, but I continue to think it was the best ending Lost could have possibly had.

Lost was an important show to me.  The first TV series I really fell in love with.  It was big.  It was intelligent.  It was mysterious.  It was emotional.  It had one of the greatest ensembles in the history of network television.  It was storytelling at its grandest, and though imperfect, it captivated me for six straight seasons.  I wrote an in-depth analysis of every episode of the final three seasons as they aired, and part of me still misses those days.  Lost helped me hone my writing skills like no other subject before or after, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Today, to mark and celebrate the second anniversary of the show’s anniversary, I’m publishing my in-depth, comprehensive retrospective on all six seasons of Lost, a piece that sums up everything I loved about this show and, in the end, what I feel it all meant.  It was originally published to the Denver Post’s YourHub in two installments, on June 9th and 10th of 2010.

Read “Lost: A Series Retrospective” after the jump…

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Visit me at entertainment website “We Got This Covered”

Screenshot on the new website; that's my "House" article on the front page

Dear Readers,

I have written for three organizations in my life.  The first was the Denver Post’s Colorado Kids, a youth-oriented section of the paper that I joined at age nine.  The second was the Denver Post’s YourHub, the community journalism website and print section where I spent five years honing my craft and expanding my critical horizons (and in which my work still appears as a weekly column).  The third was and is my own organization: this website, Jonathan Lack at the Movies, created out of a desire for total creative freedom and the undeniably narcissistic need to establish my name as one worth listening to, a tool I hoped would benefit me in future career endeavors. 

Today, I am announcing that a fourth organization has been added to that list.  The entertainment website We Got This Covered has asked me to join their writing staff, and I accepted their offer.  In the past two days, I have already published nine articles for them, and I look forward to seeing where this new professional opportunity will take me in the weeks and months to come. 

I know you must have a lot of questions.  Patience.  They will be answered momentarily.  First, I want to assure you that this does not mean the end of Jonathan Lack at the Movies, nor does it necessarily mark the end of my relationship with YourHub.  It just means things are going to be a little different.  For details, continue reading after the jump…

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Mad Men" Review: "Christmas Waltz" (Season 5 Episode 10) - "Surprise! There's a plane here to see you!"


The masterful fifth season of Mad Men continues with episode 10, “Christmas Waltz,” and as always, I’m here with my weekly review and analysis.  To do the hour justice, this review contains heavy spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode.

Spoilers for “Christmas Waltz” after the jump…

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: Brit Marling astonishes in powerful "Sound of My Voice"

Film Rating: A–

I took my fair share of flack of writing a negative review of Sean Durkin’s acclaimed “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” and even more when I later named it one of the ten worst films of 2011.  The reason for my distaste remains simple: I feel it is an empty film, lacking a single intelligent or insightful thing to say about the nature or effects of cults beyond ‘they’re scary and scar people mentally.’  I gained not one iota of wisdom about cults or psychological damage watching the film, and when that is the admitted focus of the piece, I see no reason to label it as anything other than a failure.  Tackling challenging subject matter is one thing; it takes bravery, but not necessarily quality, and I feel many critics and viewers responded to the former.  To actually take a stance and say something meaningful about a difficult concept takes entirely different, far greater level of insight and clarity. 

This is what Zal Batmanglij achieves with the terrific “Sound of My Voice.”  It is, to my mind, the film many viewers believed “Martha” was.  Both deal with issues surrounding shady, potentially dangerous cults, and though “Voice” has a unique sci-fi element, it cuts much deeper into what it means to give oneself over to a community one can never entirely understand, and the reasons why someone might wish to do so.  In the process, it leaves both the characters and the audience dazed, bruised, confused, and uplifted in equal measure.  It is, in short, an unforgettable experience.  Continue reading after the jump...

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Appreciation of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”


Since there’s no way I’m wasting my time (or yours) on “Battleship” or “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” this weekend, I decided to spend the first free Friday I’ve had in some time and sit down to watch a movie I’ve always wanted to see, but has somehow eluded me my entire life: Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.”  Believed by many to be the greatest film of all time, and acclaimed by everyone else as one of the greatest, it was a truly revelatory experience to finally witness Kurosawa’s masterpiece.  I find that a lot of classics really can’t live up to their own inflated legacy, but “Seven Samurai” gripped me from the very beginning and kept me glued to the screen for the fastest three-and-a-half hours I’ve ever sat through.  To say I now understand the incredible amounts of acclaim the film has carried with it for nearly sixty years would be an understatement. 

So today, instead of reviewing the latest piece of Hollywood garbage, I’d like to discuss one of cinema’s most significant masterworks, and after I’ve said my bit, I’m excited to hear what everyone else has to say on “Seven Samurai” in the comments section.  Continue reading after the jump…

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Celebrating ten seasons of 'Red vs Blue' on the new "Monthly Stuff" Podcast!


It’s time for another installment of The “Monthly Stuff” Podcast!

With the internet’s most popular series, Rooster Teeth’s Red vs Blue, returning for its landmark tenth season on May 28th, Sean and I decided to devote this month’s show to celebrating everything this incredible series has to offer.  We’re both longtime fans of Red vs Blue, so it was a pleasure to have such an in-depth discussion on all the things that made this little machinima comedy such a wild success all those years ago, and how it has evolved over time into a legitimate, fascinating sci-fi mythology with rich characters and heartfelt drama.  We go through all nine seasons one-by-one, along with sharing larger, overarching thoughts, and talk a little bit about our hopes and expectations for season 10. 

Listen to the podcast right from this page:




Enjoy the show!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: "The Dictator" is Sacha Baron Cohen at his provocative best

Film Rating: A–

“The Dictator” is a wonderful comedy filled with genuine surprises, but the greatest shock may be that Sacha Baron Cohen’s winning comedy formula – wildly unpredictable, gloriously offensive, socially conscious humor stemming from a morally repulsive (yet oddly lovable) protagonist – loses none of its power in the transition to a scripted, narrative format.  Stylistically, “The Dictator” is a huge departure from “Da Ali G Show” or the “Borat” film, which relied on documentary aesthetics and large numbers of unwilling civilian participants.  This film is instead entirely fake, made with professional cinematography, lavish staging, and recognizable comedic actors even in bit parts.  Yet the abrasive, shocking nature of Cohen’s humor hasn’t been diluted one iota; if anything, having control over all aspects of the production gives Cohen and director Larry Charles license to go even further, to hone in on their thematic targets with laser focus while creating real, compelling characters and gleefully satirizing Hollywood genre tropes.  The results are deliriously funny, and thoughtfully provocative, from start to finish.  Continue reading after the jump...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Mad Men" Review: "Dark Shadows" (Season 5 Episode 9) - "Refreshing for the Damned..."


The masterful fifth season of Mad Men continues with episode 9, “Dark Shadows,” and as always, I’m here with my weekly review and analysis.  To do the hour justice, this review contains heavy spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode.

Spoilers for “Dark Shadows” after the jump…

Springsteen Sundays – Is “The Essential Bruce Springsteen” a good starting place for newcomers?


Welcome to Springsteen Sundays, my weekly column celebrating my favorite musician, personal hero, and all his awesome musical friends: Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band!

Why, with the entire world of Bruce Springsteen recordings at my disposal, am I choosing today to focus on a greatest hits compilation from nine years ago?

The simple answer?  It was on my mind this week.  I bought the three-CD set a few months ago just to have the Bonus Disc, which is sort of an addendum to Tracks, as its filled with outtakes and rarities.  For E-Street aficionados, that disc is totally worth the price of the set, and since I bought it, I’ve more or less ignored the first two discs, which comprise the actual song compilation (I have them all in their original album configurations, so why bother?).  But last week, I was taking a series of long drives and wanted some Springsteen tunes for the car; instead of grabbing a handful of CDs, I took the “Essential” set, thinking it might make a good mix tape for the journey.  Indeed it did, and I had so much fun listening that I actually wound up taking the long route back home so I could make it all the way through Disc 2. 

“The Essential Bruce Springsteen” is undoubtedly a well-compiled and fun box set.  But I, of course, am I biased source, and as I gave it a complete listen for the first time, I wondered if it could really fulfill its mission statement and serve as a good starting place for listeners unfamiliar with Springsteen’s work.  That’s always been a topic I’ve wanted to write about – where newcomers should start in the Springsteen canon – and that’s sort of what we’re going to discuss today.  Is “The Essential Bruce Springsteen” a good place to start?  Find out after the jump…

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: "Dark Shadows" is Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's entertaining return to form

Film Rating: B+

You’re either going to love Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” or you’re going to hate it; I can’t imagine much of a middle ground on this one.  Burton aims for a very specific, pulp-flavored tone and narrative style, and it would be hard to deny that the end result is exactly what he set out to make: a confident and energetic soap opera completely unapologetic of its own trashy style, made with a massive budget, filled with movie stars, and devilishly self-aware at all times.  It’s not a deep movie, nor a particularly ‘good’ one by most critical standards, but if you’re tuned into the same pulpy wavelength Burton’s operating on, the film is a tremendous amount of fun.  If not, you’ll be alienated from the get-go, and “Dark Shadows” will no doubt be a thoroughly miserable experience.  I can only speak for myself, of course, but I absolutely adore where Burton took this film, and though it’s certainly not a significant work by any stretch of the imagination, I found it wildly entertaining on just about every level.  Continue reading after the jump...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

“Parks and Recreation” Season Finale Review: “Win, Lose, or Draw” (Season 4 Episode 22) – ‘Catch your dream…'


TV’s best comedy, Parks and Recreation, has just wrapped-up its fourth season with the finale episode, “Win, Lose, or Draw,” and though I don’t do weekly reviews of the show, it was my pick for the best TV series of 2011, and I thought it only appropriate to give some final thoughts on this incredible fourth season and how it all wrapped up.  As always, to do the finale justice, this review contains heavy spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. 

Spoilers for “Win, Lose, or Draw” after the jump…

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An In-Depth 2-Hour commentary on Marvel's "The Avengers" on the "Monthly Stuff" Podcast!



It’s time for a special BONUS installment of The “Monthly Stuff” Podcast!  You’ve heard Sean Chapman and I discuss the first five Marvel movies in great detail, you’ve read my spoiler-free review of “The Avengers,” you’ve seen the gargantuan box-office numbers…now it’s time to go as in-depth as possible with the movie itself. 

As promised, Sean and I have recorded a long, spoiler-filled discussion of Marvel’s “The Avengers.”  Both us loved the movie, and we chat about our thoughts on each of the characters, their relationships, the action scenes, the story, the filmmaking itself, what the box office numbers mean, and where “The Avengers” stands in movie history.  It’s one of our best podcasts ever, and if you love “The Avengers,” it’s one you absolutely won’t want to miss.  It does contain heavy spoilers, so don’t listen until you’ve seen the movie.  We also talk about the new movie trailers for "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Dark Knight Rises."  And if you’re not interested in any of that, we’ll be back on or around May 15th with this month’s official podcast, the topic of which is announced at the end of today’s show. 

You can now stream the podcast right from this page! Listen here:





Enjoy the show!! 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

"Mad Men" Review: "Lady Lazarus" (Season 5 Episode 8) - "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream..."


The long-awaited fifth season of Mad Men continues with episode 8, “Lady Lazarus,” and as always, I’m here with my weekly review and analysis.  To do the hour justice, this review contains heavy spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode.

Spoilers for “Lady Lazarus” after the jump…

“The Avengers” smashes box office records with a $207.4 Million opening weekend (Updated)


UPDATE: With the Monday actuals in, it turns out that "The Avengers" was severely underestimated, grossing $207.4 Million for the three-day weekend and furthering several of its record.  It now tops the second-place opening weekend, "Harry Potter 8," by nearly $40 million.  Numbers have been updated throughout the article.

Box Office Mojo is reporting that Marvel’s “The Avengers” has raked in $207.4 million at the US box office this weekend, obliterating the Opening Weekend record (formerly held by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” with $169.7 million), the single-day Saturday record (with $69.7 million), the single-day Sunday record (a confirmed $57 million), and becoming the fastest film to reach $200 million in US box office history.  Add to that the $441 million already earned from foreign box offices, and worldwide, “The Avengers” has pulled in over $650 million, virtually guaranteeing it will break a billion dollars worldwide in record time.

Wow. 

“The Avengers” has become, in a matter of days, one of the most financially successful ventures in cinematic history, and while I don’t usually get excited about box office numbers, that makes me very, very happy.  I can’t think of a more deserving blockbuster to rake in this much cash, and it simply puts a smile on my face that this many people are enjoying a movie I love so much.  “The Avengers” isn’t getting by on empty hype or audience pandering; it’s exciting the general public because it is a genuine masterpiece of the comic-book genre, and has become a must-see for its quality.  The message Marvel and Disney sent through their marketing and release strategy (which released the film in other markets before hitting the US) made it clear that this was something truly special, something worth experiencing for Marvel junkies and casual viewers alike.  And if you’ve been to one of the sold-out screenings, you know audiences are going nuts for this one.  I’ve seen it twice, packed houses both times, and both audiences laughed, cheered, and applauded at all the big moments.  The term ‘crowd-pleaser’ doesn’t even begin to do it justice.  Don’t believe me?  In addition to a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, actual audiences gave the film a CinemaScore rating of “A+,” an extreme rarity that indicates outstanding word of mouth and tremendous theatrical longevity.  Continue reading after the jump…

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: "The Avengers" - Joss Whedon assembles a Marvel movie masterpiece

Film Rating: A+

I’m still having trouble processing that I saw “The Avengers” tonight. 

It’s not just that I’ve been waiting for this movie for four years, ever since Nick Fury first told Tony Stark about the ‘Avengers Initiative’ at the end of 2008’s “Iron Man,” but that the idea of making an “Avengers” film is, in and of itself, so spectacularly absurd that I’m struggling to accept that the movie even exists.  Think about it.  Four comic-book superheroes originating in four separate film franchises, each rich with their own characters and mythologies, each made with specific voices, tones, and styles, and each required to stand on its own as a quality solo adventure while simultaneously putting the pieces in place for the ultimate team-up.  And that’s all before the actual team-up movie is made. 

The goal Marvel set for themselves has to stand as one of the greatest challenges in the history of filmmaking, but having finally set my eyes on “The Avengers,” I can say with the utmost sincerity that this ludicrous four-year, six-film experiment was absolutely worth the effort.  “The Avengers” is a work of blockbuster art, over two hours of non-stop, glorious payoff, filled to burst with genuine surprises that no amount of anticipation can prepare you for.  To my eyes, it all comes down to Marvel’s ingenious hiring of writer/director Joss Whedon (“Buffy,” “Dr. Horrible,” “Firefly”).  He’s one of the only people in the industry I would call a true auteur – someone whose work is instantly recognizable, thematically unified, and deeply personal – and the single greatest surprise behind “The Avengers” is that a Hollywood studio gave him upwards of $200 million dollars not to make a generic superhero blockbuster, but to make the ultimate Joss Whedon movie.  Even though he’s working with several established franchises on a mammoth summer tentpole, “The Avengers” stands as one of the purest distillations of Whedon’s talents, interests, and voice in his entire career, and that, more than anything else, is what makes the film soar.  Continue reading after the jump…

Summer Movie Preview Spectacular! Part Three - "The Dark Knight Rises," "Amazing Spider-Man," "Bourne Legacy," and more!


This Friday, the summer movie season officially kicks off with the release of Marvel’s “The Avengers,” and it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting film calendars in recent memory.  To help you navigate the storm of blockbusters on the horizon, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide to all the major releases hitting screens over the next four months, publishing over three days exclusively on www.jonathanlack.com.

Today, the preview concludes with a look at all the releases for the months of July and August, complete with posters, embedded movie trailers, and my thoughts on the hype behind each film.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this feature, and have tons of fun at “The Avengers” this weekend!

Read the Summer Movie Preview Spectacular! Part Three After the jump…

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Summer Movie Preview Spectacular! Part Two - "Prometheus," "Snow White," Pixar's "Brave," Woody Allen's return, and more!


This Friday, the summer movie season officially kicks off with the release of Marvel’s “The Avengers,” and it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting film calendars in recent memory.  To help you navigate the storm of blockbusters on the horizon, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide to all the major releases hitting screens over the next four months, publishing over three days exclusively on www.jonathanlack.com.

Today, we’re continuing our journey by examining all the releases for the month of June, complete with posters, embedded movie trailers, and my thoughts on the hype behind each film.  Come back tomorrow to finish off the summer with an overview of July and August.

Read the Summer Movie Preview Spectacular! Part Two After the jump…

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Summer Movie Preview Spectacular! Part One - "The Avengers," "Dark Shadows," "Men in Black," and more!


This Friday, the summer movie season officially kicks off with the release of Marvel’s “The Avengers,” and it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting film calendars in recent memory.  To help you navigate the storm of blockbusters on the horizon, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide to all the major releases hitting screens over the next four months, publishing over three days exclusively on www.jonathanlack.com.

Today, we’re looking at all the releases for the month of May, complete with posters, embedded movie trailers, and my thoughts on the hype behind each film.  Come back tomorrow to continue through June, and we'll close everything up with July and August on Thursday!

Read the Summer Movie Preview Spectacular! Part One After the jump…