Friday, December 20, 2013

Read my "Top 10 Films of 2013" list at We Got This Covered

Every year, my favorite article to write is my year-end Top 10. I just love the feeling of looking over all the great experiences I had with cinema over the past 12 months, and I love how trying to concentrate all that into a qualified list of 10, stressful as it may sometimes be, invariably increases my appreciation for and understanding of the movies I choose. 2013 was a very special year for movies, though, and the titles on my Top 10 list this year are more remarkable to me than ever before. I explain all of my thoughts on this in my actual Top 10 list, of course, which means that if you want to see what I thought about the year in film, and want to read all about the movies I thought best represented this insanely great year for cinema, you'll want to head on over to We Got This Covered and give the full list a read.

Read my Top 10 Films of 2013 list here, at We Got This Covered.

As I say in the full piece, this is the first top 10 list I have ever made where I believe everything on it may well be a masterpiece, and as always, I hope readers are encouraged to check out all of these films for themselves.

On Monday, I will be posting an addition "Next-Best" list for We Got This Covered, which shall encompass 20 more titles and cover all the great, great movies I had to leave off the final Top 10. And there may be some more end-of-year celebrations after that as well. We shall see.

In any case, follow me on Twitter, @JonathanLack, for all updates, and enjoy The Top 10 Films of 2013.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Review: A free-form analysis of Spike Jonze's radiant "Her"

It is rare I feel completely stumped when sitting down to write a movie review – usually, while watching a film, I can at least get some hooks in the material, the foundations of a thesis that will take me where I need to go – but when it came to Spike Jonze’s Her, I found myself literally speechless. This is a great and complex film, and one that also bowled me over so completely that figuring out exactly what to say about it was a real challenge.

In the end, I did what I usually do in these situations, which is to write some free-form, stream of consciousness notes on the film until I feel I have exhausted all I have to say, hoping that an actual structure will come to me somewhere along the way. Usually, one does. This time, it didn’t. Perhaps I will be able to write more collected and coherently about Her one day in the future, but for now, in the interest of sharing my thoughts on this incredible film as quickly as possible, I took a different approach for this review. I have taken my free-form notes as I first wrote them, extending and expanding them into complete thoughts and sentences, and let the results stand as my formal review. Whether or not the finished product is at all coherent shall be up to the reader, though I think this stream-of-consciousness style actually fits the film rather well.

In any case, the review follows after the jump. It has no plot summary, so please refer to the film’s Wikipedia page or theatrical trailer if you are unfamiliar with the premise. There are no overt spoilers in this review, though it is possible my thoughts will make more sense after one watches the film. Read the review after the jump...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Review: Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" is an impossibly rich triumph

Inside Llewyn Davis is at once both a painfully honest portrait of what it feels like to be artistically spent, and a beautiful artistic masterwork impossibly rich with greatness. It tells the story of a frustrated folk singer in what may be the last week of his struggling career, but seems to exist at the height of creative ascendency for filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, who always seem to me to have nowhere to go but down before coming back and maintaining, if not climbing even higher still. Llewyn Davis finds them in particularly fine form, for the film is so absurdly packed with cinematic riches that I suspect any one of them could be isolated, extended to feature length, and would leave an impact just the same. Had it only Oscar Isaac’s remarkably lived-in lead performance to sing the praises of, that would be enough. Had it only he and a number of other musically talented cast members performing emotionally resonant renditions of wonderful folk songs, mostly old but sometimes new, that would be enough. Had it only Carey Mulligan spewing strings of increasingly creative profanities at the title character, I would be satisfied. Were it comprised entirely of the seemingly aimless car trip Llewyn Davis takes with a hilariously stoic Garrett Hedlund and a marvelously surly John Goodman, I would still be overjoyed. And were it only a string of comic set-pieces revolving around Llewyn Davis’ misadventures with a mistakenly-gotten cat, I would love it just the same. Inside Llewyn Davis is astonishing because it is all of this and so much more, its seemingly endless supply of artistic treasure contained in one delicate, poignant, stunningly affecting package.

Continue reading after the jump...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

2013 Movie Review Round-up #2 - "Blue is the Warmest Color," "Thor 2," "The Hunger Games 2," & "Frozen"

As explained in this post, I'm playing catch-up with the films of 2013 after a very busy fall that kept me away from my reviewing responsibilities, and I'm chronicling that process with a multi-part feature, extend over the next few weeks, wherein each post shall offer mini-reviews for about four or five movies. Since the last regular review I wrote before my long break was in late September, and published in early October – for Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity – I decided to start this project by recapping all the films I saw in theatres during that period, new releases I had been to see relatively close to their debuts. This has been split into two columns – the one you are reading now, focusing on the films of November, and the first installment, on the films of October – and in the next column, we shall cover some screeners I have finally gotten around to catching up on. A mix of full reviews – published over at We Got This Covered – and more mini-review columns like these should bring us to the end of the year in good fashion.

Read on after the jump for mini-reviews of Blue is the Warmest Color, Thor 2, The Hunger Games 2, and Frozen...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

2013 Movie Review Round-up #1 - Rush, Prisoners, Captain Phillips, & 12 Years a Slave

This has been a strange year for me. 2013 started out with one of the longest, most excruciating dearths of original cinematic content I have ever seen in my time as critic, and around August, a combination of bad-movie fatigue and other responsibilities – schoolwork, a new job opportunity, applying for a graduate school program, etc. – saw my movie review productivity drop to the lowest level I think it has ever been since I started writing about film.

And somewhere during that time period, 2013 got good. Not just good, but great. When I wasn’t quite looking – or was looking, but didn’t have time to write about it all, which is my main method of processing film – 2013 revealed itself as one of the deepest and most eclectic years for cinema in recent memory. I was seeing a lot of movies, and being slowly but steadily impressed by most of them, but I was also missing more than I would prefer to – and not writing about any of them, which for me was the biggest disappointment.

As 2013 enters the home stretch, however, it’s come time for me to start thinking about my year-end Top 10 list, and about what films and performances I feel worthy of merit, as I shall soon be voting alongside the Denver Film Critics Society for our annual awards. That means I’m up to my neck in screener DVDs – the studios routinely send out all their award hopefuls to guilds and critics groups for year-end consideration – and finally have a chance to catch up on everything I’ve missed.

That has been a fun process so far, and it also inspired me to go back and play catch-up on all the movies I failed or lacked the time to review. This will be a multi-part feature that will extend over the next few weeks, with each post offering mini-reviews for about four or five movies as I see and write about them. Since the last regular review I wrote before my long break was in late September, and published in early October – for Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity – I decided to start this project by recapping all the films I saw in theatres during that period, new releases I had been to see relatively close to their debuts. That will be split into two columns – the one you are reading now, focusing on the films of October, and another posting later in the week, on the films of November – and in the next installments, we shall cover some screeners I have finally gotten around to catching up on. A mix of full reviews – published over at We Got This Covered – and more mini-review columns like these should bring us to the end of the year in good fashion.

Read on after the jump for mini-reviews of Rush, Prisoners, Captain Phillips, and 12 Years a Slave...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Read my review of Hayao Miyazaki's stunning "The Wind Rises" at We Got This Covered

I don't update this blog very much any more, as the majority of my film review work now happens in my role as Associate Editor for We Got This Covered, but I just published a review I had been so very excited to write, and I wanted to share it with all my readers. Longtime followers will know that my favorite director is Hayao Miyazaki, and so it was with great anticipation that I was finally able to see his new film, The Wind Rises, releases this summer in Japan.

I cannot reprint the review here, of course, but I wanted to direct blog readers towards it. Follow this link to read my review of the film, and please feel free to leave comments, here or at We Got This Covered, with thoughts and questions. Suffice it to say, I am a very, very big fan of this film, and am excited for more fans to have the chance to experience it.

It's not that often a film comes along I am this excited to write about, let alone see, but The Wind Rises is a special case. Please enjoy the review, and follow me on Twitter @JonathanLack for updates on reviews, podcasts, and more!

Read my review of "The Wind Rises" at We Got This Covered.   

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Visit 'Ghibli Central,' my new blog about the world of Studio Ghibli!

If you have been reading my work for any length of time, you know that my favorite director is Hayao Miyazaki, and that the works of his animation company, Studio Ghibli, are the films I love most in this world. For a long while now, I have been thinking of ways to engage more with this material. I have had a book about Miyazaki and Ghibli's films in the planning stages for the past year or so, I will probably compose my upcoming Master's thesis on the director, and I have also thought about starting a website about these movies, one that may provide a better and more exhaustive database of information and discussion for English-language fans of the films.

This third option has always had great appeal to me, as it would allow me to write about these films on a consistent, ongoing basis, and hopefully engage with many dedicated fans as a result. And now, I have finally decided to get to work on this project - because if I do not get started now, when will I?

Thus, I would like to introduce you to Ghibli Central, a brand new blog - and, one day, something more - about the world of Studio Ghibli, its films, and the people behind the magic. You can visit this new website at, and look forward to plenty of news, reviews, product breakdowns, and more as the project gets underway.

Read more about Ghibli Central after the jump...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Popular Cinema Survey: James Bond Retrospective #2 – "From Russia With Love" takes a major step forward

Welcome to Popular Cinema Survey, an ongoing Fade to Lack feature in which I explore the worlds of blockbuster and commercial cinema. Our first ongoing subject in this series, as introduced here, is the most successful blockbuster cinematic venture of all time: The James Bond films. We shall spend 23 weeks watching and discussing all of the canonical 007 pictures (as produced by Eon), in order, once per week on Fridays. We continue today with the second film, From Russia With Love, from 1963.

From Russia With Love does what all good sequels should do: It uses the excellent foundation laid by its predecessor and goes darker, deeper, and bigger with nearly every aspect of the material. Bond’s actions in Dr. No have put him on the map, and international crime syndicate SPECTRE now wants him dead, devising an elaborate plot wherein they may obtain a sophisticated cryptographic device and kill 007 in one fell swoop.

Continue reading on the next page...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Popular Cinema Survey: James Bond Retrospective #1 – "Dr. No" kicks the series off in style

Welcome to Popular Cinema Survey, an ongoing Fade to Lack feature in which I explore the worlds of blockbuster and commercial cinema. Our first ongoing subject in this series, as introduced here, is the most successful blockbuster cinematic venture of all time: The James Bond films. Over the next 23 weeks, we shall watch and discuss all of the canonical 007 pictures (as produced by Eon), in order, once per week on Fridays. We begin today with the very first film, Dr. No, from 1962. Enjoy...

I am always surprised, when returning to Dr. No, at what a clear, thorough handle Eon (specifically, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the key creative voices behind the entire series) had on James Bond from the very beginning. Some of the major stylistic flourishes, like movie-specific theme songs, elaborate opening credits sequences, and impossible death-defying stunts, would not come into their own until later, but 007 himself is fully formed from his first scene, when Monty Norman’s legendary musical sting, Sean Connery’s effortlessly confident performance, and Terence Young’s impeccable eye for dramatic, suggestive framing all work in harmony to announce that Bond is indeed the coolest man around, even if he’s just playing cards. 

Continue reading after the jump...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Classic Anime Re-watch: Fullmetal Alchemist #1 – Episodes 1-4 start the series off spectacularly

Welcome to Classic Anime Re-watch, an ongoing Fade to Lack feature in which we revisit a classic television anime. Our first ongoing subject is one of the great anime of the 2000s: Fullmetal Alchemist (the first series, from 2003). I will critically analyze each episode’s story, themes, and characters, explore where it all lines up and deviates from the manga, and look at the production values as well. To make things simple, we are covering 4 episodes every week (one DVD volume in the original North American release from FUNimation), and the entire series is currently streaming on Netflix. Today, we cover Volume 1, including Episodes 1 through 4. Enjoy!

A couple quick notes on the format before dive into the analysis: After careful consideration, I have decided that the best way to tackle this series will be episode-by-episode, at least in the early going (two-parters like the premiere will be combined), so that is what you see below. Also, if this is your first time watching through the series, I am glad to have you – there are no spoilers for future episodes in these reviews (but you should, of course, watch the episodes being discussed each week before reading that specific article) and you can feel free to watch along with me. This week’s review is quite a bit longer than subsequent installments will be, given that there is a lot of initial ground to cover, including a brief discussion of the show’s first set of Theme Songs.

In any case, without further ado, begin reading after the jump...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Director Spotlight Series: Takeshi Kitano #1 – “Violent Cop” and the dynamic character of violence

Welcome to Director Spotlight Series, an ongoing Fade to Lack feature in which we study the works of a notable filmmaker, movie by movie, for an extended period of time. Our first subject is renowned Japanese director Takeshi Kitano, one of my favorite filmmakers of all time and a fascinating artist who has never gotten enough attention from English-language critics. For the next 16 weeks, we shall explore his filmography in depth, moving chronologically to analyze one film every week. We begin with his wonderful 1989 debut feature, Violent Cop (Sono otoko, kyōbō ni tsuki – “That man, being violent” in the original Japanese). Enjoy!

Before getting started, a quick note on availability: The films of Takeshi Kitano are, by and large, currently unavailable in the United States. Most of his films have seen DVD releases here, but many of those were in absolutely horrendous, unwatchable quality, and are now out of print. Violent Cop falls into this category. The easiest way to access the film in North America at present time is to stream it on Hulu; the quality is pretty rough, but watchable, although there are, unfortunately, ad-breaks that interrupt the experience. But for those seriously interested in this and other Kitano films, I would recommend importing a DVD from abroad. The best in-print DVD release of the film is Second Sight’s Region 2 UK edition, available from Amazon UK. You will need a region-free DVD player to watch it, but the quality is quite good, featuring proper color-timing and anamorphic widescreen, and it contains an informative hour-long documentary on Kitano’s career.

Without further ado, begin reading my analysis of Violent Cop after the jump...

Monday, June 3, 2013

Announcing Three Summer Retrospective Features Coming Exclusively to JonathanLack.Com

Summer has arrived, and that means it is time to finally get this blog going again.

See, it turns out that publishing a book, taking a full slate of college classes, and working as frequently as I can for an increasingly popular entertainment website – all in the months after losing my father – was the perfect recipe for absolutely killing my overall writing output. Writing is what keeps me sane, happy, and sharp, and lately – for the reasons stated above and a variety of others – I have not been doing enough of it. So far, my output in 2013 has been far less frequent than any other period in my life going back to 2007, and I want to change that. I owe it to myself and I owe it to the reader base I have cultivated over the years, many of whom I have been getting e-mails, comments, and questions from over the last few months. Basically, all I have made time for lately is new movie reviews – and far fewer than I would like – over at my professional home of We Got This Covered, and while I enjoy reviewing new movies – it is the basis of what I do – my life and career feels fuller when I do more. Especially in a year like 2013, where there have certainly been some real theatrical gems, but also an inordinate amount of mediocrity to make me increasingly less enthusiastic about reviewing new titles.

No worries – my film reviews shall continue to publish every week, over at We Got This Covered, and in the interest of maintaining this blog as a holistic archive of my work, links to those reviews will be published here as well (along with my weekly podcast, WGTC Radio, which comes out each and every Monday)

But the point is, I do not feel a weekly movie review or two is enough. I miss writing about television. And classic films. And other entertainment topics that my own recent limitations have not allowed me to cover.

So I am announcing today three new ongoing retrospective series that will be publishing weekly, exclusively at this blog – now permanently rechristened Fade to Lack – for the entirety of June, July, August, and beyond. Starting next week, a Director Spotlight Study, Classic Anime Re-watch, and Popular Cinema Survey series will all begin their initial runs, with explorations of a legendary anime from my adolescence, a revered Japanese director who does not have nearly enough exposure in the English-speaking world, and a popular cinema franchise that recently celebrated its golden anniversary providing the first set of subjects.

Read on after the jump for full details on each retrospective series, the first of which begins one week from today...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Film Review: Studio Ghibli crafts a reflexive gem with "From Up On Poppy Hill"

Note: This film was not screened in advance for critics in Denver, so I had to see the film on my own, and it unfortunately took me a little while to get around to it. As such, this review is posted here, rather than at my current home of We Got This Covered. The Landmark Esquire, where the film is being shown, is screening both the new English dub and the original Japanese version, and the text of this review refers to the latter. 

Gorō Miyazaki’s From Up On Poppy Hill strikes me as a very important film for Studio Ghibli. The famed Japanese animation house is not yet a crossroads, but it will be one day, for founding filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata are both over 70 years old, and will not live forever. It is a sad notion to consider, but one the film itself invites us to ponder, for in his second directorial feature, Gorō Miyazaki works alongside his father, the elder Miyazaki performing script duty, to deliver a story about the passage of time, the importance of the past, and the possibilities of the future.

Continue reading after the jump...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

My book, "Fade to Lack," is now available for Kindle E-Readers!

As has been frequently requested over the last month, my book, Fade To Lack: A Critic's Journey Through the World of Modern Film, is now available as an e-book for Amazon's Kindle! The price is $7.99, and you can buy it here!

The book has been published as part of the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, so if you own a Kindle device and are an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow the book free of charge.

And if you do not own a Kindle, the book is of course compatible with all Kindle reader apps for Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android devices, and more. I personally do not own an actual Kindle device, but I use the apps all the time, as it allows me to access book from any web browser and all of my electronic devices, which I why have chosen Kindle as the platform for the Fade to Lack e-book.

It will be exclusive to Kindle for the foreseeable future, but if there is interest in other e-book version, for Nook or iBooks, please let me know, and I may be able to release an edition for those readers sometime in the future. But for now, the book is a Kindle exclusive - although I have elected to make it DRM-free, both because DRM on e-books is silly and immoral, and because it may allow users of other platforms to put the file on their devices (wink, wink). All I ask is that you refrain from pirating the book.

If you would like to learn more about Fade to Lack, visit the book's website at, or read this blog post I made about the book last month. For now, here is the description from the book's back cover:

Superheroes. 3D. Digital projection. The world of modern film is in a constant state of flux, and in a career that began at the age of ten in the pages of The Denver Post, critic Jonathan R. Lack has spent his adolescence and beyond writing about it all. Featuring over 50 full reviews, numerous in-depth analytical essays, and major, multi-chapter explorations of recent pop culture phenomena like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, Fade to Lack – named for the author’s weekly print column in The Denver Post’s ‘YourHub’ section – offers an entertaining and insightful survey of contemporary American film, filtered through the journey of a critic who grew up studying this fascinating, evolving medium. 

Remember, you can also purchase Fade to Lack in paperback from, Barnes and Noble, and throughout Amazon Europe, all of which are offering the book for at least 10% off! And you can now visit my newly created Amazon Author page for further details and updates!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Read my tribute to the late Roger Ebert at We Got This Covered

It is a devastating day for film fans everywhere, as Roger Ebert has passed away at 70 from his long battle with cancer. He was a hero to me - just look at the title of this blog - and I had much to say about him.

For legal reasons, I cannot publish my piece on Ebert on two websites at once, so my tribute is now live at We Got This Covered, and you can read it by following this link:

Enjoy, and please share any thoughts you have on Ebert's passing here or at We Got This Covered in the comments. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Announcing Book Signing for "Fade to Lack" on April 6th!

As you have hopefully heard by now, I recently published a book!  Fade to Lack: A Critic's Journey Through the World of Modern Film, a survey of contemporary American film related through my personal path as a young movie critic, is now available on Amazon.Com, and today, I have a very cool announcement to share with readers!

I will be hosting a book signing for Fade to Lack on Saturday, April 6th at 4:00 PM at Bean Fosters, a lovely, independently owned coffee and used book shop in Golden, Colorado (visit their official website here!).

Books will be available at the event for purchase (cash or check only, please), but you can of course buy your own copy first - from Amazon or directly from the publisher - just in case there are not enough copies on hand to go around. The event will last two hours, and I will be there the entire time to sign books, chat, and answer questions. Refreshments will be available from Bean Fosters.

If you can make it, I would love to see you there, and if you have any questions about the event beforehand, please feel free to shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment here at the blog.

Time: April 6th, 4:00 - 6:00 PM

Place: Bean Fosters (720 Golden Ridge Rd, Golden, CO, 80401)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Announcing "Fade To Lack: A Critic's Journey Through the World of Modern Film," a new book by Jonathan Lack!

I am delighted to finally announce the culmination of a project I have spent a very long time working on: The publication of my very first book!

It is called Fade to Lack: A Critic's Journey Through the World of Modern Film, and can be purchased today, in paperback, from Amazon.Com or directly from the publisher. You can also visit the book's official website,, to learn all the details on this very special project!

As the title suggests, this book is a chronicle of my personal journey as a film critic. I began reviewing movies, in conjunction with The Denver Post, when I was only 10 years old, and Fade to Lack - named after my YourHub print column - is a record of the best and most significant work I have done, or discoveries I have made, over the course of this incredible adventure studying cinema.

But Fade to Lack is about so much more than just me. The book is an extensive and insightful critical survey of contemporary American cinema, composed of 55 movie reviews, numerous analytical essays on many significant films – both classic and recent – and major, multi-chapter explorations of pop-culture phenomena like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. The book has been designed both for casual readers seeking compelling writing about film as well as those in need of scholarly, critical reference on modern movies, and can be read, enjoyed, and used in a variety of ways.

And while much of this material is collected from my previous writings, there are many compelling reasons to read the book even for those who have read some of these reviews and essays before. In addition to a substantial amount of new material in the Preface, Introduction, and first part, there is new retrospective commentary and original section introductions included throughout, and all previously published articles have been revised, polished, and annotated to better function as scholarly writings. Most importantly, much of the book’s best material – such as Priori Incantatem: Harry Potter Memories or any review from 2009 to the first half of 2011 – are no longer available online, as they were removed from YourHub following the site’s 2011 redesign. For the most part, this book is the best and only place to find many of these writings, all presented in better quality than ever before.

As another awesome bonus, Fade to Lack includes original cover artwork and seven original illustrations, all by my good - and extremely talented friend - Shannon Wheeler.

It has been a lifelong dream of mine to publish a book, and I am extremely proud of everything Fade to Lack has to offer. I hope you enjoy it as well, and I could not be more excited to finally share this work with all my friends, family, and loyal readers.

So if you are interested, please head over to Amazon.Comor directly to the publisher, or to the book's official website,, to purchase a copy of Fade to Lack. 

And if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to e-mail me (at or contact me on Twitter, @JonathanLack.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012 Denver Film Critics Society Awards Nominations – “Argo,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Django Unchained,” “The Master,” and more!

As a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, I had the chance to participate in something very exciting this year: Voting in our third annual DFCS Awards. Earlier this week, members were asked to send in ballots in each of the 12 categories, providing five ranked nominations for each. Today, the official nominations for the DFCS Awards have been released, and I am proud to provide them here, with a bit of my own commentary as well as my official vote for each.

The winners will be announced next week, on January 8th, and I will publish another article then. For now, take a look at our nominations. I think they are a pretty healthy set of nominees, and I am surprised to see how many of my own picks got nods.

Read more after the jump…