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20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Over the course of director Matthew Vaughn‘s career his love for James Bond has rang loud and clear. In Vaughn’s debut feature, Layer Cake, the suave anti-hero, XXXX (Daniel Craig), wields an old-fashioned gun with an ultra-cool pose that, for anyone who saw the film before Casino Royale, made Craig seem like an obvious contender for Bond. In the audio commentary for Layer Cake Vaughn mentions how XXXX, during that scene, “wants to be Bond.” Not only does XXXX want to be Bond, but Matthew Vaughn clearly wants — or wanted — to direct Bond. Now Vaughn has gotten his way by making a film that’s about as close one can get to Ian Fleming’s English spy. With Kingsman: The Secret Service, Vaughn has basically directed his own Bond picture, except without any self-seriousness, an anguished hero, or other modern Bond staples.

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2014review_rob

2014 has been a brilliant year for movies. We can talk all day long about the disappointments and straight-up garbage shoveled our way, but that’s a waste of time and effort when so much greatness is available too.

So lets talk about the great ones.

One quick note: There are always acclaimed films that slip by and go unseen before the year-end deadline, and this year is no different. So for what it’s worth, at the time of this writing I have yet to see Citizenfour, Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice and Selma.

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Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

The world of movies is a little darker today thanks to the cancellation of The Interview‘s release over threats from a group of hackers. Theaters backed down then Sony backed out. It’s all gone to hell in a fear-soaked hand basket. Then Universal Pictures released this new image of Chris Pratt in Jurassic World. At first, it could very well be confused for the first look at a future season of True Detective, but it’s really just Pratt and his raptor buddy. Star-Lord’s relationship with said predator is explained below.

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Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

Update: Since the publication of this article, Sony has announced that it will not move forward with the release of the film on Christmas day. This further proves that an online release would be the best option at this point.

What is Sony Pictures going to do with The Interview?

The film, which has been cited as the reason why an online group perpetrated a massive hack and subsequent leak of corporate documents, emails and even several films, is due to be released in the United States on Christmas Day. Those who follow the world of film closely know that it’s just another bromance comedy for Seth Rogen and James Franco, who decided to follow up their Hollywood-set apocalypse tale This Is The End with something based in the real world. It just happens to be about one of the world’s most ruthless and least humorous regimes. Early word about the film itself is that it’s pretty funny, albeit far fetched. And as Rogen (who co-wrote with Evan Goldberg) explained on The Colbert Report earlier in the week, they actually make North Korean dictator Kim Jonh-Un out to be “sort of adorable.”

North Korea didn’t get the joke. Hackers took the movie too seriously and now we sit, following one of the most massive corporate hacks in history, wondering what will happen to the movie itself. In recent days, the hackers have threatened theaters with violence. And while the Department of Homeland Security has said that there is no evidence of a credible threat, theaters have begun to run scared. Today, major chains Regal Cinemas, Landmark Theater, AMC and Cinemark have announced that they will no longer show The Interview, bowing to the threats from an anonymous online terror group.

While a number of theaters are moving forward with The Interview as planned — including Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse — the backing down of the major exhibitors will be a major blow to the film’s revenue and ultimately to Sony’s bottom line. Which leaves the entertainment conglomerate in a precarious position. You have a film that’s getting a lot of attention, the kind of buzz you can’t buy with any amount of advertising, but you can’t get theaters to show it. How can Sony turn the tables on their online adversaries? By putting the movie online.

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Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

When considering the value of a film, there are at least two ways to think about it. You can measure its impact on you as an individual, or you can think about what it might mean for society as a whole. Ideally, we would do both, but it is often difficult to weigh the two against each other – especially at this time of year when we reduce the totality of a year in cinema to a simple list of ten. So let us, for the moment, put a film’s purely artistic achievements on the backburner, and celebrate those films that impact our world in a positive way. These socially-conscious movies dramatize the plight of oppressed or marginalized communities, bringing light to issues that too often seem to get stuck in the dark.

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2014review_music

2014 has been an exciting and fun time for movie music with a return to the classically styled soundtrack full of popular music to scores going against convention by adding an unexpected element (vocals) or honing in on a single instrument (percussion). We also got a bunch of catchy new songs to sing along with (and get stuck in our heads) along with scores that moved us, upset us, confused us, or simply made us smile.

As films and filmmakers stretch themselves to bring audiences fresh, new stories, those creating the music are starting to push the boundaries as well (or return to more “vintage” means) to mix things up and keep audiences guessing. The movies of 2014 had a very distinct sound that spanned a wide range of genres and musical styles. This year introduced us to some new talent, showed us a new side of familiar names, and had favorites working at the top of their game – read on to listen through the film sound of 2014.

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Adopt Films

Adopt Films

In his most talky and arguably most “Turkish” film to date, writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan grandly ponders and elaborates on an immense amount of thickset, intricate and ever so spiraling drama around the human condition. 2014’s Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep, the seventh feature of Ceylan’s career, takes aim throughout its 196-minute expansive running time and shoots its thorny ideas around class, society and the many self-righteous trivialities of the privileged to an often brutally truthful outcome. Not all of these bullets always find a target, mind you –Winter Sleep occasionally squanders its wealth of wisdom amid hitting redundant notes (one can imagine a shorter and equally effective film)– but when they do, the icy, visceral pain it evokes is at once humanizing and mystifying in equal measure. 

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2014_review_action

There were some fantastically great action films released in 2014, but 2014 was not a great year for action films.

The horror genre had no such shortage (as evidenced by the greatness occupying our list of the year’s best) and you can probably name several comedies that had you busting a gut in 2014, but action films? There weren’t very many, and what there was rarely impressed. But sometimes you find great action in less than great movies, and with that understanding I was able to find 14 movies that fit the bill as the Best Action Films of 2014.

Well, almost.

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IFC Films

IFC Films

No matter how influential you think you might be as a critic or pundit, you are often reminded that you’re just a cog in a much larger system, soon to be aggregated right alongside everyone else. Take for example this year’s Austin Film Critics Association Awards. As longtime readers will note, this is a group that counts me among their members. For me there’s a great deal of pride in being a member of such a critics group, especially one with such an eclectic membership. That said, sometimes I vote for things and they don’t win. Such is life in the big city, as I’ve been told. 

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Selma

Paramount Pictures

“That’s why Rosa sat on the bus;
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.”

Those lyrics can be heard in John Legend and Common‘s “Glory,” a new song that plays during the end credits of Selma and makes the connection between the 50-year-old events depicted in the movie and the current events continuing to affect the nation. No, the movie isn’t about or related to Rosa Parks, but that line represents the beginnings of the African-American Civil Rights Movement that 10 years later was still unfinished, even after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and obviously remains unfinished to this day. Had there been more time for the completion of the movie and soundtrack, perhaps there’d also be another lyric in “Glory” referencing Eric Garner’s last words of “I Can’t Breathe,” which has been adopted as a statement of protest against race-related police brutality and lack of repercussions.

When the Ferguson Grand Jury decision was announced late last month, there was backlash against “insensitive” tweets and other public acknowledgment of the link between the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting and Selma, which was a month away from hitting theaters (we’ve still got a week until it opens in limited release on Christmas, while most of America won’t have the chance to see it until its January 9th expansion). The issue was mostly taken up with anyone remarking about the movie’s Oscar chances in the wake of the Grand Jury results. They immediately noted the accidental relevance of a movie about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches to the marches occurring in Ferguson (and now other cities around the US, first due to the Brown case and then also due to the Garner case in New York City). But sure, awards consideration is hardly important at a time like that, but what is awards buzz but just a little part of the zeitgeist, and there’s no denying that Selma is going to be a more significant part of this year’s cultural climate because of its compatibility with the news. It’s a period piece, but it’s still the movie for these times. Therefore it’s the movie of 2014.

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20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Far too often, people tend to associate “big movie” with “bad movie.” If I was to wrangle up half a billion dollars for a film about cats that can ice dance, there’s no doubt you’d question my motives in doing so. It doesn’t matter if teaching cats to arabesque really is a hundred-million-dollar expenditure or if doing so would guarantee Two Meows on the Rink as the herald of a new golden age in cinema – with the term “blockbuster” comes phantom thoughts of brainless toy commercial cash-ins.

It certainly doesn’t help that this year’ biggest movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction, was indeed a brainless toy commercial cash-in.

But in 2014, Transformers was the exception, not the rule. This was a year when we went to the movies not just to see things explode, but for movies that would challenge us, intellectually… with explosions. And I’m just talking about December, when everyone’s rushing to see a slew of potential Oscar winners, but during the summer — the portion of the year usually cordoned off for spandex, fireballs and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson challenging Sylvester Stallone to a sheet-metal eating contest.

What follows are the 20 biggest worldwide box office earners of the year.

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Ava DuVernay

Paramount Pictures

The film Selma – or, more correctly, the film that would become Selma – has been in various states of creation and production for years. In 2008, screenwriter Paul Webb made Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch list, where his own story (screenwriting wasn’t just a second act career for the then-sixty-year-old, it was actually a third) helped market his Martin Luther King, Jr.-centric script, which was believed to be set for a snappy and soon production. In 2009, Lee Daniels signed on to direct the film, ultimately leaving the project to direct The Butler. It wasn’t until nearly three years after Daniels exited the project that a new director was announced for the feature.

Her name is Ava DuVernay, and she is our filmmaker of the year.

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LORD OF ILLUSIONS discs

Welcome back to This Week In Discs!

If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

LORD OF ILLUSIONS bluLord of Illusions

Members of a cult rebel against their leader when he takes a young girl hostage, but thirteen years later the man they left for dead threatens to return from the underworld. Members still loyal to him begin slaughtering the innocent in preparation for his return, and a NYC detective (Scott Bakula) with a history of taking cases that lean towards the supernatural might be all that stands in the way of the murder of the world.

Clive Barker‘s third and final feature as director brings together all of his trademarks — nightmarish visions, a disdain for religion, a terrible sense of fashion — and mashes them into a tale that combines noir elements with the supernatural. He delivers some wonderfully creepy and icky visuals involving the cult members and like the story it’s based on it makes me look forward to the return of Harry D’Amour in Barker’s upcoming novel. As much as I love Barker’s fiction though he’s not always the best person to bring them to cinematic life — because his appetite for cheese is never satiated. Some of the digital effects are dated too, although the practical work is all still stellar.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Theatrical and director’s cuts, commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, interview, photo gallery]

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published: 12.23.2014
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