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The Best & Worst Films of 2014

by Justin Tucker

The 10 Best Films of 2014 

Everyone knows the Academy Awards ceremony is a sanctimonious, seemingly never-ending dog and pony show. Generally out of touch with audiences, the Academy will at times make questionable picks for Best Picture and ignore certain films altogether. I mean, does anybody actually believe Slumdog Millionaire is a better movie over The Dark Knight? Is Crash actually going to stand the test of time as a work of art?

I am here to cut through the crap and the pretentiousness to present the actual best pictures of 2014. They are as follows:

10. Visitors

If experimental maestro Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) and composer Philip Glass’ names ever appear together in the same credit sequence, audiences can surely expect to be immersed in a sonic, sensorial experience. The film, shot in stark black and white to be exhibited in the latest digital projection technology, is a nonverbal montage of faces, human and otherwise, flowing in a meditative stream. Like the Qatsi trilogy before it, Reggio and Glass skillfully combine image and sound, redefining cinema as a form of art.

9. Jersey Boys

American Sniper may be getting all the award nominations and box office dollars, but no one should lose sight of the fact that Jersey Boys is the best Clint Eastwood movie of 2014. Based on the Tony Award-winning musical, it tells the story of The Four Seasons from their humble beginnings in 1950s Belleville, New Jersey, to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Eastwood’s direction is deliberately old-fashioned, and the delightful performances by John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of frontman Frankie Valli on Broadway, and Vincent Piazza (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Tommy DeVito make for a mellifluous outing.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy

One of the better entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this fun and hilarious superhero space adventure follows outlaws Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) as they blast their way through the galaxy. Their goal: keep a powerful orb from entering into the clutches of the maniacal Ronan (Lee Pace), hellbent on destroying the planet Xandar. Director James Gunn (Slither) brings the comic book to life on a scale that rivals Star Wars and Star Trek. Killer soundtrack as well.

7. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan’s first film since the conclusion of The Dark Knight Trilogy is a science fiction saga that takes cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact and Solaris, exploring how the intersection of science and spirituality shape how humankind views their place in the universe. Set in a future where civilization is on the decline amid ecological catastrophe, it stars the terrific Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut who leaves behind his son and daughter--joining a NASA mission to enter a wormhole to search for a new home for humanity. Nolan once again raises the cinematic bar, telling a stirring story based on the latest science featuring state-of-the-art special effects.

6. Whiplash

Miles Teller stars as drummer Andrew Neiman, member of an elite ensemble, who is abused and humiliated by jazz instructor Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) at a prestigious New York music conservatory. Neiman is driven to zealous lengths to prove his worth to the fierce Fletcher, obsessed with perfecting his skills to become a modern Buddy Rich. Simmons gives the most memorable performance of his career, and Teller continues to grow as an actor. Based on his 2013 short subject of the same name, writer/director Damien Chazelle emerges as a bold new storyteller.

5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

It’s no wonder that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s well-executed existential comedy about tortured artists clashing with the egos of other tortured artists won Best Picture. The Academy eats that sort of thing up. Nonetheless it’s a darkly funny tale about aging action hero Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who hopes to stage a Broadway comeback in a dramatic role, reversing a stalled career after leaving a popular superhero franchise. He is berated by his Birdman persona, becoming increasingly consumed by his alter-ego as the pressure mounts to make his play a success. Keaton and Edward Norton, playing a maniacal method actor, give two of the best performances of the year. Iñárritu (Amore perros, 21 Grams) continues to wow.

4. We Are The Best!

One of the best things that can ever happen in one’s life is to get into punk rock. Unfortunately I wasn’t old enough to experience punk’s initial wave like the heroines of this 1980s-set Swedish coming-of-age story were able to, but the film is still a nostalgic joy. Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson (Together) and based on the graphic novel Never Goodnight by his wife Coco, it tells the story of three Stockholm teenage outcasts who form a punk rock band at their youth center to raise some hell and channel their adolescent angst, regardless of musical ability. This film is terrific because it teaches that it’s okay to be yourself —the central tenet of punk rock.

3. Boyhood

Director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) has been behind some of the most iconic and innovative movies of the past quarter century. His most ambitious film to date is the epic Boyhood, shot over a twelve year span, about the journey from adolescence to adulthood of Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), who becomes a man before our eyes. Also featuring knockout performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his divorced parents, Coltrane’s rite-of-passage is an unprecedented achievement.

2. Life Itself

What better way to pay tribute to the memory Roger Ebert than a documentary from Chicago-based maestro Steven James? The Hoop Dreams director gives an insightful chronicle of the life of the legendary film critic, from humble beginnings and his fight with cancer through his relationships with his wife Chaz and partner Gene Siskel. A heartfelt and reverent homage to one of the great American men of letters.

1. The Lego Movie

It’s not hard to speculate why this masterpiece was snubbed. The Oscars are all about the craft of cinema and not the commercial aspects. The film proved that a 101 minute advertisement for toys, comics and video games can not only be fun and exciting, but also a carefully crafted work of high art. Set in the Lego world, it tells the story of Lego construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) as he teams up with the Lego likes of Batman, C-3PO, Han Solo and Gandalf to battle the menacing Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the 21 Jump Street series), this dazzling, subversive work of animation stands head over shoulders against Best Animated Feature nominees Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. And who wouldn’t want to see Star Wars and DC Comics together in the same movie? I am happy to see Warner Bros.’ animation wing spring ferociously back to life. Without a doubt, one of the best movies of the new millennium. If only Sergei Eisenstein were alive to see it.

Honorable Mentions: Big Eyes, Cesar Chavez, Draft Day, Finding Vivian Maier, Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, Locke, Nightcrawler, Selma, X-Men: Days of Future Past

The 3 Worst Films of 2014

Bad movies seem to be everywhere these days. Quality, originality and innovation continue to be lacking, and as a result, Anno Domini 2014 proved to be another showcase of shitty films.

It’s no secret that the major studios aren’t making movies as great as they used to. But if you get off on terrible moviemaking, let me present the most gruesome of 2014.

(Note: I have not seen Saving Christmas with Kirk Cameron yet, because I had no means to see it. I’d much rather spend my time trying to watch good movies.)

3. I, Frankenstein

Bill Nighy’s status as one of the most distinguished actors in the world today has been thrown into question thanks to this POS. Aaron Eckhart stars as Frankenstein’s monster, who is still alive and living among us today. He has also allied with angels, who are protecting Earth from demons such as Nighy’s character. And then the angel and demons fight and stuff. The plot of this Underworld offshoot is as thin and fragile as a single strand of angel hair pasta, and the special effects are even worse. If this movie is any indication, Eckhart was seemingly displeased that Harvey Dent died in The Dark Knight and he felt entitled to play another character with a crazy scar for an entire movie. Selfish asshole.

2. Left Behind

Unfortunately “Duck Dynasty” exists. Why is there so much attention given to these redneck derelicts? What’s even more unfortunate is that “Dynasty” co-star Willie Robertson has decided to enter the movie business as a producer and star in order to poison the cinema. His first credit as executive producer is the fucking horrible Left Behind, the reboot to the fucking horrible 2000 original with Kirk Cameron. Starring the increasingly pathetic Nicolas Cage, the film takes place on his pilot character’s plane during the Rapture, a prophesied Biblical event where believers are instantly taken to Heaven before the Apocalypse. Also pathetic is the acting, most notably Lea Thompson and Cassi Thomson, as well as the special effects. The most unfortunate part of his movie is the film’s intended audience actually believe an event like the Rapture is imminent. Don’t encourage these freaks; avoid this movie all together.

1. Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?

Who cares at this point? As a fan of Ayn Rand, I am very disappointed in how the Atlas Shrugged trilogy played out. Part I was no masterpiece, but it thankfully helped thrust Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) into the spotlight as heroine railroad tycoon Dagny Taggart. That film failed; rejected by the very free market the novel championed. Against conventional wisdom, producer John Aglialoro recast all the characters and released Part II the following year to even less fanfare. Now we’ve got the third and thankfully final Who Is John Galt?, easily one of the worst films of the new millennium. Again completely recast with an even smaller budget than its predecessors, the film continues the story of Taggart and her fellow industrialists as they continue their strike against a tyrannical United States government. The rotten script, co-written by Aglialoro, takes the second half of Rand’s novel and distills it to whatever they could afford to shoot. It addition to being anti-climactic, it completely breaks the flow of the first two films, halting character and story arcs that have been developing over the series. Worse than the acting and chemistry of the leads are the cameos by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, both of whom I’m sure Rand would have fucking hated. The cast and crew of this turd must atone for their sins.

Bad But GoodGod’s Not Dead

In terms of story, character and technical merits, this Christian drama from director Harold Cronk is bad by any standard of measure. It stars Shane Harper as a Christian freshman college student who must debate the existence of God with his atheist philosophy professor (Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo) after he refuses to deny his existence in class. Also some of his fellow students consider getting saved despite objections from their families. With paper-thin characters, a melodramatic flair and made-for-television aesthetics, this cinematic piece of Christian apologetics is amusing because of its unintentional camp and extreme earnestness. I couldn't help but root for the characters to be saved. Oh! And Willie Robertson has a cameo!


Top 8 PS Vita Games

by Pawl Schwartz

Got Sony's special gaming bundle featuring the PS4 with the PS Vita for Xmas? Well, we’re going to give some help to those getting into the handheld system for the first time, because let’s be honest, there is a large amount of absolute crap out there for the Vita, but there are also a lot of games that make it far beyond worthwhile. We’re here to make sure that you find those games, and don’t end up with stinkers like the Call of Duty game or Valhalla Knights 3.

1. Killzone: Mercenary: KZ:M takes first place quite easily, and for more reasons than the graphics, which are of course, beautiful. No, it’s the playability and the use of Vita features that make this game gold. When you hold down the right trigger to bring up the iron sights, you can tilt the vita to aim instead of using the right joystick. This feature may seem simple, but it makes the game infinitely easier, and is a feature that every Vita shooter should have standard now, or else they will all pale in comparison.

2. Mortal Kombat: The revitalization of Mortal Kombat on 360 & PS3 is one of the best fighting games I have ever had the pleasure of playing, and now here it is on Vita! The graphics are a little less crisp with lots of anti-aliasing problems, but the game plays smoothly and comes with loads of extra content just for the Vita. The replayability is also through the roof, and that is exactly what you need for Vita, a game cartridge that you can just leave in when you are on the go and play over and over any time. 

3. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time: Some of the best graphics on the Vita coupled with a smooth-n-sneaky platforming experience make SC:TIT (hehe) the best platformer you can buy for the handheld system. I had never played a Sly Cooper game before, and I was worried that it was going to be too much of a kiddie game for me, but instead, it hits that sweet spot of ‘fun for all ages’ that actually means it. Lots of playable characters and even more in terms of collectibles. 

4. Rayman Legends: This game is simply gorgeous. There is no discernable difference at all between the graphics on the console versions of this game and the Vita version. Smooth, crisp cartoons with 3D bosses. This edition of Rayman follows the path of Rayman: Origins before it, and is a 2D sidescrolling platformer instead of a 3D one as it had been before, and it works wonders on the franchise. This game is Super Mario World level as far as masterfully wraught sidescrolling gameplay goes. The icing on the cake is the musical levels. These levels are timed so that as you run forward through them, you do everything in time to the music. 

5. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate: If you love Metroid games, then this is for you. The companion to Batman: Arkham Asylum, it does not deliver in cloning the experience of the real game, but it is a great game in its own right. You will scour Arkham Prison looking for power ups like the batclaw and the line-launcher so that you can get into new areas and defeat villains.

6. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation: No dumbing down of the gameplay, this game plays like any Assassin’s Creed (built on the same engine as ACIII), but with its own gameplay twists. Your character is Aveline, a female Assassin, and you are in Louisiana during the Fench and Indian war. Running around New Orleans is a blast, and, the most fun part: Aveline has three different disguises she can switch between: Fancy Lady, Slave, or The Assassin.

7. Resistance: Burning Skies: I know I just applauded the hell out of Killzone: Mercenary, but if you want a cheaper FPS, this is your best bet. It doesn’t have tilt-aiming, but it is longer than KZ:M and more challenging.

8. Tearaway: Tearaway is beautiful and original. So why is it at the bottom? Well, it’s quite short. I beat it the day I got it. But as far as quality and gameplay go, you couldn’t find a more fun game on the Vita. Tearaway really uses all of the Vita’s features, and with a nice twist. You’ll find that you can stick your fingers through the back of the screen and into the game to tear into the game world and help out your little envelope-headed character (not joking). The game is also meta as hell, putting the player into the game in a million ways, for example, your face is the sun for the whole game, and the main mission of the game is for your character to break out of videogame world and meet you. Amazing gameplay, original graphics, blistering platformer-y fun. Too bad it’s short as hell.