Monday, August 18, 2014

Was "Anchorman 2" the last we'll ever hear from the Frat Pack? And if not, should it have been?

The "Frat Pack" was a term coined by USA Today in 2004 to label the movies that were being made at the time that featured actors Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Luke Wilson. Steve Carrell was added to the pack later on, but I never really considered him part of it and he hasn't really appeared in many Frat Pack movies outside of Anchorman. So, we're really talking about the first six actors.

The first big frat pack movie, the movie where I think it officially birthed the frat pack, would be "Zoolander." Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, and Owen Wilson starred in it and Vince Vaughn had a cameo appearance. That was the first time at least four Frat Pack actors appeared in the same movie together, it was the first time where they seemed like a "unit." Before that, some of the actors had appeared in movies together, but never more than three at a time (and usually just two at a time). But, if you wanna be a stickler, I'd consider 1996's "Cable Guy" to be a proto-Frat Pack movie. Ben Stiller directed and had a small role, Jack Black and Owen Wilson also had small roles, but none of them acted in a scene together or anything.

But after "Zoolander," the Frat Pack movement was in full swing. Owen, Luke, and Ben Stiller would appear in Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums" later that year. Then, two years later, "Old School" came out and was the first big frat pack hit. In that case, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Luke Wilson had starring roles. The movie officially jumpstarted Will Ferrell's movie career, it resurrected Vince Vaughn's, and Luke Wilson got a chance to show that he can lead a movie.

"Starsky & Hutch," directed by Todd Phillips (who also helmed "Old School") once again featured four Frat Packers and was the first frat pack movie to earn over $100 million. Later that year, we had a Frat Pack explosion. "Anchorman" was released in the summer of 2004, was financially successful and featured FIVE Frat Packers (six, if you include Carrell). Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Luke Wilson all essentially had cameos and it was the first of the movies that cheekily, if not subconsciously acknowledged, that the frat pack existed.

But "Wedding Crashers," which came out the following year, really showcased the power of the Frat Pack. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson starred, Will Ferrell had a cameo, and the movie brought in a whopping $285 million worldwide. You would think that movie would suggest that the pack would be here to stay, but in actuality, it proved to be the peak of the Frat Pack's viability. After "Crashers," we'd only really see two Frat Packers in a movie together for the next couple of years. "Night at the Museum" and the "Meet the Parents" franchises both featured Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in lead roles, Jack Black and Ben Stiller both starred in 2008's "Tropic Thunder" (which Stiller directed), other than those movies, Ben Stiller produced "Blades of Glory" which starred Ferrell and featured Luke Wilson.

In my opinion, I think there was a big missed opportunity here. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn have not experienced the same type of box office success since "Wedding Crashers" and, as a matter of fact, their careers seem to be on the decline. And the Frat Pack, in general, seemed to be on decline when Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn starred in the horrendous flop that was 2012's "The Watch." Ben Stiller has managed to star in a few box office hits these past few years, but the Wilsons as well as Vince Vaughn can't buy a hit.

The last attempt to make a Frat Pack movie, before "Anchorman 2", was last year's "The Internship." Like "The Watch," "The Internship" was a box office flop as well and received lackluster reviews. "The Internship" was the first movie in 8 years to feature three Frat Packers and I think by then, they missed the boat. Maybe if "The Internship" came out in 2007, people would've been more excited about it. But by 2013? Everyone was getting kinda sick of Vince Vaughn being Vince Vaughn. Later proven with Vaughn's very next film "Delivery Man," which was about as successful as "The Internship."

"Anchorman 2" only featured 2 Frat Packers (Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn) and I think that's significant. Why wouldn't the Wilsons, Jack Black, or Ben Stiller come back for the sequel? What's the deal with that? Busy schedules? Or were they even called? While a "Zoolander 2" movie has been rumored for the past year or so, there's no concrete plans for another big Frat Pack movie in the future. Nowadays, it's the Apatow gang that's getting all the glory. "This is the End" was directed by Seth Rogen and starred pretty much every actor who's ever appeared in an Apatow movie from the previous eight years. This year, Rogen's "Neighbors" and Jonah Hill's "22 Jump Street" are getting the type of box office numbers Vince Vaughn and Jack Black could only dream about getting nowadays.

So unless Black, Stiller, Ferrell, Vaughn, and the Wilsons all decide to get the pack back together again, it really seems like the Frat Pack days are over. But you know what? At least they went out with a hit. "Anchorman 2" grossed over $150 million and was a huge hit last Christmas. And at least we still have "Zoolander," "Old School," "Anchorman," "Starsky & Hutch," and "Wedding Crashers" to enjoy, and we can reminisce about the days when these guys were at the top of the box office mountain. It's probably better to keep the Frat Pack in the past before we get another disaster like "The Watch" or just a forgettable box office flop like "The Internship." Knowing how bad those movies were, I can accept "Anchorman 2" as being the final frat pack movie.

Let me know if you feel the same. And yes, I said "frat pack" way too many times in this essay. Frat Pack. Frat Pack. FRAT PACK!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Life Itself review

Junior year of high school, fall 2003. Seventh period. I was in Mr. Yack's TV Production class where I learned all the basics of camerawork (rule of thirds), the history of television, and I learned non-linear video editing in this class. I remember we utilized Adobe Premiere to put together a montage of family pictures. That was the first video project I ever did. I scoured through the family photos that we had in the family room, shot each picture with a videocamera, then we uploaded the footage onto Adobe Premiere and edited together for one seamless montage.

But that was without really knowing the real tricks of the trade. Before we really got into all what we could do via Adobe Premiere, we had to watch a video about non-linear editing. It turned into a really cool project, but neither me nor my classmates could help but laugh at the cheesy fake-film that we'd have to use for our very first non-linear editing project. The fake-film involved a small group of criminals who decide to rob a bank. They each go into the bank individually. As the editor, you're given all these different clips from the fake-film and you were supposed to edit it all together however you and your project partner choose. There were many ways to do it.

Why am I talking about all this? Because the host of this fake-film project was a young Roger Ebert who was wearing a suit that was horrendously out of style by 2003. It was clear that the video was from the '70s, maybe early '80s. And while I had seen snippets of Ebert's TV show "At the Movies" and the phrase "Siskel & Ebert give it two thumbs up" was everywhere whenever you watched a TV commercial in the '90s, this was my first real introduction to the man. Even though I didn't know too much about him, he was the film critic I knew about. By this time, Gene Siskel was dead so he was it. If you didn't know much about the movies during this time, you still knew who Roger Ebert was. And thinking back now, it amazes me to think that he was the host of this video whose sole intention was to help students learn how to edit. As cheesy as the video was, it was also very educational and Ebert was the host. Roger Ebert helped me understand how to edit.

He was the de facto critic. He was the main voice for anyone who had a basic interest in movies. He was a gateway. As TV production helped me to realize how much I love movies and the process of making movies, I was turning to Roger Ebert's writing more and more as well. Ebert wasn't just a guy on TV who did reviews, he was also behind thousands of reviews from 1967 to 2014. Nearly 47 years of written reviews, and that doesn't include the hundreds of movies he wrote about via his Great Movies column. He did commentary tracks for the DVDs of movies like Citizen Kane and Dark City. And when cancer took away his ability to speak he became even more prolific on his blog,, where he gave his thoughts on a whole multitude of subjects. When social media went on the rise, Roger Ebert was all over twitter. He wasn't just a great writer, he championed other bloggers as well. He may have written reviews here and there that you may not agree with (lord knows I didn't see eye-to-eye with him on a lot of different movies), but I always trusted his opinion. I always trusted that he was giving me the most honest account of what he truly felt about a movie. You couldn't ask for anymore than that.

"Life Itself" talks about Ebert's storied career as a critic, but for the first time, you really get to know the man through his friends, his family, his colleagues, and himself. Yup, while "Life Itself" premiered at Sundance this year, 9 months after his death, Roger Ebert is very much the on-screen star of this documentary. He and director Steve James agreed to do a documentary based off his memoirs a few years ago. Near the end of Ebert's life, it became clear that he didn't have much time left, but there he was, still trying his best to keep his spirits high and to have a major input on this documentary.

We learn about his upbringing, how he became editor-in-chief for the school newspaper at University of Illinois. And "Life Itself" isn't just some fluff piece, a lot of friends are bluntly honest about Ebert's then-struggles with alcoholism, his taste in women, and his cocky attitude. The doc goes into the love/hate relationship Ebert shared with Gene Siskel, and how betrayed he felt when Siskel kept his sickness a secret until the very end. We learned how Siskel's secret was what made Ebert so public about his own health battles, and how a crucial decision made by Ebert before his death affected his loving wife Chaz.

Ebert wasn't perfect, but he was human. And this made it all the more tougher to watch just how much he struggled in his final months. The last half hour of the movie is truly difficult to watch as it takes us through the details of Ebert's deteriorating condition. The moment where Ebert tells Steve James that he's too weak to type just shattered my heart. This was a man who seemingly could never be stopped from speaking his mind via his blog. As one interviewee says in the doc, Ebert may not have been able to talk with his mouth, but through a keyboard, you couldn't shut him up. A seven year battle with cancer finally took its toll on the man and it's hard not to finish this documentary without having a heavy heart.

It's impossible for me to be fair and impartial to a movie like this when it's about the very man who inspired this blog. Without Ebert, there may not have been a kenoncinema. I may not have written about over 400 movies. Ebert's prolific writing inspired me to write about movies. He inspired me to try my best to be level-headed, he inspired me to stick to my guns even if I wasn't overtly confident about my opinions.

That said, I truly believe this is a well-made documentary. It does Ebert's life justice. And I'm sure if he were able to write a review about the doc, he'd have positive things to say about it too. There are so many instances now where I'll watch a movie and wonder what Ebert would have thought about it. His death created a void that I don't think will ever be filled. There are a lot of great critics out there, but I can't think of any that had enough on-screen confidence and would ever be popular enough to teach a 16 year old how to edit via a TV production class.

And in many ways, "Life Itself" is, well, life-affirming. He may have had a rough last seven years, but the first 63 were filled with trips to Cannes, run-ins with celebrities, a brief stint as a screenwriter for a Russ Meyer film, and a long and healthy marriage to a strong woman such as Chaz. Roger lived a great life and it makes for a great movie. I'm sure he wouldn't have it any other way.

Grade: N/A (feels weird to grade a movie based on a film critic)

You can rent "Life Itself" on itunes.

Late to the Party: A Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I have a soft spot for certain cinematic flourishes and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" found one of them. "Dawn" begins and ends with the very same shot: an extreme close-up of Cesar's eyes, eyes that belong to the leader of these apes. I don't know why I love this shot so much; it's the type of thing that would lose its effectiveness if too many movies utilized it. Long tracking shots, for instance, are starting to lose their special-ness for me, especially after Alfonso Cuaron devoted an entire movie ("Gravity") to it. I think I love opening and ending a movie with the same exact shot because of how the meaning of the shot changes. It's the same exact shot, yet in many ways, it's not. So much has happened between these two shots, that it's very much a different shot, emotionally speaking.

Cesar begins the film being a leader of the apes and he ends being their leader as well, but he's gone through so much more. He's a different leader now. In the beginning, the apes are more-or-less at peace. A great majority of the human population has been wiped out thanks to the Simian Flu (a disease my wife argues would never exist in real life, but that's neither here nor there). As far as he and the rest of the apes know, the humans are done for. So, the apes start their own civilization in a nearby forest outside of San Francisco.

Cesar has a son that's still learning the ways of the wild and his mate has just given birth to another boy, though not without catching some sort of virus. The only thing the apes seem to worry about are bears and other wildlife creatures, until one day a group of humans go exploring into the woods and one of them shoots an ape in chest out of fear (or stupidity). This sets the apes off, as you can imagine. Cesar orders the humans to leave and a few of his comrades are suddenly out for blood. Cesar, though, is a very smart, tactical leader who doesn't have an "eye for an eye" mentality. He wants very much to avoid anymore apes from being hurt, or worse, killed. But a rogue ape named Koba seems to have other plans, and the two of them are constantly at odds with each other for the rest of the movie.

The humans intentions for being in the forest is pure: they want access to a dam so they can restore and bring power back to the city. What I love about the movie is how Cesar goes back and forth with these humans. While there are some bone-headed characters in the film that toe the line of being one-dimensional (like Gary Oldman), it must be noted just how even-headed Cesar and Malcolm (leader of the humans, and played by Jason Clarke) are. I like how Malcolm earns Cesar's trust one moment, then temporarily breaks it, then earns it back again after Malcolm's girlfriend (played by Keri Russell) helps nurse Cesar's wife to good health. This feels much more realistic to me than what you would normally see in a movie like this where a temporary "friendship" is quickly broken due to a misunderstanding. Instead of Malcolm and Cesar's relationship being used as a plot device, the writers actually seem interested in exploring these characters through the relationships they have with their own species and with the other.

Of course, the film does get a little too obvious, thematically, from time to time. There are many moments where it makes it clear that the humans and the apes are just the same, when it comes down to it. You know the film is aiming for this theme when Cesar actually says, "humans and apes are the same." At first I thought the comparisons between humans/apes was clever, but I was disappointed when it became clear that was the point the writers were trying to make. This didn't stop the film from being as entertaining as it is, but it certainly could've used a little more subtlety to make its point more effectively.

Overall, "Dawn" surpasses "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" in a number of ways. First of all, the story is much more complex and intriguing than the premise of "Rise." When I first saw "Rise," like most of you, I was thrilled to see that they found a way to make the "Apes" franchise fun and relevant again. But when you think about it, and with repeated viewings, it's really a rather simple film. The simplicity works in that it makes for a successful revival of a franchise and the writers' interpretation of how the apes took over the world is fun in how it actually seems plausible, but "Dawn" really shows just how morally and emotionally complex an "Apes" film can be. This leaves us with a film that has a lot to say about human nature; and honestly, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is the only blockbuster film this summer that actually made me think.

That said, the film isn't afraid to go all-in when it sees the opportunity. Watching Koba go from annoying Cesar to downright usurping him was legitimately thrilling to watch. Seeing an ape ride a horse through a fire while carrying an assault rifle is something I'd never thought I'd see in my lifetime, unless it was some kind of elaborate joke/parody. No, thanks to director Matt Reeves and the patient work of the writers, it's actually pretty goddamn thrilling.

We know, once those humans come face to face with the apes, that there will be an inevitable battle between ape and human, once again. Thankfully, the filmmakers manage to make this particular battle standout just by how reckless and chaotic it is. The humans are in a panic, while the apes seemed to have gained complete control. But what surprised me was to actually see a one-on-one matchup between apes. You can sort of see Koba vs. Cesar coming, but I did not expect it to be so emotionally satisfying to watch them come to blows. This is a movie that earns its action scenes.

And it earns that final shot, a repeat of the opening shot, where we get another close-up of Cesar's eyes. This time around, he seems more weary. Yes, he's still their leader, but he faces much different challenges than what he had in the first movie. The movie has an open-ending that strongly suggests a sequel, but in a way that makes "Dawn" feel like it's own entity entirely. You don't need to see "Rise" to enjoy "Dawn." It's all laid out there before you. By the end, the war between apes and humans isn't over and Cesar know this. He has to find a way to keep his apes from being eliminated, which seems impossible knowing the amount of firepower the humans have. Still, the apes take comfort in knowing they have such a strong leader in Cesar. And as for me, the movie-goer? I too feel compelled to follow Cesar wherever this franchise takes him.

This shouldn't be an addendum, but it just goes to show you how amazing it is... the CGI in "Dawn" is so seamless that it almost goes without saying. The motion-capture performances from Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, et al. is just brilliant. I was in awe of the technology in the 2011 film. For Dawn? I didn't even think about it while I was watching it. Not to say I truly believed I was watching talking, miming apes, but it certainly felt that way after awhile.

Grade: A-

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Most Wanted Man review

A Most Wanted Man

Oftentimes, throughout the slow burn of Anton Corbijn's "A Most Wanted Man," we see Philip Seymour Hoffman's character thinking, plotting, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. His character, Gunther, never seems relaxed. He never seems at ease with himself. By the end of the film, we find out why.

Gunther, along with a small team, runs a mini-intelligence outfit in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg was once the city where a terrorist plotted 9/11. As you can imagine, security has tightened up considerably as a result. So when a Chechen immigrant suddenly appears in the city, it's with a great deal of concern. Is he a terrorist? A potential terrorist? What is he doing here?

Is he here because of Dr. Faisal Abdullah? A Muslim who most recently spoke at a conference in Hamburg? These are all questions that are raised throughout the film and Gunther does his best to maintain control of the situation. He, with his team, never lose sight of either the doctor or the Chechen immigrant. Not even when lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) comes along. She's come to protect the Chechen from possibly being arrested, but she clearly has not thought her plan through. And when she comes face to face with Gunther, she'll have even more serious questions to deal with.

In many ways, Gunther seems ubiquitous. But we soon come to find out that he's not a threat to anyone. When he says he wants to help the immigrant, he actually means it. He may be trying to eliminate terrorism, but he also sees the nuance of the situation... something his European and American counterparts seem to lack. And while he always seems to be one step ahead of the game, we ultimately come to find out just how much/how little power Gunther truly has.

See, I was lukewarm with the film when I saw it in theaters. I've been lukewarm with Anton Corbijn films in general. That said, I feel there is a great dearth of spy movies these days, especially one that gives the genre as much respect as "A Most Wanted Man" does. If you want a spy thriller, you've come to the right movie, it just may not play out in a typical Hollywood fashion. That doesn't mean the movie isn't without its problems. The pacing is indeed a "slow burn," and that slow burn does occasionally go down avenues where it feels like it's intentionally padding its running time. A second viewing would confirm/deny these suspicions. And despite my reservations, I would love to see this movie again.

This is a must-see movie for those curious about seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles. PSH is the glue that holds this movie together, and you can't help but admire the quiet confidence that he exudes when he's on screen. He hardly ever shouts, he never really goes for the "big moment." He always approaches his character with a sense of realism.

Now I'll admit, I certainly felt the two hours pass as I was watching this movie. But I kinda fell in love with this world. The world of espionage and intrigue. And other than PSH, Rachel McAdams was a welcome surprise. She's not really known for starring in a drama such as this, but she proves that she can hold her own with the best of them. Furthermore, Willem Dafoe (who plays a rich banker who gets caught up in Gunther's web) is always a welcome presence on the big screen. Overall, the movie unfolds in a smooth, unassuming way that when the end comes, it's like a jolt through the system. So while the movie does feel slow from time to time, the ending makes me want to go back and relive the experience all over again. No matter how fast or slow a movie is, if it's time well spent, then it's worth the ride. "A Most Wanted Man," at the very least, is worth the ride.

"A Most Wanted Man" will definitely leave you frustrated----but for a good reason. So, don't flip out when the credits roll at the end of the film. Stay in your seat and think about the preceding two hours just a little bit. It's all there. The ending does work. And the movie ends exactly as it's supposed to, even if it feels sudden.

The movie is about humanity in the face of a potential terrorist threat. If we suspect that someone is a terrorist, does he still have rights? What if the man in question is innocent, but is a victim of circumstance? The exclamation point of an ending, to me, means that this movie has a specific point it's trying to get across. There are decent people out there in the espionage game, like Gunther, but there are many other intelligence agencies out there, bigger ones. And they will always get in the way of guys like Gunther. They will always win out, unless they change their methods. But you know what? In this crazy world? Perhaps they feel it's better to be safe than sorry, which means arresting someone who they suspect to be a terrorist even if their suspicions are unfounded. It's a cutthroat world and a method that leaves a lot of bad blood, but that's just the way the world works. I think if "A Most Wanted Man" ended any other way, it would be a dishonest film. It's a film that raises all these questions about morality and humanity and it's up to you to see where you stand in that spectrum.

So if you have the patience, it's easy to get sucked into the darkly-lit cinematography that Corbijn, along with DP Benoit Delhomme utilize throughout. Often we see the characters trapped. Trapped in an apartment, trapped in a faux-prison cell. Or, really, trapped in Hamburg. Certain events in Gunther's past has lead him to Hamburg, and he's essentially stuck there. From his conversations with American agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), you can hear the bitterness of his voice simmer as agent Sullivan dares to suggest he share his information with her. He's been burned before, why would he trust her? This trapped feeling does nothing but suggest an unfortunate ending for everyone involved in this operation. The movie has an ending you won't see coming, but when you think about it, you really should've expected it.

And despite whether or not the ending satisfies you, you can still take comfort in the fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman's career has ended on such a high note. He was such a gifted actor and his talents are on full display in this movie. I'll never stop wondering what his career would've been like if he hadn't cut it short, but it makes me feel good to know that he ended his career playing such a quiet, nuanced character. It's a performance that normally doesn't end with awards, and despite the accolades he received throughout his career, he was never a man who seemed hellbent on winning Oscars. There was always a certain understated-ness about his performances and you get that in spades here. Hoffman was a true original and he will be deeply missed, but he left the world with so many wonderful gifts and we can watch them anytime we want. So, thank you, PSH. See you on the other side... and in the last two "Hunger Games" movies.

Grade: B+

Remembering Hoffman, Williams, and other thoughts

So, among the first things I was going to do, after writing some reviews on the site, I was finally going to talk about one of my favorite actors. To say it better, the one actor who helped to change the way I watch movies, the one actor that really made me sit up and take notice of great acting. When I was in high school, and really started to watch movies and pay attention to them, I didn't know who my "favorite actor" was. Usually, it'd be a comedian. It'd be Bill Murray or Jim Carrey. Or... *gulp* Robin Williams. Of course, those guys did plenty of serious performances, but the point is, I didn't think about serious acting. I knew there were great actors out there that did great work, I knew Robert Deniro and Al Pacino were considered great. I knew Marlon Brando was a highly celebrated legend. I liked Jack Lemmon, but I really only knew him, at the time, from his collaborations with Walter Matthau. I didn't really KNOW acting until I saw Robert Deniro in "Taxi Driver." Until I saw Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon." Until I saw Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront." Until I saw Jack Lemmon pour his heart out in a 9-minute monologue in "Short Cuts." I didn't watch these movies until high school. Finally, at age 15 or 16, I was paying attention to acting. Good acting. Actors and actresses.

And when I started paying attention, I noticed a peculiar actor who seemed to have been in many of the recent "great" movies that I had discovered around that time too. We're talking 2002/2003. And there he was in "The Big Lebowski," in a role where he's practically unnoticeable. I really noticed him in "Happiness," when he played a depraved pervert who randomly called up women in the white pages and would say these lewd things to them. He was captivating in that movie. And there he was in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Almost Famous" and "Magnolia" and "Boogie Nights"---these movies were filled with so many great actors, other actors that I knew more about, yet here was this one guy who seemed to tower over them all no matter how small the performance was. I saw him play the sweetest person ever in "Magnolia," then three years later, play a nasty son-of-a-bitch in "Punch-Drunk Love." Sophomore/junior year was when I really fell in love with the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, but in the midst of that, it was starting to become readily apparent that this dude who keeps appearing in PTA's movies... he was starting to become my favorite actor. That dude was Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

And much to my delight, for the next 10 years, he kept proving why he was the best. He kept taking on roles where he just immersed himself into the role. Much to my delight, the Academy actually acknowledged his greatness in 2006 when he won Best Actor for "Capote." There he was, this guy who was so great and yet really wasn't a household name to general audiences. He played the bad guy in "Mission Impossible III," but he was so good at what he did that people didn't stop and say "oh that's Philip Seymour Hoffman." For many of us, it took a few movies before we realized "that's that guy who's in that other thing!" He didn't call attention to himself, and yet, he was the best damn thing on screen.

And he quietly ruled cinema for over 15 years in indie and big budget films. He started getting starring roles in movies like "Synecdoche, New York." He nabbed a few more Oscar nominations. The MSG Channel would actually point him out in the crowd at Knicks games. As a Knicks fan, it made me love him even more. Not just because he was in the stands, but he used to dress up in clothes that I would wear. Off the screen, he just seemed like another dude. He seemed cool. He wasn't a pretty boy actor, he was just an actor. A great one. Like Pacino or Deniro, he was never a hunk. But when he'd show up on screen, he'd captivate you.

Then all of a sudden, Super Bowl Sunday 2014, I hear about it through a text. Now, there's really not a good way to hear about something like this, but through text makes it even worse. But I read the words. Just like that, Philip Seymour Hoffman was gone. The man was only 46 years old. So many great actors don't even reach their peak until age 46, for crying out loud. How could he be gone? Never mind the circumstances of his death, which were awful to begin with. Just the idea that a giant like that, a cinematic giant like that, could die at such a young age just broke my heart. Yes, there were many others before. Every few years, someone dies that just shocks everyone. But it was never going to be someone like him. Not to me. It was crazy. My stomach turned. I truly felt terrible about this. I could only think of the wife and children he left behind---I don't know how you handle something like that. It's one thing to have an old relative die---my grandfather died at age 70 and that hit hard, for sure. But I've been pretty lucky so far in that I haven't had anyone close to me die that young. And there are many times where I think about that and can't help but appreciate what I have.

But as a fan of his work, as a fan of cinema, this devastated me. I could not enjoy the rest of the day. I couldn't enjoy the next few days, really. And this is someone that I've never met. I've never had that feeling happen to me before. Never. Not with someone I don't even know. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as an entertainer, he impacted my life. There's no denying that. Knowing that, I knew I had to say something about the man. I couldn't do it in February though, it was too hard. I needed time to really gather my thoughts.

And so, coming back to this blog, Hoffman's death was one of the first things I wanted to address, especially after seeing "A Most Wanted Man." But then, the day I intended to write this, another giant in the entertainment world, Robin Williams unexpectedly passed. I've followed Robin Williams's career since I was a kid. "Aladdin", "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Jumanji"---these movies came out when I was 5, 6, and 8, respectively. You've been reading it all over, I'm sure. Most unique comedian, actor, and entertainer there ever was. There's no doubt about it. Anytime he'd appear on a talk show - it was a must-see. He was just such a pleasure to watch. Yet he, like Hoffman, has been taken away from us too soon. And the situation surrounding his death, like with Hoffman's, is just too awful to talk about. Though, perhaps, we should start talking about it. Really talking about it.

Dealing with death is never easy, talking about it is certainly a struggle. Talking about suicide? Heroin overdose? That's even tougher. So many questions arise after something like that happens. People suddenly come out of the woodwork, get on their high horse, and try to dismiss the person's death as being selfish. I remember when Kurt Cobain died in 1994, the shock that there was surrounding it. He was both high on heroin and shot himself. Many people mourned, but there were plenty others who called him selfish and stupid. Thing is, even if it is selfish and stupid, that doesn't make it any less mournful, not to me. People do selfish and stupid things all the time; nobody's perfect. Of course, dying via suicide or drugs is on the top of the list for some people. Regardless, I just find it disdainful the way a lot of people treat those causes of death.

Here's the reality: people are committing suicide in this country every day. No matter how stupid drug use may seem to you, there are still plenty of people who do it and die from it. If we turn a blind eye from one victim of suicide, we're just exacerbating the problem, in my view. These people needed help and, in some way, we failed them. We later found out Robin Williams had early on-set Parkinson's, but it pains me to think there was no way to prevent him from doing what he did.

This country has a serious problem with the way we treat depression and drug use. I'm tired of seeing so many wonderful people come to an end this way. I hope anyone struggling with drugs or depression get the help that they need, and I wish more can be done. I really do.

By all accounts, Hoffman and Williams were beautiful souls. We've been denied 30+ years of stellar PSH performances and we'll never get to see Robin Williams act like a maniac on stage. Never again. It's all really hard to take. The only thing I find comfort in is knowing just how many wonderful things these two actors left behind. I know I will cherish their work for as long as I live, but I'm not gonna sugarcoat it... the fact that they're both gone really sucks. It really, really sucks. The last thing I ever wanted to do was write a eulogy for these guys. It just doesn't feel right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy review

Guardians of the Galaxy represents an interesting and important dichotomy for me when it comes to Marvel films. Now, I generally enjoy the majority of Marvel's output. They have their weak films (Thor movies, Iron Man 2), but they have plenty of strong films too (Capt. America movies, Iron Man). The ultimate standard for which their films must now live up to is The Avengers. That film is the ultimate cherry-on-top when it comes to the overall MCU franchise. It's the film that Marvel was building towards from 2007-2011 and writer/director Joss Whedon knocked it out the park.

But of course, the more movies Marvel makes, the more you can start to see a pattern forming. Why are their good films so good? Usually, it's because the superhero is well-written, the story/plot is a well-oiled machine, and it's all executed fairly well. The film has a smart director who knows what he's doing, and what I'm starting to notice now is that it takes a director that has the ego of a Joss Whedon to successfully carve their own niche inside the Marvel machine. The director whose best able to get their POV across from their Marvel film is usually the one that's most successful.

Even then, however, it seems to me that there are a couple of things that every director just has to accept. One, a rather weak villain. Two, an action-packed third act. So far, the only truly memorable villain in a Marvel movie has been Loki and that's really because he straddles the line from being an outright baddie to a disgruntled good guy. Second to that, I guess the red dude from Captain America: First Avenger. All the other villains in Marvel films kind of have the same demeanor about them. They talk the same way, they act in the same way. There's just a certain "blah-ness" about them. So, at best, you come away from a Marvel movie being entertained by the action and the superheroes, but what you lack is a truly compelling conflict between goodie and baddie. Since The Avengers, I have given Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Winter Soldier a B. Now I really enjoyed those films, but I think they represent the new standard for the post-Avengers Marvel movies. They're really good, but their same-ness is what keeps them from being great. Both films have a weak villain and both films devolve into a rather by-the-numbers third act.

Of course, these films have to have an action-packed third act. That's what these movies are building toward and that's what audiences expect. But it just seems like these Marvel films have hit a groove, a certain complacency and they seem to think the best kind of third act is the one with the most explosions. The reason why The Avengers is an A-movie (for Marvel standards, at least) is because Loki is so damn fun to watch and the chaos of the third act is handled so well. So many superheroes to look after, and yet, Joss Whedon gives each of the characters a place to be. They each serve a purpose. But, that doesn't mean The Avengers necessarily had a unique third act, and even if The Avengers 2 has a similarly well-executed third act, if it goes through the same machinations, it simply won't be as impressive. So, that's really the problem that I'm starting to have with these movies, despite the fact that I still enjoy most of them.

It's with some great joy, then, that I can say this: Guardians of the Galaxy is the most unique film Marvel has ever made up to this point. And I really mean that. This film has style. It's a sort-of throwback style that brings to mind the first Star Wars film as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark ( space). It's a throwback, feel-good sci-fi space adventure. And you can tell it's going to be a different beast with you hear "Come and Get Your Love" (by the '70s funk band Redbone) playing once the "Guardians of the Galaxy" title card pops up on the screen. At that point, it's like the film is literally telling you "this isn't quite like the other Marvel movies you've seen."

Guardians has a ragtag team of heroes, but the way they come together is also fun to watch and doesn't at all feel forced. There's Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper). Star Lord aka Peter Quill first runs into Gamora, who soon makes a play for the orb that Peter is trying to sell. This orb is very powerful and is sought after by Thanos who wants to use the orb to control the galaxy.  Gamora has been sent to retrieve it. But Rocket and Groot stifles her plans when they attempt to capture Quill for a handsome reward.

The four of them wind up getting sent to prison as a result of their scuffle and this is where they run into Drax. They reluctantly band together while in prison as they figure out what to do with the orb, while Drax is promised that Ronan the Accuser (one of Thanos's guys) will be brought to him, as Drax has beef with the dude.

Yadda yadda yadda... The quintet then go off on a set of adventures together. What's great is just how distinct and memorable each of the Guardians are. Peter Quill is like a less sarcastic Han Solo (but just as entertaining), Gamora is a badass who is both attracted and repelled by Quill which makes for some interesting chemistry between the two. Meanwhile Rocket, a talking raccoon, is a chatterbox and a wiseass and Groot... well... Groot only repeats three words ("I am Groot") and you can't help but love him for it.

These are really well-written characters. They each get their moment to shine, they all make you laugh in their own way. And, when it comes down to it, this is a very funny film with a number of legitimately laugh out loud scenes packed in. Unfortunately, and here's where the other side of the coin inevitably drops... the villains are weak. Surprise. Ronan the Accuser is just one-note and humorless and Thanos is rarely seen so he really seems like a non-factor. And I think because of the villain issue, the third act winds up being the inevitable by-the-numbers action fest. Because the Guardians are so enjoyable, it's much easier to stomach this time around. Plus, James Gunn (the writer/director) obviously knows what he's doing. So, it winds up working out in the end, it has its own pizazz, but I can't help but feel that it more-or-less plays out much like it has in so many Marvel movies before it. Now, at least the action ends on an emotional note, which I won't give away but it's a moment that ties in with something that happens in the very beginning of the movie and it's done very well. Still, with a movie that brings so many unique flavors to the Marvel Universe, it's disappointing that it can't keep up that weird energy during the big showdown.

That said, the scene right before (or during, can't remember) the credits is so sweet that you can't help but forgive everything. Most of you have seen the movie so I'll just spill it. Watching little Groot dancing with Drax oblivious in the background is so great. But why is it great? Because of how well you know the characters by the end. This is a 122 minute movie and you don't meet everybody until almost 30 minutes in. So, the fact that the movie can end on a wordless, humorous note and it totally works speaks wonders to how well it's written. I don't know how Marvel could do a 2nd film without James Gunn at the helm. I'm sure he'll be asked back as he nailed this movie.

To clarify the very first sentence of this review, though... about the dichotomy. I really enjoyed the film. Seriously. It was fun. Why was it so enjoyable though? Because it had just enough unique flavors to stand out from the rest of the Marvel pack. The flip side to that though is that it's still guilty of some of the problems that can be found in every Marvel film thus far (though I still give The Avengers a pass for reasons mentioned above). Until Marvel fixes its villain problem and does something new/different/interesting in the third act, even the best film they have to offer can't be any higher than B+ quality. That is, at least, in my view.

Still, in so many ways, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film Marvel has to offer. And it's so great because James Gunn dared to be different. The gamble paid off and it has been paying off really well in the box office. But as we have seen with the firing of Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, Marvel will certainly lease one of their expensive vehicles to you, but not without a certain amount of guidelines, and you have to have it not conflict with their impending Avengers film. So, no matter how unique and different one of these films can be, because they have to fit in this Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle, they can only stand out so much.

And considering the fact that it seems NONE of the Guardians will even be in next year's Avengers: Age of Ultron, you have to wonder why it can't just be its own thing altogether. Why not let it be in its own universe? Why not let James Gunn run wild and free? Why not let Edgar Wright run wild and free? Of course, the answer is: $$$. And hey, that's fine. But there are only so many ways you can make an explosive action-packed third act exciting before everyone starts to tune out. Knowing that producer Kevin Feige and Marvel have this whole Cinematic Universe planned out for the next 10-15 years, you have to hope that they have more tricks up their sleeve.

For now, at the very least, James Gunn has raised the bar. He's shown just how much you can do in the Marvel sandbox. Joss Whedon, the ball is now in your court.

Grade: B+

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Boyhood Review


I became a father in September of 2013 and since then, the experience of being a father has significantly changed the way I watch certain movies. Such is the case with "Boyhood." It's interesting to think how the movie would've affected me just one year earlier, when I was not yet a father. But because I am, I watched the movie from two different perspectives: putting myself in the shoes of the main character AND in the shoes of the parent. Because of this, "Boyhood" wound up being an incredible and profound viewing experience for me.

Yes, "Boyhood" is easily one of the best movies of the year but to even give off that kind of hyperbole makes me cringe a little bit. I say it because, damnit, it's true. I know it to be true. This movie universalizes the experience of growing up and, most importantly, you see the way everyone grows up around this young boy. You see the mother (Patricia Arquette) grow from being an struggling young single mother to a professional working woman... who is still very much the caring and sweet mother that she was 12 years ago.

When we first meet the father (Ethan Hawke), he's an immature livewire who has hopes and dreams for his life, but hasn't really fully taken responsibility for his children. A decade later, he's re-married, with another child, and has finally grounded himself in reality. He has a real job now and as he says in the movie, he's finally the man the mother wanted him to be all along.

As for the kid, some have taken the character to task for moping around and doing nothing substantial with his life, but that's kind of the point of the film and it's really ridiculous that anyone would take this character to task for not being perfect. Jesus Christ... of course he has issues. Why wouldn't he? He's lost and confused and has questions about the way things are. Having gone through many of the same things he went through, I could understand where he's coming from. Maybe that makes my evaluation of this film a little unfair, but I honestly think people have a hard time empathizing with anyone that's not like them these days.

I mean, there are plenty of ways this kid differs from me. Just the fact that he grows up in Texas makes him a much different person than me. He had different life experiences, for sure. But it's the whole that I'm talking, not the parts. Taking in the entire 160-minute movie at once, I think the overall experience of going from a kid to becoming a young adult is something everyone should be able to relate to. We all have questions about life, we all have points where we're unsure what we want to do. We all grow up and what do we become at the end? Not just adults, but imperfect adults. As kids, we have the whole world in front of us. As adults, we have taken and chosen certain paths and not every single path is necessarily the right one but it's what we ultimately have to come to accept. The reason why teenage years are so tough is because we go from being naive children to finally learning about what really goes on in the world. It's a tough process to handle. Some people grow up faster than others, but all of us have certain aspects of our lives that we're not proud of.

What makes "Boyhood" such a profound and poignant film and NOT just a "regurgitation of reality" is that it asks us to take a look at our own lives and see what we've made of it. By the end of the film, the boy has become a young man and he sits and stares at the sky. Part of him can't help but be in awe of all the possibilities that lie in front of him, but another part of him asks the same question we all ask ourselves at a certain point in our lives: "Is this it? Is this really what being an adult is like?" It's funny, right? Because all throughout our childhood and teenage years we dream about what life will be like when we get older. But by the time you hit 18 or 19 and realize "man, I don't really feel all that different than when I was... 12"... it's quite a shock to the system. Many things have changed about Mason, the main character, but just as many things have stayed the same. He's still the same person he was 12 years ago.

So why does calling it one of the best films of the year make me cringe? Because in a lot of ways, "Boyhood" has an ordinary feel to it. It doesn't feel epic. It doesn't feel like someone's masterwork. But that's exactly what's so amazing about this film. It's about the ordinary things. It's about how we go through all these motions in our lifetime without realizing the significance of it all. Or the insignificance of it. Because in a lot of ways, our lives are significant. In our heads and in our hearts, our lives really seem to matter. But in many more ways, our lives don't matter at all. "Boyhood" captures that natural indifference, but because it's shot throughout the course of 12 years, the overall whole of the entire thing feels so goddamn significant. By the end, you say to yourself "wow, I just watched 12 years of this kid's life." It really, truly, does hit you at a certain point. Like a gut punch.

Director Richard Linklater is just trying to tell us that this whole thing, this whole "life" thing is really pretty goddamn crazy when you stop and think about it. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we grow up? Why do all these things happen? It's pretty intimidating to stare life right in the eyes and realize how little you actually know. And, for me, "Boyhood" is one of the most uplifting films I've ever seen because it not only calms me down and tells me I don't have to worry so much about this crazy thing called life, it also reminds me just how amazing it's going to be to see my son go through all the same things for the next 18 years. Or better yet, for the rest of his life. How great is that?

Grade: A

Friday, August 8, 2014

Short reviews: X-Men Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street

Ah dammit Ken, just get on with it! Review the damn movies you saw this summer!

Ok fine! I've seen five movies since June 1st. Here's my thoughts on the first three.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Whenever a good superhero movie comes along, it's very easy to anoint its status as "the superhero movie of the summer." And while I have been granted the gift on hindsight, it's still telling how less than three months later, nobody's really talking about Days of Future Past. Now, was it a good film? Sure, it had its high points, but people talking as if this movie worked on every level were clearly drinking the hype kool-aid.

And there was much hype surrounding this X-Men film. Not since X2, probably, has there been as much hype surrounding the longest-running superhero 'chise that has yet to have been rebooted. After the success of 2011's First Class, this was the movie where we'll see Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman (among others) act alongside James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence! Except, that's not really what happened...

While you certainly get to see nearly every X-Men character (past and present) on the big screen, the story is framed so that the "old" characters are in one storyline and the "young" characters are in another. Utilizing time travel, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is given the task to go back in time to the 1970s where he must save Austin Powers's mojo... no wait, that's another movie. Wolverine goes back in time to find young Professor X and Magneto so that they can stop Mystique from making a big mistake that has had a horrific effect on humanity.

Once Wolverine finds X and Magneto, the character more-or-less takes a backseat. So, basically, Days of Future Past is more like a direct sequel to First Class with a little bit of the old X-Men cast thrown in there in the beginning and end (except for Wolverine). Don't get me wrong, the 1970s scenes are entertaining as hell and I really really enjoy seeing this X-Men world in the '70s backdrop. Bryan Singer also seemed eager to play with his new X-Men action figures, it's just a shame the "future X-Men" storyline just isn't as entertaining.

All-in-all, it's an enjoyable film, but I didn't like the way the ending kinda pieced things together a little too perfectly. By the end, pretty much everyone's come back to life. And while it's nice to see that everyone is back, alive, and in good health, I couldn't help but ask myself... how much more of this franchise can I take?

Grade: B

Edge of Tomorrow

I had my doubts on this Tom Cruise-led actioner for a few reasons. First of all, I'm getting tired of Tom Cruise doing action film after action film. He's one of the most entertaining actors of my lifetime and it kills me to see him appear in such middle-of-the-road films. Secondly, the similarities between the plot of this film and movies like Groundhog Day and Source Code just didn't make this movie seem like a must-see.

And apparently, I wasn't alone as the rest of America also seemed to have put that same idiotic stigma against the film. The movie has been out over two months and has still not crossed $100 million domestic. The shocking truth of Tom Cruise's recent movie career: the dude has had only one film gross more than $100 million domestic since 2007. Unless you count his appearance in Tropic Thunder, but we're talking films starring Cruise.

That's insanity. You know why? Because the movie actually turned to be the best action-blockbuster of the summer. It may not have been the smartest or brainiest film, but goddamn it's entertaining. It never takes itself or its premise too seriously. Something happens to Cruise's character early on in the film which prevents him from dying. He gets sent out to the battlefield and when his character is struck by a fatal blow, he wakes up that previous morning. Each time he wakes up, he has to adjust his daily routine in order find a way to survive (and most importantly, for all of humanity to survive).

What also helps this movie is the incredibly badass performance from Emily Blunt, who previously proved her badassness in Rian Johnson's "Looper" two years earlier. With "Edge of Tomorrow," Blunt actually makes a pretty convincing case that she should be a legitimate action star as she holds her own pretty well against Tom Cruise, who has a larger than life presence in any movie he appears in. Cruise and Blunt actually have great chemistry together and the screenplay allows time for them to grow as characters even if they are constantly going through the same motions of the day.

Director Doug Liman has the chops to make a great action film. He directed "The Bourne Identity" after all. But we can't forget that he's got a humorous side too. Remember, he directed "Swingers." So with "Edge of Tomorrow," we get the perfect combination of great action and humor. There are legitimate laugh-out-loud moments in the film. And for once, Tom Cruise doesn't seem like he's mailing it in. He really seems to dig the world his character is in and because I enjoyed him so much in this film, it saddens me to see that the rest of this country is no longer responding to him the way that they should. Tom Cruise may be a bit of an egomaniac, but goddamnit, he's entertaining as hell to watch on the screen when he's in the right movie. If not for an ending that felt a little weak compared to everything else, this would be an "A" movie.

Grade: B+

22 Jump Street


When "Anchorman 2" came out to kind reviews and a strong box office return, the subsequent conversation among critics and fans alike was just what you'd expect it to be... was it as good as the first film? Well, no. Anchorman 2 wasn't as good as the first. This got people thinking... are there any good comedy sequels? Why do so many comedy sequels fail?

Leave it to Jonah Hill, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and the movie's screenwriters to answer that question. Instead of "22 Jump Street" being a straight-up sequel to the successful 2012 comedy. "22 Jump Street" moreso plays out like a dissection of all the bad comedy sequels that have come out before. Don't get it twisted: there is an actual plot and plenty of great jokes in the film. Hill and Channing Tatum do get to go to college. But there are many hilarious instances where "22" makes this point clear: it knows it's a comedy sequel.

That's right, "22 Jump Street" is a hilarious comedy that's 100% self-aware. Thanks to the success of "21," the sequel has been given a bigger budget. Why? "For no fucking reason," explains Ice Cube. And there's a great chase sequence in the film where Hill/Tatum are tracking down the bad guys, after being warned by their boss that they're on a tight budget, and every time something breaks, the characters cringe because of how much money they're wasting. It's so meta, but it all works so wonderfully and the movie has this great infectious energy to it... which is most definitely thanks to the Lord/Miller directing duo (who also directed The LEGO Movie that came out earlier this year... I mean, c'mon, these guys are on a roll).

Much like Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in "Neighbors," the combination of foul-mouth comedian and stud works wonders here. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are a hilarious team, and while the ending of "22" suggests that there probably won't be a "23 Jump Street," I sure hope these guys team up in another movie at some point in the future. As for Phil Lord and Chris Miller? Yeah, they have made it clear that they are the new directing duo to watch. Combined, they are like Edgar Wright of America, but I consider what they do to be a little more challenging because, between Jump Street and Legos, they are re-working popular franchises and putting their own stamp on them. Even though I'd always prefer such talented filmmakers to do original material... honestly, if Lord and Miller were behind a "Rock'em Sock'em Robots movie," I'd see the film on opening day. "22 Jump Street" is easily the best comedy of the year thus far. And it's a sequel! What a feat!

Grade: A

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A preface to my short reviews of the movies I've seen this summer

Which would be, thus far, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, and Boyhood.

But first, a preface...

This has been an atypical summer for me. If you've been following this blog for the past 5 years, you'd remember my summer hiatuses in previous years. In particular, back in 2011 when I moved from Central Pennsylvania to New York City. This summer, I moved from NYC to Los Angeles. Thanks to that move, I have not been able to get to the movies much in the months of June or July. Furthermore, I haven't had time to really sit down and think about what I saw. And considering I saw Days of Future Past in early June, these reviews will be pretty short and based on what I remember. I'll add personal context and revisit the climate in which these movies originally came out in.

Really though, I'm just trying to get back in the swing of things. For awhile there, it was hard to find the motivation to write. When you have so much else going on and you sit down to relax and think, "now I have write??" That's not a good thing. Plus, I wanted to try to enjoy movies again without having to think about them for a little while. There had been times earlier this year when I didn't know where to begin on some of these movies. Films like "Noah" and "Enemy" were difficult to process and I was starting to realize that I was going through some growing pains as a writer. Once my reviews started getting published elsewhere, I started to wonder if they really stacked up compared to other writers. I started to care too much about the perception of my writing, when for so long, I was able to write with reckless abandon. I read something on twitter (of all places) and it was a quote that said something about self-doubt being detrimental to creativity. I've definitely felt that these last few months. Thing is, you can't really try to be a better writer. You just have to keep writing. And writing. And writing. That's what I've figured out over the course of the summer.

Because the less I write, the more pointless things seem to me. I like being able to put a perspective on things. I write about movies so that I can understand them better.

I don't know if I'll be writing for other sites in the near future. For now, I'm just going to focus on Kenoncinema while I embark on this crazy life of mine. I hope to have more essays on top of the reviews that I already write. I have a lot of interesting topic ideas and hopefully it'll be fun to write again. Most of all, I hope you'll have fun reading this blog again too.

And since this preface has gone on a little long, I'll do the reviews in my next post.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Director Watchlist Update

This list is just covering projects that more-or-less have a firm release date and they're either filming, completed, or close to being in the production process.

I know I'm leaving out a few directors, this is just off the top of my head. I'll edit it at a future date if I remember more.

Director - Next Film - Production Status - Release Date

Paul Thomas Anderson - Inherent Vice - Completed - 12/12/14, set to premiere at NYFF

The Coen Brothers - Hail Caesar! - pre-production - hopefully 2015 

Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman -  completed - 10/17/14, set to premiere at Venice
Nicolas Winding Refn - I Walk With The Dead - Pre-production - 2015

Jason Reitman - Men, Women & Children - Completed - set to premiere at TIFF

David O. Russell - Joy - pre-production - 12/25/2015

Martin Scorsese - Silence - pre-production - 2015

Steven Spielberg - "untitled Cold War thriller" - pre-production - 10/16/2015

Edgar Wright - Baby Driver - pre-production - no confirmed release date

Woody Allen - "untitled Woody Allen project" - filming - 2015

Terrence Malick - Knight of Cups - post-production - no confirmed release date

Noah Baumbach - While We're Young - completed - set to premiere at TIFF

Andrew Dominik - Blonde - pre-production - 2015

 Ridley Scott - Exodus: Gods and Kings - post-production - 12/12/14

Guillermo del Toro - Crimson Peak - 10/16/2015

Danny Boyle - "untitled Steve Jobs biopic, written by Aaron Sorkin" - in talks - no confirmed release date

Neill Blomkamp - Chappie - post-production - 3/6/2015

Peter Jackson - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - post-production - 12/17/14

James Cameron - Avatar 2 - pre-production - 2016

Derek Cianfrance - The Light Between Oceans - pre-production - 2015

James Gray - Lost City of Z - pre-production - 2015 or 2016

Robert Rodriguez - Sin City: A Dame To Kill For - completed - 8/22/14

David Fincher - Gone Girl - completed - 10/3/14, set to premiere at NYFF

Christopher Nolan - Interstellar - post-production - 11/7/14

Rian Johnson - Star Wars: Episode VIII - announced/development - possibly 2016 or 2017

Duncan Jones - Warcraft - post-production - 3/11/2016

Michael Mann - Blackhat - post-production - 1/16/2015, with possible Oscar-qualifying release in December of this year

Ben Affleck - Live By Night - development/delayed by Batman vs. Superman - 10/7/2016

Quentin Tarantino - The Hateful Eight - pre-production - late 2015