Best of Sundance 2014
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Verdict: See It!      
Salim's Review
The Raid 2: Sequel to the surprise action hit of 2010, The Raid: Redemption 2, starts off right after the end of the first film, and in many ways is the story director Gareth Evans wanted to tell in the first Raid film, though did not have the budget. Each action sequence is like a beautiful ballet of hits and punches, leaving you feeling like you just took a shot of caffeine (audience was clapping after each action sequence).The film clocks in at 2 hours and 21 minutes, and though most of that is filled with wall to wall action, the director tried to infuse a story which is interesting, though slows things down way too often, and ultimately was not that necessary. There is also a reintroduction of a favorite character that is not really explained and the director needed an editor. However at the end of the day, its still some of the most precise action films I've seen, beautifully crafted and shot, with action scenes you simply never want to end.

Wish I Was Here: Written and directed by Zack Braff, a follow up to his 2003 film, Garden State, made almost a decade apart, with help from Kick Starter.This film represents noticeable growth in the actor/writer/director, with a wholly different and more serious tone, one that is very honest and heart felt, and hilarious. The acting is great, with Zack impressing with his dramatic chops, while Josh Gad of course steals all the scenes he is on (Mandy Pantinkin is also really great here).Intriguing to see how a general audiences are going to view this film as it is very personal. The film takes until the third act to really get its wheels moving, and though I appreciate where it eventually goes, in terms of over-all structure it's a bit disjointed.

Life Itself: A very fitting and informative tribute to one of the greatest TV/Film critics of all time, Roger Ebert. Directed by Steven James, the same man that brought us the wonderful Sundance favorite Hoop Dreams. We follow Ebert during his last days while cross cutting to stories of his earlier life, resulting in a complete and quite transparent view of a man going through amazing circumstances. It's a bit jarring at times as 75% of the film shows Ebert without a lower jaw, though this aspect assisted with the intimateness the film was attempting to convey, a certain innateness that, as you watch the film, Ebert consistently conveys through his ideas and writing. The film is inspiring to watch as a critic simply seeing how Ebert never backed down, even when he had to do a show with someone he hated, he made it work for him, and again, when struck with a medical calamity, he makes the dire situation work for him, creating a blog and website, a proper legacy for this great man.

FINAL VERDICT: MY TOPS PICKS FROM SUNDANCE 2014!

Scott's Review
WHIPLASH: A sensational, exhilarating, outstanding movie -- won the top 2 prizes (The Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award), and deservedly do, as it was one of the very best of the fest. After giving strong breakout performances in "Rabbit Hole" and last year's Sundance sensation "The Spectacular Now," Miles Teller knocks it out of the park with an Oscar-worthy performance and an aspiring jazz drummer who butts heads with his physically and emotionally abusive music school instructor, played by JK Simmons.

THE RAID 2: The first movie, The Raid: Redemption, was a short, but very powerful blast of adrenaline and unlike any martial arts action movie I had ever seen. The whole movie took place in one location, and that confined element made it unique. The Raid 2 is a more "open" film, and it's also much longer (around 2 hours and 20 minutes). But bigger is NOT better, as the bloated gangster epic felt far less unique than its predecessor. The action scenes were great, when they happened. But they were stitched together with a relatively conventional storyline that felt interchangeable with other gangster movies.

WISH I WAS HERE: Writer/director/star Zach Braff returns to Sundance 10 years after his directorial debut "Garden State" with a long awaited follow-up that covers many of the same issues: the (impending) death of a parent; generally feeling a bit lost in life. But it's a more ambitious and mature piece of work, since it's also much more profound. It over-reaches as times and is about 20 minutes too long, since there are so many subplots with his wife (played by Kate Hudson, who hasn't been this good since "Almost Famous"), his loner brother (played by Josh Gad), and his dying father (played by Mandy Patinkin). But it's also more poignant and profound, sweet and very funny.

LIFE ITSELF: The most emotional experience I ever had in my 11 years covering the Sundance Film Festival. Fitting for "Life Itself" to premiere at Sundance, the indie film festival that Ebert loved and supported throughout his career. Directed by Steve James, who directed the classic "Hoop Dreams" 20 years ago (Ebert loved that movie). Much more than just a straightforward documentary about the late great film critic -- the movie was shot during the last 4 months of Ebert's life, and it shows his daily (and sometimes painful) routine with unflinching detail (trips back and forth to the hospital, procedures to clear his air passages, close-ups of his transformed, jawless face). Lots of very funny moments, particularly when the film covers Ebert's long and colorful relationship with rival Gene Siskel (some of the "At The Movies" outtakes are hilarious).

FINAL VERDICT: FOUR SUNDANCE FILMS TO SEE!

Aaron's Review
Wish I Was Here: So next up is Wish I was Here, the second feature film written, directed by, and starring Zach Braff. It tells the story of Aidan Bloom, played by Braff, and his family as they deal with turmoil and illness. This was my favorite film of the festival due to its superb writing and character development. These are real lived in people. My connection to this film was so emotional and visceral that I was sobbing in the theatre. Such a well-crafted emotional journey. Despite it feeling a little long at points, everything is there for a reason and the spectacular production elements make this film a MUST SEE! Even better than Garden State.

Life Itself: Although I have knowledge about the illustrious Roger Ebert, I was in no way prepared for the fascinating and heartbreaking journey this documentary created. It was inspiring and emotional, hilarious and tumultuous, just a wonderful film. He and his family prove to be mesmerizing and inspiring people, allowing complete strangers into the very depths of a terrible time in their lives. Despite this sadness, they find happiness and positivity throughout the journey. Solid direction, a definite commitment to his material. A wonderful documentary that I will recommend forever.

The Raid 2: WHAT A ROLLERCOASTER RIDE! Yes the length is unfortunately an issue, but it can be forgiven due to how spectacular the action set pieces are. From the first 15 minutes onward, each action scene gets more violent and more intense. Everyone here has a chance to act, there is a story at work but it's not as fun or interesting as the action. This is due to the fact that the first film was so simple and exciting, with a basic storyline and incredible fights. Now that writer director editor Gareth Evans has the money and time to tell his story the way he wants, he goes just a tad bit overboard. Some of the best fight choreography I've ever seen. And the incredible thing is director Gareth Evans choreographs all the fights with his lead actor Iko Uwais.

FINAL VERDICT: SUNDANCE 2014 MUST-SEE MOVIES!

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