Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Most Violent Year: A Misleading Title, A Great Film

I would encourage anyone who hasn't heard of this film to NOT look up a trailer for the film and not pay too much attention to the title. What the trailer will lead you to think is that this is an indie-version of what a great Scorsese mob movie would be in the 90s.  It leads the viewer to believe that there is going to be a lot of violence, and backstabbing, and craziness... when this isn't the case at all.  I was one who thought this is what the movie was going to be.  A lot of times when I'm mislead by a trailer and a title, I walk away disappointed and underwhelmed.  Thankfully, once I figured out that what I was watching wasn't even close to what I was expecting... I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride and walk away with a different, yet positive feeling about the film.

Classified as a crime drama (and there's certainly more drama than crime), A Most Violent Year tells the story of Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) an immigrant in America in 1981 trying to thrive in his heat oil business-- one of the most corrupt industries of the time.  Abel looks like your typical movie mobster, complete with trophy wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain). However, what separates Abel from the rest of the industry is that he prides himself in running an honest business.  Unfortunately for Abel, he owes a lot of money on the property and rival companies are hiring outsiders to hijack his trucks, beat his drivers, and steal his gas, which, in turn, ruins any chances at a profit.  To add insult to injury, the D.A. (Selma's David Oyelowo) is putting together a case to indict Abel on criminal corruption charges.  The movie follows Abel fighting for his business and his family.  He actively tries to save his business by finding out who is hijacking his trucks as well as figuring out how to make money in order to to not lose his plant.

We, as moviegoers, have been indoctrinated so far into the crime genre that we expect everything to go wrong for Abel (which it does) until he can no longer be the honest business man that he is and he resorts to violence. However, this is not the case.  While we wait for Abel's "true colors" to come out, he is legitimately an honest man getting screwed.  His wife, who threatens to get her father and brother involved (we can assume they are members of organized crime), is the scariest figure in the entire film.  She's nearly emotionless and way more frightening than Abel or anyone perpetrating the crimes against him.  I sat there waiting for her to exact her revenge to make it a most violent year, but it never happens.  She's able to brilliantly bring menace to the tone of the film, but never has to use any of it.  And, while it may sound like I'm painting the movie in an unflattering and uninteresting light, the film is far from that.  It's almost more interesting watching Abel trying to figure out how to get his life and family and business back on track without having to resort to violence.  It's a beautifully crafted, and wildly original film.

It's a damn shame that Jessica Chastain was overlooked for an Oscar for her role in the film because she is incredible.  The film itself will keep you just a little bit nervous at all times, any scenes she's present in that nervous feeling elevates.  She's not an intimidating looking woman, but she wears intimidation on her person with ease.  Oscar Isaac is slowly working his way into becoming a very popular actor.  We already know he's got immeasurable talent from performances in Drive and Inside Llewyn Davis, but I'm sure by the end of this year after this film and the new Star Wars film, he will be a recognized (and deserved) A-lister.  We can expect great things from him.

The film's title refers to the year 1981 which was factually one of the most violent years in New York City's history.  And while the film only shows a tiny aspect of that... don't expect the kind of Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed kind of violence you may be used to.  It's still a nerve-wrecking ride that's just as fun as the aforementioned films.  By the end, while you may have wanted a scene where all the men screwing Abel and his family gunned down by suited-up mobster thugs, you'll realize that A Most Violent Year doesn't suffer from its lack of violence, but inherently succeeds because of it.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Inherent Vice: A Quirky, Strange, Funny, Esoteric Ride

Inherent Vice will not be for everyone.  In fact, the film will only appeal to the select few outside arthouse snobs, indie-pioneers, and Paul Thomas Anderson devotees.  It's a journey an audience must have a lot of patience for.  A lot of patience.  Fiddle with your phone or whisper to your neighbor for even a second and you will become lost in the intricacies of the plot-- one that on the surface doesn't seem very difficult to follow at first, and then finally becomes a web so delicately strung and interwoven that all hope of following everything that happens perfectly to the end becomes impossible.  I knew going into it that I was going to have to pay close attention.  I knew this because I am familiar with every piece of work that Paul Thomas Anderson has released and I'm familiar with the complex writing of Thomas Pynchon.  In fact, I was following the story very close up until just before the two hour mark of the movie when all Hell broke loose and I couldn't tell you what in the hell happened in the last half hour.

A plot description may be a little difficult to explain and to those already planning to see the film, a bit unnecessary, but here's the sparknotes of the sparknotes version.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a quirky private investigator who, in the first fifteen minutes of the film, is roped into several cases at once by many different characters.  First, there's his ex-girlfriend who shows up at his house asking him to help stop a plot by her boyfriend's wife--and her boyfriend-- of putting Doc's ex-girlfriend's current millionaire, land-developer boyfriend away into a nuthouse and subsequently give all of his millions away.  Confused yet?  Then, there's Michael K. Williams showing up and asking Doc to help him track down a white supremacist he knew in jail that still owed him money.  And finally Jenna Malone asks Doc to find her dead husband (Owen Wilson) who is sorta confirmed dead, but she knows really isn't.  All of these cases coincide with Doc's original "find the millionaire" case.  Then, to add a cherry on top, Doc is constantly harassed by local police officer 'Bigfoot' (Josh Brolin) in helping to solve and even question his involvement with the cases.  Still confused?

The set up for these cases happen pretty organically and are explained fully.  But the further and further Doc gets into the cases the more weird shit happens, the more characters pop up that were barely introduced, if at all.  The original cases are put aside and more and more weird shit behind the case and different from the case emerge and suddenly you find yourself lost wondering what the point of the entire film even was.  Now, this might just be me.  My attention span may have gotten the better of me and someone with more brain capacity than I may be able to follow the story easily, but for the average movie goer, the journey will be frustrating one.

However, no matter how lost I got in the plot and the characters, I still found myself enjoying the film immensely.  It's a very funny film.  Joaquin Phoenix, for all his strangeness and irregularities as an actor, can play quirky quite well.  His comedic chops were briefly shown to us in Signs as he played the quirky brother and comic relief.  Since then, his roles have become wrapped in quirk, and it's something that he's mastered.  He's a great actor... and a great actor with a sense of humor is hard to find.  Most of the other minor characters show up only once, maybe twice but lend their own brand of humor and weirdness to an already strange script.  Each character's nuance only strengthens the story and pleasure most fans will have watching the film.  Josh Brolin, once again, steals every scene he is in.  He's a tough cop, with a hard exterior, who wants to be an actor, and is constantly emasculated by his wife.  He's a complex character with very humorous results.  But, Doc is the one that the audience will fall in love with.  It's the drug-fueled 70s and Doc is rarely seen without a joint in his mouth.  He's bizarre and a bit dim-witted, but he's not dumb, and he knows how to research and solve a case.

Paul Thomas Anderson treats Inherent Vice like a cross between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Big Lebowski in the sense that the more drugs Doc is on the stranger and more hard to follow the story becomes.  And much like Lebowski, Doc is in every single scene of the film.  PTA has never been known as a conventional director.  This is evident in his past work (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Punch-Drunk Love, etc.).  And there is nothing un-PTA about Inherent Vice, but like I said, it is going to frustrate most viewers to the point of giving up all hope in figuring out what happened in the last half hour.  The best part about PTA, though, is that you don't have to understand everything that's going on to enjoy the film and that's how I felt about this film.  By the end I was piecing together everything in order to try to make a coherent picture and I just couldn't, but I still really enjoyed the film.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Taken 3: The De-Evolution Of A Badass Character

The first review I ever did that was published in any sort of public medium was for the newspaper when I was at UCR.  It was of the first Taken film.  I was overly harsh on the film because I didn't know how beautiful it was at the time.  It was a little hokey with good action, but no central villain.  So, I gave it a C.  Now, however, I wish I could go back and praise the hell out of it.  Having seen its two sequels, I now understand how wrong I was and how much of a gem the first Taken was.  This new installment shouldn't even be a Taken sequel.  Sure, let Liam Neeson run from the cops for awhile and avenge his wife's death towards the end.  That's cool.  But, it's not a Taken movie.  It's a different movie.  A Taken movie has a very different formula, one that isn't Taken 3.

Let me just put this out there right now-- remember the first movie?  Do you remember why it was so awesome?  Because Liam Neeson kills EVERYONE.  He'd go into a room with some guys and by the time he left the room, everyone who was in that room is dead.  Then he'd go to another room and by the time he left that room everyone would be dead.  The first Taken is just Liam Neeson going from a series of room to room killing everyone around him, in very brutal ways.  The second and third movies decided against doing that.  That's why we all loved the first movie so much because Neeson just killed people.  Hell, he even shoots an innocent woman in the arm to get her husband to give up information.  He was a bonafide badass.  Where is that Bryan Mills?  What happened to him?  I mean, in Taken 3 he probably kills MAYBE nine people.  That's it.  Nine. Bryan Mills doesn't kill nine people.  Bryan Mills kills EVERYONE.  If you are in a Taken movie and you're not his wife and kid... you die.  That's it.  Plain and simple.  Don't mess with the formula!

So, Bryan Mills' wife is killed.  He's framed for it.  He needs to escape the police, save his daughter, and figure out who killed his wife to clear his name and kill them a lot.  While the police chasing Bryan may be a cool adventure/action flick for a different franchise, it kinda blows here.  Not because it's not fun watching Neeson outsmart Forest Whitaker, but because Mills is also a good guy so he can't kill other good guys.  We know he won't kill cops, so the first hour is just a lot of him running, them chasing, and us waiting for him to kill someone. Neeson doesn't kill anyone for the first hour... the first HOUR of a Taken film.  What the hell's the matter with you?

The other part that sucks is that the film is incredibly PG-13.  Somehow the first Taken was able to transcend the PG-13 rating and be one of the most violent movies I've ever seen without showing a single drop of blood.  It wasn't bloody, it was just brutal.  But the two since then have been so PG-13 they border on boring... this one especially.  The deaths are all offscreen and none of them are even close to as brutal the deaths of the first film.  I thought each sequel was supposed to up the ante even further?  Instead, they've gotten more and more wimpy as the series goes on.  (NINE PEOPLE!).  I mean, my God, the wife has her throat slit and when we see her body, there's no cut or blood or anything.  She just looks like she's sleeping.  It's lame.  I can't even remember a satisfying death in the film that stuck out to me like so many do from the first film.

Taken got a bad rap from me the first time around because I don't think I was quite ready to believe Liam Neeson as an action star at that point.  It was one of his first, if not his first action movie.  It was good, not great.  But, as the sequels come out the more I appreciate everything the first Taken was.  This new one was just bad.  That isn't to say it's not fun watching Liam Neeson do ANYTHING, it's just not a Taken movie.  It's not.  It's the wimpy third cousin.  Neeson is watchable through anything, but he's just not as badass in this.  The writing and directing quality has gone severely down.  Neeson should be given higher quality revenge films, movies like The Equalizer or John Wick.  Both of which are great films that Neeson could've starred in and they would've been just as good.  Taken 3 is nothing you need to see right away, or at all.  There's nothing new to the franchise and he only kills nine people.  Watch the first twelve minutes of Taken one where he kills double that and you'll be more satisfied.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

American Sniper: Eastwood Returns To Form With A Real Contemporary Western

American Sniper tells the tale of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL looking to lose his virginity by prom night.  No matter how many times he tries, and fails, he just can't seem to lock down that V card.  He finally meets a foreign exchange student, they touch, but Kyle just isn't able to perform the deed.  It doesn't matter that he has over 150 confirmed kills-- the most in American military history... it seems Prom will end with Kyle still a virgin.

Actually, American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper slash stockbroker who, at night, ends up murdering people in order to suppress his boredom of upper class life.  At night he takes his Sniper rifle, invites over prostitutes, makes them clean themselves in his bathtub and executes them from afar and finally runs naked through his apartment complex with his gun covering up his privates.

Only kidding, American Sniper reveals the TRUE story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper who falls in love with his high school daughter's best friend.  Also, he blackmails his boss in order to get paid for not working, buys a classic vintage car, buys weed from his next door neighbor and ends up getting shot in the head by the neighbor's father who thinks he's gay.

Alright, alright.  The joke's run out.  American Sniper is really about Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper and ex-klansman recently released from prison having figured out the error of his ways.  He goes back to his low income neighborhood in order to save his little brother from succombing to the same fate.  He understands that there doesn't need to be tension between black people and white people anymore even though he'll always have a swastika tattoo over the right side of his chest.

I was going to do another one with American Hustle, but I'm still not entirely sure what that movie was about.  It's funny that I'd choose a movie like American Sniper to parody because after having seen the film, it's really an insensitive thing to do.  But, it's my blog and sometimes it gets really boring telling you how GREAT a movie is.  And American Sniper is great.  I'm so happy that Clint Eastwood is finally back to the game.  Bradley Cooper is actually able to show the audience further how great of an actor he can be.  I understand how one would have to do a movie like The Hangover after doing a movie as emotionally taxing as this one.

Yes, it tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper who really does have the most confirmed kills of anyone in military history.  He saved countless amounts of lives during his four tours of duty.  But, it also explores Kyle as a man.  He's quite emotionless and really hard to like as a person, especially as a husband, but he's the quintessential military man.  He loves his country.  He cares about each member of his squad like a brother.  He's a robot in the field, keeping a level head at all times.  He hates gay people (okay, it never says anything like that, but he's such a staunch republican, it's probably true).  He's the American killing machine.  But, he's still human.  When he's away from the battlefield, he has post-traumatic stress disorder.  He feels entirely guilty that he's willing and able to be out there, but he's home unable to protect American soil.  And he seriously didn't deserve what happened to him in real life.  I won't spoil anything for you, but I didn't know what happened to the real Chris Kyle, so it was quite a surprise for me too.

Eastwood is on point.  It's like an old-school western for the modern age in contemporary times.  Chris Kyle is the cowboy, the hero... but instead of perfect and chivalrous, he's portrayed accurately as a human being with flaws.  Eastwood also doesn't hold anything back.  War is Hell and it is depicted as such in the film.  One can understand how a man like Chris Kyle became to be.  Seeing what he saw and doing what he did in order to allow us to remain free is noble, but taxing on the mind.  And while he may not be the most emotional and personable man on the street, he's done so much more behind the scenes that we have nothing more than to be thankful for him.  This is what Eastwood has done.  It's his thank you note to a true patriot.  And it's a great film to boot.

Only kidding, actually American Sniper is just a song written by Green Day...


Selma: Emotinally Powerful And Culturally Relevant

The most shocking thing to me that came out of Selma, other than how fantastic it is, is that it is the FIRST theatrically released movie about Martin Luther King Jr. ever.  I wanted to argue that when I read about it, but I couldn't think of another film... and there is none.  This is a tragedy.  We've had biopics about lesser valued and culturally significant people (see Big Eyes) and we've never had one about the man, the myth, the legend... MLK.  Not only is this a story that NEEDED to be told, the filmmakers and everyone involved got lucky with the timing of the movie and the racially publicized events of the latter part of 2014.  The themes and messages that were begging to be sent back during the civil rights movement are still as prevalent today as they were then.

Selma is, from what I can tell, a perfect film.  Its path to perfection began back in the writing stages when it was decided not to do a biopic of Martin Luther King's life, but a significant moment (one that doesn't even have to do with his "I Have A Dream" speech) that envelops everything the good doctor stood for.  In a breakout performance, David Oyelowo plays King during the time in his life when he was already recognized as the advocate for peaceful and non-violent protests.  He's started working closely with president Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) about passing more rights for black Americans.  Johnson is hesitant to pass any new bills as segregation had just ended and black people were given the right to vote.  However, surrounded by white bureaucracy, even though it was technically legal for a black person to vote, registering to vote was a whole new ballgame... especially in the South.  King then chooses Selma, Alabama as his place of protest because Governor George Wallace's (Tim Roth) outlook on equal rights was quite skewed, and King knew he'd get plenty of media coverage.  After many failed attempts, and brutal violence against the protestors, King leads a march of over 700 people 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

It's a beautiful and emotionally charged film led by a very talented actor portraying the late Dr. King.  Most of the movie is difficult to watch due to the atrocities committed against the unarmed protestors based solely on their desire for equal rights.  Judged solely on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character was damn right when it came to any movement led by King in the south.  What makes this movie so great, rather than honoring an American icon is that it works on several levels.  Dr. King is not without his faults.  He's not painted as the perfect man, especially not the perfect husband.  It also works on an educational level.  But, it works so beautifully today because the same problems exist now.  In the wake of Ferguson and Eric Garner, the film eloquently shows that while times have changed for black Americans (they are now able to vote without issue thanks to MLK) but they still face the same racial and violent hardships they did back in the 60s.  We as a nation have this problem of believing we're nearing the end of racism altogether, but when we see a film like this... a film that was made long before the events of Ferguson happened... we're no closer today than we were in 1963.

What's also amazing about the film is there's nothing irrelevant about any of it.  Everything works succinctly to tell the story more about the movement than the man who led it.  King was essentially just a vessel to get humans to rally together for a noble cause. Director Ava DuVernay does a great job of limiting the scope of the film to this single event rather than tell the entire life story of MLK (much like Spielberg did with Lincoln). Oyelowo plays King to a T.  They sound alike and are almost identical visually.  Tom Wilkinson is just as great as President Johnson, a man who you can easily tell hasn't entirely made up his mind about the movement.  He believes all men should be created equal, but has so much on his plate, enforcing that belief is put on the backburner.  Hell, even Oprah shows up to get her face bashed in with a billy club.  Black, white, blue, green or otherwise... this is a movie every American should see in order to put our current state into perspective.  It's a powerful movie with a great message.  I loved every second of it.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Big Eyes: Tonally Bizarre Quiet Dignity

Tim Burton really needed a movie like Big Eyes to bring him back down to Earth.  Visionally, he has been stuck in a rut for the past decade or so.  Movies like Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, Corpse Bride, and Dark Shadows have been mostly a regurgitation of him trying to re-create his gothic classics of his early work, like Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow.  Whenever he takes a break from trying, and ultimately failing, from capturing the beauty of previous films and gives us something new and un-Burton-esque, it's normally stellar.  Just look at Ed Wood and Big Fish.  And while Big Eyes isn't that great of a movie, it excites me to think that this might've been the break he needed in order to give us something exceptional in his next film (which, as it happens, is an adaptation of Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children and is as Burton-y as he can get).

Big Eyes, from the get-go, just has a strange feeling to it.  Not strange like Burton's previous work, strange in the sense of tone. We begin with Margaret leaving her first husband and taking her daughter away to San Francisco where she tries to sell her unique pieces of art-- beautiful paintings of her daughter, as well as other children, with large, bulging eyes.  "The eyes are windows to the soul" she explains when asked about why she paints all of her portraits the same way.  She then meets smooth-talker Walter Keane, a painter himself who falls in love with the quiet and demure Margaret.  The two marry and Walter unsuccessfully tries to sell Margaret's paintings.  Walter's background as a painter of landscapes hinders his chances of selling his wife's paintings because he does not have good standing in the art world.  After a chance encounter at a night club, Walter takes credit for Margaret's work and ends up being the top selling artist in the United States.  Margaret, for ten years, paints her heart out and Walter takes the credit for the paintings.  He first assures her the only reason he's doing it this way is because women aren't taken seriously in the art world, but she continues doing it for years when Walter becomes domineering, threatening and even violent.  The film culminates when Margaret, tired of being the nobody for so long watching her passion being squandered by an idiot, fights back and takes Walter to court in order to get her good name restored and the public to know who the true artist is.

It's a really sad tale as well as a very interesting one... but not one I feel illicits a full movie.  I would've been just as enthralled and amazed at the story if I had looked it up on Wikipedia.  I get that it's an important story to know, maybe even tell when it comes to feminism, but Margaret, throughout the film, is a very passive person.  Amy Adams even said she was drawn to the project because of Margaret's "quiet dignity".  Well, she's certainly quiet.  She's certainly not a fighter.  And when she finally does fight back at the end, she essentially lets Walter screw himself over rather than actively pursue her right as an artist to claim her work.  We're already aware that men were pricks in the 60s and that women had a much harder time breaking into a world like painting... but there's nothing really new here that we didn't already know about that era, and Margaret just kinda... lets it happen until it doesn't anymore.

Beyond that, the movie is tonally all wrong.  This should be a movie about a woman fighting for artistic integrity that culminates in a very serious court case with a very powerful decision.  However, the movie just kind of treads along very stale not really sure if they want to go the funny route, the dramatic route, the old school Burton route... it just kind of... is.  The acting choices were a little strange to me, as well.  Amy Adams was great if she was going for quiet dignity.  Most of her acting was done through her looks... which makes sense considering what she painted for a living.  But, it's Christoph Waltz that really throws me for a loop here. I can't tell if he's brilliant in this... or if he just missed the mark badly.  He's essentially playing a caricature of a person.  He doesn't act like anyone in particular, but a series of tropes that we're used to in other movies, but here is out of place.  He's a smooth talker at first, then he's silly, then he suddenly is prone to outbursts of very strange and violent anger.  Then, he's an idiot.  There is literally a scene in court when he decides to represent himself that he calls himself to the stand then runs back and forth from the defendant's table to the witness stand charading both parts.  It's a mildly funny scene that would maybe get a laugh in a silly comedy, but here I wasn't sure what the hell was going on.  I don't know whether or not he just didn't know what to do with the character OR if the choice was to make him as wacky and fake as a character because that's who Walter was as a human being.  He'd act like a painter, he'd act like art is his life's work, he'd take credit for anything that wasn't his-- signifying he's a fake person.  So, did Waltz purposely act like he was a fake person in order to insult the real Walter and make a statement of his own?  Either way, it made the movie feel very strange and off.

Whatever the case, Big Eyes is not a must-see movie.  It is kind of a stale telling of a semi-interesting story.  What's weird here is that while the movie doesn't look like a typical Tim Burton vehicle, there's still that Burton feel with the characters where he doesn't really fully know what to do with them.  This is a pattern he's gotten into recently with awkwardly telling a story.  There are better ways to tell this story... and there are certainly much worse ways.  I'd say just read about the events that take place in the film and save yourself a little time.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The 11 Best and 10 Worst Movies of 2014

 2014 was a strange year for movies.  I feel like I say that every year at the end because lately I've been let down by the year's movies.  Sequels, reboots, Superheroes and prequels are reigning supreme and the original idea is slowly dying in favor of something else that will make a shitload more money because it was printed by Marvel.  This year wasn't a HORRIBLE year for movies, but it wasn't great.  There also wasn't an abundance of Oscar baiting movies at the end of the year either.  The good movies were strangely sporadic this year and spread out so that the year of movies felt... underwhelming.  There were certainly a lot more duds than there were winners, but I've got what I feel are the best movies of this year.  Let it be known that I have NOT seen American Sniper, Inherent Vice, Whiplash, or Rosewater and if and when I do and they're better than anything on the list, I will amend the list.  For now, on to the top 11 best movies of 2014!

The Top 11 BEST Films of 2014:

11. Fury

Fury hit home for me because of its realism.  It was dark and gritty and it didn't hold back.  There were no great inspiring speeches and all of its characters were very flawed, but it was able to paint a very accurate portrait of the life of a soldier in World War II.  Brad Pitt is great, as he always is, and so is everyone else in the movie.  This is a definite must-see for movie lovers.
Review here.

10. Boyhood

Boyhood took a fantastic concept, and one that had to work because there were no do-overs, and succeeded.  Director Richard Linklater filmed the (scripted) life of a boy every year for twelve years.  The movie is about a young boy growing up into a man traveling between his divorced mother and father while the actual actor grows up.  There's a lot of eye-rolling towards the end of the movie when the kid gets really emo and gay, but that's how teens ACTUALLY are-- emo and gay.  It's neat to watch the boy grow up, but it's even neater to watch our culture change in just twelve years.
Review here.

9. Snowpiercer


There's a running theme so far in my favorite movies-- originality.  While I know Fury is based on actual events, it takes an original spin on the WWII film genre.  Boyhood took a very original spin on the coming of age story.  And Snowpiercer is able to make a very original twist on the post-apocalyptic genre.  Here we've got a train that circles the globe containing the only living human beings on the Earth.  The train is even divided up into a class system in which the lowest class stages an uprising against the rest of the train.  It's so very strange, but so very cool and exciting to watch.  You're not really going to be sure you liked what you just watched once you've watched it, but you'll know you really want to watch it again.
Review here.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy


Okay, okay, I know I've kinda contradicted myself here by throwing on not only a superhero movie, but a Marvel movie as well.  I began this list chastising them and have been talking ever since about the running theme of this list as movies that are original.  I get it.  It still doesn't take away from the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy was a phenomenal movie.  What made it even better for me, personally, was that I had no desire to see it.  I'm sick of the superhero genre.  Just plain tired of it.  And seeing this, it just didn't interest me at all.  However, I saw it and it's probably my favorite superhero movie next to The Dark Knight.  It's a great movie because it's NOT a superhero movie.  It's an anti-superhero movie.  It takes all of the superhero tropes and gives it a unique spin.  It perfectly weaves action and comedy and heart into one fantastic film.
Very lackluster review here.

7. Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow may have been the most surprising movie of the year for me, which is probably why it makes the list so far into it than it should.  Again, like Guardians, I had zero desire to watch it.  Tom Cruise doesn't sit well with me even though he makes decent movies.  After seeing portions of Oblivion and being unenthused, I just had no inclination that this movie would be good... until I saw all the positive reviews and good word of mouth.  After seeing it, I wholly understand why.  It's a very clever sci-fi movie.  It's Groundhog Day in the future... and in space... and during an alien war... with Tom Cruise.  And Cruise is actually the best part.  He sheds his need to be a badass and actually pussifies himself for the role in order to be, well... a wimp.  Even if you hate Tom Cruise, or sci-fi, there's something her for everyone.
Review here.

6. Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

While creativity and uniqueness is the name of the game for a lot of my favorite movies this year, a new take on a genre or novelty is also very prevalent.  What I mean by this is that in Birdman the director takes the novelty of shooting the film to make it look like it is one continuous shot.  This has been done before and there's never really been a reason to it only for people to notice and exclaim how cool it is and how hard it must've been to film.  But, in Birdman there's a reason-- the movie revolves around an actor trying to successfully put on a play so the movie is shot using one continuous shot-- just like a play.  In a live performance there are no do-overs, no re-takes.  It's a brilliant film.  It's funny, it's weird, it's beautiful and it's one of the best movies of the year.  See it for Keaton alone, stay for the rest.
Review here.

5. The Lego Movie


I'd considered several times moving this towards the bottom of the list near numbers nine and ten but every time I thought about moving it down I thought about how much I love this movie.  It shouldn't have been, either.  It should've been an obnoxious sell-out of a movie about Legos.  But it wasn't.  It's very clever and downright hilarious.  There's so much heart to the movie and it teaches actual lessons that are important for everyone, not just kids, to be able to learn.  It kinda just snuck out into theaters last February implying that the studios were just kinda trying to get rid of it, but it ended up being my favorite animated film of not just this year but the last few years.  Very worth a watch.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel


I'm kind of a sucker for Wes Anderson and as long as he's pumping out movies like this, they will almost always make my list for best movies.  A couple of years ago it was Moonrise Kingdom, before that it was The Darjeeling Limited.  What's great about Anderson is that he has a style all his own and he also doesn't churn out movies as quickly as possible.  He's able to take his time and write/direct a beautiful film.  While Grand Budapest is one of my favorite movies of the year, it might actually be my favorite Wes Anderson film.  It's as if his life's work has culminated into this film.  It's his most beautifully shot film as well as his most quirky.  The characters are rich, the setting is gorgeous and the story is captivating.  Even if you aren't into the style of Wes Anderson, I think most people can appreciate this movie.
Review here.

3. Nightcrawler


What makes a great movie, and a movie worthy of this list, is a number of factors and one of which is re-watch value.  A movie can only be great, to me, if it has re-watch value.  If I see a movie and like it but don't have the desire to watch it again, then it probably will lose it's steam and I'll forget about it after awhile.  However, Nighcrawler has seemed to transcend that rule.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to watch it again, but it will stick with me forever.  Jake Gyllenhaal's performance is spectacular and about the creepiest thing you'll have seen all year.  I don't even know what genre to throw this movie into, it's just something you have to see for yourself... because it's brilliant... and so very uncomfortable to watch.
Review here.

2. Chef


Since seeing this movie in theaters I have watched Chef a total of five times.  Mostly because the plot of the movie somewhat resembles that of a novel I'm teaching in one of my classes and any excuse to show a movie-- you take it.  But, what I've been able to see in those five viewings is how incredible a movie Chef is.  The first time I saw it (but never actually reviewed it, sorry... it got an A) I liked it.  I didn't love it.  I didn't think it was the greatest film ever, but it had its moments.  After each subsequent viewing I knew that it was something special.  Not only has it become one of the best movies of the year, it has become one of my favorite movies ever.  There is so much happening in Chef, but down to its core its a relationship movie between a father and a son.  Yes, it's about going after your dream... even figuring out what your dream is... but chasing your dream so that you can achieve happiness, but it's also about the rocky relationship between a man and his son and how he's able to fix it and be a great father.  These are themes that are very important to my life, so it spoke to me personally.  But even if the movie doesn't speak to you, I personally believe everyone will get something out of Chef, even if it is just a good time watching a film and a few laughs.

1. Gone Girl


It may just be my affinity for David Fincher movies or the fact that since I had no idea what to expect when watching the film that my mind was essentially blown, but I had the most fun watching a movie in theaters with this film.  Gone Girl took me, personally, on a roller coaster ride of emotions and jaw-drops.  Watching the MOST dysfunctional couple in the history of couples on screen was a blast. It helps when there's a competent director at the help and surprise performances from great actors, but I found nothing wrong with this film.  The minute it was over I wanted to watch it again.  I haven't felt the rush and joy I experienced while watching this film in quite a while and that's why it's my favorite movie of the year.
Review here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Babadook, Foxcatcher, Men Women and Children, Wild

The Top 10 WORST films of 2014:

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


I'm not entirely sure how you make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles boring.  It's life-size turtles... that know karate... and have weapons... and eat pizza... and fight shit.  And yet, I was bored out of my mind watching this film.  I was also incredibly creeped out at how they looked.  It also kinda weirded me out how they decided to turn Michelangelo into this crazy pervy sex-fiendMegan Fox is a piece of attractive toast.  She literally does nothing the whole film.  I don't know how dudes in turtle suits and/or claymation turtles (still not entirely sure which one is accurate) from the 80s made for more interesting movies, but they definitely did.  Skip this one for sure.
Review here.

9. This Is Where I Leave You

Ah, the privileged white people movie.  There are as many of these released every year as there are inspirational sports in the rain movies released by Disney.  This one actually had promise.  Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Jason Bateman... it sounded like a decent cast and it it's source material book was acclaimed.  But, instead we get a bunch of white people who hate each other who are going through some sort of white problem and Adam Driver figuring out how NOT to act in a comedy (seriously, am I the only one who really doesn't like this dude?).  If you want that inspirational white people movie to give a crap about... watch St. Vincent.  This movie is just too white.
Review here.

8. As Above, So Below

For the love of God and everything holy can we PLEASE stop with the found footage movie???  I actually still give praise for the first Paranormal Activity for rejuvenating that novelty and having great success with it... but was it worth it PA???  Huh??? Are you proud of what you've created?  Are you happy that someone has essentially tried to remake a great horror film (The Descent) by simply using found footage and placing the people in the catacombs of France instead of some other kinda cave thing?  Are you happy that this movie serves no purpose whatsoever but simply to steal money from innocent people?  Are you happy that they kill the black guy first??? It's 2014, bitch, you can't still kill the black guy first!  Are you insane??  Are you happy that the scariest thing in this movie is seeing a door with a latin phrase and a cross on it... then seeing it a little later upside down???  TERRIFYING.  This movie... and it's contents... belong exactly where everyone in the film goes... deep in Hell.
Review here.

7. The Monuments Men

Well, Clooney, I'm sorry to say, but they can't all be winners.  But, especially this suck-ass of a film you tried to call "important".  I'm sorry, but if I'm watching a film about World War II, I want to see people who I actually care about.  You give no one in the movie any sort of character background or importance, so when someone dies... I didn't honestly give a shit.  I mean, they're fake-ish soldiers trying to steal art back from the Nazis.  It's a... idea... for sure... but really, who cares? I love the cast and I especially love you as a director, Cloon-dog, but this movie is eerily similar to The Men Who Stare At Goats.  They both have a great cast, but not much in the way of a plot or character development or anything that makes movies interesting and fun to watch.  Swing and a miss, Cloon-ol-boy... you'll get 'em next time.

6. The Purge: Anarchy

Oh, you dirty, rotten, purging sonsabitches.  You're killing me!  Why is it that my need for The Purge movies to be good lets me down so hard???  It's like the first movie was such a great idea... but they failed at it.  Hard.  So, they made a sequel in order to make up for the piss that was the original.  They even took the advice of fans: "man, this was a great idea, but confining it to a house was probably the worst idea ever... I'd love to see The Purge on the streets, man."  And they did it!  They restructured the script to make it bigger... and shittier.  Same writer and director... how did I think it was going to be better?  It's just as bad, if not worse than the original.  And here's the best part-- I don't even remember why.  I just remember being so incredibly angry at the end of this film that I decided to go bash myself in the head with a hammer a bunch of times so that I forgot why I hated it and can eventually see the third one and get just as mad.  It's a never ending purge cycle.
Review here.

5. Godzilla

Here's a list of what NOT to do when rebooting the Godzilla franchise if you want to make a successful movie: 1. Don't make it boring.  2. Don't make Godzilla the good guy.  3. If you have decided to ignore rule number two, then please don't make Godzilla fight a giant butterfly.  4.  If you decide to ignore rules two and three please don't make the giant butterfly have a female and give it an extended awkward sex scene.  5. Don't cast a relevant and relatable actor, plaster him all over the trailer, and then kill him in the first twelve minutes of the movie.  6. Don't have an entire subplot of a small Chinese boy looking for his parents.  7. Don't hide Godzilla until the last twenty minutes and then finally show him and piss everyone off because it's the title of the goddamn movie and that's who we came to see.  8. Don't let him blow blue fire.  9. Don't make people miss the Matthew Broderick version.  10.  Don't do ANYTHING that this film did.
Review here.

4. Noah

Noah is like... what is Noah like?  Noah is like a drunk person telling you the story of Noah.  It's like the cinematic version of Drunk History with actual respectable actors and a director I didn't think was capable of making a movie... like this.  This is how Noah is told-- "So, like there's this guy, right?  And he's like totally (hiccup) strong and shit and he has this wife and kid and they get this daughter and Anthony Hopkins lives in a hole in the Earth... like what is that shit... anyway, he's in a hole and God's like dude I'm gonna flood this bitch you need to build a boat but wait a second you're like one dude with a wife and a kid and anthony hopkins all old eating berrries ina  hole and stuff and so i'm going to give you rock monsters to build it and there's this other guy who's (hiccup) angry at you and wants to kill you and so you build the boat and the world floods and the guy is a stowaway creepin on your kid's mind and shit and he tries to kill you and you grow a beard, no wait, you don't grow a beard Noah grows a beard, anyway, the girl is pregnant and then out of nowhere it's like WHOA NOAH chill out dude it's just a baby and he's like FUCK YOU BRO I'M GONNA KILL IT and everyone starts being like damn noah you a dick man and he's like i know but i'm still gonna kill a baby.  Then he doesn't kill it and goes and bees a drunk and stays by himself on the beach as a drunk... yeah it's pretty cool."

3. Annabelle


Remember The Conjuring?  Remember how creepy and good that movie was?  Remember the side-plot involving that super creepy doll?  Do you remember that the scariest part about the doll was waiting for it to do something... but it never did?  Remember how if you get a room full of dipshits together in a room, bad ideas can still happen?  Someone please explain to me how you make an entire movie out of a creepy-looking doll that does... NOTHING.  That was the whole point of the Annabelle doll in The Conjuring.  The terror was waiting for it to do something... anything and when it didn't you were left with a little bit of relief, but mostly of terror.  How do you take that idea and turn it into a horror movie?  The doll can't do anything.  It sits on the shelf looking menacing and that's all it does.  And it's a prequel.  We know nothing happens with the doll or to the doll.  You could literally turn on The Conjuring, and at the last scene where the camera slowly zooms into the Annabelle doll's face, just pause it... stare at the screen for ninety minutes... then turn it off... and you've seen Annabelle.
Review here.

2. Into The Storm

Noah may have been told by a drunk, but Into the Storm was written by a six year old.  "Hey, tornadoes are so cool.  You know what's cooler?  Tornadoes and fire!"  I'm trying to pinpoint where everything went so horribly wrong with this movie.  I could go and blame Paranormal Activity once again for inspiring some choad to make a disaster movie a la found footage.  But, I've already done that.  I could chastise said choad for thinking it was a wise decision of casting "that guy who played the doctor in the first Hangover movie" as the lead role.  I could even go so far as to question God himself why he decided to make a choad as chaod-y as the choad who decided to make a tornado movie about tornados that can catch fire.  But, instead, I'm just going to lose faith in humanity itself and make an extensive list of things that I enjoy more than this movie... number one-- rubbing my face against a cheese grater, number two...
Review here.

1. Lucy

There are hardly words I can use to describe how much I hated, nay loathed, Lucy.  Maybe if I knew Spanish there would be a phrase that we don't have in English that can correctly express the feelings I had while watching this monstrosity.  It's kinda like this-- I want to be a filmmaker.  I want to write movies, maybe even direct my own one day.  But, if, for some reason, my dream is not accomplished and I find something else that I'm good at and I make a decent amount of money and I have a lovely wife and two to four wonderful children and good friends and I stay disease free and my kids go to Yale and I stay married and happy my entire life and die peacefully in my bed at 103... but the people who made Lucy still got it made and in a theater... I will have wasted my entire life.  People use ten percent of their brains.  Let's take for a minute that ANYONE still thinks that this is true... you can't make an entire movie about it!  That's like making a movie assuming there's people out there who still think that the Earth is flat.  Oh, she's tapped into more percentage of her brain so she can appear in cell phones and make Asian people fall down with a thought.  What?!?!?!  This movie has traveled so far into whatthefucksville, it will never be able to find its way out.  I've never felt dumber watching a movie that is supposed to be about smart people.  I left the theater dumb.  I couldn't do rudimentary math after watching Lucy.  I was drooling and looking for my helmut for three days after the movie ended.  Do not succumb to the belief that this movie is anything more than one person's sick joke to get a movie made that is so bad, only a select few noticed.  I hate Lucy so much that I have cut off all contact with all people named Lucy in my life... including my favorite aunt.  So thanks Scar-Jo.  She was really cool, too.
Review here.

HONORABLE MENTION: Ride Along, Tammy, Deliver Us From Evil, Sex Tape

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Woman In Black 2 Angel of Death: Scare The Crap Out Of Your Significant Other... Leave Unfulfilled

Ah, January.  Hollywood's dumping grounds of piss.  It's the perfect time to either avoid the theaters entirely for a few months or catch up on the last few Oscar-worth movies that came out near the end of the year (Go see Foxcatcher).  January is notorious for releasing unfunny comedies, unscary horror, and decent Liam Neeson films.  Finding a good movie released in January is, most times, a difficult feat.  So, I was not surprised to find The Woman In Black 2 to be the first movie to hit the marquee in 2015, especially without Harry Potter starring in it.  To my surprise, while it is a very bland movie that doesn't really expand the mythology of the first film, it's not that terrible either.  It's toast with butter.  That's it.

So, it's in England and the war is happening in the 40s and there's this lady who takes a group of children out of England for fear they'll be killed in German bombing and she takes them to the estate of the first movie.  (I actually quite enjoyed the first film, but it's been a few years since I've seen it, I don't actually remember a whole lot about it.)  There, one of the children sees The Woman in Black... which releases her.  I'm not sure how seeing her releases her.  Wouldn't she already be released if she was seen...?  Anyway, that's not important.  So, after this happens she starts preying on the orphans and killing them one by one (I was actually surprised this movie had the balls to kill off multiple kids... that actually impressed me a little bit).  Then, one of the kids gets possessed and the lady has to save him.  There isn't a whole hell of a lot of plot going on here, but that's not really the point of a January horror film, is it?

Here's what The Woman in Black 2 does really well-- disguises poor acting well with British accents, and jump-scares the crap out of you.  It has mastered the jump scare.  You can be expecting it-- BOOM-- something pops out.  You could be relaxing from the last jump scare-- BOOM-- another one.  They throw out jump scares like they're Tyler Perry movies in February.  Yes, they're cheap scares, but they're effective if that's what you're looking for.  You're not scared of anything going on in the movie, you're nervous you're going to audibly shout next to your significant other again.  It's like going to any of the Halloween mazes at amusement parks.  You enter the maze scared because you now something is going to jump out at you.  You're not worried that you're actually going to be killed. You don't feel like you're in any actual danger and you're not going to have nightmares about the actors in rubber masks with pennies in tin cans.  It's a quick BOO! and it's over and forgotten.  That's how this movie is.  My suggestion is that if you want to see an actual scary movie, one that will frighten you down to your very core and stay with you for days after... see The Babadook.

But, it could've been a lot worse.  At least it isn't stupid.  There is little story, but what little story there is was told in a coherent way.  There isn't great acting, but they've got British accents so there's no real complaint here.  And the director really knows how to jump scare.  He's got a niche and he sticks with it, which is respectable. It's only real value is if you want to take your girlfriend or boyfriend who has a history of being very easily scared, and watch them clutch your arm and jump out of their seat and scream bloody murder... it's actually even more entertaining than the movie.  As for a January release, especially a horror movie released in January, it should've been a lot more awful than it was, and I've certainly sat through a lot worse... it wasn't bad.  But it wasn't great either.