2014 world events had ups and downs, as did the collective art and media of our time. However, if you love movies as much as many others and I do, or simply are looking for engaging escapism to immerse yourself in, there actually were plenty of options to choose from. At the end of every year and the beginning of the next everyone from serious critics to the random passerby begins to form a “top list” of the movies they had seen. It is a celebration of the movies we enjoyed and a fun means to bring certain works to the attentions of their peers or to compare and contrast each experience they had at the movies. It’s not so much that these lists are some deep evaluation, but rather an entertaining way to group the stuff we like or rather what I liked.
So, here are the 20 films from 2014 I experienced & enjoyed and hope others check out:
Continue reading Top 20 Movies of 2014
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine) is probably the best active filmmaker doing film adaptations of musicals. In his film version of Chicago, Marshall combined staginess w/ the storytelling tools of cinema to create the best of both worlds: flashy musicals brought to life by cinematic inventions. In Into The Woods, Marshall teams up with Disney for his third movie musical, based on a Steven Sondheim stage show and the material has Marshall integrating the music into the action, with characters who really do sing to each other in a story that doesn’t require clunky excuses for them to do so. It probably also helps that the narrative is set at an intersection of classic fairy tales (some have already been adapted by Disney) where singing doesn’t feel quite so out of place, even for musical-averse audiences. The story follows a witch (Meryl Streep) who informs her neighbors, a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), that she can break a family curse if they can retrieve certain objects for a spell. This sends them into the woods (hey, just like the title!), and toward familiar faces playing bit roles in more well known tales like Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), of beanstalk-climbing fame. With masterful direction and an impeccable cast, Into The Woods is a delightful trip through stories many of us are familiar with…for the most part.
Continue reading INTO THE WOODS – Pretty Little Ditty (and nothing more)
Despite making a career of playing the same manchild, Seth Rogen (together with longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg) has consistently used his broadness as a vehicle for laughing at the stuff that makes us uncomfortable: cancer (50/50), the apocalypse (This Is the End) and even Zac Efron’s abs (Neighbors). All kidding aside, Rogen & Goldberg written & produced films have always been unafraid to go places that most people won’t and The Interview marks the first time he goes to a place that most people actually can’t: North Korea.
Continue reading THE INTERVIEW – Dumb & Offensive Comedy or Demented & Irreverent Satire?
The Hobbit, the novel by JRR Tolkien is seven chapters long and a little over 300 pages. That’s the exact amount of book—give or take some appendices—that Peter Jackson has managed to pad, stretch, strain, bloat, expand, and exhaust in his final effort to get three long “epics” out of one generally quick read. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, is the last gasp of this needlessly trifurcated adaptation. When the first Hobbit movie came out, the adaptation JRR Tolkien’s novel and prequel to filmmaker Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was cynical about the endeavor about it like most of us, but after some time I learned to enjoy it for what it was. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is a fantastic example of blockbuster movie making not to mention an exercise in the value of adaptation, and I didn’t really see the harm in hanging around the franchise a while longer, even without the benefits of characters I grew to love or an interesting story. The second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug tested this good-natured theory a great deal. I haven’t seen it since that first viewing, and I cringe at the idea of trying. Nevertheless, I still felt that if this is something you’re into, you should feel lucky that commerce allowed Jackson to keep delivering hours upon hours of “Middle Earth” and sword & sorcery fantasy shenanigans. The final chapter, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, however, broke me. Personally, it’s certainly one of the worst studio tent-poles in recent years, and now alongside the other entries in this bungled trilogy of error, it adds up to a movie franchise that elicits little more than a shrug & eye roll. I’m not sure if this one is technically better or worse than the last movie, but I do know neither of them are good as movies, let alone as Lord of the Rings fan-service. Maybe the first movie is a little okay, but these last two films are just huge bloated, poorly plotted and bafflingly executed trifles.
Continue reading “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies”- Peter Jackson’s Exhausting Saga Closer
If Interstellar is filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s (Memento, Inception, The Prestige) most ambitious film, it’s not because of its cost or its intergalactic scope, but rather because “love” is the most speculative and unscientific concept that he’s ever tried to explore. When Nolan was recently quoted as saying that his film is about “What happens when scientists bump up against these things that defy easy characterization and analysis — things like love”, his comment engendered skepticism from people whose enthusiasm for “the next Nolan film” was irrevocably hampered by the increasingly derided Batman-threequel The Dark Knight Rises. And while Interstellar drowns itself into near Speilberg-levels of sentimentality almost every time it’s on the precipice of arriving at a moment of cinematic wonder, Nolan’s approach to love is ultimately as blunt and practical as we should expect from the man who in Inception imagined the human subconscious into a labyrinth of color-coded videogame worlds. However it’s the core of Interstellar that presents a change of pace from his oeuvre: it doesn’t just contend that love is real; the film argues that it’s an evolutionary necessity.
Continue reading “INTERSTELLAR”- Christopher Nolan Enters a New Frontier
Look! Up in the sky! It’s Alejandro González Iñárritu’s (21 Grams, Biutiful, Babel) spectacular Birdman, screaming through the cultural stratosphere like a mighty force. Birdman or, (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) — to give the film its full title — is a subversive, funny and touching intertextual psychological-odyssey that flies in the face of cinematic convention. Since his 2000 debut, Amores Perros, Iñárritu is an explorer of the human condition. Each of his films has experimented with an array of different structures and techniques, from the handheld aesthetic of 21 Grams, to Babel‘s multi-stranded narrative framework. Birdman is unquestionably his most innovative and uncompromising work. Without compromising the views of a prospective viewer, the best I can offer is my takeaway about what this whole endeavor may or may not be about, something to keep in mind if you’re watching the film for the 1st time or again: that in the end, every work of art is, like every person, two stories — the one that they tell and the one that they are.
Continue reading “BIRDMAN”- The Power of Fiction to Transport Us and Transform Us
John Wick is a criminal underworld fantasy that merges inventive and crisp action sequences on to heightened world-building that evokes the works of Walter Hill and Sergio Leone, elevating what could have been a generic shoot-em-up into one of the more fully realized genre flicks in recent memory. The premise is simple: recent widower John Wick (embodied by a coldly swaggering Keanu Reeves), is on a bloody mission of revenge after his time grieving for his wife is interrupted by a home invasion that leaves his puppy dead and his car stolen. Co-directed by veteran stuntmen David Leitch and Chad Stahelski (founders of the 87Eleven Action Design stunt workshop & studio), John Wick reconfigures choice pieces of genre fiction and action movies past to create their own unique contribution to the genre. It’s a remarkably self-confident film whose paper-thin premise and setup actually work in its favor as a tight and functional connective thread stringing together the whole picture.
Continue reading “JOHN WICK”- Precision Execution in the Action Genre
Lives and society are largely based around the roles people play. Societies exist with an expectation that everyone plays a certain role. This provides order otherwise, it becomes a chaos. By “roles” I mean the “faces” they put on for the outside world, their loved ones and even for themselves. Sometimes it’s an image, a way of dealing with or adjusting the truth, many times it’s a lie to “fit in” with external expectations. Filmmaker David Fincher’s teams up with writer/feminist critic Gillian Flynn (who is adapting her own controversial novel) for Gone Girl, a film that is all about lies: the lies we tell each other, the lies society tells us and the lies we tell ourselves. It is a dark film with a cynical view of people. Gone Girl uses the framework of a standard-issue “whodunit” to create a bleak, darkly clever and absolutely biting satire on gender roles and dynamics, marriage and societal expectations. To go into detail about specifics in the story may in fact alter the experience and so prospective viewers may want to go into this film as “blind” as possible. Nevertheless the best review for such a film as this is to provide the context to get the uninitiated in the best possible mindset for such an experience.
Continue reading “GONE GIRL”- A Bleak and Cynical Satire Dressed as Lurid Pulp
Director Antoine Fuqua teams up with actor Denzel Washington, his muse in badassery, for the first time since 2001’s Training Day. In The Equalizer, a remake of the hit 1980s prime-time vigilante drama, Denzel gets to play a little more heroically in the role of Robert McCall, a semi-retiree who spends his days working at Home Mart (fictionalized Home Depot) and his sleepless nights reading classic literature at a local diner, where he befriends a young prostitute named Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz). An aura of mystery surrounds McCall though he always leaves a positive and generous impression on those he meets. However, when paying for a film called The Equalizer and given what the marketing promises, we know the McCall is every bit the kind of man Denzel Washington is great at playing, the righteous man who takes serious action and excites the part of audiences who crave simple cathartic vigilante action-movie justice. The familiarity and predictability work in the film’s favor more often than not in this thrilling yet tonally discordant and arguably overstuffed film.
Continue reading “The Equalizer” – Denzel Washington Has A Gun Too
Every film season, many disposable action thrillers make their way into theaters that any time a genre director displays basic filmmaking smarts, the result ends up seeming like a retro novelty. At the same time however that type of film seems dated in a way since the quality of TV productions has gone up. Such is the case with writer-director Scott Frank’s bleak potboiler A Walk Among The Tombstones, which stars Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, the unlicensed, recovering alcoholic gumshoe from author Lawrence Block’s book series.
Continue reading “A Walk Among the Tombstones” – Liam Neeson has a Gun Yet Again