Posts Tagged ‘2014 movies’

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Predestination (2014)

July 22, 2015

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor
Director: The Spierig Brothers

Bottom Line: I’m not going to lie: this sci-fi, futuristic time traveler made my head spin… with joy. Predestination is chock full of wonderful twists, turns, and time travelling paradoxes. Ethan Hawke plays a time-jumping Temporal Agent whose job is to prevent future killers from ever getting a chance to commit their crimes. On his latest assignment, he’s posing as a bartender when he runs into a customer (Snook) that promises to tell him the best story he’s ever heard. “His” tragic story of abandonment, lost love, and gender reassignment sets the stage for a series of surprises and a mind-bending journey through time.

Predestination requires one’s full attention. It’s not the kind of movie where you can multitask and get the full experience. If you blink, you might miss a crucial plot development. The first couple twists are pretty surprising, but eventually it’s pretty easy to guess what is coming – although that doesn’t make it any less fun. This movie breaks pretty much every time travelling rule you can think of and it would be very easy for things to get hokey, but the filmmakers take the developments seriously and Predestination totally works despite it’s many potential pitfalls.

I thought Sarah Snook gave an incredible performance in this movie. She’s tasked with a role that is built for award season yet somehow Predestination has been overlooked by pretty much everybody. It’s one of the better performances in all of 2014 – a true can’t miss.

Predestination just might wind up a cult/genre classic. It’s a riveting story with a knockout performance from Snook and a far more entertaining 2014 Ethan Hawke film than the overrated Boyhood which somehow got showered with all the awards attention. It’s a must see for sci-fi fans and I’d strongly recommend it to everyone else too.

Replay Value: A second viewing is probably required.
Sequel Potential: This should be a one and done.
Oscar Potential: Sarah Snook was certainly robbed. Really makes me wonder if this will be considered a 2015 film.

Grade: 7/10 (Must See)

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The Gambler (2014)

May 24, 2015

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larsen, John Goodman, Jessica Lange
Director: Rupert Wyatt (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes)

Bottom Line: “One man, two lives.” More like no life. And there’s very little life in Rupert Wyatt’s remake of 1974’s The Gambler starring James Caan. Mark Wahlberg plays a college literature professor who not only seems to get off on gambling for high stakes, but also on belittling the people that deal the cards. He treats his mother like she’s another loan shark and makes sure his students know they are unimportant in the grand scope of the world. He borrows money liberally and paying it back is of little concern to him – he’d rather borrow more and take a shot with it. And his style of betting is pretty detrimental. If you bet everything you have and then double your bet every time you win, there’s only one possible outcome: eventually you will lose it all. Because of this, there is very little tension during the gambling scenes. You know what’s going to happen and, even worse, you want it to. Because this is a man that no one could possibly ever want to root for. You want a good, tense gambling scene? Watch In America and wait for the family to go the fair.

I find Mark Wahlberg’s acting to be pretty hit or miss and, for me, The Gambler was a miss. Perhaps it’s a function of a weak script, but I had a really hard time taking his character seriously in this movie. The performance pretty much amounts to strutting around with a smirk on his face and acting like he’s better than everyone else. This guy is at rock bottom and you’d never know it if you were an outsider. He asks someone in his class “do I look happy?” and even though the answer is supposed to be an implied no, he actually seems pretty content with his situation. As one character says to him: “you want to lose” and it sure seems true.

As someone that has had gambling and alcohol dominate their life to the point of bottoming out on multiple occasions, The Gambler just didn’t feel very authentic to me. I can relate to the compulsion of gambling my last dollar and I can even relate to borrowing money to gamble while worrying about how I’ll pay it back later. But what I can’t relate to is a man with no glimpse of humanity. There isn’t a second in this film where they show you even a morsel of someone with a soul. I just never got the feeling that he felt the true gravity of his situation or that he even cared. And if he doesn’t care, why should we?

Replay Value: I can’t imagine watching this again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Shut out at the Oscars.

Grade: 4.5/10 (Forgettable/Watchable)

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The Imitation Game (2015)

May 17, 2015

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Director: Morten Tyldum (Headhunters)

Bottom Line: It was interesting timing for me to watch The Imitation Game considering I just watched director Morten Tyldum’s excellent Headhunters last week and a few weeks before that I saw Ex Machina, whose plot is largely centered around something called a Turing Test, which evaluates if a machine can exhibit intelligent behavior similar to that of a human being. I knew nothing of The Imitation Game plot prior to watching it so it was a pleasant surprise to discover it is the story of Alan Turing, a highly regarded British mathematician and cryptanalyst for whom the Turing Test was named after.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives his typical wonderful performance as Turing, a man whose awkward genius and social ineptitude isn’t that far removed Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes portrayal on his BBC series. He plays Turing with a touch less narcissism and quite a bit more vulnerability. Indeed, Turing was a homosexual in a time (the 1940s-1950s) when such a thing wasn’t just frowned upon, it was prosecutable. While the film spends time detailing his arrest for gross indecency and flashes back to his schooling as a youth and the formation of his first meaningful relationship with another boy, the majority of the film highlights his time at Bletchley Park, a British codebreaking centre, working with a team of fellow geniuses and trying to crack Enigma, a machine used by Nazi Germany to send coded military messages.

The Imitation Game is an amazing and heartbreaking story, in which one of the greatest (unknown) heroes of World War II is later vilified by his country for something we now view as socially acceptable. The film combines drama and humor exceptionally well. Turing is portrayed as a flawed, often self-centered human being, but still someone that is quite easy to root for. Cumberbatch is worthy of his Oscar nomination and Keira Knightley is also great as one of his fellow codebreakers and continues to solidify her status as what I consider to be The Next Kate Winslet.

The Imitation Game delivers on all levels with a great story and top notch acting. Alan Turing is a man whose time and contributions to our world should never be forgotten. The posthumous pardon he was granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 was long overdue.

Replay Value: This is definitely a film worth watch again and probably worth owning.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: Won Best Adapted Screenplay. Cumberbatch and Knightley received acting nominations, Tyldum a directing nom, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, film editing, production design, and score.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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Birdman (2014)

May 3, 2015

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros, Babel)

Bottom Line: Birdman is a brilliant piece of filmmaking from director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s shot and edited in a way that makes it seem like the first two hours of the film were done entirely in one take. While the reality is a bit different, this format still required several long takes and tedious acting and timing from the film’s performers. What results is a seamless journey through a New York theater and the mind of a former Hollywood action star named Riggan – played wonderfully by Michael Keaton – as he tries to reinvent and endear himself to the masses by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway show.

While Birdman isn’t my favorite film of 2014, it’s easy to see why the Academy and critics seemed to agree that it was the best one. From a technical standpoint, they are probably right. It’s also a great character study, as Keaton’s Riggan is quite mystifying – it can be difficult to tell reality from fantasy. What is clear is his desire to break free of the character that made him famous years before, as Riggan is in constant battle with Birdman’s voice in his head. Riggan is certainly more focused on his relationship with his “celebrity” than he is with those in his own personal life. He barely notices his daughter (Stone) even though she works with him in the theater and his love affair with one of his co-stars hardly seems to register with him. This is a man that is highly self-involved. He’s too entrenched with his own demons to notice anyone else’s.

Birdman gives us great performances across the board. It’s the best performance I’ve ever seen from Keaton – by a large margin. It’s hard to imagine that Riggan could have been played by anyone else. Edward Norton gives the film’s best performance, however, as Mike Shiner, an established Broadway star that is hired at the last minute to replace one of the show’s actors after an unfortunate “accident.” Shiner is a difficult person and wastes little time in making an enemy of Riggan – suggesting changes in dialogue during his first read through and insisting on drinking real alcohol during rehearsals. Norton plays the role gleefully and provides numerous laughs in the film. The rest of the ensemble cast is sharp and everyone does well with the difficult shooting format.

I thought Birdman was a great film. It’s one that is tough to digest after one viewing and requires a bit deeper thinking, so it’s possible I could one day view it as a masterpiece. The one take style is unique and adds to the film’s wonder instead of coming across gimmicky. Keaton and Norton give stunning performances. I don’t think Birdman is for everyone – it’s a bit grimy and plenty difficult – but for serious filmgoers, it’s a clear must see.

Replay Value: Multiple viewings required.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Crushed the Oscars, winning statues for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, while being nominated in five other categories, including acting noms for Keaton, Norton, and Stone. Interestingly, Birdman did not receive a nomination in film editing, which kind of boggles my mind.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)

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Nightcrawler (2014)

April 28, 2015

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
Director: Dan Gilroy

Bottom Line: Nightcrawler is one of the best films of 2014. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a knockout performance as Louis Bloom, a sociopath that has absolutely no moral compass and will go to any length to reach his goals. In this case, the goal is to become Los Angeles’ most prominent nightcrawler – a job that requires him to listen to police scanners so he can be the first person on the scene with a video camera in order to take exclusive footage he can sell off to local news stations. And what do they want? White people in good neighborhoods – dead – and preferably killed by minorities. Or gruesome accidents. It’s a perfectly sleazy job for a seedy person like Louis Bloom. It’s amusing watching him flounder while figuring out the ropes of nightcrawling, but he’s sharp, so he quickly becomes adept at it. Of course, he needs just a little bit of help, which he gets by hiring a homeless man named Rick (Ahmed) for $30 a night to help him navigate to crime scenes. And it’s his relationship with Rick that best illustrates exactly how self-centered Louis is – this is a man that has no friends and truly cares about no one other than himself. Rene Russo checks in as the graveyard news editor for Channel 6, the company Louis exclusively sells his material to. Although it’s more subtle, she’s no less despicable than Louis – she cares more about putting out product than her own self-respect and she also appears to have no line she won’t cross for a scoop. And she’s certainly willing to air whatever Louis shoots no matter how questionable it may be. It’s a decent performance from Russo, but the character is more interesting than the acting is.

Director Dan Gilroy does a great job in his directorial debut. Watching Louis and Rick navigate the streets of L.A. really brings you into the city and almost makes it a character all of its own. He keeps Nightcrawler intriguing before reaching one of the most intensely suspenseful climaxes I’ve seen in quite some time. Nightcrawler really pulled me in from the opening scene and didn’t let me loose until the end credits. It was probably the most riveting film I saw in all of 2014. I think it’s borderline criminal that Gyllenhaal didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his acting work here. While I haven’t seen some of the nominated performances (soon!), it’s pretty clear that he does better work here than Bradley Cooper does in American Sniper. He’s creepy. He’s unsettling. He’s a sociopath to the T. It’s truly great work from Jake here.

Nightcrawler is a great film with a stunning performance from Gyllenhaal. It’s as entertaining as any film I saw in 2014 and the climax is breath-stoppingly awesome. Much like the car crashes and murders Louis films, it’s a film so grimy you just can’t take your eyes off it.

Replay Value: Seen it twice… it’s probably worth owning. I loved it, but it does lose some of its suspense the second time around.
Sequel Potential: Not the kind of film that should have a sequel.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but Gyllenhaal probably should have gotten an acting nom and I have seen Best Picture noms I liked less than this movie.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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The Raid 2 (2014)

April 26, 2015

Starring: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian
Director: Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption)

Bottom Line: Honestly, I feel like that poster says it all. The Raid 2 deserves any and all praise heaped upon it. Gareth Evans – who already wrote and directed the excellent original – has now established himself as the premiere action director in the industry – at least for anyone paying attention. While stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian deserve a lot of the credit for the phenomenal fight choreography, Evans’ ability to make everything look stunningly real is nothing short of amazing. I can assure you, you have never seen fight scenes as awesome as the ones in The Raid series.

The Raid 2 continues the story of Rama (Uwais), a rookie police officer in Indonesia that is now being recruited by a secret task force to go undercover as a prisoner and befriend the son (Putra) of a known crime lord in order to infiltrate their organization and gather evidence against dirty cops. What results is an action epic with a surprisingly swift 2.5 hour run time that rarely takes a breather from its astonishing action sequences – we’re talking prison mud fights, baseball bat and hammer action, and possibly the best car chase scene ever captured on film. Gareth Evans is a true master of his craft. How his films haven’t attracted more mainstream attention boggles my mind.

The Raid 2 is every bit as good as the original when it comes to action, but packs significantly more substance. The more I ponder it, the more I think it might be one of the greatest action movies of all-time. It’s a clear classic in its genre and one of the best and most overlooked movies of 2014. A clear must see and probably a future classic. I can say with confidence that I’m eagerly looking forward to anything Gareth Evans has planned in the future and if Iko Uwais is really in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as he is rumored to be, I have a feeling people are going to be talking about his character afterwards.

Replay Value: I had to watch it twice before I sent it back to Netflix. Possibly a must own film.
Sequel Potential: The Raid 3 has been announced (directed by Evans but Iko Uwais is not attached) and an American remake is on its way.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 9/10 (Potential Classic)

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The Babadook (2014)

April 19, 2015

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Director: Jennifer Kent

Bottom Line: The Babadook is an extremely strong horror film from first time director Jennifer Kent. It’s a story about a mother and her young, troubled son dealing with grief several years after her husband died in a car accident driving her to the hospital to give birth. In the midst of the mother struggling to keep her son from acting out in basically any public setting – particularly school – a mysterious children’s book appears in their home, filled with disturbing pop out pictures and a sinister message. Soon after, the son becomes obsessed with The Babadook and the mother begins to unravel as the book’s monster begins to haunt their home.

Kent utilizes atmosphere and a slow build to create scares and tension in The Babadook and the result is quite easily the best horror film of 2014 and one of the better movies overall. The film feels like a cross between A Nightmare On Elm Street and Jumanji, but back when Freddy Krueger was still scary and a bit of a mystery. The monster is pretty unique but, although it gets title billing, mostly takes a back seat to the relationship between son and mother and Essie Davis’ remarkable transformation. Davis was so good in The Babadook that I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better performance in a horror movie. In fact, I was so impressed that I kept thinking about how much her acting reminded me of Ellen Burstyn’s work in Requiem For A Dream, which is one of my all-time favorite performances. Davis genuinely steals the show.

The Babadook is smart, unique, and genuinely scary. It ranks up there with The Conjuring and It Follows as the best horror movies of the past five years or so. Complete with a knockout performance from its lead actress, it’s a must see film for horror fans and highly recommended for all but the most squeamish filmgoers.

Replay Value: I’d watch it again.
Sequel Potential: This is the kind of strong film that typically launches a franchise that eventually becomes completely watered down.
Oscar Potential: No Oscar attention, but lots of accolades from everywhere else – particularly as a debut film and for Davis’ acting.

Grade: 7/10 (Must See)