A Year of Movies – 2014

The following post will be updated periodically. Movies are presented in no particular order, though are organized in categories of Good, Okay, and Bad. Ratings are on a scale of 0 to 4 stars. Good is 3 stars or greater, Okay is less than 3 but greater than 2, Bad is less than 2.

The Good:

A Walk Among the Tombstones: ***
Stars: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour,
Written & Directed by: Scott Frank

Liam Neeson stars as a recovering alcoholic ex-cop turned P.I. investigating a grisly kidnapping of a drug trafficker’s wife. This is a slow, simmering film that never relents as the suspense gradually builds as the story progresses. The pacing may be slow for some, but it allows room for the characters to develop and breathe – Neeson is particularly excellent in his role. I was struck by his tremendous screen presence in the movie; his mere physical appearance on screen communicating more about his character than any of his dialogue. Overall, a solid thriller centered on an excellent performance by Neeson that succeeds on many fronts.

Chef: *** ½Chef Movie Poster
Stars: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Bobby Canavale, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Emjay Anthony
Written and Directed by: Jon Favreau

A charming film filled with likeable characters and a pleasant story. An unhappy chef at a high end restaurant in Los Angeles has a very public falling out with a food critic (Oliver Platt) which results in him losing his job. At the prodding of his ex-wife, he begins to put his life back together and repair his domestic relationships by opening a food truck. Any minor implausible events that occur are easy to overlook thanks to a great cast that is clearly having fun with the material. A strong return to form for  Favreau, who has previously written and directed the cult classic Swingers and the underrated Made.

The Expendables 3: ***
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzneggar, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt
Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Delivers exactly as promised: over-the-top action, wise cracking one-liners and a bunch of old action stars giving it one last go. Plot doesn’t really matter much in a movie like this. Chances are, you already know if you want to see this or not and  whether you’ll enjoy it or not. I liked it for what it is; a fun throwback to the old 80’s and 90’s action movies. The cast certainly had fun making it and if you’re up for a mindless action movie, chances are you will too.

Guardians of the Galaxy: *** ½
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker
Written by: James Gunn & Nicole Perlman
Directed by: James Gunn

A super-hero movie that is fresh, fun and quirky enough that you forget that you’re seeing the same story that’s been told in the countless super-hero movies that have been released over the past decade. It’s a familiar story where the galaxy is threatened by a crazy villain who needs a rare item in order to conjure up the chaos and destruction he desires. Thankfully for both the galaxy and the audience, a rag-tag group of individuals come together to prevent this. The real joy of the movie are the characters, as the cast has genuine chemistry and the characters are well written, quirky and likeable. The film also gets away from the dark and somber trend that has developed with recent super-hero movies and instead keeps things light and fun. This approach works, the cast makes it work even better and despite it being a touch too long, when the credits rolled I found myself surprisingly impressed with what I had just seen. In short, an enjoyable breath of fresh air for the tired super-hero genre. The film does leave you pondering one question though: how much did Vin Diesel get paid to utter 1 line over and over?

Xmen Days of Future PastX-Men: Days of Future Past: ***
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Michael Lerner
Written by: Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg & Matthew Vaughmn
Directed by: Bryan Singer

An entertaining film, particularly in the way it ties in with the other X-Men installments and creates an alternate history of sorts. Days of Future Past ties in the old X-Men crew from the first three X-Men movies with the new crew from X-Men: First Class, with a story that follows Wolverine as he goes back in time to prevent a catastrophic outcome in the present day. The film is clever, has a couple great action scenes and features a strong cast that do a good job with the material. If you’re a fan of the series, this represents one of the stronger outings – if you’re not, you won’t pick up on some of the subtleties but are still likely to enjoy yourself. This movie shows that this series is not slowing down – it will certainly be interesting to see where it goes from here.

The Okay:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: **
Stars: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely & Ed Brubaker
Directed by: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

When Captain America: The First Avenger came out, I praised it for the fact that, if nothing else, we had a hero who wasn’t  tarnished and compromised unapologetically wearing an American flag. Here was a movie that didn’t apologize or cast aspersions on the hero or the United States; it didn’t present the US as some anti-hero or some blight on the world. No, Captain America went out and beat the crap out of some Nazis – and didn’t apologize for it. Now the sequel comes along and does the exact opposite. All the anti-Bush Administration conspiracy theory tropes are on full display here, with Robert Redford at the center of it doing his best Dick Cheney through the whole movie. The movie wants to be a thriller in the vein of The Conversation, with Cap routing out a nefarious conspiracy within the government, but the results are less than stellar. The action pieces are serviceable, the banter between the leads sharp (Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson have some good on-screen chemistry) but the end result is pretty lacklustre due to a weak and predictable plot. The movie shows its hand early and the results are predictable. The film tries hard to be relevant and transcend the genre by making political statements that are supposed to be intelligent and pointed, but are really just lazy and clichéd. Hopefully the next outing with Captain America is a little more inspired than this muddled effort. november-man-poster

The November Man: **½
Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich
Written by: Michael Finch & Karl Gajdusek
Directed by: Roger Donaldson

Pierce Brosnan is back in spy mode, starring as a retired CIA operative Peter Devereaux in this solid genre picture. Devereaux is enjoying a quiet retirement when he is pulled back into the field for a mission that goes awry and ends up pitting himself against his former protégé and employers. The usual spy-movie elements are all here: agency moles, double crossing, conflicted allegiances and timely plot twists. What keeps this from becoming a tired genre picture is the crisp pacing and direction that Donaldson employs in the film. He knows exactly what kind of movie this is and plays to its strengths. The capable direction, along with a couple of solid performances from an ex-Bond (Brosnan) and an ex-Bond girl (Kurylenko), elevate what some may think is a by-the-numbers genre film into something a bit more than that; a solid and entertaining spy film.

Transformers: Age of Extinction: **
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Pelts, Kelsey Grammer, TJ Miller, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Directed by: Michael Bay

Do you like robots, explosions and Mark Whalberg? If yes, you’ll probably enjoy this very loud, very explosive and very Mark Whalberg movie. If you don’t, then you should probably avoid this. Age of Extinction delivers exactly what it promises; nothing more, nothing less. Say what you will about Michael Bay but he knows what he’s doing when it comes to this sort of thing. I honestly don’t remember much from any of the Transformers movies; they all sort of bleed together when I think of them. That said, this doesn’t do much to change that – it is what it is, an enjoyable way of spending a couple mindless hours if you like seeing large destructive fights between massive in the middle of large cities.

The Bad:

Hercules: *
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal
Written by: Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos & Steve Moore
Directed by: Brett Ratner

Utterly forgettable. In fact, as I write this I am having a tough time remembering anything specific from the movie. From what I can remember, the movie is vague as to whether Hercules (played by Dwayne Johnson) is in fact the son of Zeus or simply someone who plays up the rumors and myths for his advantage. The movie features thin characters, if one could call them that, a dull plot and while the action scenes are fine, it is simply doesn’t come close to redeeming this mess. It shamelessly sets itself up for countless sequels that will hopefully never materialize.

Oscar Picks

oscars

The Oscars are on tonight and it will interesting to see who wins in a number of categories. Best Picture, Original Screenplay and Best Actress all look to be highly competitive categories, with many of the nominees in each category deserving of an award. All in all, I suspect Gravity will have the night; it is just too good of a film to be shut out. Anyhow, below are my predictions which I’ll be going with in my Oscar pool – feel free to plagiarize.

Best Picture Prediction: Gravity
Other Nominees:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

To me, Best Picture this year comes down to American Hustle, Gravity, or 12 Years a Slave. I think one of these films is likely to pick up the most awards tonight and my money will be on Gravity. The dark horses here are likely Philomena and Captain Phillips, but I think in the end Gravity will take the award. As I said earlier, Gravity is just too good of a film to be overlooked.

Best Actor Prediction: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Other Nominees:
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

I could see this going to Bruce Dern or Chiwetel Ejiofor; if it does go to Ejiofor then 12 Years a Slave is likely sweeping the night. McConaughey picked up a Golden Globe for his performance and I suspect tonight he’ll also pick up his first Oscar as well; he’s the safe bet for this category.

Best Actress Prediction: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Other Nominees:
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

All actresses nominated this year have put in tremendous performances in their respective films. Gravity is a special effects only film without Bullock’s stellar acting, Streep is razor sharp in August: Osage County and both Amy Adams and Judi Dench turn in excellent performances in their respective films. That said, Blanchett is outstanding in Blue Jasmine and will likely pick up the award tonight, though I would be okay with a tie and all nominees receiving Oscars in this category this year.

Best Director Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Other Nominees:
David O. Russel, American Hustle
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Cuarón has picked up a lot of “Best Director” during the awards season and is the favorite for the Oscar. I really cant see any of the others winning, except perhaps McQueen (and if so, 12 Years is likely sweeping everything else). That said, Cuarón is the favorite and the safe pick for this category.

Here are my predictions for a few other categories:

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Best Animated Film: Frozen
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russel, American Hustle

Reviewed: 3 Days to Kill

3 Days to Kill

3 Days to Kill: * 1/2 (out of 4)
Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen
Writers: Luc Besson & Adi HasakDirector: McG

3 Days to Kill is a discombobulated mess of a movie that, while possessing moments of entertainment, struggles to find the right tone, the right pace; the right anything really. Kevin Costner (making a bit of a comeback these days) stars as Ethan Renner, an aging hitman for the CIA who discovers that he has months to live after his disease inconveniently manifests itself while he’s chasing down a bad guy. After this is revealed to him, he quickly retires and heads to Paris, hoping to reconnect with his long forgotten wife and now teenage daughter. Unfortunately for Renner, his apartment is being occupied by squatters (the first of a few odd and disjointed subplots) and the CIA won’t leave him alone. He is quickly roped back into duty at the behest of a truly bizarre character named Vivi Delay, played by a half-crazy Amber Heard. Renner resists at first, but ultimately relents due to the CIA luckily possessing an experimental drug that may or may not cure or slow Renner’s disease. This leads Renner to juggle his family and work, leading to some truly odd scenes and sudden shifts in tone.

At this point, the film simply derails and careens back and forth between a Liam Neeson badass action flick to a family drama about an absent father reconnecting with his wife and daughter, with bizarre dark humor sprinkled throughout the mix. While the action sequences have a bit of pop to them and some of the comedic attempts elicit laughter, the emotional drama falls flat which translates into us not caring about the characters. Costner practically sleepwalks through the film and the scenes between him and his daughter come off as either forced or clichéd. This all goes without mentioning the extremely contrived ending, which can only be explained by the writers discovering they had 10 minutes to wrap up the film and hastily complied.

3 Days to Kill is a bizarre mish-mash of gritty violence, dark humor, odd-ball characters, plot devices and overused clichés. It attempts to be original by combining these different elements and it results in poor cohesion and a disjointed film. Clocking in just under 2 hours it’s hard to believe this is a result of poor editing; rather the problems likely have more to do with the writing of Luc Besson and Adi Hasak. If they had made this a leaner story and shed some of the proverbial fat, the results may have been better. As it stands, 3 Days to Kill is simply a messy and ultimately unrewarding experience.

A New Year

2013 was an extremely hectic year for me, so hectic it carried over into January, hence my New Year’s post arriving closer to February. That said, it is a New Year and having gotten a lot off of my plate, I intend on turning back to this neglected blog and writing a lot more in the coming year. While I plan on focusing a lot more on movies, I will also offer commentary on various political or current events as well. My goal for this space range from helping you find a pick for a movie night to provoking thoughts and discussion about various other topics. As always, if you agree, disagree, or just find something I’ve written intersteing, please leave a comment as I appreciate any and all honest feedback.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

 

Some say I'm opinionated….

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