Our 2014 Thanksgiving Week Movie Guide - 'Rosewater' to 'Penguins'
by Marco Cerritos
November 26, 2014
Continuing our annual tradition of posting Thanksgiving and Christmas Movie Guides every holiday season, our San Francisco contributor, Marco Cerritos, has once again put together a holiday movie guide for Thanksgiving 2014, giving a recap and rundown of what's playing and what's worth seeing (or skipping). Marco has seen everything playing, and while you may not always agree with his opinion, he provides the best reviews he can to make it a bit easier for everyone to choose. There are quite a few wonderful films now playing in theaters, so if you're still a bit unsure of what to watch or need extra tips, then look no further!
"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." -Alan Turing / The Imitation Game "It is the things we love most that destroy us." -President Snow / Mockingjay
This is an alphabetized list containing 10 films that, as of today, are playing in most theaters nationwide.
Dumb and Dumber To
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Bobby & Peter Farrelly (The Three Stooges, The Heartbreak Kid)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden
Review: The 20 years between the original Dumb and Dumber and this half-baked sequel are visible everywhere from the actor's faces to the strained attempts at comedy by filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Dumb and Dumber To is a noble attempt to make lightning strike twice but much like last year's Anchorman 2, sometimes returning to the well after a long absence isn't a good thing. Lead actors Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are very game for all the crude and gross-out humor the film can throw at them but seeing them try so hard to top themselves with every ascending gag becomes painful and even desperate by the time the movie is over. The Farrellys have a very blue-collar work ethic when it comes to making movies by trying to cram as much as possible into the film's running time, making the film more bloated and unnecessary than it has to be.
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball)
Starring: Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Sienna Miller
Review: The biggest surprise in Foxcatcher isn't Steve Carell's prosthetic nose or Channing Tatum's Oscar-worthy performance, rather it's director Bennett Miller's restraint in the material. Telling the true story of millionaire John DuPont and his unhealthy relationship with wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz, Miller could have taken the easy way out and sensationalized the story with obvious storytelling tricks. Instead, he takes his time and lets scenes play out with tension and uncomfortable silences. Some may find this technique "slow" or "boring" but the opposite is true. The story of DuPont and the Schultz brothers can be easily digested in a quick Google search but what makes Foxcatcher unique is the chilling humanity in these three main characters. Part of that spotlight comes in Miller's storytelling choices but the other undeniable factor is the acting. Steve Carell as Du Pont and Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as Mark and Dave Schultz each give career-defining performances and should look forward to many accolades this awards season.
Marco's Rating: B-
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada)
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Miranda Otto
Review: The Homesman is a movie with very good intentions that also suffers from haphazard direction. Tommy Lee Jones is no stranger to the Western, not only has he starred in his share of them but he also directed one a few years back (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada). This new project behind the camera is another Western that has Jones starring as a wanderer put in charge of a stagecoach transport through difficult terrain. Hilary Swank is his uneasy ally on this journey and while they make a good pair, the film spends too little time with them together. Jones' love for the scenery shines in long uncut takes but after a while it becomes repetitive and weighs the film down. Subplots meant to spotlight cameo performances also do nothing to move the story forward and instead pad the movie's running time. Much like Jones' Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Homesman is a decent movie in search of a tighter edit.
Horrible Bosses 2
Marco's Rating: C-
Directed by: Sean Anders (Sex Drive, That's My Boy)
Starring: Bateman, Sudeikis & Day, Jennifer Aniston, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz
Review: I won't make the easy joke and say Horrible Bosses 2 is in fact, horrible. But it is pretty bad. The first Horrible Bosses was an average entertainment that hit all the right notes and got the job done. There was no need for a sequel but of course we got one anyway, whether we asked for it or not. There is one obvious way a sequel to Horrible Bosses could go, by making the exploited workers from the first movie the horrible bosses themselves. The movie takes that easy way out except in this sequel they're not really horrible bosses, they're more like dumb and incompetent bosses setting off a chain reaction for the plot to move forward. Every comedic beat and plot point is overemphasized and dealt with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, making the movie too broad and improv-heavy. Director Sean Anders also co-wrote the script and on paper this pairing showed promise, then I realized he also co-wrote Dumb and Dumber To and it all made sense.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend, Catching Fire)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Jeffrey Wright, Julianne Moore
Review: If your movie title reeks of a cash grab by splitting it up for audiences who don't know any better, you are immediately suspect. The good news is Mockingjay Part 1 isn't the train-wreck I suspected but it's also not very good either. There are three Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins and by taking the weakest book and making it the longest movie, director Francis Lawrence has guaranteed that his audience will be in a very deep sleep by the time this movie is over. Jennifer Lawrence (no relation to the director) does her best to keep things going as the rebel heroine Katniss Everdeen but her attempts are thwarted by studio greed and excessive padding. What would normally take one scene to accomplish in a regular movie in this case takes at least three or four. Themes and motivations are repeated over and over again to make sure people get the message, the list of movie sins goes on and on. Mockingjay Part 1 is just the warm-up act to the real finale, skip this one and hope for the best next year when we get Part 2.
The Imitation Game
Marco's Rating: B-
Directed by: Morten Tyldum (Fallen Angels, Headhunters)
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong
Review: Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness) may seem an odd choice to play esteemed mathematician Alan Turing but his performance is the main selling point of The Imitation Game, an otherwise by-the-numbers historical retelling. Cumberbatch is the standout but solid supporting players include Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode as fellow English code-breakers during World War II racing to crack the infamous Enigma device and save countless lives. Director Morten Tyldum had his last film Headhunters elegantly show the process of how the wheels turn in every step of the plot. Here he does the exact opposite. We never fully understand how the Enigma machine works or how our heroes must go about stopping it. We just take them at their word and follow the A-B-C storyline as it moves forward. The Imitation Game is a ticking-clock movie with no sense of urgency, its flat storytelling only elevated by strong acting, particularly Cumberbatch who is the true standout.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Memento)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, Michael Caine
Review: Since its initial release, reviews of Interstellar have been split down the middle. Instead of nitpicking the obvious or obsessing over inconsistencies it's easier to admit that the movie is imperfect but the good outweighs the bad. Christopher Nolan's screenplays have rarely been subtle and the first act of Interstellar will not change anyone's mind on that fact. But after a very rocky start, something magical happens. The movie slowly starts to find its rhythm and becomes comfortable tackling its ideas. Much like our reluctant hero Cooper (played with a thick Southern drawl by Matthew McConaughey), the movie builds confidence and completely lets go. You are either onboard with the story of mankind's struggle for survival or you're not. Beautiful visuals and interesting ideas are the deciding factor here and very little has come close to matching Nolan's visuals in the depth of space. A viewing in 70mm IMAX is the best possible way to experience Interstellar and take in its elegant artwork.
Penguins of Madagascar
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Eric Darnell & Simon J. Smith
Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong
Review: Penguins of Madagascar is, simply put, innocuous and fun. This is one of the lesser entries in the Dreamworks Animation oeuvre but it's well-crafted junk food cinema. The titular penguins are spinoffs from the Madagascar movies, a mostly forgettable franchise expect for the last one (part 3) which managed to blend style and entertainment to make for one of the most underrated movies of that year. The penguins in the Madagascar movies are like Scrat the squirrel in the Ice Age movies, they pop up every now and then in small doses to steal the show as the main feature they inhabit is a colossal bore. Now the penguins have gotten their own movie and while you might think that more scene-stealing penguins might be a good thing, it's not exactly true. The spy movie they're put in the middle of isn't a game-changer by any means but is just enough to satisfy the young demographic this is aimed toward. Parents and older moviegoers will have a decent sit through Penguins of Madagascar but kids will get the most out of it.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Jon Stewart ("The Daily Show")
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia
Review: Jon Stewart's confident directorial debut Rosewater knows exactly what it wants to be from its first scene and rarely deviates. The film focuses on Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal of No, Blindness, Science of Sleep) covering presidential elections who is eventually mistaken for a spy. What follows aren't the wacky antics that Stewart's comedic history might suggest but instead we get a deadly serious depiction of Bahari's incarceration and mental withdrawl. Days turn to weeks and Stewart engulfs the viewer in the same imagery and torture that our protagonist is subjected to. Rosewater is a story of hope and survival told in a harsh and authentic way. Bernal is the audience surrogate bringing us into the story and his collaboration with Stewart is the key ingredient to making Rosewater work. After this promising debut I'm excited to see what Stewart decides to do next behind the camera.
The Theory of Everything
Marco's Rating: B-
Directed by: James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim, Shadow Dancer)
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson
Review: Much like The Imitation Game, Theory of Everything is another standard biopic whose high marks are mostly due to a strong lead performance. In this case it's Eddie Redmayne portraying the iconic Stephen Hawking that is getting much deserved accolades. He truly is transformative and while the film as a whole never lives up to its full potential, Redmayne swings for the fences and dominates the entire movie. We see every setup of Hawking's life beat by beat in The Theory of Everything and it's never lively or surprising. It just exists as a way to keep the plot moving forward. The spark of life that the storytelling needs to match Redmayne's towering performance is sorely missing, relegating the movie to been-there-done-that status. In other words, if you've seen one biopic you know exactly where The Theory of Everything is going but the joy of this movie isn't in the by-the-numbers journey. It's in the conductor and Redmayne commands the screen in such a way that you overlook the mundane aspects surrounding his performance.
Thanks for reading our latest Movie Guide! Up next, my annual Christmas Week Movie Guide is coming in December. This has been a very intriguing year for movies and we hope you enjoy your time at the movies.
Have you seen any of these movies yet? What are you planning to see this week, if anything?