ENJOY THE SHOW
What a time for Blackhat to come out! A procedural thriller about capturing a nefarious cyberhacker seems like feast for the masses after Sony Pictures being hacked by North Korea - or one of their own employees depending on who you believe. The tension should be built into what is already a promising return from director Michael Mann. That's not exactly what we get, though. For all its potential, Blackhat ends up being a run-of-the-mill paper chase with little solid action and even less in form of Mann-heavy cool. Chris Hemsworth, always good for some charm, doesn't even seem to be playing along in what amounts to an unfortunate and mostly dull misfire, a sad affair given Mann's mostly flawless film history.
If you're wondering whether or not Clint Eastwood has any new tricks under his hat, you may be disappointed with his latest outing, American Sniper. Not so much a war movie as it is war-movie cliches holding hands, the biopic on Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, based on his autobiography, is doing a disservice to the very real accomplishments the man achieved. Perhaps the simplest, most straight-forward, no-nuance technique was a way of honoring the American hero. Unfortunately it results in the opposite, giving us the hammy and obtuse Eastwood with which watchers of his work have become all too familiar. Contrary to the obvious pun, the film actually hits its mark. It's just Eastwood's mark we're watching.
"This has been such a bad year for movies." That odd statement inevitably rears its head throughout social media pretty much every year. The easy response, the right response, to such a statement is, "You haven't seen enough movies." There are always great films out there just waiting to be found, incredible pieces of cinema mixed in with all the weekly, standard garbage lovers of film have to sift through. It's always worth sifting through to find the diamonds in the rough, those quality treasures of exceptional filmmaking and storytelling. So now I present to you my own Top 10 Films of 2014 that I am thankful to have discovered.
Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way. The Interview is the latest comedy from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the filmmaking duo who previously brought us the screamingly hilarious This Is the End. For that reason, along with Rogen and James Franco starring, The Interview was anticipated. Then the troubles began. They've been well-documented, and the debate on who's responsible, who's to blame, and who's benefiting from it all has quickly become tiring. The very scary point is there was a brief moment where we weren't sure if we would see this movie. The fear that The Interview would be erased from existence, spend film history on a shelf as a mere legend, was a reality. But then Christmas came early.
Another year of great movies, another year of great music within those movies. I love soundtracks and always have. At one point in college my shelves were lined with dozens of CDs, soundtracks whose music allowed me to relive those movies. Music can bring so much power to a scene, and after seeing the film, you put that music on anywhere and let it fill your mind with best moments that movie had to offer. There were great collections of movie music in this year, so many that it was difficult coming up with my Top 10 Best Soundtracks/Scores of 2014. But here are the tunes that I will be enjoying for years to come. Read on!
It's all come down to this? After five epic-length movies and 13 years worth of anticipation, Peter Jackson delivers his final episode in the Middle Earth, cinematic mythos. At least for now. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is nothing but what that title suggests, a final, ultimate battle for riches and glory that puts a cap on Bilbo Baggins' journey to there and back again. At 144-minutes, it's the shortest film in the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit sagas and dispenses with any idea of story or narrative arc. The Battle of the Five Armies is all-out war with brief bouts of exposition. Is it too much of a good thing? Yes, somewhat.
Charles Manson really fucked this country up. Sure, a dozen contributing factors over decades have led America to where it is now, but those 1969 murders undoubtedly shook things up. The hippie movement and free love became ostracized, beaten down by the fears and paranoia suddenly knocking on every American door, especially in California. That’s the world shown in Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation, Inherent Vice, a film with an equal hand in parody and satire than it does webbed detective pulp. Immaculately presented, the film proves even when Anderson’s tongue is firmly in his cheek, his eye and feel for storytelling are still full of depth and grand design. It can only be described in two words: Right on!
Long ago – this past Friday – in a galaxy far, far away, the first footage from J.J. Abrams' maiden voyage to the Star Wars universe, The Force Awakens, was unleashed in 30 theaters across the country and on the web for the world to see. It was short. It was simple. It was to the point, and, through and through, it was utterly captivating. Even those completely underwhelmed by George Lucas' last three entries into the series were silenced by the overwhelming visuals Abrams and crew presented. And now, nearly 48 hours after its release, that teaser continues to stun and amaze from frame one to that final, breathtaking shot.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I, the first of a two-part finale wrapping up the beloved and lucrative Hunger Games franchise, is a stand-in representation of a number of rages in Hollywood. A dystopian future in which the people, under the control of a brutish government, are beginning to rebel? Check. A tough, female protagonist who finds her emotions torn between two men? Double check. Even the idea of splitting the final novel in Suzanne Collins' young adult series into two films is matching the current "way to do things." Despite its familiar tendencies, Mockingjay - Part I is a solid beginning, a fine launching point for the true finale yet to come, and for what it's worth, it's as entertaining as it is justified.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, there's a darkness surrounding Los Angeles that captivates moviegoers when it's presented in film. Writer/director Dan Gilroy understands this and realizes the darkness in its truest form with Nightcrawler, a crime drama that not only dishes on the grimiest of LA grime, but revels in it. With equal parts style, wit, and discomfort - the latter getting the slight edge, especially given the scuzzy-above-all-else performance from Jake Gyllenhaal - the film wallops the viewer's senses and expectations, a hint of satire pushing it well into the forefront of modern crime drama conversations, making it shine.
There's an odd correlation between cineplex screens and toy-store shelves these days. The movies-being-turned-into-toys-being-turned-into-movies cycle is hardly a 2014 revelation. But, with Michael Bay's most recent Transformers movie scraping the well in search for content, it finally felt like that synergistic cycle was a foregone conclusion. Entertainment and, God forbid, story were afterthoughts to the dollars and cents the film ultimately pulled in. I use Transformers as the example, because Bay's horror-movie production company, Platinum Dunes, has a product in which they'd like you to invest. It's called Ouija, and it's awful.
Writer and director David Ayer brings his particular brand of hard-hitting action and remorseless intensity to the muddied front of World War II-torn Europe in Fury, more specifically the metal beasts that rolled through the landscape on rusted tracks. Fury’s heart is in both the hardened men inside those tanks as well as the hellish events that made them that way. It pulls up a number of war movie tropes, some of which give the film a shopworn feel. Regardless, the out-and-out ferocity of Ayer’s camera and action with a staggering slate of performances led by Brad Pitt makes Fury as solid as any good war film before it.
It's hard to detect a good reason for Annabelle, the horror prequel to last year's terrifying The Conjuring, to exist. It's not as if the makers behind this latest film have anything groundbreaking to say about haunted house movies, creepy doll movies, or even possession movies despite the film dabbling in all three. Annabelle's creativity appears in its scares, something the film does quite well. But no matter how many times it makes you jump, regardless of the menacing tone it accomplishes in droves, Annabelle ends up being yet another standard, generic supernatural thriller that only succeeds in surface-level horror.
David Fincher became master of his craft by honing technical skills first, using the newest technology on dozens of music videos and his first slate of films: Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room to name a few. A technically gifted film from him now is expected, and it's allowed him to play around with storytelling rules. Gone Girl, Fincher's latest, is more akin to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo than his earlier works, the only constant in his career being an ability to create damn good art. Gone Girl is just that, a cynical thriller bordering on dark comedy too often to be unintentional and another success from a master filmmaker.