Wednesday, January 28, 2015

2014 Movies, For What It's Worth

It's movie award season again!  I'll have to be honest, this year's selection was limited at best and most of those nominated for awards didn't even screen at most theaters.  Where in years past, there was always something playing in my preferred genre that I hoped to see, that was not the case this year.  There were some that were enjoyable, but overall it was a disappointing year for my opinion.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - This was the first movie I saw in 2014.  A Tom Clancy super secret spy movie (my favorite genre) with his recurring character Jack Ryan.  Chris Pine starred as the just-starting-out Jack Ryan, super secret spy, and Kevin Costner (where has he been?) played his handler.  Ryan's new wife is kidnapped during his undercover job in Russia by the man he's investigating.   After Alec Baldwin's and Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan, Chris Pine had a lot to live up to.  Plus, I haven't really been a fan of these flashback Jack Ryan movies where he's supposed to be a younger CIA agent - he's certainly younger - but the technology is somehow more modern than it was with older versions.  With that being said, it was an entertaining two hours with a lot of super secret spy gadgets, car chases, and explosions.
The Monuments Men - I posted about this one last summer.  It still shocks me that the reviews were so scathing.  I liked it.  It was interesting, and I thought they did a good job making it entertaining.
3 Days to Kill - Another Kevin Costner film...was he trying to make a comeback this year?  Costner's character is an aging super secret spy who has a terminal illness.  He decides to leave his job to take care of himself and reconnect with his estranged daughter.  Then he's offered one last take out one of the world's most ruthless terrorist in exchange for the cure to his disease.  He's already agreed to stay with his daughter while her mother goes out of town, but can't turn down the cure so the daughter makes his super secret spy work much more difficult.  Again, it was entertaining with all the  bells and whistles of an action film, but it also had some humor to it.
Non-Stop - I'm such a Liam Neeson fan.  Even at 62, he still does action movies well.  He is a down-and-out air marshall who is inadvertently tied to a terrorist attack on one of his flights when the terrorists demand a ransom payment be made into a bank account linked to him.  The film is twisty and turvy and co-stars Julianne Moore who, even in a supporting role, is an entertaining actress.  Another one that isn't going to earn any awards, but was a lot of fun to watch.
Bad Words - Jason Bateman stars in this independent film about a middle-aged "loser" who, due to a loophole in the rules, is allowed to participate in his middle school spelling bee.  When I first saw the preview of this film, my eyes rolled.  It seemed like a stupid premise, and I'm not usually a fan of silly or slapstick.  But after being invited to see it, I'm actually glad I did.  I do warn that it is RAUNCHY, so if you are easily offended, this film is not for you.  Luckily, I am not, so spent an hour and half laughing out loud.  It is well written, quick.  Plus, there is a sweet story that emerges when Bateman's character befriends another contestant and takes on a fatherly role.  I liked it, but wouldn't recommend it to everyone.
The Other Woman - Again, not a genre of movie that I gravitate towards.  Leslie Mann starred in this film, and she's known for more of the silly comedies like "This is 40" and "Knocked Up".  Her character in this film found out that her husband was having an affair.  His mistress, Cameron Diaz, did not know he was married and therefore wife and mistress teamed up to get even.  Shenanigans ensue.  There were a lot of laughable moments, but predictable at best.
Chef - I reviewed this one previously.  I have to to tell you, it was probably my favorite of the year.  
Blended - Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler are divorced parents who are set up on a blind date.  The date is a disaster.  A few months later they both decide to take family vacations and wind up on an African safari together.  Another typical silly rom-com.  I do like both Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, and it was sometimes cute, but mostly silly.
A Most Wanted Man - This adaption of the John le Carre novel of the same name starred Phillip Seymore Hoffman (in his last role before dying of a drug overdose) as a German counter intelligence agent working in Hamburg, Germany shortly after 9/11.  He and his team work to turn a Chechen refugee with ties to a terrorist organization.  It is an outstanding film with an ending that leaves you feeling like you've been punched in the stomach.  What a shame it came out so early in the year and therefore isn't up for any awards as it's very well written and acted.
The Drop - Based on a short story by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby, Gone and Mystic River), Tom Hardy plays a Brooklyn bartender who works at a bar linked up with the Chechen mob.  The bar is a drop location for the mob's illegal earnings.  After a couple of neighborhood guys try to rob the place the Chechens believe it to be an inside job.  James Gandolfini (another last film for an actor who has since passed) stars as the previous owner of the bar before succumbing to the mob's influence.  It's a gritty, dark film, and the writing is excellent.
This is Where I Leave You - After the family patriarch dies, his adult children return home to sit shiva alongside their mother for a week.  Jane Fonda stars as the mother and Jason Bateman and Tina Fey play the two main characters/siblings.  It's a family reunion of sorts where each member brings his/her new family along with any personal "baggage" to help mourn the loss of their father while reverting back to behaviors only revealed around family.  The film received average reviews, but I enjoyed it.  I've always found family (with the exception of my own family of course) drama and interaction quite comical.
A Walk Among the Tombstones - Another Liam Neeson film, this time he is a former cop turned private detective who helps a drug dealer after his wife is kidnapped.  Based on the Matthew Scudder series of books by Lawrence Block, Scudder uncovers a pair of serial kidnappers/murderers are responsible and seem to be targeting women in the lives of powerful, but dangerous men.  With the amount of crime and violence we are exposed to from both real accounts and television/movie fiction, most of us have grown immune to it.  The crimes in this film were disturbing.  It was a good detective story but a very creepy crime.  And Neeson plays the repenting antihero so well.
The Skeleton Twins - Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are twins who, after years of estrangement, reconnect when the brother attempts suicide.  Both aren't happy in their own lives, and after reconnecting, force each other to examine why that is.  The trailer of the film makes it look light and comedic, where in fact it's pretty dark at times.  There are some humorous scenes, but it is definitely a drama.  It is well written and acted.
Gone Girl - I posted a review of the film previously.  I had high expectations of the film after reading the book.  It didn't veer much from the story, which is rare in Hollywood, however the element of surprise was missing since I knew it was coming.  I'd recommend it, but warn if you've read the book,  it is a bit of a let down.
St. Vincent - Bill Murray stars as a lonely, unhappy, and broke man who is tasked with watching his new neighbor's son when she must unexpectedly work late.  An unlikely friendship and mentorship emerges between the two.  The banter between them is fun and sweet.  It's a nice film and a little reminiscent of "As Good As It Gets" with Jack Nicholson from a few years ago.
The Homesman - A frontier woman (Hillary Swank) offers to take three women who are suffering from mental illness due to pioneer life to a safe place in Iowa where they can get the help that they need.  The trip in a covered wagon isn't an easy one so she hires a claim-jumper (Tommy Lee Jones) to help her on the trip.  Most of the film is the trip in which they encounter thieves, wild animals, Native Americans all while dealing with the women who must be tied to the wagon to keep them from running away.  The film takes a surprising turn about three-fourths of the way through.  I never would have chosen to see this movie, but there was nothing else playing when we wanted to go.  It was well done though and, from the reviews, did a pretty good job portraying pioneer life.  There was talk of Oscar nominations, and yet there weren't any for this film.
The Gambler - I've never met a Marky Mark Wahlberg movie I didn't like...until this one.  The Gambler is a remake of the 1974 film of the same name starring James Caan.  Wahlberg plays a college professor who has a penchant for gambling, and losing.  He has lost a lot of money and is in debt to a lot of dangerous people.  It sounded like a movie right up my alley, but it wasn't very good.  The main character had zero redeeming qualities that made you want it to all work out in the end for him, and his monologue scenes seemed indulgent to me.  The film's one redeeming quality was the small part that John Goodman played as the dangerous but caring bookie.
Big Eyes - Wow!  What a story.  After seeing the preview of this movie over the summer, my mom mentioned remembering how popular the Keane paintings (children with oversized eyes) were back in 60s. She and I went to see this movie on Christmas Day.  Margaret Keane, played by Amy Adams, moved to San Francisco in 50s and met Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a supposedly struggling artist.  Through a series of events, he took credit as the artist of the big-eyed paintings and became incredibly rich and famous.  For a few years, he manipulated her into keeping the truth in the family for both their sakes, but she finally had enough and leaves him.  At that time, the truth comes out about the real artist.  Walter Keane was a sham all along.  The real Margaret Keane is still alive and paints every day.  Her story is interesting, and it was brought to life on the big screen quite well by both main actors and Director Tim Burton, who happens to be a Keane collector.  Amy Adams won the Golden Globe for her part, but didn't even get a nomination for the Oscar.
These titles just made it to the theater this month.  Somehow they are still part of the 2014 nominations.  I am including them here as they are part of this year's award's season.
Cake - Holy cow, I don't think I've ever walked out of a film feeling so sad.  Jennifer Aniston starred and produced this film about a chronic pain sufferer called Claire.  A fellow sufferer from a support group she attended committed suicide, leaving a husband and young son behind.  The suicide greatly affects Claire, and the story follows her over the next few weeks after the suicide.  While there were bits of humor throughout the film, it is definitely a drama and, at times, hard to watch.  Aniston fully deserved her Golden Globe nomination as she was painfully brilliant.  I think she was robbed not getting nominated for an Oscar.  I'm pretty well-adjusted emotionally, but I did spend the rest of the day tired and a tad melancholy after seeing it.
American Sniper - This movie started a ton of controversy a couple of weeks ago.  Even though I have a lot to say on that subject matter, I will not address that in this post.  As for the movie, it was exactly what it was billed to be.  It is based on the story of Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL, who has been called the deadliest sniper in our history with 160 confirmed kills in the line of duty.  The movie (based on the book) tells about his 4 tours of duty in the Iraq War but also about the difficulty being home with his family after each tour.  The movie was well done, and I didn't feel like it was glorifying OR playing down the horrors of war and his part in it. He had a job to do, and he did it - that's what it was about.  Movies like this are hard to say "I liked it" because it dealt with very serious subject matter AND, if you are familiar with the story, ends very sadly and ironically.  However, it was a good movie - action-packed, suspenseful, sad, funny, I thought I might throw-up a few times - so it was entertaining.  That's why I go to the movies.  I'm not a fan of Bradley Cooper, but he did a good job, maybe not Oscar worthy, but a good job.

Over winter break, I watched some that came out last year but didn't get a chance to see in the theater.  Watching movies at home is hard for me because I either work on something while watching and don't pay attention or fall asleep.  I managed to make it through these without missing too much.
The Good Girls - A coming of age film about two best friends who make a pact to lose their virginity before they both head off to college.  Unfortunately, they both have their sights set on the same brooding photographer, which threatens their friendship.  Although good actors starred in the film (Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Dreyfuss, Demi Moore, Ellen Barkin) it was a little slow, and the writing wasn't all that developed. meh
The Equalizer - A former super, secret spy, Denzil Washington's character now lives alone in a crummy Boston apartment and works at a Home Depot type store.  When a young girl/prostitute he knows gets beaten up by her pimp, he uses his former skills to tell them to back off.  What he doesn't realize is that they are just one small cog in a Russian organized crime machine who decide they don't like his interfering.  It's a a group of about 100 Russians with machine guns and knives against old Denzil.  And who do you suppose wins at the end?  Predictable and yet fascinating as he kills or incapacitates every single Russian without the use of a gun (except for once).  Even as a predictable action film, it was just so-so.
The Grand Budapest Hotel - This one is up for an Oscar.  I'm kind of surprised, but then I'm not either.  It is WACKY (typical of Wes Anderson).  It's a story, within a story, within a story so I'm finding it hard to summarize it.  It takes place in a fictional European ski resort and tells the story of the notorious concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy.  It is funny in an odd sort of way. The set design is amazing, so I was glad to see that it received nominations for that - it's worth a watch just for the design and cinematography.  A lot of people didn't care for it, finding it too quirky, but I liked it.
Calvary - Brendan Gleeson stars as a small town priest, Father James, in County Sligo, Ireland.  The film begins with Father James hearing confession from a man who had been abused by a priest as a boy.  The voice tells Father James that he wants to kill a priest for what was done to him, but not a bad priest.  He wants to take the life of a good priest as that would be more shocking.  The man tells Father James that he will be killed in one week, as to let the Father get his affairs in order.  Quite a start to a movie.  The film depicts the next 7 days.  We meet the people of the small town, wondering who it was in the confessional.  Over the next 7 days, Father James counsels the people in his church and deals with his out of touch colleagues.  There are many themes running through this film, some relating to the Catholic church but most going beyond that.  Without giving away the ending, I will say I was shocked and a little sad when it was over.  There are several very funny moments in the film, but it is definitely a drama.  And I have to add, I could not get over how much Brendan Gleeson with a beard looks just like my dad did, which added a whole other emotional element to the film for me.
It seems as if I've had to widened my genre of movie going this past year due to the limited choices of GOOD films in the theaters.  After starting this post, I read an article about how movie going declined in 2014.  The reason initially predicted was the cost of a night out to the movies, but after further research it seems as if regular movie goers felt the same way I do about 2014 - the movie options weren't very good.  It was also disappointing to see that so many of the films nominated for the Academy Awards never came to the mainstream theaters and/or didn't release at the theaters until 2015.  We are stuck enduring 3 screens of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Hunger Games, but movies like The Imitation Game or Foxcatcher aren't playing anywhere nearby.  Now that they've been nominated, we might see them start to come back out to general theaters as it gets closer to the Oscars.


  1. I don't think the good films will ever return to theaters. In fact you are very unusual generally for being able to see so many.
    My tuppence worth. I foresee going to a movie being a city form of entertainment in the near future, a bit like going to the Opera. I also foresee many very big fortunes lost in LA making film to buck the trend. I even think the really good made for TV will pass over to the Net.
    If you take me, I'm watching more on my tablet than on the TV and I don't know when I went to a cinema.
    Would taking a chick to a cinema on a date be seen as viable in LA still.

    1. It's very possible that will be the case. The ease of watching movies at home and the fact that it's not taking very long for them to come available online or on dvd after their release. I don't see that happening, just because of the location and how much we are inundated with the movie industry, but it's definitely a possibility elsewhere.
      But ya, going to the movies is definitely considered a night out - for couples, families, friends. Not a terribly inventive night out I guess, as there are so many things to do here, but fairly reliable. And there are usually big parking lots which eases the getting around here. Most places half the battle is just finding a place to park. :)

  2. The one I want to see is The Grand Budapest Hotel. It tweaked a nerve in me and I think it could be quite Kafkaesque.

    1. It's definitely an odd duck of a movie. But I found it kind of sweet, well maybe sweet isn't the word, maybe charming is better. It would not be for everyone's taste and may come off silly to some. But the writing is quick, clever. It's definitely a paying attention movie. I saw this one at home and I had to force myself to only watch - no phone, not computer, no tablet, no school work - otherwise it would have been lost on me. That's why I prefer going to the movies, too many distractions at home. :)

    2. I've gotten into the habit of sitting in an office chair with the PC on with twitter and other pages open while watching the TV.
      You see I've connected the two via the PC to view photos reeeeeelly big.
      I've been reading that our attention span is shortening and now down to 5-10sec's. They are blaming a combo of things, but mostly what might be called the Google effect where if you wanted to know something you ask google and presto the information. Buuuut, the difference with books is they ancillary wandering. You never looked up a word in a dictionary or went to the loo with an encyclopedia without reading the bits either side.
      Frankly though I'm not so sure. I find reading on a tablet and PC a real effort. Maybe the setting are wrong for me. Where's he off to I hear you say. Well, if our span of attention 'has' adjusted to the current hardware then sitting in a cinema would be a totally new experience, a very real suspension of the mind, blinkered and surrounded. The only thing to add frosting on the cake would be if they could pump in and out smells to match the action.

    3. The attention span shortening is definitely the case with me. With the devices we never have to just be. Even as I write this I'm sitting at a punishment light and can't just enjoy the peace of doing nothing for the 3-4 minutes it takes for the light to change! And I see the attention span of my students declining more and more each year. We always joke that if they had video game controls in their hands and could make us shoot each other, we'd be far mor effective! :)
      That would make the theater experience something different wouldn't it?!?! I don't know though, maybe smelling what goes on in secret-spy or gangster type movies would make them far less appealing than they are now. :)
      The reading being "difficult" on the computer or device isn't just you. I think it's generational in that it's not how we learned to read and/or read for information for most of our lives. I HATE reading online, especially anything on a website. If it's something I'm trying to take info from I'd just as soon print it out and read it on paper. Long emails, research, whatever. I do ok on the tablet with a book, but I think the book apps are more like reading a book, plus it's like holding a book. I think kids who learned to read partially using a computer don't have an issue with it. Most adults I know do.

  3. I've seen quite a few of those you've listed. (we always watch Netflix - mail version, not streaming)

    I'm a Liam Neeson fan, too, and thought Non-Stop was quite entertaining. We haven't seen his newest yet. The first Taken is one of my husband's favorites.

    I'm glad you mentioned the humor in 3 Days to Kill because that's what made the movie for me. (and humor wasn't even listed in the description at iMDB)

    I need to go read your review for Chef. It's the most recent movie we watched and I LOVED it! I'm a fan of the cooking competition shows (Chopped, Top Chef, etc.) so figured it would be fun. I think our next movie scheduled is The 100 Foot Journey, so I hope I like it as much, too.

    I was actually quite surprised to see all the hype for The Grand Budapest Hotel. I enjoyed it, but it also disappointed me. I guess I just expected so much more from it based on the previews. It seemed all the best bits were wasted there.

    1. I liked Taken 3 a lot. And a different story than the other two.
      Isn't it funny how we watch cooking competition shows. I think it's kind of a silly concept for a show, but it just proves how visual presentation is just a important as taste when it comes to food. I enjoy those shows a lot. So yes, Chef is great!