Thursday, February 12, 2015

Movies of 2014, Uncategorized

      Welcome to the miscellaneous category of movies that I watched and do not fit into any genre in particular.  There are several movies that I wanted to see, and now that some are on Netflix could have watched with ease, but for whatever reason I just didn’t bother to.  Films that while they look interesting, are popular after a fashion, or are 100x’s more relevant than they should have been, I just feel no drive to watch.  Maybe I am missing out on something that would surprise me (one of my top movies this year I watched on a complete lark when it was free and it blew me away), but I may never know.
      “Frank” is on Netflix, stars one of my favorite actors, and has a quirky premise that is probably very amusing; haven’t seen it.  “The Interview” is one of the most talked about movies because of its relation to a hacking scandal, saber rattling by a third world dictator, and that its digital release was a very interesting impromptu experiment; I do not really want to watch it.  “A Million Ways to Die in the West” has been blasted as one of the worst movies of the year, I am sure I would have had a much more middling reaction, from what I have heard of the thesis of the movie about traditional masculinity vs intellectualism it sounds like a movie that failed in spite of itself.
      “The Monuments Men” looked to be a good and original take on World War II, with commentary on art, and an all-star cast; I actually don’t know why I didn’t see it.  Conversely “Fury” is a very traditional looking take on WWII and I didn’t see that either.  The Fault in Our Stars” is based on a book by John Green, of who I am a fan for his work via Crash Course and Mental_Floss, I would have liked this to be some kind of gateway into his work, but I just didn’t get around to seeing it.  “Nightcrawler” is a movie I still plan to see and will probably do some kind of review in March once I get around to it, though I would have put it into the CRIME category based on what I have seen in the promotional materials.
      I wish I were a professional critic so that I could have been paid to see for free lots of movies and to write about them at time of viewing, but instead I do this run down more as a writing exercise to increase my own proficiency in recognizing what I like and dislike about things so that I can relate them to others.

            This was disappointing.  After the focus that the first movie had with a main character, a clear goal, and a road trip that was a natural outcropping of the plot… This movie was sort of a mess.  While it certainly has its funny elements and many characters get chances to shine with silly moments and sketches… It doesn’t work as a collective whole.  The best part of the movie is when the cast is trimmed down to Walter (the main character from the first movie) and some others going on a mission to save Kermit.  If that had been the whole plot with a ‘b’ plot of Gonzo and Ratso trying to catch Kermit’s impostor, or running the stage show in Kermit’s absence (in that instance there would be no villain) then I think this would have worked really well.  But it is cluttered and that causes an emotional distance from what is happening, the jokes start to fall flat and then… It’s over.
            Maybe I just lack the nostalgia for this property that is needed to love it, because I would be happy to see much of the old cast fade to the background to make room for a new generation of characters.  I have seen enough of the originals and would like to see them pass the baton to some new muppets.  “Muppet Babies” was my gateway drug to this franchise and it had a much smaller cast with a much tighter environment to work humor in.  In the context of a variety show having lots of characters makes sense, but a movie needs to keep things smaller and on target.
Overall: 5/10 
Strangely this poster which just is a group shot of 1/5th of the cast is not that bad.

            This was also disappointing.  I like everyone in this movie, I do not think there is a single actor not pulling their weight, everyone brings something to the table, nobody misses a beat, nobody’s time is wasted and there are a lot of gags that I am still referencing with my roommate months later.  “You can say that again.”
            So why do I find this movie so ‘meh’?  “Tell me about it.”  What was missing?  Why am I just looking back on the parts I liked?  What am I blacking out?  I can’t tell you.  Maybe this thing is actually some kind of masterpiece but I am just having a fit of depression and can’t appreciate the genius.  I doubt it, but how else do I explain that I just did not feel it?
            I wanted to like this movie, but I can’t recommend it.  Just watch the best parts on youtube maybe?
Overall: 5/10
Get it?

            (Maybe this should be in the CRIME section).  I thought the first one was fine.  I have issues with comedies based around police because of how little they have to do with police work ("Hot Fuzz" and "Super Troopers" being notable exceptions), hence why I did not bother to see "Let's be Cops" which looked painfully unfunny.
            This one is also fine.  There are lots of good parts and little gags, I laughed loud and hard several times.  The plot and the mystery of it work well and the chemistry between Tatum and Hill is on target and the core the movie rightfully uses as its bedrock.  It has the funniest credit sequence in the history of cinema.  The issue with comedies is judging whether they made you laugh and this one did, but it didn’t make me feel deep and lasting feelings.  It was just a fine little movie to pass the time.  Go ahead and watch it, I am sure many people will get deeper and more lasting enjoyment from this movie than I managed.
Overall: 6/10
The Spring Break portion is a very small part of the movie (roughly the last 5th) but is in a lot of the advertising.
            I really liked this movie (I went to see it to kill time, I had accidently locked myself out of my apartment, not much of a story so I will not dwell on it).  The way it subverts the very nature of the “chosen one” hero’s tale narrative structure that is the go to hack script of the modern era elevates it to being something special, and the twist that shows how imagination and creativity with structure and purpose yields fun and enjoyment on a deeper level than merely collecting ever could… That is a message that more people in Hollywood could stand to learn.
            Maybe the best interpretation of Batman ever on film, though the other superheroes get the short shaft in their cameos, I would have liked the joke version of Superman or Abraham Lincoln to have more time, but I guess that Batman is more in need of being made fun than nearly any other character in media.  It is most definitely worth a recommendation, go watch it and enjoy it.
            I do find it strange how many people keep referencing “Everything is Awesome” as some kind of message the movie is putting forth… IT IS NOT.  That song is used as a tool for brainwashing.  It is a tool of evil.  You can enjoy the song, but only ironically, you should recognize it for what it is a parody of hollow entertainment that makes you complacent in your day to day life.
Overall: 8/10
Strange thing wrong with this poster: Not enough Lego bricks.
            This movie snuck up on me because I never saw (and still have not seen) Zach Braff's earlier film of "Garden State".
“Wish I was Here” is really touching.  It manages to touch on a lot of modern life (albeit a very millennial, upper middle class, white people problems sort of modern life) with issues of educating kids, religion, the death of a parent, and the overall shit nature of working in an office.
They could have cut a few lingering shots of the desert, or the long driving scenes that are more about showcasing the movie’s music than advancing the plot… but they go out of their way to have gorgeous shots to keep you visually engaged.
The movie has a lot of humor to offset the very heavy conclusion which involves the death of the main character’s father who left a lot of unpacked emotional baggage behind.  It is a good sort of sad.
Overall: 8/10
Awful poster.  Should have been one of the long shots of the beautiful landscapes.  Interesting use of the blue/orange color contrast that dominates modern media advertising.
            While this movie is not in my top 5 I understand its appeal and would be happy with it winning an Oscar for best picture (it is one of the 3 movies in that category I have seen... and I am sure that means I have seen more of those movies that a good number of the academy... but whatever).
            Dealing with the creeping realization of one’s own obsolescence and the desperate struggle to establish a professional and creative legacy before finally (literally) bowing out, that is a good topic.  And the casting is great, with the three main characters all being chosen for meta-textual reasons related to their past careers in the superhero genre and their real life reputations in the industry.  Michael Keaton is funny as hell, especially when working with Edward Norton… Really everybody is great, it is almost unfair to point to anyone specifically because I am sure even the minor characters would have consistently delivered on all the material they could be given.
            I would like to take a second to write about GIMMICKS (I will do this again in my top 5, and again when I talk about the worst movie of the year).  I tend to come down on movies that have a Gimmick.  Some silly trick or set of production rules that makes things harder on the actors and crew.  An increase in difficulty that adds an element to the craft of film making that can elevate a movie that would otherwise be a ho-hum entry in history.  “Under the Skin” had nudity and improve acting (including Scarlet Johansen trying to pick up real men hidden camera style).  “Muppets Most Wanted” has the gimmick of celebrity cameos and most of the cast being puppets.  “The Lego Movie” is made to look like the entire film is constructed of Lego. “Birdman” has the appearance of having been filmed in one long continuous take.  The one long take illusion is used to emphasize the fact that the movie is about theater work, that there are no cuts when working on stage.  There is a hidden cut every time the movie goes to complete darkness and there are other hidden cuts whenever there is no one on the screen, but I imagine the typical take on any given scene was 10-20 times the length of a typical take for a modern movie, longer if you take into account the frantic cutting used in modern action movies.  So do I think this gimmick is something that elevates the movie?  Kind of…

For instance, the Kinect was definitely a gimmick that detracted from what it was trying to do.  (image)

            The movie would be fine without the gimmick, it is a solid story with good dialogue, good actors, a good theme, and lots of craft and hard work went into the movie, even with a traditional editing mindset the movie would still be really good, and that is the key in my opinion to making a gimmick work: that the gimmick doesn’t really matter.  It is a flourish that makes a good production better with the added context.  It is a detail that makes those who learn of it say, “Wow, that actually sounds really difficult, I am surprised the movie was so good under those circumstances”.  “Birdman” does that.  Its flourish adds to the production.
Overall: 8/10
I get what they were going for with this.  Except for it being animated/cell shaded.

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