Best Show You Don't Know About

Best Show You Don't Know About
Leverage

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nominations 2014

In looking at the full list of nominations this year for the Oscar ceremony, I am pleased to see that I only have 3 movies that I need to see that got more than 1 nomination and these films are: Blue Jasmine, Grandmaster, and Lone Survivor (I am seeing Lone Survivor today). Then, of the films that got single nominations which will be easy for me to see (I always try to see everything I can, but I never count the foreign films, documentaries, or shorts in this list and this year, I am also excluding 2 of the animated films because I dont know how readily available they will be), there are only 6 more films that I need to see. And, to be honest, since 2 of those 6 films are just up for best song, I can just find the song online and compare them if I have to, so that only leaves a list of 9 (or 7 if you take out the song nominations) that I need to see in 6 weeks. That seems very easy.
For the complete list, you can find it anywhere on the web now (the 2 easy spots are imdb.com or oscar.com )

Here are the major nominations, which will be followed by a breakdown, by number of nominations, by film.


Best picture:


•"American Hustle"

•"Captain Phillips"

•"Dallas Buyers Club"

•"Gravity"

•"Her"

•"Nebraska"

•"Philomena"

•"12 Years a Slave"

•"The Wolf of Wall Street"



Actor in a leading role:

•Christian Bale, "American Hustle"

•Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"

•Leonardo DiCaprio, "Wolf of Wall Street"

•Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"

•Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"



Actress in a leading role:

•Amy Adams, "American Hustle"

•Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"

•Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"

•Judi Dench, "Philomena"

•Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"



Actor in a supporting role:

•Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"

•Bradley Cooper, "American Hustle"

•Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"

•Jonah Hill, "Wolf of Wall Street"

•Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"



Actress in a supporting role:

•Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"

•Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"

•Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"

•Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"

•June Squibb, "Nebraska"



Director:

•David O. Russell, "American Hustle"

•Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"

•Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"

•Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"

•Martin Scorsese, "Wolf of Wall Street"



Animated feature film:

•"The Croods"

•"Despicable Me 2"

•"Ernest & Celestine"

•"Frozen"

•"The Wind Rises"






10

AMERICAN HUSTLE
GRAVITY


9

12 YEARS A SLAVE


6

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB
NEBRASKA


5

HER
WOLF OF WALL STREET


4

PHILOMENA


3

BLUE JASMINE
HOBBIT- DESOLATION OF SMAUG


2

AUGUST- OSAGE COUNTY
DESPICABLE ME 2
FROZEN
GRANDMASTER
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
GREAT GATSBY
LONE RANGER
LONE SURVIVOR


SINGLE NOMINATIONS

20 FEET FROM STARDOM
ALL IS LOST
ALONE YET NOT ALONE
BAD GRANDPA
BEFORE MIDNIGHT
BOOK THIEF
CROODS
INVISIBLE WOMAN
IRON MAN 3
MANDELA- LONG WALK FREEDOM
PRISONERS
SAVING MR BANKS
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
ERNEST & CELESTINE
THE WIND RISES

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Editorial on Awards Shows and Nominations

Now that I have posted my favorite films of the year, I am anxiously awaiting the Oscar nominations on Thursday. And you know what? Even though they were my favorite films of the year, I am not expecting Unfinished Song or About Time to be nominated at all. I do think that Philomena will pick up a couple of nominations, The Way Way Back may get a surprise nomination (but I doubt it) and Saving Mr. banks will probably be the biggest nomination-getter in my top 5 films. I do think Dallas Buyer's Club will get more than either Banks or Philomena, but I would bet that American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave will be the top nomination-getters.
But, both of those are on my 'Runners Up' list.
And it won't bother me at all if they become big winners.
Why?
First off, I admit, I love to see what stars wear when they go to awards shows. It is fun to see how they interact with other celebrities and their companions.
But, the main reason?
For me, award shows and their nominations are about getting films some recognition. It is common knowledge in Hollywood that the more awards and nominations that your film receives in the end of year awards, the more people will see your film.If the film is still playing in theaters, that means a lot more box office numbers and, if your film has already hit the home video market, it translates into more rentals and sales. The rentals and sales also heat up once a well-nominated film hits video. A few years ago, when Lost in Translation was nominated, it had just been released on video but was still playing in a few theaters. The theater count went up considerably and it also became the week's highest renter on video.
I worked at Blockbuster for 13 years and I always loved it when I was able to talk someone into renting a particular film that they weren't sure about renting and then they would come back and tell me that they loved it and they had watched it 3 or 4 times, or they had a friend watch it, or hat they went out and bought it immediately. That was what made that job so fun- bringing films into customer's homes and giving them an enjoyable 2 hours.
While some may dismiss the fact that awards aren't important, I agree and disagree. If a film does not get an award, does that automatically make it a bad film? Am I wrong for placing Unfinished Song at the top of my list for films of the year if it receives zero awards? If a film wins a lot of awards, does that automatically make it a good film?
The answer to all 3 questions is 'Of Course Not!'
As I wrote last week, critiquing films and the ranking of them is a purely subjective piece of thinking and writing. In my discussions with people about my list, there are those who disagree with my rankings, but who understand why I ranked them as I did. Unfinished Song and About Time touched me on a very personal level. Two years ago, for the film year of 2011, my two favorite films were 50/50 and We Bought a Zoo. Those also got zero nominations between the two of them. And I was okay with that.
The groups that vote on the awards each year are also doing it subjectively. A lot of times, a film will be nominated because of its subject matter. Other times, it will be a purely political nomination because so-and-so needs a nomination or needs to win an Oscar. (Come on, after all of his performances, can you really tell me that Paul Newman's best work in his entire career was in 'Color of Money'? While he was great in it, it was not his best film, yet that is what he wion his Oscar for.) I do not feel that 'The English Patient' was the best film of the year whe it won. However, it was a very well-made and crafted film, but I didn't like it.
When a film gets a nomination, like I said, it will be viewed by many more people. And that, to me, is a good thing. If a film's nomination gets it in front of a lot more viewers who even give it a shot because of its nominations, it's a good thing. Even if the viewer hates the film, they have at least expanded their horizons a bit from what they normally might see. My father-in-law fell asleep while watching Unfinished Song. And that's okay. It wasn't his thing- no problem- but he at least gave it a shot.
A few years ago at my work, a co-worker and I were talking about films and we attempted to see every film that had at least 2 nominations before Oscar night. I think I only missed 2 films with multiple nominations that year and I think he only missed 3 or 4. While he (and I) didn't like everything, he thanked me for getting him involved because he was able to broaden his horizons and he saw a lot of films that he wouldn't have seen otherwise and he was glad that he did.
If conventional wisdom holds on what will be nominated this year, I will only have 11 or so films to see to catch all multiple nominated films. And 5 of those only opened here in Salt Lake last weekend, so I will have plenty of time to catch them all. Even if 4 or 5 other films sneak in away from conventional wisdom, there is a high likelihood that I have already seen them and, even so, 15 or so films to see in a month and half should not be too taxing.
I offer anyone who reads this the challenge of seeing as many of the Oscar nominated films as you can. If nothing else, it will get you to seek out films and watch things that you wouldn't have tried before. Maybe you will despise every single nominated film- but at least you will have seen them and you will have an opinion. And you can starta discussion.
And that is the whole purpose in my mind of lists and awards- get films seen and to starta discussion about film. And hopefully, allow someone the joy of catching a film that touches them greatly in some way.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Best of 2013- #15-1 and editorial

There are still some films that are considered films from 2013, that are considered "Oscar bait" that I have not yet seen because they have barely opened in the Salt lake area today, january 10th (Her, Lone Survivor, August Osage County) and 2 others that barely opened wide today, Inside Llewyn davis, and Nebraska. After I have seen them, I will rank them as part of this year's list and call them, for example 12 1/2, so that you can know where they would fit in. If I see any other films from 2013 that are "lesser" films (such as, perhaps Bad Grandpa, I will not review those, nor rank them, I will just add them to my media inventory list for the year.

As I was making my list this year, it came into stark relief that the films which made my 'Best of' are all very personal to me- on different levels, of course.

Numbers 15, 14, 4, 3, 2, 1 all connect to me because of the theme of family.
Numbers 9, 8 & 5 are about creativity
Numbers 13, 12, 11, 10 9, 8, 7, 6 are about the family which we create around ourselves with friends and workmates.
Numbers 2 & 1 deal with cancer
Numbers 15, 14, 2, & 1 deal with marital relationships.
Numbers 14, 11, 2, & 1 specifically have fathers connecting with children
Numbers 7 & 6 deal with finding your place in the world

I could continue, but I find it interesting that really the only films that are mostly pure action or fantastic filmmaking are numbers 11 & 10.

I know that as people have been reading my list thus far, I have heard complaints that I did not place something higher on my list (my wife thinks that the "Pure Entertainment" section should be higher in my list since they accomplish what they set out to do, for example), but, as I have said before, those films did not connect to me personally. It takes more than just CGI to make me care about a film anymore. Again, though, let me remind you that if I was watching a film this year, I enjoyed it. There was nothing that I absolutely hated, like Chernobyl Diaries last year.
I can guarantee that there will be those among you who totally agree with my top of the list, but that is the fun part of lists- to start a discussion. I do think, though, honestly, that all of these films are worth your time. I feel that most of the films in the top of my list do have minor issues and none are perfect, but they all hit an emotional cord in me. Even if you dont agree with some of the story choices they make (Number 9), even if it seems completely cliched (number 1)there is some portion of quality to it and I hope that you will be able to see that.

My Top 4 are really interchangeable. I loved them all unreservedly and they all touched me on a very deep, personal level. They may all have flaws, but in my eyes, they are perfect.

Without further ado, here is my best of 2013- a very personal list this year.


Best of the Year


15- Drinking Buddies- The cast in this film is amazing- Olivia Wilde, jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, and Anna Kendrick. Johnson and Wilde are co-workers at a brewery who flirt very openly with each other, even though they are each in relationships. When they all spend a weekend together at a cabin, relationships become strained and the couples wonder who they should each be with. While the amount of drinking and open flirting really bothered me at the beginning, the ending and in listening to the director’s commentary track about what the ending actually means, made me love this film even more. The acting is phenomenal and it raises some strong points about relationships. This is the only film on my Top list that I would not openly recommend to everyone, but I cannot deny that I have not stopped thinking about it since I saw it.

14- Conjuring- My wife often asks me why I watch so many horror movies when many of them are just bad. I always respond with, "You have to sit through a lot of crappy ones to find the great ones. And, when you find a truly great horror film, you forget about all of the crap." After the truly great horror films that I have shown her through the years, she is starting to understand- even if she could never make it through the crappy ones. The Conjuring is a horror film that was rated R literally by being “too damn scary”, this film was scary, creepy, but also had a very solid heart at its core. A family with 5 daughters moves into a haunted house and the mother seeks out some paranormal investigators to help them. There is nothing new in this film, to be honest, but the character beats are so effective between both the family and the investigators, the scares so well done, even if you can see them coming, the craft in the making of this film is so precise, that it absolutely is one of the best films that I saw this year. Because of the connections that you have with the characters, once the scares start in earnest, you are truly rooting for the family. A great showcase of how to make a horror film.

13- Now You See Me- The Sting is one of my favorite films of all time. Because of that film, I am a sucker for ‘heist thrillers’ such as Matchstick Men, Ocean’s 11, and the TV show Leverage. These are my types of films and Now You See Me, while not as perfect as those, is still a very entertaining heist film. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher star as 4 magicians who are being chased by the FBI after stealing money and giving it back to their audiences. Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent are the agents chasing them and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also in the cast, as if the star power wasn’t enough. My only complaint is that the film does not use the magicians as much as it could, but it really is more about the chase. While this is pure popcorn fare, I do feel that this film plays very fair with its final twist, and that it is very well crafted from the acting all the way to the production design and music, and there is nothing wrong with that.

12- Star Trek Into Darkness- Many of my sci-fi fan friends do not feel that this film should be this high up on the list- there are those that think that it should trade places with Man of Steel on my list, but, this is my list, so “back the **** up!”  While it does go back and repurpose one of the most well-known villains and storylines in the Trek universe and it doesn’t sit well with some fans, and it does have amazingly over-the-top references to terrorism and 9/11, I have to admit that the new cast and the filmmaking prowess had me on the edge of my seat the entire length of the film. Benedict Cumberbatch can monologue like no one else (as one of my friends commented), the new cast now fully owns the characters they have inhabited (try to imagine anyone else working right now as Scotty), it had amazing Dolby Atmos sound, and the characters bounced off of each other in very interesting ways. I do feel that it basically hit the same story beats for the crew as the previous film, but, I didn’t mind as it worked so well in all other aspects for me, I can give it a pass. Bring on another Star Trek film!

11- Pacific Rim- This movie is about giant robots beating up and battling giant monsters! This film has everything that your inner 9 year old would have loved. When I walked into the theater, I wanted nothing more than robots battling monsters and I got it in spades! I also got an amazingly well constructed film that had some of the best “world building” I have ever seen. The first ten minutes of this film could have been its own movie, but it is just the pre-credit sequence! This film has great fun characters, amazing special effects, a sure handed director at the helm, a pounding exciting score, fantastic Dolby Atmos sound (noticing a trend?), and a pure sense of fun, this is my “guilty pleasure of the year”, but I had a blast! It is also dedicated to the memory of Ray harryhausen, which made me tear up at the end. A fun, fun film!

10- Gravity- While it does not have the greatest plot- 2 astronauts get stranded in space and have to find a way to get back to Earth, I did not have a more tense moviegoing experience all year! I had people sitting on both sides of me and using the armrests, so I had to hold my drink mug in my lap. At the end of the 90 minutes, I almost literally had to peel my fingers out of the handle. Sandra Bullock holds the screen as the most outwardly frightened of the 2 astronauts stranded. She grounds the film with her terror and resignation to the circumstances while Clooney is the voice of reason and adds some slight touches of much needed humor for the situation. This film is amazing on a technical level, keeps you riveted throughout, and is an amazing roller coaster ride of emotions as well. Some laugh as Bullock is barking along with the dogs (you’ll know what I mean when you see it) but for me, it was a last touchback to home. It was a daring performance and although the film almost lost me during what seemed like a very contrived character arrival, it worked and brought me back for the breathless climax. An amazing technical and emotional feat!

9- Iron Man 3- Shane Black is known for bringing his sharp humor into the tired “buddy cop” formula in the 80’s when he wrote Lethal Weapon. He then wrote Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero, and Long Kiss Goodnight. He then disappeared for a while and came back in force with Kiss Kiss Bang bang back in 2007, which starred then-working-for-a-comeback Robert Dwoney Jr in one of the strangest and funniest films ever made. He brings that same sense of humor to Iron man 3. While some feel that his treatment of The Mandarin ruined the character (go back and read the comics, it is not as though those have changed since the release of the film), I found it a fabulous twist and a great bit of acting from ben kingsley. Downey really brings his PTSD from “the new York Incident” shown in The Avengers into stark relief, and the connection to Gwyneth Paltrow as pepper Pots really is the core of the relationships here. The plot shows that our past really does make us who we are and, in some cases, may come and bite us in the butt, but it is all about how we deal with our past that makes us who we are. I loved the Shane Black touch added to the Marvel structure along with the great actors!

8- Crystal Lake Memories- Let me make it absolutely clear- I don’t really like the Friday the 13th films. They are fun and cheesy, but, in all actuality, they are really not that good. Any of them! However, after watching this 7 hour documentary that basically gives 30 minutes to the making of each film in the series, it is very clear why- the studio wanted them cheap, quick, and didn’t really want some of the quality ideas that were floated. This documentary is done by the same team who made Never Sleep Again- the 4 hour documentary about the Elm Street films, and, as a behind the scenes documentary, it ranks right up there with the 3 hour documentary about the making of Alien 3. Even my wife, Aleisha, who has never made it through a full Friday the 13th film, was enthralled and probably watched a total of about an hour of this doc and is planning on watching it in its entirety soon. It is absolutely essential if you are interested at all in moviemaking!

7- World’s End- This is not as funny of a film as ‘Hot Fuzz’, but it is actually more daring and more human than any of the other films that Pegg/ Frost/ and Wright have done. Gary King (Pegg) gets his 5 best friends from high school back together to hit 12 pubs for a pint all in one night and finish “The Golden Mile” which they started but never finished on their graduation night 20 years ago. They find that you can never go home again as there is something strange and sinister about their hometown. Pegg plays a perfect guy stuck in his teens trying to relive his “perfect night” while this time Nick Frost plays the straight man as the one in the group with a grudge still held after all these years. It does turn into a “Body Snatchers” type of film, but with deep characters and emotional connections that ground the wackiness in reality. Even with all the craziness, there are some spectacular dramatic beats and it takes a real chance with the ending. If more films could be like this- a perfect mix of humor, action, and drama- more people would want to go to the theaters on a regular basis.

6- Dallas Buyer’s Club- While this is a very tough and gritty film, the main storyline, based on a true story, of a man in the mid-80’s who tries to help himself and others with AIDS, while the FDA is still attempting to find drugs that work to help slow down the disease. Matthe McCaughnahey again hammers home the lead role of Ron Woodroof with a ferocity of purpose and jared Leto’s transformation into a transgendered person who becomes Woodroof’s partner. The message is as subtle as a sledgehammer but the acting draws you in and never lets go- a very powerful film.

5- Saving Mr. Banks- As can be seen in Crystal Lake memories, my Number 8 film, it is amazing that any movie is able to be released with all of the decisions and behind the scenes struggles that there are to contend with. This shines the light on one of them- PL Travers signing off on letting Walt Disney turn the book of Mary Poppins into a film. While ‘Saving Mr Banks glosses over some issues (Travers NEVER ended up liking the film- thus the reason there were never any sequels made and the fact that the people who made the broadway play could have none of the people who worked on the film be creatively involved), it still has a lot of emotional honesty and shows the creative process ina way that is not normally seen. Emma Thompson and Tom hanks are both terrific, as always, but it is the supporting cast that really brings this movie to life- Bradley Whitford, BJ Novak, Jason, Schwarzman, Kathy Baker, Colin Ferrel, Rachel Griffiths, and Ruth Wilson all make this film astoundingly better, but the MVP award actually has to go to Paul Giamatti as the driver assigned to Travers who is sweet, upbeat, and becomes a real friend and confidante. In another year, this easily could have been my number one film- an astoundingly great movie that hits the heart, soul, and discusses the struggles of the creative process as well. Make sure you watch the credits for pictures of the actual people involved and actual audio recordings of PL Travers in the story meetings!

4- Way, Way Back- An astoundingly great film that gets better every time I see it. The big strokes of the storyline is that an awkward teenager goes to a summer beach house with his mom and her new “male significant other” as he tries to deal with his life changing around him. He gradually finds acceptance and gets self-confidence and finds himself. Nothing new there. However, the boyfriend of the mom, played by Steve Carrell, could have been a mustache twirling bad guy and the film paints him in a way that he could be viewed as such, but by what we actually see and hear, he is a flawed man attempting to do his best to bring a woman and her son into his life and failing miserably. Carell shows that even the “bad guys” are not actively trying to be bad. Toni Colette as his conflicted mom, struggling to find the balance between her new man and her son is heart breaking. Sam Rockwell is the obvious stand out as a man-child running the local water park who hires the teenager and helps him with his self-esteem. He has many hilarious one-liners (my favorite is the Footloose reference), but also bares the character’s soul near the end when he discusses the realities of his life. Anna Sophia Robb continues to show she has the acting skills of someone twice her age and makes the “girl next door” an actual human being and not just a stereotype. Maya Rudolph, Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, and Allison janney also turn in great comedic performances that round out the cast. I love that the end seems to many people like a happy ending with a definite conclusion, but, at closer glance shows that the only things resolved are that the teenager has gained self-esteem and that his mom has his back. Nothing is closed or perfect- just like life.

3- Philomena- What seems at first glance to be “Oscar bait” as a woman tries to find her son who was adopted out from under her by the nuns of the convent where she was living at the time, turns into a very soulful film about love, forgiveness, longing, and family. Judy Dench is perfect as the older Philomena, as is Sophie Kennedy Clark who plays the younger version of Philomena, who is searching for her son. Steve Coogan, who also wrote and produced this film, plays the reporter who discovers the story and helps Philomena research and find out what happened to her son. Although the mystery is solved almost halfway through the film, the movie still takes amazing twists and turns as we discover more about the son and his trials and where he ended up. There are some that think it is anti-religion and anti-Catholicism, but I feel just the opposite. I feel that it shows what the true love of Christ can do and the true power of forgiveness. An amazingly sweet, small, perfectly acted film with the right doses of humor and drama.

2- About Time- This film was written and directed by the same man who made Love Actually. It follows the life of a young man who, on his 21st birthday, is told by his dad (Bill Nighy) that he has the ability to time travel into his past (only his own past- he can’t go back and kill Hitler, for example) and make his life the best it can be. The first 45 minutes or so are basically a romantic comedy and focus on him finding and dating and marrying the perfect girl (Rachel McAdams). It has one the best montages of showing them as they date by just staying in one place in the London subway system and showing them as they walk by the same spot as they date, move in together, and become close. I love the fact that after a hilarious, horrendously mishap- and- rain-filled wedding day, he asks his new bride, “Would you prefer if we had been married on a sunnier day?” and you can see the wheels turning that he is going to go back in time to provide a “Perfect” wedding day, that she tells him that no, it was perfect because it was their wedding day. Life is filled of the unpredictable and that is what makes it life. After the wedding, the film switches gears and becomes a testament to the importance of family, love, life, and making every moment count. Although there is a lot of time travel in this film, it is not at all about the time travel. It is used to show us what truly is important in life and that every day can be perfect. A very touching, sweet, film.

1-Unfinished Song- This is one of the most clichéd films imaginable. Just by telling the main plot, you will be able to guess every single step that the plot of this film makes (well, almost- there are a couple of very minor subplots that go in different directions than they might in many Hollywood films.) I tried several times to move this film down the list, but I just couldn’t. From the very first few notes of the song that plays over the opening credits all the way until the end credits, I was either laughing or crying every step of the way and I can’t deny the power it had over me. Vanessa Redgrave is dying of cancer. She is married to the town grump, Terrence Stamp, who has an ongoing feud with their son, played by Christopher Eccleston. Redgrave gets involved in a senior citizens singing group which is directed by Gemma Arterton. As Redgrave gets sicker and needing more help to get to her singing group and Terence Stamp becomes more involved in taking his sick wife to the rehearsals and protecting her as much as he can from her impending death, we get to see the sweet soul of this man and his undying love and devotion for his wife. Is it really a shock to learn that Redgrave dies about halfway through the film? Not at all. Is it surprising that Stamp’s grumpy heart grows 3 sizes, just like the Grinch’s and that he will reconcile with his son? No. Are we surprised when Arterton starts to bring Stamp around to being in the group? Nope. But watching the 4 actors, at the top of their game, bringing their all to this simple and sweet story is a triumph of emotion and spirit. The truth in the emotions and the situations hits home. It’s also the little things in the film. After his wife’s death, Stamp ends up sleeping on the couch and having trouble with his sleep schedule. Heck, I sleep on the couch just when my wie goes out of town. I identified with that aspect and with the grief cycle and the loss. But also the joy and the connection to people that is in this film also hit home. Yes, it is all clichéd, but, it doesn’t matter. This is truly a film all about the journey and how well it is all put together and it has my ringing endorsement as my favorite film of the year!


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Numbers 34- 16- Great Films, but Missing that Extra “Thing” and, a Special mention

The next to last post of all of the films which were released in 2013 includes films that I thought were great and which possibly could have, in another year,been in the top of my list. Most of these films have a small nitpick that keep them from the top but I enjoyed all of these immensely in one way or another this year and most of these are what make me feel that this was a fabulous year at the movies!

Also, Number 16 is a special mention that I can't leave off the list, but I also can't quite categorize or place in the top of my list, even though it belongs there (When you see the title, you will understand.)


Great Films, but Missing that Extra “Thing”

34- Behind the Candelabra- Michael Douglas plays Liberace and Matt Damon is his younger lover in Steven Soderbergh’s supposedly last film as director. The cast is fantastic and it is very well produced, but the fact that Liberace was slimy coats the entire film. I loved it and thought it was very well done, but it is graphic in spots.

33- Saratov Approach- A little tighter editing at the beginning and a better actress cast as one of the Elder’s mothers are the only 2 minor nitpicks that I have of this film. Otherwise, it is a fabulous, intense, and well made film about the true story of 2 kidnapped DS Missionaries in Russia. It doesn’t matter if you are LDS or not- this is a riveting film!

32- Captain Phillips- Tom Hanks does his normal solid job of portraying the captain of a large ship taken captive by pirates in this true story. It is a great drama with small character moments scattered throughout. The tension is kept up very well, but what makes this one a bit more special is the final scene with Hanks’ Captain finally succumbing to the stress he has felt over several days.

31- Trance-
Just like another film higher on my list, this is a twisty thriller. I admit that I love these types of films more than most. But this one is funny, mysterious, intriguing, and the last 10 minutes is absolutely insane! James Macavoy, and Rosario Dawson make a great pair as an art thief who has memory loss trying to get it back so that he can find a painting that he hid which is worth millions. Not for the squeamish or easily offended but an amazingly fun ride courtesy of director Danny Boyle.

30- 42- While this film makes Jackie Robinson into a saint with no problems other than facing racism, the cast and production values are so high, I can’t deny how strong the picture is. Chadwick Boseman is riveting and Harrison Ford tears into an uncommon character role. Also, Alan Tudyk is great at playing despicable as one of the most racist people ever put on film!

29- Hunger Games- Catching Fire- The original film was one of my favorites last year. I think the cast and production values were amazing and the story drew me in and held me while Jennifer Lawrence tore into the role of Katniss and made herself a star. This one is just as well made and intriguing. However, I have not read the books and did not know where it was going. Without giving anything away, the cliffhanger twist ending negated the strength of the character of Katniss and knocked this down a bit on my list. But, it comes more from the story created in the books and the film just follows suit by keeping the plot the same. Never fear- Lawrence is just as good as she was last year and owns the character of Katniss and does a fabulous job,, it’s just the book that robs her a bit of her strength.

28- Wolverine- The gravitas of the character Wolverine is brought greatly into this film and how hard it really would be to be immortal. The weight of Hugh Jackman’s predicament and decision is brought to bear on the film and it is better for it. While not action packed, when there is action, it is tough and brutal, Jackman holds nothing back. This is definitely more of a dramatic superhero film which finally takes the character of Wolverine very seriously. Until the over the top climax, this is a masterful film and the climax doesn’t kill the film as a whole, it just makes it less than what it could have been. Jackman really IS Wolverine.

27- Thanks for Sharing- While the first 4/5ths of the film seems like an R-Rated sitcom, the last 1/5th and the cast really brings the darkness and drama out of the situations and it goes places that are quite unexpected. Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Josh gad, and Alecia Moore (or Pink- yes, Pink) star as sex addicts who are going to a sex addicts meeting. Some have been clean for a long time and are mentors, others are newer and still struggling, and some are brand new and having a difficult time even admitting that there is a problem. If you know an addict of any kind, this film is hard hitting and hard to watch, especially when some situations start to spiral out of control near the end. Very hard film to watch, but the actors make it a very strong film and a reason to watch.

26- Drew- Man Behind the Poster- As a documentary, this is actually pretty poor. There are no amazingly told stories, nothing really dramatic which is happening behind the scenes (such as Metallica Some Kind of Monster), but when your subject is Drew Struzan, the artist behind the original Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future films, along with many, many others and there are interviews with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Michael J Fox, Frank Darabont, Guillermo Del Toro, and you watch Drew paint and the camera shows many of his posters, lingering on the details, you don’t really need much more.

25- Prisoners- The cast is top notch and the script goes to places that most other stories only hint at. On Thanksgiving 2 little girls go missing and their families (played by Hugh jackman, maria Bello, Viola Davis, and Terrence Howard) all react in different ways as they attempt to discover what happened to their daughters. Jackman is just as seething with rage as he was in Wolverine and attempts torture to a suspect who had to be let go, Bello tries to drug and sleep her way through it, Howard helps Jackman out of helplessness, and Davis looks the other way at the lawlessness the husbands are creating but acknowledges that she is okay with whatever they do. Jake Gyllenhaal is the detective tasked with finding the girls. This film gets dark and gritty, and disturbing and doesn’t let up for its 2 ½ hour running time. The only slight problem is the ending does not go quite as dark as it probably should, but it is a riveting watch.

24- Mud- Matthew McCaughnahey continues his run of strong characters as a man wanted by the law, trying to get in touch with his girlfriend and befriending two boys during the summer. A very strongly acted and produced coming of age film that also touches on other universal emotions and truths, this is a small sleeper film but one that is well worth watching and is cornerstone for MM’s career resurgence the past 2 years.

23- Rush- In most sports movies, there is a “good” competitor and a “bad” competitor and the audience is manipulated to root for one over the other in the final conflict. In this true story of race car driving in the early to mid ‘70’s, the 2 drivers at the center of the story are both jerks, egomaniacs, and great at what they do. Ron Howard makes this truly a story of 2 professionals attempting to be the best at what they do and beat the other. There is no “good” or “bad” and it was a very refreshing take on a sports move with great action and racing scenes and spectacular acting bringing you into the conflict.

22- All is Lost- With a nearly wordless performance, Robert Redford plays a lone sailor, stuck at sea with a damaged boat that is slowly sinking, diminishing supplies, and nature going against him. An absolutely claustrophobic and nerve jangling film. I found my self saying “No, no, no, no, no” several times throughout the screening.

21- Enough Said- I always at least like Nicole Holofcenter films, but usually, somewhere along the course of her films, the characters end up going to places that I don’t feel are really story driven and become more chess pieces and the endings of her films usually leave me cold. Not this one. Enough Said is her masterpiece and a really funny, touching, and heartbreaking story starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James gandolfini (in one of his last roles) as a couple who starts dating and tries to keep the relationship going, even though they are both divorced and have their own lives and outside influences pulling them apart. The central conflict is a bit forced and comes straight from a Three’s Company storyline, but Dreyfuss and Gandolfini handle it like pros and make you feel every bad life choice that these characters have made and their desire to have someone who loves them and to spend their life with. The supporting cast is also very strong and ties this together. Very touching.

20- Spectacular Now- Miles Teller plays a teenage alcoholic high school senior whose girlfriend breaks up with him and whose mother is never home because she is working two jobs to try to make ends meet. He meets a girl, played by Shailene Woodley, who is outside of his normal ccol clique at school and starts dating her, bringing her into his alcoholism and slow downward spiral as his high school years come to a close and he searched for his father who left his family many years ago. A gut punch of a film that feels very real with all of the emotions and small things throughout the entire film.

19- American Hustle- In a comedic, fictionalized version of the Abscam scandal in the 70’s, director David O Russell gets the most from everyone who worked on the film. The main cast- Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner- all knock their scenes out of the park, whether it’s a scene for comedy or drama and the supporting cast, along with a great surprise cameo, also nails it home. The costumes, hairstyles, and art direction all make it feel like it was actually filmed in the 70’s as well. While not as emotionally deep as ‘The Fighter’, the relationships between the characters and their motivations still ring true, but it is much more of a “fun ride” this time. And Amy Adams has never looked better!

18- 12 Years a Slave- I cannot really say anything bad about this film. The acting is great, the specific moments are very powerful, each whip and punch are felt by the audience, the story is intriguing, but… my mom was a history teacher and loved learning about the Civil War. Of course, slavery is a part of it. So, I have seen many of the real life plantations, heard many stories throughout the years, read many books, saw a ton of films, and this film, while amazingly well-done, adds nothing new to the “slave drama” subgenre. I do, however, hope that, if The Butler is up for any awards alongside 12 Years a Slave, and one of them wins, it had better be 12 Years a Slave which is a fantastically made film with no manipulation added.

17- Frozen- A few songs don’t quite work and a couple of jokes fall flat, and a slight character issue all drop this film just out of the top of my list, but I have not enjoyed a Disney-branded film this much in aa very long time. Beautifully animated, a song which will go into the pantheon of all-time great Disney songs (Let It Go), fabulous voice acting from everyone but especially Kristen Bell, and a story that focuses on family and sisters more than a “Prince Charming” make this a winner!


Special Mention

16- Jurassic Park 3D- Jurassic Park came out while I was on my mission. I did see it in the theater on my first day home, but, with the showtimes, I ended up making it my second movie back in the theater (The Fugitive was my first.) While I loved and really enjoyed Jurassic, Fugitive was in a better auditorium at the time and also such a great film, and I think I was a little overwhelmed with Fugitive and a little underwhelmed by Jurassic- ever so slightly. I have seen Jurassic many times over the years and still really enjoy it. But, seeing it in IMAX, in 3D and really being transported into it again after all these years, this was a very special theatrical experience(s- I saw it twice in IMAX 3D) and it was like seeing it for the first time all over again. This is truly a fabulous theatrical film! And no, if pressed, even all these years later, I don’t know which one I prefer- Fugitive or Jurassic.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Numbers 56- 35, Good for What They Were, Better Than Expected

This section of films definitely gets better as the numbers increase. Only 2 sections of the list remain! Keep checking back!


Good For What They Were- Better Than Expected


56- 47 Ronin-
As I stated on The Geek Agenda recently, “If you go for stupidity, it’s a lot of fun.” Get rid of the first 40 minutes, ignore the too-serious ending, forget about the random mysticism of a dragon and floating hair feeding a prisoner sushi (yes, you read that correctly), a disappearing spider, a random beast in the woods, and a gigantic, unidentified 10 foot tall samurai, then you get a pretty fun middle hour.

55- GI Joe- Retaliation- I almost out this on the “Pure Entertainment” level, but the mountainside fight makes this one slightly superior to that level because it tries something brand new. Nothing great, but that mountainside fight makes it worth it.

54- Mortal Instruments- Even though this is a blatant attempt to cash in on the “Find the new Young Adult novels turned into feature film” craze, I actually liked this one a lot more than the rest of them (ie. Percy Jackson, Beautiful Creatures, Host). It is almost funny how crass of a product this is, but there are several interesting ideas at play (where the “trophy” is hidden), and it goes to a certain area of the romantic triangle that I thought was tricky but that I really liked (until one line near the end tries to wipe away the darkness, but I am going to ignore that line!). Here’s hoping to a sequel!

53- Pain & Gain- Michael Bay Bays it up, but this is still an effectively dark comedy about a real life crime event. To give away any of the twists and turns would spoil it, but, if you want a flashy dark comedy starring Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg, give this one a shot.

52- Don Jon- Although I trust Joseph Gordon Leavitt as an actor, he stars in, wrote, and directed this film about a Brooklyn guy who tries to find the perfect woman while still being addicted to online porn. The cast is fabulous and the film actually comes around from a very creepy opening 20 minutes to a slightly less creepy resolution and shows that JGL is a legitimate triple threat now. Not for all tastes!

51- Warm Bodies-
A fun mix of a zombie movie and romantic comedy that actually works. The cast is uniformly good and appealing with some good action and good laughs.

50- The family- While this film about a family in Witness Protection living in France and hiding out from the Mob has massive tonal shifts, I had a great time all the way through. DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones all deliver their normal solid performances, Dianna Agron, who has yet to impress me ina film, does a great job as the very mentally unhinged daughter of the family. The jokes and violence don’t quite mix, but it is never boring!

49- Ender’s Game- I am a bad geek and have never read the book so I was pleasantly surprised by the plot of this film and how dark it is. The actors do well and I was drawn into the story. My biggest concern is that the final “twist” was what I had assumed was happening anyway, so it felt very anti-climactic, but still a very good solid sci-fi thriller.

48- Monsters University- Other than the fabulous animation and voice work, I was very disappointed in this G rated version of Animal House- until the heart came hammering back in the last 20 minutes of the film and took it to an interesting way to bring us back to the beginning of the first film. It takes too long to turn around and find its heart, but it finally gets there and is never painful to watch.

47- Instructions Not Included- I heard that this a very amusing Spanish language comedy. Whoever says that should be shot! It is a very effective Spanish language drama with funny moments, but this film treats its subject honestly and delivers a gut punch about every 10 minutes in its last half hour. Very good and emotional film about an illegal Mexican immigrant raising a daughter on his own after the mother walks out.

46- You’re next- This is a weird mix of a dark comedy and home invasion thriller. The film starts with a family gettogether at a remote cabin for an anniversary party and the siblings in the family all bring their significant others. Once the blood starts flowing, the plot twists and turns with some great surprises. Sharni Vinson is a great addition to the group. Watch it and find out why.

45- Byzantium- A very dark, more dramatic version of a vampire film starring Saorise Ronin as a vampiric daughter to vampire Gemma Arterton who helps keep a roof over their heads by being a real “lady of the Night”. When Saorise decides to tell her story to a local boy in their latest small town stop, their lifestyle may be in danger. Neil Jordan, who also directed Interview with the Vampire” directs with a sure but steady hand here as well.

44- Mama- While I initially had some issues with where the story went, I remembered that it started with ‘Once Upon a Time’. It is truly a fairy tale with a horror bent. An almost unrecognizable Jessica Chastain plays a woman who must take care of her boyfriend’s long lost nieces after they are found alone in the woods after being missing for 5 years and after her boyfriend has to go to the hospital for a while. They show the menace a little too much, but still a very effective PG-13 horror/ thriller.

43- White House Down- I preferred the fun, over the top goofiness of this Die Hard in the White House.I feel it is a much more fun action film with bigger and more memorable setpieces. Is it a better film than Olympus Has Fallen? Maybe, maybe not, but it is a lot more fun!

42- Last vegas- While a lot of subplots are conveniently forgotten about or quickly wrapped up, this film works purely through the power of the cast. Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, and Robert DeNiro play best friends who go with soon-to-be-married Michael Douglas to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. This shows what a good cast really can do with a pretty generic script. Mary Steenburgen also shines as a lounge singer who gets in with the group.

41- The Heat- Again, a film that just made me laugh. A lot. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy play mismatched cop partners searching for a drug dealer on the streets. Is there anything that we have not seen before done in numerous other films starring males? No. But Bullock, McCarthy, and the supporting cast really make this work. Could have been a bit shorter, but still enjoyable.

40- Red 2- Expanding on the initial premise and bringing Helen Mirren back to kill Bruce Willis, this sequel starts at the opening scene and never lets up. The cast is obviously having a great time and bring us along for the ride. I have no idea how Willis does not crack at all when Mary Louise Parker is slapping him, but it is a fabulous scene in a very enjoyable film!

39- Thor Dark World- While I didn’t quite like this as well as the original Thor, mainly due to the boring villains, Hemsworth proves that he IS Thor and Hiddleston returns as Loki and matches him step for step. The bouncing through the wormholes, the action, and the fun comedy keep this lively even if the plot is quite nonsensical. Also, props for setting up Avengers 3 (yes, 3!), even before they start filming Avengers 2.

38- Grudge Match- Of the films which came out on Christmas day, this was my favorite. What could have been a cheesy Rocky vs Raging Bull spectacle (and yes, there are jokes based on each of the stars alter egos) the ambitions and shattered dreams of the characters are actually much more front and center than I was expecting. Great acting from the entire cast along with an ending that works makes the film a winner as well.

37- Fast 6- There is nothing more to this than a big, dumb action film, but when it is done this well, who cares? The tank chase and the girl fights with both actresses taking most of their own punches are the highlights here. It is what it is and it works very well. Could have been trimmed by 20 minutes, but it goes from setpiece to setpiece with glee.

36- World War Z- Let me be clear. This is NOT World War Z the Book. But, for a big budget zombie movie starring Brad Pitt, it is a very tense and enjoyable ride. While the wife and family become more plot devices than characters after Pitt goes off to find rthe cause of the outbreak, it keeps the tension going and the menace real.

35- We’re the Millers- The only reason that I saw this was that I had seen everything else and my wife was gone for the evening. I must admit that I laughed very hard all the way through this. Everyone nails the comedic tone and it is gag after gag after gag. It is crude, crass, and frequently hilarious from beginning to end. I definitely have “No Ragrets” after seeing it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Numbers 93- 57- Good for what they were but no extra oomph

Sorry about the delay in this post, but I took the weekend off last weekend and had minimal time/ access. Stay tuned for more on Wednesday!


Good for what they were, but didn’t have the extra “oomph”


93- Great Gatsby-The book never connected with me and neither di this film. It was, however, well acted and well produced, but, again, I didn’t care. It throws around words like love, devotion, and passion, and I didn’t buy any of it. Near the end, when Carraway is alone at the funeral, he says that he was the only one who cared. But why did he care? The movie never showed us that he cared, only that he was enthralled with Gatsby’s life, but it was a very one-sided relationship. I will however probably pick this for the art direction Oscar if it is nominated.

92- Texas Chainsaw 3D- Oh, this movie was crap, but it made me jump a few times, Daddario was good, there were moments of dread, and I liked what they tried to do with it. It didn’t work fully, but it was better than Last Exorcism 2.

91- Baggage Claim- I like watching Paula Patton in films. She is likeable and energetic. The concept of this romantic comedy is generic, but the set up makes it so that this could have been something special and turn the generic rom-com resolution on its head. But, as it get closer to the end, it slowly starts to turn and the ending is extremely disappointing by going to the exact place that any other rom com could have gone. Great ideas, great lead actress, very poor writing of the conclusion.

90- Elysium- Good action, good acting and world building, but the too-on-the-nose social commentary beat me over the head too hard to get into the actual story. Still looking forward to Blomkamp’s next film, though.

89- Oblivion- Again, very well produced film with fabulous technical achievements, and a great performance by Andrea Riseborough (and even Tom Cruise), but, when all is said and done, the twist of the film is identical to a much better film made several years ago and so Oblivion was a little bland as the credits rolled.

88- Jack the Giant Slayer- The movie starts well, dies for about 45 minutes, and then comes back to life and has a rousing finale, but, it dies and stops momentum for a little too long. The effects are good, acting and story are fine, it just could have been trimmed substantially.

87- Hatchet 3- The conclusion to the Hatchet series which is really just an excuse to have over the top violence (by using actual physical effects, not CGI) and a lot of horror movie in-jokes. The first one was fantastic! The last two have been fun, but the returns have been diminishing quickly!

86- Insidious Chapter 2- One of the things that I loved about the original Insidious is that the character played by Rose Byrne was a mom who actively tried to resolve the strange situations plaguing her family. In this one, she becomes the crying, fearful mother who does almost nothing. The change in character hurt this film greatly for me even though the tension and dread were still very well done, but it became more like a common horror film.

85- Evil Dead- Again, it was great to see a horror film use more practical effects instead of CGI. Great acting and, again, tension and dread, take a backseat to inexplicable character choices and a nonsensical script.

84- The Call- Working in a call center, the first hour of this film absolutely nailed the environment, and the tension and helplessness that an operator can feel while attempting to help a caller. Unfortunately, the man kidnapping the girl is over-the-top evil, causes too much mayhem in broad daylight and doesn’t draw attention to himself, and the finale in which Halle Berry’s 911 operator goes after the kidnapper because she knows more than her cop boyfriend, just gets too silly and drops all of the goodwill from the first hour.

83- Despicable Me 2- Admit it, take an honest look at this film. Now, take the minions out of it. You are left with a bland and generic kids film with nothing really for adults or, for that matter, laughs. This film is made entertaining purely by the minions. While I laughed very hard at some of the random jokes (an Isaac from the Love Boat reference? Really?) I was left with an overwhelming feeling of meh with the film as a whole.

82- Croods- The animation is great, it is very funny, and the story is well-meaning, but I didn’t buy it. I felt nothing as the film’s climax came and one of the character’s had to make a sacrifice. While the end of the film was never in question (no big budget family movie is going to end on a down ending), I felt no emotional attachment to the film or charcaters.

81- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2- While far from a bust, this is nowhere as good as the original. It does have an imagination that goes crazy and is infectious, some hysterical gags, but, again, by the end, I felt nothing more for the characters. The first film was one of my favorite animated films of the last few years. This will not be joining it.

80- Percy Jackson- Sea of Monsters- There is nothing really wrong with this film, but there is nothing really right about it, either. There are great cameos (Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion are the best) and everyone does their job, but some characters are given the short shrift to make room for a new Cyclops brother, but, again, nothing really lands emotionally. The climax was great in Atmos, but was very meh otherwise.

79- Delivery Man-
While I smiled a lot, I never really laughed and that is a problem for a comedy. The actors are fine, but I was never able to allow my suspension of disbelief to take effect as I watched this film. Chris Pratt and Colbiw Smulders make the biggest impacrt, but they are minor roles.

78- This is the End- Just like most Apatow comedies, there is a lot of genius along with a lot of stupidity. This time, the stupidity takes over. I would have marked this lower, but the script does take some amazing surprising and daring paths. And Emma Watson’s cameo is priceless! “Back the f*** up!”

77- Epic- The animation is gorgeous, the sound and score are amazing, and the voices are very well done, but the plot doesn’t really make sense and that kills it for me. In the forest, growth is good and decay is bad. Okay, so, if the queen of the forest keeps everything growing, then the plants will overrun each other and will deplete the food resources very quickly which will lead to death of the plants and decay. But, wait, it can’t because the bad guys of decay were vanquished so this forest will just be overrun with too much foliage that never dies. Yes, I realize that it’s a kids movie and I need to turn my suspension iof disbelief off, but it got too far in the way for me. I can go with talking slugs, but not allow the plot to just be? I know, I know…

76- Black nativity- Good acting and intriguing songs and versions of holiday classics negate the bad melodramatic plot. Not good, not bad, it just is.

75- Runner, Runner- The plot makes no sense and I didn’t care about anyone or anything but I liked watching Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterto, John Heard and Anthony Mackie in gorgeous island settings and a low-level crime drama. It was nothing special at all, but easily watchable.

74- Dark Skies- The opening 20 minutes could have been trimmed waaaay down into one scene to get this alien abduction movie going much quicker, but once it gets going, watch out! There are some seriously creepy moments, disturbing images, and great ideas, but the film just doesn’t quite work as a whole.

73- Incredible Burt Wonderstone- I am probably giving this much more slack than I probably should, but I was one of the target audience members for this comedy that stars Steve Carrell as a Vegas magician who is nearing the end of his reign. I laughed a lot at him, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey, I loved the acting turns by Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin and I had a good time laughing at the mocking of magicians like Copperfield and Criis Angel and others, but, if this is not an area that you enjoy, stay away.

72- Spring Breakers- Many critics are calling this an amazing indictment of the current culture of pleasure and enjoyment over common sense. I found it a slightly interesting take on the same themes and the vapidness of today’s society (see also Bling Ring) but the most interesting characters leave after the first hour and the others who were left, even James Franco’s drug dealer) never really intrigued me and I ended up not caring what happened to the main charcaters left at the finale.

71- Bling Ring- I cannot decide where to put this film. The whole point of the film is that the characters are stupid, vapid, and vain. I disliked everyone in this film because they are all stupid, vapid, and vain and I didn’t care about any of them and wanted them to get caught. However, I am sure that the emptiness is the whole point, so the film did its job. But that doesn’t mean that I liked it. Or did I?

70- Closed Circuit- I was very intrigued by this look at the Britsh legal system starring Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall, but, after the initial setup, the script lets them down., Just one example- they are afraid to take a witness to the courthouse because they know that the bad guys are hunting the witness to kill him. So, how do they get him into the courthouse safely> They go about an hour early and walk in the front door. Huh?? A very disappointing film as a whole with fabulous parts! I would highly recommend this just for the good parts, if you turn your brain off for the ridiculous plotholes.

69- Kevin hart- Let Me Explain- The first half of this stand up comedy concert film goes over the same old ‘men and women are different’ jokes as every other comedian has told for the last 30 years, however, once Hart starts telling specific stories about his kid and his horse riding adventure, I laughed quite a bit- too bad that was only in the last 25 minutes or so.

68- Oz- Great & Powerful- Again, way too long, and way too many CGI effects, but I had a great time watching this Wizard of Oz prequel with James Franco as the soon-to-be Wizard. Franco is good. Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Mila Kunis are great as the witches of the land and there is a very interesting climax which uses no violence. A good family film, but still too long.

67- Snitch- More of a drama than the action film that Dwayne Johnson fans expected, this was still an enjoyable character drama with great acting by Johnson and Jon Bernthal as an ex-con who helps Johnson’s character. A couple of great stunts, but just a bit too plodding and overemphasis on the same character beats hold this back a bit.

66- Out of the Furnace- This film had amazing acting, incredible tension and a great forboding sense of depression, but the story held no surprises and the characters do exactly what they would do in Screenwriting 101. Disappointing.

65- Lone Ranger- This was probably the hardest movie to rank. The film is waaay too long, the script is a mess, the acting is all over the map, but, for the 3 or 4 action sequences in this film (especially the climax) it can almost all be forgiven because they are so well done. Sadly, there is about 90 minutes or more of blahhh filmmaking to get to the good stuff.

64- Secret Life of Walter Mitty- It is a gorgeous film, very well filmed and made, but while many of my customers at the theater and friends on Facebook are enthusiastic about how amazing the film was and how it is absolutely inspiring, and life changing, I just have to shrug my shoulders and agree that it was good, but nothing special in my eyes. Although the Karaoke bar in Iceland was very funny.

63- Wolf of Wall Street- Yes, it is over-the-top. Yes, it is crude from the very opening moments. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Margot Robbie are amazing to watch (along with Matthew Mccaughnahey in a 10 minute cameo), and there are some absolutely hysterical scenes of excess and the effects of drugs, but, after 3 hours, I had not learned anything about the characters or the situations other than what was there at face value. Too long with no heart or soul. But again, I think that was the point.

62- Anchorman 2- This is just as silly, dumb, and pointless as the original. And I laughed quite often. It is, again, too long, goes off on random tangents, and has stretches without laughs, but better than most comedy sequels. The Battle Royale finale is packed with cameos and is very funny.

61- Carrie- Chloe Grace Moretz is spectacular as Carrie, but her amazing screen presence is still hard to suppress at the beginning when she is supposed to be the ultimate wallflower. Julianne Moore is crazily good as her overly religious mother, Judy Greer adds a great dramatic turn as carrie’s school counselor, and the young actors playing the kids trying to help Carrie and bully Carrie do their jobs well, but the question remains- why remake this film? Sadly, I could not find much reason to watch this one over the original, if you’re only going to watch one.

60- Room 237- This is a documentary that follows several theories as to what Stanley Kubrick actually had in mind as subtext when he was making The Shining. This is fascinating on many levels, and just crazy and insane on others (In one of the theories, The Shining proves that Kubrick was the director who faked the footage of America landing on the moon. In another, The Shining is all about the destruction of American Indians.) Since it just has the audio interviews and minimal footage other than the film, it is boring visually as it shows the same scenes from The Shining over and over and over and over again, but still is fascinating on its own level.

59- Kick Ass 2- Chloe Grace Moretz is fabulous again and there are some great bits from Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, and others, but Aaron Johnson as the lead is still a little bland. I really enjoyed watching this but there was no new point to be made in making the sequel, as fun as it was.

58- Broken City- This is a modern film noir that does nothing new with the format as it shows that corruption in big city politics can go all the way to the top. Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alona Tal do a great job and the tension is held well, but there are no real surprises.

57- Company You Keep- An all star cast (no joke! Robert Redford, Susan Sarandon, Shia LaBoeuf, Anna Kendrick, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, and many, many more) elevate the story of a newspaper reporter on the trail of a man who has been a fugitive and living under another name for 35 years and why he finally decides to make a run for it. This is acting class 101, but again, the story does really nothing new or interesting with its ideas.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Numbers 104- 94- Pure Entertainment

Pure Entertainment- listed in chronological order of release. These were what they were. No more, no less.

104- Hansel & Gretl Witch Hunters- Really, if you go see a movie with this title, you should know what you’re getting. A surprising character beat (Renner’s character has diabetes due to eating all the candy as a child), cool action, a winking sense of humor, Peter Stormare chewing scenery, bloody, cheesy special effects, and Gemma Arterton doing her best Kate-Beckinsale-in-leather imitation made for a fun 90 minutes.

103- Parker- Using a character from a series of novels by Donald Westlake, Jason Statham stars as a moral thief who goes after his ex-partners to get the amount he was owed for a job after he is shot and left for dead. Jennifer Lopez catches onto his plan and finagles her way into the scheme. A fun little thriller/ action film.

102- Last Stand- Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back to the big screen in a fun way! He is the sheriff in a small US town near the Mexican border where an escaped drug dealer is expected to cross over. Surprising plot choices, a sense of fun, great action, and surprisingly bloody- this film is a blast, however, it does overstay its welcome by about 15 minutes.

101- Gangster Squad- Josh Brolin leads a group of LA cops to do whatever it takes to take down a mobster trying to take over 1930’s Los Angeles. While it is based on a true story, this is a very fictionalized version of that story. It also stars Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Michael Pena and Nick Nolte. With that cast, it should explode off the screen, but unfortunately is nothing more than a fun 2 hour time waster.

100- Good Day to Die Hard- I wish that this film was more than it is. The initial car chase is fantastic, but, otherwise it just coasts by and Is nothing at all memorable. Bruce Willis is taking a paycheck, nothing more, and that hurts me to say it. Fun to watch but nowhere near the classic status of the original. Bonus trivia fact- My first film in Dolby Atmos.

99- Olympus Has Fallen- Basically, Die Hard in the White House. I enjoyed this film, but nothing more. I like the setup for the main character (in a tragic decision, he has to save the life of the President of the US and let the First Lady die) and I like the darkness of it all, it actually works against the film in not making it much fun. This is the bloodier, grittier, R-Rated
Terrorists take over the White House ‘ film of the year.

98- 2 Guns- Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg make a fun team as two undercover cops (from different agencies) who are both pretending to be criminals (unknown to the other) who rob a bank and try to discover who has set them up for the fall after the heist. The interplay between the two is fun and they elevate the material, but, 2 minutes after leaving the theater, the film evaporated from my mind. Enjoyable 2 hour film.

97- Getaway- This is an awful, horribly plotted film. Ethan Hawke stars as an ex-race car driver whose wife is kidnapped. He is contacted and told that he must steal a car and do specific tasks throughout the city one night and if he refuses, his wife will be killed. Selena Gomez is the owner of the car he steals who is also a computer hacker. Unbelievable to the extreme, but a very cheap knock-off version of a Fast and the Furious type of film with great car stunts and an amazing 90 second shot filmed from the front bumper of the car as it runs red lights and travels through the streets gives this film a major leg up.

96- Riddick- Nowhere near as good as the original Pitch Black, but still a fun film with Riddick being left for dead on a planet that has many threats to life, so he calls for a rescue ship which happens to be populated by bounty hunters looking for him. A tense scene involving a locker full of explosives, a tough Vin Diesel, interesting setup (almost a silent film for 30 minutes as he survives on the planet alone, except for his pet “dog”) help this, but it is nothing more than what the makers wanted- a pulp story brought to the big screen.

95- Escape Plan- Stallone is an expert of breaking out of prisons who is hired by a shadowy group to go into an unknown prison and attempt escape. Once there, he discovers that he has been duped and is being kept locked away with no “safe word” escape route. He enlists Schwartzenegger to assist in his escape and take down the cruel warden. While I enjoyed this film quite a bit, the ending was extremely rushed and Stallone’s “office team” is severely wasted, but otherwise a very enjoyable ride.

94- Homefront- Jason Statham again as an ex-undercover cop who moves to a small Louisiana town with his daughter to escape the wrath of a local drug kingpin. When he is discovered by the small town drug dealer who sells him out, the dealer he put away plots revenge. Waaaay overlong by 20- 30 minutes with characters who drop in and out for long stretches of time (and one that disappears entirely for no reason after the first 45 minutes or so), but an interesting film, nonetheless. It has a slight ‘Straw Dogs’ vibe to it. One of the “coulda” films- It coulda been so much better but its not bad for what it is.