My Week in Movies – January 29th

This week it’s all strange actors and strange movies, unfortunately no Doctor Strange.

Strange Magic
This was a strange movie. The trailers presented a story about an adventuring faerie named Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood). The movie presented a pop musical love story. As per usual, I have to say I was disappointed by this turn of events. I’m sure if I had been prepared for a musical, this movie would have rated higher. It’s an interesting love story and the music is amusing but I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Come on guys, stop with the false advertising. Everyone that left the theater with me commented on the music.

Watch it: If you’re interested in an early year musical.
Skip it: If you were hoping for an adventure tale with a strong female protagonist.

For a while, Johnny Depp was king of the silver screen. Willy Wonka, Jack Sparrow, Sweeny Todd, the Mad Hatter but that all seems so long ago. Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger and Transcendance. Mortdecai is a slight step up but honestly I’m not sure what to expect anymore. The supporting cast with Paul Bettany as Jock and Ewan McGregor as Inspector Martland was the only thing worth watching in this film. The plot was expectantly zany and used mostly to setup for punchlines. While funny, this film left plenty to be desired.

Watch it: If you want to see Paul Bettany shine. Or if you need your yearly fix of Johnny Depp, though you might want to wait for London Fields or Black Mass.
Skip it: If you’d rather not see Depp in another bad role.

My Week in Movies – January 22nd

This week, I introduce my readers to the word squick.


Well that was awkward. I’d like to think that, as I’ve started watching more movies, I haven’t lost my taste for big action spectacles, sci-fi fantasies and the occassional bad hacker movie. In spite of that, I must say, this bad hacker movie was truly awful. The plot had holes even I couldn’t ignore and the Michael Mann’s direction of Chris Hemsworth as blackhat hacker Nick Hathawy was worse than any plot hole. Squick1: that is the word I would use to describe just about every scene that involves Hemsworth and Tang Wei in the film’s ill-advised romantic subplot. Just as ill-advised; this movie was incredibly boring, and not even because they got those mundane things programmers do right. There really was no thrill. The action sequences were meh. The tension just never seemed to follow the path that it needed to to be satisying, and the music was irritating. I kept time checking, praying that my two plus hour punishment was over.

Watch it: If you desperately need to see Hemsworth shirtless for a minute (but, you know, you can watch a Thor movie instead), or if you want to see a programmer character actually use legit commands in a movie.
Skip it: Yeah. Just skip it. It’s not worth it.

This went far better that the other two movies this year. Paddington is an adorable jaunt back to childhood, starring a bear most of the English-speaking world is familiar with. Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) voices the titular bear, providing a wonderful performance as a lonely optimist lost in a new world and looking for a home. Paddington is taken in by the Browns, a fraying middle class family, and his antics (and the accompanying music, a mix of a charming score and Peruvian rhythms) play great against the contrast of Hugh Bonneville’s Mr. Brown, a strict risk analyst. Paddington ultimatey finds his home with the Brown family, as I’m sure this movie will find a place in hearts of the populace as one of the better kids movies of 2015.

Watch it: If you’re looking for the best movie so far this year.
Skip it: If you don’t need a feel-good kids movie in your January.

  1. Cause immediate and thorough revulsion. 

My Week in Movies – January 15

This week, Liam Neeson returns for one last Taken.

Taken 3

In the latest (and possibly last) installment in the Taken series, director Olivier Megaton and producer Luc Besson break away from the kidnapping premise that’s been so integral to spurring Bryan Mills (Neeson) into action. Instead they go for broke by killing Lenny (Famke Jansen), Bryan’s awkwardly close ex-wife, which sends him on his rampage across Los Angeles. While Neeson performs admirably in a franchise that is clearly flagging, it’s Forest Whitaker as Inspector Dotzler who is the film’s true star. His performance is outstanding and I agree with my fellow Conquistador, Charles, that Dotzler is the best thing about this film. Whitaker aptly portrays an investigator I would gladly put my faith in if I were a suspect for a murder I did not commit. Mills, on the other hand, is mostly a single-minded rampaging lunatic. I understand his need for revenge, I’m just not sure it’s properly channeled by the character or sympathetically displayed by the director. I was mostly disappointed by everyone else in the movie. Maggie Grace’s Kim Mills gained some skills in the last movie and used them ever so briefly, but I wouldn’t mind a larger role for her in the future if they do decide to continue plugging movies into this franchise.

Watch it: If you’re a fan of Whitaker, or Neeson rampaging about.
Skip it: If you’re looking for multiple nuanced performances.

2013 Year in Review: Films #11-25

2013 Film Ranking, Part IV

I only half-apologize for splitting these last twenty-five movies into two posts. I really did need the extra room to talk about some of these films.

25. Last Vegas
24. Delivery Man
23. World War Z
22. Rush
21. Short Term 12

I think World War Z is the runner-up for most deceptive trailer. I was quite worried about this movie. That they were going to take a movie about the Zombie apocalypse and make it a love story instead (already saw Warm Bodies and it didn’t go over particularly well). Fortunately, the trailer shows all the awful longing in the entire film. Instead I get a very good movie with Brad Pitt visiting various human strongholds in search of the source of the disease and any potential cure. The imagery and plot keep this film moving at a good pace with few lulls. This is certainly one of the better zombie films I’ve seen, a good thriller that’s not too focused on the horror aspects. While it doesn’t follow the book it take it’s title from, I feel it provides a different look at societal shortcomings and cooperation in an apocalyptic scenario.

20. Elysium
19. Iron Man 3
18. Now You See Me
17. Redemption
16. Lone Survivor

Now You See Me is a film that has some flaws and yet I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Sure some of the twists didn’t make so much sense. Also some of the cool concepts introduced as narrative devices were woefully underused. A secret magic society?! Sign. Me. Up. Each actor played their roles well even if some of the magic tricks weren’t top shelf. This movie isn’t deserving of any awards but it was a fun summer romp that I’d see again.

Redemption is the story of a war veteran, played by Jason Statham, who’s done a lot wrong in his life. The film follows him as he starts to pull himself out of poverty and a drunken stupor by beating people up for a gang. Statham is absolutely awesome in this movie. While he’s still a rough-and-tumble not-so-nice-guy, he’s a guy you’re clearly rooting for to get on the right track. Also he actually has some acting chops on display. I’m really hopeful we’ll get to see more of this side of Jason Statham in the future.

15. Fast and Furious 6
14. Star Trek Into Darkness
13. Philomena
12. Thor: The Dark World
11. Europa Report

In Europa Report, we listen and watch the story of a mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, through found footage and narration by the Chief Executive of Europa Ventures, played by Embeth Davidtz. I’ve never been a fan of found footage films, the camera shaking generally makes me nauseous. Fortunately, the film makers skipped that trope when making this film. It’s still a suspense thriller set in the near-future. A group of astronauts have left the safety of Earth to explore Europa. At somepoint, their communications array fails and this starts the found footage portions. The discoveries and trials this group faces as they explore far from home is interesting and still in the realm of possibility. It’s a great little film that deserves far more attention than it received.

One more post to wrap up my Year in Review Films series, I finally get to my Top 10 Films of 2013.

2013 Year in Review: Films #26-50

We return with our last large batch of movies.

###Still Decent###
50. Drinking Buddies
49. The World’s End
48. The Book Thief
47. It’s a Disaster
46. Monsters University
45. Kick-Ass 2
44. The Wolverine
43. RED 2
42. Riddick: Rule the Dark
41. We’re the Millers

Exhibiting Logan’s incredible healing powers, The Wolverine is a million times better than the seeming deathblow that was the previous Wolverine-focused film. The first ten minutes or so of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an opening montage of Wolverine and his brother through history, is uniformly awesome. It’s beautifully put together, showing an man incapable of dying dealing with so much death. The remaining hour and a half… so awful. A lot of things were fixed in The Wolverine, starting, of course, with the movie being good for far longer, always a good thing. Japan and Wolverine just make sense together, so it was good to see them united on the big screen. Unfortunately, the movie went off the rails near the end. Thank Viper, who, as the villain, is either underused or overused, but definitely misused. (Also the portrayal of her powers… just… weird.) The movie seems to want to explore the threat of depowering Wolverine and yet it leaves him mostly unharmed. He’s only missing his adamantium claws but he instantly regrows his bone claws which are… less shiny? Overall, not a great movie, but not truly bad, which, judging from past Wolverine films, was a clear possibility. Will it help setting up Fox’s next installment in the series? Only time will tell.

###Contenders Who Couldn’t Contend###
40. How I Live Now
39. 12 Years a Slave
38. Dallas Buyers Club
37. American Hustle
36. Captain Phillips
35. Saving Mr. Banks
34. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
33. White House Down
32. Trance
31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Sure 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, big Oscar winners, are down here, but a lot of people will wonder why American Hustle, nominated for 10 awards, winning none, is also not winning the James award for “Good Movie.” It’s certainly not because of the stellar performances. Amy Adams follows up her great portrayal of Lois Lane with another typically amazing performance in American Hustle Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner are all great too. And yet, this film just feels wrong on the whole. We are supposed to cheer for the bad guys, con artists and grifters, the corrupt mayors and mobsters. David O. Russel paints them as characters worthy of our sympathies since they have to deal with a power-hungry government more incompetent than they are – exemplified by the unhinged agent played by Bradley Cooper in a perm. (tightly wound, get it?) We should either be laughing at their foibles or celebrating the true heroes; films that found themselves with much lower numbers next to them.

###Finally, Some Good Stuff###
30. The Host
29. Thanks for Sharing
28. Don Jon
27. Pacific Rim
26. Pain & Gain

The Host is not by any stretch a great movie, but it’s one I definitely recommend. It kind of slipped under the radar, released as it was in the first quarter of the year, where bad films go to be ignored. It is an adaptation of a Stephanie Meyer novel, and yes that is Glitter-Vampires Meyer. These two strikes forced a theater skip, yet the lack of a third strike meant I couldn’t help but want to catch up with it when I had the chance. I admit it, the trailer piqued my interest; plus Diane Kruger in a movie always merits my consideration. The premise reminded me a bit of K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series. In a good way. Now I’m disappointed I didn’t see this little dystopian gem and support it on the big screen, where it could have really used a kind word or too. Here are some kind words, even if they’re a bit late: The Host is stunning and diverting. I cannot recommend it enough. Also, Saoirse Ronan is one to keep an eye on.

We have just twenty-five more movies to go. Let’s split ’em over two more posts! Next time we’ll climb through the teens and stop at #10.

2013 Year in Review: Films #51-75

Welcome back to my 2013 Year in Review series. We keep the pace quick as we push through another 25, not-quite-as-bad movies.

###They Had a Chance###
75. A Good Day to Die Hard
74. Ender’s Game
73. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
72. Turbo
71. Paranoia
70. Side Effects
69. Jack the Giant-Slayer
68. The Croods
67. Man of Steel
66. The Butler

I’m a huge Bruce Willis fan.1 And yet, frankly, A Good Day to Die Hard left me exhausted. I’m okay with sequels, even if they do exist only to make more money for their star, which certainly feels like the pitch for this movie. There are even visible threads in the film that make it seem like they’ve considered a future without Willis as John McClane; Jai Courtney is featured as Jack McClane, and it sure seems like he’s being groomed to take over the franchise, much like Shia LaBeouf was with Indiana Jones. (Look how that turned out!) Despite Crystal Skull‘s absurd romp with alien life, I actually find LaBeouf’s character far more likable a presence, and a much better match spiritually for his famous pop culture dad. Jack is one-dimensionally aggressive and doesn’t seem to grow at all, other than his tepid willingness to be acknowledged as Willis’ son near the end credits. Who wouldn’t want to be John McClane’s son? Come one! Digging into that even further, John McClane has always, as a hero, fought for his family, even if he’s not the best family man. You’d think Jack could see human, frail, and protective his father is. Though maybe that’s not possible anymore; in this film, we’ve drifted into John McClane, superhero. It seems like we’re destined to get another Die Hard but McClane Sr. has officially run out of family members in peril, and long ago ran out of interesting or sympathetic family members to save.

Much better than the whole of A Good Die to Die Hard was the trailer for Man of Steel. The trailer for Man of Steel was fantastic. Visionary. Moving. The movie was none of those things, which is incredible because everything from the trailer is in the film. It wasn’t deceptive marketing like Out of the Furnace‘s lie of a trailer, but it did set certain unattainable expectations that were spectacularly not met. Henry Cavil does a decent job of playing our new Clark Kent and Amy Adams is actually wonderful as Lois Lane. But the script and Zach Snyder’s direction let them down in every way. Pieces of this movie were well done: an important scene where Pa Kent silently waves off his son, sacrificing himself so Clark can maintain his secret is one. But overall, the reckless destruction of towns and cities and the shocking final act – the seemingly avoidable killing of General Zod – proved one step too far into darkness for this Nolan-esque re-imagining of our iconic superhero, this Boy Scout and paragon of virtue.2 Indeed, the future looks as bleak as this film for DC Comics, as Charles and I have often brought up many times when discussing the success of their rival, Marvel.

###Slowly Climbing Out###
65. Runner Runner
64. Oblivion
63. Homefront
62. The Heat
61. Gangster Squad
60. Warm Bodies

I chose to speak on Gangster Squad because it really does epitomize this group of movies, none of which are flawless or particularly awful. They’re all perfectly average, perfectly flat and perfectly forgettable. Gangster Squad is a decent enough movie with solid performances from heavy-hitters like Ryan Gossling, Josh Brolin, and Emma Stone. None of them stick out as good or bad, just like this movie and this entire grouping. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t some appeal to me as a moviegoer in each of these films or that they don’t have audiences. Just that in my list of movies, if I hadn’t meticulously cataloged every movie I watched, I probably would have forgotten these existed when it came time to rank them.

###At Least Half-Decent###
59. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
58. Carrie
57. jOBS
56. August: Osage County
55. Despicable Me 2
54. 2 Guns
53. Epic
52. Kill Your Darlings
51. Spring Breakers

I know I stand pretty far apart with August: Osage County. Some of the performances were astounding, but they were often from characters I didn’t see enough of. Also, there was a lot of yelling. Probably too much yelling. I know this is a movie about a broken family being reunited by the death of the patriarch, and, within that setup, there’s grieving to be done, with several characters expressing this through shouting matches and put downs and earth-shattering reveals about surprising family history. But really, I feel like this was a average, often shrill film that didn’t truly merit the nominations it received.

So that’s it for this installment. Another 25 movies sealed into their rankings.

  1. Despite my adoration for Willis, up until the release of a A Good Day to Die Hard, I’d only see Die Hard 2 in its entirety. Several of my friends rightfully berated me, and my girlfriend sat down to watch all of the series with me. She’s a good person. 
  2. One might even go as far as saying the iconic superhero and the symbol of justice. 

2013 Year in Review: Films #76-100

Over the next few posts, I’ll rank every film that was released in theaters in 2013 and that I saw. In total, this was 100 movies. Some of them were great, some were awful and a bunch were mediocre. I’ll highlight some films that stuck with me.

In this post we tackle the bottom quarter and it’s pretty awful.

###Terrible Movies###
100. The Lone Ranger
99. Movie 43
98. This Is The End
97. Grown Ups 2
96. 47 Ronin
95. Oldboy
94. Hours
93. Olympus Has Fallen
92. The Bling Ring
91. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

It is fairly easy to peg all of these movies as awful. Movie 43 somehow blackmailed very many, very good actors into an awful parody? Satire? It certainly wasn’t very funny. Hours was a tedious waiting game with Paul Walker sitting beside a cradle. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones managed to butcher a not awful but certainly not good book while being adapted to the screen. All these fail to hold a match to just how awful The Lone Ranger was. There was a lot of possibility and even glimpses of a better plot and yet it really does feel as if the cut up two movies and smashed them together like a child who’s not quite ready to try a jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps they’ll find a way to release a better cut for home release one day. So for that, The Lone Ranger gets the coveted #100 spot.

###Not My Cup of Tea###
90. Blackfish
89. Upstream Color
88. Escape from Tomorrow

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these movies, they just don’t fit well in my expected grading scale. So they end up here, towards the bottom of my list. It’s far more apt to strike them from the rankings completely but that would leave me at an awkward 97 movies. Blackfish feels a bit too one-sided, even when that’s exactly what I expected. Upstream Color and Escape from Tomorrow are just too far out there for me to enjoy.

###Pretty Bad###
87. Out of the Furnace
86. Closed Circuit
85. After Earth
84. Rest in Peace Department
83. The Family
82. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
81. Oz the Great and Powerful
80. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
79. The Great Gatsby
78. Home Run
77. The Best Man Holiday
76. GI Joe: Retaliation

All these movies had fleeting peaks that stood out from their general badness. Two movies from this group really stand out though. Out of the Furnace wins the award for Most Deceptive Movie Trailer but at least I understood that Christian Bale was going to be looking for his brother, played by Casey Affleck, after the latter got into some trouble with some bad guys. Other than that, nothing from the trailer really lined up with the movie. Affleck’s character is actually dead most of the movie and Bale is arrested during the first half. Bale doesn’t actually beat very many people up and he gets some (probably bad) people killed indirectly.

After Earth shows us more of how great an actor Will Smith really is, here he plays a bit of an asshole, disconnected father. This movie was meant to help usher Jayden Smith further into the spotlight as an actor. And yet, Jayden really can’t act. Or at least he’s too uptight and robotic in this movie to demonstrate he has any of the skill or charisma his father possesses. We catch a glimpse of good Jayden in one of the final scenes where it doesn’t seem like he’s acting which is entirely possible since it is a touching moment with his father (the actor and the character).

Well at least we got those movies out of the way. We’ll continue our climb through the ranks as we tackle another 25 movies in the next post.

My Week in Movies – April 3rd

Fair to admit, the film I saw this week probably wasn’t meant for me.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Prior to this, I hadn’t seen any Wes Anderson films and… maybe The Grand Budapest Hotel wasn’t the best introduction to a man whose work was made for the term “acquired taste.” But an incredible, expansive cast and pieces of the funny trailer seemed appealing enough to me. Not the film. Leaving Grand Budapest, I felt like I had either missed the point or missed some incredibly important scene that held the point within it. The great actors put on a good show, but a collection of appealing performances does not a story make. A fair amount of the jokes were indeed funny, yet, by the end, I wasn’t laughing. I was slightly sad and mostly disappointed. Not much else for me to say about this one.

Grade: C-

So yeah, not the greatest week but next week is guaranteed to be really good! Or horrendously disappointing. Marvel’s first superhero movie of 2014 hits the big screen.

My Week in Movies – March 6th

Somehow in the intervening decade plus, Liam Neeson has morphed from a Jew sympathizer into a troubled dad with aggressive tendencies.

In Non-Stop, Liam Neeson portrays Marshal Bill Marks, an alcoholic and otherwise troubled man. The plot for this movie is fairly straight-forward, Marks is pinned as a terrorist taking over the very plane he is sworn to protect. He is at points an unwitting pawn, pushing forward an terrifying agenda. Julliane Moore’s Jen Summers provides an interesting foil and sounding board for Marks. And though she’s supportive and trusting of Marks, she too comes under suspicion when she appears to be a bit too helpful. Marks seemingly becomes a terrorist in his search for the actual terrorists. He clears out the business class area, searches, detains and harasses passengers. He undermine’s his own authority as he recklessly pursues his adversary. Neeson’s performance is very good, while Moore’s is a bit flat. I really could watch Neeson play any type of gruff, troubled or tormented, anti-heroic savior. Any one that follows the plot like a hound, maiming or killing everyone that stands in the way of his singularly focused mind. He’s found a character that he excels at portraying and as long as he continues to do so, I’ll continue to show up for his movies.

Grade: B+

This week was fantastic with Non-Stop. Light on quantity but heavy on quality. I could use a few more weeks like this though the next few weeks seem light on quantity in general.

My Week in Movies – February 27th

This week I only managed to catch the Robocop remake. It proved timely but not probably not timeless.

In preparation for my viewing of Robocop this week, I re-watched the original with Peter Weller as Officer Murphy. It’s not quite how I remember it, the violence is excessive. I certainly didn’t catch the satirical statements when I was younger. To me Robocop was an awesome cyborg cop who beat up bad guys. But that’s my childhood memory and nostalgia. The remade Robocop is interesting and relevant to today’s society. Robocop touches on the war on terror, drones, nation building, national security and political commentary. The story was modified, the satire is far more visible and the violence is actually toned down a bit. Murphy’s still a cop with a family who is killed, rebuilt and struggles with his humanity, or lack thereof. But he’s not the only man struggling with ethical issues, his creator, Dr. Norton, played by Gary Oldman. Jackie Earle Haley’s Mattox and Michael Keaton’s Raymond Sellars provide solid antagonists. I’m not always a fan of remakes or adaptations but I didn’t find this film particularly problematic but it wasn’t great either. It’s relevant to current events and yet I’m not sure if it will hold up over the years.

Grade: C+

Next week, I’ll be out to see Liam Neeson’s latest action/thriller, Non-Stop.