Movies #4 thru #14

I have sorely neglected my MOVIES OF 2014 page. So just to get it over with, I made this post with mini-reviews of all the new, never-before-seen, and seen-a-very-long-time-ago movies I’ve seen this year. I promise I’ll try to keep up with it more in the future, *shudders*.

On to the movies!

Her (2013) PosterHer (Spike Jonze, 2013)

I don’t know how intelligently and maturely I can express my feelings about Her with only one viewing. Of course, I thought it was incredible. Visually striking, surprisingly humorous, and painstakingly detailed to convey a realistic not-too-distant future.

Philomena (2013) PosterPhilomena (Stephen Frears, 2013)

Judi Dench is lovely as Philomena Lee, and Steve Coogan as the reporter investigating Philomena’s story (and acting like a surrogate son) is charming. On the whole, there’s nothing disagreeable or potentially “rotten” about Philomena, but a best-picture nominee? I think that’s a bit of a stretch. I haven’t read the book version, but my opinion is that the film appeared like a straightforward visual counterpart to the book. The source material (the best part of the film) can’t be attributed to the filmmakers. I’m not sure it embraced the medium enough to warrant the adaptation, certainly not a Best Picture nominee.

Nebraska (2013) PosterNebraska (Alexander Payne, 2013)

I wish I could say I liked Nebraska, because in theory, it checks all the boxes for an indie movie darling. In practice, I just didn’t find it appealing. June Squibb is the best part of the movie, for sure, but it’s overlong. There are plenty of moments of interest, so I can’t say it’s completely boring. But the interesting moments are too far and few in between the dull. Overall, it would have been much more enjoyable if condensed.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) PosterSalmon Fishing in the Yemen (Lasse Hallstrom, 2011)

It’s been about a month since I’ve seen this and I’m having a hard time remembering much about it. I think that says more about it than any mini-review I could write. It was pleasant and unoffensive, but without much substance to stir up any emotional connection to it.

The Sessions (2012) PosterThe Sessions (Brian Lewin, 2012)

The Sessions deals with an inherently sexual story and sensitive characters, and manages to portray both with a delicate finesse that prevents it from straying into uncomfortable territory. In less capable hands, I can see some of the subject matter becoming too overt during Mark’s sessions with Cheryl. But

Cast Away (2000) PosterCast Away (Robert Zemeckis, 2000)

Cast Away is one of those movies that I’d seen years ago, but probably didn’t entirely understand it then. Watching it a few weeks ago, I was struck by the use of sound. It’s one of those details that I never would have noticed until I started studying film. Chuck’s first arrival on the island is practically silent, as it should be if he was really there alone. But the way Zemeckis extends the silence to bring home Chuck’s isolation is palpable.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Poster
Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2013)

I don’t know if I would have gone to see Dallas Buyers Club without word-of-mouth support and the eventual awards buzz it received. It did seem like a great movie from trailers, I just wasn’t sure if it was a movie to see in theaters. Glad I was wrong! Jared Leto is everything in this, and surprisingly, so is Matthew McConaughey. His character development from beginning to end is remarkable. His entire way of being changes, but it doesn’t feel forced or overly scripted. It’s entirely genuine as he movies from a homophobic, sexist redneck to a toned down version of the same character with added sympathy. I would never have expected him to completely transform into liberal gay rights supporter and HIV/AIDS advocate during the course of the film, because that wouldn’t have been right for his character in the film. HIV made him a better person by forcing him to help himself and others, but it didn’t change him.

Labor Day (2013) Poster
Labor Day (Jason Reitman, 2013)

After watching the trailer for Labor Day, my first tweet was “I want to see Labor Day, but I don’t think I should.” Perfect assessment. The characters are likable and the setting/time period bring up a nostalgia for childhood. The problem lies in the story. There’s too much going on, not enough exposition, the pace is too quick, altogether it’s kind of a mess. Best part of the movie though is the song from the trailer that grabbed my attention from the get-go. Didn’t like the movie, but I still love the song.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Poster
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)

Everything about it screams Wes Anderson, and stop-motion animation seems like the perfect medium to express his particular cinematic world view. Boggis, Bunce, and Bean / One fat, one short, one lean! / Those horrible crooks / So different in looks / And nonetheless equally mean!

That Awkward Moment (2014) Poster
That Awkward Moment (Tom Gormican, 2014)

If there’s ever a time to trust the Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s when both the critic and user scores are rotten. I wish I would have trusted good ol’ RT on this one because goodness gracious it was awwwwful. About halfway through, I realized I didn’t know any of the character’s names. The costumes looked like someone pulled a set of coordinating outfits of a window display. And the film rotated every scene between Efron’s apartment, their neighborhood bar, and aimless walking down a city street, With some actual direction, it could have been better, or atleast had something worthwhile about it. It felt like someone filmed rehearsals and then edited it into a movie, accidentally leaving out most of the plot in favor of gag jokes. For all I know, I could have been watching scenes out of order and honestly, it wouldn’t have changed much. Miles Teller is so much better than this.

The Lego Movie (2014) Poster
The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014)

So good, I’ve already seen it twice. And in February, who would’ve thought? It’s in the same vein of adult-friendly animation for kids as Wreck-It Ralph and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and it incorporates the self-reflexive intelligence of film and the Lego world to be universally impressive. The Vertov reference shocked me and took it to a whole other level. I can’t wait for kids seeing it for the first time now to watch it again in their twenties and finally understand everything. Oh, and there’s a big twist that will blow your mind. Do yourself a favor and see it as many times as you can. I’ll be here, watching this mesmerizing gif for the next several hours.

3rd: Frances Ha

My third movie of 2014 was Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012), and I absolutely adored it. It was sweet, relatable, and intellectual without being pretentious. A 27, Frances (Greta Gerwig) is happily settled into what could possibly be a life-long, post-college ambivalence of fun, friends, bumming around. She’s at a stagnancy but doesn’t quite realize it until all of her friends begin growing up around her and she gets left behind, without much ambition or inclination of what to do. Excuse the cliche, but in every way possible, Frances marches to the beat of her own drum. A standout scene for me is when she runs/dances through the streets of New York to her own theme song.


God, don’t you just want to be her?

Frances is a bit of a late bloomer compared to her best friend Sophie, who works in publishing, Rachel, the best dancer in the company Frances apprentices at, and Lev and Benji, so-called artists whose families are rich enough to support their carefree New York lives.

I loved that the film never took a negative stance on Frances. No, she doesn’t have an apartment, but it’ll be okay. No, she can’t afford to take a weekend trip to Paris on a credit card, but she’ll pay it off eventually, no worries. No, she’s not the best dancer, but she likes to do it and it makes her happy. Is there anything wrong with that? No. By the end of the movie, Frances finally does start to get things together. She learns how to grow up but still be quirky Frances. I think the most reassuring part of the film’s message is that it’s okay to be 27 and have no idea what’s going on. If you’re in your twenties are unsure about your life, watch this. It will make you feel better about your clusterfuck of an existence. Following your instincts instead of following everyone around you will get you where to you want to be, eventually. It doesn’t matter if it takes a little longer than everyone else.

Sidenote: Unexpectedly funny as hell.

Frances Ha (2012)
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2nd: Drinking Buddies

I like the idea of mumblecore movies, but I haven’t seen enough of them to really know what they’re about, other than not a whole lot. Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg, 2013) isn’t much of a story as much as it is a glimpse into the lives of two friends over a given few days. There’s no manufactured conflict, forced physical comedy, or expertly crafted dialogue. It’s refreshing to watch an honest movie that lets realistic events unfold naturally. Kate and Luke feel like real people. Ridiculously attractive people who seem to rarely be sober but still make it through the workday, but real people nonetheless.

One of my favorite moments was the morning after Luke (Jake Johnson) helped Kate (Olivia Wilde) clean out her apartment and she (somewhat innocently?) snuck into bed with him. When she woke up, Luke had cooked breakfast, made plans to keep helping her with the move, and offered to take her to a fancy celebratory dinner that night, on him. Even though he was already in an adorable relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick), this scene shows how seamlessly he could transition to an easy, laid-back, and happy relationship with Kate instead. At the end of that scene, Luke kisses Kate’s forehead and leaves the room. In any Hollywood movie, the sexual tension would be on fire and Luke would come back into the kitchen after a few moments and kiss her like Nick kissed Jess on New GirlBut it doesn’t happen, because that’s not real. I won’t say how the relationships turn out because spoilers, but it’s entirely genuine and how I would expect things to play out in real life with the less-beautiful people.

Drinking Buddies (2013)
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First Movie of 2014

So, my first movie of 2014 was Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua, 2013). Before you judge me, I was looking for a simple, straightforward movie that I could half-watch without missing the whole plot. I was busy cleaning up the house at the same time. I also really happen to enjoy the disaster genre from any angle (Air Force One, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon, Independence Day…love ’em all). I know they’re awful, but a movie with big explosions, high emotional content, and potential destruction of the world as we know it, I’m there. Judge away.

I didn’t love Olympus, but I didn’t completely hate it either. Long story short: it’s predictable, with lengthy spectacle action sequences and an overly dramatic plot.

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