Thursday, April 24, 2014

One Sentence Reviews of 2014 Movies

For a variety of reasons that I don't want to ramble on about here, I've been absolutely putrid at putting up movie reviews on the site. This means that the only way to get my thoughts on several new releases is to scour the internet and hope you've found the review that I ghost wrote. Since the whole point of that style of writing is to be anonymous it will likely be a futile and pointless effort.

In order to kick-off my latest effort to house my movie reviews on this blog that will lead to enough reviews to eventually apply for the Online Critics Society, I want to present all the 2014 pictures I've previously ghost reviewed. Since many of these are a few months old, I can't write a quality full review (and besides the time it takes to write some of the higher quality ones would mean a pretty massive backlog again for content), but instead will try to capture my opinion on the pictures with a single (run-on) sentence. It will be an interesting challenge to try to convey the essence of a movie without delving into too much detail.

Some of these pictures really do deserve fully written reviews. I hope to re-watch them someday and then write out some deeper thoughts. For other pictures on this list, a one time viewing was far too many times. Also to aid me in the process, I'll be attaching my four star rating that I initially gave each picture. My ratings have altered for a few of these pictures after I had time to dwell on them, but I've decided to stick with the original rating until I have a chance to re-watch and reassess.

Anyway, this is how 2014 has shaped up so far. I've ranked the pictures in the order that I've seen them from the first to the most recent.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones ***: The one picture that I've written a review for that has a byline, so you can just click the link for my thoughts.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit **: A prime example of what is wrong with Hollywood's constant quest for recognizable franchises as this feel like a heartless and dull knock-off of Mission Impossible and James Bond rather than the cerebral thriller we once expected from the Tom Clancy series.

The LEGO Movie ***½: Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the undisputed masters of launching franchises by adapting things that no one thought would make an entertaining movie with a picture that is a glorious celebration of individuality and creativity while also an incredibly hilarious parody of adventure films that is filled with an army of fun pop culture references and iconic character appearances.

About Last Night ***: The picture strays even farther from the brilliant source material than the 1986 version, but this turns out to be the stronger of the cinematic adaptions by adeptly avoiding the easy pay-off and plot points in traditional romantic comedies by instead focusing on the long haul of a relationship after the firework have ended; the picture is anchored with hilarious supporting roles from the bickering couple of Kevin Hart and the vastly underrated Regina Hall.

Pompeii *: I was prepared for the Paul W.S. Anderson sword and sandal 'epic' to be historically inaccurate, riddled with lame dialogue, and push special effects over story, but I didn't expect it to be so mind-numbingly dull and flaccid.

In Fear **½: The best moments create a lingering feeling of claustrophobia and an unsettling atmosphere of the trapped couple on the country road that is chilling, but unfortunately, some of the attempts at fear become excessive and predictable that loses the dark and intimate mood that had been built up; it is still worth a look for horror fans tired of the supernatural homes.
  
300: Rise of an Empire **: Evidence that a stylized form of shooting and editing can't really hold up after eight years of clones and it causes the visceral effect to be completely lost making a hollow movie that would have been much better if it focused on the mythology of Xerxes and gave more for fantastic Eva Green to do.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman ***: The first half of the picture is stuffed with charm and several really fun jokes and winks at major historical moments and myths, but the wit gets a little lost in the final act when it ramps up the action, but it is still a fairly smartly written animated feature that appeals to both children and the adults they dragged along.

Veronica Mars **½: A very satisfying final chapter for the die-hards and it was enough to make me really want to track down the series, but there was too many storylines that relied on past knowledge to make it a strong standalone effort.

Enemy **½ : This is where I confess this picture likely needed a second viewing and I'm not as confident with my lower star rating here, but this is definitely Director Denis Villeneuve's stronger effort when compared to Prisoners because this makes much better use of his expert skill in imagery and symbolism as this story about identical doubles is essentially one giant puzzle to solve and its art-house style makes it harder to follow but definitely offers up something different than the typical mainstream fare.

Cheap Thrills ***: It is a cross of Jackass meets Indecent Proposal that makes for an intriguing morality tale as one man wrestles with his need to support his family with an eccentric rich man's offer of cash for vile and gruesome acts; I'd say it is something incredibly different but some other similar pictures are coming out this year but this is definitely a dark and twisted comedic thriller that many horror fans will lap up.

The Grand Budapest Hotel ****: Wes Anderson creates a masterpiece that looks and feels like a storybook for adults that has fantasy-like visuals along with almost idealistic and simple characters that allow for the profane and violent moments to really shake you every time; Anderson lovely crafts a '40s style caper that turns into a funny and endearing adventure that is enhanced by fantastic performances.

Bad Words ***: The picture stays true by not sentimentalizing or redeeming Jason Bateman's character, who's a man who finagled his way into a children's spelling bee, but also allows him to have sweet and authentic relationships with both Kathryn Hahn and Rohan Chand's characters that grounds the more raunchy humour; the true stand-out is the adorable Chand and Bateman's near perfect depiction of a public television's coverage of national spelling bee (the funniest moment).

Divergent ***: The critical panning for this picture seem to come from beaten down critics after the YA assault, because while this one struggles with some overt imagery and an incredibly rushed third act, it does have a dynamite lead in Shailene Woodley, some fantastic mood-setting visuals, action sequences that rival some blockbusters, and characters you can invest in.

Muppets Most Wanted ***: The biggest detriment to this picture is that it is a follow-up to a zany and cheerful reboot that has a surprising amount of emotional depth that this sequel doesn't even attempt to capture, but as a goofy and fun caper picture it works well and has a fun time playing with tropes and clich├ęs in the genre.

Noah ***: It is absolutely ridiculous to judge this picture based on its accuracy to the source material, because if pictures were rated on how loyal they were as an adaption or how close they were to historical fact than many pictures would need to return their Oscars; this is a different spin on an ancient tale that is modernized and reinterpreted but still has a great deal of resonance to the greater message of the original story, plus this has to be one of the most unique wide-release pictures in decades that has incredible production values but dares to go in some many unexpected directions with the characters -- Darren Aronofsky does well with his first big budget picture.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier ***½: Marvel is establishing themselves as the masters of the franchise as this picture offers up all the special effects laden action the audiences are craving but also meshes the picture with other genres and often feels like a 1970s style political thriller with a counter-culture and subversive vibe with the hero questioning the government and authority figures along with some a great doses of intrigue and mystery; this is proof one can follow the formula but still attempt something differently.

Oculus ***: It takes the popular haunted house genre and goes in a different direction as the approach of showing both flashbacks and current time makes for a jarring and uncomfortable experience as the viewer starts to question what is reality and what is in the mind of the characters thus making this a surprisingly gripping horror in a subset of the genre that felt like there weren't any original tales left. 

Transcendence *½: It tackles some intriguing science concepts like singularity and nanotechnology and feels like true hard science fiction, but Director Wally Pfister seems more focused on loosely tied-in imagery rather than developing compelling characters or really exploring any of the concepts, thus making this an intriguing premise squashed by poor execution; I'd still like Pfister to take another shot at helming a picture.

Bears ***: It is refreshing seeing the mega-corporation Disney actually take some time away from their massive franchises to make a small nature documentary aimed at children and the cinematography is gorgeous and it is amazing how they achieved some of the shots; it is at its best the picture feels authentic and enchanting, but I'd rather it dialed back on the John C. Reilly narration that often was more cartoony than informative, but I recognize this is geared towards small children and it mostly works really well.

This is what 2014 has looked like so far, and based off where we are in the calendar, I'd declare it a solid year at this point (I have more recommendations than I did at this point last year -- though one less four star review). We'll see if the positive trend continues with my full-length The Other Woman review that should be posted Saturday.

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