Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Best Movies of The Year

My Glib List of the Best Movies that I saw in 2014

As usual, the last few years, the sheer volume of DVDs that I watched has fallen off. This year may be my steepest decline since I started U of M film studies in 1984. The up side of this is that almost all the movies I saw this year were at least pretty good, worth a watch. I don’t recall turning anything off part way in, but maybe that happened. 

I definitely fell asleep in a few viewings, including two films on many folks best of lists.  There were a few very disappointing films, some so ridiculously bad, that they are in my own personal “so bad its good” category.

Also, as is my wont with these lists, the categories are my own vague loose categories, and I include links to my own earlier in the year reviews, where there are also trailers for each flick. My current opinion of the films may be warmer or colder, depending on whether I have re-watched them, or just thought, discussed and worked out a better or worse,  or just different opinion. Most of them I haven’t rewatched, so have no idea if I would like them as much on further viewings, which for me is the real test of a piece of art, can you go back to it.

(*Links are to my original reviews)

Big Hollywood Blockbuster Tentpoles, that were actually as good as the hype. (No, really.)

The second Captain America movie from the current Marvel slate is a big step up from the good first film, Captain America: the First Avenger. I have yet to re-watch it, but I really enjoyed how it tied into and radically improved the so-so Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Tv show. Something that could work, could have failed, the small bit of plot crossover, or fallout from the Universe of the film, energized the TV Show. It deserves kudos for being innovative in melding the media that mostly rip each other off more than co-operate to tell bigger better stories.

Definitely worth a rental or two. Your worry that Robert Redford would be wasted in a ‘comic book’ movie is unfounded. He takes it seriously, and makes a great corporate villain. (oops spoiler) and the film introduces  or reintroduces the character of the Winter Soldier in a far less convoluted and effective way than he was ‘returned from the dead’ in the comics.

To say that GOTG is this year’s Iron Man, or Avengers is an apt comparison, more so maybe Iron Man, as this film has a tongue or two firmly in squirmy alien cheeks. It is also grounded enough in the comics lore to give the ever critical fans lots of easter eggs, in the form of cool cameos (When is Thanos going to get out of that damned chair? the New Cosmic Laz-y Boy is just that comfortable) from Stan Lee Howard the Duck, among others. Lots of great dialogue and inexplicable chemistry between cgi characters. A fun quick witted, evenly paced script and direction give this movie a gravitas that the silly cosmic plot doesn’t really have on screen. Best “boss battle” of any Superhero movie yet.

The “Tom Cruise Groundhog Day” does indeed inherit the mantle of very good example of how to do a movie about someone caught in a seemingly endless time loop kind of movie. It takes itself just seriously enough to let you suspend your disbelief, and go with the how can we kill Tom Cruise this time plot. Aside from one cliche too many at the end of the picture, I felt like this is a textbook example of how to do a sci fi movie with big fx, a convoluted plot and the always important Tom Cruise driving a motorcycle scenes. Seriously enjoyable flick.

Best Movie that I wanted to hate going in, but loved instead.

When I saw the trailers for this, I kind of thought, maybe Wes Anderson is starting to eat himself with all the artifice in his films. I was both right and wrong. The set pieces are gnawed on by an insanely huge cast, with so many cameos that you might watch it twice, just to do a count.
The movie mostly charms it’s way around it’s ridiculously Technicolor sets and characters. Somehow this evokes Arsenic & Old lace, Dinner at Eight, Grand Hotel, and maybe, We’re No Angels (original obviously) in it’s joyful slightly updated with more irony, take on 30’s screwball comedy. Lubitsch on Angel Dust, but in a good way? Aside from the inexplicable and gratuitous animal cruelty of a throw away scene, the film is joyful, and gorgeous. The ensemble is too huge for anyone to outshine anyone else for long. watch and watch again.

Best Comeback by one of my Favourite Directors and one of my Favourite actors

Directed by David Gordon Green, “Joe” follows perennial recidivist small town angry man Nic Cage as he tries really hard to resist his urges to just beat the crap out of everyone. Cage is at his best in maybe a decade or more as this bottled rage of a human being. The cast, many of whom are non-actors give stellar performances all round, and the film is a tight coil of what the fuck is going to happen next.... Green is back on his ‘indie form’ of his first five or so movies. Stoner comedies are nice and all but I missed the edge in movies like this, or “All the Real girls”, and my favourite of his “George Washington.” A pleasant surprise.

Best Movies Most Cineastes had in their top picks last year, that I never saw until 2014

 Won all the awards last winter. I missed it until it came out on disc, and then kicked myself for not seeing it on the big screen. A swirling confidant masterpiece with lovely nods, homage to not only Fellini, but also Bertolucci. I saw it last april, and still think of it often.

Another film I kind of wanted to hate before seeing it for some reason, maybe how much everyone was raving about it. It couldn’t be that good? It is/was that good. One of the best scripts from a Hollywood movie in ages. Perfectly cast and poignant, to a fault maybe, if that’s a fault. I want to watch it again, just talking about it.

James Gandolfini’s last big role if I recall correctly, and it’s a doozie. another very good script that plays with your expectations of plot, and character development. Julia Louis Dreyfus has dramatic chops that bear equal weight. a very grown up ‘rom-com’ so called. 

A German film that I watched because friends and co-workers had it on their best of lists last year. Almost a one-hander, it is touching poignant and gorgeously shot every step of the way. so much is said with the camera, the actions rather than the dialogue. The silly sci-fi conceit of the picture becomes deeper and more complex as the story unfolds. One of my favourite movies of the decade so far!

The Two best Xavier Dolan movies from 2014 are also the two best Quebecois movies that I saw last year.

I haven’t yet seen that “1987” everyone is on about, but Xavier Dolan’s two projects
“Tom At the Farm” & “Mommy,” are also two of my favourite films maybe of the last few years. “Tom...” was from 2013 I believe, but didn’t hit video in Vancouver until recently, “Mommy” is the only film on this list, I think, not on disc yet. Both films are likely not everyone’s cup of tea. Tom at the Farm got a lot of “Hitchcockian” praise, but I think think you might look more to French Directors such as Chabrol, or Techine as well as a very large nod to Truffaut’s darker stuff like The Bride Wore Black. the most obvious recent refernce is the belgian “Calvaire.” Whether in PQ or La France, travellers should be wary of hanging out and getting to nosy in the countryside. bad things happen, and the dancing is tres creeepy.

Mommy is a different animal all together more of a slightly in the future Ken Loach filtered through 80’s-90’s PQ culture. A family drama that takes huge risks and pays off every time. I was pretty shaken up when the film ended, as was everyone in the theatre. So many tears, heart wrenching. Bring les tissues.

Best Creepy Jake Gyllenhaal Performance That I Saw.

I haven’t seen “Nightcrawler” and everyone is raving about old Jake in that one. If you saw that and liked it though, I ask you to watch “Enemy”, directed by another PQ director, Denis Villeneuve, who also gave us Polytechnique, Prisoners, and Incendies. So light happy go lucky stuff? not so much. Though there is some nice humour in this, and a lot of things that creep you out and confuse you at first. the atmosphere of paranoia and confusion in this film simmers to a boil with an ending that you may love or hate, but it will freak you the fuck out either way.

Best Independent Sci Fi Low Budget Ensemble Film Of The Year

Recommended by one of my former co-workers, I likely would have passed this by, not having heard any buzz about it. Coherence is a master class on getting together your actor friends and workshopping the heck out of your twisty, sci-fi script at your house, and filming it. The biggest names in this piece are Xander from Buffy, and Amanda from Highlander (Raven). But damn if they and the others "whose names are not as familiar as their faces" ensemble pull out all the stops. The sci fi aspect sounds more confusing explained in the review. Just watch it. masterful exposition as action. maybe my favourite non Xavier Dolan picture this year.

Movies that only a few people cared about that have the word Zero in their titles, that I loved

People seem to really hate the newer Terry Gilliam movies. I am kind of baffled by this. Even Brothers Grimm had some fun parts. I am usually pleasantly surprised when I catch up on his post 12 Monkeys output. This film is like Brazil done on a budget of 28 Euros or so.(yet has arguably better SFX) Christoph waltz is crazy good in this film, chewing dialogue and scenery like a champ. There are lots of terrible conceits in this movie, and a lot of the CGI is creepy, and I think a lot of folks wish that Brazil could have had more of this look than it did. I love Brazil, and this movie is no Brazil, but what is? I personally think it is worth taking a chance on. If you hated Tideland, you may hate this. I loved Tideland. Team Gilliam.

Zero Charisma is the other little Indie movie that completely took me by surprise with it’s gentle handling of a certain kind of nerd, The DM or Dungeon master, who runs the table top RPG games in his mom’s house, with fellow nerds. In this movie, a hipster joins the gaming group, and all hell breaks loose. a great case study of arrested adolescence and the tools some of us use and overuse to deal with it. 

Possibly the most down to earth, and definitely the smartest movie about these kinds of gamers, of which I count myself. The characters start out as nerdy cliches but turn out to have all the usual drama everyone else does, without maybe all the tools at their disposal to deal. Such a smart little ensemble piece that is more ambitious than it seems at first glance.

Best Horror Comedy Sequel of the Year

For some reason I never saw the first “Dead Snow” movie (probably because I hardly watch any horror, comedy or otherwise) until just before watching the sequel, at a friend’s house just last week. The first one is pretty hilarious, but Dead Snow 2 has a bit more of a budget and a bigger greenlight, thus they go full Evil Dead 2 in it. Not retelling the story like Evil Dead 2 but amping up the Horror cliches, and tongue in cheek gruesomeness. Funniest movie I saw all year, maybe.

Best Documentaries

Jodorowsky’s Dune
Finding Vivian Maier is a film that had its beginnings as an internet meme, almost. A photographer who had/has an auction/hoarding problem of his own, finds thousands of undeveloped photos taken by said Ms. Maier, and made a website, investigaing, trying to find out who she was. The photos are really good, fred Herzog good. Stunning candid street photography for the most part. The film has a great pace as it reveal who she was and as much as the folks involved can guess, who she was. The reveals of her good and bad sides is done better than in most fictional narratives. Very much worth checking out.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is another great revelatory picture. His version of Dune may never really have had a chance of being made, but there is so much amazing material created and saved from the pre production, that that in itself becomes a narrative. Jodo did more pre-production than most pictures get from start to finish. So detailed, and best of all those involved are great storytellers of each others stories, how they were involved and what they did. A better film, than Dune ever would have been, this doc about almost making it.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reviews! Dead Snow 1 & 2!

Glib Movie Reviews of Zombie movies on DVD

I went to a Friends house for a birthday celebration afternoon of watching funny Zombie Movies. 

 - Directed By Tommy Wirkola

Dead Snow, a film I had convinced myself I had seen, from having seen the trailer so often, and had customers assuming I had seen it, had gone over the story and it’s many gory, funny, gory & funny moments. But looking through my old reviews I realized I hadn’t actually watched it.

I’m glad I realized it as I watched it yesterday, along with the sequel Dead Snow 2 Red Vs. Dead. Which is the Empire, or Evil Dead 2, perhaps more obviously of however many sequels of this series end up getting made. It really is. But the first one occupies slightly gruesomer, but just as darkly funny a space as that other great Norwegian Horror Comedy: Trollhunter.

Dead Snow starts off with that cliched horror movie trope of the young students on school break (30 year old Medical interns, who are not all “hollywood” beautiful, any of them really, subverting the trope somewhat) going to a remote cabin, with no phone service. The gal who own the cabin is hiking there on her own, being the sportiest of the gang. The movie buff of the gang (the fat guy) makes reference to their status were they in a horror movie, and all laugh along. Ha ha ha, what’s the worst that could happen.

Something horrible happens to the girl alone, not much of a spoiler, I mean they are self aware of the horror movie, kind of. All the tropes get used, as they hook up, and act very oddly inappropriate and sometimes creepy with each other. Darkness fall, and the zombies come. The blonde who has sex does she go first? whaddya think, maybe. The zombies are really really into entrails and crotch grabbing, biting. the gore is like live actionItchy and Scratchy from “The Simpsons”. The movie only breaks genre in that these zombies who turn out to be cursed nazi Zombies don’t play by the movie rules very often.

The first Dead Snow plays with the conventions of your zombie movie with a reverent irreverence, whereas the sequel Dead snow 2 Red Vs. Dead should garner a lot of comparisons to the evil dead 2, though it is less of a remake of the first one as it is a continuation of  the story of the first one. I am going to glibly reference the Godfather parts 1 and 2 here. as having watched these two movies back to back, I doubt then whenever i re watch them, like GF 1 & 2, i will have to watch them both, but maybe no further sequels. There is definitely a hilarious post credits scene that leads me believe there will be a Dead snow 3 with a shorter gap of time between movies.

Dead snow 2 has a bigger budget, a far bigger cast and is a more ambitious and even more cartoonishly, garishly gruesome than its predecessor. Not to spoil too much, but tool using zombies change the whole game. Also Zombie Squad. Wait for it. So over the top ridiculous and gory that it makes the first one look like a quiet talkie art film next to it.  I am not going to spoil the plot, but the title might hint to you that the Zombies end up battling Soviet Zombies, and they do. More entrails than ever. 

As a trans woman, I had a bit of weird discomfort sitting in a room of cis gendered men, watching so many dicks being bitten off jokes. But it was passing, as the whole thing speeds along at a great pace of comedy and gross out horror. 

Definitely the best zombie movies I have seen (as a non zombie movie fan, really) maybe since the easy to compare to Evil Dead series.

Dead Snow & Dead Snow 2 both get

8.99999 times you have to watch your entrails being tied to a truck bumper by a Nazi Zombie outta 10

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My review of Coherence

Glib Reviews Of Recent DVD Releases

Directed By James Ward Byrkit 

Coherence starts out as a typical old friends with the usual complicated personal histories getting together for a big dinner kind of movie. Then the lights go out, and the movie becomes quickly a suspenseful sci-fi alternate universe flick. It does so extremely well with a whip smart script and great acting from an ensemble of familiar actors mostly of the guest star, third banana variety according to imdb. But that shows you how much talent there is out there, as everyone in this is solid. One of the best ensemble pieces I have seen in a few years, is Coherence. 

The biggest name actors in the piece are in chronological hipness, Elizabeth Gracen - Amanda from Highlander Raven! (nerd swoon), Xander from Buffy The series (Nicholas Brendan,) who plays an actor named Mike who says he was in Roswell for four years in one of the best meta moments of the movie. Also on board is Max (Maury Sterling) from Homeland

The other actors all have good tv, movie resumes, and their characters all have interesting believable relationships with each other, and as a group. Sometimes you wonder if in these ‘friends trapped in a house movies’ these people really would be friends, or why the movie forces them together. Nice dialogue and moments from actors make this gang of underachieving approaching middle agers work.

The pacing and unfolding of the plot, basically that a passing comet has created a local blackout, and a zone with some sort of portal to random alternate worlds, that are almost like the one we are shown. The group we start with very subtly morphs into a different group as people pass through these portals and end up in different slightly different versions of their world. 

The Science-y end of what is going on is well turned exposition, as the group look for clues as to what is up with what they think at first is just one duplicate of their house, and themselves. This is a film that definitely merits a second viewing, and perhaps some discussion. It’s not too heady, in its understanding of parallel universes, but rather, approachable and believable while depicting of the kind of things people might think or do when confronted with alternate versions of their world and themselves. The ending plays out exactly as I was hoping it would. I highly recommend this film as well as an example of what you can do with almost no budget. Great low budget film making master class to be had watching and dissecting this film.

8.5 ketamine laced rescue remedies outta 10

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

OMG a book review (from my goodreads page)

The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Tales from Temerant)The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Patrick Rothfuss' new book takes place in the world he created for his Kingkiller chronicles. Fans of which are almost as rabid in their hurry up and write the series as GRRM fans are with a song of fire and ice.

This slim volume is a very different story that that of Kvothe, it's a story of peripheral character Kvothe recalls fondly, a sort of wild girl who lives under the magic university where much of the early part of the story Kvothe has told within the books thus far. The girl Auri appears from what she calls "the Underthing"... The bowels of the ancient school grounds, mostly abandoned. There are only hints in the series as to who she is, why she is there.

In this book We continue to suspect, maybe even know that she was once a student, and that now she lives as the main moving part of the rundown forgotten tunnels, rooms below the school. The language and structure of the story are as airy and robust as Auri herself is with her almost innate sense of where all the list objects she finds should go.

The action is minimal at best, the biggest set piece being the making of soap. Gorgeously written without, much like Auri herself, a beginning, middle or end. You assume the person she is hoping will come visit her is Kvothe, but even that is not explicit.

This small novel is really an interesting bit of character development of a side character in a series. If you want a plot, or even a plot point, this may not be the book for you. But if you are looking for gorgeous prose and character development, and are a fan of the KingKiller books, like me, then I feel this is a must read. Lovely.

View all my reviews