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2014

The Imitation Game (2014)

DIRECTOR: Morten Tyldum

imitation gameCAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Mark Strong, Charles Dance

REVIEW:

Does the name Alan Turing mean anything to you?  Chances are it doesn’t, despite him being credited with shortening WWII by as much as two years, saving an estimated 14 million lives, as well as giving birth to the prototype of the computer.  Director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore, working off Andrew Hodges’ Turing biography, is a belated attempt to bring some deserved recognition both to Alan Turing’s accomplishments and the disgrace of what eventually happened to one of the most unsung war heroes of WWII. Continue reading

Selma (2014)

selma-bridgeDIRECTOR: Ava DuVernay

CAST: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding Jr., Martin Sheen

REVIEW:

An uneven but sporadically stirring slice of a turbulent period in American history, Selma does not quite achieve the greatness it reaches for as a film, but serves as an important historical document chronicling events beginning in January 1965 in Selma, Alabama and climaxing with Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Montgomery and President Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Voting Rights Act.  Given recent events in the news, Selma feels more timely than ever, and can inspire both reflection on dark aspects of America’s past, and a questioning of how far we’ve truly come. Continue reading

Into the Woods (2014)

Into-The-Woods-e1415275006650DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall

CAST: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Mackenzie Mauzy, Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp

REVIEW:

Into the Woods doesn’t make the journey worth taking.  Perhaps part of the blame lies with Disney neutering Stephen Sondheim’s original play, a dark-edged satire of classic fairy tales, toning down darker and more sexually suggestive moments in the name of “family friendliness”, but the generic musical numbers, with nary a catchy tune to be found (just compare it to the list of memorable songs in, say, Les Miserables) aren’t a promising advertisement for Sondheim’s original material either.  Satire only fully works when it’s a razor-sharp, incisive blade.  Whether or not the fault lies with Disney softening its edges, the movie adaptation of Sondheim’s play is a dull butter knife. Continue reading

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

exodusDIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde

REVIEW:

Previously in his sometimes acclaimed but uneven career, Ridley Scott has directed two other lengthy historical epics in a desert setting.  The first, 2000’s Gladiator, was a rollicking throwback to the likes of Spartacus and other sword-and-sandal epics from Hollywood’s glory days.  The second, 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven, did not live up to the same standards, likewise epically-mounted but narratively fragmented (apparently due to large chunks of the movie ending up on the cutting room floor, which Scott attempted to rectify in a reportedly superior director’s cut, but feeling so underwhelmed by what I saw gave me no motivation to seek out more).  Unfortunately, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Scott’s take on the Biblical story of Moses (with a healthy helping of “dramatic license”), bears more resemblance to Kingdom of Heaven than Gladiator.  In fact, 1998’s animated movie The Prince of Egypt is a better version.  Exodus, while not quite as much of a scattershot mess as Heaven, bears the same hallmarks; visually epic but narratively disjointed, sporting some stirring scenes but not enough to consistently maintain interest over its 2 1/2 hour runtime.  Considering this is actually too short to tell the whole Exodus story (various elements are truncated or left out here), that’s even more telling of Scott again showing his troubling recurring issues with narrative focus and cohesion. Continue reading

The Giver (2014)

giverDIRECTOR: Philip Noyce

CAST: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Cameron Monaghan, Taylor Swift

REVIEW:

The Giver has taken a long, winding road to seeing the inside of a theater since Jeff Bridges (who serves here as both star and producer) bought the movie rights to Lois Lowry’s 1993 young adult novel (which won the 1994 Newberry Medal).  Bridges’ original casting for the title role (his father Lloyd Bridges) passed away in the meantime, and funding was difficult to find.  But, over twenty years later, Bridges’ determination to get the film adaptation made has paid off, and while sticklers for accuracy to the book, a staple of middle school literature classes (I have vague memories of being assigned to read it in school), may grumble at some changes, overall it was worth the effort.  The Giver, while with some narrative weaknesses, is a thought-provoking and visually striking motion picture that proves “young adult” doesn’t have to be synonymous with the vapidity of something like the Twilight series.  In fact, this is a thoughtful movie with well-developed themes and something meaningful to say.  While the film soups up the book’s thin narrative with some tacked-on action and suspense, with mixed results, it gives equally important focus to the book’s messages of the dangers of conformity, the importance of individuality, and the need for emotion, even with all the pain it can bring, to live a truly full life. Continue reading

Interstellar (2014)

interstellarDIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Ellen Burstyn, David Oyelowo, Bill Irwin (voice)

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL ASPECTS OF THE FILM’S PLOT

Christopher Nolan has never shied away from a challenge or been content with generic, and Interstellar is his most ambitious project yet, surpassing his resurrection of the Batman film franchise and the mind-bending contortions of Inception to combine powerful human drama with a rigorous attempt at making a “hard” science fiction film that takes a serious examination of the rules and physics involved in a way Hollywood seldom attempts.  If Nolan’s reach sometimes exceeds his grasp, the passion and grandeur he has thrown into this project makes comparatively minor flaws forgivable.  Interstellar is not a perfect motion picture–far from it, in fact–but it is by turns hopeful and heartbreaking, simultaneously paying tribute to the spirit of exploration and the cold, silent, deadly realities of space. Continue reading

Non-Stop (2014)

Non-StopDIRECTOR:  Jaume Collet-Serra

CAST: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Anson Mount, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache

REVIEW:

Non-Stop is a bit like a souped-up Hitchcock thriller, with occasional action scenes tossed in so modern audiences won’t get bored waiting for the diabolical premise to unfold.  To that end, it generates enough suspense to distract us from plot holes (something Hitchcock himself wasn’t always above).  It’s not a great thriller, but it’s compulsively watchable and keeps us wanting to see how things wrap up without letting us be sure of that until the climax. Continue reading

Maleficent (2014)

maleficentDIRECTOR: Robert Stromberg

CAST: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Brenton Thwaites

REVIEW:

Maleficent does for its title character (the villain of Disney’s 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty) what Wicked did for The Wicked Witch of the West, providing a “re-imagining” in which Maleficent is not a one-dimensional cackling villainess reveling in her own evilness, but a tragic, mistreated anti-heroine.  Actually, Maleficent goes even further than Wicked (arguably too far), playing fast and loose with the Sleeping Beauty story and turning it on its head.  That’s not a problem, but Maleficent has a feel of watered-down, generic fantasy adventure that contains enough visual wonder to entertain children and be tolerable for parents, but like another recent re-imagining of a Disney classic, Snow White and the Huntsmandoesn’t live up to its own potential. Continue reading

Fury (2014)

1D434B26DIRECTOR: David Ayer

CAST: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena

REVIEW:

One of the most intense, gritty, and brutal WWII films since Saving Private Ryan (possibly even surpassing it for graphic bloodshed), and one of the best war films to come along in years, Fury dispels the notion that the Allies’ post D-Day race toward Berlin (a race they lost to the Russians) was any kind of cakewalk.  Leave it to the likes of Patton to show montages of Allied columns roaring triumphantly down roadways as rousing music plays; Fury takes us down to the ground, spending much of the action inside one tank with one small crew slogging their way through Germany.  Of course, that is no criticism of Patton, just that the two films show the war from complete opposite perspectives.  Those who enjoyed (if “enjoyed” is an appropriate word) Saving Private Ryan should appreciate Fury.  In fact, Fury goes even further than Steven Spielberg’s epic in being completely devoid of any flag-waving patriotism or idealism.  This is a war movie that lives up to the saying “war is hell”.   Continue reading

The Drop (2014)

downloadDIRECTOR: Michael Roskam

CAST: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz

REVIEW:

The Drop is the kind of slow-burn, low-key crime drama that can be rewarding to fans of the genre who appreciate a story that unfolds at its own pace, but will be dismissed as boring by mainstream crowds, devoid of sex, explosions, car chases, or gunfights.  What little violence there is comes in brief, sudden bursts, few and far between.  If you’re looking for action, this is not the movie for you.  Even for those interested, a little hunting for a theater may be required; The Drop was initially released as a low-profile indie film in only 809 theaters, delaying this review for a week until positive critical reviews and a decent performance at the box office led to an expansion of showings.  Despite the lack of attention, The Drop comes from a respectable pedigree.   Continue reading

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