Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Film Review 2014, Part 2

As a longtime movie-buff and blogger, here's my latest installment of film reviews.

Please understand that I'm not endorsing all of these movies.  I'm not even giving a blanket endorsement of movie-watching in general.  But I watch movies with a view toward history, culture, and spiritual worldview, so perhaps I can steer you toward (or away) from certain films based on that point of view.

Part 2 of my 2014 list represents the films I watched from July through December, 2014.  My ranking system and special GOC (gratuitous objectionable content) warning is as follows:
5 stars - A great movie everyone should see.
4 stars - A great movie with some qualifications.
3 stars - An okay movie that will appeal to some audiences.
2 stars - Not very good to most audiences but with some redeeming qualities.
1 star - Not a movie worth seeing.

GOC - Warning: Gratuitous Objectionable Content -- Please fast forward or, better yet, watch an edited version of the film.  Used especially in reference to nudity or abusive use of vulgar content. I sometimes deliberately watch films edited for content, so there may be GOC I don't know about.

5 stars
Beneath Hill 60 (2010) - It’s rare that a war film can do anything you haven’t seen a dozen times before.  And while Beneath Hill 60 can’t be entirely original, it handles it’s World War 1 story in a way that feels fresh and new.  This is an Australian production about the true story of an Australian hero, who was a miner rather than a traditional soldier.  If you’re remotely interested in WW1, this film has almost no flaws.  GOC: A token amount of soldier language.
Lone Survivor (2014) - The incredible true story of Navy SEALs in Afghanistan.  This movie is both intense and very accurate in most respects.  Warning: not only does the movie have war violence but the dialogue is wall-to-wall "soldier language;” these Navy SEALs literally cuss like sailors.  This is partially GOC, though I believe it’s an accurate reflection of the language and tone used by these men and at least somewhat integral to the story.

4.5 stars
God’s Not Dead (2014) - Other than a few moments of poor acting, this is an excellent Christian film.  It’s so well done, I hate to criticize it at all; compared to the low standard of many Christian films, this film is outstanding.
The LEGO movie (2014) - Very funny and very entertaining.  This movie is so full of in-jokes, you have to watch it twice.  And even then, the “insiders” for most of the jokes are children of the 80’s and 90’s.

4 stars
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) - Yet another above-average Tom Cruise sic-fi flick that didn’t seem to have the impact it deserved.  The one flaw was the effort required to follow the logic, especially as it applied to the end of the movie.
Gravity (2013) - An award-winning film about an astronaut overcoming adversity.  This film received lots of credit for it’s long, continuous shots, though most of it is very convincing CGI.  Extra credit goes to the viewer who watches the film a second time and counts all the metaphors for birth or re-birth.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) - Like each of the other five Peter Jackson Middle Earth films, the final Hobbit movie is beautiful and epic.  Unfortunately, the story probably was stretched too thin to support another long movie.  That said, these films included some excellent glimpses of the Tolkien world beyond the original Hobbit story and I’ll watch it again and again.
Maleficent (2014) - Here’s another well-executed live-action retelling of a Disney animated classic.  Rehabilitating an evil persona into a misunderstood and conflicted persona is a bit risky, and could easily backfire, but this movie seems to pull it off adequately. 
Skyfall (2012) - One of the better James Bond movies as far as depth and introspection are concerned.  In regard to car chases, bad guys, bond girls, crazy stunts, and unflappable smoothness, this Bond movie is about on par with most of the others.

3.5 stars
Emperor (2012) - The only problem with this historical movie was the part that wasn’t historical.  A better script would have spent more time on General McArthur’s bizarre connection to Japan or the Emperor of Japan’s courage to surrender counter to the nature of his culture.  Instead we got a silly, irrelevant, and fake love story.  The whole thing stinks of a movie with great source material nearly ruined when some studio exec said, “Yeah, but we need a pretty girl in there somewhere."
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - For a relatively obscure comic book franchise, this film made nearly all of its characters instantly likable and memorable.  I was really disappointed that the film had a bit more GOC (crude language) than I expected but it was still an enjoyable story.
The Monuments Men (2014) - This is an interesting historical story about an Army detachment in WW2 which tried to recover and save works of art stolen by Hitler.  Not a blockbuster, it’s really not a traditional war film either.  It’s part drama, part comedy, part history lesson.  This is the war movie the art appreciation class made.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - Par for the course with super-hero movies these days, this film delivers lots of action, a bit of misdirection and intrigue, and one of the best super-speed sequences ever conceived.  Really, go watch this movie just for the one scene with Quicksilver disarming the room full of guards.

3 stars
The Cabin in the Woods (2012) - The good: Joss Whedon's take on horror movies was short, witty, and cleverly constructed. The bad: it's still a gory string of jump-scares filled with mild to excessive GOC
• Dear Mr. Watterson (2013) - This sentimental documentary examines the impact of the beloved "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip and its very reclusive author.  If you loved "Calvin and Hobbes" this film writes your fan letter for you.
Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (2009) - An award winning documentary, this film tells the story of Afghan journalist who is abandoned by his government to be murdered by terrorists.
Godzilla (2014) - Bleh.  There’s nothing here that’s flat-out awful; in fact, this version may set a new standard for Godzilla movies.  But I didn’t think it was even as compelling as the deliberately silly Pacific Rim.
Lawless (2012) - Here’s a Prohibition-era bootlegging movie that is loosely based on a true story.  It’s a compelling story with some great acting, but it’s also a rough-talking, violent film with lots of GOC.

2.5 stars 
Her (2013) - I normally like sci-fi, especially stories about artificial intelligence.  But Her is a superb story that unfortunately dwells extensively on a sad, gross little man with few if any redeeming qualities.  An alternative version of this film could have focused on issues like love, honesty, and abandonment without wallowing in the gutter, which was obviously the director’s desire here.  Excessive GOC.

2 stars
Django Unchained (2012) - Ugh. Beneath the self-indulgent filth flowing from director Quentin Tarantino’s puerile mind, is a legit story about slavery, heroism and revenge, one that might be intelligently told.  That does NOT happen here.  Fans of Tarantino claim this film’s vulgar content is stylized and artistically provocative.  But it’s only about as stylized as a twelve-year old screaming profanity for about three hours while drawing exploded heads with a red crayon.  Pass.  Excessive GOC.

1 star
Anchorman 2 (2013) - This one is a laugh an hour.  It’s not that absurdity, foolishness, and even grossness can’t be amusing, but this whole genre of comedy is just losing traction with me.  GOC