Home > Year in Review > 2014 IN REVIEW: The Films I Didn’t See (September – December)

2014 IN REVIEW: The Films I Didn’t See (September – December)

The Skeleton Twins - Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader

I’m not going to waste too much time this year on introductions. For this third and final part of my review of films I didn’t see, we’re going through the prestige Oscar-baiting season. You know — hammy acting, controversial subjects, beautiful cinematography, politics… It’s often a mixed bag, and for every stunning masterpiece, there’s often a lot of films that misstep and come off like a cheap cheeseburger dressed up to look like prime rib. … I’m hungry.

This is by far the biggest portion of films I didn’t see, largely due to a lot of them coming out so much more recently and not being available to rent, if I missed them in theatres.

Yes, 2014 may have been a record year for me seeing the most movies from that year, but there were still movies I never got around to or never even had the ability to see due to either foreign or limited release. I still like going over them, however, as this process often leads  to me finding some unexpected gems that I might enjoy. Some of these I might become so interested in that I see them before I even get to the films I did see, so there is actually a possibility you might see these films reappear in this 2014 in Review series if that becomes the case.

Anyway, here are many of the films from September to December 2014 that I didn’t see, for one reason or another. It’s by no means complete, but that’s what you get when you’re using Wikipedia and Best of/Worst of lists from other sites.

SEPTEMBER

Mary KomMary Kom – 9/05/14 (India)

Achieving fairly wide acclaim, this biographical film from India tells the story of Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, a female boxer who earned the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in the flyweight division and the only Indian woman to have ever qualified and who has since also become the first Indian woman to win gold at the 2014 Asian Games. The film primarily focuses on the hardships of her life, particularly in regards to society’s views regarding her gender’s participation in such a brutal sport, and ultimately building up to her competing in the 2008 AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships. I personally don’t see the appeal in participating in such a sport, either, but to each their own, I say, and regardless of the brutality, it’s obviously something that Kom is very passionate about, and that did not go unrecognized in the film adaptation. As I said before, the film was well received, with many comparing it to Million Dollar Baby (though it’s probably an unfair comparison, given that this is most definitely intended to be an uplifting, inspirational film). Star Priyanka Chopra was also praised for her portrayal of Mary (though the two look absolutely nothing alike). I know I railed on inspirational sports movies in the previous couple posts, but this is probably a film to look up, whether or not you like the sport. Again, I don’t, but I’ve often found that many sports I don’t care for somehow have the best films made about them.

God Help the Girl - Emily Browning, Olly Alexander

God Help the Girl – 9/05/14

Belle and Sabastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch makes his film directing debut with God Help the Girl, a film that appropriately centers itself around young people and the music and drama they make. The film looks decent and – dare I even say it – kind of cute, though some critics noted that it might be to a fault. Murdoch created the film as an extension of the 2009 musical project of the same name in which Belle and Sabastian plays backup to female singers speaking specifically about subjects from their own lives. I can’t say that I have been exposed to enough of the group’s music – I couldn’t point one song out if I wanted to – but the music featured in the trailer for the film, cultivated from the project, sounded pretty nice. I wouldn’t necessarily ignore the movie if I saw it pop up on Netflix.

The IdenticalThe Identical – 9/05/14

It seems like the premise of this movie is based on someone seeing lead Blake Rayne and asking him, “Hey, did anyone ever tell you that you look almost exactly like Elvis?” and then getting the bright idea to make a movie about it, only they didn’t want to go through the trouble of making a comprehensible biographical film by looking up any facts, so they just made up their own based on what little they knew. Elvis had a twin? Well, then, in this alternate reality, Elvis Presley – here named Drexel Hemsley – was separated at birth from his identical twin brother, Ryan Wade. Ryan’s parents know of this and chose to keep it a secret from him, though they’re dismayed to find out that Ryan shares Drexel’s interest in this highly controversial new music form, rock-n-roll, and so they aim to suppress that, too. Secrets begin to unravel, however, and the two eventually discover they’re twins, much to Ryan’s horror, despite the uncanny resemblance and interest in the same music. Watching the trailer, I didn’t know what to feel really. I guess there is some promise in the idea of using Elvis’ iconography to tell a fictionalized story and all. However, The Identical was critically panned, holding a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and barely making an impression, despite some fairly recognizable names in the cast – Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green, and Joe Pantoliano, in particular. I truly hope that identical twin thing isn’t the film’s big reveal, by the way, not because I was worried about spoiling it, but because it’s pretty much given away in the trailer. I am kind of curious, however, if this movie falls into the “so bad it’s good” territory, though.

Atlas Shrugged Part III - Laura Regan, Kristoffer Polaha

Atlas Shrugged, Part III: Who Is John Galt? – 9/12/14

I don’t know how they did it, but they did – the studio making the Atlas Shrugged movies actually got to complete the Atlas Shrugged film trilogy… with a completely new cast, once again. As with the others, this change did not result in any improvements in quality. The film was critically panned not just for political reasons, but for overall terrible production values and a poorly constructed story. The film also bombed, earning a total of $851,690 at the box office versus its $5 million budget. Not even appearances from Ron Paul, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity could entice people to see it, I guess. But, you know, kudos to them for finishing what they set out to do despite all the odds and statistics being against them. I am actually thinking of finally seeing these movies now that they’re all out and doing a Twilight-style saga review all at once.

Bird PeopleBird People – 9/12/14 (France)

“Magical” is typically used by critics to describe something that is elating, whimsical, or fantastical. It’s typically used in a positive sense, but, in my experience, it can often translate into the film, at least for me, turning out kind of… mawkish. Bird People is a film about a rich American who leaves his family and work life behind, fleeing to Paris, and encountering a young French maid who makes a strong impression on him when he’s at his lowest point – apparently with suicide on his mind. “Magical” is a term that shows up in the trailer for the film amongst the critical accolades it received, an, with its synth-heavy soundtrack accentuating its ethereal imagery, complete with cute little birds increasingly showing up all over the place, the film quickly went from feeling like a Lost in Translation-esque meeting of two people in need of one another to a sort of contrived story about two people who are just destined to be together. It’s a subtle but notable difference in the character dynamics and the way the story presents them, and it’s apparently just enough for this film to have been met with mixed reception, with plenty of people seemingly feeling the same way about the film as the trailer did for me. I might still see it, though – it’s mixed enough that I could easily see myself falling on the more positive side of the debate.

Dolphin Tale 2 - Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff

Dolphin Tale 2 – 9/12/14

I thought the first one looked a little too cutesy and artificial for my tastes, but it was apparently well liked enough by audiences and even critics that they felt the need to continue the story by further adapting this apparently true story. It looked like more of the same, only this time with two dolphins. Critical reception wasn’t nearly as strong as the first, which is to be expected, but it’s still on the mostly positive side of things. Basically, if you liked the first, you could do worse than check out its sequel. I’m not going to stop you.

The Drop - James Gandolfini, Tom Hardy

The Drop – 9/12/14

Tom Hardy’s certainly come a long way since he first began as a model, and certainly since he made an impression with nerds like me in Star Trek Nemesis as the clone of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Despite that inauspicious start, though, Hardy’s become a widely acclaimed actor with quite a bit of name recognition among general audiences, too, thanks to his participation in two major Christopher Nolan blockbusters and some pretty fantastic performances in more independent movies like Bronson. 2014 saw the wide release of two very different Tom Hardy-led films: Locke, a fantastic, low-key British film set entirely within a car (more on that later), and The Drop, an American crime thriller co-starring Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini and based on the novel by Dennis Lahane, who also wrote the screenplay as well as the source material for films like Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River. While the film was recognized for having a fairly standard feel, with the plot centering around a bar and its involvement in funneling money to the mob, the cast’s performances were well regarded and set the film apart from lesser films. Definitely going into my DVD queue.

Finding FannyFinding Fanny – 9/12/14 (India)

Five villagers set out to find the lost love of their local postman after his 46-year-old love letter to the titular Fanny is slipped under his door one night, having never reached its intended destination. A series of mishaps, however, turn what was supposed to be a short road trip into a much-too-extended trip into zany hilarity and unexpected romance. The concept is solid for a small comedy such as this, so it’s all about execution and character dynamics, really. How did it fair? Very well. Critics loved it, and audience attendance increased in the second week. Notably, this Indian production was originally shot in English and then dubbed into Hindi for its native release, though not without a few issues with censorship along the way. Apparently one of the main characters stating that they’re a virgin is fairly controversial in India, which is a funny cultural difference, because I think that many here in America would be thrilled to have their characters proudly declare such a thing in even the most family-friendly films.

No Good Deed - Idris Elba

No Good Deed – 9/12/14

Idris Elba’s awesome, but no star is immune to starring in a few duds. Same goes for his co-star, Taraji P. Henson, who here plays the victim of a home invasion by Elba’s escaped convict. Despite its two strong leads, critics derided the movie for being both boring and derivative, which is pretty much what’s to be expected from your typical home invasion thriller. This is the kind of stuff you’d expect on Lifetime, guys. Probably safe to avoid it.

The Monkey King (2014)The Monkey King – 9/14/14

How many times can one story be retold and still be well received? Well… I’m not actually certain of any actual number, but I do know that Hong Kong import The Monkey King, based on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, was released not too long after the widely acclaimed 2013 film Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, and the story has been retold, adapted, and derived from countless times over, even outside of China. Americans might recognize some of its elements were incorporated into the Dragon Ball series, and the film The Forbidden Kingdom also borrowed quite a bit from the story. Perhaps The Monkey King just suffered by comparison after releasing so closely to another film, despite featuring more globally recognizable leads in Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-fat. Or maybe it really was just bad. The effects are notably horrendous, and the film looks devoid of humor, unlike its 2013 predecessor. Honestly, it brings to mind the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans, which was absolutely terrible.

Coherence - Emily Foxler

Coherence – 9/19/14

On the night when a comet passes by over our planet, a dinner party gets interrupted when strange, reality-bending occurrences begin to put a strain on their relationships with one another. Yes, I know that’s basically a rough summation of what Rotten Tomatoes has, but I actually don’t want to spoil this film for myself too much, as it looks very interesting and is currently available for streaming with Amazon Prime membership. Critics were seemingly blown away by the execution of the film, which was directed, produced, and written by first time feature length film director James Ward Byrkit, who previously worked on Rango and a few other, smaller projects. This is one of those movies whose reputation and availability will likely get it rementioned later on as a film I saw, so forgive me, I won’t be going further into this movie here. Go see it, though. It looks very interesting.

Hector and the Search for Happiness - Simon Pegg

Hector and the Search for Happiness – 9/19/14

Simon Pegg, God love him, stars in yet another inspirational, offbeat dramedy about a man trying to sort out his life and which is meant to get even latter day slackers off the couch and into life in this adaptation of the François Lelord novel. Unlike most critics, however, I actually also liked a few of his lesser appreciated films, including Run, Fatboy, Run and the more recent A Fantastic Fear of Everything, which was just weird and yet sensitive enough to tickle my fancy.

Pride (2014)Pride – 9/19/14

Yaaay, another true story film. Sorry. I’m not actually angry or even tired of true story films coming out, really – just covering them. Anyway, what do you get when you mix two struggling groups of different people coming together to support one another? A feel good movie, you say? Why, that’s exactly what this film is about. Set in 1984, during the miners’ strike, a group of gay activists decided they can raise awareness for their own cause when they decide to raise money for the struggling miners’ families. A clash of cultures ensues, however, when the blue collar workers refuse to take the money, prompting the activists to find the ones among them that need it most and donate in person. Unable to refuse the offer, they reluctantly join their beneficiaries and a bond is formed. Got good reviews.

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This Is Where I Leave You - Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver

This Is Where I Leave You – 9/19/14

An all-star, talented cast featuring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, and Rose Byrne leads this mediocre dramedy about a quirky family coming together after the death of the family patriarch. Bateman and Fey can’t seem to catch a break in film these days, despite both of them deserving so much to be in better films. Mixed reception meant that this went strictly into the “I’ll see it later when I’m bored and it’s on Netflix” category.

Tusk - Justin Long, Michael Parks

Tusk – 9/19/14

Not to be confused with the movie Horns, like I kept freaking doing and which we will get to in a minute, Tusk is Kevin Smith’s latest film about a man played by Justin Long who travels around interviewing people for his podcast and who encounters an eccentric old man played by Michael Parks whose life was once saved by a walrus and who winds up determined to transform our hero into one because… well, because he’s out of his mind? The film is certainly aware of what it is and incorporates a demented sense of humor into the horror stuff, much like Smith’s other film, Red State. Fans of Smith and/or schlock horror flicks might find enough to enjoy. All others should consider themselves forewarned.

A Walk Among the TombstonesA Walk Among the Tombstones – 9/19/14

Liam Neeson plays yet another man on the fringe who uses questionable methods to bring about justice on far worse people than himself. This time around, in a film based on the Lawrence Block novel, Neeson is an unlicenced PI who goes after a group of serial killers who murdered the wife of a heroin trafficker. Yes, the trailer does indeed make sure it invokes the memory of the mysterious phone call from the Taken movies. Yes, it does also feature a slowed down, eerie cover of a recognizable song from a while ago (“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, as covered by Nouela). It received just barely decent enough reviews to maybe reconsider not seeing this. I say, if you have not already, just go watch The Grey instead.

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Saint LaurentSaint Laurent – 9/24/14 (France)

Based on the life of the iconic French fashion designer, this French import … wait… Didn’t we do this already!? Yes, this is another biopic about the life of fashion pioneer Yves Saint Laurent, released just months after the previous one, Yves Saint Laurent, which premiered in June. Saint Laurent doesn’t get an international release until May 2015, granted, but its soft release was already enough for the film to garner similarly mixed reactions from critics, with the biggest complaints are seemingly aimed at the film being overlong at 2 hours 15 minutes and being far less illuminating about its central figure than it should have been. Gee, where have I heard that last one before?…

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Believe Me - Sinqua Walls, Max Adler, Alex Russell, Miles Fisher

Believe Me – 9/26/14

My friend was hopeful that this would be the Christian film to break the mold of all the other Christian films released in 2014, what with its charity scam artist central figures and the presence of an rapper that he admires, LeCrae. I was even somewhat more hopeful thanks to the presence of Nick Offerman, whose mustache and stern voice is like a comforting, warm bowl of stew you want to lose yourself in. … Uh, anyway, it was nice that this film was avoiding the trope of a central moral figure who leads everyone else to salvation. It even makes fun of Christians. Heck, it features secular music by none other than Jack White side project The Raconteurs in the trailer! Reactions have been mixed, and not even because Christians took issue with its subject matter. The film was cited for having few convictions and few laughs, despite being on the right path, so to speak, to becoming a genuinely decent movie. It might still be worth a watch – and it’s undoubtedly going to be better than almost all of the Christian-based movies released in 2014.

The EqualizerThe Equalizer – 9/26/14

One of the few recent non-comedy films to be based on old TV series properties, The Equalizer took the concept of the 80s series – a vigilante avenger with a mysterious past in espionage – and sets it in the modern day and with director Antoine Fuqua casting his Training Day star Denzel Washington in the Edward Woodward role of Robert McCall. (Edward Woodward… sounds like dubstep.) Dedicated to helping the helpless, McCall goes back into action when he comes into contact with a troubled teenage girl who is being forced into prostitution by the Russian mafia. The film looks fairly slick and took advantage of its big screen medium to up the violence to an R-rated action fest. It’s unlikely to go down in history the same way Taxi Driver did, but for what it is, The Equalizer fell on the more favorable side of the quality spectrum. And, hey, my mom gave it a thumbs up, having watched the original back in the day.

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My Little Pony: Equestria Girls - Rainbow Rocks - The girls

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks – 9/27/14

I gave this series a fair shot when it showed up on Netflix. It wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t my thing. A sequel to the shockingly well received Equestria Girls, this sequel once again sees Twilight and Spike return to the world where the ponies are all … well, I have a hard time buying them as actual humans here, but they’re definitely humanoid in form. The film is centered around a Battle of the Bands competition that somehow will save a school and… You know, don’t try to look too much into this. It’s a freaking movie about talking magic ponies and their dragon buddy who for some reason turns into a puppy instead of a teenager himself. Seriously, just see it if you want to. I promise not to make fun of you.

OCTOBER

Bang Bang!Bang Bang! – 10/02/14 (India)

I had to specify “trailer” when I looked this movie up so that I wouldn’t get a bunch of hits that had to do with Jessie J, Nicki Minaj, and Ariana Grande. This Bollywood action flick is unrelated. That being said, my gosh, these action musical romantic comedies are very popular, aren’t they? It was highly successful, but didn’t do so well critically. Having looked up so many of these, I can’t help but wonder if the critics might be having some action musical romantic comedy overload.

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Annabelle - Annabelle

Annabelle – 10/03/14

Hey, you remember that creepy doll from The Conjuring? Well, they rushed a film into production just to fulfill your desire to see what that thing was really all about! And it was a significant disappointment to anyone who didn’t think it was a bad idea. Now you’ve gone and tarnished the franchise’s reputation, studio. You got greedy.

Drive HardDrive Hard – 10/03/14

2014 was not kind to John Cusack. While he had a hand in the undoubtedly fun thriller Grand Piano, this one little triumph (77% on Rotten Tomatoes) is not enough to overlook the many flops that he featured in at some capacity, some of which I haven’t even covered and can’t be bothered to go back and add to the list but here’s a quick recap of the others: The Prince (a whopping 0%), Adult World (54%), The Bag Man (previously covered, 10%), Reclaim (0%), and now Drive Hard (8%). That’s 6 movies, 4 of which were at or below 10%, and two of them being 0%. Some of these are limited releases and might even change once other critics who qualify for aggregation get ahold of them on home video, but that doesn’t change the fact that John Cusack deserves a fair share of the flack that has often been sent Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves’ way. Drive Hard sees Cusack as a smart-talking criminal who forces a former race car driver (Thomas Jane) to aid and abed him in a chase-driven, bullet-riddled heist that will net them $9 million. Wait… that’s it? Just $9 million? Were the producers of this film too worried that something a lot higher and impressive sounding would be ridiculous for this undoubtedly-ridiculous looking movie? Drive Hard made it onto a few Worst of… lists, which is why it’s showing up on this list, as I had even forgotten it existed. Looking at the review summaries, not even one of the two positive reviews, coming from the Los Angeles Times reviewer Robert Abele, doesn’t even include a nice blurb: “Does a lot of revving in order to juice its jokey, violent bad-boy cred, but it never gets out of the driveway.” Eesh.

The Good Lie - Emmanuel Jal, Ger Duany, Arnold Oceng, Reese Witherspoon

The Good Lie – 10/03/14

True story number 2 of 3 that Reese Witherspoon featured in, the Ron Howard and Brian Grazer-produced The Good Lie has her helping out with a trio of Sudanese refugees who were orphaned as children due to the 1983 civil war who were beneficiaries of a program that allowed them and about 3600 others to come to America to find jobs and build lives for themselves. Such a subject has the potential to go into overly sappy territory, but critics were won over by its inspirational and moving story and an appealing cast that includes Sudanese actors Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, and Nyakuoth Weil starring alongside Reese Witherspoon and Corey Stoll. Sounds good.

Men, Women, & ChildrenMen, Women & Children – 10/03/14

An all-star cast features in Jason Reitman’s indictment on technology and the way we use it to ruin our own lives and personal relationships. The film addresses such diverse issues as video game addiction, mobile devices, social media, helicopter parenting, permissive parenting, cyberbullying, attention seeking, etc. and how these things have become so deeply ingrained in our daily lives that we’ve found all new ways of making each other miserable through them. It’s not exactly a bad thing to explore, to be honest, but Reitman’s heavy-handed, alarmist perspective and the choice to focus on so many interconnected storylines turned off many who took the time out to see it, with The A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo even comparing it, unfavorably, to Paul Haggis’ controversial Crash. Might be worth seeing, if only to see how ridiculous it goes.

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National Gallery - examining

National Gallery – 10/05/14

Acclaimed documentarian Frederick Wiseman isn’t exactly known for his brevity when it comes to his documentaries – he previously made a film about life at Berkeley (titled, very precisely, At Berkeley) which was 4 hours 4 minutes long. And it still got excellent reviews. In that same vein, National Gallery is itself an extensive look at the goings on at London’s National Gallery, whether they be in the background, in meetings, or on the floor amongst the patrons. I admittedly haven’t seen any of his work, but Wiseman seems to have a knack for conveying his appreciation for his subjects onto audiences, and critics loved National Gallery. And it’s a whole hour shorter than At Berkeley, in case you were wondering.

Na Maloom AfraadNa Maloom Afraad – 10/06/14 (Pakistan)

Set in Karachi, Pakistan, Na Maloom Afraad (“unknown persons”) follows three struggling men who are sent on an insane mission to save, as the trailer puts it, “their love, lives, and asses.” Not knowing any Urdu kind of makes it hard to gauge how funny the film actually would be, particularly since it looks like your typical American action comedy otherwise, but local film critics seemed to enjoy it quite a lot, and the film did well at the box office. Could be good with proper subtitles.

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O21O21 – 10/06/14 (Pakistan)

Also known as Operation 021, this Pakistaini political spy thriller follows a man who has had enough of war in Afghanistan and hatches a plot with a Pakistani ally that could either end the conflict or risk the lives of themselves and their families. Well received by critics and initially making a large sum of money, O21 was possibly, unfortunately, overshadowed by the controversy surrounding a few theatres shutting down showings of the film only part way through the screenings when it did not meet audience expectations, swapping it in for other films like the aforementioned Na Maloom Afraad and Indian films like Bang Bang! The filmmakers and studio are set to take legal action against them as a result of this while also vowing to no longer provide those particular theatre chains with films to show. I can’t say blame them, either.

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Addicted - Sharon Leal, William Levy

Addicted – 10/10/14

Based on an erotic novel by the author known simply as “Zane,” a married businesswoman and mother of small children ends up having some steamy and not-so-secret torrential affairs. People find out and disapprove. Oops. It looks about as good as you’d expect from such a set up. Critics liked it just about as much, too.

Dracula UntoldDracula Untold – 10/10/14

Perhaps we can blame Maleficent for putting me over the edge regarding this, but I am sooooo sick of stories that purport to tell the “true” story about what happened in regards to the more popular villains of stories past, so much so to the point where I actually got in a near-argument with one of my good friends about why this movie just shouldn’t have been made and why it looked like a piece of crap. Mostly it was just because of the film’s really dull premise and terrible effects, but this concept of redeeming the Dracula as a sort of antihero who intended to save his family from a horrible fate really adds nothing to the lore and cheapens the iconic figure. Not only that, the film’s action sequences look to feature Dracula doing that thing where flying villains go high into the sky and then spin quickly downward before blasting away a bunch of their enemies in comically cartoonish fashion. Let’s also not forget that this started out and released as a standalone film but was then announced as being incorporated into Universal’s parallel plans to start a shared universe, Marvel comics-style franchise featuring their iconic classic monsters, which will also include Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy, and the wolf man. The poor critical reception Untold received, then, now shows us what kind of standards they’re having in regards to that whole fiasco. Set your expectations low. Also, this is another film that incorporates an eerie, slowed down cover of a classic song into its trailer (Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” as performed by Lorde).

The Judge - Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall

The Judge – 10/10/14

Robert Downey, Jr. plays a hotshot lawyer, Hank Palmer, who reunites with his estranged father, played by Robert Duvall, when his mother passes away. Hank’s father turns out to be the primary suspect in a murder case, however, and so Hank sets out to prove his innocence all while struggling to patch up their tumultuous relationship. Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’onofrio, and Billy Bob Thornton round out the fantastic cast, but The Judge failed to make that much of an impact on critics. The film sounds like a John Grisham thriller and yet has the heart of an emotional family drama, which you’d think would lend the film an air of originality, but apparently that was not the case.

Kill the MessengerKill the Messenger – 10/10/14

Jeremy Renner leads a massive cast that includes Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Paz Vega, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Sheen, Barry Pepper, Robert Patrick, Andy Garcia, Oliver Platt, and Michael K. Williams in this true story thriller about journalist Gary Webb uncovering the shocking connection between cocaine smugglers, the CIA, and Nicaraguan contras in a series of articles that would then culminate in Webb’s books Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion and Kill the Messenger. The film adaptation was very well received, despite noted inaccuracies, so this is almost definitely going to be at least an entertaining film.

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The Best Of Me - James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan

The Best of Me – 10/17/14

Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden slum it as Amanda and Dawson in this ninth Nicholas Sparks feature adaptation of pretty people falling in love, separating, and then falling in love again when they’re brought back together thanks to the funeral of a mutual friend. I’m certain their friend’s family would be comforted to know that his death was what allowed them to reunite. Of course, as with all Sparks novels, there’s even more tragedy to be had that will force tears into the eyes of its audience. I didn’t much care to wait until the day I see this (God forbid), so I went ahead and read through the synopsis. Consider this your spoiler warning. There’s something in there about Amanda losing a daughter to leukemia at the age of two, her and her husband’s alcoholism after the fact, and his continued alcoholism, which puts the strain on her marriage just enough so that she can spend one passionate night with Dawson before she decides to go back to her family only to then change her mind and leave him for Dawson, who never gets the message thanks to being beaten by his brothers and then shot by his abusive father. Because death always has a bright side, however, Amanda’s son is that same night nearly killed in a car accident but needs a heart transplant. Guess who supplied the heart? Yup. Dawson, who now lives on in Amanda’s son, which, given the melodramatic and always romantic nature of Nicholas Sparks’ universe, will surely lead to some sort of oedipal situation down the line. The End.

The Book of LifeThe Book of Life – 10/17/14

This Guillermo del Toro-produced animated feature from Jorge Gutierrez centers around the Day of the Dead – the Mexican holiday, not the George Romero film – and a brave matador who is killed by a snake and must come back from the Land of the Remembered to be reunited with his true love before she marries his romantic rival in life, Joaquín. Apart from its ensemble cast – featuring Diego Luna in the lead, Zoe Saldana as María, Channing Tatum as Joaquín, and Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Danny Trejo, and a number of others in supporting roles – the film was praised for its stylish animation and overall sense of fun, even if the plot wasn’t the most original thing in the world. I actually really did intend to see this movie in theatres, but somehow I just never got around to it – October is the beginning of my frequent trips to visit my family for the long stretch of birthdays and holidays, so it’s hard to go see just any movie on my own during this time. The Book of Life, unfortunately, got away from me, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook it, either. It just got released on DVD, so I’ll very likely check it out.

Camp X-Ray - Kristen Stewart

Camp X-Ray – 10/17/14

A good performance from Kristen Stewart? Really? That’s kind of funny, as I was actually just today mentioning to my friend and coworker about how she hasn’t had a solid performance since Panic Room, and here this movie has been out since a year ago with plenty of people praising her alongside costar Peyman Moadi. Wasn’t even on my radar. Stewart plays a guard at Guantanamo Bay, where she meets and unexpectedly befriends a detainee named Ali Amir, played by Peyman Moaadi – a situation that throws a wrench into her belief system in regards to her role there and the purpose of the camp in general. Certainly fairly heavy subject matter, and one that could’ve easily been derailed if Stewart had given the same kind of performance she gave in films like Twilight or Snow White and the Huntsman. At the very least, it looks like her hair’s tied back for much of the film, so we don’t have to deal with her constant fiddling with it. … I kid. I kid because I actually would, in fact, love to see Kristen Stewart prove the critics wrong, including myself, and show us what she can do when she’s not saddled by terrible material. Luckily, Camp X-Ray may be that film.

FuryFury – 10/17/14

Though it generally got very solid reviews, for some reason, I just never was that interested in taking the time out to see this Brad Pitt-led story about a rookie joining a World War II tank crew that has become almost fanatically driven by their mission and dedicated to the tank they consider to be their home. I like a good war story, and I absolutely intend to rent this one, but something about it just looked too… preachy. Having a film that shows the darker side of the sometimes too-glorified soldiers who took part in what was ultimately an honorable but horrific war isn’t the issue – it was more a matter of tone, than anything, I guess. It’s very clear David Ayer was on the brink of making every moment a sermon, and perhaps all those Christian films released before Fury just put me in less of a mood to hear one. I’ll rent it, though, and you probably should, too.

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Listen Up Philip - Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman

Listen Up Philip – 10/17/14

I actually don’t think I heard about this one until it was likely out of theatres in my area – at least as far as I could tell. Jason Schwartzman does what he does best by playing a smug, self-absorbed person – an author named Philip, here – who has delusions of his own brilliance and is eagerly awaiting the release of his own book – just his second, mind you – all the while wondering why nobody else is as impressed with his life so far as he is. While his personal relationships begin to fall apart, however, his ego is pacified by the encouragement of his idol, Ike Zimmerman, who lets Philip take up refuge in his summer home, where he can continue to be alone in his appreciation. Listen Up Philip looks, dare I say it, delightful, and has gotten quite a few accolades – all apparently deserving. One to look out for.

Young OnesYoung Ones – 10/17/14

Apocalyptic sci-fi western isn’t something you would expect to see in a film that makes it all the way to production and release, even if it is a limited one, but that’s exactly what Young Ones is. Set in a future where the scarcity of water has made life harsh for what residents remain on the planet, the film centers on a farmer struggling to keep his land and family alive coming into conflict with a young man who wants the land for himself and will apparently go through a lot of trouble to make it so. The fact that he’s also dating the farmer’s daughter just makes it all the more personal. As you might be able to tell, despite its unusual setting, Young Ones likely wouldn’t be all that unbelievable as a straight up classic Western set in the 1800s, but all the technological speculation can’t save a movie that isn’t willing to meet critics at least halfway. Young Ones didn’t make it.

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Citizenfour - Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald

Citizenfour – 10/24/14

Oscar-nominee for Best Documentary, Citizenfour began as a documentary, helmed by Laura Poitras, about post-9/11 surveillance by the US government when she unexpectedly began to receive contacts from a person calling himself “Citizenfour.” The man on the other line turned out to be none other than Edward Snowden, who was on the brink of leaking documents he obtained while working for the NSA. The film consists of footage Poitras filmed in Hong Kong and Moscow alongside journalist Glenn Greenwald over the course of a number of interviews with Snowden, covering the man and his motivations for revealing the information. Poitras’ work on the film made her nervous enough to have necessitated a move to Germany so as to avoid having her footage being confiscated by the FBI. The film was released quickly to theatres but made a big impact on critics, who praised the film for its candid nature and daringness to delve into the subject matter at the risk of those involved.

Force Majeure - Avalanche

Force Majeure – 10/24/14

A family vacation at a ski resort in the French Alps is ruined for one Swedish family when a freak avalanche shows the true colors of the Tomas, husband to Ebba and father to their two young children, when, in the face of danger, he leaves them on the brink of death. Disaster averted, however, Tomas now has to answer for his cowardice, earn back the trust of his family, and deal with the constant gossip from witnesses to the incident. It’s a refreshingly inventive concept for a comedy film, one that was thankfully paired with a remarkably funny script and executed with skilled direction by Ruben Östlund. Definitely something to keep an eye out for.

Happy New YearHappy New Year – 10/24/14

Released on Diwali, that Hindu holiday that everyone in America knows thanks to The Office, Happy New Year is a heist film centered around a dance competition and a diverse team of thieves with varying skills who plan to use the event to steal a load of diamonds from the vault of a hotel. If it sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because the film was inspired by the Ocean’s Eleven films, though it’s been decidedly given the expected Bollywood adjustment. The film went on to make a ton of money, enough to make it the 7th highest grossing Bollywood film of all time, but reviews were mixed to negative. I personally can’t help but feel like this is a rather lazy concept, myself.

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Ouija - Very stupid people

Ouija – 10/24/14

Hasbro continues to allow Michael Bay produce films based on their properties with a film that basically points out why using the very product the film is marketing is such a bad idea. Oddly enough, the marketing worked, and filmgoers gave the film $90 million more than its $5 million production budget, despite being pretty much universally panned by critics for being terrible. Naturally, it’s getting a freaking sequel. Because that’s what happens when you mess with dark forces.

Goodbye to Language - Dog

Goodbye to Language 3D – 10/29/14

3D cinematography and art house filmmaking finally meet in Goodbye to Language, the latest film from legendary, 84-year-old French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Visually told through the perspective of a wandering dog (Godard’s dog in real life) that often comes into contact with the same couple on a regular basis and allowing us to witness their relationship develop over time. Godard’s willingness to artfully use a medium that is pretty much seen as strictly a fad that’s well on its way out of favor with filmmakers and studios alike (with even Disney largely dropping 3D home releases for their movies) was hailed as an achievement, and the film itself has been called a masterpiece. The fact that Godard is making films at all at his age is reason enough to celebrate the film, but to see that he’s still pushing himself is even more astounding.

Before I Go to SleepBefore I Go to Sleep – 10/31/14

Nicole Kidman stars as Christine Lucas, a woman who wakes up every morning with no recollection of what happened previously. Complicating matters is the man she always wakes up next to – a man who claims to be her husband (Colin Firth) and has all sorts of evidence to prove it. She begins to question this reality, however, and comes into contact with another man who claims to be her doctor (Mark Strong). The doctor provides her with a camera to record her progress, but he also instructs her to keep it hidden from her husband. Soon, through these videos, Christine begins to unravel the truth about her condition and the relationship between her and her supposed husband. Based on the novel by S.J. Watson, it’s a very compelling story, to be honest – one that’s admittedly similar to Memento – and I can’t help but feel like it would be an interesting watch, in spite of its 36% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film reportedly features good performances and is brisk at a standard length of 1 hour 32 minutes, so it’s not like it overstays its welcome. This might actually be one thriller where I’m going to judge it for myself.

Horns - Daniel Radcliffe

Horns – 10/31/14

Again, not to be confused with the previously released Kevin Smith film Tusk (I kept thinking he directed Horns – that’s Keith Bunin), Horns is about Ig Perrish, the prime suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend, who wakes up one morning with horns sprouting from his head. He discovers that the horns not only make him look like some satanic creature, they have the ability to influence people to give in to confess their sins and act out their most evil impulses. Ig realizes the power this can have and, despite his hometown going crazy as a result of these things, he uses their power to find his girlfriend’s true killer. That’s another pretty solid premise that I think I might check out, in spite of the movie’s zany horror-comedy tone not exactly jiving with their sensibilities.

NOVEMBER

The Better Angels - Braydon Denney

The Better Angels – 11/07/14

Producer Terrence Malick’s influence on A.J. Edwards’ film about the childhood of Abraham Lincoln can definitely be felt in the black and white cinematography. Reportedly very attentive to accuracy, The Better Angels was possibly a little too ambitious, as some complained of its meandering pacing, and it perhaps could have found a voice of its own, but it does have a solid cast that includes Brit Marling, Diane Kruger, and Jason Clarke, and it does at least look very beautiful. It’s not as long as Malick’s own films, so it might still be worth a watch, if only once.

JessabelleJessabelle – 11/07/14

“From the mastermind producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious comes the ghostly tale of Jessabelle.” That’s from the Rotten Tomatoes synopsis and kind of tells you what to expect from the film, really. Jessabelle is a young woman who is suffering after a horrible car accident that killed her boyfriend and left her in a wheelchair. Returning to her childhood home to recover, she discovers a video that her mother made for her while still pregnant that warns her that, by the time she watches the video, a terrible presence will already be haunting her. Cue crotch-side shot of the pretty girl soaking in a bathtub with her eyes closed as something scary approaches her face. You know, I actually recently got a pre-release screening to see an upcoming movie from these guys. I failed to sign up in time to go see it, but something is telling me I dodged a bullet…

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Open Windows - Sasha Grey

Open Windows – 11/07/14

An actress’ biggest fan, Nick, finds himself with access to her webcam after she refuses to participate in a contest that he won which would have had the two of them meeting for a dinner date. When the actress’ life is suddenly put in danger, however, Nick finds himself in the awkward position of turning from voyeur to hero as he goes after the man who had claimed to be her manager and set him up with the webcam connection. Elijah Wood stars as Nick alongside Sasha Grey as the actress (whose former career in porn may make Googling her a little… NSFW) and Neill Maskell as the villain in this poorly received film that, quite honestly, looks like goofy, overstylized garbage anyway. Pass.

Beyond the Lights - Nate Parker, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Beyond the Lights – 11/14/14

A troubled pop star, Noni, whose life and career has been overseen by an overbearing mother, attempts to commit suicide one night by jumping off a balcony, but she’s saved by a kind police officer who witnesses the event. Naturally, the two of them grow close and fall in love. It’s the sort of situation you’d likely see in lots of stories about young love, usually with disastrous results, but critics seemed to really like this one, citing the strong performances of Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the lead and Minnie Driver and Nate Parker as her mother and lover, Kaz, respectively. Danny Glover also features as Kaz’s father, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly also makes an appearance. Again, I’m not certain how something like this actually got such good reviews, but more power to them. This just proves that people shouldn’t settle for less, even when it’s “just” a sappy romance story.

Dumb and Dumber ToDumb and Dumber To – 11/14/14

20 years after the release of what is, in my opinion, one of the funniest comedies of all time, we finally got the follow-up that no one was really asking for – you know, after that other follow-up that even more people didn’t actually want. Fairing somewhat better than that film – if only because it brought back the Farrelly Brothers and stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels – To sends Harry and Lloyd on their next road trip to locate the daughter that Harry never knew he had with Fraida Felcher, whom you might remember being mentioned in the first film and whose name you will not exactly want to research. The trailers had some solid gags, but this is ultimately a film that looked like it was putting all the funny parts there, too. I did want to see this, but it wasn’t a priority, and, in the end, I just never got around to it in time. I’ll Redbox it.

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Nativty 3 - David Hunter, Martin Clunes

Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey? – 11/14/14

The second sequel to the 2009 comedy Nativity!, this third film about nativity reenactments features yet another attempt to put on a ridiculously over-the-top Christmas school production, this time with a teacher who loses his memory and forgets where he put the nativity scene’s donkey – hence the title, a tired reference to the somehow still remembered Dude, Where’s My Car? Somehow, this also necessitates them going to New York to reunite the teacher with his fiancée while also holding auditions for some whacky little kids. Continuing the trend of declining approval ratings in the series, Nativity 3 was like a lump of coal in critics’ stockings. See? I can make tired references, too.

Horrible Bosses 2 - Chris Pine, Charlie Day, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis

Horrible Bosses 2 – 11/26/14

Because you just can’t let a surprise hit not be turned into a franchise these days, Horrible Bosses 2 follows up the surprise hit first film by introducing more horrible bosses to contend with in the form of Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz, investors in the leads’ shower product idea who then steal it for themselves. Somehow, the filmmakers found ways to bring back not just the heroes from the last film, but Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, too. The film looks pretty funny, but many saw it as a pointless rehash.

Before I DisappearBefore I Disappear – 11/28/14

Shawn Christensen took his Oscar-winning 2012 short film Curfew, and expanded it 19 minutes into feature length form. Both center on Christensen as Richie, who is about to end his life when he gets a call from his sister to come take care of his niece, Sophia, played by Fatima Ptacek in both and whose voice you might recognize if you imagine it shouting all the time and have been around little kids in almost any capacity (she’s the voice of Dora the Explorer). Sophia is distant from her uncle, but the two struggle to relate to one another until Sophia’s mother comes back. Unfortunately for Christensen, lightning didn’t strike twice, as what worked in the short film didn’t quite translate into feature length form, with the characters coming off as flat and one-note and the tonal shifts falling apart. I kind of imagine it like how a golf ball split open just spews its guts out.

DECEMBER

The Pyramid - The very obvious set

The Pyramid – 12/05/14

It’s a found-footage horror flick set in the pyramids of Egypt! Monsters! Things creeping just off screen! Tight hallways! The director of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes! Yeah, no thanks. This was hailed as one of the worst films of 2014 for a reason.

Still AliceStill Alice – 12/05/14

Julianne Moore has been nominated for Best Actress with Still Alice, the story of a respected professor coming to grips with the fact that she might soon remember nothing of her work and her family after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Praised for being appropriately heartbreaking and accurately portraying the terror of such a horrible disease, Still Alice’s trailer didn’t quite do it for me, but that’s perhaps just bad editing on the part of whoever made it. The fact that it also featured not just Kristen Stewart but also Kate Bosworth, both of whom I’ve never really been a fan of, didn’t help, but I’m not one to write off a movie just because of its stars, if it’s at least gotten good reviews.

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The Last: Naruto the Movie - Naruto

The Last: Naruto the Movie – 12/06/14

Non-Naruto fans need not apply. … [moves on to the next movie]

Exodus: Gods and KingsExodus: Gods and Kings – 12/12/14

The race of the cast members seemingly overshadowed Ridey Scott’s latest film and the last of the major Christian-targeted/Bible-based films to be released in 2014, and probably with good reason. I’m of the opinion that it’s less important to cast actors exactly to their race than it is to cast actors that fit their roles – meaning, I’m okay with actors who might look a certain race playing that race, even if they’re not. A good example of this was Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater, which has received official endorsement from the Iranian man whose life events it’s based on, but the film has Mexican film star Gael García Bernal in the lead. See also Memoirs of a Geisha, where the casting of three prominent Chinese actresses in Japanese roles caused mixed reactions amongst even Chinese and Japanese audiences. Respect to the culture is obviously also the primary concern, and I think it’s important to understand that sometimes star power is a necessary burden that needs to be considered when casting. Exodus, however, features Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, and Aaron Paul in the leads – all of them talented and well-known, but not one of them resembling an Egyptian or Hebrew. I can only imagine Ewan McGregor’s upcoming blue-eyed portrayal of Jesus in Last Days in the Desert will draw similar complaints.

Oh yeah, and the film’s accuracy with the Bible was also a point of contention.

These weren’t the film’s only problems, however. While the spectacle of the film was cited as at least being interesting to look at, flat storytelling and uninteresting characters that can’t carry the nearly two and a half hour film were the main problems critics had with the film. As for me? I’d really had enough, and I couldn’t bring myself to endure it.

Inherent Vice - Joaquin Phoenix

Inherent Vice – 12/12/14

Currently Paul Thomas Anderson’s least favored film at a still respectable 72%, Inherent Vice was still lauded as a very entertaining film from Anderson, one with a somewhat dark comedic streak running through it. The first and only adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice does seem like it could become a bit convoluted, telling the noir-ish sounding story of a private eye being hired by his ex-girlfriend to investigate the wife of her billionaire boyfriend and her lover for conspiracy to lock up the billionaire in a psych ward. The convoluted part comes when you consider the cast of characters includes, according to the synopsis, “surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, LAPD Detectives, a tenor sax player working undercover, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang.” With that many characters, the film’s cast is also fattened up with a bevy of big names: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Eric Roberts, and Martin Short all show up. I actually really want to see this, as I really like Anderson’s films, but time was a factor, and the movie is no longer playing in my area.

Top FiveTop Five – 12/12/14

Satirizing his own life as one of the most well-known black comedians in the world, Chris Rock directed, wrote, and stars in Top Five. He plays Andre Allen, who has grown tired of playing the same old roles and being recognized for only one thing, particularly his hit series of wacky Hammy The Bear films, in which he dons a comical bear suit who happens to be a cop. Also at the center of the film is Chelsea Brown, a journalist (Rosario Dawson) who gets Andre to open up about his past, the work he did and is doing, and the man behind the public persona. Top Five was praised for being both very funny and remarkably insightful, with only a few taking issue with some of the film’s sappier moments, perhaps referring to a romance that develops between Andre and Chelsea, but, honestly, amidst all the cameos and observances, it’s nice to know there’s an actual story to be told, too.

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PK - Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma

PK – 12/19/14 (India)

A wide-eyed, child-like man who goes by the name PK travels from place to place and asks the people he meets questions that often cause them to question their very belief systems. PK’s name derives from the Hindi word for “tipsy,” pee-kay, as most who encounter him believe him to be a little drunk due to his unusual personality. The film has gone on to be the highest grossing Indian film of all time, and the first to earn $100 million worldwide, as well. Critics have pretty much universally praised the film for both its entertainment value and commentary on traditions, superstitions, and religious beliefs. The teaser trailer does make this seem like an overly sweet film with whacky hijinks and its child-like protagonist bringing the film in line with those films that seem to romanticize mental illness, but once you find out that the trailer doesn’t tell you that PK is actually an alien stranded on earth and not someone with a case of the movie aspies, it suddenly becomes a lot more tolerable sounding.

Annie - Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis

Annie – 12/19/14

Reviving the Broadway musical for the big screen once again, this co-production by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jay-Z stars Oscar-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis as the Little Orphan Annie, Jamie Foxx as Will Stacks, the film’s version of Daddy Warbucks, and Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan. The film is largely a remake of the first film adaptation of the play and includes the songs, though it’s set in the modern day New York City, and Annie is no longer an orphan but a child stuck in the foster care system, which actually makes complete sense. The film itself was criticized, however, for being an overall mess of a film, with poor choreography, bad reimaginings of the classic songs, and a by-the-numbers cash-in on nostalgia that doesn’t justify its own existence.

Mr. TurnerMr. Turner – 12/19/14

Inspired by the life of J.M.W. Turner, the artist who was called “the painter of light,” Mr. Turner focuses on his later years and portrays him as a man at the height of his popularity when he begins to deviate from detailed, realistic landscapes to more chaotic, abstract visuals, which ruffled some feathers and caused some to believe he was losing his touch. It’s a phenomenon that many artists today even face – they’re damned if they do and get called traitors or they stay the same and are accused of stagnation. Timothy Spall was praised for his work in the role, and the gorgeous cinematography was also pointed out as portraying the world as its title character did.

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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb - The whole gang

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb – 12/19/14

The third and likely the last film in the Night at the Museum series – until someone inevitably revives it somehow… possibly by featuring the newly introduced Rebel Wilson character, Tilly, who is a British museum security guard whom Ben Stiller’s meets on a trip there. Looking at the film’s story, it seems like it has something to do with the tablet’s origins and Ben Kingsley as its creator. I really got tired of trying to sum this movie up, quite honestly, so just know that, if you liked the first two, see it. If not, don’t.

Winter Sleep - Rugged terrain

Winter Sleep – 12/19/14

The synopsis for this acclaimed Turkish film kind of reads like a less horrific version of The Shining. A family takes refuge during the winter in a hotel run by Aydin, a former actor, his wife, NIhal, and his sister, Necla, a recent divorcee. Forced to stay in such close quarters, the family members’ resentment begins to fester towards one another. At 3 hours 16 minutes, Niuri Bilge Ceylan’s film sounds like a slow burn, but it didn’t foster any sort of animosity from critics, who merely considered it “epic” in scope but intimate in its characterizations. For when you have the time.

Two Days, One NightTwo Days, One Night – 12/24/14

Nearly universally acclaimed and earning Marion Cotillard another Oscar nomination, Two Days, One Night features Cotillard as Sandra, a woman who is released from the hospital only to find that she has been laid off as a result of her absence. Her former employer informs her that if they are to let her have her position back, it will be at the expense of everyone’s yearly bonuses. If she can convince a majority of her coworkers to allow for this, only then will she get her job back. It’s a timely tale, what with a lot of bosses taking advantage of economic conditions and employee hardships to screw over those on the lower end of the company scale, and it’s one that directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne execute with apparently profound results.

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Big Eyes - Amy Adams

Big Eyes – 12/25/14

A return to form, of sorts, for director Tim Burton, who has spent the last decade directing nothing but adaptations of other artists’ work, with mixed results. Big Eyes is technically an adaptation of sorts, but trailers for the film made it seem far more like the quirky but sensitive Burton who directed Ed Wood and Big Fish rather than the wacky and weird Burton who brought us Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, so that was nice. Its subject, Margaret Keane, has since become well known for those big eyes she painted on all her subjects, but if her husband, Walter, had any say in the matter, he would’ve gotten all the credit. Burton, an aficionado of Keane’s work, sought to tell her story and how this timid woman found her voice and spoke up for her right to be recognized. Critics welcomed Burton’s change of pace, and applauded his affecting storytelling, helped by performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. I definitely wanted to see this one, but, like I said before, timing during this season was tough.

The Gambler (2014)The Gambler – 12/25/14

A remake of the James Caan-starring film from 1974, this film was originally intended for Martin Scorsese to direct and Leonardo DiCaprio to star, but it was ultimately handed off to Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Mark Wahlberg was brought in for the lead role. The trailer uses the Rolling Stones’ ”Gimme Shelter,” so you know it’s a gritty drama about underground goings on. Wahlberg is an English professor named Jim Bennett who also does a bit of high stakes gambling on the side. He lands himself in trouble when his addiction drives him to offer up his own life as collateral before gambling all the money he had borrowed from a gangster. With his quick wits, however, he plays the underground crime scene against itself with the help of a loan shark named Frank (John Goodman), hoping to make a break for it and fix his life so that he can be with the young woman he’s begun a relationship with. The Gambler paled in comparison to its predecessor, but some enjoyment can apparently still be had with the film.

Unbroken - Jack O'Connell

Unbroken – 12/25/14

Angelina Jolie directs this epic story about the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian who later joined the military during World War II and who was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese Navy after his plane crashed in the ocean and the surviving crewmembers drifted to the Marshall Islands. It’s an extraordinary story, adapted from the Laura Hillenbrand-authored biography, working off a script from the Coen Brothers, and one that definitely deserves to be told in film. Jolie’s tendency to embrace the inspirational nature of her film and all the clichés that sometimes come with it, however, was called out for holding it back from its true potential. Jolie undoubtedly had a passion for the subject matter, though, having known Zamperini personally. Critics were split on the film – quite literally, with a 50% approval rating – but it’s probably worth a watch just for its scope and story, all the same. Jolie, too, will hopefully continue to grow as a filmmaker.

A Most Violent YearA Most Violent Year – 12/31/14

Following up his acclaimed sophomore film All Is Lost, director J.C. Chandor has been making quite a name for himself as a director now, with A Most Violent Year getting pretty much universal acclaim. A story about an immigrant and his family trying to live their lives, expand their business, and avoid being sucked into the violence that permeated the streets of New York City in 1981. Oscar Isaac, too, has been rising to the top for his choice in roles, gaining the most attention with his work in Inside Llewyn Davis and here, as Abel Morales, showing that he can handle some dark, serious subject matter, as well. Hopefully this won’t get lost amongst the hype for his upcoming work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and X-Men: Apocalypse. Jessica Chastain also stars as Abel’s wife. I think we all know how awesome Chastain is, right? This film’s still out in theatres in most places, having only been released a few weeks ago, so we should all go see it, yeah? It’s not like there’s much else to watch right now.

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