Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: Winter Soldier follows the first Captain film and the Avengers in the Marvel Universe. With Chris Evans reprising his role as Captain America/Steve Rogers, the film also features Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson,  Sebastian Stan, and Colbie Smulders all returning in various roles. Two years after the events in The Avengers, Steve Rogers struggles to live in the modern world, and discovers that the evil ways of human beings haven’t changed to much. Mostly that Hydra is still very much active, and still wants to kill all the people they deem unworthy.

The Good:

  1. The film stands as a good “spy” film as well as a super hero film. Which is kind of nice. Rogers and Romanoff play spy, and don’t rely to much on technology. It’s nice because so much of the rest of Marvel is tied to technology, and flashy things. They’re not. (Aside from Roger’s being genetically engineered of course). It’s more about war, and what it does to the soldier.
  2. Production Value is what you get when you watch a Marvel film. 
  3. The friendship between Captain and the Black Widow. Evans and Johansson have on-screen chemistry (which I’ve said before is a big plus in Marvel’s work, everyone has chemistry and it’s fun to watch), but this proves to be a problem for his potential love interest. 
  4. Stan Lee’s cameo. Ditto for Hayley Atwell. 
  5. That the Falcon turned out to be a friend, and not some S.H.I.E.L.D. operative. 

The Meh:

  1. Some action sequences went a little long, to prove the technology S.H.I.E.L.D. has at its’ disposal. I’m mainly complaining about Fury’s car attack scene. 
  2. Emily Van Camp’s Agent 13/Sharon Carter. Evans and Van Camp didn’t have enough chemistry for me to even want it to happen. I personally hope they reduce the characters’ role in the future. She could have been replaced by any unnamed agent in the film.
  3. There are some minor irritates, like where does the Cap keep his shield when he doesn’t have it in on scene but has it in the next? Does he spend all his time running back and forth to his apartment? Why wasn’t Hydra waiting at his apartment when he kept going back for his shield? These are very minor irritates, which I’m sure were edited down to keep the movie closer to two hours.

A popular theory is that Rogers will eventually be “killed off” (but I think we all know that no one ever really dies in the Marvel world…) and replaced with Bucky Barnes. While it certainly gives Evan’s a break from what I’m sure is a demanding schedule, I enjoy watching Evan’s portrayal of the Captain. His Captain very much sets his moral compass on the way the world used to be, while Bucky at least to this point has been severely mentally damaged. This means his Captain will be drastically different from Rogers. Darker. I’m not ready for that yet. 

Where is the Black Widow’s movie? What is so scary about her history? TELL ME. Also tell me more about Maria Hill. I’ll be interested to see how S.H.I.E.L.D. comes back, because like Coulson and Fury, I’m sure S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t dead either. 

Verdict: Marvel is good at getting us to want more. I want more. It’s probably also my favourite stand alone movie in the universe so far.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel, I’m ashamed to say is the first Wes Anderson movie I’ve ever seen. A who-done-it, that follows the death of a wealthy elderly woman, as her favourite concierge and his lobby boy try to clear the concierge’s name. It takes place in a beautiful little world, where the set design reigns supreme. 

The Good:

  1. Attention to Detail 
  2. All the actors. If there is one thing I learned, it’s that Wes Anderson gets great performances from all his actors. 
  3. All the snappy, hilarious dialogue. Although, a few times I didn’t know what some of the words used meant but that didn’t matter. 
  4. I didn’t know I could be more terrified of Willem Dafoe. Why is the man so creepy? I’m sure he’s perfectly nice in real life. 

The Meh:

  1. Sometimes the cinematography moved a little quickly. Which is totally a style that works for some and not for others. It works because the movie is fast paced, but with so much detail to the sets, I wish I had had a few seconds more to appreciate it. 

There weren’t a lot of women in the film, but I appreciate that they didn’t try to insert any into the story for the sake of gender equality. 

I now have to immediately watch all of Wes Anderson’s films. I can’t wait to see this one again.

Verdict: Charming and beautiful and fun and quirky from every angle. 

The Monuments Men (2014)

The Monuments Men, originally meant to be awards bait for the 2014 season from George Clooney, was pushed back to a February release date. Telling a fictionalized version of real events the film follows a band of art professors/enthusiasts turned soldiers as they race to save Europe’s finest art from the Germans (and then the Soviets) during the end of the Second World War.

The Good:

  1. It’s mostly Ocean’s 11 during a war. A male rom-com if it were.
  2. The art works are beautifully done, and believable as something of value. I felt horrified when we are shown Nazi’s burning and destroying them. 

The Bad:

  1. The tone. The film fails to balance serious and campy fun. I’m not sure what the solution would be to balance it, but I’d have preferred if Clooney had decided to go one way or another. This kind of story provides another angle to see what Nazi Germany was prepared to do to make sure everyone suffered. If the Nazi’s couldn’t have it, no one would. 

The Meh:

  1. Simply because the tone of the film fails to define itself one way or another, the characters end up feeling one dimensional and the same. This doesn’t do justice to the caliber of actor Clooney hired.
  2. Cate Blanchett can to do so much more than scowel. It felt like she was there because someone said “oh, we should have a woman.”

I probably should tell you that my Grandma asked me what the last film I saw was, and I couldn’t remember. I had to look at my ticket history in my phone to remind me (and subsequently write this review). 

Verdict: It fails to bring gravitas to an important story, but George Clooney is always fun when he’s having fun.  Don’t expect anything of value. Easily forgettable. 

August: Osange County (2013)

August: Osange County, is Director John Well’s adaption of the play by the same name. A family drama that takes place over the course of a few days, is emotional, hilarious and littered with award worthy performances. Drawn together by the disappearance, and then death of their alcoholic father, three daughters struggle to come to terms with their lives and how their dysfunctional family has impacted them. In fact, it by far my favourite “award bate” movies of the 2013 season, and I am shocked that it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. 

The Goods:

  1. The adaptation from stage to screen is done by the playwright Tracy Letts. 
  2. The characters are managed well. The story devotes enough time for viewers to get to know each of them, without neglecting anyone. This is important because in ensembles some characters are often underused.
  3. All the cast members give a solid performance, especially Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, who both succeeded in making me forget they are in fact Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. 
  4. It’s emotional, and there is no specific pay off. Which I find refreshing. Not everything is always tied up in a nice little bow in life, and neither should it be at the end of every movie. 
  5. The Dialogue. Dear lord I’m so excited to watch a film that has characters speaking in real full sentences.
  6. The setting is pretty and rough, and full of oversized shirts, something that always speaks to me.

There are several spectacular scenes that I didn’t want to end:

  1. The dinner scene. It was so uncomfortable and perfect.
  2. Eat the fucking fish scene. Has Julia Roberts ever been this mean before on film? I like it. 

Verdict: Its a new one on my favourite list. Watch the Fucking Movie.

American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle is David O Russell’s oscar nominated film, with nominations for Best Picture and all the Best Acting categories. While the film is entertaining, there are some problems with it, one being the story. I guess it’s about how we believe what we want to believe. A message I’m afraid that could be told with a shorter, better film. 

The Good:

  1. Solid acting performances all around, but Jeremy Renner’s is by far my favourite and unfortunately is not getting any award season love.
  2. The costumes and set design are hilarious. However, I’m not sure if it’s so much celebrating the 70’s as it is mocking them.
  3. As a Boardwalk Empire fan, I loved the small roles played by Jack Huston and Shea Whigham.

The Bad:

  1. The overall story is long and confusing. It took a while to get a grip on whether or not Amy Adam’s was actually supposed to be British. Or trying to figure out exactly what the con was. Things just kind of happen and time just kind of jumps back and forth. There’s nothing really there to ground the viewer or give them an point of reference. The only constants in the film are Jennifer Lawrence’s crazy and Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent’s naivety. At least we know what those to character’s want, love and recognition respectively. 
  2. It is too long. Just because your film is over two hours does not make it a good film. Could easily have been done well and possibly better in 1 hour 45 minutes. 

Verdict: I’m afraid this film won’t age well. Yes, it’s entertaining, and has it moments but 10 years from now, it won’t have any impact on the viewer. 

Her (2013)

Her is Spike Jonze’s 2013 oscar nominated film about a man who following a difficult divorce, falls in love with his operating system. I really enjoyed this film (despite the insane amount of time it has taken me to post my review of it). 

The Good:

  1. Scarlett Johansson’s voice. I’d fall in love with it too. 
  2. Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic for having acted to basically no one the entire time. 
  3. I feel like this is an interesting take on the “are we too dependent on technology?” debate. Theodore becomes dependent on it because he falls in love with it, not because of what it can do for him. 
  4. The style of the film is beautiful. I want to live in its world of pastels and modern/60’s style everything. 
  5. Solid performances supporting from Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, and Olivia Wilde.

The Meh:

  1. I’m not sure the film needed as many points of conflict between Theodore and Samantha. Jonze’s could have cut down demonstrating the jealousy a bit. When directors go overboard to shove things like this down the viewer’s throats it just makes the viewer feel stupid. We get it after one or two scenes where Theodore is obviously jealous. There is no need to drag it out.
  2. Rooney Mara. Did we really need her to show that Theodore was feeling conflicted about falling in love with an OS? No. I find Mara stiff and unappealing. 

The Bad:

  1. For a film that asks us to believe that an Operating system can evolve and exist in another level of consciousness, it remains pretty grounded. Until the end that is when the OS’s decide to leave their humans. It seemed a little well, Deus ex Machina for an ending. Wouldn’t it have been way more satisfying to have Theodore just decide he was better off without Samantha?

The Verdict: An appealing must watch. The sweet film gets a little lost with a Deus Ex Machina ending. A long shot for best picture, but it deserves the recognition of the nomination.

Frozen (2013)

Frozen has been getting a lot of love on tumblr. The most recent Disney film, follows the story of two sisters and their troubled relationship. 

While I liked the film, I’m not as big of a fan of it as some others, so let’s get into it.

The Good:

  1. Yes, its not primarily a love story. 
  2. The animation is beautiful.
  3. Olaf was not overused. 

The Meh:

  1. The songs didn’t grab me in the same way as tangled. A few even reminded me to much of Tangled. Let It Go, is basically just a power ballad that any pop-princess could sing, there is nothing overwhelmingly Disney about it. 
  2. Plot holes: why were there trolls? Why did we just ignore the trolls? Why didn’t we talk about how Kristoff is an orphan? Why did the girls have to be orphans? Couldn’t all of this happened without killing the parents? 

The Bad:

  1. For a not love story, there’s two songs about Romantic Love.
  2. There is little character development. 
  3. Olaf, while not over used, did distract from the various plot/development problems. Just because this part of the film succeeds doesn’t mean we should love it purely for him.

Verdict: It takes steps in the right direction, but ultimately is disappointing. 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based on a short story of the same name, initially intrigued me based on the first trailer.  Directed by Ben Stiller (who plays the titled character) the film is a beautiful look into the life of a daydreamer. Driven out of necessity, Mitty goes on a quest that pulls him out of his shell in order to find a lost picture that is destined to be the last cover photo of LIFE magazine. 

The Good:

  1. There was actually character development for Walter Mitty. Stiller perfectly captured someone who was dying for more, but didn’t know how to escape it. It becomes clear that Mitty is changing when Mitty himself doesn’t know if what happened was real or a daydream. 
  2. The cinematography was beautiful.
  3. The dialogue is real and fresh. And when a character speaks, its more than for just two sentences (something which is nice given that I’ve felt a lot of Oscar Best Picture contenders suffer because of a bad screenplay). 
  4. The actual story was nice. It was light, believable but also had some hidden depth in it. I like that it explored the affects of responsibility and hard work. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the people who didn’t like it, didn’t expect it to have the depth that it does.

The Meh:

  1. Adam Scott’s beard. I’m not sure we needed to corporate villain to have a beard. 

The Bad:

  1. Kristen Wiig is perfectly cast. This is bad thing. I want to see her do something other than the pathetic boring “girlfriend”. I would have found maybe someone else more interesting in this role. 

Verdict: A lighthearted feel good film. I’m sad it isn’t getting the love it deserves. 

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street is Martin Scorsese’s latest film. However, the movie is a bloated mess. Despite some stellar acting performances, story and pacing problems make the film less than enjoyable.

The Good:

  1. Despite my other problems with the film, I did enjoy Leonardo Dicaprio’s acting.
  2. We’re going to get some good gif’s from it.

The Bad:

  1. You see Jonah Hill’s penis. 
  2. Was it even edited? Was Martin Scorsese on some of the drugs that were used in the film? WHO THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO MAKE IT THREE HOURS.
  3. The intent of this film from my perspective was to show the financial excess from the guys doing the stealing. While I liked that we didn’t see the typical sob story of the wall street guy stole my money, it ultimately fails. It fails because we are given no one to root for. We can’t root for the bad guys (who are presented as the good guys) and there are no real good guys (Kyle Chandler is in the film for only the briefest of moments, so he hardly qualifies). The movie’s screen time should have been at best an hour and a half.
  4. How many times to I need to see Belmont (Decaprio) almost get caught or die without consequences? 

Verdict: Skip It. Or watch it if you want to see three hours of Leo doing cocaine out of a prostitute’s ass, then by all means. I wish the trailer had been the movie. 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my favorite film saga. It is infinitely perfect. I worship it. I only watch the extended editions. I watch all the bonus features. Peter Jackson is The Savior, blessings and peace be upon Him.

As such, when I heard that The Hobbit was set to film, and with Jackson back at the helm no less, I was elated. Upon learning that it was going to be in three parts and would include additional content that went beyond the scope of The Hobbit, I remained optimistic despite the naysayers. Unfortunately, I was let down by the first instalment, An Unexpected Journey. It felt bloated, and this is coming from someone who, as previously stated, only watches the extended editions of LOTR. But, I held out hope for The Desolation of Smaug, because it would have a dragon and would therefore be infallible, right?

Wrong, but let’s begin with the positives:

The Good:

1. Smaug. Truly songs and tales fell utterly short of his enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous! The dragon was stunning. I’ve watched the production diaries, so I know how many hours of innovation and careful thought went into his creation. Praise is well-deserved for everyone involved in bringing him to life. And of course, casting Benedict Cumberbatch to voice and perform the motion capture for Smaug was a stroke of brilliance. It gave Smaug a real presence in the film, and it supplied Cumberbatch with a further outlet to pour his committed and menacing performance into. Fabulous. Smaug is one of the only things I am looking forward to in the third and final instalment of this franchise.

2. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo. Freeman has such a seemingly effortless and subtle ability to incorporate physical comedy in his portrayal of Bilbo. I’m never expecting his minute expressions of exasperation, or the simultaneously hesitant and frustrated body movements he exhibits while crouching and crawling his way through danger, so they are always a delightfully amusing surprise. Freeman brings a genuine cheekiness to Bilbo, which works both because it suits the character as Tolkien wrote him, and because Martin is able to execute it so very well. I look forward to his return in the trilogy’s conclusion as well.

3. The massive scope of the world. You have to appreciate and revere the enormity of the work that goes into creating the world of Middle-earth for the screen, and what the artists behind the scenes have achieved in this film is impressive if not baffling. 

The Bad:

1. The reason for Tauriel’s addition, which was supposedly to add a female to a cast that was otherwise dominated by men. While this initially seemed like an admirable feminist effort on Jackson and Walsh’s parts, Tauriel quickly suffers the fate of so many female characters, which is to be almost entirely driven by an uninteresting and insufferably typical romance sub-plot. I hasten to add that this is no fault of Evangeline Lilly, who manages to make Tauriel a point of interest despite the horrifically cliched plot her character has been pigeonholed into. Lilly is clearly committed physically to the role, and indeed her fight scenes often outshine those of co-star (and co-elf) Orlando Bloom. It was thus a shame that her character was not allowed to focus solely on repressing the unknown evil that is spreading from the heart of Mirkwood, as it’s a far more interesting path for her to tread.

2. The scattered storyline focus. Last I checked, The Hobbit was supposed to be about the actual hobbit, namely Bilbo Baggins, and the adventure he has upon leaving the Shire. So why did I get the sense that characters like Kili were getting equal screen time?

3. The 3D High Frame Rate. Granted this is optional, but I cannot for the life of me understand why. I’ve been told repeatedly by tech-savvy folk that it is “better,” but I just can’t see it. I agree with its critics instead, who believe it cheapens the look of the film, or makes it look like cutscenes from a video game. Avoid it if possible.

4. The additions were disappointing, for the most part. One example is the Necromancer/Sauron. I was looking forward to this nearly as much as Smaug, but it was done in such a dated, cheesy way that I nearly had to look away from the screen by the time his last shot rolled. Legolas and Tauriel had cool fight scenes, but added nothing to the actual plot, and while I appreciated the additional Smaug screen time, I thought that having the dwarves fire up the forge in seconds was absurd (come on, they’re not supposed to be as dexterous as the elves, so how are they moving like that?).

5. The run time. I should never have to check my watch in exasperation during any film. It could have been culled down.

The One Concession:

If your child likes The Hobbit, or even the LOTR trilogy, they will undoubtedly enjoy this movie. There is a definite sense, especially during the unabashedly silly moments (which are meant to be humorous) that this film is geared towards a younger audience.

Verdict: Like other dragons before him, Smaug is cursed to exist within a mediocre film that is nearly unworthy of his magnificence. As for this trilogy, it seems doubtful that the efforts of its skillful actors will be able to save it from plenty of flashy special effects but few moments of real substance.