Monday, December 29, 2014

My Top 5 Movies of 2014

That's right, it's that time of year again. But unlike years past, where I usually do a Top 10 Movies list, this year I'm only sticking to 5, and the reason behind that is as such. Unlike 2013, where we saw an endless wave of mediocre films, this year was actually filled with a whole lot of movies that I thought were genuinely quite good. The difference, however, is that the ones that were even better than good in years past had a tendency to really stand out and just wow me.

This year, though, I managed to come up with essentially a good solid Top 8 films that happened to strike a certain chord of excellence with me. But while there were certainly plenty of other really good movies beyond that, none of them were quite of the caliber where I really felt the need to make mention of and write about them.

So, there were lots of good movies this year, but few that were truly great in my eye, and right now, I'd like to focus on those that stood out above all else to me. But first, let's take a look at the three honorable mentions that would've rounded out that aforementioned solid Top 8 of mine:

Honorable Mentions:
John Wick
Only Lovers Left Alive

Great movies for sure, but they all just miss out on being among my Top 5 Movies of 2014.


Need For Speed

(Scott Waugh)

For me, Need For Speed was the little movie that could. By no means one of the best movies of the year on a technical level, but as the year progressed and I watched more and more movies that were "technically" better than this, it would slip lower and lower down my rankings, only for me to push it back up as time went on and I found myself forgetting about those "better" movies, while this stayed well in the forefront of my mind as one of the more memorably entertaining outings of the year. And hell, I'll be honest, when I originally drafted this list as a Top 10, it only came in at #7, but when I revised it to a Top 5, I couldn't help but push this one even further up the rankings, because more than any of my honorable mentions, I really wanted to drive home just how awesome I thought this movie was.

I did my post on the most underrated movies of the year last week, but while I didn't mention this one there, it could easily be considered a close second runner-up. This movie got hated on relentlessly upon release, which I really couldn't understand at all. From start to finish, this movie was a blast, and managed to out-fun those Fast and Furious flicks without resorting to getting nearly as cartoonishly over-the-top as they have become.

Not to say that this movie isn't over-the-top, it certainly is. But this is one of the most exhilaratingly fun car movies to come out in some time, utilizing only minimal CGI for its effects and filled with a cast who are all out to make this film as good a time for the viewer as they were clearly having making it.

I dunno, I suppose it took a while for serious critics to really warm up to and embrace those Fast and Furious movies, so who knows, perhaps in time people will be able to warm up to Need For Speed and appreciate it for what it is as well.
Original review.


The Raid 2

(Gareth Evans)

I really want to be able to say that The Raid 2 is The Dark Knight to The Raid's Batman Begins, but that doesn't quite work as, despite how similar to The Dark Knight that this sequel may feel, The Raid really had nothing at all in common with that first Batman flick. But alas, even so, where The Dark Knight really expanded upon the groundwork laid out in Begins and gave us a crime story that had this very big, important feel to it, The Raid 2 similarly moves on to even bigger and better aspirations than its much smaller in scale predecessor.

Bottom line, this movie is great. Where the first Raid is an action packed movie in a single setting on a single day, The Raid 2 expands the story over the course of years as one undercover cop looks to put a stop to the corruption plaguing all throughout his city. And yes, it, too, is filled from start to finish with the same remarkable level of action that the first movie had already well established, and then some.

Deadly prison brawls and exhausting car chases are only a handful of highlights that break up the wide variety of hand to hand and weapon based combat that make up this masterpiece of action cinema. And no matter how frenetic the action may get, the masterful cinematography captures every hard hit just as elegantly as its pulled back scenery shots, leaving you in awe at the gorgeously gritty images on the screen.

But in addition to its action, the story, too, is expanded upon in ways that truly elevate this series to a whole new level beyond the first. The Raid 2 ups the ante on everything laid out by the first movie, and is a must watch for any fan of action, as this truly is one of the greatest pure action movies ever conceived, and one that'll leave you exhausted by the end in the best way possible.


Edge of Tomorrow

(Doug Liman)

Edge of Tomorrow (or whatever the hell they're calling it these days) may well be the most surprisingly good movie of the whole year. This one just looked like it'd be a pretty generic sci-fi actioner from the previews, and I certainly didn't expect this to also be so chalk full of humor and one of the most cleverly written screenplays this year, but that's precisely what we got.

Many have called this the perfect video game movie with the way it plays out, and that certainly rings true, as we see our main character constantly respawn from the same starting point after he dies or fails his mission, and even rage quitting at one point in the film. And a lot of the humor comes just from some of the different ways that Cruise fails, such as mistiming his roll under a truck while Bill Paxton ridicules his dead corpse.

And Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt absolutely kill it here. Hell, thinking on it in hindsight, Cruise's character in the movie lives this day so many times, all while never really having time to actually rest at all, and the sheer mental fatigue that he displays as such is almost haunting. But Blunt is also quite great in her role, giving us one of the best performances of the whole year in the process. And the two have such great chemistry with one another, which really works to make this film all the more pleasing as a result.

The action's fun too, but while the action may be the star for something like The Raid 2, the clever writing and great characterization is what really transcends this movie to greatness, and makes it one of the best movies to release this year.


Guardians of the Galaxy

(James Gunn)

It's around this point that I realize that my list is made up of quite a bit of action and sci-fi, but what can I say, it was a great year for those genres. And Guardians of the Galaxy was definitely one of the best new entries into the genre of space opera that we've seen in a good long while at that.

I don't really know what else to say about this movie that I haven't already touched upon in depth before, maybe just to emphasize just how touching this movie can actually be, and how its emotional grounding, and the execution of that emotion through elements such as its use of music and tremendous characters, is really what makes this movie stand out as not just a great Marvel or comic book movie, but a genuinely great movie beyond all of that as well.

I love the characters, I love the music, I love the humor, the action, the setting, everything. Marvel took an extremely obscure property and not only created their best outing yet, but they also made such little known characters as Star Lord and Groot become instant fan favorites seemingly overnight with this movie's genuine level of excellence, and that's the real accomplishment here.
Original review.

And now, before we go on to my #1 pick, I'd like to switch gears a bit and take a look at my picks for the Top 5 Worst Movies of 2014. Just as last year, I really didn't see anything that I actually hated, meaning I don't have any real fun rants to write down, so I don't really see much point in making a full blown post out of the worst of the year on their own. So instead I'll just quickly run through them here, but first, some dishonorable mentions go to The Double, The Expendables 3, Laggies, The Purge: Anarchy, and Under the Skin.

My Top 5 Worst Movies of 2014:
#5 - The Monuments Men
#4 - Divergent
#3 - Dumb and Dumber To
#2 - Tusk
#1 - Brick Mansions

There they are, and really, the biggest thing I have against most of those is that they're just really, really freaking stupid. And not even entertainingly so, just mind numbingly, insultingly stupid. Except for Dumb and Dumber To though, oddly enough, which doesn't make the list due to its being dumb (duh), but rather, due to it being such a bizarrely and off-puttingly mean spirited movie, which is something the first one was not at all (and in fact, its stupid innocence probably contributes why it still holds up as a classic comedy to this day). But anyways, now that we've gotten the crap out of the way, onto my pick for the #1 Movie of 2014.



(Christopher Nolan)

Here is a movie that starts off with such small, simple beginnings, and gradually expands in scale to such an incredible degree by the end that it'll leave you mesmerized. As you're watching this movie, you can feel your mind expanding right along with it, until you get to the end, and you're left with a feeling inside that feels as big and infinite as space itself. Interstellar may well be the most epic movie I've ever seen, so much so that it makes me hesitant to use that word to describe any other movie after the fact.

And it's certainly the best paced epically lengthed movie, as its three hour running time fittingly flashes by in absolutely no time. I've sat through this movie three times in theaters so far, and each time I've picked up on so many little details that I missed before that make me just appreciate this movie's clever writing and incredible story arc all the more. The way this movie from the outset uses hard science as a means to explore such a fantastic idea is just fascinating, and the emotional journey that our characters find themselves on is one that'll tear straight at your heart.

This movie is filled with incredible performances from its outstanding ensemble, including surprise appearances that you'll only go on to appreciate more upon subsequent viewings, in which the bigger whole and their thematic importance starts to all come together and make more sense. And its beautiful score and stunning cinematography all contribute to this movie's overall success. This is Nolan's biggest, most ambitious movie to date, and he succeeds in areas where he's never quite been able to attain before in the way this movie will tug at your heart.

I've seen this movie three times, but where other epics may feel almost daunting just thinking about having to sit through them again, this movie is so absolutely phenomenal in every single regard that I could just relive it over and over. And I'm almost certainly going to see it again before it leaves theaters, and gladly so, as it has just recently opened up in our town's true IMAX theater, which is where this movie especially excels. Hell, by the time this thing leaves theaters, it may well have become my own personal Titanic with how many times I've gone to see it. But we'll see, I guess!
Original review.

So there it is, another year down, and another look back at my favorite movies from that year rounded up for you. Like I said, 2014 was a pretty good year, even if the ones I'd actually call great were a little fewer and farther between than usual. But the great ones were absolutely stellar, and definitely worth your time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Most Overrated and Underrated Movies of 2014

So as we approach the end of the year, I thought I'd take a look at a couple of movies that I feel have been either receiving far more praise than they deserve, or in other instances, far more disdain than is honestly warranted. Now, I'm well aware that this is all very objective, and my opinions here likely won't be very popular ones, but what else is new? So with that, let's first take a look at my pick for this year's most overrated movie.

Most Overrated Movie of 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I still really don't understand the high praise this movie receives. Many claim that it's the best of the Marvel releases to date, when in my opinion it's one of the worst. The action, while well choreographed, is extremely sloppily shot and edited, putting all of that awesome choreography to waste. In fact, not long after I saw this movie, The Raid 2 happened to be released, a movie that was filled to the brim with incredibly well shot action sequences, and I couldn't help but find myself thinking afterwards that The Winter Soldier directors, the Russo brothers, should probably take a look at that for an idea on how to properly shoot an action scene.

I know I keep harping on the action in this movie, and that there's more to the movie than just that. But I just can't get over how we got such incredibly creative action scenes in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, only to wind up getting little more than merely a dull and uninspired shoot-em-up for our troubles in this go-around. But even beyond the action, where Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 also addressed and improved upon the other errors present in their predecessors, The Winter Soldier was a step backwards in comparison to The First Avenger in just about every other regard as well.

I dunno, this movie did nothing for me, and after loving the first Captain America and genuinely enjoying the Phase 2 Marvel flicks quite a bit up to this point, The Winter Soldier was quite possibly my most anticipated movie of the year. But it was a monumental let down, and one of the biggest disappointments I've ever sat through in a theater. But ask anyone else, and it's supposedly the best damn Marvel movie to date, which I just can't see myself personally. Sure, there's some occasional humor nicely sprinkled in here and there, and a handful of good character moments, but not nearly enough to even begin to save this flick from mediocrity.
Original review.

Runner-up: Under the Skin

Most Underrated Movie of 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

And on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, here was a movie that people seemed adamant to rally against from the outset, actual quality of the movie be damned. And the outrage towards this movie honestly feels pretty forced to me, as if people went into this movie wanting to hate it (and quite frankly, I feel the same in regards to the outrage directed towards the runner-up below as well). And I feel this way honestly because this movie has received so much more hatred than any of the other three, despite being clearly better than all of them in just about every single aspect.

Outside of its admittedly overlong running time (and in complete contrast to The Winter Soldier), Age of Extinction was a major improvement upon its predecessors, as literally every single other major flaw with the other Transformers movies is not only addressed, but is corrected upon in this particular entry as such. Gone is the cringe inducingly immature humor, and the majority of the film isn't spent with the human characters while the Transformers play second fiddle with more background roles. Here, there's more of an even split between the two, which is far more favorable. And the action scenes are not only filmed coherently, but they remain exciting throughout, as opposed to the bore that we had to slog through in prior installments.

This honestly had every element to make a good Transformers flick that fans have been asking for ever since the first one came out. And yet despite this, fans have actively detested this entry regardless, almost as if they felt obligated to do so. And, really, I just don't understand this mindset. I loathed the third movie, but even so, while I certainly went in with lowered expectations for this one, I still was willing to give it its own shot and judge it based on its own merits. And based on those merits, I came away seeing this as easily the best one yet, and I'm genuinely stumped as to how I'm among the major minority in that regard.

Was it a good movie? Technically, no. But on the contrary, this was just a dumb, fun, harmless action flick that actually responded to many of the major issues that hindered the first three movies, and by absolutely no means was this among the worst movies released this year, either.
Original review.

Runner-up: RoboCop

So there it is, for all of you to kindly disagree with me on! Those are my picks for this year's most overrated and underrated movies. Now keep in mind that neither of these movies are anything that'll be appearing in either my best or worst lists of the year, which I'll be tackling later on. But for the time being, let me know if you agree with my picks here, or if not, what your picks for the most overrated and underrated movies of the year would be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

My issues with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies mirror the same ones I had with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Namely that its not much of a movie on its own, but rather an extended climax sequence to the previous, vastly superior movie. This last overly serious entry in The Hobbit series has had all of the fun sucked out of it, making for an exhausting experience to sit through, and just as it still makes no sense for The Deathly Hallows to have been broken up into two movies, this movie acts as absolute proof that there was no need for this series to be broken up into three.

The movie picks up precisely where the last one left off, opting to use what probably should've been The Desolation of Smaug's climax as a prologue for this movie instead, then proceeding from there as the world goes to war over who can be the greediest group of people. And my numbers are probably off, but this whole thing feels like there's about thirty minutes of set up to two straight hours of action scenes, and man does it get real tiring after a while.

Gone is the fun and whimsy of pretty much every other entry in these Hobbit and Rings flicks, this one is serious business from start to almost finish, before it ends on a real odd note with some misguided comedic nonsense at Bilbo's home in the end that felt so out of place. I seriously would've greatly preferred a more straight forward conclusion, as what we got was hardly what I could describe as anything even remotely satisfying.

But yeah, the humor, other than that odd choice of ending, well, let's just say there where the other Hobbit movies provided for quite a bit of good snark from me, the only opportunity I found here was a single line from Gandalf where he says, "I need a horse!" which I silently responded that they only sell dogs there, to which he, of course, then demanded one large enough to ride on. Yeah, I know that's a grasp, but that was about all the fun I could have with this thing.

Speaking of the actual Hobbit, however, unlike the other two films, he does feel like he plays a bit of a more crucial part throughout the whole thing, rather than just slipping in and out of it so much as with the other movies. But I think that might also have to do with the fact that pretty much every other scene he's not in is mostly just action. And man does the action just go on and on here. Hell, for a lot of the movie, I honestly felt like I was watching someone play the video game version of this flick, as that's how the action came across more often than not with its staging, and lacking any real weight or tension behind its mask of CGI abuse.

And since there is so much action taking over the vast majority of this movie, it leaves little time for much else, which means that character interactions and the like were sacrificed as such. For instance, where as the romance between Tauriel and Kili was probably my favorite aspect of the previous film, here it felt forced, like it didn't really fit in, and I found myself not caring much for it.

And when we start getting some pretty major character deaths near the end, I too found myself not really capable of feeling much for them, as this film on its own does nothing to make me care for them. Sure, perhaps that's what the other two films were for, and perhaps this problem wouldn't exist if you were to watch these movies all at once. But having not watched the other ones in about a year and going into this looking at it as a movie on its own merits, this is a movie that's removed of any form of emotional grounding and ultimately just left me feeling cold.

So yeah, this one really didn't do it for me. This was a pretty lacking conclusion to these Hobbit flicks, and one that really proved that there was absolutely no reason at all for them to be split into three movies. In the end, I still really enjoy The Desolation of Smaug on its own, but for the sake of The Hobbit series as a whole, they really would have been better served just sticking to one or two films, as this is just needlessly excessive.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ninja Kat Backtrack - A Look Inside Velcro: The Green Lion

And now this week will be the last of these Backtrack posts for the time being. This time around we're going to take a look inside the pages of book two of The Ninja Kat series, Velcro: The Green Lion. Just click on the image below to read the first two chapters, and hopefully you've enjoyed these looks back at the Ninja Kat!