What I’ve Watched: August 2014
1. Pacific Rim (2013) - Liked it even more on second viewing. Terrific world building, epic action scenes, beautiful colors and imagery, and smartly realized, archetypal characters that are very easy to root for and care about. One of the best genre movies in years and years, especially impressive considering it’s a new, original property and not a remake, adaptation or spin-off.
2. Sabotage (2014) - A surprisingly grindhouse-y genre bending thriller from David Ayer, who’s seemingly written and/or directed every corrupt cop movie in the last decade. This one is a mix of heist movie, mystery, noir, revenge thriller, western, and even slasher horror, with Arnie leading a gang of paranoid narcs on the take. It’s crass and gory and there really isn’t a likable character in the bunch, but I found myself really enjoying it, if only for the bizarre, unpredictable weirdness of it all. It’s not often I watch a movie where I seriously have no idea what might happen next. It’s also another movie that makes great use of an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m enjoying his comeback even if no one else seems to be.
3. Lucy (2014) - This movie has a dumb premise, but Scarlett Johansson is super watchable and brings some gravity to her role as a normal girl who accidentally achieves godhood. It’s energetic, has a cheeky sense of humor and wraps up tidily in 90 minutes. An enjoyable time waster.
4. The Purge: Anarchy (2014) - I had zero expectations for this one but really loved it. Super tense and politically ballsy action/horror that seems very ‘of the moment’ and relevant. It totally mocks America’s infatuation with guns and general disregard for the poor. A lean, mean, and gritty apocalyptic vision, but not totally without hope. Despite all the carnage, a new family is formed through acts of compassion and mercy.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - Wes Anderson is the antidote to all the samey, sitcom-y American comedies pumped out year after year. This is an aesthetically gorgeous caper film packed with tons of subtle jokes and quirky performances. The cast is like an Expendables of cinematic weirdos and they’re all terrific. Easily one of my favorite films of the year.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) - I wouldn’t have chosen to see this one if it hadn’t been playing in front of Guardians, and I would have been right to avoid it. I don’t think they did a good job making the Turtles likable at all. In fact, Michelangelo is pretty much straight-up creepy, Leonardo has no defining traits whatsoever, and Raphael is a dickhead. Oh, and Donatello wears glasses. The fact that they’re now physically invincible robs the action of any real tension and this version of the origin story is super convoluted and unwieldy. Barely tolerable on the whole.
7. Guardians of Galaxy (2014) - It was worth sitting through TMNT to get to this one. I’m a lifelong comic book reader but I had little experience with these characters on the printed page. James Gunn and company quickly set up this gang of misfits and get us invested in their world. The movie is expertly cast and the actors have terrific chemistry. There is some great action and spectacle, but the humor and heart drive the picture. A very strong contender for best Marvel movie.
8. Review Season 1 - Comedy Bang Bang! MVP Andy Daly excels as Forrest MacNeil, a ‘life reviewer’ who will try out any experience and review it on his low rent TV program. Even the most benign subjects are fodder for dark humor but the show really shines when Forest learns what it’s like to become a drug addict or go through a divorce. Frequently, disturbingly funny but Daly’s insanely likable performance keeps things from ever getting too bleak. Glad to hear this was renewed for a second season.
9. Olympus Has Fallen (2013) - Intense and ultraviolent old school shoot ‘em up with little depth or humor. I found the movie gripping at the time but didn’t necessarily feel good about it afterwards. There is a weird misogynist streak running throughout, including a lengthy scene in which a middle aged woman is beat up by a terrorist. Plus, the North Korean villains are too thinly drawn. This is real jingoist stuff for paranoid xenophobes. Republisploitation, if you will.
10. 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) - There is some cool imagery here on occasion and Eva Green is fearless as a sexy Persian admiral, but the rest of the characters are cardboard and the constant, terrible CGI blood and herky jerky action techniques get old after a while. Also, most of the battles are entirely lacking in tension, with the Greeks easily mowing down the Persians in wave after wave. I think more practical effects and stunts, and more deliberately paced battle sequences would have given the movie an earthier, more visceral feel. I’m not sorry I saw it, but it’s ultimately rather cartoonish and ephemeral.