Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume V

I’d like to believe that every movie gets a fair shake with me and they all start out on a level playing field. Every time I sit down to watch a movie, I’m rooting for it to succeed. But in reality, we all go into every movie with different sets of expectations. We anticipate that Movie A will be awesome or that Movie B can’t possibly be awesome.

If we’re lazy, those expectations turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes, lowered expectations work to a movie’s advantage and high hopes can be left unfulfilled. Unfortunately, the latter is the case with most of today’s movies. About half of them were major disappointments. As for the rest, I didn’t really expect much and that’s exactly what I got. They’re this year’s fast food movies, consumed and forgotten quickly.

Usually if your hopes are too high for a movie, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. But in this case, Christopher Nolan shoulders some of the responsibility. Keeping the movie cloaked in an unnecessary shroud of  secrecy and proudly touting the movie’s scientific accuracy primed audiences to expect the greatest science fiction film since 2001 (the movie). It isn’t even the greatest science fiction film since 2001 (the year). It’s OK but while Nolan was busy sweating out the technical details, he overlooked some fundamental storytelling flaws that sank the entire endeavor for me. This is a swing and a miss from the usually reliable filmmaker.

The Congress
Ari Folman’s partially animated sci-fi head trip stars Robin Wright as Robin Wright, an actress who signs control of her virtual self over to a movie studio. The movie has some great ideas and stunningly beautiful animation, especially in its second half. But those ideas end up having very little to do with its ponderous set-up which isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is. This is an interesting misfire but make no mistake, it is very much a misfire.

The grizzling of Liam Neeson continues with this utterly ridiculous airplane thriller. A wildly overqualified supporting cast (including Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyong’o) help make this bucket of cheesy corn go down easy but you’ll never once lose sight of just how ludicrous this movie is. It’s a reasonably diverting but forgettable way to spend 106 minutes on a rainy Sunday.

Only Lovers Left Alive
I’m a big Jim Jarmusch fan, so I was surprised that his moody vampire flick didn’t really do anything for me. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are fine, if a little one-note, as the immortal lovers. Their been-there, done-that attitude extends to the movie itself, resulting in a movie that feels a lot longer than it really is. It briefly comes to life when Mia Wasikowska and Jeffrey Wright are on screen but not enough to overcome the dead weight at its center. This is one of Jarmusch’s art-snobbiest efforts, a movie seemingly designed to show off how much smarter it is than you are.

300: Rise Of An Empire
Audiences were blessed with not one but two sequels nobody asked for to Frank Miller properties this year. I haven’t seen the Sin City follow-up yet but if it’s anything like this, it provides more of the same with slightly diminished returns. There are some OK moments in here and Eva Green is a lot of fun, although it’d be really nice if somebody could cast her in a legitimately good movie for a change.

How To Train Your Dragon 2
Speaking of more of the same. The first Dragon movie was a pleasant surprise and a big hit, so I can’t say I’m surprised that the sequel does nothing to shake up the formula. But it’s not like that first movie was some sort of modern classic, either. I don’t really understand why these movies are so acclaimed. To me, they’re textbook examples of movies that seem like they could have been much, much worse.

We’ll stop here today. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about the rest of 2014’s movies. Come on back tomorrow for my least favorite movies of the year! Hopefully they’ll be more fun to write about than they were to watch.

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