I haven’t done a Movie Notes post in a long time (since July 2013 by my count!) and I’ve seen a lot of flicks since the last time I did one. So many that I doubt I’ll be able to remember them all. But here’s some brief thoughts on those I do remember.
Foxcatcher – A biopic about Olympic gold medal winning wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz and eccentric billionaire John du Pont who commissions the brothers to help coach a wrestling team (Team Foxcatcher so named for the farm du Pont lives on in Pennsylvania) to Olympic Gold in the 1988 games. Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carrell all play their parts brilliantly. If the real du Pont was anything like Carrell portrayed him then he was a scary dude (I actually know a girl who worked for the du Pont family down in Delaware and she claimed to have been held hostage by them. I never believed her but after seeing this film her story was entirely plausible). This film shows how wealth fuels entitlement, which in turn feeds depravity. It also shows how crippling insecurity can truly be and how easy it is to take advantage of emotional cripples.
American Sniper – Another biopic; this one about U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (convincingly portrayed by Bradley Cooper) who was a cowboy turned SEAL after seeing the events of 1998 US Embassy bombings. Whatever one’s politics, Kyle was a man who saved countless American lives, both in and out of the theater of war, and this movie shows how complicated war can be. Complicated not just on the field of battle, but also when combatants return home and have to adjust to regular life, a process that was difficult for Kyle. Having known nothing about the real man the ending was a total shock.
The Interview – This was a slightly different twist on the buddy film. We’ve seen comedic teams pair up to do secretive spy stuff before (I Spy with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson comes to mind) but never, to my knowledge, was the team tasked with assassinating a character that exists in real life. Seth Rogen and James Franco have a certain chemistry on screen that’s hard to match. They were responsible for one of my top 3 funniest movies of all time (Pineapple Express), and while this one doesn’t live up to that hype, there were still plenty of funny moments. I think what I enjoyed most was the sheer ridiculousness of it all. There’s no way that any of the events depicted would or even could take place and they embrace that. It’s campy in all the right ways but it does surprisingly have an underlying message, namely that empowering people for democracy is the better alternative to assassinating dictators.
Chef – This film was written and directed by John Favreau who plays Chef Carl Casper, a once trendsetting chef who is still passionate and innovative but has been stifled creatively by the owner (played by Dustin Hoffman) of the restaurant whose kitchen he runs. Combine this with a devastating review from a blogging/tweeting food critic (Oliver Platt) and Chef Casper has a meltdown, which leads him to start up a food truck with the help of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), son (Emjay Anthony), and former line cook (John Leguizamo). As someone who cooked for a living at one point in my life I greatly appreciated how authentic the portrayal of restaurant life and cooking was in this film. It doesn’t hurt that all of the actors turned in great performances as well.
Gimme Shelter – Yet another biopic. Vanessa Hudgens plays Agnes “Apple” Bailey, who was a teen that had been through the system and seen all of the worst abuses that it had to offer. After running away from her drug addicted and terribly abusive mother (Rosario Dawson) to search out her biological father (Brendan Fraser), Apple is met with hostility by her new found step-mother. She ends up encountering a priest (James Earl Jones) who sets her up in a shelter for young mothers (yes, Apple was pregnant). The story of the shelter and the woman (Ann Dowd) running it was familiar, reminding me of the story of how Teen Challenge was born from David Wilkerson’s ministry in New York City. The story is uplifting and hopeful, showing how Jesus’ ethics triumph when put into practice, but the film is marred by a over-acted performance by Hudgens. Dawson’s inspired performance helped to redeem the film a bit though.
Locke – In the course of a drive from Birmingham to London, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) loses his job and family as he goes to be present for the birth of his child conceived during a one night stand. The entire film is Locke in the car making and receiving various phone calls from his employer, co-workers, wife, children, and the mother-to-be (while arguing with the ghost of his father). Hardy is genius. How he was able to play such a complex role basically by himself is beyond me. I was most taken by the inconsistency of his character though. Here is a man who decides to “do the right thing” and be there for the birth of his illegitimate child because he “caused it” and didn’t want it coming into the world without a father; a man who even after losing his job makes all the necessary arrangements to see that the job gets done the right way in his absence; and yet the same man pleads with his wife that this is the “only time” he’s made a “mistake” and he expects forgiveness because it’s not a regular thing.
And now to abbreviate things quite a bit…
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – Lame. Not nearly as funny as the first. When will they learn to leave classics alone?
American Hustle – Loved it. Amy Adams played her part so well that I never quite knew who exactly it was that was getting hustled. Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale were also perfect in their roles. Jennifer Lawrence? Meh.
The Wolf of Wall Street – Certain folks wondered how I, as a Christian, could watch this movie. Funnily enough, the whole point of the film was sympathetic to one of the chief realizations that direct people’s attention to Christ; namely that excess (all the money, women, and drugs one can handle in this case) is never enough. Satisfaction will never be found in material gain.
RoboCop – A surprisingly good remake. Well, not that surprising. Technology being what it is we’d expect to see some advancements on such a technologically driven movie.
The Drop – Flashes of brutality invade a seemingly mundane existence as a couple of cousins who tend bar at a mob owned bar are robbed and have to deal with the fallout. The ending blew my mind. Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini turned in great performances.
The Captive – A disturbing film about the kidnapping of a young girl who is abducted by an underground ring of pedophiles that broadcasts live streams of her on the internet and uses her as she gets older to recruit other young girls for their purposes. The film is not graphic (thank God!) but the reach that these monsters have and the lengths they go to to get their fix is terrifying.
Joe – Nicholas Cage plays Joe, a man who had a checkered past, who owns a tree killing business. He employs a troubled kid and serves as something of a mentor. It’s funny because Joe is depicted as a “good man” even though he sleeps with prostitutes, drinks excessively, and is violent.
The Expendables 3 – Not as good as the first; better than the second. All the great choreographed action you’ve come to expect from these flicks.
The Equalizer – Of the ex-CIA turned low key citizen type flicks I’ve seen, this one rates at the top. Good plot; great action; and who doesn’t love Denzel Washington?
Lucy – Incredibly stupid. Couldn’t make it through the whole thing. This was a lame attempt to make The Celestine Prophecy pseudoscientific and action packed.
Gone Girl – Boring. Really boring. Affleck and Pike play sociopaths, or so I gather. Their disdain for one another is palpable but the lengths they go to to hurt each other is ludicrous. And everyone in the movie is super-fake and really weird at pretty much all times.
A Walk Among the Tombstones – Reminiscent of Suicide Kings only without good acting. Just another run-of-the-mill whodunnit.
22 Jump Street – Funny but not nearly as funny as the first one.
Afflicted – A different take on vampirism. I appreciate the idea but the execution could have been better (it was done camcorder documentary style).
Bad Words – Funny despite its weak plot.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Disappointing considering how good Rise of the Planet of the Apes was. I didn’t get the feeling that anyone actually wanted to be in this movie. Didn’t care for the plot and the acting was phoned in.
Dracula Untold – An interesting twist to the Count Dracula mythology. Can’t say that it was a great flick; but it’s not the worst I’ve seen. They definitely overdid it with the turning into a swarm of bats effect.
Draft Day – Surprisingly good. Kevin Costner managed not to bore me to tears as he navigated his way through a ton of negotiations on NFL draft day.
Godzilla – Very well done. They made Godzilla look like Godzilla and not some dumb dinosaur. Fans of the original films will appreciate this one.
Gravity – Not nearly as good as the trailer made it look. Sandra Bullock floating in space and at times hallucinating. It was what it was.
Night Crawler – A scary tale about how far a socially awkward yet highly intelligent and highly motivated creep will go to get ahead.
Wolf Creek 2 – Stupid. Should have quit after the first one.
Willow Creek – A couple in search of Big Foot end up finding him, or rather he finds them. It doesn’t end well. Short movie. Not quite sure it was worth 80 minutes of my life.
Step Up: All In – I like dancing movies. Sue me. I thought it was choreographed very well. The stories are never anything to write home about but that’s not why we watch movies like this.
Like I said, I know I’ve seen more, but I can’t remember them all. When I do I’ll offer some further notes.