Once again I’ve gotten very busy and my full blown written reviews have been put on the back burner for the last couple of months, but fear not! I have still been working on weekly video reviews for the cinemaniacs youtube page and I’ve still been doing a little bit of work with my monthly written reviews(see Twelve Years A Slave). These last few months have been an odd and hectic period of my life, but it certainly doesn’t mean I’m out of the review game…but it does mean that some of my content may be coming a little slower. I’m hoping to get reviews out for a few of the major releases this holiday season(The Hobbit, American Hustle, and The Wolf of Wall Street are all top of the list).
To make up for lost time I’ll do a little bit of all of the major movies I’ve caught over the last two months.
The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones
Release August 21
This movie technically falls in the summer category I suppose, but I didn’t catch it until sometime in late September….and sadly my viewing experience was one of those incredibly rare circumstances where I had to leave the theater because of external issues and I didn’t actually finish it until some time in October. Thus is why I’m rounding it into my movies of the fall. The Mortal Instruments looks like just another young adult novel adaption along the lines of Beautiful Creatures, The Twilight Saga, Percy Jackson, and The Hunger Games. By and large I don’t think this movie does a whole lot to break that mold, but I have to give it credit for staying engaging. The movie is of course filled with all the tropes of a YA book adaption. Love Triangle: Check. Obvious and semi-nonsensical Macguffin: Check. Plot Twist you see coming: Check. It’s paint by numbers for much of the story, but I did find the outcome of story and the execution of the movie to be a bit more thought out and enjoyable than the others which is why this one gets a redbox recommendation opposed to total trash(such as Twilight and Beautiful Creatures).
Overall Score: 5.5
Release: September 6
I went into Riddick expecting a really fun sci-fi action flick, and what I got was just that only in a far more juvenile manner than I was expecting. The dialog in this script was absolutely awful as it featured some of the worst(and pointlessly juvenile) lines I’ve heard in recent memory(Riddick jokes about going balls deep with the lesbian). The story was super basic and the premise of bounty hunters hunting the ultimate bounty hunter seemed like the perfect premise for and flawlessly fun movie. To some degree this movie delivers the fun, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the entire movie could have been significantly better. It was a fun and visually pleasing ride, but I can hardly call it a victory for the franchise. If you’re looking for a fun way to pass the time and have a $1.50 this is the perfect redbox treat.
Overall Score: 5.0
Insidious Chapter 2
Release: September 13
Insidious was a pretty good horror movie. I’m not among the legions of fans who thought it was the best horror movie made over the last decade, but I found it to be a creepy and respectable horror movie. Insidious Chapter 2 is a worthy follow up to its predecessor as it continues the story of the first film in the most natural way you would expect. The movie is parts Nightmare on Elm Street and The Shining with its story about people who must dive into dreams and a father slowly going further and further into insanity. It’s a fun sequel that captures the dark and spooky atmosphere of the first film and feels less like a sequel and more like a continuation of the same film. Like the first film, I’d say its an effective horror movie that’s not breaking any new ground, but is doing some very interesting things that make for some shaky entertainment.
Overall Score: 7.0
Release: September 20
Prisoners is a movie that frequently plays at being something great, but just never quite pushes itself over the edge. The movie has truly exceptional acting with Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Melissa Leo all delivering drop dead fantastic performances., Roger Deakins brings his impeccable eye for visuals to deliver a feast for the eyes, and the story has enough suspense to remain engaging for it’s entire two and a half hour runtime. All of these things work spectacularly, but at the end of the movie I didn’t have the sense that I had just seen a great movie, but rather a movie that was trying really hard to convince the world it was a really great movie. I all felt a little bit hollow. With all of its great execution and directorial choices, it was missing something crucial which was a script that knew exactly what it was trying to do. In the end the movie seems a little misguided and a bit pretentious(a trait that I don’t always think is a bad thing) as it leaves the audience with a miserably pointless cliffhanger that doesn’t actually give room for any real audience interpretation. I am being hard on this movie, but I actually really enjoyed and thought it was a fine viewing experience…it just wasn’t quite the experience it wanted itself to be.
Overall Score: 8.5
Release: September 27
I did some analysis on Don Jon earlier this year, but I failed to give it a review. Having already written my interpretation of the film, I’ll keep this one brief. This is an excellent study of relationships and how the expectations that we(society) put on them is ultimately what is driving many of them into the ground. Joseph Gordon Levitt does a fine job in his directorial debut by offsetting the touchiness of I think tackles this subject just as it should be: directly, but lightly. Scarlett Johannson also does a great job in her turn as the girlfriend who has some fantasizing issues of her own. Overall I think this is an absolute must see this year for anyone who wants to take the issue of pornography, relationships, and unreasonable expectations seriously.
Overall Score: 9.0
Release: October 4
Gravity is a really good movie that also happens to be an incredible experience in IMAX 3D. The story is actually a pretty simple(with some excellent an well placed symbolism for some added depth) story of survival in space. It’s not the story that makes this movie work, but is rather the technical execution that brings you seamlessly into Dr. Stone’s struggle fighting all the obstacles that are thrown her way. The movie utilizes Alfonso Cauron’s trademark long shots for maximum impact with the opening 20 minutes of the film never cutting away from the action. There have been a small handful of movies that truly utilize 3D, but Gravity takes the cake hands down for demonstrating exactly how the technology can not only enhance the experience, but also bring more emotional stakes to the audience. This is a good movie; one that deserves to be seen by everyone, but there will definitely be something you’ll miss if you didn’t catch it in the full IMAX experience.
Overall Score: 10
The Escape Plan
Release: October 18
The Escape Plan was another one of Stallone’s attempts to bring back the 80s style action movie. What sets this movie apart from his other attempts is his teaming with his old rival Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie is really hit or miss with some throwbacks being a lot of fun and others painstaking bad. Jim Caviezel actually turns in one of my favorite performances of the movie as a subdued yet over the top warden that is every bit is attempt at a Bond villain. The movie ends up being a lot of fun even if it doesn’t do anything particularly surprising or memorable. This is yet another movie this fall that will make a fun redbox on one of your down evenings during the week.
Overall Score: 6.0
Release: October 18
The remake of Carrie is just that….a remake. It plays things very safe and is less a re-adaptation of King’s novel and more a scene by scene remake of the 1976 film. Chloe Grace Mortez and Julianne Moore are mostly wasted talents in this picture. Despite having a great cast, director, and scribe, the movie just doesn’t fall together and feels lazy, clunky, and churned out. To it’s credit, it delivers spectacularly with it’s adrenaline filled prom sequence which is so impressive that the movie almost warrants a viewing solely for the five or so minute sequence. Overall it’s passable as a film for those who are still virgin to the 1976 film, but otherwise is an assembled, paint by the numbers remake of a much better movie based on an even greater novel.
Overall Score: 5.0
All Is Lost
Release: By Demand
All is Lost is essentially a more dramatic Castaway on a boat lost at sea with even less dialog and no Wilson. Robert Redford leads the movie as the only person to appear on screen with less than 15 or so lines of dialog for the film’s entire 100 minute runtime. Redford gives a marvelous and disparaging turn as the nameless captain who is fighting to hold onto every last bit of hope he can muster despite his increasingly hopeless situation. It takes a true master to remain engaging with hardly any words said, and Redford continues to express exactly why he is a name in the business. This is the movie that dangles hope in front of you, only to kick you when you’re down only to dangle that hope even closer until the film is over. It’s relentless and incredibly effective. All Is Lost is not a movie that will be remembered by many(including the academy), but it’s a tale and performance that’s worth looking at.
Overall Score: 9.0
Release: November 1
I’ve heard plenty of hype and acclaim thrown at Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” over the years and I’m glad to say that the story lived up to every bit of it. I still haven’t finished the novel, but I was blown away by the recent adaption to the big screen which brought Harrison Ford back to the big screen to train an army led by Asa Butterfield as Ender. Like its source material, the movie is very accessible and easy to view. But what sets Ender’s Game above all of the other adaptions is its ability to stay watchable while also presenting some very interesting questions about philosophy, morality, and human rights…all without having to defer from the main plot that is driving the characters. It’s a crime that this movie didn’t hit it big, as I think it may be the best sci-fi to hit theaters so far. Overall Ender’s Game is a must see and a real gem for sci-fi fans.
Overall Score: 8.5
Thor: The Dark World
Release: November 8
Oh Marvel…you once tasted so fresh and nutritious… Thor: The Dark World is the next chapter of Marvel’s cinematic universe and despite having some rather enjoyable moments..this movie feels like just another product by the Marvel Machine. This movie isn’t bad….but it does nothing to shake up the Marvel formula(at two movies a year….it’s starting to wear thin). Chris Hemsworth still does great despite having little to do, Natalie Portman is still wasted(and her romance even less believable), and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is still the real king of the show. At best, this movie is a lot of fun, but at worst I feel like everyone is just cashing a paycheck. The villain Malekith may be the weakest and biggest throw away villain of any superhero movie I’ve seen in the last five years. Despite the flaws, the movie delivers a great sense of humor and some beautiful and exciting action set pieces. In the end Thor 2 is not a “bad” movie, but it just lacks any real creative notions or ideas. This is Marvel pumping out another movie based on their tried and true formula. This was once exciting, but has become stale and run of the mill. Overall Thor: The Dark World is a fun watch that I think fans should see because it’s the next chapter of Marvel, but in the coming years I believe we’ll be hard pressed to remember exactly what the point of this sequel was.
Overall Score: 6.5
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Release: November 22
Catching Fire is essentially The Empire Strikes Back of the Hunger Games saga in a very good way. The first film was fine, but not particularly great. Catching Fire, however, plays at being something better than just another sequel to a popular franchise. The tone is darker, the stakes are higher and more personal, and even the production values are stronger. This is a superior movie in every way to its predecessor with only a few of the past film’s flaws carrying over. The themes of revolution, consequences, and unity all run strong in the story and leave enough questions on the table to leave room for some fun discussion. The actors are all upping their game with stronger performances(and quite frankly a much better script to read from), but Josh Hutcherson remains the weak link. The first film failed to sell why we or Katniss should love Peeta and unfortunately this film doesn’t do the character any more favors. I believe most of this can be attributed to the script, however, the “meh” performance isn’t helping things. This may seem nitpicky, but Peeta and his relationship with Katniss is absolutely key to the events of the future. Overall Catching Fire is a really impressive follow-up to 2012’s smash hit that sets a new tone that is stronger and more powerful than what was demonstrated in the first film.
Overall Score: 8.0
Inside Llewyn Davis
Release: December 6
We’ve missed you Joel and Ethan Coen. It’s been a few years and we’re glad to finally have your odd and inspiring direction back on the big screen. Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a folk singer a couple of weeks of his life…and that’s a bout it. What makes it great is its ability so articulate this man’s struggle despite the fat that he’s actually a horribly unlikable person who has moments of hope and triumph, but ultimately never quite reaches his potential to succeed as a musician. The Coen Brothers are working with their mellow voice in this picture with the soft focus on nearly the entire film, the quiet and impressive soundtrack, and story which doesn’t really make a statement as much as it is just showing us a “week in the life”. This movie works from top to bottom with great visual flair, excellent performances, and the always odd and hilarious Coen Brothers sense of humor. You’ll be tempted to let this one fly under the radar this year, but I can’t recommend this movie enough if you’re a fan of film or folk music. Llewyn Davis is a folk song if it was transformed into film.
Overall score: 9.0
I definitely missed a few must sees of the fall(Frozen, Dallas Buyers Club), but I’m going to make a push this holiday season to get full reviews for at least 3 of the heavyweights(The Hobbit, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Out of the Furnace, Her, Walter Mitty, or Anchorman 2).