2014 Reviews

ALAN PARTRIDGE (***) Steve Coogan takes his little-known small screen character to the big one here, this time out taken under hostage by a recently-fired rellow radio host at their radio station. It's not as hysterical as the one TV episode I saw, but Coogan is a riot and it's enough of what the doctor ordered.

 

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (***) Whelp, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have the best chemistry that any superhero movie has ever even imagined having, so that alone makes the movie worth checking out.  You just might wanna consider it a romance rather than an action flick, cuz as an action flick it's mid-level.

 

AMERICAN SNIPER (***1/2) Alright, alright...  Clint Eastwood FINALLY made a very good movie, I've gotta give it to him...  Bradley Cooper is very good in this true story about an especially gifted sniper who has trouble adjusting to life back home post-sniperdom.  And yeah, it's a rather well-crafted tale, with some stellar scenes.  BUT... it didn't fully knock my socks off, and I personally would not nominate it for best picture or actor.

 

BAD WORDS (***1/2) Jason Bateman stars as a guy who takes advantage of a loophole in the rules to be able to compete in a national spelling bee for kids. Hysterical and eminently watchable. That's all I have to say. Kudos to Bateman for his directorial debut!

 

BIG HERO 6 (***1/2) Delightful Disney animated movie about robots & child superheroes!  Go if that's your thing! :)

 

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (****) This is absolutely the best movie I have seen in 6 years, and unlike anything I have ever seen before.  It will NOT be for everybody, and I LOVE that about it.  But it WILL be for most people - and I STRONGLY encourage everyone to see it!!  Michael Keaton turns in, without a doubt, the performance of his career as a former superhero star trying to revamp his career by adapting, directing & starring in a Broadway production.  A marvelous technical achievement featuring constant anxiety-inducing drums, side-swiping symbolism, and a seemingly continuous take for virtually the entire film, this is a movie to fully experience and then unpack for days, weeks, months even.  I can't wait to dissect it further someday, and have conversations about it.

 

BOYHOOD (***1/2) No rating can possibly feel correct for this movie, as there are so many things wrong and so many things brilliant about it.  Top wrong thing: Ethan Hawke gives the only good performance in this nearly 3 hour film.  Top brilliant thing: the film's patient, fly-on-the-wall window into the growing up of its protagonist (from 5 to 18) is unlike anything ever accomplished before, and thus inherently interesting.  Hard to predict who will like this movie (it's one of the most polarizing in some time), but if it interests you, you'll probably like it.

 

CAKE (***) Jennifer Aniston does better work than I ever expected her to do as a woman who has suffered a serious tragedy, and is struggling to cope with it, with varying success and attitude.  Wonderful performances top to bottom save what is on the verge of schmaltz.

 

CALVARY (***) After being threatened with murder during a confession, the local priest in a small Irish town (Brendan Gleeson) faces his demons and those of his town.  It feels a bit tedious at times, but the palate of this stark, cold, brooding film is enthralling, and Gleeson is, as always, flat-out magnetic.

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (***1/2) This is the best Marvel movie I've seen, more like a Mission: Impossible- esque spy thriller, replete with double-crossing and a healthy share of mystery. It's still a splashy superhero flick that's not as taut as a Mission: Impossible surely, but for a superhero movie (which I'm growing quite tired of), it's quite well assembled. Buckle up for some great, smart thrills.

 

CHEF (***1/2) Jon Favreau wrote, directed, and stars in this gem about the trials & tribulations of a chef who struggles with the balance between making a valuable living and staying true to his passionate craft.  Throw in an ex-wife and a son who feels overlooked, and you've got a complete movie, rife with laughs and a few sappy tears.  It's clearly all a metaphor for any artistic pursuit, probably Favreau's specifically (is someone tired of making Iron Mans?), and I LIKE that about it.  It's quite a little confection :)

 

COLD IN JULY (***) Dexter's Michael C. Hall stars in this relatively taut thriller about a guy who kills an intruder in his house and winds up sucked down the rabbit hole of some sticky lies & violence.  Sam Shepard has a terrific supporting turn, the sound & lighting create an engrossing world, and the first half or so are terrific.  But then the plot goes down the less interesting path and the movie loses its primary draw.

 

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (***1/2) This was actually a terrific movie!  If you're looking for an action flick with brains that'll successfully suck you in with its healthy balance of dynamic characters and suspense, this is the summer movie for you.  Surprise!

 

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (***) I saw this with a rowdy opening-night crowd in Century City, LA.  Given my undiscerning ears, this was a mistake, as I missed MANY jokes (many of which were bound to go over my head anyway, given how little I know about pop culture and race relations).  But I really enjoyed the parts & elements of the movie that I received.  It appears to be a very funny & quite poignant social commentary.

 

THE DROP (***) Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini do what they routinely do in this Brooklyn-set crime drama.  It's moderately engaging, but doesn't add up to as much as you'd like.  Gandolfini does fine work in his final role, but I'd prefer to think of last year's Enough Said as his swan song.

 

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (**) I'm so glad that I had heard how bad this movie was going into it, because that allowed me to just sit and enjoy it for the crap that it was.  Jim Carrey & Jeff Daniels do everything they can to lift this garbage script out of the gutter, and at times they actually succeed.  And all the while, as bad as it got for much of it, I somehow actually enjoyed shaking my head at the stupidity of the "jokes".  It's legitimately bearable, so go ahead & bear if it you so desire :)

 

ENEMY (***) Denis Villeneuve, the atmospheric director of 2013's great Prisoners, proves yet again that he can use the art of cinemas to enthrall an audience. And this time out he proves it even more fully, because here he somehow makes an unnecessarily disorienting and ultimately empty story captivating. I spent the entire movie loving it, but by the end (the very very end, wait for it...) felt cheated of anything complete or fully investigated. Jake Gyllenhaal (as a man who discovers another man who looks & sounds EXACTLY like him, and just doesn't know what to do about it) gives the best performance of his career. But... what the f**k is going on???

 

FOXCATCHER (***) This is the "Steve Carell as a wrestling coach with a prosthetic nose" movie.  He's terrific in it and will deservedly be nominated Best Actor.  He not only disappears into something we've never seen him do before, he also brings a volcanic depth and tons of texture to this wild (and true) nutcase character.  Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo also shine as the brother wrestlers he works with, and the film has a hypnotically dark aura to it that's nice to sit with.  Unfortunately it's a little too slow and dull and never quite boils over.  But it's a quality film worth checking out.

 

FRANK (***) Dweebie underachieving musician Domhnall Gleeson finds himself as the new keyboardist for a hip, interesting, but ultimately wheel-spinning alternative band led by a man who is constantly clad in a giant papier-mache head (Michael Fassbender, as Frank).  It's quite a bit meandery and doesn't add up to a whole heck of a lot, but Gleeson keeps it alive, and there's enough uniquely tender material here to warrent a look.

 

FURY (**1/2) World War II movie with Brad Pitt and a fine ensemble.  It's constantly good and never great.  Go if you feel like it, but DON'T feel like you need to.

 

GET ON UP (**1/2) Your typical 21st century biopic - scientifically engineered to "move" us and be a platform for an "Oscar-worthy" lead performance.  And, well, Chadwick Boseman is actually quite good as the one & only James Brown, and I was moved a number of times, and I did learn plenty of interesting things about this unique man & life.  But overall, it's long & tedious & not terribly impressive.  Standard fare.

 

GLORIA (***1/2) If the last scene had not been so divinely simple & simply divine, I might have given this movie 3 stars. But as it is, this simple Spanish movie about a 60-something year old woman named Gloria taking life by the horns signed off in soaring style. Doesn't hurt that the movie had me smiling ear to ear for much of it. (Though be warned: other times I was almost asleep, as it flirts with being too simple.)

 

GOD'S POCKET (**) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, and John Turturro star in this aimless crime drama set in God's Pocket, a working class ratty neighborhood in god knows what state but probably NY, NJ, or PA.  Crime & murder happen, people are depressed and desperate, and the film kinda goes nowhere.  Well, there's a plot, to be sure; but each character is so poorly fleshed out, each scene is so thoughtlessly constructed, and the dialogue is so inhuman, that it's hard to care about anything.  A true disappointment, seeing as this is one of Hoffman's few remaining films in the can.  But, despite that (and despite the fact that Hoffman is rather good in it; the acting earns it the two stars it gets), I would certainly encourage you to skip it.

 

GODZILLA (**1/2) Some really cool monster stuff.  A few chilling moments of groundbreaking filmmaking.  But overall a whole lot of typical plodding-along in lieu of an interesting plot.  That's all I really have to say about this one.

 

GONE GIRL (****) Very happy to have chosen this twisty thriller as my 2,000th movie ever!  (Footnote: director David Fincher also directed my 1,000th movie Panic Room; hes' come a long way since then...)  Ben Affleck does the best work of his career (as the husband of a missing wife, and lead suspect in her disappearance and potential murder), and yet he's the weakest link - THAT's how good this movie is.  Rosamund Pike is exquisite as the mysterious wife, and this is the most Hitchcockian movie I've seen in ages.

 

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (***1/2) This might just be my second favorite Wes Anderson movie, after The Royal Tenenbaums . Ralph Fiennes plays the manager of a hotel, part of a grander hotel network, which sets the landscape for some grand frothy fun filled with Anderson's broadest slate of colorful characters yet. The cast is terrific, the palate dazzles, and I had an absolute blast. It doesn't have quite the heart that Tenenbaums has, but it's Anderson's frothiest and most madcap, which is a pure treat.

 

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (***) This is the fun & silly version of a Marvel superhero movie, which is so refreshing to see!  I'm so glad that this movie was made in the wave of today's overflow of superhero movies, and that hordes of folks are seeing it.  I think it will open the eyes of today's youth to some more possibilities of what movies can be.  That said, I didn't find it as funny or, well, good as people seem to think it is.  I found too much of the plot & too many of the jokes to be just standard predictable fare.  BUT, totally fun times, and Chris Pratt is a sheer joy to watch - he always is, but to see him in a hero role like this was a unique delight.

 

THE GUEST (**1/2) Somehow this got 93% on rottentomatoes, which is more shocking to me than anything in this movie.  It's a semi-campy horror film that doesn't quite land as camp, or horror, or drama, or anything really.  It's sufficiently suspenseful to have a pretty good time, but nothing to write home about.

 

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (**1/2) This is definitively the most dull of the Hobbits...  I can't give it less than **1/2 because of the inherent sheer marvel of Peter Jackson's worlds.  But by this point in the story, we're just watching one moment after another of random characters I don't really remember from the previous movies saying melodramatic things to each other about some sort of impending doom that I've ceased to understand, because this story has been on pause for so god damn long.  Skip it unless you've just *gotta* see it...

 

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 (***1/2) The story picks up where we left off, and continues to deliver. I had a great time, and am very eager to see how the game ends!

 

THE IMITATION GAME (***1/2) The fascinating true story of the socially awkward but mathematically brilliant Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who cracked the Nazi codes during WWII.  It's not stunning and therefore mildly overrated, but Cumberbatch is outstanding and it's a very interesting story to watch unfold.

 

THE IMMIGRANT (**) Marion Cotillard stars as a Polish immigrant doing everything she can to get her sister out of hopital-holding on Ellis Island and them both into America, and the two at-odds men (Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner) who each want to help her - or possibly just sleep with her?  I feel bad giving this impresive film such a poor review, because the acting was outstanding and it's a harrowing story.  But it just doesn't feel right to give any more than two stars to a movie that left me that phenomenally bored.  Some of you will inevitably love it and think less of me for not; others of you will regret it if you don't heed my advice to not bother.

 

INHERENT VICE (**1/2) Sadly, this is my least favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie, which isn't saying much.  It's an LA-in-the-70's-set noir comedy hazily told through the lens of its high detective protagonist (Joaquin Phoenix).  I can buy the excuse that the movie is intentionally confusing and lethargic, as that is how a high detective would experience this story; but ultimately I didn't experience the visceral excitement of that meta choice, but rather... mere confusion and lethargy.  Bonus points though for some great scenes & performances.

 

INTERSTELLAR (***1/2) What a picture.  I'm still procesing it.  This outer-space adventure drama is far from flawless, but I think those flaws are mostly requisite collatoral damage when an auteur aims his guns at something as lofty as what writer/director Christopher Nolan achieved here.  It's a whopping 2 hours & 45 minutes, so be sure to pee first and buckle up; but the highlights are super duper high, and you'll be glad you enjoyed the ride on the big screen.

 

INTO THE WOODS (***) A perfectly sufficient and enjoyable, but ultimately safe and unsurprising, rendition of the beloved musical - itself a daring mash-up of classic fairy tales.

 

JOHN WICK (***) Entertainment Weekly put it well:  A broken clock is still right twice a day; same goes for Keanu Reeves' acting & career.  EW loved this flick about as much as Speed or The Matrix .  I wouldn't go that far at all, but it is certainly a well-made, slick hitmen action flick, and one from which Keanu's automaton-like essence doesn't distract.  Go if you feel like some mindless fun.

 

THE JUDGE (***) After the tepid reviews, I was pleasantly surprised by this drama about a judge (Robert Duvall) on trial for vehicular manslaughter and his hotshot lawyer son (Robert Downey Jr.) thrust into the position of defending him.  It's schmaltzy and hackneyed, but the story actually works, and it's electric to watch these two vets light up the screen together.

 

LE WEEK-END (***1/2) Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan star as a couple who take a trip to Paris for their 30th wedding anniversary, at a time in their relationship when both love and friction are as alive as they've ever been. It's like a Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight about sexagenarians. Broadbent and Duncan give two delectable performances that remind me how beautifully full and dynamic acting can be. For those who love relationship dramedies, GO!

 

THE LEGO MOVIE (***1/2) This might be the best 3 & a half star movie of all time - wildly imaginative & flat-out hysterical. It's like Toy Story on crack. And by the end, it's a thing of cinematic beauty. You MUST go see it - literally any age will LOVE every second of it!!!

 

LOCKE (***) The whole movie takes place in a car with the movie's only actor, the brilliant Tom Hardy, as he fields many phone calls, trying to remedy the most shattering conflict of his life.  It's a bold proposition, and the movie somehow works quite well almost on account of its limitations rather than in spite of them.  But I will say that it was not quite as engrossing as I had wished.

 

LOVE IS STRANGE (**) The John Lithgow / Alfred Molina gay drama.  I can not BELIEVE that this movie got an A from Entertainment Weekly and a 92% on rottentomatoes.  It feels blatantly like a roughly strewn together first draft of something that could have been great.  Instead, mostly wooden dialogue is trickled out by mostly uninvested actors.  Molina is terrific, and Marisa Tomei, as their daughter-in-law helping them through some tough times, has moments of greatness.  But most of the supporting players are garbage, and Lithgow does perhaps the worst work I've seen him do.  The potential that I saw and shards of quality earn this **, but overall: don't believe the hype.

 

MR. TURNER (**) Ok.  I understand that there is value in slow, meticulous, looooong movies about real people.  I understand that there is a lot of beauty to behold in a film like this, and that many have...beheld it.  But oh. my. WORD was I bored.  Sure, Timothy Spall was terrific as the painter.  But I was even better as the napper in the sixth row.

 

THE MONUMENTS MEN (**) What an aggressively disappointing movie! The true(ish?) story of a bunch of art fanatics who gather to form a team of WWII US "soldiers" who will go into Europe & salvage at-risk great works of art, this movie has all the pieces of a great movie (including a terrific cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, & many more). But sadly, the writing falls flat, and director Clooney just never found the footing to lift it off the ground. It meanders & lands... nowhere. Great moments, but not enough to amount to anything monumental.

 

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (***) This story has a lot of cinematic potential, only some of which was realized here.  Oscar Isaac is terrific as an immigrant who's fighting tooth & nail to save his business & family in New York's most violent year, 1981.  And Jessica Chastain is marvelous as his wife.  But writer/director J.C. Chandor didn't implement any stylistic directing choice (which I know he has up his sleeve from his terrific debut Margin Call) to help draw us in to the nailbiting tension of Isaac's sticky conflicts.  Instead you just sort of watch it all unfold, with unemotional interest.

 

A MOST WANTED MAN (**1/2) "Goverment spy thriler" would perhaps be the categorization for this film, feautring Philip Seymour Hoffman's final lead performance.  And what a performance it is.  Unfortunately, the movie doesn't provide him enough juice to make too much of a cocktail here, featuring a drudge of a plot and very little use of cinematic tools to heighten the tension.  Interesting and at times enthralling, but overall a bit sluggish and hard to tune into.

 

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (***1/2) I can't believe more people aren't seeing this movie! I found it at least as delightful as 2011's The Muppets , and far more Muppety. Madcap fun abounds, with delicious turns by Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell, and an overstuffed slew of fun star cameos. And of course, those muppets are pretty fun to watch too... Kermit's best work to date for sure ;)

 

NEIGHBORS (***) A fraternity (led by Zac Efron) moves in next door to Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, who have a newborn daughter.  Hilarity ensues, as the couple try to get the fraternity kicked out of their house.  And yeah, there is ample hilarity, just not enough to merit more than 3 stars.  Still, check it out!  It's fun.

 

NIGHTCRAWLER (***1/2) Jake Gyllenhaal at his finest as a pretty messed up dude who uses his police scanner to beat the cops to the scenes of crimes & get terrific video footage to sell to new stations.  His obsession with this game & source of income spins out of control, as Jakey Jake steps up the crazy.  A commentary on the problems with the infrastrucutre of today's media, it's a very engrossing film, featuring wonderful atmosphere augmented by haunting cinemetography & sound.

 

NOAH (*1/2) WHAT?! Sweet Jesus, what the heck was that?... This *badass warrior* Noah had magic rock monsters build his god forsaken ark for him. Enough said. That is literally all I have to say in order to give you an image of how preposterous this film is. Why even give it a whole star and a half? Well, half a star for some cool special effects, half a star somehow making a movie out of this thin story that is apparently quite watchable to many, and half a star for... creativity? Though that creativity is by & large just lunacy. I can only imagine the expressions on the faces of Sunday School teachers who are bringing church-going kids to this movie, expecting something else... In sum: this Noah has no arc :)

 

NON-STOP (***) Liam Neeson as an air marshal aboard a plane that's being held hostage. So, you know exactly what to expect. Why did I bother? Cuz I love my thrillers held inside claustrophobic enclosed spaces. And did it satisfy? As formulaic as it was, surely. It's not great, but it absolutely does the job of being suspenseful and keeping you guessing the entire time. So, go if it strikes yer fancy!

 

NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage (***) Kevin Spacey produces this vanity-project documentary about his Sam Mendes-helmed production of Richard III that toured the world in 2011 & 12.  I couldn't help but be slightly put off by how much this production (again, produced BY Kevin himself) pats Spacey on the back for his acting, his humility, and his ability to be such a community-oriented camp counselor to the rest of the cast.  That said, it was super interesting to hear all of these actors interviewed, and to see clips of their incredible journey - a delicious window into the wide variety of cultures & theaters that they experienced.  Certainly gave me the theater bug, and a rich desire to go on tour, even if only for the camaraderie those experiences breed.

 

NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME 1 (**) One of the more empty and lugubrious of Lars Von Trier's works, this features Charlotte Gainsbourg as, you guessed it, a nymphomaniac. Framed by a conversation between her and Stellan Skarsgaard (at his most phoned-in) in which she tells him about her lustful past, this first half of a 4-hour film slugs along with few moments of intrigue. Those moments, plus strong acting overall, earn it the two stars it gets.

 

THE ONE I LOVE (***1/2) Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss play a newlywed couple who've lost their spark.  Per their therapists advice, they take a vacation to a country house to rekindle the flame.  Supernatural things begin to happen (this is NOT sci-fi though), and slowly the film turns into a twisty, quirky, imaginative romantic dramedy.  A divine success.

 

PALO ALTO (**1/2) Hmm... I would wager to say that that means too many critics accept good acting, good directing, and successfully-executed realism as quality.  An intersting and complete story and a modicum of engrossing dialogue would have made a huge difference with this outright mediocre coming-of-age "tale" (a story arc is required for it to actually be a tale).

 

PRIDE (***1/2) Who knew that the true tale of gay activism in England & Wales in the 80's would feel so much like Billy Elliot or even The Full Monty ?  This British gem is a delight, and will also make you misty-eyed (the good, uplifting kind of misty-eyed).  Check it out!!

 

SELMA (***1/2) So yeah, this is a very good film.  I have zero problems with it.  Was I liiiittle bit bored, as I am with almost every biopic?  Yes.  But that's just me.  It was immaculate, effective, stirring, very well acted, and avoided all cheese, which is quite impressive.  Bravo.

 

ST. VINCENT (***) Bill Murray saves this saccarine, traditional movie, and almost elevates it to something of importance.  Almost.  It's a delight, of course, to watch him as the cantankerous neighbor of Melissa McCarthy (doing fine work in a semi-dramatic role) and her young son, who then starts to babysit the boy for $11/hr.  Just don't expect greatness.

 

THE SKELETON TWINS (***1/2) The magic of this film is in watching Kristen Wiig and, especially, Bill Hader turn in such truthful dramatic performances.  They bring theirselves to the table, funny bones fully in tow; but that somehow makes them that much more vulnerable and dynamic.

 

STILL ALICE (**1/2) This story has a lot of cinematic potential, only some of which was realized here.  Oscar Isaac is terrific as an immigrant who's fighting tooth & nail to save his business & family in New York's most violent year, 1981.  And Jessica Chastain is marvelous as his wife.  But writer/director J.C. Chandor didn't implement any stylistic directing choice (which I know he has up his sleeve from his terrific debut Margin Call) to help draw us in to the nailbiting tension of Isaac's sticky conflicts.  Instead you just sort of watch it all unfold, with unemotional interest.

 

STRANGER BY THE LAKE (***) Buckle up for a "gay erotic French thriller" that's essentially porn with a murder mystery. But it's quite engrossing, and not just for gay male viewers... Set by a remote French lake where gay men go to "cruise" for sex in the woods, this flick features what many are deeming a "Hitchcockian" tone & plot - though I would say that it's not nearly as twisty or taut for that echelon. But it's pretty taut, and the stillness juxtaposes quite well with the stakes.

 

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (***1/2) One of the best biopics I've ever seen.  (Then why not 4 stars?  Well, I'm normally fairly bored by biopics, haha.)  This movie really brings you inside Stephen Hawking's mind & heart, via the powerhouse performance by Eddie Redmayne, and a lovely turn by Felicity Jones as his wife.  I left the cinemas literally exhausted from how much I FELT during the movie.  It's beautiful.

 

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (**1/2) What's most surprising about this movie is how many of the actors escape unscathed.  It's sad: the constrcut of this piece is PERFECT - a fun family-issues version of The Big Chill - but the dialogue never came together, and routinely hammy director Shawn Levy was surely no help.  But Jason Bateman in particular somehow spins magic with this drivel, and with the help of the wonderful Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, and Rose Byrne, the movie had me crying even while thinking "how is THIS making me cry?!"  It's deceivingly entertaining, despite its many faults.  Suspiciously absent from my list of divine performances: co-leads Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.  Fonda is always wooden as all hell, so there's that.  Meanwhile, poor Tina Fey (whom I ADORE and always will), seemed to think that mugging behind her dialogue would cover up it's poor quality.  Turns out, it just put her in a different movie.

 

TOP FIVE (**1/2) is considered Chris Rock's Before Sunset meets Annie Hall.  I'd consider it a halfway-decent version of said films.  Rosario Dawson is terrific opposite Rock, but Rock himself is too grating to watch for that long, for my tastes.

 

TRACKS (**1/2) A beautiful, occasionally touching, often boring, true story of an Australian woman who walked 2,000 miles through the Outback desert with some camels.  It is what it is, no more no less.

 

THE TRIP TO ITALY (***) The hilarious Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take another foodie trip, this time around Italy (this a seqel to their 2010 gem The Trip ).  If you like to watch 2 funny men sit and share quippy banter and genius impressions over meals, in a film with virtually no plot, this will be your heaven.  If not, skip it.  If you're in the middle like me, you'll likely deem it a worthwhile three stars.

 

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (**1/2) Marion Cotillard is outstanding as a woman who needs to convince half of her coworkers to vote to lose their bonuses so that she can instead keep her job.  It's a harrowing situation, told to us with simplicity and heart.  But ultimately it IS just a movie about a woman going door to door and talking to people in French.  So, if that sounds boring, beware.  It was... pretty boring.

 

UNDER THE SKIN (**) WHAT?! Scarlett Johansson struts & drives around Ireland, picking up pedestrians to "give them a ride" and then actually take them back to a strange warehouse and guide them into a pit of inky viscous liquid to their death & disappearance. But it's not that straightfoward - not only do we not know her motivations... ever?... but even the narrative is obfuscated by so much general & unnecessary STRANGENESS that the film feels like a full-on slog. Weird for weird's sake: ENTHRALLING at moments, but ultimately unsatisfying.

 

WHIPLASH (***1/2) "The drumming movie", this features Miles Teller as strong-willed student to the extremely-tough-love J.K. Simmons.  I felt that Simmons, as written, was too one-note tough for too long, but LOVED the extra shades that finally pay off.  High quality film with an artistically-minded point of view.

 

WILD (***1/2) It's the "Reese Witherspoon hikes for 1100 miles, and it's a true story!" movie, and it's everything you'd expect.  But the smarts of the movie lie in the flashbacks to her relationship with her cancer-stricken mother (the divine Laura Dern), and the events that lead to her needing to go "find herself".  That structure drives this movie, and makes it far more engaging than it was to watch Mia Wasikowska (as good as she is too) hike for 1000 miles in Tracks.

 

WILD TALES (****)  OUTSTANDING.  OUTSTANDING.  WATCH IT, WATCH IT WATCH IT - IT'S OUTSTANDING!  This is a compilation of 6 short films (of 5-30 minutes in length), all connected on the theme of regular people in crazy, wild situations.  I just loved it and couldn't recommend it more.

 

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (***) Oh, you don't need my advice on whether to see this one - you're either someone who goes to see X-Men movies or you're not.  (Though, to be clear: no one sees those Wolverine spin-offs, right?)  As far as X-Men movies go, this one's average - that is to say it didn't completely thrill move nor completely move me, but it kept me sufficiently entertained.

 

THE ZERO THEOREM (**) Terry Gilliam: what, what, WHAT are you doing?!  Fun to see him bring us another of his wildly imaginative worlds, and fun to see Christoph Waltz dive into said world; but this movie is too much weird-for-weird's sake, and is ultimately just a sludge to sit through.

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