Films of 2014, #150: Sabotage (Ayer, 2014)

Sabotage is the film that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been needing to make for some time. Despite his “comeback” of recent years with The Expendables and The Last Stand, this film gives Schwarzenegger just enough acting chops and action scenes. The story of a DEA agent who loses his wife and son and how him and his team steal a decent amount of money from the drug cartel. While the film could have been another stupid action flick, Sabotage is more of a crime film. There’s plenty of similarities to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven with Schwarzenegger’s age and the story of redemption (and the final scene). Even though having some more action scenes and better final act would have helped, it’s one of Schwarzenegger’s better films and director David Ayer (End of Watch) does a good job at with what he’s got.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #149: Dredd (Travis, 2012)

This loose remake of 1995’s Judge Dredd works better on every level. And while the film isn’t that good, it’s improvement upon the original makes it worth watching. Karl Urban takes the title role and does a very good job at it, much stronger than Stallone’s. The story deals with drugs and there’s a handful of pointless scenes that go trippy (really slowed down). The action scenes are OK, but when it all goes slo-mo, it seems like The Matrix, which isn’t a good thing.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #148: A Christmas Tale (Desplechin, 2008)

There’s been film after film of families getting together for the holidays. They fight and argue, old shit comes up, new problems arise, but they’re still family that care for each other in the end. And A Christmas Tale follows suit. I’m not saying that it’s a cliche film or anything, but quite a few things that happen over the two and half hours could fit into an American comedy-drama. But what makes this movie special are all the smaller moments that could never happen in an American film.

Director Arnald Desplechin gives the film a clean, simple, ordinary look that works with the conflict that goes in within the family. The mother and matriarch gets leukemia, and informs her sons and daughters. Plus, one of the brothers (played by the always great Mathieu Amalric) hasn’t spoken to one of his sisters in years. And there’s a suicidal teenager in the house as well. It could almost be too much, but it works. Not only is it enough to keep the film going for two and a half hours, but it also makes time seem shorter. It’s somehow a great film, without trying to be a great film.

Rating: 8 out of 10. 

Films of 2014, #147: Saving Mr. Banks (Hancock, 2013)

Mary Poppins was my favorite Disney movie as a kid, to some extent, it still is. Although I haven’t seen it in years. Now, Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of the woman who wrote the books and how she played into the making of the classic Disney film. Emma Thompson plays PL Travers, and she’s perfect as the strict, no-nonsense British writer. Tom Hanks also does a good job as Walt Disney.

Saving Mr. Banks shows how Mary Poppins came to be, and there’s some cliche moments, but most of it works because of the performances and skillful writing. Despite a bland backstory of Travers and her father (played boringly by Colin Farrell), it’s somehow worth it for the ending of the film. Hanks shines as Disney in a way I wasn’t expecting. And yes, this is a Disney film about Disney, so I’m sure they took some liberties with the story and made it nicer than it was, but it also made Saving Mr. Banks a very good Disney movie that didn’t diminish the original Mary Poppins.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #146: Still Walking (Kore-eda, 2008)

Ozu’s films were a bright beacon that gave humanity to characters that has rarely been seen since, and Ozu’s spirit is alive in Still Walking as we see a family get together and talk mainly about cooking. Yes, there’s lots of talk about cooking. But the formal atmosphere works and makes the powerful moments stand out even more. The family has lost a member about fifteen years ago, and the air still lingers with his spirit as he’s not mentioned until things are already underway. An organic and oddly humble picture that should get more attention, Still Walking has some grand emotional moments and more pictures should take note.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #145: Bad Words (Bateman, 2014)

Jason Bateman stars in this vulgar comedy about a middle aged eighth grade drop out who enters into the national spelling bee. Bateman’s role is rude, snarky and gross. Plus his dry delivery of all these lines works perfectly and seeing him come off vulgar after playing plenty of roles of nice guys, mainly in Arrested Development, this is a good change up for him (even though he’s still playing the same guy as always). While there’s a moment or two that don’t work and the fantastic Allison Janney isn’t given much to do, Bad Words is a vulgar comedy that doesn’t try too hard to be vulgar.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #144: Transcendence (Pfister, 2014)

The directorial debut of Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer, Wally Pfister, seems more a fake Nolan film. There’s plenty of flash and “serious” mixed with entertainment, heck, even some of the same actors, but Transcendence comes across as nothing more than cheap imitation of Inception.

Johnny Depp is the first big issue here. The actor hasn’t been in anything worthwhile in some time, and this is another clunker in his filmography. He doesn’t have the charisma for this role, he’s a blank slate of an actor this time around. As a scientist that’s determined to create artificial intelligence, he ends up being shot with a bullet that’s laced with poison (why lace a bullet with poison? why not just kill him right then?). So now he’s able to live for a few more weeks! That’s just enough to time for Depp to upload his consciousness to a computer! 

Depp dies, his wife and other colleagues continue to work on the computer. And then it comes alive! Depp is back! The Depp-computer slowly begins it’s take over of everything in sight. But Depp’s wife is an idiot who thinks the man’s mind is still in control and that her husband is back. 

The movie keeps going and whatever interesting ideas that were brought up in the start were completely dropped towards the end as everything becomes a huge action sequence. The mildly smart movie goes dumb and never recovers.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Films of 2014, #143: Blithe Spirit (Lean, 1945)

David Lean’s comedy about a man, played by a young Rex Harrison (it’s odd to see a young Rex Harrison for some reason) trying to reconnect with the spirit of his dead wife. He brings in a medium to perform a seance, and not only does it work, but Harrison’s current wife grows increasingly jealous of the ghost that continues to be seen only by Harrison. It’s very funny and takes a great turn towards the last third. There’s also some good special effects for 1945.

Rating: 7 out of 10. 

Films of 2014, #142: Insidious: Chapter 2 (Wan, 2013)

With the first film directly setting things up for a sequel, what could go wrong with Chapter 2 of Insidious? Plenty.

While I wish I could respect the director and cast for coming back and doing another one, there’s almost nothing here to make me care anymore. How did this happen? I enjoyed the first one, and I wanted to see these characters again. But the scares don’t work most of the time, and splitting the story into two parts where we get an odd subplot that deals other characters just doesn’t deliver. Although, there were several smaller moments that made me jump, most of the film went down the typical horror road with it’s story. I can’t call this a bad movie, nor a good one. Sure, it’s leagues better than most horror sequels. Although there’s plans for a third, Insidious: Chapter 2 gave the characters a good closing.

Rating: 4 out of 10.