2015: The Year in Reviews (Part II)
We all know I watch a lot of films this year. And at the end of each year, I recap them all and see, based on what I said about them at the beginning of the year, how close I ended up being. But also, in between, I make it easier on myself by putting up reviews so I don’t have to remember 300 some-odd movies all at once.
I put up three sets of articles — one in April, one in August, one in December, right before the recap articles start going up. Very simple. Just reviews of everything I’ve seen so far, and telling you what I’ve yet to see, or won’t be seeing.
Here is the second part of my year in reviews:
Advantageous — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I was interested because it was a futuristic indie film. I was curious to see what they’d do. It was all right. I wasn’t particularly blown away by it. It tried to make some big statements, and I appreciated the effort. Didn’t particularly love the film, though.
The Age of Adaline — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
They took a moderately interesting premise and turned it into a Nicholas Sparks movie. And they got the narrator of The Assassination of Jesse James to narrate this. That deserves a fuck you. Otherwise, it’s a deeply flawed movie that’s not awful, but not great. Maybe a few years ago I could have went lower, but otherwise, whatever.
Aloft — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Pretty boring, mostly. I’d been tracking this for a while, and they finally dumped it VOD. That’s always the sign of a boring movie. It’s a woman, her sons, she ran away — don’t worry, you probably don’t know what this is and will likely never see it. No need to worry about it.
Aloha — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I think we all knew this was gonna be hugely disappointing from the start. Damn shame what happened to Cameron Crowe. This is arguably more disappointing than We Bought a Zoo. Because that seemed mediocre. This one seemed like it could have been salvaged by the cast. How can this movie be this forgettable with Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray and Danny McBride? Cameron Crowe is playing on tropes he did before (the precocious kid spouting off random trivia? Really?), and really just not trying, it seems. It has moments that are good, but they’re too few and too far between. I didn’t hate the movie, and I’m not gonna call it Unforgivable just yet. But for sure, this is going to be considered one of the year’s greatest disappointments. And I don’t know if we can trust Cameron Crowe anymore, which is a real shame.
Ant-Man — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
This was fun. It met what my expectations were. Especially now, after having gone in depth with Marvel. Marvel, to me, is four tiers. Top tier, Avengers tier, “meh” tier and “holy shit was that bad” tier. And I expected this to end up in Avengers tier, and it did. It’s not one of the best they’ve ever done, and it’s not just a mediocre throwaway. I like that the scale on this is small. It’s literally just a heist movie that says it has large implications, but really doesn’t. And the climax takes place in a building and then a house. That’s nice. And it’s fun. It has a lot of fun moments and doesn’t go overboard with tying into other films. On the other hand — it’s edited way too fast. They don’t develop anything past a surface level. I didn’t care about any of the characters. This was the epitome of popcorn. You laugh, you’re entertained, but there’s no depth there. So I can’t say this is any better than The Avengers, which I rank fifth all time for Marvel (below the Captain America films, Guardians, and Iron Man), but I did enjoy it for what it was and do commend them for not destroying yet another city.
Barely Lethal — * * * (3 stars)
Samuel L. Jackson as a trainer for child assassins. I was intrigued. Overall.. meh. Not great. Plays like a low-budget VOD movie. It has its moments. I was amused enough. For most people, it’ll be a 2.5 or 3 star movie. Either you won’t care or will consider it just enjoyable enough to give it a pass. That’s all this is.
Before We Go — * * * (3 stars)
This was in development for years. Finally got made because Chris Evans directed it. It’s fine. It’s a perfectly acceptable indie movie. Gonna come off as a vanity project by the star, but that’s what happens. The reason this is an indie is because (spoiler alert) they don’t end up together. But it’s enjoyable enough to get through, and there’s a lot of New York on display. So that’s nice. Otherwise, you’re not getting anything you haven’t seen before.
Big Game — * * * (3 stars)
Samuel L. Jackson as the president shot down in the wilderness and is brought to safety by a child. Great premise. Of course, they turn it into a plot to kill him and people after him and all that. I’d have liked it if it was more about the kid saving him from the elements. But take what you can get. It’s fine, and perfectly entertaining. Reeks of low budget. Whatever. Doesn’t live up to the logline, but it’s decent enough.
Boulevard — * * * (3 stars)
It’s a perfectly fine movie, and he is understatedly good in it. It’s not a great movie, but it gets the job done. I want to tell people not to watch this knowing it’s Robin Williams’ last performance, but that’s really the only way it’s going to be seen.
Burying the Ex — * * * (3 stars)
The real problem with this movie is that it looks too good. It’s a Joe Dante B movie. It plays like a B movie, it’s supposed to be campy and over the top. But it looks like a legit movie. The shots are too nice, it’s not gritty and dirty. It plays like a regular indie movie, which undercuts what they’re going for. Other than that, it’s fine. It plays exactly how it’s supposed to, and you can be moderately amused by it. Just expect a campy movie. That’s what you’re getting.
Child 44 — * * * (3 stars)
Big stars doing accents in a boring and morose film. Not sure why this one came about. Didn’t like this guy’s previous movie, and we continue the trend. The problem with this is — the cast is great, and the premise suggests that the film is gonna be good, but the film itself just isn’t very good. The idea is that he stumbles along a child serial killer and the government is denying this person exists because Communist ideology dictates that everyone is happy and there are no murderers. So he has to set out on his own to catch the killer. The premise is great. The execution is not. Which is a shame, because there are good actors here, and this could have been something much better. Think of this like Gone Girl — with David Fincher, you get a great movie. Without David Fincher, you get a mediocre thriller. This movie needed a David Fincher.
Cop Car — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Lot of fun. Simple movie, uncomplicated story, 90 minutes. What more can you ask for? Kids running away find a cop car in the woods. No one’s around. They take it. We find out the car belongs to Kevin Bacon. We find out why it was left unattended (you can guess). He wants the car back. And we watch the situation play out. Not a whole lot of twists and turns here. It’s very straightforward. Watts makes small moments riveting, like when Bacon tries to break into a car with a piece of string. Lot of fun and really gripping from start to finish. Big fan of this one.
Danny Collins — * * * (3 stars)
You know what? It’s charming. Pacino is charming, the rest of the cast is game, and it’s just an okay movie. I got what I needed to out of this. It plays like one of those 70s/80s/90s movies that’s not quite comedy and not quite drama. It handles both equally. I think the real problem is that nowadays that comes off more as disjointed or doesn’t play as well, either because of the look of movies, or expectations, or something. But either way, most people I’m sure hated this. And I thought it was fine. It’s predictable, sure, but the cast is enjoyable. I don’t need much more than that. It’s on the higher end of what I was expecting.
Dark Places — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
The other Gillian Flynn book. I heard people say it’s a better book than Gone Girl. It’s certainly not a better movie. I lost interest a few times during this. Charlize does what she can. Chloe Moretz is barely in it. I’m starting to lose interest in her going for more “adult” roles, which basically amounts to either child prostitute or “bad girl” character. Not a huge fan of this one. It plays like a paperback mystery. Gone Girl was elevated by Fincher. This isn’t elevated.
The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? — * * * (3 stars)
This is basically a more mainstream version of Jodorowsky’s Dune. An analysis of a doomed project. But it’s Superman, so people know, and it’s famous people — Cage, Burton, etc. The Kevin Smith version of this is already pretty iconic. So you get the recreation, and it’s fine. I wasn’t particularly blown away by it (though that also can be attributed to my general disinterest in the documentary format), but I was sufficiently amused.
The D Train — * * * (3 stars)
I was marginally aware of the turn this movie takes, so it wasn’t as shocking as I guess it could have been if I didn’t know. Though it didn’t happen the way I’d have expected. Still, I can say this was a unique movie. I understand why they cast Mike White in it. Nice homage to a similar kind of movie. Anyway, this wasn’t bad. It’s one of those indies that has characters making bad decisions all the way through and a lot of the humor comes from how cringeworthy the decision-making is. But it has little twists to it that make it stand out from your other generic indies.
Digging for Fire — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Honestly, I found that I just didn’t care. The characters aren’t drawn strongly enough for me to feel anything for them, the drama isn’t enough for me to be invested in the plot. This isn’t Cassavetes. Usually Swanberg gets a blanket 3 from me, but here, they paraded actors I recognized throughout the film, but I never saw it amount to anything. So I didn’t really care.
Dope — * * * * (4 stars)
This was awesome. This is gonna be one of the underrated movies of 2015. More people need to see this. So much fun. Great stuff here. And a killer soundtrack.
Entourage — * * * (3 stars)
If there ever was a movie that was guaranteed to meet expectations, it was this one. Whatever you expect this movie to be, it is. I was someone who really liked the first two and a half seasons of the show, and then found it to go all downhill from there. I was able to enjoy the third season and even part of the fourth, but the last half of the series I really struggled to get through, and honestly only managed it because either I was in college and had nothing to do or was just committed to make it to the end. By the end, I was openly disdainful of how the show was reduced to formula and how utterly unlikable all the characters were (which admittedly is how a lot of people justifiably view the entire series). So when I heard this movie was coming out, I figured it would be amusing to see all the characters again and that I’d get just enough entertainment out of it to not dislike it, but that there really wouldn’t be anything in the way of substance there and it would be just as superficial as the show. Guess what? This movie is basically an extended episode of the show. They made Vince the sober voice of reason, which was a nice change of pace, since I rarely gave a shit about anything he did. E actually did okay here, since they stopped making him the annoying one and put him in some better situations than normal. Drama is past being a caricature of what the character was in the early seasons. Only Turtle manages to come across well of any of them. And Ari is just boring for most of this movie. Ari Gold in this movie is like Kevin Spacey in the most recent season of House of Cards. You wonder what happened to him and why he’s so neutered and catching shit from everyone all of a sudden. The movie throws cameos at you left and right, but none of them really get much of anything to do. Ultimately you’re left with a movie that brings back characters who, if you spent eight seasons with them, you have fond memories of, but who don’t change and are only going to bring you more of the same. Which is why you’re only going to get out of this movie what you think you’re going to get.
Every Secret Thing — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
This was boring as shit. Completely morose, and I got nothing out of this. Predictable all the way, and the twist doesn’t play at all. Forgettable.
Ex Machina — * * * * (4 stars)
LOVED this movie. Love how they handled it on a budget, how the actors played it, loved everything about it. The dancing scene might be the best single scene of 2015. I’ve typically had a problem with Alex Garland scripts and how they handle the third act, but this one does a good job of it. Definitely gonna end up pretty high on my year-end list.
The Face of an Angel — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Boring. That’s what happens with these movies I track that go VOD the following year. They always end up this way. This is about the Amanda Knox case, but it’s entirely fictional. And I just didn’t care about any of the characters. I’m not sure what this was supposed to be. Cara Delevingne did a good job, but other than that, I don’t need to ever think about this movie ever again.
Fantastic Four — * * * (3 stars)
I’ll start by saying — I enjoyed this just fine. Yes, problems, but dogshit expectations plus a cast I like plus a lack of 9/11 imagery and stupid, unnecessary action sequences means I was less upset with this than I am with Marvel movies. That said, this is an Unforgivable movie. Because this shouldn’t be allowed to happen. I don’t know if I need to blame everyone or no one. The effects look terrible, the movie looks edited down in the wrong places, and it just doesn’t work. It takes half the movie to give them the powers, then speeds up past the interesting parts toward a non-climax. I’m okay with the “non-climax,” because fuck those other movies with the same CGI action sequences at the end that all blend together. But at least give me interesting shit around it. I have more to say about why this movie is a problem, but I’ll save that for December. For now — I did enjoy parts of what this movie was trying to do. But the execution of this movie was so wrong on so many levels that it makes me upset that they had a chance to make something that wasn’t the bullshit that Marvel puts out there, and possibly prove that you can make an interesting superhero movie that’s not part of that formula, and they fucked it up. So now people think that Marvel is the way to go. FUCK.
Far from the Madding Crowd — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It looks great. And Carey Mulligan is great as always. And it moves, and is engaging. Can’t really say anything bad about it. It’s not gonna end up as one of my favorite movies of the year, but it’s one of those solid movies I can give a thumbs up to. I liked it.
5 Flights Up — * * * (3 stars)
Surprisingly better than I thought. It’s more of a “mature” movie (which means 50 and older will like it more than anyone else). But I like Freeman and Keaton, and I like how it doesn’t really go for anything. It’s just sort of there, and tells this story. They had this apartment for years and now they want to sell it. And it’s just about real estate and nostalgia, and doesn’t really get predictable. I enjoyed it. Most people won’t like it, and I’m not gonna push it on anyone, but this was better than I expected. Thought for sure that VOD drop was gonna happen. But this actually kind of exceeded the expectations I had going in.
5 to 7 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Thought this would be 3, going in. I ended up really liking this movie. Not for everyone. It’s probably a naive movie, but as far as these indies go, I did enjoy it. Berenice Marlohe was terrific, Anton Yelchin did a good job. Frank Langella and Glenn Close were great as his parents. And I like how frank it is about the affair. How her husband knows about it and has his own mistress, and how there are all these rules. That was a nice twist. And I like how the movie doesn’t tie things up neatly in the end. I might have docked it a half-star for doing that.
Hitman: Agent 47 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I honestly couldn’t even tell you what the first movie was about. This is more of the same. At least this one had moments where I was actually paying attention for a stretch. Couldn’t really tell you what this was about or what was going on, but I managed to get through it without hating it. So that’s something. Otherwise, completely generic movie that I can’t even say will be forgotten quickly, because I’m pretty sure most people don’t even know this came out.
Hot Pursuit — * * (2 stars)
No. Just no. Not even gonna pretend like this isn’t Unforgivable.
Inside Out — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)
Pixar is back to form. This movie is beautiful. If this doesn’t end up in the top ten, it’ll be just outside it.
Jurassic World — * * * * (4 stars)
When I was done with this movie, I felt better about the state of the summer blockbuster. Granted, I had problems with this movie (and I still have problems with this movie. Starting with the logic issues, and the fact that it literally sets the first movie on fire), but overall, I had fun here. Took me a while to get into it (the opening, the jokes, them going into the part, the overuse of nostalgia with the theme), but gradually I did get into it, and by the third act, I was enjoying the shit out of myself. The fact that the T-Rex is now basically Godzilla is so amusing. Otherwise, it’s just fun, and while it doesn’t hold a candle to the first movie, I’m okay with it.
Just Before I Go — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Courtney Cox directed this movie. And that amused me. Otherwise, it’s an indie that doesn’t know if it wants to be comedy or drama, and in many respects sacrifices what could be successful drama for stupid comedy. Otherwise, not awful, but mostly forgettable. One of those movies that thinks it’s more profound than it is. You don’t need to worry about seeing this one.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter — * * * * (4 stars)
This was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I was hoping I could see this last year. It was great. People will hate this, I know they will. It’s not the most accessible movie, and she doesn’t speak English in it, so that changes a lot. But I really liked this quite a bit, and think this is one of those great underrated movies that no one will have seen from this year/last year.
Little Boy — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I’m torn about this one. The idea is good, and it means well, but goddamn is this movie manipulative as all hell. It goes one-dimensional and cliche at will, and any time it starts to get interesting, we fall back on another cliche. You can spot where it’s going from a mile away. So I’m torn between giving it a pass because its heart is in the right place and being mad at it for being so predictable and expecting me to care. So we’ll give it a 2.5 and move on.
A Little Chaos — * * * (3 stars)
I was excited by the premise. Alan Rickman directing a movie about a bunch of people vying to construct the gardens at Versailles. Thought it was really interesting. Ultimately, it’s not entirely that. They are constructing the gardens, but there’s not much competition after the first act, and then it turns into a romance, and this other stuff. It’s fine, and it’s worth seeing, because period pieces are few and far between nowadays. I was very okay with this, and enjoyed it for what it is.
The Longest Ride — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Nicholas Sparks. Ugh. To be fair, I was able to get through this okay, but maybe that’s just because it caught me on a good day. These really only end up either 2 or 2.5 stars. They caught me on an indifferent day, so it got 2.5. These are all not good, though, and everyone should know this.
Love & Mercy — * * * * (4 stars)
What a hell of a movie this one is. They held this into this year, and I thought that meant bad things for it. That it would be one of those boring, forgettable biopics. Quite the opposite. This is incredible. Dano and Cusack are amazing. And it’s a complete two-hander. The difference in time periods completely works and flows perfectly. And you’re dealing with iconic music in such a unique way. I really like how they handle the music, where it’s always present but never presented. You hear all the instrumentals but don’t have to hear all the lyrics, like most biopics would do. Force in all the songs in that “Anyway, here’s Wonderwall” kind of way. This was a real revelation to me. It was a beautiful movie that I truly wasn’t prepared for.
Madame Bovary — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
When this didn’t come out last year, I kind of had a feeling. I hoped it would be good, but it went VOD, and it’s pretty bland. Costumes are good, and Mia Waskiowska is good, but ultimately, I didn’t get too much enjoyment out of this. Oh well. It happens.
Mad Max: Fury Road — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)
I think this is all gonna be in our top 20s for the year. It was just badass. Fun, nonstop action, and a good time all around. There’s nothing I can say about this that hasn’t already been said.
Maggie — * * * (3 stars)
Was very excited about this for a lot of reasons, but ultimately it’s just morose and slow and doesn’t get the most out of its premise. Which is a real shame. But Schwarzenegger is good, and the premise is great. But ultimately the movie doesn’t live up to it or do anything really extraordinary. Which is a shame. Could have been a hidden gem.
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s an easy to watch documentary about Welles. If you know about him, it’s not gonna illuminate anything for you. But it’s entertaining, and you get clips and stuff. But really it’s all things you’ve seen before told again. So if you know the story of Orson Welles, you can skip this.
Magic Mike XXL — * * * * (4 stars)
This was legit better than the first one. You know why? The first one had the boring, dark story about the kid and the drugs and all that. This is just pure fun. Whenever the other movie would try to include that stuff, this one has them take molly and do stupid shit. (By the way, the Backstreet boys routine — genius.) I was laughing hysterically at this within fifteen minutes and it never let up. They never let it get that serious, and always find something different and interesting to do to switch it up. Huge fan of this movie.
Manglehorn — * * * (3 stars)
Weird movie. Not quite Al Pacino’s Joe. Thought maybe we’d get a gem like that one. Not quite. It was fine, and he did okay, but wasn’t a huge fan of this.
Max — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Family movie. Military dog, vague religious undertones, ethnic caricatures. You know what you’re getting here. I gave it the benefit of indifference. It’s not particularly great.
McFarland, USA — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Way better than I thought. Actually one of the more underrated movies of the year. When Kevin Costner does a sports movie, he doesn’t fuck around. It’s really watchable. You can actually enjoy this even if you don’t give a shit about track. It’s more about community and stuff. Has its fair share of cliches, but its quite enjoyable. This surprised me.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl — * * * * ½ (4.5 stars)
As of right now, this is my favorite movie of the year. I loved this movie. Loved, loved, loved it. This was a joyous experience for me. And even when I thought it was gonna take all those turns that turn me off of a movie, it didn’t. Or it found a way to make them okay. I’d be surprised if this didn’t end up on my top ten this year.
Minions — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I didn’t like any of the Despicable Me movies. The first one was tolerable, the second one was not. And I thought the minions were the most annoying parts of those movies, so this was only a matter of time. I did not care about this movie whatsoever, and I have no opinion on it at all. Like what you like. I’m staying out of it.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — * * * * (4 stars)
This franchise is on a roll. The first one is a great movie, and I love the second one, even though it’s clearly the weakest of the bunch. I’m not a huge fan of the third one, and kind of soured on the whole thing after that (as I think we all did). But then Ghost Protocol came out and blew us all away by how fun it was. And this continues that tradition. This movie is a lot of fun. The action sequences are really great, they manage to keep everything moving and engaging throughout. This franchise is such that you feel like they’re getting better each time. This should end up pretty highly ranked for me come year’s end.
The Nightmare — * * * (3 stars)
That documentary about sleep paralysis. I heard it was terrifying. I saw it, and didn’t really get what was so scary about it. I’ve never had sleep paralysis, so mostly I saw people telling stories about what they’ve experienced. Not even really recreations designed to scare you, nothing like that. Honestly, the scariest moment of this movie for me was the very first minute. Where all the sounds and shit are happening and the camera is there, and then they pull back to reveal that it’s a movie set. And after that, it was pretty much all downhill. Maybe other people got more out of this than I did, but for me, nada.
Not Safe for Work — * * * (3 stars)
I randomly saw this as part of this other thing I’m doing. It came out last year. It was actually watchable. Small thriller that takes place entirely on one floor of an office building over the course of one night. Totally watchable. Completely randomly directed by Joe Johnston, but otherwise, it’s fine.
Paper Towns — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
It was pretty boring. I never found myself caring. It felt too homogenized. Once I heard the voiceover, I was done. It never brought me back. Even the original synopsis, which got me interested in seeing this, was better than what I saw. It’s a movie that feels very calculated. It thinks certain lines and certain scenes are more clever and will be met with more of a reaction than they are. And then they have the standard cool indie teen music soundtrack. Was kind of hoping the movie would get into some darker, more complex territories than it does. Put it this way — in the 70s, they’d have gotten what they should have out of a story like this. Here, it feels like the standard young adult mainstream shit they try to force on audiences now. A different era and less fidelity to the source material would have gotten a better product out of this story.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 — * * (2 stars)
Of course this was gonna be bad. I didn’t hate it, which is probably owing to me being less angry with bad movies and also Kevin James completely going all-in on the style of comedy. But otherwise, it’s bad. We know it’s bad. I don’t make sequels Unforgivable unless they really give me a reason. And this didn’t. So it’s just bad, and we move on.
People, Places, Things — * * * (3 stars)
These indie movies always go one of two ways — either it’s “meh, that was pretty boring and like most indies,” or it’s “all right, that was watchable. Still indie, so not great.” This is the latter. I didn’t love it. But that’s par for the course. There’s something about independent movies that just feels limiting. But this was good. It was engaging. I thought it was gonna be bad. So that was nice.
Pitch Perfect 2 — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Nope. Didn’t like the first one, but this was a complete retread of that, made entirely to make money and give the “fans” what they want. Good for them for making all the money and having a female-centric comedy, but nope. Not for me, never was. Moving on.
Poltergeist — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Nope. Don’t have a problem with it, but nope. Not for me. Still haven’t even seen the first one, but I already know it’s better than this.
Queen and Country — * * * (3 stars)
A sequel to Hope and Glory. I didn’t expect it to be as great as that movie is, but it’s worthwhile.
Results — * * * (3 stars)
Actually was surprised at how engaging this was. Ultimately I was let down by it being an indie and falling into the usual indie pitfalls, but Cobie Smulders does a great job here, and Kevin Corrigan is great, and Guy Pearce does a good job too. Completely watchable, and I think people should check this out. Maybe you’ll love it.
San Andreas — * * * (3 stars)
Actually surprisingly entertaining. Which I credit entirely to Dwayne Johnson, who remains one of the few constantly watchable movie stars (in terms of blockbusters) out there. It works. Destruction movie. You know what you’re getting. And I was entertained all the way. Good for them.
Search Party — * * * (3 stars)
Actually kind of enjoyable. One of those crazy movies with a lot of kooky supporting parts. It works well enough. Will probably end up VOD later on this year. It’s fine. Basically a Hangover retread. It has its moments.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — * * * (3 stars)
An accurate sequel title. Not as good as the first, but you know what you’re getting. It’s bland enough to work, and doesn’t piss you off, but also doesn’t give you anything really good. Standard 3. I respect the hell out of it because old people are getting a movie and a chance to have roles, but otherwise, nothing particularly worthwhile here for me.
Self/less — * * * (3 stars)
This is a weird one. I can’t tell if this met my expectations or didn’t. It looked like a good premise, but there was a lot about this one that worried me going in. And then the reviews were complete shit. So by the time I got around to seeing this, I expected the worst. But this wasn’t that bad. Premise was good, it maintains interest for at least the first act. Its problem is that it takes some really weird turns that make no sense and it turns into an almost formulaic thriller. That’s really what the problem is. The movie isn’t the pile of dog shit the reviews make it seem. It’s not great, but it’s perfectly watchable and you can get through it thinking it wasn’t so bad. Just don’t think too hard about it. Though, honestly, what would have been way better is if the movie was more of a drama and didn’t turn into action. But apparently everything has to turn into action nowadays. Seems no one has the balls to make a difficult movie with ambiguity in it. Oh well.
She’s Funny That Way — * * * (3 stars)
Peter Bogdanovich really goes for the 40s vibe, doesn’t he? The fact that he’s aiming for screwball works for me. Most people won’t like this. And I don’t like a lot of the cast, to be honest. But the movie is enjoyable enough, and works on the strength of Imogen Poots, who I am discovering is amazing in everything she does. She’s legitimately great here. I will honestly watch her in anything. She carries this entire movie. The movie’s okay, but she’s terrific.
Slow West — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Western. Looks great. Lives up to its title (as in, very slow, and takes place in the west). Probably a 3 star movie that gets a western bump for me. Not a whole lot of story here, and drags at times, but I’ll take any kind of western I can get.
Southpaw — * * * (3 stars)
It’s really hard to get past all the clichés. Even Gyllenhaal’s performance feels like he’s overdoing it. Kinda like — remember Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line? It felt like that. That performance, I’ll always remember, someone called “sweaty” and “methody.” That’s what this felt like. This is him “acting.” You’re always aware that Jake Gyllenhaal is putting on a good performance. It actually takes you out of the movie. You’re supposed to buy this character and not see it as an actor performing it. And then the rest of the movie is a paint by numbers boxing picture. I found it pretty funny that somehow there was a villain in this. Kinda hard to try to do an old school plot with new school techniques. Oh well. Win some, lose some. Not a total disappointment, but close.
Spy — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Honestly thought this would be Unforgivable. Was shocked at how funny this was. Mostly because it’s a spy movie with jokes thrown in. The only parts I didn’t like were the “Melissa McCarthy” parts. When they stuck with the supporting cast and the story, it worked. Rose Byrne and Jason Statham are incredible here. Pete Serafinowicz is also great. Top notch supporting work all around, and it’s actually a funny movie. And you know that’s not something I say lightly. Especially when I had dog shit expectations for this.
Staten Island Summer — * * * (3 stars)
Surprisingly okay. The cast is a bunch of SNL members, so that helped. Coming of age movie. Nothing worth seeking out, but I got enough enjoyment out of it to go 3.
Stockholm, Pennsylvania — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I thought this would be an interesting movie, but then it got picked up by Lifetime, and I got really nervous. And it turns out, that was warranted. This plays like a Lifetime movie. And it’s not particularly good, either. Which is a shame. I had pretty moderate hopes for this, and then… nope.
Straight Outta Compton — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Too long, all over the place, but entertaining as shit. So really, who cares? How can you not enjoy this movie? The performance scenes are incredible. The actors all feel spot on, and every time you start to drift it brings you back with a scene that’s riveting, or a performance with the great music of the group — this is one of those movies that has flaws that you don’t care about. I’m glad this is good, I’m glad this made money. I’m happy this got made.
Strange Magic — * * (2 stars)
What the fuck was this movie? I almost want to call this Unforgivable. George Lucas came up with the idea for this. Which is basically, a goblin and a fairy fall in love. Which… all right. And then the whole movie is wall to wall karaoke. They take popular songs and just have the characters sing them. So the songs become the plot. For example: Evan Rachel Wood is the main character. She’s going to get married at the beginning. She sings “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Then she sees her fiancé cheating on her. And then she sings “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” And then when she steps out on her own, she sings “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.” Get the point? I’ll give them credit for the title track being an ELO tune, and for incorporating some Motown hits, but otherwise, this story is a giant mess, and I don’t know what the hell they were thinking. I’m almost offended that they constructed this movie the way they did. It’s that similar George Lucas anger that I get, which is how — he’s a good story man, but then when you see the finished product, you’re like, “What the fuck is that?” Actually one of the worst movies I saw this year, which is a shame, because I respect the hell out of animators and animated movies. But this was a huge mess.
Strangerland — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Nicole Kidman. Joseph Fiennes. Hugo Weaving. Kids go missing, parents go looking. It was pretty boring, actually. Wish this were better. Thought I could get 3 stars out of this. Didn’t happen. Oh well.
Suite Française — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Not quite 3.5 stars, but sure. Michelle Williams is actually in something again. Seems like she’s been missing for a few years. Margot Robbie has a supporting part in this. Not particularly substantial. Basically, the Germans take over a French village and are living amongst the people. And it causes problems. One guy has eyes on another man’s wife, etc. etc. And Michelle Williams falls in love with one of them. It’s a big wartime romance, one I’m sure the Weinsteins thought could have potential awards written on it, but it’s clearly not going to, so they’re gonna dump it at some point this year and no one will even know this exists. It’s not bad, though. Somewhere between 3 and 3.5. Probably closer to 3, but I do like to give some of these “soon-to-be-forgotten” movies a chance to be seen.
Survivor — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Generic thriller. Pierce Brosnan, Milla Jovovich. You’ll see this on pay cable in six months. This was directed by the guy who did V for Vendetta, who went from Wachowski protege to that movie, to falling off the face of the earth. Damn.
Ted 2 — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Wanted to give this a 3, but ultimately, I laughed hard at certain points. This is a typical Seth MacFarlane rating. Half-star bump because I enjoyed it, even though it’s not as good as the rating might suggest. I cringed at certain parts, I thought some parts fell flat, and then others, I laughed my ass off. I actually lost my shit during the Improv scene. That was so funny to me. Mostly I’m gonna give them credit for completely changing up the story and not repeating the same thing over again. The style is the same, which allows them to do that, but they didn’t just do what The Hangover did, and for that, the half-star is well-deserved.
Terminator Genisys — * * * (3 stars)
For what it’s worth, this is a better sequel to Judgment Day than any of the others. The concept is better, at least, and I like how it handles Arnold’s aging. Otherwise, I have NO fucking idea how the timeline is supposed to work, and I don’t think they do either. I’m pretty sure after a certain point, they just gave up. I was more interested in the first half of this movie than I was in the third act. I pretty much stopped paying attention after a while. To me, Terminator movies work better with realistic effects and not crazy CGI. So that lost me. Otherwise, good ideas here, executed well enough. I was entertained. This isn’t great, but I can accept it as a Terminator movie, whereas Rise of the Machines sucked until the third act and Salvation was just a giant mess (unfairly because of Christian Bale, but it’s more their fault than his. Let’s just all blame McG. That’s easier). So them taking a minor step forward is still like three steps back from where they ought to be. But at least it wasn’t a piece of shit. Though it was badly miscast. I like Emilia Clarke from what little I’ve seen of her, but she does not have the presence of Sarah Connor. And this is one of the few movies where I don’t dislike Jai Courtney. So that’s good. Also kudos for Arnold doing a great job with his stuff. I like that relationship they had going.
The Testament of Youth — * * * (3 stars)
It’s fine. I like wartime romance movies. This was okay. Nothing too outstanding. Alicia Vikander is becoming one of the great up and coming actresses out of nowhere, which is nice. Otherwise, it’s worth seeing if you like wartime romance movies. Not a whole lot to say about this one.
Tomorrowland — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s not 3.5. It is, but it isn’t. I enjoyed this, but it’s a sugar 3.5. Even now I don’t think of it as a solid 3.5, and by December, I’m sure I’ll have decisions to make about where I truly consider this rating to be. It was fine. It wasn’t as disappointing to me as it was to some because I didn’t get my hopes up for it. I thought it was fun, I thought it had a message for kids, who are really the target audience (even though it hits adults over the head in an insanely forced manner), and for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it. I think it’s not particularly well-written, I think some of the elements are really cheesy, I think they spent way too much money on it, and I think a better overall story could have turned out a way better product. It’s a disappointment for Brad Bird, but otherwise a moderately entertaining movie that works if you’re not expecting great things out of it.
Trainwreck — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
It’s not a solid 3.5, but I’ll give it a 3.5. It was engaging, and I was with it all the way. Didn’t out and out love it, but I liked it. Didn’t feel like an Apatow movie, which was nice. No random scenes of sophomoric or unnecessarily raunchy comedy. Also, I find, like all of Apatow’s movies — there’s nothing particularly great about it either. It’s just pretty good. This isn’t going to stick with me. This will be one of those movies where I have to think long and hard about whether it’s going to stay a 3.5 come year’s end or just be a strong 3. Because it’s good, but I don’t know if it’ll end up in one of the top three tiers of my favorite movies. We’ll see.
True Story — * * * (3 stars)
This is a strange movie. Because I feel like it could have been more than it was. Jonah Hill and Franco aren’t bad. They give good performances. Felicity Jones is pretty much wasted, and it’s nice to see Gretchen Mol show up in stuff. But otherwise, it amounts to a watchable, but not great, crime story. They skip over interesting parts and focus on some less interesting parts. And again, it seems like they just completely cut Felicity Jones out of the movie. Which is odd. But the story is fascinating. So there’s that. The movie… not as much. It’s okay, though. Check it out.
Unfinished Business — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
Man, talk about a movie that does not know what it wants to be. I think that’s the deal with all of these Steve Conrad movies. He did The Weather Man, which somehow holds together, even though it’s neither comedy nor drama. Probably because of Cage and Gore Verbinski. But his next one was The Promotion, which was really unfocused tonally. And then he wrote Pursuit of Happyness and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which you can argue also have tone problems. This one, though. Wow. This wants to be a Vince Vaughn comedy, yet isn’t. It’s more of a drama. And the movie just does not mediate the two very well at all. I feel like everyone remembers seeing these trailers coming out, but then no one saw the movie and everyone forgot this was even going to come out. This is an interesting study in what a movie does and does not do correctly. I almost liked it purely for that. Because there’s a better movie here that’s just not. (Which you can say about the director’s previous movie… also with Vince Vaughn… The Delivery Man. Maybe he can’t do tone?)
Unfriended — * * ½ (2.5 stars)
I only watched it for the premise — that it takes place entirely on Skype and through a computer screen. Otherwise, not particularly good or memorable at all. Blumhouse movies by and large aren’t particularly enjoyable for me. And I usually skip them if I can. But I gave this one a shot because of the concept. Wasn’t rewarded.
Vacation — * ½ (1.5 stars)
The problem with this movie is that it exists.
Welcome to Me — * * * (3 stars)
A weird movie. Almost hit 3.5 for me just because it’s so off the beaten path. Ultimately didn’t, just because I don’t think the movie tonally hits where it needed to in order to be truly memorable. But it’s good. Worth seeing. Definitely not your typical movie. Mentally ill woman wins the lottery and uses the money to start a talk show about herself. Some people are really gonna love this. But it’s bizarre.
While We’re Young — * * * (3 stars)
Ah, now this is the Noah Baumbach I know. The one who makes movies I don’t really like that feel pretentious. I don’t give a fuck about people who make documentaries. And then middle aged people doing hipster things. Nuh uh. I was engaged enough to say 3 stars, but ultimately I didn’t give a fuck. Just like the rest of Noah Baumbach’s movies outside of Frances Ha.
White God — * * * ½ (3.5 stars)
Fascinating. A dog who gets left and starts his own gang. It’s pretty great. You should see this. This is a foreign movie I actually like. Which means it won’t get any awards attention at all at the end of the year.
The Wolfpack — * * * (3 stars)
It’s an interesting subject — six brothers are raised in a New York apartment by their father and are never let outside. So instead they watch movies and recreate them using whatever they have in their apartment. And then everything changes when one of the brothers decides to go outside one day. That’s pretty much it. It’s pretty good. A 3 from me on a documentary is usually a 4 for people who actually like documentaries.
Woman in Gold — * * * (3 stars)
Ah, the movie that reeks of Oscar bait, but it’s the Weinsteins, so there’s a 50/50 success rate. Or rather: the Weinstein contender that never was. They always dump these in the first half of the year. Ryan Reynolds, Helen Mirren. It’s trial stuff, so you can get through it and enjoy it. But it’s cliche all the way. She’s fine, he’s okay. Katie Holmes is there to show you she’s still alive. Doesn’t amount to a whole lot at all. Nice to see Tatiana Maslany in a movie. I feel like she did it to prove she can do anything (she speaks in German the whole time). Otherwise, totally throwaway Oscar bait movie that turns into schmaltzy middle-aged fodder.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (The Rogue Cut) — * * * * (4 stars)
Not really sure how to talk about this one. It’s just kind of the same movie with some more footage in the middle. I got an hour into this and went, “I’m just watching the same movie again.” They add some footage where Jennifer Lawrence has almost-sex with Beast (which I don’t remember being in the theatrical cut), and then a mission where old Magneto and old Xavier go rescue Rogue because Kitty gets stabbed and Rogue’s powers can take over for her and keep Wolverine in the past. It adds about ten minutes but isn’t wholly substantial. Mostly serves to get Anna Paquin into the movie for a minute or two. Ultimately we’re left with the same movie, plus more screen time. So it won’t change how you feel about it. This isn’t one of those cuts where you’re like, “Whoa, this is way better.”
Z for Zachariah — * * * * (4 stars)
Big fan. I like small stories. I like that only three people are ever on screen in this entire film. I like that the movie didn’t try to be anything more than it was. It looked great, the actors were engaging and it was a really solid film.
Zipper — * * * (3 stars)
It’s actually pretty watchable. A solid movie. I thought it would be more of a dark comedy, but it’s actually a straight up drama. Still, not bad.
Films I Haven’t Seen Yet
- Infinitely Polar Bear
- The Overnight
- Mr. Holmes
- Irrational Man
- The Stanford Prison Experiment
- The End of the Tour
- The Gift
- Ricki and the Flash
- The Diary of a Teenage Girl
- The Prophet
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- Mistress America
- American Ultra
- We Are Your Friends
- No Escape
The Films I Skipped
- The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death
- Insidious Chapter 3
- Sinister 2
- The Gallows
Favorite Movies So Far:
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
- Inside Out
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- Ex Machina
- Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
- Love & Mercy
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
- Magic Mike XXL
- Jurassic World
- When Marnie Was There
- Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
- The Last Five Years
- The Voices
- It Follows
- Road Hard
- Straight Outta Compton
- The Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Kingsmen: The Secret Service
- Cop Car
- Slow West
- McFarland, USA
Least Favorite Movies So Far:
- Seventh Son
- The Boy Next Door
- Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
- Hot Pursuit
- The Loft
- The Lazarus Effect
- Project Almanac
- Strange Magic
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