Tuesday, July 01, 2014

June 2014

With the Parks and Recreation TV series successfully binge-watched, I moved on to the new Fargo series (very well done) and am currently about halfway through It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which I am not watching in any kind of order. Amazingly, that left time to see seven first-run films this month.

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)—A year after Oblivion, Tom Cruise is back in another sci-fi adventure. This one has him in a futuristic Groundhog Day scenario, forced to live the same day over and over again after getting doused by some alien blood. It’s a fast-paced popcorn movie, entertaining without containing an overabundance of original ideas, as was the case with Oblivion. (The spinning, tentacled aliens are really cool, although they, too, have been compared to creatures from the film The Matrix). (8)

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014)—These days, it’s rare that I see a movie based on a book I’ve read; even more to see a movie only a couple of days after reading the source material. John Green’s decent enough young-adult novel The Fault in Our Stars was a moderately enjoyable read, marred only by the laughably unrealistic male hero character, who is so utterly flawless in every respect that it defies credulity—his awesomeness practically makes you gag. I should have been satisfied enough with the book, as the movie is so faithful to the novel that it felt like I was re-reading it. Sometimes they do an even better job with the movie version, but this wasn’t the case; I was fairly bored through most of Josh Boone’s film, which offers a fine Shailene Woodley as the cancer-stricken heroine and Ansel Elgort as Gus, the boyfriend who makes her (and all of the book’s teeny-bopper fans) swoon. This is basically an updated version of Love Story for the young-adult crowd; reports of audiences crying their eyes out baffles me, as neither the book nor the film moved me at all. (6)

WILLOW CREEK (2014)—I’m a fan of the Paranormal Activity series, but I am constantly forgetting that most of the other  “found footage” flicks fail to generate as many scares. Very good reviews led to me to this “search for Bigfoot” movie (written and directed by Bobcat Golthwait), but the only real tension happens in the last five minutes—the rest of the runtime is a boring slog. (4)

LUCKY THEM (2014)—Occasionally a movie title is so generic and uninspiring that even as I’m sitting in the theater, I realize I have no idea what the movie is called. Such was the case with Lucky Them, the title of which had evaporated from my mind scarcely ten minutes after purchasing the ticket. Happily, though, the movie is not so forgettable. It’s a romantic comedy of sorts featuring Toni Collette as a music critic who is assigned by her boss (Oliver Platt) to track down her missing boyfriend—a legendary local songwriter who is presumed to have once thrown himself over a waterfall. During her search, she is joined by another ex-boyfriend (a marvelous Thomas Haden Church) who intends to make a documentary about her quest. It’s a very funny indie film that deserves a bigger audience. (9)

THE SIGNAL (2014)—For a movie that starts like The Blair Witch Project, turns into The Andromeda Strain, then Logan’s Run and finally an episode of TV's Heroes, it might sound funny describing it as an original viewing experience. But while it does borrow lots of ideas, it was still unlike any single movie I’ve seen. The plot, at least initially, involves a trio of college students trying to locate a computer hacker, but it veers off in unexpected directions. You spend the movie thinking, “What the HELL is going on here?” and while there are some unnerving “big reveals,” you’re never really 100 percent sure, even by the end. But it is visually a masterpiece, with some excellent makeup work and a few genuinely chilling scenes. (7)

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014)—A worthy sequel to the four-year-old original; it contains moments of pure escapism, suspense, comedy and genuine tragedy. Good characters, excellent animation and packed full of story…DreamWorks has done it again! (9)

MALEFICENT (2014)—For the first two-thirds of this “reimagining” of Disney's own version of Sleeping Beauty, I was in total bliss. What a perfect film—magical, mirthful, moving Maleficent! Especially moving: I was sobbing through a lot of it. I can't remember having a more enjoyable movie-going experience. And then, around the time Prince Charming showed up, I started to have some problems with the story. It’s a real pity, as this was headed toward a perfect 10 rating. Gotta take off points for Disney stealing a critical plot point from its own 2013 movie Frozen. (Let's limit the thievery to one picture, shall we?) But the entire cast, led by the wonderful Angelina Jolie, is superb, as are the special effects. It's worth seeing despite my quibbles. (8)