With two-and-a-half months down, I've only seen ten new releases so far in 2014. There are various reasons for this but the biggest is probably that, to be honest, there hasn't been that much out that's really grabbed my attention away from other things I've been doing. January and February are notorious dumping grounds for movies that the studios have little confidence in (usually for good reason); while at the same time Oscar contenders are also taking up screens and I had already seen all of those.
So here's an update on the movies of 2014 that I've seen so far, ranked from best to worst (my ratings range is five stars to 1/2 a star.) A few of these films are technically considered 2013 releases but if the film never had even a limited run in the Chicagoland area last year then it's a 2014 release to me.
Tim's Vermeer ★★★½
This is a fascinating documentary about Penn & Teller's friend Tim Jenison who attempts to recreate Johannes Vermeer's painting "The Music Lesson." An inventor and founder of hardware and software company NewTek, Tim is not a painter but believed that Vermeer must have used some form of optics to assist him with creating his world-renowned paintings.
What unfolds is an astounding story of dedication and obsession. First time director Teller creates a straight forward documentary that occasionally lags a bit even with a runtime of only 80 minutes but it's a journey worth taking.
The Wind Rises ★★★½
The last film from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki after more than three decades of work, The Wind Rises is a gorgeously hand-drawn story about Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.
Some pacing issues and an overly long runtime hurt it somewhat but it's worth seeing for the visuals alone. Normally, I avoid English dubs but as with all Studio Ghibli releases I've seen, this one is excellent. With the talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, William H. Macy, John Krasinski, Mae Whitman, Mandy Patinkin, Martin Short, and none other than famed director Werner Herzog how can you go wrong? I think a Miyazaki anthology is in the works for me at some point this year.
The LEGO Movie ★★★½
While I don't agree with those saying this is as good as the Toy Story series, The LEGO Movie is still a great time for people of all ages. Aside from the fact that it's often legitimately funny; there's plenty of cameos from other franchises, LEGO sets from the old days (who didn't have that spaceman and crack the thin plastic piece at the bottom of his helmet? lol), and actor's voices to hold your interest. Quite a few people may actually find that they relate to the villain's idea of a perfect LEGO world as well.
August: Osage County ★★★
There are some great performances in this film but the cruel ignorance of a lot of the characters wore me down over time and gets old. Personally, I'd have loved to have seen more of Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch as I felt they played interesting characters that were short-changed. I don't know if Julia Roberts has chosen to work less over the last several years but I certainly hope she's not being ignored because of her age because she's still as beautiful as ever and is a great actress with the right material.
I know my compatriots in Cinema Sandwich strongly disagree but I found this remake to be entertaining. It does a good job of introducing elements that bring it up-to-date while still maintaining the basic premise of the original. Focusing more on the human side of the story was a welcomed change; though I would've liked a villain who was stronger and gave 1987's Clarence Boddicker a run for his money. This felt very much like an origin movie to set off a series so we'll see if it does indeed lead to more missions for Alex Murphy.
The Monuments Men ★★½
The Monuments Men is a film whose sum isn't equal to its parts. Here's all I need to say about George Clooney's (based on a) true story about a team of men who tried to save art stolen by the Nazis during World War II: when you find a way to make Bill Murray uninteresting in a film you've done something wrong. With this much talent you should have a slam dunk on your hands but everyone seems to be kind of just phoning it in. The music can also be over-bearing one minute and then completely disappear the next. Rent it if you're a fan of the actors.
Labor Day ★★
The best thing about this movie was the trailer featuring the song "Wings" by Birdy which I happen to really like. I realized after seeing this and Spike Lee's Oldboy remake that Josh Brolin really isn't that great of an actor. At all. Unless you want a good looking middle-aged man to glower at the camera. There were times his wooden acting made him come off as creepy and I'm pretty sure that wasn't what they were going for since you're supposed to believe this woman falls in love with him over the course of a long weekend. The story also got increasingly ridiculous as it progressed until I found myself hoping this dope would get caught.
Lone Survivor ★½
This is the one 2014 release that I have written a full review for so I won't rehash it here but basically I found this to be a loud, overly-violent, jingoistic insult to the men and women who risk their lives every day while serving their country. Watch the 2010 documentary Restrepo if you want to see a great film about soldiers in Afghanistan.
Non-Stop is incredibly stupid, so is its lead character, and it must expect its audience to be stupid as well if the filmmakers thought they could get a contrived story like this past them. There are way too many red herrings throughout its runtime and yet, if you pay close attention to casting decisions, you can solve the whodunit question almost immediately.
3 Days to Kill ★
If you had told me that only two days after seeing Non-Stop I would see a movie that was even dumber I would've been skeptical. Unfortunately, I'd have been dead wrong. While Kevin Costner goes around trying to imitate Christian Bale's Batman voice, Amber Heard...honestly, I don't know what the hell she was doing here. Even in the trailer I found her look to be odd but that's only the tip of the iceberg. I don't know what she was supposed to be or why every scene she was in seemed to be from a different style of movie but I do know that her good looks weren't enough to make me find her interesting or ignore her terrible acting. There's also several moments where either because of sloppy story-telling, editing, or both it's hard to tell what's going on or even what time of day it is. [Warning: The following pun is totally intended.] Only see this if you have 2 Hours to Kill. Actually, even then forget it. Just go see Non-Stop if you insist on seeing a bad movie with an aging action star because at least it's slightly less idiotic.