Godzilla

Godzilla (2014)

2014 / Gareth Edwards > You’ve done it, Gareth Edwards: You have given me everything I’ve ever wanted in a mainstream monster film in a neat, two-hour package.  The subtlety, the lore, the focus on the smallest of details.  In fact, you’ve almost made me forget Ferris Bueller’s taint on Godzilla! Your ability to capture the feeling of a devastating, towering presence in a metropolis of your choosing has yielded memories of classic kaiju adventures! The respect you pay to the genre is only surpassed by your much needed attention to what the audience wants, though not at the detriment to basic filmgoing intelligence. There is family drama, romance, monsters, science, some math and even a little sex (though probably not the kind we deem to be normal). It has twists, turns but not the kind that Shyamalan would throw upon an innocent bystander! What I appreciated most were the aesthetics. The bits that made me care, the hints and the heartbreaks without going overboard and at just the right moments.

And by the way, how did you ever get “Kick-Ass” guy to look like an action hero? Kudos!

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Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon (1987)

1987 / Richard Donner > They don’t make ‘em like this anymore: An 80′s buddy cop actioner with an underlying sense of humor that pervades even the most serious of moments.  As such, while Lethal Weapon is damn violent, it’s also damn charming to watch Mel Gibson and Danny Glover interact and build their relationship against a backdrop of family ties, Los Angeles prostitutes and bad Christmas turkeys.  We also get to witness Gary Busey’s Mr. Joshua, a villainous caricature who finds ways to progress the plot due to a dire need to impress his big, bad boss.  It doesn’t always make much sense, but it works—even if it’s pretty thin.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

2014 / Joe & Anthony Russo > You’ve done it, Marvel: You’ve finally taken your audience for granted.  In the post-The Dark Knight world of comic superhero films, we, as an audience, have become increasingly forgiving in the hopes that the major studios will continue to follow through in their promise to actually build plausible storylines, that we won’t be insulted by constant deus ex machina plot progressions and 180° character transformations.  While The Avengers did quite a bit to strengthen our hope, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has ripped the concrete off that foundation.

At this point in time, Marvel has the global audience by its neck.  It cannot fail because we’ve been brainwashed to believe they can do no wrong.  The positivity surrounding this film is shocking as it’s a veiled attempt at capitalizing on a generic storyline utilizing tropes that would shame Steve Rogers.   After nine films, the formula is not only getting stale but regressing.  The thought of the The Winter Soldier’s plot co-existing with The Avengers feels absolutely ridiculous.  And the pattern has become obvious: Hero finds devious plan much bigger than previous film and succeeds in taking care of the issue—but with one lingering problem that leads to the subsequent sequel.  So, knowing that the third Captain America film is due in two years, couldn’t we get more of an emotional bridge?  All we got were bread crumbs and no finalities.  In this universe, everything seems to have a way of resurrecting—and while this may be a common theme in comics, it becomes a rather lame exercise at the cinema.

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42

42 (2013)

Killing the Breeze2013 / Brian Helgeland > There’s nothing worse in sports than mismanaging a prized asset. You can’t force positions on a player he’s physically not fit for, though some managers and coaches will outsmart themselves into thinking so. Once in a while, it may end up working, but statistically, success is an uncommon outcome. Therefore prized assets, especially those with significant potential, should be handled with care by the gentlest and more sophisticated of persons.

Jackie Robinson was a prized asset, a great ballplayer and an equally great man who struck one of the strongest chords in the fight for racial equality in American history. To think that he entered the big leagues over 15 years before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech is to gain perspective on the importance of Robinson’s act. As such, his story, to be told for a wide audience, should have been handed to someone more capable than a director whose best effort was a Mel Gibson revenge flick.1 It’s painful to witness a story of such gravity butchered with generic characterization and amateur manipulation tactics.  Too many by-the-line good vs. bad guy scenes undermine Robinson’s actual achievements for a feel good time, one that can be had only if you can force yourself to turn a blind eye to such shenanigans.  In an era of heightened racism due to anti-Obama rhetoric and the wide net cast by social media, it’s important to remain objective about race relations rather than pigeonhole them into buckets to serve superficial purposes.  Sadly, 42 sends Robinson back to the minors and loses out on an opportunity to educate contemporary youth about race history.


  1. Helgeland won an Oscar for writing L.A. Confidential, but surely Curtis Hanson’s tight directing is what ultimately kept it together.  
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The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

2012 / Derek Cianfrance >  A generational crime saga back-ended by a coming-of-age story of discovery and loss, The Place Beyond the Pines is a confluence of genres that don’t often see each other at the cinema.  And if you take into effect its headliners—current A-listers Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper—you’re in for a bigger shock considering the pace at which the film plays out.  Unlike Cianfrance’s last effort, the painful-to-watch but ultimately impressive Blue Valentine1, Pines flows fairly smoothly, but it’s also not as snazzy as mainstream filmgoers would expect.  It’s a slow burn (clocking in at almost 2.5 hours) that’s heavily dependent on meditating upon the past.  The nature of forgiveness, a topic the Dardennes2 have nearly perfected, is at the forefront as we see fathers and sons come to terms with who they are.  In fact, the film sets forth a “manly” proposition in defining the roles of sons through their paternal spirit at the expense of loving but ignored mothers.  Whether you buy that premise or not, one thing that’ll stay with you is the performance of Dane DeHaan3, whose turn as a fatherless teenager will pour sympathy out of your guts.


  1. Our 6th favorite film of 2010.  
  2. The Son is a particularly great example.  
  3. Soon to be famous as Harry Osborne in The Amazing-Spider Man 2.  
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Prometheus

Prometheus

2012 / Ridley Scott > Michael Fassbender is the best android ever: This, sadly, is the one true takeaway from Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe. If forced to admit another, it would be that the elder Scott brother has now further cemented himself as arguably the single most overrated director working today. For him, style over substance has become par for course, and while that isn’t a bad thing, it’s consistently kept him from being great since 1982. His ability to generate such incredible hype based on the success of two films made 30 and 33 years ago is a testament to the power of the Hollywood hierarchy.

Much of this is incredibly frustrating because, while I prepared for Prometheus with lowered expectations, there were still enough moments of complete awe for me to start hoping that, by the end, there would be some kind of pathos that made the experience complete. But there wasn’t, not really. Not the kind of thing that you remember for years on end and harken back to as a point of continuous reference. Who could forget “tears in the rain?” Isn’t that scene what made Blade Runner click? I’d argue that scene alone is responsible for half of the film’s cult following. It perfectly encompassed everything, thematically and spiritually, and completed both the characters’ and the audiences’ emotional arc. In other words, it’s exactly what Prometheus was missing.

Visually, it’s gorgeous, spellbinding. The vast landscapes are easy on the eyes but creeping on the nerves. There’s tension built into every shot, every angle. In fact, it’s so beautiful that I even excused the presence of a few obviously stock characters. Then again, the film is so concerned with looks that Noomi Rapace, giving her best performance since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has full make-up on while on exploration missions deep inside alien caves. Still, maybe she’s just that type, right?

There’s no nitpicking here: The film clearly lacks rationale for quite a few of its climactic sequences. This, of course, shouldn’t be surprising since it’s written by the mastermind behind the con that was Lost: Damon Lindelof. His outline is simple: Create mysteries, throw down an emotional smokescreen and walk away without answers. And I’m not even suggesting that we need anything concrete—the best films leave room for our imagination—we just need context. Context allows us to connect the dots and make films personal. This film, it’s not personal. It’s a hollow shell with beautiful, gorgeous explosions and even prettier eye candy. With more restraint, Prometheus could—and should—have been amazing, but instead we’ll just have to settle for a forgettably good time.

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

1982 / Nicholas Meyer > A lot has been said about The Wrath of Khan, but mostly that it stands, on its own, as the best that Star Trek has to offer. So, do we view the film as a movie in its own right or contextually as a Star Trek, sci-fi genre piece? Ultimately, it depends on tone. When a film follows genre thematics, it should be blessed in a similar light. But when it jumps the rope into competition with anything and everything, a whole slew of additional criteria come into factor. The Wrath of Khan attempts the latter, but doesn’t do it particularly well.

There’s a certain level of Star Trek lore one needs to know to fully appreciate the context of Khan, a character who had previously appeared in an episode of the original series some time ago. Not knowing the backstory doesn’t exactly hurt, but it does mitigate his “wrath” factor. The film, though, is broader than its title. It’s really about the characters—How’s Captain Kirk? What’s Spock up to? Again, all this requires some elementary knowledge of the players. Most of us have grown up to some degree with these characters amongst our midst, but often a lot of our peripheral knowledge comes off of caricatures in mainstream media (think Saturday Night Live, et al). Thus, the gravity of the storyline doesn’t hit home, and viewers like myself are left wondering what the big deal is. Essentially, it fails to resonate because its seriousness isn’t backed up by greater context, and its finale tries to touch upon aspects that a fan familiar with the world would appreciate considerably more.

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Fury

Fury

1936 / Fritz Lang > In cinema, lynch mobs are so often associated with the treatment of blacks in the South that we forget how such mentality exists across all of society. From To Kill a Mockingbird to The Ox-Bow Incident, we can note that it’s just human nature to let our personal beliefs slide when coerced into a majority. Whether it’s right or not, that’s what ends up being for debate. Should one persecute only the leaders of a mob or everyone involved, no matter how little their contribution? In Lang’s first film in the United States after fleeing Nazi Germany, he embodies this metaphor for his homeland with Spencer Tracy at the forefront. Fury is straight-forward, book-ended by just enough sentimentality to give context to the proceedings. The moral preaching is kept to a minimum, which allows the film to breathe in the minds of viewers after it concludes. Ultimately, when held up against the backdrop of what happened during the Third Reich, the film goes beyond entertainment and caps a perfect beginning to Lang’s Hollywood career.

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Contagion

Contagion

2011 / Steven Soderbergh > In 1965, Peter Watkins’ The War Game faux-documented, in a brutally honest manner, a nuclear bombing and the fallout thereafter. It was timely and impacted people on a ground level, knowing that such an attack was entirely possible at the height of the Cold War. Soderbergh attempts to do the same with a deadly virus of unknown origin—as the term “biochemical weapon” is almost a mainstay in the paranoid media—but opts also to inject small subplots of great humanity into the the film’s creases. Therein lies the problem: These stories dilute Contagion’s effectiveness as a cold-blooded cautionary tale. While Cliff Martinez’ chilling score does wonders to bring us into this world that we hope never exists, the script’s near-black and white morality soon jilts our attention. After a while, everything becomes a happy-go-lucky caricature of who we should be as people instead of a deeper dissection of culture in the midst of a tragic outbreak.

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Hugo

Hugo (2011)

2011 / Martin Scorsese > As both an elegy and a celebration of cinema, Hugo is wonderful. But as a composition, the film meanders into side stories of no real consequence without ever fully realizing its promise to the audience: The adventure simply does not satisfy. Once again, Scorsese’s biggest weakness remains glaring: The man’s oeuvre is filled with by-the-numbers storytelling (often with stunning—and dependent—set pieces) that work because the stories themselves are very tightly constructed to begin with. This one isn’t. While the heart is warmed in the manner a family film ought to, the editing lacks a certain tightness to genuinely enthrall us all the way through.

Then there’s the 3D: Many have suggested Scorsese’s utilization of the technology is the best to date, including James Cameron himself. But aside from some of the glowing 1920s Parisian scenery and the gleeful finale that only the most hardcore of film enthusiasts will really appreciate, the additional dimension adds little to the experience. It is a technology that has once again failed to justify both its box office premium as well as the bulky, uncomfortable accessory it depends on.

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