5 Films of 2014 – Mini Reviews

2015 is officially here, but I wanted to take a moment and look back on the films I saw in theaters this past year with brief reviews. Here are my top 5 memorable cinema experiences for 2014:

1.) Godzilla

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I grew up with Godzilla movies and I love the franchise. I was little hesitant about the new film coming out considering what happened the last time American studios brought the King of Monster Island back into theaters. However, I found myself enjoying this film quite a bit. The writers and directors paid homage to the originals and did a notable job at maintaining the spirit of Godzilla in a new and modern setting. I would have liked to see the antagonist monsters look more fantastical and a little less Cloverfield, but I was impressed by the motivation of these beasts. I liked that they were coming together out of a mating ritual and saw the humans as interference into their animal kingdom.

I found the red smoke scene with the Ligeti piece playing particularly haunting and I loved that Godzilla returns to the water as he classically does in many of these films. I also enjoyed the world tour aspect and the final kill was highly entertaining and left my jaw dropped.

I only wish that the human characters were a little less bland. I found it difficult to get attached to the main family and felt bored when they were the only ones on screen. I would have loved to follow Bryan Cranston’s character throughout the entire film because he had the most personality and motive. I was fond of the idea of this ESL teacher in Japan slowly going crazy trying to find Godzilla only to be proved right.

2.) X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Again, I grew up with the X-Men movies and cartoons. I love X-Men and my favorite so far has been First Class. I liked how this movie combined the original trilogy and the new films. Even though there were some gaping plot holes and a great deal of unanswered questions, none of that bothered me. I simply enjoy these characters. James McAvoy does a brilliant job in portraying a young Professor X and brings more light into this character. It’s interesting to see Charles turn into the man he is the trilogy and McAvoy’s performance shows that transgression in a natural way.

The rest of the cast is wonderful too, but this film needed a little more Quicksilver. My favorite scene by far was when the audience gets a look inside his mind while he’s running at top speed. The world slows down and he’s almost swimming through the room while Time in a Bottle plays in the background. It’s a brilliant scene and one of the many beautifully done shots. While I was disappointed we didn’t get to see more of the X-Men veterans (Storm, Rouge, Ice Man, Kitty, Colossal), I’m looking forward to the next installment. In the meantime I’ll be holding my breath until Nightcrawler makes a much needed return.

3.) Guardians of the Galaxy

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This movie was a blast. From the second the title appeared with Come and Get Your Love gracing the background, I knew I was in for a treat. Some of the pacing felt rushed, but nothing that was overly distracting. I never thought I could become attached to a raccoon and a tree, but I also didn’t think that a movie labeled Guardians of thee Galaxy could make me shed a tear and it did. Never have I been more thankful of the darkness in theaters than I did during the first five minutes of this film.

The actors were obviously having a good time and the chemistry was perfect for characters that were trying to figure one another out. The villain (as much as I love Lee Pace) fell flat and he could have been built up more. The same could be said for Nebula, but again, it was nothing overly distracting.

A sequel has been confirmed and I will be happily waiting with my own Awesome Mix.

4.) Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

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I’ve never been a big Captain America fan. I don’t dislike the character or Chris Evans, I just don’t find myself particularly drawn to him. I found myself spacing out during the first film unless Peggy Carter or Bucky Barnes were on screen. For that I blame the writing, but Captain America 2 redeemed the adequacy that was the First Avenger. While there were still parts that couldn’t hold my interest, there was more material that did.

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is wonderful and I felt that his character was more humanized in this entry. The audience learns more about his family and his thought process so Fury becomes more than just “that bad-ass guy with the eye patch.” Falcon and Bucky were also highlights in this film. Falcon had the most personality and was instantly likeable for me. I was glad he was treated as more of a comrade to Black Widow and Captain America and not shoved into the “goofy sidekick” category. Here’s hoping he’ll get his own spot on the Avengers soon enough.

Bucky was a fantastic villain because he wasn’t truly a villain. I knew that he would become the Winter Soldier when the First Avenger came out, but I wasn’t sure where the writers were going to take his character. Despite having little dialogue, Bucky’s facial expressions said everything for him. Every emotion and thought was in his eyes and it was remarkably done. The after credit scene of him standing in front of his sign at the Captain America exhibit was haunting. It lasted less than a minute, no one spoke, and yet I could see the gears grinding inside his head. I could see him holding back 50 years of built up rage, panic, and tears. All within under a minute. It was scenes like this that made me confident about putting Avengers 3 into the hands of the Russo Brothers.

5.) The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

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Once more, this is a franchise I grew up with. I’ve seen the Rankin Bass adaption of Tolkein’s the Hobbit quite a few times and part of me believes they handled the pacing much better than Peter Jackson. My biggest concern is that the Hobbit did not need to be expanded into three films. I could understand splitting it into two, but even then it wouldn’t be necessary.

Battle of the Five Armies would be a difficult movie to watch all on it’s own because it’s one battle sequence. It’s the climax to a story spread out into three hours. Some of the affects felt off and while I was in the theater, I noticed that scenes warranted laughter that weren’t meant to. There was something that didn’t feel quite right about this installment and I’m not sure if it was the lack of character interaction or that (for reasons unknown) the ending actually felt rushed.

Despite concluding a trilogy, the resolution seemed to be tacked onto the end of a battle scene. There is little time to see the characters mourn over their losses or adjust to life after this grand adventure. Due to this, the consequences of the battle felt undermined. There aren’t enough quite moments to let the price of these actions sink in. Instead the audience and characters are taken from the silence all too fast causing the emotion to fade before it can make any sort of impression.

Was it a bad film? No, there were some good lines and some pleasant scenes. The fighting was well down and Martin Freeman was the perfect Bilbo as always. I also enjoyed the auction scene at the end and, again, I wish we could have lingered more on Bilbo’s homecoming. Still, the acting was great and it is worth watching if you enjoyed Lord of the Rings or the first two Hobbit films. There just seems to be something missing.

The one film I regret not being able to see in theaters was Birdman, but I will be renting it the second it arrives on DVD. As for 2015, so far I’m looking forward to The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Here’s to a new year of film!

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