Watched in 2014: 100 Reviews of 100 Movies in 100 Characters (or less)

I caught up on books (25) this year at the expense of video games (only about 12; a more than fair trade, if you ask me). Once again, I somehow managed to get in exactly 100 movies between January 1st and December 31st, and now, here I am at the end of another new year, and here are my reviews of everything that I’ve seen. I’ll admit, some of these are a little thinly-thought-out. At some point I started to forget some of my initial impressions of the movies, but I assure you, the best and the worst of the lot still shine through (for their own disparate reasons). Some of the reviews might seem unfair; some of the scores might need some tweaking. (Broadly, everything that was 4 and under was a “worst”, everything 8 and up was a “best”, but these aren’t hard-and-fast rules, and some leeway might be deserving if re-judged in a more official capacity.)

(UPDATE: After some time out, I decided to make 3 and under “worst”; a lot of stuff that got lumped in there actually had a lot of redeeming qualities, and I don’t think they deserved to be cut down so unceremoniously.)

Some additional rules to last time: I only gave ratings out of 10 to movies I saw for the first time this year. Everything else, I just gave any new insights on the most recent rewatch. I also (perhaps controversially) included movies I started, but never finished. These, I did not give proper scores to, but gave my impressions of anyway; they automatically ranked as among the worst. (This might seem unfair, but consider that, whatever their redeeming qualities, I just couldn’t keep watching them: I tend to look on anything that doesn’t compel me to read on as a failure (at least, for the consumer I am today).) I’m using the same code as last year:

® movies indicate any movies which I’d seen before this year, but just re-watched in 2013.

Yellow highlighted titles (hyperlinked to trailers) were my favorites among the movies I saw for the first time in 2014. (Re-watched movies were not eligible for these considerations.)

Struck-through titles were my worst movies of the year.

And I went ahead and emboldened any movies on my list which were released in 2014 to give them extra weight. And now…the reviews:

 

ACTION/ADVENTURE

The Avengers (2012) ® – Juggling act of characters, jeopardies, motives still rocks. Light and fluffy, but even-handed care.

Batman – Assault on Arkham (2014) – (3/10) PG-13 violence without morals: a boring tale of treachery that plays bluntly to a bland end.

Batman – Under the Red Hood (2010) ® – Red Hood strikes close to home, revealing Batty’s inner conflict while constantly amping up tension.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – (8/10) Cap’s own “Red Hood” arc plays out as intrigue thriller mixed with Marvel action bash-’em-up.

Cool World (1989) – (4/10) Flawed, grimy, underground counterpoint to Roger Rabbit: technically weak; thematically raw.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – (7/10) Reaches for sci-fi heights, but drama relies overmuch on people not talking with one-another.

Doctor Who: Last Christmas (2014) – (7/10) More sci-fi than the usual Doctor fare, you can only do this once a series: they do it right.

The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – (9/10) Sharp sci-fi looped-day actioner mixes charisma and character growth into an exciting medley.

Ender’s Game (2013) – (6/10) Imperfect adaptation is weaker than its source material however well it visualizes its world.

Frozen (2013) – (7/10) Lovely animated tale dares viewer to “be yourself” with two strong, progressive lead females.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (Border 2) Ghost Whisper (2013) – (7/10) Pseudo-episodic movies give an intriguing retrospective look at Motoko’s joining Section 9…

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (Border 3) Ghost Tears (2014) – (6/10) …with a few interesting new conceptions and a bit of narrative experimentation. However…

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (Border 4) Ghost Stands Alone (2014) – (5/10) …the art is subpar for Masamune, & overall intrigue is clouded over this many installments.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – (8/10) Blithe Avengers-lite performs admirably under its roster’s weight, yet spreads thin in spots.

How to Train your Dragon (2010) ® – Rollicking update to old “there’s a better way if they’d only listen” allegory. Toothless iz adorbz.

The Incredibles (2004) ® – Conservative sex politics time capsule of invoked 50’s era? Establishing info drops often graceless.

Kill Bill – Volume 1 (2003) ® – Still my fave. Tarantino delivers over-the-top spectacle and razor-wire tension too! What an ending!

Kill Bill – Volume 2 (2004) ® – Kill Bill Part 2’s gravitas has an underlining message about the importance of being yourself. Cool!

Limitless (2011) – (6/10) Ridiculous actioney premise (2011’s “Lucy”) concealed a surprising parable on drug addiction.

Now You See Me (2013) – (4/10) Utterly forgettable heist/mystery attempts to defy expectation without giving us rules first.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) ® – Some said that the tangled lines of motives and betrayals got too deep here; I savored the richness.

Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End (2007) ® – Why not shoot Will for the compass? Was willing earlier. Should have just said he saw the chartings.

Punisher: War Zone (2008) – (5/10) Saw-like tints with grizzly spectacle; actioner throws plenty of punches, though not all hit.

Shogun Assassin (1980) – (5/10) Some phenomenal effects and cinematography; nonetheless falters due to choppy edited origins.

Snowpiercer (2013) – (7/10) Stylish, gorgeously-grim dystopia confines allegory to a single rail; feels cramped in spots.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) ® – Strikes all the keys in the right order, not because it wants to, but because it must contractually.

Van Helsing (2004) ® – Fun action flick with lots of monsters. Less precisely-crafted than The Mummy reboot, but still fun.

X-Men – Days of Future Past (2014) – (7/10) Plot of X-2, but with time travel. Comics’ penchant for “wipe the board” solutions shows too.

 

COMEDY

Despicable Me 2 (2013) – (4/10) Animated expertise in service of a hackneyed plot, scatological humor, and boring characters.

Emperor’s New Groove (2000) – (7/10) Fantastic animation & witty writing somewhat undercut by ultra-simple morality tale at heart.

The Lego Movie (2014) – (9/10) With its brand-named title and I.P.-laden cast, I expected trash, yet everything was awesome!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 – Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1991) ® – A really fun bad movie has heart to it, love: a straight-faced passion for the situationally absurd.

The Other Guys (2010) – (7/10) Great lampooner run admirably by dint of its two charismatic leads and a knack for absurdity.

Slapshot (1977) – (3/10) Sexism and homophobia wore thin fast as joke fodder in cruel-spirited, revered sports comedy.

Tangled (2010) – (6/10) Poor man’s Frozen fails to match its opponent’s narrative/political daring; is lesser for it.

Time Bandits (1981) ® – Among year’s best accomplishments, finally watching Time Bandits and “getting it” was high up there.

Unicorn City (2012) – (DNF) Gave rise to term “nerd blackface” describing mix of ignorant stereotypes for othering laughs.

Wrong (2013) – (6/10) Somewhat more accessible than Rubber; still surreal & filled with incorrigibly strange ideas.

 

DRAMA

All is Lost (2013) – (7/10) Gravity, but reversed: hero’s hope erodes under isolation and despair. Final act contentious.

Barton Fink (1991) – (6/10) Comedy about nebbish, self-absorbed screenwriter pastiches Hollywood to Hell. Goodman’s cool.

Cashback (2007) – (5/10) Cool cinematography hides a shallow, rapey narrator who purportedly “sees beauty everywhere”.

The Congress (2013) – (5/10) M.C. is either worst mother or a poor heroine. Either way, why is deafness a mental handicap?

Ernest Et Celestine (2012) – (6/10) Beauteous animation overlies a placid tale of misfits who find love. Cute, but quite shallow.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – (8/10) For some reason, didn’t strike me like Moonrise did this year; still gorgeous, charming, fun.

Her (2013) – (9/10) Despite ending manufactured conflict, offers outsider’s look in at human need for love, loss.

In The House (2012) – (DNF) Not nearly perverse enough a subversion to warrant extra attention—by the teacher or audience.

The Master (2012) – (4/10) Arid fictive biopic lost me at half-way point. P.T. Anderson’s voice just isn’t right for me.

Midnight in Paris (2013) – (9/10) Light romance across literary eras struck deeply despite chidings that “grass isn’t greener.”

Moneyball (2011) – (8/10) Turducken of an underdog story plays by the numbers but succeeds in humanizing MC’s struggle.

Moon (2009) ® – Only realized subtleties of Rockwell’s performance(s) on repeat viewing; added to my favorites list.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – (10/10) Hearty, childhood celebration brings world down to its level: we can do anything, so let us!

Nebraska (2013) – (10/10) Pitch-perfect perspective on aging, small-town life, history, love, loss, lies, truth, youth

Network (1979) – (8/10) A cynical “Being There”: prophetic glimpse of today’s blend of money, news and entertainment.

October Sky (1999) ® – Occasionally saccharine, catches “can do attitude” that’s so intrinsic to the American spirit/dream.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) – (9/10) Benign bloodsuckers lounge and lament while world whizzes by. Exquisite look in from outside.

The Theory of Everything (2014) – (6/10) Predictable tell-all focuses on drama with great performances, especially by Redmayne, Jones.

The Wind Rises (2014) – (6/10) – Miyazaki’s love of constructing complex animation astounds, yet tale falters on inaccuracy.

 

DOCUMENTARY

Cutie and the Boxer (2011) – (7/10) A subversion of the typical “obsessive visionary” story which also shows lives come after it.

Jodorowski’s Dune (2014) – (6/10) Lament to unmade masterpiece writ by unreliable narrator: like heist movie without the heist.

 

HORROR

Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1947) – (4/10) Headliners play well together, but jokes, sets have aged severely; Dracula is way too chatty.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) – (6/10) Cabin in the Woods for the 1940’s shines funny, insightful light on horror tropes of the era.

The Babadook (2014) – (8/10) While Samuel’s behavior seems stacked against audience, motherhood horror’s message IS scary.

The Battery (2012) – (5/10) Another director whose style just isn’t for me: distinct voice bangs hard against convention.

Bunshinsaba (2004) – (2/10) No establishing shots! No pacing! No stopping! If it isn’t action, I don’t care about it! GO!

Cabin in the Woods (2012) ® – The dehumanizing horror of bureaucracy mixed with the ridiculousness of relying on it, sight unseen.

Chopping Mall (1984) – (6/10) Tiny ’84 horror about robots manages to bring nifty robo-props AND strong female heroes; wow!

Cujo (1983) – (5/10) Gravitas of final conflict demanded subtleties not within scope of director, cast to deliver.

Dark City (1998) ® – While still marked by evocative images, ideas, I can’t help but feel it’s lost its luster this year.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014) – (6/10) Hit-or-miss zombie spectacle takes off gloves for gore, but much comedy falls flat on tropes.

Diary of the Dead (2007) ® – This year I learned that Stephen King, Rob Zombie, and Simon Pegg had voice-over cameos in this. OK.

Dog Soldiers (2002) – (5/10) Opening’s a mess of jump cuts. Some plot errors too. Decent effects; interesting wolf design.

Dracula (1931) – (5/10) Camera-work and effects aged poorly, but Frye’s performance still spooks me. So much silence!

Eraserhead (1977) – (7/10) Surreal nightmare vision of a world where the Ancient Ones arose in an industrial Armageddon.

Europa Report (2011) – (6/10) Behaves like any found-footage slasher with dumb character-caused predicaments propelling it.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) – (3/10) Alt. Title “Wolfman 2 (with Frankenstein!)” Better cinematography but just as poorly written.

Grabbers (2011) – (7/10) Creature feature farce hits on funny bones and creepy bones without breaking much new ground.

Grave Encounters (2011) – (4/10) Nicks ideas from House of Leaves, but fails to make characters or sets to grab our attention.

The Guest (2014) – (9/10) Mix of “fix the family” & “home invasion” plots goes down smooth with great casting & style.

The Loved Ones (2013) – (7/10) Dad & daughter’s great sexual chemistry speaks volumes about tone of odd Aussie torture tale.

Martin (1978) – (7/10) Dexter? Is that you? Bloody family drama seems predisposed with keeping its ambiguity stable.

The Mummy (1932) – (6/10) Plot holes, racism, and sexism abound (the 30s), but neat shots and Karloff are worth seeing.

Oculus (2014) – (5/10) Creepy concepts and experimental editing can’t hype up a foe that the heroes will never beat.

Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007) – (2/10) This is a misguided, lazy cash-out, churning a ghost story into a bad slasher flick. (Boobs!)

Strange Circus (2005) – (DNF) Perhaps too strange. Lost interest at final stretch, waiting for split dream narrative to gel.

The Wolf Man (1941) – (2/10) Non-starter characters, plot. Creep saves girl from wolf, gets bit, kills a guy, gets killed.

Triangle (2008) – (3/10) Despite coolness of crafting a looped narrative, it crashes by the very logic of its premise.

Tusk (2014) – (4/10) Scattershot of the farcical and horrific just missed: neither side sank in enough to grab me.

Frankenstein (1931) – (6/10) Best of the five I watched; plot structure clearly became a template for all that came after.

V/H/S Viral (2014) – (5/10) Like “cheese flavorings”: may not contain actual horror, but has tasty bits mixed throughout.

Village of the Damned (1960) – (5/10) Old “enemy within” tale treats female characters the same way aliens do: gestation pods only.

 

SUSPENSE/THRILLER

A Most Wanted Man (2014) – (7/10) LeCarre novels come more regularly than Bond, provide a more complex, sober look at spy-work.

Godzilla (2014) – (7/10) The saddest moment is when Joe Brody dies, because then we’re stuck with Ford for our “hero”.

Identity (2003) – (6/10) Cliched, preposterous premise nevertheless delivers an unsettling situational horror mystery.

The Interview (1998) – (5/10) A mystery that only really has two or three tricks up its sleeve; canvas for the camera only.

Magic Magic (2013) – (4/10) Weirdout, blue-balling thriller sets up dozens of possible endings, yet chooses none of them.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) – (8/10) A plot filled with intrigue and red herring never gets jumbled while the cast brings it 100%.

The Name of the Rose (1986) – (8/10) Re-imagines Sherlock as a monk in the dark ages with a mystery that winds along satisfyingly.

Predestination (2014) – (7/10) Smart, human sci-fi story is hampered by its own rules: what it is and isn’t allowed to show.

Solyaris (1972) – (3/10) My final attempt at Russian cinema: far too sparse, slow, sleepy, and thin for my base taste.

Super (2010) ® – Like “Time Bandits”, I finally got “Super” on its own terms on a re-watch: a discourse on “heroism.”




©2013 by Blake Vaughn. The text of this story may be redistributed freely in its original form with attribution to the author, Blake Vaughn, and his website, www.blakevaughn.com, as under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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