Reviewing 2014 Films: Snowpiercer, Lego Movie and Captain America – The Winter Soldier

#457: Snowpiercer

Kicked off my 2014 movie theater experience with this Snowpiercer, a thought-provoking futuristic action/drama/thriller with a stellar cast and a fine Korean director (Boon Joon-ho) who clearly knows how to tell a story and have audiences care about his characters. Some scenes might have been unnecessary, but those 5-10 minutes are overpowered by an intense two-hour train ride that presents so many “what if” situations that it leaves you wanting to start a conversation with others. A very good, intellectual watch and it’s too bad it went by the theaters without much noise. GRADE: B+

#458: Lego Movie

Saw this with friends and we had a good time. It has better depth, voice acting and animation than most but it doesn’t boast laugh-a-minute gags that Rotten Tomatoes claims it has. I did have some issues with the speed of the action (the frame rate specifically) as well as some “meh” parts in the third act, but everything else was awesome and I wish I could give it a grade higher than B just for its entertainment value. It wasn’t the sell-out I expected it to be, so kudos to the makers.

With striking block-animation, great voice acting and likeable characters, Warner Bros. has managed to assemble a massively enjoyable film that isn’t just a marketing ploy to sell toys (though after seeing this, I kind of wanna buy a Lego set!). It has a sensible story and a message that will surely resonate to kids and adults alike. And as long as you can accept some of its flaws you’ll have no problems sitting through it. GRADE: B

#459: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

This was a solid stand-alone Marvel film. It had less CGI, more physical action and I liked it. While sequelitis has worn down some of its novelty, I liked its techno-thriller vibe and I felt that the stakes were much bigger here than in Thor: The Dark World. But at the end of the day it’s still within the bounds of normalcy but maybe just a tad grittier than the average installment. Not much closure due to the forthcoming Marvel titles, but the preview at the end-credits means that we’re inching ever so closely to the reportedly dark and dry Avengers 2. GRADE: B

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Review #456: The Wolf of Wall Street

Excessive, effective entertainment

The film’s excessiveness and irreverence may prevent others from enjoying this very polarizing black comedy, but I felt that the presentation of the life of Jordan Belfort was both effective and entertaining. Leonardo DiCaprio gets wild and crazy, and you can say the same to describe Martin Scorsese’s directing. For a guy who’s 71 years old, you have to wonder how he was able to muster this (considering he made child-friendly Hugo just a few years back).

Yep, the number of vajayjays and/or cocaine in each scene might be too much. Yet I felt everything that was shown in the film was there for good reason: to remind us of what happened in Wall Street (of course it’s loosely true), to effectively preclude us from believing it was alright, and to show the consequences of the actions of a very, very morally deceased person. That said, the film didn’t have to be 3 hours long! Still, I had a fun time watching, and it will definitely have a place in my list of iconic/memorable movies. Oh, and P.S., I shall remember the name Margot Robbie for the rest of my life. She surprised the hell out of me with her alluring charm.

GRADE: B+

Movie Review #455: American Hustle

Performances are top-notch… the story? Not so much.

When you have such great talent attached to a project, it’s almost impossible to dislike a film especially when you know it’s the cast and crew’s intention to actually make something legitimately good. David O. Russell’s American Hustle is commendable for its high production values. The cast was wonderful, the hair and costume was excellent and the whole film was shot superbly. The only thing I felt was lacking was the screenplay, which to be fairly honest… was quite disappointing.

My problem with the film was not exactly the material, but rather the way it was used here. It’s fairly strong content and if done in another way might’ve been more effective. For a comedy/drama however, it tends to bring up some tonal issues and it finds itself swaying awkwardly from one genre to another. I also felt the film was weakest at the beginning and end, as it took quite a while for me to warm up to the two leads (Christian Bale and Amy Adams). But later on when I actually started caring for them I felt like their story was abruptly ended.

Despite the hiccups, I really enjoyed my time with the entire cast. Adams and Bale truly deserve their nominations. Jennifer Lawrence is simply a force to be reckoned with and her Oscar nomination is no surprise. Three other actors need some love too: Bradley Cooper is on a roll lately, and while Jeremy Renner and Robert De Niro didn’t show up much, they make their moments worthwhile. It was such a joy to see them own their roles, and I can say their improvisations and timely delivery really helped this movie out. That’s American Hustle’s main attraction. It’s a must-see movie just for that reason alone. So while this may not be the year’s best, it would be a shame if you missed it.

GRADE: B