December 2014 Preview

 

Well, folks, 2014 is winding down, and as perusual, we have a ton of major films coming out now to cap off the year nicely. Let’s take a look at them today, and remember, I have not seen these films and my predictions come solely from early reviews, trends, Oscar buzz, and my abilities as a film reviewer. I’m pretty good at predicting success or failure based on a lot of factors, and I merely want to provide you with a solid bit of info to make your holiday choices well.

 

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The Pyramid

We discussed The Pyramid before, and I have high hopes for it, but personally, I feel as though the studio decision to drop it at the beginning of December is not something I feel great about. While December is a great month for films, a horror film release during this time is almost as much a death notice as sending it out in January. I like the story about a group of archaologists studying pyramid ruins only to be hunted by something alive in there intrigues me, and I like the work of first time director Gregory Levasseur, who penned previous horror films like the remakes to The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors, so it may stand tall, but I’m pretty on the fence with this one. That being said, horror movies are a lot of fun in theaters, are they not?

 

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Wild

Jean-Marc Vallee is riding high off the success of last year’s Dallas Buyer’s Club, and it would seem to be continuing with the Oscar buzz connected to Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name, chronicling her journey of over 1100 miles hiking to come to emotional terms with tragedy in her life. Reese Witherspoon won’t be taking the Oscar for her portrayal this year, but I’m hearing that she is on the short list of possible nominees. This seems like a definite win, from the adaptation by famed writer Nick Hornby to the many performances being universally loved.

 

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

Ridley Scott and I have a strained relationship. I love his skills as a director, but every director’s cut he has ever had has disappointed me beyond belief, so in that way, I like that he is a studio man, and doesn’t get final cut. His new film, based on the works of the Bible, features Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, looks epic to be sure, and the Oscar buzz for its technical achievements cannot be ignored. I think Ridley Scott has crafted a unique look at these events, and after a year of unique visions (Noah) and Christian pandering films (God’s Not Dead), Exodus will likely divide moviegoers. I’m all in, but not everyone will be.

 

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

I mean, C’MON! It’s the friggin’ Hobbit! I loved The Lord of the Rings! I love the previous Hobbit films. How can this not be an event film? I get the first feelings of huge critical acclaim for this finale to the Middle-Earth Saga. The previous Hobbit releases were less loved than their decade-old brethren, but I think director Peter Jackson is ready to cap off his saga the right way, delivering a truly epic experience.

 

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Annie

I’m just going to say this one.  NO! There. Annie getting a remake didn’t bother me much, until I saw the cringe-inducing trailer. This film likely had its heart in the right place, but it will be awful.

 

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The Gambler

Mark Wahlberg has had an interesting career. He does big Oscar films like Lone Survivor and The Fighter, and then he has Pain & Gain and Transformers: Age of Extinction. So what is The Gambler? A lit professor has an affair with a student and then gets involved with a loan shark in this film from director Rupert Wyatt and writer William Monahan. I think this film will be more towards The Fighter, which is good. I like Wyatt’s directing and I love Monahan’s writing, so I have some good vibes.

 

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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Here we are, at the end of Robin William’s esteemed career. This is the last film of the famed performer and if we can look back at the previous two Night at the Museum films, we can say that we are looking at a lot of fun. Don’t expect a perfect night, and understand that it won’t be an original masterpiece (even the first sequel retreaded the same waters as its predecessor), but I’m not thinking bad.

 

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Big Eyes

So Tim Burton’s newest film doesn’t look like a Tim Burton film. The true story of Margaret Keane and her husband during her explosion as an artist seems like a good place to take filmgoers. There are nuances of Burton’s style here but this is wholly new territory and I can respect that, and with the great work previously seen from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, I’m actually pretty excited for Big Eyes.

 

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The Interview

I guess no controversy is bad controversy, right? The Interview is literally a movie about an undercover assassination of Kim Jong-Un. And it is a comedy with James Franco and Seth Rogen. Yes, those two sentences are related. There was so much controversy surrounding this film when it had its first trailer release that I wasn’t sure the film would ever be released, but here it comes, just in time for Christmas. I’m sure it will have the right laughs and I feel like I need to see it just to understand what the hell this was all for, but tread carefully people. Sometimes studios push controversy to cover a disappointing finished product.

 

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Into the Woods

Disney’s star-studded adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical bringing together a cadre of fairy tale creatures in a dark and stunning atmospheric wood seems to be bringing the good buzz. There was definite controversy surrounding whether Disney’s version would contain some of the darker aspects of the original musical brought me out a bit, but I’m hoping that Rob Marshall’s directing and the incredible Meryl Streep can keep this film rollicking.

 

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Unbroken

The last major film on our list is Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, is a true story of Louis Zamperini who was a POW in World War II after being hailed for his skills as an Olympic runner previously. Zamperini’s intense story of survival is already garnering a ton of Oscar buzz so I have good feeling abound. See this one. I know I will be.

 

 

So there you go. And here you go:

 

Best Bets: Wild, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Big Eyes, Unbroken

Likely Drops: Annie

On the Bubble: The Pyramid, The Gambler, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, The Interview, Into the Woods

 

Remember these are not set in stone, sometimes a film can surprise (in both directions) and you may seem something I did not. Enjoy yourself and Happy Holidays!

Oculus (2013)

Oculus

Director: Mike Flanagan.

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff.

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard.

103 mins. Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.

 

I was pretty excited to see Oculus recently. I truly enjoyed director Mike Flanagan’s previous work in Absentia (I saw the premiere at the Fargo Film Festival back in 2011), and I wanted to see where he take us next when he had a bigger budget and more room to play. Unfortunately, I spent most of Oculus arguing with myself over whether I was enjoying myself or not. Not ever a really good sign. It felt to me like a film that was trying to confuse its audience so they wouldn’t see all the ridiculous plot points for what they really were.

Oculus tells the story of Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan, TV’s Doctor Who), who is trying to prove to her brother, Tim (Brenton Thwaites), that the reason their parents went insane several years ago was because of a haunted mirror. Initially, thoughts went through my head about the previous horror film Mirrors, a decent effort from director Alexandre Aja. Sadly, this film falls flat even after a pretty fantastic opening setup.

The film plays out in two timelines simultaneous, one with Kaylie and Tim as children, the other years later as adults. Playing them against each other proves pretty interesting, except at the end when the timelines devolve into a confusing, jumbled and ultimately, disappointingly predictable finale.

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Oculus does a great job setting the events of the film into motion. We are given a solid premise and even rules to govern the journey we are going on as Kaylie describes exactly how she plans on proving the mirror’s intentions of evil and how she planned on destroying it. Soon after, however, the film departs from these rules and chooses to never reference them again.

I also had a problem with the mirror’s motivations. Okay, I get it, that sounds silly, but in any horror film, you have to get what the killer or monster’s motivations are or what the hell does it matter? Michael Myers was trying to kill all his relatives. Jason Voorhees was the closest thing to birth control for Crystal Lake, hacking and slashing his way through teens as vengeance for his dead mother. Freddy Krueger was also all about revenge, and Chucky the killer doll just wanted out of his plastic body. Oculus’ mirror, however, plays tricks on people. Some of them are meant to maim or kill, but other times, it plays out like a violent joke. One such scene, where the mirror leads Kaylie to believe that she has bitten into a light bulb gets us to see that it was only an apple. Why would a mirror do that? Wouldn’t the opposite be much more terrifying and gruesome?

This’ll sound funny as well, but I didn’t feel like the mirror was a well-built character. It didn’t have enough presence in the film. For all we know, it could’ve been a haunted oven or house or pretty much anything. It didn’t really use its reflection to terrorize. There was nothing to tell us the mirror was really behind anything. Its backstory kind of disappointed as well. If this becomes a franchise, I would like to see it explored much more.

The performances were fine, especially from Gillan and Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories) who play adult and young Kaylie, respectively. Katee Sackhoff (TV’s Battlestar Galactica, Riddick) and Rory Cochrane (Argo, Parkland) do respectable work as Russell parents Marie and Alan.

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I’ve heard a lot of reports that Oculus may be looking at becoming a franchise, and if so, it has some digging to do before it reaches a status worthy of yearly trips to the movie theater.  I see potential, and there were a few great moments about this film, but all in all, I drove home from the movie not angry, but disappointed, and in the end, isn’t that worse?

Have you seen Oculus? What did you think? Comment below.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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