Top 10 Movies from the first half of 2014

top10_2014_firsthalf

It’s been about three weeks since we passed the halfway mark of 2014, so I figure I should get this list up before the end of July. As I did the previous years, I’m including some films that might’ve opened internationally prior to 2014, but I’m including them here as I’m using the USA release dates (either wide or limited releases). These are movies that I consider a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is a big factor but it doesn’t account as high as the other virtues I’ve mentioned, because some of the films here are more of a one-time-viewing-only types (for me anyway), but I still very much appreciate the artistry and passion that goes into making them.

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. The Grand Seduction (full review)

TheGrandSeductionStills

I almost missed seeing this one at the MSPIFF earlier this year but I’m glad I was able to catch the second screening. I had a lot of fun with this one and I’d be happy to watch this again at some point. You can always count on Brendan Gleeson to entertain, and here he delivers once again along with Newfoundland’s most famous celebrity Gordon Pinsent and surprisingly enough, Taylor Kitsch is fun to watch here as well. This comedy is delightfully funny, heartwarming and beautiful to look at, it could practically doubles as a tourism video for the Canadian province!

9. Edge of Tomorrow (full review)

EdgeOfTomorrow_9

I’ve been seeing this movie in fellow bloggers’ favorite-of-the-year list and I can see why. I bet it was as much a pleasant surprise for them as it did for me, as I was ready to dismiss this one as yet another Tom Cruise’s meh sci-fi. Well, it ended up being massively entertaining and has a worthy female heroine in the form of Emily Blunt. The movie is not as profound as some people made it out to be, but props to director Doug Liman for pulling off the ‘repetitive’ aspect of the story that is far from boring. I certainly don’t mind a repeat experience of seeing this one again on rental.

8. The LEGO Movie (full review)

LEGOMovie_Stills2

Everything is awesome! Now that’s a bold tagline to live up to, but guess what, this movie did just that and then some! Apparently February is NOT just for duds and I’m pretty sure this one will get a nomination come award season. The LEGO Movie is easily one of the most fun experience I had in the movies in a long time, it’s every bit as cute and hilarious as the trailers and featurettes promised us. It’s the perfect geekstravaganza for everyone of all ages, an awesome escapist from the Winter Dump Months for the young and the young-at-heart.

7. The Machine (full review)

TheMachine_7

Ok so some of you might think because Toby Stephens is in this that this movie ends up in my top 10… and well, you won’t be entirely wrong 😉 But I really do think this is a worthy sci-fi that’s well-made, well-acted AND thought-provoking. Made with a shoestring budget (less than $2 mil), The Machine has more heart than its big budget sci-fi counterparts (think Elysium) which proves that it takes way more than big budget and big stars to make a memorable movie. The two leads, Stephens and Caity Lotz are impressive here, and their performances are able to overcome the flaws of the movie, and their scenes are what make this movie watchable over and over.

6. Locke (full review)

Locke_Hardy1

It’s a testament of Tom Hardy‘s strong screen presence and Steven Knight‘s taut script and direction that this one-man show is gripping even when practically nothing happens on screen. The entire film takes place inside a car with Hardy’s Ivan Locke behind the wheel. It’s certainly one of the most unique cinematic experience that immerses you into the world of its protagonist. Visually it’s striking too, somehow Knight’s able to make highway driving look so dramatic and even artistic. If you ever had any doubt about Hardy’s acting prowess, well then I suggest you check this one out and prepare to be blown away.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (full review)

GrandBudapestHotel_Stills2

I don’t love everything Wes Anderson put out there, but this one works for me. It captivated me from the opening scene all the way until the end. It’s more fast-paced than his other films but has all the things you expect from Wes: the quirky characters, the perfect symmetry of every single scene, playful music, etc.  I was quite invested in the two lead characters, particularly Zero Mustafa (played by F. Murray Abraham and Tony Revolori), more than I’ve ever felt about previous Wes Anderson’s characters. Mischievously whimsy, but with heart. Like a charming hotel, it’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again.

4. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (full review)

HTTYD2_HiccupToothless

I adore the first film so I was a bit nervous this sequel would not live up to it. Well clearly I LOVE this one too as it made my top 5 so far. Despite the more complicated storyline, writer/director Dean DeBlois still made the adorable duo Toothless and Hiccup the central focus of the story. The additional character played by Cate Blanchett delves more into Hiccup’s family background, which makes you appreciate him and his father Stoick (Gerard Butler). With John Powell’s rousing score once again, this ranks high in my favorite animated features and would probably be among the nominees come award season!

3. Belle (full review)

BelleStills2

For a fan of period dramas, Amma Assante‘s sophomore feature has everything I could possibly want from this genre, and then some. Some critics call it ‘Jane Austen with a conscience’ as the protagonist’s story is set in the backdrop of slavery and racial injustice. Gugu Mbatha-Raw gracefully carries the film with her heartfelt performance, surrounded by a stellar cast that includes Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson. Sam Reid also impressed me with his performance as Belle’s unlikely confidante/love interest, I definitely would love to see both Mbatha-Raw and Reid get more prominent roles in the future. I can’t wait to own the Blu-ray that’s out next month, this one will definitely get a lot of play in my house!

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (full review)

TheWinterSoldier_2

I happen to LOVE the first movie which my hubby and I have watched repeatedly. It’s rare to see a sequel that not only lives up to the original but manages to be even better! Billed as a ’70s political thriller masquerading as a superhero movie’, The Winter Soldier delivers on that front and gives us something that’s genuinely intriguing and massively entertaining. I LOVE espionage movies so the story definitely appeals  to me, but of course it also has the exciting action sequences that’s the bread-n-butter of any superhero blockbuster. It’s filled with adrenaline-pumping geek-gasm scenes without being banal or vapid. Chris Evans‘ much more confident in the role which makes him even more watchable, and Robert Redford + Anthony Mackie are great additions to an already-fantastic cast. This one has become my favorite Marvel stand-alone feature and Cap my favorite Marvel superhero!

1. X-Men: Days of Future Past (full review

XMenDaysOfFuturePast

It took me a while to decide between The Winter Soldier and X-Men: DOFP as my #1 pick, but after much deliberations, this one wins by a slim margin. I give this one an edge because the time travel aspect and the back-and-forth across multiple dimensions are tough to pull off, but Bryan Singer did a tremendous job making it all work beautifully. I have a soft spot for the X-Men franchise and despite the disappointing The Wolverine, this is one of my most-anticipated films of 2014! It certainly did NOT disappoint. Glad to see Singer back at the helm for this one, after relinquishing his directorial efforts to other directors for X-Men 3 and X-Men: First Class. Now, I’m a big fan of the latter and a lot of the emotional high notes of that first prequel are carried over here as well. Emotional drama and complex relationship are mixed together well with witty humor and thrilling action. Similar to Nolan’s Batman films in some ways, it’s character & plot-driven punctuated by exhilarating action sequences. As far as superhero movies go, this one has everything that makes going to the movies so gratifying.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These aren’t stellar by any means, but it was pretty entertaining and worth-seeing. So yeah, I’d recommend these for a rental!

 


WORST of the year so far:

I’m glad I’ve been able to avoid what’s poised to be stinkers like I Frankenstein, Blended, Pompeii, Tammy,etc. but I wish I hadn’t wasted my precious 2+ hours on these two!


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2014 so far. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ’em with you 😀

Monthly Roundup & Favorite Movie of June 2014

June2014Recap

Man, where has June go??! It’s nuts that this weekend is Fourth of July already which means we’re already halfway done with Summer 😦

I feel that this month is a blur already, I actually have a hard time just what in the heck I’ve been watching this past month. Well, one thing for sure, I’ve been doing more Toby Stephens marathon since May. When I say an actor is versatile, I truly mean it with Toby. The man can play virtually ANY role brilliantly and no matter what genre he tackles, the British thespian effortlessly fits right in. It pains me how underrated he is as immense talent + chameleonic ability is quite a rare combination in an actor, the fact that he’s SO easy on the eyes is of course icing on the cake.

TobyMarathonJune
Clockwise from top left: Toby in Black Sails (2014), BBC Jane Eyre (2006), BBC Wired (2008),  and The Machine (2013)

So thanks to my pal Becky (aka Prairiegirl), I got to catch up on Black Sails! I’ve only got half of the 8-episodes of Season 1 and it’s pretty good! Of course I’m not going to lie that Toby’s the main reason I watched it and he’s definitely the BEST thing about it. I LOVE what The Guardian said about Toby’s role as Captain Flint: “Stephens’s Flint is every inch the modern anti-hero that those accustomed to the moral greys of Tony Soprano or Walter White will appreciate.” I’m impressed by the quality of the series though, it’s definitely not the clichéd pirate stuff that’s often depicted by Hollywood. Can’t wait to see more from Season 1 and Season 2 can’t come soon enough!! I’ll definitely be doing a review of it once I’m done with the first season. In case you have no idea what the show is all about, here’s an inside look video of season 1:

Ok, on to the monthly recap!

Posts you might’ve missed:

New-to-me Movies/TV/Miniseries:

Rewatches:

I just realized I watched quite a lot of period dramas this past month! I wasn’t planning on it, but hey, it’s one of my favorite genres 😀

  • Belle (2013)
  • BBC’s Jane Eyre (2006 miniseries)
  • Ever After – A Cinderella Story (1998)
  • Love, Actually (2003)
  • Mansfield Park (1999)
  • The Machine (2013)
  • Pacific Rim (2013)
  • Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Favorite Movie Seen in June 2014:

HTTYDbanner

I think Edge of Tomorrow is pretty darn good but I have such a soft spot for Hiccup, Toothless & co and this second installment definitely lives up to the fantastic original! Plus the soundtrack by John Powell is simply astounding. Stay tuned for a John Powell Music Break coming soon!


So, what movies did you get to see in June and which one is your favorite?

FlixChatter Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2

HTTYD2Poster

I caught on to How To Train Your Dragon (2010) a bit late in that I waited until the Blu-ray to see it. Once I saw the exhilarating flying sequence, I wish I hadn’t missed the theatrical release. So I’m definitely glad I finally got to see the sequel on the big screen and what a treat it was!

This movie takes place five years after the first one so we see the protagonist Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) now all grown up. The island of Berk where he lives looks quite different from the first time we saw it, thanks to Hiccup and his dragon BFF Toothless, dragons and the Vikings community are now in perfect harmony. In fact there’s now a Dragon Race that looks like Harry Potter’s Quidditch with dragons as their broomsticks. At its heart, the story still belongs to Hiccup and his friendship with Toothless. They’re as playful as ever and Hiccup’s engineering genius would rival that of Bruce Wayne. He could even fly on his own with self-made dragon wings!

HTTYD2Flying

I really could watch these two play for hours! Toothless is especially adorable, it’s akin to watching those cat videos, you just can’t get enough! The filmmakers really did an amazing job with the design of the dragon creatures, but most especially Toothless with his big goggly eyes and cat-like mannerism. Even with a slew of new dragon species being introduced here, Toothless is still the cutest one of them all.

But a cute dragon and fun flying sequence alone does not make a film. Fortunately writer/director Dean DeBlois (who also co-wrote/directed the first one) crafted yet another fun adventure that’s as rousing as it is full of heart. A mysterious old enemy of Hiccup’s dad Stoick (Gerard Butler) threatens to steal all the dragons for his dragon-army. But whilst Stoick is hellbent on war (he is voiced by Leonidas after all), Hiccup reasons that perhaps diplomacy is still an option. On his way to find Drago (Djimon Honsou), Hiccup encounter a dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harrington) and Cate Blanchett’s character Valka who lives amongst a whole bunch of dragons. I feel that the less said about her character the better as it’s pretty integral to the plot.

HTTYD2_HiccupToothless

What I love about this one is that even though there’s quite a lot going on and there are more action scenes than the first one, the focus is still on the Hiccup/Toothless relationship. There is a strong familial storyline here that makes it even more perfect for parents to see with their kids, but also the friendship theme that builds on loyalty and love. The battle of survival for Berk citizens puts Hiccup/Toothless’ friendship to the test, and there are some emotional scenes that really tug on my heart strings. It touches on a slightly darker theme here that is fitting with Hiccup growing up into adulthood.

The voice cast are truly wonderful. Baruchel is downright perfect as Hiccup and this could be one of Butler‘s best work in recent memory. Nice to see Cate Blanchett here and she embodies her character Valka very well. Stoick has a bit more screen time here that shows a different side of him. Kristen Wiig‘s Ruffnut had me laughing the way she is crushing on Eret. The way the camera keep zooming in on his muscled biceps is a hoot! There are genuinely funny moments sprinkled throughout, so it’s not just Craig Ferguson‘s Gobber as the only comic relief.

HTTYD2_Stills

I have to mention how beautiful this movie is. The meticulous detail on the scenery and each and every single dragon is astounding. Animation technology has come along way even four years ago when the first movie came out but now the effects is even smoother. The flying sequence looks positively dazzling, it’s really meant to be seen on a large screen and I have to admit the 3D looks pretty darn good as well. Of course the music is a big part of the whole experience and John Powell did it again with his amazing score!

That said, I wouldn’t say this movie is perfect. I actually gave the first movie a full 5/5 rating, as I really couldn’t change a thing about it. But the sequel isn’t exactly flawless as I think the villain isn’t terribly interesting nor all that menacing. He also happens to be the only dark-skinned Viking and he happens to be the bad guy? Hmmm. It’s a small quibble however as overall it’s a pretty solid feature that builds on a lot of the great quality of the original. If Dreamworks could keep the quality of the third movie as good as the first two, it could rival Toy Story as the best animated feature trilogy ever.

4.5 out of 5 reels


So what do you think of How To Train Your Dragon 2? Do you like this more or less than the original?

Music Break: ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ Themes by John Powell

HTTYDbanner

It’s been way too long since my last Music Break post and this is one I’ve been wanting to feature for a long time. Well tonight I’m going to How To Train Your Dragon 2 screening and it’s definitely a perfect time to feature this. I LOVE LOVE the first movie, which has become one of my all time favorite animated feature ever! In fact, I’ve watched my Blu-ray several times and I’ve always enjoyed it!

One of the best thing about the movie is the music! The soundtrack by John Powell is absolutely wonderful, it’s got that majestic feel to it whilst still retains its playfulness. What’s more, it’s actually a very moving score, I actually tear up sometimes when I listen to it. He collaborated with Icelandic musician Jónsi for this album. This Flying theme is my absolute favorite, I could imagine Hiccup and Toothless soaring to the sky as I’m listening to it.

Well, I’m thrilled that Mr. Powell is back doing the soundtrack for the second film! Well, it sounds just as great, it still retains some of the sounds from the first one. I love how lush this music is, I especially love this one called Beyond the Clouds, which I’m thinking is the flying sequence as well.

HTTYD2_FlyingScene

I missed the theatrical release of the first movie, so I can’t wait to see this one, especially the flying sequence in its big screen glory!


What do you think of this soundtrack? Are you also anticipating the How To Train Your Dragon 2?