Maidan (2014) - Sergei Loznitsa
Sergie Loznitsa's Maidan chronicles the civil uprising in Ukraine against the regime of president Yunukovych that took place in Kiev during the winter of 2013-2014. Sergie Loznitsa's documentaries are incredibly naturalistic with absolutely no sense of tampering, with Maiden following the progress of the revolution. the film begins capturing the peaceful rallies as they grow from a few thousand to half a million strong in Maidan Square. Escalation is a major aspect of the film, as the protests grow, violence takes over, with bloodshed between protestors and riot police. Maidan is a film that truly defines that adage "a picture is worth a thousand words', showcasing how far people are willing to go for their independence. Full of powerful moments of tranquility and chaos, with thousands peacefully singing their countries anthem, to stark imagery when the protests are met with violence by Ukrainian police. Juxtaposition is a major part of Maidan, showcasing how many people sleep on the streets and live in the area of the protest, overlying these images with power speeches by the leaders of the protest. If there was any criticism to make about Maidan it would lie in the films length, as it feels the film could have been condensed a bit, but this really isn't a problem at all. Sergie Loznitsa's Maidian is a powerful portrait that is powerful and infuriating, capturing a countries people awakening, rediscovering their identity as a nation.
Tangerines (2014) - Zaza Urushadze
Taking place in 1990, during the Abkhazian War in Georgia, Two villagers - Ivo, an old man and his neighbour,Markus- are the only ones that haven't left their homes. They stay to harvest their tangerine plantation, with Ivo agreeing to help the persistent Markus. As the war gets closer and closer, Ivo and Markus find two surivivors on the battlefield - Akhmed, a Chechen, and Niki, a Georgian - two men on opposites sides of the conflict. Ivo takes both men into his home, soon discovering that he must resolve his own war between the two enemies living under his house. Zaza Urushadze's Tangerines is an extremely powerful evocation of war, caputring the stupidity and collateral damage that violence brings witch such a simple, poignant story. The film unfolds naturally never giving the viewer much abou the background of Ivo but it is clear he is a man with sorrow in his eyes. He sees death all around him, heartbroken due to the many men who have died over the years in various conflicts. Tangerines argues that men on both sides of most conflicts are no different than any other, both simply good men doing what they belive is the right thing. The film showcases how these conflicts easily give men the right to kill, capturing the simplicity of taking something as precious as human life. The film argues that importance of human life over all else, arguing that war, in most cases, specifically this war, only causes death, stripping away all that makes life precious. One of the very best films of the year, Zaza Urushadze's Tangerines is an extremely powerful human experience, that uses a beautifully poignant ending to capture the short-sighted nature of most military conflict.
Taking place in the early 1980s, Wai-Keung Lau & Andrew Loo's Revenge of the Green Dragons tells the story of Sonny and Steven, two chinese immigrant brothers who have just arrived in New York City. Surviving in the impoverished area of New York, they quickly join 'The Green Dragons', a highly dangerous Chinatown gang. Quickly rising up the ranks, Sonny and Steven fall deeper into this dark world which threatens to destroy everything they've ever loved. Revenge of the Green Dragons is an intricate look into the brutal lifestyle of Chinatown's most notorious gang during the 1980s. A raw and unflinching portrait, the film delivers a powerful tale of gang culture but it fails to bring much new to the table, falling victim to generic tropes of the genre too often. This is a film that shows flashes of being highly critical of immigration policies in the United States, capturing how they create a breeding ground for violence, drug abuse, and gangs. Touching on racial problems among our police force, Revenge showcases how these gangs were largely ignored by the police and FBI, deeming them a secondary concern. My biggest problem with the film is that it only scratches the surface when it comes to exploring race and immigration, content on sticking solely with its somewhat generic gangster epic. Based on true events, Revenge of the Green Dragon is a solid but generic ganster story that isn't brave enough to explore its more interesting thematic sensibilities.
Pioneer (2014) - Erik Skjoldbjaerg
Set in the early 80s, Erik Skjoldbjaerg's Pioneer chronicles the beginning of the Norwegian Oil Boom, with enormous deposits of oil being discovered in the North Sea. With Norwegian authorities and American enterprises intent on putting a pipeline deep underneath the sea, they call on professional diver, Petter, and his brother Knut, to take on one of the most dangerous missions a deep sea diver could embark on. On the mission a tragic accident occurs, which sends Petter on a journey looking for answers, soon discovering deep corruption that threatens his life. Erik Skjoldbiaerg's Pioneer is a conspirarcy thriller in the vein of films such as The Parallax View or The Conversation, following a vunerable but resourseful protagonist who will stop at nothing to discover the truth. The film carries a nice sense of paranoia but suffers from poor-pacing, delivering a seething commentary on corruption and greed. Pioneer isn't so much a film that attacks Norweigen policy but instead it reminds viewers that industrialists and politicians routinely show little empathy for the working class. It's almost as if the film simply accepts this truth by the end, succumbing to what will always exist. While Pioneer features a powerful conclusion, with one of the best final shots of the year, the film suffers too much from lack of surprises and drawn-out scenes that hurt the pacing. In the end, Erik Skjoldbiaerg's Pioneer suffers from being perhaps too long but it's still a well-crafted conspiracy thriller.
The Equalizer (2014) - Antoine Fuqua
A kind, and supportive man, Robert McCall works at a Home Improvement store, where he routinely helps out his co-workers with their personal problems. Every night, McCall goes to a diner, soon befriending a teenage Russian prostitute, Alina. One night Alina is brutally beaten by her pimp, Slavi, putting her in intensive care at the hospital. McCall seeks Slavi out, offering to buy Alina, but when he refuses, McCall kills him and his four goons. It turns out Robert McCall has dark and violent past life, and with Slavi's ties to the Russian mafia, a war begins between McCall and the entire Russian mob. Antoine Fuqua's The Equalizer is an action-packed flick that is different enough from many of Denzel's recent action films to make it one of his more compelling recent efforts. Robert McCall is a very, very dangerous man, and the film plays up this mysterious character, never giving the viewer true insight into what exactly he did in his past. Antoine Fuqua seems to understand that less is more with this vengeful character, instilling a sense of supernatural into this deadly character. The Equalizer's weakest aspect is simply Denzel playing a similar character to one he has played the last few years, but it's unfair to judge it solely on that similarity. One of the better shot action films of late, The Equalizer does suffer from a few moments of over-stylized silliness, but overall it's a well put-together, action-packed revenge flick that keeps the viewer engaged from start to finish.
71 (2014) - Yann Demange
After extensive training young British solider Gary Hook is sent to the streets of Belfast in 1971, in an effort to contain the terrifying riots. After a confrontation, Gary finds himself accidentally abandoned by his unit in a hostile environment. Unable to tell who is friend and who is foe, Gary attempts to survive the night, navigating to safety in this deadly environment. Yann Demange's 71' is an electric action/thriller that keeps the viewer on their toes from start to finish. The film does a great job at creating a sense of uncertainty, with Gary unable to trust anyone in this hostile landscape. Perhaps the great achievement of 71' is its ability to capture the dynamic of the times, presenting a conflict where nothing is black and white and any semblence of peace seems almost impossible to obtain, due to both sides deep-rooted beliefs in what they are fighting for. No ones hands are clean in this conflict and 71' doesn't shy away from showing violence, an important concept given the film's storyline, reminding the viewer what death looks like and the cost of such a conflict. Yann Demange's 71' is also an angry film about the beauracracy of conflict, arguing that the men and women of the armed forces are nothing more than a pieces of meat for bureaucrats. Fast-paced, intense and well crafted, 71' is a poignant study of a certain period in time.
Unbroken (2014) - Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie's Unbroken tells the incredible true story of Louis Zamerini, an Olympian and war hero, whom along with two other soliders, survived on a raft in the middle of the ocean for 47 days. At the height of WWII, Louis is one of three crewmen lucky enough to survive, but their nightmare doesn't get much better when they are caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. A story of perserverance and faith, Jolie's Unbroken is a largely by-the-numbers film that goes through the motions in capturing one man's unbreakable will. Not a bad film by any means, Unbroken is simply a one trick pony that never shows much ambition when it comes to exploring more complex themes or characterizations. The film hints at moments of brillance, but it falls into complacency far too often. The idea of faith and believing in something bigger than oneself is a prominent theme of the film but Unbroken treats it like an afterthought, simply stating it as opposed to really exploring the link between faith and perserverance. I've always been a fan of Jack O'Connell and Unbroken is another film that showcases his talents, though I'd still argue his performance earlier this year in Starred Up is more impressive. Angelina Jolie's Unbroken should have been a stronger film, considering how incredible of a story is is, but a strong central performance and great cinematography make the film solid enough.
Dave Skylark hosts the extremely popular celebrity-fueled television show 'Skylark Tonight', and along with his producer Aaron Rapoport, they've had a very successful run to-date. When the two discover that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a major fan of the show, they land an interview with him, with Aaron attempting to legitmize himself as a journalist. As they prepare for the interview, Dave and Aaron are greeted by an unexpected guest, the CIA, who recruits them to assassinate Kim Jong-un. Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen's The Interview is a crude, incredibly silly film that thrives off its incredibly energy, being a highly enjoyable romp that never apologizes for its unique brand of low-brow humor. I find it absolutely hilarious how much of the criticism surrounding this movie revolves around people's expectations that it's a political satire. Funny enough the films most seething commentary lies in its critique of mass media, and their obsession with trivial crap, as opposed to things that really matter. James Franco's character Dave Skylark is the center of this critique, an absolutely vapid individual who lives in a fantasy world, intent on focusing on trivial bullshit. This is definitely one of Franco's best performances, capturing this douchy, self-absorded character with such hilarious energy. The Interview's critique of North Korean's regime is actually much more subdued, the way it should be, capturing the oppressive regime but never letting it become a central part of the film. This is a dumb, fun comedy, and The Interview isn't interested in creating a poignant portrait of a dictatorship -this is simply not the type of film it wants to be. Goldberg does such a good job at subverting humor, using violence, homosexual undertones, and an incredibly clever montage sequence to create a unique and enjoyable experience. While I've always believed that Comedy is the one genre that is completely subjective, The Interview is a funny film that lives off the chemistry of its two leads. While it's not as funny as the trio of Franco, Goldberg, and Rogen's last film, This Is The End, I throughly enjoyed it and laughed my ass off.
The Kill Team (2014) - Dan Krauss
While serviving in Afghanistan, 21-year-old Private Adam Winfield witnessed members of his army platoon murder innocent cilivians, planting weapons on the corpses to make it appear as though they were a credible threat. Attempting to alert the military of these heinous crimes with the help of his father, Winfield finds a severe lack of interest by the forces that be. Left on his own due to a lack of response, Winfield finds himself in a hostile situation that slwoly drags him off the moral abyss. Dan Krauss' The Kill Team is a emotionally depressing, psychological study of the mindset of an Infantry solider - men who are essentially trained to kill and how that slowly warps morality. Centered around Private Adam Winfield, The Kill Team is an engrossing, emotionally devastating examination of the darker side of the Army's military stucture, exposing a complete lack of self-checks that exist. This is an upsetting film to watch, presenting fascinating questions about masculinity and how the desire to 'be a man' only aids in the further warping of morality for many men who serve. The Kill Team is well-crafted, establishing itself enough from a cinematography standpoint, as it plays more like a thriller, starting fromt he beginning and leading up to the trail. Dan Krauss' The Kill Team is a film that is sure to make your film crawl, exposing a fundamental flaw in the military that needs to be addressed.
After 20 years, Harry and Llyod are back, with Harry discovering that he has a daughter from over 20 years ago. After retrieving Lloyd from self-mposed isolation, the two dim-witted friends set off to track her down. With Harry devloping a crush on Lloyd's daughter, the two clowns set off on a journey to track down his daughter. Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly's Dumb and Dumber To is redundent sequel that lives off the memories of its predecessor in delviering an somehwat funny yet quickly frustratintg film. It's hard to not call this film a cash grab, being so interested in rehashing the first film, with clear and obvious moments taht do very little in trying ti distance itself from the iconic nature of the first film. While I'd be lying if I said I didn't find the film funny, Dumb and Dumber To comes off as a very unintersting sequel that lives off its predecessors family. If there was one segment of the film that deserves praise, it woudl have to be Lloyd's fantasy sequence, though iti is anotehr claer example of a film living off its predecessor. While a mildly entertaining film that provides a sense of nostalghia, Dumb and Dumber To can't escape its force-fed attempt to relive its predessor.
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