Most Anticipated 2014: The Judge

37. The Judge (R) - Runtime: 141 minutes
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque
Long before RDJ was charming his way into geeks' hearts, he was more known for his dramatic roles. His most iconic role was Chaplin for which he earned his first Oscar nomination. Robert Duvall has known nothing but drama throughout his career and they're both at their A-game here in this compelling drama about fathers and sons. While The Judge won't win any awards this year, this is still a solid adult-oriented (aka Rated R) drama that are few and far between each year.

You'd be surprised at a lot of the similarities between RDJ's Tony Stark (Iron Man) and his character Hank Palmer in The Judge. Both are narcissistic assholes, both are wealthy, self-made men and they have daddy issues. The latter is probably more important in this movie. Obviously. So it's not that much of a stretch for RDJ to play this role, but he does it so flawlessly. As for Robert Duvall, his character is a stubborn, old-timey somewhat of a jerk of a father and is played brilliantly. And after losing his wife, he gets accused of killing a man he put away thirty years ago.

As the movie progresses and you learn more about the history behind the Palmer's and their overbearing father, it becomes clear that the movie has its strengths and weaknesses. Mostly the family drama and the amazing chemistry between Duvall and Downey are the most engaging and thoroughly enjoyable parts to this movie. Watching them duel - as father and son - is simply fun to watch. There's a lot of heartache and anger in these performances and it's as gut wrenching to watch as it probably was for these two men to perform.

However, the main thrust of the plot - the crime and subsequent trial - all fall a little flat. Billy Bob Thornton comes in on his high horse and demands justice but he's clearly an asshole even though he would be the protagonist in any other courtroom drama. And the actual trial gets a little muddy and convoluted for its own good - the "reveals" of what really happened are not all that exciting. You kind of wish that Judge Palmer would just confess and get back to shouting at his son some more.

But aside from the courtroom, there's a lot to love in this film. The supporting cast is great - Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Dax Shepard all have a chance to shine. The film may be a bit too long (it's almost two and a half hours!) and at times it feels a little slow, but the performances and the characters outweigh the negatives. At first, when I was leaving the theater, I felt like a lot of this hit home for me - going back from the big city to a small, rural town. Having confrontations with your father and facing your ex-girlfriend. But I realized most of that doesn't really hit that close to home (maybe a little bit of going back to a small town) and I credit the movie for making me feel that way - there's a lot of emotion throughout the film and it must have sunk into my thoughts. It's a very moving film and certainly worth seeing for the performances alone.




I think I've unleashed some bad mojo. Just a few weeks ago, I had the unfortunate choice of changing one of my most anticipated movies. For the second time. The original movie on my Most Anticipated list was Jupiter Ascending in the no. 6 spot. That movie promptly got banished to the wasteland of February 2015 for what seems like no good reason, but mainly because the studio has no faith whatsoever in the movie's financial prospects. I replaced Jupiter Ascending with Kingsman: The Secret Service. And that promptly got banished to February 2015 as well, pretty much for the same reasons as Jupiter Ascending. So my third movie, Hot Tube Time Machine 2, I thought there was no way they would change the release date. NOPE. February 2015. AGAIN. I think the fact that it was going against another R-rated comedy during Christmas was made them change the date (Seth Rogen and James Franco team up for The Interview - it's number 46 on my list!).

SO after all that drama, I've waited and decided that I couldn't do any better that the big release coming out this weekend. Barring some misfortune, like the film being completely deleted/destroyed by some idiot worker, Nightcrawler is my FINAL replacement movie.

6. Nightcrawler (R)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Renee Russo, Bill Paxton
Director: David Gilroy
Writer: David Gilroy
While probably not deserving of the 6 most anticipated movie of 2014, I have no choice. Nevertheless, this still looks like a creepy and thrilling movie. And from all the raves it's been getting at the festivals this year, I've no doubt this is going to be a good film. From every teaser and trailer I've seen, it looks like Gyllenhaal might have an Oscar nomination in his future. He just looks decidedly creepy and malevolent in this movie. It looks like a lot of fun (thrills) but also seems like it has something to say about mass media and our culture of consumption. I'm definitely seeing it opening weekend. And if it sucks? Well, I got at least three movies to look forward to in February!


A Challenger Approaches

A war is being waged at the box office. Ceremonial shots have been fired, but the battle won't start until 2016. I'm talking about DC vs. Marvel. There's two kinds of people in this world: Pepsi vs. Coke, toilet paper up vs. down, cats vs. dogs. People who hate Nickelback vs No one. Personally? I'm more of a Marvel guy, but that's simply because they come out with better (and way more) movies than DC. I am not a comic book guy, but I have read extensively about the comic book backgrounds for most of Marvel and DC. I just think Marvel has a more interesting line up of characters.

That's not to say DC can't best Marvel at the box office or critically (Nolan's Batman trilogy is the pinnacle of thoughtful superhero movies). Clearly Batman trumps almost every other superhero. And there's Superman, whom I'm not particularly fond of, but he probably has the second biggest following behind Batman. And, ironically, DC has way better TV properties than Marvel - Arrow and Smallville have been rousing successes and Gotham and The Flash are earning deserved praise already.

So it's interesting to hear with today's news about DC's once-secret movie lineup is now all laid out to bare for anyone with an internet connection. DC is not just planning one movie per year, but two. They're going full blitz against Marvel:
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Suicide Squad (2016)
  • Wonder Woman (2017)
  • Justice League, Part One (2017)
  • The Flash (2018)
  • Aquaman (2018)
  • Shazam (2019)
  • Justice League, Part Two (2019)
  • Cyborg (2020)
  • Green Lantern (2020)
As a comic book/superhero movie fan, this is win-win. DC has got to bring their A-game. Not only has Marvel turned their C- and D-list cast of characters into box office champs, they've earned praise from critics and movie-goers. So DC can't afford to have more than one misstep in this lineup - past success breeds much bigger success and well-loved movies earn the devotion of fans that will turn out in droves to see a movie about a talking tree and racoon in space.

Meanwhile, Marvel is rolling. Despite not owning the movie rights to their biggest franchies (Spider-Man and X-Men), they've done quite well. With Guardians of the Galaxy they've proved that if they make a quality movie, it will be successful despite not having a big name star, director or characters. The first big battle is a ways off: Batman & Superman Vs Captain America and Iron Man. Marvel just announced the inclusion of Robert Downey, Jr. in the next Captain America. And you couldn't get a better matchup, because not only do both movies feature the heavy hitters of their roster, both main characters are going after each other and these movies will be springboards into a much bigger and involved story that covers multiple movies.

On one hand you have Captain America 3 starting the Civil War storyline, which pits Steve Rogers against Tony Stark in a battle for civil liberties as it pertains to superheros. On the other hand, it's Superman's government sell-out vs Batman's grizzled distaste for said government and corruption. It's quite interesting that there are so many similarities between these two plots. Batman Vs Superman was coming out the same weekend as Captain America and I think that would have been fantastic. It would have been epic and so meta. But instead, DC wimped out and decided to move their BIG TIME SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE FRANCHISE MAKER to March.

I mean, March is great, and there's evidence that people will go see a big-time movie (Hunger Games, Alice in Wonderland), but c'mon - these movies are made for summer. But before the announcement of RDJ in Captain 3, it was easily going to get dwarfed at the box office by BvS regardless of when it comes out. But now, I'm not so sure. I think the way Marvel has created a loyal fanbase and their marketing team has been nothing but perfect lately and if they sell Captain 3 the right way (as the start of something HUGE and as big of a deal as Batman battling Superman), there is a chance Marvel comes out on top for the year.

As for the next 6 or so years? Marvel's lineup is somewhat of a mystery:

  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
  • Ant-Man (2015)
  • Captain America 3 (2016)
  • Doctor Strange (2016)
  • Possible Thor 3? (2017)
  • Guardians of The Galaxy 2 (2017)
  • Untitled Marvel Film (2017)
  • Possible Avengers 3? (2018)
  • Untitled Marvel Film (2018)
  • Untitled Marvel Film (2018)
  • Untitled Marvel Film (2019)
There's lots of untitleds up there. I think it's interesting that Marvel has kept most of the next 6 years a mystery versus DC's openly honest press release. Marvel certainly know what's going on and ultra-producer and master planner Kevin Feige has said they have things planned out until 2021 - which would include four phases of their Cinematic Universe (Age of Ultron will conclude phase 2). I don't know which approach is better - it's fun to speculate what Marvel will be offering up in later years, but it's nice to know what direction DC is taking by seeing all their movies lined up like that.

And this is the new trend in Hollywood. Sony has plans for their own universe with the Spider-Man franchise with the Sinister Six movie, a female driven Spider-Man movie and Spider-Man 3. Fox is looking to continue their success with X-Men by doing X-Men Apocalypse and another Wolverine movie. Don't be surprised if the Fantastic Four reboot shares the same universe along with the announced Deadpool movie. And then you have Star Wars doing the same thing with another trilogy and spinoff movies in between each trilogy movie. We won't be too far away from Pixar or Disney animated films sharing the same universe or Nicholas Sparks' adaptations becoming franchised. Nothing is too crazy and this idea of expanded content may not be a new idea, but it's certainly becoming a profitable enterprise.

And I could not be more excited!


2014 Most Anticipated Addendum

Just when I thought it was safe for the rest of the year, some dumb studio goes and pushes back a movie into next year! This time it was Kingsman: The Secret Service. In fact, that movie was a replacement for Jupiter Ascending, another movie that's getting dumped in the beginning of the year because the studio has no clue as to how to market it. So on to another option and this is definitely coming out this year. Thank god.

6. Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Starring: Craig Robinson, Adam Scott, Rob Corddry
Director: Steve Pink
Writer: Josh Heald
Release Date: December 25
What's there to say? Did you like the first one? Well then this one should be awesome as well. This looks like more insanity from the same guys who did the first one. Just swap out John Cusack for Adam Scott and add Gillian Jacobs, Thomas Lennon and Jason Jones to the mix and this should be a fun and very R-rated Christmas movie that maybe you'll have to sneak out to after hanging out with the fam all day. Between this and The Interview, Unbroken and holdovers like The Hobbit and Exodus: Gods and Kings, this Christmas could be pretty fun for moviegoers.


Most Anticipated 2014: Review Roundup

18. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (R) - Runtime: 102 minutes
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Writer: Frank Miller

Too little, too late. What a disappointment this movie was. The original Sin City was pretty good (at least from what I remember) and I was hoping that the sequel would be just as gritty and dark and a bit too crazy just like the first one. Instead the movie doesn't have a compelling story to tell among the three different vignettes. The characters themselves are flat and don't have any depth beyond taking revenge and being evil. JGL's character is the most likeable and you root for his character, but he's a very small part of the movie where his story could have been way way more because of the potential there. Plus the acting was all wooden and the film noir-narrative just comes off as desperately trying too hard unlike the first movie when it felt a little more fresh. This was one of the worst movies I've seen all year.

58. The Maze Runner (PG-13) - Runtime: 113 minutes
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Wes Ball
Writers: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin

Young Adult movie adaptations are all the rage now and most of them are pretty terrible. Luckily, The Maze Runner is compelling (and good) enough for a movie. The Lord of the Flies aspect of boys trying to run a civilization while simultaneously being prisoners is rich enough. The premise is pretty absurd and by the end of the movie, you'll have more questions than answers, but it was exciting and the characters were fairly well-written enough that you'll enjoy the movie. Much like the main character who doesn't know what the hell is going on, the audience is along for the ride without any idea where it's headed. Which works for this movie. And it doesn't waste any time as things move quickly from one action scene to the next. It was good enough for me to go out and get the first two books to read! Consider that a success!

48. The Equalizer (R) - Runtime: 132 minutes
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: Richard Wenk

Who knew this 80s television show remake would make for a compelling, very violent and visceral movie? Denzel is a badass and he shows it here as an ex-CIA agent who kills off part of the Russian mob operating in America. The movie starts off slow. And I mean slow - but it works in this movie - you get to know Denzel's character and who he is and what drives him. And then when the fury gets unleashed, it's a little shocking. There's a lot of crests and falls in the movie and it all leads up to a Home Alone-esque (no joke here!) takedown of hired goons at the Home Depot. This movie was awesome - it's gritty and violent and disturbing. My only quibble is that there are no female characters to speak of in the movie. Sure, there's the heart of gold hooker Denzel is saving, but she's barely in it and Melissa Leo plays a former associate of Denzel's, but she has limited screen time. It's pretty sad. But aside from that, this movie just works. It's really Denzel that elevates the material above just a revenge flick.

44. This is Where I Leave You (R) - Runtime: 103 minutes
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Jonathan Tropper

I will freely admit I am a sucker for ensemble family dramedies. The Family Stone, Dan in Real Life, The Way, Way Back - I just really enjoy seeing family dynamics in certain settings. In this case, the Altmans patriarch passes away and his final wish is for everyone to sit shiva for one whole week. Of course this family is as dysfunctional as any other movie family and so lots of drama and lots of comedy ensue. And boy is there a lot of drama - every single character has a lot of baggage that they bring to the table and Jason Batman is in the center of it all. His life is a wreck and this week at home will change his life for the better and maybe for the worst as well. All the performances are great, including Adam Driver as the baby boy of the family who plays a womanizing, going-nowhere twenty-something. There's a lot of sweet and bittersweet moments and some that hit a little too close to home for me. But it's all endearing and funny and I loved every minute of it.

28. Gone Girl (R) - Runtime: 149 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Gillian Flynn

I have no clue why David Fincher's newest movie wasn't higher on my list. He hasn't directed a bad movie at all (and yes, I'm including Alien 3 in that discussion) and as far as mystery/thrillers, he's probably the best bet you can get (Zodiac still sends chills down my spine. Every. Damn. Time.). Partnering up with Ben Affleck, another favorite of mine should have landed this movie in the top 10. But I think I just didn't put two and two together. This movie is simply stunning. From the direction and cinematography, to the haunting and beautiful soundtrack to the performances (especially Ms. Pike) - it all seems so effortless. Yes, I read the book before watching the movie, but Fincher really knows how to turn something so beloved into something that seems so original on the screen. No doubt the book is better, but the movie is so good that it stands on its own ground. And the last half an hour is captivating and probably one of the most visceral and thoroughly engrossing endings I've seen all year. This is as close you can get to near-perfect for a movie. I loved it and loved it more the second time I saw it.