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Feel free to comment on what makes it the most impressive and memorable to you.
White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)
Coming of Age or a Mystery Story
Why not both? The disappearance of Kat Connor's (Shailene Woodley) mother (Eva Green) is the thread that holds both facets of White Bird in a Blizzard together. While wondering alongside Kat about the truth behind the sudden vanishing, we are provided with several episodic flashbacks (highly reminiscent of the recent If I Stay), that closely follow Kat during her development to a young adult. In the end those neatly line up to complete the puzzle presented to us.
Both aspects never feel imbalanced, but in the end several shortcomings reduce their respective impact. We never delve too deep into Kat's psyche, even the few psychotherapeutic sessions feel more explanatory than enlightening. Additionally the crude symbolism of the dream scenes could have been easily reduced to a minimum. The way the ending is handled is also disgruntling even if it falls in line with the movie's logic. It is most likely the allocation of time that ultimately prevents either story to be fully fleshed out.
The biggest strengths of the movie lie in the well-portrayed, limited and subjective angle from which the drama behind the disappearance is presented and the refreshing performance of Eva Green as the mother. On the other hand there is a shallowness that never ceases to make itself felt.
This movie is a commendable attempt to spice up a classic coming of age story and even if it doesn't succeed there are still a few positive things you could take away from it.
Remember Eden Lake
The Preservation is nothing like that, but don't be surprised if it reminds you of it.
It only takes five minutes for the clumsy characterization of our protagonists to unfold and to bluntly reveal the entire movie's agenda, which is reinforced just as heavy-handedly throughout the next 85 minutes until the very end. But who cares about that, right? In fact the cast looks way better than what we see in the typical outdoor horror and the production quality seems quite adequate. That is why you would never expect to see such absurdly bad and unbelievable scenes. It begins with the first death of the movie and gets progressively worse until you wish to never sit through another movie of that writer again. Instead of following their internal logic characters are puppeteered into situations and actions, thus never feeling alive. The cast, Wrenn Schmidt in particular, does the best they can, but a storyline this bad just can't be saved.
I can only assume the writer saw Eden Lake, enjoyed it thoroughly and got ideas for supposedly very cool scenes, which he wrapped up in the mess of a plot we see before us. This is one of those cases where I wonder how the movie even got produced, one thing is for certain - the preservation should have remained closed.
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
First of all, I haven't read the novel of the same name, but I can safely assume that it is by far the better choice to experience this story.
Our heroine played by Nicole Kidman is an amnesiac surrounded by a handful of one-dimensional characters. As a result of the repeated memory loss it is impossible to tell any two days apart and a challenge to find out who to trust. The scenes of the movie are presented accordingly by jumping from day to day with few reference points in between, without appearing erratic or hectic. This presentation along with the underlying concept remains the movie's best feature.
The entire acting staff seems to be in it for the paycheck, while they certainly do their job competently there is nobody showcasing any further investment in the matter. Nicole Kidman in particular manages to stand out negatively by acting like a pouting child in numerous scenes and never being at least reasonably convincing like Colin Firth. In addition to the minimal investment in the characters the movie manages to build up only little tension towards its anti-climatic revelation.
The conclusion is simple - Before I Go to Sleep is a very unmemorable and vapid movie that I wouldn't recommend to anyone.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
A Matter of Humor
The first minutes reminded me a lot of American Zombie, a not-so-recent zombie mockumentary, there is also the 2010 Belgian vampire mockumentary called Vampires, so the entire concept didn't seem as new to me as it apparently did to others. In fact the whole formula seemed a little superimposed, it adds up to "here are three guys that live together AND they are vampires". Many jokes are taken from roommate/college-night-out situations and translated to vampires, with only a handful of laughing out loud moments in the entire movie. However, after a clumsy start, it became progressively interesting to see how they handled and presented certain occult myths - sadly we never get far beyond pop culture occultism.
The production value is in no way detrimental to the comedic quality of the movie and the acting is all around quite solid. In the end it is, as often the case with comedy, a matter of taste. I certainly hope you are able to get more laughs out of this than me. Give this movie a go if you are interested in vampires/occultism and if the humor resonates with your taste you'll have a blast.
Training Day (2001)
Clash of Characters
What looks like a classic cop/gangster scenario at first glance is much more fascinating when boiled down to the interactions of two very distinct character types. The hardened, loud-mouth, streetwise detective (Denzel Washington) against the quiet, nice-guy rookie, who seemingly has a lot to learn (Ethan Hawke).
I'm sure most, if not all, know the type of person that easily and consciously draws attention to themselves. Sometimes they are seen as obnoxious and loud, sometimes as lively and entertaining, but they are always at center stage. And weaker characters, be it due to personality traits, social standing or whatever other reason, are often swept away in the wake of such persons. The prolonged exposure to such a character and the struggle to overcome him is what elevates this movie beyond the standard fare of the genre. The other driving point is the old-fashioned standing up for what is right even against the odds, and while those two unfold nicely, the logical integrity of the actual story may become questionable at times.
The gritty portrayal of police work and the urban scenery strive to offer a good amount of realism and are indeed successful if one is able to look past the classic police thriller at the surface (and the display of questionable morals that could be too readily decried as wildly unrealistic). The acting and the technical aspects of the movie, as well as the good pacing, help to enable a good amount of immersion.
Overall Training Day is a solid movie whose merits lie beyond an entertaining storyline. It is definitely worth a watch, at the very least to relish Denzel's performance.
[REC] 4: Apocalipsis (2014)
Conciliatory Continuation of the (REC) franchise
My expectations for this movie were quite low after the last REC installment, but luckily there has been a change for the better. With the return of the original director and Ángela Vidal there's also a return to the claustrophobic and dark (but freshened up with a new venue) setting of the first movies. While it is no longer a found footage movie a closeness to the characters is established through the confined spaces they populate. Aditionally a decent writing and believable characters contribute to an involving storyline. The only downside are the action scenes that often seem borderline amateurish and mostly fail to excite. Still, if you liked the first two (REC) movies and/or the concept thereof (REC)4 is a fun movie above mediocrity.
The Interview (2014)
What you would've expected, if it weren't for the hype
The Interview opens with a somewhat satirical, but harmless and unfunny, and as a result completely forgettable Hollywood circle jerk. Luckily this turns out to be the worst part of the movie, afterwards you will be bombarded with lowbrow jokes that simply haven't had that much thought put into them, but still might make you chuckle here and there. Franco's character being a complete moron opens up a lot of tried and obvious setups that will have your eyes rolling (if you're the type of person that engages in haughty eye rolling). The chemistry between Franco and Seth is of the usual quality, but suffers from the weak writing. The scenes with Franco and the Supreme Leader remain mostly lackluster and dull, and it is again only to a lesser extent the fault of the actors.
Despite the tagging as an action movie, most of the time the spy story remains a backdrop, if you expected something like Get Smart or Austin Powers you will be disappointed. There is some classic Hollywood action at the end, but it won't keep you on the edge of your seat (or even get you there). Similarly the setting remains a plot device, the seriousness of the matter pops up a few times, but is quickly swept away by the dominating comedic tone. There was an opportunity for some serious or semi-serious social commentary, but in the end the movie doesn't want to make you think, if that is for better or for worse is up to you to decide. As it is the end result is a forgettable movie, that would have been quickly forgotten if it weren't for the turbulences around its release.
If you like the idea of jokes somewhere between MacFarlane potty humor and Austin Powers, then this should be the right movie for you.