Sunday, February 1, 2015

2014: Some Odds and Bitter Ends

As is my want I think it is time to look at some of the good and bad of the past year.  I now look back at 2014, a bit late admittedly.  However, I think it is time to look over the good, the bad, and the frightening.


Of all the films released this year, Meet the Mormons is not the worst one I've seen.  Truth be told, I'd rather see this than something like The Theory of Everything (or as I call it, Eddie Redmayne's naked plea to get an Oscar).    While it is not the worst film of 2014, Meet the Mormons however, is the most deceptive.  Allegedly a documentary about how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) are ordinary, average, everyday people like you or me, Meet the Mormons really is a propaganda film. It is a recruitment video about just how awesome the LDS Church really is. 

Of particular infamy is how Meet the Mormons goes out of its way to highlight the racial diversity of the members it presents.  Only one of the featured speakers is white, and he's a bona fide war hero!  All the others are African-American or biracial or of other ethnic origin.  Even the song performed by American Idol runner-up David Archuleta highlight the LDS' diversity, while papering over the sketchy history the Church has with regards to its relation to black people, let alone black members who a mere thirty years ago could not achieve full priesthood status.  Meet the Mormons is a fraud: we are presented a black Bishop but said Bishop is not asked about how until 1978 black men could reach only a certain level within Church hierarchy. 

Expect Meet the Mormons to be handed out after a screening of Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration as Sisters or Elders walk you around the grounds of Temple Square in Salt Lake City...since Meet the Mormons was produced by the LDS Church.  You can't expect a church-funded film to be objective, but the fact it pretends to be makes it all the more obscene. 

Most Unfairly Trashed Film

God's Not Dead is one of those Christian-based films that presents its own worldview.  Now, while I consider myself a Christian, I also am an 'art before theology' reviewer.  A Christian film does not get a pass from me just because I share the same faith as the filmmakers.  I have been particularly vociferous about the Kendrick Brothers' inability to make a good film, and have marveled at the films of Rich Cristiano, looking with a mixture of disdain and disbelief at their collective incompetence.

Having said that, I found God's Not Dead to be reasonably well-acted, well-directed, and with a worldview that makes it successful for what it's trying to do.  By no means perfect, it has some major flaws (some off performances, an incessant call-out to The Newsboys, whom I don't really care for).  However, it is far above something more ham-fisted like Courageous or Facing the Giants, which appear to have been made by people genuinely unfamiliar with moving pictures. 

Most Unfairly Praised Film

There are times when you grow to hate something to an almost pathological level.  Such is the case with The Theory of Everything, as shameless an Oscar-bait as I've seen this or any year.  I have never been so almost enraged by something as I have been with Eddie Redmayne and his insistence that this Oscar nomination was just a lucky chance rather than what it was: a cold and calculated master-plan.  This is what I have said about Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything: it is a technically well-crafted performance, but Redmayne was simply too hung up on getting the mechanics right to invest his Stephen Hawking with any real sense of humanity.  This 'aw-shucks' routine is cutting no ice with me.  He saw the script and was shrewd enough to know this was his ticket to an Oscar.

A lot of people have been taken in by the Redmayniacs, but not I.  I will give no ground in calling out Redmayne for breathing no life into Hawking, but being nothing more than a strong impersonation.  It was an act, not even a real performance.  The Theory of Everything was soulless and empty, a hollow biopic of a deep mind.  Why so many insist on telling me I must love Redmayne and Theory of Everything is beyond me, for now I am watching to see this kid and Michael Keaton duel to the death for the Oscar Redmayne so nakedly covets.  All the other races are pretty much called, but Best Actor remains stubbornly too close to call. 

Biggest Surprise
When I read about Guardians of the Galaxy, I was laughing at what I considered total stupidity.  Chris Pratt?  A talking raccoon?  A talking TREE?!  I was not one of those who predicted Marvel would have its first flop because the material wasn't as well-known as say Captain America or The Avengers.  I just wondered how everything would work out to not make this look ridiculous.

As it turns out, I was the one who looked ridiculous, as Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be really fun, witty, and not afraid to not take itself the Guardians themselves. I was surprised how well I accepted Rocket Raccoon as a serious character and not a comedy bit.  I have not shifted my view that Chris Pratt is basically an idiot, more Channing Tatum than Gene Hackman.  However, while the idea that Pratt will ever play Shakespeare (or understand it should he be in a Shakespearean film) are low, at least he did make Guardians of the Galaxy fun.

Biggest Disappointment

I barely, barely tolerated The Amazing Spider-Man.  However, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was too much even for a most forgiving man like me.  It wasn't a was a two-hour trailer for The Sinister Six.  It was everything wrong with filmmaking by commission: confused, lazy, idiotic. 

Whatever you say about Sam Raimi, it took him three films to utter destroy the franchise.  Marc Webb did it in two.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was so convoluted and jumbled that the film simply could not hold the weight of whatever story it tried to hold.  It makes me shudder to imagine what The Amazing Spider-Man 3 will look like.  It might not even have Andrew Garfield in the role of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  I simply will not rush to see The Amazing Spider-Man 3 (should there be one).  Too much goodwill has been lost already. 

I think 2014 was better overall than 2013.  At least I didn't have anything close to the horror double-bill that was After Earth/The Big Wedding.

Then again, 2015 has one big-budget science-fiction epic that could sink not just the former wunderkind Wachowskis' fabled reputation, but couldn't have come at a worse time for a certain Oscar nominee, locked in a fierce fight who may find he's just Norbited himself out of the Oscar he thought he had in the bag...

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