Sunday, June 29, 2014

Top 10 Movies of 2014 That I've Seen So Far

Ah.  Half of the year has passed already, and it’s time once more to list the movies that I liked the most in the first half of the year.  Compared to 2013, this year’s first half was loaded already with several noteworthy films that I contemplated to make this a top 20.  But, in the end, I still decided to stick with the usual ten spots (and go for 20 spots for the second half, just like for last year’s list).

Before I get started with my picks, let me rant a bit about some 2014 movies of the first half…

Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, and Afflicted (according to the buzz, probably the best “found footage” horror movie in recent years) are the movies that appears to be pretty great but I haven’t gotten the chance to watch yet.  Of course, they still have their chance to be featured in the second-half, if I got to watch them before the year ends.  

It is rare for me to praise Filipino movies (awful in general), especially of the romantic genre, but Starting Over Again was something unexpected.  It could be the most different – hence, the greatest – Filipino romantic movie I’ve ever seen.   It was surprisingly original and smart for a Filipino film.   It still had flavors of commercial cliché cheesiness that Pinoy romantic movies are known for, but it also had tidy editing and a fresh narrative that contains a couple of clever dialogue.  The transition between heavy dramatic scenes to hilarious comedic scenes has been done well.   It also has one of the most impactful and most remarkable ending ever done in a Pinoy movie, but it was an ending that only Filipino audiences (or those that are familiar with the local showbiz scene) can really appreciate.    

Maleficent’s attempt to have a sophisticated narrative by reinventing Disney’s take on Sleeping Beauty kind of failed.  The narrative remained weak.  There were some clever exploitation of plot details that I appreciate – like making the king a mad and paranoid wreck, since, really, only someone insane would command the collection and destruction of all spinning wheels in the kingdom, regardless of an existence of a curse.  Overall, it was only a little bit above mediocre entertainment, and, for me, this whole movie was needless.  It’s best redeeming factors are the magnificent visuals and Angie’s smile.   

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit did plenty of liberties to the characters and the mythos.   I understand that the charm of Tom Clancy’s “Ryanverse” is its dependence on the relevance of the international political atmosphere it was set on.  Hence, there was a need for “modernization” for the movie to capitalize.  Still, the Jack Ryan character that Clancy originally created was a man of his time, and that he was beloved as he originally was.  In additional, the movie put emphasis on making him as much of a spook action hero as James Bond.  It cheapens the character.  Yes, the original Ryan character was forced into fighting situations, but his real charm is his intellectual capabilities.  In the movie, his brilliance as an analyst has been depicted, but it lacked enough stressing.   Still, I’ll take it.   Despite of not giving the character full justice, I still appreciate the reinvention.  It was entertaining enough to make me support any plans of a franchise (just have to think of it as an “alternate universe” Jack Ryan).   Lastly, Kevin Costner’s new-for-the-movie character was an interesting badass; but it would have been better if the character was from Clancy’s Ryanverse, like John Clark

As for DC’s animated movie offerings this year, Justice League: War was exciting enough but still disappointing.  But, I admit, that I think of it like that mostly because of my dislike for DC’s New 52 reboot and I don’t appreciate the fact that it crossed over to DC’s animated movie universe.  On the other hand, I did like Son of Batman, maybe just because it’s Batman we’re talking about.  (The upcoming Batman: Assault on Arkham looks to be the best of the lot this year.)

Snowpiercer was a sci-fi movie I’ve been looking forward to.  I was drawn to it by its silly but intriguing premise: the last of humanity are operating in a caste system within a long train that makes one full travel around the world in a year while the world outside freezes.  It was intense and solid at its first two acts, but I find the last act weak and unsatisfactory.  Really, if not for that disappointing third act, this movie could have made it into a high spot in this list.  

I expected the reboot of RoboCop to suck.  It didn’t.  It had surprising depth and could even be more thoughtful than the original.  It had great action scenes, and the redesign of RoboCop, my most favorite cyborg in fiction, ruled a lot.  In fact, if I just get rid of my nostalgic affection for the original, I might even say that this reboot is as good as the original.  If this is a top 11 list, the 11th spot will go to this movie.   

I think those are all the movies, which are for me, worth commenting on.  Let us proceed to the top 10…   


The thing that really bugs me about this film is the “Rise of an Empire” subtitle.  Why is the title like that?  What “empire” was rising in this movie?  Persia?  But Persia was already an empire in the story.  Greece?  That doesn’t make sense, Greece was no empire.  Am I missing something?

Anyway, 300: Rise of an Empire is far from brilliant.  And it can even be considered as an it’s-so-bad-that-it’s-good kind of movie.  But that is a quality that I actually am willing to watch and enjoy.   

Though I like the first 300 movie more, this follow-up was hardly lacking – as far as using the first movie as benchmark.  It possessed the same elements that made its predecessor beloved (at least, by those who became fans of the movie): a dumb but engaging story; a stunning, comic book-y visual style; and a wealth of gratifying and gritty violence.  The sea as a brand new battlefield also made the action fresh and rousing.  
The hero, General Themistokles, is no King Leonidas in terms of badassery, but he is still a pretty solid warrior and his tactical abilities are worth appreciating.  The movie is also greatly benefited by an immensely charismatic villainess, Artemisia, who was played awesomely by Eva Green.   (Artemisia is likely a wrap for my choice of movie villainess of the year.)

The ending made the possibility of a sequel open.  If there is one, I hope they make it soon to wrap the story up.  Though that would seem unlikely at this point, since 300: Rise of an Empire was based on the upcoming graphic novel, Xerxes, and there is no material yet to base a third movie from.  Of course, opting to not base the story of the third movie on a comicbook source is always a possibility, too, but not plausible.     


After last year’s collection of sci-fi disasters like After Earth, Oblivion, and Elysium, I am so grateful for Edge of Tomorrow.  It had the right dose of humor; fantastic pacing; spectacular action; a legitimately interesting story; an intelligent but easy-to-follow narrative; strong and likable characters, and good character developments; praiseworthy acting all around (especially by Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton); and an effective utilization of its sci-fi premise.  It was a sci-fi movie done right. 

I was able to read the American graphic novel adaptation of the highly-praised All You Need is Kill novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the material the movie was based on, before I got to watch the movie.    Per what I observed, I find All You Need is Kill’s plot more complicated than Edge of Tomorrow’s.  The movie’s plot was clearly dumbed down.  The ending, especially, was given a generic and underwhelming “happy ending” treatment.     Nonetheless, despite the diluted plot (probably a necessity, so it can have Hollywood success) and lacked of real profundity, Edge of Tomorrow was still exciting and smart.  I was satisfied.        


This movie has Joss Whedon’s touch, so it’s worth watching.  Its well-written script (done by Whedon) was brilliantly implemented by Director Brin Hill.  I understand that this movie is not for everybody.  Others – even Whedonians – have found this boring or uninspired.  But I truly like it.   

The movie is about a man in New Mexico and a woman in New Hampshire that have the ability to share each other’s senses and feelings because of a mysterious psionic reason (the “how” is unrevealed and irrelevant in the narrative).  The premise was simple but it was fantastically used to produce a unique romantic story – a wonderful tale of two flawed individuals, though physically leagues apart, gradually found the best kind of empathy with each other, lighting each other’s lives in the process. 


This movie is a good movie, but I’m not going to rave about it like most are doing.  I felt that it’s a bit overrated.  There were a lot of awesome moments, yes, but they weren’t able to distract me from the dumb plot details.  Also, it had a good narrative, but, for me, there was not enough action that is fit for an X-Men comicbook movie. 

As for its effect on the X-Men movie universe, it did some important cleaning up but it hardly cleaned up the continuity mess.  There are tons of nagging questions still left unanswered – like how Ian McKellen’s Magneto got his powers back – and it felt like no solutions have been figured out.  The resolution of the story did negate X-Men: The Last Stand, so I guess we have to be satisfied with that for now.       

As I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph, I have problems with the plot.  But my major nitpicking was how it would have been easier for Wolverine, Prof. X, and Beast to resolve their problems if they haven’t busted Mike Fassbender’s Magneto out of prison.  Seriously, the bastard actually just made things complicated for them. A lot of the crisis could have been avoided if Magneto remained in prison.  The Magneto-in-prison plot detail was needless.  The writers couldn’t think of a more clever way of bringing Magneto to the equation than by making the heroes break him out of jail?  Because by doing that, then it is the heroes that brought the problem the plot requires them to face upon themselves.   And I find it stupid.  The only positive thing out of it is it was an excuse to use Quicksilver (he aided the others in breaking Magneto out of jail) on the movie.  Quicksilver was awesome, but underused.  Still, I think the writers should have made an extra effort of figuring out of a way of how to use him without the whole breaking-Magneto-out-of-jail thing. 

Nonetheless, I am satisfied.  Mostly because “please do not suck” was the only requirement I had for it. If anything else, this movie made me excited on where it is heading from now.   This movie established everything needed to enable a healthy X-Men franchise.    

Really looking forward to Apocalypse.  The chanting of “En Sabah Nur” at the end credits excited me a lot.     


This is the Spidey movie that received the lowest grade from the consensus of critics.  I acknowledge that this movie has many flaws, unnecessary liberties on the Spidey mythos, and a great amount of cringe-worthy dumb details in the plot.  It was also maddening that plenty of footage in the trailers did not make it to the final cut of the movie, making it a bit confusing.  

But as a big Spidey fan, I’m a bit biased, so The Amazing Spider-Man 2 got this high in this list. Besides, I legitimately enjoyed it.  Despite its blemishes, the movie has its enough share of redeeming factors. 

The script is bloated, and definitely suffered from Sony’s money-grabbing greediness as it attempts to create an MCU-kind franchise revolving around Spider-Man.  But, still, it felt to me that the essential recipe of this becoming a truly amazing movie is there.   They just did a bad work cooking it and added too many other unnecessary additional ingredients that ruined what could have been one delicious dish. 

It has kick-ass action sequences; between this and its predecessor, the Amazing Spider-Man franchise clearly possesses the better and more Spidey-accurate fight choreography than the original trilogy. 

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s performances were extremely solid. Moreover, there was fantastic chemistry between the two; it clearly helped that they are a real life couple.  Despite the corniness sometimes, they are overwhelmingly more fun to watch than Tobey Maguire and Kristen Dunst.             

Ever since the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, I maintain the opinion that Garfield is a bit better Spider-Man than Maguire.  And Amazing Spider-Man 2 enforced this.  Maguire was great, but it is Garfield’s Spidey that effectively reflected the atmosphere, heart, and joy of being Spider-Man.  It’s a plus, too, that his wiry but muscular physique is more Spidey accurate. 

The main criticism on Garfield is that he’s a less geeky and awkward Peter Parker, whom Tobey perfectly embodied.  But I argue that that might have been true at some time, but in the comics, Peter Parker has gained more confidence over time.  Yes, suddenly kissing his girlfriend in front of the stage during graduation is actually something the present comicbook Peter Parker can do, as what Garfield did (I read that that was unscripted).  If you follow the comics, you will see that Peter Parker is now cool; he’s still a geek, but he’s a cool geek nonetheless.  And Garfield has the same demeanor as the present comicbook Peter Parker.   

I also appreciate that Garfield’s Spidey is more of a smartass than Maguire’s, since wit and sarcasm has always been an integral element of the Spider-Man character.  Still, the great comicbook wisecracking and humor are not yet fully translated into movie medium, but at least Amazing is making an effort (just a little bit more is needed). 

I have one big nitpicking with Andrew Garfield’s Spidey though: there is a lack of significant display of Parker’s intellect – another integral feature of the character.  Peter Parker is a genius, and that aspect has not been stressed enough in the last two movies.  In fact, it seems that Amazing’s Gwen Stacy was actually smarter.  Why was Gwen Stacy the valedictorian?  Though I guess that was done to make Gwen’s valedictory address – its message an important element to the plot and Peter Parker’s character development – possible.           

As for the villains… well, they were part of the flaws of this movie.  They were clichéd and campy, especially Electro.  They were fit for Joel Schumacher’s Batman films rather than in today’s superhero movie climate that got us Heath Ledger’s Joker and Tom Hiddleton’s Loki.  But considering the parameters they were given, I think the actors did okay.   

Again, I understand why others – even true Spidey fans – would pan this movie.  But, to me, this is still a movie about Spider-Man – a truly amazing character – and it’s worth watching. 


I greatly adore the first movie, The Raid: Redemption, and I’ve been excitedly looking forward to the sequel as soon as I’ve known that it was being made.  I had high expectations for the sequel, hoping it to be more awesome.  The Raid 2: Berandal was worth the wait and is awesome enough.  But by overall quality, I like the first one more.         

Berandal starts with Rama, a few hours after the event of the first movie, meeting up with Bunawar, the leader of a small, clandestine (and probably also illegal) police task force that aims to expose corrupt cops and bring them to justice (or execution, maybe).  Bunawar attempts to recruit Rama to join his squad and go undercover, but he refused.  But after learning that Bejo, a new mob boss, murdered Andi, his brother (I was a bit disappointed that the character was killed of unceremoniously, considering that he proved to be as much as a martial arts badass as Rama when they took on “Mad Dog” in Redemption), and realizing the imminent threat to his family, Rama eventually reconsiders and accepts.  And that’s the central plot of the movie: Rama’s infiltration of the crime world to gather enough evidence to bring down the corrupt cops that work for the crime families, especially the police commissioner himself.    

Just like Redemption, Berandal is overflowing with badassery.  There were tons of awesome, vicious, and fantastically-choreographed fight scenes here as the first one.  But it felt to me that the notable fight scenes in the first movie had been crisper and more evenly distributed throughout the film.  Still, there were still a couple of action sequences here that were more creative than those in Redemption.
With the story not confined anymore in just one building as with Redemption, there is room for a more sophisticated narrative than the first one, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a better story.   In fact, it provided more opportunities to notice plot flaws. 

For example, in a story where whole crime organizations were involved, there was a shortage of gun-wielding goons.  Seriously, in the climax, *SPOILERS* Rama was able to bring down a whole crime organization with just his bare hands.   He brought no gun with him in his assault on the crime organization’s base.  But that was fine, since every single gangster possesses no gun anyway.  (/smh.)  Rama wouldn’t have survived the first minute if the gangsters had guns with them.  Instead, Rama was able to beat them all up singlehandedly with his badass close-combat skills – picking them off one by one in a sequence that felt like a video game hero going through the video game’s different levels until he gets to the “boss round.”  I know that showcasing martial arts action is the whole point of this movie.  But the writers should have figured out a clever way of bringing that about, which Redemption was able to accomplish, instead of opting for the stupid decision of using a gun-deficient criminal organization.

Nonetheless, overall, despite some dumb details, Berandal’s narrative is engaging and intense – there was never a dull second at all. 

One of the things that Berandal has more than Redemption is the collection of notable villains.  Most notable of all are “Hammer Girl” and “Baseball Bat Man.”   They are badass killers but the “hammer” and “baseball” motif brought a bit of cartoony wackiness to the plot (which is not necessarily a bad thing).  Nonetheless, they were amazing as advertized, especially “Hammer Girl.”  “The Assassin” was also a great villain; he is clearly Berandal’s answer to Redemption’s “Mad Dog.”   

Speaking of “Mad Dog,” I was initially confused when I saw him alive in this film.  It was clear that he was brutally put down by Rama and Andi in the first movie, and it was impossible to survive that.  It was only on his third or fourth scene that I realized that this was the same actor but it was a different character altogether.  Strange casting decision.        


It was only last year that Veronica Mars got on my radar after its epic Kickstarter campaign for a movie, in which its targeted $2 million dollars were met in just ten hours.  I was greatly intrigued because of this incredible feat.  Is it really that great that its fans are compelled to swiftly raise money so that a movie continuing the story can be made?  I proceeded to watch the original three-season TV series run... and without effort I began to love the show and the character (she’s now my favorite female fictional character next to Buffy) much.  It is indeed deserving of a movie, and was undeserving of a premature cancellation.  After finishing my Veronica Mars marathon, I was greatly looking forward for the movie. 

Watching the entire TV series run and being a fan will definitely make you value and take pleasure in this movie more.   Nonetheless, the movie is as well-written, as smart, and as delightful as the TV series, that, I think, even those that aren’t familiar with the show can still appreciate and enjoy this movie as it is.     

The movie’s story takes place nine years after the events of the TV series’ third and final season.  Veronica Mars has left Neptune and is now pursuing a career as a lawyer in New York.  She is compelled to come back to her hometown when her ex-boyfriend Logan Echols (*wink*wink*) asks her help after he was framed for murdering his girlfriend.  In Neptune, as she works on the case, she encounters again her friends, former classmates and acquaintances, and adversaries (all the characters that you care to see from the TV series made an appearance); attends her high school reunion; rekindle former flames (*wink*wink*); realize her real calling; and just be the awesome and lovable gumshoe that she is.


The Lego Movie is actually a hundred-minute Lego advertisement.  And instead of Lego paying to get their advertisement watched by an audience, it is us, the audience, who actually went to pay to watch it.  Strange, eh?  But we don’t mind.  Because even if it’s true that this is merely an advertisement masquerading as a movie, it’s fine with us since this is definitely the most epic and most entertaining advertisement ever. 

The Lego Movie is very enjoyable and funny, possessing a cool plot concept and a lot of solid gags.  It has delicious animation, easily lovable characters, wonderful twists, and one of the greatest portrayals of Batman ever.  Moreover, there’s a (spoiler?) thoughtful reflection about collecting toys included in the plot, which as a toy collector, I have to appreciate.  

In a sense, it was also an epic crossover movie.  Almost every property licensed by Lego was brought together in this movie.  So we get to see Star Wars characters, LOTR characters, the Justice League, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NBA superstars, historical figures, and others interacting in this movie!   

This movie, truly, can be summed up perfectly by its theme song – “Everything is awesome.” 


Best.  Marvel.  Movie.  Ever.

And coming from someone who watched Avengers, thought of it as the greatest thing that happened in the big screen ever, and re-watched it at least a dozen times already at this point, that’s saying a lot. 

It was well-paced, well-acted, well-written, and well-directed; it had the right balance of superb action and thought-provoking plot.   

It’s so amazing how Captain America: The Winter Soldier was able to capture the same kind of depth, sophisticated but relatable themes, and grittiness as The Dark Knight, but still have itself perfectly incased in the fantastic, comic book mood that Marvel Studio movies are known for.  At this point, Winter Soldier is the benchmark of further comic book superhero movies.    

There were ample character developments and there were no uninteresting characters here at all.  Even with no Red Skull-level major comicbook supervillain used in this movie, Alexander Pierce, Brock Rumlow (Crossbone in the comics), and the threat of Hydra is so emphatic and legit that they were sufficient.   The Winter Soldier himself was intense and fascinating.  How Batroc the Leper was portrayed was also nicely done.  Secondary superheroes like Black Widow (her usual awesome) and Falcon (a delightful badass) were never neglected, always being relevant and having significant screen time.  But even with all these active characters happening around him, Chris Evan’s Captain America remained the center of this movie and exceptionally stood out; there was no distraction to the true star of the story.        

I’m really surprised how big and ambitious the plot of this movie is.  It truly shook the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its foundations.  It had significant effects n the status quo.  It was even the catalyst needed by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to jump from a show struggling with mediocrity into one of the most exciting show to look forward to each week.     

The first of two movies from Marvel Studios this 2014 simply tells us that Marvel is still on a roll and continues to climb new heights.  We still have the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy this year, and then we got the culmination of “Phase 2” with Avengers 2 next year.  And there’s every indication that everything in MCU will just get bigger and better from this point on.  Can’t wait! 


This is the first time since Toy Story 2 that a sequel of an animated movie of awesome quality has outshined its predecessor.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 is epic in every sense of the word.  It was a perfect mix of spectacular visuals and an extremely beautiful story.  I think HTTYD 2 winning the Oscar for best animated feature is a sure thing already. 

The story is set five years after the events of the original movie.  The Viking village of Berk is thriving; dragons are now living among the village people and everyone finds friendship with dragons agreeable and preferable over the years of fighting them.  The main character, Hiccup, and his friends are now all expert dragon riders.  Hiccup basically has the same personality and motivations as the last time we saw him.  He is struggling with his identity; to succeed his father as chief of the village doesn’t appeal to him and prefers to rather go exploring with his Night Fury dragon, Toothless.  It would take the discovery that his mother is still alive living among dragons and a confrontation with Drago Bludvist – a ruthless, mad villain who enslave dragons and use them to go conquering, terrorizing, and pillaging lands – to make Hiccup realize what direction he should go with his life.   

HTTYD 2 has solid humor, but not necessarily the LOL-inducing kind.  But like the first movie, the narrative didn’t really rely on hilarious gags anyway, but on delivering a strong, excellent, and heartwarming tale.  The narrative and the characters are so engaging and charming that I was made completely invested in every detail of the story.  Thus, as the story progressed, I was so immersed on the movie that I was effortlessly being moved by both plot and character developments.

HTTYD 2 is probably my most favorite 3D animated movie that I’ve ever watched, at least visually.  It had gorgeous visuals; it greatly reminded me of Avatar.  And I mean that as a good thing.  Not only because I actually liked Avatar, but also because even the haters of that movie who think of it as steaming pile of crap will concede that it’s at least a beautiful steaming pile of crap because of its breathtaking visuals.      

Putting all of these into consideration, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the best 2014 movie so far. 

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