Has the Summer of 2014 Been the Best in Years?


Quite simply: yes. We’re not even mid-way into July and we’ve already seen the meteoric rise of many masterclass takes on the summer tentpole. With the nearly perfect Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the breathtaking X-Men: Days of Future Past, Tom Cruise‘s thrilling sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow, Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s hysterical 22 Jump Street, Dreamwork’s stunning and heart-breaking animated follow-up How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Gareth Edward‘s crazily awesome Godzilla, the season’s blockbusters have been just that: blockbusters.

We’re not even half way into the season and we’ve got more certifiable showstoppers than ever before. And we’re not just talking superhero movies, a facet that has made 2014 stand out even more. We’re talking a wide array of films with varying perspectives and takes on what is great about a summer blockbuster. They’ve topped the charts and for good reason: they’re quite simply good movies on a bigger scale, and we’ve only yet mentioned the hundred million dollar ones.

On the indie side, we’ve seen Bong Joon-ho‘s wildly unconventional Snowpiercer, David Michod’s deeply unsettling The Rover and Jim Mickle‘s unpredictable Cold in July, each made in the traditional of big screen excellence but seen by a smaller, more niche audience and using with a smaller change purse to make it happen. But even this independent cinema has unleashed a pantheon of unforgettable big screen debuts this summer season, each in the tradition of the summer tentpole.

And when we do add superhero movies into the mix, even the overrated Captain America: The Winter Soldier was solid as was The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (a vast improvement over the original). Plus we haven’t even gotten to Guardians of the Galaxy that’ll debut the beginning of August and has the potential to be a breakout hit.

And sure the vastly inferior Transformers: Age of Extinction and Maleficent may have shown them all up in the box office ring but we have to take into account that old habits die slow. People take time to learn what’s good for them. The aforementioned blockbusters are Filet Mignon, it just so happens that people are used to eating hamburger. But so long as we continue to praise these movies and show up to buy tickets for them, things may just continue to trend in a positive direction. I’m no box office guru but I know that at the theater, your money is your voice. Make sure that you’re speaking up for the ones that matter.

Taking into account this fact, just compare with me the quality of 2014 Summer’s blockbuster to recent summer seasons past and you’ll see just how easily it eclipses anything from the past few years. Last year held the decent to middling to just plain bad; Iron Man 3, Fast and Furious 6, Man of Steel, R.I.P.D., Star Trek into Darkness, Pacific Rim, The Heat, The Hangover 3, After Earth, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, Red 2. Sure I purposely left some of 2014 lesser films out of my analysis for the sake of making my argument but look at how many clunkers we have above. Just one after another.

Blow for blow, 2014 trumps 2013 at every turn. And though 2012 had Dark Knight Rises, Avengers and the like-it-or-hate-it Prometheus, it was also filled with crud like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Expendables 2, Snow White and the Huntsman, Total Recall, Battleship and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Save for one or two exceptions (nearly all from the superhero camp), it was once again a summer left in the wash.

2011 had more Transformers, another unwanted Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Cars 2, the water-dump Green Lantern, the brutally bad The Hangover: Part 2as well as the truly awesome Mission Impossible 4, the conclusive Harry Potter installment, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Cowboys and Aliens and the very solid Fast Five. It also introduced us to Thor and Captain America but it still doesn’t compare to 2014 in terms of originality and vision. Superhero movies and sequels do tend to dominate these summer months but you’re gonna have to spend your hard-earned dollar on things like Edge of Tomorrow if you want to see the summer movie zeitgeist head in a positive direction. It means you taking a risk, or at least reading critical response to movies and knowing what you’re getting into. The good stuff is out there, you just have to be able to not be seduced by the golden arches every time round.

What I’m trying to say is: in terms of the big picture, 2014 is the year of the summer blockbuster puttering back to life and don’t let the big box office performance of Trans4mers or Maleficent tell you otherwise. If you’re still amongst the naysayers calling 2014 a bad year for movies, remove your head from your ass and actually head to the theater. I could recommend ten movies playing right this second that would simply wow you (just take a look at top tier of the 131 2014 films I’ve reviewed so far this year for proof of that). Summer 2014 really has been a showstopper and one that you probably oughta stop talking smack about. But with less and less people going to the movies, the onus is those who do care about the future of cinema to step up and gently herd the box office in the right direction. Spend your money wisely, unless you’re content seeing Transformers 29: Attack of the Robot Nazi Ninjas.

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Out in Theaters: EDGE OF TOMORROW

Since all the Groundhog Dog jokes have already risen, seen their shadow and retreated into the proverbial internet hole, let’s just settle with calling Edge of Tomorrow a slightly derivative but monstrously enjoyable blockbuster. In a time where any project commanding a budget north of 100 million dollars is either dumbed down to the broadest of international audiences or stuffed with pew-pewing superheroes, witnessing this brand of thinking man’s blockbuster illicits nothing short of a deep sigh of relief. It might not have the layers of Inception or the majesty of Avatar but its fleet-footed cadence, wily comic timing and crackerjack combat spectacles makes for one ace summer tentpole.

Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka‘s popular Japanese manga “All You Need is Kill” (which once shared its name with this film adaptation), Edge sees an alien force invading Europe by way of asteroid-as-shuttle-ship that collides with Earth’s most tested continent. A discord of international new clips cue us into the ensuing chaos breaking loose like hounds of hell off Satan’s leash. As the world rallies to a united cause of defeating this unthinkably strategic force, the odds may never be in their favor.

However the Earthling forces attempt to smite their spindly-armed enemies in this David versus octo-predator Golliath combat ring, human advances are always halted with alarming precision by the preternaturally calculating Mimics. It’s like their adversaries know their every move before they even make them. Let the stank of foreshadow waft over you. Humanity is promptly six miles up shit creek with no paddle, advancing towards a waterfall that plummets towards pee-icicles and their opponents are snickering on the sidelines. Consider the apocalypse uncanceled; mankind faces imminent extinction. But not if Tom Cruise has anything to say about it (*guitar solo*). Still, it takes him a while to get to the point of Earth’s savior.

At first, Cage (Cruise) is nothing but a trumped up army lackey; a cheery filter for CNN-friendly update blurbs, a Buzzfeed of combat propaganda. He’s the door-to-door salesman of joining the army, the Uncle Sam of “We Want You (In a Mech Suit!).” But when he responds to orders to personally cover the front line of the new war effort with a not-so-cunning retort of blackmail, Cage winds up on the receiving end of handcuffs, stripped of his rank and thrown in with the underdog grunts of J Squad. His pissing contest ended with a definitive bitch slap and a lingering mushroom stamp, Cage has all but received a death sentence, which is quickly proffered up on the battlefield. But not before he gets a fat stream of inky alien blood all up in his grills. But this ain’t just any ol’ alien blood, this is Mimic blood; magical, time-traveling Mimic blood.

Cage dies (a particularly unpleasant death, I would add) and wakes up at the beginning of the day; handcuffed, confused and forced to leap into battle and die all over again. Begin his sentencing to ’93 Bill Murray antics except with more aliens and the pants-shitting knowledge that death is but a pre-destined misstep away. Let’s just say Cage wouldn’t be happily singing along to “Time Warp.”

But as the film transitions into this temporal stasis, director Doug Liman really hits his groove. In repetition, he finds opportunities to impress, integrating elements of comic mistiming in with increasingly impressive combat sequences. As Cage is forced to re-live the experiences of the same day over and over again, Liman is able to weave in moments of comic relief just as naturally as the beautifully choreographed – and often equally amusing – action sequences.

And like any time travel film ought, Liman manages to not take the affairs too seriously, pausing every now and then to fulfill audience skepticism by having Cage fail epically. Seeing Cruise poorly time an escape under a bus and getting chewed to road kill or aping that he doesn’t have a broken leg so he’s not forced to repeat the day by taking a slug to the noggin doesn’t take us out of the moment so much as cement us in it. Memory is imperfect and it’s grossly satisfying to see slight miscalculations lead to the day reboot we become so familiar with.

As we’ve come to expect, Cruise takes to the mantle of unlikely action hero with gallant aplomb. I mean, the man’s a professional. Step back and watch him work. Though Cage may lack definition as he blooms from green amateur into an improbable hero, his budding relationship with decorated veteran Rita (Emily Blunt) gives us something extra to cheer for. Blunt, for all her yoga-body beauty, is no ingénue. She’s a certifiably hardened BAMF, and goes by the somewhat uncomplimentary tag of “Full Metal Bitch.” With a handle like that (set with a sly tip-of-the-hat to Kubrick) assume that even in a robo-suit, you wouldn’t want to spar with her.  

With a screenplay that might have turned into the brainchild of sub-committee (Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth are all credited screenwriters), it’s a wonder that the plot is as airtight as it is. Sure, there’s elements that may not stand up to the test of vehement scrutiny (particularly the somewhat indecipherable ending bits) but the yarn is engrossing enough and staged with just the right amount of ludicrous maneuvering to allow us to overlook them without much complaint. After all, seeing Cruise and Blunt strapped into mech suits and storming a nest of whirling dervish is all you really need. Well, that and kill.


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30 Most Anticipated Films of 2014 (30-21)


With 2013 now in the rear mirror, it’s time to look forward into the new year and start placing our bets on what’s going to turn out best. As always, there’s a slate of big blockbusters on their way but I only have little interest in a bulk of these. For this reason, you won’t find the likes of Hunger Games, The Hobbit, Captain America: The Winter Solider, and the overpopulated The Amazing Spiderman 2 on this list. Rather, this is a collection of films that I feel could surprise me, entertain me, amaze me and really stick with me throughout the year.

Here is my most anticipated movies of 2014.

30. How to Train Your Dragon 2


Let me just start by saying I absolutely loved How to Train Your Dragon. Between the inimitable animation and heart-rending tale of unexpected friendship (and did I mention dragons galore?), it was probably the biggest surprise of 2010 (a year overflowing with out of the park animated films). While HTTYD has become a certifiable pop franchise, with a television show, plans for a second sequel and three short films already under its belt, I’m hoping that this second installment is able to capture the magic and heart of the film but fear that it will suffer the blow of sequelitis.

Releases wide in 3D on June 13.

29. Jupiter Ascending


After almost falling off the radar with the one-two punch of the Matrix sequels and the DOA Speed Racer, the Wachowskis returned to cinema in a big, bold way with last year’s Cloud Atlas, a film equal parts compelling, confusing, and, all around, courageous. Their latest, Jupiter Ascending, aside from sharing a strange, ethereal name shares the ambition found in Atlas and could potentially rise above being a B-grade sci-fi actioner. Aided by hot ticket items Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, let’s hope that this reminds us of the stuff that put the Wachowskis on the map.

Set to debut July 18.

28. Chef


You never know quite what’s in store when Jon Favreau steps behind the camera but no one can deny that the man knows how to harness fun. Though critics widely panned Cowboys & Aliens, I sided with it, calling it for the fun, tongue-in-cheek genre mash-up a title like Cowboys & Aliens suggested. And though I had some severe issues with Iron Man 2, we gotta give Favreau credit for putting Iron Man and the MMU on the map. But that’s neither here or there as Chef is a large departure from Favreau’s big blockbuster fare of late and is more in tune with his sardonic comedies the likes of Swingers. Starring Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr, as a chef who is fired and turns to working at a food truck, the cast is loaded with his trusty Avengers sidekick, Scarlett Jonahsson, alongside Modern Family‘s Sofía Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, and naturally, Favreau. If things looks go down as they should, this looks to have all the ingredients for critical and financial success.

Expected to release May 9.

27. Dumb and Dumber To


It’s been 20 years since Harry and Lloyd rode a Vespa to Aspen singing Mockingbird and causing heart palpitations. This time, rather than recast the roles with two nobody actors, the original cast is back. Even better is the fact that in the time since their last outing, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels have gone on to lead really respectable dramatic careers. Seeing them return to their roots after a decade of serious stuff will hopefully make it all that much more sweet. While we all collectively try to forget about Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met (oh god I just can’t) let’s hope that they go and do something that totally redeems themselves.

Set for a November 18 release date.

26. Only Lovers Left Alive


Jim Jarmusch is pretty much the Elvis of indie film (just look at his hair), and it doesn’t hurt that his latest benefits from a killer duo in Tom Hiddelston and Tilda Swinton, so the fact that the man is now dabbling in vampires is enough to get my curiosity piqued. Add to that the fact that buzz out of Cannes and Toronto was nothing but glowing and Only Lovers Left Alive earns its place as the one vampire movie of 2014 that I won’t dread seeing. If all goes well with my flights (*fingers crossed*) this should be the first film I see at Sundance so a mere ten days away for me at this point. The rest of you will have to wait until April 11 or later.

Will play at Sundance and then open in limit theaters on April 11.

25. Wish I Was Here


Aside from having going down in history for having one of the best soundtracks ever, Garden State was widely loved by critics and audiences for its salty take on the transitory twenties. It was the kind of indie rom-com with heart and purpose that seems to escape so many filmmakers. So it’s no wonder that Zach Braff‘s sophomoric film (and it’s been ten years) lands on my list. The fact that Braff funded the film through his notorious Kickstarter campaign also means no studio interference so this is the untarnished piece bolstered by full creative control. Wish I Was Here follows Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor, father and husband, who at 35 is still trying to find his identity; a purpose for his life. Sound anything like Braff’s Andrew Largeman? I thought so. I guess we’ll see how close this one hems to being a thematic sequel to Braff’s celebrated debut.

Will premiere at Sundance. Wide release TBA.

24. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For


I’m already kind of kicking myself for including this one but my lingering affection for Robert Rodriguez‘s first adapation of Frank Miller‘s crunchy graphic novel has twisted my arm. I can’t help but feel like this will be a throwaway follow up but the fact that Rodriguez and Miller have been working on this for ten years gives me a shimmer of hope that this will be the return to form the hit-or-miss filmmaker needs. Add to that the fact that Joseph Gordon Levvitt, Jeremy Piven, Eva Green, and Josh Brolin have joined a cast that already includes Sin veterans Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendez, and Rosario Dawson and I’m left assuming that they must have at least a solid story under their belt. Here’s hoping.

A late summer release means more Sin City for August 22.

23. Locke


Locke debuted last year at the Venice Film Fest to near unanimous support and is yet another on this list that I’ll be catching at Sundance. Featuring the always triumphant Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Bronson), Steven Knight‘s film is said to channel the minimalism utilized in the surprisingly fantastic Buried starring Ryan Reynolds. The film takes place entirely inside the car Hardy’s Ivan Locke drives while he takes a number of calls in a race-against-time scenario.

Another film featured at Sundance 2014, Locke will open April 25 in select theaters.

22. Edge of Tomorrow


Tom Cruise is dangerously close to the “he can do no wrong” page in my book so just anything with the grinny 5’7″ action hero has me turning my head. Add to that a cool sci-fi concept that mashed mech suits with a Groundhog Day playground and I’m very much listening. Although I prefered the over-the-top original title, All You Need Is Kill, to the watered down product that is Edge of Tomorrow, this could be the type of blockbuster needed to jump start our faith in blockbusters. While director Doug Liman has a bit of a spotted past (Bourne Identity = good, Jumper = no so much), everything from this so far looks pretty impressive.

With a June 6 release date, you better believe this’ll be your IMAX screening of the week.

21. Godzilla


After Roland Emmerich‘s failed 1999 Godzilla flick, it’s almost ridiculous to imagine that I would be anticipating the next stage of the lizard monster big screen return but here it is anyways. At first, the cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe had my interested piqued but it was really the uncharacteristically artistic approach seen in the posters and the excellent first teaser trailer that has me debuting this potential blockbuster so highly on this list. Back in his heyday, the iconic citystomper used to stand for something. His iconography is as engrained as Darth Vader or Sauron. I’m willing to bet that this Godzilla is going to put the Japanese monster back on the map in a big way.

A big blockbuster date with a May 16 tentpole release.

Tomorrow the list continues with my 20-11 picks


Mech Suit Tom Cruise Groundhog Daying It in EDGE OF TOMORROW Trailer


If Groundhog Day was a sci-fi action flick, it would look something like the newly released trailer for Bourne director Doug Liman’s film Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise will find himself living the same day over and over again, amidst some sort of alien war, increasing his skills a little bit at a time. The basic premise is nothing new as four or five Star Trek episodes come immediately to mind. But depending on how Liman approaches the subject matter, this looks to have great potential.


The trailer calls back a newly re-popularized Blomkampesque aesthetic, which creates a sort of gritty, dystopian feel, similar to the original Terminator. Instead of being attacked, it seems that the humans are the invaders. Having only a small glimpse of the aliens in the trailer, leads us to think that either Liman is saving it all for the big screen, or trying to deliberately draw attention to the propagandic dehumanization of the aliens, similar to Starship Troopers.  

No matter what point the film tries to make, this plot is nothing new. Tom Cruise will live this day repeatedly, until he kicks ass. Hopefully, the film draws out some social commentary and doesn’t just turn into a dumb action movie. But until it’s release on June 6, 2014, we can only guess. 

Edge of Tomorrow is directed by Doug Liman and stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton. It hits theaters June 6, 2014.