McFarland, USA (Caro, 2015)

Judging by its trailers, Disney’s McFarland, USA was in danger of plunging fatally into one of two storytelling traps.  First, it appeared to have all the makings of another clichéd sports film about a band of Mighty Duck misfits who enter a hockey/football/tiddlywinks league, defy all odds, and take home the championship trophy.  Second, it had the potential to join that offensive clique of white-man-as-savior movies.  And with Kevin Costner in the lead role, it was indeed possible we were settling in to watch Dances with Mexican-Americans. Continue reading “McFarland, USA (Caro, 2015)”

Rocks in my Pockets (Baumane, 2014)

Please permit me to say this right off the bat:  Rocks in my Pockets deserves to be labelled a classic, for three supreme reasons.  First, Signe Baumane’s debut contains engrossing storytelling.  Second, its inventive and surprising animation offers up a 90 minute visual feast.  Third, I can’t think of a better cinematic portrayal of mental illness, in this case crippling depression. Continue reading “Rocks in my Pockets (Baumane, 2014)”

Match (Belber, 2014)

Patrick Stewart is undoubtedly best known as Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard, and to a lesser degree, for his roles in X-Men movies and Shakespeare productions.  With such a curriculum vitae, it’s pleasing for a change to see this beloved actor descend from the mythic stratosphere to play a more human and less heroic individual. Continue reading “Match (Belber, 2014)”

As It is in Heaven (Overbay, 2014)

I’m amazed at the excellent art that can emerge from a Kickstarter campaign.  (Evidently, I still have at least one foot firmly planted in the 20th Century.)  With their debut feature As It is in Heaven, director/producer Joshua Overbay and his screenwriter wife Ginny Lee Overbay have scraped together enough funds and talent to create an intriguing story of a tiny cult.  On a deeper level, their tale prompts consideration of the continuum uniting acceptable religion and fringe groups. Continue reading “As It is in Heaven (Overbay, 2014)”

Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014)

Among 2014 releases, only The Babadook has a creepier antagonist than John du Pont in Foxcatcher.  Yet if this were a competition (and du Pont evidently loved one-upsmanship), du Pont would triumph.  For the Babadook is obviously imaginary, while Bennett Miller’s film is historically grounded in tragic events that unfolded in Pennsylvania in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Continue reading “Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014)”

American Sniper (Eastwood, 2014)

(Non-spoiler alert:  This review is free of major spoilers.  The less you know about Chris Kyle’s life story prior to seeing this film, the richer your viewing experience will be.)

What a strange year for Oscar!  With American Sniper, we now have three fact-based movies nominated for Best Picture whose relationship to verifiable truth is problematic.  However, compared to the other two – The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game – the difficulties are less substantial for American Sniper. Continue reading “American Sniper (Eastwood, 2014)”

Virunga (von Einsiedel, 2014)

How much do we have in common with our fellow primates, the endangered mountain gorillas of Congo?  What role should more industrialized nations take in the development and use of resources in post-colonial Africa?  More personally, what causes are worth our lives’ devotion?  These questions are powerfully considered in Orlando von Einsiedel’s documentary, Virunga.
Continue reading “Virunga (von Einsiedel, 2014)”

Big Eyes (Burton, 2014)

(Warning:  mild spoilers ahead!)

It’s a shame Errol Morris didn’t get his hands on this story first.  A true tale about a self-deluded narcissist who takes advantage of an unassertive woman’s artistic talent in bohemian 1950’s San Francisco?  This seems like perfect material for the documentarian who superbly and stealthily dissected the psyches of Robert McNamera (The Fog of War) and Joyce McKinney (Tabloid).  Sadly, this promising material was placed instead in the hands of Tim Burton, who manages to squander the bountiful assets on offer in Big Eyes. Continue reading “Big Eyes (Burton, 2014)”

My 15 Favorite Films of 2014

No doubt I’m far from the only person who skips the intros to these lists and heads directly for the meaty content, so I’ll keep my introduction short and just make three quick points. Continue reading “My 15 Favorite Films of 2014”