I never really know how much to say about these Disneynature films. They are not insufficient enough to call them mild distractions, as the footage is generally great, the voiceovers are fun, and there is enough work done to build a narrative that I can get behind what they have to offer. It generally amounts to having a chance to see animals that kids generally grow up being intrigued by and having a new perspective that can be formed by families, in regards to those animals. African Cats worked for me, as it was neat to see a big screen documentary about lions, with the bonus addition of Samuel L. Jackson providing narration. That film also worked due to the stakes that, manufactured or not, presented a real life depiction of what lions go through. Bears finds a way to create similar stakes, which makes the film effective enough in what ultimately amounts to a large format way to see bears in action.
For a techno-thriller about artificial intelligence, it actually seems to make sense that Transcendence does not have a whole lot of emotion to back up its big ideas, aside from Paul Bettany's cry face, which makes its appearance now and again. This is a film that could have worked as a cheesy B-movie with the words, "When computers fight back!" written on a billboard entrance to a drive-in movie theater. Instead, it feels like a glossy, big-budget studio film with a screenplay that feels like a cautionary tale that has been updated from an original draft written 20 years ago. Not helping is the high caliber cast providing mostly half-hearted performances and a lack of urgency in a dramatic narrative that sets its stakes much higher than they ever actually feel. Even when some of the neat ideas are given some visual lift, Transcendence is still mostly a dull affair.
Kaylie: You promised me you would never forget what really happened.
Oculus is a clever, well-crafted, and scary good time at the movies. As far as horror movies go, for having a premise with the logline: a brother and sister try to outsmart a killer mirror, the screenplay for this film is very smart. The film is a strong character drama that just happens to have a supernatural element, but the acting is very strong and the approach to the story keeps things moving. Oculus has its share of scares too, but they are well-earned, with developed suspense and a nastiness that is more implied than on display. I am always happy to enjoy a good horror movie, regardless of the sub-genre or filmmaking style on display, but Oculus really caught me off guard with how effective it felt in a variety of ways.
It makes a lot of sense that indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has finally made a film about vampires. He practically is one, given his height, slender and pale appearance, white hair, and the fact that he only pops up every so often to release a film into the night for the masses to find. The fact that he doesn't cast a shadow is a curious quality as well, but regardless, Only Lovers Left Alive is a rather brilliant film from a man with such a distinct style, making it easily one of the films I was happy to latch onto most in this early half of 2014. Sure, this film does feature vampires, but that aspect is only used to add layers to the characters and forward the plot, which there is not much of. True to Jarmusch's style, the film is very minimal in traditional storytelling, but surreal in its presentation, and incredibly deft in the way it handles its two lead characters in this very unconventional love story.
I do not use the term 'avant-garde' very often, as I think it implies some sort of esoteric idea of a film that is not for everybody. As open as I am towards films in general and as willing as I am to spread the word on certain films, regardless of the kind of arthouse theaters they may be exclusive to, I cannot help but describe Under the Skin as an avant-garde take on a schlocky alien seduction movie. It is the presentation and the basic plotting that inspires this thought, as there really is nothing more to this film, aside from its stylistic flourishes and a committed performance from Scarlett Johansson, yet I can see it being praised for those aspects, despite having a story that is fitting of a VOD release with a hokier handling of the same plot. Still, I did like what I got out of Under the Skin, as it is quite the creepy sensory experience.