2014 Movie reviews: Calvary, 22 Jump Street, Million Dollar Arm, Cold in July and Lucy

Calvary

Filmmaker John Michael McDonough is the younger brother of Martin McDonough, who wrote and directed the amazing In Bruges in 2008. John Michael teamed up with Brendan Gleeson for the crime comedy The Guard in 2011, and this year, the two are back at it with Calvary, a very different piece of work from that of three years earlier.

CalvaryIt’s a pure drama, about an honest, good-natured priest, who, in the beginning of the film, receives a death threat. He’s told during a confessional that he will be shot and killed at the end of the week. But the priest, Father James, played by Gleeson, doesn’t fret. In fact, he goes about his life as normal, interacting with the various people in his hometown in Ireland. The characters he interacts with are all unscrupulous, and each have their own vices, which they have no problem pouring onto their resident priest. But they’re not seeking redemption.

The exception being James’s daughter, a lovely redhead named Fiona, played by Kelly Reilly, who, besides her father, seems be the only one with a moral compass.

I found the movie to be very cynical. It’s as if it was created simply to point out that humans are extremely flawed people. Which … we probably are, but I didn’t need it expounded on me for the better part of two hours.

But Gleeson is terrific in the film. He is in practically every scene, injecting stability and calmness into the film amid the revolving door that is the surrounding cast. And of course, hanging over the film is the looming anticipation as to whether the death threat will come to fruition.

I’d recommend this film if you are looking for a solid lead performance with some appealing cinematography of the Irish countryside, but not so much if you are seeking a thrilling story.

22 Jump Street

21 Jump Street taught us that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are an unbelievable comic duo. The new Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn. Or Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. So we just had to see them again.
22 Jump Street
That’s pretty much what 22 Jump Street is all about: the comedic exchanges between the two. As long as the funny dialogue continued, along with the running joke of them returning to an educational institution they’re obviously way too old for, then the story itself really doesn’t matter.

In that regard, it delivers. It’s funny. There’s great lines and a humorous supporting cast as well, aided by Jillian Bell, of Workaholics fame. The story is definitely a bit dumber than its predecessor, which may matter to some, but in the grand theme of things, it’s superfluous.

In 21 Jump Street, it was Jonah Hill’s character that found himself highly enjoying the high school life, losing focus of their task at hand. This time, its Tatum’s character that becomes immersed in the college life, even joining the school’s football team.

Otherwise, the plot basically follows the same formula — they’re trying to catch the supplier of a new, dangerous drug that has hit campus, called WHYPHY — Work Hard Yes Play Hard Yes. While they do it, humor ensues.

There probably won’t be a funnier movie that comes out this year.

Million Dollar Arm

As a huge baseball fan, I’m surprised I hadn’t previously known about this story that Disney transferred to the big screen, about a sports agent who created a competition in India to recruit cricket players to play professional baseball.

Million Dollar ArmThe result was the first two India natives to sign with a professional baseball team. It’s a great premise for a movie, and Disney jumped on it.

Jon Hamm plays the agent, J.B. Bernstein, who pretty much plays a character that we all envision Jon Hamm to be like in real life: a wealthy, womanizing career-driven bachelor with impeccably sleek hair, who, out of desperation, conceives the competition to resurrect his floundering sports agency.

He finds a wealthy backer to fund the contest, called “Million Dollar Arm,” and then he’s off to India, where Disney surely takes liberties with the story to add cliché elements of overcoming adversity, heroism, yada yada yada. But Disney does that better than any one else, so it’s no big deal.

Half of the film is Bernstein in India running his competition, and the second half is the two winners adapting to life in America, while trying to convince Major League Baseball scouts they can pitch in the Major Leagues. There’s also a love interest for Hamm (Lake Bell), because … it’s a movie.

But it’s a nice, heartwarming story that stems from actual events, and should resonate to both baseball and non-sports fans alike. You can look up on Wikipedia to discover whether the Indian players succeeded, or you can just remember that it’s a Disney movie and assume what happened.

Cold in July

Original stories are becoming harder to come by in mainstream Hollywood, and that is what makes Cold in July so refreshing.

Yes, it’s adapted from a book, but not a book that is widely known, at all.

The dark tone of the film reminded me of Blue Ruin, a suspense thriller that used creative cinematic techniques and mystery to build its story.Cold in July

The beginning plays out like Cape Fear. Michael C. Hall plays a father, Richard Dane, who shoots and kills an intruder in his home in the middle of the night. It’s labeled as self-defense by local police, and the case is closed. But … Dane’s family soon becomes terrorized by the intruder’s father, played by Sam Shepard, who was just recently released from jail himself.

It seems likes it’s heading to be your typical stalker-thriller from there, but then the plot starts taking twists and turns. So much so, that it almost becomes a bit schizophrenic. Plot points that were important early become lost, and characters’ specific motivations become unclear.

A private investigator shows up midway through the film, played by Don Johnson, whose existence is extremely crucial to the plot.

But the film’s excitement and creative storytelling makes up for it, and in the end, you have a solid movie with fine camerawork and splendid acting by its three leads.

I was particularly impressed with Michael C. Hall, who I thought would never be able to shake the Dexter stigma. But he plays a very different character than Dexter in this one. He’s a blue-collared, mullet wearing, timid family man whose life is devoid of adventure, unlike the serial-killing detached lone her played on TV.

It won’t get much love from the masses, mostly because very few will see it, but this film was a good one.

Lucy

Like 2012’s Limitless, this Luc Besson film plays with the idea of exploring the amazing potential of the human brain. Except Lucy takes that idea to the next level. There’s a common myth that humans only 10 percent of their brain. Scientists have dispelled that theory, but Lucy runs with it anyway.

Scarlett Johansson plays a blonde American bimbo named Lucy who’s studying abroad in Taiwan. By a stroke of bad luck, she gets pulled into a plot Lucywhere she’s taken hostage and unwillingly becomes a mule for an experimental drug. That drug is placed in a bag inside her stomach, and then, when she’s physically abused by her captors, it breaks, spilling the bag’s entire contents into her blood stream,  and exposing her to the drug’s full capabilities.

Its effects allow her to utilize the depths of her brain that no human could. Numbers flash across the screen every few minutes to indicate to the viewer just how much her brain she is using — 15 percent, then 25, then  40, and so forth.

Lucy goes from gaining superhuman strength, to being able to absorb a textbook of information in a matter of moments, to being able to control time and space.

It’s a pretty ambitious film, and quite entertaining, but is a lot less intelligent than it sounds. I don’t think enough is conveyed in the movie to indicate exactly what Lucy is experiencing from a mental standpoint. And since that’s the film’s basis, I think more time should have spent on it. Instead, too much time is spent on action sequences, and it basically just becomes a subpar superhero film.

The more “aware” Lucy becomes, the more detached she also becomes as an actual person. Therefore, Scarlett Johansson intentionally plays the role very blank and emotionless, which is kind of a waste of her acting abilities.

I never thought I’d say this, but Lucy should have devoted less time to action scenes, and amped up the science. *Cue Jesse Pinkman, “Yea science!” Breaking Bad. gif*

 

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