Brent 360’s Best Movies of 2014

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Another year, another exceptional crop of great films that I have had the privilege to see in the past twelve months. And since I was spoiled for choice this time around, I simply could not round up a list featuring only ten entries like last year’s post. Therefore, I have expanded my selections to twenty of the most exceptional feature films—arranged in no particular order—that impressed me greatly this year.

Because of obvious geographical limitations and the general bullshit surrounding the release of certain films in the Philippines (which is where I live), you won’t be seeing several prestige titles that have made headlines in various major film festivals (i.e. Berlin, Venice, Cannes, and Toronto, among others) and garnering serious Oscar buzz on this list. That being said, I hope you will take my list of the Best Movies of 2014 with an open mind and discover something to enhance your moviegoing experience in the comforts of your own home.

From top to bottom: Snowpiercer, Neighbors, Guardians of the Galaxy, Lucy, Only Lovers Left Alive

From top to bottom: Snowpiercer, Neighbors, Guardians of the Galaxy, Lucy, Only Lovers Left Alive

SNOWPIERCER

In a time when dystopian worlds are now par for the course in Hollywood thanks to young-adult franchises like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent, it is quite refreshing to encounter a film that takes a bleak future of Earth into something that is bracingly original, intense, unyielding, dynamic, and engaging to watch. This imaginative science fiction feature based on a French graphic novel is a relentless construct of a fever dream which combines all the elements that would make a cinephile’s stars align: top-notch production design, incredible performances from its stellar international ensemble cast, a gripping narrative drenched with thought-provoking subtexts, and a crystalline sense of direction from a visionary Korean auteur whose past works include a surprisingly great monster film and a terrific psychological thriller.

Dystopia on a high-speed and non-stop train never looked this good. Seriously, this is a fantastically engineered locomotive outfitted with extreme luxuries like an aquarium, a greenhouse, and a nightclub! This unhinged microcosm of the remnants of humanity could easily go toe-to-toe with other post-apocalyptic societies set in crumbling earthbound cities or futuristic enclaves suspended in space. The highest of praises aside, Snowpiercer may also be the only instance where you’ll be able to see a scruffy fuck-all-of-this-shit train hobo version of Captain America facing off against the White Witch of Narnia by way of Dolores Umbridge in outré fashion choices.

 

NEIGHBORS

Lowbrow comedies can either be a hit or a miss, and rarely do they impress given the type of cheap and crude humor such films generally employ. That being said, this movie about a young married couple waging war against a bunch of rowdy boys in a college fraternity should not work on paper. But seeing all the elements of this raunchy comedy coalesce into the final product, Neighbors defies all logic in the way that it is genuinely a gut-busting film that dishes out every single punchline with intelligence while maintaining its mainstream appeal. Vulgar sight gags, profanity-filled dialogue, outrageous physical comedy—it’s all here distilled and edited into an oxygen-depriving laugh-fest that even the most cynical of viewers will have something to smirk about in carefully restrained glee.

But at its core, Neighbors is also a universal tale about how adults must eventually grow up and take on mature responsibilities (like raising a child or graduating college to get a decent job), which is a sentiment that the film neatly integrates into the plot without losing its comic touch. It also helps that the ensemble cast all play off to each others’ comedic strengths, particularly when the scenes involve Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and Zac Efron; the latter of whom has proven that underneath all of that gorgeously sculpted bundle of tanned muscles, he is indeed a charismatic talent to be reckoned with.

 

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Prior to its release, it looked like Marvel Studios had a potential trainwreck on their hands by deciding to debut a film starring a bunch of relatively unknown characters based on one of their more obscure comic titles. And yet, Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be a massive runaway hit with audiences around the world. A large part of the film’s unexpected appeal was the fact that it did not take itself seriously as a superhero film. Without the gritty elements that plagued other superhero movies in recent years, this intergalactic adventure was free to execute some balls-to-the-wall moves—from its motley crew of lively space bandits to its pitch-perfect throwback mixtape soundtrack—that feels like a well-deserved sucker punch to our moviegoing experience.

Tonally, this is also the most exuberant movie that Marvel Studios has ever had in their illustrious portfolio so far, considering that the movie is a veritable explosion of vivid interstellar colors, larger-than-life personalities, and inventive storytelling. The film cemented Zoe Saldana’s status as the new queen of modern sci-fi blockbusters, introduced WWE wrestler Dave Bautista as a budding action star with sly comedic chops, and rightfully anointed Chris Pratt into the superhero A-list; thus completing the Holy Chris Trinity (the others being Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most importantly, Guardians of the Galaxy introduced viewers to Rocket and Groot—two extraterrestrial CGI characters (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively) that totally stole the show and left audiences wanting for more.

 

LUCY

French film director Luc Besson has always been a champion for strong (if often, damaged) women in his films, from Nikita and Mathilda to Leeloo and Angela. But it is in Besson’s bonkers creation of Lucy that unapologetically blows all of his previous heroines out of the water. Versatile blonde bombshell Scarlett Johansson portrays the titular character and through sheer force of her scintillating screen presence and nuanced performance, she has transformed from a devil-may-care émigré party girl and into a supercharged femme fatale whose increasing intelligence allows her to display an astonishing array of extraordinary powers that would make even Superman kneel in reverence. And though the cause of Johansson’s incredible metamorphosis borders on the absurd, Besson embraces that with shameless enthusiasm and thus takes viewers on a guilt-free rollercoaster ride through time and space with his protagonist as she slowly but surely attains 100 percent of her brain power to unlock her infinite invincibility.

You might even say that this was the superhero movie that Scarlett Johansson was destined to headline… just not as her iconic ass-kicking character of Black Widow. But while Marvel might be slow on the uptake for a solo Black Widow film, viewers can assuage themselves with Lucy for the time being. It takes a strong suspension of disbelief in order to fully enjoy the movie, and once you throw your logic and skepticism out the window, you’ll see that this brilliant piece of transhumanist science fiction is food for your moviegoing thoughts.

 

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

Leave it to American indie auteur Jim Jarmusch to create a beautiful and immersive vampire film that would restore your faith in nocturnal bloodsuckers after years of enduring (or outright avoiding) the much-disdained travesty of The Twilight Saga films. Here, the fanged creatures of the night do not sparkle in the daylight nor do they look like undead models from The Gap. Instead, Jarmusch’s version of vampires is a hipster’s wet dream mixed with the classicism of Anne Rice’s flawless vision of these supernatural beings. Languid, soulful, and deeply romantic, Only Lovers Left Alive is anchored by the incandescent performances of Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as Adam and Eve: a long-distance married immortal couple—he in Detroit and she in Tangier—whose highbrow tastes and hobbies extend to that of their vampiric habit of drinking only “the good stuff” from discreet medical contacts as opposed to violently draining it from a human source.

And where Adam is a dark and brooding recluse musician lamenting the decaying state of human society, Eve is a light and optimistic social bookworm who cherishes everything that life has to offer, and who happens to be close friends with Christopher Marlowe. Both husband and wife share a similar aura of cool sexiness that is palpable in every single frame, whether they’re entwined nude in bed or dressed like deliberately disheveled rock stars and gracing their presence at a dive bar. There’s not much when it comes to plot, but the performances of its two leads and the film’s superb aesthetics—and backed by an esoteric yet sultry indie soundtrack—is enough to keep your pulse going.

 

From top to bottom: Frank, The Babadook, Leave The World Behind, Under The Electric Sky, Nymphomaniac

From top to bottom: Frank, The Babadook, Leave the World Behind, Under the Electric Sky, Nymphomaniac

FRANK

Imagine a very talented actor who is so rakishly handsome like, say, Michael Fassbender—he with the smoldering Irish blue eyes and blinding shark-like grin—and have him act in a movie that completely obscures his movie-star good looks. This might sound like a recipe for disaster among his millions of admirers, but trust me when I say that seeing Michael Fassbender in this deliciously offbeat black comedy is quite possibly the most revelatory performance he has ever delivered thus far. Unafraid to show his now-legendary penis in Shame, Fassbender applies the same bravura attitude in Frank where he plays the titular character whose face is obscured by a gigantic and cartoonish papier-mâché head like what school mascots wear.

He is the eccentric lead singer of a very obscure indie experimental rock band with an unpronounceable name (The Soronprfbs) that could rival Prince during his infamous Love Symbol years. The film chronicles the life of these struggling musicians with distinctive, oddball personalities and it is through their weird misadventures—from hilarious recording sessions in Ireland to a disastrous public performance in South by Southwest—that make this charming indie flick so fun to digest. Augmented with an equally bizarre yet enjoyable soundtrack, Frank is a musical-dramedy film that plucks all the right heartstrings.

 

THE BABADOOK

If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook…

These ominous opening lines to a seemingly innocent yet mysterious pop-up storybook about a malevolent spectral being sets the tone for director Jennifer Kent’s amazing debut film. This under-the-radar Australian production has garnered strong word-of-mouth from early audiences since its first appearance at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and the hype was indeed justified. So many horror stories in recent years have come to rely on the “found footage” technique that was acceptable for The Blair Witch Project but not for today’s increasingly cynical audiences. In contrast, Kent’s approach in creating The Babadook was inspired by critically-acclaimed classic horror flicks from the 70s and 80s, and it is through this old-school method that the film succeeds.

The central conceit of a frazzled single mother raising a temperamental son is perhaps typical fodder for your usual horror movie, but then it becomes clear as you move forward with the story that the film is a metaphor for the twisted darkness that lurks within every stressed parent raising a difficult child. It’s no wonder that William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, tweeted his overwhelming approval of The Babadook, going as far to hail it alongside other horror greats like Psycho, Alien, and Les Diaboliques. Move over, Boogeyman. A new house-bound creature is here to reinvigorate the horror genre.

 

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND + UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY

Two major documentary feature films about the luminescent world of electronic dance music (EDM) and rave culture were released in 2014. Though the two films focused on different subjects, they are kindred spirits in the way that they presented the same parallel universe underscored by dynamic bass-heavy soundscapes, colorful flashing lights, and thousands of people flocking to stadiums around the world to enjoy their version of a religious experience. The first one, a behind-the-scenes look about the final world tour and subsequent breakup of Swedish House Mafia, gave insight into the not-so-glamorous lives of top international DJs and the pressures they face in order to thrill their millions of adoring fans.

The second one, which documents the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, provides a glimpse of this major music festival as well as a look into an EDM-fueled lifestyle mainly from the perspectives of dedicated partyphiles of varying backgrounds. While there are many bold-faced names in the EDM scene that appear in both documentaries, Leave the World Behind and Under the Electric Sky goes beyond the DJs who rule court over colossal arenas and showcases the heart and soul of what EDM is all about: a globally recognized lifestyle with its ups and downs just like any other popular music genre.

 

NYMPH()MANIAC

Lars Von Trier has never shied away from making bold and provocative statements with his films, and it appears that the controversial Danish director has outdone himself with his two-part epic suggestively titled Nymphomaniac. Much like Quentin Tarantino’s iconic revenge saga, I am treating Von Trier’s recent work as one complete film given that both volumes (the, ahem… uncut director’s version clocking in at 325 minutes, I might add) tell the story of the sex-obsessed protagonist fleshed out by two gorgeous Anglo-French actresses: willowy ingénue Stacy Martin in her younger years and by svelte veteran Charlotte Gainsbourg in her adult life. Merging an intellectual drama film with hardcore pornography, the effect of these incongruous elements is jarring yet completely invigorating. The film as a whole does not treat sex as something that’s sexy or desirable, but something that seesaws between being physically clinical to being emotionally destructive.

When the film is taken into context with the other two movies of Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy (the other two being Antichrist and Melancholia), Nymphomaniac thus makes sense in that it represents the carnal aspects of human nature despite suffering from existential ennui. Uncompromising in its content and supremely ambitious in scale, Lars Von Trier has, to put it bluntly, achieved a satisfying cinematic orgasm of erudite levels with his latest creation. And just like your regular porn with sophisticated production values, this one even has good lighting than most arthouse films so you can really see everything from engorged monster cocks to the rosy folds of a woman’s tight cunt!

 

From top to bottom: The LEGO Movie, Boyhood, The Way He Looks, Big Hero 6, The Grand Budapest Hotel

From top to bottom: The LEGO Movie, Boyhood, The Way He Looks, Big Hero 6, The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

THE LEGO MOVIE

You would think that a stop-motion animated film based on a bunch of colored, stackable, interlocking plastic toy blocks would be something that would immediately go straight to home video or at its mediocre and tacky best, a TV movie for a popular kids’ cable channel. In the wrong hands, this might be the case, but not when the dynamic duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are tasked with the job. The pair is responsible for the highly successful Jump Street film reboot franchise starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, as well as helming the hilarious CGI-animated food-disaster flick that is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Their Midas touch once again proved to be very beneficial as the twosome unleashed The LEGO Movie to rave reviews and commercial success.

Boasting ingenious animated sequences that showcase the infinite construction possibilities of the namesake Danish brand, the film goes above and beyond by incorporating an inventive self-referential treatment to the plot that blends well with the kind of comedy that both kids and adults are able to understand. And with voice talents featuring the likes of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, and Morgan Freeman in key roles, it’s virtually impossible not to like The LEGO Movie for its astonishing splendor and justified everyone’s childhood with this modern hit of nostalgia. And unlike the tasteless Transformers franchise spearheaded by the odious Michael Bay, this exceptional work proves that you can create a feature film based on toys and not make it into an offensive and derivative piece of junk. Haters are probably gonna hate, but the fact remains that everything about this movie is totally AWESOME!

 

BOYHOOD

American director and screenwriter Richard Linklater is no stranger to the art of conceiving long-form films that unravels over the course of several years. This was proven with his seminal romantic trinity (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight) where he collaborated with actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy throughout a thirteen-year epoch to tell the epic love story of Jesse and Céline that began in 1995 and ended in 2013. Such long-gestational interludes may be frustrating for most directors, but not for Linklater. He uses such extended periods of time to carefully craft deeply personal and human stories that unfold like magic upon first sight, and Boyhood is no exception.

Unlike the Before… Trilogy of films, Boyhood is a singular work of art that sprawls over 165 minutes and was filmed sporadically throughout an eleven-year timeframe that began in May 2002 and concluded on October 2013. This is perhaps the most literal coming-of-age tale as we see the character of young actor Ellar Coltrane grow up before our very eyes and experiencing significant milestones that the average person might experience such as divorced parents, moving to a new school, and the labyrinthine obstacles of adolescence. Bolstered by incredible performances of a supporting cast that includes Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei Linklater, Boyhood is a powerful treatise of the human condition through the passage of time.

 

THE WAY HE LOOKS

Contemporary interpretations of young love, particularly of the queer kind, have been superficial at best. However, last year’s Blue is the Warmest Colour was a clear indication that things were finally looking up in LGBT cinema. And while The Way He Looks is not as sexually aggressive as the 2013 Cannes Palm D’Or winner, it still packs a poignant punch to the heart. Innocent and yet profoundly mature, it does stunning things to the gay romance genre. This exquisite Brazilian coming-of-age film explores the platonic relationship between a blind teenage boy (Ghilherme Lobo), his female best friend (Tess Amorim), and a handsome new student (Fabio Audi) who finds easy company with the established pair and also complicating things between the two on a more complex level.

On the surface, the film dabbles with the emotional angst common in adolescence and yet this is as much a movie about camaraderie as it is about love. In fact, the entire film builds upon itself, and focuses on the thriving flashes of relationships rather than reaching the stage of conflicts. Creating emotional tension through chaste means as opposed to overtly sexual methods has kept this film grounded with a buoyant sense of confidence. And unlike many LGBT love stories that have bittersweet, ambiguous, or tragic endings, The Way He Looks one leaves you with a pleasing caress of positivity by the time you reach the final scene filled with joy and optimism.

 

BIG HERO 6

Disney’s first foray into the superhero genre thanks to their savvy acquisition of Marvel Studios was something of a curiosity for two key demographics. For the princess-obsessed Disney crowd still not able to let things go after Frozen, they treated this film with caution; for the geeks and nerds more at home with the superhero crowd at Comic-Con, they wondered how a comic-book movie could work when it was given a sanitized Mouse House treatment. It would be completely unfair to compare Big Hero 6 to its musically-inclined predecessor because it could not be any more different than a movie about cryogenically-powered royals and talking snowmen. This is a remarkable tour-de-force of animation where it effortlessly combined the extraordinary swagger of the comic-book genre and the heartfelt sensibilities that Disney is known for.

Within its hyper-saturated vision of a multi-cultural future, the film explores the bonds of brotherhood and friendship, replete with soul-crushing themes of loss and grief that as Disney is wont to do. But the Marvel side of things duly champions the quirky individuals with genius-level talents, the importance of using one’s advanced intelligence for the greater good, and the sacrifices one must do to make things right with the world. Let’s not forget the movie’s biggest (and I mean that literally) breakout star in the form of Baymax, who practically steals every scene he is in thanks to his lovable outsized features and affable, docile personality. With both brains and brawn, Big Hero 6 is a stratospheric triumph of kaleidoscopic proportions and firmly asserts its rightful place within the renowned Disney canon.

 

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

If Hollywood focused on the culinary arts as opposed to filmmaking, then Wes Anderson would no doubt be a classically trained haute cuisine chef of the utmost caliber. There is just something about the way Anderson concocts his films with extremely meticulous detail that watching any piece from his filmography feels like you’re eating the most scrumptious entrée with impeccable presentation. And it is in The Grand Budapest Hotel that Wes Anderson is in his most Andersonian, which is to say that he has pulled out all the stops to cook up a whimsical feature film that is the gastronomic equivalent of a very expensive seven-course meal in a fancy three Michelin-starred restaurant.

It is in the fictional European country of Zubrowka in a bygone war period where the American auteur sets his latest masterpiece, and populated it with an eccentric ensemble cast of characters. Part romantic-comedy and part murder mystery, this visually distinctive film is a self-contained world where Anderson’s coterie of fine and talented actors—from Ralph Fiennes’ uproarious hotel concierge to Tilda Swinton’s delightful cameo as an octogenarian heiress—are able to shine bright like the iridescent surface of a perfectly cooked Ladurée macaron. If there was ever a secret ingredient in The Grand Budapest Hotel that gives the film its palate-pleasing magic, then like any executive chef worth his Maldon sea salt, Wes Anderson is certainly not telling.

 

From top to bottom: Dear White People, Oculus, The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, Citizenfour, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

From top to bottom: Dear White People, Oculus, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Citizenfour, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

 

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

How exactly do you handle a comedy film that tackles the extremely sensitive issue of racial tensions between black and white Americans without descending into an insulting clusterfuck that social media will rip apart to pieces? Whatever the answer to that question may be, only up-and-coming director Justin Simien can respond to it because he has achieved nothing short of a cinematic miracle. This is a brilliant piece of satire that crackles all throughout with snappy dialogue (i.e. “Dear white people: the minimum requirement of black friends in order to not seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man, Tyrone, does not count…”) delivered by a suitably diverse group of young, good-looking, and emerging talents that includes Tessa Thompson, Brandon P. Bell, and Teyonah Parris.

Set in the fictional Ivy League-ish institution of Winchester University, the film traces the lives of several students—both black and white—where the social atmosphere on school grounds between white cliques and minority groups is tenuous at best and riotously fucked-up at its worst. Dear White People is fearless in its barefaced skewering of offensive racial stereotypes while simultaneously presenting an impeccable, honest, character-driven comedy about “being a black face in a white space” that resonates with today’s politically-correct generation who can easily eviscerate any racially intolerant person on their Twitter and Tumblr accounts. For all its intents and purposes, this deeply entertaining movie about racial and social politics may just be the rightful heir to Do the Right Thing if there is any cinematic justice in this world.

 

OCULUS

The trope of “haunted/possessed/cursed inanimate object” in the horror genre would usually make me roll my eyes in contempt and cynicism. This year alone, there was no shortage of uninspired scary movies with this tired particular element that ran gamut from a Ouija board to a porcelain doll. That being said, it was a complete surprise to discover that Oculus had managed to outdo the lesser competition and delivered a fiercely terrifying tale about a seemingly harmless antique mirror that has wreaked unspeakable havoc to an innocent pair of estranged siblings, headlined by Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites as adults with Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan playing their younger incarnations.

Splicing the narrative into two separate timelines, the film expertly weaves past and present into a single cohesive thread that succeeds in unsettling your nerves. Psychologically manipulative in the best way possible, this underrated horror flick also keeps audiences on its toes by employing tried-and-tested tricks in the scare book (e.g. the apple/lightbulb switcheroo) without making them look contrived. It is a testament to this deftly executed film that it has not succumbed to the cheap scares and theatrics that has plagued so many other horror movies in recent years. Disturbing, frightening, and uniquely challenging, Oculus is a gratifying mindfuck of a horror movie that will make you think twice before deciding to buy antique mirrors (or any other decorative household objects) for your home.

 

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA

The confirmed final retirement of Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki and the subsequent hiatus of Studio Ghibli sent shockwaves to the millions of fans who have venerated the beloved filmmaker and the film company he has founded. Despite this monumental landmark in the world of international cinema, Studio Ghibli carried on with the show and released their latest full-length feature film directed by acclaimed director Isao Takahata—the man who helmed the heartbreaking classic Grave of the Fireflies. Based on an ancient Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a victorious ode to traditional hand-drawn animation and establishes a notable pride of place within the celestial firmament of Studio Ghibli’s fantastical oeuvre. Steeped in carefully measured parts of bliss and saudade, the story follows the titular character whose mysterious cosmic origins provides the catalyst to the narrative as she goes from a charming country girl finding happiness in simple things to a glamorous city socialite who discovers imperial court life to be rigid and stifling.

Stylistically, this is perhaps the most striking Ghibli film in that it looks as if an artist’s most private sketchbook filled with dreamlike aquarelle images and almost calligraphic charcoal drawings have come to life. A particularly beautiful and breathtaking sequence sees Princess Kaguya fleeing her mansion in distress; shedding her many layers of fabulous silk kimonos in her wake while swiftly speeding through the moonlit landscape. It’s this sort of artistic courageousness by the folks at Studio Ghibli that not even the best of CGI animation houses could ever hope to achieve. Delicate, timeless, and spellbinding, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is mandatory viewing for anyone who appreciates the finer points of storytelling and animation outside of the Hollywood bigwigs.

 

CITIZENFOUR

We are now living in an era where privacy on a digital stage is considered a very luxurious currency that people can rarely afford. Not even Jennifer Lawrence (with her box-office dominance and her Academy Award statuette) can buy maximum-level isolation, given that her personal nude photographs were mysteriously hacked and repulsively distributed on the Internet for millions of netizens to see. Perhaps it is apt, then, to have a chilling documentary feature film like Citizenfour to illuminate mainstream viewers on what it really means to live in a modern world where even the most private secrets you hide can easily be brought to light by certain people adept in the realm of intelligence and cyberspace. American-born and Berlin-based documentarian Laura Poitras has painted a fascinating portrait of the infamous Edward Snowden—a system administrator responsible for disclosing classified information by the National Security Agency, such as revealing that the organization has performed illegal wire-tapping practices as part of their security defense strategies.

Hailed as both a hero and a traitor within international governments and media, Poitras wisely casts the main subject of her documentary in a neutral light, allowing viewers to judge whether they empathize with or condemn Snowden for his actions. What is surprising about the film is that it confronts the issues of ethics, freedom of speech, and the clandestine price that we all have pay in order to maintain stability in our lives. Stripping away the artifice and getting right into the visceral core, Citizenfour is a haunting and eye-opening discourse that both informs and warns audiences to never, ever let their guard down in these troubled times.

 

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Summer 2014 has delivered what is perhaps the thinking man’s version of a high-octane popcorn blockbuster in the form of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Continuing the rebooted origin story of how our world came to be dominated by eerily sentient primates, the ambitious second chapter of this Man vs. Ape saga takes things to the next level as humans struggle to survive the near extinction of their species due to the simian flu pandemic that has ravaged the globe. However, circumstances for the apes aren’t that pleasant given that there are internal forces threatening to undermine the might of primate leader Caesar. Complicating matters is the fact that Caesar and his loyal cohorts together with a peaceful group of human survivors form an uneasy alliance despite the rest of their respective factions want to see each other dead. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that is perhaps an accurate adage to encapsulate the underlying themes of this gripping sui generis sci-fi drama that captures not just the conflicts between humans and advanced hominids, but also the hubristic and abrasive clashes that occur within both warring sides.

Thrilling action sequences perfectly offset the more introspective moments in the film, and this judicious combination give audiences some room to breathe. Not to be dismissed is the technically astounding motion-capture work that showcases the hyper-realistic apes where they effortlessly pass the uncanny valley test with flying colors. And of course, you cannot talk about mo-cap acting without mentioning actor Andy Serkis—who has brought an intense, emotional depth in his textural performance of Caesar that threatens to surpass his flawless work with Peter Jackson in the world of Middle Earth. And while we all know the eventual endgame of this post-apocalyptic tale, the journey presented in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes makes the bleak destination absolutely worth going to.

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