Sometimes your expectations just aren’t very high when you sit down to watch a movie. You know they can’t all be good, so you expect to take a few on the chin from time to time. And sometimes you’re just surfing through your various streaming options, thinking, “What the hey, I’ll try this…”
So here are seven films I saw in 2014 from various years that I initially didn’t think I’d like very much, yet was pleasantly surprised:
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) Don Coscarelli
As you can guess from the title, Bubba Ho-Tep is an odd, odd movie, one whose concept I like better than its execution, but even its execution isn’t bad. Here’s the premise: Elvis (Bruce Campbell) is definitely not enjoying his remaining days in a nursing home. Now we immediately know this is either an “alternate universe” Elvis or an Elvis impersonator, right? Ah, not so fast… All is not as it seems.
Wait, there’s more. Also residing at the nursing home is JFK in the body of an African American man confined to a wheelchair (Ossie Davis). Both men believe an ancient Egyptian ghost is haunting the nursing home. You’ve gotta admit, this isn’t the type of story you run into every day. Bubba Ho-Tep doesn’t quite work all the time, but I appreciate its originality and willingness to take chances. You might remember another Coscarelli film that was “out there,” that didn’t quite work all the time, but took lots of chances – the cult horror classic Phantasm (1979). Although I can see some situations – say, after the consumption of several beers – where you might just think Bubba Ho-Tep borders on genius.
Captain Phillips (2013) Paul Greengrass
Captain Phillips is based on the true story of an American shipping vessel being captured by Somali pirates. I know it’s based on a true story, but I kept asking myself why certain actions in the film weren’t taken or weren’t taken sooner. This movie could’ve ended one way in about 30 minutes had someone done a little advance planning. It also could’ve ended a completely different way if someone hadn’t used their head. The ship’s ease of capture (and a few other points) initially bothered me, but Greengrass got me involved in the story from that point on and kept a remarkable focus. Hanks is good, as always, but the supporting cast of virtual unknowns – especially Somali actor Barkhad Abdi – brings a sense of authenticity to the film. Hanks is particularly good (and vulnerable) in the last section of the film.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Doug Liman
I’m sticking with the theatrical title, even though the DVD and Blu-ray releases of film have been renamed Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow, which probably makes sense; Edge of Tomorrow sounds like a soap opera.
Regardless, I held out little hope that the film would be any good, since I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan. I’m not a hater, either. When you’re in the mood for a Tom Cruise movie, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. I saw Edge of Tomorrow mainly because it was playing at The Star Theater in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia while we were vacationing and I wanted to check that theater out. (I wrote about that experience here.)
Although this time travel/war movie is about 20 minutes too long, it was far better than what I was expecting, mainly thanks to a role that’s a bit of a departure for Cruise, who plays an unwilling time traveler and would-be military hero who finds himself in way over his head. Director Liman (Jumper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity) knows certainly knows how to make an exciting action film. Worth a look, even if you’re a Cruise hater.
End of Watch (2012) David Ayer
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play two L.A. cops going about their daily routines when they discover evidence of a large drug cartel, something way bigger than either one of them has ever faced in their careers. I’m typically not a huge fan of cop movies, but I frequently like Gyllenhaal’s acting and thought highly enough of director David Ayer’s previous work (Training Day) to give this one a shot. I’m glad I did.
Impact (1949) Arthur Lubin
Walter Williams (Brian Donlevy) is so busy with work, he not only doesn’t know his wife (Helen Walker) has a lover (Tony Barrett), he also hasn’t a clue that they’re both trying to kill him. As with all films noir, things never turn out as planned, as Williams – presumed dead after a car accident – starts over again in a small Idaho town. And as we also know from noir, you may be done with the past, but the past is never done with you.
Although Donlevy be not be your typical leading man, he handles the role nicely, despite the fact that the chemistry between Donlevy and Marsha Peters (pictured above) is something of a head-scratcher. The final courtroom scene is rushed and contrived, but Impact is still an enjoyable film noir with a certain amount of charm. (Viewed in the Film Noir Collection, a 10-movie set that’s cheap and has pretty lousy video quality, but contains a few nice surprises like Impact.)
Lars and the Real Girl (2007) Craig Gillespie
Lars and the Real Girl comes oh, so dangerously close to disaster in so many places that I marvel at its tone and construction. By now, everyone knows the plot: Lars (Ryan Gosling) – an extremely shy, awkward recluse – orders a lifelike doll from an adult website and acts like she’s a real woman, showing her off to everyone in his small Wisconsin town. Credit director Gillespie for making us believe in the premise, but also credit Gosling for an incredibly restrained performance that, somehow, works.
This is one of those movies a friend of mine kept recommending to me each time I saw him. Do you have one of those friends in your life? You know the type I mean. “Have you seen it yet?” he’d ask every time I saw him. “Have you seen it?” The best thing you can do in such a situation is to see the movie as quickly as possible, report back as quickly as possible, then recommend a film that you like. Hey, fair is fair.
The Tunnel (2011) Carlo Ledesma
Australia is really putting out some great horror films these days, especially of the “mockumentary” variety, in which The Tunnel firmly belongs. (Lake Mungo is another.) The Tunnel, of course, owes much to The Blair Witch Project, and like that film, takes its time getting things going. Once weird things start happening (or maybe even before), you’ll be hooked and probably completely creeped out.