Dusty’s Best of 2014

You’ve handled my worst, so you’re now getting my best.

Before I get to the list, here are some that just barely missed the cut (or maybe they didn’t, but I wanted to talk about them.)


Honestly, the only reason this one didn’t make the list is because I’m not sure if it qualifies as horror.  It has been a bit overhyped, and I don’t think it’s as good as all the breathless overanalyzing tends to make it sound.  But it’s a solid movie, and I had a lot of fun watching it.  The cast is terrific, the story – riddled with logistical holes as it is – is a lot of fun, and they do a great job with the video game type plot of moving car-to-car, finding a new obstacle in each one.  Try to ignore the hype and watch this for what it is: a fun and unique sci-fi movie.
My original review.


Pacific Rim has ruined me a little, because all I could think was, “Why not just build giant robots and punch Godzilla in the face with their rocket-propelled fists?”  But I got over that before I went into the movie.  I just wanted something fun.  Instead, all I got was a movie following the uncharismatic kid from Kick-Ass as he travels the world as the only bomb expert left, somehow staying in Godzilla’s direct path the whole time.  I also saw two great performers – Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen – get completely washed out of the movie (an early exit and relegated to crying duty, respectively).  There were some good scenes and the last half hour made me walk out excited, but it wasn’t nearly as good as I was hoping.
My original review.

Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills
The hype train was all geared up for this one.  I lowered my expectations before I went in.  I’m glad I did, because, even with those lowered expectations, I didn’t enjoy it that much.  Sky high expectations would have led to me hating it.  The cast is terrific (Ethan Embry, David Koechner, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) and there were some good dark comedy moments, but the story was extremely predictable, made even worse by the feeling that they were trying to deliver a huge emotional gut punch at the end.  (I could see the end coming from a mile away.)  There were also a few scenes that really drove the drama forward by actions that made no sense (I realize it’s a weird statement to make about a movie like this, given all the out-of-character things that happened, but I stand by that statement and am more than happy to discuss it).  It wasn’t a bad movie.  I thought it was decent.  But the overhype really hurt it.  If you don’t expect anything mind-blowing, you should have a good time with this.

Life After Beth

Life After Beth
I didn’t expect much out of this.  Just a fun zombie movie with a good cast.  That’s exactly what I got.  It looked at the zombie genre from a slightly different angle, and I enjoyed it.
My original review.

I, Frankenstein

I, Frankenstein
I know, I know.  Keep in mind that I’m a fan of the Underworld series, the first 3 Resident Evil movies and the first 2 Mummy movies.  I’m a sucker for a fun action/horror movie is my point.  This movie is way more complicated than it has any reason to be, but it was a lot of fun to watch.

Enough of this nonsense.  To the top 10!

Under the Skin

10. Under the Skin
All I knew going into this movie was, “Scarlett Johansson artsy Species,” which is really just word soup.  But that’s pretty much what this was.  There’s not a lot of dialogue, and there’s a lot of Scarlett driving around Scotland in a white van, talking to strangers.  There’s seduction and nudity, but none of it is alluring.  This movie definitely isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for every mood, but I really liked this a lot.  It has a hypnotic quality to it.  Once it clicked for me, I was glued to the screen.
My original review.

Sacrament, The

9. The Sacrament
Those of you who know me know that I have never liked Ti West.  I’ve never liked a single movie of his.  In fact, my favorite Ti West moment is when he gets shot in the head with an arrow in You’re Next.  But this was something different.  The first 30 minutes were pretty slow, and I started to tune out a little.  I knew where the story was going, anyway: it’s basically a retelling of the events of Jonestown.  But then it started to pick up a bit.  Even though I knew where it was going, it was still able to draw me in.  The paranoia and insanity increased incrementally.  By the time it got to the Kool Aid (or, more accurately, Flavor Aid) scene, I was all-in.  There are some images in this film that I’ll never be able to get out of my brain.  There were some extremely chilling moments.  I didn’t love the whole thing, and I had some logistical issues like, “How did they get the footage off that specific camera?”, but that’s just being nit-picky.  I liked this a lot more than I thought I was going to.
My original review.


8. Sacrament
Not to be confused with the last movie.  This one was directed by Shawn Ewert, and it follows a group of friends as they take a trip to Texas and find themselves in a town surrounded by religious fanatics and the sweet, sweet smell of meat.  This could have easily turned into a predictable slasher, but the religious angle helped to add another layer to the film, as did the fact that these characters felt like actual people.  Ewert made me care about the characters and what happened to them.  There were a couple scenes I wasn’t crazy about, but, again, that’s just being nit-picky.
This is also notable for being one of the final performances of the great Marilyn Burns.  She doesn’t have a huge role, but she’s fantastic when she’s on the screen.


7. Tusk
I just watched this last week.  I’m still trying to make up my mind on it, so it has a chance to climb up the ladder or fall down, depending on where I settle.  For now, #7 seems about right.  I thought I had a decent idea of what this movie would be: crazy old man turns mustachioed Justin Long into a walrus.  I figured it would be really gory.  Something like Human Centipede or Hostel or something.  But it really wasn’t.  They didn’t show much of the transformation at all.  That’s good, because just looking at the walrus suit was disturbing enough.  There were a number of scenes in here that made me laugh entirely too hard.  It was a really well done dark comedy/horror.  I loved it.  I could have done without Johnny Depp’s character, and the podcast segment at the end reminded me of how much I dislike Kevin Smith, but those are small complaints.  I thought I would hate this movie, and I was completely blown away by how much I loved it.


6. Oculus
I kind of lumped this into “mirror horror” (which I believe only includes Mirrors and Mirrors 2), so I wasn’t expecting much.  I came away loving this movie.  There were some great performances here (Karen Gillan and Katee Sackhoff were the standouts, but everyone was terrific.  Even the children were great, and I’m normally not a big fan of child actors), the story was good, and there were some really creepy moments.  I love how the film played with the perception of reality.  This is a great movie to put on when you’re by yourself in a dark house.
My original review.


5. The Canal
A great, claustrophobic movie about a man who discovers his wife has been murdered.  The use of old murder footage was really creepy.  This combined elements of The Amityville Horror and Sinister, but still had its own style to it.  I knew next to nothing about this movie going in, and I think I was better off for it.  Just watch this movie.
My original review.


4. WolfCop
Some glorious maniac submitted a review for this, and I don’t know if I can describe it any better than he/she did.  Take Hobo With a Shotgun and, instead of the hobo (sorry Rutger Hauer) and throw an alcoholic werewolf cop into the mix.  Bam.  WolfCop.


3. Horns
I read the book and, while I liked it, I didn’t love it like I thought I would.  Still, I was very much looking forward to this movie.  After Daniel Radcliffe’s work on The Woman in Black, I was excited to see what he would do here.  He was fantastic, and the movie was dynamite.  They nailed the dark-comedy-turns-just-plain-dark mood of the book.  A number of moments had me laughing really hard.  Beyond the humor, the story was handled great.  I loved that, behind all the insanity, was a simple love story/murder mystery.  There were times I was so involved in the story that I almost forgot Ig had horns on his head.  The cast was great, and the story was handled wonderfully.  It was everything I hoped it would be.
My original review.

Dead Snow 2

2. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
My love for the first Dead Snow is well-known, so it should come as no surprise that the sequel ranked so high on my list.  With the success of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Tommy Wirkola was given a lot more money to work with than he did with Dead Snow.  And he put that money to good use.  Everything was bigger.  More zombies.  More blood.  More intestines.  More insanity.  This movie is a ton of fun.
My original review.


1. The Babadook
How could it be anything else in this spot?  It’s rare that a movie exceeds its considerable hype (for me, anyway), but this movie managed to do that.  The first 30 minutes or so were a bit dicey (screeching children have a way of doing that), but I totally understand why they had to do that.  Then it settled in, and I couldn’t look away.  I was completely drawn in by the story.  By the imagery.  By the relationship between mother and son.  By everything.  It’s a fantastically creepy movie.  Find a dark, quiet night, open a door you can see from your viewing area, and put this on.  Don’t look at your phone.  Don’t carry on long conversations.  Just sit down and drink this in.  You won’t be disappointed.
My original review.  (I may or may not talk about the Pinky & The Brain Christmas Special.)


Godzilla - Poster

Monster movies are tricky in that the titular star is often a minor character, behind those that it affects. He is a plot point.  A puzzle to be solved. A villain to be conquered. They are often the center of the film, but they are unable to carry it. That duty in Godzilla falls on the humans.  For as much as I loved the characters in Monsters, I didn’t feel any connection to them here.  Bryan Cranston was great as the crazy-but-not-really-crazy engineer, but he didn’t get nearly as much screentime as I hoped he would.  I really like Elizabeth Olsen, but her character bio was nothing more than “concerned wife”.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson is supposed to be our proxy, but I felt no connection with him.  He was constantly in danger – he spent the entire film in the path of Godzilla and other nuclear monsters – and yet I never cared whether he lived or died.  If he was a minor character, the lack of connection wouldn’t be a big deal.  But it takes a while for Godzilla to show up (and it takes even longer for him to do anything interesting for longer than 5 seconds), leaving Taylor-Johnson’s meathead Ford as the driving force behind the film.  It’s a terrible combination of an underdeveloped character and an actor with zero charisma.

Might as well call him Zero.
Might as well call him Zero.

I wouldn’t care that it took so long for Godzilla to show up if the characters were more interesting or their stories more compelling.  They needed to make me care about the characters and their struggles.  Get me invested in them, then bring up Godzilla and make me hope and pray that everyone makes it out okay.  They didn’t do that, so the first half of the movie really seemed to drag.  The only thing I really loved in the first half was Bryan Cranston’s running face, and that was a short-lived joy.

"Godzilla will get NOTHING!"
“Godzilla will get NOTHING!”

We got a little action about an hour in, but it wasn’t Godzilla.  We had two creatures designated as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that fed off radiation.  We saw some decent destruction involving these creatures: they were equipped with EMPs, so they would periodically shut down all electrical devices, which led to some great scenes of planes spinning helplessly to the ground and exploding on impact.  We saw one of the MUTOs – which looked like a mix between a Starship Troopers bug and the Cloverfield monster – rampage through Las Vegas.  They were good destruction scenes, but they weren’t Godzilla destruction scenes.

Once the Godzilla action showed up, it felt a bit like a tease.  Godzilla showed up in the city, a MUTO descended on him, a battle was starting…and a door closed in front of the camera, so we didn’t see any of it.  We had a few of those false starts before the real action started.  And once that happened, I was all in.
The fight scenes between Godzilla and the MUTOs felt like a clumsy bar brawl in the middle of a city; staggering into buildings, screaming and breathing fire.  They were glorious, and they left me walking out of the theater being really excited about the movie.

Godzilla - Scream

But that excitement fades after a little while, and I’m left thinking about all the problems.  The shallow characters.  The fact that EMPs knocked out all electricity, yet the news cameras still worked.  The fact that the army decided the best place to attack a monster who travels primarily by sea was a suspension bridge.  And so on.  And so forth.

"This seems like a great place to set up our troops."
“This seems like a great place to set up our troops.”

It was impossible to watch this and not think about Pacific Rim.  There was the obvious (“They should just build some giant robots to fight the monsters.”), but it’s also worth exploring some of the writing.  Pacific Rim knew the strength wasn’t in the writing, so they just threw a handful of massive fight scenes at the audience to keep us happy.  Godzilla seemed to think its characters were good enough on their own and didn’t feel the need to keep us distracted with fights.

"My emotions!"
“My emotions!”

I don’t think the characters were better written in Pacific Rim, but I found that I cared about them more than I cared about the characters in Godzilla, and I think that’s because the characters in Pacific Rim actually spent quite a bit of time together.  The characters in Godzilla were often in completely different places.  I found it hard to care about the relationship between Ford and Elle because most of their interactions were short conversations over the phone.  It was hard to see much love between them, so I had little love for them.
In the end, the main downfall of the movie was the lack of connection with Ford.  He was the one who was constantly in harm’s way, yet I didn’t care what happened to him.

Walking out of the theater, I could say that I really enjoyed myself, but its problems are impossible to ignore.  The long lead-up to destruction is a necessary evil, but I can’t help but think that it could have been more interesting.  The characters could have been much better, but, in the end, we got to see The King of the Monsters beat up on a couple lesser monsters and unleash a number of his trademark screams.

It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s worth seeing for the fight scenes if nothing else.

Rating: 3.5/5

Before the movie came out, I wrote a Trailer Talk post about it.  You can read that here.

Godzilla - Poster 2

Trailer Talk – Godzilla


Release date: May 16, 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards (Monsters)

This is the first trailer I saw, and it’s still my favorite one.  The skydiving scene that opens is amazing.  The silence as they drop, and the destruction they see as they break through the clouds.  The flashes of anguished faces (Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen cry faces!) mixed with fire and crumbling buildings.
I ended up tracking this trailer down on YouTube, but I can only imagine the thrill I would have felt at the reveal of Godzilla at the end, screeching through the dust.  I knew it was a trailer for Godzilla and I still got chills from that reveal.  If I didn’t know it was a Godzilla trailer, I probably would have peed my pants, making me the Miles Davis of everyone around me.

Subsequent trailers haven’t filled me with the same level of excitement.  They made it look like Bryan Cranston Yelling: The Movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Cranston, but those trailers kind of grated on me a bit.  I know he’s good, and I know he won’t be screaming for the entire movie, so I realize this is a bit of an overreaction.   I’m still excited, just not as much as I was after the first one hit.

As listed above, this film is directed by Gareth Edwards.  He has one other major(ish?) movie to his directing credit: 2010’s Monsters.  I know it’s not an overly popular movie, but I really loved it.  It was a slow movie, and not really what I was expecting, but the performances, direction and look of the movie really carried it for me.  I loved it.  It’s one of those that I keep meaning to go back and watch again, but just haven’t gotten around to it.
Monsters wasn’t super low-budget, but they certainly weren’t swimming in cash (it had a $4.2 million budget).  Because of that, most of the tension revolved around the unseen threats.  The monsters themselves aren’t seen until the very end.  I loved the look of them, but I also loved the unseen entities rustling in the bushes for the majority of the movie.  Obviously, these are different circumstances, and Edwards has been given $160 million to play with.  Godzilla will not be an unseen threat.  He will be front-and-center, wreaking havoc on everything in its path.  This won’t be mumblecore with offscreen monsters: this will be a disaster movie.

Of course, the movie won’t just follow Godzilla.  There are people involved.  People we need to connect with to enjoy the film.  With Monsters, Edwards has shown that he is capable of doing that.  That skill will be crucial to this movie, and I have faith in Edwards to pull it off.

It has a great cast, a good director, and an iconic monster.  I’m on board.

However, for most of the movie I will likely be thinking, “If they had a couple Jaegers, they could dispatch of this beast in a hurry.”