Shakespeare High


The play's the thing.

The play’s the thing.

(2011) Documentary (Cinema Guild) Richard Dreyfuss, Val Kilmer, Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, Julian G. Simmons, Luis Cardenas, Sue Freitag, Marisa Gold, Michelle Sui, Melvin Emesibe, Galvin Emesibe. Directed by Alex Rotaru

The English language is an amazing thing. It can communicate so much, so eloquently. It is distressing that of late we have chosen to dumb it down and simplify it to a series of catch phrases and abbreviations so that the things we express can fit in a Twitter feed.

Respecting Shakespeare, perhaps the most accomplished practitioner of the English language there ever was, is not something that comes naturally to most high school students. Acting out Shakespeare’s timeless plays can be daunting as well.

The Drama Teachers Association of Southern California has put on a Shakespeare competition for more than 90 years now. Each year it chooses three different plays from the Bard; schools from the region then are invited to either condense the play into an eight minute scene, or perform a five-minute scene from the play. They can use no props other than four folding chairs. They are welcome to interpret the dialogue and action however they wish so long as it conforms to the basic meaning of the play, or simply perform it as is.

Fifty schools participated in this particular year, from schools for the wealthy and privileged to schools for the disadvantaged and poor. Among them is the Los Angeles High School for the Performing Arts whose students and teachers tend to prefer traditional presentations of Shakespeare. They tend to be dismissive of the other schools which is ironic because some of the other students seemed to have a deeper understanding of what Shakespeare was trying to get across than the snobs. I found that comforting, somehow.

Some of the stories of the kids who are involved here are downright heartbreaking. There are kids involved with gangs, kids dealing with personal tragedies, kids with hopes of becoming professional actors and kids who are just having a bit of a lark.

The documentary captures adequately how Shakespeare can change the lives of those exposed to him for the first time. What it doesn’t capture is what these kids thought of the plays they were performing. So involved do the filmmakers get in the competitive aspect of the competition that they forget the reason for it at times. I would have liked to have seen more details and fewer student portraits. It’s not that all of them didn’t deserve their 15 minutes, it’s just when a documentary tries to be all things to all people, it becomes so much more difficult to edit it down. I get the sense that Rotaru connected with the students so much that he lost some of his objectivity in terms of actually making the film.

This isn’t one of those life-changing documentaries that makes you aware of some aspect of life that you don’t focus on enough although I do think most of us could only benefit from a little bit more Shakespeare in our lives. It is however, interesting if not compelling in places and if you run across it in your browsing of things to watch and you happen to like documentaries, this isn’t a bad option.

WHY RENT THIS: Reminds us of how transformative Shakespeare can be. Some of the stories are compelling.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many stories. Could have used some judicious editing and more detail as to what the students thought and how they processed Shakespeare.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dreyfuss, Kilmer, Winningham and Spacey all appeared in previous competitions and Spacey executive produced this film. All four appear in the movie.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Two schools that were cut from the finished film are shown here, as is a student from one of the schools that were included but whose story also didn’t make the final film. There are also three complete festival performances including one from the winning school.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Caesar Must Die

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

2014 Fall/Holiday Preview


fallnholiday2014

It has been by all accounts a rough summer for Hollywood and theater owners in particular. The box office is down and the responsibility for that has to lie with the filmmakers; to wit, the product hasn’t really been as exciting as previous summers. Sure there have been some exceptions – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was one of the pleasant surprises, while Guardians of the Galaxy got off to a record start in August and shortly before this was published became the year’s number one hit. People flocked to see the sub-mediocre Transformers; Age of Extinction in droves, particularly overseas where record crowds pushed the movie over the billion dollar mark at the box office. With no Pixar film in the theaters this summer, the family audience stayed away from theaters for the most part this summer – even a fairly good quality How to Train Your Dragon 2 made disappointing numbers considering the lack of competition. For the most part, movies underperformed and reviews were pretty dismal for such non-blockbusters as Blended and Planes: Fire and Rescue. Even films that were blockbusters – like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Maleficent - didn’t get the kind of numbers the studios were expecting.

With Guardians and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles giving the box office a needed boost going into the football season which traditionally is fairly weak for the box office right up until the Holidays, we can look forward to a few guaranteed hits – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 for example looks to continue the hot streak of this young adult hit series. The Hobbit trilogy from Peter Jackson concludes with The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar will make Thanksgiving box office bells ring. Given all the publicity that the musical Annie has been getting from Columbia, I wouldn’t be surprised if this also made big bank.

We can look forward to some Oscar contenders as well, with early word touting Foxcatcher with Steve Carell generating Oscar buzz for the first time in his career in a dramatic role. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes will bring some attention for Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams and probably for Burton himself, while the World War II epic Fury with its ensemble cast may get Brad Pitt some face time with the Academy.

But all is not serious at the multiplex this season. Seth Rogen and James Franco re-team in The Interview, St. Vincent stars an irascible Bill Murray. Horrible Bosses 2 is bound to bring some belly laughs and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 will take us back to the future while Dumb and Dumber To reunites Jeff Daniels and Jim Carey. The sequels don’t stop there however as Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Dolphin Tale 2,The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies brings old favorites back to the screen for another go-round.

Families who might have been disappointed with the offerings this past summer will have more than a few reasons to head back to the multiplex, with Paddington, The Boxtrolls, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, Book of Life, Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, The Penguins of Madagascar, Dolphin Tale 2, Big Hero 6 and Annie all beckoning kids to drag their parents to the theaters. Those who prefer a little horror in their motion picture diet will have a cornucopia of selections, from Annabelle (a spinoff from The Conjuring), Ouija, Demonic, Jessabelle, Dracula Untold, The Canal, The Pyramid, Horns and Tusk all there looking to scare our socks off. There will also be plenty of action with The Equalizer, Kill the Messenger, A Walk Among Tombstones and Fury giving action junkies their fix.
Music fans will also have reasons to brave the chilly weather and hit the theaters as Annie, Into the Woods, One Chance and Beyond the Lights which will all hopefully have audiences tapping their toes. Indie film fans will also have some excuses to patronize their local art houses with such acclaimed fare as Foxcatcher, Escobar: Paradise Lost, Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Wild, One Chance, Birdman, TuskLeviathan, The Zero Theorem, Laggies, Frontera and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby all lining up for the film buff dollar. Science Fiction is always a presence at the end of the year and this year is no exception with such futuristic goodies as Interstellar, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, The Maze Runner, The Congress, The Zero Theorem and The Scribbler on tap. Those who like their movies on an epic scale can look forward to The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Finally, you can always find plenty of drama in the fall and holiday lineup and with Nightcrawlers, Gone Girl, The Judge, Rosewater and Big Eyes audiences will get their share of serious.

The stars always come out in the fall and 2014 is no exception as you’ll get to do some star-gazing with the late Robin Williams (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Merry Friggen’ Christmas), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1), Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Ed Harris (Frontera), Morgan Freeman (Dolphin Tale 2), Reese Witherspoon (Wild, The Good Lie), Billy Bob Thornton (The Judge), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Jason Bateman (This Is Where I Leave You, Horrible Bosses 2), Liam Neeson (A Walk Among Tombstones), Daniel Radcliffe (Horns), Christoph Waltz (The Zero Theorem, Big Eyes), Denzel Washington (The Equalizer), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Simon Pegg (Hector and the Search for Happiness), Steve Carell (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Foxcatcher), Seth Rogen (The Interview), Robert Downey Jr., (The Judge), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawlers), Bill Murray (St. Vincent), Jeremy Renner (Kill the Messenger), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Jim Carrey (Dumb and Dumber To), Brad Pitt (Fury), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1), Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses 2), Jamie Foxx (Annie), Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies), James Franco (The Interview),Keira Knightley (Laggies), Kirsten Wiig (The Skeleton Twins), Robert Duvall (The Judge), Michael Caine (Interstellar), Cameron Diaz (Annie) and Christian Bale (Exodus: Gods and Kings). There will also be plenty of talent behind the camera with Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, Alexandre Aja, Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, Terry Gilliam, Rob Marshall and David Fincher all directing films this season.

This of course is just a start as there will be additions (and deletions) from what you see here before all is said and done. Most of the fairly high-profile films though are pretty much set in stone barring disaster. So does this whet your appetite for what’s going on this fall? Hope so. If you want more, be sure and check out our monthly feature Four-Warned for a listing of everything opening both in limited and wide release that month and our weekly preview for what’s coming to the Central Florida multiplexes that week. Otherwise, let’s stop all this blather and get into the good stuff!

SEPTEMBER

Generally September is a month that serves as a segue from the summer blockbusters to the autumn harvest of Oscar contenders. While it is a month that usually has lower profile movies and films the studio has little faith in, there are often some gems among the debris. Hoping to make some box office hay while the sun still shines will be a reboot of an ’80s TV show, an adaptation of a beloved young adult novel, a sequel to an inspirational family hit and the latest from the stop-motion animation studio Laika.

The Equalizer

DEANS LIST

THE EQUALIZER
RELEASE DATE: September 26, 2014
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Robert Wahlberg, Johnny Messner
STORY: A man with a set of particular skills is trying to put his past behind him and live a quiet life working in a Home Depot-like store. When he meets a young girl who is being abused at the hands of the Russian mobsters who control her, he cannot stand by and do nothing. Russian mafia, look out – the Equalizer is on your tail!
PROSPECTS: A very different take on the 80s TV classic with Edward Woodward in the title role. Washington is more of an ass kicker. He has been more selective about what movies he makes than a lot of other stars, so certainly his fans will be eager to see this.
OBSTACLES: Theatrical attendance tends to be pretty lackluster in September with the start of the football season, school returning to session and the fall TV premieres all happening.
FACTOID: Leo guest starred in an Equalizer telefilm back in 1985.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES
RELEASE DATE: September 19, 2014
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, Sebastian Roche, Stephanie Andujar, Whitney Able, Mark Consuelos
STORY: An unlicensed private eye who is ex-NYPD reluctantly takes on a job from a heroin trafficker whose wife was kidnapped and murdered. He soon learns that this isn’t the first time the perpetrators have committed this crime nor will it be the last – and they are aware of his presence in the game.
PROSPECTS: Neeson has become one of the most reliable action stars of the past ten years. This has a suitably creepy vibe to it. Neeson’s films tend to perform well in off months.
OBSTACLES: His last movie was a bit disappointing commercially and critically.
FACTOID: Neeson’s character in this movie is actually taken from a series of 17 novels by author Lawrence Block of which this is the tenth; the character also appeared in the movie 8 Million Ways to Die played by Jeff Bridges.

THE MAZE RUNNER
RELEASE DATE: September 19, 2014
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Ami Ameen, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper
STORY: A young man wakes up in a mysterious maze with no memories of who he is or where he’s from. The only escape is to become a runner and try to find a way out of the maze which nobody has ever done. However when a young girl arrives who seems to have her memories and knows who the young man is, everything changes.
PROSPECTS: One of the most iconic and beloved young adult novels finally makes it to the big screen.
OBSTACLES: A cast of mostly unknown young actors. Not a good deal of hunk factor to bring the teenage girls.
FACTOID: Catherine Hardwicke was originally set to direct this.

THE BOXTROLLS
RELEASE DATE: September 26, 2014
STUDIO: Focus/Laika
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Isaac Hempstead-Wright
STORY: A group of mischievous subterranean creatures have raised a human child as their own are threatened by the villainous Archibald Snatcher who vows to rid the world of the Boxtrolls. The human ventures above ground and finds a spirited young girl as an ally and together they put together an audacious plan to save the boy’s family.
PROSPECTS: Laika has been responsible for some of the quirkiest and most beloved animations of recent years.
OBSTACLES: The Laika films have tended to appeal more to adults than to kids.
FACTOID: Based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

THE SKELETON TWINS
RELEASE DATE: September 12, 2014
STUDIO: Roadside Attractions
STARRING: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Joanna Gleason, Ian Hyland, Jennifer Lafleur
STORY: A pair of estranged twins whose lives have turned out not just disappointing but a downright disaster are unexpectedly forced into a reunion. They are forced to confront their own mistakes and failures and discover that repairing their relationship might well be the key to turning their lives around.
PROSPECTS: Has everything in the formula for indie circuit success; a terrific cast with a few well-known names, a truly funny trailer and a distributor that has gotten behind the movie after showing success with recent releases.
OBSTACLES: Since Bridesmaids Wiig really hasn’t shown she can carry a movie and Hader, while being a terrific support guy, is an unknown quantity when in a leading role.
FACTOID: Anna Farris was originally cast in the lead role, but an unusually long development period forced her to drop out of the project, eventually to be replaced by Wiig.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

SEPTEMBER 5, 2014

Opening in limited release, FRONTERA (Magnolia) examines the fallout when a rancher’s wife is killed while riding in her own ranch property and the most likely suspect is a Mexican national crossing into this country illegally.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

In THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY (Weinstein) a once-happy couple struggles to maintain their relationship in the wake of a tragedy as they discover that the people they once loved are literally strangers to one another now. DOLPHIN TALE 2 (Warner Brothers) returns to the inspirational story of Winter, the dolphin in a Florida aquarium whose tail fluke was replaced by an artificial device to allow her to continue swimming and her new friend Hope, rescued by the same aquarium in 2010. NO GOOD DEED (Screen Gems) stars Idris Elba as an escaped convict who gains entry into the home of housewife Taraji P. Henson by pretending he’s the victim of a car accident and proceeds to terrorize the woman and her children who must fight back against the intruder. In SEARCH PARTY (Universal) a new groom is taken hostage and ends up wearing nothing but a pair of gold leggings in the Mexican desert while his best friends bumble around trying to find him.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2014

HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (Relativity) stars Simon Pegg as a psychiatrist whose advice isn’t really making his patients any happier; he determines to go out and experience life and find out what it is that truly makes people happy. PRIDE (CBS) is based on the true story of a mining strike in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain which inspires a group of London gay and lesbian activists to raise money for the striking workers who are initially leery of taking money from the group but as they eventually learn to find common ground they discover that strength comes from standing strong together. THE SCRIBBLER (XLRator) which opens in limited release is a sci-fi tale about a disturbed young woman who uses an experimental treatment to eliminate her multiple personalities one at a time, but begins to worry that one of the personalities to be eliminated might be her true one THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (Warner Brothers) has an all-star cast and is about a dysfunctional family that has dispersed all over the country only to be brought back together under one roof for a week to fulfill the dying wish of their father. In TUSK (A24), a journalist falls into the story of a lifetime as he interviews a reputed explorer with a penchant for walruses and a dark, disturbing secret. Kevin Smith directs this quirky horror tale. THE ZERO THEOREM (Amplify) is visionary director Terry Gilliam’s latest and stars Christoph Waltz as an eccentric agoraphobic computer genius working on a project delegated to him by an equally mysterious Matt Damon in an effort to find a meaning of life – or lack thereof. The movie got a special screening at the Enzian earlier this year; you can read my review of it here.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

JACK AND THE CUCKOO CLOCK HEART (Dada) is a whimsical animated feature for adults and set in a wondrous world of fantastic inventions and unforgettable characters. While it is listed as a wide release, it is possible this might end up getting a limited release instead.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

On the other hand, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (Magnolia) most definitely is opening in limited release and stars Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as an American couple traveling in Greece in the early ’60s who encounter Oscar Isaac as a Greek-speaking American tour guide who scams tourists on the side. He becomes infatuated with the wife and when the couple invite him to dinner, it turns out neither the couple nor the tour guide are exactly what they seem to be.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

RIDDICK (Universal) Budget: $38 Million. Domestic Gross: $42.0M Total: $98.3M Verdict: Made Money.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (Columbia) Budget: $78M. Domestic Gross: $119.8M Total: $274.3M Verdict: Hit.
RUSH (Universal) Budget: $38M. Domestic Gross: $27.0M Total: $90.3M Verdict: Made Money.
DON JON (Relativity) Budget: $6M. Domestic Gross: $24.5M Total: $30.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 (FilmDistrict) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $83.6M Total: $161.9M Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE FAMILY (Relativity) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $36.9M Total: $78.4M Verdict: Made Money.
PRISONERS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $46M. Domestic Gross: $61.0M Total: $122.1M Verdict: Made Money.
BAGGAGE CLAIM (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $8.5M. Domestic Gross: $21.6M Total: $22.5M Verdict: Made Money.
WINNIE MANDELA (Image) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $80,634. Total: $80,634. Verdict: Likely Flop.
METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER (Picturehouse) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $3.4M Total: $8.0 Verdict: Flop.

OCTOBER

As autumn leaves swirl in the streets and Halloween decorations begin to appear everywhere, there will be plenty of scares coming our way this month with a board game that opens a portal for something truly evil, a spinoff from a smash hit horror film from recent years, a new take on a classic horror icon and an animated feature set in the land of the dead. For those not looking to be scared, there’s a quirky comedy with an SNL legend, mysteries involving an estranged father and son and a husband who may or may not have murdered his missing wife, the reboot of a hit Christian book series and a bestselling children’s book getting the Disney treatment.

Gone Girl

DEANS LIST

GONE GIRL
RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2014
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Missi Pyle, Boyd Holbrook, Scoot McNairy, Sela Ward
STORY: On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, a man reports his wife missing. His portrayal of a perfect marriage begins to crumble under intense police scrutiny and his bizarre behavior and outright lies make him suspect number one.
PROSPECTS: October has been Affleck’s month as of late, with such films as Runner Runner, The Town and Argo released during that month of the year. While he didn’t direct this effort, he is certainly front and center here.
OBSTACLES: Affleck tends to do better in movies he directs himself. However, this time he finds himself under the tutelage of David Fincher, so that might well give him a leg up. However, the subject matter is something of a downer.
FACTOID: Although the movie is set in North Carolina, it was actually filmed in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

OUIJA
RELEASE DATE: October 24, 2014
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Darren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith, Matthew Settle, Vivis Colombetti, Robyn Lively, Lin Shaye, Bill Watterson
STORY: A group of young people start messing around with a Ouija board, but this one happens to be not just any Ouija board and the place that they do the messing not just any place.
PROSPECTS: Ouija boards are a large part of our supernatural culture and while they have played a part in horror movies over the years, there have been surprisingly few dedicated to them.
OBSTACLES: The trailer didn’t particularly stand out, and with a fairly unknown cast and crew behind the camera this may have to come out of left field to be successful.
FACTOID: Hasbro’s film division has been working on a Ouija board film for more than five years.

THE JUDGE
RELEASE DATE: October 10, 2014
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Balthazar Getty, Dax Shepard, Denis O’Hare, David Krumholtz
STORY: A high-powered big city defense lawyer returns to his rural Indiana home on the occasion for his mother’s funeral and encounters his estranged father, a respected judge. When the father is accused of murder, the son becomes his attorney in a case that looks indefensible.
PROSPECTS: Downey and Duvall are two of the most respected actors in the business. With a fine supporting cast, this could be an early Oscar contender.
OBSTACLES: Nothing indicates in the trailer or through internet buzz that this is being considered as anything more than studio fall filler.
FACTOID: Farmiga beat out Elizabeth Banks for the female lead.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

BIRDMAN
RELEASE DATE: October 17, 2014
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
STARRING: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan
STORY: An actor famous for portraying an iconic super hero in a movie franchise attempts to mount a Broadway play in order to rescue his career and help him restore his humility when his out-of-control ego threatens to derail everything.
PROSPECTS: Big Internet buzz on this one. Word of mouth says this Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu-directed effort could be a sleeper hit.
OBSTACLES: Inarritu is better known for directing ensemble dramas rather than comedies. Keaton hasn’t really carried a hit movie in decades.
FACTOID: Although there is a Hanna-Barbera character of the same name, the Birdman character of this movie has no relation to the cartoon character.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

OCTOBER 3, 2014

ANNABELLE (New Line) is a spinoff from the horror hit from last year, The Conjuring and follows the demonic doll Annabelle’s history as she wreaks havoc in the lives of her owners, a nice kickoff to the Halloween season. THE GOOD LIE (Warner Brothers) stars Reese Witherspoon in a story based on true events in which orphans of the Sudan’s brutal civil war find asylum in the United States and how a courageous social worker fought an American bureaucracy frozen by the events of 9/11 to reunite them with their sister. This opens in limited release. In THE HERO OF COLOR CITY (Magnolia) a box of heroic crayons must save Color City from a monster accidentally released from a child’s drawing. This is an animated feature and while it is currently listed for wide release, I would bet money that it will wind up being a platform limited release when all is said and done. LEFT BEHIND (Stoney Lake) reboots the Christian rapture book series with Nicolas Cage in the lead role. THE LIBERATOR (Cohen Media Group), opening in limited release, stars Edgar Ramirez in the title role in this biopic of Simon Bolivar, one of the most revered and beloved figures in South America, who liberated thousands from the colonial powers of the 19th century.

OCTOBER 10, 2014

In ADDICTED (Lionsgate) a married woman with a dream life embarks on a dangerous affair with a hunky young artist, a path which may be too tempting for her to resist. ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (Disney) stars Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner in this comedy about a family having the kind of day that makes all other bad days look idyllic in comparison. KILL THE MESSENGER (Focus) is opening in platform limited release, with Jeremy Renner starring as Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter whose investigation of the link between crack cocaine smuggling, the CIA and arms for Nicaraguan rebels would win him a Pulitzer but cost him far more. ONE CHANCE (Weinstein) is the much-delayed biopic of Paul Potts, the unlikely operatic winner of the hit Britain’s Got Talent and the overwhelming odds he overcame to do it.

OCTOBER 17, 2014

THE BEST OF ME (Relativity) is the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation and follows a couple who were once high school sweethearts but whose relationship fell apart. 20 years later, they are reunited at a funeral for a friend and the old sparks are rekindled, but also present are the forces that tore them apart the first time around. THE BOOK OF LIFE (20th Century Fox) is a colorful and unique animated feature produced by Guillermo del Toro set in Mexico as well as in the World of the Dead. Two men battle for the heart of a beautiful young woman but one must overcome immense odds to win that sacred heart. DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal) is a new take on the legend of Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula as he must sacrifice everything to protect his family and his country – and the cost of that sacrifice may be much more than he bargained for. FURY (Columbia) stars Brad Pitt and is set in the waning days of World War II as a tank crew battles to survive the furious last days of the war. NIGHTCRAWLER (Open Road) is the tale of a driven, ambitious young man who enters the breakneck world of L.A. crime journalism. Jake Gyllenhaal stars.

OCTOBER 24, 2014

JOHN WICK (Lionsgate) stars Keanu Reeves in a story about a retired hit man who is forced back into the game by a sadistic young thug who wants to take him down. It’s one of those “be careful what you ask for” tales. Opening in limited release is the Sundance hit LAGGIES (A24) with Keira Knightley as a 20-something who is having trouble growing up, hiding out in the home of a 16-year-old friend and her world-weary single dad. ST. VINCENT (Weinstein) is the latest tour de force for Bill Murray as an irascible old man and unrepentant reprobate who decides to earn some extra cash for his gambling and drinking habits by babysitting a neighbor’s kid. This leads to an unexpected friendship. STONEHEARST ASYLUM (Millennium) opens in limited release and is a British horror film about a medical school grad who is assigned to a mental institution and eventually falls for one of his colleagues, but a change in staffing may bring about unspeakable terror for them both.

OCTOBER 31, 2014

HORNS (Radius) stars Daniel Radcliffe in an unusual horror film directed by Spanish master Alexandre Aja about a man accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend and who starts to grow horns on his head that have the power to force people to confess their darkest secrets and give in to their deepest desires, and decides to use his new-found power to find and exact revenge upon the real killer.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Columbia) Budget: $55M. Domestic Gross: $107.1M Total: $218.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
GRAVITY (Warner Brothers) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $274.1M Total: $716.4M Verdict: Blockbuster.
ESCAPE PLAN (Summit) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $25.1M Total: $137.3M Verdict: Made Money.
THE FIFTH ESTATE (Touchstone) Budget: $28M. Domestic Gross: $3.3M Total: $8.6M Verdict: Flop.
BAD GRANDPA (Paramount) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $102.0M Total: $151.8 Verdict: Blockbuster.
12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $56.7M Total: $187.7 Verdict: Big Hit.
RUNNER RUNNER (20th Century Fox) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $19.3M Total: $62.7M Verdict: Broke Even.
MACHETE KILLS (Open Road) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $8.0M Total: $15.0M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE COUNSELOR (20th Century Fox) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $16.9M Total: $71.0M Verdict: Made Money.
ROMEO AND JULIET (Relativity) Budget: $24M. Domestic Gross: $1.1M Total: $1.1M Verdict: Flop.

NOVEMBER

As the weather grows colder, the multiplex starts heating up as new blockbusters arrive along with early contenders for Oscar gold. This year we can count on a new sci-fi spectacle from Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, the first animated feature of a Marvel comic, sequels to a megahit young adult science fiction franchise and an over-the-top workplace comedy, a spin-off from a hit animated franchise and the reunion of one of the dumbest comic duos ever.

Interstellar

DEANS LIST

INTERSTELLAR
RELEASE DATE: November 7, 2014
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Topher Grace
STORY: The Earth is dying, unable to support the human race or any other race for that matter. In desperation, we look to the stars and build a craft that might take us there. Time is of the essence and the toll that is taken on the astronauts and those who love them will be terrible indeed.
PROSPECTS: Christopher Nolan once again goes the sci-fi route and with Inception under his belt, this one is more of a traditional science fiction film with starships and alien worlds. With the super hot McConaughey headlining, this is a sure winner.
OBSTACLES: There has been a glut of science fiction on both the big screen and the small; the public might be more in the mood of a Guardians of the Galaxy-type movie which this is not. With the exception of Blade Runner most cerebral science fiction has failed to do well at the box office.
FACTOID: Steven Spielberg was originally intended to direct this and while he was attached he hired Jonathan Nolan to write a draft of the script. When Spielberg moved on to other projects, Nolan suggested this project to his brother Christopher.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR
RELEASE DATE: November 26, 2014
STUDIO: DreamWorks Animation
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong, Peter Stormare, John Malkovich, Werner Herzog
STORY: The penguins, perhaps the most accomplished spies the world never heard of, join forces with a spy agency the world has never heard of to stop Dr. Octavius Brine, a megalomaniacal would-be world dictator the world has never heard of.
PROSPECTS: Like the Minions of the Despicable Me films, the penguins have been the best thing about this animated film franchise. They get their own movie and hopefully, will run – or waddle – with it.
OBSTACLES: This has not exactly been the year of the family film. The Penguins also have their own TV show so the thought of shelling out hard-earned cash to go see them in a theater might not be so attractive for parents.
FACTOID: The filmmakers wanted Robert Stack to voice Skipper but he passed away before filming began.

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1
RELEASE DATE: November 21, 2014
STUDIO: Lionsgate
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore
STORY: Katniss is forced to flee to District 13 after her triumph in Catching Fire. From there she becomes the face of the rebellion as she fights to save Peeta, the ones she loves and the innocent of Panem from the ruthless President Snow.
PROSPECTS: Another slam dunk. This is one of the most successful film franchises of this decade and doesn’t look to slow down any with one more film left after this.
OBSTACLES: Can’t really see any.
FACTOID: Hoffman passed away with one week left of shooting for both of the Mockingjay films. Rather than recast the role, his part was finished with some rewriting as well as digital special effects.

BIG HERO 6
RELEASE DATE: November 7, 2014
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Genesis Rodriguez, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell
STORY: A young robotics genius in the high-tech city of San Fransokyo in the future discovers a criminal plot to take over the city. With his faithful but mostly harmless robot companion Baymax, he leads a team of reluctant crimefighters on a mission to save the city.
PROSPECTS: The first animated Marvel feature from Disney. Given that it is opening in the same successful weekend slot as Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, there’s a good chance that this will be the big animated feature winner this year in terms of box office.
OBSTACLES: Marvel and Disney can be disparate audiences.
FACTOID: While based on a Marvel property, this doesn’t take place inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

FOXCATCHER
RELEASE DATE: November 14, 2014
STUDIO: Sony Classics
STARRING: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Tara Subkoff
STORY: The true story of Olympic wrestling hopeful Mark Schultz, his brother Dave and Mark’s benefactor John Du Pont who founded a wrestling facility dedicated to preparing athletes for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but led instead to tragedy.
PROSPECTS: Carell is getting huge Oscar buzz in what is said to be the performance of his career. Director Bennett Miller has been involved with two Oscar nominated films previously; Capote and Moneyball.
OBSTACLES: Olympic wrestling is much less popular than the professional sort practiced by the WWE and fans of the latter might not take well to the wrestling style of the former.
FACTOID: The actual Foxcatcher Farm where the training facility was located was sold off after the events of this film; a private school and a development of multi-million dollar homes stand there now.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

NOVEMBER 7, 2014

JESSABELLE (Lionsgate) is a Southern Gothic horror flick opening in limited release in which a young woman returns to her decaying Louisiana home to recuperate from a horrific car accident, only to discover that the horror awaiting her back home is far more deadly. MERRY FRIGGIN’ CHRISTMAS (Phase Four), opening in limited release, is one of Robin Williams’ final films. He plays a kooky dad whose estranged son finally relents and agrees to spend Christmas with his old man. However when the son discovers he left all of the Christmas gifts at home, Dad, son and younger brother take off on an epic road trip. OPEN WINDOWS (Cinedigm) is an unusual thriller from acclaimed director Nacho Vigalondo in which a superfan wins a date with his favorite actress. When she balks at actually going on the date, her sleazy manager instead gives the fan the option of access to hidden camera feeds originating from her home. This puts her – and him – in unexpected danger. Opens in limited release. Also opening in limited release. ROSEWATER (Open Road) is based on the true story of journalist Maziar Bahari who was captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard while there working for the BBC and held and tortured. Comedian/political commentator Jon Stewart directed. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (Focus) stars Eddie Redmayne as the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking as he copes with a devastating illness to become one of the most honored living scientists. While it is listed in limited release, expect that this will be fairly widely available.

NOVEMBER 14, 2014

BEYOND THE LIGHTS (Relativity) is kind of a new take on The Guardian as a global pop superstar falls for a cop and aspiring politician who works her security detail. Despite attempts to keep the two separated, true love lives on in the end, yadda yadda yadda. DUMB AND DUMBER TO (Universal) reunites Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels as the most brain-dead comedy team ever as they and the Farrelly brothers, once one of the hottest comedy directors on the planet, take a spin down the comeback trail.

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

Opening in limited release, EXTRATERRESTRIAL (IFC) comes from director Colin Minihan, one half of the Vicious Brothers who directed Grave Encounters. Here, friends taking a break at a remote mountain cabin witness the crash of an alien spacecraft, which signals the beginning of a fight for survival. THE IMITATION GAME (Weinstein) is the story of prickly mathematician Alan Turing who broke the Enigma code in World War II but was later persecuted for his homosexuality. Benedict Cumberbatch stars. VHS: VIRAL (Magnolia) is the latest in the horror anthology series, with top young directors in the genre filming a series of short videos related to a group of teens’ obsessive pursuit of Internet fame. Like the first two movies in the series, this will be released in limited markets.

NOVEMBER 26, 2014

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (New Line) reunites Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day as three put-upon employees who decide to start their own business. Hoodwinked by a slick investor, they come up with a hare-brained scheme to kidnap his son and ransom control of the company back to themselves.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

ENDER’S GAME (Summit) Budget: $110M. Domestic Gross: $61.7Total: $125.5M Verdict: Lost Money.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Disney/Marvel) Budget: $170M. Domestic Gross: $206.4M Total: $644.8M. Verdict: Big Hit.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate) Budget: $130M. Domestic Gross: $424.7M Total: $864.6M Verdict: Blockbuster.
FROZEN (Disney) Budget: $150M. Domestic Gross: $400.7M Total: $1.3B. Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Paramount) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $116.9M Total: $392.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
OLDBOY (FilmDistrict) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $2.2M Total: $4.9M Verdict: Flop.
THE DELIVERY MAN (Touchstone) Budget: $26M. Domestic Gross: $30.7M. Total: $51.2M Verdict: Broke Even.
THE BOOK THIEF (20th Century Fox) Budget: $19M. Domestic Gross: $21.5M Total: $76.6M Verdict: Big Hit.
ABOUT TIME (Universal) Budget: $12M Domestic Gross: $15.3M Total: $87.1M Verdict: Big Hit.
HOMEFRONT (Open Road) Budget: $22M Domestic Gross: $20.2M Total: $43.1M Verdict: Broke Even.
THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Focus) Budget: $5M Domestic Gross: $27.3M Total: $55.2M Verdict: Big Hit.
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Weinstein) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $8.3M Total: $27.3M Verdict: Lost Money.
BLACK NATIVITY (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $17.5M Domestic Gross: $7.0M Total: $7.5M Verdict: Flop.
LAST VEGAS (CBS) Budget: $28M Domestic Gross: $63.9M Total: $134.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE BEST MAN’S HOLIDAY (Universal) Budget: $17M Domestic Gross: $70.5M Total: $71.6M Verdict: Big Hit.
FREE BIRDS (Relativity) Budget: $55M Domestic Gross: $55.8M Total: $110.4M Verdict: Broke Even.

DECEMBER

The last month of the year tends to send the box office out with a bang as big budget blockbusters vie with Oscar contenders for screens. This year we’ll be taking our last trip to Middle Earth, watch Ridley Scott get Biblical, see new re-imaginings of two hit musicals, watch a beloved children’s book character come to life and see the life story of a genuine American hero that you may never have heard of until now.

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies

DEANS LIST

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
RELEASE DATE: December 17, 2014
STUDIO: New Line/MGM
STARRING: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm
STORY: The Dwarves having reclaimed Erebor, Smaug wreaks havoc on Lake-town while an Orc army makes its stealthy way to Lonely Mountain. Human, Elf and Dwarf armies must unite to face the darkness or perish separately forever.
PROSPECTS: This being the last visit to Middle Earth possibly ever (although director Peter Jackson has reportedly been mulling over The Silmarillion as a future project) should get the fans out in droves. The last installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was also the biggest hit.
OBSTACLES: The Hobbit trilogy has disappointed both at the box office and in the hearts of the Middle Earth faithful.
FACTOID: Although Cate Blanchett appears in all three films, she was only on set for eight days of the more than 266 days of shooting (not including the additional shoots in the summer of 2013).

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB
RELEASE DATE: December 19, 2014
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Rebel Wilson, Ben Kingsley, Dan Stevens, Rami Malek, Dick van Dyke
STORY: The magical…um, serving tray or whatever it is, has been brought to London to the British National Museum along with some other artifacts from the New York Museum of Natural History. However the…um, bedpan or whatever it is no longer functions correctly and it will be up to Larry the Security Guard to find a way to restore it before all his friends are lost forever.
PROSPECTS: The first two films did monster box office despite lukewarm reviews. This one will be one of the great Robin Williams’ final film roles which is certainly going to bring people out in droves.
OBSTACLES: This hasn’t exactly been the kind of franchise that people have fallen in love with despite the box office numbers. Weak word of mouth could really hurt it.
FACTOID: Not only is this Williams’ final major studio film, it is also the last film for the late Mickey Rooney who has a cameo.

ANNIE
RELEASE DATE: December 19, 2014
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Quvenzhané Wells, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannevale, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Zayas, Mike Birbiglia
STORY: A cheerfully optimistic foster kid with an obscenely positive attitude enters the life of a New York City mayoral candidate (and billionaire) and becomes something of a good luck charm for him. While he uses her to further his pursuits, he may not realize that she is changing him in ways he never expected.
PROSPECTS: This has been a perennial Broadway musical favorite, and has already been a big hit on the big screen. Columbia has been pushing the movie very hard.
OBSTACLES: Purists might object to some of the changes in this movie version from the original musical and the source comic strip.
FACTOID: Producer Will Smith originally envisioned this as a starring role for his daughter Willow (talk about a stage dad!) but by the time production was ready to get underway, she had grown too old to play Annie and Wells, fresh off her success in Beasts of the Southern Wild got the job instead.

BIG EYES
RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2014
STUDIO: Weinstein
STARRING: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Jon Polito, Andrew Airlie
STORY: Walter Keane was one of the most successful painters of the late 50s and early 60s but he hid a staggering secret; the paintings were actually done by his wife Margaret and he was taking credit for her work.
PROSPECTS: A really fascinating story that few people know anything about. Could be a big awards contender come Oscar time.
OBSTACLES: Tim Burton is not exactly box office gold as directors go. Weinstein hasn’t really promoted this at all to date and this may end up being moved to another date next year.
FACTOID: The second biographical film that Burton has directed, the first being Ed Wood.

INTO THE WOODS
RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2014
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch
STORY: A story uniting the characters of Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a baker and his wife, desperate to have a baby, are cursed by a witch and find themselves entwined in the tales of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.
PROSPECTS: One of Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved musicals which has inexplicably never made it to the big screen until now.
OBSTACLES: Will face heavy competition from Annie.
FACTOID: Sondheim wrote two original songs for the production, both of which were cut from the final film.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

WILD
RELEASE DATE: December 5, 2014 (limited)
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
STARRING: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffman, Michael Huisman, W. Earl Brown, Kevin Rankin, Keene McRae
STORY: After her marriage disintegrates and she embarks on a decade of reckless and destructive behavior, Cheryl Strayed decides to walk the thousand mile Pacific Crest trail on her own despite having no experience with hiking.
PROSPECTS: This true story looks like a legitimate Oscar possibility for Witherspoon who has become one of those actresses who seems to have an Oscar-worthy performance every year.
OBSTACLES: Limited release and a very inwardly-focused narrative may not exactly lead to box office bonanza, although the same studio had big success with 12 Years a Slave last year.
FACTOID: The screenplay was written by noted British novelist Nick Hornby.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

DECEMBER 5, 2014

THE PYRAMID (20th Century Fox) is a horror film in which modern day explorers discover a new pyramid buried in the sands of Egypt and then discover up close and personally the realities of an Egyptian curse.

DECEMBER 12, 2014

DEMONIC (Dimension) is about the investigation of a massacre in an abandoned house in which five college students were brutally murdered; one of the survivors explains that they were paranormal investigators whose ghost hunting woke up something truly terrifying. EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (20th Century Fox) is the retelling of the legend of Moses and Ramses from director Ridley Scott, with Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in the respective roles. INHERENT VICE (Warner Brothers) features an all-star cast in a Paul Thomas Anderson film of a Thomas Pynchon novel set in the swinging ’60s.

DECEMBER 19, 2014

Opening in limited release, MR. TURNER (Sony Classics) stars Timothy Spall as British painter J.M.W. Turner, an eccentric who lived a colorful life and produced paintings that still divide the art world between acclaim and vilification.

DECEMBER 25, 2014

AMERICAN SNIPER (Warner Brothers), which opens in limited release and then expands to wide release on January 16, is the latest from director Clint Eastwood and tells the story of legendary Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who has recorded more confirmed sniper kills than any U.S. military man in history. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 (Paramount/MGM) returns most of the cast of the first film (sans John Cusack) who this time go back to the future to keep one of them from premature death. THE INTERVIEW (Columbia) received some controversy when North Korea threatened to go to war with the United States if this was to be released. It stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as a dimwitted talk show host and his producer who nab an interview with Kim Jong Un and are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him. It just makes one wonder; why would anyone go to war over Seth Rogen? PADDINGTON (Weinstein) is a live action/animated hybrid of the beloved children’s book character Paddington Bear and the second trailer for it looks like it may well be the best family film of the year. SELMA (Paramount), opening in limited release but expanding to a wide release on January 9, is the account of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama which sparked outrage at the tactics that the Alabama state troopers and locals used to stop the march and eventually led President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965. UNBROKEN (Universal) is the incredible but true story of Louis Zamperini, an American Olympian who during World War II survived a plane crash in the Pacific and 47 harrowing days in a raft at sea, only to be picked up by a Japanese warship and face internment in a harsh Japanese prisoner of war camp.

DECEMBER 31, 2014

LEVIATHAN (Sony Classics) opens in limited release and is a Russian film about a land dispute in a remote Russian village that ripples through the family and community involved and exposes the corruption in the Russian judicial system. This was one of the most acclaimed movies to come out of Sundance this year.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (Paramount) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $125.2M Total: $173.7M Verdict: Hit.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (New Line) Budget: $225M. Domestic Gross: $258.4M Total: $958.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (Paramount) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $50.6M Total: $135.5M Verdict: Broke Even.
SAVING MR. BANKS (Disney) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $83.3M Total: $112.5M Verdict: Hit.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (CBS) Budget: $11M. Domestic Gross: $13.2M Total: $32.9M Verdict: Hit.
THE MONUMENTS MEN (Columbia) Budget: $70M. Domestic Gross: $78.0M Total: $155.0M Verdict: Made Money.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (20th Century Fox) Budget: $90M. Domestic Gross: $58.2M Total: $188.1 Verdict: Broke Even.
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $36.1M Total: $126.6M Verdict: Lost Money.
OUT OF THE FURNACE (Relativity) Budget: $22M. Domestic Gross: $11.3M Total: $14.1M Verdict: Flop.
47 RONIN (Universal) Budget: $175M. Domestic Gross: $38.4M Total: $151.0M Verdict: Flop.
GRUDGE MATCH (Warner Brothers) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $29.8M Total: $44.9M Verdict: Lost Money.
TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS (Lionsgate) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $52.5M Total: $52.5M Verdict: Broke Even.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Weinstein) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $37.7M Total: $74.2M Verdict: Hit.

So there you have it, the last preview of the year and hopefully we’ll go out with a bang with some box office hits and some great movies that will keep the Oscar buzz going into the new year. As always; release dates are always subject to change, especially the farther out you go so be sure and check your local listings before heading out to your local multiplex.

There is a lot to look forward to next year which has studio accountants quivering with excitement – and film buffs and fanboys as well. A crowded schedule of movies that are already on a lot of people’s radars include the return of Star Wars to theaters, the new Avengers movie as well as the beginning of Marvel’s third cinematic phase, new installments in the Jurassic Park, Mad Max, Terminator, Fast and Furious, Divergent and The Hunger Games franchises, adaptations of Assassin’s Creed and The Jungle Book as well as a return of Pixar with Inside Out as well as the lovable Minions from Despicable Me getting their own movie – and a lot more. There are those who are whispering that 2015 may well be the greatest year in movies in decades and we’ll talk about all of it in the 2015 preview coming at the end of December. Until then, thanks for reading our Fall/Holiday preview edition and we’ll see you at the movies.

The Giver


A cool blue young adult sci-fi romance scene.

A cool blue young adult sci-fi romance scene.

(2014) Science Fiction (Weinstein) Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Taylor Swift, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Tremblay, Renate Stuurman, Vanessa Cooke, John Whiteley, Kira Wilkinson, Jefferson Mays (voice), Jaime Coue, Thabo Rametsi, Vaughn Lucas, Meganne Young, Katharina Damm. Directed by Phillip Noyce

Utopias aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be. In fact, there are those who believe that the human animal is incapable of living in a Utopian society for very long; we’re apt to mess it up entirely because we can’t be trusted.

In a Utopian future, war, poverty and hunger have been abolished. People live a peaceful existence in the Community. They take their medication every day, are admonished to speak with a precision of language, apologize for every possible perceived mistake and accept the apologies of others, and live in a world free of color and powerful emotions.

It is a world in which wise elders make the decisions that determine the shape of your life. After a period of nurturing (kind of like schooling) they are given their jobs – mostly tasks like gardening, drone piloting and for certain women, birth giving. There is no Big Brother but a Chief Elder (Streep) smiling benevolently on her flock.

Three friends – Jonas (Thwaites), Fiona (Rush) and Asher (Monaghan) – are eagerly awaiting the ceremony that will elevate them from childhood into productive adult lives. They are all smiling, happy sorts who are satisfied that their lives are going the way they should be.

At the ceremony, Fiona is given nurturer (basically the care giver for babies until they are assigned to a family) as expected and Asher – the class clown – is given drone pilot, monitoring both the Community and the territory beyond the boundary which is barren and uninhabited. However, oddly, Jonas is skipped over. Jonas’ mom (Holmes) – the security chief of the Community and one of the Elders – and Dad (Skarsgard), essentially the community’s doctor, exchange puzzled, troubled looks but at last Jonas is given a tremendous position at the end of the ceremony. He is to become the new Receiver of Memories.

Since the world basically fell apart and the Community sprung out of it, all memories of what preceded the Community have been deliberately removed from the population. Only one man, the Receiver, is allowed to possess those memories and from time to time, use them to advise the Elders on matters that fall outside the normal range of happenings.

The current Receiver doesn’t just tell the new one the tales of the distant past like some sort of Homer. Instead, he clasps hands with the new Receiver and the memories are transferred to him, in this case Jonas. That makes the old Receiver, Jonas tells him wryly, the Giver (Bridges).

The memories change Jonas. They begin to revive color as he sees colors that the memories identify as Red, then Blue, then Yellow. The primaries begin to combine and a whole palette is revealed to a wonder-filled Jonas. That’s not all Jonas receives though; he begins to experience emotions and stops taking his medication which further allow him to experience everything that’s new. His training allows him to lie because the Receiver must conceal these things from the members of the Community.

He discovers things like snow, which doesn’t exist in the climate-controlled Community, and sledding. He also discovers love, which doesn’t exist in the Community and whose concept is confusing to those he tries to explain it to. He soon realizes one thing – he’s falling in love with Fiona, and she might be falling in love with him.

But that’s not all that Jonas discovers. Conformity is everything in the Community and not everybody conforms easily. The Giver who is certainly a non-conformist has been tolerated because of his position but there have been tragedies. Things happen to the babies who don’t meet the minimum weight and length and a baby named Gabriel that Jonas has begun to develop a great deal of affection for may be targeted for those things.

Jonas realizes that the people have had too much removed from them, including their freedom but more importantly the essence of who they are. He will try to save Gabriel from being removed from the community – and at the same time removing himself to pass the barriers of memory. Once he does, the Giver believes that all those memories, emotions and colors will be restored to the Community members. And the Chief Elder will do anything to keep that from happening.

Based on the beloved young adult novel by Lois Lowry, Australian director Noyce takes on a book that is fairly complex and full of metaphors. He’s not always successful here. The look of the film is pretty exciting. The film switches from black and white at the beginning, slowly adding colors as Jonas’ perception begins to expand. The effect isn’t unlike the dining rooms on the Disney cruise ships that change from black and white to color over the course of the meal.

Bridges, resembling the late James Coburn in looks here, has been a huge admirer of the book and has been trying to get the movie made since the 90s, at the time with his father Lloyd in the title role that he plays in the final version. You can see him channeling his Dad, down to the way he clips the dialogue into groups of phrases the way his Dad did. It’s actually kind of sweet.

Streep, allowing herself to look older with little make-up and long silvering hair, doesn’t get a lot of screen time but she has that polite menace that have made certain villains memorable. Like all of the citizens of the Community, she stays on a fairly even keel most of the time.

Therein lies the challenge of the movie. The very essence of the community is emotionlessness. It’s the whole point for its existence. That’s great on the printed page but in a movie, it turns into a bunch of Stepford teens. The overwhelming politeness makes you want to do something unbelievably rude just to get these people to react. I don’t doubt that’s the effect the filmmakers were going for but it can be distracting when you’re trying to follow a story that’s plenty deep as it is.

I haven’t read the book although I’m told it’s amazing so I’m not sure how closely this sticks to the narrative – again, I’m told that it is fairly close but there is some material that is new to the movie. There are some issues that I have with the logic of the overall concept. For example, what’s the need to eliminate the perception of color from the citizens of the Community? I understand the metaphorical reason, but it seems a bit unnecessary. Perhaps I’m just being dense.

Also near the end, after seeing bicycles as the only means of transportation for the whole movie, motorcycles suddenly show up. And not only does Jonas ride the motorcycle (apparently he has the memory for it), he’s able to make a nearly impossible jump from the Community down to the badlands outside the barrier – all with a baby mounted on the front of the bike. Jonas may have the memory of how to ride a motorcycle and even how to jump a motorcycle but he doesn’t have the memory of how to defy physics. The baby should have gone flying like a football through the uprights. Three points!

I like the look of the movie; the Community is clean and futuristic and park-like, while the Giver lives on the outskirts in a mansion that looks not unlike a Romanesque temple that overlooks the clouds and a single tree visible beyond the barrier. It’s visually striking.

Still, despite that I left the movie feeling somewhat unfulfilled. Not that it isn’t entertaining nor can I say with absolute certainty that this is a movie you should avoid seeing. It has its merits. However, I can’t say with absolute certainty that most viewers are going to appreciate and enjoy the movie either. Most folks, I think, are going to react much the same as I did – neither liking nor disliking the film, but not remembering much of it after the final credits are over. For a movie about memories, there’s a certain irony in that.

REASONS TO GO: Streep and Bridges are terrific as always. Some interesting visuals.
REASONS TO STAY: Lapses in logic.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some mild violence and some mature thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Streep shot some of her scenes in England (the rest of the film was shot in South Africa while she was shooting Into the Woods.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/29/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 32% positive reviews. Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Never Let Me Go

New Releases for the Week of August 29, 2014


As Above, So BelowAS ABOVE SO BELOW

(Universal/Legendary) Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro, Hamid Djavadan. Directed by John Erick Dowdle

A group of student explorers in the catacombs of Paris are trapped by a rock fall. With no choice but to go further into the labyrinth, they find themselves lost. Soon, inexplicable things begin to happen to them and the group realizes that they have stumbled onto an ancient secret, one which may cost them their lives.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout)

50 to 1

(Ten Furlongs) Christian Kane, Skeet Ulrich, William Devane, Madelyn Deutch. A group of New Mexico cowboys who have more heart than brains are stunned when their crooked-footed horse qualifies for the Kentucky Derby. Getting the horse there though is half the battle and once they get there, they’ll only have to face the elite of horse racing in the glare of the biggest spotlight in the sport. If ever there was an impossible dream, this must be it.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive material and a bar brawl)

The Calling

(Vertical) Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, Gil Bellows, Donald Sutherland. A small town police detective has never had a whole lot of work thrown her way but a series of murders in the surrounding area puts her face to face with a serial killer who is answering to a higher calling.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for violent content, disturbing images and some language)

Cantinflas

(Pantelion) Oscar Jaenada, Michael Imperioli, Ilse Salas, Barbara Mori. Mexico’s most beloved comedian has a story that is largely unknown outside his native land. From humble beginnings he rose to the bright lights and fame of Hollywood, co-starring in the Michael Todd Oscar-winning epic Around the World in 80 Days. This is his story.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biography

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language, smoking and some suggestive material)

Land Ho!

(Sony Classics) Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee. Two dear old friends, once married to two sisters, have drifted apart over the years. Now that one is divorced and the other is a widower, they decide (albeit one of them reluctantly) to take a vacation to Iceland where the two may find the adventure still in their hearts even if the bodies aren’t quite what they used to be.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for some language, sexual references and drug use)

November Man

(Relativity) Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor. One of the CIA’s most lethal operatives has been living in relative peace and quiet in Switzerland after retiring. However, he is lured out of the pasture for one final mission, but soon discovers that it is not what it seems to be and that he will be forced to take on his most brilliant protégé in a game that he once knew but whose rules have changed.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use)

Raja Natwarlal

(UTV) Emraan Hashmi, Humaima Malik, Kay Kay Menon, Deepak Tijori. After a small time con man is wronged by a big time gangster, the grifter seeks the help of his mentor to get his revenge on the crook.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Magic in the Moonlight


Emma Stone is shocked to discover she's co-starring with an Oscar winner.

Emma Stone is shocked to discover she’s co-starring with an Oscar winner.

(2014) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Hamish Linklater, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, George Shamos, Erica Leerhsen, Catherine McCormack, Ute Lemper, Didier Muller, Peter Wollasch, Antonia Clarke, Natasha Andrews, Valerie Beaulieu, Lionel Abelanski. Directed by Woody Allen

The world is fairly evenly divided between the romantic and the pragmatic. Pragmatists believe that everything is explainable and that there is little to no mystery left in the world. Romantics believe that there is much more to life than what the senses perceive and that there are things in the world that can only be described as magic.

Stanley (Firth) certainly counts himself among the pragmatic although, perhaps oddly, he makes his living as a magician, masquerading as a Chinese illusionist named Wei Ling Soo. While he would say that he does so to maintain his privacy as well as the illusion of mystery, it seems somewhat hypocritical at the very least and cynical for certain. In 1928, however, this isn’t really an issue.

Stanley is the sort that can alienate the nicest of people in a matter of seconds. Pompous, arrogant and smug, he is completely certain that he is right in all things and the smartest person in the room. The trouble is, he usually is. He is engaged to Olivia (McCormack), a fellow intellectual pragmatic and a fine looking woman as well. They are very well-matched on the surface and Stanley feels a good deal of affection towards his bride-to-be. At the end of his world tour, he intends to vacation in the Galapagos with her.

 

However at the close of his Berlin show he is met by his old friend and fellow illusionist Howard Burkan (McBurney) who comes to him with a challenge. A woman by the name of Sophie Baker (Stone) purporting to be a psychic has attached herself to the Catledge family of Pittsburgh who happen to be friends of his. Their callow son Brice (Linklater) has become smitten with the girl, having already proposed marriage. Mother Grace (Weaver) is obsessed with making contact with her lately departed industrialist husband.

Stanley, a notable debunker of charlatans, leaps at the chance. Burkan drives him to their home in the South of France with a brief stop to lunch with Stanley’s dear Aunt Vanessa (Atkins) who practically raised him and instilled in him the practicality that makes up his personality, although she despairs at his prickliness that makes him something of a social hand grenade.

Nobody knows who Stanley is once they arrive at the Catledge villa; he introduces himself as an importer of Brazilian coffee beans. He meets Sophie and her suspicious mother (Harden) and proceeds to let slip his disbelief in the occult. However at a séance, he is unable to detect how she makes a candle levitate nor does she seem to be the source of the rapping noises that are overheard. The great debunker has to admit he’s perplexed.

 

He grows further so when she seems to know things she couldn’t possibly know – even Aunt Vanessa is taken with the charming young lass. The more he begins to doubt his own convictions, the more alive Stanley feels – and the more he begins to fall for the beautiful young girl. However, he can’t keep that nagging feeling out of his head that there is no such thing as magic. It’s a war in his soul for which it seems there can be no compromise.

Allen has been in a bit of a career renaissance in his 70s with nine films released including two of his most acclaimed and commercially successful – Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris. I will admit that I had fallen out of love with Allen not long after Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo - it seemed to me that most of his movies between then and now were passionless and seemed to be the work of someone who was working to stay busy. However Midnight in Paris did change my mind and I have again begun to look forward to his new movies – not that all of them have been great. Still I had high hopes for this one.

It is charming to be sure, a throwback to an early era – not just the era of the flapper when this is set, but also to the comedies of the ’70s which this is more akin to which were in turn inspired by comedies of the 30s and 40s. Call this a throwback of a throwback if you will.

 

Firth proves himself a phenomenal performer, once again showing that he may be the best male actor of this decade. His Stanley takes the guise of an inscrutable Oriental because Stanley himself is inscrutable; for all his bluster and bravado he is unable to express his emotions any better than those he despises can express their intellect. Stanley is clearly not a likable fellow yet Firth makes us like him in spite of his faults and by the time the movie ends, Stanley has made an organic and believable change. It’s not just good writing that accomplishes this – Firth makes it real.

Most of the rest of the cast does the kind of solid work you’d expect from a cast with this kind of pedigree – not to mention from a Woody Allen movie. Allen has always been able to get good performances from his actors.

I’ll have to admit that the second act seems a bit rushed and that the movie ends up a little bit more neatly tied up in a bow than I might have expected. I supposed when you’re 79 years old and you’re still churning out a movie every year (and sometimes more) without fail, you can be forgiven for taking a few short cuts.

 

Nonetheless this is solidly entertaining and charming. I have to admit that I do love movies set in this era and I love those kind of 70s-era all-star events that made the Agatha Christie movies so entertaining. While not a murder mystery per se, it has some elements you’d find in a movie by the mistress of the murder mystery. If Allen continues to make movies of this quality, I for one won’t be disappointed.

REASONS TO GO: Colin Firth is really, really good. Overall charming and recalls not only the Roaring ’20s but also the ’70s as well.

REASONS TO STAY: Ending is rushed a little bit. A few shortcuts are taken.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some innuendo and period smoking (which is apparently a big no-no for the MPAA these days).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the ninth movie made while Woody Allen was in his 70s. Should he release a movie next year, it will be his tenth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/27/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Great Gatsby

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Giver

The Taqwacores


Rock versus punk.

Rock versus punk.

(2010) Drama (Strand) Bobby Naderi, Noureen DeWulf, Dominic Rains, Jim Dickson, Nav Mann, John Charles Meyer, Nicholas Riley, Ara Thorose, Ian Tran, Volkan Eryaman, Tony Yalda, Marwan Kamel, Denise George, Anne Leighton, Rasika Mathur. Directed by Eyad Zahar

Art imitates life, it is said but sometimes life imitates art. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a novel about a fictitious Muslim punk scene and lo and behold, inspired by the novel, several bands of that nature sprung up. Taqwacore, which is a fusion of the Islamic word taqwa which refers to love, fear and respect for Allah, and hardcore, a sub-genre of punk which many of the Taqwacore bands reside, still is viable today. This indie film is based on the original novel.

Yusef (Naderi) is studying engineering at a university in Buffalo, New York. He is a fairly devout Muslim and feels uncomfortable in the dorms which he finds to be godless and where he is sometimes ridiculed. He decides to find off-campus housing that he can share with fellow Muslims.

Imagine his surprise when he found this house full of musicians and radicals who think that their religion is too strict, too structured. Yusef finds his horizons being widened by such as red Mohawked guitar player Jenangir (Rains) who says “Allah is too big and too open for my Islam to be small and closed.”

Yusef finds his mind broadening but his basic moral framework tested as his new housemates party like it’s 1999 and challenge the very meaning of what it is to be Islamic. Yusef begins to find that the punk ethos dovetails very nearly with that of his new found understanding of his religion.

What I like about the movie is that we get some insight into what it is to be a young man of the Islamic faith in the 21st century. That isn’t always an easy task – few Americans, myself included, really have much of an understanding of Islam. We either look at the lot of them as Jihadists (which they are not) or anti-Christians and particularly, anti-Jew (which most of them are not). I’ve known many people of that faith and you will not find a warmer, more caring and more family-oriented group anywhere.

That said, I like seeing that yes there are people within Islam questioning the things they were taught and told about their religion, very much like what has happened with plenty of Christian young people. I find the thought somehow comforting that questioning one’s faith is somewhat more universal than I first supposed. I don’t know why I would have thought that; it isn’t just a Christian thing after all.

Rains delivers a solid performance as the charismatic Jenangir. With the flaming red Mohawk and natural charisma, he captures your attention pretty much whenever he’s onscreen. I’m sorry I can’t say the same for the rest of the cast, but that isn’t necessarily their fault – their characters are written as fairly bland cliches that don’t really stand out. Yusef, experiencing a life-changing crisis of faith, never seems to change expression much. He may just as well be annoyed that the barista at Starbucks got his order wrong. But then again, his crisis of faith seems rather pat and kind of rote. I wasn’t convinced that he was upset with anything or anyone.

Not everyone is going to love the music here, although I must point out that I found it surprisingly compelling. When you’re aware that the bands that contributed songs to the film were bands that essentially were created because of the original novel this is based on, the songs take on a greater significance.

I would have liked to like this movie more but the rich tapestry of subject matter the filmmakers were given to work with turned out to be a store-bought throw rug. It’s not a bad film, not at all – it just doesn’t really rise far above what you might expect of a movie like this. I would have liked to see greater care in fleshing out the characters somewhat. I would have liked to care about them more.

WHY RENT THIS: Thought-provoking and occasionally informative. Rains delivers a standout performance.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Relies too much on cliche. Characters somewhat bland.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s rough language throughout and some violence in places.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the movie is set in Buffalo, it was actually filmed in Cleveland.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11,445 on an unreported production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dogs in Space
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Magic in the Moonlight

Stop-Loss


Channing Tatum tells a disbelieving Abbie Cornish about his years as a stripper.

Channing Tatum tells a disbelieving Abbie Cornish about his years as a stripper.

(2008) Drama (Paramount) Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ciaran Hinds, Timothy Olyphant, Victor Rasuk, Rob Brown, Quay Terry, Josef Sommer, Matthew Scott Wilcox, Connett M. Brewer, Linda Emond, Mamie Gummer, Alex Frost, Chandra Washington, David Kroll, Lee Stringer, J.D. Evermore, Kasey Stevens. Directed by Kimberly Pierce

For those of us who have never been to war, the things are troops that have been to war have been through is absolutely inconceivable (and yes, I do know what the word means). We absolutely have no clue. Coming home and readjusting to life after having been through those horrors has to be hard. The threat of being sent back after having been home – damn near impossible.

Steve Shriver (Tatum), Tommy Burgess (Gordon-Levitt), Rico Rodriguez (Rasuk) and their squad leader, Staff Sergeant Brandon King (Phillippe) survive an ambush in Tikrit during the Iraq war that leaves three of their squad dead, including Tommy’s close friend Preacher Colson (Terry) who died in his arms. Rodriguez was severely injured in the melee protecting Tommy. None of them got out unscathed.

A couple of months later, the tour ended, Shriver, Burgess and King returned home to Brazos, Texas where they were received as the heroes they were. At a ceremony honoring the returning heroes, U.S. Senator Orton Worrell pulls Brandon aside and lets him know that anything he needs, his friends need, any help the Senator can give will be gladly given.

Despite all this, the boys aren’t adjusting well. After the ceremony, they all go out and get drunk. Steve strikes his fiancée Michelle (Cornish) and digs a foxhole in the front yard. When Brandon comes over the check on him, he is unable to get through to Steve and reassure him that they are home. Tommy drives over drunk after his wife (Gummer) has kicked him out.

Brandon suggests they drive up to “the Ranch,” a small cabin in the forest outside of town where they go to hunt, fish and drink. Tommy ends up shooting his wedding gifts after the cards are read. Steve, awakened by the commotion, shoots the cards to put an end to the proceedings.

 

The next day the three report to the local army base, expecting to receive their discharge papers and formally end their tour of duty. Instead, they are ordered back to duty through the military’s controversial “stop-loss” policy which gives the military the right to extend the tour of service without the consent of the soldier. Brandon isn’t ready for this. He refuses to report and is listed as AWOL. With his friends falling apart, Brandon decides to drive to DC to see the Senator to see if there is something he can do about this. Accompanying him is Michelle, who is separated from Steve. Can Brandon take on the Army and get his life back?

Pierce, whose previous film Boys Don’t Cry was one of the most acclaimed movies of the last decade, seems a little bit muddled here. It’s plain that she has a point of view critical of the stop-loss policy but she doesn’t seem to know how to express it well.

She does know how to get the most of her actors and Tatum gives a strong performance, something he hadn’t been known for up until that time when many – including myself – thought him wooden and more of a pretty boy than an actor. He gives Steve depth and foreshadows better performances in the post-Magic Mike era of his career.

Cornish, an Aussie, shows here why she is one of the most exciting young talents in the movies right now. She nails the perfect Texas woman – strong as a longhorn bull but tender and feminine as the proverbial Texas rose. There are reasons you don’t mess with Texas and their women are a big reason why. Cornish makes Michelle represent that in a big way.

There is a good movie in the material but I get the sense that the writers didn’t really know where to go with it. The ending is a big slap in the face to the audience who have followed the plot and committed to it, sadly and keeps this movie from being a flawed classic. Good performances and a thoughtful premise make this worth checking out but sadly, the filmmakers can’t elevate this beyond another movie about the Iraq war that is ignored by the moviegoing public.

WHY RENT THIS: Strong performances by Cornish and Tatum. Has a lot of material to think about.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Mishandles a good premise. Ending is just plain awful.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some fairly graphic violence and foul language throughout.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script went through 65 drafts, which is a highly unusual number. Most feature films go from anywhere from two or three drafts to a dozen.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a featurette that takes a look at the actors boot camp to get them into a military character mindset.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.2M on a $25M production budget.

SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu,  iTunes

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brothers

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Taqwacores