Air


No matter how much Djimon Hounsou tries to bluster, Norman Reedus just can't reveal any The Walking Dead spoilers for next season.

No matter how much Djimon Hounsou tries to bluster, Norman Reedus just can’t reveal any The Walking Dead spoilers for next season.

(2015) Science Fiction (Vertical/Stage 6) Djimon Hounsou, Norman Reedus, Sandrine Holt, David Nykl, Michael Hogan, Peter Benson, Steve Burgess, Paula Lindberg. Directed by Christian Cantamessa

The Hollies famously did a song called “All I Need is the Air That I Breathe” that in a just world, would have been part of the soundtrack to this movie. Indeed, air is a requisite of life. What happens when there isn’t enough to go around?

That’s just what the situation is after chemical warfare rendered the atmosphere unfit to breathe. With the human race in mortal peril, the powers that be hastily converted old nuclear missile silos into makeshift shelters, in which suspended animation chambers were installed. Into these chambers went the best and the brightest, scientists of all disciplines, medical professionals, agriculturalists, philosophers, maybe an artist or two – everyone you would need to re-establish civilization once the air was breathable again. Movie reviewers need not apply.

There are also a pair of maintenance men making sure that everything works. The trouble is, there isn’t enough breathable air to allow them full-time coverage, so the two men also sleep in their suspended animation chambers, awakened only once every six months and then only for two hours at a time before heading back into their sleep chambers.

The technology is decidedly low tech – the silo had been abandoned since the 80s and there are things like dot matrix printers and DOS-like screens of green scrolling text. Evidently there wasn’t enough time to drop by Best Buy and pick up a couple of laptops. Pretty much what you’d expect from government work.

The two techs, Bauer (Reedus) and Cartwright (Hounsou) are beginning to get a little buggy; Cartwright is having conversations with his wife Abby (Holt) who is one of the sleepers in the chambers that he is protecting, while Bauer is watching re-runs of athletic events long in the past. However, the unexpected occurs; an earthquake triggers a fire in Bauer’s suspended animation chamber, rendering it unusable. Attempts to rig up a spare chamber end up nearly killing Bauer until Cartwright belatedly rescues him. Spare parts will have to be found and the only way to find them is to check a neighboring silo, which will require Cartwright to get into an environmental suit, traverse a labyrinth of tunnels until reaching the other facility.

However, both men have begun to become suspicious of one another as well as whether the mission they are charged with is even possible – or worth the cost. Suspicion breeds fear which in turn breeds paranoia; not something healthy when you have only one other human on the entire planet to communicate with.

I like the premise a lot, although there have been similar stories with different twists (disease, radioactive fallout etc.) in the concept. While some critics have been getting their panties in a bunch over the obsolete tech, it does make perfect sense up to a point. One huffy writer took umbrage that there wasn’t even a smart phone to be seen, which you would assume just about everyone had but one brief scene near the end indicates that the war was a lot more than chemical.

Reedus has become something of a cultural icon as Daryl from The Walking Dead and while this is a much different role than Daryl, some of the basic characteristics are there; Bauer has a kind of homespun outlook on life and he’s a bit easily hot under the collar although I suspect that if I was a technician fixing obsolete machinery so that hundreds of others could survive when the atmosphere became breathable again I would probably be a bit crabby my own self.

Hounsou is one of those actors who lends credibility and gravitas to every movie he participates in; here, his character is a bit more vulnerable than the ones he usually plays. Often Hounsou plays physically intimidating characters but not so much here; he’s a big man but he badly misses his wife and is lonely as can be as a result. While this isn’t Oscar bait by any stretch of the imagination, it does remind us that Hounsou has a depth and range greater than the roles he’s usually asked to take.

The set design is industrial, with pipes and knobs and wheels and metal tables and chairs. Everything looks like it came out of a manufacturing facility circa 1988 which is what I think the producers were going for. This is low tech sci-fi and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.

That said, there are plenty of movies with post-apocalyptic settings and there are a few cliches about them that are repeated here, from the failing machinery to the paranoia among survivors. The pace is pretty slow, particularly early on and the action never really generates a lot of tension. Plus there are a few logical holes that don’t make sense; there is a medical bay full of medications that, given that the process apparently is expected to take decades, would certainly expire long before they are needed. Also, how do the crew members eat? Won’t the food have spoiled before long?

Of course, questions like that aren’t meant to be answered or, I suppose, even asked. Game performances by two likable actors are the centerpiece of this science fiction thriller, and if you don’t mind sci-fi that has no gleaming machinery, super high-tech gadgets, monsters or alien vistas, you certainly might enjoy this. Although there are monsters – the kind we keep inside us, and the alien vista is of a world that in our folly we destroyed ourselves. Caveat Emptor.

REASONS TO GO: Really cool premise. Reedus and Hounsou are both fun to watch.
REASONS TO STAY: Drags a bit. Doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence, a few disturbing images, some sexual references and a bit of cursing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first theatrical feature to be produced by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/2/15: Rotten Tomatoes 20% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Infini
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Band’s Visit

Digging For Fire


A bunch of bros hanging out.

A bunch of bros hanging out.

(2015) Drama (The Orchard) Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Sam Elliott, Judith Light, Jane Adams, Tom Bower, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, Jenny Slate, Ron Livingston, Jeff Baena, Timothy Simons, Padraic Cassidy, Steve Berg, David Siskind, Jude Swanberg. Directed by Joe Swanberg

Relationships are impossible. I mean, making them work is – first of all, you have to find someone with whom you can co-exist. Someone whose idiosyncrasies won’t drive you bonkers. Second, you have to find someone whose ideals, goals and philosophy is compatible with yours. Finally, you have to find someone with all that with whom you will grow in the same direction. What’s the secret to making all that happen?

Tim (Johnson) and Lee (DeWitt) are housesitting for some Hollywood types out shooting on location. They’re treating it like a bit of a vacation since the home they’re watching is up in the Hills and has all the amenities you could possibly imagine. However, as of late, the two have been having problems. Tim has been feeling emasculated and when Lee’s mom (Light) and dad (Elliott) want to foot the bill to send their son Jude (Swanberg) to an exclusive pre-school that they can’t afford, that sensation only gets worse. Of course, if Sam Elliott were my father-in-law, I’d feel emasculated too.

For Lee’s part she’s tired of putting up with Tim’s childish behavior and his lack of inertia. He seems to be stuck in a rut and she’s frustrated – in more ways than one. To put it bluntly, she has been reading a book called The Passionate Marriage and it isn’t about fruit. When one of Lee’s friends (Lynskey) organizes a girl’s night out for her, Lee jumps at the chance, and agrees to take Jude to visit her parents, giving Tim some time to do the taxes which he has been putting off for too long. Tim found a bone and a rusted gun buried in the yard and he’s been obsessing over that.

Of course, Tim decides to chuck the taxes aside and brings a battery of bros over, including the somewhat over-the-top Ray (Rockwell) as well as Billy T. (Messina), Phil (Birbiglia) and Paul (Berg). Much alcohol and recreational substances are ingested, and Ray brings over a couple of girls including Max (Larson), with whom Tim begins to flirt.

When Lee’s friend is forced to cancel, Lee decides to just have a night out on her own. When a drunk obnoxious guy tries to hit on her, she is rescued by bar owner Ben (Bloom) who gets hurt when the drunk gets belligerent. Lee accompanies him home on the back of his motorcycle so she can give him some first aid; it becomes apparent that the two are attracted to one another. Can the two stay true to one another or are things that far gone?

Swanberg, one of the originators of the mumblecore movement, has retained some of the elements of those films here, although I would hesitate to classify it as true mumblecore. Swanberg tends to allow his actors to improvise their dialogue so the conversations sound real. He also has a tendency to examine relationships from a distance, a means I think of giving the audience some perspective which takes a little bit more work than making them feel invested or part of the relationship onscreen. Rather than rooting for Lee and Tim, we’re more observers of Lee and Tim. We’re not invested as to whether they stay together or not and so regardless of which way it goes, we don’t feel like it’s a monumental situation. As in life, there are reasons for them to stay together and reasons for them to drift apart and there really is no way to know which one would be best for them and just like in life, the decision has resonance in both directions.

The cast is extraordinary for a Swanberg film, and there really isn’t a false note in any of the performances. The humor here is bone dry (no pun intended) which is typical for Swanberg and it shows up in unexpected but appropriate places. Swanberg has a deft touch as a director and it really shows here to nice effect.

Some of the movie is a bit disjointed and some of the scenes feel like they were either added on as an afterthought, or were stranded when other scenes were left on the cutting room floor. I would have liked a little bit more flow. The movie’s denouement is on the quiet side and some may find that the payoff isn’t what they wanted.

I must say that I’ve been liking Swanberg’s work more and more with each passing film. He is certainly a rising talent with a lengthy filmography already to his credit (Swanberg regularly churns out two to four movies a year). While it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he might be behind the camera for a big budget franchise movie someday, I kind of hope he doesn’t. He seems to excel at movies that take a moment in time or a slice of life and let us examine it thoroughly. Through that lens, we end up examining our own lives, particularly who we are, where we are, what we want to be and what we want out of life and love. Heady questions to be sure.

To answer the question, there is no secret to making a relationship work. It takes dedication, focus, hard work and willpower. In other words, it takes the same things to make any sort of worthwhile pursuit work. Which makes sense, when you think about it.

REASONS TO GO: Nifty cast. Dry sense of humor. Nicely captures inner workings of couples.
REASONS TO STAY: A little disjointed in places. Payoff might not be enough for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of sexual references, some foul language and brief graphic nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rockwell, Adams and DeWitt all co-starred in this summer’s remake of Poltergeist while Larson and Birbiglia also starred in Amy Schumer’s hit comedy Trainwreck this summer.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/1/15: Rotten Tomatoes 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :The Big Chill
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Air

2015 Fall/Holiday Preview


2015 Fall-Holiday Preview2015 was touted as being an eagerly anticipated year by both movie fans and studio accountants alike and the summer hasn’t disappointed. Jurassic World has been one of the biggest successes of all time worldwide, smashing box office records left and right. It likely won’t reach Avatar levels but it has already reached third place on the all-time domestic box office charts. Avengers: Age of Ultron is also top ten on the all-time charts, in the eighth position. Not bad for a single summer; two movies in the all-time domestic box office top ten. It’s also been a great year for family movies as Inside Out battled Jurassic World for box office supremacy throughout June  It is currently the third biggest Pixar film and sixth animated feature overall. However, Minions had a record breaking opening weekend and is the third movie to pass $300 million in box office this summer. There have been some other big winners as well; Pitch Perfect 2, San Andreas, Spy, Mad Max: Fury Road and Ant-Man have all been big winners and while many of the August releases have been disappointing, Straight Outta Compton has been a huge success. There have been a few genuine flops – Fantastic Four, Entourage, Aloha and Self/Less among them but fewer than last year for sure.

Although there are no blockbusters on the level of Guardians of the Galaxy to end the summer on a high note with, there are several movies on the horizon that look like sure-fire hits. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the much-hyped conclusion to that monster hit franchise and while there are hints that there may indeed be some prequels or further sequels in the pipeline, nonetheless you can be sure that this one will dominate the holiday box office charts. That is, until Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens opens at Christmas; although generally that one will be more of a box office force in the new year, it may well be the most-anticipated film of the year in a year when there have been a lot of eagerly awaited releases.

Holiday time is Oscar time and there are several movies already generating some buzz for the biggest prize in movies. The Danish Girl touts current Oscar Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne in a part that is likely to garner him another nomination while Oliver Stone brings the story of Snowden to the screen which may attract some notice. Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea was moved to December to give it a better chance at nominations, and other films, including Suffragette, the David O. Russell film Joy, Hitchcock/Truffaut and Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight could get a look by Academy voters.

Comedies are a big part of autumn and holiday scheduling and we can expect some big ones with the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler opus Sisters, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg re-teaming in Daddy’s Home, the musical comedy Rock the Kasbah, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Seth Rogan Christmas Eve comedy The Night Before, and the Anne Hathaway/Robert De Niro workplace laugher The Intern. Another big part of the post-summer schedule is sequels and there are plenty of those with the aforementioned Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens but also the latest James Bond epic Spectre, the final installment of the hugely successful Paranormal Activity series as well as a reboot of another horror series in Rings, bringing back the J-horror remake The Ring back to life. There will also be sequels to Hotel Transylvania, The Maze Runner and The Transporter, sans Jason Statham.

With all the choices this summer for great family movies, the hits should keep on coming with such family fare as Peanuts, The Good Dinosaur, Pan and Hotel Transylvania 2. On the opposite end of the spectrum, horror film fans have a bumper crop this year with the eagerly anticipated Guillermo del Toro-directed ghost story Crimson Peak along with the aforementioned Rings and Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension. In addition, we can look forward to the much-delayed The Green Inferno, Krampus, Cooties, The Visit, The Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, The Last Witch Hunter, Victor Frankenstein and Tales of Halloween all in the pipeline.

Space isn’t always the final frontier when it comes to the holidays and there will be plenty of movies to quell the appetites of even the most voracious sci-fi junkies with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, The Martian, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. For those into independent cinema there are always some choice cuts with The Danish Girl, Wolf Totem, A Walk in the Woods, Truffaut/Hitchcock, Sleeping with Other People, The Keeping Room, Suffragette, Beasts With No Nation, The Secret in Their Eyes, He Named Me Malala, Labyrinth of Lies, Brooklyn, Trumbo, The 33 and I Saw the Light in store. Drama will not be in short supply this fall with such efforts as Joy, In the Heart of the Sea, The 33, Creed, By the Sea, Bridge of Spies, The Walk and Black Mass. There is an unusual number of biographical films this fall as well, including Suffragette, Snowden, Black Mass, Steve Jobs and Concussion. Finally, action fans will have cause to rejoice with Everest, Dragon Blade, Wolf Totem, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II, The Hateful Eight, Point Break, The Last Witch Hunter and Spectre.

The night sky in the fall and holidays always glitter with stars and in 2015 that means Matt Damon (The Martian), Brad Pitt (By the Sea), Robert Redford (A Walk in the Woods), Julia Roberts (Secret in Their Eyes), Harrison Ford (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens), Robert De Niro (The Interns), Johnny Depp (Black Mass), Leonardo di Caprio (The Revenant), Amy Poehler (Sisters), Kirsten Wiig (Masterminds), Bradley Cooper (Joy), Will Ferrell (Daddy’s Home), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Meryl Streep (Suffragette), Jake Gyllenhaal (Everest), Jackie Chan (Dragon Blade), Benicio del Toro (Sicario), Mel Brooks (Hotel Transylvania 2), Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed), Nicole Kidman (Secret in Their Eyes), Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea), Anne Hathaway (The Interns), Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania 2), Hugh Jackman (Pan), Tina Fey (Sisters), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Antonio Banderas (The 33), Tom Hardy (Legend and The Revenant), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk, The Night Before and Snowden), Daniel Craig (Spectre), Keira Knightley (Everest), Vin Diesel (The Last Witch Hunter), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II and Joy), Oscar Isaac (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens), Will Smith (Concussion), Benedict Cumberbatch (Black Mass), Ryan Reynolds (Mississippi Grind), Nicolas Cage (Snowden), Bruce Willis (Rock the Kasbah), Kate Beckinsale (The Disappointments Room), Nick Nolte (A Walk in the Woods), Christoph Waltz (Spectre), John Cusack (Dragon Blade), Josh Brolin (Sicario and Everest), Kevin James (Hotel Transylvania 2), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Angelina Jolie Pitt (By the Sea), Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak and I Saw the Light), Tobey Maguire (Pawn Sacrifice), Mark Wahlberg (Daddy’s Home), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Secret in Their Eyes), Emma Thompson (A Walk in the Woods), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and Daniel Radcliffe (Victor Frankenstein). There are also some high-profile directors with projects big and small this season including Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, Ron Howard, Sam Mendes, J.J. Abrams, David O. Russell, Guillermo del Toro, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Robert Zemeckis, Danny Boyle, Ridley Scott, Denis Villeneuve, Eli Roth, M. Night Shyamalan, Edward Zwick, Nancy Meyers, Jean-Jacques Arnaud and Tom Hooper

As with all previews, there are almost always changes that the studios make as the studios jockey for position or production delays cause movies to be moved to different slots, so check out your local listings to make sure that the movie you’re dying to see is indeed opening the week it says it is here. Be aware that the recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Relativity Media makes the release of films distributed by them somewhat dicey; some of their films will eventually be picked up by other distributors but others will be delayed for awhile, go directly to home video or disappear forever. To be on the safe side, check our weekly previews for movies opening in Central Florida, our monthly Pick of the Litter feature for previews of especially deserving films or our Coming Soon section for regular updates of the release schedule for movies with budgets big and small. Until then, you’ve got a preview to read – better get cracking!

SEPTEMBER

As summer wanes and Labor Day signals the end of the blockbuster and barbecue season and the beginning of school and football season, the studios tend to take a deep breath and program movies here that are not quite so exciting, although there are often a few gems among the rocks. This month we’ll be looking at a true-life mountain adventure, the sequel to a hit Halloween-themed animated feature, the biography of a notorious American criminal and the sequel to a surprise hit young adult sci-fi novel adaptation.

Hotel Transylvania 2

DEANS LIST

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2

RELEASE DATE: September 25, 2015
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Mel Brooks, Andy Samberg, David Spade, Fran Drescher
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: Dracula’s daughter Mavis has a son who is the light of Drac’s eyes but she yearns to leave the hotel for a safer place for her human husband and half-human son. With the boy not exhibiting any vampiric traits, Dracula is desperate for him to show his fangs and give Mavis no reason to leave. In order to help he’ll have to turn to the one place he didn’t want to – his father, Vlad.
PROSPECTS: Animated features, after a year off, are back and this one is the sequel to a pretty successful original. One thing that I found interesting – the director is Genndy Tartakovsky, director of the critically acclaimed Star Wars: The Clone Wars series and the writer is SNL favorite Robert Smigel so the pedigree is good.
OBSTACLES: Sandler has been on a bit of a rough patch as of late. It might be a tad early for Halloween-themed entertainment.
FACTOID: Cee-Lo Green was unable to voice Murray the Mummy due to an arrest; Keegan-Michael Key stepped in to voice the role.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS

RELEASE DATE: September 18, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Giancarlo Esposito, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson, Ki Hong Lee, Barry Pepper
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: Having conquered the maze, Thomas and the other survivors from The Glade are brought into a society of humans in an underground bunker trying to survive some sort of apocalypse. The intrigue involving the mysterious organization called WCKD forces the survivors into the wasteland called The Scorch which may do what the Maze couldn’t – kill Thomas and his friends.
PROSPECTS: The original movie’s success, which exceeded expectations, put the sequel onto a fast track so that it appeared only a year after the first movie.
OBSTACLES: Young adult novels have been, with few exceptions, box office bonanzas. The hurried manner in which the movie got made may come back to haunt the studio.
FACTOID: Brodie-Sangster along with Scorch Trials cast members Aiden Gillan and Nathalie Emmanuel all appeared in Game of Thrones.

BLACK MASS

RELEASE DATE: September 18, 2015
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Juno Temple, Corey Stoll, Joel Edgerton, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard
GENRE: Biographical Drama
STORY: Whitey Bulger, a Boston mobster, becomes one of the most powerful crime bosses in history. He becomes an FBI informant to help take down a crime family that rivaled his own and went on the lam for 11 years as one of the ten most wanted by the FBI.
PROSPECTS: Star-studded cast and a fascinating true crime story generally spell at least decent box office.
OBSTACLES: Depp has been on an extended cold streak and this movie doesn’t show signs of being any less likely to break the streak.
FACTOID: The movie was temporarily shelved when Depp walked away from the role over salary issues; when he was convinced to return, the film was greenlit once again.

EVEREST

RELEASE DATE: September 25, 2015
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, John Hawkes
GENRE: Adventure
STORY: The true story of two different expeditions stranded on the world’s tallest mountains by one of the most vicious and harshest snowstorms ever recorded.
PROSPECTS: Epic mountain climbing-themed adventures have traditionally done pretty well during the latter portion of the year.
OBSTACLES: Although the cast is strong, none of them have displayed an ability to carry a film of this nature (although Worthington and Knightley have had success in the action genre).
FACTOID: Clarke has replaced Christian Bale in two different films; this one and in Terminator Genisys.

THE WALK

RELEASE DATE: September 30, 2015 (limited and IMAX; opens October 9 wide)
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine, Sergio Di Zio
GENRE: True Life Drama
STORY: In 1974 French high wire artist Phillippe Petit is inspired to attempt to cross between the World Trade Center twin towers on a wire. He assembles a clandestine team to set up the wire and to run interference. There can be no nets; one false step and he will plummet to his death.
PROSPECTS: The movie has been pushed by Universal since the spring; it’s an inspiring true story (anyone who saw the documentary on the subject Man on Wire will tell you) and with Robert Zemeckis behind the director’s chair, it should be very entertaining.
OBSTACLES: The twin towers remain a very open wound for many and while this did actually happen, what happened to the buildings 37 years afterwards is still a fresh and painful memory.
FACTOID: The movie is based on Petit’s autobiography To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers, published in 2002.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

SICARIO

RELEASE DATE: September 18, 2015 (Limited; opens wide September 25, 2015)
STUDIO: Lionsgate
STARRING: Emily Blunt, Jon Bernthal, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Maximilliano Hernandez, Daniel Kaluuya
GENRE: Spy Action
STORY: An idealistic FBI agent is brought aboard a task force to aid in the war on drugs against the Mexican cartels. Aided by a consultant with a questionable past, the agent finds herself in a situation where nothing is as it seems and the motives of her superiors is suspect. Survival will not be easy with the vicious cartel and an untrustworthy government liaison to deal with.
PROSPECTS: Director Denis Villeneuve is highly regarded by film buffs; his movie Prisoners was a surprise success and his latest could very well advance his career a step forward.
OBSTACLES: Not a lot of star power here and the government corruption angle in regards to Mexican drug cartels may turn off some from coming.
FACTOID: Sicario means “hitman” in Spanish.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

SEPTEMBER 2, 2015

A WALK IN THE WOODS (Broad Green) stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as two old but estranged friends who decide to walk the Appalachian Trail from the southern terminus to the northern top despite having little or no hiking experience. Based on Bill Bryson’s bestselling account of his incredible journey.

SEPTEMBER 4, 2015

BEFORE WE GO (Radius) stars Chris Evans and Alice Eve as two strangers stuck in New York overnight whose unexpected adventures cause them to take stock of their lives – and their loves. Evans directed this film which is opening in limited release. Also opening in limited release, DRAGON BLADE (Lionsgate Premiere) is an epic action film starring Adrien Brody as a corrupt Roman emperor, Jackie Chan as a Chinese general trying to protect his people and John Cusack as a noble Roman general tired of the greed and corruption staining the honor of Rome; the three will collide on a small but significant portion of the Silk Road. THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (EuropaCorp) resurrects the Jason Statham franchise with Ed Skrein taking over the role of Frank Martin. This time it gets personal as Frank gets caught in the middle of a feud between a quartet of femme fatales and a ruthless Russian druglord, with Frank’s father being held hostage.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2015

THE PERFECT GUY (Screen Gems) stars Sanaa Lathan as a woman reeling from a painful breakup. She gets involved with a charming stranger and seems to be picking up the pieces when her ex-boyfriend re-enters the picture and she soon finds herself in a position of trying to figure out which one of the two handsome men she can trust, and which she should fear. Opening in limited release, SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE (IFC) stars Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis as two monogamy-challenged people who reconnect by chance 12 years after a college one-night stand. They both have trouble maintaining relationships and decide to stay friends despite their attraction to one another. This proves to be much easier said than done.  THE VISIT (Universal) is the latest from M. Night Shyamalan in which two teens are sent to stay with their grandma and grandpa in rural Pennsylvania for a week. They discover the old folks are into something sinister and that their chances of getting home to Mom grow more dim the longer that they stay. In WOLF TOTEM (Columbia) a Chinese student is sent to live among the nomadic tribesman of Inner Mongolia in 1967. As civilization begins to encroach from the South and the tribesmen’s traditional enemies the wolves pressing in from the North, the student and his new friends must figure out how to survive in a changing world. This is the latest from acclaimed director Jean-Jacques Annaud.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2015

COOTIES (Lionsgate Premiere) is a horror spoof in which contaminated cafeteria food turns kids into ravenous zombies. The teachers must gather in the lounge to do more than drink coffee; they have to band together to defend themselves or die trying (much more likely). Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer and Jorge Garcia star in this limited release. PAWN SACRIFICE (Bleecker Street) stars Tobey Maguire as the mercurial but legendary American chess master Bobby Fischer as he goes from child prodigy to grand master to extremely disturbed. While this is opening in limited release, it is likely to play pretty much everywhere eventually.

SEPTEMBER 25, 2015

THE GREEN INFERNO (Blumhouse Tilt) is Eli Roth’s horror opus that has been awaiting release for awhile as it has gone through the distributor hop game. A group of American student activists head down to the Amazon to do some good; unfortunately they end up in a part of the Amazon where doing good means feeding the natives – with their own flesh. Sounds like Cannibal Holocaust to me. It doesn’t say that this is limited release but it may be. THE INTERN (Warner Brothers) is a comedy with Robert De Niro as an older man starting his life over again as an intern at a large tech company; Anne Hathaway is the young and lonely CEO. Together they will make a formidable team. MISSISSIPPI GRIND (A24) opens in limited release about a veteran gambler who is in the throes of an epic losing streak; with a younger man in tow, he sets out on a road trip through the Gulf Coast to take one last stab at changing his luck.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

In LABYRINTH OF LIES (Sony Classics) West Germany, 20 years after the war, is finally recovering from the economic catastrophe of rebuilding their nation. In a small town, when a teacher on is identified by a journalist as a former guard at Auschwitz, an ambitious prosecutor decides to take on the case. However, he encounters a West Germany that as a nation, wants to put the past behind them and in fact, erase the really unpleasant parts of it that reminds them of what they allowed to happen. Opens in limited release.

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.

THE EQUALIZER (Columbia) Budget: $55 Million. Domestic Gross: $101.5M Total: $192.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (Universal) Budget: $28M. Domestic Gross: $26.3M Total: $53.2M Verdict: Broke Even.
THE MAZE RUNNER (20th Century Fox) Budget: $34M. Domestic Gross: $102.4M Total: $340.8M Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE BOXTROLLS (Focus) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $50.8M Total: $108.3M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE SKELETON TWINS (Roadside Attractions) Budget: $1M. Domestic Gross: $5.3M Total: $5.7M Verdict: Profitable.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (Warner Brothers) Budget: $19.8M. Domestic Gross: $34.3M Total: $41.04M Verdict: Broke Even.
DOLPHIN TALE 2 (Warner Brothers) Budget: $36M. Domestic Gross: $42.0M Total: $52.4M Verdict: Lost Money.
NO GOOD DEED (Screen Gems) Budget: $13.2M. Domestic Gross: $52.5M Total: $54.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
TUSK (A24) Budget: $3M. Domestic Gross: $1.8M. Total: $1.8M. Verdict: Flop.
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (Relativity) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $1.1M Total: $4.0M Verdict: Flop.
PRIDE (CBS) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $1.4M Total: $7.5 Verdict: Likely Made Money.

OCTOBER

It’s a time for jack o’lanterns, goblins, and trick or treating, and as the weather grows cooler the offerings at the multiplex heat up. This year, we can expect a long-awaited passion project by fan favorite director Guillermo del Toro, a sequel to a memorable action film from two summers ago, the final installment in the most profitable found footage horror franchise in history, a new Steven Spielberg film and a live action version of a beloved 80s cartoon.

Crimson Peak

DEANS LIST

CRIMSON PEAK

RELEASE DATE: October 16, 2015
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Doug Jones, Burn Gorman, Jim Beaver, Leslie Hope
GENRE: Horror
STORY: A young newlywed enters a Gothic mansion which is full of secrets. Possessed of an affinity for seeing ghosts, she becomes the focal point for the more sinister inhabitants of her new home.
PROSPECTS: Perhaps the most anticipated horror movie of the year by fans of the genre and for those same fans director Guillermo del Toro can literally do no wrong.
OBSTACLES: It has taken a very long time to get this movie made. Gothic ghost stories are not exactly the most beloved of sub-genres of late among horror fans.
FACTOID: Hunnam, Gorman and del Toro all previously worked together on Pacific Rim.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE MARTIAN

RELEASE DATE: October 2, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Matt Damon, Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kristin Wiig, Sebastian Stan, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: The first manned mission to Mars ends abruptly when a gigantic storm forces the astronauts to leave, unfortunately having to leave one of their own behind when he is presumed dead. However he is very much alive and with a meager amount of supplies and food, he must figure out a way to survive and communicate to Earth to send a rescue mission – which will still take two years to get there even if he is successful in calling home.
PROSPECTS: This is the second straight autumn in which Damon has played an astronaut; this film seems to be pretty cerebral but with a lot more action. Could be a big hit if it’s done right.
OBSTACLES: Lone survivor movies are inherently not too cinematic. Unless the filmmakers and marketers are dead on, this one might fall by the wayside.
FACTOID: In order to use NASA as part of the movie, the filmmakers had to submit the script for review and make the necessary changes to ensure the most possible accuracy; over 50 pages in the script are strictly NASA material.

PAN

RELEASE DATE: October 9, 2015
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Levi Miller, Rooney Mara, Cara Delevingne, Amanda Seyfried, Nonso Anozie, Paul Kaye
GENRE: Fantasy
STORY: An orphaned boy is spirited away to the magical Neverland. There he becomes embroiled in a war between the dread pirate Blackbeard and the denizens of Neverland, led by the fierce Princess Tiger Lily and the ne’er-do-well Jim Hook.
PROSPECTS: The family film schedule is generally crowded this time of year, but this looks to be the most lavish and kid-friendly film of the early fall. Familiarity with the beloved J.M. Barrie character Peter Pan will certainly help sell this.
OBSTACLES: Purists are going to shudder at this re-imagining of Peter Pan’s origin story.
FACTOID: As a 5-year-old, Miller played Pan in a local stage production and won an award for it. Pan is one of his favorite fictional characters.

BRIDGE OF SPIES

RELEASE DATE: October 16, 2015
STUDIO: DreamWorks
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Mark Rylance, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson, Sebastian Koch, Michael Gaston
GENRE: True Life Drama
STORY: At the height of the Cold War, James Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer, is given the task of negotiating for the release of a captured American U-2 pilot from the Soviet Union while defending an accused Soviet spy in the States.
PROSPECTS: Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by the Coen Brothers, credits that are bound to get at least an eyebrow raise from the film buff community.
OBSTACLES: It’s a little bit early for Oscar bait.
FACTOID: While this is the fourth time Hanks has been in front of the cameras while Spielberg has been behind them, this is the first time in eleven years the two have collaborated.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS

RELEASE DATE: October 23, 2015
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Molly Ringwald, Juliette Lewis, Aubrey Peeples, Haley Kiyoko, Ryan Guzman, Stefanie Scott, Nicholas Braun, Aurora Perrineau
GENRE: Musical
STORY: When a small town teen girl’s home-made music video becomes an Internet sensation, she is signed to a deal by a high-powered record company who wants to make her into an image that can be sold. She falls prey to the seductive call, only to realize she is losing those she loves the most.
PROSPECTS: Certain demographics might well go bonkers over this; the pre-teen and young teen female audience and their moms.
OBSTACLES: While this was a hit animated series in the 80s, girls the age that this will appeal to won’t remember the show and other audiences might ignore this totally.
FACTOID: The filmmakers announced open casting auditions over the Internet; however, it was later established that this was a marketing ploy as the movie had already been cast before the audition call was sent out.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

SUFFRAGETTE

RELEASE DATE: October 23, 2015
STUDIO: Focus
STARRING: Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Romola Garai, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West
GENRE: Drama
STORY: A working British woman at the turn of the 20th Century is recruited by outlaw feminist Emmeline Pankhurst to become part of the British suffragette movement.
PROSPECTS: An amazing cast and subject that is almost certain to attract some Oscar notice.
OBSTACLES: Unlikely to attract large audiences despite the presence of Streep unless critical notices turn out to be extravagant.
FACTOID: This is the first movie that the English Houses of Parliament have allowed to film within their hallowed halls.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

OCTOBER 2, 2015

HE NAMED ME MALALA (Fox Searchlight) is the inspiring story of Malala Yousafzal, the teenage girl from Pakistan who stood up to the Taliban and for the education of girls and got shot. Recovering for her wounds didn’t dampen her resolve; she continues to advocate to this day and has won a Nobel Peace Prize for her courage and passion. This documentary was directed by Oscar-nominated director Davis Guggenheim and opens in limited release. Also opening in limited release is LEGEND (Universal), the story of London’s notorious Kray twins, Ronald and Reggie, who are maybe the most notorious gangsters in the history of Great Britain. Tom Hardy plays both roles in a performance that may be one of the early Oscar contenders this year.

OCTOBER 9, 2015

In THE KEEPING ROOM (Drafthouse) a trio of women – one a former slave – try to protect their farm and themselves in the waning days of the Civil War. This limited release screened at this year’s Florida Film Festival; my review can be found here. STEVE JOBS (Universal) stars Michael Fassbender in the title role as the tech visionary who turned Apple into one of the leading tech providers and innovators – twice.

OCTOBER 14, 2015

BEASTS OF NO NATION (Netflix/Bleecker Street) concerns a young boy torn from his Nigerian family and used as a child soldier in an unspecified nation’s civil war; Idris Elba stars as a warlord who takes an interest in the boy. This is the first release from the streaming giant’s feature film division; it will get a brief limited theatrical release simultaneously with its appearance on Netflix. FREEHELD (Lionsgate) is based on the true story of a New Jersey police detective, diagnosed with terminal cancer, who wants to leave her pension to her domestic partner but the county officials and townspeople stand in the way. GOOSEBUMPS (Columbia) stars Jack Black as R.L. Stine, the author of the beloved young adult horror series of the same name in a fanciful tale of the inadvertent release of the monsters he created into the real world. TRUTH (Sony Classics) which opens in limited release is based on the true story of producer Mary Mapes and journalist Dan Rather whose broadcast of a story about a sitting president’s military record turns out to be false and nearly takes down an entire network because of it.

OCTOBER 23, 2015

BURNT (Weinstein) stars Bradley Cooper as a once-rising star in French cuisine who lost everything; now he is trying to start anew – but in the cutthroat world of high end dining that can be much more dangerous than it sounds. THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (Summit) has been cursed with immortality, which comes in handy when the Queen of Witches is resurrected and threatens the world. Vin Diesel stars. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: GHOST DIMENSION (Paramount) wraps up the one of the most profitable franchises in movie history with a story that ties up all of the previous entries together.  ROCK THE KASBAH (Open Road) is about a rock road manager, stranded in Kabul during a USO tour who discovers an amazing talent that might just take him back to the big time – if he can get the both of them out of Kabul. The latest from Barry Levinson stars Bill Murray.

OCTOBER 30, 2015

In OUR BRAND IS CRISIS (Warner Brothers) American spin doctors take on the task of getting an unpopular Bolivian president re-elected. An all-star cast highlights this David Gordon Green movie based on a documentary of the same name. SCOUT’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (Paramount) takes the motto of “Be Prepared” to new heights as a trio of Boy Scouts and the most badass cocktail waitress ever take on a zombie invasion of  a heretofore peaceful town.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

GONE GIRL (20th Century Fox) Budget: $61M. Domestic Gross: $167.8M Total: $368.1M Verdict: Blockbuster.
OUIJA (Universal) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $50.9M Total: $102.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE JUDGE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $47.1M Total: $83.7M Verdict: Lost Money.
BIRDMAN (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $42.3M Total: $103.2M Verdict: Big Hit.
DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal) Budget: $70M. Domestic Gross: $56.3M Total: $215.5 Verdict: Hit.
FURY (Columbia) Budget: $68M. Domestic Gross: $85.8M Total: $211.8 Verdict: Made Money.
THE BOOK OF LIFE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $50.2M Total: $97.4M Verdict: Broke Even.
NIGHTCRAWLER (Open Road) Budget: $8.5M. Domestic Gross: $32.4M Total: $38.7M Verdict: Big Hit.
ANNABELLE (New Line) Budget: $6.5M. Domestic Gross: $84.3M Total: $255.3M Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE BEST OF ME (Relativity) Budget: $26M. Domestic Gross: $26.8M Total: $35.9M Verdict: Flop.
ST. VINCENT (Weinstein) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $44.1M Total: $54.8M Verdict: Hit.
ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (Disney) Budget: $28M. Domestic Gross: $67.0M Total: $100.7M Verdict: Hit.

NOVEMBER

This is the month when the studios give thanks to the first wave of Holiday hits which make their way to the theaters this month. Included among them is the final installment in a massive young adult sci-fi franchise, the return of an iconic sports character, the latest in one of the most iconic film franchises of all time and two much-anticipated animated features – one from Pixar, the other based on one of the most beloved comic strips of all time.

Spectre

DEANS LIST

SPECTRE

RELEASE DATE: November 6, 2015
STUDIO: MGM/Columbia
STARRING: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris
GENRE: Spy Action
STORY: James Bond discovers some cryptic messages from his own past that lead him to discover the existence of a criminal organization, much more insidious and further reaching than Quantum. The daughter of an old nemesis is the key to finding the man behind this organization which is known only as Spectre.
PROSPECTS: Skyfall was the all-time box office champion of the Bond films, and anticipation for this installment is at a fever pitch. Director Sam Mendes returns and continues to work in elements of the classic Bond stories in a new and modern way.
OBSTACLES: With Spectre being the sixth major espionage-centered movie of 2015, audiences may be suffering a bit from spy fatigue.
FACTOID: Jesper Christensen reprises his role as Mr. White, the nemesis from the first two Daniel Craig bond films.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE PEANUTS MOVIE

RELEASE DATE: November 6, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Noah Schnapp, Alexander Garfin, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Francesca Capaldi, Mariel Sheets, Noah Johnston
GENRE: Animated Feature
STORY: While his dog Snoopy battles the Red Baron in the skies above France and teaches him to tango as Joe Cool, good ol’ Charlie Brown tries to change his image and overcome his own shortcomings when a new red-headed girl moves into town.
PROSPECTS: The Charles Schultz comic strip remains one of the most beloved and iconic of all time. It continues to be run in syndication and every year the animated TV specials are broadcast like clockwork. This year, the Peanuts gang gets a 3D animated CGI treatment to bring them into a new, modern audience.
OBSTACLES: Purists may be put off by the CGI 3D and younger kids may not be familiar enough with the original to push their parents into taking them to see it.
FACTOID: The script was created by Schultz’ son and grandson, and the film is the first theatrically released animated feature based on Peanuts in 35 years – and the first to be released since Schultz’ death in 2000.

THE 33

RELEASE DATE: November 13, 2015
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Cote de Pablo, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne, Naomi Scott
GENRE: True Life Drama
STORY: 33 miners go to work as usual in the San Jose Copper Mine in Chile when a massive explosion and collapse of the mine traps them deep in the heart of the mountain. With world attention turning to the plight of the miners, a race against time begins to get the miners out alive.
PROSPECTS: The trailer is really moving and the story one that is a tribute to the resilience and courage of the human spirit.
OBSTACLES: It has been five years since the incident and some audiences might turn away from the film because the miners are Chilean rather than American.
FACTOID: This is composer James Horner’s final film. He died in a small plane crash less than two months after he finished work on it.

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2

RELEASE DATE: November 20, 2015
STUDIO: Lionsgate
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: With Panem in full revolt, Katniss Everdeen along with a team of her closest friends makes a daring raid on the Capital to assassinate President Snow, but will have to undergo a gauntlet of fiendish traps in order to get to him.
PROSPECTS: As this is the final film in the franchise (although reportedly Lionsgate may do a prequel or all-new sequel to the series) the likelihood is that this will draw big box office numbers. North of $300 million is certainly very obtainable.
OBSTACLES: Not everyone in the fan base liked the first Mockingjay installment and that might put a dent in the numbers some.
FACTOID: There are three Oscar-winning actors in the movie; Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

TRUMBO

RELEASE DATE: November 6, 2015
STUDIO: Bleecker Street
STARRING: Bryan Cranston, Elle Fanning, Diane Lane, Alan Tudyk, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg
GENRE: Biographical Drama
STORY: Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was one of the most honored and respected writers in Hollywood during the 1940s. However, when he is accused by Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee of being a Communist sympathizer, his career comes to a crashing halt. However, a man for whom words are so precious will not give his freedom of speech away so easily.
PROSPECTS: Some Oscar buzz is being generated for Cranston as best actor. One of the best casts you’re likely to see in a single movie this fall.
OBSTACLES: Distributor Bleecker Street is fairly new to the game; it’s possible the movie won’t get the push it needs to get on the radar of most moviegoers.
FACTOID: Gary Oldman was originally considered for the title role which eventually went to Cranston.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

NOVEMBER 6, 2015

BROOKLYN (Fox Searchlight) which opens in limited release takes an Irish girl immigrating to New York City in the United States, trading the comfort of her mother’s home for a new life, and that life is beginning to become intoxicating with a new romance – until her past may be calling her back to the Emerald Isle..

NOVEMBER 13, 2015

In A MEYERS CHRISTMAS (Universal) a family that has been torn apart must find a way to reunite for the first time since the death of their beloved matriarch. BY THE SEA (Universal) is the latest film from Angeline Jolie-Pitt in the director’s chair and reunites her with her offscreen husband Brad Pitt for the first time since Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Here, a couple whose marriage is falling apart goes to a peaceful French resort by the sea, hoping to find a way out of their troubles. RINGS (Paramount) is a prequel to the previous Ring movies which explores the origins of Samara and how her reign of terror and the infamous videotape came to be.

NOVEMBER 20, 2015

SPOTLIGHT (Open Road) opens in wide release after a gradual expansion from a limited opening two weeks prior. It is about the investigation by the Boston Globe that uncovered the pedophilia scandal in the Roman Catholic church and stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and an all-star cast. SECRETS IN THEIR EYES (STX) is a remake of an Oscar-winning foreign film and details the stubborn determination of a cop (Julia Roberts), her partner (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and an assistant district attorney (Nicole Kidman) in bringing to justice the murderer of the cop’s daughter.

NOVEMBER 25, 2015

CREED (MGM/New Line) continues the Rocky saga with the son of his greatest opponent Apollo Creed trying to make it in the boxing world. His father’s great nemesis – and great friend – Rocky Balboa – will need to come to his aid as Adonis Creed will take on a tougher opponent than any he’s ever faced before. THE GOOD DINOSAUR (Disney*Pixar) posits an alternate world where the dinosaurs never went extinct and begin interacting with humans. THE NIGHT BEFORE (Columbia) reunites Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as two friends whose annual Christmas Eve reunions have been legendary occasions of debauchery. Now realizing that they are growing too old and too responsible for it, they determine to have one final fling – at the legendary, almost mythical, Nutcracka Ball, the pinnacle of all debauched Christmas parties. VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (20th Century Fox) is a reimagining of the iconic horror story, with James McAvoy as the mad doctor and Daniel Radcliffe as his brilliant assistant who may be the only chance for the good doctor to stay sane – and alive.

NOVEMBER 27, 2015

Opening in limited release, THE DANISH GIRL (Focus) stars reigning Best Actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener, a Danish painter who realizes that he is a man trapped in a woman’s body and determines to change, despite being happily married. Early buzz says this biopic might get Redmayne another nomination and quite possibly another statuette. I SAW THE LIGHT (Sony Classics) is also a biopic, this time of legendary country singer Hank Williams with Tom Hiddleston in the role of the icon. This also opens in limited release.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

INTERSTELLAR (Paramount) Budget: $165M. Domestic Gross: $188.0Total: $675.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
BIG HERO 6 (Disney/Marvel) Budget: $165M. Domestic Gross: $222.5M Total: $657.8M. Verdict: Big Hit.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 (Lionsgate) Budget: $125M. Domestic Gross: $337.1M Total: $752.1M Verdict: Blockbuster.
THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR (DreamWorks) Budget: $132M. Domestic Gross: $83.4M Total: $373.6M. Verdict: Made Money.
FOXCATCHER (Sony Classics) Budget: $24M. Domestic Gross: $12.1M Total: $15.9M Verdict: Flop.
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (New Line) Budget: $42M. Domestic Gross: $54.5M Total: $107.7M Verdict: Broke Even.
ROSEWATER (Open Road) Budget: $10M Domestic Gross: $3.1M Total: $3.2M Verdict: Flop.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (Focus) Budget: $15M Domestic Gross: $35.9M Total: $12.2M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE IMITATION GAME (Weinstein) Budget: $14M. Domestic Gross: $91.1M Total: $227.8M Verdict: Blockbuster.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO (Universal) Budget: $40M Domestic Gross: $86.2M Total: $169.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
BEYOND THE LIGHTS (Relativity) Budget: $7M Domestic Gross: $14.6M Total: $14.6M Verdict: Broke Even.

DECEMBER

All good things come to an end and 2015 is no exception. Things will come to end with a bang as we will have an opportunity to see the year’s most anticipated film – a return to a galaxy far, far away. In addition we’ll get to see a reunion between Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, a biopic of one of the most controversial figures of recent years, a remake of a beloved Patrick Swayze film and a new collaboration between the Oscar-winning quartet of David O. Russell, Jennifer Laurence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

DEANS LIST

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS

RELEASE DATE: December 18, 2015
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Oscar Isaac, Simon Pegg, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Max von Sydow, John Boyega, Peter Mayhew, Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Daisy Ridley
GENRE: Science Fiction
STORY: 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi the Empire, despite their losses, is still as evil and as dangerous as ever. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2 return along with a group of new heroes to battle the latest threat.
PROSPECTS: After the prequel trilogy turned a lot of fans off, the new trilogy overseen by Disney (who have done a fine job on the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and especially by director JJ Abrams who rebooted the Star Trek cinematic franchise so well, have fans living in a state of new hope.
OBSTACLES: The taste of the last trilogy may have soured the entire franchise in a good deal of fans; bad word of mouth could really hurt them at the box office.
FACTOID: Abrams is the first director to do both a Star Wars film as well as a Star Trek film.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

RELEASE DATE: December 11, 2015
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Charlotte Riley, Frank Dillane, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Michelle Fairley
GENRE: True Life Drama
STORY: Before Moby Dick there was the true tale of the whaling vessel Essex whose encounter with a nearly demonic whale would inspire Herman Melville to write what many believe to be the masterpiece of American literature.
PROSPECTS: Hemsworth is a hot commodity and director Ron Howard knows how to put a true life adventure story together with Oscar connotations.
OBSTACLES: For many, Moby Dick isn’t going to inspire a whole lot of people to go to the theater; Warners will have to mount a savvy campaign to get Millennials and the less adventurous into the multiplex.
FACTOID: The movie was originally scheduled for release in March but the studio felt it to be a legitimate Oscar contender, so they moved it to the middle of prime Oscar season.

SISTERS

RELEASE DATE: December 18, 2015
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, John Cena, John Leguizamo, James Brolin, Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Dianne Wiest, Madison Davenport, Rachel Dratch
GENRE: Comedy
STORY: Two very different sisters – one an uptight career-oriented woman, the other a party hearty woman child – return to their childhood home to clean out their rooms as their parents are selling the property. They decide to throw one last party to recapture their glory days – and maybe fix the issues that are plaguing them.
PROSPECTS: Poehler and Fey have been a dynamic and successful comedy team stretching back to their Saturday Night Live days but also including their hit film Baby Mama.
OBSTACLES: It’s been seven years since the two have done a film together which is a long time in Hollywood terms.
FACTOID: Screenwriter Paula Pell (SNL, 30 Rock) wrote the script specifically with Poehler and Fey in mind for the lead roles.

CONCUSSION

RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2015
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Stephen Moyer, Eddie Marsan, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Morse, Albert Brooks, Bitsie Tulloch
GENRE: Sports Drama
STORY: Neuropathologist  Dr. Bennet Omalu made the discovery of football-related brain trauma in pro players and fought to make his discoveries public. Fought tooth and nail the entire way by the NFL, politicians and corporate interests, the doctor doggedly sticks by his guns and fights to protect the players who are at risk.
PROSPECTS: A compelling story that could net Smith another Oscar nomination.
OBSTACLES: Smith’s career has been on a bit of a downturn of late. Football-based films haven’t really translated to box office gold and the competition will be fierce this season. Chances are the NFL won’t give this film a whole lot of support.
FACTOID: The film is based in Pittsburgh and Baldwin, who plays an area doctor, studied and spent time with several prominent Pittsburgh doctors to prepare for his role.

JOY

RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Jennifer Laurence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Elisabeth Rohm, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd
GENRE: Dramedy
STORY: A young woman intent on founding a business dynasty faces sexism, heartache and triumph in a human comedy of capitalism and family.
PROSPECTS: The quartet of Laurence, Cooper, De Niro and director David O. Russell have done two highly acclaimed and Oscar-nominated films in the past few years.
OBSTACLES: Hasn’t generated the buzz that American Hustle or The Silver Lining Playbook did.
FACTOID: Based on the true story of Joy Mangano, the woman who developed the Miracle Mop in 1990 – the same year Laurence, who plays her, was born.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

MACBETH

RELEASE DATE: December 4, 2015 (limited)
STUDIO: Weinstein
STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris, Elizabeth Debicki, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Paddy Considine, David Hayman
GENRE: Shakespeare
STORY: A Scottish lord, urged on by his devious and manipulative wife, stops at nothing to gain the throne of the King of Scotland in the 11th century.
PROSPECTS: Fassbender has gotten some Best Actor Oscar buzz for his performance in the title role.
OBSTACLES: Shakespeare and big box office? Bitch, please!
FACTOID: The X-Men franchise has contributed four Macbeths to the screen; both Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy, who played Charles Xavier, as well as Ian McKellen and now Fassbender, who played Magneto, have now played the role; of the four, only Fassbender hasn’t tackled the part in a stage production.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

DECEMBER 2, 2015

HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (Cohen Media Group), opening in New York City, gathers a group of filmmakers ranging from Wes Anderson to Martin Scorsese and discusses the legendary French director Francois Truffaut’s book Cinema According to Hitchcock and how it influenced their filmmaking.

DECEMBER 5, 2015

KRAMPUS (Universal) resurrects an ancient Yuletide legend of a demonic presence who punishes unbelievers at Christmastime. This year on his naughty list is a fractured family whose non-believing son is the cause for the return of Krampus. In YOUTH (Fox Searchlight) Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine star as a pair of lifelong friends contemplating the end of their careers while vacationing at a beautiful lodge in the Swiss Alps. It opens in limited release.

DECEMBER 11, 2015

THE DARK HORSE (Broad Green) which opens in limited release stars Fear the Walking Dead‘s Cliff Curtis as a community leader trying to overcome his own adversities to leave a legacy for the children of his community.

DECEMBER 18, 2015

Opening in limited release, SON OF SAUL (Sony Classics) is the heart-wrenching tale of a Jewish worker in Auschwitz who discovers the body of what he believes to be his son in the crematorium. Against all odds he rescues the body from the flames and tries to find a way of giving his boy a proper Jewish burial.

DECEMBER 23, 2015

In ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: ROAD CHIP (20th Century Fox) Alvin and the Boys head to New York City to stop Dave from proposing to his girlfriend, dumping them and in the process putting them under the care of the step-brother from hell.

DECEMBER 25, 2015

DADDY’S HOME (Paramount) is the competition between a mild-mannered radio executive stepdad and the freewheeling freeloader ex-husband for the affection of the children. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg star. THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Weinstein) is the latest from director Quentin Tarantino which stars a high-end all-star cast in a Western about a bounty hunter trying to haul a woman to her execution through mountainous terrain in a blizzard, taking refuge in a haberdashery/stagecoach stop where others are waiting for them – who have agendas of their own. Opening Christmas Day for an Oscar qualifying run, it opens in wide release January 8th. POINT BREAK (Warner Brothers) is a remake of the Patrick Swayze/Keanu Reeves thriller about an undercover FBI agent trying to nail a group of extreme athletes who have been masterminding a group of daring robberies using their skills to make nearly impossible crimes a reality. THE REVENANT (20th Century Fox), also undergoing an Oscar qualifying run before opening wide on January 8th, is the true story of explorer Hugh Glass, mauled by a bear and left for dead by his own hunting party, surviving an extraordinary chain of events to get back to his family; Leonardo di Caprio stars and noted director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu behind the camera. SNOWDEN (Open Road) is Oliver Stone’s biopic of one of the most notorious figures of our time – whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (New Line) Budget: $250M. Domestic Gross: $255.1M Total: $956.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB (20th Century Fox) Budget: $127M. Domestic Gross: $113.8M Total: $360.4 Verdict: Made Money.
INTO THE WOODS (Disney) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $128.0M Total: $212.9M Verdict: Big Hit.
ANNIE (Columbia) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $85.9M Total: $133.8M Verdict: Broke Even.
BIG EYES (Weinstein) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $14.5M Total: $29.3M Verdict: Made Money.
WILD (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $13.2M Total: $52.5M Verdict: Hit.
SELMA (Paramount) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $52.1M Total: $66.8M Verdict: Hit.
PADDINGTON (Dimension) Budget: $55M. Domestic Gross: $76.2M Total: $259.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $140M. Domestic Gross: $65.0M Total: $268.0M Verdict: Lost Money.
INHERENT VICE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $8.1M Total: $14.7M Verdict: Flop.
UNBROKEN (Universal) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $115.6M Total: $161.5M Verdict: Made Money.
AMERICAN SNIPER (Warner Brothers) Budget: $59M. Domestic Gross: $350.1M Total: $547.3M Verdict: Blockbuster.
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 (Paramount/MGM) Budget: $14M. Domestic Gross: $12.3M Total: $12.3M Verdict: Flop.

So believe it or not, that’s a wrap for the movie schedule for 2015. It’s already been a heady year and there are sure to be some more big waves made by releases in the last third of the year’s schedule. Even with the impressive list of films waiting for us during the fall and holiday seasons, some are already looking ahead to 2016 which has an impressive line-up of its own. Perhaps most anticipated of all is Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice which not only brings two of DC’s most hallowed superheroes onscreen together for the first time but also marks the first cinematic appearance of such heroes as Wonder Woman and Aquaman; but DC is also banking on Suicide Squad to help launch their own cinematic universe to compete with Marvel’s. However, Marvel isn’t resting on their laurels; they have Captain America: Civil War waiting as well as Dr. Strange ready for our consumption, as well as the much-ballyhooed X-Men: Apocalypse, Gambit and Deadpool all coming from Fox. A sequel to Independence Day and a reboot of Ghostbusters with a female lead cast are also high on the list. Videogame fans are looking to see if versions of Warcraft. Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed can finally show videogames as a viable source for big budget movies. The resurgence of the Star Wars universe continues with the first of several projected stand-alone films Rogue One and Eddie Murphy returns as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop 4. Universal is launching a shared universe line of their own based on their classic monsters with a new version of The Mummy while sequels to Finding Nemo, Now You See Me, Alice in Wonderland and Divergent will all appear sometime during the year. You can read more about it in our 2016 preview, scheduled to be published in late December. Until then, you’ve got plenty of 2015 to enjoy yet; we suggest you make your plans to catch a bunch of these in a theater near you. See you at the multiplex!

Mistress America


Just two broke girls talkin'.

Just two broke girls talkin’.

(2015) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Michael Chernus, Rebecca Henderson, Matthew Shear, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Heather Lind, Cindy Cheung, Charlie Gillette, Shelby Rebecca Wong, Joel Marsh Garland, Andrea Chen, Seth Barrish, Shana Dowdeswell, Dean Wareham, Amy Warren, Shoba Narayanan, Morgan Lynch, Adrea Teasdale. Directed by Noah Baumbach

There is New York, and then there is everywhere else. I suppose that those who live there have every right to feel a kind of smug superiority about where they live; after all, they have world class museums, world class concert halls, world class nightclubs, world class restaurants…hell, anyone who is bored in New York isn’t trying very hard.

Tracy (Kirke) is becoming a New Yorker. Well, she’s becoming a college student at Barnard. Keen to be a writer, she’s not the sort that fits in easily. That’s especially true lately, as her mom (Henderson) is getting ready to re-marry. Tracy yearns to become a member of the literary society at Barnard, who celebrate publication of a new author by sneaking into their room at night and throwing a pie in their face while they sleep. Rad, eh? However, she meets rejection even here. Tracy realizes to get in with the literary crowd she’s going to need something special to write about.

As part of her mom’s new marriage, she is going to have a new stepsister, so upon her mom’s insistence she arranges to meet her soon-to-be-sister, Brooke (Gerwig). Tracy takes an immediate liking to Brooke. She’s almost ten years older and established in the city; she’s getting ready to open a fabulous new restaurant and has some really cool ideas. She hangs out with cool people and lives in a loft that’s zoned for commercial use. She’s full of energy and life and talks a mile a minute, sometimes about deep things but sometimes just idle chatter.

When one of the investors in her restaurant – the one who happens to be her boyfriend – pulls out, Brooke is left dangling in the wind. She has no choice but to go to the home of her arch-nemesis Mamie-Claire (Lind) in the Godforsaken wilderness of Greenwich, Connecticut and demand her due. You see, years ago, Mamie-Claire stole an idea of Brooke’s and made a fortune out of it. That wasn’t the only thing she stole though – she took two of Brooke’s cats and her boyfriend at the time Dylan (Chernus) who was himself independently wealthy but is now Mamie-Claire’s somewhat henpecked husband. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

But things go from bad to worse as the discovery is made that Tracy has been writing a story with Brooke as the lead character – and not everything is complimentary. Brooke is feeling betrayed and everybody around her – even Mamie-Claire – think that was a dick move. But was it?

I do think Baumbach and Gerwig, who co-wrote this thing, were out to make a modern screwball comedy. The rhythms of the dialogue are very similar and the patter is snappy, although not in a retro way. I’m thinking that this is a brilliant move on their part because in many ways Gerwig is a modern Carole Lombard.

But as smart an idea it is, the ambitions here are a bit more than the pair can chew. The trouble with screwball comedies is that they are a bitch to pull off right, and there are so many examples of great films in that genre out there that unless you’re damn near perfect from screenplay to final film, your movie is just going to suffer by comparison.

The movie here isn’t perfect. It starts out with a couple of very annoying characters whose dialogue is so unrealistic, whose attitudes are just so smug and self-important that it’s incredibly hard to do anything but despise them. If I ran into Brooke and Tracy at a cocktail party, I’d quickly find other people to chat with – they’re way too pretentious for my taste. When I think of indie films that Baumbach and Gerwig have collaborated on previously, the first half of the movie has the worst characteristics of their worst efforts. I really was ready to write this one off before I was halfway through the movie.

Fortunately it gets better. In fact, it improves a hell of a lot and the scenes set in Greenwich are inspired. Gerwig always seems to do better in large ensembles than in smaller groups; when it’s essentially just her and Tracy with Tracy being a shadowy image of Brooke, the movie is just annoying. When Brooke has a lot of people to bounce off of, the movie is enjoyable. I think that Gerwig is one of those actresses who needs to be diluted a little bit and the more people she has to interact with, the better she is. Da Queen has said that she can only take Gerwig in small doses and I can see why she has that effect on her; there is a bit of a narcissistic quality to the characters Gerwig plays in Baumbach films and those types of characters tend to rub Da Queen the wrong way.

I was very torn with this movie. The first part is excruciating but the second part I really liked. So how does one rate a movie like this? Straight down the middle; a zero for the first half of the film, a ten for the second for a cumulative score of five. Be warned that the first part of the movie is hard to sit through but the second half makes the first half almost worth it.

REASONS TO GO: Gets better as it goes along. Gerwig is always charming.
REASONS TO STAY: Horrible first half. Characters act and speak like they’re in a 21st century screwball comedy.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of foul language and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In Lola Versus Gerwig played a character named Lola. In Gone Girl Kirke played a character named Greta.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/31/15: Rotten Tomatoes 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Frances Ha
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Digging for Fire

Sinister 2


Bughuul reminds us there's no talking in the theater or else he sends these kids after you.

Bughuul reminds us there’s no talking in the theater or else he sends these kids after you.

(2015) Horror (Gramercy) James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Lea Coco, Tate Ellington, John Beasley, Lucas Jade Zumarin, Jaden Klein, Laila Haley, Caden M. Fritz, Olivia Rainey, Nicholas King, Michael B. Woods, Tory O. Davis, Howie Johnson, Grace Holuby, John Francis Mountain, Nicole Santini. Directed by Ciarán Foy

There are monsters in this world; people who beat their wives, their children. People who create an atmosphere of fear, all so they can feel like a big man. One can run away from monsters like that; but then there’s no running away from the demons that follow you.

Courtney Collins (Sossamon) has separated from her husband with the intention of divorcing him. He is an abusive, evil man who has turned her twin sons Dylan (R.D. Sloan) and Zach (D. Sloan) into a terrified, nightmare-ridden boy (the former) and a mean, spiteful kid (the latter). She has found an old farmhouse with a de-consecrated church in the yard.

What she doesn’t know is that the house was the scene of a horrible crime in which an entire family was slaughtered – chained to the church floor and eaten alive by rats – with the young son missing. Investigating the crime is a Detective (Ransone) who was once a Deputy investigating a similar crime in the first Sinister. It weighs heavily on his mind that he couldn’t save his friend Ellison Oswalt and his family from the same fate; in fact, he was accused and later acquitted of the heinous crime, although he lost his job over it.

Now he has made it his mission to stop the demon Bughuul who is responsible for these murders. Bughuul, through the lost children he abducts, influences a child in a family moving into the home where one of these murders occurs to become his minion; when the family moves out, the child films the gruesome murders he commits. Afterwards, Bughuul takes his soul to join his legion of lost children.

Now the kids are after Dylan, showing him the murder films which stop the nightmares. The Detective is unnerved to find people living in the house – he’d been told it was vacant and had plans to burn it to the ground, stopping the demon’s reign of terror. He grows attracted to Courtney and the feeling is mutual. But with her ex Clinton (Coco) hot on her trail and hell bent on taking the kids back home with him, with no judge or law enforcement official in rural Indiana willing to stand up to the wealthy Clinton, Courtney is caught between hell and a hard place – literally.

Although a sequel pretty much to the first Sinister, this has little in common with the first film. No Ethan Hawke, for one thing – Sossamon is the biggest name in the cast which helps keep the costs low and the profit margin high. Scott Derrickson, who directed the original, is still on board as co-writer and producer but it is Irish director Foy, who has a nifty thriller called The Citadel to his credit, in the chair here.

The first film was incredibly creepy; the atmosphere was much more intense than it is here. There is more a Children of the Corn vibe which is said to be on purpose; Foy had wanted the film to be a tribute to the Stephen King story which spawned a plethora of cinematic stinkers – and has a lot in common thematically with both of the Sinister films. While some might find the homespun Indiana cornfield look frightening, it doesn’t quite do it for me personally.

Ransone does, though. Moving from a background comedy relief character to genuine horror hero, we get the kind of hero we can all get behind; he’s not brawny or a particularly good fighter (he gets beaten up at least twice during the film) but he is smart and sympathetic. He’s a nice guy whom we fear is going to finish last.

The movie’s subtext having to do with abusive husbands/fathers is welcome. Often the physical abuse is given as a reason as why abused kids turn into psychotic serial killers but here it is shown as terrifying as anything the demon can conjure up; there’s a scene where the Collins family is having dinner and Clinton eats first while the others sit in frightened silence, awaiting the signal that they can eat. It’s as stark and scary a scene in any horror movie this year. Sadly, none of the Bughuul stuff can equal it.

Part of the problem is that the kid actors in the movie who take up most of the screen time range from adequate to hard to watch. A movie like this by necessity requires a good number of child actors and that’s a double edged sword; if you can get good ones, it ratchets up the fear factor. If not, it can make your film look amateurish. It doesn’t quite sink to that level, but it certainly isn’t elevated by the performances of the children. And that’s not a knock on the kids, mind you – I don’t think it’s for lack of effort on their part, but they do have an awful lot of burden on their shoulders and that might be a little too much to ask of them.

Another issue I had with the movie is the various snuff films. The death scenes are so elaborate that to a large extent they aren’t believable. Sure, the kids are being helped by a demonic presence but it doesn’t feel like a kid could come up with these complex killing methods, ranging from putting a family on crucifixes and burning them alive to hanging them upside down above a swamp where alligators take their heads off. Gruesome fun to be sure, but not believable gruesome fun.

Even despite the deficiencies this ends up with a slightly higher rating than the first Sinister, largely because the ending of the first one was such a stinker. The ending here is a lot better; and while Bughuul is not the terrifying monster that maybe this franchise needs, the movie is scary enough in a white bread kind of way that it makes the movie worth checking out.

REASONS TO GO: Fairly creepy. Ransone steps up nicely. Like the inclusion of the abusive father.
REASONS TO STAY: Children of the Corn vibe doesn’t work. The filmed death scenes too elaborate. Overreliance on kid actors.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, much of it gruesome; bloody and disturbing images, and some fairly foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The only returning characters from the first film are Bughuul himself and the Detective, who in the first film was Deputy So & So (he never gets a name); here he is Detective So & So.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/30/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 12% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Insidious
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Mistress America

Ricki and the Flash


Rick Springfield and Meryl Streep are getting lost in the rock and roll.

Rick Springfield and Meryl Streep are getting lost in the rock and roll.

(2015) Dramedy (Tri-Star) Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, Nick Westrate, Rick Rosas, Bernie Worrell, Joe Vitale, Ben Platt, Audra McDonald, Big Jim Wheeler, Keala Settle, Joe Toutebon, Aaron Clifton Moten, Peter C. Demme, Adam Shulman, Charlotte Rae, Bill Irwin, Gabriel Ebert, Lisa Joyce, Hailey Gates. Directed by Jonathan Demme

I was a rock critic in the Bay Area for more than a decade and in that time I spent a whole lot of time in bars seeing a whole lot of bands. It was during this time that I developed a healthy respect, even an appreciation for bar bands. This is generally used as a derogatory term, but there is a kind of nobility about bar bands that the big stadium bands often lack. I’ve had more fun listening to a bar band do covers than listening to the bands that originated them in a big, impersonal arena.

Ricki Rendazzo (Streep) didn’t always want to front a bar band. She went to L.A. with dreams of becoming a rock star, and even made a single album – on vinyl, to give you an idea of how long ago this was – which sank like a stone. She’s never really given up on her rock and roll dream but she has more or less come to terms that she is never going to open for the Rolling Stones, but now middle aged, she clerks at a grocery store to make ends meet and pays gigs at a local bar to keep her from going insane. She is having a relationship with Greg (Springfield), her lead guitarist, although she doesn’t like to acknowledge it publicly.

Then again, Ricki has a history with relationships and it isn’t good. She has a family – an ex-husband and three kids – but she abandoned them to chase her rock and roll dream and another woman raised them. Her relationship with her children is pretty rocky to say the least.

Then she gets a call from her ex, Pete (Kline) – her daughter Julie (Gummer) was deserted by her husband who left her for another woman, and she’s taken it hard. She hasn’t changed clothes in days, hasn’t bathed, mopes in her room, hasn’t eaten and barely talks to anyone. Pete is desperate; his wife Maureen (McDonald) is away tending to her own father who is in the end stage of Alzheimer’s and he needs help with Julie. So despite being bankrupt, she scrapes together what little cash she has – all of it – and buys a ticket to Indianapolis.

There she discovers that Pete has done very well for himself with a beautiful house in a gated community. Ricki, being Ricki, comes dressed like an 80s rocker chick – which is what she is – with an oddball braided hair style that no decade would be willing to claim as its own. She’s a bit like a tornado, inflicting damage indiscriminately and impossible to ignore. Her sons Adam (Westrate) who is gay and wants nothing to do with her, and Josh (Stan) who is relatively warm to her but is getting married soon and hasn’t invited her, make obligatory appearances. Ricki though starts to connect with Julie somewhat, at least bringing her out of her funk. Then Maureen returns, and Ricki is summarily dismissed.

Back at home, she goes back to her life of weekly gigs, working at the grocery store and living on almost nothing. However, her time back in Indy has given her an appreciation for not being alone and her relationship with Greg begins to flower as a result of it. Out of the blue she gets an invitation to Josh’s wedding; part of her wants to go, part of her is scared that she’s not wanted and most of her knows that she couldn’t afford a plane ticket even if she wanted to go. Can rock and roll save Ricki Rendazzo?

As I said, I’ve spent a lot of time in bars and I’m guessing Diablo Cody, who wrote this thing based on the experiences of her mother-in-law, has as well. She gets the vibe perfectly, although bands with the talent that the Flash have are pretty few and far between – that’s one of the charms of a bar band is that for the most part they have more passion than talent. The world’s best bar band is Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, a fact that the movie gives a respectful nod to. However, few bar bands have the pedigree of the Flash – with Springfield on guitar, Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, session drummer Joe Vitale and Neil Young’s bass player Rick Rosas who sadly passed away after this was filmed. The movie has the advantage of using these musicians, and Streep showed in Mamma Mia that she’s a good singer and while she is more of a Bonnie Raitt kind of vocalist and less of a belter, she holds her own vocally.

Streep isn’t afraid to show she’s getting on; clearly Ricki’s best days are behind her but she still is a handsome woman who looks pretty damn good in a leather catsuit. Streep’s creation of this character is dead on; I’ve met many women like her who are kind of a stuck in an era and for whom the music is everything. Ricki is through and through a rocker chick and would not think that an unfair description. She wears her allegiance proudly.

Kline is one of my favorite actors and here he plays a bit of a square, but when he’s around Ricki he actually blossoms a bit. Usually in pictures of this sort the gender roles are reversed but Pete realizes that he has to be the responsible one for his kids and when he’s left holding the bag at last, he finds himself the most stable woman he can to be their mom. Kline is at his best when he’s playing characters that are a little bit oblivious to the world around them and Pete carries that quality as well. Streep and Kline are two of the best actors in the business and watching them together is a rare treat.

Streep also gets to act with her real life daughter who plays her onscreen daughter and Gummer shows that she didn’t get the part through any sort of nepotism; the lady can act as well and while there will always be her mom’s shadow looming around her, one has to admit that Streep’s shadow really covers nearly every actress of the last 20 years – that’s how good she is – and Gummer handles it extraordinarily well. We darn tootin’ will see more of Gummer and in, I predict, some higher profile roles.

The music here is mainly covers, which is as it should be. The Flash are as I’ve explained above a lot better than the average bar band in covering these songs, and they certainly don’t disgrace any of them. That’s a plus for a movie like this.

Where the movie falters the most is that the cliche monster is actively working on some of the scenes and plot points. We know how this is going to end almost from the moment the movie kicks into gear with Ricki singing Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and to be honest, the characters are so compelling that you don’t mind that the movie is heading to an obligatory feel good vibe. The point the movie is trying to make I guess is that family is family, even when they make horrible mistakes. There is redemption even for the most unforgivable errors within family and that is true enough. Demme, who is into his 70s now and has had a hell of a career of his own, understands that. This really isn’t typical of a Jonathan Demme film, but then again he’s made a career out of keeping audiences guessing.

This isn’t disposable entertainment exactly, but it is as close as you can get to it in a movie that Meryl Streep is in. Like the local bar with the local cover band playing on a Thursday night, it is a movie that demands you have a good time whether you want to or not. It is a movie that reeks of stale beer, desperate women with too much perfume and too much make-up, working class men who are desperate to relive their glory days, and the soundtrack of a generation that is now, as your critic is, a bit long in the tooth. And Amen, Amen, Amen to all that.

REASONS TO GO: Streep and Kline are always worth seeing. Gets the bar band vibe right.
REASONS TO STAY: A little too cliche a little too often. Tends to use a sledgehammer to make its points.
FAMILY VALUES: Here you will find some drug use, foul language, sexuality and adult content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Streep and Kline previously starred together in Sophie’s Choice, for which Streep won her second Oscar. At the time, Streep was pregnant with her daughter Mamie who would play her daughter in this film, 33 years later.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: It’s Complicated
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Sinister 2

The Gift (2015)


Rebecca Hall investigates.

Rebecca Hall investigates.

(2015) Thriller (STX) Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Phillipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Kate Aselton, David Joseph Craig, Susan May Pratt, P.J. Byrne, Felicity Price, Melinda Allen, Jyothsna Venkatesh, Laura Drake Mancini, DaNae West, Stacey Bender, Beth Crudele. Directed by Joel Edgerton

The past has a way of rearing its head, ugly or not, when we least expect it. Sometimes it can be a song or a scent that brings it flooding back, or a chance meeting in a retail store. We are tied to our past as surely as we are tired to our choices.

Things are looking good for Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall). They are happily married, Simon recently got a major promotion (and is closing in on another) and they’ve just purchased a beautiful home with amazing views from floor-to-ceiling glass windows. What those in thrillers fail to appreciate is that glass is two-way – you can look out of it sure, but so can others look in.

While shopping for furnishings the couple run into Gordo (Edgerton), a sad-sack sort that was a classmate of Simon’s in high school. Simon can barely remember him, and Robyn takes pity on him; he seems a nice enough guy if a bit socially awkward. She invites him to dinner.

When Gordo starts leaving little gifts; a bottle of wine, glass cleaner, Koi carp for their pond, at first it seems like a nice gesture but it begins to get a little creepy. Then there are intimations of some sort of incident in the past between Gordo and Simon that was less than savory. Robyn also has her own skeletons; a miscarriage sent her spiraling into depression and drug abuse. She has gotten better lately but Simon still worries about it.

Then again, Simon seems to have issues of his own. The more we get to know these people, the less we actually do, all of which descends to an inevitable confrontation which leads to a shocking revelation.

This is Edgerton’s first feature as a director and if this is any indication, he has a bright future ahead of him in that regard. The pacing here is damn near perfect, neither too hurried but definitely moves along at a good clip. The result is we’re constantly on the edge of our seats without feeling like we’re missing anything.

Edgerton as a writer is also amazing; all of the main characters are nicely developed and are allowed to be imperfect. The twist at the end is brilliant and shocking, a rare thing these days when we think we just can’t be shocked. This is proof that not only can we be, but we can be surprised as well. A good movie buff appreciates that more than you can imagine.

Bateman gets a rare serious role and plays it very nicely, never overplaying the dramatic aspects (which some comic actors tend to do) but not underplaying it either. He uses his nice guy persona as a bit of a tool, allowing us to settle in to a particular viewpoint of who the character is, then slowly tears down that viewpoint as the character turns out to be something different. It shows Bateman to be an actor of enormous range; I wouldn’t be surprised to see higher-profile dramatic roles coming his way because of his performance here.

Edgerton has long been someone that “everyone” knows can act, but hasn’t really ascended into the Hollywood elite yet. There’s a good chance he will now, showing himself to be a massive talent behind the camera, but a great one in front of the camera as well. Like Bateman, he uses his edgy persona to his advantage to create certain expectations for the audience and then slowly strips them away. I’ve always liked Edgerton as an actor; now I like him even more.

Hall’s character is more brittle and fragile, and in some ways more colorless. She is just beginning to get it together after essentially a breakdown but the goings on here put her back teetering on the edge. Hall doesn’t really hit it out of the park like her colleagues do, but she turns in a solid performance that is bound to get her some notice from casting agents.

The creepy factor is extra high here as we watch the events unfold. Certainly the tension through the last third of the movie is high, but this isn’t a roller coaster ride so much as a dark ride in a boat through some really terrible scenes. This movie has been pretty much universally praised and for good reason; don’t read that as being excessive however – this isn’t an essential movie, just a really well-crafted thriller that is well worth your while. And that is essential enough.

REASONS TO GO: Effectively creepy. Nice twist. Good casting.
REASONS TO STAY: The camera is a bit static. Hall’s character is a bit bland.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of foul language and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Because he wanted to focus on directing, Edgerton filmed all of his own scenes two weeks into shooting and had them completed in seven days.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oldboy
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Ricki and the Flash