A Walk Among the Tombstones


No more cracks about being too old for this.

No more cracks about being too old for this.

(2014) Mystery (Universal) Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, Adam David Thompson, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Sebastian Roche, Danielle Rose Russell, Natia Dune, David Anzuelo, Whitney Able, Maurice Compte, Laura Birn, Razane Jammal, Eric Nelsen, Frank De Julio, Mark Consuelos, Marielle Heller, Novella Nelson. Directed by Scott Frank

They don’t make ’em like Sam Spade anymore. Or Lew Archer. Or Philip Marlowe. Or Humphrey Bogart for that matter. Noir detectives – hard bitten, hard drinking tough guys who were often knights in tarnished armor, strong men with stronger codes. Life has kicked the crap out of them – it’s a dog eat dog world after all – but if the weak or the helpless are threatened, well, get ready for a fight.

Matt Scudder (Neeson) is a throwback to those kinds of guys. He used to be a hard-bitten hard-drinking tough guy on the NYPD until a particularly bad day at the office. These days – which happen to be 1999 – he’s an unlicensed private investigator which he describes as “Sometimes I do people favors. Sometimes they give me gifts.”

He’s not too picky about his clientele. When Peter Kristo (Holbrook), who attends AA meetings with Matt, approaches him on behalf of his brother Kenny (Stevens), Matt is wary at first. Kenny is a drug dealer whose wife Carrie (Jammal) was kidnapped. Finding her isn’t the problem – Kenny’s already found her. In pieces. After he paid the ransom.

This doesn’t sit well with him. He wants the guys who did it found and brought to him, preferably alive. Matt doesn’t want any part of a revenge killing – until he hears the audio tape the killers left for Kenny. Once he hears that he’s all in.

As he investigates he discovers that Carrie Kristo wasn’t the first victim and she’s probably not going to be the last. His investigations take him to a graveyard groundskeeper (Olafsson) who found the first body and to the seamy side of New York. He is assisted by TJ (Bradley), a tough-talking African-American street kid who wants to be a P.I. just like in the books he’s read at the public library where he essentially hangs out all the time. However, the killers (Harbour, Thompson) have selected another victim and this time she’s a true innocent. Time is running out.

The movie is based on the tenth in a series of 17 (and counting) books by crime author Lawrence Block. The fifth, 8 Million Ways to Die, was brought to the silver screen back in 1986 with Jeff Bridges taking on the Scudder role. I haven’t seen that one in ages (it used to be in regular rotation on cable) but I do appreciate Neeson’s take on the role better; he conveys the inner darkness of the character much better.

Frank, who exhibited a good deal of potential in the thriller genre with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt film The Lookout continues to impress at his ability to deliver that dark, noir-ish mood while keeping the movie essentially modern despite its setting of 15 years ago. The Y2K undercurrent seems a bit quaint these days – and boy does it bring back memories.

This is definitely Neeson’s film and he carries it with both dignity and toughness. He’s the kind of guy who will punch a guy through a glass window but will buy a street urchin pancakes. He’s made some awful, awful choices in his life and other people have paid for some of his mistakes. He’s trying the straight and narrow but he seems to exist mostly in the grey area between there and the dark and lawless. Neeson is the perfect choice for Scudder.

Now about TJ. Let me first give full disclosure by asserting that I haven’t read any of the books in the series. The character of TJ is introduced in the ninth book in the series. I have read elsewhere that he doesn’t appear in this particular installment. Quite frankly, I found his presence unnecessary and distracting. During the climax of the movie, the character commits the cardinal kid sin by going exactly to the wrong place at the wrong time to be in the most peril. It derailed the movie for me and made me want to find the nearest wall and bang my head against it. Sorry guys, but this cliche is older than the original noir pics and it was just as unwelcome back then. The young actor that plays TJ is engaging – but again, it seems kind of gimmicky and unnecessary to have him in the movie.

There are some really great moments in the movie – sadly several of them are on display in the trailer. There would have been some franchise potential here although the box office numbers sadly don’t seem to justify it so chances are this is the last of Matt Scudder we’re going to see for awhile. I have to say I’m glad to see that noir films are making a bit of a comeback with this and the much better Cold in July both hitting the multiplex this year. Now if we could only get screwball comedies to make a comeback.

REASONS TO GO: Neeson perfect as the brooding action anti-hero. Grim and gritty.
REASONS TO STAY: The TJ character completely unnecessary and gets in the way.
FAMILY VALUES:  Some pretty intense violence, themes and images, sexuality and brief nudity and a fair amount of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ruth Wilson was cast as Matt Scudder’s partner Joe Durkin (male in the book) but director Scott Frank felt that the character was essentially a loner and a partner would only confuse things, so the role was eliminated and all the scenes filmed with Wilson were cut.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Se7en
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The Maze Runner

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Four-Warned: September 2014


The EqualizerEvery month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE EQUALIZER (1.3)
2. HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (1.4)
TIE. THE MAZE RUNNER (1.4)
4. TUSK (1.6)
TIE. A WALK AMONG TOMBSTONES

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (1.2)
2. THE ZERO THEOREM (1.4)
3. 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (1.5)
TIE. LILTING (1.5)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

SEPTEMBER 5, 2014

FRONTERA (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. When his wife is killed while riding on their ranch, an ex-sheriff investigates an illegal Mexican who was on their land when the incident occurred. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks like another powerful performance from Ed Harris.
GOD HELP THE GIRL (Amplify) Genre: Musical. Although she’s been an absolute catastrophe, a Glasgow girl knows she has the talent to front a band and when she finds two similarly wounded souls, they form a band that might just go places. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 From Belle and Sebastian front man Stuart Murdoch, a gentle pop music comedy.
THE IDENTICAL (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Musical. Identical twins, separated at birth during the Depression because their parents couldn’t afford to keep them both, live very different lives but strikingly similar as well. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 The healing power of rock and roll.
INNOCENCE (JSC) Genre: Horror. A pair of youngsters who are dealing with tragedy in their own lives enter a new prep school which they soon discover may be run by a coven of witches who drink the blood of virgins to keep their perpetual youth. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Looks a bit like something that should air on the CW.
LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM (American Experience) Genre: Documentary. During the military evacuation of Saigon in 1975, a group of American soldiers and diplomats face a moral quandary of whether to follow orders and save only U.S. citizens or try and save as many South Vietnamese citizens as they can. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 A searing look at one of the most unforgettable events of the late 20th century.
THE LONGEST WEEK (Gravitas) Genre: Romantic Comedy. The former heir to a fortune is disinherited and thrown out on his ass in a nasty divorce case; taken in by a close friend, he falls for his friend’s girlfriend and tries to maintain the charade that everything is okay. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Jason Bateman is the closest thing to a sure thing in comedic acting these days.
MEMPHIS (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. A singer of immense talent but a fragile psyche wanders in the mythic land of Memphis. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 The trailer looks a little bit scattered.
TRAILER PARK BOYS 3: DON’T LEGALIZE IT (Screen Media) Genre: Comedy. Plans to legalize marijuana in Canada threaten the boys plans to eventual riches so they head to Ottawa to lobby against it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 A low-rent Canadian version of Cheech and Chong, only not funny.
WETLANDS (Strand) Genre: Dramedy. A rebellious teen with a penchant for masturbating with vegetables becomes infatuated with her male nurse during a hospital stay. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles September 12). RATING: 2.1 One of the most talked-about and polarizing movies to appear at this year’s Florida Film Festival.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

BORN TO FLY: ELIZABETH STREB VS. GRAVITY (Aubin) Genre: Documentary. Elizabeth Streb and her Extreme Action Troupe are revolutionizing dance – or perhaps more accurately, creating a brand new art form. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.5 It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes between someone genuinely pushing the limits or someone who thinks far too highly of themselves.
MY OLD LADY (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. After inheriting a Parisian apartment from his estranged father, a New Yorker becomes embroiled in a real estate struggle regarding the person living there, her daughter and a rapacious developer. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.4 Any movie with Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott-Thomas is going to be on my list of must-sees.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

ARCHAEOLOGY OF A WOMAN (Emerald) Genre: Drama. The daughter of a woman who is in the beginning stages of elderly dementia discovers that her mom may be involved in a 30-year-old murder mystery. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 Interesting premise but the trailer is kind of disjointed.
AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (IFC) Genre: Horror. An ambitious young realtor and her artist sister are pulled into the sinister web of a house she is selling that is inhabited by a sinister supernatural force. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 Looks absolutely terrifying.
ATLAS SHRUGGED III: WHO IS JOHN GALT? (Atlas) Genre: Drama. The conclusion (I think) of the trilogy based on the Ayn Rand novel. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Conservative economists will be lined up at the door for this one.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY (Weinstein) Genre: Romance. The relationship of a couple that has been strained to the breaking point by tragedy is examined from both viewpoints. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expands September 19). RATING: 2.7 Combines two films that played at Cannes, subtitled His and Hers which is economical I suppose.
DOLPHIN TALE 2 (Warner Brothers) Genre: Family. The legendary dolphin Winter comes to the rescue of a young foundling named Hope in this family tale loosely based on the ordeals of the real dolphins. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.3 Looks really treacly and may cause insulin shock in diabetics.
THE DROP (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Crime Drama. When a bartender whose bar is used as a covert means of funneling cash to Brooklyn criminals becomes embroiled in a robbery gone sideways, he must find out who’s responsible or risk losing everything. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 One of the last movies with the late James Gandolfini.
FINDING FANNY (Fox Star) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Five friends go on a 20-minute trip to locate the long lost love of an old postman but get lost and find something else. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Has that oddball Bollywood charm.
THE GREEN PRINCE (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. The extraordinary true story about the son of a Hamas leader who becomes a prized informant of Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, and the agent who protected him in an incredibly dangerous situation for more than a decade. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks as gripping as any John Le Carre spy film except that this actually happened.
HONEYMOON (Magnet) Genre: Horror. When a newlywed finds his wife wandering in the woods disoriented on their honeymoon, he begins to suspect that she’s in the grip of something truly sinister. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A very creepy film with a Game of Thrones star headlining.
NO GOOD DEED (Screen Gems) Genre: Thriller. After a charming stranger gains entry into her home ostensibly to call for a tow truck, a cat and mouse game begins between a young wife and mother and the stranger who turns out to be a brutal escaped convict. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Idris Elba versus Taraji P. Henson – excellent casting, I’d say.
THE QUITTER (Goodface) Genre: Drama. An ex-ballplayer whose career was an utter failure is forced to face his life decisions when his former girlfriend moves back into the neighborhood with her seven-year-old daughter. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 A trailer for this film is lacking.
THE SKELETON TWINS (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Comedy. Estranged twins are forced into a reunion which may change both their lives for the better. Release Strategy: Limited (opens wide September 19). RATING: 1.8 Pairing Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig sounds like a winner to me.
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER (Abramorama) Genre: Musical Documentary. The musical history and influence of Memphis is brought together as generations of Memphis artists and those influenced by the sound come together to record a historic album. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 When you consider the caliber of artists that emerged from Memphis and the enormous influence they’ve had on modern music, this is a must-see for any music fan.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2014

WORST FRIENDS (Level 33) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Badly injured in a car accident, a prankster has only a childhood friend and a physical therapist to help him recover – until his friend’s high school crush moves back in to town. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks mildly interesting.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2014

20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (Drafthouse) Genre: Music Documentary. Nick Cave has been one of the most respected and innovative performers in indie rock since his days with The Birthday Party and on through his time with the Bad Seeds. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.5 One of the true greats who doesn’t get his due.
THE GUEST (Picturehouse) Genre: Thriller. The grieving family of a soldier welcomes one of his comrades into their home, then as people around them begin to die mysteriously suspect their guest of being responsible. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Adam Wingard is one of the most intriguing up-and-coming directors out there.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2014

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (Universal) Genre: Suspense. A cop-turned-private detective investigates the kidnapping and murder of the wife of a drug boss, finding that it is the work of a team of sadistic serial killers. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Liam Neeson is one of the most bankable action stars in Hollywood.
ART AND CRAFT (Purple Parrot) Genre: Documentary. The world’s most prolific art forger gets an exhibition of his own work. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 An interesting look inside the art world, warts and all.
FORT BLISS (Phase 4) Genre: Drama. Returning home from Afghanistan, a single mom and Army medic discovers her relationship with her son is fractured; she must find a way to rebuild it but the threat of re-deployment may put what progress she’s made in jeopardy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Although I like the cast, something about the trailer left me ambivalent towards this.
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (Relativity) Genre: Dramedy. A psychiatrist, believing he can’t help his patients find happiness unless he finds it for himself first, goes on a journey to see what happiness looks like. Release Strategy: Limited (expanded opening October 3). RATING: 1.4 Simon Pegg is one of my favorites right now; this is a very different role for him.
ICEMAN (Well Go USA) Genre: Martial Arts. Three vengeful brothers and the Imperial guard wrongfully accused of murder are frozen during battle, thawing out 400 years later in the modern era.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 An interesting mix of martial arts fantasy and modern hard bitten gangster movie.
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON (Radius) Genre: Musical Documentary. Jazz piano legend Clark Terry undertakes one last mentorship as his health begins to fail. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Great music and a marvelously touching story.
LIFE’S A BREEZE (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. A struggling Irish family races against time to find a lost fortune. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Another charming Irish movie; you gotta love it.
THE MAZE RUNNER (20th Century Fox) Genre: Science Fiction. Teens who have no memory find themselves in a mysterious glade surrounded by a deadly maze; when a new arrival begins to show signs of recovering his memory, everything changes. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.4 Based on a bestselling young adult novel, one hopes this will fare better than the dozens of poorly made and poorly received young adult would-be franchises.
RECLAIM (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. After their newly adopted daughter goes missing in a small town, a young couple realize that the adoption agency they trusted may be behind it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 It worries me that John Cusack, an actor I adore, is turning into the new Nicolas Cage.
THE SCRIBBLER (XLRator) Genre: Science Fiction. Using a new treatment, a young woman with multiple personality disorder deletes the extraneous personalities one at a time but can she be sure that her own real personality won’t be eliminated at the end? Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Visually impressive, this is based on an acclaimed graphic novel.
SPACE STATION 76 (Vertical) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. A space station is rife with drama as the alcoholic captain comes near to colliding with an asteroid. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 Kind of an Airplane in space with a 70s vibe going strong.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (Warner Brothers) Genre: Dramedy. Four grown siblings struggle to carry out their father’s dying wish – that all four of them spend a week under the same roof with their mom. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Awesome cast including Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda and Adam Driver.
TRACKS (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. The true story of a young woman who decides that in order to discover who she is, she must make a 2,000 mile trek through the Australian outback. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Precedes the similarly themed and also-true story Wild by two and a half months.
TUSK (A24) Genre: Horror. An ambitious young journalist finds the story of a lifetime in an adventurer and raconteur who has an odd penchant for walruses. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 This Kevin Smith-directed opus looks plenty oddball and plenty intriguing.
THE ZERO THEOREM (Amplify) Genre: Science Fiction. Directed to work on a peculiar project by his boss, an eccentric computer genius discovers he is out to prove that life has no meaning. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 The latest from director Terry Gilliam received an Orlando premiere several months ago; read my review here.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

JACK AND THE CUCKOO CLOCK HEART (DADA) Genre: Animated Feature. After his heart freezes, a young man must use a cuckoo clock to keep his heart operating. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Lushly animated and whimsical, this is not necessarily for kids.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

ASMODEXIA (IFC Midnight) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A wandering exorcist believes that the devil is preparing for something truly evil and breathtaking. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 An over-the-top Spanish demon movie; nobody does it better.
THE BOXTROLLS (Focus) Genre: Animated Feature. Below ground, a group of mischievous but good-hearted creatures raise an orphaned human boy who comes to their defense when they are threatened by the town above. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 From Laika, the studio that brought you Coraline.
THE EQUALIZER (Columbia) Genre: Drama. When he sees a young girl under the control of violent Russian mobsters, a man with a mysterious past can’t sit idly by. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 While I was never a particular fan of the TV show, I will see anything Denzel Washington is in.
FISHING WITHOUT NETS (Drafthouse) Genre: Drama. Forced to become a pirate to support his family, a Somali man must make difficult choices when their seizure of an oil tanker becomes violent. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opens in New York City October 3). RATING: 2.5 The concept sounds intriguing but there’s no trailer available.
GOOD PEOPLE (Millennium) Genre: Thriller. When a deeply in debt couple find a stash of cash in the apartment of a murdered tenant, they decide to keep it and use it to get themselves out of debt which doesn’t sit well with the guy who stole it in the first place. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Interesting cast but generic thriller.
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (XLRator) Genre: Musical Biography. Follows a year in the life of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix when he was on the verge of breaking into international stardom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Not sure about this one; Jimi Hendrix is due for a great biopic but Andre Benjamin’s dialogue sounded so wooden on the trailer this might not be the one.
LILTING (Strand) Genre: Drama. A Chinese mother and her son’s lover (whom she only knows as his roommate) grieve together following the son’s untimely death despite a language barrier. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Looks beautifully shot and emotionally powerful although the music drowned out the dialogue on the trailer I saw.
PRIDE (CBS) Genre: True Story. Striking British mine workers receive unexpected – and at first unwelcome – support from a Gay Advocacy group but the two sides eventually learn that there is greater strength in greater numbers. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles/San Francisco. RATING: 1.8 Looks moving and funny and insightful all at once.
THE SONG (Goldwyn) Genre: Musical. A Country singer weds a vineyard owner’s daughter and writes a love song to her which becomes a breakout hit – and brings temptation into his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 Looks preachy and not in a good way.
THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. While vacationing in Greece in the 1960s, a wealthy couple become entangled with an American con man but the couple may not be what they seem either. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Author Patricia Highsmith, promising young director Hossein Amini and stars Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac make for a potent combination.
TWO NIGHT STAND (eOne) Genre: Romantic Comedy. What was supposed to be a one night stand turns into something longer as the hook-up couple are snowed in his Brooklyn apartment by a blizzard and are forced to get to know each other. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Could be a terrific premise but looks to go the easy route judging on the trailer.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Dolphin Tale 2, No Good Deed, Search Party, The Skeleton Twins, A Walk Among Tombstones, Hector and the Search for Happiness, The Maze Runner, Pride, This is Where I Leave You, Tusk, Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, The Boxtrolls, The Equalizer

2014 Fall/Holiday Preview


fallnholiday2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEPTEMBER

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

The Equalizer

DEANS LIST

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

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

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

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

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

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

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

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

SEPTEMBER 5, 2014

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

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

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

SEPTEMBER 19, 2014

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

SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

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

SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

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

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

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

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

OCTOBER

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

Gone Girl

DEANS LIST

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

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

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

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

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

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

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

OCTOBER 3, 2014

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

OCTOBER 10, 2014

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

OCTOBER 17, 2014

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

OCTOBER 24, 2014

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

OCTOBER 31, 2014

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

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

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

NOVEMBER

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

Interstellar

DEANS LIST

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

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

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

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

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

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

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

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

NOVEMBER 7, 2014

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

NOVEMBER 14, 2014

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

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

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

NOVEMBER 26, 2014

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

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

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

DECEMBER

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

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies

DEANS LIST

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

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

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

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

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

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

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

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

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

DECEMBER 5, 2014

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

DECEMBER 12, 2014

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

DECEMBER 19, 2014

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

DECEMBER 25, 2014

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

DECEMBER 31, 2014

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

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

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

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

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