Top 10 of 2015


2015 Top 10After what I thought was kind of a down year in 2014, the overall quality of the movies I saw in 2015 went on the rebound and in general, I thought there were far better films in general than the year previous. A little more interestingly, I also thought that there were fewer movies that I’d give 10 out of 10 for this year, which is a bit of a dichotomy; better quality overall, but fewer slam dunks.

However, the films on this list were all as good as you’d find on the lists of any year previous with the top spot going to a movie that I thought was far and away the best film of the year – but oddly enough, very few people have seen it other than on streaming services. We’ll get to that in a moment, but the movies that followed were still of very high quality and are worth seeing every one.

While studio movies have tended to continue going with the traditional distribution model; a wide theatrical release followed by VOD/home video release once the movies are out of the theaters, then onto a premium cable outlet. They are still tending to avoid streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus, although Lionsgate and Paramount have bucked that trend. With Netflix flexing its muscles more and more with indie films, having made some pre-emptive deals even before films were screened at Sundance, something tells me that the majors may start following suit and putting their films on streaming sites or even creating their own. It may not be this year but as more and more people go with Netflix and Chill, it makes good sense for the majors to start looking at that audience more carefully.

As with previous years, you can learn more about each movie on the top 10 list by clicking on the title to access my initial review, or clicking on the photo of the movie to go to the movie’s website or Facebook page when available. The other information given in each entry should be self-explanatory, with box office and critics’ scores available to help you give an idea of how audiences and film critics alike responded to these films.

As always, the list is entirely arbitrary. How I rank these movies today isn’t necessarily how I would rank them tomorrow. I am also ignoring half-points from the initial ratings so you might see a 9.0 ranked ahead of a 9.5. It’s my list. Deal with it. In any case, at the end of the day the order the films are ranked in is unimportant save for the number one movie of the year. The thing to remember is that all of these films including the honorable mention films are all of the highest quality and you can’t go wrong seeing any of them. Hopefully this list will suggest a few to you that you might have missed during the year or didn’t get distribution in your home town. Many of them will be already out on home video or VOD, while a few may still be in your local theaters. Do yourself a favor and try and see as many of these as you can. You won’t regret it.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So, in no particular order;

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Stepped Out of a Window and Disappeared, Love and Mercy, The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, A Brilliant Young Mind, Straight Outta Compton, My Life in China, 3 ½ Minutes, The Wrecking Crew, Bone Tomahawk, Sicario, Welcome to Leith, Mad Max: Fury Road, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Inside Out, The End of the Tour, Stink!, Gett: The Trial of Vivianne Amsalem, Room, Grandma, Phoenix, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story

It Follows

10. IT FOLLOWS

(Radius) Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto, Bailey Spry, Carolette Phillips, Loren Bass, Charles Gertner, Debbie Williams. Directed by David Robert Mitchell

Released March 23, 2015 19-year-old Jay has just graduated from high school and it is a summer of transition – soon she’ll be going away to college and it is time for one last hurrah with her friends before they scatter, each to their own place. Everything is perfect; except they are being stalked by something terrifying and supernatural. After having had sex with a seemingly nice young man, Jay has attracted a supernatural entity to her and it is coming ever closer. Her only chance is to have sex with someone else and send the entity after them, although if it kills them it comes back after her. How do you escape the inescapable?
WHY IT IS HERE: An extremely clever concept, for one. After an acclaimed run at Sundance, the movie was given a very brief limited release but the numbers were so astounding that Weinstein hurriedly arranged for a wide release. The movie went on to be one of the more acclaimed horror movies of recent years.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The climactic swimming pool battle.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $14.7 million domestic, $20.3M total (as of 1/19/16).
BUDGET: $2M.
GENRE: Horror
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Rent Blu-Ray/DVD on Netflix. Stream on iTunes/Amazon/Vudu/M-Go. Download on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/M-Go/Google Play.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

9. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendolyn Christie. Directed by JJ Abrams

Released December 18, 2016 Three decades after the events of the first trilogy, the Empire is rising again and is being faced by a small but determined Resistance. With a new and improved weapon being brought to bear on the peaceful but ineffective Republic, unlikely new heroes will combine with familiar ones to take on a villain so heinous that he rivals even Darth Vader.
WHY IT IS HERE: The anticipation for this movie was enormous and when it finally arrived, it proved to be one of those rare films that was worth the wait. Everything about this movie worked and everything about it pleased fans who went back to see it again and again and again. It is already the all-time domestic box office champion and has a shot at dethroning the all-time global champ. In short, Star Wars is back.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The confrontation between father and son.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $859.0 million domestic, $1.8B total (as of 1/19/16),.
BUDGET: $200M
GENRE: Science Fiction
STATUS: Still in wide release

The Hateful Eight

8. THE HATEFUL EIGHT

(Weinstein) Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bechir, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley, Channing Tatum. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Released December 25, 2015 A bounty hunter with a reputation for bringing in his quarry alive – to be hanged – is escorting a young woman to the Wyoming town of Red Rock but is forced to stop at a stagecoach stop high in the mountains, stranded by a blizzard. There are others there, some apparently innocently enough, others of suspicious character. By the time the snowfall ceases, there will have been a reckoning of Biblical proportions.
WHY IT IS HERE: Despite controversy over alleged racism and misogyny, this is still a well-crafted cracking story that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats throughout. Seeing it in the nearly extinct 70mm format was a rare treat but beyond all the noise surrounding it, at the end of the day this is a movie that sucked me in and kept me there.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Major Marquis Warren and Chris Mannix get some well-deserved payback for John Ruth.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $49.6 million domestic (as of 1/23/15), $86.7M total.
BUDGET: $44M
GENRE: Western
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Beasts of No Nation

7. BEASTS OF NO NATION

(Netflix/Bleecker Street) Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Ama Abebrese, Richard Pepple, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike, Emmanuel Affadzi, Kobina Amissah-Sam, Fred Nii Amugi. Directed by Cary Fukunaga

Released October 16, 2015 Agu, a young boy in a civil war-torn African nation, is forced to become a child soldier for a charismatic warlord. Convinced he is going straight to hell for all the atrocities he is party to, we watch as his soul becomes more and more tainted, his eyes more and more lifeless. When hope for anything better is gone, what more is left but obedience?
WHY IT IS HERE: There is a realism here that is missing from other films that are similarly themed. It helps tremendously that both Elba as the warlord and young Abraham Attah as Agu deliver searing performances that will remain as indelible impressions for a very long time to come. I thought Elba was a sure thing for an Oscar nomination, although the Academy didn’t agree. This is one that the Academy got wrong.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Young Agu’s rage finally breaks free.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $90,777 domestic (as of 1/23/15), $90,777 total..
BUDGET: $6M.
GENRE: Drama
STATUS: Available exclusively on Netflix.

The Big Short

6. THE BIG SHORT

(Paramount) Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong. Directed by Adam McKay

Released December 11, 2015 In the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, a brilliant medical doctor turned hedge fund manager discovered the terrifying truth; that American banks and other financial institutions were relying heavily on securities based on mortgages, securities that had always been considered stable and rock solid but had been filled with mortgages that were almost certain to be defaulted on. Other managers discovered the same truth and while some tried to raise the alarm, others moved to profit off of the information.
WHY IT IS HERE: A sobering look at how unregulated greed damn near brought the world economy to its knees with the even more sobering warning that those running those same banks and securities firms – who were never punished for their actions which often crossed the line of securities laws – are involved in the same behaviors once again, having failed to learn their lesson the first time mainly because the American taxpayers bailed them out. Although it is admittedly hard to find heroic the actions of those who eventually profited from the human misery that came of the 2008 financial meltdown, this has become perhaps the ultimate cautionary tale to come out of the 2015 movie year.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The mentor of a pair of young ambitious hedge fund managers tempers their enthusiasm by explaining the real-life consequences of their success.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $54.2 million domestic (as of 1/24/15), $72.7M total..
BUDGET: $28M.
GENRE: True Life Drama
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Brooklyn

5. BROOKLYN

(Fox Searchlight) Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Maeve McGrath. Directed by John Crowley

Released November 4, 2015 In the 1950s, a young woman in a small Irish village leaves for New York, knowing that she has no future at home. However, she is best by homesickness and finds life in the Big Apple lonely and unsatisfying, but eventually she meets an Italian man at a church dance and is slowly won over by her persistence. However, bad news from home will send her packing back for Ireland where she’ll be courted by an eligible bachelor and where she finds she is fitting in more than she ever had before, but where will her heart lead her; to stay in her native land or to return to the man she loves in America?
WHY IT IS HERE: An award-worthy performance by Ronan in the lead role for one. Crowley, working off of a script by Nick Hornby, has delivered a lyrical and moving paean both to Ireland and America. Beautifully shot, rendering the sweet Irish countryside as well as the charms of Brooklyn, well-acted throughout and buoyed by a terrific script, this remains one of the most charming and lovely movies of the year.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Two lovers are reunited.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 87/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $26.4 million domestic (as of 1/24/15), $34.5M worldwide.
BUDGET: $10M
GENRE: Romance
STATUS: Still in limited release.

Spotlight

4. SPOTLIGHT

(Open Road) Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Live Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian D’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Tom McCarthy

Released November 6, 2015 At the Boston Globe, the Spotlight investigative journalism team begins to look into allegations of covering up for a single Catholic priest who was accused of pedophilia. As their investigation widens, they discover to their horror that the problem is widespread on a global level. In a city where the Catholic Church is an immense political and social force, they encounter resistance to their investigation but their perseverance will lead to a scandal that will shake the very foundations of one of the oldest and most powerful institutions in the world.
WHY IT IS HERE: This may be the most realistic film about print journalism ever made. The emotional impact of the story itself cannot be overestimated as we see victims recount their harrowing experiences and the devastating aftermaths. The ensemble cast is made up of some of the most accomplished actors in the business and while Keaton and Ruffalo have been getting the lion’s share of the acclaim, the truth is that the performances here are outstanding top to bottom. It is fitting that one of the best-written films of 2015 was the movie about journalism.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The Spotlight team begins to realize the enormity and the impact of their story.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 93/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $33.2 million domestic (as of 1/27/15), $34.5 million total.
BUDGET: $20 million.
GENRE: True Life Drama
STATUS: Still in general release.

The Martian

3. THE MARTIAN

(20th Century Fox) Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara. Directed by Ridley Scott

Released October 2, 2015 The first manned mission to Mars has to be cut short when a massive storm heads for the landing site. As the team of astronauts scurries to get their things stowed and the landing vehicle launched, one of their number is struck by flying debris and apparently killed. Reluctantly his team leaves without him but in the immortal words of Monty Python, he’s not quite dead yet.
WHY IT IS HERE: This tale of survival is certainly one of the best films of the year and is in my mind superior to other reality-based sci-fi films like Gravity for a number of different reasons. Not only is the science far more accurate than other films of this ilk, it has an Oscar-worthy performance by Damon, a terrific cast behind him and one of the most edge-of-your-seat plots you’ll see in this or any other year.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Matt Damon “sciences the shit” out of a problem.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $227.7 million domestic (as of 1/28/16), $598.6 million total.
BUDGET: $108 million.
GENRE: Science Fiction
STATUS: Download from Amazon/iTunes/ Vudu/M-Go/Google Play.  Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/M-Go/Google Play. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix the week of February 7.

Ex-Machina

2. EX-MACHINA

(A24) Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alice Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeton, Gana Bayarsaikhan. Directed by Alex Garland

Released April 10, 2015 A young programmer wins a company competition that spirits him to a weekend at the reclusive founder’s fortress-like mountain hideaway. There he discovers that the tech wizard is working on something game-changing; an artificial intelligence in a robotic body, taking the form of a beautiful woman. However whatever the plans are that both men have for her, she may have an agenda of her own.
WHY IT IS HERE: This speculative science fiction film made on a budget that probably didn’t cover the costs for massages and manicures on Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the smartest and most provocative movies to come out this year. I was completely done in by Vikander’s performance which was outstanding and kicked off an amazing year for her in which she’s been transformed into one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. Isaac and Gleeson also performed solidly, leading into a year when both of them also emerged as names to look out for.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Caleb and Nathan have a conversation on a glacier.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $25.4 million (as of 1/29/15), $36.9M total.
BUDGET: $15M
GENRE: Science Fiction
STATUS: Available on home video. Download on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/M-Go/Google Play. Stream on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/M-Go/Google Play. Rent Blu-Ray/DVD on Netflix.

Message From Hiroshima

1. MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA

(Cinema Libre) George Takei (voice), Kazuo Fukushima, Akinori Ueda, Ryoga Suwa, Hisako Miyake, Kinue Nakamitsu, Chieko Fujiki. Directed by Masaki Tanabe

Released August 4, 2015 The atomic bomb that dropped on Hiroshima was a watershed moment in modern history. We read about in history books, but that really doesn’t come close to telling us what it was really like. This amazing documentary collects some of the few still-living survivors of the blast and details their stories, complimented with some excellent computer graphics that reconstruct what Hiroshima looked like before the bomb fell.
WHY IT IS HERE: There is no movie, no documentary, no television show, no book and no social interaction that will affect you as much as this movie will. It will literally change your life. Seeing a beautiful, vibrant city come to life before your eyes – and then to watch the astonishing destruction, hear the account of people who were children at the time explain what it was like to lose parents, friends, brothers and sisters – to see the emotions still raw 70 years later, is absolutely unforgettable. The movie barely got any sort of theatrical release and is mainly available on Hulu, but it’s also available on DVD. This should be required viewing for not just our political leaders, but for everyone human. Never again.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Basically, every one of the survivor’s stories.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: N/A
BUDGET: N/A
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Stream from Hulu.

Inside Out (2015)


Antonin Scalia reacts to recent Supreme Court decisions.

Antonin Scalia reacts to recent Supreme Court decisions.

(2015) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Paula Poundstone, Bobby Moynihan, Paula Pell, Dave Goelz, Frank Oz, John Ratzenberger, Josh Cooley, Flea, Carlos Alazraqui, Laraine Newman, Rashida Jones. Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen

Growing up can be a dangerous thing. There are no manuals on how to deal with our emotions; we just have to do the best we can, which is generally not good enough. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and realize that it is okay not to be happy and cheerful every minute of every day.

11-year-old Riley (Dias) and her Mom (Lane) and Dad (MacLachlan) have moved to San Francisco from Minnesota and the usually cheerful Riley is not happy about it. She misses her friends, she misses playing hockey – a sport she loves and excels at – and she misses the shall we say less urban environment of her old home.

Up in her head, Riley’s emotions are working double time. In charge (more or less) is Joy (Poehler), a sprite-like being who wants all of Riley’s memories to be happy. Working alongside her are Sadness (Smith), Anger (Black), Disgust (Kaling) and Fear (Hader). Sadness is a squishy blue teardrop, Anger a red brick who sometimes blows flames out of his head, while Disgust is broccoli-green and Fear is a twitchy pipe cleaner with a bow tie.

The emotions work in Headquarters, the part of her brain where the emotions exert control and memories are made and separated into storage – long term, short term and core. “Islands” are formed by her core memories, helping to establish Riley’s personality – love of hockey, honesty, love of family, imagination and so on. A variety of workers keep the memories stored and occasionally, dump them to disappear (Phone numbers? Doesn’t need them. She keeps them in her phone) and make room for new ones. The memories manifest as little globes like pearls, colored by whatever emotion is associated with that memory although Sadness has discovered that when she touches a memory, the emotional hue can change.

Not long after that, a series of accidents strands Joy and Sadness together in the long term memory area of Riley’s head. Worse yet, the core memories have accidentally been sent there, which will slowly lead to her personality islands crumbling away. Joy and Sadness will have to work together to get those core memories back to Headquarters. They’ll be aided by Bing Bong (Kind), Riley’s imaginary playmate whom she hasn’t thought of in years. But they’ll have to hurry; Anger, Disgust and Fear have been left in charge and their decision-making process is, to say the least, untrustworthy.

This is one of the most imaginative animated features in years. Say what you want about the execution of the movie (which is, by the way, pretty dang nifty) but the concepts here are much different than any animated movie – or movie of any other kind – you’re likely to encounter.

The vocal performances are solid, albeit unspectacular although the casting of Black as Anger was inspired if you ask me. He steals the show whenever his rage button is pushed, which is frequently. Poehler gets the bulk of the dialogue as Joy but Kaling, Smith and Hader also get their moments and all of them encapsulate their emotional counterparts nicely.

True to its subject matter, the movie moves from whimsical (as when Bing Bong, Joy and Sadness move through the subconscious and change forms to two-dimensional and into Depression era animated figures) to downright moving (Bing Bong’s plaintive expression of his desire to make Riley happy, despite the fact that she’s forgotten him). While the emotional resonance of Wall-E and Toy Story 3 aren’t quite there, it still packs quite a powerful emotional punch in places. Softies, beware and bring plenty of tissue.

The only real quibble I have with the movie is that from time to time the story is not as straightforward as it is with other Pixar films and it might be a tad difficult to follow for younger kids, who will nonetheless be quite happy with the colors and shapes of the new characters that are likely to dominate the toy merchandise this summer (at least, until the new Minions movie comes out). It also has a tendency to set us up with what appear to be rules to follow only to do something a bit different. I’m not a stickler for such things – this is an animated feature, not a documentary – but some people who are anal about it might have issues.

The lesson to be learned here for kids is that it’s okay to be sad, or angry, disgusted or even afraid. It isn’t a requirement to be happy all the time – nobody is. We all must, sooner or later, deal with all of our emotions, even the not so nice ones. All of them are there for a reason.

Despite the minor flaw and given all of the movie’s strengths I found this movie to be beautifully rendered with a wonderfully imaginative setting and characters I could get behind. The storyline isn’t earth-shattering – essentially it’s about a disgruntled 11-year-old girl who wants to go back to the home she’s used to and acts out because of it – but all of us can relate to dealing with emotions, either because we know an eleven year old or at least been an eleven year old. Pixar has been on a bit of a cold streak as of late but this movie reminds us of how great this studio is and how much they have contributed to the animated feature genre. This is a gem, destined to be another in a long line of Pixar classics.

REASONS TO GO: Imaginative and different. Moving in places. Teaches kids that it’s okay to have negative emotions as well.
REASONS TO STAY: Can be confusing.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the thematic elements may be a bit much for the very small; there is also some animated action and a few images that might be frightening for the less mature child.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mindy Kaling was reportedly so moved by the script that she burst into tears during the initial meetings with director Pete Docter.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/5/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 93/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Up
FINAL RATING: 8,5/10
NEXT: Ted 2

New Releases for the Week of June 19, 2015


Inside OutINSIDE OUT

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the Voices Of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Louis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Paula Poundstone. Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen

When a family moves to San Francisco, 11-year-old Riley is bummed to the max. Her parents don’t understand her, mainly because the emotions that live inside her head – Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness – have accidentally gone amuck inside her head. The emotions are conflicting over how to handle all the things going on in her life – a new city, a new school, new friends, a new life, and the loss of everything familiar. Battle stations – things are about to get a little heated in Headquarters…

See the trailer, interviews, a promo, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website .
Release Formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and some action)

5 Flights Up

(Focus World) Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Carrie Preston, Josh Pais. An elderly couple in Brooklyn have lived in the same apartment since they were young, never dreaming that their Williamsburg neighborhood would become gentrified and one of the most sought-after addresses in the city. Now having trouble mounting the five flights of stairs to get to their apartment, they reluctantly decide to put their apartment on the market. An unlikely sequence of events, combined with overeager realtors and snotty bargain hunters combine to make them wonder if they wouldn’t be better off just walking away.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: PG-13 (for language and some nude images)

ABCD 2

(UTV) Varun Dhawan, Shradda Kapoor, Prabhu Deva, Dharmesh Yelande. An Indian dance troupe with three outstanding choreographers head to Vegas for an international hip-hop dance championship. However, internal pressures threaten to tear the team apart.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Bollywood Musical
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Anarchy Parlor

(Gravitas) Robert LaSardo, Sara Fabel, Jordan James Smith, Tiffany DeMarco. A group of college friends traveling in Lithuania go to a tattoo parlor to commemorate their travels in ink. Instead, they are captured and tortured by the Artist who has more sinister ideas as to what to do with them.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: NR

Dope

(Open Road) Shameik Moore, Zoe Kravitz, Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise. Malcolm is treading a fine line in navigating life in a brutally tough neighborhood in Los Angeles, looking to escape by going to college. However, a chance encounter at a party leads him along a different path. Set in the 1990s with a classic hip-hop score, this was a critical hit at Sundance.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Urban Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity and some violence, all involving teens)

Felix and Meira

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Martin Dubreuil, Hadas Yaron, Luzer Twersky, Anne-Elisabeth Bosse. A Hassidic Jewish wife and mother in Montreal is lost in a highly structured life. She meets a Secular young man, mourning the death of his estranged father, in a bakery. The two begin an innocent friendship which in turn becomes something more which forces her to make a choice between the life she’s always known, or being with the man she loves.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for a scene of sexuality/nudity)

Gemma Bovery

(Music Box) Gemma Arterton, Fabrice Luchini, Jason Flemyng, Isabelle Candelier.  A rural French village and in particular its baker find their lives transformed by the arrival of a British couple whose name reflects the heroine of a classic Flaubert novel that was written in that very village. When her life begins to mirror that of the heroine of that novel, the baker tries to prevent her from meeting the same tragic end as Madame Bovary. This was a big hit at the recent Florida Film Festival and you can read my review of the movie here.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for sexuality/nudity and language)

2015 Summer Movie Preview


Summer Movie Preview 2015Hollywood loves the summer. Hollywood lives for the summer. It’s not that Hollywood looks forward to the beach and road trip vacations although I’m sure that some do; it’s that Hollywood loves to see the eager lines of people cramming their way into theaters for a new potential blockbuster week after week.

2014 was a bit of a disappointment in terms of box office as well as quality. Guardians of the Galaxy was the big winner and showed that Marvel can still make box office bliss even with lesser known characters. The Godzilla revival was a big hit for Warners and there will be more on the way with a sequel already greenlit. X-Men: Days of Future Past welcomed back Bryan Singer to the X-Men universe and paved the way for next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Transformers: Age of Extinction continued to make money for the giant robot franchise while How to Train Your Dragon 2 won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The Fault in Our Stars showed that young adult adaptations didn’t need wizards or sparkling vampires to be a hit, while Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continued to show that this franchise has been completely revitalized. But there were plenty of less successful movies that wiped out in the summer 2014 pipeline as well.

The expectations are extra-high this year as several dormant franchises are either rebooted or return with long-awaited sequels. We’ll see new entries in the Jurassic Park, Mad Max and Terminator franchises, all of which have been notably absent from the big screen. Marvel, after their best year ever, will have two movies coming out this summer, including Avengers: Age of Ultron which continues the super-team saga which was their most successful film to date. Pixar also makes a return to the summer line-up after taking a year off.

There will be all sorts of sequels and reboots with the likes of Ted 2, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Poltergeist, Sinister 2, Magic Mike XXL, Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, Insidious Chapter 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: The Green Legend.

Comedies are always a big part of the summer lineup and this year will be no different with Spy, Entourage, Hot Pursuit, Aloha, Pixels, The Bronze, Trainwreck and Minions on the docket. It will be an impressive year for horror buffs as they can look forward to Insidious Chapter 3, Sinister 2,The Gallows, Poltergeist, The Vatican Tapes, Before I Wake, Maggie and Regression. Other worlds await us with such sci-fi fare as Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Self/Less, Pixels, Terminator: Genisys, Criminal, Hitman: Agent 47 and Tomorrowland. Superhero fanboys will have Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Fantastic Four and Antman to take them up, up and away while action junkies can get their fix with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Mad Max: Fury Road, Masterminds, The Man from UNCLE, Spy, San Andreas and Hitman: Agent 47. Families haven’t been forgotten as there will be animated features and live action family films including Inside Out, Max, Tomorrowland, Minions, and Underdogs.

Summer is a good time to view the stars and this year will be a great year for it as you’ll get a chance to catch George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Keaton, Kristen Wiig, Tom Hardy, Robert Downey Jr., Kevin Costner, Emma Watson, Tom Cruise, Melissa McCarthy, Morgan Freeman, Chris Pratt, Henry Cavill, Paul Rudd, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Reynolds, Sam Rockwell, Billy Bob Thornton, Channing Tatum, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, Ian McKellan, Amy Schumer, Adam Sandler, Chris Evans, Zach Galifianakis, Hugh Jackman, Arnold Schwarzenegger,  Miles Teller, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Michael Douglas, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Stone, Michael Fassbender, Samuel L. Jackson, Simon Pegg, Meryl Streep, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Kevin James, Hugh Grant, Djimon Hounsou, Kevin Kline, Seth MacFarlane, Owen Wilson, Michael B. Jordan, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Piven, Dermot Mulroney, Ethan Hawke, Laura Linney, Evangeline Lilly, Sandra Bullock, Ben Kingsley, Carey Mulligan, Jada PInkett Smith, Scarlett Johansson, J.K. Simmons, Michael Pena, Judy Greer, Josh Gad and Amanda Seyfried.

By all accounts this should be a big summer at the multiplex and the seats are there waiting for you, the popcorn freshly popped and the soda ice cold. Why don’t you find yourself a chair, plop yourself down with your snacks and open your eyes in wonder and let this summer’s blockbusters transport you from the heat of the day to someplace completely fantastic.

MAY

The summer will kick off with a bang as a superhero team reunites to take on a robotic menace, a road warrior returns to Australia’s barren wasteland, California shakes and bakes, a courageous young girl goes to a place where the future is created and a young girl discovers that they’re hee-eeere.

Avengers Age of Ultron

SUMMER STORM

THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

RELEASE DATE: May 1, 2015
STUDIO: Disney/Marvel
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson
STORY: When Tony Stark’s attempts to create a robotic peacekeeping force go awry, a super-intelligent robot called Ultron decides that the only way to keep the peace is to exterminate the human race. Clearly the Avengers will have something to say about that, but the odds are stacked against them as new wild cards with super powers enter the picture.
PROSPECTS: Very likely to be the summer box office champion, Marvel has been unable to do any wrong and there is no reason to suspect that this sequel to their most successful movie to date is going to be any different.
OBSTACLES: Sooner or later Marvel must stumble; will this be that time?
FACTOID: Although many thought that Thanos, who made an appearance at the conclusion of the first Avengers film, would be the villain for the sequel, he is being saved for the two-part Avengers: Infinity War coming out in 2018 and 2019.

SUMMER SIZZLE

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

RELEASE DATE: May 15, 2015
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nicholas Hoult, Riley Keough, Nathan Jones, Hugh Keays-Byrne
STORY: Haunted by a turbulent past, Max has determined the best way for him to survive the apocalypse is alone, but he gets caught up by a group escaping the Citadel with a stolen item so precious it sends the tyrant who runs the Citadel in hot pursuit with an army of maniacs.
PROSPECTS: The buzz on this has been largely positive. Hardy’s star has been growing by leaps and bounds and this could be the role that puts him over-the-top to permanent residence on the A-list.
OBSTACLES: It has been 30 years since the last Mad Max movie; most of today’s main summer audience weren’t alive when the last one was made.
FACTOID: Keays-Byrne also played the villain Toecutter in the original 1979 film Mad Max.

TOMORROWLAND

RELEASE DATE: May 22, 2015
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Britt Robertson, Kathryn Hahn, Hugh Laurie, Pierce Gagnon, Keegan-Michael Key, Lochlyn Munro, Tim McGraw
STORY: A disillusioned once-boy genius grown into bitter middle age and a sparkling-eyed teen bursting with scientific curiosity find their destinies entwined with a mysterious place and time from whence the future of the human race may come – or end.
PROSPECTS: Every movie director Brad Bird has made has been a hit. Clooney has been on a bit of a screen hiatus, so his fans should flock to see his latest.
OBSTACLES: The trailer was in many ways underwhelming and Robertson’s reaction shots were overacted terribly, which doesn’t bode well for a movie in which she is prominently featured.
FACTOID: Shailene Woodley turned down the lead role in order to continue with the latest movie in the Divergent series Insurgent. Robertson eventually won the part.

SAN ANDREAS

RELEASE DATE: May 29, 2015
STUDIO: New Line
STARRING: Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino, Colton Haynes, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Will Yun Lee
STORY: Californians have always known that the big one is inevitable and when the inevitable occurs, a search and rescue pilot  and his estranged wife travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a desperate attempt to rescue their daughter, only to realize that the worst is merely beginning.
PROSPECTS: Johnson is one of Hollywood’s most likable stars and judging on the trailer the effects are going to be absolutely breathtaking.
OBSTACLES: Those who recall the last disaster movie, Into the Storm, may well be a bit more cautious in their appraisal of this films chances.
FACTOID: This is the third time Gugino and Johnson have worked together in a film, the others being Faster and Race to Witch Mountain.

A DIFFERENT SUMMER

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

RELEASE DATE: May 1, 2015
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
STARRING: Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Matthias Schoenaerts, Juno Temple, Tom Sturridge, Jessica Barden, Eloise Oliver, Jamie Lee-Hill
STORY: Based on the classic novel by Thomas Hardy (not the one in Mad Max: Fury Road), a headstrong and independent Victorian woman is courted by three very different men; a poor sheep farmer, a prosperous but older bachelor and a reckless soldier.
PROSPECTS: Director Thomas Vinterberg won all sorts of acclaim with his last project The Hunt; some in the know think this will be a further stepping stone on his way to being one of the top directors in Hollywood.
OBSTACLES: These sorts of period English classic dramas have fallen out of favor of late.
FACTOID: This is the second filmed version of the Hardy novel; the first was made in 1967 and starred Julie Christie and Alan Bates.

SUMMER TIME

May 1, 2015

RIDE (Screen Media) which opens in limited release is the newest film directed by Oscar winner Helen Hunt. In it she plays a helicopter mom whose son has left the nest for college. When she goes to visit him, she is shocked to discover he dropped out of school to become a surfer. She tries to understand what he sees in the sport, only to fall for a surfer bum more her age. Luke Wilson co-stars. WELCOME TO ME (Alchemy) which opened the Florida Film Festival this year. In it Kristen Wiig stars as a woman with mental challenges who wins the lotto and decides to buy herself a talk show whose subject is the same every night – herself.

May 8, 2015

HOT PURSUIT (New Line) stars Reese Witherspoon as a by-the-book Texas Ranger who tries to keep alive the widow of a drug boss whose information might cripple the entire drug trade in the Southwest. MAGGIE (Roadside Attractions) is about a devoted father who can’t protect his vivacious daughter from a zombie infection; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin star in this limited release. SAINT LAURENT (Sony Classics) is a limited release about fashion icon Yves St. Laurent in his most creative period between 1967-1976 in which he dominated the fashion industry.

May 15, 2015

ABSOLUTION (Lionsgate) stars Steven Seagal as a contract killer torn between protecting a young girl on the run from a ruthless human trafficker and loyalty to the government agency that employs him. Opens in limited release. PITCH PERFECT 2 (Universal) is the sequel to the Glee rip-off. Imagine my enthusiasm. SLOW WEST (A24) which opens in limited release stars Michael Fassbender as the proverbial mysterious stranger who acts as protector to a 16-year-old Scottish aristocrat who is searching for the farm girl he fell in love with, a girl also on the run from a ruthless outlaw gang.

May 22, 2015

in limited release, ALOFT (Sony Classics) tells three tales of love, chaos and faith all set in the trackless wasteland of Antarctica. Jennifer Connelly stars. THE FAREWELL PARTY (Goldwyn) is opening in limited release after playing the Florida Film Festival in April and is an Israeli film about a group of elderly Israelis in a nursing home who throw a party for a terminally ill friend whose wife has implored them to help him euthanize him before his suffering grows too great. POLTERGEIST (20th Century Fox/MGM) remakes the classic Stephen Spielberg/Tobe Hooper suburban horror tale with Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris and Rosemarie DeWitt in the lead roles. SUNSHINE SUPERMAN (Magnolia) which opens in limited release is a documentary on Carl Boenish, the creator of base jumping. It also played the Florida Film Festival this year. WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (GKIDS) is the latest from Studio Ghibli and concerns a troubled young girl in a small Japanese town who makes a mysterious friend, only to begin to wonder about her friend’s true nature. Set for limited release, it is the third of three films opening this week that also played the Florida Film Festival.

May 29, 2015

ALOHA (Columbia) stars Bradley Cooper in the latest from Cameron Crowe about a military contractor whose career has imploded, returning to Hawaii where his greatest triumphs for the U.S. Space Program took place. There he works on a satellite system for a billionaire with complicated motives, while falling for both his ex-girlfriend and a Type A Air Force liaison. Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone co-star. SURVIVOR (Alchemy) is a thriller starring Milla Jojovich as a Foreign Service Officer framed for a bombing who must find the real perpetrator who have a much more ambitious and deadly plan ahead. 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 five main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (20th Century Fox) Budget: $200 Million. Domestic Gross: $233.9M Total: $748.1M. Verdict: Hit.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (Columbia) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $202.9M Total: $709.0M Verdict: Hit.
GODZILLA (Warner Brothers) Budget: $160M. Domestic Gross: $200.7M Total: $528.7M Verdict: Hit.
MALEFICENT (Disney) Budget: $180M. Domestic Gross: $241.4M Total: $758.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $43.1M Total: $86.4M. Verdict: Broke Even.
BELLE (Fox Searchlight) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $10.7M Total: $15.5M Verdict: Likely Hit.
NEIGHBORS (Universal) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $150.2M Total: $268.2M Verdict: Blockbuster.
WALK OF SHAME (Focus) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $59,209 Total: $5.6M Verdict: Flop.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM (Disney) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $36.5M Total: $38.3 Verdict: Lost Money.
BLENDED (Warner Brothers) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $46.3M Total: $126.8M Verdict: Hit.
CHEF (Open Road) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $31.4M Total: $46.0M Verdict: Likely Big Hit.
MOM’S NIGHT OUT (Tri-Star) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $10.4M Total: $10.4M Verdict: Broke Even.
IDA (Music Box) Budget: $2.9M. Domestic Gross: $3.8M Total: $10.7M Verdict: Hit.

JUNE

As the summer heats up and the May blockbusters make headlines, June brings in solid support with a return to a franchise begun by Steven Spielberg, a sequel to one of the biggest R-rated comedies in history, the return of Pixar to the summer multiplex and the third chapter in a blockbuster horror series that has frightened audiences worldwide.

Jurassic World

SUMMER STORM

JURASSIC WORLD

RELEASE DATE: June 12, 2015
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Judy Greer, Jake Johnson, Brian Tee, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Irfan Khan, Ty Simpkins
STORY: Despite all the issues that have plagued the dream project of John Hammond, the theme park on Isla Nublar is finally off and running and has become the worldwide hit attraction that he envisioned. However, just as things appear to be under control, an ambitious scientist’s attempts to mess with dino DNA leads to more running…and screaming.
PROSPECTS: Who doesn’t love dinosaurs, and Chris Pratt is one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood these days. One of the most beloved franchises in Hollywood history returning to the big screen? Hell yeah!
OBSTACLES: It has been 14 years since the last Jurassic Park and the buzz on this one has been steady but not scintillating.
FACTOID: The first film in the series not to feature either Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum or Laura Dern in the cast.

SUMMER SIZZLE

INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3

RELEASE DATE: June 5, 2015
STUDIO: Focus
STARRING: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Lin Shaye, Tate Berney, Michael Reid MacKay, Steve Coulter, Hayley Kiyoko
STORY: This prequel set prior to the haunting of the Lambert family centers on the psychic Elise Rainier and how she reluctantly uses her gifts to contact the dead in order to save a teenage girl from a dangerous supernatural entity.
PROSPECTS: This is one of the more popular horror franchises currently in operation.
OBSTACLES: No Patrick Wilson and no James Wan behind the camera will test how loyal the following for this franchise truly is.
FACTOID: Wan, who directed the first two Insidious films, was unavailable to direct this one due to his involvement in Furious 7; instead he appears in a cameo role in front of the camera.

INSIDE OUT

RELEASE DATE: June 19, 2015
STUDIO: Disney*Pixar
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Diane Lane, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, Kyle MacLachlan, Bill Hader, Richard Kind, Lewis Black, Paula Poundstone, Laraine Newman
STORY: The emotions inside an 11-year-old girl’s mind try to help her navigate a move to a new city but things don’t go very smoothly in that regard.
PROSPECTS: After an absence of a year, Pixar returns to movie theaters and that no doubt has parents breathing a sigh of relief after last year’s subpar family film offerings.
OBSTACLES: The first non-sequel in several years for Pixar; does the company still have its creative mojo?
FACTOID: This is the fifteenth feature film to be produced by Pixar.

TED 2

RELEASE DATE: June 26, 2015
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Dennis Haysbert, Jessica Barth, Patrick Warburton
STORY: The magically animated teddy bear (and thunder buddy) takes on a new challenge when he gets married and hopes to have a kid through artificial insemination; however, before he can become a dad, he must first prove that he has a soul.
PROSPECTS: The biggest-grossing R-rated film of all time returns with all the irresponsibility of the first only turned up to eleven.
OBSTACLES: MacFarlane’s last movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West, was a critical and commercial flop and may have hurt the brand name somewhat.
FACTOID: Although Mila Kunis was initially signed to reprise her role as Lori from the first film, she had to step down due to her pregnancy.

ANOTHER SUMMER

LOVE AND MERCY

RELEASE DATE: June 5, 2015
STUDIO: Roadside Attractions
STARRING: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Dee Wallace, Kenny Wormald, Graham Rogers, Joanna Going
STORY: The story of the mercurial genius behind the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson and his struggles not only to create some of the most seminal music of our time but to regain control over his own life.
PROSPECTS: Dano is a dead ringer for the real Brian Wilson; a terrific soundtrack and a compelling story should make this a winner on the art house circuit.
OBSTACLES: Modern audiences may not recognize the significance of the Beach Boys musically.
FACTOID: Wilson cooperated with the production and at the movie’s premiere at SXSW exclaimed that he enjoyed the intimate scenes with Cusack and Banks, reflecting happy times spent between himself and his real-life wife.

SUMMER TIME

June 5, 2015

ENTOURAGE (Warner Brothers) continues the hit HBO comedy series picking up things a few years afterwards. With most of the main cast returning and a plethora of guest stars snarking on Hollywood, should be rather entertaining. SPY (20th Century Fox) is a spoof of spy movies with Melissa McCarthy taking on the role of a CIA analyst turned field agent. Jason Statham and Jude Law co-star.

June 12, 2015

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (Fox Searchlight) which opens in limited release was a huge hit at Sundance; two high school boys trying to navigate the complicated social strata of their school are made to spend time with a new girl in school who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Their relationship with her will forever change their lives.

June 19, 2015

DOPE  (Open Road) is also a Sundance favorite which is set in the urban landscape of South Central Los Angeles during the 90s during the golden age of Hip-Hop as a young teen tries to navigate the complicated social strata of…oh, wait. In INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (Sony Classics), Mark Ruffalo plays a messed up dad in the late 70s trying to win back his estranged wife by taking charge of his spirited daughters. It opens in limited release. THE OVERNIGHT (The Orchard), also opening in limited release, was a Florida Film Festival selection and stars Jason Schwartzman, Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling and Judith Godreche as two couples who meet for a pizza party with their kids but it quickly goes wildly out of control once the kids are in bed. You can read our review here. Finally, THE TRIBE (Drafthouse) is yet another Florida Film Festival selection set in the world of deaf mutes in the Ukraine as a new kid tries to keep from going afoul of a criminal gang in the school. The story is told without dialogue, music, sound effects or subtitles and is told entirely through sign language and visuals. It was a Golden Globe nominee and opens in limited release.

June 26, 2015

Opening in limited release, BIG GAME (Relativity/Europa) teams President Samuel L. Jackson (oh, how lovely that sounds) and a 13-year-old Finnish bowhunter who take on a cartel of kidnappers who crashed Air Force One in the forests of Finland; the two must figure out a way to the American Special Forces team looking for the Commander-in-Chief or in this case, the Asskicker-in-Chief. MAX (Warner Brothers) is the touching story of a bomb-sniffing dog whose handler dies during the Afghanistan conflict; when he proves to be no longer effective in the field he is shipped back stateside to his handler’s family where the younger brother of the dead soldier and the traumatized dog find that they are both much more important to one another than they could have ever imagined. Not that the dog was imagining anything.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (Paramount) Budget: $210 Million. Domestic Gross: $245.4M Total: $1.1 Billion. Verdict: Blockbuster.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (Warner Brothers) Budget: $178M. Domestic Gross: $100.2M Total: $369.2M. Verdict: Made Money.
22 JUMP STREET (MGM/Columbia) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $191.7M Total: $331.3M Verdict: Blockbuster.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (DreamWorks) Budget: $145M. Domestic Gross: $177.0M Total: $618.9M Verdict: Hit.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $12M. Domestic Gross: $124.9M Total: $307.2M Verdict: Blockbuster.
THINK LIKE A MAN TOO (Screen Gems) Budget: $24M. Domestic Gross: $65.2M Total: $70.2M Verdict: Made Money.
JERSEY BOYS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $47.1M Total: $67.4M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE SIGNAL (Focus) Budget: $4M. Domestic Gross: $600,896 Total: $2M Verdict: Flop.
SNOWPIERCER (Radius) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $4.6M Total: $86.8M Verdict: Made Money.
THE ROVER (A24) Budget: $12M. Domestic Gross: $1.1M Total: $2.3M Verdict: Flop.
OBVIOUS CHILD (A24) Budget: $1M. Domestic Gross: $3.1M Total: $3.1M Verdict: Hit.

JULY

After a reasonably quiet July last year, this year it returns to being a highly competitive month with the final film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase II (with Phase III set to start next year), a spin-off film to one of the most popular non-Disney animated features of recent years, the reboot to one of the most popular sci-fi franchises of all time, an invasion of earth – by video game characters, a return to the world of male strippers and a new installment to a popular franchise based on a legendary television series.

Ant Man

SUMMER STORM

ANT-MAN

RELEASE DATE: July 17, 2015
STUDIO: Disney/Marvel
STARRING: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Hayley Atwell, Corey Stoll, Judy Greer, John Slattery, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, T.I.
STORY: A thief is given a second chance to be a hero by a scientist who has invented an amazing suit that allows him to shrink in size and increase in strength. The new hero with the lame name is going to need every bit of it as he must pull off a heist that might just save the world.
PROSPECTS: Hello, it’s Marvel. Cinematic Phase II comes to an end with this film, leading the way into Phase III and Civil War come 2016. While this is unlikely to match Avengers: Age of Ultron in box office numbers, it should still dominate July.
OBSTACLES: Coming out only six weeks after Avengers may be a bit too soon for the movie, resulting in Marvel overload. There may also be some backlash after Edgar Wright, a huge fan favorite, exited the project citing creative differences after having spent years developing it.
FACTOID: Director Peyton Reed was considered for Fantastic Four and Guardians of the Galaxy before getting the nod for this film after Wright departed.

SUMMER SIZZLE

TERMINATOR: GENISYS

RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2015
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, J.K. Simmons, Matt Smith, Jason Clarke, Byung-hun Lee, Sandrine Holt, Courtney B. Vance
STORY: Human resistance leader John Conner sends soldier Kyle Reese into the past to save his mother Sarah from an android sent to kill her. To the soldier’s surprise, she’s already been saved – by a Terminator. With the future changed, the past is completely up for grabs as Sarah and Reese fight the most insidious foe the machines could have possibly sent back.
PROSPECTS: Schwarzenegger returns in his most beloved role while the franchise undergoes a complete reboot. With Game of Thrones’ vixen Clarke in a performance that would make Linda Hamilton gush, the series seems poised to return to greatness.
OBSTACLES: The last two Terminator films did decent box office business but got little love from the fans. They might not be willing to be burned a third time. It also looks like a major plot twist has been spoiled by the latest trailer.
FACTOID: Sarah Conner was played in the TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles by Lena Headey who co-stars with Clarke in Game of Thrones.

MAGIC MIKE XXL

RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2015
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Channing Tatum, Amber Heard, Elizabeth Banks, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Jada Pinkett Smith, Donald Glover, Andie MacDowell, Kevin Nash
STORY: Three years after retiring from stripping for a living, so too are Mike’s former troupe the Kings of Tampa. Wanting to go out with a bang with one final show in Myrtle Beach, the gang take a road trip with Mike headlining the show for one last time.
PROSPECTS: The ladies never tire of watching Tatum put on his moves.
OBSTACLES: Matthew McConaughey has moved on and so might some of the audience.
FACTOID: Filming took place on the Warner Brothers lot where the Ellen DeGeneres Show also shots. Actor Stephen Boss was waxed up on the DeGeneres show live immediately before going to film his scenes in the neighboring sound stage.

MINIONS

RELEASE DATE: July 10, 2015
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Katy Mixon, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Laraine Newman, Hiroyuki Sanada
STORY: A species of servants to evil masters is lost and depressed without an evil master to serve; three intrepid Minions head to New York in the 1960s to find Scarlet Overkill, the world’s first female evil mastermind. But the Minions may have found a master so evil that she is willing to destroy every last Minion – but the Minions have a trick or two of their own up their sleeves. Er, do they have sleeves though?
PROSPECTS: The Despicable Me franchise has been a license to print money for Universal and this spin-off is likely to bring more of the green stuff to their coffers. The Minions are hugely popular with kids.
OBSTACLES: Spin-offs from animated features starring the loveable supporting cast have tended to be less successful.
FACTOID: This will be the first time in her career in which Bullock has portrayed a villain.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

RELEASE DATE: July 31, 2015
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, America Olivo, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney
STORY: The IMF takes on an organization that is their mirror image; highly trained, skilled in the deadly arts and completely focused on the destruction of the IMF.
PROSPECTS: All four of the movies in the franchise have been monster hits; there’s no reason to believe that this one won’t join them.
OBSTACLES: It’s a very crowded release calendar at this time of the year and the movie might just get lost in the shuffle.
FACTOID: Will be the third of five espionage films to be released in 2015, including Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Spectre.

A DIFFERENT SUMMER

HOLMES

RELEASE DATE: July 17, 2015
STUDIO: Miramax
STARRING: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Milo Parker, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Nicholas Rowe
STORY: Sherlock Holmes, now 96 and retired, revisits the unsolved case that led him to hang up his deerstalker hat and leave London for the country, aided by his housekeeper and her son.
PROSPECTS: The buzz is that McKellan is marvelous in this. A terrific concept.
OBSTACLES: Holmes fans are sniffing that this goes outside of canon.
FACTOID: Rowe played Holmes at the beginning of his career in Young Sherlock Holmes while this film depicts Holmes at the end of his career.

SUMMER TIME

July 1, 2015

JIMMY’S HALL (Sony Classics) is the newest from legendary director Ken Loach and is concerned with an Irish dance hall opened in the 1920s in a rural town. The owner leaves Ireland after the church and local politicians put pressure on him to close the hall. He returns a decade later, determined to lead a quiet life but the town, in the grip of the Depression, needs the dance hall more than ever. Opening in limited release.

July 10, 2015

In THE GALLOWS (New Line) a high school drama company resurrects a production that 20 years earlier had resulted in the accidental death of one of the student actors; they discover that some things are better left alone. SELF/LESS (Focus) is the latest from imaginative director Tarsem Singh in which an extremely wealthy man dying of cancer undergoes a procedure to transfer his consciousness into a much younger man’s healthy body only to discover that the situation is not what he thought it was. Ryan Reynolds and Ben Kingsley star.

July 17, 2015

Opening in limited release, BOULEVARD (Starz Digital) is the final dramatic film of Robin Williams in which he plays a bank manager trapped in a loveless marriage and passionless life who finds the only hope for joy kindled when a troubled young man comes into his life. THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Drafthouse) is Josh Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing which was my number one movie a couple of years ago and concerns a family which survived the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66 confronting one of the participants in it. It also opens in limited release. TRAINWRECK (Universal) is the latest from Judd Apatow in which a young woman revels in her sexual freedom but makes a lot of choices to retain it, sabotaging any potential relationships. When she finds someone that she might actually want to see more than once, she doesn’t know what to do. Amy Schumer stars.

July 24, 2015

PAPER TOWN (20th Century Fox) comes from the author of The Fault in Our Stars. A young man follows cryptic clues left behind by a mysterious girl who disappeared and with whom he’s fallen in love.  PIXELS (Columbia) stars Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, Kevin James and Josh Gad as veteran arcade champions who are called to save the Earth when it is invaded by aliens who use video game characters from the 80s as weapons. In SOUTHPAW (Weinstein) a champion boxer is thrown into a downward spiral when a tragic accident leaves him a broken shell of what he was. A last opportunity at glory is literally at hand and all that stands between him and rock bottom. Jake Gyllenhaal stars in what is sure to be another Oscar-worthy role for him. THE VATICAN TAPES (Lionsgate) is a found footage film that takes us behind the scenes of the Vatican’s mythic exorcism team as they take on the Devil himself.

July 31, 2015

THE BRONZE (Relativity) comes from Sundance and tells us the tale of a bitter former Olympic Bronze medalist in gymnastics who rules her small town but is badly threatened by a talented prospect who may eclipse her own accomplishments. In THE END OF THE TOUR (A24) a writer for Rolling Stone travels with a gifted but eccentric author on the last week of his book tour. Based on a true story, the film opens in limited release. THE GIFT (STX/Universal) is the directing debut of actor Joel Edgerton in which a couple’s life and relationship is threatened when an old acquaintance of the husband unexpectedly arrives with mysterious gifts and a terrifying secret from his past. Jason Bateman stars. VACATION (New Line) reboots the popular National Lampoon movie series in which Rusty Griswold, now a grown man with a family of his own, takes them on a trip to America’s favorite family fun park Wally World with his dad riding shotgun. Of course, nothing goes completely as expected…

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox) Budget: $170M. Domestic Gross: $208.6M Total: $708.8M. Verdict: Big Hit.
TAMMY (New Line) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $84.5M Total: $100.4M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE PURGE: ANARCHY (Universal) Budget: $9M. Domestic Gross: $72.0M Total: $110.6M Verdict: Big Hit,
WISH I WAS HERE (Focus) Budget: $6M. Domestic Gross: $3.6M Total: $5.5M Verdict: Flop.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL (Screen Gems) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $30.6M Total: $87.9M Verdict: Made Money.
HERCULES (Paramount/MGM) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $72.7M Total: $243.4M Verdict: Made Money.
SEX TAPE (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $38.5M Total: $126.1M Verdict: Hit.
PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE (Disney) Budget: $50M Domestic Gross: $59.2M Total: $151.2M Verdict: Hit.
EARTH TO ECHO (Relativity) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $38.9M Total: $45.3M Verdict: Hit.
STEP UP ALL IN (Summit) Budget: $45M. Domestic Gross: $14.9M Total: $86.2M Verdict: Lost Money.
THE FLUFFY MOVIE (Open Road) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $2.8M Total: $2.8M Verdict: Probably Broke Even
BEGIN AGAIN (Weinstein) Budget: $8M. Domestic Gross: $16.2M. Total: $63.5M Verdict: Big Hit.

AUGUST

Last year the traditional box office pattern was broken as a Marvel movie dominated the last month of the summer and into the fall. This year, another Marvel movie hopes to do the same, while a 1960s era TV espionage series hopes to get the impossible success of another TV spy series from the same era. In addition, there are animated features about Foosball players and sheep, a second entry in a franchise based on a hit computer game, a biopic about a seminal rap group and the sequel to the most successful foreign language film ever.

Fantastic Four

SUMMER STORM

FANTASTIC FOUR

RELEASE DATE: August 7, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Miles Teller, Katie Mara, Toby Kebbell, Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Chet Hanks
STORY: Four young scientists, outsiders in the scientific community, build an inter-dimensional teleportation machine and manage to teleport themselves…elsewhere. When they return home however their physical forms have been altered in fundamental ways. Uniting as a team of heroes, they find themselves opposed by a former friend – and fighting a foe who comes from the depths of our own world as well.
PROSPECTS: The first two Fantastic Four movies met with disdain from the fan community; this reboot looks a lot more serious. Josh Trank previously did a take on superpowers called Chronicle that met with a great deal of audience acclaim.
OBSTACLES: Fantastic Four is a hero team that has never translated well to the silver screen. Trank is being met with some resistance from the fan community due to some changes from comic book canon.
FACTOID: The uniforms that the Fantastic Four wear are based on containment suits.

SUMMER SIZZLE

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

RELEASE DATE: August 14, 2015
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Hugh Grant, Alicia Vikander, Jared Harris, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Gabriel Farnese
STORY: Set at the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s, a shadowy criminal organization threatens the stability of peace; CIA Agent Napoleon Solo and KGB Agent Ilya Kuryakin are recruited for a new multinational operation that is set up to combat threats such as these.
PROSPECTS: Spy movies are making a comeback with the success of the James Bond and Mission: Impossible franchises. This is the fourth of five spy movies to be released in 2015.
OBSTACLES: Spy movies may be oversaturated. The audience that remembers the television show that this was based on is much older than studios tend to chase after; also most of the bulk of the modern moviegoing audience are too young to remember the Cold War.
FACTOID: Tom Cruise was originally cast to be Napoleon Solo but dropped out to film Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

SINISTER 2

RELEASE DATE: August 21, 2015
STUDIO: Focus
STARRING: Shannyn Sossamon, James Ransone, Nicholas King, Tate Ellington, Nicole Santini, Caden M. Fritz, Lucas Jade Zumann, Delphine Pontvieux
STORY: A new family with an over-protective mother of twins moves into a rural home marked for the next victims of the demon Bughuul if he can’t be stopped.
PROSPECTS: A low budget will make profitability come quickly for this movie if they can get any kind of audience.
OBSTACLES: Didn’t have the buzz nor the success of other recent horror franchises.
FACTOID: The demon and the detective that investigated the events of the first movie are the only characters to return from it.

HITMAN: AGENT 47

RELEASE DATE: August 28, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
STARRING: Rupert Friend, Zachary Quinto, Thomas Kretschmann, Ciaran Hinds, Hannah Ware, Dan Bakkedahl, Emilio Rivera, Michaela Caspar
STORY: A biologically engineered super-agent goes up against a corporation bent on creating an army of Agents. With the daughter of the scientist that created him, Agent 47 will confront the truth of his own past and square off in a battle against his deadliest adversary.
PROSPECTS: Will be summer’s last gasp and if it gets even decent word of mouth should be able to hang on well into September and maybe even October.
OBSTACLES: The first Hitman movie met with a lukewarm reception here and did fairly well in Europe. Friend is an unknown quantity as a lead.
FACTOID: Paul Walker was set to play the title role before his untimely death.

A DIFFERENT SUMMER

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON 2: THE GREEN LEGEND

RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2014
STUDIO: Weinstein
STARRING: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Eugenia Yuan, Harry Shum Jr., Chris Pang, Shuya Chang, Andrew Stehlin, Roger Yuan
STORY: A grieving warrior sets out to seek a legendary sword in ancient China.
PROSPECTS: The original movie is the all-time leading box office winner for foreign language films in the United States.
OBSTACLES: It’s been 15 years since the first movie. Also, Weinstein is engaging in an unusual release format in that it’s only theatrical release will be on IMAX screens and it will be released simultaneously for streaming on Netflix which may seriously undercut its box office chances; at least two major theatrical chains have already refused to play the movie because of its Netflix release.
FACTOID: This is the first movie to have a simultaneous theatrical release and a Netflix release.

SUMMER HEAT

August 7, 2015

MASTERMINDS (Relativity) is the true story of a heist that should never have worked but did and the aftermath which took criminal bumbling to a new level. Owen Wilson stars. THE PROPHET  (GKIDS), opening in wide release, is an animated version of the beloved Khalil Gibran poem, with different directors handling each chapter and The Lion King‘s Roger Allers doing the connective narrative. In RICKI AND THE FLASH (TriStar) Meryl Streep stars as a woman who gave up everything to be a rock goddess. Now returning home to connect with her family, she finds that it’s not an easy task to win back the trust of those she turned her back on; Diablo Cody wrote this by the way. SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (Lionsgate/Aardman) is the feature length debut of one of Aardman’s iconic characters.

August 14, 2015

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (Universal) is the musical biography of NWA, one of hip-hop’s most essential and decorated groups of all time. UNDERDOGS (Weinstein) finds the foosball players come to life from a table owned by a would-be hero. He will need their help in order to save his town from an old rival and win back the woman he loves.

August  21, 2015

BEFORE WE GO (Radius) stars Chris Evans and Alice Eve as two strangers stuck in New York for the night who embark on an unexpected adventure that will bring them together. Evans directed this limited release. In CRIMINAL (Summit) the memories of a dead CIA agent are implanted in an unpredictable Death Row inmate in a desperate attempt to forestall a catastrophe. Ryan Reynolds stars. LEARNING TO DRIVE (Broad Green) is about a woman who after being left by her husband decides to get self-sufficient and learn to drive a car. Her driving instructor however turns out to teach her a lot more than just driving – as she teaches him a few things as well. ME BEFORE YOU (MGM) is based on a best-selling novel in which a simple small town girl ends up being the caretaker for a billionaire who has become paralyzed. Opening in limited release, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY (Clarius) is about a major Broadway producer who falls in love with a spunky ingénue which is not happy news for his wife who is also an actress.

August 28, 2015

REGRESSION (Dimension) is based on the true story of a young woman who accused her father of  an unspeakable crime – and he quickly confessed to it but upon further investigation the truth proves to be more twisted than at first thought. WAR ROOM (TriStar) examines the role of prayer on a single American family.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Disney/Marvel) Budget: $170M. Domestic Gross: $333.2M Total: $774.2M Verdict: Blockbuster.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (Paramount) Budget: $125M. Domestic Gross: $191.2M Total: $485.0M Verdict: Hit.
EXPENDABLES 3 (Lionsgate) Budget: $90M. Domestic Gross: $39.3M Total: $206.2M Verdict: Made Money.
INTO THE STORM (New Line) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $47.6M Total: $160.6M Verdict: Hit.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (Dimension) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $13.8M Total: $39.4M Verdict: Flop.
ONE CHANCE (Weinstein) Budget: $12M. Domestic Gross: $101,196 Total: $10.9M Verdict: Flop.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (Touchstone) Budget: $22M. Domestic Gross: $54.2M Total: $88.9M Verdict: Big Hit.
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL (TriStar) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $30.1M Total: $30.1M Verdict: Broke Even.
THE GIVER (Weinstein) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $45.1M Total: $67.0M Verdict: Made Money.
LET’S BE COPS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $17M. Domestic Gross: $82.4M Total:$137.6M Verdict: Big Hit.
NOVEMBER MAN (Relativity) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $25.0M Total: $32.6M Verdict: Broke Even.
IF I STAY (Warner Brothers) Budget: $11M. Domestic Gross: $50.5M Total: $78.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (Universal) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $21.3M Total: $40.2M Verdict: Big Hit.
LIFE AFTER BETH (A24) Budget: $2.4M. Domestic Gross: $88,273 Total: $246,804 Verdict: Flop.
LUCY (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $126.7M Total: $458.9M Verdict: Blockbuster.

So there it is, all wrapped up in a shiny bow just for you. The summer blockbuster season kicks off on Friday and from here on out it’ll be something to look forward to just about every week. Now, while I’m sure you’re already planning your moviegoing schedule for the summer, please do keep in mind as always that NO schedule is set in stone and that studios are wont to move movies to new dates without notice, particularly the farther out they are. There will be a good number of movies in this preview that will be bumped out to the fall or further and some may be removed from the schedule completely without explanation. Chances are within a week of this being posted there will already have been some changes. However, that shouldn’t stop you from making plans to see some or even many of the big summer flicks. After all, part of the ritual of summer is an air-conditioned multiplex, a big summer movie and a big tub of buttery popcorn with an ice-cold soda to wash it down with. You can get further details on films with our weekly previews and our monthly Pick of the Litter series and of course Cinema365 will be out on the front lines bringing you reviews of as many of these as we can get to. And it doesn’t end there – at the end of August look for our Fall/Holiday preview as we get set to take a look at the movies to see in the last four months of the year, which will include the very anticipated return of the Star Wars saga as J.J. Abrams presents the sequels to the original trilogy, a new James Bond film, the final installment in The Hunger Games saga, the long-awaited Guillermo del Toro horror epic Crimson Peak and much, much more. Until then, we’ll be looking for you at the multiplex!