New Releases for the Week of September 21, 2018


THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS

(Universal) Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle McLaughlin, Colleen Camp, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Lorenza Izzo. Directed by Eli Roth

Horror auteur Roth goes the Spielberg route with this young adult book-adaption.  A young orphan goes to live with his eccentric uncle who lives in a creepy old house in a sleepy old town. When the orphan accidentally wakes the dead, he, his uncle (who turns out to be a warlock) and a kindly neighbor (who is also a witch) race to stop a clock hidden inside the house from counting down to zero which will bring about the end of everything

See the trailer and trailer commentary here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, D-Box, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language)

Assassination Nation

(Neon) Suki Waterhouse, Anika Noni Rose, Joel McHale, Bill Skarsgård. A quartet of high school girls and BFFs in a small town live like most girls their age do – through social media, texts, selfies and gossip. When an anonymous hacker starts posting intimate details of the lives of people in their town, things start to go more than a little crazy and soon there’s a 50-50 chance the girls will live through the night but what nobody gets is these aren’t girls you want to mess with.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol abuse – all involving teens)

Bad Reputation

(Magnolia) Joan Jett, Michael J. Fox, Deborah Harry, Kenny Laguna. Ever since founding the Runaways, Joan Jett has been an inspiration for women rockers everywhere. Over the years she has managed to become a feminist icon as well. This is the story of a woman who decided to play by her own rules.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Wednesday only)

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

Fahrenheit 11/9

(Briarcliff) Michael Moore, David Hogg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Trump. Gadfly and agent provocateur Moore is back and once again looking at our society and asking the tough questions. How did we elect someone who plainly is not fit for the job and how do we get out of the situation we’re in?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing material/images)

Life Itself

(Amazon) Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening, Mandy Patinkin. When a young couple get pregnant, the reverberations sent by the happy event go through their extended family and across the country.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use)

Lizzie

(Saban/Roadside Attractions) Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Kim Dickens, Jamie Sheridan. This is an unusual take on the Lizzie Borden mystery which more than a century later remains unsolved.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Mystery
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some language)

Love, Gilda

(Magnolia) Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder, Melissa McCarthy, Chevy Chase. Radner was one of the stars of the original Saturday Night Live and her characters continue to live on in popular culture more than 40 years later. She remains a major influence on comics – especially those of the fairer sex – to this day.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

American Dresser
Batti Gul Meter Chalu
Beyond the Sky
The Cakemaker
The Children Act
Little Italy
Miss Granny
Nannu Dochukunduvate
Saamy Square

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Batti Gul Meter Chalu
Bel Canto
Bye Bye Brazil
The Children Act
I Think We’re Alone Now
Mandy
Nannu Dochukunduvate
Pick of the Litter
Saamy Square
The Song of Sway Lake

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

American Dresser
The Children Act
Little Italy
Nannu Dochukunduvate
The Pagan King
Saamy Square

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Custody
Miss Granny
Nannu Dochukunduvate
Saamy Square

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

American Dresser
Assassination Nation
Bad Reputation
Bel Canto
The Cakemaker
Fahrenheit 11/9
The House With a Clock In Its Walls
Life Itself
Love, Gilda

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Top 10 of 2014


Top 10 of 2014For most of the year, I asserted that this was kind of a down year for movies in terms of quality and to a lesser degree, of box office as well. Although there have been some really good movies that would be contenders for the best movie of the year in any year, I still think that overall there were fewer movies that had the slam dunk quality overall of years past.

Still, the movies on this top 10 list were all of very high quality and you won’t go wrong in watching any of them. I was pleased to see that there were a number of indie movies that really stepped up the game; in fact, I think it’s a safe bet to call this the Year of the Indie. While some of these are indies in name only, distributed by major studios who have developed distribution arm for foreign films and smaller scale American films produced outside of the studios (i.e. Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics and Paramount Vantage), plenty are true indies with no financing or distribution from a major.

We continue to see a migration of traditional distribution in which movies received a theatrical release, followed about six months later by a home video release and ending up with a premium cable release about a year after the initial theatrical release. That is no longer the case as people are more and more watching films at home rather than in theaters. Some of the major indie distributors like Magnolia and IFC are releasing their films in On-Demand format concurrently with their theatrical release (and often ahead of it) which makes good fiscal sense for them. Mid-majors like Weinstein and Lionsgate have begun to follow suit. Universal even decided to release the acclaimed Joe Carnahan film Stretch into on-demand without a theatrical release which is a bit disturbing but sensible as well. We might see marginal studio films going that route more often in the future.

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 information given should be self-explanatory. This year we’re also adding the top 10 films’ Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores as of the date I write the blurbs.

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 Grand Budapest Hotel, The Wind Rises, The Babadook, Before I Disappear, Ida, The Trip to Italy, Doomsdays, Tim’s Vermeer, Copenhagen, Chef, Bad Words, The Final Member, The Zero Theorem, The Devil’s Knot, The Railway Man, Cold in July, Blue Ruin, The Fluffy Movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Interstellar, The Boxtrolls, The Good Lie, Birdman, Foxchaser, Wild, Slingshot, Ernest and Celestine, The Lunchbox, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The LEGO Movie, Locke, Force Majeure, Life Itself.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier10. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Toby Jones, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Released April 3, 2014 Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America fresh from saving New York City from an alien invasion is an integral part of SHIELD, protecting the world and particularly the United States, from threats too powerful for local law enforcement to handle. But something is attacking SHIELD from within and Rogers, who knows nobody from this era after having been frozen in the Arctic for nearly half a century, doesn’t know who to trust or what to believe. He’s a black and white kind of guy in a shades of grey world.
WHY IT IS HERE: Hearkens back to the political thrillers of the 1970s coupled with a modern special effects-laden action film. Was the box office champion for much of 2014 until a Marvel mate came to take the crown from Cap. But more importantly, people began to see that Marvel movies could be a lot more than superhero films.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Cap takes out an elevator full of would-be assassins.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $259.8 million domestic, $714.1M total (as of 1/13/15).
BUDGET: $170 million
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon. Stream on Vudu/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray on Netflix.

Whiplash9. WHIPLASH

(Sony Classics) Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, Suanne Spoke, Max Kasch, Charlie Ian, Jayson Blair, Kofi Siriboe, Kavita Patil. Directed by Damien Chazelle

Released October 10, 2014 A driven young jazz drummer attending a prestigious music conservatory in New York City yearns to be the best, and in order to do that will have to make sacrifices. Taken under the wing of a stern taskmaster of an instructor, the two strong wills meet head on as Chazelle asks us to consider at what point the price of greatness becomes too dear.
WHY IT IS HERE: Newcomer Chazelle has delivered a taut, engaging movie in which two performances take front and center. Teller proves that he can be a compelling lead actor, while veteran character actor Simmons delivers the performance of his career for which he has already won a Golden Globe and is the odds-on favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar next month.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Andrew’s drum solo in a situation in which he had been set up to fail, yet ends up triumphing despite the adversity.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 88/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.2 million domestic, $7.1M total (as of 1/13/15),.
BUDGET: $3.3 million
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 24. Digital download pre-order available on Vudu.

Gone Girl8. GONE GIRL

(20th Century Fox) Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon, Lisa Barnes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Casey Wilson, Lola Kirke, Boyd Holbrook, Sela Ward. Directed by David Fincher

Released October 2, 2014 When his wife disappears, Nick Dunne fears the worst – maybe she’s been kidnapped or possibly, given the blood at the scene of the crime – murdered. But when signs point to Nick being the killer, suddenly the sympathy he’d been receiving turns to something else. Almost nobody believes him. However, even Nick doesn’t suspect what’s going on and who’s behind it.
WHY IT IS HERE: One of the big box office hits of 2014 took a lot of people by surprise. Fox did a masterful job of marketing the film without revealing its twists and turns. Fincher directs it masterfully, making sure that everything that happens onscreen has a reason for it. Pike got a Golden Globe nomination for her star-making performance and may well net an Oscar nom as well.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: I can’t reveal too much about the scene without spoiling the surprises but let’s just call it “NPH gets lucky…or does he?”
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $167.2 million domestic (as of 1/14/15), $365.4M total.
BUDGET: $61 million
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Vudu/iTunes/Target Ticket.

The Imitation Game7. THE IMITATION GAME

(Weinstein) Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Alan Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Ilan Goodman, Jack Tarlton. Directed by Morten Tyldum

Released November 28, 2014 The story of Alan Turing wasn’t a particularly happy one. A brilliant mathematician with a lifelong passion for cyphers, he was enlisted by the British Army during the Second World War to crack what was then thought to be an unbreakable code – Enigma. The Germans used it for all their communication and the Allies were losing the war largely because of it. The socially awkward Alan has a secret of his own – and that secret might just lose the war for the Allies altogether.
WHY IT IS HERE: Well-acted throughout, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Cumberbatch in the lead role, with Knightley giving some fine support. The movie is told as something of a wartime thriller, but it’s so much more. The agonizing decisions that Turing had to make in order to make his machine work and then on keeping their progress hidden from the Germans is truly heart-wrenching.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: An a-ha moment that leads to a breakthrough.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $41.0 million domestic (as of 1/14/15), $81.9M total..
BUDGET: $14 million.
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Mission Congo6. MISSION CONGO

(C-Colony) Pat Robertson, Robert Hinkle, Jessie Pott. Directed by David Turner and Laura Zizic

Released April 5, 2014 A compelling documentary that looks at televangelist Pat Robertson and his humanitarian aid program Operation Blessing. Ostensibly sending medical supplies and personnel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire) to help aid the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Rwanda which was then in the throes of a civil war and genocide, the filmmakers contend that Robertson’s prime focus was mining diamonds and not saving lives.
WHY IT IS HERE: While decidedly one-sided (Robertson was invited to be interviewed but declined – he’s steadfastly denied the charges) the evidence is presented in an organized and thoughtful manner. Using tax returns, archival footage and eyewitness accounts, the filmmakers put together a pretty damning case against the preacher.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The footage showing the real places supposedly helped by Operation Blessing and how the reality differs greatly from how Operation Blessing portrays things.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: No information available.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Not available. May still be playing the festival circuit.

The Kill Team5. THE KILL TEAM

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Adam Winfield, Jeremy Morlock, Justin Stoner, Andrew Holmes, Chris Winfield, Emma Winfield, Eric Montalvo. Directed by Dan Krauss

Released April 6, 2014 Some may remember a few years back a squadron of soldiers that was brought up on charges of unjustifiably murdering Afghan civilians and keeping human remains as souvenirs of their misdeeds. This is a documentary about the men in that squadron, how they were hung out to dry by the Army who denied the atrocities that they were later to have proven that they committed had actually happened.
WHY IT IS HERE: A very gripping look at one of the less savory incidents of the war. We focus mainly on Winfield, who tried to blow the whistle on what was happening but instead ended up in prison. This illustrates how officers are treated differently than enlisted men, how CYA is a military code in and of itself and how innocents get caught in the middle. The very best documentary of 2014, a year in which great documentaries were the norm and a Florida Film Festival favorite.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The aftermath of the sentencing of Adam Winfield.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $18,983 domestic (as of 1/16/14), $18,983 worldwide.
BUDGET: Not available
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon. Rent DVD from Netflix. Stream from iTunes/Vudu/Amazon.

Guardians of the Galaxy4, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker, Benicio del Toro, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin. Directed by James Gunn

Released August 1, 2014 A group of misfits, criminals and genetic mistakes are all that stands between the universe and a power-mad fanatic who has hold of one of the most powerful artifacts in reality. Led by the displaced human Peter Quill – who prefers to be called Star Lord – the beautiful and deadly assassin Gamora, the sentient tree Groot, the genetically enhanced Rocket Raccoon and the vengeful strong man Drax the Destroyer, these five will stand against Ronan the Accuser and the machinations of the evil Thanos – and the Infinity Gem.
WHY IT IS HERE: Spectacle, action, comedy, pathos – this film has it all. The box office champion of 2014 (although that will have likely changed by the time this is published, or at least shortly thereafter), this proves that Marvel can take some of their most obscure properties and make huge box office hits out of them. Some have said this will end up being the Star Wars for this generation. Okay, well, that was me that said it. In any case, Da Queen would kill me if this didn’t at least make my Top 5.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: One of the Guardians mourns a fallen comrade.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $333.2 million domestic (as of 1/20/15), $772.8 million total.
BUDGET: $170 million.
STATUS: Available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket.

Her3, HER

(Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Kristen Wiig (voice), Bill Hader (voice). Directed by Spike Jonze

Released January 10, 2014 In the near future, we rely on computers more than ever and it takes a powerful operating system to keep up with demand. When a new OS with the capacity for learning debuts, it hits some people like a ton of bricks. For Theodore Twombly is in love – with his operating system.
WHY IT IS HERE: Although it came out for an Oscar qualifying run in December 2013, most of the country didn’t get to see it until January. Shaply funny in places with a wit and an eye for our modern social media obsessed culture. This would have ended up on last year’s even harder to crack top 10 if we’d had the opportunity to see it in December.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Theo and Samantha have a steamy bedtime conversation.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $25.6 million domestic (as of 1/20/15), $47.4 million total.
BUDGET: $23 million.
STATUS: Available on home video and on HBO. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Flixster/Vudu. Stream from iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix.

The Double2. THE DOUBLE

(Magnolia) Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, James Fox, Cathy Moriarty, J. Mascis. Directed by Richard Ayoade

Released May 9, 2014 Simon is a mousy but hard-working office drone has an existence of invisibility; people forget that he’s worked there for seven years and the girl of his dreams won’t even give him a second glance. All that changes when James starts working in the office. James is everything that  Simon is not – self-confident, charismatic and irresistible to women. However, James is also everything that Simon is – an exact physical double. And, to Simon’s despair, he is taking over Simon’s life.
WHY IT IS HERE: Yeah, I know that the retro-futurist look is nothing new but few movies take advantage of it as well as this one, and none since Brazil in an office environment. Eisenberg delivers the kind of performance that serves notice that he’s not a nebbish-y kid anymore. This was the best narrative film from this year’s Florida Film Festival and my favorite overall.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Some cops talk to Simon about the chances he’ll commit suicide.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $200,406 (as of 1/21/15), $1.7 million total.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Available on home video. Download on Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Stream on Netflix/Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Target Ticket. Rent Blu-Ray/DVD on Netflix.

Boyhood1. BOYHOOD

(IFC) Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Steven Prince, Bonnie Cross, Marco Perella, Libby Villari. Directed by Richard Linklater

Released July 11, 2014 We capture the life of a young boy growing into a young man over a 12-year period. Young Mason, his single mom, his sister Samantha and his dad cope with the vagaries of being a divorced family, through abusive stepdads, periods of acting out, attempts to find himself as he goes through high school and prepares for college. Filmed over a period of 12 years with the same cast and much of the same crew makes the aging process natural and believable.
WHY IT IS HERE: If Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were still alive, I believe they’d both likely vote this the film of the decade or at least one of them. This is the ultimate slice of life film and Linklater deserves all the accolades he’s received for this movie. There are no mysteries, no explosions, no contrived romances – but nonetheless this movie pulls you in and affects you deeply, thanks to some wonderful performances and Coltrane’s natural abilities. Sometimes the universe lines up in such a way that everything works the way you hope it would – this is one such instance.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: There are several but there’s a conversation between Mason and his dad at a graduation party which is priceless.
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 100/100.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $24.6 million domestic (as of 1/21/15), $43.8M total.
BUDGET: $4 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Flixster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Vudu/Flixster.

Life Itself


Two big thumbs up,

Two big thumbs up,

(2014) Documentary (Magnolia) Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Gene Siskel, A.O. Scott, Richard Corliss, Martin Scorsese, William Nack, Werner Herzog, Stephen Stanton (voice), Errol Morris, Gregory Nava, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Rick Kogan, Marlene Siskel, Thea Flaum, Bruce Elliot, Steve James. Directed by Steve James

It has to be said that for most film critics, it is difficult to be completely impartial when reviewing a documentary about Roger Ebert. His influence on modern film criticism is enormous both directly and indirectly and while he may not have the intellectual cachet of a Pauline Kael (a critic Ebert himself admired tremendously) he certainly was the most populist film critic of his day.

Steve James, whose documentary Hoop Dreams was championed early on by Ebert and his Sneak Previews/At the Movies partner Gene Siskel, originally was tasked with filming a documentary about the film critic’s battle against cancer as a means of telling his story as laid out in his memoirs Life Itself, a book given to me as a Christmas gift in 2012. As it turned out, we would see Ebert facing the final days of his life and we are given almost intimate access – the suctioning out of his throat, the painful physical therapy recovering from a broken hip, seeing how he managed to keep his sense of humor despite losing most of his lower jaw and his voice to thyroid cancer.

James, at Ebert’s insistence, leaves no wart unseen. We hear about Ebert’s womanizing as a younger man, his alcoholism and his occasional control freak-ness. Marlene Siskel, wife of his close friend and rival, recounts how he once stole a cab from her on a rainy night while she was very pregnant.

But we also get a glimpse at his love affair with his wife Chaz, her amazing strength and support even when he is petulant and mulish, and how he adored her family. I do have a bit of a quibble here – James identifies her granddaughter as Roger’s “step-granddaughter” and while the term may be essentially accurate, I get the sense that neither Roger nor any child of Chaz’s previous marriage thinks of their relationship as step-anything. My own son is not my biological child but a product of my wife’s first marriage which ended before he was born. He has never known another father and neither one of us thinks of each other as anything but father and son. I suppose these times may require a redefinition of the term, but I digress.

We get a sense of Ebert’s importance to the art of film criticism through testimony by Richard Corliss (who once wrote that the thumbs up/thumbs down criticism of Siskel and Ebert “dumbed down” film criticism overall), Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and New York Times critic A. O. Scott. We also get a sense of his importance within Chicago through the recollections of his friends writer William Nack, columnist Rick Kogan and tavern owner Bruce Elliot.

It can be said (as RogerEbert.com editor-in-chief Matt Zoller Seitz did) that he had two main loves of his life – Chaz and Gene Siskel. His relationship with Gene was complex. At first, Gene was the enemy – the film critic of the Chicago Tribune whose hoity toity attitude contrasted with the blue collar vigor of the Sun-Times where Ebert worked. The two barely acknowledged each other at first. They grew competitive, each attempting to sway the other through the virtue of their well-thought out opinions. While Ebert was the populist who understood that entertainment value was at least as important as artistic quality, Siskel had more of a cosmopolitan attitude towards cinema. Together the two introduced America to movies they might never have seen otherwise and as home video became popular and movies that rarely played outside of art houses found their way into video stores and eventually, streaming services, people who might not have become movie buffs got the opportunity to explore independent, foreign and alternative films in addition to the studio films they had previously been limited to.

Overall the film is very moving. We see Ebert deal with his illness with a firm sense of humor and great courage. He was in great pain but rarely seemed disposed to complaining about it. Excerpts from Ebert’s books are read by actor Stephen Stanton whose warm timbre is similar to Roger’s and captures his Midwestern cadence nearly perfectly. I must admit that I do miss Ebert’s physical voice much more than I thought I did, hearing him in clips from talk shows, interviews and of course with Siskel and listening to the two bicker and one-up each other is one of my favorite parts of the movie.

There are plenty of talking head interviews and archival footage that make up what documentaries are these days, but the access we have to Roger’s rehabilitation gives us more of an emotional bond with the man.

I cannot say I wouldn’t have become a film critic without Roger Ebert – I had already started down that road before I knew who he was. However, it is accurate to say that he inspired me to be a better film critic. He set standards that while i have no illusions that I meet I can at least aspire to them. He could excoriate a filmmaker and rip a film a new one with the best of them but it was never with malice or viciousness. He didn’t do so with any joy. The joy in his writing came in finding movies that inspired him or provoked empathy. He lived for movies that he could relate to in some way, and his writing in spelling out that relation allowed us to see a bit of his soul. For all his faults he was also a compassionate man whose progressive politics rarely entered his film reviews but whose wisdom and kindness did. His criticisms were usually valid (although he did have difficulty with horror films that he felt denigrated women as well as videogames as an art form) and while I didn’t always agree with his assessments, I usually did. As Scott remarks, he “didn’t condescend, didn’t pander” while his friend Martin Scorsese (who executive produced the movie and who credits Siskel and Ebert with giving him the self-confidence to continue directing during a particularly low point in his career) accurately added “He didn’t get caught up in certain ideologies” that film critics are prone to getting caught up in. The landscape of film criticism is a far bleaker place without him.

This is a movie that leaves me wishing I had known the man personally (the closest I came was sharing a cruise ship with him during one of his Floating Film Festivals several years back). While this movie may resonate more fully with film critics and film buffs than with general audiences, even those who don’t particularly care much about movies may well be moved at the heartfelt admiration the filmmaker has for the man. The title of the movie may sound a bit arrogant at first; movies aren’t life itself, are they? There’s life and then the movies are fantasy. But in a real sense, movies are a reflection of life itself and a good movie and sometimes even a bad movie can give us the opportunity to reflect on life and that’s never a bad thing. Roger Ebert understood that, perhaps better than any critic before or since.

REASONS TO GO: Affecting and moving. Great to hear Ebert’s voice, even artificially. Illustrates his place in popular culture.

REASONS TO STAY: Glosses over some elements of the book.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some mild foul language, brief sexual images and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the autobiography of the same name that the film is based on, Ebert states that he met his wife Chaz at a restaurant introduced by Ann Landers. In the movie, Chaz reveals that it was at an AA meeting, a fact that she had preferred to keep private which her husband honored.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/8/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 87/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Salinger

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Obvious Child

Four-Warned: July 2014


LucyEvery 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. LUCY (1.2)
2. DELIVER US FROM EVIL (1.5)
3. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1.6)
4. THE PURGE: ANARCHY (1.8)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. LIFE ITSELF (1.0)
2. ALIVE INSIDE (1.2)
3. A LONG WAY DOWN (1.3)
4. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (1.5)

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

JULY 2, 2014

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (Screen Gems) Genre: Horror. Teaming up with a renegade Catholic priest, a down-to-earth Bronx police detective bears witness to supernatural evil. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Eric Bana is a favorite and the trailer looks pretty damn spooky.
EARTH TO ECHO (Relativity) Genre: Family. A group of kids who are about to lose their homes to a highway project must find a way to rescue an extraterrestrial and help him find his way home. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 The similarities to E.T. are too much to ignore.
PREMATURE (IFC Midnight) Genre: Sex Comedy. In what seems to be a common theme lately, a high school senior relives the same day over and over again. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Describes itself as American Pie meets Groundhog Day; now why doesn’t that sound appealing at all?
SCHOOL DANCE (Lionsgate) Genre: Comedy. To win the heart of his high school crush, a young man must make the school’s hottest dance crew, survive her gangsta brother and his own holy terror of a mom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 A spoof of a genre that I can’t stand anyway figures to be an utter waste of my time.
TAMMY (New Line) Genre: Comedy. In the grip of a very bad day, Tammy decides to go on a road trip but the only way she can afford to do it is to take her feisty grandmother along. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Thelma and Louise done for laughs – and with Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon aboard, I’m betting this will be worth the trip.

JULY 3, 2014

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN (Drafthouse) Genre: Horror. Based on actual events, a Swedish Christian punk street kid in a foster home finds himself increasingly at odds with the dysfunctional family he lives with as the cruel and vicious father tests his faith and capacity to love in ways that will drive him to his limit – and beyond. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Was an official entry at Cannes and has won numerous awards on the horror festival circuit.

JULY 4, 2014

BEYOND THE EDGE (IFC) Genre: Crime Comedy. When two rival gangs try to rob the same bank at the same time, a teller and a customer try to save the day without getting caught in the crossfire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 A very interesting trailer and a very attractive cast.
BOBBY JASOOS (Reliance) Genre: Bollywood. Perhaps the impossible dream is to become the best detective in Hyderabad; perhaps not. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Like most Bollywood films looks cheesy but fun; I do wish they’d provide an English translation on the trailers though.
GABRIELLE (DreamWorks) Genre: Horror. A high school senior suspects his new neighbor is a vampire. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.0 Was a remake of this ‘80s horror comedy really needed? And does the new version add anything?
HEATSTROKE (Phase 4) Genre: Action. On a family trip to the African desert, a research scientist accidentally runs afoul of murderous arms dealers and must evade the killers and protect his daughter and girlfriend from them as well as from the dangerous African environment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Stephen Dorff is becoming a very capable action hero.
LIFE ITSELF (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. Roger Ebert wasn’t only the greatest film critic who ever lived; his compassion and social awareness inspired many through his long and decorated career. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 Ebert was a personal hero of mine and a continuing inspiration; I’ll see this one even if I have to drive 500 miles to do it.

JULY 9, 2014

CLOSED CURTAIN (Reliance) Genre: Drama. An Iranian author, hiding inside his house with his dog, sees his life changed by the arrival of a woman fleeing for her life. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 I like the concept but the trailer doesn’t really reveal very much.

JULY 11, 2014

A LONG WAY DOWN (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. Four strangers who decide to kill each on the same night meet and mutually decide to wait six weeks, becoming media sensations as an unintended consequence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Looks really, really, REALLY good.
AFFLUENZA (FilmBuff) Genre: Drama. Escaping a middle class existence for a life of privilege and wealth, a would-be photographer watched his rich cousin’s life come crashing down around her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Interesting trailer but can’t help thinking that it has a bit of the “poor little rich girl” element to it.
BOYHOOD (IFC) Genre: Drama. Twelve years in the life of a young boy and his family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Director Richard Linklater filmed this over the course of 12 years with the same cast as the young actors literally grow up before our eyes.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox) Genre: Science Fiction. Ten years after a devastating virus has wiped out most of the human race, the genetically evolved apes led by Caesar and the remaining humans will fight it out for the role of dominant species on this planet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 I think we can guess who wins the war.
LAND HO! (Sony Classics) Genre: Comedy. A pair of aging men, once related by marriage, try to reconnect during a trip to Iceland. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.7 I’m all for movies that celebrate the joy of life.
MADE IN AMERICA (Phase 4) Genre: Musical Documentary. At a music festival created by Jay Z to celebrate how music unites us and engages us to pursue our dreams, director Ron Howard creates a documentary designed to immerse us in that vibe. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 The next best thing to being there I suppose.
RAGE (RLJ/Image) Genre: Thriller. When his daughter is kidnapped, a businessman with a dark past must revisit his violent years to get her back by any means necessary. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 I guess Nicolas Cage still has some of these awaiting release.
ROAD TO PALOMA (Anchor Bay) Genre: Thriller. A Native American on the run after avenging his mother’s murder discovers that justice has a cost. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Jason Momoa stars and directs; looks pretty gritty from where I sit.
UNDERWATER DREAMS (AMC) Genre: Documentary. Four teenage boys from an impoverished school enter an underwater robot competition against MIT and won with a robot built with parts from Home Depot. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The ultimate underdog story.

JULY 18, 2014

ALIVE INSIDE (BOND/360) Genre: Documentary. Dan Cohen founds a nonprofit organization called Music & Memory which uses music to help reawaken memories in people the healthcare system has given up on. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 A celebration of life and humanity; if the trailer doesn’t move you, nothing in life will.
AMONG RAVENS (Gravitas) Genre: Drama. During a 4th of July gathering, the secrets of a family begin to emerge and have a severe effect on their 10-year-old daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Tries to filter a serious subject through the eyes of a 10-year-old; the trailer doesn’t work for me.
AND SO IT GOES (Clarius) Genre: Romance. A curmudgeonly realtor just wants to sell one last home and retire but when his son drops off a precocious 9-year-old granddaughter he never knew he had, his outlook changes.. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 With Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in front of the camera and Rob Reiner behind it, this is bound to be worth a look.
I ORIGINS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Science Fiction. During his research on the human eye, a molecular biologist makes a discovery that will have implications on our spiritual and basic scientific beliefs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 An interesting take on science vs. spirituality.
MOOD INDIGO (Drafthouse) Genre: Fantasy. In order to save his love from the effects of a flower growing in her lungs, a wealthy bachelor must keep her surrounded by flowers while he develops a cure. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 The latest from French visionary Michel Gondry is bound to be visually inventive.
PERSECUTED (One Media) Genre: Thriller. Framed for murder, an evangelist goes underground to prove his innocence and stop the coming wave of persecution against American Christians. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 This is the Tea Party’s wet dream.
PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. Dusty Crophopper, facing retirement from racing due to a damaged engine, decides that he’d like to devote his life to fighting brush fires as an aerial firefighter. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.2 The first film was better than I thought it would be; it won’t take much for the second to make the same achievement.
THE PURGE: ANARCHY (Universal) Genre: Horror. The new Founding Fathers of America invite you to purge your sociopathic tendencies as innocents get caught in the crossfire. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Last year’s surprise hit gets a sequel with new cast and bigger budget; could be worth a look.
SEX TAPE (Columbia) Genre: Sex Comedy. In the aftermath of making a sex tape to spice up their love lives, a couple frantically must hunt down all the tablets they gave away as gifts when the tape is accidentally uploaded to the cloud that each tablet is preloaded with. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 From director Jake Kasdan who has proven adept at comedy.
VIDEO GAMES: THE MOVIE (Variance) Genre: Documentary. The epic rise of video games from niche business to multi-billion dollar industry. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 My son is absolutely going to go bananas for this one, produced as it is by his hero Zach Braff.
WISH I WAS HERE (Focus) Genre: Dramedy. A man at the crossroads of his life decides to redefine his performance as a son, a husband, a brother and a father. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expanding July 25 and August 1). RATING: 1.9 Zach Braff continues on the road to redefining his career.

JULY 23, 2014

THE MASTER BUILDER (Abramorama) Genre: Drama. In the twilight of his life, an architect who has bullied his family, friends, mistresses and employees seeks to make peace with himself. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 Starring Wallace Shawn and based on an Ibsen play, this could be a film buff’s wet dream.

JULY 25, 2014

A MOST WANTED MAN (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Thriller. When a half-Chechen, half-Russian man who has been tortured nearly to death arrives in the Islamic community of a Russian city, his arrival brings chaos into the lives of a banker, a lawyer and a master spy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A John Le Carre spy story that has one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performances – that has must-see written all over it.
BENEATH (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. Supernatural forces are unleashed during the collapse of a coal mine, leaving the trapped miners and a female environmentalist trapped with them to battle for their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Claustrophobic horror with a tinge of creature feature.
THE FLUFFY MOVIE (Open Road) Genre: Stand-Up Concert Film. Excerpts from Gabriel Iglesias’ “Unity Through Laughter” tour. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Iglesias emerged after a tough break eliminated him from Last Comic Standing to become one of the most popular stand-up comedians today.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS (Magnolia) Genre: Dramedy. Moving in with her novelist friend, her film director husband and their two-year-old after a break-up, a hard-partying 20-something starts to turn their lives upside down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 The latest from prolific director Joe Swanberg.
HERCULES (Paramount/MGM) Genre: Swords and Sandals. A legendary warrior tries to escape his own legend. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.9 Based on a graphic novel with a revisionist non-supernatural take on the myth.
IRONCLAD: BATTLE FOR BLOOD (XLRator) Genre: Action. One of the few survivors of the Siege of Rochester Castle returns home to defend his family against brutal Celtic raiders. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Medieval histrionics that would have been a B movie 50 years ago and still is today.
LUCY (Universal) Genre: Science Fiction. An unwilling drug mules finds the side effects of the drug that leaks into her system to be limitless. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.2 Looks like one of Luc Besson’s best and with Scarlett Johansson in the title role? Ooh La LA!
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (Focus) Genre: Romance. In the South of France during the Jazz Age, an English detective is brought in to unmask a swindler. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Woody Allen does Agatha Christie.
MY MAN IS A LOSER (Lionsgate) Genre: Comedy. After a ladies man’s advice to his buddies to reconnect with their wives backfires horribly, a straight shooting friend proves that the Lothario has a lot to learn when it comes to the fairer sex. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 John Stamos as a modern single ladies man…talk about dated.
VERY GOOD GIRLS (Tribeca/Well Go USA) Genre: Sex Comedy. Two young women who make a pact to lose their virginity during the summer before they head to college fall for the same guy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Anyone remember Little Foxes?

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Deliver Us From Evil, Earth to Echo, Tammy, Life Itself, Boyhood, And So It Goes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Fluffy Movie, Planes: Fire and Rescue, The Purge: Anarchy, Sex Tape, Wish I Was Here, Hercules, Lucy