Top 10 of 2013


Top 10 2014Those who read a lot of movie reviewers know that it is part of the job to rank the best movies of the year once that year is over. Not being one of those critics who gets to see all the big movies well in advance of their release date, I have to make do with getting out to see them as soon as I can, which leads to delays in publishing my top 10.

As with most things, any top 10 for any critic is a moment in time captured. This is how I feel these movies belong to be ranked at this moment, right now. I can guarantee you that I’ll look back on this next year and wonder how in the hell I ranked one movie ahead of another, or how I missed this movie or that one.

Here you’ll see plenty of movies that are already on a lot of year end lists, but there’s one you won’t see that is – Her. That’s not because I didn’t love the movie – in fact, I think that it would be near the top if not the top movie of 2013. However, while it did get released in New York and L.A. in 2013 for Academy consideration, most people in the country didn’t get a chance to see it until January of this year. That is why I decided to put the film in as part of my 2014 films. Normally I go by the release date of the movie to qualify it as a top ten film, but in all honesty these days we’re getting so many quality foreign films that were released in their own countries a year, two or even three years prior to their American release that I am going with a general “when did it get its widest release” in order to determine what year I rank the film with. You can bitch and moan if you want to but it’s my playground and my rules and I reserve the right to change them tomorrow.

I think that the quality for movies overall in 2013 was pretty high compared to recent years. Many of the honorable mentions would have made the top 10 lists in years past. This one was a bit harder to put together; there were several I had a hard time relegating to the purgatory of Honorable Mention but at the end of the day, this is my list and I’m sticking to it.

So this is the list as I see it. Feel free to leave your comments and opinions here on the site or elsewhere. I’m always happy to defend my choices. However, if you haven’t seen some of them, do seek them out; I’ll do my best to provide information as to how to go watch them right now, whether it be in your local multiplex, through an online streaming service, on your cable or satellite subscription service or at your local DVD store.

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;

Dallas Buyers Club, Aftermath, Saving Mr. Banks, Mud, Starbuck, A.C.O.D., Unfinished Song, Nebraska, The Book Thief, John Dies at the End, The World’s End, Stories We Tell, The Attack, Good Ol’ Freda, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Sightseers, Captain Phillips, Pieta, Philomena, The History of Future Folk, About Time, I Declare War, Year of the Living Dead, Quartet

This Is Where We Live

10.  THIS IS WHERE WE LIVE

(Bluff City) Tobias Segal, Marc Menchaca, Barry Corbin, Frankie Shaw, C.K. McFarland, Ron Hayden, Katherine Willis, Marco Perella, Brent Smiga, Brian Orr, Christine Bruno, Carolyn Gilroy. Directed by Josh Barrett and Marc Menchaca

Released April 7, 2013 A Texas hill country family has a tough go of it, with the adult son having a severe form of cerebral palsy and the father in the beginning stages of dementia. The mother is also battling high blood pressure and the sister is bitter at the hand life has dealt her. Into this volatile mix comes a rough and tumble handyman who at first builds a wheelchair ramp for the front porch but eventually becomes the son’s caretaker and friend. However his shortcomings may tear the family apart.

WHY IT IS HERE: Beautifully photographed and written with sympathy and sensitivity, this is a movie for people who love movies about people and by people, I mean real people, the sort you might run into at the grocery store or sit next to in the bar. It could have easily been a manipulative Lifetime movie but instead chooses honesty over treacle. An amazing debut by the directing team.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Tobias Segal as August expresses his frustration at trying to communicate with a body that doesn’t co-operate with him – ever.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Is trying to secure distributorship for some sort of theatrical release. Until then, look for it on the Festival circuit.

Short Term 12

9. SHORT TERM 12

(Cinedigm) Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, Frantz Turner, Stephanie Beatriz, Melora Walters. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Released August 23, 2013 In an era of austerity where social service funding is under fire from the fiscal conservatives, this is a look at just what that wasteful spending is actually spent on. A young woman is the caretaker of at-risk youths in a care facility in Los Angeles in an eventful few days in the facility. A girl is admitted, one who reminds the caretaker strikingly of herself. A long-time resident prepares to get released to live on his own. And the caretaker discovers that she is pregnant, which triggers her own long-held emotional issues.

WHY IT IS HERE: As authentic a movie as was released in 2013. A warts-and-all portrayal of troubled kids and of the young people who care for them. Larson’s performance would certainly have been in the mix for the Best Actress Oscar had this been released by a major studio; suffice to say she has what it takes to get the gold somewhere down the line. Surrounded by a great young cast, Larson shines and elevates this film to the next level.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Larson “rescues” Dever from the home of her abusive father and in doing so the inner pain of both women comes to the surface.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $1 million domestic (as of 1/14/14), $1 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon.

The Wolf of Wall Street

8. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

(Paramount) Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Kenneth Choi, PJ Byrne, Jon Bernthal, Joanna Lumley. Directed by Martin Scorsese

Released December 25, 2013 It seems only fitting that Scorsese would in this day and age make a film about amoral Wall Street capitalists – after all, they are the new mob of the 21st century. Still, there is a fascination to the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort from ambitious penny stock trader to criminal on an epic scale. All the drugs, all the language, the greed and the women – it’s a morality tale like none other.

WHY IT IS HERE: Di Caprio delivers one of the defining performances of his career to date and Hill proves he’s more than a one-shot wonder with an Oscar-nominated performance. While some have complained about the indulgences and the f-bombs, nonetheless there’s authenticity about what you see onscreen. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then money corrupts inevitably. One of the critical hits of the year and judging on the box office returns this may well being one of Scorsese’s biggest hits ever.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Delayed-reaction Quaaludes. That’s all you need to know.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $82.8 million domestic (as of 1/17/14), $120.9M total.

BUDGET: $100M

STATUS: Still out in wide release.

The Hunt

7. THE HUNT (JAGTEN)

(Magnolia) Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkoop, Lasse Fogelstrom, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport, Ole Dupont, Rikke Bergmann, Allan Wilbor Christensen. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Released July 12, 2013 We were one of the first in the country to see this here in Orlando at the Florida Film Festival. Recently this was announced to be one of the final nominees for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Given it’s wrenching story about a substitute teacher who is just trying to get his life together after a bitter divorce accused of molesting a little girl, it’s hardly unsurprising but there is more to this than simply a terrific story.

WHY IT IS HERE: The storyline, as well-told as it is, is brought to life by an Oscar-worthy performance by Mikkelsen. In a year in which we’ve been treated to a wealth of fine performances, this is as good as any as you’ll witness, Only the fact that this is a mid-major distributor and a foreign film kept Mikkelsen from being in the Oscar mix. This is the kind of movie that leaves you feeling emotionally drained after seeing it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The Christmas eve church confrontation.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $613,308 domestic (as of 1/21/14), $16.76M total..

BUDGET: $3.45M.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Blockbuster/Netflix/iTunes.

Fruitvale Station

6. FRUITVALE STATION

(Weinstein) Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ariana Neal, Ahna O’Reilly, Keenan Coogler, Trestin George, Joey Oglesby, Michael James, Marjorie Shears, Destiny Ekwueme. Directed by Ryan Coogler

Released July 12, 2013 Based on true events that happened on the last day of 2008 (and on the first day of 2009), the shooting of Oscar Grant III at an East Bay BART station galvanized the Bay Area and the nation as to the training of transit police and their use of firearms. Taking place on the last day of his life, the film shows the story of a man who’s made some terrible mistakes trying to get his life together only to lose it in a senseless confrontation

WHY IT IS HERE: Some talk about Oscar snubs to Redford and Hanks but this entire movie has gotten snubbed this entire awards season and it just isn’t right. Part of he problem was that the movie was released back in July but frankly the studio hasn’t really supported it as much as it deserves either. The movie certainly should have received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jordan), Best Supporting Actress (Spencer) and Best Original Screenplay. Hopefully the justice will be in big boosts to the careers of Coogler and Jordan.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: When a mother is informed that her son is dead.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $16.1 million domestic (as of 1/21/14), $16.7 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/ iTunes.

20 Feet from Stardom

5. 20 FEET FROM STARDOM

(Radius) Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fisher, Judith Hill, Tata Vega, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Bette Midler, Chris Botti, Lynn Mabry, Claudia Lennear, Sheryl Crow, Patti Austin. Directed by Morgan Neville

Released June 14, 2013 Most of us know the stars out front belting out the hits but few of us are all that aware of the back-up singers who often sing the parts of the song we sing along to. Some of them are the most talented and powerful voices in the business bar none – including the stars, who would be the first to tell you so. These are the anti-American Idols – women content to remain in the background, who sing for the love of singing rather than in pursuit of fame.

WHY IT IS HERE: This Oscar-nominated documentary shines a light on those who have shunned the spotlight, some for nearly 50 years and still going strong. This was the opening night film for the 2013 Florida Film Festival and an auspicious kick-off to that event it was, with Merry Clayton a special guest gracing opening night filmgoers with a song.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A deconstruction of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Gimme Shelter” with the various tracks stripped away until only Clayton’s powerful voice remains.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.8M domestic (as of 1/22/14), $5.2M worldwide.

BUDGET: Not available

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/ iTunes.

Gravity

4. GRAVITY

(Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice), Phaldut Sharma (voice), Orto Ignatiussen (voice), Amy Warren (voice), Basher Savage (voice). Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Released October 3, 2013 Perhaps the worst possible fear of an astronaut is a disaster in space, crippling their spacecraft and robbing them of a ride home. For all our well-trained, cool-as-a-cucumber-under-pressure NASA heroes, there’s no doubt that each one of them are human inside and in a situation like that would be absolutely terrified. This comes as close as we can to making that situation real for a general audience.

WHY IT IS HERE: Stunning special effects that duplicate weightlessness so perfectly, and a bravura Oscar-nominated performance by Bullock (and justifiably so). This has been getting rabid kudos from critics and audiences alike since it opened and it is no surprise that it is one of the finalists for the Best Picture Oscar.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The initial collision with the debris field that leaves Bullock’s character spinning out of control and headed for deep space – all against eerie silence.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $258.9 million domestic (as of 1/21/14), $677.7 million total.

BUDGET: $100 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release; scheduled for home video release on February 25.

The Forgotten Kingdom

3. THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM

(Black Kettle) Zenzo Ngqobe, Nozipho Nkelemba, Jerry Mofokeng, Lebohang Ntsane, Moshoshoe Chabeli, Lillian Dube, Sam Phillips. Directed by Andrew Mudge

Released April 5, 2013 This is yet another movie on this list that I first caught at the Florida Film Festival – in this case, the best film I caught at the FFF this year. In it a South African man, living a life of drinking and womanizing, is charged with taking his father – from whom he was estranged – back to Lesotho to be buried. Along the way he rekindles an old flame, learns something about his dad and of himself – and of Africa.

WHY IT IS HERE: An amazing film that drills down father-son relationships and forces you to explore your own relationships with your parents and/or your children. Beautifully shot in gorgeous African vistas, this is a movie so compelling and beautiful that I was thinking about it for days. I’m still thinking about it now.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Atang’s confrontation with Dineo’s father.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Still appearing on the festival circuit. At this time there are no concrete plans for home video release but at some point hopefully that will change.

12 Years a Slave

2.  12 YEARS A SLAVE

(Fox Searchlight) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard. Directed by Steve McQueen

Released October 18, 2013 Solomon Northup, a free American of African descent, is betrayed, kidnapped and sold into slavery. Sent to the deep South of the plantations of Louisiana, he is taken away from his wife and children and must learn to survive in the brutal world of the cotton fields, maintaining the hope that one day he will be free once again.

WHY IT IS HERE: Just a magnificently gripping film, one which can show the depths of human depravity one moment and the heights of the strength of the human spirit the next. Ejiofor comes out as a legitimate star here while McQueen who for years has been labeled as a director of enormous promise, fulfills it here.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Solomon Northup sobbing as he is being carted away in a wagon as he is at last set free.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $43.9M (as of 1/2913), $79.0M total.

BUDGET: $20 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release. Expected to be released on home video this spring.

The Act of Killing

1. THE ACT OF KILLING

 (Drafthouse) Anwars Congo, Herman Koto, Safit Pardede, Adi Zulkadry, Haji Anif, Jusuf Kalla, Ibrahim Sinik, Syamsul Arfin. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

Released July 19, 2013 During the Indonesian military takeover in the mid-1960s, thousands upon thousands of Indonesians were murdered by death squad, often led by members of organized crime. In an effort to rid the country of leftists and communists, the net was expanded to include executions of ethnic Chinese and as time went on, basically anyone they wanted. Some of the more notorious death squad leaders were interviewed here and invited to re-enact their crimes in any style they wished; being to a man big fans of Hollywood movies, they would choose some fairly inventive means.

WHY IT IS HERE: I can’t say I enjoyed this movie but the experience of it really changed my perceptions on the notions of forgiveness and humanity. Anwars Congo, one of the most blood-soaked of the death squad leaders (and one of the most revered in Indonesia), is today a grandfatherly sort whose gentle onscreen demeanor is at odds with the horrors of his vicious, cruel and bloodthirsty acts. Is there redemption for men like that? Can one feel sympathy for the devil?

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene on the roof when the horror of his actions catches up with Anwar and he has a violently physical reaction.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $469, 214 domestic (as of 1/29/13), $469,214 total.

BUDGET: $1 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Netflix.

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Sightseers


What girlfriend wouldn't make her boyfriend feel inferior with one of those?

What girlfriend wouldn’t make her boyfriend feel inferior with one of those?

(2012) Horror Comedy (IFC) Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Roger Michael, Tony Way, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Eileen Davies, Aymen Hamdouchi, Tom Meetan, Kali Peacock, Kenneth Hadley, Stephanie Jacob, Christine Talbot, Richard Lumsden, Dominic Applewhite, Sara Stewart. Directed by Ben Wheatley

Florida Film Festival 2013

Everyone’s idea of a vacation is different. Some choose to travel, see different cultures and different places. Others want to go out and experience the gusto – get out there and go hang gliding, rock climbing or snorkeling. You know, the Type A personality stuff.

Tina (Lowe) and Chris (Oram) are far from the latter. Chris is an aspiring writer who is taking a trip in his caravan (RV to us yanks) to England’s Lake District to write a book on his travels there. Tina, his girlfriend, is a dog lover of epic proportions although she is mourning the accidental death of a beloved pet – a death her hypochondriac overbearing mother (Davies) blames her for and never fails to take the opportunity to remind her of it.

Mum is also trying to talk Tina out of taking the trip with Chris. Not because she’s got any real concern for her daughter, but that it might be inconvenient for her not to have Tina waiting on her hand and foot. If Leona Helmsley ever sponsored a motherhood award, Tina’s mom would win hands down.

So away they go in their RV to see the sights – a tram museum, a pencil museum, ruins of an abbey and the English equivalent of a state park. At first it’s the ideal trip. Tina feels as close to Chris as she’s felt to anyone – this might be The One. But there are some troubling qualities beginning to surface. He hates to be questioned, for one thing. He has a pretty explosive temper, for another. For a third, he’s a serial killer.

But he’s not just your average, ordinary run-of-the-mill psycho. He has rules. He only offs those who deserve it. Of course, his idea of those who deserve it might be a wee bit…stringent. For example, a lout who drops an ice cream wrapper on an antique trolley – he’s GOT to go, son. Uppity upper crust sorts who treat Tina condescendingly? So long, senor.

However far from being repulsed by this behavior, Tina attempts to join in and messes it all up. She goes after a bride who gives Chris a drunken smooch. Hasta la vista, baby.

Wheatley is an up-and-coming director who has a couple of pretty cool films already on his resume (Down Terrace and Kill List) and has been announced to be directing a couple of highly anticipated films coming down the pipeline (A Field in England and Freakshift as well as the HBO miniseries Silk Road). I agree with the praise being lumped on him – the man knows how to make a movie full of subtleties as well as being over-the-top – in the same movie.

Chris and Tina are so bloody ordinary that you can’t help wonder why they didn’t become serial killers earlier. Both of them have a different sort of ordinariness. Chris is a bit of a lummox from the surface but he’s actually quite clever and meticulous. Tina, who seems to be much more organized at first glance is rather more chaotic. One of the joys of the film is watching Tina and Chris switch places as the film progresses.

Lowe and Oram have some real chemistry and it goes a long way – right up until the final twist which is so organic, so unexpected that it’s a thing of beauty. I’d walk a hundred miles for an ending like that – they are quite infrequent in movies these days. The hardest thing for a writer to do is write a good ending.

The humor is a bit irreverent and some scenes will make you squirm while you laugh. It’s not that the gore is excessive – it isn’t but there’s enough there to be effective – but the situation might just make you go “am I really laughing at that?”

Chris and Tina do some rather unspeakable things. When you look at the acts themselves you might just recoil in horror but overall the two of them are lovable losers, enough so that you root for them in spite of yourself even though Chris has anger issues and Tina can be a shrill little harpy when she wants to be.

To top it all off there’s some beautiful cinematography of bucolic  landscapes, RV parks and quaint towns. I’m not sure I’d want to go to the pencil museum but I might just to buy the Big Pencil – a.k.a. Big Scribbler – in the picture above. But what can I say? The allure of oddball tourist attractions is like catnip to me.

This is the kind of movie that comes at you from every direction and you never know what they’re going to do next. Lowe and Oram deliver enough likability that when their characters go off the rails, you’re still invested enough in the that you don’t give up on them. Maybe you even get the vicarious thrill of giving a few sorts what you wish they’d get and might even deserve. I love hearing Chris rationalize that murdering these undesirables reduces the carbon footprint – so in fact serial killing is green. Which is what I hope this film sees plenty of.

REASONS TO GO: Offbeat and funny. A black comedy taken to extremes.

REASONS TO STAY: The foul deeds of the leads may be too much for some to generate any sympathy for.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of violence and some gore. There’s also quite a bit of sex and some nudity. There’s a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Screenwriter Tim Macy also wrote the short story that the movie is based on.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/10/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100; critics clearly didn’t like this film a whole lot.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Natural Born Killers

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: The Place Beyond the Pines

Four-Warned: May 2013


Iron Man 3

Every 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.

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. IRON MAN 3 (1.0)
TIE. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (1.0)
3. NOW YOU SEE ME (1.3)
4. AFTER EARTH (1.5)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. STORIES WE TELL (1.0)
2. STATE 194 (1.2)
3. THE ATTACK (1.3)
4. SIGHTSEERS (1.4)

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

MAY 1, 2013

POST TENEBRAS LUX (Strand) Genre: Documentary. An upper class family moves to the Mexican countryside resulting in friction and domestic crisis. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 All I’ve seen are a couple of clips which don’t give a sense of what to expect from the film.

MAY 2, 2013

IRON MAN 3 (Disney/Marvel) Genre: Superhero. The armored superhero faces post-Avengers depression and the appearance of a nemesis who is out to destroy him and everything he stands for. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 As the first film in the Marvel Filmed Universe’s Phase 2 this is one of the most anticipated movie events of the year.

MAY 3, 2013

1ST NIGHT (Gravitas) Genre: Dramedy. A variety of relationships reach turning points during rehearsals for an opera. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks like a jolly sex romp with an operatic background – color me intrigued.
AROUSED (Ketchup) Genre: Documentary. 16 of the most successful women in the adult film industry open up in interviews about their profession, their feelings about it and their private lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Could be really good or really bad; the interviewer sounds uncannily like the voice-over artist on the Victoria’s Secret commercials.
THE ATTACK (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. A doctor of Arabic descent living and working in Tel Aviv discovers a disturbing secret about his wife following a suicide bombing that kills 17 people. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 This looks incredibly powerful from the trailer.
CAROLINE AND JACKIE (Phase 4) Genre: Drama. On a birthday visit, a celebratory occasion turns into an intervention as two sisters and a boyfriend realize that below the surface is an incredible amount of sibling tension. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Kinda disturbing, kinda intriguing.
CINCO DE MAYO, LA BATALLA (Pantelion) Genre: True Life War Drama. The story of the Battle of Puebla which resulted in Mexican independence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 The story of the battle itself would have been far better without the romantic subtext that distracts from the power of the story.
DEAD MAN’S BURDEN (Cinedigm) Genre: Western. Siblings, separated by the Civil War and by family secrets, struggle to reconnect in the chaos following the war. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Beautifully shot, looks like Shakespearean tragedy in a desolate setting.
DESPERATE ACTS OF MAGIC (Self-Released) Genre: Comedy. A computer programmer, bored with his life, decides to become a magician and befriends a woman who, disillusioned by that world, has turned to a life of crime. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles May 10). RATING: 3.3 The trailer looks like a cheesy 80s comedy right down to the soundtrack.
GENERATION UM… (Phase 4) Genre: Drama. The appearance of a stolen camcorder slowly unravels the lives of two escorts and their driver. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Keanu Reeves stars? Really?
GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY (Tribeca) Genre: Musical Biography. Jeff Buckley, son of a revered singer/songwriter with a tragic fate, follows his own path to stardom despite a rocky relationship with his dad. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Star Penn Badgely is a dead ringer for the late Jeff Buckley.
THE ICEMAN (Millennium) Genre: Biographical Drama. The story of Richard Kuklinski, mob assassin who reputedly killed more than 100 men. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Michael Shannon, Ray Liotta, Winona Ryder, James Franco and a stellar supporting cast…wow.
KISS OF THE DAMNED (Magnet) Genre: Gothic Horror. A vampire’s love affair with a human is complicated when her sister visits unexpectedly. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opening in other cities May 15). RATING: 1.7 I was surprised at how good the trailer looks; a bit retro Euro-vamp with a modern twist.
LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED (Sony Classics) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A group of people seek out love in Sorrento, Italy and discover that second chances can come even when you think it’s too late. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.0 The latest from Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier looks magical – and yes this played at the Florida Film Festival last month, thank you very much.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN BROOKLYN (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. The black sheep of an Italian family gets out of prison and is given a job in the family business but his partners in crime prove to be an irresistible siren song. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Looks like it’s getting a brief theatrical run before heading to home video.
SCATTER MY ASHES AT BERGDORF’S (eOne) Genre: Documentary. Bergdorf-Goodman has become a fashion barometer but was once a modest ladies boutique; this film explores how the store rose to its current height and how it stays there. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.6 While I’m not interested in Couture whatsoever, there’s no denying the importance of Bergdorf’s in American style.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR (IFC) Genre: Drama. A group of French students in 1971 must flee to Italy after a vandalism attack goes terribly wrong. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Not only captures the look of the era but the attitude – could be a must-see this month.
WHAT MAISIE KNEW (Millennium) Genre: Drama. The six-year-old daughter of a divorcing couple becomes the pawn in their bitter custody dispute. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles May 17). RATING: 1.8 A top-notch cast and a very emotionally wrenching story.

MAY 10, 2013

AFTERSHOCK (Radius) Genre: Horror. An American tourist in Chile gets trapped in an underground nightclub after an earthquake but the horror only begins once he escapes to the surface. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks a bit like Chernobyl Diaries without the mutants.
AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR (Paladin/108) Genre: Dramedy. A CEO from an ad agency wakes up from a coma unable to communicate except in ad slogans. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Clever idea in a Being There kinda way.
THE GREAT GATSBY (Warner Brothers) Genre: Drama. A wealthy American war hero in the roaring 20s befriends a down on his luck neighbor who discovers the good life isn’t all that good. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.8 Baz Luhrmann isn’t one of my favorite directors.
HE’S WAY MORE FAMOUS THAN YOU (Gravitas) Genre: Comedy. A struggling indie actress decides that the secret to success is to become famous – and she’ll do anything to do it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Yes, Ralph Macchio is way more famous than you.
JAVA HEAT (IFC) Genre: Action. After the Indonesian Sultana is murdered and her daughter kidnapped by terrorists, it falls to a Muslim policeman and an American wild card to set things to rights. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles May 17). RATING: 3.2 The trailer looks a bit like a typical made-for-cable action thriller.
NO ONE LIVES (Anchor Bay) Genre: Thriller. After a criminal gang take a young couple hostage, they realize they are being stalked by someone determined to kill everyone off in the house. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks a little better for this genre than most.
PEEPLES (Lionsgate) Genre: Urban Comedy. Craig Robinson stars as a working man who crashes an upscale family reunion to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage – but of course things don’t go as planned. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.5 Sounds suspiciously like Meet the Parents to me.
SIGHTSEERS (IFC) Genre: Horror Spoof. A couple on a motor home tour of England descend into the kind of madness that leads to carnage. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Saw this at the Florida Film Festival and it was as good as any film there this year.
STORIES WE TELL (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Documentary. Actress/Filmmaker Sarah Polley interviews a family of storytellers to discover the effect of memory on family legends. Release Strategy: New York City (expanding into other markets May 17). RATING: 1.0 A really fascinating idea for a film as we get to see different versions of the same stories interpreted by different family members.
VENUS AND SERENA (Magnolia) Genre: Sports Documentary. The story of the Williams sisters, the most dominant siblings in tennis in the 21st century. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (expanding into other markets May 17). RATING: 2.8 I’m not a particular fan of tennis but this documentary looks fascinating.

MAY 15, 2013

BECOMING TRAVIATA (Distrib) Genre: Documentary. We are taken through the reinvention of the iconic opera La Traviata by French soprano Natalie Dessay and director Jean-Francois Sivadier. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles May 24). RATING: 3.7 It looks good, but I’m not sure I can get over my personal dislike of opera to go see it.
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (Paramount) Genre: Science Fiction. Captain Kirk becomes obsessed with apprehending a terrorist who has developed a devastating new weapon. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 Looks like JJ Abrams has the series well in hand.

MAY 17, 2013

33 POSTCARDS (Gravitas) Genre: Drama. A Chinese orphan discovers that her Australian sponsor who has only communicated with her through postcards isn’t what he said he was. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Looks a bit melodramatic to me.
AUGUSTINE (Music Box) Genre: Biographical Drama. The true story of a French neurologist whose female patient’s “hysteria” led to spectacular seizures and a relationship the two that blurred the line between doctor and patient. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks rather lurid but the I’m fascinated by Victorian sexual politics.
AURANGZEB (Yash Raj) Genre: Bollywood. A family of policemen are at odds with a family of criminals in modern India. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Not 100% certain but it looks like a variation on Infernal Affairs.
BLACK ROCK (LD Entertainment) Genre: Thriller. Three women visiting the remote island off the Maine coast that was their hangout find three ex-servicemen hunting there. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the women are the new prey. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 I just kept getting the feeling that I’d seen this movie before from watching the trailer.
THE ENGLISH TEACHER (Cinedigm) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A high school English teacher falls for an ex-student and decides to mount his angst-ridden play as the student theatrical production. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Awesome cast with Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Greg Kinnear and Nathan Lane.
ERASED (Radius) Genre: Thriller. A former CIA operative and his daughter are targeted for termination; he must determine by whom and why. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Has some very Bourne-like qualities from the trailer, but I always am up to see Aaron Eckhart.
FRANCES HA (IFC) Genre: Comedy. A young woman throws herself headlong into her dreams, even if they don’t really match up with reality. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 I like Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach; the trailer didn’t particularly move me though.
HATING BREITBART PG-13 (Freestyle) Genre: Documentary. The story of the late conservative gadfly and blogger who changed the political landscape forever. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 Don’t really care much for the subject.
PIETA (Drafthouse) Genre: Thriller. A collector for a loan shark renounces his former life when he meets a mysterious woman claiming to be his mother but his past soon catches up with him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Visceral and controversial, this played the recent Florida Film Festival and evoked strong reactions.
STATE 194 (Participant) Genre: Documentary. A bold new plan to get Palestinian statehood recognized is threatened by a political quagmire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 Looks kind of objective for this kind of documentary.

MAY 22, 2013

DOIN’ IT IN THE PARK: PICK-UP BASKETBALL, NYC (360 Filmworks) Genre: Documentary. The culture of pick-up basketball and free recreation in general is explored. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 Actually looks kind of interesting, even if you’re not into basketball.

MAY 24, 2013

A GREEN STORY (Indican) Genre: Drama. A Greek immigrant who created a successful environmentally friendly business goes for one last deal at the end of his life as he reminisces about his past. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 I’m really not quite sure what to make of this but looks like it might be interesting so I’ll give it a shot.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. The third installment in the “Before” trilogy finds Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in their 40s and now living in Greece. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.9 I simply just never got into this series m’fraid.
EPIC (20th Century Fox) Genre: Animated Feature. A young girl enters a mysterious world of miniature forest soldiers who need her help to protect not only her world but ours. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.6 Trailer looks pretty amazing; hope the film measures up.
FAST AND FURIOUS 6 (Universal) Genre: Action. Hobbs recruits Dom and his crew to take down a group of mercenary drivers whose second in command is a blast from Dom’s past. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 The last one was the best in the series thus far; this one looks like it might top it.
FILL THE VOID (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. An Orthodox Hassidic Israeli girl is forced to choose between her familial obligations and her heart’s desire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 I’m not so sure about this one; on the one hand the subject of arranged marriages is compelling but I couldn’t help feeling as I watched the trailer that there were some Harlequin Romance elements to the story.
THE HANGOVER PART III (Warner Brothers) Genre: Comedy. The Wolf Pack return to where it all started – Sin City – and Las Vegas will never be the same again. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 I’m hoping they get away from the same storyline as the first two movies, I’m kinda over it.
PENGUINS 3D (nWave) Genre: Nature Documentary. Veteran naturalist and documentarian David Attenborough narrates this story about a King Penguin making his way in the Antarctic. Release Strategy: IMAX. RATING: 2.9 Reminds me of March of the Penguins a little too much.
WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS (Focus) Genre: Documentary. The story of the polarizing website whom some see as a champion of freedom, others as it’s destroyer. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Julian Assange has already condemned the documentary.

MAY 29, 2013

HANNAH ARENDT (Zeitgeist) Genre: Biographical Drama. The world famous Jewish-German philosopher, who coined the term “The Banality of Evil” in regards to Adolph Eichmann, is shown covering his trial. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 This looks like it could be something worth checking out.

MAY 31, 2013

AFTER EARTH (Columbia) Genre: Science Fiction. A father and son are stranded on a dangerous planet. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 I think it looks pretty good, but some hear that M. Night Shyamalan is the director and immediately shuts the door.
AMERICAN MARY (XLRator) Genre: Horror. A disillusioned medical student gets embroiled in the freakish world of underground surgeries. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Looks genuinely creepy – I like it.
THE EAST (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Thriller. A former FBI agent working for a private security group infiltrates an anarchist group and finds her loyalties wavering. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Good cast, fascinating story.
FREE SAMPLES (Anchor Bay) Genre: Dramedy. The day of a young girl handing out free samples in an ice cream truck turns out to be more significant than she planned on. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Screened at the recent Florida Film Festival; read my review here.
THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK (Variance) Genre: Musical. Aliens who come down to Earth for the purpose of invasion decide instead to become an indie folk band. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Another Florida Film Festival entry, this one is as hip as it gets.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER (CBS) Genre: Comedy. Some spoiled teens in an act of rebellion against their parents decide to live on their own in the woods. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 This looks like a movie that was deliberately not made for my generation to enjoy. Good cast, though.
NOW YOU SEE ME (Summit) Genre: Action. A group of stage magicians – the best in the world – pull off daring heists against corporate criminals during their shows, garnering the attention of the authorities who can’t figure out how they do it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 Looks like the kind of movie that could be a surprise summer hit.
SHADOW DANCER (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. An Irish single mom in Belfast is forced to spy on her own family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Looks like the kind of political thriller that I really go for.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek Into Darkness, Sightseers, Frances Ha, Pieta, Epic, Fast and Furious 6, The Hangover Part III, After Earth, Now You See Me