Spectre


No vehicle is safe around James Bond.

No vehicle is safe around James Bond.

(2015) Spy Action (MGM/Columbia) Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Alessandro Cremona, Stephanie Sigman, Tenoch Huerta, Adriana Paz, Domenico Fortunato, Brigitte Millar, Lara Parmiani. Directed by Sam Mendes

The past has a way of surfacing when we least expect it. Sometimes, it’s just a pleasant memory we’d forgotten. Other times, our sins come back to haunt us in ways we could never possibly expect.

With the carnage of Skyfall behind him (there are spoilers here if you haven’t seen that movie so quick, go see it before reading on), James Bond (Craig) finds himself in Mexico City several months later during the Dia de los muertos celebration. He is after a terrorist who has plans to set off bombs somewhere in the city, but Bond has other plans. Before sending most of the men in the room making plans to end the lives of innocents to kingdom come, he overhears plans to meet with someone called the Pale King. As is the wont around James Bond, buildings are blown up, a chase takes place through the crowded streets of Mexico City and a fight ensues on a helicopter which narrowly avoids crashing into the crowd.

The trouble is, Bond wasn’t authorized to do any of this or even be in Mexico. The new M (Fiennes) is already having issues with C (Scott), the head of MI-5 who has recently merged with MI-6 and is now in charge, and who is threatening on dismantling the double 0 program and replacing it with the Nine Eyes directive – the combined surveillance material from the nine largest agencies in the world, including the intelligence communities of the United States, Russia, China and other nations. Only South Africa remains a holdout.

Given the ruthlessness of C, it isn’t any surprise when a terrorist attack in South Africa changes their vote. These events, Bond deduces, are related to his own chase of the Pale King. After seducing the widow (Bellucci) of the assassin, Bond tracks down an old nemesis whose daughter Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) holds the key to a sinister criminal organization known as SPECTRE – and it’s mysterious leader (Waltz) who has a connection with Bond’s past – in more than one sense.

This has every element that makes Bond films so entertaining; a debonair and cool as a cucumber spy, gorgeous women, mind-blowing gadgets, absolutely amazing action and stunt sequences and exotic locations. Well, it’s missing one element – a great theme song, but Sam Smith delivered an absolutely atrocious song that may go down as one of the worst of any Bond film ever – and there have been some absolute turkeys, although the vast majority of Bond themes have been fabulous.

Craig in his fourth film inhabits the role, and while he is contracted for a fifth film (which the ending sets up very nicely), he has said in interviews that he wouldn’t mind finishing out his run here. I think he may want to rethink that; this isn’t his best performance as Bond (Skyfall is) and he might want to go out on a higher note than this.

Part of the problem is similar to what plagued Quantum of Solace – it simply doesn’t measure up to the high bar set by the film before it. While this movie is much better than Quantum, it’s also no Skyfall and that isn’t a knock at all; Skyfall is in my opinion second only to Goldfinger in terms of great Bond movies. Sacrilege to some, I grant you, but that’s how I see it.

While Craig is ice cold through most of this, Waltz as the villain whose name I won’t reveal here is simply put the best villain of the Craig era and maybe the best other than Auric Goldfinger in the whole franchise. Waltz as…he who shall not be named….is as urbane as Bond, has a deadly edge to him and is certifiably insane, but not in a “Look at me I’m Napoleon” manner but in a quiet, serious “I’m going to do something spectacularly evil” way. You have no doubt that Waltz’ character is capable of conjuring up absolutely horrific mayhem and is quite willing to see it through.

We get to explore Bond’s relationships with his team, mainly Whishaw as Q, Harris as Moneypenny and Fiennes as M. There is a cameo by Judi Dench as the previous M whose posthumous message sends Bond careening off to Mexico, and we get a sense of Bond’s loyalty. He doesn’t trust anyone really, but one senses he trusted M – and not the new one, necessarily.

The stunts here are as good as ever – the Mexico City sequence is worth the price of admission alone – and while the gadgets aren’t as gee-whiz as in past years, the best line of the movie comes when Q hands Bond a watch and Bond asks “And what does this do?” Q responds with a droll “It tells the time.”

The movie feels like it’s cramming a little bit too much plot in; I don’t know that we needed to go all over the globe to finally end up in futuristic volcanic lair that we don’t really get to see much of but is apparently immense. They had to conjure up the largest explosion in movie history in order to…well, let’s just say that it doesn’t end He Who Shall Not Be Named’s nefarious plans.

Don’t get me wrong – this is thoroughly entertaining and certainly will keep Bond fans more than happy, although the critical reaction has been disappointing. I do hope Craig does do one more film and finishes his time in the franchise on a better note than this. It’s a good movie, but not a great one. I think Craig has one more great Bond film in him.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific action sequences. Waltz is the best villain of the Craig era. Continues the return to the iconic 60s Bond films.
REASONS TO STAY: A little on the busy side. Sam Smith’s song is terrible.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of action violence, some disturbing images, sexual innuendo and some mildly foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At age 50 during filming, Bellucci is the oldest Bond girl to appear in the franchise by twelve years (Honor Blackman was 38 when she filmed Goldfinger).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/15/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: You Only Live Twice
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Veteran

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New Releases for the Week of November 6, 2015


SpectreSPECTRE

(MGM/Columbia) Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista. Directed by Sam Mendes

The greatest spy in cinematic history is back fresh off the biggest box office bonanza of the 50-year history and James Bond is ready to tackle his greatest foe. When a cryptic message from the past sends Bond on an unapproved mission to Mexico City, he runs smack dab into a criminal organization that threatens world stability – an organization known as SPECTRE.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language)

Labyrinth of Lies

(Sony Classics) Alexander Fehling, André Szymanski, Friederike Becht, Johannes Krisch. Twenty years after World War II, a prominent journalist identifies a teacher on the playground of the school in a small village as a former guard at Auschwitz, he runs into a brick wall of apathy. However, a young prosecutor takes on the case and despite official opposition persists in taking on Germany’s war guilt head-on.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for a scene of sexuality)

Miss You Already

(Roadside Attractions) Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Dominick Cooper, Paddy Considine. They are the best of friends and have been since childhood; one a free spirit, the other more grounded. Even as their lives change in meaningful ways – one marries a band roadie, gets pregnant and eventually settles down when her husband develops a successful business, the other becomes an environmental activist and moves in with a colleague. When one develops breast cancer and the other becomes pregnant, their friendship is tested in fundamental ways. Watch for a review here in Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, sexual material and some language)

The Peanuts Movie

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Noah Schnapp, Alexander Garfin, Kristin Chenoweth, Hadley Belle Miller. Good ol’ Charlie Brown begins a quest to meet the new girl who just moved into his neighborhood, while his beloved beagle Snoopy – the greatest flying ace of them all – takes on his nemesis the Red Baron. This will be the first Peanuts feature film to be filmed in computer animation, and the first feature to be released theatrically in 35 years starring the Charles Schultz creations.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, a featurette and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: G

Suffragette

(Focus) Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter. In the Great Britain of the early 20th century, a courageous young woman – a working wife and mother – joins other women who believe as she does to stand up and fight for the right of women to vote. Reviled by the establishment and even by those who know her, she nonetheless soldiers on and obtains a place in history at great cost to her personal life.

See the trailer, clips, an interview, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity)

Pick of the Litter – November 2015


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Spectre

Spectre

(MGM/Columbia) Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci. With the success of Skyfall, setting the new franchise box office record, James Bond is back and stronger than ever. Here he discovers that a sinister criminal organization has ties to his own past as his search for answers leads to places that he doesn’t want to go while MI6 is undergoing tribulations of its own. Bond films are always greeting with heavy anticipation with the fans; this one has a higher bar than usual to live up to but has most of the behind-the-camera team returning to give it the opportunity to break some records of its own. November 6

INDEPENDENT PICKS

What Our Fathers Did A Nazi Legacy

What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Niklas Frank, Philippe Sands, Horst von Wachter. The children of Nazi Germany were not all Hitler Youth; some were the sons (and daughters) of men who committed terrible atrocities against humanity, or men who did nothing while those atrocities were committed. Some of these children, now old men and women, have never come to terms with the actions of their fathers, while others have become embittered. Still others have learned to accept what their fathers have done and have moved on. This moving documentary looks at the effects of these men on their children which reverberate in their lives and those around them even to this day. November 6

Shelter

Shelter

(Screen Media) Jennifer Connolly, Anthony Mackie, Amy Hargreaves, Bruce Altman. Two homeless people in New York City find each other and find love in the most extraordinary of circumstances. This, actor Paul Bettany’s first film as writer and director, couples powerful performances from Connolly and Mackie and a timeless story of the power of human will in the face of adversity to make a movie that may well be one of the most powerful films to hit theaters this month. November 13

Kilo Two Bravo

Kilo Two Bravo

(Honora) David Elliot, Mark Stanley, Scott Kyle, Benjamin O’Mahony. A British army squad, fighting in Afghanistan finds themselves literally caught in a minefield. With one of their number already down, they are trapped in a dried riverbed with no way out other than through courage and sacrifice of the sort most people will never have to face. This taut war suspense thriller was nominated for a BAFTA and is based on an incredible true story. November 13

Spotlight

Spotlight

(Open Road) Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber. A team of investigative reporters for the Boston Globe that called themselves Spotlight became aware of a story involving Catholic priests molesting young boys and then being quietly moved from parish to parish without the knowledge of the parishioners who would entrust the care of their sons to these pedophiles. The ore they dug, to the shock of the reporters – many of them Catholic themselves – the greater the dimension of the story grew. This festival favorite which is now getting some Oscar buzz is based on the true story that shook the Roman Catholic church to its very core. November 20

Stink!

Stink!

(Area23a) Jon J. Whelan, Leonard Lance, Cal Dooley. It all began with a Christmas present; a pair of child’s pajamas with a strange odor when they were taken out of the package. A single dad decides to look into this; calls the manufacturer and is shocked to discover that some of the chemicals that go into the pajamas are “proprietary.” This takes him on a crusade to take on the trillion dollar chemical industry and find out what precisely we are putting on our bodies – and in them. November 27

 

2015 Fall/Holiday Preview


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEPTEMBER

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

Hotel Transylvania 2

DEANS LIST

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2

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

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS

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

BLACK MASS

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

EVEREST

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

THE WALK

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

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

SICARIO

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

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

SEPTEMBER 2, 2015

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

SEPTEMBER 4, 2015

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

SEPTEMBER 11, 2015

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

SEPTEMBER 18, 2015

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

SEPTEMBER 25, 2015

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

SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

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

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

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

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

OCTOBER

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

Crimson Peak

DEANS LIST

CRIMSON PEAK

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

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE MARTIAN

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

PAN

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

BRIDGE OF SPIES

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

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS

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

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

SUFFRAGETTE

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

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

OCTOBER 2, 2015

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

OCTOBER 9, 2015

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

OCTOBER 14, 2015

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

OCTOBER 23, 2015

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

OCTOBER 30, 2015

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

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

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

NOVEMBER

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

Spectre

DEANS LIST

SPECTRE

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

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE PEANUTS MOVIE

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

THE 33

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

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2

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

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

TRUMBO

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

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

NOVEMBER 6, 2015

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

NOVEMBER 13, 2015

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

NOVEMBER 20, 2015

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

NOVEMBER 25, 2015

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

NOVEMBER 27, 2015

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

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

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

DECEMBER

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

Star Wars The Force Awakens

DEANS LIST

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS

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

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

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

SISTERS

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

CONCUSSION

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

JOY

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

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

MACBETH

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

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

DECEMBER 2, 2015

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

DECEMBER 5, 2015

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

DECEMBER 11, 2015

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

DECEMBER 18, 2015

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

DECEMBER 23, 2015

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

DECEMBER 25, 2015

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

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

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

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

From Russia, With Love


Much better than a mint on your pillow.

Much better than a mint on your pillow.

(1963) Spy Thriller (United Artists) Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Eunice Gayson, Walter Gotell, Francis de Wolf, George Pastell, Nadja Regin, Lois Maxwell, Aliza Gur, Martine Beswick, Vladek Sheybal, Anthony Dawson, Lisa “Leila” Guiraut, Hasan Ceylan, Peter Bayliss, Desmond Llewelyn. Directed by Terence Young

While most people remember the first James Bond movie (Dr. No) and the third (Goldfinger) the casual moviegoer probably doesn’t remember the second. It was a box office smash, particularly in Britain where it set a box office record in only 82 days of release. Still, it doesn’t get a lot of the love that other Bond films over the years has attained.

James Bond (Connery), MI-6 agent 007 has irritated SPECTRE, a criminal organization set on world domination led by a mysterious Number One (Dawson) who pets a white cat constantly. Planning mastermind Kronsteen (Sheybal) has come up with a plan to steal a Lekter cryptographic device from the Soviet Union and sell it back to them, while exacting revenge on Bond for killing Dr. No in the previous movie. Number One engages Number Three, Rosa Klebb (Lenya) to run the operation. She in turn utilizes SPECTRE agent Red Grant (Shaw) as her primary field operative.

However, the way to get to Bond is to use a beautiful woman and the way to get to the Lekter is to use Tatiana Romanova (Bianchi) to lure in bond with the promise of a Lekter. Of course M (Lee) and Bond know it’s a trap but if they can get their hands on a Lekter, that would be a considerable coup. Bond goes to Istanbul where station chief Ali Kerim Bey (Armendariz) meets him. Grant follows Bond around, wreaking havoc and pitting the Soviets against the Turks and Brits. Romanova rendezvous with Bond and in keeping with – and adding to – a Bond movie tradition, falls head over heels in love with the British spy.

However, SPECTRE is dogging their every move, keeping Bond alive until he can literally deliver the Lekter into their hands. Romanova, who thought she was acting on behalf of the Soviet’s in-house SMERSH agency, is now ready to defect for real. There’ll be Murder on the Orient Express and a thrilling boat chase and of course face-to-face confrontations with both Klebb and Grant before all is said and done. And I could tell you how the movie ends but you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what it’s going to be.

Young was going for a more realistic atmosphere  this time around. While there are gadgets including a fairly useful briefcase and the Lekter itself, this is mostly straight-up action as opposed to later Bond movies. Connery cemented his stardom as it was very apparent that this was a franchise that was going to have staying power – this even before Goldfinger would make it a cultural phenomenon. He’s in so many ways the ultimate male circa 1963. He’s ruggedly handsome, tough as nails, absolute catnip to women and knowledgeable as well as cultured. We mere mortal males couldn’t possibly compete against all that and there were more than a few wives at the time who, seeing this, eyed their husbands with a critical expression. They’re still doing that today, if Da Queen is any indication.

Bianchi is one of the most physically beautiful of the Bond girls, although the former Miss Italy didn’t really have the charisma of the best of them – Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, Ursula Andress and Halle Berry come to mind immediately. She’s usually lumped in with Lois Chiles and Olivia D’Abo as one of the less popular girls of the series. I don’t know that it’s fair but she certainly is easy on the eyes.

Llewellyn makes his first appearance as Q, although the head of Q branch is identified by his character’s real name, Major Boothroyd here. Istanbul makes a lovely and exotic backdrop for most of the movie and of course who can go wrong with the most romantic journey in the world, the Orient Express. The winning formula of exotic locations, jaw-dropping beautiful women and clever gadgets really got its start here.

The movie is extremely dated in a lot of ways, particularly in its attitudes towards women who are mostly portrayed as either besotted creatures whose place is in the bedroom and are in need of a manly slap once in awhile, or femme fatales who are out to emasculate if not outright murder any men who come across their path. Even the wise-cracking Moneypenny (Maxwell) really doesn’t get much respect.

Armendariz, who was terminally ill when he made the movie leading Young to film most of his scenes first, is one of the more charming Bond allies and sets the bar for those that would follow. Lenya, best known as the star of her husband Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera and an Oscar nominee for The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is a shrill but deadly efficient killer whose fight with Bond is one of the biggest kicks in the movie. Shaw, who went on to greater fame as Captain Quint in Jaws shows off washboard abs and a sardonic wit. Grant is a brilliant agent provocateur that creates a good deal of havoc here and it’s fun watching him work.

Having recently re-watched the movie, I get the sense that while it often gets short shrift among all of the Bond movies, there is reason for it. The movie doesn’t jell as well as most of the Connery Bond films and while Klebb and Grant are fine antagonists, they lack the over-the-top panache of classic Bond villains Goldfinger, Blofeld and Largo.

Those things aside and despite being terribly dated in many ways the movie still remains a terrific piece of entertainment. Certainly those tired of seeing the same three or four Bond films over and over again could do worse than to use this one as a change of pace.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the more reality-based Bonds. Armendariz is charming and Lenya and Shaw both formidable foes.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: One of the more dated Bond movies.
FAMILY VALUES: Some era-appropriate sensuality and era-appropriate violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Daniela Bianchi’s voice was dubbed by Barbara Jefford due to Bianchi’s heavily Italian-accented English. This was also the final Bond film that Ian Fleming got to see as he passed away shortly after it was released.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Ultimate Blu-Ray edition is loaded with a plethora of extras that should satisfy most Bond fans, including a gallery of still images, radio and TV promos, featurettes on the late Harry Saltzman, the exotic filming locations (some of which weren’t quite so exotic), a comparison between Fleming and Raymond Chandler and an interview with Fleming by the CBC.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $78.9M on a $2M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental/streaming), Amazon (streaming only), Vudu (purchase only),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (not available), Target Ticket (not available)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Our Man Flint
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Top Five

You Only Live Twice


You Only Live Twice

Did someone call for a sociopathic megalomaniac?

(United Artists) Sean Connery, Donald Pleasance, Karin Dor, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tanba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Charles Gray, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn. Directed by Lewis Gilbert

In the Bond pantheon, this movie usually doesn’t stand out among the movies considered Bond classics; Goldfinger, Dr. No and Live and Let Die, and to be sure, all of these are classic James Bond. However, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for this movie. It was the first one I saw in a movie theater – in a drive-in to be exact, where it was bloody hard to make out what was going on onscreen in the first scenes but my dad liked to smoke so we went to the drive-in where he could puff away to his hearts content.

I will be the first to admit that the plot is a bit on the ludicrous side, with SPECTRE intercepting American and Russian spacecraft with an automated unhinging missile that brings them to a rather impressive volcano lair in Japan (one which remains in many ways the quintessential villain’s lair and one which was spoofed nicely by Austin Powers). This of course brings the superpowers to the brink of mutual war and annihilation, which suited the Chinese just fine (they were funding much of the shenanigans) and more importantly, played perfectly into the megalomaniacal plans of none other than Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Pleasance), the previously faceless Number One of the SPECTRE organization.

The British, having detected the rogue craft coming down in the area around Japan (something which the American and Russian radar were unable to do because they were just, like, tracking) send their best man, James Bond (Connery) in to investigate and he runs into Osato (Shimada), a wealthy industrialist and his deadly assistant Helga (Dor), both secret operatives of SPECTRE. Bond is saved by Aki (Wakabayashi), the beautiful agent of the Japanese Secret Service, headed up by Tiger Tanaka (Tanba), with whom Bond becomes fast friends. With the help of Little Nellie, a gyrocopter, they investigate a remote island in the Sea of Japan. There they find a nearly impregnable lair built into a dormant volcano. Can Bond, the marvelous Japanese agent Kissy Suzuki (Hama) and an army of Japanese ninjas stop Blofeld from plunging the world into nuclear war?

While Auric Goldfinger remains the greatest Bond villain to date, it is Blofeld who is Bond’s nemesis, the Moriarty to Bond’s Sherlock Holmes. Pleasance gives the previously faceless villain not only a face, but a personality to match; urbane like Dr. No and vicious like Goldfinger. Dr. Evil of the Austin Powers movies is based on Pleasance’s take on the part, from the Nehru jacket to the somewhat noticeable scar to the quietly menacing speaking tone. All Dr. Evil is missing is the eurotrash accent.

I also found the Japanese locations beautiful and the insights to the Japanese culture interesting. Previously, the only Japan American audiences had seen in the movies was the one Godzilla trampled over. I have had a fascination for Japan ever since seeing this movie.

The volcano lair of Blofeld is one of the most spectacular ever built. The monorail you see scooting around the perimeter actually worked and the helipad arm that extends out was also a working helipad. Of course, the rocket launches were done with miniatures but this was one of the most expensive sets ever built at the time. It still holds up, looking sleek and menacing and exactly the kind of thing you’d see from a would-be world dictator.

The Bond girls for this movie, Hama and Wakabayashi, were cast mostly for their looks and their willingness to be filmed in a bikini, something that the Japanese were only beginning to embrace at the time. Unfortunately, the two actresses spoke little English and their performances are unconvincing.

That said, even given the implausible nature of the plot and that already by this point the Bond movies were relying more on familiar repetitive plot points rather than stretching the limits (and over-relying on gadgets) of the creativity of the writers, this still remains a film that resonates with me. Interestingly enough, the next Bond movie to be made would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which had perhaps the best script of all the Bond movies but Connery had left the series after You Only Live Twice, tired of the media attention and anxious not to be typecast as Bond any longer. I’ve always thought had Connery made that movie, it might have turned out to be the best in the series, even better than Goldfinger. But, that’s another review for another day.

WHY RENT THIS: An underrated Bond movie, with exotic locales and a great deal of insight into the Japanese culture. The volcano set is one of the most magnificent of the series, with a working monorail and helipad.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The kitsch and implausibility factors were beginning to become noticeable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of sexuality and as usual with Bond films, plenty of violence and smoking. Still, it’s no worse than anything on network television these days so don’t feel that you need to restrict the kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: You Only Live Twice was the last James Bond novel published during Ian Fleming’s lifetime (there were posthumous publications). There were also two Blofelds in the cast; Pleasance who played him here, and Charles Gray who played Henderson here and Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Ultimate DVD Edition has a nice featurette on Maurice Binder, the main title designer for the Bond films up through the Timothy Dalton era. Although the Blu-Ray edition hasn’t been released yet, the Bond films released so far in the format have included the Ultimate Edition features along with a beautifully restored print, so look forward to that.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Date Night