Top 10 of 2014


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

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

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

As with previous years, you can learn more about each movie on the top 10 list by clicking on the title to access my initial review, or clicking on the photo of the movie to go to the movie’s website or Facebook page when available. The information given should be self-explanatory. This year we’re also adding the top 10 films’ Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores as of the date I write the blurbs.

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

HONORABLE MENTION

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

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

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

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

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

Whiplash9. WHIPLASH

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

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

Gone Girl8. GONE GIRL

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

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

The Imitation Game7. THE IMITATION GAME

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

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

Mission Congo6. MISSION CONGO

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

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

The Kill Team5. THE KILL TEAM

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

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

Guardians of the Galaxy4, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

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

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

Her3, HER

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

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

The Double2. THE DOUBLE

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

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

Boyhood1. BOYHOOD

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

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

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The Hundred-Foot Journey


Helen Mirren serves up a treat.

Helen Mirren serves up a treat.

(2014) Dramedy (Touchstone/DreamWorks) Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Dillon Mitra, Aria Pandya, Michel Blanc, Clement Sibony, Vincent Elbaz, Juhi Chawla, Alban Aumard, Shuna Lemoine, Antoine Blanquefort, Malcolm Granath, Abhijit Buddhisagar, Rohan Chand, Masood Akhtar, Arthur Mazet, Laetitia de Fombelle. Directed by Lasse Halstrom

Some directors have an abiding patience for place and story. They allow the tale to unfold onscreen naturally, never or at least rarely forcing the action and allowing things to happen organically, giving the film a richness that comes from life’s own richness. Few directors possess such patience and trust. Lasse Halstrom is such a director.

In a small French village (mainly Castelnau-de-Levis but also Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, both in the Tarn region) there is a restaurant with a single Michelin star presided over by the iron-willed widow Madame Mallory (Mirren). Across the street is an abandoned and dilapidated former competitor which now stands empty. However, when an Indian family of restaurateurs, led by redoubtable patriarch Papa Kaddam (Puri) has their sketchy rented van break down in the village, she is distressed to discover that Papa has taken an interest in the vacant property and means to put in a new Indian restaurant.

At first she isn’t too impressed; after all, presidents have dined in her classical French establishment and the village may not be ready for the exotic spices, smells and sounds of the new Mumbai Maison. However, she didn’t reckon on Papa’s son Hassan (Dayal) being a tremendously talented but untrained chef. She also didn’t reckon on her sous chef Marguerite (Le Bon) falling for Hassan and lending him some books on French technique and recipes.

When the house is vandalized by French nationalists, one of whom working in her own kitchen, her attitude begins to soften a little bit. Eventually she recognizes that in Hassan she has found an amazing talent, the sort that could win her restaurant a second Michelin star. However, if she woos him away from his family and if he is as successful with her as she suspects he will be, undoubtedly world class Parisian restaurants will come calling and will Hassan be able to survive everything that goes with being a rock star chef in Paris?

Halstrom has crafted a movie in many ways not unlike his 2000 similarly-set film Chocolat in that it is about culinary talents in a bucolic French village with a romance taking place between two young people from completely different worlds. On the surface it may seem that this movie is about the preparation of food – it actually isn’t and to underscore this, about a third of the way through the movie Hassan discusses with Marguerite the mastery of five basic French sauces including Hollandaise which he asserts is made with olive oil. The sauce is actually made with egg yolks, butter, a bit of lemon juice and white pepper. Although this is a detail only a foodie or food industry professional might know, it’s the kind of detail that a movie obsessed with the preparation of food would get right.

Instead, the movie – based on a novel by Richard C. Morais – uses food as a metaphor. Meals are memories, asserts Hassan, reminding us of places and times in our lives. Good food can take us back to childhood, to magical moments of our youth, to family meals long after the family has scattered to the four winds. He’s not wrong on that score.

But whereas the mercurial and rigid Madame Malory is stuck on the same cuisine and in doing so, stuck on that single Michelin star (she dreams of being awarded a second), it isn’t until the passionate Hassan enters the picture melding French techniques and recipes with Indian spices and techniques that the restaurant flowers and approaches that lofty mark.

And in Hassan’s case, his love for French technique and cuisine is symbolized by his love for the French sous chef, as his passion for his heritage cuisine is symbolized by his love for his father and family. Close to both of his inspirations – Marguerite and Papa – his imagination and creativity are inspired. Taken away from both, his passion is drained from him. His success becomes empty because his food has become hollow.

 

Mirren is one of the finest actresses in the world and any chance to see her should be taken without hesitation. However, American audiences may be less familiar with Puri who is as revered in his home country as Mirren is here, and he is one of those actors who fills every role he plays with humanity and gentle humor. He is truly a treasure.

Unlike the first two movies in our Films for Foodies series, you won’t necessarily be hungry for French or Indian food when you leave the theater, although I have to admit a nice samosa wouldn’t be a bad thing at all right about now. However, this is a movie with a great deal of heart and a story told with a gentle touch. This is a village you’ll want to live in and restaurants you’ll want to dine in and more importantly, people you’ll want to spend time with. As slices of life go, this is a particularly delectable morsel.

REASONS TO GO: Gently paced. Lots of heart. A place you’ll want to stay in and people you’ll want to hang out with. Mirren and Puri are treasures.

REASONS TO STAY: A little bit less about food than the logline would lead you to believe. A bit predictable.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of violence, a distressing scene involving a personal tragedy, mild language and some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Dayal is of Indian descent, he was actually born in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/16/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Le Chef

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Into the Storm

New Releases for the Week of August 8, 2014


Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesTEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

(Paramount) Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Shalhoub, Jeremy Howard, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

New York City is in trouble – but then again, when is it not? In this instance, the dreaded Foot Clan, led by the insidious Shredder, has complete control – an iron grip on the cops, crooked politicians and crime. The city needs heroes and it’s about to get them. Rising from the sewers, four brothers – superbly trained and honorable, trained by their sensei Splinter will fight for justice and peace aided by an intrepid reporter. These are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michael Bay-style.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette, a promo and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Family Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)

About Alex

(Screen Media) Aubrey Plaza, Jason Ritter, Max Minghella, Maggie Grace. When a member of a circle of 20-something friends suffers an emotional breakdown, his concerned buddies decide to reunite for a weekend in a bucolic lakeside cabin. Despite their efforts to keep things light, years of unrequited passion, petty jealousies and widening political differences brings an already volatile cauldron to a boil.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for language and drug use)

Deepsea Challenge 3D

(National Geographic) James Cameron, Frank Lotito, Lachlan Woods, Paul Henri. The famous film director and noted marine biology junkie decides to dive to the deepest place on Earth using an experimental submersible. The dive is extremely dangerous and if Avatar fans knew he was making these dives before he’d finished writing the sequels they would have been raising a stink.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: 3D

Genre: Nature Documentary

Rating: PG (for language and brief disaster images)

The Hundred-Foot Journey

(DreamWorks) Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon. When an Indian restaurateur settles in an idyllic French village, it sparks open warfare with the patrician owner of a Michelin star-rated bistro across the road. However, the extremely talented young son of the flamboyant Indian finds that good food can bridge any cultural gap. This is the latest film from acclaimed director Lasse Halstrom.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and premiere footage here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality)

I Origins

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Steven Yeun, Astrid Berges-Frisbey. The eye is like a fingerprint – no two humans have the same one. However, a molecular biologist makes a startling discovery that turns all our thoughts about the subject on its ear and in the process challenges long-held spiritual beliefs as well as scientific theory.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity and language

Into the Storm

(New Line) Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep. A small town is hit by a storm of epic proportions, one in which tornadoes self-regenerate and the worst is yet to come. Think of this as a political test – Climate Change deniers will undoubtedly shriek that this is propaganda while ecology freaks will call this prescient.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Disaster Movie

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references)

Magic in the Moonlight

(Sony Classics) Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden. The latest from Woody Allen is set on the Cote D’Azur in the 1920s and is concerned about an English sleuth brought in to unmask a possible swindle. Sort of Woody Allen does Agatha Christie.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for a brief suggestive comment and smoking throughout)

Four-Warned: August 2014


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

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

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

Each entry is broken down as follows:

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

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

FOUR TO SEE
1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (1.0)
2. FRANK MILLER’S SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (1.1)
3. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (1.3)
4. THE GIVER (1.4)
TIE. INTO THE STORM (1.4)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. TO BE TAKEI (1.3)
2. THE CONGRESS (1.4)
TIE. RICH HILL (1.4)
TIE. DINOSAUR 13 (1.4)

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

AUGUST 1, 2014

4 MINUTE MILE (Gravitas) Genre: Drama. A young man in a desperate neighborhood uses track and field as an escape but even that may not be enough. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Looks a little hokey but does have a pretty decent cast with Richard Jenkins and Kim Basinger.
THE ALMOST MAN (Big World) Genre: Dramedy. Although he’s 35, Henrik lives at home and parties with his high school buddies like he’s young but when his girlfriend gets pregnant, it’s time for him to become the man he was meant to be. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 A celebration of life, Norwegian style.
BEHAVING BADLY (Vertical) Genre: Comedy. An awkward high school boy will do anything to secure the girl of his dreams but he doesn’t realize just how much he has to do to get her – and that it involves the mob. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Definitely a “stop me if you’ve heard this one before” kind of movie.
CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO (RLJ/Image) Genre: Horror. While on a Caribbean vacation, a group of friends swim in contaminated water and discover that an abandoned research facility may be the only key to save them from the flesh-eating disease they’ve contracted. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Most of this series has gone direct-to-video; I’m wondering if this shouldn’t have as well.
CALVARY (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Dramedy. A good Irish priest must summon the courage to face sinister circumstances brought on by a mysterious parishioner. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 From the director and star of In Bruges.
CHILD OF GOD (Well Go USA) Genre: Thriller. A man who is deprived of home and family descends into a deep dark morass of crime and degradation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Based on a Cormac McCarthy novel; looks pretty intense.
FINDING FELA (Kino-Lorber) Genre: Documentary. The life of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti whose fight for oppressed people and Pan-Africanist politics made him a hero in his native land. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 His music is most familiar to Americans through a Broadway musical based on his work.
GET ON UP (Universal) Genre: Musical Biography. James Brown came from a background of poverty to become one of the most influential figures in music in the 20th Century. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Chadwick Boseman looks like he captures the essence of James Brown as he did with Jackie Robinson.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Disney/Marvel) Genre: Science Fiction. A ragtag group of thieves, assassins and outsiders are all that stand between the galaxy and the ravages of a psychotic despot with unlimited power. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 An unusual choice for the next Marvel movie may end up being the best in the series to date.
LOUDER THAN WORDS (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Drama. Following the tragic death of their young daughter, a couple decide to honor her memory by founding a children’s hospital which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A great cast and an intriguing trailer make this one a sleeper to look out for.
RICH HILL (The Orchard) Genre: Documentary. Teenage boys in a small Midwestern town struggle to survive in an era of uncertain economics and hopelessness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 This Sundance award winner is an early contender for an Oscar as a realistic portrayal of rural poverty in this time and place.
THE STRANGE LITTLE CAT (KimStim) Genre: Comedy. An extended family gets together for dinner in a middle-class Berlin flat. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.9 An unusual but inventive looking piece of cinema that played last year’s Toronto Film Festival.

AUGUST 6, 2014

WEB JUNKIE (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. Internet addiction among teenage boys is an epidemic; in China they have developed “boot camps” to deal with it but the problem seems to be beyond the reach of parents, governments or the medical community. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 This is certainly a major problem but I’m not sure focusing on one failed solution really addresses it.

AUGUST 8, 2014

ABOUT ALEX (Screen Media) Genre: Dramedy. After one of them suffers an emotional breakdown, a group of 20-something friends gather for a weekend away but discover all the jealousies, political differences and unrequited love threaten to further divide them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Friendship and growing up in the age of Facebook.
AFTER (Paladin/Accretion) Genre: Suspense. The matriarch of a family struggles to hold things together when their family business starts to fail and shattering family secrets threaten to surface. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The trailer doesn’t really differentiate this much from other family dramas with similar themes.
DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D (National Geographic) Genre: Nature Documentary. Director James Cameron’s passion for deep sea exploration culminates in a historic solo dive into the deepest place on Earth. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 An incredible adventure that even Cameron himself couldn’t script.
FIFI HOWLS FROM HAPPINESS (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. Bahman Mohassess is an Iranian artist known as “the Persian Picasso” was forced to abandon his country as a gay man in a repressive regime where such things were not accepted. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles August 15). RATING: 1.9 An iconoclastic artist allows access to his life and thoughts which may not necessarily be the nicest place in the world.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (DreamWorks) Genre: Dramedy. In a small rural French village, a larger-than-life Indian restaurateur opens a garish Indian restaurant across the street from a Michelin star rated traditional French restaurant; warfare follows between the aristocratic owner of the bistro and the Indian with his talented son caught in the middle. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 The films of Lasse Halllstrom always have enormous heart.
INTO THE STORM (New Line) Genre: Adventure. A small town experiences a plague of tornadoes with weather scientists predicting that the worst is still yet to come. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.4 Looks like Twister on steroids.
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON (Radius) Genre: Musical Documentary. Jazz piano legend Clark Terry undertakes one last mentorship as his health begins to fail. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 A trailer for this film is lacking.
THE MAID’S ROOM (Paladin) Genre: Thriller. When a maid to a wealthy family in the Hamptons realizes their teenage son was responsible for a fatal hit and run crash, the knowledge puts her in far more danger than she realizes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 The trailer makes this look like a generic thriller.
STEP UP: ALL IN (Summit) Genre: Dance. A major dance competition in Vegas brings back stars from previous installments of this franchise. Release Strategy: Limited (Standard, 3D). RATING: 4.0 Can’t say as I have any interest in this sort of film.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (Paramount) Genre: Action. When New York City is beset by the evil Shredder, four unique brothers will rise up from the sewers to protect the city. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 While this has a bigger budget than the previous incarnations of the live action version of this comic book, it doesn’t look particularly better.
WHAT IF (CBS) Genre: Romantic Comedy. After a series of bad relationships makes a young man reluctant to engage in any romantic relationships, he begins to realize that his best friend may just be the woman for him. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.4 Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan make for an intriguing couple.

AUGUST 13, 2014

LET’S BE COPS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. When a couple of pals dress up as cops for a costume party and are mistaken for the real thing, they decide to see how far they can push their newfound respect and attractiveness to the ladies. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 Looks like kind of a big dumb comedy; hopefully all the best parts won’t be in the trailer.

AUGUST 15, 2014

DINOSAUR 13 (Lionsgate) Genre: Documentary. The discovery of the most intact T-Rex skeleton ever found should have been a major triumph right? However, a bureaucratic government, powerful museums, Native American tribes and competing colleagues threaten not only to take the find of the paleontologist that made the discovery but also his freedom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Even in our most triumphant scientific discoveries the ugly head of greed can be reared.
THE EXPENDABLES 3 (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. Barney and the team must go up against someone who was once a friend. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 More Expendables, more action, more fun.
FOUND (XLRator) Genre: Horror. A picked on high school kid hides a terrible secret; his older brother is a serial killer. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A cross between a coming of age movie and a slasher film; a really unique and refreshing take on the subject.
FRANK (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. Looking to make it as a musician, Jon joins a cult band of eccentric personalities that might be a little more than he bargained for. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Original, inventive and funny; could be the coolest movie of 2014.
THE GIVER (Weinstein) Genre: Science Fiction. A young man in a Utopian society discovers that all is not well with his world and that he himself may be the key to changing things. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Based on the popular young adult novels which is a statement that is getting to be the kiss of death for movies lately.
LIFE AFTER BETH (A24) Genre: Horror Comedy. Grieving for the sudden death of his girlfriend, a young man is overjoyed when she mysteriously comes back to life but as it turns out she’s not the same as when she left it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The Walking Dead have feelings too y’know.
RAGNAROK (Magnolia) Genre: Adventure. A historian obsessed with the Oseberg Viking ship discovers that runes found on the vessel may hold the key to the end of days in Norse mythology – and that it may be coming sooner than we think. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Where is Thor when you really need him?
SEPTIC MAN (Starz Digital Media) Genre: Horror. When a curious sewage worker is trapped in a septic tank, he undergoes a horrifying transformation that will help him take on the madman that trapped him there. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks pretty gruesome which is just the way I like it.
THE TRIP TO ITALY (IFC) Genre: Comedy. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take another journey to fine restaurants, five star hotels and bicker with each other incessantly. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 The opening night film from this year’s Florida Film Festival; you can read my review of it here.
THE WORD (Scarlet Sky) Genre: Drama. After his son is kidnapped and murdered by a religious sect, a grieving father plots an elaborate and wicked revenge. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds interesting but couldn’t find a trailer for it.

AUGUST 20, 2014

EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD (Argot) Genre: Documentary. Climate change scientists explore a remote area of Greenland only now accessible and find it to be a life-changing experience. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 May not be as profound as it appears to be.
WINTER IN THE BLOOD (Kino Lorber) Genre: Drama. When a Native American’s wife leaves him and takes his beloved rifle with her, he sets out on a strange journey to get it back. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 This played the recent Florida Film Festival; read my review here.

AUGUST 22, 2014

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS (Strand) Genre: Drama. After suffering a stroke, an acclaimed filmmaker is determined to continue her career taking on the story of a con man who swindles celebrities, not realizing that his manipulation of her is spiraling out of control. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Based on the director’s actual experiences.
ARE YOU HERE (Millennium) Genre: Comedy. When his eccentric BFF inherits his late father’s fortune, a womanizing weatherman helps him fend off a legal challenge from his overbearing sister.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Considering a cast of Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler, this looks surprisingly dramatic.
FRANK MILLER’S SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (Dimension) Genre: Horror. Two tales from the Frank Miller graphic novel series are woven together in a prequel to the first movie. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.1 Retains the stylized graphic novel look of the original.
IF I STAY (Warner Brothers/MGM) Genre: Fantasy/Drama. Caught between this world and the next after a tragic accident, a young girl must decide whether to live or die. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 I’m a big Chloe Grace Moretz fan and this looks like a different kind of role for her.
LOVE IS STRANGE (Sony Classics) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A gay New York couple is forced by economic circumstances to separate until they can afford to buy a new place to live. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.6 John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are amazing actors; this one looks like it shouldn’t be missed.
THE ONE I LOVE (Radius) Genre: Drama. In a last ditch effort to save their marriage, a couple escape to a beautiful vacation home in the mountains but a chance discovery forces them to reevaluate who they are, what they want to be and where they’re going. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 There’s some indie royalty in this one.
THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING (Anchor Bay) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A documentary filmmaker decides to debunk religion and spiritualism once and for all following the death of his wife gets a lot more than he bargained for. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks like a pretty wild ride.
THE PRINCE (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. When his daughter is kidnapped, a retired assassin must confront his former rival to get her back. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 It may look like standard B-movie action fare but with John Cusack, Jason Patric and Bruce Willis I’m all in.
TO BE TAKEI (Starz Digital Media) Genre: Documentary. George Takei, the beloved icon from Star Trek chronicles his life from an internment camp during World War II to his status today as cultural hero and fierce activist for progressive causes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 This guy is a living legend and one of the most beloved people on Earth; if he isn’t one of your heroes he should be.
VOD (Inline Image 2) Genre: Thriller. After five tourists in Bangkok go missing, a new arrival gets involved with a provocative website in town, which may well end up with her being added to the list of the disappeared. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 No trailer for this Thai film.
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL (TriStar) Genre: True Sports Drama. De La Salle High School’s football team had the longest winning streak in the history of sports but when the streak came to an end the players showed what winning was all about. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 I gotta say that I’m a sucker for these sorts of inspirational tales.

AUGUST 27, 2014

THE NOVEMBER MAN (Relativity) Genre: Spy Action. A CIA superspy is lured out of retirement to protect an important witness, but is marked for assassination himself and is up against his own protégé in an environment where there is nobody he can trust. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Pierce Brosnan proves that he hasn’t lost his Bond touch.
STARRED UP (Tribeca) Genre: Crime Drama. When he’s transferred to the same prison facility as his estranged father, a brutal inmate is taken under the wing of a prison psychiatrist who gives him hope that there might be something better ahead for him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Certain to cause some discussion over the nature and usefulness of prisoner rehabilitation.
THROUGH A LENS DARKLY (First Run) Genre: Documentary. African-American culture and society are reflected through the lens of photographers of color from the 1840’s until present day. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 An important subject I agree; the trailer sounds like though that the filmmakers have been caught up in their own self-importance.

AUGUST 29, 2014

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (Legendary/Universal) Genre: Horror. A group of researchers venture into the catacombs of Paris and find something terrifying. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
CANOPY (Monterey Media) Genre: Adventure. During the Second World War, an Australian fighter pilot shot down in the Singapore jungle finds an injured resistance fighter; together they must work together to survive the unforgiving terrain and the Japanese troops who have overrun the forest. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Could be very gripping; the trailer looks interesting.
THE CONGRESS (Drafthouse) Genre: Science Fiction. An actress licenses her digital image to a movie studio which then, twenty years later, initiates a comeback for her even though her image is much younger than the actress herself.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Startling and impressive images from the director of Waltz with Bashir.
THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD (Goldwyn) Genre: Biographical Drama. The scandal of an aging Errol Flynn and underage actress Beverly Aadland and her fame-obsessed mother Florence would haunt the swashbuckling actor in the last days of his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 An interesting subject but I’m not sure they pulled it off properly.
LIFE OF CRIME (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Caper Comedy. After the wife of a corrupt real estate tycoon is kidnapped, he decides that he doesn’t want to pay the ransom to get her back. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 It’s based on an Elmore Leonard novel so that’s got my attention from the get-go.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Get On Up, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Into the Storm, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Let’s Be Cops, The Expendables 3, The Giver, Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, If I Stay, When the Game Stands Tall, The November Man, As Above So Below