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 Railway Man


Those who walk along straight tracks are liable to get run down by a train.

Those who walk along straight tracks are liable to get run down by a train.

(2013) True Life Drama (Weinstein) Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeremy Irvine, Sam Reid, Tanroh Ishida, Hiroyuki Sanada, Bryan Probets, Michael MacKenzie, Jeffrey Daunton, Tom Stokes, Tom Hobbs, Akos Armont, Keith Fleming, Ben Aldridge, Yukata Izumihara, Masa Yamaguchi, Michael Doonan, Keiichi Enomoto. Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky

The number of veterans that come home from war with PTSD is staggering. Nobody comes back from war unscarred, even if they didn’t get a scratch on them in battle. These days, our combat vets have programs through the VA that can help them through it, although getting into those programs these days can be frustrating and time-consuming. Back in the days of the Second World War, PTSD wasn’t even a recognized condition.

Eric Lomax (Irvine) certainly has scars, some which aren’t visible at all. Captured by the Japanese after the Fall of Singapore, he and his fellow soldiers were sent to work on the Burma-Siam Railway which was also called the Death Railway for the number of prisoners of war and Asian civilians who died in its construction. Lomax, a railway enthusiast and an engineer, was spared the forced labor because engineers were needed for other tasks. In secret, he also built a radio receiver which would have devastating consequences for Eric when it was discovered.

Years later, Eric (Firth) has met a nurse named Patti (Kidman) whom he has fallen deeply in love with. The two get married but Patti is troubled by her husband’s frequent night terrors, his violent mood swings and panic attacks. Whatever shell he has built around himself to cope with what he has been through is crumbling. Desperate, she talks to Finlay (Skarsgard), his best friend who at first is reluctant to talk to her about what Eric went through but at last gives in. Eric was brutally tortured, facilitated by a translator named Takeshi Nagase (Ishida).

Not long after, Finlay brings news to that Nagase is still alive. The former translator is now a museum tour guide (Sanada) in the very building the atrocities were committed in. Finlay urges Eric to go to Thailand and confront Nagase. Eric is reluctant to but a dramatic act by Finlay convinces him to go.

This is a true story, based on Lomax’ own autobiography. While a few facts were fudged – the meeting between Nagase and Lomax was portrayed as a complete surprise to Nagase when in fact the former translator had been prepared for his arrival through correspondence, and while Lomax’ motives to go to Thailand were portrayed here as initially a need to take vengeance, his book states clearly that he went to seek closure and confront his former tormentor face to face. It also doesn’t mention that Eric had been previously married and had three children by that marriage who figured in the actual story as well. Other than that (which are major issues it must be admitted) and the time compression of some events, the movie pretty much follows the book closely.

Firth has a difficult role to play. Not only is he a man in deep mental anguish, he also has to play a shy, retiring sort more interested in railroads than people, yet with a good heart. We get every side of Eric Lomax here, from the man in pain to the man bestowing the most divine of human gifts that one can give another, and I’m not talking American Express gift cards here.

Kidman’s role is less complex but she performs it no less satisfactorily. This isn’t a real glamour role for the star but she is still as lustrous as ever. She’s not a background performer here, although her character does take a backseat to Firth’s but then again, it’s not called The Railway Woman.

The message is a powerful one. Lomax not only forgives Nagase, but recognizes that his pain runs deep as well. When Nagase reads those words and collapses in tears, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Sometimes all we need is acknowledgement that we are hurting to make us feel better.

The depictions of torture are pretty graphic. Those who are wondering what waterboarding is will get a good idea of it when watching this movie. It serves as a reminder that our leaders who authorized using it as a means of extracting information failed to learn from history when it comes for the effectiveness of this method in getting reliable intelligence. It had the extra added side effect that it made me even more angry at the CIA, the Bush Administration and our military for allowing it to happen. We are supposed to be better than that and I expect our political and military leaders to be better than that.

To forgive is divine and never is it as divine as when a wrong as heinous as this is committed on a person. Hollywood is quick to make movies about revenge but movies about forgiveness are few and far between. While the filmmakers belabor their point a bit, I still think that if we made more movies emphasizing forgiveness that we as a culture would benefit greatly.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific job by Firth. The theme of forgiveness is powerful and unusual for a Hollywood film.

REASONS TO STAY: Overplays its point.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some disturbing violence against prisoners of war.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Patti Lomax attended the premiere of the film at the Toronto Film Festival last year and received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/3/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bridge Over the River Kwai

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Transcendence

New Releases for the Week of April 25, 2014


The Other WomanTHE OTHER WOMAN

(20th Century Fox) Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj, Don Johnson. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

A high-powered lawyer who has her pick of men has settled on one – who might be the One. When she discovers he’s married, she’s devastated. When she accidentally gets together with the wife of her former boyfriend, they discover that they have a lot in common – among other things that he’s cheating on the both of them with another woman. Joining forces with the other other woman, the three women plot this philanderer’s comeuppance.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, sexual references and language)

Brick Mansions

(Relativity) Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Gouchy Boy. In the Detroit of the near future (does that sound familiar?) a gigantic wall has been built around the worst slum, Brick Mansions. The crimelord of the district has put into motion a plan to devastate the entire city. An undercover cop and a fearless ex-con, each of whom have a stake in apprehending the crimelord, must (reluctantly) team up to stop him before all Hell breaks loose.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for frenetic gunplay, violence and action throughout, language, sexual menace and drug material)

From the Rough

(Freestyle Releasing) Taraji P. Henson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Tom Felton, Justin Chon. The swim coach of the woman’s swim team makes history as the first woman to coach a men’s golf team. Not only is she a pioneer, but she successfully takes the team to record-breaking heights. Based on a true story.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for language and thematic elements)

Joe

(Roadside Attractions) Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins.An ex-con with a hair-trigger temper takes a homeless young boy under his wing to the chagrin of the boy’s alcoholic and brutal father. The ex-con, beset by his own demons, tries to set the boy on the right path of life while facing the consequences of his own poor choices. Sold out it’s showing during the Florida Film Festival, you can read my review here.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for violence, disturbing material, language and some sexual content)

The Last Passenger

(Cohen Media Group) Dougray Scott, Kara Tointon, David Schofield, Lindsay Duncan. A weary London commuter and his son board the last train of the evening, headed home. As the train rolls into the night, he discovers that the conductor has disappeared and the brakes have been sabotaged. A lunatic has taken control of the train and means to commit suicide by train, taking the passengers with him.  This passenger, however, isn’t ready to die just yet.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for language)

The Quiet Ones

(Lionsgate) Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Erin Richards, Olivia Cooke. University students set out to create a poltergeist, the focus of their experiments being a dangerously disturbed young woman who seems able to manifest dark energies. However as the experiment continues, they soon discover to their horror they have unleashed something far more dangerous than they imagined and much too powerful to contain.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and terror, sexual content, thematic material, language, and smoking throughout)

The Railway Man

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada. A veteran of the Second World War is haunted by his harrowing experiences in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He and his cohorts are used as forced labor to build a railway system. Years after the war is over, he discovers that the interpreter whom he holds responsible for much of his brutal treatment is still alive and sets out to confront him and make him pay for what he did. This true story is based on the autobiography of Eric Lomax.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing prisoners of war violence)

Walking With the Enemy

(Liberty) Ben Kingsley, Jonah Armstrong, Hannah Tointon, Burn Gorman.In the waning days of World War II, a young Hungarian man utilizes a stolen Nazi officer’s uniform to try and find his displaced family. Trying to get as many Jews to safety as he can, he disrupts the activities of the Germans in order to keep them from implementing their final solution in his city. Said to be inspired by actual events.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for war violence including crimes against humanity)

The Zero Theorem

(Well Go USA) Christoph Waltz, David Thewlis, Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton.  In a dystopian future, a reclusive computer genius is given the assignment of finding the meaning of life. Plagued by angst and confusion, he is tortured by unwanted visitors by those he doesn’t trust. It isn’t until he breaks down the walls he has erected for himself with love and desire that he finds the tools to carry out his assignment. The newest film from visionary director Terry Gilliam.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for language and some sexuality/nudity)

Four-Warned: April 2014


Captain America-The Winter SoldierEvery 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. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (1.0)
2. TRANSCENDENCE (1.2)
3. OCULUS (1.5)
4. BRICK MANSIONS (1.6)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. FRANKIE AND ALICE (1.4)
TIE. THE RAILWAY MAN (1.4)
3. THE GERMAN DOCTOR (1.5)
TIE. JOE (1.5)

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

APRIL 2, 2014

DOM HEMINGWAY (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Dramedy. After serving a 12 year prison sentence, a larger-than-life safecracker tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter while retrieving what he thinks he’s owed for serving his time and protecting his boss with his silence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 One of the spotlight films from this year’s Florida Film Festival.
THE RETRIEVAL (Variance) Genre: Western. On the cusp of the Civil War a young slave boy is sent north by a bounty hunter to lure a wanted man back to the South. Release Strategy: New York City only (expands April 18). RATING: 1.9 Looks like a cross between 12 Years a Slave and The Unforgiven.

APRIL 3, 2014

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (Disney/Marvel) Genre: Superhero. Cap gets caught in a conspiracy that threatens SHIELD and at the center of it is someone he wouldn’t have thought of in a million years. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.0 The buzz is huge on this; could be one of the top box office performers in Marvel’s already impressive history.

APRIL 4, 2014

AFFLICTED (CBS) Genre: Horror. Two young bloggers documenting their trip of a lifetime around the world find themselves in a world of terror when a mysterious young woman infects one of them with a strange disease. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Not so sure about found footage films anymore but this one looks intriguing.
ALAN PARTRIDGE (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. A conceited and venal broadcaster gets caught up in a hostage situation at his television station. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Steve Coogan’s legendary British character gets his own feature film and high time he did.
ALIEN ABDUCTION (IFC Midnight) Genre: Science Fiction. While vacationing in North Carolina a family encounters a terrifying phenomenon. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Reportedly based on the Brown Mountain Lights in North Carolina.
FRANKIE & ALICE (Codeblack) Genre: True Life Drama. The story of a go-go dancer in Los Angeles in the ’70s who struggles with multiple personalities. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Halle Berry delivers yet another stunning performance.
THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. A group of back-to-nature misfits from the 1930s who have emigrated to the Galapagos become embroiled in a murder investigation which remains unsolved to this day. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 An impressive story that has elements of noir and nature film; with home movies from the actual participants themselves.
GOODBYE WORLD (Goldwyn/Phase 4) Genre: Drama. Living off-the-grid proves useful when a mass cyber attack crashes civilization; however when old friends come looking for shelter and protection, things get a little bit complicated. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Does the end of technology mean the end of the world?
IN THE BLOOD (Anchor Bay) Genre: Action. When a newlywed’s husband is kidnapped on their honeymoon, she sets out to find him – by any means necessary. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 I’m always down for Gina Carano.
ISLAND OF LEMURS: MADAGASCAR (Warner Brothers) Genre: Nature Documentary. On one of the world’s most remote islands these amazing creatures are being protected by a group of dedicated volunteers. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.8 Some of the most adorable creatures you will ever see.
JINN (Freestyle) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A race older than men decide to take the world back they once ruled. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Looks effects-heavy; could be pretty good if it isn’t the very best moments in the trailer.
NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUME 2 (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. Follows up the first volume with the story of the title character’s adult life and descent into darkness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 The films of Lars van Trier do absolutely nothing for me; I’ll be giving this and its companion a miss.
THE PLAYERS (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. A series of short films from a diverse group of French filmmakers set around the theme of infidelity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Intriguing considering Jean Dujardin is one of the stars – and one of the directors.
UNDER THE SKIN (A24) Genre: Science Fiction. After spending time on Earth, an alien who was initially hostile comes to discover the better angels of human nature. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Some reviewers have compared this to the work of Stanley Kubrick which depending on your point of view is either damning or high praise.
THE UNKNOWN KNOWN (Radius) Genre: Documentary. Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris turns his sights on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.8 A chilling look at a political figure who even today remains highly polarizing.
WATERMARK (eOne) Genre: Documentary. Stories from around the world documenting the human relationship with – and need for – water. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles April 18). RATING: 2.3 In a time where water is becoming an even more crucial resource than petroleum, it is absolutely critical we understand its effect on our everyday life.

APRIL 11, 2014

A FRAGILE TRUST: PLAGIARISM, POWER AND JAYSON BLAIR AT THE NEW YORK TIMES (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. The story of Blair, the notorious plagiarist that became a parable for the problems with modern journalism: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 A cautionary tale worth exploring, but that overly dramatic unwieldy title has GOT to go.
CUBAN FURY (eOne) Genre: Comedy. A one-time British salsa champion who lost it all in a bullying incident must once again take up his snappy outfit to impress the woman who makes his heart beat faster. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 It’s got Nick Frost in it; do you really need to know anything else?
DRAFT DAY (Summit) Genre: Sports Dramedy. The embattled GM of the Cleveland Browns with first pick in the upcoming NFL draft must use all his wiles to make the best move for the team. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 The Kevin Costner renaissance continues.
HANK AND ASHA (FilmRise) Genre: Romantic Comedy. An Indian woman living in Prague and a lonely New Yorker take up a video correspondence. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Maybe the first romantic comedy that is authentically 21st century in nature.
HATESHIP LOVESHIP (IFC) Genre: Romance. A trio of tales based on short stories by the great Alice Munro. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Kristen Wiig and Hailee Steinfeld take on dramatic roles.
JOE (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. While trying to get his life back on the straight and narrow, an ex-con befriends a young boy and becomes his mentor, enraging the boy’s abusive father. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Nicolas Cage may be making a return to serious acting; check it out at the upcoming Florida Film Festival.
KOCHADAIIYAAN (Eros International) Genre: Animated Feature. Good versus evil take center stage in an epic battle of love and betrayal in ancient India. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 This Indian motion capture film looks very much like a videogame from ten years ago.
OCULUS (Relativity) Genre: Horror. Ten years after being convicted of the brutal murder of his parents as a teenage boy, he is released into the custody of his sister who is determined to prove his innocence – and that the true culprit is a cursed mirror. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 The trailer looks pretty nifty and I love effects-driven horror like this.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS (Weinstein) Genre: Crime Comedy. Two mismatched police detectives investigate the murder of the wife of a French business mogul. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Unfortunately, the trailer isn’t available for viewing at this time and given that this is being released by Weinstein, I’d be frankly shocked if this was released this spring.
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (Sony Classics) Genre: Horror. Ageless beings watch as the world of humans spirals out of control around them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Jim Jarmusch takes on vampires? Color me intrigued…
PERFECT SISTERS (Gravitas) Genre: Thriller. Two sisters, facing their mother moving them in with her abusive boyfriend, plot her murder with classmates – and compulsively confess about it to their friends. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 Based on the Toronto “Bathtub Girls” case; stars Abigail Breslin and Georgie Henley are perfect as the sisters.
THE RAILWAY MAN (Weinstein) Genre: True Life Drama. During World War II, a British POW in a Japanese camp is tormented while building a railway; years later he discovers his chief tormentor is still alive and travels to Asia to confront him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A true story about redemption and forgiveness, star Colin Firth looks in the trailer like he’s never been better.
RIO 2 (20th Century Fox) Genre: Animated Feature. Blu, Jewel and their kids head into the Amazon to see if the rumors of other blue macaws like themselves are still there. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.8 The first one had its moments but it didn’t impress me particularly; not sure that this will be any better.

APRIL 16, 2014

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL (TriStar) Genre: Drama. After a near-death experience, a little boy starts telling people he saw heaven and has information he couldn’t possibly no, causing a crisis of faith for his pastor father. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Faith-based dramas have been scoring at the box office so far this year; this is one I actually might see.
VISIONS OF MARY FRANK (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. This artist, who began as a subject of photographers in the 1950s, has become an important artist who defies categorization over a 50 year career. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds intriguing but found no trailers anywhere online.

APRIL 18, 2014

13 SINS (Radius) Genre: Horror. Cryptic phone calls entice a down on his luck salesman to perform 13 tasks, each more sinister and disturbing than the last. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Anyone can be turned into a monster, given the right level of desperation.
A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 (Open Road) Genre: Horror Spoof. The exorcist from the first film gets a new start, a new girlfriend and new hauntings. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Nifty trailer doesn’t disguise the fact that this genre has really run its course.
AUTHORS ANONYMOUS (Screen Media) Genre: Comedy. A support group of unpublished authors has to deal with the overnight success of one of their number. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 One of Dennis Farina’s last roles; sadly the trailer doesn’t make the movie look worth his talents.
BANKSTAS (Main Street) Genre: Comedy. Recently graduated from college, a business major gets a job at a major financial firm only to discover the corruption there; along with a crusading lawyer he sets out to expose the crooked boss. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Haven’t been able to find a trailer for this – but sounds kinda cheesy.
BEARS (DisneyNature) Genre: Nature Documentary. Two mother bears try to prepare their cubs to make it on their own in the wild over the course of a single year. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 The DisneyNature series has been uniformly solid.
FADING GIGOLO (Millennium) Genre: Comedy. To help his cash-challenged friend a man decides to become a professional gigolo with his friend acting as his pimp. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 John Turturro as the gigolo and Woody Allen as the pimp? I’m listening...
THE FINAL MEMBER (Drafthouse) Genre: Documentary. The only museum in the world devoted to the penis needs one more species to complete its collection – a human – but the competition to be the member-donating member is more complex than it would seem at first glance. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Too crazy to be anything but true; one of this year’s selections at the Florida Film Festival.
KID CANNABIS (Well Go USA) Genre: Crime Drama. A high school dropout and his 27-year-old friend turn to smuggling marijuana across the border into Canada with life-altering results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Think of Savages but as a teen coming of age movie.
MAKE YOUR MOVE (High Top) Genre: Urban Dance. Two young people from different worlds find common ground at New York’s hottest underground club through dance. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Could the plot be any more cliche for this sort of film?
PROXY (IFC Midnight) Genre: Thriller. After meeting through a support group for women who have survived violent assaults, two women bond but soon begin to lose their grips on reality. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.3 Looks sufficiently edge-of-your-seat for my purposes.
SMALL TIME (Anchor Bay) Genre: Drama. A used car salesman comes to a crossroad in his life when his son decides to follow in his footsteps – and may be a little bit too good at the job. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Actually doesn’t look too bad with Christopher Meloni and Dean Morris up front.
TASTING MENU (Magnolia) Genre: Dramedy. After waiting a year for their table at the world’s most famous restaurant, a couple that has split up since making their reservation decide to both go on this last date. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks like a foodie’s fantasy – and I for one would love to live it!
TRAILER PARK BOYS 3: DON’T LEGALIZE IT (eOne) Genre: Stoner Comedy. Three Canadian trailer dwellers try to stop the Canadian government from legalizing pot since that might threaten their lucrative illegal business. Release Strategy: Canada only. RATING: 3.9 Dumb stoner comedy done Canadian smile and a continuation of a hugely popular Canadian TV show.
TRANSCENDENCE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Science Fiction. When a brilliant AI researcher is shot, his wife and best friend transfer his intelligence into the machine he was working on – which might well spell the end of the human race. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.2 One of those cautionary technology tales with Johnny Depp in the lead.

APRIL 23, 2014

BICYCLING WITH MOLIERE (Strand) Genre: Comedy. A French soap opera star trying to rehabilitate his career by performing Moliere’s The Misanthrope on the Paris stage attempts to recruit a curmudgeonly expert on Moliere to play opposite him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 As with most French comedies it looks charming.

APRIL 25, 2014

BLUE RUIN (Radius) Genre: Thriller. An act of vengeance gone awry leads to a fierce and bloody fight to protect an outsider’s adopted family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Has elements of Southern Gothic to it that I find quite appetizing.
BRICK MANSIONS (Relativity) Genre: Action. A cop and a con combine to stop a plot from Detroit’s worst ghetto to launch missiles into the rest of the city. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Based on Luc Besson’s District B-13 is one of star Paul Walker’s last films.
FOR NO GOOD REASON (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. The life and work of Ralph Steadman whose art illustrated books by Hunter S. Thompson and William F. Burroughs is examined by Steadman’s friend Johnny Depp. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Intriguing subject; will be playing at this year’s Florida Film Festival.
THE GERMAN DOCTOR (Goldwyn) Genre: Thriller. An Argentine family is unaware that the doctor they are harboring is Josef Mengele. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Looks absolutely horrifying; I can’t wait to see it.
THE GIRL AND DEATH (Shadow Distribution) Genre: Romance. A doomed love between a prostitute and a rising young medical student changes his life for over 50 years. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles May 23). RATING: 2.6 Not quite sure what to make of this yet; looks grand and yet I didn’t connect with it on first glance.
LAST PASSENGER (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Thriller. On their way home on the last train from London, a single dad and his son discover the train has been taken over by a sociopath who means to kill everyone on board. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The trailer is delightfully action-packed; hopefully we’ll get a chance to check it out.
LOCKE (A24) Genre: Drama. A man with the perfect life must risk it all after receiving a mysterious phone call. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Tom Hardy once again shows that he is a leading man of the highest caliber in this different-looking drama.
THE MACHINE (XLRator) Genre: Science Fiction. Two programmers create a self-aware artificial intelligence which is then stolen by the government and turned into a killing machine. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 With Caity Lotz from Arrow in the cast this is one to keep an eye out for.
THE OTHER WOMAN (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. A scumbag’s wife and mistress get together with the scumbag’s new mistress to plot their revenge. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 I’m generally not a huge Cameron Diaz fan but this one looks pretty funny.
THE QUIET ONES (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror. An attempt by students to artificially create a poltergeist leads to the unleashing of a devastating power. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 The trailer reminded me of one of my favorite horror films of all time, The Legend of Hell House.
WALKING WITH THE ENEMY (Liberty) Genre: War Drama. In the waning days of World War II a young Jew steals of Nazi officer’s uniform and uses it to disrupt their activities. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Another war drama based on a true story; can we get enough of them?
YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. A year in the life of a 17-year-old French girl turns out to be pivotal as she makes choices that will affect the rest of her life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 The latest from master French director Francois Ozon.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Dom Hemingway, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Draft Day, Joe, Oculus, Rio 2, Heaven is for Real, Bears, The Final Member, Transcendence, Brick Mansions, For No Good Reason, The Other Woman, The Quiet Ones