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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Tim’s Vermeer


Tim Jenison plays a little rock and roll viola.

Tim Jenison plays a little rock and roll viola.

(2014) Documentary (Sony Classics) Tim Jenison, Penn Jillette, David Hockney, Philip Steadman, Martin Mull, Colin Blakemore, Teller. Directed by Teller

The paintings of Johannes Vermeer are exercises in light and color, virtually photorealistic. They were painted at a time when photographs didn’t exist and artists painted their subjects by what they saw alone. In the intervening years, it has been a subject of considerable debate in the world of art as to how Vermeer did it.

Tim Jenison is not a painter. He’s a computer geek and a tinkerer, making his fortune as the CEO of a company that revolutionized both home and professional videography. His company, NewTek, has won Emmys for the Babylon 5 television show. He became intrigued by Vermeer after reading Philip Steadman’s book Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces which opined that Vermeer must have used a mechanical aid, specifically a Camera Obscura (essentially a box with a pinhole or lens through which an image is reflected against the back wall of the box upside down but with the color and perspective intact) in order to get his images. Artist David Hockney’s book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters further fueled his fire on this.

Much of the controversy stems from x-rays of Vermeer’s paintings revealing that no tracing lines were drawn which is standard with most artists. As narrator Penn Jillette puts it, “it’s as if Vermeer were some unfathomable genius who could just walk up to a canvas and magically paint with light.”  In any case, Tim went from intrigued to obsessive. After coming up with a simple device utilizing a mirror (the inspiration for which came in the bathtub), he discovered that he could match precisely the colors of the images reflected in the camera obscura. He determines to paint a Vermeer of his own.

He uses for inspiration the painting The Music Lesson which hangs in Buckingham palace. In order to duplicate the painting, he built the room and furnishings from scratch in a San Antonio warehouse. He learned how to grind pigments into paint and even learned to read Dutch in order to facilitate the process. He wanted everything to be as exact as he could make it using technology available in Vermeer’s day. When the room was ready, he sat down to paint.

The results are remarkable. His friends Penn and Teller – who met him when they started using Video Toaster as consumers – document this remarkable undertaking. Jenison himself is affable and entertaining, self-deprecating but curious as a child. We catch Jenison’s sense of wonder when after being refused admittance to see the painting, he at last is granted a 30 minute window to view it with the proviso that no recording equipment come in with him. He is visibly moved by the experience and reports that the painting is much more detailed and awe-inspiring in person than any reproduction could make it.

Some critics have sniffed that the filmmakers are forcing a particular theory down the throats of the audience and present it as fact, but those critics were probably surfing the internet rather than watching the film. The movie is clearly presented as a possible explanation as to how Vermeer may have achieved his remarkable achievements in art. That the painter may have also been a tinkerer no less diminishes his achievements as an artist. It must be said that no optical devices were listed among Vermeer’s personal effects when the artist died, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible that he didn’t use any during his lifetime.

We will never know how Vermeer achieved his style of painting because he left no notes behind explaining his technique. No master of any art, from Vermeer’s day right up to the present, is going to reveal their secrets easily. What this movie is about isn’t really about how Vermeer did it. It’s about how Tim Jenison did it. It’s his story, not Vermeer’s. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you don’t want to think that an icon of painting may have used non-standard means to create his art. At the end of the day, what matters is not how Vermeer painted his paintings but the paintings themselves, which are quite literally snapshots of a world three centuries gone. There is nothing that Jenison does here that diminishes the accomplishments of Vermeer; instead, it brings even more of a sense of wonder about them at least in my case.

REASONS TO GO: Absolutely mind blowing.

REASONS TO STAY: Might be a little too detail oriented to the easily bored.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few choice words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jenison was not a trained artist at the time he undertook the “Vermeer Project” which he chronicled via blog. He was best known for co-inventing the Video Toaster software bundle as well as the LightWave 3D computer animated graphics program.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/25/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Girl With the Pearl Earring

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Divergent

Four-Warned: January 2014


I, Frankenstein

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

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

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. I, FRANKENSTEIN (1.4)
2. JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (1.8)
3. THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (1.9)
4. LABOR DAY (2.0)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. GENERATION WAR (1.0)
2. LIKE FATHER LIKE SON (1.4)
TIE. TIM’S VERMEER (1.4)
4. 24 EXPOSURES (1.5)

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

JANUARY 1, 2014

THE BEST OFFER (IFC) Genre: Thriller. A closed-off antiques dealer becomes enamored of a mysterious client. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 With a stellar cast and legendary director Giuseppe Tornatore this has my undivided attention.

JANUARY 2, 2014

INTERIOR, LEATHER BAR (Strand) Genre: Drama. The Al Pacino film Cruising legendarily had 40 minutes of sexually explicit material cut; a pair of filmmakers set out to re-imagine that footage. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 3.9 I’m really not sure what the purpose of this movie is.

JANUARY 3, 2014

BEYOND OUTRAGE (Magnet) Genre: Crime Drama. Although he yearns to retire after being released from prison, a Yakuza boss gets embroiled in a war between rival gangs manipulated by a ruthless police detective. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The sequel to Outrage, a brutal Japanese crime drama.
OPEN GRAVE (Tribeca) Genre: Horror. After waking up in a pit of dead bodies with no memory, a man makes his way to a nearby farmhouse where he finds others with a similar story. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Sharlto Copley stars in this one; looks pretty interesting from the trailer.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES (Paramount) Genre: Found Footage Horror. A Latino family finds itself the object of supernatural events. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 A spin-off from the hit franchise.

JANUARY 10, 2014

THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX (RLJ) Genre: Fantasy. A 17-year-old boy discovers that the link to his missing parents and younger brother is a mysterious old hotel. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Sounds awful on paper but the trailer looks a lot better than it sounds.
BANSHEE CHAPTER (XLRator) Genre: Horror. A journalist investigating secret government chemical experiments uncovers a relationship with a mysterious radio signal of unknown origin. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 An intriguing concept but the trailer didn’t exactly rock my world.
BLACK COFFEE (One Village/RLJ) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A down on his luck man finally finds the woman of his dreams – until his gold-digging ex-girlfriend and her psycho ex-husband decide to get involved. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Appears to be another unfunny romantic comedy.
COLD COMES THE NIGHT (Stage 6/Goldwyn) Genre: Thriller. A nearly-blind criminal takes a hotel owner and her daughter hostage and forces them to be his eyes when he goes to retrieve a cash stash from a crooked cop. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Bryan Cranston and Alice Eve are both moving up in Hollywood and they make an intriguing combination.
DIVORCE CORP. (Candor) Genre: Documentary. A look at how the modern family court has turned into a cash cow more about generating revenue than in protecting families and facilitating safety as they are mandated to do. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 A chilling look at how broken the system has become.
DUMBBELLS (GoDigital) Genre: Comedy. A former college athlete turned trainer and the shallow owner of the gym he works at hatch a hare-brained scheme to turn their failing gym into a reality show. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 If you can’t laugh at the physically fit, who can you laugh at?
IF YOU BUILD IT (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. One of the poorest counties in North Carolina resolves to radically transform their school, their community and their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Can school still be inspirational? Maybe so.
THE LEGEND OF HERCULES(Summit) Genre: Swords and Sandals. The origin of one of Greek mythology’s most memorable heroes. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.9 I’m not sure that the first name that would have come to mind when you say Hercules would be Kellan Lutz.
LOVES HER GUN (Devolver Digital) Genre: Drama. After being attacked on the streets of New York, a woman moves to Texas and becomes enmeshed in the gun culture. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Wow! Enormous potential here if they don’t go the easy, safe route.
RAZE (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A woman is abducted and taken to a concrete bunker where she is forced to fight other women to the death in order to protect their loved ones. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Starring the incomparable Zoe Bell, this one raises above the average exploitation flick.
THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A troubled young girl takes an unhealthy interest in a neighbor who bears a striking resemblance to her deceased mother. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks very complex and layered; intrigued to see this one.

JANUARY 15, 2014

GENERATION WAR (Music Box) Genre: Drama. Five young German men navigate the nearly impossible moral consequences of Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 An epic German film that is the first must-see of 2014.

JANUARY 17, 2014

BACK IN THE DAY (Screen Media) Genre: Comedy. Crashing his high school reunion, an old Hell raiser takes his friends out and in doing so gets them in hot water with their wives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Doesn’t seem to break any new ground in the high school reunion sex comedy genre, limited as it is.
BIG BAD WOLVES (Magnet) Genre: Thriller. Three men involved in a murder are on a collision course; the father of the victim, a maverick police detective and the main suspect in the murder. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Revenge thriller Middle Eastern-style; Quentin Tarantino really likes it so that’s saying something.
DEVIL’S DUE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Horror. After a newlywed couple get pregnant sooner than expected, the husband begins to notice disquieting changes in his bride that may be far more sinister than hormonal mood changes. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 One gets the sense that the filmmakers are trying to go for a 21st century Rosemary’s Baby.
FREEZER (Anchor Bay) Genre: Thriller. A man finds himself locked in a restaurant freezer and a badly wounded cop may be the only way out. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.9 I generally find Dylan McDermott a compelling actor.
G.B.F. (Vertical) Genre: Comedy. Three high school clique queens battle for overall supremacy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 I can’t think of anything I could be less interested in.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (Paramount) Genre: Spy Thriller. A reboot of the Jack Ryan series as a pre-CIA Jack discovers a terrorist plot to destroy the world’s financial markets. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.8 I love the Jack Ryan series but for some reason this one isn’t really exciting me to see it much.
JAMESY BOY (Phase 4/XLRator) Genre: Thriller. A teenage gangbanger goes to prison and becomes the protégé of a convicted killer who wants to straighten him out. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Based on a true story but truth be told this really looks kind of…well, been there done that.
LIFE OF A KING (Millennium) Genre: True Life Drama. An inner city advocate tries to improve the lives of the kids of Washington DC – through teaching them the game of chess. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The best performance by Cuba Gooding Jr. in years.
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. Two Japanese children are switched at birth into very different families. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A beautiful trailer and what looks to be a thoughtful take on an age-old story from master director Kore-eda Hirokazu.
MAIDENTRIP (First Run) Genre: Documentary. 14-year-old Laura Dekker defies the odds and attempts to make a solo trip around the world in a sailboat. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The parent in me recoils in horror; the dreamer in me cheers her on.
NUT JOB (Open Road) Genre: Animated Feature. A squirrel who accidentally destroys the food supply for the winter hits upon a nutty scheme to replenish it. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.5 The animation and storyline look substandard.
REASONABLE DOUBT (Lionsgate) Genre: Crime Thriller. After a DA intentionally throws a case in which a career criminal is blamed for the hit and run death that he himself was responsible for, he discovers that he acquitted a guilty man. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 You can’t go wrong with Samuel L. Jackson.
RIDE ALONG (Universal) Genre: Comedy. A fast-talking but wimpy man seeking to wed the sister of a tough cop must go on a ride along to prove his worth. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Kevin Hart and Ice Cube may be the ultimate odd couple.
SUMMER IN FEBRUARY (Tribeca) Genre: Romance. The true story of Albert Munnings who rose from a working class background to become one of the greatest British artists of the 20th Century. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Very lush, very British.

JANUARY 21, 2014

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (eOne) Genre: Fantasy. A group of LARPers accidentally conjure up a real demon and realize that they are all that stands between us and the end of the world. We’re doomed.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks truly amusing and who could go wrong with the great Peter Dinklage (or the not-as-great Steve Zahn)?

JANUARY 24, 2014

24 EXPOSURES (IFC Midnight) Genre: Thriller. The death of a beautiful young model brings together a homicide detective and a fetish photographer as an unlikely crime solving team. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Looks incredibly compelling; may be Joe Swanberg’s best film yet.
ENEMIES CLOSER (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. After a drug cartel loses a shipment in the wilderness, they force an ex-Navy SEAL to guide them to their trove. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 JCVD as an over-the-top villain…hmm.
GIMME SHELTER (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. A pregnant street teen finds her strength and sisterhood in a shelter that she fights to save. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Impressive cast; trailer consists mostly of Vanessa Hudgens overacting though.
GLORIA (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. An aging woman tries to make the best of her loneliness until she finds a love that reignites her passion and allows her to discover her inner strength. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Looks life-affirming and who can argue with that?
I, FRANKENSTEIN (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror. The creation of Victor Frankenstein finds himself embroiled in a war between demons and angels in which he is the crucial tipping point. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX). RATING: 1.4 Looks like a cross between Hellblazer and…well, Hellblazer.
MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF LATIN AMERICA (First Run) Genre: Documentary. One of Argentina’s most famous singers was also famous for her courage to stand against dictators and bullies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 While she’s largely unknown to non-Latin Americans, she remains a symbol of freedom and democracy south of the United States.
RUN & JUMP (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. An American doctor arrives in Ireland to observe the victim of a rare type of stroke and ends up teaching the family of the victim as much as they teach him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 A slice of Irish wit and wisdom.
STRANGER BY THE LAKE (Strand) Genre: Thriller. After falling in love one summer by the lake, a man and his lover become the prime suspects in a murder. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles January 31). RATING: 2.0 Very Hitchcockian, with a gay twist.
VISITORS (Cinedigm) Genre: Documentary. The director of Koyaanisqatsi examines the relationship between man and technology. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 More of a montage of images than a documentary.

JANUARY 29, 2013

CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. Re-enacts airline cockpit emergencies using actual black box recordings. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 While it sounds very compelling, it also seems a little bit ghoulish.

JANUARY 31, 2014

12 O’CLOCK BOYS (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Documentary. A group of daring bike-riding hooligans capture the admiration of a Baltimore adolescent. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 I get the sense that the filmmakers are glorifying stuff that shouldn’t be glorified.
ARMISTICE (XLRator) Genre: Science Fiction. Trapped in a strange warehouse and forced to fight bizarre inhuman monsters, a Royal Marine finds hope in a diary left by a former occupant of the place who served in the First World War. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Fascinating concept; haven’t seen a full trailer yet (just a teaser) to really get a good sense of what the film might be like.
AT MIDDLETON (Anchor Bay) Genre: Romance. Two single parents of kids entering the same college ditch the campus tour and fall in love. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks kinda charming.
BEST NIGHT EVER (Magnet) Genre: Sex Comedy. A bride-to-be heads off to Vegas for her bachelorette weekend with her sister and two best friends for a kind of distaff Hangover. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 I get the sense that it takes the most cliché plot points ever from a lot of movies that are better than this will be.
BRIGHTEST STAR (Gravitas) Genre: Dramedy. Not wanting to give up the girlfriend who just dumped him, a fresh-out-of-college young man determines to become the man she wants him to be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Doesn’t look bad…but doesn’t look all that compelling either.
LABOR DAY (Paramount) Genre: Drama. On a back-to-school shopping trip, a young boy befriends a wounded man who turns out to be an escaped convict and takes him home to his agoraphobic mother. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Has a bit of a Nicholas Sparks vibe to it but with Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in the leads there is a lot of potential here.
SOMEWHERE SLOW (Screen Media) Genre: Drama. After being involved in a convenience store robbery, a woman on the spur of the moment decides to walk out of her life and begin a new one. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 It’s one of those types of stories that needs flawless execution to work right.
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT (Focus) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Three friends resolve not to date while one of them is recovering from a rough break-up but find that harder to do than they thought. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 Looked a bit cheesy from the trailer.
TIM’S VERMEER (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. Follows the quest of Tim Jenison to try and duplicate the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s photorealistic style using 17th century technology that was available to the painter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Directed by Teller (of Penn and…) the subject is really fascinating to me.
THE WAIT (Monterey Media) Genre: Thriller. A family becomes divided over the possibility that their beloved recently deceased mother might be resurrected. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.5 Sounds interesting but unable to find a trailer for it online.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Legend of Hercules, Her, Lone Survivor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Ride Along, I Frankenstein, Labor Day, That Awkward Moment, Tim’s Vermeer