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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Whiplash


J.K. Simmons (right) prepares to march to a different drummer.

J.K. Simmons (right) prepares to march to a different drummer.

(2014) Drama (Sony Classics) Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, Max Kasch, Suanne Spoke, Charlie Ian, Jayson Blair, Kofi Siriboe, Kavita Patil, C.J. Vana, Tarik Lowe, Tyler Kimball, Rogelio Douglas Jr., Adrian Burks, Calvin C. Winbush, Joseph Bruno, April Grace. Directed by Damien Chazelle

Genius, by itself, is useless. Genius needs to be trained. Genius needs to be focused. Greatness is something that is earned, not given. Genius isn’t enough. Hard work, preparation and practice is what turns genius into greatness.

Andrew Neyland (Teller) aspires to greatness. He longs to be the next Buddy Rich. He is a gifted drummer and those gifts have gotten him accepted into the Shaffer Conservatory of Music, one of the best in the country located (of course) in New York City. There are a variety of different student bands in the Conservative but the one everyone wants to be in is the Studio Band led by Terrence Fletcher (Simmons), himself a professional jazz pianist. It is the band that the Conservatory sends out to win competitions. Most of those in the band are juniors and seniors.

Andrew is a Freshman and stuck in the Nassau band as an alternate drummer to Ryan (Stowell). as gregarious and likable as Andrew is arrogant and unlikable. While Andrew is practicing alone one day, he is observed by Fletcher who is critical of the boy. Andrew figures that he has a ways to go before he can impress the man he most wants to impress.

However a few days later Fletcher shows up at rehearsal for Nassau and demands to hear the drummers do double time swing beats. He listens to Ryan and Andrew as well, and then selects Andrew to come aboard the Studio band to be the alternate. Andrew is over the moon about this but soon sees the pressure the kids in Studio are under. The lead drummer, Tanner (Lang), is a miserable bundle of nerves hostile to what he perceives as competition.

He has good reason to be hostile. When Tanner asks Andrew to hold onto his sheet music before a competition, Andrew loses it. Since Tanner doesn’t know the beats by heart and Andrew does, he gets the core chair and Tanner gets to sit in the alternate’s chair. Andrew’s performance meets the standards of Fletcher and the Studio Band wins the competition.

 

Fletcher is a tyrannical teacher, one who teaches through humiliation and intimidation. All of the students are terrified at being the subject of his wrath but it moves Andrew to try harder. Andrew’s obsession with becoming legendary has begun to affect his relationship with his girlfriend Nicole (Benoist) as well as with his father (Reiser) and family.

But the all-out pursuit of perfection is taking its toll on Andrew and he’s completely lost perspective which only causes Fletcher to drive him harder, further. Will Andrew achieve the greatness that he so desires? Or will Fletcher break him entirely?

Chazelle originally had troubles getting financing for the script he wrote, so he condensed it down to a short which he took to Sundance in 2013. The response was so positive that he was able to secure financing and make a feature film which he brought back to Sundance this year. It earned raves and the Audience Award. I can say that those raves and awards are well-earned.

The movie is as intense an experience as you’re likely to have at theaters this year. The battle of wills between Fletcher and Andrew is incendiary; you can almost see the sparks flying. Some critics have complained that a teacher like Fletcher would quickly and quietly be let go once allegations of abuse reached administrative ears. All I can say is that may be true in today’s lawsuit-happy world but that Chazelle based his script on his own experiences in music school so that must be taken into account.

The performances here are riveting. Teller is never better as the ambitious and obsessed Andrew. This Tampa-area native has great things ahead of him if performances like this are any indication. That Andrew is so basically unlikable – his arrogance and lack of perspective coupled with an occasional condescending tone to his conversation make him a hard guy to like – but we end up rooting for him anyway is a testament to Teller’s skills.

For me though, Simmons is the main attraction. Long a capable character actor with TV roles that include  the neo-Nazi Vernon Schillinger in Oz, a recurring role on Law and Order and the Farmer’s Insurance commercials, he has had few leads in movies as he does in The Music Never Stopped, he does exemplary work. Here he gets to cut loose as the autocratic and sadistic Fletcher. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize him as a villain but in essence that’s what he is and Simmons gives the character depth – an ability to charm one moment and be terrifying the next. I’m not saying that an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor is a sure bet but it should be.

The soundtrack mainly of jazz standards is an extra added attraction. Those unfamiliar with orchestral jazz can get a pretty decent primer on some of the best examples of that musical form, including Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,”  Stan Getz’ “Intoit” and Hank Levy’s “Whiplash” are mostly not performed by their original musicians but they are competently done here by my limited expertise.

The cost of greatness is staggering, taking a toll on family and friends alike in addition to the pursuer of greatness themselves. It can be an often-lonely undertaken and as many times as not few people other than the person in question believe in their ability to achieve that greatness. That pursuit and its costs are at the center of the movie. You have to end up asking whether it is better to be famous and alone or to be happy and unknown. Andrew seems to think it is.

The ending of the film is left subject to the interpretation of the viewer. Is it redemption, submission or madness? Who won, if anyone? These are points to ponder on your own but be warned there are no easy answers. I consider myself a fairly decent student of story but I’m still mulling it over what really happened at the end of the movie. I’ll probably be thinking about it for awhile. And that, my friends, is the true mark of cinematic greatness.

REASONS TO GO: As intense a movie as you’ll see this year. Extraordinary performances from Simmons and Teller. Great soundtrack.
REASONS TO STAY: Neither Andrew nor Fletcher are particularly nice characters. Some may find Fletcher’s tactics unrealistic in an age of lawsuits.
FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly rough language including a few sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Teller has actually played the drums since he was 15 years old. Even so, he took additional lessons to learn jazz drumming techniques which are less conventional than rock drumming. He developed some intense blisters during filming and some of the blood on the sticks and on the drumset is Teller’s real blood.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/18/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 87/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dark Matter
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Broken City

New Releases for the Week of November 7, 2014


InterstellarINTERSTELLAR

(Paramount) Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck. Directed by Christopher Nolan

The Earth is dying. It will soon be unable to support life as all our ecological chickens are coming home to roost. Desperate to preserve our species, an expedition is sent through a newly-discovered wormhole to find habitable planets that one day may be our new homes, but the trip will be full of perilous unknowns and those who are sent to the stars will be separated from everyone and everything they love.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opened Tuesday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense perilous action and brief strong language)

Big Hero 6

(Disney/Marvel) Starring the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung. In a future megalopolis, a young boy stung by a family tragedy gets involved with his brother’s inflatable robot Baymax who was programmed to heal the sick. However, the boy, his robot and his friends get caught up in the machinations of an evil villain who was at the core of the boy’s pain. The boy will transform himself, his robot and friends into high tech heroes to fight the madman who threatens to destroy everything – and everyone – he loves. Sound familiar?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements)

 

Birdman

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone. An actor best known for playing a costumed superhero decades before is making one last comeback on Broadway in the hopes of reviving a moribund career as well as to reconnect with a family that has given up on him. Getting in the way is his own ego and an encroachment of his fantasy life into his reality.

See the trailer, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dark Comedy/Fantasy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence)

The Blue Room

(IFC/Sundance Selects) Matthieu Amalric, Lea Drucker, Stephanie Cleau, Laurent Poitrenaux. A torrid extramarital affair between a successful family man and a beautiful woman ends with the man being question by the police. What happened to their relationship? And what is the man accused of doing? This stylish and sexy thriller was directed by Amalric, one of France’s most accomplished actors.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for sexual content including graphic nudity) 

Elsa and Fred

(Millennium) Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Marcia Gay Harden, Scott Bakula. A curmudgeonly man who wants only to live out his remaining years with as little human contact as possible moves into a seniors apartment complex in New Orleans. However, a gregarious neighbor absolutely refuses to let him give up on life and the two strike up a friendship that deepens unexpectedly. Now treading in an emotional minefield, the two struggle to make it through without everything blowing up in their faces.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Laggies

(A24) Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Garlin. 26 and not ready for adulthood quite yet, a young woman panics when her boyfriend proposes and goes to live with her new 16-year-old friend and her friend’s damaged dad. Dragging herself kicking and screaming into adulthood is one thing but arriving there wiser than when you left childhood is a whole other thing.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Select Theaters
Rating: R (for language, some sexual material and teen partying)

 

Mr. Pip

(Freestyle Releasing) Hugh Laurie, Kerry Fox, Eka Darville, Xzannjah Matsi. During the brutal civil war in Bougainville in the 1990s, an English teacher – the last Englishman in the village – makes a connection with his students through the reading of Dickens’ Great Expectations. A wildly imaginative young girl begins to believe that Pip, whom the young girl calls “Mr. Pip” is her friend and he takes her into the fantastic world of Dickens’ London. However her belief in her friend Mr. Pip inadvertently puts the entire village in mortal peril.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing situations involving violence and threat, and for some mature thematic material and brief language)

On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter

(Rd Bull Media House) Travis Pastrana, Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Doug Henry. The 1971 documentary film On Any Sunday helped popularize motorcycle racing in the United States. More than four decades later, the oldest son of the original film’s director revisits the sport, showing its acceptance as an Extreme Sport and becoming more popular than ever.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Select Theaters
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing situations involving violence and threat, and for some mature thematic material and brief language)

Whiplash

(Sony Classics) Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist. An ambitious jazz drummer, wanting to become elite at his chosen profession, is tutored by an autocratic teacher who continues to push him to the breaking point. Either the student will crack like a walnut and lose everything or he’ll reach his potential and become one of the best drummers in the world.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for strong language including some sexual references)

Four-Warned: October 2014


FuryEvery 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 strategy: 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. FURY (1.5)
2. GONE GIRL (1.6)
TIE. THE JUDGE (1.6)
4. ST. VINCENT (1.7)
TIE. DRACULA UNTOLD (1.7)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. BIRDMAN (1.0)
2. DIPLOMACY (1.1)
3. RUDDERLESS (1.3)
TIE. WHIPLASH (1.3)
TIE. KILL THE MESSENGER (1.3)

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

OCTOBER 1, 2014

THE DECENT ONE (Kino-Lorber) Genre: Documentary. Correspondence and restored film from German archives show Heinrich Himmler, one of the true monsters of the Nazi regime, to have quite a different self-image than how history views him. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 Nobody ever thinks of themselves as monsters but some of the footage in the trailer was fascinating.
MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN (Paramount) Genre: Ensemble Drama. Explores how the internet impacts relationships of several high school students and their parents. Release Strategy: Limited (expands October 10 & October 17). RATING: 1.9 Really good young cast and director Jason Reitman makes this something to look forward to.

OCTOBER 2, 2014

BANG BANG (Fox Star) Genre: Bollywood. A mousy bank receptionist gets caught up in the adventure of a lifetime when a mysterious man comes into her life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 A remake of the Tom Cruise vehicle Knight and Day; could appeal to audiences beyond the usual Bollywood enthusiasts.

OCTOBER 3, 2014

A GOOD MARRIAGE (Screen Media) Genre: Thriller. Happily married for more than 20 years, a woman stumbles across a box under a worktable that changes completely her perception of the man she married.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 From the mind of Stephen King and starring the great Joan Allen who has been not as much onscreen as I would like.
ANNABELLE (New Line) Genre: Horror. For his pregnant wife, an expectant father buys the gift of a vintage doll in a wedding dress, but an attack by a satanic cult gives the doll a demonic presence. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 A prequel to the excellent horror film The Conjuring.
BITTER HONEY (Elemental) Genre: Documentary. Polygamy is more accepted in Indonesia; this film follows three families in Bali and in particular the wives and their place in Indonesian society. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.4 Definitely has the feel of being made by an academic but a fascinating subject nonetheless.
THE BLUE ROOM (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. A couple meet for an illicit romance but it ends up with the man under police scrutiny. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 Examines the French attitudes towards infidelity with the great Matthieu Almaric starring – and directing.
DRIVE HARD (RLJ/Image) Genre: Action. A former race car champion turned driving instructor is hijacked by a desperate criminal to be the getaway driver in his $9 million heist. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Looks much more fun than I thought; with John Cusack and Thomas Jane in it, I guess I should have known better.
GONE GIRL (20th Century Fox) Genre: Thriller. When a beautiful woman disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary, the husband comes under scrutiny and their apparently perfect marriage begins to dissolve into lies, deceit and secrets. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Ben Affleck has been on a winning streak of late and David Fincher is an always interesting director.
THE GOOD LIE (Warner Brothers) Genre: True Life Drama. Sudanese refugees who arrive in the U.S. prior to 9-11 are separated from their sister and prevail on a sympathetic social worker to help them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 The first of two first-rate Reese Witherspoon performances this fall.
THE HERO OF COLOR CITY (Magnolia) Genre: Animated Feature. Heroic crayons take on the monsters from a child’s imagination to keep said monsters from hoarding all the colors for themselves. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Looks a little cheesy but then again I think this is really meant for younger kids.
LAST HIJACK (Submarine) Genre: Documentary. The life of a Somali pirate told from his point of view through film of his everyday life and animated sequences. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.8 A powerful subject but not sure the trailer captures that power.
LEFT BEHIND (Stoney Lake) Genre: Faith-Based Drama. After the rapture, those who remain in this world discover why it was a good thing to get called up to heaven Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.9 While going from Kirk Cameron to Nicolas Cage is arguably a trade-up, this isn’t necessarily a movie I wanted to see the first time let alone this time.
THE LIBERATOR (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Biographical Drama. Simon Bolivar is one of the most beloved historical figures in Latin America; this movie explains why. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Although this movie has been rescheduled a couple of times, the trailer looks intriguing and it could do some indie-level box office damage.
THE SUPREME PRICE (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. The democratically elected president of Nigeria is overthrown by a military coup and his wife assassinated when she tries to carry on his ideals; now their daughter returns to Nigeria to try and restore democracy to a nation in which the corruption is entrenched. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.0 Powerful stuff, but some of the Nigerians’ accents are so thick that the extended trailer would benefit from subtitles.

OCTOBER 7, 2014

STRETCH (Universal) Genre: Action Comedy. During the course of a single night, a desperate limo driver is obliged to perform increasingly twisted tasks for his reclusive billionaire fare. Release Strategy: VOD. RATING: 2.2 From Joe Carnahan, a director whose projects always seem to have something interesting about them.

OCTOBER 10, 2014

ADDICTED (CODEBLACK) Genre: Drama. A successful female executive with a great family and loving husband falls for an artist client and begins a torrid affair, discovering that her physical needs have become an obsession. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.2 Yet another movie this month dealing with marital infidelity.
ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (Disney) Genre: Family. What should have been a great day turns into the most miserable day ever for one particular family. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Has at least Steve Carell in it to recommend it.
AUTOMATA (Millennium) Genre: Science Fiction. The investigation of potential manipulation of a robot’s programming exposes a dire threat to humanity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Has a distinctly Asimovian feel to the film.
THE CANAL (The Orchard) Genre: Horror. A man suspects that dark spirits in his home, the scene of a grisly turn-of-the-last-century murder, may be trying to destroy him and his family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Creepy, atmospheric Irish horror – is there anything better at Halloween?
DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD (Well Go USA) Genre: Horror Comedy. The survivor of the first movie wants to get revenge on the Nazi zombies – by raising an army of the undead of his own. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Might just be THE best horror movie of the season.
THE DEVIL’S HAND (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Horror. One of six girls born on the sixth day of the six month in a small devout village is destined to be the Devil’s Hand. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 A cross between a teen slasher movie and a supernatural horror film set in an Amish community.
DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal/Legendary) Genre: Horror Action. His family and people threatened, a Romanian warlord determines to protect them anyway he can – even if it means literally making a deal with the devil. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.7 An alternative take on the origins of history’s most famous vampire.
I AM ALI (Focus World) Genre: Documentary. The Greatest Boxer of All Time’s life and career are recounted through unprecedented access to his archives and interviews with those closest to him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 An icon from when boxing mattered.
THE JUDGE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Drama. When his estranged father who is in the throes of early dementia is accused of murder, his high-priced lawyer son reluctantly accepts the task of defending a man he can’t stand. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Robert W. Downey is almost always entertaining.
KILL THE MESSENGER (Focus) Genre: Thriller. San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb discovers a story with far-reaching implications into our government and the war on drugs, but his discoveries put his job, family and eventually his life at risk. Release Strategy: Limited (expands October 17 and October 24). RATING: 1.3 A true story involving one of the last heroic journalists of our time with Jeremy Renner as Webb.
ONE CHANCE (Weinstein) Genre: Musical Biography. The true story of Paul Potts, a shop assistant whose incredible performances on a British singing competition show took that country by storm. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 A movie whose release date has been shifted by Weinstein so many times it’s a wonder this hasn’t gone direct to VOD.
THE OVERNIGHTERS (Drafthouse) Genre: Documentary. With oil creating a boom in a small town in North Dakota, housing has become an issue; when a pastor opens up his church to itinerant oil workers he creates unexpected controversy that is exacerbated by secrets from his own past. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks incredibly powerful, not just a snapshot of a moment but also of our attitudes towards those who work in our country.
THE PACT 2 (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A woman’s life, which she seems to have put together in a careful fashion, begins to unravel when horrific nightmares begin to intrude on her waking life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 A serial killer comes back from the grave film with better special effects than most for the genre.
ST. VINCENT (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. Having moved into a new neighborhood, a single mom is forced to hire her curmudgeonly neighbor to babysit her kid. Release Strategy: Limited (opening wide October 24). RATING: 1.7 Looks like another winner for Bill Murray.
WHIPLASH (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. An ambitious jazz drummer butts heads with his tyrannical drum teacher, pushing him to the brink of greatness – and possibly, insanity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Some say this is the best movie to come out of Sundance this year.
YOU’RE NOT YOU (eOne) Genre: Drama. An unconventional friendship forms between a successful classical pianist diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and the chaotic college student and wannabe rock star who is hired to care for her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks a bit like a tearjerker but with an amazing cast headed up by Oscar winner Hilary Swank.

OCTOBER 15, 2014

DIPLOMACY (Zeitgeist) Genre: Drama. The confrontation between a Nazi general and a Swedish diplomat becomes a game of high stakes. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.1 With the Allies knocking on the doors of Paris, the Nazis intended to destroy the city; one man alone stood in the way as this riveting drama proposes.

OCTOBER 16, 2014

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (Orion/MGM) Genre: Horror. 65 years after a masked serial killer terrorized a Texas town, the murders begin again but is it something more sinister than a copycat killer? Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 A spooky remake of a supposedly true story.

OCTOBER 17, 2014

THE BEST OF ME (Relativity) Genre: Romance. Two lovers are reunited 20 years later after life has kicked them around some and the woman is married to another man. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.3 Nicholas Sparks is at it again.
BIRDMAN (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Comedy. Trying to resurrect a stalled career, an actor best-known for playing an iconic superhero mounts a Broadway play, battling his own ego and the pressures surrounding him as he gives one last effort to make things right in his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 The latest from Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu looks funny, sad, beautiful and wonderful all at once.
THE BOOK OF LIFE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Animated Feature. Two young men battling for the heart of the same women attract the attention of supernatural entities who bet on the winner; one, hoping to tip the scales, sends one of the men to the land of the Dead. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Set in the style of the Mexican Day of the Dead, the Guillermo del Toro-produced toon has a look that is completely unique and utterly enchanting.
THE CULTURE HIGH (eOne) Genre: Documentary. Examines both sides of the debate around legalizing marijuana. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 While the documentarians clearly favor legalization, they seem open to presenting opposing viewpoints.
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Comedy. Four African-American students deal with racial attitudes in the 21st century in different ways. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 I’m still on the fence about this one; the trailer looked a bit stereotypical.
DEFAULT (Amplify) Genre: Thriller. Somali pirates capture a chartered plane with a legendary journalist aboard, demanding to be interviewed which the journalist agrees to without realizing the motives are much more deadly than he realizes. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Somali pirates seem to have become an object of obsession in Hollywood lately.
FELONY (Gravitas) Genre: Crime Thriller. Three detectives are involved in the critical injury of a child; one committed a crime, one is covering it up and the third will try to expose it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Australian film with a terrific cast including Tom Wilkinson and Joel Edgerton.
FURY (Columbia) Genre: War. In the waning days of the Second World War, a tank crew behind enemy lines try to survive the furious final fight and make it home. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Brad Pitt may be looking at another Oscar nomination.
HOUSEBOUND (XLRator) Genre: Horror Comedy. Sentenced to home detention in her mom’s house, a career criminal discovers that her mom’s babbling about the house being haunted turn out to be true. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Keep Calm and Watch British Horror Movies.
LISTEN UP, PHILIP (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A self-centered novelist seeks refuge in his idol’s summer home and gets an unexpected reality check. Release Strategy: New York City (expands October 24). RATING: 2.1 Looks pretty funny in a twisted sort of way.
RUDDERLESS (Goldwyn) Genre: Drama. The death of his son inspires his alcoholic dad to begin performing his son’s songs in public. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 The directing debut of William H. Macy offers a fine cast and a strong story.
THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (GKIDS) Genre: Animated Feature. A baby discovered in a glowing bamboo stalk is raised by human parents to become a beautiful princess. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles/Toronto. RATING: 1.6 Based on an ancient Japanese legend, this is the latest film (and last for awhile, possibly forever) from Studio Ghibli.
YOUNG ONES (Screen Media) Genre: Science Fiction. In a dystopic future in which water is disappearing from the Earth, a farmer fights to protect his land and his family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Not sure if this is post-apocalyptic action film or political statement.

OCTOBER 24, 2014

1,000 TIMES GOODNIGHT(Film Movement) Genre: Drama. A badly injured war photographer returns home to get an ultimatum from her husband and children; choose between her family and her career. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Rarely do we see the price paid by the families of journalists who risk their lives doing their jobs.
CITIZENFOUR (Radius) Genre: Documentary. In the midst of making a documentary about security abuses in Post-9/11 America a filmmaker receives cryptic e-mails from a source that ends up being Edward Snowden. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 The details of how a whistleblower brought one of the biggest scandals in the history of the American intelligence community may well be a fascinating movie but couldn’t find a trailer.
EXISTS (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror. On the way to a weekend camping trip, five friends accidentally unleash an ancient horror hell-bent on revenge. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The director of The Blair Witch Project brings us what might be the scariest Sasquatch movie ever.
FORCE MAJEURE (Magnolia) Genre: Dramedy. The actions of a father during a family ski trip lead to his wife questioning his character and indeed whether she should remain married to him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Funny and thought-provoking, a rare combination.
THE HEART MACHINE (IFC) Genre: Romance. An online relationship takes a strange turn when the man discovers that the woman may not be a long distance romance at all – she may actually live in his town. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Love and obsession in the digital age.
JOHN WICK (Lionsgate) Genre: Action Thriller. A hitman comes out of retirement to take on the gangsters who took everything from him. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Keanu Reeves in the kind of role that Liam Neeson has been getting lately.
LAGGIES (A24) Genre: Dramedy. Not quite ready to grow up yet, a 20-something girl hides out from a prospective fiancé in the home of a 16-year-old friend and her single dad. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 This Sundance favorite from one of my favorite young directors Lynn Shelton has a stellar cast.
LIFE OF RILEY (Kino Lorber) Genre: Romance. Three French couples living in the English countryside must navigate their way through emotional entanglements. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 A new Alain Resnais film is always worth seeking out.
LOW DOWN (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Biographical Drama. The relationship between a young girl and her aspiring musician father is complicated as they try to survive Los Angeles in the 70s. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 31). RATING: 2.0 Astonishing cast captures the era, the drug use and the music.
OUIJA (Universal) Genre: Supernatural Horror. In an attempt to contact her recently deceased sister using a Ouija board, a young woman may have inadvertently contacted the malevolent force that killed her. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 The latest from the Blumhouse bunch looks plenty scary.
STONEHEARST ASYLUM (Millennium) Genre: Horror. Newly graduated from med school, a doctor takes a position at a mental institution and falls for one of his colleagues, unaware of the repercussions of a recent staffing change. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 An adaptation from an Edgar Allen Poe short story.
WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. The disappearance of her mother several years earlier profoundly effects a young college student as she confronts her own denial of the events surrounding it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Shailene Woodley just keeps getting better and better.

OCTOBER 29, 2014

REVENGE OF THE MEKONS (Music Box) Genre: Musical Documentary. Emerging from the punk scene in the UK in 1977, this long-running band continues to make exciting and relevant music today by consistently changing and adopting new influences. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.7 A band that has made some of the greatest music of the post-punk era but has had terrible luck with record labels and remains mostly a cult favorite today.

OCTOBER 31, 2014

ABCS OF DEATH 2 (Magnet) Genre: Horror Anthology. Once again, 26 directors from around the world contribute short films based on different letters of the alphabet with a horror theme. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 The first one had flashes of genius but was wildly uneven.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (Clarius) Genre: Thriller. Every time a woman goes to sleep, she wakes up with no new memories of what happened that day; but disturbing truths begin to emerge that make her suspect everyone around her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 Sounds a lot like 50 First Dates crossed with Memento.
HORNS (Radius) Genre: Supernatural Horror. Accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend, a young man wakes up with a set of horns which compel people to confess their sins and act out their hidden fantasies and decides to use their power to find out what really happened to his girlfriend. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A tour-de-force for director Alexandre Aja and another career-building performance for Daniel Radcliffe.
NIGHTCRAWLER (Open Road) Genre: Thriller. Desperate for work, an unemployed man falls into the fast-paced underbelly of crime journalism in L.A. and slowly begins to unravel. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Jake Gyllenhaal at the top of his game.
SAW (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror. Returning for one week only comes one of the seminal torture porn films. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 Remember when we got a new movie in this franchise every Halloween?

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Annabelle, Gone Girl, The Good Lie, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, Dracula Untold, The Judge, Kill the Messenger, One Chance, St. Vincent, Whiplash, Birdman, The Book of Life, Fury, John Wick, Ouija, Nightcrawler

Iron Man 2


Iron Man 2

Iron Man and War Machine have a little heart-to-heart.

(Paramount)  Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Favreau, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Garry Shandling, John Slattery, Kate Mara, Leslie Bibb, Paul Bettany (voice), Olivia Munn. Directed by Jon Favreau

With the success of any superhero movie, a sequel is inevitable. Sometimes the sequel is even better than the original, as happened in Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight. In other cases, such as Superman 2 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer not so much. Which side will Iron Man 2 fall on?

It has been a couple years since the events of the first Iron Man and Tony Stark’s (Downey) shocking outing of himself as the armored superhero. In that time, Tony has effectively kept the peace, his Iron Man armor unstoppable by conventional military means.

Success breeds enemies however, and Tony has his share. Rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Rockwell), for one – he has lost some critical military contracts due to Stark’s success. Senator Stern (Shandling) is another – he wants to take the most advanced weapon in the world out of the hands of private industry and into the control of the U.S. Government, where it belongs. Tony is not willing to do this, and is quite vocal about it at the Senate sub-committee hearing.

Tony’s focus is more on his Stark Expo, a Worlds’ Fair-like event he is holding in Flushing Meadow (also the site of two Worlds Fairs in 1939 and 1964-5, respectively) as a celebration of human ingenuity. It’s also something of a giant corporate jerk-off, but that might just be my inner socialist talking here.

Meanwhile, back in Moscow (there’s a future for me in the cheesy writing industry) a brooding Russky ex-con covered in tattoos and muscles named Ivan Vanko (Rourke) watches his father die and vows revenge (actually, he says something more like “Waaaaaaarrrrrrgggghh!” but you get the idea). Revenge against whom? Why, Tony Stark, whose dad Howard (Slattery) had dear old dad deported back in the day,  but not before stealing his design for the ARC reactor which powers the suit and not so coincidentally, Tony’s ailing heart. With his daddy’s designs, Ivan creates an ARC of his own to power a couple of supercharged whips which cuts through just about anything but especially race cars, one of which Tony is not so coincidentally driving at the Monaco Grand Prix. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

Still, Tony saves the day with his suitcase armor (one of the coolest things not only in the film but ever) and Vanko a.k.a. Whiplash is sent to prison. However, Hammer likes what he sees, arranges Vanko’s extraction from prison and supposed death, the better for creating an army of armored soldiers for Hammer who, quite naturally, wants his military contract back.

Yes, you could say Tony’s got problems but none more serious than the fact that his ARC reactor is slowly poisoning his bloodstream, which will eventually kill him. There are no known elements to replace the palladium that runs his reactor and with all the pressures besetting him Tony begins to lose it a little bit. He hands the CEO job at Stark Industries to his longtime assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) and starts to drink a little bit, forcing his longtime friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard in the role) to take action and take an older set of armor for himself. Potts’ promotion necessitates a new assistant for Tony, in the person of the beautiful and mysterious Natalie Rushman (Johansson) who has secrets of her own.

In some ways Iron Man 2 suffers from Spider-Man 3 syndrome; too many villains. Rourke’s an excellent villain in many ways but the character doesn’t hold the interest of a Joker or a Goblin. He’s more or less a two-chord garage band; he’s either brooding or laughing maniacally. There’s not much in between for Rourke to do, but then again he does a really good job with what he has. Whiplash becomes a decent enough villain and might well have made for a warped reflection of Tony; both sons of fathers who worked together, one bent on world peace, the other on humiliating his enemy.

Rockwell, who’s an excellent actor and at times gets to show Hammer as an un-self-confident geek who craves attention and affection but is as cold and as ruthless as they come. Unfortunately, his alliance with Whiplash makes his character a little bit irrelevant. Rourke overshadows Rockwell to a large degree, but that’s not because of either man’s skills but more because of the way their characters are written.

The action sequences are top-notch and particularly the final battle sequence is absolutely spectacular. Unfortunately, some of the green screen work is surprisingly sloppy, such as one scene where Whiplash emerges from flaming wreckage in Monaco where he is obviously green screened and it takes you right out of the movie immediately.

The supporting performances are awfully good here, from Cheadle as Rhodes to Paltrow as the harried and somewhat overwhelmed Pepper (a bit of a far cry from her cool and collected performance in the first movie) and Johansson, who has never been sexier as the assistant with a difference. Samuel L. Jackson makes a more substantial appearance as Nick Fury, the head of SHIELD, further giving fanboys like me a reason to appreciate the nine-film deal Jackson signed with Marvel to play the character. Hopefully he’ll get a movie of his own somewhere down the line. Favreau as bodyguard Happy Hogan also has some pretty nice moments. The interplay between all of them and Downey is realistic, like old friends bickering and ribbing each other. It helps you like the movie a little more.

This is a nice start to the summer movie season. In some ways it’s not as good as the first movie but in other ways it’s a little better. Certainly Downey is redefining the way superheroes are going to be portrayed in the future; he’s a little bit quirky and a lot more vulnerable than the average superhero. You get the idea that Tony Stark is on the ragged edge and could tip over the side without much prodding.

The action is big and bold but it doesn’t break any new ground in particular. The high tech is a little higher and techier (advances since the first movie have made the tech in that film seem a little dated now), and the acting is solid. The script might be a little bit of a rehash of the first (two armored men battling it out) but at the end of the day you’ll leave the cinema entertained. What more do you need to know than that?

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are outstanding, and the interplay between Downey, Favreau, Paltrow and Cheadle feels comfortable and familiar.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the green screen effects were choppy and ineffective. Rockwell’s Justin Hammer seemed unnecessary.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some intense comic book action and a few bad words but otherwise suitable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee makes a cameo appearance as talk show host Larry King near the beginning of the film.

HOME OR THEATER: Big battles, stupendous fight scenes, oh yeah this one is big screen all the way!

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Air I Breathe