Year Director Running Time MPAA Rating Title Comments
2014 James Marsh 123 PG-13 The Theory of Everything Very good dramatization of the life of Professor Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), who is highly regarded in the scientific community for his theories about the big bang and black holes, while at the same time perhaps best known by the public as the genius in the wheelchair who speaks via a computer and has baffled the medical world by surviving the motor neuron disease “ALS” for over fifty years. As of this writing in 2015, Professor Hawking is still alive, at the age of 73, but the film only covers his life from 1963 to 1989. It was in 1963, while a student at Cambridge, England, that he met his future wife, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with ALS. While the film does touch on his scientific work, it is mostly about his family life and how that was impacted by his deteriorating condition. The film is credited as being based on a book by Jane Hawking, first published in 1999 (but revised and renamed in 2007). I’m just speculating now, but the reason the film ends at 1989 may have something to do with the fact that the Hawkings separated in 1990, with Jane later marrying Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), a detail that is only mentioned in a title card at the end of the film. The film also conveniently omits the fact that Stephen remarried to one of his nurses, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake) but eventually they too divorced. So although both Jonathan and Elaine are part of the screenplay, you’re only getting part of the story. But what the film does cover makes for a very good story about love, devotion and overcoming obstacles. Both Redmayne and Jones give very good performances, with both being nominated for Academy Awards and Redmayne winning. Prior to seeing the film I had read “Stephen Hawking, A Life in Science” by Michael White and John Gribbin, which covers a much greater span of Stephen’s life, from birth to 1991, with much more emphasis on his scientific endeavors than this film. So if you are more scientifically oriented, you may enjoy reading that.
2014 Morten Tyldum 114 PG-13 The Imitation Game Excellent storytelling. This is based on the true story of the mathematical genius who is credited with bringing an end to the war with Germany, much sooner than without him. His name was Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). He was part of a secret British code-breaking project during World War II, conducted at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. The Germans were communicating with their submarines using messages that were encoded and then decoded using a device known as an Enigma machine. Although the British understood how this machine worked, it was useless without knowing the German’s settings that were changed daily. Turing was hired to help figure out a way to outsmart the Germans at this game. His solution was expensive and his efforts were almost terminated by his superiors and coworkers. And his lack of social skills did not make him very popular. He did however become close friends with a woman at Bletchley, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), also a mathematician. The story of his work on Enigma, is bracketed by a postwar story involving his questioning by police. So in that sense, the bulk of the film is a flashback. Many good acting performances in a very engaging dramatization. The film is based on the book “Alan Turing : The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges (1983). Being for entertainment, it’s probably safe to say the film has oversimplified the historical and technical details of what Turing accomplished, but as entertainment it is first rate.
2014 Peter Jackson 144 PG-13 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies This is the action-packed conclusion to the “Hobbit” trilogy that started back in 2012. I’m sure most fans of these Peter Jackson films will be well entertained by this final episode. Picking up the action right where the previous film ended, we see the dragon, Smaug, attacking Lake-town. But the main part of the movie is the defense of the mountain treasure of gold by the king of the dwarves, Thorin, and a huge battle of five armies. The count of five apparently refers to the Elves, the Dwarves, the Men from Lake-town, the Orcs (Goblins) with their wolf-like Wargs and the Great Eagles. Though in the novel, the Goblins and Wolves are counted as separate armies and while the Eagles make an appearance, they are not considered one of the armies. In the movie, there were also trolls, though not enough to count as an army. Much here is of course the same as the previous two films: the beautiful New Zealand scenery and the countless special and visual effects. The description of the battle in the novel is a mere outline compared to what unfolds on the screen. It is pretty intense and violent at times, though still qualifying for PG-13. But if you’ve seen the two previous films or the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, you will know what to expect. And I guess I wouldn’t really expect you to watch this movie if you haven’t seen the first two installments.
2014 Don Hall + Chris Williams 102 PG Big Hero 6 It’s an unusual title, in that “6” does not mean this is a sequel, but rather refers to the six main characters of the story. There is also potential confusion in the name of the central character, whose name sounds like “Hero” but is actually “Hiro” (voiced by Ryan Potter). Hiro is a teenage genius who enjoys designing robots and whose older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is employed in that field. They live in San Fransokyo, an imaginative blend of San Francisco and Tokyo. Tadashi has invented a medical-assistant robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit), which looks more like the “Michelin Man” than your typical anthropomorphic robot. I won’t give away any of the plot secrets, but basically the story involves Hiro, Baymax and four of Tadashi’s coworkers, in a battle against an evil masked enemy. The computer-generated animation has a very good look to it and the story is very entertaining. You might want to sit through the end credits because they are followed by a short extra scene. Although rated “PG” it is probably not suitable for young children due to some very intense action sequences. Walt Disney also includes a short cartoon before the movie starts, called “Feast” which is about a very hungry puppy.
2013 Ralph Fiennes 111 R The Invisible Woman Although the title makes it sound like a science fiction story, this is actually a period costume drama about author Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes). The “invisible” woman was his secret lover, Ellen “Nelly” Ternan (Felicity Jones). The screenplay is based on the biography written by Claire Tomalin (1990). Incredibly, this secret affair remained a secret from the public until the 1930s. The movie presents the story in flashback format, looking back from Nelly’s later life as a married woman after the death of Dickens. I must admit that at no time during the film did it ever occur to me that Dickens was being played by the director, Ralph Fiennes. Learning that from the end credits was a total surprise. Obviously I did not investigate very much before seeing it. I guess that says something for the quality of the costumes and makeup, and probably the acting as well. But apart from that, I found the film rather dull and too somber. The “R” rating is for “sexual content” though I would say it was very tame compared to most “R” movies.
2004 Nick Cassavetes 124 PG-13 The Notebook I did actually see this film some years before 2015, but it was only now that I discovered I had forgotten to review it. So I picked up a copy at the library and watched it again to refresh my memory (and subsequently bought a copy). It is an excellent and very moving romantic drama, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks (1996). It is a story about a young couple named Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams), starting in 1940 when they first meet that summer in Seabrook, South Carolina. But the telling of the story begins in the present, with a resident of a nursing home, Duke (James Garner), who likes to read the story of Noah and Allie to another resident of the home, played by Gena Rowlands (who just happens to be the director’s mother). So most of the drama you see is the visualization of what Duke is reading, with occasional pauses to return to the present. The cast also includes Joan Allen as Allie’s mother and Sam Shepard as Noah’s father. Great acting, writing and photography. Highly recommended.
2014 Alejandro González Iñárritu 119 R Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) This film has a lot going for it but is often difficult to appreciate. Mexican director Iñárritu is known for making unusual, very non-Hollywood films. I’ve seen four earlier films of his and they are always challenging. Here he tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), an actor-director on Broadway, trying to prepare a new play for its opening night. Riggan’s only prior claim to fame was a role in a series of films in which he played a character named “Birdman.” But something isn’t quite right about Riggan. He hears a voice in his head (supposedly also Michael Keaton but it doesn’t sound like him), and seems to possess the power of levitation, though I suspect the latter is meant to be on the same level of reality as the former. When one of the actors in his play is injured during a rehearsal, Riggan replaces him with Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who challenges Riggan to make the play better. The film is a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Riggan’s play, while he is struggling with his inner demons. While I can certainly see why Keaton was nominated for Best Actor, as well as the other eight Academy Award nominations this film received, it is not without problems that distracted from my full enjoyment of it. For one thing, there are too many shouting matches and too much profanity. On the good side, the director borrowed a technique made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in “Rope” (1948), whereby it is made to appear that the entire movie was shot in one continuous take (and appropriately, “Rope” was essentially a filmed play). I didn’t notice that right away but after a while I started realizing that I wasn’t seeing any cuts. Also as part of this method, the director played with time, in that as the camera went through a door or turned a corner, it would suddenly be hours later or even the next day. The musical score is unusual, in that much of it consists of just drums, which actually is quite effective. Also appearing in a nominated supporting role is Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter, Sam. In addition to the profanity, the “R” rating also applies to some nudity and sexual content that may be offensive. (Postscript: I saw this film before it won the Best Picture Oscar).
1984 Hayao Miyazaki 118 PG Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Thanks to Walt Disney Studios you can now enjoy this very early work by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, with English voices. The original-language title is "Kaze no tani no Naushika" (an optional Japanese voice track is also available on the DVD). This fantastical adventure takes place in a distant future, 1000 years after a terrible war has turned much of the Earth into a toxic wasteland, known as the Sea of Decay. Princess Nausicaä (voiced in English by Alison Lohman) is a teenage girl from the Valley of the Wind, one of the few remaining human communities. Humongous insect-like creatures called “Ohmu” threaten the valley, while at the same time the people of the valley are in conflict with a group known as the Tolmekians, led by Princess Kushana (Uma Thurman). The story is full of pacifist and environmental messages, a common trait of Miyazaki films. Other celebrity voices featured in the English language voice track include Patrick Stewart as “Lord Yupa,” Edward James Olmos as “Mito” and Mark Hamill as “Mayor of Pejite.” This film predates the director’s “Princess Mononoke” by 13 years, and it is very clear how “Nausicaä” influenced that even more popular film. If you are already a fan of Miyazaki, or Japanese animation in general, I’m sure you will enjoy this. By the way, you may get the impression while viewing this that Nausicaä runs around without underwear. Supposedly she is really wearing skin-colored pants under her very short coat, but if that’s true, they are literally skin tight! (Remember Jessica Rabbit? - “I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way”).
2014 Damien Chazelle 107 R Whiplash Although this film has a lot going for it in terms of acting, drama, story and editing, the intensity and frequency of profanity made me cringe. I tolerate a certain amount of profanity for occasional punctuation or for humorous effect, but this felt like punishment. Perhaps that’s what the director intended with this original story he wrote. But it certainly does not make me want to see it again. The story is about Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller), a drummer who has just enrolled in a New York music conservatory. The teacher, Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), is a very intense, no-nonsense instructor, and most of the profanity emanates from him. He is teaching his group to play jazz, and one of the pieces they learn is titled “Whiplash.” Fletcher is very hard on Andrew and that conflict is what drives the plot. Also featured is Paul Reiser, as Andrew’s father. So if you want to feel like you’re being yelled at by a drill sergeant, you might like this; otherwise wait until it’s been edited for network television. If you like jazz, the music is good.
2014 Anthony Russo + Joe Russo 136 PG-13 Captain America: The Winter Soldier This is definitely one of the better of the superhero movies inspired by characters from Marvel Comics. Lots of exciting action, much of it quite intense, as Steve Rogers, aka “Captain America” (Chris Evans), does battle with an enemy known as Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). But the battle is bigger than just those two, as it also pits the S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence agency vs. the terrorist group, Hydra and the line between the good guys and the bad guys gets a bit blurry. This movie is a sequel to “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) and includes other characters from that film, such as Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). And of course the obligatory cameo by Stan Lee. As has become the norm for these Marvel films, you must watch the end credits because of extra scenes. In this case one is in the middle of the credits and another one after the credits. New characters in this episode include Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) and Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). If you have enjoyed other films in the Marvel Comics series you will definitely want to see this one.
2010 Edgar Wright 112 PG-13 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World What if life was actually a video game? Well, that’s one interpretation of what is going on in this fast-paced romantic comedy. You might also get the impression that the title character is just having a series of dreams. But in either case it is very imaginative. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a 22 year old man with girl problems. He is dating a 17 year old girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) but soon becomes interested in Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). At the same time he has to deal with his ex-girlfriends, Kim (Alison Pill) who is a member of his band, and Envy (Brie Larson). And if that isn’t enough, Ramona brings with her the baggage of her seven ex-boyfriends. The video game angle is seen in the many action sequences that pit Scott against Ramona’s ex-boyfriends. Scott is a slender soft-spoken man who is an unlikely opponent for such fighting (kung fu style) but by granting him cartoon-character abilities, he proves to be a formidable foe. I found this to be very funny and totally unpredictable. And those action sequences demonstrate some very good stunt work. It is based on a series of comic books which in turn are loosely based on their author’s real life experiences. The comic book stories take place in Toronto, so the film was shot there and made use of the actual locations referenced in the comic books. Although my appreciation of humor doesn’t always match everyone else, this did tickle my funny bone. As I indicated there is some violence but of a cartoonish variety. Some profanity is sprinkled here and there but nothing extreme and everyone remains at least partially clothed.
2006 Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck 137 R The Lives of Others German: “Das Leben der Anderen.” A slow-burning spy thriller set in East Berlin, 1984, five years before the Berlin Wall came down. It is a fictional story within a mostly historically accurate setting. At that time you had the Socialist party maintaining tight control over the lives of ordinary citizens, through the Ministry for State Security, known as “Stasi.” The Stasi spied on everyone and even if you were one of the spies, someone was looking over your shoulder. Some of the actors in this film are former victims of this pervasive spying. The plot centers around one specific spy, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), who has been assigned to monitor the activities of a prominent playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), and by association, his girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). What makes it all interesting is the impact on the spy of so closely monitoring the lives of others. And adding to the authenticity, the director was able to use monitoring gear that had actually been used by the Stasi. Even former members of Stasi were consulted during development of the script. The acting was very good, especially Mühe as the spy. It might be a bit long and it is certainly not an action film, but it is a story that grows on you and makes it worth waiting for the end. The “R” rating is for a few scenes of sex and nudity. English subtitles are available on the DVD. This film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
2014 Clint Eastwood 132 R American Sniper A very intense Iraq War movie, based on the real life experiences of Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). Chris was a highly trained sniper and was known for having a very high success rate in killing the enemy. The film shows him toughing it out in boot camp and then taking four tours of duty, starting shortly after 9/11. This is contrasted with the increasing strain it placed on his family life during his times back in the States. His wife, Taya, is played by Sienna Miller. The war sequences are very graphic and disturbing, probably too intense for most people, though ever since “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), this level of realism in war movies does seem to sell tickets. The Stateside part of the story is much more watchable, though it felt like that part got shortchanged by all the time spent on the battle scenes. The “R” rating is obviously for the war violence but also for some considerable profanity, mostly during the boot camp sequence. The screenplay was adapted from an autobiography written by Chris Kyle, but I have read criticism that suggests “loosely adapted” would be more accurate. Also, it is alleged that Kyle was something of a liar, and was even successfully sued by Jesse Ventura for defamatory statements in the book.
2013 Jonathan Teplitzky 108 R The Railway Man A powerful true story that combines the harsh realities of the prisoner-of-war experience with the romantic love between a man and a woman. Eric Lomax (Colin Firth - 1980s; Jeremy Irvine - 1940s) was an officer of the British Army, serving in Singapore at the time it was captured by the Japanese (1942). Eric’s autobiography served as an outline for this screenplay, but not everything you see really happened. Eric and his fellow soldiers were taken prisoner by the Japanese and transported to Thailand, in connection with the construction of the Burma Railway, the same line that was made famous by the film “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957). However, that film is quite inadequate in terms of depicting the real working conditions. Tens of thousands of captured Allied troops were forced into labor on that project, and thousands died. Eric’s wartime experience is told mostly in flashback, from the context of his later life in which he meets and falls in love with Patti Wallace (Nicole Kidman). Both Firth and Kidman were very good, and had very good supporting actors; I was particularly pleased watching Kidman, as she was, in a good way, quite different from other roles I recall; the fact that she appeared as a brunette contributed to that difference. The one caveat I have for potential viewers is that the treatment of the prisoners may be too intense and disturbing for some people. This is the reason for the “R” rating. But other than that it is a very well told story.
2013 Hayao Miyazaki 126 PG-13 The Wind Rises Japanese: "Kaze tachinu" (DVD has optional English dubbed voice track). Rumor has it this is Miyazaki’s final feature film. But for my money it wasn’t his best. To be sure, the hand-drawn animation graphics are beautiful, among the best you’ll ever see, but I felt the film was too long for the story it was trying to tell, and some of the key plot points seemed a bit too predictable. The main character, Jiro Horikoshi (voiced in English by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is a real historical figure, being the man who designed Japan’s famous “Zero” fighter plane that was used in WW-II. But his professional career is about the only part of this screenplay that is actually based on his life. His personal and family life in this film is total fiction. The story spans a time from about 1918 to 1932. He is introduced as a young boy who dreams about airplanes and a famous Italian aeronautical engineer, Mr. Caproni (Stanley Tucci), and later as a young man, he studies at the university to become one himself. The second half of the story adds a love interest for Jiro, in the character Nahoko Satomi (Emily Blunt), but I thought it took too long to get to that development. I also found it very unusual to see some of the characters smoking cigarettes; I can’t remember a previous animated feature that did that. On the other hand, maybe I’ve never seen an animated feature set in that time period.
2014 David Dobkin 141 R The Judge Courtroom drama combined with a moving father-son story. It is very good, but marred by a few details that would not have been missed if omitted. Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a lawyer from Chicago. His father, Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), is a judge in Carlinville, Indiana, who has been on the bench for 42 years. They are not on good terms, but when Judge Palmer is accused of a crime, Hank finds himself as his father’s lawyer. The prosecution is presented by Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). Also featured are Vera Farmiga as one of Hanks’s ex-girlfriends, Samantha; Vincent D'Onofrio as Hank’s older brother, Glen; and Ken Howard as the judge in Joseph’s trial. The director seems to delight in graphic depiction of unpleasant human bodily functions. Hank’s co-counsel can’t approach the courthouse without vomiting and Judge Palmer has an unfortunate problem that really should not have been filmed; it’s really gross. Also, there is probably more swearing than was really necessary. Without those two elements, it probably could have been a PG-13, but as it is they had to go with “R.” Great acting and great story, but with some rough edges.
2014 David Ayer 135 R Fury If you’re accustomed to watching violent, disturbing, scenes of war, you will find a very good story in this World War II battlefield drama. There have been some films like this that just assault you nonstop with the violent action sequences, but this one at least lets you catch your breath between battles. Brad Pitt stars as Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier, commander of a U.S. Army tank crew; they named their tank, “Fury” (in the film it is not a prop but an actual Sherman tank). They are in Germany, April, 1945, with the enemy in every direction. The film follows this tank through a sequence of battle assignments. After Sgt. Collier loses one of his men, a very green recruit trained only for clerical typing, is assigned as a replacement. Apart from the war action, the real story is the trial-by-fire of this young soldier, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who must struggle with his moral inclinations when he is expected to kill enemy soldiers. The Sergeant becomes Norman’s mentor through a series of hard lessons. Other actors appearing as members of Collier’s tank crew include Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal. In addition to the disturbing violence, there is considerable profanity throughout, with heavy emphasis on the F-word. So naturally this is rated “R.” Good acting, good story, but the cost to your sensibilities is high.
2013 Joel Coen & Ethan Coen 105 R Inside Llewyn Davis Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a down-on-his-luck folk singer in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1961. He doesn’t even have a permanent residence and each night has to find a friend who isn’t still mad at him who will let him stay overnight on the couch or even the floor. Although it has received a large number of favorable reviews, it struck me as just plain boring and depressing. It features some good supporting characters such as Jean (Carey Mulligan), Roland (John Goodman) and Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), but they weren’t enough to redeem the film overall. Rated “R” for lots of profanity.
2014 Bennett Miller 134 R Foxcatcher This falls into the category of biographical sports drama. It is loosely based on the life of Olympic gold medal wrestling champion, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). His brother, David (Mark Ruffalo) was also an Olympic gold medalist. Set in the late 1980s, the story looks at what happened when philanthropist John du Pont (Steve Carell) offered to fund all Mark’s future training on his own “Team Foxcatcher” and serve as his coach. Steve Carell is normally associated with comedy roles, but here he is almost unrecognizable in heavy makeup and is not the least bit funny. In fact, his portrayal of du Pont comes across as the least inspirational coach imaginable. I don’t know how representative that is of the real coach, but it certainly added to the ominous and dark nature of this story and is certainly a credit to Carell’s acting. For me though, that du Pont character was so depressing, I just couldn’t enjoy the film as a whole. I realize one unpleasant character doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie, but it definitely made me want to never see it again. The “R” rating is for illegal drug usage and some violence.
2014 Tim Burton 106 PG-13 Big Eyes Some of you out there probably remember the art craze in the 1960s involving paintings of young children with enormous sad eyes. But at the time, you probably thought they were painted by Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). The story in this film is based on the reality that he only pretended he was the artist, when it was really his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams). At first he thought of it as a harmless ruse, because customers seemed more interested when they thought he was the painter. The film tells how it all got out of hand and includes some surprising twists as Walter’s past returns to haunt him. Both Waltz and Adams are very good, though at times I did feel Waltz was over-doing it. You can always count on him to be the bad guy. Overall I found it a very engaging story. Only minor instances of profanity.
2015 Alex Garland 108 R Ex Machina This fascinating sci-fi drama explores what might happen if an advanced robot becomes capable of passing the “Turing Test” - capable of behavior indistinguishable from human behavior under identical circumstances. This may sound like it’s a repeat of “Her” (2013), which explored the possibilities of an artificial intelligence operating from a desktop computer. But “Ex Machina” takes the next step and places that intelligence into a more human-like form, a female android. This intelligent android is named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and her form is not 100% human; parts of her head, trunk and limbs are clearly electromechanical (very nice special effects). But her face and figure are very human and very attractive. Ava was invented and built by eccentric genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac) in a secret laboratory hidden in a remote mountain region (filmed in Norway). His “day job” is CEO of a large computer company and he selects one of his brighter employees, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to perform a Turing Test on Eva. However, in this case, Caleb evaluates Eva face-to-face, so he already knows she is a machine. I guess Nathan felt he was too close to his creation to be objective. I won’t discuss how the testing goes, but there are some very interesting twists in the story. My only disappointment was the gratuitous use of the “F-word.” And although that alone was sufficient to earn the film an “R” rating, it also includes nudity and one fairly graphic scene of violence. All around though it is a very good speculation on the future.
2014 Matthew Vaughn 129 R Kimgsman: The Secret Service I was expecting this to be some new twist on the James Bond style of movie, but I was unprepared for how twisted it is. It features some very graphic violence, including one shocking scene of total mayhem. For me, this spoiled an otherwise very entertaining action story. I enjoy plenty of movies containing graphic violence but I think the problem here is that it was so unexpected and so outrageous. The movie is about secretive spies, specifically a group called Kingsman. But unlike the spy agency that James Bond works for, Kingsman is independent of all governments. The head of Kingsman is Arthur (Michael Caine), and his best agent is Harry Hart, aka “Galahad” (Colin Firth). The first act involves the recruitment of some new Kingsman agents and one of the prime candidates is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), son of a former agent. Another important member of Kingsman is known as Merlin (Mark Strong), who runs the testing of the agent candidates. Then there is the villain in the story, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who is plotting a rather unique solution to global warming. But of course the villain must be stopped and it is up to the Kingsman agents to do the job. Lots of nice stunt work, special effects and well-edited action sequences. But again I do have to warn you about the extreme violence, especially in the last one-third of the film. Naturally this resulted in an “R” rating but just to make that complete there is also considerable profanity and just a bit of partial nudity. If you do choose to watch this, stay through the first part of the end credits because there is an additional scene that was snuck in there.
2014 Richard Glatzer + Wash Westmoreland 101 PG-13 Still Alice A very moving and at times really rather frightening look at a woman diagnosed much too young (50) with Alzheimer’s. The woman’s name is Alice Howland (Julianne Moore). She is the wife of John Howland (Alec Baldwin) and the mother of Anna (Kate Bosworth) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). Moore gives a great performance showing the progression of the disease, struggling to employ as much of her intelligence as she can muster to cope with her deteriorating memory. The point in the story where they chose to end the film is very interesting, and I think probably a very good choice. Based on the novel by Lisa Genova. Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for Best Actress for this role.
2014 Mike Leigh 150 R Mr. Turner A very strange story about a very strange man. It is a costume drama, based on the life of the English painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner (Timothy Spall). And thus the setting is England, in the first half of the 19th century. Mr. Turner lives with his father, William Turner (Paul Jesson) and his housemaid, Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson). A slow-paced lengthy drama, it is never- the-less rich with characters and great acting. “Hannah” is a quiet character, but a remarkable and unique performance by Atkinson. Not to diminish the talent of Mr. Spall and the others. I don’t want to give away anything important, but the story does have its mysteries and confusions at times, and so *after* seeing the film, read about him at Wikipedia (they have him under “J. M. W. Turner”), and many of your questions will be answered. So if you’re up for this kind of drama, I think you will enjoy it. The film is also notable for the period sets and costume design. As for the “R” rating, that would seem to be a bit harsh for this, but there are a few scenes of fully-clothed love-making, and although there is also one scene containing brief nudity, it is not a sex scene. But no violence or profanity.
2015 Joss Whedon 141 PG-13 Avengers: Age Of Ultron Fans of non-stop action will have their limits tested here. As the title suggests, this is a sequel to “The Avengers” (2012), but also to all the other Marvel Comics super hero movies that came before this one. This time the Avengers are saving the world from “Ultron” (James Spader) an artificial intelligence embodied in a powerful robot. The Avengers team includes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Mass quantities of stunts and special effects, but there is a story in there, though it takes a while to get a handle on it. If you’ve seen any of the films in this series you know the action is violent and intense but not bloody. It’s very exciting and anyone who is already of fan of the Avengers characters, will not be disappointed. As with all these Marvel Comics films, be sure to stick around through the first part of the end credits for a brief extra scene.
2014 Angelina Jolie 137 PG-13 Unbroken This is one of those films that feels a lot longer than it is, on top of the fact that it is already longer than average strictly by the clock. It is based on the true story of an Italian-American boy, Louis Zamperini (C.J. Valleroy as a boy, Jack O'Connell as an adult) who, in the 1930s, became an Olympic athlete (long-distance track). But in World War II, in the Pacific Theater, he was captured by the Japanese and held in a series of prisoner-of-war camps. His ordeals during the war occupy the majority of the film, divided into two very long sequences covering the time leading up to his capture and then his time as a prisoner. As a prisoner he was the victim of a very sadistic camp commander, Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), and the film dwells a lot on the intense beatings that Watanabe inflicted on Zamperini, which accounts for the PG-13 rating. But even for PG-13 it may be a bit much for some viewers, if for no other reason than the repetitiveness. The film was just too tedious and really needed more cuts by the editor. The story as presented, is mostly true and has some positive heroic elements to it, but for this type of story I was more impressed with “The Railway Man” (2013), which also has a basis in fact, though with the caveat that it is rated “R” for being a bit rougher with the violence.
2014 Jean-Marc Vallée 115 R Wild This turned out to be better than I expected. You can’t always get a good sense of a film from the trailer. It’s the true story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), a woman who, at the age of 26, set out on a solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, in hopes of setting her life on a new course. The full trail runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, but Cheryl covered about 1,100 miles from Mojave, California, to just outside of Portland, Oregon, a journey that lasted three months. The story of her hike alternates with flashbacks to the events of her past which led to her decision to embark on such a risky endeavor. I have to say I enjoyed the hiking part of the story more than the flashbacks, but to understand her hike you need to understand where she was coming from. In the flashbacks you see her mother, played by Laura Dern, which struck me as a bit of an odd casting choice, since Laura is only nine years older than Reese Witherspoon. But they tried hard to make Reese look younger in those scenes. In 2012, the real Cheryl Strayed published a best-selling book about her experience, which then became the basis of this movie. I thought it was a very good story and Witherspoon did a very good job creating her character. But yes, there are caveats. It is an “R” rated film, for all the usual reasons except violence. The Cheryl character swears a lot, uses drugs, and partakes in some fairly graphic sex scenes with nudity. So there you have it; a good film for adults only.
2009 Giuseppe Capotondi 96
The Double Hour Italian: “La Doppia Ora” (The DVD has automatic English subtitles, but no dubbed English audio). A romantic thriller that will keep you wondering what is really going on. The director plays tricks on you that you may or may not appreciate. One plot device he used sort of disappointed me once I figured out the deception, perhaps because I’ve seen it used enough times before that it seems an old trick. So, the setting is Turin, Italy, and Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport) is an immigrant from Slovenia, working as a housekeeping maid at a hotel. One day she meets Guido (Filippo Timi) at one of those “speed dating” events and they start dating. But on one of those dates, something goes terribly wrong, and the mysteries compound. If you like mysterious plots that mess with your head, you might enjoy this. On the other hand, I think there are better films out there of this genre, such as a French film I saw a couple years ago called “Tell No One” (2006). Similar to that French film, this one is not officially rated, but would probably be an “R” for sex, nudity, some moderate violence and several “F-words.”
2014 Theodore Melfi 102 PG-13 St. Vincent Actor Bill Murray is at the top of his game in this delightful comedy. He plays Vincent McKenna, a grumpy old war veteran. When Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single mother, moves in next door with her 12-year-old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), Vincent finds himself playing the role of baby sitter while Maggie works late. In a more common sense reality nobody would leave their child alone with Vincent, but that is what makes it so funny. Over time Oliver and Vincent bond and Oliver comes to see another side of Vincent. The film also stars Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd and Terrence Howard. Although rated PG-13, it does include a very obvious sex scene, though apparently not enough is “showing” to qualify for “R”; also some occasional profanity, but nothing too coarse. If you like Bill Murray, you can’t go wrong with this film.
2015 George Mikker 120 R Mad Max: Fury Road Hold on to your hats, folks, you’re in for a wild ride with this one. Two solid hours of car chases, Mad-Max style. And if you’ve seen any of the three previous Mad Max feature films, you know what I’m talking about. This time, however, Max Rockatansky is played by Tom Hardy, not Mel Gibson. For those not in the know, the setting is a post-apocalyptic world, laid to waste by war and now little more than an endless desert. Here, Max falls into the hands of a local warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). But when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) runs off with certain valuable property, the chase is on and Max is caught in the middle. The action is intense and violent, but not blood and guts violent. A lot of people get shot or run over and you can usually assume they died, but the camera stays with the chase and not the bodies. Amazing stunt work and special effects. The designers of the patch-work cars and trucks were very creative. It is a very visual film, as the plot is pretty basic. But in this case, the lack of a complex plot is not a negative. I actually felt more entertained than with the current competition at the box office, “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” (though it’s hard to say which film has more action).
2013 Nicole Holofcener 93 PG-13 Enough Said A light romantic comedy that features some very funny banter between the dating couple, but the scenes where they were not with each other were not so well done. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini) are both divorced single parents. They meet at a party and soon start dating and have good times together. But an unfortunate coincidence throws a big wrench into the relationship. It’s a pretty basic plot, but as I said, the good parts are when Eva and Albert are together. No nude scenes but some suggestive sexual situations and conversations.
1972 Eric Rohmer 93 R Chloe in the Afternoon French: “L'amour l'après-midi" (literally, "Love the Afternoon"), with English subtitles. A curiously different romantic drama. It is the sixth and last in a series of films by director Eric Rohmer, which collectively are known as the “Six Moral Tales.” It is set in Paris, contemporary to the time in which it was filmed, the early 1970s. The director has chosen to explicitly label the three main parts of the film, “Prologue,” “Part 1” and “Part 2.” Frédéric (Bernard Verley) is a happily married lawyer with an infant daughter and another child on the way. His wife, Hélène (Françoise Verley) also works. But Frédéric often spends his afternoon office breaks daydreaming about other women and enjoys observing them from Paris cafés. We hear his thoughts on this subject through extended voice-overs. Yet he assures the viewer he has no intentions of cheating on his wife. One day out of the blue, a woman who used to be the girlfriend of one of Frédéric’s old friends, shows up, hoping to renew their acquaintance as well as seek employment. She is Chloé (Zouzou - her real name is Danièle Ciarlet). The rest of the film is the interesting relationship that develops between them. So as the title of the film series suggests, the main theme here is Frédéric’s moral quandary. The dynamic between them keeps changing and you’re never sure where the relationship is going. Definitely an engaging story. The film was rated “R” for a few brief scenes containing nudity, but otherwise is pretty tame compared to “R” films of today. The movie was filmed in the old narrow aspect ratio similar to Standard Definition TVs, so on today’s widescreen TVs, it will only fill the center of your screen.
2015 Colin Trevorrow 124 PG-13 Jurassic World Well, I think we all know from the first three Jurassic Park movies, that bad things happen when you put humans and dinosaurs together on an island. In this fourth attempt to keep that plot device alive, the story returns to the original island featured in the first movie, but now there is a fully functioning theme park, with thousands of visitors brought in by cruise ships. The only character and actor still present from the first movie, is “Dr. Henry Wu” played by BD Wong. Conceptually this is taking place 22 years after the events of the first movie, exactly the number of years that have actually passed since that film was released. In an effort to raise the level of excitement, two new prehistoric creatures are introduced. One is a genetically modified T-Rex, called an Indominus Rex, and a giant sea lizard known as a Mosasaurus. The plot is fairly basic; two teenage brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), are sent by their parents to visit Jurassic World, where they will be reunited with their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who works at the theme park, in a position of some importance. But to no surprise, something goes wrong at the park, placing everyone in mortal danger. The climactic action sequences were very exciting, though not really all that different from what the previous Jurassic movies offered. I was not particularly impressed with the two brothers, and several other characters also struck me as rather dull or not well developed. Although “Jurassic World” is setting box office records, I really don’t think it is as good as the original “Jurassic Park.” I’m calling this one overrated. Rated PG-13 for the intense dinosaur violence.
2003 François Dupeyron 95 R Monsieur Ibrahim French with English subtitles (original French title: "Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran”). A wonderful coming of age story about a boy whose home situation forces him to grow up perhaps a bit faster than he should. Moses Schmitt (Pierre Boulanger) is a Jewish boy from a broken home in Paris (in the 1960s), who is befriended by the local grocery shop owner, Monsieur Ibrahim Deneji (Omar Sharif), a Turkish Muslim. Moses passes himself off as being 16, but his true age is uncertain (in the novel he is 11). Ibrahim becomes something of a mentor to Moses, giving him advice on things from food to romance. The “R” rating is for some sexual situations involving prostitutes, but all relatively tame compared to most American “R” films.
2004 Yash Chopra 196 NR Veer-Zaara Hindi language film with optional English subtitles. A big, colorful, Bollywood-style romantic musical. Its length is typical of modern Indian films, though it does have a built-in Intermission point, but even if you sit all the way through, it is a very good story. It spans 22 years, and is told as a flashback, by a prisoner in Lahore, Pakistan. He is Veer Pratap Singh (Shah Rukh Khan), and he is telling his story to a young female lawyer, Saamiya Siddiqui (Rani Mukerji), who hopes to prove him wrongly imprisoned. Prior to his arrest, Veer had been a Helicopter Rescue Pilot for the Indian Air Force. On one of his rescue missions, he saves the life of a beautiful Pakistani woman, Zaara Hayaat Khan (Preity Zinta), who comes from a wealthy political family. This chance encounter will change his life. Eventually we learn why Veer is in prison, but I won’t reveal that. It is a very moving and entertaining story. If you haven’t seen Indian musicals before, you should know that all the singing is lip-synched and they don’t pretend it is otherwise. Although it does not bear an MPAA rating, it probably would be considered “PG” at most.
2015 Neill Blomkamp 120 R Chappie This very entertaining science fiction action thriller takes place in a future in which robots are starting to replace human police officers. And although some elements of this story may remind you of “RoboCop” (1987), the plot here is nothing like it. The police department of Johannesburg, South Africa, is the first to take advantage of this new technology. But these robots are not self-aware; they are programmed for police work and that is all. However, their designer, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), hopes to change that. But when Deon is kidnapped by Ninja (NInja, aka Watkin Tudor Jones) and his criminal gang, Deon’s advanced new artificial intelligence falls into their hands, and thus is born “Chappie” (Sharlto Copley), a self-aware robot, but initially child-like in its level of intelligence. While not billed as a comedy, there are quite a few funny situations that arise as Chappie learns about the world from his captors. Also featured in the cast are Hugh Jackman, who plays a rival coworker of Deon, and Sigourney Weaver, who runs the company that makes the robots. The “R” rating is for the violence (mostly shooting etc.) and profanity (even the song played during the end credits contains profanity in the lyrics). As with the other artificial intelligence films that have been released in the last few years, we are a long way from the level of AI imagined here, but it is entertaining to see the possibilities of the future.
2015 Pete Docter + Ronaldo Del Carmen 94 PG Inside Out This strikes me as a very unusual story for a movie aimed primarily at children. Perhaps I’m not giving the kids enough credit, but I have to wonder at what age they would actually understand the concept here. The story is about a little girl named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias). At the very beginning we see her grow from infant to age 11 at the rate of about one year per minute. At the same time, we are introduced to a bunch of characters who reside inside Riley’s brain. They represent Riley’s various emotional states: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). These characters are shown operating a large control panel and managing collections of spheres that represent Riley’s memories. The driving force of the plot is that Riley and her parents have just moved from Minnesota to California and these emotion characters in her head are trying to manage Riley’s feelings about the move. This is not the uplifting comedy I had hoped it would be. I found very little to laugh at throughout the film. It is certainly imaginative regarding their model of how the mind works, but I did not find the story very appealing. Critics seem to be loving it, so I may be in the minority here; you may want to check with someone else who has seen it before deciding to watch it. As with most Disney/Pixar animated features, a very short cartoon is presented first, this time it is one called “Lava” with a bizarre story about volcanoes that fall in love.
2014 Anthony Stacchi + Graham Annable 96 PG The BoxTrolls A very imaginative and clever animated feature which can trace its origins to the legend of the boy raised by wolves. Except in this interpretation, the “Trapshaw Baby” is raised by small “monsters” who live under the town of Cheesebridge. The townspeople call them “Boxtrolls” because they wear cardboard boxes as clothing. And because they have dressed the baby in a box labeled “Eggs,” that becomes the boy’s name. Strangely, although the Boxtrolls speak only “Trollese,” Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright) grows up to learn both English and Trollese, though he only speaks English. In response to the news of the abducted boy, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) approaches Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) with a proposal to rid the town of all Boxtrolls. But when Portley-Rind’s daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning), spots Eggs on the street with Boxtrolls, she becomes very curious about what is really going on. The story is based on the novel “Here Be Monsters” by Alan Snow (2005). In the novel, the town is called “Ratbridge” and Boxtrolls are only one of the types of creatures who live there. I expect the movie will be fun for all ages. It’s certainly better than “Inside Out” which I saw just before this. Be sure to watch the end credits because an unusual additional scene is inserted in the middle, which features two the the film’s characters philosophizing about their place in the world.
2013 Isao Takahata 137 PG The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Japanese animation: "Kaguyahime no monogatari" (with choice of English or Japanese dialogue track). A magical and beautifully presented story, based on a classic Japanese folk tale called “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” The animation is drawn in a unique style (at least from an American perspective), with minimal detail in the rendering of the characters, and with backgrounds that are in fact watercolor paintings. In an unidentified historical era (probably the Heian period, 794-1185 AD) of Japan’s past, an old bamboo cutter (English voice by James Caan) is working in his bamboo grove when he discovers a tiny princess in a newly sprouted bamboo shoot. He brings her home to his wife (Mary Steenburgen). They decide to raise “Princess” (Chloë Grace Moretz) as their own child, but she proves to be no ordinary girl. Before Princess is fully grown, the father moves the family to the capital city to educate her to become a real princess who could attract a wealthy suitor. I enjoyed the story and was very impressed with the visual aspects. It may seem to be aimed at children, with its “PG” rating, but there are a few caveats. It includes a scene of breast feeding (never seen that in animation before) and other “cartoon nudity” (though with very limited detail), a brief scene of violence which, in context, seemed shockingly brutal, and an explicit reference to suicide. But perhaps for Japanese audiences, these things may be considered normal in this type of film (in Japan it was rated it “G”). It is also probably a bit long for younger children.
2014 Michael Spierig + Peter Spierig 98 R Predestination A very unusual time-travel movie with surprises that go beyond the inevitable paradoxes. It is also unusual in that the time-travel aspect of the plot isn’t fully introduced until nearly an hour into the story. So don’t think you’re watching the wrong movie if you don’t see any time travel right away. My description of the story will be necessarily sketchy, to avoid giving away the secrets (WARNING: Do not read the synopsis on the back cover of the DVD case because it contains a major spoiler). In what you might call the outer layer of the story, a bartender (Ethan Hawke) listens to an incredible story told by one of his customers, with a bottle of booze riding on a bet that the customer’s story will be the most incredible one the barkeep has ever heard. Trust me, it’s pretty incredible, as well as a bit bizarre. Another layer involves a “Temporal Agent” who is chasing across time to catch a domestic terrorist dubbed “The Fizzle Bomber.” But you’ll have to watch the movie to see how these layers are connected. And as usual with time-travel stories, your brain may hurt trying to unravel the paradoxes. I won’t give away the method of time-travel employed here, but I think you will find the appearance of the mechanism rather surprising. The “R” rating is for a bit of sex, nudity and profanity, but nothing extreme or particularly offensive. If you are familiar with the science fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein, you will be interested to know this film is based on one of his short stories, “All You Zombies” (which has nothing to do with “zombies” in the currently popular notion). I’d say that most time-travel fans will enjoy this movie. It’s very different from something like “Back to the Future” (1985), but the paradoxes are just as confounding, if not more so.
1962 Jean-Luc Godard 83 NR My Life to Live French: “Vivre Sa Vie: Film en douze tableaux.” As the original French title suggests, this unusual film is divided into twelve separate episodes, each introduced by a title card, in a manner similar to the silent movies. In fact, some scenes are silent and so when combined with the black and white photography, it’s like a momentary flash back to that era. The story is about a young woman named Nana (Anna Karina), who works at a record store while trying to gain attention as an actress. But her life is in a downward spiral that leads to prostitution. This film and its director were part of the so-called “French New Wave” films of the 1950s and 60s. As such, its style and techniques could be classified as experimental, and to modern audiences, the result is a distinct contrast from American films a half century later. Some of the episodes are rather boring, one involving a strange philosophical discussion and another a book reading. One of the episodes did grab my attention when Nana went to see a movie, which turned out to be “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928), a silent classic which I have seen a number of times, but which had been lost in a fire and no complete prints were known to exist until one was found in 1981. But apparently in 1962, some version existed from which was selected a little over two minutes of footage that is included in that episode. But over all it is a rather “artsy” film and will not appeal to everyone, but the actress is very appealing. No MPAA rating for this film but it does include some nudity.
2015 Tim Russ 88 NR Star Trek: Renegades This is what is known as a “an independent fan funded” movie, so it’s not Hollywood and it’s not big budget, but it does employ a few of the actors from the original Hollywood “Star Trek” television series (what’s the plural of “series”?). You won’t see it at your local theater, but it can be watched for free on YouTube: . So if you don’t like it you’ve only lost 88 minutes and no money. Unfortunately there is a good chance you won’t like it. The acting was poor and the plot somewhat confusing. The story takes place in the year 2388, which means that Admiral Chekov (Walter Koenig) is an old man of 143, and Tuvok (Tim Russ - who also directed) is 124. Robert Picardo, best known as the “Emergency Medical Hologram” in “Star Trek: Voyager” plays that same character here, though in vastly different circumstances. Also from “Voyager” is Richard Herd, recreating his role as Admiral Paris. Gary Graham, who played “Vulcan Ambassador Soval” in the “Star Trek: Enterprise” TV series, also appears in this, but not as Soval; here his character is called “Ragnar.” Familiar alien species featured include Andorians, Cardassians, Bajorans, Vulcans, Breen and Brunali. I suppose there is a broad enough spectrum of Star Trek fans out there, that some will like this, but I was disappointed. But again, you can watch it on the Internet for free and stop the video at any point.
2014 Dean Israelite 106 PG-13 Project Almanac A fast-paced time-travel adventure. When 17-year-old David Raskin (Jonny Weston) discovers that his late father had left behind the plans for a time machine, he couldn’t resist trying to make it work. With his sister, Christina (Virginia Gardner) and three of his classmates, they work in secret to see what “clever” things they can do by going back in time. They soon discover that time travel has consequences, and things get a bit out of hand. I thought this exploration of time travel was a lot of fun, especially since the action moved along a such a brisk pace. But while paradoxes are an intrinsic part of time-travel stories, here they seem to have violated some of the traditional “rules” of time travel. As a result, any attempt to explain the paradoxes will get you in more trouble than usual. At the same time, this has generated some very interesting online discussions about how to account for some of the strange occurrences in this film. It’s far from perfect, but as a time-travel fanatic, I enjoyed it anyway. The only cautionary advice I have here is that the entire movie was made with hand-held photography, so there is a whole lot of shaking going on. However, in this case, it wasn’t simply that the director likes that style of filmmaking, it was an integral part of the story, since the concept was that what you are watching is actually a video shot by Christina (though sometimes one of the other kids was operating the camera). The story takes place in 2014, so that idea fits right in with the trend of everyone shooting videos with their smartphones and other mobile devices. It also places this movie in the “found footage” genre, which many people love to hate (“The Blair Witch Project” (1999) being one of the better known examples). But even though I usually tolerate hand-held video, in this case the amount of shaking was a bit much at times.
2012 Abbas Kiarostami 110 NR Like Someone in Love Japanese (with optional English subtitles). An unusual drama put together by an interesting international collaboration: an Iranian director, French & Japanese production companies, and Japanese actors. It would seem the French production company was the primary, since the opening credits are in French; not what you expect in a Japanese film. This is also why there is no official Japanese version of the title. With a very small cast and a fairly simple story, this drama explores a surprising relationship that develops between a call girl named Akiko (Rin Takanashi ) and a very elderly client, Takashi Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno), whom she was told was held in high esteem by her pimp, Hiroshi (Denden). There is also a very surprising ending, which in a strange way, was also a surprise to the director, as he originally thought he was going to write more, but the producers looked at what he had at that point and basically said, “go for it.” It is an almost entirely dialogue-driven film and quite a lot of the conversation takes place in automobiles (which is also true of the only other film by this director that I’ve seen). Takanashi and Okuno give very good performances, which is probably the main reason for watching this. Not rated by the MPAA but I can’t see it being higher than PG-13.
2010 Jean Becker 82 NR My Afternoons with Margueritte French: "La tête en friche" (a very rough translation might be “the uncultivated mind”). A very easy-going light comedy about a middle-aged man of limited education, gaining a new perspective on life, from a casual friendship with a 95-year-old woman he meets on a park bench. The man is Germain Chazes (Gérard Depardieu), who gets by doing odd jobs and growing vegetables. In flashbacks we learn of his less than ideal childhood. The old woman is Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus, who was the same age as her character), a retired scientist, who loves to read books. Although Germain has a young girlfriend, Annette (Sophie Guillemin), and his mother is still living, Margueritte seems to fulfill a need in his life that he wasn’t getting elsewhere. This small-town story explores their relationship and how it changes Germain. Depardieu and Casadesus both deliver pleasing performances. The physical disparity between the larger-than-life Depardieu and the frail Casadesus is almost a comedic element in itself. By the end it becomes quite a touching story. There is no MPAA rating, but PG-13 would probably be about right. (English subtitles available on the DVD).
2015 Thomas Vinterberg 119 PG-13 Far from the Madding Crowd Well, you learn something new every day. I’d heard (or thought I had heard) of the expression, “far from the maddening crowd,” so I assumed that “Madding” meant something else and they just wanted to borrow the phrase. I even thought perhaps it would turn out to be someone’s name. But it never came up in the entire film. Now it turns out that “madding” and “maddening” have essentially the same meaning. Perhaps “madding” is the British version. The story is set in remote farming country in Dorset, England, in 1870, so that certainly is far from most crowds. The central character is a beautiful headstrong young woman named Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) who is pursued by three very different suitors: shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), neighboring farm owner, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and soldier Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge). It may seem that life was simpler in those days, but apparently romantic relationships were not. Bathsheba’s decisions regarding each of these men are the driving force of this period drama. It’s all about the performances and the costumes, all of which are quite good. It’s based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, which I haven’t read, but he was certainly well qualified to know what English life was like in 1870 (the novel was written in 1874). After reading a brief outline of the novel, I would say the film stays pretty close to the original. So if you have read it, you already know what to expect, but at the same time you will probably appreciate the lack of major changes to the story.
2014 Andrey Zvyagintsev 141 R Leviathan Russian: "Leviafan" (DVD has optional English subtitles). A very moody drama that will confound your expectations (actually I’m not sure if “moody” is right but that’s what I’m going with). It is a sort of David vs. Goliath story, Russian-style. But you’ll have to see it to understand what I mean by that. Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and son Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), live in a remote northern town on the Barents Sea. A town which is run by a corrupt mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), who will stop at nothing to seize Kolya’s property for his own purposes (and it turns out you have to be really paying attention to learn what that purpose is). Kolya’s friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) is a lawyer from Moscow, who comes to help him fight back. Much of the moodiness comes from the low light levels; it’s either cloudy, predawn or twilight in many of the outdoor scenes. Of course, the fact it is so far north (69º latitude) you have to expect the light to be different. Very good acting, especially by Madyanov - he has an amazing “drunk” scene in which the actor is not drunk but the other actors are. If you want something very different from American filmmaking, this is worth checking out. The “R” rating is primarily for frequent profanity and a bit of nudity. And although probably not factored into the rating, there is also a lot of smoking and alcohol and they don’t wear seat-belts. Just an observation.
2011 Agnieszka Holland 143 R In Darkness Polish: “W ciemności” (”In the Dark”). Incredible true story based on the book "In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust" by Robert Marshall (1990). Nail-biting dramatic story about a sewer inspector who hid a group of Jews in the underground tunnels that he knew so well. The setting is the city of Lvov, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine), which in 1943 was occupied by the Nazis. Our hero is Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), who you will see referred to as ”Poldek” in the subtitles. He and his friend, Szczepek (Krzysztof Skonieczny), discover Jews hiding in the sewer and agree to protect them in exchange for cash. The conditions in the sewer tunnels were unimaginable and the film can only hint at the real misery. Great suspense as time and again they risk discovery. The “R” rating is for some profanity, sex, nudity and some shocking scenes of Nazi atrocities. It’s not pretty but it’s a great film.
2014 Steve James 121 R Life Itself A very revealing and moving documentary about the life and death of one of the best known film critics, Roger Ebert. I can’t say I always agreed with his take on every film, but he was influential. And it was always fun to see him argue with fellow critic, Gene Siskel, on their weekly television program. The film includes interesting behind-the-scenes looks at the making of that show. They didn’t really like each other, but they made it work, and became famous for it. Much of the interview footage of Roger was shot while he was in the hospital, after his cancer left him unable to speak, and so he responded to questions with the help of a computer-generated voice. There are some scenes in the hospital that are a bit difficult to watch, so be prepared for that. There are appearances by many people who knew Roger, who worked with him or whose work in the film industry was influenced by his reviews and his generosity (Martin Scorsese being one good example). In addition to Roger being a direct participant in the making of this documentary, it was also largely based on the book he wrote of the same title, published in 2011. It is perhaps unexpected that this documentary would be rated “R” but there are a few strong words spoken here and there, and some of the historical film clips include nudity. Roger Ebert was a film critic in Chicago from 1967 to 2013. If you were a movie-goer in those years, you probably were aware of Roger, especially if you spent any of that time living in the Chicago area, as I did beginning 1974. If you followed his reviews and watched his TV shows, you will want to see this tribute to his life.
2015 Alfonso Gomez-Rejon 105 PG-13 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Building a comedy around the subject of death is a tricky business, but this film does a pretty good job of making the two themes compatible. It is based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, who also wrote the screenplay. Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) are high school friends who like to make movies that are parodies of well known films (for example, “Death in Tennis” based on “Death in Venice”). One day Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) tells him that one of his classmates, Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with cancer and insists that he befriend her and try to make her happy. The rest of the movie is about the resulting relationship between Greg and Rachel and sometimes with Earl. “Me” is of course, Greg, and much of the film consists of his voice-over narration of the story. It seems quite clearly aimed at the high school audience, with all its “PG-13”-level profanity and crude sex talk (but no sex or nudity). I do think it could have done with a bit less of that and the voice-over, but in spite of that it is a good story that includes some touching serious moments to balance the humorous aspects. As someone who enjoys puns and parodies, I have to say that the funniest bits to me were the occasional references to the clever titles of Greg’s and Earl’s amateur films.
2014 James Kent 129 PG-13 Testament of Youth This British World War I drama is based on the memoir of Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander). The book, published in 1933, covers her life from 1900-1925, though this film only explores the years 1914-1918. Vera later published a sequel, “Testament of Experience,” covering 1925-1950. She was a very independent-minded young woman who was more interested in attending Oxford than becoming someone’s wife. But the start of war changed everything. It’s part war story, part romance, but somehow I don’t think they had me in mind when they made this film. The book is apparently very popular and is still being published. And the movie received a lot of positive reviews. I just didn’t get all that excited about it. If you’re a fan of the book, you might like it, though I rather expect the film is a very condensed version of the original. My only advisory is that it contains some scenes of wounded soldiers that are rather graphic.
2015 Joel Edgerton 108 R The Gift Very good psychological thriller. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callum (Rebecca Hall) have just bought a new home. While out shopping one day, they run into Gordon “Gordo” Mosley (Joel Edgerton - also the director and writer), an old classmate of Simon. But something doesn’t seem quite right about the relationship between Simon and Gordo, and things start to get a bit creepy, when Gordo keeps delivering gifts and showing up unannounced. Good suspense with well placed scares; almost Hitchcockian. In fact, there is one scene that may remind you of “North by Northwest” (1959), if you’re familiar with that classic (but only the one scene, not the whole story). The “R” rating is for occasional profanity.
2015 Ridley Scott 141 PG-13 The Martian A fascinating space drama and ultimate survival challenge. Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself stranded on the planet Mars and nobody on Earth knows he’s still alive. And he knows that another human mission to Mars that he could possibly meet up with is over a year away. Calling on all his scientific and astronaut training, he gets very creative developing ways to survive on the limited resources at hand. The plot is based on the novel by Andy Weir. It’s almost a one-man show for Matt Damon, though there are other astronauts and ground crew involved in the story, including Jeff Daniels as the director of NASA. It is visually very striking, both on Mars and in space, with 3D photography giving a slight added punch to the sense of being there. There are some nicely done weightless scenes, though the effects of Mars’ reduced gravity (just over 1/3 of Earth’s) were not so obvious, assuming they were trying to simulate it at all. Not everything is entirely accurate, scientifically speaking, giving way to dramatic effect, though my understanding is that the original novel did attempt to be very accurate. Very good performance by Damon. The “PG-13” rating is for limited profanity, a bit of nudity and a somewhat graphic medical situation. They do use a few words you might think would demand an “R” but I suppose it’s all about context.
2015 Steven Spielberg 141 PG-13 Bridge of Spies Excellent true-story drama starring Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, the lawyer who represented Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) at his espionage trial in 1957 and later facilitated his exchange for American U-2 pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) in 1962. The prisoner exchange was filmed on the actual bridge between Berlin and Potsdam where it really occurred. Great performances by Hanks and Rylance, with a surprising amount of humor injected into an otherwise very serious story. Occasional strong language and some violence.
2015 Antoine Fuqua 124 R Southpaw Intense, realistic boxing drama. Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a professional boxer. He is married to Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and they have a daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence). He has been very successful but does have substance abuse and anger management issues, which lead to some dramatic changes to his life. With the help of boxing trainer, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), he tries to resume his career in the ring. As someone who is not a supporter of the sport of boxing, it is always very iffy as to whether I will like a movie built around that subject. In this case I was not particularly impressed with the story. The actors did some of their own real boxing in front of the camera, so it does look quite authentic, except when they are obviously throwing a punch directly at the camera. The “R” rating is primarily for pervasive profanity and some violence.
2015 Bill Condon 104 PG Mr. Holmes A wonderful new approach to the Sherlock Holmes legend. In this variation, Mr. Holmes (Ian McKellen) is an old man of 93 and becoming increasingly senile. He has retired to a farmhouse in the English countryside where his hobby is beekeeping. A housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker), also live there. The reason he retired is that he failed to solve his last case and now he is going through the exercise of writing it down in order to think it through again. Roger is quite fascinated to be in the company of the great Sherlock Holmes and the two become great friends. The screenplay is based on the novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin (2005). It’s not exactly the type of story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have written, but as long as you understand that, I think you will enjoy this as much as any “authentic” story. Note, however, that the details of retiring to a farm and engaging in beekeeping, do derive from the original Doyle short story, “His Last Bow” (1917).
2014 Ava DuVernay 128 PG-13 Selma Powerful dramatization of the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) to press for voting rights of black people in Alabama. The central event being the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. I am not sufficiently familiar with the factual details of the events depicted in this film to criticize it for errors in that regard, but others have criticized it for factual errors, especially regarding the interactions between King and President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). However, as emphasized in a surprisingly long disclaimer at the end of the credits, this is not a documentary and any departure from what actually took place, is strictly for dramatic entertainment purposes. That being said, as an entertainment, it is very well done, and certainly gets across the main points of King’s goals and accomplishements. The cast also features Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King and Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper. It’s PG-13, so there is some violence and brief use of profanity.
2015 Guy Ritchie 116 PG-13 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Like the 1960s TV series on which this movie is based, this secret-agent action adventure takes place during the Cold War. But unlike the TV series, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are meeting for the first time and are not exactly on the same side. Solo is a CIA agent and Kuryakin is a KGB agent. Both have been assigned by their respective agencies to similar but opposing missions, the key to which is a young female auto mechanic, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), who happens to live in East Berlin. Thus, in the context of the TV series, this film is an “origins” story of how these two agents became the men from “U.N.C.L.E.” If you were a fan of the TV show you will also remember the character of Mr. Waverly, who is portrayed here by Hugh Grant. I certainly enjoyed the TV series when I was a kid, but seeing it now in reruns, I note that it was often like a slapstick comedy; a bit goofy compared to current TV series. I’d say this movie version is a step up from that, but still retains some sense of humor. It’s probably not as good as the best James Bond movies, but I found it to be good action entertainment without being excessively violent and is at the mild end of the PG-13 spectrum, with no profanity or sex (though it is not without sexual tension).
2014 Jon Stewart 103 R Rosewater First-time director, Jon Stewart, has put together here a pretty good dramatic recreation of a true story that took place in Iran, in 2009. Stewart is better known for his recently ended 16-year run as host of the comedy series “The Daily Show.” By a strange twist of fate, a comedy sketch filmed in Iran for that show, featuring Daily Show “correspondent,” Jason Jones, apparently was a key factor in the real-life drama that is the subject of this movie (and is almost certainly part of the reason Stewart made this film). Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) is an Iranian-Canadian filmmaker and journalist, who went to Iran that year to cover the presidential election. While there, he was suddenly arrested and accused of being a western spy, and was interrogated in prison for 118 days. Bahari, at least privately, referred to his principal interrogator, Javadi (Kim Bodnia), as “Rosewater,” because that is apparently what he used as a cologne. One factual point that seems to have been twisted a bit for dramatic purposes, is when Rosewater attempted to use a video of the aforementioned comedy sketch, to justify his allegation that Bahari was a spy. It seems that the movie does not use the original sketch filmed for “The Daily Show” but rather employed Jason Jones to recreate it, albeit slightly altered to fit the screenplay. There was good acting and I thought the way Stewart presented the story was very effective. You might be thinking this is a story about prisoner torture, but any “torture” here is more psychological than physical, though they do beat him up a few times. It is, after all, PG-13, though that does come with some profanity.
2010 Emilio Estevez 121 PG-13 The Way A remarkable story about a man who comes to terms with the death of his son in a most unusual way. When Tom (Martin Sheen) receives the news that his adult son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez), has died while in Europe, he immediately flies over there to claim the body. But when he learns the circumstances of his son’s death, he finds that his journey has only just begun. It turns out that his son was on a pilgrimage known as “Camino de Santiago,” also known as “Way of St. James.” Apart from variations, it typically runs from the Pyrenees in France, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Daniel had died during his pilgrimage and Tom made the decision to complete the journey himself, carrying Daniel’s ashes with him. Along the way he makes the acquaintance of several other pilgrims, each with their own unique reasons for making the journey. These include Joost (Yorick van Wageningen) from the Netherlands, Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) from Canada, and Jack (James Nesbitt) from Ireland. In a most sensible choice of casting, each of those three actors are actually from the country associated with their character. In spite of the serious and private nature of each pilgrim’s purpose, the screenplay includes a very good sense of humor when needed. If you’re looking for an intelligent, moving story without sex and violence, this is the one to watch. And in case you didn’t know, actor and director Emilio Estevez is the real-life son of Martin Sheen.
2014 Rob Marshall 125 PG Into the Woods When this film was first released, I was unaware that it was based on a Broadway musical that dated all the way back to 1986 (first performance was in San Diego). Just goes to show that I pay a lot more attention to movies than live theater. I also discovered that in 1989, the original Broadway cast filmed a live performance for the PBS series, “American Playhouse,” which was then broadcast on TV in 1991. Fortunately that performance is available on DVD and so I borrowed it from my local library, to experience the original production before watching the movie. And I’m very glad I did. I very much enjoyed the live performance and found it to be very funny and a clever, if somewhat dark, treatment of several classic fairy tales. The music and lyrics were written by Stephen Sondheim. It interweaves the stories of “Cinderella,” “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rapunzel,” and adds a story about a childless baker and his wife. A narrator introduces each of the main characters and the action begins when each of them finds a reason to go into the woods. With some variation, Act One follows the classic tales as you know them. Act Two extends the stories with new material. So then I rented the DVD of the movie version and was disappointed. For one thing, Disney shortened the musical by nearly half an hour, which meant eliminating some of the songs and various story elements. And somehow they managed to lose the humor of the live show. Part of that may be due to not having the actor-audience interaction that comes with a performance on stage. In a movie the actors are not allowed to look at the camera and pause for a laugh. I also felt that many members of the Broadway production were much better than the actors in the movie. Bernadette Peters’ witch was much superior to Meryl Streep’s performance in the movie. Other actors appearing in the movie version include Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack, James Corden as the Baker, Emily Blunt as his wife, Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, Johnny Depp as the Wolf, and Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel. The bottom line here is, try to find the DVD of the American Playhouse production and skip the movie. Also note that in spite of the PG rating, fairy tale characters and distribution by Disney, this is not a story for children (that goes for the Broadway production as well).
2014 Laura Poitras 113 R Citizenfour This is an interesting documentary that reveals how NSA whistle blower, Edward Snowden, contacted film maker, Laura Poitras, and invited her and journalist Glenn Greenwald, to secretly visit him in Hong Kong in 2013, where he delivered the evidence of NSA’s surveillance of American citizens. If you followed the original story as it unfolded, there won’t be a lot of surprises here, but what is new is seeing film of this initial meeting which lasted eight days and generated about 20 hours of footage before editing. As entertainment, it is not particularly exciting, and with so much of the film devoted to the interview in the hotel room in Hong Kong, a lot of it is rather dry stuff. The film did win the Best Documentary Academy Award, but it probably stands out more for being important rather than being a great documentary. But you have to admit it is probably the scoop of the decade. If you see this on DVD or Blu-ray, the Bonus features include a very good interview, “New York Times Talk” featuring the director and Greenwald and, via live video, Snowden. This one hour discussion was in some ways more fascinating than the documentary. Another interesting bonus is a short film about another whistle blower (who is also featured in the documentary), William Binney. The “R” rating is only because there are several uses of the F-word.
2015 Peyton Reed 117 PG-13 Ant-Man An exciting action adventure, with a good sense of humor, based on the Marvel Comics stories about “Ant-Man.” Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), invented a special suit that the wearer can use to shrink himself down to approximately the size of an ant. In this story, the technology is in danger of being misused for evil by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the man who now runs the company that Dr. Pym founded. So, Dr. Pym enlists the help of an ex-con named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to use the suit to take the technology away from Cross. Pretty much the entire first half of the movie is about showing us who Scott Lang is and how he trains to use the Ant-Man suit. In the second hour he engages in his first real mission as Ant-Man. Don’t try to make sense out of the shrinking-man technology because you can’t. Think of it more as a fantasy than science-fiction. Most of the special effects are things you’ve seen before in films like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (1989), but there is one very new effect early in the film, which involves Michael Douglas, which will probably have you doing a double-take. The cast also features Bobby Cannavale and Michael Peña. Be sure to watch the end credits because there is an additional scene in the middle of the credits that is an extension of the movie, and then after the credits another short scene serves as a preview of “Captain America: Civil War” (2016).
2015 Jay Roach 124 R Trumbo Very good dramatization of the “Blacklisting” era of Hollywood, starting in 1947 and taking the story all the way to 1970. But be aware that while many of the major points of the story are true, a certain amount of pure fiction has been inserted. And not always in a good way. Specifically, Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), is shown naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, something which he did not do. The movie takes the point of view of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who, because he had been blacklisted, could not openly write scripts under his own name (I will leave it as a surprise as to what films he wrote under other names). He also spent time in prison for contempt of Congress. The director has made clever use of both real and fake black & white newsreel footage alongside the full-color main story. Many real Hollywood personalities are portrayed here, with some looking much more like the real thing than others. For example, Kirk Douglas (Dean O'Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) are played by actors who do bear a fair resemblance to the authentic article. Also appearing are Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife, Cleo; Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper; and John Goodman as Frank King. All very good performances. But don’t stop watching when the credits roll, as there is additional material displayed during the end credits that you will want to see, including photos of the real people the story is about and a brief interview with Dalton Trubmo. My advisory for the “R” rating is that there is some very strong language used in some of the many heated arguments. You put John Goodman in a movie and it’s good for a fair number of F-words (though he’s not alone in this). There are also a few nude scenes. But all caveats aside, it is a well made biographical drama.
2015 Francis Lawrence 137 PG-13 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 This fourth and final chapter in the “Hunger Games” series was only half good. The first hour was rather dull, but when Katniss/Mockingjay (Jennifer Lawrence) makes her entrance to the capital city, it starts to get more exciting. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) of course is watching her movements closely and has placed some very deadly obstacles in the way of anyone trying to invade his city. And Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) appears to have designs of her own. There are some big action sequences with lots of special effects and the violence is probably a little more intense that the previous films. This is probably not a film to watch if you haven’t seen the other three films of the series. You really need to know the background of these characters for it to make any sense. For those looking for “closure” on this lengthy story, it is obviously a must-see, but otherwise you’re better off starting with the first film and seeing how far your interest takes you.
2015 Steve Martino 88 G The Peanuts Movie A wonderful children’s animated feature about the always popular characters from the “Peanuts” comic strip. But there is no reason adults shouldn’t enjoy it as well (in fact, “Baby Boomers” may be the real target audience). The actual appearance of the animated characters is very appealing, having a slightly three-dimensional look, even if you don’t get to see the actual 3D version (I saw the 2D version). It makes it look much more modern than the “flat” characters in the newspaper editions and the early TV cartoon renditions. All your favorite characters are there, both the original and the ones added over the years. The movie alternates between two stories, the main one being Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) having a crush on a new girl in school, and the secondary story is Snoopy having daydreams about being a pilot in World War I. Be sure to watch the end credits in their entirety, as there are two extra scenes during the credits and a third scene after the credits (most people miss that one because the leave the theater too soon). The running time I have given is just for the Peanuts movie, but there is a 5-minute cartoon shown before the main feature called "Cosmic Scrat-tastrophe" featuring the character “Scrat” from the “Ice Age” movie series.
2015 Christopher McQuarrie 131 PG-13 Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Very exciting action thriller starring Tom Cruise as the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agent, Ethan Hunt. This is the 5th “Mission: Impossible” movie with Tom Cruise, dating back to 1996. The only one I haven’t seen yet is #3, and the only previous one I thought was good was #4. Without watching that one again, it’s hard to say which one is better, but this newest episode definitely gives episode-4 a run for its money. Actor Simon Pegg is back again as “Benji Dunn” and this time the beautiful female protagonist is Rebecca Ferguson as “Ilsa Faust.” Also starring Alec Baldwin and Jeremy Renner. In this episode, Hunt is trying to expose a secret criminal organization known as “The Syndicate.” But the mission is complicated by the fact that Congress has shut down IMF and merged them with the CIA. The action takes place all over the globe and features a very thrilling car & motorcycle chase. The opening sequence is not to be missed, with Cruise performing his own unbelievable stunts. Never a dull moment. One of the best films of 2015. The PG-13 rating is based on the many intense and often violent action sequences (mostly involving gunfire).
2015 Ron Howard 121 PG-13 In the Heart of the Sea Perhaps if this had been the first film I’d seen about some ship disaster at sea, I might have been more impressed. I think here if you’ve seen any of the trailers for the film, you’ve already seen what the big action sequences are like and will not be much surprised by the rest of it in the actual movie, though obviously on a large screen they are much more impressive. I also found much of it rather dull and found little reason to care all that much about the characters. About the only part of it that could be called moving is the last act when the survivors return to Nantucket. The screenplay is based on one of the real life events that inspired Herman Melville to write the novel, “Moby-Dick” (1851). It is presented in flash-back, as Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviews Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last living survivor of the disastrous whaling expedition on a ship called the “Essex.” Since Tom was only a teen at the time of the expedition, his character in the flash-back scenes is played by Tom Holland. Captain George Pollard is played by Benjamin Walker and first mate, Owen Chase is played by Chris Hemsworth. As far as I can tell, the interview with the old Tom Nickerson never really happened. Melville actually got the story of the “Essex” from an account written by the real Owen Chase, which he obtained from Chase’s son, William. The film contains scenes of whale harpooning and blubber and oil extraction from the carcasses, which some will no doubt find disturbing. There are also some rather disturbing things that take place during the part of the story involving the survivors adrift in life boats. So as they say, “not for younger or more sensitive viewers.”
2015 J. J. Abrams 135 PG-13 Star Wars: The Force Awakens With the large crowds at theaters and all the fanfare accompanying the release of this, the seventh Star Wars film, you might get the idea that this must be the best in the series. It is not. It’s not bad, it just can’t live up to the hype. Though I’m sure it will be very exciting for young people who never saw the original films in theaters. It’s great to see many of the original characters again after so many years, played by actors now 32 years older than they were in “Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi” (1983). Though there is a long introduction of new characters at the start of the film before you see any familiar faces. Although this is a new story, taking place decades after the end of the “Return of the Jedi” story, those familiar with episodes 4-6 will certainly recognize familiar themes and find many of the sets, props, landscapes and special effects to be very similar to the original films. In other words, the component elements are not all that original. You will probably enjoy some of the new characters, including a young woman named “Rey” (Daisy Ridley) and a Stormtrooper named “Finn” (John Boyega). A new robot “BB-8” is introduced, and although R2-D2 does show up eventually, BB-8 is the primary robot of this story and it is a very unique design. The story includes some major surprises but I will skip over those. Previously the “dark side” of the Force was ruled by an Emperor, but now it is ruled by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). The main thrust of the plot is to deliver clues to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to the Resistance, as he is believed to be the last Jedi representing the good side of the Force. You will also see Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) who is now General Leia Organa, and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Also featured in minor roles are actors Max von Sydow and Simon Pegg. It’s certainly a good action adventure in a familiar context, but tone down your expectations before seeing it.