2015 IN REVIEW: The Films I Didn’t See (January – April)
Alright, so if you aren’t already familiar with how I do my Year in Review process, I always go through a list of the films I didn’t see first, divided into three 4 month sections. Why do I do this? Because I like to still review the stuff that was making the rounds that I managed to miss, firstly, and because it’s a great way to find movies that might never have been on my radar in the first place had I not pursued them, and I like to share them with you, too!
Basically, my process involves perusing the list of films on Wikipedia and various other sites that I read regularly, which tend to be able to publish their Best/Worst of the Year lists far more in advance of me because, you know, they’re actual media, not just a crazy movie fan who likes to spend his weekends watching movies all day, like me. These films are ones that I managed to not see for one reason or another, usually because I just didn’t have the time, but often because I just wasn’t interested, but others just because I didn’t know about them in the first place.
This is by no means a judgment of quality, as they’re listed in order of release date (though I included the Rotten Tomatoes score, if any), and this is also by no means a complete list, either. I’ve already explained that I also had to eliminate my coverage of too many foreign films because they usually weren’t even marketed in the U.S. in the first place and likely will never come here, too. That being said, the ones that did make it over here in some capacity (or ones that struck me as notable for their concepts) were included, so this isn’t totally just Hollywood and American indies, either, and I’ve also begun considering VOD and streaming services as valid, notable venues for feature film debuts. As per usual, I reserve the right to take interest in any of these films and see them before I begin to publish my lists of films that I actually did see, so you may see these films reappear in the coming weeks if I managed to get around to those before publication.
The first part of this feature will, of course, cover the traditional dumping ground for expectedly low-performning flicks from January – April, the second part the traditionally summer blockbuster season from May – August, and the final part will cover what is often considered the Oscar-baiting season, from September – December.
Predestination – 1/09/15 – 84%
Directed and written by Peter and Michael Spierig, Predestination – based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story —All You Zombies— – sees the filmmakers reuniting with their Daybreakers star Ethan Hawke in a follow up film about a temporal agent who is tasked with going back in time and stopping criminals from committing their crimes before they’ve happened and is given one final mission to stop a terrorist who kills thousands in a 1970 attack on Manhattan. Costarring Sarah Snook and Noah Taylor, Predestination released early in the year and also had a simultaneous VOD release, which would normally mean that the movie was probably a piece of crap. However, Predestination has been pretty well received by critics, who also praised Snook’s performance in the supporting role of Jane. I know I passed this up due to the crummy looking artwork, but I liked the Spierigs’ last film, Daybreakers, quite a bit and didn’t realize it was the same guys. Shows how shortsighted I was! Definitely need to see this.
When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism – 1/09/15 – 67%
The film’s summary on Rotten Tomatoes insists that this Romanian film’s dual title will make sense by the end. I’ll have to take it at its word. The film follows an independent film director and his interactions with the actress in his film and with other crewmembers whenever they’re not shooting. I’m not one to scoff at such minimalist approaches to storytelling, but I’d be lying if I said I was genuinely intrigued by the film itself, even after watching its trailer.
Match – 1/14/15 – 74%
What an unusual cast. Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, and Matthew Lillard star in this film adaptation of director Stephen Belber’s own play about a famed, aging Julliard ballet instructor, Tobi, being interviewed by a couple, Lisa and Mike, regarding his life’s work, but it quickly becomes apparent that there are ulterior motives for their trip when Mike’s questions become a lot more personal and specific, hinting at the possibility of Tobi being his biological father. The film received relatively good reviews, but I can’t say I’d ever heard of it before now. Patrick Stewart’s always a welcome presence, however, and the other two are pretty solid actors in their own right, too. Might be worth a watch.
Little Accidents – 1/16/15 – 53%
A mining accident that leaves behind only a sole survivor sets in motion a series of events in which a teenager goes missing, another is holding in a secret about his disappearance, the relationship of the missing boy’s parents’ – who happen to own the mining company – begins to fall apart, and the mother begins an affair with the sole survivor of the accident. The film has been described as a melodrama, and the trailer would seem to suggest that’s the case. It’s a decent cast, with Elizabeth Banks and Josh Lucas at the forefront, but the film was met with mixed reviews, and it didn’t exactly pique my interest much.
Spare Parts – 1/16/15 – 52%
Based on a 2005 Wired article, “La Vida Robot” by Joshua Davis, Spare Parts features George Lopez taking on a more dramatic role as a teacher at a Phoenix, Arizona high school teacher (in a rare reversal where two real life white figures were condensed down into one minority character in the film adaptation) who helps lead a group of four Hispanic high school students into victory at a 2004 national underwater robotics competition, beating out even participants from M.I.T. It doesn’t look like a terrible film, honestly, but it no less looks like your typical inspirational underdog youth story that we’ve seen countless times before, only with robotics substituted in for the usual sport of the year. I could be wrong – I ended up generally liking McFarland, USA, despite similar misgivings there, too.
A Walk in the Woods – 1/23/15 – 46%
Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star as two longtime buddies who go on a late life journey of self-discovery while hiking the Appalachian Trail. The film looks to eschew any real dramatics, however, by going the zany comedy route (though I’m sure some attempts are made at poignancy in the midst of the wacky hijinks, too). Based on the book by Bill Bryson, the movie was met with mixed reception, despite a talented cast that also includes Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen, with cameos from Kristen Schaal and Nick Offerman, as they are wont to do these days. This looks like it could be a mindlessly “eh” time waster that might seem a little better if you set your expectations low, but I’m not really going to go out of my way to see it.
Black Sea – 1/23/15 – 80%
Here’s how Rotten Tomatoes’ critics consensus reads: “Black Sea may not be particularly deep, but thanks to Kevin Macdonald’s judicious direction and a magnetic performance from Jude Law, it remains an efficiently well-crafted thriller.” Haha. Deep. Submarines. I get it. But, yeah, it looks pretty good, with Jude Law playing a submarine captain who leads a ragtag, hastily assembled crew on a journey for sunken treasure rumored to be aboard a sunken Nazi U-boat. Greed and paranoia set in amongst the crew, and it escalates into a paranoid, claustrophobic battle to survive. The film received fairly strong reviews, so, it’s likely one to check out.
The Duke of Burgundy – 1/23/15 – 93%
A widely acclaimed erotic thriller about two entomologists, played by Sidse Babette Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna, who engage in unusual sadomasochistic behaviors with one another when they’re not discussing butterflies and the like. The younger of the two women, Evelyn, seems to be growing more and more nervous about whether she’s actually enjoying their usual activities, however, yet she is persistent in continuing to try to appease Cynthia and her dark fantasies, despite the toll this is taking on her. Ostensibly a dark comedy, The Duke of Burgundy was praised for its style and psychological complexity.
The Humbling – 1/23/15 – 50%
Al Pacino plays another aging artist (a stage actor this time, as opposed to the rock star he played in Danny Collins) who is struggling to come to terms with his age and tries to reconnect with his youth, becoming infatuated with his friend’s much younger and flirtatious lesbian daughter, Pegeen (played by Greta Gerwig), in the process. Directed by Barry Levinson and based on the novel by Philip Roth, the film received mixed reviews, though critics were quick to praise Pacino’s performance as Simon Axler. I can’t help but feel like this movie looks too much like a wish fulfillment fantasy for older men, however.
Song One – 1/23/15 – 35%
Anne Hathaway plays a young woman who goes back home after her brother is in a horrible car accident that leaves him comatose. Using his journal as a guide, she goes on a journey to record sounds he may recognize that might wake him up and ends up reconnecting with her estranged family and coming into contact with (and inevitably falling in love with) this favorite local musician. Naturally, she must decide whether or not this is appropriate, given the circumstances, and… I guess it becomes a big deal or something. This movie really just kinda came and went, and I almost didn’t know if it came out the year prior or not, too. Apparently it was 2015.
Timbuktu – 1/28/15 – 99%
Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 87th Academy Awards, Timbuktu follows a cattle herder, Kidane, and his family, who live just outside the jihadist-controlled titular city, away from the extremism and fatwas that continually take away the smaller pleasures in life. Director Abderrahmane Sissako’s film was praised for its powerful and humane portrayal of a family for whom the possibility of losing everything to terrorists seems like only a matter of time. I really don’t have much else to say about it. It sounds like a highly regarded, timely film – one that we should all watch.
Black or White – 1/30/15 – 39%
Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer feature in this legal dramedy about a white maternal grandfather and black paternal grandmother who are battling over the custody of their mixed race granddaughter and over which one of them has the girl’s best interests in mind, including whether or not she should be in contact with her black junkie father, and whether or not her grandfather can properly educate her about her black heritage and what it means to be a black woman in American society. The film was fairly widely panned for its simplistic handling of the subject matter and tonal inconsistencies. Meh.
Buen Día, Ramón – 1/30/15 – 100%
Alternately known as Guten Tag, Ramón, or more boringly just as Good Day, Ramón, this Mexican/German collaboration tells the story about a young Mexican man named Ramón, who is told about an aunt who lives in Germany who can take him in and help him find work there to send back home. When he arrives, however, he finds out that there is no aunt and is soon stuck out on the streets. That is, until he is taken in by a lonely old German woman named Ruth, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Ramón. Though Rotten Tomatoes only records six reviews at the time of this writing, the film has good word of mouth, so if you’re looking for an uplifting film and don’t mind subtitles, give it a go.
Girlhood – 1/30/15 – 96%
Not to be confused as being associated with the Richard Linklater-directed Boyhood, this French drama tells the story of Marieme, a rebellious teenager who abandons her life of abuse and control, seeking to make her own way through life with a gang of women, who naturally prove to be poor influences, as well as in the arms of men who don’t respect her nor her search for independence. Céline Sciamma’s direction and insightfulness as a filmmaker here were on a lot of critics’ minds regarding Girlhood, and it truly does look like a visually striking film, as well. One to put on the “to watch” list.
The Loft – 1/30/15 – 11%
A group of well-to-do men rent a secret penthouse loft in which they can indulge their fantasies with other women, away from their normal, every-day lives, only for everything to go expectedly haywire when a naked, handcuffed, unknown woman turns up dead, and another woman out to blackmail them for their sordid secrets. This is clearly a movie that wants to pass itself off as some kind of seductive, high-art thriller, but I don’t think anyone was really fooled.
Wild Card – 1/30/15 – 30%
This year’s solo Jason Statham flick sees the action star readapting the 1985 novel Heat (previously adapted in 1986 with Burt Reynolds in the lead and not to be confused with the 1995 Michael Mann-helmed film of the same name). Statham plays Nick Wild, a gambling addict in Las Vegas who is working as a sort of bodyguard for his clients in order to feed his habit. Nick winds up taking on a special case, however, when an escort friend of his asks him to help her get revenge on the men who raped and beat her and finding himself entangled in some gangster activity. Action and apparently torture follow. The film looks like the definition of forgettable action flick that likely would have gone direct-to-video if not for the potentially promising cast that also includes Anne Heche, Sofia Vergara, Jason Alexander, Hope Davis, and Stanley Tucci in various roles.
600 Miles – 2/06/15 – 90%
Tim Roth costars with Kristyan Ferrer in this film about a Mexican cartel weapons runner, Arnulfo Rubio, who kidnaps an ATF agent, Hank Harris, and decides to take the American to his bosses. First time director Gabriel Ripstein managed to impress with this gritty crime drama, with critics praising the dramatic tension and realistic performances as the two somehow manage to bond with one another while on the long trip.
Enter the Dangerous Mind – 2/06/15 – 23%
Jake Hoffman stars as a mentally disturbed EDM musician (hence the cute title) who struggles to pursue happiness with a new female acquaintance he’s made, largely thanks to the voices inside his head beckoning him to enact some horrible stuff on the people around him, with Thomas Dekker playing the personification of these troubled and apparently abusive voices that torment him. The soundtrack is apparently also filled with constant EDM, which sounds obnoxious. No thanks.
Accidental Love – 2/10/15 – 7%
Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal star in this previously abandoned 2008 film by David O. Russell (using the pseudonym Stephen Greene) about a waitress who has a nail stuck in her head thanks to a lack of health insurance to pay for its removal, causing her to become hypersexual but also inspired to fight for the rights of those with unusual injuries, falling in love with the congressman who’s helping her cause. It looks ridiculous, and it was poorly received – enough to make its Canadian distributor desperate enough to misquote The A.V. Club’s negative review of the film and make it look like an endorsement, in fact. The film itself had a very troubled production that was always shutting down due to one problem or another and angering its cast and crew in the process, eventually leading to unions pulling their support and the production shutting down – until 2010, when the film’s rights were purchased along with several others stuck in production. This was when David O. Russell officially left the film, citing financial disagreements with the new owners, who went on without him to film some reshoots with Biel and costar Tracy Morgan, who were contractually obligated. The rights holders’ company then went bankrupt, with the film’s rights again being purchased in 2014 by Millennium Entertainment, who retitled the film, which had up to that point been known as the decidedly more apt title Nailed, and commissioned an edit of the film that used existing footage to make something more complete. The overwhelmingly negative reception to the film might be reason enough to at least watch it once, even just for the novelty of its troubled production.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem – 2/13/15 – 100%
Israeli siblings and filmmakers Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz direct this film that follows the years-long trial of a woman, Viviane Amsalem, who is seeking to divorce her husband due to his poor treatment of her throughout their marriage but who finds herself struggling to convince the religiously-based, patriarchal marriage laws of the land, which puts the final say in the hands of a group of rabbis and her husband, who must agree to the divorce in order for it to proceed. The film received pretty much universal acclaim, with specific praise also going out to Ronit Elkabetz as Viviane, with whom the audience is forced to agonize over the absurd process of this whole process. I’ve definitely added it to my watch list.
The Last Five Years – 2/13/15 – 59%
Tony-nominated actors Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick star in this film adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s stage musical about Jamie Wellerstein, a Jewish novelist, and Cathy Hiatt, a “Shiksa Goddess” struggling actress, who fall in love and get married to one another. The central storytelling device is, apart from the musical numbers, the film’s main conceit, with Jamie’s songs moving forward from the time they first meet to the end of their relationship and Cathy’s songs moving backwards to the beginning, with the stories meeting in between at the engagement. It received mixed reviews, with some citing the uninspired direction as its main fault, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested.
The Rewrite – 2/13/15 – 64%
An award-winning screenwriter stuck in a slump makes a life change by deciding that if he wasn’t going to make a new movie, he was going to ride the wave and coast through a teaching job… which turns out to be more of a challenge than he bargained for, too. Eventually, he does have to face reality, figure out what’s important to him, get his groove back, write a sequel to his award-winning film whose title is a play on a better known and real title (“Paradise Misplaced”), fall in love with the hot older student in his class, and make nice with an estranged son – who probably lives a simpler (poorer) life away from him but happier, I bet. The movie got decent enough reviews, mostly for the performances, but, honestly, it just looks bland.
Queen and Country – 2/18/15 – 78%
I’m afraid I’ve never seen the previous film, Hope and Glory, which was nominated for all sorts of awards, but this decades later sequel (actually only set a decade after the original) looks pretty good. The previous film’s child protagonist, Bill Rohan, is now grown up and enlisted in the British Army during the Korean War. The film follows him as he evades service and joins his buddy, Percy, in pursuing pretty girls, much to the chagrin of their superior, Major Cross (Ha!). This sequel got pretty decent reviews – not nearly as many as its 1987 predecessor, so don’t go having Oscar expectations – and some have even said that it stands on its own, so… I dunno. I’m not one to advocate watching sequels first, even if they’d benefit from no prior knowledge. Still, both movies are worth a look.
Approaching the Elephant – 2/20/15 – 100%
Good grief, I had no idea that such a concept actually existed as a “free school” – a school that adheres to the idea that children should be allowed to be treated as equals to adults and discover their own identities and interests on their own time, with classes being on a completely voluntary basis and children being allowed to govern the rules as a democracy. To me, it sounds like a great recipe for disaster, and Amanda Rose Wilder’s documentary follows one such school over the course of a year, capturing how the school runs (and, it seems, how much the children run amok) while resolving the issues that naturally arise from such a radical approach to education. It sounds fascinating, if anything.
Badlapur – 2/20/15 – N/A
A bank robbery results in the deaths of Raghu Pratap Singh’s wife and son. Fifteen years later, upon the release of their killer, Liak, Raghu goes on a quest to track Liak down, hammer in hand. The film alternates between its two subjects to follow their unlikely developments, with Raghu going from a loving family man to a methodical, wrathful killer and an empathetic Liak starting as a small-time thief who was previously on nobody’s radar until a moment of panic turned him into an accidental killer. This Hindi language film was fairly well received in its homeland, with praise for both stars, Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
A la mala – 2/27/15 – 43%
Maria Laura “Mala” Medina is an aspiring actress who works on the side as a professional seductress, testing the fidelity of husbands and boyfriends to their significant others. When a producer offers to higher her for the role of a lifetime in exchange for Mala working to break the heart of her ex-boyfriend, however, Mala finds herself with conflicting desires as she finds herself falling in love with the man she’s been hired to hurt. This Mexican romcom’s punny title translates to “Foul Play” in English, and I honestly could easily see this film being picked up as a surefire lower budget English language remake hit with some attractive, charming rising star being placed in the lead role, here played by Aislinn Derbez. Sure, it had mixed reception, but when has that ever stopped other easily digested remakes from being greenlit?
Futuro Beach – 2/27/15 – 69%
When a Brazilian lifeguard, Donato, fails to save the life of a German tourist, he strikes up an unexpected bond with the tourist’s friend, Konrad, whom he did manage to save, and the relationship evolves into a romantic one. Donato becomes so infatuated that he moves to Germany with Konrad, leaving behind his younger brother, Ayrton, and their ailing mother. Years pass, and Ayrton’s anger at Donato’s abandonment begins to grow, and so he takes a trip overseas to confront Donato, which causes all three men to reconsider the past, present, and future, as well as their relationships with one another. In skilled hands, a compelling story, but I can’t say that the trailer made me especially interested in it one way or another, and neither does the small collection of decent reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Hunting Ground – 2/27/15 – 93%
The fact that director Kirby Dick has been able to make back-to-back documentaries about rape and sexual assault cases that not only went ignored but were systematically covered up is sickening. The Hunting Ground follows up on 2012’s The Invisible War by shifting its focus from the military to college campuses and survivors of rape giving their testimonies and rallying against the organizations that chose to actively ignore and suppress their stories in the name of defending a brand and perceived norms regarding genders and college student behaviors. The Invisible War was a truly disturbing but effective documentary, and one could expect something similar from this sadly necessary follow-up.
Maps to the Stars – 2/27/15 – 60%
As is often the case with David Cronenberg, this looks to be a strange film, one that divided critics but no less has its admirers. Even reading the Rotten Tomatoes summary, I’m having trouble condensing it down for this review. Slick production values, a bizarre soap operatic premise, and an interesting cast that includes Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, and Robert Pattinson (no, seriously, he can act) makes this a film that I really do want to see.
The Salvation – 2/27/15 – 70%
Lots of revenge films this year, it seems. Mads Mikkelsen plays a Danish immigrant and ex-soldier who seeks revenge in the Old West for the death of his wife and son, taking on a local gang leader and his men in the process and saving Eva Green in the process. Doesn’t sound terribly original, but it has a decent score, so if you’re a Western fan, you could undoubtedly do worse.
The Widowmaker – 2/27/15 – 100%
A documentary about the importance of keeping your heart healthy and avoiding coronary disease sounds like a no-brainer concept, and so this documentary also explores the ways in which the medical community often doesn’t solve anything beyond their financial wellbeing by using various methods to resolve it. Critics liked it.
Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal – 2/27/15 – N/A
Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Pau co-directs this fantasy epic about Zhong Kui, a legendary Chinese warrior who battles demons who have been set loose upon the earth in order to save his people and the woman he loves. The film was criticized for its overuse of CGI and lack of originality by Variety, though performances were highlighted. I must say that the CGI was the first thing that turned me off, too, when watching the trailer, and, though it’s available via streaming services, I’m not particularly interested in pursuing this adaptation of the Chinese legend.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken – 3/06/15 – 20%
This film is based on the 1983 events in which Freddy Heineken, heir to the Heineken beer empire, was kidnapped by five men and held for ransom in Amsterdam before being released by police and the kidnappers getting away with it – albeit only temporarily. The film has an interesting enough premise but looks like your typical psychological thriller schlock. Can’t say that I’m terribly interested.
October Gale – 3/06/15 – 20%
Helen, a newly widowed doctor, takes some time out for herself at her cabin on an isolated island. Her mourning is interrupted when an injured younger man turns up, seeking her help, but unwilling to disclose what has happened – only that they must avoid the man who attempted to kill him. Critics disliked the movie, largely due to the meandering story with little intrigue beyond some vague character motivations and nonsensical plot twists. Sounds about right.
Road Hard – 3/06/15 – 55%
Co-director and writer Adam Carolla plays a washed up, middle-aged comedian who is navigating the harshness of increasing obscurity and playing second fiddle to inferior acts, all while trying to put his daughter through college and find love again while making casual observations about all the stupid things that society do…..Zzzzzzzz…
These Final Hours – 3/06/15 – 81%
It’s the end of the world, with only 12 hours left to live, and a young man named James is heading to what will truly be the ultimate party to be with his girlfriend one last time. On his way, however, he saves a young girl from a pedophile, and he agrees to take her along with him as they both hope to reunite her with her father. This Australian film looks like it lies somewhere between Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and fellow Australian apocalyptic thriller The Rover, with the former’s depiction of near-end partying and depravity and the latter’s gritty, violent tone overall, but while certain elements are undoubtedly familiar, the film did receive quite a bit of acclaim, particularly for Angourie Rice as the young girl, Rose. I’d seen the movie on Netflix before and somehow overlooked it. I’d be more than happy to rectify that, though, as I’m a sucker for these kinds of things.
Two Men in Town – 3/06/15 – 44%
Forest Whitaker plays a newly released ex-con, William Garnett, who served 18 years in prison for the murder of a police deputy when he was a teenager. Despite having converted to Islam and seeking to restart his life as a reformed man, Sheriff Bill Agati (Harvey Keitel) doesn’t believe Garnett can reform and sets about antagonizing him, hoping that he will snap and be sent right back into prison. The film is an adaptation of the 1973 film Deux hommes dans la ville, updated and made more timely to reflect the fear many white people have of black men and Muslims alike committing violence and whether they can be trusted. Despite this, however, critics were mixed in their reaction towards it, with many citing an inability for the film to follow through on its promise with a satisfying conclusion.
Champs – 3/13/15 – 56%
Champs documents the struggles that many boxers have faced both getting into and surviving within this brutal sport, both inside the ring and outside, where they’re confronted with more fame and fortune and attention than they know how to handle. I’m not a fan of boxing, personally, but even I know that there’s a lot of shady things going on behind the scenes, and it doesn’t even surprise me to find out that boxers are treated as disposable, dime-a-dozen cash grabs by managers and such. I’m certain that fans of the sport would likely find this a worthwhile documentary to watch, as it has plenty of candid interviews with boxers and celebrity fans of the sport, but to anyone like me who don’t really invest in the sport in the first place, you might want to gauge your interest in the mere history and intrigue of the behind the scenes politics. I can’t say I am compelled to watch, based on the trailer and mixed reactions alone, but that’s just me.
Home Sweet Hell – 3/13/15 – 5%
Katherine Heigl finally embraces her public image and plays Mona, an overbearing housewife who finds out about her husband Don’s affair and tasks him with killing his mistress in an attempt to return to normalcy. Of course, normalcy is completely out of the question now, and Mona goes on a murderous rampage, with her shirking husband in tow. It looks quite desperate to be a dark comedy, but the film fell flat with critics, who took issue with the film’s illicit misogyny. I already saw Patrick Wilson star in yet another tone deaf dark comedy this year in Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife, and I can’t say that I’m eager to see him in another.
Miekkailija – 3/13/15 – N/A (Finland)
Having fled the secret police in Russia, a young man named Endel Nelis settles in Haapsalu, a small town in Soviet-occupied Estonia and tries to begin life again as a fencing instructor for children, to the consternation of the school principal, who digs into Endel’s past to find some dirt. In the meantime, Endel becomes a beloved father-figure to the children at the school and also strikes up a romance, but it’s not long before his past catches up to him. I read that this film is currently on the Academy Awards’ short list of films to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, submitted by Finland, so even if the story sounds terribly predictable, it’s possible this could still be a solid film.
Seymour: An Introduction – 3/13/15 – 100%
Ethan Hawk hosts and directs this documentary about Seymour Bernstein, a renowned pianist, composer, and instructor whom Hawk considers to be a personal mentor who has helped Hawk get through some of his own anxieties after a chance meeting. I remember seeing trailers for this one a few times when I was at a local art house theatre, and I remember wondering to myself who this man was to be given his own documentary. Critics responded pretty favorably to the documentary and the film’s subject, so this one’s likely worth the investment to find out.
Jalam – 3/16/15 – N/A
A Malayalam-language film from India that reportedly has a few songs eligible to be nominated by the Academy for Best Original Song, Jalam tells the story about a newly widowed woman struggling to take care of her son while living on the streets after the death of her husband. I haven’t been able to find much information on the film, but the trailer looks pretty decent and has a lot of juxtaposition of the lonely mother and her son and the bustle of modern city life behind them.
Poached – 3/16/15 – N/A
Apparently there’s a strange obsession that some people have where they cannot help but collect and hoard the eggs of often rare and endangered birds. This UK documentary sets out to explain the psychology of these egg thieves, who often have multiple offenses counted on their criminal record, while also explaining the ravages their odd practice has on bird populations. It’s a really strange thing, since these people aren’t even using the eggs for something at least a bit more reasonable like… food, or purported medical benefits, but rather for their own personal collection, as individuals will sometimes store a great number of these eggs carefully in padded drawers. Many of the interviewed subjects seem to be rather proud of their activities and brag about skirting police monitoring. Truly strange, and the tone seems to recognize this, but it’s just unusual enough to get me interested.
Amour Fou – 3/18/15 – 90%
An Austrian film based on the events surrounding the 1811 double suicide of poet Heinrich von Kleist and the terminally ill musician Henriette Vogel, Amour Fou follows their unusually passionate romance up until the very end. The film, directed by Jessica Hausner, was praised for its unusual sense of humor while maintaining a high attention to period-accurate set design and costuming for early 19th Century Berlin, though a few critics took issue with the pacing and tone. Still, you can’t argue that its premise lacks intrigue.
The Gunman – 3/20/15 – 17%
Sean Penn goes Liam Neeson in Taken director Pierre Morel’s film, based on the novel The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette. Here, he plays an aging, retired mercenary whose past actions are now coming back to haunt him, with the ones close to him becoming targets caught in the crossfire, necessitating that he step back into action and fight to keep them alive. Needless to say, it sounds like the most original film ever.
Jalaibee – 3/20/15 – N/A
Intertwining stories centering around politics, personal vendettas, and organized crime in Pakistan, Jalaibee did decent at the box office but received lukewarm reception from critics. The film was said to have its moments but was ultimately considered shallow and unoriginal. The trailer I viewed, which had no English subtitles, didn’t really strike my fancy much, either.
Jauja – 3/20/15 – 89%
Viggo Mortensen headlines this Danish film about Captain Gunnar Dinesan, a Danish soldier who goes to Argentina with his teenage daughter, Ingeborg, to work with the Argentine army as an engineer. Ingeborg falls in love with an Argentinian soldier, however, and the two run off together in secret, prompting Captain Dinesan to go after them, despite the danger of the ongoing conflict between the army and aboriginal people.
Confessions of a Prodigal Son – 3/24/15 – N/A
Kevin Sorbo continues his bizarre turn into evangelical melodramas playing the father of a rebellious young man who finds himself getting into some trouble with drinking and driving and the usual stuff. I’m guessing the son becomes a Christian and everything is suddenly fixed.
Becoming Bulletproof – 3/26/15 – 100%
A group of independent filmmakers set out to make a Western. What sets this Western apart from every other one, however, is that its cast is made up almost entirely of disabled people – a group that often gets overlooked when it comes to casting apart from when they’re meant to be a token side character or, if they’re a lead, a minority meant to inspire and amuse everyone. Becoming Bulletproof follows the unique cast and the filmmakers working with them as they set out to show what they’re capable of, if they’re given a chance. Now, granted, even one of the filmmakers in the trailer admits this is an extreme case of diversity, but it’s less about the accuracy of the film they’re making as much as it is about the people making the film themselves, and Becoming Bulletproof has gotten some solid (if small in number) reviews, and it looks like a great deal of fun, watching everyone work.
Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Victory & Betrayal – 3/27/15 – N/A
On one side, a Vietnamese Marine, Le Ba Binh, who is sent to a reeducation camp after the Vietnam War. On the other, an American Marine, John Ripley, who has returned home to a country that no longer regards him as a hero. The film is based on the book by retired Marine officer Richard Botkin, which also tells the story about the two men and their work together in Vietnam and their lives afterward. It’s no doubt a worthwhile story, but, while budget constraints may be to blame, the film’s trailer isn’t exactly an artistic showcase in the acting and directing department. I also question pretty much anything that claims to be “telling the suppressed truth of the War” – even if it’s in reference to refuting claims that it was as big a futile disaster as many claim it to be.
Serena – 3/27/15 – 19%
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper reunite in Susanne Bier’s film set during the 1920s, about a couple that meets, falls in love, marris, builds a logging empire, and then she discovers secrets about her husband that sends their marriage into a downward spiral, along with their business and the wellbeing of the town that depends upon it. Could be solid enough melodrama, with the right execution, but it wasn’t meant to be, as Serena was not well received at all. Problems included the poor pacing and even problematic performances from the talented leads. This could be likely due the film’s 18+ month gestation period, which began all the way back in March 2012, when filming began. (It ended in May.) Perhaps Biers just couldn’t maintain focus during that time, resulting in a hodgepodge film that reflected this?
Welcome to New York – 3/27/15 – 75%
Based on the Socialist French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the charges against him assaulting a hotel employee during a visit in New York, Welcome to New York fictionalizes the case, with Gérard Depardieu playing Devereaux, who is likely planning on running for the Presidency of France and is also accused of raping a woman while on a trip to New York. The film has not been without controversy in its home country, where it failed to garner a theatrical release and went straight to video. The director, Abel Ferrara, has also had a spat with IFC and his distributor, which have marketed what he is calling an unauthorized R-rated cut of the film, though the distributor maintains that Ferrara had violated the final cut deadline and thus surrendered his rights to final say on the cut. Regardless, critics still mostly praised the film, and Depardieu’s performance in particular.
White God – 3/27/15 – 89%
A girl, Lili, and her dog, Hagen, are separated when her father can no longer afford to keep the dog around due to fees that are incurred upon mixed breed dogs by the government, and so the dog is given up and held by a pound along with the other “unfit” dogs. Nothing can keep them apart, however, and Hagen and Lili embark on a journey to be reunited with one another – only Hagen’s bringing company, with all the other unfit dogs rallying behind him as they swarm the city. Sounds cute, right? Except the movie’s rated R for violence and language, so… not for kids. I’ve had this one in my queue for a while, but I’ve avoided reading up on it too much, so don’t be surprised if I’ve added this to one of my lists for films I have seen.
Gemma Bovery – 3/29/15 – 51%
Gosh, reading this film’s synopsis reminds me of that terrible Bewtiched movie. Here’s a film that loosely adapts a British graphic novel of the same name but also acknowledges its existence by having the film be about someone who falls for the lead girl after noticing her similarities to the novel’s lead character, which is itself inspired by Madame Bovary. I wasn’t especially drawn to the film when I heard about it, and I’m not particularly fond of Gemma Arterton, though I understand I may have just seen her in all the wrong roles. I don’t hate her, or anything, but she’s never struck me as terribly compelling as an actress, though she does seem to be the sole bright spot singled out by critics who otherwise disliked the film. Perhaps I should give this quasi-adaptation a go just based on that alone?
5 to 7 – 4/03/15 – 70%
A French womanfalls in love with a younger American man in Manhattan, and they continue to meet up together at a hotel from the hours of 5 to 7. Why? Well, that’s because she’s married. With two kids. Something she readily admits to his parents, upon meeting them, too. It would seem as though the relationship is very much an open one, as even the husband and kids are aware of their mother’s new beau. The film seems to raise the question of whether these types of relationships can exist without problems, much less whether they should, but it also is apparently a coming of age film for the 20-something guy who’s experiencing everything for the first time. I suppose it could at least be amusingly decent, but, honestly? Meh.
Boychoir – 4/03/15 – 49%
A troubled boy has an unlikely talent for someone with his personality, and it’s only a matter of him getting the encouragement and kick in the ass he needs from some tough love life guides who are willing to go against the grain and who are played by Oscar-winning and nominated actors. This ultimately sends him down a path of betterment. We’ve seen this before. Go watch Whiplash or Billy Elliot again instead.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! – 4/03/15 – N/A
Created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay in 1934, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy (or Bakshi) has a fairly rich history in India, with several adaptations based on the novels being made in radio, film, and television, and this film isn’t even the only one that was released in 2015, with Shajarur Kanta following the character solving mysteries in his later years and Byomkesh Bakshi and Har Har Byomkesh also being released at other times in the year. This particular adaptation, however, is set during 1943 and during Byomkesh’s younger years, when he goes on his first case against a villain who, appropriately, wants to take advantage of the ongoing war situation to destroy the world. It looks pretty slick and got pretty good reviews, and I’m honestly kind of intrigued about this famed character, too.
Effie Gray – 4/03/15 – 43%
Based on the unhappy marriage between a young woman named Effie Gray and the older critic John Ruskin, costar and screenwriter Emma Thompson examines Victorian sensibilities regarding gender politics, sexuality, and all that stuff with the veneer of opulent settings and clothing helping it along the way. The film wasn’t exactly panned by critics, but they did seem rather bored by it, possibly because the story has been told before (which led to plagiarism lawsuits against Thompson, who at least won in the end). I’m sure it’s a decent movie, with a good cast that has Dakota Fanning in the lead role of Effie, but I’m not especially driven to watch it.
Lambert & Stamp – 4/03/15 – 87%
This documentary tells of how Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert set out to make a film and wound up discovering and managing a little band you might know – The Who. Needless to say, they would go on to help create one of rock’s most iconic and biggest bands. The film is interesting in that it decides to focus more on the managers rather than the band members themselves, though there are still interviews with them, too, with Daltry and Townsend seeming rather fond of them, overall. The film received really solid reviews, so fans of the band should definitely at least consider checking it out.
Beyond the Mask – 4/06/15 – 25%
Evangelical films get ambitious with this period film set during the American Revolution that looks more than a little inspired by an unlikely source: Assassin’s Creed. The film follows a British mercenary named William Reynolds who is betrayed by his employers and flees to the Colonies, where he seeks redemption and intends to sabotage his former employer, which seems to have a hand in oppressing the future American citizens. Naturally he falls in love along the way, giving him greater motivation to succeed. I don’t know where Jesus fits into this, but the trailer quotes John 8:32 – “The truth will set you free.” I don’t think many people know that to be from the Bible, so good on them, I guess. Also, good on them for aspiring to be an actual story and not just a sermon in disguise. The film still didn’t get a warm reception, though.
About Elly – 4/08/15 – 98%
I have seen the last two of Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s acclaimed films – A Separation and The Past – and they were enough for me to take notice when I saw his name on his latest film. About Elly is a psychological thriller about a group of reunited college friends who head out for a weekend of fun at the beach. One of them brings along her daughter’s teacher, Elly, intending to set her up with Ahmad, who has just returned from a stay in Germany. However, when Elly goes missing, the relationships between the friends begin to come unhinged as accusations are thrown around and secrets are revealed in the midst of the chaos of looking for her. As with his previous films, About Elly has been met with critical acclaim, and, quite honestly, you can probably expect this to show up on my Best of 2015 list if I get to it in time. I can’t wait to watch it!
Broken Horses – 4/10/15 – 21%
A musical prodigy, Jacob Heckum, returns home near the American-Mexican border only to find out that his older brother, Buddy, has joined a drug gang that has twisted his simple mind into becoming that of a cold killer. Jacob decides to join the gang and take them down from the inside in order to save whatever good may be left of his brother. The film’s trailer purports that both James Cameron and Alfonso Cuarón have nothing but praise for Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s film, but critics weren’t nearly as kind, calling it out for its various absurdities. I think I’ll pass.
Clouds of Sils Maria – 4/10/15 – 89%
An older actress, Maria, is tasked with returning to the play that made her famous back in her younger years – only now she’s being asked to play the role of Helena, an older woman who is driven to suicide by Sigrid, the role that Maria used to play. The role of Sigrid is now going to a hot young new starlet, Jo-Ann, who has a tendency to court controversy and find her personal life plastered on tabloids. Maria, with the help of her assistant Valentine, begrudgingly accepts the role and goes to Sils Maria, a region of the Alps, in order to rehearse away from everything. This isolation only leads to more introspection, however, rather than focus. The film was very well received, with all three leading ladies – Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz – receiving acclaim for their performances. I swear this movie was on Netflix fairly recently, but, sadly, that no longer appears to be the case. Dang.
Kill Me Three Times – 4/10/15 – 11%
Simon Pegg is a great guy, but his work apart from Edgar Wright really seems to be more miss than hit. This gritty comedy allows him to play against type as a hitman who finds himself caught in the middle of a crazy scheme that involves murder, theft, and a woman who has apparently wronged several people in town who are now out to get her. The film actually looked like plenty of fun, and I was optimistic about it. That 11% looks pretty dire up there, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still interested, if only for how insane it looks and to see Pegg play a really nasty guy. I also kinda liked Run Fatboy Run and A Fantastic Fear of Everything, in their own ways, so, who knows?
Lost River – 4/10/15 – 30%
Written and directed by Ryan Gosling in his debut effort, Lost River at least looks visually intriguing, with Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, and Iain De Caestaecker starring in this film about a mother and her sons struggling to survive in a dreamlike representation of Detroit. The film features characters named Billy, Bones, Rat, Bully, Belladonna, and Cat, which very likely could have some meaning in the film, I’m sure, but it’s kind of in line with the critiques about the film being a little too self-indulgent for its own good. It does look rather pretty, though, so I might just watch it in the future just for the visuals and to see what kind of promise Gosling has as a filmmaker, if any.
Beyond the Reach – 4/17/15 – 37%
This is a movie in which Michael Douglas tells a guy, “I’m not going to kill you. I’m just going to watch you die,” and then actively makes it impossible for him to seek refuge away from the sun or drink any water in the middle of 130° scorching heat. Why? Well, he plays a rich guy who accidentally kills a man while on a hunting trip with the impoverished young man, who was working as Douglas’ guide, and he convinces the guide to help him cover it up in order to avoid charges. Naturally, Douglas can’t trust him, and so, because he doesn’t believe in direct kills, he forces the guy to strip to his underwear and sentences him to suffer out in the desert while sabotaging any chance of him surviving. Yeah, it’s preposterous sounding to me, too.
Child 44 – 4/17/15 – 25%
A series of child deaths in 1952 Soviet Russia leads to a respected police agent going rogue because he doesn’t buy into the official explanation that the deaths are accidental and not the result of murder, despite all evidence pointing towards something nefarious going on. Murder, you see, does not exist in Soviet Russia, and so to say otherwise is a matter of treason. Sounds intriguing, but critics found the film to be rushed and yet incapable of being as thrilling as it needed to be to hold audiences’ attention, despite assembling a talented cast that includes Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Gary Oldman.
The Road Within – 4/17/15 – 33%
Ah, the wonders and quirkiness of mental illnesses like OCD, Tourette’s, and anorexia. There’s a scene in the trailer where Dev Patel, playing the OCD guy, is happily screaming into the wilderness from a cliff. There’s also a scene in which Robert Sheehan, the Tourette’s guy, is finally expressing himself and doesn’t have a tick, which anorexic girl, Zoë Kravitz, points out. Oh, and why are they together? Why, they’ve broken away from their rehab and decided to go on a trip together – presumably one of self-discovery. I’m crossing my fingers that the movie isn’t nearly as simple as its trailer suggests, but I’m not too optimistic. I’ve been proven wrong before, of course.
Adult Beginners – 4/24/15 – 45%
Nick Kroll gets a shot at a lead role in this film in which he plays an entrepreneur who has to start all over again when his company fails before it even launches, forcing him to ask his estranged sister to take him in with her family. She begrudgingly agrees, only if he helps around the house, which then leads to him becoming their … [sigh] … “manny.” Having some responsibility in his life, for once, though, might be good for him, of course, and so you’re left wondering where it’s all going to go. I’m betting it’s a tidy end for everyone, who have all grown just the little bit necessary for them to move forward but still remain the same people they are, only fully realized.
Blackbird – 4/24/15 – 29%
A devout Christian teenage boy who sings in his church’s choir struggles with the realization that he may very well be gay, something that he knows his mother and their community will not accept, and so he lives a life of denial, despite knowing that he has to come to terms with what he believes and who he believes himself to be. The film looks decently put together, but critics took issue with what were apparently soapy performances more fit for a Lifetime network drama than a proper theatrical release.
Just Before I Go – 4/24/15 – 10%
I was uploading images to this post just now and, wouldn’t you know it? I forgot to look at this film for this post. So, I pulled up the Rotten Tomatoes page and realized what this movie was, and I honestly can’t believe it’s from 2015, because when I saw the film on Netflix, I thought it was something from, like, the early 2000s, not a recent release. I mean, it has Seann William Scott in the lead role, and that’s just not something you normally see these days. Also, I did not know that it was directed by Courteney Cox. What is with these actors trying their hand at directing this past year? Were any of them actually better than just okay? Because this one was apparently pretty awful! Just Before I Go features Scott as Ted Morgan, who has returned to his hometown (yawn) after his wife leaves him and he’s left with nothing but his mundane life (yawn). He intends to confront all of the people who have wronged him in the past and get some closure (yawn), and then he plans to kill himself. … … Huh. While in the process of doing so, however, he gets caught up in their drama and finds out that they’ve got issues, too. He also finds out that there’s been this girl and… (yawn)… Oh my God, this just… isn’t very interesting. I almost want to read the whole plot summary to find out whether he goes through with his suicide or not. Wouldn’t that be something? But, no, there’s a scene where he jumps off a cliff into some water, fully clothed, and then it shows him holding his breath while underwater, presumably contemplating his existence, and… I kinda want him to just stay down there, ’cause that would be something different, but I’m betting the movie’s not that grim. He’ll just resurface after a while and take a deep breath and realize that everything’s probably going to be okay, if not perfect. Yeesh. Just kill me, please…
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck – 4/24/15 – 98%
Combining interviews, home movies and recordings, and animation, Oscar-nominated documentarian Brett Morgan was the first to be able to work with Cobain’s family directly in order to create what many are now calling the definitive and most humanizing work to be produced based on the iconic Nirvana frontman, one that doesn’t discuss Cobain’s place in pop culture history so much as the actual man himself – the father, husband, son, and musician. The HBO production was given a small theatrical release before premiering on their network a short while later and has earned itself widespread acclaim for its respectfulness and thoroughness in covering its subject. I obviously haven’t seen it yet, but I’d imagine that anyone who idealizes Cobain would likely benefit from a viewing.
Misery Loves Comedy – 4/24/15 – 36%
Kevin Pollak tries his hand at directing with this documentary, made up of a series of interviews with a large number of comedians in an attempt to provide some kind of insight on why these guys do what they do (or did, in some cases), particularly whether or not they feel it is necessary for them to conform to that stereotype of being miserable people in order to be funny. Interviewees include Larry David, Tom Hanks, Judd Apatow, Jim Gaffigan, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Schumer, Penn Jillette, and several others, which is an impressive turnout, but a number of people took issue with the lack of actual insight, regardless of whether or not the interviews themselves were entertaining.
The Water Diviner – 4/24/15 – 63%
Yet another actor takes a turn at directing for the first time, with Russell Crowe starring in his own film as an Australian father who goes looking for his missing sons after the Battle of Gallipoli, where they were once presumed to be dead. Crowe was still praised far more for his acting than his directing, though it doesn’t seem to have been a complete bust, either.
How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) – 4/26/15 – N/A
Set in Bangkok, director Josh Kim’s first feature film, based on two short stories from Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s anthology Sightseeing, tells the story about two orphaned brothers, Oat and Ek, whose relationship is threatened when the eldest brother, Ek, must submit to the Thai military’s annual draft lottery. Ek provides most of the money for himself, Oat, and their aunt, who took them in after the death of their parents, and so Oat takes it upon himself to help his brother evade the draft, which could potentially send him into conflict with separatist insurgents in southern Thailand. The film has few reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but all four of them have overall nothing but praise for the film.