2015 IN REVIEW: The Films I Didn’t See (September – December)
Ah, the final stretch of films I didn’t get to see. This is awards season, where the Oscar-bait films get released in the hopes of staying fresh in people’s minds – particularly the minds of the Academy members. Although, increasingly, a lot of bigger films are also getting releases in this time period, including superhero films and spy films and sci-fi adventures, etc.
This list has an admitted large number of films. If you don’t know, I don’t see movies for free, so I rely upon streaming and Redbox in a lot of cases to see certain movies to keep costs down. This being just the past few months, a lot of these films are either still in theatres or are in that limbo between theatre and home release. Others, I just haven’t yet had the chance of getting around to, even if I wanted to.
If you don’t see a movie on this or the previous two lists (Part 1, Part 2), then there’s a good chance I saw it or just managed to not list it. I can’t be that extensive, you know. Also, as always, I reserve the right to see any of these films and include them on my upcoming lists of films I’ve seen, just so long as I have seen them before publishing the list (obviously).
The films below are listed in order of release and have their current Rotten Tomatoes score posted, as well.
The Brand New Testament – 9/01/15 (Belgium) – N/A
Ea is fed up with her father, who likes to screw around with people and create unfair scenarios in which they can’t ever really win. Ea’s father is not your normal practical joker, however. Ea’s father is actualy the creator of everything. Ea’s father is God – the God – and Ea’s not going to put up with it anymore. She sneaks into his office and unleashes chaos upon the earth when she reveals to everyone their exact planned day of death, and then she escapes into the mortal realm, intent on following in her older brother’s footsteps and getting some disciples of her own. The result of her actions: a world that is figuring out what is most important to them with the time they have left – and a vengeful God pursuing his rogue daughter, who is trying to set right his wrongs. God here looks to be like a deadbeat dad crossed with your typical Sims player, who takes delight in watching his creation suffer in ways both big and small, and who resents his far more forgiving son and now his rebellious daughter. The film received quite a bit of acclaim for its dark sense of humor and unusually uplifting message, though I can’t imagine a whole lot of people were happy with it. Personally, even as a Christian, I’m actually quite curious, and I also think God has a sense of humor, even about Himself. With the right execution and contemplation, I’m sure something good can come from it, regardless of intentions.
Blind – 9/04/15 – 97%
Eskil Vogt, screenwriter of the excellent Oslo, August 31st, makes his directorial debut with this film about a blind woman who begins to fear that her purportedly faithful husband is cheating on her. These fears lead her to write out the various, often paranoid fears about what he is up to in the form of stories she types out, which eventually take on a strange life of their own, with reality and delusion blurring in her mind and in the audience’s perception. The film, which has a few comedic elements, sounds like a Charlie Kaufman-esque one, and Vogt’s work has been widely acclaimed here. Oslo was, as well, so I’m definitely interested in seeing what he can do as a director, himself.
Dragon Blade – 9/04/15 – 36%
Jackie Chan teams up with John Cusack, of all people, to take on Adrian Brody in an effort to keep the Silk Road out of Brody’s control. This Chinese epic was released in the U.S. a few months after its homeland debut and was met with tepid reception, with some praising the action choreography, and… not much else. Brody looks to be seriously hamming it up, while Cusack looks to be completely out of his element as a warrior, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I want to see him palling around with Jackie Chan while grimacing in the heat of battle.
The Transporter: Refueled – 9/04/15 – 17%
Skipping this one was a no-brainer for me. The film looks ridiculously devoid of substance, and it doesn’t even have the usual charm of Jason Statham to prop itself up with, instead replacing him with the much younger Ed Skrein. I also skipped it because I’d never seen any of the previous three films nor the short-lived TV series. I basically have had no investment in this film years prior to its release, I guess is what I’m saying. It looks like stupid, boring action to me.
90 Minutes in Heaven – 9/11/15 – 24%
Hayden Christensen and Kate Bosworth join the faithsploitation fold in this film based on the life of Don Piper, who was declared dead after a fated encounter with a semitruck and who was then declared definitively alive again after 90 minutes later, purportedly having visited heaven (and a bunch of dead relatives who now live there) in that time. Honestly, I didn’t buy into this type of story back when it starred a little kid, and I find it harder to find anything faith-affirming in this film’s trailer now that it stars a grown man. I’m not saying that heaven doesn’t exist, of course, but I’m not convinced it works the way that these book-pedaling authors say it does – authors, by the way, who know a crowd of suckers who are willing to buy into something they see as faith and life-affirming and part with their money to vicariously experience it, too. At the very least, the movie could have at least had the decency to be good, but, as with most of these things, it’s been criticized for its pandering, choir-preaching qualities. From a personal standpoint, I take issue with this concept mostly because I also don’t think the existence of heaven is reason enough to have your faith in Christianity affirmed, and I don’t know why anyone who claims to be a Christian, if their goal is to use this as an evangelizing tool or whatever, would encourage that perspective, either. I made a conscious decision to pass on this one and focus more on the more egregious films that came out in what is now pretty much a major subgenre of filmmaking.
Breathe – 9/11/15 – 93%
Mélanie Laurent directs this film, based on the novel Respire by Anne-Sophie Brasme, about a teenage girl, Charlie, who finds herself irresistibly drawn to the new, more sophisticated girl at school, Sarah. The two of them seem to form a very close bond with one another, but when Charlie uncovers a secret about Sarah, the friendship suddenly takes a dark turn, with Sarah manipulating Charlie through rumors and lies in order to maintain control. Both Laurent’s direction and the performances – particularly that of Joséphine japy and Lou de Laâge as Charlie and Sarah, respectively – have been the main points of praise for critics, as was the focus on strictly interpersonal relationships between strictly female characters.
The Perfect Guy – 9/11/15 – 21%
Woman finds the perfect man, who saves her from the doldrums of a post-breakup slump – charming, handsome, and intuitive to her needs. Naturally, he’s too good to be true and proves to have a violent and unpredictable temper that also leads to him doing despicable things that, as shown in the trailer, involve her having to fend him off with knives and even a shotgun. That’s what happens when you sneak in on women while they’re showering, I guess! Needless to say, this predictable looking thriller was not well received.
Sleeping With Other People – 9/11/15 – 63%
Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie play two people who lost their virginity to one another 12 years prior – him a sex addict, her cheating on her husband with another man – reconnect with one another for the first time in years and immediately hit if off again, each of them sharing their sexual frustrations and pains and failures with one another. Naturally, a romance seems to be blossoming between them once more, as they realize they might just be perfect for each other. The film may not be the best romantic comedy around or anything, but the actors are likable and funny in other things, so its lukewarm but generally positive reception is not exactly surprising.
Wolf Totem – 9/11/15 – 71%
Based on the book by Lü Jiamin and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who had previously been banned from China for his film Seven Years in Tibet, this film tells the story of Chen Zhen, a student who is sent to Inner Mongolia to teach the shepherds there, who have a special bond with the wolves who roam the land and are being threatened with eradication by the government. The film was based upon Jaimin’s own experiences as a student in the late 1960s, when he lived in the area for eleven years, concerned about the government taking his books if he lived too close to larger cities. The film itself has received fair amounts of acclaim for being a decent enough and beautifully shot adaptation of the book, though apparently it fell quite short of being a perfect adaptation. Having not read it myself, I wouldn’t know. It could be decent on its own.
The Program – 9/16/15 (France) – 64%
Based on David Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins, this UK-French co-production chronicles the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong’s career and recognition as an influential and inspirational cycling champion. Ben Foster, under some impressive looking makeup and apparently method acting under the same performance enhancers himself, was complimented for his performance as Armstrong, though the film as a whole was criticized for its uneven and often uninteresting dramatic turns.
Captive – 9/18/15 – 26%
Inspired by the true story of a recovering meth addict, Ashley Smith, who was taken hostage by a dangerous felon, Brian Nichols, and the time she spent with him, Captive has largely been dismissed as a commercial meant to sell copies of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, which Smith had received as a gift in one of her meetings and which she read aloud to Nichols while being held hostage by the wanted man. The film does also feature a parallel story with detectives tracking Nichols down, but, despite this, critics still held it in contempt for its incredibly slow pacing and self-congratulatory and aggrandizing tone, which seems somewhat in line with most other Christian films that are often ultimately meant to sell a companion book – amongst other paraphernalia. At the very least, though, Kate Mara and David Oyelowo received praise for their respective portrayals of Smith and Nichols, whose messy lives at the very least were not sanitized to the point of portraying Smith as a perfect angel.
Hellions – 9/18/15 – 25%
Dora is a 17-year-old teenager who finds out she’s pregnant just before Halloween night. Still struggling to figure out how to break it to her mother and to the father, Jace. That night, however, she is confronted by a hellish group of trick-or-treaters who will not relent in tormenting her, beginning to do some freaky and violent stuff in the process. Naturally, the film is meant to be a parallel to her predicament and fears for the future, which is only exacerbated by the fact that her pregnancy is now accelerated, and the children(?) are particularly interested in the baby. What is Dora to do? Starring in a crappy horror film would likely be the first wise decision she makes as she enters adulthood, I’ll tell you that.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials – 9/18/15 – 48%
I really don’t think it’s fair to necessarily harp on the “young adult genre” in general, as I’m sure there are plenty of book series in that area that would make perfectly fine adaptations into films, but I do think it’s fair to knock these down a bit for picking up the scraps of fans who will now be looking for their next film franchise that’s at least somewhat similar to Hunger Games, and I think that Divergent already picked that place to nuzzle into until 2017, when the fourth film (previously third, but they just had to go and separate the final one into two parts, too) will release. The first Maze Runner film did respectable box office, however, too, and so that naturally led to a sequel, The Scorch Trials, which dropped in worldwide box office by over $36 million, having done worse both domestically and internationally, despite a budget that nearly doubled the first film’s. Woops. I honestly found the first film to be a predictable bore, assembled from scraps and familiar pieces from other, better works, and I didn’t really care to learn the mysteries of whatever “the scorch” was, if there even was one. I might see this one as a rental. At the very least, the third film, The Death Cure, is reportedly not going to be split into two parts, as was the case with The Hunger Games and Divergent series, so thank God for that.
Office – 9/18/15 – 80%
Sylvia Chang’s stage musical Design for Living gets adapted into a musical film with Office, also coproduced, written by, and costarring Chang herself. The film concerns Winnie Cheung, the CEO of a billion dollar company and mistress to the chairman, who is promised to become a major shareholder in the company. An audit of the company, however, exposes a ton of corruption within the company, putting her position at risk and also leading to a lot of internal power struggles and personal tragedies for everyone in the company – all right around the 2008 global economic crisis, too. The film was director Johnnie To’s first foray into musicals, with the filmmaker generally making crime thrillers, and the director was lauded for his adaptive capabilities with his stylish production designs. It certainly does look like it could be fun, if you’re into musicals.
99 Homes – 9/25/15 – 91%
I really did want to see this one, as it was getting a lot of attention from critics and word of mouth from audiences willing to go see it. Sadly, it seemed to come and go quite quickly in my area, and not even the star power of Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon were enough to keep it in the public eye. Like with Office above and The Big Short, released later in the year, this film is set around the 2008 economic crisis, this time following a man who is confronted with the prospect of getting back the family house they’ve been kicked out of by kicking others out of their own homes. Andrew Garfield received considerable acclaim for his performance as the conflicted Dennis Nash, who is understandably desperate enough to be tempted into falling in with those who put himself at a disadvantage, and for a while there it seemed like the film was poised to be leading the pack of indie films likely to be nominated for Best Picture. It wasn’t to be, but that doesn’t at all mean that it’s not still a worthwhile picture.
A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story – 9/25/15 – 93%
I remember my first encounter with Lizzie Velásquez being some random image I found online several years ago when I was pretty young, probably on eBaum’s World or something similar (or something similar stolen by eBaum’s World). Sadly, it was not a positive experience on a number of levels, and I do remember being fairly disturbed and being taken in by the whole frenzy of people gawking, though, thankfully, I didn’t participate in posting any cruel things, either. I’m not at all proud, but I’ve grown, for sure (and I haven’t even gone to that site in I don’t know how many years, so there’s that, too). Lizzie Velásquez, on the other hand, seems to be much stronger than any one of us probably would be if faced with the challenges she deals with on a daily basis. Born with a congenital defect that doesn’t allow for her body to gain weight or body fat, Lizzie was called “World’s Ugliest Woman” by some cruel pricks who decided to post a video of her on YouTube, which she managed to find. Instead of letting it get to her, though, she’s channeled the pain in a positive direction, determined to fight cyberbullying through her activism, all while seemingly making it through life with a pretty awesome personality and attitude. I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve read about her since, and I can tell you that this is a woman who proves that one’s pain can be turned into a powerful testimony instead.
The Green Inferno – 9/25/15 – 35%
A group of idealistic environmentalists crash land into the Amazon rainforest and are captured by a tribe of natives, who proceed to inflict misery and anguish upon the group. The tagline for the film was “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,” and while Eli Roth is known for releasing films with considerable amounts of gore and sadistic torture, The Green Inferno seemed to be one step too far for many, who found the film far too disturbing, even for a horror film. Personally, I’m no fan of gory, torture porn-style horror – it’s not scary to me, just disgusting and unpleasant – and so I had no issues passing on this.
Hotel Transylvania 2 – 9/25/15 – 54%
The first Hotel Transylvania was… fine, particularly for what it was: Adam Sandler playing Dracula as a hotel concierge and overly protective father to his teenage(-esque) daughter, who falls in love with a human who stumbles upon their hotel for monsters only. The second film, which was more warmly welcomed by its reviewers, features Dracula dealing with said daughter, Mavis, moving away with her human beau and their hybrid child, who may or may not inherit his mother’s vampire qualities. Worried about his family moving, Dracula sets up a series of events to provoke his grandson’s vampiric qualities and thus prove to Mavis that the hotel is safe for him, after all. Also, more of his family members are introduced, including his father, Vlad, played by Mel Brooks. The movie looks just about as harmless as the first one, and, to be honest, Sandler seems to be having a ball in this Genndy Tartakovsky-helmed film, which is more than can be said for any of his live action films released this same year. It’s probably a shame that I watched those and managed to leave this one out, of all the Sandler films…
The Intern – 9/25/15 – 61%
Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway form an unlikely friendship and mentor-apprentice-like bond over old fashioned values as a retired widower who gets himself an internship at her fashion website. I have no idea if attraction ensues, but I did remember the film’s overall smug demeanor, particularly Hathaway’s dismissal of her employees for not being more like the constantly suit-wearing gentleman played by De Niro while they were out having drinks and not even at work. I don’t know why that was the thing that turned me off. Perhaps it was just because I actually don’t care for suits and stuff either, particularly in this desert heat, and would much rather not have work specific dress codes that necessitate unnecessary amounts of laundry washing? Hm… It also looked just rather bland. I could’ve rented it recently and almost did, but then I had second thoughts and, honestly, none further. I’m sure it’s not bad, but I didn’t care.
Mississippi Grind – 9/25/15 – 90%
A Mississippi poker player, Gerry, who owes money to a large number of people comes across a young man, Curtis, who seems to bring him some luck when he’s aruond. As such, Gerry make a deal with Curtis to take him on the road and serve as a lucky charm as they gamble their way to New Orleans and hopefully get Gerry out of trouble. I’d see the film a few times in Redbox and then on Amazon and dismissed it as some kind of unimpressive film about pulling off the perfect gamble, but apparently I was judging the book by its cover alone, as both Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds apparently did some good work together in this surprisingly well-received film. I might just have to reconsider watching it now.
Shah – 9/25/15 – N/A
A Pakistani production about the life of Hussain Shah, who started out life as a homeless child on the streets and would eventually become the first Pakistani to have ever won a medal at the Olympics in boxing, having won the bronze medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. The film received relatively high praise from local critics, who did note that the film has strong acting, but needed some revision that may not have been possible, given the film’s low budget.
Stonewall – 9/25/15 – 9%
“Offensively bad” is the phrase used to describe Stonewall in Rotten Tomatoes’ official consensus. The film supposedly chronicles the events that led to the titular 1969 riots, spurred on by frequent raids on The Stonewall Inn and attacks on the gay men and women in and around it, ultimately leading to a revolution in the fight for gay rights. Sounds like stuff that would inspire most critics to proclaim the film a harrowing masterpiece, right? Not quite. As directed by frequent schlock director Roland Emmerich, the film was declared a boring mess of a film. In selecting a fictional generic white hero as its protagonist, however, Emmerich crossed the line – not because he was white, but because the character took the place of the person who was largely thought to be the first to throw the brick, Marsha P. Johnson, who was black. While most agree that the truth is actually a lot more unknown than many would like to believe, the film was still largely criticized for having a largely whitewashed cast and a straight-passing lead when the riots involved a far more diverse group of people at the forefront – something Emmerich has acknowledged as being a conscious choice so that straight white Americans would have someone closer to themselves to identify with and hopefully empathize with. Regardless of intentions, the film was still very poorly received overall, and I’m certain a documentary would probably be more beneficial, given all the sensitivities.
Pawn Sacrifice – 9/26/15 – 70%
Based on the life and career of chess genius Bobby Fischer, the film recounts the international, heavily politicized ordeal he found himself in when he challenged the Russian chess grandmasters at the height of the Cold War, all while also dealing with possible psychological problems of his own. Some found the film to be quite dull, while others were hooked by the historical drama it provided. Regardless, Tobey Maguire seems to have been the highlight of the film as Fischer himself.
Hell and Back – 10/02/15 – N/A
You know, it’s really pissing me off that I can’t figure out if the title is supposed to be spelled with or without an ampersand… I’m just going with what’s on the poster. Anyway, this stop motion animated movie is about three best friends, and one of them is dragged into hell when he breaks the blood oath they made as kids. The other two then risk their lives to save him from hell, coming into conflict with demons, legends, Mila Kunis (or at least her character), and Satan along the way. The film stars a predictable list of entertainers for this type of thing: Nick Swardson, T.J. Miller, Mila Kunis, Bob Odenkirk, Danny McBride, Rob Riggle, and… Susan Sarandon!? Weird. Anyway, the film was not well received, being deemed neither good for children nor the adults it’s actually aiming for.
Freeheld – 10/02/15 – 46%
A couple, deeply in love, finds out that one of them has terminal cancer. Normally, in cases like this, it would be understood that the property and pension money of the dying spouse would be left to the surviving one, but, in the case of this couple, which just so happens to be made up of two women, the law states that that cannot be, as they are legally only in a domestic partnership. The film is based on the true story of Laurel Hester, a New Jersey police lieutenant, and Stacie Leigh Andree, her domestic partner. Laurel was diagnosed with cancer, which later metastasized to her brain. The two championed for equal rights to be granted to same sex domestic partnerships through New Jersey’s unique freeholder system alongside Laurel’s police partner Dane Wells and chairman of Garden State Equality Steve Goldstein. The film is based upon Cynthia Wade’s 2007 Oscar-winning short documentary of the same name, with Julianne Moore and Ellen Page in the roles of Laurel and Stacie and Michael Shannon and Steve Carell as Dane Wells and Steve Goldstein. While the documentary received its share of acclaim, the film it spawned did not, with critics citing its dull characterizations and predictable pacing as its biggest downfalls.
He Named Me Malala – 10/02/15 – 71%
Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist who was shot in the head and nearly assassinated by the Taliban for her views on education for girls at the age of only 15. Only two years later, she would be declared the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to fight for the right of education for all children, regardless of their gender. The documentary aims to show her in her everyday life, however, likely as a means of being a beacon to other teenagers her age. The film also documents her familial relationships, particularly with her father, who gave her the name Malala after Malalai of Maiwand, a folk hero in Afghanistan who rallied the troops against British-Indian forces attempting to annex the area. While the insights into her day-to-day life were welcomed by most, some felt that the film was a little too aimless and squandered its opportunity to go further into the life of its extraordinary and inspirational subject, who truly has achieved things not even most adults will do in their entire lifetime. Still likely worth a watch, regardless, if only because of Malala herself.
The Forbidden Room – 10/07/15 – 94%
A bizarrely beautiful looking film from Guy Maddin (and codirected by Evan Johnson), The Forbidden Room replicates and then twists the look and feel of old silent and early talkie films with various stories that nest within each other, each reflecting upon ideas on life and love. I have heard of Guy Maddin before, but sadly, I feel like I’ve somehow missed out on even witnessing any of his work just based on the completely bizarre trailer for The Forbidden Kingdom, which has everything from trapped submarine crews, exploding brains, and depraved savages torturing people. I think I need to seek this film out…
Knock Knock – 10/09/15 – 32%
A rich man living an idyllic life in a nice neighborhood is terrorized by a pair of girls who have tricked him into having an affair with him after pretending their car broke down. Realizing he made a mistake, he kicks the girls out, thus inspiring them to exact bloody revenge on him for his sins. Another film from Eli Roth, this domestic horror film set itself apart from his usual work with its campier tone. Critics called this a mistake, but I’m going to say the opposite. The trailer makes it look like this definitely needed a more tongue-in-cheek approach than what Roth seems to be bringing to the table to make a ridiculous premise like this work.
Pan – 10/09/15 – 26%
This prequel to the standard Peter Pan story is now more infamous for its white-washed Indian tribe cast, with Rooney Mara playing Tiger Lily, and for its bizarre and out of nowhere use of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” than it is for its story, but the film actually does have a few interesting ideas going for it, namely that of showing how Peter went from being an orphan boy to the hero of Neverland, facing off against the pirate Blackbeard in partnership with Tiger Lily and a pre-villainous James Hook. I liked the look of the film in the previews and was actually willing to give it a shot in theatres before the reviews came in. I suddenly found myself having better things to do and passed it up entirely. It’s currently at the Redbox, though, and I can’t say that I’m not still interested on some level at that price.
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom – 10/09/15 – 94%
I don’t think Netflix will be making this available in Russia if they’re still aiming to have a presence there. I’m just saying… The Oscar-nominated documentary covers the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine calling for further integration with Europe, the result of which was the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. This would not come about without violence, of course, as protesters and riot police inevitably clashed. As a whole, the events would last approximately 93 days, with over a million Ukrainian citizens fighting to put an end to the regime and earn their freedom. The film was praised for its ability to capture the emotions and urgency of the struggle and earned itself the aforementioned Oscar nomination, among other accolades.
Boruto: Naruto the Movie – 10/10/15 – N/A
Set after the events of the worldwide phenomenon, Naruto, this film chronicles the beginning adventures of Boruto, the son of the original blonde-haired shinobi, as well as the other children of the original series leads. With Naruto now the Seventh Hokage of Hidden Leaf Village, the village is now playing host to the exams that will see a new generation of shinobi being trained. Naturally, an interdimensional threat is on its way to spoil everything. … Yeah, I know I basically just reworded what I could find on the story. I have never followed the series myself, but I’m not going to talk down to fans of the series or anything. Boruto, released on the manga’s 15th anniversary, may have broken the record as the highest earning film in the Naruto film series, but I just never got into it, so even though it did play in my area, I didn’t see it, and I don’t think my opinion of it would have likely done it justice, even if I had. But, seriously, I hope you fans had fun.
The Assassin 10/16/15 – 81%
Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film about a female assassin, trained from the age of ten by a nun to kill corrupt government officials, who is hired to kill the man she once loved was lauded for its striking cinematography and imagery as well as its fight choreography, though most cited the film’s pacing as a major obstacle in getting through its 2 hour runtime. Some called it glacial, while more forgiving critics called it merely methodical. Regardless, the film has overall won plenty of acclaim, and it does, indeed, look gorgeous from the trailers. If I could make it through the full runtime of both unedited parts of Red Cliff, I think I could handle this, if only for the imagery.
Beasts of No Nation – 10/16/15 – 91%
One of the films cited amongst those who felt that the list of films nominated at the 88th Academy Awards was decidedly too packed with white people, Netflix’s first non-documentary feature film features Idris Elba in a stirring performance as a cruel leader of a mercenary unit that employs child soldiers on its missions. I’ve had this film in my queue since its release, but with my work schedule and various other things going on in my life, I admit I had a hard time finding the energy to sit down and give this heavy film the time it deserves. The film was praised for its acting from both Elba and child actor Abraham Attah, who made his debut here as Agu, a child adopted into the group to perform heinous acts of violence. It also received acclaim for its objective portrayal of a child who lost everything and is merely trying to find a new place to settle into that will give him some semblance of importance. With all the acclaim it was receiving, one can’t help but wonder what the primary motivating factor in not recognizing it at the Oscars were. If not race, then perhaps it was due to the film debuting nearly simultaneously in a limited number of theatres alongside a more general streaming release on Netflix, something the studios may not be comfortable with. I will most definitely watch this, but my hesitance really is based on the very heavy subject matter.
Tales of Halloween – 10/16/15 – 79%
Not one film, but rather an anthology of ten short films, Tales of Halloween assembles a number of directors intent no scare and entertain audiences with each of their stories, which range from stories about child-eating witches, vigilante trick-or-treaters, demonic forces, serial killers, vengeful extraterrestrials, and even just downright awful neighbors. It sounds like a lot of fun, and that seems to be the intent here – rather than have any pretense of being genuinely terrifying, Tales of Halloween just aims to entertain and seemingly mostly succeeded.
Truth – 10/16/15 – 61%
Ah, the political thriller. I’m not really a fan in most cases, and so I honestly kind of skipped this one on a conscious level. I’m not certain how many people actively avoided it rather than just outright didn’t notice it, however, given how hard this film bombed. Critics, honestly, seemed to shrug their shoulders at the film. The film has quite the cast, too: Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood… And it’s based on a fairly high profile case, too, in which a good chunk of CBS’s news team, including 60 Minutes Wednesday producer Mary Mapes and CBS News’ Dan Rather, called into question the validity of President George W. Bush’s military record based on evidence, known as the Killian documents, that may or may not have been falsified, at least in part. The incident led to Mapes’ firing from the network due to improper source verification while three others were asked to resign, though Rather maintains that the truth is up in the air, as the documents’ veracity was never proven. The film is notably based upon Mapes’ own book, Truth and Duty, so obviously the film is going to be skewed, regardless.
Woodlawn – 10/16/15 – 83%
PureFlix finally struck gold with Woodlawn, with critics largely agreeing that, holy crap, they actually produced a pretty good film! Based on the true story of how Miami Dolphins running back Tony Nathan joined his high school football team in Birmingham, Alabama just as the city was forced to desegregate schools, causing riots and cross burnings. In an effort to ease the tension on his team, Tandy Gerelds, the team’s coach, brings in Hank Erwin, who has just come off from a Christian revival meeting. Erwin evangelizes to the students, many of whom become Christians afterward. This sends a ripple throughout the community that helps to change everything. The film looks like most other inspirational sports dramas, quite honestly, and I worry that the film is just propaganda to encourage people to systematically enforce Christianity upon even public school students, but the film was praised for its overall competence in production values and storytelling by even non-Christian-leaning publications, which is something that most other Christian films released of late can ever claim.
Heart of a Dog – 10/21/15 – 98%
Experimental artist Laurie Anderson directed and narrates this film (classified as a documentary in some instances, but that doesn’t seem like the right moniker to me), inspired by her feelings after the death of her multitalented dog Lolabelle, leading to further musings on life, death, loved ones, Buddhism, and even societal issues like surveillance, all with illustrative imagery on screen, some of which was made for the film, some of which was taken from Anderson’s own recordings of her loved ones. The film was recognized for its dreamlike imagery and Anderson’s narration and was nearly nominated for an Oscar.
Bone Tomahawk – 10/23/15 – 88%
Violent and terrifying, Bone Tomahawk is a mashup of Western and horror with none of the irony that such a combination would often suggest. A group of cannibals have been kidnapping settlers on the frontier, and so the sheriff of the small town, Bright Hope, leads a group of men (one of whom had his wife stolen away) on a potentially futile mission to bring back their people. This is currently on my Amazon Prime watchlist, actually. It didn’t pass me by. I just gotta give it the attention it deserves.
The Last Witch Hunter – 10/23/15 – 16%
Reportedly a film that Vin Diesel joined in order to deal with his grief over friend and Fast & Furious costar Paul Walker, this didn’t stop critics from calling the film somewhat of a disaster, regardless of the star’s charm. The film treats witches as a long thought extinct, distinct group of beings who hide on the fringes of society, doing evil things to destroy humanity without the armies of witch hunters to hold him back. Diesel plays the lead character, the last of his kind and cursed by a witch queen with immortality and doomed to be away from his wife and daughter in the afterlife. As a result, he has dedicated the rest of his life to eradicating their kind, and who now has to pair up with a priest, played by Elijah Wood, in order to take on the resurrected queen who damned him to earth. This sounds like one of those films that will gain a small cult following (and, from what I can tell, kind of already has), but for now, it’ll languish as being kind of a silly looking action flick and yet another paycheck for Sir Michael Caine.
Jem and the Holograms – 10/23/15 – 19%
Curious that this film made it even into production, given the relative obscurity of the property it’s based on these days – an ‘80s cartoon and toy line from Hasbro about a futuristic musician and manager who goes on adventures with her bandmates, the Holograms. Honestly, this could have potentially been quite the setup for a revival film with crazy fun imagery and concepts and potentially even some rad music, if it had even a small amount of self-awareness and tongue-in-cheek execution. Instead, the film was self-conscious in the completely opposite direction, almost completely erasing the sci-fi setting of the series in favor of a more down-to-earth, rags-to-riches story about Jerrica Benton finding fame on YouTube and suddenly being thrust into the spotlight, becoming massively popular overnight, and… finding out more about her father before he died. Woo. The film was largely considered a dull film, which is a shame, given its “truly outrageous” source material. I barely remember the show from when I was little, but the look of the show and the constant use of original ‘80s pop songs always stuck out to me. The music in the trailer seems completely uninspired. I know that they probably thought, “Okay, ‘80s Jem was of her time, so 2015 Jem is of her time, too!” but, honestly, if the show had any lasting power, it was with its original era specific imagery, and I think that they made a huge mistake by not focusing on the futuristic setting and synth-pop music and not the vanilla auto-tuned stuff here. Perhaps consult the band Chvrches or something to make the sound be a better mix of nostalgic and modern pop? Then again, I’m probably expecting too much from a Hasbro toy-based production, aren’t I?
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension – 10/23/15 – 13%
Purportedly the final film in the series, one that also would finally get us a glimpse of the demon “Toby” and tie the films together with the series’ first foray into 3D, I maybe would’ve gone to see this film in even the 3D format if it weren’t for the fact that plenty of theatres outright boycotted it for its quick-to-VOD release contract agreement, which would have had the movie make the film available on demand 17 days after the number of venues showing the film dropped below 300, which did not please theatre owners who did not feel as though that was something they were willing to open the floodgates for. As a result, the film was only showing in AMCs and a few smaller chains, including Alamo Drafthouse, with Regal Cinema, Cinemark, and apparently my local Harkins Theatres rejecting the offer. As a result, I did not see the film in theatres and haven’t really cared much to catch up on it. I mean, I will eventually. Whenever it reaches Netflix…
Rock the Kasbah – 10/23/15 – 8%
Ouch. Barry Levinson’s latest film, about a once legendary music manager who gets stranded in Afghanistan after a music tour gone awry. He then discovers a talented young Pashtun woman who dreams of singing on Afghanistan’s equivalent of American Idol titled Afghan Star, becoming the first woman to ever do so on national broadcast television in the country. Success doesn’t come easy, however, as he assembles a strange group of people that includes a hooker, war profiteers, and a group of mercenaries to help this girl achieve her goals. The film bombed hard, and Bill Murray’s comedic talents (amongst others in the cast, including Zooey Deschanel, Kate Hudson, Danny McBride, and Bruce Willis) were said to be completely wasted on the lifeless, humorless film.
Suffragette – 10/23/15 – 73%
Shot like a war film, Suffragette tells the dramatized story about a young woman who joins the ranks of a group of women fighting for their right to vote in England after the turn of the century. Though most of the characters are fictional, the film is an attempt to condense the movement and experiences of the women down in to a more focused story. For its part, the film was largely said to have succeeded, though criticisms calling the film racially insensitive for excluding minority suffragettes’ stories in the film as well as for some of the film’s marketing referencing slavery were also thrown out against it. Even so, the film was generally well-received, with its leads, Carrie Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, being singled out for their performances, though Meryl Streep’s involvement in the role of Emmeline Pankhurst (who provided the film with the quote that inspired the slave-based marketing) was said to be unconscionably overblown in the marketing, as well. No doubt, though, this is probably a pretty decent film to watch, particularly for the significance of the movement itself.
The Dressmaker – 10/29/15 (Australia) – 64%
Based on Rosalie Ham’s novel, The Dressmaker stars Kate Winslet as Tilly Dunnage, a smalltown dressmaker who returns home and uses her skills to exact revenge upon those who wronged her in the past and accused her of murdering a boy when she was a schoolgirl – by transforming the “lesser” women of her hometown into fashion bombshells. The film doesn’t look bad at all, and Winslet and Judy Davis reportedly elevating the film to a much higher standard with their performances. It looks perfectly pleasant to em.
Home Care – 10/29/15 – N/A
A Czech film about Vlasta, a nurse for both her patients and her husband, who suddenly realizes that she, herself, could use some caring for, too, having enabled everyone else to take advantage of her work ethic. Variety reviewer Alissa Simon really seemed to like this quiet, heartfelt dramedy. It was the only English language review I could find that quickly, but I’m sure the film is pretty great.
Burnt – 10/30/15 – 28%
Kind of a hokey looking movie, Burnt stars Bradley Cooper as a hotshot chef, Adam Jones, who is now struggling to make a change in his life while also earning his restaurant back another coveted extra Michelin star, but, in order to do so, he must select the best and most exciting talent to help him out – a quest that has him meeting up with potential new romance, as well, with Helene, played by Sienna Miller. The film received its share of negative reviews, citing the script’s painfully boring plotting as the film’s weakest link, and some even took issue with Jones’ dislikability, in spite of a good performance from Cooper himself. Maybe watch Ratatouille again instead?
Heneral Luna – 10/30/15 – 71%
Going on to be one of the biggest box office hits within its native Philippines, Heneral Luna is a biopic about General Antonio Luna, who fought in the Philippine-American War against the Americans, who had just taken possession of the nation after the Spanish-American War. Luna has been recognized as being a harsh leader and was not generally liked as a person, but his accomplishments during the conflict, prior to his assassination, have made him fairly well respected within the Philippines. The film started off with slow numbers, but word of mouth about the film’s quality led to the film’s box office surging, even when the number of theatres showing it was cut in favor of more mainstream films. Needless to say, that was in its native country, and while the film had a very limited release in the U.S., it’s not often that we see ourselves as the enemies in these types of films – usually we need a nice guy surrogate who makes nice with some of the people on the other side and explain to us that it’s all just a misunderstanding and we need to get along, or something. That being said, regardless of whatever hurt feelings there may be for certain crowds, it’s important to always recognize the views of the other side, and it’s not like they didn’t have a reason to fight us. I mean… we were taking away their country.
Love – 10/30/15 – 41%
Director Gaspar Noe is known for his daring and sometimes graphic films (notably Irréversible, which contains an 8-minute long rape scene), so it’s probably no surprise that the director’s foray into 3D filmmaking revolves around the exploration of the concepts of love and sexual desires and threw it into a non-linear narrative. Much of the criticism directed at the film has been regarding its banal audacity in pushing the barriers of its subject matter and for featuring characters that left audiences feeling cold. In watching the highly suggestive trailer, I do have to admit that it does look pretty dull.
Our Brand is Crisis – 10/30/15 – 34%
Every time I caught this trailer in theatres, I could not help but lament to the person next to me, “That just looks really bad…”. It probably didn’t help that the trailer uses freaking “Fortunate Son” playing over its montage of scenes. (Can we please retire that freaking song from being used in movies and other related materials, please!?) The film is a Geroge Clooney-produced, Sandra Bullock-starring comedic retelling of the events depicted in the 2005 documentary of the same name, which recounted the involvement of American political consultants Greenberg Carville Shrum in the 2002 Bolivian elections, working for Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Interest in the film was low, and so was the box office, grossing only $3.2 million its opening weekend, Bullock’s lowest wide release since 1996, beating out her previous low, Two If by Sea, by $1.3 million. The film was criticized for its lack of polish and consistent humor and tone, though a few people at least had nice things to say about Sandra Bullock herself. I still can’t be bothered, though.
1944 – 11/04/15 – N/A
Estonia’s submission to the 88th Academy Awards for consideration for Best Foreign Language Film is set from the Battle of Tannenberg Line (July 25, 1944) through the end of the Sõrve Peninsula Battle of Tehumardi (November 1944), following a number of Estonian soldiers who had to choose their side in the conflict between the Red Army and German Army. Directed by Elmo Nüganen, the film opened in Berlin and then its native Estonia, where it broke the record for the highest grossing opening weekend since Nüganen’s 2002 film Names in Marble, which chronicled the Estonian War of Independence. Clearly he has a talent for these things, and, from what I could gather from the trailer, 1944 definitely looks like an impressive, moving war film.
The Hallow – 11/05/15 – 72%
Directed by Corin Hardy, making his feature length directorial debut, The Hallow blends Irish folktales with the horror genre in this tale about an English family moving into a house at the edge of a forest that is rumored to harbor evil creatures. The father is a conservationist who is surveying the woods prior to construction, but he finds out that his presence there is disturbing more than just nature. The film was recognized for its original concepts, even with its generally predictable plotting. The imagery in the trailer looks effectively creepy, however, and the film impressed studios enough that Hardy has now been signed on for the long-awaited reboot of The Crow.
Miss You Already – 11/06/15 – 68%
Milly and Jess are inseparable best friends who have known each other since they were little girls. However, their lives are thrown into chaos when Milly receives the devastating news that she has aggressive breast cancer. Meanwhile, Jess finds out that she’s pregnant but is hesitant to tell her friend the big news, given Milly’s desperate circumstances, fearing that the great news would be too far out of contrast with Milly’s struggles. The film’s trailer is packed with some admittedly very cloying imagery, including women constantly giggling while riding around in the backs of cars and conveying meaningful platitudes about each other’s friendships to one another and everyone around them, but Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette are likable, talented actresses, and the film has earned enough praise for their presence alone that you might want to give this film a chance.
Theeb – 11/06/15 – 96%
Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and its equivalent by the BAFTAs, Theeb is set during the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and follows the eponymous Bedouin orphan boy as he sneaks his way into a mission led by his brother to escort a British officer carrying a mysterious box to his secret destination. Once there, however, they make a horrific discovery that leads to a series of events that thrust the boy into a conflict that’s much greater than most young boys could normally handle. The film has already been declared a classic by many, featuring stunning visuals and strong performances from director Naji Abu Nowar’s cast of non-professional, often local actors, including Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat in the lead role. All the buzz surrounding it means it hasn’t actually left my radar – I just really need to get out there and see it.
Trumbo – 11/06/15 – 70%
Hollywood loves itself some self-back-patting, that’s for sure. Trumbo is a dramatic retelling of how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted by the MPAA for his Communist sympathizing and how he protested by continuing to secretly work on scripts for studios, even winning uncredited Academy Awards for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the 1956 film The Brave One. Trumbo received relatively high acclaim, particularly for Bryan Cranston’s now Oscar-nominated performance, though the plot has been notably declared to be somewhat sloppy and overly simplistic in its portrayal of historical events, right down to its overtly heroic portrayal of Trumbo himself, who some say expressed support for the ideals of oppressive rulers like Joseph Stalin and Kim Il-Sung, though I admittedly can’t find many obviously unbiased sources to prove that, either. Regardless, there’s no doubt that this looks like it has some good performances, and it’s always good to be reminded that we have a right to think as we wish, right?… …
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo – 11/12/15 – N/A
Prince of Pritampur and heir to his father’s throne, Yuvraj Vijay Singh is set to marry Princess Maithili, who isn’t too fond of him due to his stubbornness. Vinjay also faces opposition from his stepsiblings – most notably his stepbrother, Yuvraj Ajay Singh, who plans to murder him and take his place on the throne. Meanwhile, an actor named Prem Diwale, who looks exactly like Vijay (and is also played by superstar Salman Khan), falls in love with Maithili, and is given his chance when he is called upon to take Vijay’s place when he is nearly assassinated and put into a coma. As Vijay, Prem now has his chance to woo Maithili, but she still believes him to be the off-putting man she’s engaged to. The film was released in time for Diwali, and was a success, despite its massive runtime of 2 hours 44 minutes. Honestly, that sounds like way too long for such a simple story, and the film received mixed reviews, reportedly recycling a bunch of clichés.
3 Bahadur – 11/13/15 – N/A
This animated film from Pakistan follows three brave children who were gifted special powers after an evil force grants a local thug named Mangu his own great power, enabling him to take over their town and declare himself king while guarding the Key of Evil. Together, the trio of friends (“the three brave ones” as the title translates to) take on Mangu in an effort to save their hometown. The film was the first computer animated film produced within Pakistan and broke local box office records for an animated film, previously set by Rio 2, making it all the more impressive. Critics were willing to overlook a lot of the film’s shortcomings as a result of its unique nature, praising it for doing what no other film had done: give the children of Pakistan a film of their own. Luckily, it was so successful that a sequel is coming later in 2016, with director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy returning to the series, and will hopefully lead to many more Pakistani filmmakers to explore this territory.
The 33 – 11/13/15 – 42%
Based on the book Deep Down Dark by Héctor Tobar, The 33 recounts the inspirational story of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for over two months when the mountain they were mining collapsed on top of them. This Chilean/Colombian coproduction was filmed mostly in English and stars Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Philips, and several others, and is also one of three posthumous releases to feature a score by James Horner (after Southpaw and 2016’s remake of The Magnificent Seven). Despite its inspirational story and the impressive talent and production values, The 33 did get criticism for its extreme adherence to formula, resulting in a film that wasn’t nearly as impactful as it could have been.
By the Sea – 11/13/15 – 31%
Written and directed by Angelina Jolie… Pitt… By the Sea sees tabloid power couple Brangelina playing a troubled American married couple in the ‘70s who take a vacation in a small French town by the sea, meeting the locals, and generally working out their issues with one another. The film wasn’t exactly warmly welcomed, with many accusing it of merely cashing in on the star power of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. If I had to characterize my impressions of it, it’s kind of like that sophisticated, insufferable couple you might know who passive aggressively flaunt their achievements and personal satisfactions with one another as if to say, “We’re better than you, and you love us for it, don’t you?”
Entertainment – 11/13/15 – 79%
[looks up director on Wikipedia] … Oooooh, okay, I knew I had seen Rick Alverson’s name somewhere before: The Comedy. I get it now. Entertainment is a follow-up to that film (and is co-written by its star, Tim Heidecker, along with this film’s star, Gregg Turkington) and similarly places its comedic actors in unpleasant and dramatic situations that explores the relationship between the performer and audience, with Turkington playing an aging, depressed comedian who is still hoping for his big break and to be reconciled with his estranged daughter. Entertainment was much better received than the often unpleasant (though purposely so) The Comedy, despite its main character largely being just as off-putting. Perhaps it’s just that Turkington’s character is at least a bit more pathetic and empathetic than Heidecker’s? Or maybe it’s the fact that the film was a bit more creative and surreal in its visuals. Whatever the case, if you liked The Comedy, you’ll probably like this one. If you were somewhat put off by it? You might still want to give this one a try.
Love the Coopers – 11/13/15 – 19%
Ah-hah, now we’re in the Christmas season now. Diane Keaton and John Goodman headline this ensemble comedy about four generations of the Cooper family coming together for the holidays, bringing along with them their various excess baggage – being single, being single again, parenthood, grandparenthood, aging, togetherness, growing up… etc. The film includes among its cast Alan Arkin, Ed Helms, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, and Jake Lacy (Pete “Plop” Miller on The Office). The film was pretty much universally lambasted for its “cloying smarm,” as Rotten Tomatoes puts it. This is probably one Christmas letter you can throw in the trash.
My All-American – 11/13/15 – 34%
“Bland” is all I can say about this film’s trailer. Which is a shame, as the film is about the story of Freddie Steinmark, who played safety for the 1969 Texas Longhorns football team and whose struggle with cancer helped inspire Congress to write the National Cancer Act of 1971, which President Nixon signed into law, spearheading the movement to find a cure for cancer. Bland is pretty much what the film delivered, however, with critics being unimpressed by its uninspired presentation. It’s pretty sad that so many films like this feel the need to just devolve into platitudes and such instead of just telling a good story in a compelling way.
Carol – 11/20/15 – 94%
Based on the 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, this film spent 11 years in development before finally reaching theatres. The film, as with the book, tells the story about a young woman, Therese, who is taken by an older woman named Carol who visited the shop she works at. The two women become quick friends, but then something more develops. Therese is unsatisfied in her relationship with her boyfriend, Richard, and Carol is going through a messy divorce with her husband, Harge, while struggling to keep custody of their daughter. Both feeling alone in their relationships, the two become an item, something that is not exactly normal for the time period, and the two understandably struggle as a result. The film has received fairly widespread acclaim and was nominated for and won all sorts of awards, including six Oscar nominations – Best Actress, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and Adapted Screenplay. As of this writing, it’s still in some theatres, but I would be lying if I said I was rushing out to see it. Not a commentary on its quality or anything, but I’ll wait for the rental on this one.
Legend – 11/20/15 – 61%
Tom Hardy stars in dual roles as twin brothers Ron and Reggie Kray, feared London gangsters who had as much fame for their popular nightclub as they did notoriety for their ruthlessness. Despite this, the brothers hung out with celebrities and politicians alike and became somewhat well regarded celebrities and even political figures in their own way amongst the general populace before being arrested in 1968. The film itself was praised for Hardy’s dual performance, in which he plays the two disparate brothers’ personalities against each other, and the story is intriguing enough to hold attentions, but the film was considered somewhat sloppily put together, at the same time.
Mustang – 11/20/15 – 97%
Another Oscar-nominated foreign film, Mustang is the directorial debut of Deniz Gamze Ergüven and follows five orphaned sisters who are suddenly banned from leaving their home, even for school, after having been spotted having inappropriate contact with boys, having swam together with them and trying to knock each other off the shoulders of the boys. The girls are then trained to become suitable brides for their future husbands, resulting in the girls forming an even closer bond and being determined to seek out their own destinies when they get older. The film was based upon Ergüven’s own experiences as a girl in Turkey prior to her emigration to France, and its portrayal of female empowerment has obviously earned the film its share of praise. Definitely want to see this one.
Secret in Their Eyes – 11/20/15 – 42%
I honestly thought this was a film coming out in early 2016. Huh… Thirteen years after the suspected murderer of police investigator Jess Cobb’s daughter goes free without being charged, one of Jess’ colleagues finds a new lead that could prove the suspect guilty of the murder and others, but Jess, having dealt with the anguish for too long, decides to take justice into her own hands. Suddenly, it’s a race between Jess and her colleagues to bring the man to justice, with Jess looking for blood and her team looking to keep her out of trouble through due process. Based on the ’s honestly a solid premise, and the film has several good actors in it, including Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Alfred Molina, but the film didn’t manage to captivate critics, who were all pretty quick to point out that the film has been done before and much better – as 2009’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar-winning El secreto de sus ojos, also based on the Eduardo Sacheri novel La pregunta de sus ojos. I guess if you can’t stand subtitles and would understandably rather not watch it with a dub, this American remake might satisfy, but if you can stick it out, watch the 2009 version instead.
Victor Frankenstein – 11/25/15 – 26%
Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy star in this retelling/prequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, clearly still trying to cash in on films like the Robert Downey, Jr.-starring Sherlock Holmes, complete with an eccentric, self-absorbed title character, a more down to earth straightman buddy to call him out on his issues, and a nemesis. There’s even a cute little dig at Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein regarding the pronunciation of his name right there in the trailer, which is kind of like if RDJ’s rendition of Holmes referenced the Benedict Cumberbatch series and commented about how it’s not the future yet or something. I’ve heard some praise for the film, and so if you think you might like it, by all means there are a few who will entreat you to give it a go. I might join some friends if they invited me, myself, but I wasn’t about to spend theatre money on this on my own.
The Danish Girl – 11/27/15 – 70%
“I never realized how pretty Eddie Redmayne was until I saw the trailer for that movie.” My sister’s words when talking about films she still wanted to see but hadn’t. I can’t really speak to that, but the film received decent enough praise, and it’s gone on to earn both of its stars, Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, Oscar nominations. Redmayne here plays Lili Elbe (born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener), one of the first and most notable recipient of a sex reassignment surgery, and wife Gerda Gottlieb, who stuck by Elbe’s side until their marriage was dissolved due to Elbe’s reassignment. Directed by Tom Hooper, plenty of people considered the film to subsequently be a bore, despite its subject matter. I’ve personally only seen two of Hooper’s previous films, one of which I do really and truly like – The King’s Speech – and one of which I think is an overwrought mess of a good intention – Les Misérables – so… I can kinda understand the hesitation to praise the film. Even so, I’d watch it for the actors, if anything.
Karachi Se Lahore – 11/27/15 – N/A
This Pakistani film, about a group of friends who go to stop the wedding of one of their former girlfriends so that he may express his love for her, was the first Pakistani film that premiered in Hollywood. Interestingly, I wasn’t able to find a trailer for this one on Rotten Tomatoes and so headed over to YouTube. I couldn’t find one with English subtitles there, but I did find the commentary to be quite interesting – debates about whether Pakistani films were aping Bollywood films too much (a trend I’ve noticed while researching these films) and whether it was appropriate or not for the women in the film to be so scantily clad in a Muslim country. It was interesting to see that many of the commenters were concerned about preserving modesty for their women, as they should be seen as sisters and mothers, while others agreed but also stated that you could not force women to dress as you would like, only encourage them to dress how they should, and if they choose not to, then there were bigger things to worry about, such as ensuring that the world understood they were not all terrorists and were in favor of freedoms of others as much as for themselves. I still don’t know if any of the jokes are funny in the film itself – apparently it was decent enough – but I’m definitely happy I got to see those conversations.
James White – 11/30/15 – 91%
James is a self-destructive 20-something who, after his mother is diagnosed with a terminal illness, is now being forced to take control of his life and sort it out, lest he implode. The film is the directorial debut of Josh Mond, producer on Martha Marcy May Marlene, and is based on his own experiences in losing his own mother in 2011, while Cynthia Nixon was selected to play the mother based on her own experiences as a cancer survivor and in also losing her own mother to the disease, wearing her jewelry in the film. Mond’s friend Chrstopher Abbot was chosen for the lead role in the film after playing lead in a short film Mond directed called 1009, which was a precursor to this film. A few of its detractors cited the film’s propensity to be cliché and talk about white guy problems, but most others agreed this was either not an issue or was easily overlooked in favor of the strong performances from the cast as well as the skillful direction. It also won itself the NEXT Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so there’s that, too. I hadn’t heard about it until starting this year in review, so now I have to keep an eye out for it.
Hitchcock/Truffaut – 12/02/15 – 95%
Inspired by the book Hitchcock/Truffaut by François Truffaut, in which Truffaut dissected each of Alfred Hitchcock’s films and illuminated how much respect the director deserved, director Kent Jones himself has documented how Hitchcock has influenced modern directors, including those as diverse as Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, and David Fincher. The documentary has been considered essential viewing for film enthusiasts as well as being a welcoming film for those who are new to film analysis, particularly given Hitchcock’s continued popularity. … I guess I should get on it, then?
Christmas, Again – 12/03/15 – 100%
As you might be able to tell from its title, this isn’t exactly a cheerful Christmas movie, but it is about hope – mundane hope, sure, but that might just be the most important kind. A Christmastree salesman returns to New York City, heartbroken and on a self-destructive streak. Working the night shift, he’s in the midst of falling into a downward spiral. When a mysterious girl shows up among his numerous and colorful customers, however, hope seems not so far off. The film has been described as a “collection of moments” more than an actual story-driven film, despite its premise, and the beauty of the film is said to be lying in the small details and the acting on screen. It might be a little too on-the-nose by naming its lead character “Noel,” but apart from that, I’m actually pretty intrigued.
Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One – 12/04/15 – 91% / Arabian Nights: Volume 2 – The Desolate One – 12/11/15 – 100% / Arabian Nights: Volume 3 – The Enchanted One – 12/18/15 – 100%
Based on the structure but not stories of the collection One Thousand and One Nights (often called Arabian Nights), Portuguese director Miguel Gomes’ three part film uses various stories to comment on the current state of Portugal. Each of the films is over two hours long and each contains its own set of thematic stories within the overall story along with engaging visuals and theatrics that border on the absurd, and while critics found plenty to find fault in with the over six hour long epic as well as Gomes’ ambling structure and ambiguity about what it all really means, most agreed that the project was well worth the trouble of seeing, particularly since many of the parts were so good. Probably best to see each part with one week in between, though, as originally released.
Chi-Raq – 12/04/15 – 81%
Spike Lee’s most recent joint is a retelling of Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, in which Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to hold back sexual gratification from their men in order to persuade them to end the Peloponnesian War. Here, the setting of the story is changed to modern day Chicago, where gang violence has led to the death of a child, one more but a notable statistic among those who have fallen on the streets of Chicago. The film was the first production from Amazon Studios, and they chose quite the film to release as their first. Chi-Raq was not without its controversies, particularly from those who thought it inappropriate to make a satirical comedy about death in the city, while city politicians and residents took issue with the film’s title, which equated Chicago to a warzone in Iraq. Overall, though, reactions have been mostly positive, with praise given to Lee for delivering one of his best films in a while, as well as building upon a clever premise.
Every Thing Will Be Fine – 12/04/15 – 24%
Note to self: “everything” is purposely separated in the title. Directed by Wim Wenders, who also helmed 1987’s Wings of Desire, the film is about a novelist, Tomas Eldan, who ends up mistakenly killing a small boy who was sledding and went out in front of his car. The accident leaves both him and the mother understandably shaken and leaves them both scarred for years, but Tomas manages to continue working and even produces some of his best work afterward, possibly having gained inspiration through his pain and the pain he caused – and also the guilt he continues to feel for having been inspired by and effectively profiting off of that pain. Not bad in theory, but the film did not go over well. The film looks like it has some fantastic cinematography, but flat performances from an incredibly talented cast – including James Franco, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rachel McAdams – and meandering storytelling killed the film. Considering the fact that I may have been one of the few people who can’t seem to bring himself to appreciate Wings of Desire, I think I may very well just stay away from one of Wenders’ lesser works.
Life – 12/04/15 – 60%
Ha – both actors who played Harry Osborne in the last two Spider-Man movie series have played James Dean. Anyway, the film is about an assignment that photographer Dennis Stock undertook for Life magazine to take pictures of then-rising star James Dean, whose first major film East of Eden is about to premier. The two of them travel from L.A. to New York and to his home in Indiana. A friendship is struck between the two in the process. The film was considered to be overall average, but the strength of the performances of the film’s stars, Robert Pattinson and Dane DeHaan, that helped to elevate it just a bit in critics’ eyes.
Macbeth – 12/04/15 – 80%
Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play boasts magnificent production design and cinematography as well as an impressive cast, with Michael Fassbender in the lead and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. Fassbender reportedly was born for the role.
The Messenger – 12/04/15 – 100%
A nature documentary directed by Su Rynard about the importance of songbirds in our ecosystem and the threats they face due to habitat destruction worldwide. The film explores the ways in which populations can be restored, however, while also showing off the birds in all their glory, often employing plenty of slow motion to capture all their graceful movements.
MI-5 [Spooks: The Greater Good] – 12/04/15 – 62%
Continuing the story of the original British spy series, Spooks (or MI-5 in certain countries), this film features Kit Harrington and Jennifer Ehle as newcomers to the cast, which also sees cast members from across the original show’s ten seasons joining them, most notably Peter Firth as Harry Pearce. When a dangerous terrorist makes his escape from MI-5, Harry is blamed for the incident, and he presumably commits suicide in his shame. However, MI-5 brings in a former agent, Will, who finds out that not only is Harry still alive, he’s gone rogue and needs Will to help him, despite having fired him years earlier. Now will must make a decision to either trust Harry or turn him in and possibly risk everyone’s safety. The film was said to be pretty predictable, and I’m thinking that fans of the series are the ones who will benefit more from the film’s existence than anyone.
A Royal Night Out – 12/04/15 – 73%
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret convince their parents to let them leave their palace and head out into the world to have fun with everyone else and ultimately have their first taste of falling in love. Sound like a Disney movie? Well, the film’s plot does have a slight basis in truth. It’s actually set on V.E. Day in 1945, when Europe was celebrating the end of World War II, and the two princesses did, in fact, go out on the town to celebrate – albeit in a very large group of 16 that included not only their friends, but also their nanny and military bodyguards. The film twists the story into something a bit cuter and more fanciful, with the girls going incognito and only having one escort each to protect them. Naturally the two girls evade their escorts and go out on an adorable adventure. … Good grief, this does sound like something Disney would do decades from now! England’s Pocahontas… Anyway, the film was recognized as being a fun, albeit inaccurate, film about the royals.
Youth – 12/04/15 – 74%
Best friends Fred Ballinger, a renowned composer and conductor played by Michael Caine, and Mick Boyle, a renowned filmmaker played by Harvey Keitel, take a vacation in the Swiss Alps, arranged by Fred’s daughter Lena, who has come along for the ride. Fred has no intentions of returning to his work, but Mick is worried that the script he’s working on is going to be his last best thing. While there, they discuss their lives and loved ones while encountering other people who feel as though they may have passed their prime, including a young actor named Jimmy Tree, played by Paul Dano, and aging actress Brenda Morel, played by Jane Fonda, who has worked with Mick in several of his films. The film received pretty strong reviews, all things considered, with the cast predictably elevating the quality of the film.
Boy and the World – 12/11/15 – 95%
Nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, Boy and the World is an incredibly imaginative looking film from Brazil about a boy who seeks to reunite his family when his father leaves for the city to find work. Drawn similarly to a child’s drawings, the film’s style evolves over the course of the movie to become richer and grander, while music merges with the visuals on screen to convey the story and emotions of the characters, who don’t speak a word. I don’t see any showtimes in my area, sadly, but it looks like I might actually have a chance this coming weekend when I go down to my hometown…
In the Heart of the Sea – 12/11/15 – 43%
I remember when this film was actually supposed to have some kind of special engagement at one of my local theatres back when the film was originally coming out in March, when the trailers first began. Then Warner Bros. went and delayed the film and pit it against Star Wars, releasing just a week earlier. It’s likely that they thought this would give the film an Oscar boost. Sadly for them, the film – based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick about the sinking of the whaling ship Essex after being attacked by a sperm whale, becoming one of the inspirations for the book Moby-Dick – received only mixed reviews, despite some complimenting the effects and general competence of Ron Howard’s direction. (I wasn’t that impressed with the effects, honestly, but I’ll give this one a rent. At least it’s only 2 hours long, too.)
Wrong No. – 12/11/15 – N/A
Sallu has hopes of becoming a famous actor, but his father Hajji Abba, has other ideas, demanding he either join the family trade and become a butcher or get a steady government job. Meanwhile, a mix-up happens because… something about a doppelganger named Sallu. Honestly, the synopses I’m finding are all in poorly written English and aren’t quite clear. This film, however, did become one of the highest grossing Pakistani films of all time, sitting at #4 domestically and #5 worldwide.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip – 12/18/15 – 20%
I didn’t realize that it had been 4 years since the last film was released in this inexplicable series. The latest one sees the obnoxious singing rodents trying to foil Dave’s plans to marry a woman whose son is an all-around idiot and jackass to the three rats who would become his stepbrothers. Naturally, this requires a road trip and a plot to sabotage the engagement before it’s too late. Something something squeaky voices, something something chips… Whatever. The fact that the film had some staying power, despite releasing the same day as Star Wars.
Bajirao Mastani – 12/18/15 – N/A
An epic romance story about the Maratha Peshwa Bajirao I and his Muslim second wife Mastani, who sought him out for his assistance in pushing back invaders. Impressed by her spirit and warrior ability, Bajirao sought her out, and soon the feelings were mutual, though their relationship would not be without its conflicts. Reviewers typically praised the film for its grand scale and cinematography, while the actors – Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, and Priyanka Chopra as Bajirao’s first wife – also received praise for their respective roles.
Son of Saul – 12/18/15 – 93%
Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes made his feature length directorial debut with this Oscar-nominated film about a Hungarian Jew named Saul, who is imprisoned in Auschwitz and forced to work as a Sonderkommando – a worker who disposes of the bodies from the gas chamber – and who spots among the bodies a child who may be his son. Compelled to give him the proper Jewish burial, Saul is torn between what he feels to be his paternal duty and an impending uprising against those working at the camp. The film covers only a day and a half of Saul’s time at the camp, and yet the film amassed such emotional response with critics with the time it dealt, they were completely blown away. Nemes has now made a name for himself, while star Géza Röhrig has also received acclaim for his determined portrayal of Saul, even amidst the horrific imagery.
45 Years – 12/23/15 – 96%
Led by an Oscar-nominated performance from Charlotte Rampling, a couple who’s just about to celebrate their 45th anniversary receives news that the husband’s former girlfriend’s body has been found, having fallen into a crevasse in the Swiss Alps 50 years prior, before Kate and Geoff ever met. The event had a profound effect on Geoff (Tom Courtenay), and the extent of it and his relationship with his girlfriend affected their marriage becomes revealed to Kate, putting a potentially permanent strain on their relationship. Fans of relational dramas and slower paced films will undoubtedly find something to love here.
Where to Invade Next – 12/23/15 – 76%
You know, I can normally deal with obnoxious artists when they’re not putting themselves in the spotlight, and even when they do, I can generally handle it. For example, Quentin Tarantino usually limits himself to quick and humorous appearances and gets out of the way. Michael Moore, on the other hand has a personality that puts me off so much, I honestly haven’t seen any of his films – just interviews with him. I know I should change that – it’s not even his politics that’s keeping me away, after all, and I’m all for exploring other possibilities, regardless of political disagreements – but… the man is just obnoxious. Anyway, this film is his attempt at being an optimist, believing that America can learn its lessons about various topics (and I do mean various) by coopting them from other countries – hence the title. It was the first film he’s made in six years, and while detractors took issue with his style having evolved little over the years as well as his obvious and gleeful bias – to the point of mishandling information – the film was overall decently received.
Concussion – 12/25/15 – 63%
Currently the center of controversy regarding the Oscars’ lack of recognition for black talent, Concussion, based on the GQ exposé by Jeanne Marie Laskas, stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who discovered a link between football and severe brain injuries and was then subsequently suppressed from releasing the information by the NFL. Smith did receive recognition or his work in the film from critics, regardless of the Academy, and he was also recognized by the Golden Globes for his work with a nomination for Best Actor in a drama film. The storytelling has been said to be heavy-handed, however.
Daddy’s Home – 12/25/15 – 30%
Also known as that film where the leaked footage of a certain scene actually led people to believe Will Ferrell was going on a drunken bender and hitting women in the face on purpose, Daddy’s Home sees him teaming up again with Mark Wahlberg for this film about competing father figures – Will Ferrell as the milquetoast stepdad Brad and Wahlberg as the badass cool dad Dusty, who appears unexpectedly. The film is still currently playing and earned a fairly decent box office, becoming Ferrell’s second biggest live action opening after Talladega Nights. However, unlike The Other Guys, critics weren’t that impressed. Trailers for the film looked like mindless cartoons with tired humor that we’ve seen before, particularly from Ferrell himself, who can and has made gold from these kinds of things. Not so here.
Joy – 12/25/15 – 60%
Based on the life of self-made millionaire Joy Mangano, who invented a wide range of products from the Miracle Mop to organizational luggage. The film tells about how she dealt with being a single mother and suddenly rose to prominence with her inventions. It’s possible David O. Russell might want to start finding some new stars to mine, as Joy marked the third time in a row that he collaborated with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, resulting in his lowest rated film since I Heart Huckabees back in 2004. (I’ll definitely do him a favor and not count Accidental Love, which also released this past year, but only after the director disowned it before he ever completed it.) Then again, I actually really liked I Heart Hucakbees, and it’s not like either one of the films has gotten outright bad reviews. Heck, Jennifer Lawrence is up for an Oscar again, and the film itself was nominated or a Golden Globe, so….
Point Break – 12/25/15 – 9%
Probably one of the most pointless remakes that nobody was asking for, this version of the story at least looks to have attempted something new with its story about an undercover cop who infiltrates a group of bank robbers to make nice with them, stop them, and … provide lots of extraneous but nicely shot extreme sports stunts. The film took an already silly premise from the original film and attempted to make something more serious out of it, apparently never once stopping to think about whether that was a good idea or not. The film got panned, needless to say.
Anomalisa – 12/30/15 – 92%
Charlie Kaufman’s foray into stop motion animation is certainly not meant for kids, exploring a middle aged man name Michael Stone, who struggles to make connections with people, be it in friendship or even sexually. The film features the voices of David Thewlis as Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa “Anomalisa” Hesselman, and Tom Noonan doing all the other voices, while the incredibly expressive animation, using 3D printed models and parts, was handled by Starburns Industries, which has handled animation duties for shows like Community and Moral Orel, among a few commericals, as well. Now they’ve also helped produce an Oscar-nominated film – the first R-rated one to be nominated for Best Animated Feature, in fact. The film was praised for its imaginative and thoughtful portrayal of Michael’s struggle. I do very much want to see this film, but it’s currently only playing at the theatre where they’ve jacked the prices up to nearly twice as high thanks to it having access to food now, so… I just gotta find the right time, if I do go.