Jennifer Lopez looks as great as ever in “The Boy Next Door” even though she plays a separated mid life suburban high school English teacher. Ryan Guzman moves next door to take care of his ailing great-uncle and takes advantage one lonely night when Jennifer feels vulnerable. Their sex scenes are steamy enough to sell this movie to people looking for this kind of thing. Her one night student lover goes to the same high school as Jennifer’s 16 year old son. When she insists it was a one time thing, Ryan turns jealous and ultimately goes psycho as Jennifer appears to move toward reconciling with her husband John Corbett. Guzman begins his threats with intimidation, escalating to embarrassing photos, brake tempering, and a murder or two. “The Boy Next Door” is just the kind of movie studios like to throw into theaters in January. “R” rated, slightly sexy, with a not very good script that at best knocks off “Fatal Attraction.” Like the character in the movie, Jennifer Lopez ought to make better choices. Her career won’t get any boost from this laughable script. Speaking of not getting a boost, I wonder why Kristin Chenoweth appears as Jennifer’s best friend. Sure Chenoweth can do better than this. Does it deliver what it promises? R rated psycho thriller. Is it entertaining? Laughable. Is it worth the price of admission? No
Jennifer Aniston has received a lot of attention for her role as an angry pain pill addict in “Cake.” Both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild have nominated her as best actress, although she didn’t make the Oscar cut. She’s proved her abilities in earlier films including “The Good Girl” and “Friends with Money.” Now living alone in a Los Angeles suburb, her back problems prevent her from driving or even sitting up in a car. Her visits to group therapy prove so negative that the group leader asks her to find another group. The suicide of one of those members — Anna Kendrick — puts Aniston in a deeper harder angrier and more destructive place. Her character in “Cake” makes it difficult for the characters in the movie to be around her. Unfortunately her character also makes it hard of us in the audience. I get it. Aniston can act. But “Cake” comes off as the kind of cliché that gives indie films a bad name. Does it deliver what it promises? Aniston angry and depressed. Is it entertaining? Hard to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? I pass.
Wow! What a movie! “A Most Violent Year” refers to 1981 New York City — a particularly bad year for crime. The up and coming actor Oscar Isaac believes in the American dream. His belief has led him to own an oil delivery firm. As the story begins he negotiates for riverfront property which will elevate his business to a leading position. But we also learn that the oil delivery business has ties and must compete with mobsters and shady characters. Thieves hijack Issac’s trucks and sell the fuel for their own gain. A nervous driver escalates the robberies into a murky dangerous turf war. Soon an ambitious District Attorney gets involved hoping for political gain. Jessica Chastain centers the pot as a modern-day Lady Macbeth — furiously smoking and working a calculator as keeps an eagle eye on company finances. The mix of ambition and crime and the American dream produces rarely achieved knot in the stomach tension. Jessica Chastain hits the top of her game as the film’s most interesting and frightening character. “A Most Violent Year” is a most satisfying movie. Does it deliver what it promises? Crime thriller. Is it entertaining? Feels like the great movies of the 1970′s. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year’s best.
A lot of British kids already know and love “Paddington” — a talking bear who comes to London from “darkest Peru.” The bear looks cute, has a sunny disposition, doesn’t quite understand the ways of humans, and wins the heart of an English family headed by Hugh Bonneville (in a welcome departure from his role on “Downton Abby”) and the always optimistic Sally Hawkins. “Paddington” comes to London to find the explorer who taught him and his aunt and uncle how to speak English and live British. This includes a lot of discussion of marmalade and marmalade sandwiches. Nicole Kidman adds a dash of spice as an evil museum curator with designs on stuffing and exhibiting “Paddington.” Julie Walters adds to the fun as the family housekeeper who ultimately saves the day. The result is a delight for kids and adults. Possibly England’s most fun import since “Harry Potter.” Does it deliver what it promises? Family friendly comedy. Is it entertaining? The bear wins the day. Is it worth the price of admission? PG rated fun.
Julianne Moore won the Golden Globe as best actress as an over fifty tenured professor with early onset Alzheimer’s. This plot will most likely strike terror in the hearts of middle-aged film goers. One of the great actresses of our time., Julianne Moore registers the changes in her head with confusion, denial, and fog, expressed in her lovely face. With Alec Baldwin as a not quite perfect husband, who views his wife’s prognosis as an annoyance he must “fix.” Kristen Stewart earns respect as an unhappy daughter who finds her place in these developments. The script feels like a “Lifetime” movie and sort of traps us into watching this woman’s struggle. I suspect for many the subject will prove too much and too hard. “Still Alice” reminds me of “Away from Her” (2007) a similar drama that earned Julie Christie awards and nominations. Of the two, “Away from Her” is the better, more nuanced movie. Does it deliver what it promises? Terrifying story of a brilliant professor’s descent into Alzheimer’s. Is it entertaining? Julianne Moore gives a wonderful performance — better than the script. Is it worth the price of admission? Tough to watch.
“American Sniper” feels like a remake of “The Hurt Locker.” Clint Eastwood puts his stamp on the true story of sniper Chris Kyle, who won the reputation as the most accurate sniper in Marine Corp history. The opening scene establishes the story’s tension . We watch Bradley Cooper as Kyle sight his targets then decide if they live or die. The movie begins with Cooper in battle then flashes back to his Texas roots, his enlistment, his courtship and marriage to Sienna Miller, a loyal but frustrated Marine wife. The home front holds none of the excitement of the battlefield. Kyle makes four tours, and ultimately struggles. Director Clint Eastwood, a well-known patriot, leaves room for viewers opinions on American wars since 9/11. A sandstorm provides a convenient metaphor to praise the courageous soldiers like Kyle while questioning the wars America sends them to fight. Bradley Cooper continues to win respect for his work. “American Sniper” adds to his standing as a serious player. In real life, Kyle turned to working with veterans who returned from their tours challenged or damaged. The final twist in Kyle’s life and in the movie hit you like a ton of bricks. It comes so fast with no warning that it takes the steam out of the movie. This is “the Hurt Locker” without redemption. Does it deliver what it promises? War drama based on truth. Is it entertaining? The war scenes feel like “the Hurt Locker.” Is it worth the price of admission? Mixed review. I came out feeling Eastwood didn’t achieve what he wanted to express.
American Sniper — Not wild about it.
Birdman — One of the most creative in years.
Boyhood — 12 Year Project brilliantly conceived will most likely win.
The Grand Budapest Hotel — Loved it — funny, quirky, nostalgic.
The Imitation Game — Good although not quite great.
Selma — Powerful but won’t recover from reshaping history.
The Theory of Everything — “My Left Foot” style performance by Eddie Redmayne
Whiplash — Music/Ambition/Talent/Abuse — One of the year’s most thrilling.
Steve Carrell “Foxcatcher”— I don’t get this — a one note performance.
Bradley Cooper “American Sniper” — I don’t get this — another one note role. By the way, I think Cooper got the slot that should have gone to David Oyelowo. Cooper’s a good actor. Oyelowo’s a rising star and does excellent work in the fine movie “A Most Violent Year.”
Benedict Cumberbatch “The Imitation Game” — Good but not great.
Michael Keaton “Birdman” — I’d like to see this win.
Eddie Redmayne “The Theory of Everything” — Amazing physical performance
Marion Cotillard “Two Days, One Night” — Former Oscar winner very talented
Felicity Jones “The Theory of Everything” — She held her own.
Julianne Moore “Still Alice” — Will probably win in spite of so so script.
Rosamund Pike “Gone Girl” — I loved it! Would love to see her win.
Reese Witherspoon “Wild” — yeah yeah.
(Some thought Jennifer Aniston would get a nomination for “Cake” – I’ve seen it and it’s so so .)
Robert Duvall “The Judge” — He’s great but the movie stunk
Ethan Hawke “Boyhood” — He’s great and the movie’s great
Edward Norton “Birdman” —He’s tremendous and so is the movie
Mark Ruffalo “Foxcatcher” — He’s great but the movie stunk
J.K.Simmons “Whiplash” — He’s tremendous and the movie’s thrilling.
Patricia Arquette “Boyhood”—A great performance
Laura Derm “Wild” — yeah yeah
Emma Stone “Birdman” — Big things ahead for her
Keira Knightley “The Imitation Game” Big things ahead for her too
Meryl Streep “Into the Woods” — Predictable
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu “Birdman” — Amazing!
Richard Linklater “Boyhood” — Great idea done well.
Bennett Miller “Foxcatcher” — This slot should have gone to Ava DuVernay for “Selma” –she created a powerful drama but lost the slot because of the controversy over historic accuracy. The lack of a slot for Angelina Jolie is no big loss for “Unbroken”—a great story poorly told.)
Wes Anderson “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — Love his style — might pull an upset.
Morten Tyldum “The Imitation Game” — workmanlike.
Selma – Life Itself – David Oyelowo – the Lego Movie – Angelina Jolie – Jennifer Aniston – Not much buzzworthy this year and that’s a problem.
Fans of director Paul Thomas Anderson know to expect the unexpected from him and they get it and how in “Inherent Vice.” Set in the Southern California of 1970, Juaquin Phoenix plays a stoner detective who sets out to find an ex girlfriend or maybe soul mate played by Katherine Waterston, who makes a shocking and unforgettable debut. The murky plot packs in a parade of delightful cameos including Eric Roberts, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, and notably Josh Brolin as an over the top detective. “Inherent Vice” grabs for all of the paranoid right versus left hawk versus dove vibe of the era and recreates a time many of us have been happy to forget. Several people came out of the screening sputtering that the movie was stupid, while others marveled at the murky mess. I loved it and I love that I got lost in several places and still can’t quite grasp what was going on. All I know is Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most interesting filmmakers of our time. He has the spark that made so many of the movies of the 1970′s great. Like those movies, he makes stories that get a reaction — either good or bad. One word to the wise. “Inherent Vice” runs about thirty minutes too long and ends a little after you think it ought to end. Does it deliver what it promises? Stoner detective story with a visual flourish and great humor. Is it entertaining? Fascinating. Is it worth the price of admission? I have seen it twice and I might go back again.
“Selma” turns history into high drama with thrilling effect. David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King in the early days of 1965 as King and his associates plot a grand strategy for the civil rights movement. They’ll take aim at voting rights in the small Alabama town of Selma where county officials make it impossible for Blacks to register to vote. King and his advisors reason voting will open the door to full citizenship, including the right to serve on a jury. Oyelowo captures King’s humanity and doubts. He gets King’s cadance and in a couple of scenes approaches King’s eloquence. The script fascinates as it plots out the positions of King, President Johnson, and Alabama Governor George Wallace. Tom Wilkinson stands in for LBJ and Tom Roth manages to prevent his George Wallace from turning into a cartoon. “Selma” tells a story of vision, and yes, of a dream. Does it deliver what it promises? Thrilling historic drama. Is it entertaining? Completely compelling. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year’s must see movies.
A movie musical for people who love movie musicals, “Into the Woods” captures the Broadway musical that tweaks Grimm’s Fairy Tales with and mix of comedy, pathos and a hint of “The Wizard of Oz”. Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, and Anna Kendrick, among others, sing Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics beautifully. A mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk spins around the story of a Baker and his wife who hope to please Meryl Streep’s witch sufficiently to convince her to lift the curse off their cottage that has left them childless. The story moves effortlessly but starts to run down toward the finale. Director Rob Marshall has the gift of translating some of Broadway’s best musicals to the movies. He makes “Into the Woods” a gift worth accepting. Does it deliver what it promises? Movie musical with energy and talent. Is it entertaining? Easy to like. Is it worth the price of admission? Broadway at a fraction of the price.