The Judge

For his role in "The Judge", Robert Duvall (with Robert Downey Jr.) has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category.

To the excitement of movie fans, Robert Downey Jr. finally doffs his protective Iron Man suit and mega-successful Tony Stark character for his most vulnerable film role in years. As high-priced Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer, Downey completely dominates the big-screen and courtroom in this emotionally charged legal drama. He flawlessly transitions this strong-willed, egotistical lawyer between bouts of anger, compassion, arrogance and humility.

Called back to his hometown after the unexpected death of his mother, Downey faces two very formidable foes--his estranged father (played naturally by Robert Duvall)--the small town judge whom Downey must defend against a hit-and-run murder charge, and, the big city prosecutor brought in from upstate to get that conviction (a perfectly cast Billy Bob Thornton). Although Thornton steals every scene he’s in without much difficulty, this movie comes down to Downey vs. Duvall--and the application of the law.

JUDGE, THE The long-standing tension between a father and son goes back to Downey’s poor choices and troubled youth under Duvall’s stern household. The film unflinchingly looks back at the punishment dealt out by Duvall to his son growing up and compares it to those consequences he ordered since that time from the bench. Sparks once again fly between them as Downey attempts to get two sticky statements from Duvall’s character—approval from his father on Downey’s own legal career accomplishments and answers from his client, Judge Palmer, on his whereabouts the night of the murder.

“The Judge” makes a compelling argument on how our legal system often maneuvers within the gray area of the law. Where circumstances must get factored into the enforcement of the law using the system’s best judgment of one’s intent. Likewise, frustrations and guilt over punishments strike comparisons between a father’s firm discipline and a judge’s stiff sentence. Both actions require conviction and fortitude yet remain difficult to surmise it’s overall effectiveness until years later.

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The only objection I raised during the movie was to the unnecessary and forced subplots director David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”, 2005) throws at the audience. Rather than delve deeper into the relationship and scorched past between the father and son, Dobkin spends precious screen time on an irrelevant and meaningless side story on Downey’s old high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter.

This film is very watchable and flourishes when Downey and Duvall battle it out during their scenes together. Both provide fireworks and realism not only to the father-son family dynamics but also to the film’s courtroom. The short appearances by Billy Bob Thornton are highly flammable sequences in which both Thornton and Downey forcibly stake their legal positions. Thornton intuitively takes mere words on a movie script and, with only a glaring look, turns them into a combustible spark when mixed opposite Downey. “The Judge” is more than just a legal drama though. It’s a story about acceptance, compassion and one’s reputation.

"The Judge" is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 22 minutes.

Fury

Five-time Academy Award nominee Brad Pitt delivers another gritty performance in this intense, gripping World War II thriller. The 50-year old actor more than holds his own as the very capable and confident Army sergeant leading a 5-man tank crew against Nazis in 1945 Germany. Pitt, along with the other well cast soldiers in the movie, poignantly demonstrate the horrors found on the battlefield while showcasing the courage to stand up for each other even when their situation turns dire.

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Movie viewers hoping that “Fury” resembles the 1998 Oscar-winning “Saving Private Ryan” (11 Academy Award nominations) will be mildly disappointed. Some similarities, however, do exist between the two war stories. The highpoint in “Fury” is marked by exceptional cinematography with very realistic, but gruesome, battle scenes. In fact, the final thirty-minutes of “Fury” are extremely captivating and will make audience members feel almost as though its them fighting the Germans from inside an American tank. In several scenes, it’s easy to draw connections to Tom Hanks’ squad pinned down by enemy fire throughout France during “Saving Private Ryan”.

“Fury” departs, though, from any likeness to the most successful war movies due to its blandly written script and the lack of any meaningful investment in the film’s characters--including Pitt’s—from the audience. For most of the actors we’re never even told their names; instead only given a nickname…like the movie’s title for their armored ride and the real star of the film. Between the fascinating battle engagements, none of the characters or their actions becomes particularly endearing to viewers or noteworthy. We care for these guys because of their vital mission and the extremely dangerous circumstances they find themselves, but the film doesn’t afford us much more than that on a personal level to the soldiers.

The bottom line is that “Fury” is a violent war movie that graphically illustrates the heavy burden America carried to stop fascism and Adolf Hitler in Europe. Rightfully, the movie pulls no punches on the violence of war and the high price paid by our nation and her greatest generation. While “Fury” may have sold the military storytelling a bit short in detailing the bigger picture, it gets the small stuff spot-on. It exhibits the many superstitions and silly slogans of those wearing the uniform, along with the foxhole bonding found only in men under deadly fire. “Fury” offers a grisly, unvarnished look inside one Sherman tank and her courageous men battling evil. It honors all those who have ever served our country and found themselves fighting long odds for survival. For that reason alone, “Fury” is a worth seeing and remembering.

"Fury" is rated R for some grisly images, language throughout, and strong war violence.  It's available on DVD and Blu-ray.  Check out Netflix, iTunes and amazon.com.

"Moneyball" on-base slugging % wizard confronts "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Caesar-keeper in this suspense thriller coming in April.  Looks very interesting.  We've seen James Franco convincingly wear the "bad guy" jeans before in the film "Homefront".  Now, throw in Felicity Jones from "The Theory of Everything", and we've got three bona fide Academy Award nominees in this crime drama.

Roll the tape...

"True Story" is Rated R hits theater on April 10th.

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It’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen a movie without laughter of any sort--not a single one-liner, or even the slightest attempt towards invoking a harmless giggle. “Halloween” and the other horror films pride themselves on the fine art of laughter to relax unsuspecting viewers--all before an axe, knife or chainsaw cut to the morbid plot.  Even 1972's epic backwoods suspense thriller "Deliverance" tossed out some jokes between arrow shots from Burt Reynolds' recurve bow.  I'd probably have to go back to Steven Spielberg's 1971 road rage, made-for-TV movie titled "Duel" to discover such a humorless film production as "Foxcatcher".

“Foxcatcher” is the disturbing true story of 1984 U.S. Olympic gold-medal wrestlers and brothers, David and Mark Schultz. This film covers the siblings as they prepare for the 1987 World Championships in the hopes of finding continued success at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. Channing Tatum portrays Mark Schultz, who attempts to step out from his older brother’s shadow in preparation for the all-important make-or-break upcoming world competition and Olympic trials. Oscar-nominated Mark Ruffalo plays the eldest Schultz brother, David, a man with his sights set more upon his growing family and training younger Team USA wrestlers than pinning opponents on the mat.

Steve Carell, the 2006 Golden Globe winner for his 7-year role as Michael Scott in ‘The Office” television series, headlines “Foxcatcher” as millionaire and philanthropist John E. du Pont. Carell’s creepy, intense portrayal of the “Team Foxcatcher” mentor and financier recently earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. His sick and twisted demeanor as the juggernaut behind Mark Schultz’s Olympic training at the du Pont family's estate property, creates a fascinating look into the fine line between a supporting role and misplaced infatuation. The trio of Carell, Ruffalo and Tatum appear almost unrecognizable from previous movies in both their speech and body. All give exceptional performances resulting in a maximized storyline--each squeezing every ounce of entertainment from an otherwise bland plot.

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This slow-paced, methodical thriller does enough, however, to grab the audience’s attention. Oscar-nominated director Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”) creates several awkward, bizarre moments in "Foxcatcher", keeping viewers from fleeing to the theater exits prematurely. In fact, throughout the film, moviegoers sense that what they’re seeing is a train wreck in slow motion building up to a climatic ending which will include only winners and losers. No one invested in the film’s worrisome warning signs would dare miss out on the spectacular finale.

“Foxcatcher” is nominated for five Academy Awards. Besides the categories of Best Actor (Carell), Best Supporting Actor (Ruffalo), and Best Director (Miller), the film also deservedly earned an Oscar-nom for Best Makeup & Hairstyling and Best Original Screenplay. While Ruffalo and Tatum both propel the story along in convincing and earnest fashion, its Steve Carell’s eccentric work as John “Eagle Eye” du Pont that really separates his performance apart from all others in the film, delivering “Foxcatcher” its nerve whacking, slow suspenseful buildup. As the face of the du Pont estate in Pennsylvania, Carell’s Oscar-worthy gem in this movie makes the audience take notice of his aura and unusual demeanor.  A different side to the actor from TV's hit comedy "The Office" that doesn't include laughs or giggles--only grimaces from us, the viewers. While “Foxcatcher” may not have any light-hearted or laughable moments, the disturbing and intense characters make this true story impossible to walk away from unscathed for those involved.

Grade: B

"Foxcatcher" is Rated R for some drug use and violence.  It's running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

It's been 37 years since Olivia Newton-John and Vincent Vega John Travolta emerged in their American hit musical of iconic proportions, including its award-winning soundtrack.  "Grease" launched Newton-John's music career along with those music videos and spandex look--well, mostly it was the spandex look. That 1978 Broadway version on film sent Travolta's career into "Urban Cowboy" and those two "Look Who's Talking" diaper accidents, before Quentin Tarantino saved the bubble boy and his career with 1994's "Pulp Fiction"--it's just a foot massage.

But I digress...

Some cyber chatter being heard is that "The Last 5 Years" could catch fire and make serious coin at the box office next month.  Other insiders are going so far as to say this film could make their "Best of 2015" movie list.  We'll see. Either way this movie trends next month, you have alternative Valentine's Day film options.  If this kinky, graphic nudity yawner doesn't instill confidence in our theater choices, now you've got Anna Kendrick's singing chops to fall back on.

I'm told Kendrick's co-star Jeremy Jordan is also in this trailer.  But I never saw him. :) Roll 'em....

"The Last 5 Years" is Rated PG-13 for sexual material, brief strong language, and a drug image.  It hits theaters on February 13th.

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10.  Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) -  "I'm not a redneck.  I'm from Texas".  Taya Kyle (Sienna Miller) - "What's the difference?"  Chris Kyle - "We ride horses and they ride their cousins."

9. Taya Kyle - “Then just tell me. Tell me why you do it. I want to understand.”

8.  Chris Kyle - “I’m willing to meet my creator and answer every shot that I took.”

7.  Spotter Goat-Winston (Kyle Gallner) - “They fry you if you’re wrong.”

6.  Taya Kyle - "I don't date SEALs".

5.  Chris Kyle (over the phone to Taya Kyle) - "I'm ready. I'm ready to come home. I'm ready to come home baby!

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4.  Fellow Navy SEAL Marc Lee (Luke Grimes) - “Look, all these guys, they know your name. They feel invincible with you up there.”

3.  Taya Kyle - “You don’t know when to quit! You did your part! We sacrificed enough! You let somebody else go!”

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2.   Taya Kyle (over the phone to Chris, deployed in Iraq) - "Chris, do you need me to talk dirty to you?"

1.  Chris Kyle - "The thing that... haunts me are all the guys that I couldn't save".

Other links:

REEL BRIEF's full review on 'American Sniper'

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'American Sniper' official movie page

FORGED Chris Kyle "The Legend" merchandise

boyhoodtop I'm often asked what makes a great movie.  More specifically, what do I look for in a film in order to assign it a high letter-grade?  Parts of these questions are easy to answer objectively, while other portions remain more elusive and subjective--byproducts of my feelings, perceptions and whims. First, great acting can't overcome a poorly written script and blah storyline.  Likewise, a wonderful plot with substandard acting performances--particularly in the leading parts--are dinged pretty hard in my electronic grade book.  After all, movies are about the suspension of disbelief for 2 to 3 hours of entertainment using escapism ideals such as hope, realism, joy, suspense, and wonderment.  Each fully achieved by convincing the moviegoers that what they're actually seeing is perhaps true, but, at least possible.  Lastly, and arguably the most important, a successful film to me invokes an emotion of some kind from its stars and events; either laughter, sadness, euphoria, motivation, suspense, horror, shock or romance, just to name a few.  I compare how I felt going into the theater to how I feel leaving it.  That's the only true way to judge a movie's influence and grade the merits of the overall narrative--quickly, but fairly.

"Boyhood" contains exceptional acting performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke--both deservedly earning Academy Award nominations, along with the film's director Richard Linklater and an overall Oscar Best Picture hat-tip.  The movie's unique and unusual filming of the main cast over a 12-year time period, sets it apart from other big-screen motion pictures.

boyhood2 The story begins with a 6-year old boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), in 2002, living with his mother (Arquette), sister (Lorelei Linklater, daughter of the film's director) and deadbeat, divorced father (Hawke) at different times.

I was as fascinated as anyone by the 12-year filming manifesto and seeing the cast mature together, grow apart at times, and even graduate high school and enter college. Collectively, all transpiring right before my very eyes.  In mea culpa and full-disclosure mode, I'm also the type who enjoys finding out what Marcia Brady and Danny Partridge look like in today's world, many years removed from their 1970s classic TV shows "The Brady Bunch" and "Partridge Family" respectively.

This quirky evolution of the Evans family in "Boyhood" is both interesting and novel, but not enough to garner an above-average grade entirely by itself. This film's outstanding acting from Arquette and Hawke create the notion of realism in their dysfunctional family.  In fact, most of "Boyhood" appears, sounds and feels like a reality show or documentary--a "Keeping Up With The Evans", per se.   But realism established by the captivating performances of Arquette and Hawke, combined with a 12-year time-capsule on a movie reel, doesn't make "Boyhood" an exceptional storyline. boyhood "Boyhood" provides a very realistic look into one family's many problems--most of which could be found amongst nearly any kin, neighborhood, grade school or even small town.  Issues addressed dealt with alcoholism, divorce, and single-parenting as data starting points.  It also admirably tackles the difficulties presented with commonplace blended family members and teenager's rebellious attitudes, drug use, and underage drinking.

These ordinary life experiences make "Boyhood" feel real to moviegoers and allows viewers to identify with the characters and their circumstances.  But is that enough? Meh.

How did this film affect me differently at the movie's finish line, than it did at its starting point?  Not much.  Parts of the movie struck me as shocking and sad.  Other segments drilled home the feeling of despair and discouragement.  Mostly, it left me feeling and thinking "So what?"  Or "Who cares?"  The film "Boyhood" felt like a compilation of an E! Reality TV show's episodes just before its series finale airs...all to illustrate how far the family has travelled to get where they are today.  I get it, 12-years of aging matures and changes every person's life.  Who doesn't like the comparison photos of a U.S. president entering and leaving the White House after their term ends? Gray hair and wrinkled foreheads, but by and large, the same men. "Boyhood" allows viewers to identify with particular characters and see them along a timeline each of us can relate to and visibly see their changes.  In the end, though, this film feels like it injects the sameness it began the movie with.  Same people, just older.  Same problems, just more complicated.  And the gray hair and wrinkled foreheads will come soon.  Stay tuned.

Grade: C

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Here's my list of the Top 12 Most Anticipated Films of 2015...

February  - "Fifty Shades of Grey"  Coming out in time for Valentine's Day, this is the offspring to the wildly successful trifecta of fictional romance bondage novels started in 2011 about 21-year old Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson (daughter of "Working Girl" Melanie Griffith and sockless "Miami Vice" star Don Johnson),  Johnson's Steele character meets 27-year old Seattle magnate Christian Grey and, well, um, you know.  They have submissive, dominance kinky sex.  Lots of it, acting out scenes which read like Penthouse Forum letters.  Watch the TRAILER.

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May - "Mad Max: Fury Road"  Writer, director and producer George Miller returns for his 4th "Mad Max" film.  The epic storyline started in 1979 by the Australian Miller, continues in May of this year.  The Oscar winning director of "Happy Feet" continues the post-apocalyptic setting for this movie--which makes Kevin Costner's "The Postman" look even more silly.  And if the early trailers are any indication, Miller has not lost his touch over the past 35 years telling this narrative.  Of note, Cobie Smulders who played Robin in the TV series "How I Met Your Mother", also stars in this instant classic.  Watch the TRAILER.

May - "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"  All you really need to know is that Robert Downey Jr comes back to star in this Marvel collection as Iron Man.  OK, there are the "others" in it too--returning in their comic hero/Avenger persona are Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, an Olsen twin, Samuel L. Jackson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Ultron, the high tech "Borg"-like enemy is hell-bent on making humans extinct.

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June - "Jurassic World"  Expect a new movie trailer out any day now.  The first one generated much happiness, particularly with it's close semblance to the original "Jurassic Park".  Starring in this guaranteed summer hit is last year's surprise, blockbuster leader from "Guardians of the Galaxy", Chris Pratt.  The director/writer for this dinosaur goodness is Colin Trevorrow, who gave us the little known, but highly entertaining 2012 movie "Safety Is Not Guaranteed".  This is the perfect film to start the summer off.   This trailer looks fab...

July - "Ant-Man"  Comedian Paul Rudd ("Anchorman" series) stars in this most anticipated Marvel story of 2015.  The film also stars Michael Douglas, giving it immediate credibility. As Scott Lang, Rudd's character is a struggling father who must save his dying daughter, Cassie.  Earlier this month, Marvel released an 18-second movie "teaser" for this film.  Look for a longer "trailer" to go viral at any moment.  And, just look at that....right on time.  Enjoy!

September - "Everest"  Oscar nominated director Baltasar Kormakur (2012's "The Deep" in the Best Foreign Language Film category) returns to his native Iceland to film most of the scenes from this 1996 true story.  This movie covers the deadly 2-days atop the world's tallest mountain and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley and Robin Wright.  Other portions of the movie were filmed in Nepal.  Look for Gyllenhaal to have an exceptional 2015 and be his breakout career year (see: 2014--Chris Pratt).

October - "Film to be named later"  One of Hollywood's most successful film duos gets together again to bring us Cold War thriller.  Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks ("Saving Private Ryan" and the HBO mini-series "Band of Brothers") bring us back to the brink of nuclear war.  With some scenes filmed at Beale Air Force Base late last year, the film's title is being kept secret like National Security briefings.  But trust me on this, with Spielberg and Hanks teamed up again, this movie will be heart-thumping and realistic.

November - "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"  Jennifer Lawrence and crew (minus Philip Seymour Hoffman - RIP) return for the final time.  This will easily be the largest, most viewed "Games" film in the series. However, with James Bond competing over the Thanksgiving week and "Star Wars" coming in December, look for "Mockingjay - Part 2" to not generate the buzz it deserves to go out on top with.  Will it be successful?  Absolutely.  A great finale?  For sure.  Be the top Box Office draw for the holidays?  Nope.  But I'd still recommend hearing the "pirate transmission" once again to get caught up...  The Mockingjay lives.   At least until "Star Wars" and December.

November - "Spectre"  Daniel Craig (thankfully) returns in his Bond, James Bond role. Here's a nice montage of Craig's admiral service to Her Majesty as Bond. Joining him are three Bond Girls - Naomie Harris, Léa Seydoux, and Monica Bellucci (who at the age of 50, is the oldest ever to play a Bond Girl).  Academy Award winners Christoph Waltz and Ralph Fiennes also star in this Bond action thriller.  Spectre, meaning "ghost", was conceived by Bond novelist Ian Fleming as a villainous organization back in 1959--well before ISIS and al Qaeda were ever uttered.  Check out the official James Bond 007 webpage.

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December - "Joy"  Director David O. Russell recasts his "Silver Linings Playbook" stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro in this Christmas release film.  This true story covers a Long Island single mother of three kids working 3 jobs, who becomes a successful entrepreneur after inventing a new type of mop.  Sounds like "Joy" to me.  I trust Russell and his ability to tell a fantastic story.  So, I'm in.  Mop and all.

**UPDATE** December - "In the Heart of the Sea"  Warner Bros. has decided to move this fish tail tale from March to December.  Directed by Academy Award winner Ron Howard, this high seas adventure follows the legend of Moby Dick.  Chris Hemsworth stars in the true tale, which follows the crew's peril beyond the crashing waves to the shores of a nearby island.  A place where only the strongest continue to survive.  Read more here.  Watch the TRAILER.

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December - "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens"  Although reports that Star Wars' creator George Lucas is not all that enthralled with this episode film, the movie trailer released late in 2014 has Jedi's and fans around the world buzzing with excitement for this chapter.  This 7th installment of the "Star Wars" franchise brings back the main characters from the original 1977 mega-blockbuster; Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.  This mix of old and new cast members is sure to be the biggest, most anticipated film of 2015.  May the force be with all other December movie releases--because they're going to need it.  TRAILER below....

 

Here are the REEL BRIEF selections for 'Best Films of 2014':

1.  The Imitation Game

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Behind the mathematical statistics, complicated decipher computations, and spy games rests a compelling story of a young boy struggling to be accepted in life.  As fate would have it and after being spurned by so many growing up, Alan Turing found himself in the extraordinary position to help save and affect millions of lives. “The Imitation Game” splendidly illustrates how Turing met his appointment with destiny--a time and place requiring his extraordinary mind and talents. It's that unlikely connection of Alan Turing to the outcome of World War II, which makes this film so remarkable, intriguing and a “must-see” winner.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

2.  Birdman

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Keaton's enthralling performance completely dominates this film from start to finish. As the character Riggan Thomson, Keaton plays a once famous actor still revered by his fans for his superhero movie persona Birdman from years ago. Riggan, perhaps similar to Keaton following his Batman days, doesn't want history to only remember him for wearing the crime-fighting costume. Unwilling to reprise the Birdman gig for a fourth movie installment, Keaton's character leaves Hollywood for the world of Broadway plays. Now, struggling to gain acceptance from critics, fans and his family, Keaton's Riggan becomes despondent. Keaton's intensity shines throughout the movie like a laser in a dark theater.  But by no means does he carry this remarkable film solely. The film's edgy behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway production reveals a combative storyline from its entire cast and crew.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

3.  Gone Girl

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Rosamund Pike provides an Oscar-worthy performance as the missing Amy Dunne and leads an ensemble cast that is brilliant from top to bottom. Every character’s competent portrayal spins this remarkable tale into a believable narrative yarn—particularly Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney and the high-profile, celebrity attorney Tanner Bolt (played effortlessly by Tyler Perry).  "Gone Girl” unravels enough surprises to moviegoers to make it an instant classic that will be talked about 40 years from now. Viewers in theaters will think they’ve got the mystery solved, only to have another sharp turn in the roller coaster ride throw them in another unexpected direction. This well cast thriller provides dark, edgy entertainment that has serious Oscar potential. Don’t miss this thrilling ride.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

4.  The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of Everything is based upon the memoir by Hawking's spouse, Jane, titled Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) portrays the brainiac Hawking and gives the strongest lead acting performance I've seen in years. Diagnosed with a form of ALS in the early 1960s at the age of 21, Hawking struggled with his debilitating disease as he pursued his Ph.D. and future wife, Jane, at the University of Cambridge. Redmayne convincingly showcases Hawking's physical limitations as the film ventures into theories on space-time continuums and relativity. Redmayne's physical transformation and slowed speech easily dwarfs Dustin Hoffman's autistic, Academy Award-winning gem in 1988's Rain Man.  The Theory of Everything is an emotional story told by two exceptional and Oscar-worthy performances. Although it would be easy to sum up Stephen Hawking's life as one of scientific gains or physical setbacks, it's actually really about neither.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

5.  Guardians of the Galaxy

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This summer’s funniest movie and 2014's #1 domestic box office hit! This charming space adventure left audiences laughing with its fun, but quirky, style and deadpan humor. The quintet’s banter will remind viewers of a long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away, with Han Solo, Princess Leia and other unusual, but funny characters. “Guardians of the Galaxy” now stands as the flagship of the Marvel franchise.   As starkly different as every character is in the movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy” also breaks the mold to feel very distinct from any other Marvel Studios film. While “Guardians of the Galaxy” may not have the look of a comic book superhero action flick, this movie is easily one of the best so far in the Marvel collection.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

6.  The Hundred-Foot Journey

photoA dazzling cast led by Academy Award winner Helen Mirren (“The Queen” 2006) transforms a movie about food into a big-screen delicacy—rich, informative and cooked exquisitely. The movie’s slower pace perfectly marinates this feel-good story so audiences will leave satisfied and full.  Although there are no huge plot twists in the film, a few curves appear here and there to keep viewers always entertained. As two cultures attempt to out-wit, out-shine each other in excellence and popularity in the restaurant biz, romance comes to a slow boil.  “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a great movie choice for any Date Night or viewers looking for a fine dining, culinary odyssey. Bon appetite!  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

7.  Begin Again

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This film provides the perfect mix of music and relationships, blending both with equal parts of raw emotion thrown in for good measure.  Director John Carney, who brought us the surprise 2006 hit “Once” using unknown film stars singing an Oscar-winning tune, attempts to capture much of that same success and winning formula in this adventure. Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley (for 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice”) is a familiar screen presence playing the role of a British songwriter for her boyfriend (portrayed by real-life singer Adam Levine). Admirably, Carney gets both Knightley and Levine to venture outside their normal day-to-day comfort zones—actress Knightley showing off her singing chops for the first time on the big-screen while Maroon 5 lead vocalist Levine uses “Begin Again” to launch a potential film career.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

8.  Unbroken

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Angelina Jolie with Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Jan 26, 1917 - July 2, 2014)

To start the film, director Angelina Jolie wisely takes a page straight out of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” playbook, throwing moviegoers immediately into the opening scene of hostile fire from enemy forces in World War II. From here, we learn that this movie’s an impressive story about an uncommon man named Louis Zamperini. As a young boy who grew up in Southern California, we find Zamperini a bombardier aboard a U.S. Army Air Forces' B-24 Liberator dropping bombs on Japanese targets in the Pacific. The strong-willed Zamperini falls back on his exceptional athleticism and mental fortitude—instilled during his old high school track days—throughout the movie as he fights for his life.  While impossible to capture every event in Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book on film, Jolie and her team of writers do a fantastic job of covering the influences in Zamperini’s life and the importance he placed in his faith and the human spirit when difficult times confronted him.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

9.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Watch out 'Iron Man' Tony Stark, the MARVEL comic book film collection has a refreshing, new look and feel to it! After several stale, or at best, struggling, efforts by The Avengers batch in recent years, this series returns to its old form. For the first time since the Stark Industries' leader emerged from his Afghan cave in 2008, audiences can enjoy a suspenseful plot with many twists, turns and laughter. The strong bond and easy banter between Tony Stark and his then-personal secretary Pepper Potts, shares a likeness to the current rapport Captain America has with his partner in Winter Soldier. This latest MARVEL movie installment runs at a brisk enough pace to introduce superhero, Falcon, to viewers while "passing on the left". To see where MARVEL, and perhaps Falcon, may go in the future, be sure to stay until the final credits roll.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

10.  Tim's Vermeer

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American illusionists and entertainers Penn & Teller bring us this fascinating and thoughtful story on how, perhaps, 17th Century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, was able to produce paintings with a nearly photographic quality.  This film offers a splendid, jaw-dropping look into art paintings through forensic clues; but it doesn’t stop there.  The film also incorporates some of the finest in Americanism, symbolized by our culture’s innovative spirit.  Tim Jenison’s continual tinkering with gadgets and light while refusing to quit until he solved the mystery of Vermeer’s work is richly entertaining. This spectacular documentary will leave you better off for seeing it and more appreciative of the genius behind the art--and the technology. FULL MOVIE REVIEW

HONORABLE MENTION

The LEGO Movie

The Fault in Our Stars

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Million Dollar Arm

Interstellar

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DISCLAIMER:  The following movies were not reviewed in 2014 due to their limited release and non-availability until 2015:   "American Sniper", "Selma", "Foxcatcher" and "Still Alice".

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***UPDATE 1***

Warner Bro. has decided to delay the release of this fish tail tale.  Rather than premiere March 13th, "In The Heart of the Sea" will instead hit theaters on December 11th.  Here's the official reason from director Ron Howard himself:

“They analyzed the way people are responding to our movie now which is very favorable now that it’s finished, the way people responded to the marketing materials, and they also looked out how the market expanded this last Christmas increasing a wide array of movies,” he said. 

"There was a larger audience. I wanted as many people to see this movie on the big screen as possible and I do feel like it’s more of that fourth quarter, early winter kind of feel in terms of the tone of the movie," Howard added.

With "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" being released Thanksgiving week this year, I suspect the Ron Howard production is caught between an arrow and stormtrooper.  The Moby Dick story had better hope that the shine wears off quickly for one Katniss (doubtful) and before Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Dec. 18.

Here's the latest trailer for "In The Heart of the Sea":

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Man the deck!  Moby Dick is coming to theaters

Well, the movie isn't called "Moby Dick", but rather "In The Heart of the Sea".

Look, I love the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" reality TV series as much as anyone.  And just like you, after about the 3rd crab ring gets pulled on deck, I want beg for danger and fights to break out amongst the crew.  Or that "rogue wave" to catch the skipper and greenhorns off-guard.  Anything.  Just don't give me that worthless damn crab count and total weight BS tally between the Bering Sea vessels. I. Don't. Care.  All I want is action.  Like this....

Now we're talking.  This film has it all...

- A Mad Captain (Ahab) ?  Check. (Sorry Capt. Keith Colburn--even this guy's got you beat)

- Total chaos and peril at sea?  Check.

- Academy Award-winning Director?  Check.

- Survival on an island?  Check.

- A Brendan Gleeson ("Calvary") film?  Check.

- A true story?  Check.

- Cannibalism?  Check.

OK, I'm down with this film.  "In The Heart of the Sea" is rated PG-13 opens in theaters on March 13th.