Movie Reviews 2015

Movies and Television

The Column by Tim Van Schmidt

The Martian ***

A botanist is left for dead on Mars after a horrific storm aborts the exploratory mission. His mission then becomes surviving by growing food in his own excrement, rigging an abandoned probe so he can communicate with Earth and then taking off in a dangerously stripped down capsule to meet rescuers.

Directed by Ridley Scott…2015…144 min…featuring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Donals Glover.

Djinn ***

A young couple reeling from the sudden death of their infant make a move to a luxurious high rise built on the site of ancient evil doings.

Directed by Tobe Hooper…2013…82 min…featuring Aiysha Hart, Razane Jammal, Paul Luebke, Khalid Laith, Malik McCall.

High Noon ***

A lawman set to retire and set up shopkeeping with his pretty new wife. However, he gets challenged immediately by the news that an old adversary has been released from jail and is headed to his town to exact revenge.

The story here, though, is about what the townspeople do to help- nothing. The story is told in real time- the clock on the wall ticking away the minutes as the showdown quickly approaches.

Directed by Fred Zinnemann…1952…85 min…featuring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr, Harry Morgan, Ian McDonald, Lee Van Cleef, Sheb Wooley.

Stung ***
Awaken: The Life of Yogananda ***
Robot Overlord **
Side Effects ***
The Interview ***
Woman in Gold ****
Harbinger Down ***
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 ***
Gotham ***
iZombie **
The 100 ***

The Dead Lands ****

A young Maori tribesman witnesses the slaughter of his family by a neighboring aggressor, then enlists the aid of a fearsome, cannibal warrior in his mission to seek vengeance.

Apparently ancient tribes in New Zealand lead a tenuous existence at best, a fierce sense of honor fueling brutality and treachery. But casting a long shadow over everything is superstition, reflected in this production by mystic hallucinations in between the horrific battle scenes.

Directed by Toa Fraser…2014…107 min…featuring James Rolleston, Lawrence Makoare, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Xavier Horan, Rena Owen.

The Blood Lands ***

Seeking a fresh start, a couple from London decide to move to an old estate in Scotland. However, their first day of bliss becomes a first night of horror as they come to realize they are not alone on the property. The horror here is in the brutal relentlessness of the pursuers.

Directed by Simeon Halligan…2014…79 min…featuring Pollyanna McIntosh, Lee Williams, Joanne Mitchell.

Pressure ***

High tension action at the bottom of the ocean. A storm takes out the ship feeding a deep diving team and they must make the most difficult of decisions as their air supply runs out. Highly claustrophobic, concentrated intensity.

Directed by Ron Scalpello…2015…91 min…featuring Danny Huston, Matthew Goode, Joe Cole, Alan McKenna.

The Lazarus Effect ***

Researchers make a breakthrough with a serum that can help bring the recently deceased back to life. But they have to use it on one of their own and the consequences are unexpected. This is far superior to “The Phoenix Project,” which covers some of the same theoretical ground but with much less panache.

Directed by David Gelb…2015…83 min…featuring Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger, Donald Glover, Ray Wise, Emily Kelavos.

Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) ***

An enticing documentary filled with vintage film, photos and recordings. Weighing things down, however, are opinionated, after-the-fact interviews. Still, the production inspires admiration for Nilsson’s talent, even if his personal story is presented with tabloid candor.

Directed by John Scheinfeld…2006…116 min…featuring Gerry Beckley, Lee Blackman, Perry Botkin Jr., Ray Cooper, Micky Dolenz, Terry Gilliam, Dustin Hoffman, Danny Hutton, Eric Idle, Al Kooper, John Lennon, Randy Newman, Yoko Ono, Van Dyke Parks, Dick Smothers, Tom Smothers, Ringo Starr, Jon Voight, Jimmy Webb, Paul Williams, Robin Williams.

American Gangster ****

Denzel Washington plays a steely-eyed drug kingpin, rising to power after the death of his mentor. Russell Crowe plays a seedy, jerk of a cop who nonetheless maintains a strict line of integrity on the job, which makes him a pariah.

It becomes a gritty, urban cat and mouse game between the two, with a swirl of historic events influencing the course of their relationship.

Directed by Ridley Scott…2007…157 min…featuring Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Roger Guenveur Smith, John Hawkes, RZA, Cuba Gooding Jr, Armand Assante, Common, TI.

A Clockwork Orange ****

More than forty years after its release, “A Clockwork Orange” still looks like the future and it is still frightening.

A selfish thug taking gleeful advantage of a docile, trashed-out society finally gets convicted of murder and undergoes an experimental treatment meant to physiologically prevent him from committing violence. He finds out how well the treatment works when he is released and faces his old, “ultraviolent” life.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick…1971…136 min…featuring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, Miriam Karlin, James Marcus, Godfrey Quigley.

The Wild Bunch ***

There’s nothing heroic in the Wild West portrayed here- just blood, guts, dust and greed. The only ones who seem to be happy here are the Mexican natives who seem to be able to party any time the gringos aren’t getting things shot up.

Directed by Sam Peckinpah…1969…145 min…featuring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien. Warren Oates, Strother Martin.

Once Upon a Time in the West ***

This is the greedy, dusty, bloody Old West but with a wink of the eye. Sure, things are plenty gritty, but the action is played out with a deliberate slowness that tends to make fun of the whole deal. Still, the theme of survival through hardships and brutality adds plenty of gravity.

Directed by Sergio Leone…1968…175 min…featuring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Keenan Wyn, Lionel Stander, Gabriele Ferzetti, Woody Strode, Jack Elam.

El ataud del Vampiro (Coffin of the Vampire) **

A couple of grave robbers grab the corpse of a vampire for medical experimentation and end up bringing him back to life. This is a campy black and white confection full of effective film noir touches and not-so-effective special effects. The wax museum setting adds plenty to the climactic final fight.

Directed by Fernando Mendez…1958…80 min…featuring Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, Germán Robles, Yerye Beirute.

El baron del terror (The Brainiac) **

Another bad vintage Mexican horror movie that’s fun to watch. Some of it- like the eating of brains and the dead guy strung upside down in the shower- are horrible. But then again there’s the cheesy light flashing in the evil baron’s eyes whenever he does his mind control thing that isn’t.
Let’s also mention that the monster suit is the worst “special effect” ever. Yet, the idea that hate can live over hundreds of years is a compelling premise that at least informs this fluff with something tangible.

Directed by Chano Urueta…1962…77 min…featuring Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, David Silva, Ruben Rojo, Federico Curiel, Luis Aragon, German Robles.

Alexander **

An over-dramatic run at the life and career of Alexander the Great. It’s full of action and there’s lots to look, like sumptuous costuming, but there’s also lots of talk which tends to keep the storytelling sluggish and tedious. There are some really bad hair-doos here too.

Directed by Oliver Stone…2004…175 min…featuring Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins, Rosario Dawson, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Christopher Plummer, Nick Dunning, Jared Leto, Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

The 300 Spartans **

A stiff account of the amazing stand made by a handful of Spartan warriors against the advancing Persian army of Xerses. Ham-handed romance sequences keep things sluggish while the pronouncements of everyone speaking- from the kings to the slaves- is one-dimensional, yet verbose.

Directed by Rudolph Mate…1962…114 min…featuring Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson, Diane Baker, David Farrar.

Alice ***

Very dark, very bizarre adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland,” featuring curious sets, strange puppets, spooky dolls and weird skull and bones assemblages that turn Wonderland into more of a nightmare.

Directed by Jan Svankmajer…1988…86 min…featuring Kristýna Kohoutová, Camilla Power.

Disaster Zone: Volcano in New York **

A covert scientific team attempts to master thermal energy by opening a channel to the earth’s core, but they create a volcano in the middle of New York City instead. The heroes here are the “sand dogs” working the tunnels underneath the city to create an escape route for the magma before it erupts.

Directed by Robert Lee…2006…featuring Costas Mandylor, Michael Ironside, Alexandra Paul, Zak Santiago.

The Walking Dead S5 ***

OK, so I’ll take a stab at the meaning here. It’s not about the zombies. The zombies in this series are simply reminders of Death, literally snapping at the heels of each and every one of the characters.

What this is really about is what happens in between the frequent and unrelenting assaults of Death. Stripped of all the things they knew- literally, their past lives are dead- the characters show who they are as people through their primal reactions to the horrific string of incidents that continually confront them.

Grimness certainly hangs over the landscape with the realization that absolutely no one gets out alive, but that doesn’t stop “the group” here from trying. But as favorite character after favorite character gets dispatched throughout the run of episodes, the viewer gets as worn down as the survivors on the screen.

One episode in this season, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” directed by Greg Nicotero, stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is unusually abstract, otherworldly and cerebral.

Created by Frank Darabont…2014-2015…featuring Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Micael Cudlitz, Josh McDermitt, Melissa McBride, Lauiren Cohen, Danai Gurira, Emily Kinney.

Lost ****
Pilot 1, Pilot 2, Episode 1

Checking back to the first episodes of “Lost” reveals why it became popular- intense action and mind-teasing, time-bending storytelling. Before the series became way too self-conscious and complicated, the initial episodes were fresh with mystery and discovery.

Created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof…2004…featuring Jorge Garcia, Naveen Andrews, Matthew Fox, Josh Holloway, Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim, Evangeline Lilly, Terry O’Quinn.

The Good Wife S6 ***

Same old stuff- political posturing, legal posturing, corporate posturing and personal posturing in a highly mutable, rarified environment. These problems are far away from most people’s lives and tedium mounts as a result.

Created by Michelle King, Robert King…2014…featuring Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Matt Czuchry, Christine Baranski, Archie Panjabi, Alan Cumming, Makenzie Vega.

Copper S1 ***

Crime and violence are rampant on the streets of New York City in 1864. People are hungry and desperate, but that doesn’t stop a crew of Irish policemen from trying to stop the lawlessness.

Created by Tom Fontana, Will Rokos…2012…featuring Tom Weston-Jones, Kevin Ryan, Kyle Schmid.

Dark Matter S1 ***

This production begins with a theme similar to the opening of “Pandorum”- crew members on a space ship wake up disoriented, without personal memories or any idea where they are going.

Created by Joseph Mallozzi, Paul Mullie…2015…featuring  Marc Bendavid, Melissa O’Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr, Jodelle Ferland, Roger R Cross, Zoie Palmer.

The Flash S1 ***

A youthful undate on the DC Comics superhero, heavy on theoretical science.

Created by Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, Andrew Kreisberg…2014…featuring Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L West, Rick Cosnett.

Jupiter Ascending ****

Great action sequences balance out blockbuster movie sap for a wild ride indeed. It’s a galactic rags to riches story with nasty villains and a super-rugged hero, all buzzing around an earthling who has a lot to catch up on.

Awesome space travel and crazy, lightning quick battle scenes soften the corn of some of the weird make-up jobs, like actor Channing Tatum’s ears. You can’t be a lazy viewer to keep up with the storyline here because it goes really quick. Despite the youthful gloss, this is a stylish Sci-Fi production with plenty of sequel potential.

Directed by Andy Wachowski (as The Wachowskis), Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowskis)…2015…127 min…featuring Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Nikki Amuka-Bird.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead ***

It’s a natural combo- the crazy costumes, high speed vehicles and ruthless mayhem of “Mad Max” and zombie mania. The “new” thing here is a psychic connection between a human survivor of a mad scientist’s experiments and the walking dead- and she is a bad-ass.

Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner…2014…98 min…featuring Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill.

Time Lapse ****

A machine that photographs the future makes a mess out of everybody who uses it, including the trio living in the apartment across from the inventor. He goes missing and an artist, a gambler and a writer, all want-to-bes without many options, stumble across the inventor’s special camera that spits out photos of what happens in their apartment living room every day at a certain time- 24 hours before it happens.

The first bad decision the three roommates make trying to manipulate time to their advantage leads to many others as the situation worsens and the machine spits out more and more harrowing images of the future.

Directed by Bradley King…2014…104 min…featuring Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary, George Finn, John Rhys-Davies, Amin Joseph, Jason Spisak.

Apocalypse Now Redux ****

This “Director’s Cut” version adds extra minutes, which only serve to underscore the weird, stuck-in-time ambiance of the production. The original core of the movie remains the final climactic confrontation with the wacked out Colonel Kurtz. But then again, everyone is wacked out here which is part of the point.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola…1979…153 min…featuring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper, Scott Glenn.

Walking Deceased **

Lampooning “The Walking Dead” and “Warm Bodies,” this is a crude crack-up.

Directed by Scott Dow…2015…88 min…featuring Tim Ogletree, Joey Oglesby, Dave Sheridan, Mason Dakota Galyon.

Survival of the Dead **

Slapstick zombie fare.

Directed by George A Romero…2009…90 min…featuring Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe.

Hercules ***

Directed by Brett Ratner…2014…98 min…featuring Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Joseph Fiennes

Wing Commander **

Directed by Chris Roberts…1999…100 min…featuring Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Saffron Burrows, Tcheky Karyo, Jurgen Prochnow, David Suchet, David Warner

The Physician ***

Directed by Phillip Stolzl…2013…150 min…featuring Tom Payne, Stellan Skarsgård, Olivier Martinez, Emma Rigby, Ben Kingsley.

Outcast ***

Directed by Nick Powell…2014…99 min…featuring Nicolas Cage, Hayden Christensen, Alexandre Bailly.

Deep in the Darkness ***

Directed by Colin Theys…2014…100 min…featuring Dean Stockwell, Blanche Baker, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kristen Bush.

Monsters: Dark Continent ****

Directed by Tom Green…2014…119 min…featuring Johnny Harris, Sam Keeley, Joe Dempsie.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ***

Directed by Irwin Allen…1961…105 min…featuring Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling, Frankie Avalon.

Batman and Robin **

Directed by Joel Schumacher…1997…125 min…featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Vivica A Fox.

Nightbreed **

Directed by Clive Barker…1990…102 min…featuring Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Anne Bobby.

Donovan’s Brain **

Directed by Felix E Feist…1953…83 min…featuring Lew Ayres, Gene Evans, Nancy Reagan.

The Snow Walker ***

Directed by Charles Martin Smith…2003…103 min…featuring Barry Pepper, Annabella Piugattuk, James Cromwell.

Absolute Zero **

Directed by Robert Lee…2005…86 min…featuring Jeff Fahey, Erika Eleniak, Bill Dow.

The Phoenix Project **

Directed by Tyler Graham Pavey…2015…92 min…featuring Corey Rieger, Andrew Simpson, David Pesta, Orson Ossman.

Infini ***

Directed by Shane Abbess…2015…110 min…featuring Daniel MacPherson, Grace Huang, Luke Hemsworth.

Category 7: The End of the World **

Directed by Dick Lowry…2005…169 min…featuring Cameron Daddo, Gina Gershon, Shannen Doherty, Randy Quaid, Robert Wagner, James Brolin, Swoosie Kurtz, Kenneth Welsh.

Narcos S1 ***

Created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Paul Eckstein…2015…featuring Wagner Moura, Maurice Compte, Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal, Joanna Christie, Ana de la Reguera, Roberto Urbina, Danielle Kennedy, Stephanie Sigman, Juan Pablo Raba, Luis Guzman, Richard T Jones, Bruno Bichir.

Homeland S4 ***

Created by Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon…2014…featuring Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend, F Murray Abraham, Tracy Letts.

Advantageous ****

The corporate face for a radical procedure transferring a person’s consciousness to a newer body, undergoes the treatment herself when the company decides she is too old for her position.

There’re plenty of touches of Sci-Fi here, with futuristic cityscapes and mind-bending ideas, but a lot of the blowback here is personal, not cheapened by frivolous action. The woman must console her smart, teenage daughter who must in turn live with a woman who may no longer be her mother. The production quality is not particularly top notch, but the static, quiet handling of the story makes up for it.

Directed by Jennifer Phang…2015…90 min…featuring Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Samantha Kim.

These Final Hours ****

The end is surely coming to characters in Australia after a global cataclysm, so the question becomes what you are going to do in these final hours. Partying your brains out actually may not be a bad way to go, but the confused, slightly crazed hero here instead becomes obsessed with helping a little girl, then returning to his lady love. The final moments, as a wave of fire advances to crisp Australia, are solemnly awesome.

Directed by Zak Hilditch…2013…87 min…featuring Sarah Snook, Jessica De Gouw, Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice.

Black Book ****

A stylish World War Two thriller. The Dutch Underground Resistance makes a play to murder a high ranking Gestapo official by placing a beautiful and talented woman in his bed. The action takes place near the end of the War and things are unraveling anyway so the carnage on both sides is chaotic and unpredictable.
Who wins here, is who survives. Despite an overly dramatic and sometimes incongruous score, “Black Book” is an excellent companion piece to a similar World War Two yarn, “Lust, Caution.”

Directed by Paul Verhoeven…2006…145 min…featuring Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint.

Million Dollar Arm ***

A struggling sports agent concocts a wild plan- go to India, find a couple of kids with real throwing power and bring them back to the US to become major league baseball players. He accomplishes this by staging a roving competition that becomes wildly popular and only marginally productive, until two candidates emerge who eventually live the dream. It’s a bumpy ride along the way- as bumpy as a Disney movie gets- but the result is positive.

Directed by Craig Gillespie…2014…124 min…featuring Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Pitobash, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Lake Bell, Bill Paxton, Tzi Ma.

A Most Wanted Man ***

Dull international hijinks.

Directed by Anton Corbijn…2014…122 min…featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Brühl, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Nina Hoss, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright.

The Place Beyond the Pines ***

A cop becomes a big District Attorney, but a rookie incident where he used lethal force catches up to him through his thuggish son.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance…2012…140 min…featuring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Mahershala Ali.

Alien Outpost **

A lot of the action here is replaced by “interviews” with the characters, cheapening the impact with explanations rather than illustration. The battle sequences have some Sci-Fi touches, but really this is just another low-grade war movie with gritty soldiers, occasional firefights and lots of talking.

Directed by Jabbar Raisani…2014…90 min…featuring Brandon Auret, Adrian Paul, Douglas Tait, Reiley McClendon.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ***

Directed by Kenneth Branagh…2014…105 min…featuring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh.

Conan the Barbarian ***

Directed by John Milius…1982…129 min…featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Mako, Gerry Lopez.

A Trip to the Moon ****

Directed by Georges Melies…1902…13 min…featuring Georges Méliès, François Lallement, Jules-Eugène Legris.

Hell on Wheels S4 ***

Cheyenne proves to be a rough frontier town as a staging ground for the railroad’s jump over the mountains westward.

Created by Joe Gaytom, Tony Gayton…2014…featuring Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Phil Burke, Robin McLeavy, Dohn Norwood, Common, Christopher Heyerdahl, Jake Weber, MacKenzie Porter, James Shanklin, Kevin Blatch.

Lust, Caution ****

The Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II inspires a desperate resistance movement in “Lust, Caution.” A young group of actors decide to act by assassinating a high ranking Chinese collaborator. But first, they must get close to him, so they use the oldest bait in the world- a sensuous young woman- to crack the collaborator’s security.

This movie was rated NC-17 for a few episodes of graphic sex. The passionate, even rough sex is what ends up compromising the female agent.

Directed by Ang Lee…2007…157 min…featuring Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Wei Tang, Joan Chen, Leehom Wang.

Tracks *****

A young woman decides to walk across the Australian desert with a small herd of camels and her dog. Her determination to fend for herself attracts interest and assistance in her strange endeavor. Part of that determination is overcoming her general dislike for people as she meets some kind and helpful folks, from National Geographic photographers to native people, along the way.

Directed by John Curran…2013…112 min…featuring Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Lily Pearl.

Jurassic World 3D ***

A summer popcorn movie given a little extra jolt thanks to 3D technology. The body count goes up as genetically created dinosaurs run out of control- again. Fortunately there’s one guy on the island theme park who understands dinosaurs and he gets to protect a couple of kids and a reluctant girlfriend while being the point man in stopping the slaughter of screaming tourists and the arrogant numbskulls who run the facility. He’s a busy hero indeed.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow…2015…124 min…featuring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jake Johnson, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Judy Greer.

I’m Not Scared ****

A bored boy accompanies his friends to an abandoned house, only to find another boy, dirty and crazy, imprisoned in a covered pit.

Directed by Gabriele Salvatores…2003…108 min…featuring Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Dino Abbrescia, Giorgio Careccia.

Fury ***

A rough American tank crew are scraping through the end of World War II by the skin of their teeth, only to be challenged further by an impossible assignment.

Directed by David Ayer…2014…134 min…featuring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Brad William Henke, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg.

The Equalizer ***

A retired secret service killer takes on hard luck cases with a vengeance when people in his low-key sphere of living are threatened by nasty thugs.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua…2014…132 min…featuring Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo.

A Most Violent Year ***

A driven New York business man tries to fend off the criminals hijacking his trucks and the police investigating his books while trying to put together a major land deal. He balances on a paper thin line as corruption and criminal practices surround him.

Directed by JC Chandor…2014…125 min…featuring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks.

Maleficent ****

A pure-hearted fairy is betrayed by her lover and becomes an enemy of human beings.

Directed by Robert Stromberg…2014…97 min…featuring  Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Riley.

Mr Turner ***

This overly long, yet finely set biopic reveals that innovative painter William Turner was a rude ape of a man, but somehow he achieved success and even love. While painting and sketching is going on throughout the production, little is revealed about the artist’s actual work, however.

Directed by Mike Leigh…2014…150 min…featuring Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Martin Savage.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier ***

Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo…2014…136 min…featuring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Stan Lee.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ***

Directed by Peter Jackson…2014…144 min…featuring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, ian Holm, Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Grand Budapest Hotel ***

Directed by Wes Anderson…2014…99 min…featuring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willen Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson.

The Last Waltz ****

Directed by Martin Scorsese…1978…117 min…featuring Robbie Robertson, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Paul Butterfield, Dr John.

Whiplash ****

Directed by Damien Chazelle…2014…107 min…featuring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser.

Super 8 ****

Directed by JJ Abrams…2011…112 min…featuring Elle Fanning, AJ Michalka, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths.

Still Alice ***

Directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland…2014…101 min…featuring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth.

Young Adult ***

Directed by Jason Reitman…2011…94 min…featuring Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt, Elizabeth Reaser, Mary Beth Hurt.

J Edgar ***

Directed by Clint Eastwood…2011…137 min…featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench.

Aeon Flux ****

Directed by Karyn Kusama…2005…93 min…featuring Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sophie Okonedo, Marton Csokas, Johnny Lee Miller, Pete Postlethwaite, Amelia Warner.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ****

Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara…2001…106 min…featuring Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Ming-Na Wen, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland, James Woods.

Ascension ***

2014…featuring Tricia Helfer, Gil Bellows, Brian Van Holt, Andrea Roth, Brandon P Bell, Jacqueline Byers, PJ Boudousque, Brad Carter, Al Sapienza, Ellie O’Brien, Amanda Thomson.

Mad Max: Fury Road ***

This production sets a new bar for action movies. Here, the high octane, nightmarish adrenalin rush of speed and mayhem far outweighs the moments of relative quiet. The funky creativity flows with over-the-top post-apocalyptic costuming, the artfully random combo-vehicles coming from all directions and a devilishly delightful assortment of ways to commit violence. Okay, throw in a few girls in wispy outfits- one of them pregnant- just to show how fragile life is, but you better strap on the safety belt for this one. It is a mean ride indeed. Add to this some grand settings and other-worldly landscapes and you have prime escapist entertainment.

As a fan of the Mad Max series, originally featuring Mel Gibson, I found Tom Hardy’s Max less likeable and less human, but then again his character wasn’t supposed to be a willing hero. Pairing him up with Charlize Theron’s one-armed warrior trucker however, sparks enough humanity to keep the thin illusion of a plot on the surface, in between the high-speed assaults filling most of the time here. The 3-D version certainly enhances the flying wreckage, but does not play a major role in the overall effect of the movie no matter what way you see it- that is, pulse-pounding excitement.

Directed by George Miller…2015…120 min…featuring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones.

The Assassins ****

Enslaved from a young age and trained to be lethal warriors, two assassins are charged with killing the most feared man in China but find the task difficult to do when the target is much more complicated than they expected. Beautiful sets and a good dose of ancient Chinese decorum makes this movie richly textured and a riveting cultural experience.

Directed by Linshan Zhao…2012…107 min…featuring Yun-Fat Chow, Yifei Liu, Hiroshi Tamaki, Alec Su, Lu Yao.

Confucius ***

This story of the Chinese sage Confucius is full of warfare and political intrigue as well as the big ideas that changed a civilization. There’s something stiff about the production, but like “the Assassins,” it’s worth the effort as a cultural experience.

Directed by Mei Hu…2010…125 min…featuring Yun-Fat Chow, Xun Zhou, Jianbin Chen, Lu Yao, Kai Li,.

Selma ***

A pivotal point in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s was the protest march in Selma that turned bloody before the eyes of a nation through coverage on national TV. This is exactly what organizers were trying to do, according to this production- capture front page headlines to force the hand of policy.

Directed by Ava DuVernay…2014…128 min…featuring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Frankenstein ***

Modern day investigators get caught up in a drama playing out over centuries as the Frankenstein monster battles his maker. An obvious franchise starter without much pep.

Directed by Marcus Nispel…2004…88 min…featuring Parker Posey, Vincent Perez, Thomas Kretschmann, Adam Goldberg, Ivana Millicevic, Michael Madsen.

Robocop ***

“Robocop” is a much better Frankenstein story than either “Frankenstein” or recent release “I, Frankenstein”- what’s left of a living man gets married to a machine and becomes both a hero and a monster.

Directed by Jose Padilha…2014…117 min…featuring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley, Samuel L Jackson.

Wild ***

A woman stricken with grief over her mother’s early death and burdened with a self-destructive lifestyle sets out to hike in the wilderness to find a new path- literally.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee…2014…115 min…featuring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, Thomas Sadoski.

Into the Woods ***

A very self-conscious but imaginative musical mashing together a number of classic children’s stories complete with creative sets, top notch costuming and makeup and songs, songs, songs.

Directed by Rob Marshall…2014…125 min…featuring Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp

Left Behind **

The Biblical event called ‘the Rapture” occurs in modern day circumstances with millions of people just vanishing and millions more left trying to figure out what happened. That includes a flight full of passengers and a crew on a jumbo jet in mid-air.

Directed by Vic Armstrong…2014…110 min…featuring Nicolas Cage, Lea Thompson, Cassi Thomson, Chad Michael Murray.

Longford ***

An English Lord makes a reputation for himself as a man willing to take up a cause, especially for convicts in the English prison system. That draws him into a close relationship with a child-murderer reviled by the English public.

Directed by Tom Hooper…2006…93 min…featuring Lee Boardman, Jim Broadbent, Tam Dean Burn, Lindsay Duncan, Samantha Morton, Andy Serkis.

Coco Before Chanel ***

By the end of this movie, Coco is revered as a Paris fashion queen, but throughout most of the production, she is a lower class schemer using social contacts among the French aristocracy to further her circumstances.

Directed by Anne Fontaine…2009…105 min…featuring Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain, Emmanuelle Devos.

The Dead Zone ***

A man gains second sight after surviving an accident and a five-year coma. It alternately manifests itself as a gift and a curse, eventually leading him to some desperate acts.

Directed by David Cronenberg…1983…103 min…featuring Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Anthony Zerbe, Martin Sheen.

I’m Not Scared ***

Directed by Gabriele Salvatores…2003…108 min…featuring Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Dino Abbrescia, Giorgio Careccia.

Dawn of the Dead ***

Directed by Zack Snyder…2004…101 min…featuring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly.

Daredevil  S1 ***

The struggle between good and evil is dark indeed in this television series based on the Marvel Comics hero Daredevil. Just as Daredevil continually flirts with evil in the pursuit of a vigilante justice, his arch enemy, the Kingpin, flirts with good by falling in love, imagining a normal relationship besides his day job of boosting people out of tenements and murdering dissenters.

Created by Drew Goddard…2015…featuring Charlie Cox, Vincent D’Onofrio, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Toby Leonard Moore, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Bob Gunton, Ayelet Zurer, Rosario Dawson, Peter McRobbie, Peter Shinkoda, Wai Ching Ho.

Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets ***

Projecting the veneer of hard science, this two-part series proposes the drama and action of a space mission sent to explore the planets in our own solar system.

Directed by Joe Ahearne…2004…100 min…featuring David Suchet, Martin McDougall, Joanne McQuinn.

The Babadook ****

So often, horror movies try not only to match the level of blood with the level of suspense, but even overcome it. Not so in “The Babadook,” which focuses on fear, not gore, for its pounding pulse.

Actress Essie Davis gives a commanding performance as a mother driven insane by the dark ravings of her young son. Beyond some pretty awful beat downs, it is her disintegration into madness that is the most shocking element to an otherwise very creepy story about a bogus children’s book and the evil spirit it summons.

Directed by Jennifer Kent…2014…93 min…featuring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West.

Noah ***

This is a bold reimagining of the Noah and the Ark story. Rock creatures, mysterious powers, outsized events and inscrutable thinking mix with the bare bones of the Biblical account for a trippy, ultimately unbelievable experience. The target here is huge- the wickedness of man- and this production shoots a whole lot of water, righteousness, weird special effects and, of course, brutal violence at it.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky…2014…138 min…featuring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolte.

Big Eyes ***

A female artist with an attraction to making pictures of big eyed children allows her husband to do the talking and he takes all the credit for the artwork while making it wildly popular and profitable.

Directed by Tim Burton…2014…106 min…featuring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Terence Stamp, Delaney Raye, Medeleine Arthur.

Good People ***

A couple strapped by financial and fertility troubles find a big stash of money- and a whole lot of trouble- when their tenant dies in the basement.

Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz…2014…90 min…featuring James Franco, Kate Hudson, Tom Wilkinson, Omar Sy.

The Devil’s Rejects **

Rating this is hard to do- if your aim is achieving a sick and disgusting feeling, then this movie is actually top notch. With characters holding over from his first feature, “House of 1000 Corpses,” director/rocker Rob Zombie ramps up the blood, pain, intimidation, degradation and just plain disregard for taste.

Directed by Rob Zombie…2005…107 min…featuring Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, William Forsythe, Ken Foree, Matthew McGrory, Leslie Easterbrook, Daver Sheridan.

Underworld ***

The vampire world is set on end when the enemy werewolves start targeting humans.

Directed by Len Wiseman…2003…121 min…featuring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy, Robbie Gee.

August. Eighth ****

A single mom excited to go on a holiday with a new lover sends her young son right into an armed conflict and must survive the trip through the war torn area to save him.

Directed by Dzhanik Fayziev…2012…120 min…featuring Svetlana Ivanova, Maksim Matveyev, Egor Beroev.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ***

The using continues for poor Katniss. This time it’s the “good guys” who need her for promotion purposes as a hidden revolutionary force prepares to bring down the repressive government in power.

Directed by Francis Lawrence…2014…123 min…featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woodt Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Paula Malcomson, Stanley Tucci.

Beyond ***

Life looks grim indeed when an alien invasion leaves survivors scared, hungry, hunted and in no real mood for romance.

Directed by Joseph Baker, Tom Large…2014…89 min…featuring Richard J. Danum, Gillian MacGregor, Paul Brannigan.

Parallels ***

Some adventurous siblings with MIA parents try finding Mom and Dad by entering a strange building that accesses an infinite number of simultaneously existing Earths- at random.

Directed by Christopher Leone…2015…83 min…featuring Mark Hapka, Jessica Rothe, Eric Jungmann, Constance Wu, Yorgo Constantine, Davi Jay, Michael Monks.

The Days to Come/The Coming Days ****

A backdrop of international panic over shrinking oil reserves and terrorism intensifies the struggles German siblings have with their relationships- and survival.

Directed by Lars Kraume…2010…125 min…featuring Bernadette Heerwagen, Daniel Brühl, August Diehl, Johanna Wokalek.

Foxcatcher ***

A nut job millionaire latches onto two brothers who are Olympic gold medalists in wrestling, helping with their training but with his own inscrutable agenda.

Directed by Bennett Miller…2014…134 min…featuring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave.

Lucy ***

A woman forced to be a drug mule overdoses on a rare substance when it gets released into her system and she transforms into a super being able to use the entirety of her brain functions.

Directed by Luc Besson…2014…89 min…featuring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked.

Pirates ***

Goofy action following the adventures of pirates and bandits racing to capture a whale that has swallowed a golden royal seal.

Directed by Seok-hoon Lee…2014…130 min…featuring Nam-gil Kim, Ye-jin Son, Hae-jin Yoo.

Houdini Parts 1 & 2 ***

Biopic about the career of escape artist, magician and Mama’s boy Harry Houdini.

2014…Featuring Adrien Brody, Kristen Connolly, Evan Jones.

Boardwalk Empire S3 ***

All the bad guys want to stab each other in the back for the whiskey trade in Atlantic City.

Created by Terence Winter…featuring Steve Buscemi, Stephen Graham, Vincent Piazza, Kelly Macdonald, Shea Whigham, Michael Kenneth Williams, Paul Sparks, Gretchen Mol, Michael Stuhlbarg.

Sons of Anarchy S7 *****

The final season of the bloody, tragic tale of the Tellers and the grim fate that touches everyone around them.

Created by Kurt Sutter…featuring Charlie Hunnam, Mark Boone Junior, Katey Sagal, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Smits, Drea de Matteo, Emilio Rivera, Peter Weller, Annabeth Gish.

Immediate Family ***

Love just isn’t enough when it comes to raising babies. What you really need is a two-income family, an expensive waterfront house and a flowering plum tree, according to “Immediate Family.” In fact, this disturbing piece of class consciousness, which stars Glenn Close and James Woods, would have you believe that without those things life would be a never-ending hell of poverty, drunkenness and uneducated surliness, a state pitifully perpetuated from generation to generation by our loathsome modern-day peasantry.

The film opens in Seattle as Linda and Michael Spector (Close and Woods) hit the highway in their five-speed turbo to attend some rich kid’s birthday party. There’s a sadness in Linda’s eyes as she becomes surrounded by the happy chaos of the children and their parents, and she admits to a confidant that her life revolves around taking fertility drugs and then crying over them when they don’t work.

Director Jonathan Kaplan pours it on thick for the next 10 minutes, underscoring Linda’s barrenness with a humiliating trip to the doctor’s office and a dully gripping moment at the Kingdome, where regular guy Michael watches the silhouette of a father picking up his son. Finally, it all becomes too much and Linda sits down to drown her sorrows with a single bottle of wine in her perfectly decorated and finely furnished home.

Fortunately for people like Linda and Michael, there are agencies that match up obviously deserving couples with unwanted pregnancies. Enter young expectant mother Lucy Moore (Mary Stuart Masterson) from small-town Ohio, a black leather-clad poor girl who has more life and spunk in her little fingers than Linda and Michael have in their entire yuppie holdings.

Lucy is brought to Seattle and spends the remaining weeks of her term getting to know the pleasures of her baby’s potential foster parents’ genteel lifestyle. They play cards together, they go out to eat, they dance to the music of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” It makes Lucy feel real good about the soft life her baby is going to have.

Lucy’s boyfriend, Sam (Kevin Dillon), son of a violent alcoholic father and bakery worker mother, thinks so too when he arrives in Seattle to check out the scene himself.

Sam is an off-color jokester and a genuine roughneck whose dream is to become a big-time musician, or at least a roadie for one. That’s why he works in a record store back in Ohio- to make valuable contacts. Though Linda and Michael are horrified at Sam’s apparent lack of breeding, they come to at least tolerate him because he and Lucy seem “truly in love.”

The hitch in the film comes when Lucy gets a good look at the child she has given birth to and a strange thing happens to her: she falls in love with her own child. She decides that she cannot give him up and leaves Linda and Michael in the depths of despair as she bundles her offspring back to Ohio.

Linda and Michael survive, but cannot totally shake off the pain, though they try to substitute exotic vacations and a return to school for the emptiness left by Lucy’s exit.

Lucy, however, has a hard time of it back in Ohio. Her siblings are nasty little brats. Sam is a little irresponsible, and she keeps dropping the baby’s milk bottle and pacifier on the floor. This prompts her to finally appear one rainy night in Seattle to present Linda and Michael with the baby they deserve.
The film ends with Lucy and Sam getting their act together back in Ohio, presumably in preparation for being proper parents for some future baby.

What is insulting about the production is its narrow view of how awful life is for people in America’s lower classes and how the trappings of material success are immediately accepted as the proper environment for childrearing. There seems to be no grey area there and even though Lucy clearly loves her baby, her circumstances dictate that what is BEST is to give him up to the rich people. Bah. The only really lively parts of the movie spring from the characters of Lucy and Sam, whose wildness and sensual abandon are honest and real.

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan…1989…95 min…featuring Glenn Close, James Woods, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kevin Dillon.

Edge of Tomorrow ***

An arrogant military PR guy gets reassigned to the front lines and gets snared in a time loop that allows him to learn the lessons of warfare against alien invaders. Some eye-popping special effects, but also that same old Tom Cruise mix of charm and jerkiness.

Directed by Doug Liman…2014…113 min…featuring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson.

Transcendence ***

A sudden sickness cuts short the life of a brainy computer researcher, but not before he gets downloaded into a computer and attempts to save humanity from itself. Mind-bending ideas, but much of it hard to swallow.

Directed by Wally Pfister…2014…119 min…featuring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara.

Divergent ***

A futuristic society divides kids into groups they must be loyal to for life. One girl picks an unexpected direction while guarding the reality that she doesn’t really fit into any one of the groups, and that makes her something the society just doesn’t know how to deal with. Extermination is the only remedy.

Directed by Neil Burger…2014…139 min…featuring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Zoe Kravitz.

Gone Girl ***

Twisted and cunning, a sociopath plots and kills for revenge.

Directed by David Fincher…2014…149 min…featuring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit.

Nightcrawler ***

A misfit and petty criminal finds new success videotaping the horrid scenes of auto accidents and homicides on the midnight streets of Los Angeles. Money flows, some questions come up over ethics, but it’s the sick thrill of the images that gets the videographer and his television producer in deep.

Directed by Dan Gilroy…2014…117 min…featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed.

Get On Up ****

An energetic and even bouyant biopic on the career of soul giant James Brown. Full of music and attitude, the production doesn’t take itself so seriously that it doesn’t indulge in a little humor too. The fluid storytelling style nimbly jumps around Brown’s life and tells a tale of natural talent and relentless self-motivation.

Directed by Tate Taylor…2014…139 min…featuring Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd.

The Theory of Everything ***

An upbeat biopic of physicist Stephen Hawking’s career as a boundary breaking theorist while surviving a crippling disease.

Directed by James Marsh…2014…123 min…featuring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, Harry Lloyd.

Boyhood ****

Directed by Richard Linklater…2014…165 min…featuring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Marco Perella.

Cabin Fever **

Directed by Eli Roth…2002…93 min…featuring Jordan Ladd, Rider Strong, James DeBello

House of Cards S3 ***

2015…featuring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Nathan Darrow, Mahershala Ali, Molly Parker.

Bloodline ****

2015…Created by Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman…featuring Norbert Leo Butz, Kyle Chandler, Jamie McShane, Linda Cardellini, Ben Mendelsohn, Norbert Leo Butz, Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard.

Spartacus: War of the Damned ***

2012…featuring Manu Bennett, Daniel Feuerriegel, Peter Mensah, Lucy Lawless, Nick E Tarabay, Viva Bianca, Liam McIntyre, Dustin Clare, Craig Parker.

Strike ***

Unsafe conditions, too many overtime hours, low pay and bureaucratic shenanigans become too much for the workers in a Polish shipbuilding yard. They go on strike when a popular worker is fired for trumped up charges because she supports laborers’ rights. The strike reflects the feelings of workers all over Poland and a massive general strike ensues, changing Poland’s position with aggressors from the Soviet Union.

Despite being rooted in actual events, what makes this movie compelling is the glimpse inside Polish workers’ personal lives- their trials and triumphs in the face of government brutishness and ineffectiveness.

Directed by Volker Schlondorff…2007…104 min…featuyring Katharina Thalbach, Maria Maj, Andrzej Chyra.

Morning Star ***

A warrior takes on the pledge to return a fallen friend’s body to his home. But his journey becomes arduous and unnerving as he endures rough traveling conditions and the influence of a mysterious witch.

Directed by Luca Boni, Marco Ristori…2014…90 min…Adrian Bouchet, Daniel Vivian, Mike Mitchell, Ivy Corbin.

Iceman ***

A warrior is awakened from sleep to battle enemies in the future.

Directed by Wing-cheong Law…2014…104 min…featuring Donnie Yen, Baoqiang Wang.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home ***

A stoner slacker sees signs in everything that happens to him and it leads to a set of circumstances which requires him to act selflessly- all the while helping his selfish brother mend his marriage gone on the rocks.

Directed by Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass…2011…83 min…featuring Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong, Steve Zissis.

The Interview ***

Two television buddies- a producer and talk show host- manage to wrangle an interview with North Korea’s “supreme leader.” They get recruited as assassins for the CIA as a result and smart allec comic mayhem occurs.

Directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen…2014…112 min…featuring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Randall Park, Lizzy Caplan.

Invasion of the Pod People **

After a strange meteor shower, people start receiving gifts of what looks like raw ginger in a pot, but really is an alien take-over.

Directed by Justin Jones…2007…85 min…featuring Erica Roby, Jessica Bork, Sarah Lieving, Danae Nason, Michael Tower.

Quest for Fire ***

One desperate tribe of cave people loses the community fire and must find a spark somewhere, somehow or all will perish.

Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud…1981…100min…featuring Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nicholas Kadi, Rae Dawn Chong.

High Tension ***

Two girls retreat to the countryside for a study break, but become victims of a horrific home invasion. There’s a significant twist here.

Directed by Alexandre Aja…2003…91 min…featuring Cécile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon.

The Black Hole **

Scientists unwittingly create a black hole in the center of St Louis, which starts pulling everything around it into its center. One smart guy thinks that fixing the hole might depend on trapping and returning the electrical entity that escaped from it, so that’s what they do.

Directed by Tibor Takacs…2006…90 min…featuring Kristy Swanson, Judd Nelson, David Selby, Peter Mayer, Chris Nolte.

The Hour ***

Television journalists try to produce a news show that stretches the boundaries of what the English government considers proper reporting and uncovers a conspiracy as a result.

Created by Abi Morgan…2011…featuring Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw, Dominic West, Anna Chancellor.

Downton Abbey S5 ***

Created by Julian Fellowes…2014…featuring Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James-Collier, Sophia McShera, Lesley Nicol, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Allen Leech, Kevin Doyle, David Robb, Lily James, Raquel Cassidy, Samantha Bond, Douglas Reith, Peter Egan, Rade Serbedzija, Matt Barber, Catherine Steadman, Penny Downie, James Faulkner, Richard E Grant, Sue Johnston, Hugh O’Brien, Matthew Goode.

Game of Thrones S4 ***

Created by David Benioff, DB Weiss…2014…featuring Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Charles Dance, Rory McCann, Alfie Allen, Jack Gleeson, Aiden Gillen.

The Imitation Game ***

It takes a computer to crack the “impossible” code machine Germany is using during World War II, but some smart guys the British government bring together to work on breaking the code have to invent it first. It’s all top secret, the results are immeasurable in saved lives, but the point man gets convicted as a homosexual anyway.

The gay rights aspect of the movie successfully uses history to make a point but also feels like an add-on since most of the story focusses on the trials and failures at various methods of breaking the code.

Directed by Morten Tyldum…2014…114 min…featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Allen Leech.

The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ***

The second installment of the rebooted “Planet of the Apes” franchise sets the thriving colony of super-apes lead by Caesar against human survivors of a devastating “simian” virus. As might be expected, most of the humans don’t have the patience to understand or respect the apes and their selfishness ignites a war when starting up an old power plant near the apes’ camp becomes their plan.

Emotion runs deep throughout the production and the special effects make the apes come alive in a very human way. There’s plenty of pedestrian interaction between Caesar and a handful of sympathetic humans, but it is the attack of the apes- riding naked on horseback and firing automatic weapons- that becomes terrifying. Also, the fight between Caesar and a bloodthirsty ape usurper at the top of a city tower is breathtaking action.

Directed by Matt Reeves…2014…130 min…featuring Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer.

Thale ***

Two guys cleaning up a crime-scene deep in the woods discover that the victim has been caring for and hiding what first seems to be a mute young woman. However, it becomes obvious she is not just that when the men listen to tape recordings chronicling the victim’s activities, find a severed tail in a freezer and get assaulted by a team trying to locate and capture the creature.

The static environment created by the production- maintaining brief dialogue and little explanation- adds to the otherworldliness of the story. The brief glimpses of the creatures in the woods calling to one of their own makes sure this is not just another mystery.

Directed by Aleksander Nordaas…2012…76 min…featuring Silje Reinåmo, Erlend Nervold, Jon Sigve Skard.

I, Frankenstein ***

The war between demons and gargoyles comes to a head when the Frankenstein monster and Victor Frankenstein’s journal are discovered. The demons want to reanimate corpses to create a new army and the gargoyles want to stop it from happening in order to protect the unsuspecting human race. The monster sides with the gargoyles when he starts caring for a young scientist caught in the middle of it all.

Beyond the references to Victor Frankenstein and his work on bringing the monster to life, there is very little in this production that connects it to the original story by Mary Shelley. Rather, this is an ambitious flight of fancy offering plenty of opportunity for high impact violence. It’s also the potential beginning of a new franchise, propping up the Frankenstein monster as a kind of super hero battling evil.

Directed by Stuart Beattie…2014…92 min…featuring Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto, Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney, Mahesh Jadu, Bruce Spence.

The People That Time Forgot **

A rescue mission to an out-of-place, out-of-time and out-of-season region in Antarctica runs into constant trouble with nasty natives, nasty prehistoric monsters and an even nastier volcano. The team, searching for an explorer lost in the area some years before, is lucky to get out alive while failing to bring home the lost explorer or their notes and photographs of their journey.

Despite the action, this is a lackluster, unpolished production, heavy on fake monsters, unbelievable fights, weak dialogue and obvious pandering to sex thanks to Dana Gillespie’s revealing cave-girl outfit. The final chase is lit up with dozens of explosions inspiring the viewer to wish that at least one of the explosions would take out the characters and end this tedious exercise in C grade moviemaking.

Directed by Kevin Connor…1977…90 min…featuring Patrick Wayne, Doug McClure, Sarah Douglas, Dana Gillespie.

The Wolf of Wall Street ***

An arrogant, greedy, insensitive pig of a stock broker succeeds mightily shoveling off terrible penny stocks to regular people- until he gets the idea to do the same to rich people too. What he and his band of followers do with their wealth is pour it into every conceivable vice they can think of from drugs, alcohol and sex to buying hideously expensive things of all kinds. Of course, they also attract the attention of authorities who bring him down, only to have him pop back up again with a new guise as an inspirational speaker.

Directed by Martin Scorsese…2013…180 min…featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Shea Whigham, PJ Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Jordan Belfort

Sharknado **

A wicked storm in the Pacific sucks up an ocean full of sharks, only to deposit them on the city of Los Angeles. Of course, only a rag tag group of survivors are able to save the city after dodging snapping jaws and swirling debris wherever they go.

The production quality here is dodgy at best, the story is forced and ridiculous and the acting barely passable, but the movie is a hoot anyway. Sometimes you even find yourself rooting for the sharks.

Directed by Anthony C Ferrante…2013…86 min…featuring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, John Heard.

Fantastic Voyage ***

A team of scientists and a submarine-like vehicle are miniaturized and injected into the bloodstream of a downed diplomat in order to do surgery from inside his brain. But someone in the crew is sabotaging the effort inside the vehicle while the natural defenses of the diplomat’s body attack the ship from the outside.

While modern standards for special effects makes this movie feel plenty dated, the creativity involved is still impressive.

Directed by Richard Fleischer…1966…100 min…featuring Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien, Donald Pleasence, Arthur O’Connell, William Redfield, Arthur Kennedy, James Brolin.

Domestic Disturbance ***

A divorced boat-builder and recovering alcoholic takes seriously his son’s accusations that his mom’s new husband is a killer. Nobody believes the kid or the father until it is almost too late.

This is a cookie-cutter production, leaving no real surprises and no real challenges for the actors. Vince Vaughn makes a pretty convincing villain but the only character with much actual personality is the one played by Steve Buscemi.

Directed by Harold Becker…2001…89 min…featuring John Travolta, Nick Loren, James Lashly, Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Leland L Jones, Matt O’Leary, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Steve Buscemi.

Ikiru ****

A longtime civil servant who hides behind the mountain of paper his office produces changes his tune when he discovers he has stomach cancer and only has a few months left to live. He takes on the building of a public park in an open cesspool area to squeeze something useful out of the end of a life that has been numb and colorless at best. This confuses everyone around him while driving others to try to grab the honor of his final accomplishment.

There’s plenty of moviemaking art to admire in this movie. Many of the scenes are carefully constructed with plenty of vivid characters moving around in the background.

Directed by Akira Kurosawa…1952…143 min…featuring Takashi Shimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Shin’ichi Himori.

Frequencies ***

In this futuristic fantasy, people are divided in society by the “frequencies” they put out. The gulf between people of different frequencies is illustrated by the relationship between a low frequency boy who falls for a girl with one of the highest frequencies. He becomes frustrated enough with his attempts to win the girl that he and a buddy discover how the various frequencies can co-exist without chaos. But then that becomes a problem in itself, underscored by the intrusion of a secret government agency.

You get the sense that something deep is being revealed here, but it is not clearly defined enough to have much more of an impact than wonder.

Directed by Darren Paul Fisher…2013…105 min…featuring Daniel Fraser, Eleanor Wyld, Dylan Llewellyn, Owen Pugh, David Broughton-Davies.

Twisted ***

A tough female cop tries to drink away the pain caused by her cop father, who one day went on a killing spree, killed his wife and himself and left her to be brought up by his partner. But the drink makes her forget too much. She passes out regularly and the bodies of men she picks up in bars start piling up.

It’s another cookie cutter production. There’s a twist here but not a very convincing one.

Directed by Philip Kaufman…2004…97 min…featuring Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Garcia, David Strathairn, Camryn Manheim, Mark Pellegrino, DW Moffett, Titus Welliver, Richard T Jones.

On the Road ***

Based on the classic Beat book by Jack Kerouac, this movie follows the efforts of a restless gang of youths trying to find exciting times just about anywhere but where they are.

Directed by Walter Salles…2012…124 min…featuring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Coati Mundi.

The Prophet’s Game **

A tired retread of a serial killer mystery.

Directed by David Worth…2000…106 min…featuring Dennis Hopper, Stephanie Zimbalist, Robert Yocum.

The Decent One ***

Archival footage combined with readings of private letters makes this a fascinating look inside the life of one of the top Nazis.

Directed by Vanessa Lapa…2014…94 min…featuring Tobias Moretti, Sophie Rois, Antonia Moretti.

Carrie ***

This remake of the classic horror film updates some of the bullying the shy, abused teenager endures but it is her rage at the end of the movie that saves this production.

Directed by Kimberly Peirce…2013…100 min…featuring Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde.

Tooth and Nail **

Another low budget creeper about a post apocalyptic world overrun with cannibals.

Directed by Mark Young…2007…94 min…featuring Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones, Rachel Miner, Nicole DuPort, Rider Strong, Michael Kelly, Robert Carradine, Emily Catherine Young.

The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen ****

Despite the basic shrillness of the humor, this is a highly imaginative and creative romp of fantasy including plenty of star power in the cast.

Directed by Terry Gilliam…1988…126 min…featuring John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams, Sting.

Sharnado 2 **

Despite a larger budget, an upgrade in acting and a change of location to New York City, the Sharknado idea grows pale and reveals itself as a one trick pony.

Directed by Anthony C Ferrante…2014…95 min…featuring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox, Mark McGrath, Judd Hirsch, Billy Ray Cyrus, Biz Markie, Kelly Osbourne, Al Roker.

Aliens on the Moon: The Truth Exposed ***

The shocking ideas here- that NASA and the government are covering up evidence of alien activity on the moon-  are undercut by the production’s scare tactics and over dramatic soundtrack to pull this down into tabloid quality.

Directed by Robert Kiviat…2014…featuring Roger Leopardi, Amy Shira Teitel, Joshua P. Warren.

Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time **

An innocuous, immature adventure.

Directed by Masaaki Taniguchi…2010…122 min…featuring Riisa Naka, Akiyoshi Nakao, Munetaka Aoki.

Trans-Atlantic Tunnel ****

Despite its age and the obvious outdated special effects, this is a compelling story of a grand engineering idea and the havoc it creates on the builders’ lives.

Directed by Maurice Elvey…1935…94 min…featuring Richard Dix, Leslie Banks, Madge Evans, C Aubrey Smith, Helen Vinson, Walter Huston.

Birdman *****

There is not a minute during this production when you are not questioning what’s going on. But this isn’t bewilderment, but challenging storytelling and a compelling character study.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu…2014…119 min…featuring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Marching Cobras of New York.

Interstellar ***

Predictable emotional moments mix here with exciting space travel action.

Directed by Christopher Nolan…2014…169 min…featuring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Matt Damon.

Automata ****

Gritty and cerebral, this production goes over familiar ground- machines that become too smart for their makers- but does so with a serious eye.

Directed by Gabe Ibanez…2014…109 min…featuring Antonio Banderas, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith, Robert Forster, Javier Bardem.

Impostor ***

There’s a twist in this sci-fi thriller and it does blindside the viewer.

Directed by Gary Fleder…2001…95 min…featuring Shane Brolly, Vincent D’Onofrio, Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Tony Shalhoub, Mekhi Phifer, Lindsay Crouse.

The Running Man **

This production has worn badly over time with ho hum special effects and unfunny wisecracks. But there is something insidious about the whole game show set-up.

Directed by Paul Michael Glaser…1987…101 min…featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown. Jesse Ventura, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Richard Dawson.

Mad Max ***

The future sure isn’t pretty here and the heroes and bad guys look a lot alike, but there is a compelling conflict between Max the cop and the motorcycle gang without pity.

Directed by George Miller…1979…88 min…featuring Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Reg Evans, Sheila Florence, Vincent Gil, Geoff Parry.

Downton Abbey S4 ****

Created by Julian Fellowes…2014…featuring Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James-Collier, Sophia McShera, Lesly Nicol, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Allen Leech, Kevin Doyle, David Robb, Lily James, Matt Milne, Ed Speleers, Cara Theobold, Raquel Cassidy, Tom Cullen, Samantha Bond, Andrew  Scarborough, Julian Ovenden, Douglas Reith, Shirley Maclaine, Patrick Kennedy, Paul Giamatti.

Marco Polo S1 ****

Featuring Lorenzo Richelmy, Benedict Wong, Joan Chen, Remy Hii, Zhu Zhu, Tom Wu, Mahesh Jadu, Olivia Cheng, Chin Han, Uli Latukewfu, Amr Waked.

The Newsroom S2 ***

Featuring Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Dev Patel, Olivis Munn, Sam Waterson.