American Pastoral

American Pastoral starts off strong, then takes a turn down a very long, dark and twisted road that I was more than ready to exit by the end of the film’s 108 minute running time. It felt much longer. The film is based on a 1997 Philip Roth novel that tells the story – over several decades – of Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor), a man who seems to have it all: He excels in sports at his New Jersey high school, becomes a successful businessman, marries a beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), and builds a seemingly idyllic life for himself and his family in a small town outside Newark. But his daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) is a nut job. She gets mixed up with a bunch of radicals in the turbulent 1960s and disappears after being accused of a murderous act. Dawn has a breakdown, then a facelift, and seems content to never see Merry again. But Swede refuses to give up on his beloved daughter and embarks on a years-long quest to find her. The journey takes a heavy toll on Swede – and the audience.

The Accountant

There’s a whole lot going on in The Accountant, but somehow it all adds up to a surprisingly entertaining action movie with an interesting story, some well-timed comic relief, and a very strong cast. So don’t let the odd premise — of a brilliant but socially-awkward numbers-crunching assassin with Asperger’s — scare you away. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year for sheer mainstream movie appeal, easily besting last week’s highly-anticipated drama The Girl on the Train.

The Birth of a Nation

The story of Nat Turner deserves a big screen telling. He inspired his fellow slaves to fight back against their owners and sent shock waves across the South in 1831 when he led the biggest rebellion against the institution of slavery in American history. Nate Parker wrote, directed and stars in a fairly straight forward retelling of the story, though an off-screen controversy has probably hurt the reception of this film. That said, it is a good movie, though not what I was expecting considering the overwhelming Sundance and Toronto festival buzz.

The Girl on the Train

Forgive me if I call this one Gone Girl on the Train. But comparisons will be made, and understandably so, between The Girl on the Train and 2014’s Gone Girl. Both are crime drama thrillers based on popular novels by Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn respectively. Both feature strong performances. And both do a decent job remaining faithful to the source material. So if you liked the book(s) and the genre, then rest assured there’s plenty to like about The Girl on The Train (though honestly, if I had to choose, I’d give Gone Girl the edge).


I hate to get political in a review, but it’s hard to watch Denial and not think about what’s happening in the current election cycle. A guy with an inflated ego and a propensity for spouting lies and crazy theories manages to convince others that he is being wronged. Sound familiar? That’s sort of what happens in Denial. The film is based on the true story of a legal battle between American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and British historian David Irving (Timothy Spall). In 1996, Irving sued Lipstadt for libel after she called him a liar in her book, “Denying the Holocaust”. Irving claimed the Holocaust never happened, and that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were merely storage units, or used for disinfection. Uh-huh. You’d think that with history and truth on Lipstadt’s side, the law would be too. But it’s not that simple, especially in London, where the burden of proof is on the defense, i.e. Lipstadt.


Masterminds is another movie based on a true story. But unlike the intense new action drama Deepwater Horizon, Masterminds plays for laughs. It’s a bizarre comedy directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite; Nacho Libre) that recounts one of the largest bank heists in U.S. history: the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in North Carolina. Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a gullible schlub whose ‘work crush’ Kelly (Kristin Wiig) convinces him to use his position as an armored-car driver to pull off the ultimate inside job. David steals 17 million dollars and turns most of it over to the yahoos who masterminded the heist and set him up to take the fall.

Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon is a well-cast but fairly standard disaster movie that attempts to put a human face on the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. On April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon (owned by Transocean and operated by BP) during a drilling operation in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering an environmental disaster that sent an estimated 210 million gallons of oil sweeping and seeping its way to the shores of Louisiana and beyond. The movie, “inspired by the true story”, isn’t so much about the environmental impact or the blame game that ensued, but rather about the human toll. We are reminded that eleven people died that day (their remains never found), and that among the victims and survivors were untold stories of bravery and heroism.

A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove)

This adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel is one of my favorite films of the year. Written and directed by Hannes Holm it’s a Swedish curmudgeon finds his humanity story that could easily have been sappy and cliched, but balances the mean and the sweet just right for a totally enjoyable ride.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

Fun! Fun! Fun! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! This documentary from Ron Howard looks at the touring years of the greatest musical group the world has ever known. Okay, that’s just my considered opinion, but if you’re a Beatles fan, this is a must see flick. The film combines archival footage and interviews that take you inside the Beatles’ world during their early years on the road, which only lasted from 1963-66. But during that time they performed 250 concerts and went from obscurity to legend!

The Magnificent Seven

A remake of a remake has a lot to live up to. The original was the Japanese film Seven Samurai, shot in 1954, considered one of director Akira Kurosawa’s masterpieces starring the legendary Toshiro Mifune. Fast forward six years and Hollywood makes a version substituting cowboys for Samurai, starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. Now we have another one with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard. All three films follow the same essential plot. A village is being preyed upon by outsiders, so they hire Samurai/Cowboys to defend them and mayhem ensues. So is the new one magnificent?