The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is the heartbreaking history of the rise and fall of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. I saw this earlier this year at a festival and it was without a doubt one of the best films I saw there. An incredibly important and fascinating story, extremely well told and sadly, so much of it feels decidedly déjà vu. It really is a must see documentary.

A Walk in the Woods

Here’s what I liked about the adventure-comedy-drama A Walk in the Woods: Robert Redford and Nick Nolte; some really funny and smart one-liners; the notion that you’re never too old for new adventures; and lots of pretty scenery.

Here’s what I didn’t like about A Walk in the Woods: It’s a long walk, with too few ‘mile-marker moments’.

Grandma

Grandma is a bare-bones indie that will likely appeal to those in the artier crowd who like a simple, dialogue-driven movie and the acerbic wit of Lily Tomlin. The veteran actress and comedian plays a lesbian Grandma named Elle Reid whose granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up on her doorstep requesting about $600 to have an abortion that is scheduled for later that day. Elle doesn’t have the cash — but she’s willing to help Sage get it. The two spend the next few hours cruising around town in Grandma’s vintage automobile in search of friends, and others, who may be willing to float them a loan or give them the money outright. Their unannounced visits rattle a few cages and stir up old memories, especially when they drop in on one of Grandma’s old male flames (Sam Elliott). Needless to say, there’s an interesting dynamic at play here – and it results in one of the more surprising moments the film has to offer.

The Gift

This film seemed to fly under the radar for me. But it really shouldn’t have. It is a very creepy and very well-done psychological thriller. Written and directed by and starring Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, The Great Gatsby), it is the story of a young couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who move to Los Angeles, and run into a former schoolmate of Simon’s who knows him better than his wife. And who isn’t afraid to use that knowledge against him.

Ricki and the Flash

I had to see this flick, cause you know — Meryl. And there was also Dr. Noah Drake, I mean Rick Springfield of “Jessie’s Girl” fame. How bad could it be? The good news is that it isn’t as bad as I’d heard. But it really isn’t what it could have been. Meryl plays the title character Ricki Rendazzo, formerly Linda Brummel of Indianapolis, now a long-in-the-tooth rock and roll singer with her own band called The Flash playing nightly at a locals bar in Tarzana, California. By day she is a cashier at a health food supermarket, and she can barely make ends meet, but she is content with her life. Then she gets a call from her ex. Her daughter is in trouble and she needs to come back to help. She hasn’t been there for her kids in years, so what could go wrong?

American Ultra

I’m not sure what this movie was trying to be but it’s a hot mess. Here’s how it was pitched:

American Ultra is a fast-paced action comedy about Mike [Jesse Eisenberg], a seemingly hapless and unmotivated stoner whose small-town life with his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe [Kristen Stewart], is suddenly turned upside down. Unbeknownst to him, Mike is actually a highly trained, lethal sleeper agent. In the blink of an eye, as his secret past comes back to haunt him, Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and is forced to summon his inner action-hero in order to survive.”

When I read the synopsis, I expected to see something along the lines of the fairly entertaining action-comedy-crime-stoner movie Pineapple Express. Ha! Joke was on me.

The End of the Tour

The End of the Tour is not a biopic so much as an homage to a great writer who killed himself relatively young. In the film David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel of How I Met Your Mother) is the biggest writer of 1996, and David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) is a new reporter at Rolling Stone who talks his editor into sending him on a book tour with him. It is the first time Rolling Stone has done an author piece, but Wallace’s latest book, Infinite Jest, is earning him comparisons to Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Lipsky, a novelist himself, is jealously in awe of Wallace. What transpires is mostly a road trip interview. Yes, it is an interesting conversation, particularly so for other writers, and it is pretty much all talk and nearly no drama, but as Lipsky notes at the end of the film, “It was the best conversation I ever had.” And it surely is one of the better ones I have listened to in a while.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a thoroughly entertaining spy romp that feels like a throwback to 1960s-era television, which makes perfect sense considering the movie is based on the television series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. which ran from 1964-1968 (starring Robert Vaughn and David “Ducky from NCIS!” McCallum). The question is, can a spy movie set against the backdrop of the Cold War compete at the box office with a modern, adrenaline-fueled spy movie like the latest installment of Mission Impossible? I doubt it. HOWEVER, U.N.C.L.E. does have a great deal of charm on its side, effused with great aplomb by Henry Cavill, who proves that he can wear a business suit (and a towel) as well, if not better, than the ‘suit’ he donned for Man of Steel (the 2013 Superman reboot that I quite liked despite its less-than-stellar reviews).

Infinitely Polar Bear

Quite possibly the worst title for a movie lately, Infinitely Polar Bear is nonetheless a decent little flick. The unfortunate title comes from a child misnaming her father’s bi-polar disorder, the problem at the heart of this fractured family tale, which is based on the true story of writer/director Maya Forbes’s upbringing. Mark Ruffalo plays the father, Cameron, and his performance is the reason to see the film.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining ride, providing just the right mix of drama, special effects, and story to satisfy the ‘summer movie’ crowd… even if you’re not a big Tom Cruise fan. Love him or hate him, or somewhere in between, there’s no denying the guy is aging extremely well and can still carry an action movie (bring on the Top Gun sequel!). In fact, I still think his action-adventure flick Edge of Tomorrow was one of the most under-appreciated movies of 2014. So consider that one for the Netflix queue. But back to MI and the fifth installment of the franchise about a covert ops team tasked with missions deemed impossible for anyone else in the intelligence community…