Interstellar

As an astute co-worker noted, ‘If Inception and Gravity had a baby, it would be Interstellar. It’s a mind-bender with an exceptional cast and a story that those of us who (intentionally) skipped Physics in grade school will surely fail to grasp. No spoilers here – ‘cause I’m not really sure what happened!

Anyway, fans of director Christopher Nolan’s 2010 brain-strainer Inception will surely appreciate this flick as well. And like last year’s Gravity, Interstellar needs to be seen on the big screen in all its IMAX glory. It’s experiential. Sometimes loud and pulsating (bring earplugs). Sometimes eerily silent.

John Wick

The moral of John Wick is never ever kill someone’s dog, probably a good thing to bear in mind anyway. In the case of this film, the perpetrators of the vile act choose the absolutely worst person possible to piss off. Keanu Reeves plays the title character and he is a retired hit man. And not just any hit man, but the best in the biz. But he left that life behind a while back and got married, and as the film begins, his beloved wife has just died from an unnamed illness. And John is taking it really hard, when a crate shows up at his house with an adorable little dog and a note from the dead wife saying that she wanted him to have a companion to help him get through his grief. So it is not just a dog, but a link to the love of his life.

Laggies

Laggies is an easy breezy chick flick – good for a few laughs, a bit of drama, a somewhat relatable story, and solid performances from Keira Knightly, Chloë Grace Moretz, and (still) one of the most under-appreciated actors of our time, Sam Rockwell (case in point: The Way, Way Back). The film is ultimately about growing up, taking responsibility for your choices in life, and finding your path.

Nightcrawler

Movies like Nightcrawler pose a real challenge for me as a frequent film ‘opinionator’ because I simply didn’t like it nearly as much as I’m supposed to, especially considering my ‘day job’ in broadcast news. I guess I wasn’t in the mood for creepy and disturbing. And that’s exactly what Nightcrawler is – a crime thriller that left me feeling more distressed than entertained. I’m sure that’s what the filmmakers were going for. But who needs to PAY for that?

Yes, the performances are excellent. Jake Gyllenhaal got all gaunt and wild-eyed to play Lou Bloom, a smart but psychotic petty thief who stumbles upon a new career as a nightcrawler in Los Angeles – filming and selling grisly accident and crime scene footage to the highest bidder(s). And Rene Russo is chillingly good as Nina, an ethically-challenged news director determined to do whatever it takes to get her struggling TV station out of the ratings cellar.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent is a surprisingly feel good flick, and a great deal of that is due the performance of Bill Murray, who has followed his early comedy career with some wonderful dramatic turns. He is fortunate to have teamed up with a very talented newby writer/director who crafted a layered character for him to sink his teeth into. But the film also has what could have been a pretty cliched story at its center that is slowly turned on its head as the film chugs along. Not that Bill Murray isn’t funny in this role. There are some very funny bits in that deadpan, world weary way only he can pull off. It’s just that the laughter is tempered with some dramatic moments that keep it from being typical curmudgeon comedy.

Kill the Messenger

Kill the Messenger is based on a true story, and what a story it is! It is the tale of a journalist/whistleblower who had the guts to publish the truth about the CIA’s complicity in bringing crack cocaine to our inner cities in order to fund a war Congress wouldn’t pay for. And what did he get for it? He was demonized by his peers and hounded out of the profession. It is no All the President’s Men, which you can feel it trying to be at times, but it is another sickening story of people in high places feeling they are above the law, and an intrepid reporter stumbling into the story that blows the lid off their dirty little secrets. Jeremy Renner plays real life journalist Gary Webb, and it is his performance that keeps you watching. It is at times heartbreaking.

Whiplash

Whiplash is intensely good, and about as far from formulaic and predictable as you can get from a movie these days. With any luck (and word of mouth), it will cross over from ‘indie’ and ‘arty’ to mainstream in a Juno sort of way, thanks in large part to the performance of the guy who played the dad in Juno – J.K. Simmons. Even if his name escapes you, his face and voice will surely ring a bell. He’s that character actor you’ve seen so many times in the movies and on TV – in The Closer, Spiderman, and those commercials for Farmer’s Insurance.

The Best of Me

If you’ve never seen a movie adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel, then don’t start with this one. The Best of Me is not the worst of the bunch, but it’s not the best either.

Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, The Last Song, Safe Haven

Love ‘em or leave ‘em. They are what they are. Sweet, formulaic, sappy, romantic, tragic… an uplifting downer with lots of water and a sweeping score that will let you know what you’re supposed to be feeling – or fearing – at any given moment. And, of course, attractive actors playing characters with names like ‘Dawson’ and ‘Amanda’.

Dracula Untold

Another Dracula movie you ask? Haven’t we had enough vampire movies yet? Well, maybe not. Dracula Untold gives the traditionally evil bloodsucker his back story and makes him a more sympathetic creature than any of the other iterations. Yes, he’s still in Transylvania and he’s been known to impale a lot of folks, but it’s not that he’s inherently blood thirsty. He has a really good reason for acting the way he does and Dracula Untold gives you a ringside seat to this good guy gone bad story. This Dracula is no Edward or Jacob or even Tom Cruise Lestat. He’s a Game of Thrones hunk of a warrior with a big heart, but he’s given an impossible choice that changes his fate forever.

The Judge

It’s got Robert Downey Jr.

Oh, you want to know more?

Okay, here goes. The Judge is riddled with clichés, runs about a half-hour too long, and doesn’t really offer up anything groundbreaking. But I still liked it, mostly because Robert Downey Jr. is so darn watchable – even more so when he’s not obscured by an Iron Man suit. The guy is aging – and acting – really well.