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.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl is very good. And, I suspect, it’s probably even better if you haven’t read the best-selling book by Gillian Flynn (which I did, about two years ago). It’s just a solid, well-cast thriller that has enough twists and turns to keep things interesting, even if it does feel a tad too long.

I won’t say much about the plot, because the less you know going in, the more you’ll get out of it. But here’s the gist: Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home on his fifth anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. A media circus ensues as questions arise about Nick and Amy, the state of their marriage, and Nick’s potential involvement in his wife’s disappearance and possibly, her death. The clues – literal and figurative – stack up as the movie flashes back on the couple’s path from instant attraction and romance to marital dysfunction.

This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You starts off strong, then loses its way, despite having an A-List cast with the chops to achieve something far greater. Perhaps it was the script. Or the over-abundance of family dysfunction that seemed to loom larger than the fake boobs proudly (and often) exhibited by Jane Fonda’s matriarch character.

Here’s the gist: When their father passes away, the four grown Altman siblings are forced to return home and live under the same roof for a week with their over-sharing therapist mother (Fonda) who used her kids as fodder for a bunch of best-selling books on family dysfunction. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The siblings spend the week confronting their past, present and future, with an array of spouses, exes, significant others, kids, friends and foes added to the mix- for occasional comedic and dramatic effect.

The Trip to Italy

I did not see the first of this series, but it is now on my list. In the first one, called simply The Trip (2010) the same two men, comedian/actors Steve Coogan (Philomena) and Rob Brydon, traveled around the the north of England eating and talking while ostensibly writing an article for a newspaper. This one takes them to one of my favorite places on earth, Italia! And there they dine at six fabulous restaurants and continue their silly conversations, frequently doing impersonations of actors from Pacino to Christian Bale to a contest of who can do Michael Caine best. (Brydon does a pitch perfect Hugh Grant a few times.) The film is not really about the food, though the director does shoot the chefs and the presentations lovingly, and Coogan and Brydon do ooh and ahh from time to time. It is really about the witty repartee covering an uneasy feeling that both men’s lives are in flux, and each is struggling to find his next move.

Mood Indigo

Writer/director Michel Gondry brought us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind , one of the more strangely inventive stories of the 21st century. With Mood Indigo he returns with a French novel adaptation that is every bit as odd, though maybe not quite as effective. It begins as Colin discovers that his best friend Chick has found love, which sends him on a quest to find his own. His chef/friend/lawyer Nicolas, the beautiful Omar Sy from The Intouchables, has a neice who is having a party, and there Colin meets Chloé, the lovely Audrey Tautou of Amélie. He is instantly smitten. And their romance is all fun and sweet and beautiful until she falls ill with a water lily growing in her lungs and the world turns dark.

Lucy

I generally like Luc Besson movies — The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita. He writes some pretty interesting female characters who frequently have to fend for themselves in a very violent world. And that is just what the title character in his latest flick Lucy does. Played by Scarlett Johannsen, Lucy is an American student in Taipei who is forced to be a mule for a very interesting new designer drug, and then through a series of unfortunate events, pretty much all hell breaks loose as she turns into superhuman.

If I Stay

If I Stay is a tear-inducing chick flick. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… unless you’re trying to stay in ‘happy summer mode’ a few more weeks. This movie is kind of a downer, aimed primarily at angsty teens. The trailer (below) pretty much says it all. So does the YA novel by Gayle Forman. But in case you haven’t watched the trailer, or read the book, here’s the gist: Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a mature high schooler with a loving family, a cute rocker boyfriend (Jamie Blackley), and a passion for playing the cello. But her life changes in an instant when a car crash wipes out her family and puts her in a coma. The movie then weaves in and out of her past and present as Mia – having a sort of out-of-body experience – ultimately weighs if it’s worth waking up to a very different life, or just letting go.