One of the most overlooked films of 2014. Directed as a crime drama by J.C. Chandor ("All Is Lost") and featuring a bravura performance by Oscar Isaac, the film is nothing less than a treatsie on the failure of the American Dream. The story is set in New York City during the winter of 1981 -- statistically the most dangerous year in the city's history -- and wends its way through a maze of corruption plaguing the bankrupt city. The film follows Abel Morales (Isaac), the hard-working owner of Standard Oil, an up and coming heating oil company, as he fends off rivalries, attacks on his family, hijackings of his trucks, loan sharks, and an investigation by an upwardly mobile assistant D.A., all while clinging to a code of honor that threatens to fall by the wayside as he climbs up a morally crooked ladder of success. The film featurees pitch-perfect supporting performances by Jessica Chastain (as Morales' wife), Albert Brooks (as the family lawyer) and David Oyelowo (as the assistant D.A.).
Vitals: Director: J.C. Chandor. Stars: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Peter Gerety, Ashley Williams, Catalina Sandino Morenoy. 2014, CC, MPAA rating: R, 125 min., Crime Drama, Box office gross: $4.604 million, Lionsgate.Extras: Commentary with writer-director J.C. Chandor and producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb, "Behind the Violence" featurette, "A Conversation With Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac" featurette, "The Contagious Nature of Violence: The Origins of a Most Violent Year" featurette, deleted scenes, "Inner City Crew" outtakes, "We Can Cure Violence" public service announcement.
Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard) and her sister sail to New York from their native Poland in 1921 in search of a new start and the American dream. When they reach Ellis Island, doctors discover that Magda (Angela Sarafyan) is ill, and the two women are separated. Ewa is released onto the mean streets of Manhattan while her sister is quarantined. Alone, with nowhere to turn and desperate to reunite with Magda, Ewa quickly falls prey to Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a charming
but wicked man who takes her in and forces her into prostitution. The arrival of Orlando (Jeremy Renner) -- a dashing stage magician who is also Bruno's cousin -- restores her self-belief and hopes for a brighter future, becoming her only chance to escape the nightmare in which she finds herself.
Vitals: Director: James Gray. Stars: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Angela Sarafyan, Dagmara Dominczyk.
2014, CC, MPAA rating: R, 120 min., Drama-Romance, Box office gross: $1.984 million, Radius-TWC.
Based on the true story of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who was one of the most successful painters in the 1950s and early 1960s. The artist earned staggering notoriety by revolutionizing the commercialization and accessibility of popular art with his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. The truth would eventually be discovered though: Keane’s were actually not created by him at all, but by his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams). The Keanes, it seemed, had been living a lie that had grown to gigantic proportions. "Big Eyes" centers on Margaret's awakening as an artist, the phenomenal success of her paintings, and her tumultuous relationship with her husband, whom she eventually sued for the rights to her work.
Vitals: Director: Tim Burton. Stars: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Heather Doerksen, Emily Bruhn, Emily Fonda, Jon Polito.
2014, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 106 min., Bio-Drama, Box office gross: $14.190 million, The Weinstein Company.
Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her "out of control" 6-year-old, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel's dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called "The Babadook" turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he's been dreaming about. His hallucinations spiral out of control, he becomes more unpredictable and violent. And all attempts by Amelia to destroy the book fails, and the pair face a series of nightmarish situations.
Vitals: Director: Jennifer Kent. Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight.
2014, CC, MPAA rating: NR, 94 min., Horror, Box office gross: $.899 million, IFC Films.
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death
Forty years after the first haunting at Eel Marsh House, a group of children evacuated from WWII London arrive, awakening the house's darkest inhabitant. As the children begin to mysteriously disappear, Eve makes a shocking discovery ... it may not be a coincidence that she has come to reside in a place inhabited by the murderous Woman in Black.
Vitals: Director: Tom Harper. Stars: Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 98 min., Horror Thriller, Box office gross: $26.433 million, Fox.Extras: "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death: Chilling Locations," deleted scene, theatrical trailer. Blu-ray adds "Pulling Back the Veil: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death."
The hunter becomes the hunted when Liam Neeson returns as former CIA operative Bryan Mills, who finds himself framed for the brutal murder of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen). Consumed with rage, and pursued by a savvy police inspector (Forest Whitaker), Mills must rely on his “particular set of skills” one last time to find the real killers, clear his name, and protect the only thing that matters to him now — his daughter (Maggie Grace).
Vitals: Director: Olivier Megaton. Stars: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Forest Whitaker, Jon Gries, Dougray Scott.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 109 min., Action Thriller, Box office gross: $87.085 million, Fox.Extras: Deleted scene, "Sam's Bunker A.K.A. The Rabbit Hole," "Taken to L.A.," "A Taken Legacy, gallery. Blu-ray adds uncut version of the film.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Dubbed the world's first "Iranian Vampire Western," the film is a joyful mash-up of genre and prolific influences spanning Spaghetti Westerns, graphic novels, horror films and the Iranian New Wave -- comparisons have been made to Jarmusch, Lynch, Tarantino and Leone. The plot: In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.
Vitals: Director: Ana Lily Amirpour. Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rains, Mozhan Marno, Rome Shadanloo, Marshall Manesh, Milad Eghbali. The soundtrack features the Middle Eastern fusion beats of Bei Ru, the underground Iranian rock of Radio Tehran and Kiosk, and the Spaghetti Western-inspired tunes of Portland-based Federale.
2014, CC, MPAA rating: NR, 99 min., Horror, Box office gross: $.405 million, Kino Lorber.Extras: Deleted scenes, stills gallery, the official trailer, Q&A with director Amirpour hosted by Roger Corman at the Hammer Museum, exclusive booklet essay by Indiewire film critic Eric Kohn. Blu-ray adds behind-the-scenes documentary produced by Vice, a talk with director Amirpour and actress Sheila Vand, additional behind-the-scenes footage, collectible version of the first two issues of the comic book, written by Ana Lily Amirpour and drawn by Michael DeWeese, with an essay by Eric Kohn, being published by RADCO.
The melodrama takes us into the darkly funny world of Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston), a woman in pain. Her physical pain is evident in the scars that line her body and the way she carries herself, wincing with each tentative step. She's no good at hiding her emotional pain either. Blunt to the point of searing insult, Claire's anger seethes out of her with nearly every interaction. She has driven away her husband, her friends - even her chronic-pain support group has kicked her out. The suicide of Nina (Anna Kendrick), one of Claire's fellow chronic-pain group members, prompts her to initiates a dubious relationship with Nina's widowed husband (Sam Worthington), all the while confronting fantastical hallucinations of his dead wife. With her feisty housekeeper-cum-caretaker (Adriana Barraza) ever at her side, Claire searches for human connection and self-forgiveness in this tale of personal redemption.
Vitals: Director: Daniel Barnz. Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Britt Robertson, Lucy Punch, Sam Worthington, Chris Messina, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 118 min., Drama, Box office gross: $.916 million, Fox.Extras: "The Many Layers of Cake: Learning to Live Again," "The Icing on the Cake: Meet the Cast," trailer.
First ever film adaption of a Thomas Pynchon novel. When private eye Doc Sportello's ex-old lady suddenly out of nowhere shows up with a story about her current billionaire land developer boyfriend whom she just happens to be in love with, and a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to kidnap that billionaire and throw him in a loony bin ... well, easy for her to say. It's the tail end of the psychedelic '60s and paranoia is running the day and Doc knows that "love" is another of those words going around at the moment, like "trip" or "groovy," that's being way too overused -- except this one usually leads to trouble. With a cast of characters that includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, LAPD Detectives, a tenor sax player working undercover, and a mysterious entity known as The Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists ... part surf noir, part psychedelic romp -- all Thomas Pynchon.
Vitals: Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom.
2014, CC, MPAA rating: R, 148 min., Crime-Drama-Comedy, Box office gross: $8.110 million, Warner.Extras: "Los Paranoias," "Shasta Fay," The Golden Fang," "Everything In This Dream."
The Wedding Ringer
Jimmy (Kevin Hart) provides best man services for socially challenged guys, who -- for whatever reason -- have no one close enough to agree to stand by them on the day of their wedding. Doug, (Josh Gad), a socially awkward groom-to-be, has found himself in just such a situation, but, to make matters worse, he fabricates the names of not only a best man but nine groomsmen as well. With less than two weeks to go until he marries the girl of his dreams, Doug seeks out Jimmy's services to carry out a charade designed to make Doug look his best ... but threatens to destroy everything if it fails.
Vitals: Director: Jeremy Garelick. Stars: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Jorge Garcia, Cloris Leachman, Jenifer Lewis, Mimi Rogers.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 101 min., Comedy, Box office gross: $61.989 million, Sony.Extras: "Going to the Chapel of Love" featurette, select scenes commentary with director Jeremy Garelick and Josh Gad. Blu-ray adds 15 deleted scenes, five outtake reels, Line-o-Rama (short collections of alternate shots of jokes on set), Aloe Blacc's "Can You Do This" music video.
The Boy Next Door
High-school literature teacher Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) struggles to get back in the dating game after separating from her cheating husband while raising her adolescent son. When handsome and charismatic 19-year-old Noah (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door, Claire has a moment of weakness that leads to an intimate night together. Noah's attraction quickly turns into a violent obsession, threatening to tear apart Claire's world and endanger the people she loves.
Vitals: Director: Rob Cohen. Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett, Kristin Chenoweth.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 91 min., Thriller, Box office gross: $34.922 million, Universal.Extras: Deleted scenes, "The Making of The Boy Next Door," commentary with director Rob Cohen.
Paddington Bear was first introduced to children in Michael Bond's 1958 book, "A Bear Called Paddington" and the subsequent Paddington Bear series has sold over 35 million copies and been translated into 40 languages. For the first time, author Bond has given his blessing for his beloved characters to be brought to the big screen, charming both critics and audience members alike. "Paddington" tells the story of the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear who travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined until he meets the kindly Brown family, who take him home after reading the label around his neck. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rare talking bear catches the eye of Millicent, a museum taxidermist.
Vitals: Director: Paul King. Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG, 95 min., Family, Box office gross: $72.590 million, TWC-Dimension/Anchor Bay.Extras: "Meet the Characters," "When a Bear Comes to Stay," "From Page to Screen," "Shine" lyric music video written by Gwen Stefani & Pharrell. Blu-ray adds "The Making of Shine With Gwen Stefani & Pharrell."
Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a brilliant college lit professor leading a secret double life as a high-stakes gambler. He borrows money from his wealthy mother and further complicates his life with a relationship with one of his students. When he's forced to borrow money from a notorious gangster, he places the lives of those he loves in mortal danger. With time running out, he must enter the criminal underworld and risk everything to keep from losing it all. Remake of the 1974 film written by James Toback, directed by Karel Reisz and starring James Caan.
Vitals: Director: Rupert Wyatt. Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Lange.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 111 min., Dramatic Thriller, Box office gross: $33.631 million, Paramount.Blu-ray extras: "Mr. Self Destruct: Inside The Gambler," "Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of The Gambler," "Changing the Game: Adaptation," "In The City: Locations," "Dressing the Players: Costume Design," deleted/extended scenes.
All DVDs are screened on a reference system consisting of a
Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc Player w/SACD & DVD-Audio, a
Rotel RSX-972 Surround Sound Receiver, and Phase Technology 1.1 (front), 33.1 (center),
and 50 (rear) speakers and Power 10 subwoofer.