Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Tops of 2014 - September

THE QUIET ONES was never scary and nearly squandered the talents of Jared Harris and Olivia Cooke.

LOCKE had a fantastic performance by Tom Hardy but the car drama wasn't very inventive in the direction or script departments.

BOYHOOD didn't fully blow me away but it was a life-affirming, impressive work of art.

THE NOVEMBER MAN was a forgettable Bourne clone, starring a former Bond, that was bathed in misogyny.

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW was a, wait for it, shoddily made found footage horror movie but I was able to like a few of its elements, such as when it becomes NATIONAL TREASURE-lite.

SABOTAGE was bloody good when David Ayer was present and hard to follow when Skip Woods was present.

ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART III was an amazing travesty. I literally couldn't stop laughing throughout it. So glad the trilogy ended on a "high" note.

WRINKLES just wallowed in despair throughout and had nothing more to say other than "Alzheimer's sucks!"

THINK LIKE A MAN TOO was extremely useless, wasting a great cast and barely had any connective tissue to Steve Harvey or his books.

Back to 9. Need to watch more, especially since there is only three months left.

Hooray, I finally have a top ten!

Yeah, I was waiting to re-watch Under the Skin as part of the celebration of Halloween. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Best Films of 2014

1. The Lego Movie

2. The Raid 2

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

4. Snowpiercer

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

6. Boyhood

7. The Grand Budapest Hotel

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

9. Muppets Most Wanted

10. Under the Skin

Worst Films of 2014

1. God's Not Dead

2. A Million Ways to Die in the West

3. Atlas Shrugged: Part III

4. The Other Woman

5. Heaven Is For Real

6. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

7. Winter's Tale

8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

9. I, Frankenstein

10. Son of God

11. The Legend of Hercules

12. Tarzan

13. Enemies Closer

14. Welcome to the Jungle

15. The Nut Job

Friday, September 26, 2014

Think Like a Man Too - Review

All of the cast members from the surprisingly successful first film return in order to pull an Adam Sandler and enjoy a free vacation at Las Vegas, in this frivolous sequel. Michael and Candace (Terence J and Regina Hall respectively) are finally getting married, much to the chagrin of Michael's hypocritical Catholic mother, and both want to enjoy one final wild night with their bros/girlfriends. Too bad director Tim Story and the screenwriting team of David A. Newman & Keith Merryman refuse to budge beyond their sitcom sensibilities, once again squandering the talent of their great cast. Now, I gave THINK LIKE A MAN a certified pass because it gave just enough material for all of the actors and actresses to sink their teeth into and had many funny and moving moments, despite the sheer fact that all of the easily solvable conflicts had to be stretched out in order to fill up an unjust two hour running time. Here, THINK LIKE A MAN TOO doesn't even have the common courtesy of possessing a slap-dashed script. The movie instead has a glorified outline, where each couple is given a pale form of friction during their intro scene, then have to rest it under their butts for the majority of the story, until the epilogue finally comes around and they then have to quickly settle their squabble. What takes the focus away from them? Kevin Hart, of course. Here, Hart is eye-rollingly lame, constantly whining about his money woes, which director Story thought is more interesting to behold than people partying and having soulful discussions. He also thought that an off-the-wall music video set to a female version of Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison", complete with on-screen credits, would be a great Act Two showstopper. Further ruining his baby, Story implements terrible ultra-fast editing and many questionable uses of narration by Hart, whether when he states the obvious of scenes he isn't in or covering up the faults of the production and literally telling you the conversations being said. Despite these many major problems, I didn't get angry with the movie because again, the cast is so damn likable and help make the trim offerings more enjoyable; Romany Malco and Megan Good's relationship is still a joy to watch and the new addition of Wendi McLendon-Covey is a great choice. Though I was able to find some minor pleasure, I hope that no further sequels be churned out, especially since Steve Harvey and his book aren't important to the plot anymore.


Wrinkles - Review

When his son is finally unable to handle the strain of dealing with his growing display of Alzheimer's, Emilio is checked into a senior citizen medical facility. There, the former bank manager becomes friends with his mischievous roommate Miguel and tries to combat the fate of being sent upstairs with the other "assisted" residents. This Spanish animated film has a nicely warm comic-book aesthetic, which works wonders during the few surreal scenes. However, I don't really see or get its main point. It's just a hour and a half of human misery; its animated design doesn't cushion any of the weighty matter. Furthermore, except for Miguel, every single character has some sort of crippling disability that it makes you wonder why the foreshadowing second floor is even necessary when everyone needs full-time assistance. If you do somehow forgive its continuous display of elderly grief, you may be appeased by the picture but it can not erase the torment of the unquestionably ill-humored final scene.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sabotage - Review

A DEA undercover assault team barges through a drug lord's mansion and funnels out $10 million in cartel cash. When it comes time to pick up the loose change, the team finds out that someone else has taken it off their hands. After sitting through several months of questioning by their superiors, the band is brought back together, only to then find themselves being picked off one by one by a mysterious assailant. SABOTAGE is brought to us by director David Ayer and his co-writer Skip Woods; both are infamous figures in the action genre but only one of them is actually talented in his work and capable of crafting a pitch black, twisted cop thriller. Surprise to no one, it's not Skippy, who here has spun a confusingly stupid tale of disturbing backstories and quadruple-crosses. The jacked-up nimrods spend so much time circle-jerking that it takes until Act Three for them to remember about the money mystery and begin to think that one of their own is the perpetrator. Even when the riddle is solved, the final reveal is incredibly flaccid and the film oddly continues to linger on with a pointless bar shootout. Thankfully, Ayer was present to salvage what he could from Skippy's crayon drawings and inject a good dose of vicious wit. Soaked throughout in blood, Ayer gives the movie's harsh violence a humorously perverted twist so the viewer can breathe a little yet still relish the excitement. He also implements several little sidebars where the characters have a conversational break, in order to show off his crude wordplay and show why we should care for the players. But my favorite inclusions by him are the female personalities present in forefront, i.e. Olivia Williams and Mireille Enos. Both actresses are given great figures that subscribe to the notion of work hard, play hard: Williams enjoys cutting through the bullshit in order to stop the body-piling while Enos goes to dark depths as a drug-fueled livewire. The strong female focus of the picture also grants us the rare opportunity of seeing a gender-swapped version of a certain plot device Gail Simone is famously known for decrying. All of this helps make SABOTAGE a good, not stellar follow-up to END OF WATCH. Now, if you do think I'm incorrect in saying that Skip Woods is the one truly to blame for the film's faults, I respond with a simple gesture: Go out and watch the Ayer-scripted movies that have prominent female characters, than watch Skippy's. No further questions?


As Above, So Below - Review

An adventure-seeking scholar, her documentarian, her former flame/expert linguist, and a trio of French ne'er-do-wells venture into the inner depths of the Paris Catacombs in order to uncover, of all things buried amid the skulls and bones, the Philosopher's Stone. Unfortunately, they don't take that left at Albuquerque and eventually find themselves at the gates of Hell. I was genuinely surprised with the aspirations of this film, especially since it is one of the few, if not only, found footage horror movies to tap into "real-life" historical elements, i.e. not a generic ghost story, before walking us through the usual supernatural theatrics. It begins by informing the viewer of the legend of Nicolas Flamel and his supposed theories on alchemy, then jumps to having the group run around Paris and pulling off NATIONAL TREASURE-like capers and puzzle-solving. Once they enter the tight underground corridors, however, the rollicking picture starts to fall apart at the seams. There are some more intriguing riddles that need to be stumped in order for the pack to continue onward and/or survive their current predicament but they often make way for the poor, hamfisted spooks. I shouldn't actually use that word because AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is never scary, nor frightening at the slightest. The claustrophobia could have been a good working agent for terror but the viewer will quickly realize that the cramp passageways help make the movie appear more linear and straightforward than it already is. Adding to the sheer frustration are the shoddy camerawork, which often cuts out or shakes more than a Chihuahua during a thunderstorm, and the dumb creative decision to have every character possess a horrible backstory. This should have been a film that I ruthlessly trash, a clear contender for the worst of the year list, but I honestly walked away from it annoyed yet a bit satisfied. Maybe it was the two times when the main camera is used as a weapon against mummies, or the laughable dummy fall, or the idea of a man having the occupation of breaking-and-entering church bell repairman that made me give it a slap on the wrist.


The November Man - Review

Former CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is called in by his ex-chief to help extract an agent/former lover of his from the inner circle of Russia. Before she can deliver the incriminating evidence of a major president candidate's dirty past, she is killed by her fellow CIA operatives, which causes Peter to go on an answering-seeking killing spree, much to the chagrin of his former protege (Luke Bracey). Helmed by resident B-movie director Roger Donaldson, the movie has a generic yet basically slick presentation, with many clearly thought out action and suspense sequences. The only time he truly stumbles is the ill-fitting coda, which is a total slapdash job and an ugly note to end on. However, the true ugliness of the picture is the script's rampant misogyny. All of the female characters, except for a terrible third-party assassin, are treated to some form of hostile action, whether it is abuse, rape, or being a hostage/"woman in refrigerator". They also are all shown to be bumbling, bad at their job, and/or need a man in their life to have and to hold their hand. This is very egregious to tolerate, especially since Olga Kurylenko is given the female lead role yet is forced to act far weaker and stupider than she actually is. Need further proof? There's a recurring female CIA agent whose name will escape you because she is constantly referred to solely as "Tits". Even if you drop your morals enough to tolerate this behavior, you're still left with just another Bourne clone, that also features the second most overused action movie twist behind "The Joker's Jail Plan". The film's only redeeming element is obviously Brosnan, who gets to play an old and wry spin of his James Bond persona but also is given the opportunity to show off the really vicious side of being a spy. But again, nothing will truly be gained from watching this throwaway actioner.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Locke - Review

Leaving his office for the night and expected to helm a major construction job the next morning, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) suddenly decides to take a long drive to London and engage in many phone conversations that will shape the course of his life. LOCKE has the unique creative design of being entirely set within the confines of its main character's car; there are no crosscuts, no split-screens, nothing more than what can be seen and/or experienced by its protagonist. The only warmth and presence of outsiders are the fleeting lights of the roadways and the Bluetooth display on the dashboard. Though it is an admirable feat to accomplish for a film, writer-director Steven Knight doesn't totally pull it off. The camerawork and visual design doesn't expand into further interesting angles after the first quarter of the picture and the film's repetitive nature of it taking a small beat, then the next volatile phone call, then another small beat, is frustratingly tedious. But the real deal-breaker is the plot; despite all of the work and family turmoil featured throughout, I simply did not care about any of the bloke's problems. Soaping up the story doesn't make it more dirty, Mr. Knight, but it does make it more flavorless. The only thing that keeps the movie in check and entertaining is Hardy. Stuck with a real-life cold and constantly perturbed that his "sound" advice and requests are falling on deaf ears, he elevates the slim material given to him and delivers a wild, unnerving performance. Every time he said "cement" or "practical steps", I felt like he was going to go further into the deep end and possibly do something heinous. Alas, it never happens but Hardy's great acting does warrant LOCKE a look.


Monday, September 1, 2014

The Quiet Ones - Review

A group of English college students and their supernatural-disapproving professor (Jared Harris) are conducting a thorough psychological study on a human test subject named Jane (Olivia Cooke). When the funding is pulled and they are booted from their city dwelling, they all move out to a derelict house in the woods, where of course Jane will finally reveal and expose her literal inner demons. THE QUIET ONES has three things going for itself: a delectable Harris, an unnerving performance by Cooke, and a range of sexy 70's outfits that supporting actress Erin Richards pours herself into. The rest of the film's offerings is the same ole horror theatrics, so expect to experience many lame jump scares and a utter lack of forward momentum. Every potential viewer, whether or not they saw the trailer, obviously knows that the real action doesn't come until the very end and when it reaches that section, the results are more laughable than scary. The few different story ideas it's able to bring to the table, such as switching between found footage and standard storytelling or displaying why the group needs to keep coming back to the house, are a bit clever but still not pleasing to fully bare. Not a truly worthy rental, especially with Halloween around the corner.


A Look at Fall 2014

Despite the low attendance numbers and drop in revenue, this year's summer offerings were often pretty good or at least interesting. We had some big duds and underperformers yet there were some fun to be mined in all of them, even in a Brett Ratner movie. Well, maybe not in that Spider-Man one but you get my drift. Now, we have to deal with the Oscar contenders and wannabes, the major new films helmed by auteurs, the scary, the strange, the ones that go better with popcorn, the family dreck, the holiday cash-ins, the last of the blockbusters, and some more bad Christian flicks.

Let's check out and go thoroughly through all of the offerings coming out in the last four months of 2014.

September 5, the first weekend of the fall, only has one, count 'em, one new wide release film and it's a doozy. The Identical is a rock & roll original movie being released in an era where no one really cares for this sort anymore. It tells of a Elvis-like son of a preacher man, who seeks to be famous and make rock music, just like his Elvis-like idol, who just happens to look just like him. Not hard to figure out that plot twist. The only reason for it getting a theatrical release is its underpining of Christian themes. Its only competition, of all things, is Forrest Gump in IMAX. Unless you're a hardcore 90's kid or a baby boomer, no one should seek out this 20-year-old movie, especially considering its legacy as a great film has been called into question nowadays. On the indie scene, we have our first two big Sundance films of the season. The musical God Help the Girl, devised by indie rocker Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian fame, tells of two plucky young adults who form a pop band and fall in love. Looks both ultra twee and charming. Wetlands, on the other hand, is more disturbingly artsy and vomit friendly than whimsical. The German feature is about a woman who models herself as, no joke, "a living pussy hygiene experiment." If you can somehow stomach the NSFW trailer, clothed under a "pink band", maybe you can perversely enjoy it. Elsewhere, Kelly & Cal has Juliette Lewis tapping into her alternative music side as a former Riot grrrl punk turned housewife, who forges a bond with a cynical paraplegic. Frontera, a western mystery where Ed Harris tries to solve his wife's murder, is also given a limited theatrical release but you're better off seeing it on VOD, where it has been available for some time now.

September 12 gives us both an unwarranted sequel and another questionable wide release film with Ashley Judd in the cast. Dolphin Tale 2 reacquaints us of the handicapped dolphin Winter and her boring human companions. I was flabbergasted when the original movie became a sleeper hit so hopefully, this banal baby fare can finally sleep with the fishes. For the adults, No Good Deed features Idris Elba as an escaped prisoner, who terrorizes a lonely mother (Taraji P. Henson), simply because she was home. A run-of-the-mill thriller but Elba is pretty terrifying and he has one of his trusted Luther directors (Sam Miller) at the helm. The rest of the offerings have shorter theater counts but they vary in quality and interest. Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt? will thankfully conclude one of the worst trilogies in film history. Once again, all of the actors have been replaced, the production looks like rubbish, and a crap trailer was spewed forth to taint up the internet. It will surely bomb and have no effect on the coming elections, much to the chagrin of its producers. The Drop, adapted from a short story by Dennis Lehane, has Tom Hardy caught up with the dilemmas that come when working at a bar that doubles as a drop-off for criminal money. The film will be very noteworthy come release because it contains James Gandolfini's last performance before his untimely death. Also, the dog is going to die, isn't it? The Skeleton Twins, a black comedy about two estranged siblings who reconcile over things like Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now", already has some awards buzz for Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Bird People has Josh Charles seeking solace in a Paris hotel, where he eventually comes across an equally defeated cleaning woman. One of the most kooky works screened during this year's Cannes, it is sure to wow the critics. Not to be undone, another ambitious Cannes entry, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, premieres. It's a bit hard to explain the gimmick of this but I'll give it a shot: Writer-director Ned Benson wanted to tell an arty romantic drama about a struggling couple, played by James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. He did two cuts of the films (His and Her), which tell the story from the perspective of the respective gender. These two movies will eventually have small distribution in October but this specific film, however, gives us the whole wide picture. Makes sense?

September 17 is one of the few Wednesday releases this fall schedule, and it is giving us a future cult film, The Guest. A handsome ex-soldier (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens) is welcomed into the parents' home of his departed buddy/comrade in arms. He slowly bonds with his friend's siblings until some shady individuals try to come in-between them. I'm very mixed about director Adam Wingard and his past work but this caught my eye back during Sundance and I'm always a sucker for anything that reminds me of Drive.

September 19 certainly has a range of films targeting specific demos in the marketplace. For the young adults, they get to follow along with The Maze Runner, the film adaptation of the popular sci-fi book. In it, a boy with amnesia (ugh!) finds himself surrounded by a mammoth maze. With the help of other boys in peril, he may find the key to make it to the exit. I should be cautious with its YA material but the premise is kinda cool and the marketing department has crafted some amazing posters for it. Guaranteed to be #1 at the box office, it may end up being a worthy choice to get lost in. For the adults and comedy seekers, This Is Where I Leave You has a cavalcade of stars (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, etc.) crammed into one house, bickering with each other when they are not mourning the death of the patriarch. One of two Shawn Levy directed films coming this season (Dear God, Why?), it looks to be two hours of white people problems. For the cult fanatics, Kevin Smith unleashes Tusk, his horror-comedy about a mad scientist who surgically transforms a podcasting reporter into a walrus. As much as I like Michael Parks in a juicy role, I can not stand Smith or his films, especially after Red State. For the action junkies, the awkwardly titled A Walk Among Tombstones has Liam Neeson displaying his usual set of skills, in order to locate a kidnapped woman. Sounds frivolous but it comes from Scott Frank, the man who made the underrated crime flick The Lookout. In the limited market, Tracks will finally come out, after missing its previous release date on May 23. It was most likely moved in order for Mia Wasikowska to get awards notice for her turn as Robyn Davidson, who completed a camel-riding trip across Australia. As for Hector and The Search For Happiness, it may have Simon Pegg as the titled character, playing a psychiatrist researching what makes us happy, but I don't see anything funny or life-affirming in this Eat, Pray, Love / Walter Mitty wannabe.

September 24 is another odd Wednesday opening: Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, a French animated movie about a young boy with a peculiar heart defect. I would say you should give it a shot but you're better off skipping the cinema and just wait for it on October 7, when it's placed on store shelves and on demand services.

September 26 unearths The Boxtrolls, Laika's latest stop-motion animated feature. Like every effort from them, I wasn't exactly enamored with the idea at first. Nonetheless, the comedic adventures of the little buggers and their human son eventually won me over. It may not match the high bar set by ParaNorman but it will most likely be a cute gem. TV fans rejoice, the film adaptation of The Equalizer arrives at its scheduled appointment. I was looking highly forward to this project when Nicolas Winding Refn was attached but then his "creative differences" with Denzel caused him to leave. Replacement mastermind Antoine Fuqua knows how to do action and the previews show it to be a very bloody affair, yet still I feel it's necessary to read the reviews before plucking down the cash, for what appears to be Man on Fire 2. As for the small seaters: Pride crosses the Atlantic to usher in the fogies to the cinema, as the real-life tale of British gay activists standing in support for jobless miners in Wales will positively have them in stitches. Believe Me seemingly ruins a potent satire of Christian fundraising by supplying a ton of frat douchebags and no laughs. Days and Nights looks like straight-to-DVD trash, as Katie Holmes headlines an alternative take of "The Seagull". The only one of this lot I'm looking forward to is Dear vs. Bear, a Bollywood version of Grizzly, produced by the Indian-equivalent of Tommy Wiseau. Check out its marvelous trailer in order to get hyped.

October 3 kicks off the Halloween season and already, we start off with some chilling choices. One of the most anticipated features of 2014, David Fincher's take on Gone Girl will obviously be the weekend's hot ticket. Ben Affleck has the chance to fight back all of his online naysayers with a strong performance here. However, the biggest test of the movie is its new ending to the story and how those who read the book will react once the credits roll. Spawned from the creepy prologue of last year's The Conjuring comes Annabelle, the solo feature for the titled doll. Even though it has James Wan's scare tactics, the movie looks more laughably dumb and old-fashioned than as a bonafide terror machine. For the evangelicals, The Rapture is more frightening than some porcelain thing, hence why they will turn out for the Hollywood version of Left Behind. Mocked viciously for its hokey design and starring Nicolas Cage, the remake looks to be a bad movie lover's dream. Given a small push before its expansive rollout in the next two weeks, Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children is an eerie hyperlink story about humanity's obsession with technological communication. Its trailer hints that the entire movie may be done through texts and other computer means, as part of a thesis about the lack of real human interaction nowadays. It remains to be seen where exactly Reitman will go with the picture and whether he can overcome the setback of his last film, the movie that made us laugh at pie-making, Labor Day. Also premiering to sucker in Oscar voters is The Good Lie, a shameless white savior flick where Reese Witherspoon helps out a Sudanese refugee. Oh no, I just tasted something bad in the back of my mouth. Then, there's the true horror show: The Hero of Color City. Run away at the sight of a G-rated movie about anthropomorphized crayons!

October 10 is a weekend devoted to counter-programming. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is Disney's attempt to win over audiences by stretching out a tiny children's book into 80 minutes, and load it with stars like Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell, even though the film calls for a kid protagonist. The trailer pretty much gives away all of the movie, including the plot twist of Alex's family inheriting his bad mojo, so there really is no need to enter its realm. The Judge is for the adults, specifically seniors, as the John Grisham-like plot of a slimy lawyer seeking to defend his estranged father from taking a murder rap, is an easy worm for them to get hooked on. Don't let the mere presence of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall fool you into paying to see something so sickly. Since Tyler Perry is seemingly licking his wounds, now that his empire is slowly crumbling at his feet, Lionsgate needed a big African-American drama for the season, hence why we have Addicted. What I currently dub as Temptation 2: More Confessions, the movie is simply about a married woman having sexual liaisons with other men. That's it. Why couldn't this just premiere on Lifetime or BET, mixed in with the rest of their respective crap? These three major films all look dumb, so I'm very glad the limitedly released selections are better. Whiplash, the major winner at this year's Sundance, looks riveting and downright uncomfortable, as Miles Tiller has to expand his musical skills as a drummer under the strict guidance of his professor J.K. Simmons. Another noteworthy Sundance film coming out this week is The Overnighters, a poweful documentary about how a town in North Dakota became divided after a wave of desperate job-seekers flooded in. Kill the Messenger, a real-life drama where Jeremy Renner uncovers how the CIA gave lax treatment to the rising drug flow into the States, seems fine but basic. One Chance is finally, finally pushed out the door but since it will be playing for free on Yahoo's website weeks before this theatrical date, you should know what to do.

October 17 is overstuffed with films. The Book of Life easily captured my full attention, with its creative decision to mix an animated love triangle with Día de Muertos imagery. I gladly would celebrate its holiday theming and adventurous flair over Dracula Untold, the first film of Universal Studios' major revamping of its Monsters franchise. This soulless product tells us the origin story of Dracula, because apparently it needed to be complicated. It should just stay in the coffin because I fear this will be a big bomb. Oddly added to this weekend is Fury, the WWII tank drama from David Ayer and starring Brad Pitt. Though it should be more suitable to release it during November, especially around Veterans Day, Columbia decided to showcase the war heroics early, probably in fear of it being passed over. Regardless, it's nice to have some presents before the holidays kick off. Nicholas Sparks rears his ugly head around our way with his latest sloppy romance, The Best of Me. I love me some James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan but its story of "first love is eternal", coupled with all of the usual Sparks tropes like Southern beauty and disapproving parents, has me running to the toilet. The limited releases are bountiful and eclectic, and you can't get more eclectic than Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman. Michael Keaton gets to mock his own personal life here, playing a mentally unstable star who can't move past his previous fame as a masked superhero. Surrealism and underwear wrestling ensue. It's being getting some high marks right now at the Venice Film Festival so expectations are high. Justin Simien gets to fill in Spike Lee's shoes with his Sundance entry Dear White People, a harsh satire involving African-American college students and how they are treated by white culture. I'm interested in it but nothing really in the trailer seems funny, not even nervously. Attacking college life also features prominently in A Matter of Faith, an awful sounding Christian film about an overprotective father who's shocked that his daughter is taught evolution. Uh, where was she during junior high and high school? I made it through God's Not Dead, so this piece of shit will be a cinch. Camp X-Ray has Kristen Stewart as a guard at Guantanamo Bay. Have not heard a lot of nice things about it. And finally, us Americans get our chance to see the latest (penultimate?) Studio Ghibli film, The Tale of Princess Yaguya, based on the classic Japanese folk story.

October 24 doesn't really offer anything interesting so you might want to have different weekend plans. Ouija is Hasbro's second attempt at making a successful movie based on one of their board games. It should be a can't-miss product, since the supernatural nature of the game can be easily tied around a simple ghost story. The problem is that a ton of movies have already mined all of this potential, from rom-coms like Only You to horror films like Paranormal Activity. They might make a mint with it, easily earning back its ultra-low production budget and more so, but no viewer is really going into this expecting a high caliber work of art. Laggies has Keira Knightley hanging out with high schooler Chloë Grace Moretz and her father Sam Rockwell, for stunted adulthood reasons. I heard it's charming and Rockwell does well in it but I'm hesitant to jump in right now, especially after that disgraceful movie poster. St. Vincent is the "cranky Bill Murray" comedy that was to originally come out in April. Now that the trailer has hit the web, I can safely say that my harsh early judgment is justified. Even the indies have it rough, with the sole new release being White Bird in a Blizzard, the Gregg Araki film that was laughed out of Sundance.

October 31, the day of Halloween, thankfully has nothing but horror-themed movies. Before I Go To Sleep has Nicole Kidman living the horrific nightmare of being Drew Barrymore's character in 50 First Dates. She plays a woman who loses her memory every night and slowly tries to figure out what caused the problem and who her "husband" really is. Doesn't resonate well with me. Instead, I'm more thrilled for Nightcrawler, a L.A. thriller where Jake Gyllenhaal takes up the profession of an underground crime journalist, meaning he's more akin to the paparazzi than a respectful reporter. Looks like a dark rush of adrenaline. Alexander Aja pops back into the limelight, thanks to the black comedy Horns. Adapted from the Joe Hill novel, Daniel Radcliffe stars as a murder suspect who wakes up one day with devilish horns and supernatural powers. Looks very interesting and funny but those who have read the book have said that it gets really, really dark towards the end. The fun size treats, aka the limited releases, include The ABCs of Death 2, where 26 different directors have a chance to gross up the alphabet, and Why Don't You Play in Hell?, a demented Japanese film where a group of young filmmakers get tangled up with the yakuza. The latter comes from Shion Sono (Cold Fish).

November 7 lets Christopher Nolan's Interstellar rocket into theaters. All we know about it right now is that it involves a group of space explorers trying to save the Earth by traveling through a worm-hole. Much of the plot is still being kept under wraps but many have labeled the movie as his version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or worst, Contact. Though I can't wait to see it, I'm keeping my expectations low, largely because of that Contact comparison and the fact that Nolan had spurned me with his last movie. It will be tough for me this weekend because Big Hero 6 also opens, suitable for those of the public that want to walk out smiling. Based on an obscure Marvel superhero team (sound familiar?), it features a teenage savant, his blimpishly plastic robot, a female speedster, a guy who can transform into kaiju, an expert swordsman, and a girl with a magical Tardis-like purse. I firmly believe this film could be the next Guardians of the Galaxy for them. The art theaters certainly get their fair share of major releases. Let's get the worthless of the lot out of the way first: Jessabelle, a horror film that was to be thrown to the Labor Day wolves, somehow get special treatment here. The Better Angels, a strange Malick-like take on a brief period of Abraham Lincoln's life, is given a chance to wow viewers, even though many at Sundance were flabbergasted by it. Rosewater is the directorial debut of comedian/satirist Jon Stewart. Though it has a commendable story, that of the true story of journalist Maziar Bahari's imprisonment by Iranian officials, it looks to be a generic feel-good product. Then, we have the big Oscar bait film, the Stephen Hawkings biopic The Theory of Everything. My initial reaction after seeing its trailer: A Beautiful Mind much?

November 14 is the first of many weekends to come where the competition in Hollywood is so one-sided, the pickings are very limited. Looking to make a dent and possibly be the #1 grossing movie is Dumb and Dumber To, the 20-years-in-the-making sequel to the comedy classic. Ever since the trailer premiered, I have had nothing but bad thoughts about this film, especially with its frequent sexual humor. No joke, I'm actually looking more forward to Beyond the Lights, the newest film from Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball). Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who broke through earlier this year with her performance in Belle, plays a tortured pop star who falls in love with the police officer who saved her from a suicide dive. Yeah, it has the usual elements like evil business manager, played here by Minnie Driver, but something about it touches my heart. Starting its slow run to the Oscars is Foxcatcher, the highly anticipated Bennett Miller film. Considered a major contender last year, the film was delayed in order to have a firm chance at winning Best Picture. It premiered at this year's Cannes, where critics hailed it as the true winner of the festival, even though it walked away with Best Director. It looks pretty devastating and Steve Carell is very creepy under all of that makeup. Another Cannes film coming out this weekend is The Homesman, the Tommy Lee Jones directed western that gives him and Hilary Swank a chance for some award nominations. And, if you are a bad movie connoisseur or a brain-dead member of the flock, you can check out the limited engagement of Saving Christmas, Kirk Cameron's whiny plea for Christ to be in Christmas.

November 21 gives center stage to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, which is sure to dominate the box office for the next couple of weeks. I would be more excited for it if we didn't have to deal with the standard final book-splitting business model. Elsewhere, The Imitation Game plays first in NY and LA, as it is The Weinstein Company's big Oscar contender. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turning, the man who became a British war hero for cracking the Enigma Code of the Nazis, only to later be prosecuted for being a homosexual. Again, like the previously mentioned Jon Stewart movie, the film's interesting true story is completely negated by its middlebrow nature. The only other limited theatrical release is strangely V/H/S: Viral, the third entry in the tape-based horror anthology series. You're better of checking it out online, when it lands on October 23. As evident by its title, the shorts this time around will be YouTube videos, which contradicts the entire setup of the franchise.

November 26, the day before Thanksgiving, should have been a plentiful harvest. Unfortunately, none of the films look to have the sustaining power of last year's Frozen, so Mockingjay will most likely reign supreme. Horrible Bosses 2 continues the dark misadventures of Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis, as they decide to kidnap the son of the investor who sunk their promising business firm. The first film won me over so much, I awarded it Best Screenplay during my year-end discussion, which in retrospect was not a good decision, especially since the screenwriters later gave us The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. That being said, none of the original creators are returning here, instead being lead by writer-director Sean Anders, the guy who gave us some of the worst comedies in recent memory (Sex Drive, She's Out of My League, Mr. Popper's Penguins, That's My Boy). Stay far away. Penguins of Madagascar has, well, the penguin characters from the Madagascar movies engaging in spy adventures. I theorize it will continue the losing streak for Dreamworks Animation. Apparently, Paradise Lost (aka Escobar: Paradise Lost), a Last King of Scotland-like drama where Josh Hutcherson dates the niece of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, is also coming out this weekend. It's making its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this week, but the lack of promotion and news of it causes me to believe that it will get delayed to next year.

December 5 is a certifiable skip weekend. The sole major release is The Pyramid, a found footage horror movie where a group of archeologists find themselves lost in an unearthed pyramid. Expect them all to die horribly, from what appears to be Anubis creatures, and the movie to be near unwatchable, due to the lack of proper lighting and camerawork. For clear Oscar consideration, there's Wild, the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her self-affirming backpacking journey from California to Washington. I'm more moved by the previously mentioned Tracks than this borefest. It's pretty much the female version of 127 Hours, and like that movie, the only nominations it will get will be in the acting department, especially for Reese Witherspoon.

December 12, ugh, bequeathes Exodus: Gods and Kings, the latest attempt by Hollywood to bring back the biblical epics of the past. Directed by Ridley Scott, it re-tells the story of Moses, or more importantly The Ten Commandments, considering that Caucasian actors are playing the characters in this day and age. Every time I see Joel Edgerton as Ramses, I feel sick to my stomach. Such as with the treatment of Noah earlier in the year, I don't think audiences will be happy with this iteration. We are all better off waiting for the director's cut to hit video, as per usual with Scott films. For the kids sick of more Sunday School, they can go sneak into the theaters showing Demonic, aka James Wan Presents Demonic. The bare details of the film is that it involves a psychologist and a detective investigating a series of deaths related to ghost summoning. As with last week, it's very odd that horror films are coming out during the most wonderful time of the year. The New Yorkers have it better this weekend because Paul Thomas Anderson's latest pre-ordained masterpiece Inherent Vice comes out there. An adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, the neo-noir features Anderson's new favorite actor Joaquin Phoenix as a P.I. looking into a possible abduction angle, as a favor for an ex-flame. Its reception at the New York Film Festival in October will determine its fate with critics. There's also R100, but many will avoid seeing the Japanese cult movie about a man battling dominatrixes.

December 17 is the special Wednesday opening for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which will hopefully be the last of the LOTR films to be produced under Peter Jackson's watch. At this point in time, it's fair to say that the general consensus of these Hobbit films is mixed to poor. Even though the previous movie was hailed as a mighty sequel, everybody is now in agreement that this book didn't need to be made into a trilogy.

December 19 has the battle of family tripe. In the red corner (get it?), Annie will surely draw in female viewers and those who wish to see a modern version of the Broadway musical. I'm not enamored with this remake, largely because the musical is not one of my favorites and it looks more like a commercial than a soulful rendition. Still, my grumpy view will be outweighed by the many viewers who love the tunes and are willing to pay to see it on the big screen again. Unless, of course, they are racist assholes. In the blue corner, and I do mean blue, we have the monkey piss-soaked Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. Ben Stiller, surely crushed by the box office failure of his Walter Mitty last year, returns to his mercenary ways as the blank security guard of the Museum of Natural History, this time seeking a way to keep the museum magic alive. It doesn't have a returning Amy Adams so there's no reason to sit through this. Oh look, another biopic to be presented to Oscar voters. Granted, Mr. Turner has a mighty pedigree, what with it being helmed by Mike Leigh and featuring the Best Actor of Cannes 2014 (Timothy Spall), so I don't see this film falling by the wayside come February. Also sneaking in in order to score a nom for Best Foreign Language Film is Winter Sleep, the Palme d'Or winner that's 3+ hours of a grumpy hotel manager. Hooray!

December 25, Christmas Day, offers up many presents. Using my x-ray glasses, I can see through the wrapping and spot no truly good gift being handed out to the general public. Into the Woods is Disney's blockbuster take on the Steven Sondheim musical. I adore the original theatrical production but what is so far being presented here is another attempt by Disney to remake the success of Alice in Wonderland. Why else is Johnny Depp so prominently being pushed in the marketing, despite playing the most throwaway character? I also have no confidence in director Rob Marshall, who hasn't been able to match his Chicago days for quite some time, or even make a simple decent film. However, it is the only product here that I have some interest in seeing. Case in point: Paddington, a feature film devoted to the beloved children's character. Unfortunately, several controversies have already eroded the film's reputation: Colin Firth was the original voice of the bear, but he was later publicly dropped from the role and replaced by Ben Whishaw; Early promotional mockups led to many online commenters to decry them as inherently creepy, which then caused many to photoshop the bear into horror images; and finally, the teaser trailer showed that the lovable bear would be engaging in standard crass kid humor, like drinking from the toilet. This is all Britain's fault, so don't blame Hollywood. Unbroken is the second film to be directed by Angelina Jolie and tells the unusually extravagant true story of Louie Zamperini, a man who ran at the Olympics, survived both a plane crash and drifting out at sea, plus lived through the hell of Japanese war camps. Again, another Oscar baiting biopic, just like Selma, which recounts the 1965 marches for black voting rights. To make the holiday more tense, Columbia is releasing the extremely controversial comedy The Interview, despite the threats from North Korea. It doesn't look very funny to me right now, just like the unnecessary sequel Hot Tub Time Machine 2. After seeing his take on Jersey Boys, I'm certainly not looking forward to Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, the biopic (again!) of Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in U.S. military history. And to conclude, Tim Burton returns with Big Eyes, a strange biopic (what am I going to say?!) about Walter Keane, an artist who became (in)famous for making unsettling paintings of big-eyed kids, and Margaret Keane, who was the real artist behind them.

My Top Picks of Fall 2014

1. Gone Girl
2. Big Hero 6
3. Nightcrawler
4. Birdman
5. Whiplash
6. Interstellar
7. The Guest
8. Foxcatcher
9. Inherent Vice
10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

Of course, there are some films not mentioned here or included because I frankly had a hard time determining their release time frame. Examples include Two Days, One Night, The Babadook, and What We Do In The Shadows. Also, there is a possibility that any of the featured films will later be delayed.

I hope your movie experiences will be as good as mine, but probably less cynical.