Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best/Worst of 2014

Movies that were fun, exciting, challenging and most of all, entertaining-
Best of 2014
1 Whiplash- Old story told in a fresh and exciting way. Great acting and great music.
2 Guardians of the Galaxy- Pure fun start to finish
3 Boyhood- An incredible piece of art. A true original
4 Snowpiercer- Wild Sci-fi ride. Fun and thought provoking.
5 The Babadook- Scares the crap out of you without spilling a lot of blood.
6 The Imitation Game- Excellent acting. Fascinating story
7 The Grand Budapest Hotel- Another original. Very clever and fun.
8 Birdman- Great ensemble cast. Intense and intelligent. Unique direction.
9 Love is Strange- Terrific chemistry between Alfred Molina and John Lithgow. Smart, touching and affecting.
10 Into the Woods- Another great ensemble. Amazing Sondheim songs and a terrific story from James Lapine. Excellent movie adaptation.
Honorable Mention-
Selma- History comes alive.
We Are the Best- teenage girls form punk rock band. Anarchy in Norway.
Nightcrawler- Tied for creepiest movie of the year.
Foxcatcher- Tied for creepiest movie of the year.
American Sniper- Tremendous job by Bradley Cooper.
Force Majeure- Insightful family drama/comedy.
Worst of 2014
1 Sex Tape- Embarrassing for everyone involved.
2 Godzilla- Leave the old boy to rest.
3 Noah- What were they thinking?
4 The Equalizer- Too violent with no reason, even for me.
5 The Monuments Men- Nice idea. Boring outcome.
6 The Judge- Old story, old way. Boring and predictable.
7 Wish I Was Here- No I didn't.
8 This is where I Leave You- Imitation “August: Osage County”
9 Top Five- Self indulgent and not that funny
10 Lucy- violent with a ridiculous premise.


          Angelina Jolie directs the film adaptation of the best selling true story of Louis Zamperini. It is a remarkable tale of survival during World War II. The book by author Laura Hillenbrand was an amazing read and truly inspirational. The film version certainly captures the horrors of war and the exhilaration of triumph but somehow misses the soul and spirit of the story.

           Four screenwriters are credited with the story and I think it's a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the meal. Whether its the screenplay or Ms. Jolie's direction, the film covers the physical aspects very well but overshoots the metaphysical features so prominent in the book.

Visually the film is very striking, and Ms. Jolie doesn't shy away from Mr. Zamperini's brutal torture at the hands of the sadistic Japanese soldier that runs the POW camp. She also is intent on sharing every aspect of the 45 days adrift at sea after Mr. Zamperini's plane crashes. She shows us the worst in order to appreciate the endurance and survival even more.

           Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini and he endures every hardship admirably. He is joined by Domnhall Gleeson, Finn Whitrock and Garrett Hedlund as his fellow soldiers. Japanese rock star, Miyavi co-stars as the sadistic "Bird".

            "Unbroken" joins the long list of  "a true story" films this holiday season and it's a film worth seeing but if you want to really experience the true essence of the story, read the book.


     A remarkable time in America is well represented in this recreation of Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. Director Ava DuVernay does a great job, not only sending us back in time to the tumultuous '60's but her direction of star David Oyelowo, humanizes Dr. King and the script by Paul Webb, provides us a complete picture of the man.

       I can't say enough good things about Mr. Oyelowo. Not only is their a physical resemblance to Dr. King, but Mr. Oyelowo captures the speech patterns and body language perfectly. He honors the man with an outstanding performance. Carmen Ejogo co-stars at Coretta Scott King and also does an admirable job. For two very important roles, Ms. DuVernay makes an odd casting choice, picking two high caliber British actors, Tom Wilkinson to portray President Lyndon Baines  Johnson and Tim Roth to portray Alabama Governor, George Wallace. They don't quite disappear into their parts like Mr. Oyelowo but they do manage to convey their character's traits convincingly enough.

      There are a host of other great character actors, including Wendell Pierce, Cuba Gooding Jr., Common, Giovanni Ribisi, Andre Holland and even Oprah Winfrey (also a producer), among others, that round out the cast. It's a wonderful ensemble behind Mr. Oyelowo.

      Weaving actual footage of the march towards the end really enhances the film. Art and life blend together to strengthen the impact. What could have easily been thought of as a Lifetime TV movie of the week becomes so much more.  It's such an important time in our history and it's clear Ms. DuVernay and her cast worked hard to get it right.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Ida (2013) Poster
         This new foreign film takes place in 1960's Poland and has a thin bare plot that is both unusual and very emotional. Anna is a orphan raised in a convent who is about to take her vows to become a nun when she learns of a living relative. Her Mother Superior sends her off to meet her aunt and it is then she learns her real name is Ida and that she was born Jewish.

          Anna/Ida and her aunt set off to learn the fate of her parents, killed in World War Two. The road trip taken by the two completely opposite women leads them down an emotional path that is both solemn and stark. The film is beautifully shot in black & white creating visual poetry in every frame.

          Agata Kulesza plays Anna/Ida and she conveys so much with very little dialog. Agata Trzebuchowska plays her aunt with heartbreaking resolve. It is a story of discovery and lost innocence, sad and humble yet somewhat remarkable in tender little moments.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Big Eyes

     Tis the season for films "based on a true story" and if you aren't old enough to remember the paintings of children with big soulful eyes, you may not be interested in this story. It is, however, a film worth seeing for the over the top performance by Christoph Waltz and the heart breaking performance by Amy Adams.

        Directed without his usual bombastic panache, Tim Burton offers up a very human story that covers many themes over the course of the 10 year marriage of Margaret and Walter Keane. The story takes place starting in the fifties. Margaret is a divorced artist with a young daughter. She is swept off her feet by the charismatic Walter who soon convinces her to let him take credit for her art. What starts out as an accident soon turns into a profit machine with the world convinced Walter is the artist behind the "Big Eyes" paintings. 

          Mr. Burton shoots the film in a bright colorful palette and has only one signature Burton moment but he captures Walter's blowhard charisma and Margaret's pathos perfectly.  Ms. Adams is always a delight to watch and Mr. Waltz makes a perfect villain as Walter, convinced to the end, he has done nothing wrong. The film co-stars Krysten Ritter as Deeann, Margaret's apparently only friend, Danny Houston as  Dick Nolan, a San Francisco gossip columnist who "discovers" the Keanes, and Jason Schwartzman as a snobby gallery owner.

            It's a fascinating story that makes for an entertaining film. Stay through the credits for photos of the real Walter and Margaret Keane along with a fitting coda.

American Sniper

       Director Clint Eastwood is in top form telling the true story of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in American history and a Navy Seal war hero. After "Jersey Boys", I was afraid Mr. Eastwood had lost his touch but at age 82, he is still going strong and with material close to his heart, in a setting he knows well, his direction is smart, crisp and to the point.

        The film opens with a tension filled situation. With his eye on a potential threat, will Chief Kyle shoot or stand down? We will learn the answer eventually but in that moment, we flashback to the beginning of Chief Kyle's story and the introduction of Bradley Cooper as the adult Chris Kyle. Mr. Cooper has worked hard to hone his craft and this film is his best screen performance to date. He is mesmerizing as Kyle in a role that becomes increasingly more complex. As his worried wife at home, Sienna Miller is excellent, trying to keep her family and her sanity together with her husband fighting half a world away.

         Chief Kyle did four tours of duty during the second Iraq war. We watch as his personality changes with each return home. War is hell and I can't even imagine how it changes a a person, let alone a successful sniper. The battle scenes are very realistic and harrowing but it is the scenes back home that are truly heartbreaking. 

          While the film is based on the true story, I do take some exception to Mr. Eastwood's depiction of Chris Kyle as a "saint".  Everyone has their flaws but Mr. Eastwood's vision is narrow and Chief Kyle can do no wrong. "God, country and family" is his motto and he lives it without any blemish everyday. I am in awe of how this man lived his life and what he accomplished but watching his story, I couldn't help feeling he was too perfect. I would have appreciated the man more, flaws and all.

            That aside, it's an important and patriotic story that people should see and Mr. Cooper should be proud of the performance that honors the man as well as the rest of the men and women who defend this country.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Inherent Vice

        An extremely offbeat detective story based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, this film is both noir and stoner comedy rolled into one.  Many people said the book was too complex to work as a film but writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson has found a way to make it work. It reminded me a great deal of Robert Altman's version of "The Long Goodbye" starring Elliot Gould as Phillip Marlowe. It seems like a definite influence.

        On the surface, you have a stoned out private investigator, "Doc" Sportello, played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix helping his ex-girlfriend, Shasta, played by Katherine Waterston but below the surface, there is much more. 

         The story takes place in 1970 in the fictitious coastal town of Gordita Beach Ca. It is still a time of hippies, free love and lots and lots of marijuana. Doc is frequently stoned and the deliberate pace of the film is seemingly stoned right along with him. During the course of his investigation, Doc encounters a host of crazy characters giving actors like Martin Short, Eric Roberts, Benico del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jenna Malone and Maya Rudolph lots of room to play in Mr. Pynchon's world as seen through the eyes of Mr. Anderson. The closest actor you would consider a true co-star is Josh Brolin, who plays a straight laced detective nicknamed "Bigfoot".  He is both a friend and nemesis for Doc and Mr. Brolin is terrific.

         The film runs well over two hours and concerns itself less about an actual plot and more about all of Doc's episodic encounters. Mr. Phoenix is in almost every scene and carries the film. The script is complex and the dialog very smart.  There are numerous funny lines and situations. It's a slow, fuzzy, fun ride but when the high wears off, you will ultimately ask yourself, what just happened?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Into The Woods

       "Be careful what you wish for".  If you are familiar with the Broadway show, this film is based on, then you know what to expect. If not, be warned, this is not your typical fairy tale. I don't particular like musical versions of Broadway shows. Singing a story works better live but in this case, as he did so well with Chicago, director Rob Marshall pulls it off.

          The real stars of the film are the the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim and the screenplay by James Lapine. In a very smart script, they take well known fairy tales, mash them together in a connecting story but twist the outcome. The song lyrics are so smart and clever, as is much of the dialog that it is hard not to appreciate this adult reality check of a fairy tale.

           Bringing life to the songs and dialog is a wonderful cast. Meryl Streep is obviously having a blast hamming it up as the witch that sets things in motion. I completely forgive her for "Mamma Mia". Johnny Depp is terrific as the wolf in what amounts, unfortunately, to just a cameo. Emily Blunt and James Corden are very good as the baker and his wife. Anna Kendrick makes a wonderful Cinderella and Chris Pine spoofs his own image as a pompous Prince Charming. Even the kids,  Daniel Huddlestone and Lillia Crawford are perfect as Jack and Little Red Riding Hood. Tracy Ullman is fun as Jack's mother and Christine Baranski also hams it up as Cinderella's evil stepmother. I could go right down the line with the rest of the cast. Everyone fits their roles perfectly.

              The first half of the film is the lighter side and more traditional of a fairy tale but just when you think the you've seen the happy ending, things grow very grim indeed. It is here where the script throws our characters a reality curve ball. The film goes down a dark path where characters die and life is not all happily ever after. It's a daring move for any musical and it may very well turn off much of it's audience (especially released as a holiday film) but if you really think about the brilliance of the structure and message, you will be glad you went "into the woods".

Top Five

    This is Chris Rock's version of Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories". He asks the same question. "What happens when a comedian wants to be taken seriously?" Unfortunately this film comes off smug and self indulgent. You never get the sense there is any acting going on.

     Mr. Rock makes great use of New York City as a backdrop and has a fine time casting his famous friends in cameos but it all seems worthless. Just watching him go about his daily business, complaining to a NY Times reporter, "played" by Rosario Dawson isn't enough to be satisfying to the viewer. I enjoy Mr. Rock as a stand-up comedian but as a filmmaker, he has yet to really make an impact. I'm sure his real legion of fans will consider this film his "Citizen Kane", a great leap forward in his career but they will be blinded by their loyalty.

       All the good jokes are in the trailer and fall flat if you already know them.  The film is far from "hilarious" and only at times mildly amusing. Mr. Rock's outcome with Ms. Dawson is inevitable and even the twist is pretty obvious. I will admit his satirical portrait of reality stars does hit the mark and is the smartest thing about the film. Gabrielle Union is actually very good as the reality star fiancee to Mr. Rock's character and she nails her one scene of honest emotion.

          I give Mr. Rock credit for examining his life at this apparent crossroad of his career but I don't need to pay to watch him work out his therapy on screen. And what Top Five rap list is complete without KRS-One?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

          The title says it all, this is basically a two hour plus battle for "The Lonely Mountain". If you have no idea what I'm referring to, you have no business going to see this film. Otherwise, Peter Jackson has made pretty damn sure you are committed to seeing the climactic third film in "The Hobbit" film trilogy. The original story was a single book but Mr. Jackson has stretched the story into three films to appease the studio gods, reaping in the gold like Smaug basking in his treasure filled vaults.  

           The "big" names in the cast, including Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lily, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee are all back in smaller but still significant roles. Also returning are Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Richard Armitage, all the fine actors playing the band of dwarves and of course, Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, the heart and soul of the film.
            The earlier films have firmly established these characters so for this final outing, much of the character development has been sacrificed for the action. The two standouts, besides Mr. Freeman, are Luke Evans and Richard Armitage.  Mr. Evans gets a good amount of screen time as the heroic "Bard the Bowman" and is quite the dashing figure. But it is Mr. Armitage that steals the film with a wonderfully layered performance as Prince Thorin.
            The fight sequences themselves are once again wonderfully rendered in CGI by Mr. Jackson and his team but our heroes cut through the "powerful" orcs like a hot knife through butter and there is never any sense of danger in the large battle scenes. The small, more intimate fight scenes are more exciting and have a sense of dread that the outcome can go either way.

              The story picks up directly from the end of the previous one with Smaug destroying Lake Town. It's a terrific opening sequence that sets the stage for what's to come. The film itself is bloated and has its flaws but its still a thrill ride and a satisfying close to the story.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Imitation Game

       Based on a true story but taking cinematic license with some of the facts, "The Imitation Game" is still an absorbing untold story of World War Two. And while it is wartime, the story takes place entirely in England and is the story of Alan Turing, the man credited with breaking the German "Enigma" code.

        Enigma was the secret code used by Germany for all radio transmissions and was deemed unbreakable by all the allied forces. The British Secret Service recruited a small team of code breakers including Turing, who eventually did manage to break the code and turn the tide of war against Germany. How they break the code is the central plot but what really holds the audience enthralled is Turing himself. He was a brilliant mathematician with no social skills and a secret of his own. Bringing him to life is the remarkable performance of Benedict Cumberbatch.

         Mr. Cumberbatch's acting is flawless and easily the best role of his career to date. He is surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Kiera Knightly, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, and Mark Strong. Allen Leetch and Rory Kinnear also co-star in small but significant roles.

           Screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum keep things interesting by moving around in multiple timelines, starting in the '50's when there is a break-in at Turing's house. When the detective in charge begins to probe deeper into Turning's life, things begin to unravel. We also see Turing at school as a awkward young man, on a path that will change his life forever. At the center is the team racing the clock to solve the Enigma puzzle.  

             The film is smart, exciting, dramatic, clever and heartbreaking as well. It may well be about breaking Enigma, but it's heart and soul is the story of a complicated man that deserved to be called a hero and instead ended up vilified by the very nation he helped save.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


  Based on the best selling true story of Cheryl Strayed, the film stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl, a self destructive woman who takes a 1000 mile walk of self discovery.

   The film moves back and forth between Cheryl's walk along the Pacific Coast Trail and flashbacks of her life and the events that led to her decision. Ms. Witherspoon is also the producer of the film and you can tell it's a labor of love. She easily does some of her best acting here as she painstakingly recreates Ms. Strayed's original walk.

     Seen in flashbacks, Laura Dern plays her mother, Gabby Hoffman, her best friend and Thomas Sadoski, her ex-husband. These scenes are very emotional and effective since they have a direct link to Cheryl's self destructive path. Once on the trail, Ms. Witherspoon is alone for most of the time but does have a variety of interactions with people both friendly and threatening.

      The cinematography beautifully captures the natural landscapes of California and Oregon. While an interesting story and well acted, it does tend to get repetitive at times. Credit Ms. Witherspoon's strong acting in driving the story forward, keeping the audience rooting for her to complete her journey, both physically and spiritually.

The Babadook

      Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent has made one of the best films of the year that you probably won't want to see. It is an old fashioned horror thriller that will scare the daylights out of you without excessive blood and gore. In fact, there is very little blood at all but the suspense factor is first rate.

      Amelia is a widow trying to raise her troubled young son on her own. The boy is fearful of almost everything and clings to his mother obsessively. While she loves her son dearly, Samuel often drives her close to a breaking point by his actions. At night she reads to him before bed to calm him down and on one particular night, he pulls "Mister Babadook" off the bookshelf.

       The book is a pop up book filled with progressively horrible images and Amelia quickly closes it and finds something else to read. However, the boy becomes obsessed with the Babadook and thinks its coming to kill them both. It is here that the slow build of terror starts to snowball. 

        Essie Davis stars as Amelia and it is a powerhouse performance. Is the Babadook real and has he possessed her or is she just losing her mind? Ms. Kent tosses us small tasty morsels of dread that get bigger and scarier as the film goes on. The horror of the Babadook starts slow with only a glimpse of what's to come.  As Samuel loses control, so does Amelia but the smart script never makes it clear if the Babadook is real or imagined. Either way, the danger is real and the audience is filled with unease and panic at every dark turn.

          The camerawork, music and the wonderful acting by both mother and son (Noah Wiseman is fantastic and I only hope the film has not scarred him for life) all combine to completely unnerve us by the film's climax. The ending is a little too neat but what leads up to it is a brilliantly scary thriller.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


   The disturbing story of John E. DuPont's relationship with the wrestlers Mark and David Schultz is played out with precision acting by Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo.

         With the help of a terrific makeup job, Mr. Carell physically transforms himself into Mr. DuPont, capturing his speech patterns and body language perfectly. It is unlike anything he has done before and he is mesmerizing. Not to be overlooked is Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, the Olympic wrestler who comes to train with Mr. DuPont. While he may seem a simple jock, Mr. Tatum is actually doing the finest acting of his career, capturing all the emotions hidden beneath his musclebound exterior. Initially he sees Mr. DuPont as the father figure he never had but the nature of their relationship takes a drastic turn as the story progresses.

           Mr. Ruffalo, as older brother David Schultz, may not have as much screen time as his co-stars but he makes the most of it. David is crucial to the story and Mr. Ruffalo plays him brilliantly. Sienna Miller has a small supporting role as David's wife as does Vanessa Redgrave as DuPont's elderly mother. The film itself is fascinating in a tabloid sense. It grows darker and more disturbing as goes and since it is based on the true story, you may already know the outcome.

             The music is sparse but there is a haunting theme played repeatedly  and the cinematography is outstanding with beautiful Pennsylvania landscapes. The entertainment value here is not in the plot but rather watching three actors at the top of their game. They are the reason to see this film. There will be nominations all around during awards season.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Force Majeure

            This new foreign drama is an absorbing look a family fractured by one quick decision while on a ski vacation. Tomas and Ebba are staying at a beautiful ski resort high in the Alps with their two small children Vera and Harry. The film is divided into the days of the family vacation and when an unexpected turn of events occurs on the second day, everything changes.

             The acting is excellent as gender and family roles are examined by both Tomas and Ebba as well as their friends who come to visit. The film is very dramatic but their are moments of comic relief that break the growing tension.  

              Impressive cinematography both in the exteriors and inside the resort make for a beautiful backdrop for this very human drama that will easily lend itself to post viewing discussions.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Theory of Everything

            The story of the physicist Stephen Hawking has "Oscar" written all over it. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are both wonderful as Professor Hawking and his first love, Jane. The screenplay focuses solely on their relationship and "sells" the film as a remarkable love story.

             When they first meet in college, Hawking shows no signs of the the disease that will end up crippling him for life. He is a brilliant student with a sharp wit and Jane falls rather easily in love. When he is diagnosed with ALS, Jane's love is so strong, she stands by her man, marries him and promises to fight the disease together. 

              While the love story is touching and very emotional, the film itself is very episodic and doesn't go into great detail about Hawking's medical condition or his work. The fact that when he is first diagnosed in his twenties, given two years to live, and yet is still with us in his seventies is remarkable. The film would have you believe it is Jane's love alone that keeps him alive. There is no mention of anything medical except for a hospital stay when he develops pneumonia. 

              Mr. Redmayne physical transformation as Hawking's body continues to fail him is amazing. He captures every nuance in the loss of his limbs and speech and yet still conveys the brilliance and wit of the man trapped in a deteriorating body. It's a performance so good, it hides the deficiencies in the screenplay. After such an emotional story, the turn of events in the last act are a betrayal to the audience as well as to the characters. Unfortunately its a true story so the events are real but we can only speculate on the reasons behind them. A coda at the end softens the blow but for film about "everything", too much was left out.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


     Jake Gyllenhaal stars as this year's creepiest character. A cross between Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Rupert  Pupkin (The King of Comedy), he slithers his way through the LA nights as a "photo journalist" looking for the bloodiest accidents and crime scenes he can find to sell to the local TV station. A true "nightcrawler".

         His character, Louis Bloom is introduced to us as a petty thief. Through a series of events, he soon finds himself, video camera by his side, racing through the night with his police scanner announcing his next big payoff. Louis is a sociopath and it's what makes him so good at his new found profession. He hires an "intern" played by Riz Ahmed, promising him a good job review with a promotion and a raise. Mr. Ahmed plays dimwitted beautifully and his character is both tragic and comic relief.

           Rene Russo (so good to see her on screen again) plays the midnight shift news director who buys Lou's videos (if it bleeds, it leads).  In many ways, they are perfect for each other and the chemistry between the actors is terrific. Bill Paxton also co-stars as a rival nightcrawler.

            The story is dark and filled with tension as the stakes are raised with each news worthy story. Lines are crossed when reporting the news blurs into manipulating the news and watching the film is like watching a train wreck. You want to turn away but you can't help yourself. Mr. Gyllenhaal owns the screen and is magnetic, his eyes popping out of his head, focused solely on getting the story at all costs. It's a fantastic performance in a film that made me want to take a shower after it wash off the dirt and slime.

Sunday, November 09, 2014


         It's ironic that "The Theory of Everything" opened on the same day as "interstellar". Only Stephen Hawking could possibly decipher all the quantum physics thrown at us by writer/director Christopher Nolan (and his co-writer, brother). The film is stuffed with grand scientific theories and ideas but to Mr. Nolan's credit, he grounds it in emotional relationships. Unfortunately he also "borrows" quite liberally from the plot of "2010" and a bit from it's prequel, "2001:A Space Odyssey"  

          The strongest bond is between Cooper and his daughter Murphy played by Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy. Unfortunately, their relationship is so well defined and important to the story that the one between Cooper and his son is almost non-existent. Cooper is a farmer sometime in the future when the earth is dying. Conveniently, he used to be a NASA pilot and given the chance to save the earth, he jumps at the opportunity and leaves his family behind.

           Mr. Nolan has grandiose ideas that look wonderful on screen but he is so caught up in his vision that he makes too many sacrifices along the way. Cheesy dialogue runs throughout and a Dylan Thomas poem that has great impact the first time we hear it, is repeated ad nausem.  The emotional impact of the finale is weakened by the "head scratching" science fiction preceding it. Particular choices by the actors are sometimes very questionable. A unbilled "A list" actor shows up during an important part of the film and only serves to create a distraction.

           Besides Mr. McConaughey (who is so well cast), the film also stars Ann Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, Wes Bentley and Michael Caine. It's a reliable cast doing good work but it's those early scenes between Cooper and Murphy that set the tone and really resonant throughout the film.

           The cinematography is spectacular, especially in IMAX and there are thrilling sequences that will have you on the edge of your seat but the film left me regretting failing physics  in college. I probably would have appreciated it much more.

Monday, November 03, 2014


     Credit writer/director David Ayer for taking five stereotyped characters, blending them together in the tight, claustrophobic space of a WW II tank (christened "Fury") and making us care deeply about them for a little over two hours.

      Brad Pitt stars as "Wardaddy", the tough as nails Sergeant keeping his misfit tank crew alive through the waning days of World War Two. His crew consists of Shia LeBeouf (the religious zealot), Michael Pena ( the minority Mexican), Jon Bernthal (the psychopath) and Logan Lerman as the rookie. It doesn't take long before we are caught up in the mud, blood, and carnage they face as they clear the way for the advancing U.S. troops into Germany.

      Mr. Ayer doesn't hold back on the horrors of war, giving the viewer the gory reality of sudden death and dismemberment. There are some terrific battle sequences, in particular, a tank battle shot as a heavy metal dance of death. The camera takes us right into the claustrophobic  belly of "Fury". You can smell the body odors, oil, grease and cigarette smoke. And more importantly, the fear. The men of this tank crew are not superheroes. They have been thrown together in a rolling death trap and asked to do the impossible.

         The acting is first rate and each actor rises above his stereotype. Besides the one strange interlude midway through the film, they spend the majority of their time in and around the tank. Sitting in the dark theater, you can almost feel yourself right there with them and that happens when script, actors, and director mix perfectly to envelope the viewer in the story and the characters.

         My one complaint involves the timeline of a particular sequence but it's a minor one I can forgive when everything else has been almost perfect. "Fury" is not easy entertainment but it does it's job and honors the memory of every tank crew that lived or died defending our freedom.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

St. Vincent

         It's an old cliche'd plot, curmudgeon is softened by a precocious youngster but Bill Murray is the perfect choice to breathe new life into this unoriginal story. Years ago, Walter Matthau would have been the star of this film but in the here and now, Bill Murray works his magic.

         When Maggie (played by Melissa McCarthy) and her 12 year old son, Oliver (played by Jaeden Lieberher) move next door to the cantankerous Vincent,  his routine life becomes upended. Needing money, Vincent agrees to "babysit" Oliver and as he provides unusual life lessons for the boy, Oliver begins to crack the hard shell Vincent has built around himself.

         Ms. McCarthy is the "straight man" for a change and while she is good enough in her role, there is nothing special about it and any fireworks you would expect between her and Mr. Murray are played softy and with subtlety. The young Mr. Lieberher is terrific as Oliver and he has real chemistry with Mr. Murray. The film also co-stars Naomi Watts as  Vincent's "girlfriend", a pregnant Russian stripper/prostitute who is fine in the part but overdoes the accent.

         The film is billed as a comedy but it also has some very serious sub-plots that almost overshadow the lighthearted humor. The story moves along as expected and the title pretty much telegraphs the schmaltzy ending but Bill Murray carries the load and keeps things interesting. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014


         A complex film that at its core is a simple story of a washed up Hollywood actor looking for redemption, "Birdman" questions life imitating art, imitating life.  When Riggan Thompson walked away from the superhero film "Birdman 4", his career seemed over. Now he has a chance to create "real art" by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway drama based on a Raymond Carver story. However, things are never a s simple as they seem.

         Michael Keaton stars as Riggan and he is absolutely astounding. He is joined by a wonderful cast as well. Naomi Watts as his leading lady, Andrea Riseborough as his lover and co-star, Edward Norton as his temperamental co-star, Zack Galifiankas as his manager and Emma Stone as his daughter. Mr. Galifiankas plays it straight as the manager and its refreshing to see him this way. Ms. Stone, usually highly overrated, has found the perfect role as the disconnected daughter trying to find the connection with her father. However, as good as the whole cast is, the film completely belongs to Mr. Keaton. He is in almost every scene and is brutally raw and honest. He puts everything he has on screen and is completely fearless.

            There is a mystical element to the film that you either accept or not and the throbbing percussion heavy score may not be for everyone but either way, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu has crafted a truly original film that stands out in a crowded Hollywood field.  The film takes place mostly in and around the St. James Theater in New York but never feels confined in anyway. The camerawork is flawless. The film appears to be shot in one long continuous take with no editing.  

             You can't help thinking about the parallel between Mr. Keaton walking away from a Batman sequel, dropping off the Hollywood radar for sometime and then finding the role of a lifetime that will surely garner him an Oscar nomination. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014


    Truly exhilarating and easily one of the best films of the year, "Whiplash" takes familiar territory and  gives it a new and exciting twist.  We've all seen the war or sports movie where the insanely tough coach or drill Sargent turns the underachiever into a winner.  Set in the world of music, "Whiplash" is a war of wills between a percussion professor "from hell" versus a talented young drummer.

     Andy, played by Miles Teller is a freshman at a Julliard type music academy learning to master the drums. Fletcher, play by J.K. Simmons is his perfectionist tormentor of a professor. One, an obsessive drummer striving to be the best at all costs, and the other pushing him past his limits with verbal and even physical abuse. Make no mistake, this is a literally bloody war played out in a rehearsal space and eventually on stage.

       Miles Teller must have practiced non-stop to become the drummer he plays in the film. He is astounding and his acting is as every bit as good as his music. J.K. Simmons is channeling his "Shillinger" character from the HBO series, "OZ", every bit as scary but without the tattoos. One minute he is telling his band to "have fun out there" and the next second, he is abusing them without mercy. Paul Reiser co-stars as Andy's father who can't understand his son's obsession but loves him just the same. Their scenes together are tender and genuine. 

        Writer and director Damian Chazelle knows exactly when to pull his punches and when to let things fly. He creates a tension between Andy and Fletcher that becomes unbearable. During the musical sequences, his camera whirls around the musicians with a variety of closeups on their faces and their instruments creating a vortex that takes the music to another level.

         "Whiplash" will leave you breathless.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Judge

        We've seen this story countless times . A dysfunctional family drama focusing on parent/sibling conflict only to be resolved at the end through some mutual crisis. There is some saving grace however in this predictable new film watching the sparks fly between it's two stars, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

        Mr. Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a high powered attorney who returns to his Indiana home for his mother's funeral. Mr. Duvall is his father, Judge Palmer and of course the two hate each other and haven't spoken in years. Both actors can play these roles in their sleep and really don't bring anything new to an already worn down theme. It is fun to watch them verbally sparring but that too gets old in a film that runs well over two hours.

        Vera Farmiga co-stars as the "girl he left behind" and the rest of the cast includes Vincent D'Onofrio and Jeremy Strong as the other Palmer sons (both with their own issues), Billy Bob Thorton as a prosecutor, Dax Shepard as an inept lawyer and Emma Tremblay as Mr. Downey Jr's daughter.

         It's no spoiler when I tell you Hank finds himself defending his father when he is accused of murder (it's the central plot of the film). Subplots include a quick tornado scare, a question of paternity, guilt over a family tragedy, and a secret illness. Screenwriter Bill Dubuque piles on the drama in an attempt to hide the fact we've seen this all before.

          The outcome is inevitable and my verdict is disappointing but don't take my word for it, judge for yourself.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Equalizer

             "The Equalizer" was a TV show in the late '80's about a retired secret agent, Robert McCall, who helped people in trouble. McCall was played by a older British actor who used his gun sparingly and relied on a small group of associates to help him vanquish the bad guys. The film is very loosely based on the T.V. show.

              Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall and we first meet him working in Home Mart (Home Depot wisely choose to not to be involved). We know nothing of his past and he seems to live a quiet life. Having trouble sleeping, he spends his late nights at a diner reading and eventually befriends a young prostitute that comes into the dinner every night. When the girl, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, is beaten by her Russian pimp, Mr. Washington goes after those responsible for putting her in the hospital. 

               This is a plot we have seen many times before. "Retired" agent living a quiet life is drawn back into his old ways for a variety of reasons. Mr. Washington plays McCall with very little emotion and when the killing starts, he turns into a terminator type killing machine. He easily over-matches his adversaries and even when the Russian mob send a very capable opponent, played by Marton Czonkas, their climatic fight is disappointing as it's staged giving Mr. Washington all the advantage.

               The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, who made "Training Day" with Mr. Washington. That was a terrific first film. Here, he gets lazy, depicting much of the violence off screen and using techniques we have seen before used to better effect. The scenes that are violent, are very violent, done to appease the obvious audience for an action film but they are far and few between. The movie is really fairly boring between the bloodshed.

                 The end sets up what looks like the start of a franchise character. I can only hope the eventual sequels are more exciting and interesting.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Gone Girl

          Meticulously directed by David Fincher and adapted for the screen by author Gillian Flynn, this is a very faithful version of the best-selling novel and will surely satisfy fans of the book. Having read the book and hated the ending, I found the film's end much more tolerable. It's still not to my liking but it does have a certain logic that works better on screen.

           The film, for those few who never read the book, examines the marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne and starts out when Amy vanishes on their fifth anniversary. We learn through Nick's behavior, flashbacks and Amy's voice-overs, how they met and how their love for each other is repeatedly tested. There are multiple twists and turns (the same ones that made the book so much fun) and the film unfolds as "Scenes From A Marriage" as if it was written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

           The casting could not be any better. Ben Affleck and Roseamund Pike make the perfect Nick and Amy. Both of them possess a cool detachment that works brilliantly in their favor. Their co-stars,  Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens are both terrific and Tyler Perry is surprisingly good as Nick's lawyer. Even Neal Patrick Harris in a small but pivotal role is very well cast.

           David Fincher's  style is perfect for this story. His direction enhances the same icy atmosphere created by his stars. The overall mood is hard, cold, and slick as ice. While the setting is completely different, you can almost imagine these characters inhabiting the world of Mr. Fincher's version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".  The story line is meticulously straight which make the plot twists that much more jarring.

             "Gone Girl" is a nasty piece of business that actually makes a great date night movie. It's a story that can be debated long after it ends.

Monday, September 22, 2014


     Ed Harris, Eva Longoria, and Michael Pena star in this modern "western" that tackles the issues of illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States. It's a worthy topic deserving of our attention but the script becomes a little too neat and manipulative.

     Mr. Harris is a retired sheriff who's land borders Mexico. Amy Madigan, his real wife, plays his wife in the film. Mr. Pena is a Mexican illegal who crosses the border looking for work to support his wife, Ms. Longoria, and his family.  A tragic event sets things in motion that brings all the characters together.

      Trusting their lives to "coyotes", who smuggle them across the border, these people are just hoping for a better life in the United States. More often than not, they are robbed, sexually assaulted, and left to fend for themselves. The film pulls no punches in some of the harsher scenes in the sub-plot. 

       It is refreshing to see Ms. Longoria in a serious, un-glamorous role as she falls prey to one of these "coyotes". Her situation along with Mr. Pena's misfortune, is heartbreaking to watch.  Luckily Mr. Harris is doing his best Gary Cooper impression as he takes matters into his own hands to make things right. It is here that the script and the film score combine to really heighten our emotions and even though it feels manipulative, the final moments are very tense.

        I don't expect this film to last very long in theaters so look for it on video or cable if the subject matter interests you or you are a fan of Mr. Harris. He easily elevates any film he's in and "Frontera" falls into that category.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Drop

      Based on a short story by crime novelist Dennis  Lahane, this new drama feels like a short story and never takes on the heft of a full fledged film. It's a gritty story with a good twist that builds plenty of tension but the final payoff fizzles rather than explodes.

       The film stars James Gandolfini, in his last film, as Marv and Tom Hardy as his cousin Bob. Marv runs a bar he once owned that has been taken over by Chechin criminals. Bob is his bartender. The bar is sometimes used as a "drop" for dirty money and a robbery sets the plot in motion.  Noomi Rapace is Nadia, a woman Bob meets when he rescues a puppy that has been tossed into a garbage can. John Ortiz co-stars as the detective looking into the robbery.

        Mr. Gandolfini returns to the type of crime character he plays so well but Marv is no "Tony Soprano". He's a has been hoping for one more shot but of course, things get complicated.  Even though the character is washed up, Mr. Gandolfini is still a commanding screen presence. Mr. Hardy struggles with his Brooklyn accent but does a good job as Bob, a man smarter than he appears, doing a slow burn for the majority of the film. 

          The film was held to be released in September when the "serious" fall films begin to appear. It's the first of many to come in award season but don't expect much. It's probably worth your time as a rental or pay per view if you are a fan of Mr. Gandolfini.

This is Where I Leave You

   Based on the best selling novel by Jonathan Trooper, this new comedy/drama has a screenplay by Mr. Trooper and remains pretty faithful to the novel. It is the story of the Altman family who gather together when the father dies.  The adult children are played by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoller, and Adam Driver. Their mother is played by Jane Fonda. 

     Co-starring are Timothy Olyphant as Horry, the brain injured ex-boyfriend of Ms. Fey, Kathryn Hahn as Mr. Stoll's wife, Rose Bryne as a girl from Mr. Bateman's past, Connie Britton as Mr. Driver's girlfriend,  Ben Schwartz as the family rabbi and Debra Monk as Ms. Fonda's best friend. It's a very large ensemble film and everyone is well cast but play mostly to type. Standouts are Mr. Olyphant as Horry and Ms. Fonda  as the strong willed matriarch.

      There is the usual amount of sibling rivalry and infighting and this family has enough dysfunction that if Peter Jackson was directing, it would have been stretched to a trilogy. Secrets are kept and revealed, romances are rekindled and lost, and along the way there is humor and pathos. What worked in the novel begins to get tedious in the film as Mr. Trooper tries to jam all his ideas into a two hour film. It's also hard to share the wealth of the material when you have such a strong cast but director Shawn Levy does his best to give everyone a fair amount of screen time. The bulk of the heavy lifting falls to Mr. Bateman, who might as well be in an episode of "Arrested Development".

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight

           The latest film from writer/director Woody Allen is a light breezy romantic comedy set in the 1920's in the south of France. The scenery and costumes alone make it a worthwhile look.

            After his last film, "Midnight in Paris",  it is clear that Mr. Allen is enjoying writing period pieces and that makes them refreshing to watch. The plot revolves around a supposedly fake psychic played by Emma Stone and a master magician, played by Colin Firth. Sophie, the psychic and her mother are staying with a rich family in the south of France and have totally beguiled the mother and younger son.When a magician named Howard can't figure out how she is tricking them, he asks Mr. Firth's help in exposing the woman.

               The film co-stars Hamish Linklater as Brice, the son head over heels in love with Sophie, Jackie Weaver as his widowed mother, Simon McBurney as Howard and Eileen Atkins as Aunt Vanessa. Marcia Gay Harden plays Sophie's mother in what amounts to a cameo. Mr. Allen has assembled a terrific cast but clearly above the rest is Mr. Firth. He is wonderful in the film and his light comedy just shows another level of the depth and range of his acting. Ms. Stone does an admirable job but I was not overly impressed and felt her casting was the one misstep (She always seems like a girl trying to play an adult). Clearly Mr. Allen doesn't agree with me as his camera loves her.

                The location shooting is breathtaking and everything about the period wardrobe and props is pure eye candy. The film never takes itself too seriously even when Mr. Allen becomes dialogue heavy with his own philosophies. A highlight in the script is a scene late in the film between Stanley (Mr. Firth) and his Aunt Vanessa that is sheer poetry in the writing.

                Far from his best, "Moonlight" is still enjoyable and I hope Mr. Allen continues to find inspiration from his recent European settings for his inevitable next yearly film.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


        Inspired by Chris Sievey, a singer who's stage name was Frank Sidebottom and always wore a giant paper-mache head, "Frank" is the story of an eclectic rock band and the idealistic young musician who joins them. This quirky film is dramatic, musical, funny and lovingly odd. It's the very definition of an Indie film that will never find a broad audience. It's the kind of film you seek out due to word of mouth or a review you just happen upon.

        Frank is the leader of a band with an unpronounceable name and he never removes his cartoonish giant head. Underneath, he is played by Michael Fassbender in a remarkable performance. His band is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (irresistibly unlikable) , Francois Civil, and Carla Azar. Their manager is played by Scoot McNairy (so good in AMC's "Halt & Catch Fire"). They are an eclectic group who play together for no apparent reason except to make noise.  While touring Ireland, their keyboard player is hospitalized and a young musician named Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, ends up in the band. 

        The film is really Jon's story and Mr. Gleeson is just terrific (He has good genes. His dad is Brendan Gleeson). Seizing the opportunity to be in a band, Jon jumps at the chance but soon finds himself part of a life he could never imagine.

         If you are getting tired of the summer Hollywood machine and want something really unique and different, find this film. It will challenge and annoy you, make you laugh, make you sad, but ultimately entertain you.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


    The new film from writer/director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) stars Brendan Gleeson in a magnificent performance as a village priest facing his own mortality and the increasing loss of faith in his community. 

     During confessional at the start of the film, Father James is threatened to be killed in one week's time, for the sins of another priest.  He spends his last days tending to the secular flock of townsfolk in his small Irish village. His resolve to the church never waivers even as the threat becomes more ominous.  As the week progresses, we are introduced to the various members of the village ( Chris O'Dowd, Adian Gillen, and M. Emmett Walsh, among others) , many of whom are suspects, as well as his daughter, Fiona, back home after a failed suicidal attempt.

     The film co-stars Kelly Reilly as Fiona and the relationship between Father James and his frail daughter is warm and tender. His relationship with the rest of the town is strained at best. While many people are friendly enough, Father James presence seems barely tolerated and his faith is constantly tested.

      Philosophical and spiritual questions are raised throughout and the film is a serious drama.  There is a prevailing dark humor that helps lighten the mood but the overall tone is foreboding and grim as the story moves towards its inevitable conclusion.

      The film is a microcosm of problems faced by the Catholic church in a world filled with an increasing loss of faith. Despite its dark and depressing tone, it's still a terrific film, both thoughtful and entertaining with beautiful scenes of the Irish coastline.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Love is Strange

 John Lithgow and Alfred Molina star in this new drama from writer/director Ira Sachs. Ben (Mr. Lithgow) and George (Mr. Molina) have been together nearly 40 years and after New York  passes the law allowing gay marriage, they decide to tie the knot. Things take a turn once they make it legal and the story grows from their new, unexpected situation.

    This is a compassionate, honest portrait of love that is tested between the two men and the friends and family that support them. Mr. Lithgow and Mr. Molina are wonderful together. They are so natural in their performance that you are fully engaged in their characters and and feel welcome in their world. 

     Co-starring are Marisa Tomei and Darren Burrows as Ben's niece and nephew. Ms Tomei gives a subtle yet strong performance and it's wonderful to see Mr. Burrows acting again (He was so good many years ago on the TV show, Northern Exposure). The film also co-stars Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez and Charlie Tahan in a pivotal role of Joey, Ben's great nephew.

      Besides the great cast, the other major character is Manhattan itself. Much like Woody Allen, Mr. Sach loves the city and there are great shots where the camera lingers just long enough at the end of a scene to appreciate the background of the city. The soundtrack too plays an important role. It is mostly Chopin and works beautifully to enhance the story.

     There are many themes at work here and Mr. Sachs balances them all but it is the strength of Ben and George's love that binds everything together. The end is bittersweet but Mr. Sachs leaves us in good place as we leave the theater.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

    Writer Frank Miller teams up once again with director Robert Rodriguez to bring us more tales of Sin City. If you enjoyed the original, you will be happy to return to this world of highly stylized art, violence and comic book film noir.

      Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis (a cameo since he died in the original), Powers Boothe and Rosario Dawson all return and this time out are joined by Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green in the major roles.  Mr. Rouke is a standout bringing a heartfelt performance under tons of makeup to the unique character, Marv. Ms. Green brings the sexiness as the "femme fatale" Eva. Co-stars in minor roles include Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert and Ray Liotta. There is also a quick cameo from Lady Gaga.

     Much like the first, this is a living breathing comic book that delivers what you would expect, bullets, bondage gear, blood, sex and mayhem. The film is all about the visual. With the exception of Mr. Rouke and Ms. Green, every other character is a comic book stereotype devoid of any real emotion or depth. The three interwoven stories don't carry any weight or importance. They are basic stories of greed, lust, and revenge that justify the sex and violence.

        The real star of the film is the artwork that melds with the cinematography. This unusual technique is even more striking than the original film and looks fantastic in 3D.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Get On Up

    Chadwick Boseman stars as the "Godfather of Soul", James Brown in this new drama. Mr. Boseman is creating quite the career for himself portraying iconic figures in history. He was terrific in "42" as Jackie Robinson and shines here as James Brown, which is clearly not an easy task. He has all the moves down perfectly and embodies the man as well as the legend.

     The film co- stars Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, his long time friend and band member, Dan Ackroyd as his manager, Viola Davis as his mother who abandons him early in his life, and Octavia Spencer, who raises him when his father joins the army. The cast is excellent and all the acting in the film never feels false. Jamarion Scott plays Mr. Brown as a boy and he is a natural.

     While the acting and all the music are first rate, I can't say the same for the screenplay. The story is disjointed and all over the place, jumping around in time.  The film is broken down into significant periods in Mr. Brown's life but never sticks to a particular time frame. Plot lines are introduced and then left dangling, unresolved. The story would have been better served with a linear plot and maybe an occasional flashback but here the technique is misused and doesn't add anything to the story exception confusion.

      We are treated to important moments in Mr. Brown's life as well as in our own history. It's an honest portrait as it also doesn't shy away from Mr. Brown's drug use and abusive nature. He was a genius and a musical icon but as he says in the film, " you pay the cost to be the boss".


      The new film from writer/director Luc Besson is his personal thesis on the potential of the human brain.   Mr. Besson is in the enviable position of having the clout to share his thoughts and ideas with the world through financing of this action drama. What happens when we unlock 100% of our brain's potential?

       Known for some pretty outrageous films (The Fifth Element), Mr. Besson also has a proven reputation of getting the most out of his female leads (Natalie Portman in "The Professional", Milla Jovovich in "The Fifth Element") and he proves it here again with the casting of Scarlett Johansson.
Ms. Johansson elevates what is a pretty far fetched "b-movie" into an action packed film with theories that you may actually start considering since she plays it so seriously. And of course, having Morgan Freeman co-star as a professor contemplating the same theories also adds a degree of "take this seriously" to the proceedings.

         The action sequences are a visual treat (I'd expect no less from Mr. Besson) and while the story tries hard to be convincing, it all becomes rather silly by the end. There are obvious illogical holes in the plot but Mr. Besson sacrifices logic to make his point. My own conspiracy theory or just a strange coincidence but this film may help to explain Ms. Johansson's character in the film "Her".

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

   The very definition of a summer popcorn movie, Marvel studios has another hit franchise in the making (the sequel has already been announced). If you like sci-fi adventure with tongue firmly in cheek, then"Guardians" is for you. It's the most fun you will have at the movies all summer.

       This is a space opera in the the truest sense. No hidden messages, no deep thinking, just good guys vs. bad guys hurling through space with the fate of the universe at stake. If you are a fan of the original comics, you will be happily satisfied, even with minor tweaks to the characters. If you know nothing of the comics, the story is still easy to follow (even if you don't know the difference between a Kree and a Badoon). Credit director James Gunn, who also wrote the screenplay (with Nicole Perlman) to keep things moving at a quick pace, oversee some of the best CGI ever created in the characters of Rocket Raccoon and Groot, and remain faithful to the source material even while injecting original ideas of their own.

       The cast is simply terrific. Peter Quill is a star making role for actor Chris Pratt. Zoe Saldana is perfect as the assassin, Gamora as is Wrestler David Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. Breathing sarcastic, yet heartfelt life into CGI Rocket Raccoon is Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel does a lot with a little vocalizing Groot. While Mr. Pratt is clearly the lead, all the characters get equal screen time and play off each other beautifully. The film also features Lee Pace as the villain, Ronan the Accuser, Michael Rooker as Yondu, leader of the Ravagers, Djimon Hounsou as the villain, Korath, Benicio del Toro as The Collector, and John C. Reilly and Glenn Close as members of the Nova Force. 

         If you are a fan of '80's pop music, you will really love the soundtrack too. The music is integral to the story and contributes to the overall fun of the film. And, as with every Marvel film, stay through the credits for two extra scenes, one everyone will enjoy and one only real fans will appreciate.