Son of a corrupt Russian general, suspected Chechen terrorist Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) illegally sneaks into Hamburg and, with the help of his lawyer (Rachel McAdams), seeks to recover his father’s ill-gotten fortune from banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe). American counterterrorism spies led by Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) plan to seize him, but German intelligence agent Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his team have other ideas, hoping to use Karpov’s inheritance to help catch a prominent Muslim who, Bachmann believes, is secretly funneling money to terrorists. Inspired acting and insightful direction flatter John le Carré’s espionage thriller.
Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) doesn’t understand social media. So, when he attacks L.A.’s most powerful restaurant critic (Oliver Platt) on Twitter, their war goes viral and sinks Casper’s career. Hoping to repair the crestfallen chef’s relationship with son Percy, his loving ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) drags him to Miami. There, he buys a food truck and embarks upon a cross-country foodie road trip, which becomes a journey of self-discovery. In addition to his starring role, Favreau wrote, directed, and co-produced Chef, which probably explains why so many top stars agreed to work for scale on this indie film. The result is an intimate, endearing movie, which, with Twitter and food trucks prominently featured, is also quite timely.
One of our most visionary filmmakers, Spike Jonze delights in showing us the unexpected. In Her, his most daring script to date (he won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar), Jonze imagines a future in which romantic relationships no longer require two humans. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer of other peoples’ love letters, acquires a cutting-edge operating system. Possessed of artificial intelligence, his OS assumes the female persona “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson), with whom Theodore falls in love. Phoenix is brilliant in what amounts to a one-man show, delivering a richly detailed character study of the dark, introverted geek. In many ways, Johansson has the more difficult task, portraying a new and constantly evolving being, who, lacking physical substance, must define herself through words alone.
In 1999, Sports Illustrated voted Muhammad Ali its “Sportsman of the Century.” Ali unquestionably deserves this honor, but it doesn’t begin to convey his importance. Political martyr, civil rights activist, religious zealot, and all-around hero, Ali was one of the 20th century’s greatest figures and, during the ’70s, the most recognizable person on earth. Ali has been the subject of countless films including the brilliant When We Were Kings, 1997 Oscar-winner for Best Documentary.
Post-war Belleville, New Jersey—an impoverished suburb of the impoverished city of Newark—offered few opportunities for upward mobility. The hottest tickets to the middle class were joining the army or joining the mob—either of which could get one killed—or becoming an entertainer. Francis Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) and his friends were fortunate and talented enough to choose the latter. Adapted from the wildly successful Broadway play, Jersey Boys is the mildly embellished story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the most popular rock group until The Beatles, who thrived despite the personal tragedies, prison sentences, and personal excesses that attended stardom. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t translate well to the big screen. The carefully calculated dramatic scale that works so well as a stage play is disproportionate here, as both dialogue (especially the jokes) and acting seem bloated and forced.
Hard-drinking, chain-smoking ex-convict Joe (Nicolas Cage) frequents hookers, instigates deadly dog fights, and makes his living managing a gang of day laborers charged with deforesting a Texas backwater—hardly a soft-hearted guy. Yet, when 15-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) comes looking for a job, hell-raising Joe quickly befriends the boy and eventually risks his life to save him from his violent, alcoholic father, Wade (Gary Poulter, who died shortly after the film’s release). Heralded as Cage’s return to serious dramatic roles, Joe is primarily a character study of its hero, portrayed with a gritty realism that magnifies the brutality of the film and the desperation of its subjects.
Increasingly depressed and agoraphobic since her divorce, Adele (Kate Winslet) relies upon her doting son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith). At the start of the 1987 Labor Day weekend, mother and son are confronted by escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin), who demands their assistance in eluding the authorities. Over the next few days, Frank’s kindness and innocence are manifest, and the trio has become a family—almost. Confused by conflicting emotions and threatened with the prospect of a competitor for his mother’s love, the awkward adolescent facilitates Frank’s capture. Adele has loved and lost again. Or has she?
A year before The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper, Brian Wilson had completed “Good Vibrations,” the first pop song with orchestral backing and the most expensive single ever produced. By then, its genius composer had begun his descent into madness, which, by the 1970s, would find him bedridden for several years before being placed under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Astonishingly accurate to its finest detail, Love & Mercy, which flashes between Wilson, “Rock Star” prodigy of the mid-’60s (Paul Dano) and “Rock Bottom” burnout of the late ’80s (John Cusak), is compelling on historical, musical, and emotional levels.
We’ve all received “You’ve Won a Million Dollars” junk mail, and some of us have even responded, but naïve old Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) actually drags his son David (Will Forte) on a thousand-mile road trip from Billings, Montana, to Prize Headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim his cash. By the time they arrive, David has come to understand and appreciate the father he’d only known as a tight-lipped alcoholic. Dern’s filigreed interpretation of Woody—the crowning achievement of a brilliant career—slowly allows the kindness, complexity, and depth of his seemingly two-dimensional character to unfold. In this, he is aided by a meticulously chosen ensemble cast who bring humor and heartache to a screenplay whose dry, deadpan dialogue is relentlessly hilarious.
Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) have a new baby, a new house, and, unfortunately, new neighbors. When a hard-partying fraternity moves in next door, the Radners’ blood pressure skyrockets as their property value plummets and they become locked in a contest of wits and wills with frat president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron). Funny yet forgettable, Neighbors falls short of Nicholas Stoller’s previous directorial efforts (Get Him to the Greek, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), a consequence of the threadbare script and nonexistent chemistry between the male leads.