Ricki Randazzo’s dreams of rock stardom are shrinking in the rearview mirror. While her group, The Flash, is the house band at a dive bar, Ricki (Meryl Streep) struggles as a cashier at an upscale supermarket. It’s there that she receives a call from her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) asking her to come home to Indianapolis as her estranged daughter has attempted suicide. Ricki returns not only to an unstable daughter but also to one son fresh out of the closet and another about to be married… with no intention of inviting her to the wedding.
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.
A lofty undertaking of the History Channel, Texas Rising chronicles the one-time republic’s struggle for independence from Mexico. Lavishly produced, this miniseries features an all-star cast anchored by Emmy-winner Bill Paxton. Fleeting cameos by marquis actors exemplify the meticulous detail and massive budget that attended this production. Unfortunately, this great American saga and the men who empowered it are poorly served here. The acting is stiff and fails to evoke empathy or interest, due largely to scripting choices and mundane dialogue.
After assassinating Congo’s Minister of Mining in 2006, Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) must flee the country, leaving the woman he loves (Jasmine Trinca) to his friend Felix (Javier Bardem). Eight years later, Terrier returns, only to discover that he has become a target. Searching for answers as he struggles to stay alive, Terrier manages to either murder or precipitate the death of everyone he meets, including his closest friends. In the end, with the help of a clever Interpol agent (Idris Elba), Terrier learns that his former employer is trying to eradicate all evidence of the crime—including him.
Among the most anticipated and admired films of 2014, Selma depicts the epochal series of marches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) in Selma, Alabama, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Brought to the screen with power and sensitivity by director Ava DuVernay, this Oscar-nominated docudrama features a host of inspired and often intimate acting and noteworthy musical selections, which include the Oscar-winning song “Glory.”
Arguably, no single individual did more to win World War II than Alan Turing. By cracking the Nazi Enigma code, it is estimated that the genius mathematician shortened the war by two years and saved 14 million lives. So, why isn’t he a household name? Father of the computer, Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) worked in Britain’s top-secret Bletchley Park, and his achievements were classified for over 50 years. The Imitation Game tells the story of Turing and his fellow code-breakers fighting the clock—and each other—in a race to win the war. Cumberbatch is transcendent as the antisocial, self-absorbed Turing, while Keira Knightley gives her best performance to date as his collaborator and confidante, Joan Clarke. (Both were nominated for Oscars.)
Uber-lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) has it all: a lucrative career defending crooked millionaires, a masterpiece home in suburban Chicago… and a dysfunctional family he hasn’t seen for 20 years. When his mother dies, Hank returns to rural Indiana to attend the funeral and grudgingly console his father (Robert Duvall), a stoic judge who had long ago thrown the book at him, sentencing his son to four years in reformatory. When the judge is involved in a hit-and-run accident, Hank must mount a defense, despite his father’s seeming desire to be found guilty. Along the way, we uncover not only the truths surrounding the accident, but the Palmers’ toxic family history as well. There’s also a rekindled romance between Hank and his childhood sweetheart (Vera Farmiga), the only individual who has flourished in this Hoosier backwater.
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.
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.