-2014: Part Deux

photo Oh man. How bad has this year been for movies so far? Last Friday night—movie night—the only movie in the whole 16-theatre cineplex we came anywhere close to wanting to see was How To Train Your Dragon 2, which came out over a month ago. And the theatre was almost full, which says even more about what was opening that weekend (Sex Tape and The Purge: Anarchy…wheeee). And, to be honest, with the exception of Boyhood and A Most Wanted Man, the near future looks just as bleak.

I shouldn’t be surprised though. These late summer months have historically been slow, as Hollywood usually takes a breather before ramping up to Oscar season, which begins in September/October. But, for some reason, this year has felt especially bad. Glancing over at rottentomatoes.com, I notice that of all the movies released this year, only 28 have been certified “fresh.” That’s feels low—and sad. If you aren’t familiar with rottentomatoes.com, it’s a website that collects all the reviews for every movie and marks each one as either a positive (“fresh”) or negative (“rotten”) review. Based on cumulative totals, a movie is labeled “fresh” or “rotten” if the percentage of positive or negative reviews is over or under 60%. (FYI: It’s generally accepted that any movie that pulls in the 90-percentile “fresh” range is considered to be Oscar-worthy. Last year’s Best Picture winner, 12 Years A Slave, for example, has a 97% rating.)

This year’s major “certified fresh” movies so far: Boyhood (99%), The LEGO Movie (96%), Snowpiercer*(94%), How To Train Your Dragon 2 (92%), X-Men, Days of Future Past (92%), The Grand Budapest Hotel (92%), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (91%), Venus in Fur (91%), Edge of Tomorrow (90%), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (89%), Chef (88%), Obvious Child (88%), 22 Jump Street (85%), Only Lovers Left Alive (85%), Belle (83%), Begin Again (81%), The Fault In Our Stars (80%), Muppets Most Wanted (79%), Mr. Peabody & Sherman (79%), Land Ho! (77%), Noah (77%), Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (76%), Godzilla (74%), Oculus (74%), Neighbors (73%), The Grand Seduction (63%), Draft Day (62%) and Million Dollar Arm (61%). *While Snowpiecer is in theatres, it also was released on VOD the same day, so you may enjoy the experience in your living room and it rules it out of Oscar contention.

So that’s 28 decent movies in 33 weeks. That’s not even one per week—and that’s assuming you’re even interested in each of those movies, and I can tell you that you couldn’t pay me to see Oculus, no matter how good the reviews were. Bottom line, it’s been slim pickin’s. So, needless to say, I, for one, am REALLY looking forward to whatever Hollywood is saving up, because, whatever it is, it has GOT to be better than what it’s given us so far.

However, there is some good news. Looking over the slate of movies scheduled to be released the rest of this year, there is a lot to be excited about. And there are some interesting things that jumped out at me as I looked over the schedule….it’s almost enough to make me forget the last six months. Damn, why am I such a sucker for movies.


When Jessica Chastain burst into our cinematic lives, she did so with a gusto, a boom and, quite frankly, a complete lack of consideration for all other actresses in Hollywood. In 2011, she came out of nowhere to star or co-star in 9 movies in 2 years—3 of them nominated for Best Picture—while picking up two Oscar nominations for herself (Supporting Actress for The Help and Lead Actress for Zero Dark Thirty) before anyone had even had a chance to say goodbye to Bryce Dallas Howard’s career. So, naturally, since Chastain’s last movie, the horror genre flick Mama, which came out in January of last year, audiences have no doubt wondered what happened—we had pretty much been Chastain-ed into audience submission and NOT seeing her in every other movie just felt, well, odd and wrong. After all, not only did she prove to be prolific, but she very quickly established herself as a massive talent who showed her incredible versatility and I, for one, have truly felt her absence this past year and have been eagerly anticipating her next movie.

Well, finally, the wait is over. And, in true Jessica Chastain style, she is returning with a vengeance. 2014 is more than halfway over and yet 2014 will still turn out to be her year as she is starring in not one or two, but four movies still to come out this year. And you thought you were an over-achiever.

And these aren’t just any movies, these are high-profile movies, with big-name co-stars and/or big-name directors, so get ready for the Chastain train to ride again.

Here are the four upcoming movies, with links to the trailer embedded. I dare you not to be excited. It’s Jessica Chastain’s world, folks, we just live in it, I suggest you give in and enjoy it.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, with James McAvoy, directed by Ned Benson. Coming out September 26.
Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan. Coming out November 7.
Miss Julie, directed by Liv Ullmann. Release date TBA.
A Most Violent Year, directed by J.C. Chandor. Release date TBA.

I’m part of the generation that still considers Michael Keaton to be a movie star. I know, there may actually be some of you reading this that may say “who’s Michael Keaton?” and that, well, makes me feel old. But, after just spending some time looking over his IMDb page, I can see both of our points. Back in the ‘80s, starting with Night Shift in 1982, the guy owned Hollywood, with a string of hits, including Mr. Mom (1983), Johnny Dangerously (1984), Gung Ho (1986), Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Pacific Heights (1990), and even Batman Returns (1992). He was an A-lister who couldn’t go wrong (well, Batman Returns was a little wrong).

But then, as often happens, it seems that Batman might have killed his career, as after 1992, he starred in a string of not-so-memorable flops, including My Life, The Paper, Multiplicity and Speechless. Quentin Tarantino, the ultimate career rehabber, tried to breathe some life into his career by putting him in Jackie Brown in 1997, but it didn’t take as Keaton’s last starring role came in the disastrous Jack Frost a year later. And, other than sporadic TV, voiceover and small role work here and there, he hasn’t been seen since.

Flash forward to 2014. So far, Michael Keaton has been seen in significant supporting roles in two major motion pictures, RoboCop and Need for Speed, but it’s an upcoming movie called Birdman that will be the true test to see if Michael Keaton can carry a movie by himself, a full 24 years after his last hit.

Similar to Mickey Rourke’s comeback movie in 2008, The Wrestler, Birdman is about a washed-up guy seeking to reclaim past glory. This time, instead of being a wrestler, Keaton plays an actor who once played a superhero and now is trying to be taken seriously as a stage actor on Broadway. It’s directed by esteemed director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), so, much like The Wrestler, which was directed by Darren Aronofsky, Keaton has the support of a legitimately respected and talented artist behind him, so the chances of this coming off are high. But, in the end, it still lies with how much Keaton has left in the tank. All the pretty words and pictures won’t help if the performance isn’t there. From the looks of the trailer, Inarritu is resting a lot on Keaton’s shoulders, so this movie will either launch a career comeback for him (Oscar bait, perhaps?) or quietly kill off any hopes of a second professional life. It will be very interesting to see play out, either way. Birdman opens on October 17.

Ever have game night at your house? You know, that friendly competition among family members who love each other but you secretly want to take them down and beat them so you can win, win, WIN??? Oh, that’s just me? Anyway, I’ve found myself lately wondering what life must be like in the Jolie/Pitt household these days, or, rather, what it will be like soon, especially around the holidays, as they gather ‘round the Christmas tree, sipping eggnog on their yacht, opening their presents from around the world (or not—knowing them, they give each other gifts like “An orphanage in Africa was built in your name in lieu of a gift. Merry Christmas, Love, Mom.”) But, deep down, you just KNOW Brad and Angie are going to look at each other, much like they do in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, long after the kids are asleep, and they are going to break out the one-upsmanship. Or, at least in my twisted little dream world they do. And it might go something like this:

Brad: “That was a great party the other night. You should be really proud.”
Angie: “Yup. You know I am so proud of the movie [Unbroken, which Jolie directs and opens on December 25]. I just want people to see it.”
Brad: “Well, it’s nice the critics like it too, admit it.”
Angie: “Well, ok, it’s nice that all our hard work is being recognized, sure. But you know we’re not in it for the reviews.”
Brad: “Yeah, we’re in it for the awards.”
Both together: “Ha ha ha ha”
Angie: “Seriously, you made 12 Years a Slave because you believed in it. The fact you finally won an Oscar for producing it was the cherry on top.”
Brad: “That’s true. But we all know I should’ve won that Oscar for Moneyball. But that’s not the point. It’s about the work.”
Angie: “Oh, Oscar-Smoschcar. It’s so over-rated. You know I don’t even care about mine. Where is it, anyway?”
Brad: “Right….like you don’t polish it every night.”
Angie: “And you don’t keep yours on your nightstand?”
Brad: “It’s a reminder of all the hard work. You’ll feel that way if Unbroken gets recognized.”
Angie: “But what if I win another? Would you be ok with that?”
Brad: “Are you serious? Of course, honey. We are in this together. Besides, I’m a movie star. Fury [opening November 14] just passed $100 million and is getting its own Oscar buzz. You do your own thing. It’s cute.”
Angie: “Cute? You want to go there? Really? You want to talk box office?”
Brad: “Here we go…”
Angie: “$700 million worldwide and counting [Maleficent]. Booyah.”
Brad: “Can we go to bed now? I have a meeting with Quentin in the morning. You know how I need my sleep for that.”
Angie: “Ok, you take your little $100 mil and I’ll meet you there. I’ve got to check the internationals and see if we’ve crossed $800 yet. Love you.”

Yes, in my fantasy life, Angelina Jolie says “booyah.” Get over it.

Speaking of Brad Pitt, his 2011-produced film Moneyball, or at least the people involved with it, are everywhere this year. Check this out:

-Brad Pitt, the star of Moneyball, stars in Fury, coming out on November 14 and is producing True Story, starring Moneyball co-star Jonah Hill, set to be released sometime this year. And yes, he gets to spend Christmas with Angelina Jolie.

-The late Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright, co-stars of Moneyball, star in A Most Wanted Man, which comes out tomorrow, July 25.

-Steven Zaillian, the writer of Moneyball, is the screenwriter for Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott’s new epic, coming out on December 12.

-Bennett Miller, the director of Moneyball, is directing the highly-anticipated Foxcatcher, starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell, coming out on November 14.

-But, most of all, the subject of Moneyball, the Oakland A’s, with General Manager Billy Beane still at the helm, currently have the best record in baseball, despite (still) having one of the lowest payrolls in the league. Much like in the movie, if the A’s can continue this dream season that they are having, it will be a true testament to the theories and practices put into place by Beane and Peter Brand (played by Pitt and Hill) and anyone who loves baseball and who loves a good underdog story can’t help but root for them.

Last year, writer/director Richard Linklater wrapped up his 18-year movie odyssey with the third of his love story trilogy, Before Midnight, which followed Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) in telling the story of a couple who meet, fall in love and get married over the course of 18 real-time years. It was truly a film experience nobody had seen before and audiences fell in love with it.

Well, Linklater has one-upped himself with yet another film experiment and, so far, the critics have fully embraced it. Only time will tell if audiences agree. Boyhood is a movie that follows one boy from age 5 to 18, shot in real time. It is a 12-year epic film, shot over 12 years, with the same actors. It is a monumental commitment to filmmaking and a passion project like no other and I can’t wait to see it for myself. Again, the months ahead will determine the final fate of this film, whether it will end up being a classic of American cinema or a dud, but, either way, you’ve got to hand it to Linklater for following his passions and always doing things his own way.

Finally, here is the list of movies still to come that I can’t wait to see. If you love movies, these should all be on your calendar as well (release dates are after the movie title. Click on the movie title to see the trailer, if there is one):

The Zero Theorem 9/19
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby 9/26
Gone Girl 10/3
Nightcrawler 10/17
Interstellar 11/7
Foxcatcher 11/14
Fury 11/14
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 11/21
The Imitation Game 11/21
Inherent Vice 12/12
Unbroken 12/25

Hang in there, the dark days are nearly over. 2014, we are ready! Bring it on.