One of the best things about this not-quite-what-you-think-its-gonna-be movie is its co-star’s real name: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. (Remember back when we prided ourselves in mastering Gabourey Sidibe?) As for Adewale himself, his acting is as atrocious as everyone else’s in this mostly-dull-but-kindve-fun piece of cheese. The title and plot lead you to believe this’ll be a disaster movie. But you’ll blow your top before Vesuvius does, because it takes a geologic eon to get to the eruption. First we have to watch, like, 40 gladiator battles. See, it’s actually a sword-and-sandals picture, with a dash (or an ash) of disaster thrown in at the end when the volcano erupts and everybody (yeah, it’s a spoiler, so cover me in lava) dies. The final sequence is a lengthy crush-fest well enough done not to be laughable, but unremarkable. You get your money’s worth, but the director’s heart seems to lean to the metal clink of weapons and the blood of open combat. Tobacco store Indians are more expressive than the cast. With his Mr. Peabody voice and paycheck performance, Kiefer Sutherland will want to keep this one off his resume. And Jared Harris, who made us wish he hadn’t hanged himself in “Mad Men”, is barely there here. The love story/catastrophe intertwining has a real TITANIC-y feel, but Kit Harrington ain’t Leo and Emily Browning ain’t Kate. But I have to say I enjoyed some of it, at least for nostalgia’s sake, because this is the kind of movie (with less gore) that we used to go see on Saturdays at the Encino Theater. — Jeff Schultz


It cuts a lot of corners with too-easy setups and too-quick resolutions, and it hinges in part on a moth-eaten gay/AIDS plot turn, but the ways in which Judi Dench and Steve Coogan recreate this (quite real) encounter opened up my tear ducts. The story is told simply. (At times it seems like a made-for-TV movie.) But it’s gentle and humane and the two actors give it their all. Dench is so composed, her acting so invisible, it’s almost like a state of grace, which rather sums up her character as well. And Coogan — so exuberant in other roles, so comically daft — doesn’t so much dial it down here as simply bring his drama chops to the fore. They’re perfect together. Also worth mention: beautiful shots of Northern Ireland (checkerboard fields) and Washington D.C. (the Potomac) and a touching score. — Jeff Schultz

In a year of good but not great movies nominated for Best Picture,  this one moved me the most. Steve Coogan not only writes a beautiful and moving film, he also sheds his Alan Partridge persona and lets Judi Dench shine. This drama unfolds like a mystery with more twists that a lot of mysteries I’ve seen lately. Themes of forgiveness, acceptance, and faith are big deals here but Coogan’s script never hits us over the head with them. I was surprised at how emotional and at times funny this was and think that out of the nine movies up for Best Picture that I’ve seen (sorry Her and Captain Phillips), this one was the best. — Stormy Curry

There are 9 movies nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture this year. PHILOMENA is the quietest and an enormous underdog. PHILOMENA is a woman who was forced to give up her child in the 1950’s because she was not married and lived in a convent. “Give up” is a nice way of saying her son was stolen from her. She never told anyone for 50 years until it was a secret too heavy to keep hidden any longer. Judy Dench plays Philomena to perfection. She’s is every bit as perfect as June Squibb is in Nebraska and has to carry more of the load here. The movie was co-written by the enormously talented Steve Coogan and should walk away with adapted screenplay. It’s smart, funny and emotional without being sappy. Coogan also stars as the disgraced former journalist who needs work and takes on the task of helping Philomena find her long lost son. That’s about all the plot I feel I can share without spoiling the film. It will make you laugh and cry and wonder just how horrible the Catholic church can be. Yeah, even in the wake of priests abusing children, you might be surprised at the level of outrage you may feel here. Could PHILOMENA be a winner for Best Picture? Probably not, but it definitely deserves to be in this company of the years best films.  — Alan Yudman


You wait all year for a movie like this, with its drop-dead cast and funny witty script, tied together by the ever-more-assured David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper shines brightest as the hard-charging man in charge, who doesn’t realize he’s in over his head. As fortunes turn throughout the film, Cooper rockets between victory and defeat in Oscar-worthy manner. The movie is a love story, a meditation on moral squishiness, a bit of a thriller, and overall, a set of remarkable characters. Jennifer Lawrence evolves completely into the nymphet wife who seems white-trashy at first, then surprises you with more than you thought was there; not for a moment do you think of Katniss Everdeen. Christian Bale and Amy Adams add further complexity: Bale’s combover is practically its own role, and Adams (who seems to be morphing into Kristen Wiig. or is it the other way around?) neatly keeps us guessing about her loyalty in the Bale-Cooper triangle she completes. De Niro turns up for one pretty juicy scene and the great Jack Jones graces the soundtrack with a snappy “I’ve Got Your Number”. (He’s on camera for about five seconds as the camera whirls by during a party scene.) In fact, all the songs seem to kick up the mood where they’re placed. A seriously entertaining movie. — Jeff Schultz

David O. Russell made one of the best movies of 2012. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was a crazy movie about crazy people doing crazy things and falling in a crazy kind of love. Jennifer Lawrence won a Best Actress Oscar for her manic performance. So, “getting the team back together” seemed like a no brainer. Add Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and it was a recipe for another run at Oscar. Or, AMERICAN HUSTLE could have been a major fuck up. Thankfully, with Russell at the helm it works on many levels. The story of the 1970’s ABSCAM sting which brought down congressmen, a mayor and one senator from New Jersey was part of the fabric of my youth because I grew up in the Garden State. So I was interested to see how this was all handled. Some may criticize the movie for playing fast and loose with the facts. Well folks, it’s a movie. Get over it. It is told from the perspective of the con artists who the FBI employed to carry out the sting. Christian Bale is fat and has the worst/best combover in movie history. Bradley Cooper has a perm.. ‘nuff said. Amy Adams is fantastic as Bale’s mistress, and along with Jennifer Lawrence bring a huge amount of sexy to the movie. But AMERICAN HUSTLE is more than a story about the sting. It’s a love story. A man (Bale) caught between his wife and his mistress. The mistress wondering where she fits in after being scorned. It’s just a thoroughly entertaining movie with drama and laughs. Definitely one of the best films of 2013. — Alan Yudman

Watching this, one can’t help but feel like they’re being hustled.  The last great movie David O. Russell made was The Fighter. Silver Linings Playbook was just horrible and this one is good…after the first hour. It takes a while to get moving and once it does, it ends up being just okay. The cast does a good job although it was tough to forget I was watching Bale, Adams, Cooper, and Lawrence act. I just don’t understand why the Academy has such a thing for this guy. Don’t believe the hype.  — Stormy Curry


Just how awful can people be to each other.  Pretty damn awful. Slavery may be the best and worst example of human behavior. And no movie or TV show has ever captured the sheer brutality and hopelessness like 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Steve McQueen’s epic adaptation of Solomon Northup’s story is raw and filled with emotion. None of that emotion comes anywhere close to joy or even happiness. It is a tale filled with sorrow and disappointment and brutality. McQueen is unsparing in his depiction of the heartless Masters and Mistresses and their plantation bosses. He also strips raw the notion that any slave enjoyed their existence. Even those who were favored with somewhat humane Masters lived in fear of the whip. And the whip comes out frequently in this movie. Chiwetel Ojiofor is Northup, a free black man who is duped and drugged, then sold into slavery. He must hide his education and his intelligence because those would be threats to his masters. He cannot reveal his true identity for the same reasons. Northup is both victim and witness to the brutality of plantation owner Edwin Epps, marvelously played by Michael Fassbender. On the Epps plantation he encounters Patsey, Epps favored female slave who at one point in a heartbreaking scene begs Northup to kill her. Lupita Nyong’o deserves every award she has won and will win for her raw portrayal of Patsey. This is not an easy movie to watch. Your stomach and heart will turn in almost every scene. But it is an important film and one that everyone should see. Is it the best film of 2013? It might be. Does it deserve to win Best Picture? It’s not my favorite film of 2013, but it is a very close number 2. — Alan Yudman

This is a disturbing movie that shows viewers the horrors of slavery. That being said, I don’t think it was a great film. It is one of those “important movies” that tells us one man’s story…but I feel like that story could have been told much better. For the most part we don’t know a lot about the main character before these awful things happen to him and when they do,  we are sympathetic but never drawn into his feelings. I’m sorry but long scenes of staring off into space are not emoting. It’s also no secret that Brad Pitt produced this and when he shows up in screen it completely takes you out. One because it’s Brad Pitt. And two, he cast himself as the ultimate hero and it smacks of ego. Other than he and Chiwetel Ejifor, the rest of the cast is fantastic. Unfortunately it fails to connect in a way that other movies have that deal with the grim subject matter. It will also probably win Best Picture. — Stormy Curry


Yes, of course it’s bad. Horribly, awfully, undeniably bad. But does it rise to the level of so-bad-it’s-good? Not to me. Early in the game (that is, immediately), we see and hear that this is crap. Everyone in the cast is amateurish. The camera is usually in the wrong place (the extreme close ups are painful), editing is sloppy, with unstable tone and meaning that can change within a single sentence, etc. Seemingly the main joke is that lead actor/creator Tommy Wiseau is oblivious to how bad he is and is so earnestly shitty that the ludicrousness of it all earns our attention. Well, perhaps: I admit, I saw this at home by myself on DVD — not at one of the midnight, audience-participation screenings that have turned it into a cult fave. In that setting, people say it’s hilarious. Greg Sestero, who plays Wiseau’s rival in love, wrote a the-making-of book about the production which has been optioned by James Franco. Whatever meta-pretzel that turns into promises to be far more interesting than the real thing. — Jeff Schultz

There are movies that are so bad that you have to watch them just so you can say, “yeah, I saw that…. 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back”. THE ROOM is just that kind of movie. It’s billed as a “black comedy”. All the humor here is unintentional and at the filmmaker’s expense. The plot is pretty simple. Johnny and Lisa are engaged. Johnny is loving (even though his accent and long hair make him appear to be a Bond villain), Lisa is a manipulative bitch who doesn’t love him anymore and wants to sleep with Johnny’s best friend Mark. Wait, didn’t I see this on “Days of our Lives” in the ’80’s?  That’s it, that’s the plot. Oh, but the execution. That’s where this goes from simple to simply horrible. Characters just all of a sudden show up with no explanation. Then they disappear just a quickly, never to be seen again. The dialogue is wooden and at times makes absolutely zero sense. The acting is well, some porn actors are better (not that I’ve ever seen any). And speaking of “porn”, there are soft core sex scenes sprinkled throughout the movie that are scored like some power ballad by a failed ’80’s hair metal band. You should wear a neck brace to guard against the sudden turns the movie takes without warning. In one scene Lisa’s mom drops a bombshell about her health in the middle of a conversation like she’s talking about the weather. And Lisa reacts like that’s exactly what her Mom just told her, “Dear, it’s going to be sunny tomorrow”. Then there is the 18-year-old kid who is Johnny’s charity case, paying for his school and apartment. And we’re supposed to believe Johnny’s doing this just because he’s a big softie. Oh, and footballs. The guys are forever tossing around a football for no apparent reason, I suppose because “that’s what guys do when they get together”. It’s inexplicable. Then, in the final scene the whole thing takes a huge turn that really makes no sense whatsoever. Maybe you could watch this and play a drinking game.. take a shot every time Johnny laughs like an idiot or Lisa acts like a bitch. Better yet, drink before you see THE ROOM. I probably should have, it would have been easier to swallow. — Alan Yudman


Fans of the original ROBOCOP know it was a scifi thriiler with tongue firmly planted in its cheeks. Sure it had violence and a guy/robot crime fighter. But it was also poking fun at the tropes of any science fiction movie that deals with a dystopian future. It also helped that Peter Weller delivered obviously comic lines with a robotic straightness that made them even funnier. That funny is absent from the 2014 version. This movie takes the predicament of Alex Murphy very seriously. Joel Kinnaman (excellent in THE KILLING) is Murphy. But this time instead of a beat cop almost killed in a shootout with a gang, Murphy is a detective investigating gun smugglers in Detroit. He gets blown up outside his house and is all but dead. But thanks to the greed of Omincorp headed by MIchael Keaton (he needs to work more, he’s so good) and the expertise of Gary Oldman Murphy lives again as the man/machine ROBOCOP. The two standout performances here are Kinnaman’s and Oldman’s. The latter could read the want ads and make them sound like life and death. Kinnaman handles the confusion and anger of Murphy with great skill and brings humanity to the robot. The rest of the cast is serviceable if not spectacular. If you try to compare the original and the new versions you are undertaking a fools errand. The new film is not trying to poke fun or be in any measure satirical. Taken on its own it is a better than average action thriller with special effects that could have been a little better. But if you want a comparison, there is none. The original was better. — Alan Yudman


Crazy good. A sharp, witty romp disguised as a movie for little kids. For proof, just listen the to theme song. “Everything is Awesome” is an infectious, upbeat piece of pop candy you can’t get out of your head. But its feel-good effect is belied by the lyrics, which lampoon the current trope in daily conversation of everything being “awesome” be it good or bad, trivial or important. A pretty sophisticated comic concept in a movie based on toy blocks sold “for ages 4 and up”! (The song comes partly from the people of “Lonely Island”, Andy Samberg’s “Funny or Die”.) This little comic rocketship belongs in the good company of animated winners like “Wreck-It Ralph”, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Team America”, with blow-your-mind design (on a relatively small budget) and brains and heart. The movie hits so many adult notes in the first three-quarters that we not only accept, but welcome when it goes soft at the end with a clever mirror image that explains the story. Easily worth a second visit to catch the lines you missed. Go! (But put the cap on the KraGle first!) — Jeff Schultz

I had serious doubts about THE LEGO MOVIE. It seemed like a blatant marketing ploy designed to sell the plastic brick toys and get people to visit it’s namesake amusement park. Boy, was I wrong. It’s not close to the best of Pixar, but it is pretty incredible. There is humor, great action and a bit of a message for the kids about liking yourself. The voice work by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and anyone else I’m leaving out. Oh, right… Liam Neeson! The movie has non-stop laughs for Mom and Dad, and stuff the kids will love. Like, their favorite Legos coming to life and talking! There are a couple of scenes that are kind of intense, but I don’t think there’s anything there that will give kids nightmares. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is perfect and the song “Everything is Awesome” by the guys behind The Lonely Island is goofy and catchy and I can’t get it out of my head. It also has a cool reveal toward the end that kinda makes it all make sense. I’d go into details about plot and story and how it all comes together, but what’s the point. Just go see this. You’ll laugh and your kids will thank you for taking them. But be prepared to head to the toy store after you leave the theater. — Alan Yudman


The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the Maersk Alabama’s takeover by Somali pirates is amazing enough. But put in the hands of Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks, it turns into a satisfying thriller. Phillips and his crew were boarded by four pirates off the Horn of Africa. The pirates eventually abandoned the crew and took Phillips hostage on board the cargo ship’s lifeboat. The movie is a race against time. Can the Navy rescue Phillips before the Pirates reach the Somali coast or before they get desperate enough to kill the Captain. If you’ve read anything about this story you know how it ends. The execution of how it plays out is what is most interesting. Hanks delivers his usual solid performance, even if his New England accent is a bit dodgy. My biggest complaints are these. In the first act, Hanks and his wife (Catherine Keener) are driving to the airport and talking about their kids and it turns into this deep discussion of the future and the type of world in which they will live. It is very forced and completely out of the blue. We really have no idea why they are having this discussion other than they are having it. My other complaint is about Catherine Keener. She is one of my favorite actresses. I’m not sure how much more she could have been used the way this film is structured, but she  seems to just be thrown in there to prove to us that Phillips has a family. Seems like a waste of a great talent. That said, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a very good thriller and well worth your time. — Alan Yudman


I had huge expectations for THE MONUMENTS MEN based on a bunch of elements. George Clooney co-wrote and directed it. The cast is great. It’s about a little known history of World War II. I guess I learned not to raise my hopes. It’s not that this is a bad movie. it has some very interesting parts. A couple of scenes featuring Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon are quite good. It just feels kind of thrown together. The story is about seven art historians/collectors/architects/sculptors who are tasked with saving the cultural treasures of Europe from the Nazis. Clooney leads this band of non-soldiers as they race to the front to carry out their mission. See, the potential for a good story is there. But, it never all comes together. It never drew me in. It’s not that I didn’t care. The subject matter makes you care by default. I just never felt involved. I mean you’ve got Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Clooney, Damon and Blanchett. Each has a unique voice in film. Those voices are silenced here. Anyone could have played these roles. There’s nothing special or unique. Even reveals about what the Nazis did to the Jews and their possessions are passionless statements of fact. And the score comes in a little too brightly at the exact wrong time, distracting what should be heavy scenes and making them feel lighter. An interesting lesson in history, but frankly I’d rather read about it in the book the movie was based on. THE MONUMENTS MEN are less interesting than the art they are chasing. Too bad, because this should have been much better. — Alan Yudman