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McFarland, USA
This Ain't Golf

Disney has been successful with their inspirational sports dramas since 2000’s Remember the Titans, releasing one just about every year. They all feature good acting, well crafted stories, and happy endings. They are always based on a true story and all pretty much follow the same formula. As such, few of the individual movies stand out from any of the others to the public at large. If one of those movies happens to touch members of its audience on some kind of personal level, however, it can accelerate that particular film out of the pack and turn it into a champion. That is how it was for this writer with the latest Disney sports drama, McFarland, USA.


Kingsman: The Secret Service
Spies, Gentleman Spies

There are those out there who feel that the James Bond franchise has gotten a little too serious; that 007 has forgotten himself in his pursuit to be more like Jason Bourne. Fortunately, for those who feel that way, director Matthew Vaughn is on your side. The director of hits like X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass now brings you Kingsman: The Secret Service, a clear tribute to the earlier Bond films; most notably those of the Roger Moore era. There are gentleman spies, maniacal villains, deadly henchman, and lots and lots of gadgets. The result is a movie that is crazy fun from start to finish.


Jupiter Ascending
Sci-Fi Chaos

The Wachowski siblings have had a very up-and-down directing career. After their modestly budged The Matrix became a popular hit in 1999, the directing pair was given carte blanche for its two sequels and the result was a couple of bloated and incoherent movies that were still financial hits. They were reined back in for the ambitious Cloud Atlas, which they co-directed with Tom Tykwer, and which turned out to be very good movie. The critical cred they earned with that movie, however, leads to their latest, Jupiter Ascending, an ambitious and lavish sci-fi spectacle, which unfortunately plays closer to the overblown Matrix sequels than the ground-breaking original.


American Sniper
First Person Shooter

American Sniper is a return to form of sorts for director Clint Eastwood, following a couple of underwhelming releases in J. Edgar and last year’s Jersey Boys. The new film is based on the 2012 book that came with the subtitle “The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” The book and the movie tell the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, a trained sniper who served four tours in Iraq. During those four tours, Kyle would be credited with 160 confirmed kills, making him, as the subtitle to the book suggests, the most deadly sniper in American history.


Inherent Vice
Lebowski-Esque Detective Work

Having directed films like There Will Be Blood and The Master, director Paul Thomas Anderson is not really known for comedy. Even the film he cast Adam Sandler in, Punch-Drunk Love, is generally remembered as a drama. Anderson’s latest film, Inherent Vice, in which Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a drug-fueled private investigator in 1970 Los Angeles, just might be the closest the director ever gets even though the film is still far from being a straight-forward comedy.


Selma
The Story of Dr. King’s March

It is difficult to believe that there has never been a theatrically released movie about Martin Luther King, Jr. There have been a few versions on television, but none that have debuted on the big screen. That changes this year with the release of Selma, an affecting drama about Dr. King’s fight to secure equal voting rights in the south. Director Ava DuVernay focuses on the events leading up to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and she creates a powerful drama, somewhat amazingly, considering she did not even have the rights to use any of Dr. King’s famous speeches.


The Imitation Game
A Hero’s Story Told

The characters in the new movie The Imitation Game are constantly reminding us and each other that “sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” One such person is the movie’s true-life protagonist, Alan Turing, an English mathematician who broke the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II while almost single-handedly inventing the computer. Despite this, Turing was chastised by the British government for being gay in a time when that was considered to be a crime. Because of this, the general population—especially that outside the United Kingdom—is not as familiar as they should be with Turing’s accomplishments. This movie, fortunately, is set to change all that.


Unbroken
An Incredible True Story

The new film Unbroken is based on one of those true stories that you cannot believe is actually true–not necessarily because you cannot believe that the events depicted in the movie actually happened, but because it is difficult to believe that someone could suffer through those events and come out in one piece on the other side. The movie is the story of Louis Zamperini, a man who went through hell during World War II and whose story, as tough as it may be to watch, is one that needs to be told.


Into the Woods
From Stage to Screen

With lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim, the musical Into the Woods first hit the Broadway stage in 1987. Since that time, various people have attempted to adapt the play for the cinema, but none of these projects ever got any further than the script-reading phase. That changes this year as director Rob Marshall finally brings the musical to the big screen with the help of stars like Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp.


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The Final Chapter?

The final chapter of The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies is billed as the final film in director Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth film series that included both this trilogy and the three original Lord of the Rings films. The shortest film in the series, The Battle of the Five Armies works both as a final chapter and as a prequel to the original trilogy. Although certainly a better effort than a prequel trilogy for another major film franchise that shall remain nameless, The Hobbit does not quite stand up to its predecessor. Still, there quite a lot of entertainment value in this final film that is essentially two hours and twenty-four minutes of non-stop battle sequences.


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