The Judge (2014) – Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Hank Palmer, a successful Chicago defense attorney who’s called back to his Indiana hometown to attend his mother’s funeral. He reunites with his estranged father (Oscar nominee Robert Duvall) and his two brothers, played by Vincent D’Onofrio & Jeremy Strong. When their father is involved in a fatal hit & run accident, Hank defends him in the court case, despite their troubled relationship. As more facts about the case and his father’s health come to light, Hank must also deal with a former flame (played by Vera Farmiga) & also try to mend fences with his father & siblings, who he left behind to pursue his career. The film is well acted & Downey, Jr. & Duvall have some good scenes together, but the story is predictable, and none of the characters are particularly well developed. It’s worth a look for fans of the actors, but it’s ultimately not the strongest vehicle for its stars, though Duvall & Farmiga stand out in a talented cast that also includes Billy Bob Thornton & Dax Shepard. The Judge is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on various online services. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBvK6ni97W8.
Whiplash (2014) – J.K. Simmons recently won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in this powerful drama from writer/director Damien Chazelle. Andrew Neiman (portrayed by Miles Teller) is a drummer & a student in the jazz program at the elite Shaffer Conservatory in New York. He crosses paths with conductor Terence Fletcher (an electrifying turn from Simmons) who inspires, pushes & terrifies his students in equal measure. Fletcher verbally abuses, taunts & rages at his musicians in order to bring out what he feels is their best work. Neiman is initially energized by Fletcher’s style, but ultimately clashes with his mercurial teacher, setting off a chain of events that will change both of their lives forever. This is essentially an intense, thrilling acting duet & battle of wills between Simmons & Teller's characters; both performers are simply amazing in their roles. Whiplash is very highly recommended: one of the best films of 2014, it’s now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on various online services. Here’s a link to the movie’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_jQycdQGo.
Dark Skies (2013) – Keri Russell & Josh Hamilton are featured in this thriller as Lacy & Daniel Barrett, the parents of a suburban family beset by strange occurrences & weird happenings. The younger of their two sons begins behaving oddly, several flocks of birds fly into their house, and both parents experience a loss of memory & time, where they cannot account for their behavior. From the film’s beginning, we’re expecting this to be a standard haunted house tale, but the forces that are terrorizing this family are far more extraterrestrial in nature. The movie makes an attempt to be a creepy, frightening tale of alien contact that offers something different, but ultimately fails, despite some good performances & a couple of effective scare scenes from director Scott Stewart. J.K. Simmons shows up late in the film as a UFO expert, and livens up things considerably, but this hybrid of the science-fiction & horror genres doesn’t give us enough of a new twist, and sharp viewers will see the ending coming a mile away. It’s an ok watch for fans of the genre, but not recommended. Dark Skies is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on various online services. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9592F2RpRPo.