Anomalisa (2015) Charlie Kaufman – Movie Review

The main character is unhappily married, middle-aged self-help author and occupational speaker Michael Stone, who has traveled for a one-day stay in Cincinnati in order to deliver a lecture at a convention for those in the customer service industry. Michael is bored, lonely, and sad; he isn’t someone who particularly likes being around other people, and yet he also can’t seem to tolerate having to be left alone with his own thoughts. Ironic that he has become an expert in giving good customer service when those who follow what he preaches get on his every nerve, but he hates himself even more, and yet he can’t escape those feelings. During his stay at an upscale hotel, he tries to get reacquainted with an ex-lover with whom he spurned severely, and proceeds to make matters worse in his attempts to make them better. Then he meets a couple of women who are there to see his speech, including Lisa, a lonely younger woman who seems different than just about anyone else Michael has met.

Chi-Raq (2015) Spike Lee, Nick Cannon – Movie Review

Set in Chicago’s South Side, there are two warring gangs who’ve been committing violent crimes against each other for years, the purple-clad Spartans and the Trojans, dressed in orange.  Chi-Raq, aka Demetrius Dupree, is the head of the Spartans, and he’s down the eyepatch-sporting Trojan Cyclops and all of his men before his own get taken down.  However, in the gunfire between the two men, an eleven-year old girl is killed by one of their strays, and no one is brave enough to snitch against the person who did it.  Fed up by the cycle of violence that leaves them all as potential victims, the women of the community, led by Chi-Raq’s girlfriend Lysistrata, determine that they’re going to go on a sex strike — ‘no peace, no piece’ —  until the men put down their weapons and work toward peace between them. News spreads like wildfire, making the so-called ‘blue-balls movement’ it a worldwide event, as even women in the sex industry and gay men are refusing to put out until a peace treaty is struck.

Carol (2015) Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara – Movie Review

Set just before Christmas in the early 1950s, Rooney Mara co-stars as Therese Belivet, a young and shy Manhattan shopgirl who ends up waiting on a sophisticated socialite named Carol Aird, who is looking for the right present to get for her young daughter, Lindy. Carol means to make a separation from her husband Harge and wants to make the present something special to ease the transition for the young girl, especially as her parents will likely be tied up in a battle for custody for the foreseeable future. Therese kindly helps her pick out the right gift to ship to her address, but in the exchange, Carol has left her gloves behind on the counter. Therese returns the gloves, Carol is grateful enough to take her new friend out to lunch, and the two begin to find themselves drawing closer to one another in a manner they haven’t been able to with anyone else.

Daddy’s Home (2015) Ferrell, Wahlberg – Movie Review

Will Ferrell stars as New Orleans smooth jazz ratio station exec Brad Whitaker, who has a loving wife in Sarah, and two stepchildren who haven’t quite come around to accepting him as their new father. Things seem to be on the up and up until Sarah’s deadbeat ex, Dusty Mayron, decides he wants to pay a visit, triggering lots of feelings of jealousy and insecurity when it turns out that Dusty is seen as the epitome of cool to his kids in all of the ways Brad can never be. Thinking he needs to up his game in the face of a total alpha male who might even steal back his ex-wife, Brad decides he’s going to have to start ‘manning up’ and beat Dusty at his own game to earn the right to be the man of the house.

The Hateful Eight (2015) Quentin Tarantino – Movie Review

Set in a wintry Wyoming in the late 19th Century, we start the film off with ex-Union soldier turned bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren, who stops a stagecoach in the middle of travel through a desolate mountain pass just ahead of a major snowstorm. On board the stagecoach is a fellow bounty hunter, John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth, who, unlike Marquis, takes his dead-or-alive bounties in while they’re still breathing so they will be hanged at the public square. The other passenger is one of those bounties Ruth is taking in to Red Rock, a racist spitfire named Daisy Domergue. A little further, they reluctantly pick up another passenger, Chris Mannix, who claims that he’s set to become the new sheriff of Red Rock upon arrival, and to whom they would collect their rewards.

The quartet, along with stagecoach driver O.B., are forced to shelter from the blizzard at a secluded tavern called Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they meet a new collection of interesting people, including a Mexican, Bob, who is tending the needs of the place while Minnie is away, a former Confederate general named Sandy Smithers, a drifter named Joe Gage, who says he’s there to visit his mother for the holidays, and Oswaldo Mobray, and a man claiming to be the hangman who is traveling to Red Rock to put a noose on Daisy Domergue. Ruth begins to become convinced that one (or perhaps more) of the men in the group is actually there to help Daisy escape, which, if true, means there’s going to be a violent confrontation about to go down at the Haberdashery if he’s not rooted out before the plan is hatched.

The Big Short (2015) Christian Bale – Movie Review

Bolstered by a dynamite cast, The Big Short has several converging story threads, beginning with a socially awkward hedge-fund manager named Dr. Michael Burry, who determines that the subprime mortgage industry is a bubble built on a slew of misguided practices that’s inevitably going to burst, so he invests his company’s available assets, totaling 1.3 billion dollars, to bet against them. Douchebag banker Jared Vennett, who also serves as the film’s narrator, catches wind of Burry’s activities and looks into it himself, and soon he also becomes convinced that CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations), a hodge-podge of mostly junk bonded loans, will result in the market eventually failing.

The only one who will partner with Vennett is a smaller hedge fund headed by Mark Baum, who, despite being initially skeptical, sees the iceberg headed toward the Titanic and is willing to make a major play, though his conscience is persistently troubling him. Meanwhile, a couple of small-time investors secure the expertise of a former financial strategist, Ben Wickert, to help them play with the big boys, hoping they’ll make a fortune. As the mortgage industry is considered the bedrock of the investment market, banks are all too happy to let these “suckers” bet against its success.

Joy (2015) Jennifer Lawrence – Movie Review

Jennifer Lawrence stars as the titular Joy, whom we meet as a young girl with a head full of interesting ideas on how to make life great.  Real life seemed to squash those early dreams, opting not to go to college despite being the valedictorian of her high school, and then entering in through a short-lived marriage and raising two kids mostly on her own.  Her home life in Long Island is like a kooky sitcom, with a shut-in mother hooked on soaps in one bedroom, a Venezuelan lounge singer ex-husband in her basement, a father who comes to her for a place to stay while his own relationship issues get sorted out, a half-sister who despises everything Joy’s about, and a beloved grandmother (the film’s narrator) who still believes in her dreams to be better than all of this. 

The Revenant (2015) Leonardo DiCaprio – Movie Review

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, who is mauled by a mama grizzly bear while out with a hunting party of fur trappers, leaving him barely clinging to life with severe trauma and a plethora of injuries.  Glass’s teenage son Hawk (a fictional character added for dramatic effect), who was the son of a murdered Pawnee lover, won’t leave his side, though that also leaves him largely unprotected among a group of men with their own prejudices, and their own reasons to hate the natives of the area, especially John Fitzgerald, who thinks Glass is a lost cause that’s just dead weight on getting back to civilization that should be put out of his misery.  The misery for Glass doesn’t end there, as he’s eventually left for dead (hence the title), committed to dragging himself out of his shallow grave, crawling high and low, through rocks, rivers and snow, in order to try to right the wrongs that have been perpetrated against him.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) JJ Abrams – Movie Review

An orb-like droid named BB-8 has some technology placed within him that contains a map showing the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, and there are several interested parties, some benevolent and some evil, that desperately want to get a hold of this for their own purposes. In protection of the droid are a scavenger from the desert planet of Jakku named Rey, a failed stormtrooper turned hero nicknamed Finn, intergalactic smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, and, to a lesser extent, a resistance pilot named Poe Dameron, who have come to reclaim their beloved ship, the Millennium Falcon. Out to wrest the information from them is a powerful faction known as the First Order, Dark-siders who’ve vowed to restore the galaxy back to the former glory of the Empire (complete with stormtroopers, TIE fighters, and a secret weapon of mass destruction), out to crush the upstart alliance known as the Resistance.

The Lobster (2015) Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz – Movie Review

Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos directs this strange alternate universe, near-future setting, which feels cold, oppressive, and bizarre.  It’s his first English-language feature-length effort, with a little French thrown in, still quite astute, even if it’s not his mother tongue thanks to the uniqueness of the story and a very solid cast, most of whom are in complete deadpan mode. Many of the characters have been stripped away from their emotions, as if there is little joy to be found in their continued existence, as the hotel beats it into their minds that it is much more advantageous and safe to be in a relationship with someone than it is to be alone; and if you cant find a mate, you don’t even deserve to be human.