Movie Review ~ Widows

The Facts

Synopsis: Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

Stars: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Debicki, Brian Tyree Henry, Jacki Weaver, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Robert Duvall

Director: Steve McQueen

Rated: R

Running Length: 129 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: If there’s one truly unfortunate thing that happened at the movies this year it’s that Steve McQueen’s Widows failed to catch fire at the box office.  The director of 12 Years a Slave and Gillian Flynn, the writer of Gone Girl, have adapted an ‘80s UK crime series and updated it to present day Chicago and cast some of the best actors working today.  It’s a gritty, great film and that it went largely unnoticed just totally baffles me.  Oscar-winner Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) turns in what I think is the best performance of her career as a woman whose life is totally turned upside down and then is tossed sideways by a series of revelations that shock her and the audience.  Gathering together a group of disparate women (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby, Michelle Rodriguez, Furious 7) to follow through on a crime their husbands were planning, just when you think you’ve figured out where the movie is going it throws in multiple twists that I just did not see coming.  It’s hard to pull one over on movie-goers but McQueen and Flynn do it twice.

Hopefully, this is one movie that people will rediscover when it arrives on streaming services and then kick themselves for missing it when it was on the big screen.  Perhaps it was marketed wrong or maybe it was released at a bad time of year, but something strange happened with Widows because this is one of the best films of the year that just totally vanished way before it should have.  Find it, see it…you’ll understand what I’m saying when you do.

2015 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals



Well hello there!  I wound up skipping my Best of 2014 list because when 2015 rolled around there were still too many “2014” movies that I hadn’t been able to catch.  Then one thing lead to another…and it was March!

So here we are starting the fifth year of this blog!  Hard to believe it and boy, does time fly.  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2015.  At first I was going to do a Top 10 for both because I absolutely had candidates to fill all the slots, but then I decided to stick with five each to truly highlight the best of the best and worst of the worst.

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter (@joemnmovieman), and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)


5. Mad Max: Fury Road – like a lightning rod, the fourth Mad Max film conducted the kind of electricity that could fuel a dozen other pictures.  Director George Miller upped the ante for not only summer blockbusters but for filmmaking as a whole with his non-stop action flick that took no prisoners and left most 2015 films in its fiery dust. Starring Tom Hardy but owned by Charlize Theron, this Mad Max signaled the start of the summer season with a rocking battle cry. Truly amazing.

4. Creed – the best unexpected TKO of the year, Creed is really Rocky 7 but don’t let that stop you from entering the ring.  Star Michael B. Jordan brings a blistering intensity to the role of a young boxer trying to make a name for himself out from under the shadow of his legendary father’s career.  The biggest surprise is original star Sylvester Stallone stepping into the mentor role for his best performance since the original Rocky.  Stallone is valiant, vulnerable, and, under the direction of writer/director Ryan Coogler, fairly unforgettable.  A champion of a film.

3. Carol – anchored by two of the strongest performances of 2015, this love story between young Therese and married Carol is an achingly beautiful achievement from director Todd Haynes.  Delicate as a flower but steely enough to cut deep, it’s a picture about the understanding and acceptance of one’s own desires. Unlike anything else I’ve seen this year, it’s a gorgeous looking film that lingers in the memory long after you’ve left the theater.

2. Brooklyn – the most charming film of 2015, Brooklyn is a sweet love story set against the backdrop of Ireland and New York in the 1950’s.  It’s funny, sad, poignant, and delightfully underplayed so that by the time it reaches its emotional climax the tears it wrings from you are well earned.  Superbly acted and glowing with grace, it’s a wonderful wonderful period piece.

1. The Martian – the best film I saw in 2015 (twice) is Ridley Scott’s grand space adventure adapted from Andy Weir’s best-selling novel.  A full meal of a movie, there’s a little bit of something for everyone here from comedy to action to drama to suspense and even some surprisingly emotional arcs.  Powerfully led by Matt Damon and a small army of familiar faces, movies like The Martian are the reason why we go to movies, to be transported and changed. 

Honorable Mentions: Paddington, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Cinderella, Jurassic World, Magic Mike XXL, Far From the Madding CrowdThe Visit, Sicario, Crimson Peak, RoomStar Wars: The Force Awakens


5. Love the Coopers – arriving like a stale piece of fruitcake, this turkey is reason enough for even the sweetest Christmas fan to say “Bah Humbug”.  It’s an obnoxious and lazy attempt at creating a warm family togetherness film with neither the direction nor the performances to help it rise from the sludge. Wasting the talents of its diverse ensemble cast, this is a White Elephant of a yuletide film.

4. Point Break – making the original 1991 film look like High Noon in comparison, this atrocious remake diverts so far from its dopey origins that it should have just ditched the title and shrugged off the obvious comparisons from its detractors.  With his unforgivable man-bun, heinous fake tattoos, and not good enough for the Sci-Fi channel acting, Luke Bracey leads the film right off a cliff sans parachute.  More focused on being an eco-message film than a heist flick, it sports beautiful cinematography but is overall a lamentable effort.

3. The Lazarus Effect – Kudos to you, Olivia Wilde.  You appeared in two of my least favorite films of the year.  Beautiful as she is, Wilde just can’t seem to find a film that suits her in the acting department and The Lazarus Effect is a prime example. Barely 80 minutes long, there’s no amount of spiritual help that could raise this one from the graveyard of bad horror thrillers.

2. Aloha– pay no attention to the critics that championed this gigantic turd of a film in 2015…they’ve been blinded by a devotion to a filmmaker that has lost his way.  Cameron Crowe’s colossal misfire makes every wrong turn in the book, from casting pale Emma Stone as a Native Hawaiian with a half-Asian father to an inability to assemble a movie that makes any kind of sense.  Legendary in its production for going through titles and reshoots like candy, the final product was more of an ‘adios’ to Crowe’s storied status in Hollywood.

1. The Water Diviner – this waste of a film won three Australian Academy Awards.  Three.  And one of them was Best Picture.  Well, turnabout is fair play and I’m awarding Russell Crowe’s directing debut with Worst Picture of the year honors.  An interminable slog through an incomprehensible plot and ridiculously banal performances, I was praying for some sort of divine intervention to cut the screening short.  It’s bad from the moment it starts until it releases us from our agony.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Inherent Vice, Blackhat, The Boy Next Door, Woman in Gold, Terminator Genisys, The Gallows, Dark Places, American Ultra, Freeheld, Jem and the Holograms, Victor Frankenstein



Most Misunderstood

Hot Pursuit – Ok, so I’m not going to sit here and waste my time telling you that Hot Pursuit is a good movie because it’s fairly derivative from countless other female buddy pictures, too broad for words, and in the end is an inconsequential blip on the careers of stars Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara.  Where I took issue was how the movie was dragged through the grime by critics that would laud the same type of movie had it been released with males in the leading roles.  People took actual offense that Witherspoon went from an Oscar nominated turn in Wild to something so lightweight as Hot Pursuit and I kinda just wanted to tell ‘em all to scoot up a tree.  The film plays right into the strengths (and assets) of both leading ladies and is ultimately harmless.  It’s not great entertainment, but it’s not the garbage mess that people would have you believe.

Honorable Mention: San Andreas

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2015

The D Train – I’m a die-hard anti-Jack Black fan but even I had to admit that The D Train was one of the more unexpected small victories of 2015.  Black is winning as a lovable loser running his class reunion that makes a bid to get a famous-ish classmate to attend.  Flying out to California to convince the guy (James Marsden) to make an appearance, the film takes an unanticipated turn that audiences just won’t see coming.  The film has a dark charm and strong performances to justify your seeking it out.  I think you’ll be surprised…I was.

Honorable Mention: Mistress America

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should:

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

I’ll See You in My Dreams

Song of the Sea

The Hunting Ground

Beyond the Lights

Playing by Heart

Good Kill

Starry Eyes

The Taking of Deborah Logan

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2015

Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 146

Total Movies Seen at Home: 176

Grand Total for 2015 (not counting films seen multiple times): 317

Where I Saw the Most Movies: Showplace ICON – 66!

New To Blu ~ The Reef


The Facts

Synopsis:  A great white shark hunts the crew of a capsized sailboat along the Great Barrier Reef.

Stars: Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Zoe Naylor, Adrienne Pickering

Director: Andrew Traucki

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: As far as films go, those that know me well are aware there are three types of movies that I’m nearly instantly sold on: airplane movies, movies set in outer space, and movies with sharks.  I’m ever so glad that I waited until after I returned from my Hawaiian vacation to take in this shark tale – seeing it before wouldn’t have stopped me from venturing out into the open waters but I would surely have been on the lookout for a fin or two while dog paddling to in the Pacific Ocean.

If the plot to this one sounds eerily similar to 2003’s Open Water well…it’s because it is essentially the same.  I was and am still a fan of what Open Water did with the genre and how it used its miniscule budget to create great atmosphere out of what we didn’t see.  What separates The Reef from Open Water is a bit more style, a bit more substance, and a lot more scares courtesy of strong production values.  After dozens of lame SyFy Channel movies about sharks (two-headed ones, ones that battle octopi, ones that are half octopi, ones that had lunch with Phyllis Diller {ok…that wasn’t real but it’s probably in development}) we finally receive a decent movie with (PUN INCOMING!) bite.  Leave it to our friends down under to present us with a plot that is ‘based on true events’ but keep us guessing as to how it will all turn out.

After their boat capsizes after a day of fun and sun, five people need to decide whether to stick it out on the sinking boat or try to swim the ten or twelve miles in the direction they think land is.  It’s a gamble either way but as one actor states “I’m not going in the water.  I’ve fished these waters…I know what’s in there.”  Without breaking into a chorus of ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ the decision to make the swim is decided upon and they head out to shore.  This is a movie that takes its time and lets your mind unleash the scare on you.  More than one time I found myself involuntarily drawing my legs up beneath me when I sensed a set of jaws was about to emerge from the surf.  In many cases, the scare was only in my brain and to its credit, the movie relies on cheap ‘gotcha’ moments very fleetingly. 

The entirely Australian cast aren’t familiar faces to me but work together well to establish their roles as hero, damsel in distress, shrieker, and sacrificial lamb.  I’ll leave it to you to determine who is who because it does change throughout the movie which adds to the overall feeling that you don’t know who (if any) will make it out of the water.  Ably directed by Traucki (who also helmed the nice crocodile movie Black Water), the movie is 90 minutes of solid filmmaking.  The score is unobtrusive in a Tangerine Dream-y sort of way and the underwater photography is incredible.  Like Open Water, the budget for this wasn’t huge but it’s clear it was all spent in the right places.   There is precious little CGI shark work and what there is is impressive.  The rest of the stock shark photography looks natural and works well to create some high tension.  I got the shivers when the camera lingered on the depths and slowly, slowly, slowly you start to see a marauding shark appear from the blackness.  That, to me, is scarier than a fast attack – when the swimmers see the danger coming toward them and have no escape.

Out on Blu-Ray for a while now, this is one to look up if you have a taste for this kind of film.  It’s not overly gory or cheesy and the actors are nice to look at especially when their Oz accents come out.

New to Blu ~ Abduction

Have you voted in the poll?  Click here to vote and tell me what movie I should be seeing next!

I’ve updated my Golden Globes page with a list of the Winners.  Click here to see the full list.

And now…on to a New to Blu review…

The Facts:

Synopsis: A thriller centered on a young man who sets out to uncover the truth about his life after finding his baby photo on a missing persons website.

Stars: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina, Maria Bello

Director: John Singleton

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  You may be Team Jacob but you won’t be Team Lautner if you are unlucky enough to take in this turgid turd of an action film. Lautner is no movie star…he was very nearly replaced as Jacob after the first Twilightmovie and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a pity that so many decent actors appear here in service to a film intended as a star vehicle for someone as poor an actor as Lautner. I’m especially disappointed in Weaver who really dumbs it down here. While not quite as bad as Lautner, caterpillar browed Collins is a dreary leading lady. She spends most of the movie with her mouth slightly agape and her tongue lolling out…making her look like she’s taken a handful of valium.

The movie is cinematic valium with no redeemable qualities. Director Singleton needs to shoulder some of the blame. This mess comes from the Oscar nominated director who gave us Boyz in the Hood? How the mighty have fallen.

Of the many things you may be shaking your head at by the conclusion, consider the title itself. Spoiler alert — the movie has nothing to do with abduction. The only thing being kidnapped here is your time and money…pay the ransom early and find something else to see.  The film gets a 1 simply because it had the decency to end.

New to Blu ~ SJP, Carrey, Panda, and Mirren

Every now and then (not often) I miss a movie as it passes through theaters.  I’ve weaned myself off of Netflix so rely on Redbox to help me catch up.  This week I caught up with a few films that now inhabit the ‘box.

Here is the first “New to Blu” entry — small capsule reviews of movies that are being released to DVD/Blu-Ray.

I Don’t Know How She Does It

The Facts:

Synopsis: A comedy centered on the life of Kate Reddy, a finance executive who is the breadwinner for her husband and two kids.

Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Christina Hendricks

Director: Douglas McGrath

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Insignificant entry on Parker’s resume that looks cheap, sounds cheap, and feels cheap.  Parker needs a good kick in the pants to tell her that she’s no Julia Roberts/Sandra Bullock and doesn’t have a niche market that she is successful with.  I’d love to see her take on a dark role that can allow her to try something new.  Kinnear and Brosnan are both asleep at the wheel here…much like the direction.  Only Hendricks has a few nice moments…but even she ends up sounding like she’s lampooning the script.  Totally skippable.


 Mr. Popper’s Penguins

The Facts:

Synopsis: The life of a businessman begins to change after he inherits six penguins, and as he transforms his apartment into a winter wonderland, his professional side starts to unravel.

Stars: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Ophelia Lovibond

Director: Mark Waters

Rated: PG

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Like Sarah Jessica Parker, Carrey is another actor that is stuck in a rut of his own making.  I’ve always been a fan of the Mr. Popper stories (I still remember those damn songs and the tap-dancing in CTC’s stage version all those years ago) but this telling of the story is heavy on the schmaltz and silly.  That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place for that in a film about six penguins living in a winterized apartment but it’s all done so dopey that you won’t want to go along for the ride.  Lansbury must really be blowing there her Murder, She Wrote cash…otherwise I can’t see why she took the time for this film which puts her in some pretty unflattering costumes.  Carrey needs to start taking supporting roles…that rubber face that used to break box office records now just looks creepy.


 Kung Fu Panda 2

The Facts:

Synopsis: Po and his friends fight to stop an peacock villain from conquering China with a deadly new weapon, but the Dragon Warrior must come to terms with his past.

Stars: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Gary Oldman

Director: Jennifer Yuh

Rated: PG

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  Not being a huge fan of the first film, I can still appreciate the superb computer animation that this film employs.  However hard I try though, I still don’t find myself being taken with these characters.  Both movies have left me a squirming little watch checker – and I normally quite enjoy these off the wall animated films.  What appealed to me more in this entry was the backstory and underlying theme of inner peace…which is a big topic to make interesting and attractive to the younger set.  Voice-wise no one really stood out for me, save for Jean-Claude Van Damme whose character even gets to do one of his signature moves.  Speaking again to the animation, it really in pretty fantastic and I only wish I had seen this in 3D in the theaters.


The Debt

The Facts:

Synopsis: The Debt is the powerful story of Rachel Singer, a former Mossad agent who endeavored to capture and bring to trial a notorious Nazi war criminal—the Surgeon of Birkenau—in a secret Israeli mission that ended with his death on the streets of East Berlin

Stars: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastian, Marton Csokas

Director: John Madden

Rated: R

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: An overall solid spy thriller, this remake of Ha-Hov (a 2007 Israeli film) was most notable for me for having yet another knock-out performance by Chastain who had quite the 2011 (Chastain also made an impression in The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields, Coriolanus and The Help this last year).  She appears here as the younger version of Mirren’s character.  Thankfully for the audience the movie has their character as the central focus for most of movie and Chastain/Mirren do not disappoint in keeping us with them.  The film does get a little muddy when the focus shifts to your typical “espionage” elements…fast getaways, close calls, missed opportunities are all part of the proceedings here and they are presented in a straight-forward manner that helps propel the film along.  Director Madden trusts his actors and a good script to get the job done and the results are above average.  Successfully introducing some genuine twists into these films is difficult and the movie got my heart thumping a few times.