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September 2014

Misery Loves Company

Dale Robinette/Disney Enterprises

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

In spite of its marquee-name stars and once-hip indie director, Disney’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is essentially a bloated TV movie better suited for the Disney Channel. You’d find this enjoyable if you were very young.

Klutzy tween Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) can’t seem to do anything right and also suffers from the classic middle-child (technically he’s the third out of four) syndrome. He somehow gets the idea that everyone else in his family has it much better and easier than him, despite the fact that his dad, Ben (Steve Carell), is presently unemployed and caring for toddler Trevor (Zoey and Elise Vargas) full-time and his mom, Kelly (Jennifer Garner), works for a horrible boss. Regardless, Alexander wishes on his birthday for everyone to experience that eponymous terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day so everyone will finally have an appreciation for what it’s like to be him.

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House of Cards

Merrick Morton/20th Century Fox

Gone Girl (2014)

After failing to inspire warm fuzzies or much Oscar gold with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Social Network,” David Fincher seems to have resigned himself to familiar territory. But his ambition for recognition doesn’t seem to have subsided, as he has attached himself to genre material with a literary pedigree like “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and now “Gone Girl.”

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Let England Shake

Universal Studios

The Riot Club (2014)

"The Riot Club" wants to mortify and astonish, presenting a bunch of Oxford University's finest on an apocalyptic privilege-fueled binge through a country pub which leaves no prole uninsulted, no woman unmistreated and one well-meaning innocent on a saline drip for the crime of social climbing. But the satire is surely old news, certainly for anyone primed by the gloriously awful old photo of David Cameron and pals in the preening outfits of the Bullingdon Club, an image that no copyright lawyer can now stake through the heart — the film recreates a version of it, just in case. Most of Lone Scherfig's movie is spent shaking the English establishment so warmly by the throat that it summons up Monty Python's "Upper-Class Twit of the Year" as much as anything else.

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The Help

Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures

The Equalizer (2014)

Proponents of above-average 1980s TV shows may recall a gruff and mysterious Edward Woodward in a stellar turn as shady agency-type Robert McCall meting out deserved vengeance on all manner of ne’er-do-wells. Its premise revolved around McCall — haunted by his past life — offering to put things right by helping those in need against forces of evil, in effect equalizing rights and wrongs. It was an interesting concept, legitimizing violent revenge by instilling its hero with a fierce moral compass. No wonder then that the show has been afforded a big screen adaptation, bought into the 21st century by “Training Day” tag team Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington.

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Music Discipline

Daniel McFadden/Sony Pictures Classics

Whiplash (2014)

In “Whiplash,” Juilliard-esque Shaffer Conservatory of Music freshman Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) gets handpicked by exacting and much-feared teacher, Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), to be an alternate drummer in a jazz ensemble intended for the competition circuit.

Fletcher sizes Neyman up while exchanging pleasantries, and quickly proceeds to humiliate and bully him with what little biographical information he has gathered. Mr. Simmons hurls orders, insults and obscenities like a cross between Armin Mueller-Stahl’s tyrannical father from “Shine,” R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant from “Full Metal Jacket” and his own Aryan leader from “Oz.”

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Unloving Memory

Laurie Sparham/Studiocanal

Before I Go to Sleep (2014)

Nicole Kidman spends the bulk of "Before I Go to Sleep" in a state of high anxiety, although only an audience prepared to leave all skepticism at the door will be able to say the same. Despite the best efforts of Colin Firth to seem mysterious and Mark Strong to inspire trust – so a bit of a stretch for both of them – what vitality there is in the film comes from Ms. Kidman's cowering, shrieking and panicking; and even that's not really the actor's strong suit.

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Jacked in the Box

Universal Pictures

The Boxtrolls (2014)

“The Boxtrolls” is a movie aimed at children. It is also disgusting and immoral. It breaches a line that should not have been crossed — and it’s been rated PG in both Britain and the United States. What the hell are the rating boards thinking? Plain and simple, “The Boxtrolls” is propaganda for the war machine. The normalization of torture in cinema — and most especially cinema for children — has got to stop. Someone has to say it.

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