Capsule Reviews of Movies and Plays
Reviewed by critics Steven Rea (S.R.) and David Hiltbrand (D.H.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.
All Is Lost Robert Redford delivers the performance of his career in J.C. Chandor's majestic, melancholy film about a solo mariner, stranded on his sailboat in the Indian Ocean. There is incredible tension in this ordeal, this man's efforts to survive, to find rescue, and Redford - an icon of the American movie experience for more than half a century now - makes that tension deeply palpable. 1 hr. 46 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Blue Is the Warmest Color Yes, there is a lot of sex. Graphic sex between two young women. But that's only part of what this extraordinary film is about. This three-hour portrait of a French high school student (an amazing Adèle Exarchopoulos) is shot with a close-up intensity that brings the character out from the screen and into your heart. It's emotional 3-D! 2 hrs. 59 NC-17 (graphic sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Enough Said Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini (in his final leading role) are divorced parents, each with a college-bound daughter, who meet, date, and take a real liking to each other. And then the trouble begins. A smart, funny movie for grown-ups from the hugely talented writer director Nicole Holofcener. 1 hr. 33 PG-13 (sex, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Gravity A transcendent, zero-g tale of survival, with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as orbiting astronauts caught in a debris storm, quite literally at the end of their tether. A technological marvel, and an emotional, spiritual, and physical voyage of stratospheric suspense. 1 hr. 30 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Nebraska Bruce Dern in a career-defining performance as an ornery coot who believes he's won a $1 million prize, and heads from Montana to Nebraska to claim it. His son (Will Forte) reluctantly tags along, in Alexander Payne's funny, sad, poignant, absurd road movie. In black-and-white. It's a gem. 1 hr. 55 R (profanity, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
12 Years a Slave The remarkable, essential story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was abducted and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South. The British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gives body and soul in the lead, and Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt are part of a superb supporting cast. 2 hrs. 13 R (violence, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Very Good (***1/2)
About Time A young man travels back in time with the purpose of improving his life by finding a girlfriend. The task turns out to be more difficult than expected. Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams star. 2 hrs. 03 R (obscenity and some sexual content) - W.S.
The Broken Circle Breakdown The Belgian entry in the Academy Awards foreign language competition offers a time-hopping portrait of a couple's romance and relationship. He's a hipster bluegrass-obsessed musician, she's a tattoo artist, and together they make music, literally - and then make a child. A child who, at six, is diagnosed with cancer. A surprisingly moving, and musical, film. 1 hr. 51 R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Dallas Buyers Club The "inspired by true events" tale of a party-hearty Texas cowboy and self-employed electrician who, in 1985, contracted the AIDS virus. Matthew McConaughey gives a literally transformative performance as this homophobic hellraiser, who won't accept the doctors' diagnosis that he has 30 days to live. He proves them wrong, becoming a cash-rich drug dispenser and patients' rights advocate in the process, in this wild, colorful, compassionate film. 1 hr. 57 R (sex, nudity, drugs, profanity, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Philomena A surprisingly tough and tender tale from director Stephen Frears, adapted from the true story of a 70-something Irish woman (Judi Dench) looking to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption when she was an unwed teen, and of the cynical veteran journalist (Steve Coogan) who tags along on her quest. R (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Also on Screens
Best Man Holiday ** The old college friends from 1999's Best Man (Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, and others) reunite for a long Yuletide reunion during which secrets come spilling out and old wounds get reopened. The ensemble sparkles in the comedic moments, and suffers in the artificially melodramatic ones. 2 hrs. 4. R (emphatic profanity, nudity, adult themes.) - D.H.
Black Nativity **1/2 A modern-day Christmas musical about a Baltimore teenager (Jacob Latimore) sent to spend the holidays with the grandparents he never knew (Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett). Inspired by the Langston Hughes play, with Jennifer Hudson wailing away as the kid's hard-pressed single mom, and lots of rousing rap and gospel numbers, archetypal good guys and bad guys, and a homeless couple expecting a child. PG (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Delivery Man *** Vince Vaughn stars in this more-than-serviceable remake of a French Canadian farce about an anonymous donor to a fertility clinic who discovers, several decades later, that he's the biological dad to literally hundreds of kids. And many of them now want to know where their DNA comes from. Lawsuit and laughs ensue. 1 hr. 43 PG-13 (profanity, sex, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.
Free Birds ** Turkeys in a time machine? That's the rather desperate premise of this flaccid animated film that sends a couple of gobblers back to the first Thanksgiving. Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, and Amy Poehler do the voices. 1 hr. 31 PG (crude humor) - D.H.
Frozen *** A plucky princess (voiced by Kristen Bell) is joined by a slapstick snowman (Josh Gad) in a delightful animated film that is part fairytale, part farce. 1 hr. 48 PG - D.H.
Homefront **1/2 Jason Statham stars as a retired DEA agent, trying to go off the grid with his 10-year-old daughter in a sleepy Lousiana town - which suddenly isn't so sleepy when a crazed meth kingpin (James Franco) discovers who our hero really is. An updated take on the reluctant-hero western, from a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone. R (violence, profanity, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire *** Bigger, better and broodier, with Jennifer Lawrence back again, causing no end of trouble as the Districts' rabble smell rebellion in the air, and the Panem puppetmasters try to quash it. An Occupiers' parable about class warfare? A metaphor for teen defiance? Or just a kooky story of survival in a controlled environment where, sadly, most of the contestants must die? However you read it, this franchise rocks. 2 hrs. 26 PG-13 (violence, dystopian bleakness, adult themes) - S.R.
Last Vegas *1/2 Four aging lifelong friends attempt to relive their youth in Las Vegas in celebration of one's engagement. Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert DeNiro, and Kevin Kline star. 1 hr. 45 PG-13 (profanity, partial nudity, sexual situations, hemorrhoid jokes) - T.D.
Oldboy *1/2 Josh Brolin gloweringly stars in this strange and superfluous remake of an ultraviolent Korean film. Toxic stuff from director Spike Lee. With Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley. 1 hr. 44 R (extreme violence, profanity, substance abuse, nudity, adult themes). - D.H.
Thor: The Dark World **1/2 The sequel to 2011's Thor is darker and messier, with much of the action restricted to Asgard and the Nine Realms - where a freaky alignment has allowed the long-banished Dark Elves to reemerge and make trouble for the God of Thunder. Chris Hemsworth, in red cape and breastplate and wielding his magic hammer, is back in the title role. 2 hrs. PG-13 (action, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield (W.R.), Jim Rutter (J.R.), David Patrick Stearns (D.P.S.), and Toby Zinman (T.Z.).
Beauty and the Beast (Academy of Music) Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. Ends Sunday.
Cinderella (People's Light and Theatre) Time for the annual panto, and this year the gal with the glass slipper is back! Through Jan. 12.
Elf (Walnut Street Theatre) This musical stage adaptation of the 2003 film about Buddy the non-elf's journey to fulfillment is a warm, energetic sugar rush. Through Jan. 5. - W.R.
Miracle on South Division Street (Montgomery Theater) The Nowaks of Buffalo suffer a Christmas crisis of faith in this well-acted, well-crafted Tom Dudzick comedy. Ends Sunday. - W.R.
Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class (Society Hill Playhouse) A one-nun show from the writer of Nunsense. Through Dec. 29.
Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas (Independence Studio at the Walnut) Tucker appears in a tight red gown, tiaraed and bejeweled, a kind of female Liberace before the fact. She's funny, tuneful, and completely endearing. Through Dec. 29.
Stick Fly (Arden Theatre) A well-to-do African American family gets together and begins coming apart in Lydia Diamond's contemporary drawing-room play. It works. Through Dec. 22. - D.P.S.