Our critics recommend...
Opening This Week
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) is pursued by dark forces after being marked.
Reviewed by critics Steven Rea (S.R.), Tirdad Derakhshani (T.D.), and David Hiltbrand (D.H.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.
American Hustle David O. Russell's wild, woolly take on the late-'70s FBI sting operation Abscam is also a wild, woolly love story: Christian Bale and Amy Adams as con artists recruited by the feds, and fated for each other. Throw Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence into the mix and something goes kaboom in just about every scene, brilliantly. R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, violence, 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 3D! 2 hrs. 59 NC-17 (graphic sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Captain Phillips Based on the real-life story of a U.S.-flagged cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates, with Tom Hanks in the title role as a steady-as-she-goes veteran forced to face his own mortality. Paul Greengrass (the second and third Bourne films, United 93) masterfully orchestrates the intense, suspenseful drama. 2 hrs. 14 PG-13 (violence, 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.
Inside Llewyn Davis Oscar Isaac is a hard-luck troubador on the folk scene of early '60s Greenwich Village in the Coen brothers' sublime odyssey to nowhere. It's a story of artistic struggle, and of the crushing beauty that can be wrested from a song. With Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman - and with many a dark laugh along the way. R (profanity, violence, drugs, 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. 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)
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. 1 hr. 38 R (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Also on Screens
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues *** Solid sequel to the 2004 smart dumb comedy starring Will Ferrell as a well-coifed TV news reader with delusions of, well, everything. Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell, and Christina Applegate return, with Meagan Good as the oblivious news team's new boss - working for the first 24-hour cable news network. It's 1980. Do you know where your hair is? 1 hr. 59 PG-13 (sex, profanity, drugs, comic violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Frozen *** A plucky princess (voiced by Kristen Bell) is joined by a slapstick snowman (Josh Gad) in a delightful animated film that is part fairy tale, part farce. 1 hr. 48 PG - D.H.
Grudge Match ** Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone play a pair of far-past-their-prime boxers who decide to get in the ring one more time. If they can climb through the ropes. The film, which tries to wrap comedy around a gooey sentimental center also stars Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger, and Jon Bernthal. 1 hr. 53 PG-13 (violence, adult themes, profanity) - D.H.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug **1/2 Eight minutes shorter than its forebear, and at least eight minutes better - less twee, less chatty, more action, more elvish. The second installment in Peter Jackson's overblown, three-part take on Tolkien's children's fantasy about Bilbo Baggins and his epic quest in the company of a troop of dwarves. Elves and orcs and giant spiders, oh my! Not to mention the titular, fire-breathing dragon, voiced - in echo-chamber-style - by Benedict Cumberbatch. 2 hrs. 41 PG-13 (intense action, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom *** A conventional biopic made anything but conventional by the magnitude of its subject's life and accomplishments, and by Idris Elba's imposing performance in the title role. 2 hrs. 19 PG-13 (violence, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty *** Ben Stiller stars in, and directs, this adaptation of the James Thurber story about a mild-mannered man whose dream life gets the better of him. Almost magical comic fun, with Kristen Wiig as the coworker he admires from afar, and Adam Scott as the glib new boss who's about to fire them. A story about taking the leap, getting out of your comfort zone. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't quite do that itself - by the end it's lost some pop, some surprise. 1 hr. 54 PG-13 (violence, profanity, 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.).
A Child's Christmas in Wales (Lantern Theater) Dylan Thomas' poetic language and Sebastienne Mundheim's puppet artistry cannot lift this ponderous Christmas memory play. Through Jan. 5. - T.Z.
The Big Time (1812 Productions) Philadelphia's all-comedy company goes back to vaudeville for the holidays. Maybe not such a great idea. Through Dec. 31. - J.R.
Cinderella (People's Light & Theatre) Time for the annual panto, and this year the gal with the glass slipper is back in a terrific show that's mandatory for your holiday merriment. Through Jan. 12. - W.R.
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.
Frost/Nixon (New City Stage) The terrific two-man cast, exceptionally well directed, produces a riveting reenactment of the "gotcha!" heard round the world. Through Jan. 5. - T.Z.
Gender Comedy: A Less Stupid Twelfth Night Gay Fantasia (Curio Theatre) Harry Slack's clever reimagining of Shakespeare's gender-shifting comedy explores both the humor and the ideas. Through Jan. 4. - W.R.
I Love Lucy Live on Stage (Merriam Theater) You're part of the 1952 studio audience for the filming of two episodes starring Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel. Ends Sunday.
Jersey Boys (Forrest Theater) They're ba-ack for a month of dazzling, four-part harmony and history. You want to be there. Through next Sunday. - T.Z.
Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play (Bucks County Playhouse) A new musical nostalgia-fest based on the 1944 MGM movie, with great songs, an energetic cast, and hit potential. Ends Sunday. - W.R.
My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm Home for the Holidays! (New Penn's Landing Playhouse) All about Steve's struggles to get home, and what he finds when he gets there. Ends Tuesday.
Nerds (Philadelphia Theatre Company) A visually hot and musically adept timeline of the age of software with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, updated since its premiere here in 2007. Ends Sunday. - D.P.S.
Potted Potter (Prince Music Theater) Two guys do all seven books - in 70 minutes. Fast, fun, and funny. Through next Sunday. - W.R.
Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class (Society Hill Playhouse) A one-nun show from the writer of Nunsense. The nun is great, the show less so. Ends Sunday. - J.R.
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. Ends Sunday. - T.Z.
The Twelve Dates of Christmas (Act II Playhouse) Maggie Lakis' adorable performance elevates this one-woman show into a heartwarming, humorous, holiday tale. Ends Sunday. - J.R.
Wind in the Willows (Quintessence Theatre Group) Toad, Mole, Rat, et al. are back in Alan Bennett's adaptation of the classic Kenneth Grahame story, beautifully staged staged and performed. Through next Sunday. - W.R.
Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs, and stars in this tale of a North Jersey Lothario who has his whole life under control - including his addiction to porn. Enter Scarlett Johansson. If there's a problem, it's that just about everybody, Jon included, gets this close to caricature. 1 hr. 30 R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.