Our critics recommend...
By Steven Rea
I, Frankenstein Mary Shelley's monster turns into a modern-day avenging superhero in this gothic-y matchup between warring teams of angry immortals. Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy ("You cannot save the human race - nothing can stop their demise!") and Yvonne Strahovski star. PG-13
Gimme Shelter Tattooed, nose- and lip-ringed, Vanessa Hudgens stars as a serial foster-care teen who goes looking for her real, and rich, dad, in this based-on-a-true-story drama. With Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, and James Earl Jones. PG-13
The Past From A Separation's Asghar Farhadi, the story of an Iranian man who comes to Paris to sign his wife's divorce papers, and all the trouble and anguish, lies and errant e-mails that ensue. With Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, and Ali Mosaffa. PG-13
Also Opening This Week
Jesus in Cowboy Boots A teen with a vivid imagination (AJ Michalka) and a self-absorbed mother (Alicia Silverstone) tries to cope with life in a dangerous community along the Texas-Oklahoma border.
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.
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.
Her Joaquin Phoenix stars as a lonely Los Angeleno who may have found true love at last - in the disembodied voice, and consciousness, of his computer's new operating system. A near-future meditation on intimacy and isolation, connection and the disconnect of new technology, from writer/director Spike Jonze. With Scarlett Johansson's voice, and Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, and Chris Pratt. 2 hrs. 06 R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Inside Llewyn Davis Oscar Isaac is a hard-luck troubadour 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? 1 hr. 45 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
August: Osage County **1/2 A piled-high platter of histrionics, this heartland saga - adapted from Tracy Letts' Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play - is steeped in a grand American theater tradition: the dysfunctional family drama, full of dark secrets, darker resentments, and the darkest sense of dread. Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Edward Albee - you get the drift. With Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts leading the parade. 2 hrs. 01 R (profanity, drugs, sex, 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.
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.
The Invisible Woman *** Ralph Fiennes stars as Charles Dickens, and directs, in this storm-tossed true romance, describing the decade-long love affair between the famous Victorian scribe and a young actress, Nelly Ternan. Felicity Jones has the title role. Whoa, Nelly. 1 hr. 51 R (sex, adult themes) - S.R.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit **1/2 Chris Pine stars in this increasingly flimsy re-reboot of the Tom Clancy espionage franchise. The new Jack is a financial analyst for the CIA who gets thrown into operational hot water when he heads for Moscow and meets a madman bent on bringing America to its knees. Kenneth Branagh is said nemesis, and also the film's director. Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley costar. 1 hr. 45 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Jamesy Boy *1/2 Gritty true story of a troubled kid and teenage gangsta who determines to turn his life around while in prison. Newcomer Spencer Lofranco is remarkable as the protagonist. Supported by Mary-Louise Parker, Ving Rhames and James Woods. 1 hr. 48. NR (sex, nudity, violence, profanity, substance abuse) - D.H.
The Legend of Hercules ** Kellan Lutz plays the ancient strongman who will beat a path (and everyone on it) from Egypt to Greece to get back to his beloved. Murky dialogue, big battles. 1 hr. 38 PG-13 (violence, mildly adult themes) - D.H.
The Nut Job ** Kids may love The Nut Job, the animated story of Surly the outcast squirrel, but the animated tale will drive their parents nuts as they wait for the redundant humor - a lot of it from cheap jokes about flatulence, falls, and fumbles - to end. 1 hr. 26 PG (rude humor) - W.S.
Lone Survivor *** Mark Wahlberg stars in this full-force combat film, based on the true story of four Navy SEALs on a botched mission in 2005 Afghanistan. Harrowing, visceral. With Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch. 2 hrs. 01 R (extreme violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Ride Along *1/2 Kevin Hart and Ice Cube star in this facile action comedy about a tough Atlanta police detective and his chippy civilian partner-for-a-day. This vehicle won't pass inspection. 1 hr. 40 PG-13 (violence, adult themes, profanity) - D.H.
The Wolf of Wall Street **1/2 As thrilling a filmmaker as Martin Scorsese continues to be, and as wild a performance as Leonardo DiCaprio dishes up as its morally bankrupt antihero, this adaptation of Jordan Belfort's bestselling memoir - a story of stockbroker rapacity in the anything-goes '90s - seems almost entirely unnecessary. Cocaine and hookers? Fast cars and fancy yachts? Trophy wives and pesky Feds? For three hours? Really? 3 hrs. R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield (W.R.) and Toby Zinman (T.Z.).
New This Week
Gidion's Knot (InterAct Theatre Company) A 10-year-old boy is dead, and his mother seeks answers. Previews through Wednesday; continues through Feb. 9.
Other Desert Cities (Walnut Street Theatre) When a novelist threatens to spill her family's beans, turmoil ensues. Previews through Tuesday; continues through March 2.
Beautiful Thing (Mauckingbird Theatre Company) Jonathan Harvey's groundbreaking play about gay first love. Through Feb. 2.
Cherokee (Wilma Theater) World premiere of Lisa D'Amour's camping-trip comedy. Through Feb. 8.
The Disappearing Quarterback (Plays and Players) Former Eagles quarterback Mike Boryla's one-man show about why he walked away. Through Feb. 2.
Driving Miss Daisy (Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio) The Pulitzer-winning story of two lives enriched by friendship and respect. Through Feb. 2.
Ghosts (People's Light and Theatre) Oh, the secrets! Through Feb. 9.
The Pillowman (Luna Theatre Company) Another dark one from Martin McDonagh. Through Feb. 8.
Up From the Ashes (Iron Age Theater at Off Broad Street Theatre) Isa St. Clair, in a world premiere one-woman show, offers a friendly and engaging overview of the deadly 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the birth of the women's labor movement. Closes today. - W.R.
Vanities (Hedgerow Theatre) Three friends move through life - cheerleading to sorority sisterhood to feminism - in the 1960s and '70s. Through Feb. 9.
Water By the Spoonful (Arden Theatre Company) Quiara Alegría Hudes draws on her Philadelphia roots for this story about people seeking connection. Preview Sunday. Opens Tuesday; continues through March 16.
We Will Rock You (Academy of Music) Fans of Mel Brooks and John Waters will love this show. Fans of Queen's music, not so much. Closes Sunday. - J.R.
Charlie Countryman **1/2 Shia LaBeouf in the title role, as a guy who's lost his girlfriend (a breakup) and his mom (a death), and who heads for Bucharest for some adventure. What he finds are underworld thugs, youth hostel roomies with drugs on their mind, and Evan Rachel Wood as a Romanian classical musician/gangster's moll/strip club habitue. Her accent, her aim, and her cello skills are killer. 1 hr. 43 R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Philadelphia Orchestra on the Radio
Sunday at 1 p.m., tune in to WRTI (90.1 FM) for an orchestra concert with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting in February 2005, two weeks before his last appearance with the Philadelphians.
On the program are Hindemith's Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D, played by David Kim, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 1.