Monday, July 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Our critics recommend...

Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) is among the figures in "The Lego Movie."
Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) is among the figures in "The Lego Movie." Warner Bros. Pictures
Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) is among the figures in "The Lego Movie."  Gallery: Our critics recommend...


By Steven Rea

The Lego Movie It took 65 years, but finally those little Danish construction toys get their own movie. If the Smurfs can do it, why not these interlocking little bits of plastic? The computer-animated feature is voiced by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and the three Wills (Arnett, Ferrell, and Forte). PG

The Monuments Men George Clooney leads his Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives sleuths - and directs, too - in this true tale of the Allied group assigned to stop the Nazis from seizing valuable artworks across Europe during Hitler's horrific reign. PG-13

One Chance The true tale of Paul Potts, a pudgy, low-self-esteem cellphone salesclerk, whose improbable obsession with opera - and his ability to belt out an aria or two - lands him a spot on Britain's Got Talent. James Corden stars, David (Marley & Me) Frankel directs. PG-13


Also Opening This Week

The Attorney A tax attorney takes on a case involving an old friend. Korean with subtitles.

Kids for Cash Documentary about the Pennsylvania judge who accepted kickbacks in exchange for sentencing youths to a juvenile detention center.

   The Outsider A British military contractor frantically searches for his missing daughter.

Welcome to the Jungle A company retreat on a tropical island doesn't go as planned in this comedy starring Jean-Claude Van Damme


Excellent (****)

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.

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

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.

I, Frankenstein ** The big guy is still with us in this uneven, updated horror legend, but as played by Aaron Eckhardt, he's got a bigger vocabulary. And now he has to worry about demons and gargoyles instead of villagers with pitchforks. 1 hr. 33 PG-13 (intense violence) - D.H.

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.

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.

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.

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.

That Awkward Moment ** Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller are a trio of commitment-wary guys in this indie rom-com from first-time director Tom Gormican. 1 hr. 34 R (sexual content, profanity) - W.S.



Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield (W.R.), Jim Rutter (J.R.), David Patrick Stearns (D.P.S.), Toby Zinman (T.Z.) and Jim Rutter (J.R.).


New This Week

4000 Miles (Montgomery Theater) An unhappy young man finds a haven with his spunky grandmother. Previews Wednesday and Thursday, opens Friday.

 Julius Caesar (Lantern Theater) Forrest McClendon heads the cast of this great Shakespeare tragedy. Previews Thursday-Feb. 11, opens Feb. 12.

Ondine (Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium) The natural world clashes with the world of man in this Giraudoux classic. Previews Wednesday and Thursday, opens Friday.

Trousers (Inis Nua) Two guys, happy-go-lucky Dublin roommates in 1989, are less so in Manhattan in 2006. Previews Wednesday and Thursday, opens Friday.

True West (Theatre Exile/ Plays & Players Theatre) Sam Shepard's play about a bitter sibling rivalry that surfaces when two brothers reunite in their mother's house in the desert. Opens Wednesday.



Beautiful Thing (Mauckingbird Theatre Company) Jonathan Harvey's groundbreaking play about gay first love gets an uneven production that treats the play like an after-school special. Griffin Back gives a bright performance as the truant Jamie. Ends Sunday. - J.R.

Cherokee (Wilma Theater) Under Anne Kauffman's direction, the world premiere of Lisa D'Amour's camping-trip comedy is impressive, with a terrific cast and an eye-popping set, although the script still needs work. Ends Saturday. - T.Z.

The Disappearing Quarterback (Plays and Players) Former Eagles quarterback Mike Boryla's one-man show about why he walked away is a highly enjoyable, attention-commanding work. Ends Sunday. - J.R.

Driving Miss Daisy (Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio) Johnnie Hobbs Jr.'s performance as Hoke, the African American chauffeur in the he Pulitzer-winning story of two lives enriched by friendship and respect, is a textbook example of how to play the role. Ends Sunday. - T.Z.

Ghosts (People's Light and Theatre) Oh, the secrets! People's Light gives the Henrik Ibsen play a phenomenal production that indicts cowardice and hypocrisy in parenting so effectively that it could almost have been set in 2014. Through next Sunday. - J.R.

Gidion's Knot (InterAct Theatre Company) A boy is dead, and his mother seeks answers from his teacher in an intense, captivating production. Alice Gatling and Karen Peakes give powerful performances, though the script offers multiple reasons to disbelieve in their characters. Through next Sunday. - J.R.

Other Desert Cities (Walnut Street Theatre) Spot-on set, great costumes, and a terrific cast keeps this family cauldron boiling. Through March 2. - W.R.

The Pillowman (Luna Theatre Company) Superb acting elevates this creepy, edgy, nearly funny work from Martin McDonagh, given a crackerjack production. Ends Saturday. - T.Z.

Snowglobe (MacKnight Foundation/Shubin Theatre) If you're going to premiere a whimsical one-act meditation on whether it is possible to prove the existence of God, you can't do better than to have Charlotte Northeast and Amanda Schoonover as your cast. Through next Sunday. - T.Z.

Tribes (Philadelphia Theatre Company/Suzanne Roberts Theatre) Nina Raine's play about a deaf man who appreciates what it means to be understood only after he falls in love with a woman on the brink of deafness. Through Feb. 23.

Tuesdays With Morrie (Bristol Riverside Theatre) The story of a mentor's conversations with author Mitch Albom, adapted from his best-selling book. Through Feb. 16.

Vanities (Hedgerow Theatre) Three friends move from high school through their twenties in this vapid, dated 1976 dramedy. Through next Sunday. - W.R.

Water By the Spoonful (Arden Theatre Company) Quiara Alegría Hudes draws on her Philadelphia roots for this story about people seeking connection. Through March 16.



Philadelphia Orchestra on the Radio

Sunday at 1 p.m., tune in to WRTI (90.1 FM) for a Philadelphia Orchestra concert from December showcasing concertmaster David Kim as violin soloist in two Tchaikovsky pieces - the Serenade Melancholique and Valse-Scherzo. Associate conductor Cristian Macelaru leads the orchestra also in Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole and Stravinsky's Petroushka.

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