Sunday, April 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Capsule Reviews of Movies

FILE - This file image released by Fox Searchlight shows Chiwetel Ejiofor, center, in a scene from "12 Years A Slave." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Jaap Buitendijk)
FILE - This file image released by Fox Searchlight shows Chiwetel Ejiofor, center, in a scene from "12 Years A Slave." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Jaap Buitendijk)

Ratings: **** Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor

Reviewers: C.R., Carrie Rickey; S.R., Steven Rea; D.D., Dan DeLuca; T.D., Tirdad Derakhshani; D.H., David Hiltbrand; E.W., Elizabeth Wellington; E.H., Elizabeth Horkley; W.S., Inquirer wire services.

 

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    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. 1 hr. 46 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

    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. 2 hrs. 18 R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, violence, adult themes) - S.R.

    Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues *** Solid sequel to the 2004 smart dumb comedy starring Will Ferrell as a well-coiffed 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.

    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.

    Blue Jasmine *** Cate Blanchett storms her way through the title role of Woody Allen's pastiche-y melodrama, about a fallen socialite seeking refuge in her sister's San Francisco flat. Lifted in chunks from A Streetcar Named Desire, and offering wincing blue-collar-type caricatures, the film is nonetheless a wonder - thanks to its star. With Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, and Bobby Cannavale, looking on in awe. 1 hr. 38 PG-13 (adult themes) - S.R.

    The Book Thief **1/2 World War II melodrama about a German girl who learns to treasure words through her friendship with a Jewish refugee hiding in the basement. Adapted from the bestselling young-adult novel, and compromised by production design that is too beautiful by half - the Holocaust has never looked so good. With Sophie Nélisse in the title role, and Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as the foster parents she comes to love. 2 hrs. 11 PG-13 (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.

    Dallas Buyers Club ***1/2 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.

    Dhoom 3 A circus entertainer who seeks revenge against the bankers who shut down his father's circus attracts police attention in this Bollywood crime thriller. Not Previewed

    Flight of the Butterflies Monarch butterflies are followed along their annual migration in this Imax feature. Not Previewed

    47 Ronin ** Keanu Reeves stars in this affectless samurai epic set in 18th century Japan. Lots of visual glitter, little heart. With Ko Shibasaki, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Tadanobu Asano. 1 hr. 59 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) - 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 fairy tale, part farce. 1 hr. 48 PG (fright) - D.H.

    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.

    Grudge Match ** Robert DeNiro 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.

    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.

    Inside Llewyn Davis **** Oscar Isaac is a hard-luck troubadour on the folk scene of early '60s Greenwich Village in the Coen Brothers' sublime time-capsule odyssey to nowhere and back again. It's a story of artistic struggle, of dumb luck and bad luck, 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.

    Justin Bieber's Believe Musical documentary that looks at the superstar's rise to prominence. 1 hr. 32 PG Not Previewed

    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.

    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.

    Philomena ***1/2 A surprisingly tough and tender tale from director Stephen Frears, adapted from the true story of a seventysomething 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. 2 hrs. 2 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

    Ring of Fire This Imax documentary looks at the ring of volcanos in and around the Pacific Ocean.

    Saving Mr. Banks *** A sweet and affecting piece of Hollywood history, about a battle of wills between Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. Disney, played by Tom Hanks, is eager to adapt the book, and Travers, beautifully brought to life by Emma Thompson, resists. And resists some more. 2 hrs. 05 PG-13 (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 dreamlife 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.

    Space Junk 3D This Imax documentary looks at the vast amount of space debris orbiting Earth and the extent to which it jeopardizes space exploration. Not Previewed

    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.

    Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas *1/2 A culture-clash comedy from the prolific Perry. This time Madea finds herself in rural redneck country to celebrate the holidays. 1 hr. 45 PG-13 (adult themes, crude humor, sexual innuendos) - T.D.

    Walking With Dinosaurs Animated family feature about an underdog dinosaur. 1 hr. 27 PG (some intense creature action, mild rude humor) - T.D.

    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.

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