Reviews

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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Also on Screens

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.

August: Osage County 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.

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.

Devil's Due After a newly married bride unexpectedly becomes pregnant, she and her husband begin to notice sinister changes to her body and mind. Not Previewed

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.

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 weak, based-on-a-true-story drama. With Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, and James Earl Jones. 1 hr. 40 PG-13 (profanity, drug use, parental abuse, some violence) - T.D.

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.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ** 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.

I, Frankenstein The big guy is still with us in this uneven, updated horror legend, but as played by Aaron Eckhart, 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

Nebraska **** Bruce Dern in a career-defining performance as an ornery coot who believes he has 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.

The Nut Job Animated family feature about a naughty squirrel (voice of Will Arnett) who plans a major nut heist. 1 hr. 26 PG (crude humor) - W.S.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) is pursued by dark forces after being marked. 1 hr. 24 R (language, graphic nudity, and drug use) - W.S.

The Past Asghar Farhadi's follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation is set in a working-class quarter of Paris, where a woman (The Artist's Bérénice Bejo, amazing) has summoned her estranged husband back from Iran to finalize their divorce, inviting him to stay in the apartment she shares with her new beau and three children. Things get messy in this thickly knotted and compelling tale. 2 hrs. 10 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

Philomena *** 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.

Ride Along 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.

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.

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.

The Wolf of Wall Street ** 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.