Lots to choose from this week: For once, an all-star comedy that’s actually funny … Harrison Ford returns to space … a fast-talking rodeo cowboy tries to rope AIDS … and Diana, Princess of Wales, looks for true love.
The New Stuff…
This comedy about four old pals reuniting for a bachelor party in Las Vegas gets its laughs from the chemistry of its stars: Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline. The cast also makes the film’s more dramatic moments — dealing with loneliness, loss and the passing of youth — unexpectedly effective. Throw in Mary Steenburgen as a sympathetic saloon singer and you’ve got a movie that’s light years smarter than its stupid trailers would have you think. FULL REVIEW
If you have kids, they’ve probably read this 1991 sci-fi neoclassic, which despite its interplanetary war setting is considered must-reading for U.S. Marine Corps trainees (really!). The film, starring Asa Butterfield as a fighting child prodigy, offers Harrison Ford both as the kid’s mentor and a reminder of how much the science fiction movie genre still owes to Star Wars.
Dallas Buyers Club
At the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, a tough heterosexual Texas electrician (Matthew McConaughey) gets the dread diagnosis — then sets up a lucrative business smuggling alternative anti-AIDS drugs into the state. McConaughey, who has been rising from beefcake idol to accomplished actor, may nab his first Oscar nomination for this.
Naomi Watts stars as the star-crossed Princess of Wales. Here Diana is divorced and has taken up with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (played by Sayid Jarrah, best known as the Iraqi torture expert on Lost, but cleaned up considerably here). Now the lovers must somehow find happiness while eluding the paparazzi’s eye. Wonder how that’ll turn out. A Princess Grace movie is coming next year; our look at the two princesses America loved.
Still Out There . . .
12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery leads a powerful cast. Movies from Roots to Django Unchained have shown us the evils of slavery; 12 Years a Slave makes us feel the lash.
All Is Lost
Robert Redford has been a movie star for so long it’s easy to forget he’s also a great screen actor. Here it’s all Redford, all the time, wordlessly battling the elements as a lone sailor on an endless sea. He may well win his first acting Oscar for this one. FULL REVIEW
Birth of the Living Dead
In 1968 George A. Romero made Night of the Living Dead, and changed the way movies scare us. This entertaining documentary retraces Romero’s shuffling footsteps to midnight movie immortality.
If you’re an actress, get yourself directed by Woody Allen: Here he casts Cate Blanchett as a latter-day Blanche DuBois, depending on the kindness of strangers in San Francisco. Smart, tragic and funny, it’s Woody and Cate at their best. FULL REVIEW
Tom Hanks gives his best performance in years as the captain of a cargo ship overrun by Somali pirates—but the real revelation is Somali actor Barkhad Abdi. He stands toe-to-toe with Oscar-winner Hanks, who generously allows his unknown costar to unfold a complex, surprisingly vulnerable character. FULL REVIEW
Michael Fassbender is the latest in a long line of movie lawyers who discover representing bad guys isn’t always the best career move. The script is by Cormac McCarthy; the director is Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, American Gangster); and the cast includes Brad Pitt. Unfortunately, the movie is a bit of a mess.
Writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt also stars, but see the story of Jon, a guy whose addiction to online porn is ruining his real-life relationships, for the superb supporting grownups, including Julianne Moore, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly. FULL REVIEW
We’ll never forget the late James Gandolfini as the conflicted mobster of The Sopranos, but in this romantic comedy he’s positively cuddly. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a woman who discovers that the man of her dreams (Gandolfini) is the ex-hubby of her new close friend.
Arnold Swarzenegger continues his post-politics rehab in Sylvester Stallone‘s latest action flick. Sly plays an architect of escape-proof prisons who somehow finds himself trying to break out of a penitentiary he designed. Arnold’s a grizzled inmate who helps him out. Here’s a slideshow about Sly and Arnold’s 40 years of Hollywood ups and downs.
Stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are fine and the film’s visual re-creation of a space voyage is breathtaking (especially in 3-D), but cowriter/director Alfonso Cuaron should have launched with a decent script. FULL REVIEW
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
The title might have worked better as Forest Whitaker Is the Butler, or maybe Oprah Winfrey Is the Wife of the Butler. No matter; audiences are flocking to see Whitaker as White House butler Cecil Gaines, Robin Williams as President Eisenhower and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. FULL REVIEW
Metallica Through the Never
If Boomers don’t turn out for this extended music video from the quintessential ’80s heavy metal band, who will? Go for the music, stay for Kirk Hammett’s hair.
This gritty crime drama stars Hugh Jackman as a distraught Georgia dad who kidnaps the guy he believes abducted his 6-year-old daughter. It’s the old vigilante dad story, all right, but get a load of the rest of the cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard and Paul Dano.
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl are great fun as James Hunt and Niki Lauda, rival kings of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s. Ron Howard, who cut his directing teeth with Grand Theft Auto in 1977, seems right at home depicting the brutal beauty of high-octane racing.
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