Movies for Grownups Weekend Preview: Jan. 17

Out of the muck of typical January movie studio throwaways rises a first-rate action thriller from director/costar Kenneth Branagh.

 

The New Stuff:

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 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Tom Clancy’s true-blue CIA agent returns to the screen for a fifth go-round, this time starring Chris Pine in the title role (following in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck). Pine plays a younger version of Ryan, recruited into the spy biz by a charmingly convincing Kevin Costner. Soon he’s neck-deep in an adventure that takes him from Moscow to New York, going mano-a-mano with an oily villain played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directs. The action is superb, the story moves right along, and it’s all softened nicely by the romance between Ryan and his fiancee (Keira Knightley)-the woman Ryan can’t tell what he does for a living. FULL REVIEW

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MOVIES FOR GROWNUPS YOU TUBE SHOW

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This week, a middle-age woman rediscovers romance, and I explain how Samuel L. Jackson worked on The Cosby Show for years, but you never saw him.

 

 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. FULL REVIEW

American Hustle
You won’t have more fun at the movies than you’ll find here with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Louis C.K. and Jennifer Lawrence as assorted con artists and Feds conspiring to bring down crooked politicians in the 1980s Abscam scandal. “Some of this actually happened,” the title card reads, but we have a feeling writer/director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) made up all the more hilarious stuff. FULL REVIEW

Anchorman II
Director Adam McCay and star Will Ferrell swore that the sequel to their 2004 comedy wouldn’t recycle any old gags; the only problem with that is the two films’ premise IS the gag. Pompous idiot/news anchor Ron Burgundy is the same old blowhard, and his sidekicks are the same old lovable-as-they-are-clueless posse. Go, have fun, but understand this is just a very welcome addendum to the original.

The Best Offer
Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech, Shine) is superb as an eccentric art expert who accepts a job appraising the collection of a reclusive woman (Sylvia Hoeks) who refuses to be seen; she speaks with him from behind a closed door in her ornate home. It’l directed by the great Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore (his first English-language film), whose Cinema Paradiso remains many folks’ favorite film about the magic of the movies.

Captain Phillips
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

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 his compelling performance.

Enough Said
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.

Frozen
By now the animation wizards at Disney have this spunky-young-woman-defeats-evil thing down pat, but the real reason to duck into this film is the cartoon short that precedes it. Get a Horse! is a hand-drawn Mickey Mouse cartoon done in the early Disney style circa Steamboat Willie. Director Dorothy McKim even uses archival recordings of Walt Disney himself providing the voice of the world’s favorite rodent.

Gravity
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

Her
What happens if you love your technology just a tad too much? Joaquin Phoenix finds out when he falls hard for the seductive female voice (Scarlett Johansson) in his computer operating system. Writer/director Spike Jonze creates a compelling portrait of a near future when people would rather interact with their machines than each other.

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Inside Llewyn Davis
Writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s most balanced movie ever is a fond look at the early 1960s Greenwich Villlage folk music scene-a moment or two before Bob Dylan turned up and changed everything with his blend of folk and rock. Oscar Isaac is irresistibly mopey as the title character, a struggling folkie for whom suffering is an end to itself. But the real treat comes about halfway through, when Llewlyn hitches a ride to Chicago with a blustery, bloated blues musician played with great aplomb by John Goodman. FULL REVIEW

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
In any other year, Idris Elba’s towering performance as Nelson Mandela would land him on anyone’s Best Actor Oscar shortlist. Alas, the dance card is probably already full this time around, but that’s no reason to miss Elba tracing the life of the South African legend from young adulthood through his 27-year imprisonment. Naomie Harris is at times chillingly intense as his wife Winnie, and director Justin Chadwick (The First Grader) continues his love affair with inspiring, true African stories.

Nebraska
In a career-defining performance, Bruce Dern is a slightly befuddled fellow who’s convinced he’s won $1 million in a sweepstakes. Will Forte is the good son who offers to drive him from Montana to Nebraska to claim the dubious prize. Amazing performances all around, directed by Alexander Payne (The Descendants, About Schmidt). FULL REVIEW

Philomena
In a season of extraordinary acting accomplishments, Judi Dench gives the performance of a lifetime as the title character, a woman seeking the son she gave up as a child. Steve Coogan, who also wrote the film’s moving and disarmingly funny script, costars as the investigative reporter who helps unravel the tangle of deceit and corruption that very nearly choked off the truth behind Philomena’s quest. Based on a true story. FULL REVIEW

Saving Mr. Banks
Tom Hanks is Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers in this magical (and allegedly true) story of how Uncle Walt convinced P.L. to let him bring her creation to the screen. If Thompson lays the prim-and-proper schtick on a bit thick, and if Hanks plays Disney as something of a homespun cartoon of the real mogul, it only adds to the film’s mythical quality. They provide just the right dose of sugar to help the historical medicine go down. FULL REVIEW

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Director/star Ben Stiller celebrates the mystery of imagination, the wonder of real-life, and the point at which they intersect in this spectacular comedy adventure loosely based on the classic James Thurber short story. Kristin Wiig plays the adorable object of Mitty’s affection, Shirley MacLaine cameos as the hero’s loving mom, and Sean Penn pops up in a brief but pivotal role as a globetrotting photographer. FULL REVIEW

The Wolf of Wall Street
Teaming for the fifth time with Leonardo DiCaprio, director Martin Scorsese lets loose a cannonade of  sex, drugs, and no-holds-barred avarice in telling the mostly true story of a New York stockbroker who made an outrageous fortune by swindling investors in the 1980s and ’90s. Like his central character, Scorsese once again proves that nothing succeeds like excess. FULL REVIEW

 

Also of Interest

 

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