The busiest grownup summer movie season ever begins in earnest this weekend; even the requisite comic book-inspired blockbuster offers a sophisticated twist on classic superhero themes.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
You don’t have to be obsessed with the X-Men mythology to be utterly caught up in this spectacular new adventure about MARVEL‘s ultimate crime fighting tag team. Set partly in the future and partly in the past, it’s the story of how a government program to eliminate the X-Men “mutants” goes horribly awry. The team sends Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to enlist younger versions of the group to head off the carnage before it starts.
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn
Henry Altmann (Robin Williams) is already a cranky guy, but his worst day ever comes when his doctor (Mila Kunis) dismissively tells him he’s got a brain aneurism—and only 90 minutes to live. What follows is a mad rush as Henry frantically tries to track down everyone he’s hurt with his rotten attitude so he can make amends before it’s too late.
Cold In July
A perfect little crime thriller finds a quiet Texas businessman (Michael C. Hall of TV’s Dexter) feeling guilty about fatally shooting a prowler. His regret shifts to terror when the burglar’s father (Sam Sheperd) turns up, seemingly bent on revenge. That somewhat predictable set-up takes a quick left turn, though, and soon we’re off on a chase as murky as a Texas back road at night. Don Johnson crackles as a low-rent private eye. FULL REVIEW
The Love Punch
With Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson as the stars of a lighthearted romantic comedy, how can you go wrong? Unfortunately, writer/director Joel Hopkins finds every way possible in this utter misfire that wastes two of the screen’s most appealing actors. They play a long-divorced couple who team up to steal a diamond from the mogul who gutted their retirement fund. The stars are beloved by audiences, but all the goodwill in the world can’t overcome the film’s awful pacing, predictable twists, and weirdly off-kilter chemistry.
Mia Wasikowska stars as Robyn Davidson, a city dweller who became a National Geographic cover girl in 1978 after she made a solo trek across 2,000 miles of Australian outback accompanied only by her dog.
Still Out There . . .
Handsomely filmed, beautifully acted, the true story of a half-African woman raised in an aristocrat’s home at the tail end of slavery in the British Empire takes some of the hard themes studied in 12 Years a Slave and wraps them in Jane Austen finery. The luminous Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the title role; Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson are the conflicted blue bloods who try to balance their affection for Belle with the realities of 18th Century England. FULL REVIEW
A Matter of Trust—The Bridge to Russia Concert
In 1987 it was a really big deal when Billy Joel staged the first-ever Western rock and roll show in Russia. Here’s every minute of that landmark performance featuring previously unreleased versions of “Honesty”, “You May Be Right”, and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” Also featured: a whole lotta hair on The Piano Man’s noggin.
Decoding Annie Parker
Samantha Morton is the the title character, whose grandmother, mother, and sister all died of breast cancer—and who has herself just been diagnosed with it. Helen Hunt is the researcher who’s certain there is a genetic link to some forms of breast cancer, but who is running into one brick wall after another within the medical establishment. Both double-Oscar nominees, the stars make engaging work of this true story of two women who barely meet, yet who are intimately joined in a race against genetics. FULL REVIEW
D-Day: Normandy 1944
June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ assault on Nazi occupied France, and thanks to clever graphics, spectacular historical footage, and the giant IMAX screen, civilians can finally begin to get a grip on the sheer scope of history’s largest military invasion.
John Turturro is a male prostitute and Woody Allen is his pimp. If that premise doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then stop reading now. Otherwise, this surprisingly sweet tale of loneliness, longing, and looking for love features Woody’s best performance since Deconstructing Harry. FULL REVIEW
Two things this re-re-reboot of the 1954 Japanese classic does not have enough of: Bryan Cranston and Godzilla. Unwisely, the star of TV’s Breaking Bad makes an early exit…and inexplicably the title character doesn’t really show up until the second half. Most of the film focuses on two incredibly ugly prehistoric critters that terrorize cities on both sides of the Pacific; the G-Man arrives later, Mighty Mouse-like, to save the day.
Heaven is For Real
Based on the New York Times best-seller, the true-life story of 4-year-old boy’s account of his visit to Heaven could have gone cinematically wrong in oh-so-many ways. But under the sure direction of Randall Wallace, Greg Kinnear gives one of the best performances of his career as the boy’s conflicted dad. FULL REVIEW
Director James Gray’s lush vision of 1921 Manhattan stars Marion Cotillard as a young Polish woman forced into prostitution by a charming but evil businessman (Joaquin Phoenix). Jeremy Renner plays the guy’s brother, a sensitive magician who is her only hope for escape.
How riveting can a film be when we see just one character and he never leaves his car? In the hands of star Tom Hardy and writer/director Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), Locke hits the gas and never lets up. Hardy plays the manager of a billion-dollar construction project who, on the day before groundbreaking, finds himself juggling crises personal and professional from his car phone. For him, it’s the ultimate case of distracted driving; for audiences, it’s a white-knuckle ride from start to finish.
Million Dollar Arm
Mad Men star John Hamm plays real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein, who had the bright idea of recruiting some of India’s greatest cricket players for Major League Baseball. With the help of Indian stars Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and Madhur Mital (Slumdog Millionaire) director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) brings real heart to what could have been a by-the-numbers sports comedy.
Moms’ Night Out
Patricia Heaton stars in a family comedy about three friends (Heaton, Sarah Drew, and Logan White) who want a night away from the kids—but that means putting their husbands in charge. Trace Adkins costars as a good-hearted biker.
A Night in Old Mexico
Robert Duvall revisits his grizzled-old-cowboy persona, starring as a Texas rancher forced off his land and facing the realities of old age. He heads with his grandson (Jeremy Irvine) for one last “Yahoo!” South of the Border, but their plans change when they unexpectedly find themselves holding a satchell of mobster loot.
The Other Woman
Three betrayed women (Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and Kate Upton) seek revenge on the guy who done them wrong (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). But First Wives Club got here first, and it was a whole lot smarter.
The Railway Man
Colin Firth is a World War II veteran who won’t talk about his ordeal in a Japanese POW camp; Nicole Kidman is the wife who forces him to come to terms with it—and in a sense finally escape that long-ago prison. It starts out as a touching husband-and-wife drama, but when Firth’s character heads to Thailand to confront the man who tortured him, the stakes rise exponentially. FULL REVIEW
Writer/Director Joel Surnow (24) draws on his own childhood to tell the story of a kid (Devon Bostick) who eschews college to go to work at the used car dealership owned by his dad (Christopher Meloni). It could all have gone horribly, mawkishly awry, but solid performances by Meloni (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and the rest of the grownup cast make Small Time a fun time. FULL REVIEW
Now on DVD and VOD…
3 Days to Kill
Kevin Costner plays a government hitman who wants to hang up his gun holster and spend more time with his estranged wife and daughter. But of course he’s first got to pull off one more job… FULL REVIEW
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. FULL REVIEW
Dallas Buyers Club
At the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, a tough heterosexual Texas electrician (Matthew McConaughey) gets the dreaded diagnosis — then sets up a lucrative business smuggling alternative anti-AIDS drugs into the state. McConaughey won his first Oscar for his compelling performance.
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.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Joel and Ethan Coen’s most balanced movie ever is a fond look at the early 1960s Greenwich Villlage folk music scene. Oscar Isaac is irresistibly mopey as the title character, but the real treat comes when Llewyn hitches a ride to Chicago with a blustery, bloated blues musician played with great aplomb by John Goodman. FULL REVIEW
Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection
If you remember Mr. Magoo (and his voice, Jim Backus) only as a mildly amusing TV ‘toon character, check out these theatrical shorts from the old boy’s heyday, when he was an Oscar-winning big-screen star. These shorts are masterpieces of the old UPA studio, which proved to the world that you could make beautiful cartoons that didn’t have the Disney stamp all over them.
The Monuments Men
George Clooney enlists Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett to help him patrol Nazi-occupied Europe in search of stolen art works. A greater sense of urgency would have helped push the plot along, but what’s more fun than hanging out with George and his buds for two hours? FULL REVIEW
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 a tangle of deceit and corruption. 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
Sin City (2005)
The sequel is coming to the big screen, so you may as well catch up on the original: A hyperviolent splatterfest unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Director Robert Rodriquez creates a dark comic book world spotlit in primary colors, pounding with loud music and roiling with naked molls. If that’s your cup of tea, then here’s the dirty cup to go brew it in.
Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley
Once billed as “The Funniest Woman in the World,” gravely voiced Moms Mabley was a sensation in African-American vaudeveille. She became known to white audiences only through scattered TV spots in the late 1960s, shortly before her death in 1975, but she was idolized by Goldberg and a generation of younger comics, many of whom appear in this heartfelt documentary: Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Anne Meara, Robert Klein, and Bill Cosby among them.