Aside from a solemn family drama and a not-all-there sci-fi adventure, this might be the weekend to check out the summer movies you’ve missed in recent weeks.
Richard Jenkins stars as a terminal cancer patient who, after 12 years of six-months-to-live prognoses, decides to pull his own plug. Into his hospital room troop his son (Garrett Hedlund), daughter (Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton Abbey) and their mother (Anne Archer) to share regrets and recriminations. Thanks to a terrific cast (Amy Adams, Terrence Howard and Jennifer Hudson play smaller roles), first-time writer-director Andrew Levitas manages to make the sad proceedings life-affirming.
Laurence Fishburne is a mysterious computer hacker who sort-of lures two MIT students and a girlfriend to his desert lair, where strange things are happening. The hacker claims it’s all the fault of ETs, but he may be lying. In the end, the explanation is a lot less satisfying than cinematographer-turned-director William Eubank’s often-inspired images.
Still Out There . . .
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 aneurysm-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.
Handsomely filmed and beautifully acted, this 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
Cold in July
This small, perfect crime thriller introduces us to a quiet Texas businessman (Michael C. Hall of TV’s Dexter) brooding about fatally shooting a prowler. His guilt and regret shift to terror when the burglar’s father (Sam Shepard) 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 on a moonless night. Don Johnson crackles as a low-rent private eye. FULL REVIEW
D-Day: Normandy 1944
June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ assault on Nazi-occupied France. Thanks to clever graphics, spectacular historical footage and the giant IMAX screen, civilians can finally start to get a grip on the sheer scope of the largest military invasion in history.
Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise stars as a soldier who dies in a battle against space aliens, only to find himself in a time loop that plops him back into that same fateful day over and over again. It’s a Twilight Zone-worthy scenario that gets smart, spectacular treatment from director Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity). Cruise is laugh-out-loud funny in the early scenes as a cocky Army information officer, and he even gets some good-sport points for playing a sight gag that emphasizes his (usually hidden) short stature. Emily Blunt is tough as nails as a fellow warrior who warms up to Cruise – after a few hundred replays. FULL REVIEW
The Fault in Our Stars
Like the bestselling John Green novel that inspired it, this young romance about two teens who meet and fall in love in a cancer-support group aims squarely at the YA (young adult) audience. But veterans Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe provide solid support for youngsters Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, and comedian Mike Birbiglia is hilarious as a clueless support-group leader.
Here are two things this re-re-reboot of the 1954 Japanese classic does not have enough of:
1) Bryan Cranston
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 a 4-year-old boy’s tale of his supposed visit to Heaven could have gone cinematically awry 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 father. 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.
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Every time Seth McFarlane’s Western satire takes a turn along its winding, dusty road, we discover that Mel Brooks got there first, 40 years ago in Blazing Saddles. There’s a story about the hero (McFarlane), an out-of-place sheep farmer, preparing for an ill-advised shootout. But the film works best whenever McFarlane presents – in hilariously graphic fashion – yet another way in which the Old West can do you in.
Angelina Jolie is the chief attraction here. As the “evil” queen who cast that shut-eye curse on Sleeping Beauty, she gives a brainy, heartfelt performance in a movie that mostly sacrifices nuance for bombast. Director Robert Stromberg visually quotes a lot of better movies, including Fantasia, Wings of Desire and Kevin Smith’s Dogma (check them out!). Jolie’s stellar turn aside, however, he seems unwilling to make an emotional connection.
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 didn’t First Wives Club already build this same scenario – and do it 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
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.
Writer/director Clark Gregg (The Avengers, Iron Man) also stars as a former child star now working as an agent to other kid actors in this uneven comedy. Despite a great cast (Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, William H. Macy, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell and Molly Shannon), Gregg’s movie can’t make up its mind: Is it a wild satire of Hollywood heartlessness? Or a solemn meditation on the victimization of children? FULL REVIEW
Words and Pictures
To this summer’s list of handsome grownup couples, add Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen in a romance that’s got more on its mind than boy-gets-girl. She’s an art professor who thinks pictures are supreme; he’s an English prof who insists words are all that. As their debate rages, we discover two damaged people who each might be able to supply the emotional elements missing from their counterpart. FULL REVIEW
X-Men: Days of Future Past
You needn’t 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.
Now on DVD and VOD…
If you know Steve Coogan only as that nice reporter man in Philomena, it’s time to meet the comic genius Britain has loved for decades: Here he plays his most famous character, a fallen-from-grace TV-talk-show host reduced to being a radio DJ. When the ego-driven Partridge finds himself at the center of a hostage situation, he sees it, of course, as a vehicle for his own public redemption.
All That Heaven Allows
The ultimate 1950s “Women’s Picture” is Douglas Sirk’s sumptuously filmed story of an upper-crust woman (Jane Wyman) whose family condemns her love for a much-younger groundskeeper (Rock Hudson). Come for the suds, stay for cinematographer Russell Metty’s Technicolor brilliance.
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
The Bob Newhart Show: Complete Series
This is the one where Bob played a Chicago psychologist and Suzanne Pleshette was his wife. They were surrounded by one of the all-time great ensemble casts: Marcia Wallace (the secretary), Peter Bonerz (the dentist across the hall), Bill Daly (the annoying neighbor) and Jack Riley (the grumpy patient). After 142 episodes, you’ll be all laughed out.
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.
Decoding Annie Parker
Samantha Morton is the title character, whose grandmother, mother and sister all died of breast cancer - and who has just been diagnosed with it herself. Helen Hunt is the researcher who’s certain there is a genetic link to some forms of breast cancer, but she keeps running into brick walls within the medical establishment. Both double-Oscar nominees, the stars make engaging work of this true story of two women who barely meet yet are intimately joined in a race against genetics. FULL REVIEW
You may remember the 1966 Shirley MacLaine/Michael Caine original, but you almost certainly never saw this Cameron Diaz/Colin Firth sort-of-remake from last year. The Coen Brothers wrote the enjoyable script for this caper flick; even if it lacks their trademark quirkiness, sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
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’s 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. (Imagine such a thing!)
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
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, matching wits 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 fiancée (Keira Knightley) – the woman Ryan can’t tell what he does for a living. FULL REVIEW
L’Eclisse (The Eclipse)
Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 masterpiece, about a free-spirited woman (Monica Vitti) who moves ruthlessly from one lover (Francisco Rabal) to another (Alain Delon), explores the modern world’s determination to keep people alienated from each other. Fifty-two years later, his tocsin rings louder than ever.
A Matter of Trust – The Bridge to Russia Concert
It was a really big deal when Billy Joel staged the first-ever Western rock ‘n’ roll show in Russia in 1987. 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.)
The Monuments Men
George Clooney enlists Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett to help him patrol Nazi-occupied Europe in search of stolen artworks. A greater sense of urgency would have better advanced the plot, 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 Redemption of Henry Myers
Friday Night Lights costar Drew Waters (he looks like Brad Pitt’s baby brother) stars as an Old West outlaw who arrives shot up real good on the porch of a widowed woman and her young children. The film’s message (see title) gets laid on a tad thick, though not for the faith-based audience the movie aims to find. Even so, the engaging cast and New Mexico setting make for a fine family-friendly adventure.
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 converge 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, pulsing with loud music and roiling with naked molls. If that’s your cup of tea, here’s the dirty cup to brew it in.
True Detective: Season One
One of HBO’s all-time great casting coups pairs Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as mismatched New Orleans police detectives on the trail of a ritual killer. With more twists than a dirt road through the bayou, True Detective becomes an epic tale of two guys tracking down monsters both out there in the world and deep inside their own tortured psyches.
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