Parents and children do their eternal dance of mutual misunderstanding in two of this week’s best films; the rest range from a gentle romantic fantasy to a cautionary apocalyptic tale.
In 2002, writer-director Richard Linklater wrote a script about a young boy’s life from age 6 to his late teens. He filmed it over the ensuing 12 years, letting his actors literally grow into their parts. Sure, the nearly three-hour Boyhood could stand some trimming, but it’s easy to understand Linklater’s reluctance to leave anything on the cutting-room floor. His gamble on casting Ellar Coltrane as the boy is inspired; as his parents, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke show it’s not just children who evolve over a decade or so. In fact, Boyhood is most compelling when it explores the complex dynamics between growing children and their oft-confounded parents.
Wish I Was Here
Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State) stars as a 35-year-old father who decides to home-school his two children and ends up learning a lot about himself. Kate Hudson is his loving wife, Mandy Patinkin his ailing dad. Look for a brief appearance by the wonderful James Avery (Fresh Prince of Bel Air) in his final film role; he died December 31, 2013.
Of all modern directors, Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) comes closest to consistently drawing his audience into a dreamlike state. And while Mood Indigo has a story – an inventive, lovesick man (Romain Duris) strives to find a cure for the rare disease afflicting his lover (Audrey Tautou) – it is Gondry’s lyrical, otherworldly images (done without benefit of CGI) that stick with you once you leave the theater.
The Purge: Anarchy
One night a year the rules are suspended, everyone wreaks bloody revenge on those who’ve betrayed them, and utter anarchy rules – but enough about Thanksgiving at the Newcotts! The Purge – a smart allegory about a society that sacrifices justice expedience – was a surprise hit last year. In this sequel, some poor innocents find themselves trapped on the street as the annual government-sanctioned mayhem begins.
A married couple (Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel) try to keep their homemade sex tape from getting downloaded all over the country. The film costars Rob Lowe, whose videotaped indiscretion back in the 1980s poured the mold for the celebrity sex-tape scandals to come.
Still Out There …
Having made us fall in love with Dublin street singers in Once, writer-director John Carney expands on that theme with a bigger budget and a much bigger city: New York. Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) is a self-destructive music executive who sees his path to redemption in a gifted young English singer (Keira Knightley). The Pride & Prejudice star has a sweet set of pipes to match the film’s pleasing soundtrack, and the Big Apple’s streets never looked – or sounded – better. FULL REVIEW
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
It’s been a decade or so since apes and humans reached a fragile peace. But the winds of war are whipping across San Francisco Bay, and despite the best efforts of a human-loving chimp named Caesar (Andy Serkis), a band of urban gorillas may be on the brink of establishing the ultimate banana republic.
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.
Clint Eastwood‘s screen version of the smash Broadway musical tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The film revivifies most of the group’s big hits but avoids becoming a mere big-screen jukebox. The cast is uniformly flawless, especially John Lloyd Young, whoses choirboy voice and good looks won him a Tony award as Frankie. FULL REVIEW
A Long Way Down
In this adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel, Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette play two of four suicidal people who meet at the top of the same tower with identical fatal intent – but agree to delay their last leap for six weeks.
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. FULL REVIEW
Stop us if you’ve heard the one about the mild-mannered middle-age businessman who must tap into his savage instincts when his daughter is kidnapped. Liam Neeson, Kevin Costner and Hugh Jackman have all played out that role lately, so why not add Oscar winner Nicolas Cage to the brotherhood?
The scientists meant well when they tried to stop global warming, but their experiment wound up freezing everyone on the planet to death. Everyone, that is, except the folks on Snowpiercer, a round-the-world train powered by a perpetual-motion engine. In this cautionary tale from acclaimed Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host), Tilda Swinton is the Margaret Thatcher-esque strong woman who keeps the privileged few at the front of the train – and the rabble in the rear.
Melissa McCarthy must have realized she can’t base an entire name-above-the-title career on the loudmouth-lout character that earned her an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids. So it’s a relief to see her soften up considerably in this appealing comedy: She plays an impulsive, aimless woman who, fired from her job and betrayed by her husband, takes off on a road trip with her vulgar, alcoholic grandma – acted with exquisite comic timing by Susan Sarandon. They play off each other beautifully: While McCarthy adopts some of Sarandon’s subtlety, Sarandon channels a bit of McCarthy’s manic unpredictability. FULL REVIEW
As he did in his Oscar-winning Crash, writer/director Paul Haggis tells several overlapping stories spanning two continents, enlisting an all-star cast including Liam Neeson, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Maria Bello, Adrien Brody and Olivia Wilde. Crash was about race; Third Person seems to be about love, but not in a nice way: Everyone here is in a poisonous relationship or emerging from one. FULL REVIEW
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer lend grownup presence to the latest toy-inspired Michael Bay heavy-metal fest, but when it comes to this series, there’s nothing more than meets the eye.
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.
New on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video On Demand:
A Day Late and a Dollar Short
Whoopi Goldberg stars as Viola, who’s just learned her next asthma attack could well be her last. In the time she has left, Viola tries to patch things up with her estranged family and draw them closer together. With Ving Rhames as her husband; based on the Terry McMillan novel Waiting to Exhale.
A Night in Old Mexico
Robert Duvall revisits his grizzled-cowboy persona, starring as a Texas rancher forced off his land and facing the realities of old age. Accompanied by his grandson (Jeremy Irvine), he heads out for one last “yahoo!” south of the border, but their plans change when they find themselves holding a satchel of mobster loot.
David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) put himself on everyone’s map with this out-there sci-fi thriller about a race of super-evolved humans who can make people’s heads explode simply by concentrating. This newly restored Criterion Collection version makes the noggin-poppin’ even more grisly.
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