Rob Reiner returns with a warm-hearted grownup romance; Woody Allen introduces us to a beautiful seer who might be a fake; and Morgan Freeman frets as Scarlett Johansson kicks some serious bad-guy butt.
And So It Goes
Twenty-five years after he arranged for Harry to meet Sally, director Rob Reiner proves that his take on grownup love has grown richer with time. A sharp comedy with an ear tuned to the bittersweet cadences of mature romance, And So It Goes delightfully showcases two of Hollywood’s most enduring stars: Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton. He’s a mean-spirited real-estate hotshot (with a hidden heart of gold, of course); she’s a retired widow and aspiring nightclub singer. You could sketch out their courtship, loveship, shipwreck and reunion with your eyes closed, but the knowing script by Mark Andrus (As Good As It Gets) combines with Reiner’s jaunty direction to make And So it Goes go down easy.
Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen’s winning streak comes to a calamitous halt with this period-piece trifle, set in 1920s South of France. Colin Firth is a world-famous debunker of supernatural claims, and Emma Stone is the high-society conjurer he intends to take down a peg or two. The plot is promising. The photography, by Iranian genius Darius Khondji, is nothing short of splendid. But the undernourished creature Woody and his uninspired cast manage to pull out of this particular hat won’t please anybunny.
When a brain-altering drug accidentally gets released into Scarlett Johansson’s title character, she becomes a superhuman fighting machine, capable of controlling the world around her by mere thought. Because Lucy was directed by Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element), expect lots of kiester-kicking and slo-mo action scenes. Thankfully, Morgan Freeman’s on hand to spread some class around.
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
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. 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
Equal parts comedy, adventure and coming-of-age drama (for the 70-plus set), this is the year’s most engaging buddy picture. Paul Eenhoorn (This is Martin Bonner) and 72-year-old Earl Lynn Nelson (in his first major film role) play a couple of guys who head to Iceland for one a final hurrah. The two actors reportedly improvised roughly half the dialogue, and their spontaneity fuels a film in which surprisingly little happens. Which is just fine: For the most part we happily join the pair’s idyll, marveling alongside them at Icelandic geysers and misty hot springs. The landscape they traverse is barren and beautiful; the emotional chasms they bridge are honest and universal. 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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Michael Pena stars as the legendary farm workers’ union leader, and despite the inspiring lessons of the man’s life, director Diego Luna’s film is oddly dispassionate. It’s so in love with the subject that he emerges not as a human being, but as an icon whose only sin is in being too devoted to his good cause. Pena strikes a handsome figure, but he seems a bit too slight and movie star-handsome to be a former field worker who returns to Central California to bring a better life to his people. John Malkovich is sufficiently menacing as a mean grape grower; America Ferrera, as Chavez’s fiery wife Helen, too often overshadows her costar. FULL REVIEW
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
The Wind Will Carry Us
Made in France by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy), The Wind Will Carry Us tells a haunting, powerful story about a Tehran TV producer who travels to a remote town to document the locals’ unique funeral customs. Before he can shoot Frame 1, however, he must wait for the old woman in question to die. Slowly acclimating to his strange surroundings, he discovers the beauty behind banality. This Cohen Film Collection release includes an essential interview with the director.