Thank goodness for Helen Mirren; without her there’d be almost nothing new for grown-up movie lovers to see this weekend. Besides Dame Helen’s latest offering (The Hundred-Foot Journey), this looks like a good time to catch up on summer’s best offerings, including Get on Up, Calvary and Boyhood.
The Hundred-Foot Journey
Helen Mirren is a snooty French chef; veteran Indian star Om Puri (East Is East) is the immigrant who opens an authentic Mumbai-style restaurant, replete with secret spices and blaring santoor music, across from her chic, white-tablecloth place in the South of France. The resulting culture clash fuels this foodie romance from Lasse Hallström, who also directed Chocolat. The dishes look delicious and the stars are endearing, but the predictable script could have used more seasoning.
Into the Storm
The movie tornado that still gives me nightmares is the one that sucked Dorothy and Toto all the way to Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz. But latter-day funnel vortices those in Twister (1996), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and the lamentable Sharknado series have been sufficiently terrifying to send windstorm-shy moviegoers scuttling for shelter. In that grand tradition, Into the Storm pits one small town against a swarm of super ‘nadoes unlike any the world – and, presumably, funnel-cloud film fans – has ever seen. Look for the flying cow, a nifty little tribute to Twister...which in turn paid homage to those wind-blown farm animals Dorothy saw above Kansas.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
If movie history has tortoise anything, it’s that this reboot of the comic-book franchise will be a shell of its former self.
Still Out There…
Twenty-five years after he arranged for Harry to meet Sally, director Rob Reiner proves that his take on grownup love has grown only 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. FULL REVIEW
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
Once you recover from one of the most startling opening lines in movie memory, relish Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) in one of the towering performances of the year. He plays an Irish village priest who takes the confession of a local man who calmly declares, “I’m going to kill you, Father.” The deed is to be done a week from Sunday: “Killing a priest on a Sunday,” muses the shadowy figure. “That’ll be a good one.” Gleeson is mesmerizing, and writer-director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) is relentless in his study of a good man in an increasingly dark world.
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.
Get on Up
Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in 42) makes playing The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business seem easy in this spectacular, funk-driven biography of James Brown. The soundtrack is the genuine Brown, but Boseman nails his Mashed Potato dance steps and inseam-defying splits. At first you may think director Tate Taylor (The Help) is showing you random moments from Brown’s tumultuous life, but you’ll quickly see the method to his montage.
Guardians of the Galaxy
You won’t have more fun at a theater this year than you will at this shockingly smart sci-fi adventure. Chris Pratt (the doofus from TV’s Parks and Recreation) is a revelation as the wisecracking leader of a gang of intergalactic misfits who accidentally find themselves defending the universe from a very bad dude (Lee Pace). Groot – a gentle, treelike giant, voiced by Vin Diesel – is the most endearing sci-fi character since R2D2. Director-cowriter James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead) inserts knowing echoes of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, along with a dash of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. Best of all, because Pratt’s character is a transplant from 1980s Earth, his personal soundtrack (played on a Sony Walkman) is a greatest-hits mix featuring Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” I’d buy that soundtrack – if they release it on cassette.
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, whose 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
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.
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.
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.
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 strongwoman who keeps the privileged few in the locomotive and the rabble in the caboose.
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
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:
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
If you still keep a Roxy Music t shirt in your closet, this first-time-on-Blu-ray edition of the ultimate glam rock spectacle will make your year. Paul Williams (who also wrote the Oscar-nominated songs) stars as a crooked music promoter who steals the songs that a disfigured composer (William Finlay) wrote for a beautiful singer (Jessica Harper). A young Brian De Palma directed, so you know there’ll be lots of split-screen!
The Naked City
There were 8 million stories in the Naked City, and from 1958 to 1963 this gritty, black-and-white cop show brought them to TV with unprecedented authenticity. It’s fashionable to celebrate the post-Hill Street Blues era as the golden age of cop shows, but these 130-plus episodes, on DVD for the first time, prove that life did not begin with Frank Furillo & company.
The Best of The Equalizer
For the first of its four seasons, there was no TV action series more visceral than The Equalizer, which starred Golden Globe winner Edward Woodward (Breaker Morant) as Robert McCall, a retired CIA agent who used his skills to help strangers threatened by the evil and powerful. Later seasons tried to soften McCall a bit, giving him a family and a backstory. That robbed the man of his mystery, but Woodward always delivered an effectively understated performance. Catch the original before the new Denzel Washington reboot opens next month.