In Theaters this week: Moses and Pharaoh Ramses get into a smackdown. At Home: A new box set is a bonanza for Grownup Movie lovers.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Once you get past the 3-D plagues, the clashing armies, the towering tidal wave that swallows the Pharaoh’s chariots ... hmm, there’s really not much past all that. As Moses and Ramses, Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton do a lot of railing, if only to be heard above the crashing soundtrack. The real star here is director Ridley Scott, whose vision of the Exodus is, if not more inspired than Cecil B. DeMille’s, at least splashier.
If any American director is going to film a Thomas Pynchon novel, it should be David Thomas Anderson — and he has! (Anderson’s movies — There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love — are likewise packed with quirky characters and outrageous twists.) Here, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a droopy-eyed, drug-mellowed L.A. private eye probing the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend. We’ll understand if you can’t follow the slow-motion rollercoaster of strange turns that follows — Sportello himself barely keeps up — but along for the ride is a cast of endearing weirdos played by Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and, as the worst dentist since Little Shop of Horrors , Martin Short.
Still out there:
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Did Michael Keaton quit the Batman series 22 years ago just so he could one day make this dreamlike film about an actor who walked away from a smash superhero franchise? If so, the wait was worth every minute. ( FULL REVIEW)
Dumb and Dumber To
It’s been an eventful 20 years for Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, whose 1994 comedy Dumb and Dumber redefined the depths of stupidity (or heights, per your view) that movie-comedy fans would pay to see. Back in the roles of Harry and Lloyd, the pair try to make lightning strike twice. Judging by those haircuts, they succeed.
Elsa & Fred
Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer are the cute title characters in this story of late-life love. He’s a bitter old dude; she’s a free-spirited, impulsive breath of fresh air (who also happens to be a cheat and a pathological liar). Elsa in the hands of any other actress: insufferable. But à la MacLaine? Irresistible!
The true story of two Olympic-wrestler brothers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) who settled into a tragic relationship with a wealthy benefactor (Steve Carell, barely recognizable behind that understated performance and prosthetic nose) should have been a perfect match for director Bennett Miller ( Moneyball, Capote). But his two-and-a-half-hour telling drags like a grappler stalling to fend off a final takedown.
Hotly anticipated by fans of the book, this crackerjack mystery about a husband (Ben Affleck) suspected of killing his missing wife (Rosamund Pike) keeps the viewer wondering: Who’s dead, who killed them, is anybody dead at all, and who’s next? (FULL REVIEW)
Horrible Bosses 2
The stars of the first installment — Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis — are all back, and just like last time, their undeniable screen appeal is the best thing the movie has to offer.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
Shameful disclosure: We haven’t seen a single Hunger Games movie. Yes, we know the youthful cast is peppered with vets like Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore, but that just reminds us of Buster Keaton and Elsa Lanchester popping up in a 1960s beach movie. At least Annette and Frankie weren’t asked to kill each other.
The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as Alan Turing, the man whose peculiar genius helped the Allies crack the Nazi Enigma Code during War II. The appealing supporting cast includes Allen Leech ( Downton Abbey), Matthew Goode ( The Good Wife) and, as a barrier-smashing female mathematician, Kiera Knightley. (FULL REVIEW)
As he transports his intrepid crew of space explorers (including Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway) to a distant black hole, writer-director Christopher Nolan ( Inception) nods to sci-fi classics from 2001 to Ziggy Stardust. The results are spectacular, but we’ve grown to expect more originality from this screen visionary.
Robert Downey Jr. is a hotshot big-city lawyer; Robert Duvall is a beloved small-town judge accused of murder. Will Junior find it in his heart to defend his estranged pop? And will Dad swallow his pride long enough to accept his son’s help? (FULL REVIEW)
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a wild-eyed go-getter who discovers that a local TV producer ( Rene Russo) will pay him big bucks for video footage of accidents and crime scenes—even if it means moving bodies for better shots and following crooks after he witnesses their foul deeds. (FULL REVIEW)
Daily Show host Jon Stewart doesn’t go for laughs in his directorial debut: He’s dead serious in telling the true story of a reporter (Gael Garcia Bernal) imprisoned by the government of Iran for alleged spying — and locked away in one of that country’s most notorious prisons.
Bill Murray deserves an Oscar nomination for his grumpy Long Island loner who agrees to look after the young son of his new neighbor (Melissa McCarthy). Would you subject your kid to Murravian supervision? (Think field trips to the racetrack and a local bar.) (FULL REVIEW)
The Theory of Everything
In this superbly acted and lovingly directed biography, Eddie Redmayne plays astrophysicist Stephen Hawking from his carefree college days, through his heartrending descent into Lou Gehrig’s Disease, to his ultimate triumph in the realm of science. Felicity Jones costars as his first wife, Jane, who married him despite his rapidly advancing illness and raised their three children. (FULL REVIEW)
Chris Rock stars in (and wrote and directed) this comedy about a day in the life of a newly sober comedian who wants to become a serious movie star. Keep an eye out for a heaping helping of Rock’s BFFs, among them Adam Sandler, Kevin Hart, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric the Entertainer and Tracy Morgan.
J.K. Simmons — that bald, beaming guy we’ve loved for years in so many movies and commercials — finds the breakout role of a lifetime as the Mentor from Hell to a young drummer at a high-stakes music conservatory. (FULL REVIEW)
Jettisoning her perky Legally Blonde persona like a pair of too-tight hiking boots, Reese Witherspoon gets down and dirty as Cheryl Strayed, the troubled young woman whose solo 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail became the subject of her bestselling memoir. Director Jean-Marc Vallée ( Dallas Buyers Club) follows Strayed’s journey from a dead-end life of drug use and back-alley sex to rebirth amid the majesty of the high sierra. In what could have been a thankless role, Laura Dern etches a tragic portrait as Strayed’s abused mother.
New on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video on Demand:
Fox Searchlight 20th Anniversary Collection
Few film-distribution companies have done as much to advance the cause of Grownup Movies as Fox Searchlight, the independent film arm of 20th Century Fox. (In the 14 years we’ve handed out our “Best Movie for Grownups” award, Fox Searchlight has walked away with four of them.) Now celebrating 20 years, Fox Searchlight is releasing this mind-boggling box of 20 exceptional films. It includes MFG winners 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire, Little Miss Sunshine, The Last King of Scotland, The Descendants, Crazy Heart and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
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 eatery, replete with secret spices and blaring santoor music, across from her chic, white-tablecloth dining establishment 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.
Secret Agent (AKA Danger Man) The Complete Series
With their 1960s-fashion salon hair and tricked-up weapons, TV's men from U.N.C.L.E. were strictly kid stuff. Grittier, deadlier, and far less predictable was John Drake, the dead-eyed British spy played by cooler-than-anything Patrich McGoohan on Secret Agent (Canadian and British viewers knew the series as Danger Man; I say we got the title right). Here are 17 discs of every single episode as originally broadcast in England (which means that great Johnny Rivers theme song, seen only on the show's U.S. incarnation, isn't there. But you can hear it as a bonus feature— or here, with Johnny doing a pretty bad lip-sync job in 1966).
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