In theaters, Jane Fonda is the best (and biggest!) thing in a convoluted family comedy, while Liam Neeson does his bang-bang-you’re-dead thing again. On your home screen, meet The Roosevelts, dance with Lesley Ann Warren’s Cinderella, and get totally creeped out by David Lynch’s indelible Eraserhead.
This Is Where I Leave You
Jane Fonda is radiant as the newly widowed mother who summons her four grown children to sit shiva at her house following the death of their father. Talk about your surly bunch: The three brothers (Jason Bateman, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll) don’t much care for one another, and each is undergoing a life crisis. They are, however, fond of their sister (Tina Fey) — but, like her, they blame their hangups on their psychologist/author mom. It’s all a bit too complex for one movie, but the wonderful cast moves things briskly along.
A Walk among the Tombstones
Gather ’round, children, and heed my tale of a time long ago, when Liam Neeson movies were thoughtful, mesmerizing things, and he played pensive, quietly heroic figures whose most difficult battles were waged inside his handsome head. Far be it from me to decry a man for granting his services to the highest bidder. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the star of Schindler’s List appear in something other than one more movie about a lone-wolf ex-_ _ _ _ _ (fill in “cop,” “rogue CIA agent” or “Navy SEAL” here) on the trail of a _ _ _ _ _ (villainous type here) who has kidnapped a _ _ _ _ _ (vulnerable victim here) — only to discover the perps belong to a _ _ _ _ _ (large, powerful organized crime group here)?!?
Still Out There...
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
There’s no more beloved figure in the history of Latin American cinema than the Mexican comedian Cantinflas — known to U.S. audiences, if he is at all, as David Niven’s sidekick in Around the World in 80 Days. Action star Oscar Jaenada Gajo ( Pirates of the Caribbean) gives a funny, touching, physically nimble performance in this life story of the man dubbed “the world's greatest comedian” by Charlie Chaplin.
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 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.
More than a year after James Gandolfini’s death, his final film (based on the Dennis Lehane short story “Animal Rescue”) presents the star in the type of role that defined his career: a crusty, dangerous, yet somehow lovable thug. He plays Marv, who runs a Brooklyn bar used by the Mob for money drops. Of course someone has the bad idea to hold the place up, a move that ensnares Marv, his handsome young bartender (Tom Hardy) and a sociopathic dog beater (Matthias Schoenaerts). Gandolfini is mesmerizing as always, but you can’t help ruing the fact that the actor (who died last year at 51) was just beginning to expand his repertoire beyond his character here.
Ed Harris stars as an Arizona rancher whose wife was supposedly murdered by a Mexican man ( Michael Peña) making an illegal border crossing. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, the cops insist the immigrant is the perp. This leads our widower to wonder: Who really did it? And why is the truth being hidden?
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.
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.
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 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
Love Is Strange
Two of the screen’s finest actors, John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, bring warmth and humor to a modern yet timeless love story. They play a couple who’ve lived together for decades, only to see their comfortable Manhattan lifestyle come crashing down when they get married. Director/co-writer Ira Sachs lavishes uncommon dignity and consistent good humor on the guys, their families and even those who stand in the way of their ultimate happiness. A film like this requires a delicate balance; happily, everyone involved succeeds like a Wallenda — and makes the acrobatics look easy. FULL REVIEW
My Old Lady
Kevin Kline is brilliant — funny, pitiful, tragic — as a down-on-his-luck American writer who inherits a Paris apartment only to find it occupied by an old woman who, by law, can live there the rest of her life. Maggie Smith is the lady in question, and she makes the perfect foil to Kline’s flustered ex-pat. Dame Maggie has settled into too many comfy grande dame roles of late (we’re looking at you, Downton Abbey), but here she’s positively fierce in a truly powerful screen performance. Kristin Scott Thomas is sweet but firm as her protective daughter.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
We went to writer-director Robert Rodriguez's hyperviolent comic-book flick because we heard Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Dennis Haysbert and Powers Boothe star in it. We left the theater checking the bottoms of our shoes for human entrails.
The Trip to Italy
If you missed Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s brilliantly hilarious, largely improvised tour of British restaurants in The Trip, take a moment now to view that 2010 film. Once you have, a team of runaway Ferraris won’t be able to keep you from joining the pair on their newest gastronomical adventure, which takes them across Italy. The scenery is breathtaking. The food looks so good you can taste it. And the stars keep up a stream-of-consciousness narrative that will have you a) laughing so much you’ll snort Chianti out your nose, and b) wishing you could hang out with these two forever.
New on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video On Demand:
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1966)
Lesley Ann Warren is as adorable as you remember her in her television debut, starring in the R&H musical version of the classic fairytale. This restored version of the TV broadcast — an annual fixture for a decade on CBS — takes you right back to your family’s living room, TV dinners and all. Warren, her soft voice and delicate features perfect for the part, sings and dances the night away with her all-star comrades including Celeste Holm, Pat Carroll, Ginger Rogers and Walter Pidgeon — and, as the Prince, Stuart Damon, known to later generations as Dr. Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital.
If you’ve never seen David Lynch’s unspeakably-disturbing-yet-hypnotically-irresistible masterpiece, this new DVD and BluRay disc from The Criterion Collection is whispering your name from the depths of a steam radiator in a squalid apartment. The story (if you can call it that) of a frazzle-haired young man (John Nance), his sort-of girlfriend (Charlotte Stewart) and the howling, shapeless thing they think might be their baby unfolds like a black-and-white fever dream. Beneath the surreal imagery plays a frightening soundtrack of white noise, organ music and electrical hum — perhaps the film’s most unnerving element. As original a work of cinema art as anyone ever created.
We went the first time for the sheer intrigue of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis playing ghost-hunting con men. We went the second time because we could not believe the film had been that funny, scary and visually striking the first time around. Seldom does a comedy get every little thing right. Ghostbusters, looking sharper than ever in this new Blu-ray edition, remains as focused as a laser, as soft and comfy as a giant marshmallow man.
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 is allowed to make 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.
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
Uncle Teddy conducted the ceremony when Franklin wed his cousin Eleanor. That gives you some idea of the interwoven lives of the most powerful American political family of the 20th century. In his usual elegant fashion — that is to say, through photos, film clips and perfect voice casting (Paul Giamatti is Teddy, Edward Herrmann is FDR, Meryl Streep is Eleanor) — documentarian Ken Burns makes history seem like a too-good-to-be-true yarn.
Is it possible to have more fun than watching a big-budget, all-star movie that’s really bad? How bad is Meteor, you ask? So bad that even the presence of Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Trevor Howard and Henry Fonda (as the President, natch) could save it from imploding at the box office. As the titular heavenly body hurtles toward earth, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. (remember them?) must join forces to nuke the rock to smithereens. Do they succeed? Only marginally: One fragment slammed into American International Pictures, the studio bankrupted by this fabulous failure.
Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment
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