Two first-rate grownup films are well worth separate trips to the multiplex this weekend. If you’re in a stay-at-home mood, catch up with a classic 1960s musical or a 1970s music-concert series on DVD.
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.
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.
Still Out There...
Boyhood 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.
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.
What if Elvis Presley’s identical twin brother hadn’t died at birth, but instead had been given away to another couple? The characters in The Identical are all fictionalized, but that’s the intriguing premise at the heart of this music-filled story of two brothers — one a rock ’n’ roll superstar, the other raised by adoptive parents to be a preacher. Blake Rayne plays both siblings, while Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd are the pastor and his wife who watch their son being drawn inexorably toward the destiny his famous brother has already achieved.
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
Life of Crime
Hapless crooks Yaslin Bey and John Hawkes kidnap the wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a rich guy (Tim Robbins), but get saddled with their hostage when Hubby decides he’d rather not pay up. This field was memorably (and more capably) plowed by Bette Midler and Danny DeVito in Ruthless People (1986), and before that by O. Henry in The Ransom of Red Chief. Not sure why we’re here again, other than the fact that the script began life as the Elmore Leonard novel The Switch.
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
Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen’s win 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, Emma Stone 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 & Co. pull out of this particular hat will please nobunny.
Writer-director Tim Sutton has created a dreamy odyssey through the tree-shaded, grit-encrusted streets of Memphis. Here he tells the story of an idealistic young musician searching for a way to fufill his creative longings in a world of harsh economic necessities.
The November Man
Pierce Brosnan must be missing his 007 days; he stars as a former CIA agent pressed back into service to protect a witness (Olga Kurylenko) being targeted by his former employer. With Brosnan flaunting his action-role chops, let’s hope this meaty role turns into a recurring gig for him. Based on Bill Granger’s bestselling "November Man" spy novels.
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.
When the Game Stands Tall Football season already? As high-school kids across the United States prepare for the glare of this fall’s Friday night lights, Jim Caviezel stars as Coach Bob Ladouceur, who led the De La Salle High School Spartans (of Concord, California) from obscurity to a 151-game winning streak.
New on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video On Demand:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The good news: Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson are on hand in this latest piece of Marvel superhero bombast. The bad: There’s nowhere near enough of them. Chris Evans may be the titular hero and Scarlett Johansson his kick-butt aide, but after the last bad guy’s been bested and the final fireball has burned itself out, all we’re left with is fond memories of those two veterans showing the kids how real stars don’t just make movies — they inhabit them.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
It’s sad to consider that an entire generation knows almost nothing of Zero Mostel: One of the 20th century’s greatest stage performers, his personality was in many ways too large for the movies. Forum and Mel Brooks’s The Producers were Mostel’s greatest screen triumphs. Both gave him a chance to play oversize, live-out-loud characters. (In the first, he reprised a character he’d played on stage; in the second he played a man who saw his entire life as a Broadway play.) So do yourself — and the older kids in your life — a favor: Sit yourselves down in front of the new Blu-ray disc of this bawdy, madcap musical exploding with great Stephen Sondheim songs, the inspired direction of Richard Lester ( A Hard Day's Night), the last screen appearance of Buster Keaton — and, of course, the irresistible Zero.
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.
The Midnight Special
If you stayed up until after Johnny Carson’s Friday Tonight Show in the 1970s, you might have stumbled upon The Bee Gees, John Denver, Peter Frampton, Linda Ronstadt, Aretha Franklin or any other top music act performing live — not a lip-synch in sight! — on The Midnight Special. For the full effect, wait until 1 a.m. to watch this new nine-disc DVD collection of classic performances.
Words and Pictures
To this summer’s list of handsome grownup couples, add Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen in a romance that’s got more on its mind than boy-gets-girl. She’s an art professor who thinks pictures are supreme; he’s an English prof who insists words are all that. As their debate rages, we discover two damaged people who each might be able to supply the emotional elements missing from their counterpart. FULL REVIEW
Also of Interest
- A Musical Month for Documentaries
- Playboy Bunnies: Then and Now
- Get Involved: Learn How You Can Give Back
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