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MFG Movie and Video Preview: May 16

A rampaging monster, a woman in distress, a visionary sports agent and a crusty cowboy codger make this a something-for-everyone weekend at the movies.


Two things this re-re-reboot of the 1954 Japanese classic does not have enough of: Bryan Cranston and Godzilla. Unwisely, the star of TV's Breaking Bad makes 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 Immigrant
Director James Gray's lush vision of 1921 Manhattan stars Marion Cotillard as a young Polish woman forced into prostitution by a charming but evil businessman (Joaquin Phoenix). Jeremy Renner plays the guy's brother, a sensitive magician who is her only hope for escape.

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Million Dollar Arm
Mad Men star John Hamm plays real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein,  who had the bright idea of recruiting some of India's greatest cricket players for Major League Baseball. With the help of Indian stars Suraj Sharma ( Life of Pi) and Madhur Mital ( Slumdog Millionaire) director Craig Gillespie ( Lars and the Real Girl) brings real heart to what could have been a by-the-numbers sports comedy.


A Night in Old Mexico
Robert Duvall revisits his grizzled-old-cowboy persona, starring as a Texas rancher forced off his land and facing the realities of old age. He heads with his grandson (Jeremy Irvine) for one last "Yahoo!" South of the Border, but their plans change when they unexpectedly find themselves holding a satchell of mobster loot.


Still Out There . . .

Handsomely filmed, beautifully acted, the true story of a half-African woman raised in an aristocrat's home at the tail end of slavery in the British Empire takes some of the hard themes studied in 12 Years a Slave and wraps them in Jane Austen finery. The luminous Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the title role; Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson are the conflicted blue bloods who try to balance their affection for Belle with the realities of 18th Century England. FULL REVIEW

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The good news: in this latest piece of Marvel superhero bombast, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson are on hand. The bad news: There's not enough of them. Chris Evans is the titular hero and Scarlett Johansson is his kick-butt sidekick, but after the last bad guy has been vanquished 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. FULL REVIEW

Decoding Annie Parker
Samantha Morton is the the title character, whose grandmother, mother, and sister all died of breast cancer-and who has herself just been diagnosed with it. Helen Hunt is the researcher who's certain there is a genetic link to some forms of breast cancer, but who is running into one brick wall after another within the medical establishment. Both double-Oscar nominees, the stars make engaging work of this true story of two women who barely meet, yet who are intimately joined in a race against genetics. FULL REVIEW

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For No Good Reason 
You'll recognize the style of gonzo artist Ralph Steadman right away-his work was long associated with the writing of his pal Hunter Thompson. But this documentary, filmed over the course of the last 15 years, fails at its most basic level: We never really feel like we're learning anything about the guy. Johnny Depp, who played Thompson twice, is on hand to ask questions, but he seems to be too much of a friend to really probe. FULL REVIEW

Fading Gigolo
John Turturro is a male prostitute and Woody Allen is his pimp. If that premise doesn't bring a smile to your face, then stop reading now. Otherwise, this surprisingly sweet tale of loneliness, longing, and looking for love features Woody's best performance since Deconstructing Harry. FULL REVIEW

The Grand Budapest Hotel
No filmmaker has a more fiercer following than Wes Anderson ( The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom). But if you've been on the fence (or clear on the other side of it) regarding Anderson, this may be the film that makes a believer of you. A dazzling vision of Europe between the wars serves as the backdrop for a dizzy story about a grand hotel concierge ( Ralph Fiennes), the lobby boy he takes under his wing (Tony Revolori) and their unwitting involvement in a murder mystery. FULL REVIEW

Heaven is For Real
Based on the New York Times best-seller, the true-life story of 4-year-old boy's account of his visit to Heaven could have gone cinematically wrong 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 dad. FULL REVIEW

How riveting can a film be when we see just one character and he never leaves his car? In the hands of star Tom Hardy and writer/director Steven Knight ( Dirty Pretty Things), Locke hits the gas and never lets up. Hardy plays the manager of a billion-dollar construction project who, on the day before groundbreaking, finds himself juggling crises personal and professional from his car phone. For him, it's the ultimate case of distracted driving; for audiences, it's a white-knuckle ride from start to finish.

Moms' Night Out
Patricia Heaton stars in a family comedy about three friends (Heaton, Sarah Drew, and Logan White) who want a night away from the kids-but that means putting their husbands in charge. Trace Adkins costars as a good-hearted biker.

Russell Crowe gives one of his strongest performances and co-writer/director Darren Aronofsky provides a thoughtful, challenging script in a movie that's full of surprises-and mostly good ones. The faithful will quibble with the film's flights of extra- Biblical fancy; skeptics will scoff at its overall respect for the Book of Genesis story-and that means everyone leaves the theater with something to talk about. Anyone who's ever sat in a Sunday school class and seriously considered the consequences of a worldwide flood has found themself, along with Crowe's conflicted hero, asking the same difficult questions. FULL REVIEW

The Other Woman
Three betrayed women (Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and Kate Upton) seek revenge on the guy who done them wrong (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). But First Wives Club got here first, and it was a whole lot smarter .

The Railway Man
Colin Firth is a World War II veteran who won't talk about his ordeal in a Japanese POW camp; Nicole Kidman is the wife who forces him to come to terms with it-and in a sense finally escape that long-ago prison. It starts out as a touching husband-and-wife drama, but when Firth's character heads to Thailand to confront the man who tortured him, the stakes rise exponentially.  FULL REVIEW

Small Time
Writer/Director Joel Surnow ( 24) draws on his own childhood to tell the story of a kid (Devon Bostick) who eschews college to go to work at the used car dealership owned by his dad (Christopher Meloni).  It could all have gone horribly, mawkishly awry, but solid performances by Meloni ( Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and the rest of the grownup cast make Small Time a fun time. FULL REVIEW

Now on DVD and VOD...

12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, leads a powerful cast. Movies from  Roots to  Django Unchained have shown us the evils of slavery;  12 Years a Slave makes us feel the lash.  FULL REVIEW

American Hustle
You won't have more fun at the movies than you'll find here with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper,  Louis C.K. and Jennifer Lawrence as assorted con artists and Feds conspiring to bring down crooked politicians. Though the film is based on the 1980s Abscam scandal, but we have a feeling that writer/director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) made up the more hilarious stuff.  FULL REVIEW

Dallas Buyers Club
At the height of the 1980s  AIDS epidemic, a tough heterosexual Texas electrician (Matthew McConaughey) gets the dreaded diagnosis - then sets up a lucrative business smuggling alternative anti-AIDS drugs into the state. McConaughey, who has been rising from beefcake idol to accomplished actor, won his first Oscar for his compelling performance.

What happens if you love your technology just a tad too much? Joaquin Phoenix finds out when he falls hard for the seductive female voice (Scarlett Johansson) in his computer operating system. Writer/director Spike Jonze creates a compelling portrait of a near future when people would rather interact with their machines than each other .

Inside Llewyn Davis
Writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen's most balanced movie ever is a fond look at the early 1960s Greenwich Villlage folk music scene. Oscar Isaac is irresistibly mopey as the title character,  but the real treat comes when Llewlyn hitches a ride to Chicago with a blustery, bloated blues musician played with great aplomb by John Goodman.  FULL REVIEW

Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection
If you remember Mr. Magoo (and his voice, Jim Backus) only as a mildly amusing TV 'toon character, check out these theatrical shorts from the old boy's heyday, when he was an Oscar-winning big-screen star. These shorts are masterpieces of the old UPA studio, which proved to the world that you could make beautiful cartoons that didn't have the Disney stamp all over them.

In a season of extraordinary acting accomplishments,  Judi Dench gives the performance of a lifetime as the title character, a woman seeking the son she gave up as a child. Steve Coogan, who also wrote the film's moving and disarmingly funny script, costars as the investigative reporter who helps unravel a tangle of deceit and corruption. Based on a true story.  FULL REVIEW

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Director/star  Ben Stiller celebrates the mystery of imagination, the wonder of real-life, and the point at which they intersect in this spectacular comedy adventure loosely based on the classic James Thurber short story.  Kristin Wiig plays the adorable object of Mitty's affection,  Shirley MacLaine cameos as the hero's loving mom, and  Sean Penn pops up in a brief but pivotal role as a globetrotting photographer.  FULL REVIEW

Sin City (2005)
The sequel is coming to the big screen, so you may as well catch up on the original: A hyperviolent splatterfest unlike anything you've ever seen. Director Robert Rodriquez creates a dark comic book world spotlit in primary colors (a blood spatter pattern is as likely to be neon yellow as red), pounding with loud music and roiling with naked molls. If that's your cup of tea, then here's the dirty cup to go brew it in.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Teaming for the fifth time with Leonardo DiCaprio, director  Martin Scorsese lets loose a cannonade of  sex, drugs and no-holds-barred avarice in telling the mostly true story of a New York stockbroker who made an outrageous fortune by swindling investors in the 1980s and '90s. Like his central character, Scorsese once again proves that nothing succeeds like excess.  FULL REVIEW


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