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MFG Movie and Video Preview: May 9

Mother's Day Weekend beings three fine new films-two based on true stories-that focus on women of all ages and stages of life.



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.



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.



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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.

Still Out There . . .

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.

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

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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.

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.

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

At Middleton
Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga are charming in this warmhearted grownup love story. They play two strangers who meet on the day they bring their respective children to a college tour day-and fall into love at first sight. It takes real screen chemistry to draw viewers into such a headlong romance with any sense of believability, and the stars pull it off, almost magically.

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.

By now the animation wizards at Disney have this spunky-young-woman-defeats-evil thing down pat, but the real reason to duck into this film is the Oscar-nominated cartoon short that precedes it.  Get a Horse! is a hand-drawn Mickey Mouse cartoon done in early Disney style (think Steamboat Willie). While you savor that, the grandkids will love the main feature.

The King of Comedy (1982)
The team of Lewis and Martin-Jerry Lewis and Martin Scorsese, that is-created this prophetic dark comedy about a deranged loser ( Robert DeNiro) who kidnaps a late-night talk show host (Lewis) to guarantee his own 15 minutes of TV fame. The idea that absolutely anybody could become a celebrity seemed absurd 32 years ago; time has proven Scorsese and company didn't know the half of it.

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.

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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