In Theaters This Weekend: Husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mentors and mentees — every member of all six groups learns some hard lessons.
At Home: Abbott and Costello have a monstrous Halloween, while Henry Fonda shoots it out in one of our greatest Western classics.
Men, Women & Children
Even the unreconstructed Luddite in me takes no joy in reporting that Ivan Reitman’s new film proves the Internet is ruining our lives. Porn addiction, eating disorders, social estrangement and child endangerment all have roots in the Web. If the situations and characters here are a tad broadly drawn — they’re played with endearing befuddlement by the likes of Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer — it’s hard to contest the film’s cautionary message.
The most challenging thing about this drama may be accepting fast-talking Robert Downey Jr. as the son of taciturn Robert Duvall. Downey is a hotshot big-city lawyer; 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 with a deep enough gulp to accept his son’s help? (FULL REVIEW)
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 a fierce music instructor who mentors a young drummer at a high-stakes music conservatory. (FULL REVIEW)
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
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy are heartbreaking as a tragedy-stricken couple watching their youthful love unravel. The subtitle (Them) signals what went before, when director Ned Benson made two separate films with the same cast: Him, told from the husband’s viewpoint, and Her, told from the wife’s. Those individual films will be released later this year by The Weinstein Company; in the meantime, savor this rich, sad, compelling story of romantic, delirious love and its aftermath. (FULL REVIEW)
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. (FULL REVIEW)
If Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua were to surprise us at any point during this over-the-top action flick, they would have failed at their mission. The Equalizer is not about breaking ground, nor creating art. It’s about Denzel — older, wiser, more experienced than those around him — kicking bad-guy butt against a backdrop of dark alleys and rusting industrial landscapes. No one does the dead-eyed-hero bit better than Denzel, and few directors choreograph action more deftly than Fuqua ( Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen). Is there a story line? Yep. Will you recall it after the last nail gun fires? Doubt it. (FULL REVIEW)
Hotly anticipated by fans of the book, Gillian Flynn's adaptation of her own novel is a crackerjack mystery that successively keeps the viewer wondering who’s dead, who killed them, is anybody dead at all, and who’s next? Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, who comes home one morning to find signs of a struggle and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) gone. He calls the cops, who dutifully place Nick right at the top of their Persons of Interest list. If you try to think too far ahead of the narrative, there’s a danger that you might anticipate some of the best plot twists, so it’s best to let go of the wheel and let Gone Girl do all the driving along its meandering narrative road. (FULL REVIEW)
Hector and the Search for Happiness
Simon Pegg, impish as ever, plays a successful London shrink who is beloved by his patients and his beautiful, patient girlfriend (Rosamund Pike again!). But he’s got this nagging sense of unhappiness, and so he shuts down the office, bids his gal an uncertain cheerio, and takes off on a worldwide research trip to find out just what makes people happy. Pegg's Hector is funny and engaging, and that makes it easy for him to cozy up to a number of rather broadly drawn strangers. When he finally arrives back home, it is with a revelation that has been preached from movie sets since before The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”
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. (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
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. (FULL REVIEW)
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-_ _ _ _ _ (add “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)?!?
New on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video On Demand:
Fargo: The Complete First Season
Devout Cohen Brothers fans (I’m one) doubted their quirky movie about murder, mayhem and wood chippers on an icy landscape could translate to TV. Thankfully, a stellar cast and a smart script make this series percolate from the first shot. It’s not a retelling of the original story, but a larger narrative in a similar setting. As in the original, though, that blood looks mighty stark when splason all that ice and snow.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Until Mel Brooks went into his lab to assemble Young Frankenstein, Bud and Lou’s ghoulish encounter with Dracula (Bela Lugosi), Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Frankenstein (Glenn Strange) was the gold standard in laugh-’til-you-scream horror. Admit it: You may not have seen this one since that late-Saturday night in 1964, but I’ll bet you still remember this exchange:
Wolfman: In half an hour the moon will rise, and I’ll turn into a wolf.
Lou: You and 20 million other guys!
My Darling Clementine (1946)
The pairing of Henry Fonda (as Wyatt Earp) and director John Ford yielded this classic Western classics. In his later years, legend has it, Wyatt Earp himself got in the habit of wandering over to the Hollywood sets where Ford was working; there he’d regale the young director with tales of his exploits. That makes My Darling Clementine as close to an authentic Old West screen autobiography as you’re going to find.
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