Pick your Valentine’s Day poison: An edgy tale of sexual domination, a warm and fuzzy rom-com with the ever-charming Hugh Grant, or an explosion-packed secret-agent spectacle. Choose wisely; the ultimate outcome of your romantic dinner-and-a-movie date depends upon it.
50 Shades of Grey
We’re not supposed to laugh out loud at a movie that features beautiful young people having kinky sex, right? Yet that’s precisely what happens almost from the moment we’re introduced to billionaire bondage boy Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his oh-so-willing submissive partner (Dakota Johnson). As in E.L. James’ amateurish novels of the same name, the dialogue is so stilted it makes 50 Shades resemble a porn film written by George Lucas.
P.S. Should the trailer above prove too steamy for your taste, here’s the LEGO version.
Lighter-than-air romantic comedies, preferably starring Hugh Grant, once dominated theaters around Valentine’s Day. So it’s a relief to find His Excellentcy in the multiplex again, this time as a has-been Hollywood screenwriter who takes a job teaching screenwriting at an upstate New York college. Sitting at the back of a classroom stocked with beauty queens is single mom Marisa Tomei — who, we suspect, will capture the handsome professor’s heart. Writer-director Marc Lawrence gets lots of mileage out of Grant who, wandering around blue-collar Binghamton, N.Y., resembles Mr. Darcy lost at the London docks. Also on video on demand and iTunes.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
A stylish British spy adventure that focuses on the exploits of a group of young, incredibly attractive recruits, this blockbuster adaptation of a graphic novel is seasoned by the presence of veteran pros Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill and, as a lisping villain, Samuel L. Jackson.
Still out there:
Director Clint Eastwood’s film about Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, barrels along like a Humvee across the desert, hitting its targets with deadly accuracy before exploding with unexpected emotional force. As Kyle, Bradley Cooper ( The Hangover) is a revelation, portraying the inner life of a guy whose survival hinges on his ability to stuff his emotions into a psychological black hole. (FULL REVIEW)
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Time Capsule Award
The saucer-eyed waifs who populated the paintings of Margaret Keane helped define American culture in the early 1960s, so naturally Tim Burton’s telling of her story is up to its peepers in period atmosphere. The men’s ties are wide, Capri pants are everywhere, and fin-tastic sedans line the streets of tract developments straight out of Levittown. It’s enough to bring tears of nostalgia to your big, dewy eyes.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Did Michael Keaton quit the Batman series 22 years ago just so he could one day make this dreamlike film about an actor who walked away from a smash superhero franchise? If so, the wait was worth every minute. ( FULL REVIEW)
Black or White
In this corner, ladies and gentlemen, it’s Kevin Costner as an L.A. lawyer fighting to keep custody of the mixed-race granddaughter he has raised from infancy. And in the opposite corner it’s Octavia Spencer as the child’s paternal grandmother, convinced the girl would be happier living with her black relatives in Compton. Written and directed by Mike Binder, Black or White has its heart in the right place and nobly refuses to take sides. Best reason to watch? Two Oscar-winning pros at the top of their game. (FULL REVIEW)
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Actor (Steve Carell)
The true story of two Olympic-wrestler brothers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) who settled into a tragic relationship with a wealthy benefactor (Steve Carell, barely recognizable behind that understated performance and prosthetic nose) should have been a perfect match for director Bennett Miller ( Moneyball, Capote). But his two-and-a-half-hour telling drags like a grappler stalling to fend off a final takedown. (FULL REVIEW)
A dream team ( Al Pacino, director Barry Levinson, screenwriter Buck Henry) delivers a dark and often funny look at a fading actor who rages against the darkness — and the darkness rages back. Pacino is Simon Axler, a once-dominant stage presence struggling to keep his grip on reality. He thinks a fling with a friend’s daughter (Greta Gerwig), who happens to be a lesbian, will straighten things out, but of course it merely complicates his life.
The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as Alan Turing, the man whose peculiar genius helped the Allies crack the Nazi Enigma Code during War II. The appealing supporting cast includes Allen Leech ( Downton Abbey), Matthew Goode ( The Good Wife) and, as a barrier-smashing female mathematician, Kiera Knightley. (FULL REVIEW)
David Thomas Anderson directs this adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel starring Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello, a droopy-eyed, drug-mellowed L.A. private eye probing the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend. Along for the ride is a cast of endearing weirdos played by Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and, as the worst dentist since Little Shop of Horrors , Martin Short. (FULL REVIEW)
At last, a family film that neither panders to kids’ baser instincts nor relies on winking pop references to appeal to adults! The story of the talking teddy bear found homeless at Paddington Station and adopted by a London family is as warm and fuzzy as Paddington himself. The great live-action cast includes Sally Hawkins and Nicole Kidman, but best of all is Hugh Bonneville — much funnier than his stiff demeanor as the Downton Abbey patriarch would lead you to expect.
Focusing on a pjvotal three-month period in 1965, this stirring historical drama follows Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) as he lays the groundwork for his epic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Oyelowo uncannily channels King’s appearance, manner of speech and quiet charisma. (FULL REVIEW)
George Lopez stars as a high school teacher who helps four underprivileged Phoenix kids design and build a submersible robot for a competition that pits them against engineering whizzes from MIT and Cornell. With charming turns by Marisa Tomei (as a fellow teacher) and Jamie Lee Curtis (as a harried principal).
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Actress (Julianne Moore)
Julianne Moore delivers a performance that sweeps us up, then blows us away, as a 50-year-old college professor coming to terms with her early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Her ability to convey the horror and tragedy of such an experience may well result in that long-overdue Oscar statuette. Based on Lisa Genova’s best-selling novel. (FULL REVIEW)
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Intergenerational Film
Bill Murray deserves an Oscar nomination for his grumpy Long Island loner who agrees to look after the young son of his new neighbor (Melissa McCarthy). Would you subject your kid to Murravian supervision? (Think field trips to the racetrack and a local bar.) (FULL REVIEW)
The Theory of Everything
Winner: Best Movie for Grownups 2015
In this superbly acted and lovingly directed biography, Eddie Redmayne plays astrophysicist Stephen Hawking from his carefree college days, through his heart-rending descent into Lou Gehrig’s Disease, to his ultimate triumph in the realm of science. Felicity Jones costars as his first wife, Jane, who married him despite his rapidly advancing illness and raised their three children. (FULL REVIEW)
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons
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 the Mentor from Hell to a young drummer at a high-stakes music conservatory. (FULL REVIEW)
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Screenplay (Nick Hornsby and Cheryl Strayed)
Reese Witherspoon gets down and dirty as Cheryl Strayed, the troubled young woman whose solo 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail became the subject of her bestselling memoir. Director Jean-Marc Vallée ( Dallas Buyers Club) follows Strayed’s journey from a dead-end life of drug use and back-alley sex to rebirth amid the majesty of the high sierra. In what could have been a thankless role, Laura Dern etches a tragic portrait as Strayed’s abused mother. FULL REVIEW
New on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video on Demand:
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Supporting Actress (Rene Russo)
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a wild-eyed go-getter who discovers that a local TV producer ( Rene Russo) will pay him big bucks for video footage of accidents and crime scenes—even if it means moving bodies for better shots and following crooks after he witnesses their foul deeds. (FULL REVIEW)
My Old Lady
Winner: Movies for Grownups Breakthrough Achievement Award (Writer/Director Israel Horowitz)
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.
Love Is Strange
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Grownup Love Story
Two of our 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. FULL REVIEW
Keep on Keepin’ On
Winner: Movies for Grownups Best Documentary
Clark Terry was Jazz legend Quincy Jones’ first music teacher. He played with both Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Now 93, he’s traveling the U.S. mentoring Justin Kauflin, a 23-year-old blind piano prodigy who suffers from crippling stage fright. Their unlikely friendship — and the dramatic turns it takes as Terry’s health begins to fail — make this tuneful documentary a timeless document of generational torch-passing.
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