New releases 4/15/14

Top Hits
Philomena (drama, Judi Dench. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Metacritic: 76. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “In Philomena, Judi Dench’s portrayal of a stubborn, kindhearted Irish Catholic trying to discover what became of the toddler she was forced to give up as a teenager is so quietly moving that it feels lit from within. A major theme of this film from Stephen Frears is forgiveness. Ms. Dench’s Philomena Lee glows with the radiance of someone serene in her faith despite inhumane treatment by the church. That she makes you believe her character has the capacity to forgive provides the movie with a solid moral center.” Read more…)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (adventure/comedy, Ben Stiller. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 54. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “As imagined by Ben Stiller, Walter Mitty is a man out of step with his time. An archetypal daydreamer introduced to the public by James Thurber as a henpecked suburban husband and later impersonated on screen by Danny Kaye as a misunderstood, starry-eyed sweetheart with a lovely singing voice, Walter has evolved into a modern office drone with an unusually active fantasy life. He is also, in some respects, the opposite of just about every other comic hero in American movies today, including many played by Mr. Stiller. And The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed by Mr. Stiller [who takes the title role], has a dreamy, melancholy tone quite different from what you might expect to find in a big-budget holiday comedy.” Read more…)

Ride Along (comedy, Ice Cube. Rotten Tomatoes: 18%. Metacritic: 41. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Ice Cube and Kevin Hart create a crowd-pleasing if predictable variation of the buddy cop movie in Ride Along. The plot isn’t much, but Mr. Hart’s fans, at least, are well served by the way his manic energy bounces off Ice Cube’s growly stoicism.” Read more…)

Black Nativity (holiday drama, Forest Whitaker. Rotten Tomatoes: 49%. Metacritic: 48. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Sometimes it takes just one thing — a gesture, a look, the quality of light on a face — to fall for a movie. For me, that moment came in the musical Black Nativity, when several characters, including a young couple — Jo-Jo and his very pregnant companion, Maria [Luke James and Grace Gibson] — sing a sharply reworked ‘Silent Night.’ ‘They say this is your punishment for such poor judgment,’ Maria sings on a cold Harlem night. ‘How you gonna feed it?’ That line slips by quickly, but with that two-letter word — ‘it’ — the movie ferociously closes the gap between one homeless child born into poverty and all the forgotten rest.” Read more…)

The Nut Job (animated feature, Will Arnett [voice]. Metacritic: 36. From Miriam Bale’s New York Times review: “The Nut Job is a Canadian-South Korean animated feature set in the American 1950s urban world of film noir. ‘Holy Toledo’ and ‘burn rubber’ are some of the old-time phrases uttered by characters, including a gang of human criminals trying to rob a bank and a group of squirrels attempting a heist of a nut store.” Read more…)

The Invisible Woman (period romance, Ralph Fiennes. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%. Metacritic: 75. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “You may become impatient with the leisurely pace of The Invisible Woman and its occasional narrative vagueness, but its open spaces leave room for some of the strongest acting of any contemporary film. Mr. Fiennes, best known to millions as Harry Potter’s nemesis Lord Voldemort, gives his warmest, most full-bodied screen performance as Dickens, an irresistibly charismatic, tirelessly energetic celebrity who was the life of every party he attended. The screenplay by Abi Morgan [Shame, The Iron Lady] gently depicts the conflict between Dickens’s appetite for the spotlight and his passion and concern for Nelly, whom he tries to protect by burning his letters. But they are seen together so often that gossip about them spreads even before their relationship is consummated.” Read more…)

Flowers in the Attic (gothic drama, Ellen Burstyn. Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. Metacritic: 49. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “The network’s new adaptation of Flowers in the Attic, V. C. Andrews’s best-selling 1979 novel about bad parenting, whips and the love that dare not take a DNA test, is what it is — a movie of the week, plopping off the assembly line with a little more gothic atmosphere than usual and some expensive accessories. These consist of Heather Graham, Ellen Burstyn and the up-and-coming Kiernan Shipka, who goes from playing an unhappy daughter in ‘Mad Men’ to playing a really unhappy daughter here.” Read more…)

Better Living Through Chemistry (dark comedy, Sam Rockwell. Rotten Tomatoes: 21%. Metacritic: 40. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Inside every milquetoast beats the heart of a tiger waiting to be released. All it takes to liberate the beast is a beautiful, seductive woman whose wiles can turn a mouse into a man. So goes the hoary, misogynist pop myth that drives Better Living Through Chemistry, a tepid but pleasant comic satire given a shot of contemporaneity by its writing and directing team, Geoff Moore and David Posamentier, and its star Sam Rockwell.” Read more…)

Great Expectations (period drama, Helena Bonham Carter. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 60. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Mike Newell’s screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is never more alive than when it pauses from its breakneck storytelling to gawk at the chaos of 19th-century London. There is Pip, a former blacksmith’s assistant, now outfitted as a gentleman, being shoved this way and that while stumbling through the mud and the carnage of a London meat market. The bacchanals of the Finches of the Grove, the rich boys’ club he joins, are deafening animal-house melees of flying furniture and dishes. But such surges of vitality are few and far between. Containing enough characters and subplots for three movies, the novel has been nearly suffocated by Mr. Newell [Four Weddings and a Funeral] and his screenwriter, David Nicholls, in an effort to get everything in.” Read more…)

Mobius (espionage thriller, Jean Dujardin)
The Bletchley Circle: Season 2 (thriller, Anna Maxwell Martin. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 78.)

New Blu-Ray
Philomena
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Invisible Woman
Ride Along

New British
Great Expectations (period drama, Helena Bonham Carter, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 66%. Metacritic: 60. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Mike Newell’s screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is never more alive than when it pauses from its breakneck storytelling to gawk at the chaos of 19th-century London. There is Pip, a former blacksmith’s assistant, now outfitted as a gentleman, being shoved this way and that while stumbling through the mud and the carnage of a London meat market. The bacchanals of the Finches of the Grove, the rich boys’ club he joins, are deafening animal-house melees of flying furniture and dishes. But such surges of vitality are few and far between. Containing enough characters and subplots for three movies, the novel has been nearly suffocated by Mr. Newell [Four Weddings and a Funeral] and his screenwriter, David Nicholls, in an effort to get everything in.” Read more…)

Murder on the Home Front (mystery, Patrick Kennedy. From Mike Hale’s New York Times television review: “In case this season’s next-to-last episode of ‘Downton Abbey’ isn’t enough Anglostalgia for you on Sunday night, PBS is following it with ‘Murder on the Home Front,’ a cheerfully preposterous British television movie set in London during the Blitz. The film is a slender but lively entry in the exceedingly crowded field of British period mysteries. Its World War II backdrop aligns it with the more serious ‘Foyle’s War,’ while its focus on forensics as an as yet unappreciated science links it to the Victorian-era ‘Ripper Street.'” Read more…)

The Making of a Lady (period drama, Joanna Lumley. From Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times review: “Patience sometimes seems to be a lost art in creepy entertainment. The makers of such stuff, whether a television show about a hunt for a serial killer or a slasher film for the popcorn crowd, seem in a rush to get a scary abduction or bloody corpse onto the screen, as if they fear viewers will bail if they don’t see something ghastly in the first three minutes. ‘The Making of a Lady,’ Sunday night on PBS, is a striking exception. For about half of this 90-minute movie, you might think you’re watching just another variation on the mild, costume-heavy, drawing-room dramas that Britain seems to export by the boatload. But the story — based on a 1901 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote The Secret Garden — grows gradually darker. That slow reveal of the tale’s sinister side makes this a simultaneously relaxing yet goosebumpy post-‘Downton’ treat.” Read more…)

The Bletchley Circle: Season 2 (thriller, Anna Maxwell Martin, in Top Hits. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 78.)

New Documentaries
I Am Divine (bio, movies, John Waters, Divine. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 71. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “Before Boy George, before RuPaul, there was Divine, the zaftig drag diva and provocateur of early John Waters ilms who, once glimpsed, was hard to forget. Facetiously dubbed ‘the filthiest person alive’ for a notorious scene in the 1972 film Pink Flamingos, in which he ate dog feces, Divine expanded the concept of the drag queen from brash female impersonator into something much larger, more subversive and less gender specific.” Read more…)

New Children’s DVDs
The Nut Job (animated feature, Will Arnett [voice], in Top Hits. Metacritic: 36. From Miriam Bale’s New York Times review: “The Nut Job is a Canadian-South Korean animated feature set in the American 1950s urban world of film noir. ‘Holy Toledo’ and ‘burn rubber’ are some of the old-time phrases uttered by characters, including a gang of human criminals trying to rob a bank and a group of squirrels attempting a heist of a nut store.” Read more…)