By Steven Rea
American Hustle A loose, loosely based take on the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s, with David O. Russell steering some of his Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter leads - Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence - through a rollicking tale of con artistry, avarice, jealousy, and love. Opens Wednesday R
Saving Mr. Banks The true story of Walt Disney's long and difficult wooing of British author P.L. Travers - not to win her love, but to win the film rights to her classic Mary Poppins books. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson star. PG-13
Walking with Dinosaurs Super-realistic CG animation and super-cartoony actor voiceovers in this late cretaceous family adventure about a runty little Pachyrhinosaurus who gets up the gumption to save his kind in the face of epic dangers. PG
Also Opening This Week
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and cohorts return to weave his magic for television's first 24-hour news network. Opens Wednesday
Inside Llewyn Davis A folksinger (Oscar Isaac) attempts to make a name for himself in early 1960s Greenwich Village.
Reviewed by critics Steven Rea (S.R.), Tirdad Derakhshani (T.D.), and David Hiltbrand (D.H.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.
All is Lost Robert Redford delivers the performance of his career in J.C. Chandor's majestic, melancholy film about a solo mariner stranded on his sailboat in the Indian Ocean. 1 hr. 46 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Captain Phillips Based on the real-life story of a U.S.-flagged cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates, with Tom Hanks in the title role as a steady-as-she-goes veteran forced to face his own mortality. Paul Greengrass (the second and third Bourne films, United 93) masterfully orchestrates the intense, suspenseful drama. 2 hrs. 14 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Gravity A transcendent, zero-g tale of survival, with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as orbiting astronauts caught in a debris storm, quite literally at the end of their tether. A technological marvel, and an emotional, spiritual, and physical voyage of stratospheric suspense. 1 hr. 30 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Nebraska Bruce Dern in a career-defining performance as an ornery coot who believes he's won a $1 million prize, and heads from Montana to Nebraska to claim it. His son (Will Forte) reluctantly tags along in Alexander Payne's funny, sad, poignant, absurd road movie. In black and white. It's a gem. 1 hr. 55 R (profanity, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
12 Years a Slave The remarkable, essential story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was abducted and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South. The British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gives body and soul in the lead, and Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt are part of a superb supporting cast. 2 hrs. 13 R (violence, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Very Good (***1/2)
Dallas Buyers Club The "inspired by true events" tale of a party-hearty Texas cowboy and self-employed electrician who, in 1985, contracted the AIDS virus. Matthew McConaughey gives a literally transformative performance as this homophobic hellraiser who won't accept the doctors' diagnosis that he has 30 days to live. He proves them wrong, becoming a cash-rich drug dispenser and patients' rights advocate in the process in this wild, colorful, compassionate film. 1 hr. 57 R (sex, nudity, drugs, profanity, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Philomena A surprisingly tough and tender tale from director Stephen Frears, adapted from the true story of a 70-something Irish woman (Judi Dench) looking to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption when she was an unwed teen, and of the cynical veteran journalist (Steve Coogan) who tags along on her quest. R (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Also on Screens
Delivery Man *** Vince Vaughn stars in this more-than-serviceable remake of a French Canadian farce about an anonymous donor to a fertility clinic who discovers, several decades later, that he's the biological dad to literally hundreds of kids. And many of them now want to know where their DNA comes from. Lawsuit and laughs ensue. 1 hr. 43 PG-13 (profanity, sex, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.
Frozen *** A plucky princess (voiced by Kristen Bell) is joined by a slapstick snowman (Josh Gad) in a delightful animated film that is part fairy tale, part farce. 1 hr. 48 PG - D.H.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug **1/2 Eight minutes shorter than its forebear, and at least eight minutes better - less cqtwee, less chatty, more action, more cqElvish. The second installment in Peter Jackson's overblown three-part take on Tolkien's children's fantasy, about Bilbo Baggins and his epic quest in the company of a troop of dwarves. Elves and orcs and giant spiders, oh my! Not to mention the titular fire-breathing dragon, voiced - in echo-chamber-style - by Benedict Cumberbatch. 2 hrs. 41 PG-13 (intense action, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire *** Bigger, better, and broodier, with Jennifer Lawrence back again, causing no end of trouble as the Districts' rabble smell rebellion in the air, and the Panem puppetmasters try to quash it. An Occupiers' parable about class warfare? A metaphor for teen defiance? Or just a kooky story of survival in a controlled environment where, sadly, most of the contestants must die? However you read it, this franchise rocks. 2 hrs. 26 PG-13 (violence, dystopian bleakness, adult themes) - S.R.
Out of the Furnace *** Casey Affleck and Christian Bale are brothers facing hard times, and hard choices, in this gripping Rust Belt noir. A solemn, blood-soaked drama about broken dreams. Cue the Springsteen. 1 hr. 56 R (violence, profanity, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.
Thor: The Dark World **1/2 The sequel to 2011's Thor is darker and messier, with much of the action restricted to Asgard and the Nine Realms - where a freaky alignment has allowed the long-banished Dark Elves to reemerge and make trouble for the God of Thunder. Chris Hemsworth, in red cape and breastplate and wielding his magic hammer, is back in the title role. 2 hrs. PG-13 (action, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield (W.R.), Jim Rutter (J.R.), David Patrick Stearns (D.P.S.), and Toby Zinman (T.Z.).
A Child's Christmas in Wales (Lantern Theater) Dylan Thomas' poetic language and Sebastienne Mundheim's puppet artistry combine in a new version of this classic. Through Jan. 5.
The Big Time (1812 Productions) Philadelphia's all-comedy company goes back to vaudeville for the holidays. Maybe not such a great idea. Through Dec. 31. - J.R.
Cinderella (People's Light & Theatre) Time for the annual panto, and this year the gal with the glass slipper is back in a terrific show that's mandatory for your holiday merriment. Through Jan. 12. - W.R.
Elf (Walnut Street Theatre) This musical-stage adaptation of the 2003 film about Buddy the non-elf's journey to fulfillment is a warm, energetic sugar rush. Through Jan. 5. - W.R.
Frost/Nixon (New City Stage) The terrific two-man cast, exceptionally well directed, produce a riveting re-enactment of the "gotcha!" heard round the world. Through Jan. 5. - T.Z.
Gender Comedy: A Less Stupid Twelfth Night Gay Fantasia (Curio Theatre) Just what Shakespeare always needed: robots. Through Jan. 4.
Jersey Boys (Forrest Theater) They're ba-ack, for a month of dazzling four-part harmony and history. Through Jan. 5.
Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play (Bucks County Playhouse) A brand new musical nostalgia-fest based on the 1944 MGM movie, with great songs, an energetic cast, and hit potential. Through Dec. 29. - W.R.
My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm Home for the Holidays! (New Penn's Landing Playhouse) All about Steve's struggles to get home, and what he finds when he gets there. Through Dec. 31.
Nerds (Philadelphia Theatre Company) A visually hot and musically adept timeline of the age of software with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, updated since its premiere here in 2007. Through Dec. 29. - D.P.S.
Potted Potter (Prince Music Theater) All seven books - in 70 minutes.
Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class (Society Hill Playhouse) A one-nun show from the writer of Nunsense. The nun is great, the show less so. Through Dec. 29. - J.R.
Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas (Independence Studio at the Walnut) Tucker appears in a tight red gown, tiaraed and bejeweled, a kind of female Liberace before the fact. She's funny, tuneful, and completely endearing. Through Dec. 29. - T.Z.
Stick Fly (Arden Theatre) A well-to-do African American family gets together and begins coming apart in Lydia Diamond's contemporary drawing-room play. It works. Through next Sunday. - D.P.S.
The Story of My Life (Delaware Theater Company) Ben Dibble and Rob McClure star in this touching, moving musical about a disrupted friendship. Through Dec. 22. - J.R.
Twelfth Night (FringeArts) Pig Iron revives its bibulous 2011 Shakespearean hit - and it's a bit hit-or-miss. Great music, though! Through next Sunday.- D.P.S
The Twelve Dates of Christmas (Act II Playhouse) A very unromantic Thanksgiving setback sends a woman on a dating roundelay. Through Dec. 29.
Wind in the Willows (Quintessence Theatre Group) Toad, Mole, Rat, et al. are back in Alan Bennett's adaptation of the classic Kenneth Grahame story. Through Jan. 5.
The Lone Ranger *** Johnny Depp is a smart-aleck, sagelike Tonto and Armie Hammer plays the straight man - and straight-arrow hero of the tale - in Gore Verbinski's wild, wacky, wide-screen reimagining of the vintage radio serial and TV series. Too long, but too good to really matter. 2 hrs. 29 PG-13 (violence, intense action, adult themes) - S.R.
Philadelphia Orchestra on the Radio
A special holiday archival broadcast, "The Glorious Sounds of Christmas" from 2004, will be heard at 1 p.m. Sunday on WRTI-FM (90.1). The Philadelphia Orchestra, led by conductor Rossen Milanov and joined by Philadelphia's Singing City Choir and Princeton's American Boychoir, presents selections ranging from Schubert's "Ave Maria" to pieces from The Nutcracker to Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." EndText