NEW MOVIES

By Steven Rea

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Idris Elba stars as Nelson Mandela in the biopic of the antiapartheid leader, from his days as a charismatic, young lawyer to his decades of incarceration, to his ultimate release and ascension to the presidency of South Africa. (Opens Wednesday) PG-13

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Ben Stiller updates the James Thurber story (basis for the 1947 Danny Kaye classic) about a mild-mannered daydreamer whose imagination gets the better of him, and he's all the better for it. With Kristin Wiig and Adam Scott. (Opens Wednesday) PG-13

The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese's 23d feature is also his longest, with Leonardo DiCaprio starring as real-life stock trader Jordan Belfort in a tale of epic late 20th-century excess. (Opens Wednesday) R

Also Opening This Week

47 Ronin Samurai warriors set out to avenge their master's death in 18th-century Japan. Keanu Reeves stars. (Opens Wednesday)

Grudge Match Two long-retired boxers and lifelong rivals reenter the ring to have at each other again. Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro star. (Opens Wednesday)

Justin Bieber's Believe Musical documentary that looks at the superstar's rise to prominence. (Opens Wednesday)

Excellent (****)

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.

American Hustle David O. Russell's wild, woolly take on the late-'70s FBI sting operation Abscam is also a wild, woolly love story: Christian Bale and Amy Adams as con artists recruited by the feds, and as a man and woman fated for each other. Throw Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence into the mix, and something goes kaboom in just about every scene - brilliantly. R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, violence, 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.

Inside Llewyn Davis Oscar Isaac is a hard-luck troubador on the folk scene of early '60s Greenwich Village in the Coen brothers' sublime time-capsule odyssey to nowhere and back again. It's a story of artistic struggle, of dumb luck and bad luck, and of the crushing beauty that can be wrested from a song. With Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman - and with many a dark laugh along the way. R (profanity, violence, drugs, 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. 1 hr. 38 R (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.

Also on Screens

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues *** Solid sequel to the 2004 smart dumb comedy starring Will Ferrell as a well-coifed TV news reader with delusions of, well, everything. Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell, and Christina Applegate return, with Meagan Good as the oblivious news team's new boss - working for the first 24-hour cable news network. It's 1980. Do you know where your hair is? 1 hr. 59 PG-13 (sex, profanity, drugs, comic violence, adult themes) - S.R.

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 twee, less chatty, more action, more Elvish. 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.

Saving Mr. Banks *** A sweet and affecting piece of Hollywood history, about a battle of wills between Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. Disney, played by Tom Hanks, is eager to adapt the book, and Travers, beautifully brought to life by Emma Thompson, resists. And resists some more. 2 hrs. 5 PG-13 (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.

Theater

Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield (W.R.), Jim Rutter (J.R.), David Patrick Stearns (D.P.S.), and Toby Zinman (T.Z.).

New This Week

I Love Lucy Live on Stage (Merriam Theater) You're part of the 1952 studio audience for the filming of two episodes starring Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel. Opens Thursday.

Continuing

A Child's Christmas in Wales (Lantern Theater) Dylan Thomas' poetic language and Sebastienne Mundheim's puppet artistry cannot lift this ponderous Christmas memory play. Through Jan. 5. - T.Z.

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, produces a riveting reenactment of the "gotcha!" heard round the world. Through Jan. 5. - T.Z.

Gender Comedy: A Less Stupid Twelfth Night Gay Fantasia (Curio Theatre) Harry Slack's clever reimagining of Shakespeare's gender-shifting comedy explores both the humor and the ideas. Through Jan. 4. - W.R.

Jersey Boys (Forrest Theater) They're ba-ack, for a month of dazzling, four-part harmony and history. You want to be there. Through Jan. 5. - T.Z.

Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play (Bucks County Playhouse) A 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) Two guys do all seven books - in 70 minutes. Fast, fun, and funny. Through Jan. 5. - W.R.

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 next Sunday. - 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 next Sunday. - 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. Ends 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. Ends Sunday. - J.R.

Twelfth Night (FringeArts) Pig Iron revives its bibulous 2011 Shakespearean hit - and it's a bit hit-or-miss. Great music, though! Ends Sunday.- D.P.S

The Twelve Dates of Christmas (Act II Playhouse) Maggie Lakis' adorable performance elevates this one-woman show into a heartwarming, humorous, holiday tale. Through next Sunday. - J.R.

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.

Video

Insidious: Chapter 2 The terrified Lambert family returns to uncover the reason for their connection to the spirit world. 1 hr. 45 PG-13 (intense terror and violence, thematic elements) - W.S.

Philadelphia Orchestra on the Radio

Sunday at 2 p.m., WRTI-FM (90.1) presents a special live broadcast of the Philadelphia Orchestra performing Handel's baroque masterpiece, Messiah. Cristian Macelaru, the orchestra's associate conductor, will be on the podium, with the Philadelphians joined by soloists Yulia Van Doren, Sasha Cooke, Nicholas Phan, and Alexander Dobson, and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale.