New on Wednesday
Reviewed by critics Steven Rea (S.R.), Tirdad Derakhshani (T.D.), and David Hiltbrand (D.H.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.
Grudge Match ** Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone play a pair of far-past-their-prime boxers who decide to get in the ring one more time - if they can climb through the ropes. The film, which tries to wrap comedy around a gooey sentimental center, also stars Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger, and Jon Bernthal. 1 hr. 53 PG-13 (violence, adult themes, profanity) - D.H.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom *** A conventional biopic made anything but conventional by the magnitude of its subject's life and accomplishments, and by Idris Elba's imposing performance in the title role. 2 hrs. 19 PG-13 (violence, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty *** Ben Stiller stars in, and directs, this adaptation of the James Thurber story, about a mild-mannered man whose dream life gets the better of him. Almost magical comic fun, with Kristen Wiig as the coworker he admires from afar, and Adam Scott as the glib new boss who's about to fire them. A story about taking the leap, getting out of your comfort zone. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't quite do that itself - by the end it's lost some pop, some surprise. 1 hr. 54 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
The Wolf of Wall Street **1/2 As thrilling a filmmaker as Martin Scorsese continues to be, and as wild a performance as Leonardo DiCaprio dishes up as its morally bankrupt antihero, this adaptation of Jordan Belfort's bestselling memoir - a story of stockbroker rapacity in the anything-goes '90s - seems almost entirely unnecessary. Cocaine and hookers? Fast cars and fancy yachts? Trophy wives and pesky feds? For three hours? Really? R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, violence, adult themes) -S.R.
47 Ronin Samurai warriors set out to avenge their master's death in 18th-century Japan. Keanu Reeves stars. (Not previewed)
Justin Bieber's Believe Musical documentary that looks at the superstar's rise to prominence. (Not previewed)
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. There is incredible tension in this ordeal, this man's efforts to survive, to find rescue, and Redford - an icon of the American movie experience for more than half a century now - makes that tension deeply palpable. 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 troubadour 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-coiffed TV news reader with delusions of, well, everything. 1 hr. 59 PG-13 (sex, profanity, drugs, comic violence, 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 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. 2 hrs. 26 PG-13 (violence, dystopian bleakness, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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 Sunday. - 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 Sunday. - 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 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 Sunday. - T.Z.
The Twelve Dates of Christmas (Act II Playhouse) Maggie Lakis' adorable performance elevates this one-woman show into a heartwarming, humorous, holiday tale. Through Sunday. - J.R.
The 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.