COMING THIS WEEK
By Steven Rea
Reviewed by critics Steven Rea (S.R.), Tirdad Derakhshani (T.D.), Dan DeLuca (D.D.), and David Hiltbrand (D.H.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.
Birdman Michael Keaton is a faded Hollywood star trying to reclaim his career by mounting a Broadway drama in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's fierce, funny, breathless dive into the head of a man in deep trouble. An exhilarating, out-of-the-blue masterwork that ranks as not just one of the best films of the year, but of the decade, the century. With Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts. 1 hr. 59 R (profanity, violence, sex, adult themes) - S.R.
Foxcatcher Steve Carell, sporting an aquiline nose and a marionette's gait, morphs into Newtown Square multimillionaire John du Pont, a self-styled coach and sponsor of American wrestling. By inviting Olympic gold medalists Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) to live and train on his estate, du Pont invited disaster, too. Bennett Miller directs this slow-burning, brilliant account of a real-life tragedy. 2 hrs. 14 R (violence, profanity, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.
Very Good (***1/2)
Big Eyes Director Tim Burton finds his dream subject: husband and wife Walter and Margaret Keane, whose paintings of saucer-eyed waifs and tearful clowns were the kitsch hit of the 1960s. He claimed the images as his, but she really made them, locked away in a studio like some Grimm Brothers unfortunate. Christoph Waltz and a great Amy Adams bring the couple to life in this wondrously strange true story about art, heartbreak and intellectual property theft. 1 hr. 45 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Force Majeure Sweden's entry in the foreign-language Oscar race finds a family vacationing in the French Alps, where husband and wife are put to the test following a jarring event. Cannes-winning filmmaker Ruben Östlund shows us that sometimes there is an unbridgeable gap between image and reality. 1 hr. 58 R (profanity, brief nudity) - T.D.
The Theory of Everything The life, and loves, of British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking are given keen, poignant treatment in Oscar-winner James Marsh's film, starring Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde, the student he meets at Cambridge and falls for (and vice versa). Then, the challenge of the disease that cripples Hawking's body. 2 hrs. 03 PG-13 (adult themes) - S.R.
Top Five Chris Rock proves he's as brilliant a film auteur as he is a stand-up comic with this sharp romantic dramedy, which he also wrote and directed. He plays a disillusioned comic who's in New York City to promote his first serious film, an earnest if terrible story about slavery. Rosario Dawson is terrific as a reporter who forces the self-indulgent star to face up to his demons. Gabrielle Union is wonderfully sleazy as Rock's narcissistic reality-star fiancée. 1 hr. 41 R (strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, profanity, drug use) - T.D.
Whiplash Miles Teller (the student) and J.K. Simmons (the teacher) star in Damien Chazelle's propulsive drama about an aspiring jazz musician's torturous mentorship at a prestigious New York conservatory. It's a hyperventilated nightmare about artistic struggle and ambition - as much a horror movie as a keenly realized indie about jazz, about art, about what it takes to claim greatness. 1 hr. 46 R (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Also on Screens
Annie **1/2 Ho-hum remake, and update, of the movie musical about a plucky orphan and the moneyed patriarch whose icy heart is toasted like campfire marshmallows once he lets the girl into his life. Beasts of the Southern Wild's Quvenzhané Wallis is a charmer in the title role, and Jamie Foxx, as the Daddy Warbucks-ian Will Stacks, is a cellphone mogul who, sadly, appears to be phoning in his performance. PG (adult themes) - S.R.
Big Hero 6 **1/2 Set in a wonderfully realized near-future San Francisco, this animated feature follows an adolescent robotics inventor and his puffy, inflatable companion. Disconcertingly violent and mature for a Disney kids' film. 1 hr. 48 PG (violence) - D.H.
Exodus: Gods and Kings ** Ridley Scott's big and curious retelling of the story of Moses, the parting of the Red Sea, the burning bush, the march of the Israelites out of Egypt. All the impressive CGI effects in the world can't make up for clunky dialogue and one-note thespianizing. With Christian Bale as the bearded, beleaguered Hebrew prophet, Joel Edgerton as his shiny-domed, eyelinered adoptive sibling, Ramses, and a cast of thousands - most of them virtual. 2 hrs. 30 PG-13 (violence, plagues, adult themes) - S.R.
The Gambler **1/2 A disappointing if passable remake of the 1974 gem starring James Caan, this existential thriller has Mark Wahlberg as a fatalistic, self-destructive literature professor who dazzles students by day (especially a coed played by Brie Larson) while throwing his life away at shady gambling joints at night. Costars Jessica Lange, Michael K. Williams, and John Goodman. 1 hr. 51 R (profanity, sexuality, some nudity) - T.D.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ** The third and final installment in Peter Jackson's bloated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's wondrous 1937 children's book takes the climactic conflagration and turns it into a giant-screen videogame of clashing CGI legions, of dialogue as hoary as it is hilarious. "We attack at dawn!" PG-13 (violence, adult themes) - S.R.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I *** Quieter and less flashy than its predecessors, the satisfying third installment in the four-parter based on Suzanne Collins' mega-selling trilogy finds Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss poised to lead the rebellion against the imperious fancypants in the Capitol. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and Chris Hemsworth are ready to give her an assist. 2 hrs. 4 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) - S.R.
The Imitation Game *** A gripping story, a sad story, a true story, about British mathematician Alan Turing, who led the team of Brits during World War II trying to crack the German's daunting Enigma encryption machine. Secretly gay, this unsung hero's life was brought to a grievous conclusion. Benedict Cumberbatch stars (another remarkable performance), with Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and Mark Strong. 1 hr. 54 PG-13 (sex, adult themes) - S.R.
Interstellar *** Matthew McConaughey leads an intergalactic expedition, searching for a new home for humankind, which has turned our planet into a Dust Bowl of doom. Anne Hathaway is along for the ride, and Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, and Casey Affleck figure into the equation back on Earth. A cinematic experience to be sure, but lofty queries about quantum physics and the human spirit are weighed down in sci-fi cliches, default-mode dialogue, and characters rendered in two dimensions, never mind the fourth and fifth dimensions everyone is talking about. 2 hrs. 49 PG-13 (violence, intense space-travel sequences, adult themes) - S.R.
Into the Woods *** A jolly mash-up of symbol-laden, signature once-upon-a-time tales about lust, envy, greed, and misguided pursuits of happiness. James Corden, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, et al., have fun with the rat-tat-tat rhymes and polygraphic melodies of the James Lapine/Stephen Sodheim musical from which this all sprang. 2 hrs. 04 PG (scary creatures, adult themes) - S.R.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb **1/2 The third and promised final chapter in the hit franchise about a bunch of museum figures come-to-life and the adventures that ensue. Ben Stiller leads the cast, making a trip to London so new characters and new scenarios can transpire. Robin Williams (in his final role) is Teddy Roosevelt, and newcomers include Dan Stevens as Lancelot and Rebel Wilson as a museum guard. PG (monkey urination, adult themes) - S.R.
Penguins of Madagascar **1/2 Insistently antic and intermittently clever spin-off of the DreamWorks Animation Madagascar franchise, with feathered, flippered, flightless heroes Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private caught up in global intrigue and groaningly bad punnery involving a gigantically obnoxious purple octopus (the voice of John Malkovich) bent on revenge. 1 hr. 32 PG (cartoon mayhem, adult themes) - S.R.
Unbroken *1/2 Based on the life of Louis Zamperini, an airman who suffered greatly in WWII. You'll know how he felt after enduring this long, grim grinder directed by Angelina Jolie. 2 hrs. 17 PG-13 (violence, brutality, profanity) - D.H.
Wild *** Reese Witherspoon, wholly committed and wholly convincing, is Cheryl Strayed, the best-selling memoirist who hiked 1,100 miles, from the Mojave to the Cascades, to try to right a life gone terribly wrong. Blistered, bloodied feet were a sure thing; self-discovery less so. In the end, Strayed got both. 1 hr. 55 R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, adult themes) - S.R.