THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Enough Said”: Nicole Holofcener is the best director you’ve never heard of. Her forte is quiet, small romantic comedies that revolve around women struggling to find themselves in the world — weak and strong women who stand up to the world as women and not as appendages to men. She’s cut her directing chops on TV’s “Sex and the City,” the “Gilmore Girls,” “Six Feet Under” and “Bored to Death,” and has helmed two very quirky features films — “Friends With Money” and “Please Give” — before hitting her stride with this delightfully honest and real comedy. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Eva, a divorced and single parent who works as a masseuse and meets and falls for a TV museum curator named Albert (James Gandolfini) who, unknown to Eva, is the ex-husband of one of Eva’s clients, Marianne (Catherine Keener), a beautiful poet who incessantly complains about her ex-husband. The unfolding of the characters and the romance at the center of the film is handled so delicately — and with such generous humor — that you just give yourself effortlessly to the scenario — hoping for the best but bracing yourself for the worst. Everyone here deserves high praise — in particular Louis-Dreyfus — but don’t expect the Academy to come knocking. Highly recommended. Also stars Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone. Extras include some clever “Second Takes” (outtakes). From Fox.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”: Director Lee Daniels’ career has been nothing if not eclectic, from the off-kilter hit-woman thriller “Shadowboxer” through the award-winning “Precious” through the very down-and-dirty “The Paperboy.” “The Butler” is the director’s easiest outing, a paean to the Civil Rights movement that explores desegregation and the struggle for Black equality during the course of four decades as told through the story of White House butler Eugene Allen, who served eight American presidents from 1952 to 1986. The straight-ahead melodrama follows the life story of Cecil Gaines, his wife and two sons as they deal with slavery, the Freedom Riders southern busing, assassinations, race riots, the Vietnam War, the Black Panthers and American politics. Forest Whitaker as Cecil and Oprah Winfrey as wife Gloria are outstanding; problematic are the presidential castings: John Cusack as Nixon, Liev Schreiber as L.B.J., and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan. Based on the story “A Butler Well Served by This Election” by Wil Haygood. Also stars Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo. Extras include a slight featurette on “The Original Freedom Riders,” deleted scenes and a gag reel. From The Weinstein Co.
“The Spectacular Now”: A delightfully warm and honest teen romance based on the Tim Tharp book about Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school senior and effortless charmer whose “live in the moment” outlook on life begins to wear thin as he nears graduation. Content to float through school and work, with no plans for the future, Sutter unexpectedly falls for a “nice girl” who has dreams– and their relationship changes both their outlooks on life. “The Spectacular Now” is a pretty cogent look at growing up teen and middle-class in America, and doesn’t pull too many punches as passions, failures, yearnings and successes are revealed and dissected. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Extras include deleted scenes, commentary and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Also stars Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Bob Odenkirk, Dayo Okeniyi, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler. From Lionsgate.
“You’re Next”: A fresh twist on the home-invasion horror film. A family reunion at a remote weekend estate turns nasty when the house comes under siege by a mask-wearing team of crossbow-bearing assailants — who quickly dispatch half of the 10 people on hand. The family has no idea who’s attacking them or why they’re under attack — and when it seems that the remaining family members will all meet the same horrible fate, one unlikely member turns the tables and fights back against the villains. The action is fast-paced and gruesome — and there’s a great twist about three-quarters of the way through. A highly effective and fairly well acted scarer. Stars Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, AJ Bowen, Ti West, Rob Moran, Joe Swanberg, Wendy Glenn, Amy Seimetz, Barbara Crampton. Extras include commentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette. From Lionsgate.
“20 Feet From Stardom”: In this compelling and very watchable documentary, award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 20th and 21st centuries. Along with rare archival footage and a great soundtrack, this documentary includes interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Sting, to name just a few. But these world-famous figures take a backseat to the diverse array of backup singers — including Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega and others — whose lives and stories take center stage in the film. From Radius-TWC.
“Riddick”: The latest chapter of the saga that began with 2000’s hit sci-fi film “Pitch Black” and 2004’s “The Chronicles of Riddick” reunites writer-director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel. The infamous antihero Riddick, wanted by every bounty hunter in the known galaxy, has been left for dead on a sun-scorched planet that appears to be lifeless. Soon, however, he finds himself fighting for survival against fierce predators; to get off the planet, he has to activate an emergency beacon, one that will also alert mercenaries — who rapidly descend to the planet in search of their bounty. Now he has to fight off alien and human monsters to survive. Though this outing is heads and tails above the first sequel (but not nearly as good as the surprise hit “Pitch Black”), Diesel has taken himself a bit too seriously as Riddick, mouthing interstellar survival platitudes and theology as he flexes his invincible muscles to fight off all comers, picking them off one by one. Great special effects but a predictable story line. (It also features the most gratuitous nude scene in recent memory — he-woman Katee Sackoff bares her breasts for no apparent reason.) Also stars Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Karl Urban, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Matt Nable, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Gerard Funk. Extras include several behind-the-scenes and special effects featurettes. From Universal.
Also due this week: “Fruitvale Station” and “Carrie,” both of which were not available for review.
Three classic film restorations come to the forefront this week. headed up by “Sunrise” (1927) , directed by F.W. Murnau and starring George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston and Bodil Rosing. Murnau’s story of betrayal and redemption earned Oscars at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929 for the most “Unique and Artistic Picture,” Best Actress (Janet Gaynor) and Best Cinematography. The love and loyalty of a farmer and his wife are put to the ultimate test in this classic silent film. “Sunrise” used the groundbreaking Fox Movietone sound system, making it one of the first studio films with a true soundtrack, featuring music and sound effects. Extras include the original Fox Movietone version and European silent version, commentary by ASC Cinematographer John Bailey, outtakes with commentary by John Bailey, original theatrical trailer, original scenario by Carl Mayer with annotations by F.W. Murnau, Original “Sunrise” screenplay and restoration notes. Available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Fox.
From The Criterion Collection comes “Rififi” (1955). After making such American noir classics as “Brute Force” and “The Naked City,” the blacklisted director Jules Dassin went to Paris and embarked on his masterpiece: a twisting, turning tale of four ex-cons who hatch one last glorious robbery in the City of Light. Rififi is the ultimate heist movie, a melange of suspense, brutality, and dark humor that was an international hit, earned Dassin the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and has proven wildly influential on decades of heist thrillers in its wake. In particular, the half-hour long, silent robbery scene is breathtaking in its austerity and impact. In a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray … Also from Criterion is “Thief” (1981). American auteur Michael Mann burst out of the gate with his bold artistic sensibility fully formed with “Thief,” his first theatrical feature. James Caan stars, in one of his most riveting performances, as a no-nonsense ex-con safecracker planning to leave the criminal world behind after one final diamond heist, but discovering that escape is not as simple as he hoped. Finding hypnotic beauty in neon and rain-slick streets, sparks and steel, “Thief” effortlessly established the moody stylishness and tactile approach to action that would define such later iconic entertainments from Mann as “Miami Vice,” “Manhunter” and “Heat.” New digital restoration from a 4K film transfer, approved by director Michael Mann, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray.