This week in streaming, we’ve got Peter Jackson’s latest trek to Middle-earth (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), along with a star-studded road movie (This Must Be the Place) and a Certified Fresh dramedy about the road to recovery (Smashed). Read on to find out what’s available to watch right now.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
64%

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) journeys with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a band of dwarves to the Lonely Mountain, where the dwarves’ ancestral homeland is being occupied by a fearsome dragon. Along the way, our heroes encounter all manner of orc, troll, wizard, and even giants made of stone, as well as the mischievous Gollum.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


Smashed
83%

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars in this Certified Fresh dramedy about a young woman struggling with alcoholism.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


The Lincoln Lawyer

Matthew McConaughey stars as a somewhat sketchy defense attorney who’s just landed the case of his career when he’s brought in to defend a millionaire bad boy (Ryan Phillippe). Soon, however, our hero discovers that not everything is as it seems.

Available now on: Amazon Prime


This Must Be the Place

This Must Be The Place stars Sean Penn as a washed-up rock star who goes on a road trip to find a man who humiliated his late father.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


Gun Hill Road
65%

Gun Hill Road is an indie drama about a man just released from prison who finds his family has gone through some dramatic changes.

Available now on: Netflix

This week on home video, we’ve got four new releases that are Certified Fresh, including one multiple Oscar-winner, one animated adventure, a music doc, and an indie drama about alcoholism. On top of that, there’s also the relatively well-received biopic about Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho and a quirky Sean Penn-powered road trip drama. Lastly, we have a feature adaptation of the famed Cirque du Soleil troupe’s performances, as well as a handful of notable reissues. See below for the full list!



Life of Pi

86%

Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi was a worldwide success, so it’s not surprising that development of a film adaptation began as early as 2003. Many considered the book “unfilmable,” however, so we didn’t get the movie until Ang Lee took up the helm (after several others dropped out) and felt technology was up to snuff to tell the story. The fantasy adventure revolves around Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), an Indian teen whose parents own a struggling zoo and decide to sell all their animals to a buyer in Canada, where the family will settle. En route to Winnipeg, their freighter encounters a massive storm that wrecks the ship and leaves Pi stranded alone on a lifeboat with a few animals, including a fearsome Bengal tiger. Like its source novel, Life of Pi was met with both critical and commercial success, and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards; it won four Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee. Certified Fresh at 88%, it’s a trasportive, beautifully shot, technically impressive film, even if its underlying message may not resonate with everyone.



Rise of the Guardians

75%

Another film based on a book (or series of books, rather, authored by William Joyce), Rise of the Guardians reimagines mythical childhood figures like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost as warrior-like protectors of the world’s children — in addition to their regular duties delivering presents and hiding Easter eggs, that is. Voiced by Chris Pine, Jack Frost is a bit of a mischief maker, starting snowball fights and conjuring blizzards, until he’s recruited by the existing guardians to help defeat Pitch (Jude Law), a dark spirit intent on taking over the world. In the process, Jack discovers both his true worth as a guardian and the secrets of his past life. Though critics felt the story itself could have been a little more focused, they also liked the clever premise of the film, as well as its lush animation and brisk pacing. Certified Fresh at 74%, Rise of the Guardians is a fresh take on some familiar characters that most will be able to appreciate.



Hitchcock

60%

Screenwriter Sacha Gervasi’s directorial debut, 2007’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil, earned heaps of praise, so hopes were high for his film about Alfred Hitchcock, especially considering Anthony Hopkins would be filling in the role of the great director and Helen Mirren would be playing his wife and collaborative partner, Alma Reville. Hitchcock specifically chronicles the director’s efforts to finance and produce Psycho and the tumultuous relationship that resulted between him and Reville during the making of the film. Although critics would have liked to see a bit more subtlety and insight, most found the film stylishly directed and worth watching, even if only for the inspired performances from Hopkins and Mirren. At 63% on the Tomatometer, Hitchcock isn’t the be all and end all of biopics on The Master of Suspense, but it’s a well-acted glimpse into his life and old Hollywood.



Sound City

100%

Last year, musician Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) purchased a vintage Neve 8028 mixing console from Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, where he had taken part in recording the seminal Nirvana album Nevermind in 1991. The purchase inspired him to direct a documentary recounting the history of the influential studio, which oversaw the recording of several rock legends and musical icons ranging from Neil Young, Elton John, and Grateful Dead to Barry Manilow, Weezer, Metallica, and many more before it closed in 2011. Peppered with interviews and performances by many of those artists, Sound City weaves together the complete story of the studio and culminates in the purchase that inspired the film in the first place. The film, which opened in limited release just a month ago, has so far earned a 100% Tomatometer, with critics calling it an affectionately crafted passion project that’s thrilling, nostalgic, and a must-see for music fans.



Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

45%

Cirque du Soleil has been an expanding Las Vegas mainstay for several years now, but they’ve been a touring troupe for even longer, their television specials have won awards, and they’ve adapted their shows into films before. This latest venture, Worlds Away, is unique in that it also offers a 3D perspective for the first time, and what’s more? It’s James Cameron-approved 3D. Though it is, in fact, just another showcase for the talents of its performers, there is a narrative framing device: a young woman named Mia (Erica Linz) visits the local circus and falls into a dreamlike world with an aerialist; in order for the two to reunite, they must traverse the various tents of the circus and navigate through their performances. Critics were fairly split here; while some thought the film incoherently plotted and most conceded it was inferior to its live equivalent, others felt it was still beautiful to look at and entertaining enough. At 46%, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away won’t compare to the real thing, but it’s not too bad if you can’t make it to one of the live shows.



Smashed

83%

Aaron Paul has already built up a considerable fanbase from his role in Breaking Bad, but while Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s star is slowly rising, she hadn’t quite landed the starring role that showcases her talents properly… until Smashed came along. In this low key indie, Paul and Winstead play Charlie and Kate, a young married couple who both decide to come to terms with their alcoholism. When Kate, an elementary schoolteacher, vomits in the middle of class, then drunkenly succumbs to smoking crack later that same night, she consequently joins group therapy and resolves to change her life. Critics roundly applauded Winstead’s performance, as well as director James Ponsoldt’s sensitive direction and the film’s melodrama-free script, en route to a Certified Fresh 84% on the Tomatometer. Costarring Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, and Mary Kay Place, Smashed failed to generate much heat at the box office, but here’s hoping it leads to more substantial roles for Winstead.



This Must Be the Place

At first glance, This Must Be the Place might seem simply like the latest in a long line of quirky indie comedy-dramas: Sean Penn, looking like a cross between Bono and Edward Scissorhands, is aging former rock star Cheyenne, who travels home to New York from Ireland in order to reconcile with his estranged father as he lies on his deathbed. Though his father dies before he arrives, Cheyenne soon discovers that he was an Auschwitz survivor whose lifelong mission was to track down the man who abused him there; Cheyenne takes up his father’s quest and sets out across the US to find his father’s persecutor. It’s a strange tale, to be sure, but critics mostly found it surprisingly touching, buoyed by Penn’s oddly charismatic performance. At 68%, This Must Be the Place might be a little too off-kilter for some, but if you give it a chance, it might surprise you.

Also available this week:

  • A 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Disney’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (98%), with a collection of extras ported over from previous releases and an in-depth commentary track.
  • Two choices from the Criterion Collection: The original 1958 The Blob (69%), now on Blu-ray; and Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear on both DVD and Blu-ray.
  • Some animated Disney films, paired with their direct-to-DVD sequels: Mulan (86%), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (74%), and Brother Bear (38%).
  • Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy flick Willow (46%) on Blu-ray.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a daring escape (Argo, starring Ben Affleck and Alan Arkin); a tough teacher (Here Comes the Boom, starring Kevin James and Salma Hayek); frightening footage (Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio); criminal cinephiles (Seven Psychopaths, starring Colin Farrell and Christopher Walken); and striking capitalists (Atlas Shrugged: Part II, starring Samantha Mathis and Jason Beghe). What do the critics have to say?



Argo

96%

As a director, Ben Affleck is on a roll. With two Certified Fresh films (Gone Baby Gone and The Town) under his belt, critics say Affleck scores again with Argo, a tense, darkly comic thriller with terrific characters and an eye for period detail. In the midst of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a group of militants take hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. When six Americans escape and hole up elsewhere, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a scheme to rescue them: pretend they’re filmmakers working on an epic sci-fi movie. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Argo is a terrific entertainment — it’s suspenseful, deftly scripted, sharply acted, and politically reflective.



Here Comes the Boom

41%

Here Comes the Boom borrows from two musty sub-genres: it’s both an underdog sports story and an inspirational teacher movie. And critics say it’s not all that bad — Kevin James gives a warm, committed performance that occasionally makes up for the movie’s slavish devotion to formula. James stars as an indifferent high school teacher who is roused into action when the school is threatened with budget cuts. His solution: raise money by battling on the mixed martial arts circuit. The pundits say James is surprisingly convincing as a fighter, but Here Comes the Boom is a little too bland and predictable to work as a whole. (Check out this week’s 24 Frames, in which we take a pictorial look at co-star Salma Hayek’s career..)



Sinister

63%

Found footage frightfests are all the rage these days, but critics say it’s to Sinister‘s credit that it creates a tense atmosphere out of some familiar parts. Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who moves his family into a house where a family was mysteriously killed. While investigating the deaths, he discovers a cache of old super 8 movies, and discovers awful secrets that could threaten him and his family as well. The pundits say Sinister is sometimes over-reliant on jump scares, but it’s also intelligent and involving, thanks to strong performances and a creeping sense of dread. (Check out our interview with Hawke here.)



Seven Psychopaths

83%

Director Martin McDonagh and star Colin Farrell have apparently found a formula that works; having earned accolades for their work together in 2008’s In Bruges, the pair reunite for Seven Psychopaths, a dark comedy that critics say delivers a heaping helping of witty dialogue and gleeful violence. Farrell stars as a struggling screenwriter whose well-meaning buddy (Sam Rockwell) places him in danger when he unwittingly kidnaps a dog belonging to a violent gangster (Woody Harrelson) who will stop at nothing to rescue his beloved pet. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Seven Psychopaths is terrifically written, with memorable performances and a sly sense of humor. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Walken’s best-reviewed films.)



Atlas Shrugged: Part II

4%

Give the folks behind Atlas Shrugged: Part II points for perseverance, especially since Part I disappointed both critically and commercially. Unfortunately, the film was not screened for critics prior to its release, so we can’t tell you if the second chapter will fare better with the pundits. In this installment, the global economy is near collapse after a number of prominent industrialists and thinkers have gone missing. Time to guess the Tomatometer!

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Gayby, a comedy about two close friends who decide to conceive a child together despite their mismatched sexual orientations, is at 100 percent.
  • In My Mother’s Arms, a documentary about an orphanage for troubled children in Baghdad, is at 100 percent.
  • Photographic Memory, in which a filmmaker attempts to revisit key places in his life in an attempt to connect with his son, is at 100 percent.
  • Middle of Nowhere, a drama about a med student whose life is upended when her husband is incarcerated, is at 92 percent.
  • Smashed, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a dramedy about a young woman struggling with alcoholism, is at 84 percent.
  • The Big Picture, a French thriller about a successful man who assumes a new identity to escape his existence, is at 81 percent.
  • Two Years at Sea, a doc about a Scottish man living in near isolation, is at 75 percent.
  • Simon and the Oaks, a coming-of-age drama about two childhood friends whose lives are upended by the turmoil of World War II, is at 50 percent.
  • 3, 2, 1… Frankie Go Boom, starring Chris O’Dowd and Lizzy Caplan in a comedy about two brothers who hire a hacker to scrub the internet of an embarrassing video, is at 44 percent.
  • Special Forces, starring Diane Kruger and Djimon Hounsou in an action movie about a military unit working to free a kidnapped journalist from the Taliban, is at 33 percent.
  • Hotel Noir, starring Carla Gugino and Mandy Moore in the pulpy tale of a down-on-his-luck detective who meets a variety of interesting characters during the course of a night, is at 20 percent.
  • War of the Buttons, a period drama about rival preteen gangs who set aside their differences to protect a friend in Nazi-occupied France, is at 17 percent.
  • Smiley, a horror film about a mad slasher who kills people who participate in internet video chats, is at zero percent.

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