Liam Neeson
The journey between arthouse and IMAX can be a treacherous trip for an actor, but Liam Neeson has navigated it more nimbly than most over the course of his lengthy career, booking major roles in Serious Movies (Schindler’s List) while leaving room for horror (The Haunting), romance (Love Actually), and blockbuster franchises (The Phantom Menace, Batman Begins) — not to mention a recent string of action thrillers that, with this weekend’s A Walk Among the Tombstones, finds Mr. Neeson kicking bad-guy butt one more time. What better way to celebrate his accomplishments than a look at his best-reviewed movies? Here’s Total Recall!


75%

10. Five Minutes of Heaven

Neeson returned to Irish history for 2009’s Five Minutes of Heaven, but instead of a Michael Collins redux, he starred opposite James Nesbitt in a tense, heartbreaking character study that uses “The Troubles” as the backdrop for a meditation on the lasting consequences of violence and the weight of hatred. Neeson’s gift for world-weariness is put to good use in the role of Alistair Little, the real-life former Ulster Volunteer Force soldier who was sent to prison as a young man for murdering a Catholic boy — and who consents to meet his victim’s brother (played by Nesbitt) in an effort to put the past behind them both. Five Minutes wasn’t widely seen, but it enjoyed positive reviews from most critics, including NYC Movie Guru’s Avi Offer, who praised it as “A 90-minute tour de force of suspense and intrigue with outstanding, powerhouse performances by James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson” and called it “one of the most rousing and provocative thrillers of the year.”


78%

9. Michael Collins

A biopic about the slain Irish revolutionary Michael Collins enticed filmmakers for years, eluding the grasp of Michael Cimino and Kevin Costner before Neil Jordan was finally able to bring Michael Collins to the screen in 1996. Though a number of critics (and more than a few filmgoers) took issue with the ways Collins diverged from its subject’s real-life story, pretty much everyone agreed that age differences notwithstanding, Neeson was perfect for the central role, and not just because his 6-foot-4 frame lived up to Collins’ nickname “The Big Fellow.” As Mark R. Leeper put it, “Liam Neeson is a big man and plays Collins as a big man, somewhat larger than the people around him. He sweeps into a scene with that large bulk of his and commands it.”


79%

8. The Grey

Given the way he’s been reinvented as everyone’s favorite action hero elder statesman, The Grey‘s basic plot description — “Liam Neeson versus wolves” — might have seemed like the absurdly over-the-top culmination of an unlikely chapter in an impressive career. But as viewers soon discovered, writer-director Joe Carnahan had a lot more on his mind than just Neeson and his human co-stars going toe-to-toe with a pack of ravenous beasts; although The Grey certainly doesn’t suffer from any shortage of pulse-pounding action, it also benefits from a surprising amount of thoughtful subtext. As Dana Stevens argued in her review for Slate, “For all its macho standoffs and action set pieces and menacing off-screen howling, The Grey is at heart a simple moral fable about how true heroism consists in helping other human beings to live as long and die as well as they can.”


74%

7. The Bounty

1984’s The Bounty is far from the first film inspired by the 1789 mutiny aboard the H.M.S. Bounty — or even the most well-known — but it might have the most impressive cast. Toplined by Anthony Hopkins as the authoritarian Lieutenant William Bligh and Mel Gibson as Bligh’s former friend and eventual nemesis, Fletcher Christian, The Bounty is rounded out by an array of famous faces from the past (Laurence Olivier as Admiral Hood) and the future (Daniel Day-Lewis plays Fryer, while Neeson appears as Christian’s enforcer, Churchill). Calling Hopkins’ work “one of the most interesting performances of 1984,” Roger Ebert applauded, “The Bounty is a great adventure, a lush romance, and a good movie.”


83%

6. Darkman

He earned screen time in a handful of films throughout the ’80s, including The Bounty, The Mission, and the Patrick Swayze masterpiece Next of Kin, but this Sam Raimi love letter to the comics was Neeson’s first opportunity to really carry a picture. He did it, too, despite spending much of Darkman under bandages and heavy makeup as the titular vigilante, burned and left for dead by a ruthless mobster (memorably played by Larry Drake). Critics and audiences greeted Darkman‘s pulpy action with enthusiasm, making it one of the year’s surprise hits and spawning two (regrettably Neeson-free) sequels. Applauding “Raimi’s flair for jazzy visual effects and extravagant action sequences, combined with direction that’s full of punch and energy,” the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum applauded Darkman as the summer’s “best pop roller-coaster ride around.”


74%

5. Excalibur

Neeson’s first big-screen break came courtesy of Excalibur director John Boorman, who spotted him playing Lennie Small on stage in Of Mice and Men and decided he’d be perfect for the role of Sir Gawain in his sprawling, lusty retelling of the Arthurian legend, Excalibur. Featuring lush visuals and a cast that included Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, and Gabriel Bryne, Boorman’s round-tabled epic became a fast late-night cable favorite among adolescent boys — and the critics liked it too, including Cinemaphile’s David Keyes, who called it “one of those great miracles in filmmaking” and said “Its concept of Arthur and the landscape that surrounds him is a benchmark for fantasy as we know it.”


84%

4. Batman Begins

Six years after appearing as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Neeson took what seemed at first to be a very similar role in Batman Begins — but of course, Batman‘s Henri Ducard is much more than just a mentor to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). Eventually revealed as the dastardly Ra’s al Ghul, Ducard proved a worthy adversary for the Dark Knight in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster reboot — and gave Neeson a rare opportunity to play the bad guy. His layered performance helped set Batman Begins apart from the increasingly cartoonish tone previous installments in the franchise had taken, lending depth to the film that led Antagony & Ecstasy’s Tim Brayton to proclaim, “There has never yet been a Batman story with quite this kind of psychological trauma. If Ingmar Bergman had ever directed a superhero movie, it would have looked quite a bit like this.”


90%

3. Kinsey

A movie about a sex professor? Sounds like an ’80s teen comedy (and for all we know, it probably was), but in reality, Alfred Kinsey did some groundbreaking, important work in the study of human sexual behavior, including the development of the Kinsey scale, which found a broad middle ground between strict heterosexuality and homosexuality. Of course, he also had a very busy sex life of his own, not to mention health issues and a drug problem — all of which means Kinsey had all the raw materials for a pretty salacious biopic. In less sensitive hands, it probably would have been, but with Bill Condon directing — and Neeson, Laura Linney , and Peter Sarsgaard in front of the cameras, Kinsey was an award-winning critical smash. While some writers thought it let Professor Kinsey off too easy — and some hastened to blame his studies for the relaxed moral standards of the last 40 years — most reviews echoed the sentiments of Cole Smithey, who called Kinsey “a sex education movie that uses historical fact and personal stories to articulate things that statistics can’t reveal, like the uniqueness of every individual’s imagination.”


98%

2. Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg circled Schindler’s List for years, concerned he didn’t have the skills or maturity necessary to dramatize the story of Oskar Schindler, the Nazi Party member who used his position as a German industrialist to save nearly 1,200 Jews during World War II. After trying to give the project away more than once (Spielberg’s candidates for his own replacement included Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese), he finally started filmin in early 1993 — and the result is one of the most widely acclaimed movies of the ’90s, and the crowning achievement of Spielberg’s career. Neeson, who was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, anchors the film as Schindler, lending depth and nuance to the portrayal of a man who started the war as a profiteer and ended it wracked with guilt over the lives he’d failed to spare, despite risking his life — and losing his fortune — to prevent the deaths of so many. It may have taken Spielberg time to feel he was up to the challenge of Schindler’s List, but in the end, he had nothing to worry about; as Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, “Rising brilliantly to the challenge of this material and displaying an electrifying creative intelligence, Mr. Spielberg has made sure that neither he nor the Holocaust will ever be thought of in the same way again.”


93%

1. Husbands and Wives

Overshadowed by the scandal and recrimination surrounding the end of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s relationship, Husbands and Wives is actually a quite sharply written, albeit sometimes uncomfortably bitter, examination of the hidden stresses and selfishness that can lurk beneath even the strongest-looking romantic bonds. Neeson appeared as part of an ensemble cast that also included Allen, Farrow, Sydney Pollack, and Judy Davis — playing, for a change, a man who’s not only an ordinary modern-day guy, but who gets to peel off a few darkly comic lines before the movie’s through. “With its relationship angst and Lolita temptations,” wrote the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, “Husbands and Wives hits embarrassingly close to Allen’s home. But it also hits its comic target.”


In case you were wondering, here are Neeson’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Schindler’s List — 97%
2. Batman Begins — 94%
3. Husbands and Wives — 87%
4. Taken — 85%
5. Michael Collins — 84%
6. Les Misérables — 83%
7. Excalibur — 81%
8. Breakfast on Pluto — 80%
9. Rob Roy — 76%
10. Kinsey — 75%


Take a look through Neeson’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for A Walk Among the Tombstones.

 

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Ep. 020 – New Movies, David Krumholtz, Simon Helberg & Jocelyn Towne
Team Tomato shares the critics’ consensus on new movies 22 Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon 2 and new DVD/Blu-rays Non-Stop, Jack Ryan and True Detective. This episode also features an interview with David Krumholtz for The Big Ask and another interview with Jocelyn Towne and Simon Helberg for I Am I.

This week on home video, the most notable choices may be a highly talked-about television series, but we begin with a couple of action films that opened earlier this year. Liam Neeson’s latest thriller kicks things off, followed by a Jack Ryan reboot starring Chris Pine. Then we’ve got a Certified Fresh British comedy, an Oscar-nominated documentary, and a few smaller films. The big news is that HBO’s hit mystery series, True Detective, finally hits shelves this week, but there are also a couple of other notable choices on the small screen, including Neil deGrasse Tyson’s science series. Read on for details:



Non-Stop

62%

Liam Neeson takes his very particular set of skills aboard a transatlantic flight as US Air Marshal Bill Marks, who begins receiving mysterious text messages from an on-board terrorist who promises a passenger will die every 20 minutes if he isn’t paid $150 million; as Marks narrows down his suspects, a larger conspiracy reveals itself. Co-starring Julianne Moore, Anson Mount, and Scoot McNairy, Non-Stop fell just short of Fresh at 59% on the Tomatometer, with critics mostly intrigued by the film’s premise but somewhat dissatisfied with its execution and its improbable climax. The Blu-ray release includes the film on DVD and digital download, as well as a couple of short behind-the-scenes featurettes. This is pretty solid weekend rental if you weren’t willing to pay full price for a theater ticket.

 



Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

54%

Chris Pine steps into the shoes formerly worn by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck to portray Tom Clancy’s titular everyman operative in what essentially amounts to an origin story/reboot of the franchise. Upon recovering from a debilitating battle injury, US Marine Jack Ryan is recruited by the CIA to work as an undercover agent on Wall Street, surveying for potential crimes in the financial sector. When a Russian businessman’s accounts spark Ryan’s suspicion, he unwittingly becomes embroiled in an international terrorist plot. The first of the series not based on a Clancy novel, Shadow Recruit earned a mixed response from critics, who mostly found it a merely adequate action thriller that hit plenty of familiar notes and fell short of its predecessors (yes, even The Sum of All Fears). The Blu-ray combo pack includes a commentary track from director and co-star Kenneth Branagh, as well as a handful of deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and four featurettes ranging from 5 to 21 minutes long.

 

Alan Partridge

87%

Stateside audiences are probably unfamiliar with Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan), but folks across the pond know him from any number of media appearances and his BBC sitcom. In Alan Partridge, Coogan reprises his role as the egocentric radio dj and television presenter, whose radio station — under new corporate management — is taken hostage by a recently fired DJ; Alan finds himself at the center of the controversy when he is asked to play negotiator with his former colleague. Certified Fresh at 86%, Alan Partridge is a clever comedy that relies more on dry wit than laugh-out-loud moments, and while fans of the character will get the most out of it, it makes the most of Steve Coogan’s talents and should serve as a fun introduction for the uninitiated. Special features include a making-of doc, a commentary track with Coogan and writers Neil and Rob Gibbons, a slew of deleted scenes, and a blooper reel.



The Missing Picture

99%

Nominated earlier this year for Best Foreign Language Film, The Missing Picture — like last year’s similarly themed The Act of Killing — interprets an historical atrocity through the lens of art; whereas The Act of Killing utilized the medium of genre filmmaking, The Missing Picture tells parts of its story through clay dioramas and figurines. Cambodian director Rithy Panh intertwines these miniature scenes with stunning archival footage to retell the story of his family’s experiences during the genocidal reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Unique in its vision and presentation, The Missing Picture touched and captivated critics, who awarded it a Certified Fresh 99% on the Tomatometer. While a Blu-ray is already available in the UK, only a DVD will be coming out this week in the US, and it doesn’t look as though it carries any extras. Still, the film alone is worth a watch.



True Detective – Season One

A huge hit for HBO this year, True Detective featured Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as a pair of former Louisiana police officers involved in a decades-old investigation. The show, produced as an anthology series made to focus on a different story each season, was characterized by occult themes, cryptic symbolism, and deep character development, all of which it accomplished in just eight episodes, enrapturing a rabid fanbase in the process. This first season notched a Certified Fresh 84% on the Tomatometer, thanks to powerful performances by its leads, creator Nic Pizzolatto’s writing, and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s strong directorial vision, and it’s available this week on DVD and Blu-ray. Special features on the latter include commentary tracks for two of the episodes, a 15-minute making-of doc, short behind-the-scenes featurettes for each episode, interviews with the cast and crew, and a pair of deleted scenes.

Also available this week:

  • Patrick: Evil Awakens (83%), a horror thriller about a nurse in a psychiatric hospital who comes under the spell of a braindead patient with psychic powers.
  • A Short History of Decay (73%), starring Bryan Greenberg and Linda Lavin in a comedy about a struggling writer who moves home when his father falls ill.
  • Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors (69%), a wordless documentary exploring the relationship between humanity and technology through images.
  • Adult World (52%), starring Emma Roberts and John Cusack in a dramedy about a university grad and aspiring poet who stalks one of her idols.
  • Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot (24%), starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon in a drama chronicling the events surrounding the West Memphis Three.
  • Season one of Ray Donovan (76%), starring Liev Schreiber as the titular Los Angeles “fixer” who helps his rich clients deal with unsavory problems.
  • Season one of Resurrection (52%), a supernatural mystery about a small town where dead residents return to their families.
  • FOX’s much talked about Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, with Neil deGrasse Tyson hosting a modern “reboot” of Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking science series.
  • And lastly, two choices from The Criterion Collection: Douglas Sirk’s 1955 romance All That Heaven Allows (92%), starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (88%), starring Alain Delon and Monica Vitti, both get new Blu-ray/DVD combo packs.

Without many notable new titles to choose from available to stream this week — with the exception of the latest Liam Neeson action thriller — the best choices are ones available through subscription services. Read on for details:


Non-Stop
62%

On a flight from New York to London, federal air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) receives a text informing him that a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited into a secure bank account.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


Gambit
18%

Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Cameron Diaz, and Stanley Tucci star in this crime caper about a thief who recruits a beautiful woman to help him steal a priceless statue.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


Star Trek Into Darkness
84%

This time out, it’s up to the crew of the Enterprise to hunt down a mysterious adversary who has perpetrated an act of intergalactic terrorism — and who has ambitions to destroy the Starfleet.

Available now on: Netflix


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
71%

After dealing with torrents of raining food in the first film, the residents of Swallow Falls now have a mess of leftovers to clean up. But Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), and the rest of the town have bigger concerns than spoilage when a veritable army of food/animal hybrids start wreaking havoc.

Available now on: Netflix


Dear Mr. Watterson
62%

This documentary focuses on Bill Watterson, the spotlight-shunning creator of Calvin & Hobbes.

Available now on: Netflix


Birth of the Living Dead
96%

This documentary takes a closer look at the creation and impact of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Available now on: Netflix


Little Fish
90%

Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill, and Hugo Weaving star in this indie drama about an ex-junkie trying to turn her life around.

Available now on: Amazon Prime



Liam Neeson conquered the North American box office with his latest action thriller Non-Stop which exceeded expectations debuting at number one with an estimated $30M. Universal’s third top spot debut of the year averaged a muscular $9,715 from 3,090 locations and reinforced the 61-year-old actor’s reputation as one of the most bankable and reliable box office draws around. Over the past five years, Neeson has had six action movies open at number one. That’s more than Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, and Will Smith – combined!

The Oscar-nominated actor’s newest film earned mixed reviews from critics, but moviegoers instead responded to starpower and an intriguing story. In Non-Stop, Neeson plays a U.S. air marshal on board a trans-Atlantic flight who must seek out and capture a mysterious criminal who will kill a passenger every 20 minutes if his demands are not met. Also helping were thrilling trailers and TV spots which effectively communicated the plot to audiences.

The stellar opening weekend came thanks to broad support across many demos. Studio research showed that cross-gender appeal was tremendous with 51% being female. Mature adult couples contributed significantly. Broad appeal across races also made a difference as 54% of the audience was non-white. The only group lacking were young people – which has become common these days – as 65% of the crowd was over 25. A good A- CinemaScore and older audience base suggests that the road ahead could be promising.

Fox’s Son of God debuted strong in second place with an estimated $26.5M from 3,260 locations for a solid $8,129 average. The PG-13 film was actually an edit that took material from the History Channel mini-series The Bible which was viewed by millions last spring. This version compiled footage mostly pertaining to Jesus Christ and turned them into a stand-alone feature film intended to be an event movie in theaters for audiences. The plan worked and a targeted push towards the faith-based audience succeeded. Despite the Oscar broadcast, Sunday is expected to generate strong sales from the post-church service crowd.

Paying moviegoers gave very positive feedback. The CinemaScore was an A- while the PostTrak survey showed that 91% of those polled called the film either excellent or very good. Older women made up the core audience with data showing that the crowd was 62% female and 82% over 25. 22% of the audience was Latino and a Spanish-language version of the film played in over 200 of the theaters. Reviews were mostly negative, but customers responded more to a big-screen version of an important story.

The LEGO Movie was knocked out of the top spot after a three-week reign, however it still held up well and even crossed the $200M barrier in the process. The animated action-comedy, which includes Liam Neeson in the voice cast as Good Cop and Bad Cop, declined by only 33% to an estimated $21M in its fourth round. LEGO is the first film since Gravity to gross over $20M in each of its first four weekends. Even megahits Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire did not accomplish that.

Warner Bros. has now collected a massive $209.3M for its animated sensation making it the studio’s biggest toon of all-time beating the $198M of 2006’s Happy Feet. LEGO may be able to reach the vicinity $260M from North America alone and will finally face some direct competition next weekend with the arrival of the animated comedy Mr. Peabody & Sherman from Fox followed two weeks later by Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted.

The rest of the top ten was filled with holdovers each collecting modest amounts. George Clooney’s The Monuments Men held up well again in its fourth weekend grossing an estimated $5M, off 37%, for a $65.7M cume for Sony. Relativity’s Kevin Costner action pic 3 Days to Kill got punched hard by Liam and tumbled 60% to an estimated $4.9M putting the ten-day total at $20.7M. A $30M final may result.

A pair of effects-heavy action films from Sony followed. The remake RoboCop fell 54% to an estimated $4.5M boosting the domestic tally to $51.2M. It opened to muscular numbers in China this weekend (helped by IMAX screens) with an estimated $20.5M which nearly matched its domestic debut. Worldwide tally sits at $187.2M with 73% of that coming from international markets. Pompeii dropped 58% to an estimated $4.3M for a weak $17.7M after ten days. Look for a lousy $25M final.

It was a landmark weekend for Disney’s animated sensation Frozen which shattered the one billion dollar mark at the global box office as it headed into Oscar night hoping for two wins. The snow toon dipped only 18% in its 14th weekend of domestic release to an estimated $3.6M raising the cume to $388.7M. Overseas, Frozen broke the $600M barrier and rose to a staggering $611.5M putting the worldwide gross a tad bit above $1B. How impressive is that for an original story? Frozen is now only the third film in history not based on a major brand to top the billion dollar mark after James Cameron’s Avatar and Titanic. With its final market of Japan still to come later this month, Frozen may just finish above the $1.1B mark.

Kevin Hart rounded out the top ten with his two recent hit films. The romantic comedy About Last Night grossed an estimated $3.4M while the cop pic Ride Along followed with an estimated $3.1M. The Sony film fell 55% and has banked $43.8M to date while the Universal smash dipped a smaller 33% putting its total at $127.2M. Ride Along has now grossed more than this winter’s star-driven sequel Anchorman 2 starring Will Ferrell.

As is often the case on Oscar weekend, audiences caught up on Best Picture contenders in the final days before the big ceremony. Most saw their weekend grosses increase from last week such as 12 Years a Slave (+72%), Dallas Buyers Club (+44%), Gravity (+3%), American Hustle (+11%), and Philomena (+2%). Paramount’s two horses in the race both dipped, The Wolf of Wall Street by 6% and Nebraska by 5%.

Foreign films enjoyed some activity at the domestic box office this weekend. Russia’s top-grossing blockbuster of all-time Stalingrad launched exclusively on IMAX 3D screens and opened to an estimated $500,000 from 308 locations for a weak $1,623 average. India’s The Lunchbox platformed in New York and Los Angeles to an estimated $51,325 from three sites for a $17,108 average ahead of an expansion into more major cities on Friday. And Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, Japan’s highest grossing film of 2013, expanded nationally to an estimated $1.6M from 496 theaters for a $3,234 average. Disney’s cume is $2M for the Oscar nominee for best animated feature.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $106.3M which was up 21% from last year when Jack the Giant Slayer opened at number one with $27.2M; but down 27% from 2012 when The Lorax took the top spot with $70.2M.

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In Theaters This Week:



Non-Stop

62%

Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.

The latest Liam Neeson action extravaganza, which we’ve come to expect every February or so, takes place almost entirely on a middle-of-the-night, trans-Atlantic flight from New York to London. Neeson plays a troubled air marshal who receives a cryptic, mid-air text message: Deposit $150 million into an account or a passenger will die every 20 minutes. This means some people actually will have to die to show Neeson’s character that the terrorist means business. Non-Stop features plenty of brawling, punching, shooting and stabbing — all with very little blood — as well as a fight to the death inside the cramped quarters of an airplane bathroom. There’s also a briefcase full of cocaine and an amorous couple who join the Mile High Club underneath a blanket. OK for tweens.

New On DVD:



Gravity

96%

Rating: PG-13, for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

Director Alfonso Cuaron’s minor masterpiece — which is sure to win several Academy Awards in a couple of days — is harrowing and intense for a tight 90 minutes. A veteran astronaut (George Clooney) and a medical engineer on her first mission (Sandra Bullock) find themselves lost in space: tumbling, hurtling, clinging to each other for survival. It’s an incredibly beautiful and frightening film — technically flawless and emotionally resonant. There is some language — which is understandable, given that these people are floating around in the vast blackness, cut off from Earth — and some violent images as one terrifying thing after another occurs. I’ve had friends with kids who are around 10 years old report that their children found the whole ordeal just unbearably sad. But older kids — especially ones curious about space exploration – should find themselves thoroughly engaged.



Thor: The Dark World

66%

Rating: Rating: PG-13, for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content.

The sequel to 2011’s Thor is super-duper violent, but in a glossy, computer-generated way. The result is a repetitive and numbing barrage of noisy sameness. The battles are so big, messy and full of over-the-top creatures, the Marvel comic-inspired mayhem barely registers as anything recognizable. Hunky, hammer-wielding Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must fight to restore peace and balance to the cosmos when an ancient, evil force threatens to take over during a rare harmonic convergence. Or something. Thor’s evil brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is more disturbing than any of the on-screen fights with just a well-chosen, sinister facial expression. Also: Large sections of London end up flattened by spaceships — but again, the violence is too cartoonish to be truly frightening. Fine for older kids, maybe 9 and up.



Muscle Shoals

97%

Rating: PG, for thematic elements, language, smoking and brief partial nudity.

An immensely enjoyable, well-researched documentary about the tiny Alabama town where a ton of classic tunes from the 1960s and ’70s were recorded. From Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett to the Rolling Stones and Traffic to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Seger, a wide range of acts discovered and honed their sounds at a couple of modest studios that would end up becoming legendary. Because these are rock stars we’re talking about here, captured both through archival photos and new interviews, there’s some drinking and smoking but nothing shocking. There’s also a smidgen of nudity, thanks to those longhaired hippie rockers the Allman Brothers. This is a great choice for older kids and tweens, especially those who are musically inclined.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a turbulent flight (Non-Stop, starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore) and the greatest story ever told (Son of God, starring Diogo Morgado and Greg Hicks). What do the critics have to say?



Non-Stop

62%

Having proven his tough-guy bona fides on the streets of Paris (Taken), in the desert (The A-Team), across the wolf-infested tundra (The Grey), and on the sea (Battleship), Liam Neeson brings his unflappable demeanor (and his unforgiving fists) to the skies in Non-Stop. Critics say the result is reasonably entertaining but utterly preposterous, with a few good fight scenes and a couple groan-worthy plot twists. On a flight from New York to London, federal air marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) receives a text informing him that a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited into a secure bank account. The pundits say Non-Stop benefits immeasurably from Neeson’s hard-bitten presence, but its implausible plot proves distracting over the long haul. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Neeson’s best-reviewed films.)



Son Of God

21%

The life of Jesus has inspired filmmakers since the dawn of cinema, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t new ways of telling even the most familiar of stories. Unfortunately, critics say Son of God is well-meaning but dramatically inert, a film that recounts the major events of the Gospels without delving more deeply into Jesus’ message. Son of God is an abridged version of the History Channel’s 10-hour miniseries The Bible starring Diogo Morgado as the King of Kings; you probably know the broad outlines of the story by now. The pundits say Son of God‘s greatest hits approach fails to generate much heat or passion.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • The Oscar-nominated animated feature Ernest & Célestine, about the friendship between a mouse and a bear, is at 100 percent.
  • The Lunchbox, starring Irfan Khan in a romantic dramedy about an unwitting penpal relationship between a neglected housewife and a lonely widower, is at 96 percent.
  • Two Lives, starring Liv Ullmann in a drama about a woman whose past comes to light with the fall of the Berlin Wall, is at 86 percent.
  • Fatal Assistance, a documentary about the troubled relief effort in the wake of the 2009 Haiti earthquake, is at 71 percent.
  • Stalingrad, an IMAX 3D epic about the brutal World War II battle, is at 48 percent.
  • Almost Human, a sci-fi horror flick about a man who returns to earth after being abducted by aliens, is at 42 percent.
  • Odd Thomas, starring Anton Yelchin and Willem Dafoe in a supernatural thriller about a small town resident with the ability to see ghosts, is at 29 percent.
  • HairBrained, starring Brendan Fraser and Parker Posey in a comedy about the friendship between a precocious teen and a fortysomething slacker at a small liberal arts college, is at 22 percent.
  • The Bag Man, starring John Cusack and Robert De Niro in a thriller about a crook hired to make a delivery to a powerful crime lord, is at 9 percent.
  • Chlorine, starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Kyra Sedgwick in a dramedy about a banker who scams a tennis pro in an upscale suburb, is at zero percent.

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