Hart and Johnson: The world’s two unlikeliest megastars join forces this week for Central Intelligence, playing former high school classmates who reunite and get embroiled in international action courtesy of the CIA. Since its inception in 1947, Hollywood has committed plenty of celluloid around the agency’s foundation of espionage and top-secret missions, inspiring this week’s gallery: the best and worst CIA agents in movie history.

Newly available to stream this week are a couple of recent releases, one of which starred Scarlett Johansson as a superpowered femme fatale, while the other starred Chloe Grace Moretz and Keira Knightley in a dramedy about arrested development and female bonding. Then we’ve got a number of notable new choices on Netflix, including a couple of classic films, a few comedy favorites, and more. Read on for the full list:


Lucy
67%

Scarlett Johansson stars as a student who’s kidnapped and forced to act as a drug mule. When she unintentionally consumes the drug, she quickly morphs into a hyper intelligent, telekinetic killing machine.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play


Laggies
65%

Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz in this drama about an aimless woman in her late 20s who befriends a teenager as an escape from adult responsibility.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play


The French Connection
96%

Gene Hackman stars in William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning crime thriller, which centers on a pair of NYC detectives out to thwart a heroin smuggling ring.

Available now on: Netflix


To Be Takei
90%

This documentary tells the remarkable life story of the Star Trek star, and features interviews with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, Howard Stern, and many more.

Available now on: Netflix


The Quiet Man
91%

In one of their classic collaborations, John Wayne stars in John Ford’s Oscar-winning romance, in which an Irish-American boxer returns to his homeland and falls in love with the daughter of the man who covets his family property.

Available now on: Netflix


The War of the Worlds
88%

Byron Haskin’s 1953 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic is the one that critics feel most closely captured the spirit of the book, and in spite of its technical limitations, it made full use of Wells’ timeless themes while incorporating Cold War commentary.

Available now on: Netflix


Mean Girls
84%

With breakout performances from Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and Lizzy Caplan, and a sharp script from Tina Fey, Mean Girls remains one of the definitive comedies of the 2000s.

Available now on: Netflix


Wayne’s World
79%

Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers)is visited by the ghost of Jim Morrison, who tells him to mount a massive rock festival, so he and his buddy Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) work together to do just that.

Available now on: Netflix


Bruce Almighty
48%

Jim Carrey stars in this comedy as a struggling newscaster who accepts a challenge from God himself (Morgan Freeman) to rule the world for a week and see if he can do a better job.

Available now on: Netflix


Batman & Robin
12%

Joel Schumacher’s entry in the Batman canon, which starred George Clooney as the Caped Crusader and Chris O’Donnell as his sidekick Robin, famously “killed” the late 1980s-to-mid-1990s iteration of the franchise in a flurry of batsuit nipples and bad Mr. Freeze puns. Still, it’s got some kitsch value and remains, for some, bizarrely watchable.

Available now on: Netflix


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
54%

Inspired to serve his country after 9/11, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) joins the Marines. After being injured in Afghanistan, Ryan is recruited in the CIA, and soon he’s on the trail of a Russian terrorist plot.

Available now on: Netflix

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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.

Lots of good choices on streaming video this week for action fans, including a remake of a beloved 1980s classic, a based-on-true-events story starring Mark Wahlberg, and the latest thriller featuring Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Then, we’ve also got the biggest animated movie of the year so far, another ’80s remake (this time a romantic comedy), a thriller with a creative premise, and an animated feature starring the Justice League. To cap things off, we’ve got a few new noteworthy films on Netflix, and Amazon Prime begins offering some of HBO’s most popular and acclaimed television series. Read on for details:


HBO Collection

All the great HBO shows that everybody’s always talking about will be available for free to all Amazon Prime subscribers starting May 21, including The Wire, Rome, True Blood, Six Feet Under, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Sopranos, and TV movies like Game Change and Grey Gardens. Don’t plan on leaving your house for a few weeks.

Available on May 21 on: Amazon Prime


The LEGO Movie
96%

Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and an impressive supporting cast lend their voices to this charming, surprisingly thoughtful animated film based on the popular building blocks.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


Lone Survivor
75%

Mark Wahlberg stars in the story of an ill-fated mission by a group of Navy SEALs to track down a high-value Taliban target through a mountainous region in Afghanistan — a mission that turns deadly after the soldiers decide against firing on a group of civilians.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


RoboCop
48%

When Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is badly injured on the job, a military contractor fits him with a robot exoskeleton in an attempt to create the ultimate crime fighter.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
54%

Inspired to serve his country after 9/11, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) joins the Marines. After being injured in Afghanistan, Ryan is recruited in the CIA, and soon he’s on the trail of a Russian terrorist plot.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


Grand Piano
79%

Elijah Wood and John Cusack in this Certified Fresh thriller about a concert pianist who must deliver a flawless performance to stave off a sniper.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


About Last Night
69%

This romantic comedy follows Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) from their first meeting to an eventual break up; meanwhile, their friends Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall) share a combustible bond of their own.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu


JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time

Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman must foil Lex Luthor’s fiendish plan to travel into the past and terminate Supes in this animated feature.

Available now on: iTunes


Stranger by the Lake
94%

Alain Guiraudie’s sexy, Certified Fresh thriller tells the tale of a man who falls for a mysterious stranger who may be involved in a murder.

Available now on: Netflix


Much Ado About Nothing
86%

Joss Whedon’s micro-budgeted modern-day reworking of Shakespeare’s comedy features a plethora of Whedon regulars, including Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, and Nathan Fillion.

Available now on: Netflix


Pain & Gain
50%

Based on a bizarre true story, Pain & Gain stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the tale of three bodybuilders who concoct a scheme to kidnap a wealthy businessman and wrest control of his riches. However, the plan quickly goes awry, with violent repercussions.

Available now on: Netflix


Free Birds
20%

In this animated action comedy about time-traveling turkeys, pampered Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) and activist Jake (Woody Harrelson) team up to travel back to the first Thanksgiving in order to kill the annual tradition of eating turkeys before it starts.

Available now on: Netflix

In Theaters This Week:



Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

54%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.

This prequel/reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise, based on the best-selling Tom Clancy novels, is for tweens and up only. Chris Pine stars as the title character, whom Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck played previously. Here, Ryan is just beginning his career as a CIA operative. It’s post-9/11, and he must travel to Moscow undercover as a financial analyst to find the purpose of some secret accounts a major firm is holding. (Director Kenneth Branagh plays the company’s president, who has some nefarious plans for that money.) Things get violent in a hurry once Ryan arrives – including killing a man who comes after him in his hotel room. Gunfire, car chases, explosions and a deadly shooting follow.



The Nut Job

12%

Rating: PG, for mild action and rude humor.

This thoroughly unfunny animated comedy is full of unlikable characters and shrill antics. Will Arnett lends his voice as Surly, a squirrel who’s only out for himself when he goes hunting for nuts. When it’s clear that the rest of the furry woodland creatures who inhabit the neighborhood park won’t have enough food for the winter, Surly must decide whether to be a team player and help them. There’s a plethora of fart jokes, many of which take place underground to amplify their gross-out factor. Some of the rodents also find themselves in peril on a raging river. Surly and his pals run into some gangster types, but they’re too cartoonish (literally and figuratively) to be threatening. And a raccoon voiced by Liam Neeson turns out to be – spoiler! – perhaps more devious than he initially seems. The film is pretty harmless for the most part from a parental-guidance perspective. But it’s also terrible.



Ride Along

18%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language.

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart co-star as mismatched buddy cops, sort of, in this clichéd comedy that strains for laughs. Hart plays a hyperactive security guard who dreams of being a police officer. He also dreams of marrying his longtime girlfriend (Tika Sumpter), whose brother is the toughest detective in all of Atlanta. Hart goes for – you guessed it – a ride along with Cube to prove his worth. Shootings, showdowns with various generic Serbian bad guys and explosions ensue. There’s also plenty of language and suggestive sexual bits involving the various positions and moves Hart likes to employ in the bedroom. (By the way, his nickname is Black Hammer, supposedly a reference to his manhood.) While it’s fine for the oldest of kids, it’s funny for no one.

New On DVD:



Lee Daniels’ The Butler

72%

Rating: Rating PG-13, for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking.

Director Lee Daniels’ sprawling historical epic follows the past several decades through the eyes of a fictionalized version of the White House butler (Forest Whitaker) who served every United States president from Eisenhower to Reagan. Much of the film focuses on the butler’s son (David Oyelowo) as he takes part in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. There’s a quite a bit of racial violence and slurs that are uncomfortable to see and hear, but maybe they can provide a teaching opportunity. We don’t see the Kennedy assassination but we witness bits of its aftermath, including the sight of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wearing that famously blood-splattered pink suit. Suitable for older kids, especially those with an interest in history.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit places stars Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, and director Kenneth Branagh in the middle of explosions, terrorist plots, and a really nice hotel room. Grae Drake gets to the bottom of how involved the real CIA was on set.

 

Click here to watch more video interviews

This week at the movies, we’ve got a super spy (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, starring Chris Pine and Keira Knightley), some burglarizing rodents (The Nut Job, with voice performances by Will Arnett and Katherine Heigl), mismatched cops (Ride Along, starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart), and a demonic baby (Devil’s Due, starring Allison Miller and Zach Gilford). What do the critics have to say?



Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

54%

Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck have all taken their best shot; now it’s Chris Pine’s turn to play Jack Ryan, the talented CIA agent from Tom Clancy’s bestselling novels. And critics say he’s off to a good start, as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, while hardly the most original thriller on the market, is slick, exciting, and well-acted. Inspired to serve his country after 9/11, Jack Ryan joins the Marines. After being injured in Afghanistan, Ryan is recruited in the CIA, and soon he’s on the trail of a Russian terrorist plot. The pundits say Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, is a solid meat-and-potatoes thriller, one that’s skillfully crafted and pleasantly suspenseful. (Check out this week’s total recall, in which we count down director Kenneth Branagh’s best-reviewed films.)



The Nut Job

12%

From Steamboat Willie to Ratatouille, there have been plenty of iconic animated rodents. Unfortunately, Surly the squirrel is unlikely to join that illustrious pantheon; critics say The Nut Job has some nice backgrounds but its plot is threadbare and its star is less than charming. Surly (voiced by Will Arnett) has devised a plan to rob a nut store and make off with enough food to last through the winter. Can Surly learn a valuable lesson about greed — and become a hero in the process? The pundits say The Nut Job is overly reliant on physical humor, and its characters are surprisingly sour, though there are some moments of visual invention.



Ride Along

18%

At first glance, scowling, no-nonsense Ice Cube and hustling, motormouthed Kevin Hart would seem to be an ideal comedic pairing. Unfortunately, critics say they’re underutilized in Ride Along, a thinly plotted, utterly generic cop-buddy action comedy. Hard-nosed detective James (Ice Cube) is less than pleased that his sister is dating a slacker like Ben (Hart). When Ben is accepted to the police force, he hopes to win James’ respect by joining him on the beat. The pundits say Ride Along offers up a few laughs, but mostly it coasts along on cop movie cliches. Click through this week’s 24 Frames for a gallery of movie cops.)



Devil’s Due

18%

Sooner or later, the found-footage horror subgenre was bound to get its own Rosemary’s Baby. But while critics say Devil’s Due is moderately well crafted, they also note that it’s more dependent on jump-scares than on more imaginative chills. Samantha (Allison Miller) and Zach (Zach Gilford) are preparing to welcome their first child together when Samantha’s behavior begins to take on a sinister tone; could it be that she’s been impregnated by a malevolent spirit? The pundits say Devil’s Due features decent performances, but its plot becomes increasingly absurd as it goes along.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Big Bad Wolves, a revenge thriller about a cop who tries to extract a confession from the man he believes to be the killer of a young girl, is at 79 percent.
  • Hirokazu Koreeda‘s Like Father, Like Son, a drama about two families dealing with the discovery that their six-year-old sons were switched at birth, is at 79 percent.
  • Maidentrip, a documentary about a 14-year-old’s attempt to be the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe, is at 78 percent.
  • G.B.F., a comedy about a guy who’s got a group of popular girls battling for the right to call him their gay best friend, is at 77 percent.
  • Generation War, a drama about five German friends dealing with the moral complications of life during the Third Reich, is at 45 percent.
  • Summer in February, starring Dominic Cooper and Dan Stevens in a period drama about two close friends in love with the same woman, is at 41 percent.
  • Jamesy Boy, starring Ving Rhames and Mary-Louise Parker in a drama about a young convict who attempts to turn his life around, is at 13 percent.

Finally, props to Garner Montgomery for coming the closest to guessing The Legend of Hercules‘ five percent Tomatometer. That’s two in a row for Mr. Montgomery.

Kenneth Branagh

Long before Joss Whedon balanced big-budget Marvel epics with arthouse Shakespearean adaptations, Kenneth Branagh got there first — and this weekend, he serves up another popcorn action thriller with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which reboots the Jack Ryan franchise with Chris Pine in the lead (and Branagh co-starring in a pivotal role). In honor of Mr. Branagh’s latest directorial effort, we decided to dedicate this week’s list to a fond look back at some of his more successful features. Yes, there’s plenty of Shakespeare here, but you may not remember just how diverse he’s been — and that’s a big part of why we’re here. It’s time for Total Recall!


38%

10. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

After Henry V, Dead Again, Peter’s Friends, and Much Ado About Nothing, Branagh was on a pretty good roll as a director; on paper, turning him loose on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein seemed like a can’t-miss proposition, especially with none other than Robert De Niro on board to play the monster. But while Branagh’s passionately faithful take on the oft-adapted tale eventually recouped its $45 million budget, it was still regarded as a perplexing misfire in an exciting young career. “Mr. Branagh is in over his head,” wrote a disappointed Janet Maslin for the New York Times. “He displays neither the technical finesse to handle a big, visually ambitious film nor the insight to develop a stirring new version of this story.”


49%

9. Love’s Labour’s Lost

There’s an element of confident playfulness in all of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations, but with 2000’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, he really got wacky, recasting the classic play as a song-and-dance number featuring American Songbook standards like “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and “The Way You Look Tonight.” It wasn’t exactly the most natural-seeming blend, particularly with a cast that included Alicia Silverstone and Matthew Lillard, and a number of critics responded with pained bewilderment. For others, however, it offered further proof of Branagh’s way with Shakespeare. “The Bard of Stratford’s saga of the four students who swear off women only to have a ton of trouble keeping their promise is dense with dialogue,” wrote Boxoffice’s Mike Kerrigan. “But Branagh axes about two thirds of that — and replaces it with songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins and Jerome Kern. And it’s wonderfully, wildly, winningly entertaining.”


70%

8. The Magic Flute

Many of Kenneth Branagh’s greatest career achievements have come from embracing the unlikely or unexpected, and 2006’s The Magic Flute is a case in point. How many filmmakers would think to take a Mozart opera and move its setting to the trenches of World War I — and produce a sweet G-rated romance in the bargain? And while its antiquated source material and protracted running time conspired to keep The Magic Flute away from the top of the box office charts, Branagh’s production — timed to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth — managed to blend its disparate elements just often enough to win over a majority of critics. As Stephanie Zacharek put it for Salon, “Even though there were moments in The Magic Flute when I wondered if Branagh hadn’t truly gone off his rocker, I found its audacity exhilarating.”


68%

7. Peter’s Friends

Basically a British spin on The Big Chill, only with 1980s nostalgia swapped in for that film’s bittersweet look back at the 1960s, Peter’s Friends found Branagh putting a contemporary slant on the type of ensemble dramedy he’d already proven he could do well with his Shakespeare adaptations. Once again, he reined in a talented and interestingly varied cast, including Stephen Fry, Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, and Hugh Laurie, and their almost uniformly sharp grasp of the screenplay’s timelessly resonant themes helped add heft to what might have been an unremarkably derivative film in less accomplished hands. “If the dialogue is witty, if the characters are convincingly funny or sad, if there is the right bittersweet nostalgia and the sense that someone is likely to burst into ‘Those Were the Days,’ then it doesn’t matter that we’ve seen the formula before,” argued Roger Ebert. “This is a new weekend with new friends.”


77%

6. Thor

If you’re going to try making a movie about a superhero who often speaks as though he’s a character in a Shakespeare play, you want a director who knows the territory. Of course, Kenneth Branagh had a lot more going for him as the director of Thor than simply a familiarity with iambic pentameter; although he might have seemed a somewhat curious choice for the gig, as the end result demonstrated, his gift for light comedy and sweeping romance helped lend some sweet overtones to what might otherwise have been just another costumed action thriller. As Lisa Kennedy put it for the Denver Post, “[Branagh’s] Shakespearean chops add texture in scenes that require the care and feeding of literature’s grander themes: pride, paternity and honor.”

81%

5. In the Bleak Midwinter (A Midwinter’s Tale)

After adapting Shakespeare for 1989’s Henry V and 1993’s Much Ado About Nothing, Branagh mixed things up a bit: instead of simply bringing Shakespeare to the screen, 1995’s In the Bleak Midwinter (A Midwinter’s Tale) was about an actor (played by Michael Maloney, serving as a Woody Allen-style Branagh proxy) haplessly trying to mount a production of Hamlet. A meta-laced warmup of sorts for Branagh’s own Hamlet, which would see release the following year, Midwinter offered film fans a funny (albeit admittedly uneven) appetizer that combined old-fashioned comedy and classic prose with a charmingly low-budget visual aesthetic. “There are so many laughs here, so much theatrical temperament on display, that you can’t help but embrace the picture, even with its obvious flaws,” argued Hal Hinson for the Washington Post.


83%

4. Dead Again

An ambitious blend of romantic melodrama and neo-noir with supernatural overtones, Dead Again asked a lot of Branagh — he and co-star Emma Thompson played dual roles, while Branagh the director had to make sure he gave the audience enough visual cues to untangle the fairly complex story of a detective who stumbles across a mute amnesia victim who may or may not have been his wife in a past life. The end result could easily have spiraled into soggy schmaltz or mystical mumbo-jumbo, but Dead Again ultimately kept enough of its plates spinning to draw impressive praise from the majority of critics — including Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader, who wrote, “As the twists come thick and fast and the plot gets progressively more and more baroque, Branagh shows himself to be at least as intelligent as Brian De Palma in delivering over-the-top stylistic filigree.”


90%

3. Much Ado About Nothing

Four years after making his directorial debut with Henry V, Branagh returned to the director’s chair for another Shakespeare adaptation: Much Ado About Nothing, an infectiously fleet-footed comedy about star-crossed lovers and royal deceit that, as tends to be his wont, Branagh stuffed with an impressively eclectic roster of stars. On paper, it might have seemed borderline goofy to put Keanu Reeves, Michael Keaton, and Denzel Washington together in a film adaptation of a Shakespeare play, but with Much Ado, Branagh made it work. And while the marquee-friendly cast might have made Shakespeare seem a little sexier to younger filmgoers, Branagh backed up all that glitz with a smart, finely crafted take on the play; as Owen Gleiberman wrote for Entertainment Weekly, the director’s “true achievement” with the movie was that he “found his way to the play’s profound yet populist heart, rediscovering Shakespeare’s vision of romantic fulfillment – celebration with an underlying tug of sadness – for an era that believes itself all too wise to the ways of love.”


95%

2. Hamlet

Try adapting Hamlet for the screen after all these years, and you’d better bring something special to the table — and to his credit, that’s exactly what writer/director/star Kenneth Branagh did with his 1996 take on the classic Shakespeare play, leaving no dramatic stone unturned in a sprawling four-hour epic boasting the acting talents of an equally hefty ensemble cast that included Kate Winslet, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, Charlton Heston…you get the idea. Although they’d seen it adapted countless times before, critics couldn’t help but be impressed by Branagh’s Hamlet; as James Berardinelli wrote for ReelViews, “I have seen dozens of versions of this play (either on screen or on stage), and none has ever held me in such a grip of awe.”


100%

1. Henry V

Want to star in a production of Shakespeare’s Henry V? You can always take a page from Kenneth Branagh’s book and take the director’s gig, then cast yourself in the title role. Thankfully, there’s a lot more than ego at play in Branagh’s Henry V, which found him making his directorial debut while surrounding himself with an impeccable cast that included Emma Thompson, Judi Dench, Ian Holm, and Robbie Coltrane. In fact, while a decently mounted Shakespeare adaptation is always a pretty safe ticket to the Fresh side of the Tomatometer, critics were unanimous in their praise for Branagh’s Bard; as Hal Hinson breathlessly enthused for the Washington Post, “Everything about this remarkable production is exhilaratingly unexpected.”


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

1. Henry V — 90%
2. Hamlet — 90%
3. In the Bleak Midwinter (A Midwinter’s Tale) — 89%
4. Much Ado About Nothing — 87%
5. Dead Again — 78%
6. Peter’s Friends — 78%
7. Thor — 76%
8. The Magic Flute — 66%
9. Sleuth — 52%
10. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — 50%


Take a look through Branagh’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Finally, here’s the trailer for Branagh’s BBC detective series series Wallander:

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