This week on home video, we’ve got a surprisingly solid list of new films to check out, including no less than five Certified Fresh movies. Considering the glut of bad movies plaguing most cineplexes these days, the offerings below make a strong case for staying in. Read on for details:



Nightcrawler

95%

Jake Gyllenhaal’s really been on a tear in recent years. Beginning with 2011’s Source Code, he’s starred in five straight Certified Fresh films, and his most recent effort even drew some awards attention. Nightcrawler stars Gyllenhaal as a petty thief who spies a future in amateur video journalism and, after selling some footage to a news director (Rene Russo), begins a dark downward spiral into his most sociopathic impulses. The feature directing debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler earned high marks from critics who cited Gyllenhaal’s creepy performance as a highlight and made comparisons to Taxi Driver. Certified Fresh at 95 percent, this is a dark thriller that operates equally well as a thought-provoking satire of sensationalist news media.



Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

61%

Live action family films — decent ones, anyway — seem to be rarer in supply these days, so it’s always a nice surprise when one comes along that’s pleasant and suitably entertaining. Based on the popular 1972 children’s book of the same name, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is about exactly what its title indicates: on the day before his 12th birthday, a young boy named Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) stumbles through an extremely unfortunate series of events. Spoiler alert: everything turns out okay. Most critics found Alexander a perfectly fine diversion for parents to share with their kids, even if the film fails to make a strong, lasting impression, and awarded it a respectable 62 percent on the Tomatometer. It’s not the best kids’ movie around, but it’s pretty harmless and good-natured.



Rosewater

76%

During the Summer of 2013, Jon Stewart took a short break from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show to focus on his feature directorial debut, a drama based on a true story that, at least peripherally, involved him. Rosewater depicts the plight of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal), who was detained by Iran in 2009 after he sent video footage of post-election riots to the BBC. Held in prison for almost four months, Bahari was tortured and interrogated about, among other things, his appearance on Stewart’s satirical show, before finally being released. Based on the best-selling memoir that Bahari wrote about the experience, Rosewater earned mostly strong reviews from critics, who rewarded the film with a Certified Fresh 74 percent for its timely subject matter, Bernal’s performance, and Stewart’s prowess in his first stint behind the camera.



Predestination

84%

It’s unusual for a genre flick released during the first half of January to earn high marks from critics, especially one that, save for the involvement of star Ethan Hawke, reads more like something you might find in the direct-to-dvd listings, but Predestination managed to beat the odds. In it, Hawke plays an unnamed “Temporal Agent,” tasked with time-traveling to the past to stop crime. Given one last job before retirement, the Agent travels to the 1970s to meet with a man whose unusual life story leads to a twisty, decade-hopping pursuit of the truth. Certified Fresh at 81 percent, Predestination impressed critics with its surprisingly smart storytelling — as well as a remarkable performance from costar Sarah Snook — and helped offer a mindbending alternative to the usual January dreck.

Also available this week:

  • The Cannes Festival-winning Force Majeure (93 percent), a Swedish drama about a small family vacationing in the alps whose bonds are tested when its patriarch leaves them in the lurch during an avalanche scare.
  • Taiwanese import Stray Dogs (88 percent), a drama about a destitute man living on the streets and his two children, who encounter a mysterious woman that may change their lives.
  • Kill the Messenger (77 percent), a Certified Fresh thriller starring Jeremy Renner as Gary Webb, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who publicized his findings on the birth of the crack epidemic and the shady dealings of the CIA.
  • Felony (74 percent), starring Joel Edgerton and Tom Wilkinson in a crime thriller about three detectives at odds with each other after an accident that nearly kills a child.
  • Lynn Shelton’s Laggies (69 percent), starring Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz in a dramedy about a 28-year-old slacker who befriends a teen and falls for her father.
  • Addicted (8 percent), a drama about a married woman who embarks down a dark road of temptation.
  • HBO’s miniseries Olive Kitteridge (95 percent), starring Frances McDormand and Bill Murray in a four-part adaptation of the Elizabeth Strout novel of the same name.
  • Season six of Showtime’s dark dramedy Nurse Jackie (67 percent), starring Edie Falco as a drug-addicted nurse.
  • And finally, two choices from the Criterion Collection: Nicolas Roeg’s classic thriller Don’t Look Now (96 percent), starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, and Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country (100 percent), a shorter feature about a family’s idyllic vacation in the French countryside.
This week at the movies, we’ve got family pratfalls (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, starring Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner); a tense trial (The Judge, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall); a legendary vampire (Dracula Untold, starring Luke Evans and Sarah Gadon); a failure to communicate (Men, Women & Children, starring Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt); and a torrid affair (Addicted, starring Sharon Leal and Boris Kodjoe). What do the critics have to say?



Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

61%

<pTerrible, horrible, no good, and very bad? Or terrific, honest, noteworthy, and very good? Critics say Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day falls directly in the middle — it’s pleasant, charming, inoffensive, and a little tepid. Based upon Judith Viorst’s beloved children’s book, the movie stars Ed Oxenbould, who has a lousy day at school and subsequently wishes that his other family members are also stricken with bad luck as well. Hilarity and, ultimately, family bonding ensue. The pundits say Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is perfectly passable family entertainment — it’s well-meaning and reasonably funny, but nothing earth-shaking. (Watch our video interviews with stars Jennifer Garner, Steve Carrell, Ed Oxenbould, and more.)



The Judge

49%

It’s been a while since we’ve been treated to a weighty courtroom drama at the multiplex, so it’s not unreasonable to have high expectations for The Judge — especially since it stars Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. Unfortunately, critics say that despite its fine performances, the film is overlong and far too predictable. Hank Palmer (Downey) is a big-city attorney who returns to his hometown in Indiana for his mother’s funeral. His estranged father Joseph (Duvall), the town judge, is accused of murder, so Hank ends up defending him, while trying to make peace with the past. The pundits say The Judge is impeccably crafted, and the stars play off each other quite well, but it’s got too much melodrama and not enough suspense. (Check out our video interviews with Downey, Duvall, and more.)



Dracula Untold

25%

You can drive a stake through his heart, expose him to sunlight, and come at him with a convent’s-worth of crucifixes, and still, Dracula will rise again — since the silent era, we’ve been treated to hundreds of cinematic depictions of Transylvania’s favorite son. That said, critics say Dracula Untold is visually striking but narratively shaky, borrowing heavily from a wide range of fantasy/adventure movies. In 15th Century Romania, Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) makes a deal with an old vampire in order to protect his kingdom from an invading army. He’s granted a variety of supernatural powers, but at the cost of developing a taste for blood. The pundits say Dracula Untold offers some fun battle scenes, but it’s a bit unclear on the rules of being a vampire. (See interviews with Evans, Sarah Gadon, and more.)



Men, Women & Children

33%

In Up in the Air and Young Adult, director Jason Reitman crafted witty, portraits of lonely people trying to connect with others. Unfortunately, critics say his latest, Men, Women & Children, jettisons the wit in favor of a more hectoring tone that’s only partially redeemed by the strong cast. It’s a multi-stranded ensemble piece set in a small town in Texas, in which adults and their teenage children are immersed in their phones and computers, but have difficulty communicating offline. The pundits say Men, Women & Children is ambitious and well-acted, but its message ultimately overrides its storytelling.



Addicted

7%

We’d love to tell you what the critics thought of Addicted, but it wasn’t screened prior to its release. It’s the tale of a successful businesswoman who gets in over her head when she cheats on her husband with an artist. Guess the Tomatometer!

Certified Fresh on TV this week:


We’ve seen plenty of heavy, gritty superhero stories lately. What critics say makes The Flash (Certified Fresh at 96 percent) stand out is it light, likeable tone — it’s energetic, buoyant, and likely to have appeal beyond the comics crowd.

The fourth iteration of Ryan Murphy’s creep fest, American Horror Story: Freak Show (Certified Fresh at 79 percent) proves there are plenty more dark corners for the series to explore; Critics say it’s stylishly presented and well-acted by returning players Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Whiplash, starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in a drama about an ambitious jazz drummer and his punishingly strict teacher, is Certified Fresh at 97 percent.
  • The Overnighters, a documentary about the influx of people looking for stable jobs amidst North Dakota’s energy boom, is at 94 percent.
  • Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, the second installment of the horror/comedy franchise about Nazi zombies, is at 87 percent.
  • Kill the Messenger, starring Jeremy Renner in a drama about investigative journalist Gary Webb’s discovery of CIA ties to a drug trafficking conspiracy, is at 71 percent (check out Renner’s Five Favorite Films here).
  • The Canal, a horror film about a man who is haunted by a grisly murder that took place in his home, is at 71 percent.
  • St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy in a comedy about a hard-living curmudgeon who bonds with his neighbor’s 12-year-old son, is at 63 percent.
  • One Chance, a drama based on the true story of the amateur opera singer who became an overnight sensation on Britain’s Got Talent, is at 61 percent.
  • I Am Ali, featuring audio recordings of the boxing legend, is at 42 percent.
  • You’re Not You, starring Hilary Swank and Emmy Rossum in a drama about a woman suffering from ALS and the college student who cares for her, is at 22 percent.
  • Autómata, starring Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith in a sci-fi drama about an insurance agent who investigates a self-improving robot, is at 21 percent.
  • The Pact II, a horror film about a woman who’s bedeviled by a serial killer, is at zero percent.
  • Kite, starring Samuel L. Jackson and India Eisley in a thriller about an orphan who attempts to break free from the detective who trained her to be a killer, is at zero percent.
  • Catch Hell, starring Ryan Phillippe as a has-been actor who’s kidnapped and blackmailed while shooting an indie film, is at zero percent.

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