This week on streaming services, we’ve got an animated hit, an Oscar-nominated sports drama, well-received films from Spike Lee and the Coen brothers, a few underseen indies, and some worthy TV. Read on for the full list.
Ben Whishaw voices the titular talking bear, who arrives in London after stowing away on a boat and is taken in by the Brown family. Unfortunately, he also draws the attention of a devious taxidermist.
Denzel Washington and Ray Allen star in Spike Lee’s drama about a prison inmate who attempts to convince his talented son to play basketball for the governor of New York’s alma mater in exchange for an early release.
George Clooney and Frances McDormand lead an all-star cast in the Coen brothers’ crime comedy about a pair of fitness center employees who attempt to extort money from a CIA analyst on the outs when they discover his unpublished memoirs.
Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart lead an ensemble voice cast in this animated tale about a jealous Jack Russell terrier who must befriend his owner’s new dog when the two of them find themselves stuck in the streets.
Alice Through The Looking Glass may not be getting critics supremely high off caterpillar smoke (neither did the Tim Burton-directed original), but don’t let that stop you from having a lauded fantasy movie weekend with your family: simply check out this gallery list of 24 Certified Fresh PG and below fantasy classics and modern hits!
Though we predict with bottled anticipation that Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip‘s next two-hundred reviews will be positives, for now there exists 144 Certified Fresh movies from this year (compared to 133 in 2014, and 114 in 2013). How many have you seen?
From December through February, the best movies of 2015 are getting honored by critics, press, fans, and members of the film industry from all over. To help you keep track os the results, and who is getting what, we put together a ranking of movies by number of awards won and respective categories. Read on to find out where your favorite movies stand in the leaderboard, and who is leading the pack.
Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.
Summer is officially here. The sequel to the 2012 megahit The Avengers features mass destruction, mayhem and myriad bad guys — most of whom are made of metal. This time, our Marvel superheroes — Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — must battle a formidable form of artificial intelligence named Ultron (James Spader). Basically, he wants to assemble a robot army to end humanity — especially the Avengers. Besides its massive amounts of fighting, weaponry and carnage (which result in minimal blood, hence the PG-13 rating), writer-director Joss Whedon’s film is probably too long for most younger viewers at nearly 2.5 hours. It’s also got an incredibly convoluted narrative and it’s overstuffed with a ton of characters, which makes it hard to follow regardless of your age. Our heroes also suffer through some frightening and vivid dream sequences, courtesy of the mind games the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) plays on them. This is probably OK for tweens and up.
This adaptation of the classic Thomas Hardy novel follows one of literature’s great heroines, the headstrong Bathsheba Everdene, as she juggles the various men who compete for her affections. Carey Mulligan is radiant in the role as an educated young woman in rural 1870 England who inherits her uncle’s farm after his death. Three very different men try to win her heart, and eventually she marries one of them, although director Thomas Vinterberg only shows the beginnings of what happens on their wedding night. A major character is believed to have drowned, and jealousy prompts one of Bathsheba’s suitors to kill another. Probably fine for mature tweens and older, especially those with an interest in literature and/or Victorian England.
Thoroughly cuddly and sweet, this live-action/CGI-animated take on the tales of an adorable stuffed bear in Britain is mostly fine and even recommended for the whole family. Ben Whishaw voices the beloved children’s book character, who gets an origin story here. We see what prompted Paddington to leave Darkest Peru and travel to London, and how he ends up living with the Brown family. The tone is quite often gentle but dabbles in slight raunchiness here and there, including some literal toilet humor when Paddington has an escapade in the bathroom and a disgusting scene when he cleans out his ears. He does find himself in some peril, though, when Nicole Kidman’s character, a ruthlessly driven taxidermist, wants to capture Paddington and add him to her museum collection. Kidman’s wardrobe is as sharp as the instruments she wants to use to destroy this sweet creature. Her performance is the only element of the movie that frightened my then-5-year-old son.
This week on home video, we’ve got a well-received adaptation of a classic children’s book character, P.T. Anderson’s latest film, and a handful of films with big stars that earned mediocre reviews. Luckily, there are also a couple of smaller films that are worth your while. Read on for details:
If you’re going to adapt a beloved children’s book character for film, you’d better do it right. Thankfully, almost everyone who saw Paddington approved. For the unfamiliar, Paddington Bear was created by British author Michael Bond in 1958, ultimately spawning dozens of books, three television series, merchandise, and more. Think Winnie the Pooh, but with a penchant for marmalade instead of honey. The film remains quite faithful to the character’s origin story, in which a talking bear from Peru with nowhere to go is adopted by a kind family who grows to accept him as one of their own. Conflict comes in the form of a taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) who wants to capture and stuff Paddington for her museum collection. Critics called Paddington an utterly charming family film and awarded it a Certified Fresh 98 percent on the Tomatometer, calling it a welcome update on the character that both respects the source material and provides some fresh laughs.
If you’ve met anyone who’s seen Inherent Vice and asked them to describe it, chances are you got a muddled mess of a story with lots of stops and starts and “Wait; lemme back up”s. This is because Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest ensemble drama-comedy, based on the eponymous novel by Thomas Pynchon, is a near indecipherable shaggy dog story full of dead ends, red herrings, and plain old wackiness. Joaquin Phoenix plays stoner P.I. Doc Sportello, who can’t refuse when his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) asks him to look into a possible abduction plot involving her new boyfriend’s wife and her lover. From there, Doc discovers what may be a much larger conspiracy that may or may not involve the LAPD, a missing musician, and a heroin-smuggling cult, among other things. Bolstered by a typically outstanding cast that includes Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, and more, Inherent Vice will satisfy fans of P.T. Anderson and the source novel, even if those expecting a more traditional, coherent narrative will probably find themselves scratching their heads.
ALSO AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
Last Days in Vietnam(2014) (95 percent), a documentary covering the final days of the Vietnam War and the joint efforts of the South Vietnamese and American soldiers to save as many lives as possible. Mommy(2015) (91 percent), Xavier Dolan’s drama about a single mother trying to raise her ADHD teen son with the help of a new neighbor. The Gambler(2015) (46 percent), starring Mark Wahlberg and Jessica Lange in a remake of the 1974 James Caan film, about a lit professor with a gambling problem who owes the wrong people a lot of money. The Wedding Ringer(2015) (28 percent), starring Kevin Hart and Josh Gad in a comedy about an awkward groom-to-be who hires the services of a professional Best Man. The Boy Next Door, starring Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Guzman in a thriller about a high school teacher who has a one-night stand with a younger man who becomes obsessed with her.
This week on streaming video, we’ve got an acclaimed horror film, a well-received adaptation of a beloved British children’s book character, and a Certified Fresh Marvel television series making its debut on Netflix. Read on for the full list.
After stowing away on a boat, the titular bear arrives in London and is discovered by the Brown family, who bring him into their home. Paddington is a stranger in a strange land, but he does his best to adjust to city life; unfortunately, he also draws the attention of a devious taxidermist.
The first of Marvel’s Netflix series stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, a blind defense attorney by day and masked vigilante by night. Darker and more violent than Marvel’s big screen fare, the series is Certified Fresh, and its first season became available to stream on Friday.
This Swiss film depicts the controversy surrounding a gay magazine in Zurich that was held responsible for a number of murders during the 1940s and 1950s, interspersing documentary footage with the dramatized story of two real-life members of the magazine.
This live-action/CGI-animated take on the tales of an adorable stuffed bear in Britain is, for the most part, completely suitable for the whole family. Ben Whishaw voices the beloved children’s book character in what is essentially an origin story. We see what prompted Paddington to leave Darkest Peru and travel to London, and how he ends up living with the Brown family. The tone is quite often gentle but dabbles in slight raunchiness here and there, including some literal toilet humor when Paddington has some trouble in the loo. But he does find himself in some peril at the hands of Nicole Kidman’s character, a ruthlessly driven taxidermist who wants to capture Paddington and add him to her museum collection. I brought my 5-year-old son with me, and Kidman’s character was the only element that bothered him: “I don?t like that mean girl,” he said. “‘Cause she’s scary.” Otherwise, though, “Paddington” is thoroughly cuddly and sweet.
As a director, Clint Eastwood is one of cinema’s greatest chroniclers of troubled tough guys. Critics say American Sniper is a tense, kinetic drama that has much to say about the emotional toll of war — even if it fudges some of the facts about its real-life subject. Bradley Cooper stars as Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper who achieved near-legendary status for his fearlessness and shooting accuracy. But when he left the service, Kyle’s place in the world became less certain. The pundits say American Sniper avoids some of the more controversial aspects of Kyle’s life, but it’s still a bracing, tense, powerfully acted portrait of a supremely talented soldier at war with himself.
The bear from darkest Peru is one of the brightest lights of the young movie year. Critics say Paddington is the best kind of family film — it’s funny, thoughtful, deeply heartfelt, and filled with strong characters. After stowing away on a boat, the titular bear arrives in London and is discovered by the Brown family, who bring him into their home. Paddington is a stranger in a strange land, but he does his best to adjust to city life; unfortunately, he also draws the attention of a devious taxidermist. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Paddington maintains the cheer and whimsy of Michael Bond’s books, while teaching children a gentle lesson in tolerance. (Check out star Hugh Bonneville’s Five Favorite Films, as well as our interviews with the cast and crew.)
It’s tough to make computing look cool on the big screen. Critics say even a talented director like Michael Mann can only add so much to something like Blackhat, a cyberthriller that’s long on visual razzle-dazzle but short on tension and believability. Chris Hemsworth stars as Nick Hathaway, a brilliant hacker who’s serving prison time. However, when U.S. intelligence agents team up with the Chinese government to investigate a devastating act of cyberterrorism, they spring Hathaway from the joint to help solve the case. The pundits say Blackhat squanders its timely premise on a silly plotting and dialogue, though it does have a sense of visual panache.
Kevin Hart is one of the funniest men on the planet, but critics say his comic exuberance can’t save The Wedding Ringer, a thoroughly so-so bromance with a few good gags but a whole lot of dead spots. Hart stars as Jimmy, who provides an unusual service: he serves as the best man for socially awkward, soon-to-be-wedded guys. While giving Doug (Josh Gad) instructions on how to act cool, Jimmy stars to actually like the big galoot. The pundits say Hart tries his best, but the pace is slack and too many of the jokes are of the gross-out variety. (Check out our interviews with Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, and Kaley Cuoco.)
What’s Hot On TV:
Critics say Togetherness (Certified Fresh at 94 percent) is a delightful surprise that interweaves day-to-day life with moving, dramatic characters who have an affinity for deprecating, squirmy humor.
The critics say Man Seeking Woman (92 percent) is easy to fall for, taking a ridiculously funny approach to a common theme with amusingly surreality and enjoyable oddness.
The pundits say Girls (Certified Fresh at 86 percent) is familiar after four seasons, but its convoluted-yet-comical depiction of young women dealing with the real world still manages to impress.
Also opening this week in limited release:
Appropriate Behavior, a comedy about a film teacher trying to pick up the pieces after being dumped by her girlfriend, is at 94 percent.
Gangs of Wasseypur, a drama about the rise and fall of an Indian crime family over the course of several decades, is at 93 percent.
Vice, starring Bruce Willis and Thomas Jane in a sci-fi action film about a cyborg who seeks revenge against the owner of a robot-staffed resort, is at zero percent.
Paddington, star of Paddington, is the original furry gentleman. Readers of his books might remember that he always carries a sandwich in his hat for emergencies, so in the first of several videos, Grae Drake asked Nicole Kidman, Sally Hawkins, director Paul King, and producer David Heyman what they would carry in their own hat should an emergency arise.
Academy Award nominee Sally Hawkins is surprisingly candid about how Paddington was really represented on set before he got the digital treatment (“HelLO, Hugh Bonneville!”).
Paul King, director of The Mighty Boosh television show, compares that work to Paddington, and discusses how challenging it can be to be a fan of family films when you are a man that goes to the movie theater to see them without a family alongside him.
And finally, producer David Heyman encourages viewers to see the film by talking about its similarities to both Gravity and the Harry Potter series.
Orthodox and fond of ceremony but flexible and fundamentally decent, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham isn’t just the patriarch of Downton Abbey — he’s also arguably the most representative embodiment of the tug of war between tradition and modernity that undergirds the show. And the role has elevated Hugh Bonneville from BBC supporting player to movie star. In Paddington, Bonneville stars as Henry Brown, who’s less enthusiastic about having a bear as a tenant than his family is. In an interview with RT, Bonneville shared his favorite films and discussed the Brits’ obsession with Paddington, the books’ political subtext, and why he’s both delighted and mystified by Downton Abbey‘s international appeal.
(Hal Ashby, 1979) 95%I think it’s because it is about a truly simple character in a truly extraordinary situation, and the way that simplicity can be misconstrued as genius and vice versa. I just think it’s a beautiful, beautiful performance [from Peter Sellers]. I think it’s his finest performance. But apart from that… well, I adore Shirley MacLaine in it. I think it’s beautifully cast, [and] I think it’s richly evocative as a gentle satire on the way that political gurus can function. I just think it’s enchanting, and I think it’s an often neglected film. And I can’t find it on DVD or download and I’m really fed up with that.
It’s a Wonderful Life
(Frank Capra, 1946) 94%I change my selection every six months depending on my mood, and I’m in a Christmas mood. I just think it’s a really great piece of cinema and a great piece of storytelling and a sublime performance at the heart of it, and reminds us all about our shared humanity.
My Life as a Dog
(Lasse Hallstrom, 1985) 100%Another film that always floats around in my top five would be a film by Lasse Hallstrom called My Life as a Dog, which is not such a well known film but it was probably the one that brought him most to prominence. It’s a coming-of-age story, really, of a young boy with a very sick mum, you know, trying to find their way in the world, a young child finding their own way in the world, and seeing the exploration of space as a metaphor for their own dreams and adventures. I just think it’s a very poignant and evocative film that’s stayed with me for many years.
(Paul King, 2015) 97%I think I’m going to really nail my colors to the mast and say a movie called Paddington, which is yet to come out. I saw it for the first time the other day, and even though I am in it, I do think it is a glorious film. I’m incredibly proud to be part of it, and I think it’s a film that families will watch, I hope, for generations to come and enjoy it in the same way that I [do].
(Quentin Tarantino, 1994) 92%RT: Being There is about someone who’s in the middle of all these things happening beyond his control. It’s a Wonderful Life is about the general decency of human beings. My Life as a Dog is about a relationship between kids and an animal. It seems that your favorites share some of the same themes as Paddington.
Well, maybe that’s why David Heyman and Paul King cast me in Paddington, I don’t know [laughs]. You’ll be surprised by my fifth one, then. OK, try and find the link with this: Pulp Fiction. I think that’s the exception that proves the rule. I think it was great, it was such a breath of fresh air. That same year, I remember, I was completely enamored by two films: The Lion King and Pulp Fiction, so you couldn’t get more extreme than those two. They both have death in them, I suppose. But Pulp Fiction was such a great breath of fresh air when it came out, and I think it still remains such a cool and fantastic piece of the cinema. Obviously it was the second film after Reservoir Dogs that brought Tarantino into the fold, but I think it’s a gloriously slick and entertaining piece of movie-making, structurally and cinematically, with these great, legendary performances that were instantly loved, and instantly classic and endlessly imitated. The number of people I’ve seen doing Christopher Walken impressions — or Bruce Willis impressions from that movie — or indeed Samuel L Jackson… It’s sort of a great cinematic feat and [it’s filled with] dark, dark humor.
RT: I remember enjoying Paddington as a little kid, but as an American, it’s been interesting reading the reviews coming out of the UK. A lot of the critics sound a lot more possessive over the character, and the tone of the reviews is, “Oh, don’t worry, they did it right, they did a good job with it,” you know? It seems that for a children’s film, the stakes for getting it right were pretty high.
Hugh Bonneville: Well, I think you shouldn’t underestimate the power of this character in the UK psyche, the consciousness of the British people, because Paddington, as a character, is as much part of British life as Buckingham Palace, really. It’s become that central a part of our collective imagination. There’s even a statue to him on Paddington railway station. So yeah, there was a great sense of responsibility from the filmmakers to get it right, and a great sense of skepticism from a great many commentators that this would be a travesty of Michael Bond’s original creation. But to have the author himself say, after the first screening, “I came, I saw, I was conquered,” is a good testament. It of course has taken on a different form, moving from one form of storytelling to another, from the genre of a short story to the big screen with its 90-minute arc and its big 70-foot canvas. There are different needs for a movie, and I think this is what people felt wasn’t going to sustain the character. I think, as you’ve alluded to, the reaction has been extremely positive and there’s an awful lot of love for this incarnation of the beloved bear from Peru.
RT: Here at Rotten Tomatoes, we recently did a big list of the best-reviewed fantasy films of all time, and I was going back and reading some of the contemporaneous reviews of Disney’s 1950 version of Alice in Wonderland. There were howls of dissent from British critics at the time that it was an Americanization of a very British story. How do you take something that’s quintessentially “British” and make it accessible to a global audience?
Bonneville: That’s the challenge, and that here is the danger that they will fail. But when you have someone like David Heyman, who of course was behind bringing Harry Potter from the page to the screen with such care and attention to detail and with the approval and endorsement of the author, then I think, while there is always a risk, you sort of felt you were in relatively safe hands. If anyone was going to get it right, it would be him, along with the imagination of Paul King as director/writer, who again, was very protective of the beloved bear. You sort of feel you’re on a hiding to nothing, but golly, they stuck with it and they absolutely stayed true to the spirit of the story. I think one of the key things is they haven’t diluted it for the international market. They absolutely wanted to bring to life Michael Bond’s bear onto the big screen. First and foremost, that was the intention. That was the biggest risk and the biggest payoff, I suppose. The biggest gamble.
RT: When you’re a little kid reading this stuff you’re like , “Ooh it’s a funny bear,” but there’s an undercurrent about acceptance for outsiders that runs through the Paddington stories. At a time in the United States and in England when there are ongoing debates about immigration and nationalism, do you see this film having any impact of that on younger viewers?
Bonneville: I think any film that asks its audience a degree of tolerance and acceptance of those less fortunate than themselves isn’t a bad thing from whatever culture you’re in or from whatever part of any political spectrum. I think we should bear in mind that Michael Bond created this story when the image of young people on the platforms of railway stations across Britain with gas masks around their necks was a very strong, recent memory. When also the Windrush immigrants [from the West Indies] were first settling in West London, bringing a new sense of multicultural inhabitance in that part of the UK. When also you’ve got the character of Mr. Gruber who talks about having to travel across Europe because there was trouble in his own country and he had to flee — It doesn’t take a lot for the grownups to know what he’s talking about. So you’ve got [instances] throughout the film, as you say, of displaced people, displaced strangers in a strange land looking for a home, and I think if there is any message it is about accepting those who reach out a hand for help.
RT: Shifting gears just slightly, I want to tell you that I am a red-blooded all-American male who likes American football, loud music, and violent video games. And I loveDownton Abbey. [Bonneville laughes] I’ve heard cast members talk about how you’re still a bit gobsmacked about how it’s taken on a life of its own beyond the UK. Do you have any sense of why it’s had such broad appeal, especially in America?
Bonneville: I think I’m the least qualified person to be able to answer that, because I’ve always likened it to being a bit like in the middle of the eye of a hurricane. You’re not aware that there’s carnage that’s going on around you, only a few feet or miles away, because you’re just getting on with it being in the middle of it. It took me a while to realize quite the impact it was having. I suppose that image isn’t quite the right one to draw of it, the cause of death and destruction, but the effect that it’s having, nevertheless, has been something of a whirlwind and it’s taken me a while to realize that, I suppose. You know, by now, traveling in many countries around the world, seeing the reaction is pretty much the same in each country. These people come over and say hi, and it’s usually because of the Downton Abbey rather than some obscure thing I did in 1978. And it’s an endlessly mystifying — that’s not to be derogatory of the show — I adore the show and always have done — but it’s a mystery to us why it has touched a chord so strongly around the world, and a delightful one, and long may it remain a delightful mystery, because I think if you over think it, then the magic disappears. It’s a happy accident.
It’s a combination, as you say, of these rich characters that people want to spend time with, and a writer [Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes] that is fueled with great stories who keeps the pace up. He referred in the past to Coronation Street, which is a British soap, and The West Wing being two great shows he adores. So I think if you put those factors together, plus a series of departments that are working to the top of their game, and the great location, then it’s one of those happy accidents that happens once in a career, really. Once a generation, you get a show that people latch onto and care about to this extent. There are others, I think we are genuinely going to — have been in the last 10-15 years — been going through a sort of golden age of long-form drama on TV and it’s very exciting. The business model is being proved to work. That If you build it, they will come. If you invest in good drama and take risks in drama and write these big shows, then people will come and watch them, be it Game of Thrones, or Breaking Bad, or Downton Abbey, and it’s a wonderful world in which those three shows can be mentioned in the same sentence.
RT: I think it might partially lie in the fact that these characters seem to be people living in the 1920s, who are actually reacting to the period mores and the changes around them, as opposed to winking to a contemporary audience.
Bonneville: There may be something in that. I mean, we’ve never claimed to be some sort of historical document or, indeed, trying to tell some sort of history lesson any more than the Tudors was trying to or inspired by these engaging relationship dramas that happen to be set in a particular period with the odd reference to something that’s going on in the real world outside. The fact is that it has seemed to have turned a lot of people onto the fashions of that era, to re-explore the fashions of the Edwardian era and onwards, or indeed just consider for the history of that time. And it’s probably spawned in the same way that films like Gladiator spawned whole other sword-and-sandals programs for 10 years. I think we’ve already generated some interest in that era, from the turn of the century and onward both in Britain and America. So I don’t know; ultimately it’s a piece of telly. People can write essays about it or do their PhD on the relationship between Mary and a fan, or indeed a corset. But I think for the most part it’s just entertaining Sunday night telly.
RT: Given the popularity of the show, and the many places you’ve traveled to promote it, do you sometimes feel like Paddington — a stranger in a strange land?
Bonneville: Yeah, of course, of course. I mean, it is a strange world when you’re off doing publicity on either show that you’re swept into a world of interviews and strange hotels, strange environment. Yeah, I think all of us has felt like a stranger is a strange land at some point in our lives, and certainly doing press tours accentuates that.
RT: Anything else you’d like to say about Paddington?
Bonneville: Only that it’s adorable and I hope it’s going to be around for a long time to come.
Paddington opens in wide release on Jan. 16, 2015.