This week on home video, we’ve got a new action thriller from Luc Besson, a mediocre Conjuring spinoff, and Laika’s latest stop-motion feature film. Then we also have a number of notable smaller films, like a Certified Fresh crime drama starring Tom Hardy and an acclaimed documentary about an internet activist. Read on for details:



Lucy

67%

French writer-director Luc Besson has been the brains behind some of the most gleefully brainless thrillers in recent memory, like the Taken franchise, and though he doesn’t get behind the camera as often as he once did, we still get something like Lucy every once in a while. Scarlett Johansson stars as an American ex-pat living in Taiwan who is forced to become a drug mule by a Korean mob boss. When the experimental drug begins seeping into her system, she begins to experience heightened physical and mental abilities, which she utilizes to seek revenge. Besson has a thing for powerful leading ladies, and Lucy seems to be aware of its own silliness, so critics were relatively kind to the film, ludicrous logic and all. It may dumbfound you and confound you, but if you’re looking for a cheesy actioner, this may do the trick.



Annabelle

29%

The very beginning of 2013’s horror hit The Conjuring introduced audiences to the paranormal team of Ed and Lorraine Warren via the story of a mysterious doll named Annabelle. While we wait for the sequel to that film, the producers thought, “Eh, why not throw’em a bone in the meantime?” Hence, last year’s Annabelle, a Conjuring spinoff that includes the same introductory scene from the earlier film and builds off that to explain the origins of the creepy possessed doll that makes things go bump in the night. Unfortunately, critics weren’t too impressed with the story, which, like a lot of horror films these days, simply borrows elements from better predecessors and attempts to jump-scare you into submission. At just 29 percent on the Tomatometer, Annabelle is kind of a poor appetizer for The Conjuring 2, but if you just want to spend more time in that universe, it’ll do.



The Boxtrolls

78%

The stop-motion animation studio Laika had great success with their first two features, 2009’s Coraline and 2012’s ParaNorman, so there was some anticipation for their third, The Boxtrolls. Isaac Hempstead-Wright leads an all-star voice cast as Eggs, a human boy raised by the titular Boxtrolls in an underground home beneath the city of Cheesebridge. The Boxtrolls are misunderstood, however, and when an exterminator named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) vows to wipe them out, Eggs teams up with this first human friend, Winnie (Elle Fanning), to save his family. If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, you know that its visuals are both typically spectacular and a little off-kilter, which is also indicative of its sense of humor. Though it’s not Laika’s best effort to date, it’s still an entertaining family film that’s fascinating to watch.

Also available this week:

  • The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (93 percent), a Certified Fresh documentary about the programming wiz (and Reddit co-founder) whose tireless efforts in information activism resulted in legal troubles and, ultimately, suicide at the age of 26.
  • The Drop (89 percent), starring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini in a Certified Fresh crime thriller about a bartender who gets targeted by the Chechen mob when a robbery goes awry.
  • The Mule (85 percent), a dark comedy about a drug mule who decides withhold evidence by not… performing his bodily functions.
  • The Green Prince (77 percent), a documentary about Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Palestinian who operated as an Israeli spy.
  • William H. Macy’s Rudderless (63 percent), starring Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin in the story of a grieving father who discovers his son’s demo tapes and decides to form a band to play the music.
  • Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (52 percent), starring Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon in a sci-fi drama about a computer genius tasked with discovering the meaning of life.
  • White Bird in a Blizzard (49 percent), starring Shailene Woodley in a coming-of-age drama about a young woman whose mother goes missing and who slowly comes to grips with the truth about the disappearance.
  • A Little Game, starring Janeane Garofalo and F. Murray Abraham in a family drama about a young girl who doesn’t get along with her peers but becomes unlikely friends with a local chess master.
This week at the movies, we’ve got an avenging hitman (John Wick, starring Keanu Reeves and Adrianne Palicki), a bedeviled board (Ouija, starring Olivia Cooke and Douglas Smith), and an inspirational gridiron tale (23 Blast, starring Mark Hapka and Alexa Vega). What do the critics have to say?


John Wick

86%

He’s taken some lumps over the years, but when it comes right down to it, Keanu Reeves is one of our most dependable action stars. Time will tell if John Wick will join Speed and The Matrix in the action movie pantheon, but critics say this is a stylish, briskly-paced thriller with terrific fight scenes and some sly humor. Reeves stars as a retired hitman reeling from the death of his wife when mob-affiliated hoods break into his house and kill his dog. Soon, our hero is back in the game — and practically every gangster in town is in fear for his life. The pundits say the Certified Fresh John Wick is the kind of muscular, full-throttle action flick that’s made with such skill and energy you’ll barely notice how thin the plot is. (Watch our video interview with Reeves.)



Ouija

6%

Ah, the mysterious Ouija board. Imbued with alleged occult powers, it’s been used to add spice to plenty of frightfests over the years, from 13 Ghosts to The Exorcist to Paranormal Activity. Now, everybody’s favorite board is ready for its close-up, but critics say Ouija fails to conjure much excitement aside from a few jump-scares. When a teenager dies in an accident, her friends attempt to contact her in the great beyond, awaking a malevolent spirit in the process. The pundits say Ouija is competently made but thoroughly bland and decidedly short on creepiness.



23 Blast

36%

Made with the best of intentions and based upon a remarkable true story, 23 Blast would seem to have all the pieces in place to wring tears from even the most hardened pigskin fans. Unfortunately, critics say the movie could use a lesson in clock management; despite fine acting from a group of seasoned pros, the film’s narrative is a little too slack. Travis Freeman (Mark Hapka) is a high school football player who loses his vision from an inflammation of meningitis, but with the help of his family and friends, he eventually returns to the field. The pundits say 23 Blast has a nice sense of place and a few touching moments, but it’s awfully predictable.

Certified Fresh on TV:



After a rollicking, action-packed premiere, The Walking Dead mellowed out a bit for its second episode; critics say “Strangers”(100 percent) settles into a more deliberate, dialogue-heavy groove while still maintaining suspense.

 



Critics were mixed (but mostly positive) for the latest episode of Sons of Anarchy, saying that while it relied too heavily on brutal plot twists for effect, saying goodbye to a familiar face gives “Greensleeves”(70 percent) some emotional weight.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • The Heart Machine, an indie thriller about a Manhattanite who suspects his long-distance girlfriend may be catfishing him, is at 100 percent.
  • Citizenfour, a documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, is Certified Fresh at 98 percent.
  • Force Majeure , a black comedy about a Swedish family on a ski trip in the Alps dealing with the fallout from a powerful avalanche, is at 97 percent.
  • 1,000 Times Good Night , starring Juliette Binoche and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in a drama about an idealistic war photographer whose family fears for her safety, is at 65 percent.
  • Laggies, starring Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz in a drama about an aimless woman in her late 20s who befriends a teenager as an escape from adult responsibility, is at 62 percent.
  • Stonehearst Asylum, starring Kate Beckinsale and Ben Kingsley in a period thriller about a young doctor who discovers the inmates are literally running the asylum, is at 57 percent.
  • White Bird in a Blizzard, starring Shailene Woodley and Eva Green in a dark dramedy about a teenager’s response to the disappearance of her overbearing mother, is at 53 percent.
  • Alain ResnaisLife of Riley, a drama about a group of close friends dealing with the news that one member of their circle has a terminal illness, is at 50 percent.
  • Exists, a found-footage horror film about a group of friends trying to find evidence of Bigfoot while on vacation in rural Texas, is at 29 percent.
  • Low Down, starring John Hawkes and Elle Fanning in a drama about a heroin-addicted jazz pianist and his daughter, is at 18 percent.
  • Revenge of the Green Dragons, a thriller about a gang member who targets his old comrades after a love affair goes wrong, is at 14 percent.

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