We’ve got a couple of acclaimed dramas to headline this week’s choices on home video, including J.C. Chandor’s gritty crime drama and a Cannes-winning film starring Marion Cotillard. Then, we’ve got a few interesting selections you may not have had the chance to see in theaters. Read on for details:


A Most Violent Year (2015) 90%

Early on, A Most Violent Year was thought to be a contender for a handful of Academy Awards, due in large part to its pedigree, which included Oscar-nominated writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost) and a pair of fast-rising stars — Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac — who have amassed their own share of critical acclaim. Though the film ultimately didn’t net any nominations, critics still rated it Certified Fresh at 90 percent. The early ’80s-set thriller centers on an immigrant couple (Chastain and Isaac) who run a heating oil company and their attempts to make good on the American dream amid the rampant violent crime of New York City. It’s a heavy, slow burner of a drama full of strong performances — including supporting turns from David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, and Alessandro Nivola — that probably deserves a watch.


The Immigrant (2014) 87%

Speaking of impressive casts, director James Gray lined up quite an ensemble for his own immigrant story, aptly titled The Immigrant. All three of his leads boast Academy Award nominations, and the film’s star, Marion Cotillard, earned a nod just this year for her work on Two Days, One Night. Cotillard plays Ewa Cybulski, a Polish immigrant who arrives at Ellis Island in 1921 and faces deportation, only to be saved by a charming schemer (Joaquin Phoenix) who forces her into prostitution. When the man’s magician cousin (Jeremy Renner) comes into her life, Ewa sees hope for the first time. Certified Fresh at 87 percent, The Immigrant won the Palmes d’Or at Cannes and earned praise for Cotillard’s performance, Gray’s sure-handed direction, and its stunning cinematography. If drama is your thing, this is a good week.


 

ALSO AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:

Happy Valley (2014) (88 percent), Amier Bar-Lev’s documentary profile of the football culture and recent controversy surrounding Penn State University.
Killers (2014) (86 percent), a Japanese-Indonesian thriller about a serial killer and the journalist thousands of miles away he inspires to become a killer himself.
The Voices (2015) (73 percent), starring Ryan Reynolds and Anna Kendrick in Marjane Satrapi’s (Persepolis) dark comedy about a seemingly normal man who suffers from hallucinations that influence him to kill.

This week at the movies, we’ve got fairy tale creatures (Strange Magic, with voice performances from Alan Cumming and Evan Rachel Wood), an eccentric adventurer (Mortdecai, starring Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow), and a troubled teacher-student relationship (The Boy Next Door, starring Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Guzman). What do the critics have to say?


Strange Magic

18%

On paper, an animated musical inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream sounds reasonably promising. Unfortunately, critics say Strange Magic could use a whole lot more pixie dust — along with visual inspiration and interesting characters. It’s the story of Marianne (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood), a fairy princess who’s been jilted by her Prince Charming. The cad then discovers a love potion, which sets off a series of battles and daring rescues. The pundits say Strange Magic is oddly charmless, and its few clever ideas are smothered by a plot that’s both patchwork and overly busy.



Mortdecai

12%

What’s the deal with Johnny Depp? With the exception of the animated Rango, the man who was once the biggest star in Hollywood hasn’t had a critically approved starring vehicle since Public Enemies in 2009. The critics say Mortdecai is a stunning misfire, a tonally-jarring would-be caper comedy that reduces its talented cast to broad, goofy caricatures. Depp is Charlie Mortdecai, a mustachioed, anachronistic rogue who’s tasked with recovering a stolen Goya painting; hilarity, in the form of pratfalls and double-entendres, ensues. The pundits say Mortdecai is visually sharp but comically dull; it’s an attempt at satire that seems unsure of what exactly it’s lampooning. (Check out this week’s 24 Frames for a gallery of Johnny Depp’s wildest looks through the years.)



The Boy Next Door

12%

The divide between trashy fun and plain ol’ trash is often razor thin. Critics say The Boy Next Door falls on the wrong side of the line, promising campy thrills that it can’t ultimately deliver. Jennifer Lopez stars as a high school English teacher who’s taking a break from her husband when she has a tryst with a teenager. Naturally, he becomes obsessed and possessive, threatening our heroine’s security and peace of mind. The pundits say The Boy Next Door simmers but never reaches full boil, so its silly dialogue and ludicrous plotting are never quite as entertaining as they could be. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Lopez’s best-reviewed movies, as well as director Rob Cohen’s Five Favorite Films.)

What’s Hot On TV:


Critics say Justified (100 percent) returns to form for its endgame, rebounding with crisp storytelling and colorful characters who never take themselves too seriously.

The critics say the high quality execution and cool characters are top-notch, but the nonsensical time-travel scenarios make 12 Monkeys (54 percent) less watchable than its original source material.

The pundits say the stale cop humor of Backstrom (33 percent) is a cop-out, availed little by the talented cast’s attempt to make the best of its sloppy schtick.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Red Army, a documentary about the legendary Soviet hockey team, is at 100 percent.
  • The Duke Of Burgundy, a drama about an erotic relationship between two entomologists in a lavish country estate, is at 97 percent.
  • Mommy, a drama about a single mother dealing with her difficult teenage son, is Certified Fresh at 91 percent.
  • Salvation Army, a coming-of-age drama about a gay Moroccan teenager dealing with complex family and societal dynamics, is at 83 percent.
  • Killers, a thriller about a serial killer and a vigilante who each record videos of their bloody deeds, is at 83 percent.
  • Black Sea, starring Jude Law and Scoot McNairy in a thriller about a submarine crew searching the deep for rumored treasure, is Certified Fresh at 78 percent.
  • Son of a Gun, starring Ewan McGregor and Brenton Thwaites in a drama about a small-time crook who falls under the influence of a seasoned criminal, is at 59 percent.
  • The Humbling, starring Al Pacino and Greta Gerwig in a drama about an emotionally fragile actor who is rejuvinated by a much younger woman, is at 56 percent.
  • Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston and Anna Kendrick in a drama about a woman suffering from chronic physical and emotional pain, is at 38 percent.
  • Song One, starring Anne Hathaway and Mary Steenburgen in a drama about aspiring New York City folkies, is at 37 percent.
  • Manny, a documentary about the champion prizefighter and politician Manny Pacquiao, is at 25 percent.
  • We’ll Never Have Paris, starring Melanie Lynskey and Simon Helberg in a romantic comedy about a passive guy who chases the ex he dumped when she relocates to the City of Lights, is at 20 percent.
  • Americons, a drama about the rise and fall of a shady real estate investment firm, is at 17 percent.

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