This week on home video, we’ve got a blockbuster action sequel, another dystopian young adult novel adaptation, and a would-be first installment in a spy franchise starring Pierce Brosnan (no, not that franchise). Then, we’ve got a few smaller films, including a rom-com with Daniel Radcliffe and a couple of holiday comedies, as well as two choices from the Criterion Collection. Read on for details:



The Expendables 3

32%

Both the first and second Expendables were quite profitable, and according to critics, the second one even improved upon the first. The Expendables 3 didn’t make as much money or impress as many people, though. This time around, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) recruits a younger crew to apprehend an Expendables founder-turned-arms dealer (Mel Gibson), but when they’re captured during the operation, he must enlist the services of the disbanded veteran Expendables to free them. Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, and Antonio Banderas join Kellan Lutz and a few other athletic young stars, but critics found this installment least exciting of all, especially considering all the talent involved. The announced Expendables 4 and 5 will give them a couple more chances to get it right, though, and failing that, there’s always the female-driven Expendabelles.



The Giver

35%

Despite the fact that The Giver was based on a popular, award-winning dystopian young adult novel, helmed by a veteran director (Phillip Noyce), and populated by no less than two celebrated Academy Award-winning actors (Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges), the film underperformed quite dramatically. The story revolves around a seemingly utopian community devoid of emotion and all knowledge of the past, save for one individual — the Receiver of Memory — whose responsibility it is to help his society avoid repeating historical mistakes. When a young man is chosen as the next Receiver, he decides everyone should have the same knowledge. While critics gave The Giver credit for its visual flourishes and for exploring its source material’s thought-provoking ideas, most also felt it merely touched on those ideas and, furthermore, left any compelling drama by the wayside.



The November Man

36%

If only every aging leading man could find the late-career success that Liam Neeson has earned in the action genre? Pierce Brosnan steps into somewhat familiar shoes as ex-CIA agent Peter Devereaux, a retired operative pulled back into action for “one last mission,” complete with a femme fatale (Olga Kurylenko, a former Bond girl herself), only to discover there is a mole in the agency who wants him dead. Based on a novel by Bill Granger, The November Man seemed to have been aimed at beginning another spy thriller franchise, but critics mostly grew weary of the film’s reliance on shopworn genre clichés, which earned it a paltry 34 percent on the Tomatometer. That said, a sequel is coming, whether we want it or not.

Also available this week:

  • What If (69 percent), starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in a romantic comedy about med school dropout who makes an instant connection with an animator, and the two begin to fall for each other.
  • Almost a year after its theatrical release, we get Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (19 percent), wherein the feisty matriarch accompanies a friend on a surprise visit to her daughter in a rural town.
  • A Merry Friggin’ Christmas (18 percent), starring Robin Williams (in one of his final film roles) and Joel McHale in a holiday road comedy about an estranged father and son who set out to retrieve the son’s forgotten Christmas gifts.
  • And lastly, two choices from the Criterion Collection: a new Blu-ray of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 masterpiece L’Avventura (97 percent); and Les Blank: Always for Pleasure, a collection of the documentary filmmaker’s eclectic filmography that contains 14 films and 8 short films.
This week at the movies, we’ve got a spy on the run (The November Man, starring Pierce Brosnan and Olga Kurylenko), some haunted explorers (As Above/So Below, starring Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman/), and four supernatural elimination specialists (Ghostbusters, starring Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd). What do the critics have to say?



The November Man

36%

Pierce Brosnan is best known for his stint as cinema’s greatest spy, James Bond. He plays a different sort of espionage agent in The November Man; unfortunately, critics say that while the film is slick and competently made, it suffers from convoluted plotting and middling dialogue. Brosnan stars as Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA agent who’s lured out of retirement to protect an important witness. However, Devereaux quickly discovers that everyone’s out to get him. The pundits say that Brosnan is strong as a thoughtful, haunted protagonist, but The November Man is largely a generic spy thriller that’s weighted down by an overloaded narrative. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Brosnan’s best-reviewed films.)



As Above/So Below

26%

What better place to set a horror movie than the catacombs beneath Paris, where the bones of millions of souls are part of an intricate series of dark tunnels? Critics say As Above/So Below occasionally takes full advantage of its chilling locale, but its characters aren’t particularly well-developed. It’s the story of three adventure seekers on a quest to find a mythical artifact. When they venture into the catacombs, however, they’re forced to confront horrors both tangible and psychological. The pundits say As Above/So Below is atmospheric and occasionally spooky, but it lacks the weight and urgency necessary to be a true head-trip.



Ghostbusters

97%

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Yes, that’s right: Ghostbusters, one of the most beloved comedies of the 1980s is back in theaters in celebration of its 30th anniversary. Critics found it to be a sublime blend of witty banter and inspired special effects, and it’s barely dated a lick since its original release.

Also opening this week in limited release:

November Man is full of explosions and intense stunts. Grae Drake speaks to stars Olga Kurylenko and Pierce Brosnan about the dangers of running around corners and being in the vicinity of fire. Then, Pierce Brosnan shares the secret of eating fire.


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