In Theaters

Her (Warner Bros.)
Her
(Warner Bros.)

Set in a not-too-distant L.A. where everyone walks around communicating with his or her pocket computer (sound familiar?), Her centers on Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely professional letter writer who falls in love with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).  Written and directed by Spike Jonze, the film co-stars Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde co-star as the human women in Phoenix’s life.  Winner of multiple critics association awards and featuring an original score by Arcade Fire, the timely film has emerged as a dark horse candidate for Best Picture at February’s Academy Awards.  Don’t miss it.

Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films)
Inside Llewyn Davis
(CBS Films)

Written and directed by the Coen brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis reconstructs the Tin Pan Alley folk scene in all its acoustic glory.  Loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk, the film stars Oscar Isaac (DriveThe Bourne Legacy) as the titular singer/songwriter who, despite immense talent, can’t quite break out of the scene’s frustrating, repetitive cycle.  Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, and John Goodman are among the usual impressive Coen cast, but unlike past efforts from the filmmaking duo, this is one bleak ride with little comedy and even fewer likable characters.  In its favor, the film is all-around well made and the music ranks up there with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but I’ll be surprised if it’s a hit with audiences.

August: Osage County (The Weinstein Company)
August: Osage County
(The Weinstein Company)

Speaking of impressive casts, possibly 2013’s finest ensemble gathers for August: Osage County.  Based on the play by Tracy Letts (who adapts his own work for the screen), the film looks at an eventful few days in the Weston family after the death of patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard).  Meryl Streep is her usual giant dramatic self as pill-popping mother Violet; Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis (love those name variations) bring diverse talents as her three daughters; and Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, and Margo Martindale round out the family, whose talents combine in various permutations and all together at a tense extended dining room table scene.  An award-season favorite on pedigree alone, the film has lost a good deal of steam since its September premiere at TIFF, but remains a worthwhile view.  It’s also worth noting that, despite sizable doses of unpleasantness here and there, the film is a lot less stomach-churning than Letts’ last trip to the big screen, Killer Joe.

Lone Survivor (Universal Pictures)
Lone Survivor
(Universal Pictures)

Based on the true story of SEAL Team 10’s fateful 2005 Afghanistan mission “Operation Red Wings,” Lone Survivor is an action-packed military film that, for whatever reason, was bumped from its Christmas day opening.  The main thing going against it is the title, and with Mark Wahlberg playing the titular person in question (whose memoir primarily informs the screenplay), there’s little question as to how the story will end.  Exactly how it gets to that unsurprising point, however, is generally well-executed by Peter Berg (Friday Night LightsHancock), and with Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster playing Wahlberg’s fellow SEALs, the acting ain’t bad, either.  Also, bonus points for featuring the year’s most unintentionally funny line, which should be apparent should you choose to accept this mission.

The Legend of Hercules (Summit Entertainment)
The Legend of Hercules
(Summit Entertainment)

I saw a trailer for The Legend of Hercules before Grudge Match and was convinced it was a preview for a TNT original movie.  Nope, turns out the latest from Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2Cliffhanger) is the week’s lone true wide release.  Though it feels like this story has been told several times over the past few years, here’s yet another version with Kellan Lutz (Emmet Cullen from the Twilight movies) as the muscular demigod in question.  About the only appealing cast member is Rade Serbedzija (a.k.a. Boris the Blade from Snatch) as Chiron, though let’s just all let out a collective “who?” and get it over with.

Fleeing the Scene

Christmas debuts 47 Ronin, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and Grudge Match all get returned to the Macy’s counter along with A Madea Christmas, the irritating Walking with Dinosaurs 3D, and the boring Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  New toys, we welcome you with open arms.

On DVD

The creepy cannibal surprise We Are What We Are leads off a respectable week for discs.  Keeping quality high is the Robert Reich doc Inequality for All; the latest Almodovar, I’m So Excited!; the arty British legal thriller Closed Circuit; the sex-addict dramedy Thanks for Sharing; and the disturbing, highly-touted doc The Act of Killing, in which former Indonesian government contract killers reenact their dirty deeds in the manner of their favorite Hollywood films.

Also available is the Affleck/Timberlake “thriller” Runner Runner, which would have been a better title for a sledding competition.

On Netflix Instant

Celebrating the one year anniversary of their respective big screen debuts are the comic-violent Schwarzenneger comeback vehicle The Last Stand and the sorta-steampunk Grimm redux Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. They’re joined by fellow 2013 alums Drinking Buddies (love and friendship among brewery co-workers) and Good Ol’ Freda (Beatles’ secretary doc), plus the long-shelved horror deconstruction All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which is also technically in the Class of ’13, and Tom Cruise’s take on Lee Child’s unfortunately named yet beloved literary hero Jack Reacher.

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