In Theaters

The Past (Sony Pictures Classics)
The Past
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi rightfully won the 2011 Foreign Language Film Oscar for his powerful A Separation.  His follow-up film is even better.  In The Past, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to Paris after four years back home in Iran to finalize his divorce to Marie (The Artist‘s Bérénice Bejo), who’s all set to marry Samir (A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim).  To tell more would spoil some of the film’s immense appeal as the manner with which Farhadi doles out information is key to its success.  If you love drama and storytelling of the highest caliber, get to the Fine Arts Theatre starting Friday and you won’t be disappointed.  Look for my review in Asheville Scene on Friday.

Winter's Tale (Warner Bros.)
Winter’s Tale
(Warner Bros.)

Though there are other, uh…contenders…Winter’s Tale appears to be a legit love story worthy of a Valentine’s Day release.  Based on the novel by Mark Helprin, the film concerns master thief Peter Lake (Colin Ferrell), his affection for the lovely, consumption-stricken Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay a.k.a. Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey), and his rivalry with former mentor Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).  Also starring William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly (and featuring a Will Smith cameo), the story has a supernatural bent that allows it to span a century.  Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful MindCinderella Man) does his best work with Crowe, so perhaps his directorial debut will continue that streak.

RoboCop (Columbia Pictures)
RoboCop
(Columbia Pictures)

And now to the trio of remakes, beginning with RoboCop.  With Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire), Jennifer Ehle, and Jay Baruchel aboard, Brazilian director José Padilha’s film certainly doesn’t lack star power.  Joel Kinnaman (TV’s The Killing) takes over for Peter Weller (and, technically, Robert John Burke) as the part-man, part-robot police officer.  Look for my review in the Asheville Citizen-Times on Friday.

About Last Night (Screen Gems)
About Last Night
(Screen Gems)

About Last Night updates the 1986 Rob Lowe/Demi Moore dram-rom-com (without the ellipses in the title this go-round) and expands the story to include two couples figuring out their new love.  Kevin Hart (you again?) and Regina Hall (Brenda from the Scary Movie franchise) make up one unit with Michael Ealy (Barbershop) and Joy Bryant (Jasmine from TV’s Parenthood) comprise the other.  Steve Pink, director of Hot Tub Time Machine and part of John Cusack’s writing ensemble that brought us High Fidelity and Gross Pointe Blank, calls “action,” a credit far simpler than the film’s writing side.  It’s based on the 1986 screenplay, itself based on the play Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet, who I’m sure is delighted to be in the credits for this movie.

Endless Love (Universal Pictures)
Endless Love
(Universal Pictures)

Last up is Endless Love, a new version of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 teen romance.  Instead of Brooke Shields, we get Gabriella Wilde (no stranger to questionable remakes, having “survived” last fall’s Carrie) as a privileged girl who slums it with a working class boy (Magic Mike‘s Alex Pettyfer).  Shana Feste, who helmed the 2010 Gwyneth Paltrow music drama Country Strong, directs with a cast that also features Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson, and Robert Patrick.

Fleeing the Scene

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, The Nut Job, and Lone Survivor have completed their missions; Inside Llewyn Davis has played its last gig; and That Awkward Moment has (thankfully) passed.

On DVD

Good: The Counselor; Spinning Plates; How I Live Now; Wadjda

Mediocre: Ender’s Game; Austenland

Snoozy: All Is Lost

Unknown: The Armstrong Lie (Alex Gibney doc on the disgraced cyclist…as the controversy unfolded); The Best Man Holiday (sequel to 1999’s surprise hit); Diana (biopic with Naomi Watts that performed so poorly elsewhere it never got a chance locally)

On Netflix Instant

Paul Newman is excellent in Nobody’s Fool and the songs in Jesus Christ Superstar are catchy enough to make an atheist’s foot tap.  Appealing titles unseen by me include Adore, in which Naomi Watts (you! again!) and Robin Wright fall in love with each other’s teenage sons; the horror film Haunter from Splice director Vincenzo Natali and starring Abigail Breslin; and the recent ESPN 30 for 30 doc The Price of Gold, which coincides with the 20 year anniversary of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding mess it documents and, of course, the Sochi Olympics.

It’s also worth noting that the second season of House of Cards drops in its entirety Feb. 14.  If Netflix rolls the series out like it did last year, they’ll be available at 3 a.m. EST.  Marathon, anyone?

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