Beastly This modern-day version of Beauty and the Beast is surprisingly appealing. In an era of bullies and mean girls, “Gossip Girls” and “Pretty Little Liars,” it’s nice to have such a tenderhearted fairy tale.
Sucker Punch Girls in thigh-hi stockings and tiny spangled miniskirts take on steam-powered corpses, WWI bi-planes, samurai robots, and an angry dragon, along with a series of odiously predatory men in the latest film from Zack Snyder. His versions of “300? and “Watchmen” overwhelmed the storylines with striking, provocative visuals. Here, he solves that problem by pretty much not having any storyline at all. He literally and metaphorically cuts to the chase. It’s not so much punch, a bit more sucker.
Season of the Witch. This is sword-and-sorcery film named after a Donovan song that features a joke swiped from “Jaws” — a priest looks balefully up at a looming demon and actually says, “We’re going to need more holy water.” It is a hopeless mish-mash that feels like they were making it up as they went along. It’s also dull.
The Eagle The classic book for kid by Rosemary Sutcliff is an epic story, lavishly filmed, but empty at the core. Without a reason to care about the quest, it does not matter how skillfully the battle scenes are filmed.
Unknown There are some good chases through Berlin and even twistier plot developments even if the end is kind of silly in this story of a man on the way to an academic conference who wakes up after an accident with amnesia and finds that someone else has taken over his life. Worth seeing for one scene between veterans Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella.
Barney’s Version Paul Giamatti makes us understand and even forgive a man who leaves his own wedding reception (second marriage) to run after a woman he has just met (Rosamund Pike), who will be the great love of his life. Based on the last novel by the great Canadian author Mordecai Richler, this is a sprawling, episodic story of a man who is not always likable but the performances by Giamatti, Pike, and Dustin Hoffman has his policeman father over the decades are magnificent.
A Unitarian minister must find a way to bring to her own life what she has encouraged in others in this moving documentary, Raw Faith.
A sad farewell to actor Peter Falk, who died this week at age 83. Perhaps best remembered for his long-running television show, Columbo, his passing reminds us of his wide-ranging work as everything from a singing gangster to an animated shark. He was the story-telling grandfather in The Princess Bride, the spy who created pre-wedding chaos in the original (and far better) “The In-Laws” (1979), the neglected gem inspired by a true story about a grandfather who raises first his grandson and then his great-grandchildren in Roommates, and an essential contributor to the ground-breaking naturalism of pioneering indie-film director John Cassavetes in films like Husbands. His live theater work included a Tony award- winning performance in Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and he was twice nominated for an Oscar, for “Murder Inc.” and “Pocket Full of Miracles.” Many of his fans never realized that he had a glass eye because of cancer when he was a child or that he was a CPA.
The unusual structure of the “Columbo” detective series revealed the murderer (almost always someone wealthy and powerful) at the beginning. Lt. Columbo (Falk) would come in, lull the culprit into feeling safe by appearing obsequious and bumbling, and then solve the crime in the last act. The fun was in watching him outsmart the people who believed they had thought of everything. As a producer of the show, Falk helped to ensure top quality guest stars and directors. Steven Spielberg (pre-“Jaws”) directed one of the first episodes. He said, “Peter was the same kind of digger as an actor as his character Columbo was in finding the truth in that great tv series. He was a blast to work with and I learned more about acting from him at that early stage of my career than I had from anyone else.”
The PBS NewsHour shared a scene from “Columbo” with William Shatner as an television actor who plays a Columbo-like character and mistakenly thought he could get away with murder.