This week at the movies, we’ve got friends with benefits (No Strings Attached, starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher) and a great escape (The Way Back, starring Ed Harris and Colin Farrell). What do the critics have to say?
Once in a while a romantic comedy will come along and represent the messiness of the contemporary dating scene. Most of the time, however, we get movies with a little bit of insight and a lot of contrivance. Critics say No Strings Attached falls into the latter category, with moments of warmth and sweetness that are spoiled by a predictable narrative and a dirty mind. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher star as acquaintances who, after a one night stand, decide to become friends with benefits, thereby presumably avoiding the confusion and jealousy that would surely come with a committed, monogamous relationship. But are things really that simple? Will these crazy kids become a real couple — or lose their friendship? The pundits say Portman and Kutcher keep things genial and easygoing, but they’re let down by a middling script that shoehorns in a little too much raunchy material.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Peter Weir — his last film to hit multiplexes was Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World way back in 2003. So it’s nice to report that he hasn’t lost his ability to make epic survival stories; critics say The Way Back is the kind of masterfully shot, stately-paced epic that rarely gets made anymore. Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, and Ed Harris star as three escapees of a Soviet gulag who undertake a treacherous journey for freedom. The pundits say the Certified Fresh The Way Back is evocative and compelling, and if it doesn’t get under the skins of its protagonists, it’s still an excellent old-school adventure yarn. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Farrell’s best-reviewed movies.)
Also opening this week in limited release:
The Woodmans, a documentary about a troubled family of great artists, is at 100 percent.
Applause, about an actress recovering from alcoholism while starring in a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, is at 86 percent.
Johnny Mad Dog, a drama about child soldiers fighting in an unnamed African country, is at 81 percent.
The Company Men, starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones in the tale of a couple of guys facing corporate downsizing, is at 76 percent.
Mumbai Diaries, an indie drama about four of the city’s residents whose lives intersect, is at 73 percent.
The Housemaid, a remake of the classic 1960 drama about a domestic who gets caught up in the dark doings of a prosperous family, is at 64 percent.
Zenith, a dystopian sci-fi mind-bender about a man who attempts to break free of society’s rigid conformity, is at 43 percent.