Picks of the Week
(PG-13, 114 minutes, Summit/Lionsgate): The catastrophe of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean that opens this fact-based drama is rendered with nightmarish realism by Spanish director J.A. Bayona.
The wall of water looks harrowingly real as it slams into the Thai resort where the film is set and where tourists Henry and Maria (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) are spending the holidays with their three young sons.
But what is rendered even more convincingly is the anguish of separation experienced by Maria, who’s swept away from the others with her eldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), and by Henry, who also miraculously surfaces, with no one nearby but sons Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast).
After the intense opening, the rest of the film tracks the efforts of the family to reunite in the chaos left in the giant wave’s wake. It’s not a momentous story about heroism, but an intimate tale of the small acts of kindness and connection that can occur when people are most desperate.
Contains violent disaster sequences and brief nudity.
Extras: commentary with Bayona, writer Sergio G. Sanchez and producers Belen Atienza and Maria Belon; casting and making-of featurettes; deleted scenes.
(R, 113 minutes, Warner): The action opens in 1949, when a pathological crime boss named Mickey Cohen - played by a prosthetic-schnozzed Sean Penn serving up pure ham – is running Los Angeles’ brothels, drug trade and police department with sadistic fury.
One of the few cops Cohen hasn’t bought is John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a straight shooter and World War II hero with a pregnant wife at home and a yen for fighting the good fight. When O’Mara is enlisted by police chief William Parker (Nick Nolte) to go off the books to wipe Cohen out, the square-jawed vet enlists a ragtag team of misfits that could have stepped out of any of the war pictures “Gangster Squad” continually references.
The most interesting of the vigilantes is Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who becomes entangled with Cohen’s main squeeze, a Jessica Rabbit-esque bombshell named Grace. Lucky for viewers that Grace is played by the sensational Emma Stone, giving them a chance once again to luxuriate in the chemistry she and Gosling can generate in just one glance.
But “Gangster Squad” doesn’t have an idea in its pretty little head.
Contains strong violence and profanity.
Extras: “Tough Guys With Style” featurette. Also, on Blu-ray: commentary with director Ruben Fleischer, “The Gangland Files,” “Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen,” deleted scenes.
(R, 106 minutes, Universal): A contemporary drama about a community in the throes of the natural gas boom, the over-earnest movie stars Matt Damon as Steve Butler, a good corporate road warrior for a $9 billion energy company whose speciality is persuading poor farmers to lease their lucrative land for a relative pittance.
After buying some flannel shirts and work gloves to better fit in with the locals, Damon and his co-worker Sue (Frances McDormand), begin to make their pitches in the dairy-farming town of McKinley, Pa. There are a few naysayers, chiefly a local teacher and later, an interloping environmentalist in the person of Dustin Noble (John Krasinski).
“Promised Land” isn’t an arresting piece of filmmaking, but it benefits from a refreshing twist – a corporate villain who isn’t a villain, a man motivated not by greed but by compassion.
Damon and Krasinski don’t create much by way of emotional investment, becoming mirror images of their most mild-mannered selves.
Contains strong language.
Extras: making-of featurette, extended scene . The Washington Post