Picks of the Week
‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’
(PG-13, 126 minutes, The Weinstein Co./Anchor Bay): Inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen, who served eight presidents during his tenure as a White House domestic, the film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, who grows up amid Southern cotton fields, witnesses the systematic abuse of his parents and learns that one goes along to get along.
Director Lee Daniels trails Cecil through his near-slave childhood, a civil rights movement that impassions one son, a Vietnam War that draws in another and an election that results in the first African-American president.
What the film never settles on is a point of view: Is the subservience that makes Cecil a success as a butler something to be admired or decried?
Contains some violence and disturbing images, strong language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking.
Extras: “Lee Daniels’ The Butler: An American Story” and “The Original Freedom Riders” featurettes; deleted scenes; gag reel; and music video of “You and I Ain’t Nothin' No More” by Gladys Knight and Lenny Kravitz.
(PG-13, 92 minutes, Fox): Like the best romantic comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age, writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s film zings and pops with hilarious dialogue between its stars James Gandolfini and Julia-Louis Dreyfus.
“Enough Said” also gets to the heart of human nature: In this case, the lengths people go to in order to fill their empty spaces, and how lovable foibles become intolerable flaws.
Feisty, funny, fizzy and deeply wise, “Enough Said” sparkles within and without, just like the rare gem that it is.
Contains sexual content, some thematic material and brief strong language.
Extras: promotional featurettes. On Blu-ray: “Second Takes.”
(R, 84 minutes, The Weinstein Co./Anchor Bay): The astonishing directorial debut of 27-year-old Ryan Coogler won big awards at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals.
The story – about an unarmed young man who was shot and killed in Oakland in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 – parallels the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. That makes it a topical film, but what makes it a must-see is its timelessness: Coogler, who began writing the script as a film student at USC, brings not just classical aesthetic sensibilities to the tale of Oscar Grant (“The Wire’s” Michael B. Jordan) but an unerring ethical stance, as well.
In this absorbing, finally devastating portrait of a 22-year-old man struggling with a troubled past and cut down before he can build a future, Coogler never lets emotion be overpowered by emotionalism. In naturalistic and unforced strokes, he allows Grant to exist as a complex, even contradictory human, inviting the audience simply to sit with his life, his loss and what they both meant.
Contains some violence, profanity throughout and some drug use.
Extras: “The Story of Oscar Grant” featurette and a Q&A with Coogler, Jordan, co-star Melonie Diaz and producers Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker.
‘The Spectacular Now’
(R, 95 minutes, Lionsgate): With its quiet moments and easy pace, the film directed by James Ponsoldt effortlessly illustrates the realities of being a teenager, with the awkward first times and the casual selfishness, the drive to rebel but also the need to feel loved.
The movie’s success rests on the shoulders of its two superb leads. Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) plays Aimee, an earnest people-pleaser who stumbles upon a passed-out-drunk Sutter (Miles Teller) while delivering newspapers. The unlikely pair – Sutter with his live-in-the-now mantra and the bookish Aimee, who harbors dreams of college and working for NASA – strike up a friendship that leads to something more.
Aimee’s intentions are clear. She’s a bit star-struck, and she openheartedly embraces the notion that the popular class clown might be her first boyfriend. But Sutter is harder to gauge. He still has eyes for his ex, and he might be using Aimee to make his former flame jealous. His constant drinking makes him no more trustworthy. And yet, charismatic and quick-witted, he’s immensely likable.
Contains alcohol use, language and sexuality, all involving teens. Extras: deleted scenes, commentary with Ponsoldt and a four-part making-of featurette “Inception: Defying Hollywood,” “Cast: Finding the Voice,” “Aesthetic: Authenticity Counts” and “Real: Bringing It All to Life.”
(R, 119 minutes, Universal): Twelve years after bringing crazy-eyed, muscle-bound Riddick to life in the sci-fi thriller “Pitch Black,” Vin Diesel reunites with writer-director David Twohy for a third installment.
As the movie opens, Riddick, an escaped convict with silvery eyes and permanent night vision, finds himself stuck on a foreign planet where he’s been left for dead by one of his many enemies. But Riddick has a keen sense of survival, so he makes a nice little life for himself and his new pet, a killer puppy. But deep down, Riddick just wants to return to his home planet of Furya.
Knowing he has a bounty on his head, he broadcasts his whereabouts to lure mercenaries, whose ship he plans to steal. Sure enough, two competing groups land and start their hunt. The first is led by an idiotic hothead named Santana. The other team falls under the more likable Johns, whose motives are mysterious. He is more interested in talking to Riddick than killing him.
What ensues is a movie that’s more about these two groups than about the title character. Riddick sets off a game of cat-and-mouse, but there are two cats and the mouse remains in the shadows.
Contains strong violence, language, some sexual content and nudity.
Extras: a featurette on Diesel’s role in making “Riddick” and a look at the ensemble cast; and “Riddick: Blindsided,” an animated prequel to “Riddick” that fills in the gap since 2004’s “The Chronicles of Riddick.” On Blu-ray: “The Twohy Touch” behind-the-scenes featurette with Twohy; “Riddickian Tech,” a look at the weaponry and other special effects; and “The World of Riddick” making-of featurette.