Picks of the Week
(R, 138 minutes, Sony): A larky, anarchic life force runs through David O. Russell’s screwball homage to the strivers and connivers who wreak playful havoc with what could easily have been a straight-up, if antic, FBI procedural.
Notionally based on the 1978 Abscam investigation, wherein an FBI sting used fake Arab sheiks to ferret out corruption within the ranks of Congress and local jurisdictions, “American Hustle” cheerfully jettisons any pretense of historical accuracy or journalistic shoe-leather.
Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper develop a credible, explosively volatile chemistry, and Bale is particularly heroic in his portrayal of a blubbery white whale of a man trying to shake that last harpoon.
Contains pervasive profanity, some sexual content and brief violence. Extras: a making-of featurette, deleted and extended scenes.
(PG, 108 minutes, Disney): Disney is back in the game with this Oscar winner for best animated feature and best song, “Let It Go.”
The movie might not have potential pop hits – the songs sound much more like musical theater show tunes – but the animated comedy-adventure has a sweet and very modern message, plus strong characters. More important, the movie blends the music-minded mentality of yore with the more recent ambition of truly appealing to all ages. Its surprising and poignant ending, which subverts so many fairy-tale stereotypes, feels as though it cancels out the movie’s small flaws and dragging moments.
“Frozen” may be a nod to the pleasures of vintage Disney and old fairy tales, but there’s nothing outdated about it. Contains some action and mild rude humor.
Extras: deleted scenes; the Oscar-nominated animated short, “Get A Horse”; “Let It Go” music videos by Demi Lovato, Martina Stoessel and Marsha Milan Londoh. On Blu-ray: two making-of featurettes.
‘Saving Mr. Banks’
(PG-13, 125 minutes, Disney): A spoonful of sugar and all the cheap sentiment and facile whimsy it represents are precisely what author P.L. Travers abhors in this richly rendered, engrossing dramatization of Walt Disney’s efforts to adapt Travers’ novel “Mary Poppins” into one of his confectionery extravaganzas.
Played by Emma Thompson in a deliciously brittle turn, Travers emerges in the film as a humorless, imperious, unfailingly prim martinet, who when she arrives at the Disney studios in 1961 to collaborate on the script, insists that everyone – even Uncle Walt – address her as “Mrs. Travers.”
Reluctant to hand over Mary Poppins – never just “Mary,” please – Travers wages a two-week war of attrition on the screenwriter and composers assigned to bring the magical governess to the screen, wearing the boys down with constant criticisms and suggestions, all to keep her most cherished creation from becoming yet another casualty of Disney-fication.
Contains thematic elements including some unsettling images. Extras: the deleted scene “Nanny Song,” in which two composers perform a song that Travers is less than thrilled about. On Blu-ray: deleted scenes; a featurette on the history of Walt Disney Studios; “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” in which the cast and crew break out in a heartfelt tribute to composer Richard Sherman on the last day of filming.
Long Walk to Freedom’
(PG-13, 129 minutes, The Weinsterin Co./Anchor Bay): This film does a worthy job of honoring both its subject and its audience.
It can feel, at times, both overlong and oversimplified, but the story propels itself along while awakening in viewers some profound emotions. That latter achievement is thanks largely to the film’s star, British actor Idris Elba, who has transformed himself in recent years from an inner-city Baltimore drug kingpin on “The Wire” to a London detective with a dark side on the television series “Luther” to the late, beloved freedom fighter.
Elba looks not at all like Nelson Mandela, and yet his demeanor, not to mention his impressive accent, captures the icon.
Contains some intense sequences of violence and disturbing images, sexual content and brief strong language. Extras: commentary with director Justin Chadwick and “Mandela: The Leader You Know, The Man You Didn’t” featurette. On Blu-ray: behind-the-scenes featurettes and a tribute video gallery.