Picks of the week
(PG, 97 minutes, Disney): One of the imperatives of stardom, and one of the most difficult to navigate, is the management of a screen persona over time, somehow balancing one’s own artistic ambitions, the audience’s expectations and plain old-fashioned aging to create a career that gracefully spans characters, stories and – with any luck – generations.
Angelina Jolie delivers a savvy example of this in “Maleficent,” a feminist-revisionist take on the Sleeping Beauty myth in which she inhabits the story’s evil fairy, a once-happy winged sprite who places a curse on a baby princess.
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Contains sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images. Extras: “Aurora: Becoming a Beauty” in which actress Elle Fanning reveals her lifelong love of Disney’s original animated classic. On Blu-ray: Deleted scenes, featurettes on how the special effects were created, a “From Fairy Tale to Feature Film” featurette and “Classic Couture,” examining Maleficent’s head wraps and jewelry.
‘A Most Wanted Man’
(R, 122 minutes, Lionsgate): Günther Bachmann may pull a lot of strings as the head of a Hamburg-based antiterrorism unit, but to call this schlubby, chain-smoking, hard-drinking German intelligence operative a spymaster just seems wrong.
As beautifully played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last and most powerful performances, the “A Most Wanted Man” antihero is too much at the mercy of others to be a master of anything. That doesn’t stop him from trying.
The complicated tale, based on John le Carre’s 2008 novel, unspools slowly and with the kind of insider spy lingo familiar to readers of le Carré, who delivers a deliciously satisfying plot of Rube Goldbergian proportions.
Although the cast (Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe) is uniformly fine, Hoffman shines in a role that demands the complexity and contradiction rendered through the kind of dull character details that he excelled in.
Extras: a making-of featurette and a “Spymaster: John le Carre in Hamburg” short.
‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’
(PG, 84 minutes, Disney): This comedy-adventure featuring firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire appears to be a cartoon designed for kids and for selling anthropomorphized toys.
But this sequel – which improves slightly on its lazy “Planes” predecessor – also appeals to the middle-aged, particularly those who enjoy watching an animated air show set to the sound of AC/DC. Voice talent includes Dane Cook, returning as Dusty the crop-duster; Hal Holbrook as Mayday, the aging resident fire engine, and Ed Harris as Blade Ranger, a fire-and-rescue helicopter.
Contains action, some peril. Extras: Animated short “Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular,” a mock-umentary promo reel “Welcome to Piston Peak!”; a “CHoPs” TV promo satire; a behind-the-scenes look at real smoke jumpers and firefighters; music video; deleted scenes, animated shorts “Dipper” and “Smokejumpers.”
(PG-13, 98 minutes, Paramount): Frat-boyish filmmaker Brett Ratner has the distinction of having made the worst “X-Men” film (“X-Men: The Last Stand”), the dumbest Hannibal Lecter tale (“Red Dragon”) and the most boring “Rush Hour” sequel.
But if future film scholars ever chronicle the Great Hercules Boom of 2014, they are likely to credit him with the best of the bunch. This offers moments of actual entertainment. It simply fails to exploit its assets: an amusing, revisionist take on the mythological strongman, and the charisma of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Contains violence, occasional harsh language and a brief glimpse of nudity. Extras: Commentary by Ratner and producer Beau Flynn, 15 deleted/extended scenes, an introduction to Ratner and Johnson, “Hercules and His Mercenaries,” special effects and weapons featurettes and “The Bessi Battle” behind-the-scenes featurette. Available in 3-D.
(R, 95 minutes, Sony): Mitch, a bawdy former surgeon, convinces mild-mannered Colin, his ex-brother-in-law, to join him on a holiday in Iceland. In an effort to get their grooves back, they set off on a road trip from trendy Reykjavik to the rugged outback.
Mitch is played by Earl Lynn Nelson, an untrained actor and second cousin of Martha Stephens, who wrote and directed the film with Aaron Katz. Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn is Colin, who has been estranged from the family for years. As in most road movies, they’re an odd couple; unlike most, the friction between them and their underlying loyalty feel real, not contrived.
Extras: Deleted scenes, commentary with Eenhoorn, Nelson, Stephens and Katz, and a Los Angeles Film Festival Q&A with Eenhoorn, Nelson, Stephens, Katz and co-star Elizabeth McKee.