Picks of the week
‘A Most Violent Year’
(R, 125 minutes, Lionsgate): Set in New York’s outer boroughs in 1981 – a year of record crime rates in the city – J.C. Chandor’s absorbing urban drama is about honor, ambition, loyalty and ethical calculations, all set against the improbably action-packed backdrop of the home heating oil industry.
With its shimmering skyline, Manhattan beckons throughout this atmospheric piece, but Chandor pays homage to boot straps, elbow grease and alert, opportunistic self-makers while keeping a wary eye on the moral slippage that they exploit.
Its protagonist, Abel Morales, is a man on the move. A businessman who started out as an oil truck driver, he now owns the company and is trying to buy a crucial piece of land alongside the East River. Played by Oscar Isaac in a watchful, thoughtfully paced performance that recalls Al Pacino in “The Godfather,”
Morales is determined to bring personal pride and his own brand of striver’s politesse to the competitive industry he’s adopted. Even when his drivers are brutally hijacked while making their daily runs, he refuses to allow them to arm themselves. But when things get ugly, his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), asks her husband if he wants her to call in reinforcements from her mobbed-up family in Brooklyn.
Chandor (“Margin Call,” “All Is Lost”) gracefully evokes the tone and atmosphere of 1980s New York, working with the fabulous cinematographer Bradford Young to create a washed-out palette and visual style that evokes Sidney Lumet at his most gritty and unadorned.
Contains obscenity and some violence. Extras: Commentary with Chandor, a conversation with Chastain and Isaac, a making-of featurette, “The Contagious Nature of Violence” featurette, deleted scenes, “Inner City Crew” outtakes and a “We Can Cure Violence” public service announcement.
(R, 120 minutes, Radius-TWC): Signaling the nature of its story from the very first frame, James Gray’s drama shows the Statue of Liberty with its back turned to us, blind to the hardships its title character, a young Polish woman, will suffer.
But Gray directs this handsome and evocative film with emotional restraint, making its archetypal title character a living individual whose moral journey is never simple. Marion Cotillard plays Ewa, who arrives at Ellis Island in 1921 with her tubercular sister. Officials quarantine Magda, as the sisters feared, but they deny entry to Ewa as well.
Frightened and confused, Ewa finds help from a mysterious, well-dressed stranger. Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), who knows how to circumvent bureaucracy, gets her off the island and to the Lower East Side, where he seems to be a prince of the tenements. The arrival of Bruno’s cousin Emil (Jeremy Renner), a Houdini-like illusionist who woos Ewa, fuels a rivalry.
The movie’s re-creation of 1921 New York feels lived-in, its saloons and street life as period-specific as, say, those in “Once Upon a Time in America,” without straining to impress.
Cotillard’s performance is similarly unshowy: Bottled-up Ewa doesn’t advertise her desperation or weep over necessary sins; she does what her situation requires.
Contains sexual content, nudity and some strong language.
‘The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death’
(PG-13, 98 minutes, Fox): Schoolchildren fleeing World War II London for a remote country estate discover a ghostly presence in this horror sequel.
Contains some disturbing and frightening images. With Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory and Jeremy Irvine (“War Horse”). Extras: A locations featurette and deleted scene. On Blu-ray: “Pulling Back the Veil: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death.”
(G, 79 minutes, Docurama): As documentarian Judy Irving did with “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” her 2003 hit, which remains among the 20 highest-grossing nature documentaries of all time, she has again found storytelling gold in a quirky avian news item.
Inspired by 2008 reports of a weak and sickly pelican found wandering, disoriented, amid traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, the filmmaker’s “Pelican Dreams” follows Gigi (as Irving nicknames the bird, for “Golden Gate”) into the Bay Area nature rehabilitation facility to which she has been bundled, under a blanket, in the back seat of a police car.
Contains some images of animals in distress and a brief mention of euthanasia.
“Home Sweet Hell”
“The Invisible Front”
“Monk With a Camera”
“The Simon Wiesenthal Collection”
“Detroit Rock City”
“Manhattan: Season One”
“Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways”
“The Book of Negroes”
“Frasier: The Complete Series”
“Matlock: The Complete Series”
“King of the Hill: Season 9”