Midnight in Paris (PG-13, 2011, Sony Pictures)
Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter-turned-struggling novelist. He’s in Paris with his future wife (Rachel McAdams), who is so-so, and future in-laws (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy), who tolerate but openly wonder to his face what is wrong with him. (He just sort of stands there and takes it.) The protagonist in Gil’s not-quite novel is a guy who romanticizes the past while just sort of existing in the present, and you need not be a doctor to realize Gil is stumbling over his unfinished novel because he may be writing a dramatized autobiography instead. If this sounds too mundane for even Woody Allen’s pen to bring to soul-searching, life-affirming life, here’s what you need to know: One evening, when Gil is left to his own devices and the clock strikes midnight, something happens. And if you have even a passing interest in “Midnight in Paris,” even dropping a name or glossing over a spare detail pertaining to that something would just be wrong. That “Paris” is Allen’s doing becomes immediately apparent from the first instant Gil opens his mouth to purge a psychiatrist’s sofa’s worth of insecurity over what should just be lunch. But the confident and impossibly smooth way “Paris” takes that tide, turns it sideways and rides it into a wholly extraordinary second act is so awesome that it’s best to just let it steer and ask questions later. In this era of remakes, reboots, hand-holdings and suffocating needs to explain every glance toward left field, magic like this is too rare to invoke concerns about how it’s made.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery.
Blackthorn (R, 2011, Magnolia)
It long has been suggested that Butch Cassidy didn’t actually die at the hands of the Bolivian Army in 1908, but in fact lived quietly and peacefully for many years past his supposed death. We likely never will know if we don’t know by now, but if you’d like to play the “what if” game, the year’s arguable best Western would like to play with you. “Blackthorn” takes us to 1927, where Cassidy (Sam Shepard) — peacefully ducking the radar under the pseudonym James Blackthorn — finally succumbs to his desire to leave Bolivia and see home one last time. Early during the trek back, he gets tangled with a troubled robber (Eduardo Noriega), and while the friendship isn’t near so warm as the one “Blackthorn” details via flashbacks of a younger Butch (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and the Sundance Kid (Padraic Delaney), the imposing twosome they form is enough to evoke comparisons. “Blackthorn” certainly gives the relationship all the time it needs to ferment: Though bullets do fly and blood is shed, the story of where Blackthorn came from and is headed next is a heavy character study that derives more from a sideways glance than a gunshot to the chest. The raw tone of that character development works in concert with well-paced timeline shifts to wring “Blackthorn” wholly dry of dull moments, and even when the action sleeps, tension never stops lurking. Crafting even spiritual sequels to a “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is no endeavor for the faint of heart, but even if not a frame of “Blackthorn” is factually accurate, Butch would be hard-pressed to ask for a better second act than this one.
Extras: Short films “Breaking And Entering” and “Say Me,” two behind-the-scenes features.
Margin Call (R, 2011, Lions Gate)
There is no way the 2008 financial meltdown happened as simply as presented in “Margin Call,” which distills it down to one long day, one longer night, one company and one executive (Jeremy Irons) whose desire to throw a torn bandage on everything and bolt for the exit runs counter to the low-level (Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley) and high-level (Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci) employees who must shoulder the emotional burden of causing untold damage on their way out the door. But as the preceding run-on sentence implies, it isn’t quite so simple as you might expect a two-hour dramatization of a frightfully complex issue to be. “Call” doesn’t ask us to feel bad for those hamstrung employees, nor does it position anybody as a pure-hearted angel who wasn’t in this job for the money. But in place of sympathetic heroes (there weren’t any) and surprise twists (because reducing this to a bloody thriller or changing the ending would be insulting), “Call” simply humanizes its characters and lets the story play out. Some are trapped inside a situation they can’t change, some are voiceless grunts, and some (particularly Spacey’s Sam Rogers, the best-realized of a great lot) are facing other forces that put into perspective what a sham their day-to-day lives are. The larger financial picture inevitably gets pared down for easy consumption, but “Call’s” message about its effect — transmitted verbally, non-verbally, in the heat of conflict and occasionally straight from a guilty conscience springing a leak — is resonant all the same.
Extras: Director/producer commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), two behind-the-scenes features, photo gallery.
Burke & Hare (NR, 2010, IFC Films)
“Burke & Hare’s” first refreshing moment comes almost straight away, when our friendly narrator describes the setting — 1828, Scotland, a self-described age of enlightenment — and immediately jabs a pin into the enlightenment balloon by saying what you’re probably thinking as the camera swings around the public. Somewhere in this crowd are William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis), two poor, talent-deficient friends in search of any hustle that nets them enough pounds to make it to the next hustle. Elsewhere, two doctors (Tim Curry, Tom Wilkinson) scramble to acquire cadavers for use as teaching tools for an exploding medical scene. Burke and Hare stumble into a fresh cadaver, deliver it to one of the docs, net a handsome payday, and decide they need to keep this racket going. Now there’s just the matter of what to do when demand for dead bodies outstrips supply. “Hare” establishes a jovially dark comic tone with that opening-scene jab, and it holds that note as it amusingly dresses down everyone — be they doctors, scoundrels, police, love interests (Isla Fisher) or anyone in between — in town. Once we arrive at the matter of Burke’s and Hare’s financial sustainability, the vocal range between cheerful and dark is so wide that pretty much anything goes. “Hare” is funny, first and foremost. But its best gift is how guiltlessly easy it makes it to root for the dregs of humanity as they forcibly earn the scumbag tag. It may not be a picture of enlightenment by any stretch, but that doesn’t “Hare” doesn’t have a few surprises.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, interviews, outtakes.
Catch .44 (R, 2011, Anchor Bay)
“Catch .44” is a fun little movie about an attempted major drug deal, an attempt to hijack that deal, and an attempt to clean up the inevitable mess that ensues when plans go sideways. And if “fun” is prerequisite enough, perhaps it’s all we need to look past all the things this one isn’t. “44’s” eventual quagmire includes a lot of good characters and a great cast (Forest Whitaker, Bruce Willis, Malin Akerman, Nikki Reed, Deborah Ann Woll) bringing them to life. The presentation is lively, the dialogue vibrant, the progression of events a nice mix of things said and unsaid. But the thing about “44” is that all this lively buildup doesn’t really build into much of anything. For all its talking, posturing and (eventual) bloodletting, the prize at stake never seems remotely worth the struggle. The background exposition of some of “44’s” key players (especially Willis’ underutilized character, who lynchpins the whole thing) promises the moon but rarely delivers it, and when everything settles, you might find yourself wondering why what happened just happened. Then again, maybe you won’t. “44’s” disposition and flair for the dramatic are enthusastic enough to marginalize its shortcomings if you don’t take it too seriously. The story’s silly, but everyone seems to be having a blast telling it, and the fun they’re having is infectious enough to leave well enough alone.
Extras: Writer/director/editor commentary.
Warrior (PG-13, 2011, Lions Gate)
“Warrior” proves you can indeed have it all — if all you want is as many Oscar movie tropes as can reasonably coexist inside of 140 minutes. Ostensibly, “Warrior” is the story of Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), two brothers both entering a prestigious mixed martial arts tournament as heavy underdogs. But it’s also about Paddy (Nick Nolte), the recovering alcoholic father who attempts to mend fences with his estranged sons by training them. The brothers are estranged with one another as well, and each faces a separate cocktail of financial, professional and/or personal issues that feed into or arise from their MMA ambitions. There’s baggage all over “Warrior’s” emotional conveyor belt, and just in case the domestic issues aren’t enough, a handful of war flashbacks are on hand to play into one fighter’s character makeup. What results from this mashup is a polished, well-spoken, well-acted movie that on appearance alone does for MMA what “Raging Bull” or “Rocky” did for boxing. But coursing beneath all the polish is a nagging sensation that you’ve seen every piece of this story elsewhere. “Warrior’s” characters feel like walking means to Oscar-scene ends more than original creations, and what unfolds around them — from how the tournament progresses to how all that baggage spills off the side between bouts — is similarly hackneyed. It wears it heart up and down its sleeve, but it’s a heart that beats to the rhythm of all the movies that paved its way and did it better. (Never mind that the cover art spoils everything.)
Extras: Edgerton/filmmakers commentary, half-hour making-of documentary, selected-scene commentary with Nolte, deleted scene (with commentary), MMA strategy feature, Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr. tribute, bloopers.