'Tis the season when the holiday film release schedule heats up. This week alone, a handful of new movies open at area theaters. There's something for everyone: animation for the kids (Good Dinosaur, which didn't screen in time for us to review), period pieces (Trumbo, Brooklyn), action (Creed) and horror (Victor Frankenstein). Here's a rundown of several of the new releases currently showing area wide.
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, Brooklyn artfully combines art house sensibilities with a chick-flick motif. It centers on Eilis Lacey (Atonement's Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish girl whose older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) makes arrangements for her to go to the States where she can hopefully escape Ireland's poverty and find employment. The voyage to America proves difficult as Eilis gets food poisoning and struggles to stay composed. Once Stateside, she settles into a nice boarding house in Brooklyn and begins working at a department store. Initially, she's extremely homesick, but after she meets a courteous young male suitor (Emory Cohen), she begins to adapt. When she has to unexpectedly return to Ireland, she finds herself second-thinking her decision to live abroad and questioning whether she should be so far away from her elderly mother (Jane Brennan). While the film comes across as a rather gentle immigrant story — Eilis never encounters the kind of hardship that many Irish immigrants often did in the 1950s, and there's not even a hint of the racism that existed during the time period — the movie still works as a love story thanks to another fine performance by Ronan. — Jeff Niesel
The flimsy premise to this Rocky reboot revolves around Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate offspring of Apollo Creed, Rocky's late rival-turned-friend. Adonis works an office gig by day but moonlights as a boxer and hits the circuit in Mexico on weekends. He knows he wants to take things to another level, so he lures the aging Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) out of retirement. Content to work at his Italian restaurant, Rocky doesn't initially show any interest in training Adonis. But the kid talks him into it, and it's not long before they're going through Rocky's regimen of training, chasing chickens and running through Philly's city streets. Of course, it all leads to one big, seemingly unwinnable fight against Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), the cocky British fighter who owns the world title. Stallone delivers a fine performance as the crotchety former fighter, and the toned Jordan certainly looks the part of a fighter even if he doesn't quite have the appropriate swagger. And yet, the film, which arrives on the 40th anniversary of the original Rocky, lacks the inspirational, against-all-odds moments that turned the original film into a blockbuster. One particular scene that finds Adonis running through the streets while accompanied by a motorcycle gang comes off as incredibly staged and unnatural. — Niesel
Anthony Hopkins is said to have emailed Bryan Cranston at the conclusion of AMC's Breaking Bad, more or less at a loss for words. "Your performance as Walter White was the best acting I have seen — ever," he wrote. And though Cranston's star continues to do little but rise, I remain in the ever-more-radical camp which holds that, other than in Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad, Cranston hasn't been anything special on screen. He's got a stage actor's tendency to over-express. In Trumbo, he plays screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the ringleader in a contingent of Hollywood writers who are jailed and blacklisted for communist views. And with the exception of Louis C.K., the film succeeds in capturing the era. The costumes and production design (including replicated footage from the House Un-American Activities Committee) are on-point, as are the bevy of actors tasked with portraying Hollywood legends (Oscar-season regular Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, JAG's David James Elliot as John Wayne, The Hobbit's Dean O'Gorman as Kirk Douglas). The film is less successful at turning the act of writing into something visually interesting. Trumbo enlists his family in a mad-cap enterprise. He wants to churn out endless scripts for low-budget films to take over Hollywood pseudonymously. And though John Goodman delivers a very John Goodman-y performance as a B-movie studio exec, Cranston banging away at a typewriter turns out to be less satisfying than this year's better film about writers (The End of the Tour) and this year's better film about mid-20th century political paranoia (Bridge of Spies). — Sam Allard
In Mary Shelley's 19th-century novel Frankenstein, the creation scene takes place in a matter of minutes on a dreary November night when Victor Frankenstein manages to reanimate a corpse he's cobbled together with a few spare body parts picked up at the local cemeteries. Rightly concerned more with the events that led to the monster's creation and the destruction that takes place in the wake of its creation, Shelley chose to focus on the human desire to want to be god and the complications of such tendencies. In subsequent films based on the novel, the creation scene turns into a centerpiece. That's certainly the case in Victor Frankenstein, yet another version of the classic horror story. This particular incarnation has little connection to the novel. Rather, it focuses on Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a circus freak fascinated by the human form. Victor (James McAvoy) discovers Igor at the circus one day and takes him under his wing, quickly curing him of his hunchback and making him a partner at his lab. Trouble is, in rescuing him, Victor caused a bit of a commotion, and now Scotland Yard is hot in pursuit. While the creation scene here features all the bells and whistles as it takes place in a remote castle during a wicked lightening storm, it arrives too late to redeem the film. The creature doesn't make an appearance until the very end of the movie, which comes off more like a second-rate Sherlock Holmes flick than a monster movie. — Niesel