This week, we begin with a romance:
Rated PG-13, 93 minutes. Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray; available now in various digital formats.
Nicole Holofcener cements her status as one of the most insightful writer-directors working today with this warm, funny drama about two lost souls.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eve, a single woman whose daughter is about to leave for college. Eve then meets and grudgingly accepts the interests of Albert (James Gandolfini), another single parent unsure of his footing. Meanwhile, Eve’s massage therapist (Catherine Keener) counsels Eve, usually while complaining about her ex-husband — who turns out to be Albert.
Holofcener uses humor, wisdom and fine all-around performances to render this moving pleasure.
Runner Runner (2.5 stars) Justin Timberlake spends an hour and a half with a pained look on his face in this gambling drama, set mostly in Costa Rica.
He plays Princeton graduate student Richie Furst, a top online poker player who unexpectedly loses his tuition money. He travels to Costa Rica to confront the gambling website’s owner, American expatriate Ivan Block (Ben Affleck).
Block fires those responsible and hires Richie, bringing him into his far-reaching gambling empire. Richie enjoys the extravagant lifestyle for a while but eventually discovers an underside to Block’s dealings.
Meanwhile, a dogged FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) nabs Richie long enough to try to persuade him to help out with a federal investigation against Block. Various other subplots play out, some naturally including a beautiful femme fatale (Gemma Arterton) in director Brad Furman’s melodrama.
Rated R, 91 minutes. The DVD includes seven deleted scenes and a six part, 17 minute “making of” featurette, with an extended look at the intricacies of online poker.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2 stars) In this self-important work, Danny Strong’s screenplay tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a pseudonym for the real butler who worked in the White House from the Eisenhower administration through the Reagan era. Forest Whitaker plays Gaines, and Oprah Winfrey plays his wife, Gloria. But Daniels’ biggest casting gimmicks come with the first families (for example, Jane Fonda plays Nancy Reagan).
Daniels covers more than a half-century of African-American struggles, and in doing so, he turns Gaines and then later his son Louis (David Oyelowo) into unbelievable Zeligs, as the father and son seem to be around when anything historic takes place — such as the Little Rock school integration, as seen on television by Eisenhower (a pasty Robin Williams). Later, presidents Kennedy (James Marsden) and Johnson (Liev Schreiber) watch civil rights demonstrations on TV while Cecil hovers.
Other events enable Cecil to become a distaff witness to history, such as the Vietnam War and South Africa’s apartheid, under presidents Nixon (John Cusack) and Reagan (Alan Rickman). But Cecil remains quiet, never contributing his opinions or thoughts. Meanwhile, he becomes estranged from his son Louis, who, for his part, is present for the Freedom Rides, the Birmingham marches, lunch counter sit-ins and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
Daniels overdramatizes everything, even pushing several emotional scenes beyond good taste. The director records many historical high spots but adds little insight, even if he has a witness on hand for history.
Rated PG-13, 132 minutes. The DVD, available in all disc and download formats, includes a 22-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette, four minutes on “The Original Freedom Riders,” nine deleted scenes, a five-minute gag reel, and the song “You and I Ain’t Nothing No More” performed by Gladys Knight and Lenny Kravitz.
Single Shot (3 stars) Sam Rockwell turns in a gritty performance as John Moon, a backwoods West Virginia man who accidentally shoots a woman, mistaking her for a deer. But he compounds his crime, and creates his problems, by stealing the stolen money she was carrying. In his small town, his miscalculation cannot be hidden, and he suddenly must fend off violent drug dealers, crooked lawyers (including William H. Macy) and an angry estranged wife (Kelly Reilly).
Writer-director David M. Rosenthal makes the most of his gloomy atmospherics, ratcheting up the tension while creating moody atmospherics and creeping paranoia. Rated R, 116 minutes
Thanks for Sharing (2 stars) Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Josh Gad play Adam, Mike and Neil, three men who meet at a sex addiction support group. These addictions are then played for laughs, unbelievably enough. Eventually, however, writer-director Stuart Blumberg takes a turn and becomes introspective and, finally, maudlin.
Gwyneth Paltrow comes off looking best, taking a thankless role as Adam’s girlfriend, a vixen who temps him to break his celibacy. Rated R, 112 minutes.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Fruitvale Station, Inequality for All, Our Nixon, Rewind This, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now and Twenty Feet From Stardom.