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Mating rituals

Profile image for By Boo Allen/Film Critic
By Boo Allen/Film Critic
Jessica Raine stars in the BBC series Call the Midwife.PBS
Jessica Raine stars in the BBC series Call the Midwife.
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is the focus of Alison Klayman’s documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.Never Sorry LLC
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is the focus of Alison Klayman’s documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.
Never Sorry LLC

Streep, Jones excel as couple dancing around marriage’s pitfalls

This week, we begin in Maine:


Hope Springs

Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Available Tuesday in DVD
and streaming formats.

Two of the finest actors of this era bring resonance to Vanessa Taylor’s story of Kay and Arnold (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones), a disaffected Nebraskan couple whose marriage has lost its way.

But when he won’t admit it, she drags him to Maine, to an intensive weeklong counseling session with marriage expert Dr. Feld (an understated Steve Carell). He forces the couple to open up about their marital fears and disappointments. Arnold proves extremely reluctant, putting Kay in doubt about the entire venture.

Director David Frankel takes the couple, and the viewer, through some insightful yet squirm-worthy sequences as the two actors excel in conveying the anguish and the indecision of their characters.

The DVD, in various formats, offers director commentary, a five-minute gag reel, a four-minute featurette with Streep and Jones talking marriage, and 17 minutes of alternate takes. The Blu-ray offers four additional featurettes.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (**1/2) Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), a childless couple who want a child, write down their wishes for a perfect child and bury them in a box in their backyard. The next morning, Timothy (CJ Adams), a dirt-covered boy with leaves on his lower legs, appears. He acts natural and unfazed and quickly blends in, calling Cindy and Jim “Mom” and “Dad.”

The rest of Ahmet Zappa’s story, with screenplay and direction from Peter Hedges, unfolds as the Greens barely question Timothy’s appearance but grow to love him even though they, and the viewer, know something negative lies ahead. This warm-hearted film with positive messages about love and family can overshadow most of the negatives of the fantastical story line.

Rated PG, 100 minutes. The DVD from Disney comes in all formats and various combo packs. Supplements include commentary, five deleted scenes, a 10-minute “making of” featurette, a nine-minute segment on Glen Hansard’s music, a music video and more.

Suddenly (***) Contro­versy has surrounded this 1954 release, directed by Lewis Allen and starring Frank Sinatra as an assassin bent on killing the U.S. president. Reportedly, Sinatra had the film taken out of circulation after the Ken­nedy assassination.

It then remained in limbo, sporadically turning up on TV or VHS. This new release arrives on Blu-ray and HD, transferred from the original 35 mm master print.

John Baron (Sinatra) arrives in Suddenly, Calif., a small town that the president is due to pass through. Baron and two men take hostage a widow (Nancy Gates), her young son (Kim Charney) and his grandfather (James Gleason). The local sheriff (film noir icon Sterling Hayden) finds himself wounded and stuck in the house. Together, everyone counts down the time together as tension builds and tempers wear short.

Not rated, 76 minutes. The DVD offers two separate commentaries, one by Frank Sinatra Jr. Also included is Francis Thompson’s 1957 15-minute short film “New York, New York,” an impressionistic work filled with stylistic images of the city.

Butter (**) This tasteless movie threatens to become a deliciously bad Guilty Pleasure, in the vein of Bad Santa. The decent cast takes a collective tongue-in-cheek approach to tell the story of a bitterly competitive butter-carving competition in Iowa City, Iowa.

When 15-time winner Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) takes an involuntary retirement, his Lady Macbeth of a wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner), enters, believing her minimal talent will combine with her chicanery to beat the crowd favorite, a 10-year-old girl (Yara Shahidi).

An unbridled Olivia Wilde plays a pole dancer intent on extorting money from Bob, and Hugh Jackman takes a curiously minor role as a local auto huckster. British actor Jim Field Smith directed from Jason Micallef’s script.

Rated R, 91 minutes. The DVD, in all formats, includes a five-minute gag reel and six deleted scenes.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (***1/2) Alison Klayman’s documentary examines the life and current times of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

The photographer, filmmaker, sculptor and installation artist helped create the famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium for Bei­jing’s 2008 Olympics but fell in official disfavor with the authorities for his outspoken comments about government ineptitude after the Sichuan earthquake. Klayman had personal access during the filming, capturing her subject during times of triumph and personal crisis.

Rated R, 91 minutes. The DVD includes commentary, 40 minutes of deleted scenes and 24 minutes of interviews.

Sugar Mommas (**1/2) Lynn (Vanessa Williams) opens a bakery with her sister Sheila (Terri J. Vaughn). They enlist mutual friend Tommi (Rachel True). But before the trio can achieve success, they hit some bumps, challenging their business and their friendships. Not rated, 88 minutes.

Finding Nemo: Collector’s Edition (****) Disney-Pixar brings back its 2003 release, one of Pixar’s most popular, and its best. Finding Nemo’s colorful palette lends itself beautifully to the new Blu-ray and 3-D formats, as well in telling its story of clownfish Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) losing his son Nemo (Alex­an­der Gould), only to set out with his friend Dory (Ellen De­Generes) on an unforgettable search and rescue mission.

Rated G, 100 minutes. The DVD, in all formats and various combo packs, offers deleted scenes, short films, outtakes, a “making of” featurette and much else, so check labels.

And, from this week’s TV arrivals:

World Without End (***) This eight-part miniseries, on two discs, is based on Ken Follett’s novel on the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Great intrigue is afoot as Edward II has died under mysterious circumstances and Edward III takes the throne while his French mother Isabella secretly plots against the British crown.

In the fictional town of Kings­bridge (filmed in Hun­gary), Jersey Shore-type subplots play out in the form of romances and clashing authority figures as well as a mother (Cynthia Nixon) plotting to gain power for Godwyn (Rupert Evans), her son and local prior.

Call the Midwife: Season One This compelling BBC series begins in 1957 in the slums of London’s East End, and is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth and narrated by Vanessa Redgrave.

An inexperienced young woman, Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), has been accepted as a midwife in Nonnatus House, a religious order that tends to the poor pregnant women of the district.

Jenny makes friends with the eclectic, entertaining and age-diverse members of the religious group who aid the fertile women of the surrounding slums. She learns much about life, and her vocation, as she intrepidly tends to women who live in poverty and abuse.

The series’ six unrated episodes, each around an hour long, appear on three discs, available on Blu-ray. They come along with a 10-minute “making of” featurette with the cast discussing the series and its creation.

Also available Tuesday on DVD: Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Thunderstruck.