Secrets, intrigue lead this week’s new releases
This week, we begin in an unnamed country:
The Patience Stone
Rated R, 102 minutes. Available now in various digital download formats. Available Tuesday on DVD.
In a bombed-out apartment in an unnamed Muslim country, an unnamed woman (Golshifteh Farahani) with two children and no support nurses her husband of 10 years. He lies in a coma in a filthy bed after taking a bullet in the neck.
As the woman’s fear overcomes her, she talks to him. Surprisingly, she tells the much older man things she would never have dared to previously, many things of a private and even sexual nature.
Co-writer and director Atiq Rahimi keeps The Patience Stone swiftly moving, often flashing back to tell the woman’s eventful life story. Her harrowing experiences inform her actions, while also explaining her current situation. Before Rahimi winds up the tense saga, the woman receives an unexpected source of refuge.
In a cast of non-professionals, Farahani turns in a performance filled with authenticity and emotion.
DVD extras: “Making-of” featurette.
Swerve (3 stars) This low-budget Australian thriller never goes where expected, as writer-director Craig Lahiff has crafted a neo-noir caper reminiscent of other modern entries in the genre, such as Red Rock West.
In a dusty, isolated corner of the Outback, Colin (David Lyons) witnesses a fatal auto accident when a man swerves to miss the recklessly driving Jina (Emma Booth). In the wrecked car, Colin finds a suitcase filled with cash, which he dutifully takes into the nearby town’s sheriff (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty). But first, Colin gives the stranded Jina a ride home.
Soon, the sheriff invites the stranded Colin to spend the night at his house, as Colin learns Jina and the sheriff are married. From there, the double-crosses and triple-crosses fly, but all within the confines of a well-plotted, mostly gap-free scenario. Even until the end, Lahiff keeps up the tension and suspense while delivering the curve balls.
Not rated, 86 minutes.
DVD extras: Four cast and crew interviews.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (3 stars) Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela in this handsome production directed by Justin Chadwick, with screenplay from William Nicholson based on Mandela’s autobiography of the same name.
The reverential film examines the full life of the South African leader, including his marriage to Winnie Mandela (Naomi Harris), his country’s apartheid, which led to his 27 years of incarceration, his freedom and his election to become South Africa’s first post-apartheid president. The film dutifully hits the high notes, if somewhat perfunctorily, but Elba turns in a persuasive performance as Mandela.
Rated PG-13, 141 minutes.
DVD extras: All formats and downloads include commentary, a 22-minute featurette on “Mandela, the Man,” and a 30-minute, four-part “behind-the-scenes” featurette.
Iron Sky: Director’s Cut (2 stars) Forget Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, what moviegoers really want and are feverishly clamoring for arrives this week: the director’s cut of Timo Vuorensola’s 2012 uber-silly horror fest about Moon Nazis invading Earth.
Based on the concept that Germany set up a secret Nazi program on the moon following World War II that is now ready to return to take over Earth, this satirical slice of lunacy stars Julia Dietze, Udo Kier and Gotz Otto.
Not rated, 110 minutes.
DVD extras: A new version that is 20 minutes longer than the theatrical release; unreleased footage; a 90-minute “making of” documentary; and a 32-page art book.
5 Fingers (3.5 stars) This polished 1952 production arrives from the Twentieth Century Fox Cinema Archives. Based on L.C. Moyzisch’s supposedly true story, word master Joseph L. Mankiewicz displays his knack for putting inspiring material on the screen.
A perfectly unctuous James Mason plays Diello, the valet to the British ambassador in neutral Turkey during World War II. The valet steals secret papers, photographs them and then sells them to German agents.
He then uses the money to elevate the situation of the duplicitous Polish countess Anna Staviska (Danielle Darrieux). Before the war, he worked for her husband, but now sees himself as her equal.
Michael Rennie plays the British agent on Diello’s trail, a course that ends with an international chase ending in Rio and with a deliciously ironic ending.
Not rated, 107 minutes.
Contracted (1 star) It’s not often a horror movie approaches the empty repulsiveness of The Human Centipede, but this dreary, amateurish, no-budget, no-name silliness comes close. Eric England wrote and directed the story of Samantha (Najarra Townsend), a lesbian who gets drunk one night and has a backseat fling with some strange guy.
Before long, she experiences all kinds of physical problems, like losing her hair and some teeth, bleeding erratically and having her eyes turn creepily red. Maybe she is turning into a vampire, or a zombie, or maybe it’s a cautionary tale about anonymous sex. But the greatest question is: Who cares?
Not rated, 84 minutes.
DVD extras: Commentaries, a 17-minute “making of” featurette, a 7-minute segment on Townsend’s audition and more.
Saving Mr. Banks (3 stars) In this film directed by John Lee Hancock, Walt Disney Studios’ examination of itself is consistently entertaining and humorous. The script from Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith tells the little-known story of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson) trip to Hollywood as Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) hopes to land the movie rights to the English writer’s book.
Hanks’ avuncular portrayal of Disney provides appropriate grist for Thompson’s delicious turn as the irascible Travers. The story takes time to flesh out her early background in Australia, a seminal period in which her later cantankerousness can be partly explained. Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak play brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, the studio composers tasked with pleasing Mrs. Travers.
Rated PG-13, 125 minutes. As in virtually all Disney releases, this film arrives in expected downloads, DVD formats and combo packs.
DVD extras: Three deleted scenes, a 15-minute “making of” featurette with emphasis on the Disney legacy, titled “The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to Present,” and the two-minute cast and crew sing-along of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” on the last day of filming.
Peppa Pig: My Birthday Party This British animated series geared toward preschoolers features the title porker, Peppa. In these 12 episodes, Peppa joins her friends Pedro Pony, Danny Dog, Suzy Sheep and others for adventures, games and puzzles.
Not rated, 80 minutes.
DVD extras: Two bonus episodes.
And, finally, from this week’s TV offerings:
End of the World (2.5 stars) This moderately entertaining science-fiction spoof from the Syfy channel turns a couple of self-professed disaster-movie geeks into heroes when the Earth is threatened and only their knowledge of impending doom can save the world.
When disaster looms, a video store owner (Greg Grunberg) and his friend (Neil Grayston) combine their talents and discover that they will also need the expertise of a renowned science-fiction writer (Brad Dourif). Like most Syfy films, this one has passable but not laughable special effects and an earnest, handsome cast.
Not rated, 90 minutes.
Vikings (3.5 stars) In this three-part BBC series, archaeologist and historian Neil Oliver provides an informative and entertaining look at the history of the Vikings. Much of what he presents may contradict modern stereotypes of the Scandinavian warriors. For instance, forget those stupid helmets with horns on the sides.
Oliver travels to various locales in which the Vikings first organized, such as the Swedish island of Gotland, with remains dating back to 1500 B.C. He moves on to the Borum Eshoj funeral mounds and on across Scandinavia and its rich Viking heritage. He takes full advantage of current-day cinematography to capture the bleak yet beautiful landscapes and scenery where the Vikings traveled for more than two millennium.
Not rated, 178 minutes.
Also available this week on disc and streaming: American Hustle, A Brief History of Time and Frozen.