With the weekend upon us, the temptation is there to be responsible. Thanksgiving is but a scant few days away. Turkeys need to be bought and brined. Guest rooms must be prepared for returning loved ones and other tolerated familials. The place-settings, my God, the place-settings! You haven't even thought about those yet, have you? But it's time to forget all that, because there are just far too many movies to be seen instead. Holiday weekends almost always mean an uptick in the cinematic options at your disposal, and Thanksgiving is certainly no exception. Accept this guidance, then, and allow us to guide you through the weekend's options.
Oh, just a little thing called the 75th annual Hunger Games. Director Francis Lawrence steps behind the camera for this second installment, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and the critical consensus is that he delivers a film that's an improvement on the original in every way. "While Catching Fire may be lacking a certain nuance or artistry," says our own Richard Lawson in his review, "it's a competent, thoughtfully constructed film, a nerve-jangling political-ish action picture that also plays like decent science fiction."
Also in theaters this weekend, Vince Vaughn fathered a crap-ton of children via sperm-bankery and now wants to be a father to all of them, in Delivery Man, which writer/director Ken Scott adapted from his own Canadian film Starbuck, even though this film seems like it was thought up one night in Kevin James's furnished garage.
And if you live in an area that doesn't get the good limited-release movies right away, now may be your chance to get a look at Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto and their awards-buzzy performances in Dallas Buyers Club, which is expanding significantly this weekend.
In Limited Release
Dame Judi Dench stars in a film from director Stephen Frears and co-written by (and co-starring) Steve Coogan. That's quite the pedigree, so it's no wonder that The Weinstein Company is grooming Philomena for an awards run as a heartwarming dramady from across the pond. It's opening in New York (at the Paris and Landmark Sunshine Theaters) and Los Angeles (at the Landmark) only this weekend, with an eye towards expanding down the line.
Also opening early this weekend is the Disney holiday offering, Frozen. It's really just a sneak preview, before going wide on Wednesday, for those fortunate enough to live in Los Angeles and pay a premium for a blowout spectacular at the El Capitan theater. According to Deadline, "Special themed events planned for the exclusive run include ice carving performances and appearances by film characters Anna and Elsa."
Video On Demand
VOD services are positively brimming with new movies this weekend, with lots to recommend. We confess that good word-of-mouth (and great box-office) for We're the Millers (iTunes link) took us by surprise, so if you avoided it because it looked like a dozen other junky comedies, now you have a chance to see if you were misguided in your dismissal.
Meanwhile, this weekend marks the DirecTV premiere of festival hit G.B.F. (DirecTV link), from Jawbreaker director Darren Stein. Like Stein's previous film, G.B.F. looks at the cutthroat world of high-school politics, but this time, it's through the lens of openly (and not so openly) gay students, trying to navigate the waters that manage to remain treacherous even while "acceptance" is on the rise.
Also on the comedic side, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost are together again with The World's End (iTunes link), a story of pubs and mates and other English terminology that's relatively easy to figure out given context clues. Also Aubrey Plaza tries to lose her v-card before college in The To-Do List (iTunes link).
Finally, and with the strongest recommendation we can muster: see Fast and Furious 6 (iTunes link). Actually, first see Fast Five, if you haven't already. WAIT, actually … okay, this sounds crazy, but see all the Fast & the Furious movies, in order. Yes, even 2 Fast 2 Furious, which is absolutely the worst one and which by all rights should have killed the series. And then see Tokyo Drift, even though it's only marginally interesting, because it introduces Han, and Han is the goddamn best. And then see Fast and Furious, even though it's mostly two great set pieces with a bunch of boring stuff in the middle, because it sets up a major plot point for 6. And THEN watch Fast Five, because it's super fantastic and brings back the best characters (also Tyrese) from all the movies and then adds The Rock, just to put it over the top. And then rent Fast and Furious 6, because it is somehow even better, and it makes you do super crazy things like root for couples in the middle of a car-racing movie.
Okay, the Netflix recommendations are slightly less rosy this week. Pretty much nobody liked Nicolas Winding-Refn's Only God Forgives, even the folks who liked his stylishly violent and violently stylish Drive. Not even the Ryan Gosling meme-rs could work up much enthusiasm for it. Then there's Bridegroom, which has won a bunch of audience awards at film festivals but which never does quite enough to justify its existence as a documentary, beyond how incredibly sad it is when beautiful young people die of tragic accidents. It's heart-wrenching, and the subjects are very likeable, but it's not quite a movie.
The better bet here is Crystal Fairy, which follows, among other young actors, Michael Cera on a road trip to South America, in order to get high off of a hallucinogenic cactus. Come for the drugs, but definitely stay for the triumphant return of Gaby Hoffman (Sleepless in Seattle; Now and Then), as a free spirit whose punch-line status is systematically shed in some really interesting ways.
Movies on TV
HBO's Saturday night premiere is the monster box-office performer of the first quarter of this year, Identity Thief. If you only see one Melissa McCarthy comedy from 2013 … get your hands on the BluRay for The Heat. That movie is excellent.