Starring: Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields, Patricia Walters, Radha, Adrienne Corri

The River

In Brief: While it scarcely scales the heights of Jean Renoir's finest works, The River remains a fascinating minor footnote in his career. The story — about three girls growing up in Bengal, India, experiencing first love (unfortunately with the same man) — is slight, and the acting is on the hit-or-miss side. Yet Renoir is mostly interested in the film's Indian setting and the culture there. It remains notable as the first international production to be completely shot in India — and in color.
Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Alison Bartlett, Jake Ryan, George Riddle

The Innkeepers

In Brief: With The Innkeepers, young horror-movie specialist Ti West largely fulfills the promise of The House of the Devil (2009). Like his earlier film, this latest — at bottom a haunted hotel yarn — is of the slow-burn variety, with the bulk of the film devoted to building an atmosphere of dread (wisely punctuated with occasional outbursts of shock) before going into full-on horror mode at the end. But this ending really lives up to — and maybe surpasses — all the buildup with a genuinely horrific payoff.
Starring: Ake Gronberg, Harriet Andersson, Hasse Ekman, Anders Ek, Gudrun Brost

Sawdust and Tinsel

In Brief: This early Ingmar Bergman film is, as the title suggests, a circus story, but it's every inch a Bergman circus story, which is to say it's hardly a jolly time under the big top. Instead, Sawdust and Tinsel is a drama about sex, betrayal and humiliation. Although Bergman had been directing since 1946, this was the first of his films that pleased him — something that didn't keep it from being critically disparaged and a box-office failure in 1953.
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Ralph Richardson, Kieron Moore, Hugh Dempster

Anna Karenina

In Brief: Julien Duvivier's 1948 version of Anna Karenina has always been overshadowed by Clarence Brown's 1935 Greta Garbo film. Now it's overshadowed by Joe Wright's 2012 version, but it remains a solid — maybe a little stolid — take on Tolstoy's novel. In comparison with the 1935 film, it benefits greatly from the presence of Ralph Richardson as Karenin. Vivien Leigh's Anna is another matter — one of personal taste, I think. Worth a look, but it won't get you as high as the cinematic panache of the other versions.
Starring: Terence Stamp, Christopher Eccleston, Gemma Arterton, Vanessa Redgrave, Orla Hill

Unfinished Song

The Story: A crusty old man finds himself rejuvenated — against his will — by becoming involved in his late wife's choral group. The Lowdown: There's nothing remotely surprising here, but Unfinished Song is a small gem of feel-good (in the best sense) comedy-drama.
Starring: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Jayma Mays

The Smurfs 2

The Story: Gargamel kidnaps Smurfette and the others have to rescue her. The Lowdown: It's the same as the first one, only even less inspired, if you can believe it.
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth


The Story: Biopic of porn star Linda Lovelace. The Lowdown: Well-made, but ultimately rather simplistic and tepid biopic of the once-notorious star. Good performances and occasional bits of insight make it worthwhile, but it never becomes essential viewing.
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, Marjorie Main, Jean Heather, Porter Hall, Peter Whitney

Murder, He Says

In Brief: Breezy, unpretentious fun about a hapless pollster who finds himself at the mercy of a family of homicidal hillbillies. This is the kind of slick fun that studios turned out with pleasing regularity in the 1940s — unassuming, but intelligently crafted nonsense meant to offer nothing more than 90 minutes of entertainment. Viewers who think of Fred MacMurray strictly from My Three Sons and Disney movies are in for a surprise.
Starring: Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Billie Burke, Edmund Lowe

Dinner at Eight

In Brief: Having made a huge success of its first all-star film, Grand Hotel (1932), naturally MGM would attempt a follow-up in the same style. To this end, the studio bought George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's play Dinner at Eight, filled it with stars (some from Grand Hotel), laid on the production values and came up with a film nearly as good as its predecessor. Some would even say it's superior.
Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Yûzô Kayama, Tsutomo Yamazaki, Reiko Dan, Miyuki Kuwano

Red Beard

In Brief: Akira Kurosawa's 1965 film is rarely cited as one of his best — and I can't imagine why. It's a long film — 185 minutes, with an overture and an intermission — but not a single one of those minutes is dull. If, as I've read, Kurosawa set out to make "something so magnificent that people would just have to see it," I think he succeeded — even if only in the long run, since the film seems to have underperformed on its original release. The problem, I think, is that rather than the epic audiences expected, Kurosawa instead gave them a small-scale drama about a young doctor, creating what might be called an epic of humanity. An altogether beautiful film.
Starring: Boris Karloff, Marian Marsh, Robert Allen, Thurston Hall, Katherine DeMille

The Black Room

In Brief: At one time — owing to its inclusion in the "Son of Shock" TV package — Roy William Neill's The Black Room (1935) was a staple of classic horror. It had a good story, solid production values, slick direction and one (or two, since he plays two characters) of Boris Karloff's best performances. But somehow the film has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Why? Probably because its studio, Columbia (Sony), is plainly lousy at promoting its old movies. That's too bad. It may not quite attain the quality of the best of the Universal horrors, but neither is it that far from them.
Starring: Josef Köstlinger, Irma Urrila, Håkan Hagegård, Elisabeth Erikson

The Magic Flute

In Brief: Ingmar Bergman's 1975 film is one of his most playful works. Bergman presents the Mozart opera as if it were onstage, but this apparent constraint does not make the film in any way stagey. If anything, it seems to make Bergman more resourceful. However, a taste for the original opera is probably a requirement to really appreciate the film.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi

The Wolverine

The Story: The Wolverine goes to Japan to see a dying man whose life he once saved, only to find himself enmeshed in dire doings. The Lowdown: It passes the time. It's neither particularly bad nor especially good — and it's almost completely unmemorable.
Starring: Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, John Buchan, Cathy Gulkin, Geoffrey Bowes, Diane Polley

Stories We Tell

The Story: A somewhat unorthodox documentary that attempts to piece together a portrait of director Sarah Polley's mother, only to become much more. The Lowdown: Mixing interviews, home movies, archival and recreated footage, Sarah Polley has created a strikingly personal work about her family and herself. It may not be perfect, but it's warm and perceptive.
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland

The Conjuring

The Story: A family moves into an old house where evil spirits dwell. The Lowdown: Is it as good as you've heard? No. It has script problems galore. But director James Wan still manages to pull off one creepy movie with some solid scares, even if it lacks some of the flair of his earlier films.
Starring: Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley, Paul L. Smith, Richard Libertini


In Brief: Robert Altman's big-budgeted, live-action take on Popeye pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of being both true to the character from the old Max Fleischer cartoons, while being slyly revisionist in the bargain. Jules Feiffer's screenplay — and Robin Williams' ad-libbing — really catches the spirit of the title character, while Altman effortlessly makes the equivalent of a cartoon with live actors. Harry Nilsson's charmingly rather shapeless songs capture the tone.
Starring: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebbecca Griffiths, Harry Treadway

Fish Tank

In Brief: Massively overrated film that's nothing more than an extension of the British "kitchen-sink realism" from 60 years ago with a tinge of Ken Loach — meaning, among other things, that often shouted dialogue is apt to be unintelligible to a lot of viewers. Having said that, this meandering story about a 15-year-old girl living in a council flat (the projects) with her mother and little sister is moderately compelling and leads to a strangely hopeful ending. But a great film? No.
Starring: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph

The Way, Way Back

The Story: A lonely, awkward 14-year-old is forced to spend the summer at the beach with his mother and her new mean-spirited boyfriend. The Lowdown: It takes a while to find its footing, but this warmly nostalgic coming-of-age comedy wins out with its array of unusually well-crafted characters.