12 Years a Slave (R, 134 minutes, Fox): Intense, unflinching, bold in its simplicity and radical in its use of image, sound and staging, 12 Years a Slave in many ways is the defining epic so many have longed for to examine if not cauterize Americas primal wound. But its also a crowning achievement of a filmmaker, Steve McQueen, whose command of the medium extends beyond mere narrative and its reductive, sentimental snares to encompass the full depth and breadth of its most expressive and transforming properties. The film won the Oscar for best picture, as well as best supporting actresss (Lupita Nyongo) and adapted screenplay. Contains violence, cruelty, some nudity and brief sensuality. DVD extras are two making-of featurettes, The Team (McQueen and his creative partners) and The Score (with composer Hans Zimmer).
The Grandmaster (PG-13, 108 minutes, in Mandarin and Cantonese with subtitles, The Weinstein Co./Anchor Bay): Director Wong Kar-wais visually opulent, characteristically moody film, based on the life of Ip Man, is not an action flick, although it has more fight sequences than most of his films. The martial artist, best known in the West as Bruce Lees teacher, has been the subject of many movies. Wong emphasizes his usual themes, including duty, exile, solitude and unrequited love, and this is a familiar assignment for Tony Leung, who plays the central character. Contains violence, profanity, cigarette and opium use.
Hours (PG-13, 97 minutes, Lionsgate): Paul Walker, in one of his last films, portrays a frantic new father in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his quiet, workmanlike way, he creates a stirring portrait of paternal devotion. When the New Orleans hospital staff and all other patients are evacuated, Nolan Hayes (Walker) struggles to keep his newborn daughter alive after he is left alone to tend to her malfunctioning ventilator. Contains brief violence, drug abuse, mild sensuality, some crude language and mature thematic material.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13, 146 minutes, Lionsgate) : Whereas for some of us the idea of kids killing other kids for pleasure and political expedience reeks of cynicism and downright perversion, fans of The Hunger Games should find Catching Fire a superlative advancement of the franchise. Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), taking the reins from Gary Ross, smoothly steers the characters through their latest course of depredations and abuse, allowing plenty of moments to simply sit back and groove on the eye candy. But the engine of the entire operation is Jennifer Lawrence, who in Katniss has found a character that chimes perfectly with her own persona as an earthy, blunt-speaking ingenue suddenly thrust into a world of celebrity and media-fueled idol worship. Contains intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and profanity. Extras include commentary with Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson; deleted scenes.