“Maleficent” (PG, 97 minutes, Disney): One of the imperatives of stardom, and one of the most difficult to navigate, is the management of a screen persona over time, somehow balancing one’s own artistic ambitions, the audience’s expectations and plain old-fashioned aging to create a career that gracefully spans characters, stories and – with any luck – generations. Angelina Jolie delivers a savvy example of this in “Maleficent,” a feminist-revisionist take on the Sleeping Beauty myth in which she inhabits the story’s evil fairy, a once-happy winged sprite who places a curse on a baby princess. Contains sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.
“A Most Wanted Man” (R, 122 minutes, Lionsgate): Günther Bachmann may pull a lot of strings as the head of a Hamburg-based anti-terrorism unit, but to call this schlubby, chain-smoking, hard-drinking German intelligence operative a spymaster just seems wrong. As beautifully played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last and most powerful performances, the “A Most Wanted Man” antihero is too much at the mercy of others to be a master of anything. That doesn’t stop him from trying. The complicated tale, based on John le Carre’s 2008 novel, unspools slowly and with the kind of insider spy lingo familiar to readers of le Carré, who delivers a deliciously satisfying plot of Rube Goldbergian proportions. Although the cast (Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe) is uniformly fine, Hoffman shines in a role that demands the complexity and contradiction rendered through the kind of dull character details that he excelled in.
“Planes: Fire & Rescue” (PG, 84 minutes, Disney): This comedy-adventure featuring firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire appears to be a cartoon designed for kids and for selling anthropomorphized toys. But this sequel – which improves slightly on its lazy “Planes” predecessor – also appeals to the middle-aged, particularly those who enjoy watching an animated air show set to the sound of AC/DC. Voice talent includes Dane Cook, returning as Dusty the crop-duster; Hal Holbrook as Mayday, the aging resident fire engine, and Ed Harris as Blade Ranger, a fire-and-rescue helicopter. Contains action and some peril.
“Hercules” (PG-13, 98 minutes, Paramount): Frat-boyish filmmaker Brett Ratner has the distinction of having made the worst “X-Men” film (“X-Men: The Last Stand”), the dumbest Hannibal Lecter tale (“Red Dragon”) and the most boring “Rush Hour” sequel. But if future film scholars ever chronicle the Great Hercules Boom of 2014, they are likely to credit him with the best of the bunch. This offers moments of actual entertainment. It simply fails to exploit its assets: an amusing, revisionist take on the mythological strongman, and the charisma of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Contains violence, occasional harsh language and a brief glimpse of nudity.
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Television series: “The Sopranos: Complete Series” (1999-2007), “Law & Order: The 15th Year” (2004-05), “Quantum Leap: Complete Series” (1989-93), “Sherlock”: Seasons 1-3 Gift Set” “The Merv Griffin Show 1962-1986” (12-disc set), “Perry Mason - Double Features 7-9,” “Reno 911: Complete Series” and “Merlin: Complete Series” (2008-13, BBC).)