In Neil Burger’s “The Upside,” Philly native Kevin Hart is an ex-con who lucks into a job as a caregiver to a quadriplegic billionaire (Bryan Cranston).
Of course the men teach each other important life lessons, but Burger scores points for creating flawed, complicated characters who are impacted by tiny acts of kindness. Nicole Kidman might be wasted in the thankless role of Cranston’s secretary, but “The Upside” is a surprisingly funny and involving look at the fine art of friendship. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.
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Blaze: For his latest film as a director, Ethan Hawke turns to a biopic about Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey), an unsung hero of the outlaw country movement. Toggling between a number of different time periods, Hawke captures not only Foley’s heartbreaking relationship with gal pal Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat), but also the singer’s self-destructive side and his friendship with maverick music-maker Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton). Immersive, soulful and boasting a soundtrack full of Foley’s best songs, this biopic is the real deal. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.
Never Look Away: Nominated for two Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Feature and Best Cinematography, this engrossing, decade-spanning epic charts three decades in Germany’s history while also exploring the ways that art can heal even the deepest wounds. The central character is Kurt (Tom Schilling), an art student who falls in love with Ellie (Paula Beer), a dead-ringer for his beloved, mentally unstable aunt (Saskia Rosendahl), a victim of the Nazis. It might sound like a melodrama, with Ellie’s fascist father (Sebastian Koch) figuring heavily in the plot, but writer/director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”) is after something more interesting, as he probes totalitarianism, the artistic impulse and the role that memory plays in human lives. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.
Life in the Doghouse: The best thing about this documentary concerning Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta’s unique animal charity is that it makes you want to go out and rescue a dog or two or 10. The men, who are a couple both in life and business, have saved the lives of more than 11,000 dogs with Danny & Ron’s Rescue, and in the process, have turned their home into a safe haven for hundreds of pooches once scheduled for euthanasia. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.
White Chamber: Set in the midst of a civil war in Britain, Paul Raschid’s sci-fi thriller begins with a woman (Shauna Macdonald) waking up in a blindingly white, cube-shaped cell where a revolutionary (Oded Fehr) is using increasingly cruel methods to torture information out of her. But all is not as it seems. Raschid scores points for turning the premise on its head, but he loses his grip on the suspense long before the end credits roll. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.
The Image Book: There’s an intensity to nearly every single moment of Jean-Luc Godard’s latest provocation. Images are bleached, tinted and stretched, while the soundtrack boasts Godard’s narration, all in the service of illuminating what’s going on inside the filmmaker’s mind. “The Image Book” also brilliantly probes the state of the world, with devastating clips from “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Salo,” as well as footage of wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. In the end the movie is a visual feast from a master who refuses to go gently into that good night. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.
Let the Sunshine In: The latest from French filmmaker Claire Denis (“White Material”) stars Juliette Binoche as a successful Paris artist named Isabelle who keeps stumbling through relationships with Mr. Wrongs. After breaking up with a married banker and a self-obsessed actor, Isabelle falls in love yet again, refusing to give up on the possibility of romance. Even though “Sunshine” is plotless, Denis keeps the action bouncing along, with Binoche continually illuminating fresh aspects of a character who is, by turns, vulnerable, melancholy, annoying and endlessly resilient. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.
Les Miserables: Even though Victor Hugo’s novel has inspired countless movies, musicals and mini-series, this latest production is worth tracking down for the urgency it brings to the saga of former convict Jean Valjean (Dominic West) and his inability to escape his nemesis, the unrelenting prison guard Javert (David Oyelowo). Set in France during a time of civil unrest, the six-hour series boasts a terrific cast; which includes Olivia Colman as the repulsive, but highly watchable, Madame Thénardier and Lily Collins as Fantane, a woman desperate to ensure that her daughter has a good life. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.