(PG-13, 95 minutes, The Weinstein Co./Anchor Bay): At 78, British actress Judi Dench has become an international treasure, playing steely, formidable characters with as much ease as cozier, more grandmotherly roles. All those qualities can be glimpsed in “Philomena,” in which Dench plays the title character, a woman who, as a pregnant teenager in 1950s Ireland, was forced to give her son up for adoption after giving birth to him in a Catholic abbey. As the soft-spoken, slightly frumpy Philomena Lee, Dench delivers one of her most unprepossessing performances yet; her dashing silver-haired turn as James Bond’s “M” is thoroughly banished beneath a staid crown of mousy curls. But that signature brand of Dench tungsten glints through, as Philomena embarks on a search for her now-middle-aged son and debates the tenets of her faith with the skeptical journalist chronicling her journey. Contains strong profanity, thematic elements and sexual references. Extras include commentary with co-star and co-writer Steve Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope; a nine-minute “A Conversation with Judi Dench;” a featurette on “The Real Philomena Lee” and a Q&A with Coogan in which he discusses how he discovered the story, the process in adapting it for film and casting Dench.
(PG-13, 100 minutes, Warner): This buddy-cop comedy has one big thing going for it. Or, more accurately, a little thing: comedian Kevin Hart. He plays Ben, a motor-mouthed gamer and high school security guard who wants to marry his girlfriend, Angela (Tika Sumpter), but needs to get approval from her prickly brother, James (Ice Cube). The two men got off on the wrong foot, but James, a police officer, tells Ben there’s one way he can prove himself: James proposes that Ben tag along during a day on the job. Given that Ben is an aspiring cop, he jumps at the chance. Predictably, the day doesn’t unfold as heroically as Ben hopes.
“The Nut Job”
(PG, 86 minutes, Universal): Cleverness is in short supply in this animated feature about a grouchy squirrel named Surly and his best buddy (Buddy the mute rat), who plan a heist to steal cashews, peanuts and almonds. Of all the flaws of “The Nut Job,” Surly’s gruff attitude is one of the hardest to overcome. He’s not a very fun character to travel with, even when he evolves into a kinder, gentler squirrel with an after-school-special-worthy lesson to share. But it doesn’t compare to the growing list of children’s movies that also delight adults.
“The Secret Life
of Walter Mitty”
(PG, 114 minutes, Fox): As the title character, Ben Stiller brings his jut-jawed, laser-blue glare to a character who starts off as something of a passive cipher. As a longtime manager for “negative assets” at Life magazine, Walter processes the magazine’s photographers’ celluloid — in other words, he’s an obsolete guy working in an obsolete media platform within a soon-to-be all-digital art form. The film’s opening scene — wherein Walter hesitantly “winks” at a woman on an online dating forum — makes it clear: This is a man working at Life, rather than living it. The unevenness of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and Stiller’s recessive characterization of the title character keep it from being an all-out crowd-pleaser. Still, there’s a winsome, attaboy appeal to “Walter Mitty” that deserves to be honored. It’s a perfectly likable movie, and sometimes that’s good enough.
The Washington Post