‘About Last Night’ (Nov. 30)
The chain of ownership here gets a tad convoluted, so stick with me: This romantic comedy from 2014 loosely remakes the yuppie-rom-com from 1986 starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, which was itself a loose adaptation of the 1974 play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet. Tropes about the battle of the sexes are so established, it seems, that a decades-old play can still yield both laughs and moments of truth. But as with the 1986 film, the most entertaining material is provided less by the central couple (here played by the perfectly acceptable Joy Bryant and Michael Ealy) than by their broadly comic B.F.F.s, memorably brought to life by Regina Hall and Kevin Hart.
‘Arrival’ (Nov. 30)
Before he took on the massive challenge of bringing “Dune” to the big screen, the director Denis Villeneuve took his first crack at science fiction with this thoughtful 2016 exploration of the possibilities of extraterrestrial contact. While most filmmakers seize on the threat of life from beyond, focusing on alien invasions and property damage, Villeneuve’s film (adapted from Ted Chiang’s novella “Story of Your Life”) probes deeper, as a linguist (Amy Adams) works tirelessly to establish communication with the alien life-forms before narrow-minded military types jump to the wrong conclusions. Her struggle is a vivid and dramatic one, and the concluding passages are both narratively ingenious and deeply moving.
‘Fences’ (Nov. 30)
Denzel Washington crafts one of his finest performances in this 2016 adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson — and matches the force of his acting with his graceful and nuanced work as the picture’s director. He stars as Troy Maxson, once a rising star in the Negro leagues, now a husband and father who spends his days in a stew of regret, dissatisfaction and deception. His complicated relationships with his best friend (Stephen McKinley Henderson), his wife (Viola Davis) and his son (Jovan Adepo) form the story’s dramatic spine, as the tales Troy has long told others, and himself, about who he is come to a head. It’s a penetrating and powerful drama, and Davis’s subtle work landed her an Oscar for best supporting actress.
‘Hook’ (Nov. 30)
The setup was so juicy — Steven Spielberg directing Robin Williams as Peter Pan, with Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook and Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell — that it had to be either a masterpiece or a grave disappointment. It felt like the latter when “Hook” landed in theaters in 1991; critics dismissed it as a mess, and the box office, while respectable, was disappointing. But children of that era (who were, let’s face it, the target audience) fell for it hard, wearing out their VHS tapes and forming lifelong attachments to Spielberg and Williams. Bring it up to Millennials sometime, and watch them start chanting for Rufio.
‘Stuart Little’ (Nov. 30)
If you’d like a more straightforward family film, it’s hard to top this charming 1999 adaptation of E.B. White’s children’s book (co-written, improbably enough, by the suspense master M. Night Shyamalan). The ostensible stars are Jonathan Lipnicki (“Jerry Maguire”) and, as his parents, Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie — but the comic juice is supplied by the talented voice cast: David Alan Grier, Nathan Lane, Chazz Palminteri and Steve Zahn as streetwise cats; Bruno Kirby and Jennifer Tilly as paternal mice; and Michael J. Fox as the unfailingly upbeat titular mouse.