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"Blue Jasmine" 4stars

"Blue Jasmine" belongs to Oscar front-runner Cate Blanchett, who brings a vivid blend of haughty elegance and heartbreaking fragility to the title role.

In this Woody Allen drama, her mental health is slipping away along with her pricey possessions -- symbols and remnants of her old life as a Manhattan socialite married to a charming wealthy businessman.

Jasmine and Hal (Alec Baldwin) owned a spacious Fifth Avenue apartment with a view of Central Park and the requisite beach house in the Hamptons. It all went away, including Hal, who turned out to be a better-looking version of Bernie Madoff, who took lots of money from investors, skirted or broke the law and lost it all.

As "Blue Jasmine" opens, Jasmine is on a plane bound for San Francisco, where she plans to reside with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and start a new life. But she brings her habits of occasionally talking to herself or others who are absent, medicating herself with Xanax and Stoli martinis with a twist of lemon, and criticizing her sister's choice of men.

The New Yorker's attempt to join the workaday world proves disastrous and humiliating, as does the prospect of finding love with the right man again.

"Blue Jasmine," which swims from past to present with effortless ease, boasts the most eclectic and surprisingly synergistic cast of the year.

Playing the men in Ginger's life, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale and Louis C.K. represent varying degrees of rough edges, blunt talk and blue-collar earthiness.

A genteel, long-haired Peter Sarsgaard turns on the warmth and charm here as a newcomer in Jasmine's circle, while Michael Stuhlbarg ("A Serious Man") is a dentist who admires Jasmine's good dental hygiene and other assets.

"Blue Jasmine," which partially takes its name from the song "Blue Moon," shows what happens when comfortable cocoons of wealth and lies are stripped away and those inside are left exposed.

Although it has flares of laughter, there is no Woody Allen stand-in, as in some of his comedies. Then again, this isn't a comedy but an excellent drama with a bracing, bleak and powerful end.

Extras include a making-of short in which the cast members discuss their take on the characters and a cast news conference.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content.

-- Post-Gazette

"Captain Phillips" 3.5stars

"Captain Phillips" dramatizes the events of 2009 when Somali pirates targeted the cargo ship Maersk Alabama.

They didn't count on the experience, shrewdness or bravery of Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks).

His job is to command the ship loaded with 2,400 tons of commercial cargo and 200 tons of food aid and other goods in colorful containers stacked like Legos the size of train cars.

He is an experienced merchant mariner who lives in Vermont with his family. When he first sees an alert about pirates, the captain orders unannounced security drills but soon finds himself in a real-world situation with armed men speeding toward the vessel.

He initially outsmarts them, but they seize control of the ship, guns and tempers blazing, with the calmest, most commanding of the lot a skinny young man named Muse (Barkhad Abdi).

And thus begins a potentially deadly game of cat and mouse on and off the Alabama, with the lives of pirates, hostages and potential rescuers at stake. "Captain Phillips" is set against the backdrop of a world where the fishermen have nothing to catch -- because of industrial overfishing -- so they turn to kidnapping. The Somalis are guilty of reprehensible actions, but they live with a desperation unknown to most Americans.

As he did with "United 93," director Paul Greengrass has a knack for taking a true-life story, re-creating it with authenticity and giving it fresh jolts of action, energy, tension and humanity.

Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use.

Extras include director commentary and behind-the-scenes look at the film's production and the real events surrounding the film.

-- Post-Gazette

"In a World ... " 2.5stars

Lake Bell is the star, producer, director and writer of "In a World ...," a quirky satire of the cliquish trailer voice-over business.

She plays Carol Solomon, whose legendary father, Sam (Fred Melamed), reigns imperially at the top of that tricky Hollywood trade. Who cares about such an invisible, vocal sideline of the movie business? The people in it, that's who. Especially Sam, a monster narcissist whose vanity license plate says "ENUN-C8." The Golden Trailer Awards are coming up, and he's a shoo-in for the G.T. Lifetime Achievement Award.

Also coming up is a huge, lucrative gig doing the trailer for the industry's new blockbuster female-action quadrilogy. Aspiring voice-over-wannabe Carol desperately wants the job -- in competition with Daddy.

But she'll have to pry the torch out of his cold, dead hands. And she'll also have to compete with oversexed Gustav (Ken Marino), her father's preferred protege.

The film's equally quirky subplots involve Carol's assistance -- and romancing -- by a nerdy sound engineer (Demetri Martin), her sibling rivalry with sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), Dani's marital issues with a nice loser husband (Rob Corddry) she's afraid of losing, and their father's problematic new girlfriend (Alexandra Holden).

Everybody's sleeping with everybody except the one he/she really wants to sleep with.

Ms. Bell plays Carol with goofy, engaging charm. She's a smart screwball comedian in the latter-day Carole Lombard mode.

It's a fresh spoof of fabulous Hollywood backstabbing and sexist insecurities, shot in distinctly unfabulous Los Angeles locations, and even though it never fully gels, it is one woman's entertaining effort to -- literally and figuratively -- find her own voice.

Rated R for language and sexual references.

-- Post-Gazette

ALSO THIS WEEK: 

• "Instructions Not Included": A bachelor's (Eugenio Derbez) carefree playboy life comes to an end when his ex-girlfriend (Jessica Lindsey) drops off the baby daughter he didn't know he had and heads back to the United States.

• "Machette Kills": Trejo reprises his role as the ex-Federale agent who is recruited by the president to take on an impossible mission.

• "NYPD Blue: Season Five": ABC crime series starring Dennis Franz, Jimmy Smits.

• "Space Voyages": Smithsonian Channel's look at challenges of modern space exploration.

• "The Starving Games": Parody of "The Hunger Games."

• "White House Revealed": Martin Sheen narrates this behind-the-scenes look at the famous address.

• "Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy": Look at the horrifying history of Freddy Krueger.

• "Knight of the Dead": Knights must escort sacred artifact through zombie-infested valley.

• "Best Man Down": One man's death is another man's enlightening journey.

• "Counting Cars: Season 2 - Volume 2": Cable series about Danny "The Count" Koker.

• "Bullet in the Face: The Complete Series": Eddie Izzard, Eric Roberts star in the crime comedy.

• "Crossing Lines: Season One": Special crime unit investigates serialized crimes that cross over borders.

-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers


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