By Jay Bobbin Zap2it
(Ratings for each film begin with a "star'' rating -- one star meaning "poor,'' four meaning "excellent'' -- followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)
"Carol": Widely acclaimed, Oscar-nominated performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara fuel director Todd Haynes' ("Far From Heaven'') compelling version of Patricia Highsmith's novel "The Price of Salt,'' focusing on the early-1950s relationship of a novice photographer (Mara) and the Carol of the title (Blanchett), a woman whose marriage is coming apart. Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights'') plays Carol's husband, who threatens to use her homosexuality in lobbying for custody of their child, and Sarah Paulson ("The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story'') plays a friend of the Mara character who has her own connection to Carol. Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy also earned an Academy Award nomination. **** (R: AS, N, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"The Big Short'': Based on the book by "Moneyball'' author Michael Lewis, director and co-screenwriter Adam McKay's cleverly staged, much-praised comedy-drama -- a major player on this year's film-awards circuit -- relates the true story of several finance-world schemers who set themselves up to profit from the 2007-08 collapse of the housing market. Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt portray the orchestrators of the plan ... and as dry as the subject might seem for a movie, much of the picture's magic is how engrossing and well-paced it is, fueled to no small degree by the central quartet's star power. Pitt also was a producer of the picture, which features Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall and Oscar winners Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo. **** (R: AS, N, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Brooklyn'': In one of the most-noticed (and, in award terms, most-nominated) performances of 2015, Saoirse Ronan is stunning in Colm Toibin's story of a woman caught between two worlds ... or, perhaps more accurately, two countries. In the early 1950s, the character emigrates from Ireland to the New York suburb, where she meets and secretly marries a man (Emory Cohen) -- then returns home to attend to family matters, and is paired up with another man (Domhnall Gleeson) by well-meaning acquaintances. With a screenplay by author Nick Hornby ("About a Boy''), the fine drama also features Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters and "Arrow'' co-star Emily Bett Rickards. *** (PG-13: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Game of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season": The hugely popular HBO drama series based on George R.R. Martin novels continues its home-video releases, with a season that set a record by winning half of the 24 Emmys it was nominated for. A revolt by the so-called "Sons of the Harpy'' prompts Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to take drastic action -- and to take Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) as her counsel. The fate of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) became a major question, and major controversy, in this round of the show. Other continuing stars include Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Aidan Gillen, Charles Dance and Natalie Dormer. Season 6 starts its television run April 24. DVD extras: four "making-of'' documentaries; audio commentary by cast and crew members; deleted scenes. *** (Not rated: AS, N, P, GV) (Also on Blu-ray)
Also Releasing this week:
"Sisters": "Baby Mama'' co-stars, "Saturday Night Live'' veterans, and past Golden Globe Awards hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are together again in this bawdy and often genuinely funny comedy, playing siblings who decide to stage a massive party at their former home. The place is about to be sold, and as the sisters do a necessary cleanout of their old bedroom, they also host a wild bash that will be hard for anyone to forget. Fey and Poehler also were producers on the film, which features several other talents with "SNL'' ties -- Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch and Kate McKinnon -- as well as John Cena, John Leguizamo and current "Life in Pieces'' co-stars James Brolin and Dianne Wiest. DVD extras: audio commentary by Fey, Poehler, director Jason Moore and writer Paula Pell; deleted and extended scenes; outtakes; "Improvorama.'' *** (R and unrated versions: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Trip": The classic cartoon trio (voiced again by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney) returns in computer-animated form and hits the road for Miami to stop pal David Seville (Jason Lee), who apparently is on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) -- whose son (Josh Green) is relentlessly mean to the Chipmunks, prompting them to try to thwart Seville's plans. Tony Hale ("Veep'') and Bella Thorne also appear, and Christina Applegate, Anna Faris and Kaley Cuoco also are in the voice cast as Chipettes. *** (PG: AS) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" (March 22): The movie franchise concludes as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) targets her society's leader ... who's also targeting her. (PG-13: AS, P, V)
"Daddy's Home": (March 22): Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg reunite in this comedy about a stepfather and biological father at odds with each other. (PG-13: AS, P)
"Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series" (March 22): The cult-classic show, about a Detroit high school circa 1980, makes its Blu-ray debut and features Seth Rogen and James Franco. (Not rated: AS, P)
"Concussion" (March 29): Will Smith stars as a forensic pathologist who links pro football's necessary roughness to dementia in some players. (PG-13: AS, P)
"Jackie Robinson" (April 12): The same week it debuts on PBS, Ken Burns' profile of the baseball and civil-rights icon (voiced in some sequences by Jamie Foxx) comes to home video. (Not rated)
"Lou Grant: The Complete First Season" (May 3): Edward Asner carried his "Mary Tyler Moore Show'' character into this drama series, which made Grant a Los Angeles newspaper editor. (Not rated: AS, P)
TOP 10 DVD RENTALS
(Week ending February 28, 2016, courtesy of Rentrak Corp.)
1) "The Martian"
2) "The Intern"
3) "Straight Outta Compton"
5) "The Last Witch Hunter"
8) "Hotel Transylvania 2"
9) "Bridge of Spies"
10) "Ted 2"
FAMILY VIEWING GUIDE KEY: AS, adult situations; N, nudity; P, profanity; V, violence; GV, particularly graphic violence