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The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness *** Directed by Mami Sunada. Granted near-unfettered access to the notoriously insular Studio Ghibli, Sunada follows the three men who are the lifeblood of Ghibli: the eminent director Hayao Miyazaki, the producer Toshio Suzuki, and the elusive and influential ‘other director’ Isao Takahata over the course of a year as the studio rushes to complete two films, Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Takahata’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. If you’re not enraptured with the work of Miyazaki, Takahata and the rest of the artists at Ghibli, this may not be precisely what you’re looking for, but Sanada captures something poetic about art and creativity that could speak to anyone, animation fan or otherwise.
Art and Craft *** Directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman. When one of the most prolific art forgers in U.S. history is finally exposed, he must confront the legacy of his 30-year con. A documentary that adds fuel to the argument that the art market is a rigged game manipulated by curators and gallerists spouting mumbo-jumbo.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? *** Directed by Shion Sono. The bitter feuds and unrequited loves that bind two warring Yakuza clans are intensified by the comical interference of a deluded film director and his guerrilla crew, who are hired to propel the daughter of one of the gang leaders to movie stardom. The film’s blast of self-mocking overkill can be charming.
The Book of Life *** Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez. Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum. Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears. The characters move around in a thoroughly realized universe full of imaginative and beautifully rendered detail. Too bad the rest of it isn’t more interesting.
Fury **½ Directed by David Ayer. During the waning days of World War II in Europe, U.S. Army Sgt. Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) leads his tank crew against overwhelming German forces. It’s engaging and watchable, even as it marches toward a seemingly suicidal climax. Yet the complex dynamic between Wardaddy and his men is fascinating.
My Old Lady ** Directed by Israel Horovitz. Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith. An American inherits an apartment in Paris from his father that comes with an unexpected resident, his father’s former lover. Though Horovitz’s directing is workmanlike solid, and while the movie has a certain charm that makes it easy to walk in the door, it gives you little reason to stay.
The Judge ** Directed by David Dobkin. Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall. Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. The film is well served by intense performances from its two stars, but is undercut by obvious note-hitting in the writing and a deliberate pace that drags things out about 20 minutes past their due date.
Open Windows ** Directed by Nacho Vigalondo. Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey. A jilted fan finds himself pulled into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse after he accepts the opportunity to spy on his favorite actress via his laptop. Timidity and perhaps fear, of visual confinement, of lingering emotional engagement, closes Vigalondo’s most promising windows.
Miss Meadows *½ Directed by Karen Leigh Hopkins. A proper elementary school teacher (Katie Holmes) moonlights as a vigilante. Hopkins is unsuccessful in navigating the absurd storyline’s jarring tonal shifts, with the result that this kinder, gentler variation on Ms. 45 mainly emerges as off-puttingly bizarre.
Before I Go To Sleep *½ Directed by Rowan Joffe. Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong. After surviving a brutal assault, a woman awakens each morning incapable of remembering anything about her past, including the previous day. If it weren’t for the diligent performances of its stars, who inject some emotional depth into this bogus claptrap, this would be an unwatchable, titter-inducing catastrophe.
The Remaining *½ Directed by Casey La Scala. Friends gather at a wedding, but the celebration is shattered by terrifying apocalyptic events. There’s a fundamental problem here. The movie relies on the instinctual human fear of death, but its message is that dying is a promotion.
Days and Nights *½ Directed by Christian Camargo. Christian Carmago, Katie Holmes, William Hurt, Allison Janney, Cherry Jones, Russell Means, Michael Nyqvist, Jean Reno, Juliet Rylance, Mark Rylance, Ben Whislaw. An aging actress’s makes a fateful choice to visit her son and ailing brother in 1980s New England. The drama over dinner comes in small analgesic portions, and the secrets feel canned and the dialogue is too pretty to be believable.
The Color of Time *½ Directed by 11 different directors. Zach Braff, Bruce Campbell, Jessica Chastain, James Franco, Henry Hopper, Mila Kunis. Takes the viewer on a journey through several decades of American life from poet CK Williams’s childhood and adolescence in Detroit in the 1940s and ‘50s to the early 1980s. The tone is delicate and vaporous, more attuned to mood and melancholy than anything resembling a conventional narrative. And despite the ambition on display, the film feels awfully slight, like a dream forgotten immediately upon waking. In its admirable but muddled attempt to fuse pure poetry and pure cinema, it ends up doing justice to neither.