Click on title to see the film’s trailer
The Overnighters **** Directed by Jesse Moss. Local pastor Jay Reinke tries to help the unemployed men drawn to North Dakota by the lure of jobs in the state’s booming shale oil industry. A third-act revelation will knock you silly and cause you to reevaluate everything that’s come before, but even without that jaw-dropping information, Moss’ film is a righteous piece of empathetic, of-the-moment documentary filmmaking.
Starred Up ***½ Directed by David Mackenzie. Jack O.Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend. A teenage offender’s violent temper gets him moved to an adult prison, where he finds a different breed of inmate including his long-incarcerated father. Thematically tough and emotionally rough, Starred Up is the kind of movie you might think about renting or streaming with some reluctance. But because everyone involved does such an outstanding job, it’s also the kind of movie you won’t want to see end.
Dear White People ***½ Directed by Justin Simien. A satire that follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over a popular "African American" themed party thrown by white students. The most impressive thing about Simien’s impressive film is his script, which he wrote. With multiple protagonists and multiple storylines to serve, he deftly manages to keep a number of balls in the air — without losing sight of his film’s purpose.
Appropriate Behavior *** Directed by Desiree Akhavan. As a bisexual Iranian-American, Shirin (Akhavan) doesn’t quite fit in to her perfect Persian family — and she can’t make a relationship work. Akhavan’s confidently off-kilter approach to basic human interaction makes for an authentically ironic, adorably wistful, smartly observed ride.
The Retrieval *** Directed by Chris Eska. During the Civil War, a boy is sent north by his bounty hunter gang to retrieve a fugitive slave. Despite its meager budget, The Retrieval is characterized by its authenticity. The dialogue and attitudes are persuasive in creating both a consistent psychology and a sense of the historical past, without ever lapsing into a flowery 19th century-ness.
John Wick *** Directed by Chad Stahelski. An ex-hitman (Keanu Reeves) comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him. If you can stomach the setup, then the rest is pure revenge-movie gold, as Reeves reminds what a compelling action star he can be, while the guy who served as his stunt double in The Matrix makes a remarkably satisfying directorial debut, delivering a clean, efficient and incredibly assured thriller.
Food Chains **½ Directed by Sanjay Rawal. Details the ethics of the food supply industry, pointing out the power of huge supermarket chains to dictate low wages and inhumane labor conditions for farmworkers in the United States. The participants make a strong case, although the most emotionally powerful moments involve the workers themselves.
Exposed **½ Directed by Beth B. Profiles eight women and men who use their nakedness to transport the viewer beyond the last sexual and social taboos that our society holds dear. If you’ve never been to a burlesque show, this will give you some idea of what you’ve been missing. The dedication and warmth of the performers are infectious.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby **½ Directed by Ned Benson. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, William Hurt, Ciaráh Hinds. Depicts the dissolving union of Eleanor and Conor, who begin drifting apart in the wake of a tragic and traumatizing event.. As a whole, it doesn’t quite work, but the parts — particular moments, observations and insights about the way people behave and perceive themselves — are frequently excellent.
Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain ** Directed by Ravi Kumar. Chronicles events leading up to the 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, and the shattering repercussions that turned the city into a nightmarish landscape strewn with more than 10,000 corpses. Some of the portrayals are over-the-top in their villainy, and the dialogue, acting and music all tend to be melodramatic. But all of the overt heartstring-pulling doesn’t add much. Given the awful calamity, the truth would have been enough to amp up the emotions.
Starry Eyes ** Directed by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Wydmyer. Determined to make it as an actress in Hollywood, Sarah Walker (Alex Essoe) spends her days working a dead-end job, enduring petty friendships and going on countless casting calls in hopes of catching her big break. After a series of strange auditions, Sarah lands the leading role in a new film from a mysterious production company. The film begins to go downhill once it delves into body horror that makes Sarah’s transformation into a ravishing beauty as ghoulishly physical as it is mental.
Dracula Untold *½ Directed by Gary Shore. As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) must become a monster feared by his own people in order to obtain the power needed to protect his family and the families of his kingdom. Armour-clanging, cloak-swishing tosh with okay battles, terrible dialogue and sadly little horror or heroism. Nowhere near as bad as I, Frankenstein — but what is?
Video Games: The Movie *½ Directed by Jeremy Snead. Chronicles the meteoric rise of video games from nerd niche to multi-billion dollar industry. Unfocused and repetitive, this feature-length commercial uses a muddled timeline and bargain basement graphics to produce a horn-tooting, "Aren’t games awesome?" tone.
Ouija *½ Directed by Stiles White. While entertaining themselves with an old-fashioned Ouija board, several young friends unintentionally conjure up a sinister ancient spirit. Bland, safe horror for those who like their scares nonexistent.
Hector and the Search for Happiness * Directed by Peter Chelsom. Simon Pegg, Toni Collette, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno, Veronica Ferres, Barry Atsma, Christopher Plummer. Leaving behind a lucrative career as a psychiatrist, discontented Hector (Pegg) begins a journey across the planet in search of genuine happiness. Not even this sprightly cast can buck the privileged sense of entitlement that bedevils this movie. Don’t count on the impish humor that Pegg has unleashed so successfully in other movies to save the day.
The Best of Me * Directed by Michael Hoffman. Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato. Two former high school sweethearts reunite after many years when they return to visit their small hometown for a funeral. The bad news is that no matter how charming or fizzy the chemistry between the actors might be, they’re still trapped in the dead, fake melodrama and brainless coincidences of a Nicholas Sparks story.
Exists ½* Directed by Jamie Nash. A group of friends who venture into remote Texas woods for a party weekend find themselves stalked by Bigfoot. Against all good sense, Exists plays its material straight, possibly proving itself the year’s most laughably derivative and dreary film.