Click on title to see the film’s trailer
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya **** Directed by Isao Takahata. Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady. A visionary tour de force, morphing from a childlike gambol into a sophisticated allegory on the folly of materialism and the evanescence of beauty.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) ***½ Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakas, Edward Norton, Andrea Risenborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts. A washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play. One of the year’s most audacious, savagely funny and unpredictable films, it features an outstanding performance by Keaton as the has-been star of a superhero franchise desperate to be taken seriously.
Life Itself ***½ Directed by Steve James. The life and career of film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert. Far more than just a tribute to the career of the world’s most famous and influential film critic, this often revelatory documentary is also a remarkably intimate portrait of a life well lived — right up to the very last moment.
The Theory of Everything *** Directed by James Marsh. With his body progressively ravaged by ALS, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) must rely on his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), to continue his life’s work as he faces various challenges. The film is a boilerplate biopic, but with stunning cinematography and a couple of fierce performances, it is nothing if not an accomplished and emotional work of cinema.
The Homesman *** Directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Three women who have been driven mad by pioneer life are to be transported across the country by covered wagon by the pious, independent-minded Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), who in turn employs low-life drifter George Briggs (Jones) to assist her. The film’s difficulties are in the roiling emotions that run through it. Intimacy and the interdependence required to survive a harsh environment are more easily achieved. Swank and Jones, in particular, are a very good odd couple, playing saint and sinner, sometimes reversing the roles.
St. Vincent **½ Directed by Theodore Melfi. Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts. A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door. Here’s how good an actor Murray is. He does such a bristly, entertaining turn as a boozy curmudgeon in St. Vincent, that he saves first-time director Melfi’s obvious dramedy from sliding into a burbling sinkhole of schmaltz.
The Interview ** Directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogan. Talk-show host David Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogan) are overjoyed when they get the chance to conduct an exclusive interview with Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea. But their perspective on their big break shifts when the CIA asks them to assassinate the ruler. While The Interview never slacks in its mission to tell jokes, it’s such a messy and meandering movie that it never quite lands as a satire of politics or the media or anything else.
Dumb and Dumber To *½ Directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly. With Harry (Jeff Daniels) in need of a kidney, he and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) set off to find the long-lost child Harry only recently discovered he’d sired. So maybe some of this is hilarious. Heck, maybe all of it is. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it was not mine.