Last Days in Vietnam ***½ Directed by Rory Kennedy. This documentary recounts the Vietnam War’s final days, when unexpected roadblocks threatened the evacuation of America’s South Vietnamese allies. At once riveting and heartbreaking. This youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy has the good sense — far rarer among documentarians than you’d like to think — not to get in the way of her material.
Inherent Vice ***½ Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benecio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short. In 1970, a drug-fueled Los Angeles detective investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend. An aggressively weird movie, which you should take not as a warning but as a compliment and an invitation to rent it, to watch it and to let its stoner vibes wash all over you.
Paddington *** Directed by Paul King. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Nicole KidmanBen Whishaw. A young Peruvian bear travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he meets the kindly Brown family, who offer him a temporary haven. Because of its adorable protagonist, laugh-out-loud gags and touching premise, Paddington succeeds in a way most CGI/live-action hybrids do not.
Mommy *** Directed by Xavier Dolan. A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household. It feels like living inside a pressure cooker with one particular family — experiencing their turbulence as if from the inside, while always a little glad to be watching from a safe distance.
Appropriate Behavior *** Directed by Desiree Akhavan. As a bisexual Iranian-American, Shirin doesn’t quite fit in to her perfect Persian family -- and she can’t make a relationship work. So she goes on a journey of self-discovery and sexual adventure in an effort to come to terms with her identity. The film jumps back and forth to Shirin’s unraveling relationship with her girlfriend, but what stands out are the funny, awkward, sometimes painful moments with her family and with various hook-ups — topped off by a delicate, nuanced and satisfying final scene.
Boy Meets Girl *** Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Growing up in conservative Kentucky, Ricky (Michelle Hendley) has always regarded himself as a woman in a male’s body but isn’t able to make a connection with the right man. Often, it feels conspicuously educational. The movie works best when it focuses on its intimate story of love between family and friends in a small town.
The Gambler ** Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, Brie Larson. Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) is living two distinct lives: Besides working as a college professor, he’s a compulsive gambler who’s deeply in debt to a loan shark. While scrambling to save his skin, Jim also becomes involved with one of his students. Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) doesn’t match the feverish nature of Karel Reisz’s original, and the gambling sequences convey the sameness of a habit but not as much tension to it.
The Barber *½ Directed by Basel Owies. Starring Scott Glenn, Chris Coy, Stephen Tobolowsky. Decades after his detective father committed suicide for failing to put serial killer Eugene Van Wingerdt behind bars, the lawman’s son resolves to bring him to justice — by posing as an aspiring murderer looking to become Eugene’s protégé. Glenn handles the balancing act required of him in The Barber with his usual skill. The film, though, delivers its plot twists muddily and doesn’t really distinguish itself from the countless other creepy-killer tales out there.
The Devil’s Violinist *½ Directed by Bernard Rose, Starring David Garrett, Jared Harris, Joely Richardson. The life story of Italian violinist and composer, Niccolò Paganini, who rose to fame as a virtuoso in the early 19th Century. Rose’s elegantly staged but tonally flat biopic embraces the myth, even underscoring Paganini’s rising fame, scandalous hedonism, and womanizing as an anachronistic form of rock-star fantasy.
50 to 1 *½ Directed by Jim Wilson. Starring Skeet Ulrich, Christian Kane, William Devane. Tells the story behind Mine That Bird, the underdog horse that defied the odds to win the 2009 Kentucky Derby. While the film isn’t without charming moments — the Derby sequence is entertaining — the lack of narrative sophistication grates.
The Wedding Ringer *½ Directed by Jeremy Garelick. Starring Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco. Two weeks shy of his wedding, a socially awkward guy enters into a charade by hiring the owner of a company that provides best men for grooms in need. Despite the considerable charisma of Hart and Gad and a strong supporting cast, The Wedding Ringer has only one or two genuinely inspired bits of comedy, a few dopey moments when you laugh in spite of yourself — and long, long stretches of pointless montages, loud and unfunny physical shtick and far too much reliance on gay "humor."
The Boy Next Door * Directed by Rob Cohen. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett, Kristin Chenoweth. Adjusting to life without her husband, a recently separated mom is pleased when a teenage boy moves into the neighborhood and befriends her son. But before long, she becomes intimately involved with the teen and comes to regret it. Breathless, uninspired junk that feels like the iffiest bits of a Lifetime movie and late-night cable schlock slapped together. (And not erotically.)
Affluenza * Directed by Kevin Asch. Starring Ben Rosenfield, George Sulkin, Nicola Peltz, Grane Gustin, Samantha Mathis, Steve Guttenberg. An aspiring young photographer finds himself caught up in a heady world of money, sex, and privilege when he moves to wealthy Long Island in the summer of 2008. A splashy-looking yet depressingly empty exercise that is never more shallow than the times when it tries to go deep.
Always Woodstock * Directed by Rita Merson. Starring Allison Miller, Brittany Snow, Jason Ritter, Katey Segal, James Wolk, Rumer Willis. With her life in upheaval, frustrated songwriter Catherine Brown retreats to her vacant family home in Woodstock, N.Y., to review her priorities. With its faux small-town values, faux countercultural ethos and faux personal struggles, Merson’s debut feature skews closer to delusion than honesty.
Accidental Love ½* Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhall, Catherine Keener, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, James Brolin. After a freak accident lodges a nail in uninsured Alice Eckle’s (Biel) head, her crusade for health care takes her to Capitol Hill. Given Russell’s involvement and a fairly solid cast that includes Gyllenhaal and Keener, just how awful could it be? Really awful. Unwatchably awful. As in, "Give it the Razzie now and be done with it" awful.