Mr. Turner **** Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Karl Johnson, Ruth Sheen. A portrait of 19th-century painter J.M.W. Turner that spotlights his artistic genius, along with the eccentric and frequently insensitive behavior that he exhibited in his private life. Turner was a master of light and image, but what stands out most about him in Leigh’s captivating biographical film is a sound. Playing the renowned Victorian-era English painter, Spall grunts and expectorates his way through his scenes, chugging along with the phlegmy belch of an old jalopy or, as the film suggests more than once, a snuffling pig.
Selma **** Directed by Ava DuVernay. Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Omar J. Dorsey, Alessandro Nivola, Dylan Baker, Giovanni Ribisi, Tessa Thompson, Colman Domingo, Stephen Root, Jeremy Strong, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey. A chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. This is gripping, inspiring and sometimes terrifying historical drama, loaded with specific detail, that brings a turning point of the civil rights movement back from black-and-white obscurity to present-tense urgency.
Winter Sleep ***½ Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. With winter closing in, an Anatolia hotel owner prepares for the coming cold, but the severe weather transforms his cozy inn from a shelter into an emotional prison for an aging former actor, his resentful wife and his recently divorced sister. Staring deep into the darkness of an apparently static character, Ceylan again exhibits his gift for making interesting stories out of predetermined plots, locating small eddies of change in the midst of eternally fixed dynamics.
Black Sea **½ Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Starring Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall. In order to make good with his former employers, a submarine captain takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a submarine rumored to be loaded with gold. Certain sequences are handled exceptionally, but others feel overblown and some characters underwhelm. That’s not to say that Black Sea is not an enjoyable — and at times, enthralling — aquatic adventure, it just never quite thrills as much as it spills, and flounders during some of its more emotional beats.
The Last Five Years **½ Directed by Richard LaGravenese. Starring Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordon. A struggling actress and her novelist lover each illustrate the struggle and deconstruction of their love affair. No, it’s not deep. But the film, a sung-through (virtually no dialogue) musical by Jason Robert Brown, is sweet and sunny and occasionally funny.
Amira & Sam **½ Directed by Sean Mullin. Starring Martin Starr, Dina Shihabi, Paul Wesley, Laith Nakli, David Rasche. An army veteran’s unlikely romance with an Iraqi immigrant is put to the test when she is faced with the prospect of deportation. An earnest and considerate examination of two people falling in love, but the movie lacks certainty when handling these characters separately.
Miss Julie **½ Directed by Liv Ullman. Starring Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton. Over the course of a midsummer night on a rural estate in 1890, an unsettled daughter of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy encourages her father’s valet to seduce her. A handsome production, its few settings (indoors and outdoors) painterly and period-perfect. It’s entirely too long for a filmed chamber drama of such limited stakes. But Ullmann’s adaptation reminds us that the gap between "those people," now called "the 1 percent," and the rest of the world will always be ripe for conflict, drama and tension, no matter how much we evolve.
Days of Grace ** Directed by Everardo Valerio Gout. Starring Paulina Gaitan, Carlos Bardem, Dolorès Heredia, Miguel Rodarte, Tenoch Huerta, Mario Zaragoza. Set against the fervor of the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup games, this drama presents three stories of violence and survival in Mexico City. It’s a confident, well-made film that ends up in a blind alley of cynicism.
Spare Parts ** Directed by Sean McNamara. Starring George Lopex, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marisa Tomei, Carlos Pena, Esai Morales, José Julián, David Del Rio. The journey of four undocumented Mexican-American high school students from Phoenix, Ariz., who form a robotics club and are led by their teacher with nothing but spare parts and a dream to compete against MIT in a National Underwater Robotics Competition. In its mad hurry, the movie denies itself its own genre pleasures — chiefly, the ways assembling a ragtag robotics team and an equally ragtag robot might add a little bit of Mission: Impossible or MacGyver dynamics into a sports-style narrative.
Fifty Shades of Grey ** Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Starring Jaime Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden. A literature student’s life changes forever when she meets handsome, yet tormented, billionaire. In the annals of sexually-charged event cinema, Fifty Shades of Grey barely lights a candle let alone combusts with unbridled forbidden passion.
Black or White ** Directed by Mike Binder. Starring Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Bill Burr, Jennifer Ehle, Andre Holland, Gillian Jacobs, Anthony Mackie. Still reeling from his wife’s death, Elliot Anderson struggles to maintain custody of his biracial granddaughter when her grandmother begins pushing to have the girl sent back to her father, a crack addict Elliot blames for his daughter’s demise. The performances are fantastic across the board, with Costner acting in his trademark low-key naturalistic style and Spencer as the picture of no-nonsense maternal love. But their efforts can’t make up for overly simplified characters, not to mention melodramatic exchanges that sound exactly like written dialogue.
Love, Rosie *½ Directed by Christian Ditter. Lily Collins, Claflin, Christian Cooke, Tamsin Egerton, Suki Waterhouse, James Beamish. Best friends from the time they were tykes, Rosie Dunne and Alex Stewart remain close as adults. Although each takes a different partner, an intimate attachment between them lingers. The message is more pedestrian than passionate: Life is long, and full of instant messages.
Lost River *½ Directed by Ryan Gosling. Starring Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Iain de Caestecker, Matt Smith, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Reda Kateb, Barbara Steele. In the rotting remains of a once-great city, a struggling single mother is forced to take a job at a bizarre cabaret to keep her house and support her kids. Meanwhile, her eldest son’s efforts to help land him in the neighborhood nut’s crosshairs. In time, we may look back at Lost River as a fascinating mess or a misunderstood miss. As for his promise, I’d be fine if Gosling promises to never make a film like this again.
The Frontier *½ Directed by Matt Robinowitz. Starring Max Gail, Coleman Kelly, Anastassia Sendyk, Katherine Cortez. An estranged son travels back home to confront his overbearing father to see if there is any relationship left between them. The film means well but feels generic, strained and claustrophobic (despite several scenes at a deserted beach), with tight close-ups and sudden confrontations.
Murder of a Cat * Directed by Gillian Greene. Starring Fran Kranz, Greg Kinnear, J.K. Simmons, Nikki Reed. When a cat turns up dead with an arrow through its gut, its owner vows to find the culprit and deliver him (or her) to justice. This is a perfect example of the kind of indie movie Simmons will hopefully never have to do again now that he’s won the Oscar for Whiplash.
The Pyramid * Directed by Gregory Levasseur. Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley. An archaeological team attempts to unlock the secrets of a lost pyramid only to find themselves hunted by an insidious creature. It’s a found footage movie that feels instantly dated, even with its supposed political undertones. It’s creaky, laborious, and not, in the least bit, scary.