Leviathan **** Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. In a Russian coastal town, Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) is forced to fight the corrupt mayor when he is told that his house will be demolished. He recruits a lawyer friend to help, but the man's arrival brings further misfortune for Kolya and his family. If there was ever any doubt as to Zvyagintsev's position as one of world cinema's foremost auteurs, it's put to rest here. His filmmaking has always been superb, but he's never taken on the state of his nation in the way he does here. And that makes Leviathan not just masterful but also hugely important.
Girlhood ***½ Directed by Céline Sciamma. A girl with few real prospects joins a gang, reinventing herself and gaining a sense of self confidence in the process. A powerful and entertaining film about a gang of girls, and what friendship means, the protection it provides.
American Sniper *** Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle's pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind. Cooper, to his credit, rarely flinches, never chest-thumps and never loses his cool, even when Kyle is starting to lose his. It’s a masterful interpretation of a man with a lot more on his mind and blood on his hands than he was ever inclined to let on. And it’s a performance worthy of Eastwood himself — 50 years ago.
The Blue Room *** Directed by Mathieu Amalric. In the intimate confines of a hotel room, married Julien Gahyde (Mathieu Amalric) and his paramour, Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau), meet regularly for erotic encounters until he's arrested for an unstipulated crime connected to their intense affair. A deceptively low-key riff on a Hitchcock whodunit. It’s both sexy and inscrutable, a cold-blooded puzzler to the very end.
Last Hijack **½ Directed by Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting. A partially animated documentary that focuses on Mohamed Nura of Somalia, who — despite his family's opposition — has become an expert in piracy. The filmmakers have gotten extraordinary access to Mohamed and ravaged Somalia. But it's disappointing that they did not capture more scenes of Mohamed's wife and her family, who in the end are the ones who make the most momentous decision.
All the Wilderness ** Directed by Michael Johnson. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Virginia Madsen, Isabelle Fuhrman, Evan Ross, Danny DeVito. A restless teenager explores the wilderness of his city while struggling with the absence of his father. Writer-director Johnson covers a lot of familiarly morbid teen ground in All the Wilderness, a film with touches of "Ordinary People" and a hint of "Harold & Maude." But touches and a hint aren’t enough to lift this morose movie into anything any of us need to see or hear to deepen our understanding of teen depression, grief and love.
Cymbelline ** Directed by Michael Almereyda. Starring Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jobovich, John Leguizamo, Dakota Johnson. Biker-gang leader Cymbeline and his second wife scheme to have her son wed Cymbeline's daughter to get her out of the picture. One of the most uncinematic pieces crafted by an otherwise fine stylist, Cymbeline befuddles with its ineffective blocking and lack of art direction.
Maya the Bee Movie ** Directed by Alexs Stadermann. Starring Jacki Weaver, Richard Roxburgh, Noah Taylor, Justine Clarke, Jodi Smit-McPhee. Banished from the hive by the queen's evil adviser after discovering her dastardly scheme to steal the royal jelly and frame the hornets, young Maya the bee must make her way alone across the perilous meadow to save the day. More harmless than entertaining, a limp exercise in cinematic baby-sitting for the 6-and-under set.
Before I Disappear ** Directed by Shawn Christensen. Starring Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Paul Wesley, Emmy Rossum, Ron Perlman. At the lowest point of his life, Richie gets a call from his estranged sister, asking him to look after his 11-year old niece for a few hours. There's a surface elegance that might play as depth in smaller doses, but at feature length, the stylistic flourishes seem to be covering for deficiencies rather than servicing the material.
Zombeavers *½ Directed by Jordan Rubin. Enjoying a relaxed and romantic lakeside holiday, a gang of college students suddenly find themselves hunted by a pack of murderous un-dead beavers (I’m not making this stuff up). It’s not a total wash, and seen at night, under the right combination of low expectations and controlled substances, it may even seem better than it really is.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 * Directed by Steve Pink. When Lou (Rob Corddry) finds himself in trouble, Nick (Craig Robinson) and Jacob (Clark Duke) fire up the hot tub time machine in an attempt to get back to the past. But they inadvertently land in the future. It’s a comedy that’s so witless and unfunny and shoddily made it makes The Hangover 2 look like The Godfather 2.
Lovesick * Directed by Luke Matheny. Starring Matt LeBlanc, Ali Larter, Adam Rodriguez, Chevy Chase. A school principal is successful in life but for one glaring exception: Every time he begins a relationship, his excessive jealousy and paranoia ruin things. Both LeBlanc and Larter glide through the synthetic setup like pros, but they have no connection because their characters barely resemble human beings.
Strange Magic * Directed by Gary Rydstrom. Starring Alan Cumming, Evan Rachal Wood, Kristin Chenoweth, Maya Rudolph, Alfred Molina, Peter Stormare. Goblins, elves, fairies and imps battle over a powerful potion. It’s like watching a cartoon version of American Idol on an endless karaoke loop.