Timbuktu **** Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. Fear grips Timbuktu in 2012 after the Malian city is seized by Islamic rebels determined to impose their extreme beliefs on the moderate Muslim populace. Sissako, whose previous film, 2006's Bamako, also tackled political issues with aplomb and complexity, doesn’t need to craft an overwrought denunciation of ignorant fanaticism. The humanism with which he approaches both the perpetrators and the victims of the violence inherent in this petty, small-minded tyranny makes the strongest argument possible against the Boko Harams of the world.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem **** Directed by Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz. A woman faces an uphill five-year battle as she seeks a divorce from her intractable spouse, who opposes the dissolution of the marriage -- and holds all the cards under Israeli law. The tragedy here is not a single story but that a process so inequitable and so inane continues in a place that is considered to be enlightened. Gett, in moving and infuriating ways, exposes a very bleak corner of that world.
Red Army ***½ Directed by Gabe Polsky. The story of the Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team through the eyes of its players. Polsky has made a smart and incisive film about an important moment in the history of a now-fallen empire, and he happened to make it wildly entertaining as well. No easy feat.
Rich Hill *** Directed by Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos. Chronicles the turbulent lives of three boys living in an impoverished Midwestern town. The confluence of poverty, dysfunctional parenting and poor educational prospects makes the oft-idealized small-town life look like an incubator for failure, no matter how high and spectacular the Fourth of July fireworks fly.
Cupcakes **½ Directed by Eytan Fox. In Tel Aviv, six friends who are appalled by the Israeli entry in the UniverSong competition record their own song on a mobile phone, then are shocked to learn their recording is selected as Israel’s entry for next year’s competition. Though the comic confection’s clunky moments keep it from achieving soufflé delicacy, its bright zingers and seamless fantasy sequences amp the playfulness, and the mostly unforced performances complement the production’s cartoonish exuberance.
Kingsman: The Secret Service **½ Directed by Matthew Vaughan. Seeing untapped potential in a wayward teenager, a veteran secret agent (Colin Firth) recruits the young delinquent and schools him in the skills that will ultimately transform him into a superspy. The film never entirely figures out what it wants to do with the myth of the superspy, but at least it has fun along the way.
The DUFF **½ Directed by Ari Sandal. A smart high schooler’s world comes crashing down when she discovers that she’s considered the Designated Ugly Fat Friend among her clique of more attractive chums. More a middle-of-the-road romantic-comedy than a teen-spirit sendup, the picture weaves its lighthearted mix of silly and serious with increasingly heavy-handed spiels on self-esteem.
Project Almanac ** Directed by Dean Israelite. When teenage boy (Jonny Weston) finds his late father’s technique for time travel, he and his buddies head to the past to place some surefire sports bets. Begins as a marginally fun diversion before proving to have nearly no interest in the possibilities of its premise.
Serena *½ Directed by Susanne Bier. As most of America is mired in the Depression, George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) and his wife, Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), build a booming timber business together. It must have looked great on paper. On screen, it’s a soapy mess that even Joan Crawford in her delusional late-period prime couldn’t save.
Free the Nipple * Directed by Lina Esco. Chronicles a campaign launched by a legion of impassioned young women who take to the New York City streets in a crusade to legalize to public nudity in America. A shallow and frustratingly misguided drama.
Cas & Dylan * Directed by Jason Priestley. A dying doctor (Richard Dreyfuss), who plans to check out on his own terms, takes a reluctant detour when he inadvertently winds up on the lam with an "anything-but-normal" 22-year-old girl (Tatiana Maslany). Dreyfuss is so irrepressibly charming that he almost saves Priestley’s dismal buddy comedy from its awkward humor and trite sentimentality.
The Squeeze * Directed by Terry Jastrow. A small-town golf phenom (Jeremy Sumpter) abandons his dream of playing in the U.S. Open in favor of high-stakes matches for an unscrupulous gambler. There are definitely 18 holes between plot and character.
All Relative * Directed by J.C. Khoury. What begins as natural attraction turns into love after graduate student Harry (Jonathan Sadowski) meets fellow New Yorker Grace (Sara Paxton). But their romantic voyage takes an unexpected turn for the absurd when Harry is introduced to Grace’s mother (Connie Nielsen). Does Hollywood have so little to offer women that well-regarded actresses feel obliged to accept demeaning indies like this flatly unfunny, morally vacant comedy?