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It Follows ***½ Directed by David Robert Mitchell. A young woman (Maika Monroe) is followed by an unknown supernatural force after getting involved in a sexual encounter. The film has an impressively sustained sense of dread, less explicit gore than measured tension. Mitchell slyly inverts the conventions of dead-meat teenager flicks, although not with wink-wink comedy like the Scream series. This movie is serious about creeping out viewers, and Mitchell is just artistic enough about it to create a minor masterpiece.
The Salt of the Earth ***½ Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders. A documentary about Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who has created a spectacular body of work during his long career, capturing both the planet’s stunning beauty and humankind’s heartbreaking atrocities. A celebration of the power of art to change the world, as well as an exploration of the considerable toll gifted artists sometimes pay for their talents, and their courage to push forward regardless.
Ex Machina ***½ Directed by Alex Garland. A young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking female A.I. (Alicia Vikander). Stylish, elegant, tense, cerebral, satirical and creepy. Garland’s directorial debut is his best work yet, while Vikander’s bold performance will short your circuits.
Clouds of Sils Maria ***½ Directed by Olivier Assayas. Twenty years after her breakthrough role as a young woman who beguiles and ultimately destroys her mentor, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is invited to play the part of the older woman in a stage production of the same drama. A complex, bewitching and melancholy drama, another fearlessly intelligent film from Assayas.
Goodbye to All That **½ Directed by Angus MacLachlan. Blindsided by his wife’s (Melanie Lynskey) desire for a divorce, Otto Wall (Paul Schneider) must try to refashion his life in a confusing new world of dating that includes social media. But while the sex comes easily for Otto, meaningful relationships don’t. A heartfelt, bittersweet and often amusing portrait of early middle-age.
Red Knot **½ Directed by Scott Cohen. Opting to take their honeymoon cruise to Antarctica aboard a research ship, Chloe (Olivia Thirlby) and Peter (Vincent KarlHeiser) find the going rough in more ways than one. Cohen’s insights into relationships are sharp and this film is an auspicious start for the budding filmmaker, one rife with good instincts, smart direction, and crisp writing. Kartheiser and Thirlby are the main attraction, however, and when these two ships pass on their own icy seas, the result is more than worth the plunge.
24 Days **½ Directed by Alexandre Arcady. The shocking abduction and torture in 2006 of young Jewish man (Syrus Shahidi) in Paris set emotions aflame on the issue of anti-Semitism and the alleged inability of police investigators to comprehend the true motivations behind the abduction. As a suspenseful true crime story, 24 Days succeeds. As a warning against the ever present dangers of anti-Semitism, it is eloquent and disturbing. It’s in combining the two that Arcady mishandles the case.
Maggie ** Directed by Henry Hobson. When a zombie infestation ravages her Midwest town, young Maggie (Abigail Breslin) soon begins turning into one of the flesh-eating creatures. But her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses to give up her on and insists on caring for Maggie at home. The plot is lean, the dialogue is spare and there are some intriguing stabs at intellectual and emotional terrain. But the pacing is deadly, so slow there might be time for a catnap or two without missing anything important.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ** Directed by John Madden. Hotel owner Sonny (Dev Patel) is overwhelmed with the task of finding a second property to accommodate the influx of new residents, while his upcoming wedding plans may be too much for the hotel’s staff to handle. The film has only the sheer charm of its cast to get it by, and it says a lot about the actors that they nearly pull it off.
The Longest Ride * Directed by George Tillman Jr. After an automobile crash, the lives of a young couple intertwine with a much older man, as he reflects back on a past love. The two-plus hours is mostly marked by an emptiness born of scene after scene designed to blatantly manipulate emotions rather than trigger them.
Freedom * Directed by Peter Coursens. Pursued by a relentless tracker, Samuel Woodward (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his family escape servitude on a Virginia plantation through a network of safe houses. We get too little character development to be invested in the story and barely a glimpse at the horrific plight of enslaved people.
Dawn Patrol * Directed by Daniel Petrie Jr. After his brother is murdered in their sleepy California coastal town, John (Scott Eastwood) suspects that members of a rival surfing group are responsible. When his hunger for revenge leads him to kill the wrong man, John joins the Marines to avoid apprehension. The film has a lot on its plate and manages to drop it all. The movie deals with themes of xenophobia, murder, revenge and forgiveness, and not one aspect is handled with anything approaching competence. What a dud.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 ½* Directed by Andy Fickman. Ffumbling rent-a-cop Paul Blart (Kevin James) travels to Las Vegas for a grand security guard expo, where he faces broad contempt from his peers before stumbling across a gang of professional thieves planning a major art heist. Think of the worst movie you’ve ever seen — a movie that didn’t make you laugh, didn’t make you cry, didn’t move you or change you in any way besides giving you the desperate urge to smash your DVD player. Think of a movie that was a massive waste of your time and money. Hold that title in your mind. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is worse than that.