Jauja *** Directed by Lisandro Alonso. In the late 1800s, Danish military engineer Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) travels to the South American desert with his daughter, Ingeborg (Villbørk Malling Agger), after being dispatched to map the region for European settlers. When Ingeborg steals away, Dinesen sets out after her. There are more enigmas than answers in Jauja, an artsy South American Western from Alonso, an Argentine filmmaker who delights in undermining movie conventions.
What We Do in the Shadows *** Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi. Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Clement) are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts. A bracing reminder of how the right burst of energy and style breathes fresh ideas into a genre threatened with creative exhaustion.
Tangerines *** Directed by Zaza Urushadze. During the vicious Georgian-Abkhazian conflict of the 1990s, two Estonian tangerine farmers refuse to leave their homes as the fighting grows ever closer. After each one rescues a wounded soldier from the opposite side, a very personal battle ensues. A simple tale, sharply drawn and smartly told, a portrait of a people, a place and a centuries-old conflict that one wise yet myopic citrus farmer cannot get his mind around any more than I can.
Kung Fu Killer *** Directed by Teddy Chan. A vicious killer stalks the streets of Hong Kong, methodically executing top martial arts competitors. Xia (Donnie Yen), a convicted killer and kung fu expert, offers to help police find the killer and put him behind bars in return for his own freedom. Like a greatest-hits album, it’s not as deeply satisfying as an artist’s best work (try Yen’s Ip Man). But it will keep you entertained.
5 Flights Up ** Directed by Richard Loncraine. A long-time married couple (Diane Keaton, Morgan Freeman) who’ve spent their lives together in the same New York apartment become overwhelmed by personal and real estate-related issues when they plan to move away. What starts as a somewhat charming — if prosaic — story of love in the time of gentrification inexplicably spends most of its third act mired in the finer points of apartment hunting, like a tastefully lit HGTV show.
Set Fire to the Stars ** Directed by Andy Goddard. When he invites Dylan Thomas (Celyn Jones) to America for a series of poetry readings, hidebound academic John M. Brinnin (Elijah Wood) is well aware of the Welshman’s reputation as a hell-raiser. But Brinnin is unprepared for the lengths he’ll have to go to keep Thomas sober. It’s a nice enough, pleasant enough film with a couple solid performances. But when you’re making a movie about a man as unique, profound, and complex as Dylan Thomas, and you have nothing to say about him, you don’t have much of a movie.
Wild Horses *½ Directed by Robert Duvall. A detective opens up a fifteen-year-old missing persons case and begins to suspect that the boy it belongs to was murdered — and that a local rancher was involved. What a shambles. Duvall, eminent character actor of the Hackman-Caan generation of difficult big-screen guys, returns to the director’s chair with this dawdling and sometimes damn near unintelligible ensemble piece set in a Texas border town.
The Pact 2 *½ Directed by. Dallas Richard Hallam, Patrick Horvath. A woman (Camilla Luddington) who is plagued by nightmares involving a serial killer learns her dreams have a horrifying connection to the real world. Writer-directors Hallam and Horvath, picking up the baton from first film creator Nicholas McCarthy, do a serviceable job aping the original’s clean, mostly lo-fi atmospherics and nervy framing. The story’s a wash, though.
Survivor * Directed by James McTeigue. After surviving a terrorist bombing in London, a U.S. embassy employee (Milla Jovovich) ends up on the run when she’s framed for crimes. Learning a New Year’s Eve attack is planned for Times Square, she must foil the plot while eluding authorities and an assassin. Fans of Jovovich’s Resident Evil series know the pleasures inherent in watching her sprint hither and yon. That’s about the only thrill provided by Survivor.