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Far From the Madding Crowd *** Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. Between the sheer on-screen beauty and the finely wrought performances of Mulligan and Schoenaerts, Far from the Madding Crowd has its appeal. Yet like unrequited love, one can’t help but lament what might have been.
Faults *** Directed by Riley Stearns. Desperate to free their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a cult, her parents hire deprogramming expert Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), despite his checkered reputation. Stearns directs with a slow-burning intensity that becomes more unsettling the deeper Ansel goes into his task, and the more it becomes apparent he doesn’t have an easy way out.
The Salvation **½ Directed by Kristian Levring. After emigrating to America’s wide-open west, a Danish homesteader (Mads Mikkelsen) brings over his wife and son seven years later, only to see them promptly murdered. To avenge their deaths, he kills the culprits, unaware that one is related to a brutal gang leader. Nothing quite competes with the blistering opening scene, but The Salvation’s cast of characters mean it’s never less than a fun watch.
Antarctic Edge: 70 South **½ Directed by Dena Seidel. A documentary about an elite group of scientists that sets out to investigate the rapid melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet. It appears afraid of alienating viewers by overloading on scientific jargon, and in the process becomes too attracted to ultimately superfluous anecdotes.
Adult Beginners **½ Directed by Ross Katz. When what was to be a major business coup turns into a financial disaster, penniless entrepreneur Jake (Nic Kroll) decamps from Manhattan and lands on his sister’s doorstep in suburbia where he ends up as nanny to his 3-year-old nephew. This film is mostly just nice. Neither dramatic enough to qualify as drama nor amusing enough to completely succeed as comedy, it’s the kind of movie that coasts on pleasantness, content to elicit a few smiles before disappearing from memory banks.
Jackie & Ryan ** Directed by Ami Canaan Mann. A modern day train hopper (Ben Barnes) fighting to become a successful musician, and a single mom (Katherine Heigl) battling to maintain custody of her daughter, defy their circumstances by coming together in a relationship. The movie is supposedly all about learning how to get where you gotta go, but none of the characters start or end in particularly interesting places.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead ** Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner. After a comet rains mysterious germs on Earth, auto mechanic Barry (Jay Gallagher) finds his world overrun by zombies. When his sister (Bianca Bradey) ends up in the hands of a doctor conducting hideous experiments on plague survivors, Barry begins a bloody crusade to rescue her. Although distinguished by some wildly staged vehicular chase sequences and genuinely witty deadpan dialogue, the film inevitably feels like a footnote to the plethora of similarly themed movies and television shows that seem to arrive on a weekly basis.
Madame Bovary ** Directed by Sophie Barthes. Young Emma Bovary’s (Mia Wasikowska) passions overwhelm her solemn vows of marriage when the dashing Marquis d’Andervilliers (Logan Marshall-Green) captivates her heart, ultimately leading her down the path to ruin. An uninspired narrative and disengaged performances ultimately keep persuasive deep feeling and captivation at a far distance.
A Little Chaos ** Directed by Alan Rickman. When headstrong landscape designer Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is chosen to work on the gardens of King Louis XIV’s (Rickman) opulent new palace at Versailles, she finds herself at odds with the project’s chief architect (Matthias Schoenaerts). This overwatered trifle is doomed to wilt and fade quickly from memory.
True Story ** Directed by Rupert Goold. Follows the complex relationship between accused murderer Christian Longo (James Franco) and disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), whose identity Longo had usurped until he was captured by the FBI. Unfortunately this Story never finds its footing as either a creepy morality play or a performance-driven two-hander.
Ride ** Directed by Helen Hunt. A mother (Hunt) travels cross-country to California to be with her son after he decides to drop out of school and become a surfer. By turns deft and clumsy, inspired and insipid, this is a deeply sincere mess of a comedy.
Every Secret Thing ** Directed by Amy Berg. Convicted of killing an infant when they were 11-year-old girls, Alice (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) — now 18 and just out of jail — find themselves suspects again when a 3-year-old goes missing. This is a small, well-crafted film with a few chilling moments and some fine performances, but it’s a muddled, pedestrian crime thriller.
Barely Lethal *½ Directed by Kyle Newman. A professional teen assassin (Hailee Steinfeld) pines for a more normal existence, so she fakes her own death and enrolls in high school. The premise, that high school is more perilous than a life of espionage, is witty and full of potential. But Newman makes that case by staging his car chases and fight scenes with as much sense of drama as eighth-period trig.
The Divergent Series: Insurgent *½ Directed by Robert Schwentke. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) must confront her inner demons and continue her fight against a powerful alliance which threatens to tear her society apart. Tighter, tougher and every bit as witless as its predecessor, the second segment in the cycle arrives with a yawn and ends with a bang.
Child 44 *½ Directed by Daniel Espinosa. A disgraced member of the military police (Tom Hardy) investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union. Gloomy, dishwater gray, and often framed through dusty glass, this film wastes no time announcing itself as a capital-S Serious movie that doesn’t have a clue what it’s supposed to be about. Stalinist paranoia, marital anxiety, and a serial killer figure in the murky plot, done no favors by Espinosa’s inert direction.
Burying the Ex *½ Directed by Joe Dante. A guy’s (Anton Yelchin) regrets over moving in with his girlfriend (Ashley Greene) are compounded when she dies and comes back as a zombie. There aren’t any scares to speak of, though there is some gore. The cast is game to try anything, but there’s just not much here for them to work with. Like most zombies, this is an idea that should have stayed dead.
Phantom Halo *½ Directed by Antonia Bogdanovich. Forced to support their drunken dad (Sebastian Roché), Emerson brothers Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Beckett (Luke Kleintank) resort to thievery, with Samuel diverting the public as Beckett picks their pockets. Messy and confused, the film is a mishmash of tropes from Shakespeare, heist movies, family melodrama, and romance novels hastily thrown together.
Inner Demons *½ Directed by Seth Grossman. When straight-A student Carson Morris (Lara Vosburgh) veers into a life of drugs and self-destruction, her parents turn to a reality show for an intervention. The film makes one damning if unoriginal observation — the "reality" presented on reality TV is manufactured — and then does nothing to expand on it.
Blackbird * Directed by Patrik-Ian Polk. A young singer (Julian Walker) struggles with his sexuality and the treatment of others while coming of age in a small Southern Baptist community. The film is, like its main character, too naïve to understand or, at least, to deploy the reparative powers of camp.
Do You Believe? ½* Directed by Jon Gunn. When a pastor is shaken by the visible faith of a street-corner preacher, he is reminded that true belief always requires action. A deranged melodrama where any sense of soapy, campy fun is undercut by the preachy, self-serious tone.
Any Day ½* Directed by Rustam Branaman. A recovering alcoholic, former boxer and convicted murderer (Sean Bean) is desperately trying to put his past behind him, when he finds redemption in a relationship with his adoring nephew and a romantic entanglement with a beautiful mortgage broker (Eva Longoria). To say this is a bad movie doesn’t go far enough, because it’s not just bad. It’s frustrating, it’s a slap in the face of filmmakers still struggling to get a project greenlit, and it makes me wonder how so many recognizable actors came to be involved in such drivel.