New movie reviews: Critics' picks

Time Out critics head to the movies to bring you film reviews of the best new releases

Photograph: Courtesy Laemmle
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While We're Young

Maturity is a slippery staircase in the comedies of Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha). He delights in puffing up then deflating characters who aren’t quite ready to grow up. While We’re Young, the writer-director’s confidently charming latest, plays more like a Woody Allen–ish parody than any of his other movies, but the shift hasn’t required a sacrifice in insight, heart or bite. Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, both terrific) are Gen Xers 
in a marriage cooled by stalling ambitions and a failure to join their friends’ baby parade. It’s sexless nights on the iPad until the unexpected affections of a much younger couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), energize their lives. Suddenly there are postironic hats to buy, hip-hop dance classes to flail around in and multiple trips to Bushwick. Baumbach could have rocked this register and made a perfectly fun New Yorker piece out of the premise (Josh and Cornelia marvel at the twentysomethings’ loft, complete with a pants-free female roommate, a caged chicken and “everything we once threw out”). But where he ends up going—a place of real anxiety and envy—speaks to the filmmaker’s nervy ambitions. If this is Baumbach’s commercial breakthrough, he will have made it several steps up that staircase with nothing lost. Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

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White God

According to Hollywood legend, the Oscars banned animals from being eligible for Best Actor after German shepherd Rin Tin Tin won the most votes in 1929. That won’t sound so ridiculous when you watch this powerful Hungarian drama featuring the Al Pacino of dog actors, real-life mutt twins Body and Luke. They share the role of Hagen, the four-legged best friend of 13-year-old tomboy Lili (Zsófia Psotta), who’s shipped off to spend the summer with her dad in Budapest. No fan of dogs, he dumps poor Hagen on a busy road rather than pay a tax. A couple of Lassie-style adventures later, Hagen falls into the clutches of a ferrety dog fighter who turns the big softie into a killing machine—animal lovers, cover your eyes—by viciously beating him and filing his teeth into sharp points. But Hagen bites back, leading an attack, alongside a pack of feral strays, on his human oppressors.  If it wasn’t so violent, the simplicity of the film’s metaphor—how the abused and outcast will rise up—would make it suitable for young audiences. And you won’t beat White God for dog acting: The way director Kornél Mundruczó gets his canine cast to run the gamut of emotions from face-licking adorableness to teeth-baring ferocity is genuinely impressive.

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Amour Fou

Berlin, 1811. Heinrich (Christian Friedel) is an author with an exceedingly melancholy disposition. Henriette (Birte Schnoeink) is a woman determined to live out her life in servile deference to her businessman husband (Stephan Grossmann). The writer is smitten at first sight; the lady demurs his affections. When Heinrich later proposes that they die together in a suicide pact, Henriette blanches. But her feelings change after she is diagnosed with a terminal illness.  These events actually happened between the great German writer Heinrich von Kleist—author of The Marquise of O—and his friend Henriette Vogel. Theirs wasn’t a romance informed by physical lust or passion for life, but by an all-consuming obsession with death.  Writer-director Jessica Hausner, whose rigorous, radically feminist films like Hotel (2004) and Lourdes (2009) seem equally derived from Chantal Akerman and Stanley Kubrick, recognizes the comic possibilities of the scenario. It takes some time to get acclimated to Heinrich’s gloomy pronouncements (“Would you like to die with me?” he wonders, as if asking about the weather), as well as to the stiffness of the performers. (When Henriette remarks that she feels like a marionette, it comes off as a knowing acknowledgment.) Even the wallpaper in Henriette’s drawing room seems as if it might come to life and swallow the characters whole. You’re not sure whether to laugh at or recoil from these people and their oppressive surroundings.  That tension actuall

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Man From Reno

For years, Dave Boyle, a white Mormon from Arizona and former missionary, has been the most unlikely voice in the Asian-American filmmaking community. With the arrival of Man From Reno, which finds Boyle graduating from sweet and shambling microbudget indies to a frigid neo-noir that’s told with a master’s touch (and looks like a million bucks), he’s become one of its most essential voices, as well. A rare delight that’s laced with melancholy and a suffocating sense of menace from its first scene straight through its shocking finale, Man From Reno is made special by the collisions between its characters. It begins one black and foggy night as Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna), the sheriff of a small northern California town, crashes into an already bloodied Japanese pedestrian. The victim vanishes from the hospital the next morning. Meanwhile, across town, a popular detective novelist named Aki (Ayako Fujitani) has ditched the book tour for her latest Inspector Takable installment and flies to San Francisco in an effort to hide from her public. A curiously timid woman for someone so accomplished, Aki lies low in a vintage hotel straight out of Vertigo when a suave stranger (Kazuki Kitamura) from her home country joins her for a nightcap in the lobby bar. They have drinks, have sex and then he disappears. By the time someone tries to murder Aki in her room, you don’t have to be Johnny Gossamer to figure out that the two missing Japanese men are somehow related and that what appears

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Jauja

In Spanish, the word jauja (pronounced “how-ha”) denotes a land of milk and honey, longed for but never reached. Argentine director Lisandro Alonso couldn’t have found a more appropriate name for his magical film about yearning and illusion. On one level, Jauja is literally about people in a quest for territory: Set in no-man’s-Patagonia in the late 19th century, it opens on a group of Argentine officers, accompanied by a Danish engineer (Viggo Mortensen) and his adolescent daughter, as they plot to conquer the region for their country. But when the girl goes missing and her father heads off to find her, the story begins to take on more existential overtones. About a colonialist losing his grip in a threatening, ethereal place, Jauja recalls Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God. But with no Klaus Kinski to grandstand, this is a subtler, more intimate affair. While Mortensen is excellent as the disoriented European, the film’s great achievement is to create an uneasy claustrophobia in spite of the sweeping landscape. Nobody trusts anyone. And as the coastal hills of the first act give way to the open plains of the deepening plot, we absorbingly retreat into this father’s head. Or is it somebody else’s head? A Lynchian coda upends the entire film, raising several questions and resolving none. Fans of rigorous storytelling may find it to be one whimsical step too far, but others will marvel at this miraculous coup de théâtre. Jauja is a film to make you wonder.

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Chappie

After the out-of-nowhere sucker punch of his 2009 debut District 9, Neill Blomkamp’s second film, 2013’s Elysium, felt like the work of a Hollywood-designed, blockbuster-producing robot: slick and anonymous. So it’s a huge relief to discover that, with Chappie, the South African filmmaker has re-engaged his emotion chip and ramped up the weirdness factor for a lovably scattershot cybernetic satire.  We’re in near-future Johannesburg, where a platoon of faceless android crimefighters have begun the mammoth task of cleaning up the streets. But their inventor (Dev Patel) has greater ambitions: He’s working on the world’s first true artificial intelligence, a computer that can not only think, but create.  The result is Chappie, a creature with the body of a killer but the mind of a child. And when Chappie falls into the hands of wannabe gangsters Ninja and Yolandi—played, roughly as themselves, by electroclash duo Die Antwoord—his future is thrown wide open. Will he become a benefit to humanity? Or a menace to society? It would have been easy for Blomkamp to use Chappie as a cipher, a metal shell to be filled with symbolic notions of nature versus nurture, corporate greed and post-human existential angst. But thanks to a wonderful vocal performance from Sharlto Copley, this droid is so much more: He’s adorable, sympathetic and even relatable, a lost soul in a harsh world. Chappie the film isn’t so perfect. The plot is threadbare, the nods to RoboCop are laid on thick and it’s

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Cinderella

Enough with the feminism. Disney has clearly had enough of these uppity princesses getting all empowered and messing with their fairytales. After Frozen, and Into the Woods, it’s back to the basics of being a princess in director Kenneth Branagh’s lavish, sappily sweet version of Cinderella. That means microscopic waists, swooning bosoms and a happily-ever-after ending for this Cinderella (Lily James, the naughty cousin from Downton Abbey), or just plain Ella – the "Cinders" bit comes later. The film opens shakily with scenes from Ella’s idyllic childhood acted in a style inspired by the surrounding forest. "Have courage and be kind," says Ella’s mother (Hayley Atwell) with a saintly deathbed smile, so cursing Ella to a lifetime of smiling sweetly and talking in sing-song to her CGI pet mice. Cate Blanchett is wickedly good as her evil stepmother Lady Tremaine, dressed to kill in the style of a 1940s femme fatale with Veronica Lake curls and blood-red lipstick. This is a pretty faithful retelling of the classic fairytale, but Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) have rustled up enough of a backstory to stop Lady T being a straight-up psycho-bitch villainess. Left widowed and bankrupt by her first husband, she’s now bitter about being married to a man still in love with wife number-one. You know the rest. Helena Bonham Carter is hilarious as the Fairy Godmother, a cross between Gok Wan and a toff racing-horse trainer after a few gin and tonics. "Would yo

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Buzzard

A slamming indictment of ding-a-ling millennials, an Office Space–like screed against corporate monotony, a riotous inertia comedy: Joel Potrykus’s so-indie-it-burns latest could be all of those things, though there isn’t any pressing reason to choose. Built around a transfixingly dead-eyed performance by Joshua Burge, Buzzard makes a mockery of our need to engage with heroes, even massively flawed ones. Marty (Burge) spends his time crafting a dangerous-looking replica of Freddy Krueger’s razor glove. That’s when he’s not playing video games, ineptly scamming his workplace out of printer toner, or flinging tennis balls at his one and only dork of a friend, whose basement he’s become a stinky fixture in. Go with it, like you might have gone with Gummo. (The state of Michigan is done no favors by these banal urban streets.) Potrykus has something uncommonly pure in mind, filling his plot with a stream of Marty’s poorly conceived rackets, occasional bursts of violence and a kind of nihilistic self-ruination that rings as loudly as a punk song. Buzzard is both deeply unfun and something you can’t take your eyes off. It gets our edge of recommendation because there’s real focus to it: Marty’s ambitions are so low (his life seems to climax while wolfing down a $20 plate of spaghetti in a hotel room) that you truly fear for the future. Meet the new slacker. Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

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Faults

If he weren’t a published expert at talking people out of cults, Ansel (Leland Orser) would be an obvious candidate for joining one. The beaten and bedraggled subject of Riley Stearns's mordantly funny first feature, he roams the jaundiced purgatory of Southern California, leveraging sparsely attended seminars to hawk his terrible new book about the virtues of free will. Ansel may not be a con man—Orser’s indelible turn elevates the character’s desperation into its own sad brand of sincerity—but Faults nevertheless delights in questioning the value of his product.  Faults introduces Ansel deep in the pockets of some very scary people, far too broke to ignore the insistent couple (Beth Grant and Chris Ellis) who offer him $20,000 to kidnap their daughter from a doomsday cult and deprogram her of its doctrine. Reluctantly agreeing to help, Ansel snatches Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a grocery-store parking lot, locks her in a dank motel room and begins the five-day process of restoring her to her old self. Spoiler alert: Things don’t go according to plan. A tense two-handed dark comedy prone to feverish inflections of Lynchian madness, Stearns’s film feels as fluid and shifting as Claire herself, its tone following the lead set by Winstead's performance. Winstead is one of the most intuitive actors of her generation, and though her impressive range is easy to spot, it’s her elasticity that makes her so rewarding to watch. Whether she’s playing a blue-haired dream gir

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

A silver fox for a silver crowd: Richard Gere is the magic card up the filmmaker’s sleeve for this warm if rambling sequel to the 2011 hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Novelist Deborah Moggach wrote only one book about a ramshackle Indian hotel that attracts British retirees, so it’s down to writer-director team Ol Parker and John Madden to continue the tale, bringing back most of the cast—with the addition of Gere as an American tourist suspected of being a hotel inspector. The guesthouse is still run by chaotic, eccentric Sonny (Dev Patel), and most of his British residents have moved on to enjoy late-life careers as a hotel manager (Maggie Smith), fabric buyer (Judi Dench) or tourist guide (Bill Nighy). The gentle plot turns on Sonny’s desire to buy a second hotel, as well as his wedding and the various characters’ romances. It’s a baggy affair, built around too many characters and stories to feel focused. Luckily, there are just enough truths about aging beneath its corny, farcical surface. Not to mention, it’s hard not to enjoy two hours in the company of this cast.

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Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Magical realism comes to Minnesota in this sly slice of slow cinema, as a downtrodden Tokyo office worker (Rinko Kikuchi) finds a VHS tape of the Coen brothers’ Fargo hidden in a seaside cave, reads the fake based on a true story caption and sets off for America intent on unearthing the suitcase of cash hidden by Steve Buscemi’s character in the 1996 thriller. Is Kumiko mentally ill or just so desperate to give her life meaning that she’s willing to ignore the obvious flaws in her plan? This troubling question forms the backbone of sibling filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner’s ice-cold indie, and if you’re willing to take Kumiko as just another cute oddball on an amusingly misguided quest, this might almost be a comedy.  But if Kumiko is, indeed, mad, as the movie seems to suggest, then it becomes a far darker affair. The result is a fascinating—at times illuminating—tightrope act but rarely an enjoyable one. For all its luminous outsider’s-eye photography and painstaking, perfectly pitched performances, both the film and its shivering heroine prove difficult to warm to.

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Appropriate Behavior

“I feel dead inside,” says Desiree Akhavan with the kind of grim conviction that would make even Morrissey look insincere. Given that this NYC indie is Akhavan’s movie debut as writer, star and director, you’d expect nothing less than 100 percent from the 30-year-old—even as the world her character navigates is confusing and ridiculous. She plays Shirin, an Iranian-American hipster trying to recover from a breakup with her girlfriend while finding her niche in boho Brooklyn. It’s shades of Girls, no doubt (Akhavan and Lena Dunham are buddies in real life, and the rising star appears in the new season). Existential conversations take place with a Park Slope Food Coop “walker” lurking in the background; Shirin’s first tentative hookups include an OkCupid date whose idea of going out for a drink is brown-bagging beer while sitting on a stoop. But Appropriate Behavior isn’t all knowing LOLs; there’s a satisfying depth and heart here too, that’s more in line with Annie Hall. Shirin’s abysmal online tryst cuts to an intimate sex-with-the-ex memory that’s blushworthy in all the right ways. Through flashbacks, we watch the couple’s relationship sputter into life and run a wobbly course to its ignominious end (“You’re ruining my birthday,” “You’re ruining my twenties!”). Shirin’s awkwardness may be fashionable, but it’s not affected—she’s genuinely scared to confess her fluid sexuality to her conservative Iranian parents, and doesn’t remotely fit in at her family circle’s bourgie Pe

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Ida

Tragedy hangs like smoke over this spectral, startling return to form for Polish-born, British-based writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski. First and foremost there’s the historical catastrophe of the Holocaust that drives the story, shot in b&w. But there’s also a pervasive, underlying layer of personal hardship and struggle: It doesn’t feel like a stretch to place Ida alongside, say, Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Elem Klimov’s Come and See, films haunted by the loss of a spouse and a subsequent darkening in the filmmaker’s view of the worldview. First-timer Agata Trzebuchowska is quietly compelling in the title role of an apprentice nun who, on the eve of taking her final vows, leaves the convent for the first time to track down her last surviving relative. But Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) isn’t exactly what Ida was expecting: She’s Jewish, alcoholic, a bedhopper and a ruthless court justice whose once-powerful standing in the Soviet regime of early-’60s Poland is slowly but inexorably waning. Ida is a film built of snapshots: Few scenes run longer than a minute or two, and the dialogue is sparse and functional, in stark contrast with Pawlikowski’s poetic, chatty earlier works like My Summer of Love. In addition, the painterly, painstakingly composed camera angles are all self-consciously “off,” with faces and bodies confined to corners of the empty, TV-square frame. The effect is somewhere between incredible beauty and mounting discomfort: a direct reflection of how sheltered

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A Most Violent Year

In little over three years and three features, writer-director J.C. Chandor has launched himself into the rare company of uncompromising filmmakers with more than superheroes on the brain. Margin Call (2011), filled with gloriously terse business talk, got him Oscar-nominated. All Is Lost (2013) had virtually no talk but managed to distill the loner essence of its star, Robert Redford, like no one had before. A Most Violent Year, Chandor’s absorbing no-bull NYC drama, further clarifies what might be the most promising career in American movies: an urban-headed filmmaker attuned to economies of place and time, with an eye on the vacant throne of Sidney Lumet. Set in the chilly winter of 1981 (evoked with a minimum of perms and trench coats), the movie starts with a business deal, as Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, finely anxious), an independent gas-company owner, hopes to close with some Hasidim for a precious piece of waterfront property. He leaves the deal with 30 days to come up with an astronomical sum of money, and it’s right at that moment that his problems mushroom: A politically minded city attorney (David Oyelowo) starts breathing down his neck with aggressive financial queries; Abel’s Brooklyn-born wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of a gangster, grows fidgety; and his gas trucks keep getting hijacked on the parkway. The municipal stew is dense and unusually flavorful, of a kinship with James Gray’s The Yards and other films made for the last handful of adult

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Black Sea

Submarines are such scary places that it’s hard to make a mess of a movie about them. The challenge lies in coming up with a fresh twist on the milieu that doesn’t tread on familiar WWII territory. Kudos, then, to screenwriter Dennis Kelly for this engrossing modern fable, in which a group of disgruntled employees of an ocean salvage company rent an ancient Soviet sub to retrieve lost Nazi gold from the floor of the Black Sea. The grizzled crew all have equal shares, but then they realize that the loss of a shipmate or two would mean a fatter payday for everyone else. Law brings unexpected gravitas to his role as the embittered captain whose desire to wreak revenge on his heartless bosses may be clouding his judgment, and the excellent supporting cast vividly captures the script’s intercrew animosities. Detailed set design also contributes to the oppressive claustrophobia of this undersea Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which oozes atmosphere. If Black Sea runs a few fathoms short of classic status, it’s because director Kevin Macdonald pumps the brakes just when things are picking up. Still, the film’s old-fashioned storytelling makes it a worthy addition to the sub subgenre.

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Woman on the Beach

Three has always been a magic number for South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo: This is a director who loves, loves, loves an emotionally messy ménage à trois. So it’s no surprise to see another romantic trio forming at the beginning of Hong’s latest, or that this bitter comedy is located squarely in his thematic comfort zone. Anyone lucky enough to have caught any of Hong’s previous work knows that Director Kim (Kim Seung-woo), a filmmaker, will make a play for the attractive girlfriend (Ko) of his underling (Kim Tae-woo). Per usual, psychological pole-positioning takes place over socially awkward, alcohol-fueled dinners, and the male of the species—self-centered, oversexed and borderline infantile—gets soundly skewered. “But there are some good ones out there, right?” asks Kim after his conquest declares that Korean guys are the pits. Her sad smile speaks volumes.Newcomers intoxicated by Hong’s amorous pileups and power plays will hopefully treat the movie as the gateway to an incredible back catalog. But by the time the protagonist introduces another female into the mix, Woman on the Beach will elicit a “Haven’t we seen this before?” from the converted. The familiarity of the proceedings doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, as the director’s ability to nail narcissistic immaturity still yields rewards. When a potential third love triangle turns into a false alarm at the end, however, the broken cycle signals that one battered romantic is ready to move on. It’s a lesson the director m

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Comments

2 comments
Elizabeth B
Elizabeth B

Where is a simple list of all films playing in los angeles, alphabetized, with capsule reviews and pointers to what theaters they are in, that I can go through comprehensively without having you idiots  shoving stupid lists and filtered categories at me?

Where is the By Neighborhood List with an "All" function, so that I can scroll through all of them to make my own choices and decisions instead of coming here and having you idiots filter what I can see?

Where is the "Special" list, of revival, movie, festial, university, etc., screenings, with ah "All" function I can scroll through instead of having you idiots filter what I can see?

I don't come here to have "Lists" and dipshit categories shoved at me.  What has happened to Timeout?  It's like it's been taken over by mentally challenged seven-year-olds.




Linda R
Linda R

What kind of movie list is this? I want to see an alphabetical list of reviews for movies currently in theaters. This is just a mishmash