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New movie reviews: Critics' picks

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

Laemmle Playhouse 7
Photograph: Courtesy Laemmle Laemmle Playhouse 7
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Movies, Drama

Far From the Madding Crowd

4 out of 5 stars

Don’t be fooled by the illustrious source material: Far from the Madding Crowd may be adapted from Thomas Hardy’s canonical 19th-century novel, but it’s still a movie that opens with Carey Mulligan on a pony galloping toward a rainbow. Set in a patch of rural England located somewhere between Downton Abbey and Danielle Steel, this new take runs a full 40 minutes shorter than John Schlesinger’s 1967 edition but feels packed with twice the marriage proposals, longing looks and reversals of fortune.  A headstrong country girl who’s “too wild to be a governess,” Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan) is introduced via the doe-eyed stares of her strapping neighborhood sheep farmer, Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts, fast becoming the modern Fabio). He offers his hand and a comfortable life, yet she rebuffs him (“I’d hate to be some man’s property”), only to inherit a fortune while Gabriel loses his. It isn’t long before she’s moved up in the world and he has come under her employ, their silently mutual lust simmering in the background as Bathsheba meets a host of new admirers, including the bitter Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) and the rich, introverted William Boldwood (Michael Sheen).  Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) has always enjoyed thumbing his nose at stuffy cinematic conventions, and while he’s obviously enchanted by Hardy’s text, his movie is fun because he’s keen not to give it too much respect. The soap opera eventually gets so frothy that some of Bathsheba’s suitors are lo

Movies, Documentary

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

4 out of 5 stars

Geek, loner, slacker roommate, obsessive note-taker (“Rent Eraserhead”)—that’s the Kurt Cobain who emerges from Brett Morgen’s impressionistic profile, blessed by the late Nirvana frontman’s family and bestowed with enviable archival access. Notably absent from that list is “spokesperson for a generation,” a minor miracle. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck doesn’t concern itself with the subject’s musical legacy or importance. Instead, the film nuzzles deeply into intimacy as we watch and hear a happy blond kid strumming a guitar at age four, growing despondent in a broken home (the early 8mm footage is extraordinary), turning to drugs and black thoughts and still getting it together to whip a rock trio into shape. For a mere 27 years, Cobain’s life was unusually well documented, often by himself, and the film feels as vivid as The Devil and Daniel Johnston in delivering an artist’s tortured interiority. But while the tone Morgen takes is closer to Jonathan Caouette’s exquisitely sad Tarnation than your typical behind-the-music gossip slog, the director is poorly served by his overly generous running time, one that courts redundancy. (Meanwhile, having no interview with drummer Dave Grohl, whatever the reason, is a serious mistake.) And composer Jeff Danna almost undoes his boss’s nonjudgmental instincts by contributing some painfully ironic versions of Nirvana’s hits, either on twinkly bells or via a children’s choir. We get it: The angels cry from heaven. (Cobain was never that

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Movies, Drama

Welcome to Me

4 out of 5 stars

Alice Klieg (Kristin Wiig) hasn’t turned off her television in 11 years. The set’s exhausted images are constantly flickering against the walls of the musty one-bedroom apartment she shares with several hundred VHS tapes, an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show recorded onto each one—Alice is hypnotized by syndicated sights of strangers tapping into their best selves. It’s obvious that Welcome to Me is about an unusual person, but Shira Piven’s dark comedy makes it perfectly clear that the “me” of the title is no mere eccentric. On the contrary, this tragicomic oddity is that rarest of birds: a genuinely funny movie about mental illness. Alice was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder when she was 16, and though the nomenclature has changed since then, she’s still a woman who has more prescriptions than friends. On the upside, she’s just won $86 million in the lottery. Frustrated when the local news cuts away from her during the awkwardly candid speech she delivers while receiving her oversize novelty check, Alice embarks on the haphazard journey that will lead to her buying her own talk show on a cash-strapped infomercial channel. Going off her meds and blazing through her fortune, Alice creates Welcome to Me, a truly singular show about herself in which she rides onto the stage in a swan boat, and delivers segments that range from practical advice (“Matching Colors to Emotion”) to outsider art (vivid re-creations of her most traumatic adolescent moments).  It’s here that

Movies, Animation

Inside Out

4 out of 5 stars

It's all in the mind in Pixar's latest, a delightful, frenetic, near-experimental animated film from the makers of Up and Toy Story. Pixar fans will be in seventh heaven with the film's bold thinking—and kids will be straining to listen to imaginary voices in their heads—after diving into the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl whose tiny world is turned upside down when she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her mom and dad. It's a simple story, featuring a new school and nervous parents. But the real drama goes on in Riley's head, where we meet Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), each of them sharing a physicality to match their temperament. Disgust gives great sneer while Anger is red, squat and prone to shooting fire out of his head. We watch each of them fight for control over Riley's life, and when Joy and Sadness go AWOL from their psychological HQ we take a tour of some crazy mental byways, including the Abstract Thinking Department, where Joy and Sadness briefly become 2-D characters and then, momentarily, one-color squiggles. There's too much to sponge up in one viewing. Blink and you'll miss a character saying "These facts and opinions look so similar" when passing boxes marked "Facts" and "Opinions." We leave the subconscious ("where they take all the troublemakers") too quickly and then it's on to the Dream Department, where we see the day's memories being adapted into drama. At t

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Movies, Drama

Felix and Meira

4 out of 5 stars

A somber romance that’s as much about the cultural confluence of city life as it is about the unlikely couple who manage to find each other in it, Maxime Giroux’s Félix and Meira captures the dislocating loneliness of Lost in Translation without leaving its characters’ native Montreal. Félix (Martin Dubreuil) is an agnostic French Canadian loner who’s just realizing how much of an island he’s become; soft-spoken Meira (Hadas Yaron) is an Orthodox Jew who’s failed her traditional husband by bearing him only one child. There’s a spark between these star‑crossed lovers from the moment they meet, but there’s no definitive answer as to whether the attraction is born from destiny or desperation. Shot in the grayest of winters, this dangerously under-lit film leans on the details of its milieu to disguise its occasional missteps and clichés. (The less said about a scene in which Félix disguises himself a Hassid, the better.) Giroux is careful to avoid judging these characters: While his script implies that unhappiness is a universal form of oppression, it never forgets that Meira has the most at stake. “I no longer have the same feelings I once did during Shabbat,” she confesses to an unsympathetic friend. That may not register with the secular crowd, but Félix and Meira gracefully allows the sentiment to blossom into a broadly moving portrait of the various roles that faith can play in a relationship.  Follow David Ehrlich on Twitter: @davidehrlich

Movies, Drama

Heaven Knows What

5 out of 5 stars

Like sloppy pigeons, they flop around the Upper West Side in loose-fitting coats and a sheen of sweat, squawking through some half-understood argument. These are the young junkies of what’s become of Sherman Square, and even if you don’t know the place used to be called Needle Park, Josh and Benny Safdie’s extraordinary indie will put you in mind of that 1971 NYC classic. It may even become one itself. The movie stars Arielle Holmes, an angel who’s frighteningly committed to her daily fix, to her emotionally remote boyfriend, Ilya (a scary Caleb Landry Jones), and to scamming energy drinks and reselling them. It’s almost a tragedy to reveal here that Holmes knows the role firsthand: She wrote the story from her own late-teen experiences and has let the Safdies turn her life into a personal purgation of sorts. As gritty as Heaven Knows What often feels, it’s leavened by empathy and poetic moments: desperate kisses, a passed-out couch nap lit by slanting sunbeams, the beautifully eerie synth music of Tomita. This isn’t an easy watch, but it validates every risk we want our most emboldened filmmakers to take. Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

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Movies, Comedy

While We're Young

4 out of 5 stars

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

Movies, Drama

White God

4 out of 5 stars

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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Movies, Drama

Amour Fou

4 out of 5 stars

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

Movies, Drama

Man From Reno

4 out of 5 stars

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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Movies, Drama

Jauja

4 out of 5 stars

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.

Movies, Science fiction

Chappie

4 out of 5 stars

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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Movies, Family and kids

Cinderella

3 out of 5 stars

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

Movies, Comedy

Buzzard

4 out of 5 stars

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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Movies, Thriller

Faults

4 out of 5 stars

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

Movies, Comedy

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

3 out of 5 stars

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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