Based on a novel by Larry Brown and shot in an unspecified location in the U.S. South, David Gordon Green’s Joe has a lot going for it but Southern hospitality is not one of them. Gritty, dark, hard-edged, and sometimes downright ugly, Joe is a moody character study about a good-hearted and complex man with a checkered past trying to do the right thing, but caught in a good ol’ boys’ culture that makes it hard to change.....

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Following the sprightly and more economical 2011 Rise of introduction directed by Rupert Wyatt, Dawn of Planet of the Apes, directed by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves takes us firmly back to Apes franchise land. Murky but magnificent in its way, Dawn of delivers in terms of epic action and complicated CGI, featuring the decaying grandeur of some of San Francisco's major municipal sites, including city hall, and some ape-bashing-ape sequences that literally tear up the scenery.....

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The 30-year-old Katrin Gebbe is a German director whose first film is grueling, disturbing, punishing, and misguided, but also undeniably promising. There may be echoes of Bresson and of Haneke, perhaps of Lars von Trier, but emulation of those masters has not led to magic here, only a spectacularly controversial piece of work that is bound to awaken extreme reactions....

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Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida offers no easy answers but looks at each character’s complexities, leaving only a trail of ambiguity. Shot in black and white by cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, the film is set in Poland in the early 1960s and masterfully captures the bleak look of Communist-controlled Eastern Europe where the physical and emotional scars of World War II are impossible to hide.....

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The Fault in Our Stars, Josh Boone’s drama of cancer-stricken teenagers can be overtly manipulative and traverses a thin line between honest sentiment and maudlin sentimentality, yet it succeeds where others have failed because of the authentic emotion generated by its lead actors, Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) and newcomer Ansel Elgort, who display a rare chemistry together....

 

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Fred Schepisi's Words and Pictures, set at a posh Maine prep school, is a celebration of language, and to some extent art. Gerald Di Pego's script is so self-consciously clever with words and busy showing them off it continually calls attention to itself, making it hard to get lost in the action, or feel your way through to the emotion.....

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There is a thin line between the hunter and the hunted, the ordinary and the odd, and maybe even between otherworldies and humans, though that hypothesis has yet to be tested. Scarlett Johansson, however, as Laura, the unholy other in Jonathan Glazer’s mesmerizing Under the Skin, takes it for a spin. Based on the novel by Michael Faber and set in the Scottish Highlands, Laura reflects the alien stereotypes we see in pop culture – superior, lacking in emotion, evil, strange, impossible to communicate with or understand, yet still looking kind of  like us, in many ways a projection of our society’s fear of the outsider...

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Klapisch's third in a series about Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris), an economics student turned ghost writer turned successful novelist, is a farcical jumble of ruses and the women in his life that would make little sense if it were not for the director's genial enthusiasm for his hero's adventures and his ability to recycle characters and weave in new ones....

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Vivian Maier took photographs tirelessly for over forty years, but without printing them, and rarely showing them to anybody. Nor did she talk about them, though of course the children she minded and families she worked for knew she was always taking them and always had a camera around her neck. She didn't promote herself as a photographer. It's only by accident that she has now become famous. Two recent documentaries, The Vivian Maier Mystery and Finding Vivian Maier, take a look at her life (and death) in light of that newfound fame.....


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Most parents as well as many psychologists, educators, and religious leaders assume that children are not able to be “spiritual,” and their experiences are dismissed as fantasy, hallucination, or pathology. Randall Wallace’s Heaven is for Real, however, asks us to keep an open mind and listen to our children......

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Winner of the FIPRESCI award at Cannes last year, Blue Ruin is an intense character study that, in essence, is a cautionary tale. While it doesn’t glamorize violence, it has enough of it to make us take notice.....

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Based on Dostoevsky's novella, coadapted with Harmony Korine's brother Avi, Ayaode's The Double, which stars Jesse Eisenberg, is, by its maker's admission, much indebted for its mood and style to Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Orson Welles' version of Kafka's The Trial. The director would have badly failed in his aim if this film could be described as remotely charming, but there are moments when one would like to take up the protagonist, Simon James, as played by Eisenberg, and soothe and pet him.....


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Everyone has an opinion about what constitutes good parenting. Does it boil down to rules and regulations, pushing a child to excel, letting them just enjoy themselves, or the amount of time you spend with them? These issues are on the table in Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest child-centered film, Like Father, Like Son, winner of the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival....

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Though Vlado Skafar is a Slovenian director of growing stature, he sees himself as primarily a poet and a writer and his films indeed have the quality of literature. Skafar’s latest film Dad (Oca), his first fictional feature, is one that defies easy description...

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Howard takes a look at his top 25 films of 2013, along with a few disappointments...

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When a gay man takes a very young lover there may inevitably come the point when he becomes a father figure, boyfriend morphing into adopted son. This is heightened in Robin Camillo's excellent French film Eastern Boys because the boy, at first just sex-for-hire found in Paris' Gare du Nord, is a penniless orphan and refugee from Ukraine via Chechnya....

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Spring seems to have forgotten the industrial town of Bradford in West Yorkshire, England, the setting for Clio Barnard’s authentic and visceral The Selfish Giant. Nominated for a BAFTA award for Best British Film of 2013,The Selfish Giant is in the tradition of Ken Loach, Shane Meadows and others, films of social realism that show the world there is more to merry old England than Stratford-on-Avon and Westminster Abbey...

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The best film of 2013 may have been something I didn’t see, or didn’t even have a chance to see. There is a wealth of great stuff being made, and our only job is to take the time (and the trouble) to find it. I was lucky last year, because I saw quite a few films that I liked. ...

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The big revelation in Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria is that older people are still interested in sex. Who would’ve thunk it? In any event, in the superb performance by Paulina Garcia for which she won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2013, 58-year-old Gloria is definitely a “force of nature.”..

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Omar is Hany Abu-Assad's first film set in Palestinian territory since Paradise Now eight years ago (NYFF 2005). It's a clean, sharp, chiseled movie, like the look of his handsome and charismatic lead, Adam Bakri, who plays Omar. The issues are not so sharp or clear...

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According to French writer Louis-Ferdinand Celine, “Our journey is entirely imaginary. That is its strength. It’s a novel, just a fictitious narrative.” In Paolo Sorrentino’s stunning The Great Beauty, novelist Jep Ganbardella (Toni Servillo), unable to write another book since his successful first novel, The Human Apparatus, agrees, saying “After all... it's just a trick. Yes, it's just a trick."...

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It is definitely conceivable that an escaped convict guilty of murdering his wife and child could force his way into the home of a single mother and young son and suddenly turn into a loving father figure, gourmet cook, and handyman. It is just that in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, the whole idea seems absurd...

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Lone Survivor tells a war story of soldiers who die honorably in battle. In other aspects than the pure physicality of that battle, however, it disappoints. Moviegoers deserve more than a battle, however accurate and however brave. ..

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Does David O. Russell hate the Seventies? AMERICAN HUSTLE opens with a fat balding man in a hotel room, wearing the next thing to a leisure suit, fumbling with a bad toupee; the soundtrack plays America, singing "A Horse With No Name." What does that song have to do with Irving, the schlumpy third-rate swindler to whom we have just been introduced? I guess Russell wants to establish, very quickly, that we're in an unattractive decade with unattractive people, ugly clothing, and silly music; this condescension pervades the film..

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There is the complaint that what Takeshi Kitano does lately is only trying to give his audience what he thinks they want. This is unfair. In their rigorously narrow way, these latest movies, which achieve a pure Zen of formal, brutal gangsterism, are works of art of the purest sort, and Kitano must want this too. ..

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While 12 Years a Slave can be overwhelming, it is a welcome history lesson that films have heretofore neglected to tell, one that dispels the myth of the happy slave and the benevolent master. A riveting experience that conveys the agony of what it’s like to endure the debasement of one’s essential humanity, it is not pretty but, then again, the truth often isn’t...

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The Best Offer plays artfully with themes of identity, authenticity, and truth, and its interiors and art and clothes are a feast for the eyes. But its action, like Rush's elegant style, is stiff and formal. More than an intellectual game á la Marienbad, this is an art scam thriller and a romance, and it needs Hitchcockian momentum and suspense...

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This film left me feeling pleasantly devastated, much the way I felt when I walked out of a first viewing of Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants into a gray, drizzly Paris evening not knowing if it was the dampness or tears forming on my cheeks. The Selfish Giant is deeply sad, but it's also stirringly hopeful and alive...

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Two+ from Schumann

Philomena - Adapted by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope from Martin Sixsmith's 2009 book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, Stephen Frears’ Philomena is the story of an Irish woman who teams up with a British journalist to look for the son she was forced to give up fifty years earlier. It is both a comic “buddy” road trip and a stinging commentary on the practices of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland in the 1950s, though the impact of its message about the inhumane effects of religious dogma is undercut by its feel-good banality... Read More

Blackfish - Today, millions who attend SeaWorld shows watching the killer whales perform in San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio also pay little heed to either the danger to the trainers or the frustration of the animals that have been confined to an area the size of a swimming pool for up to twenty or thirty years. These conditions are depicted in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s hard-hitting and extremely disturbing documentary Blackfish, the name given to orcas by the First Nations... Read More

Also in limited release: Breakfast with Curtis


Blue is the Warmest Color

Though Blue is the Warmest Color, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, contains graphic depictions of sex, it is not a voyeuristic exercise but a complex, deeply intense film that elevates one young woman’s personal struggle into a drama of universal relevance.


Interior. Leather Bar.

I'd not dismiss this film out of hand. It might, like Franco's Child of God and As I Lay Dying, work in some introductory college course. But the title may be the best thing about it. It's another one of those ideas that someone with less charisma, manic energy, and ability to get an indie film made would have let lie, with no harm to anyone.


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

It's not that "Catching Fire" is better than Part One: it's just that more reviewers have drunk the Kool-Aid. That didn't happen to me; quite the reverse. Let's hope somehow the story will reengage me in the followup.

 


Dallas Buyers Club

Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and based on real events, Dallas Buyers Club is the story of electrician Ron Woodroof’s (a homophobic "good ol' Texas party boy") personal struggles after being diagnosed with AIDS, as well as his efforts to spread public awareness of the disease and help reduce the suffering of AIDS patients.

 


Flicks

Robert Donat plays a British spy in Knight Without Armor, Graham Greene's novel gets a gritty adaptation in Brighton Rock, John Ford directs Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart in the early Fox comedy Up the River, Desperately Seeking Susan features Madonna at her best, and Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes shine in Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.


The Rocket

There have been some outstanding child performances this year including that of Tye Sheridan, Liam James, Kacey Mottet Klein, and others, but none better than little Sitthiphon Disamoe’s in Kim Mordaunt’s The Rocket.


Her

This is a Spike Jonze world of high concepts, with the hard edge, and a lot of the smarts, that Jonze is known for excised. Her is a soft, sentimental movie that's too little critical of the commitment- and relationship-averse world of today's American thirty-somethings.


Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

There have been several well-known films about autism including Rain Man, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and The Black Balloon, but none I’ve seen are more authentic or moving than Sam Fleischner’s remarkable second feature Stand Clear of the Closing Doors.


Prisoners

Sometimes a new movie by a director makes one question the merit of earlier ones. Prisoners is a thriller so overwrought and misguided it casts doubt on the French Canadian Villeneuve's acclaimed previous feature Incendies. The switch to Hollywood and English also may not have been for the best.