Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What To See Right Now

You could fill an octoplex with a wide variety of movies out now that I strongly recommend. Romantic comedy lovers who seek out "Love Is All You Need" (3 stars) for Pierce Brosnan and picturesque Italian villas are in for a delight, with a commanding co-starring turn from veteran Danish actress Trine Dyrholm, a well-developed set of secondary characters, and some real farcical momentum to go with the sweet tenderness of its light touch.

J.J. Abrams and a highly talented cast of actors increasingly comfortable in their roles (boosted significantly by the addition of Benedict Cumberbatch from the BBC's "Sherlock") bring wit and humor to "Star Trek Into Darkness" (3 stars) that raises this new generation well above the level of Shatner and Nimoy.

The latest highly infotaining film by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" (3 stars) deftly interweaves the stories of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and court-martialed U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, who struggled with gender identity disorder and his own genuine moral outrage before facilitating the unauthorized disclosure of quires of classified documents.

Sensitive, knowing and true, "What Maisie Knew" (3 stars) elevates familiar themes of divorce and child custody to new heights with its intelligence and emotional honesty. As Maisie, young Onata Aprile conveys the rootlessness and groping for love of a child used as an emotional pawn by decent but flawed parents. The sharp, never overwritten script catches you off guard with its ring-of-truth dialogue.

The latest installment in the best action franchise going, Justin Lin's "Fast & Furious 6" (3.5 stars) reunites the gang for two hours of pulse-pounding excitement, gravity-defying stunts, and globetrotting fun, made with real wit and humor and an easygoing camaraderie that extends to the audience. Here's a series full of smart, strong, and sexy women, with an unforced quality to its inclusiveness and polyglot internationalism. Settled into their familiar characters, the cast freely takes potshots at one another, including some hilarious byplay between Tyrese Gibson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. See it on the big screen from a seat up close and I bet you won't stop smiling the whole time.

With a little digging, you can likely still find "Mud" (3.5 stars) at a theater near you. It's a coming-of-age adventure like I haven't seen since "Stand By Me," with that film's naturalness and timeless quality, like a lived experience remembered with precision and powerfully felt. Matthew McConaughey - now the actor whose films I look forward to most - and two child actors named Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland give performances of lived-in perfection in a film with a bone-deep sense of place that brilliantly captures how it feels to be a young person on the precipice of maturity. Director Jeff Shelton is deathly allergic to cliché and purposefully upends the expectations instilled in us by generations of lesser filmmakers.

A documentary unlike any other, Sarah Polley's family history "Stories We Tell" (3.5 stars) gets a lot of its power from the surprises in its story. And is it ever powerful. Far from feeling like watching another family's home movies, it's gripping, even exciting, not to mention deeply moving. You'll leave with a lump in your throat and a lot to talk about - preferably with family - over dinner.

Best of all - best so far this year - is Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight" (4 stars), the third entry (after "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset") in the best series in modern film, offering audiences starved for intelligent conversation two hours in the company of Celine and Jesse, smart and appealing characters rigorously crafted by co-stars and co-writers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Now, with these beloved characters at forty, the emotional stakes are higher, the problems more real and earthbound: making a relationship work after the glow of sunset, balancing job opportunities with parental responsibilities. Jesse and Celine know by now just what buttons to push for maximum effectiveness, and they hold nothing back. The film culminates with an extended argument in a hotel room over the course of half an hour that may be the wittiest, most lacerating fight in the history of movie fights. The scene is raw and draining and exhilarating, and we'll be lucky to see another as good all year. The sun-drenched and olive-oil-infused "Before Midnight" is indeed lovely to look at, but it's infinitely more: funny, sexy, brutal, fearless. In short, a treasure.

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