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The BYT Weekly Mini Movie Guide: Now Playing In DC
March 27, 2015 | 3:30PM

We review films. You see films. You need to know where to see those films. You may want to know what we thought of those films. Here’s where you can read what we thought of the film you’re about the see. Click on the film links to read THE FULL BYT REVIEWS.

American SniperNow playing in D.C.

Individual sequences are well-executed, and the two lead performances are strong. It’s just the whole movie feels like moral doublespeak. -Jeff Spross

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Ballet 422Now playing in D.C.

Black Swan this is not, nor should it be, but while cinema verite at its finest, the film dances around any real engagement with the viewer. -Toni Tileva

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BirdmanNow playing in D.C.

Birdman is a high wire act for everyone involved. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu takes several formal risks since he confines the action to one small area and films with a series of complex, dizzying long takes. The cast is uniformly talented: some actors are returning to the limelight, while others prove they should be beyond typecasting. Birdman celebrates and satirizes the entertainment industry, with special attention paid to the consequences of vanity, and the literate script hits the bull’s eye more often than not. Unsurprisingly, Iñárritu nearly loses his grip on the material thanks to his pervasive sense of self-satisfaction. All good satires must be smart; here is a good satire that either lacks that confidence, or somehow does not trust the audience enough. -Alan Zilberman

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CinderellaNow playing in D.C.

We all know how Cinderella ends, though in live action it becomes clear what a squandering of resources the hunt for the owner of the glass slipper is. Most worrying is that the film ends without telling us they lived happily ever after. Still, I somehow doubt Disney’s next announcement is Cinderella 2: The Red Wedding. -Rachel Kurzius

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The DUFFNow playing in D.C.

The DUFF mashes together a slew of familiar high school Pygmalion tales for a story that succeeds thanks to its game cast. The film takes its title from a much-repeated acronym that comprises the film’s premise: the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Bianca (Mae Whitman) is the “DUFF” of her group of friends, despite neither being ugly or fat, because her two besties are leggy models and she prefers flannel to form-fitting tank tops. DUFFs are a study in relativity, really. -Rachel Kurzius

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Fifty Shades of GreyNow playing in D.C.

OK, you’re thinking, so Dornan disappoints. So the script is trash. You’re thinking, “WHAT ABOUT THE SEX? WE CAME FOR THE SEX.”

Calm down, please, since the sex is also disappointing. -Alan Pyke

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FocusNow playing in D.C.

At its outset, Focus threatens to be a leaden affair. When veteran con-man Nicky (Will Smith) schools amateur grifter Jess (Margot Robbie) in the scene that serves as set-up for the rest of the movie, their dialogue is a bit too stilted, their chemistry too synthetic and fizzy to stand in for the volatile, organic version of attraction real humans expect from their big-screen betters. -Alan Pyke

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Get HardNow playing in D.C.

There is nothing funny about sexual assault. Why are we still doing this? -Vesper Arnett

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A Girl Like HerNow playing in D.C.

A Girl Like Her starts on a note of exploitative ugliness, and never recovers. This film is the nadir of the “fake documentary” genre: it has absolutely nothing interesting to say, and instead it aspires to manipulate the audience with mean-spirited tactics. Writer/director Amy S. Weber tries to sidestep the inherent flaws of her premise with a smarmy perspective, one that goes through the motions of compassion, so she fails to inspire anything effective or genuine. She has zero interest in character development or dialogue, and her actors merely serve as avatars for an unearned argument that lacks nuance or any understanding of human behavior. The only emotion this film will provoke is contempt. -Alan Zilberman

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An Honest LiarNow playing in D.C.

What An Honest Liar leaves out, though, is far more interesting. -Max Bentovim

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The Imitation GameNow playing in D.C.

The moment when The Imitation Game reveals itself as a typical middlebrow mediocrity is not the moment when one tragic child tells another tragic child that, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine.” The moment is when, at precisely the time dictated by a screenwriting manual and with all the soul of The Imitation Game’s clunky code-breaking machine, that same tragic child, now a tragic adult, repeats that line to another adult. -Max Bentovim

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InsurgentNow playing in D.C.

What happens over the next two hours is simply a prelude to the big reveal which is, naturally, supposed to make you want to EAGERLY await to spend more money on the third film, but then, you knew that going in. The second film is usually the weakest link in the chain – the one without major climaxes or closure, simply there as a middle child in between the overachieving older sibling and the spotlight hogging baby in the family. And Insurgent is no different. -Svetlana Legetic

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It FollowsNow playing in D.C.

It Follows is the best pure horror film in years, maybe even a decade. It does not deconstruct genre conventions like Cabin in the Woods or Resolution, and it does not use genre as an opportunity for allegory like The Babadook. There is some angst over teenage sexual hysteria, yet that’s a red herring in comparison to writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s greater purpose. Through the sheer power of his premise and his strength as a filmmaker, It Follows aspires to do no more than thoroughly creep out its audience. -Alan Zilberman

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Kingsman: The Secret ServiceNow playing in D.C.

The release of Kingsman: The Secret Service is counter-programming for Fifty Shades of Grey, but it also could have been timed to correspond with Father’s Day. This is exactly the type of movie I’d see with my dad: violent, funny, and irreverent. Within the framework of a standard hero’s journey, director Matthew Vaughn and his co-screenwriter Jane Goldman skewer big targets with glee, and in between the well-choreographed mayhem, there’s a scathing pitch-black satire. No stone is left unturned: the film implicates large swaths of our culture, including the sort of audience who pays for mindless action, and there are jokes so daring that I’m surprised they made the final cut. -Alan Zilberman

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Kumiko, The Treasure HunterNow playing in D.C.

The film works hard to avoid glamorizing dropping everything and flying halfway across the world in pursuit of happiness, and is unflinching as it captures the darkness of delusion. Kikuchi does an excellent job portraying an outsider who is not looking for a way in, and isn’t looking for help in any way. The only peace she’ll find is in the buried treasure that does not exist. -Vesper Arnett

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McFarland, USANow playing in D.C.

I did not expect to like McFarland, USA. It’s a Disney movie about race in America. It’s a white savior narrative. It’s a sports movie. It has Kevin Costner, whose other recent film on race in America was in shambles at best. It’s being released in February, one of the softest seasons for movies, usually where expected failures go to recoup some costs and whither away in the polar vortex between Oscar eligibility and summer blockbuster season. So when Thomas (Carlos Pratts) busts apart hill-running practice to lecture his coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) about where his food comes from, and what that means for the invisible people who put it on his plate, color me surprised. And when the audience was cheering and clapping as Thomas bursts past yet another tall blonde jock in a fancy uni as he closes in on the finish line, I found myself doing the thing I least expect – clapping and cheering along with them. -Max Bentovim

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Merchants of DoubtNow playing in D.C.

Their modus operandi: “Discredit the science, disseminate false information, spread confusion, promote doubt.” -Toni Tileva

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold HotelNow playing in D.C.

Nothing makes much sense in 2 Best 2 Marigold, and nothing really happens that anyone should care about. The only thing really worth noting about the whole affair is that, fundamentally, the success of the first film and the failure of this is an interesting reflection of two broader trends. -Max Bentovim

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SelmaNow playing in D.C.

Selma wants us to understand what King did and why, not just to celebrate King, but to show us how its done. “King was human,” Selma says, “so you’re out of excuses.” -Max Bentovim

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SerenaNow playing in D.C.

If your film’s likely to be remembered as a train wreck, it’s probably not the greatest idea to start your film off with an actual train wreck. -Ross Bonaime

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Seventh Son - Now Playing in D.C.

Seventh Son isn’t even two-dimensional, as that would imply that, though it lacks depth, at least it has width. – Max Bentovim

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’71Now playing near D.C.

One of the strange things about war is that purpose is largely irrelevant. Nations and world leaders have their reasons for war, but foreign policy is irrelevant on the ground level, in the thick of it. The “Band of Brothers” mythos does not refer to a common goal, exactly, except to vanquish enemies and survive. The hardened men of the thriller ’71 are like that: they’re in so deep that there is no discussion of what they hope to achieve, and only look to the most immediate goal. Working from a screenplay by Gregory Burke, director Yann Demange looks at one night of The Troubles at their worst, and most chaotic. -Alan Zilberman

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Seymour: An IntroductionNow playing near D.C.

There’s choreography in classical piano that can seem a little childish. When a player starts and stops a note, the way they move their arm/torso around the finger has a small, perceptible impact on the note’s quality and timbre. I played piano for years – I stopped when I was eighteen – and I always thought sighing into the keyboard (or whatever) was silly. Not only was I dead wrong, but immature about it, too. Part of the joy of Seymour: An Introduction, the new documentary directed by Ethan Hawke, is that goes deep into the virtue of practice, and how it intertwines with talent. Many documentaries are about creative people; this is one of the few that is also about creativity. -Alan Zilberman

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Song of the SeaNow playing in D.C.

“The world’s more full of weeping that you can understand,” starts Song of the Sea, a stark contrast from the “everything is awesome” mantra that dominated animation last year. Song of the Sea is a film seeped in sadness, loss and regret, yet still is able to maintain a sense of overwhelming beauty and joy that few films are able to convey. Song of the Sea is a marvel, one that is both technically and emotionally overwhelming in its power. -Ross Bonaime

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Still AliceNow playing in D.C.

Julianne Moore’s performance as the Alzheimer’s disease-stricken Alice Howland in Still Alice is one of those that makes you boast about how you don’t normally cry in theaters but this is the one that totally made you cry. Sometimes when critics discuss films they’ll go on and on about the art of the performance and how an actor transforms into this whole new person, unlike anything we’ve seen from them before. What Moore provides in this film is not just transformation, it is immersion—her performance is the gravity of the entire picture. -Vesper Arnett

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The Theory of EverythingNow playing in D.C.

The Theory of Everything is perfectly nice, a well-intentioned biopic that never dares to challenge its audience. Director James Marsh, who previously worked on fascinating documentaries like Man on Wire and Project Nim, knows how to frame a shot and film human eccentricity in a sensitive way. The two lead actors rise to the occasion, particularly since a debilitating disease is what defines their characters. The movie’s weakness is with the screenplay by Anthony McCarten, who writes with so much care for his subject that he’s almost timid about it. If Stephen Hawking can come to grips with motor neuron disease, he can handle an on-screen portrayal with more complexity than this. -Alan Zilberman

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TimbuktuNow playing near D.C.

Timbuktu, recently nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category and the first film from Mauritania to earn that honor, takes place in Mali. Occupied by Islamic fundamentalists (they call themselves jihadists), the already-pious Muslim community living there is plunged into a new world order thoroughly unfamiliar to them. -Toni Tileva

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What We Do in the ShadowsNow playing in D.C.

The mockumentary style of comedy usually has an undeserved target: after the bite of This is Spinal Tap, filmmaker Christopher Guest turned his attention to dog shows and the folk scene, two facets of American culture that are relatively harmless. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, the writing/directing duo behind What We Do in the Shadows, are more ambitious simply because they skewer an entire genre of fiction. Their dark, wry horror mockumentary is a critique of the self-seriousness and sexiness that defines most vampire fiction, yet their approach finds a way to find depth, even humanity, in characters who literally have lost theirs. -Alan Zilberman

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WhiplashNow playing in D.C.

Whiplash has a traditional three-act structure, complete with an intense moment of redemption, although it is difficult to recognize the formula since the details are raw and physical. In his struggle for perfection, Andrew repeatedly plays the drums so hard that his bands bleed (there are several close-ups of calloused hands and fingertips). The pursuit of greatness is barely believable – Andrew makes several choices that are outright insane – except Chazalle’s (correctly) conflates Andrew’s pursuit alongside a coming of age story. We cannot believe a guy like Andrew would make horrific sacrifices, unless he wraps up those sacrifices with adolescent delusions of grandeur. By the time twists border on the supernatural, Chazelle abandons realism in favor of heightened sense of brutality. He puts us in Andrew’s head, so Whiplash holds a twisted sense of logic as long as we do not leave his headspace. -Alan Zilberman

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Wild TalesNow playing in D.C.

The most important thing to know about Wild Tales is its structure. Instead of one feature-length narrative, the film is an anthology of six short vignettes. Aside from some thematic overlap, there is no connection between them. Instead of summarizing them all, I’ll just focus on one of them so you get an idea of the overarching tone. A man drives his Audi through Patagonia, and the car ahead of him will not let him pass. He finally gets through, calling the second driver a “motherfucking hick,” and this exchange ends to a slow-moving chase sequence. The payoff of the chase includes an explosion, unhinged brutality, and even on-screen defecation (yes, really). The vignettes vary in terms of ambition and the number of characters, so what unites them is cynicism about justice, both in the legal and karmic sense. -Alan Zilberman

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