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The BYT Weekly Mini Movie Guide: Now Playing In DC
October 31, 2014 | 3:00PM

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.

The Best of MeNow playing in D.C.

Romance novelist Nicholas Sparks’ values nothing more than a young, white, wrong-side-of-the-tracks courtship that ends in the empowerment of one partner through the death or dementia of the other. The villains are generally the parents, skeptical about the power of love to overcome class differences, and often the young paramores’ own stubbornness. The Best of Me, the latest film adaptation of a Sparks book, doesn’t buck any trends. -Rachel Kurzius

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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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The Blue RoomNow playing near D.C.

The whole experience would feel well done but merely adequate if it wasn’t for Gregoire Hetzel’s almost epically unsettling score (which, for fans of movie music, may even recall at times the glory of Jarre’s work Eyes Without a Face at times) and the great work Almaric’s director of photography Christophe Beaucarne does, constricted to (inevitably lightly claustrophobic) Academy formatting, punching through the frames with both the titular blue and a jarring red which pops up incriminatingly throughout. Both of those factors elevate the experience beyond the basic mechanics of the tale unfolding beyond us. It makes you these men were given something truly juicy to build their atmosphere around. -Svetlana Legetic

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CitizenfourNow playing in D.C.

It was easy to be dismissive of Edward Snowden last summer. The former NSA contractor looked like a malnourished dork, the sort of guy who would neg women at bars who were minding their own business. This unfair characterization is partly deliberate on Snowden’s part – NSA overreach was always meant to be the story, not Snowden himself – and we only had a handful of interviews/quotes with which to understand him (he spoke in libertarian friendly, freedom-loving platitudes). Among other things, the compelling documentary Citizenfour humanizes Snowden. He is the central figure in a story that combines espionage with intrepid journalism, as well as righteous anger against an overarching conspiracy that somehow normalized the utter erosion of our privacy. No matter what we might think of Snowden, director Laura Poitras forces us to reconsider our biases, which speaks to the depth of her cinematic forcefulness. -Alan Zilberman

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Dear White PeopleNow playing in D.C.

At times, Simien’s script can seem like characters basically taking on different sides of race and different ways of hiding who you are, often feel like a presentation of ideas rather than fleshed out people. Occasionally Simien’s screenplay makes this work, but too often feels also like a debate of issues instead of naturalistic. -Ross Bonaime

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Dracula UntoldNow playing in D.C.

At its best, Dracula Untold looks at the sacrifices it takes to wage war. Vlad learns that you can only win by being bloodthirsty. What are you going to drink when the battle is over? -Rachel Kurzius

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The EqualizerNow playing in D.C.

What Fuqua and Washington deliver here is a film that’s effectively executed, yes, but also brutal, joyless, ugly and morally mediocre. -Jeff Spross

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FuryNow playing in D.C.

Fury is sort of what you’d get if you took the part that’s still about how war is hell, and stretched it out to a full-length running time. -Jeff Spross

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Gone GirlNow playing in D.C.

In the end, Gone Girl may almost be more fun to talk about than to watch, so pick your conversation partner for this one with care. -Svetlana Legetic

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Guardians of the GalaxyNow playing near D.C.

Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest from the comic book studio, has the good sense to step aside when it matters and let weirdo director James Gunn hold the reigns. Parts of it are too alike to other Marvel films, perhaps to a fault, but Guardians has a heart in a way that most superhero movies do not. -Alan Zilberman

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How To Train Your Dragon 2Now playing near D.C.

The first word that comes to mind when describing How To Train Your Dragon 2 is “solid.” Not great or amazing, mind you. It hews pretty close to the kid-friendly swashbuckling of its predecessor, and doesn’t break any genuinely new thematic or conceptual ground. But also like its predecessor it’s visually gorgeous, and comes with some moments of unexpected moral weight. -Jeff Spross

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The Hundred-Foot JourneyNow playing near D.C.

The Hundred Foot Journey (executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg) is part of the same flavorless, homogenized pedigree of culinary tale that Chocolat (director Lasse Hallström’s previous film) belongs to. And like every other film about Western interaction with Indian cooking and culture (Bend It Like BeckhamEat Pray Love, and other similarly insipid fare), it inevitably fetishizes and exotisizes. In other words, prepare to be really impressed by the use of cardamom… in everything. Talk about a massive reduction. -Toni Tileva

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John WickNow playing in D.C.

There’s something powerful in the idea that the death of such a meek and gentle creature would be the occasion for unleashing this kind of apocalyptic fury. John Wick doesn’t do anything further with that idea – instead, it just leaves it there for the audience to chew on – but it plays the effect well. -Jeff Spross

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The Judge - Now playing in D.C.

It’s Oscar season and so it’s time to stop reviewing movies about pointless CGI wallopfests and time to start reviewing movies about A-List actors making over-budgeted B-movies. And it’s October so it’s time to review the stuff even the studio suits know is bad, which let me tell you, means it’s really, really bad. Today’s worthless melodrama Mad Libs is The Judge, a farrago of fail from the guy who wrote Gran Torino and the guy who directed Shanghai Knights and Fred Claus. This is probably the part where you should stop reading the review because really if that sentence didn’t already scare you off seeing this why do you read movie reviews? -Max Bentovim

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Kill The MessengerNow playing in D.C.

The film, which chronicles mid-90s the efforts of journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) to blow open a story about tacit CIA involvement in the U.S. crack epidemic, is ostensibly a throwback to 70s-style political thrillers. Its hero is a driven and troubled individual with a bit of a counter-cultural streak; the direction by Michael Cuesta favors handheld camerawork and a gritty, low-tech feel; and themes of political corruption, paranoia, and veiled threats in half-finished sentences are sprinkled throughout. But the 1970s thrillers also went beyond this, to the vertiginous experience of having the powers-that-be decide you need to be disposed of, either through intimidation, threats, character assassination, or career sabotage. -Jeff Spross

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Laggies - Now playing in D.C.

Laggies is the latest comedy about a lazy millennial who would rather drift through life than be productive or, you know, commit to anything. The sub-genre is in danger of becoming insufferable – we’re already getting diminishing marginal returns from Greta Gerwig comedies – yet the formula has potential as long as there’s warmth and insight. In the hands of Lynn Shelton, a smart director who got her start in mumblecore before directing episodes of sitcoms like New Girl, the material is never exactly cloying, only predictable. Screenwriter Andrea Seigel may hit one predictable note after another, but she gives her characters enough depth so that we understand their choices, and see how they think. Laggies is more involving than it needs to be. -Alan Zilberman

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Left BehindNow playing near D.C.

So what goodwill Left Behind can generate comes from what its actors can bring to the table – Cage is Cage; Murray, Thompson and Thomson are serviceable; Whelan is risible – and its generally affable tone. Which is itself weird, because the underlying theology here really is insane. -Jeff Spross

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MaleficentNow playing near D.C.

When Angelina Jolie set out to retool the classic 1959 Disney animated version of the fairytale Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent, she probably had her young daughters in mind (it should be noted the film is sprinkled lovingly with callbacks to the original film, from the precise hair and makeup of Maleficent and the three fairy godmothers, to the lopsided pastel cake presented to Aurora on her 16th birthday). Still, it’s unclear if she meant to make what is ultimately a seething revenge fantasy of Tarantino-proportions. -Catherine McCarthy

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The Maze RunnerNow playing in D.C.

YA novels seem to all have a very similar arc: things have been this way for years (likely in a dystopia of some sort), until one special person arrives to shake it all up. It’s a tried and true formula, from Hogwarts to Hunger Games. Yet unlike its predecessors, The Maze Runner is mostly like a rat in a maze, concerned with a singular mission, no frills, just determination towards the goal. The Maze Runner doesn’t have the expected romance angle or an abundance of character development, but it does start off like a shot and doesn’t pull back the reins until a disappointing finale. -Ross Bonaime

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NightcrawlerNow playing near D.C.

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), the most of anti of anti-heroes in Nightcrawler, is not most people. Pale, oily, almost frighteningly thin, and always ready with a sickly false smile and a chipper tidbit of corporate self-help jargon, Louis is in love with the trade, the bid, the hustle. He also happens to be a brazen psychopath. All of which makes Louis uniquely suited to thrive in the moral no man’s land of capitalist exchange, and Gyllenhaal’s performance is a sight to behold. -Jeff Spross

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PrideNow playing in D.C.

Pride is the latest feel-good comedic drama from England, the sort where kooky characters come together for the sake of an institution or town bigger than themselves. The apotheosis of the subgenre is The Full Monty, which was nominated for Best Picture and inspired a Broadway musical, as well as a slew of imitators. Waking Ned Divine, Kinky Boots, and Billy Elliott are also of this mold – the latter two had successful Broadway runs – which is another way of saying that there’s nothing too original in Pride. Then again, there’s no reason to update a formula that attracts a certain type of audience, especially when there’s a populist political message, too. -Alan Zilberman

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The Skeleton TwinsNow playing in D.C.

From the outset, it is easy to call The Skeleton Twins a small movie. After all, it does center on a small cast of characters, living small lives, in a small town, dealing with their life problems which, while maybe big to them, are small if put into the grand scheme of how the world works. But, much like most best “small” films, the topics it handles are so universal the movie maybe becomes bigger than it even set out to be, tackling issues such as love, family, tolerance and yes, failure, in ways that are both heartbreaking and instantly identifiable. -Svetlana Legetic

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St. Vincent - Now playing in D.C.

St. Vincent is the type of film that just screams indie cuteness. There’s the old man and the young, impressionable child that grow through questionable friendship. There’s the quirky cast of characters, like a Catholic priest who could have a side career as a stand-up comedian or the pregnant stripper/hooker with an over-the-top accent. There’s even the soundtrack with artists like Wilco and The National, not to mention the movie’s title that wouldn’t make it surprising if Annie Clark just popped up. Even though St. Vincent is predictable and just straddling the line of “okay,” it’s the cast that makes it all worthwhile. -Ross Bonaime

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Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesNow playing near D.C.

The action scenes, with maybe one brief exception, are wholly lacking in creativity or energy. Since everything is mediocre CGI anyway, nothing ever feels like anything’s at stake, and mostly you feel like you’re watching someone else play a bad video game. There is no development, no arc, no care, and (with the exception of a canny reference to Usagi Yojimbo) nothing to suggest that anyone who made this movie gave a shit about anything except separating fools from their money. Even the product placement is as insulting as it is bizarre – at a key moment a Nokia phone, whose screen-time must have cost a decent fistful of Euros, fails to work. The movie is in 3D for literally no other reason than to wedge in additional gimmick and justify pilfering a few more dollars from the suckers. -Max Bentovim

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This Is Where I Leave YouNow playing near D.C.

Johnathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You was the kind of book you wish more people wrote: funny and dry, sad and easy to read, somehow deep while not overwrought at all.  With a bevy of juicy characters for all ages and sexes, it was bound to get scooped up and made into a movie. It could have been a movie that was the kind you wish more people made: funny and dry, sad and easy to watch, somehow deep while not overwrought at all. -Svetlana Legetic

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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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