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The BYT Weekly Mini Movie Guide: Now Playing In DC
February 27, 2015 | 4:00PM

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. 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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Best Animated Short FilmsNow playing in D.C.

This years crop of animated shorts are an odd bunch, but not in a way I expected. The nominees tend to favor a hand-drawn feel, instead of the crisp CGI that dominates most feature-length animation. As with last year, major themes are friendship, reconciliation, and loneliness. Let’s get to it! -Alan Zilberman

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Best Live Action Short FilmsNow playing in D.C.

Four of the 2015 nominees treat the short-film category as a simple time constraint, approaching their stories with the same visual and narrative techniques that a feature-length project might. -Alan Pyke

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Big Hero 6Now playing near D.C.

Between Pixar and the more recent rise of Walt Disney Animation Studios, we’ve had a string of remarkably crafted animated films. Big Hero 6 isn’t a breakout, if we’re comparing to that baseline. But it’s a solid, meat-and-potatoes distillation of the trend. -Jeff Spross

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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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Black or WhiteNow playing in D.C.

Black or White suffers too much in its execution for it to be remotely considered good; tellingly, much of that springs from decisions intertwined with the film’s philosophy and politics. -Max Bentovim

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CitizenfourNow playing near 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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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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FoxcatcherNow playing in D.C.

Foxcatcher would rather receive respect, not praise. Filmed with chilly cinematography, director Bennett Miller maintains a tasteful distance from his subject. While many true crime films focus on lurid details, here is one that goes out of its way to remain obtuse. The three main characters never discuss how they feel, at least not in a direct way, which means Miller wants us to read between the lines. The only trouble is that Foxcatcher maintains its distance to a fault, to the point where the nuanced, terrific performances are nearly lost. Given the somber tone and look of the film, however, it’s ironic that its best moments are also the most funny. -Alan Zilberman

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A Girl Walks Home Alone Alone At NightNow playing in D.C.

Take all of your preconceived notions about vampirism, flip them on their heads, throw them in a blender with a healthy mixture of French New Wave, expressionism, and Jim Jarmusch and you have Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature length directorial debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2Now playing in D.C.

The best thing about Hot Tub Time Machine 2 happens in the first five minutes of the movie. -Svetlana Legetic

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Human CapitalNow playing in D.C.

Looking for some sort of parable on the divide between the haves and have-nots, or a trenchant social commentary on the evils of the spoiled rich? Human Capital comes up short. If you’re looking for a not-thoroughly-boring whodunit that also riffs a bit on the ol’ “eat the rich” trope, you might have some better luck. -Toni Tileva

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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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InterstellarNow playing near D.C.

Thematically, it’s the most ambitious work from writer-and-director Christopher Nolan. It deals with wormholes, blackholes, the physics of other planets, artificial intelligence, relativity, and multi-dimensional communication across space and time, not to mention love and human destiny and all the rest of it. Sometimes this gets pretty wacky: why, for instance, would another planet have endless 3-feet-deep seas occasionally rocked by mammoth tidal waves, for instance? And the third act goes the full 2001 in terms of metaphors for human transcendence. -Jeff Spross

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Into The WoodsNow playing in D.C.

Into the Woods is the rare musical that feels substantive, without losing any of its fun. It’s a movie comprised of storybook characters with that’s ultimately about the tales we tell our children – and ourselves – about our world. -Rachel Kurzius

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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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The Last Five YearsNow playing in D.C.

In the end, ups and downs aside, what we have on our hands is a love story, as small and big at the same time (as most love stories are), but executed aptly and which should serve as a welcome, refreshing break from the Valentine’s Day/Fifty Shades madness that you need during a cold, cold winter like this. -Svetlana Legetic

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LeviathanNow playing in D.C.

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan is the sort of drama that’s also densely allegorical. While the characters and situations have some specificity to them, they’re all part of a larger commentary on Russia. -Alan Zilberman

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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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A Most Violent YearNow playing in D.C.

As a chameleon-like director shifting from one style to another, this instinct to carry on might be the one piece of connective tissue between Chandor’s three films. In Margin Call, he showed investment bankers desperate to dig themselves out of the mess they’ve made for themselves. Last year’s All Is Lost had Robert Redford trying to survive being shipwrecked in the middle of nowhere by himself. With his third film A Most Violent Year, Chandor’s ambition has grown significantly, borrowing from such directors as Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola for a story of unwanted corruption and a man trying to take the most correct path when all those around him are trying to push him down the wrong one. -Ross Bonaime

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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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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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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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Two Days, One NightNow playing in D.C.

My superlative allotment may be officially exhausted – and really, if that won’t convince you to see the movie, what will? – but fortunately Two Days, One Night rewards careful, detailed retrospection. -Max Bentovim

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UnbrokenNow playing in D.C.

Old-fashioned to a fault, Unbroken is a maddening film about a fascinating subject. The Olympian and World War 2 veteran Louis Zamperini, who died at age 97 this year, is clearly an inspirational figure, just not for the reasons that director Angelina Jolie thinks. His life is a testament to human endurance and mankind’s capacity for forgiveness, yet Jolie’s film cheapens Zamperini to a series of physical hardships and triumphs. This is a biopic equivalent of a geek show, sleekly presented and without much nuance, designed to provoke a visceral response and not much thought. -Alan Zilberman

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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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WildNow playing in D.C.

Cheryl’s body becomes a canvas of the bruises and cuts she acquires on the trail. You can sense her eventual relief from her wounds after years of grieving in a way that did not endear her to others. In its best moments, Wild culls the power of cinema to show us this hurt, and the ways that joy lurks at its borders. -Rachel Kurzius

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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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