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The BYT Weekly Mini Movie Guide: Now Playing In DC
September 19, 2014 | 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.

As Above/So BelowNow playing in D.C.

Do you believe in Hell? I’m not talking about the caricature of Hell we’ve been force-fed, fire and brimstone, a half-goat horned man lording over a dark world beneath us. I’m talking about actual Hell, the things inside you you don’t want to remember. The real fears in this world are rooted in reality and that’s where the terror of As Above/So Below comes from. -Jenn Tisdale


BoyhoodNow playing in D.C.

When I was a teenager, my parents and teachers would routinely tell me that I was not living up to my potential. I stood there, receiving a lecture and trying not to roll my eyes, until something clicked and their advice was well-taken. I had forgotten about those earnest adults until I watched Boyhood, the most ambitious film to date from Richard Linklater. Its scope is unlike anything we’ve seen in the movies before, and the premise creates an opportunity to tell a familiar coming-of-age story in an organic, sensitive way. Linklater uses broad strokes, with plenty of pop culture references that shift from nostalgic to modern. The trouble is that sometimes the story and hero are too broad, as if Linklater worries a defined personality would ruin the film’s universal appeal. -Alan Zilberman


Dawn of the Planet of the ApesNow playing near D.C.

Lean and dark, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes somehow never forgets to have fun. Sure, there are heavy-handed moments about war, racism, and tolerance, but those have been hallmarks of the franchise ever since Charlton Heston cursed a damn dirty ape from inside a net. The script does not dawdle, the character motivations are clear, and director Matt Reeves can shoot the hell out of an action sequence. He has the patience to lay out post-apocalyptic geography, so there’s a mix of suspense and horror during the inevitable battle scene. Everyone is in top form, both in front and behind the camera, which makes me wonder why more blockbusters are not this competently-made. -Alan Zilberman


The Disappearance of Eleanor RigbyNow playing in D.C.

The movie is a classic break-up tale. It is also only 1/3 of a full picture. Ned Benson, making his directorial full length debut, wrote & filmed the story as a two parter: HIM and HER which told this story from both of our leads’ perspectives, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival this year. We, as a lowly, non-festival going movie audience, get a 68 minutes shorter version called THEM, created undoubtedly as a date movie compromise for the smart, cool movie going dates out there, now with a trimmer two hour running time, still leaving a little bit of a window for a glass of wine afterwards and that inevitable conversation about how “This will never happen to us, right?”. -Svetlana Legetic


Earth to EchoNow playing near D.C.

It’s always convenient for a critic like me when a movie serves up a moment that encapsulates it, and Earth to Echo obliges. It happens when our pubescent protagonists meet Echo, the eponymous extra-terrestrial cute-bot around which the movie’s well-oiled plot machine revolves. They start by asking Echo questions about itself, which it answers, oddly reminiscent of Christopher Pike, in beeps: one for yes, two for no. At this key moment, which both establishes the nature of the doe-eyed space-owl we’re supposed to become attached to as well as its relationship with Our Young Heroes, the film instead has the narrator simply tell us “we talked for hours!” and leap right ahead to the next bout of shaky-camera running-jumping. Earth to Echo obsesses with the easy parts and punts on the hard parts, and its lack of effort in building character and relationships are what make it not just a letdown but a cynical, exploitative one. -Max Bentovim


Get On UpNow playing in D.C.

You would think that a film about the greatest showman American pop music has ever known would take great care to show you who he was, rather than tell you. -Alan Pyke


The Giver - Now playing in D.C.

Adapting The Giver to cinema means giving up the whole gambit from the start. The plausibility of their society suffers as a result. Philip Noyce’s film begins in black and white. Eighteen-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is the hero. In a community created in the fever dreams of Michael Bloomberg, replete with shiny white bikes, Norwegian furniture, and bland food in precise serving sizes, Jonas is different. -Rachel Kurzius


Guardians of the GalaxyNow playing in 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


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


The Hundred-Foot JourneyNow playing in 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


If I StayNow playing near D.C.

The teen romance tearjerker If I Stay operates on a premise that takes equal parts from A Christmas Story and the Nicholas Sparks oeuvre. -Rachel Kurzius


Into The StormNow playing near D.C.

If you’re looking to relive all the high points from the original, Twister: The Reboot has you covered, plus some new gimmicks for the age of YouTube. -Jeff Spross


Last Days in VietnamNow playing in D.C.

You know things aren’t going well, an old Southern folk saying goes, when you’re pushing helicopters off the edge of a boat. -Max Bentovim


Love is StrangeNow playing in D.C.

Most movie romances get it wrong. They either focus on the beginnings, where love is exciting and vibrant, or they put romance into a vacuum. Last year’s The Spectacular Now is terrific, yet it is about characters who lack the maturity to understand their tenuous connection. Michael Haneke’s Amour feels like it’s hermetically-sealed, as if the universe is nothing but an aging married couple. Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange, on the other hand, is a unique love story that also brims with authenticity and a lived-in sense of place. In less than two hours, it presents an emotional verisimilitude that rivals Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. With a gentle, careful focus on its characters and shrewd direction, Love is Strange somehow feels more true-to-life than most documentaries. -Alan Zilberman


LucyNow playing in D.C.

Lucy isn’t fun enough to be a straight-up action movie, and it isn’t smart enough to be the science fiction romp writer-director Luc Besson intends. With The Fifth Element, still the filmmaker’s best work, Besson channeled his inner-14-year-old in giddy creative mode, hurling everything he came up with at the wall, according to some mysterious yet weirdly organic intuitive logic. Here, it’s more like 14-year-old Besson stumbled across some warmed over science fiction ideas from two decades ago and – being as they’re new to him – concluded they must be new to everyone else as well. -Jeff Spross


Magic in the MoonlightNow playing in D.C.

Woody Allen has put out at least one movie a year, every year, since 1982. He’s damn prolific, more than any other major filmmaker working today, but after Adam Sandler recently admitted his films are basically paid vacations, it’s plain to see the same is true for Allen. Several of his recent films take place in posh European cities (e.g. London, Rome, Barcelona, and Paris). He always finds an excuse for a scene where a jazz band gets together to perform his favorite type of music (Allen plays jazz clarinet). There’s nothing wrong with combining work and pleasure – some of the European-set Allen films are the best he’s done – but his formula is downright annoying where there is not enough material to sustain a sketch, let alone a feature film. Set primarily in the French Riviera, Magic in the Moonlight is Allen’s worst film since You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, one that confirms the ickiest part of his longtime obsessions. -Alan Zilberman

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


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


The One I LoveNow playing in D.C.

Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love is a cross between a romantic comedy and an episode of The Twilight Zone. It combines a heady premise with effortless realism, to the point where anyone in a relationship will see themselves in the two main characters. McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader take the material seriously, accepting its insanity at face value, which means their premise takes them to dark, Neil Labute-style territory (I mean that as a complement). Despite bland characterizations, this is a scathing examination at how all relationships experience atrophy. -Alan Zilberman


Pay 2 PlayNow playing in D.C.

The only bad part about the documentary Pay 2 Play is that it’s all happening. Part history lesson, part political refresher, and all horrible in its truth—the game of Monopoly has come to life in the bones of the government. Director John Wellington Ennis sees the game that corporations and lobbyists are playing with the U.S. government, and he’s scared. He’s scared for the future of our country, but mostly for his daughter’s future. Unfortunately, as he quickly discovers, the bleak future he’s so worried about is already here. -Vesper Arnett


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


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


This Is Where I Leave YouNow playing in 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


The Trip To ItalyNow playing in D.C.

If you have – you can stop reading now and rest assured that if you enjoyed it – you will enjoy this one. It is BASICALLY the same (a few extra years and some decidedly sunnier landscapes added in), with Brydon and Coogan revisiting all their best bits (some even verbatim, it seems), and being very relaxed and game in their thorniness. And, worry not, they STILL don’t know anything about food. -Svetlana Legetic


TuskNow playing in D.C.

Kevin Smith’s Tusk has the dubious honor – as far as I can tell – of being the only film based on a podcast. At their best, podcasts can be illuminating, an excellent entry point into topics or personalities that we did not know (or thought we did). At their worst, podcasts are the low-brow circle jerks, a shallow opportunity to come up with an hour’s worth of material on little more than a meandering conversation. I have not listened to the podcast on which Tusk is based, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a low-point for the form. Tusk is a feature-length Shaggy Dog story masquerading as a horror film; it abandons suspense and shock in favor of one overlong monologue after another. These characters – and Smith by extension – love to tell stories, yet they could not tell a succinct one to save their life. -Alan Zilberman


22 Jump StreetNow playing near D.C.

21 Jump Street worked incredibly well because it relied on how ridiculous the idea of adapting an 80s TV drama about undercover teen cops would be updated into a comedy. Making a sequel to 21 Jump Street seems equally – if not more – ridiculous. So instead of relying on the nostalgia of the original, 22 Jump Street decides to not just parody the idea of sequels, but also itself, its stars and basically anything else it can get its hands on. It’s a format that works really well for this now-franchise, even if it does lead to a lack in surprises. -Ross Bonaime


A Walk Among The TombstonesNow playing in D.C.

A Walk Among the Tombstones plays like a pulp crime thriller that doesn’t know it’s pulp. The lurid content is all there: the troubled private detective, the seedy underworld, the grizzly crime and its inhuman-to-the-point-of-demonic perpetrators. And then there’s New York City and its boroughs, which in this case plays like the rundown little brother to the nameless urban wasteland in Seven. -Jeff Spross


WetlandsNow playing in D.C.

Everyone must have some secret ritual with their bodies that they secretly cherish. Seinfeld once devoted an entire episode to nose-picking, for one thing, and Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher would shove her hands into her armpits. I know I have my own weird quirks, and I’m not going to share them for you (for your sake and mine). This strange comfort with our bodies is what fuels Wetlands, a bizarre German sex comedy. Director David Wnendt’s adaptation of Charlotte Roche’s controversial novel is gleefully disgusting – the hero’s butthole is literally the catalyst of the plot – and while a plucky performance elevates the scatological humor, the film misfires in its attempt for an emotional arc. -Alan Zilberman


X-Men: Days Of Future PastNow playing near D.C.

I’m somewhat torn on X-Men: Days of Future Past. But I think I can say it’s the film where the franchise passes firmly into the realm of serialized comic book fiction. Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men movies were relatively grounded (you know, considering) and the second one in particular was a genuine story that could’ve ended any which way you please. Even Brett Ratner’s relatively disastrous X-Men: The Last Stand had a certain grim finality to it. That leaves Days of Future Past as the first outing for the X-Men that’s an interim chapter: open-ended at both the start and the finish, leaving us more or less where we started, and seemingly part of an ongoing chain of replicable stories that could continue on ad infinitum. -Jeff Spross


The Zero TheoremNow playing near D.C.

In an effort to presumably keep things interesting on this essentially solitary, Gilliam sends all sorts of distractions along the way in the shape of a software shrink, a nosy colleague/overseer, a teenage computer renegade, and – maybe most importantly – a call girl siren both virtual and real. It all adds up to a frenetic enough ride, but while Brazil was a deep, clever, narrative driven satire, and 12 Monkeys thrived on the jaggedy edges of true paranoia, something about The Zero Theorem never quite ignites. -Svetlana Legetic



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