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The BYT Weekly Mini Movie Guide: Now Playing In DC
December 12, 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.

Antarctica: A Year On IceNow playing in D.C.

Describing what Powell has recorded and shared in this film is a unique challenge. For one of the few times in my history as a film critic, and really my whole talkative life, I am at a loss for words. Failing any other option, I might as well fall back on cliche and superlative: the images in this film must be seen to be believed. -Max Bentovim


Beyond the Lights - Now playing in D.C.

While innumerable young girls dream of being a pop star, all of the trappings that seem so appealing can be equally constricting. The glamorous (and barely-there) clothes turn a woman’s body into spectacle and the devoted fans come off as abusive, smacking car windows in an attempt to get close. Beyond the Lights illustrates this suffocation of fame with tight, claustrophobic-feeling shots when the audience first meets Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a singer at the precipice of stardom. -Rachel Kurzius


Big Hero 6Now playing in 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


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


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


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


Dumb and Dumber To - Now playing in D.C.

Twenty years later after the Farrelly brother’s debut, Harry and Lloyd have returned for Dumb and Dumber To, a film far more idiotic than the original, but without the charm, wit, or likable characters. In two decades, Harry and Lloyd have gone from simple to simply awful, at times being racist, gross and obnoxious in a way that just isn’t funny. It’s enough at times to make you think that maybe the most annoying sound in the world might be the Farrelly brothers trying to toss these characters off on us a second, less successful time. -Ross Bonaime


The EqualizerNow playing near 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


Exodus: Gods and KingsNow playing in D.C.

I honestly have no idea why Exodus: Gods and Kings got made. -Jeff Spross


Flamenco, FlamencoNow playing in D.C.

Perhaps an expert in flamenco, or maybe even someone that has more than a rudimentary knowledge of the music and dance, would glean more from Saura’s film. -Kaylee Dugan


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


FuryNow playing near 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


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


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


Horrible Bosses 2Now playing in D.C.

Horrible Bosses 2 is kind of like McDonald’s: it’s been precisely engineered by corporate handlers to taste good going down, and that heavy and gross feeling in the stomach only sets in later. So I confess I laughed at parts, but I also felt a bit dirty about it after leaving the theater. -Jeff Spross


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1Now playing in D.C.

Like the other films, this one is keenly interested in the aesthetics of control. How do you make people feel comfortable as you afflict them? The games themselves were of huge propaganda value. They taught the people of the twelve districts that to win, they had to kill one another. The rulers of District 13 know that Katniss has great propaganda value to the revolution. When she goes into battle, most of her comrades are armed with cameras, rather than guns. In a way that D.C. politicians try to ape, Katniss inspires people with her selfless actions and, mainly, her simple decency in the face of the descending heel of injustice. -Rachel Kurzius


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


InterstellarNow playing in 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


John WickNow playing near 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


The Judge - Now playing near 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


The Maze RunnerNow playing near 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


NightcrawlerNow playing in 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


Rosewater - Now playing in D.C.

Someone once said that everyone has a few shitty stories in them, and being a successful storyteller requires just getting the shitty ones out of your system and then moving on to the good stuff. Rosewater, the first feature film Jon Stewart has ever written and directed, is definitely one of the comedian’s shitty stories. That said, in comparison to most shitty stories, it’s not half bad, which suggests if he keeps cranking he might have genuine filmmaker inside him. - Jeff Spross


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


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


Top FiveNow playing in D.C.

Top Five opens with a conversation that sets the tone for the film. Actor Andre Allen (Chris Rock), described as “one flop away from Dancing With the Stars,” and New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) are having an argument you’ve probably seen hashed out on the Internet, except this version is hilarious. Does everything mean something deeper or can a joke ever be “just a joke?” Andre Allen says a joke can just be a joke, full stop, but writer/director Chris Rock seems less convinced. The one thing that Top Five makes clear as day is that a joke must, first and foremost, make you laugh. The movie clears this hurdle with ease. -Rachel Kurzius


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


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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