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The BYT Weekly Mini Movie Guide: Now Playing In DC
July 25, 2014 | 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.

BelleNow playing in D.C.

It’s a bad sign when the second-billed star of a film exists permanently within the first three minutes. It’s a worse sign when a movie that is ostensibly about the abolishment of slavery doesn’t bother to depict a single slave, or any of the horrors associated with slavery. So it goes with Belle, a simpering British rom-com in the tradition of Love Actually, masquerading as a costume drama, parading around as a commentary on the value of human life and the triumph of the human spirit. -Catherine McCarthy

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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

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Now playing near D.C.

In its initial wave of buzz, Marvel insisted that Captain America: The Winter Soldier would be similar to paranoid conspiracy thrillers from the 1970s. That’s not entirely the case: while directors Anthony and Joe Russo instill some institutional doubt about SHIELD, the agency where the Captain works, they reveal their hand rather quickly. Moreover, this sequel falls lockstep into Marvel’s overarching aesthetic, both in terms of poppy cinematography and brusque action, to the point where the directors seemingly relinquish stylistic control. The First Avenger is the best pre-Avengers Marvel film precisely because it had a unique sense of style and tone. The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, is competently assembled and has flashes of intelligence, yet remains frustratingly ordinary. -Alan Zilberman

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Code BlackNow playing in D.C.

Code Black is important for L.A., but is it really a microcosm of the greater healthcare crisis, or is it too narrowly focused? It’s not the sort of documentary you like or dislike, especially if you agree with their position, though it’s clearly meant to push an agenda. It is clear that the system is flawed. Maybe the film is best viewed as brief into the working lives of real young L.A. doctors fighting the health care crisis, and not so much as a documentary about the health care crisis itself. -Vesper Arnett

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Dawn of the Planet of the ApesNow playing in 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

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Earth to EchoNow playing in 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

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Edge Of TomorrowNow playing near D.C.

Between Oblivion and now Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise is on a science fiction roll. His new outing isn’t as thoughtful or as visually awe-inspiring as the former flick from 2013. But it still looks damn good, it’s more tightly paced, just as substantive in terms of character and story, and a hell of a good time overall. -Jeff Spross

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GodzillaNow playing near D.C.

Godzilla takes a Jaws-like approach to the monster, showing only glimpses at a time, only truly presenting him once in all his awe-inspiring glory before the film’s final fight. Often fights between Godzilla and his enemies begin, with moments from the fight being seen on news reports later in the day. It’s an interesting approach, but doesn’t work when Godzilla might just be the character with the most depth in a cast that just feels too great for the material. -Ross Bonaime

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The Grand Budapest HotelNow playing near D.C.

There’s a moment in The Grand Budapest Hotel that’s about as sinister as Kubrick’s The Shining, and writer/director Wes Anderson knows it. It involves an evil man stalking an innocent through lush hallways, and the man in question has his brow pointed toward downward so his eyes are that much more menacing. It’s a startling image since the ads for Anderson’s latest suggest a madcap farce. The plot certainly unfolds at a breakneck pace and there are several intentionally funny chase sequences, yet there is also an undercurrent of gloom and profound sadness. Without the bubbly performances or cheeky dialogue, some moments would be too much to bear. -Alan Zilberman

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How To Train Your Dragon 2Now playing in 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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I OriginsNow playing in D.C.

A breath of the beyond into the ordinary, a flurry of coincidence beyond justification and explanation, something cosmic connecting star-crossed lovers. It is moments like these that make I Origins, from writer-director-editor Mike Cahill, compelling, intriguing, and moving – when it has moments like those. In the end, however, I Origins will probably be remembered as a cautionary tale, one about chains and their weakest links, and how even movies with moments of great care and beauty need strong foundations to buttress them. I Origins feels like a movie that exists for the sake of those moments, and ends up being a lesson about how film is like architecture. Without structural integrity, your gorgeous facade will crumble. -Max Bentovim

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IdaNow playing in D.C.

Ida is a quiet movie about disquieting things. At times the film is almost silent, but much like the convent life it portrays, the absence of most sound often signifies the presence of something larger, something ineffable, something wordlessly below the surface. -Max Bentovim

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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

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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

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MaleficientNow playing in 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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Obvious ChildNow playing in D.C.

Obvious Child is, sure, technically an abortion comedy but classifying it JUST that (even though all the abortion related moments are handled beautifully, including a particularly heartbreaking, deeply human over-head shot of the procedure itself) is almost as bad as calling it a  “Female centric Knocked Up.” Everyone, please stop calling it that: Knocked Up was a very depressing, sorta mysoginistic movie, and I do love Judd Apatow normally, but the Katherine Heigl effect was too strong to overcome. -Svetlana Legetic

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The Purge: AnarchyNow playing in D.C.

The Purge: Anarchy is really two movies in one, both struggling for aesthetic and thematic dominance. -Jeff Spross

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Sex TapeNow playing in D.C.

Director Jake Kasdan doesn’t really make himself known in a positive or negative way. Segel and Diaz are amiable and enjoyable, and Diaz in particular proves once again that she is an actress with superb comedic chops. Her timing is perfect, and she swings expertly between hurt exasperation over the iPad fiasco and a willingness to plum the real reasons behind her own anger. -Jeff Spross

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TammyNow playing in D.C.

In the tradition of The Jerk and Billy Madison, Melissa McCarthy created Tammy, a comedy about a woman who is stuck somewhere between self-imposed immaturity and adulthood. Since McCarthy co-wrote the screenplay with her husband Ben Falcone, who also directed, there’s the sense that the movie is earnest attempt to launch her into the comedy stratosphere. Tammy is definitely a showcase for her talent as an actor – she has no problem with pratfalls, one-liners, and even a little heart – yet the screenplay suffers from an identity crisis. Tammy changes her personality depending on what the narrative requires from her, to the point where it seems she suffers from an undiagnosed mental illness. -Alan Zilberman

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Transformers: Age of ExtinctionNow playing in D.C.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is not a movie you watch so much as a movie you experience. Which, in Age of Extinction’s case, I mean literally rather than positively. The film is a sustained (and at 2 hours and 45 minutes, I do mean sustained) sensory assault of visual effects, sweeping camera moves, jam-packed cinematography, explosions, garbled expository dialogue, and every conceivable form of loud noise. -Jeff Spross

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22 Jump StreetNow playing in 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

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Wish I Was HereNow playing in D.C.

Just around the 45-minute mark, Zach Braff’s ego trip Wish I Was Here formally transitions from “bad” to “embarrassing.” After establishing what passes for characters in boring, dramaless tell-blather, Braff’s character absconds with his children in, what in the real world, would be a terrifying decision by a father at the end of his rope whose actions are a clear sign of dangerous instability. Instead, because its a Zach Braff movie, he leaves an envelope with money and a deeply patronizing and sexist note – “go get a massage” -  for his stable and supportive pixie dream wife (Kate Hudson) and she just smiles like “Oh, you.” It’s at this moment where director-Braff chimes in with Bon Iver’s “Holocene,” a gorgeous and emotional song you may remember from 2011. After that he and his children stand on a cliff, staring into the abyss. Later, a young girl dances around a fire. No, really. -Max Bentovim

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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

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  • Anonymous says:

    How about Snowpiercer, playing at AFI and the Angelika Popup at Union Market?