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The BYT Weekly Mini Movie Guide: Now Playing In DC
January 23, 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.

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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Beloved SistersNow playing in D.C.

Its inability to cohere into anything (one exacerbated by its total lack of narrative or thematic discipline) leaves its primary love triangle blandly inoffensive and dull when by all rights it should be scandalizing, maybe even more so today than it was in 1788. -Max Bentovim

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Big Eyes - Now playing in D.C.

Big Eyes is flat, bland, and exquisitely mediocre, bad at nothing but excelling at less. -Max Bentovim

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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

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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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BlackhatNow playing in D.C.

By approaching the material with deathly seriousness, Mann and his actors heighten its overall silliness, which is part of the fun. -Alan Zilberman

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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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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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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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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

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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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Inherent ViceNow playing in D.C.

And please, please (PLEASE) do yourself a favor and see it in a movie theatre, in complete dark, with a big screen washing over you. Don’t fight the wild that is coming at you from every angle. Just give into it. -Svetlana Legetic

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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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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  • steve h says:

    The planet in Interstellar had no land and huge tidal waves b/c it was next to a black hole with extreme gravity, so the friction of it being rocked back and forth would prevent land from coalescing out of the ocean and the huge tidal waves are caused by the gravity as well