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Capsule reviews of feature films

The Philadelphia Inquirer

AMERICAN ULTRA. 2.5 stars. Stoner Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) is Bourne again when his deeply buried training as a CIA agent is activated. He becomes a killing machine when his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) is kidnapped by a rogue agent (Topher Grace). The romance is played straight, which doesn't work when the violence is played for laughs. 1 hr. 37 R (violence) Gary Thompson

AMY. 4 stars. An extraordinary documentary about Amy Winehouse, the British singer who died in 2011, at age 27, a victim of too much drink, too many drugs and too much fame. Soul-stirring, heartbreaking, the film uses a trove of archival film, much of it shot on smart phones by friends, lovers, bandmates, roadies, record execs and fans, to trace the life and blazing career of the singer and songwriter with the trademark beehive, the tats and the fearsome talent. 2 hrs. 08 R (drugs, profanity, adfult themes) Steven Rea

ANT-MAN. 3 stars. Paul Rudd, droll and deadpan, is a cat burglar with an electrical engineering degree who puts on a weird, retro getup and can suddenly shrink himself to the size of an ant and communicate with them, too. Clever bits emerge from long stretches of exposition and exploding stuff. Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll (as the villain Yellowjacket) co-star, plus some Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos. 1 hr. 57 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

BEST OF ENEMIES. 3 stars. William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal righty and lefty intellectuals, respectively square off as the 1968 Republican and Democratic National Conventions are going on. A bracing view of a pivotal time in politics, and in TV news, as Vietnam and race riots scarred a nation's soul, as the Establishment and the Counter Culture exchanged epithets and blows. 1 hr. 27 R (profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

CHLOE & THEO. 1.5 stars. A mess of a message movie, simplistic, sappy, about an earnest Inuit (Theo Ikummaq) who comes to New York to warn "the elders" of climate change doom. He's befriended by an ex-junkie panhandler with a heart of gold ("Fifty Shades of Grey's" Dakota Johnson), and together, after a stop at a senior center (wrong kind of elders), they make their way to the U.N. Mira Sorvino is a human rights lawyer who embraces Theo's cause. 1 hr. 21 PG-13 (adult themes) Steven Rea

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL. 3.5 stars. A 15-year-old girl in freewheeling '70s San Francisco has an affair with her mother's boyfriend in this honest and personal and unblurred examination of a tricky voyage into womanhood. It may sound scandalous, or exploitive, or deeply inappropiate, but the film written and directed by Marielle Heller, adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel is none of those things. Instead, it's a revelation. Bel Powley stars, with Kristin Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard. 1 hr. 41 R (sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, adult themes) Steven Rea

DIGGING FOR FIRE. 3 stars. Industrious microbudget moviemaker Joe Swanberg has assembled another impressive troupe Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brie Larson, Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliott, Orlando Bloom, among 'em for another slice-o'-life shamble, his characters angsting about fidelity, commitment, sex, parenting, friendship and growing old. This time, there are human bones, dug up in a garden, to worry about, too. 1 hr. 25 R (profanity, drugs, adult themes) Steven Rea

THE END OF THE TOUR. 3.5 stars. "Infinite Jest" author and literary star David Foster Wallace is interviewed by a writer for Rolling Stone, and the two men bat around ideas big and small for five days in this beautiful, brainy, funny, poignant road movie. Jason Segel stars as the grungy, self-deprecating Wallace, Jesse Eisenberg plays the New York journalist David Lipsky, whose memoir about his conversations with the late Wallace became a book and now this film. 1 hr. 46 R (profanity, adfult themes) Steven Rea

FANTASTIC FOUR. 2 stars. It's overstating things to say this Marvel Comics reboot stars Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell, because rarely has a group of actors appeared less invested in the movie they've signed up for. A long, tedious origin story, introducing the quartet of hangdog superheroes who work best together, when they're not bickering, brooding or running away to South America. 1 hr. 40 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

THE GIFT. 3 stars. The lives of a happily married couple take a dark turn after a mysterious former acquaintance of the husband shows up. Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton star. 1 hr. 48 R (Profanity) Gary Thompson

HITMAN: AGENT 47. 2.5 stars. Rupert Friend has the title role, as an inscrutable super-assassin on the hunt for a woman (Hannah Ware) who herself is trying to track down a mystery man, while Zachary Quinto, wearing a three-day stubble and not wearing his Spock ears, is another gun-toting dude who joins the chase. A bodycount entertainment based on the Hitman video game. R (violence, adult themes) Steven Rea

A LEGO BRICKUMENTARY. 3 stars. Although it often feels like a company-bankrolled promo film, all the questions gnawing at Lego novices and Lego nerds alike are answered in this aggressively appreciative doc about the interlocking plastic bricks from Denmark and the culture they've spawned. 1 hr. 32 G (nothing offensive) Steven Rea

LISTEN TO ME MARLON. 4 stars. Brilliant documentary portrait of Marlon Brando, narrated by the actor himself culled from over 200 hours' worth of personal audio tapes in which the iconic star reflected on his life and work. Lacerating, self-lacerating, full of insight and regret, Brando's commentary and the amazing footage that goes with it brings a career back into sharp focus. With clips from "A Streetcar Named Desire," "On the Waterfront," "The Godfather" and much more. Astounding. 1 hr. 42 No MPAA rating (profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. 2.5 stars. If looks could kill, this dashing reboot of the '60s spy series would be lethal. The perfectly tailored period piece (funny Eastern Block automobiles, bold French couture) stars a trio of exceedingly handsome actors Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander dashing and deadpanning their way around some exceedingly handsome locales. A lot of energy and effort has gone into the endeavor, and some of it is fun. But more of it, alas, is tedious. 1 hr. 56 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) Steven Rea

MERU. 2.5 stars. Filmmaker Jimmy Chin documents his ascent along with friends Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk to the top of Meru, a Himalayan mountain range harder to climb than Everest. But the facts are a bit too wishy-washy for documentary standards. 1 hr. 27 R (profanity) Gary Thompson

MINIONS. 3 stars. A spinoff of, and prequel to, the "Despicable Me" movies, starring a trio of yellow, pill-shaped pipsqueaks who speak in an undecipherable tongue and find themselves in the merry employ of a supervillain bent on usurping the British throne. It's 1968 (when else?) and mayhem rules the day. A hyperanimated animated farce with shades of Silent Era slapstick, Three Stooges slapfests and the jaw-slappping wackiness of a stoner comedy. 1 hr. 31 PG (cartoon mayhem, adult themes) Steven Rea

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION. 2.5 stars. Not nearly as fun as its 2011 predecessor, "Ghost Protocol," which played like a live-action Road Runner movie, Rogue Nation nonetheless does the job of moving Tom Cruise's impossibly spry spy guy Ethan Hunt around the globe, putting him in the thick of one outlandish action set piece after another. With Simon Pegg as tech whiz Benji, Ving Rhames as hacker extraordinaire Luther and Jeremy Renner as agent-with-bags-under-his-eyes Brandt. Swedish thespian Rebecca Ferguson joins Cruise for much of the high-speed huggermugger. 2 hrs. 11 PG-13 (intense action, violence, adult themes) Steven Rea

MISTRESS AMERICA. 4 stars. A screwball comedy about female friendship, betrayal, and theft, starring the crazily gesticulative Greta Gerwig as a know-it-all New Yorker who decides to mentor a lonely college freshman new to the big city, played by Lola Kirke. Noah Baumbach directs, from a screenplay he and Gerwig collaborated on, between breaks watching Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges. 1 hr. 24 R (profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

MR. HOLMES. 3.5 stars. Ian McKellen is brilliant as the aging Sherlock Holmes, retired to the countryside, where he keeps bees and tries to keep what's left of his memory from slipping away. A sad, lovely film, reuniting the star with his "Gods and Monsters" director, Bill Condon. 1 hr. 52 PG (adult themes) Steven Rea

MISTRESS AMERICA. 4 stars. A screwball comedy about female friendship, betrayal and theft, starring the crazily gesticulative Greta Gerwig as a know-it-all New Yorker who decides to mentor a lonely college freshman new to the big city, played by Lola Kirke. Noah Baumbach directs, from a screenplay he and Gerwig collaborated on, between breaks watching Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges. 1 hr. 24 R (profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

NO ESCAPE. 3 stars. A taut, violent thriller with a xenophobic bent, about an American family who show up in an unnamed Southeast Asian capital just as a bloody coup erupts. "Dad, are people trying to kill us?" wonders the cute little girl. Owen Wilson, as her pop, tries to answer that one. Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan also star. 1 hr. 43 R (intense violence, profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

PHOENIX. The formidable Nina Hoss stars in this post-Holocaust noir, playing a jazz singer, and a "Jewess," looking for her spouse in the rubble of Berlin. Hoss' Barbara collaborator, Christian Petzold, directs. 1 hr. 38 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) Steven Rea

THE PROPHET. 2.5 stars. Khalil Gibran's poetic essays come to life in this movie heraled to the screen by Salma Hayek. The story is too weak to support the essays, but the animation is lovely. Running time: 1 hr. 27 PG (light violence and sensual imagery) Molly Eichel

RICKI AND THE FLASH. 2 stars. Finally and the news should really come as a relief here's a role Meryl Streep shouldn't have tried, in a movie that shouldn't have been made. As a rock-and-roller fronting a So-Cal bar band, the actress with the most Oscar nominations of anyone in history can carry a tune, but she can't carry the character of a tattooed, tart-tongued woman who long ago left her family behind in Indiana. When her ex (Kevin Kline) calls with bad news, Ricki has to return home, and serio-comic dysfunctional family melodrama ensues. "Juno's" Diablo Cody is to blame for the glib script; Jonathan Demme, who should've known better, directs. 1 hr. 42 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

ROSENWALD. 3 stars. The remarkable story of Julius Rosenwald, a high school drop out, the son of German-Jews, who became the president of Sears and gave millions of his own money to help build schools for African-Americans in the Jim Crow South of the early 20th century. A straight-ahead documentary tribute from Aviva Kempner ("The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg") No MPAA rating (adult themes) Steven Rea

SHAUN THE SHEEP. Shaun takes the day off and winds up with more action than he bargained for in this animated family feature. 1 hr. 25 PG (rude humor) Gary Thompson

SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY. 2 stars. Director Peter Bogdanovich returns to features films after a 14-year hiatus with another loving tribute to screwball comedies. The game cast Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte can't elevate this story of a theater director and a call girl whose night of passion leads to a series of scrapes involving coincidences, missed connections and misunderstandings. 1 hr. 37 R (language, sexual references) Molly Eichel

SOUTHPAW. 3 stars. Jake Gyllenhaal is fierce and muscular, in and out of the ring, in this shameless boxing melodrama about a champ who loses everything and then fights to get his everything back. With Rachel McAdams, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson and Oona Laurence. 2 hrs. 03 R (violence, profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT. 3 stars. Dr. Philip Zimbardo's notorious experiment is starkly dramatized. Twenty-four Stanford students are split into group of prisoners and guards. The latter immediately start taking on authoritarian qualities, subjected their prisoners to pyschological abuse. The performances are fantastic. 2 hrs. 02 R (language, sexual situations) Molly Eichel

STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE. 3.5 stars. Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney probes and parses the biography of the man behind Apple, the "paradigm shifter" who shepherded the iPhone, iPad and iTunes into the world. A provocative film that explores the deeply conflicted, contradictory nature of its subject. 2 hrs. 07 R (profanity, adult themes) Steven Rea

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. Legendary gangsta rappers N.W.A get the biopic treatment. The film follows Ice Cube (played by the real rapper's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre, Eazy E and crew as they come up in Compton easily the movie's best part through their record company related woes, featuring Paul Giamatti wearing cinema's worst hairpiece. 2 hrs. 02 R (profanity) Gary Thompson

TRAINWRECK. 3.5 stars. Amy Schumer stars in (and wrote) this deft Judd Apatow-directed comedy, about a commitment-phobic New York magazine writer who unexpectedly tumbles for a sports-medicine doc (Bill Hader) she has been assigned to profile. A showcase for Schumer's cutting brand of comedy, the film smoothly switches tracks from raunchy copulatory one-liners to compulsory rom-com schmaltz to emotionally raw business about relationships, family, self-image, and self-destructiveness. The stellar supporting cast includes Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Colin Quinn, and, yes, NBA superstar LeBron James. 2 hrs. 05 R (sex, profanity, drugs, adult themes) Steven Rea

VACATION. 2 stars. A crass remake of the beloved original features Ed Helms as Russ Griswold, taking over where Clark (Chevy Chase, who makes a cameo) left off, bringing his family to the storied Walley World. It's an unnecessary remake that has its laughs. 1 hr. 39 R (language, sexuality, brief graphic nudity) Molly Eichel

Z FOR ZACHARIAH. 3 stars. Ann (Margot Robbie) is living alone after a mysterious event has wiped out humanity, until John (Chiwetel Ejiofor) enters her quiet existence. They harmoniously (for the most part) live together, until a third, Caleb (Chris Pine), enters their mix. Director Craig Zobel examines how even in extraordinary situations, we still crave human contact, even if it will destroy us. 1 hr. 37 PG-13 (profanity, sexual situations) Molly Eichel


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