'We Are the Best!' - A Review: Mohawks & Hugs


hate the sport: Bobo (Mira Barkhammar, from left), Klara (Mira Grosin) and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) are 'the best!'  

A trio of young misfit girls forms what may be the world's least accomplished but scrappiest punk rock band in "We Are the Best!," an unexpected charmer about friendship, identity and the liberating power of making a racket from Swedish auteur Lukas Moodysson.

R U ready 2 rock? Bobo & Klara are!

The movie is set in Stockholm in 1982, and its loose, largely comic action takes place over a period of only a few weeks; yet its appearance in Memphis not long after the arrival of the years-spanning, Texas-based "Boyhood" seems appropriate. Like Richard Linklater's masterpiece-by-acclamation, "We Are the Best!" is filled with relatable moments of humor and sympathy inspired by the dynamics of growing up; it recognizes the alternating currents of silliness and shame that charge the lives of young teenagers unsure whether to retreat to the security of childhood or risk the freedom of adulthood.

'I Origins' - A Review: Eye Yi Yi


crouching scientist, hidden rabbit: Pitt and Marling (looking here like brother and sister) are molecular biologists

Cheesy old low-budget horror and science-fiction movies were filled with provocative ideas about identity, society, sexuality, God and other concepts, but they typically buried these themes beneath fright wigs, fake fangs and the rubber hides of monster suits. "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" (1957) really was a "challenging drama of today's teenage violence," but that slogan was reserved for a prestige picture, "Rebel Without a Cause." Meanwhile, the Teen Wolf B-chiller was promoted with a poster showcasing a clawed hand and a curvy girl in a leotard.

behind the mask: Astrid Berges-Frisbey

Oh, for the days of the drive-in. In synopsis (and with its awkward New Age title replaced by something more exploitable), "I Origins" might sound like a nifty little chiller, like something that Peter Cushing might have made for Hammer Films. In brief, it's the story of a scientist trying to grow a new type of eye in his laboratory, to prove the theory of evolution. But what develops inside this Petri dish is an arty, pretentious and fatally self-conscious piece of work -- the most wearying example to date of a relatively new subgenre we might label "Sundance Science Fiction," notable for such thoughtful indie predecessors as "Primer," "Another Earth," "Sound of My Voice," "The Signal," "Safety Not Guaranteed" and "Upstream Color": micro-budgeted movies that translated some of the thorny themes of literary science-fiction into cinematic terms.

'Get On Up' - A Review: Star Time


the Hardest Working Man in Show Business: Chadwick Boseman as James Brown  

"Get On Up," the new movie about the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, is a largely successful attempt to present the life story of the impenetrable and eccentric genius of funk in a way that respects Brown's memory and experiments with the "biopic" formula while also entertaining a mainstream audience. The actors and the many musical sequences -- which smartly make use of Brown's original recordings -- are dynamic.

But first you have to get past an opening that suggests director Tate Taylor has an unfortunate obsession with race and toilets.

'Boyhood' - A Review: Life Itself


hair today, grown tomorrow: Ellar Coltrane experiences 'Boyhood'

Ordinary life becomes extraordinary art in director Richard Linklater's "Boyhood," a movie that is a literal coming-of-age story for its young star and a likely once-in-a-lifetime experience for its audience.

That latter phrase suggests something grandiose and spectacular, but "Boyhood" is an epic of the intimate and the unremarkable. What I mean by "once in a lifetime" is that the conceit of Linklater's project is so unusual and daunting it is unlikely ever to be recreated.

'The Purge: Anarchy' - A Review: America the Bloodiful


bones, thugs and no harmony

As its subtitle suggests, "The Purge: Anarchy" -- a quickly realized sequel to last year's home-invasion horror hit, "The Purge" -- wears its angry politics on its bloody sleeve. Government conspiracies, black revolutionaries, "the redistribution of wealth" and the "worship" of firearms are among the topics broached (and sometimes bludgeoned) in this violent survival saga, which conspicuously places an American flag in its opening scene and cynically applies "America the Beautiful" to its end credits.

what's Carrie doing at the Purge?

Is it too much? In an era in which almost every theatrical movie is either a limited-run "art" or "indie" project or a wide commercial release, an exploitation film with a message will be noticed. Gone are the days when the political and cultural satire of such drive-by cash grabs as the Roger Corman production "Death Race 2000" (1975) would be appreciated only by connoisseurs, cultists and perhaps a handful of the critics who bothered to review them. If those older movies seemed sly and subversive, "The Purge: Anarchy" is self-conscious and obvious; but that doesn't negate the power of its premise nor diminish the catharsis, for the right moviegoer, of a story that asks audiences to cheer for mostly underdog and ethnic characters in their struggle against forces that a 1970s blaxploitation movie might have collectively defined as "the Man."

'Life Itself' - A Review: Thumbs Up


taking turns at looking pensive and delighted: matching publicity stills of...

...Roger Ebert (left) and Gene Siskel

In a 2003 address, Roger Ebert, the longtime film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, said: "For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy."

"Life Itself" might be Exhibit A in an argument in support of Ebert's definition. With a title and many of its words borrowed from Ebert's 2011 memoir, the documentary offers a remarkably full, vivid and sympathetic portrait of a newspaperman who, improbably, became a bigger celebrity than many of the filmmakers and actors whose efforts he chronicled.

'Lucy' - A Review: ScarJo as SuperBeing


soaking it up like a sponge: 'Lucy'  

Everyone seems to agree Scarlett Johansson is hot. But could she -- in the right circumstances -- also be God?

Roman Polanski's 'Venus in Fur' - A Review: Bad Boys Get Spanked


'there's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear,' thinks Mathieu Amalric 

Roman Polanski has been associated with dark deeds, onscreen and off, yet as his rather elfin physique suggests, he's a mischievous filmmaker. His witches in "Rosemary's Baby" would be more at home in the Borscht Belt than the Old Vic, and his 1967 "The Fearless Vampire Killers" is a horror spoof both sophisticated and slapstick

Polanski's latest, "Venus in Fur," is an adaptation of a 2010 play by David Ives that itself was inspired by an 1870 novel of the same title by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, the Austrian writer whose surname gave us the word "masochism," just as the Marquis de Sade inspired "sadism." Put them together and you have "sadomasochism," a theme teased for playful yet purposeful effect in Polanski's new movie.

ring around the collar (or maybe vice versa): Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric

'Third Person' - A Review: Life Itself (Not)


'are you sure this isn't "Non-Stop"?' asks Liam Neeson in 'Third Person'

"Third Person" takes place in New York, Paris and Rome, but what it offers is a trip to Dullsville. The twist ending fails to redeem a pretentious slog that -- in the tradition of such predecessors as "Crash" (2004), "Babel" (2006) and "Disconnect" (2012) -- suggests everybody is a connected thread in this colorful tapestry we call life (or something like that). Yet in its tiresome earnestness, the film fails to connect with the viewer.

the girl with the raccoon eyes: Mila Kunis

"Third Person" does, however, connect to the aforementioned "Crash." The new movie also is the work of writer-director Paul Haggis, whose earlier film won the Oscar for Best Picture and earned Haggis a screenwriting Academy Award. "Crash" dealt with race and fate in Los Angeles, while "Third Person" is about regrets and relationships.

'Begin Again' - A Review: Make Mine Music


Keira sings nightly in 'Begin Again'  

Set in what a music producer calls that "crazy fractured mess of a city" known as New York, "Begin Again" is essentially an old-fashioned, let's-put-on-a-show movie musical disguised as an indie relationship drama for a balkanized generation of pop-rock consumers that is much more familiar with CeeLo Green and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine (both of whom have acting roles here) than with Busby Berkeley and Judy Garland.

'On the Town,' with earphones: Ruffalo and Knightley

Instead of song-and-dance numbers, the movie offers stage and recording-session performances and montages in which source music replaces the vocals that in an old musical would have been provided by the actors. In one long sequence, the two leads, Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, essentially dance through New York, "On the Town"-style, but the scene is "realistic" because the music that inspires their joy -- vintage Sinatra and Stevie Wonder recordings -- is provided by the iPhone the duo shares via headphones. (As the songs blast on the soundtrack, we, too, share their head space.)