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Capsule reviews of feature films

The Philadelphia Inquirer –

ARBITRAGE 3 stars. Slick and suspenseful financial-world thriller, with Richard Gere as a hedge fund king whose world is collapsing under the weight of a huge accounting scam and a fatal car accident and its coverup. With Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Nate Parker and Laetitia Casta. 1 hr. 40 R (sex, profanity, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

ARGO 3 1/2 stars. Ben Affleck stars in, and directs, the far-fetched but nonetheless factual tale of a CIA plot to extricate six U.S. embassy workers from Tehran as the 1979 Iran hostage crisis unfolds. With Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and crackling humor amid the white-knuckle suspense. 2 hrs. R (violence, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD 4 stars. Benh Zeitlin’s intensely strange and wonderful film, about a girl named Hushpuppy, her defiant but deathly ill father, and the ragged Louisiana delta community they inhabit is dreamlike and full of grand emotional swells. Moviemaking as outsider art. 1 hr. 31 PG-13 (intense imagery, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

BROOKLYN BROTHERS BEAT THE BEST 3 stars. A pair of misfit hipsters hit the road in this likably goofy, lo-fi indie propelled by the syncopations of a cheesy keyboard — and the cheesy dreams of its hapless heroes. Ryan O’Nan wrote, directs and stars, joined on a cross-country concert tour by the nutty Michael Weston. Catchy songs, too. 1 hr. 38 No MPAA rating (profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER 3 1/2 stars. Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg co-star in this offbeat comedy about events that either will drive a wedge between a separated couple or further reinforce their bond. 1 hr. 31 R (drug use, profanity, sexual candor) — Carrie Rickey

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS 2 1/2 stars. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s lyrical live-action adaptation of Satrapi’s 2004 graphic novel set in 1950s Iran begins with a crescendo and can’t sustain its lyricism. 1 hr. 33 PG-13 (smoking, drugs, mature themes) — Carrie Rickey

CLOUD ATLAS 2 stars. I’ve looked at “Cloud Atlas” from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, it’s “Cloud Atlas’” confusions I recall. I really don’t know “Cloud Atlas” at all. Epically ambitious, epically ridiculous adaptation of David Mitchell cosmic connections novel. 2 hr. 52 R (sex, profanity, nudity, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

DARK HORSE 3 stars. Todd Solondz’ latest suburban chamber of horrors is a wonderfully realized and surprisingly understated dark satire, an odd — and, at times, oddly endearing — love story between rude, obese, unlikable Abe and narcissistic, depressive Miranda. 1 hr. 24 No MPAA rating (mature themes, profanity) — Tirdad Derakhshani

DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL 3 1/2 stars. The legendary fashion editor, society icon and cultural arbiter is celebrated in this illuminating doc. Interviews with Vreeland (conducted by George Plimpton), and with designers, photographers, models and stars, reveal a woman with preternatural instincts for recognizing talent and trends. Her philosophy was built on independent thinking and a belief in the transformative powers of beauty and art. 1 hr. 26 PG-13 (adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE EXPENDABLES 2 2 stars Sly, Jason, Arnold, and the rest of the big galoots are back for more action against really bad guys. 1 hr. 42 R (vulgar language, heavy violence, gore) — David Hiltbrand

FRANKENWEENIE 2 stars. A boy reanimates his dog in this animated adaptation of the Frankenstein legend. A typically dark labor of love for director Tim Burton: incredible technique, limited appeal. 1 hr. 27 PG — David Hiltbrand.

HIT & RUN 1 1/2 stars. It’s a merry chase as a couple (Kristen Bell and Zac Shepard) are pursued by a screwball posse, including Tom Arnold and a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper in this chintzy but sometimes cute comedy. 1 hr. 33 R (pervasive profanity, nudity, adult themes, drug content) — David Hiltbrand

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3 stars. Count Dracula opens a high-end hostelry for the monster crowd, safe from human intrusion, until a bratty backpacker finds his way to the inn, and makes eyes at the vampire’s teenaged (as in 118 years old) daughter. Horror and hilarity ensue in this merrily madcap computer-animated monster mash-up. 1 hr. 31 PG (mild scares, cartoon mayhem) — Steven Rea

HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE 3 1/2 stars. Director David France’s documentary chronicles the history of the gay grassroots protest movement ACT UP since its inception at the onset of the AIDS crisis in the mid 1980s through the 1990s, when its relentless advocacy on behalf of AIDS research led to the development of new drugs to manage the disease. 1 hr. 49 No MPAA rating (profanity, sexual candor, adult themes) — Tirdad Derakhshani

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON 3 1/2 stars. A New York filmmaker enters into an intense relationship with a closeted lawyer in filmmaker Ira Sachs’ gritty, devastating melodrama. 1 hr. 42 No MPAA rating (drug use, profanity, nudity, explicit sexual situations, smoking) — Tirdad Derakhshani

KILLER JOE 3 stars. Trailer trash noir by way of playwright Tracy Letts and director William Friedkin. Matthew McConaughey has the title role, playing a black-clad Dallas cop who moonlights as a hit man. And when a couple of numbskulls want somebody dead, he’s their man. With Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church. Twisted stuff. 1 hr. 42 NC-17 (nudity, profanity, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

LAWLESS 3 stars. Based on the true story of the Bondurant brothers, who made moonshine, money and their own mythology in Prohibition-era Virginia. A beautifully crafted, grand yet intimate bootlegging saga, with Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce and Jessica Chastain. 1 hr. 50 R (violence, profanity, sex, adult themes) — Steven Rea

LOOPER 3 1/2 stars. A slambang blast of a time-travel thriller, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as a guy named Joe — yes, they’re the same guy, separated by 30 years in the dystopian future, and brought together when Young Joe, a hit man, gets a job to kill Old Joe. Emily Blunt also stars, as the mother of a kid with weird and very significant powers. 1 hr. 58 R (violence, nudity, sex, profanity, drugs, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE MASTER 3 stars. Joaquin Phoenix goes wild as a psychologically damaged Navy veteran in the early ’50s who meets up with a charismatic cult leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic exploration of religious fervor, and of the quest for spiritual transcendence in a physical world. Beautiful, but messy, and the momentum just falls away in its second hour. 2 hrs. 17 R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE ORANGES 2 1/2 stars. The lives of two couples in the North Jersey suburbs — neighbors and best friends, all — are upended, to comedic, but facile effect when one of the husbands (Hugh Laurie) falls into an affair with the other’s daughter (Leighton Meester). Allison Janney, Catherione Keener, Oliver Platt, and Alia Shawkat also star. 1 hr. 30 R (profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE OTHER SON 3 stars. An Israeli and a Palestinian are mistakenly switched at birth. When the error is discovered almost 18 years later, the two sons and their respective parents — the parents that have raised them, and the parents whose DNA they share — must deal with profound shock in this moving, parable-like melodrama. 1 hr. 45 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE PAPERBOY 3 stars. Over-the-top every which way, Lee Daniels’ lurid adaptation of the Pete Dexter novel follows a Miami journalist (Matthew McConaughey), his younger jockey shorts-wearing-brother (Zac Efron) and a sexpot femme fatale (Nicole Kidman) as they investigate the murder of a racist sheriff in the 1960s South. 1 hr. 47 R (sex, nudity, violence, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER 3 stars. Stephen Chbosky’s involving adaptation of his 1999 novel about a painfully sensitive high-school freshman (Logan Lerman) adopted into the circle of noncomformist step-siblings (Ezra Miller and Emma Watson). 1 hr. 43 PG-13 (sexual candor, drugs, profanity, mature themes) — Carrie Rickey

PITCH PERFECT 2 1/2 stars. Imagine the Sharks and the Jets as rival a cappella groups armed not with switchblades but musical mashups. That’s the gist of this “Glee”-inflected romp starring Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin and stolen by Rebel Wilson. 1 hr. 52 PG-13 (sexual candor, indiscreet hand gestures, drug references) — Carrie Rickey.

THE POSSESSION 2 stars. A young girl comes into possession of an antique box that contains an evil spirit. Not one of Danish director Ole Bornedal’s (“Deliver Us from Evil) better efforts. 1 hr. 32 PG-13 (mature themes, terror, violence, muliple moth swarms) — Tirdad Derakhshani

PREMIUM RUSH 2 1/2 stars. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a New York bike messenger who picks up an envelope — and picks up a tail along with it: a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) who must have it, or else. Lots of stunt riding in this silly, serpentine chase pic, ehich can’t decide if it’s a serious, ticking-clock thriller or an antic, stunt-driven cartoon. 1 hr. 31 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

ROBOT & FRANK 3 stars. A gentle, and gently funny character study, set “in the near future” and starring Farnk Langella as a retired cat burglar who begrudgingly lets a robot domestic helper into his life. 1 hr. 29 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

RUBY SPARKS 3 1/2 stars. Zoe Kazan stars in, and wrote, this ingenious fantasy romance, about a blocked-up novelist (Paul Dano) who starts tapping a few paragraphs about a dreamy girl on his typewriter, and then suddenly the dreamy girl moves into his house, his life. Whimsical, charming, but it’s more than that, too, examining the nature of relationships in darkly serious ways. With Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan and Ellliot Gould. 1 hr. 44 R (sex, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN 4 stars. A surprising, inspiring documentary about Rodriguez, a forgotten singer/ songwriter who recorded a pair of great and greatly overlooked albums in the early 1970s, and who — unbeknownst to him — became a star in South Africa, the apartheid nation cut off from the rest of the world. A beautiful, revelatory film, full of songs that sound like classics. 1 hr. 25 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE SESSIONS 4 stars. A beautiful, funny, life-affirming film about the quadrapeligic poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, who, at age 38, sought out a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt star, brilliantly. 1 hr. 35 R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS 2 1/2 stars. Meta and messy, Martin McDonagh’s bloody followup to the inspired crime comedy “In Bruges likewise stars Colin Farrell, only this time his character is a Hollywood screenwriter, desperately groping for a new idea.An elaborate dog-napping scam, a nutjob gangster and a Quaker serial killer interfere with the creative process — and are part of the creative process, too. With Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and the deadpan line-readings of Christopher Walken. 1 hr. 49 R (violence, profanity, sex, nudity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SISTER 3 1/2 stars. The official Swiss entry in the foreign language Oscar race, Ursula Meier’s sharply observed portrait of a 12-year-old thief who preys on vacationers and tourists at a ski resort, and the older sibling he lives with at a public housing tower at the bottom of ther slopes. 1 hr. 44 No MPAA rating (profanity, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SLEEPWALK WITH ME 3 1/2 stars. Mike Birbiglia’s off-Broadway show and bestselling book becomes a film, and a funny, accomplished one at that. The first-person account of a struggling standup comedian, wrestling with confidence issues, commitment issues and career issues — not to mention a bizarre sleep disorder that puts his physical well-being in jeopardy. With Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane and Marc Maron. 1 hr. 31 R (profanity, sex, nudity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SMASHED 3 stars. Mary Elizabeth Winstead transcends addiction movie cliches in this sharp, spirited indie about an L.A. couple (Aaron Paul is the guy) who drink way too much. Authentic, heartbreaking, but thankfully kind of funny, too. 1 hr. 25 R (drugs, alcohol, sex, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SPARKLE 3 stars. A young woman (Jordin Sparks) and her sisters strive for musical fame in 1960s Detroit. The late Whitney Houston costars as the sisters’ single mother. 1 hr. 56 PG-13 (drugs, sexuality, domestic violence, profanity) — Carrie Rickey

TAI CHI ZERO 2 1/2 stars. The first in a trilogy, this droll, enjoyable, if not altogether successful, stylized comic book fantasy set in 19th century China stars Wushu champion Jayden Yuan as a kung fu prodigy in search of an elusive tai chi teacher. His search ends at a secluded village which is besieged by a heavily armed Western-educated radical who wants to bring the railroad to town. Made in the spirit of Kung Fu Hustle, the pic mashes together elements from manga, steampunk animes and the Western. It won’t please some hardcore fight fans, but it’s a hoot. 1 hr. 40 No MPAA rating (mild violence, fight action, smoking) — Tirdad Derakhshani

TAKEN 2 2 stars. Liam Neeson is back as the super-resourceful ex-CIA guy who saved his daughter from sex traffickers in the 2008 surprise hit. This time, he and his ex (Famke Janssen) and their daughter (Maggie Grace) go vacationing in Istanbul, but menacing Albanians wants blood and vengeance. Formulaic and far-fetched, and nowhere near as fun as the first one. 1 hr. 31 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea.

TOTAL RECALL 2 1/2 stars. Colin Farrell goes mind-tripping in Len (“Underworld”) Wiseman’s efficient but one-dimensional reboot of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven sci-fi thriller, inwhich a factory worker gets memory implants and ends up being chased by robot cops and his wife (Kate Beckinsale), who turns out be very bad. With Jessica Biel as quite literally the girl of his dreams. 1 hr. 58 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE 2 1/2 stars. This daddy/ daughter screwball comedy about an old-school baseball scout (Clint Eastwood) and his estranged child (Amy Adams) has its charms and some dark edges. Justin Timberlake’s sassy presence wafts through like fresh-cut grass amid the Astroturf. 1 hr. 51 PG-13 (profanity, sexual references, mature themes) — Carrie Rickey

2016: OBAMA’S AMERICA 2 stars. Dinesh D’Souza’s slickly-packaged political documentary asks the question “If Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016?” and then posits some disturbing, if dubious, answers. PG (adult themes) — Steven Rea

V/H/S 2 1/2 stars. A group of petty criminals hired to retrieve a videotape containing rare footage quickly realize the job is going to be a bloody mess. 1 hr. 55 R (extreme violence and gore, nudity, graphic sex, drugs, smoking, profanity) — Tirdad Derakhshani

WON’T BACK DOWN 2 1/2 stars. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a struggling single mom who organizes a parent takeover of the failing school where her daughter goes, and where Viola Davis — a once great teacher who has lost her passion and purpose — works. The two team up, and the Pittsburgh school system (and teachers union) will never be the same again. “Inspired by actual events.” 2 hrs. 01 PG (adult themes) — Steven Rea

WRECK-IT RALPH Colorful, noisy and pixel-deep diversion about Ralph (John C. Reilly), a video-game villain who wants to be a hero. In 3-D. 1 hr. 33 PG (raucous humor, animated action violence, suitable for those 5 and older) — Carrie Rickey



4 stars: Excellent; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Fair; 1 star: Poor

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