Mark Jenkins

In such half-seriously titled comic dramas as The Decline of the American Empire, writer-director Denys Arcand has chronicled the discontents of intellectuals in his native Montreal. He continues the series with The Fall of the American Empire, but with a significant wrinkle: This time, the characters include as many gangsters as PhDs.

In the bargain-basement-cosmic prologue to Jobe'z World, the title character muses on "the infinite void." In reality, rollerblader Jobe (Jason Grisell) lives and works in the tightly circumscribed universe known as lower Manhattan. He achieves escape velocity only via the "sick manga" he writes and draws, recounting the adventures of Celestial Steven, a planet-hopping EDM DJ.

In the opening sequence of the artful and distinctive yet finally unsatisfying Cold War, three minor functionaries of Poland's new Communist regime canvass a remote region. Armed with a tape recorder, the travelers seek genuine "peasant" music. But only one of them is truly interested in authenticity.

In the post-cataclysm future depicted by Mortal Engines, inhabitants of a steampunk city seek and collect pop culture relics and "old tech" from the 21st century. That's apt, since this visually lively but narratively inert movie is also assembled from such debris. The story derives from a young-adult fantasy novel, but most of the scenario echoes Star Wars, Mad Max, The Terminator or Howl's Moving Castle.

As an old-fashioned melodrama about a modernist artist, Never Look Away is philosophically vexing. But it's a good story well-told, and never grows tiresome despite its three-hour running time. Writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, returning to the terrain of his Oscar-winning 2006 The Lives of Others, again proves himself glib in both good and bad ways.

Driving though the segregated South in 1962, an Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx introduces the pleasures of fried chicken to an African-American pianist originally from Pensacola, Fla. Anyone who finds that moment plausible is tuned to the same wavelength as Green Book, a well-meaning but glib and shallow ode to interracial healing.

As did its predecessors, The Girl in the Spider's Web shrieks its loathing of men who hurt women. It also wails over the threatened innocence of children, emits a primal scream at sexual trauma, and howls its disgust at the endemic corruption that renders gangsters and bureaucrats essentially identical.

But the message the movie yells most loudly is, "Reboot!"

As the maker of danger-zone documentaries Cartel Land and City of Ghosts, Matthew Heineman has a natural affinity for Marie Colvin, the real-life heroine of his A Private War. But the most significant thing Heineman and the late Colvin share is not fearlessness. It's their passion for confronting comfortable Americans and Europeans with global outrages they'd rather not acknowledge.

The title of Life & Nothing More, like the movie itself, is both modest and sweeping. At a time when several other notable films about the African American experience deal in satire or melodrama, director Antonio Mendez Esparza takes a documentary-like approach to the travails of a fictional black family.

Lisa Spinelli loves small children — their innocence, their enthusiasm, above all their promise. But The Kindergarten Teacher's protagonist, achingly played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, knows that most 5-year-olds don't grow up to be particularly creative or even interesting. Exhibit A: herself.

The central event of Monsters and Men is clearly based on the 2014 slaying of Eric Garner by NYPD officers on Staten Island, although writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green has altered both the location and the cause of death. Yet the killing of loose-cigarette peddler Big D (Samel Edwards) takes place literally in the background. This evocative drama is most concerned about the aftermath, viewed from three different angles.

To rescue his kidnapped fiancee, an earnest dandy rides into the wilderness, accompanied by a fake preacher and a miniature horse. That's the setup for Damsel, a deadpan farce filmed on the rocky Utah turf of classic John Ford Westerns. David and Nathan Zellner are on another cinematic quest.

Stuffed with references to classic crime flicks, American Animals is British writer-director Bart Layton's clever and assured bid to rival Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino. The film is highly self-conscious, but no more so than its real-life antiheroes, a quartet of Kentucky college kids who study The Killing and Reservoir Dogs to plan a heist that turns out to be poorly scripted.

Among Isabelle Huppert's many impressively vehement roles are several murderers, a mother who seduces her son, and the abortionist who was the last woman France ever sent to the guillotine. So the first joke of the intriguing but bewilderingly scattered Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde) is director Serge Bozon's casting of the anything-goes actress as a shy, awkward schoolteacher.

As he announced with The Artist, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius makes movies about movies. So it was nearly inevitable that he would someday burlesque the work of Jean-Luc Godard, the Franco-Swiss director who virtually invented the meta-film. The result, Godard Mon Amour, is fascinating but not as much fun as the movies its title character made between 1959 and 1966.

In 2007, writer-director Tony Gilroy dispatched the protagonist of Michael Clayton, a cynical and corrupt law-firm fixer, to unravel a plot so grubby it made him look clean by comparison. Gilroy pursues the same strategy in the involving if somewhat predictable Beirut, which was directed by Brad Anderson.

A boy-and-his-horse drama that's not designed for horse lovers, Lean on Pete is a movie in two parts. The first and better half is melancholy, but with encouraging glimmers of humanity. The second chapter is mostly grim, and when it finally offers a sort-of-happy ending, few viewers will be in the mood to accept it.

When the 60-ish heroine of the moderately charming Finding Your Feet decides on a change of locale, she doesn't travel to anyplace as warm and colorful as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Yet viewers may think of that dramedy anyway, even though the expatriate merely takes refuge with her older sister in a cluttered apartment in a grungy London public-housing complex. The place is less than alluring, but enchantment is sure to arrive later.

Jose Padilha's 7 Days in Entebbe opens with a galvanizing flurry of activity. But the bustle is not the 1976 airliner hijacking that begins the main story, or the Israeli commando raid that concludes it. The prologue is a modern-dance piece whose relationship to the rest of the movie is puzzlingly tenuous.

The distinctions between human and animal, alive and dead, and even mobile and inert are fluid in November, an adult fairy tale that's as earthy as it is lyrical. The movie's central story, a tortured-love triangle, is slight. But the context is fascinating and the visual style bewitching.

The first characters to enter the silvery black-and-white landscape of the film are a wolf — later revealed to be a shape-shifting human — and a kratt, a creature constructed of farm implements and an animal skull and brought to life by a blood pact with the devil.

The chain-smoking, beer-swilling protagonist of A Ciambra is a one-man crime wave. When his father and older brother are arrested, Pio takes responsibility for supporting his entire Romani-Italian clan by stealing and hustling. Pio is observant, audacious, and quick-witted, yet has a few weaknesses: He can't read, and is terrified of elevators and trains. Also, he's only 14.

When you're in love, "you just feel good, like you're wrapped in a big coat," says a character in Lover for a Day. Yet there are no big-coat moments in veteran director Philippe Garrel's latest examination of French erotic discontent.

In the most hopeful story recounted by In the Land of Pomegranates, a mother takes her young son from the Gaza Strip to an Israeli hospital for repair of a potentially fatal heart blockage. But no other hearts are mended in Hava Kohav Beller's documentary, whose centerpiece is an encounter session between 20-something Israelis and Palestinians in Germany, the historically fraught land of the director's birth.

Poignant and complex if occasionally frustrating, Fatih Akin's In the Fade is the story of a marriage. Not a conventional one, as the director announces with a prologue in which white-suited Nuri (Numan Acar) struts through a lineup of wedding-day well-wishers to meet his much-tattooed bride, Katja (Diane Kruger). Nuri's pals are fellow inmates, and the ceremony is performed in a prison classroom.

Jared Moshe, the writer and director of The Ballad of Lefty Brown, is a fan of classic Westerns and he's made a movie that should please fellow aficionados. He offers one twist on the formula, but the plot, setting, and widescreen images are all as standard-issue as a Colt 45.

A murder mystery narrated by a toxically self-aware teenager, Sam Munson's 2010 novel The November Criminals is the kind of book that attracts smart filmmakers and serious actors — that then, all too often, gets diluted into a bland disappointment like November Criminals.

Arriving in supposedly liberal Europe, a refugee is hounded by the authorities but saved by a handful of scruffy outsiders. If the scenario of Aki Kaurismaki's The Other Side of Hope sounds familiar, that might be because it's essentially the same as the plot of its predecessor, 2011's Le Havre. The principal distinction is that the Finnish writer-director's latest comic melodrama is darker and more directly tied to current events.

In 1823, the publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (aka "The Night Before Christmas") put into circulation holiday lore that retailers, advertisers, and other true believers have been rejiggering ever since. So it's a tad presumptuous to call Charles Dickens, whose A Christmas Carol was published 20 years later, The Man Who Invented Christmas.

'Wonder': Why?

Nov 16, 2017

Life is hard for the Pullmans, the affluent Brooklyn family at the heart of the watchable but underachieving Wonder — or at least that's what this semi-comic weepie sets out to demonstrate. Yet the Pullmans' troubles, which stem from their youngest member's medical condition, turn out to be as superficial as the boy's disability.

The protagonist of Thelma is immensely powerful. But does teenage Thelma (Eili Harboe) derive this mojo from her budding sexuality? Does the woman, just beginning college in Oslo, squeeze demonic juice from rejecting her parents' austere Christianity? Is the small-town naif's chandelier-shaking force a medical matter?

Or is Thelma just a fledgling filmmaker?

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