“Diary of a Teenage Girl”: Girl, you’ll be a woman soon


“Diary of a Teenage Girl” opens Friday at Point Cinemas, Star Cinemas and Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:42, three and a half stars out of four.

Don’t be too fooled by the Sundance-y quirky look of the poster for Marielle Heller’s terrific film, with the protagonists sitting in front of wallpaper that Wes Anderson might have picked out for them. Although Heller’s debut does have some stylistic flourishes, this is not an exercise in style, but a refreshingly honest film, both funny and sad, about growing up female in all its messy complexity and wonder.

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“Phoenix”: Haunting post-war thriller will have you feeling Vertigo

August .2013 Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

“Phoenix” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. PG-13, 1:38, three and a half stars out of four. I’ll be doing a post-shot chat after the Tuesday 7 p.m. show at Sundance Cinemas.

The title “Phoenix” may evoke images of the mythical bird rising from the ashes, but the Berlin depicted in Christian Petzold’s film is not so much rising as crawling out of the ruins, dazed and guilty. The haunting thriller looks as much at the intimate interior damage wrought upon by World War II as the physical damage.

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Instant Gratification: “Timbuktu” and four other good films on Amazon Prime and Netflix


Pick of the week: “Timbuktu (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. A small town in Mali chafes under the ironclad rule of fundamentalist Muslims in this Oscar-nominated drama which makes both oppressors and oppressed into three-dimensional human beings.

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“No Escape”: The family that flees together stays together


“No Escape” opens Wednesday at Point, Palace and Star Cinemas. R, 1:43, two and a half stars out of four

It was not surprising to me to learn that “No Escape” filmmakers John Erick and Drew Dowdle has made horror films up until now (“Devil,” “Quarantine”). Because, although presented as an action thriller, “No Escape” is really a horror film at heart, the Dowdles effectively using the tricks of the trade to build suspense and dread in the viewer. It’s just that, instead of a serial killer or a demon, the boogeyman this time is an entire country.

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“The Salvation”: Mads Mikkelsen saddles up for a satisfying Western


Writer-director Kristian Levring says there are 62 different references to classic Westerns in his own oater “The Salvation.” Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay his film is that I never looked for them.

I was too busy enjoying the film, out on Blu-ray this month, which succeeds entirely on its own merits as a traditionally structured Western. Levring and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen understand what makes the genre work so well — the characterizations, the classicism of the shots, the building and violent releasing of tension.

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“Aloft”: Chilly, elliptical drama struggles to take flight


“Aloft” is now playing at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:30, two stars out of four.

“Aloft” is a movie that throws you into the mix without much warning at the beginning, and yanks you back out at the end even more abruptly. I didn’t mind that writer-director Claudia Llosa’s film didn’t answer all of the questions that it posed. It’s just that, when it did provide an answer, it was often trite and obvious.

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“She’s Funny That Way”: Peter Bogdanovich’s wobbly screwball barely makes it to the plate


“She’s Funny That Way” opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles, and is available on iTunes and video-on-demand. R, 1:33, two stars out of four.

Be wary of a great cast. That might seem counterintuitive — more good actors should make for a better movie, right? — but salting the credits with too many big names runs the risk of a celebrity pile-up on screen. That’s what happened with, for example, George Clooney’s “Monuments Men,” where the A-listers were so polite in making sure they didn’t outshine each other that they forgot to make a good movie.

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