“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1″: Not all fun and games anymore


“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1″ opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. PG-13, 2:05, three stars out of four.

Katniss Everdeen gets to shoot exactly one arrow during “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1″ (although she makes it count). While “Catching Fire” essentially took the template of the first “Hunger Games” movie and made it bigger, bolder and more complex, “Mockingjay” daringly abandons the format for something bleaker and less triumphant. This is the “Empire Strikes Back” of the series, with the heroes constantly on defense — running, hiding, planning, hoping.

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“Whiplash”: Obsession, betrayal and all that jazz


“Whiplash” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:46, four stars out of four.

“Whiplash” begins with a blank screen and the sound of a single snare drum beat, starting slowly and building to almost unbearable speed and intensity. It’s a sound that mirrors what its main character goes through, pushed harder and harder and faster and faster until you’re sure he’ll break.

And it mirrors what the audience goes through in this daring, brilliant, exhausting film. I felt wiped out and exhilarated at the end of Damien Chazelle’s second feature, a drama that plays on your nerves like a thriller.

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“Appropriate Behavior”: Not just another Iranian-American Brooklynite lesbian comedy


“Appropriate Behavior” has its Madison premiere at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21 at the UW-Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. R, 1:30, three stars out of four.

Desiree Akhavan’s debut feature “Appropriate Behavior” intertwines a couple of hot-button issues — gay rights and the rights of women in Middle Eastern cultures. But anyone expecting a somber “message” film about gay rights are firmly laid to rest in the opening scene, when Shirin (Akhavan) moves out of the apartment she and her ex-girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) once shared. She angrily takes a box that she had once given to Maxine as a present and throws it in a dumpster — a strap-on dildo.

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“The Unknown Known”: The fog of war has never been foggier


“The Unknown Known” has its Madison premiere at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23 at the Union South Marquee Theatre as part of the UW Mini Indie Film Festival. PG-13, 1:42, two and a half stars out of four. FREE!

In 2003, when Errol Morris was touring the country with his documentary “The Fog of War,” he made a stop in Madison to show the film at the University of Wisconsin, his old alma mater. I was lucky enough to get an interview with him while he was here, and we talked about the film, and how former U.S. Secretary of State Robert McNamara’s defense of his role in escalating the Vietnam War was fascinatingly tortured. It was the contortions of a deeply moral man trying to come to terms with performing deeply immoral acts.

My last question for the interview, with the Iraq War in full swing, was if Morris would consider someday doing “Fog of War II” with then-Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld.

Morris paused for a second. And then said, “I think that’s highly unlikely.”

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“Ernest and Celestine”: Bears and mice, living together — mass hysteria!


“Ernest & Celestine” has its Madison premiere at the UW Mini Indie Film Festival on Saturday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m. in the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. FREE! G, 1:20, three stars out of four.

I like “Lego Movie,” “Big Hero 6″ and the other IMAX 3D computer-animated spectacles that are the standard for animated movies these days just fine, but every once in a while you crave something different. The Oscar-nominated Belgian film “Ernest & Celestine” is that something different.

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“Dinosaur 13″: Me and you and a fossil named Sue


“Dinosaur 13″ has its Madison premiere on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 4 p.m. at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. as part of the UW Mini Indie Film Festival. PG, 1:31, three stars out of four.

“Dinosaur 13″ is a love story that spans different ages, although it’s less a May-December romance than a Cretaceous Era-Cenozoic Era one.

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“The One I Love”: Entering the twilight zone between love and marriage


“The One I Love” has its Madison premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20 at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. as part of the UW Mini Indie Film Festival. R, 1:31, three stars out of four. FREE!

“The One I Love” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January, was in theaters and on video-on-demand over the summer, out on DVD this fall and will be on Netflix Instant next week. So it’s been out there. And yet, I find myself inclined not to spoil anything that happens after the first 18 minutes of the movie.

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