“Top Five”: Chris Rock in a hard place


“Top Five” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. R, 1:46, three stars out of four.

Chris Rock’s movie career has never come close to the ferocious brilliance of his stand-up act (“Grown-Ups 2,” anyone?), but he gets quite a bit closer with “Top Five,” which he wrote and directed as well as stars in. I think I would still rather watch Rock hold a press conference about “Top Five” than actually act in it, but the movie is the nearest we’ve come to hearing Rock’s authentic comic voice on film.

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“The Homesman” takes the Western in the opposite direction


I hadn’t planned on writing about “The Homesman,” but it wouldn’t let me go. When I first saw the Western — directed, co-written by, and co-starring Tommy Lee Jones — last week at Sundance Cinemas, I walked out of the theater not sure how I felt about it. The jumble of tones, the ambiguity of the performances, the jarring plot turns, and above all the stubborn refusal to play by the rules of the Western — I just wasn’t sure what to make of it. I’m glad I didn’t have to turn around a review for the next morning.

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Instant Gratification: “The Wolf of Wall Street” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant


1. Pick of the week: “The Wolf of Wall StreetI wrote here last January on how critics of Martin Scorsese’s wildly entertaining movie about junk bonds trader Jordan Belfort who think the movie condones his behavior are deeply misguided. Sure, the exploits of Belfort (a loose Leonardo DiCaprio) and his cohorts look like frat-boy frolicking, but the damage is plain as day for those willing to see it. And, more damningly, Scorsese is less interested in indicting Belfort than he is in indicting the rest of us for idolizing guys like him.

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“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”: Bamboo kids these days grow up so fast


“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. PG, 2:17, three and a half stars out of four.

The animation in “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is created using cutting-edge 21st-century tools — pen, pencil, a splash from a watercolor brush. The latest offering from Japan’s treasure of an animation house, Studio Ghibli, emphasizes its hand-drawn marvels even more than “From Up on Poppy Hill” or “Spirited Away.” This really feels like a storybook come to life.

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The five movies you have to see in Madison: Dec. 12-18, 2014


Pick of the week: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (all week, Sundance) — Studio Ghibli’s latest hand-drawn masterpiece looks like a beloved storybook come to life, as Isao Takahata (“Grave of the Fireflies”) tells the ancient Japanese fable about a little girl found inside a bamboo shoot who grows into a mysterious princess. In a very nice idea, the 1:20 p.m. show each day will be dubbed into English with Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan and others providing voices, while the remaining shows will be subtitled. I’ll have a review up on Friday.

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“L’avventura: The Criterion Collection”: She’s the original gone girl

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Imagine Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” if nobody tried to figure out who the murderer was, and you have some sense of what an impact Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’avventura” had on world cinema in 1960. While critics and audiences expecting a mainstream mystery were frustrated, the film quickly gained a reputation as a bracing and elliptical new style of narrative.

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Instant Gratification: “House of Flying Daggers” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime


Pick of the Week: “House of Flying Daggers (Netflix) — Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s follow-up to the martial arts epic “Hero” is one of the most visually gorgeous action films ever made, from a fight in a bamboo forest to a climactic duel in the middle of a snowstorm.

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