“Dear White People”: A message that can’t be ignored

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“Dear White People” is now playing at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:48, three and a half stars out of four.

There’s a scene in Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” where a group of African-American students rail against Tyler Perry movies. Staring straight at the camera, they rail magnificently against the mix of cheap comedy and greeting-card sentimentality. Then we get the reverse shot, where we see the one bewildered white movie theater clerk they’re yelling at. Why are they yelling at me, he seems to wonder?

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“Listen Up Philip”: He’s hard on himself, but harder on you

 

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“Listen Up Philip” is now playing at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:49, three stars out of four. I’ll be hosting a post-show chat after the 7:05 p.m. show on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at Sundance Cinemas.

You know those movies about an abrasive curmudgeon who, in the end, redeems himself and becomes a caring person? “Listen Up Philip” is emphatically not one of those movies.

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“The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears”: There’s always room for giallo

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“The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” has its Madison premiere Friday at 7 p.m. at the UW-Cinematheque screening room, 4070 Vilas Hall. R, 1:36, two and a half stars out of four. FREE!

360-degree whirls, time lapse, split screens — at times, the horror film “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” feels like the entire syllabus to a Filmmaking Techniques course. An homage to Italian giallo films, Helen Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s phantasmagoric film is overflowing with inventiveness. Does it matter that we have no idea what is going on?

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“John Wick”: All revenge movies are not created equalized

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“John Wick” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. R, 1:48, three stars out of four.

Why does “John Wick” work so well and “The Equalizer” didn’t? Both are action revenge films where a lone warrior sets out to correct a relatively minor injustice by wiping out an entire Eastern European-based mob. Both even have the requisite “walking away from an explosion” shot.

But while I found “The Equalizer” to be plodding and joyless, Chad Stahelski’s “John Wick” is a pure blast of R-rated fun for action movie fans. It has some of the most inventive, beautifully-staged action scenes I’ve seen a while, a sense of style, and even some moments of black humor.

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“St. Vincent”: All you need is Bill

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“St. Vincent” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. Pg-13, 1:36, three stars out of four.

“St. Vincent’ has a great, juicy role for Bill Murray, who despite being one of the most beloved creatures walking this earth seems to rarely find roles to fit his talents. Either he does a small but memorable cameo in a film like “Zombieland” or a Wes Anderson joint, or he takes a lead role that seems to deliberately suppress his charm and wile (“Hyde Park on Hudson”).

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“Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case”: Portrait of the artist as a confined man

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“Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case” has its Madison premiere on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. at the Union South Marquee, 1208 W. Regent St., and plays again Saturday at 6 p.m. Not rated, 1:26, three stars out of four. FREE!

I highly enjoyed Alison Klayman’s 2012 documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” which followed the combative Chinese dissident artist as he traveled the world, thumbing his nose at the authorities and making art that exposed the government’s cruelty. But the film seemed to have one big gap — after daring the Chinese police to arrest him, they finally acquiesce, and Weiwei goes missing for months. When we see him again, now under house arrest, he looks chastened. “I can’t say anything,” says the man who seemingly will say everything.

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