“The Theory of Everything”: Relatively speaking, this is an amazing performance

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“The Theory of Everything” opens Wednesday at Point and Sundance Cinemas. PG-13, 2:03, three and a half stars out of four.

If Eddie Redmayne wins an Oscar for playing famous physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” Academy voters will probably be responding to the technical virtuosity of his performance. Portraying Hawking’s slow slide into near-immobility due to ALS, Redmayne looks and sounds uncannily like Hawking, with every twitch, every contorted movement just perfect.

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“Horrible Bosses 2″: or, The Three Stooges Go Kidnapping

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Horrible Bosses 2″ starts Wednesday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. R, 1:48, three stars out of four.

Comedy is hard, and comedy sequels are harder. There has to be some element of freshness and surprise to a comedy, yet a sequel by definition has to have a sense of familiarity. Get that balance right, and you’ve got something like “22 Jump Street,” which let the audience in on the whole in-joke of it being a sequel. Get it wrong, and you’ve got something like “The Hangover Part II,” which recreated all the beats of the original to mind-numbing effect.

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“20,000 Days on Earth”: Shining a light inside a deep, dark Cave

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What’s it like to be Nick Cave? Oh, the usual — having imaginary conversations in your car with Kylie Minogue and Ray Winstone, poring over old photos and writings as if on an archaeological dig, kicking back with the kids and watching “Scarface.” And occasionally bounding on stage and transforming into one of the most magnetic and enigmatic songwriters today.

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Instant Gratification: “Happy Christmas” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime

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Pick of the week: “Happy Christmas” (Netflix Instant) – Joe Swanberg’s latest feels a little less baked than “Drinking Buddies,” although it mines the same territory of white Chicagoans trying to deal with each other. In this case, it’s Swanberg himself playing a filmmaker whose alcoholic younger sister (Anna Kendrick) moves in, disrupting the lives of him and his wife (Melanie Lynskey). It’s slender but charming and authentic, with a feel for how people really talk (and don’t talk) to each other.

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“God Help The Girl”: And a one, and a two, and a twee . . .

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“God Help the Girl” has its Madison premiere on Sunday, Nov. 23 at 3:30 p.m. at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. as part of the UW Mini Indie Film Festival. Not rated, 1:51, two and a half stars out of four.

“God Help The Girl” was written and directed by Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian, and the charmingly slight musical at times feels like one of those monochromatic Belle & Sebastian album covers come to life, with attractive young folks staring wistfully off into space.

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

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“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

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“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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