Pick of the week: “Citizenfour” (all week, Point) — If nothing else, I hope this blog lets people know about good movies that slip into Madison under the radar with no publicity. That’s certainly the case with “Citizenfour,” a much-anticipated documentary by Laura Poitras (“The Oath”) about a whistleblower she met who claimed to have exposive secrets about the U.S. spying on civilians. That whistleblower’s name was Edward Snowden.
I think it was on Turkey Day 1992 that I first discovered “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Home for the holidays, my parents’ house in suburban Denver had a different cable provider than the one I had back in Chicago. Sneaking up to the TV room with my brother, he turned on Comedy Central and this cheesy Japanese sci-fi movie.
Only there were these silhouettes at the bottom . . .
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.