“Focus”: Things get a little fuzzy in Will Smith’s caper movie


“Focus” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. R, 1:45, three stars out of four.

“Focus” is like the beginner con artist that Margot Robbie plays in the film — not nearly as smart as it thinks it is, but smart enough to steal the price of a ticket from your pocket without you minding too much.

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“Mr. Turner”: Being a great painter is mostly grunt work


“Mr. Turner” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 2:30, three stars out of four. I’ll host a post-show chat about the film on Tuesday, March 3 after the 7:15 p.m. show.

A famous J.M.W. Turner painting appears in the last James Bond movie, “Skyfall.” Bond meets the new Q (Ben Whishaw) in front of Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire,” which shows an old warship being towed away to be turned into scrap metal. Q suggests the painting illustrates “the inevitability of time,” a dig at 007’s age, but all Bond sees is a “bloody big ship.”

One could approach Mike Leigh’s biopic, “Mr. Turner,” from much the same perspectives. You could look at the largely plotless narrative covering the last quarter of the British painter’s life and see themes and insights into the man and his work emerge. Or you could just see him as a bloody big ship.

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“Home”: For a man dealing with mental illness, there’s no place like it


Few movies have gotten mental illness right, preferring to treat it as a quirk (“The Dream Team”), an affectation (“Henry and Joon”) or a menace (most horror movies). There’s a great movie coming out this spring called “Infinitely Polar Bear,” starring Mark Ruffalo as a father dealing with bipolar disorder. He doesn’t defeat mental illness at the end of the film, and it doesn’t defeat him, because that’s not what happens. He just lives with it, through good days and rough days, like any other chronic disease.

Jono Oliver’s “Home” is another film that gets it right. The affecting and low-key drama skips past the usual dramatic scenes of someone who has suffered a psychotic breakdown, instead showing us the quieter but more convincing struggle of someone trying to piece his life back together afterwards.

Given its authenticity, it’s no surprise that the National Alliance on Mental Illness — Wisconsin is sponsoring a screening of “Home” on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave. The screening is free, although audience members are encouraged to make donations and to pre-register online. Oliver will take part in a meet-and-greet session before the film at 5:30 p.m. and a Q&A afterwards. And, in a late announcement, the film’s star, Gbenga Akinnagbe, is also flying into Madison for the Barrymore event. (If you can’t make the screening, “Home” is also on Netflix.)

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“Hot Tub Time Machine 2”: You can’t go foam again


“Hot Tub Time Machine 2” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. R, 1:33, one and a half stars out of four.

I loved the first “Hot Tub Time Machine.” I gave it a four-star review, seriously, calling it “stupid but brilliant.” I still stand by that.

But if I could, I would travel back in time and tell my 2010 movie-reviewing self to dial that review down a couple of notches. Just in case it somehow encouraged the making of this lame sequel five years later.

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“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”: Interview with an Iranian vampire


“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” has its Madison premiere on Friday at 9 p.m. at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St., with an encore showing at 6 p.m. Saturday. Not rated, 1:44, three and a half stars out of four. FREE!

If you see only one Iranian feminist vampire Western this year, make it Ana Lily Amirpour’s sumptuous “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.” The freshest take on the vampire genre since “Let the Right One In,” “Night” is an intoxicating mix of genres all deftly and lovingly mashed together.

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“Antarctica: A Year on Ice”: And you think you’re sick of winter

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“Antarctica: A Year on Ice” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. PG, 1:32, three stars out of four.

If nothing else, watching the documentary “Antarctica: A Year on Ice” makes a Wisconsin February go down a little easier. It’s hard to complain about single-digit temperatures and shoveling two inches off your driveway when you watch people living in 40-below temperatures and almost total darkness for four months.

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DVD review: “Coffee Town” chokes down the dregs of comedy


Comedy is magic. It must be. There’s no other reason why some movies are funny and others aren’t. A well-made drama or a well-made action movie can work, but even if a comedy is well-made, well-acted and well-filmed, it has to be funny. And no matter how carefully you load the deck with talented writers and performers, if it doesn’t click, it doesn’t click.

Case in point is “Coffee Town,” the first movie from online comedy titans CollegeHumor. If I told you that a movie was directed by one of the writers of “Arrested Development” and starred a cast member from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a cast member from “Eastbound and Down” and a cast member of “Parks & Recreation,” with cast members from “Veep,” “The New Girl” and “Comedy Bang Bang” in supporting roles, you’d think that movie would be surefire.

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Instant Gratification: “20,000 Days on Earth” and four other movies to watch on Amazon Prime and Netflix


Pick of the week: “20,00o Days on Earth  (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Nick Cave’s baroque fictionalized documentary mixes the mythos and the man to create a film that both celebrates his larger-than-life and provides surprising insight into his creative process.

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“Kingsman: The Secret Service”: A spy movie with thunderballs


“Kingsman: The Secret Service” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinemas. R, 2:09, three stars out of four.

I’m not saying I’m proud to have enjoyed a movie in which a dapper Colin Firth shoots, stabs, bludgeons, immolates and electrocutes about a hundred people while the guitar solo from “Freebird” plays on the soundtrack.

I’m just saying I did.

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“Girlhood”: Girls behaving badly, while they still can


“Girlhood” has its Madison premiere on Thursday at 9:45 p.m. at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St., with an encore showing Friday at 9 p.m. Not rated, 1:41, three and a half stars out of four. FREE!

Celine Sciamma’s third feature film (after “Tomboy” and “Water Lilies” is called “Band de Filles” in its original title, translated into “Girlhood” for its U.S. release. It’s doubtful that it’s just a coincidence that the new title happens to suggest a mirror to Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.”

And a mirror it certainly is — as much as the stories of Linklater’s Mason and Sciamma’s Marieme (Karidja Toure) reflect each other’s experiences, they are also very much opposites. He’s a white teenage boy in Texas, for whom life is a matter of deciding which open door to walk through. She’s a black teenage girl living in an apartment with her family, marginalized and fighting to wrest control of her life from those around her. He takes a part-time job for college money, she takes a job cleaning hotels to survive and provide for her family.

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