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Robert Horton

‘Escape From Tomorrow’: Disney Wants You to Avoid This Movie

‘Escape From Tomorrow’

Turns out those kids who dread going inside Space Mountain or the scary Cinderella Castle have been right all along. Something sinister lurks inside the Magic Kingdom; scratch the surface and evil comes leaking out. That the “Happiest Place on Earth” might hide a shadow beneath the sunshine isn’t an especially bold idea, and—to its credit—the brand of creeping horror found in Escape From Tomorrow is more than a specific attack on a rather easy target.

First-time filmmaker Randy Moore shot his movie at Disney World and Epcot Center without asking permission, an act of bravado that made it instantly notorious at Sundance this year.

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‘Gravity’: Suspense in space sends you into orbit

At first glance, the title Gravity sounds like a useful, if generic, handle for a suspense movie about astronauts who become stranded in orbit when disaster strikes. If you see this movie — and you should see this astonishing movie — you’ll understand that “gravity” suggests an idea that goes beyond the subject of space travel.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in ‘Gravity’

The film begins during a routine spacewalk, as we meet a veteran astronaut, Matt (George Clooney), and a medical expert, Ryan (Sandra Bullock). She’s on her first mission, a newbie who needs his wisecracking reassurance.

This dreamy opening (you might want to sit in the back rows if you’re prone to motion sickness) is invaded by news of dangerously fast-moving debris in orbit, and the film kicks into an eye-filling suspense picture for the remainder of its incredibly tense running time.

It’s a survival story, like many set at sea or in the desert. The difference is there’s no solid ground, or even a horizon: just the stars hanging in space and the Earth — in oddly close proximity — below.

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‘Haute Cuisine’: True-life foodie comedy a little too sweet

Catherine Frot in ‘Haute Cuisine’

Let’s cut to the important stuff first: In Haute Cuisine you will see many shots of food. Gorgeous cakes, well-browned chicken, beef in puff pastry, clams opening up as they are being cooked.

This kind of foodie movie relies on such sights, so we might as well acknowledge that Haute Cuisine succeeds on that front. It also tells a story, or at least delivers a slice of life based on a quirky true chronicle.

The script is liberally adapted from a memoir by Daniele Delpeuch, the first female chef in France’s equivalent of the White House, the Palais de l’Elysee. She was summoned from the countryside to be the private cook for Francois Mitterand because the president wanted home-cooked meals the way his grandmother made them.

In the movie this character is called Hortense, a no-nonsense lady who isn’t daunted by the palace’s thoroughly male-dominated kitchen. “That’s the last time I have lunch with those machos,” she tells her assistant after dining with the good old boys on her first day at work.

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‘Bad Milo!’: Worst. Ulcer. Ever.

Gillian Jacobs and Ken Marino

There are places even the celebrated body-horror filmmaker David Cronenberg wouldn’t go. Places—you might say—where the sun don’t shine. Such a place is explored in Bad Milo!, an energetic exercise in execrable taste that locates the source of its protagonist’s problems in the lower gastrointestinal tract. Ken (Ken Marino) carries a lot of stress inside him: His job as a number-cruncher is poisoned by a corrupt boss (Patrick Warburton); his wife (Gillian Jacobs) wants a child; and his father (Stephen Root) won’t speak to him. Ken’s mother (Mary Kay Place) has taken up with a much younger man (Kumail Nanjiani), and they suspect Ken’s physical ailments are a sign of erectile dysfunction.

If only. No, the source of Ken’s chronic stomach pain is the big-eyed, sharp-toothed demon living inside his colon.

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‘Parkland’: Not Even Zac Efron Can Stop the JFK Assassination

Billy Bob Thornton

The only interesting thing about Parkland is that it exists. And it exists because of our collective unwillingness to let go of what happened on November 22, 1963, the day a young prince died and a still-unresolved mystery began.

Culled from Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 book Four Days in November, the movie presents narrow-gauge vignettes, acted out by supporting players in Dallas during the tragedy. Supporting players, but not peripheral. The most gripping section of the film unfolds at Parkland Hospital, where an unsuspecting overtime ER crew deals with the arrival of a U.S. president with a severe head wound. Marcia Gay Harden contributes her granite professionalism as the nurse on duty; although here, as in other episodes, the cast tends toward the TV-guest-star vein, with Zac Efron and Colin Hanks also pulling duty. (Hanks’ dad, Tom, produced the film.)

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‘Don Jon’: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Garden State Romeo

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson

If Joseph Gordon-Levitt has spent much of his grown-up career running away from the image of a sitcom child star, he couldn’t have devised a better way to cut the cord than this. He wrote, directed, and stars in Don Jon, the story of a porn addict who’d be right in place amongst the braying loudmouths of Jersey Shore. That Gordon-Levitt is still as likable as he was back in the days of Third Rock From the Sun—or the more recent 50/50 and (500) Days of Summer—goes a long way toward explaining why we stick with his obnoxious character here. The movie’s first twist is that although Jon is introduced to us an Internet porn addict, he’s no antisocial nerd: He’s got local fame as a ladies’ man, prowling the disco with his buddies and searching for a “dime” (a “10,” on the immortal scale) to take home on a Saturday night. Yet that success leaves him unsatisfied, so his laptop porn rituals are repetitively chronicled in near-NC-17 detail.

An encounter with the lushly named Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson, in a deft caricature) suggests that our boy may have found authentic love, but Gordon-Levitt throws in some reasonably fresh variations on the tale of an addict redeemed.

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‘Passion’: Rachel McAdams as the Boss From Hell

Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams

Along with its other shortcomings, Passion is woefully mistitled. This off-key exercise is drained of any authentic juice, belying its apparent place in the crime-of-passion film tradition. But then passion has never been the long suit of its director, Brian De Palma, whose strengths have been his fiendish cleverness and his often giddy intoxication with the movie-ness of cracked stories and characters. Those talents find their footing mainly in some humid dream sequences in the third act of Passion, where De Palma finally asserts himself. Until then, the film has been a bland remake of Alain Corneau’s quite dandy 2010 film Love Crime, a trim tale that mixed All About Eve with The Servant and threw a big, bloody murder into the mix.

In this telling, set in the offices of a marketing behemoth’s Berlin office, stiletto-shod executive Christine (Rachel McAdams) takes credit for the ideas of her chief assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), soothing her underling’s hurt feelings with assurances of the importance of teamwork and the occasional kiss on the lips.

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‘Good Ol’ Freda’: Meet The Beatles’ Secretary

Freda Kelly with Paul McCartney in the late ’60s

To the person who mailed a pillowcase to the Beatles Fan Club in 1964 with the request that Ringo Starr sleep on the bedding and autograph it: Perhaps at some point in the past 50 years you have doubted that the signed pillowcase you received back ever really had spent a night beneath a moptop’s shaggy head. It seems unlikely. Surely the Beatles had better things to do; and probably someone was using a rubber stamp for the signatures by then. Well, dig that pillowcase out of its box, because Ringo really slept on it. He had no choice: Freda Kelly brought it to his mum’s house and told him to.

Who is Freda Kelly? Merely the Beatles’ secretary for 11 years during the glory days—actually, she was working for the band before Ringo joined. Her utterly darling story is told in Ryan White’s Good Ol’ Freda, another documentary shard in the saga of the best band ever. Freda’s never cashed in on her proximity to the band; and after all this time, she has some charming stories to tell.

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‘Ip Man: The Final Fight’: Kung Fu in Hong Kong

Anthony Wong as Ip Man

The flurry of films chronicling the exploits of legendary martial-arts master Ip Man (1893–1972) suggests that the subtitle here is misleading. The Final Fight? Not likely, not if this icon of coolness and nostalgia continues to sell tickets. It’s been a full three weeks since Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster was released, so to recap for the uninitiated: Ip Man changed the world of kung fu with his Wing Chun style, living long enough to send forth an army of followers and teachers, among them Bruce Lee.

The Final Fight begins halfway through the story (director Herman Yau already surveyed his younger years in 2010’s The Legend Is Born: Ip Man), as the man (now played by Anthony Wong) arrives in Hong Kong in 1949 after the communist takeover of mainland China. He sets up a humble school in a rooftop studio, shrugs off rivals, and establishes a curious relationship with a loyal singer (Zhou Chuchu) whose loyalty to him seems to have sprung out of a 1950s Douglas Sirk picture. Which is not a bad thing.

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‘The Patience Stone’: An Afghan Allegory of War

There is war, and there is war. The more intimate variety plays out against the global kind in The Patience Stone, a film with an unspecified location but a painfully recognizable set of conflicts.

On the smaller front, we find a wife and (unnamed) mother trying to keep it together in the midst of chaos. The family home is in a battle zone where Taliban-like fighters regularly rake through the neighborhood. What’s particularly alarming is that the woman’s husband—an older man she was forced to marry 10 years earlier—has been comatose for two weeks, having sustained an injury in the conflict. He might wake up; he might not. As she feeds him through a tube, she begins talking to him—an outpouring that becomes the movie’s dominant drama, dwarfing even the combat going on outside.

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‘Touchy Feely’: Lynn Shelton’s Low-Key Charmer

Rosemarie DeWitt’s masseuse has lost her gift

What compelling mysteries might be quietly thrumming inside the world of the dentist’s office? It is characteristic of the wistful, daydreamy universe of Lynn Shelton’s films that this unlikely question (has anyone outside the dental profession ever asked it?) makes up part of her latest project. Touchy Feely is the stubbornly—and, I think, wonderfully—low-key follow-up to Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister, the partly improvised comedies that put Shelton on the indie-movie map. This new one is again shot in Seattle, Shelton’s hometown. Two siblings experience unexplained eruptions in their professional skills: Massage therapist Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt, from Your Sister’s Sister) is suddenly repulsed by the touch of human skin, and dentist Paul (Josh Pais) develops magical healing powers that can cure his patients’ jaw problems.

These phenomena are suspiciously related to the everyday issues afflicting the two, as Abby has been dawdling over an invitation to move in with her boyfriend Jesse (Scoot McNairy), and Paul has passively allowed his practice to dwindle because of his super-awkward manner. Meanwhile, Paul’s college-age daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) is trapped in her job as a dental assistant, and carries around an unrequited crush on someone who probably won’t return the feeling.

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‘Paradise: Faith’: Piety and Punishment in Austria

Maria Hofstätter’s Anna Maria clings to order

The opening shot of Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Faith is both a character sketch and a warning. A woman enters a spartan room, partially disrobes, and kneels before the crucifix on the wall. She then whips herself across the back with a crude cat-o-nine-tails. At length. That’s the warning part: Seidl is serving notice that Paradise: Faith will be a test of endurance and not for the faint of heart. (The movie’s the middle installment of Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, bracketed by Paradise: Love—seen here in June—and Paradise: Hope; they are slightly but not significantly related.)

The woman is Anna Maria, played by the extremely brave Maria Hofstätter. After our startling opening glimpse, we see her as a neatly coiffed medical technician, beginning a staycation during which she’ll trudge though Vienna neighborhoods carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary and buttonholing strangers about joining the ranks of her extreme Catholic sect.

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‘Short Term’ takes engaging look at social workers

Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield

What plucky indie film will be this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild? You know, the little movie that snags great reviews and a few Oscar nominations.

An early front-runner for that slot is Short Term 12, a thoroughly good-hearted and engagingly played drama. Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton based his movie on his experiences working in a short-term care facility for displaced young people, and it’s got an accurate ring to its tiny details.

The film’s not about the troubled teenagers, but about the people who work at the place. Our main focus is Grace (Brie Larson), a veteran of this world, who has the firm-but-sympathetic approach down pat. So does her live-in partner, a sweet-natured guy named Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who also works at the facility.

As they deal with their charges, we see scenes that cut deep — especially as concern a young woman (Kaitlyn Dever, from Justified) who can’t stop hurting herself, or a tormented young man (Keith Stanfield) who has only a week left before he leaves the home.

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‘Thérèse’: Audrey Tautou Turns to Crime

AudreyTautou as scheming bride

Back in the first dewy shine of Amélie (2001), I would not have anticipated beginning a review with the words “Audrey Tautou is frankly too old to [fill in the blank].” But the years pass. And so: Audrey Tautou is too old to play the early scenes here as a teenage bride in 1920s France. Thankfully, the movie advances in time, and the still-youthful Tautou (she’s 37) very effectively brings her eerie presence to bear on an enigmatic, controlled, supremely rational character. In this adaptation of the 1927 novel Thérèse Desqueyroux by the subsequently Nobel Prize-winning François Mauriac, Thérèse is very far from an old-fashioned lady of literature. She enters into marriage with the practical and uncharismatic Bernard (Gilles Lellouche); their families own vast swaths of adjoining pine forests, and their union will create a profitable dynasty. Poker-faced Thérèse seems all right with this, although she becomes troubled by news that Bernard’s sister (Anaïs Demoustier)—her lifelong bestie—has launched a torrid affair with a callow-yet-hunky young man. This is a prelude to the section that occupies much of the film, as Thérèse ponders the exact dosage of her husband’s anemia medicine, which contains arsenic. He trusts her to keep track of how much he’s ingested, and she begins to measure her future in spoonfuls of the stuff.

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‘The Grandmaster’: Wong Kar-wai’s Kung Fu Fantasia

His grace is a weapon for Tony Leung

The housekeeping part first: A film by a major international director is being released in the U.S. in a version that strongly differs from its original cut. We are told that scissor-happy producer Harvey Weinstein is not behind this particular reduction; Wong Kar-wai himself has fiddled with The Grandmaster, already having crafted different cuts of his film for the Asian and European markets.

That’s their story, and maybe it’s true. It would be consistent with Wong’s tendency to fuss over his projects—he’s on record as saying that if it weren’t for the deadlines imposed by major film festivals, he might never finish his movies. Whatever peculiar cultural emphasis the U.S. cut of The Grandmaster has, it is one odd picture, with too much kung fu for discriminating arthouse audiences and too many dreamy pauses for the grindhouse crowd.

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