The Gunman Sean Penn buffs up and becomes an action hero, or tries to, anyway, in this thriller about a special-ops-for-hire kind of guy who gets into trouble when he takes down a Congolese government official. Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Mark Rylance, and Ray Winstone also star. Directed by Pierre Morel, who launched Liam Neeson's action career with the first Taken. R
An Honest Liar Festival-winning documentary about James Randi, magician, escape artist, and debunker, focusing on his investigations into phony psychics, faith healers, and con artists. No MPAA rating
The Wrecking Crew! No, not the Dean Martin/Matt Helm spy farce of the 1960s, but a documentary about the storied session band of that same era - a group of L.A. musicians who backed the likes of the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, the Monkees, Glen Campbell, Nancy Sinatra, and Jan and Dean. Completed in 2008, the Denny Tedesco-directed doc was tangled up until now in issues over music licensing rights. PG
Also Opening This Week
Deli Man This documentary looks at the history of the delicatessen in the United States.
The Divergent Series: Insurgent Beatrice must fight the alliance that threatens her society in this sci-fi thriller.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem An Israeli woman's fight for the dissolution of her marriage runs up against religion-influenced Israeli law. Various languages with subtitles.
Reviewed by critics Steven Rea (S.R.), Tirdad Derakhshani (T.D.), Dan DeLuca (D.D.), Ellen Dunkel (E.D.), and Molly Eichel (M.E.). W.S. denotes a wire-service review.
Birdman Michael Keaton is a faded Hollywood star trying to reclaim his career by mounting a Broadway drama in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's fierce, funny, breathless dive into the head of a man in deep trouble. An exhilarating, out-of-the-blue masterwork that ranks as one of the best films of the year, the decade, the century. Academy Awards for best picture and director Iñárritu. With Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts. 1 hr. 59 R (profanity, violence, sex, adult themes) - S.R.
Red Army Madly entertaining documentary about the dynastic days of the Soviet ice hockey team nicknamed the Red Army, and the charismatic player at its center, Vyacheslav Fetisov. But this is much more than a sports movie. It's about Cold War politics, about national pride, about how we fix our hopes and dreams to athletic competitions, how we identify with sports and how sports identifies us. 1 hr. 16 PG - S.R.
Still Alice Shot through with piercing detail, and devoid of cheap sentimentality, the sad, beautifully realized story of a linguistics professor, a mother, a wife, diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. One of the defining performances of Julianne Moore's career, winner of the best actress Oscar. With Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart. 1 hr. 53 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Very Good (***1/2)
'71 Yann Demange's feature debut is stunning piece of thrilling and intelligent filmmaking, a deeply intimate piece about a single day in the life of a British soldier who is barely out of basic training (Jack O'Connell) and assigned to patrol the streets of Belfast during the Troubles. 1 hr. 39 R (violence, profanity, smoking) - T.D.
Wild Tales Six vignettes about people on their best behavior: out for vengeance and out of control. Madly entertaining and just plain mad, from Argentinian director Damián Szifrón, and one of this year's foreign language Oscar nominees. 1 hr. 54 R (sex, violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Whiplash Miles Teller (the student) and J.K. Simmons (the teacher) star in Damien Chazelle's propulsive drama about an aspiring jazz musician's torturous mentorship at a prestigious New York conservatory. It's a hyperventilated nightmare about artistic struggle and ambition - as much a horror movie as a keenly realized indie about jazz, art, and what it takes to claim greatness. Oscar for best supporting actor for Simmons. 1 hr. 46 R (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Also on Screens
American Sniper *** Bradley Cooper delivers a powerful turn as Chris Kyle, the real-life Navy SEAL credited with the most kills of any sniper in U.S. military history. Clint Eastwood directs this taut Iraq War-era drama, although the sequences with Kyle returning stateside are diminished by textbook scenarios of family dysfunction and discord. 2 hrs. 12 R (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Ballet 422 *** An intimate, quiet, documentary verité follows young choreographer Justin Peck as he creates the 422d ballet for New York City Ballet. The expected conventions of plot, dialogue, and action are all but missing, and some may find it slow. But for dance lovers, it is a rare visit behind the workings of one of the finest ballet companies in the world. 1 hr. 15 PG (adult themes) - E.D.
Buzzard *** An agreeably quirky slacker comedy about a shiftless, small-time scam artist subtly morphs into a darkly piercing study of alienation. 1 hr. 38 No MPAA rating (adult themes) - W.S.
Chappie ** A not-very-futuristic (it's set in 2016) shoot-'em-up about a robot police force, artificial intelligence, and a sentient machine adopted by a gang of South African street thugs. Another sunny vision from District 9 and Elysium director Neill Blomkamp, with Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, and Sigourney Weaver joining in the fun. R (violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Cinderella *** A winning re-do of Disney's 1950 animated classic, directed by Kenneth Branagh with a sprinkling of stardust, dashes of good humor and a respect for the corniest kinds of romance. Lily James (Downton Abbey) and Richard Madden (dazzling dentition) star as the woebegone heroine and the handsome Prince. Cate Blanchett chews scenery as the gleefully cruel, cackling stepmom. 1 hr. 52 PG (adult themes) - S.R.
The Cobbler ** Adam Sandler stars as a longtime shoemaker who gains the ability to see the world via his customers' eyes through a magical heirloom. Director Thomas McCarthy's (The Station Agent) latest effort is a failed fairy tale with a saccharine, klezmer-inflected tone undercut by the movie's own plot. 1 hr. 39 PG-13 (some violence, language, brief partial nudity) - M.E.
Cymbeline ** Though it features several terrific performances by an ensemble cast that includes Anton Yelchin, John Leguizamo, James Ransone, Bill Pullman, and Delroy Lindo, Michael Almereyda's version of a lesser Shakespeare play does little to save this confused piece. 1 hr. 38 R (violence, adult themes) - T.D.
The Duke of Burgundy **1/2 A straight-faced homage to 1970s European erotica, full of soft-focus nudity and soft-core kink, in which two women who live somewhere in the woods engage in role-play, submission, and domination, with woodwinds and cricket chirrups on the soundtrack and butterflies pinned to the wall. 1 hr. 44 R (nudity, sex, adult themes) - S.R.
Fifty Shades of Grey ** E.L. James' bestselling erotic romance - in which a virginal English major meets a hotshot entrepreneur with a bondage fetish - gets a TV commercial-slick screen adaptation, redeemed only by Dakota Johnson's wry humor and intelligence. The titular Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, is a dud. 2 hr. 5 R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Focus **1/2 Will Smith is a seasoned grifter, Margot Robbie his eager protege, in a slick, glossy con artist caper that walks the walk and talks the talk but disappoints just when you don't want it to. With glammy pit stops in New York, New Orleans and Buenos Aires. 1 hr. 44 R (profanity, sex, violence, adult themes) - S.R.
Kingsman: The Secret Service ** A cross between a James Bond film and a Marvel superhero comic, with a nod to Dr. No, Our Man Flint, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Get Smart, this movie has the makings of a sure-fire hit. Yet, this is one spy story even the dedicated addicts of the genre would do well to miss. 2 hr. 9 R (profanity, violence, some sexual content) - T.D.
McFarland, USA *** Inspirational Disney sports film, based on the true story of a fledgling high school team of Latino kids - the sons of crop pickers and day laborers - who go on to win the cross-country state championship. Kevin Costner stars as the coach, with his own problems and prejudices to overcome. 2 hrs. 08 PG (violence, ethnic slurs, adult themes) - S.R.
Run All Night ** A grim, jumpy, violent noir, with Liam Neeson as an aging mob enforcer regretting his crimes - and regretting that his son (Joel Kinnaman) wants nothing to do with him. But then the estranged duo are thrown together, when crooks and cops and Albanian thugs start hunting them down. Surprise: Neeson has to save his kid! 2 hrs. 02 R (intense violence, profanity, adult themes) - S.R.
Salvation *** The great Dane Mads Mikkelsen plays an 1870s homesteader out to avenge the death of his wife and child, just arrived from the Old Country, in this bloody western, shot in South Africa. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the evil baddie, Eva Green is mute, and Jonathan Pryce also stars. 1 hr. 32 R (violence, adult themes) - S.R.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel **1/2 The John Madden-directed followup to his surprise 2012 hit quickly settles into a familiar, familial groove. The ex-pat pensioner gang played by Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie pick up where they left off, and new guests, most notably one beamy, white-maned Richard Gere, check in, while the eager-to-please young manager played by Dev Patel runs around Jaipur, antic, frantic and full of oddball aphorisms. 2 hrs. 02 PG (adult themes) - S.R.
What We Do in the Shadows *** From Eagle vs. Shark and Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, a mockumentary about three vampires who share a house in Wellington, New Zealand, and argue over whose turn it is to do the dishes. A cheerfully horrific affair, and there are even werewolves. 1 hr. 25 No MPAA rating (comic violence, adult themes) - S.R.