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July 2014

Stretch, No Imagination

James Dittger/Summit Entertainment

Step Up All In (2014)

The adorable “Step Up” series of movies has made a lot of money by doing something very simple: holding the camera still and letting very good dancers do their thing. They are mostly filmed in wide shots so we can see exactly what they are doing. The camera doesn’t move too much so we can focus on how great the dancers are. The mood and music are upbeat; and nothing is more important than one’s crew. “Step Up All In” doesn’t deviate from this formula — and that’s great.

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Friday Night Blights

Tracy Bennett/TriStar Pictures

When the Game Stands Tall (2014)

“When the Game Stands Tall” centers on the real-life Spartans football team of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., under its legendary former coach Bob Ladouceur, here played by Jim Caviezel. It isn’t about how the team achieved its storied 151-game winning streak, however; but rather how it ultimately fumbled that winning streak and then recovered.

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A Frenemy in Need


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Risky: It’s a word that’s been used almost relentlessly in relation to Marvel’s new kids on the block — a huge gamble on a part of the Marvel universe that until now was considered niche, unknown to all but the hard-core fans and tricky to translate onto film.

The universe is complex; the factions many and varied; and the characters are more than a little eccentric. It was an accident waiting to happen, but sometimes wonderful things happen in the most unexpected of places.

Let’s cut to the chase — “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a riot. Blistering action, sometimes dizzying especially in 3-D, a smart script and the kind of love-hate relationships and whip-crack dialogue you might find in an episode of “Firefly.”

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Knock Off

Frank Masi/20th Century Fox

Let's Be Cops (2014)

The buddy cop subgenre has proven such a bankable formula in Hollywood — yet again by the success of “Ride Along” earlier this year — that some might now consider it a bona fide genre. The trope often combines varying percentages of thriller and comedy to mixed results. Some entries like “Lethal Weapon” skew more toward the thriller, while ones like “White Chicks” obviously yield to the comedy. Casting choices usually give a good indication which way it will turn out: If one of the partners belongs in the K-9 unit, you can be sure of the lowered stakes.

Besides the fact that neither of the main characters is an actual police officer, “Let’s Be Cops” feels unorthodox for defying these formulaic expectations the subgenre has been steadily creating through trial and error since its inception in the 1980s. The film actually has incredibly high stakes, like a much sillier “48 Hrs.” rather than a more thrilling “21 Jump Street.” If it’s any indication, Damon Wayans, Jr. plays the straight man to Jake Johnson’s instigator — complete with a reference to the Glover-Gibson dynamic.

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Troubles Every Day

Sarah Manvel/Critic's Notebook

An outsider to the Irish film industry would be surprised at the depth and breadth of work available at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh. Held over five days and six nights every July in the largest city on Ireland’s west coast, the Fleadh (pronounced “flah,” Irish Gaelic for festival) brings together new and old talent in one place to act as a doorway to the global scene. Since its winning short automatically becomes eligible for Oscar consideration, the festival is able to punch considerably above its apparent weight.

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Twister of Fate

Warner Brothers Pictures

Into the Storm (2014)

“Into the Storm” imagines a tornado outbreak — including an EF-5 on the enhanced Fujita scale — wreaking havoc on fictional Silverton, Okla, in Tornado Alley. A team of storm chasers on a fruitless documentary project (among them Matt Walsh, Sarah Wayne Callies and Arlen Escarpeta) arrives fashionably in a Titus tank, while the vice principal of a local high school (Richard Armitage) attempts to locate a missing son (Jeremy Sumpter) and his classmate (Alycia Debnam-Carey).

We’ll leave film’s scientific legitimacy to professional meteorologists to assess, although the one played by Ms. Wayne Callies herein certainly casts doubts on the plausibility of this parade of cyclones. Since the film eschews the 3-D gimmick de rigueur for all Hollywood tentpoles, the only thing that separates “Into the Storm” from “Twister” made 18 years ago is its found-footage trope, utilized most memorably by “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield.” As such, the entire endeavor is a total, um, disaster.

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Taxi to the Dark Side

Element Pictures Distribution

Glassland (2014)

Kitchen-sink dramas can be very difficult to like. Small movies about unhappy lives can unfortunately sometimes be overwhelmed by their own metaphors. Quite often, directors are also overwhelmed by their own material and don’t know how to let the film breathe. Luckily in “Glassland,” Gerard Barrett makes none of those mistakes. Even better, he has brought in a wonderful cast that is more than capable of making these dim lights shine.

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The Life Desertic

2014 Sundance Film Festival

Young Ones (2014)

Some time in the near future, arty teenager Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives on a remote farm with his sister Mary (Elle Fanning) and their father Ernest (Michael Shannon). Water is a resource more precious than gold. It hardly ever rains anymore; and the land has always been — in Jerome’s lifetime — a desert. Ernest is a good man, willing to help out the locals and share what little he has, but who is unafraid to kill marauding strangers who threaten his family. The closest threat, of course, comes from Mary’s boyfriend Flem (Nicholas Hoult).

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The Strayed Story


The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2014)

When looking back of a century’s worth of escapades in a work of art, the temptation is irresistible to put your hero at the center of the action. But a lot of that depends on who your hero is. When you have a lovable, good-hearted dunce like Forrest Gump at the center, you have an international smash hit and the inability to look at a box of chocolates in the same way ever again. But when you have a murdering pyromaniac at the center of your comedy, then unfortunately much, much more than a spoonful of sugar is needed to send that medicine down.

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A Dread & Two Noughts

Roadside Attractions

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig's comic rapport is the foundation of "The Skeleton Twins," a bittersweet comedy which lets the two of them bounce off each other for an amiable 90 minutes without actually breaking a sweat — or any new ground, for that matter.

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