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February 2015

Con Me if You Can

Frank Masi/Warner Brothers Pictures

Focus (2015)

After the critical drubbing given to the flawed but earnest “After Earth,” Will Smith returns with “Focus,” playing a character that seems like natural territory for one of Hollywood’s most charismatic leading men. Mr. Smith is Nicky, a quick-witted veteran con artist who recruits inexperienced crook Jess (Margot Robbie) to join his team of professional thieves, with things quickly getting personal between the two of them when romance blossoms.

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Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a Blue Blood Flies

Warner Brothers Pictures

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

After debuting with “Bound” in 1996, followed by the worldwide phenomenon of “The Matrix” in 1999, the Wachowski siblings have consistently followed their own path instead of resting on their laurels, writing and directing films that have pushed the boundaries of what is expected of the Hollywood blockbuster — both in terms of storytelling and in technical prowess. “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” were elaborate deconstructions of the traditional hero’s journey seen in the first film; “Speed Racer” was a candy-colored computer generated wonderland in which the traditional family values faced rapacious corporate interests; while the ambitious epic “Cloud Atlas” — co-directed with Tom Tykwer — featured a multitude of characters and actors whose stories spanned centuries.

Now there is “Jupiter Ascending,” which at first glance may seem like an attempt by the Wachowskis to create a more conventional science-fiction saga. Despite appearances, though, this new film is not just the first, unresolved part of a franchise blockbuster or action filmmaking sound and fury signifying nothing. Instead, the film takes topics relevant today, such as genetic engineering, unregulated capitalism and consumption, and a privileged few exploiting an impoverished mass, and mixes them into a tale of intergalactic rivalry and intrigue, topping it off with striking images and sequences that delight the senses. This is unmistakably a film by the Wachowskis, splicing together elements from movies, television, comics, philosophy, politics and gaming, as well as mixing styles and tones, to create a singular cinematic universe.

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Modern Life Is Rubbish

Universal Pictures

Trash (2015)

Depictions of child poverty in well-meaning screen entertainments are bound to end up fudging the heart of the matter, since catching even five percent of the true grinding horror would bring an audience to its knees. "Trash" can't really do anything about that, substituting instead a YA tone of earnest adolescent adventuring in a landscape of adult corruption and violence — ultimately the easier option.

Although Andy Mulligan's source novel described a slum of imprecise location, Stephen Daldry's film plants its flag in Rio de Janeiro, giving the greedy politicians and murderous cops an imminent Olympic bonanza as extra rationale for lining their own pockets and ignoring the kids rummaging through their garbage mountains. Three of those — Raphael (Rickson Tevez), Gardo (Eduardo Luis) and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) — find evidence of high-level corruption in a discarded wallet somewhere in there, and the chase is on.

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