A Case of Memories

Giles Keyte/Roadside Attractions

Mr. Holmes (2015)

With so many adaptations and interpretations of Sherlock Holmes on and off the page, and with the character so ingrained in popular culture, it is a remarkable achievement to come up with a story that feels fresh. Most recently and notably, there have been two Robert Downey Jr. films with the character, the British TV series “Sherlock” and the American TV show “Elementary,” so there would appear to be enough of Holmes on screen to satisfy eager fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. However, the arrival of “Mr. Holmes” proves to be a worthy and significant new screen depiction of the great detective.

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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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None Is Full of Love

Universal Pictures

Ex Machina (2015)

When young computer coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a competition to visit the secluded home of solitary tech entrepreneur Nathan (Oscar Isaac), head of the search engine company Bluebook, it seems like a dream come true for the star-struck employee. Caleb arrives at Nathan’s hideaway home and discovers the reason for the competition, a chance to meet Ava (Alicia Vikander), an android created by Nathan.

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School Daze Down Under

Wake in Fright (1972)

Drafthouse Films

John Grant (Gary Bond) is a teacher working in a small school house in the Australian outback who is unhappy in his job, seeing his teaching contract as a prison sentence. The Christmas holiday offers Grant a brief respite from his job; he plans to leave for a break in Sydney, and is spurred on by visions of a beach and a young woman. On his way to Sydney, Grant stops over in the town of Bundanyabba — nicknamed “the Yabba” by the locals — for the night, which is when his life changes dramatically.

Venturing out to a local bar, Grant meets a friendly policeman (Chips Rafferty) and an eccentric doctor (Donald Pleasence), but he shows obvious discomfort in having to drink and socialize with them when he would much rather be left alone. Grant soon discovers a gambling game in the bar and sees a chance to win enough money so that he can leave his job. Instead, he loses all his money and finds himself trapped in a nightmarish situation with seemingly no way out.

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Midlife Gap Year

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Wilson Webb/20th Century Fox

Based on the classic James Thurber story of the same name as well as being an update of the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” centers on the title character (Ben Stiller), a middle-aged man who works in the photographic department of Life magazine, but who seems detached from the world around him. Walter is a daydreamer who drifts off on sudden flights of fancy without warning to the amusement and bemusement of those around him, including Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), a colleague he yearns for, and a sarcastic corporate representative (Adam Scott) who mocks him.

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Rovers Return

The World's End (2013)

Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

“The World’s End” is the third part in a loose trilogy of films directed by Edgar Wright, which started with “Shaun of the Dead” and continued with “Hot Fuzz.” This new film is a sort-of sequel to “Shaun of the Dead,” both for the characters, who are taking refuge in a pub from hordes of zombie-like people, and for the filmmakers, representing a homecoming for the director after “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and for stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost after “Paul.” The characters in “The World’s End” are older and more world-weary, though, with the disappointments and missed opportunities of their lives pressing on their minds as they approach middle age.

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A Very Personal Enterprise

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures

With “Star Trek Into Darkness,” director J. J. Abrams and his cast and crew have crafted a follow-up film that feels like the second part of a two-part story. This new movie is not simply another voyage with the recast crew of the starship Enterprise; it also addresses and resolves some of the nagging concerns and problems some people may have had with the first “Star Trek” reboot film in 2009. The previous film, while funny and thrilling, was far from perfect, with the script feeling like a list of ideas cut and pasted together. A similar compilation approach has been taken with this sequel; but overall it feels far more cohesive than the previous entry, and it develops the main characters in important ways.

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In the Good Hands of the Professional

Safe (2012)

John Baer/Lionsgate

“Safe,” the new film starring Jason Statham, refers to the hero’s protection of a child and to the whereabouts of a huge amount of money. But it could also describe the safe pair of hands that a movie starring Mr. Statham provides, with viewers secure in the knowledge that the film will meet their expectations, featuring a skilled and dependable protagonist who will punch, kick, shoot, stab, jump and/or drive his way through various predicaments and defeat the bad guys. While the outcome of “Safe” is never in doubt, the film puts a fresh spin on this action-hero film formula.

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Save the Red Planet

John Carter (2012)

Frank Connor/Disney

Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s story “A Princess of Mars” and directed by Andrew Stanton, who helmed “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” for Disney/Pixar, the new Disney film “John Carter” tells the story of the titular character (played by Taylor Kitsch), an American Civil War soldier who is mysteriously transported from Earth to Mars (called Barsoom by the planet’s inhabitants). He soon encounters an alien race called the Thark, led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), and finds himself caught up in a conflict between the violent hordes of Zodanga and the peaceful people of Helium. At first Carter just wants to return to Earth; but after meeting Helium Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), he is slowly drawn further into the fight to save the planet.

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