Capsule Movie Reviews (May 16): 'Half of a Yellow Sun' and seven more

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NEW RELEASE
Half of a Yellow Sun
R, 1 HR., 53 MINS.
The makings of a grand historical epic –sweeping drama, personal tragedy, real-life heroism –are all there in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2006 novel about the Nigerian civil war of the late 1960s. But instead of distilling the book, the movie races through it, leaving great performances (notably by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton as a wealthy, emotionally complicated couple) overwhelmed by the unrelenting march of heart-wrenching moments. BAdam Markovitz

NEW RELEASE
Ai Weiwei The Fake Case
NOT RATED, 1 HR., 29 MINS.
The daring Beijing artist is shown at rest in quiet scenes shot vérité-style during his 2011 house arrest for tax evasion (or “subversion of state power”). There are touching family moments (his rueful mom says, “If this was 1957 they would have killed you already”), though the man himself is a hesitant figure, rendered morose and stooped by China’s depressingly slow cultural progress. B+Joe McGovern

Breastmilk
NOT RATED, 1 HR., 31 MINS.
Why is the question of bottle or breast such an emotional briar patch? Dana Ben-Ari tries to find an answer in her debut doc, which follows a meticulously chosen swath of parents –single, hetero, lesbian, gay, well-off and not –as they learn what it means, on the most primal of levels, to feed and bond with their children. The social pressure to breast-feed, the taboo on doing it in public, the guilt over a low milk supply –the film tackles it all with smarts and sensitivity. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go nurse my 6-month-old. B+Missy Schwartz

The Immigrant
R, 1 HR., 57 MINS.
Like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, James Gray seems to have an unlimited supply of New York stories. But the latest from the director of Little Odessa and The Yards is frustratingly lifeless. Marion Cotillard stars as a down-on-her-luck Polish immigrant named Ewa who comes to America in 1921 searching for a fresh start only to be separated from her sickly sister at Ellis Island. Alone and threatened with deportation, Ewa is taken in by a burlesque-house hustler and pimp (Joaquin Phoenix), who adds her to his menagerie of fresh-off-the-boat prostitutes. Her only chance of salvation comes from a dashing magician (Jeremy Renner). It all sounds more eventful than it is. Not only is there a strange inertness to the film, but each actor appears to be in a different one. Cotillard is too fragile, Phoenix too overwrought, and Renner too undercooked. The real star is cinematographer Darius Khondji, who gives the film the sepia-tinted glow of The Godfather Part II. How can a movie that looks so warm feel so cold? B-Chris Nashawaty

NEW RELEASE
Chinese Puzzle
R, 1 HR., 57 MINS.
Similar to Richard Linklater’s Before series (only sillier and with less walking), Cédric Klapisch’s comic portrait of an international group of friends began with 2002′s L’Auberge Espagnole, continued in 2005′s Russian Dolls, and rolls along in a pleasant third chapter, which finds neurotic charmer Xavier (Romain Duris) crossing paths in NYC with his ex-wife (Kelly Reilly) and ex-flame (Audrey Tautou). The movie is hyperkinetic at times and meandering at others, but there’s no denying the fun of reconnecting with old pals. BAdam Markovitz

Filth
R, 1 HR., 37 MINS.
James McAvoy busts out his thick-as-haggis Scottish accent and lets it rip as a scuzzy, amoral Edinburgh police detective scheming for a promotion in this caffeinated adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel. Like Welsh’s Trainspotting, Filth is a bruise-black comedy that flirts with madness. McAvoy makes a case for why he belongs in the cinematic pantheon of sociopathic bad lieutenants alongside Harvey Keitel and Nicolas Cage. (Now on iTunes and VOD; in select theaters May 30) B+Chris Nashawaty

NEW RELEASE
Wolf Creek 2
NOT RATED, 1 HR., 46 MINS.
Ever dreamed of visiting the Australian outback? Greg McLean’s nightmarish sequel to his 2005 horror film will prompt second, third, and fourth thoughts. John Jarratt returns as chuckling xenophobic psycho Mick Taylor, a man as eager to kill backpackers as he is kangaroos. Far more fun than the first movie (if you have a stomach for gore), Wolf Creek 2 has torture porn aplenty but also pays homage to the carmageddon of The Road Warrior and Steven Spielberg’s Duel. (Also available on iTunes and VOD) B+Clark Collis

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