Film Reviews: Opening This Week (June 29-July 3, 2015)

Terminator Genisys
“I’m old, not obsolete,” mutters Arnold Schwarzenegger’s aging android in “Terminator Genisys,” and his words could be a wishful mantra for this nervy, silly, almost admirably misguided attempt to give the 31-year-old franchise a massive cybernetic facelift. More or less rewriting everything we thought we knew about the Connor genealogy, the properties of liquid metal, and the rules of post-1984 time travel, this f/x-encrusted reboot feels at once back-to-basics and confoundingly revisionist, teeming with alternate timelines and rejiggered character histories (the most perplexing of which finds Sarah Connor now continually referring to Schwarzenegger’s Terminator as “Pops”). Consider it the 3D blockbuster equivalent of disruptive technology, and while online fans have already voiced their displeasure, the movie’s willingness to veer crazily off-course feels less objectionable than the monotony and sense of self-parody that kick in long before the whimper of a finish. (Justin Chang)
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Magic Mike XXL
One needn’t have spent much time on dating sites to know that guys have a tendency to exaggerate where size is concerned, so fans of Warner Bros.’ 2012 striptease sleeper should set their expectations accordingly over “Magic Mike XXL.” Meanwhile, someone in the studio’s marketing department deserves a raise for so enticingly fluffing the title of a sequel that sheds the newbie (Alex Pettyfer), the emcee (Matthew McConaughey) and nearly all traces of plot, yielding an encore whose putative selling point is getting to know the fellas who shook their stuff in the next-to-buff. Trading the “A Star Is Born” angle for a rambling road-trip format, “Magic Mike XXL” offers creative dance numbers for demos underserved by the original — middle-aged divorcees, women of color and, in one odd scene, gay fans open to seeing these hunks in drag — but seems unlikely to measure up to its predecessor’s $113 million score. (Peter Debruge)
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Jimmy’s Hall
Ken Loach has taken a despicable episode of modern Irish history — the 1933 deportation without trial of one of its own citizens, James Gralton — and made a surprisingly lovely, heartfelt film from it with “Jimmy’s Hall.” A thematic sequel of sorts to his Cannes-winning “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” Loach’s 24th fiction feature finds the activist-minded director trafficking in familiar themes of individual liberties, institutional oppression and the power of collective organizing, here infused with a gentle romanticism that buoys the film without cheapening the gravity of its subject. All told, it’s a minor-key but eminently enjoyable work by a master craftsman. (Scott Foundas)
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Amy
“Self-destructive” is the label commonly attached by armchair pop psychologists to tragic figures like Amy Winehouse, the nervy, unruly and viciously talented British jazz-soul singer who died in 2011, aged just 27, from the cumulative effects of substance abuse. That term only tells half the story, however, in Asif Kapadia’s factually exhaustive, emotionally exhausting documentary “Amy,” which calmly identifies multiple collaborators — some with intentions better than others — in Winehouse’s demise. Hardly innovative in form, but boasting the same depth of feeling and breadth of archival material that made Kapadia’s “Senna” so rewarding, this lengthy but immersive portrait will hit hard with viewers who regard Winehouse among the great lost voices not just of a generation, but of an entire musical genre. (Guy Lodge)
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Mala Mala
Beginning as a colorful documentary about the Puerto Rican transgender community, candidly showcasing nine very different subjects, “Mala Mala” slowly morphs into a celebration of solidarity and collective activism without ever losing sight of its likable protagonists. Though the featured players’ problems and experiences are similar, their aspirations vary widely, from dreams of flashily wowing as beauty queens to hopes of quietly “passing” in the supermarket. Highly entertaining but never reductive or exploitative, Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s well-crafted feature debut will delight LGBT auds while attracting crossover fans. (Ronnie Scheib)
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Jackie & Ryan
There was a time when a major studio might have made “Jackie & Ryan,” a wholesome, female-skewing heartland romance, with a Sandra Bullock in the lead and reaped the profits; today, it’s a wing-and-a-prayer festival film that marks Katherine Heigl’s introduction to independent cinema. That’s more of a knock on the shifting biases of mainstream audiences than it is on the ample cornball charms of Ami Canaan Mann’s third feature, which casts Heigl as a hard-up single mother and former country star who’s brought out of her shell by dreamy, drifting busker Ben Barnes. Mellow, digestibly sweet and embellished with lovely folk tunes, this modest bit of Americana reveals pleasing new sides of both leads.  (Guy Lodge)
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Stray Dog
You may think you know Ron “Stray Dog” Hall from the early scenes of his namesake documentary: A paunchy, sixtysomething Missouri Vietnam vet, Hall is first seen hanging around the trailer park with his fellow biker buddies, chain-smoking and sipping from a jar of moonshine, with leather jackets, guns and stars-and-bars patches as far as the eye can see. But what, then, to make of the following scenes, where he gets teary-eyed talking to his therapist, travels to strangers’ military funerals, and sits down at his computer for online Spanish lessons? “Winter’s Bone” director Debra Granik provides plenty of such surprises in her superb slice of American life on the margins, a low-key humanist study of an extraordinary ordinary man that should find plenty of love on the festival and specialty circuits. (Andrew Barker)
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A Poem Is a Naked Person
To a certain extent, every film ultimately functions as a time capsule of the period in which it was shot, and documentaries doubly so. But when a film sits in the vaults unseen for four decades, the effect is magnified considerably. Such is the case of “A Poem Is a Naked Person,” Les Blank’s freewheeling documentary study of Leon Russell, which was shot between 1972 and ’74 and is just now seeing a theatrical release. By turns bewitching, beguiling and belabored, with just as much emphasis on the characters surrounding Russell as the singer-pianist himself, this poignant curio should attract a small but enthusiastic following in limited release. (Andrew Barker)
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Cartel Land
Startling access yields strong if not consistent results in “Cartel Land,” Matthew Heineman’s parallel portrait of vigilantes policing two different fronts of the drug war. Focusing on the leaders of two groups — one in charge of a citizens’ anti-cartel organization known as the Autodefensas, another the head of a self-appointed border patrol in Arizona — the pic finds most of its best moments in the action-packed scenes south of the Rio Grande. (Ben Kenigsberg)
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Closer to God
A small-scale sci-fi suspenser, “Closer to God” updates Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story — complete with protags named Victor, Mary and Elizabeth — as commentary on the controversial emerging science of cloning. Here, our modern mad scientist is a sober if obsessive geneticist whose creation of the first human-clone baby stirs a volatile mix of media attention and public protest. A greater danger, however, turns out to already reside in his own household. This Nashville-shot first feature for writer-director Billy Senese is an intelligent, restrained take on genre conventions, but those seeking fantasy thrills may find it too dry, while neither the ideas nor the eventual scares are quite original or surprising enough to elevate “Closer” from the respectable to the memorable. Pic opens July 3 in limited release; modest prospects should be a bit brighter in simultaneous VOD launch. (Dennis Harvey)
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Faith of Our Fathers
Two men on a road trip find themselves bonding just like their Vietnam-veteran dads once did in “Faith of Our Fathers,” a clumsily told story of friendship and wartime remembrance that has a tough time serving up a halfway believable moment, let alone a moving and powerful testimony about the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Amazingly graceless as it veers from broad situational comedy to stiff, po-faced military drama, this latest dubious cinematic sermon from Pure Flix (which also produced the 2014 faith-based hit “God’s Not Dead”) seems likely to appeal strictly to that segment of the audience that would seem to require it least — namely, believers who have trouble telling the difference between art and propaganda, or understanding why the difference matters. (Justin Chang)
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