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The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death
The ectoplasmic bitch is back, but Harry Potter is nowhere to be found in “The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death,” a handsomely made but dramatically inert and not very scary sequel to 2012’s surprise-hit ($127 million worldwide) Edwardian chiller. A talkier, more drawn-out affair than its spare, elegant predecessor, and minus Daniel Radcliffe’s impressive lead performance, this second helping of imperiled-child ooga-booga from the revivified Hammer horror factory will be hard pressed to scare off the competition from several robust holiday holdovers (“The Hobbit,” “Into the Woods,” “Unbroken”) when it materializes in theaters this weekend. (Relativity Media)
— Scott Foundas
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The Taking of Tiger Mountain
Just as Tsui Hark revamped the sedate, two-decades-long chopsocky series “Wong Fei-hung” into the rollicking martial-arts epic “Once Upon a Time in China,” so the Hong Kong genre-meister has transformed a Chinese communist propaganda classic into a barnstorming period actioner with “The Taking of Tiger Mountain.” Boasting arguably the finest 3D visuals in recent mainland cinema while retaining the original chronicle’s populist ideals, this account of the People’s Liberation Army’s strategic ambush of a bandits’ lair delivers sinewy battles and twisty espionage with a husky northern flavor. It topped the Chinese box office upon its Dec. 23 release and should wow bona fide Asian genre fans. (Well Go USA Entertainment)
— Maggie Lee
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Cake
A strong if self-consciously deglammed performance from Jennifer Aniston deserves more honest story treatment than it gets in “Cake,” a darkly amusing but overly calculated comedy-drama about a Los Angeles woman whose struggles with chronic pain have made her a royal pain. Approaching such heavy issues as suicide, grief, separation and pill addiction with a disarming sense of humor, director Daniel Barnz and screenwriter Patrick Tobin attempt to pull off an emotional bait-and-switch by suddenly revealing a more sympathetic side to their anti-heroine, falling back on one of the hoariest and most overused of movie cliches in the process. Although Aniston and other cast names will draw distrib and audience interest, this manipulatively layered “Cake” probably won’t rise to the occasion in limited theatrical play and VOD rotation.
— Justin Chang
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[REC] 4: Apocalypse
After stumbling with its third entry, Filmax’s horror series is more or less back on track with “[REC] 4: Apocalypse.” Picking up where the first sequel ended — with a desultory nod to “[REC] 3’s” underwhelming wedding-party digression — this supposedly final though none-too-conclusive chapter is fast-paced and entertaining, if not especially scary. It should do good biz in territories already infected by the earlier fright pics. (Magnet Releasing)
— Dennis Harvey
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L’il Quinquin
Perhaps not since Greta Garbo uttered her celebrated first chortle in “Ninotchka” has a film artist’s entrance into comedy been quite as unexpected as that of French director Bruno Dumont. A high priest of cine-miserablism drawn to Bressonian tales of spiritual suffering, Dumont lets loose his inner clown for “Li’l Quinquin,” a four-part TV miniseries that frequently suggests a cross between “True Detective” and Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops, while remaining every inch a Dumont movie, from its windswept northern French locales to its sometimes discomfiting use of nonprofessional actors. The odd mix of elements makes for an alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) hilarious and unsettling whole, and yet another compelling example of established bigscreen auteurs finding their richest opportunities in longform television. (Kino Lorber)
— Scott Foundas
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The Search for General Tso
The hunt for a mystery man of Chinese-American cuisine spreads out across the globe in “The Search for General Tso,” an ebullient inquiry into the origins of that staple dish of Chinese restaurants far and wide: General Tso’s chicken. Who was this General Tso? And did he really like to eat chicken? Such are the penetrating questions director Ian Cheney (“King Corn”) sets out to answer in this generously entertaining docu — a kind of culinary “Searching for Sugar Man” — which also finds room for a thoughtful account of the Chinese-American experience, from the building of the railroads to the age of Panda Express. A welcome addition to the sudden surfeit of quality foodie docus, the pic boasts high-end production values and breezy pacing that should help it to win the hearts, minds and stomachs of niche auds in limited theatrical and VOD release. (Sundance Selects)
— Scott Foundas
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