Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you. Quite literally so in the case of this boogeyman movie. Young marrieds Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne discover that their little boy, Ty Simpkins, is possessed. The little lad is in an irreversible coma, his wandering soul stuck in a limbo full of thugs and troublemakers. The film, from the "Saw" duo of director James Wan and writer/cameo player Leigh Whannell, apes the home-video aesthetic of "Paranormal Activity." Dingy lighting and creaky, cramped hallways goose up the spook factor; there's little explicit gore. There are a few solid scares, an eerie rendition of Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," and a nice turn by Whannell and Angus Sampson as squabbling ghostbusters. But the film is weighed down by too many forehead-palming lapses (How does a community college teacher afford to live in a mansion? Is Barbara Hershey exclusively doing creepy-mom roles now?) and an overall sense of "been there." A doctor examining the couple's unconscious son declares "I've never seen anything like it." Don't get out much, eh, doc?
The tough and touching father-son relationship at the heart of "The Music Never Stopped" elevates the movie above its microbudget indie roots. Lou Taylor Pucci, a 1960s flower child estranged from his conservative parents, returns to their lives in the '80s. A brain tumor has ravaged his memory, but he responds to the rock that he loved and his father loathed. In order to reconnect, dad (J.K. Simmons) becomes a reluctant rock scholar, eventually sharing his son's bliss at Grateful Dead standards like "Touch of Grey." Based on a real-life case study by neurologist/author Oliver Sacks, the film explores the elusive magic of music and the misfiring of the human mind. Simmons shines in a rare leading role, Pucci is good as the not-all-there son and Julia Ormond makes a welcome return as his sympathetic therapist. The tone is not that far from a Hallmark TV movie. Director Jim Kohlberg is determined to manipulate your emotions; he succeeds.
With revolution sweeping North Africa, "Outside the Law" couldn't be more timely. A red-meat melodrama following three outlaw brothers through the Algerian revolt against France, the film borrows unabashedly from "The Godfather." Roschdy Zem is the prim intellectual who becomes an executioner for the revolutionaries. Sami Bouajila is the war-weary hero back from Indochina. Snub-nosed Jamel Debbouze ("Amelie," "Days of Glory") steals the show as the pimp/racketeer/boxing promoter who'd rather train an Algerian middleweight champion than fight the French. It's a ham-handed "issue" movie that preaches to the converted, but the mid-century threads look cool and those Coppola moments remain effective all these years later.
★★★ out of four stars Where: Lagoon. In subtitled French.
Not too deep but oh so pretty, "Heartbeats" presents a hyper-stylized look at a love triangle, a sort of "Jules and Jim" for millennials. Montreal wunderkind Xavier Dolan, a former child star turned director, has technical flair and visual elan at 21 that filmmakers twice his age (or older) would envy. Dolan and Monia Chokri play close friends who both fall for playful, gorgeous Niels Schneider, who has the tousled blond ringlets of a Raphael cherub. Whether the subject is Chokri sauntering slo-mo in a beautiful violet dress or Schneider sensuously feeding Dolan a toasted marshmallow on a stick, the look of the film is never less than ravishing. Dolan isn't just infatuated with love, he's head over heels for cinema. With a bit more depth and maturity, he could be a star of global art cinema.