⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for terror, language and some sexual material
Theater: New Vision Oakdale 20


Impeccably well-made, this feature debut by brothers Abel and Burlee Vang shows that even a predictable horror film can boast diabolical energy, creative confidence, awesome production values and solid structure. Shot with excellent noir-esque cinematography in stately Los Angeles interiors, it sets high expectations right from the opening, and it executes the plan to near-perfection.

The classic teen-horror elements are familiar. After the unexpected death of their friend, a half-dozen high school chums — the blonde, class clown, tech nerd, girlfriend, etc. — find that Mr. Bedevil, the new personal assistant app for smartphones, has migrated into theirs from their deceased friend’s. With insults and a wicked cackle, Mr. Bedevil starts giving them commands, exploiting their deepest fears and eliminating them one by one, akin to a surreal HAL 9000.

The Vangs, who won the Motion Picture Academy’s prestigious 2011 Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting, are sticklers for tight plotting, the sort of attention to detail that raises this bonechiller to a well-created genre gem. Viewers, especially those with unease about evil clowns or especially unsettling endings, will find it a very shivery, very giddy 90-minute thrill ride.


⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated by the MPAA. Mature themes. In subtitled Polish and Russian.
Theater: St. Anthony Main


Although he was heavily injured in World War I, losing an arm and a leg in military service, Wladyslaw Strzeminski went on to become one of Poland’s most important artists, moving modernist abstract painting and sculpture to unparalleled heights. But his avant-garde views fell out of favor in the late 1940s as the nation’s Communist leaders began to demand that art conform to their ideas of social realism. Those creative souls who remained individualist were considered enemies of the state and harshly censored.

In his last film before his death in 2016, legendary Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda dramatized Strzeminski’s later years, an artistic master exiled and humiliated for sharing his experimental view of the world. It is a film that is heavily didactic, with extended passages of dialogue that resemble ideological communiqués. It is also stunningly well acted and painfully powerful to view.

⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated but includes graphic violence and profanity. In English, subtitled Gaelic and French, and Latin.
Theater: AMC Apple Valley 15

If you thought that “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” would have been better with more graphic head bashing, a soundtrack of medieval Gregorian chants and no jokes, here is the film for you. Shot in bleak landscapes across Ireland, it gives us a look at the brutal dangers and general hardships of early 13th-century life.

A small group of monks slowly transports a holy relic from their cloister to Rome, its reverent power wanted by the Vatican to bless warriors soon to begin a new Crusade. They discover on the journey toward Italy that the richly jeweled case has other values for other seekers, threatening to fill more graves along its trail.

Primary roles go to Tom Holland (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”) as a naive young monk and Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s “Punisher” series, which hits Netflix in November) as a powerful, silent servant believed to be holding mute since his time in the previous Crusade. Still, the story moves at a tedious snail’s pace. Those with limited interest in chain-mail sheaths and theology should prepare to be as bored as I was.


The Nut Job 2
⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG


You’d have to be nutty to sit through this unengaging animated fable. The saga picks up where the first film left off, with Surly the squirrel (Will Arnett) and his friends having become complacent while an industrious squirrel named Andie (Katherine Heigl) struggles to teach her children to work. If the well-worn premise had any potential, it’s undermined by a screenplay that overexplains Surly’s stale jokes, making them even less funny than they already were.
Pat Padua, Washington Post


⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG
Theaters: Coon Rapids, Edina, Oakdale Ultracinema


This documentary chronicles the senior year at an all-female Baltimore high school that aims to get its entire graduating class accepted to college. The film focuses on a group of students who started a “step” dance team when they were 12 and hope to finally take home a championship.

Shown earlier this year at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, director Amanda Lipitz’s irresistible crowd-pleaser deftly balances the kids’ juggling act of heartaches at home and in school, their dedication on the dance floor and their determination to achieve success.
Jim Brunzell III

Once Upon a Time
⋆ ⋆ out of four stars
Not rated but contains violence. In subtitled Mandarin
Theaters: Eden Prairie, Inver Grove


“Once Upon a Time,” a CGI-heavy Chinese fantasy-romance, is based on a novel with such a complicated plot that a recent Chinese-TV adaptation of the book ran for 58 episodes. This movie’s condensed telling is somewhat bewildering, although the essentials eventually become clear. But then they’re really just a pretext for such fairy-tale wonders as an underwater city, a living island and a hummingbird air force.

The movie was codirected by Zhao Xiaoding and Hollywood special-effects veteran Anthony LaMolinara (whose credits include 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”). The elaborately costumed actors travel through a computer-generated magical universe and interact with animated characters (mostly realistic, although one incongruously resembles Sprout, Green Giant’s former spokes-vegetable). The imaginative visuals upstage the battle scenes and amorous intrigues.
Mark Jenkins, Washington Post


⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Not rated by the MPAA
Theater: Edina


Despite being born in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, writer Hampton Fancher, one of the seers behind the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner,” managed to push his way into an industry that he also transcended. “Escapes” is a thoroughly charming, thoroughly engaging portrait of him written, directed and produced by Michael Almereyda.

Fancher has recently bobbed up again in the entertainment news, a resurfacing largely traceable to the forthcoming release of “Blade Runner 2049,” a long-anticipated sequel that he helped write. Here, Fancher turns every walk down memory lane into a leisurely, surprise-filled stroll through a labyrinth, taking us right and then left and then down apparent dead ends before guiding us home.
Manohla Dargis, New York Times