⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for language, brief sexual content.
Those cagey Brits. As they did with “The Full Monty,” “Brassed Off” and “Made in Dagenham,” they’ve once again taken a labor crisis, smarmed it up shamelessly and turned out a thoroughly enjoyable movie. This time it’s the true story of a group of gay activists in 1980s London coming to the aid of a small Welsh townful of striking miners in the midst of Thatcher’s redundancy crackdown — and the dawn of the AIDS epidemic.
Marquee names including Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton as supportive villagers make due-diligence appearances, but this show really belongs to lesser-known actors Ben Schnetzer and George MacKay as two of the earnestly determined young men who raise money for the miners and, even more unbelievably, win them over in an era when homophobia was 10 times as socially acceptable as it is today.
Tip of the hard hat to director Matthew Warchus, who has helmed only one other movie, the forgettable, 15-year-old “Simpatico,” but has been a multiple Tony nominee for his work on Broadway, including a win for “God of Carnage” in 2009. He recently succeeded Kevin Spacey as creative director at the Old Vic in London.
MEET THE MORMONS
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG for some thematic elements.
Theater: Eden Prairie.
This slick, upbeat Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-backed documentary aims to answer what it insists are false images of the church, “shaped by the media and popular culture.”
The film’s fresh-faced, blue-eyed, blond narrator informs us that Mormons “come in all shapes, sizes and colors.” We meet nonwhite Mormons from Atlanta to Nepal. Their wholesomeness is refreshing. Their optimism, and the film’s, is boundless. But from the cherry-picked “stereotypes” to the sins of omission that follow, “Meet the Mormons” is nothing but propaganda.
The film addresses the church’s reputation for “racism” without mentioning the long history in which that was true. The same gloss-it-over approach is used on the church’s sexist, patriarchal heritage. And nobody brings up the homophobia that stormed out of the closet when Mormon money and organizers pushed California’s anti-gay Proposition 8.
By being, in essence, a wholesome, sugar-coated recruiting film, “Meet the Mormons” seems destined to preach only to the choir, the most famous of which is in that famous Salt Lake City Tabernacle.
ROGER MOORE, Orlando Sentinel
THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for violence, language, smoking.
Check your Ripley comparisons at the door. While this is also an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith thriller set in chic, mid-20th-century Europe, featuring a charismatic, duplicitous young antihero, it’s nowhere near as gripping as Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” But it’s intriguing enough, largely due to the performance of doe-eyed up-and-comer Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) as Rydal, an American expat working as a tour guide in 1962 Athens while making his real bank by scamming clueless wealthy tourists on overpriced souvenirs.
Shortly after meeting chic-but-shady financier Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and his younger wife, Colette (Kirsten Dunst), Rydal becomes more entwined with them than he’d like to be. All three are forced to go on the lam as a flirtation between Rydal and Colette mucks things up, culminating in a deadly game of oneupmanship between the guide and the fraudster. A stylish directorial debut for screenwriter Hossein Amini (“Drive”).
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Theater: St. Anthony Main.
In concert, magnetic brooder Nick Cave likes to pick out specific people in the front row and “terrify them.” His biggest fear is losing his memory. Such nuggets make this fictionalized account of a day in the life of Australia’s most poetic rock export worth the watch, though there’s a lot more talkety-talk than music-making.
Look closely in the beginning and you’ll catch a warp-speed montage of hundreds of actual scenes from Cave’s history, followed by a sit-down with a psychoanalyst and car rides around Brighton, England, where Cave lives, with various pals including pop queen Kylie Minogue and actor Ray Winstone. Fans will soak up every moment, but some of Cave’s revelations — performing is a communal experience, on some level we all want to be someone else, when I first met my model wife visions of beauty icons throughout history danced in my head — seem to out him as less profound than his artistic persona.
You might come away wishing he’d remained a bit more enigmatic. Then again, that morose rascal is probably just having us on.
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: R, for strong violence, language, some drug use and sexuality.
Theaters: Arbor Lakes, Coon Rapids, Lakeville.
A pretty crafty genre pastiche until it stalls, director Adam Wingard’s “The Guest” introduces its title character, David (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) after he knocks on the front door of a small-town New Mexico family that recently lost their older son in the Iraq War. The mysterious combat veteran ingratiates himself into the family of his fallen comrade.
Why has this handsome stranger come here, beyond paying his respects to his friend’s surviving family?
Audience sympathies are intriguingly scrambled in “The Guest,” and in the byplay between siblings played by Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer, especially, we get a nicely lived-in sibling relationship grounding this low-budget thriller. But when the secrets of David’s circumstances and motives start spilling into the daylight along with more and more blood, “The Guest” does a strange thing. It becomes flat-footed and a bit dull.
MICHAEL PHILLIPS, Chicago Tribune
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images and some sensuality.
This vampire tale attempts an origin story for Vlad the Impaler, taking the Transylvanian hero back to his days in service to the Turkish sultan. That’s when the hostage warrior learned to stick his enemies’ heads on a spike.
“Untold” picks up the story after Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) has returned home to rule Transylvania, paying tribute to the Turks to keep the peace. All he wants is to sleep with his comely wife (Sarah Gadon) and raise his wimpy kid. Then the sultan (Dominic Cooper) ups the tribute. Not just silver coins, but boy hostages to turn into Turkish troops. And not just boys, but Vlad’s own son (Art Parkinson). That sends Vlad into the bat cave on Broken Tooth Mountain.
Charles Dance is the Nosferatu-garbed monster in the cave, a balding, toothy villain in the great tradition of British vampires. The moment he shows up, all shadowy menace and prophecy, “Dracula” gets interesting.
This is a straight two-genre genre picture (vampires, sword and sorcery), well-mounted, with whirlwinds of bats and gloomy, moon-clouded nights. Director Gary Shore’s use of self-aware humor helps make “Dracula” watchable.