Presenting Princess Shaw
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: in English and subtitled Hebrew.
Here’s a heart-stirring documentary about Samantha Montgomery (Princess Shaw), a dirt poor but hugely talented Louisiana composer/vocalist with dreams of becoming a YouTube personality. Well, as Israeli director Ido Haar demonstrates, miracles happen. He approaches Princess Shaw to appear in his internet doc. What he knows, and she doesn’t, is that producer Ophir Kutiel (known as Kutiman) has secretly sculpted her songs into superstar quality remixes and is about to host her global debut. There are moral questions about Haar and Kutiel keeping their secret from the main character through much of their documentary, but the movie makes you appreciate how random acts of kindness can change lives. It’s a millennial twist on “American Idol,” with the subjects and filmmaker each using technology to produce something new and astounding.
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: In subtitled Mandarin.
What a hoot! Director King Hu’s 1967 martial arts classic is back in a remastered 4K digital transfer that sends his acrobatic swordsmen pirouetting through the air in perfect form. Packed with action and wit, it fills a wayside hotel in China with good guys on the run, bad guys in pursuit, and heroes set to save the day. It’s full of wry oh-no-he-didn’t moments of catching arrows inches before they strike, playing switcheroo with cups of poisoned liquor, and balletic combat. Hu’s a solid actor’s director, amusing screenwriter and a craftsman of great visual invention. His crisp compositions and unfussy editing keep the whirling, gyrating stunts from feeling like puppetry. And there’s wonderful humor; a pretty young actress whose character pretends to be a boy manages to fool a whole lot of the royal court’s secret police. It’s a fabulous dream of a movie. You get the feeling that Quentin Tarantino drew a lot of the “Kill Bill” movies and “The Hateful 8” from this textbook; it’s clearly the goofy ancestor of Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for violence, language and sexuality. Subtitled.
The living, the dying and the dead populate this superb French thriller balancing gang violence, refugee plight and family drama. You never know where director Jacques Audiard will take you. Sometimes you may be shocked; other times delighted. A Sri Lankan man, woman and 9-year-old girl pose as a family to flee its civil war with a deceased man’s passport. In Paris they maintain their lie to avoid deportation. As the caretaker of a housing complex, Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) hopes to erase the scars of his military past. His pretend wife (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), finds work caretaking an elderly man whose apartment hosts commanders of the area’s drug trade. When a turf war between rival mobs re-creates the chaos that chased them from their homeland, Audiard tells the harrowing tale without a wasted shot or scene. The finale may recall the climax of “Taxi Driver,” but the wonderfully reloaded postscript feels unlike anything else: It’s life going on.
The Conjuring 2
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for horror violence
James Wan’s 2013 surprise haunted farmhouse hit “The Conjuring” reinvents that flat wheel with this unnecessary spinoff. It’s a ramshackle ghost story that Stephen King would throw at his trash can. Further “based on a true story” demonology, it again follows Amityville paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) — working-class folk who know in their hearts that what you believe means more than what brainy science can prove. This time they’re sleuthing reported spooks in a London row house resembling a roach motel. Cue agony and special effects. As the most terrorized of four children, Madison Wolfe gives her character a mix of skittish anxiety and pulp menace. Are the nightmares possessing her suited to psychological inquiry or the Warrens’ form of crucifix-waving voodoo Catholicism? It hardly matters as long as there are shadowy ghosts lunging in the dark, squeaking doors and a dank basement as flooded as an Olympic pool. Those most likely to be rattled here are people who find endless jump scares monstrously boring.
Time to Choose
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: Unrated, but might be alarming to young children.
Which do you prefer: hope or truth? It’s a tough question when it comes to films about the environment. Al Gore went with hard facts in 2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” which tried to convert global-warming deniers. A decade later, America remains divided. Perhaps that’s why Charles Ferguson’s climate change documentary “Time to Choose” is so upbeat. The film tries to charm naysayers. Its talking heads include industry insiders — solid capitalists who explain the long-term economic benefits of going green. Ferguson is nobody’s fool: He went for the jugular with “Inside Job,” his Oscar-winning exposé of the banking crisis. “Time to Choose” is an intelligent documentary from one of our most effective truth-tellers.
Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer