Rich twits party hearty in "The Riot Club"

Rich twits party hearty in “The Riot Club”

“THE RIOT CLUB” My rating: B-

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Most major universities have a secret society, an invitation-only clan that allows tomorrow’s leaders to behave like yesterday’s Neanderthals.

“The Riot Club,” director Lone Sherfig’s adaptation of Laura Wade’s stage play, is an angry expose of bad behavior in high places.

The film begins with a sequence set in the 17th century.  The hard-partying Lord Ryott dies at the hands of a cuckolded husband, and his fellow carousers at Oxford form the Riot Club to honor his lurid memory as a world-class debaucher.

In the present,  Alastair (Sam Claflin) and Miles (Max Irons, son of actor Jeremy) come to Oxford as freshmen. Both are sons of wealthy and privileged families.  But while Alastair is a moody, mean alcoholic, Miles is outgoing and open minded.  At least he’s willing to date below his caste, launching a romance with proletarian coed Lauren (Holliday Grainger of Showtime’s “The Borgias”).

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Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

“WHILE WE’RE YOUNG”  My rating: C+

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There may have been a time when we aged — if not gracefully — at least appropriately.

But in a society where youth is worshipped and Botox is a household word, how does one come to terms with getting older?

That question is at the heart of “While We’re Young,” writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest comedy — albeit a dour comedy that could have used a lot more more laughs.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as Josh and Cornelia, 40-something New Yorkers out of sync not just with youth but with their own peers. While their friends are now fully invested in parenthood and career paths, Josh and Cornelia have managed to avoid most of the trappings of middle age.

Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

He’s a documentary filmmaker who has spent the last decade futzing around with a project about a grizzled philosopher (Peter Yarrow of folk music fame) that he’ll probably never finish and that nobody will want to see. She’s the producer for her father, a legendary grand old man of documentaries.

They’ve no children, no car, no mortgage.

But their biological clocks are accelerating — he’s got arthritis and she’s conflicted over her inability to have a baby. Mortality is rearing its ugly head.

Enter Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), a young married couple auditing Josh’s documentary film class at a New York City university. Jamie endears himself to the filmmaker by claiming his life was changed by Josh’s early (and only successful) documentary.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR‘s WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article17831633.html

and Liam Helmsworth

Teresa Palmer and Liam Helmsworth

“CUT BANK”  My rating: C+ 

93 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Cut Bank” is a slice of country noir that despite an interesting cast and an array of eccentric characters still feels like a slice of warmed-over Tarantino.

Parts of it clicks. But the overall chemistry — that delicate blend of darkness and laugh-out-loud weird — lies just outside TV director Matt Shakman’s grasp.

In tiny Cut Bank, Montana — notorious as the coldest place in the continental U.S. — grease jockey Dwayne (a blah Liam Hemsworth) is out in a field of flowering canola videotaping

John Malkovich

John Malkovich

his high school girlfriend Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) when his camera records something unexpected in the background.

About 100 yards off a mail truck has stopped on the roadside.  The driver (Bruce Dern) gets out and walks toward a man approaching on foot. The man raises his hand, a shot is fired and the mail carrier falls.

The young lovers flee, then show the video to her sour-dispositioned father (Billy Bob Thornton) and the local sheriff (John Malkovich). The latter is so upset (it’s the town’s first homicide ever) that he immediately heads for the bathroom to throw up. Turns out this will be his ritual every time he encounters a corpse.

But when the lawman visits the crime scene there’s no mail truck and no body.

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Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds

Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds

“WOMAN IN GOLD” My rating: B- 

109 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Despite a tendency to dilute its message with easily digestible Hollywood moments, “Woman in Gold” provides the formidable Helen Mirren with yet another juicy role while raising some thought-provoking questions about art, ownership, and societal upheaval.

The subject is the real-life pursuit of California transplant Maria Altmann (Mirren) to reclaim several paintings stolen from her Jewish family in Vienna by the Nazis. The most  important piece is Gustav Klimt’s “Lady in Gold,” also known as “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” (Adele was Maria Altmann’s aunt). It and several additional Klimt paintings were looted by the Germans and after the war became the property of the Austrian state.

This film from director Simon Curtis (“My Week with Marilyn”)  follows parallel narratives  separated by six decades.

In the modern day  — roughly 1998 to 2006 — we follow the efforts of the octogenarian Altmann, operator of a high-end  Los Angeles fashion shop, to reclaim her family’s artwork. In this she is assisted by struggling lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), whose own family history is rooted in Austria — he is the grandson of classical composer Arnold Schoenberg.

They make for an odd couple legal team. Maria is a friend of Randol’s mother and hopes that he will “help me out on the side…like a hobby.” She’s opinionated, sometimes brusque and in your face.

Randol, on the other hand, is not terribly successful and struggling to make ends meet. He only fully gets involved when he realizes that the paintings Maria hopes to recover are worth upwards of $150 million.

Problem is, the Austrian government sees them as priceless, as part of that nation’s psyche, with “Lady in Gold” often compared to the “Mona Lisa.”  Maria’s initial efforts are rebuffed, and it is only after she sues the Austrian government through the American legal system — a case that will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — that her efforts gain any traction.

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hunting-ground“THE HUNTING GROUND” My rating: B+

90 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

When they last teamed up in 2012, documentarists Kirby Dick and Amy Zierling gave us “The Invisible War,” a look at sexual assault in the military so damning it forced the Pentagon to review its procedures.

Now Dick and Zierling deliver “The Hunting Ground,” a study of rape on college campuses that should be mandatory viewing for teens and their parents.

But even as this film throws a spotlight on the problem of campus rape, it also explains why American colleges will have to be dragged kicking and screening to confront the issue.

The doc begins with footage of young people learning that they’ve been accepted by their first-choice universities.  Tears of joy, high fives, back slaps and big hugs are in order.

For some the joy won’t last long. “The Hunting Ground” is filled with young women talking about being sexually assaulted — often even before their freshman classes have begun.

Dick and Ziering also interview a convicted campus rapist (allegedly reformed, his face is blurred) who discusses his methodology for locating, cultivating and attacking women.

The statistics presented here are horrifying. As many as 100,000 American women will be sexually assaulted on campus each year. And yet nearly half of all U.S. campuses report no rapes at all in any year. Something’s not right.

The film doesn’t suggest that all college men are rape crazy. These crimes are committed by no more than 4 percent of male students.  Yet the reluctance of the schools to investigate rape allegations and expel the perpetrators means that this criminal 4 percent are usually repeat offenders.

This doc works superbly on several levels.  First it lets these women tell their stories — and we find that overwhelmingly they have received no satisfaction from their administrations, which bury rape reports lest word get out that their campuses are unsafe. (One of the film’s subjects is a former college head of security who prematurely ended his career rather than be complicit in rape coverups.)

Campus rapes are rarely committed by strangers. “It’s the people you do know you’ve got to be worried about,” says one young woman.

Certain fraternities on certain campuses have earned reputations for drugging and sexually assaulting women at their parties. Several young women note that SAE stands both for Sigma Alpha Epsilon and “sexual assault expected.”

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merchants“MERCHANTS OF DOUBT” My rating: B

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Merchants of Doubt” begins with a display of sleight of hand by magician Jamy Ian Swiss, who explains that real magic lies in the ability to misdirect.

It then follows that idea into the world of business to show how the tobacco industry has thrived despite the overwhelming evidence that smoking is a major health risk.

The key to big tobacco’s survival was simply to equivocate.  To say that all  the evidence isn’t yet in.  Or that the evidence can be read in different ways.

In other words, to cast doubt on what the experts say.

“Merchants of Doubt” is an exhaustive look at how that sort of misdirection has become big business’s defense against scientific evidence of climate change, of pesticide poisoning of bees, vaccination safety or of any issue which doesn’t jibe with with the mercantile mindset.  You don’t have to introduce facts of your own — all you have to do is cast doubt on the facts presented by the opposition.

This documentary from Robert Kenner (“Food, Inc.”), based on Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s best seller, lays out the chain of custody, if you will, of this idea from tobacco to 21st-century politics. It delves into the spin-doctor industry that has developed over the last 60 years, an industry that provides “experts” and entire think tanks devoted to not disproving but simply raising doubt about any issue that might invite government scrutiny and regulation.

“Masters of Doubt” makes it clear that it’s all about keeping the guvmint out of our business. In fact, it makes a case that many of us simply cannot recognize facts that don’t jibe with our preconceived ideas of how the world works (or should work).

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Missy Peregryn, Jeff Roop...city slickers in the big woods

Missy Peregryn, Jeff Roop…city slickers in the big woods

BACKCOUNTRY  My rating: B-

92 minutes | No MPAA rating

If the movies have taught us anything it’s that bad things happen when city folk go stomping around in the woods.

In writer/director Adam MacDonald’s terse, borderline minimalist “Backcountry,” a couple of thirtysomething urban Canadians, Jenn and Alex (Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop), leave the city for a wilderness park.  It’s the end of the season, the leaves are turning, and they have the place pretty much to themselves.

Alex came to this park often as a child, and now he wants to introduce Jenn to its wonders. Moreover, he plans to pop the big question in the warm glow of a campfire.

Naturally it goes very, very wrong.

First there’s the visit to their campsite by a vaguely sinister  local guide (Eric Balfour) that generates the expected two-men-one-woman tensions.  But this interloper is merely a red herring.  The real danger lies just over the hill, has four taloned paws and very sharp teeth.

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