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Mark Ruffalo, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide

Mark Ruffalo, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide

“INFINITELY POLAR BEAR” My rating: C+

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There are moments in “Infinitely Polar Bear” that feel so true and right that you just know they were lifted directly from the life of filmmaker Maya Forbes.

Starring Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana, the picture is based on Forbes’ childhood, when for several months she and her younger sister were raised by their mentally troubled father while their mother earned an MBA.

When it comes to depicting the ups and downs of a person with bipolar disorder, this movie is right on target.

But  Forbes has been unable to fashion these incidents into a compelling narrative. For all the authenticity of its situations, “Infinitely Polar Bear” (that’s the girls’ code for their father’s bi-polar issues) is an emotionally muted and frustrating experience.

Cameron Stuart (Ruffalo) is a loving dad, if an unreliable provider.  The black sheep son of Boston Brahmins, he is unable to hold a job and supports his wife Maggie (Saldana) and his daughters Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) with a monthly stipend provided by his rich grandma.

That’s just enough money to pay for a cheap apartment and food for the table.

Maggie, who has the patience of a saint, somehow copes with Cameron’s mood swings.   Sometimes he is crazily active, seizing on some event or activity and devoting himself to it with religious zeal.  This is why the apartment looks like hoarder central, littered with greasy bicycle parts and other projects that never quite get completed.

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Jake Gyllenhaal in "Southpaw"

Jake Gyllenhaal in “Southpaw”

“SOUTHPAW”  My rating: B- 

123 minutes  | MPAA rating: R

Terrific acting and fight film cliches battle to a split decision in Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw,” yet further proof both of Jake Gyllenhaal’s awesome range and of the odds against making a truly original boxing picture.

Gyllenhaal is mesmerizing as Billy Hope, who turned a tormented childhood on the streets into a lucrative career as the light heavyweight champion of the world.

Billy is not a subtle fighter. Fueled by anger, he absorbs punch after punch until his opponent is worn out, then murders the bum. This strategy usually leaves him with a championship belt and a face like a raw Big Mac.

In contrast to his rage in the ring, Billy’s home life is actually kind of normal.  Yeah, he lives in a gated multimilliion-dollar compound outside NYC, but his relations with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), whom he has

been with since his days in juvie, and their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) are practically blissful.

But happy homes don’t make for dramatic movies. The screenplay by Kurt Sutter (creator of cable’s “Sons of Anarchy”) relies on over-the-top melodrama to remove McAdam’s Maureen from the scene, setting Billy on a downward spiral that will see him lose his boxing license, his title, his wealth and his mind.

Worse of all, he loses Leila to the child welfare folks.

Mostly “Southpaw” is about how — having been reduced to a lowly and primitive state –Billy slowly comes back. His Yoda in all this is Tick (Forest Whitaker), who used to train big-time boxers but now operates a rundown gym catering to at-risk kids.

Under Tick’s tutelage Billy learns to control his anger, employ defensive tactics (apparently for the first time), and develop the patience necessary both to win in the ring and earn the trust of a dubious family court judge.

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tribe-from-the-alpha-violet-catalog“THE TRIBE” My rating: B

132 minutes | No MPAA rating

“The Tribe” is a foreign language film, but not in the way we’re accustomed to.

Set in a rundown school for the deaf in Kiev, Ukraine, this feature from writer/director Miraslov Slaboshpitsky offers not a word of spoken dialogue. The cast members — all deaf — converse in sign language. There are no subtitles.

Which means that viewers had best pay close attention to what happens on the screen. You can’t let your eye wander and expect the soundtrack to fill in the blanks.

“The Tribe” blends the boarding school movie — in which a new kid struggles to fit in — with a crime drama. Perhaps more important, it gives us entry to an insular environment in which young people band together to deal with a hostile outside world that they view with anger and contempt.

We witness all this through the eyes of the new kid (Gregory Fisenko). We don’t know his back story, where he came from or why at this relatively late stage of his education he finds himself in this particular institution. Perhaps he grew up in a rural area and now requires intensive study and immersion in deaf culture before entering adult life.

What he gets mostly is an immersion in crime.

Apparently lacking adult supervision except in the classroom, the students  run their own dormitories and have built a small criminal empire.  Attractive girls are driven out to a truck stop to earn cash from prostitution. Groups of deaf kids mug and beat pedestrians — especially if the victims have just paid a visit to a liquor store. There’s a suitcase filled with plump plastic bags — evidently drugs of some sort.

The new kid observes these goings on, endures a couple of beatings as a sort of initiation, and is gradually admitted to the criminal ranks. He seems to have no moral compass — indeed, none of the students do — and quickly adapts.

But he makes the mistake of falling for one of the coed hookers (Yana Novikova). For the cynical girl he’s just another trick, but for the new kid — delirious after his first sexual encounter — it’s much more. Now he’s willing to betray his confederates to ensure that he and his dream girl have a future together.

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** as the transsexual Sin-Dee

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as the transgender Sin-Dee

 

“TANGERINE” My rating: B+

88 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Caitlyn Jenner may have opened up a nationwide dialogue about the transgender experience, but it’s still business as usual for the shemales peddling their wares on L.A.’s mean streets.

Sin-Dee (a screen-dominating Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has spent most of December in county lockup. Freed on Christmas Eve, the transgender prostitute immediately hits her old haunts looking for Hector, her boyfriend/pimp/drug pusher.

But word on the street is that Hector has spent the last month carousing with the new blonde in his life. To add insult to injury, this interloper is alleged to be a natural-born woman. “Like, vagina and all…”

This will not stand with Sin-Dee, who possesses the armor-plated ego of a Sherman tank.  Practically shooting off sparks and a trail of smoke, she sets off on an all-day quest to find and reclaim her man.

“Tangerine” could have been played as tragedy.  But instead of pithy social commentary, writer/director Sean Baker dishes laughs.

The result is a rollicking comedy about chicks with dicks. The characters who inhabit this underworld are totally unapologetic about who they are and how they earn a meager living. Spending 88 minutes with them is more eye-opening and informative than a score of earnest documentaries.

Sin-Dee’s companion on this  sexually-charged hunt is Alexandra (Maya Taylor), who was never a big Hector fan but sticks by her friend out of loyalty.  Also, hitting every dive on the strip gives Alexandra an opportunity to pass out invites for her big stage debut that night at a local club. She sees herself as an up-and-coming chanteuse.

 

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Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

“MR. HOLMES” My raing: B- 

  104 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

 

Sherlock Holmes is one of fiction’s most enduring characters because of his fascinating idiosyncracies.  But smooth down those oddball edges and what’s left?

A bit of a bore, actually.

Less mystery than meditation, “Mr. Holmes” gives us Conan Doyle’s great detective in his dotage, retired for 35 years and living in solitude in a farmhouse on the Dover coast.

As envisioned by director Bill Condon, screenwriter Mitch Cullin (adapting his novel A Slight Trick of the Mind) and the great actor Ian McKellen, this is not the Holmes of the popular stories penned by his colleague Dr. Watson.

Indeed, Holmes has little regard for Watson’s fictions, which he dismisses as “absolute rubbish… penny dreadfuls with elevated prose.” This Holmes — aged 83 — maintains that he never wore a deerstalker hat — “an embellishment of the illustrator” — and was a cigar man, not a pipe puffer.

The fictional Holmes and the real man do have a couple of things in common. Both are deductive geniuses. And neither has any use for emotion, which only clouds the rational mind.  Facts may be strike us as pleasant or not, but at least they are neutral; cruelty and betrayal, on the other hand, are exclusively the result of human interaction.

But now Holmes’ life of the mind is failing him.  His memory is going. He may spend minutes staring aimlessly into space.

He’s tended to by his housekeeper (Laura Linney), a war widow — the year is 1947 — and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). As the film begins Holmes views these two as irritants.  Slowly, though, he and the boy hit it off, mostly over their shared enthusiasm for beekeeping.

The mother’s frustration that now she’s losing her boy to the old man isn’t eased by Holmes’ thoughtless observation that “Exceptional children are often the result of unremarkable parents.”

“Mr. Holmes” is about a case, but not a new one. Rather the film is filled with flashbacks to 1910 when Holmes was hired by a husband worried that his wife (Hattie Morahan) — distraught after repeated miscarriages — was maintaining a secret life. The erudite Holmes sleuthed out the facts of the matter but shrugged off the wife’s emotional advances, leading to consequences so disastrous he ended his career.

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Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez

Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez

“LILA & EVE”  My rating: C+ (Opens July 17 at the Cinetopia)

94 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Lila & Eve” starts strong by depicting the downward spiral of Lila (Viola Davis), the divorced mother of two boys whose college-bound son is gunned down in a random act of street violence.

It becomes a revenge yarn when Lila meets up with another bereaved mom, Eve (Jennifer Lopez), who goads her to take violent action against the thugs who put her through all this misery.

It’s like a feminist “Death Wish.”

Before it’s over, “Lila & Eve” has morphed into something right out of M. Night Shyamalan territory (not that the film’s big reveal will surprise anyone — I saw it coming practically from square one).

Given that Davis is one of our best actresses — and that Lopez isn’t bad in the right role — “Lila and Eve” does have some strong moments.

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Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal...fighting land grabbers in "Ardor"

Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal…fighting land grabbers in “Ardor”

“ARDOR” My rating: C+* (Opens July 17 at the Tivoli)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A fermented mashup of spaghetti Western imagery and art house pretensions, “Ardor” gives us Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal as…well, as Charles Bronson.

We first seen Bernal rising from a jungle river deep in the Argentine interior…he looks like some sort of primordial spirit.  Actually, he’s a farmer named Kai who has survived the burning of his homestead and the murder of his family by gun-toting goons.

Kai stumbles barefoot and shirtless to the farm of Jao (Chico Diaz) an old man scratching out a living with his daughter Vania (Alice Braga). But trouble follows in the form of three murderous brothers who force Jao to sign over his property and then kill him.  They take Vania as their prisoner.

Her new duties include cooking for and washing the clothing of her owners — and that’s just during daylight hours.

Happily Kai comes to the rescue, leading to a bout of jungle love (doesn’t look very comfortable) and a vendetta against the three killers and other mercenaries who have been making life miserable for the poor, hard-working farmers.

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