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Finn Little and friend

“STORM BOY” My rating : C+ (Now playing at the Town  Center 20)

98 minutes | MPAA ratingL

Some children’s films — “The Black Stallion,” say, or “Fly Away Home” — are too good for children.  They entertain the small fry, sure, but they appeal to adults on an even deeper, more resonant level.

And then there are films like “The Storm Boy,” an Australian effort that should keeps the youngsters diverted but which felt too contrived and deliberately constructed to keep this mature viewer enthralled.

This is the second film adaptation of Australian novelist Colin Thiele’s 1963 best seller about a boy and his pet pelican, and for modern audiences screenwriter/star Jai Courtney has provided a rather unwieldy framing story that finds the child hero of the original now an older man looking back on his past as he faces a big decision.

In the present retired businessman Mike Kingley (Geoffrey Rush) is called back for a family powwow about what to do with a strip of beach that was Mike’s boyhood home. The real estate is now hugely valuable and  Mike’s son-in-law, the current head of the business, has plans that, well, aren’t particularly environmentally friendly.

Mike must wrestle with his conscience over how he’ll vote in a board-of-directors showdown; part of that process is relating to his sullen granddaughter (Morgana Davies) — who doesn’t share the rest of her family’s rape-the-earth attitude — the story of how he grew up on that scenic bit of coastline.

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Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir

“WOMAN AT WAR” My rating: B

101 minutes | No MPAA rating

A middle-aged choir director maintains a double life as an eco-terrorist in “Woman at War,” an Icelandic film that despite its heavyweight themes maintains a surprisingly airy tone.

At 49 Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) lives what appears to be an unremarkable life in Reykjavik.  On her weekends, though, she loads up a backpack and heads deep into the country’s rugged, treeless interior where she wreaks havoc on the electrical grid.

Halla’s motives and how she came by them are never fully explained in the screenplay by director Benedikt Erlingsson and Olafur Emilsson.

Apparently she opposes an Icelandic/Chinese consortium dedicated to beefing up heavy industry, which Hanna believes will destroy the environment. She employs technology as basic as a bow and arrow and as sophisticated as military-grade explosives to bring down high-tension transmission towers, cutting off the juice to a large foundry she regards as a particularly odious polluter.

She’s a one-woman wrecking crew and the authorities employ everything from satellites to heat sensors, drones and flying squads of military commandos in an effort to put an end to Hanna’s activities.  She is surprisingly good at avoiding detection, though it’s pretty clear her days are numbered.

Now a yarn like this could be played for polemic drama, but director Erlingsson instead opts for whimsy.

There is, for instance, the musical score, performed by six musicians (pianist/accordianist, drummer, tuba player, and three women singers) not just on the soundtrack but in the film itself.  Thus as Hanna treks across a volcanic landscape she passes the musicians, who have set up their instruments in the wide open spaces. Occasionally the players — invisible to everyone save the audience — will react (wordlessly) to the scenes being played out in front of them.

Then there’s a semi-comic subplot about a bicycle-riding South American tourist (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) who is always at the wrong place at the wrong time and is arrested repeatedly on suspicion of being the terrorist. Worst vacation ever.

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Rachelle Vinberg

“SKATE KITCHEN” My rating: B

106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Some of us are  lucky enough to experience one adolescent summer of near  total freedom.  No job, no school, no responsibilities.

Just hanging out with your friends and trying — without too much angst — to figure out who you are.

That’s the situation offered in “Skate Kitchen,” Crystal Moselle’s docudrama-ish  study of female teen skateboarders whiling away the hot months on the streets of NYC.

The film is practically unplotted, drifting from one episode to another, this encounter to the next, without a whole lot of rhyme or reason. But as an immersive experience, one that puts you into the sneakers of its young protagonists, the film has few equals. It feels utterly, totally alive.

Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) is not looking forward to a summer cooped up in the Queens apartment she shares with her hospital worker single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez). The pair are almost always at odds over Camille’s love of skateboarding, which Mom views as dangerous; Camille has come up with all sorts of ingenious ploys to cover up how she’s actually spending her days.

Left to her own devices, Camille goes exploring, taking the train across the East River (clutching her skateboard the whole time) and probing the byways of Manhattan. She soon finds skateboard parks where others her age are doing their acrobatic stunts; little by little she is accepted by a group of girls who are as unfettered by convention as she is.

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“THE MUSTANG”  My rating: B+ 

96 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A violent, alienated man and an equally angry horse form an unexpected bond in “The Mustang,” an understated effort that often plays like documentary but carries the emotional weight of a classic drama.

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s film opens with a roundup of wild mustangs in a vast Western landscape. The animals are herded by  helicopters into stock pens. From there they are loaded onto trucks.

Cut to a Nevada prison where Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) has just joined the general population after  months in solitary confinement.  We never learn what he did to merit that treatment; all he’ll say is that he’s not good with people.

The prison psychologist (Connie Britton) struggles to get a word out of the sullen, withdrawn inmate. She’s trying to find a prison job or activity that will interest him. Finally she settles on the horse-training program, which takes recently captured wild mustangs and turns them into well-behaved riding horses that can be sold at auction.

Not that Roman overnight becomes a cowboy.  His main job involves shoveling shit. But he’s intrigued by the violent horse that occupies a metal shed on the prison grounds. The animal inside spends all day banging on the walls and shrieking its defiance. It’s a kindred spirit.

The old hand who runs the program (Bruce Dern) believes the horse is too mean to be domesticated, but gives Roman — who has absolutely no background with these animals — a chance to train the beast. If it doesn’t kill him first.

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Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard

“THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT” My rating: C+ 
110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Hummingbird Project” could be described as a race-against-time movie.

Two cousins risk everything to build a high-speed internet “highway” between Kansas and the East Coast, all to shave a few microseconds off the time required to send the latest stock market updates halfway across the continent.

Why bother? Because a microsecond head start on the competition — the time it takes for a hummingbird to flap its wings just once — could mean millions in profits.

Kim Nguyen’s drama is acceptable if unremarkable in most respects. It  features a vintage Jesse Eisenberg performance (i.e., arrogant nerd) and an atypical one from Salma Hayek (here toning down the sexuality to play a Wall Street shark).

Where “Hummingbird…” really shines, though, is in the work of Alexander Skarsgard, an actor who mostly has been seen as a hunky type (a charismatic vampire in “True Blood,” a predatory stepdad in “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” an abusive husband in “Big Little Lies,” a muscled tree swinger in “The Legend of Tarzan”).

Here Skarsgard plays an antisocial dweeb, a bald, soft-bellied algorithm cruncher more comfortable with his computer screen than other human beings. It’s such a startling transformation that initially he’s unrecognizable. It’s a classic case of an actor getting lost in his role.

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Lupita Nyong’o

“US” My rating: B+

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Humor and horror are strange bedfellows. Usually one negates the other.

But in “Us,” writer/director Jordan Peele’s followup to the spectacular “Get Out,” finds just the right balance between the goofy and the ghastly. The result is a horror movie quite unlike anything we’ve seen, one that mixes a family survival tale with supernatural elements and wraps it all up in a mind-boggling apocalypse.

All while leaving you chuckling.

The story begins in the mid-80’s when little Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders away from her parents at a beachside amusement park in Santa Cruz. She finds her way to a creepy mirrored funhouse where she encounters her own doppleganger…a little girl who looks exactly like her.

Jump to the present, where the adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is vacationing with her family — husband Gabe (Winston Duke), teen Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and little Jason (Evan Alex) — at her late grandmother’s semi-remote house in the forest outside Santa Cruz.

After the creepiness of the prologue Peele plunges into a family comedy.  Dad is a big friendly doofus, the sort of guy who is always humiliating his adolescent daughter, who rarely looks up from her smart phone. Little Jason is a weird kid who goes through life wearing what looks like a snarling gorilla mask.

As for mother Adelaide…well, she does the usual mom stuff. But being so close to the scene of her childhood trauma — after which she didn’t speak for months — has her cringing.  A trip to the beach finds her suppressing hysteria despite the presence of old friends Kitty and Josh (Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker) and their twin teen daughters.

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Julianne Moore, John Turturro

“GLORIA BELL” My rating: B-

102 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Julianne Moore elevates every film she’s in, and she’s pretty much the reason to see “Gloria Bell,” an American remake by Sebastian Lelio of his 2013 Chilean drama “Gloria.”

As the title character — a middle-aged divorcee whose main pleasure is hanging around L.A.’s retro disco dance clubs with other folk her age   — Moore hides behind outsized glasses and a semi-mousey makeup job…neither of which begin to hide her star quality.

Gloria’s fixation on ’80s dance music — she’s in constant singalong mode whenever cruising with the car radio — softens the hard edges of her life.

She’s been single for a dozen years. Her son (Michael Cera) is currently a solo dad (his wife apparently has abandoned the family);  her daughter (Caren Pistorius) is in a long-distance romance with an extreme surfer from Sweden.  Neither offspring seems particularly warm toward her.

She works at an insurance company where her specialty is coddling customers shaken by auto accidents.

The script by Lelio and Alice Johnson Boher is a love story…sorta.  Alice meets newly divorced Arnold (John Tuturro) at a dance club where he stares at her from afar and defuses her sullen mood by asking if she’s always so happy.

He woos Alice with  paintball (he owns a paintball preserve; she turns out to be a dead shot) and their shared love of boogying down on the dance floor. And he reads funny/romantic poetry to her.

But there’s a problem. Arnold cannot break away from his needy ex and their even more needy daughters.  He’s at their mercy day and night, and it doesn’t take Alice long to figure out she’s always going to be a runner up in the race for his affections.

“Grow a pair,” she tells him.

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