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Priest hits pay dirt

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Reviews

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW. And it's a mess on both sides. Another found footage cock-up based on the shaky premise that, somewhere in the bowels of the Earth, an alchemist hid a compound that can transform base materials into gold, heal wounds and give eternal life. But he hid the stuff in/near the gates of Hell, which are conveniently Paris adjacent. The central conceit isn't especially well formulated, and the movie that follows barely holds together.

Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), a multi-doctorate headcase, jets to Iran, then Paris to find the aforementioned Philosopher's Stone. Neither near-death nor supernatural visions deter her, and she enlists George (Ben Feldman), an unlikely classics master, to solve riddles and decode runes, and Benji (Edwin Hodge), whose primary role seems to be operating the video camera and getting scared. Veteran French catacombers/taggers agree to lead them down into the city's depths. In no time, they're climbing over piles of human bones, down circular corridors and through pools of blood and disembodied hands. They relive past traumas as the forces of evil pick them off one by one.

Feldman, who had a rich, ultimately devastating arc as Michael Ginsberg on Mad Men, is convincing, but the material never lives up to his treatment of it. The rest of the cast does serviceable work, but are called on mostly to scream, cry and run around with cameras strapped to their heads. There's potential in the idea — even if it borrows heavily from Indiana Jones — but it's lost in artless execution. R. 93m.

THE NOVEMBER MAN. The spy thriller seems a difficult genre to pull off. More often than not, you get John LeCarre adaptations minus the style and wit. Maybe because there are only so many possible variations on the rogue-spy-out-in-the-cold-double-cross formula, even the competently made ones — like The November Man — feel redundant.

Former master spy/super-killer Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is called out of retirement and sent to Moscow to extract a woman with inflammatory information about a Russian official. Unbeknownst to Deveraux, his former partner Mason (Luke Bracey) is also there to terminate the woman. Deveraux turns out to have a secret history with her, and after her death goes to war with the agency and down the rabbit-hole of Balkan conspiracy.

While well-acted, intermittently stylish and briskly paced, The November Man mostly feels like a movie out of time. It's a Cold War plot set in the present, which never quite works. The twists are served up softball style, the bad guys lack depth and the ending is too pat by half. And director Roger Donaldson (The Bank Job, The World's Fastest Indian) has trouble settling on a tone, with harsh transitions from sentimentality to nasty violence. This isn't a bad movie, but forgettable — a fair example of an overworked genre. R. 108m.

CALVARY. John Michael McDonagh, the slightly headier, if equally dark-skewing of the movie-making McDonagh brothers (Martin having made In Bruges and 7 Psychopaths), explores the seedy side of a small, seaside Irish hamlet, as he did to more comic effect in The Guard (2011).

In the opening, Father James (Brendon Gleeson) hears the confession of an unseen penitent, who reveals a childhood punctuated by repeated sexual abuse by another priest. The man tells the Father that he will kill him one week as a symbolic act: the murder of a good priest to shed light on the wrongdoing of bad ones. James spends the following days attending to his regular duties, spending time with his visiting daughter (Kelly Reilly), who recently attempted suicide, and navigating the increasingly aggressive darkness just beneath the surface of his seemingly idyllic village.

Calvary is exceptionally well acted, particularly by Gleeson, who imbues James with cynicism, affection and honesty. McDonagh populates the world of the movie with authentic, flawed, off-putting characters, all played remarkably well by the supporting cast. The cinematography is beautiful, the pacing sure-footed and the strategic use of the score is deeply effective. The thematic darkness of the material will likely alienate some, but I found it satisfying, if not always enjoyable — the type of movie we should see more of: a small, unique story, well-imagined and well-told. R. 100m.

— John J. Bennett

Previews

THE IDENTICAL. Separated twins lead very different but very musical lives. With Ashley Judd, Blake Rayne and Ray Liotta. PG. 107m.

Continuing

BOYHOOD. Richard Linklater's coming-of-age story filmed over 12 years. With Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. R. 165m.

THE EXPENDABLES 3. The third installment of the old-timers' action spectacle. This time, young blood and old-school don't see eye to eye. PG13. 126m.

THE GIVER. A young man's placid dystopia is rocked by the knowledge of how it came to be. With Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. PG13. 97m.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Unlikely heroes guard the galaxy from boredom in this clever, edgy and dazzling sci-fi blockbuster. PG13. 121m.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY. A family of Indian restaurateurs are up against a traditional, established restaurant owner (Helen Mirren). Warm, sincere, nostalgic filmmaking. PG. 122m.

IF I STAY. Chloe Grace Moretz decides whether or not to go into the light in this surprisingly good drama. PG13. 107m.

LET'S BE COPS. Two dolts impersonate cops to get free stuff and become popular. Poor timing for the studio. R. 103m.

LUCY. Half-baked plotting wastes Scarlett Johansson as a woman dosed with a drug that allows her to access the other 90 percent of her brain. R. 90m.

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT. Oh. Look. Another Woody Allen romcom. PG13. 100m.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR. Either we're getting old, or the adolescent fantasy and un-translated comic book tropes are. R. 103m.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. Hollywood unwisely reinvents the origin story and the world's most fearsome fighting team is duller than ever. PG13.

WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL. Underdogs. Inspirational locker room speeches. Social commentary. Life lessons. Football. PG. 115m.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill and Grant Scott-Goforth

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John J. Bennett

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