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Dancing, Riding & Catting Around This Weekend

This week’s new theatrical films will take you dancing in the desert or riding at the rodeo. Or you could just stay home and have the wits scared out of you by a seldom-seen 1934 thriller.

Desert Dancer
The central characters (a band of dancers trying to defy the Iranian government’s ban on their art) are plenty young and pretty. But their true story — of ordinary people who consider artistic expression essential to their being — is timeless. The distractingly by-the-numbers storytelling is redeemed by several glorious interludes of exquisite dance.


The Longest Ride
Superhunk Scott Eastwood ( Clint’s son) and superhottie Britt Robertson ( Under the Dome) costar in this latest weepie from the pen of Nicholas Sparks ( The Notebook). But for acting aficionados, Alan Alda (in a small but pivotal role) provides the real eye candy.


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Still out there:

5 to 7
Embedded in this disarming comedy about a young New York novelist ( Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin) having an affair with a married Frenchwoman (Bérénice Marlohe) are sparkling, don’t-miss performances by Glenn Close and Frank Langella as the guy’s quirky but devoted parents.

50 Shades of Grey
We’re not supposed to laugh out loud at a movie that features beautiful young people having kinky sex, right? Yet that’s precisely what happens almost from the moment we meet billionaire bondage boy Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his oh-so-willing submissive partner (Dakota Johnson).

Renegade animator Bill Plympton has created a true toon for grownups — a darkly engaging fantasy about the wife of a helpless philanderer who finds a way to magically become each and every one her husband’s lovers. Opening in limited theaters and available this month on Video on Demand.

Disney’s live-action adaptation of the animated classic keeps the most charming elements of the original’s damsel-in-distress scenario and transforms the central character into a strong-willed young woman determined to overcome her dismal plight at the hands of a truly wicked stepmother ( Cate Blanchett).

Danny Collins
Al Pacino triumphs in this joyful story of a legendary pop-music star who faces a late-midlife crisis when he discovers that, way back in 1971, John Lennon had written him a letter urging him not to sell out as an artist. The superb cast includes Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Garner and Bobby Cannavale (FULL REVIEW)

The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Even after watching the trailer, we have no idea what this movie is about, but the first installment ( Divergent, natch) made $260 million. It looks a little bit like The Hunger Games, so there’s that. If nothing else, director Robert Schwentke’s name is fun to say.

Effie Gray
Writer/costar Emma Thompson ( Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice) has dipped into Britain’s bonneted past one time too many, producing this lifeless account of the loveless “marriage,” if you want to call it that, between Victorian artist John Ruskin (Greg Wise) and his decade-younger bride, Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning).  (FULL REVIEW)

Furious 7
“What’s that?! Sorry, but you’re going to have to scream louder over all these revving engines!” Seriously, Vin Diesel: Put a muffler on it.

Get Hard
This comedy about a convicted exec ( Will Ferrell) who hires a streetwise guy who owns a car wash (Kevin Hart) to help him prepare for prison commits any number of offenses. The worst? It reminds us how desperately we miss Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, who played the same gag to untouchable perfection in Stir Crazy.

The Gunman
Perhaps hoping to carve out a Liam Neeson–like action-movie career, another great screen actor,  Sean Penn, picks up a sidearm and leaps into the abyss. Here he’s a retired hit man trying to turn his life around — but, of course, his past catches up with him. Mayhem ensues.

Maps to the Stars
Despite a great cast — including  Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson — director David Cronenberg’s satire of Hollywood is as phony as the culture he attempts to skewer. ( FULL REVIEW)

Run All Night
Liam Neeson’s got a gun. His son is threatened by the mob. Silent Night it’s not. FULL REVIEW

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
In this sequel the original stars (including  Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy) prove to be just as delightful the second time around. Regrettably, the script adds precious little to the  first installment. Yes, Richard Gere is charming as a new guest, but young Dev Patel wins Actor We’d Most Like to Defenestrate. (FULL REVIEW)

While We’re Young
A middle-aged documentary maker ( Ben Stiller) and his wife ( Naomi Watts) add some spark to their humdrum lives when they befriend a couple nearly half their age (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Bonus points for Charles Grodin as Stiller’s father, resplendent in a tux. (FULL REVIEW)

Woman in Gold
Helen Mirren is the real golden girl in this true story of Maria Altmann, the woman who sued the Austrian government to recover a painting the Nazis stole from her family. As her young L. A. attorney, Ryan Reynolds at first merely humors his client, but soon he’s as blindly driven as she is to bring home the painting, Glustav Klimt’s “Woman in Gold.” (FULL REVIEW)


New on DVD/BluRay and Video on Demand (VOD)

The Black Cat (1934) (VOD)
The setup is familiar: Three people — a honeymooning couple and a mysterious stranger — take refuge in the remote house of an obviously mad scientist. For the short 65 minutes of this poison dart of a film, horror greats Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff play a chilling game of cat-and-mouse that involves hallucinogenic drugs, a collection of dead women under glass, that titular cat and, most gruesomely, someone getting skinned alive. The Black Cat is still as stylishly shocking today as it was for the audiences unprepared to see it on its release in 1934.

A Most Violent Year
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain star in in this tale from writer-director J. C. Chandor ( All Is Lost, Margin Call) of an immigrant couple trying to make a go of it in New York City in 1981 — statistically one of the deadliest years in Big Apple history.

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