(PG-13, 94 minutes, Universal): Measured against the low expectations that the name M. Night Shyamalan has come to engender in the hearts and minds of his former fans, “The Visit” is a triumphant return to form for the filmmaker of “The Sixth Sense,” whose once-promising career has steadily declined for at least the past decade. The new film is an effective if flawed psychological thriller, a modest campfire story with a solid, genuinely startling twist that is likely to restore the faith of some of his critics.
Two teenagers have come to rural Pennsylvania to visit their mother’s parents – in fact, to meet them for the first time. No sooner have 13-year-old Tyler and his older sister Becca (Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge) arrived in the home of Nana and Pop Pop (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) than the old folks start acting funny. Nana wanders around the spooky old farmhouse after dark, clawing at doors; Pop Pop is incontinent and forgetful. To a child, that’s understandably disturbing. To anyone who knows anything about age-related dementia and “sundowning” – the confusion sometimes experienced by seniors at night – it’s not that big a deal.
But Shyamalan’s script gradually cranks things up. By the end of Tyler and Becca’s week in the country, their grandparents really seem to have lost their marbles, setting the story up for the doozy of a corkscrew turn that’s coming. If it takes Shyamalan a while to get to that juncture – and it does – the payoff is worth the wait. Washington Post
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‘Infinitely Polar Bear’
(R, 88 minutes, Sony): Deeply personal and filled with love, Maya Forbes’ “Infinitely Polar Bear” nonetheless a hard movie to watch – hard to watch comfortably. Based on her experiences growing up with a father who was in and out of institutions, diagnosed with manic depression, Forbes’ film throws a memoir-ish lasso around late-1970s Cambridge, Mass., where a family with a wildly careening dad, a mom trying to pursue a career, and two girls caught in the throes go about their lives.
Not an easy thing when Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo), the close-to-penniless scion of one of Boston’s wealthiest clans, drinks and smokes to excess, rides a bike around in his underwear, dreams up outlandish schemes, and screams out whatever agitated idea is bursting in his head. When he’s energized and elated, he’s as unstoppable as Harold Lloyd in a madcap silent-era romp. But when Cam falls, the chasm is dark and wide – and horrific for those in his proximity.
It’s textbook bipolar disorder, but because Forbes lived with and loved the real-life Cam, “Infinitely Polar Bear” keeps the emphasis on the breathless manic moments, the wayward industry of a man trying to do everything at once, spurred by his own sense of excitement and invention. It’s exhausting, but it’s also eccentric and charming. Philadelphia Inquirer
(PG, 123 minutes, Sony): Based on Philippe Petit’s memoir, “To Reach the Clouds,” and co-written by Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne, “The Walk” couldn’t be more pedestrian and earthbound as it slogs through the early parts of the wire walker’s pre-World Trade Center life. Only in the film’s final section, when it uses the magic of computer-generated imagery to astonishingly re-create Petit’s feat, making you feel as if you are on the wire with him, does “The Walk” begin to soar.
It’s a mark of how dramatically uninvolving the early parts of “The Walk” are that even as fine an actor as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Petit, can’t bring them to life. For one thing, Gordon-Levitt is hampered by a French accent that initially, at least, is unhappily reminiscent of cartoon character Pepé Le Pew. And he and everyone else has to cope with the film’s gee-whiz, sentimental tone that leads to ideas like having Petit narrate the film standing on the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Los Angeles Times
(R, 121 minutes, Lionsgate): “Sicario” opens with a SWAT truck crashing through the front wall of a drug lord’s house, prompting a chaotic gunfight. Before the audience has even gotten its heart rate under control, a sickening discovery is made: Forty-two bodies have been hidden behind the drywall, each one with a plastic bag covering its decomposing head. And that’s before a bomb, rigged as a booby trap, rips off a man’s arm. Emily Blunt plays Kate, the leader of that unfortunate FBI tactical team who volunteers for a mysterious interagency task force. The head of that team, played by Josh Brolin, dresses like a surfer and refuses to share many details of their mission with her. If “Sicario” falters, it’s only in its attempt to be more than a thriller. The movie works best when it sticks with Kate, whose fear is palpable and contagious. In the grim world of “Sicario,” the life-or-death situation that she finds herself in may not be the most geopolitically shocking, but it makes for electrifying drama. Washington Post
Also out Jan. 5
- “The Green Inferno”
- “Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”
- “Sleeping with Other People”
- “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Vasquez Story”
- “Broad City: Season 2”
- “Close Range”
- “Flesh and Bone”
- “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 10”
- “Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser”
- “True Detective: Season 2”