Capsule reviews for Sept. 8

The Challenge

There’s more style than substance in this documentary about falconry among wealthy Qatari sheikhs, but that’s part of the point. Excessive opulence drips from this avant-garde peek into a rich man’s competition that becomes secondary to the imagery that surrounds it, whether a private plane with passenger compartments for the treasured birds, or a Ferrari with a cheetah riding shotgun, or gold-trimmed motorcycles navigating sand dunes. Indeed, dialogue and context aren’t of much concern to Italian director Yuri Ancarani, who finds the beauty in the arid landscapes while providing an immersive and fascinating look at a subculture of modern excesses clashing with cultural and spiritual traditions. (Not rated, 69 minutes).



A little late in trying to ride the cinematic coattails of the Twilight franchise, this adaptation of the Lauren Kate fantasy novel nevertheless traverses similar territory in targeting the same audience. It follows Luce (Addison Timlin), who has difficulty making friends at a posh boarding school, in part because many of her classmates are fallen angels banished to Earth during a heavenly war. As she hallucinates about a past tragedy, Luce becomes romantically torn between two boys on opposite sides. The film bogs down in melodramatic brooding and supernatural nonsense without establishing much reason for emotional investment. But hey, at least everyone is pretty. (Rated PG-13, 91 minutes).


The Good Catholic

The internal conflict between spiritual obligations and latent romantic desires causes a crisis of faith for a young priest in this deliberately paced drama that likely won’t generate much interest beyond the faithful. Following in his late father’s footsteps, Daniel (Zachary Spicer) abides by the strict teachings of his mentor (Danny Glover) at a small Indiana parish. Yet his beliefs are tested when an impetuous yet vulnerable musician (Wrenn Schmidt) enters the confessional. The script by rookie director Paul Shoulberg is an earnest look at generational conflicts among priests that lacks a fresh spark. Daniel might be a good Catholic, but his movie could be better. (Rated PG-13, 96 minutes).


Gun Shy

Looking like a Latino version of guitarist Slash, Antonio Banderas has fun playing a washed-up rock star in this lackluster comic thriller from director Simon West (Con Air) that never matches the over-the-top enthusiasm of its star. Banderas plays Turk, who prefers boozing and reliving past glory than leaving his apartment. Eventually, his pampered wife (Olga Kurylenko) convinces him to take a vacation to Chile, where she’s kidnapped and held for ransom, prompting him to sober up and attempt a rescue. The ensuing hijinks were probably more fun in concept than execution, because the result is a laborious series of one-liners and contrived caper mayhem. (Rated R, 86 minutes).


The Limehouse Golem

Some stylish visual flourishes elevate an otherwise muddled murder mystery in this grisly and evocative period piece that takes place in Victorian-era London. That’s where Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) is assigned to track down an urban serial killer reminiscent of Jack the Ripper, only to have his clues lead to dead ends and creaky legends, until he starts questioning a widow (Olivia Cooke) accused of poisoning her husband in a separate case. Although it’s not consistently creepy, the screenplay by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass), adapted from Peter Ackroyd’s novel, throws some true-life characters into the fictional mix, which combines with Nighy’s performance to provide just enough intrigue. (Rated R, 109 minutes).



A potentially cool science-fiction concept yields only a standard-issue murder mystery in this far-fetched thriller about a controversial device that “records” unfiltered memories as a method of closure or catharsis for those who experienced them. However, when its creator (Martin Donovan) is mysteriously killed, an emotionally volatile man (Peter Dinklage) becomes convinced of foul play while his motives remain unclear to the widow (Julia Ormond). While Dinklage gives the material his best shot, the stylish touches from director Mark Palansky (Penelope) are undermined by the contrivances in his screenplay, which buries its gimmicky sci-fi elements in favor of manipulative melodrama about the value of preserving memories. (Not rated, 113 minutes).


School Life

Any cynics about the dwindling role that teachers have in shaping young minds might have their perspective changed by this affectionate documentary about John and Amanda Leyden, whose primary-age Irish boarding school resembles Hogwarts in appearance. But instead of magic, the couple teaches rock music alongside their reading, writing and arithmetic. The film follows the instructors for a year leading up to their retirement, adding a bittersweet layer to their usual upbeat outlook on childhood and education and leaving the future of the school in doubt. Using an observational verite style, the film manages to pay tribute to its subjects without turning preachy or sentimental. (Rated PG-13, 99 minutes).



Animals were definitely harmed in the making of this documentary, which chronicles the worldwide proliferation in the past decade of the big-game hunting industry, especially on African safaris. Although unfocused in spots, the film examines its issues from all sides, including that of a Texas hunter who dreams of shooting lions and rhinos, conservationists aiming to preserve species that are dwindling quickly, and corporate hunting guides looking to make money off affluent trophy-seekers. With such great access to his subjects, director Shaul Schwartz (Narco Cultura) conveys compassion for the animals without passing judgment on the humans who kill them for sport. It’s timely and provocative. (Not rated, 108 minutes).


The Unknown Girl

As a murder mystery, this Belgian drama isn’t very compelling. However, the latest from sibling filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (Two Days, One Night) is a powerful character study about obsession, guilt and socioeconomic despair. It’s bolstered by a strong performance by Adele Haenel as a dedicated doctor who ignores a knock on her door one night, then learns the next day that doing so might have prevented a young woman’s death. So she tries to investigate as a coping mechanism. The deliberately paced drama offers a perceptive examination of its working-class Belgian community, and the Dardennes infuse the material with their usual gritty authenticity. (Not rated, 106 minutes).