Capsule reviews for Feb. 2

Bilal

It’s a shame that this Arabic animated drama is so heavy-handed, because it offers an accessibly positive portrayal of the Islamic faith, along with worthwhile lessons about inclusiveness, loyalty and determination. It’s inspired by the seventh-century true story of the title character (voiced by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who was raised as a slave to a greedy landowner but dreams of someday becoming a warrior to fight oppression and gain his freedom. The film might be too dark and violent for small children, even if the crisply detailed animation is colorful and vibrant. However, the screenplay suffers from awkward dialogue, predictable narrative twists and anachronisms, and earnest platitudes. (Rated PG-13, 107 minutes).

 

A Fantastic Woman

Transgender actress Daniela Vega’s powerhouse performance drives this impassioned yet restrained character study from director Sebastian Lelio (Gloria) about grief, tolerance and sexual identity. Vega plays Marina, a Chilean nightclub singer whose boyfriend, an older businessman named Orlando (Francisco Reyes), dies suddenly from a medical condition, sending Marina into a downward spiral. That opens her up to various forms of cruel degradation, from police suspicion about her involvement in the death to the enmity of Orlando’s family. Even through some rough narrative patches, the magnetic Vega and the film as a whole deserve credit for conveying a message of acceptance that feels relevant without turning heavy-handed. (Rated R, 104 minutes).

 

Like Me

This offbeat and ultraviolent crime drama lacks the narrative dexterity to match its visual ambition. It follows a lonely drug addict (Addison Timlin) who records acts of civil disobedience in an attempt to evoke reactions to her viral videos. Her inability to connect with actual humans is tested during the kidnapping of a motel manager (Larry Fessenden) that doesn’t go as planned. Benefiting from topical relevance and Timlin’s committed performance, the film signals promise for rookie director Robert Mockler, who demonstrates a confident visual style even if its cynicism and creepy atmosphere function mostly to stir the pot. At least the disturbed protagonist would approve. (Not rated, 83 minutes).

 

The Music of Silence

Fans of superstar tenor Andrea Bocelli might best appreciate this glossy biopic from director Michael Radford (Il Postino) based on the singer’s autobiographical novel. It chronicles Bocelli’s upbringing in Tuscany, where he became blind at an early age but developed an appreciation for opera. When he became older, Bocelli (Toby Sebastian) is mentored by a maestro (Antonio Banderas), flirts with beautiful women, and battles some inner demons. The straightforward screenplay takes a mostly hagiographic approach, eschewing subtlety while traversing familiar territory about overcoming obstacles. The result lacks depth, although it showcases some lovely Italian scenery and thankfully features some of Bocelli’s performances on the soundtrack. (Not rated, 115 minutes).