Having worked as an editor on To the Wonder, director A.J. Edwards seemingly adopted (or perhaps stole) the Terrence Malick touch for The Better Angels. His minimalist black-and-white version of the Abraham Lincoln origin story is a monument to the lyrical grandiosity that's defined Malick's work thus far. It's such a good copy that the film contains very little ingenuity itself, leaving a feeling of empty beauty in its wake.
Set in the dense, backwoods forests of Indiana in 1817, Edwards' overtly earnest biopic prances around the trees and shrubs of a harsh Eden, trying to catch up with young Abe (Braydon Denney), who follows around after his stern father (Jason Clarke) or one of his two mothers (Brit Marling gives way to Diane Kruger). The only civilization that matters is family. Within this structure, Abe experiences multiple life lessons that Edwards suggests are shaping this great mind and important person.
By minimizing the familiar historical elements of Lincoln's mythology to Bressonian levels of starkness (the famous log cabin is reduced to a unimpressive shack), The Better Angels seeks to demystify Lincoln as a symbol of history and firmly root his experience with the rest of humanity.
It's an admirable goal, but the end result is far too intoxicated by its own style. Roving Steadicam shots traverse the dense wilderness, tracking characters doing work and barely communicating. Occasionally, a rough-and-tumble rural voice will play over the pretty images, feeding narration and adding a regional flair.
The Better Angels, which opens Friday, Nov. 21, at the Ken Cinema, attempts to reconstruct an icon with the barest of materials. The final product is an impressively made Colonial Calvin Klein ad that does very little to expand the conversation on how minor moments define and propel the weight of American history.
The Better Angels: Shot in stark blackand-white photography, this poetic film tells the story of Abraham Lincoln's childhood, set against wood cabins and dense forests. Screens through Nov. 27 at the Ken Cinema.
Björk: Biophilia Life: This concert film takes viewers behind the scenes of Björk's live show at London's Alexandra Palace in 2013. Screens through Nov. 25, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Foxcatcher: Bennett Miller's dark sports film tells the tragic true story of the Schultz brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum), wrestlers who became forever entwined with the wealthy heir to the du Pont fortune (Steve Carell). .
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay— Part 1: Having just destroyed the Hunger Games infrastructure, Katnis returns home to lead the rebellion against the corrupt forces of the capital.
To Kill a Man: An indictment of governmental bureaucracy and fear, this revenge thriller from Chile looks at the lengths one man will go to protect his family. Screens through Nov. 27 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One time only
In Secret: Elizabeth Olson's despairing Parisian housewife breaks free from a loveless marriage when she meets her husband's alluring friend. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, at the Scripps Ranch Library.
La Ciudad: The lives of four Hispanic immigrants intersect while they try to start fresh in New York City. Screens at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death, & Supermarkets: Go behind the scenes with the innovative and charismatic Britpop band as they say farewell with a huge hometown show in their native Sheffield. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, at Reading Town Square in Clairemont and Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Pearl Peeps Viewer's Choice: The lady in charge is giving you, the viewer, the ultimate privilege of choosing the movie. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Arab Film Festival: This three-day festival celebrates the diversity and complexity of filmmaking from Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine. Runs Thursday, Nov. 20, through Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Get details at karamanow.org
22 Jump Street: In this referential sequel about sequels, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return as the bumbling undercover cops who rehash the same mission. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, through Saturday, Nov. 22, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Fryderyk Chopin: Documentary on the life and achievements of the famous Polish composer. Director Angelo Bozzolini will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. Screens at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21, at the Italian Culture Center in Little Italy.
Spirited Away: This beautiful story of a young girl who must enter a supernatural world to save her parents is arguably Hayao Miyazaki's ultimate masterpiece. Screens at midnight on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Ken Cinema.
Begin Again: Mark Ruffalo stars as a flailing record executive who finds inspiration and love with a new talent (Keira Knightley). Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 24, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village. A mini-concert featuring guitarists Anna Lee Fleming and Raelee Nikole begins at 5:30 p.m.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: John Hughes' rambunctious comedy about two men trying to make it home for Christmas is warning enough to stay home for the holidays. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Beyond the Lights: On the brink of superstardom, a talented young musician struggles with the pressure of the public limelight.
Dumb and Dumber To: In this sequel to the 1994 hit comedy, walking morons Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) return to the big screen to grace us with their idiocy.
Rosewater: Gael Garcia Bernal stars as a journalist who becomes imprisoned after filming the aftermath of the 2009 elections in Iran. It's directed by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.
The Liberator: Simon Bolivar (Edgar Ramirez) fights countless battles against the Spanish Empire in South America. Screens through Nov. 20 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Theory of Everything: Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is diagnosed with motor-neuron disease just as he's graduating with a doctorate degree in physics from Cambridge and starting a new life with his wife (Felicity Jones).
The Way He Looks: A blind teenager living in Brazil searches for his independence with the help of his best friend. Ends Nov. 20 at the Ken Cinema.
Awake: The Life of Yogananda: This documentary covers the life and influence of the famous spiritualist who brought Hindi practices to the west in the 1920s.
Big Hero 6: An inflatable robot develops a bond with a prodigy named Hiro, and the two band together and become high-tech heroes.
Force Majeure: While on vacation in the French Alps, a Swedish family experiences a traumatic event that reveals the deep-seated emotions and frustrations that have long simmered under the surface.
Interstellar: Christopher Nolan's new science-fiction epic follows a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to find a new home for humanity.
Before I Go to Sleep: Nicole Kidman stars as woman suffering from extreme amnesia who must start every day by piecing together her memory. Mark Strong and Colin Firth battle for her affection in this thriller by Rowan Joffe.
Citizenfour: Laura Poitras' documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden explores the abuses of national security in post-9/11 America.
Nightcrawler: This scathing and unsettling portrait of modern news television stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a vulture scouring the Los Angeles streets for gory events.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya: Master Studio Ghibli animator Isao Takahata adapts the famous Japanese folk tale about a young sprite who's born in a stalk of bamboo and grows up to confront the power dynamics of the emperor.
Mystery of the Nile: Traverse the glorious history and legacy of the ancient Egyptians in this IMAX adventure that takes you beyond the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Birdman: A burnt-out superhero actor (Michael Keaton) tries to mount a play on Broadway in order to prove his worth. It co-stars Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough.
Dear White People: Four black students must deal with the ramifications of an ill-conceived theme party that turns their Ivy League campus into a hotbed of racial controversy.
John Wick: After his dog is killed during a random break-in, a former hit man (Keanu Reeves) goes on the warpath looking for vengeance.
Ouija: Board game meet cinema.
St. Vincent: A misanthropic senior citizen (Bill Murray) befriends a young boy going through familial trouble, inevitably leading to redemption for all involved.
Fury: A surly tank commander (Brad Pitt) and his small crew fend off Nazis during the waning days of World War II.
The Best of Me: Former high-school sweethearts fall in love again after they reunite many years later while visiting their small hometown.
The Book of Life: This animated fantasy follows a young man who's torn between fulfilling his family duties and following his heart. It features the voices of Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana and Channing Tatum.
The Good Lie: Three refuges from Sudan travel to America hoping to find a better life but instead encounter a vastly different world with new and unique obstacles.
Whiplash: A sadistic music teacher tortures a young drummer at a posh New York City conservatory.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: A boy lives through a calamitous day, and the bad luck spreads to his other family members.
Dracula Untold: This will suck.
Kill the Messenger: An investigative reporter (Jeremy Renner) exposes the CIA's involvement in arming the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, only to find himself the victim of a smear campaign.
The Judge: Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to his childhood home to defend his embittered father (Robert Duvall), the town's judge, who's been accused of murder. Ends Nov. 20 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Gone Girl: David Fincher adapts Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel with Ben Affleck in the lead as the suspicious husband whose beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) suddenly goes missing.
The Equalizer: Denzel Washington takes names and kicks ass in this remake of the 1980s television show.
My Old Lady: Kevin Kline plays an American who inherits an apartment in Paris that houses a mysterious resident. It co-stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith. Ends Nov. 20 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
The Maze Runner: In this science-fiction film, a community of boys tries to escape an elaborate maze after being kidnapped and having their minds erased.
Hidden Universe: Blast off into the stratosphere with this documentary that uses real images captured from telescopes to examine the vast reaches of space. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Journey to the South Pacific: Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.