Mark Jenkins

Not a single person says "shhh!" during Frederick Wiseman's three-hour-plus tour of New York libraries. In fact, Ex Libris: New York Public Library immediately introduces garrulous author, scientist, and atheist Richard Dawkins, and there are a half-dozen other talky authors waiting in the wings. In this documentary, chatter among the stacks is encouraged.

It sounds like an avant-garde theater maven's most cherished dream: Every year a small town writes and stages a topical "autodrama" based on the residents' own experiences. But a Tuscan village's 51st annual spectacle — Spettacolo in Italian — may be the last.

The manipulative British filmmaker seems to have come to the right place. Fresh from her own bitter breakup, Vivian (Dolly Wells) arrives in Florida in search of couples who are about to split. She has an assistant/cameraperson, Mel (Connie Shin), and a thesis: Marriage should last for only seven years, with an option to renew.

In the exhilarating introduction to The Villainess, you are there. But who are you?

Shot from the perspective of the attacker, the sequence tracks a lone fighter through a building full of thugs, all of whom get dispatched with bloody efficiency. Finally, the unseen figure enters a martial-arts studio with a dozen or so adversaries and a mirrored wall. Only when the camera catches the intruder's reflection does the point-of-view switch from hers to ours.

The wildly inventive Dave Made a Maze creates a fantastic universe on a tiny budget, using mostly cardboard. Yet although it's a scrappy indie, the movie has something in common with many platinum-plated CGI blockbusters: The visuals are as strong as the script is feeble.

In After Love's opening scene, the handheld camera observes Marie (Bérénice Bejo) as she arrives home with her 8-year-old twins, Jade and Margaux (Jade and Margaux Soentjens). But we viewers don't follow them from the street, through the pleasant garden and into the tasteful first-floor apartment. We're already inside, awaiting them in the place nearly all of the film is set.

Imagine Lost In Translation set in a much sleepier metropolis than Tokyo. That's Columbus, which derives its title from its Indiana locale, a small city known for many buildings designed by notable modernist architects.

"Why choose to be unhappy?"

Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard), the protagonist of From the Land of the Moon, addresses that question to the man who's agreed to marry her. But it might just as well be directed to Gabrielle herself, or to veteran French writer-director Nicole Garcia, because both sink into sorrow as if it were a feather bed.

Although Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is visually overstuffed and sometimes cloaked in darkness, one thing is easy to see: how its principal setting, the sprawling space-station Alpha, parallels writer-director Luc Besson's utopian filmmaking vision.

Through much of A Ghost Story, Casey Affleck or a stand-in plays a dead soul, draped in a sheet with cut-out eye holes. This low-budget approach to the supernatural might suggest that writer-director David Lowery is playing a Halloween trick on movies that take the paranormal seriously. Except that he opens the tale with a line from "A Haunted House," a story by Virginia Woolf, not Stephen King.

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