Teen dystopian drama! Sex addicts! Muppets! Yep, it's new movie time

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The eternally glamorous Miss Piggy stars in Muppets Most Wanted.
PHOTO BY JAY MAIDMENT

So many new movies this week to choose from, film fans! Better just cancel all your plans, and also any notions you had about eating and sleeping. Read on for our takes on the latest in teen dystopia, the new Anita Hill doc, the latest Muppets caper, and part one of Lars von Trier's sex-addiction saga. AND MORE!

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq Writer-director Nancy Buirski’s documentary follows the short, brilliant career of a young dancer named Tanaquil Le Clercq, who came up in the New York City ballet world of the 1940s and ‘50s. Le Clercq was discovered by George Balanchine, married him (as three other dancers had done before her), sparked a paradigm shift in the ballet world regarding what was considered the quintessential dancer’s body, had numerous ballets set on her by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and then, at the peak of her career, at age 27, was stricken by polio and left paralyzed in both legs. The film takes its time moving toward this catastrophe, recounting Le Clercq’s early adult life through interviews with her contemporaries and tracking her professional progress through gorgeous archival footage of her performances. Equally moving archival material are the letters from a longtime correspondence between Le Clercq and Robbins that documented two very different periods of her life: the first, when Robbins was choreographing ballets for her, including Afternoon of a Faun, and professing his love; the second, after her paralysis, when she wrote him a series of poignant communications describing her impressions of her illness and her new, circumscribed world. The film has some trouble holding on to its center — as in life, Balanchine proves a magnetic force, and Afternoon of a Faun feels inexorably drawn to his professional and personal details. We don’t get enough of Le Clercq, which you could say is the tragedy of her story — nobody did. But the letters do provide a sense of someone resourceful and responsive to life’s richness and joys, someone who would get past this crisis and find a way to reshape her life. (1:31) (Lynn Rapoport)

Anita In 1991, Anita Hill found herself at the center of a political firestorm when she testified about being sexually harassed by US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. “The issue became my character as opposed to the character of the nominee,” she recalls in Anita, a revealing new documentary from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Mock (1994's Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision). Twenty years after she first made headlines, Hill recounts her story in the same eloquent voice familiar to anyone who watched her testimony; her first-person narrative, paired with accounts by her supporters, stresses the consequences many women suffer from daring to speak out. The documentary, which shows how one woman’s forthrightness about sexual harassment can upturn her life, also explores the ways in which Hill’s Bush-era notoriety laid the foundation for a prolific career dedicated to battling sexual harassment and women’s oppression. She became an unlikely icon, and a role model for women battling similar circumstances. On the other hand, Thomas still sits on the bench. (1:17) (Laura B. Childs)

Bad Words Settling a grudge score whose precise origin remains unclear until late in the game, world-class misanthrope Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is celebrating his 40th birthday by competing in a national spelling bee. Yes, spelling bees are generally for children, and so is this one. But Guy has found a legal loophole permitting his participation, and the general hate wending his way from contest staff (Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall) — let alone the tiger-mom-and-dad parents ready to form a lynch mob — is just icing on the cake where he's concerned. What's more, as some sort of majorly underachieving near-genius, he's in fact well equipped to whup the bejesus out of overachieving eight-year-olds when it comes to saying the right letters out loud. The only people on his side, sorta, are the online journalist (Kathryn Hahn) reporting on his perverse quest, and the insidiously cute Indian American competitor (Rohan Chand) who wants to be besties, or perhaps just to psych him out. (Note: The tyke's admitted favorite word is "subjugate.") Written by Andrew Dodge, this comedy in the tradition (a little too obviously) of 2003's Bad Santa and such provides the always enjoyable Bateman with not only a tailor-made lead role, but a directorial debut as well. He does just fine by both. Yet as nicely crafted and frequently-pretty-funny Bad Words is, at core it's a rather petty movie — small, derivative, and cynically mean-spirited without the courage of genuine biliousness. It's at once not-half-bad, and not half as badass as it pretends to be. (1:29) (Dennis Harvey)

Child's Pose See "Smotherly Love." (1:52) 

Dark House Nick (Luke Kleintank) has the most depressing superpower since X-Men's Rogue: whenever he touches someone destined for a violent death, he has a vision of his or her terrible demise. On a rare visit to his institutionalized mother  (Lesley-Anne Down), amid her ravings about "things in the walls," she confesses that Nick's father is still alive. After she dies, he inherits a folder stuffed with wrinkled papers — including the deed to an old mansion that's been haunting his dreams since childhood. With his best friend and pregnant girlfriend in tow, Nick sets out to find the apparently cursed dwelling (wide-eyed locals refer to it as "Wormwood"). What they find is best not revealed here, though it does involve Tobin "Jigsaw from the Saw movies" Bell. This latest from controversial director Victor Salva borrows multiple elements from his 2001 horror breakout Jeepers Creepers (backwoods locations and folklore, murderous fellows in duster coats, superstition vis-à-vis the number 23, etc.) but sprawls beyond that film's taut road-trip-from-hell structure, and has far more characters prone to making stupid decisions. There's also the issue of having a certain, uh, monster intone orders to its followers via any available furnace vent — it's funny every time, and it sure ain't intended to be. (1:42) (Cheryl Eddy)

Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006's The Illusionist, 2011's Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) (Lynn Rapoport)

Enemy Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an associate history professor living the usual life of quiet desperation in a very smoggy, beige, vaguely dystopian Toronto when he makes a startling discovery: glimpsed in the background of an otherwise forgettable movie rental is someone who is his complete doppelganger. Intrigued, he discovers the identity of actor Anthony (Jake again), and pokes around in the latter's life enough to discover that they both have blonde partners (Adam's girlfriend Mélanie Laurent, the other dude's pregnant wife Sarah Gadon), though beyond that and the eerie physical-vocal resemblances, they're near-opposites — Anthony is more confident, successful, assertive, and belligerent by far. Their paths-crossing isn't going to be a good thing. Just how bad it will get depends on how you read a mysterious, perverse opening sequence and some increasingly surreal imagery scattered throughout. The second of director Denis Villeneuve's back-to-back Gyllenhaal collaborations is very different from last year's long, intricate, real-world thriller Prisoners. Based on a José Saramago novel (The Double), it sports the same ominous, metaphorical fantasticism that was previously translated to the screen in the widely disliked (but faithful) 2008 Blindness — another movie that played better if you know where its source material is coming from. This intriguing Kafkaesque paranoid puzzle is not to be confused with Richard Ayoade's forthcoming Dostoevsky-derived The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg. Actually, go ahead and confuse them — they're stylistically distinct but otherwise practically the same fable-nightmare. (1:30) (Dennis Harvey)

Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain's brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they've made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation's bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon's magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It's not his story, but damned if he doesn't just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) (Dennis Harvey)

Muppets Most Wanted Building on the success of The Muppets, Jim Henson's beloved creations return to capitalize on their revitalized (and Disney-owned) fame. This follow-up from Muppets director James Tobin — technically, it's the seventh sequel to the original 1979 Muppet Movie, as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew points out in one of the film's many meta moments — improves upon the 2011 film, which had its charms but suffered by concentrating too much on the Jason Segal-Amy Adams romance, not to mention annoying new kid Walter. Here, human co-stars Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and others (there are more cameos than you can count) are relegated to supporting roles, with the central conflict revolving around the Muppets' inability to notice that Constantine, "the world's most dangerous frog," has infiltrated their group, sending Kermit to Siberian prison in his place. Constantine and his accomplice (Gervais, whose character's last name is "Badguy") use the Muppets' world tour as a front for their jewel-heist operation; meanwhile, his infatuated warden (Fey) forces Kermit to direct the annual gulag musical. Not helping matters are a bumbling Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) and his CIA counterpart (Sam the American Eagle, natch). Really, all that's needed is a simple plot, catchy songs, and plenty of room to let the Muppets do their thing — Miss Piggy and Animal are particularly enjoyable here; Walter's still around, but he's way more tolerable now that he's gotten past his "man or muppet" angst — and the film delivers. All the knowing winks to the grown-up fans in the audience are just an appreciated bonus. (1:46) (Cheryl Eddy)

Nymphomaniac: Volume I Found battered and unconscious in a back alley, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard), to whom she explains "It's all my fault — I'm just a bad human being." But he doesn't believe there are such things. She seeks to enlighten him by narrating the story of her life so far, from carnally curious childhood to sexually voracious adulthood. Stacy Martin plays her younger self through a guided tour of excesses variously involving Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as her parents; a buncha guys fucked on a train, on a teenage dare; Uma Thurman as one histrionically scorned woman; and Shai LaBeouf as a first love who's a cipher either because he's written that way, or because this particular actor can't make sense out of him. For all its intended provocation, including some graphic but unsurprisingly (coming from this director) unerotic XXX action, von Trier's latest is actually less offensive than much of his prior output: He's regained his sense of humor here, and annoying as its "Look at me, I'm an unpredictable artist" crap can be (notably all the stuff about fly-fishing, cake forks, numerology, etc. that seems randomly drawn from some Great Big Book of Useless Trivia), the film's episodic progress is divertingly colorful enough. But is Joe going to turn out to be more than a two-dimensional authorial device from a director who's never exactly sussed women (or liked people in general)? Will Nymphomaniac arrive at some pointed whole greater than the sum of its naughty bits? The answer to both is probably "Nah." But we won't know for sure until the two-hour second half arrives (April 4) of a movie that, in fairness, was never really intended to be split up like this. (1:50) (Dennis Harvey)

Shirin in Love This blandly TV-ready romantic comedy stars Nazanin Boniadi as a ditzy child of privilege in Beverly Hills' Iranian-American community. Sent by her aggressively shallow magazine-editor mother (Anita Khalatbari) to find an elusive best-selling novelist for an interview, she not only stumbles upon that author (Amy Madigan) but discovers she's already had a meet-cute with the latter's hunky son (Riley Smith) under embarrassing circumstances. Will Shirin be able to shrug off the future her family has planned for her (including Maz Jobrani as a plastic-surgeon fiancé ) in order to, y'know, find herself? The very obvious answer takes its sweet time arriving in writer-director Ramin Niami's innocuous film, which hews to a stale lineup of formulaic genre conventions even when relying on whopping coincidences to advance its predictable plot. The novelty of its particular social milieu goes unexplored in a movie that reveals even less about assimilated modern US Persian culture than My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) did about Greek Americans. (1:45) (Dennis Harvey)

Tiger and Bunny: The Rising Based on the Japanese anime series (and a 2012 film, Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning), this lighthearted look at superheroes with human problems imagines a world in which the blaring Hero TV channel tracks the movements of various caped crusaders, who compete against each other for points as they race to defeat random villains. All of the heroes, who we meet both in and out of costume, work for the same parent company, and each has a corporate sponsor whose logo is a prominent part of his or her ensemble. (Heroes are big business, after all.) In the first film, we met "Wild Tiger," a bumbling single dad, who's reluctantly paired with talented new kid "Bunny." They clash at first, but eventually prove a powerful team. In The Rising, a douchey new boss relegates Tiger to the junior-varsity Second League, while Bunny gets an annoying new partner, "Golden Ryan." Meanwhile, a mysterious trio of baddies menaces the city, forcing all of the heroes to work together whether they want to or not. The most surprising part of The Rising is its sensitive development of the "Fire Emblem" character. Presented as a mincing gay stereotype in the first film, here he's given a sympathetic back story via dream sequences that detail his youthful exploration of cross-dressing and personal identity struggles. Encouraging, to say the least. (1:48) New People. (Cheryl Eddy)

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