"Jimmy's Hall" is easily likeable for its fetching visuals, clear-eyed narrative and liberally-minded message. Chronicling the repressive Catholic regime and a country hall that became a symbol of rebellion in 1930's Ireland, it's a bona fide crowd-pleaser with plainly marked good and evil. While there's certainly a kind of undemanding pleasure to be had in following an old-fashioned freedom fighter tale, refreshing it is not. The script can also use some fine-tuning in a couple of dialogue-heavy scenes, which come across as strangely wooden. The cinematography is outstanding though. With crisp, resplendent, tenderly ironed images of green, amber and grayish blue, the film looks lovely top to bottom. Lead actor Barry Ward has charm to spare but can't really break out from a story that feels too tame and familiar. British maestro Ken Loach is his usual gentle, humanistic, quietly observant self, finding ever-interesting aspects of his actors' faces to captivate, even if the film doesn't hit nearly hard enough.
"Lucy", from French writer/director Luc Besson, is a serviceable sci-fi actioner that hits a few sweet spots with its casual blend of the superhero and femme fatale genres. A sleek package, lively pace and those dramatic "24"-esque title cards foretelling the next level of preposterousness help the film zip through a jungle of questionable science talk. Add to that a committed lead performance by Scarlett Johansson, who commands the screen in some key scenes with the sheer force of her presence, and one would be forgiven for delighting in the fanboy glee that only comes from, say, seeing grown men telepathically paralyzed. But the guilty pleasure ultimately can't distract from the fact that the plot is based on a single concept stretched very thin and taken ludicrously far. Its malnourishment is most keenly felt upon the abrupt arrival of the ending, which is, after the silly cutaways to dinosaurs and supernovas, cool in its conceptual simplicity but both narratively lacking and technically soft.
"Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu? (Serial (Bad) Weddings)", about a white catholic couple whose four daughters marry a Jew, an Arab, a Chinese and an African, is essentially a license to crack race jokes and the film's 97 raucous minutes are packed to the brim with those. Politically incorrect to the point of being shockingly crass, writer/director Philippe de Chauveron lets the bigot loose in a paradise of targets and for all its borderline distastefulness, as a comedy it works. The script cleverly attacks the soft underbelly of a modern, diverse French society right where it hurts, well aware that it's not the offensive words that are the funniest, but how they make the supposedly enlightened bourgeoisie uncomfortable, even confused. The ensemble is solid, with Chantal Lauby as the wannabe tolerant mom bringing the most delight. As stereotypical as "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks)" but not as smartly plotted, this is nevertheless non-stop hilarity that could even feel a little cathartic.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" is an interplanetary bomb-fest that's a bit messy in its storytelling- especially for the galatically uninitiated- but it features brilliant characters seldom seen in comic book adaptations and exudes such genuine playfulness it can't help but be entertaining. Admittedly, there's nothing groundbreaking or even surprising plot-wise, but American writer/director James Gunn mixes cosmic adventure with slapstick humor to great effect, giving the cold and fantastical a firmly earth-bound warmth. A terrific Chris Pratt shows he's leading man material, carrying with him a natural confidence and beer buddy appeal that perfectly sell this accidental hero. The true highlight among the group of misfit fighters is the genetically engineered raccoon Rocket though. Minutely designed and animated to capture both a distinct look and detailed expressions, scripted with killer one-liners delivered famously by Bradley Cooper, it's an achievement all by itself. Extra fun is further provided by the 70's-infused soundtrack.