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After the Storm
★★ out of 4 stars
Rated: Not rated. Subtitled. Theater: Lagoon.

The Japanese drama “After the Storm” has been described as a movie about a divorced father trying to reassemble his sundered family. But it’s hard to root for him because we’re not sure that he deserves to succeed.

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is a novelist who has taken a job as a private detective to research his next book, but we quickly see that there is no next novel and that his job snapping photos of cheating spouses is now his life. He has discovered that once he has enough evidence of infidelity, he can make more money through blackmail than he was earning writing.

It’s a sleazy but effective way for him to round up the money he needs to make his child support payments, necessary to enable his monthly meetings with his son (Taiyo Yoshizawa). But he also is feeding a gambling addiction that has left his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) understandably fed up and threatening to block Ryota from her son’s life. Ryota’s response is to laugh off her concerns about his gambling. Instead, he starts spying on Kyoko in hopes of uncovering some dirt on her new boyfriend.

Director Hirokazu Koreeda makes a bold bid to find something redeeming in this wretched fellow, but it’s hard to stay emotionally engaged in Ryota’s struggle when he makes virtually no attempt to reform, or to even make an honest accounting of his shortcomings. Ryota repels empathy. He’s a detective who refuses to investigate his own life.
Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Inquirer

Gifted
★★★ out of 4 stars
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material.

“Gifted,” which opened Wednesday, is a little darling, a light, feel-good drama about three generations of a family on diverging paths. It offers delightful proof that you can still present a good story without a huge budget and computer-generated gimmicks.

The star and director both embraced this story after tearing off their Marvel superhero armor. Chris Evans takes a step back from his Captain America persona, while Marc Webb, director of the last two Spider-Man movies, returns to his earlier focus on relationship themes.

Evans plays a mechanic who is the steward of his orphaned 7-year-old niece, Mary (a scene-stealing Mckenna Grace). He wants her to have a normal, carefree childhood, but when it’s discovered that Mary is a mathematical genius, her grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) starts putting on pressure — both emotional and legal — to cash in on her talent.

There are no galactic villains here, nor any superheroes. Only human-scale characters, including Octavia Spencer in a supporting role as a helpful neighbor. The empathy shown for a number of side characters is another reason that the movie works so well. Sure, it’s a simple, straightforward film, but sometimes that’s all you need as long as its heart is true.
Colin Covert