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Chasing Trane

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: Not rated

Theater: Lagoon

John Coltrane died from liver cancer in 1967, but this documentary shows that the music of one of jazz’s most experimental saxophone players still speaks to audiences today. Filmmaker John Scheinfeld (“The U.S. vs John Lennon”) concisely maps out Coltrane’s life and career, using archival performance footage along with interviews with such former bandmates and musical peers as pianist McCoy Tyner and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Former president Bill Clinton even makes an appearance.

In the end, it’s the music, and not the testimonials, that makes the movie. At the height of his fame, Coltrane pushed himself — and his fans — in new directions. As guitarist Carlos Santana, one of his fans, puts it, Coltrane didn’t limit himself to one musical genre. Rather, Santana says, “He played life.”

pat padua, Washington Post

The Women’s Balcony

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: Unrated. In subtitled Hebrew

Theater: Edina

Set in an Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, in this comic drama, the literal breakdown of a synagogue results in a social conflict that resonates well beyond its specific milieu. After a balcony in a moderate synagogue collapses, the congregation’s rabbi falls ill. While plans are being made to renovate the house of worship, his replacement, the younger, more conservative Rabbi David (Aviv Alush), comes in with ideas that divide the community along gender lines.

In the face of this particular orthodoxy, husbands and wives sometimes find themselves at odds. But the film itself seems divided. While director Emil Ben-Shimon and writer Shlomit Nehama appear to side with the more moderate camp, images of the neglected synagogue — including a broken window that was never repaired — suggest that, just as the structure has been left to decay, so have its traditions. The stark divisions the film reveals offer an unsettling look at the state of public discourse.

Pat Padua, Washington Post

Once Upon a Time in Venice

⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: Not rated but includes violence, sex

Theater: AMC Classic Apple Valley

A bunch of well-known faces look lost in what’s billed as an action-comedy but has little comedy and less action. Bruce Willis stars as Steve, a private detective in the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles who is determined to recover his stolen dog from a drug dealer. Also on hand is John Goodman, playing a good friend of Steve’s who is going through a divorce, a side plot that has no real purpose. Thomas Middleditch, who needs someone to explain to him the dangers of overexposure, plays his usual bumbling character, a gofer for Steve who also narrates the tale.

The story involves cocaine, real estate and a client who wants Steve to find out who keeps painting pornographic graffiti on a building he owns. The movie tries for propulsive Tarantino grit but ends up being just another annoying example of Hollywood’s addiction to stories in which graying men bed beautiful young women and beat up men much more youthful and fit than they are.

neil genzlinger, New York Times