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Mary Shelley

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG-13 for sex and substance abuse.

Theater: St. Anthony Main.

This is a rarity: a literary biopic with an argument. Which is not to say that the film, directed by Haifaa al-Mansour (“Wadjda”), forgoes the expected pleasures of the genre: candlelight and quill pens, period gowns and the usual feverish attempts to convey both the passion and the discipline of the writing process. Also, good-looking young actors declaiming poetry and prose in crisply accented English.

But rather than smother Mary Shelley — author of “Frankenstein” — with soft cushions of antiquarian cultural prestige, the filmmakers sharpen the sense of her modernity. It helps enormously that she is played with alert sensitivity and acute intelligence by Elle Fanning.

We first meet a 16-year-old Mary. When her widowed father marries a woman who doesn’t approve of Mary’s writing, she is shipped off to Scotland. There she meets Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), a dreamy dirtbag poet who, at 21, already has abandoned one wife and child. But his capital-R romantic idealism syncs with Mary’s rebellious streak.

There is tragedy, scandal and Percy’s mercurial (though predictable) behavior. Eventually they end up at a Swiss château, where the seed of “Frankenstein” is planted. From that point on, the film is as much about that book as its author, arguing that “Frankenstein” is a quasi-therapeutic transformation of pain into art.

A.O. Scott, New York Times

American Animals

⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: R for profanity, drug use and sex.

Theater: Lagoon.

This crime drama is one of the summer’s freshest, most entertaining films. To begin with, the miscreants in this lively based-on-fact caper are not hardened criminals; they’re a quartet of bored college kids. The loot they’re after isn’t jewels but rare books. And, best of all, writer/director Bart Layton tells the story in an unconventional way that adds poignancy and depth to the proceedings.

Layton, head of a British TV production house who is making his first feature film, deftly plays with the narrative structure and the nature of memory, including the fact that each participant remembers things slightly differently. He pairs that with shrewd casting choices, selecting gifted players who are not yet household names to add to the story’s verisimilitude. But the heart of his approach is to allow audiences to see how planning a robbery is seductive for delusional kids who have no concept of real-world consequences.

Crossing fiction with nonfiction and making a film that is simultaneously serious, funny and unexpected would be impressive for anyone, but for a debuting narrative director like Layton, it’s especially so.

Kenneth turan, Los Angeles Times

The Gospel According to André

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: PG-13 for suggestive content.

Theater: Lagoon.

It’s fun to spend time with larger-than-life Vogue magazine editor André Leon Talley, but this documentary ends up getting sidetracked.

While the film addresses his influence as a trailblazer for African-American men in the world of fashion, it gets bogged down in the 2016 election. Though it was happening as they filmed, this subplot doesn’t tell us much more about Talley. The time would have been better spent diving even more deeply into his inner world, sorrows and joys. And it roots the film in a specific time, a disservice to a timeless persona.

Katie WALSH, Tribune News Services