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By Karen Martin

This article was published January 24, 2014 at 3:32 a.m.

Sunlight Jr., directed by Laurie Collyer (unrated, 90 minutes)

Our critic Philip Martin says: “Laurie Collyer’s beautifully calibrated film takes its title from the Clearwater, Fla., convenience store in which Melissa (Naomi Watts) works. It’s harshly bright, the walls are glass and there are surveillance cameras everywhere. Most people don’t hang around in these places long enough to feel how depressing and dehumanizing they are.

“But Melissa stands there, for eight hours a day or however long her shift is, making minimum wage and enduring her crass manager. The job pays almost enough to keep her and her boyfriend, a paraplegic named Richie (Matt Dillon), housed in a cheap motel room, with food and beer and just about enough gas to keep their beater car running.

“Richie and Melissa are, after a fashion, happy. Their problem is that of a lot of Americans: They have absolutely no margin for safety, and their comfort is constantly imperiled. They live check to check, scraping together what they can.

“The movie turns on the kind of mistake that might be easily averted, the sort of mistake that millions of people have made. But Melissa and Richie don’t have the luxury of further complication, and a small problem rapidly escalates.

“While Sunlight Jr. could be perceived as a dreary downer, there’s a kind of magic in the chemistry between Watts and Dillon. Even though they’re too pretty to play street-roughened losers (Watts shines through her ill-fitting uniforms, Dillon retains a leading man’s indomitability), they convince us they matter to each other. They communicate something elemental and true about the world. However brutal it might be, they give each other reason to persist.”

Captain Phillips (PG-13, 134 minutes) In Paul Greengrass’ taut hijacking thriller based on a real-life ordeal, Tom Hanks doesn’t fare much better than he did while stuck on a desert island in 2000’s Cast Away. He plays the competent but by no means extraordinary or overly heroic head of a large cargo ship that plans a voyage through the increasingly dangerous waters off the coast of Somalia, where small bands of desperately poor modern-day pirates lie in wait to chase unsuspecting ships, board them and hold the crew and cargo hostage for exorbitant ransoms. Which is what happens.

Tense and edgy in its realism, the film maintains a balance between the pirates who serve ruthless, bloodthirsty warlords and the ship’s crew and their normally affable captain, struggling to stay out of harm’s way while trying to outsmart invaders with little to lose. With Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed.

In a World (R, 93 minutes) Lake Bell is getting a lot of award buzz for her funny, quirky and clever directorial debut (she also wrote the screenplay) in which she plays a struggling vocal coach who, against all odds, finds success in the ultra-competitive world of movie trailer voiceovers. Adding to the amazement of her achievement is that the king of the movie trailer voiceover pack is her annoying, girl-chasing, unsupportive, insufferable and talented father, Sam (Fred Melamed). With Rob Corddry, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins.

Blue Jasmine (PG-13, 98 minutes) This captivating comedy/drama from Woody Allen features a Manhattan socialite (an extraordinary performance by Cate Blanchett), married to a disgraced financier (Alec Baldwin), who is struggling through a midlife crisis that may lead to self-destruction. Along the way (and typical of an Allen movie) there are investigations of and indictments of urban America. It’s being touted as Allen’s finest film.With Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay.

The Prey (R, 112 minutes) A lean, cynical, character-driven French thriller, The Prey concerns bank robber Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel), convicted of a heist and sentenced to six months in prison, who shares a cell with a seemingly weak fellow criminal. But once that criminal is released, Adrien learns that his former cellmate is really a sadistic serial killer who now knows private details about Adrien’s life. With Danny Trejo, Alice Taglioni; directed by Eric Valette and Eric Hensman. Subtitled.

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 01/24/2014

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