A taut thriller that ends on a note of unexpected grace, the British prison drama The Escapist marks the impressive feature debut of director/cowriter Rupert Wyatt. As tightly scripted as the meticulous escape plan hatched by lifer Frank Perry (Brian Cox), the film jumps back and forth between the breakout and the days that precede it, when we get to know Frank and his four accomplices. Fleeing through London's sewers and the tunnels of the Underground (including a ghostly, long-abandoned station, littered with dusty World War II gas masks), the men exchange barely a word. Dialogue is kept to a minimum throughout the film (just as well, given the impenetrability of the English and Irish accents), but little exposition is required in a genre picture that can rely on the skillful use of familiar tropes to carry the plot forward. With his craggy face and melancholy eyes, Cox brings a lived-in world-weariness to Frank. Without lapsing into sentimentality, the actor suggests a deeply buried humanity and vulnerability that even Frank had forgotten he had. JEAN OPPENHEIMER
Angels & Demons
Part deux of the Dan Brown franchise remains the same old treat for whacked-out conspiracy theorists, only speedier, and tricked out with state-of-the-art hardware and a hotter, brighter partner — the enchantingly alliterative particle physicist Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) — to Tom Hanks' ace symbologist. In the race against yet another ancient secret society with evil designs on the Vatican, there's a dead pope, a stolen canister of something nuclear, and four extremely red cardinals abducted for medieval branding and burning by a wild-eyed predator who may be a member of the science-loving Illuminati sect. Gift-wrapped in production design lifted from The Godfather and a score by Hans Zimmer that sounds like the rumbling tummies of a thousand monks, Angels & Demons comes studded with capably brutal set pieces building to an ineffably silly bit of business involving a helicopter, a parachute, and a crowd fighting over stem-cell research in St. Peter's Square. When they're not getting knocked off, just about every player — from Stellan Skarsgård as head of the Swiss Guard to Armin Mueller-Stahl as a rule-bound cardinal to Ewan McGregor as the progressive young papal protege in charge of electing a new pontiff — waves at the audience to hint that he might be the rotten apple in Catholicism's otherwise sound barrel. ELLA TAYLOR
Every Little Step
In 1974, choreographer Michael Bennett gathered 22 Broadway dancers late one night, set a tape recorder running, and asked them to talk about their lives. Those stories, shaped by Bennett and his collaborators, became A Chorus Line, which opened at the Public Theater the next year, soon transferred to Broadway, and ran there for a then-unprecedented 15 years. James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo's documentary Every Little Step juxtaposes the casting process for the 2006 revival with the affecting story of A Chorus Line's creation. Following several performers as they audition for the revival, the doc's approach is designed, one presumes, to attract a wider audience in the era of reality entertainment. But while that meshes nicely with the arc of the musical itself — about dancers going through a grueling interview process to earn a spot on the line — we never learn enough about the individual subjects to care about their stories. For Chorus Line fans, though, the documentary—executive-produced, it's worth noting, by theatrical superlawyer John Breglio, who also produced the revival and controls Bennett's estate — is a singular sensation, filled with behind-the-scenes backstory and archival clips of Bennett himself dancing, gorgeously. Then there are those original interview tapes, kept under lock and key for 35 years, with the dancers speaking the words that, until now, you've known only as lyrics. JESSE OXFELD
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Were the World Mine
Tom Gustafson's queercentric take on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream teeters between banal conceptualizing and inspired execution. When high school homo and jock punching bag Timothy (Tanner Cohen) is cast as Puck in his all-boys school's production of Midsummer, he stumbles upon a love potion that causes life to imitate art, creating a gay upheaval in his small town. Beneath a trite imagining of what would happen if raging homophobes suddenly turned gay (most, apparently, would become mincing stereotypes), the film articulates some age-old but still pressing truths about bigotry (Props 8 and 2, hello), social justice, and romantic longing. Gustafson pulls uniformly wonderful performances from his cast, especially Cohen and Judy McLane as the boy's bewildered mom, struggling between her own homophobia and her love for her son. The musical numbers, filled with old-fashioned melodic singing and choreography that wittily references classical Hollywood musicals, put the prefab High School Musical series to shame. When the film narrows its focus from big questions addressed through overly broad strokes and instead zooms in on one-on-one interactions and the emotional power of a well-made musical sequence, it taps into a winning sweetness and poignancy. ERNEST HARDY
Director Kirby Dick doesn't actually stick his camera under any Capitol Hill bathroom stalls in the new documentary Outrage, but his goal is more or less the same: to catch closeted gay politicians with their pants down. Call it yellow (or is that pink?) journalism if you must, but as Outrage persuasively argues, it comes not to invade its subjects' personal lives but instead to hold them accountable for their hypocrisy. It outs so that it can, in turn, rage against these Janus-faced men of the people who play to their Christian conservative base while lobbying for another sort of approval in gay bars and chatrooms. As in his previous Twist of Faith and This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dick approaches his subject with little of the self-righteous effrontery of Michael Moore, maintaining a modicum of objective distance and even mustering a certain sympathy for the accused. The film presents a mixture of mostly extant innuendo and some new wrinkles, with perhaps the most damaging claims leveled against Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who has been bandied about as a 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Moment by moment, Outrage proves provocative, well-sourced, and almost certain to go more viral than swine flu. But Dick's film is ultimately most resonant for what it says about the infernal entanglement of church and state and our desire to believe in the white-picket surfaces of things. Scott Foundas