Scott Marks 12:30 p.m., July 26
Beyond the Lights
It's an auspicious opening: a little girl — English, half-black, desperate to please — steps onto an obscure talent show stage and sings Nina Simone's "Blackbird": Why you wanna fly, blackbird? You ain't ever gonna fly. She comes in second, and her equally desperate mother (Minnie Driver) makes her trash the trophy: it's win or die. Fast-forward a decade or so, and the girl (the magnetic Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a winner, a slinky pop tart grabbing a Billboard award for writhing in bondage gear and moaning about pleasing her man. When the blackbird decides to fly off a hotel balcony, a handsome cop (a tender and beefcakey Nate Parker) saves her life, and we're off to the romantic races. Pit stops include media frenzies, meetings with labels, and Mexican getaways. Unfortunately for a film about the importance of keeping it real, the drama here is largely formulaic, and the finish line crosses into the realm of artistic fantasy. ("You like me! You really like me!") Still, as fairy tales go, it's solid enough, and the cast sells it hard. 2014.