Superhero adventure goes head-to-head with the real-life brand this weekend, and both films get much of their mileage through the talents of veteran stars.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The good news: in this latest piece of Marvel superhero bombast, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson are on hand. The bad news: There's not enough of them. Chris Evans is the titular hero and Scarlett Johansson is his kick-butt sidekick, but after the last bad guy has been vanquished and the final fireball has burned itself out, all we're left with is fond memories of those two veterans showing the kids how real stars don't just make movies...they inhabit them.
Island of Lemurs: Madagascar
Narrator Morgan Freeman does for lemurs what he did for flightless Antarctic birds in March of the Penguins-which isn't hard, because with their huge eyes, banner-like tails and tendency to amble around on their hind legs, lemurs are cuter than penguins ever were. This IMax adventure will have you booking the next flight to Madagascar before you can say, "Awwwww!"
Still Out There . . .
Michael Pena stars as the legendary farm workers' union leader, and despite the inspiring lessons of the man's life, director Diego Luna's films is oddly dispassionate. The film falls victim to the fate that swallows too many film biographies: It's so in love with the subject that he emerges not as a human being, but as an icon whose only sin is in being too devoted to his good cause. Pena strikes a handsome figure, but he seems a bit too slight and movie star-handsome to be a former field worker who returns to Central California to bring a better life to his people. John Malkovich is sufficiently menacing as a mean grape grower; America Ferrera, as Chavez's fiery wife Helen, too often overshadows her costar.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
No filmmaker has a more fiercer following than Wes Anderson ( The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom). But if you've been on the fence (or clear on the other side of it) regarding Anderson, this may be the film that makes a believer of you. A dazzling vision of Europe between the wars serves as the backdrop for a dizzy story about a grand hotel concierge ( Ralph Fiennes), the lobby boy he takes under his wing (Tony Revolori) and their unwitting involvement in a murder mystery. FULL REVIEW
A whole lot more substantial than the lighthearted ads would have you think, this small, quietly lethal film is a poignant look at a long-married couple, Nick and Meg (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan), returning to the scene of their Paris honeymoon in a bid to recapture a bit of the magic of their early years together. As the former colleague whose hospitality leads to a mine-strewn dinner party, Jeff Goldblum is very, very Jeff Goldblum-ish. FULL REVIEW
The Lego Movie
There's a lot more for grownups here than you'd expect: Packed with gags and clever toy-world references, it's the story of a nondescript LEGO minifigure (voiced by Craig Berry) saving his world from an evil villain (Will Ferrell) who wants to (gasp!) glue all the blocks together, stifling creativity forever. Written and directed by a bunch of guys from TV Sitcomville ( How I Met Your Mother, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), it's fast, funny and feel-good.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
This Dreamworks update lacks the anarchic wackiness of Jay Ward's 1960s TV series, but it does celebrate the show's delightful alternative takes on history while adding an element of warmth to the relationship between a dog and his boy. The voice work is first-rate, with Modern Family's Ty Burrell stepping in admirably as Peabody. Listen for Stanley Tucci as Leonardo da Vinci and Mel Brooks as - who else? - Albert Einstein.
Muppets Most Wanted
The Muppets were born smack dab in the middle of the 1950s, and their fellow Boomers have grown to know exactly what to expect from the felt-skinned crew: Smart send-ups of pop culture, outrageous wordplay, and a safe sort of anarchism that lands somewhere between Monty Python and the Marx Brothers. Their current adventure-a silly story about Kermit the Frog being kidnapped and replaced by a master criminal who happens to be a dead ringer for our favorite amphibian-gives Muppet fans precisely what they pay to see, plus funny big-star cameos and Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey as the heavies.
Russell Crowe gives one of his strongest performances and co-writer/director Darren Aronofsky provides a thoughtful, challenging script in a movie that's full of surprises-and mostly good ones. The faithful will quibble with the film's flights of extra- Biblical fancy; skeptics will scoff at its overall respect for the Book of Genesis story-and that means everyone leaves the theater with something to talk about. Anyone who's ever sat in a Sunday school class and seriously considered the consequences of a worldwide flood has found themself, along with Crowe's conflicted hero, asking the same difficult questions.
Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2
Lars Von Trier ( Melancholia) is one of Europe's most respected directors, so we guess it's okay to mention this sexually explicit tale of a 40-something woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who tells her sordid life story to a man (Stellan Skarsgard) after he rescues her from a street beating. Shia LeBourf, Christian Slater, and Uma Thurman play folks she's, uh, encountered along the way.
Rob the Mob
Andy Garcia is a mob boss and Ray Romano is a New York reporter out to nail him in a true-story crime flick that focuses on a young couple (Michael Pitt and Aida Turturro) who pull off a string of daring hold-ups of Mafia social clubs.
Hey, Arnold Schwarzenegger's back (again), this time as the tough-as-nails leader of a take-no-prisoners DEA squad. Fans of thoughtful parlor dramas will stay away anyway; for devotees of the Governator, Sabotage is a solid entry in Schwarzenegger's career renaissance.
3 Days to Kill
Here's a fun thriller romp - Kevin Costner's successful bid to supercharge his career at midlife by starring in an over-the-top chase flick - wrapped around another, far less boffo film centered on a blonde, leather-clad CIA operative (Amber Heard) who must go to Paris to kill a baddie named The Wolf. Watch it for that first movie - and for its comic scenes (intentional, we hope) of Costner dispatching henchmen while counseling his teenage daughter, via cell phone, on hair styles and dating options. FULL REVIEW
The Wind Rises
Some of the most beautiful films ever made have come from the pen of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. This one, reportedly his last, may be the most stunning of them all - but not just for its visual magic. Whereas most Miyazaki classics (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle) have featured plucky youngsters and fantastic creatures, this time he tells the story of a very real person: Jiro Horikoshi, who developed Japan's revolutionary fighter planes before World War II. In following Horikoshi from childhood to first love to professional challenge, Miyazaki taps into real sentiments of passion, ambition and regret in ways he never has before. FULL REVIEW
New on DVD and VOD...
12 Years a Slave
Oscar Winner: Best Picture
Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, leads a powerful cast. Movies from Roots to Django Unchained have shown us the evils of slavery; 12 Years a Slave makes us feel the lash. FULL REVIEW
You won't have more fun at the movies than you'll find here with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Louis C.K. and Jennifer Lawrence as assorted con artists and Feds conspiring to bring down crooked politicians. Though the film is based on the 1980s Abscam scandal, but we have a feeling that writer/director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) made up the more hilarious stuff. FULL REVIEW
Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga are charming in this warmhearted grownup love story. They play two strangers who meet on the day they bring their respective children to a college tour day-and fall into love at first sight. It takes real screen chemistry to draw viewers into such a headlong romance with any sense of believability, and the stars pull it off, almost magically.
Dallas Buyers Club
At the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, a tough heterosexual Texas electrician (Matthew McConaughey) gets the dreaded diagnosis - then sets up a lucrative business smuggling alternative anti-AIDS drugs into the state. McConaughey, who has been rising from beefcake idol to accomplished actor, won his first Oscar for his compelling performance.
By now the animation wizards at Disney have this spunky-young-woman-defeats-evil thing down pat, but the real reason to duck into this film is the Oscar-nominated cartoon short that precedes it. Get a Horse! is a hand-drawn Mickey Mouse cartoon done in early Disney style (think Steamboat Willie). While you savor that, the grandkids will love the main feature.
The King of Comedy (1982)
The team of Lewis and Martin-Jerry Lewis and Martin Scorsese, that is-created this prophetic dark comedy about a deranged loser ( Robert DeNiro) who kidnaps a late-night talk show host (Lewis) to guarantee his own 15 minutes of TV fame. The idea that absolutely anybody could become a celebrity seemed absurd 32 years ago; time has proven Scorsese and company didn't know the half of it.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Teaming for the fifth time with Leonardo DiCaprio, director Martin Scorsese lets loose a cannonade of sex, drugs and no-holds-barred avarice in telling the mostly true story of a New York stockbroker who made an outrageous fortune by swindling investors in the 1980s and '90s. Like his central character, Scorsese once again proves that nothing succeeds like excess. FULL REVIEW