Draft Day

Draft Day is perfectly likable, but it wouldn’t really make the cut for anyone’s fantasy team of sports movies. It’s superficial entertainment geared toward the ESPN Sports Center crowd, with a bit of chick-flick appeal — sort of a rookie version of Jerry McGwire meets Moneyball. Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, the general manager of football’s Cleveland Browns who is tasked with ‘making a splash’ on Draft Day if he expects to keep his job. It’s a dramatic day that can have a life-changing impact on the lives of front-office personnel, coaches, players and NFL hopefuls across the country. Weaver has the opportunity to rebuild his team when he trades for the number-one draft pick. But his decisions come with consequences, personal and professional.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I’m always a bit torn when it comes to Captain America, the first Avenger. Chris Evans wears the suit extremely well, but his storylines never seem to grab – or entertain – me the way Iron Man (my favorite Avenger) does. CA: Winter Soldier is thin on plot and heavy on fight scenes, so it’s more of a means to an end for advancing Marvel’s Avengers franchise and less of a stand-alone movie. Here’s the gist of the plot as far as I could discern: Oh wait. First, a quick refresher: Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (Evans) was a scrawny kid transformed by a super serum into a super-soldier during World War Two. At some point while battling the evil HYDRA organization, Steve fell into some ice. Fast forward a couple of decades, and a newly-defrosted Captain America is struggling to reconcile his time-honored morals, sensibilities, and tastes in music with what’s evolved in the modern world. It’s classic ‘fish out of water’ stuff.

Noah

I’m no biblical scholar, but I’ve heard the story of Noah and the flood a few times. I suspect there are not many who haven’t. In a nutshell: “The Creator” talks to Noah. He tells him to build an ark. He does and there is a flood. And there are a lot of animals involved. In the latest cinematic iteration of the story, there are not a lot of surprises. But there are some big time special effects and this one feels like Transformers meets A Beautiful Mind with a touch of Lord of the Rings and a heavy dose of your faith of choice. Noah is not a Cecil B. DeMille reverential telling, but a Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) psychological/environmentalist drama. It’s loud and messy and pretty entertaining.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

In his latest fabulously outrageous film The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson introduces us to Gustave H (Ralph Feinnes), the concierge to end all concierges who takes enterprising lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) under his wing. The movie is visually stunning and laugh out loud hilarious, and what totally sold me was its witty use of language and music to give another layer to its story set in a first class hotel in a fictional eastern European country in that elegant era between the wars. And the chemistry between the older, wiser hotelier and his young protégé is delicious! What begins as a mentoring relationship quickly turns to a zany buddy romp when one of the hotel’s wealthy guests (Tilda Swinton) is murdered and Gustave is thrown in jail. And only Zero can save him.

Divergent

Okay, I guess there is room for another young adult movie franchise that centers around a strong female character battling to survive in a dystopian futuristic society. Divergent doesn’t rise to the level of The Hunger Games, but it should satisfy fans of the best-selling book by Veronica Roth. The movie doesn’t offer up anything particularly fresh character or story-wise (compared to the aforementioned Hunger Games), but it survives – and will likely thrive- because the actors are all quite good. Especially the lead actress, Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now).

Gloria

Paulina García plays the title character in this unusual Chilean romdramedy. Gloria is a fifty-something divorcee. She frequents bars where people her age mingle and dance. And she frequently comes home alone only to find her crazy upstairs neighbor’s creepy hairless cat in her apartment. From outwards appearances, hers in a pretty mundane existence. But Gloria isn’t settling into old age. She’s still looking for the brass ring and though she may not grab it every time around, her exuberance for life is pretty endearing and ultimately inspiring.

Bad Words

“The end justifies the mean.” That’s one of the tag lines for Bad Words. And that pretty well sums it up, because you spend the majority of the movie waiting to discover why the main character is such a prick. Pardon my language, but seriously, that’s the most appropriate word to describe Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old man who forces his way into a kids’ national spelling bee competition by exploiting a loophole in the eligibility rules. The usually-endearing Jason Bateman takes a walk on the dark and crude side to play Trilby in this R-rated comedy that also marks his feature directorial debut. At first, it’s hard to buy the baby-faced Bateman as an evil spelling genius who’s willing to do whatever it takes to sink his young and emotionally-vulnerable competition. But by the third or fourth ‘oh no, he di’int’ moment, bad Bateman becomes believable.

Veronica Mars

Full disclosure #1: I own a piece of this movie. Well, me and a gazillion other ‘kickstarter contributors’ who coughed up x-number of dollars for a slew of ‘insider’ emails and an ill-fitting tee-shirt (unless you’re shaped like an Abercrombie and Fitch model). Full disclosure #2: I’ve never seen a single episode of the ‘Veronica Mars’ television series that ran from 2004-2007 and obviously built a cult following in desperate need of closure.

Non-Stop

Check your cynicism and plausibility meter at the gate, because Non-Stop is fraught with narrative turbulence. So take it with a grain of salt, and enjoy it for what it is… a guilty pleasure movie. Serious-actor-turned-action-star Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, a U.S. Air Marshal who is set up to take the fall for murder and hijacking aboard a transatlantic flight from New York to London. He gets a series of text messages en route, indicating someone will die on board the flight every 20 minutes until $150 million is transferred into an off-shore account. Let the countdown… and the body count… begin.

The Past (Le Passé)

The Past is a compelling domestic drama from the director of the 2012 Oscar winning film A Separation. This time instead of setting it in Iran, the film takes place in France though the feeling of the storytelling is much the same. It is one of those peeling back the layers of an onion plots, which begins as Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France from Iran to sign divorce papers with his ex, Marie (Bérénice Bejo of The Artist). She has a new man in her life, Samir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet), but her teenage daughter Lucie has some serious problems with the new relationship, and Marie is unable to figure out why.