Maps to the Stars

San Andreas

It’s really not my fault that I cracked up a few times while the ground was shaking and buildings were collapsing out the wazoo. San Andreas is totally cheesy – and knows it. And that sort of makes it okay. It doesn’t have the same guilty-pleasure appeal as Furious 7 (that other recently-released action-adventure movie with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), but it is what it claims to be: a formulaic disaster movie that showcases the Rock’s ‘sensitive’ side.

Far from the Madding Crowd

What a simply horrid problem Bathsheba Everdene (Katniss’s great-great grandmother?) has to contend with! She’s young and pretty and has inherited a big old house in the British countryside with its own working farm and the money to run it, and she has three, count them, THREE men who want to marry her. The downside to her situation is that she lives in Victorian England and women are not supposed to be independent or headstrong. In this latest adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel, Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba with a decidedly 21st century vibe. And that works because really at its core Far from the Madding Crowd is a timeless tale of recognizing the love that is right in front of you, no matter what anyone thinks.

Tomorrowland

Oh George, you’re killin’ me! I really wanted to love this movie, or at least like it a lot. Instead, I liked it a little. It’s certainly a fine choice for a family flick this long holiday weekend; It has a commendable message, and a decent shot of girl power. But the two-hour journey borders on bland and boring, despite the appearance of flying saucers, jet packs, magical pins, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and glimpses of a Disney-utopia-esque place known as “Tomorrowland” that exists somewhere in time and space.

Clouds of Sils Maria

The first I heard of Clouds of Sils Maria was the news that Kristen Stewart won the French version of the Oscar (the Cesar) for her supporting role in it, the first American ever! I just saw the film and I am scratching my head. Not that she is bad, but it just isn’t a standout role, even for her. And lest you assume she speaks French, which would be a feat worthy of a prize, the film is mostly in English with leading lady Juliette Binoche slipping into her native tongue on just a few subtitled occasions. The film is the story of the evolution of a relationship between a famous actress Maria (Binoche) and her young assistant Valentine (Stewart) as they rehearse for a revival of the play that started Maria’s career. It is an arty movie, somewhat Bergman-esque. There is a LOT of subtext and the line between the play and their real life becomes blurry at times. There are also beautiful moments and poignant scenes. And while everything is not spelled out, it is a thought-provoking look at the way our perspectives change with time.

Mad Max: Fury Road

What a ride! From the beginning to the end, there is hardly a static scene in this film. It begins as Max (Tom Hardy) is contemplating the vast scorched earth that the world has become in its not so distant dystopian future. But before you can say “Where’s Mel?” the crazy car caravan arrives filled with even crazier warriors. They snatch him up and take him back to their stronghold called the Citadel to become a “blood bag” that keeps their troops at fighting strength. But when the evil leader Immortan Joe’s wives are stolen and his war boys take chase, one of them who just happens to be receiving his refresher blood directly from Max, decides to join the fight and takes his supply along for the ride, cleverly attaching him to the front of his vehicle. It probably isn’t the safest place to be in a road war. Especially when the person you’re up against is the super bad-ass fem-warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron.)

Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 is a perfectly entertaining movie. From a plot perspective, it doesn’t measure up to its 2012 surprise-hit predecessor Pitch Perfect, but what it lacks in story, it makes up for in gleeful fun. Here’s the gist: the Bellas of Barden University are riding high as three-time national a capella champions. But an embarrassing faux pas and wardrobe malfunction during a performance at the Kennedy Center (for the POTUS no less) results in the school suspending the all-girl singing group, now comprised mostly of seniors who really need to be thinking about life after college anyway. The gals strike a deal with the school – and the a capella governing body – that if they can pull off an upset victory at an International competition that no American group has ever won, then the Bellas will be reinstated, and all will be forgiven. Ready, set, cue the music! What follows is pure fun, with informal sing-offs, bonding exercises, surprise cameos, and the return of Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins in all their satirical glory as professional commentators for the singing competitions. They are hysterically inappropriate.

Hot Pursuit

Hot Pursuit is a lukewarm comedy that tries to be funny – but isn’t – despite the star power of Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon and Modern Family sexpot, Sofia Vergara. The acting isn’t nearly as bad as the script, but it’s a moot point. The movie is simply lame – and couldn’t come at a worse time for the nation’s men and women in blue.

Welcome to Me

What happens when a mentally ill woman who is obsessed with Oprah wins the lottery? She buys her way onto television and her very own talk show, of course. In Welcome to Me, Kristin Wiig plays Alice Klieg. She lives her quirky little life in a California desert town and spends most of her time watching and memorizing Oprah shows (on VHS) and devouring infomercials. She is in court-mandated therapy, but has decided that she doesn’t need any meds because she can control her emotions through other means, or so she firmly believes. So when she suddenly comes into $86 million, she decides to live out her dream to have her own talk show and finds a struggling production company that is more than happy to take a huge chunk of her winnings. And what is the show about? It is all about her. And it’s called “Welcome to Me.”

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Adapted from the best-selling novel by Jonas Jonasson, which I thoroughly enjoyed, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a fun little Swedish flick about an old man who, just before his nursing home keepers can sing him happy 100th, climbs out the window and has a big adventure. It is in Swedish, feels kind of Forrest Gumpish, and it involves a biker gang and an elephant.

Ex Machina

In his directorial debut Alex Garland, the writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, has served up an intriguing minimalist sci-fi thriller that is more about what isn’t onscreen than what is. It’s a very simple story about an evil genius’s quest to design a sentient robot and the pawns he uses in the perfection of his plan. The cast of three (Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac) spends most of the film sequestered away in a remote house/research facility and the audience spends most of its time wondering if things can possibly end well, as layer upon layer of artifice is stripped away.