Summaries and mini-reviews of movies playing now, from e3 magazine:
BEARS. (Opens Friday). The latest documentary from Disney's nature films division follows the adventures of an Alaskan bear family and the young cubs in its fold, which are taught and learn important lessons in order to survive. Rated G. 77 minutes. SAV.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Steve Rogers' (Chris Evans) struggle to fit into the modern world is made all the more difficult when he encounters a new nemesis, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who has ties to his past. However, he has a new ally, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who attempts to help him battle not only his new enemy but also a threat that's developing within the covert operation he belongs to, S.H.I.E.L.D. Ambitious in the way it grapples with modern geopolitical issues through the propaganda symbol that anchors it, this is a smartly done, exciting and timely tale that transcends its genre as it does not shrink away from examining the complex issues of national and international security as well as what America stands for today. With Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Redford. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 136 minutes. AMC, SAV.
CLUE (1985). (Starts Friday). Based on the famous board game, this witty concoction brings the suspects from the Parker Brothers standby to life, throwing them into an elaborate murder mystery in an old, dark house. Though the film is a bit dated, the efforts of the enthusiastic cast still make this fun, worthwhile entertainment. With Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean and Lesley Ann Warren. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 94 minutes. ART
CLUELESS (1995). (Wednesday). Amy Heckerling's modern update of Jane Austin's "Emma" is just as fresh today as it was 17 years ago. (Yes, it's been that long.) Alicia Silverstone is a delight as Cher, the pampered Beverly Hills high school student who, despite appearing superficial, has a heart of gold. This helps her survive the vagaries of adolescence, and her selfless actions help her bring together lonely hearts at her school and lead her to true love herself. Funny and sweet, this movie is a pure delight. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 97 minutes. ART
DIVERGENT. Based on the best-seller by Veronica Roth, the film takes place in a dystopian future where members of society are separated into five different factions. However, Tris (Shailene Woodley), a young teenager with a rebellious streak, refuses to be pigeonholed into one group, an act that sets off a chain of events that threatens the very foundation of her community. Though it's far too similar to "The Hunger Games" and other tween stories to be truly distinctive, Woodley's performance and a powerful message about the vagaries of ethnic cleansing make this passable escapist fare. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 139 minutes. SAV.
DRAFT DAY. Kevin Costner stars as Sonny Weaver, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Having traded for the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, he's facing enormous pressure from the team's owner (Frank Langella) and coach (Denis Leary) to choose a player they can rebuild the team around, a process that requires a degree of finesse and timing that Weaver may not be able to control. When the film concentrates on the ins and outs of running a professional football team, it's quite engaging. However, its various subplots involving Weaver's personal life nearly sink it, though Costner's fine work saves it in the end. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski) Rated PG-13. 109 minutes. AMC, SAV.
FROZEN. (Starts Friday). Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen," this animated feature from Disney concerns a young woman named Anna (voiced by Kristin Bell) and her efforts to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), who has the power to create snow and ice, which she can no longer control. Smart, funny and containing some of the best songs to be found in a Disney film in recent memory, the movie succeeds in entertaining us in the studio's grand tradition. While the film is not wholly original, the enthusiasm with which it's executed makes up for its familiarity. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 108 minutes. HAR.
GOD'S NOT DEAD. College student Josh Wheaton's faith is challenged by his philosophy professor, who believes God does not exist. (Internet Movie Database). With Willie Robertson, David A.R. White and Shane Harper. Rated PG. 113 minutes. SAV.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Director Wes Anderson's latest feature focuses on M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), Europe's greatest concierge, who becomes embroiled in a dispute over the estate of Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), one of his elderly lovers who leaves him a priceless painting, much to the chagrin of her family. As with most of Anderson's films, this is gorgeous to look at as each scene is meticulously rendered with the sets, clothes and characters working in unison to create a pristine, storybook world inhabited by cultured individuals. This is all gloriously disrupted by the characters' baser emotions and behavior, effectively underscoring the director's recurring theme that while mankind may be able to create things of great beauty, we never fail to disrupt and sometimes destroy them with our flawed behavior. Charming and unique, this is an Anderson classic that will please his fans and befuddle newcomers. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 100 minutes. ART.
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993). (Starts Thursday, April 24). Harold Ramis' sharply rendered comedy has a heart beating beneath its cynical surface, much like its main character Phil (Bill Murray, at his best), a boorish Philadelphia weatherman who gets stuck in a personal time warp where he's forced to relive the same day again and again until he becomes a better person. Sweet and still fresh, this life-affirming film never gets old. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 101 minutes. NOR.
A HAUNTED HOUSE 2. More horror high jinks from Marlon Wayans as he spoofs the "Paranormal Activity" and "Insidious" films and myriad others with this tale of a young couple and their two children who move into a house with a dark past. Rated R. 86 minutes. AMC, SAV.
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. The best-selling book by Todd Burpo is adapted to the big screen and recounts his family's trail of faith after his youngest son has a near-death experience and contends that he has been to and seen heaven. Ponderously plotted and failing to fully examine the faith-based questions it poses, the intent of the film is to preach to the choir rather than examine the issues of religious faith at its center. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 100 minutes. AMC, SAV.
LIFE ITSELF. (Wednesday). Steven James' documentary on the life of Roger Ebert, who died in April last year. The film incorporates footage from the last four months of Ebert's life, along with extensive material from Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name and interviews with more than two dozen lifelong friends, professional colleagues and filmmakers. Part of Ebertfest. VIR.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED. While on tour in Europe, the Muppets find themselves embroiled in an international jewelry heist, as the head of the operation looks just like Kermit the Frog. While there are moments of great fun and some memorable songs, including "I'm Number 2," the plot here is rather thin, and with the film running at least 20 minutes longer than it should, you can't help but get the feeling that the felt-clad crew is padding things after the one-hour point. With Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Stanley Tucci, Ray Liotta, Frank Langella, Tom Hiddleston and a bevy of guest stars. 21/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 114 minutes. SAV.
MUSEUM HOURS (2012). (Thursday, April 24). A drama in which a guard in a Vienna museum befriends a foreign visitor taking refuge there in the midst of a friend's medical emergency. Together they explore their lives and the city, and reflect on the museum's art, discussing heady subjects but also bringing them down to Earth. Part of Ebertfest. VIR.
NOAH. Russell Crowe stars in the title role as a man chosen by God to save his family and two of each of Earth's creatures by building a massive ark that will protect them from a flood sent to wipe the planet free of sin. A flawed but ambitious and radical take on the biblical tale casts the title character as a conflicted man who questions his purpose in God's grand plan while alienating his family in the process. It's a distinctly humanistic approach and while the visuals are undeniably spectacular, director Darren Aronofsky makes some narrative choices that will have viewers scratching their heads over their validity as well as how they fit in the overall story. With Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Nick Nolte, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ray Winstone. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 138 minutes. PRI, SAV.
OCULUS. Convicted of the brutal murder of his parents, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is set to be released from custody and is intent on getting on with his life. But his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) sets out to prove to him and the authorities that a supernatural force committed the crime. Though it overstays its welcome, this is an inspired little creeper that sports an intriguing narrative approach that keeps us guessing. To give away any specifics would ruin the viewer's sense of discovery, but suffice it to say, this haunted house exercise exceeds expectations. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 105 minutes. SAV.
PETER GABRIEL: BACK TO FRONT. (Wednesday). This spectacular performance, captured live last October, celebrates the 25th anniversary of his landmark album "So" and reunites Peter with his original touring band from 1986 to cover his most well-known hits, including "Solsbury Hill," "Digging in the Dirt," "Sledgehammer," "Mercy Street"and more. SAV.
RIO 2. The rare macaws Blu and Jewel (voices by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) return, this time with three baby birds to raise and the news that they may not be the only surviving members of their breed after all. A trip down the Amazon puts them in contact with a hidden group of their brethren, which complicates their peaceful lives. 21/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated G. 101 minutes. AMC, HAR, ONA, SAV.
SHATNER'S WORLD. (Thursday). With an energetic mix of personal anecdotes, laugh-out-loud humor and poignant moments, William Shatner shares his phenomenal journey of his life and career from classically trained Shakespearean actor to internationally known cultural icon. SAV.
SHORT TERM 12 (2013). (Thursday, April 24). Grace (Brie Larson), a conflicted supervisor at a foster care facility, attempts to juggle the emotional trials she must contend with at work as well as the confusion she's experiencing with her boyfriend. Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton's film has taken various American film festivals by storm, and it's easy to see why. Moving but never calculated, the movie gets under the viewer's skin as we witness its damaged teens struggle through their emotional trials while Larson grounds the affair with a nuanced, poignant performance. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 96 minutes. Rated R. Part of Ebertfest. VIR.
SHREK (2001). (Saturday, Sunday). A delight, jolly and wicked, filled with sly in-jokes and yet somehow possessing a heart. Shrek (voice by Mike Myers) is a jolly green ogre hired by the snarfy Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) to liberate Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from the clutches of a dragon with a secret. Eddie Murphy's vocal work sparkles in a hilarious performance as Shrek's sidekick, a talking donkey ('the trick is to get him to stop talking'). Lots of spoofs of famous movie scenes, digs at Disney characters and sensational animation, plus in-the-round modeling that creates a curiously lifelike feel for the imaginary characters. 4 stars. (Roger Ebert). Rated PG. 90 minutes. SAV.
SON OF GOD. Including scenes culled from the History Channel's "The Bible" miniseries as well as sequences shot exclusively for this project, this film recounts the rise of Jesus Christ from his humble beginnings to his role as teacher and miracle worker through his crucifixion and ultimate resurrection. The film tells the story in a very safe manner that does not invite criticism and takes few chances. While it moves a bit too fast, the inherent power of the story emerges in the end, making this a competent and at times moving version of the Christ story. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 138 minutes. PRI.
TRANSCENDENCE. (Opens Friday). Seeking to stretch the bounds of human intelligence, a terminally ill doctor (Johnny Depp) devises a way to upload his consciousness to a supercomputing network that expands his mind in ways he could not anticipate. With Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara. Rated PG-13. 119 minutes. AMC, SAV.
WALKING THE CAMINO. This documentary charts the progress of six people on their journey over the Camino, a 500-mile path across Spain that is undertaken by those seeking spiritual enlightenment as seen in Emilio Estevez's "The Way." Rated PG. 90 minutes. NOR.
YOUNG ADULT (2011). (Thursday, April 24). Charlize Theron stars as a former high school mean girl who returns to her hometown to steal her ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) from his wife. Uncompromising in its examination of arrested development, the film is propelled by Theron and Patton Oswalt as a local with whom she reunites. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 94 minutes. Rated R. Part of Ebertfest. VIR.