Movies: ‘Need for Speed’ reviewed with other new, recent films

OPENING FRIDAY

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

★★★★

Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody

If you admire director Wes Anderson at his best (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom”) there’s a good chance you’ll be delighted by this masterfully executed, highly stylized, occasionally perverse farce. “Grand Budapest Hotel” is the story of Gustav H (Fiennes in a rare comic role), legendary concierge of the hotel in its 1930s glory days. He’s embroiled in an increasingly complicated struggle involving murder, a priceless stolen painting, young love, an evil aristocrat with homicidal henchman (Brody and Dafoe), more murders, a prison break and a climactic cross-country chase. It’s strange to think of Anderson turning out a crowd pleaser given his eccentric work (on display here), but this may be as close as he gets.

NEED FOR SPEED

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language

Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Dakota Johnson, Michael Keaton

Based on the mega-selling video-game series, “Need for Speed” is the story of wrongly imprisoned ex-convict Tobey (Paul of “Breaking Bad”) risking everything for an $8 million payday in the country’s biggest underground race. Of course he’s mainly motivated by honor and redemption and vengeance and all that stuff. Cooper plays the no-good, dirty-tricks-pulling sleazebo villain and Poots is on hand for potential romance. Fans looking for crazed stunts and insanely revved-up racing action will find plenty of both.

THE SINGLE MOMS CLUB

Rated PG-13 for some sexual material and thematic elements

Stars: Nia Long, Amy Smart, Wendi McLendon-Covey

After an incident at their children’s school, a group of single mothers from various walks of life form a support group. Tyler Perry (“A Medea Christmas”) wrote and directed the comedy.

VERONICA MARS

Rated PG-13 for sexuality including references, drug content, violence, strong language

Stars: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Jamie Lee Curtis, Martin Star

Years after walking away from her career as a teen private eye, Veronica (Bell) returns home to help an old flame (Dohring) accused of murder. Rob Thomas wrote and directed the return to his hit TV series.

STILL PLAYING

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

★★

Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence, a sex scene, nudity, and some language

Stars: Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro, Sullivan Stapleton

This stripped-down/buffed-up beefcake bonanza makes one thing clear: If you were a body-waxer in ancient Greece, you never ran out of work. A sequel to the 2007 mega-hit “300,” “Rise of an Empire” focuses on the naval conflict raging during the first film’s battle of Thermopylae. As soon as the Greek and Persian ships bump noses, you get the same horde of gym-toned, manscaped warriors in loincloths hacking, impaling and eviscerating each other in ultra-slow motion. Now, the geysers of slo-mo gore erupt in 3D. The only improvement is former Bond girl Green as the sultry, sinister, exceedingly homicidal Persian commander.

THE LUNCHBOX

★★★ 1/2

Rated PG for thematic material and smoking

Stars: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui

One thing we learn from this modern, yet old-fashioned romance from India, is that sometimes the wrong train gets you to the right station. If you have the courage to board. The always-welcome Khan (the adult Pi in “Life of Pi”) plays Saajan, a soon-to-retire widower who begins receiving the special lunches of neglected housewife Ila (Kaur) — a literal one-in-a-million error in Mumbai’s impossibly accurate lunch delivery service. A correspondence begins that gradually turns into something akin to courtship — with one last big step still to be taken.

MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN

Rated PG for some mild action

Stars: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann

After a mishap involving his WABAC time machine, the canine genius/inventor Mr. Peabody (Burrell) and his adopted son Sherman (Charles) travel back in time to restore order. Rob Minkoff (“Stuart Little,” “The Lion King”) directed the animated family adventure.

KIDS FOR CASH

★★★

Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and language

Stars: Mark Ciavarella, Amanda Lorah, Michael Canahan

In 2009, Pennsylvania juvenile court judge Ciavarella was accused of accepting a $2-million kickback from the construction of a new detention center — and of railroading kids into incarceration by discouraging their right to counsel. The Kids for Cash scandal proves to be a misnomer, as director Robert May proves in this disturbing documentary, but it illuminates a larger problem: the trend toward zero-tolerance policies for juveniles in the wake of the Columbine shootings. It results in kids (including four profiled in this film) being imprisoned for offenses that might have received a school suspension in another era.

NON-STOP

★★

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references

Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy

This cheesy trans-Atlantic aero-thriller goes nowhere fast — 500 mph fast — but at least it’s reasonably good dumb fun for roughly two-thirds of the ride. Neeson, still making 60-something men look good as an action hero, plays an alcoholic, flight-phobic federal air marshal trying to prevent a politically motivated psycho from killing a passenger every 20 minutes or blowing up the plane or both. It’s strange to think of this one playing as an in-flight movie.

OMAR

Rated: No MPAA rating

Stars: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani

A young Palestinian man involved in the conflict with Israel becomes an informant after the killing of an Israeli soldier. Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now”) directed the Best Foreign Film nominee.

SON OF GOD

Rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of the Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence

Stars: Diogo Morgado, Greg Hicks, Roma Downey, Amber Rose Revah

The story of Jesus (Morgado) from his birth to the resurrection. Christopher Spencer (“The Bible”) directed the drama.

3 DAYS TO KILL

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language

Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld

The problem with “3 Days to Kill” isn’t that it’s unbelievable. It’s that it takes the unbelievable to weirdly disturbing and sentimental extremes. Costner stars as a terminally-ill CIA super-agent trying to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter (Steinfeld) while secretly wiping out a small army of bad guys. On the plus side, the spectacular action is expertly staged by director McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Costner is good at the weary, laconic macho thing. It’s more than a little weird, though, when he teaches his daughter to slow-dance by dimming the lights and putting on Bread’s “Make it with You.” Eww.

POMPEII

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content

Stars: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland

Part disaster movie, part gladiator epic, part heart-throbbing romance and all cheese. The explosively overheated “Pompeii” practically begs for ridicule, yet it’s surprising entertaining in a disastrous sort of way. Just lower your expectations, turn off your brain and let Mount Vesuvius take care of anything that annoys you. Super-bad gladiator The Celt (Harrington of “Game of Thrones”) falls for rich girl Cassia (Emily Browning), just in time to protect her from the lustfully evil Roman senator Corvus (Sutherland). Not in time to avoid the spectacularly recreated eruption, though, with an earthquake and a tsunami thrown in as a bonus.

THE WIND RISES

★★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Elijah Wood

See it for the way it captures the “beautiful dream” of flight. Flying machines and flying in general have always been a specialty of Japanese animation great Hayao Miyazaki and that’s very much the case in “The Wind Rises.” This highly fictionalized life story of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of Japan’s WWII fighter plane the Zero (a major departure from Miyazaki’s fantasy-based previous films) isn’t entirely successful, but its many dreams and visions of flight are still sublime. And it still casts the magically beautiful Miyazaki spell.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use

Stars: Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant

Two couples struggle to make the transition from casual affairs to relationships. Steve Pink (“Hot Tub Time Machine,” “High Fidelity”) directed this remake of the 1986 romantic comedy.

ENDLESS LOVE

★★

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief partial nudity, some language and teen partying

Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson

A triple dose of true romance and tortured melodrama for tween-age girls, the hyper-emotional “Endless Love” is likely to seem truly endless for just about anyone else. Wilde as sweet, beautiful, filthy rich Jade and Pettyfer as sensitive, hunky, wrong-side-of-the-tracks David are star-crossed teen lovers thwarted by Jade’s disapproving dad (Greenwood). Who has apparently forgotten that didn’t work out well in “Romeo and Juliet.”

ROBOCOP

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material

Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish

This ambitious remake of Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent, darkly satirical original isn’t as successful as it might have been, mainly because director José Padilha tries to inject more philosophy and drama into the proceedings than the lean, mean original concept can handle. Kinnaman (of AMC’s “The Killing”) stars as the not-quite murdered detective who’s brought back to life as a cyborg crime-fighting machine. There are nice, surreal visual touches and action scenes are a blast, but trying to deepen the drama defeats the original prime directive: mete out righteous payback as violently and spectacularly as possible.

THE LEGO MOVIE

Rated PG for mild action and rude humor

Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

An ordinary Lego minifigure (Pratt), mistakenly believed to be the great Master Builder, is recruited to join a mission to prevent an evil tyrant from gluing the universe together. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) directed the animated comedy.

THE MONUMENTS MEN

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett

Most unexpectedly, for the director of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “The Ides of March,” this art-centric, old-school World War II drama is a bit of a snooze. Director/writer/star Clooney has assembled a terrific cast to play his middle-aged intellectual commando squad, attempting to recover stolen art treasures near the end of World War II, but there’s too much story to tell, spread over too much territory, in too little time. For a more compelling overview of the subject, see the excellent 2006 documentary “The Rape of Europa.”

LABOR DAY

★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality

Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith

Part Lifetime Channel-romance and part home-invasion thriller, “Labor Day” makes a case for true love tending to turn up when you least suspect it — and being more than a little crazy. How crazy are we talking? How about a single mom (Winslet) falling for the escaped convict (Brolin) who has taken her prisoner and accepting him as a replacement husband and father over the course of a Labor Day weekend? A trifle bizarre, no? Even more so considering that “Labor Day” comes from Oscar-nominated writer/director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “Juno,” “Young Adult”).

LONE SURVIVOR

★★ 1/2

Rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster

As a celebration of courage while battling against impossible odds, “Lone Survivor” certainly gets the job done in a bare bones kind of way. It would have been a much greater tribute, though, if we learned more about the men it celebrates. Based on a memoir by Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell, this is the story of a disastrous 2005 mission in Afghanistan during which Lutrell and the other three other SEALs (Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch and Foster) were attacked behind enemy lines by Taliban fighters. Director Peter Berg (“Battleship”) knows action, and the half-hour firefight that’s the centerpiece of “Survivor” is an adrenaline-pumper. But a little less combat and a little more characterization might have had greater dramatic impact.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

★★★ 1/2

Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language, and some violence

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie

Having celebrated art and artists in his previous movie, “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese turns his attention in “The Wolf of Wall Street” to the creative criminal and the hustling, hand-over-fist money-grabbing that makes Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” pale in terms of pure, unadulterated greed. DiCaprio is impressive as stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who rocketed to spectacular wealth in the 1990s before going to prison for securities fraud and money laundering — and had a lot of despicable, uncomfortably infectious fun doing it.

AMERICAN HUSTLE

★★★ 1/2

Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence

Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

Everyone’s conning everyone else in “American Hustle” (with varying degrees of ruthlessness), yet no one’s really competent to handle the increasingly out-of-control high-stakes scam they’re involved in. Which is what makes director David O. Russell’s follow-up to “Silver Linings Playbook” simultaneously harrowing, hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the 1970s, “Hustle” features Bale as a low-level New York con man forced, along with his former-stripper partner/paramour (Adams), to help a loose-cannon FBI agent (Cooper) entrap and bribe federal legislators.

FROZEN

★★★

Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor

Stars: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel

“Frozen” certainly has the traditional fairy-tale spirit, as defined by Walt Disney, that is: princesses, magic and even true love’s kiss. It’s all bound up with an agreeably up-to-date attitude about female empowerment that doesn’t sacrifice girly-girl fantasy. Unfortunately, Disney’s 53rd animated feature also comes with mostly vapid Broadway-ready show tunes. Comic actress Bell plays the feisty princess Anna, who adventures into the wilderness to bring back her sister Queen Elsa (Menzel of “Glee”), who has accidentally winterized their kingdom with her icy magical powers.

PHILOMENA

★★★ 1/2

Rated PG-13 for some language

Stars: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench

It’s hard to think of an odder couple than the aloof, atheistic journalist and the chattily devout, grandmotherly, long-suffering lady who gradually warm to each other in the marvelous “Philomena.” Directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen”),“Philomena” tells the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench in another brilliant performance), searching for the child taken from her in the 1950s by nuns in a home for unwed mothers and essentially sold to rich American adoptive parents. But its true subject is the relationship between Philomena and unemployed BBC newsman Martin Sixsmith (Coogan, also very good) who reluctantly helps her, with their surprising, rewarding and often very funny discussions about love, sex, religion and life in general.

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