Movies: ‘The Raid 2: Berandal’ reviewed with other new, recent films

Julie Estelle stars as Hammer Girl in “The Raid 2: Berandal.”
Julie Estelle stars as Hammer Girl in “The Raid 2: Berandal.”

OPENING FRIDAY

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

★ ★ ★

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.

Stars: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Scarlett Johansson

You can’t fault this high-energy/high-drama, follow-up for being unambitious since it ups the ante on both adrenaline-pumping action and factoring serious socio-political issues into the plot. Ultimately, it goes a bit too far and bogs down in both areas, but if you can factor that out, “Winter Soldier” is as impressive as it is entertaining. Evans returns as the anachronistically wholesome, old-fashioned World War II hero thawed out after 70 years on ice and faced with major new challenges: His ethical opposition to a S.H.I.E.L.D. involvement in grand-scale surveillance and drone warfare, and a Cold War Soviet super-assassin with whom he has personal history.

IN THE BLOOD

Rated R for strong violence and language

Stars: Gina Carano, Cam Gigandet, Luis Guzman, Danny Trejo

Kidnappers mess with the wrong lady when they abduct the husband of a professional underground fighter (Carano). John Stockwell (“Turistas”) directed the action thriller.

ISLAND OF LEMURS: MADAGASCAR

Rated G

Stars: Morgan Freeman, Patricia Wright

Hundreds of species of Madagascar lemurs, now all endangered, are the subject of this IMAX 3D documentary, narrated by Freeman. Veteran cinematographer David Douglas (“Rolling Stones Live at the Max”) makes his feature directorial debut.

NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. II

Rated: No MPAA rating

Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Willem Dafoe

The sexual misadventures of a lifelong lust addict (Gainsbourg) continue in part two of the erotic drama by writer/director Lars von Trier (“Melancholia”).

THE RAID 2: BERANDAL

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language

Stars: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusodewo

Make no mistake. If what you’re after is insane, mind-bogglingly violent martial arts action, “Raid 2” is quite possibly the ultimate. That’s if you don’t mind the fact that there’s a lot more plot to keep track of in this more epic installment in the saga of honest cop Rama’s (Indonesian Silat champion Uwais) ongoing war with the gangsters of Jakarta. The stylishly cinematic carnage of writer/director Gareth Evans, still must be seen to be believed but it has built-in diminishing returns. There’s only a certain amount of bone snapping, rapid-fire stabbing, throat slitting, head crushing, facial griddle-sizzling, etc., that can be taken in before mayhem fatigue sets in.

UNDER THE SKIN

Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Lynsey Taylor McKay

An alien beauty (Johansson) seduces and destroys men, with Scotland as her hunting ground. Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast”) directed the sci-fi thriller.

STILL PLAYING

BAD WORDS

★ ★ ★

Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity

Stars: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Rohan Chand

Morally reprehensible, socially unacceptable and linguistically. . .wide-ranging, “Bad Words” is about as far-removed as you can get from the spelling bee movies “Spellbound,” say, or “Akeelah and the Bee” in terms of inspirational uplift. You might find it a lot funnier, though, depending on how you feel about a grown man being appallingly mean to schoolchildren. Of course it helps that most of the kids are nasty pieces of work themselves. Bateman makes an impressive directorial debut as man who won’t let anything stand between him and the national spelling-bee championship.

CESAR CHAVEZ

Rated PG-13 for some violence and language

Stars: Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich

This typically reverential biopic about civil rights icon Cesar Chavez doesn’t offer much more than a simplistic overview of his life and work. Even so, it’s welcome and long-overdue if only as a reminder of the prominent place he deserves in modern history. While it’s apparently true that he wasn’t the sort of firebrand usually associated with radical activism, it’s a little hard to know what to do with class-struggle hero as mild and unassuming as the Chavez we see here (character actor Pena in a rare leading role). A little more passion, even at the risk of making him seem a little less saintly, might have helped.

LE WEEK-END

Rated R for language and some sexual content

Stars: Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum

Long after their honeymoon, a British couple (Broadbent, Duncan) return to Paris to rejuvenate their marriage. Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) directed the romance from a script by Hanif Kureishi (“My Beautiful Launderette”).

NOAH

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content

Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins

After divinely inspired visions of apocalyptic flood, a man (Crowe) prepares for a new beginning for mankind. Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) directed the drama, based on the Bible story.

SABOTAGE

Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard

After robbing a drug cartel safe house, an elite DEA task force find themselves being eliminated one by one. David Ayer (“End of Watch”) co-wrote and directed the thriller.

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

★ ★ 1/2

Rated PG for some mild action

Stars: Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell

“Everybody knows the sequel’s never quite as good,” Kermit and the gang sing in the big opening production number of “Muppets Most Wanted” and in this case, they’re kind of right. This is still a Muppet movie, though, and for a lot of people, that’s going to be more than enough. The plot (Gervais and another master criminal, who happens to be Kermit’s evil double, with a sinister Russian accent) is a bit belabored and the whole thing goes on about a half hour too long — with one or two or three too many production numbers. But evil Kermit makes it all worthwhile. Note to Disney: Spinoff, please.

DIVERGENT

RatedPG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney

A girl classified “Divergent” (Woodley) in a future society divided into factions based on abilities, discovers she and others of her kind have been targeted for extinction. Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) directed the futuristic thriller.

ENEMY

Rated R for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon

A professor (Gyllenhaal) decides to track down his double after spotting him in a movie — and suddenly finds his life dangerously complicated. Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”) directed the thriller.

NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. I

★ ★ 1/2

Rated: No MPAA rating

Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf

After putting mankind out of its misery with a cosmic cataclysm in “Melancholia,” Danish director Lars von Trier is back with another artfully filmed misanthropic provocation. This time, the subject is sex (complete with trickily edited hardcore sequences featuring porn-actor stand-ins) and the main character is Joe (Gainsbourg), a soul-deadened lust addict recounting her erotic misadventures to a sympathetic listener (Skarsgard) who found her beaten in an alley. “The Joy of Sex” it’s not, and things presumably get worse next month in volume two.

TYLER PERRY’S THE SINGLE MOMS CLUB

Rated PG-13 for some sexual material and thematic elements

Stars: Nia Long, Amy Smart, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Cocoa Brown, Tyler Perry

A solid base-hit for writer/director/producer Perry (“A Madea Christmas”). It’s a little heavy on the solidarity vibe, perhaps, and a melodramatic meltdown midway almost knocks it off course, but it’s pretty funny at times — mainly because it’s raunchier than usual and Brown and McLendon-Covey strike a few sparks. A group of five very different single moms reluctantly join forces after their kids get into trouble at a ritzy prep school.

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 a 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.

VERONICA MARS

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

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

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.

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.

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.

MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN

★★★

Rated PG for some mild action

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

Directed by Rob Minkoff, who also directed “Stuart Little” and “The Lion King,” this is a spectacular, revved-up 3D update of the classic cartoons featured between adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle on early-’60s Saturday-morning TV. Like those comparatively primitive, extremely 2D “Improbable History” adventures from way, way back, the new “Mr. Peabody” features the genius Beagle and his nerdy adoptive son Sherman traveling through time in their WABAC machine to sort out some sort of historical snafu. Only this time, the emphasis (in addition to snickering juvenile silliness) is on grand-scale, high-energy action/slapstick set pieces — including a climactic space-time disaster that threatens to destroy the world. Underneath all the hoopla, though, the whimsical, slyly intellectual spirit of the original is still something special.

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

Thoroughly bland, unimpressively acted and featuring almost shockingly cheesy production values, “Son of God” looks and plays like a dramatic recreation on the History Channel — because that’s precisely what it is. Cut down and cobbled together from last year’s 10-hour miniseries “The Bible,” this warmed-over run-through of the life of Jesus (Portuguese model-turned-actor Morgado) has little to recommend it. It does, however, manage to generate some emotional impact with its depiction of the Passion.

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 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.”

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.

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