Fifty Shades of Grey (R) Not as terrible as you might fear (or hope for) but still well short of being much good. The movie version of E.L. James’ wildly popular novel stars Dakota Johnson as a grad student who falls into a relationship with a young billionaire (Jamie Dornan) with a taste for S&M. This adaptation has a sense of humor that the book does not, but the actors have no chemistry, and Dornan fails to capture the weirdness and intensity that’s supposed to be in his character. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson tries to inject character developments in the endless, repetitive sex scenes, but they don’t take. Secretary was a much better film about BDSM sex. Also with Luke Grimes, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Victor Rasuk, Callum Keith Rennie, Rita Ora, and Marcia Gay Harden.
Furious 7 (PG-13) Let’s see, what is there new to report at this point? The car stunts and the fight sequences are even more spectacular and more ridiculous in this seventh installment, with the likes of Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa playing bad guys. The movie still wallows in sentimentality about family, though Paul Walker’s untimely death last year excuses some of it. Jason Statham turns up here as the pissed-off brother of the vanquished villain from the last movie, and he makes a proper nemesis for Vin Diesel. The way this series is going, I expect a car to outrun a nuclear bomb explosion at some point in the future. Um, yeah. Also with Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Elsa Pataky, Gal Gadot, Lucas Black, Djimon Hounsou, Kurt Russell, and Dwayne Johnson.
Get Hard (R) This feels like it was made from a script from the 1970s that Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor rejected. Will Ferrell plays a rich white hedge-fund manager who’s sentenced to 10 years’ hard time and desperately turns to a black small-business owner (Kevin Hart) whom he mistakes for an ex-con to advise him on how to survive in prison. The stars are too funny not to score a few points, but the movie misses its opportunity to satirize clueless white privilege. Instead, it traps the stars in endless rounds of anal rape jokes that are so numerous that you get the sense that the gay panic is coming from the filmmakers rather than the characters. Somebody could conceivably make a funny movie about prison rape, but it would take far more macabre filmmakers than these. Spend your time watching Orange Is the New Black instead. Also with Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson, Edwina Findley Dickerson, Erick Chavarria, Greg Germann, T.I., and John Mayer.
A Girl Like Her (PG-13) Wretched. Amy S. Weber writes, directs, and co-stars in this drama about a high-school girl (Lexi Ainsworth) who uses a hidden camera to document the bullying treatment she receives from her former best friend (Hunter King). The faux-documentary approach can’t disguise the movie’s simple-minded approach to the subject, its bursts of rank sentimentality, or its supposed main character being nothing more than a passive victim in all this. This wastes a nice performance by King as a bully who’s undergoing some crap of her own at home. Too bad. Also with Jimmy Bennett, Christy Engle, Stephanie Cotton, Jon W. Martin, Mark Boyd, and Gino Borri.
Home (PG) A random collection of gags with no story holding them together. On an earth where the entire human race to Australia has been forcibly relocated to Australia by an invading race of cuddly aliens, one misfit alien (voiced by Jim Parsons) has to team up with an escaped girl (voiced by Rihanna) to save the planet from a warlike alien race. Despite Rihanna’s better-than-expected job at portraying a little girl (and the savory irony of Jennifer Lopez voicing the role of her mom), the movie relies too heavily on its fish-out-of-water premise and uninspired silliness to stick in the memory for any length of time. Additional voices by Steve Martin and Matt Jones.
Insurgent (PG-13) If Hollywood gave these girl blockbusters the same respect as the boys’ club at Marvel, maybe series like these would be better. This sequel to Divergent follows our heroes Tris and Four (Shailene Woodley and Theo James) as they seek refuge among society’s outcasts, whose leader (Naomi Watts) just happens to be Four’s estranged mother. Watts is dry and cagey as a revolutionary who may be even more dangerous than the genocidal dictator (Kate Winslet) that she’s trying to overthrow. Still, director Robert Schwentke is no good with dream sequences, there’s no chemistry between the two leads, and the big revelation is the same as the one at the end of The Maze Runner. This isn’t good by any stretch, but its success should help pave the way for better tentpole movies about women. Also with Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Jai Courtney, Mekhi Phifer, Maggie Q, Zoë Kravitz, Daniel Dae Kim, Ashley Judd, Janet McTeer, and Octavia Spencer.
It Follows (R) The best teen horror flick in a long time. Maika Monroe plays a college girl who has sex with the wrong guy (Jake Weary) and is pursued relentlessly by a shape-shifting demon that only she can see. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell shoots this like a 1980s horror flick (replete with a synth-heavy score by Disasterpeace) and constantly directs your gaze to the background of the picture for any person walking slowly towards our heroine. Yet his script is also a keen psychological portrait of the effects of rape, which makes the heroine into a much more layered version of the final girl we’ve seen in so many slasher flicks. The ambiguous final shot is unexpectedly moving, and helps make this into a rare thing: a horror movie that improves on a second viewing. Also with Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Olivia Luccardi, and Lili Sepe.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (R) Puerile entertainment done with great skill and verve, though a bit more conscientiousness would have helped. Welsh newcomer Taron Egerton stars as a London street hooligan who gets recruited by his dead father’s friend (Colin Firth) into a secret international spy agency. Not associated with action-thrillers, Firth nevertheless makes a lean, efficient fighter in the movie’s plentiful hand-to-hand combat sequences, and the movie savvily casts him, Michael Caine as the agency’s head, and Samuel L. Jackson as a billionaire supervillain. Adapting Mark Millar’s comic book, director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn lets his twisted sense of humor come out to play, though he fumbles the tone of the piece at the end, and all the heroes are white while all the people of color are villains. For better and for worse, this is a throwback to the unserious spy thrillers of old. Also with Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michelle Womack, Jack Davenport, and Mark Hamill.
The Longest Ride (PG-13) Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson star in this latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks romance. Also with Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Melissa Benoist, Gloria Reuben, and Lolita Davidovich.
McFarland, USA (PG) Kevin Costner stars in this story of Jim White, a football coach with anger issues who went to a heavily Latino high school in rural Southern California and turned it into a champion cross-country running team. The characters here are very much aware that the only white teacher at the school is named “White.” So is director Niki Caro (Whale Rider), who does much work to prevent this from being just another movie where the white guy comes in and saves everyone. Seeing this man incorporate himself into a new community and see what his new neighbors go through is what gives this sports movie its power. Also with Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Rafael Martinez, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero, Morgan Saylor, and Maria Bello.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG) Second best is unfortunately an apt description. Dev Patel reprises his role in this sequel as a retirement home operator in India who’s now looking to expand his business while managing his wedding to his girlfriend (Tina Desai). All the seniors in the home get their own plotline, and sorting through it all is quite tedious, especially with Bill Nighy and Judi Dench being made to circle each other like 14-year-olds. The movie is beautifully photographed. The material isn’t there, however, and the starry cast seems to have left their A game back in the U.K. Also with Maggie Smith, Richard Gere, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Diana Hardcastle, Penelope Wilton, Lillete Dubey, Tamsin Greig, Vikram Singh, and David Strathairn.
Still Alice (PG-13) Julianne Moore won a long-overdue Oscar for what is nevertheless one of her least effective performances. In this overly cozy drama, she plays a linguistics professor in New York struggling with her mental decline after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland adapt this from Lisa Genova’s novel and don’t bring any sort of insight into the mechanics of living with mental decline at such an early age. Nor do they find much meaning in their heroine’s struggle to keep hold of her faculties. Moore’s reduced to an exercise in technique as she captures the stages of her character’s decline. This movie could have been more. Also with Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae, Hunter Parrish, and Alec Baldwin.
Woman in Gold (PG-13) Devoid of any genuine feeling or originality, this movie reduces an inspiring real-life story into hackneyed Hollywood fare. Helen Mirren plays an octogenarian Austrian émigré who hires a struggling L.A. lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) in the 1990s to help her win back Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” a family heirloom seized by the Nazis. Screenwriter Alexi Kaye Campbell provides us with cheap applause lines and director Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn) holds our hands at every turn so we’re never unsure as to how to feel, with the Austrian government reduced to cardboard villains. Buy a Klimt refrigerator magnet; it’ll be a better use of your money and a more meaningful artistic experience. Also with Katie Holmes, Daniel Brühl, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Elizabeth McGovern, Antje Traue, Frances Fisher, Moritz Bleibtreu, Allan Corduner, Justus von Dohnányi, Jonathan Pryce, and Charles Dance.
Cut Bank (R) Liam Hemsworth stars in this thriller as a Montana man who sees a chance to escape his small town after accidentally filming a murder. Also with Teresa Palmer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Oliver Platt, Bruce Dern, Billy Bob Thornton, and John Malkovich.
Dial a Prayer (PG-13) Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) stars in this drama as an operator who answers calls at a religious call center. Also with William H. Macy, Tom Lipinski, and Glenne Headly.
An Honest Liar (NR) Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein’s documentary profile of magician and spiritual debunker James Randi a.k.a. The Amazing Randi. Also with Penn Jillette, Alice Cooper, Bill Nye, Adam Savage, Peter Popoff, and Uri Geller.
The Salt of the Earth (PG-13) Nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders’ film profiles photographer Sebastião Salgado and his attempts to shoot scenes of nature in remote locations.
Serena (R) Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in this adaptation of Ron Rash’s novel about a married couple in 1920s North Carolina whose marriage and business empire are torn apart by a long-buried secret. Also with Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Sean Harris, and an uncredited Sam Reid.
’71 (R) Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) stars as a British soldier who becomes separated from his unit during a deadly riot in Belfast in 1971. Also with Sam Reid, Richard Dormer, and Paul Anderson.
What We Do in the Shadows (NR) Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi co-write, co-direct, and co-star in this mockumentary comedy as vampires who get on each other’s nerves when they’re forced to share an apartment. Also with Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, and Rhys Darby.