First off, apologies for no preview edition last week.  I had more assignments than usual, including an unexpected deluge of independent films to see and review.  I especially liked Sam Rockwell’s dark comedy Better Living Through Chemistry, though the honest, disarming Chilean love story Gloria certainly has its merits.  The Japanese drama Like Father, Like Son is also at the Carolina along with the contractual-obligation one week wonder crime comedy Art of the Steal.  On the mainstream front, Need for Speed‘s clear, frequent car chases make it a lot better than it looks.  Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club, however, is perhaps even worse than it looks.

In Theaters

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Any time a new Wes Anderson film comes around is reason for celebration.  His latest is The Grand Budapest Hotel, in which Ralph Fiennes plays a concierge at the titular establishment circa 1932.  Many a veteran of past Anderson films show up, often just for a minute or two, and folks like Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, and Saoirse Ronan make their dollhouse debut.  My review is already up.  Plan your weekend accordingly.

Muppets Most Wanted (Walt Disney Pictures)
Muppets Most Wanted
(Walt Disney Pictures)

Personally, nothing’s going to cinematically compete with Wes Anderson, but Muppets Most Wanted holds its own special appeal.  Three years after Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller gleefully brought our felt friends back to the big screen, the Henson gang returns, though sans Segel’s Gary and Amy Adams’ Mary.  James Bobin is back as director and has written a script with Stoller about an evil Kermit doppelgänger and a jewel heist.  Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, and Ty Burrell are the primary humans with the usual impressive cameos lined up.  And yes, Bret McKenzie…*ahem* Academy Award Winner Bret McKenzie is back with some original songs, though I doubt any will be as delightful as the piece that rightfully won him that Oscar, “Man or Muppet.”

Divergent (Lionsgate)
Divergent
(Lionsgate)

Also getting a huge push this weekend is Divergent, the latest Young Adult dystopian literary adaptation.  Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, the film is set in a world where people are separated based on human virtues. Tris (Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now) doesn’t fit into one of these groups and is therefore Divergent, a set that she discovers is about to be destroyed by evil faction leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet).  Teaming with the hunky Four (Theo James), Tris seeks why her kind was targeted.  I’m not confident that the 139-minute film will turn Woodley into the next Jennifer Lawrence, but I am looking to see her with her Spectacular co-star Miles Teller.  Ashley Judd, Mekhi Phifer, Maggie Q, and Zoë Kravitz also show up while Neil Burger (The Illusionist) directs.

Veronica Mars (Warner Bros.)
Veronica Mars
(Warner Bros.)

I have never seen an episode of Veronica Mars, but I’m nonetheless impressed by the CW show’s fans rallying around the Kickstarter campaign that has now brought their beloved characters to the big screen.  Kristen Bell returns as the eponymous sleuth who, after giving up those ways for a potential career in law, is pulled back in upon returning to her hometown.  The rest of the show’s original cast is also back, several of whom (e.g. Krysten Ritter and Ken Marino) have gone on to bigger things since the show was cancelled after three seasons.  I’m not going to do any further homework about the series and will go in blind on Friday.  We’ll see how that goes.

God's Not Dead (Pure Flix Entertainment)
God’s Not Dead
(Pure Flix Entertainment)

God’s Not Dead is about college student Josh (Shane Harper, High School Musical 2), whose Christian faith is challenged by his philosophy professor (Hercules himself, Kevin Sorbo), an atheist who forces his class to write up a disavowal of God on the first day of class or receive an F.  Naturally, Josh won’t comply and must prove to his teacher and classmates that God does indeed exist.  Duck Dynasty‘s Willie Robertson makes an appearance as himself that may or may not include some Zaxby’s snacks.

Fleeing the Scene

Last week: Her, Kill Your Darlings, Generation War, 3 Days to Kill.

This week: Philomena, Gravity, Monuments Men, Like Father Like Son, Art of the Steal, Son of God.

On DVD

Last week: Inside Llewyn Davis, The Broken Circle Breakdown, Homefront, The Book Thief, Out of the Furnace.

This week: Saving Mr. Banks, Kill Your Darlings, American Hustle, Frozen, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

On Netflix Instant

Last week: all six seasons of the revered Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series, including the previously unaired final season; The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall, a documentary in which the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Kathy Griffin, and Jay Leno say nice things about a legendary stand-up comedy stage; Uptown Girls; and the Hunger Games parody The Starving Games.

This week: the still stunning Gattaca; the creepy, exhilarating We Are What We Are remake; Kevin Macdonald youth-at-war film How I Live Now; Paul Weitz’s sounded-better-than-it-actually-is satire American Dreamz; the first Bad Boys, which is also Michael Bay’s first film; the pre-Pulp Fiction Travolta antics of Look Who’s Talking Now; a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder double feature of Stir Crazy and See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and the animated snail racing calamity known as Turbo.  Go ahead and click “Not Interested” on that one.

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