I’ve yet to see THE WOLVERINE and believe I am the LONE CRITIC who loved THE LONE RANGER. Here’s the best & worst of the rest so far:

20 FEET FROM STARDOM–This revealing, heartbreaking documentary charts the careers, hopes, dreams, disappointments of the back-up singers who literally stand inches away from center stage-the voices behind Sting, Springsteen, Jagger– who bring heart, soul, urban grit, heavenly harmonies, and emotional resonance to the best bands in the business. But we barely know who they are– until now.¬† We meet them, find out what happened to them, hear them– solo- and it will stun you. There’s the sheer, gorgeous range of the divinely musical Lisa Fischer who never really cared about solo stardom but sings “just a shot away ” on every Stones tour.¬† Not so, Merry Clayton, who brought her raw vocal power to the same riff before Fischer, but wanted stardom so bad she could taste it. Then there’s the queen of back up singers– Darlene Love who started out at Motown, sang back up for Elvis and scores of others– but whose solo career was murdered by Phil Spector. We cry with relief as she finally takes her place in the R&R Hall of Fame.¬† The astonishingly beautiful Claudia Linnear whose once dazzling life has taken her –you won’t believe where today. As Sting ruefully notes “it’s not a level playing field… it’s not about talent; it’s about luck, circumstance, destiny…” SEE THIS– then go out and buy Lisa Fischer’s albums.

THE HEAT–THIS IS SIDESPLITTINGLY, TEARS ROLLING DOWN MY FACE FUNNY!!! And it was shot in Boston! Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as a pair of hilariously mismatched law enforcement officers had me, first frame to last, screaming with laughter! Bullock is an uptight, by the book, Yale grad, know-it-all, pain in the gluteus maximus FBI agent. Melissa McCarthy is a freewheeling, foul-mouthed, play-it-by ear, down and dirty Boston detective who uses her ample gluteus maximus for maximum impact. No perp gets the better of these two, and they soon discover that their competing strengths complete each other: they are most definitely more than the sum of their parts. Plot be damned. They go after some bad guys who don’t have a chance. Don’t miss the watermelon scene, the perp shake-down scenes, the dance club “spanx” scene, the “you can’t go home again” scene featuring a wildly funny turn by Joey McIntyre as McCarthy’s dimwitted “younga brotha” and Jessica Chaffin as his freakin’ floozy of a girlfriend. You’ll laugh yourself silly. For once, I can’t wait for the sequels– these two doing ANYTHING together: taxidermy, dentistry, knitting. THE most inspired onscreen pairing in years.

THE WAY WAY BACK— Also shot in Massachusetts–Marshfield–the film is a sweet, smart, summer coming-of-age tale about¬† 14 year-old Duncan (Liam James) who begins his summer vacation in the way way back of his mother’s (Toni Collette) boyfriend’s (Steve Carell) station wagon. Carell plays a convincing creep to Collette’s sensitive but needy mom, while Sam Rockwell steals the movie as a carefree, off-the-wall manager of the local water park which becomes a refuge for Duncan who desperately needs a caring father-figure to help him with life and girls. Allison Janney is pretty damn colorful as a loudmouthed, big-hearted neighbor who regularly drowns her own sorrows as soon as the sun goes down, or comes up. The beautiful AnnaSophia Robb is perfect as the college girl of Duncan’s dreams, Amanda Peet is deliciously hateable as a dubious best friend, and Maya Rudolph charmingly sane in putting up with her boyfriend’s (Rockwell’s) particular brand of screwiness–and did I say Rockwell steals the picture? He deserves an Oscar nomination for his work here.

PACIFIC RIM–A big stupid entertaining blockbuster of a sci-fi adventure directed by the not so stupid Guillermo del Toro the filmmaker who gave us the mesmerizing and brutal magical realist fable PAN’S LABYRINTH.¬† This time, gi-normous Godzilla-like monsters emerge from the depths of the ocean via a portal from another dimension. (Jung’s sea of the unconscious?) And how do we fight them? Not with unmanned drones and powerful bombs, but with gi-normous robots manned by a pair of humans who can “drift” together, that is, become psychically melded so as to flow in the drift of each other’s minds and function as a powerful “one.”¬† The film is riddled with macho cliches. Our would-be hero (Charlie Hunnam) still smarting from his co-pilot brother’s death, must prove himself in battle in order to regain his bearings; he’s getting major heat from another honcho and his dad who are jockeying for position. But there is one female involved– and she’s not the pilot’s girlfriend; she’s played by the spunky elegant Rinko Kikuchi, and gets to test her mettle. I saw it in 3D–ideal here, with the robots–Jaegers– fighting gladiator-style with fists or swords against the reptilic monsters (Kaiji) who barf acid, crush trucks, and send streets full of screaming Asians running for their lives ’50’s movie style. The film is a riot of references– from the imperious Idris Elba’s pre-battle cry which recalls Shakespeare’s Henry V “band of brothers” speech, to Spielberg’s little girl in red in “Schindler’s List.”¬† There’s also plenty here for gamers as well as the paranoid environmentalists among us. The film is actually smarter beneath the surface than it is above, with the storytelling and characters ultimately taking a back seat to the boys and their toys. But del Toro’s liberatingly fantastical action sequences give us quite a ride.

WORLD WAR Z–How bad could Brad Pitt be fighting zombies? Not bad at all! I was actually on the edge of my seat within minutes as zombie pandemonium breaks out and Brad, his wife (the unusual and talented Mireille Enos from TV’s “The Killing”) and family are set upon by the rabid critters. The globe is soon in jeopardy– from Jersey to Jerusalem and Brad must a save us all. The film is paced to make your heart race, with nail-biting decisions required at every turn. Some cheesy special effects and a slack climax, let us down just when we’re ready to go over the edge. But WWZ is mostly good, scary fun.


WHITE HOUSE DOWN–A bone-headed script and witless characters are the real threats in this shoot’em up political un-thriller. Channing Tatum is a DC Cop visiting the White House with his daughter when bad guys invade, start blowing things up, and threaten the President–Jamie Foxx. (Morgan Freeman must have been busy.) Tatum’s a one-man army as he singlehandedly tries to save the White House, the Capitol, the cabinet, his daughter, but lacks the edge and humor of DIE HARD’s Bruce Willis attempting similar improbabilities. The actors– including James Woods and Maggie Gyllenhaal– appear too embarrassed to commit to their lines, and I was laughing out loud as the fate of the nation hung on a truly dopey chase scene on the White House lawn. But keep an eye on JOEY KING as young Emily–she’s going places.

GIRL MOST LIKELY–That would be Kristen Wiig, but she and the always stellar Annette Bening are trapped in a joke with no punchline. GIRL means to be an offbeat tale about coming to terms with family dysfunction. Wiig plays a once-promising¬† playwright who’s flamed out in NYC and goes back home to New Jersey to live with her wacky mom, her mom’s wackier undercover CIA agent boyfriend (an hilarious Matt Dillon), and a young man (Darren Criss) who’s renting what used to be her bedroom.¬† Shapeless scenes, characters undeveloped and left hanging, and finally, predictability– in the form of a ridiculously neat, upbeat ending– make GIRL MOST LIKELY to fail.

RED 2-Another geri-action thriller about those crazy, still got it, semi-retired elite international operatives, once again called back into action. There is no plot– just an excuse for more sodden schtick with some big time actors and lots of globe trotting: from Costco to Moscow with battling Bruce Willis, Helen “still the vixen” Mirren, John mumbles Malkovich, and Tony the terrible Hopkins. Admittedly, I wish I were as cool as Helen Mirren, but it’s not enough to make me want to see RED 3. Only Mary-Louise Parker as Willis’s wife brings something fresh here in the way of truly kooky line readings.

That’s all for now — off to the movies…!