FS, Contributing Writer
Even those who hang on the outcome of the NFL player-signing process are likely to find “Draft Day” (wide release) less than exciting.
The comedy-drama stars Kevin Costner as the put-upon general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who’s dithering over which college players to pick to shore up his team’s uncertain future. Pressure from the owner, the new coach, his current players and the fans makes the process difficult — as does an offer from another team to trade a first-round pick at a heavy price.
But that’s not all: He also has to deal simultaneously with personal problems involving his wife and girlfriend.
“Draft Day” would have to move like lightning to work, but Costner’s characteristic sluggishness holds it back, and it never takes off.
In the end, moreover, it turns out that all the wheeling and dealing was pointless, since things turn out exactly as you expect them to (and as they would have if none of the back-and-forth dickering had ever happened).
So “Draft Day” ends up a bad choice for filmgoers.
Nicolas Cage gives his best performance in years in David Gordon Green’s “Joe” (Angelika), a brooding Southern-gothic tale about a boy saved from a brutal, alcoholic father by an unlikely savior: a volatile ex-con with a propensity for violence, but an intrinsically good heart.
Cage’s turn as the surrogate parent is matched by that of young Tye Sheridan (“Mud”) as the naïve lad who benefits from Joe’s rough kindness. And Gary Poulter, a non-actor who died shortly after the film was completed, creates a portrait of the boy’s real father that’s an absolutely frightening example of unvarnished small-town wickedness.
“Joe” represents Green’s return to small independent fare after a stay in Hollywood that resulted in such misfires as “Your Highness” and “The Sitter.” It’s good to have him back where he belongs.
“The Raid 2”
Though it’s a sequel to a martial-arts slugfest that was claustrophobic and gritty, “The Raid 2” (wide release) is anything but. Instead, it aims to be an Indonesian “Godfather,” an epic tale of gangland scheming and warfare that’s elegantly shot on a wide canvas.
Its raison d’être, however, remains the staggering fight sequences, which pit the hero cop Rama — here going undercover to infiltrate one of Jakarta’s top crime families — against a variety of foes. Among those he faces in prolonged, superbly choreographed melees are a character known only as The Assassin, who wields a couple of short-bladed knives, and a brother-and-sister team called Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, whose names are a pretty fair indication of what to expect from them. The fact that all the scenes of combat are done without CGI trickery makes them all the more viscerally exciting.
“The Raid” is ultra-violent, and at two-and-a-half hours wears out its welcome. But for martial-arts devotees, it will be a bloody pleasure.
Another sequel is “Rio 2” (wide release), an animated 3-D follow-up to the 2011 hit about two rare blue macaws that find love despite the efforts of nasty smugglers to capture them.
This time around, the birds reconnect wtih a flock of relatives deep in the Amazon rainforest and must also save their habitat from destruction at the hands of greedy loggers. Heavy environmental messages jockey with domestic sitcom elements for attention, and the plot is further weighed down by an array of subplots, musical numbers and action scenes, including a prolonged avian version of soccer.
The result is a colorful but frantic family movie that’s ultimately more exhausting than exhilarating.
Like last year’s surprise hit “The Conjuring,” “Oculus” (wide release) is the rare contemporary horror film that depends more on suggestion and tension than on gross-out effects.
The source of evil is a demonic antique wall mirror that sucks the life from plants and animals and seduces any humans it comes into contact with to kill themselves, stealing their souls in the process.
Now a brother and sister who lost their parents to the artifact a decade ago intend to document its malignant power before destroying it. The result is a night of increasingly spooky events.
“Oculus” has a complicated structure, melding recollections of the siblings’ horrifying experiences as children, when they were threatened by their possessed parents, with their present-day efforts to uncover the mirror’s powers, during which the perspective shifts imperceptibly from reality to illusion.
But despite flaws — like an emanation from the glass that looks like a reject from a Japanese ghost story — “Oculus” proves genuinely creepy, thanks to solid acting, atmospheric cinematography and a savvy use of light and shadow.