Nicky (Will Smith) and Jess (Margot Robbie) are both con artists: Nicky, the seasoned and confident professional, and Jess, the wide-eyed rookie wanting to learn. Nicky adds Jess to his rather large team for the big football game (a Super Bowl-esque event) to hustle the large New Orleans crowd. They do what any con artists do in a major studio film: they make millions and have sex (the cons are good, the sex is pedestrian–it is Hollywood, after all). What makes this film fun is that Smith and Robbie do have good chemistry… it isn’t electrifying, but there are sparks. Writing and directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa do a great job of keeping the film on the rails, and supporting actor Adrian Martinez is funny as hell.

GRADE: B

David Cronenberg’s MAPS TO THE STARS is more hit than miss. It is good, but it does take time for a viewer to get used to Cronenberg’s strange and absurd Hollywood. But that seems to be his and screenwriter Bruce Wagner’s point: Hollywood is not real, and is the home of the odd, strange, and dysfunctional. This is demonstrated by the fact that every character in the film is flawed, but none more than Julianne Moore who is a deeply insecure actress. Mia Wasikowska plays a destructive person with some serious screwed-up parents. John Cusack and Evan Bird are also good in their own demented Hollywood-way. Robert Pattinson, who was in Cronenberg’s last film, COSMOPOLIS, is perhaps the most normal.

GRADE: B

Jack O’Connell is a star in the making. He was fabulous in last year’s STARRED UP and UNBROKEN, and he is just as good in this year’s ’71. O’Connell plays good guy Gary Hook, a young British soldier who accidentally gets abandoned in Belfast during a riot in 1971. In a single night, Hook must maneuver through the dangerous Irish streets, avoiding being captured, tortured, and/or killed. Director Yann Demange (’71 is his directorial debut) does a brilliant job of keeping the era’s politics front and center as Hook narrowly escapes from one hair raising moment to the next. It is the film’s impressive kinetic energy that flows during this period of gritty survival that makes it a must see film.

GRADE: A-

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 is awful. It is an assault on the intelligence of everyone. The smartest person of the bunch is John Cusack who was intelligent enough not to return to the hot tub “franchise”. Unfortunately for Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Rob Corddry, they decided to return to this time traveling stinker (I’m assuming for the money… let’s hope it was for the money). The first mistake was the decision to focus the story around Corddry’s character, Lou Dorchen. Not that Dorchen is a bad choice, but Corddry’s idea of comedy acting is so over-the-top that he consumes all the oxygen and light in the universe. As a second banana or in a “Daily Show” three minute bit he’s okay. But the lead? Nope. Never. Save your money and don’t see this film.

GRADE: D-

Argentina’s 2015 Oscar nominated Foreign-Language film, WILD TALES, is the combination of six dark comedic short films: “Pasternak”, “The Rats”, “Road To Hell”, “Bombita”, “The Deal”, and “’Til Death Do Us Part”. Damián Szifrón writes and directs all six films, and does a great job of keeping the quality of each short film approximately the same. Each film displays the lowest of the low in regards to human behavior, and could easily be called “The Human Animal: Rage and Revenge.” Everyone will have their favorites of the six, and mine are “Pasternak”, “The Deal”, and “’Til Death Do Us Part”. I especially enjoyed the performances of Oscar Martinez in “The Deal”, Walter Donado in “Road To Hell”, and Érica Rivas in the finale.

GRADE: B+

The only reason that Universal, a major studio, is involved in producing and distributing a film with sadomasochism and extensive female nudity is because of the moneymaking possibility of the rabid best selling novel fanbase. This fact demonstrates that green is still Hollywood’s favorite color, which doesn’t bother me. I just request that the film is good, which FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is not. There are some redeeming qualities in the film. I really liked Dakota Johnson’s performance as Anastasia Steele, a virgin with a heart of gold. Her co-star, Jamie Dornan, who plays Christian Grey, is physically sexy, but isn’t compelling as an actor. There are a few good scenes, but some of the dialogue is groan inducing. I give the film 1 out of 4 erections.

GRADE: C+

The KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is brash, ballsy, violent, clever, funny, smart, and just downright entertaining. But you shouldn’t expect anything less from Matthew Vaughn’s second directorial assignment of a Mark Millar comic book adaptation, the first being KICK-ASS which had similar tonal qualities. The difference between the two films is that the KINGSMAN is just so much more fun to watch. Colin Firth is Harry Hart (a.k.a. Galahad, his Kingman’s codename), a suave James Bond type who sponsor’s Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton), a street-wise kid with a chip on his shoulder, to compete in the secret service training program. The strength of the film comes from Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s intricate adaptation.

GRADE: A-

BALLET 422 is a documentary about emerging choreographer Justin Peck creating the New York City Ballet’s 422nd original production. Director and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (he also lensed MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and TINY FURNITURE) documents Peck’s first rehearsal to the ballet’s world premiere in a “fly on the wall” style. The film itself is superficial in capturing the underpinnings of the creative process–this is Frederick Wiseman lite and its 75 minute running time confirms it. The film is devoid of drama, and plays like a home movie rather than a theatrical release. The only way this film becomes relevant is if Mr. Peck becomes famous, then the film’s historical perspective will be interesting.

GRADE: C

SEVENTH SON is neither a particularly good film nor particularly a bad film. It sits somewhere in that horrible place of “average”. There are several bright spots in the film: the visual effects are quite good, especially the dragons and several of the creatures; Dante Ferretti’s production design is good (as expected); the fight scenes are well choreographed; and there is a good performance by the radiant 26 year old Alicia Vikander as Alice, a young woman with a magical secret. However, Jeff Bridges’ performance as Master Gregory, a “last of his kind” witchhunter known as a “spook”, is a bit distracting with his ill-advised “mouth full of marbles” performance. And I can’t say that the story itself is all that memorable.

GRADE: B-

Writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland’s SONG ONE is heart-felt and touching at times, but unfortunately the film doesn’t quite work on several levels. There are a couple of scenes that are superfluous (one that took up way too much time for a film that is only 88 minutes). Johnny Flynn, who plays Ann Hathaway’s love interest, has a wonderful singing voice and belts out some good country tunes, but has a very limited acting range. The relationship between Hathaway and Flynn seems contrived. Mary Steenburgen, who plays Hathaway’s mom, serves no purpose. But the biggest problem is that Hathaway is limited to singing just one song and only sections of another. We all know that she has a great voice–let her sing!

GRADE: C-

Bradley Cooper has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar the past three years (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, AMERICAN HUSTLE, and now, AMERICAN SNIPER). It’s that kind of recognition that makes one take notice, and Mr. Cooper’s performance as Chris Kyle in AMERICAN SNIPER is another indication that he is one of the best actors in Hollywood right now. Sienna Miller, who plays Cooper’s wife, also demonstrates some acting chops, even though she isn’t given much to do in the film. There are problems with the script. The biggest issue is there are major jumps in chronology with Kyle’s home life. But overall, the film is good, and Clint Eastwood does his best direction since 2009’s GRAN TORINO.

GRADE: B+