Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why the Big 12 is not likely to expand

I could be wrong — I mean it’s been known to happen — but I really don’t think the Big 12 athletic honchos who are meeting this week in Irving will agree on a plan to expand. For one thing, it takes eight positive votes from the 10 conference schools to agree on anything and I see three "no" votes all the way down here, 225 miles south of Irving.

Texas doesn’t need nor does it desire expansion. For one thing, school officials believe the only legitimate expansion candidate on the horizon is BYU, but any expansion plan would require the addition of two schools. Unless a Power Five conference school could be convinced to join the Big 12 — and nobody sees that happening — there are no two additions that would satisfy Texas. In addition, any school seeking admission to the conference, other than BYU, which also has its own TV network, will insist Texas give up its Longhorn Network and the only way that will ever happen is if Texas leaves the conference for, say, the Big 10.

TCU is deeply indebted to Texas for shepherding (some may say "ramming through") that school’s membership in the Big 12 and, thus, will vote the way Texas does. Texas Tech, being the only other state school in Texas in the Big 12, also always aligns itself with the school in Austin.

So, at the most, I only see seven possible votes for expansion and that’s one short.

Not only that, even if an expansion vote managed to win eight votes, I can’t see the 10 Big 12 schools coming to an agreement on which schools to add. Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State are not going to want to add a BYU; they would prefer a football program like Memphis, a team they believe would be more competitive with them. I have also been told there’s long-standing bad blood between Baylor and BYU and West Virginia certainly isn’t going to approve adding a school that’s 1,900 miles away. West Virginia would only vote in favor of Cincinnati and Memphis, perhaps Connecticut. But UConn is going to be a travel budget-buster for the majority of Big 12 schools and Oklahoma and Texas will be hard-pressed to see any advantages whatsoever in adding any of those three institutions.

Too many Big 12 schools like to recruit in the Houston area, so I doubt if anyone will want to approve UH’s membership into the conference. The argument for Houston is a supposedly huge television market, but if that was so lucrative, why hasn’t some other Power 5 conference’s made overtures to UH? And I’ve heard the two Oklahoma schools are dead set against adding any other conference member from Texas.

All this talk about expansion is really wrong-headed to begin with. The conference apparently received a report from some marketing guru that said it had a 4.5 percent better chance of getting one of its teams into the college playoffs if it had a conference championship game. Wow! 4.5 percent. That doesn’t seem like an overwhelming number to me. But the argument is the only way to have a legitimate conference championship game is in a league with at least 12 teams divided into two divisions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: What will give Big 12 Conference teams greater than a 4.5 percent chance is simply to schedule stronger out-of-conference opponents. If strength of schedule counts — and we all know that it does — why diminish your strength of schedule by adding weaker teams into the conference?

Monday, May 30, 2016

This week's (slim pickings) DVD Releases


RATINGS
***** A classic. Should be a part of any serious film lover’s permanent library.
**** Excellent with only a few minor flaws.
*** Worthy of renting or streaming.
** Below average, but mght have limited appeal to some tastes.
* Should be avoided at all costs.
No stars All copies should be confiscated and destroyed for humanity’s sake.

Click on title to see the film’s trailer.

Race **½ Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Jesse Owens’ (Stephan James’) quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy. Like a struggling sprinter, Hopkins’ film suffers from wasted motion, too much going on. It’s the difference between a merely competent movie and one justifying more discussion of Hollywood’s commitment to reward diversity.

Triple 9 **½ Directed by John Hillcoat. Blackmailed by Russian gangsters, a group of corrupt Atlanta cops concocts a scheme to distract police from a bank robbery by killing one of their own in another part of town. Though compelling in the acting and cinematography, the film’s plot is by the numbers and about nothing.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ** Directed by Burr Steers. Five sisters in 19th century England must cope with the pressures to marry while protecting themselves from a growing population of zombies. This is an odd, inconsequential but not entirely charmless misfire: an action-horror-comedy-romance with none of the first two and precious little of the third.

Gods of Egypt * Directed by Alex Proyas. This might have merited a so-bad-it’s-good schadenfreude fanbase had it maintained the unintentional laughs of its first 10 minutes. Instead, it skids into dullness, thus negating the camp classic that it so often verges on becoming.

Who teaches these people how to write

I had to read this sentence at least a half dozen times before I finally came to grips with it, but I’m still not positive that I am completely understanding it. It’s from a column that appeared in today’s Austin American-Statesman by sports commentator Cedric Golden. The column concerned the upcoming Big 12 Conference meetings and I don’t need to go into any more detail than that to highlight this particular sentence Golden crafted about the University of Kansas’ basketball programs:

"The Jayhawks have won three national titles,16 regular season and 10 Big 12 tournament titles, including a current streak of 12 straight."

How, I kept asking myself, could Kansas have won the last 12 straight tournament titles when, according to Golden, they had only won 10 overall? Finally, after reading that sentence over and over and over again and tossing it around in my mind, I somewhat hesitantly have come to the conclusion the "12 straight" refers to the regular season titles, even though the structure of that sentence contradicts that thought.

I’m guessing the Statesman also gives sports copy editors the day off on Sundays because, otherwise, hopefully, someone on the sports desk would have caught and corrected this sentence.

Maybe Austin’s dearth of competent sports writers is because the capital city doesn’t have one of the Big 4 professional sports teams. I also realize I’m going to be spoiled because I began my professional journalism career working on the same newspaper as the great Red Smith and later wound up working on the same publication as the immortal Blackie Sherrod. But still, Austin does have the University of Texas and even though it’s athletic standing ain’t what it used to be, you would think we could do better than this.

Monday, May 23, 2016

This week's DVD releases

RATINGS
***** A classic. Should be a part of any serious film lover’s permanent library.
**** Excellent with only a few minor flaws.
*** Worthy of renting or streaming.
** Below average, but mght have limited appeal to some tastes.
* Should be avoided at all costs.
No stars All copies should be confiscated and destroyed for humanity’s sake.

Click on title to see the film’s trailer.

Rise of the Legend *** Directed by Roy Hin Yeung Chow. An orphan (Eddie Peng), whose father has been killed by dark power, attempts to bring justice back to the town. Too artfully made for camp status but populated by characters too one-dimensional to stand alongside the likes of Once Upon a Time in China. Yeung’s martial-arts epic, set in the late 19th century, is marked by blue-gray hues and some genuinely striking camerawork.

The Finest Hours **½ Directed by Craig Gillespie. The Coast Guard makes a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952. An intermittently affecting, sanded-edge adventure that feels as if it trundled off the studio production line back when Eisenhower was in office. It’s not just the technique of this movie that is resolutely old-fashioned. So are its attitudes. The film may feature practically wall-to-wall monster storms but undergirding it all is a cushion of straight-arrow sentimentalism. It harks back to a rosy neverland when men were men and women stood by them.

How To Be Single **½ Directed by Christian Ditter. Young and footloose, New Yorkers Alice (Dakota Johnson), Robin (Rebel Wilson), Lucy (Alison Brie), Meg (Leslie Mann), Tom (Anders Holm) and David (Damon Wayans Jr.) are living the dream. With the city as their playground, their adventures of love and lust play out over a 10-year period. An entertaining movie that, while lacking real substance or stellar acting, hints at themes to which we can definitely all relate.

Risen **½ Directed by Kevin Reynolds. In 33 CE Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is ordered to find the missing body of Jesus in the weeks after his crucifixion in order to refute rumors of his resurrection and prevent unrest in Jerusalem. Turns out to be an intriguing, if ultimately frustrating, retelling of the familiar story, here reconfigured as a detective procedural.

Zoolander 2Directed by Ben Stiller. Derek (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) are lured into modeling again, in Rome, where they find themselves the target of a sinister conspiracy. Feels like a hasty collection of last-minute comedy panic attacks.

Friday, May 20, 2016

My 20 Favorite Singer/Songwriters (at the moment)

I have nothing against Gordon Lightfoot. I really like a number of his compositions. But I recently ran across this list compiled by the so-called music mavens at L.A. Weekly, which they touted as the definitive ranking of the world’s 20 best singer/songwriters. Gordon Lightfoot was No. 20 on that list, which was OK as far as it goes. But as I scanned the list I noticed the name Jackson Browne was nowhere to be found. Give me a break. I’ll give you Lightfoot’s Sundown and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and raise you Browne’s For Everyman, Rock Me on the Water, Something Fine, These Days, Take It Easy, The Pretender, just to name a handful.

So I thought to myself what would my list of 20 best singer/songwriters look. Then I decided I don’t want to compile a list that will stand for all-time, but one that reflected which ones I preferred right now. With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot and the L.A. Weekly, here’s how that list turned out:

1. Bob Dylan
2. Bruce Springsteen
3. Neil Young
4. Paul Simon
5. Lucinda Williams
6. Van Morrison
7. John Prine
8. John Hiatt
9. Boz Scaggs
10. Ryan Adams
11. Jackson Browne
12. Willie Nelson
13. Patty Griffin

14. Mark Knopfler
15. Dave Alvin
16. Joe Ely
17. Lyle Lovett
18. Guy Clark
19. Tom Petty
20. Robert Earl Keen

That's, like I said, the list for right now. It might all change by this time next week, next month, next year.

Monday, May 16, 2016

This week's DVD releases


RATINGS
***** A classic. Should be a part of any serious film lover’s permanent library.
**** Excellent with only a few minor flaws.
*** Worthy of renting or streaming.
** Below average, but mght have limited appeal to some tastes.
* Should be avoided at all costs.
No stars All copies should be confiscated and destroyed for humanity’s sake.

Click on title to see the film’s trailer.

The Witch **** Directed by Robert Eggers. A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession. Disturbing and taut, Eggers’s direction is almost without fault. His only mistake lies in the film’s final 30 seconds, where all the implied horror of the family’s plight becomes just a shade too explicit. A beautiful, bleak brainworm that will haunt you for days.

Theeb **** Directed by Naji Abu Nowar. In the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, a young Bedouin boy experiences a greatly hastened coming-of-age as he embarks on a perilous desert journey to guide a British officer to his secret destination. A mesmerizing coming of age adventure in an elemental setting. It becomes both more allegorical and more specific to our historical moment the more you think about it.

Janis: Little Girl Blue ***½ Directed by Amy Berg. Musician Cat Power narrates this documentary on Janis Joplin's evolution into a star from letters that Joplin wrote over the years to her friends, family, and collaborators. While aesthetically it doesn’t do much to break the form, this documentary more than succeeds in presenting Joplin as a flawed, insecure, deeply brilliant woman who, unfortunately, couldn’t shake her demons.

Dementia *** Directed by Mike Testin. After being diagnosed with dementia, an elderly war veteran (Gene Jones) is forced by his estranged family to hire a live-in nurse (Kristinia Klebe), only to find she harbors a sinister secret. Testin’s work here is definitely promising, suggesting something better from him down the road.

A Perfect Day *** Directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa. Sent to a deadly combat zone to recover a corpse from a well — where the body is contaminating a village's crucial water supply — a motley group of aid workers finds the ostensibly simple job turning into a Sisyphean task. When the film gets going, it’s hard not to be bustled along with it, thanks mostly to the director’s talent for punchy comic dialogue — doubly impressive, given this is his first English-language picture — and the plot’s habit of thwarting your expectations as to where the most morally upstanding course of action might lead.

Southbound **½ Directed by David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin. Five interwoven tales of roadside horror in which a group of travelers are forced to face their worst fears as things go horribly wrong for them on a forsaken stretch of desert highway. Just as most of the characters can't outrun their pasts, neither can they escape familiar plot contrivances that try too hard and achieve too little.

The Program **½ Directed by Stephen Frears. An Irish sports journalist (Chris O’Dowd) becomes convinced that Lance Armstrong's (Ben Foster) performances during the Tour de France victories are fueled by banned substances and starts hunting for evidence that will expose Armstrong. The film makes passing references to the power of celebrity and the Live Strong narrative — the cyclist admits to telling people what they wanted to hear — but it never goes deep on what it was that produced the awfulness that is Lance Armstrong.

Dirty Grandpa ½* Directed by Dan Mazer. Right before his wedding, an uptight guy (Zac Efron) is tricked into driving his grandfather (Robert De Niro), a lecherous former Army Lieutenant-Colonel, to Florida for spring break. It can be definitively stated that this movie is utterly unfunny.

Friday, May 13, 2016

On homophobes, hypocrites and head coaches

  • The ugly truth is this country was founded my white Protestant males who wanted a safe, secure refuge in which white Protestant males could prosper. We don’t talk about the founders of this country; we call them our "founding fathers." We don’t use the word "predecessors" when talking about our early government leaders; we say "forefathers." The U.S. Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. It took another 133 years for the 19th amendment to that Constitution, the one that finally gave women the right to vote, to be ratified. 133 freakin’ years!!!! And African-Americans weren’t guaranteed the right to vote for another 44 years after that. The Tea Party is a movement of mostly older Protestant white males who were flabbergasted by the realization that a black man occupied the White House and that the country was slowly evolving into a minority-majority dominated one and who didn’t want to give up their total domination of running things their way. Today, you saw that white male Protestant ethos raise its ugly head when the Texas governor and lieutenant governor once again went on this bigoted homophobic rant about school restrooms. Here’s something I would tell our misguided state leaders: look at the statistics and compare the number of school children who have been sexually abused by educators — their own teachers — against the number abused by transgendered high school students (how many of them can there be, anyway?) and then try to tell me who is the greater threat.
  • Speaking of those in charge of state government, did you notice how many of them got all in a huff when Austin voters decided they wanted their elected leaders — not corporations with obscene amounts of money to spend — to craft their local ordinances? Uber and Lyft, the companies that spent more than $8 million in a futile attempt to spread a bunch of lies to sway voters, decided if the good people of Austin were going to force their drivers to prove who they said they were, they would just leave town. And now Republican legislators are supporting Uber and Lyft. Just let that sink in for a moment. What they are saying is you don’t have to prove you are the person you claim to be to drive a ride hailing auto, but you do have to go to all kind of extra lengths to do so in order to vote. What hypocrisy!
  • Speaking of hypocrisy, what about those politicians who say "I don’t agree with anything this person says but I’m going to support and vote for him anyway because he is a member of my political party"? Now I can see why so many Americans are frustrated with the entire political process and decide there are more valuable things they can do with their time than vote. Why vote for people who espouse such nonsense? I’m not advocating abstaining from the voting process — not by any stretch of the imagination; I’m just saying I’m beginning to see why people are so disgusted with politics and politicians in general.
  • In 2006, my beloved Dallas Mavericks played the Miami Heat in the NBA finals. The Mavs were far and away the better team and they quickly jumped out to a two-game lead in those finals. The problem for the Mavs, however, was that the Heat had a far better coach, Pat Riley. The Mavs were saddled with Avery Johnson. That wasn’t a fair fight. Riley made some clever adjustments after game two, Johnson refused to respond and the Heat swept the next four games to win the series. I know this is going to sound like heresy, but the same thing just happened in the Oklahoma City-San Antonio Western Conference semifinal series. The Spurs were the better team but the vaunted San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich got taken to the cleaners in this postseason by Billy Donovan, in his first year in the NBA coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs’ offense relies on ball movement and Donovan found a way to take the Spurs out of that game. And that’s why the Thunder took the series. Pure and simple. Donovan outcoached the great Coach Popp. Look at the numbers. The Spurs were third in the NBA in assists this past season averaging 24.5 per game. The only time the Spurs came close to that number in their series against the Thunder was when they registered 23 in the series opener which, incidentally, the Spurs won by more than 30 points. It’s obvious Donovan made some adjustments after that game to stymie the Spurs offense. I wish I knew what they were, but no coach is going to give away their strategies for defeating another team. But in the five games after Game 1, the Spurs only averaged 16.8 assists per game, roughly two-thirds of their season average. In fact, in Game 4, which Oklahoma City won 111-97, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook had three more assists (15) than the entire Spurs team. And that was the difference.

Monday, May 9, 2016

This week's DVD releases



RATINGS
***** A classic. Should be a part of any serious film lover’s permanent library.
**** Excellent with only a few minor flaws.
*** Worthy of renting or streaming.
** Below average, but mght have limited appeal to some tastes.
* Should be avoided at all costs.
No stars All copies should be confiscated and destroyed for humanity’s sake.

Click on title to see the film’s trailer.

Mustang **** Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven. When five orphan girls are seen innocently playing with boys on a beach, their scandalized conservative guardians confine them while forced marriages are arranged. Ergüven’s film, beautifully shot and beautifully performed, cuts its storybook tone with starker, more brutal truths. Anger — aimed at a conservative social order and those complicit in maintaining it — courses through this sad, striking tale. This is a damning portrait of the lot of women in rural Turkish society, but its outrage and empathy spill over the sides of the movie to embrace the planet as a whole — anywhere a woman is condemned for all the thoughts others have about her.

Wildlike ***½ Directed by Frank Hall Green. After conditions in her new home become unbearable, a teenage girl (Ella Purnell) runs away and befriends an older man (Bruce Greenwood) preparing for a hike through the Alaskan wilderness. Greenwood brings his usual A-game, generating great chemistry with Purnell in their ad hoc paternal relationship, but she’s the revelation.

I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman *** Directed by Marianne Lambert. When Chantal Akerman took her life in 2015, she left behind more than 40 movies she directed during her career. Ironic, given what a deeply personal filmmaker she could be, that the film that best shows her brilliant intellect and insight isn’t her own.

Deadpool *** Directed by Tim Miller. A former Special Forces operative (Ryan Reynolds) turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool. As is often the case with violence like you’ll find in this film, it eventually becomes numbing. By its midpoint, once the novelty of a superhero movie showing super levels of violence wears off, the thinness and lack of spark in the fight scenes becomes more readily apparent. By the film’s end, they are hard to distinguish from any other superhero fare. Similarly, lack of imagination keep the film’s prodigious swearing and occasional nudity from feeling like anything original.

Where to Invade Next *** Directed by Michael Moore. With an eye toward finding solutions to the social problems plaguing America, provocative documentarian Moore embarks on a European expedition to interview ordinary citizens about their nations’ effective policies and practices. It’s frequently funny and entertaining enough, but its insights are far from revolutionary.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato *** Directed by Peter Greenaway. Rejected by Hollywood and facing pressure to return to Stalinist Russia, filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (Elmer Back) travels to Mexico to shoot a new film. The film has all the incessant showiness that can make Greenaway irksome: split screens, CGI, deliberately alienating performances. But the man loves a beautiful shot and a witty line; those are the things that carry the film.

Creative Control **½ Directed by Benjamin Dickinson. A young ad executive (Dickinson) begins to lose touch when he uses a client’s new Augmenta eyeglasses to create — and have a virtual affair with — a sexy avatar who looks like his best buddy’s (Dan Gill) girlfriend (Alexia Rasmussen). Maybe the real message here is that Brooklyn hipsters are absurdly annoying, whether it’s past, present or near future. On that front, the film succeeds. As a compelling film about the alienating effects of technology, not so much.

SynchronicityDirected by Jacob Gentry. A physicist (Chad McKnight) who invents a time machine must travel back to the past to uncover the truth about his creation and the woman (Brianne Davis) who is trying to steal it. After an hour or so of bad noir dialogue and convoluted plotting, viewers may wish they could jump back in time and watch something else.

RegressionDirected by Alejandro Amenabar. A detective (Ethan Hawke) and a psychoanalyst (David Thewlis) uncover evidence of a satanic cult while investigating the rape of a young woman. Perhaps a story like this needed to be a drama. Or maybe, with its constant, almost comical shifting of blame, a dark satire. Instead, it’s wound up as the worst of all possible alternatives: a disposable genre movie that cannot scare, convince, or enlighten.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

On this and that and the other

  • Sports fans are still talking about the final 13½ seconds of the Monday night’s Spurs-Thunder playoff game and how the refs missed so many fouls. Local fanatics in these parts are yelling these oversights cost of the Spurs the game. And those statements are, to use a word that’s becoming more popular around these parts of late, hogwash. What cost the Spurs the game was their incompetent offense during the first half. And if anything cost them the game in the last 13½ seconds, it was Manu Ginobli not taking that east layup he has driving for and instead flipping the ball to Patty Mills who was way off in the corner and subsequently airballed the three attempt. Just shoot the ball, Manu.
  • The Big 12 Conference is claiming it will have a better chance of making the college football playoffs if it expands to 12 teams and stages a conference championship game. Again, hogwash. The conference is still bitter because it got shut out of the playoffs in 2014 and it got shut out simply because Ohio State turned in an utterly dominating performance in its conference championship game. As a result, the committee formed to choose the four teams in the playoff moved Ohio State ahead of the two Big 12 teams in contention. I find it interesting that Ohio State then went on and won the National Championship in convincing fashion which proved to me, at least, the Buckeyes certainly belonged in that playoff. The conference is moaning that there have been two playoffs and the Big 12 has been involved in only one of them. I have news for the Big 12: The Pac 12 has only been involved in one of them as well and it has 12 teams and a championship football game. Didn’t help that conference all that much. Here’s the problem with the Big 12's expansion argument. Any team the conference has a logical chance of adding, other than possibly Houston, would undoubtedly have a lower RPI than 80 percent of the teams already in the conference and the playoff selection committee has made it abundantly clear, that strength of schedule plays a major role in determining the final four. So instead of expanding to add weaker teams, what the Big 12 should demand is that its member teams schedule more marquee out-of-conference games against more formidable opponents. Baylor’s three out-of-conference games this year are against Northwestern State (who?), SMU and Rice. Not exactly giant killers. Substitute those for, say, Washington State, Wisconsin and Tennessee (none of which will be vying for the national championship but all of whom are respectable opponents and are well known) and you immediately elevate Baylor’s chances. That’s just one example. But forcing athletic directors to put together a more challenging out-of-conference schedule will do more to increase their playoff hopes than adding a couple of weaker teams permanently to the conference.
  • There was a case in Oklahoma recently in which a young man was tried and acquitted of rape. According to the evidence, which was not disputed by either side, the man had oral sex with a girl who was unconscious because she consumed too much alcohol. The jury acquitted the person because there is no law on the Oklahoma books protecting a the rights of a woman who is rendered unconscious because of alcohol consumption against this form of sexual abuse. Now, ask yourself this: Do you think the verdict would have been different if the victim was white and the male perpetrator had been black?
  • Many people believe that with Donald Trump as its nominee, the Republican Party has a chance to suffer a greater defeat than Goldwater in 1964 or McGovern in 1976. I don't think so. For one thing, Goldwater and McGovern were running against incumbents and Trump isn't. But I think Trump will win 23 states, including, I'm sorry to say, my own. But he will lose the entire West Coast states as well as Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, the entire Midwest except for Indiana, and the entire Northeast, as well as Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Trump will win the Plains states, the Republicanized Deep South along with Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Alaska and Arizona. That gives him 191 Electoral College votes to 347 for Clinton.

Monday, May 2, 2016

This week's DVD releases


RATINGS

***** A classic. Should be a part of any serious film lover’s permanent library.
**** Excellent with only a few minor flaws.
*** Worthy of renting or streaming.
** Below average, but mght have limited appeal to some tastes.
* Should be avoided at all costs.
No stars All copies should be confiscated and destroyed for humanity’s sake.

Click on title to see the film’s trailer.

The Club ***½ Directed by Pablo Larrain. At a seaside facility that houses disgraced priests, the death of a new arrival prompts the Catholic Church to send upright Father García (Marcelo Alonso) to investigate. This is no sympathetic drama of absolution, no portrait of forgiveness sought by sinners. Larrai n is after something trickier and harder to pin down; he asks us to share real estate with these men, while offering few windows into their heads or hearts, or even a clarification of their crimes.

East Side Sushi ***½ Directed by Anthony Lucero. When she begins working at a Japanese restaurant, single mother Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) soon learns the journey from fruit cart vendor to sushi chef isn’t an easy one, especially if neither your race nor your gender matches up with people’s expectations. Lucero’s delectable debut feature has its share of on-the-nose writing and Cinderella-story contrivances, but for the most part folds its cross-cultural insights into a pleasing underdog narrative as deftly as its heroine presses together rice and nori.

A Royal Night Out **½ Directed by Julian Jarrold. Young princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gardon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) join the partying crowds on V.E. Day 1945. A frothy, forgettable comedy.

Joy **½ Directed by David O. Russell. After 10 years of trying to mass-market the revolutionary floor mop she had invented, housewife Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) strikes gold with a personal pitch on QVC that turns her Miracle Mop into an overnight marketing miracle. Has none of the energy or precision of any of Russell’s recent efforts. Not even Mangano heself could invent a mop good enough to clean up this mess. While Lawrence does robust, heartfelt work in the lead, this is the most miscast she’s been in a while, and it’s such a strangely imagined film in the first place that it never really gets its bearings.

Remember **½ Directed by Atom Egoyan. With the aid of a fellow Auschwitz survivor (Martin Landau) and a hand-written letter, an elderly man (Christopher Plummer) with dementia goes in search of the person responsible for the death of his family. The plot, as it unwinds, is increasingly eye-poppingly preposterous, but it holds you anyway, not only because of its outlandishness but because Plummer, against all odds, brings pathos and dignity to a role that doesn’t deserve him.

The 5th WaveDirected by J Blakeson. Still alive after four devastating alien invasions of Earth, 16-year-old Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz) searches through a desolate landscape for her younger brother. Topical ideas on humanity, mistrust and alien-as-immigrant metaphors are a plus, but a laughable romance and a ridiculous wrap-up render the film as only a staging ground for the next two parts of the trilogy to come.

The Choice * Directed by Ross Katz. Bachelor Travis Parker (Benjamin Walker) is enjoying the single life in his seaside North Carolina town when the beguiling Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) moves in next door. The movie has a twist or two toward the end, and they’re about as cheaply maudlin as the movies get. The only choice is to make sure a barf bag is nearby if you should choose to watch this stinker.