"Insurgent" keeps the "Divergent" series going strong.

As far as dystopian futures led by ultra-leftist, socialist governments go, the one in “Insurgent” isn’t all that bad. People are generally happy. Even the Factionless, who don’t belong to one of the five factions of this society—Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (brave), Amity (peaceful), and Candor (honest)—build communities with each other and make of it what they can. The only ones who really have anything to fear are the Divergent (people who belong to two or more factions), as they are the ones who are seen as a threat to society and hunted by the government. They are the outlaws.

This means that the heroine of “Insurgent,” Tris (Shailene Woodley), is an outlaw. At least according to this government, led by the cold, cruel, and calculating Jeanine (Kate Winslet, turning “icy bitch” into an art form). Tris has broken no laws. Rather, her crime is being born. She is so divergent that she belongs to all five factions. This is exactly what Jeanine needs to open a special box and reveal a secret from long ago, recorded by the society’s founders.

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It’s not the best the franchise has been, but it is damn good.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” wastes no time getting to the action: In the opening moments a valuable package is on board a cargo plane that’s about to take off, and the IMF team of Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther (Ving Rhames) has trouble keeping it grounded with technical overrides. Enter Ethan (Tom Cruise), who runs off a hillside perch and leaps onto the plane’s wing, hoping to get inside before it takes off. He grabs on, holds tight. The tension mounts. “Benji, open the door!” Ethan screams.

The plane takes off.

Even though most of us have seen this in the trailer, we can’t believe our eyes as Ethan is literally hanging off the side of the plane as it rises into the air (see “Did you know?” below re: Cruise doing the stunt himself). It is positively exhilarating. If the goal was to rival the Burj Khalifa sequence from the franchise’s last film, “Ghost Protocol,” mission accomplished.

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Coy marketing campaign leads to a great turn of events in Woody Allen’s latest.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Sometimes the less you know about a movie, the better.

The trailer for “Irrational Man” is terrible because it makes the movie look dull and, aside from being writer/director Woody Allen’s latest and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone, offers little reason to pay movie theater prices to see it. But there’s a reason it feels uninspired, and this is what also makes the trailer kind of brilliant: It holds back on a major plot development that drives the latter two-thirds of the film, and in doing so allows a plot twist to work with wonderful ingenuity. Ideally the marketing department would’ve found a way to better entice viewers without giving too much away (as far too many trailers do), so it’ll be interesting to see if people give this a chance.

Because the trailers haven’t revealed what it’s really about, nor will I. What you need to know is “Irrational Man” isn’t just a bland story that follows depressed philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Phoenix) and the two women, one a student (Stone) and one a colleague (Parker Posey), who occupy his time while teaching summer school at a Brown-esque university in Rhode Island. There’s much more complexity and morality to it than this, and it’s better because of it.

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You’ll be tempted to hit the holiday road one more time with the Griswolds, but only disappointment awaits.

Is it worth $10? No

“Vacation” is the latest example of a movie that reveals all its funny parts in its trailer. It’s a road comedy, so you expect the one-vignette-to-the-next structure, but when you have one clunker sequence after another it creates a grand sense of disappointment. The sad part is it’s not for lack of effort – where the story goes and how it pays homage to the original “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983) while still being its own movie makes sense. It just doesn’t translate to the screen.

This is the fifth “Vacation” franchise film, and given that the others were hit and miss it’s no surprise this one would miss too. The first “Vacation” (about a cross-country trip to amusement park Walley World) remains the best of the series, “European Vacation” (1985) is silly and too extreme, “Christmas Vacation” (1989) is my personal favorite, and we don’t speak of “Vegas Vacation” (1997). Through them all is the sense that the patriarch, Clark (Chevy Chase), is a loving father who wants nothing more than to bring his family together with the trip of a lifetime. Accordingly, this is exactly the way Clark’s son Rusty (Ed Helms) approaches his family’s trip in this film, as he takes his brood from Illinois to Walley World in California. To that end, kudos to Helms for nicely channeling some of Chase’s mannerisms, especially as Rusty freaks out. Like father like son.

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"Home" & "The Water Diviner" debut on Blu-Ray this week.

Why do technology designers do things like put the “Send” or “Save” button next to the “Cancel” or “Delete” button? I can’t be the only one who has put a lot of work into something and gone to save it, only to hit the cancel button by accident and lose all of my work. It’s absolutely infuriating. The only thing that is potentially worse is to go to cancel something and send it by accident. In the bright and bubbly animated movie “Home,” that is exactly what happens to our unlikely hero, Oh (voice of Jim Parsons).

Oh—I will not reveal how he got that name because it is pretty funny and should be discovered—is a Boov. The Boov are a race of 3-foot tall aliens with squishy skulls and skin tones that change based on their mood. They travel from planet to planet to avoid the Gorg, who are out to destroy them all. The Boov leader is Captain Smek (voice of Steve Martin), who prides himself on his ability to retreat and hide at the slightest hint of danger. It is the Boov way.

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The biggest event of the summer, if not the entire year, concluded a few weeks ago in San Diego. Here’s what it left us looking forward to!

If you are a lover of pop culture, or anything geeky, then you know it was the San Diego Comic Con. This is where Hollywood goes to show off it's biggest upcoming blockbusters and many new and shiny toys they want you to fall in love with. Add celebrities, comic book artists, writers, tons of amazing things to buy, and the insane lines that come with it, and you've got yourself an amazing event that attracts thousands!

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On-the-street tale of transgender prostitutes fails to connect.

Is it worth $10? No

Talented American writer/director Sean Baker, of the quietly excellent "Starlet" (2012), ventures deeper into L.A.'s sex trade in "Tangerine," about two close friends, transgender women, working as prostitutes. Impressively shot using three iPhones, this film again showcases the young artist's exciting visual style and, not often enough, his skills in creating simmering conflict.

Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) serve as sorts of high-heeled, wild guides through West Hollywood's streets of street drugs and street walkers. Sin-Dee learns that her pimp/"boyfriend" had sex with a non-trans woman (a "fish," apparently, in the parlance of the trade) while the former was briefly imprisoned, and half of the movie focuses on her efforts to find him and, presumably, read him the riot act.

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Recent Articles

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Insurgent
"Insurgent" keeps the "Divergent" series going ...
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ***
It’s not the best the franchise has been, ...
Irrational Man ***1/2
Coy marketing campaign leads to a great ...
Vacation **
You’ll be tempted to hit the holiday road one ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Home
"Home" & "The Water Diviner" debut on ...

Great Celebrity Cruise & Movies Await!

All aboard!

The Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, in conjunction with Scott Grody Travel, is presenting a film festival at sea December 6-13, 2015. The ship is the Celebrity Silhouette, and destinations leaving from Ft. Lauderdale include San Juan, St. Maarten and St. Kitts. There will be six screenings of PBJFF films (two per day each day the ship is at sea) hosted by festival director Ellen Wedner, and there are plenty of "perks" to sign up now, so what're you waiting for? All the info you need is below!

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