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Friday movie roundup: European vacations

First Published      Last Updated Mar 21 2014 10:56 am

This weekend's best new movies have a continental appeal.

The best movie of the week is "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (opening at the Broadway), the latest confection of director Wes Anderson — and, in some ways, his tastiest and most bittersweet. The main story centers on M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, who's surprisingly hilarious), the doting concierge at an opulent central European hotel circa 1935. When a dowager client (Tilda Swinton) dies unexpectedly, Gustave is mentioned in her will — and accused by her greedy relatives of murdering the old gal. Anderson employs charming visuals, his usual stable of actors, and a wistful tone to capture an era that's long gone.

Meanwhile, the Muppets are touring Europe in "Muppets Most Wanted," a gut-busting comedy that finds Kermit the Frog mistaken for his evil doppelganger and tossed into a Siberian gulag. Wall-to-wall jokes, kicky musical numbers and a boatload of celebrity cameos provide lots of laughs.

The big movie, in probable box-office terms, is "Divergent," the first chapter in author Veronica Roth's young-adult thriller series — set in a dystopian future when people are relegated to "factions" that determine their life paths. Enter Tris (Shailene Woodley), who discovers she can fit into three factions, making her "divergent," and therefore a danger to the well-ordered society. Woodley ("The Spectacular Now") is great, and Kate Winslet has fun as the baddie, but the movie is too busy setting up the franchise to work as a stand-alone film.

More on the art-house slate: "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me," an intimate and funny documentary about the veteran Broadway and film star; "Child's Pose," an intense but downbeat drama from Romania about a well-to-do designer (Luminita Gheorghiu) going to great lengths to get her adult son off of a vehicular homicide charge; and "Blood Ties," a cliche-heavy crime drama set in 1974 about two brothers — an ex-con (Clive Owen) and a cop (Billy Crudup).

Lastly, a few theaters have booked "God's Not Dead," a faith-centered drama about a Christian college student (Shane Harper) who must debate his atheist professor (Kevin Sorbo) about the existence of God. This movie, which also stars Dean Cain and features a cameo from "Duck Dynasty" couple Willie and Korie Robinson, was not screened for critics.