Within the first 5 minutes of “The Best of Me,” the words “miracle” and “destiny” are spoken…and not just once. They’re said a few times, and the frequency will only grow as the movie progresses. This should come as no surprise. It is, after all, sign number 1 that you’re watching a Nicholas Sparks movie.
Now I’ll admit, I’m usually a sucker for them. Sparks has a way of satisfying the “romantic tearjerker with ridiculously good-looking people” thing better than any of his contemporaries. His films range from good to bad to “I don’t care I love it anyways.” And with nine film adaptations of his best-selling novels, it’s not hard to fall somewhere in the middle. Which is initially where “The Best of Me” seemed to be heading. But some things just aren’t meant to be. “The Best of Me” is easily among the worst of the Sparks’ movies, nestled comfortably alongside “Message in a Bottle,” “The Lucky One,” and “Nights in Rodanthe.”
I never had the pleasure of meeting the tremendously gifted actress Elizabeth Peña and, if I had, it would have been difficult to reconcile her real-life personality with that of Pilar Cruz, her intelligent, demure, and sexy character in John Sayles' 1996 classic "Lone Star." I'd always imagined the two were one in the same.
Though Pilar is not perfect, she is perfect for the film (co-starring Chris Cooper as Sam Deeds), and Peña was perfect for the role. I love the way Pilar talks, the slow phrasing and slight Texas drawl so right for that Rio Grande border town. The heat makes everything move slower, even words. Her ultimately forbidden courtship with Cooper's sheriff character is a master class in subtlety and sultry restraint.
“Fury” treads in places war movies rarely find success, and does so with captivating force.
Writer/director David Ayer (“End of Watch”) strikes a clean balance between the brutality of battle and the humanity of war, and the result is a stellar film that reminds us of the mental toll war takes on its combatants.
It’s April 1945 in Germany. The war isn’t over yet, but the Germans know the end is near, meaning they’re more reckless than ever in their attacks on American troops. Leading the five-man Sherman tank nicknamed “Fury” is Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), who early on tells naïve and innocent Norman (Logan Lerman) to kill an imprisoned SS officer. Norman has never killed anyone, and doesn’t intend to start. “It’s not right,” Norman says, sticking to his morals as if he has a choice. “We’re not here for right and wrong,” Wardaddy barks, giving Norman a rough education on the reality of war.
“The Book of Life,” the latest animated release from 20th Century Fox, is being celebrated for bringing traditional Mexican culture and iconography to mainstream U.S. audiences, for how it injects some well-known English-language pop hits with some of that Latin sabor while still pledging allegiance to its south-of-the-border roots. If I were to pick a word going through my mind while watching this supernatural folk tale, “whitewash” would take those honors in a heartbeat.
Not that there isn't plenty to dazzle the eye and delight the eardrums in this colorful Guillermo del Toro-produced fable. Let's begin with the three central characters: guitar-strumming Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna), brave and true, willing to go to the ends of the earth – and beyond – in the name of love; headstrong, free-spirited Maria (Zoe Saldana), who thinks any suitor assuming he'll be able to dictate how to lead her life has got another think coming; and brawny, driven Joaquin (Channing Tatum), committed to filling his heroic late father's shoes, and to best Manolo for Maria's affections.
William H. Macy's debut film as director grabs your attention immediately. The opening sequences in "Rudderless" clearly reflect the accomplished, deeply talented actor's grasp on the wry comedy of human foible. It's equally effective in the manner of a group of ad executives at a late-running session, and in a young singer-songwriter's work on "I'm An Asshole," his current demo song.
The lives of one of the ad execs and his songwriter son take a tragic turn after a horrific shooting that leaves seven people dead. Billy Crudup ("Almost Famous" ) plays Sam, a down-on-his-luck yet driven copy writer, a type that Macy himself has played more than once. After the tragedy, Sam depresses the accelerator on his life as a bachelor attempting to half-drown in liquor. While still grasping his glass, he picks up an acoustic guitar, rediscovering an old hobby that helps him cope.
Have you ever sat through a movie where the talent in front of and behind the camera is evident but the finished product still rubs you the wrong way? I kept coming back to this notion over and over while seeing “St. Vincent,” the latest iteration of that most seemingly irresistible story: the crusty curmudgeon softened by his unlikely friendship with an adorable moppet. If a filmmaker plays his or her cards right, the material's inherent emotional manipulation will win over the most hardened cynic in a way that feels genuine, not manufactured.
For first-time feature writer-director Theodore Melfi, however, there's no character too broad, no plot point too shameless to coax his audience into laughing and reaching for their hankies at each carefully designated juncture. The fact that he takes an A-list cast that includes Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd and Naomi Watts down with him just makes sitting through this creaky, overeager dramedy that much more depressing. It's life-affirming in a way that brings to mind a self-help seminar refereed by a motivational speaker dead set on riling up the crowd.
The documentary "Lakay" (Creole for "home") is Haitian-American writer/director Tirf Alexius' personal account of a trip to his native land after it was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2010. He took two co-writers with him: his brother Remo Romeo and close family friend Hugh Grady.
The men, in their 30's, hadn't been back to Haiti since childhood, when they left with their families for Chicago, and unfortunately "Lakay" feels much like an outsider's view: a tourist's guide to the country and the aftermath of this horrific event. Born in Haiti and raised there to the age of eight, Alexius speaks fluent Creole. He shows no other credentials, though, with which to authoritatively lead you on this journey. Topically, the movie is woefully unfocused, alternating between reminiscences of growing up poor in Chicago, footage from Haiti, and the larger family picture.
It’s been said that the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie. For Bryan Singer, director of the first two “X-Men” films in 2000 and 2004, his best way to criticize is to ignore an offending movie completely. This film would be Brett Ratner’s mixed bag “X3: X-Men United.” Singer seemed to say: Jean Grey dead and Professor X in the body of an invalid? Nope. The X-Men and the Brotherhood working together? Yep, but in a deeper way, in a story that spans decades. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is Singer’s platform to bring these ideas to light and make his own third “X-Men” film as he wants to make it.
In “Days of Future Past,” the future is bleak for mutants. A scientist named Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) has developed the Sentinels, giant robots that hunt mutants and can also adapt to mutant abilities. The mutants’ only hope is to have Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back through time to 1973 and stop Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) failed attempt to assassinate Trask. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) also asks Wolverine to find the 1973 version of himself (James McAvoy) to assist and to also break the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of prison for assassinating JFK. What other explanation is there for the magic bullet?