The Best Of Me

Relativity Media

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, brief profanity and some drug use

High School Sweethearts Reunite In Adaptation Of Bittersweet Best Seller

The real test of a good tearjerker is whether or not it moves you to tears. And this movie managed to make me cry in spite of myself.

As this film unfolded, I frequently found myself criticizing its considerable structural flaws, from the questionable casting to the farfetched storyline to one humdinger of a reveal. Nevertheless, as the closing credits rolled, I found myself wiping my eyes, a sure sign that this manipulative melodrama calculated to open the floodgates had achieved its goal.

Directed by Michael Hoffman (The Last Station), the picture is loosely based on the Nicholas Sparks best seller of the same name published in 2011. Sparks is the prolific author of 18 romance novels, half of which have been adapted to the big screen, most notably Message In A Bottle and The Notebook, with a couple more already in the works.

Set in Oriental, North Carolina, The Best Of Me stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan as Dawson Cole and Amanda Collier, former high school sweethearts who haven’t seen each in a couple decades. Strangely, the teenage versions of the very same characters are played in a series of intermittent flashbacks by look-un-likes Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato.

The point of departure is the present, where we learn that Dawson, who never married or attended college, is employed on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana. He subsequently barely survives a deepwater explosion that blows him off the hundred-foot high platform and turns theGulf of Mexicointo a sea of fire. Meanwhile, miserably married Amanda is living in the lap of luxury inBaton Rougewhere she has stuck it out for 18 years with an abusive alcoholic (Sebastian Arcelus) for the sake of their son (Ian Nelson).

Fate brings the two back to their tiny hometown for the funeral of Tuck (Gerald McRaney), a mutual friend with a posthumous agenda. He named them both in his will with the hope of orchestrating a reunion of the star-crossed lovers he considered meant for each other. Sure enough, sparks fly, but will they share more than a one-night stand?

A syrupy, sentimental soap opera tailor-made for fans of the Nicholas Sparks franchise.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 117 minutes

 

 

The Judge

Warner Brothers

Rated R for profanity and sexual references

Downey And Duvall Square-Off In Character-Driven Courtroom Drama

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a very successful, criminal defense attorney with a good reason to hide his humble roots. After all, he was a rebellious kid who frequently landed in trouble with the law while growing up in tiny Carlinville, Indiana.

That juvenile delinquency only served to alienate him from his father, Joseph (Robert Duvall), who just happened to be the town’s only judge. In addition, one of Hank’s more egregious missteps left him permanently estranged from his older brother, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio). And since their only other sibling, Dale (Jeremy Palmer), was mentally handicapped, Hank hadn’t been back in ages when he received word that his mother (Catherine Cummings) had died.

So, he only planned to make a perfunctory appearance at the funeral before quickly returning to Chicago where he had his hands full, between his high-flying career and a custody battle with his estranged wife (Sarah Lancaster) over their young daughter (Emma Tremblay). However, everything changes when Judge Palmer is suddenly arrested in the hit-and-run killing of a creepy convict (Mark Kiely) he’d publicly castigated in court before releasing back onto the street.

This shocking development conveniently forces Hank to stick around to represent his father, and simultaneously affords him the opportunity to mend a few fences. Plus, it gives him time to unwittingly seduce a woman he meets in a bar (Leighton Meester), who is not only the daughter of his high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga), but might be the love child he never knew he had.

Thus unfolds The Judge, a character-driven drama which is half-whodunit, half-kitchen sink soap opera that pulls another rabbit out of the hat every five minutes or so. A potentially farcical film remains rather well grounded thanks to Robert Duvall who plays the Palmer family patriarch with a sobering, stone cold gravitas.

Both Robert Downey, Jr. and Billy Bob Thornton turn in inspired performances, too, as the opposing attorneys matching wits in a classic courtroom showdown. And the rest of the ensemble more than holds their own as well in service of a script that has a tendency to strain credulity.

A fanciful, thoroughly-modern variation on the parable of the Prodigal Son!

 

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Running time: 141 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening October 24, 2014

 

Ouija (PG-13 for disturbing violence, frightening images and mature themes) Horror flick about a tight-knit group of teens who unwittingly awaken a dormant dark force when they decide to investigate the mysterious murder of a friend who perished right after recording herself playing a board game. Ensemble cast includes Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca Santos and Douglas Smith.

 

23 Blast (PG-13 for underage alcohol consumption) Fact-based, overcoming-the-odds drama about a high school football star (Mark Hapka) who didn’t let sudden blindness due to a sinus infection derail his dream of gridiron greatness. With Bram Hoover, Stephen Lang and Max Adler.

 

1,000 Times Good Night (Unrated) Marital crisis drama revolving around a celebrated war photographer (Juliette Binoche) whose husband (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) has tired of her dangerous line of work. Support cast includes Chloe Annett, Larry Mullen, Jr. and Eve Macklin. (In Norwegian and English with subtitles)

 

Citizenfour (Unrated) Patriot or traitor documentary featuring interviews with whistleblower Edward Snowden about his leaking thousands of classified documents he had access to in his capacity as an NSA contractor with Top Secret clearance. Featuring commentary by Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald and Jacob Appelbaum. (In English, Portuguese and German with subtitles)

 

E-Team (Unrated) Human Rights Watch-sponsored documentary chronicling the exploits of monitors dispatched by the organization to chronicle atrocities being committed by ruthless dictators around the world. (In English, German, French, Russian and Arabic)

 

Force Majeure (R for profanity and brief nudity) Dysfunctional family drama about a Swedish couple (Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) whose marriage hangs in the balance after the cowardly husband just saves himself, ignoring his wife and kids (Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren), when an avalanche hits during their vacation in the Swiss Alps. With Brady Corbet, Jakob Granqvist and Kristofer Hivju.

 

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (PG for mature themes and brief profanity) Reverential biopic chronicles the legendary country singer’s farewell tour as he struggles with Alzheimer’s.

 

The Heart Machine (Unrated) Romance thriller about a guy (John Gallagher, Jr.) who comes to suspect that the long-distance lover (Kate Lyn Sheil) he met on the internet might actually live in the same town. With David Call, Louis Krause and LibbyWoodbridge.

 

John Wick (Unrated) Keanu Reeves handles the title role in this revenge thriller about a former assassin who comes of retirement to track down the gang that robbed him of everything. With Alfie Allen, Michael Nyqvist, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Lance Reddick and Willem Dafoe.

 

Laggies (R for profanity, sexuality and partying) Romantic comedy revolving around a 28-year-old (Keira Knightley) who regresses and starts hanging out with a 16-year-old (Chloe Grace Moretz) with a handsome single dad (Sam Rockwell) after her longtime boyfriend (Mark Webber) pops the question. With Gretchen Mol, Jeff Garlin and Ellie Kemper.

 

Low Down (R for drug use, profanity and sexuality) A warts-and-all biopic about the life of the bebop artist Joe Albany (John Hawkes), who played piano with Charlie Parker and shared Bird’s self-destructive drug habit. Featuring Lena Headey, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Peter Dinklage and Flea.

 

Revenge Of The Green Dragons (R for rape, graphic violence, sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity) Crime drama, set in the ’80s, about a couple of immigrant siblings (Kevin Wu and Justin Chon), new to NYC, who survive by joining a gang in Chinatown. Cast includes Ray Liotta, Harry Shum, Jr. and Carl Li.

 

Stonehearst Asylum (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, profanity and disturbing images) Horror film inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe short story about a med school grad (Jim Sturgess) who mistakenly falls for a patient (Kate Beckinsale) at the mental hospital where he’s just started working. With Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley and Brendan Gleeson.

 

White Bird In A Blizzard (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and drug use) Screen adaptation of the Laura Kasischke novel of the same name about a repressed 17-year-old (Shailene Woodley) who is eventually forced by circumstances to come to grips with her mother’s (Eva Green) mysterious disappearance. With Angela Bassett, Thomas Jane, Gabourey Sidibe, Christopher Meloni and Sheryl Lee.

 

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