By Robin E. Simmons
Master storyteller Nicholas Sparks’ books and movies are an acquired taste, except for readers and movie fans of sentimental, romantic stories – and they are legion. So what if it oozes a contrived plot and a mawkish sweetness, it is still less manipulative than the typical Sparks’ book or film.
The plot centers on the star-crossed love affair between Luke (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son), an injured champion bull rider hoping to make a comeback, and Sophia (Britt Robertson), a college coed embarking upon her perfect first job in Manhattan’s art world. Naturally, lots of conflicts test Sophia and Luke’s relationship but they are inspired by connecting with elderly Ira (Alan Alda), who shares memories of his decades long romance with his beloved, art collecting wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin). The two love stories are intertwined like a double helix for a rewarding taste of true love that spans generations –- and maybe time itself. David Tattersall’s stunning digital cinematography greatly enhances the mood with a sometimes painterly glow. The invisible but standout direction by George Tillman, Jr. deserves special mention. Even if you tend to be cynical about these kinds of stories –- and they definitely invite cynicism, that’s part of the game — this one arrives at its emotions honestly making this ride well worth the effort. Recommended. Now playing at Cinemas Palme d’Or.
NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:
In Carol Reed’s superb 1947 psychological noir, the action all takes place during the course of a single night after a botched hold-up, meant to finance the activities of now wounded Johnny McQueen’s (James Mason) IRA cell. McQueen takes shelter in the dark back streets of Belfast where safety dances with peril. A police hunt spreads an ever-tightening net on McQueen while the woman (Kathleen Ryan) McQueen loves desperately searches for him in the shadowy underworld
Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker –- who collaborated later on THE THIRD MAN — create powerful images in this “fierce, spiritual depiction of a man’s ultimate confrontation with himself.”
Generous extras include: New interview with British cinema scholar John Hill, author of Cinema and Northern Ireland: Film, Culture and Politics; Postwar Poetry, a new short documentary about the film; New interview with music scholar Jeff Smith about composer William Alwyn and his score; Home, James, a 1972 documentary featuring actor James Mason revisiting his hometown; Radio adaptation of the film from 1952, starring Mason and Dan O’Herlihy plus an essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith. Recommended. Criterion. Blu-ray.
Timothy Spall’s masterful performance under the direction of Mike Leigh makes this a truly superior biopic that resurrects the last 25 years in the daily life of the celebrated, eccentric 19th century artist.
J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) was deeply impacted by the death of his father. He was loved buy a housekeeper he sexually exploits; but in Chelsea, he forms a relationship with a seaside landlady he lives with incognito until his death. We share the turbulent personal and public life of this genius as he visits whorehouses, travels and of course paints. He has himself strapped to the mast of a ship during a storm so he can better paint the sea, stays with country aristocracy and makes splashy encounters with the Royal Academy of Arts. Turner’s popularity with both the public and royalty was matched by those in both camps who also reviled him. Don’t miss this marvelous film of great insight and beauty. It is on its own a work of art. Extras include a terrific commentary by Mike Leigh and on the Blu-ray, an exclusive featurette on DP Mike Pope: “The Cinematography of Mr.Turner.” Recommended. Sony. Blu-ray
The final (1956) Abbott & Costello movie takes place in “Kiddieland,” an amusement park operated and owned by Lou Henry (Costello). Kind-hearted Lou has adopted orphan kids Shelly (Gigi Perreau) and Duffer (Rusty Hamer); he’s also provided a safe-haven for inveterate gambler Bud Flick (Abbott), whose gargantuan gambling debts have alerted gangster Big Frank who is being monitored by DA proctor (Robert Shayne). However, when Proctor is murdered, Lou becomes the numero uno suspect. The big finale is a chase through the amusement park. For me, it ‘s kind of sad to these two high-energy comic actors looking older and weary. Still, there a few bright moments in a sea of old jokes and obvious gags. Olive Films. Blu-ray.
BOY NEXT DOOR
I was hoping for a great B stalker movie but was disappointed with this wanna-be psychological thriller. Jennifer Lopez stars in a semi-steamy story about a “forbidden” attraction that goes a tad too far. Written by Barbara Curry and co-directed by Rob Cohen (THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) and Neill Fearnley, the film co-stars Ryan Guzman, John Corbett and Kristin Chenoweth. Universal. Blu-ray.
Writer director Jennifer Kent’s spooky film got great reviews when it hit theaters. It’s about a widowed mom whose husband died violently. Samuel, her 6 year-old kid, dreams of monsters. When he gets a book, “The Babadook,” he’s convinced the book is about his nightmares. When his imagination spirals out of control, he becomes violent and mom is forced to medicate him. That’s when she senses a sinister presence around her and realizes that Samuel’s warnings may be much more than mere hallucinations. Recommended. Scream Factory. Blu-ray.
Morgan Freeman narrates this IMAX 3D documentary that transports viewers to the remote and magical island of Madagascar, the only place in the world where lemurs live. These highly endangered, charming and singular creatures arrived as castaways eons ago and evolved into hundreds of widely different looking, adorable species. This short (41 minutes) film is perfect for the entire family. Some of the 3D is stunning when we go into the forest with these acrobatic cousins. Recommended. Warner Bros. Blu-ray 3D.