Spring is here, folks! New love and life are upon us now that the dreary, ice-cold fingers of winter have withdrawn. Loosely translated into the logic of releasing films, this means documentaries and romance melodramas abound! They pop up from studios like daisies from freshly hoed lawns. Head to theaters this weekend and take in the sweet love of soldiers, vampires, Rastafarians, and even chimpanzees. And don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers on your way.
Zac Efron is “The Lucky One” in the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel opening in theaters this weekend. A marine stationed in Iraq, Efron’s Logan is saved from certain death when a photo of the beautiful Beth (Taylor Schilling) distracts him. Though he originally plans to find and thank her for unknowingly saving his life, Logan ultimately keeps the story to himself once they meet, but hangs around just, well, ‘cause. Pretty faces and steamy sex scenes keep things pleasant, but the film lacks any real drive and surface-level characters stymie investment. Blythe Danner and Jay R. Ferguson co-star in this uncomplicated, contrived, but still sweet romance from director Scott Hicks. Though, seriously – this is Nicholas “The Notebook” Sparks we’re talking about. Sweet contrivance is his (other) middle name. Rotten Tomatoes: 26% Metacritic: 42
The battle of the sexes is downgraded to a predictable, stereotyped snooze fest in Tim Story’s “Think Like a Man,” based on the best-selling relationship guide from comedian Steve Harvey. After reading a tell-all of the male mind (the titular book), a group of women discover they can manipulate their immature boyfriends into better behavior (read: commitment), until said boyfriends discover the secret tome and turn the tables all over again. Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Hart, Romany Malco, Gabrielle Union, and Meagan Good join alternate appearances from Harvey in this unfunny, overlong excuse to sell an already successful piece of self-help literature. RT: 54% MC: 47
The story of legendary reggae artist Bob Marley also hits theaters this weekend in the documentary “Marley,” from director Kevin Macdonald, the man behind “Touching the Void” and the Oscar-winning “One Day in September.” The two-and-a-half-hour epic recounts a too-short life, featuring footage of live performances and interviews with everyone from the musician’s first teacher to his fellow Wailers. The relation of his earliest years is especially successful, and the inclusion and explanation of his music is thrilling: certainly, the iconic nature of this man cannot be denied, and his crucial role in the development of reggae cannot be downplayed. However, in conveying the love people had – and continue to have – for him, the film suppresses some of the less mythical aspects of Marley’s life, ultimately re-painting an already popular portrait. Our review acknowledges that the film “presents a comprehensive portrait of the whens and wheres of Bob Marley’s life, but the hows, and crucially, the whys remain largely elusive” so that, “many of the more interesting and potentially illuminating avenues of enquiry are only glimpsed from the highway and never explored.” RT: 96% MC: 85
Vampire lore sees continued presence on the big screen with this week’s “The Moth Diaries,” written and directed by Mary Harron, best known for her helming of “American Psycho.” No naked, chainsaw-wielding nymphomaniacs here, though. Based on the novel by Rachel Klein, “The Moth Diaries” centers on boarding school student Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), who, inspired by a gothic literature course, attempts to decipher whether her new classmate is a blood-drinking woman of the night. Unfortunately, it’s never much of a question, mostly due to a lot of one-note acting. Additionally, the film never really decides what kind of horror story it would like to be, giving too little effort to too many plotlines. And there’s not even the typical saving grace of lots of blood or sex. Or both. The film stars Sarah Gadon, Lily Cole, and Judy Parfitt as fellow classmates, and Scott Speedman (who actually played a vampire in the “Underworld” series) as their hunky gothic-lit teacher. Our review says, “at best, ‘The Moth Diaries’ could generally be described as a vampiric take on some CW teen series, with about the same level of depth and filmmaking excellence. ‘Goth-ip Girl,’ if you will.” RT: 20% MC: 39
This week’s bid for most adorable subject matter is “Chimpanzee,” from director team Mark Lindfield and Alastair Fothergill and independent film label Disneynature. The nature documentary follows a – you bet! – young chimp named Oscar through the African jungle, as he navigates his way toward adulthood. His warm eyes, anthropomorphized behaviors, and the beautiful setting are splendid and engaging. And then the Tim Allen voiceover begins. Dulcet tones of awed respect for Mother Nature this is not. While Morgan Freeman’s rich bass gave “March of the Penguins” its deserved gravity and aplomb, commentary from “The Tool Man” manages to devolve this quiet account of magnificent creatures into a performance platform for an aged sitcom actor. Our review admits that although “much of ‘Chimpanzee’ is amazing and compelling and very, very wonderful,” the narration is indeed so poor that “no matter how much you enjoy this movie – and it’s not lacking in pleasures – you’ll still have to hear Tim Allen mutter through the whole thing.” RT: 67% MC: 58
“Goodbye First Love,” directed by the aptly named Mia Hansen-Løve, is less a love story than a moving-on-from-love story. Or not moving on, as the case may be. The film picks up at the tail end of a relationship, when Sullivan and Camille (played by Sebastian Urzendowsky and Lola Créton, respectively) are already preparing to say their goodbyes. With prospects of happily ever after dispatched, the movie spends its remaining runtime occupied with Camille’s mostly futile efforts at getting past this first encounter with love. Yet, a lack of time spent enjoying the sweet joys of the young relationship make it nigh impossible to identify with the heroine’s sadness at its conclusion. Instead, as our review says, “the absence of affection makes the characters' actions a tad irritating, and it as a whole lacks any sort of substantial impact thanks to the director's refusal to show the couple at happier times and reluctance to embrace any sort of guileless behavior.” RT: 67% MC: 86
Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo brings us “Oki’s Movie” this week, a film comprised of four vignettes about a love triangle evolving over many years. The most interesting and, thus, appealing part of this structure is the fact that the stories are not told chronologically: to understand how the three characters arrive at the discordant and tenuous interactions of their present (recounted in the first tale), the audience must absorb the background knowledge that unfolds in the remaining segments. Although this makes for a complex viewing experience, the payoff of grasping meaning at the film’s end is a great one. And the poignancy, honesty, and deep love that characterize and flesh out each of the protagonists enhance the somewhat simple story constructions. Our review says, “Humble and earnest, “Oki’s Movie” is a charmer with a yearning to be dissected.” RT: 86% MC: 78