Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, Henry Thomas (Directed by Lasse Hallstrom; Written by Jamie Linden; Screen Gems)
Based on a spiritual tearjerker by Nicholas Sparks, the best-selling author whose other never-say-dry weepies include “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember,” this more-or-less timely drama succeeded in toppling “Avatar” from the box-office perch it had occupied for seven weeks. So what did “Dear John” have that other openings of the week--most notably John Travolta’s noisy, violent and lavishly loathed “From Paris With Love”--did not have?
Heart, miles and miles of heart, for one thing. And a sudsy scenario that charts the ups and downs of the relationship between a rugged yet sensitive soldier and the angelic yet hot college cutie he meets while on furlough. Predictably, they fall instantly, passionately in love and begin to make plans for an idyllic future. The smitten lad will complete his tour of duty, give a farewell salute to Uncle Sam, and walk his girl down the aisle.
Reality, alas, short-circuits the couple on the morning of 9/11/01. That’s the day when our conflicted hero must make a choice—to re-up and march off to Afghanistan, or play it safe and settle down in the burbs with his pacifist wife. Want to know if this Hollywood slice of life ends in war or peace? Then you should join the box-office stampede—assuming there still is one--and find out. –Guy Flatley Now Playing
FROM PARIS WITH LOVE
John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden, Yin Bing, Amber Rose Revah, Eric Gordon (Directed by Pierre Morel; Written by Adi Hasak; Lionsgate)
Thanks to swarms of menacing Chinese drug traffickers and a platoon or two of Pakistani terrorists, life is no picnic for window-shoppers along the Champs Elysees, strollers in the Luxembourg Gardens, or travelers attempting to weave their way through mobs of potential assassins at Charles De Gaulle.
That’s why there is an urgent need for the services of U.S. Special Agent Charlie Wax, played by a wild-eyed, earring-embellished, leather-sporting, weapons-wielding, stunningly bald John Travolta. With savage glee, explosive skill, and a rhythmic grace not seen since “Saturday Night Fever,” this strutting, gutsy patriot—assisted by an ambitious, slippery CIA agent (Jonathan Rhys Meyers)—blasts tons of these un-American, not to mention un-French, baddies off to oblivion.
Not to worry. The whole bloody, razzle-dazzle show is played strictly for laughs! --Guy Flatley Now Playing
Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Carter Jenkins, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Bryce Robinson, Taylor Swift (Directed by Garry Marshall; Written by Katherine Fugate; Warner Bros.)
Does the public pay strict attention to what reviewers have to say about the merits of a movie? Maybe. But you couldn’t prove it by the response to “Valentine’s Day.” Just-plain-moviegoers couldn’t get enough of this star-studded romantic comedy, making it the biggest Presidents Day weekend opening ever. And here, below, is what two of America’s top critics had to say about the same film:
“As gooey and lacking in protein as a chocolate holiday bonbon, ‘Valentine's Day’ plays like a feature-length commercial produced by the Friends of the Valentine Promotional Society. Almost every scene is larded by talk of flowers, gifts, cards, restaurants and other ways to spend gobs of money on a single day, all delivered by a raft of attractive stars or semi-stars rotated on and off by director Garry Marshall. Never was there a film more release date-targeted than this one, which only means that, once opening weekend is gone, so will be the audience.” --Todd McCarthy, Variety
“This might not be the Titanic of romantic comedies (it’s tugboat size), but it’s a disaster: cynically made, barely directed, terribly written. But quick: there’s still time to escape!” --Manohla Dargis, The New York Times Now Playing
THE GHOST WRITER
Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, James Belushi, Robert Pugh, Eli Wallach, Jon Berthal (Directed by Roman Polanski; Written by Roman Polanski and Robert Harris; Summit Entertainment)
In Roman Polanski’s tricky political thriller, Irish-to-the-core actor Pierce Brosnan is cast as former British prime minister Adam Lang, a fictional character bearing a striking resemblance to the real-life Tony Blair. The toughest challenge facing Lang at this particular moment is finding a suitable writer to pen his memoirs, an assignment botched by a previous literary wannabe named Michael McAra.
So why can’t Lang be generous and simply give the bungler another chance to make good as a ghost writer? Because the poor sap’s watery corpse has just washed ashore at Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts retreat favored by America’s rich and famous, and the current hideout of Lang himself, as well as his tart-tongued wife (Olivia Williams) and a sexy security expert (Kim Cattrall), whose job is to watch over the Langs and the remains of McAra’s amateurish, mysteriously dangerous manuscript.
Almost out of nowhere, a seemingly polished, hopefully commercial British wordsmith (Ewan McGregor) suddenly appears and signs up as the new ghostwriting kid on the block, thereby placing himself--and possibly the Lang gang, too—smack in the middle of what could be a ghastly terrorist plot.
Regrettably, Polanski was unable to attend the recent Berlin Film Festival, where the jury named him Best Director for his work on "The Ghost Writer." The reason for his absence, of course, was that he is still under house arrest in Switzerland and may soon be ordered to make an appearance in a U.S. courtroom, where the 1977 charge that he had "unlawful sexual intercourse" with a 13-year-old girl will be rehashed, eventually casting the director in a new real-life role. Will it be prisoner or free man? –Guy Flatley Now Playing
Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Elias Koteas, Max Von Sydow, Elias Koteas, Patricia Clarkson, John Carroll Lynch, Jackie Earle Haley (Directed by Martin Scorsese; Written by Laeta Kalogridis; Paramount Pictures)
Adapted from the frenzied 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, author of “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone,” “Shutter Island” spins a dark, dizzy tale. Set in 1954, it revolves around the efforts of U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a crazed war vet and recent widower, and his gullible partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to capture a murderess who has escaped from Ashecliffe Hospital, a home away from home for the criminally insane. As it turns out, this funny farm, located on a rocky island off Boston Harbor, is no laughing matter. The warden himself boasts, “We take only the most damaged patients...we take the ones no other facility can manage.”
And it’s clear that some of the doctors and nurses are even more damaged than the patients and may be on the verge of hatching a horrific scheme. All that the increasingly edgy Teddy and the seriously deranged occupants of Ashecliffe need are a raging hurricane, hordes of rampaging rodents, and the sudden return of the slippery, bloodthirsty femme fatale. Which is undoubtedly what director Martin Scorsese will give them in his bid to top the unblushing Grand Guignol of his “Cape Fear” and “The Departed." Click here to read Todd McCarthy's review in Variety. --Guy Flatley Now Playing