Brad Pitt Channing Tatum

Some Movies to See This Weekend, October 17, 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014 Rob Samuelson

It's another eclectic (eccentric?) weekend at the movies, with the wide releases covering as huge a range of interest and audience as possible, and the latest acting showcase from one of cinema's best premiering at the Chicago International Film Festival. As usual, this isn't a completely comprehensive list of everything you can find, but you're likely to find something of interest when you look at a marquee this weekend.

The Book of Life
Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Writers: Jorge R. Gutierrez, Douglas Langdale
Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum

This is the big time animated family release, featuring the voices of big time stars and showcasing a big time adventure. In a faux-stop motion CGI style, a lovesick young man (Luna) has to return from a party-filled afterlife to reunite with the woman he loves (Saldana) and save his town from destruction at the hands of other supernatural beings.

The trailer features two frustrating modern crutches, a dated pop culture reference (Biz Markie's “Just a Friend”) and the use of “Seriously?” (see also: “Really?”) in place of a constructing a true punchline. Pet peeves aside, there's some pedigree here, with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) producing a fairy tale that is refreshingly non-Anglophile in origin. Luna and Saldana always do strong work, and Tatum's dopey charisma is palpable even in animated form. You're probably in good hands here, especially if you have kids in your life.

The Best of Me
Director: Michael Hoffman
Writers: J. Mills Goodloe, Will Fetters
Starring: Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato

The latest from the Nicholas Sparks adaptation factory, The Best of Me spans two decades in the lives of a pair of high school sweethearts torn apart by drug-related prison time. They reunite 21 years later, looking absolutely nothing like their high school selves – the Bracey-Marsden age-up is particularly mystifying – to give it another go despite some big life obstacles.

Sparks adaptations are overwrought with schmaltz, but sometimes they can work – The Notebook is a fairly strong melodrama – plus Monaghan and Marsden (Mr. Liz Lemon himself) have done strong work elsewhere. This fulfills the romance portion of the weekend bill.

Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LeBeouf, Logan Lerman

The grim, horrific nature of war is on full display in this men-on-a-mission film from End of Watch writer-director David Ayer. I wouldn't count on much uplift here, despite the premise taking place at the very end of the European theater, with our heroes on the cusp of their most triumphant moment.

Ayer is working in John Ford-Sam Peckinpah territory here, with camaraderie, duty, violence, and masculinity being the driving forces. Brad Pitt does his gravitas thing as a tank sergeant and the no-way-he's-possibly-22-years-old Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) continuing his progression toward leading man status. Despite its gritty violence, this is likely to get a big Oscar push, so you can probably expect to be seeing it mentioned a lot in the coming months.

Two Days, One Night
Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne

A woman (Cotillard) on the verge of losing her job has to make a frustrating, demeaning choice to visit her coworkers, one-by-one, over the course of a weekend in order to convince them to give up part of their salary to leave her position off the chopping block. They have already voted on pay raises for themselves at her expense, so she's in a precarious, frightening spot.

Coming off The Immigrant earlier this year, the already great Cotillard (Inception, Rust and Bone) is at the height of her skills as an actor, able to turn desperation into strength and tenacity. It's a theme that has followed her throughout her career, and she is able to make broken characters become something more than victims, avoiding easy sympathy-only pathos and creating rounded, human people. And she gets to do it again Sunday at CIFF.

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