Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum in The VowTHE VOW

Even though I'm frequently annoyed, if not downright appalled, by them, I really don't ask a lot from traditional romantic weepies. If the actors involved share more-than-sufficient chemistry, and the film provides at least a decent amount of legitimate passion and pathos - with a few good jokes thrown in to keep the proceedings human - I'll generally feel that I've gotten my money's worth. And happily, I got my money's worth at The Vow. I'd hardly argue that director Michael Sucsy's love-among-the-mental-ruins effort is a good movie, but despite never being as interesting as it keeps threatening to be, this audience-friendly drama fulfills its basic requirements with the utmost sincerity and even something approaching wit.

Meryl Streep in DoubtDOUBT

Based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, writer/director John Patrick Shanley's period drama Doubt - set in 1964, and concerning a nun who suspects a priest of sexual misconduct with an altar boy - isn't much of a movie. Shanley's previous directorial effort was 1990's Joe Versus the Volcano, and it's a shame he wasn't able to get in more practice over the last 18 years; in an attempt to gussy up the visual blandness that accompanies most theatrical adaptations, Shanley opts for a series of high- and low-angle shots and symbolic thunder, lightning, and wind effects that oftentimes make Doubt resemble a satire of a low-budget horror flick. And it's still visually bland.

Brent Gorski and Eli Kranski in Holding TrevorHOLDING TREVOR and ICE BLUES

Even though they share the "gay film" label, the two evening presentations at the Quad Citians Affirming Diversity's November 15 film festival - Holding Trevor and Ice Blues - don't have that much in common: The former is a frequently comedic drama about gay youths in Los Angeles; the latter is a mystery featuring a gay detective in upstate New York.

Yet the movies do share one rather inspiring trait: Instead of making pious assertions that gays are "just as good as everyone else," they make the point - and make it subtly - that gays are just as goofy and messed up and human as everyone else, which is a far more inspiring and realistic message. They also share another trait: Both movies are really entertaining.

Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of LiesBODY OF LIES

I learned recently that Russell Crowe gained 50 pounds for his role in Ridley Scott's action-thriller Body of Lies. To which I reply: For this role? Seriously?

Brad Pitt in Burn After ReadingBURN AFTER READING

Brad Pitt is so adorably dim-witted in the Coen brothers' espionage comedy Burn After Reading, and John Malkovich is so hilariously profane (and singularly weird), that it's a little heartbreaking to admit just how disappointing the actors' debut outing with the Coens actually is. From 1984's Blood Simple to last year's No Country for Old Men, the filmography of Joel and Ethan has been chockablock with enjoyably eccentric throwaway characters. Until now, though, I'd never seen a Coen brothers movie that was nothing but a series of enjoyably eccentric throwaway characters; Pitt, Malkovich, and the film's other hard-working performers provide a decent enough time, yet I still left Burn Without Reading feeling a little bewildered and annoyed, and counting the months - hopefully not too many - until the siblings' next endeavor.

Nicolas Cage and Shahkrit Yamnarm in Bangkok DangerousBANGKOK DANGEROUS

There are a handful of motion-picture elements that are all but guaranteed to make my eyelids droop, including (a) mopey, droning voice-over narration by a film's tough-guy protagonist, (b) a color palette composed almost entirely of steely grays and blues, the traditional template for the "serious" action thriller, and (c) Nicolas Cage. Consequently, I hit the narcoleptic's jackpot with Bangkok Dangerous, a determinedly, even absurdly solemn outing by directing brothers Danny and Oxide Pang. The film is a remake of the siblings' 1999 Thai-language release of the same name, but not having seen it, I can't imagine that the Pangs' original endeavor could be more glum and exhausting than this revamp; I'm pretty certain it was only my constant head-shaking, at the continued waste that has become Cage's career, that kept me awake.

Hamlet 2HAMLET 2

Hamlet 2 has been designed as a broad farce, but I'll tell you: In the movie's climactic number, when Hamlet and Jesus took their time machine back to the night of Hamlet's death, and Hamlet prevented Gertrude from drinking the poisoned wine, and Hamlet found it in himself to finally forgive his father, and the Tucson Gay Men's Chorus sang Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," it was pretty damned moving.

Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina BarcelonaVICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

In 1992's Husbands & Wives, Juliette Lewis' neophyte reads an unpublished novel by Woody Allen's author, and responds to its romantic ennui with an exasperated "Are our choices really between chronic dissatisfaction and suburban drudgery?" Sixteen years later, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the writer/director's response appears to be: Yup. Yet while we Allen fans have been here before, we've never been here before.

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step BrothersSTEP BROTHERS

As I see it, the only way you can remotely enjoy director Adam McKay's Step Brothers is by accepting that all of the characters in it, even the seemingly levelheaded ones, are out of their minds. And even then you might not enjoy it.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Baby MamaBABY MAMA

Despite its sunny, friendly veneer, there's a rather scrappy little war being waged within writer/director Michael McCullers' Baby Mama - one between a lighthearted, pleasant sitcom and a sharper, smarter, more cynical sitcom. (Two and a Half Men versus 30 Rock, as it were.) The former wins, and we could have predicted as much, but the best parts of this engaging buddy flick suggest the truly sparkling comedy it might have been, if only it weren't so eager to be ... well, lighthearted and pleasant.

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