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.

Jaime King and Megan Boone in My Bloody Valentine 3-DMY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D

You can assume you're in good hands at a modern horror movie when, within its first couple of minutes, that grizzled, '80s-scare-flick veteran Tom Atkins (he of The Fog and Creepshow and Halloween III: Season of the Witch) shows up as a scowling local sheriff. You pretty much know you're in good hands when the very first thing that Atkins growls, upon finding himself ankle-deep in holiday-themed carnage, is "Happy fuckin' Valentine's Day!" And if, by some miraculous happenstance, you get to watch this seminal genre moment occur while wearing 3-D glasses, to boot... . Well, I've seen better movies than My Bloody Valentine 3-D recently, but bless its forcibly-removed heart, I can't remember the last one that made me feel - in a good way - like a 13-year-old again.

Taraji P. Henson and Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonTHE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

Visually arresting and wildly ambitious, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a tough film to dislike. But I'm giving it a shot anyway, because while director David Fincher's 165-minute opus is spectacular in lots of small ways, it's frustrating and fundamentally unsatisfying in much, much bigger ones. Given several days to reflect on the experience, I no longer hate the movie the way I initially did, yet I remain convinced that what could have, and should have, been a magical, lyrical piece of work is instead a graceless, obvious, and frequently maddening one.

Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in Four ChristmasesFOUR CHRISTMASES

In the spirit of those magical pre-Thanksgiving treats Fred Claus, Deck the Halls, and Christmas with the Kranks, director Seth Gordon's Four Christmases is Hollywood's annual, star-filled affair that celebrates the joys of the holidays through wisecracks, gaudy colors, pummeling "comic" violence, and occasional projectile vomiting. It differs from its predecessors, though, in one notable regard: It doesn't suck. At least not completely.

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in TwilightTWILIGHT

Let's just get it out of the way: No, I haven't read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, and no, I didn't really care for the film version. But I won't begrudge the movie its popular appeal, because while watching director Catherine Hardwicke's and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg's take on Meyer's teen-vampire tale, it was pretty easy to see what would make the material absolutely irresistible to its target audience. For those of us who aren't its target audience, maybe not so much.

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.

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in AtonementATONEMENT

It seems that lately, whenever I leave the film version of some well-regarded or beloved novel - be it No Country for Old Men or Gone Baby Gone or one of the Harry Potters - I feel a nagging guilt for not having previously read the books they're based on, and I'd consider remedying that if I wasn't concerned about being subsequently disappointed by the adaptations. (Or, in the case of most of the Potter movies, even more disappointed.) After seeing director Joe Wright's Atonement, though, I was completely annoyed with myself for being unfamiliar with author Ian McEwan's 2001 precursor - I was dying to understand what, when the end credits rolled, inspired a majority of my fellow audience members to applaud.

Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger in National Treasure: Book of SecretsNATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the follow-up to 2004's globe-trotting-archaeologist adventure, could generously be termed "perfunctory"; it gives (family) audiences exactly the formulaic, Indiana Jones-lite action, romance, and humor they adored in the original. It could also, less generously, be described as "crummy," as returning director Jon Turteltaub ensures that every remedially staged sequence has the same bland, going-through-the-motions tone as the one that came before. (At least its predecessor provided a few jokes.)

the CGI likeness of Ray Winstone in BeowulfBEOWULF

In 1977's Annie Hall, there's a scene between Woody Allen's Alvy Singer and Diane Keaton's Annie in which the title character mulls over her adult-education options:

 

ANNIE: Does this sound like a good course - "Modern American Poetry"? Or, let's see now ... maybe I should take "Introduction to the Novel."

ALVY: Just don't take any course where they make you read Beowulf.

 

Thirty years later, I'm not sure I'd want to take a course where they make you see it, either.

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