THE LONGEST RIDE. This is not my first rodeo ... movie. From 8 Seconds to The Cowboy Way, I've seen my fair share. Despite my lack of interest in actual rodeos, the film genre is usually entertaining. What's not to like about watching people fall down, literally get back in the saddle and then fall down again? It's basically cowboy Benny Hill without the piano accompaniment. Apparently, Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, various other dreck) doesn't like fun things. The Longest Ride follows the long tradition of turning his sappy novels into unbearable films and it may have reset the bar for how horrible a Sparks adaptation can be.
Luke (Scott Eastwood) is a North Carolina bull rider who suffers what should have been a career-ending injury. One more fall could kill him, but he refuses to give up on his dream. Sophia (Britt Robertson) is a city slicker with only a few months to go until college graduation. She's counting down the days until she gets her dream job at a New York City art gallery. These two extremely attractive people from different worlds are an unlikely couple. That all changes, though, when Sophia catches Luke's cowboy hat, they make eye contact and fall completely in love. Of course, their love can never work because their lives are headed in opposite directions. And it looks like they'll never see each other again until they pull Ira Levinson's (Alan Alda) elderly body from the scene of a gruesome car accident. When Levinson wakes up in the hospital, Sophia is by his side holding a box of love letters salvaged from the wreckage. Via a series of flashbacks, Ira tells his own love story. Hearts melt, lovers unite and other predictable things happen.
The Longest Ride doesn't just lack kickass rodeo scenes, it lacks relatable characters, a compelling story structure and a somewhat realistic plot. Alda is the only hope for a silver lining and, despite his best efforts, he fails to elevate the movie to even a tolerable level. Robertson is bland even when she is at her best and Eastwood is nothing more than a charming smile. Granted, he has more charisma on screen than his legendary father, but it's still not enough to develop a genuine interest in his character's outcome. A love story means nothing if you don't care about either of the love interests. The Longest Ride, like so many actual rodeo riders, falls flat in the dirt. This time, however, no one is rooting for it to get back up. PG13. 128m.
WOMAN IN GOLD. It was so close to being the perfect piece of Oscar bait. It has everything the Academy looks for in a nominee: historical relevance, Holocaust survivors, a plot based on a true story, even Helen Mirren (The Queen). Then Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern) came along and ruined everything. Woman in Gold could have been a contender, but Reynolds and a soft-focus, feel-good plot made it a bum.
Maria Altman (Mirren) flees Austria in 1939, after the German occupation. She makes it safely to the United States, but her once-affluent family is not as lucky. Nazis seize their home, their business and their art. Decades after the end of World War II, the now elderly Altman tries to retrieve the stolen art, a Gustav Klimt masterpiece, but the Austrian government and its overly complex judicial system thwart her attempts. Altman takes the legal struggle stateside and seeks the help of a handsome rookie lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Reynolds). Together, they take the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Woman in Gold is a feather in director Simon Curtis' (My Week with Marilyn) cap, as nearly all of his previous directorial work is comprised of made-for-TV movies and short-lived television series. Mirren, as per usual, does a dame-worthy job with a character that is whimsical and determined, but with sadness at her core. Then, there's Reynolds. He's a one-trick pony and that trick does not fit this film. He brings his usual cocky boyishness to a role that required so much more dimension, particularly since he shares so much screen time with Mirren. In their scenes together, his performance distracts from the realism of the drama and it's too hard to take him seriously.
Story-wise, there's nothing particularly impressive or special about Woman in Gold. Sure, it follows the Oscar-nod formula, but it's still far from spectacular. It relies heavily on Mirren's skills and Nazi flashbacks. Of course you want Altman to win, but an already rich woman gaining possession of her extremely valuable art is hardly the most compelling Holocaust story. Not to diminish the suffering that the real Altman endured, but it should be noted that there are countless heirlooms, keepsakes and antiques — less headline-grabbing than the Klimt — that will likely never make it back to the families of Holocaust survivors. In the film, Altman has the necessary means to fight for what is rightfully hers and of course you're rooting for her. But it's hard to ignore how Woman in Gold paints a rosy picture about a very dark issue. PG13. 109m.
— Dev Richards
DANNY COLLINS. Al Pacino as a rock star trying for a do-over/redemption of his career and his personal life. With Annette Bening and scads of man-scarves. R. 107m.
MONKEY KINGDOM. A Disney documentary about a monkey and her baby in a South Asian jungle. Narrated by Tina Fey. G. 81m.
PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2. Kevin James reprises his fat-guy-on-a-Segway act, this time on a family vacation in Las Vegas. PG. 94m.
UNFRIENDED. More "found footage," this time from a laptop chronicling a cyberhaunting with messages from ... a dead girl. R. 82m.
WHILE WE'RE YOUNG. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a married couple mesmerized by a pair of young hipsters who are all free spirits and fedoras. R. 97m.
CINDERELLA. Kenneth Branagh's adaptation makes an old story new with classic Hollywood style, solid lead Lily James and the wicked-chic Cate Blanchett. PG. 113m.
FURIOUS 7. Big, fun and slick as Vin Diesel's bald head, the franchise continues with a revenge plot and plenty of smoking tires. PG13. 137m.
GET HARD. Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart respectively play a 1-percenter and a faux tough guy prepping for prison in a comedy that isn't funny enough. R. 100m.
HOME. Jim Parsons and Rihanna voice a pair of misfit buddies in an alien-on-earth animated feature. Brisk, bright and blandly entertaining. PG. 93m.
INSURGENT. Great design and strong performances from Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller almost save it from a bloated plot. Don't worry — more are coming. PG13. 119m.
IT FOLLOWS. This Carpenter-esque creep-fest about a young woman who picks up a haunting like an STD isn't the scariest, but it's stylish, original and effective. R. 100m.
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Funny, charming Taron Egerton steals the show in this imaginative action comedy about a street punk who becomes a spy. With Colin Firth and Samuel Jackson. R. 128m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill