“The Water Diviner”
Sentiment is also a major element in “The Water Diviner” (wide release), Russell Crowe’s directorial debut. In this case, however, it is kept in reasonable check, and the emotional impact of the story is sufficient to compensate for it.
Crowe stars as an Australian farmer who travels to Turkey in 1919 to search for the remains of his three sons, all of whom are believed to have died in the disastrous battle of Gallipoli four years earlier. He believes that he can use the intuitive skills he possesses as a water diviner — a dowser who can detect where to dig wells — to find where on the battlefield the boys’ bones are buried.
It turns out that one of his sons might still be alive, and the Aussie persuades the principled Turkish officer who had commanded the defenses at Gallipoli to help locate him.
“The Water Diviner” has an intrusive romantic subplot, in which Crowe’s character is attracted to a beautiful widow with a precocious boy of her own, and the final act, in which the violence attending the emergence of modern Turkey affords an opportunity for some action scenes, grows increasingly melodramatic.
But the central narrative of a father’s grief and determination is strong enough to make up for the missteps.
“Clouds of Sils Maria”
Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” (Magnolia) is mostly in English, but it is a very European rumination on art versus life, past versus present, and youth versus maturity.
The brilliant Juliette Binoche plays Maria, an aging actress invited to re-engage with the play that made her a star at 18. Now, however, she has been asked to play the second lead, a widow seduced and destroyed by the younger woman she had earlier portrayed.
Much of the film follows Maria’s interaction with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart): as the two rehearse, the lines from the play and their conversation become almost indistinguishable. Maria must also connect with the young Lindsay Lohan-like actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) scheduled to take on the role that brought her fame years ago.
The title refers to a meteorological phenomenon in which the clouds near a Swiss town gather and move through the Alpine valleys like a roiling snake, and the picture, with its numerous blackouts, shifts of time and mysterious lacunae, exhibits a similarly serpentine form.
The result is a film that offers much to admire and ponder, while demonstrating that Stewart, after her pallid turns in the “Twilight” series, can still act.
“The Age of Adaline”
Blake Lively plays a 107-year old woman in “The Age of Adaline” (wide release), but she does not look a day over 29. That is because — as we are shown in the first reel — she was struck by lightning after dying in a car crash in 1937 and, as an omniscient narrator informs us, the electrical force not only rejuvenated her but stopped the aging process.
Adaline now has a septuagenarian daughter and changes residence and identity frequently to avoid being turned into a scientific specimen. She has also avoided close relationships with outsiders for fear that outliving them would be too painful.
In 2015, however, she is courted by a rich young philanthropist whom she finds impossible to resist. When he takes her to meet his father, however, catastrophe strikes.
Up to that point, the movie has been more than a mite ridiculous, but now it introduces a coincidence so massive that it makes it completely impossible to continue suspending disbelief. The resolution — about as convincing as the old chestnut about somebody becoming amnesiac as the result of a blow to the head being cured by a second conk on the noggin, and it takes the film into the realm of the utterly risible.
Still, “Adaline” is glossily made, and Harrison Ford gives his best performance in some time as the philanthropist’s astronomer dad. Anybody in the mood for this sort of goofy romantic fantasy will find it a well-made example of the genre.
An even larger helping of schmaltz is provided by “Little Boy” (wide release), the period tale of an undersized tyke who comes to believe that performing charitable acts — including befriending the Japanese-American gentleman who is a pariah in town — will enable him to use the telekinetic powers granted him by a magician to end World War II and bring his father, who is missing in action in the Philippines, back home.
The picture is filled with uplifting messages about tolerance and the power of faith.
But good intentions are not enough, and by the close “Little Boy” — which conflates the boy’s supposed supernatural ability with the nickname for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima — has descended so far into mawkish manipulation that it seems more sanctimonious sermon than sweet fable.
It does not help that the movie is also poorly made, with a particularly amateurish performance by the young actor in the title role.