There is no doubt that “St. Vincent” (Angelika) is schmaltzy. The tale of an alcoholic reprobate who bonds with a bullied neighbor boy proceeds pretty much as you expect, and its redemptive conclusion is awash in sentiment.
But the movie works, largely because the miserable cuss is played by Bill Murray, whose gift for deadpan irascibility and comic slapstick enlivens the role. The rest of the cast is first-rate too, with Melissa McCarthy giving a rare understated performance as the boy’s mother and Chris O’Dowd bringing real charm to the part of the voluble priest who serves as his religion teacher.
It also helps that Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the boy, is neither obnoxiously precocious nor tediously bland. He and Murray make “St. Vincent” a genial pleasure, even if it is not worthy of cinematic canonization.
A throwback to the combat movies of 50 or 60 years ago, “Fury” (wide release) follows the final mission of the crew of a Sherman tank pushing into Germany in the waning days of World War II. Assigned to guard a strategic crossroads, they must face off against not only a more powerful German Tiger tank but also a fresh squadron of SS troops after being halted by a land mine.
Writer-director David Ayer (“Training Day”) manages the action very effectively, with the necessary quota of explicit gore that is commonplace nowadays. But he shows his traditionalist bent in a subplot about how Brad Pitt’s hard-bitten sergeant teaches the squeamish new recruit added to his squad (Logan Lerman) the realities of battle — to kill or be killed. One can imagine John Wayne and Montgomery Clift playing these roles, and Pitt and Lerman fill them admirably.
The old-fashioned quality of “Fury” — which extends to a semi-romantic interlude with a couple of German girls — may strike some as passé. But it actually gives the picture its dramatic spine.
“The Book of Life”
The macabre spirit of producer Guillermo del Toro is certainly felt in “The Book of Life” (wide release), an animated family movie based on the Mexican celebration of Dia de Muertos.
Told with figures modeled on puppets, the convoluted story involves a bet between two gods over which of two boys will marry the girl they are both infatuated with. But it morphs into a journey to both of the spirit realms — that of Remembered Souls and that of the Forgotten — before reaching a culminating battle back on earth against a cruel bandit leader and his army of marauders. It is also a musical, featuring a mix of new songs and familiar pop hits.
But if the narrative is a weird mix of elements, visually the film is dazzling, especially in the phantasmagorical otherworldly sequences where del Toro’s influence is most clearly felt and the impact of the 3-D format is particularly pronounced. “The Book of Life” deserves credit for not being just another cookie-cutter family movie, but its strangeness may put off some viewers.
“Art and Craft”
Most art forgers are in it for the money, but not John Landis, the strange fellow profiled in the documentary “Art and Craft” (Angelika).
Landis has for years used simple means to fabricate copies of not-so-famous paintings, which he has then donated to museums big and small, frequently adopting false identities to do so. Since he has accepted no money, it appears he has broken no law.
But hot on his trail is an Oklahoma museum registrar intent on unmasking the miscreant. He is even instrumental in organizing an exhibition of Landis’ forgeries to which the man himself is invited. The picture raises questions about the trust one can place in expert conclusions about a picture’s provenance that it never answers. But as a poignant character study of a couple of obsessed men, it is fascinating, though very deliberately paced.
“The Best of Me”
The gruesome sappiness characteristic of all the earlier movies made from novels by Nicholas Sparks is back with a vengeance in “The Best of Me” (wide release), which might be the worst of the lot.
Like “The Notebook,” it is a bathetic romance that shifts back and forth in time, asking whether high school sweethearts who were separated by one tragedy 20 years ago can reignite the spark they once felt when reunited by another after two decades.
Filled with gauzy images and longing glances, the movie is hobbled by the fact that the young couple and their older selves do not remotely resemble one another, forcing the viewer to suspend disbelief to an almost impossible degree.
At the close of this meretricious twaddle, you are more likely to be suppressing snickers than sobs.