Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – I don’t have any hard figures to back this up but I think I and perhaps 153 other people same this wonderful comedy when it came out earlier this year. That’s a shame, because this is a delightful, thought-provoking and ultimately life-affirming story about two mismatched people – insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell) and flighty, romantic Penny (Kiera Knightley) – who are thrown together and end up facing Armageddon together. While this might sound like a dire affair, nothing could be further from the truth, as these two discover just what makes life worth living - even as the clock is winding down - as well as what they should cherish from the past. Romantic, funny and moving, this is the one that audiences let pass by but will hopefully discover now that it’s on home video.
Magic Mike – Has any film star had a bigger 2012 than Channing Tatum? I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone who’s appeared on screen more often during the calendar year or had more hits. His box office hat trick started with The Vow, continued with 21 Jump Street and concluded with Magic Mike, a film about a male stripper who’s starting to be consumed by his profession. Sure, there’s beefcake aplenty and more than a dash of humor, but more than anything, the movie is about how we fail to see ourselves for who we really are. Tatum continues to grow here and while I wouldn’t call him a good actor yet, he’s getting there as lately he’s working outside his comfort zone. Like many of its characters, there’s more to this movie than meets the eye.
The Five-Year Engagement – Unlike most rom-coms, this feature starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, focuses more on what’s wrong with falling in love than what’s right. Segel’s San Francisco chef makes a great sacrifice by moving so that graduate student Blunt can teach at the University of Michigan. What starts out as a two-year stay turns into a longer haul that ends up breeding resentment between the two and threatens to end their love affair. The two leads are very good but what really makes this one soar is the fact that it doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult relationships are and it does so through a lens of wry, ironic humor. Though a bit too long, your patience is rewarded by this uncommonly smart and entertaining romantic-comedy.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted - While most series, especially animated, ones invariable suffer from the law of diminishing returns, the adventures of Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo get better each time they’re reunited on screen. The magic this time comes courtesy of a traveling circus and the animals it contains, all of which interact with the four principals to great effect. Chief among them is Stefano, a dimwitted seal voiced by Martin Short, who steals every scene he is in. To be sure, the kids will love this one but don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing right along with them.
Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance – Can I defend the latest Ham-fest from Nicolas Cage? No, I can’t and I’m not going to even try but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to enjoying this sequel that finds the manic one assuming the mantle of the demonically haunted daredevil Johnny Flame once more, this time to save a young boy and his mother who are on the run from a cult. The story is silly but the effects are great (C’mon, you have to admit that flaming skull is pretty darn cool) and while Cage makes questionable script choices, there’s no denying he gives 110% every time. His over-the-over-the-top performance here is great fun to watch as you come to realize that he’s either a genius or madman in his approach. Actually, in retrospect, he’s a bit of both. Chalk this one up as a guilty pleasure, sit back and have fun.