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THE BEST OF ME & THE BOOK OF LIFE

year: 2014 rating: *
THE BEST OF ME: In a chick flick, it's no surprise when the good rich girl falls for the bad boy... only this boy isn’t bad but he's poor – and dull as a box of hammers…

That’s the backstory, which jumps to and from what seems to be the mainline: of two melancholy grownups, with different lives, both inheriting the same house.

As teenagers, Dawson and Amanda are in a relationship that’s much too easy. For her, it's the epitome of love at first site, and she won’t give in until he gives in, and then they’re a couple. That’s pretty much that.

The problems are ignited by Dawson’s father, a white trash hillbilly who looks more like a scruffy English professor with a hangover. He beats his kid, making Dawson not only scarred but homeless... eventually living with a gentle WWII vet (Gerald McRaney) who recently lost his wife.

The grownup Amanda and Dawson are played by Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden, both otherwise talented actors. The biggest problem (in a movie loaded with problems) is that the teenage version of Dawson looks absolutely nothing like Marsden – the flashbacks seem like completely different stories, and it’s tough to decipher which is worse than the other. Let’s call it a tie.

Based on a book written by the film’s producer, Nicolas Sparks, THE BEST OF ME is the very worst of romantic kitsch. The chemistry is awkward and forced in the past... boring and pointless in the present... while the future provides a “twist” ending that should even make THE NOTEBOOK fanatics cringe.

year: 2014 rating: ***
THE BOOK OF LIFE: In most stories, when you die and go to that place below, it’s not so good. But in BOOK OF LIFE, death rules… It’s a colorful underworld carnival where happiness is everywhere. People are dancing and having one… um… hell of a time.

We eventually journey to this place with our hero Manolo, a bull fighter nice enough to spare the bull. He’s in love with childhood friend Maria, who has returned from abroad – and he’s not the only one smitten. Their mutual friend Joaquin, voiced by Channing Tatum, is a decorated soldier who desperately wants… well that’s for the viewer to find out.

The spoiler isn’t that Manolo dies since the main plot involves the journey to find his true love, whom he thinks is also deceased. Much of the adventure, after the first twenty minutes loaded with an overkill of confusing exposition and distracting pop tunes, involves the vivid land reminiscent of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME only with an aeasetic combination of CGI, stop motion and surreal paper cutouts. 

Guillermo Del Toro, in the Tim Burton fashion, produced this quirky kid's flick with heart and soul and enough eye-candy for a lifetime… and then some.
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