SAFE HAVEN ***1/2 (118minutes) M
From author/producer Nicholas Sparks, the cornball master who gave this generation its Love Story with The Notebook, comes another full-bodied, four-course serving of perfectly prepared romantic mush.
On the run from some yet-to-be-defined tragedy, Katie (Julianne Hough - Rock of Ages; Footloose) arrives in a picturesque coastal town and tries blending in with the locals, taking residence in a shack and taking up with the local storekeeper Alex (Josh Duhamel).
He's a great-looking widowed dad with an adorable daughter (Mimi Kirkland), thus giving Katie the framework of the family she clearly craves.
On her tail, however, is a sweaty cop - Australian actor David Lyons from Sea Patrol, doing terrific, slimy work in a crucial role - who puts the whole blooming romance on edge.
Having worked with Sparks on the Channing Tatum/Amanda Seyfried 2010 weepie Dear John, director Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog; Cider House Rules; Hachi; Gilbert Grape) knows what ropes to pull and what buttons to press.
Make no mistake: this is a well-made tear jerker and heartstring tugger that makes no apologies. It even manages an emotional double punch in its final reel that is bound to make even the most hardened cynic wilt.
THE SWEENEY *** (112 minutes) MA
With a mouth full of marbles and a truckload of Cockney tough, Ray Winstone plays the new-millennium version of John Thaw's Jack Regan in this enjoyably gruff update of the classic British TV cop show.
In the hunt for a major jewel thief, Regan employs his ever-reliable do-what-it-takes methods to get the villain - all to the consternation of his protective boss (Homeland's Damien Lewis, sporting his real Brit accent) and the less-forgiving suit from Internal Affairs (Steven Mackintosh), whose wife (Hayley Atwell) is both part of Regan's team and a sucker for Regan's middle-aged rotundity. (Note: Winstone did not get into shape for the role). Ben Drew (aka DJ Plan B) does solid, if monotonal work as Regan's sidekick Carter (played in the series by Dennis Waterman).
Set in the blue hue of a London chill, the film delivers on well-staged action - including well-staged car chases and a ripper gun battle in Trafalgar Square - and so much tough talk it begins to sound like poetry. Directed by Nick Love, The Sweeney is solid cops-and-robbers pulp designed for people who like seeing cops getting dirty and robbers getting theirs.
ANNA KARENINA **1/2 (130 minutes) M
Leo Tolstoy's classic tale of doomed romance and the emotionally stifling lives of Russian aristocrats gets an ornate, inert reworking by director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice; Atonement; Hanna).
In a bold attempt to breathe new life into the tale, Wright has cast his favourite actress Keira Knightley into the centre of the storm and set the piece entirely inside a theatre, save for a few scenes that venture out into the landscape.
Though the performances are strong, especially from Jude Law as Anna's hapless husband Alexi, the congested setting makes much of the film look like a blur of costumes and set dressing.
Given all this, the famous ending still packs a whack, proving - as so many film adaptations of classics do - that a good story will shine through even the most perilous adaptation process.
WEST OF MEMPHIS **1/2 (147 minutes) MA
In this lengthy, real-life procedural, director Amy Berg (who made the blistering 2006 pedophile priest documentary Deliver Us From Evil) retells the tale of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin - aka the West Memphis Three - who were wrongly jailed for the sexual mutilation and murders of three boys in 1993.
Comprised mostly of interviews and archival footage - some of which is shocking - it's a gruelling, detailed journey of misguided justice and the campaign for their freedom, a cause the film is unashamedly part of. So too are Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam guitarist Eddie Vedder, The Dixie Chicks, Henry Rollins, Marilyn Manson and Winona Ryder. New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings; King Kong), who became part of the crusade, is one of the film's producers. So, too, is Damien Echols.
This is a good film - but was it really necessary? The West Memphis Three have already been the subject of three exhaustive, outstanding documentary films - the Paradise Lost trilogy (1996; 2000; 2011) all directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky - with a combined running time of 400 minutes.
The third film, Paradise Lost: Purgatory, was released last year. So it's reasonable to question whether the time and resources poured into this project might have been better spent highlighting a miscarriage of American justice that nobody knows about rather than one that enjoys a celebrity profile.