The Choice (2016)

 

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Ross Katz. Starring: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Alexandra Daddario. Runtime: 1hr, 51 min.

Life will give you many choices. It will give you the choice to see this film. Don’t.

The Choice opens with Benjamin Walker’s Travis talking about how life is full of choices – and he “has to make a big one,” while he’s on his speed boat on the lake in his North Carolina coastal town. He then goes to the hospital with a bouquet of flowers, wondering how Gabby (Teresa Palmer) is doing. Then, it says seven years later.

To me, this is a spoiler in itself. I thought this took me out of the movie experience – because when there was enough time for seven years to pass, I was expecting in the back of the mind for Gabby to go into the hospital.

I don’t mind when a film starts with a scene from the middle of the narrative. It works effectively for complex films like Memento.  But it most certainly doesn’t work for a film that is as simplistic and predictable as a sappy Nicholas Sparks feature.

I’m not sure if the screenwriter, Bryan Sipe, decided to open the film this way because it’s the way the novel opens – or if the editor just plopped it there – but it’s definitely my main complaint of the film.

The story itself is about Travis, a veterinarian, who doesn’t like anything that doesn’t come easy. He’s the type of guy who only has one chair looking onto the water, even though he’s been on and off with Monica (Alexandra Daddario) since high school.

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Teresa Palmer and Tom Wilkinson in The Choice. (Source)

He then meets Gabby, a new neighbour who immediately bothers him. It’s a recurring line in the film – which is about how crappy the dialogue gets. Even though Gabby is seeing Ryan (Tom Welling), they start a relationship, which is challenged by life’s biggest tests.

The film has some funny moments and great cinematography (kudos, Alar Kivilo), but the screenplay is only sporadically entertaining. It is at least more charming than bland. At least it isn’t as totally bonkers as the ending from Safe Haven or as unrealistic as the opening of The Lucky One where Zac Efron found a pretty girl just from a picture almost immediately.

Ross Katz isn’t able to direct strong performances from a usually good Teresa Palmer, and Benjamin Walker is nothing memorable. Alexandra Daddario, Maggie Grace and Tom Wilkinson have good supporting performances. Tom Welling (Smallville) is there for a time, but Superman doesn’t seem to put the utmost effort into his performance.

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Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker in The Choice. (Source)

I did find myself enjoying the film for the first hour. But I never found myself caring deeply for the characters. They were developed weakly with nothing more than a few qualities.

And the main “choice” of the film wasn’t introduced until around the 85-minute mark. It’s a whole new development that’s brought on by something that is truly ridiculous.

There’s a good emotional moment in the film’s last third, but the third act feels like it is much longer than it actually is. With these characters, I would have been fine with a 90-minute movie. It felt like it could have ended at a certain point – and I felt like I was nearly scot free with a short film.

But then the story line held me for what felt like an hour longer (probably about 30 minutes in real time). By that point, I was exhausted – no matter how lovely the film looked.

2 outta 5

 

 

Grown Ups 2 (2013)

GROWN UPS 2Release Date: July 12, 2013. Director: Dennis Dugan. Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade. Runtime: 102 min.

The mystery of why Adam Sandler has never previously done a sequel has been solved. “Grown Ups 2” is worst than his average movie, but it’s about on par with “Jack and Jill“. (That’s no compliment if you’ve seen “J&J”.) If Sandler has become one thing lately, it is reliable. We can always rely on him to bring us one of the year’s worst comedies. If anyone was hoping for a Sandler movie game-changer with this one, they’ll only receive something familiar. “Grown Ups” is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I don’t know how anyone could find pleasure in this.

There isn’t any plot. If one has trouble describing the plot of this film’s predecessor in casual conversation, they’ll damn well blow a blood vessel trying to explain this film’s plot. Even the people over at IMDb don’t know what this is about. Even the filmmakers don’t know what this one is about! The IMDb plot is this: After moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, Lenny (Adam Sandler) finds out that between old bullies, new bullies, schizophrenic bus drivers, drunk cops on skis, and 400 costumed party crashers sometimes crazy follows you.

Yup. It’s as stupid as it sounds. It just feels like a bunch of comedy skits thrown together. Just because one’s main cast (Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade) is composed of SNL veterans, does not mean it should feel like a long episode of Saturday Night Live. I have been told that SNL sketches range from bad to good to the occasional great. The sketches here are just plain bad.

This film is at its funniest when Sandler channels mannerisms similar to Billy Madison. It’s also funny when Jon Lovitz shows up as a character that is very similar to the pervert he played in “Little Nicky”. Sandler is showing us that he and his friends can still be funny with their observational humour; so why is there so much god-awful, low-brow humour in here? The good moments are hidden in so much utter dreck, that they are cancelled out. At the somewhat funny jokes later on, I wanted to laugh – but I only could bring myself to smirk slightly. I knew that for that one decent joke, there will be twenty-five pathetic attempts at humour. Seeing Sandler’s comic genius in his recent movies is as rare as seeing the sun on a cloudy day; you might see it once or twice, but then again, your mind is probably just playing tricks on you.

“Grown Ups 2” reaches to the bottom of the barrel for its laughs. There’s many jokes including bodily functions: peeing, pooping, vomiting, masturbation, and a running joke about trying to burp, sneeze and fart simultaneously, coined by Kevin James… I’m not sure why anyone would laugh at it. But then again, some of the people in my audience laughed at the mere sight of the deer in Lenny’s bedroom. (Oh yeah. The thought of a deer being in a bedroom instead of the wild is real hysterical. Since he’s not supposed to be there, it’s an odd occurence that’s supposed to make the audience laugh, apparently!) At least the only recycled joke is someone peeing in the pool and a mist of blue shows up. This time, though, it doesn’t make much sense because 1) it’s a myth, and 2) if there was such a chemical, there’s really no need to put it one’s own private pool.

There are a lot of visual gags to “Grown Ups 2”. Markus has a thirteen year-old son (the terrible Alexander Ludwig) who has a beard. The joke seems to be that Ludwig is supposed to be terrible as a 21-year-old playing a 13-year-old; but there isn’t anything funny going on there. He has a bunch of “tattoos” that are practically permanent marker. It’s ridiculous. I’ll have an easier time believing that Maggie Grace can convincingly play an eighteen year-old. There’s also a main gag where the family of Malcolm (Tim Meadows) is all bald. Everyone is losing their hair. His wife and son have noses that look like they’re made out of Play Doh. I get it. They’re funny looking. They say “Whaaaaat?” whenever they get offended. It’s supposed to be funny. But nothing about them is funny. The joke is rather excruciating.

Since there are so many celeb cameos here, it makes me believe Sandler thinks featuring these celebrities in his movie is a punchline. There are many familiar faces; his buddies Nick Swardson and Peter Dante show up. (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT THESE CAMEOS HAVE BEEN IN EVERY TV SPOT.) Shaquille O’Neal has an extended cameo. Will Forte, Andy Samberg and Taran Killam, among others, wash Lamansoff’s car, in a scene where you’ll just want to look away. To the sound of Warrant’s “Sweet Cherry Pie”, no less. Taylor Lautner shows up as an annoying Frat boy who barks, flips around, and has a stupid handshake with Milo Ventimiglia. (Even though he’s good on TV’s “Heroes”, I’ve grown to hate him after seeing him here and in “That’s My Boy“.) (END OF MINOR SPOILERS.) Sorry, Sandler, this won’t make many of us laugh. These people are celebrities. Celebrities are in movies, because they’re famous. It’s nothing new.

There is a line of stupidity movies just cannot cross. “Grown Ups 2” crosses it, and then some. I like stupid comedy. You’ll find a lot of stupidity going on in this god-awful film, but only a limited amount of comedy. Sandler’s latest is the poster child for stupid comedies. It begins with a deer pissing on Adam Sandler and ends with a seriously dumb bodily function joke. If that sounds like something you’d find hysterical; well, then, you might have to re-evaluate your taste in movies.

Score: 12/100

I do usually like Adam SandlerI’m considering watching all of Adam Sandler’s movies, and re-watch the ones I can stand to watch again, and review them. In the meantime, here are my reviews of some Adam Sandler films that have received good scores: 50 First Dates” (2004), “Billy Madison” (1995).

Taken 2 (2012) Review

Taken 2

Release Date: October 5, 2012

Director: Olivier Megaton

Stars: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace

Runtime: 92 min

Tagline: First they took his daughter. Now they’re coming for him.

I had a bit too much fun trashing this one.

Taken 2 is an occasionally enjoyable, but generally unsatisfying, sequel.

Bryan Mills is going on a business trip (I guess he came out of retirement) to Istanbul, Turkey. His ex-wife Lenore and his daughter Kim tag along after a few days because their own trip got cancelled last minute. What Mills isn’t aware of is, the father of a man he killed on his first mission to rescue his daughter, is out for revenge. Mills must use his acquired set of skills that he acquired over a very long career, and enhanced in the first film, to save his and his family’s lives and get home safely.

I didn’t love this, nor I did like it very much, but I didn’t absolutely loathe every part of it.

I really had a hard time believing some of the content that was happening. There was hardly a suspension of disbelief anymore, because some unbelievable ideas really bothered me. Remember that Robin Williams film, Flubber (1997)? Well if you don’t, there was this little green flexible rubber (I guess, thus flubber) thing that could stretch a long way. Imagine that as my belief of the film, but it’s one of those dud flubber’s that snap really easily. It’s sort of like a rubber band.*

*Maybe I should have just made the rubber band comparison… Oh well, I wanted to use that Flubber reference, okay! I think it’s a little clever, and I only get clever ideas every so often.

Okay, I’ll chat about some of the content that just bothered me.

1. Exotic trips so close together. This seems like it happens only a few months after the events in Paris, so if Kim gets kidnapped there, why would they want to take another trip to an exotic and probably criminal area like Istanbul? How good are the police forces going to be? Just come to Canada or something, we have a great police force. Better yet, why leave the country at all? Go to Hawaii or something!

2. Ninja daughter in training. When did the daughter become so skilled? It’s not like she acquired those skills over a very long career, she only acquired some of them in a 90-minute first film. Okay, it’s all right because they didn’t make her have a shot like an assassin, and she was driving pretty recklessly, but what’s up with that grenade throwing? There’s really no way one could be that accurate with a grenade on their first throw. I guess they could practice with baseballs, but baseballs don’t explode. It doesn’t seem likely at the time. And, she has wicked perfect math skills, and she draws a near-perfect circle. How could one do that under that much stress?

3. Bryan and Kim treat this as if it is an everyday occurrence  Lenore, who is just there and makes this pretty messy sequel even longer, freaks out a little bit. But Bryan and Kim had the tendency to just treat it like it happens so often, it might as well be an everyday occurence like walking a dog.

4. Maggie Grace’s age. Maggie, Maggie. We audiences are not this stupid. The gig is up, you sexy 29-year old, you. You’re playing a seventeen (almost eighteen) year old. And, you’re not very convincing.

5. Nearly exact same final showdown as the first one. Mills fights one prime henchmen, and then faces the big old bad guy. Just like in the first one. It’s a similar fighting scene, but it’s just a little more frustrating, as the first one. And, the henchmen has the same exact knife as the prime henchmen in the first one. I know it’s probably like a group knife, but the henchmen was fighting Mills nearly exactly the same way as a primary henchmen in the first one did.

6. Marriage Rebuilding 101, ran by Hollywood. What a great way to try to rebuild a marriage! Get kidnapped, it seems like such a bonding experience! Yeah, what a great way to rekindle a lost relationship.

Okay, I’m done with tearing apart the unbelievable content. Did I miss anything? Probably.

I’ll talk about what was sort of good about it. The same simple premise is used, but it sometimes can be effective, but not nearly as effective as the first. It just drags on in a lot of areas. Admittedly, some of the action sequences were pretty good. Some were better than others, and some were just draining, predictable, and messy. It’s enjoyable at times and pretty quickly paced, but it lost my attention at times.

Now for the next part of it that really bothered me. It’s practically the same premise as the first, or at least extremely similar. It’s like they consulted with The Hangover Part II director Todd Phillips, to see how they could make the same film twice. That brings me to this:

How to Make the Same Film Twice, For Dummies by Daniel Prinn

Step 1: Consult with Todd Phillips, because he’s the one who prominently made the same comedy twice.

Step 2: Go to your documents. Find the screenplay of the first film.

Step 3: Open up a new word document. Okay, do you have it open?

Step 4: Now, go over to the original screenplay: copy it, and paste it to the new document.

Step 5: Now replace with only daughter being kidnapped, to the whole family being kidnapped.

Step 6: And now find every reference to Paris, and replace it with Istanbul.

Step 7: Did you do all that? Okay, good.

Step 8: Put in the mailbox, send it to a big studio like Fox, and start raking in the money.

Yeah, baby! Getting money!

Some of the flashback visuals, or visuals used when someone is drugged, was just really rough and hard on the eyes. Especially, the opening credits. That was truly bothersome. But, the landscape was admittedly pretty great.

At the beginning, as an introduction to the plot that shall follow, the narrative kept alternating between L.A. and Albania, and it felt like two different plots for the first (approximately) twenty minutes.

If I have learned anything from this action series, it’s that the earth is occupied by many men who are bent on revenge.

The Mills family is just about the family representation of Princess Peach. They just keep getting kidnapped all the time, one would think they would learn from the first film. Though, if you ever get kidnapped, just call Bryan Mills at 1-888-789-TKN2, for assistance to get out of the jam. He’ll help you out.

“Hey, Mario. Can you come save us? Yup, we’ve gotten kidnapped again…”

In one line of dialogue, Neeson even commented on how there will probably be a second sequel. He seemed to say it reluctantly, too.

Taken 2 is a generally unsatisfying sequel that has some enjoyable moments, but also very poor action sequences. The characters are still pretty lame, and no one believes Maggie Grace is really seventeen years old. I probably had more fun reviewing the film than I did watching it. Join us for the inevitable second sequel, where one of these things may just get taken from him: one of his buddies, grandchildren, identity, pet goldfish, or, GOD FORBID, his favourite weapon.

50/100

Taken – A great action experience.

Taken

Release Date: January 30, 2009

Director: Pierre Morel

Stars: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: “I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t let my daughter go, I will find you and I will kill you.”

It’s a great concept that sometimes doesn’t execute itself all that well, but is nonetheless bullets of fun.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired CIA agent who is trying to strike up a relationship with his now seventeen year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). She soon takes a trip to Paris, and finds herself kidnapped for the purpose of human trafficking. The ring is ran by a gang of Albanians who hook the female tourists on drugs and then prostitute them as an organized business. Mills then travels to Paris in an attempt to find his daughter and bring her back to the U.S. before his appointed window of 96 hours runs out. He must do this, no matter the cost – even if the streets run with blood and nothing but havoc is raised for the French police and former colleagues.

Taken offers a fine experience, that sometimes drags on, but is an overall great concept that is nothing but fun. There’s hardly a message wrapped up in here, just good old fashioned badass-ness. I guess if there was a message to take from this, it would be ‘do anything for your family, no matter the cost’.

One thing I didn’t like about the film was why he was trying to strike up a relationship with his daughter at this point in her life. I mean, she’s seventeen and she’d rather be off with her friends doing teenage and irresponsible activities. Also, Maggie Grace was like what, twenty-six when she played this seventeen year-old? That’s just a little ridiculous, could the studio not find a better actress to do the part? I won’t complain too much though, she performs fairly well – I like her.

The phone monologue is pretty awesome, and is definitely the best part of the film – that you can see in the trailer. It doesn’t run on too long, but some scenes are a little draining. The body count in this movie is crazy. The car chases are pretty memorable, but a lot of the kills aren’t anything that special.

Liam Neeson’s character is pretty sweet, but his ex-wife was hardly likable at all. Who likes a complaining old broad? It’s a great thing that she’s a minor character. One should understand my lack of excitement for her being a larger character in the sequel to this.

Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, Katie Cassidy, Holly Valance and Xander Berkeley headline this action delight.

While Taken is a great concept with some poor pacing, it isn’t shy of being an action great. It does offer some memorable sequences, but the average ones are also, unfortunately, high in numbers. This movie is a self-aware action delight that satisfies on many levels.

75/100

– Daniel Prinn