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.

The Choice1

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.

The Choice2

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

 

 

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Safe Haven (2013)

Safe Haven

Release Date: February 14, 2013

Director: Lasse Hallström

Stars: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders

Runtime: 115 min

A young woman, Katie (Julianne Hough), with a mysterious past lands in Southport, North Carolina where her bond with a widower, Alex (Josh Duhamel), forces her to confront the dark secret that haunts her.

Nicholas Sparks movies (A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, The Last Song) attract female audiences. For critics, the name might as well mean torture. For me, he’s really rather average, but he does have a money-making formula. His movies are usually the same old song: a predictable, schmaltzy, romance, a tragic story or two, some antagonist that might be getting in the way of the main couple’s happiness… You get the picture, right?

Safe Haven manages to have a few twists that border on downright silly and somewhat smart. This is certainly more enjoyable than The Lucky One. The romance part of it all is still as predictable and formulaic as ever. The word unpredictable and Nicholas Sparks go together like grape jelly and petroleum jelly… It just isn’t right. However, I do have to admire Sparks for writing a somewhat adequate mystery. There’s an occurring sub-plot during the movie’s first half where a police officer is on Katie’s tail for whatever reason. It distracts from the romance, but that is sometimes welcome; because the romance is rather bland. The sub-plot works into the plot with a good transition, but David Lyons’ police officer character becomes more and more ridiculous as it runs along.

Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel have an okay chemistry, even if their couple is hardly memorable. They sort-of just smile a lot and they do that awkward intertwining finger dance after sex. They aren’t the most memorable couple to come out of a Nicholas Sparks story, as someone could easily forget their names a few days to a week after initial viewing.

Josh Duhamel’s character is a widow and his kids are still coping with it. The daughter, Lexi, is doing better than the son, Josh, because she only remembers the memory of her, while Josh actually remembers her. He’s annoying, but the gal who plays the daughter is tolerable. Julianne Hough isn’t a terrible actress, but she’s probably a better dancer. I think she’ll improve with experience, with movies other than Rock of Ages and Footloose. She portrays decent emotions from time to time, but she’s often just sexy eye candy. Josh Duhamel is a lackluster presence. None of his roles have really been worthwhile enough to let him be a breakout star just yet. David Lyons’ character is silly, and Cobie Smulders’ character is there for support. She’s a fine presence, even if she feels randomly placed. The petite primary cast of six carries the movie well.

Sparks writes an adequate mystery. The prime romantic story is predictable and bland. The mystery doesn’t get a true chance to shine, because it is written as a sub-plot. It’s light on the mystery, hot and heavy on the romance. This has more sap than a maple tree, and it’s sure to give you cavities. Can one expect much else from Nicholas Sparks? This is a movie that might make you blubber like a little baby, but it also might not. The movie’s strongest aspect is the beautiful beach-town setting, and the mostly crystal clear cinematography. One of the twists is really rather dumb and groan-worthy. You’ll have to see this for yourself to form your opinion on the matter, though, because it could be seen as memorable, heart-warming and sweet; and others might view it as complete, laughable hokum. It really does make me want to poke fun at the movie more, because it is silly. The twist makes it stand out amongst the other Sparks adaptations. I see the twist as memorable, laughable hokum.

54/100

The Vow (2012)

The VowThe Vow

Release Date: February 10, 2012

Director: Michael Sucsy

Stars: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill

Runtime: 104 min

I wrote the original review of this back in late August, and I just tweaked it a little.

The true story of it all seems like it’s a sad one, but the Hollywood version turns it into a complete and total schmaltz-fest. It’s apparent that we’re supposed to relate or feel pity for the characters, but it proves difficult sometimes.

The first half starts off on a fairly strong point with a nice little original wedding, the injury on account of lack of seatbelt, the amnesia bit. Then, the parents come in (Jessica Lange and Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill), wanting their baby girl home because she ran away a while ago.

It soon turns into a total schmaltz fest, that, if you are unaware that it’s a true story, you might think it comes right out of the mind of Nicholas Sparks. At the half-way mark, it’s hard not to lose interest in the characters and the story itself and the hardest task is not to mimic the people in the film, much like I did with The Lucky One. The film just doesn’t get any better.

The film isn’t entirely unendurable, but it’s a sub-par effort with lazy and predictable writing, that had the tendency to be too cute. The filmmakers probably feel having Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams on board, their appeal would satisfy audiences, and there wouldn’t be a need for good writers. News flash: That doesn’t work, guys. The chemistry between McAdams and Tatum was likeable enough, even though there was a lot of very irritating fights.

The film is part sad, part feel-good, but very average, with the best part being McAdams and Tatum.

55/100

A Walk to Remember (2002)

A Walk to RememberA Walk to Remember

Release Date: January 25, 2002

Director: Adam Shankman

Stars: Shane West, Mandy Moore, Peter Coyote

Runtime: 101 min

Tagline: Find out who you are and do it on purpose.

In 1965, a romance novelist was born who would be known for his schmaltzy, predictable and usually mindless love stories that can sometimes express a certain charm and always make girls expect so much more from men. That man is Nicholas Sparks. In 1994, he wrote his debut novel, ‘The Notebook.’ Since then, he has became a household name. Especially in homes with teenage girls. Eight (including the upcoming 2013 film, Safe Haven) of his novels have been adapted into films, some of the best include The Notebook, Dear John and The Last Song. While most of the movies adapted from his works are incredibly lame, two stand out: The Notebook, and A Walk to Remember.

This film follows Landon Carter (Shane West), a high school senior who gets sentenced to do community service after he and a few buddies play a cruel initiation prank on a poor old sap who wants to be a part of their group. Landon soon lands his eyes on the beautiful daughter of the Reverend, Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore). While they soon fall in love, Landon must deal with his sudden plummet of popularity, and Jamie must deal with her over-bearing father and a secret she keeps from everyone.

No folks, she isn’t a man. That isn’t her secret. Her secret is fairly predictable, but it admittedly adds a surprising flair of emotion when it comes around the bend.

Like all other Sparks adaptations, this is still predictable and melodramatic, but it is one of the most bearable of his features. The two leads create a charming chemistry, and they make it bearable – and Moore is the pretty face that adds to its attraction. They are the best part of the feature, but the story is nothing new or anything you haven’t really seen before.

Landon must make a hard self-sacrifice of giving up his friends for the one he loves, and sacrifice his mega-popularity at the top of the high school food chain. And then, as expected, Jamie starts to change his heart for the better. Though, her secret makes her a little more reserved. These concepts are made new though, by the unexpected amount of heart and tenderness the film possesses.

All these redeeming qualities do not stop it from being predictable and melodramatic, however. These just merely make the experience bearable for anyone outside of its target audience. It’s fairly entertaining, and it’s a nice little mindless break from the real world. It also gives girls a fantasy world to live in for 101 minutes, and for that, it should be cherished by them. News flash: we men don’t have scripts written for us, not all of us know how to woo you with a fine ease. We’re not the figure you write about in all your diaries.

In a nutshell: A Walk to Remember is a fine feature for its target audience: teenage girls who want to believe most men are something they really aren’t; and for others, it’s only a little entertaining. It is made mostly bearable by Mandy Moore, but the story leaves something to be desired.

63/100

The Lucky One (2012)

Lucky One, TheThe Lucky One

Release Date: April 20, 2012

Director: Scott Hicks

Stars: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner

Runtime: 101 min

Nicholas Sparks’ films are just that old extended fable: love conquers all. This is just another one of his predictable, boy meets girl and then loses girl, romantic love stories. None have yet achieved the quality of The Notebook and this doesn’t even come close.

U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) arrives home from his third tour duty in Iraq, with a photograph of his own personal guardian angel: a woman he doesn’t even know. He goes home and feels he is not where he belongs; so he types ‘lighthouse’ into Google (because in the photo, she’s standing in front of a lighthouse) and he magically finds a correct match (among millions of Google images, that’s very possible). He walks from Colorado to Louisiana and he soon finds Beth (Taylor Schilling), the mystery girl. He gets a job working for her, and he starts building relationships with her, her son, Ben (Riley Thomas Scott) and her grandmother, Ellie (Blythe Danner), much to the dislike of Beth’s ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson).

Oh, dear God, Nicholas Sparks! Stop it with these stories, please! And to the studios, stop adapting his works! Oh, I nearly forgot why they make this stuff… for the money and the target audience. The people who actually like this schmaltzy and schlocky crap: females of nearly all ages. Though, mostly, it’s teenage girls who like young attractive actors or actually enjoy the works of Sparks.

Anyway, the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation is dull and uninteresting, but it’s a little better than 2010’s The Last Song. However, that is not an impressive feat. Sparks forgets to incorporate any sort of realism into this tale. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, Logan is able to track down Beth and get a job working for her. That’s done like a true stalker, right? The characters that Sparks so desperately tries to compose aren’t interesting at all.

Logan only wants to live out what he thinks his destiny is: being with her (how sweet…). He thinks it’s a sign from above, but he doesn’t even have the courage to tell her he found the photograph of her. Doesn’t he realize that’s going to blow up in his face? He must have watched some romantic flicks before he left for Iraq! Then, we have Beth. She’s a former teacher who’s afraid to get back into the dating game, or any game of reality, because of an overbearing Sheriff ex-husband. I’ll get to that scum in a minute. The son of Beth (Ben, portrayed by the not-so-cute-but-really-annoying Riley Thomas Stewart) is an uninteresting character that is afraid of coming out of his shell, but Logan soon helps him. That, in turn, warms Beth’s heart. Nana is probably the most interesting character, but she wasn’t really developed at all (she was there to offer some jokes). The characters are really that bad.

Now, for the ex-husband, Keith. He’s simply that over-the-top asshole that nobody likes. He wants to take the kid away, and every single word he utters is a speeding river of stupidity.

The Lucky One is a love story that has some concepts of destiny and fate thrown in it. That really doesn’t help the film at all. However, there are a few redeeming qualities, but not merely enough to allow anywhere near a passing grade. The lame movie is fairly well-acted by Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling. Blythe Danner is pretty satisfying, too. To complement them, there are many beautiful shots of the Louisiana country-side. The film also benefits from the complete eye candy that is Taylor Schilling. If only the ladies showed more skin in Nicholas Sparks flicks!

This basically gets brought down by its poor characters, lack of realism, its predictable premise and its poor storytelling. It gets tugged down about as much as Gandalf got pulled down by the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The main difference being: Gandalf kept fighting with great force; while The Lucky One gets a few half-hearted punches in, but it came nowhere near to tasting victory. Heck, this doesn’t even deserve a comparison to a film like Fellowship, but the comparison works well – so I just had to use it.

The Lucky One is the same old romantic tale that is made even more irritating by its very over-the-top and silly antagonist. It may be satisfying for its target audience; but for me, the only entertainment I found was the sound of my own voice offering a commentary mocking practically the entire feature.

30/100