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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That Awkward Moment (2014)

That Awkward MomentReleased: January 31, 2014. Directed by: Tom Gormican. Starring: Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller. Runtime: 94 min.

“That Awkward Moment” is a film about relationships. Its title derives from the film’s idea that in every relationship, there is a moment where one of the partners asks “Where is this going?” Often times, that moment can be awkward; but not when the guy already knows the answer. The film presents the idea that, when the moment comes, just get out of that relationship. Because, you know, screw comittment! Casual sex takes precedence! Go to bars, meet women, and build up a roster, so you can have sex every day of the week with a different woman. Apparently, we’re becoming more and more polygamous. There’s nothing like a chick for every day of the week. It feels as if this film is designed in such a way, it might work better as a very short book of tips.

There is a story here. Jason (Zac Efron) is a young gun living in New York who is in the book and magazine cover designing business. His business partner is one of his best friends, Daniel (Miles Teller); and his other best friend, Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is a doctor. Mikey is in his mid-20s and is getting divorced from his first wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas). It sounds pretty rough, considering how young he is. She’s cheating with a guy who looks like Morris Chestnut, no less. Who looks like Morris Chestnut?! Well, Morris Chestnut looks like Morris Chestnut; and apparently this guy does, too. Anyway, the basic story is that, in support of their best friend Mikey, they make a pact that they’re all going to stay single. Yeah. RIGHT. They’re all going to say no to love. As with every romantic comedy, they all pretty much set their eye on a woman simultaneously, and then don’t tell their friends about their intentions because they don’t want to back out on the pact. Jason likes a new girl in town fresh out of college, Ellie (Imogen Poots); Daniel begins to like his wing-woman Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis); and Mikey decides to give things a shot with Vera, again.

The film has so many ideas about dating, but they use mostly generic characters to depict it. The idea they didn’t portray, was that it’s probably never a good idea to have a girl as your wing-man, because you’re eventually going to think, as far as films teach people, “Hey… I don’t like this girl picking up other dudes; she should screw me, instead, out of respect!” Granted, it does seem like an okay idea at first.

One thing’s that funny is that the film only has enough awkward moments that you can count them on one hand. I won’t spoil them all, but they’re there. Jason confuses Ellie for a prostitute when they first meet, and then leaves because he doesn’t have money for a hooker (Poots would be one of those high-end $1000 an hour hookers, I think). Some awkward moments induce crude laughs, but only one or two that are memorable. Another awkward moment that the film depicts is the miscommunication with all the texting, because if one person says “We need to talk” in a text, the other might just have instant anxiety. Communication is key, folks.

One final awkward moment that I detected is the fact that all the women have sex with their clothes on. Well, Poots is naked but she has her comforter covering herself. Yet, both Teller and Efron show their butts. Boo! I want female skin! For Efron, this film might just be used for him as a gateway film for cruder things, perhaps he is preparing us for “Neighbors.” He swears, he gets nude, and he screws, but there’s still a romantic under all that cockiness. At least his sex scene here is less awkward than that one he shared with Taylor Schilling in “The Lucky One.” He’s a character afraid of comittment, because aren’t we all once in awhile? He also gets depicted as the biggest douche in the film in some ways, something Efron isn’t the strongest at playing, and it’s a role usually reserved for Teller (at least with my experience with his roles). Seeing him as a nicer guy than his roles in “21 and Over” and “Project X” with the ability to actually respect woman in a way, enables me to like him a bit more. A bit. I don’t think I’ll see the star potential until I watch “The Spectacular Now,” however.

The acting is natural for a film that has awkward in the title, and the cast is pretty good. I fell in love with Poots’ performance here, and her charming presence is welcome. She’s playing the most layered character of the movie, an independent woman meaning to land on her feet and get her life going in a big city. All the actors are talented to some degree (Michael B. Jordan especially; and Davis is a pleasant surprise for me), but they’re just working with a script that is heavy on the romantic aspect, but the laughs can be counted on two hands and they’re far between each other. Not good for a comedy!

Score50/100

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

My Top 25 Films of 2012

2012 saw some great films, and some real stinkers. I have seen 68 of them. These are my top 25 favourite films of 2012, and also the ten worst.

Oh and, some of these films don’t have the highest scores, but they’re higher up on the list. This is because some films (like The Hobbit) have grown on me a lot since I’ve seen them. Click on the title in the caption to get to review (and the titles in the ‘worst of’ list). Anyway, here’s the list, starting with #25:

Pitch Perfect is a fairly original (at least in cinema) and entertaining Glee-inspired musical comedy that may be predictable, but it’s a toe-tapping experience that has a fine plot, great music, some strange characters (most notably Lilly, a character who looks like that creepy big-eyed girl from Frankenweenie), show-stealing performers (like Bridesmaids‘ Rebel Wilson who portrays Fat Amy) and a memorable ensemble cast.

#24 - This is 40

#24 – This is 40

This is 40 is not quite as good as Knocked Up, but it’s a satisfying sort-of sequel. This is sometimes over-dramatic because of the numerous conflicts, but it is driven by fresh, laugh-out-loud comedy that helps Apatow get the message, of overcoming family differences and a mid-life crisis, across very well. Laughs, conflict, and advertisements for iPhones, Apple products, TV’s Lost, and a good role for Megan Fox are all present.

#23 - Ted

#23 – Ted

Ted‘s screenplay may be crowded but we must understand that MacFarlane’s comfort zone is a mere 22-minute slot, while this is a whole 112-minute feature. The end product turns out to be better than anyone would think a buddy comedy between a talking teddy bear and an immature man could be, and Wahlberg and Ted’s chemistry help make this one of the best buddy comedies of the year. I’m excited to see what else first-time director MacFarlane has in store for the silver screen, and I say bring on the sequel.

The film starts out fairly slow, but once the games come around the bend, it instantly becomes intensely engaging and entertaining. The screenplay maintains the fascinating theme of propaganda [and how corrupt the government may become], but doesn’t capture the extreme violence that we fans handled in the novel itself, and there isn’t quite enough bonding time with select characters. The adaptation is nonetheless great, and since it was not followed to a tee, there is room for surprise. Anyone who is willing to accept this fresh experience will enjoy it, as it is a promising beginning to a new teen franchise.

Rise of the Guardians is a slightly flawed, but wildly inventive, animated adventure that may have some deeply thematic material and action sequences that could be midly scary for small children. The main flaw is the disorganized beginning – but it finds its pace soon enough. The concept is a sort of edgy animated feature, but is a great end product. This is one of the most original animated features of the year, mainly because of the alterations to the beloved Guardians, like making Santa Claus look like a Russian biker, are very fresh. This is a great message to teach the kids this holiday season – don’t only believe in Santa around his season, also believe in all the other heroes, at least when their time comes around the bend.

#20 - The Grey

#20 – The Grey

The dialogue of this film allows characters to be thoroughly developed and compelling concepts to arise. When the characters aren’t talking, it gets engaging and thoroughly thrilling. The anti-climactic ending says Carnahan has learned to resist throwing full-throttle action at us, and he instead resists the urge and keeps the astounding and exciting survival film as tame as could be. The mostly unknown actors make the spotlight shine directly on the star: Liam Neeson.

#19 - Lincoln

#19 – Lincoln

Spielberg seems like, at this point in his career, is interested in making ambitious biopics instead of blockbusters like Jaws. The intelligent monologue-filled feature intricately throws information at you, and at times it can be quite a bit to absorb, but it is usually engaging. The cast of Lincoln is impressive, most notably Daniel Day-Lewis, who delivers a kind-hearted, endlessly charming performance that adds layers to one of the greatest figures in American history. Day-Lewis captures Lincoln’s will to get things done, and his genuine and kind self.

Killing Them Softly is a clever mafia tale of violence and despair with a great leading performance from Brad Pitt; with his mysterious character delivering us plenty of violence to keep us happy. This tale is also a social commentary on the local criminal economy in 2008, before Obama stepped into office – the concepts are complex, but there are not difficult to comprehend. The not-so-subtle message may be annoying to some, but the story is very engaging. It is a thought-provoking film brought to life by Andrew Dominik’s stylish and artistic direction.

#17 - End of Watch

#17 – End of Watch

The abrupt ending keeps this from being flawless, but this is a stellar crime story with intelligent writing by writer/director David Ayer (who previously wrote Training Day) with some of the best chemistry I have seen all year. End of Watch does for the real lives of cops what Ladder 49 did for fire fighters, but it’s about twenty-six times better.

#16 - Chronicle

#16 – Chronicle

Chronicle is one of the most surprisingly amazing features of 2012. The rushed pace is its main flaw, but it is an awesome experience for the 84 minutes it stays around. It obtains must-see status because of its thoroughly thematic and disturbing content. It is the most must-see found-footage feature of 2012, perhaps of all-time.

Seven Psychopaths has a clever screenplay and is a fantastic second feature from writer/directer Martin McDonagh. It is equal parts brutal, brilliant and hysterical. It is extremely memorable and has great characters and a superb ensemble cast. It is one of the most original screenplays of the year, and it’s another comedy that proves 2012 is one of the best for that genre.

The story may have ideas crammed in the feature, it undeniably has a very emotional core. If the actors weren’t singing the vast majority of their dialogue, the film wouldn’t be quite as exciting or engaging. This combines a great period piece with a profound musical, and it makes this one of the best features of the year.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum create a superb chemistry, and this is one of the finest comedy ensembles of the year. The comedy is always funny, and this is the best action-comedy of the year. The real bite about this is that no one expected it to be very good, and yet, it is a hilarious and exciting ride.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan delivers us an impressive and atmospheric piece of cinema that has incredible thrills, great plot execution and great direction, character development that has room for improvement and a slow build-up that leads to an incredible climax. It is also a thoroughly impressive end to a great trilogy, it’s a slight step-down from the high standards set by The Dark Knight, but it is better than Batman Begins.

#11 - Skyfall

#11 – Skyfall

Skyfall is a compelling experience with great pacing, a great story and great humour. Javier Bardem is simply astounding. His presence is really worth the wait. He is one of the greatest criminal masterminds of recent memory, comparable to both Heath Ledger’s The Joker and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. He is the second best villain of the year, right behind Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie in Django Unchained.

#10 - Looper

#10 – Looper

Looper offers an entertaining and memorable action experience with a great story and characters, making it a film that should be cherished. Looper is slightly flawed because of a sometimes crowded screenplay and numerous antagonists, but it has a complex story that’s surprisingly easy to follow, with great characters like Jeff Daniels’ nice-guy-ruthless-when-he-wants-to-be crime boss.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a thoroughly satisfying start to a new Middle Earth trilogy. Its usually silly undertone may frustrate some, but to most, like myself, it makes for a great experience. The many expendable dwarfs may get a lot of the attention, but it is very much Bilbo Baggins’ show. That is until the show-stealing Gollum shows up for one of the best scenes of the feature. I cannot wait to see what the trilogy looks like when all of the films are released.

#8 - Life of Pi

#8 – Life of Pi

Life of Pi is interesting because it is not afraid to bring in concepts of faith and religion. It is also visually beautiful, sometimes funny, thought-provoking, magnificent, terrifying and saddening. There is also a  great story, great direction, wonderful cinematography, great conflicts and relationships present. The actors bring it all to the table, and a short list of performers carries the film very well. This is one of the best films of the year that will be a large Oscar contender. If you’re going to see this, see it in its full 3D glory.

#7 - Flight

#7 – Flight

The drama is solid and the overall film if profoundly enjoyable, compelling, emotional, sometimes funny and often gripping. The suspenseful scene at the beginning is the only action scene in the feature, and it soon turns into a character study, with fascinating concepts of addiction. Those who find the concept of addiction fascinating will enjoy this even more.

Many may think it is simply just another teen slasher, but what gets thrown at you is surprising, extremely fresh and endlessly entertaining. This is one of the most original horror films of all time, with signature bites of comedy from Joss Whedon.

Wreck-It Ralph is the finest animated feature of 2012 and is generally one hell of a nostalgic and enjoyable film. This is like the Toy Story for a new generation. Disney has delivered us a great film yet again, and mashed two generally loved things together: their acclaimed animation, and video games. I had high expectations for this film, and this really rocked my world.

#4 - Argo

#4 – Argo

One of the most captivating things about the nerve-racking Argo is the boiling suspense of the situation, and the viewer can just feel it build throughout. Argo plays out like an assassin giving you his first choke-hold, he’s inexperienced and you may feel the grip loosening from time to time, but then it strengthens again and doesn’t let go until the very end.

Silver Linings Playbook is hilarious, beautiful, meaningful, sad, emotional, and very dramatic at times. It is a truly magnificent blend. One thing that helps the film is the impeccable writing by David O. Russell, and Matthew Quick who originally wrote the novel. The viewer may not be able to relate to the exact situation of these characters, but they could fully understand their motivations – and most may have felt similar emotions that these characters express on a daily basis.

The profound analysis of teenage angst is accurate, brilliantly touching, and heartbreakingly poignant. The performances are great, the story is awesome, and the atmosphere it offers is perfect. This is a film that I’d like to watch over and over. That’s one heck of a definition for an enjoyable experience.  It’s a fine, under-seen classic of 2012 that can define a generation as well as John Hughes could.  If it comes to your town, get off the couch, grab a few friends – but if you don’t have any, it’s okay to be a wallflower – and go see this movie!

Django Unchained is a modern masterpiece, and is Tarantino’s finest film yet (even if I’m the only one to think so). It’s a great story about survival and it has great themes of racism and slavery, that Tarantino explores expertly. The performances, the writing, the soundtrack the direction and the themes are all immaculate. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the best villain of the year.

The ten worst of 2012:

10. The Watch

9. Chernobyl Diaries

8. Silent House

7. ATM

6. Red Dawn 

5. Dark Shadows

4. Mirror Mirror

3. Project X

2. The Lucky One

And the true test of patience…

Well, there you have it. Hopefully you agree with some of my picks, like them, dislike them, or even detest them. Feel free to leave comments!

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