The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

The Fault in Our StarsReleased: June 6, 2014. Directed by: Josh Boone. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff. Runtime: 125 min.

Even if you aren’t the target audience of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ll be able to enjoy it for its stunning realism, which warrants its occasional corniness. Josh Boone directs John Green’s novel with finesse, and stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort to an extraordinary chemistry. The story follows Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a girl who has had a form of leukaemia since the age of 13. She’s trying hard to cope with her sickness, even though she has depression. Her mother (Laura Dern) wants her to make new friends, and she thinks a cancer support group will be good for her. There, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young man who lost his leg because of cancer, but he survived. He also shares her love for the unconventional. He also wants to put his mark on this world before his time is up.

The film raises themes of cherishing every moment, and making a star-crossed love infinite. One never knows how long they have on this world, but you just have to make the best of it. It raises these ideas beautifully with its main characters. Ansel Elgort is good as Augustus, someone who’s a bit strange at first as he just stares at Hazel for their first encounter. What blossoms from there is a stunning romance. I like a metaphor he uses: Putting a cigarette in his teeth, but he never lights it so death doesn’t have the power to kill him.

It’s sweet how he always wants to make Hazel happy, even when she’s trying her hardest to push him away – because she describes herself as a grenade, and when she sets off she could destroy and hurt everyone in her wake. She doesn’t want to add any casualties to the mix. Her vulnerability as a character is sweet. She likes the simple, unconventional things in life – and it brings some great humour to the film. I really cared about the character, and Woodley’s performance as her makes it even better. She’s hard of breathing, and I felt terror for her in even the most simple of moments like climbing a steep set of stairs. It makes it even more effective.

Hazel has a great adopted philosophy from her favourite novel, and much of the plot revolves around her wanting to know what happens to the main characters’ loved ones after she dies. The authour, portrayed by an effective Willem Dafoe, is someone you’ll sympathize with only maybe for a second. Josh Boone isn’t able to direct the character to anything that stands out. Laura Dern is good as Hazel’s mother, even if she’s sidelined for much of the film, as she is often called to panic whenever Hazel calls her name. Hazel’s Dad (True Blood’s Sam Trammel) is sidelined a lot more. Nat Wolff brings a lot of humour to his role as Isaac, Gus’s best friend. His character’s girlfriend is representative of a person who cannot take the death of a loved one.

Anyway, anyone who’s seen this film or read the novel (which I’ll surely seek out because of John Green’s evidently realistic writing style) will tell you it’s a sad story. You’ve just found the new “I haven’t cried this hard since…” film of the decade thus far. This is The Notebook for a new generation. It’s effectively heartbreaking and it’ll leave quite an impression on its viewers, and it’ll make you now think of Anne Frank’s attic as a romantic area. I loved every minute of this film, and just got swept in its realistic look at life and romance.

Score: 88/100

Advertisements

The Other Woman (2014)

The Other WomanReleased: April 25, 2014. Directed by: Nick Cassavetes. Starring: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton. Runtime: 109 min. 

The Other Woman is a story about strange friendships and adultery. It raises ideas that monogamy just never works out, and one character is legitimately surprised that Carly (Cameron Diaz), is sticking to one man. Nicki Minaj is occupying one of those secretary roles who are moral compasses for their boss even though this one has questionable morals. She doesn’t consider it cheating if the partner is a fat Canadian with no sexual charisma. Minaj’s character Lydia isn’t featured prominently (she’s present for three or four scenes) so we should count our blessings for that. Minaj’s comedic delivery needs work. I might be treating her unfairly because I hate her. I must admit that she’s a talented rapper, though. Anyway, the film follows Lydia’s employer Carly who is dating a great guy named Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who is good at playing the falsely charming douchebag), or at least she thinks he’s a great guy. When she finds out he’s married to Kate (Leslie Mann), they become friends, even though Diaz says they better not braid each other’s hair and drink cosmos. Don’t they know tequila is a gateway drink to that sort-of bonding? They set out on a slow-moving plan to put Mark in his place, in traditional ways – sometimes to the sound of the Mission: Impossible theme.

nicki-the-other-woman

My response to the humour that REALLY missed

This is a chick flick through and through, one that firmly believes men suck. On paper this could be some decent entertainment, because I like movies like this once in awhile – and I think the director, Nick Cassavetes, is talented. But this is his worst film to date. He’s no stranger to the so-called chick flick – director of My Sister’s Keeper, which could be tagged as one – but he is a stranger to comedy. He directed it well enough to get a counted six laughs from me, but half of those are because I’m a sucker for poop jokes. It also relies on other gross-out “gags” which are more gross than funny at all. That’s most notably the fact that Kate’s huge dog (who, in a running gag, has huge balls) is shown taking a shit on Carly’s carpet. (This is not the poop joke that got a big laugh from me, I assure you.)

That’s just a little taste of the grossness. There’s different comedy styles for everyone – gross-out-jokes, tame raunchy jokes, slapstick humour and jokes that just aren’t funny. In the test screenings, one would think they would have checked which one the audiences reacted the most to – and leaned towards one style, or at least tried to make all of those styles funny. This might be funnier if it got an R-rating. It’s essentially an awful version of John Tucker Must Die, where the cheating monster is married instead of just a guy in high school – and the victims are mid-20s to middle age. If it were made to be an update just with older stars – wouldn’t it make more sense to make it with an R-rating? A better writer than first-timer Melissa Stack would help, too. Too often the humour misses, and the film is too often extremely boring and predictable. The film’s also bereft of any romance that feels natural, which I think is odd for Cassavetes, director of The Notebook.

Haha nope, he won't notice us...

Haha nope, he won’t notice us…

The “comedy” that gets tailored for Mann’s talents is unfunny crying (because her husband is cheating on her) a nonsensical bit of why her husband shouldn’t eat bacon, and a thing where she wants to go to brain camp to become smarter. She really needs it since she doesn’t know it’s called college. Mann does get one big laugh. A cast member that is enjoyable is Don Johnson, even if his presence feels random. Cameron Diaz is here because of her charming smile, but she doesn’t muster any big laughs. She’s sexy but the sex appeal is more-so Kate Upton’s boobs. Upton comes into the film a bit late, and that’s really when they start sabotaging Mark; which makes the pacing issues more obvious, as she doesn’t appear until at least an hour in.

This is a brutal attempt at comedy with characters that you just won’t care about. Mann’s character is a somehow more whiny version of her character in Knocked Up, but at least that film is funny. Diaz’s Carly is a bit too unlikable at times, even with that lovely smile, as she practices tough love. It’s sometimes nice to see the plain lawyer, who seems to dedicate all of her time to this operation, open up to these people, though. Upton’s Amber is cute, she says cute things like “Let’s kick him in the balls!” It just seems to me that she doesn’t have many brain cells in her pretty little head. She can join Kate at “brain camp.” And while they’re there, Cassavetes and writer Melissa Stack can go to comedy camp.

Score: 38/100

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

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