The Choice

The Choice

Two neighbors in the middle of a budding romance find themselves tested beyond expectation with “The Choice”. Based on the novel by Nicolas Sparks, the film takes place when feisty medical student Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) moves in next door to perennial ladies’ man Travis (Benjamin Walker), it sends them both on a romantic journey neither ever dreamed possible. Travis has always believed a serious relationship with a woman would cramp his easygoing and adventurous lifestyle, while Gabby is all set to settle down her long-term boyfriend Ryan (Tom Welling), until an irresistible attraction between the neighboring couple upends both of their well-planned lives. After a whirlwind courtship, Gabby and Travis wed and build a family together, making every decision hand-in-hand until one of them is forced to make the most important choice of their life alone. A romantic and life-affirming celebration of love, marriage and family that explores the most heart-wrenching question of all: how far would you go to keep the hope of love alive? “The Choice” is rated PG-13 and directed by Ross Katz.

My past experiences with Nicolas Sparks films have garnered similar emotional responses. These are typically predictable films that present a world full of emotionless romantics who are typically from two different sides of the tracks. The films usually end with one of them getting in a serious accident that may or may not end the life of a main character. To say that “The Choice” was much different from this direction would be lying to my reading audience completely. The film is fullproof that the genre keeps getting weighed fown from predictable outcomes, as well as laughably bad line reads that will have you slouching in your seat.

The film begins (Of course) in Wilmington, North Carolina. A beautiful creek town of clean-cut kids with little to no social problems in the world. If that city sounds familiar, it’s because it’s where “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” were shot. This film feels like the worst episodes of both of those shows. Director Ross Katz uses a majority of his screen time to bombard us visually with wide angle shots of the water and birds passing. The camera work is solid in regards to framing and capturing, but the cinematography gives the look of the film a kind of Flomax commercial feel, complete with montage fun times and boring accoustic music. On more times than once, I caught the same shot being recycled in a later part of the film. These kind of shots are usually used for the opening minutes of a film to set the environmental tone of the film, but the movie keeps beating us over the head time after time to show the dreamy landscapes. Just once I would love to read a Sparks story that takes place in the ghetto with poor people. Too much to ask?

The story is regurgitated muck from a best of in the Sparks filmography. There is of course a love triangle for the affections of Gabby. The biggest problem from this angle, aside from the fact that it’s used in EVERY Nicolas Sparks movie to this point, is that the movie is morally bankrupt with who the audience is rooting for. As our protagonists, the film wants you to embrace love conquering all even if that all is cheating on your two significant others. I will get to the characters later, but Gabby is so unlikeable as a leading lady that it was hard to find any redeeming factors in her traits. She has this amazing doctor boyfriend who doesn’t cheat on her, abuse her, or demean her in any way, but she cheats on him without ever truly suffering emotionally for her poor decisions. Aside from this, the film uses its third act to bring back a familiar cliche for this writer’s work, and it’s presented in total slow motion.

A majority of this film did move along pretty smoothly and kept me entertained even if it was for all of the wrong reasons. Where the pacing gets subdued is during the third act where the film fast-forwards seven years. SPOILERS SPOILERS – Our main characters now have two children and are married. All of this happens in a tornado flash without so much as a minute to stop and soak in any of these major life moments for our characters. What really brought me to tears hilariously was the lack of aging so much as a day in either of Gabby or Travis’s physical features. I’m not asking for a huge change here, but the characters don’t even comb their hair differently, nor does Gabby look even remotely aged in skin tone considering she had two children. I just don’t buy it. The cheapest aging effects would’ve been enough, but it’s things like this that took me out of the movie. It is during this time that a character (Of course) encounters a brutal accident, which leaves them conveniently without a scratch on their face, but the scenes are in slow motion. We wait through numerous scenes of wimpering dialogue when we just want an answer. Considering you pushed two kids and a marriage through five minutes of scenes, I think you can give us an answer for the fate of this character in about the same damn time.

This review would be nothing though, if I didn’t mention the characters and performances. I already spoke on how unlikeable Gabby is, but the real thorn in the side is Teresa Palmer’s suffocating line reads. I find it hard to grasp when this character is mad or happy because she says her angry lines with a smile. Besides the fact that her and Benjamin Walker have absolutely zero romantic chemistry, there are many scenes where their romantic lines fall flat to bad timing, and it leaves many scenes full of dead air. Seriously, if this film cut out these dead air scenes, 106 minutes would quickly become 90 minutes guaranteed. Walker is decent, but he doesn’t have enough charisma to really shine as a leading man. Far too much of his scenes emotionally are on one setting. We never really get that chance to see what makes Gabby want to run away with this guy from quite literally THE perfect guy. Walker is one of only three people in the movie with a southern accent. This wouldn’t be such a problem if 1) The film in its entirety didn’t take place in the south, and 2) There weren’t more than 20 characters with speaking roles in the movie. It all just gives the movie that “I don’t give a shit” feel that romantics will eat up regardless of my review.

“The Choice” doesn’t present nearly enough difficult options to make seeing this movie warranted. There are currently MUCH better films at the box office, so make “The Choice” to tell Nicolas Sparks that “The Boy”, “The Finest Hours”, “The Forest”, or “The Finest Hours” are much better movies with boring titles than this near two-hour pile of moral bile.

3/10

 

Before We Go

Before We Go

Chris Evans and Alice Eve spend a night broke and with no means of transportation, in “Before We Go”. It’s Evans directoral debut, and follows the journey of two strangers stuck in New York City for the night. Starting as interrupted strangers, the two soon build a bond of trust within each other, when a night of unexpected adventure forces them to confront their fears and take control of the problems in their lives. This film is the most frustrating of one night stand’s. Right when we think our characters have grown a lot and are ready to make some changes in their lives, they are no more wiser than when the film began 95 minutes prior. There is certainly enough intrigue in Evans script, complete with the mystery of backstories within the two protagonists, as well as the on-screen chemistry between the two, without any romanticism involved. Yet it falls into the hollow halls of reptitive content, with the movie never really moving out of it’s cluttered mess, moaning about their tortured pasts. It’s a romantic genre film that really doesn’t have the traits to inject into that genre. It’s not all a miss however, as the film has some witty dialogue (especially in the opening act) that carried us through some of the more awkward moments. Alice Eve has the look of a Hollywood heavyweight, but i have yet to be moved by a performance from her. If there is one thing that Evans knows, it’s on-screen charisma. There’s a charm in his delivery that ranks him among the likes of Bogart, Gable and many others who defined the romance genre for their generation. He definitely put a lot into his performance, but a reflection on the film as a whole hit me with an epiphany. I think Evans ran into too much involvement into one film. That’s not saying that he couldn’t direct a film, but i don’t think it will be a success with a film he stars in. In giving credit to him though, the film has a nice 80’s feel, adding moody new wave sounds to a New York backdrop at night. It’s a great combination that sets the stage perfectly, even if it’s a little unbelievable that all places look as glorious as the ones shown in the film. Maybe that’s really what the movie needed; some kind of emotional dilemma. Eve gets robbed as the film begins, but there is never a sense of danger in her eyes. She opens up to Evans easily and the rest is history. Despite everything i said, i think the female audience will find enough in the handsome charms of Chris. It’s enough to distract them from the real issues plaguing the film. I wish the ending would’ve left a better taste in my mouth, but it all wreaks of wasted opportunity. This was one film that i was looking forward to, but it will easily be forgotten in under a week. “Before We Go” is a dry offering for a DVD date night in. Evans shows promise visually, but his lack of structural development from act to act leaves his first behind the camera effort elusive.

5/10

I’ll See You In My Dreams

I'll See You In My Dreams

National treasure Blythe Danner stars in this film that symbolizes the realistic effects of living with loneliness after the loss of everything that seemed to make sense. ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ tells a story about a widow and former songstress (Danner), who discovers that life can begin anew at any age. With the support of three loyal girlfriends (June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place), Carol decides to embrace the world, embarking on an unlikely friendship with her pool maintenance man (Martin Starr), pursuing a new love interest (Sam Elliott), and reconnecting with her daughter (Malin Akerman). The film rests a lot on it’s comedically charming cast, most of which is at it’s peak when the four female friends share an array of scenes, ranging from a sex talking poker game, to a marijuana smoke out followed by a munchie fest that will have your gut hurting in laughter. Where the film trails off is in a third act that begins with a bombshell that left the audience, as well as the movie gasping and searching for a new identity. If anything defines this film, it’s Danner. She has always been a real starlight in the Hollywood acting, but ‘Dreams’ is the first film in a while that features her at the helm. It’s a tour de force performance, complete with irresistable charm and a subtely poignant underbelly that reaches for the most from her audience. If not for Danner, the film would be greatly in trouble from the series of unanswered questions around her in this weak script. More on that later. The movie also supplies a quiet and tragic look into the crippling world of loneliness. The actions of Danner’s character to avoid the quietness of a daily routine that has her screaming for more inside, is well documented with many repetitve actions done over and over again within the first fiteen minutes of the movie. I think that this point certainly communicates Carol’s desire to change, even if she believes it may be too late. That change comes in the form of on-screen squeeze, Bill (Elliott). Elliott is decent, but his screen time is minimal for someone who is getting second billing in this movie. The love story between he and Danner slowly builds over the first half hour, and then feels sped up when the movie realizes it hasn’t done much between the two. All of this is at the front and center when a nice relationship based on chemistry is being built between Danner and Starr. This was the relationship that i was really pulling for, and the movie seems to want that out of it’s audience until the big bombshell happens and suddenly it takes a stand in the department of awkward because the film feels afraid to take a chance because of their age difference. That’s not to say that the movie is afraid of taking chances totally. The big bombshell is more than enough to debunk that statement, but it feels like the chances being taken are the wrong ones in terms of storytelling satisfaction when it’s all said and done. I didn’t feel like the characters were any better for the end result of their respective situations. ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ is certainly likeable enough, based on it’s always entertaining cast and interesting set up. It gets a passing grade from me, despite me never having to really have any interest to watch it again. Some dreams are easily forgotten, but thanks to a twilight performance from Danner, this dream has some everlasting memory.

6/10

Irrational Man

Irrational Man

Should be called ‘Illogical Plot’. Woody Allen writes and directs this film that centers around a teacher-student relationship at a Boston college. When a burned-out, brilliant professor (Joaquin Phoenix) takes a job at a small college, everyone there is abuzz. He becomes involved with a teacher (Parker Posey) as well as a precocious student (Emma Stone), but it takes a dramatic, and monumental act to turn his life around and make him see the world through a much wider and more appreciative perspective. ‘Irrational Man’ is a film that i only caught the trailer to once, and to go into the film blindfolded makes you appreciate even more how ridiculous it is. What little i knew about this film, told me that it was a troublesome film about a teacher who falls in love with his student. BOY WAS I WRONG. The film saunters through at a snail like pace when it finally reveals it’s true intentions; Phoenix must commit a murder of a total stranger to restore meaning to his life. The choice and even the result of the death feels like an afterthought famous for Allen films. The movie is riddled in clouded dialogue, as well as some of the very worst personalities that i have ever seen. Phoenix is a solid Hollywood A-lister, but in this movie, he feels like his character in the effect that he couldn’t care less. He too searches for real meaning on why he took this project, with the exception of working with one of Hollywood’s most legendary writers. Anyone who knows me, knows i love everything about Emma Stone. Well, this film managed to make me hate her. The character she portrays is so unlikeable and against any kind of spoiled side that we have ever seen from her. It’s nice to take risks, but this character is so one dimensional, and her moves are easily choreographed throughout the film that she will eventually fall for Phoenix. If the movie stayed at that kind of predictable offering, i could’ve appreciated it enough because maybe these two will be made better by film’s end. Instead, both characters are mere shadows of what they were 92 minutes prior, and we don’t feel any better about the investment we have given them during such a time. If the film has any good to it, it’s in the camera shots and how beautifully styled the movie’s backgrounds are. If there is one thing Allen will always do right, it’s that he knows how to point a camera. I just wish his actors didn’t desire more with my overall interest in the film. The third act is where the film gathers any kind of momentum down hill, but it soon takes a nosedive in absolute absurdity with logical choices. It’s so bad that i struggle even as i write this to properly classify what kind of movie tone-wise this was. ‘Irrational Man’ is perhaps genius in the fact that it says everything you need to know about the film in the title. It’s irrational to spend time with these people, to find anything appreciative about this film even with a love for Woody Allen, or even irrational to spend a dollar to rent this at RedBox. It’s pretentious dribbel at it’s finest.

3/10

Paper Towns

Paper Towns

A teenage boy loves and loses, all in a scavenger hunt to get back the girl he defines as his miracle, in ‘Paper Towns’. Adapted from the bestselling novel by author John Green (“The Fault in Our Stars”), the movie is a coming of age story centering on Quentin (Nat Wolff) and his enigmatic neighbor Margo (Cara Delevigne), who loved mysteries so much she became one. After taking him on an all night adventure through their hometown, Margo suddenly disappears, leaving behind cryptic clues for Quentin to decipher. The search leads Quentin and his quick witted friends on an unforgettable adventure that will change them all for the rest of their lives. Ultimately, to track down Margo, Quentin must find a deeper understanding of true friendship and true love. I was a little disappointed to find out that this movie came in at #6 on it’s opening weekend, with a dismal 12 million dollars made. I personally enjoyed this film, but felt that it fell short of it’s author’s predecessor, mostly due to a lack of significant characters, as well as lack of emotional range that is lacks from it’s audience. What is good about the film is that there is a deeper meaning behind the plots used for table dressing. This is a movie about time. Whether in the meaning of graduating high school and leaving behind the friends you love for life, or the time to change the things about your life that you don’t like before it’s too late. It all lands on the cusp of a very likeable cast, even if they aren’t always used in the best of ways. Wolff showed some real comedic timing in Green’s first film, but it’s nice to see he can carry the load of a lead with just as much charisma. We’ve all been in the position of liking someone that we know we can’t have, so there is always that voice in our heads that is rooting for this kid. In a sense, i took his character a lot like Emile Hirsch’s in 2004’s ‘The Girl Next Door’. There is a nice transformation for him by the film’s end, but the ending leaves out any chance for his triumph to be recognized. The ending is getting a lot of negativity by critics, and i can kind of understand it to a point. What i did enjoy about it is that it makes sense. It’s also a film that has guts when it comes to possibly alienating the audience who have made the 100 minute investment. If i pointed to anything critique-worthy about the film, it’s in the almost slapstick comedy style scenes that leave the second act of the film in a tone deaf mess. They come out of nowhere, and it just feels like a child trying to squeeze a square peg into a circle outline. If the movie stuck more to it’s noble intentions, it would’ve worked more for the last scene when the friends go their seperate ways. There are some things that shone a light on my final year in high school, but i never felt that ‘Paper Towns’ was anything more than a lovestruck boy pursuing a crush that the movie forgets to develop why she is as great as Quentin makes her out to be. The juice doesn’t feel like it’s worth the squeeze, but it does all go down smooth enough with a nice mystery, as well as a young cast full of chemistry that will no doubt give us tons of smiles to come for years. Keep an eye open for the gas station cameo if you are a fan of Green’s first film (wink wink)

6/10

Trainwreck

Trainwreck

7/10

Judd Apatow gives us a modern romantic comedy far from anything that we are used to seeing from the genre. ‘Trainwreck’ is the film that stars comedian Amy Schumer as a New York City magazine writer who has been told all of her life that spending life with just one person isn’t possible. Her nightly life of multiple sex partners, as well as drunken blurs are thrown for a loop when she is told against her will that she will do a story on a successful sports doctor, Aaron Connors (Bill Hader). Amy starts to see that everything she knew has been untrue, and now she stands at a crossroads with love if she decides to go against all of her principles. ‘Trainwreck’ is easily Apatow’s best work in a decade. It would be easy for him to craft another raunchy comedy, sticking his characters in awkward and unpredictable situations, but his latest film builds with a subplot that his audience can relate to. This woman is emotionally ungiving because of a lack of committment from her live fast and party hard father (Colin Quinn) whose views and opinions have crippled her views on love. The movie is appealing to both genders for an enjoyable date night. It’s got more of the quotable one-liners made popular in past Apatow offerings such as ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’, as well as ‘Knocked Up’. The ladies will be treated to a love story that refuses to settle for the same cliches that paralyze those films of that genre. This is a couple who have a lot of problems, and the script refuses to ignore that, all the while giving us many key performances to making this a passing effort. Schumer is pure comedic gold, but i was honestly surprised by how complex her emotional pallate was. There is a nice transformation in her character that isn’t always easy to spot, but by film’s end we believe that she is living with her eyes wide open for the first time in her love life. Bill Hader also showcases again that he can’t be held down by just one style of character. After his solid award worthy turn in 2014’s ‘The Skeleton Twins’, Hader has shown a gentle charm beneath a lovable goofball exterior. He plays to a breed of comedy that doesn’t need cheap slapstick during an era soaked in it. The side characters were there, but i was kind of surprised at the lack of screen time that most of them received. Despite critical praise, Lebron James is in the film for a matter of five scenes. I guess if you are going to see his acting debut, you will have to accept it in small doses. One actor who doesn’t have a lot of scenes but makes the most of his time is John Cena. It was during his parts that the movie reached in and demanded the most honest laughs of the night. Cena might’ve failed in his action run in Hollywood, but the man has great comedic timing that can’t be denied. Cleveland native and SNL alum, Vanessa Bayer also disappears for half hours at a time during a point in the movie where Amy could use a best friend perspective. A lot of those type of scenes are instead used for Amy’s sister (Played by Brie Larson) that while they do work, makes Bayer’s character struggle for screen time meaning. The movie has a lot of great cameos, none of which i will spoil for you the reader. If the movie does suffer from one problem it’s that it takes a lot for us to get through the nearly two hour run time. This isn’t because of bad storytelling, but instead a lack of editing famous for the Apatow filmography. His movies always seem to run too long, despite a tight story that never needs these pointless inserts in the script. There are many scenes that don’t do anything but pause the progression of the film’s pacing, and i felt it more than once. That’s not to say that it ruined the movie, but with a twenty minute trimming of the scenes that only slowed down the comedic momentum of a smarter than usual script, the film would’ve moved into a territory that not any other Comedy has done in 2015 yet. Even still, the charm of the on-screen chemistry between Schumer and Hader can’t be denied. ‘Trainwreck’ is anything but, and it’s sharp humor along with characters who are hard not to root for, makes for a must see experience to anyone on the fence about checking it out.

Old Fashioned

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1/10

Old Fashioned is possibly the toughest religion based film i have sat through. It’s not the worst film of that genre, but more on the fact that it is pointless that it has anything to do with religion, and that it’s existence baffles me as i search for clarity in a nearly two hour entertainment drought that took many pauses throughout my viewing experience. The film focuses on Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder), a former frat boy who gives up his sexually ambitious lifestyle and now runs an antique shop in a small Midwestern college town. There, he has become notorious for his lofty and outdated theories on love and romance. When Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Robertson), a free-spirited young woman with a restless soul, drifts into the area and rents the apartment above his shop, she finds herself surprisingly drawn to his noble ideas, which are new and intriguing to her. And Clay, though he tries to fight and deny it, simply cannot resist being attracted to her spontaneous and passionate embrace of life. If you can’t tell by my rating, i absolutely loathed this film. First of all, the characters are unlikable and not even in an entertaining sense. Even more so than Christian Grey in “Fifty Shades of Grey”, Clay is a controlling and at times scary human being. There are so many warning signs for Amber with her interest in this man. Their interest in one another doesn’t make sense from Amber’s point of view because as the film goes on we find out she has a yearning for sexual touch. So she decides to get involved with the man who has sworn abstinence until his wedding night? Make no mistake about it, if abstinence is your thing, then rock on. But the problem with the believability and lack of chemistry with our two main protagonists is that they never kiss, cuddle, and barely hold hands. It’s nice that Director/Star/Writer Rik Swartzwelder was kind enough to cast himself in a role and think he could get away without forming any kind of bond between these two characters. I don’t buy that these two have any interest in each other for a second, and it’s made all the more ridiculous when after one date they seriously consider a marriage talk. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I hope no influential minds end up seeing this film. The last thing the world needs is people like this walking around. I Mentioned earlier that the religious aspect of the film is pointless, and that is because there is really no need for it in this particular storyline. Clay isn’t living with sex because of religious beliefs, he is doing it because he thinks this helps make him a better person from the terrible things he used to do to women. This is where the story at the very least made me laugh. It turns out Clay, the sap who couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag, is a former director of Girls Gone Wild DVD’s. This is an actual storyline that Swartzwelder thought would represent his evil past ways?? Is is a slimeball way to make money? Yes, but it doesn’t cast him in the near vilainous light that Clay hates himself for. The fact that the movie makes this out to be the worst thing possible shows just how tame and vanilla this film is. The camera work is subpar even for a low budget religious film. There are many shots that take place a little too up close to the face of our characters during conversations. The camera was so close at times that i thought someone would slip and actually look at the camera. Why not? There were many times when i saw Clay about to break into laughter midway through a line read. I’m glad someone got entertainment out of this morbid waste of film. Another thing wrong with the production is the choppy style of the editing. Scenes feel like they end when a next shot of something completely unrelated shows and then we go back to the original scene. Sometimes it cuts and never goes back to finishing the conversation. It makes it very hard to keep up with ongoing situations in the film. Our characters boring story goes nowhere fast, so they have to shoehorn some suspense in the final twenty minutes of the film by introducing us to characters we haven’t seen, but are now showing up on Amber and Clay’s doorsteps to try to seduce them into cheating on the other one. Where did this come from? It doesn’t matter because it’s soon dismissed in favor of an ending that doesn’t make us or the characters feel any closer to the reality of what is going on. Old Fashioned is a film that many of my readers have waited months for me to review, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s bad from it’s slow narrative start, to the conclusion that gives us no satisfaction for where these two are heading. This is a relationship doomed to fail, and i for one wish i got that movie instead. Old Fashioned is an insult to romance both past and present. Many of the older crowds who see this film will be humiliated into admitting that they have more in common with today’s youth in terms of romantic offerings than they do this film and it’s slap in the face title. Too tone deaf to ever be taken seriously, but not entertaining enough to ever include in a bad movie night marathon.

Aloha

Aloha

4/10

“Aloha” is a collection of scenes that are acceptable out of context, but together they sprout an uneven direction that boosts Director Cameron Crowe’s most disappointing film to date. That’s not to say that i was angry coming out of this film. Readers of mine know when i am angry just from reading my words. I would say my emotion is that of disappointment for a film i have been looking forward to for the better part of eight months. Bradley Cooper stars as a legal defense worker who teams up with a pilot (Emma Stone) to convince the natives of Hawaii to sign off on a satellite launch that will enhance our technological advancements over our competitors. Over time, the two find that they have a lot in common spiritually, and learn some terrifying truths about the people they work for. In the middle of all of this is Cooper’s ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) who is now married with two children and searching for clarity with the man who left her behind. After watching the trailer for this film, a lot of people are going to be fooled into thinking that this is a cute and quirky Romantic Comedy that is the perfect compliment to a nice night out with a significant other. The romance is there even if it is shuffled under a relationship that just doesn’t work in age (13 year age difference), or in their on screen chemistry. The couple’s comedic banter serves them well as friendly acquaintences, but the second it turns romantic is when things feel awkward for the audience. To add to this fault, Crowe throws a 360 turn to his audience and turns his film into a sci-fi feature among the likes of a Marvel superhero movie. One of the film’s biggest characters makes a villainous turn out of nowhere that feels cartonnish and out of sorts with the tempo created in the film’s first two acts. By the end of the movie, i was almost laughing at how bizarre this film was. It’s like Crowe made a social commentary film on the power and consequences of the world’s leaders and then decided to force two people in love in the middle of it. The film would’ve been much better with sticking to the triangle tug of war that the trailer promised us. It all feels like Crowe pitched two films to the studios and they didn’t like either film by themselves, but approved a science experiment gone wrong creating two different tones in genre that are sloppily mixed. The movie is shot well at least, and there are some funny scenes that left me with a smile on my face. I guess the biggest tragedy for this film is going to be in it’s lack of rememberance. For a director who crafted Hollywood top shelf like “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous”, it feels like he has lost focus with his audience here. The great main cast, as well as honorable supporting cast like Alec Baldwin, Danny Mcbride, Bill Murray, and John Krasinski really deserved more. Krasinski especially is reduced to an adult who barely talks throughout the film. I’m not doubting that there are adults who act like this, but not to their children while also showing off his love for them. Aloha is an appropriate word for a film as uneven as this. It’s a word that means hello and goodbye. You the audience should trust my insights and journey to the latter.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Far From the Madding Crowd

8/10

The latest big screen adaptation for Thomas Hardy profiles his most prolific female character in search of the man brave enough to tame her. “Far From the Madding Crowd” stars Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, an inheriting farm owner who attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer, captivated by her fetching willfulness; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. The film follows her tribulations as a female business owner, as well as her search for love and respect in a man who will honor her personality traits. This movie is a prime example of what authors like Nicolas Sparks should be gunning for when adapting their screenplays. The movie builds it’s characters as equals, it casts the setting in different landscapes of the victorian era, and it never has to rely heavily on passionate scenes to get across the chemistry from it’s two protagonists. Above everything else, i love “Madding Crowd” for it’s presentation of a positive and strong female presence during a time when women were subject to houseworkers only. The movie’s ability to make a story like this relatable in 2015 is what really captivated me and kept me interested in a plot that is easy enough to cast. It’s all about a love triange, and that is something that we have seen so many times, but what makes it work is that you have the female playing the role that the male would normally play in these sappy overdone tellings. She is the one with the power, the money, and the attention of her male suitors. The film also refuses to be held down by the lack of entertainment value from it’s setting. That’s not to say that a movie set in this age will automatically be boring, but it needs a strong script to make it entertaining for a younger audience, and boy does it succeed. The film has a few twists and turns melodramatically that bring out the best of performances from Mulligan. I have always been a big fan of Carey, and Everdene is perhaps her strongest challenge communicating a woman so powerful in an era where her beauty is her judge, jury, and executioner. Without ever having to lose her cool, she relates never needing a man to be complete with a calm strength that keeps her from ever looking like an imature woman stereotypical for these films. The only small criticism i had with the movie came in it’s final act where everything is wrapped up a little too conveniently. Characters tend to change to benefit the script, and i think something like that could’ve been left in editing dust. It’s a small critique for a movie that kept me interested in the romantic entanglements of Hardy’s story. Much respect to Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) for scouting a shooting location (Buckinghamshire, England) well represented of times during the 19th century. The film is visually stunning for it’s wide angle shots of fields as far as the eye can see, the stonewalls in the villages, and the strawhouse structures that were the best in animal housing that money could offer in such a time. He also brings the most out of actors like Schoenaerts, who has been limited to a tight lipped villain in most of his roles to this point. I recommend this film to everyone who always question what my biggest problem with Nicolas Sparks films are. Like it’s main character, it’s a film that refuses to ever be tamed by the challenging up hill battle with the genre that it faced.

The Age of Adaline

theageofadaline

6/10

Living every day like it’s your last is a concept every person tries to abide by. That is difficult for one Adaline Bowman. After miraculously remaining 29 years old for almost eight decades, Adaline (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with handsome philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline stands at the crossroads of a decision that will change her life forever. Director Lee Toland Krieger is just the kind of guy to tell a romantic tale with a twist. After cult success with independent 2012 charmer “Celeste and Jesse Forever”, Krieger continues the success with a surprisingly charasmatic, “The Age of Adaline”. Where normal romance films dry out by the second act due to a repetitively laughable dialogue, this film takes a different approach, crafting many solid laughable moments while playing with how truly ridiculous Adaline’s condition is. The plot has been ridiculous to me ever since i first saw the trailer, and the movie did little to change that moment. The origin of Adaline’s freak change is on the same level of some of the Winter magic done in 2014’s “A Winter’s Tale”, but thankfully it never goes that far. Outside of a plot whose setup is taken from “Friday the 13th Part 6” (You think i’m kidding?), i found many aspects enjoyable. The cinematography is very appealing, with an almost 1940’s golden age look to the background of styles around our main characters. It’s a film that looks very similar to what Angelina Jolie has done as a director with such films as “Unbroken” or “In The Land of Blood and Honey”. The pacing is solid enough that even when the movie feels like it’s hitting those cell phone checking moments, it throws us another twist to an evolving story with these characters with long histories. While the chemistry wasn’t there for me with Lively and Huisman as a romantic couple, it was oddly there whenever Lively conversed with Harrison Ford’s character. I think that was meant as a reflection of how much longer their characters have known each other as opposed to her current relationship with Ford’s son. What i’m saying shouldn’t be a spoiler to anyone who has seen the trailer once, as little is left in the element of surprise after knowing so much about it going into the film. That is one thing i wish could’ve changed, as the movie treats the audience like we are in the dark about these bombshells before the film begins. What lifts “The Age of Adaline” further than every new Nicolas Sparks romance tale we get every year, is the element of solid performances by actors that never allow themselves to be held captive to laughable dialogue. Ford is still an on screen presence that steals a smile or two from me, Ellen Burstyn supplies the laughs of the film every time she pops up as Adaline’s much older looking daughter, and Lively gives a performance to kick her into the stratosphere in her early career. Adaline is a perfect role for her because it allows her the ability to showcase a side to her we havent seen in action films to this point. Overall, i surprisingly enjoyed this film, and i think there’s enough in it to warrant an enjoyable date night for both sides. It’s not too cheesy, and works as much more than a romance story with so many good jokes based on Adaline’s age. Before you age another day, check out this decent film.

The Longest Ride

thelongestride

6/10

Sometimes the effort of the individual pieces is greater than the sum of it’s parts. That’s not to say that Nicolas Sparks newest big screen adaptation is a bad film, but instead that the film does quite well on the individual efforts of trying to play against a script that typecasts it with other Sparks failures. Director George Tillman Jr (Barbershop films) adapts this Sparks novel that centers on the star crossed love affair between Luke (Scott Eastwood), a former champion bull rider looking to make a comeback, and Sophia (Britt Robertson), a college student who is about to embark upon her dream job in New York City’s art world. As conflicting paths and different lifestyles test their relationship, Sophia and Luke make an unexpected and feateful connection with Ira (Alan Alda), whose memories of his own decades-long romance with his beloved wife¬† deeply inspire the young couple. The film definitely has it’s problems. Like other Sparks adaptations, there are crowd grimmacing line reads, plot conveniences that include out of nowhere tension to create conflict among our protagonists, and the repeated setting of a rich town within a mile off the coast of an ocean. With all of this considered, i actually really enjoyed “The Longest Ride”. The acting is solid among a sensual duo of Eastwood-Robertson whose on screen chemistry pulls through dialogue that we have heard far too man times. Eastwood definitely has the look and charm of a Hollywood A-lister, and i could see him making a name for himself with a last name that already casts some big shoes to fill. Alda also adds a gentle presence that pulled a smile out of me every time he was on screen. As i mentioned, the structure is a little sloppy and contrived with two stories being told at once. I honestly feel like there was enough in each story to give each respective couple their own movie. For my money, i enjoyed Alda’s story a little bit more than the young lovers. There are times when we go long spans without hearing from whatever story isn’t being told, and i think it’s something that Sparks should work on. Other films of his have taken me out of the story because the running time ran too far over, and while this film has a similar problem (2 hours), the film ends right as the developments were getting too convenient for the audience. The camera style of the film is very complimentary, especially when Luke is in the bullfighting ring. Many slowed down motion shots showcase an artsy side to a down and dirty sport that is usually anything but. There is also a sex scene in the film that is very passionately shot. It’s done so well that it almost rivals the on screen magic of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in Sparks biggest hit to date, “The Notebook”. Overall, i think this movie is solid for a date night among couples. It’s not a great movie, but it’s good enough for me to give a positive review for the first time ever for a Sparks adaptation. The film has it’s problems, but the charms of the things you wouldn’t expect make this romantic tear jerker a ride that is long, but far from the longest compared to the horrors i have faced with this writer.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey

4/10

E.L. James’ kinky best-seller gets the big screen treatment with this Universal Pictures/Focus Features co-production. The steamy tale details a masochistic relationship between a college student and a businessman, whose desires for extreme intimacy pen from secrets in his past. The plot i have just told you is EXTREMELY stretched for sure. When you consider that most of the conflict in this film (If there is any) stems from Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) stuck in a decision of signing her life over to the mysterious Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), i found myself perplexed by their decisions to explore bondage multiple times even before the contract is ever signed. There are some things that i did enjoy about this film, and i will get to them later. The biggest problem facing this movie is the fact that it has two second acts. The non-existent third act pushes us into an ending that is uneventful, and feels like Director Sam Taylor-Johnson didn’t pick the right spot to end this first of a proposed trilogy coming in the next few years. The audience i sat with felt very puzzled as the movie ends without solving it’s conflict, or even advancing our characters beyond a few short reveals. The film’s first act to me was intriguing enough to get me remotely interested in the backstories of the rich and puzzling Grey. It’s in that aspect that the film succeeds to it’s highest level, but fails at it’s highest expectation. We don’t learn a lot about Christian except for why he is a dominant. I’m sure the books do a better job at explaining it, but i have to grade this film alone, and on that aspect, it’s very tight lipped. I also enjoyed that the movie seems to have some comedic underlying tones, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I talked greatly in my review for “Jupiter Ascending” about films that take their gutsy premises too seriously, but i’m glad that this movie didn’t venture down that path. Some of the line deliveries from Johnson are intended to be humorous. I think this is a first big step in her career, but i wish the overall effort around her was more memorable. Dornan just didn’t make a believer out of me, and i’m someone who has never read the books. His line deliveries seem more like an actor reading a script and not necessarily someone with a problem ripping him at the seams. Dornan could do a lot more if he wasn’t so monotonous to the point that it only does his character a disservice for anyone in the audience to root for him. Christian Grey is the single toughest protagonist to ever get behind. He’s abusive (Yes i know there is a contract, but it doesn’t make it right), he’s pushy to an overbearing ordering personality, and he’s a HUGE stalker when it comes to Anastasia being his property. I ask what woman would be fine with their best friend being with a man like this if he didn’t have millions and millions of dollars, and that is the biggest misunderstanding i had with the movie. What exactly does the women demographic get from this film? The sex? It’s mostly female nudity. Johnson has so many tedious and repetitive sex scenes that it almost seems pointless for her to wear clothes by the final act. There are too many sex scenes even for this type of movie. To cram Six sex scenes in a two hour film only slows it down when it’s trying to progress it’s character arc’s, and to be honest, it’s the part of the film i could’ve done without. The scenes feel like a porno in the sense that if you have watched one, you’ve watched them all. Luckily, the movie knows this and rushes the final two sex scenes (In a five minute span) along in a chopped and edited fast forward. Are the women in this for the female empowerment? Steele is forced into a toxic relationship by being showered with gifts such as a new car and laptop. Seriously, every time there is a conflict, Steele is presented with a new gift. It gets to the point of laughable absurdity. So i am puzzled at what any woman sees in Grey or this story alike. Anastasia is yet another female character who requires a man to be happy, and it’s a trait in Hollywood films that i am absolutely sick of. I would think that in 2015 that we have come a long way in presenting the empowerment of a woman’s prowess and how she uses her beauty as a weapon, but i guess we haven’t come far enough. The film is based off of “Twilight” fan fiction, and it’s clear to see the comparisons. For one, there is a small love triangle present with Anastasia’s friend, Jose. He might as well be called Jacob in this scenario because he reeks of it. The film’s premise is also in Seattle. Sound familiar? Christian takes Anastasia flying and it’s a scene similar to when Edward put Bella on his shoulders while climbing the tree. I could go on forever with the similarities, but i’d rather not. I went into the movie giving it a fair chance, and with the exception of the positives i have already mentioned, there are a couple more. The film is stylishly shot. It’s very well lit with wonderful camera photography. If Vogue Magazine made a film, the visuals would come close to “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I also enjoyed the soundtrack to the film. I’m not a huge Beyonce fan, but her additions for “Haunted” and “Crazy in Love (Remix)” were welcome additions when the toys come out. I also am digging on the newest track by Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do”. Overall, “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t an effort that is going to make me jump at the other sequels that will come out. It gave some surprising artistic directions, but the film’s overall effort left me limp with disappointment at the flacid plot and character development. It doesn’t matter what i say because women are going to see it, so go see it and have the fun that i only did when i laughed at it. Bring on the hate feedback :)