2016 Oscar Predictions

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OK…so here we are in the home stretch. Seems like the nominations were announced decades ago and, if I’m being honest, I’m a little Important Movie-d out right now.  I’ve been craving mindless entertainment instead of historical dramas so I let a lot of my usual Oscar coverage fall by the wayside…chalk it up to being a little less than inspired this year.  It’s a good year for movies, no question, but when the time came to dig deep into the ins and outs of Oscar 2016, I just didn’t have the heart for it all.

In any event…I still have to make my predictions…so here we go!

BOLD = Will Win
*** = My Choice

BEST PICTURE
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road ***
Room
Spotlight
The Big Short
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST DIRECTOR
Adam McKay, The Big Short
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road ***

BEST ACTOR
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant ***
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room 
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years ***
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed ***

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight ***
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

BEST EDITING
Mad Max: Fury Road ***
The Big Short
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Revenant

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina ***
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Brooklyn
Carol
Room
The Big Short 
The Martian ***

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A War
Embrace of the Serpent
Theeb
Mustang
Son of Saul ***

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road ***
Sicario
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road ***
The Danish Girl
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST SOUND MIXING
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
 ***
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian
The Revenant 

BEST SOUND EDITING
Mad Max: Fury Road ***
Sicario
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Carol
Cinderella ***
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Bridge of Spies
Carol
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens ***
The Hateful Eight

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Amy ***
Cartel Land
What Happened, Miss. Simone?
The Look of Silence
Winter’s On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Anomalisa
Inside Out ***
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Boy and the World
When Marnie Was There

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens ***
The Martian
The Revenant 

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Mad Max: Fury Road ***
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared
The Revenant

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
‘Manta Ray’, Racing Extinction
‘Writings on the Wall’, Spectre
‘Earned It’, Fifty Shades of Grey
‘Til It Happens to You’, The Hunting Ground ***
‘Simple Song 3’, Youth

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
Shok 
Stutterer ***

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Bear Story ***
Prologue
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Body Team 12

Chau, beyond the ines
Claude LanzmannL Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom ***

Movie Review ~ Triple 9

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.

Stars: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet

Director: John Hillcoat

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Triple 9 kinda snuck up on me.  Admittedly, I’ve been a little distracted with the upcoming Oscars to prep for and an aversion to perusing trailers that give too much of the movie away.  Still, I was surprised that a movie boasting the A-List talents that Triple 9 has didn’t register on my radar until it’s release date was already rapidly approaching.  We’ve emerged out of the murkiness of a dull January and are entering into the warmer waters of February and while Triple 9 isn’t the best work of anyone involved, it’s a solid entry into the crime drama family.

Presented with the right amount of grit, grime, and gore (one bloody scene takes place in a dilapidated housing project infested with vermin both human and animal), the movie takes a solid 45 minutes to get going into any interesting direction.  First it’s a heist film, then a cop drama, then it’s (briefly) a buddy picture before settling into its tale of corruption and double crosses.  All of it seems a bit recycled from better pictures but I kept going back to the fact that it’s quite well made and earnestly performed by its impressive roster of bad guys and gals.

The film opens with a bank robbery executed with tactical precision led by small time criminal Michael Atwood (Chiwitel Ejiofor, Secret in Their Eyes).  On a mission to obtain the contents of a security deposit box that’s set to net him and his crew a tidy sum upon delivery, Atwood has more than money on his mind as his payday is being funded by his son’s mother’s sister (did you follow that?), the acting head of a Russian mafia family.  When the boss lady (a smirking Kate Winslet, Labor Day) demands Atwood and his crew take on one more mission, it comes with hefty consequences for all involved.

Into the mix is thrown Chris Allen (Casey Affleck, The Finest Hours) a cop returning to duty in a new precinct.  The new kid on the block steps on some toes, including that of his grumpy partner (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain) and the local gangbangers who are used to cops looking the other way. How Chris becomes linked to Atwood is one of the twists you’ll have to experience for yourself but no double cross comes as a surprise and no one is safe from the chopping block as one major character learns early on.

Look, there’s some good stuff to be found here, such as director John Hillcoat’s (Lawless) staging of several tense chase scenes and shoot-em-ups.  Hillcoat is solid at ratcheting up the stress meter of the actors and the audience as we peer around dark corners not knowing what we’ll find.  We’re all let down by Matt Cook’s script, a mish mash of underdeveloped characters and a final feeling that the whole dirty business was pretty pointless.  As you can see from the poster above and nearly all the marketing materials, red is the color du jour and Hillocat goes a little overboard with the red herrings and red visuals (smoke, clothes, signs, lighting, etc) to the point where you just want to say “OK, we get it…it’s symbolic.” and move on.

Ejiofor seems a little sleepy here, only coming alive in scenes where he’s going toe to toe with Winslet.  Winslet, for her part, is to be commended for trying out another bad girl (after her swing and a miss with Divergent) but it just doesn’t suit her…kinda like her iffy Russian accent.  Winslet’s actually in more of the movie than I thought she’d be, but it’s reduced to a series of scenes where she taunts Atwood that she can whisk his son away at any moment.  Aaron Paul (Need for Speed), Clifton Collins Jr. (Pacific Rim), Teresa Palmer (The Choice), and Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6) comprise the rest of the cast and, especially where the women are concerned, fade to the background faster than they should.  Let’s not forget Woody Harrelson’s (Out of the Furnace) half serious/half jokey performance as a veteran detective, the uncle to Affleck’s character.  Seeming to be impersonating his True Detective co-star Matthew McConnaughey’s laid back twang and sporting a confusing set of false teeth, Harrelson adds some spark to the film…but at what some significant cost to his overall effectiveness.

It’s a rather mulligan stew of a picture and it’s too long by a good twenty minutes, but Triple 9 isn’t a totally unwelcome guest.  Might be worth a lazy matinee day but it could easily wait to take up your time at home.

The Silver Bullet ~ Florence Foster Jenkins

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Synopsis: The story of New York heiress Florence Foster Jenkins who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.

Release Date:  May 6, 2016

Thoughts: We all know Meryl Streep can sing after turns in Mamma Mia, Into the Woods, and even Death Becomes Her…but how good can she sing badly?  This looks like a swell comedic turn for the Oscar winner, ditching her more serious fare for the kind of fun diversion she likes to take up between period dramas and new accents.  I know a little about the lady she’s portraying and if the film is half as clever as the Florence Foster Jenkins stage play Souvenir (this film is not based on that) we’ll be in for a good show that’s not as off-key as its subject.  Always nice to see Hugh Grant (Cloud Atlas) part of the mix, too.

The Silver Bullet ~ Equals

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Synopsis: A futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated.

Release Date: TBD 2016

Thoughts: Director Drake Doremus gave us a wonderfully realized love story in 2011 with Like Crazy so I’m hoping that Equals is, well, equal to the class and sophistication of that earlier film.  I’m getting a real Gattaca and The Giver vibe from this first look at Equals and that’s not a bad thing at all.  It’s hard to tell from this true teaser what exactly will happen with the relationship between Nicholas Hoult (Jack the Giant Slayer, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Kristen Stewart (Still Alice) but it looks like their romance will be an uphill battle set against a monochromatic production design.  Though she’s always been a strong actress, Stewart continues to take roles that aim to rebrand herself after being so closely associated with the Twilight series of films. Let’s keep an eye on this one, shall we?

Movie Review ~ Zoolander 2

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Derek and Hansel are modelling again when an opposing company attempts to take them out from the business.

Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Billy Zane, Fred Armisen, Christine Taylor, Cyrus Arnold, Justin Bieber, Kyle Mooney

Director: Ben Stiller

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review:  I guess I just need to start this review by owning up to the hard truth that before doing my homework for Zoolander 2 by re-watching the original, I’d only seen Zoolander once, back on the day it opened three weeks after September 11 in 2001.  Arriving at time when audiences needed a brainless piece of fluff to distract them for a minor amount of time, the comedy was 89 minutes of funny, if perplexing, moments.  For each solid laugh there were a dozen groans and while it did a fair job skewering the easy target of male models and fashionistas, it never left a lasting impression on me.  In the years since it’s evolved into a bit of a cult hit (it did better business on video than it did in theaters), but I never felt the need to revisit it until the sequel came creaking along.

Now, no one is going to accuse director/writer/star Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) of missing the boat on cashing in on a sequel to a popular title from his canon.  With Meet the Parents, Madagascar, and Night of the Museum now trilogies, Stiller likely was running through his IMDb page and landed on Zoolander as the target of his next trip to the Stiller well (we should be thankful he didn’t set his sights on Starsky & Hutch or Dodgeball…oh wait, a sequel to Dodgeball is already in development).

A whopping 15 years after the original was released, Zoolander 2 is ready to strut its stuff on a catwalk near you and while overall it’s better made than its predecessor, it suffers from the same chronic forgetability.  Though Stiller and co-star Owen Wilson (Inherent Vice) look remarkably, um, “refreshed”, the jokes and comic foibles of the two dunderhead models start to feel musty halfway through the smorgasbord of cameo appearances and off-the-wall tangents.

A freak accident a decade ago sent former male model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) into exile in Northern New Jersey and split his family apart.  When he’s called out of retirement by Billy Zane bearing an invitation to model in Italy, Derek agrees as a way to show he can be a fit parent and provide for his son.  Meanwhile, Hansel (Wilson) has been hiding out in Malibu, ashamed of a disfigurement that ended his career.  He’s also visited by Zane with the same offer of redemption and in an attempt to find out who he really is, agrees to put his shallow pride to the side and take to the runway.  Soon after their arrival, Derek and Hansel are in the middle of a conspiracy within the fashion world involving a legend that’s part The Da Vinci Code and part acid trip which threatens to end their careers (and lives) for good.

Upping the ante from the original film, the cameos that Stiller has secured are plentiful.  Running the gamut from Susan Boyle to Anna Wintour, Stiller isn’t messing around when it comes to stacking the deck with famous faces even though it’s clear many of them filmed in front of a blue screen and were digitally input into the scenes.  Without question, the majority of the fun derived from revisiting Stiller’s brainless model is picking out the stars that pass through the frame.  And the film earned a full two stars from me in its opening moments when it blessedly offs an annoying pop star that definitely had it coming.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its moments, because it does have some sequences that are so absurd you can’t help but laugh at the insanity of it all.  To their credit, Stiller and fellow screenwriters Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg insert joke upon joke upon joke so if four are duds there’s sure to be one solid laugh coming right on their heels.  The film gets its best results with Will Ferrell (Daddy’s Home) reprising his role as a megalomaniac designer and Kristen Wiig (The Martian) made up to the high heavens as a European fashion maven modeled after Donatella Verasce.  When Ferrell and Wiig are involved, you just have to let the camera roll and they’ll do the work for you.  The biggest surprise of the film is how high Penelope Cruz flies.  The Oscar winner hasn’t been this free for years and she seems to relish the opportunity to play with broad strokes.

Yet overall the film feels as hollow as the fashion world itself.  It’s all fun on the surface and in the moment but it leaves no lasting impression on the viewer.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have an overall positive reaction during the screening, I laughed at the most absurd passages (be prepared to let Fred Armisen haunt your dreams as a…well…I shan’t spoil the remarkable vision for you) and enjoyed myself sporadically, but upon reflection it’s simply a well packaged bag of potato chips…more stale air than actual food.

Movie Review ~ Deadpool

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Ed Skrein, Brianna Hildebrand

Director: Tim Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:

Movie Review ~ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge — an army of undead zombies.

Stars: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Lena Headey

Director: Burr Steers

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: Let’s just get something out of the way right from the start, shall we?  If you’re willing to pony up the cash to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies you simply must be prepared to check your brain at the door.  Not just because the walking dead that populate the film would love to snack on it, but because the premise is so absurd that to take any of it at all seriously would be your fault, not the movies.

Based on Seth Graeme-Smith’s wildly bold in concept (but stilted by its one joke premise in execution) 2009 book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies marries Jane Austen’s much loved 1813 novel with Walking Dead-style zombies preying upon the upper crust ladies that just want to find a husband and the men that fight off the advances of both.  Adapted and directed by Burr Steers after being bandied about Hollywood for half a decade, the long-awaited (I just said that but I don’t really believe it) page to screen journey of the zombie fighting Bennet sisters is complete and sad to say it’s a maudlin, bloodless romp that’s neither comedy nor horror.  Like the living dead, it’s trapped in a sort of genre purgatory of which it can’t ever escape.

After a brief prologue of zombie hunting and a credit sequence of the history of their rise from the grave that’s beautiful if overstimulating, Austen’s story kicks in with Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, Cinderella), Jane Bennet (Bella Heathcote, Dark Shadows) and their sisters being pushed by their meddling mother (X) to get married off right quick.  While Jane falls for the handsome Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth, Noah), Elizabeth is pursued by the goofy Parson Collins (Matt Smith, Terminator Genisys) while fighting with the brooding Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, Maleficent) and a parade of zombies that infest the countryside.

Fans of Austen will either get a kick out of the memorable text being interlaced with references to decapitations and brain gnoshing or be horrified that their favorite heroines now train in their basement to eviscerate the undead and store daggers in their garters.  Like I said before, you just have to prepare yourself to go along with it or find another movie to see that won’t be nearly as frustrating.

Still, even if you do see it you’re bound to be frustrated by the fact that the film never really goes all the way with its concept.  Bound by a financially friendly PG-13 rating, the bloody business is rendered with little red stuff to be seen.  Though heads roll and slashings slay, nary a drop of viscera sully the perfectly coiffed hair and period costumes of our players.  Had the filmmakers been ballsy enough to go for the R, I think there would have been more opportunities to have fun with the blood and guts that are sorely missed here.

Performance wise, you’re not going to find anyone here that will place higher than previous adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  James fares the best as the headstrong Elizabeth, the only one that feels like she could ably handle the role as Austen intended or carry a picture where she’s a badass zombie slayer.  Smith is next in line, with his Parson Collins also being note-perfect in his delivery and timing of the comedic elements that don’t feel like they are stretching for laughs.  Riley is just not Mr. Darcy. At. All.  With his gravelly voice and brutish emo looks, he just isn’t even in the ballpark…and forget about any chemistry with Elizabeth.  Recasting Lady Catherine de Bourgh as a young eye-patch wearing gladiator zombie slayer may have seemed like a good idea, but Lena Headey (The Purge) and her campy performance leave much to be desired.

Though it fares better than Seth Graeme-Smith’s last novel adapted for the screen, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies suffers from being too coquettish with it audiences that desire more blood and romance.  Possibly worth a rent down the line, but easily skippable in theaters.

Movie Review ~ Hail, Caesar!

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.

Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  Films by the Brothers Coen have always been a mixed bag for me.  Like Woody Allen’s impressive roster of releases, I feel the Coens hit the bulls-eye every two movies or so.  They aren’t all winners and as much as movie gurus implore you to like even their most misguided affairs (hello Burn After Reading!) I’ve just gotten used to the fact that I’m just not going to follow that pack and say I enjoy all of their work.

Last represented (directorially) on screen in 2013 with the seriously underrated Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coens have gone Hollywood with their latest romp, a madcap paean to the golden age of cinema.  Like those classic films of the ‘50s, it’s chock full of recognizable stars and has the pristine period-perfect production values we’ve come to expect from the Coens.  Yet, like most mass-produced Hollywood fare produced during that era it’s curiously forgettable almost the instant you leave the theater.

I’ve come to believe that any Coen Brothers movie can be edited to look like a crowd-pleasing spectacle and the early ads for Hail, Caesar! have certainly gave the impression there’s a lot of hijinks to be had and for once it wasn’t totally off the mark.  Nicely lampooning the types of films and stars that came out of the studio system, cinephiles will rejoice at the Coens recreation of westerns, musicals, and historical epics.

On the set of the biblical drama Hail, Caesar!, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney, Tomorrowland) is a handsome dimbulb about to be kidnapped and held for ransom by a pack of disgruntled communist screenwriters attempting to get back at the studio that reaps the financial benefit of their artistic contributions.  It’s so very Coen Brothers to make this buttoned-up intelligent gang not the misunderstood members on the Hollywood blacklist but full-on Russian sympathizing commies.  Several months after the problematic Trumbo gained so much attention for rehashing the dark days of the McCarthy hearings and the lasting effect they had in Hollywood, I must say it’s kind of refreshing to see this fictionalized band of writers presented as the total opposite of how we’d expect, considering the time and place.

Meanwhile, in the adjacent studios we meet a cadre of classic Coen crazies like Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin) as a beautiful Esther Williams-esque starlet, a mermaid on screen with a hard edge once her tail comes off. Then there’s Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall) as a frustrated serious film director forced to work with a yokel rising star (a hilariously spot-on Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures) plucked from the set of a cowboy film to play the lead in a high society musical.  Channing Tatum (The Hateful Eight) sings and tap-dances in an On the Town style musical nicely choreographed to be a little dirty and showcasing yet another undiscovered Tatum talent.  Appearing all too briefly is Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) as twin gossip columnists seeking a scoop for their next column.  Like her appearance in Trainwreck, Swinton dives headfirst into the character(s), leaving you wanting more in the best way possible.  Frances McDormand (Promised Land), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), and even Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park), pop up for the briefest of cameos (why McDormand and Hill are above the title is beyond me) as various denizens involved with either the studio, the kidnapping, or both.

Tying this all together is Josh Brolin’s (Oldboy) Eddie Mannix, employed by the studio to make sure their stars stay in line, their movies stay within budget, and all problems are kept under the rug.  Loosely based on the notorious real-life Eddie Mannix from MGM, who some say was involved with Tinsel Towns most infamous unsolved crimes, Brolin’s Mannix is recast as the neutral core of the studio/film, the one people come to when they need help or advice.

Oscar nominated this year for their script of Bridge of Spies, Joel and Ethan Coen (who also adapted Unbroken in 2014) have several moments in Hail, Caesar! that fire on all cylinders.  A discussion between four holy men and Mannix about the religious sensitivity of the biblical epic being filmed is a highlight and a perfect example of the dynamic wordplay that have defined much of the Coens careers.  Then there are the frequent stretches that philosophize past their welcome and make the wait between the lighter moments seem that much longer.  Frustratingly, I’m sure these are the passages of Hail, Caesar! that Coen aficionados will recreate in their living rooms while watching Intolerable Cruelty in their Big Lebowski slippers.

Performances are on par with what we’ve come to expect from an off-killer Coen production, zany, unpredictable, and sometimes directly out of left field.  McDormand’s small role as a chain-smoking film editor feels like a Bugs Bunny character come to life while Swinton’s rapid-fire reporter seems to have emerged directly from a Howard Hawks film.  Clooney is charming in his ego-less way and while Tatum overshoots his pretty boy hunk role by a mile (even with precious little dialogue), he somehow fits perfectly into this world.  Brolin has the toughest role, the straight man, and he’s more than capable of holding it all together.

Hail, Caesar! isn’t up there with the Coen’s best but it’s a nice reminder that when they want to goof off they still know how to let loose and have fun with their friends.

 

A quick note about the ever  popular topic of diversity…recently the Cohens caused a bit of a dust-up when asked about diversity by a reporter.  Brushing off the question and never really answering the reporter, it’s interesting to consider that there are but three minority characters in the film (a Carmen Miranda like starlet and two employees at a Chinese restaurant, with maybe 8 lines of dialogue between them)…and over the course of their 17 movies, only three minorities have ever played leading/supporting roles in a Cohen film. 

Movie Review ~ The Choice

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Travis and Gabby first meet as neighbors in a small coastal town and wind up in a relationship that is tested by life’s most defining events.

Stars: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling, Brett Rice, Tom Wilkinson, Sharon Blackwood

Director: Ross Katz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I fought The Choice.  I mean, I fought it hard.  And if you’re like me, you’ve tired of your long ride on the Nicholas Sparks emotional merry-go-round film adaptations where true love is easily won and tragically lost.  It also didn’t help that The Choice has, without a doubt, the worst marketing and trailers for any Sparks film to date.  I warmed slightly to 2013’s The Lucky One, disliked 2014’s The Longest Ride, and was buckled in for another trite trip through a gossamer North Carolina doomed romance. Surprise! I liked it, finding it the most enjoyable Sparks film since The Notebook (that’s seven movies ago, in case you were wondering) and, while imperfect, a decent addition to the modern romance genre.

To be fair, it’s rough going for the first 20 minutes.  Screenwriter Bryan Sipe (Demolition) uses that old chestnut, The Flashback Framing Device, to bait us into waiting 90 minutes for an answer to a question posed in voiceover by our leading man.  Traveling seven years back in time (and making sure we know it by the hauling out a crude Blackberry) we’re plopped on the deck of a North Carolina boat where Travis Parker (Liam Neeseon look-alike Benjamin Walker, In the Heart of the Sea, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is sweet-talking some bikini-clad extras.  While he’s not painted as an outright d-bag, Walker certainly gives off the ‘won’t call you back’ red flags that would send any female with half a brain running in the opposite direction.

He meets his match in Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer, bouncing back nicely from a wasted turn in 2015’s Point Break remake), a headstrong medical student nearing the end of her rotations that’s renting the cottage next door to Travis. Their ‘meet cute’ moment is anything but, with Walker and Palmer awkwardly stammering their way through the first of many squabbles eventually leading to a passionate session on top of Palmer’s dining room table.

Ah…but there’s a problem.  She’s already spoken for, the trophy girlfriend of another doctor (Tom Welling, Draft Day, looking positively inflated to the point of bursting in his child’s size clothes) and he’s managing an on-again, off-again romance with a girlfriend (Alexandria Daddario, Texas Chainsaw 3D) his friends have dubbed Boomerang because she keeps coming back.  When her boyfriend goes out of town and his girlfriend simply vanishes from the film without much fanfare, the path is cleared for Travis and Gabby to get all handsy as they drift around the picturesque Carolina shores.  But wait…this is a Nicholas Sparks film after all so there has to be an obstacle (or obstacles) to overcome.

Like the spoiler-free reviewer I am, I’ll stop there because while the film may be lacking in overall surprise, it’s in the execution of the predictable happenings that pepper the final 1/3 of the film that helps to set The Choice apart from other Sparks yarns.  Walker and Palmer overcome their initial misalignment and find some genuine chemistry which helps them both fuel the fire needed for the final act.  Walker, especially, is quite good.  Though at first I felt he was doing a great Matthew McConaughey impression with his country-fried twang and winking flirtations, he comes through in a big way and carries the film through some rough waters.

In retrospect, Sipe’s screenplay leaves more than a few loose ends hanging: Gabby makes a big stink about studying for her final tests only to never hear from them again once she locks eyes with Travis.  It’s like her career and ambition evaporate in favor of a warm embrace. To each their own but it reduces Gabby to being a follower.  There’s also some talk of Gabby coming from wealth and apart from an amusing trip home, little more is made of this diversion after milking out some laughs from a comedy of errors.

In addition to Walker and Palmer, director Ross Katz (who also helmed the excellent HBO film Taking Chance) has cast the film well.  Tom Wilkinson (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) seems uncommonly relaxed as Travis’ dad, maybe because he doesn’t have to do any seriously heavy lifting.  I’m still not a fan of Maggie Grace (Lockout) but she has a few nice moments as Travis’ wise sister…though it’s a shame she has to do it in one of the most hideous wigs (at least I hope it was a wig) I’ve seen onscreen in some time.  Special mention must be made for Sharon Blackwood (Magic Mike XXL), a riot as an ever so slightly meddlesome receptionist.  Oh, and there’s a cute dog that elicited the appropriate amount of coos from audience members.

Bring a hanky for the finale but know that you’ll have enough time to dry those tears because the film doesn’t really know when (or how) to end…so it just sort of keeps puttering along until it finds a way to close out the proceedings.  It’s a too long wrap-up that starts to weigh the picture down instead of keeping it afloat.   An overall sense of good will makes this extended good-bye easier to stomach, even for this reviewer so averse to schmaltz.  Arriving just in time to be a smart Valentine’s Day, um, choice, this is an above average effort that’s a whole lot better than its own studio would have you believe.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Bronze

 

bronze

Synopsis: A foul-mouthed former gymnastics bronze medalist must fight for her local celebrity status when a new young athlete’s star rises in town.

Release Date:  March 18, 2016

Thoughts: Already generating sizable buzz for a much ballyhooed gymnastic sex scene, The Bronze is a movie I’m going to approach very carefully…as if I were advancing on a raccoon wild with rabies.  You see, I can already tell it’s a movie I’m either going to enjoy a lot or hate a lot…with very little wiggle room in between.  There’s a red-band trailer out there you can find with a lot more F-Bombs that seem to be used without much purpose…so I’m hoping there’s more to it than following the exploits of a foul-mouthed has-been slumming around in her hometown.  They already made that movie and it was called Young Adult and I liked it just fine then. Almost never seeing the light of day due to its original studio going belly-up, Sony Pictures Classics is showing some faith in this one and getting it out there, a positive sign.  Final scores will be tallied once it’s released in March.