Tag Archives: Benjamin Walker

Ham, Corn or Cheese

‘The Choice’ is a sappy Southern buffet for the Nicholas Sparks faithful

The Choice

Starring Benjamin Walker & Teresa Palmer

Directed by Ross Katz

PG-13

Hokey, sappy and awash with clichés, The Choice nonetheless serves up exactly what audiences want when they strap on a Nicholas Sparks feedbag.

Movies from Sparks’ books (Message in a Bottle, Safe Haven, The Notebook, The Lucky One, Dear John) have featured big stars (Ryan Gosling, Richard Gere, Kevin Costner, Channing Tatum, Julianne Hough, Rachel McAdams) and grossed close to $900 million. Clearly, they’ve found their niche and their audience.

The 12th movie based on a novel by the prolific author, The Choice stars Benjamin Walker from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as Travis, a drawly, smooth-talking, Southern-gent ladies’ man. Travis can charm just about any female—except his spunky new next-door neighbor, Gabby (Teresa Palmer, star of Warm Bodies, I Am Number Four and Point Break).

Travis and his dad (British actor Tom Wilkinson) are the local veterinarians, and Gabby is a nurse at the hospital, where she’s dating a hunky physician (Tom Welling, Superman in TV’s Smallville). Everyone in The Choice is white-collar and gainfully employed, and neither people nor pets seem to worry about health care in its quaint, peaceful, picture-perfect coastal North Carolina town (a favorite Sparks setting).

Everyone thinks Travis and Gabby should be a couple, especially Travis’ sister (Maggie Grace). This line of thought gains considerable traction when Gabby’s boyfriend packs up his stethoscope and goes out of town on a business trip—how convenient! Travis takes Gabby out on his boat and takes off his shirt, and Gabby shows off her rockin’ bikini bod. They splash and flirt. Gabby invites Travis over for dinner, they talk about the moon and the stars and God, and before you can say, “Hold on to your croutons,” there’s salad on the floor and bump and grinding on top of the kitchen table.

Director Ross Katz, making his mainstream feature debut after working his way up the filmmaking ladder, certainly tries to make the most of everything he’s got. He gives his two leads, Walker and Palmer, plenty of gorgeous, golden-glow close-ups. He reminds us that that time is precious and fleeting by showing us—repeatedly—shots of the tide. There’s old-time religion, new-age mysticism, a box full of puppies, a hurricane, a beach party, a festive birthday celebration, a wrenching hospital vigil, an emotional cemetery visit and a soliloquy on the significance of a chair.

When Gabby and Travis first meet, his backyard cookout has disturbed her studying for nursing exams. So it begins and so it goes: He “bothers” her, she “bothers” him, they draw closer and closer, and eventually “bother” becomes an all-purpose romantic shorthand. “Baby, bother me!” Travis breathlessly implores as he cradles Gabby later in the movie.

It’s mushy and gushy and gooey, but hey, that’s Nicholas Sparks. And if you’ve seen the trailer for The Choice, you know “the choice” refers to something that comes to involve a major, do-or-die decision.

“The secret to life is all about decisions,” says Travis. “Every path you take leads to another choice.”

The Choice offers a choice, all right—do you prefer your Southern-style canned corn with extra ham, double cheese or a heaping helping of buttered schmaltz?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Thar She Blows

‘In The Heart of the Sea’ is one whopper of a whale tale

HEART OF THE SEA

In the Heart of the Sea

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson & Tom Holland

Directed by Ron Howard

PG-13

No one who’s read Moby-Dick can forget when the stunned first mate, spying the great white whale for the first time, turns to captain Ahab, like he’s just seen a ghost. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” he informs him.

No, wait—I’m confusing my culture and my pop culture. It’s easy to do. Director Ron Howard kinda-sorta mixes it up a bit, too, in telling the story of the (true) story that inspired author Herman Melville to write the (fictional) story that became the (familiar) story we all know as the biggest, baddest whale tale of all time.

Ben Whishaw as budding novelist Herman Melville

In the Heart of the Sea begins with a young Melville (Ben Whishaw, who plays gadget-master Q in the new James Bond movies) coming to visit crusty Tom Nickerson (veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson). The fledgling writer wants to coax from the old salt the truth about a doomed whaling ship, the Essex, its encounter with a legendary monster from the deep—an alabaster-white demon of a whale—and the adrift-at-sea horrors endured by the surviving members of the crew before they were finally rescued.

Chris Hemsworth

Nickerson was an orphaned lad (played by Tom Holland) when he shipped out on the Essex, to which we’re introduced as the movie switches into flashback mode as it prepares set sail in 1820. The capable Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was promised he’d be put in charge, but a squeeze on whale-oil supply-and-demand pressure Essex company men to appoint their benefactor’s under-qualified, over- gentrified son, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as captain. So Chase reluctantly signs on as first mate, promising his pregnant wife (Michelle Fairley) he’ll be home soon—maybe a year instead of two, in 19th century whaling terms.

Once the Essex hits the open water, the movie hits its stride—especially if you’re a fan of old-fashioned seafaring-adventure epics. The heavy canvas of the sails swells with the wind; ropes whip, whap and whoosh; metal clangs; swarthy men holler, hustle and clamber; and, of course, there’s water, water everywhere.

The whaling scenes are special-effect marvels. Howard melds the rush of adrenalized excitement, the ever-present, life-or-death danger, and the existential melancholy of slaying such magnificent creatures to provide oil to “fuel the machines of industry and move our great nation forward,” as a clergyman prays.

And heaven forbid you get stuck with blowhole-reaming detail.

When the gigantic white whale finally makes an appearance, well, it’s very bad news. And then things just keep going from bad to worse, to unspeakable.

It’s hard to look at Chris Hemsworth and not see Thor, the movie role with which he’s most associated, especially when the drama takes a deep, desperate dive into darker places. (Forget the harpoon—just break out your hammer, dude!) It’s hard not to sympathize with, or root for the whales, after seeing them impaled and bloodied with iron toggles, spikes and spires, and knowing that some of them have now been hunted now to near extinction.

And it’s impossible to miss the movie’s undertone, which eventually becomes its overtone: Yesterday’s whale oil is today’s petroleum, and humans are still driven to the ends of Earth to get it. Howard’s history-based high-seas yarn has a contemporary message about hubris, greed and resource exploitation that resonates today by land or by sea.

“We are kings, circumventing the globe,” boasts captain Pollard. “To bend nature is our right.” His first mate disagrees—we are but mere “specks,” Chase counters, compared to the vastness of the world, the unfathomable mysteries of the sea, and the monstrous majesty of a creature that can smash a ship into splinters.

They really do need a bigger boat—and sometimes, don’t we all?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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