Tag Archives: Nicholas Sparks

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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A Lotta Bull

Latest Nicholas Sparks movie adaptation really piles it on

THE LONGEST RIDE

The Longest Ride

Starring Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin & Alan Alda

Directed by George Tillman Jr.

PG-13

Maybe The Notebook didn’t make you sigh, sob or swoon enough. Perhaps you really liked Channing Tatum in Dear John, but wondered…hmmm, how would he look on top of a big, bucking bovine? Or maybe, even with fireworks, a huge explosion and a character that turned out to be a ghost (!), there still wasn’t quite enough going on for you in Safe Haven.

If, somehow, none of the other nine movies made from romance novelist Nicholas Sparks’ popular, heart-tugging tearjerkers had enough whatever-it-is that you go to Nicholas Sparks movies for, well, the tenth might just be the charm.

THE LONGEST RIDEFirst of all, The Longest Ride doesn’t just give you one love story, but two—a pair of parallel passion tales stretching across more than two hours of screen time and four-fifths of a century. And it’s positively loaded—with sorority girls, hunky cowboys, country music, horses, bulls, modern art, love letters, World War II battlefield heroics, playful beach frolics and a sex scene so hot and steamy it seems to smoke up the whole Smoky Mountains.

It also has massive amounts of hoke, contrivance and manipulation. The plot, driven by a series of outrageously ramped-up coincidences, sets up a tale so implausibly fluffy, you wonder if the characters would be able to set foot on anything solid if they happened to come across it. A slow-mo shot of snortin’ bull snot is about as close as things gets to a sense of gritty reality.

Britt Robinson (who played Angie McAlister on TV’s Under the Dome) is Sophia, a Wake Forest University student who falls for professional bull rider Luke (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint), which threatens to put a wrinkle in her plans for a post-graduate internship at a prestigious New York artTHE LONGEST RIDE institute. One dark, rainy night after their first date, they come across a wrecked car and its badly injured driver, Ira (Alan Alda), whose own story then begins to unspool in flashbacks as the rapt Sophia visits him in the hospital, reading aloud to him from the box of letters he’s saved over the years from the love of his life, his late wife, Ruth.

THE LONGEST RIDE

Oona Chaplin & Jack Huston

Like the big bowl of mac and cheese Luke says is his favorite dish, it’s all mostly a bunch of squishy, deep-dish goo—but hey, it does look pretty good. The on-location photography, in and around Wilmington, N.C., is picture-perfect, which adds to the feel of dreamy romantic fantasy. Scott Eastwood—who bears an uncanny resemblance to his famous father in his early acting days—is a bona fide hunk, and time seems to slow down every time the camera pans across his sculpted, shirtless torso (which is often). Pay attention to the actors who play the younger versions of Ira and Ruth, Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin, not only because they make Ira and Ruth’s story so much more interesting and compelling than Luke and Sophia’s, but because you’re watching the progeny of Hollywood royalty: He’s the grandson of legendary actor-director John Huston, and her granddaddy was silent-movie icon Charlie Chaplin.

The Longest Ride likely won’t convert any newcomers to the Nicholas Sparks fold. But if you’re already a fan, hey, saddle up: This bull’s for you.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Sparks of Love

Roundup features star-studded movies based on romance novels

Nicholas_Sparks_DVD_Collection

Nicholas Sparks Limited Edition DVD Collection

DVD $69.97 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Hey, lovebirds, here’s something to coo about: Seven star-studded movies based on the romance novels of Nicholas Sparks are now for the first time available together in this super-snuggly gift set. Sparks, if you don’t know, is the maestro of mushiness whose 17 books have been published in 50 languages and sold some 90 million copies worldwide—and turned into these flicks: Safe Haven (2013) with Julianne Hough; The Lucky One (2012) with Zac Efron; Dear John (2010) with Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried; Nights in Rodanthe (2008) with Richard Gere and Diane Lane; Message in a Bottle (1999) with Kevin Costner; A Walk to Remember (2002) with Mandy Moore; and The Notebook (2004) with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Extras include a postcard set with images from each flick.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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