Safe Haven

February 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”)
Written by: Leslie Bohem (“The Alamo”) and Dana Stevens (“City of Angels”)

It’s the week of Valentine’s Day and many men everywhere are preparing to give their wives, girlfriends and dates the best gift they can: trying to sit through a Nicholas Sparks book adaptation. The latest challenge comes in the form of “Safe Haven,” Sparks’ most recent book about a girl fleeing an abusive boyfriend.

In “Safe Haven,” a woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) arrives in a small North Carolina town where she hopes to start a new life. There, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed father of two who works at the local general store. Apprehensive and scared at first, Katie tries to move on all while looking over her shoulder for her ex, who is searching for her.

The first hour of “Safe Haven” is actually not all that bad. Sure, there is some jarring editing that randomly bounces back and forth between Katie’s new life and her boyfriend who is on the prowl for her. And let’s not forget the average acting from the chronically paranoid Hough and flimsy, useless characters like her friend Jo (Cobie Smulders). Let’s not forget the predictable romantic storyline that weaves its way through the first half of the film. But there’s also things that are okay, namely the charming and grounded performance from Duhamel who plays a devoted father and romantic lead quite well. There’s also a really nice performance from the adorable Mimi Kirkland who plays his daughter Lexi. The word good is perhaps too strong, but even though the romance is predictable and schmaltzy and the script is at times sickeningly saccharine, the first half of the film is relatively watchable.

The back half of the film is a different story. As things intensify and truths reveal themselves, Katie’s world becomes endangered and the film begins to crumble. The style of jumping back and forth between her life in North Carolina and her boyfriend trying to hunt her down wears out its welcome as the transitions become even more distracting when they start to include what really happened in her past. Events happen in the climax of the film that should have massive consequences but are for whatever reason completely ignored.

Then there’s the ending. The first wrinkle of the film’s ending is telegraphed and hokey and bad enough as it is. What follows can only be described as manipulative, nonsensical, god-awful garbage, and that is putting it lightly. It is a “twist” that turns out to form one of the dumbest endings to a film in recent memory. The bulk of the blame should belong to Sparks himself, since the book apparently shares the same ending. Audiences should be insulted that Sparks treats them like his own personal emotional marionettes, tugging at their strings and forcing them to react or cry by any means necessary.

While the film skirts the edge of watchability for a decent period of time, it is ultimately formulaic, factory-made, melodramatic dreck that is even further submarined by an ending so lame that even a sigh would roll its eyes at.

Nicholas Sparks – The Lucky One

April 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

Of the 16 novels author Nicholas Sparks has written, seven of them have been adapted into films, including “A Walk to Remember,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “The Notebook.” The latest film based on one of Sparks’ best-sellers, “The Lucky One,” stars Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, and Blythe Danner, and tells the story of a U.S. Marine whose luck changes for the better after a picture of a beautiful woman he finds during combat saves his life.

I had a chance to sit down with Sparks in Dallas after a screening of the film, where he talked about the difficulty success brings to writing, the pull he has with filmmakers, and the ubiquity of “The Notebook.”

How is life as king of the romantic drama?

It’s pretty good, right? It’s been a lot of fun over the past few years. I think this is film number seven, and of course I’ve written a lot of novels in this genre. It’s been good, and part of that is that I think they’ve done really well with the films and that they’ve been successful and people have really liked them. But more than that, they have legs. They’re the kind of films that people like to see again and again. I think “The Notebook” is on, what, 40 times a year on cable? And “A Walk to Remember?”

Yeah, I know I’ve seen them quite a bit on cable and DVD. So has the success of the films changed the way you write your novels?

If anything it’s made them harder [to write], to be quite frank, because it’s a little bit harder to be original. If you’re just trying to be original for a novel, that’s one hurdle. But then you say, “Oh, but I also can’t do things that are also done in film.” It makes it a little bit harder, so it takes longer to conceive of a story. And certainly I’m aware all along that it might be made into a film.

Do you play it out in your head how it works cinematically? Do you think about it like that at all?

No, no. Just in the conception of the story. But once I start writing, it’s all novel, all the time, until it’s completed. Because, you know, I have had some that didn’t sell, for instance, or some that I held back. So I’m not always sure whether it’s going to be made into a film right away. You just don’t know. So in the end, you write the best novel that you can and keep your fingers crossed.

How closely do you end up working with the filmmakers on the adaptations?

Pretty close. Pretty close. I’m involved in everything from the selection of the screenwriter, to talking to the screenwriter, working with the screenwriter. If that screenwriter so desires, while in the process, certainly notes. Director. Same thing with casting. I knew Zac [Efron] would be in this probably before Zac did, to be quite frank.

Really?

Well, we hoped he would, yes.

Would you have a Zac Efron-type in mind when writing?

Not when I’m writing because when you’re writing you first start with an idea. You don’t have much. You have a germ of an idea. You’ve been inspired. You say, “Okay, this is generally the kind of character I want to create.” So you don’t really know this character until, literally, close to the end of the book. I mean, you don’t know his specifics. How does he phrase things? When does his humor creep in? How does he react when he’s angry? ‘Cause at that point you’re just trying to make the best novel that you can. So I don’t know until the end. And then, when it’s over, yes, you know?

Have you ever had any battles with the filmmakers in the process?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. All the time. Making a film is a much more collaborative process than writing a novel. In the novel, you know, you’re the king, right? You get final say on everything. But in a film you’ve got a studio involved, producer, director, certainly the cast. And a lot of these are certainly very bright, creative people and they want to give the project their all. To do that you have to give them certain freedom. Otherwise, if it were just me, the films would be much more similar than they are. But because we gave [director] Scott Hicks freedom in “The Lucky One,” you can watch “The Lucky One” and then watch “A Walk to Remember” and not feel they’re similar at all.

Your work, perhaps unfairly, is primarily categorized as being more for women–

Yeah. It is. I know that. It is.

But there are elements that men can enjoy. What would you say to a man that isn’t convinced?

It is what it is, you know? This is a genre that men and women have enjoyed. In film they’re all just modern takes on “Casablanca” or “From Here to Eternity.” This is an old genre in film, and it’s something that has worked over and over and over again. “An Affair to Remember.” It’s the same thing, and you just have to find ways to make it very new and fresh, and appeal to modern audiences and tell it in a new way. It is what it is, you know? I think more women than men enjoy “Casablanca.” Does that make it a bad film? No. It’s still one of the greatest of all time.

You’re movies tend to become date movies, for better or worse–

Yeah, yeah.

Do they become date movies in your household? Do you go see your movies on a date?

(Laughs) Oh, you know, we see it at the premiere. So it’s kind of a big date. You’ve got to fly across the country and do the whole red carpet thing. So it is a big deal. For this one I’m bringing my wife and the kids out. It’ll be the first premiere for the kids. It is kind of exciting.

Do you have any good luck charms?

The wife. The wife and kids. I don’t know where I’d be in my life if I hadn’t married the woman I did. And literally, we had a five second meeting, our first meeting. Without that first meeting we never would have gotten to any of the other meetings. So you get stopped at a stop light, or you drive too fast, you miss each other. Who knows where I’d be? I say that because she’s pretty much all the female characters I create. You know, their strength of character and their intelligence and passion. That really comes from her.

The Last Song

April 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Greg Kinnear
Directed by: Julie Anne Robinson (debut)
Written by: Nicholas Sparks (debut) and Jeff Van Wie (debut)

Adapting his novel into a screenplay for the first time since his stories began hitting the big screen in 1999 (“Message in a Bottle”), author Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook,” “Dear John”) quickly loses handle of his newest tearjerker “The Last Song” from the start.

Written specifically for teenage music and TV idol Miley Cyrus (“Hannah Montana: The Movie”), the role proves to be far too much for someone with so little feature film experience to explore. Aside from the unmotivated script and direction, it is Cyrus’s shockingly inept performance that makes “The Last Song” so very dissonant. Facetiously speaking: Those voters from the MTV Movie Awards aren’t going to be knocking on her door for this one.

In “Song,” Cyrus takes a dramatic turn for the worst as Ronnie Miller, an unhappy teenage piano virtuoso who is still hurting from her parents divorce. Sent with her little brother (Bobby Coleman) to spend the summer with their estranged father (Greg Kinnear) at his beachside home, Ronnie is not about to meet her dad halfway and try to make the best of an uncomfortable situation.

Uninterested in playing the piano anymore (she stopped on the day her father left the house; how very symbolic) or following her dream to enroll at Julliard, Ronnie would much rather be a sulking teenager with nothing to live for. Cyrus’s self-pity parade becomes more and more unrealistic with every pouty moment she musters.

When she finally meets the man of her dreams, Sparks’s half-hearted efforts plop into a series of formulaic plot devices and corny montages fit for a Disney TV show. As Ronnie and her summer fling spend more time with one another, unnecessary and underwritten secondary storylines are tossed in without much thought. One includes Ronnie taking an interest in sea turtles. Another has her looking out for a girl she meets who is in a dysfunctional relationship.

Waiting in the wings is Kinnear, who is wasted as a father hoping to reconnect with his daughter. Instead, his character is misplaced until Sparks need a tragic story to fall back on and to complete his relationship melodrama. He does the same in every one of his stories, but in “Song” it feels even more insincere than ever before.

If young girls want nothing more than an unoriginal and extremely silly summer romance, Sparks has spun tween gold. This bland story, however, has been told so many times before and with less giddiness. Most importantly, those same movies are done without Cyrus, who makes fellow songstress Taylor Swift’s laughable performance in “Valentine’s Day” earlier this year look Oscar worthy.