Latest Reviews

Entries in julianne hough (3)

Thursday
Feb142013

Safe Haven

There was a great article on Cracked.com a couple years back called “How to Write a Nicholas Sparks Movie.” After a quick critique of the marketing for his movies and his approach to telling his stories, it breaks down the facts:

1) Nicholas Sparks is an author who churns out about one romance novel a year.

2) All of these books are almost immediately made into movies.

3) All of these books are the same book.

Truer words have never been spoken and because of this, Nicholas Sparks stories always come with a large degree of predictability. If a film critic going to his latest book-turned-movie adaptation were to write his or her entire review before seeing the film, roughly 90% of it would be accurate. For years, Sparks has been telling the exact same story, repackaging them with a new disease or tragedy and puking them out to the public. Such monotony means that his movies are largely dependent on the strength of the main characters and the chemistry they create onscreen.

More often than not, the leads aren’t up to the task, but Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough in this week’s Safe Haven are different. Their relationship rings true and actually works, despite the cheese they’re forced to work with. Katie (Hough) is on the run from a police officer that is hot on her trail for unknown reasons. She eventually lands in a small town in North Carolina where she meets widower Alex (Duhamel). She’s initially reluctant to pursue his advances, but his charm eventually wins her over and they begin seeing each other.

For the first time, at least as far as his movie adaptations go, Sparks switches it up. Safe Haven isn’t a straight forward romance, though it of course features all of the Sparks gooeyness we’ve come to expect. It’s actually somewhat of a romantic thriller and is amped up with a mystery. Kudos must be given to him for mixing his all-too-familiar formula up a bit, but unfortunately, the film suffers from terrible timing. In any other circumstance, such a change would be welcome, but because the leads are so good together here, the movie, ironically enough, works best as an aforementioned straight forward romance. It’s in the thriller elements that the film ultimately fails.

Just as Katie is adjusting happily to her new life, that cop tracks her down and the chase is on. What follows is a twist of Lifetime movie proportions, where the man’s role of keeper-of-the-peace turns to something more sinister. At this point, the dialogue gets hammier, the music gets more manipulative and the scenarios become more clichéd. It gets so ludicrous, it begins to feel like the film has somehow transitioned to a daytime soap opera. This feeling is only enhanced once another, final twist rears its ugly head. Although obvious in retrospect due to its none-too-subtle foreshadowing, it’s handled so clumsily and fits the context of the story so poorly that it’s difficult to predict. Frankly, Sparks is such a simplistic writer, even the most discernible viewer will refuse to give him enough credit to pull such a silly, out-of-left-field move.

It’s a conflicting feeling as a film critic who has sat through each and every Sparks movie. I’ve begged for Sparks to do something different for years and now that he finally has, the result is shoddy at best. Josh Duhamel is one of the few leading romance men who is charming and, despite his looks, can come off as vulnerable and Julianne Hough compliments him perfectly with her own beauty and vulnerability (the latter of which is brought out more by her above average performance than the writing that gives her character that trait). Dumping them in an inane thriller was the wrong way to go. What Safe Haven proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that thrillers aren’t Nicholas Sparks’ strong suit. Then again, neither are romances. With any luck, he’ll stop writing both and we won’t have to sit through any more of these movies.

Safe Haven receives 2/5

Friday
Jun152012

Rock of Ages

Movie musicals are magical. They’re the amalgamation of the two best art forms, the two that speak in one way or another to the most people. In recent years, however, musicals have been on a decline. The sexy, but underwhelming Nine comes to mind as well as 2010’s Christina Aguilera flop, Burlesque. You have to go back five years to reach the last great musicals in the form of Once and Hairspray. The latter was so lively and warm that all but the most cynical of filmgoers found joy in it. The director of that wonderful film is back this week with his adaptation of the hit Broadway play, Rock of Ages, and while it is disappointing upon recollection, it, like Hairspray, has a ton of energy and a great soundtrack. If it doesn’t get your toes tapping, then you might be dead.

The film takes place in 1987. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is a fledgling singer who just arrived in Hollywood with the hopes of becoming a star. After meeting Drew (Diego Boneta), who runs to her aide when a purse snatcher attacks her, she lands a job with him at The Bourbon Room, the famous nightclub owned by Dennis (Alec Baldwin) that gave the world’s biggest rock star, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) his start. She quickly learns that fame isn’t an easy thing to achieve and that her idyllic dreams may not become reality.

Rock of Ages has a pretty simple set-up, one that doesn’t give much leeway for characterization. If the story is bare, then the characters are thin and their relationships blossom far too quickly to be convincing. If you’re expecting to care about the characters, similar to Hairspray or Once, you’re bound to be disappointed, but as far as pure spirit and vigor go, Rock of Ages has it in spades. The animated renditions of classic 80’s hair metal songs like Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” and Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” are wonderfully performed, both visually and aurally, though the former is definitely better than the latter. While you may be surprised by just how well Tom Cruise sings, he’s still far from excellent and given that he’s lip-synching anyway, one can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t hire someone with more vocal talent.

The most exuberant moments in the film come from the meshing of popular songs, like Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” They’re blended so well that what they create stands alone as a unique song, despite their familiar parts. Every musical number in the film, including these dazzling mash-ups, are performed with pizzazz from a committed cast and it’s impossible not to enjoy watching certain actors step out of their comfort zones to do something different, even if it is a bit painful watching Alec Baldwin through up the devil horns and sing into a beer bottle. Regardless of any criticisms that can be lobbed at Cruise’s questionable vocal talent, he puts everything into his role, playing a drugged up, constantly drunk womanizing rock star. The stuff he says is so off-the-wall that if his real world behavior hadn’t recently calmed down, I’d say he’s basically just playing himself.

Despite a general indifference most will feel towards the characters and what happens to them, the songs are nevertheless cleverly integrated into what’s going on at that particular moment in time. Unlike Across the Universe, which tried to create a narrative through songs from one band that weren’t necessarily connected in such a way, Rock of Ages borrows from many bands who sang about a number of different topics, allowing the writers more freedom to take the story in the direction they wanted to while still having the musical content to back it up. Unfortunately, the movie so often succumbs to melodrama and typical screenplay misunderstandings that too much of its runtime is given to slow ballads, which effectively sucks away much of its appeal.

But when Rock of Ages is fun, it’s really fun. The movie may be a bit mopey, but it knows it’s silly and occasionally mocks itself as it absurdly transitions into certain songs, like when Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin break into a rendition of REO Speedwagon’s love song, “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” You’ll be laughing at how clumsily the transition happens, but that’s precisely the point. You’re supposed to laugh at it. You’re supposed to have fun, whether that means laughing or singing along. Rock of Ages knows this and though it’s far from amazing, that is its greatest strength.

Rock of Ages receives 3/5

Friday
Oct142011

Footloose

The original Footloose starring Kevin Bacon is one of those cherished films that the younger generation of the time grew up with and still loves to this day. Now in their late 30’s and early 40’s, those people surely remember the high spirited energy and reckless abandon of the characters who stood up and challenged a ridiculous anti-dancing law. What they probably don’t remember is that the movie is a mess. It wants to say one thing, but instead says another. Its message of expressive freedom is rendered moot by a screenplay with plot turns that contradict it. The remake is, by and large, the same. Aside from a few minor, yet notable differences, 2011’s Footloose suffers from identical problems. For all intents and purposes, the majority of this review can double as a review of the original. It’s a two for one. You’re welcome.

Ren McCormack, this time played by Kenny Wormald, is a high school teen from Boston who has just landed in the small town of Bomont, Georgia. Because of a fatal accident a few years back that occurred after a night of riotous partying, dancing and listening to loud, vulgar music have been outlawed. The person most in favor of the law is Reverend Moore, played by Dennis Quaid, who lost his son in the accident. It’s because of him the town finds dancing sinful. Ren, being the free spirit he is, disagrees with the rest of the town and, along with his new friend, Willard, played by Miles Teller, and Reverend Moore’s beautiful, but rebellious daughter, Ariel, played by Julianne Hough, he sets out to change the law and open the minds of the people of Bomont.

If a winner must be chosen, it seems pretty clear to me that this remake is a superior film than the original, even if only slightly. It’s cleaner, tighter and it does away with many of the extraneous side characters that were given little to do. Ren’s mother, who sat around and twiddled her thumbs in the original, is rightfully forgotten here, replaced by his aunt who lends an ear when the time comes for Ren’s big emotional spill about why he has to fight authority. The book burning townsfolk who came off as caricatures are also dropped, giving more time to the story at hand. In those ways, as minor as they are, this version of Footloose is able to improve upon a much loved story.

Unfortunately, the bulk of it is still the same. The situations remain, the characters are unchanged and much of the dialogue is copy and paste. If you’re familiar with the original, prepare to get a strong sense of déjà vu upon watching this. This remake is a film that refuses to find its own voice and it’s that refusal to change, to adapt to our times, that makes it suffer. It uses different musicians like Wiz Khalifa to portray the type of music the town is against, but it still rests on the same foundation of the 1984 film. Even back then, it was a story that was hard to take seriously, but it’s even harder today. The rebellious preacher’s daughter, for instance, may not have been much of a cliché in 1984, but it sure is now.

Its biggest and most glaring flaw, the entire reason both movies fail, is its approach to confronting the supposedly unjust law. Here’s a movie that wants to make the argument that dancing and music of all types don’t lead to rebellion and violence, yet nearly every violent act in the movie happens at a dance or stems directly from dancing. When Ren and his pals head out of the town to dance at a bar, Willard is overcome with jealousy while watching a random man dance with his girl, which leads to him getting his face smashed. Later, due to her attraction to the rebellious nature of Ren and his willingness to dance in the face of the law, Ariel gets smacked around by her boyfriend. When the kids finally get the approval of the town to host a dance, a fight breaks out almost immediately in front of the building it’s being held in. These things wouldn’t have happened had Ren not started a minor revolution and began dancing. In these ways, the film goes against its very reason for being.

For every step forward, this remake takes, oh, I don’t know, half a step back. It’s always leading its predecessor in terms of quality, but it’s never far off from it. I suppose if you liked the original, you will enjoy this one too, but if this story is ever told again, significant changes to its poor narrative construction need to be implemented for it to work.

Footloose receives 1.5/5