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The Lucky One: Cheesy Chick Flick
We’ve all seen, at the very least, one Nicholas Sparks film which is enough to figure out the formula that has probably made him into a millionaire by now. While they’re usually super cheesy, they sweep you along in a torrent of emotion. You laugh, you cry, you swoon and you leave the cinema happy. But even with adjusted expectations, The Lucky One isn’t particularly entertaining.
The film is completely centred on the romance and so there’s absolutely nothing to distract from Zac Efron’s zombie-like state. Or from the film’s frightfully cheesy dialogue. Or from the fact that it packs a whole hoard of clichés into an hour and a half in a desperate plea to activate our tear ducts.
Efron plays Logan, a marine stationed in some Arab country (turns out to be Iraq) fighting the scary brown men. The morning after an ambush, he finds a picture of a blonde chick with the words ‘keep safe’ on the back. He carries the picture around with him everywhere, like a talisman, and lo and behold, he cheats death several times while a ton of people around him die. Traumatized, he returns to America with the aim of finding the girl in the picture and thanking her for being his guardian angel. He tracks her down, is unable to show her the picture or tell her why he’s there, takes a job near her and they soon fall in love. The blonde girl turns out to be a single mum by the name of Beth (Schilling) who has an abusive ex who keeps threatening to take their kid away from her and who doesn’t like the fact that she’s seeing Logan.
Out of the two leads, Taylor Schilling is definitely the least offensive, though Blythe Danner, as Beth’s grandmother, despite being the most watchable person on screen, was a rather head scratching piece of casting. Beth’s mother would be understandable but grandmother? Either she’s found the fountain of youth or Beth looks far older than she actually is. Schilling’s character fluctuates between brave, selfless mother and helpless female, both of which only require her to stand around looking pretty which isn’t exactly difficult for someone who looks like Katy Perry’s blonde twin. All in all, she’s pleasantly bland. Efron on the other hand looks like a buff, tanned corpse. His character is supposed to be grieving for all the friends he lost on duty but what we get from Efron is a complete lack of emotion. When he’s not showing off just how nice he is by playing with Beth’s kid, he’s standing around blank faced, looking stiff. Resembling a teenager isn’t helping his cause much either.
The lack of tension is what really does the film in though. The Notebook had a sense of urgency about it. You genuinely rooted for the couple to be together even though they weren’t necessarily pleasant characters. Part of that was Amy McAdams and Ryan Gosling’s chemistry which Efron and Schilling lack but on the other hand there was an actual obstacle keeping them apart. In The Lucky One, their troubles are more hiccups than roadblocks.
This film is really only recommended for die hard Nicholas Sparks fans or people who don’t mind staring at beautiful actors, sun drenched scenery and a gaggle of adorable dogs in lieu of a decent story. Stay away if you’re prone to incessant eye rolling.
The lingering effect of Sicario’s unrelenting and pitiless sense of anxiety will stay with its viewers long after it leaves the screen. Directed by Denis Villeneuve – see Prisoners – and astutely written by the T.V actor and first-time scripter Taylor Sheridan, this is one beautifully shot and tension-ridden action thriller that captures the reality – and cruelty – of the forever-ongoing war on drugs along the Southern US borders.
The story is centered on Kate Macer (Blunt); a skillful FBI agent who has been working on the agency’s kidnap response task force for the past three years. After successfully tracking leads in a kidnapping case, Kate and her team soon make the shocking discovery of a house full of dead bodies sealed within the house’s walls, leaving Kate and partner, Reggie (Kaluuya) wanting to seek justice for the crime.
The atrocious offence seem to be directly linked to a Mexican drug cartel organization, which Kate is soon tasked to track down and investigate in a covert operation across the border, with Department of Defense head, Matt Graves (Brolin). Unaware of what she’s getting herself into, Kate’s idealistic views on justice are soon challenged when she’s paired with a mysterious – and super silent – special-forces soldier named Alejandro (Del Toro) whose motives in the takedown of the Mexican kingpin Fausto (Cedillo) is unclear.
Boasting striking cinematography – courtesy of the twelve-time Oscar-nominee Roger Deakins – Sicario is one seemingly dark and poetic piece of cinema which has the power to entertain and horrify at the same time. Its far-reaching, bird-view shots of the vast and eerily empty Arizona desert - as well as the precarious and fraudulent streets of Juarez, Mexico – is captivating and demanding of attention; peeling your eyes away from the screen is not so easy to do.
Keeping its intentions well-hidden, the script is complex, twisted and action-heavy; the scene of vehicles whizzing through the streets of Juarez is nerve-racking and intimidating to watch unfold, with Villeneuve using the silence as the base for the startling and sudden bursts of action.
Anchoring the film with an intense and fiercely committed performance is The Devil Wears Prada’s very own Emily Blunt, who is absolutely superb as the idealistic FBI agent whose somewhat naïve and unrealistic views come crushing down right before our very eyes. Watching her unravel beneath all of the cruelty and injustice involved with the underground drug-war, is satisfying and often heartbreaking to watch while her co-stars, including Brolin as the super cocky head of mission and Del Toro as the mysterious war dog, both did their parts with a fittingly unswerving and dedicated attitude.
Exceptionally silent and disturbing, Sicario – which translates to ‘assassin’ – is an outstanding piece of art and an intriguing action-thriller that questions human decency, morality and ethics when faced with a life-or-death situation. It’s a must, must-see of the year.
Despite its potentially juicy political premise and Nic Cage’s relatively solid performance – more on that later - Austin Stark’s The Runner ends up being a poor-man’s version of politically-charged TV shows such as House of Cards and Scandal.
The Runner follows the story of idealistic Louisiana congressman, Colin Price (Cage) who, in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, is working hard on rebuilding his community, both financially and morally. After giving a passionate speech about the scandal, Colin soon finds himself making headlines and with the encouragement from consultants, Frank (Pierce) and Kate (Paulson), the pathway to a seat at the senate soon opens.
However, his celebrity status and reputation in the community is blemished by the discovery of an affair with the wife of a local fisherman – indiscreetly caught on a CCTV video footage – ultimately, painting the congressman in the worst of lights as he tries to put together the pieces of his shattered life.
The film marks the directorial debut of New York-born indie filmmaker Austin Stark – his producing portfolio includes films such as Happythankyoumoreplease and Detachment – and as far as first-time features go, The Runner is not the worst of its kind.
Playing out like a docu-drama, the plot is intriguing enough and there are plenty of moments of both despair and hope throughout. However, the story’s lack of energy is The Runner’s major flaw, as no matter how interesting its premise may be, there just isn’t enough oomph to get it to the finish line.
Despite its poor pacing and several loose subplots, it’s Cage’s relatively believable performance of a down-in-the-gutter politico looking for redemption that keeps The Runner from falling apart. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance by any stretch of the imagination, but one can’t help give credit where it’s due with a man that has often found himself a figure of ridicule.