Rewind Review: Charlie St. Cloud

Despite the fact that both the trailer and the synopsis of Charlie St. Cloud make it quite apparent that Charlie (Zac Efron) will lose his brother (Charlie Tahan) his brother in a tragic car accident the film still manages to be quite compelling which is rather impressive in and of itself. When one of the more crucial and emotionally wrenching facts about a film is a given the picture starts behind the eight ball but it manages quite nicely.

Another surprising element, without giving too much away, is that there is a twist within the telling of this tale but the nice thing about it is that the twist acts as part of a frame and not the lynchpin of the tale. Unlike many films which rely on a twist ending this one incorporates it into the storytelling without having the quality of the film hinge on whether or not you like the twist. In a sense the twist does not necessarily lie to you. While the rules of the preternatural visions are a bit hazy for much of the film by the end you’ve untangled them and see that what lies within the framed tale is still very much worth seeing.

In just over 10 minutes you get a sense for who Sam (Tahan) is and also the relationship that he and Charlie share. It is a good example of cinematic shorthand and what is also refreshing to see is that it was somewhat realistic. Due to the age difference Sam was frequently roughhousing with Charlie’s friends and didn’t have the cleanest vocabulary. However, just because it wasn’t Disneyfied saccharine doesn’t mean you didn’t feel the true emotions belied by the insults and punches thrown.

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The editing in this film is particularly strong not only in terms of making the story flow but especially allowing the story to have emotional impact. Prime examples of this are in the flashback sequences and in the car accident. Particularly the latter as it demonstrates the power of sound and does not sensationalize events but knows instead the power of the human imagination.
Another interesting thing is that this film had Look At You style casting in which a familiar face you haven’t seen in a while pops up in an unexpected film as a supporting character. There is Kim Basinger, who plays the boys’ mother. Her involvement is also early on as the story does do a time jump of five years, which is not easy to pull off. It is well handled particularly when Charlie hears “You haven’t changed a bit.” It’s stock dialogue but it is a concern that needs addressing when you take a character from high school senior to someone who should be just out of college and have the same actor play both with little to no change in appearance. There’s also Ray Liotta who plays a small but pivotal role as a paramedic who Charlie runs into later on by chance. There’s also Donal Logue as Tess’s (Amanda Crew) mentor, you may know him from the series Grounded for Life. Lastly, there’s Augustus Prew who I hadn’t seen in quite sometime and who most may only remember as Rachel Weisz’s unstable son in About A Boy, does the line “She doesn’t fancy him, she only fancies me!” being screamed ring a bell? All these supporting characters play a very important role in adding dimension just beyond the two main relationships of the film namely Charlie-Sam and Charlie-Tess.

While being supported by a very capable performance by Amanda Crew, the film is called Charlie St. Cloud and for good reason. Efron dominates the film and carries it with ease. For the first time in a while you see him playing a fully-rounded character and not just rounding out a rather simple one. It’s a side of him many may not know existed between all the High School Musicals and Hairspray, it might not be the better one but it is strong nonetheless. Regardless it’s a strong wrenching performance. If Efron can find musical work that can let him play a layered character we can see him at his fullest potential but the film musical is still on life support.

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What was also good to see was Burr Steers’ name as director. This marks his third feature and I’ve seen all of them and they are rather different from each other. First, there was a the sharp-witted, acerbic Igby Goes Down which was one of the best films of 2002. Then there was last year’s Efron star vehicle 17 Again, which while nothing special did have its moments of escaping the formula. While it’d be great to see of Steers has another writer/director gig in him it is good to see his versatility.

Overall, this was a cinematically and viscerally pleasing tear-jerker that is definitely worth seeing.

8/10

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Mini-Review: 17 Again

As you watch 17 Again you might wonder how often a concept like this can possibly work. This certainly isn’t a Romeo & Juliet type template, but it seems that no matter how many times this, or things like it, come along people will watch, and it will be enjoyable… to an extent. Then I realized it’s like the cinematic equivalent of a sitcom – enjoyable but disposable – use once and destroy.

So, yes, you do laugh, because the father does often forget he looks like Zac Efron and not Matthew Perry, and yes there are flaws. For instance almost no one recognizes him as, at the very least, a reincarnation of Mike O’Donell. What does work in this film’s favor are: Zac Efron, who being given a part where he needs to be more than an archetype delivers, and is rather impressive; Dad dialogue being delivered by a twenty-something that sounds funny when it needs to be and heartfelt when it has to be is no easy feat; and the biggest kudos go to Thomas Lennon who played Mike’s friend Ned to perfection. Lennon provided most of the comedy that put the film over the top and also had the most fully realized character. He was a continuation and expansion of his former self.

Suspension of disbelief occasionally becomes difficult with things like the coach not recognizing Mike, and Ned trying to beat Mike up thinking him an intruder for an overly-extended sequence. However, these flaws are counterbalanced with portions of the film which are told visually, especially in the beginning of the film, a decent editing style in certain scenes, and I did feel Burr Steers’ stamp on the dressing down of the bully scene. It was nice to see a glimmer of authorship in a generally formulaic piece.

If you’re looking to for an enjoyable way to kill time this film is as good as any.

6/10

Comparative Analysis: How People Like Us and the Lucky One Handle Secrets

SPOILER ALERT: Since this is an analytical piece rather than straight-up review certain plot elements will be discussed in some detail. If you do not wish to know such information please stop reading now.

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I believe what struck me most about People Like Us is that while it shares a plot device with The Lucky One, namely a lie told (or if you prefer information withheld). The reason this struck me so strongly was that while this was one of the major encumbrances of The Lucky One I feel that People Like Us handled it better in many regards such that is allows the film to succeed.

Now, the first way in which the secret(s) and lie(s) in these films differ is that in People Like Us it’s a far more tangible thing. Chris Pine’s character has just discovered that his father had a daughter with another woman. Therefore, he has to process and deal with this information. He had a bad relationship with his father, felt abandoned, but never knew about this. He has to sort it out himself. Furthermore, he discovers this in light of his father’s recent passing, where he is assigned to give her money his father left to her.

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In The Lucky One we understand the plight that Zac Efron’s character has: he feels that a woman in a picture was his lucky charm, the woman being a fallen comrade’s sister. With his struggles to adjust to life as a civilian he goes to seek her out, to what end he does not yet know. Now, he does eventually come to like the woman, and not the dream, and he does help give her closure about what exactly happened to her brother. However, his secret is not only far more nebulous, but is also one he comes much closer to having a chance to say.

Essentially, if a confession in a film is a necessity you’re really walking a tightrope. The longer the protagonist is forced to withhold that information the more precarious he and his plight become. Now, the external and internal conflicts of People Like Us are so well laid out and the different avenues so well-examined that the cat’s-got-your-tongue situations end up being far less annoying in that film than in The Lucky One.

Also, in The Lucky One it’s the kind of weird thing that you can either explain right away or you know you’ll wait on. However, the biggest issue is that he was so close to saying it and he just got motor-mouthed out of his opportunity upon first meeting her. Granted it’s a hard thing to say, but in People Like Us it was hard too but the film allowed the protagonist the opportunity to make the decision to wait on his own with minimal outside influence.

Neither scenario is really ideal for a prolonged secret, however, I feel People Like Us played it better than The Lucky One did.

Review- The Lucky One

Taylor Schilling and Zac Efron in The Lucky One (Warner Bros.)

When you have either a romantic comedy or even just a flat-out romance there will be several things you expect and very little that will surprise you. There’s not anything wrong with that, as with almost any film it’s not about the final destination but rather the journey there. Sadly, there are some issues that mar the journey in this film, which is otherwise enjoyable with likable characters for the most part.

I don’t have a great deal of experience watching Nicholas Sparks adaptations, I have only previously seen The Last Song, however, it doesn’t take long to see what one’s formula is. An any writer regardless of what your tastes are have their preferred genres and themes and certain similarities in their voice and narratives. So I was expecting certain things but I also am not yet fatigued by these adaptations, as I’ve not had to see all of them.

Now the first concern is one I can forgive, but again it’s about execution. The film tells the tale of a Marine (Zac Efron) who by chance finds a photo while in combat, his being distracted by it saves his life and it ends up being a good luck charm. Upon his return he is determined to find the girl in the photo, after failing to find out who it belonged to, and thank her. Now, we all know he won’t be able to say anything right away, that’s not usually how these stories work (it’d be a tremendously interesting experiment though) but it’s how he’s not allowed to say anything that’s really bothersome. And that’s on the heels of a pretty good and fluid sequence that illustrates some of his battlefield experiences, his search for the photo’s owner and his struggle to re-adjust to a life at home.

So after a surprisingly good and cinematic start the bungles come into play. However, as I said there are certain expectations and the cat having his tongue was one of them, at that point it’s just a minor irritant. The biggest overriding issue of the film is the ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson) both his character and his interpretation thereof. Not only is it comedically broad to start but then it gets more real and natural as the drama of the tale intensifies, so not only does it start cartoonish but it doesn’t stay here, so it’s also inconsistent. Not to mention the fact that a psycho ex, who is not only an intimidator but a cop is so old and expected. There’s enough conflict inherent in the situation that this externalization is an exaggeration. There can be an ex, he can be jealous but it really is going above and beyond such that it detracts from the end product greatly. Most of the worst scenes in terms of writing and flow are the ones he’s in, the movie picks up steam again and then right on schedule he arrives and then it’s sigh, eye roll and sit through it.

His precipitously asinine behavior extends the climax of the film unnecessarily, not that the resolution of the film is perfect. There’s a slight monkey-wrench thrown in granted but the estrangement prior to the happy ending is really annoying in how it unfolds and also prolongs matters. Suffice it to say the amount of explication that Logan (Efron) is allowed shouldn’t really have occurred if we’re to have the standard “I’m so mad at you scene.”

Now every time I started one of these paragraphs I was intimating that “It’s not all that bad” but not really discussing that. And it’s not all that bad, really. It gets pretty good sometimes and then something comes along and messes it up. Most of what makes it good, when it is, are the actors. In many cases they likely breathe more life into fairly standard characters than they should have a right to so they ought to be applauded for that. Zac Efron is a very good romantic lead, he does play a soldier at all times but slowly but surely, with a bit of subtlety reveals character and emotion; Taylor Schilling certainly gives it her all and is always real; Blythe Danner adds necessary charm and sass to the film and great deal of comedy and Riley Thomas Stewart, as Beth’s (Taylor Schilling) son Ben, is a naturally gifted young actor who plays a rather multi-faceted, normal yet misunderstood by his peers kid.

Ultimately, I liked the characters and the actors enough that, yes I did invest in what became of them, even though it was a seemingly foregone conclusion, however, with so few events that had a lot of weight in terms of whether the film sink or swam I just couldn’t get over the couple of glaring issues it did have.

5/10