Posted on April 7, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexual references, drug use, and disturbing behavior
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs, smoking (by a young teenager)
Violence/ Scariness: Fatal car crash, guns, dangerous and destructive behavior
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 8, 2016

Copyright Fox Searchlight 2016
Copyright Fox Searchlight 2016
As the title suggests, this is a movie about taking things apart, literally and spiritually. And Jake Gyllenhaal gives a performance of shattering intensity as Davis, a finance executive whose wife is killed in a car accident.

At the hospital, he puts five quarters into a vending machine, which fails to deliver the peanut M&Ms he has selected. So he goes home and writes a long, detailed letter of complaint to the vending machine company. And then another one. And then another one. And then another one.

And he begins to take things apart. Screenwriter Bryan Sipe says the idea was inspired by the time he spent knocking down damaged houses for his father’s insurance company. Davis says he feels numb. He says he did not really know his wife. And he really wants satisfaction for that undelivered bag of peanut M&Ms.

His father-in-law, also his boss (Chris Cooper, who played Gyllenhaal’s dad in “October Sky”), is devastated. He immediately plans a tribute to his daughter and wants Davis to support it. But Davis just wants to take things apart.

A call from the complaints department at the vending machine company leads to an adventure. Davis ends up spending time with an angry teenager (Judah Lewis) who has been suspended from school. They do things that would get him expelled and probably arrested. Those scenes are the best in the film as the kid who feels too much meets the adult who cannot feel at all.

The film, directed by “Dallas Buyers Club’s” Jean-Marc Vallee, is uneven but arresting and impressively ambitious. He maintains a fascinating, heightened tone that never interferes with the real humanity of the characters. Gyllenhaal, long one of the most underrated actors, shows once again that he can take on an exceptionally challenging role and bring enormous depth and authenticity. More important, even before Davis is able to connect to his own feelings, he is able to connect to ours.

Parents should know that this film includes a sad death, fatal accident, very strong language, drinking, drugs, smoking (by a child), sexual references including adultery, destructive and dangerous behavior, and guns.

Family discussion: Why did Davis write the letters? What do we learn from his decision about how best to honor his wife?

If you like this, try: “Donnie Darko”

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Drama Movies -- format

The Choice

Posted on February 4, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues
Profanity: Some mild language, someone gives the finger
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Serious car accident, character critically injured
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 5, 2016
Date Released to DVD: May 2, 2016 ASIN: B01D1JDCB0
Copyright 2016 Lionsgate
Copyright 2016 Lionsgate

Nicholas Sparks is one of the rare authors who has become a brand of his own, bigger than any of his movies. One reason is their predicability; fans know what to expect and they won’t be disappointed. The other reason is his genuine gift for creating characters audiences immediately like and want the best for.

In “The Choice,” with a script by “Demolition” screenwriter Bryan Sipe, we meet easy-going Travis (Benjamin Walker, last seen as the bad captain in “The Heart of the Sea”) as he meets his new neighbor, a peppery med student named Gabby (Teresa Palmer). In the midst of studying, already furious because of his loud music, she discovers that her dog is pregnant and she goes next door to let him know how angry she is. He is captivated by her because she is different from the other girls he has known, who came to him with little effort and left with little fuss. “You bother me,” he tells her, intrigued and a little surprised.

They both discover that their initial conclusions about one another may have been wrong, but the chemistry between them is increasing in intensity, even though Gabby has a serious boyfriend, a handsome doctor (Tom Welling). Gabby likes challenging Travis and he likes having to work to get her affection.

Their side-by-side homes both look out onto the water of North Carolina’s Inner Banks, and the images of sky, water, and coast are exquisite, somewhere between travel brochure and screen saver. Sparks has to be the MVP for the North Carolina tourism bureau. All of his stories are set in this spectacularly beautiful (if plagued by storms) region. And it is certainly easy to believe that the glow from this enchantingly glorious setting makes this a sublime place to fall in love. Director of Photography Alar Kivilo and the setting itself are as important to the film as the storyline, and more important than the dialogue. Some lines are arch or cheesy: “Look who’s sassypants!” “You’re a dork!” “There you go again, bothering me.” We never find Travis or Gabby as appealing as we are asked to believe they find each other.

Sparks seems to have taken in some complaints about the formulaic nature of his stories, or maybe he just wanted to try something different (but thankfully not as different as the awful “twist” in Safe Haven). We still have a body of water, a letter, and someone who has to be taken down a peg or two. The surprises are not as surprising to us as they are to the characters. But there is something gentle about the story that is undeniably captivating.

Parents should know that this film includes a serious auto accident and questions of when someone should be taken off life support, along with some strong language, mild crude references, social drinking.

Family discussion: What small choices in your life have made the biggest difference? Why does Travis like to be bothered?

If you like this, try: other Nicholas Sparks films like “Nights in Rodanthe” and “The Lucky One”

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