So, you're watching a romantic movie. Does this movie have a boat? Is one of the characters terminally ill? Do you know from Scene 1 that you'll be crying by the end of the movie? Does everything work out in favor of romance in a fashion so unrealistic, you wonder if there's something you missed? Do you feel emotionally manipulated at the end?
Then you might be watching a Nicholas Sparks movie.
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Now, it's a guilty pleasure we're all guilty of, but it's not hard to see the signs. When you sit down for a Nicholas Sparks movie, you know what's coming. But how well do you know? We've laid out a few movie details for you to test your Sparksian knowledge. So without further ado:
Is this a Nicholas Sparks movie?
1.The Runaway and the Widower?
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Stars: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel
Filming Locations: North Carolina
Couple Stats: Katie is a "mysterious stranger" living a transient life, Alex is a widower and he's super great.
Over-involved parents: Not so much, but the guy's got kids.
The Story: She's anti-attachment or staying in one place because she's running from a man in her past, Alex tries to be her shelter.
Potential for tear-jerking: It comes out Friday, but in the meantime just know it involves deceased wives, letters, and potentially fire.
Is this a Nicholas Sparks movie?
Click to find out if you got it right!
Answer: Yep! Safe Haven is from the mind of Mr. Sparks.
RELATED: Watch the 'Safe Haven' Trailer
2. Love in Cape Cod?
Stars: Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, and Paul Newman
Filming locations: Maine, Chicago, and Wilmington, North Carolina
Couple Stats: Theresa is a former reporter, Garret is a widower with a boat named Happenstance.
Over-involved parents: Yep (but it's Paul Newman, so how bad could it be?)
The Story: She finds messages in a bottle, he wrote them to his dead wife, he and Theresa fall in love.
Turning Point: Garret finds the letters Theresa has been hiding and angrily confronts her.
Tear-jerking outcome: Garret's dad tells Theresa, a year after their fight, that Garret died at sea... while trying to save someone... and that he wrote his dead wife a new letter... and it says he loved Theresa.
Is this a Nicholas Sparks movie?
Are you two-for-two?
Answer: Yes! Message in a Bottle was written by Sparks.
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3. Love, interrupted?
Stars: Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams
Filming Locations: Chicago
Couple Stats: Artist Paige and Recording studio owner Leo Collins are married, but she loses her memory after a car accident.
Over-involved parents: Yep (and they want amnesiac Paige to dump Leo for her rich high school boyfriend).
The Story: Leo works tirelessly to get his ansesia-stricken wife to remember him while her parents use it as an opportunity to put her back on her path to boring lawyerhood.
Turning Point: After making progress to win Paige back, Leo punches her ex boyfriend and then officially divorces her.
Tear-jerking outcome: They end up together, but it's not the same, because Paige never regains the memory of her past life with Leo.
Is this a Nicholas Sparks movie?
Did Rachel McAdams really do two Sparks flicks?
Answer: Nope! The Vow is based on a true story, not a Sparks book.
4. One month only?
Stars: Charlize Theron, Keanu Reeves
Filming Locations: San Francisco
Couple Stats: Sara is a mysterious free spirit, Nelson is a guy who just lost his job and his girlfriend so he's got lots of free time.
Over-involved parents: Nope, but Keanu's Nelson does befriend a fatherless kid named Abner.
The Story: Two young, wacky San Fransisco lovers spend one Sweet November together.
Turning point: Nelson spends most of November in Sara's apartment, falling in love with her, but when he decides he's going to marry her, he finds out she has terminal cancer.
Tear-jerking outcome: Sara leaves Nelson alone so she can go die in peace with her family, and Keanu is left to cry alone in the park where they went on their first date.
Is this a Nicholas Sparks movie?
Could it be?
Answer: Nope! But man, does Sweet November sound like one.
5. Love letters, not bound by time or space?
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves
Filming locations: Chicago, other parts of Illinois
Couple Stats: Kate is a doctor living in 2006 who leaves a letter in her the mailbox of the house she's leaving, Alex is an architect living in 2004 who somehow gets that letter in 2004 because time travel, guys.
The Story: Their letters travel through time. Because magical lake house. And time travel. And love. Stop asking questions, that will just ruin it. Gosh.
Turning Point: Kate learns that Alex stood her up for their time travel-proof date, because he's the guy she saw get hit by a car and he's now dead.
Tear-jerking outcome: She writes him a last-minute time travelin' letter and tells him to come to the lake house instead, which means he's undead now and they get to kiss and live at the lake.
Is this a Nicholas Sparks movie?
Perhaps Keanu did take a trip with Sparks after all...
Answer: Nope. And thank goodness Sparks isn't responsible for The Lake House, or we'd think he's losing his touch. Or whatever he has.
6. The Ballad of Liam and Miley?
Stars: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Greg Kinnear, Kelly Preston
Filming locations: Savannah, Georgia
Couple stats: Ronnie is a rebellious young piano prodigy who refuses to go to Julliard and is sent to learn some manners by living with her estranged father, Will is a perfect popular guy who volunteers and he doesn't care about Ronnie's arrest (Too much information too fast? Sorry.).
The Story: Ronnie's a problem child and her mother sends her away from New York to get wholesome-ized with her father in Georgia, but she's an immediate out-case there. Somehow, the popular guy takes an interest in her...
Turning Point: Will lets Ronnie's cancer-stricken father be blamed for burning down the church when he knows it was his friend.
Tear-jerking outcome: Ronnie finishes writing her dad's composition as he dies, then plays it for the town, including Will who really likes it and who tells her he's going to Columbia for college so he can be with her. But he only let a crime be blamed on your sick dad, you should totally get back together with him, Miley.
Is this a Nicholas Sparks movie?
Answer: Yep. The Last Song is something only Nicholas Sparks could give us.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Relativity, Screen Gems, Warner Bros (3), Walt Disney Pictures]
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This African-American variation on The Family Stone subscribes to the notion that Christmas is not really the most wonderful time of the year when it comes to visiting relatives. So don't expect much peace and goodwill to be found when the Whitfields gather together for their first Christmas dinner in four years. The six siblings who spend the holidays at the California home of family matriarch Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine) all harbor a dark secret or a hidden agenda. Take Quentin (Idris Elba). He owes two very pissed-off bookies $25 000. Homemaker Lisa (Regina King) wants to sell the family business to fund her unappreciative husband's (Laz Alonso) latest get-rich-quick scheme. Kelli (Sharon Leal) doesn't want Lisa's no-good husband getting his grubby paws on Ma’Dere's hard-earned money. But what does this young professional want that Lisa has? A family of course. Claude (Columbus Short) spends his alone time on the phone to a mystery woman he’s nervous about introducing to Ma’Dere. Mel (Lauren London) doesn’t care what her family thinks of her boyfriend—she just wants to make out with him without being caught. Michael (Chris Brown) nicknamed Baby for obvious reasons fears that following his dream to be singer will break Ma’Dere's heart. She hasn't gotten over her ex-husband leaving her to pursue his music career. While it's down to Ma’Dere to keep the peace she has own her issues to resolve regarding Quentin and her loving relationship with longtime boyfriend Joe (Delroy Lindo). Yes Brown sings. Not once but twice as we treated to his Michael Jackson-flavored R&B. Don’t be surprised if his rendition of “This Christmas” ends up on holiday compilation CDs for decades to come. Brown's a natural on stage but he relies too much on his megawatt smile and undeniable charm when trying to hold his own against old pros Devine and Lindo. Still that's probably more than enough for the adoring fans who would love to "Kiss Kiss" Chris Brown under the mistletoe. Luckily This Christmas doesn't lean too heavily on Brown for director Preston A. Whitmore II's assembled a terrific cast of African-American actors Tyler Perry could only hope to snag for one of his trademark morality plays. Building upon his breakthrough role as a devoted father in Perry's Daddy's Little Girls Elba shows he's just as effective playing a imperfect son unable or unwilling to connect with his mother. He also proves to be a worthy adversary to Lindo who carries himself with quiet dignity during every family crisis. Devine is the very personification of motherly love—she never comes across as a shrill stereotype like Perry's no-nonsense Madea. There's plenty of fun to be had watching tough cookies King and Leal lock horns. And sparks fly between Leal and ER's Mekhi Phifer whose noble firefighter makes Kelli quickly forget she's all business and no pleasure. Saddled with a subplot with no significant payoff Short does the best he can under the worst of circumstances. Thanks to Whitmore's light but assured touch This Christmas makes a silky smooth transition from comedy to drama. Whitmore maintains the perfect balance between the humor and tension that makes dysfunctional family relationships both compelling and difficult to watch. He never lets things get too outrageously nasty; you don’t believe for a minute that the Whitfields—a very likable bunch to boot—won’t overcome their differences before Christmas dinner is served. When they do kiss and make up This Christmas thankfully doesn't get overly gushy. But Whitmore does take refuge in the obvious at times. You just know someone's dying to crack a “ho ho ho” joke about Kelli being wooed by a Santa-outfitted Phifer or that Lisa's going to go all Waiting to Exhale on her husband's Cadillac Escalade. At least the inevitable family dance off is a blast to watch. Too bad Whitmore the screenwriter also burdens Whitmore the director with too many characters to pay attention to and too many loose ends to tie up. Really who would miss Mel? And why is Claude so worried how his family will greet the love of his life when this purportedly taboo romance raises nothing more than eyebrows when all is revealed? Still for all its faults This Christmas remains a warm and engaging examination of family dynamics at a time of great stress and celebration. There are worse ways of spending the holidays than sitting down to Christmas dinner—or boogieing down to vintage Kool & the Gang—with the warring Whitfields.
Finally a brilliantly told fractured fairy tale for children and adults alike that does not feature a grouchy green orge anywhere. Once upon a time a young man sneaks into the mysterious magic kingdom of Stormhold that’s walled off from his quiet English village. He soon meets a lovely young lady who just so happens to be a princess enslaved by a not-so-wicked witch. Nine months later a basket is dropped on his doorstep. Yes this baby boy is the unexpected result of his one-night liasion with the royal lass. The boy grows up blissfully unaware of his regal roots so when he reaches manhood Tristan (Charlie Cox) doesn’t understand why he so drawn to the land on the other side of the Wall. He finally hops over the Wall when a star falls out of the sky and lands deep in the heart of Stormhold. His goal: to bring back the star as proof of his love for Victoria (Sienna Miller). Too bad this scheming temptress doesn’t think too much of the penniless and mild-mannered workingclass stiff. This being a fairy tale the star isn’t just a star. The star’s actually a beautiful celestial being named Yvaine (Claire Danes). And she fell to earth as part of a devious plan by Stormhold’s dying king (Peter O'Toole) to determine his successor. But the king’s scheming sons (Jason Flemying and Mark Strong) are not the only ones seeking Yvaine. The oh-so-wicked witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) needs Yvaine to help her restore her youth. So that means Tristan must become the hero he’s destined to become—and take on witches princes airbourne pirates (Robert De Niro’s Capt. Shakespeare) and shady black marketeers (The Office’s Ricky Gervais)—so he can return home to Victoria. But Cupid has other plans for Tristran and it’s not hard to guess what those are. If all stars took on the human form of Claire Danes many more of us would probably pursue a career in astronomy. But it doesn’t take a working knowledge of the Hubble telescope to see how relaxed and luminous Danes is when she’s not carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. And sparks definitely fly between Danes and Charlie Cox even when they’re at hurling hilarious insults at each other. Newcomer Cox makes a smooth transition from ill-at-ease lovesick puppy to swashbuckling hero. He also doesn’t seem to be intimidated at the prospect of staring down Robert De Niro. There’s always concern whenever De Niro takes on a comedic role for a big paycheck. He usually gets by with pure talent and nothing more. And when De Niro’s pirate crosses paths with Cox and Danes you immediately fear that he’s going to offer yet another variation on his tough gruff Alpha males from Analyze This and Meet the Parents. But he blindsides us by instead going all Jack Sparrow on us—that is if the old sea dog had no interest in the ladies—to deliriously campy effect. What with Hairspray and now Stardust Michelle Pfeiffer’s comeback seems to be predicated on getting in touch with her inner bitch. She’s splendidly nasty and scary as Lamia. And the uglier and older she gets the meaner and funnier she gets. Equally cruel—though more cheerfully so—is Sienna Miller. Providing small but amusing cameos are Gervais once again revealing an unparallel mastery of toadying and Peter O'Toole who kicks the bucket quicker than John Cleese’s King Harold does in Shrek the Third. There’s legitimate reason to question whether Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn has what it takes to direct a big-budget effects-driven summer blockbuster. Remember after making his name producing or directing relatively inexpensive British crime capers Vaughn walked away from X-Men: The Last Stand. Judging by Stardust though Vaughn would have done a masterful job leading those misunderstood mutants into battle. Then again he couldn’t have done worse than Brett Ratner. Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess Stardust possesses both a big heart and an uncommon adventurous streak. Unlike the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which was too long and too cumbersome for its own good Stardust moves nimbly and confidently through a strange and wonderful land populated with noble heroes to cheer for fiendish villains to boo at and gorgeous damsels in distress to sigh over. Vaughn keeps us on the edge of our seats whenever Tristan must think or fight his way out of danger. But he invests as much time in making believe that Tristan and Yvaine are made for each other. He also strikes a fine balance between honoring the sword-and-sorcery genre while playfully sending up its many cliches. The humor’s a lot more risqué than the bedtime story that was The Princess Bride but most of the sexual innuendoes will zoom over the heads of those still too young to pick up on many of Shrek’s pop-cultural references. Clearly Stardust cannot escape all other comparisons to The Princess Bride but Stardust boasts more than enough magic and daring-do to win over those who remained enthralled to this day by Cary Elwes’ brave efforts to rescue a kidnapped Robin Wright Penn. So this is one fairy tale that richly deserves its happily ever after--and for that matter so does Vaughn.
What No Reservations needs is a smell-sensitive rat who can cook. Instead we get head chef Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a perfectionist who runs the kitchen of a swanky Manhattan eatery with an iron fist. Let’s just say she’s in desperate need of an attitude adjustment so in pops new sous-chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart) a free-spirited fellow who cooks by the seat of his pants. Soon he’s got the whole kitchen staff laughing and loving him way more than Kate. Nick tries to charm Kate too but she won’t have any of it. To top it off Kate unexpectedly becomes the guardian of her 9 year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin) after her sister dies in a car accident. The understandably distraught Zoe is having a tough time and won’t eat any of her aunt’s highfalutin cuisine. The little girl only likes fish sticks—and as it turns out spaghetti a Nick specialty. Yes Nick finally melts Kate’s heart when he gets Zoe to eat a hearty bowl of spaghetti. You can see where this is going right? Love—and tomato sauce—conquers all. When you have two incredibly attractive people onscreen together you want the sparks to fly. Think Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. True those two were falling in love for real but still it makes for a more fulfilling and cinematically romantic experience. But alas it doesn’t always work out and in No Reservations’ case the love story between Zeta-Jones and Eckhart deflates like a fallen soufflé. On their own they each hold up well: Zeta-Jones is good at being steely but emotionally stunted when it comes to matters of the heart while Eckhart’s easy-going charm and great smile make his Nick an obvious choice for any woman. Get them together however and things sag like a wet noodle. Too bad. Breslin is her usual cute self playing it a little more somber than she did in Little Miss Sunshine but the little actress ought to be careful not to pigeon-hole herself into the “eccentric but affecting” kid role. No Reservations also has another knock against it: It’s a remake of the German film Mostly Martha a far more stellar—and original—effort. Natch. Turning a hit foreign film into a studio picture rarely works out; something always gets missed in the translation which for No Reservations is surprising since Mostly Martha writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck is listed as the co-writer. What Nettelbeck did with Mostly Martha is revolve her story around master chef Martha (played brilliantly by Martina Gedeck) and her quirks and anxieties over suddenly having to raise a child. The love story with the Italian chef is more a pleasant surprise than the driving force. But of course with No Reservations the romance is played up for that certain chick flick appeal with two people who have no chemistry. Maybe Nettelbeck was lured into Americanizing her original. For his part director Scott Hicks (Shine) is definitely capable enough to carve out what he can from this predictable set up even adding some flair to the kitchen scenes but he can’t quite push No Reservations past its banality.
Beginning in 1992 after L.A.'s Rodney King riots a reformed ex-convict named Tommy Johnson needing a job grabbed a boom box some face paint and a clown suit. Bizarre yes. But he started a successful kids' party business dancing in the riot-ravaged areas. Before he knew it Johnson--who named himself Tommy the Clown--started a ghetto-wide trend of "clowning " and later "krumping " both characterized by quick sudden dance moves. Rize is about more than just Tommy the Clown of course. It's about race and oppression in America and the therapeutic effect of dance throughout the centuries. The film attempts to channel the human spirit through physical expression as the real-life faces give Rize extra needed impact to the oppressive story--one unfortunately that is all too familiar.
The real-life street dancers infuse the documentary. They are essentially characters with alter-ego names like Dragon Miss Prissy and El Nino. Decorated in face paint they are average real South L.A. "hood" residents with average jobs. Larry for example still works at Abercrombie & Fitch. But boy they can dance. LaChapelle's visual storytelling elevates them to iconic actor-like character status. More gravely however the dancers' belonging to clown or krump crews often substitute gang affiliation in the bombed-out neighborhoods. Rize works because of its "acting " the vibrancy and timelessness of its characters' spirits.
Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson's good friend David LaChapelle directs his first feature after he released a similar short film Krumped last year. His celebrity portraits have graced Vanity Fair and Interview magazines since the '80s. We last saw LaChapelle on the police blotter in January getting arrested for disorderly conduct. Utah police allege LaChapelle who was partying with Hilton and Anderson at Sundance where Rize premiered became physically and verbally abusive when separated from the starlets. The case isn't settled yet. But in light of these charges it could be LaChapelle's ability to bull his way through filming glossing over themes quickly that gives Rize its broad-brush impact. LaChapelle offers a different documentary in the post-Michael Moore era--one without a political point of view or wry scrutiny of shady characters. Instead LaChapelle (who apprenticed under Andy Warhol) sees himself more as an artist. With Rize he's molded an artistic topical statement a timely bull's eye of hip-hop and Blue State progressivism. The filmmaker trains the audience's eye quickly to become hypnotized in the dancers' bodies and to seek higher meaning.