Author Nicholas Sparks has cornered the market for modern romantic novels with five best-sellers in a row.
Though the majority of the books have been adapted for the screen, none of them has had the same kind of commercial success. But that hasn't stopped many of these pictures from connecting with viewers who love nothing more than getting out their hankies. I offer my husband as Exhibit A. No matter what time of day or night, if he's cable flipping and The Notebook is on, he will stop and, in seconds, become immersed in the romantic waterfall flowing from the screen. When it comes to affairs of the heart, Sparks' characters never find love without paying a heavy emotional price.
All of which makes director Lasse Hallström, whose biggest successes have been with the über romantic Chocolat and the nostalgic, tender and tragic Cider House Rules, the perfect choice to helm Dear John, the latest screen adaptation of a Sparks big time success.
The movieset in South Carolina, as many of Sparks' stories arefollows his two fetching would-be lovers over the course of their extremely bumpy road to Eternal Love. Channing Tatum plays John Tyree, a hunkalicious surfer on leave from the special forces in the Army who "meets cute" with Savannah Curtis ( Amanda Seyfried ) when he dives off a dock to retrieve her purse. ( Tatum's gay fan base is sure to rise, thanks to the large number of shirtless beach scenes. ) He's a moody loner who is used to taking care of himself and is guarded with his emotions, while she's sunny, open and a do-goodernot at all the traditional Southern belle that her wealth and privilege would lead one to expect.
The two have an intense two-week affair before John is called back into action. Their only argument occurs when Savannah intuits that John's ultra-shy father ( Richard Jenkins, marvelous in a supporting role ) might have some behavior problems; hothead John reacts defensively. But the two make uppassionatelyand promise to write until John's return ( this being 2001, when texting was not an option ) . Then Hallström gives us one of the movies corniest set piecesthe love-letter exchange montagein which we actually see the postal service in action. Right on cue a gently plucked guitar and lush strings wash over the screen.
But trouble looms for our comely pair and, before this interrupted love melody can be finished, the story will involve the 9/11 tragedy, cancer, autism, dappled sunsets by the beach, moonlit nights spent apart and many more musical montages.
Both young leads do their thing with the requisite passion required ( although, oddly, neither sports a southern accent ) and Hallström's unhurried pacing guarantees that, by the fade-out, both tears of grief and joy will have been shed. Like the other Sparks adapted movies, Dear John is so old-fashioned and its hyper-romanticism such a rarity in cinemas these days it almost seems new again. It will more than satisfy those with a predilection for the genre but cynics are warned to keep clearor be prepared to shut up and hand some Kleenex to their cow-eyed better halves.
Cynics are also warned to avoid The Last Station from director Michael Hoffman. Hoffman has adapted Jay Parini's novel, based on true events, of the last days of acclaimed Russian writer Leo Tolstoy ( Christopher Plummer ) and the war over the rights to his valuable copyrights ( War & Peace and Anna Karenina being just two of the titles in contention ) between his wife of 43 years, Countess Sofya ( Helen Mirren ) , and the leader of Tolstoy's acolytes, Vladimir Chertkov ( Paul Giamatti ) .
Hoffmanwho has directed his share of romantic dramas and one of my camp favorites, Soapdishgives the material his all and with this fascinating story; three grand thespians like Plummer, Mirren and Giamatti to shoot off the acting fireworks; and James McAvoy and Kerry Condon as the young lovers who provide the film with its lusty subplot, who can blame him?
Tolstoy, the Bob Dylan of his day, was so influential a literary and cultural figure that he inspired a fervent group of followers known as "Tolstoyans." This pro-Tolstoy movement eschewed material possessions and advocated the spread of passive resistance during the last decade of Tsarist rule in Russia. The movie, told through the eyes of Valentin ( McAvoy ) , one of Tolstoy's starry-eyed devoted followers, is set in Russia in 1910 near the summer home of Tolstoy where a group of the supplicants are living in a commune. Valentin has a major case of star worship and not even a hot affair with the nubile Masha ( Condon ) can shake his devotion to the group. As Tolstoy's new secretary, Valentin becomes a pawn in the ruthless tug of war between Chertkov and Sofya over Tolstoy's new will.
The protracted battles between Plummer and Mirren ( who has her best role since The Queen ) during which Sofya uses every trick in her emotional arsenaland their tender moments in between are thrilling, fun and deeply satisfying to watch. These are great actors having a whale of a time with tremendous parts. From the moment we first see the couple having afternoon tea on the terrace their philosophical differencesdespite their deep affectionis clear.
It will be a fight to the acting death it seems and, indeed, as Sofya shamelessly schemes to get rid of Chertkov ( who has an additional aide in the Tolstoy's distant daughter ) , things go from promising to comical to the emotional breaking point for all concerned. The movie centers on the larger theme of the responsibility of the artist to his legacy and his audience versus the responsibility to the personal, which Hoffman nicely balances ( along with the subplot of the young lovers, who represent the young, idealistic version of the Tolstoys ) .
All of which help envelop the viewer in The Last Station, whichdespite some dramatic implausibility and a misstep here and thereis, overall, a very well-told, well-made historical romantic drama.
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