Tag Archives: Liana Liberato

High Tides and Good Vibes

The Beach House

by Hope Madden

An entitled young man and his put upon girlfriend head to his parents’ unused beach house to work some things out. They’re not alone, and I don’t just mean the lovely older couple who’d already made plans to borrow the vacation home.

Writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown sets up a situation that could go a lot of horrifying ways. He builds expectations and it’s up to you to wait and see which ones the film decides to indulge. The path Brown takes meshes terror and science fiction, beauty and body horror.

Noah Le Gros’s Randall is burdened with the privilege of always being wrong, of always making a mess for others to clean up, of always getting away with a sad-eyed apology but never, ever thinking that maybe he shouldn’t be the one making the decisions. Le Gros does an excellent job with the role – Randall isn’t contemptible, he’s just born this way.

Emily (Liana Liberato) is about to start work on an advanced degree in astrochemistry. Lucky thing, that—one of several conveniences The Beach House needs you to accept. But this budget-conscious indie is worth a little suspension of disbelief because, between the performances and the commitment to genre, it delivers a satisfying thrill.

Maryann Nagel provides a fine performance as Jane, the unsuspecting family friend already vacationing at Randall’s parents’ place. Her arc is terrifying because the performance is so compassionate. Likewise, genre favorite Jake Weber offers a heartbreaking turn as Jane’s beloved Mitch, a look-on-the-bright-side kind of guy who is quickly running out of sunshine.

At just about the time Brown digs in with some nasty body horror, he also starts to squander some of the good will he earned in the film’s early going. The action and anxiety of the last half of the picture rely too heavily on trope: a surprise in the basement, a conveniently placed CB, a timely announcement over an AM radio station.

But Brown and Liberato remain true to Emily’s arc, and that creates an intriguing new look at planetary evolution.

The Outsiders

To the Stars

by Rachel Willis

Small town Wakina, Oklahoma in the 1960’s is about as dreary as you might expect. Despite many lamenting the “good old days,” director Martha Stephen’s new film, To the Stars, reminds us that world was not the ideal many would have you believe. This is a world in which outsiders were run out of town, thrown to the wolves, or worse.  

Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward) is one such outsider. She is derided by her classmates, teased by both girls and boys (the teasing of the boys has a sinister sexual nature), and tormented at home by her alcoholic mother, Francie (an effectively cruel Jordana Spiro). Her father is a passive protector, stepping in only after her mother has already thoroughly berated Iris for her differences.

Into Iris’s life strides the outspoken Maggie (Liana Liberato), a girl from “the big city” who speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to hurl rocks at the “good-old-boys” who harass Iris. And while Maggie seems to have a handle on who she is and what she wants, we quickly learn that not all is what it seems with this enviable newcomer.

What connects Iris and Maggie is their sadness. A large part of the movie is the exploration of female sadness, from the quiet despair of the woman who runs a beauty parlor from her home to Francie’s alcoholic outbursts. Even Maggie’s mother seems burdened with her own melancholy as she tries to make the best of her life in a new town. Each of these women feel their “otherness” in a town inhabited by women who know where they fit.   

As Iris and Maggie bond, first time screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary can’t seem to help falling into familiar coming-of-age clichés. There’s the makeover montage as the two girls skip school (a haircut, a new sweater set, and the removal of glasses equals instant confidence). Maggie’s outspoken nature emboldens mousey Iris. The boy Iris likes is sensitive and mysterious, not at all like the other boys. You can mostly predict how the chips will fall as we watch the two become friends.

Occasionally, the film finds ways to thwart overused tropes. Unfortunately, these glimpses of originality are too few. Often, the audience is left scratching its head over certain character choices. Maggie’s mysterious sadness is explored and explained too late in the film and never given the resolution it deserves. This is Iris’s story, and Maggie’s otherness only serves to help Iris become a confident woman.

A few lovely moments of female solidarity help the movie become something a little more than a cliched look at two outsiders bonding, but those instants are mostly lost in a film that can’t seem to embrace its own otherness.


Hopeless Romantic


The Best of Me

by George Wolf


And lo, the decree came down from the mountain of recycled melodrama:  more Sparks at the multiplex!

There will be an idyllic Southern setting surrounded by water and plenty of pretty white faces. There will be a love story, a couple brought together by destiny but pulled apart by a cruel world. Tragedy. Flashback. Kissing in the rain. Reunion. Then, a final plot twist so over the top and ridiculous it would get laughed out of most creative writing classes.

It’s the Nicholas Sparks formula, and he’s doing all the laughing, every time a truckload of cash backs up to his front door.

His latest novel to hit the big screen is The Best of Me, and it keeps the formula intact with nauseating precision.

Teenagers Amanda (Liana Liberato, spunky) and Dawson (Luke Bracey, bland) promised forever back in the 90s, but couldn’t make it past high school. Twenty years later, they’re brought back to their Louisiana hometown by the death of an old friend.

As the older Amanda and Dawson (Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden) struggle to put the past behind them, frequent flashbacks clue us in to the tragic circumstances that forced them apart.

It’s so much soap opera fodder, with cheap manipulation standing in for actual storytelling.

A look at the writing team responsible for the script reveals Will Fetters, who has not only penned one other awful Sparks adaptation (The Lucky One), but another film that’s even more shamelessly heavy-handed (Remember Me). Hey, they needed a writer who could provide that Nicholas Sparks feeling and apparently, this guy has it in spades.

Director Michael Hoffman (The Last Station/Soapdish) makes sure everything looks dreamily perfect and really, that’s all he was hired to do. There’s a good reason this isn’t a Coen brothers project, after all.  The goal is style over substance, and to make a Sparks movie, not a good movie.

Well done, then.