Tag Archives: 2.5 stars

Way late review: Blue Like Jazz


This is a difficult review to write. There is so much opportunity for commentary on Blue Like Jazz, a film based on the semi-autobiographical book written by Donald Miller. The movie is not a success but the themes and topics it touches on stirred up in me a need to delve deeper.

Don is on the verge of going to college. His parents are divorced. His mom is a devout Southern Baptist Christian while his dad is a hippie professor who loves jazz, lives in a trailer and enjoys the company of his much younger female students. Don is close to his mom and heavily involved at their church. He works with the youth pastor in making sure the kids are drenched in an entertaining environment sprinkled with references to Jesus. Puppet shows, junior high all-nighters filled with wacky games, Don dressing up with the “armor of God” (i.e. plastic Roman soldier gear) and slicing open a pinata. In other words, it’s your typical, modern Christian church in the US these days. Whether the theology aligns with historical Christianity is hard to say, both in the film and real life. Theology is a dirty word. Good morals, strong effort and self-affirming words trump the stuffiness of theologians.

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Way late review: The Avengers


Comic book heroes are made for the movies and vice versa. Whether it’s the darker tones of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, the lighter comedic fare of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy or something in between yet all together different like Tim Burton’s take on Batman, the caped crusaders, mutants, and wildly skilled men and women of comic books make for promising cinema fodder. So why is it when you take an ensemble of these characters, some of whom have had solo features, the results are so bland? That is the question I have after watching The Avengers. I saw it closer to its release date and again recently at home, and both times I was bored even though the premise was intriguing, the director (Joss Whedon) would seem the perfect pick, and the cast is solid.

Kicking off with exposition promises problems early on. The magical energy source, the Tesseract, first seen in Captain America is back and gets our full attention. S.H.I.E.L.D. possesses the Tesseract and is performing all sorts of experiments. Loki, Thor’s half brother, wants the Tesseract so he can summon an alien force to put the Earth under Loki’s control. So Loki portals through into the headquarters, grabs the glowing blue cube, puts some people under his control and escapes from the compound. Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Avengers are assembled as a last gasp effort to save the world.

The time spent rounding up each of our heroes feels slow and dragged out. The only highlight is when Thor shows up and gets in a tussle with Iron Man and Captain America. Otherwise, the inevitable occurs. Those with super powers come together under one roof. They then spend much of their time holding conversations which are supposed to show us the evolving team dynamics at play. None of it matters or makes much sense. Loki is captured and supposedly doesn’t mind because he’s going to trick them all by somehow harnessing the Hulk to come out and play. How Loki is involved with making this happen, how it will help his cause, and how it will play out in theory or in reality is never made clear. The part we’re supposed to latch onto is how amazing it is to see all these super heroes together for the first time in a feature length film.

Aside from the initial action sequence that follows Loki’s escape with the cube of incredible power, there are two more big action scenes. There are three acts and each one is highlighted with a battle. Unfortunately the action is mostly a big ball of blah. When anything is possible (thanks to computer animation) the danger is to do everything which in turn results in very little feeling consequential, let alone real. The setting for the second big action scene is on a flying aircraft carrier which looks interesting from afar but serves as a lame action set piece. The last showdown is in New York, and while there are some interesting shots and decent attempts at humor, the battle between the Avengers and a generic alien force falls flat. The time wasted leading up to the final act makes the almost two and a half hour runtime feel like an eternity.

None of our heroes is given room to develop. Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) feels like a non-stop quip machine. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) mopes around as we’re promised he might explode into the uncontrollable (yet magically controllable later on) Hulk at any moment. Captain America (Chris Evans) should be a fish out of water but he adapts to the future so quick the opportunity is missed. Thor is Thor. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) walks around looking pretty while attempts are made to give her a bit of a back story. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is mostly absent and not missed.

A lot happens in The Avengers, yet not much of any consequence. Loki and his alien allies are placeholder villains at best. The threat they present is never all that real. Far too much time is spent between characters having conversations that neither develop character or the narrative. The end result is an ordinary film filled with characters who hold extraordinary powers. What a shame.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Haywire

Steven Soderbergh could have made the female Bourne movie. I’m afraid Joe Wright beat him to that with 2011’s Hanna. Granted, Hanna was an adolescent girl set in a bizarre modern day fairy tale. Haywire replaces the girl with a woman MMA fighter and trades the fairy tale for mostly mundane exposition.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is on the run. It’s not clear what for exactly in the opening moments of the film but we learn quickly that someone is not happy with her being out and about. There is something different about Mallory. Within minutes she is bashing in the head of Channing Tatum as she makes a run for it out of the rural diner. She forces a young man to get in his car and give her the keys. And away they go.

During the car ride Mallory explains her predicament. She’s a special agent for a private company that does work for various government agencies. It’s not the cleanest line of work and the reward for a job well done is being setup by her boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). Mallory escapes the trap with casualties trailing behind her. From that point forward the hunt is on for Mallory Kane.

What should be an action packed movie is mostly a lot of slowly paced scenes with plenty of dialogue to fill the gaps. A star studded cast fills the movie but is put to little use. Everyone seems subdued. And while some may blame Gina Carano for bringing the level of acting down several notches, she is not the problem. The entire cast is incapable of breaking free of the malaise that plagues them. Carano may be a bit of a gimmick, but no one can blame her for the lulls in the pacing, the generally out of place soundtrack, the dialogue heavy screenplay, and the ugly look of the film. Soderbergh’s style normally agrees with me. His penchant for using odd coloring is normally OK, but Haywire is flat out ugly. The colors distort an already flat looking picture. Rather than artistic, the look feels sloppy at best.

When there is action, it’s quite good. The fighting is not cut up with quick edits and annoying close ups that obscure the action. Fights are given the room to breathe, which is a rarity these days where special effects and hyperactive editing make a mess of far too many action sequences. Those scenes are entertaining and leave one wondering why there are five minutes of action followed up by three times as much filler. If only Soderbergh took his sense of fun and style with Ocean’s Eleven and mixed it with the energy of the fight scenes. Oh well.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Dolphin Tale

No one tell the FBI that schools all around the country are likely violating copyright law by showing flicks to the public for the price of a suggested donation. These thieves are harming Hollywood and must be stopped! I can neither confirm or deny that I saw Dolphin Tale at such an event.

Some might argue that my neutral feelings towards Dolphin Tale came about because I feared the punishment that was surely to come. Or they might argue that the dimly lit picture and faint audio in an auditorium tainted not only my viewing experience but the film as a whole. Even taking all that into consideration, I can confidently say that the (based on a true story) movie about a dolphin that loses its tail and not only lives but gets an artificial replacement tail is not great, nor is it terrible. It’s OK at best. Much to my disappointment, as the first thirty minutes of the movie had me believing it might have some real promise.

Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), a grade schooler, only has his mom, as his father died serving in the armed forces. He’s very quiet and keeps to himself as a result. One of the young men he looks up to, his cousin (Austin Stowell), has joined the army and is being deployed. To top it all off it’s summer time and Sawyer has to attend school all day.

Sawyer hangs his head and makes the journey to school. He rides his bike past the beach and a man waves him down for help. A dolphin is washed up on the beach. Sawyer gives the man his phone and then attends to the dolphin. The porpoise and boy make some sort of ET and Elliot like connection. I’m loving it. This is right in my wheel house.

The dolphin is taken to a marine life rescue center. Sawyer blasts off after school for the center. He meets a girl, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), around his age who shows Sawyer around. It’s not long until Sawyer ditches summer school and spends his days with the dolphin, who has been named Winter. The movie, up until this point, had me hooked. The story of this lonely kid who has a special connection with this tail-less dolphin and spends his every moment with or thinking about his aquatic friend is compelling. Too bad the screenplay decides that’s not enough. We get about a zillion more sub-plots, characters, and made-for-TV moments until it’s all over. The worst part is that all this extraneous material extends the movie to just under two hours. Kids in the theater…errr…auditorium…errr…”place” were wiggling restlessly through the last half hour. I can’t blame them. The movie had worn out its welcome.

Dolphin Tale could have been a really good film. That is what makes it so frustrating. There was talent and a promising first act. The lack of discipline in sticking to the most compelling story and characters doomed the movie. It could never be more than average at best.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Spirited Away

I’ve never taken LSD. After watching Spirited Away, one of my son’s favorite anime films, I think I know what it’s like to take LSD.

Not that it matters all that much, but here’s the synopsis and a juicy Oscar tidbit:

During her family’s move to the suburbs, Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase) wanders into a magical world where a witch rules — and those who disobey her are turned into animals. When Chihiro’s parents become pigs, she must find a way to help them return to their human form. Adapted from the Japanese original, director Hayao Miyazaki’s adventure tale won the Best Animated Feature Oscar for its enchanting story.

What is left out of that summary are the images that will likely give me strange dreams and nightmares for years to come. A giant baby who morphs into an overweight mouse. Three ugly green bouncing heads morphing into the giant baby, morphing into a giant ugly man baby that finally transforms back to three ugly green bouncing heads. Not one, but two, identical witches with oversized heads that include a wart between the eyes that Uncle Buck would offer a quarter to have a rat gnaw off. A “stink spirit” that causes people to either faint or vomit or both. A boy who becomes a creature not unlike Falkor from Neverending story. Unlike Falkor, this creature bleeds from the mouth half of the time its on screen. Frogs with teeth. Raddish spirits. And those are just the ones I can’t burn from my memory nor am I likely any time soon.

Regardless, there is something hypnotizing about Spirited Away. It’s certainly not a coherent plot, character development, nor decent voice dubbing. Maybe it’s the world Miyazaki created and proceeds to run away with. I do have a certain admiration for the guts to do that. On the other hand, I’ve also seen Miyazaki’s Ponyo, a film that makes Spirited Away seem genius in all areas – storytelling, character development, voice dubbing, and all around coherence. The point is that Miyazaki was rather constrained with Spirited Away in comparison.

If you ever get the urge to eat an odd looking mushroom you find growing in the forest or experimenting with hallucinogens, don’t. Put on Spirited Away instead. I’m pretty sure the end result will be roughly the same.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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