Tag Archives: 2 stars

Way late review: The Notebook

Romantic tales of years ago are not ones that I actively seek out. I don’t have to, my wife fills that void. I have seen The Notebook twice now. I think I should have stopped at the first viewing. I recalled it being a harmless and mildly enjoyable romantic drama with a somewhat interesting twist. This time around I was nearly in tears…from boredom.

Duke (James Garner), an elderly man reads a romance novel in the form of a notebook to an elderly woman (Gena Rowlands) in a nursing home. The story is about a country boy with a free spirit, Noah (Ryan Gosling) and the rich southern belle, Allie. Boy pursues girl out of his social rank. Girl rejects his advances. Boy doesn’t give up. Girl gives in. They fall madly in love. The girl’s parents disapprove and do their best to ensure the two don’t become anything more than a summer fling. Girl and boy eventually beat the odds and get back together – or do they? My description may seem to short change the emotion, the romance, the setting, the acting, the loving embraces and longing looks, but I only describe it in a way the director Nick Cassavetes portrays it on screen. It’s as if scenes are only there to lead to the rip your heart out and slam it back in final act.

Ryan Gosling is an actor I find maddeningly inconsistent. Here he is supposed to be a charming, ah-shucks southern guy with a sneaky charisma. The role isn’t right, as the melancholy loner seems to fit his onscreen persona much better, like Lars and The Real Girl and Drive. He does his best but the result is uneven at best.

For a film that seems like it can’t wait to get to the end it is dreadfully slow. I’m all for slowly paced films. I’m a big fan of Lost in Translation, a film no one would accuse of being briskly paced. Films that feel slow though? That is a problem and it is a problem The Notebook suffers from. There is little if any memorable dialogue. Romantic scenes feel forced and drawn out. Time passes in the narrative in odd ways. Noah goes to war after Allie leaves him for college in New York City. He loses a best friend on the battlefield and she gains a fiancee. Neither seem of great consequence. It’s as if both events are mere mile markers on the highway to the modern day with the elderly man and woman at the nursing home. Mind you, it’s a highway with a lot of toll booths that turn a speedy drive into a painfully slow trek.

Competently made but dull overall, The Notebook desires to be more than just another romantic drama by mixing past and present story lines with a bit of a curveball. In its exuberance to surprise in the end, the story moves from scene to scene in an almost obligatory manner, devoid of much character and memorable moments.

 ★★☆☆☆ 

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

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Way late review: Big Miracle

Finding films the whole family can watch is a challenge, especially when that family includes a first and sixth grader. In my weakest moments I’ve blacked out and woken up having finished films like True Grit and Rise of the Planet of the Apes with both my kids sitting eyes wide open by my side. Clearly, I’m next in line for father of the year. In my desperate attempt to strike the balance between age appropriate yet interesting films I gave Big Miracle a spin.

Based on the true story of the rescue attempt by various groups in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. government of three whales trapped in the Arctic Circle in northern Alaska, Big Miracle is a big mess. The film initially centers on Adam Carlson (John Krasinski of The Office fame), a TV reporter who wants to make it big but instead finds himself doing special segments on avocados in the tiny town of Point Barrow, Alaska. Everything changes For Adam when he breaks the story of three gray whiles trapped in the freezing waters of the Arctic. The whales make for national coverage. I suppose the media ran out of shark bite stories.

In place of a fun look at the many different people and interests represented, we get characters like Drew Barrymore’s Greenpeace activist, Rachel Kramer. Maybe it’s harsh but nonetheless true; Barrymore’s best work happened thirty years ago on the big screen. She is now relegated to playing odd characters who should get laughs (if nothing else), but in place of laughs we get aggravation – and lots of it. In fairness, Barrymore was at least playing a character in the story. John Krasinski played the role of Jim Halpert, Dunder Mifflin’s practical joker salesman, perfect. Too bad he was supposed to be Adam Carlson, a small time TV reporter stuck in the middle of nowhere Alaska.

In addition to a Greenpeace activist and Alaska TV reporter, the film includes native whale hunters, a big mouth oil exec who could care less about whales or pretty much anything but oil, worldwide media, the National guard, the President of the United States (a bad impression of Ronald Reagan), a Soviet icebreaker crew, and two entrepreneurs from Minnesota with their amazing de-icing machines. All that sets up a perfect screwball comedy but the ensuing antics are never screwy enough. What should be a briskly paced film full of colorful characters in conflict with one another bogs down into forced melodrama with awkward attempts for laughs. The result is an unevenly paced film with an unbalanced, yet ultimately bland tone. My daughter was asleep before the half way mark. I was (and still am) jealous.

Even though there would seem to be little in the way of bright spots, the story had its moments. There were times where Ted Danson, as the big oil exec with an over the top personality, was genuinely amusing. The two entrepreneurs from Minnesota with their de-icing machines also added some sincere yet lighthearted moments. The shots of Barrymore diving into the arctic waters and swimming beneath the ice with the whales made for a pretty amazing scene.

When the credits rolled there was a decent amount of real footage and photos from the event. It became clear then, Big Miracle would have made a much better documentary. In the hands of the right director a documentary could have captured the real tension and drama in the story. Plus, there would be no need for mundane performances. The real people couldn’t be anymore stale than the performances given by much of the fairly well known cast.

Big Miracle had promise being based on a true and somewhat bizarre story. Filled with conflicts between all the various people involved, the film could have been a decent little comedy. Unfortunately, we are put through an experience much like that of the whales. We’re stuck in a frigid film and the highlight is getting just enough decent moments every so often to keep us going. Those moments make for an almost tolerable experience. Almost.

 ★★☆☆☆ 

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

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Way late review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

If the primary goal of We Need to Talk About Kevin was to incite the audience to want to cheer when a child is thrown across the room by his mom, then mission accomplished. Never before have I seen such an unlikable character on the screen as that of the title character Kevin. Whether it be the young toddler or the teenage version, both are intolerable. I suppose that’s the point but it wasn’t one that made a great impression on me.

Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly) fall in love, get married, and have a child. I think it’s a child, though one could make a strong argument that it’s a demon in a skin suit. Eva is unsure of motherhood. As a result of her trepidation she fears she may have forever ruined her relationship with her son, Kevin. Turns out some kids are plain evil, at least that’s the lesson I walked away with after watching We Need to Talk About Kevin. Great lesson, huh?

The images on the screen are often unsettling. The story is told in a time shifted manner, rapidly switching between the past and present, which adds to a disorienting feel throughout the first act. In sharp contrast is a soundtrack that plays sometimes saccharine songs against scenes of Eva living her miserable life where people recognize her in town and seem to have one of two reactions: they give her dirty looks or they try to terrorize her with punches to the face, splashing her house and car with red paint, or smashing all the eggs in her cart at the market.

As strange as the reaction from the town’s people are to Eva, the behavior of her son Kevin is even more so. As a baby he his colicky; so much so that Eva takes refuge by walking him in the stroller near a jackhammer. The sounds of breaking pavement are soothing in comparison to her son’s non-stop cries. As a toddler Kevin refuses to listen to his mom. He destroys the home in every way imaginable. While he is the devil incarnate with mom, Kevin becomes the best kid ever around dad, which it becomes apparent is only to upset mom all the more.

The shocking ending is not much of a shock considering the sheer evil Kevin displays throughout much of the movie. Tilda Swinton puts on a stellar performance as a mom rattled by the reality that she has given birth to Satan’s little helper and the negative impact he has on her from day one. Her conflicted responses to her son’s actions would be compelling if Kevin wasn’t so detestable. The ending was less surprise and more relief that there was no more time to spend with our anti-hero.

 ★★☆☆☆ 

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

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Way late review: The Adventures of Tintin

2011′s scariest movie of the year, The Adventures of Tintin? Maybe not, but the animation style first made popular by the just as terrifying Polar Express is not comforting. Even more disconcerting is Tintin’s orange on a toothpick head. His boyish looks mashed up with his Bourne like skills don’t make sense. Every other character in the movie seems to have oversize cucumbers for noses. It’s as if Gonzo mated with a human. Bizarre.

Beyond the off putting looks of the characters in Tintin, there is a somewhat fun adventure movie buried underneath. Not a great screenplay by any stretch, as Tintin annoyingly rushes through endless iterations of journalistic “by golly, I’ve found another clue!” moments, the film sprints into action set pieces as if those will make up for the cold characters. Whatever magic Spielberg or Peter Jackson could lend the movie goes wasted on animation that fails to deliver and a mundane screenplay.

 ★★☆☆☆ 

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

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Way late review: Win Win

Netflix is normally fairly good at predicting which movies I’ll like and how much I’ll like them. Every once in a while it gets it wrong. Occasionally I find a movie I liked more than Netflix thought I would or vice versa. Netflix thought I would nearly love Win Win. Not so much.

A struggling lawyer and high school wrestling coach, Mike (Paul Giamatti), is stressing out over finances. To help pad his wallet, Mike takes guardianship of an elderly man, Leo (Burt Young). Leo discovers he has a grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), which causes a sticky situation for Mike and his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan). Kyle’s mom is in drug rehab and Kyle came to Leo in hopes of a better living situation. A fairly typical act follows where Jackie is upset about the mess Mike has made by secretly taking guardianship of Leo. Eventually they come to grips with allowing Kyle to stay with them.

One wrestling practice Mike invites Kyle to join. It doesn’t take long for Mike to discover that Kyle is a great wrestler and from there we’re supposed to experience these two lost souls in Mike and Kyle finding strength in one another. Unfortunately, the story goes nowhere fast and everywhere all at the same time. Needless plot twists mire the last third of the film. The triumphant wrestling montages are uninspired and feel disconnected.

If there is anything redeeming about Win Win it’s Giamatti’s performance. It’s not ground breaking but it makes the movie tolerable. There is only so much one can do to overcome a story that lacks a drive, lacks characters worth caring about. Giamatti does his best to make up for the flaws. Credit him for that.

Win Win? Not for me it wasn’t.

 ★★☆☆☆ 

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

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