Way late review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Creating a unique world in film is difficult. The safe bet is to stick to the real world or go so fantastical as to render it unrecognizable. Those who dare to mix the real and fantastical face the challenge of overcoming an audience never believing a single moment. If there is one only one thing Benh Zeitlin pulls off in his first feature length film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, it is creating a world all its own, with one foot steeped in reality and the other planted in the clouds.

Bathtub is somewhere in the Bayou, an island unto its own, filled with people living in poverty which include a young girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry). Hushpuppy lives with her dad but in her own home. Dad seems barely capable of caring for himself and demands that Hushpuppy fend for herself, possibly because he senses his days are numbered, but it’s just as likely Wink is skirting responsibility while drowning in his own sorrow (not to mention liquor) of not having Hushpuppy’s mother with him. The feisty independent girl longs for her mother and is angry her father can disappear for days without notice.

Some of the Bathtub community are defiant, so much so that they won’t evacuate when a major storm is approaching. Instead of fleeing, Wink and others hunker down. They do their best to survive the storm and hold onto what little they call their own. Hushpuppy thinks the storm is happening because the icecaps are melting and will unleash some oversize warthog looking beasts. She learned this at school. At this point, shots of melting icecaps invade the screen. I’m not sure if the images and lore were meant to convey a heavy handed message, but it felt like there was a parallel being made between Katrina and global warming. Far from an activist film, Beasts also doesn’t hide the similarities of its world and the one of New Orleans right after hurricane Katrina.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

The storm comes and trounces the Bathtub with non-stop water. Wink, Hushpuppy and some of their neighbors are left to survive the elements while figuring out what they’re going to do longer term. The journey meanders a bit, allowing us to get a fuller picture of just how adamant this community is about living life on their terms, no matter how hard the government or other outside forces try to rescue the remaining Bathtub residents.

In between the fantastic voyage and strange images of beasts racing towards the Bathtub, there is a story of a little girl who wants to find her mom and somehow make things work between her and her overbearing, sometimes abusive father. The father-daughter relationship on screen is a challenge. One of them we root for and the other against. While folklore rules the day and people revel in their plight in life, wisdom is in short supply, which is probably why the film’s most touching moments seemed a bit distant for me. The intended impact never hit fully as I found it difficult to completely empathize with a father who can’t seem to look outside of himself and a community that seems to pride itself in debauchery as much as it does in being a loving responsible community.

The cinematography and score are beautiful, creating a world all its own. The challenge is when the deeper emotional moments and themes don’t resonate as much as the gorgeous sights and sounds. What seemed like it could have been a one-of-a-kind masterpiece falls short, but there is much to love, including amazing performances by first time actors, Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

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Way late review: The Kid with a Bike

Sometimes you need a punch in the gut. As much fun as action films filled with heroes of all shapes and sizes are, there are times a more intimate and sad tale needs to be told. Enter The Kid with a Bike, a French film by Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne.

We’re immediately confronted with an angry 11-year-old named Cyril (Thomas Doret). He’s trying desperately to call his dad and when that number rings disconnected several times, the kid makes a break for it. A chase ensues and only takes breaks or slows down in the first half of the film as Cyril makes every attempt to find his dad who has clearly abandoned him. One of Cyril’s attempts to find his dad finds him latching onto an unsuspecting woman waiting in a doctor’s office waiting room. This brief encounter leads the woman, Samantha, (Cécile de France) a hairdresser in the neighborhood, to befriend Cyril by first getting back his bike and later providing him a place to stay on the weekends, away from the group foster home.

The behavior of Cyril as a young boy who has been abandoned is authentic. The anger he feels towards his dad is transferred on everyone else who cares enough to at least be with Cyril which is more than can be said for the father. Contrasted with the self-destructive behavior of the youth is Samantha’s love and care for the boy. Even though she finds herself over her head in taking care of him, she perseveres in a way that displays true love and grace, which is too rare in both movies and real life.

Even though he is loved, Cyril finds comfort from the neighborhood dealer, Wes, who befriends him. Unlike Samantha’s firm yet unending love for the young man, Wes gives Cyril the thrill of the moment; validation and words that serve to puff Cyril’s ego up and provide a quick allegiance to the no good criminal. Still, one can’t blame an 11 year-old boy whose dad wants nothing to do with his son to gravitate towards a male who goes out of his way to give the boy attention.

The last act in the film is a bit puzzling – neither good nor bad. The story grows a bit more complex without losing its focus on the kid with a bike and his struggle to find his way through a harsh life. Bonus points for not abusing a swelling soundtrack. In fact, there are only a couple brief moments where any music is used at all. What could have easily turned into melodramatic drip with a background track made to manipulate versus compliment the on screen drama.

A tight story focusing on a boy who struggles to find real love after his father left him, The Kid with a Bike never strays from the characters who are so real it’s easy to forget you’re watching a fictional tale. In a culture where cynicism and sarcasm rule the day, it’s refreshing to watch a film which doesn’t apologize for its melancholy nor shy away from its underlying altruism.

[xrr rating=4.5/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BvQSgr-DPU[/youtube]

Way late review: The Dark Knight Rises

Some films demand a grandiose treatment. After The Dark Knight, it is only fitting that Cristopher Nolan indulge in making The Dark Knight Rises a sprawling epic full of thought provoking themes supported by sometimes majestic and other times troubling sights and sounds.

Bruce Wayne is in bad shape. The billionaire and his alter ego, Batman, disappeared after taking the blame for the murder of Gotham’s beloved district attorney turned two face villain, Harvey Dent. As much as Rises is about super heroes and villains, it’s about the inner conflict of a man who has lost his sense of purpose. And, even when he believes he has that purpose back, we’re left to wonder if the purpose has turned into one last suicidal mission to save the city he loves.

The headlining villain this time around is Bane (Tom Hardy), a man who wears a mask that may have been stolen off the set of Silence of The Lambs, which makes him difficult to understand when he speaks. The voice sounds like a mix of Sean Connery and Darth Vader.  (Special thanks to my wife for that one.) There was some serious audio magic performed to make Bane more audible and clear, to the point where it was jarring to hear this booming voice coming from a muzzled mouth. Had the original voice been used (from earlier trailers) I think that and a combination of sub-titles may have been more effective, but I understand why the change was made. Having a villain with sub-titles probably wouldn’t fly with a majority of English speaking audiences. Regardless of the voice, Bane is a menacing character. The lore surrounding him is revealed over time and only adds to his puzzling motives. Whereas the Joker was the maniacal terrorist in a clown motif, Bane is the pro wrestler with a masterminded plot to destroy Gotham, but not before he has a chance to run some evil sociological experiment where he serves as the ringmaster and the people of Gotham revel in a world which punishes the rich and gives them freedom all the while crushing them.

Adding more characters to the mix is always tricky for super hero movies. Add one too many and the story bogs down with the weight of too many stories to tell and not enough time to tell them all in. Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), seemed like she would be the tipping point this time around. Instead of becoming a boat anchor, Catwoman’s story compliments that of Batman’s quite nicely. Catwoman’s arch is much like Han Solo’s in Star Wars IV. She’s a sketchy character whose desire for fortunes outweigh her desire for doing good. Both she and Batman want to be different people. She a thief who can’t get away from her life of crime even if she tries, and he a seemingly washed up crime fighter who wouldn’t mind dying if it meant a valiant effort to save the people of Gotham.

Nolan will never be accused of keeping his stories straight forward and simple. Dialogue here and in his other films is full of exposition, which is a big no-no for most. Somehow the Dark Knight director makes even plodding material interesting. Credit the constant use of an emotionally charged soundtrack for much of that. If all our lives were backed by cinema soundtracks they would instantly seem other worldly and overly dramatic. And maybe the nearly non-stop swelling music is overkill, along with a two hour and forty-five minute running time but I never once did a time check.

Commentary on modern day issues cannot be missed. The attacks on corrupt Wall Street bankers and the one percent are spread throughout much of the film. Providing some equal opportunity of a critical eye, the Occupy movement is also alluded to and, if the allusion is correct, the picture is not a pretty one. The use of laws to make organized crime a thing of the past even though they may overstep civil liberties is touched on lightly. None of it is heavy handed in a preachy manner. Nolan keeps the focus on the story while touching on various themes, some timeless and others capturing current day events.

Some will fondly recall the previous film in the trilogy as superior, with Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the Joker being the main reason. Both films are excellent and both provide numerous areas to nitpick. The Dark Knight Rises goes out with an operatic crescendo, a thrilling yet satisfying ending to a trilogy all about a man dressed as a bat.

[xrr rating=5/5 label=” “]

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

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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.

Continue…

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.

[xrr rating=2.5/5 label=” “]

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

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Way late review: War Horse


The true gritty World War I tale of a horse who takes on Germany and saves the day. War Horse is like Saving Private Ryan mixed with Platoon, except with a horse saving the day. OK, maybe not. Maybe it’s an overtly sentimental tale of a horse who magically makes it through WWI while impacting the lives of those on both sides of the first world war.

Steven Spielberg is a filmmaking genius not without his faults. One of those faults is his tendency to turn the sentimental faucet on full blast even though it may drown the audience. Then again, the story this time around probably justifies the treatment. Saying War Horse is too sentimental is like saying Forrest Gump was too unrealistic. Both are fairy tales and they revolve around main characters who we may find hard to believe in their setting and impact but that’s part of what makes fairy tales what they are. Of course, Forrest Gump had Tom Hanks and War Horse has a ummm…Joey, the horse, as its leading “man”.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is an English teen whose former war hero dad foolishly bids too much and wins the auction for a thoroughbred horse. The family needs a work horse and dad brings home a racing horse. Dad may have been slightly influenced by the alcohol continually filling his bloodstream and his desire to stick it to his landlord who he was bidding against. From there a familiar story is told where Albert and Joey bond and the impossible happens. Then the war breaks out and Albert’s dad is forced to put Joey up for sale. Despite Albert’s pleas, Joey is sold to an English officer who is heading out to the battlefield. End first act, end Joey, enter War Horse, a horse who endures the worst and keeps clip clopping along.

The cinematography and sweeping soundtrack is what drives War Horse. The story is entertaining enough but the unique shots of war and the sights around it are amazing. The scene of the infantry of men on their horses racing through the tall grass in a sneak attack on their enemies is unlike any I’ve seen before. The colors and look of the film overall is different than Spielberg’s films of the past. They are brighter and more vibrant even though the setting couldn’t be more dreary. Joey races across the battlefield at night and the camera follows the frantic pace from a unique perspective which wouldn’t make sense in a traditional war film centered on the human characters.

Those who complain War Horse is nothing but sentimental drip seem to miss the fact that this is not a tale about war, the people in it, the people impacted by it. It’s about a horse and his incredible journey through a war torn land. Those looking for the second coming of Saving Private Ryan need to look elsewhere. War Horse is a fairy tale driven by beautiful sights and triumphant sounds, and sometimes that’s enough to make a really good film.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

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

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Way late review: Damsels in Distress


Whit Stillman makes movies you either love or hate. His fascination with telling stories about yuppies tends to have that reaction. I generally enjoy his films. They portray characters and a world very few do. Twelve years later, Stillman makes a new film Damsels in Distress, and while the characters speak the instantly identifiable Stillman dialogue, something has changed. Something funny. Pure satire in a world unlike those the director has created in past films.

Violet (Greta Gerwig) and her two friends, Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore), at Seven Oaks college are out to save the world. OK, maybe not the world, but definitely their boorish male counterparts and those deemed suicidal risks. Violet immediately targets Lily (Analeigh Tipton) as a new student in need of intervention. Lily isn’t a freshman as Violet guessed. She’s a sophomore transfer. She, unlike Violet’s entourage, doesn’t completely buy into the mission the trio is on. When the new foursome walks around the campus together for the first time the original trio nearly pass out from the supposed stench produced by a group of guys who walk by. Rose looks as though she may regurgitate her last meal. Lily is perplexed. Violet explains that Rose is especially sensitive to odors and the boys from a certain house are particularly odorous. In pity, Violet condescendingly sees it as her duty to reform these boys. No handsome and winsome young men for these young ladies. They’ll take the dufus who has yet learned his primary colors, thank you very much. And they’ll do this all in the name of saving a lower class; pulling them up from the depths to the heights of at least middling acceptably. The exaggerated attitude and actions pokes fun at both liberals doing more harm than good while they save the poor they wouldn’t want near their precious suburban homes or Evangelical Christians who have a disdain for the heathens they attempt to clean up and save from a life of sin.

There is little to no narrative holding Damsels together. Lily’s first year at Seven Oaks is filled with odds and ends. She provides a dose of reality in most scenes lacking everything but reality. Yet even Lily isn’t completely exempt from serving as a prop in Whitman’s satirical take on life at one of the oddest colleges in cinema history. She finds the wrong guys. Instead of dumb brutes she dates men of higher intellect who are anything but honorable. One is an eight year student posing as a successful young professional while another is an international student whose religion supposedly holds to a sexual “purity” that is anything but.

The suicide prevention center Violet heads up gives donuts to those in need of help. Don’t dare take a donut if you are not a candidate though. Donuts are for suicidal risks only. Violet promised the company providing the donuts that all the donations would go to those needing them, not those simply out to get a free pastry. Things get stranger. The preferred method of therapy is dancing. In fact, it’s the only thing resembling therapy of any sort. All other displays of help are in the form of interrogating potential “patients”, ensuring they are worthy of free doughnuts and dance sessions. If this sounds ridiculous and silly, it is. It is also very funny, as long as you don’t completely hate the characters and the world they inhibit. The arrogant, obnoxious girls and the dumb boys they seek to refine require buy-in or else Damsels will feel like a slog.

Debbie: You think I’m going to kill myself and make you look bad?
Violet: I’m worried that you’ll kill yourself and make yourself look bad.

Title cards split up the movie into sections not unlike a silent film or an episode of Frasier. The technique mostly works until the end when the movie overruns its optimal time and the title cards serve as reminders that the credits should be rolling. All good things must come to an end, some should come a little earlier than others.

Whit Stillman makes a welcome return after nearly a dozen years since his last film. Damsels in Distress is a witty comedy with commentary on a variety of topics but never heavy handed. The laughs come along with a satirical backdrop and characters to match. Not everyone’s cup of tea but possibly a surprise for those who haven’t enjoyed Stillman’s past films. Damsels was a pleasant surprise for me.

[xrr rating=4/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0RrTl3tA1w[/youtube]

Way late review: The Artist


Ladies and gentlemen, the 2012 Academy Awards best picture, The Artist. Spoiler alert. It won’t make my top 20 movies of 2011. I hesitated watching last year’s best picture for a while because the premise wasn’t all that appealing. I finally decided the time had come. I didn’t view it with drudgery nor with anticipation of seeing the best film of 2011. Enough time had passed since it was released that I felt like I was coming at it fresh. And without further ado, my review.

It's built on a gimmick.

George Valentin and Uggie

But not all gimmicks are created equal.

Movies based on gimmicks

It's full of fun and whimsy.

Bérénice Bejo holding herself

Except when it's not.

Jean Dujardin freaking out

The story is simple. Too simple for a 100 minute movie.

Dr. Seuss ABC, another simple story like The Artist

Kudos for trying something different.

Kudos to The Artist for trying something different.

Still a gimmick. (Like this review)

Wink. Wink. Even the actors know The Artist is built on a gimmick. A modern silent film.

[xrr rating=3/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8K9AZcSQJE[/youtube]

Way late review: The Hunger Games


Young adult fiction is popular these days, for better or worse. The young adults who read it, obsess over it and turn out in mass for movies based on the source material aren’t always so young. The obsession over and popularity of a series like The Hunger Games makes it difficult to create a good flick. Fans these days tend to demand a faithfulness to the source or they’ll riot, digitally of course, but still. I’m in the envious position of never having read any of the three books. After all, my favorite novel is: I’ll wait for the movie. I consider this a blessing when taking in movies based on modern day popular books. I’m more interested in a good film than allegiance to the author’s writings.

The story behind the film is not completely original. I won’t mention other films which have used similar narratives before because it doesn’t matter. It’s not unlike those who bemoan the cycle of bands whose only purpose seems to be to reinvent what came before. The complaint is one of, why bother? What is missed is that it may have been done before but not for this audience, not by this set of artists. I view The Hunger Games in a similar manner. The story is an interesting one regardless of its originality or lack thereof.

The future is not looking bright. It’s dystopian outside and the select few with wealth and power lord it over the rest. The capitol city is bright, high gloss, wine and dine. The surrounding districts are dark and dingy. In celebration of society’s survival from a nuclear fallout there is a televised competition in which two kids from each district are randomly selected to compete. First prize is you live another day. Second prize is you’re dead. Fairly simple rules, if not the greatest way to commemorate mankind’s continued existence.

Long story short, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take the place of her younger sister who was picked. She and Peeta represent their district. They train and put on a show to win support of those watching. Viewers can provide help during the competition, though how this is done is not clear, it simply happens. The games begin and lots of kids are killed. For those disturbed by this tale being for a younger audience I will point out that fairy tales could be pretty gruesome as well. Granted, the deaths didn’t normally involved knives, swords, genetically modified dogs and insects, but there were plenty of children meeting their early demise in stories much older than The Hunger Games.

The vast difference of the world between those in the capitol city and those outside it are interesting. Those on the inside wear garish costumes while those on the outside are perfectly dressed for a Charles Dickens novel. The outside districts are about harvesting raw materials to keep those in the high tech city moving along. The dichotomy is intentional if not a little too on the nose. No matter, it’s made clear there are two classes in this society and one is there to work for the other. One class is so subservient it offers up its children to the world’s worst reality TV show.

Katniss is a teenage girl capable of taking care of herself. Early on we see how she moves fluently through the forest hunting food for family. She is convinced no one is looking out for her good. She probably has a point. Every year she lines up waiting to hear her name called for the honor to battle other kids to the death on television. When she discovers one of the keys to surviving and winning the game is to win the hearts of those in the audience, it’s as if she’s already lost. She is no nonsense; and pretending to enjoy the experience of being thrown into the lion’s den for entertainment purposes tips the nonsense scale. She and Peeta have advisors who guide them through the process. They attempt to make Katniss and Peeta as different and as winsome as any two competitors have ever been.

Once the games begin the excitement is less than one might expect considering the setup. The action set pieces are mostly not there. The moral dilemmas presented by the competition and the way the (mostly) reluctant participants go about it are often side stepped with quick and easy solutions. Since the focus is mostly on Katniss the other characters seem almost inconsequential, even as they die painful deaths. Thankfully there is enough cat and mouse action to hold interest. And while some have made a big deal about the shaky cam technique being awful, I thought it fit in nicely with the tight focus on Katniss’ story. Then again, I liked Cloverfield. Nothing goes too far off the rails until there are, inexplicably, miraculously created obstacles which appear out of nowhere on command from central control. Apparently we’re in a world where there is still a need for coal and other natural materials, but the ability to create fireballs and monster dogs out of thin air is easy peasy.

There is an unevenness to The Hunger Games, which is at least partially due to there being two more books to cover. The story is good and the execution is solid if not spectacular. Our reluctant heroine holds interest throughout, even in those moments when the parts don’t make a cohesive whole. There is enough here to serve as a good launching point for the next films. Of course, if we’re to read the tea leaves set forth by its predecessors (Harry Potter, Twilight), we’ll likely see more than two films follow this one. For better or worse.

[xrr rating=3.5/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfmrPu43DF8[/youtube]

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.

[xrr rating=2/5 label=” “]

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

[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OV_B1y5IZw[/youtube]