The Length of Love (The Book of Life, 2014)

Book_of_Life_posterLa Muerta rules over the joyful Land of the Remembered, while Xibalba rules over the Land of the Forgotten. He tries to convince La Muerta to change sides, but she is not interested.  He proposes a wager. Observing the rivalry of two young boys (Manolo and Joaquin) over their friend Maria, each god chooses a boy as the one who will marry Maria.

La Muerta disguises herself as an old woman who asks if Manolo might give her a piece of bread.  Instead he generously offers a full loaf. Xibalba tries the same thing, but Joaquin is not so giving. Maria is sent off by her father, returning years later.  Sensing Maria is favoring Manolo, Xibalba tricks Manolo into giving up his life.

In the afterlife, Manolo discovers he has been duped and seeks the help of La Muerta.

The design of this film is remarkably charming.  The framing device is that a museum tour guide is telling the story, and all the characters look like wooden puppets.

The Land of the Dead is a wonderfully bright and colorful world. The characters are full of charm. La Muerta is a kind and gentle, yet fearless goddess.  Xibalba on the other hand is both scheming and yet friendly (he is voiced by Ron Perlman, whose performance is just a lot of fun).  And while the story frames Manolo as a kind and generous artist and Joaquin as a cheerful braggart? Joaquin is not a villain.  The story is pitting the two against each other, and it obviously favors Manolo as the man for Maria. But Joaquin is seen as simply misguided and in need of a lesson. The film has sympathy for him.  And then there is Maria.  She is not interested in belonging to anyone and regularly challenges her two friends. And there is Chuy the pig who makes a sound like a goat.

The music of the Book of Life blends American Pop music with latin flavors to great effect.  But the highlight are the two original tunes I Love You To Much and the Apology Song.

The Book of Life is a charming fairy tale of love, loss and rebirth.

Family Road Trip (Vacation, 2015)

vacation_posterThe National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise is an uneven one.  The original is a quotable classic, as is Christmas Vacation.  European Vacation has it’s moments and Vegas Vacation?  Well, it is Vegas Vacation.

National Lampoon has been dropped from the title for this updated tale of a Griswold Family Vacation.  This time around it focuses on Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate).  Pilot Rusty is inspired to take his wife and two sons on the very same road trip to Wally World as his father took him on.  In one of the more clever sequences of the film Rusty and Debbie argue whether a new Vacation is a good idea.  The whole discussion is a veiled defense of this fourth sequel.  Who remembers the Vacation from thirty years ago?  Why take the same trip? How is it any different?

Alas, most of the film is not quite as clever.  Don’t get me wrong, I did laugh.  But the film just never quite reaches the heights of either the original or Christmas Vacation.  It tries, mostly through rude and gross-out humor, but really, the truth is? Chase just brought a level of heart to the character of Clark Griswold that Helms never seems to have here.

Clark’s failures were a byproduct of major devotion to what he believed family should be.  His awkwardness was his belief in how he should be as a father and husband.  And while Helms’ Rusty pays words to this…it just feels less…real.

The film has a good cast, but the film itself never gels as well as the best of the Vacation films.  The writing never gives the cast any real heart to work with.

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