Introduction Travel writing

travel writing lesson plan

 Travel writing 3 daily days


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Film review lesson plan


Short Story introduction

Short story lesson plan

Short story 3 days

Short story example THE SECRET

short story stories for class

juan bosh

Day 1:

  • Introduction: What is a Travel Writing?
  • When did it start?
  • Who does it?
  • Why do we do it?
  • Homework: Think of a place you have traveled to (It can be in the city or in a different state), and describe your experience there. Try to get as much detail as you can remember.
    — should be about a page long

Day 2
  • 4-5 volunteers present their “places” to the class (10 min)
  • Why is Travel writing important?
  • “Sponsor/ Explorer” Activity (3 part activity) :
    -Students will be paired up.
    -on the first day all students will be “explorers”.
    –“You are to go to a place in your house or your neighborhood that you have never been (without putting yourself in danger of course) and you will look at it through the eyes of an explorer. As we talked about it before Explorers were sent to look at the land and any inhabitants to see if it is worth investing more money to explore that area. It will be job to report back to your ‘sponsor’. It’s up to you to decide if your sponsor should spend more time and money in this place. Remember: Your sponsor has never seen this place and only has your descriptions to imagine it. Make sure to use detailed descriptions and comparisons to help them get a better picture.”
Day 3
  • “Sponsor/ explorer” activity part 2:
    —Students will exchange their Explorer reports with their partner and will read the report. Along with reading it, each student will draw what they believe the place looks like (the skills of the drawing is not important only that they are able to picture the place with detail.
    -then the pairs will take the position of the Sponsor: each will write their thoughts/response to the explorer in what they think was important and whether they agree or not of further exploration.
  • Homework: final clean copy of the Sponsor response. 
Day 4
  • 10 min Free write
  • 2-3 volunteers to give a summary of their responses
  • “Sponsor/ Explorer” part 3:
    – Pairs will trade their responses to the original explorer.
    -Then will use the responses to either elaborate more about the original place they went to or perhaps find a new place to describe.
Day 5
  • 10 min free write
  • “The whole story?”:
    –should we believe all that is written why or why not?
    –intro to what impacts the writing and journals. we will focus on each thing the coming week.
  • homework: final clean copy of the last explorer report 
Day 6
  • 10 min free write
  • Different sides to every story: examples
  • “The true story of the three little pigs” – by Jon Scieszka-
  • Easy A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKtJB97vo-U&feature=relmfu
  • Lecture: the need to examine other accounts of the events to get a more accurate account of the past.
Day 7
  • 5 min free write
  • The impact of being a male or female:
    — Female writers (in the readings we are doing) tend to focus on social aspects of the people and details in the home because women weren’t allowed to ‘over exert themselves’ by leaving the house. While the few that got to leave their home wrote a more emotional based letter. (examples as well. ) Compare to female writers now.
    — Male  writers wrote more about the politics and the scenery. Compare to the male writers now.
  • Writing: “Do you think that many of the features of male and female writings still occur? Why or why not? How does this effect the reader? Do you personally prefer to read male or female writing? Why?”
  • Homework: finish Writing prompt. (final copy due Thursday)
Day 8
  • 5 min free write
  • 1-2 presenting their “Male/female” writing response
  • Why does the audience matter?
    — discuss the different kind of audience in the past (with explorers)  then the present.
    –do writers change the way the write for each audience? Why?
  • “The reader” Activity: (40 min)
    Split the class into 5-6 groups depending on how many different “audiences” you want to focus on
    – each group will be given a specific type of “reader” from the past and the present
    —–past: priest, scientist, King/ Queen, explorer, farmer
    —–present: student, traveler, parent, doctor, teacher, linguist, business man
    -Each group will come up with characteristics/details that their “reader” wants to read in a report from an explorer and why this is important to that reader.
    for example: Farmers would be more worried about the land and if the weather was good for crops.
    —at the end they will present it to the class (2-3 min presentation each)
  • Homeowork: “Compare and Contrast the difference between the past readers and the present readers. What do we still look for now that they searched for then?” or “Compare 3 different readers in the past or the present, what do they have in common and what is different? Make sure to include what kind of details interest them and why.” (1-2 pages)
Day 9
  • 5 min free write
  • “Why are they going to this place?”: discuss the reasons why an explorer or writer will be going to a specific place and how that effects their writing. For example an explorer could exaggerate a bit so that he could stay in a place longer. (the city of gold? Cannibals and Amazons?)
    — example reading: Travel Writing: Ch. 7 (only ~10 pages) could have them read it before hand.
  • If a mom takes her child to the park she is going to be paying attention to certain things like her child’s safety and whether the child is having fun. What if a student studying child psychology takes her younger sibling to that park, will the student be paying attention to the same things?
Day 10
  • “Who is writing this?”: The history of the writer effects their point of view and what they pay attention to. (tie in day 9’s lesson)
  • “Who is writing this?” Activity: Class will be split into groups of 4. (preferably 2 boys and 2 girls)
    —each group will receive a picture of a place with a few people in it. They will each write down a description to someone “back home” (can choose parent, friend, or sibling.  (15-20 min)
  • the the group will trade and compare their writings. Writing down things that were similar and some details that they didn’t focus on but after the conversation realized it could be important. Also discuss how the audience made an impact on what they focused in their writing.
Day 11
  • 10 min free write
  • “Our lovely town” activity:
    Each student will choose a place in the neighborhood (it could be just the school or expand it to the whole town. It depends on how much your students will be able to do outside of class.) and they will get as much information about this place. They will spend the next two weeks working on making a two page spread all about this place. Getting pictures, describing the area, talking about the people that go there, and other unique characteristics about this place. In the end all the student’s work will be put together to make a book of “(# of students) must see places in our Neighborhood”
  • this day will mostly be used as an explanation of what the requirements and expectations are. MUST HAVE EXAMPLES FOR THE STUDENTS TO GET IDEAS FROM.
  • Homework: Pick a place for this project. Consider taking a picture or a drawing so that you can have a visual of this place for class. 
Day 12
  • “Descriptions” activity: students will pair up and be given a picture of something and then one will describe the picture while the other is drawing it. Kind of like Taboo excepts its so that the students begin to use more descriptive words. It also helps if there are a list of words that they have to use at some point during this activity.
    example: Brawny, Nimble, vivacious, elegant, gnarled, meek.
    (The level of difficulty is up to the teacher but use words that they might not hear very often so that they are exposed to new words. The lists also don’t have to be more than 5 words long, but make sure that the students have different words. That way if their partner doesn’t know the definition than the student will have to figure out another way to describe that word which can create connections between the words. )
    –They will get 5-7 minutes on each picture. Then they will switch partners and pictures. ** If the student was a drawer in the last pairing then he/she will be a describer in this round.
    —there should be enough time to do at least 5-6 rounds
  • Homework:  begin a description of your chosen place. (similar to the explorer report we did in the first week)
Day 13
  • “Is there a BEST way?” – talking about how travel writing has changed through out the years.
    examples:  blogging, video blogging, magazines, pictures/paintings, food.
  •  24 hours in New York: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4DQKtYL62Q
    —Do you feel like you know New York now? Why or why not?
  • Project: In class time to work on the descriptions. (should be ready for peer edit. 15-20 min)
    — begin a draft of what they want to add onto their pages./ What they want to include in it.
Day 14
  • 10 min free write
  • Project: Work on draft of what the pages will look like
    — students should have a pretty clear idea of what they want on their pages and how.
    –Peer review on writing descriptions.
  • Teacher should be coming around the room having helping with any questions and making suggestions.
  • it would also be helpful to have other pamphlets or books for the students to reference on the page layout and what to include. (such as pictures or drawings, what to bring to attention and what can be shortened to a summery.
Day 15- 20
  • computer lab:
    –students will be using Adobe Indesign to place their writing and any other images or graphics they will like to add to personalize their pages.
    –they must also include backdrops and other details to their pages.
    –it would be easier if there was an option of layout designs in which the students can start out with, this way there can be a structure to the book in total. However the teacher should press for creativity and personalization.
  • The teacher should be making rounds and having one-on-one conversations with each student. ** Also checking how their pages are going.
    — students should be including at least one description of the landscape, people and physical features. Something that connects the senses to the description (using a leaf or description of the smells and textures)
    —trying to let the kids creative and come up with their own ideas so it is okay if they do not want to use the Adobe to make their pages, but the writing must be legible. (you can always photoscan the pages)
  • Students will print out their pages and all pages will be put into a book.
  • But before its put into a book, students will present their pages/places and comment about why their place is special and worth seeing.
    –should be about 3-5 min long each


  1. Presentation: Clear voice,
  2. Page layout- structure, not cluttered, clear and quality of writing
  3. Writing: was their writing descriptive and it is clear that the student used the information gathered in the past weeks to write these pieces?
    —compare also to prior work– improvement*
Side notes:
  • Try to make time in in class to have one or two students present their writing from last night. Offer extra credit for their presenting but it’s important to not have the same people presenting each time. It is better to tell them in the first week of the lesson that each one will have to present at least once through out the month. That way they know that it is inevitable and can choose whether their writing is presentable or not. It is up to the teacher to decide if they would like to give extra credit or not for this. ***remember they will all be presenting their pages at the end of the Lesson so this is good practice.
  • Although there is a majority of writing assignments they are mostly to be corrected as completed/not completed. This is because a majority of the writing is just for practice.
  • Since a majority of the days are filled with activities it is important to stress to the students that missing a day could effect their grade as the activities will be graded  as participation. **this of course is excused if the child is excused from school. The teacher could then have something for them to make up the day. Or offer some sort of extra credit to make up for it. You want to be stern but not unfair.

Day 1:

  • Introduction: What is a short story?
  • What does it do?
  • Why do we call it a short story? How is it different than a novel?
  • Homework: Read section 1-3  The house on Mango Street

Day 2
  • 10 min Free write
  • Recieve 5 key terms & discuss
  • Read “My Name” from The House on Mango Street
  • Writing: “What does your name mean to you? Who picked your name? Do you think it fits you? why or why not?”  
  • Homework: Read “The Hitchhike Queen”
Day 3
  • Homework: Create an amazing first line for your story and have it ready for Thursday.  
Day 4
  • Collect “First lines”.
  • practice quiz: 5 key terms
  • trade with neighbor and correct out loud, then trade back so that the student can use it to study for the quiz the next day.
  • Read Section 13 (The house on Mango street): discussion (Why do you think the neighborhood stopped caring? Were they right or wrong to do so?)
  • Writing: “Do you think your neighborhood describes who you are? Why or why not?”
Day 5
  • Quiz on 5 key terms
  • “First Line” (Part 2) Teacher will have put all the submissions together on one sheet which can be printed or the lines can simply be put on the board. The students will then write down their top 3 choices on a piece of paper.
    – ask the class why they liked the top 3. What characteristics do they have?
    – The class will then write their individual stories using that line with the most votes.
  • Being rough draft of 1st short story (only one page long)
Day 6
  • 6 key terms- (Plot line terms)
  • “Walking the line” Activity: Class will be separated into groups of 5. Each group will read a different short story and their task will be to locate each part of the plot line within their story.
    example of the plot line:
Day 7
  • 10 min free write
  • Peer Review:
    1st trade: student will be looking for spelling errors.
    2nd trade: Reader will be looking for grammar mistakes,
    3rd trade: Reader will point out where each section of the plot line is.
Day 8
  • 10 min free write
  • Read Juan Bosch’s  : You may cut out excerpts so that the students don’t have to read all ten pages, but it is important for the teacher to read it in it’s entirety.  It is also possible to split it up into 2 parts and discuss 2 or three themes on this day and 2-3 on day 9.
  • looking at some children books (its up to the teacher to bring individual ones for the students or just read one to the whole class) discuss with the class if they found some of Bosch’s principles in the book. “Does this book have them all? What if they don’t/didnt? Is it still a good book? Why or why not?” ** this could also be a writing prompt.
  • Homework: read the rest of Bosch
Day 9

  • Discuss the reading- lead into discussion of the rest of the Bosch guidelines for a good story.
  • Read: “The Appointment in Samarra” (http://www.englishcorner.vacau.com/reading/samarra.html) and then compare it with Bosch’s guidelines. You can do the same writing prompt or discussion but now based on “The appointment in Samara”
  • “What did you like about this story?  Anything that bothered you? Does it follow Bosch’s guidelines? Why or why not?
Day 10
  • Quiz on 6 key terms
  • 1st short story presentations
Day 11
Day 12
  • “picking a subject” – Students are asked to write down a noun on a piece of paper. (This would probably work best if it was the first thing they did in class. ) Then have each student say what they wrote.
  • The subject on their paper will be what they will have to include in their next story. It is also important to give a specific theme for the students to focus their stories on. Examples: death, love, heartbreak. (I find that death is probably the best choice for this project)
  • Rough draft of 2nd short story
Day 13
Day 14
  • 4 key terms review
  • Peer review: Peer edit work sheet- (based on Bosch’s guidelines)
Day 15
  • Quiz on terms
  • Computer Lab day: Students should have final stories ready to be typed up in the computer lab.
    –should print out two copies.
Day 16
Day 17
  • 10 min free write
  • Read “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” – which leads into what they will be graded on during their presentations.
  • “Storytelling Activity”- in groups
  • one-on-one conference- all students should have their 1st short story back and be up to date on their current grade.
Day 18
  • review of all 20 key terms (jeopardy)
  • Preparing- students will take turns reading their story in each “station” (each focuses on one thing, for ex: sound effects, different voices, eye contact) The students should be rotating.
Day 19- 20
  • Short story presentations
  • Quiz on 20 key terms on day 20/friday
A good place for other stories: (http://talesetc.com/shortstoryindex01.htm)

“From paper to film” activity: 
—Separate students into three equal groups (less than ten), preferably based on the movie that they liked best. Try to get different types so that at least one will spark their interest. ** this is important because they’re going to have to read the books.
Group 1 will be reading “The Hunger games” Suzanne Collins
Group 2 will be reading “Minority Report” — By Philip K. Dick
Group 3 will be reading “Pride and Prejudice” / “My Sister’s Keeper” (this really depends on the interest of the students, I would like to give some of them a challange bit I also don’t want to drop them with a bomb. )
——–> Students will have about 10-12 school days to have the books finished and write a review on the entire book. Then the entire class will watch all three movies. Each students will write a movie review on all the movies that they did not read the book for. They will be graded on a comparison they write on the book and the movie.

The main point is to make reading seem less like school work and make it seem enjoyable. Not to mention I hope that the reviews and conversation within groups will help their communication and critical thinking skills.

The final grade will be on the Final Portfolio they turn in, which will have final versions of their work (including the comparison and movie reviews). This portfolio is supposed to be like them applying for a critic position and showing their past work.


**this is also assuming its a 50-60 min class for 25 days.


Day one:

  • What are movie reviews?
  • 1-2 Previews of three different movies (movies that were originally books)
  • Students will write their opinion of each review
  • Homework: “Which preview make you want to see the movie most? Why?” (about one page long, not just “because it looks cool”)
    –also bring in an example of a review: movie, book, play, musical, artist, album, restaurant etc.

Day two:

  • Discussion/recap of the previews we saw the first day (may give the students an opportunity to read out loud their homework.)
  • Discussion: “What is a good review”
  • Class activity with the samples that they brought in

Day three:

  • Students are separated into “book clubs” of 3 or 4. The other people in their group will also be reading the book they are reading. This group will be “Book Club A”
  • Instructions of how the reading will go and how they will have worksheets to fill out and turn in every Mondays and Friday (so as to encourage reading but not pile on reading every night. Hopefully this will also encourage time management.)
  • Handing out of the books and hopefully the last 20 min of class will be available to let them begin their books.
  • Homework: Reading 2 chapters & Reading outline due friday

Day Four:

  • 10 min free write – just about whatever pops into their brain. Get the writing juices flowing.
  • Book Club A
  • The last 20 minutes will again be provided to read their book. ** only to read the book. Not I-forgot-to-do-my-homework-for-next-hour time.
  • Homework: reading 2-3 chapters & outline due Friday

Day five:

  • Lecture: Structure of book reviews- what is important and such
  • Separate students into “Book Club B”. These Book Clubs will have a person from each group, so they will all be reading different books. They will then take turns explaining who the characters are in their books and what has happened so far. **Teacher should be walking around and listening to conversations.  — worksheets are turned in
  • Writing activity: Thoughts on how the books are going so far. “What do you like/dislike about it? What do you think of the characters? Is it believable?” (10-15 min)
  • ~10 min reading time
  • Homework: Reading & outlines (due Monday)
Day 10:
  • Lecture: Reviews on Music
    –with examples and a practice on a song the teacher plays.
  • Book Club A – (10-15 min) –worksheet turned in
  • ~10-15 min Reading
  • Homework: Reading & outline
    –review of an album or soundtrack of their choosing.
Day 13:
  • Discussion of what the Portfolios (holding a clean/final version of the different reviews done for the class) should look like and what they will be graded on. ** These will be returned after being graded for the student to keep.
  • Book Club B– sharing stories but without giving away the ending. (hopefully) (10-20 min)
  • 20 min Reading
  • Homework: Finish reading & Final Review draft

Day 14:

  • Book Club A– discussing the ending- Likes and dislikes (10-15 min)
    –peer editing rough drafts &  possibly some writing (20 min)
  • Lecture: Writing a movie review
  • Homework: Final Reviews on individual books due Friday

Day 15-20

  • Watching movies.
  • Students will have to write their reviews and their Comparisons (which should be 2-3 pages long). By the end of the week they should have 2 reviews and 1 comparison

Day 21

  • In class workshop:
    –Peer review of Reviews & comparison
  • Pick the final pieces that will be in portfolio

day 22-23 (may include another lab day if more time is needed to type up work or complete portfolio’s.)

  • Lab days: Typing up pieces for portfolio
  • one-on-one conversations with each student
  • possibly a final peer-review over whole portfolio
  • Homework: final Portfolios due on day 25

With the boom of the internet it has become much easier to share thoughts and opinions, not only with friends but also with complete strangers in a different part of the world. The world wide web has also opened up the genre of Review Writing for everyone to take part in. No longer is it limited to journalists who get paid for watching a movie, but also to the general audience.

In the early years of the theater, it was plays and musicals that would catch the attention of the readers in the paper or in pamphlets. However, back then it was the wealthy who not only had money to attend such shows but were capable of reading, therefore the audience for those reviews were the scholarly and upper class. As film began to spread throughout the country and grow as an industry it became more common for people to attend viewings. With a bigger audience review writers had to become conscious on who their information was targeting. Today there are many different kinds of reviews all targeting different audiences. Whether it be a mother of young children, a teenager, a college student or perhaps an older couple who are thinking about having a night out there are different kinds of reviews that are written for that target audience. All these different categories will not be found in the same place of course, some will be in papers or mother magazines, advertisements on YouTube or perhaps a sidebar on yahoo’s home page. Most of the time even the movie’s website will have a link to a few reviews given.

The fact that it is so easy to find movie reviews has a lot to do with the fact that anyone with a computer and internet has the ability to create a review on a movie, book, or album. Whether the review is mediocre or successful is quite different. A lot of writers might be giving their complete opinion but may not be really giving the reader enough information on the movie. For example  going on about how Taylor Lautner should be shirtless for the whole movie, might encourage Lautner fans to tune in but any other readers would have tuned out as the review said nothing of the action, storyline, or filming. Although there is no set structure many follow one like Movie Film reviews has:

Title of the movie

Paragraph 1
You will need to include the following: name of the film, prominent stars of the film, basic setting ( time and place), and type of film ( comedy, adventure, drama, etc.)

Paragraph 2
You will need to write a plot summary for the movie. Do not reveal the ending. Discuss at least 5 events and be sure to cover the entire scope of the movie, except the very end.

Paragraph 3
Discuss one aspect of filmmaking. You may choose from acting, direction, editing, costume design, set design, photography, background music, or anything else you may think of. Be sure that you are specific and cite examples from the movie.

Paragraph 4
Discuss another aspect of filmmaking. You may choose from acting, direction, editing, costume design, set design, photography, background music, or anything else you may think of, but obviously choose something different from what you discussed in the previous paragraph. Be sure that you are specific and cite examples from the movie.

Paragraph 5
Give your overall reaction to the film as well as your opinion on the quality of the film. also include your recommendations for potential viewers.

In most cases there is a picture of a scene from the movie or the movie poster next to the review, not only to catch the eye of a passing reader but also so that later if they are to see the image again they will also remember the review. This is quite the same for books, artists and albums although there are different things to focus on in each aspect of it. For example in book reviews the writer will be focusing on the meanings within the story, the characteristics of the setting and tone, not to mention the protagonist and the rest of the characters. However, for the majority of the time reviews are less than a page long. There are occasional ones that go into extreme detail and can be longer but To keep a passing reader’s attention it is better to keep it short.

The most important rule in Review Writing is: NEVER GIVE AWAY THE ENDING. Reviews are to either discourage or to encourage the reader to see the movie not completely void them of enjoying the plot line. Although it is possible to tiptoe around the ending, it is much better to leave the finale as a mystery and have the reader follow the plot twists till the very end. Just like how no one would have liked knowing the small detail in “The sixth sense” that completely changes the movie for the viewer.

As stated before it is very important to talk about the actual movie more than your own opinion as the review is on the movie itself including your personal take on it, not the other way around. It is also important to have correct grammar and no errors or misspelling or the review will lose its appeal. Perfect reviews do not appear out of thin air and even critics who get paid to write their likes and dislikes did not write their first review the day they were hired in. So read and reread before sharing it because spelling errors can really belittle any work. This would be something to bring up to students when teaching the subject as their work should not be expected to be perfect on their first try. It would also be valuable to demonstrate the different kinds of reviews and where the reviewers work. Showing them that this is a possible job opportunity could spark their motivation and provide more effort in the work done.

Annotated bibliography

Philbrick, R. (2012). Writing with writers. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/bookrev/index.htm

This site shows a lot of really good ideas and things to look out for when writing a book review. Not to mention it has a lot of tips for teachers. (It is Scholastic after all)

“Godfather”. (2012). Movie film review. Retrieved from http://www.moviefilmreview.com/ht

A website that actually allows people to post their own reviews, even giving them a web page of their own to display their work.  It also provides hints and tips on how to be a better review writer. It had a great map on the structure of movie review writing.

“El Estudiante”

Directed by Robert Girault, “El Estudiante” is a film in spanish about a man named, Chano (Jorge Lavat), who decides to return to college. Now in his 70s some of his friends tease him about going back to school but his wife, Alicia (Norma Lazareno), encourages him to go to the University of Guanajuato. Obviously the oldest man in class, Chano is surprised to see how much things have changed since he was first in school. As a sweet and easygoing man, Chano makes friends with a few of the students who refer to him as “el viejo” meaning “the old man” but it becomes apparent that they become quite fond of him. Realizing that the University will be putting on a play on Chano’s favorite book “Don Quixote” (which is as famous in Mexico as Shakespeare’s work is to the U.S.) his new friends urge him to participate and help mentor the actors so that they really understand the power and beauty of the words.
An amazing and inspiring tale, Guirault picked a great leading man to play the part. El Estudiante is a movie about life, family, love and most importantly about how it’s never too late to learn something new. Full of witty banter, amazing music and a heart wrenching end, makes this a perfect film for the family to enjoy.

Examples of reviews:

The Hunger Games by  Suzanne Collins

John Green

brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced…a futuristic novel every bit as good and as allegorically rich as Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies books…the considerable strength of the novel comes in Collins’s convincingly detailed world-building and her memorably complex and fascinating heroine. In fact, by not calling attention to itself, the text disappears in the way a good font does: nothing stands between Katniss and the reader, between Panem and America. This makes for an exhilarating narrative and a future we can fear and believe in, but it also allows us to see the similarities between Katniss’s world and ours.
—The New York Times


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows:

Rob Hunter

Guy Ritchie was far from the most obvious choice to direct a big budget, period action comedy that hoped to turn the Sherlock Holmes name into a 21st century franchise. But half a billion dollars (worldwide) later he found himself the man behind a monster hit… and its inevitable sequel.

Two years later, that sequel is now a reality, and the question becomes can Ritchie strike gold twice in a row with another entertaining blockbuster? Or has he delivered the Victorian equivalent of Speed 2: Cruise Control

Depending on how you look at it the answer sits somewhere in between. A Game of Shadows brings back the two major players in Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law), but instead of a generic villain with mysterious motivations we get Arthur Conan Doyle’s most notorious and evil mastermind pulling the strings and doling out the pain. Ritchie’s sequel tries to stick with the first film’s mix of stylish camera work, exciting set pieces, and witty banter between its leads, but unfortunately it falters almost as often as it succeeds.

Things haven’t changed too much for Holmes and Watson since their last adventure. Watson is on the verge of marrying his sweetheart, Mary (Kelly Reilly), and Holmes is busy designing and creating urban camouflage for indoor assassins. The great detective is doing more than just crafting patterned long johns though as he’s also hot on the trail of Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) who he believes to be behind a series of insidious criminal acts.

Like most sequels to successful films A Game of Shadows hews very close to its predecessor in regard to structure and tone, and while the balance isn’t as sure-footed it hits more often than it misses. Ritchie captures some fun and exciting set pieces including a drawn out fight between Holmes and a murderous Cossack and a chess game played both literally and metaphorically to great effect. The film’s cinematic highlight though is an action/chase sequence through the woods that utilizes sharp cinematography as well as the slow/zoom/speed-up style that was used so well in the first movie.

Less successful is a terribly staged, tone deaf set piece aboard a train that lacks suspense or anything resembling spatial awareness. The entire thing is played with Holmes in drag and as one big laugh fest except it’s entirely chuckle free.

It also highlights one of the script’s handful of issues as some actions and jumps in logic are entirely without explanation. Some conclusions seem pulled out of thin air, and while we know Holmes is a genius we should at least be able to follow his train of thought after the fact. Other problems in the otherwise successful script from husband-and-wife Kieran and Michele Mulroney (Dermot’s sister-in-law and brother!) include dialogue that serves almost exclusively as either exposition or jokes, a meandering second act, and the failure to offer anything of substance to its female characters.

Downey and Law are once again a charismatic duo who banter with the best of them even if Downey seems to be overplaying it at times. As he did with Iron Man and its sequel he seems to feel the follow-up performance needed more… Robert Downey Jr. Not a bad thing for the actor’s fans, but it hurts those who are there for the character. Stephen Fry actually earns more laughs in his turn as Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, as he takes a small role and makes every second count with timing, wit and more than a little skin.

Noomi Rapace is one of the film’s two main additions, and while she was unforgettable in her role as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy here she has nothing much to do. And she does it fairly blandly. Harris comes off much better as the deceptively mild Moriarty who is a truly malevolent genius incapable of resisting a challenge from Holmes. He replaces the need for physical intimidation with a brain that always seems five steps ahead of everyone else.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a lesser entertainment than its predecessor, but it’s still a fun and exciting adventure that breezes its way from beginning to end. Fans of the first film will still find much to enjoy here and will exit the theater looking forward to Holmes and Watson’s next grand mystery. Others may find it to be more of a mixed bag, but as big screen blockbusters go you can do far worse than this.

The Upside: Forest sequence is fairly stunning; some of the first film’s charm remains through fast and witty banter; ending is well structured; Jared Harris oozes menace.

The Downside: Train sequence is for shit; lack of focus through second act; overly comedic in tone; Noomi Rapace underwhelms due partly to a poorly written character; Rachel who?

On the Side: Noomi Rapace’s co-star from the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Michael Nyqvist, is also making his Hollywood debut this week with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.


A Rocket to the Moon

Alternative Press

It’s hard to believe that nearly a decade ago, a guy from South Florida with tattoos and a pompadour haircut changed music with just an acoustic guitar. Sure, Chris Carrabba didn’t invent the tender singer-songwriter tag, but the birth of Dashboard Confessional did much more than leave hair everywhere and give hormonal teenagers make-out music. It spawned an emo revolution.

As Carrabba moved further away from his acoustic-based tunes and more into full-band, MTV-ready fare, his sonic shift gave rise to a new wave of one-man-band imitators including Secondhand Serenade and Never Shout Never, each set on funneling the success of Dashboard Confessional into their own musical triumphs. On the surface, A Rocket To The Moon leader Nick Santino fits the Dashboard archetype well: a young, heartthrob-worthy poster boy with flamboyant hair and heavily inked arms. And, like Carrabba, he can write a damn good love song.

On Your Side, A Rocket To The Moon’s debut full-length, finds Santino & Co. splitting time between life-of-the-party pop (“Mr. Right,” the Def Leppard-esque “Give A Damn”) and tender heart-on-sleeve balladry (“On A Lonely Night,” “Baby Blue Eyes”). Twangy guitars underlie the disc’s more upbeat moments, including “Annabelle” and “She’s Killing Me,” pushing the band into the same sonic territory as the Maine and Brighten, but Santino never delves into riff ripping and melody biting.

Lyrically, On Your Side’s themes of love and loss are nothing new, but songs like the upbeat, uber-catchy “Dakota,” with its groove-heavy chorus and “ba da da” gang vocals, and the white-boy funk of “Sometimes” more than make up for any lyrical shortcomings. Instead, Santino puts his own spin on the pop-rock genre and emerges with a hook-filled disc that’s as diverse as it is refreshing. On Your Side might not reinvent the singer-songwriter wheel, but it gives it good reason to keep on spinning.