MST3K: Volume XXIII

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIII.

King Dinosaur (B). This episode starts with a short, and as usual it is even funnier than the feature film being riffed. The short is “X Marks the Spot,” a production of the New Jersey Department of Transportation about a guy whose terrible driving lands him in an afterlife courtroom where he is half-heartedly defended by a sort of guardian angel. The feature, King Dinosaur, is a pretty good episode about four scientists who travel to a “lost continent” kind of planet. The disc also features a long and decently interesting bonus documentary about Robert Lippert, who produced some MST3K fodder such as Last of the Wild Horses.

The Castle of Fu Manchu (D). Wow, this movie is really, really horrible. Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) stars as the evil Fu Manchu, and he is masterminding some incomprehensible scheme to destroy mankind by turning all the oceans into ice, while simultaneously taking over the opium trade from a castle in Istanbul. Seriously, this movie is worse than Manos: Hands of Fate, it makes so little sense. And is so badly shot and edited. Even the guys on the Satellite of Love can’t make it entertaining. Skip it.

Code Name: Diamond Head (B). This is a decent episode in which the guys riff on a 1977 TV pilot about spies in Hawaii. Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) plays the villain, a master of disguise. I didn’t understand why the guys kept calling him “Lovejoy,” but apparently it was a TV role in which McShane played a “loveable rogue and an antiques dealer.” (IMDB.com) The episode kicks off with an amusing short, “A Day at the Fair.”

Last of the Wild Horses (C-). This weaker-than-usual episode riffs a lame Western about a beefy would-be stagecoach robber who gets mixed up in a range war between a wealthy rancher and a bunch of little ranchers. Kind of like the 1% versus the 99%, but with horses.

A Wrinkle in Time (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (1962). A friend told me that she had loved this book as a child, and it’s a famous science-fiction book to boot, so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s mainly about a girl named Meg and her little brother with the large name of Charles Wallace. Before the book’s action starts, their scientist father departed on a secret mission, and by the time the story begins the children and their mother haven’t heard from him in a very long time. Then the children are unexpectedly caught up in a space-and-time-bending adventure to try to rescue their father—and save themselves—from a powerful evil entity or force. The details are a little hazy, and the climax is a little quick, but it was still an interesting read—not least because there are a couple of respectful references to biblical religion in the course of the story. In a science-fiction book, no less!

Life Itself

The Movie Snob sees a tribute to a colleague.

Life Itself  (B).  Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) brings us this movie about the life and times of world-famous movie critic Roger Ebert.  I thought it was very well done, going all the way back to his upbringing as an only child, his college years and his early years in journalism, and then his ascent to stardom after he became (and not at his own request) the movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper.  Of course there’s a decent amount of material about his TV show and rocky relationship with fellow movie critic Gene Siskel, who predeceased him by several years.  There is also lots of footage of Ebert’s sadly debilitated final years, after two bouts of cancer in the area of his lower jaw.  Ultimately, his jawbone had to be removed, and he never spoke, or orally ate or drank, again.  Watching Ebert struggle with rehab and his declining health, and the suffering of his wife Chaz, really becomes rather hard to watch by the end.  But it’s a good movie and worth seeing–even if a little horrifying to those of us who are getting to be a certain age.

Snowpiercer

The Movie Snob checks out a new sci-fi flick.

Snowpiercer (B). Here’s a weird take on the whole dystopia/end-of-the-world thing. Mankind tries to correct global warming and accidentally freezes the entire planet solid. Seventeen years later, the remnant of humanity is surviving on—are you ready for this?—a souped-up train that never stops and circumnavigates the globe once a year. To make matters worse, the survivors are organized like the passengers on the Titanic: a few super-favored people live in luxury in the forward cars, while the huddled masses live in squalor in the tail end of the train. Led by Chris “Captain America” Evans, the proletariat rises up and tries to take its revolution all the way to the front of the train and to the mysterious engineer “Wilford,” who supposedly built the train and still tends its engine. It’s very violent and goofy as all get-out, but it’s never boring. Also starring Octavia Spencer (The Help) and John Hurt (Only Lovers Left Alive) as proletarians and Tilda Swinton (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as a weird functionary from the front of the train.

Begin Again

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Begin Again (B). Remember that sweet little Irish movie Once from several years ago? Writer-director John Carney is back with another movie about the power of music, only this time it’s set in New York and he has actual movie stars in it.   Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) plays a down-and-out record executive named Dan who is stirred back to something like life when he hears a winsome gal named Greta (Keira Knightley, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) playing acoustic guitar and singing one of her own songs in a bar. She’s emotionally bruised herself, having been recently dumped by her rock-star boyfriend (Adam Levine, TV’s The Voice). Unable to get record-label attention without a demo, Dan and Greta set out to record an entire album in various NYC locales. It goes beyond being a feel-good movie; I’d have to call it a fairy tale, since some potentially serious problems (like Dan’s relationship with the adolescent daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, 3 Days to Kill) he ran out on) seem to just take care of themselves. But the actors turn in nice performances, and nobody does winsome like Keira Knightley, so just go with it and you should have a good time. There was a smattering of applause in the theater after the movie was over, so I’m not the only person who liked it.

Jersey Boys

The Movie Snob takes in a musical.

Jersey Boys (A-). Critical reactions to this new film by director Client Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima) have been mixed, but I am not ashamed to say that I loved it. (So did the rest of the theater, which erupted in applause at the end.) Based on a Broadway musical I have never seen, this is a biopic about the pop music group Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. The story arc is not too different from that of another favorite movie of mine, That Thing You Do! Some young guys are hanging out together, trying to make a go of it as musicians but working other jobs on the side. A new guy comes on board (not Frankie Valli—keyboardist and songwriter Bob Guardio), and after paying their dues for a while the boys finally make it big. To love the movie as much as I did, you probably need to love the music of The Four Seasons too, since there is quite a lot of it in the movie. The focus is tightly on the band’s triumphs and troubles; we see very little of Frankie’s home life and none of anyone else’s. But, bottom line, I thought it was well made and interesting throughout. Virtually all the actors were unknown to me, aside from Christopher Walken (Hairspray) as a fairly unthreatening mobster who takes Frankie under his wing. Give it a try—and prepare to be humming Four Seasons melodies for the next couple of days.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (D). Imagine Gladiator stretched out to three hours. Take out all the good parts and substitute some long, boring speeches. Now you’ve got the gist of this 1964 epic starring Alec Guiness (Star Wars) as Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) as his unbalanced son Commodus, Sophia Loren (Man of La Mancha) as his daughter Lucilla, and Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur) as the doughty Roman general to whom Marcus Aurelius intends to bequeath the Roman Empire. As we know from Gladiator (and even from actual history), Commodus became emperor after Marcus Aurelius’s death, and things generally kind of went downhill for the next few centuries. The sets and costumes and epic sprawl are all fabulous, but the script is flatter than a pancake, Loren can’t act, and scenes seems to drag on forever without anything ever actually happening. I watched a couple of the bonus features on the DVD, and they were more interesting than the movie itself. If you see this movie in the bargain bin at Walmart, try to resist the urge to buy it.