The Movie Snob is perplexed.

Calvary.  It is very rare that I find myself unable to give a movie a grade, but this is one of those times.  This movie held my attention.  It seemed competently made, and the acting was generally good.  But when it was over I felt like I had suffered something of a beating, and not in a cathartic sort of way.

Tough, gruff Brendan Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow) is Father James, a Catholic priest in a small Irish town on the coast somewhere. In the very first scene of the movie, he is hearing confessions, and someone we can’t see enters the confessional and starts talking to Father James.  It’s a man, and he’s not there to confess.  He tells Father James that as a child he was repeatedly raped by a Catholic priest, now dead, and in seven days he’s going to kill Father James–to get attention and make some sort of statement.  That’s grim enough, but the rest of the movie is basically just following Father James in his usual routine over the next several days, and it is nightmarish.  Father James is hardly perfect, but for all we can see, he is a quite decent man; yet, virtually all the townspeople treat him and his faith with mockery, dislike, and/or contempt.  (His grudgingly respectful altar boy is a notable exception.)  On a perhaps related note, the town is brimming over with sinful and squalid behavior, much of which the perpetrators deliberately and shamelessly fling in the priest’s face.  It kind of reminded me of the painting The Torment of St. Anthony, on display at our own Kimball Museum, in which the saint is plagued by all sorts of hideous demons.  Anyway, I found the movie dark and disturbing.  But different people will take the film different ways, I think.  A Los Angeles critic calls it “a serious-minded, lightly comedic rumination on life, death, faith, and community.”  A blurb on an ad for the movie calls it “an inventive whodunit with a pitch-black heart,” which I think is closer to the mark.  (Although it’s a “who said it,” not a “whodunit,” and that aspect of the movie didn’t seem all that inventive to me.)

The cast was mostly unknown to me, but I did recognize Kelly Reilly (Heaven Is For Real) as Father James’s daughter (no scandal there; he was married, then a widower, before he became a priest) and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) as a local butcher who may or may not be guilty of smacking his wife around.

Not recommended.

The Good, the Bad, and the God-Awful: 21st-Century Movie Reviews

The Movie Snob reviews a colleague’s work.

The Good, the Bad, and the God-Awful: 21st-Century Movie Reviews, by Kurt Loder (2011). Did you know that MTV’s Kurt Loder is a movie reviewer? Me neither. Since I like to see what my movie-reviewing competition is up to, I picked up this compendium of Loder’s work, and I hereby give it two enthusiastic thumbs up. It helps that he sticks to the current century, so the great majority of the movies under scrutiny are ones I have seen or at least heard something about. But then again, he doesn’t really need any help, because he is an engaging writer who keeps the reviews short and sweet—about two pages long, on average. And the reviews in the last chapter, which is devoted to recent work of Nicolas Cage, were laugh-out-loud funny. Loder publishes his reviews online for Reason magazine, and I have added a link to his webpage to this blog’s list of links. Look him up!


A new review from The Movie Snob.

Sorcerer (B+).  Many years ago, someone recommended this 1977 release to me.  This past Tuesday, the Magnolia Theater in Dallas showed it as part of its classic film series, so I jumped on the opportunity.  It’s about four men from different parts of the world who need to disappear for a while and wind up in the same backwater village (in Nicaragua, I think).  The movie takes its time introducing the characters and establishing the setting.  Low on funds and desperate to get out of the dumpy village, the four men sign up for a suicide mission–an oil company needs to have some dynamite hauled through 200 miles of jungle to extinguish an out-of-control oil-well fire.  Catch #1 — the dynamite is old and dangerously unstable.  Catch #2 — the trucks have to be cobbled together from several rusted old junkers.  Catch #3 — the trip is 200 miles through Nicaraguan jungle.  Although the movie is decidedly low-tech, director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) does a good job ratcheting up the tension, especially in the famous scene in which the trucks try to cross a raging river on a fraying old rope bridge that I wouldn’t have even wanted to walk across.  Roy Scheider (Jaws) plays the only American in the quartet, and I thought he did a great job.  Unfortunately, the movie opened right around the same time as Star Wars, and it flopped at the box office.  It’s definitely worth seeing if you ever get the chance.

Guardians of the Galaxy

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Guardians of the Galaxy  (B).  I did not have particularly high expectations for this sci-fi special-effects extravaganza, so that may have helped me enjoy it all the more.  I’m afraid a plot description will make it sound a little flat: a bad guy is searching for an ancient artifact of immense power that will help him rule the galaxy, and a band of misfits (the Guardians of the title) must try to stop his genocidal plans.  But it’s more clever than it sounds, and it’s generally a pretty light-hearted romp.  Likeable everyman Chris Pratt (The Five-Year Engagement) stars as Peter Quill, a Tomb Raideresque scoundrel who is really hoping his self-proclaimed nickname “Starlord” will catch on.  Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness) is his enemy-turned-ally Gamora.  Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) has many of the best lines as a roguish raccoon named Rocket who has somehow acquired the power of speech and the ability to fly spaceships.  Other notable faces show up, such as Glenn Close (The Stepford Wives), John C. Reilly (Walk Hard), and Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams).  The film is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action and violence and for some mild language.  I guess that’s about right, although I don’t really think mature 11 and 12-year-olds would have a problem with it.

22 Jump Street

New from The Movie Snob.

22 Jump Street  (D).  Mercy sakes alive, I saw this movie a week ago and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it?  This won’t be easy, because 22 Jump Street was not really designed to be a memorable movie-going experience.  If I had to guess, I’d say it was really designed to hoover up lots of dollars out of the wallets of average joes like me who enjoyed 21 Jump Street decently well.   Anyway, is helping me remember that in this sequel, goofball cop partners Schmidt (Jonah Hill, This Is the End) and Jenko (Channing Tatum, Side Effects) go undercover, posing as college students in order to find and bust the supplier of a new and dangerous drug.  They embrace their secret identities a little too thoroughly, causing a rift between them that they really need to heal before the climactic bust.  It’s pretty much same as the first movie, only not very funny.  Most of the laughs come from a palpably miserable college student named Mercedes (Jillian Bell, The Master), who does a couple of funny extended riffs (a la Melissa McCarthy) on how Schmidt looks way too old to be a college student.  And Ice Cube (Three Kings) was pretty funny as the perpetually-angry police captain.  He probably had to have that scowl surgically removed after this shoot was over.

Schindler’s List

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Schindler’s List  (A-).  I did not get around to seeing the winner of the 1994 Oscar for Best Picture until last night — I had bought the DVD years ago, but could never bring myself to watch it.  It is, of course, as good and as powerful as I had expected it to be.  A young Liam Neeson (Clash of the Titans) plays Oskar Schindler, an amoral, womanizing entrepreneur who moves to Krakow, Poland, and hatches a very successful plan to profit from WWII by using cheap Jewish laborers to manufacture things for the German army.  Gradually, his eyes are opened to the Nazi horror, and by the end of the movie he has spent his entire fortune on the bribes necessary to save the lives of some 1,100 Jews.  Neeson turns in a fine performance (Tom Hanks beat him out for the Best Actor Oscar for Philadelphia), as does a young Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) as Amon Goeth, the psychotic Nazi commandant of the labor camp outside Krakow.  (Tommy Lee Jones beat Fiennes for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Fugitive.)  Ebert included Schindler’s List in his first book The Great Movies, and with good reason.


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.” ( 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.