Captain America: The First Avenger

The Movie Snob does his homework.

Captain America: The First Avenger  (B).  Well, I figured I should see this 2011 release before I head out to see the sequel that is currently crushing the box office.  It is a solid, workmanlike superhero movie.  Told almost entirely in flashback, it is the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, The Nanny Diaries), a skinny asthmatic kid who desperately wants to fight for America in WWII.  Rejected by the normal military, he willingly becomes a guinea pig in a top-secret government program to create super-soldiers.  Unfortunately, some bad guys blow up the program and kill the head scientist guy shortly after Steve’s gotten all buff, but how many Captain Americas do you really need to win a war?  Tommy Lee Jones (Hope Springs) is the gruff Army guy with a heart of gold.  Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) is the bad guy.  And the attractive Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) is given a decent amount of screentime and virtually nothing to do as a British agent attached, for some reason, to the super-soldier project.  It’s a decent, straight-ahead action movie, and I quite enjoyed it.  Its relative brevity (124 minutes) is another plus.

The Baker’s Wife (stage review)

New from The Movie Snob.

The Baker’s Wife  (B-).  This was my first experience with Pfamily Arts in Plano–in fact, I had never heard of this venue up in Plano until a week or so ago.  Then I saw a notice in The Dallas Morning News that this 1976 musical “may be one of the best musicals that never played on Broadway,” and that music and lyrics were by Stephen Schwartz, the composer behind Wicked.  So I made plans to go.  But then shortly before showtime I saw a review at TheaterJones.com that praised the production and performances but blasted the musical itself.  But lowered expectations can be a good thing, and I enjoyed it well enough.  A middle-aged baker moves into a small French village with his beautiful and much younger wife Genevieve, which sets the whole village talking.  Genevieve doesn’t seem too much in love with her husband, and a handsome young buck sets his sights on stealing her away.  And then he succeeds!  Scandal!  The baker quits baking, and the villagers try to find Genevieve and persuade her to go back to her husband.  The story is a little weak; I don’t think it was made clear why Genevieve married the baker in the first place, nor does her big number is which she explains why she decides to leave the younger guy really do much explainin’.  And, as TheaterJones points out, the village men are generally irritating or downright nasty.  But hey, not every musical can be Man of La Mancha, right?  The performances and set design were good, and the gal who played Genevieve kind of looked like Kate Beckinsale (Total Recall).  I didn’t regret seeing it.

Big Trouble in Little China

The Movie Snob revisits a blast from the past.

Big Trouble in Little China (B). I recently revisited this excellent (relatively speaking) B movie from the 80s. Kurt Russell (Escape From New York) delivers a great performance as Jack Burton, a clueless but hugely self-impressed truck driver who accidentally gets drawn into a buddy’s quest to rescue his fiancée from a 2,000-year-old evil Chinese sorcerer named Lo Pan (James Hong, Blade Runner). It’s full of ridiculous fight scenes, great-for-the-time special effects, and a breathy performance by a young Kim Cattrall (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Oh, and also Sex and the City.) I loved it when it was released back in 1986, and I still get a kick out of it today. The DVD also contains a commentary track by Kurt Russell and director John Carpenter (Halloween), and although it’s mostly them just reminiscing about old times and people they knew, it was still kind of entertaining.

Noah

The Movie Snob gets wet.

Noah  (B+).  If you are of a certain age, perhaps you too remember a movie from your childhood called In Search of Noah’s Ark, which rather sensationally depicted some guy’s story that he had stumbled across the remains of a giant wooden ship in the high snowy reaches of Mount Ararat.  I guess he had trouble re-finding the exact spot, because I never heard about any subsequent expedition triumphantly sledding it down the mountain.  Anyway, that movie made a big impression on me, and so I was looking forward to seeing this new movie from Darren Aronofsky, director of Black Swan, among others.  I thought it was a very interesting take on the story, and pretty exciting considering that we know how it all comes out in the end.  Russell Crowe (Les Miserables) makes a good Noah, a man consumed with disgust for mankind’s wickedness and with the desire to know and do the will of the Creator.  Jennifer Connelly (Inkheart) plays his long-suffering wife, and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, This Is the End) plays the grown-up version of a waif adopted by the Noah family in the pre-ark years.  Oh, and good old Anthony Hopkins (Thor: The Dark World) turns up as Noah’s grandfather Methusaleh.  The movie is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and brief suggestive content, so don’t take the little ones.  And don’t expect complete fidelity to Genesis 6-9.  That said, I was quite entertained and intrigued by the film.  For a Catholic priest’s review of the film, click here.

Divergent – a second opinion

A second opinion from The Movie Snob.

Divergent  (D).  It seems to me that the young-heroine-opposes-hideous-dystopia genre is getting stale in a hurry.  (For The Borg Queen’s recent review of this film, with complete plot summary, click here.)  In my humble opinion, this film is too long (2 hours, 19 minutes), the action sequences are too lame, and the arbitrary rules governing this particular futureworld are just too goofy to go along with.  Shailene Woodley, who I thought was very good in The Descendants and perfectly adequate in The Spectacular Now, doesn’t distinguish herself in the leading role of Katniss, er, I mean Tris, future leader of the rebellion.  (Interestingly, the film also features Miles Teller, who played Woodley’s boyfriend in The Spectacular Now, and Ansel Elgort (Carrie), who will play her boyfriend in the upcoming The Fault In Our Stars.)  Kate Winslet (Titanic) channels her inner Jodie Foster (Elysium) as the head baddie.  Anyhow, almost the entire movie is consumed with Tris’s training as she becomes a member of the Dauntless faction.  It’s just not that interesting.  Skip it.

300: Rise of an Empire

A new review from The Movie Snob.

300: Rise of an Empire  (C).  I kind of liked the first 300, a garish and gory spectacle in which Gerard Butler (The Ugly Truth) led 300 mighty Spartans against the entire Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae.  The sequel ups the ante with barrels of gore and a fair number of severed heads and limbs, but somehow it’s just not as much fun as the original.  This time around the focus is on the Athenian naval resistance to the Persian invasion of Greece, and part of the problem may be that Athenians aren’t as cool as Spartans.  Their leader, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton, December Boys), may be a tactical genius, but he’s also kind of a wet blanket, and the rest of the Athenians are a bland bunch indeed.  It’s up to Eva Green (Casino Royale) to liven up the proceedings as the villainous Persian naval commander Artemisia, and she delivers the goods with a wild, over-the-top performance that really must be seen to be believed.  I mean, any old villain can cut off the head of a luckless Athenian prisoner of war, but who would think to give the severed head a passionate and lingering kiss before casually tossing it aside?  Artemisia, that’s who.  And her one-on-one parley with Themistocles right before the climactic battle does strike a few sparks (and cause a few bruises, I daresay).  But when Green’s off-screen, Rise of an Empire is really a fairly dull affair.

The Bad Girl (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Bad Girl, by Mario Vargas Llosa (2006) (translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman). I put this book on my Amazon.com wish list after reading a favorable review a long, long while back, and it finally found its way into my grubby mitts. I had never read any Llosa before, but according to the cover he is a Nobel Prize winner. Anyhoo, I was pretty much spellbound by this novel. The first-person narrator, Ricardo Somocurcio, is a fairly ordinary teenaged boy living in Lima, Peru, in the 1950s. One summer he meets the titular character, a fascinating girl named Lily, and he falls hopelessly in love with her. She really is trouble, though, and she disappears from his life as suddenly as she appeared. Ricardo moves to Paris and becomes a modestly successful translator and interpreter. Like Halley’s Comet, the bad girl keeps coming back into his life, and Ricardito, her “good boy,” seems incapable of turning her away. The side stories about Ricardo’s family, friends, and colleagues are just as interesting as the main story about the bad girl. I really found this novel hard to put down.