Danny Collins

New from The Movie Snob.

Danny Collins  (B+).  I am afraid my critical apparatus may be showing some signs of age.  Sappy, sentimental movies like last year’s St. Vincent and this current release are really striking a chord with me.  Al Pacino (Scarface) stars as the titular character, an aging rock star who lives and parties like Mick Jagger, even though the only hit song we hear him sing is a dreadful knock-off of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”  Anyhoo, we are quickly acquainted with Danny’s lifestyle, his mansion, his wise manager Frank (Christopher Plummer, Beginners), and his ridiculously too-young and too-uninhibited fiancee Sophie (Katarina Cas, The Wolf of Wall Street).  Then Frank surprises Danny with a thought-provoking gift, and Danny decides it is time to start squaring up some of life’s accounts.  Mainly, he sets out to meet the adult son he has long known about but never met.  It’s sappy, but it worked for me.  Nice supporting work by Bobby Cannavale (Chef) as Danny’s son Tom, Jennifer Garner (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) as Tom’s very pregnant wife, and Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) as the Hilton hotel manager that Danny attempts to court while visiting his son in New Jersey.  But Pacino steals the show as the flamboyant, often ridiculous, Danny Collins.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV.

Fugitive Alien (B+).  I got several big laughs out of this “movie” that was cobbled together from a Japanese TV series.  The “movie” is about a human-looking alien named Ken(!) who accidentally kills a fellow alien, becomes a fugitive from his own species, and joins a crew of human space travelers for some space-going adventures.  Oh, and because Ken killed her brother, Ken’s former lover is legally obliged to track him down, kill him, and take his head back to their home world.  Good riffing from Joel and the robots make this episode a treat.

Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (C-).  For some reason, this sequel to Fugitive Alien never really takes off.  The “movie” is just as bad as the first one, but the riffing never really gets going.  The really shocking thing is that Sandy Frank, the man responsible for importing these Japanese creations (and others, like Gamera) to America, actually agreed to be interviewed for this disc!  He comes off as a real wheeler-dealer kind of guy, and he has very little to say about his treatment at the hands of MST3K.

The Sword and the Dragon (B).  In this episode the guys riff on a 1956 Russian movie about a medieval peasant hero who rises up to help his prince defeat invading Mongol hordes and their three-headed dragon.  It’s a pretty good episode.  As extras, they’ve bundled onto the disc two MST3K shorts that weren’t originally associated with this episode, “Snow Thrills” and the truly hilarious “A Date With Your Family.”

Samson Versus the Vampire Women  (B).  This Mexican import is truly bizarre.  For about half the movie, it’s a standard, if lame, vampire yarn.  Some lady vampires need to abduct a specific young woman and turn her into their vampire queen, while the woman’s professor father, her fiancé, and the local police ineffectually try to protect her from the sinister but attractive vampiresses.  Halfway through the movie, a masked wrestler (complete with tight pants, cape, and no shirt) named Samson just shows up in the professor’s study and makes it his mission to defeat the vampires.  And nobody seems to think it is odd. The riffing is not bad, but the oddness of the movie alone is enough to make it worthwhile.

A Girl Like Her

The Movie Snob gets out to the movies.

A Girl Like Her  (B).  OK, what is a crusty old movie critic like me doing reviewing this movie about bullying in high school?  Well, I have a confession to make: I watch The Young and the Restless.  Yes, the soap opera.  My mom has been visiting me for a while, and she watches it, so now we watch it together.  It hasn’t taken long for me to see all the soap-opera stereotypes in their blazing, off-the-rails glory.  Long-lost identical twins.  Secret identities.  Blackmail.  Amnesia.  Year-long comas and miraculous recoveries.  And tangled intra-family dalliances that make the Oedipus family look like the Cleavers.

What this has to do with the movie is that a major cast member of Y&R (Hunter King, sister of Joey King from Oz the Great and Powerful) stars in A Girl Like Her as The Bully, and so I decided I just had to check it out.  The movie is quite a bit better than the lame after-school special I was expecting, and I thought King was actually a pretty good actress.  In the early going, bullying victim Jessica (Lexi Ainsworth, TV’s General Hospital) swallows a bunch of pills and lands herself in a coma(!).  For the rest of the movie, we are either following the investigation of this attempted suicide as it zeroes in on King’s character, Avery, or watching “flashbacks” courtesy of amateur videotaping by Jessica’s best pal Brian, who documented the bullying but tragically let Jessica prevent him from going to the authorities.  The movie is shamelessly manipulative—who wants to see Jessica’s nice parents crying in her hospital room? Or sweet Jessica crying after a bullying episode?—but it also does a decent job of humanizing Avery without excusing her awful behavior.  Not a bad movie.

A Literary Education, and Other Essays (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

A Literary Education, and Other Essays, by Joseph Epstein (Axios 2014).  I love Epstein’s writing.  I own several of his books, and this new collection of his essays may be my favorite yet.  He was a teacher of English and writing at Northwestern for many years, and he was also the long-time editor of Phi Beta Kappa’s quarterly publication The American Scholar.  And he is a very engaging writer himself.  The essays in this collections are grouped into several categories, and although I enjoyed them all, the autobiographical ones and the ones about the current state of higher education stand out as being exceptionally exceptional.  If you enjoy reading, you owe it to yourself to give Epstein a try.

Oklahoma!

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Oklahoma!  (C).  Well, this 1955 musical didn’t really do it for me, as you can tell by my grade.  I’m not sure why I didn’t like it more, because the songs are undeniably catchy, and Shirley Jones (TV’s The Partridge Family) makes a very cute Laurie.  The story is paper-thin, but that’s not really a valid objection to a movie musical.  It isn’t Crime and Punishment, after all.  I think what turned me off were the several extended dance interludes, which seemed to go on forever.  The balletic dance that goes on in Laurie’s mind after she takes a whiff of the traveling salesman’s perfume was a particularly long and psychedelic sequence that went on interminably.  Still, the songs really were top-notch.  I was surprised to learn that Oklahoma! was directed by Fred Zinneman, who also directed From Here to EternityA Man for All Seasons, and High Noon.

High Rising (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

High Rising, by Angela Thirkell. This is a British novel that was first published in 1933. Apparently Thirkell published a whole series of novels set in a fictional farming area called Barsetshire, and this is the first of them. It is mostly about a youngish widow named Laura Morland, who is a successful author, and her colorful friends and her rambunctious youngest son, Tony. It sort of reminded me of Jane Austen, since it’s largely about country folk and whether the eligible men and women in the area will pair off correctly. And it sort of reminded me of Jan Karon, whose Mitford books are very fluffy and completely devoid of sex, profanity, and violence. It was a pleasant-enough read, and at only 233 pages, not a huge investment of time.

The Quiet Man

The Movie Snob reviews another classic.

The Quiet Man  (C-).  This 1952 release was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar©, and John Ford (Stagecoach) took the statuette home for Best Director, but it really isn’t all that great a movie.  John Wayne (True Grit) stars as Sean Thornton, an Irishman long away in America and now returning to the village of Innisfree, where he was born.  He immediately falls in love with Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara, The Parent Trap), a lovely lass with fiery red hair and a temper to boot.  The main complication is that Sean antagonized Mary Kate’s brother Will as soon as he arrived in town, and in the conservative Irish society of the time, Will’s word is law within the family.  That’s all fine, but the film is way over the top in sentimentalizing Ireland and the Irish.  Even more grating on modern sensibilities is the film’s complacency about the mistreatment of women.  There are a couple of allusions to the acceptability of wife-beating, and Sean even manhandles Mary Kate once or twice.  The film is pretty to look at, though.  (It also took home the Oscar® for Best Cinematography.)