From the desk of The Movie Snob.
Aquaman (D). Nicole Kidman (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) stars in a beautiful romance about two star-crossed lovers. She’s royalty from the undersea kingdom of Atlantis; he’s a humble lighthouse keeper in Maine. One stormy night in 1985 he finds her on the shore, badly wounded in the course of escaping from an arranged marriage to some king or other. He nurses her back to health, she eats one of his goldfish, they fall in love, and a baby boy is born. But alas! The Atlanteans catch up with her, and to protect her husband and her son she must return to the ocean and become a fugitive. But, she tells her husband, if she ever finds a way to return to him, she will appear at the end of their dock at sunrise. She swims away. The end.
Ha! If only! Unfortunately the director spends only about ten minutes on the Kidman love story and then assaults us with over two hours of sublimely ridiculous blather about the superhero Aquaman (Jason Momoa, TV’s Baywatch: Hawaii) and his quest to recover the super-duper magic trident of Old King Blizz Blazz, take his rightful place as king of Atlantis (which involves one-on-one combat strongly reminiscent of Black Panther), and stop an all-out war between the Atlanteans and the human race. On the plus side, Aquaman does have a gorgeous sidekick in the person of Princess Mera (Amber Heard, The Rum Diary). On the minus side, there is everything else. And, by the way, Princess Mera seems every bit as competent as fishboy. Why can’t she grab the golden trident and take care of everything? Is it just because she’s a girl? For all their awesome technology, the Atlanteans sure aren’t very woke.
P.S. If this movie means that Nicole Kidman is going to start appearing at comic cons, I take it all back.
A new review from The Movie Snob.
Apollo 11 (A). Longtime readers of this blog know The Movie Snob doesn’t hand out the “A” very often. This new documentary was a solid “A.” It consists almost entirely of film footage and a few photographs from the first moon landing back in 1969. The first 20 minutes of the film’s efficient 93-minute run time lead up to lift-off. We briefly meet the astronauts and get lots of footage of the rocket, the control room, and the many, many ordinary folks who camped out to watch the historic event. Did you know there were a couple of pre-lift-off alarms about a leaky valve? Neither did I! But the countdown continues, and then we’re off and running. Even though we all know what happened, I was on the edge of my seat for every key moment of the mission–the rocket burns, the spaceship separations and dockings, and of course the landing of the moon lander itself. And there’s no contemporary voiceover; just a couple of snippets of Walter Cronkite’s reporting. It’s like a time capsule from 50 years ago. Check it out.
New from The Movie Snob.
Life in a Medieval Castle, by Joseph and Frances Gies (1974). I was an avid Dungeons & Dragons player back in the day, and at some point since then I heard this book described as a great description of, well, what life was like in medieval castles. So I when I saw a yellowed old copy at an estate sale recently, I snatched it up. It was decently interesting, but I wasn’t blown away. The early going was not so great, as the book seemed to bog down in little stories about all these different English castle owners, and who married whose daughter and who rebelled against whom. And although there are some photographs, they are generally very dark and of poor quality. Still, as the book shifted its focus to how people actually lived in and around medieval castles, their customs and traditions, it got pretty good. And at only 224 pages, it’s not a huge time investment.
Another book review from the so-called Movie Snob.
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (2016). I enjoyed Towles’s first novel, The Rules of Civility, and I enjoyed this one quite a bit too. It’s about Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who has returned to Russia from abroad shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1922, he gets hauled before a revolutionary tribunal and narrowly escapes execution. Instead he is sentenced to permanent house arrest—at the fabulous Metropol Hotel where he has been staying. The novel is the story of what happens to the Count after that. The writing is always graceful, and the Count is a well-drawn and endlessly amusing character. I found some parts of the story very moving, but others were maybe a shade too fairy-tale-like. And I wasn’t quite satisfied with the ending. But on the whole, I very much enjoyed the story and would recommend it to just about anyone.
From the desk of The Movie Snob.
The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works, translated and edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub (2017). The complete works and then some – this volume contains not only the ten “books” Caesar wrote about the Gallic Wars and the civil war he fought with Pompey, but also four other books about Caesar’s campaigns that were written by other authors. The translation is very readable (I’m in no position to judge its accuracy), and the stories are generally quite interesting. Sure, I occasionally got lost among the many proper names for places, tribes, and people I’d never heard of before, but I didn’t sweat that. One thing was a hoot – Caesar mentions the two soldiers at the center of the HBO miniseries Rome, by name, for their courage during a particular battle in the Gallic Wars! They were real people! Anyway, this edition is a massive chunk of a book because it contains lots of introductions, footnotes, maps, pictures, and appendices. I read the introductions and lots of the footnotes, and they added a lot to the stories. If you’re into the swords-and-sandals genre of history, this is a must-have.
From the pen of The Movie Snob.
The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis (2013). This novel has its strong points, but the cover blurb from NPR calling it the first Great American Novel of the 21st century seems way overblown to me. The book is divided into five major sections, and I thought the first two were the strongest. In “Book One,” the protagonist is a human-rights lawyer who’s called upon to travel to Haiti and help investigate the murder of an American woman—a woman he briefly knew and was dazzled by a couple of years earlier. Book Two is a harrowing look at a (different) woman and her young son trying to escape Croatia to safety at the tail end of World War II. Book Three, which seemed the longest, is about a seventeen-year-old American girl living in Istanbul with her diplomat father. It was pretty good. I thought the last two books kind of went off the rails. Anyway, I thought the writing was strong, but be warned that there’s a lot of sordid stuff in this tale. And, as I mentioned, I didn’t care for the wrap-up.
A DVD review from The Movie Snob.
Autumn Sonata (C). I have a shelf full of classics by the Criterion Collection, and it is high time I got more use out of them. So I pulled down this one, which is now the first Ingmar Bergman movie I have ever seen. It was a good choice for a cold, grey January morning. Autumn Sonata is a claustrophobic little family drama centering on the painful relationship between a woman and her grown daughter. Ingrid Bergman (Gaslight), appearing in her last theatrical release, plays the mother, Charlotte. She’s a world-class concert pianist, and it doesn’t take us long to figure out that her art always took precedence over her husband, her daughters, and pretty much everything else. Liv Ullman (Lost Horizon) plays her daughter, Eva, who is married to a minister in a small rural town. Charlotte and Eva haven’t seen each other in seven years, and when Charlotte accepts Eva’s invitation to come visit it doesn’t take too long before the two are hurting each other all over again. It’s a very talky movie, with some long monologues and lots of extreme close-ups. I didn’t love it, but it was worth seeing. The Criterion Collection version I own is a two-DVD set that include a three-and-a-half-hour “making of” documentary on disc two. I’m not sure I’m ever going to get around to watching all the bonus content….