Arrival

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Arrival  (C).  The critics are giving this cerebral new sci-fi flick a lot of love, but I just can’t join the chorus.  The set-up is one you’ve probably seen before: giant alien spaceships suddenly appear in several different locations around the globe.  They appear to resist or ignore our efforts to communicate with them–at first.  A serious army guy (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland) recruits a top-notch linguist (Amy Adams, Man of Steel) to help with the communication efforts concerning a spaceship in Montana.  She teams up with a physicist (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker) who is somehow also supposed to be able to help crack the aliens’ language.  Meanwhile, military guys around the globe are getting really itchy trigger fingers.  Although I agree with the critics who are lauding Adams’s lead performance, the movie as a whole just didn’t really do it for me.  I liked director Denis Villeneuve’s last effort, Sicario, much better.  But maybe I just wasn’t smart enough for this one.

The Warden (book review)

The Movie Snob pens a book review.

The Warden, by Anthony Trollope (1855).  I quite enjoyed this short (203 pages) novel, which is the first by Trollope I have ever read.  The action takes place mainly in a fictional area of England called Barsetshire, and I think most fans of Jane Austen (and perhaps Downton Abbey) might feel quite at home here.  The action of the story is quite simple.  The “warden” is Septimus Harding, a mild, minor Anglican clergyman.  For several years, he has had a comfortable living off a very old charitable bequest, for which all he has to do is look after twelve impoverished old men who have come to live at a place called Hiram’s Hospital.  But similar arrangements are coming under scrutiny in other parts of England, and there have been scandals when people discovered that the modern arrangements don’t really match up to the terms of the ancient bequests.  When a fellow of reforming temperament starts to look into Rev. Harding’s set-up, the good clergyman is shaken to the core to think that he has not been entitled to the money he has taken from the trust and rather freely spent over the years.  A fierce archdeacon (who happens to be Rev. Harding’s son-in-law) fights back vigorously against the reformer and assures his father-in-law that they will prevail in court, but to Rev. Harding’s credit he doesn’t want to win—he wants to be right.  It’s an enjoyable story, and although the stakes are pretty low, I still found myself sympathizing with Rev. Harding’s distress.

Mistborn (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson (2006).  A friend recommended this fantasy novel to me, and I liked it.  This fantasy world is a dismal place.  Ash frequently rains from the sky, most people are serfs or slaves, and there’s a nasty Lord Ruler who has tyrannized the realm for like 1,000 years.  But a few people still dare to plot his overthrow, and a resourceful young female thief named Vin gets pulled into their seemingly suicidal circle.  The system of magic in this world is pretty complicated, and I didn’t really try to follow it all that closely.  Only a relatively few people have magical powers, and to access them they have to ingest and “burn” various metals to achieve the particular metals’ magical effects.  (One of the main magical effects these people can pull off is to manipulate metal a lot like Magneto from X-Men.)  Anyway, I enjoyed it even without trying to remember what all the different metals can do.  Apparently it is the first book in a substantial series, but it also works as a stand-alone tale.

Offshore (book review)

Another book review from The Movie Snob.

Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979).  This is another very short novel by Fitzgerald.  I liked the first novel of hers that I read, The Bookshop, and I liked this one even better.  It’s about a handful of interesting characters who live on boats (mostly on barges lashed together) docked out on the Thames.  Apparently Fitzgerald herself actually lived on such a houseboat for a while, so it may be somewhat autobiographical.  I won’t go into the plot since it is a very short book, but I will say that I found the characters interesting and their stories involving.  Six-year-old Tilda (Matilda) James is particularly likeable.  I recommend it.

The Clockwork Universe (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick (2011).  Aw.  I just pulled this book off the shelf and discovered it still bore a price tag from my beloved Borders Bookstore, may it rest in peace.  Anyway, this is an enjoyable read about the scientific revolution in and around the time of Sir Isaac Newton.  Dolnick keeps it pretty simple and even interesting, which is saying something considering that I generally find science pretty boring.  But Dolnick knows how to tell a story, leavening the science stuff with juicy tidbits about the plague, methods of execution, and the wicked personal rivalries between some of the scientific figures of the day.  I plan to send this volume on to my scientist sister and see what she thinks of it.

Mystery Science Theater: Volume XXVI

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI.

The Magic Sword.  (C).  I don’t know, somehow this one just should have been funnier.  It’s a lame 1962 swords-and-sorcery flick in which Sir George (Gary Lockwood, 2001:A Space Odyssey) has to defeat an evil wizard (Basil Rathbone, The Hound of the Baskervilles) and rescue a beautiful princess (Anne Helm, Follow That Dream).  There’s so much material to work with, like George’s six assistant knights who get killed faster than bugs in a Raid commercial, and his inept sorceress foster mother, I don’t know why it wasn’t funnier.  The really amazing thing is that director Bert I. Gordon, whose movies were regularly skewered on MST3K, agreed to sit down for a documentary short about his career.  What a good sport!

Alien From L.A.  (D).  Yes, this is the 1988 cheesefest starring Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kathy Ireland (Necessary Roughness).  She plays a clueless loser named Wanda who, through a series of ridiculous events, finds herself playing Indiana Jones in the lost city of Atlantis, far below the earth’s surface.  I think the director made her inhale helium before she read every line, because her voice was impossibly squeaky.  Unfortunately, the MST guys couldn’t do much with this one.  It just wasn’t very funny.

The Mole People.  (B).  This is a pretty good episode.  Some archaeologists (including Hugh Beaumont of Leave It To Beaver fame) find their way into a subterranean world inhabited by an ancient race of albino Sumerians.  The top archaeologist, a square-jawed John-Wayne soundalike, subdues the entire race with his trusty flashlight and courts a comely non-albino lass who happens to be among the mole people.  Pretty entertaining, with some laugh-out-loud riffs.  A decent short documentary about the film also appears on the disc.

Danger!! Death Ray.  (B).  Another pretty good episode.  The movie is a terrible 1967 rip-off of the James Bond movies.  Our “hero” is a pretty-boy spy with the unlikely name of Bart Fargo.  As one of the riffers comments, there is absolutely no tension or suspense at any point during the movie.  But the riffing is the point, and it’s pretty good.  The disc includes a short, choppily edited interview with Mike Nelson as a bonus, but it doesn’t really add much value.

The Bookshop (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978).  I had never heard of Fitzgerald until I recently read a short magazine piece calling her one of Britain’s best writers of the 20th century.  This is a very short novel, only 123 pages, but it packs a punch.  It’s about a youngish widow who decides to invest what money she has into opening a bookshop in her small backwater town.  In doing so, she crosses one of the town’s leading citizens.  It’s a pretty steely view of small-town life, for sure.  I liked it and will look for more of Fitzgerald’s books.