A Day Without a Mexican

From the Movie Snob:

A Day Without a Mexican (C+). A heavy-handed message movie that was nevertheless fairly entertaining. For no apparent reason, the entire Hispanic population of California disappears without a trace. Moreover, a strange impassable fog bank completely surrounds the state, severing all communications with the outside world. The state’s economy quickly starts to flounder (because apparently a third of the state is Hispanic), and a state of emergency begins to develop. To emphasize the already-obvious point, little factoids are occasionally thrown up on the screen, such as a blurb that 20% (I think that’s the right figure) of all elementary and high-school teachers in California are Hispanic. So the message that Hispanic people are important is not subtle, and the movie is just too long. On the other hand, the whole thing is done with a decent sense of humor and of the absurd (like a couple of “scientists” with outlandish theories about where all the Hispanics went). If you’ve already seen everything else at the megaplex, give this one a look.

The Battle of Algiers

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

The Battle of Algiers. It is difficult to assign a grade to this 1965 Italian production about the Algerian resistance to their French colonizers in the 1950’s. (I have to believe that this re-release, with brand new English subtitles translating for the French and Arabic dialogue, was precipitated by the current troubles in Iraq.) The film is shot in grainy black-and-white and has a strong documentary feel to it. Mostly the camera follows the activities of a young Algerian named Ali who becomes involved with, and then a leader of, the FLN, or National Liberation Front. To the French, the FLN is a fringe terrorist group; to at least some Algerians, they are freedom fighters. The escalation of violence is portrayed in the most matter-of-fact manner possible, as is the French resort to torture to try to find the leaders of the movement in response to ever-more-violent crimes against the colonists. In an ironic twist, the French colonel in charge of anti-FLN measures, who dispassionately defends the use of torture during interrogations, was himself a member of the French Resistance during WWII. It is an eye-opening look at the world of terrorism from the inside. I was particularly struck by the fact that none of the leaders of the FLN ever cited Islam as an inspiration for their goals or justification for their tactics (at least not that I can recall). A very impressive movie. My fellow movie snob Stacy W. even referred to it afterwards as a “masterpiece,” although she may have been kidding.

Shrek 2; Troy

From That Guy Named David:

Shrek 2 (B+)

If you liked the first Shrek, you’ll enjoy the sequel. The movie starts off with a new song by San Francisco’s 2nd finest band, the Counting Crows (the Grateful Dead is still the Bay Area’s best). After this beginning musical scene (reminiscent of that great “I Love L.A.” scene in The Naked Gun), you are introduced to more of the same from the first Shrek. In this one, Shrek’s new bride is summoned back to see her parents (the King and Queen of Far, Far Away) and introduce her new husband to them. Of course, they think that she is coming back with Prince Charming, who was dispatched to save her from the castle in which they stuck her as a child when they realized she was a freak. You see, Prince Charming was supposed to kiss her and end the horrible curse that had turned her into a freak. Anyway, without going into any more painstaking detail, you can imagine how the plot evolves. I’ll admit that I thought the plot dragged at times (nothing like Master and Commander, but still relatively boring on occasion); however, the introduction of Puss in Boots (played by Antonio Banderas’s voice) really added a new spark to the movie that made it enjoyable throughout. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) was as entertaining as in the first, and there were multiple jokes relating back to various aspects of popular culture that made me laugh out of recognition at what was being spoofed. Good, light, summer movie that I’m sure will make a killing at the theaters.

And The Movie Snob adds his two cents’ worth on Troy.

I really liked this flick, maybe because it brought back fond memories of my college days when we were all reading The Iliad for freshman literature class. Sure, the director took some liberties. I sure don’t remember any romantic subplots in Homer’s original, which is all about wrath and honor and the quest for immortality through glory won in combat. But there’s plenty of that in the movie, as well as some close-up looks at the dirty, agonizing reality of war. The battle and combat sequences were all very good, and Eric Bana and Peter O’Toole as Trojans Prince Hector and King Priam actually give fine performances amid all the swordplay. (Although Bana should have bulked up a bit more to be a suitable opponent for Brad Pitt’s Achilles.) A few other comments–Diane Kruger, who played Helen, was very pretty, but did she really have “the face that launched a thousand ships”? I’m thinking Nicole Kidman might have been a better choice. Also, did they give Rose Byrne (from the excellent 2003 film I Capture the Castle) hazard pay for her performance as the captured Trojan priestess Briseis? She had to be black and blue after that shoot. Anyway, on the whole, I had a great time. I give Troy a strong B+, maybe even an A-.

Anti-Americanism (book review)

A book review by The Movie Snob.

Anti-Americanism, by Jean-Francois Revel. Published in France in 2000 and in America in 2003, this book is a novelty–a defense of America against foreign (principally European) critics by, of all people, a Frenchman. Without denying that American society has its faults and defects, he convicts the European press and elites of ignoring obvious facts in their haste to condemn America in terms that are frequently hysterical and sometimes self-contradictory. This knee-jerk tendency to condemn everything America does, he argues, only weakens non-Americans’ ability to influence American conduct when it is actually objectionable. And he notes that the anti-Americanism of non-American officials and elites is frequently not shared by the general mass of people for whom they purport to speak, who often consume American products and culture with enthusiasm. Although his thesis seems plausible enough, the book is not particularly well-written or well-organized, flitting from topic to topic in apparently random fashion without developing any in depth, rather undercutting its persuasiveness.


A View From Mars:

Troy (B-)

Nothing screams summer like potato salad and tent-pole summer flicks. We are at that time of the year when Hollywood throws us their biggest and presumably best blockbusters in hopes of raking in tons of money. Van Helsing started it off and here we continue with Troy, which is noted as being inspired by Homer’s Iliad. It begins at the onset of the Trojan War, where Prince Hector (Eric Bana) and Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) are sent from Troy to Sparta on a peace mission. During this mission, young Paris falls for Helen (Diane Kruger) and decides right then and there that he should have her, so he does. Well this doesn’t sit too well with Helen’s husband and soon this act is the catalyst for the Greeks to invade Troy. Of course this movie is headlined by Brad Pitt who plays the renegade with the “devil-may-care” attitude, Achilles. He comes along for the ride at the bidding of Odysseus (Sean Bean) but in defiance of Greece’s overbearing and greedy ruler to all, Agamemnon (Brian Cox). After all, Achilles is the “greatest warrior” ever, so what would the “greatest war ever fought,” be without him. Etc., etc….battles…yada, yada, yada…Trojan horse…the end. This movie is popcorn fun entertainment and anytime a movie of this epic genre comes along it risks comparison to Gladiator and Braveheart, two Best Picture winners, and two personal favorites that are clearly in a higher plateau than this movie. What didn’t work for me was Pitt’s portrayal of Achilles. I like Pitt, but he played Achilles as too arrogant and self absorbed to be taken serious. He was trying to achieve Russel Crowe’s “loved by all because of his defiance” Maximus performance in Gladiator but he never came close. I had more compassion for the character of Hector and 2 hours into this (2 hour and 40 minute run time) I didn’t care what happened to Achilles. Despite this, the movie held up enough for me to grade it in the “B” range, barely. Just because a movie comes out during Hollywood’s summer blockbuster slot, don’t get suckered into thinking that everything will be gold.

Mean Girls

From The Movie Snob:

Mean Girls (B). A friend of mine warned me against this movie, but her taste is suspect so I saw it anyway. I thought it was funny and entertaining. Lindsay Lohan (Freaky Friday) plays Cady, a 16-year-old girl who has lived in Africa and been homeschooled by her scientist parents her whole life. They move to Chicago, and Cady goes to school for the first time. There she befriends a couple of outsiders (goth chick, homosexual guy) but also finds herself adopted by “the Plastics,” a clique of cool, popular, and yes, mean girls. I can’t say that the movie really broke any new ground, but it was a fun diversion. If you saw Freaky Friday, you may get deja vu throughout this movie because the shtick is pretty much the same–unusually mature girl finds herself thrown into modern American high-school life and finds that maturity is no defense to the grim realities of that harsh social order. Enjoy!

School of Rock; Master and Commander

From That Guy Named David:

School of Rock (B)

I’ll admit to being extremely skeptical about this movie after hearing the Movie Snob laud Jack Black as the “comedic genius of modern times” or some such something. Anyway, after watching this pleasant little movie, I’ll admit that I was probably a little harsh with my baseless criticism of Black after hearing the Snob go on and on and on about his “unbelievable wit and incredible ability to bring the audience to tear-inducing laughter.” The movie was pretty funny at times, except for the corniness of the plot in general. I still am not on the same line of thought as the Snob in thinking that Black is “the Bob Hope of the next generation,” but I do think that this movie has its moments. The little Asian kid made me laugh too. Not bad.

Master and Commander (C-)

Wow. Talk about a movie that had a lot of hype and then landed with a massive thud as I wasted a Sunday morning watching this dreadful display of Waterworld on steroids. Note to Russell Crowe: you were good in Gladiator, but there is no need to play that role again. There was nothing about this movie that I enjoyed. Okay, so they get attacked by a bigger ship, then float around trying to find it, stumble upon an island or two, and then, voila… they find the ship and have a battle with it again. Such great writing. Oh, and that other guy from A Beautiful Mind (you know, the guy that really didn’t exist), well, his performance is just as bland as Crowe’s. And to think that my friend Becky said this was a very good movie when she went and saw it several months ago. Makes me wonder if she actually watched any of the movie.

Van Helsing

From Movie Man Mike:

Van Helsing (B-) This is a fun Summertime action movie, but you better be prepared to suspend disbelief. Any movie that has vampires, werewolves and a Frankenstein monster should tell you what to expect in the way of reality. I would have enjoyed this movie so much more if they had not tried to punch it up with some light humor and sap. David Wenham plays Carl, a friar who is a 17th century version of James Bond’s Q. Carl’s Papal laboratory and weaponry are way ahead of its time–although the weaponry does add to the action of the movie. Carl’s character also adds some comic relief to the film, and in my opinion, the film would have been more suspenseful and dramatic without the comic relief. And then there’s the relationship between Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) and Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale). The directors leave you with the clear “Hollywood” impression that there is a romantic spark between these two characters, but I got the distinct impression that the scenes with the romance were left on the cutting room floor. From the standpoint of the story, I had a hard time understanding the history between Van Helsing, Count Dracula and the Valerious family, and how Count Dracula was supposed to have come into being. It doesn’t add up. Otherwise, the story-line was suspenseful, and there was some good action. I enjoyed this movie, but it could have been so much more.

Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius

From The Movie Snob.

Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (D+). The trouble with this movie can be summed up in one word: BORING. It is two hours long and feels like three. Some things did happen that should have been interesting — Jones’s illnesses in childhood and adulthood, his “mixed marriage” to a Catholic girl, and of course his many tournament victories. The movie just never came to life, and the snippets of his golf championships were so short that I never really felt like I knew what was happening. The only thing I really got out of this movie was an appreciation for modern golf technology. One guy in the movie used a putter that looked like a hockey stick! Still, I recommend that you skip this turkey.

13 Going on 30

The Movie Snob’s cousin Diane P. makes her first contribution:

13 Going on 30 (B+).

Being a huge fan of Alias, I was looking forward to seeing Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30. The movie has the added bonus of Mark Ruffalo (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, You Can Count on Me) playing the lead male role. Everyone who has seen Big will be familiar with the storyline: Thirteen year old Jenna Rink wants to be “thirty, flirty, and fun,” as her favorite magazine describes the age to be. Making a wish on her thirteenth birthday, she wakes up the next day to find that – surprise, surprise – her wish has come true. The difference between this movie and Big is that in Jenna’s life, it is seventeen years later, so everyone besides Jenna (now played by Garner) remembers growing up. Confused and scared, Jenna tracks down her childhood friend, Matt (Ruffalo), only to discover they are no longer friends. With Matt’s help, Jenna begins to adjust to her adult life, enjoying the things she had only dreamed of during childhood. Garner does a great job capturing the expressions and mannerisms of a 13 year old, and if you enjoyed seeing Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan being trapped in each others’ bodies in Freaky Friday, you just might enjoy this light, fun film. Other added bonuses: a satisfying ending, a great ’80s soundtrack and a fun dance sequence to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Desperate Measures

A stage review from The Movie Snob.

Desperate Measures (book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg, music by David Friedman) (B). It’s not every day you get to see the world premiere of a new musical, but Friday night I did just that at the Irving Lyric Theater. From the playbill I gather that it’s based on Shakespeare’s comedy “Measure for Measure,” a play I am totally unfamiliar with. It’s a fun story set in the Old West — young Johnny Blood is going to be hanged for killing a man in a fight over a saloon girl named Bella, even though it’s entirely possible he acted in self-defense. The kindly sheriff seeks out Johnny’s sister, who is about to take her final vows to become a nun, and he persuades her to go to the governor and plead for a pardon. The unscrupulous governor agrees — if Sister Helena will spend the night with him. Humorous complications ensue as the sheriff tries to come up with a plan to save both Sister Helena’s virtue and Johnny’s neck. The songs and music are good, as were the performances. The one sour note was the fifth and only other character in the play, a drunken priest who has lost his faith after reading Nietzsche. He is painfully unentertaining, and the playwrights should seriously rethink his whole shtick. Still, on the whole I really enjoyed it — I may even go back before the end of its run.