Intimate Strangers

From The Movie Snob:

Intimate Strangers (B-) (French w/subtitles). William Faber is a middle-aged, never-married tax attorney in Paris. He is a quiet, unassuming fellow who lives in the same apartment, behind his office, where he grew up as a child. One day, however, an attractive woman named Anna comes to his office without an appointment, tells him briefly about her marital difficulties, and leaves abruptly after making a follow-up appointment. Faber belatedly realizes that she mistook him for the psychiatrist whose office is down the hall on the same floor. Anna realizes her mistake almost as quickly, but she nevertheless continues to see Faber and tell him ever more intimate details about her marital and psychological issues. I guess the idea was to build up some romantic suspense, as Faber becomes obsessed with Anna even while starting to doubt the truth of the lurid things she tells him. I thought it was an interesting premise, but the execution was somehow lacking. Although I think we’re supposed to wonder how much of Anna’s stories are fabrications or fantasies, the director actually dispels a lot of the mystery by showing stuff right on screen that would have been better left unshown, or at least ambiguous. At least in my humble opinion.

Code 46

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Code 46 (D-). I invited some folks from work to see this movie with me last night. Thank heaven none of them took me up on it, because it was terrible. It is set in the near future, and Tim Robbins plays an insurance investigator assigned to go to Shanghai and find out who is forging or stealing travel passes from a mega-corporation called The Sphinx. (Apparently in the future, no one can travel without one of these passes, called papelles, which are basically some sort of travel insurance.) In Shanghai (where everyone basically speaks English, but with lots of words from various other languages thrown in), Robbins quickly figures out that Samantha Morton’s character, Maria Gonzales, is the thief, but he inexplicably falls in love with her (despite his wife and child back home) and doesn’t turn her in. Consequences ensue. Almost everything about this movie annoyed me. The sound quality was terrible, so I couldn’t understand a bunch of the dialogue. Robbins and Morton had no chemistry. And while most of the movie is just dull or annoying, there is at least one startling scene that is unexpectedly and revoltingly misogynistic. Avoid this movie.

The Bourne Supremacy

Slumming with The Movie Snob:

The Bourne Supremacy (B-). Matt Damon reprises his role as Jason Bourne, the amnesiac assassin with a heart of gold. Well, if not gold, then at least silver or bronze. I thought this was a decent spy/action flick except for one thing — the director used way too much hand-held camerawork during the action sequences, which left me disoriented and headachy. As That Guy Named David mentioned, this movie has nothing in common with the book by Robert Ludlum except for the lead character’s name. This was also largely true of The Bourne Identity. I read Identity years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so if you like these movies I encourage you to pick up the book. The sequels, as I recall, were not nearly as good, which may be why the moviemakers have completely abandoned them as source material.

Alice in Wonderland

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Alice in Wonderland (B-). I own about 60 movies on DVD, most of which I have never watched. Last night I had some free time, and the 75-minute running time of this Disney classic was the perfect way to fill it. It was definitely a psychedelic experience, quickly calling to mind the trippy Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit.” There’s not much of a plot, as most of the movie is simply the title character roaming around Wonderland and meeting one fantastic and nonsensical character after another. But the visuals are striking, a few scenes calling Fantasia readily to mind (especially the singing flower garden). It’s worth watching once.

The Reformation: A History (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob:

The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCulloch (2003). As in, the Protestant Reformation. At a mere 683 pages (of text; 792 including notes and index), this book may strike fans of Bill Clinton’s recent autobiography as being a lightweight work, but it was plenty big enough to start me on the road to carpal-tunnel syndrome. Anyhoo, I quite enjoyed this work of popular history. The first 100 pages give the political and cultural context in Europe leading up to the outbreak of the Reformation in 1517. The next 430 are a traditional historical look at the major players and events from 1517 until about 1700. And the last 150 are an examination of the effect of the Reformation on the culture, in matters ranging from the treatment of witches to attitudes regarding sex and marriage. The author is well-suited to write an objective study, describing himself in the forward as the descendant of a long line of Scottish Epsicopalian clergy but being himself someone who does “not now personally subscribe to any form of religious dogma.” He does a good job of trying to present the controversies of the era as the participants understood them, with little 21st century editorializing.

Hellboy; Bad Santa; The Bourne Supremacy

Reviews from That Guy Named David:

Hellboy (D)

I rented this movie because (a) my girlfriend was not in town and this is the kind of movie that there is no way in Hell she would watch (no pun intended), and (b) the honorable Movie Snob chose to go see this over Kill Bill 2 a few months back when we went to the movies and actually gave it a decent review. I should have known that (a) my girlfriend is much smarter than I am, and (b) the Snob has some very jacked-up taste in movies. Simply put, I’m considering petitioning Blockbuster to get my $3 back after watching this dud. I should have known in the opening scene where people and Hell-Boy are coming in and out of the porthole to Hell that this was not going to be worth wasting an hour and a half of my life. Ugh.

Bad Santa (C+)

I had read good reviews on this movie, but the Elder Statesman had said it was weak (and we generally agree to an extent on most movies). Well, I think my opinion was somewhere between the reviews and John’s take on the movie. There were scenes that made me laugh based upon the absolutely pathetic state of Billy Bob Thornton throughout the movie. I also thought a few of the scenes where he launched into f-bomb tirades were relatively entertaining. That being said, the story was weak, and there were way too many loose ends and unanswered questions dangling out there at the end of the movie to make this movie enjoyable for me. Mindless entertainment to some degree, but not something to watch with the folks or if you actually want a little substance in your movies.

The Bourne Supremacy (B+)

Like the idiot I am, I made sure that I finished the book prior to going and watching the movie. Turns out, however, that there is not one fact from the book that is a part of the movie. Oh wait… the lead character’s name is Jason Bourne (and even that is a little different from the book). Be that as it may, however, because this movie was about 10 times better than the book of the same title but different story. I gave this movie the same grade as the last Bourne movie, but I think that I liked it a little more. About the same amount of action (and a really cool car chase towards the end of the movie), but there was a little more substance to the story this time around. Currently, I am reading The Bourne Ultimatum, so if this last movie is any indication, I am looking forward to the next Bourne movie that is nothing like the book in which I am engulfed right now.

Little Shop of Horrors (stage review)

From The Movie Snob, a review of the traveling production of the Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors.

*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***

If you haven’t seen the 1986 movie version and you like musicals, you should skip this review and get a copy of the movie immediately. My little sister and I both loved the film, starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, and Steve Martin, and I had high hopes for the live production. They were mostly satisfied, but I have to say that the movie strikes me as a more satisfying work. Of course, the plot is basically the same in both: a run-down florist on Skid Row employs a hopeless nerd named Seymour and a good-hearted blonde named Audrey. Unfortunately, Audrey is dating a sadistic dentist, and the shop is on the verge of bankruptcy. The shop is saved when Seymour discovers a very unusual plant, which he names “Audrey II,” and customers start flocking to see the thing. Things get weird when Seymour finds that the plant needs human blood to survive, and even weirder when the now-gigantic plant starts talking to him — and demanding more and more food. In both versions, Seymour is torn between the desire to maintain his newfound celebrity (and budding romance with the human Audrey) and revulsion at what it will take to keep Audrey II alive and drawing the crowds. But I remember him being a significantly more sympathetic character in the movie, as compared to the musical in which he takes a noticeably more active role in finding “plant food.” Maybe that’s why the musical ends with everybody, including Seymour, getting eaten by Audrey II (who is ultimately revealed to be a space alien bent on world conquest), while the movie ends on a happier note befitting its less sordid hero. Still, the music can’t be beat, and the performances were fine, so check out the musical if you get the chance.

Collateral

A View from Mars

Collateral (A-). In short, this is one cool ride. In one corner, Tom Cruise in a villanious role more becoming of the classic antihero, the bad guy you root for. In the other, Jamie Foxx (busting out a little dramatic chops), playing the classic everyman, the good guy you root for. TC plays a contract killer in L.A. for one night to “take care of business” and JF is the idealistic cabbie who is destined to be in the wrong place for a fare that will change his life. Heat‘s Michael Mann takes us back to the seedy night life that makes L.A. a great place to visit but not to live as interchanged nonchalantly between Cruise and Foxx in one scene. It’s actually the interchange in dialogue and also what is not spoken between the two that really propels the film and seperates it from just your average run-of-the-mill adult action oriented thriller. Although the ending doesn’t disappoint, I was hoping for the exclamation mark that would have elevated this film from great to greater. I always know a movie is going to be a hit with me when half to 2/3rds of the way, I already anticipate owning the DVD. With Cruise’s performance, Foxx’s breakout adaptability and Mann’s “cool” direction, there’s nothing more really that needs to be said…easily one of the better flicks this summer.

The Village; I, Robot

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

The Village (C+). I really liked The Sixth Sense and Signs, and I kind of liked Unbreakable. This movie has to go in the kind-of-liked category. For a while, director M. Night Shyamalan successfully delivers his trademark spooky atmospherics and creepy goings-on, but I thought that the script was subpar and that the plot ultimately fell apart. Of course I won’t reveal any plot points here beyond the set-up: the titular Village is a pseudo-Amish community living in a little valley deep in the forest, circa 1899. But if this is America, is a strange alternate-universe kind of America, because the forest is home to mysterious and very unpleasant creatures of some sort. The village elders struck a truce with the creatures a long time ago, and they solemnly warn the young people that they cannot venture into the forest lest the creatures retaliate by coming into the Village. Ron Howard’s daughter Bryce delivers a nice performance as the blind daughter of the leading elder, and I thought there were some good scary parts, but the movie never came together for me.

I, Robot (B). I didn’t have high expectations for this flick, but I was pleasantly surprised. In the near future, which looks a lot like the future America depicted in Minority Report, robots have become ubiquitous household appliances. The big robot-manufacturing corporation is just about to unveil a revolutionary new line of even better, more humanlike robots when a leading robotics scientist commits suicide under mysterious circumstances. Or was he murdered by one of these new robots? It seems that the only one asking this question is Del Spooner (Will Smith), a robot-hating cop who plays by his own rules. I don’t think I quite followed all the twists and turns of the plot, but I didn’t find that necessary to enjoy the action sequences. If you want to kick back for a couple of hours and enjoy scene after scene of the Fresh Prince kicking metallic behind, this is the movie for you.

Bride of Frankenstein

From the shelf of The Movie Snob:

Bride of Frankenstein (B+). This 1935 classic is distinctly superior to the original. The set-up is amusing: it is a dark and stormy night, and the author of Frankenstein, young Mary Shelley, is in a mansion with her husband and Lord Byron, who is heaping praise on her horror story. She advises that there is more to the tale than she previously told, and the rest of the movie is her rendition of “the rest of the story.” Turns out the monster survived the angry mob of peasants, and he’s now loose in the countryside. Meanwhile, sinister Dr. Pretorius has kidnapped Henry Frankenstein’s wife to force Frankenstein to help Pretorius with a familiar-sounding experiment: the creation of a living person from dead bodies. Only this time, it’s a woman!!! When the monster gets wind of this plan, of course, he’s all in favor of it. There are actually some touching scenes, such as when the monster meets a lonely blind hermit who befriends him and teaches him to speak a few words. (“Friend . . . good.”) And of course the shocking ending when the Bride of Frankenstein meets her potential mate for the first time. Is there a love connection? Tune in and find out.

I, Robot

From Movie Man Mike:

I, Robot (B-). When I first saw the previews for this movie, I thought, “Nope, not gonna see it. They’ll just ruin the original story.” I saw another preview at some later point and changed my mind because it appeared the makers of this one tried their best to keep this story part of the serious sci-fi genre to which it belongs. I am glad I changed my mind. The producers of this one kept the three laws of robotics, which are the genius that hold Isaac Asimov’s short stories together, and the movie generally followed the general story-line of the original (although my memory has faded somewhat since I read it so long ago). I forget that Will Smith can do serious drama when he wants to, and he displayed some great dramatic performances as technophobe policeman Del Spooner. Of course, he also had a couple of moments of comedy, which one expects from Will Smith. There were a some very cheesy commercial plugs for shoes, cars, and a motorcycle, which were almost painful to overlook. The CGI was very good insofar as making the faces of the androids look so human, but there were moments when there was just too much CGI for me. The film is packed with action as one might expect and it is all good fun. Definitely a “B” sci-fi movie, but worth the price of admission for sci-fi fans and Will Smith fans. (By the way Will is still in great shape from having bulked up for Ali.)

The Bourne Supremacy; City of God

Reviews from Movie Man Mike:

The Bourne Supremacy (B+). This is the summer of the sequel, and as sequels go, this one is better than most. Even better, you really don’t need to have seen the first movie in order to follow and understand the second one; the second film stands on its own. This film picks up in time with Jason Bourne living in some secluded venue with the lovely Marie, the girl he met and fell for in the first film. Bourne is still struggling with the mystery of his identity when he is unwillingly pulled into an even bigger puzzle, the pieces of which provide clues and links to his past. Bourne turns his spy training on the very forces that trained him in an effort to find out who is after him and why. The film is packed with action and has one of the best car-chase scenes I’ve seen in a while.

City of God (A-). Straight from a video (or DVD) rental store near you … Roger Ebert calls this “one of the best movies you’ll see.” I am not sure I would go quite so far, but it really is a good movie, and I recommend it. This movie is set in Rio de Janeiro in a housing project. The story is told from the perspective of a young black child nicknamed “Rocket.” The story purports to be based in truth. Rocket is surrounded by violence and unrest. He narrates a riveting tale of gang warfare, drug-selling, and corruption, and his attempt to survive in spite of the many temptations to be drawn into the brutal fray. The intersection of the many characters’ lives is cleverly woven into the tale for a masterful presentation. The movie is subtitled, so if that bothers you, be prepared, but don’t be deterred from seeing it.

The Village

A View from Mars:

The Village (B+). Of M. Night Shyamalan’s most recent body of works (Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs) and my progressive enjoyment of each movie, this one lands somewhere between the first two for me. The setting of this movie takes place in a secluded village nestled among the creepy forest in which mythical creatures reside. The town plays itself like that of Amish country in the late 1800s, complete with elders, community suppers and the “village idiot.” The cast is a superb bright spot with notable performances by Bryce Dallas Howard who plays the blind Ivy Walker, the youngest daughter of the lead elder (played by William Hurt), and Adrien Brody (Noah Percy) as the…well…the “village idiot.” Joaquin Phoenix is solid as Lucious Hunt who is the only person not scared of what lies beyond. I won’t get too much into the story for fear of revealing spoilers and if there is or isn’t a twist ending which has become the classic staple to any M. Night film. I will note that you will be doing yourself a disservice if you focus too much on how it will all end as opposed to enjoying how you got there. This movie is not so much a scary thriller, although it does have it’s tense moments, as it is a well crafted character story. It had some of the better filmed scenes in a movie that I’ve seen in a while. How people will react to this film is a tough call; if everybody liked The Sixth Sense and you either loved or hated Unbreakable, then I suppose The Village probably is closer in critical appeal to the latter rather than the former. Either way, I was overly satisfied and the reason my review just missed out on an A rating is because Night’s bar has been set pretty high. This may not have been the homerun I expect from him, but a triple ain’t so bad, and sometimes, a triple is harder to come by.

Before Sunset

From The Movie Snob.

Before Sunset (B). This is a sequel to a movie I did not see, Before Sunrise, but I had heard all about it and you probably have too. In the first movie, a young American guy named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) met a young French girl named Celine (Julie Delpy) on a train. They spent a magical night together, walking and talking in the streets of Vienna, and then before parting agreed to meet there again in six months. All this is quickly recapped at the beginning of Before Sunset, which is set nine years after the first movie (which I think did come out nine years ago). Jesse is a successful writer on a book tour in Paris, where he meets up with Celine at a book-signing event. The rest of this fairly short movie is the two of them talking and walking in the streets of Paris. I enjoyed the movie, perhaps not least because Jesse and Celine are almost my age, the three of us being at the older end of Generation X. The conversation is realistic, and the characters are mostly believable as their stories come tumbling out, piecemeal, over the rest of the afternoon. Jesse and Celine aren’t really my kind of people, but I enjoyed getting to know them all the same.