Bleachers (book review)

A book review from That Guy Named David:

Bleachers (B+)

After barely making it through the Bourne series, I decided to jump over to a quick read authored by one of my formerly favorite authors (his last few “legal thrillers” have been duds). Anyway, I was recommended this book by another small-town guy who just joined our firm. As a self-proclaimed former high school football standout (setting the single-season sack record at a certain small, South Texas high school), I was intrigued by the premise of the book. In Bleachers, a former all-American football star from a tiny community returns to his roots when he learns that the town’s legendary football coach is about to die. The book does an outstanding job of detailing the love of high school football and the idolization of its star players in small communities in the South. It also does a decent job of profiling the main character and demonstrating how the hype of the “glory days” is really very hollow and once gone, can leave you searching for a direction in life. There were a few story lines that I thought unnecessary (ex. the former girlfriend angle that Grisham weakly attempts to tie in to his development of the main character); however, all in all, the book was a nice, two-day read. And it reminded me of a lot of things that I had not thought about in a pretty long time.

Silver City

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Silver City (D). This is not a very good movie. Chris Cooper plays “Dickey” Pilager, a dim-witted, born-again-Christian, frat-boy senator’s son who is running for governor of Colorado. (He plainly studied lots of George W. Bush video footage for this role, and it shows.) While trying film a political ad, the candidate accidentally fishes a corpse out of a lake, and his handler (Richard Dreyfuss) hires a private investigator to find out whether the incident was merely an accident or some sort of dirty trick by one of Pilager’s enemies. The private eye’s investigation is most of the rest of the movie, which I guess is supposed to cast a spotlight on how corrupt politicians are, especially those nasty privatizing, “free-enterprise” Republicans. The mistreatment of undocumented workers from Mexico is also an unsubtle theme. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I am quite a bit to the right of center, politically, but this movie’s cardinal sin is not that it’s biased—it’s that it’s boring. No interesting characters, nor plot, nor dialogue. Even Fahrenheit 9/11 had to be better than this, not that I’ll ever find out.

Bright Young Things

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Bright Young Things (B). A couple of things led me to check out this British production. First, it’s based on a story by Evelyn Waugh, who also wrote one of my favorite novels, Brideshead Revisited. Second, the movie stars actress Emily Mortimer, whom I found cute and competent in Lovely and Amazing. Anyhoo, This movie is about a gang of idle and unserious young Brits in pre-WWII London, and their wild parties are depicted with great energy and flair. But there is an obvious counter-current of sadness at work, particularly in the lives of the film’s two protagonists, the impecunious Adam and the flighty Nina. They seem to intend to get married, but Adam assumes he must continually defer the happy day until he can make his fortune, which always just eludes his grasp. Gradually, reality starts to catch up with the “bright young things,” with interesting results. I liked it.

Garden State

A View from Mars:

Garden State (B+) First, allow me to set the stage for this review with an analogy befitting this movie court blog; Natalie Portman is to View from Mars as Nicole Kidman is to Movie Snob. Now, that being said, the bias will end there, but hopefully you’ll agree that this movie stands on it’s own without my schoolboy crush getting in the way. Zach Braff (of TV’s Scrubs) wrote, directed and starred in this simple movie about going home again. Braff plays a somewhat struggling actor in LA, who comes home to New Jersey for the first time in quite a while for his mother’s funeral. Awaiting him there is a psychiatrist father whom he rarely speaks to and a handful of friends that will probably be out of his mind the minute he returns to LA. During his somber encounters around town, he meets a local girl (Natalie Portman) in a doctor’s waiting room. They converse, they connect, they hang out, and he learns to get a better handle on life. Portman plays this role well and it’s her best acting since her all too brief role in Beautiful Girls. It even makes you forgive her for the Star Wars prequels. Braff did a great job as a triple threat with the story and his handling of the chemistry between the characters. In a summer filled with a lot of action/adventure duds, this little movie was a refreshing breath of air. It’s worth a look and probably the perfect renter when it comes out on video.

Addendum from The Movie Snob:

I saw this flick this weekend too, and Mars took some of the words right out of my mouth. Who is this Braff guy, and how did he pull this stunt off? Step 1: Write romantic screenplay. Step 2: Get Natalie Portman as female lead. Step 3: Get self cast as male lead. Step 4: Get self hired as director, so as to be able to require maximum number of retakes on romantic scenes. Nice work if you can get it. I wasn’t quite as sold on this movie’s charms as Mars, but it’s worth checking out. I’d call it a B-.

THX 1138; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

>From The Movie Snob, a movie review . . .

THX 1138 (director’s cut) (D). I had heard of this movie many times over the years as George Lucas’s first movie, but I never expected to get a chance to see it on the big screen. Lo and behold, here it is, “projected digitally with DLP Cinema technology.” Supposedly this remarkable technology allows the viewer to experience “a range of up to 35 trillion colors.” Well, in this movie, most of those colors are white. It is a futuristic movie, kind of a cross between 1984 and Brave New World. Although people seem to go about their business and do their jobs just like in the real world, they are apparently heavily sedated most of the time, sex is illegal, and love is apparently virtually unknown. One man, named THX 1138, stands up against the system and, not surprisingly, gets in trouble with the authorities in short order. I was surprised to see Robert Duvall starring in the title role, and Donald Pleasence in the cast as well. Anyhoo, the movie didn’t make much sense to me, and I didn’t really enjoy it. (Hence the grade.) Still, I guess if I had tried to make a futuristic thriller in 1970 that also commented on the dehumanizing effect of technology run amok, it probably wouldn’t have been even this good.

. . . and a stage review.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I like musicals, and this is one of my favorites, certainly among Andrew Lloyd Webber’s oeuvre. This touring production starred Jon Secada, whom I take to be a pop music star of some renown. I’m unfamiliar with his work, but he was a fine Joseph, and the gal who played the Narrator was excellent. The show is the biblical story of Joseph from the book of Genesis, and it’s told through a delightful melange of musical styles, including country, reggae, and Elvis-style rock and roll. The program said that the show started out as a 20-minute piece, and it does feel a little padded in places, but all in all it’s a fun entertainment.

Hero

From The Movie Snob:

Hero (C-). When I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I was not particularly impressed. So why did I trouble to see this more-of-the-same Chinese import? Well, the reviews have been pretty stellar, and my best friend wanted to see it. And I’ll admit that I was entertained for a while. The martial-arts scenes are pretty remarkable, and there are some very stylish scenes in the early going. But even at 96 minutes, the movie started to feel a little long, and then towards the end it suddenly springs this heavy, even leaden, political message on you. And the more I thought about it, the more offensive it got. Not to give anything away, but it seemed to me like nothing more than a heavy-handed apologia for the Communist tyranny that has kept the Chinese populace (not to mention the Tibetans and who knows who else) under the jackboot for so long. I’ll take my flying swordfights without the Michael-Mooreish commentary, thanks.

The Thing; Taking Lives

New reviews from Nick at Nite:

The Thing

Has John Carpenter ever made a bad movie? Hello. They are all glorious. The Fog, Escape From New York, Escape From LA, VAMPIRES, and Ghosts on Mars – is there a better group of work? Hell, he even composes the soundtracks for these movies. Got caught watching The Thing again last night and felt it deserved a quick review. Basically, evil martian is awakened in icy grave by crazy Norwegian, not Swedish, scientists. Evil martian eats dogs, scientists, etc … Turns out when evil martian eats things it can take their form. As such, he hides among the American scientists living in the arctic wasteland and takes his time killing them. This is a great short science fiction story, was originally made into a movie in the 50s, and was carefully updated by Carpenter in this adaption. It has a high gore factor, for 80s type movies, no nudity, some gun play, and a very cool flame thrower. This is also probably Kurt Russell’s greatest movie. I give this movie an “A.”

Taking Lives

This movie sucked. It has Angelina Jolie in it and it still sucked. Not much plot, hard to follow, not much to look at. Ordinarily, I like violence, nudity, loud music, and gore, but in this movie it did not work. My favorite moment: in this very serious movie, Angelina Jolie gets in her car to chase the bad guy on an overcast day and apparently stops to put on her sunglasses because in one frame she does not have them on and then in the next frame she does. Please. There is also a very misplaced sex scene, not sure what it added to the plot, it might have been only added to the director’s cut. There is also an equally odd, disturbing twist at the end. I won’t give away, but when I saw it at first … I thought what kind of sick b*stard would write such a thing. Angelina Jolie needs to make another Tomb Raider to restore my faith in her. Ethan Hawke, well what can I say, he obviously doesn’t have good judgment – he left Uma Thurman. I give this movie an “F.”

A Streetcar Named Desire; The Anniversary Party

DVD reviews from The Movie Snob:

A Streetcar Named Desire (A-). Cultural illiterate that I am, until now I could honestly say that everything I knew about Streetcar I learned from The Simpsons. (Remember the one where the town puts on a production of a musical version called “O Streetcar,” starring Ned Flanders as Stanley Kowalski and Marge Simpson as Blanche DuBois?) Anyhow, I rented the movie with few preconceptions and was pretty much spellbound. Vivien Leigh is Blanche, a southern belle, no longer young, who leaves her ancestral home in Mississippi to stay with her younger sister Stella and her husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) in New Orleans for a while. Their rundown home in the French Quarter and Stanley’s brutish and even violent ways are quite a shock to Blanche, who seems none too able to stand very many shocks of any sort. Stanley, for his part, cannot stand Blanche or her affected gentility, and he makes it his mission to find out why she really left Mississippi. Lots of great dialogue and Oscars went to Leigh, Kim Hunter (Stella), and Karl Malden, who plays a friend of Stanley that Blanche sets her sights on. The ending didn’t quite ring true to me (and I have since read that the play ends quite differently), but I can see why this is considered a classic.

The Anniversary Party (D+). This mess of a movie is no classic. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming play a Hollywood couple (she’s an actor, he’s a novelist) who throw themselves a sixth-anniversary party. We quickly learn that they split up for a while and reconciled only a few months ago, and their relationship is still not exactly stable. I suppose that we are supposed to empathize with them as the evening wears on and we learn more and more about their troubles, but it didn’t happen for me. Eventually, almost everybody at the party takes ecstasy, secrets are revealed, there’s lots of yelling and crying, but I was neither touched nor entertained. The remarkable guest list (Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow, Phoebe Cates, Parker Posey, John C. Reilly) can’t save this party. Skip it.

We Don’t Live Here Anymore

From The Movie Snob:

We Don’t Live Here Anymore (B). This is a movie about adultery, and not the glamorized kind of adultery you see in movies like Unfaithful. Jack & Terry and Hank & Edith are two married couples and best friends in a New England town where Jack and Hank both teach at the local community college. From the opening scene, it is clear that Jack is powerfully attracted to Edith, played by the always appetizing Naomi Watts, and that his marriage to Terry, played by the amazingly angular Laura Dern, is in trouble. Making matters worse, Hank & Edith have a little girl, and Jack & Terry have a little girl and a little boy. Most of the movie’s action, such as it is, consists of brutal fights between Jack and Terry, which struck me as utterly convincing and very painful to watch. None of the characters is particularly appealing, which is probably what inspires my middling grade — the movie held my interest because it successfully made me wonder what was going to happen next. But I never got past curiosity, or rooted for any particular character or outcome. Except to feel sorry for those poor kids.

Danny Deckchair

New from The Movie Snob:

Danny Deckchair (C-). Just as aficionados of Gilligan’s Island can endlessly debate the relative charms of Ginger and Maryanne, so too may Lord of the Rings fans spar over the comparative merits of Arwen Evenstar (Liv Tyler) and Eowyn of Rohan (Miranda Otto). Okay, so Liv Tyler probably wins her race by an even bigger margin than Maryanne does hers. Still, I was pretty impressed by Miranda Otto too, especially the way she skewered the Witch King in The Return of the King.

Which is mainly why I went to see this Australian import, because I noticed that Otto is in it. The review I saw in advance was not glowing, with good reason. This is a trifling romantic comedy with too many clunker scenes and an ending stretch that seems to last forever. The title character is an amiable working-class stiff in Sydney who, through a humorous misadventure, winds up stranded in the little town of Clarence, far, far away from his job, friends, and mean live-in girlfriend. Out among the sturdy small-town folk, he’s able to start over, reconnect with what’s really important in life, and (of course) meet a much nicer girl (played by Otto). Wasn’t this movie called Doc Hollywood when it was made here in the States several years ago? And without quite so many scenes that fell flat? Oh well, it was a harmless enough way to spend 90 minutes. For a much better light-hearted Australian movie, look up The Dish, starring Sam Neill, from a few years ago.

But I’m still not sure Aragorn made the right call.

South Pacific

Off the shelf o’ DVDs, by The Movie Snob.

South Pacific (B). I had the opportunity to buy this movie and Oklahoma! in a two-pack at Sam’s for $20, so I did it. Now, months later, I’ve watched one of them. It’s not a bad flick, although a little long for my taste (2 1/2 hours, I think?). You probably already know the general contour of the plot. In WWII, the war in the Pacific is just underway, and Japanese forces have occupied lots of islands in the south seas. On an American-occupied island, a French plantation owner and an American nurse (from my home town of Little Rock, Ark.!) have just met and are falling in love. At the same time, a brave young American lieutenant is on a daring mission to try to make a secret landing on a Japanese-occupied island so he can radio information back to American forces about Japanese naval movements. He tries to persuade the French plantation owner to be his guide. I won’t say more, but it’s a decent flick with some decent tunes. It is also very startling how forthrightly the movie challenges the settled racial prejudices of the day (the movie was made in 1958). Definitely worth a look, but take advantage of the intermission.