I Heart Huckabees; What the #$*! Do We Know!?

The Movie Snob sounds off:

Have a touch of the existential blues? There are some films in current release that are just what the doctor ordered for people in our condition….

I Heart Huckabees (B). An impressive cast comes together for this philosophical comedy. The main character is a deadly earnest young fellow named Albert (Jason Schwartzman) who works for something called the Open Spaces Coalition or some such thing; his passion is the defense of undeveloped woods and marshes; and his current enemy is a mushrooming chain of department stores called Huckabees. But Albert is having a philosophical breakdown, proximately caused by his multiple coincidental encounters with the same Sudanese refugee, but encompassing the eternal questions about the meaningfulness/meaninglessness of life, the universe, and everything. More pressingly, he is getting squeezed out of his own organization by a smooth-talking Huckabees man named Brad (Jude Law). Albert turns to Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin), who are self-styled “existentialist detectives,” and they assure him that everything is connected and meaningful. They introduce him to fellow searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who is convinced that everything involving the use of petroleum is tainted with evil. Tommy and Albert are then beset by a mysterious Frenchwoman, Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), a former associate of Bernard and Vivian who now preaches that the universe is actually blind, cruel, and chaotic. Trying to figure out what Albert is up to, Brad goes to the existentialist detectives himself, with consequences that threaten to upset the equilibrium of his relationship with live-in girlfriend and Huckabees model Dawn (Naomi Watts). Not surprisingly, there are few philosophical answers on offer, and the possible existence of theological ones is not even considered. But the cast digs into the late-night-college-dorm-sounding script with gusto, and there are some laughs along the way. And Naomi Watts is always pleasant to watch.

What the #$*! Do We Know!? (B-). This is a very odd, very independent little movie that’s really two movies in one. The more important seeming part is more or less a documentary–a bunch of short clips featuring a bunch of talking heads, mostly doctors and physicists. They try to explain, in lay terms, the state-of-the-art thinking in two fields: the bizarre world of quantum physics, and the more fathomable but amazingly complex world of cellular biology and biochemistry. (Interestingly, genetics is left completely alone.) Their ruminations are frequently illustrated with cool animated effects. The other, less successful part of the movie is a series of vignettes about a depressed photographer named Amanda (Marlee Matlin), whose life more or less embodies whatever topic the talking heads are discussing at the moment. It’s an interesting film, and the weight of the “scientific” opinion surveyed in the movie definitely seems to side with the view that there is an underlying unity and connectedness to the universe. But the moral implications of their theorizing are murky, and a couple of the talking heads seem to want to jettison talk about right and wrong, good and evil, altogether. What is supposed to replace them, I’m not sure. The theological implications of their speculation are equally nebulous. A few of the heads clearly express belief in some sort of God or at least godlike rational substructure to reality, but no one has any kind words for religion or traditional views of God. Like Huckabees, the movie is long on questions and short on answers. Maybe they’ll get to the answers in the sequel, probably called something like Not a Whole %&@! of a Lot.

Wimbledon

From The Movie Snob:

Wimbledon (B-). Who says The Movie Snob doesn’t do mainstream? Although I gather that this mainstream production sank beneath the waves of the stream like a stone, I thought it wasn’t half bad. Paul Bettany, recently seen in Dogville and Master and Commander, plays Peter Colt, an Englishman and a professional tennis player on the verge of retirement to the life of a club pro at the age of 32. Kirsten Dunst (Interview with a Vampire) plays an up and coming American tennis star whose name escapes me. They are both playing at Wimbledon, they meet cute, they like each other, obstacles present themselves, the typical romantic-comedy routine. The twist is that Colt, who was supposed to lose rather promptly, starts winning match after match after taking up with the plucky young American. As romantic comedies go, this one was decent; there were some honest laughs, and Bettany and Dunst have some chemistry. Although it must be said that there is a slight ick factor at work sometimes, since Bettany looks every bit of 32, and I don’t know how old Dunst is but her character gives the impression of being 19 or 20. Worth a look, if this is the sort of thing you go for.

Camelot (stage review)

Stage review from The Movie Snob:

No movies this weekend, but I did see the Plano Repertory Theater’s production of Lerner & Lowe’s Camelot. It was new to me, and I quite enjoyed this musical retelling of the story of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It starts with Arthur and Guenevere meeting cute in the forest — although they are engaged, as a means to ending or avoiding a war of some sort, they’ve never met, they are both quite scared at the prospect of marriage and are tempted to run away. But they fall in love soon enough, and Camelot is born. Then Lancelot, the greatest knight of all, comes onto the scene (with a great song, “C’est moi,” that is reminiscent of Gaston’s theme song from Beauty and the Beast). His fast friendship with Arthur is soon troubled by his passionate (and requited) love for Guenevere. The performances were fine (especially Arthur’s), the songs are catchy, and the story is timeless. Definitely worth the price of admission.

Zelary

New from The Movie Snob:

Zelary (B). This review may contain some spoilers, but I doubt many Courtwatchers will be running out to see this 2 1/2 hour Czecheslovakian import (and best-foreign-film Oscar nominee). The movie opens in 1943, in some big city in Czecheslovakia. Eliska, a lovely young nurse, is dating a doctor named Richard; both are involved in the resistance against the Nazis. One night they save the life of an injured peasant named Joza, who has been rushed in from the countryside after a terrible accident. Shortly thereafter, Richard suddenly disappears, and Elsika is told that she must flee into the countryside immediately to avoid certain death at the hands of the Gestapo. Renamed Hana, she is sent to the village of Zelary where she is quickly married off to unpolished but gentle and kind Joza to complete her cover story. At first the shock of the change almost overwhelms her, but over the next two years she adapts to her new life and even comes to love her husband and the simple village folk. Encounters with Nazis, the village’s violent drunk, and the “liberating” Soviet army provide moments of suspense and even graphic violence that make the movie inappropriate for children. All in all, a bit predictable, a bit sentimental, but still an enjoyable movie.

The Whole Ten Yards

A DVD review from That Guy Named David:

The Whole Ten Yards (C-)

I’m a firm believer that if you spent the time to watch a movie that is decent and there is a sequel, you ought to give the sequel a chance. However, after seeing this dud, I’m thinking of amending this belief. This movie would have been a D had it not starred the incredibly gorgeous Amanda Peet. Ridiculous plot and really, really bad acting (mostly by Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry). And speaking of Matthew Perry, I’m also now a believer that he has one role (Chandler Bing) and it has gotten very old. Overall, just a bad movie, but at least I got to look at Amanda Peet for a couple of hours.

Vanity Fair

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Vanity Fair (B-). I never read the novel on which this movie was based, so I can’t compare the two. I hear that the movie makers made a bunch of changes, so English majors beware. Anyhoo, the setting is England in the Napoleonic era, and Reese Witherspoon is Becky Sharp, a young woman born without status or wealth. She is determined to acquire both, spawning the two major conflicts in the film. Will she be crushed by the formidable forces of aristocracy deployed against her? What (and whom) is she willing to sacrifice to achieve acceptance by society? (In one memorable quip, another character remarks of her that she is no social climber — she’s a mountaineer.) If you like period pieces, and you are willing to overlook a few wrong notes here and there, you’ll like this flick. Also features Romola Garai, who was so excellent in last year’s I Capture the Castle, and a nice performance by tall, gangly Rhys Ifans of Notting Hill.

Shaun of the Dead; Resident Evil 2

From Nick at Nite:

Shaun of the Dead and Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse

How many Zombie movies can a guy see in one weekend? Three. I saw Shaun of the Dead on Friday night. Stumbled into a late showing of the Resident Evil sequel, came home and watched some of 28 Days Later. I appreciate all three of these movies for very different reasons. Shaun of the Dead is funny. I won’t retread the entire plot line here, as the Movie Snob has already done that in his review, but for fans of the Zombie genre this movie pays homage to all of the great Zombie movies of the past. Favorite two moments, a character is disemboweled just like in George Romero’s classic and at the end of the movie a newscaster says the infection was not caused by monkeys – as was the case in 28 Days Later. Shaun of the Dead was an original idea that made me laugh for 45 minutes. That is an “A” every time. Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse left exactly where the last movie ended. The residents of Raccoon City are quickly becoming infected with the very bad T Virus. The T Virus turns everyone into Zombies. It is up to a small group of survivors to make their way out of town and expose the evil Umbrella Corporation. Fortunately, the small group of survivors includes two extremely beautiful women. This movie has a ton of gun play, little humor, and tons of action. I give it a “B,” but only because I am trying to encourage the making of future Zombie films. I believe I gave 28 Days Later an “A” in an earlier review. My grade remains the same. It is an original, scary movie. It is highbrow, evidenced by the fact that I saw it at the Magnolia.