The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (C+). This is a very odd comedy from the same creative folks behind Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. And I’ll say up front that I really disliked Tenenbaums. But I decided to give The Life Aquatic a chance for a couple of reasons: (1) the previews made it look like a kinder, gentler movie than its immediate predecessor, and (2) I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Jacques Cousteau, the obvious inspiration for the character of Steve Zissou (Bill Murray). At the beginning, the movie sets up two tidy little plots with a lot of comic potential: (1) Zissou has decided to embark on an Ahab-like quest to kill the mysterious beast, a “jaguar shark,” that ate his best friend, and (2) Zissou meets his adult son Ned (Owen Wilson) for the first time and impulsively invites him to join his crew aboard the Belafonte. So I was expecting the movie to be one part action flick, one part father-son-bonding flick. And I guess it sort of was, but after the set-up the plot just kind of wanders around from one tangent to another, leaving the two main threads dangling for so long that you begin wonder if the movie will ever find its way back. Anyhoo, it’s not a bad movie if you don’t mind the lack of narrative momentum. There are some decent laughs, and the movie boasts a good cast including Angelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, and Willem Dafoe.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

A new review from Movie Man Mike:

A Series of Unfortunate Events. (B-) To begin with, the most unfortunate event was that I went to see this movie at the theater. It will be more enjoyable if you don’t pay full price for it. J.K. Rowling has nothing to fear from this little upstart of a film series. The cast of this movie was promising, with Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, and an actor who looks suspiciously like John Cleese, but who is not credited as John Cleese. With the exception of Jude Law, who narrates, each of these actors plays intriguing and humorous characters. The story seemed to drag a little, which was surprising since it appears that the producers tried to fit 3 of the books into one movie. One thing missing from this film were some of the laughs. Most of the humor was mildly amusing. This movie might appeal more to children, but I personally would not recommend it for children because it’s a little dark given that it begins with the children learning that their parents were killed in a horrible fire. The rest of the film involves attempts to place the children with various relatives and the scheming of one relative, Count Olaf, to acquire the children’s inheritance even if it involves the killing of other relatives. The whole time I kept worrying about the impact of this film on my impressionable nieces and nephews. Leave the kids at home, and if you rent it, watch it after the kids have gone to bed.

Spanglish

From The Movie Snob:

Spanglish (B). I saw this, the latest film from writer-director-producer James L. Brooks (As Good As It Gets, Broadcast News) with my parents and sister on Christmas Day, and everybody liked it. Spanish actress Paz Vega (think an attractive version of Penelope Cruz) plays Flor Moreno, a young Mexican woman who decides to relocate from Mexico to Los Angeles with her young daughter, Christina, after her husband walks out on them. After living and working solely within L.A.’s Hispanic community for six years (never learning English), Flor decides that she needs to make more money and becomes a housekeeper for a wealthy Anglo family, the Claskys. This all happens in fairly short order, and the rest of the movie is about the culture shock that both families experience as a result of the change. Tea Leoni delivers a stand-out performance as the unhappy woman of the house, Deborah Clasky. She was downsized out of her job not too long ago, and she is a miserable homemaker. Not surprisingly, she is making her whole family miserable as well. Adam Sandler is less convincing as the man of the house, a four-star chef who is really too nice and too good-hearted to be true. But the friendship that blossoms between him and the similarly down-to-earth Flor (rimshot) is certainly believable. Personally, I liked Spanglish much better than Brooks’s As Good As It Gets, but probably not as much as Broadcast News. My mom liked it much more than I did, my sister not as much. See it, and see whom you agree with.

Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

From The Movie Snob:

Flight of the Phoenix (2004) (C). This remake is a very average action/adventure flick starring Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, and Miranda Otto. An oil exploration site in the middle of Mongolia is getting shut down, and Quaid plays the hard-bitten pilot who is sent to ferry the crew and some equipment back to Beijing. (His character reminds me some of Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, now that I think about it.) They run into a sandstorm, and the cargo plane crashes fairly gently in the Gobi Desert, leaving the plane wrecked but almost everyone on board alive. The survivors then have to choose between (1) sitting still, conserving their water, and hoping that someone finds them before the water runs out, and (2) trying to build a working plane out of the wreckage to fly themselves out, at the cost of a lot of toil and a lot of their precious water. Cliches abound, but it’s an okay movie, I guess.

Ocean’s Twelve

That Guy Named David weighs in:

Ocean’s Twelve (C)

As an admitted fan of Ocean’s Eleven (the re-make), this movie was on my list of “must-sees” over the holidays. After sitting through 2 hours of this dud, however, the expectations were not even close to being met. Basic premise: Ocean (Clooney) and his gang have 2 weeks to get casino boss Terry Benedict’s (Garcia’s) money to him or they will be killed. Now, maybe it was just me, but I thought the whole idea behind Ocean’s Eleven was that they pulled off this great heist without having Benedict know it was them behind it. Well, that premise of the first movie is destroyed in the first 20 minutes of this movie. And after the new premise is revealed, the story fragments about 50 times and then makes a very weak attempt at the end to pull everything together. Simply put, they were trying to hard to make an intricate, complex caper and failed miserably in doing so. The great part of the first movie was that the story was relatively simple to follow, yet the details of the heist itself were interesting and kept your attention. The sequel, however, seemed to get bogged down at times and then would try its damndest to be clever and send the viewer on loops that were unnecessary and took away from the story. And don’t get me started on the Julia Roberts role (you’ll understand when you watch the movie). Weak. Wait till it comes out on video.

Closer

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Closer (C). This dark movie charts the relationships that form and dissolve and (possibly) re-form between two British guys (Clive Owen, the ubiquitous Jude Law) and two American women (Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman) over a four-year period. I freely admit that I have a hard time liking movies about unlikeable people, and at least three of the four protagonists in this flick are pretty unpleasant human beings (only Portman’s character is somewhat sympathetic). But my real problem was suspending disbelief that these four lovebirds could say and do the things they do and not kill (or at least maim) each other afterwards. Obsession, verbal cruelty, and betrayal are the hallmarks of these “love affairs,” and there is so much graphic sexual dialogue that you’ll forget there’s not a single sex scene in the movie. Definitely not a movie to see with your parents. Good performances offset the weak script to some extent, so I call it a C.

Alfie (2004)

A review from The Movie Snob.

Alfie (2004) (B+). I never saw the old Michael Caine version of this movie, so I had no preconceptions going into the dollar movie theater where I saw this flick. (There were maybe four people in the whole auditorium; I guess everybody else was down the hall watching Anaconda 2.) Anyhow, this is basically Jude Law’s movie. He plays Alfie, a British bachelor living in New York. He works as a limousine driver, and his hobby is having sex with virtually any attractive woman that crosses his path. And he makes a running commentary on his life directly to the camera for the entire movie, which I suppose some would find irritating; personally, I didn’t mind it. To me, the movie bore more than a passing resemblance to the Hugh Grant movie About a Boy (which I also enjoyed very much). Both examine the situation of the middle-aged, unattached male in modern society, although About a Boy is a much lighter and essentially comic take on the subject than Alfie is. Is the middle-aged bachelor a figure to be envied or pitied? I thought this was a very good and realistic attempt to answer that question.

Finding Neverland

From The Movie Snob:

Finding Neverland (A-). Johnny Depp plays James Barrie, the British playwright who wrote Peter Pan back in the very early 1900’s, in this film that was “inspired by true events.” I thought this was a superb movie, and Depp turns in a great performance as the childlike Barrie. As the movie opens, Barrie’s latest play is flopping on the London stage, and his marriage is in trouble to boot. Then, during one of his frequent walks in the park, he meets the young widow Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four boys (including one named Peter). He starts to spend much more time with the Davies family than with his own wife, and they give him the inspiration for his next play — Peter Pan. This little drama doesn’t feature a lot of pyrotechnics (the friend I saw the movie with apparently fell asleep), so go find National Treasure if that’s what you’re after. But for a solid, thought-provoking, even tear-jerking experience, book a trip to Neverland.

Nothing Sacred

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Nothing Sacred (D). I picked this 1937 “classic” up in a bargain bin somewhere and finally gave it a view last night. It is barely watchable. Blond bombshell Carole Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, a small-town Vermont girl who is erroneously diagnosed as having terminal radium poisoning. (No one ever stops to ask how she could get exposed to that much radium in the one-horse town of Warsaw, Vermont.) Frederic March is a New York City reporter desperately in need of a scoop, so, hearing of Flagg’s plight, he whisks her back to the Big Apple where she becomes a big sensation. The problem is that she actually knows that the diagnosis was wrong, and it’s just a matter of time before she is revealed as a fraud. Although I take it that this is a fairly well-regarded “screwball comedy,” I thought it was tedious and unfunny. Fortunately it was only 75 minutes long.

In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob:

In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq, by Steven Vincent (Spence 2004). This Vincent guy is crazy. He’s a freelance journalist who lives in New York City and whose area of expertise is apparently art criticism. He was deeply affected by the events of 9/11, and, after the liberation of Iraq in 2003, he simply decided to go to Iraq to see it for himself and report what he saw. Most amazingly, he went without official connections or press credentials, improvising his way through the country as best he could. And he lived to tell the tale, which is certainly an interesting one. Among the highlights are his vivid descriptions of the educated and opinionated folk who frequent the cafes of Baghdad, his amazingly daring penetration into Shiite rituals in Najaf and Karbala, and his attempt to explain freedom of the press to the Union of Iraqi Writers and Journalists. He also writes quite a bit about the status of women in Iraqi society, and his friendship with a striking young woman named Nour who had spent some time in prison under Saddam and was devoting her life to furthering women’s rights. Her sad story certainly underlines the difficulty of planting a regime based on liberty in such a repressive and tribal culture. Definitely an interesting read.

La Dolce Vita

New from The Movie Snob:

La Dolce Vita (B). Or, as the ticket-selling guy helpfully translated for me, The Sweet Life. The 1961 Fellini classic is back in theaters, so I took advantage of the opportunity to see it on the big screen last night. Make no mistake, this 3-hour Italian film is l-o-n-g, but I really didn’t mind for at least the first 2 and a quarter hours or so. It is the story of Marcello, a journalist approaching middle age whose specialty is writing about the rich and famous for the scandal sheets. (The milieu and themes reminded me a lot of the recent Bright Young Things.) His job requires him to spend a lot of time hanging out with the beautiful people at parties and nightclubs, much to the displeasure of his clingy and unstable fiancee, Emma. Marcello is vaguely aware of and disquieted by the shallowness of his existence, but he doesn’t seem to struggle very strongly against it. As time goes by and one party blurs into the next, he succumbs more and more to the idleness and debauchery that surrounds him. Can he break through the fog of alcohol and cigarette smoke to a more worthwhile existence? And is it worth three hours of your life to find out? I think so, but you be the judge.

I Am David

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

I Am David (A-). This new release grabbed me by the throat and never let go. The year is 1952, and the setting is communist Bulgaria. David is an anonymous 12-year-old boy, a prisoner in a concentration camp because of some unknown “crime” committed by parents he barely remembers. With some help, he manages to escape the camp with a mysterious envelope and instructions to make his way to Italy, and then to Denmark. His journey is basically the entire movie, with a few flashbacks to his life in the camp. The actor playing David is utterly convincing playing a child who has been surrounded by cruelty and hatred his whole life, who has been taught to trust no one, suddenly having to try to make sense of freedom and the kindness that strangers occasionally offer him. Jim Cavaziel turns in a nice performance as David’s friend in the camp, as does Joan Plowright as a woman who tries to help David on his journey, but the kid who plays David owns the movie. It’s a tear-jerker, and I’m afraid it’s going to get overlooked in the rush of holiday movies. But it’s well worth your time. Go see it and let Hollywood know there’s a place for quality movies like this one.

I.Q. (C). That Guy Named David loaned me this DVD from his personal collection. Alas, it was just another bland romantic comedy. The premise is that Meg Ryan is Cathy Boyd, the niece of Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau). She’s a brainy mathematician in her own right, and she’s engaged to a supercilious drip of a British professor of psychology named James. When an auto mechanic named Ed (Tim Robbins) falls for Cathy and favorably impresses Dr. Einstein, Albert and his cronies hatch a plot to help him woo her away from the loathsome James. Ryan and Robbins turn in congenial performances, but otherwise this flick is completely generic.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

From The Movie Snob:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (C). I saw this movie for the first time last night at a midnight movie, and it was a strange and jarring experience from the outset. Before the movie, they showed a vintage Mr. Magoo cartoon that was as painfully unfunny as anything I have seen. I guess that’s what they did instead of showing previews back in those days. The movie itself did have a few laughs, but the humor was of the darkest, most painful sort. Released only a couple of years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the movie’s premise is that an American general (named Jack D. Ripper) has gone off the deep end and irrevocably ordered 30-some-odd nuclear bombers to attack the U.S.S.R. The big-guy general, himself a paranoid psychotic played by George C. Scott, has to give the president the bad news and theoretically help find a solution. Peter Sellers gives a triple performance as the well-meaning but ineffectual president, the weird ex-Nazi-turned-American-scientist Dr. Strangelove, and the only semi-normal person in this movie, a British officer who tries to convince General Ripper to recall the bombers. I’m not sure what the point of the movie was, since the Russians, though mostly off-screen, are portrayed as being as inept as the Americans. It was suspenseful but disturbing, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Sideways

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Sideways (B+). In About Schmidt, director Alexander Payne painted a portrait of what you might call “retirement crisis,” as Jack Nicholson tries to find some meaning in life after he retires from his bland white-collar job and his wife passes away. In his new movie, Sideways, Payne turns the clock back a few decades and goes after a more familiar malady—the midlife crisis. Best friends Jack and Miles (Paul Giamatti, wonderful as always) head off for a weeklong vacation in California’s wine country before Jack’s wedding. Jack is a hedonistic doofus, while Miles is a soulful loser: he’s been divorced and depressed for two years, he’s an alcoholic, he’s bored with his job as a middle-school English teacher, and he’s about to give up hope of ever getting his monstrously huge novel published. In short, he’s a failure before the age of 40, and he knows it. Jack and Miles are counterbalanced by two women they meet early in their travels, Stephanie and Maya, and it is soon clear that Maya represents Miles’s chance at redemption, if only he could pull himself together long enough to take it. The whole movie is good, but the scenes with Miles and Maya really click. Definitely worth a look.