Closer; National Treasure

New DVD reviews from That Guy Named David:

Closer (B+)

As most followers of this site know, I kinda have a thing for Natalie Portman (that is, of course, until recently when she shaved her head; still relatively cute, but I’m ironically not a big fan of bald women). Nonetheless, my infatuation began with her appearance in Beautiful Girls, easily one of the top 20 movies ever made (slight exaggeration, but still one hell of a movie). I also loved her more recent endeavors such as Garden State. In Closer, she plays a much more grown-up role as the focal point of this story of the dysfunctional lives of four sexually-charged twenty-somethings in Europe. The performances by her, Jude Law, Clive Owen, and Julia Roberts were all exceptional, and the story kept my attention throughout, despite some dragging in the middle. The dialogue was a bit racy, but I appreciate relationship movies that are genuine and don’t pull many punches. The Movie Snob thought that the interactions between the characters were too over the top and not believable, given that they keep switching back and forth by sleeping with each other during the movie. I told him that he should have gone to law school at Tech. Anyway, good movie, but not one that your children should see until they are happily married.

National Treasure (C-)

Amanda (my girlfriend) refuses to watch movies starring Nicolas Cage. Obviously, she has not seen Valley Girl, when the young Nicolas Cage (then Coppola) made his debut in a starring role opposite the lovely Deborah Foreman. Anyway, back to this movie…. When I saw the preview in the theatre, I thought it looked relatively entertaining. Then, the movie came out and was slammed by the press. I tend to agree with my esteemed reviewing brethren on this one. Cage was great in Leaving Las Vegas and has been pretty damn horrendous in everything since (ex. The Rock, Con Air, Snake Eyes, Face Off, Gone in Sixty Seconds, on and on and on…). This movie is not much different. And to add to his ridiculous portrayal is the addition of the esteemed star of Anaconda, Jon Voight. Not to mention the fact that the story is so incredibly unbelievable (as in, there is no way you can fathom it to be remotely true, despite its attempt at portraying historical facts about this great country). In short, don’t waste two hours of your day watching this movie. Really bad.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (B+). This documentary about birds was far superior to the overhyped Winged Migration. It’s about a flock of wild parrots living in San Francisco. And it’s about a gentle, hippie-type character named Mark who moved to the Bay City twenty-five years ago and whose vague intention of becoming a rock musician never really panned out. Instead, seemingly by chance, he got involved with these odd avian transplants to San Francisco, gradually earning their trust and becoming a St. Francis of Assisi-like character to them. What really makes the film work are Mark’s entertaining observations about the personalities of various individual birds he has identified and named, and the excellent photography reinforces the poignancy of the stories. Like Connor, the only blue-headed parrot in the flock, who is somewhat aloof and lonely but helps protect underdog members of the flock from being picked on. Or the longtime couple Picasso and Sophie. Or Mingus, the only healthy wild bird who actually prefers staying in Mark’s apartment over freedom. The film even ends with a delightful surprise, unusual for a documentary. Check it out.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

A review from The Movie Snob:

Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (B-). This movie is not about surprises. Every fan knows that several things have to happen between Episodes II and IV: the Jedi Knights must be crushed, the Republic must give way to the Empire, and Anakin Skywalker must father twins, turn to the Dark Side of the Force, and don the famous black armor of Darth Vader. The only question is whether George Lucas has made it an enjoyable ride. The answer is an equivocal yes. The action sequences are generally good, and the climactic battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin is very good. (I still don’t buy Yoda flipping around like a ninja version of Kermit the Frog, though.) The dramatic scenes are generally bad, and Lucas proves again that he can’t write dialogue. (I can imagine Natalie Portman’s sigh of relief when production wrapped on this thing; Padme’s role in this movie is pitiful.) I am also very confused about the philosophy underlying these movies. At one point, Obi-Wan criticizes the Sith (the bad guys) because only they deal in absolutes, but at the same time the Jedis are the ones with the strict code of ethics and seemingly “absolute” refusal to use the powers of the Dark Side. And yet, the Jedis are also looking for a “chosen one” to bring “balance” to the Force. Balance between what, good and evil? Beats me. Anyhoo, I rank this movie ahead of Episodes I and II and behind all the rest; my friends who saw the movie with me put it ahead of Return of the Jedi as well. You be the judge.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

A review from That Guy Named David:

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (B)

Being that I am not a huge Star Wars fan, I was a bit shocked to find myself at the premiere of the new Star Wars flick with the other couple thousand people who packed into a small theatre in Austin to see the newest installment. Nonetheless, I figured that since I had seen all the other episodes, I owed it to myself to finish the saga. To my surprise, I was not disappointed in the third/last feature from George Lucas and gang. Everyone knows the basic story of all the Star Wars stories, and if you’ve seen the original Star Wars (which every person on the planet has except a certain girlfriend of mine), you already know where this episode is heading. Therefore, there are no real surprises with this movie. Like the first two episodes (or the last two movies made), the special effects really stole the show. Also like the first two episodes, the acting was stilted and the dialogue was forced. It amazes me that Natalie Portman, who was exceptional in Garden State and Closer, looks like a rookie on the silver screen in all three most-recent Star Wars episodes. In addition, the guy who plays Anikan Skywalker really needs to attend some acting lessons. Horrible. Nonetheless, the story was well-scripted and the action was enough to make the movie a generally pleasant-going experience. If only the kid behind me had quit kicking my seat and the old man next to me had quit chewing ice, I would have had a really nice time at the theatre with the rest of central/south Texas.

Because of Winn-Dixie; A Clockwork Orange

Reviews from The Movie Snob.

Because of Winn Dixie (C-). It is difficult to make a good family-oriented movie, as this sincere but unsuccessful effort demonstrates. The plot is serviceable — little girl moves to a new town with her sad, single-parent dad, she is lonely and has trouble making friends, she finds and keeps a lovable stray dog (which she names Winn Dixie), and through the dog’s antics she meets and makes new friends. Otherwise, the movie has troubles. The whole movie rests on the shoulders of the little actress who plays the protagonist, and unfortunately she is not up to it — in fact, none of the child actors is very good. The tone of the movie veers from sappy to hokey and back again. Subplots are introduced and never developed, like one about the shady past of the withdrawn, guitar-playing pet-store proprietor Otis (played by one Dave Matthews, who is apparently a popular musician in his own right). The filmmakers’ hearts were obviously in the right place, but they should go back and study the classics of the genre like The Parent Trap, The Karate Kid, and Wet Hot American Summer before they make another movie.

A Clockwork Orange (B+). I had heard a lot about this movie, but this was my first time to watch it. Apparently set in the near future, it is the story of an utterly amoral British hooligan named Alex, played with panache by a young Malcolm McDowell. He and his small band of vicious punks spend their nights hopped up on drugs and engaging in what he calls “the old ultraviolence”—they fight with other gangs, assault pathetic winos, steal cars, break into houses, and merrily beat and rape anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way. Finally, however, Alex is caught and thrown in prison. To shorten his sentence, he eagerly submits to an experimental procedure that a new government is touting as the answer to Britain’s crime problem. Basically, he is brainwashed so that the prospect of sex or violence automatically makes him violently ill. While this makes society safe from Alex, it immediately becomes clear that it is not safe for him in his new condition. What will ultimately become of him? What should be done with him? All this is very strikingly portrayed by director Stanley Kubrick against a wild soundtrack of both classical and futuristic electronic music. It’s a trippy ride, and its graphic portrayal of violence and rape were probably very shocking at the time. Tarantino and his ilk have raised (or lowered) the bar a lot since then, though.

Reel Views (book review)

A Book Review from The Movie Snob:

Reel Views, by James Berardinelli (2003). According to the foreword by Roger Ebert, Berardinelli is an electrical engineer by profession and a movie reviewer by avocation. He runs a website that he touts as “the largest non-commercial movie site on the net,” and I recently added a connecting link to his page among the links on the left side of The Movie Court. In this book, Berardinelli collects around a thousand of his own reviews, almost all of them about movies released from 1990-2002. And he has deliberately selected only movies that he recommends; the grading system on display here includes only “recommended,” “highly recommended,” and “must see.” That makes the book useful, although it deprives the reader of the pleasure of the occasional hatchet job.

I haven’t actually read the whole thing; I have read only the reviews of movies I have seen, to see whether Berardinelli is a good writer (he is) and whether he and I have similar taste in movies. Basically, I think we do, although he is a little too easy to entertain when it comes to romantic comedies. For example, I agree with his mild recommendation of Bounce, starring Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, but then he goes and gives the same stamp of approval to the treacly Nicolas Cage vehicle City of Angels, the abysmal Affleck-Bullock pairing in Forces of Nature, and the utterly forgettable Return to Me. Still, I’d recommend this as a good book to have with you next time you go to Blockbuster without anything specific in mind.

Forces of Nature

A review from The Movie Snob:

Forces of Nature (IMAX) (B). This is not the disastrous romantic comedy of a few years ago starring Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck; rather, it is a movie about disasters of a natural rather than cinematic sort. In this movie (seen with the parents at Arkansas’s only IMAX theater), National Geographic delivers up close and personal looks at three kinds of natural disasters: volcanoes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. The first segment is the best because it has actual footage of exploding, erupting volcanoes, focusing on one in the Caribbean called Montserrat. The segment about earthquakes focuses on Turkey and the research of a scientist who has discovered a westerly trend of major earthquakes along a particular fault line; that trend is coming dangerously close to Istanbul. No footage of an actual earthquake, but plenty from the aftermath of a massive quake that hit the city of Izmit only a few years ago. The last segment, about tornadoes, features some pretty remarkable footage as well. An interesting way to spend 40 minutes.

The Peacemaker

From the Movie Snob’s Shelf o’ DVD’s.

The Peacemaker. This weekend I decided to explore more of the Kidman oeuvre by checking out this 1998 release starring NK and George Clooney. It’s a thriller about stolen Russian nuclear warheads and the terrorists who want them. Nicole plays a “nuclear specialist” in the U.S. government who is in charge of finding out what happened to them and preventing them from falling into the wrong hands. Clooney is a smooth-talking Army colonel (special forces) who provides the street smarts, the arms-trade connections, the combat know-how, and, well, almost everything else Nicole needs to complete her mission. Roger Ebert’s review is quite funny and nails this movie for throwing in almost every thriller-movie cliché in the book. (He mentions several of them but overlooks the one — used twice in this movie — in which the heroes flee an explosive situation and leap to safety just in front of a massive fireball.) Nicole looks okay, but her drab wardrobe and short, dark hairdo really don’t show her to her best advantage. The DVD includes a very short feature consisting of interviews and outtakes, and Nic looks much finer in her interview. Movie grade: C. Nicole grade: B.

Downfall

A new review from Movie Man Mike:

Downfall (B). This movie is based upon the book “The Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich” by Joachim Fest. It depicts the last days of Adolph Hitler from the vantage point of his bunker. Because the movie is in German, it is subtitled. Although the film is rather dark, I was fascinated by the depictions of what purportedly went on in the final days, and I had no idea about some of these events. Bruno Ganz makes a great Hitler. The events are often surreal and I found myself at times sympathizing with those who were part of Hitler’s team. This film was very enlightening. You should see this movie, if for no other reason to experience the newly refurbished Inwood Theater, with a new concession stand and new roomier, cozy chairs in the upstairs theaters.

Shake Hands With the Devil (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob:

Shake Hands With the Devil, by Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire (2003). After seeing Hotel Rwanda, I wanted to know more about what happened in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Then I saw a favorable review of this book, by the Canadian general in charge of the U.N. force stationed in Rwanda at the time. It is a gripping read. A tiny U.N. force was sent to Rwanda in 1993-94 because a long civil war (between the rebel Tutsis and the incumbent Hutus) was about to end with the installation of a new interim government; the U.N. force was supposed to act as sort of a dampening rod in case problems cropped up. Unknown to anyone, extremists in the Hutu camp were plotting all along to sabotage the peace accords and launch a genocide against the Tutsis. Dallaire and his handful of soldiers did what they could to rescue some of the targeted victims, but Dallaire’s constant pressure on the U.N. to send a substantial force that could actually stop the killing yielded virtually no results. And so 800,000 Rwandans were killed in about 100 days, before the rebel army finally conquered almost the entire country. Dallaire’s grief and frustration are palpable, and the forward to the book reveals that his horrifying experience as a bystander to genocide left him shattered and suicidal. Highly recommended.

Flight of the Phoenix

New DVD review from Nick at Nite:

Flight of the Phoenix

Why remake a movie? To make it better? To reach a wider audience? As a commentary on the societal impact of the original? Because technology means you can make a better movie? Or because there is money to be made? The only explanation is that there is money to be made. It is the only logical explanation for DeNiro’s Cape Fear, TNT’s The Goodbye Girl, the current Amityville Horror, Depp’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Freaky Friday – I could go on, but there is no point. I like my movies big, bad, and action packed. Yet, when the original does the trick – I don’t believe it should be updated. The original Flight of the Phoenix has Jimmy Stewart in it. Yeah, that Jimmy Stewart. You know from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Shenandoah. The movie is more believable because they use a real airplane, real stunts, real guns, and have real explosions. It is not a CGI marvel. It is perhaps the way movies were meant to be made. By comparison, the remake sucked. I give it an F.

Fever Pitch

New review from Nick at Nite:

Fever Pitch

I love baseball. Is there anything more American? (except for winning the hearts and minds of people in third-world countries by invading their country and toppling whatever puppet government we previously installed). The smell of hotdogs, the hot glare of the sun, and the crack of a wooden bat – baseball is the perfect game. I won’t go so far as to say that Fever Pitch is a perfect movie, but it is a very good date movie and is an excellent demonstration of how someone can love a team or game as much as they do (some call it an obsession – I call it a healthy marriage). This movie is the screenplay of a book about an English soccer fan’s obsession with the Liverpool football club. I understand the book has a different ending than the movie (and it is a different sport) so it is probably worth checking out.

Anywho . . . this movie follows the escapades of Jimmy Fallon’s character, an obsessed and cursed Boston RedSox fan, as he meets Drew Barrymore’s character, a stuck-up, whiny, high-strung yuppie. Drew falls for Jimmy’s “offseason” guy only to learn that she might not like Jimmy’s “baseball” season guy. I don’t want to give away the movie, but if you have been in prison or hate sports . . . the RedSox won the World Series last year . . . so the end of the movie heads that direction. I really enjoyed this film. I thought Jimmy’s character was likeable and believable. I thought Drew was serviceable, but she has been much better — see Fifty First Dates. Having been to a ton of baseball games, including a Red Sox v. Yankees game . . . let me say this movie very realistically portrayed the plight of these fans. I give it an A and say check it out.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The Interpreter

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (B-). Unless you are a fan of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker series of books, I cannot imagine that you would at all like this movie. I was a fan, way back when, and I would say that I appreciated the effort that went into the project more than I enjoyed the result. The plot is thin, just as it was in the books. Arthur Dent, a British everyman, is fighting to keep his house from getting bulldozed for highway construction. Little does he or any other Earthling know, that very day the entire Earth is also slated to be demolished for the construction of a galactic bypass, whatever that is. But Arthur lucks out—his friend Ford Prefect is actually an alien, and together they hitch a ride on one of the spaceships carrying out the demolition order. From there they experience a series of improbable adventures involving among other things, a fantastic spaceship that has been stolen by the President of the Galaxy, a depressed robot named Marvin, and a legendary planet that just might contain the key to life, the universe, and everything. I remember the book and its first sequel, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, as being extremely clever and funny, but their absurdist humor is very hard to translate to the big screen. This is probably about as well as it could be done, but it made me smile more than it made me laugh.  On the plus side, it does have Zooey Deschanel (Elf) in it….

The Interpreter (C+). Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, an emotionally scarred woman from Africa who works as a translator for the United Nations. Sean Penn plays Tobin Keller, an emotionally scarred agent in the U.S. Secret Service. Their paths cross when, a few days before an African dictator is to arrive in New York to address the U.N. in person, Silvia overhears a conversation suggesting that an assassination attempt is in the works. Keller is assigned to the case, he quickly gauges that Silvia’s not telling the whole truth, and the sparks fly. Or at least they are supposed to. The movie didn’t really work for me. I guess the thriller aspect of the movie was reasonably well-plotted and acted, but the fact that the assassination target is clearly a brutal dictator and possibly complicit in genocide weakens the tension. Worse, I found the scenes in which Silvia and Tobin are supposed to forge their inevitable bond strained, if not downright painful. Still, although saddled with clunky dialogue in those scenes, the stars turn in decent performances, and Nicole looks fabulous. (For a humorously scathing review of this flick, click here.) I’m already looking forward to Bewitched, and not because Will Ferrell is in it.