From the desk of The Movie Snob:
Deep Blue (A-). As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I was a big fan of Jacques Cousteau specials when I was a kid, so I was eager to see this documentary on the big screen. It did not disappoint. It is a beautifully filmed survey of wildlife in our oceans and at the water’s edge, including critters such as: albatrosses, seals, dolphions, killer whales, sharks, swordfish, crabs, jellyfish, and all sorts of weird and ghastly beasts that live way down at the bottom of the sea. Be warned, there are a couple of fairly gruesome scenes in which predators get after some sympathetic victims. A few minor quibbles: I’m pretty sure they borrowed some footage from both the current March of the Penguins and James Cameron’s recent Aliens of the Deep. The narration by Pierce Brosnan is good as far as it goes, but I would have appreciated more explanation of what I was seeing. But these are truly quibbles; the images and the accompanying musical soundtrack are generally awesome. Check it out.
A review from The Movie Snob:
The Island (B-). I was drawn to this movie by the premise: in a near-future America, the ultra-wealthy pay for the creation of clones as “insurance policies” in case they ever need organ transplants. What happens when a couple of clones (Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johanssen) get wise to their inevitable fate? I was simultaneously repelled by the fact that director Michael Bay has also been responsible for Bad Boys II and the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Curiosity won out, and I was reasonably entertained. In fact, my only real complaint is that the movie is just too long, especially in the second half once the clones have made their break for freedom. I’ll admit the car chases and other action sequences are pretty impressive (if over the top), but less would have been more. With judicious editing, this could have been a B or B+.
A book review from That Guy Named David.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (A)
No, I am not 12 years old; although, I tend to act like it at times. That being said, I am pretty sure that most parents wouldn’t want their 12 year olds reading the newest novel in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Like many of my colleagues and a certain girlfriend I have, I was skeptical of the Harry Potter series when the first books came out and wondered how anyone over the age of 10 would have any interest in reading about a teenage wizard and his group of friends. However, while I was studying for the bar and looking for anything to do to get away from studying for the bar, I decided that I would hole myself up in my room where everyone thought I was studying and read the first novel. I finished it in a little over a day and immediately went to the next one. Since then, I have anxiously awaited the release of all the books (however, I am not one of the freaks that dresses up like a wizard and goes to Barnes and Noble for the midnight release; I do that in my home where there is more privacy). But enough about me . . . the latest Harry Potter continues the saga of Harry Potter vs. his long-time nemesis, Voldemort (the Dark Wizard who tried to kill Harry as a child). Voldemort has made his return to the wizarding world after a hiatus of 15 years or so and is raising hell left and right while gathering supporters (known as Death Eaters) at every turn. Harry, of course, is back at Hogwarts School of Wizardry, and with Dumbledore (the school’s headmaster), he is learning as much about Voldemort’s past as possible so that he has the tools available to finally defeat the Dark Wizard once and for all. As mentioned above, the types of scenes described in this book are not exactly child-friendly, and as has widely been reported, there is one high-profile death in the book. That being said, Rowling has an uncanny ability to describe the scenes and characters with such detail and keep the book flowing that it makes it difficult to ever put the book down once you start reading. In the Half-Blood Prince, she introduces some romance plot-lines to the characters to add to the basic fantasy/mystery plot-lines that have kept the series going through the first several installments. If you haven’t read any of the books, I highly recommend you do so . . . mostly so I won’t continue to be mocked, but also because I think you might just enjoy them.
A book review from The Movie Snob.
The American Myth of Religious Freedom, by Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr. (Spence Publishing 1999). The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence regarding the religion clauses of the First Amendment is upsetting to many on the religious right. The religious right thinks the clauses were intended to protect religion from the power of the overbearing state, and not to crowd religious viewpoints out of the public square. Not so, argues Craycraft. In persuasive analyses of the writings of Jefferson and Madison, as well as their political godfather John Locke, Craycraft argues that the true intent of the authors of the First Amendment was to protect the state from the power of the churches, and to found a regime in which religion’s influence would gradually be eroded and marginalized. I thought this part of the book was more compelling and interesting than the last couple of chapters, in which Craycraft develops an alternative theory of religious liberty based on Catholic sources such as political philosopher John Courtney Murray and the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
The Movie Snob reports in from Lexington, Kentucky:
March of the Penguins (B). This is a French documentary about the life cycle of the emperor penguin, which lives in Antarctica. Every year, at the end of the summer, the penguins leave the sea and march inland for their mating rituals. The story of how they do this, and then raise their chicks through the harsh South Polar winter, is truly remarkable, and good old Morgan Freeman provides a nice narration. If the film has a downside, it is the degree to which the script anthropomorphizes these birds. Surely we can agree that what these creatures do is remarkable enough without saying, apparently quite literally, that they are acting out of love, joy, sorrow, or what have you.
A DVD Review from Nick at Nite.
This movie stars Steve McQueen as a firefighter who must deal with a blistering fire in a high rise building, no wait, that is Towering Inferno; this movie stars Kurt Russell as a firefighter who must deal with a blistering fire in a high rise industrial building, no wait, that is Backdraft; this movie actually stars Joaquin Phoenix as a firefighter who must deal with a blistering fire in a high rise industrial building. Although it doesn’t make it a bad movie, there is no new ground here. While the central plot is not the same as Backdraft, many of the same plot devices are used. For example, probationary fireman is treating roughly, heavy drinking Irishmen get in a fight, fireman’s best friend is killed, fireman has to decide is he going to be a fireman or is he going to be a fire investigator, it is basically Backdraft without the political intrigue. I saw Backdraft on a 75mm print. I loved it. I felt like I was in the fire. I saw Ladder 49 at home on DVD . . . it made it easier to skip the boring parts. If you feel like watching a fire and don’t want to start one, rent Backdraft and you won’t be disappointed. I give Ladder 49 an “A-” for fire scenes, I give it a “C” for everything else, I kick it out of school for violating the honor code and copying off of Backdraft‘s paper.
From the desk of The Movie Snob:
Wedding Crashers (C-). There were some chuckles in this buddy-flick-slash-romantic comedy, but not nearly enough to justify the two-hour running time. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are buddies (and apparently divorce lawyers, judging from the opening scene with cameos by Dwight Yoakum and Rebecca De Mornay as a splitting couple), and they get their kicks by crashing weddings and picking up women at the receptions. Complications set in at their biggest crash of all – the wedding of the oldest daughter of the U.S. Treasury Secretary (played by Christopher Walken). Vince’s character gets mixed up with the Secretary’s psychotic youngest daughter Gloria, while Owen’s falls hard for the sensible, sensitive middle daughter Claire. Vaughn and Gloria get most of the laughs, while the usually entertaining Wilson is mired in the laborious cliché of the main plot. Can he win the girl away from her jerk boyfriend, despite having met her under false pretenses? More importantly, does it have to take 119 minutes for him to do it?
East of Eden (B-). I completed my traversal of the James Dean trilogy by watching the DVD of this, which I think was his first major picture. Set in northern California in 1917, it is the story of brothers Cal and Aron Trask, who have been raised by their strict Christian father after the early death of their mother. Aron is the favored and dutiful son, while Cal (James Dean) is the troubled ne’er-do-well. The plot is set into motion by Cal’s discovery that their father may have been less than forthright with him and Aron about what happened to their mother. Throw in some strong attraction between Cal and his brother’s girlfriend, and you’ve got a real soap opera on your hands. Worth a look, although I still don’t think Dean was a particularly good actor.