Deep Blue

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.

The Island

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+.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (book review)

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.

The American Myth of Religious Freedom (book review)

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.

March of the Penguins

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.

Ladder 49

A DVD Review from Nick at Nite.

Ladder 49

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.

Wedding Crashers; East of Eden

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.

Cinderella; Movin’ Out (stage reviews)

Stage reviews from The Movie Snob.

Cinderella. The Plano Repertory Theater is presenting Rodgers and Hammerstein’s version of the classic fairy tale. Although I’ve never seen the Disney version, the musical tracks what I know about the movie pretty closely — obnoxious stepmother and stepsisters, fairy godmother, pumpkin coach, glass slipper, the whole nine yards. The songs are nice, the actresses who play Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother can really sing, and the PRT production values were exceptional as always. And, as the program informs you, when Julie Andrews starred in a live television version in 1957, it was watched by 107 million viewers. And yet . . . there was just something a little slight about it, especially compared to similar shows such as Camelot and Beauty and the Beast. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly fine little musical — it’s just not an epic. Keep your expectations modest, and you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.

Movin’ Out. What is this animal? Is it a Billy Joel concert that just happens to have a bunch of people dancing around on stage, front and center? Or is it a ballet that just happens to be set to Billy Joel songs? I have never seen a ballet, so I’m going with the former. Whatever it is, I really liked it. Of course, it helps to like Billy Joel’s music, and if you hate his stuff you will have a very hard time liking this show. As for the dancing, it is something else. As I say, I know nothing about the aesthetics of dance; all I can say is that I found the dancing pleasing to the eye and the athleticism of the dancers nothing short of amazing. Remember that old TV show “Dance Fever,” on which a panel of B-celebrity judges would grade various dancing couples, and the ones who had the most athletic/gymnastic-type moves (and the skimpiest costumes) always won? This kind of reminded me of that. Oh, there’s also a story of sorts, about the Vietnam War and Brenda and Eddie (from the song “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”) and Anthony (from the song “Movin’ Out”) and James and Judy (from no song I ever heard before). But I think you’d be just as entertained if you ignored it. I recommend it. I think it’s playing for another week in Dallas and then travels to the Bass over in Fort Worth.

Bewitched

A new review from The Movie Snob:

Bewitched. It’s true, this movie is a train wreck. The often-amusing Will Farrell is left high and dry as tantrum-prone movie star Jack Wyatt, who is trying to save his career by starring as Darrin (one of the blandest roles in Hollywood history) in a new television version of “Bewitched.”  How does this make any sense?  It doesn’t.  Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman fares somewhat better as Isabel Bigelow, an actual witch who has just decided to “go straight” and live without witchcraft, and her character is interestingly (or oddly) naive considering she’s supposedly been around for hundreds of years. Anyway, Jack spots Isabel in a bookstore and has her cast as Samantha. Romance and comedy are supposed to ensue. Except for a few chuckles near the beginning, neither show up. On the plus side, Nicole is radiant throughout. Movie grade: D. Nicole grade: A-.

Rebel Without a Cause

A DVD review from The Movie Snob:

Rebel Without a Cause (C-). This legendary film left me cold, probably because I have always lacked the imagination to empathize with alienated suburban teenagers a la Catcher in the Rye. James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo play troubled youths whose “bad” home lives apparently drive them to seek out dangerous and criminal hijinks. For example, Dean’s father (played by Jim Backus of Gilligan’s Island fame) is a weak man dominated by his shrewish wife. No wonder his son is so angry and confused! I did like the scene of the school field trip to the planetarium, where the science-guy narrator multiplies these kids’ angst by demonstrating at length how tiny and insignificant they are, astronomically speaking. Anyway, Mystery Science Theater 3000 sent up a movie with the very same themes called I Accuse My Parents (now available on DVD). I say check it out instead.

Batman Begins

Woo-Hoo! Today we had our 10,000th hit!

And now a new review from The Movie Snob:

Batman Begins (A-). I thought this movie was just about as good as a comic-book-superhero movie can be. The director takes the first third of the movie to tell us the backstory of how Bruce Wayne became the Dark Knight, and it is a great ride. Then it’s back to the seething cesspool of Gotham, where young Bruce gropes his way towards the familiar cowl and costume. Unlike the previous Batman movies (at least the two I saw), the focus here is squarely on the hero; there is no scene-stealing ubervillain to divert our attention from Wayne’s struggle to come to grips with his parents’ deaths and his tremendous appetite for vigilante-style justice. I didn’t see the George Clooney incarnation of the Caped Crusader, but I thought Christian Bale buried Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer with his outstanding performance. The film’s one weakness is Katie Holmes, who is pretty much a cipher. And why is her smile so lop-sided? It’s like half her face is paralyzed or something. For the sequel, bring back the love interest from Batman Forever, and we’ll have an A movie for sure.

Never Let Me Go (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005). This new novel by the author of The Remains of the Day has gotten a lot of critical attention and acclaim, so I picked it up. I thought it was absolutely terrific, one of the most moving novels I have ever read. It has a bit of a science-fictionish sort of aspect to it, but I hope that won’t deprive the book of the wide audience it deserves. It is, as they say, unputdownable, and I finished it in two days.

The story is a first-person narrative by 31-year-old Kathy H., supposedly set in “England, late 1990s.” The first part of the book consists of her reminiscences about Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school somewhere out in rural England, which is where Kathy grew up and met her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy. The rest of the book is basically the story of their triangular relationship. Although Hailsham was idyllic in its own way, it is apparent from the opening lines that the England that is home to Kathy and her friends is not the real England, and there is something vaguely creepy and menacing about Hailsham and its “guardians.” The secret is revealed before too long, and you’ll probably figure it out even before then, but I won’t reveal it here. I will say only that the book is a beautiful meditation on love and friendship, and that you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

War of the Worlds

A second opinion on War of the Worlds, by Nick at Nite:

War of the Worlds

Everything I need to know in life I learned from Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg. From Tom I learned: ladies like men who wear blue jeans, but no shirt to play beach volleyball; sometimes doctors are really doctors and not strippers; that it is a bad, bad thing to go uninvited to a kinky, sex party; there is no minority report; an M-60 machine gun makes a beautiful noise when it is fired out of the third floor window of a military school; and that we live in a cynical world. From Steven I learned: what a Goonie is; talking teddy bears are creepy; dinosaurs live in Costa Rica; you can marry women you cast in your movies; Richard Dreyfuss is old; and Harrison Ford is only cool and interesting when he is acting. I learned a little more from these two guys watching War of the Worlds: it doesn’t matter what story these guys try to tell, they do it pretty well.

The premise of the movie is the same as the original. Aliens come to kill humans. The spin this time around is that the special effects are amazing. By “amazing,” I mean this is some of the coolest stuff I have seen since Jurassic Park. The special effects are unique because Spielberg uses some of the CGI technology, but he also uses real people, helicopters, trucks, and more. He combines the old and new very well. This is a great summer blockbuster. You should see it on the big screen. I give it an “A.”

War of the Worlds; Howl’s Moving Castle; My Summer of Love

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

War of the Worlds (B). The buzz I had heard was that this movie keeps you on the edge of your seat almost the entire time, and I have to say that it delivered. For about five minutes, things are perfectly normal. Tom Cruise plays Ray, a swaggering, divorced New Jersey dockworker. He is charged with taking care of his surly teenaged son and ten-year-old daughter for the weekend while his ex-wife and her wealthy new husband go to Boston. Weird storms simultaneously crop up all over the world, knocking out power and communications, and before you know it invincible alien tripods are marching through cities and across the countryside. Ray takes off with his children, and the film is at its best when it focuses on their flight from the alien marauders. To my mind, the film faltered when it slowed down and zeroed in on Ray’s conflicts with his children or other humans, like an unhinged Tim Robbins hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse. I was also surprised at how much Spielberg seemed to borrow from Independence Day, although perhaps that’s unfair since ID itself apparently lifted its plot straight from the same source—H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Overall, a perfectly decent thriller.

Howl’s Moving Castle (C). This was my first experience with Japanese anime, and it left me completely befuddled. The visuals were undeniably stunning, but the setting and plot were baffling. In the movie’s universe, from what I could tell, most people live in kingdoms that look like something out of Europe circa 1900, but wizards, witches, and magic are also accepted as facts of life. Howl himself is a wizard who lives in a fabulous moving castle that looks like a junkyard on giant mechanical chicken legs. The film’s protagonist, Sophie, is an ordinary young woman who attracts a witch’s attention for some reason and gets put under a spell that turns her into an old woman. She finds the moving castle and attaches herself to Howl’s small retinue as a cleaning woman, hoping to get her spell reversed. Lots of weird stuff happens, but danged if I could tell you why, and there’s a cute fire demon voiced by Billy Crystal too. Definitely a different sort of movie experience.

My Summer of Love (C). The reviewer for the local newspaper loved this British movie, calling it a “triumph” and a “gem.” I was less impressed, finding it pretty ordinary and predictable. The protagonist is Mona, a poor, plain, teenaged girl with no parents and few prospects. She’s having a loveless affair with a married man, and her older brother, Phil, has turned away from a life of petty crime and become a religious fanatic, leaving her even more alone. Then a beautiful rich girl named Tamsin (Emily Blunt, in the first movie I ever saw her in) moves into the mansion situated just outside of town, informing Mona that she was asked to leave her boarding school for being a bad influence on the other girls. Mona is quickly pulled into this exotic creature’s orbit, and over the summer the two girls experiment with various illicit activities and substances. As I say, I thought it was really pretty predictable. And average.