Cube Zero; The Historian

Nick at Nite sounds off:

Cube Zero

Year’s ago I used to watch Joe Bob Briggs on the monster movie marathon or movies for guys who like movies. I still remember his introduction of the John Carpenter classic The Fog. After talking about Carpenter’s brilliance, Joe Bob paused and then said, “We present for your viewing pleasure the cinematic excellence of The Fog.” He was right; it was cinematic excellence. After I finished watching Cube Zero the other night, I remember wishing Joe Bob had been there to: (1) introduce the movie . . . “We present for your viewing pleasure the cinematic crap of Cube Zero“; (2) explain the movie . . . “Plot? We don’t need no plot, we just need heads exploding”; and (3) explain why there have been two sequels to The Cube. This movie sucked. And I usually like this garbage. Basically, in some future world, people volunteer for an experiment whereby they end up in a giant rubix cube, where they must move from room to room looking for escape. If they go into the wrong room, they are assured a horrible death. Seriously, does this movie need to be made more than once. A sequel? Why? I know — because people like me will watch it. Thank God for cable. I give this movie an “F.” I know Greg will be surprised.

A book review . . .

It took me several months, but I have finally finished The Historian. This is a very long, at times boring, book. It is about Dracula, sort of. It is about a love story, sort of. It is about a search for family, sort of. It is about the Ottoman Empire, Romania, and a bunch of other countries I don’t care about, sort of. It goes on for over 600 pages. I got to the end last night and saw that it had an Epilogue and thought to myself, “Good Lord, what else can this woman possibly have to say?” That said, it is a generally interesting story. It is a unique twist on the history and tale of Vlad Teppes. I say go for it. Give it a read. I don’t want to give away the ending, but for those of you who are afraid of vampires, I have some tips: (1) do not start looking for them, it makes them mad, and they come looking for you; (2) do wear garlic, it works; (3) do wear a cross, it works; (4) do not break the cross, then it doesn’t work; (5) apparently, a bullet kills vampires, not wolfs; and (6) you will be okay if you are bitten by a vampire twice, but look out if you are attacked for a third time. I give this book a “B.” A condensed version would get an “A.”

Anna Christie

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Anna Christie (C-). Entertainment Weekly alerted me that a big collection of Greta Garbo movies was being released in a new DVD boxed set, and Sam’s Club made that boxed set affordable. Last night I figured out which was the shortest one and threw it into the player. It happened to be this, Garbo’s first talking motion picture. Frankly, it’s not very good. The audio quality is so bad that I finally gave up and turned on the English subtitles after about ten minutes. All of the acting is way over the top, which is perhaps to be expected from actors used to performing in silent movies. And the movie is adapted from a Eugene O’Neill play, and it has a very static, stagy feel to it. Anyway, the idea is this: at first we meet Chris Christopherson, a drunken old sailor in New York City. He gets a letter from his 20-year-old daughter Anna, whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years because he left her and her mother with relatives on a farm in Minnesota. She’s coming to see him, so he hurries off to get sobered up. Anna (Garbo) then arrives at the same bar and pours out her tragic story to an old barfly–her mother died years ago, she was raped by one of her cousins, and she has come to NYC after spending time in jail for prostitution. She conceals her sad past from her father, and from the good-hearted Irish sailor that she later meets and falls in love with. But can she keep her secret buried forever? I hope the other movies in the collection are better.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin; Bottle Rocket

Reviews from The Movie Snob

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (B+). Here’s a romantic comedy with a protagonist that I could really relate to—yes, like Andy Stitzler, I too am a 40-year-old unmarried guy. Okay, I’m only 37.7, but that’s close enough for me to be able to relate to the hapless Andy. (And feel pangs of envy over the awesome framed Asia poster he has hanging in his apartment.) This movie has been reviewed enough that I can skip plot synopsis and go straight to my opinion, which is that this movie is much funnier than that other raunch-comedy/summer-hit, Wedding Crashers. I’m not entirely sure why that is—maybe because this movie does not linger on the “serious” romantic plotline between Andy (Steve Carell) and Trish (Catherine Keener) the way Crashers crashed and burned on the Owen Wilson-Rachel McAdams relationship. Instead, 40 gives a lot more attention to the amusing antics of the secondary characters, especially Andy’s three well-meaning friends and co-workers who try to help him overcome his, um, romantic abnormality. Although the film goes a little overboard to make Andy an unusual character (surely not every 40-year-old virgin collects vintage action figures and rides a bicycle to work), I still found myself able to relate to his situation. Also, I salute the nice use of the classic song Believe It Or Not (Theme From “The Greatest American Hero”).

Bottle Rocket (C). A friend loaned me this DVD, which I assume was the first movie to be directed by Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou). Written by a very young Owen Wilson and starring him and his brother Luke, the movie is about three friends in their twenties, all drifting aimlessly through life in some anonymous suburb. Owen’s character, however, has a plan to break them out of their stultifying existence. Unfortunately, his plan is for them to turn to a life of crime. After their first heist is unexpectedly successful, they go on the lam and hide out in a cheap motel for a long spell that is almost like a different movie within the movie. The movie is not nearly as bent as Anderson’s later work (which I think is a good thing), but unfortunately the story is a little slight for a full-length feature. Still, not a bad freshman effort, and it’s kind of fun to see Owen Wilson’s now-patented screen persona in embryo form.

Just Like Heaven

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Just Like Heaven (B). This new romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo has its protagonists meet under very unusual circumstances. The opening scenes establish that Dr. Elizabeth Martinson (Witherspoon) is a driven young physician who has no time for anything but her job. One rainy night after a 26-hour shift at the hospital, she has a head-on collision with a truck. Flash forward some unspecified amount of time, and mopey David Abbott (Ruffalo) rents Martinson’s old apartment. Martinson’s ghost pops up, only Abbott can see or hear her, and the movie takes off from there. Aside from one pretty good twist, the plot is nothing special, so the movie largely hangs on the charms of its actors. They aren’t bad. Witherspoon somehow makes her super-Type A character likeable, and she and Ruffalo have some chemistry. Donal Logue (The Tao of Steve) adds a few laughs as Abbott’s offbeat friend and counselor. And Napoleon Dynamite himself, Jon Heder, shows up as an eccentric occult-bookstore employee who tries to help the odd couple out. It’s heavier than most rom-coms, but not bad.

Side Effects

New from The Movie Snob:

Side Effects (D-). A thrilling expose of corporate malfeasance by big pharmaceutical companies. A charming and attractive heroine. An involving love story. These are just a few of things that you might find in The Constant Gardener but definitely will not find in Side Effects. This hilariously amateurish and low-budget effort stars Katherine Heigl (whose star continues to dim after her turn in the excellent television series Roswell) as Carly Hurt, a young drug sales rep who hates her job. Then she meets an unappealing balding guy who once had the same job and quit after a week. He suggests that she should do the same, an idea she apparently never would have come up with on her own. Carly inexplicably falls for this dude, leading to some long and unpleasant sequences of the two of them making out. So she vows to quit her job in six months. (I don’t know why. Maybe that’s when her 401(k) will be fully vested.) In a hugely ironic twist, her new devil-may-care attitude suddenly makes her a sales superstar, and the company slaps the golden handcuffs on her with big bonus checks and a new BMW company car. Now she’s on the fast track to management and doesn’t have time for bald guy or the dog they picked out together anymore. He’s sad. (The bald guy, I mean; the dog seems to be unfazed.) But wait! The president of the company inexplicably entrusts 23-year-old Carly with top-secret test results showing that the company’s upcoming new drug release Vivexx causes liver damage. What’s a girl to do?!? This movie is obviously terrible, but I give it a D- rather than an F because it left me bemused at the filmmakers’ inadequacies rather than angry at wasting my time. Avoid it.

Wedding Crashers

New from Nick at Nite:

Wedding Crashers

This is the funniest movie I have ever seen. It has no match, it has no equal. Vince Vaughn is as funny as it gets. Who could have seen this coming for the lanky kid who got his big break playing the spoiled legacy in Rudy? That is right, I saw Rudy again the other night to celebrate the impending college football season and couldn’t believe it when I recognized him in a bit part. When he scores one near the end of the game to help get Rudy on the field and tells Sean Astin “that one was for you,” no one could have imagined several years later he would be immortalizing the word “Motorboat.” Speaking of immortalized, what about Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman? Holy smokes, one can only hope this movie has a sequel and that Jane Seymour returns to reprise her role. I am not suggesting this movie is long on plot. It is not. I am also not suggesting that it has any highbrow humor. It does not. It is filled with one liner after one liner. It contains the kind of jargon, lingo, and back and forth that mirror most interactions between men. As such, it is brilliant. Vaughn and Owen Wilson play each others wingmen as they go from wedding to wedding to wedding hoping to score with whatever cute girl they can find (basically mirroring what men do all of the time, whether at weddings, the grocery store, doctor’s office, wherever). Hilarity ensues when one of our heroes actually falls for one of the girls at a wedding. I won’t spoil any of the gags because that is where the humor is, I will suggest that you have one or two beers before you see it or during the movie, as I think it could only add to the experience. I give the movie an “A.”

Shake Hands With the Devil; Junebug

New reviews from the desk of The Movie Snob:

Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire (A-). This documentary about the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the U.N. general who was there, Canadian Romeo Dallaire, is a great complement to Hotel Rwanda. Where that movie shows that there were some glimmers of heroism and hope during that horror, this one focuses much more directly on the horror itself, albeit filtered through one man’s experience. Although I know only Dallaire’s side of the story (having also read his book, also titled Shake Hands With the Devil), it seems to me that he did everything humanly possible to rouse the U.N. and the Western powers to action when he realized what was going on in Rwanda. Yet, the experience so haunted him that he suffered from incapacitating post-traumatic stress disorder for years afterwards. Ten years later, though, he returned to Rwanda, which visit supplies most of the footage for this movie. Be warned, however, that footage from 1994 is interspersed throughout, and some of it is pretty horrifying. The movie ran for only a week here, so your best bet is probably to watch for the video release.

Junebug (B-). This is a homely little independent flick about a clash of cultures. Madeleine (Embeth Daviditz – Schindler’s List, Mansfield Park) is a worldly and cosmopolitan art dealer in Chicago. She has been married to husband George for only a few months when they take a trip to rural North Carolina, where she hopes to score a contract with an eccentric artist and where, coincidentally, George’s family lives. This is her first time to meet them (we learn that she and George married a week after they met), and the encounter is a trying one for many of those concerned, especially George’s sullen high-school-dropout brother Johnny and his suspicious mother Peg. Amy Adams steals the show as Johnny’s wife Ashley, who is as wide-eyed and good-hearted as a southern girl can be, and nine months pregnant to boot. Not everything in the movie rings completely true, and the movie suffers because the characters of George and Johnny are both underwritten. Still, on the whole it’s an enjoyable movie about some flawed but generally well-intentioned people.