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.

A Sound of Thunder; The Constant Gardener

A couple of reviews from A View from Mars:

A Sound of Thunder (B-)

First off, this is probably going to be the only place where you see this movie receive this high of a grade, if you even knew this movie was in theatres. I like to think that even bad movies can be distinguished from the even worse movies. This grade is reflective of a good “bad movie.” So now that we have that straightened out, onwards with the review. This film is based on Ray Bradbury’s short story of the same name and deals with basically the same issues of time travel in the corporate environment. A corporation has exploited time travel to cater to the wealthy and provide them with a trip back 65 million years to hunt dinosaurs. Well something happens during one of these trips and sure enough the future or rather the present is altered as was warned could occur. The remainder of the movie pushes the characters to deduce and rectify the situation and yes, we all learn that even something as insignificant as a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world could cause tidal waves on the other side. At the very least, this movie gives you plenty of opportunities to hunt and pick out the ambiguities. My favorite being the wonder and cluelessness of the characters as to why the future present has radically altered given that they just discussed the ramifications of even a minuscule accident occuring during one of their trips back in time. I recommend waiting for the 2 copies that will be on the Blockbuster shelves in no time.

The Constant Gardener (A-)

A wonderfully directed/edited/well shot movie that involves you as the viewer without coming off as overly complex and hard to follow. This film starts you off with the Ralph Fiennes character losing his wife (Rachel Weisz who has come a long way from The Mummy) in an accident somewhere in desolate Africa. We don’t exactly know why, but the film progresses and explains itself mostly through flashbacks. Fiennes plays something of a diplomat for the British government and Weisz an activist with an unapologetic agenda for almost everything. The two meet and marry as opposites do and then spend a large portion of their time together in Africa. While there, we soon realize that Weisz has discovered a large pharmaceutical company up to no good in an effort to save money (Merck, anyone?). Is this what led to her inevitable death? Fiennes goes on a trek to figure this out and at the same time comes to grips with other parts of his life involving the wife he discovers he didn’t know enough of. This is an exceptional movie especially after coming off a summer filled with mindless crap. The acting was superb with much kudos going to Fiennes’ stoic and yet enriching emotions. However, the treat for me was that this movie was an unorthodox love story played out in a political drama, something of a combination I haven’t previously seen effectively done. I’d be curious to know how Le Carre’s novel compares to this adaptation. Definitely worthy of a look.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

A new review from That Guy Named David.

The 40-Year Old Virgin (B+)

As a fellow virgin, I was struck at the way the movie portrayed the emotional roller coaster that those of us who have yet to experience the physical side of love endure in our tragic struggle to make it through everyday society. Okay, I am just joking . . . except about the emotional roller coaster, but that’s just attributable to my job. The 40-Year Old Virgin was a ridiculous movie that had some ridiculously funny scenes that made for a pleasant-going movie experience. I thought Steve Carrell was absolutely hilarious and did a great job with his first leading role. It was one of those movies that never veered from the direction which you knew during the first five minutes that it would eventually go; nonetheless, the individual scenes were enough to keep you laughing throughout. Good, light, summer entertainment to bring in the beginning of fall.

Wild Safari 3D; A Mirror in the Roadway (book review)

A movie review from The Movie Snob

Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure (B). The parents were in town for the holiday weekend, and getting them to the movie theater can be a challenge. But they were pretty easily talked into checking out this new 3D movie at the local IMAX theater. The movie takes you on a tour of various wildlife preserves in South Africa in search of the so-called “big five”: elephants, rhinoceroses, cape buffaloes, leopards, and lions. Some of the movie is filmed from the back seat of an all-terrain vehicle driven by our cute and spunky tour guide Liesl, and other parts seem to be filmed from other vantage points very close to the animals. These animals are filmed in pretty much normal conditions—hanging out, drinking at water holes, eating what’s left of a kill—so they don’t really do a whole lot. Also, the narration was not all that informative, although I did learn that when leopards come together to mate, they do so up to 100 times over the course of three days. Good, but not great.

A book review from The Movie Snob

Morris Dickstein, A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World (Princeton University Press 2005). This is a collection of essays, mostly literary criticism about twentieth-century novels that I have not read. However, I read a very favorable review of the book in National Review, so I thought I would give it a try. It was quite good, and it pointed me to several books and authors that I will definitely try to read to improve my acquaintance with twentieth-century literature. (I should add also that the author brings no conservative agenda to the table, and in fact throws in the occasional anti-Reagan or anti-Gingrich remark, many of the essays having been written several years ago.) Interesting essays cover the work of Willa Cather, Upton Sinclair, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and others.