Prime

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Prime (C). This new movie starring Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman must be classified, I suppose, as a romantic comedy. The film is, however, relatively short on the comedy side; if you have seen the previews, you have already seen most of the funny stuff (and you already know something that the movie insists on treating as a surprise, albeit one revealed after only 20 minutes or so). So the romantic/dramatic side of the film has to do most of the work, and it is not particularly successful. The set-up is this: Rafi (Thurman) is 37, and she is an emotional wreck, largely due, we are led to believe, to her impending divorce. But no sooner is she divorced than she starts a whirlwind romance with aspiring artist David (Bryan Greenberg), who appears to be her soulmate but for the inconvenient fact that he is only 23. Streep provides most of the comic relief as Rafi’s therapist. The funny bits are reasonably amusing, but the romance never really takes off. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is—maybe because Thurman’s character is underdeveloped, maybe because Greenberg isn’t particularly charismatic. I did find the movie somewhat thought-provoking on the whole age-difference business, perhaps because I happen to be 37 myself. What would it be like, I wondered, to date a 23-year-old? To the movie’s credit, it tries to deal with that issue fairly seriously. It’s not great, but there are plenty of worse movies out there.

Elizabethtown

From The Movie Snob:

Elizabethtown (D+). I am sorry to report that the newest Cameron Crowe movie is not good. I liked Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous a lot, but this flick, which plays like a warmed-over Garden State, is a sprawling mess. Orlando Bloom plays Drew Baylor, a West Coast yuppie who is sunk deep in depression as the movie opens. He has botched a huge project at work, and he is about to get fired. His funk is interrupted, however, by the news that his father has died suddenly while visiting family in (Elizabethtown) Kentucky. His mother and sister are too broken up to handle the funeral arrangements, so Drew goes to Kentucky by himself. On the red eye to Louisville, he meets a psychotically perky flight attendant named Clare (Kirsten Dunst), who stays in touch with (i.e., stalks) him for the rest of the movie. I suppose the movie is supposed to be a meditation on the bond between fathers and sons, as well as a romantic sort-of comedy about Drew and Clare, but it just doesn’t work. The father-and-son part of the movie is too maudlin, and the romance is too annoying. Go back and watch Say Anything again instead of wasting your time on this one.

Ireland (country review)

Notes from Abroad: The Movie Snob Does Ireland.

I just returned from a weeklong vacation on the Emerald Isle, and I thought I would share a few comments and observations.

C.I.E. Tours. This was my first time to go on a package-vacation sort of deal, getting thrown in with a bunch of complete strangers and getting chauffeured all over the place by tour bus. I have to say that I rather liked it. The company, C.I.E. Tours, is apparently some sort of affiliate of Ireland’s national transportation agency, and the whole vacation was pretty well planned. The only exception, I would say, was the day we arrived in Ireland. Like every other time I have gone to Europe, we all arrived in Dublin early in the morning, and C.I.E. really didn’t have anything for us to do until midafternoon. We were dropped off at our hotel, but we were there way too early to get into our rooms, so we left our luggage at the front desk and basically had nothing to do except wander around for a few hours before the tour got started in earnest. But this was a small glitch, and everything else was nicely organized and well-scheduled.

I would add that our tour director and bus driver, Brendan Heneghan, was a delight. He has been with this company for about 25 years, but if he is at all tired of driving American tourists around he never showed it. His love of Ireland was self-evident. I thoroughly enjoyed his frequent commentary on the landmarks, the countryside, and the Irish history behind the sights we were seeing. He even sang a few Irish songs for us and wasn’t half bad. Plus, he was an excellent driver; how he managed to maneuver that bus through all the tights spots and narrow turns we encountered (all while driving on the wrong side of the road) is beyond me.

Ireland. Absolutely beautiful, even in mid-October with the high tourist season in the past. We were very fortunate in the weather, getting only one really rainy day in the whole week. Although it was cool or chilly every day, it never got really cold. Our itinerary included two days in Dublin, followed by a drive through southwestern Ireland and stop at famous Blarney Castle. Then we spent two nights in Killarney as a base for a daylong drive around the famous “Ring of Kerry,” which is a scenic route around a particular peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. From there we moved to the more blue-collar city of Galway as our base for other scenic drives through the rugged terrain of the Connemara region, a visit to the famous Cliffs of Moher, and a catamaran ride in Killary Harbour, billed as Ireland’s only fjord. Along the way we drove through plenty of picturesque villages and past a million rolling green hills and meadows. I could finally sort of understand why the Irish make such a big deal about their homeland. It really is a jewel. Also, the booming Irish economy was evidenced everywhere by ubiquitous commercial and residential construction. According to our tour guide, Ireland’s population has finally started to grow again after being stagnant for 100 years or more.

Entertainment. I thought the highlight of the tour was the very first night we were there, when it was arranged for us to have dinner and then see some Irish dancing and music at a place in or at least near Dublin called The Abbey Tavern. The show started with a few Irish dances by three young folks, maybe even teenagers, demonstrating the fancy footwork that became so famous with the Riverdance craze ten years ago. Then a band of five older gentlemen and one younger woman took the stage to play some Irish music for us, and they were absolutely superb. They said they perform there seven nights a week, so if you ever go to Dublin I urge you to check out their show. I was so taken with the Irish music that I kept watching for another opportunity to see some more live music, and I actually did see a band called The Irish Weavers while we were in Killarney. They were good too, but the band at The Abbey Tavern was better.

The Ugly American. Our group consisted of 33 Americans, plus one young Australian woman who joined our group as we left Dublin. I witnessed no behavior that would put the USA in a bad light until the very last day of the tour, during the rather long morning bus ride to Shannon Airport. Our bus driver Brendan was doing his usual routine, mixing bad jokes in with colorful commentary about Ireland and the things we were driving by. He may have sung us another song. And at one point, he asked if anyone had any requests for him. I was sitting about a third of the way from the front of the bus, and I was mortified to hear one of our group (a middle-aged guy who had looked surly and unpleasant all week) sitting very close to the front say, “Yeah — shut up and drive.” I could not believe my ears. It was unspeakably embarrassing.

In summary, with only a couple of minor exceptions, it was a great trip. Ireland is a beautiful country, and you should seize any opportunity to pay it a visit.

Serenity; Corpse Bride

New reviews from The Movie Snob

Serenity (A-). I went into this movie without ever having seen an episode of Firefly, the short-lived television series it was based on, but that diminished my enjoyment not one bit. It’s a good old-fashioned space opera, like a grungier, lower-tech Star Wars. The deal is this–in the distant future, most of mankind is ruled by a government called the Alliance, which definitely does not put a premium on the civil liberties of its citizens. So there was a civil war, which the Alliance won, and the losing side retreated to the remoter, less-civilized parts of the galaxy. Among the ruffians out on the frontier are Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, TV’s Castle) of the Millenium Falcon, er, I mean the Serenity, and his ragtag crew. They find themselves transporting a cargo that the Alliance very much wants to get its hands on–a mysterious and somewhat psychotic 17-year-old girl named River Tam who escaped from a secret government lab. If you liked Star Wars, or Star Trek, or Space Balls, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like Serenity. So get out there and see it so they’ll make a sequel.

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (B). This is some weird stuff (although maybe not so weird if you’ve seen The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I haven’t). This claymation fairy tale starts in a very grey, dour little village where nervous Victor, son of a wealthy fishmonger, is about to be wed to sweet Victoria, daughter of an aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times. But Victor gets cold feet, wanders out into the forest the night before his wedding, and while practicing his vows suddenly finds himself married to the lovely Emily–who just happens to be, well, dead. She drags him down into the netherworld, and then things start to get really weird. This short (76 minutes) film is a visual treat, as Burton takes full advantage of the freedom of animation–for example, the townspeople are a collection of bizarre caricatures, some fantastically skinny and elongated, others impossibly short and squat. There are a few musical numbers that aren’t bad but aren’t particularly memorable either. This movie probably won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoyed it.

Grand Hotel; Living It Up At National Review

DVD review from The Movie Snob:

Grand Hotel (C). I pressed onward into the Greta Garbo collection with this, the best-picture-Oscar winner of 1931-32. (Interestingly, if I understood the short bonus documentary correctly, this is the only movie in history to win the Oscar for Best Picture without being nominated in any other category.) It was also apparently one of the first movies to feature a big star in virtually every significant role, most notably Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, and Joan Crawford. Anyhoo, like the other Garbo movies I have recently reviewed, this one comes across as stiff and unconvincing. The setting in Berlin’s finest hotel during the Weimar era, and several figures cross paths over just a couple of days with serious repercussions. Garbo plays a temperamental and world-weary Russian ballerina. John Barrymore plays a roguish baron whose charming demeanor conceals the fact that he is also a penniless burglar. Lionel Barrymore plays a pitiful, terminally-ill bookkeeper who has decided to throw caution to the wind and try to live for the first time in his life. And Crawford plays a streetwise stenographer hired by a boorish industrialist, at first just to take dictation during a weekend of corporate negotiations, but then perhaps to become his personal secretary as well. It was probably considered a pretty sudsy soap opera back in the day, but not too interesting now.

Book review from The Movie Snob:

Living It Up at National Review: A Memoir, by Priscilla Buckley (Spence Publishing 2005). Priscilla Buckley is the older sister of famous conservative journalist and publisher William F. Buckley, Jr. She was already becoming an established journalist in her own right, having worked for United Press for several years, when in 1956 she quit in order to join the staff of her brother’s new magazine, National Review. And there she stayed for the next 43 years. This memoir tells some stories about her experiences there, which are generally pleasant little vignettes, never edgy and certainly never mean. More interesting are the chapters about her many vacations, which tended to be quite extravagant (the Buckleys’ father having been a very wealthy oil tycoon). She matter-of-factly tells stories about dove hunting in South Carolina, river rafting through the Grand Canyon, river cruising in England, ballooning in Austria, sailing in the Greek Isles and Tahiti, trekking to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and going on safari in Mozambique. Conclusion: The rich really are different from the rest of us…

Curb Your Enthusiasm

DVD review from That Guy Named David:

Curb Your Enthusiasm – Seasons 1 and 2 (A)

Okay, maybe I’m a little late to the dance with this review; however, being that I work at a firm where a healthy chunk of your salary is determined by performance, I have yet to accumulate the funds to purchase HBO. (I also tend to drink excessively, which whittles away at my disposable income.) Therefore, I’ve had to use my Netflix account (given as a gift) to rent the DVDs of all the past episodes. And I have been very glad that I did. There is just something I find fascinating about following the daily existence of Larry David, the balding, borderline manic-depressive co-founder of Seinfeld who has a habit of saying incredibly inappropriate things at the most inopportune times. Maybe it’s because I struggle to understand the way that David can live his life in such a manner, given that this character is so incredibly different than myself. Whatever it is, though, makes me laugh throughout nearly every episode. If you have HBO, you probably have already experienced the greatness. If you are like me and struggle to keep food on the table for yourself and your loved ones, ask for Netflix for Christmas and check out the DVDs.

Proof; Wall; Mata Hari

New reviews from The Movie Snob — a troika of mediocrities

proof (C+). This new film stars Anthony Hopkins as a once-brilliant, later-insane mathematician, and Gwyneth Paltrow as his perhaps-also-brilliant, perhaps-also-tending-towards-insanity daughter Catherine. After Hopkins’s character passes away, Catherine slips into a deep funk, and her mood is not improved when her older sister Claire (Hope Davis) comes to Chicago for the funeral with a gradually-revealed agenda of her own. Meanwhile young mathematician Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) further unsettles things by showing a keen interest in the deceased professor’s unpublished notebooks and in his younger daughter as well. It’s not a bad movie, but I just didn’t find any of it particularly compelling. I should add that my cousin Diane, whose field is social work, liked the movie much more than I did and would have given it a B+.

Wall (C). Not to be confused with the Pink Floyd rock opera of similar name, this is a documentary about the massive security fence/wall that the Israelis built to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out. Going into the theater, I picked up a flyer that contained a review calling this movie “exceptionally evenhanded.” I, however, found the movie exceptionally anti-wall and basically pro-Palestinian. According to the Dallas Morning News, the filmmaker Simone Bitton considers herself an “Arab Jew,” and almost everyone she interviews in this movie is highly critical of the wall. The films includes virtually no context or history, no maps to explain what we’re seeing, and certainly no report on the broader impact of the wall beyond the people who live right along it. Thus, although we are quickly told that the wall costs $2 million per kilometer, we are given absolutely no information on whether the wall has been effective at diminishing terrorism and other crimes in Israel. Although we are told that the wall encroaches on Palestinian territory as demarcated by the “Green Line,” we are not told what the Green Line is or why it should be controlling. In all, a very unsatisfying film. The grade is relatively high only because the visuals of the wall and of the Holy Land are interesting, even striking.

Mata Hari (1932) (C-). Continuing my exploration of Greta Garbo’s oeuvre on DVD, I watched this early effort the other night. The tale is that of Mata Hari, an exotic dancer in World War I Paris who was executed by a firing squad after being convicted of spying for the Germans. In this telling, her downfall resulted from her falling in love with a passionate young Russian lieutenant and thereby arousing the jealousy of an old Russian general with whom she had previously kept company. Although Garbo largely conquers her penchant for overacting seen in Anna Christie, she still mugs fairly shamelessly in a few scenes. Overall, it’s just not a very good movie.