Magnificent Desolation: Walk on the Moon

A new review from The Movie Snob

Magnificent Desolation: Walk on the Moon in 3D (C-). A trip home to Little Rock means a trip to Arkansas’s only IMAX theater. I was kind of surprised to find the theater was already showing the current Tom Hanks project Magnificent Desolation, about the Apollo moon missions. I was less surprised to discover that Arkansas’s only IMAX theater is apparently incapable of showing 3D movies, because the version we saw was not in 3D. Anyhoo, although the movie deployed a few interesting facts and factoids, it really was not very memorable. There was some decent footage of the lunar surface, but I was never sure when we were seeing actual footage and when we might just be seeing fancy CGI footwork. Not really worth the effort. At least we went on family night, when $5 gets you your ticket plus a coke and a small bag of popcorn.

The Fog (2005)

From The Movie Snob:

The Fog (2005). (D-) You are probably wondering why The Movie Snob ventured into terrain usually surveyed by The Movie Court’s intrepid reporter Nick at Nite. Well, I’m home in Arkansas for the holidays, and my kid sister likes all kinds of scary movies, and this re-make is currently playing at the dollar theater. So we wasted 100 pennies and 100 minutes of our lives on this terrible, and terribly unscary, flick. The plot makes very little sense, so explication is beside the point. Basically, a mysterious fog harboring malevolent and homicidal spirits invades a quaint little fishing town on an island off the coast of Oregon. Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions) and the guy who plays Superman on Smallville (Tom Welling, Cheaper by the Dozen) and some blond chick that my sister says is on Lost (Maggie Grace, The Jane Austen Book Club) race against time to figure out what the spirits want and hopefully stay alive. On the plus side, the ghosts have a flair for unusual killing methods. I’ve never seen a movie character die from a severe case of dishpan hands before. Steer clear of this turkey.

Kiis, Kiss, Bang, Bang; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

New reviews from Movie Man Mike.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. (B+) Violence, foul language, romance, and comedy all add up to a very entertaining movie in this case. I went to this movie not really knowing what to expect, but it starred Val Kilmer (Top Gun) and Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man 3), so I figured it was worth checking out. I have to say that Robert Downey, Jr. was great. It was worth the money to see his performance. Downey acts as the narrator for this film, as he explains a very bizarre set of circumstances that begin when he—as the main character—is in the process of fleeing the police after robbing a toy store. Before he knows it, he finds himself being cast in a new Hollywood movie as a detective. Kilmer is a gay private detective who is assigned to Downey to give him some tips about the detective business. As the story unfolds, Downey is drawn into a mystery of his own that you’ve just got to see to believe.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (B) Okay. I admit it. I am a fan of the Harry Potter series. The mere fact that they had released the next installment was enough to get me to the theater. I certainly enjoyed the film, although I can now see why everyone has been saying (for as long as the book was released) that this one is a bit dark. No doubt about that. In fact, the ending left me feeling a bit worried for the future, whereas prior films in the series left filmgoers with a more upbeat feeling. One thing that kind of bothered me about this film was seeing Harry and his friends growing up–in fact, so much so that I now wonder whether it’s time to find actors of a younger age. However, of all the characters, Harry seems to have maintained his child-like appearance the most. Another aspect of this film that bothered me was that there was a lot that happened, some of which I probably didn’t catch because I didn’t read the book. This film seemed a little more thrown together than the prior films in the series, but I was certainly riveted to the screen because the storyline was that kind of story. All in all, I would say that the film is a success as I found myself wanting to go buy the next book in the series to read what happens next. You go, J.K. Rowling!

Pride & Prejudice; Walk the Line

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

Just in time for the holidays we have been graced with two exceptional movies for your consideration.

Pride & Prejudice (A). It is apparently very difficult to make a bad movie from a Jane Austen novel. I loved both the delightful Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma and the wonderful Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and I have greatly enjoyed updated versions of JA’s work such as Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary. (Okay, the version of Mansfield Park from a few years ago didn’t stay with me, and the recent Bollywood Bride & Prejudice was a bit of a misfire. But still, they weren’t bad.) This P&P may be the best of them all (although I’ll confess I’ve never seen the popular A&E version starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). Keira Knightley (Laggies) is charming as the intelligent but headstrong Elizabeth Bennet, and Matthew MacFadyen (Anna Karenina) adeptly handles the difficult chore of making Mr. Darcy simultaneously unlikable and sympathetic. Great supporting performances too, including Rosamund Pike as the lovely but shy oldest Bennet daughter Jane (hard to believe Pike was also the icy villainess in Die Another Day,that James Bond movie with Halle Berry), and Judi Dench (Murder on the Orient Express) as Darcy’s monstrous snob of an aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourg. If you have the slightest fondness for costume dramas or romance, you must see this movie.

Walk the Line (B+). I simply don’t know how to write a review of the new Johnny Cash biopic without comparing it to Ray. Both are great movies featuring great performances, and the subjects’ lives had more than a little in common. Joaquin Phoenix (her) doesn’t really look much like Johnny Cash to me, but he still does a heck of a job, and I was blown away when I learned after seeing the movie that he did all of his own playing and singing. Reese Witherspoon (Four Christmases) is, if anything, even better as June Carter, the great love of Cash’s life. Her singing and playing are phenomenal as well. But if memory serves, I gave Ray an A-, while I just can’t elevate this one into the “A” category. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because Cash’s life just wasn’t as vividly eventful as Charles’s. Like Charles, Cash had big problems with drugs and family life, but unlike Charles he didn’t have crosses to bear like blindness and racism. I guess being madly in love with one woman when you’re married to another (with several children to boot) would be pretty bad, but Cash spends so much of the movie bottoming out on booze and pills that he lost a little of my sympathy and interest. (Although I recall reading that Ray gave the life of Charles a bit of a whitewash, so maybe a more honest movie would have lost a point or two in my book.) But if you’re even a casual fan of Johnny Cash’s music (and I’m the casualest), you’ll enjoy this movie. Plus you’ll probably get to check off several of next year’s Oscar nominees in one movie.

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam

From The Movie Snob:

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam (C-). I’ll add only a few words to Movie Man Mike’s thorough review below. I saw the film on his recommendation, and it just didn’t work for me the way it did for him. I appreciated the fact that it was a labor of love for the film-maker, and that clearly showed through. But I just couldn’t get involved in the story, and the acting seemed a little amateurish. Good to see C. Thomas Howell (A Killer Within) still getting work, though.

The Keeper; Turtles Can Fly

Movie Man Mike delivers two new reviews:

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Kayyam. (A-) Run, don’t walk to see this movie as you only have a limited time to see it at the theater. This film is so “independent” that it has no distribution company and it is currently only showing on one theater in the whole United States. Filmed in Uzbekistan, this film’s setting is split between modern-day America and ancient Persia. The film is about a young boy whose family has migrated to the United States from Iran. The boy is awed by a story his sick brother relates to him which takes place in Persia. His search to uncover the ending of the story leads him to appreciate the value of preserving heritage and culture, and he makes a meaningful discovery about himself. This film is one of the better films I have seen this year.  I was fortunate enough to go to this film last Saturday (even though I could find almost no reviews about this film). As it turns out, the director and one of the actors were at the theater to talk about the film and answer questions. Unless this past weekend’s attendance was high enough to justify extending the showing of the film, it will only be at the Inwood Theater until Thursday of this week. After that, you probably won’t get to see it again until it comes out on DVD in March of 2006.

Turtles Can Fly. (C+) This was my weekend to see films set in the Middle East. This film is set in Northern Iraq just prior to invasion of Iraq by the United States. It depicts a group of children led by one boy, named Satellite. It shows what the children do to survive, which consists mostly of deactivating land mines and bartering them for food or technology. A brother and sister and a small child show up as refugees in the children’s camp and begin to create problems for Satellite. Satellite has a crush on the sister, and he soon learns that the brother, who has no arms because of an encounter with a land mine, is clairvoyant. The film has a tragic ending and it’s one of those films that isn’t really wrapped up in a nice neat little bow as we Americans seem to like. Also, the message and the meaning of the title are not really clear. As I watched the film, I kept wondering whether it was supposed to be a depiction of any sort of reality of the conditions in Iraq leading up to the war. All in all, I had mixed feelings about having spent my money to rent this one.

Zathura; Shopgirl; Laurel Canyon

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Zathura: A Space Adventure (B). I never saw Jumanji, but I get the idea that there is more than a passing resemblance between these two movies (based on books by the same author, I believe). Here, the protagonists are 10-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson, The Disaster Artist) and his 6-year-old brother Danny (Jonah Bobo, Crazy, Stupid, Love). Their parents are divorced, and they fight incessantly. When their dad leaves them alone in the house for a few minutes, Danny finds a beat-up old board game in the basement called “Zathura: A Space Adventure.” When he and Walter start to play the game, they are more than a little surprised to discover that their house has been ripped from the Earth and has become some sort of spaceship, orbiting a Saturnlike planet. Every time one of them takes his turn in the game, new dangers—or opportunities—arise, and it becomes apparent that they have to successfully finish the game in order to get back home. There are heart-warming (some might say treacly) messages about the importance of family and working together and stuff like that, and on the whole it’s a pretty good family-oriented movie. It is a little too long (113 minutes) and a little too scary for younger kids, and there is a little bad language that should have been excised. But it has some funny moments and generally keeps moving along at a nice adventuresome pace. I say check it out.  P.S. In my original review I didn’t note Kristen Stewart’s performance as the boys’ older sister, but since she’s famous now (in 2019) (see, e.g., New Moon) I guess I will.)

Shopgirl (C). Screenplay-writer Steve Martin (The Muppet Movie) swings and misses with this slight movie about a romance between young Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes, Stardust) and much older man Ray Porter (played by — what do you know? — Steve Martin). Mirabelle spends her days looking forlorn behind the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles, and we are told up front that she is a lost and lonely soul from Vermont, anonymous and adrift in the big city, with a boatload of student debt to boot. She meets a friendly but eccentric (and not very clean-looking) fellow named Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman, The Overnight) in a laundromat, and he is immediately smitten. But then she meets Ray, a computer tycoon who jets back and forth from Seattle, and soon Jeremy is out of the picture. Or is he? All three characters in this romantic triangle have issues, and Ray’s in particular remain opaque throughout. I just never felt invested in any of the characters, which spells doom for a romantic drama like this. Also, the Puritan in me can’t help objecting to how quickly and easily these people jump into bed together. O tempora! O mores!

Laurel Canyon (B-). I saw this movie on DVD and liked it a little better than I liked Shopgirl. Sam (Christian Bale, pre-Batman Begins) and his girlfriend Alex (Kate Beckinsale, Everybody’s Fine) are freshly minted Harvard M.D.’s, and she’s writing a dissertation on fruit flies to get a Ph.D. as well. Sam takes a residency in L.A., and they plan to stay in his mother’s house, which is supposed to be empty. To Sam’s great dismay, it is not. His mother Jane (Frances McDormand, Moonrise Kingdom) is a record producer, and she and the band are in the house, working, drinking, and smoking pot. Nevertheless, Sam and Alex move in, and soon enough the sheltered Alex is forgetting all about her fruit flies and experimenting with all sorts of bad behavior. Meanwhile, Sam is tempted to stray by a second-year resident at the hospital where he is working. The message I took away from the movie is, “Don’t move to L.A.; you’ll go crazy and mess up your life.”


DVD review from The Movie Snob

Downfall (A). I believe Movie Man Mike reviewed this German film a few months ago. It is a vivid, documentary-like study of the last days of Hitler and the fall of Berlin to the Red Army. I found it mesmerizing. (I intended to watch only half of its 2 1/2 hours last night, but once I started I had to finish.) Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire) turns in an amazing performance as Hitler–sick, delusional, and yet still commanding blind loyalty from his top officers. Other characters are vividly drawn as well, from major figures like Eva Braun and the creepy Joseph Goebbels to minor characters like a compassionate military doctor who refuses to evacuate from the doomed city. Much of the story is told from the perspective of Hitler’s young secretary, who watches the disintegration of the Third Reich around her with more confusion than horror. (She died only recently, and brief segments of an interview with her bookend the film. In fact, after the movie ends there are panels showing what happened to several of the main characters, more than one of whom survived into the 21st century.) It is not always easy to watch, but it’s a fascinating film. The book A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City (previously reviewed herein on August 2) would make good companion reading.

Dumb and Dumberer

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Dumb and Dumberer

Wow. I haven’t laughed this hard since Wedding Crashers. In fairness, Wedding Crashers is a much better overall film as it keeps the jokes coming at a laugh a minute pace, but 45 seconds of Dumb and Dumberer made me laugh so hard I was crying. This movie is the tale of Lloyd and Harry in high school. It is a prequel to the highly successful and entertaining Dumb and Dumber. A movie insider tip, a movie that would otherwise stink can be saved by a combination of five things: (1) melted chocolate; (2) melted chocolate smeared all over a white bathroom; (3) bathroom or potty humor; (4) Bob Saget (TV’s Full House); and (5) the phrase “he crapped all over my bathroom,” preferably said by Bob Saget. This movie was inane and stupid. Exactly what I needed on a lazy Sunday. I give it a “C,” I give the bathroom humor an “A.”

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan

DVD review from That Guy Named David:

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (A)

Everyone should have a period in their lives when they really get into the music of Bob Dylan. I think my love of Dylan’s music began when I was 21-23 years old and a hell of a lot more idealistic than I am today. Today, when I listen to “Freewheelin” and other early albums, I still get goosebumps and revert to the thoughts that I had when I was much younger and used to debate with friends the issues prevalent in his music and still relevant today (being a young associate in a law firm tends to numb my senses when it comes to issues that actually matter in this world). Anyway, No Direction Home is a documentary about Dylan’s life, directed by Martin Scorsese (The Departed), that touches every aspect of his career and gives never before seen insight into the history and power of Dylan’s music. The documentary traces a young Robert Zimmerman growing up in rural Minnesota and does an incredible job of detailing his inspirations and eventual transformation into the voice of the anti-war movement in the 60’s. While the interviews with Joan Baez, Allen Ginsburg, and other figures of that generation are captivating, the weaving of Dylan’s performances and the reaction of the populace to them is what drives this documentary. For example, Scorsese does not sugarcoat the reaction Dylan received from his early base after he went electric at Newport (in fact, a performance of Dylan getting heckled for being a “sell-out” is sprinkled through the documentary). I also was struck by the interviews with Dylan wherein he continually points out that he was not really a political being but more of a writer just jotting down what he thought and observed during that time and putting simple melodies with the lyrics. Whatever was the origin or motivation for his music simply worked, and Scorsese does a heck of a job putting it all together in a striking documentary of one of the most influential writers/artists in American music history.

Annie Warbucks (stage review)

Theater review from The Movie Snob

Annie Warbucks. Playing through November 20 at the Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre. I have never seen Annie in any incarnation, so I was concerned that I might not be able to grasp this, its less-known sequel. But I think I got the gist. Apparently Annie is about an orphaned girl named Annie and culminates in her getting adopted by NYC tycoon Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. This musical picks up soon thereafter; the Warbuckses are getting ready to celebrate their first Christmas together when their familial bliss is interrupted by witchy Commissioner Harriet Doyle. Turns out the adoption was not legal because of a city ordinance prohibiting adoptions by single persons. So Daddy Warbucks sets about to find a suitable wife within the 60 days granted by the Commissioner; failure means back to the orphanage for Annie. Of course, his charming personal secretary Grace Farrell is the obvious choice, but if he went the obvious route there wouldn’t be a story, would there? The songs are cute, and the performances are good. The plot is a little (or a lot) over the top, but it’s fun. Obviously this is a good show for the young ’uns, but be warned that there are several “hells” and “damns” sprinkled throughout the script.

Queen Christina

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Queen Christina (C+). Next in the Greta Garbo collection is this 1933 entry. In the opening scene of this historical melodrama, it is the 1600’s, and the King of Sweden has just died in battle, leaving his 6-year-old daughter Christina to assume the throne. Fast forward maybe 20 years, and Garbo (Ninotchka) is the Queen of Sweden, triumphant in the Thirty Years War and eager to let her country enjoy the fruits of peace. Weary of the press of court business (and the pressure to marry military hero Prince Charles), she takes off into the countryside on horseback. She encounters the Spanish envoy, Antonio (John Gilbert, Desert Nights), who is en route to the royal court, and he mistakes her for a young nobleman. They are snowed in at a remote inn and forced to share a room, and the suave Spaniard is delighted to discover his mistake. They fall in love, but the Queen conceals her identity, and Antonio is rather less delighted when he arrives at the royal court and learns the truth (since he is carrying a marriage proposal from the King of Spain). Christina and Antonio’s love survives the revelation, but alas, the fervently Protestant Swedes will never accept a Catholic mate for their monarch. Will the Queen choose love or duty? The conflict may be time-worn, but it is still compelling enough to raise this film above the other Garbo works I have seen so far. Her acting is not much improved, but she’s still nice to look at. Hopefully her best work is still ahead of her….

The Fate of Africa (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob:

The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair, by Martin Meredith (2005). I have represented a few clients from Africa, so when I saw a good review of this book I decided to tackle its 688 daunting pages. It is further subtitled “A History of Fifty Years of Independence,” which tells you the scope of the book—it is a broad-brush history of Africa since the 1950’s, when the great majority of the continent was still under colonial rule. Meredith does not discuss every country’s experience, but he does cover quite a few of them, and the implication is that their experiences are typical of the rest. The book is well-written and reads easily, but its tale is one of almost uninterrupted decline and misery. Some chapters and episodes stand out, such as the end of apartheid in South Africa and the genocides in Rwanda and Sudan. Mostly, though, the countries endure an endless cycle of small-scale violence and corrupt, dictatorial rule. I flagged a few remarkable facts along the way:

—When the president of the country of Senegal voluntarily resigned in 1980, he was the first African leader since independence to give up power voluntarily.

—In 1995, ten African countries had 25 or fewer fully qualified accountants in the entire public sector.

—When the military ruler of the country of Benin stood for an election in 1991 and lost, Benin became the first African state in which the military was forced from power by civilians, and the first in which an incumbent president was defeated at the polls.

—When the president of Senegal accepted defeat in an election in 2000, he was only the fourth African president to do so in 40 years.

As Meredith sums up in his conclusion, corruption, dictatorship, and civil war have been the norm in Africa since the colonial powers left. The developed countries have contributed massive aid, to seemingly little effect. He also points out, however, that the developed countries have often not followed through on pledges of assistance, and they have largely destroyed African agriculture by so richly subsidizing their own domestic agriculture that African farmers cannot compete. As result, a continent containing 880 million people, or 13.5% of the world’s total, produces 1.3% of the world’s GDP. He singles out exactly two countries (South Africa and Botswana) as having had “wise or competent leadership.” Otherwise, the continent suffers from “a crisis of such magnitude that it goes beyond the reach of foreseeable solutions.” The book is excellent, but it gives almost no reason for hope.

Good Night, and Good Luck

A review from That Guy Named David:

Good Night, and Good Luck (B)

Prior to seeing this movie, I really had never read or seen much about Edward R. Murrow. Sure, I probably knew about as much as the normal, college-educated male with some sense of 20th century history and understood that Murrow reported on WWII and was a pioneer in the field of early broadcast journalism. However, that was the extent of my knowledge. I did, however, know much more about Joseph McCarthy and his misguided attempts to label everyone who disagreed with him as a card-carrying member of the Communist Party in the 1950s. What I didn’t know was that Murrow and McCarthy had a public feud that cut to the heart of the role of media and public discourse in this country. Good Night was written/directed by George Clooney (The American) and is definitely a left-leaning flick showcasing Murrow’s on-air battles with McCarthy in the early years of CBS. I enjoyed the way Clooney used actual footage of McCarthy to portray him and did not rely on an actor’s ability to completely vilify him (the real footage does a good enough job of vilifying him on its own). I also enjoyed the message apparent through the movie that a government that persecutes dissent and discourages discourse should have its actions reported by the media without fear that the government will begin persecuting the media itself for accurately reporting what is going on (a bit of an applicable message considering this current administration’s blatant attempt to silence and/or discredit opposition to this administration’s policies). Overall, not a bad movie (despite being a little slow at times). On a side note, I found it entertaining that the combined age of my girlfriend and me was about 10 years younger than the average age of the people in the theatre. I don’t think there has been that much blue hair in one room since the Sex Pistols played CBGB in ’78.