The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Movie Snob’s last review of 2005:

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (A). I never read the Narnia books, but I was generally familiar with the plot of the first one before seeing this movie version. (Seems like I saw an animated version when I was a kid, maybe.) As everyone knows, it is a very overt Christian allegory dressed up as kind of a fairy tale. Four children in WWII England find a magical wardrobe that is a gateway to the fantastic kingdom of Narnia. Narnia is ruled by the wicked White Witch (played wickedly by Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer), and it has been winter for 100 years but never Christmas. But the inhabitants of Narnia, such as a faun and talking beavers, await the return of the lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson, Wrath of the Titans), whom prophesies foretell will return and defeat the White Witch when four humans come to Narnia. The children (Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy) get caught up in these events, and there’s quite a bit of adventure and excitement. Although I had read that the moviemakers tried to soften the parallels to the story of Christ, I thought they were still extremely obvious — indeed, most of the plot would have had to be rewritten to avoid the parallels. A great movie to end the year with.

Clue

New from The Movie Snob:

Clue (D+). I need to finish up the story of my incredibly lame movie-going Christmas. I gave my little sister the DVD of this 20-year-old movie because, well, she wanted it and it was only $5.99 at Best Buy. My parents didn’t have a DVD player, so it did not occur me to me that I might be in danger of having to watch it. Well, guess what — Santa brought my parents a DVD player. So Christmas Day, I was coerced into watching a movie based on a board game (not even a video game, for pete’s sake!). There were a few laughs here and there, but not very many. Even the great Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap) couldn’t save the film, although he gets a pretty good last line in one of the three alternative endings. (And what kind of murder mystery has three alternate endings with three completely different solutions to the crimes?) And whatever happened to Leslie Ann Warren (Pure Country)? She looked like a much more attractive Susan Sarandon in this flick. Still, I say skip it.

The Devil’s Rejects; Mr. and Mrs. Smith

New reviews from Nick at Nite:

The Devil’s Rejects

Wow. This movie is bad. Normally, I go for this kind of violent, depraved, no-redeeming-values kind of a film, but it stinks. I told a friend I wanted to see this movie because I had been so freaked out by Rob Zombie’s first film, House of a 1000 Corpses. House is a true horror type film done in a very over the top Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of a way. The Devil’s Rejects is a Thelma & Louise meets Natural Born Killers knockoff. I don’t recommend this movie to anyone. I cannot believe I watched it. I give it an “F.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Angelina Jolie (The Tourist) is one freaky woman. That said she looks pretty good on screen. My wife thought Brad Pitt (World War Z) looked pretty good, even if he shouldn’t have left Jennifer Aniston, so I think my wife and I are pretty even. This movie revolves around a husband and wife that have been keeping their real professions secret from one another. The secrets are tamping down the passion in their marriage. It is not until their secrets are revealed that the action gets revved up and their marriage is somehow saved. I give this move an “A” for action, an “A” for eye candy, and a “B” for plot. It ain’t great, but it is a wonderful Saturday matinee type film.

Chicken Little (movie); The Edge of Sadness (book)

Merry Christmas from The Movie Snob!

Movie review:

Chicken Little (C+). This holiday season has not gone according to plan at all. By now I should have seen and reviewed both the new Narnia movie and, of course, the new King Kong. But I walked out of Narnia last weekend and demanded a refund because the theater’s sound system was messed up. And to my greater surprise, my little sister, who was a great fan of Lord of the Rings, balked at seeing Kong while we’re home for Christmas. Too long, she says. So somehow we wound up seeing this little trifle (not even the Wallace & Gromit movie that got such critical acclaim, because she objected to that one too). Actually, this movie turned out to be kind of cute. In a town where all sorts of animals live harmoniously together, Chicken Little (voice of Zach Braff) is a nerdy little kid who becomes a laughing-stock when he sounds the alarm that the sky is falling. If you’ve never seen a movie before, you’ll be surprised to learn that the misfit is more or less right and all the normal people (including his disbelieving father) turn out to be wrong. Some nice homages to other sci-fi movies contribute making this a bearable movie-watching experience.

Book review:

The Edge of Sadness, by Edwin O’Connor. This is Loyola Press re-issue of a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. It’s the story of about six months in the life of a Catholic priest, Father Hugh Kennedy. The 55-ish-year-old cleric has been assigned a dead-end post in a dying parish in or near Boston, but he accepts his assignment willingly, even gladly, as a quiet refuge after spending four years away in treatment for alcoholism. He is gradually drawn out of his seclusion by the Carmody family, including his two best childhood friends Helen and John, and their ruthless entrepreneur of a father, Charlie. Author O’Connor was not a priest, but his portrait of the life of the Catholic clergy in the last days of the old pre-Vatican II Catholic culture rings true. Well-written and very interesting.

Benedict XVI: The Man Who Was Ratzinger (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Benedict XVI: The Man Who Was Ratzinger, by Michael S. Rose (Spence Publishing 2005). This slim volume (155 pages or so) is a short survey of Pope Benedict XVI’s career as a cleric with an eye to predicting the direction of his papacy. In so small a space, obviously only a few issues can be covered, but Rose’s coverage of those issues is interesting nonetheless. For example, he discusses Cardinal Ratzinger’s disagreement with Pope John Paul II over the mechanics of the 1986 interfaith meeting in Assisi, Italy, at which many Catholic churches were turned over to non-Christian religions for their own religious ceremonies, and perhaps broader disagreement over ecumenism generally. Rose also debunks the popular myth that, as a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI vigorously and unfairly persecuted dissenting Catholic theologians; the portrait that emerges is one of restraint, patience, and concern that due process be afforded anyone accused of teaching non-Catholic views under the guise of Catholicism. The Pope’s take on the sex-abuse scandals in America and the rise of radical Islam are briefly noted. On the whole, Rose leaves no doubt that Pope Benedict is not likely to introduce the innovations most agitated for by progressive quasi-Catholics in this country or abroad. A good, quick introduction to the thought of the new Pope.

Fargo

DVD review from The Movie Snob:

Fargo (B). Yes, I have only just now gotten around to seeing this modern film noir by the Coen brothers. It is a pretty dark tale about a sad sack’s desperate attempt to stave off bankruptcy by staging the kidnapping of his wife and having her wealthy father foot the ransom. Little goes according to plan, which is not surprising when Steve Buscemi (The Big Lebowski) shows up as one of the two kidnappers. Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom) won an Oscar, I believe, for her portrayal of the very pregnant small-town police chief who is a lot more on the ball than her frequent use of “jeez” and “you betcha” might indicate. She’s good, no question, but to me William H. Macy (The Cooler) steals the show as the poor schlub who concocts the scheme. Whether he’s quailing before his blustering father-in-law (and boss) or transparently lying to his customers at the car dealership where he works, Macy is picture-perfect as the pathetic loser whose plans spiral horribly out of control. Worth a viewing.

Christmas with the DSO

Concert review from The Movie Snob.

Last Thursday I saw the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas concert at the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, and it was a delight. The DSO and the Dallas Symphony Chorus perform lots of favorite carols, including “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Frosty the Snowman,” O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The orchestra performs a selection from the Nutcracker, as well as a version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” borrowed from Mannheim Steamroller. There’s an audience sing-along featuring “O Christmas Tree,” “Silent Night,” and “The First Noel.” There are interludes featuring a children choir and some featuring a group of carolers dressed like Dickens characters. And there’s a reading of the Nativity story, much like the passage Linus recites in A Charlie Brown Christmas, by a local minister. It is definitely not a non-sectarian sort of concert, but if you are not offended by an overtly Christian Christmas pageant you should try to see this show. The last performances are on Sunday the 18th. I think the performance on the 16th may be televised live on NBC.

John Simon on Film (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001, by John Simon (2005). Don’t let the stuffy title fool you; this is merely a collection of movie reviews—658 pages worth. I am familiar with Simon’s work because he used to publish some of his reviews in National Review, but don’t let that put you off. Political considerations play little or no role in his judgments, and the dust jacket notes that he has also written reviews for publications like New York magazine and the New York Times Book Review. I sought this book out because few reviewers wield as wicked a pen as Simon when a film, actor, or director gives offense. A few examples. Of The Last Temptation of Christ, he writes, “It is too bad that various religious groups have seen fit to persecute it and thereby provide invaluable free publicity to a movie that could have died promptly of its own boring ineptitude.” Of Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, “with his mauled-looking ears, naturally punky hair, and watery, bulging eyes, Cage should be not his name, but his address.” Of the director of The Piano, “Jane Campion prides herself on leaving much unexplained. She has every right to be proud; at leaving things unexplained, Miss Campion is a champion.” Okay, maybe the shot at Cage’s looks is a little cheap. And to be fair, Simon praises lots of movies too (more foreign films than American, I believe). If these soundbites appeal to you, track down this book.

Just Friends

A new review from The Movie Snob:

Just Friends (B-). It isn’t Citizen Kane, but this new romantic comedy is not a bad way to spend an hour and a half. The protagonist is Chris Brander, played by previously-unknown-to-me Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool). In the set-up, we learn that in high school Chris was badly overweight, terribly dweeby, and best friends with cute, popular Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart, The Butterfly Effect). His attempt to become more than “just friends” with the fair Jamie goes badly, and after graduation Chris flees their home town in New Jersey for the West Coast. Fast forward to 2005. Now Chris is a skinny, successful, and very cool record executive, and around Christmas he is assigned to escort pop starlet and Britney lookalike Samantha James (Anna Faris of Scary Movie fame) to Paris and to land some recording deal with her. An emergency landing in New Jersey leads to Chris and Jamie’s reconnection and the usual rom-com trials and tribulations. The romantic main plot is average, but I thought that Faris’s performance as a ditzy yet psychotic pop star was hilarious. She stole every scene she was in. Worth seeing.

Harry Potter; Arrested Development

New reviews from Nick at Nite:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I’ll admit it, I am hooked. At first I refused to read the books. I simply would not buy into the hysteria. Like Trix, it was for kids. Plus, it was British and we all know Britain hasn’t had anything good besides Gwyneth Paltrow in a very long time. (She is British, isn’t she?). One night I was starving for something to read and the only thing I could find was the first Harry Potter book I had originally purchased for my wife. Fifteen pages in and I was sold. A magical story about wizards, witches, goblins and such – I simply could not put the book down. It is not The Lord of the Rings, but it is still pretty darn good. I look forward to the movies and each new book. I have not been disappointed by any. The old axiom that the book is always better than the movie it still true as it applies to the Harry Potter series – but the movies hold up pretty well.

As the books, and movies, progress they have gotten longer, better, and more mature (not in any deviant, unhealthy way). It is as if they were intended to mature and age at the same rate as the kids the books were originally targeted at. The Goblet of Fire isn’t for small kids. People die. There is significant violence. He who must not be named makes an appearance and is generally evil and scary. I do have some complaints regarding the movie versus the book. It leaves out some significant issues. First, what about SPEW. The group started by Hermoine to protest the treatment of the house elves. And second, what about the weird relationship between Hagrid, and the “she won’t admit it, but I am a Giant” Headmistress from the creepy, all girl’s Stepford wives’ school. All in all, I think it works very well. They need to get the rest of the movies finished before the kids get too old. They stopped being cute kids after the first movie, now they are just awkward teenagers. I give it an “A.”

Arrested Development (TV series)

Call, write, take a hostage, go on a hunger strike, do what you must, Arrested Development must be saved. I have finished watching seasons one and two on DVD and confirm what the sophisticated critics have been saying for two years … this is the best show on television (Lost is a close second, but I am only half way thru the first season on DVD). At first, I had no interest in watching. It has Jason Bateman (Hancock) in it. It is on FOX and is not Football or Baseball. This story, the story of an older brother who runs the family business while trying to protect his family is sure brilliance. From the father, who is imprisoned for building tract homes in Iraq, to brother Gob, the magician who rides a Sedgway scooter, to the one-armed, slow-witted brother, to Tobias the never nude … it is funny at every turn. Here is my suggestion. If you have not seen it … rent the first disc of season one. Watch all of the episodes, if you don’t think it is funny, send me, The Movie Snob a request for your money back. You have my money-back guarantee on this one. I give it an “A+.”