David’s Grab-Bag of Reviews

DVD reviews from That Guy Named David:

Bad News Bears (C+)

The original is better. Maybe it’s because I think Walter Matthau was a better actor than Billy Bob Thornton. Or maybe it’s simply because originals generally are better because, well… they’re original. Nonetheless, the second-coming wasn’t a total bust and provided quite a few enjoyable scenes. Thornton expands on the character he played in Bad Santa and once again, managed to make me laugh on several occasions. He is very good at being a worthless nothing of a human being in both roles. In addition, the kid playing Tanner was great, just as the original kid playing Tanner had a very entertaining role in the first one. It’s worth the rental fee and time if you have absolutely nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon.

Broken Flowers (D)

This movie had the makings of everything I enjoy in cinema. It was put out by Focus Features, possibly the best production company in Hollywood today (Lost in Translation, The Pianist, The Constant Gardner, Wet Hot American Summer). It stars Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom), one of the greatest actors of our generation. It deals with the subject of loneliness and confusion, and casts the leading role as an individual searching for answers to unanswerable questions. Just the type of deep, reflective movie that makes me stay up drinking into the wee hours of the night wondering where I took the many wrong turns in my life… but I digress. In short, this movie sucks. It’s fragmented, has no real point, and leads the viewer to an ending that has no ending. Murray is good with what he is given with the role; however, the overall flow of the movie never gets going and when the credits finally roll at the end, you are wondering what just happened and whether you are actually worse off for having watched the movie. Very bad.

Crash (B+)

This movie profiles all the racial stereotypes in our society and doesn’t try to sugarcoat the problems that invariably arise from people acting out on the stereotypes. It is deep, hard-hitting, filled with superb performances (Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors), and leaves you with an uneasy feeling about the race issues that are still pervasive in our society. The one knock against the movie is that there was too much happenstance in the movie, so there were times when I thought to myself that the multiple storylines were being stretched a little too thin. That being said, however, it’s a quality movie with quality performances that should get some well-deserved credit in the coming months. Rent it.

Potpourri from The Movie Snob

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

Roving Mars (C+). This new IMAX production is a tribute to the NASA Mars mission that successfully put two robotic rovers on the surface of the Red Planet. Once there, Spirit and Opportunity met and exceeded their builder’s hopes and expectations, successfully carrying out their experiments and lasting much longer than they had been designed to. This movie successfully conveys the monumental feat NASA’s engineers accomplished by safely landing these amazingly complicated machines on Mars after a seven-month journey traveling 60,000 miles per hour. Unfortunately, though, the visuals just aren’t that striking, and I couldn’t help being conscious most of the time that the views of the rovers on Mars and the Martian surface were digital creations and not actually movie footage. (It didn’t help that the kid next to me kept asking his dad, “Is this real? Is this trick photography?”)

Aeon Flux (C-). No, “Aeon Flux” is not some sort of digestive ailment that afflicts time-travelers. It is the name of the character played by Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman) in this post-apocalypse sci-fi shoot-em-up. Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has reverted to uninhabitable wilderness except for humanity’s last enclave, the city of Regna. Most of the Regnites seem reasonably content despite their fairly repressive government, but a band of rebels (led by an embarrassed-looking Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)) is out to topple the regime. Theron is a top rebel assassin, and she is assigned the mission of killing the Chairman himself. Naturally, nothing goes as planned. Despite the acrobatic fight scenes and thousands of rounds of ammo expended in the big finale, this is basically a yawner. Theron won’t be taking any Oscars home for this exercise in banality, although her futuristic pajamas definitely deserve some sort of special achievement award.

Bloodrayne (D). If you’re like me, you’ve been asking yourself one question ever since Terminator 3 came out: When is that babe who played the evil female Terminator going to make another movie? The wait is now over; Kristanna Loken is back! And this time she’s out for blood, as the damfir (that means half-human, half-vampire) character Rayne. She obviously chose this project with some care. First, it’s based on a video game, so she can take as much license with characterization as she likes (she goes with a flat, expressionless approach). Second, she has surrounded herself with talent: the Michael Madsen-Ben Kingsley team you loved in Species, Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago) for the older crowd, Michelle Rodriguez for Lost fans, Meat Loaf for I don’t know who. There’s even a “special appearance” by Billy Zane, the fiancee you loved to hate in Titanic! Third, she found costumers who understand that midriff tops have been popular throughout history, even in the Middle Ages. Throw in a sex scene that’s as embarrassing as it is gratuitous, plus buckets—no, geysers—of fake blood, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Okay, this turkey has virtually nothing to recommend it. But it was kind of funny when pretty-boy vampire-hunter Sebastian introduces Rayne to the art of human love-making and has to explain that we generally start by kissing on the mouth, not by going straight for the jugular.

Capote; Match Point

Good movies about bad men — new reviews from The Movie Snob:

Capote (A-). This movie could have been subtitled “The Writing of In Cold Blood,” because that aspect of Capote’s life is virtually the entire substance of the film. And a very interesting story it is. The movie opens in 1959 with Capote living the high life among the literati and glitterati of New York City. Homosexual and effete, he swims through that milieu like a fish through water. But that November he reads a newspaper story reporting the brutal murders of all four members of the Clutter family, a family of farmers in remote rural Kansas. For some reason, he is fascinated. He travels to Kansas with his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and gradually ingratiates himself with the community, the lead detective on the case, and, once they are captured, the killers. He conceives of the idea of writing a book about the event and the people, a “nonfiction novel” he calls it, and he rightly senses it will be a masterpiece. In his single-minded pursuit of the story, he is willing to feign interest, sympathy, affection, whatever it takes to get the information he needs. The friend I saw the movie with detected a human side to Capote, that he actually did grow to care about one of the two criminals, Perry Smith, and felt remorse about abusing Smith’s trust. I am not so sure; to me he came across as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, even a sociopath. Yet, I was totally engrossed in this movie, which doesn’t happen often when the protagonist is not sympathetic. Go see this movie, and then look for Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March) to take the Best Actor Oscar home this year.

Match Point (B). I’ve skipped the last few Woody Allen movies, but the critical hurrahs for this one got me back to the theater. It is a good telling of a sordid tale. Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Vanity Fair) is a young Irishman from a poor background. A former professional tennis player who never made it big, he moves to London to teach tennis at a posh club. He is a bit of a cipher, professing vague ambitions of wanting to make some sort of contribution with his life, but apparently having no direction whatsoever. Anyway, he soon falls in with the wealthy Hewitt family, first giving lessons to Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode, Stoker), then dating his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian), and then working for their father’s company. But he is dangerously attracted to Tom’s fiancée, an unsuccessful American actress named Nola (Scarlett Johansson, Hail, Caesar!). Complications ensue. I would probably have liked this movie even better except that it bears an awfully strong resemblance to the excellent Woody Allen picture Crimes and Misdemeanors. Even after having points deducted for lack of originality, though, this movie is still a good watch.

Ella Enchanted

Nick at Nite delivers a DVD review:

Ella Enchanted

You read it right, I actually saw Ella Enchanted. I cannot believe it either. Worse, I cannot believe that I actually thought the movie was pretty good. Simple enough story, cute girl with brown hair and big eyes marries a confused, gay cowboy who is tending sheep while having a secret love affair with another cowboy … no, no wait, that is the other movie featuring this Disney teen idol (Anne Hathaway, Brokeback Mountain), this is a very simple Cinderella-type story, basically stolen from a Drew Barrymore vehicle I saw several years ago. There is a twist. Apparently, everything you tell Ella to do, she must do because of a curse put on her by her fairy godmother. So Ella freezes in midair, she dances and sings Queen songs, she hops in place, she steals an orange, and yes she will kill the prince who loves her … unless … you will just have to see the movie to see what happens. I give it a “B.” I give it an “A” for family friendliness.

Brokeback Mountain

A review from Movie Man Mike:

Brokeback Mountain. (A-). This film has gotten much early press because of the Oscar potential attached to it. It is one of those films that caused me to reflect on the film quite a bit afterwards, and I generally believe that to be the mark of a good film. I also found myself reading other reviews and analyses of the film to see how others reacted to it, and at least one analysis changed my understanding of one of the key scenes in the movie. The film opens in the 1960s in Wyoming with two men, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, taking on the job of sheep herders for a flock of sheep high up in the mountains. The scenery in this film is spectacular. The film then takes you on a journey of the relationship between these two men over the next twenty years or so. What drives this film is the tension between society’s demands that Jack and Ennis conform to its expectations and Jack’s and Ennis’ desires to be together. Much of the relationship between the men is developed through their actions and facial expressions, which requires a special acting and directing talent. (Ennis in particular plays the silent type). One of my criticisms of the film is that the love scenes between Jack and Ennis betray the director’s lack of experience with the subject-matter. Perhaps you can chalk it up to an attempt to tailor the film to a wider viewing audience, but the scenes were nonetheless a little off the mark for me. While the performances from both Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals) were solid, in my opinion, the Oscar buzz for Ledger is a bit too hyped. I suspect that much of the praise for Ledger comes from the fact that he is a straight man risking a promising acting career to play a gay role. If that’s the reason for the Oscar buzz, I say that we need a lot more Brokeback Mountains to help us get past that way of thinking. This is Hollywood after all… Finally, the story drags a little in the middle as it progresses through the years of Jack’s and Ennis’ lives, but ultimately, it is a well-told story and one well worth seeing.

King Kong

The Movie Snob goes ape:

King Kong (A-). Director Peter Jackson delivers in this excellent remake of the adventure classic. A fly-by-night movie maker (Jack Black, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) hires a tramp steamer to take his film crew, screenwriter (Adrien Brody, Midnight in Paris), and actors (Naomi Watts, The Impossible; Kyle Chandler, Super 8) to an uncharted island in the South Pacific where he plans to film his next picture. There they encounter hostile natives, hostile dinosaurs, and a hostile 24-foot gorilla that the natives call Kong. But then, you already knew all that. The question is, does Jackson wrap you up in the moviegoing experience the way he did in Lord of the Rings? The answer is, generally yes. I’d quibble with a few things. The movie really doesn’t need to be over 3 hours long, and some of the fight scenes go on too long and strain credibility even under loose sci-fi standards. But for the most part, I totally bought into it, and Kong himself is a phenomenal, completely believable feat of special-effects prowess. Watts does a very good acting job, especially considering she was generally acting against a blank screen. Clear your calendar for an afternoon or evening and see it on the big screen, where it belongs.


From The Movie Snob:

Hoodwinked! (D+). This new animated feature got a good review in the local paper, so I checked it out. The premise seemed clever: the story of Little Red Riding Hood gets told four times, once by each of the four protagonists (Red, Granny, Wolf, and the Woodsman). Some amusement derives from the wildly different perspectives the characters have of the exact same events. But the device gets a little tiresome after about the second retelling, and the whole thing is embedded in a larger but rather lame story about a recipe-stealing bandit who is at large in the Big Woods. When you get bored during an 83-minute movie, there is definitely a problem. The friend I saw it with thought it was better than I did, and hypothesized that little kids would like it, but I am unconvinced. It’s a waste of time.

Anna Karenina

DVD review from The Movie Snob:

Anna Karenina (C). I continue to plow through the Greta Garbo collection. Her acting is getting a little better, but the movies sadly are not. Anyway, this is the 1935 version of Tolstoy’s massive soap-opera of a novel. I read it once upon a time, but I remember only the barest outline of the story. In this movie version, Anna (Garbo, Ninotchka) is married to a government bureaucrat (Basil Rathbone, The Magic Sword) who is overwhelmingly preoccupied with his job and social standing (which seem inextricably linked in the Russia of the time). She dotes on her beloved son Sergei, and does not seem particularly unhappy. But then she meets the dashing soldier Count Vronsky (Frederic March, Nothing Sacred), falls in love with him, and after putting up some resistance embarks on an adulterous affair. Finally she faces an ultimatum–break off the affair or never see her son again. How will matters end? Frankly, I thought Rathbone gave the most interesting performance as the cold fish husband who nevertheless occasionally betrays the glimmerings of a tender side.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (C). I suppose I should throw in the towel on this whole Harry Potter business, or at least read the books before I attempt another of the movies. I saw the first HP movie and thought it was completely pedestrian, sat out the next two, and then decided I should give the series another chance. More than a chance, in fact, because I saw the IMAX version. Again I left the theater underwhelmed. There’s a lot of magic and sound and fury, but it felt like a movie, not like a real adventure involving real people. And I gather that this bad guy Voldemort, or whatever his name is, is supposed to be the be-all and end-all of evil power. He’s just not that scary, and his “death eater” minions look about as dangerous as a pack of trick-or-treaters. A single one of Sauron’s Ringwraiths could have disposed of the whole lot of them. I guess I’m just missing something here.

The Family Stone

The Movie Snob goes off:

The Family Stone (F). I had been warned that the trailers do not accurately preview this movie–that it’s not really a comedy at all, but a drama with a few lighthearted moments. I was not warned that it is also an insufferably smug movie that would suffocate me in every P.C. cliche yet devised by the mind of man. To top it off, it stars the unappealing Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City). On the plus side, her character is supposed to be unappealing, so at least the casting people did their job right. I loathed her from the moment she first appeared on screen, having not one but two conversations on her cell phone while wandering around a department store where her long-suffering boyfriend is doing some Christmas shopping. Romantic subplots abound, but they’re completely preposterous from beginning to end. Ultimately, I didn’t need my handkerchief once, but an airsickness bag would have come in handy. Avoid at all costs.

The Movie Snob 2005 Year in Review

The Movie Snob’s 2005 Year in Review

As usual, I am considering all movies that I saw in theaters for the first time last year. There are assuredly some 2004 releases in this list, but I saw ’em in 2005. So sue me.

Best Drama. I thought 2005 was a good year all the way around, so I’ll be singling out more movies in this list than I usually do. Top honors in this category have to go to Hotel Rwanda, a movie that grabs you by the throat and never lets go. Some scenes are hard to watch, but the Rwandan genocide really happened, and not hundreds of years ago either. It happened in 1994. It may be happening again right now in Sudan. Close second: Pride & Prejudice. It’s hard to make a bad movie out of a Jane Austen story, and this one was terrific. Some critics carped that the movie displays a judgmentalism about the rigid social rules of Austen’s time that is absent from Austen’s own novels. Frankly, I didn’t care. It’s just a great love story. Honorable mentions go to biopics Ray and Walk the Line, as much because of the awesome performances as because of their respective plots.

Best Action Flick. This year’s winner slipped in on the last day of the year–The Chronicles of Narnia blew me away, even though I had never read the books. As a devout Catholic, I am probably biased in the movie’s favor since it’s based on the work of the great apologist C.S. Lewis and it’s a Christian allegory that I wouldn’t say is even thinly disguised. But it has a lot of great action, and a message that probably anyone would find thought-provoking. Coming in a close second is Serenity. Never saw the TV show on which it was based, but loved the movie. If you liked Star Wars, then shame on you for not getting out there and buying tickets to Serenity so they would make a sequel. Honorable mention to Batman Begins, the best of the three Batman movies that I have seen to date. It even beats whichever that one was that had Nicole Kidman in it! (Sorry, Nic.)

Best Comedy. As always, good comedy is hard to come by. I’d give top honors to The 40-Year Old Virgin, but with the caveat that you must have a huge tolerance for coarse, vulgar humor to enjoy this movie. (The equally coarse and vulgar Wedding Crashers just wasn’t that funny.) Equal parts comedy and action movie, Kung Fu Hustle was also a lot of fun. I hope the rumors of a sequel are true. Can’t think of any other comedies really worth a mention here….

Best Documentary. The Penguins were fine, but there were plenty of other better documentaries this year, in my humble opinion. In fact, you could get Penguins condensed to about 90 seconds within the excellent ocean-going documentary Deep Blue, if it didn’t sneak by you in its short theatrical run. Also terrific was Mad Hot Ballroom, about the ballroom-dancing program in NYC’s public schools that showed etiquette and beauty to kids who had seen little of either in their lives. Honorable mention to The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, a touching little movie about an eccentric fellow in San Francisco and a flock of wild parrots that he befriends. Be sure to watch until the very end for a pleasant little surprise.

Other Honorable Mentions:

The Aviator — yeah, it’s way old by now, but I didn’t see it until ’05, so I’m mentioning it.

Off the Map — a quiet little independent movie about an eccentric family that really lives as far “off the map” as it can manage. Maybe I’m remembering it being better than it was, but I liked it a lot at the time.

War of the Worlds — I managed to forget all the TomKat craziness and enjoyed Cruise’s turn as an average joe trying to save his kids from evil extraterrestrials. Great special effects.

Dear Frankie — this little independent melodrama deserved a wider audience. I’ve liked Emily Mortimer in every movie I’ve seen her in, so I’m really looking forward to Match Point.

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride — my favorite animated film this year. Weird for sure, but what do you expect from Tim Burton?

Zathura and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — the best family-oriented movies of the year. But be careful. Zathura is a little scary for the littlest ones, and Sisterhood deals with adolescent-girl issues in a pretty frank way. Watch them for yourself before showing them to your kids. Sky High was cute too, come to think of it, and probably doesn’t present any of the concerns that Zathura and Sisterhood do.

Grizzly Man — good, intense documentary. It felt a little exploitative to me (the subject of the film pretty clearly suffered from mental illness), preventing a higher rating, but the story of this guy trying to live with Alaskan grizzly bears is hard to turn away from.

That’s all, folks!

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

New from The Movie Snob:

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (B-). I have never seen any of the fabled Wallace & Gromit shorts, but the critical buzz around this movie was so great that I had to check it out. In fact, I wanted to see it instead of Chicken Little over Christmas. And, as it turned out I liked it only a little better than Little. As you may know, W&G is done in old-fashioned claymation, which is admittedly pretty cool. It is set somewhere in England, and it follows the adventures of a daffy, clumsy, cheese-loving inventor named Wallace and his loyal (and more sensible) dog Gromit. In this movie, W&G run a humane pest control business, protect the town’s vegetable gardens by safely catching and removing all the rabbits. Their basement filling up with the cute little varmints, so Wallace decides to use his new brain-washing invention to try to turn the bunnies against vegetables and make them safe to release again. Simultaneously (coincidentally?), a mysterious beast known as the were-rabbit begins to ravage the town’s vegetable gardens. Can W&G stop the were-rabbit before a bombastic, rifle-toting hunter does? Cute, a few funny jokes and puns, but really nothing spectacular, in my humble opinion.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

DVD review from Nick at Nite:

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

My wife really, really wanted to see this movie. I went to the local Blockbuster on three separate occasions and came back with other movies. I finally secured a copy of The 40-Year-Old Virgin on my fourth trip. My wife was thrilled until she saw the movie. Please don’t misunderstand me, my wife has a good sense of humor, she just doesn’t appreciate humor when its focus is on the lowest common denominator. This movie is not Blazing Saddles (Slapstick and Clever), Wedding Crashers (Clever), Stir Crazy (Slapstick), or Ishtar (unintentionally funny). Put another way, we missed the entire American Pie craze because she was so deeply troubled by the first five minutes of the first film that we turned it off and did not see any of the series of sequels. She gave this movie an “F.” On the other hand, I thought it was greatness. I give it an “A.” The waxing scene is a classic. The drunk date is a riot. The sexual education class is a hoot. Several bit characters give stellar performances. The store manager is extremely funny. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

King Kong

Nick at Nite sounds off:

King Kong

This movie is not Howard the Duck. King Kong is not ALF. Not once did I think of Mothra. King Kong is simply the best of the season. With the exception of the last line – which is lifted straight from the original – I loved every single minute of this film. Peter Jackson is to this generation of Saturday matinee attendees what Stephen Spielberg was to the last generation of Saturday matinee attendees, a movie maker who could be counted on for making big films that you wanted to see over and over again. King Kong is long, but it is worth it. There is a plot. A back story developed over an hour’s time is thoroughly engaging. The real strength of the movie is in King Kong himself. At the end of the movie, if you don’t find yourself feeling sorry for the ape – a complete CGI creation – then you have no heart. Andy Serkis, a.k.a Gollum, deserves an Oscar nod for his role. My guess is he will be denied again. I give this movie an “A.” I’ll probably go see it again. And I have to pay for a babysitter to do it.

Munich; Syriana; The Island

New reviews from That Guy Named David.

Munich (A-)

Coming into the this movie, I thought the Munich Olympic massacre occurred in 1968 instead of 1972, showcasing how very little I knew of the event. After the movie, I found myself surfing the internet to find out more about the hostage situation, as well as Israel’s response to the massacre over the next several years. To me, that is the sign of a good movie if it makes me want to learn more about the subject of the movie. The bulk of the movie follows the actions of a hit team organized by the Mossad (Israeli Secret Service) to track down and assassinate those responsible for the murder of the 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. While the movie does spend a significant amount of time showcasing the action scenes portraying each of the assassinations, Spielberg does a masterful job of setting forth the moral equivalency debate that such actions inevitably provoke. Throughout the film, you can see the actions of this hit squad incite reactions from the Muslim groups targeted by the Israelis. Spielberg did not attempt to sugarcoat the acts of Israel, nor justify the acts of the Muslim groups responsible for Israeli-targeted terrorism. However, Munich forces the audience to take in all the acts and make those judgments on their own. Very well-done. One of the best movies I have seen in quite a while.

Syriana (C+)

I saw on a “Best of 2005” movie show where the reviewer listed Syriana as the number 4 movie of 2005. He must have been vying for a position in Section 8 Productions, George Clooney’s production company, because I can name 20 films I saw this year (and some I didn’t see) that put this one to shame. Syriana is a complicated movie intended to set forth the complex relationship between oil companies, foreign governments, Muslim extremists, private and governmental lawyers, energy analysts, princes and emirs, presidents, and the always demonized Central Intelligence Agency. While generally these are the types of stories I find interesting, the way Syriana is made annoyed me more than it kept my attention. Basically, for the first hour or so, you have snapshot followed by snapshot followed by snapshot with absolutely no connections between any of them. Eventually (during the last 30 minutes or so), the director attempts to put the snapshots together to form a mosaic but instead gets a convoluted, confusing, and anti-climactic ending that leaves the viewer wondering what in the hell happened over the past 2+ hours. If you are in the mood for a heavy movie, see Munich. On a side note, they have one scene showcased in the movie that was filmed in Hondo, Texas, hometown of this reviewer. Needless to say, it was a little strange seeing my hometown of 6000 people acknowledged for a few seconds in a George Clooney/Matt Damon movie. Not enough to make me enjoy the movie, but still interesting.

The Island (B-)

Pleasantly surprised. I kinda have a thing for Scarlett Johansson (We Bought a Zoo), and my girlfriend has a major crush on Ewan Moulin Rouge! McGregor (I think we look very similar). Anyway, she refused to watch the movie because the plot line of human clones discovering their clonehood and then attacking their makers really didn’t appeal to her. Nonetheless, because I got bored with football about 8 hours in, I decided to conclude my holiday weekend with a mindless action movie. Not bad. There really isn’t a whole lotta substance to the movie, and the dialogue is weak, but for some reason, I enjoyed it. Maybe I was taken by the beauty of young Ms. Johannson, but in any event, not a bad rental.