Monster House

New from The Movie Snob

Monster House (B-). Remember when you were growing up and there was that creepy house on your street? With a grumpy old man living there who scared the wits out of all the kids on the block? That’s the set-up of this new animated feature. Moreover, this particular haunted house is not just content to sit there and be haunted–if you get too close, it will actually eat you! Three little kids become aware of this disturbing quality on Halloween and race against time to find some way to stop the conniving cottage from devouring the neighborhood’s children. The striking visuals are the main attraction here, especially the house itself. The vocal characterizations are good too, featuring stalwarts such as Steve Buscemi and Fred Willard. But the plot, or at least the back story for how the house became haunted, doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the animated characters themselves are needlessly ugly. They’re like a bunch of rejects from Pixar or something. Decent effort overall, a little too scary for the littlest kids though.

Invincible

Movie review from Nick at Nite

Invincible

Wow. Caught a sneak peak of the Disney movie last night. Very impressive. It is a familiar story of a person down on his luck who perserves, works hard, and in the end is rewarded for his determination. This homage to Rudy, another excellent film, stars Mark Wahlberg as Vinnie Papale, the Philadelphia bartender that tried out for and made the Philadephia Eagles in 1976 at open invitation, and Greg Kinnear as Dick Vermeil, the head coach of the Philadephia Eagles with a heart of gold. I just don’t think enough movies with uplifting, positive, human interest stories are made. This movie has a good feel to it and will make you smile. Don’t expect an Oscar caliber movie. It isn’t. What it is, is an inspirational true story with no strings attached. Go see it. You will be glad you did. Incidentally, although this is a football movie, it is also a people story. I don’t think you have to be a football fan to enjoy it. After you see Snakes on a Plane and are disappointed because it stinks, go down the hall and check this one out. You won’t be sorry you did. I give it an “A.”

Artificial Happiness (book review)

From The Movie Snob.

Artificial Happiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class by Ronald W. Dworkin (Carroll & Graf 2006). This book got a very favorable review from a magazine I read regularly, so I picked it up. I expected a book with lots of stories about the dangers of overprescription of drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, etc. There was a little of that at the beginning, and a little more at the end, but in between is a great slab of text that tries to explain why anti-depressants (and alternative medicine and exercise therapy) have become so over-prescribed, which Dworkin says is also the story of how unhappiness came to be seen as a medical problem. It is a long story about the turf wars between and among primary-care physicians, psychiatrists, neurologists, and even the clergy. Dworkin, an anesthesiologist, somehow even tries to connect the abortion debate to this story. I guess it was sort of interesting, but not compared to the anecdotal stories about how anti-depressants can be counterproductive when prescribed for people suffering from garden-variety unhappiness. Like the guy who realized that he wasn’t making anything of himself after college, found himself too overwhelmed to take steps he needed to do anything about it, and found relief through drugs. As Dworkin points out, the drugs didn’t push him to improve himself, and in fact they just enabled him to continue stagnating without feeling bad about it. He signs off with a warning about the direction our society might take if a critical mass of people start using these drugs to feel good about themselves regardless of whether they are, in fact, good people.

Dungeons & Dreck

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Dungeons & Dragons (D-). Long before I became an erudite and sophisticated movie critic, I was an avid D&Der. Although there were rumors that Hollywood was making a movie explicitly based on the Dungeons & Dragons game way back in the 1980s, they came to nothing until this 2000 release. I heard it was bad and only just now got around to seeing it. Yes, it’s a turkey. The special effects are cartoonish, the dialogue is lame, and the acting is abominable. Somehow they got Jeremy Irons to play the villainous sorcerer Profion; he chews the scenery with insane glee, and for some reason he seems to think that he sounds more evil if he talks like he has a frog in his throat. Thora Birch is absolutely terrible as the idealistic empress who turns up from time to time to deliver a clunky speech about equality and brotherhood; she sounds just like she is reading them from cue cards. One of the Wayans brothers drops in; apparently nobody told him that he was supposed to be a medieval thief and not a character in a late-20th-century sit-com. Absolutely terrible.

P.S. According to reviews floating around the internet, the direct-to-video sequel from 2005 was actually a better movie.

13 Going on 30

DVD review from The Movie Snob

13 Going on 30 (B-). This is like my cousin Diane’s favorite movie, but she did not succeed in making me watch it until just recently. The film started out with two strikes against it: (1) I did not like Big, and I assumed that this movie was basically a remake, and (2) I am not a Jennifer Garner fan. I just don’t think she is that cute. Anyhoo, the movie was a pleasantish surprise, even though it was extremely similar to Big. Jenna is an unhappy 13-year-old who wakes up one day to find herself 17 years older. (Unlike Big, in this movie the 17 years really have gone by. In a sense, it’s kind of a Rip Van Winkle sort of scenario.) Although Jenna finds that she is a successful magazine editor, she also discovers that she has no real friends and has fallen out of touch with both her parents and her childhood best friend Matt (Mark Ruffalo, You Can Count on Me). Lessons are learned, “Thriller” is danced to, yada yada yada. Cute.

Ultraviolet is Ultrabad

New from Nick at Nite

Ultraviolet. Usually, science fiction and Milla Jovovich are “two great things that go great together,” e.g. The Fifth Element, Resident Evil, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, you know, just like chocolate and peanut butter. In this movie, they don’t go too well together, you know, just like Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. Ultraviolet, based on a Japanese comic book, is the story about humans who become infected with a virus that turns them into something similar to a vampire, but without the blood sucking. Turns out the uninfected humans hate the infected humans. Milla Jovovich is infected and is trying to make it so everyone can just get along. FX are incomplete and unimpressive. How do all these people die, literally hundreds by swords and gun play, yet there is not more than an ounce of blood spilled by any of the characters? Plot? What plot? If you want to see some science fiction and you are a big Milla Jovovich fan, rent The Fifth Element. That Luc Besson film is excellent and strange. Save your money on this stinker. I give Ultraviolet, which should be right down my alley, an “F.”

V for Vendetta

New from Nick at Nite

V for Vendetta. This is not your father’s made-for-television sci-fi mini-series. No alien lizard babies were birthed by human mothers in this movie, humans are not eaten by alien lizards in this movie, and humans do not rise up to destroy the alien lizards who suddenly reappear in a later television series. This is a better-than-most movie adaptation of a comic book intended for adults. It is a cross between The Count of Monte Cristo, 1984, Brazil, Zorro, and Moscow on the Hudson (okay, not so much Moscow on the Hudson). It is very entertaining, the acting is superb, and the story is an original twist on a well-known plot. Basically, through fearmongering a dictatorship takes over England (see George Bush and the Republican Party). A victim of the ruling junta rises up to challenge the dictatorship (junta meaning – military dictatorship). The masked victim, known as “V,” mobilizes the people who revolt against the ruling junta by planning a Guy Fawkes’ type demonstration (remember November 5th and big explosions). Natalie Portman, who plays a friend, acquaintance, confidant, aide, etc … to V, continues to make me think she will eventually be remembered as one of the greatest actresses of her generation (I think she is destined for Oscar glory). This movie was not well-received by the critics or the movie going public. I think they were wrong. I think they expected the Matrix Part IV since this movie was produced by the same Wachowski brothers. Well, it is not the Matrix. Get over it. The production values are the same, it is not as good as the first Matrix, but does not have the tired feel of the second two films. I think the critics bashed the movie because they don’t like the Wachowski brothers. They are strange, but that is no reason to dismiss the film. I say rent it. You won’t be disappointed that you did. I give it an “A.” Pay special attention to the monologue given by V, where he uses a series of words that start with the letter “v.” A very visceral venting by V.