Don Quixote (book review)

From The Movie Snob

Don Quixote (translated by Edith Grossman, 2003). This new translation got very good reviews when it came out, so I finally decided to bite the bullet and try to read this 940-page classic of Western literature. Somewhat to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is the story of Alonso Quixano, a Spanish gentleman living in the early 1600’s who goes insane after reading endless books about chivalry and knights errant. In his delusion, he believes that he himself is a famous knight errant, Don Quixote of La Mancha, and, after persuading a good-natured peasant named Sancho Panza to be his squire, he sallies forth into all sorts of misadventures. He believes that windmills are evil giants and attempts to battle with them. He mistakes inns for castles, flocks of sheep for armies, and a puppet show for reality. And whenever his delusions get him in trouble and leave him battered and bruised, he blames unseen wicked enchanters who are always plotting his downfall. I don’t know Spanish, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation, but I can say that Grossman’s translation is very readable, although the diction is much more elaborate and baroque than we are used to today. Warmly recommended.

Nacho Libre

DVD review from CBG

Nacho Libre

Another comedy from the same director (Jared Hess) and writer (Jerusha Hess) that brought you Napoleon Dynamite. Nacho, a friar in an orphanage, is a disrespected cook. He longs to be a luchador – or professional wrestler – complete with outfit and mask. When a new nun shows up, Nacho strikes out (literally and figuratively) to pursue his dream to become a pro wrestler, win the love of Sister Encarnacion and help the orphans. Hilarity ensues, or at least it should. Unfortunately, Nacho Libre is mostly Nacho Muerto. Yes, Jack Black (King Kong) is funny. You can’t help but laugh as he prances around in wrestler’s tights and ad libs silly songs. And yes, Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera, Cowboys & Aliens) is muy caliente. But the Hess influence is clear – it’s Napoleon Dynamite South of the Border – just not as funny or original as the first.

Judgment: C-

Night Watch; Thank You for Smoking

DVD reviews from the Court’s newest reviewer, CBG.

Night Watch

Maybe you saw this movie and just didn’t know it. It’s the first of a trilogy which centers on the epic struggle between good and evil and an unfulfilled prophecy about the ONE who will change everything. Smartly shot. Cool Special Effects. Choreographed Fight Scenes. Yeah, yeah, yeah… what was it? The Matrix? No—that’s not it—LOTR? No, no, no . . . Star Wars? Wait a second, that had six parts. Regardless, if you like epics—see this movie. If you like vampires and shapeshifters—see this movie. If you like stuff that creeps you out—see this movie. If you like movies that pay a dividend when you pay attention—see this movie.

Yeah, it’s got a derivative plot line. Guy with special powers finally figures out he’s special—an “Other”—and gets swept up in the eternal battle between the forces Light and Dark, which constantly monitor each other during the night and day respectively (hence the title). But the film works. Originally shot in Russian (I was disappointed they only released the dubbed version), the post-Soviet, eastern bloc feel is perfect for this horror/science fiction/fantasy fare. It’s got a grimy, dark feel that builds momentum as it goes forward.

It’s got its rough spots—some of the special effects are cheap looking and the dubbing doesn’t always work—but this is definitely worth renting and would probably stand up to a second viewing. And this is the perfect time of year to check it out. Stay up late, turn off the lights and crank it up. You won’t regret it.

Judgment: B+

Thank You for Smoking

This is like eating a truffle. Tasty, but not that substantial. This movie has a lot to offer: snappy dialogue, great characters with great actors behind them, a healthy dose of cynical humor all wrapped up in a spiffy, well paced, post-Michael Moore mocumentary package.

Want to see what’s wrong with our culture (okay, SOME of what’s wrong)? Check it out. Want to know why? That’s not this movie. Keep that in mind. There’s nothing wrong with truffles, as long as you don’t eat them all the time.

Judgment: B+

Little Miss Sunshine

From The Movie Snob

Little Miss Sunshine (A-). This movie made some news when Fox paid a ton of money for it at one of those film festivals, and I would say that Fox made a good call. By turns funny and poignant, this is the story of the very dysfunctional Hoover family. The dad (Greg Kinnear, Baby Mama) is obsessed with getting a book deal based on his nine-step self-help program for turning losers into winners. Uncle Frank (Steve Carell, Café Society) is a homosexual Proust scholar who has just survived a suicide attempt. Grandpa (Alan Arkin, Argo) is a foul-mouthed old cuss who got kicked out of a nursing home for doing drugs, and teenaged Dwayne (Paul Dano, Ruby Sparks) stopped talking nine months ago and does nothing except read Nietschze. The versatile Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) plays long-suffering wife and mother Cheryl, and then there is cute seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin, Maggie), who is the emotional center of the family. She gets a chance to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, and the whole family piles into a dilapidated VW van for the long drive from Albuquerque to California so that Olive can have her chance. Misadventures ensue, along with moments of surprising tenderness. I liked it a lot — but do take the R rating seriously.

Revenge of the Red Baron

A new review from Nick at Nite

Revenge of the Red Baron. I am getting a free week of Showtime at home. My free preview week is leading to some poor decision making in my movie watching, including this one. It was such a train wreck I could not turn away. In Revenge of the Red Baron, the spirit of the Red Baron is reborn into a model airplane and the doll glued into the pilot’s seat. The plane and doll haunt an old World War I pilot and his family. I would have immediately turned this garbage off if it weren’t for – Tobey Maguire (The Great Gatsby) and Mickey Rooney (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) – wow, I know Rooney needed the money, but what was Maguire doing in this trash? This movie features Mickey Rooney as the Red Baron’s old nemesis. Given that the movie is set in 1995, I guess Mickey Rooney is apparently supposed to be 95 years old in this movie. Tobey Maguire is just terrible in this movie. There are multiple scenes of him working a remote control plane in an air duel with the possessed Red Baron. Thank God for the Spider-Man movies. I give this an “F.”

This Film Is Very Indignant

From the desk of The Movie Snob

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (D+). This documentary aims to be an exposé of the Motion Picture Association of America, the shadowy and secretive organization responsible for branding movies with the familiar G/PG/PG-13/R/NC-17 ratings. Director Kirby Dick is plainly outraged at the MPAA’s high-handed and seemingly arbitrary behavior, the word “censorship” is used with abandon, and longtime MPAA president Jack Valenti is shown in lots of filmclips that make him look sinister and dishonest. The movie was interesting insofar as it explained the movie-rating process, and I’ll give it due credit for exposing some apparent falsehoods the MPAA propagates about itself. But the movie’s tone is too shrill, its position is too one-sided, and it contains too many time-wasting diversions, like the endless scenes in which the director and his private investigators try to figure out who the MPAA’s anonymous raters are. Even if the director has some valid points, which I think he does, he never asks whether the average American parent appreciates and generally agrees with the MPAA’s work. I think that would have been a question worth asking. Note — the MPAA gave this movie an NC-17 rating because of the numerous sex scenes (all clips from other movies), but the director chose to release it unrated instead.

Man of La Mancha (stage review)

Stage review from The Movie Snob

Man of La Mancha, performed by WaterTower Theater in Addison. I have a soft spot in my heart for this musical because it was the first one I ever saw — although my view was rather obstructed because I was behind the set playing in the (high school) orchestra. And now I am in the middle of reading Don Quixote, so I was even more to hear that the show was being staged. It’s a good production–solid acting, excellent sets and costumes, and generally acceptable singing. The setting is 15th century Spain, and author Miguel de Cervantes has just been thrown in prison to await trial before the Inquisition. His cellmates, a ragged band of thieves and prostitutes, begin to strip him of all his possessions, including a large manuscript. To persuade them to give the manuscript back, he stages an impromptu play–Don Quixote, in which he plays the deluded knight, his manservant plays the squire Sancho, and his cellmates play all the rest of the parts. There are several memorable songs, most famously “The Impossible Dream.” But be warned that this is not a show for children; there is lots of vulgar language and behavior, and also a very vividly enacted rape scene.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (C). I liked the original Pirates, but I didn’t love it. As a result, I may be one of the last people in the country to see Dead Man’s Chest in the theaters. It was very mediocre. Like the first one, it was way too long. Unlike the first one, I was never clear on exactly why our three protagonists were doing all their energetic running around all over the Caribbean Sea. I mean, the object of their quest was clear enough, but the particular value of that object was totally obscure to me. Maybe they explained it and I just missed it; I had a hard time understanding what the characters were saying towards the beginning of the movie. On the plus side, the action sequences were pretty good, like the scenes featuring the kraken, a truly humongous giant-squid-type creature. but even some of the action sequences got a little silly, like an extended swordfight on top of a runaway water wheel. And there was a decent surprise at the very end, which of course only sets up the third installment, tentatively subtitled “At World’s End.” I can only imagine how long that voyage is going to take.

The Illusionist; The Wedding Date

Reviews from The Movie Snob

The Illusionist (B+). We’ve already posted a couple of reviews for this movie, so I’ll try to be brief. The readiest comparison is Wuthering Heights. Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) is Eisenheim the Illusionist, a sensational magician who takes Vienna by storm around the turn of the 20th century. By a quick flashback, we see that he was from a peasant family, and that in his youth he was in love with a girl from the aristocracy named Sophie. Their different social stations doomed their romance, and the lad disappeared for 15 years. Returning to Vienna as Eisenheim, he finds that Sophie (played surprisingly well by Jessica Biel, Total Recall) is romantically involved with none other than the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Eisenheim and Sophie quickly discover that their love is as strong as ever, but the emperor-in-waiting (Rufus Sewell, Hercules) is a suspicious and violent sort, and the conflict caused by love across class-lines is set up nicely. Paul Giamatti (Morgan) does a good job as the cynical but decent police inspector who tries to figure out what Eisenheim is up to and to persuade him not to incur the imperial wrath.

The Wedding Date (D+). Someday soon I am going to write a column listing good romantic comedies and bad ones; the second list will be much longer, and it will have The Wedding Date on it. This is a frequently vulgar and infrequently amusing rom-com about Kat (Debra Messing, The Women), a woman who hires a male escort to take her to her sister Amy’s wedding in England because Kat’s ex-fiance is going to be there and she can’t bear to go alone. Dermot Mulroney (Stoker) is Nick, the escort, and he is about what you would expect from a male escort: handsome, fit, suave, and deft on the dance floor, not to mention a virtual philosopher on the subject of love. You can guess the rest. Anyway, there are plenty of tawdry goings-on, there is virtually no character development, and most of the characters on display are highly unlikable for lack of either integrity or intelligence. Debra Messing is not my cup of tea, but she is surprisingly attractive during much of the movie, which explains the bonus “+”.