Neil Young: Heart of Gold; The Break-Up

New reviews from That Guy Named David

Neil Young: Heart of Gold (C)

This was an “intimate musical portrait” of Young produced by famed director Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Silence of the Lambs, Caged Heat). In renting this one, I was under the impression it would be similar to No Direction Home, Martin Scorcese’s 2005 documentary on Bob Dylan, which I consider to be one of the best documentaries put out in the last few years. I was mistaken. Heart of Gold is merely a concert film, and not a real good one at that. The film documents a performance by Young at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on his Prairie Wind concert tour a few years back. That’s it. That’s everything. And while I enjoy Young’s music (and therefore, didn’t really mind watching the concert), it fell far below my expectations. Perhaps if I had realized I was going to be watching Young sit in one spot on a stage and play the guitar for an hour or so, I would have enjoyed it more. Oh well…

The Break-Up (D)

*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***

Vince Vaughn (Couples Retreat) and Jennifer Aniston (Wanderlust) meet. They move into a condo together. They break-up. They stay living in the same condo and continue to fight. They sell the condo and go their separate ways. The end.

I just saved you $3.50. If it wasn’t for a brief view of Aniston’s butt as she walks naked down a hall, this would get the same grade as Anaconda.

Borat

New review from The Bleacher Bum

BORAT: Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Instant Cult Classic or Worst Movie Ever. The movie is a fake documentary starring Sasha Baron Cohen (Talledega Nights). Mr. Cohen is a British comic who portrays Borat, a reporter from Kazakhstan, who comes to America to make a documentary. It is not a real documentary, but it is a series of very uncomfortable encounters between Borat and unsuspecting people in America during his roadtrip. Most of the people that the movie shows, or exploits, are from the South (several scenes were filmed in Dallas, Texas). Moviegoers will either completely hate it or love it, and there is no in-between. The humor is not mainstream at all. It is a must-see for people who like any of the following: The Office, Pulp Fiction, Van Wilder, Dumb and Dumber, Arrested Development, or The Ticket. And be prepared to be offended greatly, while you are crying because you are laughing so damn hard.

Bleacher Bum Movie Scale
Homerun
Triple
Double
Single
Strikeout

BORAT: 3-run Homerun

Casino Royale

New review from Movie Man Mike

Casino Royale. (A-). For those who were growing tired of the Bond series, take heart. The series has been given a jump-start, thanks to the new-improved Bond star, Daniel Craig (Cowboys & Aliens). Craig was considered by many to be a controversial pick because he is blonde (albeit dishwater blonde), and has a slightly rougher look about him. Believe me, though, he carries it off well. I did not see the original film starring Peter Sellers and David Niven, so I can’t compare, but the film compares very favorably to most any other Bond film. And, with one or two forgivable exceptions, the dialogue avoids those horribly distracting puns that have become such a mainstay of the series in recent years. To be sure, the film has good chase scenes, hot Bond girls, and a very toned Bond (Craig is not a bit shy about showing off his physique). The film takes place at the beginning of Bond’s career, but it is set in modern time. The plot keeps a good pace so that your interest never drops off. I wholeheartedly recommend this film and I am already looking forward to the next Bond film which is in preproduction and is due for a 2008 release. Since Daniel Craig is a mere 38 years old, I figure we can get several more good years out of him in this franchise.

Excellent Women (book review)

Review from The Movie Snob

Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym. I was unacquainted with Pym’s work when I read a short magazine article praising her novels. So I decided to give her a try, and I found this novel at the local Borders bookstore. According to the cover blurb, it is “written with the wit and style of a twentieth century Jane Austen.” I can’t go quite that far, but I enjoyed the story well enough. The setting is London shortly after WWII; the first-person narrator is a thirtyish woman named Mildred Lathbury whose unremarkable life principally revolves around her local Anglican church. Some newcomers on the local scene upset the quiet routine of Mildred’s life, particularly a couple with marital difficulties that moves into the flat below hers and a young, attractive widow who seems to have designs on the somewhat clueless bachelor vicar of Mildred’s church. The book is not bad, but it is really more interesting as a window into a vanished era than as a narrative. Among the cultural artifacts: the narrator chronically thinks of herself as a “spinster” simply because she is unmarried at age 30, the characters find the idea of the married couple’s getting divorced scarcely thinkable, and the local Anglican church is important, if not central, to the life of the surrounding community. It was truly a different world in those days.

Flushed Away

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Flushed Away (B-). My mom and I just saw this new animated feature, which I believe is from the same people who make the Wallace and Gromit movies. Roddy St. James (voice of Hugh Jackman, Australia) is a pet mouse who lives a life of luxury in Kensington, London. Poor Roddy unexpectedly finds himself flushed into the London sewer system, where mice have built their own little miniature civilization. He enlists the aid of a ship captain named Rita (voice of Kate Winslet, The Reader) to help him get home. Meanwhile, the sinister Mr. Toad (voice of Bill Nighy, Love Actually) has a plan to get rid of all the mice and rats in the sewer system for good. There are plenty of narrow escapes and daring rescues, and the visuals are great, but the movie as a whole is only slightly above average. The omnipresent slugs who provide a musical chorus/commentary on the action are a highlight.

Stranger Than Fiction

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Stranger Than Fiction (B-). This new Will Ferrell movie may look like a comedy from the trailers, but it really isn’t — it’s more of a morality tale. Ferrell (Casa de mi Padre) plays Harold Crick, a polite, soft-spoken, mildly obsessive-compulsive IRS agent whose apartment is even more sparsely furnished than my house. His completely routinized existence is suddenly upended when he begins to hear a woman’s voice simultaneously and accurately narrating his life as he is living it. The voice belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson, Men in Black 3), a novelist living in the same city who is plagued with writer’s block as she tries to write a novel about Harold Crick, a polite, soft-spoken, mildly obsessive-compulsive IRS agent. She has no idea that Crick is a real person, and Crick becomes more than a little upset when he hears the voice toss off the observation that his death is imminent. He spends the rest of the movie (a) trying to find the mysterious narrator so he can talk her out of killing him and (b) trying to make something of the potentially very short remainder of his life. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) does a nice job as a free-spirited bakery owner that Crick first audits, then romances; Dustin Hoffman (Barney’s Version) plays a literature professor that Crick consults to help him in his quest. More interesting than entertaining.

The Dallas Wind Symphony

From The Movie Snob

Last night I attended my first concert by the Dallas Wind Symphony, an ensemble composed entirely of wind instruments and percussion (except for one string bass, a pianist, and a harpist). It was an enjoyable evening. The highlight was a piece called Circus Maximus: Symphony No. 3 for Large Wind Ensemble, written by John Corigliano in 2004. As it happens, the Dallas Wind Symphony commissioned the piece, and Mr. Corigliano was in attendance at the concert. Fortunately, the composer took the stage and explained the piece before we heard it, or else I would have thought it was mostly a horrendous cacophony of noise. It was still pretty cacophonous in parts, but at least I had a sense of what Corigliano was trying to do, and there were some very nice parts as well. Some of it was a little overboard — for example, he had some players scattered throughout the concert hall, playing from the seats. Hopefully no patrons were seated immediately in front of the rogue trumpeters. At one, a six- or seven-piece marching band came playing down one of the main aisles on the floor, crossed in front of the stage, and then departed up the other aisle. And the piece ends with a rifle shot. Otherwise, it was very traditional. An interesting taste of the modern music scene.

DVD reviews from CBG

CBG reviews DVDs:

Fun with Dick and Jane

Remake of an allegedly funnier 1977 version staring George Segal and Jane Fonda. Maybe I should have seen the original because several people told me it was better. In this 2005 release, Jim Carrey (Yes Man) and Téa Leoni (Spanglish) play the upwardly mobile couple who are forced to turn to a life of crime after his company collapses from fraud. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood, but it wasn’t that funny. Fraud, armed robbery, petty theft and vandalism don’t usually make me laugh. Even when Jim Carrey is the perpetrator. Even when the victims deserve it (and only a few in this movie do). Carrey is a great physical comedian and although he works it here – his pratfalls aren’t enough to carry the film. Likewise, as charming as Ms. Leoni may be, she doesn’t hold my interest for 90 minutes. Even as social satire, it falls short of the mark. My advice? If you didn’t see it when it first came out, don’t bother now.

Judgment: C

Find Me Guilty

Vin Diesel (The Fate of the Furious) plays Jackie DiNoscio, a mobster who defended himself in connection with a massive RICO case against the mob – apparently, the longest mafia trial in history. Billed as a courtroom drama, based on the actual trial, I had high hopes for this film. What’s not to like? The Mob? Courtroom drama (as if you see a lot of that in real life)? So what’s not to like? Vin Diesel for one – he apes his way through this with some pseudo-Italian accent (?) and mannerisms. How about a flat story story line to follow it up with. Ultimately, what disappointed me about this film is what it said about us and pop culture generally. Why do we root for the mobster? He’s a CRIMINAL, engaged in drug dealing and other illegal activity? Why do we sympathize with the mob? Again, they’re CRIMINALS. Why is the government so incompetent? Who thought a 2 year trial was a good idea? How does a pro se litigant get the better hand on a federal prosecutor? Too many questions – I know, it’s only a movie. But this one is based (loosely) on a true story. If it was me, I’d add the holy trinity of cinematography (sex, violence and special effects) those are things that work for Vin (Check out XXX). Instead, this film is guilty – of being predictable, furthering stereotypes and well, starring Vin Diesel (without the trinity). Maybe I should have watched The Chronicles of Riddick.

Judgment: C+

Swept Away (Italian with Subtitles)

*** spoiler alert *** spoiler alert *** spoiler alert ***

The original title in Italian is “Travolti da un insolito nell’ azzurro mare d’agosto” which I’ll bet translates to more than just “Swept Away.” (I think it’s something like “Overwhelmed by the Destiny of the Unusual August Blue Sea.” Okay, we’ll stick to Swept Away.) The plot is simple: Uptight, abusive rich lady (Raffaella) on a private Mediterranean cruise gets stranded on a deserted island with a lowly ignorant crew member (Gennarino) after she insists on going out against his advice. Now the tables are turned. After hurling insults and attacking each other, they fall in love and well, attack each other. Made in 1974, the film still holds up, particularly if you know anything about Italian culture. This film works the dialectic: male v female; rich v poor; north (Raffaella is from Milano, Gennarino is Sicilian); communists v capitalists. Since it wasn’t made in Hollywood, you’ll be unhappy with the ending if you like everything to work out at the end. If you’re into Italian cinema, there’s a lot out there to see before this. Even so, worth the rental. Certainly see this version instead of the remake (starring Madonna) – advice I should have followed with Dick and Jane (see above).

Judgment: B

Little Children

From The Movie Snob

Little Children (B). This movie covers somewhat the same ground as American Beauty (adultery in suburbia), but I think this is a much better film — less self-consciously arty, more true-to-life. Kate Winslet (Titanic) stars as Sarah Pierce, an unhappy stay-at-home mother of a three-year-old girl who spends part of every weekday at a little park with other stay-at-home mothers. A handsome stay-at-home husband (Patrick Wilson, The Switch), dubbed The Prom King by the women, starts to show up at the park with his son, and before too long he and Sarah embark on an affair. In a subplot, a squirrelly creep named Ronald James McGorvey has just moved into the neighborhood after serving two years for indecent exposure to a minor. An out-of-work cop (Noah Emmerich, Jane Got a Gun) makes it his personal mission to warn everybody about the pervert in their midst, with unforeseen consequences. Good performances from everyone, especially Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley as the pathetic McGorvey. (Haley played the tough, motorcycle-riding kid Kelly in the original Bad News Bears, but I did not recognize him at all.)

The Queen

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Queen (B+). Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Philomena) brings us this quasi-documentary about what went on behind the palace walls during the week after Princess Diana’s death in 1997. You may recall that the Brits went into a paroxysm of grief that quickly morphed into anger towards the royal family because it showed virtually no public sign of mourning. Helen Mirren (White Nights, The Hundred-Foot Journey) does a splendid job as Queen Elizabeth. She is a tragic figure, a woman who has given her whole life to her people and then gets vilified for maintaining the stoic facade that she believes they expect from her. (Of course, that stoicism was easy to maintain since the royals really couldn’t stand Di.) Michael Sheen (UnderworldPassengers) does a fine job as newly elected Tony Blair, whose anti-monarchical instincts come up hard against grudging admiration for the Queen. Definitely worth seeing.

Nick at Nite knows horror

New DVD reviews from Nick at Nite

Silent Hill

I should know better. A movie based on a videogame, and a videogame that is just not very good. Moved by the spirit of Halloween, not to be confused with the friendly, happy spirit of Christmas, I rented this film. Well, the only horror is that I wasted two hours of my life trying to unravel this garbage. The plot, or what I could make of it, is as follows: over-bearing religious types try to burn girl for being a witch, she is sort of saved by a well-meaning police officer, the devil makes some sort of bargain with the very badly burned girl, the devil and girl set fire to whole town, the fire rages for years, girl or girl’s evil twin or devil’s twin is adopted by unsuspecting family, and unsuspecting family is lured back to burned town and bad things happen. Honestly, this is just a bad movie. I was so confused and bored. I give it an “F.”

Underworld: Evolution

Two great things that go great together: leather and vampires. This sequel to the surprising Underworld is low on plot and high on special effects. If you like your vampire movies mixed with science fiction and plenty of gun play, then this is a good movie for you. We start at the end of the last movie with our heroine and her werewolf/vampire boyfriend being hunted by other vampires. Big chase ensures. Our heroine (Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship) discovers how she became a vampire and why her family was killed. Lots of high-flying fisticuffs and goth imitations. I give it a “B” for adventure and a “D” if you are looking for a good Halloween flick.

Retro review: Beverly Hills Cop

From Nick at Nite:

Beverly Hills Cop

My wife told me on Friday night she had never seen Beverly Hills Cop. I was not too surprised since she grew up in San Angelo, Texas (last time I drove through town, the marquee at the theater still listed Casablanca and Gone With the Wind as first run films). Beverly Hills Cop was released in 1984. 1984? Hard to believe it is that old. Hard to believe I am that old. The soundtrack to the film includes Glenn Frey and the Pointer Sisters. Groovy tunes. Eddie Murphy was still funny and parachute pants were still “in.” Still, the movie is not stale. Like Trading Spaces, Dr. Detroit, Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Kramer v. Kramer, Beverly Hills Cop is good today because it was good when it first came out. Eddie plays a Detroit cop who travels to Beverly Hills to investigate the killing of one of his former juvenile-delinquent friends. Hilarity ensures. Watch for Damon Wayans’s cameo. My wife pointed him out. Memorable line, “I am not gonna fall for the banana in tail pipe routine,” pretty funny. I give it an “A.”

Deliver Us From Evil

A new review from The Movie Snob

Deliver Us From Evil. The usual A through F grading scale seems inadequate to assessing the merits of this well-made documentary about pedophile Catholic priest Oliver O’Grady, the wake of destruction he left through central California over a 20-year period, and the inexplicable conduct of the diocesan leaders who enabled him to get away with it. As a practicing Catholic, I left the theater almost shaking with anger. Amazingly, the director actually got O’Grady himself and three of his victims to give her substantial interviews, which are the wrenching core of the film. After serving seven years in prison in California, O’Grady was deported to his native Ireland where he is apparently no longer a priest but roams the streets freely. He talks fairly freely about his crimes in his soft Irish brogue, showing no real comprehension or remorse and coming across as nothing short of a monster. No Catholic leaders cooperated in the making of the film, so the director uses videotaped depositions of Roger Mahoney (then a bishop, now cardinal of Los Angeles) and Monsignor Caen (apparently from civil lawsuits over O’Grady’s crimes) to damning effect. The movie falters only near the end when director Amy Berg (West of Memphis) tries to pin equal blame on the Vatican and even Pope Benedict himself; suddenly the film switches from specific concrete facts to ominous but vague insinuations voiced over still photographs of the current (unfortunately unphotogenic) Pope. The crimes and the real villains are so clear that this coda is really unnecessary. I would call this a must-see movie, but brace yourself for a harrowing experience.