Children of Men

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Children of Men. I have an affinity in my heart for end-of-the-world-type movies. Omega Man, Meteoroid, Armageddon, Night of the Living Dead, Heidi, etc. . . . Children of Men moves very close to the top of the list. Set in the year 2029, the film shows us a future where man is infertile and a child has not been born since the year 2009. The world is falling apart. Paris is in flames. New York destroyed. There is a siege in Seattle. Things are bad everywhere. The movie starts with a blast. There is a terrorist attack in a coffee shop in London just as the world learns that baby Diego, at 21 years old the youngest person in the world, has been killed by a stalker. The terrorists are trying to start a revolt against the government’s handling of the refugee crisis. We are shown a bleak Great Britain – the last fully functioning government on earth – where refugees and immigrants are being rounded up and sent to “Homeland Security Refugee Camps.” In Great Britain one has to remember that it is illegal to skip fertility tests. Our protagonist, Theo, played by Clive Owen (The International), is thrown into the mix and must help a young, shockingly pregnant woman get out of the county. My description has not done justice to the film. It is very good. You should check it out. I give it an “A.”

A Spot of Bother (book review)

From The Movie Snob

A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon (2006). This is a British novel about a dysfunctional family. The paterfamilias is George Hall, a 61-year-old retiree from a career working for a company that manufactures playground equipment. Like many men his age, George is solid, dependable, quiet, unromantic, and uncomfortable talking about his feelings. Thus, it hits him particularly hard when he starts to go crazy, suffering from panic attacks and episodes in which he is convinced that he has cancer and can think of nothing except death. But his family is of little help. His wife is having an affair with a former co-worker of his. His divorced daughter is about to get married to a man that her parents dislike, and even she isn’t sure she’s in love with him. His homosexual and amazingly self-absorbed son has broken up with his lover. In short, the Hall family has problems. Although well written, the book’s charms gradually palled on me, and by the end I thought the plot had gotten a little creaky. An average book.

Augustus (book review)

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor, by Anthony Everitt (2006). After reading the outstanding biography of Julius Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy, I was sure to be disappointed by this book, and I was. But taken on its own merits, Augustus really isn’t bad. (It sure could have benefited from a few maps, both of the empire and of the battles described in the book, like Goldsworthy’s book featured.) Augustus learned well from his great-uncle’s fate, and his rise to the status of “first citizen” was cautious and methodical. His defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and his efforts to secure a dynasty for his family, read like a soap opera. He himself had only one child, a daughter whom he eventually exiled to an island. He had other male relatives, or relatives by marriage, but the ones that he favored all died young, and ultimately he was succeeded by Tiberius, who was Augustus’s stepson and who had only a cordial relationship with the emperor at the best of times. A good book.

Solaris (book review)

From The Movie Snob

Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem (1961). I enjoyed both movie versions of this science-fiction novel by Lem. Both movies had a sort of dreamy 2001 feel about them, so I was a little surprised by how much stronger the “techie” science-fiction trappings were in the novel. In the movies, there is very little description or depiction of the mysterious planet of Solaris, but in the book there are lots of expeditions to the planet surface, and there are lots of descriptions of the planet’s surface features. But even in the book, the planet is essentially mysterious, and its most remarkable characteristic is the ability to scan human memories and create exact simulacra of people out of those memories. Weird stuff; I probably liked the Steven Soderbergh movie a little better.

Miss Potter

New review from The Movie Snob

Miss Potter (A-). Renee Zellweger (Cinderella Man) stars in this biopic about children’s author Beatrix Potter, best known as the creator of Peter Rabbit. According to the movie, at the start of the 20th century Potter was in her 30s, unmarried, and living with her stuffy upper-crust parents in London. She had no friends to speak of, but she had a lively imagination and was an excellent illustrator and watercolorist, specializing in rabbits and farm animals. Something possesses her to try to publish one of her stories, and a publishing firm reluctantly agrees. The junior member of the firm (Ewan McGregor, Jane Got a Gun) is assigned to her project, and the two fall in love. Complications ensue. Sure, the movie is a bit melodramatic, but I enjoy a good melodrama once in a while, and this one is solidly plotted, well acted, and features some great views of the British countryside. Check it out.

The Watercoolers (stage review)

Stage review from The Movie Snob

The Watercoolers. A friend and I saw this musical/sketch comedy at the Eisemann Center in Richardson last night. Its run ended today, which is a shame because I would have recommended it to all my friends. Five actors (three guys, two gals) sing and act out a series of skits making light of the absurdities of the modern American workplace. Subject matters include unhelpful IT departments, political correctness in the workplace, cubicle life, selling stuff to co-workers for your kids, the dreariness of economy air travel, and office paranoia about downsizing and lay-offs. Sure, the ground is rather well-plowed at this point, thanks to TV’s The Office and comic strips like Dilbert. But the cast is appealing, the songs are lively, and the 90-minute show breezes by.

Letters From Iwo Jima

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Letters From Iwo Jima (B). If you follow the movies at all, you know that last year Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys) directed two movies about the WWII Battle of Iwo Jima. Flags of Our Fathers told the story from the American point of view, and this one told the story from the Japanese point of view. This one got much better buzz (and some Oscar nominations), so I skipped Flags and saw Letters. It’s not a bad entry in the war-is-hell genre, and there is fine acting by the two protagonists. Ken Watanabe (Inception) plays General Kuribayashi as a gifted leader who knows that reinforcements will never come and defeat is inevitable. Kazunari Ninomiya plays Saigo, an everyman character who was drafted into the army and torn away from his humble bakery and his pregnant wife. I did feel some empathy for the doomed soldiers, but for some reason the movie never completely absorbed me. Although it’s less than 2 1/2 hours long, I found myself looking at my watch before the 2-hour mark. But I still think it was a good movie. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood.

Jarhead

New DVD review from Nick at Nite

Jarhead

Uh, Full Metal Jacket this is not. I get it already. War is hell. Even if the war is not really a war, but is a police action intended to keep the price of gas low, low, low. Sound bitter? I am not. I actually supported the first war in Iraq. It is this second one I have a problem with. I digress. Back to Jarhead. This movie is a combination of Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Deer Hunter, Hair, and Apocalypse Now. Unfortunately, it lacks the flair and originality of its parentage. In one scene in this movie, they actually repeat the “… this is my rifle …” scene from Full Metal Jacket (without the death). There are the predictable Dear John letters, the guy with the criminal record who gets kicked out of the unit for lying about it, cheating wives and girlfriends, “the horror, the horror” speech, etc …, etc …, etc … The performances were fine. Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) and Jamie Foxx (Ray) are good. Chris Cooper (The Company Men) has a brief, but memorable appearance. Mostly, I just wasn’t that interested in the story. It all seems a little trite in comparison to what our Marines are facing everyday in Iraq today. I give it a “C.”

The Illusionist

DVD review by Nick at Nite

The Illusionist

A very satisfying film. Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) is very good, Jessica Biel (Total Recall) is beautiful (as in very attractive), and Paul Giamatti (San Andreas) proves again that he may well be the best actor of our generation. The real genius is that this movie tells a story that has been told hundred times, but does so in such an interesting way that you don’t feel cheated or bored by seeing the same story again. First, the movie is set in Vienna at the turn of the century. Basically, an uptown girl is not allowed to be with a downtown boy. The girl’s family disapproves. They are forcibly separated. The boy disappears for many years and eventually returns in search of his lost love. Of course, the girl is now attached to the evil prince whom the boy must now defeat (not because the girl loves the evil prince, but because the evil prince is mean and nasty). The hook is that the boy meets an illusionist and, fascinated by the magic, learns the illusionist’s craft and uses it to get close to the girl and wow the crowds in Vienna when he returns for his lost love. I won’t give away any more of the plot, but I will say the “how did he that part” is the best part of the movie. The real genius is that with all of the computer graphics and imaging that are used in movies these days, I was still left guessing how the illusionist did the things he did. I give it an “A.”

Babel

New from The Movie Snob

Babel (B+). I didn’t really intend to see this movie after one reviewer dubbed it “the feel-bad movie of the millennium.” But then I thought, hey, the millennium is still young, so maybe it’s not all that depressing. And you know, I was right. It’s not really best-picture caliber material, but it is a well-directed and well-acted movie with some interesting stories to tell. A vacation in Morocco turns into a nightmare for an American couple (Brad Pitt (Fury); Cate Blanchett (Cinderella)) when the wife is seriously injured by a gunshot out in the middle of nowhere. A Mexican nanny in San Diego takes her two young charges to her son’s wedding in Mexico, only to run into difficulties returning to the U.S. And in Japan, a deaf teenaged girl struggles to come to terms with her disability and her loneliness after the death of her mother. Okay, so the movie is a little dark. But it did keep me wondering what was going to happen next, and I did empathize with the characters. Maybe it is best-picture material after all . . . .

Potpourri from Nick at Nite

Nick at Nite reviews DVDs:

You, Me, and Dupree

You, Me, and Boring. Avoid this movie at all costs. I suggest the following alternatives. Wash your dog, clean the garbage disposal, go grocery shopping, offer to go grocery shopping for a neighbor, read a book, read another book, write a book, grow your own vegetable garden, learn to play the harmonica, or get a GED. I put this movie in the queue because the movie trailer was funny and Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris) is a good Dallas kid. Well, turns out the movie trailer was not that funny and Owen Wilson’s home town doesn’t make the movie entertaining. The movie features a young married couple who take in the husband’s loser friend when he is kicked out of his apartment and fired from his job because he took an unapproved leave of absence to go to their Hawaiian wedding. Madcap antics ensue. Relationship sours. Loser friend is the inspiration that rekindles the young married couple’s love. Sound like a formula? It is. It is just not clever enough or funny enough to be worth anyone’s time. I expect more from Owen Wilson; from the rest it is to be expected. I give this movie a solid “F.”

Superman Returns

And why not. Forget Christopher Reeve. Ignore the last two movies in the prior Superman series. What the world needs now is the man of steel. This is a fun ride. This kid they got to play Superman sounds like Christopher Reeve. One of my friends is convinced it was some kind of dubbing job. This movie seems to kick off after the first movie of the prior Superman series ends. Superman has disappeared for several years after his home planet was discovered by scientists. He apparently travels there and then after a long journey returns to earth. Of course, his skills and talent are needed here on earth where evildoers are evildoing. Superman takes care of business and says very corny things. He is greatness. I am glad someone took the time and effort to make this movie the right way. Yes, it is cheesy at times. And, yes the special effects are over the top (shouldn’t they be?), but I enjoyed it and a whole new generation of kids got to see Superman. I give it an “A.”

Miami Vice

Wow. This was terrible. Usually, I love anything directed by Michael Mann (Ali). Jamie Foxx (Ray) is almost always great. And that Irish guy is not too bad. But this is ridiculous. I knew I was wasting my time when in the first 45 minutes of the movie, Jamie Foxx, one of the cops in the movie, goes from driving a racing boat, to driving a Ferrari, to flying a plane, and then a helicopter. Is he a cop or a stuntman? Do most cops usually do all of this stuff? Stupid. I know, I usually eat this kind of garbage right up. Yet, something about this movie just didn’t sit right with me. I think it they had called it anything else and left alone the whole idea of Miami Vice, I might have liked it better. I kept waiting for Don Johnson to pop up in a bad suit with a t-shirt underneath it. Perhaps Edward James Olmos saying something trite, but true. A guest appearance by Willie Nelson. Or a Dire Straits song. Without these things this was just another movie. And not a great one. I give it an “F.”

Lady in the Water

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Lady in the Water.

Sometimes people have to knock people down because they have had too much success. This is often the case with great moviemakers. They write and direct masterpieces. Then they write and direct very entertaining, often original films that are written off because they are simply not as good as the masterpiece. This is the case with M. Night Shymalan. His film The Sixth Sense is one of the best films of the 90s (and certainly in the discussion of the top 100 of all time). His follow ups have all had success at the box office, but they have met with some harsh criticism from movie critics. Lady is the Water is an original idea that is well executed. M. Night wrote a children’s book based on a bedtime story he told his children. He then turned the book into this movie. He was creative. I say good for him. Buck the system. Keep on trying to be creative and original. I am giving zero of the plot away because that is part of the point of his movies – there are unexpected twists and turns. I give it an “A.”

Venus

New from The Movie Snob

Venus (B-). Veteran actor Peter O’Toole (Troy) stars in this little movie in which he plays a veteran actor named Maurice Russell. Long divorced and suffering from an ailing prostate, Maurice lives alone in a small apartment, takes the occasional small acting job, and hangs out with his friend Ian (Leslie Phillips, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), another aging actor. A spark is introduced into his life in the form of 20-year-old Jessie (Jodie Whittaker, Black Sea), Ian’s attractive but surly and uncultured great-niece who moves to London to help him with cooking and errands. The relationship between Maurice and Jessie, whom he nicknames Venus, is the heart of the movie. O’Toole’s best-actor Oscar nomination is probably deserved, but the film is not entirely convincing. For one, O’Toole is pretty scary-looking — he’s tall and gaunt, grey-skinned and cadaverous. It doesn’t help that his face is frequently shown in half-shadow. Jessie’s fondness for Maurice seems a little unearned; he can be charming, but he’s an unapologetic hedonist and just not a particularly admirable man. Still and all, Venus is not a bad movie, and it takes a pretty honest look at old age and death, which are subjects Hollywood seldom takes on. Worth watching.