Last Night at the Lobster (book review)

Book review by The Movie Snob

Last Night at the Lobster, by Stuart O’Nan (Viking 2007). This tiny novel (146 pages) was well-reviewed in a couple of my magazines, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. It’s not bad. Manny is the manager of an underperforming Red Lobster restaurant somewhere in New England. Management has decided to close the store, and the book covers its last day of operations. As a manager, Manny is responsible and omnicapable; as a person, he’s a bit of a mess. He’s got a pregnant girlfriend that he doesn’t seem to be in love with, and he is in love with one of his waitresses who has moved on to another boyfriend. As a small slice of life in the restaurant industry, it’s kind of interesting, and even as a personal story it’s not bad. But I wouldn’t rave about it.

My Grandfather’s Son (book review)

Book review by The Movie Snob

My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir, by Clarence Thomas (Harper 2007). This autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas actually ends just as he begins his tenure on the Court over fifteen years ago. In direct, unadorned prose, he tells his story. He was born in rural Georgia in June 1948, and his father divorced his mother and left Georgia in 1950. For his first seven years, Thomas lived in extreme poverty, but then his mother sent him and his younger brother to live with her father and stepmother, whom Thomas grew up calling Daddy and Uncle Tina. He grew up in their modest home, excelling in his schoolwork and absorbing his grandfather’s creed of something like “rugged individualism.” Race issues were never far from his mind, then or later, and in his college and law school years he dabbled in black radicalism. After Yale Law School he fatefully took a job with Missouri Attorney General John Danforth. When Danforth became a senator, he took Thomas to Washington. There he soon joined the Department of Education and then became chairman of the EEOC, a post he held for several years. In the summer of 1989, President Bush nominated him for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and he joined the court in March 1990. In the summer of 1991, at age 42, President Bush nominated him for the Supreme Court, and after a series of memorable confirmation hearings, he was confirmed by a vote of 52–48. Thomas gives his perspective on all these remarkable events.

Of course his account of the Anita Hill hearings is interesting. Naturally he adheres to his testimony at the time, in which he categorically denied all of her accusations and insisted that he was unaware that he ever said or did anything to Hill that could have been mistaken for sexual harassment. (Even though I was in law school at the time, and the hearings were the subject of widespread debate, I watched none of them. I suppose I did not believe that there was any way the truth could be clearly established, short of one side or the other recanting.) What I remember thinking was much more remarkable at the time was his testimony that he had never discussed Roe v. Wade with anyone. He mentions this matter briefly in the book, and it had not occurred to me that Thomas himself was only a law student—halfway through law school—when Roe was decided. Moreover, he says that at that time he was “agnostic” on the matter, by which he apparently means mildly and instinctively pro-choice, and given his absorption with the rights of blacks (hardly surprising for a black man who had grown up in 1950s and 1960s Georgia) it is perhaps more conceivable that his testimony was true. My closest friends in law school and I probably argued about Roe (and our other favorite topic, affirmative action) ever other week, but I can’t say that I have had all that many discussions about them since. So I’m inclined to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt on that one.

Anyway, it’s an interesting book, and, at only 289 pages, a much less daunting read than Andrew Peyton Thomas’s 590-page biography of the justice from 2001. But don’t expect a lot of personal revelations about his family — he says little about his brother, and virtually nothing about his mother, father, and sister. He clearly values his, and their, privacy.

Shoot ‘Em Up

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Shoot ‘Em Up

Clive Owen (Children of Men) and Paul Giamatti (San Andreas) are golden. These days, these two seem to do little wrong. Owen should have been the new James Bond and Giamatti is Oscar worthy as the ultimate everyman in all of his roles. This frantic movie features Mr. Owen and Mr. Giamatti squaring off against one another with all sorts of gunplay and mayhem. The plot is a little hard to follow and is certainly late in developing. However, the plot is an inconvenient aside to all of the one liners and action sequences. This is not a particularly smart movie, but it is fun. If you have an aversion to violence and gunfire, sit this one out. If your favorite line in the first Matrix movie is “… we are going to need more guns …,” I suggest you buy this movie on DVD. I give it an “A.”

Atonement

New from the desk of The Movie Snob

Atonement (A-). I have never read the novel on which this movie was based, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the heck out of the movie. The movie takes place in three discrete acts. In Act One, we are in 1935 Britain, on the country estate of some well-to-do folks. Keira Knightley (Love Actually) plays Cecilia Tallis, who belongs to the well-to-do family, and James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past) plays Robbie Turner, the hard-working son of one of the family’s servants who has actually done well for himself at college. It is quickly revealed that the two are passionately in love despite their differences in social rank, and complications ensue because of a single, serious misdeed by Cecilia’s 13-year-old sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan, a young actress to watch). To say more about the plot would be a disservice to you; I will conclude by reporting simply that I was always fascinated by what was happening on the screen and always wondering what would happen next.

Keira Knightley, in a very different movie

Tension

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Tension (B). This completes my viewing of my collection of film noir classics, and it ends on a high note. Our protagonist is Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart, Moby Dick), a mild-mannered pharmacist who is in love with wholesome girl-next-door Mary Chandler (played by the lovely Cyd Charisse, Singin’ in the Rain). Matters are complicated by the fact that he is married to a two-timing blond vixen named Claire (Audrey Totter, The Postman Always Rings Twice), and that when he meets Mary he is already up to his eyeballs in a complicated scheme to murder Claire’s lover and get away with it. Naturally, things don’t go entirely as planned. Our square-jawed, plain-spoken homicide detective engages in some very unorthodox tactics to get to the bottom of the case. Surely even in 1949 it wasn’t common for gumshoes to ferret out clues by dating one of the prime suspects in a murder case….

The Classical World (book review)

From The Movie Snob

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian, by Robin Lane Fox (Basic Books 2006). For some reason I have really been into books about the ancient world the past couple of years. The biography Caesar: Life of a Colossus, set the bar extremely high, and this book in no way surpasses it. Maybe Fox just tries to cover too much ground–after all, the period from Homer to Hadrian is about 900 years or so. Anyway, the book is moderately interesting but no more. He adopts “freedom, justice, and luxury” as his guiding themes, but they are not compelling. Once or twice he applies modern moral standards to the ancient Greeks and Romans, to absurd effect. After describing severe Roman and Greek laws against adultery, he is aghast: “To modern liberal eyes, these laws are abominable. . . . We now execrate the Augustan laws, but we put the Athenians’ laws down to civic cohesion or fears about illegitimate citizens.” Um, actually nobody I know really worries about these laws, or even knows about them, but I’m glad to know Professor Fox is shocked by anti-adultery laws over 2000 years old. That said, if he’s out there picketing Arab embassies to protest honor killings too, I will have more respect for his outrage.

The Savages

Movie review from The Movie Snob

The Savages (A). If this movie doesn’t get some love at Oscar time, it will be a sin. Two of our finest actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War) and Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) play Jon and Wendy Savage, a brother and sister living in Buffalo and NYC, respectively. Out of the blue, they get word that their estranged father, who has been living in Arizona, needs their assistance. His long-time live-in girlfriend has died, and he is beginning to suffer from dementia. Dutifully and only somewhat resentfully, they get him back to New York and into a Buffalo nursing home. This is a matter-of-fact, slice-of-life drama, with realistic characters dealing with an all too realistic situation. Jon and Wendy have messy personal lives and have a few heated arguments, but they basically love each other and generally try to do the decent thing. Excellent movie.