Get Smart

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Get Smart (B). I am totally unfamiliar with the television series on which this action-comedy is based, but the previews looked reasonably funny, and I like Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) a lot despite his recent misstep Dan in Real Life. I was expecting a lightweight comedy with lots of slapstick. The movie was decently funny, but it is also is surprisingly action-packed, with stunts and explosions worthy of–dare I say it?–a James Bond movie. Carell makes a good Max Smart, who is made out to be a savvy intelligence analyst (i.e., paper pusher) at top-secret spy agency CONTROL, but a little too clueless (and uncoordinated) to be a great field agent. But a sneak attack by KAOS forces Max’s boss (well-played by Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine) to deploy Smart to Russia, paired up with the more competent and highly attractive Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway, Ella Enchanted). Much like Inspector Clouseau, he generally succeeds despite himself. Worth a trip to theater, especially for a matinee.

WALL E

New review from The Movie Snob

WALL•E (A-). I enjoyed the heck of this movie, which boasts a good story and great animation. Several hundred years in the future, the Earth is a polluted, trashed-out wreck of a planet. The people are all gone, but one little robot, called a WALL•E (who reminds me of a miniature version of Number Five from the classic Short Circuit), still gamely goes about his business, which is compacting garbage into little cubes and neatly stacking the cubes into skyscraper-sized piles. But over the centuries he has developed a soul, and he has a little house strung with Christmas lights where he stores little treasures he has collected from the refuse (e.g., a Rubik’s Cube) and frequently watches a videotape of a romantic scene from some old musical (Hello, Dolly, I read somewhere). Then, one day, a rocket ship drops a little white probe on Earth right in WALL•E’s neighborhood. Acronymed EVE, the softly rounded but heavily armed probe quickly wins WALL•E’s silicon heart. When EVE returns to space, the smitten WALL•E follows her, we find out what has happened to mankind in the hundreds of years since we left Earth, and the adventure really begins. Could be the best Pixar picture yet, and that is saying something.

Flawless

DVD review from Movie Man Mike

Flawless (A-). I think this film originally aired on TV, or it had some kind of limited release in the U.S. and never really did much at the box office. In any event, the movie is a pretty good thriller. The film is set in the 1960’s, and Demi Moore (Indecent Proposal) plays a female executive who works at the London Diamond Corporation.She is a smart, hard-working executive who’s trying to make a mark in a male-dominated world. Michael Caine (Children of Men), who is rarely ever bad in any role, plays a janitor working nights at the London Diamond Corporation. He convinces Moore that they should stage a diamond heist. I won’t give away any of the story, but the story line is a good one and will keep you on the edge of your seat. This film is well worth the price of the rental.

Narcissus Leaves the Pool (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Narcissus Leaves the Pool, by Joseph Epstein (Mariner 1999). I really enjoy the work of essayist and story-story writer Joseph Epstein. I see his stuff mostly in Commentary and The Weekly Standard magazines, but he also publishes elsewhere, and this book is a collection of previously published essays. I can imagine that his writing would not appeal to everyone — his style is more ornate than most popular writers, and he loves to drop names and show off how well-read he is. Except that I don’t think it’s really showing off; he’s just exceptionally well-read and has a gift for working references into his own observations. Opening the book to a random page, for instance, I see references to Noel Coward, Evelyn Waugh, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Sir Laurence Olivier. His subjects include aging (I think he was around 60 when he wrote that essay), name-dropping, sports, the pleasures of reading, and Anglophilia, American style. The last piece is a beautiful tribute to his dear friend and mentor Edward Shils. This book is not a bad place to start if you’d like to give Epstein a try.

Death at a Funeral

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Death at a Funeral

Ah, British humor. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I wish they would just slow down and speak “American.” It took me five minutes to adjust for the lack of a southern drawl and then I got into the movie. This is a traditional British farce minus the cross dressing and Benny Hill. The movie follows a family trying to bury a father and husband. Hilarity ensues when some LSD is accidentally consumed at the funeral. A surprise mourner and some potty humor also provide for cheery and awkward moments. Give it a whirl. I call it an “B.”

Iron Man

A rare visit from our own resident Comic Book Guy

Iron Man

With the success of the X-men and Batman franchises, it’s no surprise to me that Marvel and DC are mining their library of lesser heroes for movie fodder. Seems like the pattern is good movie – bad movie. (e.g. X-Men 3 – Awesome. Ghost Rider – Blows). What amazes me is how they attract top notch talent for these gigs. This jewel stars the likes of Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. and the ever so lovely Gwyneth Paltrow. For those of you who didn’t bother with the comic – Tony Stark (Downey) is a playboy genius engineer turned weapons mogul. After being injured by his own weapons while visiting a war zone (how IRONic), has a change of heart (literally) and becomes Iron Man to make amends for his company’s wrongdoing. You know the drill. Hero has traumatic event. Hero develops super powers (or super skills, or both). Hero takes on Villain. Hero prevails. Cool special effects and explosions fill the space between plot development. Formulaic? Sure. Just another variation of the Batman theme – although Batman is way cooler than Iron Man – but it works. And this one works well. Yes, the plot is predictable and you have to suspend disbelief but c’mon… that’s why you go to the movies, right? Bottom line: this one is awesome (and for those comic book fanboys out there – look for the Stan Lee cameo and the veiled hints of more superhero movies to come). Just remember the pattern: Iron Man. Good. The Hulk? Will probably blow. But that’s good news for the next one – The Dark Knight. Should be awesome. ‘Nuff said.

Dave Barry’s Money Secrets (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Dave Barry’s Money Secrets, by Dave Barry (Crown 2006). Probably 90% of America is already familiar with Dave Barry, a Pulitzer Prize winning humor columnist who has also written a fair number of books. (Over 20, according to the list at the front of this book.) If you don’t like his shtick, there’s no reason to think you’ll like this book. Personally, I enjoyed it quite a bit, but then I also thought his Guide to Guys is one of the funniest books ever committed to paper. He’s not always funny — I thought Dave Barry in Cyberspace was not very good at all — but I think he is in good form in this outing. For example, he compares Alan Greenspan’s appearance to that of the world-famous groundhog Punxsutawny Phil, he sprinkles the same picture of financial guru Suze Orman (sporting a slightly crazed smile) liberally throughout the book, and he makes fun of lots of things like the bottled-water craze, reality TV, and Donald Trump. Read the financial quiz on the back of the dust jacket, and if you find it amusing you can buy the book. Maybe even for $5.99 at Borders, like I did. Dave Barry would approve.

The Visitor

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Visitor (A-). This is a manipulative little melodrama, but for me it worked. It may be the first starring role for veteran character actor Richard Jenkins. (Looking at his long list of credits, I see that I’ve missed many of his movies, but I think he was the government agent who unwittingly ingests LSD and goes on a freaked-out jog in the desert in Flirting with Disaster.) Jenkins plays Walter Vale, an upper-middle-aged widower who has given up on life. He teaches a single economics class at a college in Connecticut and is supposedly at work on his fourth book, but he is clearly just going through the motions. Obliged to present a paper at a conference in NYC, he returns to an apartment he has kept in the city but apparently not visited in a long time. He is startled to find a young Muslim couple living there, having been rented the place by a disappeared con artist. They have nowhere to go, and Vale surprises them and probably himself by letting them stay. The guy, Tarek, (Haaz Sleiman, American Dreamz) is an outgoing fellow from Syria, and he and Vale soon bond over their mutual love of music. The story takes a melodramatic turn when a tiny incident leads to Tarek’s arrest, and because he is an illegal alien he is thrown into detention. His wife or girlfriend (I wasn’t clear on that) is also illegal, so she can’t visit him. Then Tarek’s mother (Hiam Abbass, Exodus: Gods and Kings) shows up from Michigan, because she hasn’t heard from her son in several days, and she is an illegal alien as well despite having been in America for what seems to be at least 10-15 years or more. Touching performances all the way around, even if all the non-Americans seem to be a little too good to be real people. Definitely worth seeing unless melodrama or illegal aliens really turn you off.

Sex and the City

New review from The Movie Snob

Sex and the City (C-). Okay, let me explain. The Borg Queen and I actually set out to see the new Indiana Jones movie, which I also didn’t really want to see. Yes, I am one of the eight people in America that find the Indiana Jones series to be lackluster entertainment. Anyhoo, that movie was sold out, and since we were already there I agreed to see this movie.

I write as one who has never seen a single episode of the television series and who agrees with the apparent consensus that Sarah Jessica Parker (Mars Attacks!) is not very attractive. But probably everyone has some idea of the gist of the thing, and the opening scenes introduce the characters and set the stage quite effectively to show what the four protagonists have been up to since cancellation. The main plot revolves around Carrie (Parker) and her engagement to a personality-free tycoon (Chris Noth, Mr. 3000) who apparently has a real name but is known to all as Mr. Big, or simply “Big.” The four gal pals support each other as three of them are beset by relationship problems. The movie featured less vulgar language, more potty humor, and about the amount of sex I expected. And there were a few laugh-out-loud moments, which rescued the movie from the much-worse grade I would have given it if I were grading for the dramatic elements alone. Bottom line, I can’t recommend it, but you’ll like it if this is the kind of thing you like.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Movie Man Mike contributes our first review of the new Indiana Jones flick

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (B-). This movie was pretty formulaic, brain candy. You got your bad guys—the Soviets. You got your legend of some lost tribe and an artifact—a magnetic crystal skull. You got several good chase scenes with lots of unbelievable stunts requiring the suspension of reality. And you got some good humor sprinkled in here and there. It’s all a little familiar, but in the end, it’s a fun summer movie that certainly appeals to younger audiences and it’s bound to have older crowds waxing nostalgic for the earlier movies in the series.

The most interesting aspect of my trip to the theater to see this film may have been the venue. I saw this one at the newly-refurbished Inwood Theater in the Inwood Shopping Center on Lover’s Lane. They’ve replaced all the old seating with bean bag chairs and love seats and couches. It made the movie-viewing experience a bit more like being in the comfort of your own living room. If you aren’t comfortable enough, go grab another pillow or a blanket; there are plenty. I was pleased to hear that the management launders the covers on the furniture “regularly”—whatever that means because the patrons made themselves at home. Some even took their shoes off and put their bare feet up on the couch. I was a little disappointed, however, to see the condition that many of the patrons left the theater in, with popcorn bags and candy wrappers spilled all over the furniture. After that scene, I have to wonder if “regularly” is often enough and I wonder how long before the furniture needs replacing. In any event, the experience is unique and I recommend checking it out.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

New review from The Movie Snob

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (B-). I’ve never read the Narnia books, but the movie version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe blew me away. This movie, sadly, did not. The four children who traveled to Narnia in the first installment return in this one, only to find that 1300 years have passed since they left the enchanted land. Narnia itself has been reduced to a shadow of its former self by the depredations of a nation of swarthy men that look and talk like Spanish conquistadors. But one of these men, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes, Easy Virtue), has been forced to flee to Narnia himself to escape the treachery of his uncle, who wants the throne for himself. Caspian and the four kids and the remnants of the Narnians must band together against the gathering forces of evil. Somehow, I never felt the magic like I did in the first movie. This one is a pretty dark affair, definitely not for small children (even though there were some present in the theater when I saw it). Hopefully the next one will be better.