The House Bunny

New review from The Movie Snob

The House Bunny (C). The Borg Queen and I were looking for a lighthearted matinee, and we settled on this movie. I am not familiar with much of star Anna Faris’s work, but she was very good in Just Friends and Lost in Translation. She works very hard in this movie, which is based on a tried-and-true plot but just never takes off. Faris plays Playboy bunny Shelley, who is unexpectedly and unceremoniously kicked out of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion the day after her 27th birthday party. Almost as clueless as she is homeless, she wanders into a gig as house mother to a sorority known as Zeta. The Zetas’ house is falling apart, they have about 6 members, all misfits in some way or another, and they’re in danger of losing their charter unless they can sign up 30 new pledges like, immediately. Of course, Shelley transforms them into foxy little ladies in no time, so surely they will manage to keep their charter–unless the scheming stuck-up girls at that other sorority pull some dirty tricks! There are some funny moments and lots of not-so-funny moments. Emma Stone, who would soon go on to bigger and better things like Zombieland, plays one of the Zetas.  Gorgeous Katharine McPhee (TV’s American Idol) is not bad as one of the Zetas, but the script makes her hugely and unamusingly pregnant (I guess because otherwise she’d have to be one of the mean girls). Another Zeta is a horribly, painfully unfunny knuckle-dragging Neanderthal from Idaho. Tom Hanks’s lamentably average son Colin (TV’s Roswell) atones for some unknown past sins by being forced to play Shelley’s love interest. But, there are some decently amusing moments among the painful and crude ones. Like when Shelley tries to pronounce “philanthropy.” I laughed every time.

The Signal

DVD review from Nick at Nite

I applaud these independent film makers for getting their movie made. I applaud them for nothing else. Our adulterous main character comes home from a rendezvous to a world gone mad. Turns out everyone has been infected by a signal that is attacking people over the television airwaves. People go nuts, including our adulterous main character’s spouse. They get visions and see awful things and, of course, they kill one another. Not a very happy movie. I give it an “F.”

The Road (book review)

A book review from Nick at Nite

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

I purchased this book last week. I read it on Friday night in the span of a few hours. From ten to fifteen pages in, I simply could not put it down. I did not know when I bought the book that it had won the Pulitzer Prize or that Entertainment Weekly called it the best book of the last 25 years. I could not stop thinking about the book and found out these tidbits surfing the net after finishing the book. It is dark. It is very dark. It has a small ray of light and will leave you thinking – perhaps for days. It is also a heartening story about a father and son, their bond, and the father’s quest to find a safe place for them in a most unfriendly environment. An unnamed apocalypse – probably the bomb – has destroyed the world we know and turned everything gray with ash. The story takes place as the father and son traverse the post-apocalyptic scene in the quest to get to the sea. Nothing grows, no food, no gas, no phones, no electricity, no government, no animals, the surviving humans are a brutish people (all are frightened and some ignore the advice to not eat Charlie), pretty much what you expect in your typical the end of the world has come book (see The Day After, I Am Legend, Mad Max, etc …) What is different is the human story. I cared about the father, known simply as “Papa,” and his charge. I had to know what happened to them. I won’t tell you, so you can enjoy your read. I give it an “A.”

*** PARTIAL SPOILER AND QUESTIONS FOLLOW ***

Partial spoiler and questions. Two questions about the book. Does “carrying the fire” have any significant meaning? Is there anything unique about the “three days” mentioned at the end of the book?

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (C+). Seems to me that Woody Allen has grappled with the same problem in several of his movies, including this one. The problem is, once you decide that there is no God and no afterlife, how do you find meaning in life? All of the characters in this movie who express a point of view share Allen’s atheistic materialism, and they seem to be at a loss as to how to answer this basic question. Vicky (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson, The Island) are young American women set loose in Barcelona for a summer, and both come under the spell of a charismatic Spanish artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men). Complicating matters are Vicky’s engagement to a bland but perfectly nice yuppie back home in the States and Juan Antonio’s continuing involvement with his crazy ex-wife Maria Elena (played, convincingly, by Penelope Cruz, Nine). The performances are good, but given the premises of atheistic materialism it is difficult to build any tension into the story. Cristina has fully abandoned bourgeois morality, so it is hard to care how her relationship with Juan Antonio (and Maria Elena) turns out. If the only rule is follow your heart, it’s rather hard to make wrong choices. In short, Cristina is a bore. Vicky, on the other hand, provides at least a little drama, since her getting involved with Juan Antonio would require transgressing the last bourgeois convention standing, that you really ought not cheat on your spouse or probably even your fiance. But if we are merely temporary collections of molecules bouncing around in the void, why should we abide by even this seemingly minimal constraint? In a way, this movie is a perfect counterpoint to Brideshead Revisited, which I reviewed yesterday. Brideshead asks what would happen if you really believed in God and Catholicism and tried to live your life accordingly. Vicky asks what would happen if you really didn’t believe in God at all and tried to live accordingly. It’s an interesting concept — but it makes Allen’s characters less interesting people.

Brideshead Revisited

From The Movie Snob

Brideshead Revisited (B-). People who see this movie will almost certainly be familiar with the novel (which I am) and/or with the Reagan-era miniseries starring Jeremy Irons (which I am not). Indeed, the novel is one of my favorite books, and I heard things that made me expect the movie would not be faithful to its perspective. Turns out that the movie virtually stands the novel’s point on its head, but it is sufficiently faithful to the book’s plot that I still somewhat enjoyed it. The story (set in the 1930s) is about what happens to Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode, Stoker), a non-religious young Brit of no social standing or wealth, when he goes off to Oxford and befriends a troubled classmate named Sebastian Flyte. Lord Sebastian Flyte, that is, for he is an aristocrat, and he comes from a family of aristocrats that is eccentric indeed. They are Catholic, you see, and though they are not all good Catholics, they all take it very seriously. Ryder falls in love with the family estate, Brideshead, and soon enough is attracted to the family’s older daughter, Julia. Anyway, the novel treats Catholicism seriously and respectfully (not surprising, since author Evelyn Waugh was a convert). The movie, however, generally treats it as little more than a pathology, invented and perpetrated solely to make us feel guilty about enjoying ourselves, especially poor homosexual Sebastian. (Although to be fair, Charles’s atheism hardly seems to make him any happier). It is truly amazing how out-of-sync the movie and book are on this point, and I certainly cannot recommend the movie to anyone who can not first been inoculated by reading the book. On the plus side, the movie makers did a good job of handling the most important matter, which was properly casting Julia Flyte (who along with Anne Stanton in All the King’s Men is one of my two great literary crushes). The actress who plays Julia, Hayley Atwell (Captain America), was previously unknown to me, is exactly pretty enough for the part and handles the acting side of it with aplomb as well.  Emma Thompson (Last Chance Harvey) plays the formidable matriarch Lady Marchmain.

Mamma Mia!

New review from The Movie Snob

Mamma Mia! (B). I saw the traveling production of the musical Mamma Mia! when it came through Dallas a few years ago, and I was underwhelmed by everything except the volume, which was deafening. As you already know if you have the slightest interest in this musical/movie, it is a very thin plot stretched over a musculature of songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA. I like ABBA’s music (as do many others–Bono included, if I remember correctly), but I did not like the musical. The movie version, however, worked for me. Maybe it actually helped to have people who are not professional singers doing the singing. Maybe it helped to be able to see what was going on, which I couldn’t when I was sitting in the back of balcony at Fair Park Music Hall. Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) sings reasonably well and looks like she’s having a lot of fun. The ingenue (Amanda Seyfried, Letters to Juliet) who plays her daughter is pretty and ingenuous. Colin Firth (Before I Go to Sleep) is pretty much always good. And poor Pierce Brosnan (Mrs. Doubtfire)! Watching him strain to get the words of S.O.S. out is worth the price of admission. (He made a good James Bond, but he can not sing.) I feel safe in saying this one is for ABBA fans only.

American Teen

From the desk of The Movie Snob

American Teen (B+). This is a documentary about four high school seniors in the small town of Warsaw, Indiana. It reminded me of MTV’s The Real World, in that it purports to be simply documentation about people’s real lives, but you have to believe that the presence of the cameras affects the subjects’ behavior to some extent. I enjoyed it. The “star” of the quartet is clearly Hannah Bailey, the out-of-step, artistic, sensitive, musical gal who has had some trauma in her family life and who is itching to run away to California and pursue film studies as soon as she graduates. Then there’s Colin, a basketball star who needs to have a good year on the court to get some scholarship money for college. Megan, the prom queen/student council type who is — surprise — kind of bitchy. And Jake, a video-playing geek with a bad skin problem and a mission to find a girlfriend. A fifth high schooler, a handsome rascal named Mitch, become a factor about halfway through. Sure it was contrived, but I still rooted for these kids to attain their goals and overcome their heartbreaks. And who knows, you may just see the name Hannah Bailey on a movie poster or marquee again some day…