God, Man & Hollywood (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

God, Man & Hollywood: Politically Incorrect Cinema from The Birth of a Nation to The Passion of the Christ, by Mark Royden Winchell (ISI Books 2008). I enjoy reading about movies almost as much as watching them, as my bookshelves will attest. This is a collection of essays about several movies that Winchell takes to be “politically incorrect,” meaning out of whack with the cultural attitudes that are fashionable in Hollywood, plus a chapter of very short synopses of 100 additional politically incorrect films. Admittedly, I did not read the whole thing–like I usually do with collections of this sort, I read only the pieces about movies I’ve already seen or will probably never see, so as to avoid spoilers about the ones I will probably catch one of these days. As for the ones I read, I thought they were enjoyable and well-written. I’m not sure Winchell really delivered on the dust jacket’s promise–to reveal “the surprisingly politically incorrect notions at the heart of eighteen classic films”–because I never really felt like I had been hit with any particularly surprising insights. But I enjoyed his essays regardless.

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Rocket Science

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Rocket Science

This is not a movie about rockets or science. It is a movie about a kid with a stutter who joins his school’s debate team to hook up with a girl. I laughed some, was mildly disturbed some, and sat in bewilderment at other times. This movie does not have an afterschool special feel to it. It has a good message, but not the ending you would expect. Our star does not become the star debater. He does not win the girl. I am not sure what he learns, I think it has something to do with trying. Loved the soundtrack. Think Juno meets Garden State. I give it an “A.” Check it out.

Slumdog Millionaire

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Slumdog Millionaire (B). Before seeing this movie, I read a review in which the reviewer claimed that this is one of the best movies he has ever seen. That’s far too extravagant a claim, in my humble opinion, but it is worth watching. When the movie opens, we see a young Indian man named Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) enduring a harsh police interrogation. It quickly develops that he is accused of cheating as a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Much of the movie then consists of flashbacks as Jamal tells a savvy police inspector how he came to know the answers to the various questions and why he wanted to be on the show at all. We see Jamal’s childhood in the slums of Bombay, growing up an orphan with his older brother Salim. We also see him befriend a little girl named Latika, who is of course destined to be the great love of his life. It’s a nice little tale, if rather heavily dependent on coincidence. Perhaps not what you would expect from director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later).

Seven Up! and 7 + Seven

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Seven Up! and 7 + Seven  (A). I have wanted to see these films for a long time, and The Borg Queen’s subscription to Netflix was my ticket. In 1964, some British film people assembled 14 seven-year-old children from various social classes and interviewed them. They interviewed some individually, and some in small groups. Since then, a researcher on the first installment (Seven Up!) named Michael Apted has revisited those same 14 people every seven years and filmed the results. (I didn’t realize Apted is a successful commercial director too, having helmed movies such as Gorillas in the Mist and The World Is Not Enough.)

So I watched and thoroughly enjoyed these first two installments. The kids are very cute and genuine in the first film, but by the second one some of them have become a little guarded. A girl from the top of the upper-crust, in particular, seems to be deciding already that her participation in the project was a bad decision. A boy who was living in a group home for poor children in the first installment seems a sad and downtrodden 14-year-old. Three upper-class boys who are largely indistinguishable in the first movie are developing distinct personalities in the second one. And so on. I’m looking forward to watching the later installments to see which of the kids refuse to participate further and which of them challenge the filmmakers’ apparent belief that socio-economic class is destiny.

The Man Behind the Gun

DVD review by the Movie Snob

The Man Behind the Gun (C-). Back in the day, Randolph Scott was apparently a pretty popular Western movie star. Today, he is apparently largely forgotten. Personally, I had never heard of him until I read an essay that praised of some of his movies for their moral ambiguity. (The essay also pointed out a scene in Blazing Saddles that would have sailed over my head, in which the heroes invoke Randolph Scott to shame the cowardly townspeople.) Anyhoo, I found a cheap DVD of three of Scott’s movies. This, the first one, is not very good. Scott plays an Army major sent to southern California on a secret mission to prevent that part of the state from seceding and becoming a slave state. It’s just so-so. But props to a young and skinny Alan Hale, Jr. as one’s of Scott’s sidekicks, before he went on to fame and fortune as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island. and somewhat less fame in The Giant Spider Invasion.

Quantum of Solace

Movie Man Mike checks in with a new movie review.

Quantum of Solace (B+). When the 007 franchise signed actor Daniel Craig to play James Bond, it brought in a new kind of Bond. Not only is Craig a blonde, he’s given the character a newer, more serious dimension. In Casino Royale, we saw him in a more serious relationship with Vesper Lynd. Now, in Quantum, we see the impact that the loss of Lynd has on him. Bond goes rogue and defies M (Judi Dench). As Bond pursues bad guy Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, The Grand Budapest Hotel), a world entrepreneur, we see a side of Bond that may be a little darker then we’ve seen before. The plot is riveting, and, of course, there is a Bond girl in this film, Camille Montes, played by Olga Kurylenko (Oblivion). This was a thoroughly enjoyable film. As with all Bond films, this one is packed with lots of action. My one criticism of the film actually has to do with the action scenes. The directors used a fast-track sequencing to present the chase scenes. The jerkiness of the presentation makes it hard to keep up with exactly what’s happening except in concept only. But at the end of it all, this Bond film left me asking the question, “Is Daniel Craig the best Bond yet?”

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

New review from The Movie Snob

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (C). Obviously a 40-year-old guy is not within the target demographic for this movie. I just went because The Borg Queen invited me to go with her and her two little sisters. The little ones enjoyed it just fine, but it was really nothing to write home about. Yes, these kids have charisma and talent, but the story was not particularly engrossing, nor were the songs particularly memorable. The one aspect of the story that rose slightly above the mediocre was a subplot that was a knock-off of All About Eve. But on the whole, the show was only mildly and blandly entertaining. Unless you’re about six.