Arrested Development – Season One

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Arrested Development – Season One (B+). I never watched this show during its run, and I kind of regret it now. It is a frequently amusing soap-opera spoof about the Bluth family, a wealthy California clan whose wealth comes from a home-construction company run by George Bluth, Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor, Paul). In the first episode, however, George is arrested for suspicion of illegal business dealings, leaving his one responsible child, Michael (Jason Bateman, Juno), to try to run the company while simultaneously managing his conniving mother Lucille and his three ne’er-do-well siblings George, Jr. (called G.O.B., pronounced Jobe), Lindsey, and Buster. As well as his son, George Michael (Michael Cera, This Is the End), his sister’s bizarre husband Tobias, and his slacker niece Maebe. The Buster character is not particularly funny, but the rest are a hoot, like the glassy-eyed Will Arnett (Blades of Glory) as inept magician G.O.B. Soap opera staples like forbidden crushes, blackmail, unexpected adoptions, and twins materializing out of thin air all play their parts. Also, there are lots of great guest stars, such as Jane Lynch (A Mighty Wind), Julia Louise-Dreyfus (TV’s Seinfeld), Judy Greer (American Dreamz), and, in a recurring role as the family’s terrible lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn, Henry Winkler (Night Shift).

I laughed out loud frequently as I worked my way through the first season, watching straight man Michael try to raise his son and save the company without letting his family drive him insane. Oh, and I got a kick out of the often-hilarious “scenes from next week,” which were never part of the next episode but often explained why stuff from the episode you just saw had no real consequences.

To me, this was one of the funniest exchanges all season, when several of the family members are meeting with their lawyer Barry about what will happen at George Sr.’s arraignment in court.

Barry: “You all just have to show up and pretend to be a happy, loving family.”

Lucille: “For how long?”

Barry: “Ten minutes.”

Lucille (with eyes narrowed): “See if you can get it down to five.”

Valkyrie

New review from The Borg Queen

Valkyrie – C+. I was dragged to see this movie by my brother, I’m not really a fan of war-related movies. As is clear from the previews, this is about a group of men relatively high in the Nazi regime that conspire to assassinate Hitler. Despite my disdain for Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow) since the beginning of his couch-jumping, Scientology-preaching, antidepressant-loathing episodes, I’ll admit that the acting in the movie was all in all pretty good. The story line is interesting, but has an obviously undesirable end. At the end of the movie, though, I couldn’t help but wonder why, rather than concocting an elaborate assassination attempt, did these men not just shoot Hitler when they were near him? Maybe I missed something. In any event, the movie managed to hold my attention throughout the duration, which is saying something seeing how I generally don’t like these movies.

In a Summer Season (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

In a Summer Season, by Elizabeth Taylor (Virago Modern Classics, orig. (c) 1961). No, this is not a book by the fabulous star of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but a novel by a British author who lived from 1912 to 1975. I think I read about her in Atlantic magazine as being a fine but underrated author, so I made a note and got this book for Christmas. Obviously it is a quick read, checking in at 221 pages. It is also an enjoyable read, although I thought the ending was a little contrived. It is the story of Kate Heron, a widow in her 40s who lives in a small village an hour from London, who was left well off by her husband, and who has married a handsome but directionless man ten years her junior. This last detail in particular has many of the other characters’ tongues wagging and causes Kate herself some consternation. Apparently her work has been compared to Jane Austen, and I can see why; the book is full of close observations about the various characters, and events click into place in a satisfying manner. I enjoyed it a lot.

Amazing Journeys

New review from The Movie Snob

Amazing Journeys (B+). I’m back in Arkansas, and that means a trip to the IMAX theater out by the airport. This current offering is a cut above your average IMAX nature film. It is about the amazing annual migrations undertaken by various species of animals–monarch butterflies, birds, grey whales, and others. Great photography and interesting facts combine for a fun and educational experience.

A Secret

Movie review from The Movie Snob

A Secret (B+). This French movie (Un Secret in its native language) is a meditation on dark passions and dark deeds. The central character is a child psychologist named Francois, but most of the story is told in flashbacks to World War II, to Francois’s childhood in the 1950s, and to his adolescence in the 1960s. His parents never speak of what happened to them during the war, but the young Francois finds some mysterious clues in the attic, and eventually a close family friend tells the adolescent Francois the story of his parents, and about the brother he never knew. I’ll say no more so that you can enjoy the same feelings of surprise, even shock, that I did as the events unfold. The movie itself is not graphic, but be advised that it does incorporate some graphic old footage from the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

Role Models

New review from The Movie Snob

Role Models (B). Okay, there’s no denying that there is lots to disapprove of in this movie. Gratuitous nudity. Vast quantities of crude and obscene language. Most of it said to, in front of, or by children. It is rated R for a reason. All that said, I laughed a lot at this movie. Paul Rudd (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) delivers another solid comedic performance playing Danny, a guy in his mid-30’s who makes his living pushing an energy drink called Minotaur on schoolchildren under the guise of a “stay off drugs” campaign. He loathes his life, consequently driving away his attractive lawyer girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games) and getting into a legal jam that requires him and his partner Wheeler (Seann William Scott, American Pie) to put in 150 hours of community service or go to jail. They wind up in a Big Brothers type program, in which Danny mentors a nerd who’s into live-action Dungeons & Dragons in the park every weekend, and Wheeler draws a younger black kid with an amazingly foul mouth. The gal who runs the program is a crazy ex-junkie played by the irreplaceable Jane Lynch (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), who made my jaw drop almost every time she opened her mouth. Not for all tastes, but I think you’ll like it if you liked, oh, I don’t know . . . The 40-Year-Old Virgin?

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (C). Star Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is perhaps the finest child actor working today, but even she can’t elevate this mediocre movie above, well, mediocrity. Breslin plays the title character, a happy girl and aspiring reporter whose idyllic life takes a turn for the worse when the Great Depression costs her dad his job. Dad leaves home to look for work in Chicago, and Mom takes in boarders to help make ends meet. Kit and Mom befriend a couple of hobos who do odd jobs around the house for food, but when some valuables and the hobos go missing it doesn’t look good for their new friends. Despite a fine cast (including Stanley Tucci, Jane Krakowski, Julia Ormond, and Joan Cusack), the movie somehow falls flat. Cusack in particular overacts shamelessly and spastically.

Riding Shotgun

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Riding Shotgun (C-). This Randolph Scott flick was only marginally better than the other two in this three-movie collection of mine. He plays Larry DeLong, a hired gun who “rides shotgun” to protect stagecoaches from bandits. He gets tricked into leaving his post, and a stagecoach gets ambushed, and when he finally makes it into town himself, everybody in town suspects him of being a decoy sent by the robbers. Most of the movie consists of scenes where he’s holed up in a bar and the townspeople are all outside wanting to lynch him. It really doesn’t make much sense, but there’s a decent little twist at the end that elevates this movie from a D+ to a C-.

Milk

A movie review from Movie Man Mike

Milk (A). This is truly a great film about an historic and tragic event, the assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone by fellow city supervisor Dan White. Sean Penn gives an Oscar-caliber performance as Harvey Milk, an activist in the fledgling gay rights political movement. James Franco (from Spider-Man) plays Scott Smith, boyfriend to Milk. There’s a whole cast of other characters supporting Milk, including Josh Brolin, who gives a solid performance as Dan White. One aspect of the film that was so great was that the makers wove into it clips of real news footage of that era, including footage of Anita Bryant. If you don’t know the story of Harvey Milk, this is a must-see film. This is one of those films that stays with you for days afterward, and leaves you wondering lots of things, such as what would have become of Milk had he not been assassinated. Some have speculated that perhaps he would be California ’s U.S. Senator today instead of Dianne Feinstein, with whom he served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. One word of warning, however. From the very outset of this film there were tears from many in the audience. This film really strikes a chord with many viewers and stirs the emotions.

Thunder Over the Plains

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Thunder Over the Plains (D+). This is the second in a three-movie collection of Westerns starring Randolph Scott (The Man Behind the Gun). I already reviewed and panned The Man Behind the Gun, and this is one is no better. A lengthy voice-over narration explains that our setting is Texas, 1869. The good citizens of Texas chafe under martial law and the greedy carpetbaggers. Randolph Scott plays Army Captain David Porter, whose duty to uphold the law conflicts with his natural sympathies with his fellow Texans. Nothing of much interest happens except when Army reinforcements arrive, including a fresh-faced young captain who wastes no time trying to make time with Porter’s unhappy wife Norah (Phyllis Kirk, House of Wax). There are a couple of amusing scenes where Scott is either chasing someone or being chased, but the editing is so bad you never have any idea where the pursuer and the pursued are in relation to each other. Finally, a special shout out to Elisha Cook, Jr., who plays a tax agent in this movie but went on to win great acclaim in a guest spot on Star Trek as a crotchety old lawyer named Samuel T. Cogley.

Australia

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Australia (A-). The newest film from director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) will not be to everyone’s taste. It is quite long (2 hours, 45 minutes) and unashamedly melodramatic. But if you have half a romantic bone in your body, can sit still for three hours, and have a huge crush on Nicole Kidman, you might just enjoy it as much as I did. Kidman (The Invasion), looking fabulous, plays Lady Sarah Ashley, a British aristocrat who journeys to Australia on the eve of WWII to see what her ne’er-do-well husband is up to. Turns out he’s been murdered, and his remote cattle ranch called Faraway Downs is verging on ruin. A rugged cattle drover (Hugh Jackman, X-Men: Days of Future Past) is captivated by Lady Ashley’s flashing eyes and British pluck, and he agrees to help her drive hundreds of computer-generated cattle to the port city of Darwin, thereby breaking the beef monopoly of the unctuous King Carney. And, along the way, Lady Ashley becomes a surrogate mother figure to a good-natured half-aborigine boy named Nullah. So the cattle drive is like a whole adventure movie in and of itself. But there’s still at least an hour to go, and the stealthy approach of the Japanese military guarantees a whole second act full of even more romance and excitement. I heartily recommend it.

Four Christmases

New review from The Movie Snob

Four Christmases (D). I cannot say I wasn’t warned. The previews did not look good. The Dallas Morning News gave it a C or a C-. But I was still a little surprised at how bad this holiday romantic comedy was. Vince Vaughn (Couples Retreat) and Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) star as Brad and Kate, a yuppie couple that is living the life in San Francisco–no marriage, no kids, just fun all the time. And to keep the fun alive, they leave the country every Christmas to avoid their parents (all divorced) and siblings. But when all outgoing flights are canceled, they suck it up and dutifully make the rounds. Their “eccentric” families are painfully unfunny, from Brad’s “ultimate fighter” brothers, to Kate’s newly religious mother, to Brad’s mother who has now taken up with Brad’s childhood best friend. How did they get this line-up of co-stars to be in this terrible movie? The film has Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now), Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter), Jon Voight (Angelina Jolie’s Dad), Mary Steenburgen (Philadelphia), Dwight Yoakam (Sling Blade), and others, for crying out loud. The scene in the tacky Christian church with the lame preacher (Yoakam) is among the worst. Still, I’d rather see this than see The Family Stone again.