Scary Movie 3

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Scary Movie 3 (D). Despite the low grade, I can think of a few nice things to say about this movie. For one, it is only 84 minutes long. For another, it is slightly less crude than the two prior installments. This may be because this sequel was not made by the Wayans brothers, but rather by David Zucker, who was part of the team behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun. I actually laughed a couple of times, but on the whole this was still a pretty lame effort. Why the likes of Queen Latifah (Chicago) and George Carlin (Cars) agreed to be in this movie, I do not know. I still like ol’ Anna Faris (Just Friends), though. She’s game for anything, and she’s unbeatable when you need a look of wide-eyed, open-mouthed air-headedness.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Dawn of the Dead (B). This is the 2004 version, not the famous 1978 original (which I have never seen). I am not a fan of horror films, so I’m not sure why I picked it up out of the bargain bin at Walmart and bought the thing. Today the ice storm shut Dallas down, so I made wise use of my time by watching this movie. It adheres to what I understand to be the conventions of zombie movies: zombies roam the streets in search of living flesh to eat, and whoever gets bitten by a zombie sooner or later turns into a zombie. In this movie, the wave of zombification seems to swamp the world in a hurry. A nurse (Sarah Polley, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), a cop (Ving Rhames, Entrapment), and several others elude the zombies long enough to barricade themselves into a mall. There they await rescue, make contact with another survivor who’s holed up in a gun shop across the way, and endure various setbacks and zombie incursions. I can’t compare it to the original, but I thought this movie was pretty good for what it was–lots of gruesomeness and gore, and some decent characters to root for as they try fend off the undead horde. By the way, you have to watch past the ending credits if you want to know the whole story…  Directed by Zack Snyder, who would go on to direct 300 and Man of Steel.

The Fires of Vesuvius (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found, by Mary Beard (Belknap Press 2008). Having been to Pompeii three times, I needed to read only one good review of this book before running out and buying it. It’s a good book, with lots of pictures and illustrations, but I was still just a teeny bit disappointed. For one, the author debunks, or at least casts doubt on, some of the interesting stories that I have been told by extremely sincere-seeming tour guides. For another, I was surprised to learn just how little we actually know about day-to-day life in Pompeii. Many of our suppositions about Pompeiian life before the city was obliterated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius are based on very slender archaeological evidence, such as where a particular signet ring or line of graffiti happened to be found. Nevertheless, Beard does a nice job of telling and showing what we have found in Pompeii and what we can reasonably guess about ancient Roman life based on the ruins. Interesting stuff, if you’re into this sort of thing.

The Perfect Man

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Perfect Man (D). And I’m being generous with the “D” grade here, people. This movie is terrible and ridiculous. Heather Locklear (TV’s Melrose Place) plays Jean Hamilton, a single mother of two daughters of 16, played by Hilary Duff (The Lizzie McGuire Movie), and 7, played by some other girl. Every time Jean breaks up with a guy, she instantly moves her family to a new town, preferably several states away. As our story begins, she uproots her family on a moment’s notice from Wichita, Kansas, in favor of Brooklyn. Yes, she is insane. So Hilary (her character has a different name, but this movie might as well be called The Hilary Duff Vehicle) comes up with the brilliant idea of creating a secret admirer for sad, crazy old mom so that maybe she’ll stay put for a complete semester. So she sends her mom flowers, writes her emails, even instant messages with her for a while, under the pseudonym of “Ben.” The charisma-free Chris Noth (Sex and the City) plays the real Ben, who is Hilary’s friend’s uncle and, just coincidentally, the perfect man for Jean. So many preposterous things happen that there is no point singling any of them out. Just avoid this bad TV episode disguised as a movie. Oh, I just watched this because The Borg Queen had it through Netflix. Gotta make sure I explain that.

The Wrestler

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Wrestler (A-). By contrast to The Reader, I found the characters in this movie easy to understand and empathize with. Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2) plays the title character, a broken-down fellow who was a star professional wrestler back in the 80s. Now Randy “The Ram” Robinson can barely pay the rent on his shabby trailer with his meager earnings from a grocery-store job. But he still wrestles for tiny crowds on the weekends, and only there—in the ring and backstage with his wrestling buddies—does he come fully alive. Otherwise, his life is a mess. His health is failing, and his estranged daughter (well acted by Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen) pretty much hates him. His boss at the grocery store is a mean-spirited little jerk. He genuinely likes a good-hearted stripper (Marisa Tomei, Cyrus) at a bar he frequents, but she’s leery about any involvement with a customer. It is really moving to watch The Ram clumsily try to get his life back on track. I’ll admit it, I shed some tears, and I wasn’t the only one in the theater who was snuffling.

The Reader

A new review from The Movie Snob

The Reader (B+). This movie kind of shook me up; it definitely held my attention from beginning to end. Although I had heard a fair amount about the plot before it saw it, I will endeavor not to commit any spoilers in my review, other than to say that the Holocaust is involved. The “present” is 1995, and in that time frame Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardener) plays the main character, an emotionally constricted German lawyer named Michael Berg. But most of the movie is told in flashback. The first flashback is to 1958, when Michael is a fresh-faced 16-year-old lad who gets involved in a torrid affair with Hannah Schmitz, a much older woman played by Kate Winslet (Titanic). Although the affair is brief, Michael is deeply affected. Years later, when he is a law student, Michael’s path crosses Hannah’s again. That’s about all I can say without risking what might be considered spoilers. I’ll just add that as the movie unfolds, I was startled and confused by some of the things the characters did; they seemed to act far differently than I would have. But I’ve read a few other reviews that had theories about their motivations that sort of make sense to me. I don’t think this movie is really best-picture caliber, but it was undeniably absorbing.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (The Complete Series)

The Borg Queen concludes that resistance is futile.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (The Complete Series)

I recently purchased the entire Deep Space Nine (DS9) series on DVD, which I hadn’t seen before. My little brother swore it was as good as, if not better than, The Next Generation (TNG) and Voyager. Over the course of two or three months, I managed to get through all 7 seasons. The first two seasons were a bit slow and were often stand-alone episodes. But somewhere around the middle or end of the third season, the show shifted directions. It essentially became one long, interesting story line furthered by each episode (aside from some stand-alone episodes intermixed). The characters became extremely well developed so you really began to care about them. I always found the Ferengi episodes extremely boring and annoying, but otherwise, I really enjoyed the entire series. You just have to get past the first couple of character-building seasons. I particularly enjoyed an episode where some DS9’ers traveled back in time to the time of Spock and Kirk and got dubbed into an old Star Trek (original series) episode. If you are a Star Trek fan, and haven’t given this show a chance, I definitely recommend watching this series. If not, I’d still recommend watching this series, but skip to Season 3. All that said, I think I like TNG a little better–but I grew up watching TNG, so it has nostalgia giving it an edge.

Last Chance Harvey

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Last Chance Harvey (B-). A jingle-writer/would-be jazz pianist is going to London for his daughter’s wedding. He is none too close to his daughter, not to mention his ex-wife and her successful and handsome second husband. While in London, he chances to meet a woman who has never been married, spends most of her free time with or on the phone with her divorced mother, and has more or less sealed herself off from life. Things unspool from there. There were things I liked and things I didn’t about this breezy little 92-minute movie. I have never cared much for Dustin Hoffman (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium), and so I found the lead character difficult to like. Emma Thompson (Dead Again), on the other hand, is a pleasure to watch as the Londoner that Hoffman’s character meets. I really liked the various wedding-related scenes, especially the reception. It is sort of a cliché to film a scene of a wedding dinner or reception in which a character threatens to ruin everything with an inappropriate impromptu speech, but this movie does it deftly. I guess my main beef with this and similar movies is the astronomical unlikeliness of two strangers meeting by chance, spending just a little time together, and getting convinced almost immediately that they’ve discovered a soulmate. I’d be tempted to say it never happens, but the Borg Queen reminded me of an acquaintance of ours to whom something reasonably similar did happen. Still, it’s got to be rarer than Hollywood makes it out to be.

Surrender Is Not an Option (Book Review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad, by John Bolton (2007). You may remember John Bolton as Bush 43’s nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, whose nomination came undone when Senator Voinovich from Ohio decided Bolton was too mean to be our ambassador. W. gave him a recess appointment anyway, and he served from August 2005 until December 2006. In this rather thick book, he talks about his days at the UN, as well as some of his work in the State Department before then. He is highly critical of both the UN and the State Department, and folks who are already UN skeptics will find plenty of fuel for their fires here. According to Bolton, the UN is a tremendously dysfunctional institution, is shot through with financial corruption, and is wholly incapable of making any difference in a crisis because the Security Council’s members have fundamentally opposing interests on many basic issues. The State Department is hardly any better, being clogged with careerists who suffer from “clientitis”–believing that their job is to represent other countries to the U.S. instead of vice versa. Bolton, shockingly, argues that U.S. personnel at the UN and State alike should adopt the mindset that their job is to be advocates for the U.S. He is far from complimentary about the administration’s policy, or lack of a firm policy, towards North Korea and Iran. (I was surprised to learn that he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his role in exposing Iran’s nuclear program.) Anyway, this is a long book, full of acronyms and diplomatic jargon, but I still found it pretty interesting. And I’m all for his last prescription–make every country’s financial contribution to the UN voluntary, and condition Americas’s contributions on demonstrated results.

Yes Man

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Yes Man (C). I am not the biggest Jim Carrey (Disney’s A Christmas Carol) fan in the world, but I went ahead and saw this movie — even paid full price! As I gathered from the previews, Carrey plays some ordinary, middle-aged schmoe who says “no” to everything until something happens that makes him do a 180° on that policy. Personally, I’m an ordinary, middle-aged schmoe who says “no” to pretty much everything, so I thought I should see what I’m missing. The movie unfolds pretty predictably — almost as predictably as if Carrey had continued to say “no” to everything, in fact. A bright spot is Zooey Deschanel (Elf), not because she turns in a particularly great performance, but just because I think she’s as cute as a button. But she’s also like 20 years younger than Jim Carrey, so that’s kind of hard to believe, maybe even a little creepy. Anyhoo, nothing special about this one, and some crude humor that should make parents take the PG-13 rating seriously. (Fionnula Flanagan of The Others should be ashamed of herself!)

Quantum of Solace

New from The Movie Snob

Quantum of Solace
(B-). I guess there’s been a lot of wailing about what a comedown this movie is after the giddy high of Casino Royale. Well, don’t sign me up for that weepfest. I thought Casino Royale was a competent, enjoyable thrillride, but it wasn’t the greatest movie in the world or anything. This one was only slightly less enjoyable. The villain certainly wasn’t very intimidating, and I never quite understood exactly what the big nefarious plan was. And one of the fight scenes in the early going got a little ridiculous, a little “Donkey Kong” ish for my taste. On the other hand, this Ukrainian gal, Olga Kurylenko (Oblivion), is a top-tier Bond sidekick. She’s like a younger, petite version of Catherine Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages).

The Movie Snob’s 2008 Year in Review!

Happy New Year, and welcome to The Movie Snob’s Best of 2008 column. As usual, I will consider all movies I saw in a movie theater during calendar year 2008. As usual, this means that a lot of the previous year’s releases will be included, ’cause I didn’t see them until 2008. For the record, I saw 50 movies in theaters in 2008, down slightly from the 58 films that I saw in 2007.

Movie of the Year: My pick is The Savages, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings who are suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to find end-of-life care for their estranged and Alzheimer’s-stricken father. Hoffman and Linney give fine performances, and the whole movie just rings very true.

Runner Up: I also have to give high marks to Michael Clayton, a legal thriller that kept an iron grip on my attention from beginning to end. George Clooney stars as the title character, a lawyer at a top law firm who specializes in “fixing” things when particularly sticky problems come up. Things get real sticky when another lawyer in the firm, who has been the lead attorney defending some nasty environmental polluter, seems to go crazy and threatens to blow the whistle on the client.

Best Animated Feature: I mention this category next, because the fabulous movie Wall-E would also be my pick for the third-best movie I saw this year—which I think makes it my favorite movie actually released in 2008. Runner-up status goes to Persepolis, a very interesting movie about what it was like to grow up in Iran and to be a child when the Islamic Revolution swept the Shah out of power.

Best Drama: There were several other excellent dramas this year, to go with the four mentioned above. I loved The Visitor, about a lonely widower who is virtually brought back to life by the results of his unexpected discovery that two illegal immigrants are living in the apartment he kept in New York City. I thoroughly enjoyed Charlie Wilson’s War, even though it had Julia Roberts in it. Atonement also cast its spell over me, even though (or perhaps because) I never read the book on which it is based. And last but not least, and despite the mixed critical reaction, I really liked Australia, which just happens to star Nicole Kidman.A sheer coincidence, I am sure.

Best Comedy: No comedies really knocked my socks off this year. Forced to pick one, I’d probably go with Baby Mama, starring the ubiquitous and talented Tina Fey. I also got some decent laughs out of Role Models and Tropic Thunder. But all in all it was not a banner year for comedy.

Best Action/Adventure: The new Chronicles of Narnia movie, Prince Caspian, was a nonstarter for me as for most, and I haven’t yet gotten around to Quantum of Solace. That leaves The Dark Knight and Iron Man, and I enjoyed Iron Man distinctly more than I enjoyed the latest Batman flick. So Iron Man gets the nod in this category, although I liked Dark Knight well enough too.

Best Documentary: I saw a few good ones this year, but my pick for the best is American Teen, which is more than a little reminiscent of MTV’s The Real World set in a wholesome all-American high school in some small Midwestern town. Also getting thumbs up are a couple of IMAX movies I saw, Dolphins and Whales and Amazing Journeys. I think Amazing Journeys originally came out in 1999, though, so it’s probably even more out of place on this list than the 2007 releases I’ve been mentioning.

Best Foreign Film: I think I saw only one, and it was a good one—the French import A Secret, about a French boy who gradually learns about how his (Jewish) parents met, how they survived World War II, and various other dark family secrets. I recommend it. I also liked Happy-Go-Lucky, which was made in England, so I guess it counts as a foreign movie. The ever-happy-go-lucky main character (Sally Hawkins) won’t appeal to everyone, but I liked her.

Honorable Mentions. Other movies I would single out to recommend to you: Enchanted is perfectly enchanting, about the animated princess who is magically transported to real-world Manhattan. If, and only if, you are an ABBA fan, I would recommend Mamma Mia! to you—and then it’s pointless, because you’ve obviously already seen it. City of Ember, starring up-and-comer Saoirse Ronan, is a worthy effort in the science-fiction-for-young-adults category. Rachel Getting Married is a worthy effort in the big-star-plays-drug-addict category—kudos to Anne Hathaway for looking strung out and luminous at the same time. And I liked Hancock for its remarkable plot twist, Slumdog Millionaire for its unabashed celebration of true love, and The Other Boleyn Girl because, well, just because.


From the desk of The Movie Snob

Doubt (B). To avoid spoilers, I can only give the barest set-up of this play-turned-major-motion-picture. The setting is a Catholic grade school in Chicago, late 1964. The school principal is the classic nun-with-an-iron-fist, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep, Death Becomes Her). Apparently fairly new on the scene is Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages), whose efforts to make the Church more open and welcoming are not at all appreciated by the Iron Nun. In the middle is sweet, youngish Sister James (Amy Adams, Enchanted), who sees just enough unusual behavior to wonder if Father Flynn’s relationship with the only black student in the eighth grade is entirely proper. She confides what she saw to Sister Aloysius, and the plot is on its way. I thought the performances were pretty good, but the very last scene was a real clunker to me. It definitely cost the movie some points. On the whole, though, it wasn’t bad.


New review from The Movie Snob

Twilight (C). I am totally unfamiliar with the book on which this movie is based, but I gathered from the media that it was something about teenaged vampires in love. I know, it sounds good, but it is surprisingly lame in execution. First of all, why do these new-fangled vampires break all the standard vampire rules? Daylight doesn’t kill ’em, mirrors don’t faze ’em, and there’s nary a wooden stake in sight. Anyhoo, an angsty teen named Bella (Kristen Stewart, Zathura) moves to a small town in Washington State. No sooner has she started school than she falls in love with one of the apparently very few vampire members of the student body, the pallid Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Talk about the good girl being attracted to the bad boy! But of course Edward isn’t so bad, even though his natural instinct is to eat her up with more than just his smoldering eyes. The acting is weak, and it’s hard to imagine what a hundred-year-old vampire like Ed would see in a moony teenager like Bella. Seriously, Stewart’s acting is not good. She’s all fluttery eyelids, weird facial twitches, and incoherent utterances. Maybe C is too generous…

The Fall

Movie Man Mike sends us this review.

The Fall.  (A-)

I happened to pick up this rental over the holidays and saw that Roger Ebert called it “magnificent.” Okay, he also said that the latest installment of The Mummy series was the best in the series, but he sure got that wrong. I rented The Fall, and boy was I glad I did. I would add to Ebert’s description and call it captivating and mesmerizing. This movie stars emerging actor Lee Pace (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Pushing Daisies) who plays a movie stunt man who has been injured on the set of a movie. He befriends a young girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who is the daughter of migrant immigrant workers in Southern California. Alexandria is also in the hospital because she broke her arm picking fruit in the orchards with her family. Pace as Roy Walker, is a master story-teller for Alexandria but the story he weaves becomes reflective of his own experiences and struggles. In the broader context, this film is about the relationship that develops between the girl and the young man and how they wind up helping each other. Be sure to put this one on your netflix list.