He’s Just Not That Into You

New review from The Movie Snob

He’s Just Not That Into You (D). And let me say up front that there will be some general spoilers in this review–nothing too specific, but enough that you might prefer to skip it.

Anyway, I am not too into chick flicks, and the generally mediocre reviews did not make me particularly want to see this one. (Jennifer Aniston, We’re the Millers, is in it, which is a warning sign right there.) But then I read a review by a fellow named Ross Douthat that piqued my curiosity. He entitled his review “The Way We Live Now,” and he thought the film was interesting for its unusually unflattering look at the “essentially Darwinian” nature of modern dating. Being fairly out of touch with that scene myself, I went to see what he was talking about. The movie’s large cast of well-known actresses and perhaps less well-known actors wheel around each other in various combinations. There’s a married couple, a long-time couple in which the guy “doesn’t believe in marriage,” and a bunch of other folks who want to be in couples but can’t seem to manage it. The protagonist, Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin, Walk the Line), is a perky young thing who is so desperate to get attached that she will basically stalk a guy after a single mediocre date, somehow not realizing that this is the worst possible strategy she could devise. A friendly bartender (Justin Long, Drag Me to Hell) breaks the earth-shattering news to her (repeatedly) that a guy’s bad behavior (or his mere failure to call) should be taken at FACE VALUE. Also, ladies should not place more significance on vague “signs” that a guy is interested than on his open and wanton neglect. Also, do not base your dating strategy on a legend that your cousin’s friend’s college roommate found true love after chasing, or putting up with unmitigated crap from, some guy for umpteen years.

All of this seemed reasonably honest to me. So did a sordid subplot about a tawdry adultery. I may not have liked these people, but I believed what I was seeing. The kick in the teeth came at the end, when the movie abandoned the honest-feeling stuff and started dropping happy endings on us like anvils. Not every character got one, admittedly — a few were left out in the cold. But some characters underwent ridiculous changes of heart to bring about the desired Hollywood endings, and the wrap-ups generally trashed the seemingly solid advice previously dispensed by the affable bartender. Apparently Hollywood suspects that we can stand only so much truth about “the way we live now,” and then we have to be cheered up with happy endings, no matter how phony. The movie chickened out of the hard truths it had worked so hard to establish, and it made me mad. Skip it.

Race to Witch Mountain

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Race to Witch Mountain (B-). This is the new remake of Disney’s 1975 classic Escape to Witch Mountain. A UFO crashes in the Nevada desert, and government baddies are in hot pursuit of the footprint-leaving aliens who flee to nearby Las Vegas. Meanwhile, a down-on-his-luck cab driver (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Get Smart) picks up a couple of youngish teenagers who talk like aliens (you know — overly formal, no contractions, that kind of thing) and have remarkable super powers. Oh, and there’s a seemingly indestructible alien assassin chasing the kids too. Nonstop action ensues. It’s not bad, but the action scenes are so poorly edited that you really can’t tell what’s going on. Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!) has a small role as a government guy. AnnaSophia Robb (Because of Winn Dixie) is not bad as the more memorable of the two aliens, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Kim Richards, who had the role in the 1975 original (and apparently had a cameo in this movie that I missed).

Nim’s Island

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Nim’s Island (C). This movie should have been better than it was. A research scientist and his daughter Nim live an idyllic existence on a remote Pacific island, where she has befriended a sea lion, a lizard, and a pelican. She reads a lot, and she especially loves a series of books (novels?) by and about the heroic exploits of Indiana-Jones-like Alex Rover. Only “Alex Rover” is really Alexandra Rover, an agoraphobic and germophobic author in San Francisco. The scientist (Gerard Butler, 300) goes missing after he is out at sea alone in a bad storm, so Nim (Abigail Breslin, Raising Helen) emails “Alex Rover” (Jodie Foster, Napoleon and Samantha) for help. Alexandra, against her better judgment, decides to travel to Nim’s Island. Despite the good cast, I didn’t think the acting was particularly good, and somehow the movie sort of fell flat for me. But I imagine kids would be reasonably entertained by Nim’s plight and the antics of her animal pals.

Africa: The Serengeti

New review from The Movie Snob

Africa: The Serengeti (B). I’m back in Little Rock, and my mom and I saw this IMAX movie at the theater out by the airport. It seemed vaguely familiar, so I may have seen and reviewed it before. But it’s an interesting look at the million-plus wildebeasts that migrate up and down eastern Africa every year, along with various zebras and antelope, and the predators that prey on them. James Earl Jones (The Sandlot) narrates. And because the movie was made in 1994(!) it is blessedly free of dire warnings about global warning. A brief mention of poachers is about the only shot the movie takes at homo sapiens.


Comic Book Guy lends us his expertise

Watchmen – a Review (with apologies to Elizabeth Browning)

How do I love Watchmen? Let me count the ways.
I love the depth and breadth and height of its special effects
The epic scope of its story,
of the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love the level of detail in every scene
I love its heroes as men who (could) strive for right.
I love its ambiguity, as society passes into night.
I love it with the passion of a fanboy
who sees its greatness brought to life.
I love it despite its running time.
I love it because it is all things great,
a super hero movie you should not hate.

Watchmen is another graphic novel brought to the big screen. It’s an epic superhero tale set in an alternate 1980’s America. Costumed heroes exist and were outlawed as vigilantes. Nixon is on his 5th term, the cold war is ongoing and the US seems to be ahead only because of Dr. Manhattan, a “hero” with god-like powers bestowed on him as the result of a freak nuclear accident. The narrative line revolves around a murder mystery – someone is knocking off heroes. It quickly evolves into something much more and ends with (spoiler alert) a big bang. Several of them, in fact.

Having read the original when it was released as a comic in the late 80’s, I’m hardly an objective source and I should probably recuse myself on this one (see poem, above). But this is a beautiful movie to watch. Gorgeously rendered and choreographed. The same guy who brought you 300 (another awesome movie) did Watchmen up right. It’s a big, dense, long movie. It’s not traditional superhero fare – we seem to think of costumed heroes being about truth & justice and moral superiority. Alan Moore, the original writer, has turned this paradigm on its head. Moore long since left the project (which has gone through multiple unsuccessful efforts to bring it to the big screen) and there have been wholesale omissions and plot rewrites but the story remains true to the spirit of original graphic novel.

Unfortunately, there are some problems. In a post 9/11 world, the whole superpower/cold war/doomsday clock thing seems quaint We’ve seen the horror of our new world and nuclear annihilation doesn’t punch our buttons like it used to. The world is a much different place today and I think the story has lost some of some of its original punch. Many of the cultural references may be lost on the under 25 crowd and may seem too Forrest Gump-like for the over 25 crowd. The acting is well, acting. It’s secondary to the story and SFX. And yeah, it clocks in at a bloated 2 hours and forty-plus minutes (although I didn’t mind – I thought the pacing was fine).

For those of you who read the graphic novel – you’ll love it. For those of you who haven’t… well, if you like science fiction/alternate reality – go see it. It’s greatness. For those of you who think superhero movies are for kids – you’re wrong on this one. Go see it anyways. Plus you’ll get to see the really cool trailers for Star Trek, Terminator and X-Men Origins. I can hardly wait for the summer movie fare to arrive.

I give it an “A” for awesome.

Wendy and Lucy

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Wendy and Lucy (B). Has it really been two weeks since I went to the movie theater? Disgraceful. This is a good little independent flick starring Michelle Williams (The Station Agent). She plays a young woman named Wendy who is rather like a miniature version of the U.S. economy. She has decided to drive from Indiana to Alaska with her dog Lucy in search of work. Unfortunately her 1988 Honda Accord is not up to the challenge, and she has only about $500 to her name. Things go downhill quickly when her car breaks down in Oregon. Then she gets caught trying to shoplift some dog food, and while she’s in the clink her dog disappears. It was very odd to hear my own sentiments — if you can’t afford dog food, you shouldn’t have a dog — coming out of the mouth of the punk teenager who catches her shoplifting. It is a touching movie, and you do feel for Wendy as her world crumbles around her because she seems like a perfectly nice person. But I still thought that if she would just get rid of the dog, she could probably afford a bus ticket to Alaska.

Pride and Prejudice redux

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Seeing the play of Pride & Prejudice recently spurred me to go back and reread the book and then to watch the DVD of the Keira Knightley version from 2005. Both were very enjoyable experiences. The book is simply a treat, and it has an advantage over the play in that you get occasional glimpses inside Mr. Darcy’s head along the way. When you can only see his outward conduct, the plot really builds him up into such a jerk it is hard to change your opinion of him when the story calls for it. The movie is a little more successful at navigating this problem than the play because the camera can pause for a close-up of Darcy and give a hint at what he is thinking. The movie is very good, although it has to move very quickly in a few places to get everything in, and a viewer who is unfamiliar with the book is probably not going to easily and entirely understand how the characters get from point A to point B a couple of times. Also, I now see a bigger contrast between the book and the movie in the movie’s focus on romantic love in the modern sense, while the book carefully builds the protagonists’ love more on mutual respect and admiration than on romantic passion. Anyway, I highly recommend them both. I’m a little Pride & Prejudiced out right now, but eventually I’ll have to watch the 5-hour A&E version starring Colin Firth (The Last Legion).

The Class

A movie review from The Movie Snob

The Class (B). This is a French movie originally entitled Entre les Murs, and it was nominated for the Oscar for best foreign film of 2008. It is about life in an inner-city Parisian school, and more particularly about a French teacher and his thoroughly multicultural class of 14-15 year olds. As I understand it, the guy who plays the teacher really is or was a teacher, and the kids who play the students are actually students, not actors, so the film has a documentary feel to it. The class is a melange of French, Arab, African, and even a couple of Asian students, and they delight in giving Mr. Marin a hard time. And he gives it right back to them. We also get glimpses at the faculty behind closed doors; one guy is a hardliner who wants the rules enforced and the troublemakers expelled, while our protagonist Mr. Marin constantly argues for a gentler approach. Tensions mount over a disruptive student named Souleymane who might be sent back to Africa if he is expelled. Good movie, if perhaps not as great as I expected.

Gordon Lightfoot concert review

A concert review from The Movie Snob

Gordon Lightfoot (Nokia Theatre, March 4, 2009). Give this concert a D for “disappointing.” I don’t exactly recall when I took a liking to Lightfoot’s music. I think maybe a college roommate of mine owned his greatest hits album, euphoniously entitled Gord’s Gold. Eventually I bought that CD myself, and it has become a favorite of mine, featuring hits such as “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” and “Carefree Highway.” When I heard Lightfoot was coming to Dallas, I snapped up tickets and also bought Gord’s Gold Vol. 2, which features his other big hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

The sad truth is that Gordon Lightfoot just doesn’t sound like Gordon Lightfoot any more. My expectations were probably a little too high. After all, he’s 70 years old now, and he apparently had to have a tracheotomy after a life-threatening aneurysm in late 2002. But the fact is, his clear, mellow, distinctive voice is gone, and now his voice is high, weak, and reedy. He kind of sounded like Cat Stevens, but weaker and shakier. To make matters worse, he left verses out of “Carefree Highway,” “Sundown,” and “Alberta Bound.” Stick to his old studio albums, folks.

The Reader

A movie review from Movie Man Mike

The Reader (B).

*** Caution *** may contain spoilers ***

What is it about Holocaust movies that make them so successful? In recent years, we’ve seen a spate of movies about this subject. The Reader is a nice addition to the genre, although the story itself left me wondering quite a bit about the characters’ motivations. The story takes place primarily in two time periods, both after the fall of Nazi Germany. Hanna Schmitz, played by Kate Winslet (Divergent), is working as a ticket taker on a cable car. She meets then 15-year-old Michael Berg. They have an affair, fall in love, and after 3 months, she abruptly leaves him. Now jump ahead a few years when Berg is now in law school taking a special lecture class. The class attends the trial of several Nazi death camp workers, one of whom turns out to be Hanna Schmitz. Berg has information that may help her case, but he is conflicted when he learns of the atrocities she has committed. I could not fully comprehend from watching the movie why he reacts the way he does, but what I also had trouble comprehending was when we see the adult Berg, played by Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), we see that Berg’s experiences with Schmitz apparently so deeply affected him that he appeared to have obsessed on her for most of his adult life. Why? And we are left wondering throughout about Schmitz’s upbringing and why she took many of the actions she did take, including her final actions. I don’t want to spoil too much of this story for movie-goers because it’s well worth seeing for the wonderful acting and compelling story-line, but I was left with quite a few questions when it was over and I felt a little unfulfilled.


New review from Movie Man Mike

Coraline (C). I surely didn’t expect this film to be the disappointment it turned out to be based upon my impression from the trailers. But, I suppose the whole point of a trailer is to lure us in to see the film. I could not decide if this film was directed at adult audiences or younger audiences. In the end, I don’t recommend it for either. Boiled down to its essential point, the story is clearly directed to children, but there are lots of very dark aspects to the story that I would never recommend for children. As an adult, I was impressed with the animation and there were some quirky characters in the story that I truly enjoyed. But the story wasn’t all that entertaining. If you enjoy animation for the sake of animation, perhaps you will like seeing this. If you must see it, I would wait for it to come out on DVD.