Quantum of Solace

DVD review from The Bleacher Bum

Quantum of Solace

Like most guys, it doesn’t take much for me to enjoy a James Bond movie. A cool car, some alluring ladies, a few explosions, a brutal fight, an exciting chase sequence and dame Judi Dench are about all I need. If the movie has a good plot and some witty dialogue, then it instantly becomes a James Bond classic. Quantum of Solace has all the aforementioned ingredients. James Bond (Daniel Craig) uncovers a global conspiracy by a well-funded organization named Quantum. Quantum is trying to control the majority of Earth’s most treasured resource . . . water, not oil. Quantum also frequently converts CIA and MI-6 operatives into traitorous murderers.

As in Casino Royale, Craig is really good as Bond. He is very skilled and athletic at the physical stunts while being deft and cunning at Bond’s mental side. Bond also has a personal vendetta that he is trying to fulfill while saving the world. The movie traverses the globe, showcases lovely ladies and keeps the action movie at a breakneck pace. Quantum of Solace exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed the ride on land, in the air, on the sea and in the bedroom.

Bleacher Bum Movie Scale: homerun, triple, double, single, strikeout

Quantum of Solace: Stand-up Double without a throw

Martian Time-Slip (book review)

Book review from the desk of The Movie Snob

Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K. Dick. This is just the first of five novels included in the new collection of Dick’s work by the Library of America, entitled Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s (2008). As with the previous volume, I’ll review each novel as I finish it, or else I’ll forget the first ones before I finish the volume. Martian Time-Slip (1964) is a good and, by Dick’s standards, fairly straightforward yarn. It is the near future, and Earth has gotten hugely overcrowded. Nervous breakdowns from the stress of life are commonplace. Some colonies have been established on Mars (where all the action takes place), and one of the main characters is a gifted mechanic/electrician who emigrated after suffering a breakdown on Earth. He is drawn into the orbit of the leader of the powerful Martian trade unions, who is de facto one of the most powerful men on the planet. Somehow (I forget how, exactly), the union guy comes to believe that a particular autistic child has psychic powers akin to time-travel, and he persuades the electrician to help him try to communicate with the boy (for purely venal motives, of course). Things unfold unexpectedly and satisfactorily. A good story, and not as suffocatingly paranoid as many of Dick’s stories.

Heroes (book review)

Book review by The Movie Snob

Heroes: From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and de Gaulle, by Paul Johnson (Harper 2007). I picked this book up from Half-Price Books for $8, figuring correctly that it would be a pleasant and breezy read. Paul Johnson is a British journalist-turned-historian who has written some really long books on historical subjects. His Modern Times, which is a world history of the 20th century, is a really enjoyable book. But this is one of his shorter works (280 pages), and it is just a series of vignettes about people that he (and, in most cases, many others as well) regard as heroes. Many are military figures and rulers, as the subtitle suggests, but a few of the people he includes are odd choices (Emily Dickinson?) and a couple were people I had never heard of. But his writing is always engaging, and it’s nice to hear a Brit wax on about the heroic stature of George Washington.

21 Up

DVD review from The Movie Snob

21 Up (B+). I’ve blogged before about this series of documentaries about a group of British kids — well, they were 7-year-old kids in 1963, when they were first interviewed on film. Then the filmmakers went back and re-interviewed them every seven years after that, so this third installment was made or released in 1977. The two previous entries were like 45 minutes each, but this one is a full-length feature. It is very interesting to see these 21-year-old kids, some in college, some married and working, and at least one or two struggling to find a place in the world. I liked a couple of the kids better in this installments than previously. Especially the little boy who thought at age seven that he would go off to Africa and be a missionary. He seemed kind of weird in the first two installments, but now as a math major in college he seems much more grounded and sensible. The rich girl who came off rather badly in 7+7 struck me as a little more sympathetic this time around. It’s remarkable how many of the kids had divorced parents by this time. I do have one complaint, that the combination of bad acoustics and thick accents made some parts totally unintelligible to me. Still, I’m really looking forward to the next installment, especially to see how the three boys from the bottom of the class structure fared under Thatcherism.

The International

Movie review from The Movie Snob

The International (B-). I had kinda sorta wanted to see this movie just because it starred current cool dude Clive Owen (Children of Men) and cute little buck-toothed Naomi Watts (The Painted Veil). Well, it’s really Clive’s movie; Naomi is barely in it, and she has virtually nothing to do. But Clive does a good job as an Interpol agent who’s trying to bust a shady Luxembourg bank that’s dealing high-tech weapon systems to Third World countries. This is the kind of bank that has an assassin on permanent retainer, so you definitely don’t want to incur a lot of overdraft fees with them. The movie’s message is clear–giant international banks control everything, and they keep assassins on retainer, so don’t mess. Kind of a downer, don’t you think? Still, Clive is a pro, and there’s a massive shootout in the Guggenheim Museum that’s kind of fun to watch.

As I Lay Dying (book review)

From The Movie Snob

As I Lay Dying, by Richard John Neuhaus (2002). Not to get all morbid on you, but dying has been on my mind some of late. There are probably several reasons for that fact. I’m 41, so I’m getting pretty close to middle age. Three of my grandparents died when I was just a child, but my maternal grandmother just passed away a couple of years ago. And then some people I really admire have died even more recently, like William F. Buckley, Jr., and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus himself. Fr. Neuhaus was a Lutheran minister turned Catholic priest, and he edited a wonderful magazine that I have taken for years called First Things. He himself contributed lots of articles to the magazine, plus a mnothly column called “The Public Square,” and he always impressed me with both his erudition and his common sense.

Fr. Neuhaus barely survived a large tumor in his colon in the early 1990s, and he alluded to his brush with death in some of his articles. The cancer was discovered to have returned, I believe in late 2008, and he died in early 2009. But several years ago he wrote this little book, which is about half devoted to meditations on death in general and half devoted to Fr. Neuhaus’s own near-death experience. It is a thoughtful and interesting book, to be sure, but I suppose I was hoping for some sort of revelation about death and dying that really isn’t possible on this side of the grave. I think it was well worth reading.

MST3K: Volume XIV

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Mystery Science Theater: Volume XIV

This installment is definitely a mixed bag…

Mad Monster, plus short Commander Cody and the Radar Men from the Moon (D).  I think this must be been from very early in the show’s run.  They had a different guy supplying the voice of robot Tom Servo, and he just wasn’t funny.  Of course the movie is awful, an old black-and-white movie about a mad scientist who creates a serum that turns his slow-witted and unsuspecting gardener into a wolfman.  But the heckling just isn’t all that funny in this episode.  Maybe they just hadn’t hit their stride yet.

Manhunt in Space, plus short General Hospital (B+).  Yes, the short is a clip from a very old episode of General Hospital.  And the “movie” is actually cobbled together from episodes of a short-lived 1950s TV show called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.  This is a funny episode, with amusing commentary and an entertainingly bad “movie” to boot.  Rocky is a square-jawed all-American-type space ranger, and he has a dorky, scrawny sidekick named Winky.  A gal named Vena is apparently part of the crew too, but the guys boss her around like a waitress and she doesn’t bat an eye.  Very funny.

Soultaker (B-).  I had seen this one before, and I thought I remembered it being funnier than this.  From 1990, this movie was written by the female lead, who bears an unfortunate and oft-remarked resemblance to Tonya Harding.  Anyhow, four young people are in a bad car accident in which their souls are thrown clear out of their bodies.  A dark angel or grim reaper or something, played by Joe Estevez (younger brother of Martin Sheen), starts chasing them all over creation in order to slurp their souls into these palm-sized rings he carries around.  Not bad, but not one of the best.  I was surprised to find that the writer-star of Soultaker, Vivian Schilling, has a website and has apparently had a couple of novels published.  Good for her!  Special bonus interview with Joe Estevez himself, who proclaims that he doesn’t have a problem with MST3K making fun of him and the movie, while still insisting the movie is pretty good.

Final Justice (B).  The inimitable Joe Don Baker (Mud) stars as a Texas deputy sheriff named Thomas Jefferson Geronimo who catches a murderous Mafioso named Palermo who’s trying to make a run for the border.  For some inexplicable reason, the State Department gives Geronimo the job of escorting Palermo back to Sicily.  But the plane is unexpectedly grounded on the island of Malta , and the rest of the movie unspools there as Palermo escapes and Geronimo tries to catch him.  Pretty funny, although the hecklers rely a little too much on Baker’s rotundity for punch lines.  Special bonus interview with the director, Greydon Clark.  Why do these guys agree to these interviews?  They cannot help but try to defend their movies, despite the evidence before our own eyes.  Not surprisingly, he reveals that the government of Malta was trying to encourage filmmakers to shoot there, which is why a movie that’s all about a Sicilian mobster takes place entirely outside of Italy .

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Movie review from Movie Man Mike

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) C+. I generally don’t like it when older movies I’ve seen are remade. There is always the desire of the new filmmakers to do something different with the move—like maybe change the story. And when it comes to a classic movie like the 1951 version of this movie, I would just as soon keep the original. Don’t mess with a good thing.

The story is much the same from the original (at least insofar as I can recall), but there seemed to be less of an emphasis on the capacity of the human race for violence and perhaps a bit more emphasis on the general condition of the human race and of the planet as a whole (famine, global warming, etc.). The message of the aliens was to save the planet from its people. It’s a bit preachy. Also, I wasn’t really all that convinced that the characters were able to change the minds of the aliens insofar as extinguishing the human race. I just didn’t see it. From a visual perspective, I enjoyed the special effects in this updated film. I also thought Jennifer Connelly (Noah) was a good casting choice. John Cleese (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) gave a nice performance in a more serious role for him. I didn’t really care for Jaden Smith’s (After Earth) character. I thought Kathy Bates (Titanic) did a nice job, but she seemed a little too Hillary-esque as the Secretary of Defense. And I didn’t really care for the fact that she was speaking not only for the President of the United States, but she had the gumption to speak for the world. Not that the latter might not happen under certain unnamed administrations, it just seemed a little too contrived that the Secretary of Defense would (or could) deny a superior race access to the leaders of other foreign countries.

The Martian Child

DVD review from The Borg Queen

Martian Child B

I never heard of this movie before Netflix recommended it to me. It had a cast with names of people I recognized so I thought I’d give it a try. I went in with no expectations at all. All in all, I was pleased. The story centers on the relationship between David Gordon (John Cusack, The Paperboy) and a young boy, Dennis (Bobby Coleman, The Family Man). David is a science-fiction writer and recent widower. Prior to his wife’s death, they began the adoption process. After his wife dies, he learns that he has been matched with Dennis, a 6-year old available for adoption. David at first grapples with whether or not he can be a single father, especially considering his grieving. When David first meets Dennis, Dennis is isolating himself from the other kids by concealing himself in a large cardboard box, claiming that the sunlight hurts him. David learns that Dennis is convinced that he is from Mars and does things like wear a belt made of batteries to keep himself from floating away (due to the lighter gravity on Earth, of course). David begins to feel a connection with Dennis and decides to go forward with the process. The remainder of the movie, which takes place during the “trial period” for the adoption, is about the struggle of David to learn to interact with Dennis, who has various behavior problems, and for Dennis to learn how to bond with David. Along the way, Dennis demonstrates some peculiar abilities that also raise the question of whether Dennis truly is from another planet. I did not know how the story would end, and found it enjoyable. And, I even shed a couple of tears at the end. So, I’ll give Netflix a nod for picking a movie I never heard of, but actually enjoyed. The movie also stars Joan Cusack (School of Rock), Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards), Oliver Platt (Pieces of April), and Richard Schiff (I Am Sam).

I Love You, Man

Movie review from The Movie Snob

I Love You, Man (B).  You probably already know the set-up for this movie: the always-entertaining Paul Rudd (This Is 40) plays a guy who gets engaged, only to discover that he has no close male friends to be his groomsmen, much less his best man. He gets increasingly concerned about this state of affairs, which eventually leads him to befriend a slacker dude played by Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), which friendship ironically threatens the very engagement that inspired it. In short, it’s a romantic comedy about male friendship instead of an ordinary romance. It had very few clunker moments, and I enjoyed it throughout. But I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had seen it in a crowded and spirited theater instead of at a Saturday morning matinee with about 3 other people in the theater. Oh, and it should go without saying that the “R” rating is amply justified by the rampant vulgar language. I wonder if these movies would do as well–or even better–at the box office if they cleaned up their act a little bit…

Twilight

Nick at Nite favors us with a DVD review

Twilight

Ordinarily, I am drawn towards all things Vampire, Zombie, etc … As such, one would expect that I would devour Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. That said, I have not read the books, and I did not camp out to see the movies. Frankly, I am just not that interested in reading a book or seeing a movie based on any teenage love story – even if it involves Vampires (isn’t this every episode of an afterschool special with a little horror mixed in?). So, I will admit that I was shocked when my wife rented this movie and it turned out to be good. My wife loved it. Of course, she had read the book. As a non-believer (in the movie, not Vampires), I was ultimately swayed by a new twist on an old tale. These Vampires – all impossibly young – are vegetarians. They only eat animal flesh. Mostly, I appreciate the complicated back story that my wife was explaining to me during the movie. I give Meyer credit for her creativity, and I say check it out. Also, I was surprised to learn that sunlight does not kill Vampires and that they don’t sleep in coffins.

The Regensburg Lecture (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

The Regensburg Lecture, by James V. Schall, S.J (St. Augustine’s Press 2007). On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany. The title of the lecture was “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections.” A few days later, there was an intense negative reaction to this lecture in the Muslim world. I was curious about what exactly the Pope had said, but never curious enough to find and read the text.

This little book contains the text of the lecture (about 16 small pages), prefaced by about 130 pages of reflections on that lecture by Father Schall, who is a professor of government at Georgetown University. It also contains an August 2006 essay by Father Schall entitled “On the Term ‘Islamo-Fascism,'” which is also available online at http://www.ignatiusinsight.com.

The book and lecture are dense but interesting. The passage of the lecture that seems to have provoked the most outrage was the Pope’s quotation from a dialogue written by a Byzantine emperor in the late 1300s. As the emperor was facing imminent siege by Muslim forces, it is not surprising that he was not particularly complimentary of Islam, but the remarks that the Pope focused on were the assertions (1) that attempting to spread religious faith through violence is unreasonable, and (2) that acting unreasonably is contrary to God’s nature. The Pope discusses the strain in Islamic thought that God is so utterly transcendent that His will bears no relation to our categories of rationality. He concedes that similar strains of thought have been known in Christian philosophy as well, but he insists that reason and the reasonableness of God are fundamental to Christianity, rightly understood, from its very beginning. And he argues that the university should and must struggle to maintain its openness to all aspects of reason. He acknowledges and argues against the tendency in modern thought to leap from a sensible premise–that science can measure only physical reality–to an unproved conclusion–that only physical reality exists. As I say, it is a dense lecture, and Father Schall only partially demystified it for me. But I enjoyed it, and I appreciated getting to see firsthand what had caused those riots and such.

Alien Trespass

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Alien Trespass (C). The conceit of this movie is that it is supposedly a long-lost print of a 1957 alien-and-monster movie that was supposedly tied up in legal battles and was never supposed to be released. (So we learn in a fake newsreel that rolls at the very beginning of the movie.) Eric McCormack (TV’s Will & Grace) plays the main character, an astronomer whose body is a temporarily possessed by an alien marshal on the trail of a deadly one-eyed green space monster called a Ghota. Many of the genre’s conventions are in place: teenagers who see the monster and escape, police officers who don’t believe their story, cheesy special effects, a plucky blond waitress who stands up to the monster, the astronomer’s luscious and doting brunette wife (wait, was that part of the convention?), etc. Anyhoo the movie’s problem is not a lack of fidelity to the source material–it’s an excess of fidelity. Those movies generally weren’t very good (with exceptions like The Day the Earth Stood Still), and this one really isn’t either. Featuring Robert Patrick (Walk the Line) and Dan Lauria (TV’s The Wonder Years) as two of the main cops.

Bolt

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Bolt (A-). As Metacritic.com says, this movie got “generally favorable reviews,” and imdb.com says it grossed $114 million in the USA, but I have the idea that it is viewed as a bit of a flop. Personally, I enjoyed it a lot. Yes, it borrowed from Toy Story and The Truman Show for the plot: a cute white dog named Bolt (voice of John Travolta, Hairspray) stars in a science-fiction/action TV series in which he has super powers, and he has been raised to think that everything that happens in the show is actually real. It happens that he is accidentally separated from his co-star and owner, a little girl named Penny (voice of Miley Cyrus, LOL), and so he must embark on a double journey: from NYC to Hollywood, and from his fantasy world to reality. Along the way he teams up with a streetwise alleycat named Mittens (voice of Susie Essman, Volcano), and she kind of steals the show in my book. I thought it was charming and heartwarming. Thus, the high grade.

MST3K Volume 12

DVD Review from The Movie Snob

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Volume 12. I don’t think I’ve written about MST3K before, but I’m a long-time fan of this show that ran for maybe 7 years on Comedy Central and 3 more on the Sci-Fi channel. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the basic idea is that they show bad movies, and at the bottom of the screen you can see three silhouettes, as though people were sitting in front of you in a movie theater. The silhouetted people make wisecracks about the movie from the opening credits through the closing credits, and the wisecracks are what make the show funny. There are also segments in which the wisecracking guys put on little skits of their own, but those parts are not usually all that amusing. Oh, and two of the guys are robots. Since cancellation, they’ve put out a few episodes on single-episode DVDs and many more in four-episode volumes, and I have most of them. I just haven’t been reviewing them on the Court. So here are my reviews of the four episodes that make up this collection. I skipped most of the skits, so the reviews relate just to the movie parts.

The Rebel Set, plus short feature Johnny at the Fair  (B). Sometimes the guys show a “short” before the main feature, and the short is often funnier then the movie. That is probably true in this case. Johnny at the Fair is about an annoying little boy who wanders away from his parents at a Canadian world fair, and the commentary is very entertaining. The Rebel Set is a lame 1959 crime movie about three losers who get recruited by the owner of a beatnik coffee house to commit an armored-car robbery. I never watched the TV show Get Smart, but the criminal mastermind guy apparently played the Chief on that show. The movie is goofy, and the commentary is funny. To my surprise, they got one of the stars to give an interview for the disc.

Secret Agent Super Dragon  (B-). This is a 1966 James Bond rip-off with a super-smug secret agent whose code name is, yes, “Super Dragon.” The plot is incomprehensible, and SASD’s fight scenes and escapes from certain death are ridiculous. So is the shlubby guy who plays SASD’s Walmart version of Q. The guys have some fun with this one, but it’s not one of the best entries in the series.

The Starfighters  (D). According to the Internet Movie Database, this is the second worst movie of all time, and I believe it. Released in 1964, it is like Top Gun stripped of any action or interest whatsoever. Two long chunks of the movie are taken up with stock footage of fighter aircraft refueling in flight. There’s a dramatic sequence in which one of our courageous pilots may have crashed during a training flight—and they show absolutely no flying at all. Even the hecklers can’t do much with this utterly lame waste of celluloid.

Parts: The Clonus Horror  (B+). Did you see the 2005 movie The Island, starring Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!) and Scarlett Johansson (He’s Just Not That Into You)? If so, then you’ve seen Parts, a low-budget 1979 sci-fi film about an unscrupulous corporation that runs a clone farm as a spare organ bank for the wealthy and powerful. There was a copyright lawsuit against The Island folks, in fact, and it settled before trial. This disc actually features an interview with the director of Parts, and he talks a little about that lawsuit, although I’ll bet he wasn’t supposed to under the terms of the settlement. Anyhoo, the movie has aspirations to serious social commentary, but it is rather weighted down by its low budget and bland acting. Peter Graves (Airplane!) shows up as a top bad guy (spawning numerous Biography jokes), and beloved Dick Sargent (TV’s Bewitched) is one of the evil doctors at Clonus. A solidly entertaining episode.