Earth

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Earth (B+). It pains me to say it, but all nature documentaries are starting to look a little bit alike to me. This is a good one, to be sure, spanning the globe from Arctic to Antarctic, but I couldn’t avoid a little feeling that it was all stuff I had seen before. Actually, I had seen part of it before; I have watched the first episode of the TV miniseries Planet Earth, and some of the footage of the great wildlife migration across the Kalihari Desert is used in the movie. I don’t know how much more footage from the TV show got recycled for the movie, but it could be quite a bit. Anyway, the movie is certainly well done. There shouldn’t be too much in here to upset little kids, as most of the scenes of predators catching their prey are cut just before the blood starts to flow. The camera does linger on a couple of great white sharks leaping out of the water with seals in their mouths, but even then there’s no blood to be seen.

MST3K: 20th Anniversary Edition

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition.This is an above-average collection from one of my favorite TV shows. As extras, three of the discs contain interviews with the cast and crew about the history of MST3K, and the fourth contains footage from a panel discussion with the cast and crew as a sci-fi convention.

First Spaceship on Venus (C). My internet research indicates that this was a 1960 co-production by East Germany and Poland, dubbed into English and released in America in 1962. Scientific study of a meteorite in the Gobi Desert reveals a recording made by a civilization on Venus. A multi-national team sets out for Venus on a spaceship, survives a meteor storm, and investigates a strangely dead world. George Lucas must have seen this movie before he made Star Wars, as it features an R2-D2-like robot that plays chess with the crewmembers. A few funny riffs, but nothing particularly memorable about this one.

Laserblast (B). This is a bizarre 1978 release. A punk teenager who can never seem to manage to button his shirt finds an alien laser rifle in the desert. He enjoys blowing stuff up with it, but the thing has unfortunate side effects. First he starts to develop a metallic sore on his chest, and second he occasionally mutates into a green humanoid that enjoys blowing stuff up and killing people with the laser gun. Also unfortunate are the real actors who for some reason agreed to be in this movie, such as Keenan Wynn (Kiss Me Kate) and Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes). Funny commentary on this one.

Werewolf (A). The highlight of this collection is this 1996 straight-to-video “horror” movie.This movie has too many awesome qualities to mention them all. An appearance by Martin Sheen’s brother Joe Estevez (Soultaker). Numerous actors with bizarre and inexplicable accents. Terrible werewolf special effects. Great riffing by the Satellite of Love crew. This one can’t be missed.

Future War (B). This was a 1997 straight-to-video release about a Jean Claude Van Damme look-alike who escapes to planet Earth with an angry cyborg and his T. Rex pets in hot pursuit. An ex-hooker and junkie who’s studying to become a nun hits him with her van and then takes him back to her old halfway house. Nobody would believe his crazy story if these darned dinosaurs didn’t keep popping up and killing people. The special effects are amazingly bad, and continuity is a pipe dream. In the hero’s climactic fight with the cyborg, big red scratches across his chest flash in and out of existence every second or two. Definitely an above-average episode.

Dead Calm

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Dead Calm (C-). With the lovely Nicole Kidman’s 42d birthday less than a month away, there’s no better time than the present to cozy up with one of her films. I had not seen this one before, and I was not particularly impressed. A married couple played by Kidman (Margot at the Wedding) and Sam Neill (The Dish) are sailing across the Pacific in their fine yacht when they come across a derelict schooner. A delirious young man played by Billy Zane (BloodRayne) rows over to their boat from the derelict raving that everybody else on board his boat is dead from food poisoning. Neill’s character astutely rows back over to check out the death ship while the crazy guy is asleep. Turns out Zane’s character is a homicidal maniac, and he wakes up in time to take off with Neill’s yacht, his wife, and his little dog too. Neill goes into pursuit as best he can on his sinking tub. After that, it’s a pretty typical cat-and-mouse thriller with some typical stupidity on the parts of the good guys. Even Nic’s loveliness can’t keep this movie from capsizing.

Terminator Salvation

New movie review from The Movie Snob

Terminator Salvation (C-). I was no huge Terminator fan to begin with, but I thought they were at least above-average action fare–even T3: Rise of the Machines. This one, however, didn’t work for me. There’s an opening flashback in which a condemned murderer named Marcus Wright agrees to donate his body to science after his execution. Then we flash forward to 2018, when the world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland and the war rages on between Skynet (the machines) and the Resistance (the humans). John Connor (Christian Bale, Laurel Canyon) is a charismatic leader within the Resistance, although he is not part of the high command. Wright suddenly turns up, looking none the worse for having been executed a couple of decades earlier, so he sets out to try to discover who has brought him back to life and why. Lots of stuff gets blown up as killer robots pop up every so often. The attractive Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village), plays Connor’s very pregnant wife and is given nothing in particular to do. Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club) surprisingly pops up in a small role.

For me this movie had some problems rather like Christian Bale’s early bomb Reign of Fire, in which dragons(!) are roused from hibernation and lay waste the Earth. One big problem is how the humans are able to keep a decently functioning military intact, despite the robots’ awesome power and firepower. How do the humans manufacture all their jets, helicopters, weapons, and other technological wonders? And pump and refine all the oil necessary to make them go? For that matter, what do these people eat? There’s not a crop or herd animal in sight, and if there were the machines would presumably terminate them. Finally, how do these people (John Connor in particular) survive getting pummeled and tossed by the Terminators? Seems like one punch from these metallic behemoths ought to crush your organs to jelly. I can suspend disbelief as to a military computer system becoming self-aware and attacking humanity. But when a virtually unstoppable robot throws a human being across a room and into a metal girder, I can’t believe that person is getting right back up to continue the fight.

The Mummy (1932)

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Mummy (1932) (B). I expected this old-time horror movie to be a cheesy movie centering on a slow-moving bandaged monster strangling victims in ancient tombs. It was a lot more sophisticated than that, with a plot that is fairly similar to the 1999 Brendan Fraser remake. Mummy Imhotep (Boris Karloff, Frankenstein) is reanimated when a foolish young archaeologist opens a cursed box and reads from the Scroll of Thoth. Ten years later, Imhotep resurfaces, but he is passing for a living human being, albeit of cadaverous and creepy mien. He directs a British archaeology team to dig in a certain spot, where they swiftly discover an undespoiled tomb of an ancient Egyptian princess. Imhotep’s purpose, it turns out, is to use the Scroll of Thoth to revive his long-lost love, and he will stop at nothing to accomplish his goal. Given the love story, this Mummy is a rather more sympathetic monster than most.

Monsters vs. Aliens

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Monsters vs. Aliens (C). I didn’t expect much out of this animated feature, and it delivered about what I expected. Reese Witherspoon (Mud) voices protagonist Susan, a woman who gets hit by a meteorite minutes before her wedding to a jerky TV newscaster. The radiation turns her into a 50-foot giant (and turns her hair completely white), which prevents the wedding from taking place and incidentally causes the U.S. government to capture her and sequester her with some other monsters like Dr. Cockroach, the Missing Link, and a blob named B.O.B. But when an alien attacks the Earth to recover the mysterious element that turned Susan into Ginormica (her government-assigned monster name), the government releases the monsters to save the day. Susan is an appealing character, and it’s cute to imagine Reese Witherspoon behind her voice, but the plot is slight and the humor is not all that hilarious. I imagine kids would like it. The only other people in the theater with me were a woman and her little boy, and I heard them laugh once or twice.

Six Days Seven Nights

Netflix review from The Movie Snob

Six Days Seven Nights (B-). This is an utterly disposable little movie, but it was just fine for a weeknight timekiller. And somehow my pal The Borg Queen channeled it into her glorious huge TV directly from the internet, so we didn’t have to wait for Netflix to send the DVD to her! Astonishing. I noticed a couple of teensy pauses in the movie here and there, but this film is impervious to tiny imperfections, given certain glaring holes in the plot. The eccentric Anne Heche (Cedar Rapids) stars as a tightly wound New Yorker who jets off on a South Pacific vacation with her new fiance (David Schwimmer, Madagascar). A painfully contrived work-related emergency requires her to island-hop somewhere else, and she has no choice but to take a rusty old plane piloted by a Jimmy-Buffett-esque old pilot (Harrison Ford, Cowboys & Aliens). When she insults his plane, I seriously expected him to reply that it was the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. Of course they crash on a deserted island, and they bond despite their quarter-century age difference. Stupid and predictable? Yes, but sometimes that’s all you want in a movie.

Star Trek

Movie Man Mike adds his two cents’ worth about . . .

Star Trek (A). This film is spot on. Two things make this film great. Casting and the script. The actors do a wonderful job of channeling the original cast of this franchise. Zachary Quinto is downright frightening as a young Spock. The script is also well done. At first, I was a little annoyed that the script alters the timeline of events from the original storyline, but after sleeping on it, I decided that it kind of makes sense from a theoretical science standpoint, so I am okay with it. And in any event, the changes surely won’t alter the entertainment value of the next episodes that are sure to come from the reinvention of this franchise. I particularly enjoyed learning that they used the voice of Majel Barrett for the computer voice on the Enterprise. And, it was fitting that they dedicated the film to Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett Roddenberry. I won’t give any plot spoilers, but I recommend this one.

Garden of Evil

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Garden of Evil (C+). This was the last of a trio of Westerns I bought as a package, along with Rawhide and The Gunfighter. It is only a middling movie, but I must say it looked great on The Borg Queen’s giant HD TV. It was filmed in Cinemascope, which I gather was some sort of ultra-widescreen format. Anyway, three Americans are stranded in sleepy Mexican village when the ship they are traveling on blows its engine. There’s the mysterious and laconic Westerner (Gary Cooper, High Noon), the voluble gambler Fiske (Richard Widmark, How the West Was Won), and the hot-headed young bounty hunter Daly (Cameron Mitchell, Death of a Salesman). Then the lovely Leah Fuller (Susan Hayward, Rawhide) bursts onto the scene, promising scads of money to anyone who will travel with her into the Mexican wilderness to help her rescue her injured husband (Hugh Marlowe, The Day the Earth Stood Still) from a collapsed gold mine. The three Americans, plus one Mexican fellow, sign on for the journey deep into the territory of the deadly Apache Indians. Drama and adventure, more or less, ensue. It’s not particularly believable, but the scenery is nice, and it’s hard not to like Cooper and Hayward.

Management

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Management (B+). I went into this independent flick with low expectations. The Dallas Morning News reviewer gave it only a C, and I saw a trailer that made it look absolutely terrible. But it stars the irrepressible Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!), not to mention Jennifer Aniston (We’re the Millers), so I resolved to give it a chance (at a matinee). I was pleasantly surprised. Zahn is well-cast as Mike, a man-child who works (and lives) at a motel owned by his parents in a small town in Arizona. Aniston is Sue, an employee of a company back East that deals in corporate art, i.e., paintings you see in hotel rooms. Mike is understandably smitten when Sue checks into the motel, and he sets out to romance Sue in his own inept fashion–he’s rather like an older and much less worldly Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. His stalkerish behavior would make him totally unsympathetic–except that Sue, who is sad and dissatisfied with her own life, is not totally unreceptive to Mike’s overtures during her brief stay. That’s all the excuse Mike needs to spend his life savings on a one-way ticket to Baltimore, where he shows up at her office unannounced. Things unspool from there. Woody Harrelson (Zombieland), who is not one of my favorite actors, is perfect as Sue’s former boyfriend Jango, a former punk-rocker turned yogurt mogul. Maybe it was just my low expectations, but I really enjoyed this movie.

Rawhide

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Rawhide (C-). This 1951 Western starring Tyrone Power (The Sun Also Rises) and the lovely Susan Hayward (Garden of Evil) just wasn’t very good. The setting: a stagecoach station somewhere in the remote wilderness, manned by a grizzled old hand and tenderfoot Tom Owens (Power). A stagecoach stops for lunch; its passengers include Vinnie Holt (Hayward) and her infant niece, whom she is taking back East. But word arrives that four outlaws are on the loose in the vicinity, and company policy forbids the transport of children under such circumstances, so Holt and her niece are stranded at the station. After the stagecoach leaves, the outlaws show up, led by George Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe, The Day the Earth Stood Still), with a plan to rob the next gold-laden stagecoach passing through from California. The grizzled old hand is quickly dispatched, and for the rest of the movie we wonder whether Tom and Vinnie will survive the inevitable showdown with the outlaws. Personally, I couldn’t be bothered to wonder very hard about it.

Star Trek

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Star Trek (B+). How curious that in all my years of blogging I have never reviewed a Trek movie. But, as it happens, we started The Movie Court in February 2003, and the last Trek movie, Nemesis, was a 2002 release. As everyone knows, the guy behind TV’s Lost, J.J. Abrams, is directing this reboot of the franchise with an origin story about James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and the rest of the original crew. The result is a solid action/science-fiction movie. I would (and did) complain that one or two of the hand-to-hand combat scenes were very badly and choppily edited so that you couldn’t even tell what was going on. (I seem to notice this problem in a lot of movies these days–is it getting more common, or am I just more aware?) But if you like sci-fi and action movies, you should enjoy this film even if you don’t like Star Trek at all. And if you do like Star Trek, as I do, I think you’ll like it a lot because it has plenty of little nods to the original series. (For example, the assured presence of Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, National Treasure: Book of Secrets).) And the young actors and actresses who take the helm are generally well cast and do a fine job. (Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), however, seems like a poor choice for Scotty.) But Trekkers may not love it, for reasons divulged after the spoiler alert.

*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***

Actually, I don’t think I’m committing too much of a spoiler, but better safe than sorry. As you may already know, the movie involves time travel. Specifically, the villain is from the future, and he’s eager to deal out worlds of hurtin’ to the young Federation of Planets, home to our young Kirk, Spock, et al. My beef, which I suspect many hardcore Trek fans will share, is that this villain performs deeds that effectively rewrite longstanding Trek history. Without being unnecessarily specific, I can say that certain characters are killed and certain planets are destroyed such that certain familiar events from the original Star Trek series can never happen the way we remember them. And these events are of such a magnitude that it seems safe to say that the history of the whole Federation will have to be different. A reviewer in The Weekly Standard complained that this is a lazy use of time travel that is unworthy of serious science fiction, and that the 1960s series handled a similar scenario much better and more memorably in the famous episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” I would agree, and add that it seems lazy to me as well because it relieved the filmmakers of the obligation to be faithful to the various TV incarnations of Trek, since they can chalk any inconsistencies up to the changes in history caused by their own movie. So although I enjoyed the movie–and I give high marks to most of the young actors and actresses who step into these familiar roles and make them their own–it did not leave me entirely satisfied. I think The Borg Queen will agree with me.

17 Again

Film review from The Movie Snob

17 Again (B). The Borg Queen and I caught a matinee of this flick starring heartthrob-of-the-moment Zac Efron (Hairspray). I think Big is a much overrated movie, so I was not expecting much from this Big-in-reverse tale. Perhaps as a result, I rather enjoyed it. First we get the backstory: in 1989, Efron’s character Mike O’Donnell passes up a chance to play college basketball to marry his (pregnant) high school sweetheart. Fast forward 19 years or so, and Mike (briefly played by Matthew Perry, The Whole Nine Yards) is an unhappy man, estranged from his two children and on the verge of divorce from the same high school sweetheart (now played by Leslie Mann, Knocked Up). An encounter with a mysterious old man soon turns Mike back into his high-school Zac-Efrony self. With assistance from his best friend (dork turned dorky software millionaire), Mike enrolls in high school and tries to figure out the purpose of his quest. It’s no Citizen Kane, but I found it a pleasant diversion. I do feel bad for Melora Hardin (TV’s The Office), stuck in yet another thankless big-screen role–this time as the school principal who is wooed by the hapless computer mogul).

The Gunfighter

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Gunfighter (B). According to Entertainment Weekly, this is a classic Western (1950) only recently released on DVD, so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s a pretty good little movie. Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird) stars as Jimmy Ringo, a famous outlaw and gunslinger who, at 35, has grown tired of his life of notoriety. He seeks out his long-estranged wife in the frontier town of Cayenne, but he finds he cannot easily leave the past behind. Hot-headed young guns want to test their mettle against him, and others seek revenge against him for past crimes, real or imagined. Having grown up knowing Gregory Peck only from his portrayal of Atticus Finch, I doubted his ability to play a fast-draw cowboy, but he turns in a surprisingly believable performance. And at 85 minutes, the film doesn’t dawdle much. I also liked the short featurette “The Western Grows Up.”

Sunshine Cleaning

A movie review by The Movie Snob

Sunshine Cleaning (C+). I think this movie is from the same producers who brought you Little Miss Sunshine — it even stars Alan Arkin, like Little Miss Sunshine did. But despite the efforts at sunniness by the two female leads, this is a pretty grim story. Amy Adams (Junebug) stars as Rose, a single mother who is burdened by a low-paying job working for a maid service, a pathetic affair with a married man (Steve Zahn, Management), and a little boy who’s getting into trouble at school. Her lover suggests she could make more money running a crime-scene clean-up service, and she drafts her ne’er-do-well sister to help her (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada). And we learn more stuff about their background that’s also very dark. It’s not a bad movie, but it somehow comes off a little contrived or forced or something.

Adventureland

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Adventureland (B). This is a coming-of-age story set in the halcyon year of 1987. A smart, sensitive guy named James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, The Village) has just graduated from college and is looking forward to spending the summer in Europe before going to journalism school at Columbia. Unfortunately it turns out that his family has just suffered a financial setback, which means he’s got to stay in Pittsburgh and get a summer job. His only option, it soon develops, is to work the (crooked) games at a dumpy amusement park called Adventureland. His co-workers turn out to be an interesting crew that quickly distract him from the woeful turn his summer has taken — the guitar-toting mechanic who may or may not have played a gig with Lou Reed, the melancholy philosopher who smokes a pipe and loves Gogol, the voluptuous Lisa P., and of course the girl he falls for, the sad and wounded Emily (Kristen Stewart, Twilight). It’s a pretty good movie. And I couldn’t help but notice a certain similarity to my own life — after I graduated from college in 1990, I spent the summer living at home and sacking groceries at a Kroger before heading off to law school. It wasn’t quite as zany as an amusement park, but I did get to dress up as a gorilla for about a week during “Zoo Days.” And I met a cute checker that I dated for a while afterwards. So this movie really kind of spoke to me.

Spinal Tap concert review

Review by The Movie Snob

The three stars of This Is Spinal Tap (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer) are touring with a show called “Unwigged and Unplugged,” and I saw their performance in Dallas this evening. I thoroughly enjoyed it. They played for almost two hours, and they covered many of the most memorable songs from Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind, interspersed with some comedic repartee and some reminiscences about the movies. They even took some questions from the audience. (They were all softball questions from gushing fans, as I recall. If I had gotten the mic and screwed up the courage, I would’ve asked Guest what happened to make his last movie, For Your Consideration, such a misfire.) The guys play and sing well enough for me, and of course the material is hilarious. Of course, the songs from Spinal Tap sounded a lot different in these acoustic renditions, but the crowd still ate up “Stonehenge,” “Give Me Some Money,” “The Majesty of Rock,” “Listen to the Flower People,” “Big Bottoms,” etc. The songs from A Mighty Wind sounded pretty much the same as in the movie, with McKean’s wife Annette O’Toole joining the band for “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” and “The Good Book Song.” They did some other songs I’d never heard before, which were all enjoyable enough except for one unfortunately scatological one about Elvis Presley. And they did a very funny, very sped-up version of “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones. I give this show an A.

Fleetwood Mac concert review

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Three friends and I saw the Fleetwood Mac show at the American Airlines Center last night. I think we all generally thought it was a good show. Christine McVie is not participating in this tour, but Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks all are in. They played a solid set of around 2 hours. Of course they focused on songs that did not originally feature Christine McVie on lead vocals, and they did lots of album tracks from Rumours. Lindsey Buckingham dazzled on the guitar, especially on a version of “Big Love” that he played by himself on acoustic guitar. Stevie Nicks looks like she hasn’t aged a day since the 80s, and she sounds pretty much the same too–maybe her voice is just a touch lower and huskier. Mick Fleetwood looks pretty demented, and I never understood a word he said when he addressed the audience. Somewhat to my surprise, they played only one of Stevie Nicks’s solo songs that I noticed, “Stand Back.” Anyway, the band sounded pretty good, and they did “Tusk,” “Say You Love Me,” “Go Your Own Way,” and most of the hits that Nicks did lead vocals for like “Gypsy” and “Dreams.”

The downsides: The volume was pretty comfortable for maybe the first two-thirds of the show, but then they suddenly seemed to jack it up to a painful level, where it stayed for the rest of the show. A couple of super-extended guitar and drum solos got a little torturous after a while.

And I have to complain about the AAC. We were on the first row of the uppermost balcony, section 321. Who designed these seats? They simply are not large enough to accommodate normal-sized adults. The four of us could not simultaneously sit back in our chairs, or our shoulders would have been totally jammed together. My buddy Mark, who’s over 6 feet tall, must have really been suffering. For $60, I would think we could get full-sized chairs!

But on the whole, it was a worthwhile show. I give it a solid B.