Easy Virtue

Movie Man Mike delivers a different spin on a current release

Easy Virtue. (B+). This was a great light-hearted film. The quick English wit reminded me a bit of an Oscar Wilde play, but this one was based upon a play written by another English playwright, Noel Coward. The casting was spot-on, with Kristen Scott Thomas (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) as Mrs. Whittaker, the mother. Colin Firth (Bridget Jones’s Diary) plays Mr. Whittaker, the father. Larita Whittaker (Jessica Biel, Total Recall) is an American racecar driver who has just married the Whittakers’ son, John (Ben Barnes, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian). Larita is a bit older than John. From the git-go, Mrs. Whittaker makes it clear that she disapproves of Larita and what’s more, she doesn’t want Larita and John to leave their country estate to move to the big city of London. The two women declare a polite war on one another and the fun begins. The butler, Furber (Kris Marshall, Love Actually), also provides some great comic relief. I recommend this independent film to our readers. It’s a refreshing break from the action-packed summer blockbuster movies.

The Hangover

A movie review from The Bleacher Bum

The Hangover: Sometimes a movie knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more. The Hangover is that type of movie. It doesn’t try to send a message; it doesn’t try confuse with twists and turns; and it surely doesn’t pull on the heart strings. All it does is make you hurt with laughter. It honors the long-standing American tradition of the debaucherous Las Vegas bachelor party. And it pulls no punches. One of the guys is getting married. The groom and the three groomsman travel to Sin City to party. A chicken, Mike Tyson (Tyson), a baby, a stolen cop car, Rain Man’s suit, a mattress, and an unpleasant naked kidnapped Asian gangster are left in their wake. (Make sure you stay through the credits.)

Bleacher Bum Movie Scale: Homerun, Triple, Double, Single, Strikeout

The Hangover: Homerun with runners on base

Up

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Up (B+). The animated short that precedes this new Pixar release is called Partly Cloudy, if memory serves. We all know that storks bring new babies, but did you ever wonder where the storks get the babies from? This enjoyable short proposes one answer to that question. You’ve probably heard all about the feature presentation–a grumpy old widower (voice of Ed Asner, TV’s Mary Tyler Moore) ties about a million helium-filled balloons to his house and takes off for adventure in South America. A rotund little cub scout accidentally stows away on his front porch. The two of them reach South America and have adventures. Truth be told, the movie kinds of drags in the middle. But the opening sequence, which tells the story of the widower’s childhood and marriage in just a few minutes, is marvelous and heartbreaking, and the end of the movie picks up the steam that the middle is sorely lacking. It’s worth seeing, but it could have been better

Phoebe in Wonderland

A review from The Borg Queen

Phoebe in Wonderland: A-

I loved this film. I knew nothing about it when I downloaded it from my Netflix queue to my TV, except that I recognized some of the people in the movie. It centers on a 9-year old girl named Phoebe, played by Elle Fanning (Dakota Fanning’s younger sister). The Netflix description just says that a girl gets into trouble into school and gets a part in the play, Alice in Wonderland, upon which the characters begin to speak to her. While that is generally true, the story is so much more. This story is actually about a young girl onsetting with a mental illness. The film captures the torment and confusion the child faces during this transition period, the blame and guilt parents impose on themselves, and the problem of labeling someone with a disease. It also portrays the frustration, anger, and protective feelings siblings deal with when growing up with a mentally ill sibling. Once the movie began, I couldn’t stop watching. The caliber of acting in this film was superb. Elle did a phenomenal job and portrayed her character with emotion and honesty far beyond her years. There was one scene in particular with her mother where she begins to cry because she is so scared, confused, sorry, and a wealth of other emotions that you can’t help but feel like you want to jump into the TV to console her. The movie also stars Felicity Huffman (TV’s Desperate Housewives), Bill Pullman (Independence Day), Patricia Clarkson (TV’s Frazier), and Campbell Scott (Music and Lyrics). This is an inspirational and honest movie that presents this topic in an endearing, entertaining way.

Easy Virtue

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob

Easy Virtue (C-). What could be more up The Movie Snob’s alley than a movie set in 1920s England and starring Kristin Scott Thomas (Gosford Park) as a snobbish Brit? Throw in Colin Firth (The Last Legion) as her war-damaged husband and Jessica Biel (The Illusionist) as the brazen American race-car driver who marries into the family, and the movie ought to work. But it just doesn’t. None of the characters is very sympathetic–not even Firth’s, who is clearly supposed to be. I guess we’re also supposed to root for Biel’s character, because she bothers to learn the servants’ names and because Thomas’s matriarch treats her so poorly, but I didn’t find her character likeable either. Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), who plays Biel’s husband, is a total cipher. And, as my movie-going compadre pointed out, Biel’s dramatic speech at the end seems modern to the point of anachronism. I wonder whether it is really part of the original Noel Coward play. I doubt I will ever bother to find out. Skip it.

Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist

Nick at Nite’s latest review

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Youth is wasted on the young. This is not the greatest movie ever made – it is not even Michael Cera’s best work – but it is a quirky, sometimes funny, often charming tale of young love. Nick and Norah – who are both in or just out of bad relationships – are pushed together by fate – the search for a drunk friend and an underground concert. Their trip through New York City in a beaten up yellow Yugo is an entertaining ride. This movie made me want to be 18 again. I give it an “A.”

Eagle Eye

Nick at Nick pulls no punches

Eagle Eye

Does anyone really care what Shia LaBeouf is doing if he is not wrecking a car, breaking into a pharmacy, or appearing in a Transformers movie? This movie is bad. LaBeouf is set up as a terrorist by some Orwellian computer that is trying to function as an all encompassing “Homeland Security” program for America. Of course, the computer goes all Hal on us and LaBeouf must race to save us all. I was bored and confused. Skip this movie. I give it an “F.”

Outlander

Nick at Nite takes us back in time

Outlander

A few months ago I considered going to the dollar movie to see this film. I should have – I would have saved the extra three bucks it cost me to see the movie in the comfort of my own home. Here is the premise. A spaceship – carrying what looks like a human – crashes to Earth during the reign of the Vikings. Our intrepid spaceman, played by Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ), must help his new Norse friends kill an alien-dragon this that he has chased across the solar system to Earth. This movie would have played much faster if the spaceman had not dropped his laser cannon in the water in the first ten minutes of the movie. I give it a “D.”

Last Chance Harvey

New review from Nick at Nite

Last Chance Harvey

I took a long flight to New York recently. The diversion on the plane was this film. The film features Dustin Hoffman (Barney’s Version) and Emma Thompson (Men in Black 3) in a unlikely romance. Hoffman, the boorish American, stars as a somewhat pathetic and distance father who is about to lose his job as a jingle writer. He bumps into and then spends the day with Thompson, a lonely and proper Brit, in London. Hoffman is in London for his daughter’s wedding. After several awkward exchanges, Hoffman leaves his daughter’s wedding early, misses his plane home, is fired from his job, and starts to court Thompson in an airport restaurant. I recommend this movie if you are stuck on an airplane. I give it a “smelly food, screaming child, and captain has fastened his seatbelt.”

The International

Movie Man Mike reviews a fairly recent release

The International (B-) This film had a lot of potential. It might have been better if it were written as a James Bond film. Instead, Louis Salinger, a former Interpol agent played by Clive Owen (Children of Men), is working for the New York District Attorney’s office alongside Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman, played by Naomi Watts (King Kong). The two are investigating some questionable banking transactions by the third largest bank in the world. Each time Salinger gets close to uncovering the bank’s big secret–that it is financing world conflict–his witnesses die and the trail nearly disappears. Ultimately, Salinger has to go outside the bounds of the law to bring the bank down. One of my favorite scenes is a shoot-out that takes place at the Guggenheim in New York. I’ll never be able to visit that museum again without an exit strategy and without constantly looking over my shoulder for gunmen. I enjoyed this film, but in the end, the resolution of the conflict was a little underwhelming.

Equilibrium

Video review from Movie Man Mike

Equilibrium. (B-) This film was broadcast on the Sci-Fi channel this past weekend. I was a little surprised that I had not seen it or heard of it before, as it stars Christian Bale. But the film was made before Bale debuted in Batman Begins and attained superstar status. It’s probably a good thing that the film wasn’t widely released because it might have hurt the debut of Batman Begins. Despite these observations, I enjoyed the film. If you like a film with lots of action-fighting and shooting–then this film will entertain you. The storyline is a little weak. The film is set sometime after the Third World War wherein mankind has determined that it can eradicate all further wars with a simple drug that suppresses all emotion. (Taking all emotion out of a film has a tendency to make it a little slow.) Removal of emotions also means removal of art and personal memorabilia that evoke feelings. In any event, there is a resistance force and Christian Bale is part of a special force of trained clerics whose job it is to eradicate the resistance. This film has shades of The Matrix, Gattica, and Blade Runner.

Night at the Museum 2

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (D). I disliked the first installment in what is looking frighteningly like a franchise, so why did I see the sequel? Well, it seemed to get marginally better reviews, and, well, okay, because Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning) just looked so darned cute in the previews as Amelia Earhart. She cutes it up with great vigor, but even her wide-eyed cutesiness isn’t enough to save this bland waste of celluloid. Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder) returns as Larry Daley, a former museum night watchman who finds himself up to his eyeballs in “adventure” when a magical Egyptian tablet is taken to the Smithsonian Institute and starts bringing all the exhibits to life. One of the exhibits-come-to-life is an evil Egyptian pharoah, played with zero menace but lots of lisp by Hank Azaria (Shattered Glass). He has a plan to take over the world, but if you’re like me, you’ll find it impossible to care. Skip it.

Atheist Delusions (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, by David Bentley Hart (Yale 2009). Recently, a handful of prominent atheists have written best-sellers. I haven’t read them, but I gather from the many book reviews I have read about them that they are defenses of atheism, attacks on theism (especially the big C, Christianity), or both. Then I read a review of this book and decided to check it out. It wasn’t quite what I had expected, because it doesn’t really respond to the atheists on philosophical grounds. Rather, Hart spends most of his firepower developing a historical thesis that the “Christian revolution” was one of the most startling and positive influences on the development of civilization in human history. He then develops a secondary thesis, which is that many of the virtues espoused by the New Atheists are vestiges of Christian morality that (1) would never have grown up in pagan soil and (2) are unlikely to retain any vitality or persuasive force in an atheistic or secularist milieu. I enjoyed the book, in part because Hart bends over backwards not to overstate his case. His argument is not that Christians are everywhere and always wonderful people. His argument is simply that the pagan society that preceded Christendom was much worse, and that the cause for wonder is not that so many Christians have failed to live up to Christianity but rather that any system so contrary to man’s worse instincts should have erupted onto the world stage and acquired any influence at all.

Up

New review from Movie Man Mike

Up. (A). Thumbs up for “Up”! Pixar nails it with this film. The characters in this film are really rich and charming. Ed Asner (Elf) is perfect as the voice of Carl Fredrickson and I never suspected that Christopher Plummer (Beginners) was the voice of Charles Muntz until the credits rolled. The dialogue is clever. Many of the lines will have you laughing out loud and you may be compelled to repeat them long after the movie is over. The beginning of this film was a bit of a surprise because it opens with the relationship between main character Carl Fredrickson and Elie Docter. The previews I had seen did not prepare me for this portion of the film, but it’s a wonderful part of the larger story of Carl Fredrickson’s life adventure. Without giving out any spoilers, let me just say that this is a film the whole family will enjoy and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Summer Hours

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Summer Hours (B). This French movie got a rave review from the Dallas Morning News. When the film opens, a woman is celebrating her 75th birthday with her three children and several grandchildren. She is a widow and has devoted her life to a fine collection of art, and she takes her oldest child, Frederic, aside to share her thoughts of mortality and her feelings about what should happen to the collection when she dies. He resists, but a year later she has died, and the rest of the film is mostly how the three siblings (including Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy, as the only daughter) deal with her death and the liquidation of her estate. It is a quiet, thoughtful movie, and I definitely enjoyed it. But I can’t say it really stirred me or anything like The Savages did.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Film review from The Movie Snob

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (B-). This is a documentary about a Canadian heavy-metal band called Anvil. If I remember right, it had a brief moment of notoriety when it played at some mammoth concert in Japan with the likes of The Scorpions and Bon Jovi in around 1983. Twenty-five years and twelve albums later, Anvil still toils in obscurity. Its core duo are Steve “Lips” Kudlow, who plays the guitar and is the lead singer, and Robb Reiner, the drummer. Lips in particular still cherishes the dream of making it big, even though he’s married and has a little boy and has an unglamorous day job with a catering service. Robb, who’s also married, seems a little more realistic and level-headed, but that may just be because he’s quieter than the manic Lips. It does play a lot like This Is Spinal Tap, but there is some pathos to it because Lips so desperately wants to make a hit record and go on the big tour. I had a little bit of a hard time warming up to the movie because I really felt sorry for him.

Cinematic Titanic (live)

Stage review from The Movie Snob

Cinematic Titanic. Okay, maybe you’re getting tired of reading DVD reviews of the long-defunct TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000. Well, bear with me a little longer, because many of the geniuses behind that show are at it again. To summarize, they take really bad movies and make them hilarious by making jokes about the movie during the movie. I gather that Joel Hodgson and several of the other people are now doing their old MST3K shtick on direct-to-DVD releases under the name “Cinematic Titanic.” And they even have this live show, which they did at Dallas’s Lakewood Theater on Friday and Saturday, June 5-6. I caught tonight’s show, in which they riffed on a terrible 1968 monster movie called “Danger on Tiki Island.” It was a really funny show. There were five people riffing on the movie, so there was a joke made almost every time there was a pause in the movie — and there were a lot of pauses. The house was pretty full and very excited, which added to the fun. But apparently there were a few folks there who weren’t familiar with the concept in advance. After the show, I heard someone behind me say to her companions, “Well, aren’t you glad I brought you out for the stupidest thing ever?” I got a big kick out of it myself, and I am inclined to order some of the Cinematic Titanic DVDs online to see if they are as good.

Now Wait for Last Year (Book Review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Now Wait for Last Year, by Philip K. Dick. This is the third story in the Library of America collection Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s. This is one of Dick’s trippier stories. In the mid-21st century, humanity is caught in a war between two alien species–the humanoid aliens from Lilistar and the insectoid reegs. Humanity allied with the Lilistarmen, and unfortunately the Lilistarmen are slowly losing the war. A doctor is caught up in the intrigue of the way when he is tapped to join the entourage of humanity’s supreme leader, UN Secretary Molinari. Meanwhile the doctor’s estranged wife gets hooked on an insidious new psychedelic drug called JJ-180 that seems to cause the user to time travel, and the sinister Lilistarmen use her addiction to force her to try to infiltrate the Secretary’s compound. Once the drug enters the scene, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not anymore. A good story.

Dr. Bloodmoney (Book Review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb, by Philip K. Dick. This is the second story in the Library of America collection Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s. I got a kick out of it. At first we meet some characters in the San Francisco Bay area. We come to realize that some time earlier, there was some sort of serious nuclear accident. Then there is an actual nuclear war, and the rest of the story is about, well, how the characters get along after the bomb. The story is somewhat realistic about how survivors band together in towns outside the old cities–kind of like Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank–but of course there’s lots of weird stuff too, as people develop ESP and other weird powers in the wake of the atomic disaster. And there’s an astronaut stuck in high Earth orbit, unable to get down after the war, who kind of brings everyone together with his radio transmissions as he passes overhead. A good story.