Gods Behaving Badly (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips (2007). I remembered hearing some good things about this novel when it came out a couple of years ago, so when I had the chance I picked it up from one of those bargain booksellers. (I think it was Daedalus–fittingly enough for a book based on Greek mythology.) What if the ancient Greek gods and goddesses were real, and what if they were living in a crumbling old flat in modern-day London? In Phillips’s novel, Apollo has a cheesy psychic show on cable TV, his sister Artemis is a dog-walker, and Dionysus runs the hippest nightclub in the neighborhood. But the centuries are taking their toll on the deities, and they are getting the uneasy feeling they might not be so immortal after all. When Apollo falls in love with a mere mortal woman named Alice (with an assist from one of Eros’s arrows), an unlikely series of events threatens disaster for everyone. A cute premise and a breezy read.

Dial M for Murder

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Dial M for Murder (B). I acquired this Hitchcock classic as part of a “Turner Classic Movies” four-pack. It’s a pretty good little flick. The lovely Grace Kelly (Rear Window) plays a wealthy woman who is married to a British ex-tennis player but in love with an American mystery writer. Her husband is wise to her affair, but he is most distressed by the possibility that he will lose the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed. So he contacts a weaselly fellow he knew in college, and with the utmost urbanity he recruits him to commit the perfect crime–murder! I can say no more without perhaps committing unforgivable spoilers, so I’ll just say it’s a good movie. But I do think there is a rather big implausibility in the middle of it. Enjoy!

Hotel for Dogs

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Hotel for Dogs (C+). Your options can get pretty limited when (1) you’re trying to pick a movie that both you and The Borg Queen will be able to tolerate, and (2) you’re renting out of one of those “Red Box” machines. Last night, this is what we ended up with, a Nickelodeon/DreamWorks production about a brother and sister who turn an abandoned hotel into a refuge for an ever-growing pack of stray dogs. The dogs are cute, and the movie is generally entertaining enough. Lisa Kudrow (Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion) has a thankless role as the siblings’ unpleasant foster mother; Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) fares somewhat better as their exasperated social worker/case manager. The star is a pretty, teenaged actress heretofore unknown to me named Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew); she reminds me of a young Daphne Zuniga (Spaceballs).  (Apparently she is the niece of Julia Roberts, who is no favorite of mine.)  Anyhoo, this is a decent, family-friendly movie, even if it won’t win any Academy Awards.

The Messenger

A new movie review from The Movie Snob

The Messenger (B-). The Dallas Morning News gave this movie a glowing review, so I hurried on out to see it opening weekend. It was good, but far from great. Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster, X-Men: The Last Stand) is back in the States after being injured in Iraq, and for the last three months of his enlistment period the Army assigns him to the task of notifying the next of kin of soldiers who have been killed (whether in combat or in accidents). He is paired up with a veteran notifier, Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland), who is a recovered alcoholic and perhaps a touch crazy. The notification scenes really work–I’ve read that Foster and Harrelson weren’t told what was going to happen in those scenes, so their reactions would be more authentic. But the rest of the movie, such as Montgomery’s tentative relationship with a war widow (Samantha Morton, Code 46), generally didn’t feel all that authentic to me. So it’s kind of a mixed bag of a movie. And is it just me, or does Ben Foster’s voice sound just like Michael Douglas’s (Romancing the Stone)?

Rome and Jerusalem (book review)

From The Movie Snob

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations, by Martin Goodman (Vintage 2007). I have really taken a shine to popular history books about ancient Greece and Rome, and this recent book is squarely in that vein. The focal point of this book is the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire in 66 A.D., and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70. After a brief sketch describing the fall of Jerusalem, Goodman spends most of this book comparing and contrasting almost every aspect of Roman and Jewish culture in the decades leading up to the disaster, trying to understand why such staggering violence erupted after many decades of relative peace. At the end of the book, he describes the aftermath of the struggle, the political reasons that led Rome to take the unusual step of forbidding the reconstruction of the Temple, and the response of the young Christian movement to the events and aftermath of 70 A.D. It is a long and dense book–557 pages of very small type–but I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Movie review from The Movie Snob

(Untitled) (C-). This is an intermittently amusing independent comedy about the New York art scene. The hirsute Adam Goldberg (2 Days in Paris) plays Adrian Jacobs, a composer of atonal musical works in which metallic buckets are commonly featured instruments. His brother Josh (Eion Bailey, Almost Famous) churns out colorful cloudscape paintings for hotels and doctors’ offices, but he wants to be taken seriously as an artist. And then there’s gallery operator Madeleine (Marley Shelton (Scream 4), who’s a dead ringer for Heather Graham of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), who dates Adrian while using Josh as her meal ticket so she can afford to show cutting-edge art involving stuffed opossums hanging from a chandelier, or the aptly titled piece “Light Bulb Going On and Off.” There are a few chuckles to be had–I especially enjoyed a scene in which a filthy rich “collector” invites a girl to his place, and she conks her noggin on some very artistic blue squares sticking out of the wall in an inconvenient spot–but the movie drags a bit even though it’s only 96 minutes long.

The Ugly Truth

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Ugly Truth (D). It stank. Now, don’t get me wrong. It is possible to make a good movie in which a prim and proper woman is thrown together with a rough-around-the-edges rogue, and erotic tension ensues. Think of classics like Gone With the Wind, The African Queen, and The Empire Strikes Back. But by no means think of this recent DVD release starring Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up) and Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera). She’s Abby, an uptight morning-TV-show producer; he’s Mike, a crude Howard Stern type who’s foisted on her in order to boost ratings. Mike is supposed to have unique insights into what makes men and women tick, but in reality he’s just a foul-mouthed boor with a uniquely low opinion of men and women alike. In the real world, Abby would respond to this walking hostile work environment with a lawsuit, but in this cretinous film things turn out differently–perhaps because, just beneath the surface, Abby is almost as vulgar and unpleasant as Mike is. This movie will not only waste your time, but I honestly believe it will make you worse as a person. I lament that it grossed $89 million in this country alone. Avoid it.