Rome (The Complete Second Season)

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Rome (The Complete Second Season). Season 2 picks up immediately where Season 1 left off. (If you haven’t seen Season 1 yet, be warned that Season 1 spoilers follow.) Julius Caesar lies dead on the floor of the Roman Senate, and Lucius Vorenus’s wife Niobe has just committed suicide rather than suffer an honor killing at Vorenus’s hands. The major question hanging over Season 2 (if you don’t know your history) is who will emerge as the first man in Rome: Mark Antony or Octavian Caesar. As in Season 1, two ordinary Roman soldiers play important roles in the action and give us a look at life for non-noble Romans–Vorenus, who is put in charge of law and order in Rome’s commercial district, and his comrade-in-arms Titus Pullo. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although Season 2 doesn’t have quite the same narrative drive as Season 1–probably because it lacks a single dominating figure like Julius Caesar. But there are plenty of vivid secondary characters beyond Vorenus and Pullo: Cicero, Brutus and his scheming mother Servilia, Octavian’s mother Atia and his sister Octavia, the Jewish strongman Timon, and of course, as the season winds down, Cleopatra. As in Season 1, there is ample graphic violence and nudity and graphic sex, so this is no show for children, but these flourishes do vividly illustrate the point that Roman customs and morality were a far cry from the Judeo-Christian ethic that still generally prevails in the modern West. I haven’t watched all the mini-features on the five DVDs that make up this set, but the couple I have watched, like “Antony and Cleopatra,” were definitely worth it.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid

New review from The Movie Snob

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (D+). Granted, I am not the target audience for this movie about a kid named Greg and his first year of middle school. I believe it is based on a popular kids’ book that I have never read. And I never went to middle school — where I went, there was an elementary school for grades 1-8 and a high school for grades 9-12. But still, it should have been easy enough to like a movie about a small-for-his-age kid and his totally uncool best friend Rowley as they try to navigate the treacherous social currents of a new school. I did get a couple of chuckles out of it, but I think I had the same problem with this movie that I did with the TV show “The Wonder Years” — the protagonist was basically a narcissistic jerk. The Wimpy Kid even kind of looked like the Wonders Years kid. So I didn’t even root for him to overcome his trials and travails, because he pretty much deserved whatever he got.

Plain, Honest Men (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, by Richard Beeman (Random House 2009). I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Beeman speak at a luncheon last year. His topic was constitutional interpretation, and his angle, as I recall, was that people who try to ascertain the “original intent” of the people who wrote the Constitution are doomed because there was no single original intent that was shared by all the authors when they wrote things like the “necessary and proper” clause or the Equal Protection Clause. He was selling autographed copies of his recently published book, so I picked one up. I had never read an account of the great convention that devised the Constitution, so it was pretty much all new to me, and I generally thought it was interesting. And I picked up one fact that was definitely new to me, that the Constitution had already been ratified by nine states (which was the magic number before the thing went into effect) before New York voted on it — I had thought that New York’s vote was critical, and that one reason we venerate The Federalist Papers is that they helped persuade New Yorkers to ratify. Anyway, if you have a particular interest in the subject, I highly recommend this book; for people whose interest is more casual, it is probably a little too detailed.

Oceans

A new review from The Movie Snob

Oceans (B+). Okay. When it comes to ocean-going documentaries, I’ve seen ’em all. The five-DVD set of “Blue Planet.” Dolphins and Whales 3D. Aliens of the Deep. Ghosts of the Abyss. Deep Blue. Ocean Wonderland. Jaws. You name it, I’ve seen it. So I’m not that easy to impress anymore. Yet, this new Disney offering (narrated by Pierce Brosnan, The World’s End) was undeniably impressive.  Of course there were the usual money shots of frolicking dolphins, mighty humpback whales, giant schools of sardines getting eaten by everything in sight, and a few of hapless sea lions getting attacked by orcas or great white sharks. (Not too gruesome, but maybe upsetting for the littlest kids.) But there were some weird novelties too, like the weird blanket octopus, and a huge battle between armies of identical-looking crabs off the coats of Australia. And there was a remarkable sequence of a diver swimming unprotected alongside a great white shark at twice his length. But for all that, I still started to feel a little restless by the end. Still, if you haven’t seen many ocean documentaries, this is a good one to see. Either this or Jaws.

Fanboys

DVD review by The Movie Snob

Fanboys (D-). I went into this with low expectations, but I was still badly disappointed. Four Star Wars nerds in Ohio, 1998, decide to head off to California, where they will break into George Lucas’s ranch and try to steal a copy of the as-yet-unreleased Episode I. They have a variety of unfunny encounters with equally nerdy Star Trek fans, gay bikers, and Las Vegas escorts. Their one female friend Zoe (Kristen Bell, When in Rome) has to come bail them out of jail and joins them for the rest of the quest. Several familiar folks make cameo appearances (Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, William Shatner, a couple of guys from TV’s The Office). It adds up to a whole lot of nothing. Kristen Bell is cute, but she seriously needs to get a better agent. Skip it.

Sweetgrass

A new review from The Movie Snob

Sweetgrass (D+). The critic in the Dallas Morning News loved this movie, which is a documentary about sheep ranching in Montana. I was open to the possibilities — I went and saw Winged Migration, for crying out loud. And I enjoyed Into Great Silence, the near-silent documentary about life in an austere French monastery. But this one left me cold. Sure, it was kind of interesting seeing sheep up close and personal. (Seeing a ewe give birth from extreme close range was kind of gross.) But two hours of it was a bit–or a bunch–much. And hearing a sad cowboy call his mom on a cell phone from some remote mountain ridge was just, well, sad.

City Island

New review from The Movie Snob

City Island (A-). From the trailers, I thought this would be an unbearable ethnic-stereotype-based sit-com of a movie. Which struck me as a shame, given the good cast: Andy Garcia (Dead Again), Alan Arkin (Sunshine Cleaning), Julianna Margulies (Ghost Ship), and Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island). But then I read some decent reviews and thought I should check it out. Good call! Yes, the Rizzo family is a bit of a caricature of a loud, obnoxious Italian family in the Bronx suburb of City Island. But the springs of the plot unwind like a well-oiled machine as the secrets kept by the various family members–and there are some doozies–gradually start to leak out. Everyone involved turns in a nice performance, and by the end I was feeling genuinely moved by the travails of this crazy brood. It may be too melodramatic for some tastes, but I say give it a try.