Hubble 3D

New review from The Movie Snob

Hubble 3D (B+). This IMAX feature almost got away from me — it’s playing at only a couple of theaters in the Dallas area, and I never even saw a Dallas Morning News review for the thing. So I made my first trip to the Mesquite Studio 30 megaplex and saw the 9:45 a.m. showing. I was the only one in the theater, so I had the best seat in the house. Anyway, it was pretty good, and there were some pretty spectacular 3D shots of distant galaxies and stuff. But the focus was pretty much on the Hubble Telescope itself, and one particular mission of astronauts to repair and upgrade the Hubble. That stuff was interesting, but I would’ve preferred more shots taken by the Hubble itself. And how about some shots of our own solar system? That would’ve been nice. Still, good stuff.  Narration by Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic).

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Cairo Time

A new review from The Movie Snob

Cairo Time (B-). This languid little movie is a Canadian-Irish-Egyptian production. Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island) stars as Juliette Grant, an American woman who is supposed to meet her U.N.-employed husband Mark in Cairo for a long-awaited vacation. But Mark is detained in Gaza for an indeterminate period of time, so he has his old U.N. buddy Tareq (Alexander Siddig, The Nativity Story) pick Juliette up at the airport. Juliette has nothing but time on her hands, and she spends a decent amount of that time with Tareq. In an American movie, they’d be hooking up before the end of the first reel, but this movie is much more restrained. There’s plenty of interesting Egyptian scenery and colorful local culture to fill up the 90-minute running time, but despite the slow pace of the movie the characters are still a little underdeveloped. Still, it’s nice to see Siddig, who was Dr. Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine all those years, getting a juicy role to sink his teeth into.

Salt

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Salt (C). The action-thriller genre may have just about played itself out, as far as I’m concerned. Angelina Jolie (Beowulf) stars as a CIA agent who, as the movie opens, gets sprung from a North Korean prison in a spy exchange. Flash forward two years and she’s back at work in Washington. A Russian defector turns up and fingers her as a Russian mole. After that, it’s pretty much non-stop Jolie action. Although the movie poster poses the question “Who is Salt?,” I actually found it relatively easy to follow the plot’s twists and turns. Not that they were remotely plausible, but at least I could generally tell who was supposed to be on which side at most points during the film. Anyhoo, if you like lots of explosions and car chases and fisticuffs, Salt should suit you fine. Personally, I’m getting close to having had enough.

Breathless

A new review from The Movie Snob

Breathless (B). A local theater is showing a re-release of this 1960 French classic directed by Jean-Luc Godard, so I seized the opportunity to fill a gap in my cinematic knowledge. I really had no idea what to expect, but it was an enjoyable enough experience. Michel is a small-time hoodlum who seems to mostly steal cars, but near the beginning of the film he unexpectedly shoots and kills a motorcycle cop in the French countryside. He then goes to Paris, where he has apparently recently begun a liaison with Patricia, a pretty American who works for a New York newspaper. They spend a lot of time together, having random existential conversations about love and stuff. He tries to collect on a big debt and to persuade Patricia to go to Rome with him. All the while, the police are closing in on him. The whole thing is very mannered and “cool,” especially the jazz soundtrack that is frequently playing. So I enjoyed it as a movie-going experience, but I wouldn’t say I really got involved in the characters.

Mansfield Park (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. I scored a nice cheap edition of this classic from Half-Price Books not too long ago. Of course, Jane being Jane, it is an excellent read, although it did seem to move just a tad slowly at times. I think that’s just because I was somewhat compromised by having seen the movie version from a couple of years ago. The heroine of the tale is meek and modest Fanny Price. From a poor family herself, Fanny is unexpectedly semi-adopted at age 10 by her wealthy aunt and uncle, the Bertrams, and whisked off to the estate of Mansfield Park. The Bertrams have two sons and two daughters, and although Fanny is not really mistreated by the Bertrams, only the younger son, Edmund, shows her any real affection and kindness. Being both bright and sensible, Fanny’s appreciation for Edmund grows into love as she enters her late teens. (Apparently in Austen’s day there was no squeamishness about love affairs between first cousins. Kind of like modern-day Arkansas.) Things become difficult when siblings Henry and Mary Crawford land in the neighborhood of Mansfield Park. Fanny alone perceives the lack of moral fiber that lies beneath the the Crawfords’ winning appearances and personalities, so she is sorely tested when Edmund falls for Mary and Henry unexpectedly decides to woo Fanny herself. A good read, of course, and it makes me want to watch the movie again for sure.

Agora

New from The Movie Snob

Agora (C). This swords-and-sandals epic from the director of The Others barely made it onto my radar screen, but once I learned about it I made sure to see it. Rachel Weisz (The Shape of Things) stars as Hypatia, a brilliant scientist and mathematician living and teaching in Alexandria, Egypt in the late 4th century. The city, it seems, is continually in political turmoil as the Roman Empire approaches its expiration date. At first the city is divided among pagans, Jews, and Christians. Soon the pagans (who include Hypatia and most of the educated folks) and the Christians provoke each other into genuine civil war; the overconfident pagans are whipped by the more numerous Christians, and the famed Library of Alexandria is destroyed by the Christian mob. Things settle down for a while, but as the Christians continue to consolidate their power it is only a matter of time before the Jews and the few remaining pagan holdouts (like Hypatia) feel their wrath. Although it is perhaps just possible that the director is actually slyly sounding a warning about Muslim fundamentalism and what folks have to look forward to if Islamists gain control in more countries than just Iran, I think the movie was intended to be just what it appears–a hatchet-job on Christianity.

The character development is poor, and the battle sequences and depictions of ancient Alexandria are not particularly spectacular, so the movie’s main interest is historical. Which necessarily raises the question of historical accuracy. How much do we really know about these battles and the life and death of Hypatia, and how accurate is this movie overall? Was Alexandria’s bishop, later canonized as St. Cyril and revered as a Doctor of the Church, the intolerant zealot and schemer he is made out to be? Late 4th century Alexandrian history is not exactly common knowledge these days, and I hope I may be forgiven a little skepticism that the Spanish film-makers went into this project bias-free. The recent book Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart actually devotes a whole chapter to this very episode in history, and he concludes that the earliest historical sources tend to contradict much of the Agora account. Of course, he may be a partisan too, and most of us lack the time, inclination, and knowledge of ancient languages we would need to figure out how accurate Agora is for ourselves. So let’s just close this review by paraphrasing something I think Roger Ebert said in a review of Chocolat or some similar movie–wouldn’t it be remarkable to see a movie in which the Christians are the happy, life-affirming people, and the pagans are the dour, killjoy types? I’m not holding my breath.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

A new review from Movie Man Mike

The Girl Who Played with Fire (B+). Last month, I wrote a review about the first film in this film trilogy. Now I can tell you about the second. This one tired me out about as much as the first. The plot and action were certainly compelling. In this film, we learn a little bit more about Lisbeth Salander, again played by Noomi Rapace. In fact, she is a bit more of the focus in this film than was Mikael Blomqvist. I liked the film quite a bit, but not quite as much as the first. The film opens with the prospect of a new, blockbuster-type news piece that Millenium (Blomqvist’s newspaper) is preparing to go public with. The story is to be about the sex slave trade in which some high-profile public officials are involved. Events take a turn and Lisbeth Salander suddenly becomes the focus of a murder investigation, and from that point on, the film never quite gets back to the original tie-in to the sex slave trade. Still, the story is gripping and Lisbeth is a great character. Like the first film, this one is a bit on the graphic side, although a little less so. I was also disappointed that the subtitles are again in white lettering and in a couple of places they are hard to read because the white appears against a white background. If you liked the first film, go see this one. I read that the third film has already been made and released, but I don’t think it has made it state-side yet. I expect it will soon. And for those of you who hate subtitles, there’s good news. I understand that they are in the process of making an American version of the film and that Daniel Craig has signed on to play Blomqvist. I don’t know that they’ve found anyone to play Lisbeth—that’ll be a tough role to fill.