Letters to Juliet

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Letters to Juliet (C-). OK, I was supposed to pick up something from a Redbox that I thought The Borg Queen would like, so my options were severely limited. As it turned out, we wound up watching DVDs of “The Office” instead. But I decided to go ahead and watch this subpar romance before I returned it to the Redbox. The movie is based on an interesting factoid: there is a little courtyard in Verona that is said to be the courtyard of Juliet (of Romeo & Juliet fame), and lots of lovelorn people apparently write letters to Juliet seeking advice. They leave the letters there, and a band of local people actually read the letters and write them back, signing themselves “secretaries of Juliet.” (All this is covered in an extra on the DVD.) I thought that was kind of interesting, especially since I’ve actually been to that courtyard. So anyhoo, an engaged couple from America go vacationing in Verona, only the guy is so caught up in interviewing suppliers for a restaurant he wants to open in New York that the girl (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) has to entertain herself. She finds out about this secretaries-of-Juliet business, and then she just happens to find a letter in the courtyard that has been there for fifty years. (Those careless Italians!) And when she writes the letter-writer back, the letter-writer (an elderly British woman) actually shows up in Verona, escorted by her very eligible grandson Charlie (who looks a lot like Ryan Philippe, Crash). The girl and the two Brits set off across Tuscany together looking for the Italian beau that the British lady jilted 50 years earlier, and it unspools predictably, though not believably, from there. Worth skipping.

The American

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The American (B). Be warned: this is a grim movie. George Clooney (Burn After Reading) stars as Jack, who is some sort of international criminal and probably an assassin. In the opening scene, something goes wrong for Jack in Sweden, and he hightails it to Italy where his truly evil-looking boss directs him to lie low in an little hill town and await further instructions. His next job comes soon enough; he is to custom-build a rifle and silencer capable of being quickly disassembled and hidden in a briefcase. In the meantime, he is befriended by the town’s old Catholic priest and develops a more-than-professional relationship with a prostitute named Clara. But, given Jack’s line of work, trouble is never far away. This is not a fast-paced action movie, as the movie posters have misleadingly suggested, but more of a psychological portrait of a bad man whose wicked deeds have almost, but not quite, extinguished his humanity. The movie definitely held my attention, but it is certainly not flawless. Although the film is set in Europe, the Hollywood convention of portraying prostitutes as beautiful, disease-free women with hearts of gold is alive and well. And I am still befuddled by something that happens during the film’s climax; the motivation for a critical act by one of the characters is totally opaque to me. But on the whole, I thought it was a good movie.

Postscript. Okay, having read some messages on the imdb.com board for this movie, I now understand the ending better. Things apparently didn’t happen the way I thought they happened….

A Letter to Three Wives

DVD review from The Movie Snob

A Letter to Three Wives (B). This is a 1949 film that was written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz of All About Eve fame. So you’d expect it to be well-written and have a lot of snappy dialogue, and, sure enough, it does. The set-up is this: in an unnamed small town, three female friends meet on a Saturday morning to help chaperone some underprivileged kids on a big boat-and-picnic outing. They are expecting to be joined by their friend Addie, but instead a letter is delivered to them on the pier just as they are departing, and in it Addie announces that she is skipping town that very day–with one of the three friends’ husbands! The rest of the movie consist mostly of three flashbacks, as each of the three friends ponders a particular incident that might cause her husband to be the one that’s running away with Addie. And then at the end, the truth is revealed. Although, truth be told, I thought the ending was just a tad bit ambiguous, and the comments on the movie at imdb.com tell me that I wasn’t the only one!

I bought this movie as part of a 4-pack of “Studio Classics” from 20th Century Fox. (Isn’t it remarkable how inexpensive DVDs have gotten?) The DVD for this movie also includes an episode of the TV series “Biography” about one of the stars of A Letter to Three Wives, Linda Darnell. It was pretty interesting too.

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (B). How in the world did I come to watch this 1957 film directed by John Huston (The African Queen)? Well, I’ll tell you. I was flipping through an old book of Roger Ebert movie reviews, and I happened to read his review of Six Days, Seven Nights, starring Harrison Ford and Anne Heche as a mismatched couple stranded on a deserted South Pacific island. Ebert said that this old movie was a much better take on the same basic premise. So I looked it up. Robert Mitchum (Where Danger Lives) stars as Corporal Allison, a Marine who is washed up on a South Pacific island during WWII. He discovers that the only person there is an Irish nun, Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr, From Here to Eternity). When the Japanese show up, they have to hide out in a cave, and of course some romantic tension begins to build between the two. I would agree with my fellow film critic that this is a better film than Six Days, Seven Nights, but it is undermined a little bit by some unbelievable stunts that Corporal Allison pulls in the course of the movie. But it’s definitely enjoyable and worth seeing.

Tom Petty (concert review)

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Two of my college buddies and I went out tonight and rocked out the way only three 40-something geezers can do.

1. Maple & Motor Burgers and Beer. We started out at this relatively new Dallas burger joint. The Dallas Morning News raved about it, and I like it fine but don’t really quite see what the fuss is about. My buddies, Jim and Mark, had never been before, and they were favorably impressed by the burgers. And don’t get me wrong, the food is fine. I just don’t think it’s the end-all of burgers. There were a couple of guys playing live music, and we enjoyed their rendition of “The Waiting.” I wonder if they also went to the Tom Petty show….

2. ZZ Top. I was never a huge fan of this band, which played maybe 45 minutes or an hour as the opening act. And the first half of their set was older bluesy stuff I had never heard before, so it was kind of lost on me. Also, one of the two bearded frontmen told some long rambling story that I totally missed the point of. But I enjoyed it when they played their three hits from “Eliminator” back to back to back, and they wrapped up with “La Grange” and “Tush,” which were fine. Not bad for an opening act.

3. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Now I saw these guys once before, I guess it was 10 years ago or more — they had The Wallflowers as their opening act back then. And I have to say, I think that show was better, definitely more energetic. Tonight, Tom Petty and the band were so laid-back as to be positively languid. Maybe Petty’s voice has gone downhill some, but he definitely wasn’t as yowlly as some of his songs (“Refugee,” for example) really call for. In fact, his vocals were occasionally kind of muffled and lost in the music. But I should hasten to add, it was still a pretty good 90-minute set. The crowd did quiet down when he did three or four in a row from the new album “Mojo,” but he had plenty of audience enthusiasm for the rest of the set, which included “Free Fallin,” “Listen to Her Heart,” “Learning to Fly,” “Breakdown,” “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” and “I Won’t Back Down.” And there was noticeably more energy in the encore, which consisted of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “American Girl.”

(500) Days of Summer

DVD review from Nick at Nite

(500) Days of Summer

500 Days of I am a Little Sad and Bored. I really wanted to see this movie, so much so that I put it off for nearly a year. Reason. None. I think it was destiny. Like our protagonist, I was “destined” to see this movie – well after it had been released to the theaters, on DVD, pay per view, and your local cable provider. Here is my beef. I like quirky. I am even known to tolerate a romantic comedy. However, I am usually not too happy to invest an hour and a half in a movie that is not some sort of an escape. This movie was quirky. It was not romantic comedy. Perhaps it is the inner teen in me lashing out over failed relationships, but I really do not need to see another one on the screen. It is just too true. This is why I hated The War of the Roses and What About Bob? (I know What About Bob? is not a romantic comedy – it still makes me angry). If I want to see something serious, I’ll watch a biopic or catch shark week. If I want to watch people fall out of love, I’ll follow couples to the mall. It is faster and less painful. I give (500) Days a Summer a “B” for bummer.

The Horseman on the Roof

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Horseman on the Roof  (C). This French film from 1995 could have been called “Love in the Time of Cholera,” but I think that title was already taken. The year is 1832, and a dashing young Italian patriot named Angelo (Olivier Martinez, Unfaithful) is on the run in France, fleeing the Austrian secret police. But the threat from the Austrians pales in comparison to the danger he runs into in the form of a vast cholera epidemic that is wiping out entire villages. The French army has been mobilized to try to quarantine the ravaged areas, which impedes Angelo as he tries to rendezvous with his Italian compatriots and then return to Italy. He is knocked off further off course when he befriends a French countess (Juliette Binoche, Dan in Real Life) who is trying to find her husband amidst the chaos. It’s scenic and kind of old-fashioned–a decent movie, but not a great one, in my estimation.

Inception

New review from The Movie Snob

Inception (B). It is a tribute to the director of this sci-fi/action movie that it doesn’t feel nearly as long at its 148-minute run time would suggest. Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island) plays a fugitive criminal named Cobb whose specialty is stealing corporate secrets by invading the dreams of those in possession of those secrets. He gets hired for a job that’s a twist on the standard operation: a corporate bigwig wants him to invade the dreams of another corporate bigwig and plant an idea so subtly that he’ll think it’s his own. Cobb assembles his team, and they go to work. Matters are complicated because Cobb’s dead wife is so entrenched in his own subconscious that she has a way of turning up in the middle of delicate operations. There are lots of crazy special effects, including the one I think they showed in the trailers in which the city of Paris folds up and onto itself. I’m not very good at following movies like this, where you’re never sure what’s real and what’s not, but I just went along for the ride & enjoyed it just fine.

Centurion

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Centurion (F). Sometimes my fondness for everything having to do with ancient Rome leads me astray. The Dallas Morning News helped by giving this piece of ridiculousness a good grade. In 117 A.D., Roman soldiers are on the defensive on the northern frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain. The native Picts are fighting back to good effect. When the Romans send the Ninth Legion to teach the Picts a lesson, the Picts almost annihilate the Legion and capture the Roman general. The few surviving Roman soldiers unsuccessfully attempt to rescue the general, then spend the rest of the movie running for their lives from the Picts. The movie is distinguished chiefly by the use of copious amounts of mud and gore. Liam Cunningham stands out by playing the exact same grizzled veteran soldier he played in Clash of the Titans. Olga Kurylenko, who was in the last James Bond movie, has no lines as the ferocious lead huntress for the Picts. Save your money.  Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) was in it, but I didn’t know who he was at the time.

The Kids Are All Right

A new review from The Movie Snob

The Kids Are All Right (B). This is probably not a movie a card-carrying member of the Religious Right like myself would ordinarily go see. The tale, as told by the trailers, is that two lesbians are jointly raising a teenaged daughter and son; each woman conceived one of the children by artificial insemination from the same anonymous sperm donor. When the daughter, Joni (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland), turns 18, her 15-year-old half-brother, bizarrely tagged “Laser,” goads her into calling the clinic to try to arrange a meeting with their father. Dad agrees, and he turns out to be a cool, motorcycling dude who promptly starts causing friction in their unconventional family. It’s a well-made film in which the characters behave in what seemed to me like a reasonable way, given the unusual circumstances that bring them all together. (Although it did seem a bit unbelievable that the two moms would have used the same sperm donor to conceive their respective children three years apart.)

*** SPOILERS FOLLOW ***

So unless you are totally on the sidelines of the culture wars, you must be wondering whether this movie is simply a preachy cheer for the gay-marriage movement. To me, it does seem like a cheer, but not a terribly preachy one. The lesbians’ relationship is certainly not idealized; Nic (Annette Bening, The Women) is a semi-alcoholic control-freak doctor, while Jules (Julianne Moore, Children of Men) is a vaguely discontent homemaker. Their roughly 20-year relationship has gotten so rocky that Jules and baby-daddy Paul (Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island) eventually have a full-on affair, her homosexuality notwithstanding. Once the affair comes to light, the moms and kids circle the wagons and send Paul packing. At which point, I realized how differently different people will view what has gone on. As the main characters (except maybe Paul) and presumably the director see it, and as lots of other folks will see it, Jules has committed adultery, and Paul is nothing more than a home-wrecker, a foreign invader who is properly repulsed by movie’s end. On the other hand, folks who oppose the gay-marriage movement might acknowledge that Jules has committed a breach of trust, but they won’t consider it adultery. Although Jules and Paul’s affair is an extramarital one, it won’t seem particularly worse than the hundred other extramarital affairs Hollywood will depict this year–especially given the weird angle that they have already conceived a child together. Whether the director intended it or not, I couldn’t help having a little sympathy for Paul at the end. He’s an immature troublemaker, to be sure, but when he signed up to be a sperm donor almost 20 years earlier to make some quick cash, he surely never dreamed he’d ever have any experience of fatherhood out of the deal, or so quickly bond with his kids, or equally quickly get shut back out of their lives. Whatever this movie has to say about gay marriage, it seems like a bit of a warning on the whole artificial-insemination biz.

It’s Complicated

DVD review from The Movie Snob

It’s Complicated (C-). With a cast headed by Meryl Streep (Manhattan), Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October), and Steve Martin (Bowfinger), you can’t really blame the cast for the lameness of this movie. I blame writer/director Nancy Meyers of The Holiday and Something’s Gotta Give fame. Oh. Well, it’s not like her other movies were any good either. Anyhoo, the versatile Streep stars as Jane Adler, a divorcee who has it all — a successful career as a cafe owner, a beautiful California house with ocean view, three lovely and virtually grown-up children, and enough money to hire architects to design a total remodel of said house. But she’s not over her ex-husband Jake (Baldwin), and even though he has remarried (a much younger and much less pleasant woman), Jane and Jake start an affair when they are reunited at their son’s college graduation. But her architect Adam (Martin) is a much nicer guy and is plainly interested in going out with her. What is a woman to do? It had a few laughs, but on the whole it was just kind of tawdry and unpleasant. Skip it.