An Affair to Remember (C). I had never seen this classic film, which I believe was further immortalized in Sleepless in Seattle — which I have also never seen. Anyhoo, you probably know all about this movie already. Cary Grant (Bringing Up Baby) plays international playboy Nickie Ferrante. Nickie is taking a cruise from Europe to New York, where he will give up his freedom by marrying a fabulously wealthy heiress. But he doesn’t count on meeting feisty Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison), who is herself engaged to marry a wealthy businessman. Romance and (supposedly) comedy blossom on the ship, and the lovestruck couple agree to test their feelings by going their separate ways for six months, and then meeting atop the Empire State Building if they still feel the same way at that time. The second half of the movie is pure melodrama. Frankly, the movie just didn’t do it for me. The comedy is lame, and there are some really painful musical numbers. But of course Cary Grant is a pleasure to watch, and Deborah Kerr is lovely. And I was surprised at one scene in which the two main characters are both revealed to be Catholic, in a nice and respectful way. So it’s not a complete waste of time by any means.
The Living Sea (B-). Once again, Little Rock’s IMAX theater puts itself on the cutting edge by showing a fresh documentary from . . . 1995. Narrated by Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated), this is a pretty standard ocean-going documentary, placing a slight extra emphasis on the interconnectedness of all the oceans. There was some wasted time, as with extended footage of a bunch of surfers, but there were also some decent stretches, such as a look at a peculiar salt-water lake in the Pacific island nation of Palau. Considering the price tag was under $6 for the movie ticket, popcorn, and coke, I thought it was a pretty good deal.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (D). I don’t like the Harry Potter movies; so sue me. The one before this one had a few moments of humor that made it reasonably tolerable. Something about a love potion making the rounds at Hogwarts, I do believe. But this film indicates that the last one was an aberration. HPATDHPI is a determinedly grim and gray spectacle as Harry and his two chums Hermione (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Ron have to go out into the big, wide world to try to defeat the evil Sauron, er, I mean Lord Voldemort. There’s lots of running about, a few fight scenes that are cut so rapidly you have no idea what is happening, and a couple of brief but unpleasant torture scenes. It’s rated PG-13 for a reason, people.
The Big Lebowski (A-). I am sorry I have missed out on the pleasure of this Coen brothers movie for so long. A plot summary can’t begin to convey how bizarrely off the wall the film is. Jeff Bridges (Starman) is an amiable California slacker named Jeff Lebowski, known to his friends simply as The Dude. He likes to drink, smoke marijuana, and bowl with his buddies Walter (John Goodman, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi, The Island). But then a couple of thugs mistake him for a wealthy old man who happens to share his name, and then when the old Lebowski’s trophy wife (Tara Reid, Josie and the Pussycats) gets kidnapped, he taps The Dude to be his ransom courier. Things quickly spiral out of The Dude’s comprehension, much less his control. Julianne Moore (Children of Men) is hilarious as the old man’s avant-garde-artist daughter. A couple of dream sequences are way, way over the top. (How does one conceive of the image of Saddam Hussein getting your bowling shoes for you?) Oh, and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers is in the movie, too. I laughed out loud several times, and I never stopped rooting for The Dude. If you like the Coen brothers’ quirky sense of humor, this cross between Raising Arizona and What’s Up, Doc? should hit your funny bone.
The Social Network (A-). This movie’s been out a while now, but I just now got around to seeing it. I don’t know why it took me so long. I think I was concerned my expectations would be too high after seeing so many good reviews. Plus, I was annoyed to read that parts of the movie, which is about the invention of Facebook, were apparently just made up by the filmmakers. Nevertheless, I found the movie completely absorbing. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, Zombieland) is a Harvard freshman, a computer genius, and an utter misfit. His girlfriend dumps him in the first few minutes of the movie, and in a vengeful, drunken state, he concocts a website that will allow users to rate the attractiveness of the gals at Harvard. It quickly crashes the school’s computer system. Then, it’s on towards the behemoth we now know as Facebook. Zuckerberg got sued over Facebook in two different lawsuits, and much of the story is told through deposition scenes and flashbacks from those scenes. It all works, although Zuckerberg himself–so lacking in warmth and human understanding that he almost seems autistic–remains a mystery to the end. I’d be fascinated to know his side of the story.
Rented this from the ATT on-demand service. I wish I could demand that ATT give me back two hours of my life. I think I was supposed to be horrified about the merger of human and animal DNA in this creepy little film. I was horrified by it when I saw it in The Fly and The Fly II. Adrien Brody (wasn’t he supposed to be a good actor?) and Sarah Polley (ahh, Zombies) head up this film and the science lab. Obviously, their science experiment goes too far (it grows, is smart, has wings, a wicked tail, and wants to reproduce). This movie specializes in the lowest common denominator — what would it be like if a human and animal hybrid had sex with a guy, and then what would it be like if the human and animal hybrid changed sexes and then raped a woman. Wow. What a bad idea. I am sad to do it, but I give it an “F.”
True Lies for the year 2010. Perhaps the praise is too high, but this movie reminds me of True Lies – action packed, some humor, impossible stunts, and an original take on a rehashed story. A group of older spies must come out of retirement to stop the folks that are trying to kill them one by one. Mayhem ensues as the older spies prove they still know a thing or two about a thing or two. I give it a “B.”
Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by DiarmaidMacCulloch (Viking Penguin 2010). What can I say about this massive tome? It is 1,016 pages of text, excluding endnotes and bibliography. I read it because (1) I remembered thinking that MacCulloch’s slightly smaller 2003 book The Reformation: A History was pretty good (without really remembering the book itself), and (2) I’m a committed Christian who would like to understand the history of the faith a lot, or at least a little, better. Although MacCulloch is an engaging writer, and I suppose he knows his stuff, I’m not sure that my reading his new book has improved my understanding at all. The history is so vast and sprawling, I could absorb virtually none of it. For example, the author’s attention to the development of Christianity in the eastern Orthodox churches and other places outside of Europe and North America is commendable, but there is no way I’m going to remember any of the stories he tells about that development or the people and personalities involved. Maybe other members of the reading public will get more out of this book than I did. For me, sad to say, reading this book was pretty much a waste of time. Perhaps it will come in handy as a reference book.
In case you’re curious, MacCulloch himself is a former believer; in the introduction he says he is still “a candid friend of Christianity.” He goes on to say, “I still appreciate the seriousness which a religious mentality brings to the mystery and misery of human existence, and I appreciate the solemnity of religious liturgy as a way of confronting these problems. I live with the puzzle of wondering how something so apparently crazy can be so captivating to millions of other members of my species.” Considering that introduction, MacCulloch is perhaps surprisingly respectful of the faith, but every now and then he seems to get a kick out of describing the tight spots and apparent contradictions that Christianity has occasionally found itself in. So if you’re looking for a purely friendly history of Christianity, this is probably not the one for you. Caveat emptor!
Monsters (C). This independent sci-fi movie almost escaped my notice, but I saw a capsule review of it in the Dallas Morning News and figured I should see it before it flitted back out of the theaters. The set-up sounded promising in a District 9 sort of way: After a NASA space probe burns up over Mexico, alien life forms infest the whole northern part of that country, and both Mexico and the United States build giant walls to quarantine the dangerous, giant-squid-like aliens that eventually appear there. A grungy magazine photographer working in uninfested central Mexico learns that the magazine owner’s daughter is stranded in the same area, and he is ordered to get her safely back to the USA. When they miss the last boat leaving for the United States, she illogically decides that instead of waiting for things to settle down, she will use her engagement ring to pay smugglers to take her north through the infested zone by riverboat and SUV. The photographer goes along. Although the alien special effects aren’t great, they are adequate, and it could have been a decent alien movie. Unfortunately the film makers also go for a kind of It Happened One Night feel as the grungy photographer and the pampered rich girl supposedly develop some emotional connection. The romance is not very well done, and the movie ends up a pretty mediocre affair.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (C+). I’m unfamiliar with the “graphic novel” that this movie is based on, but the previews kind of intrigued me. Michael Cera (Juno) stars as the title character, the 22-year-old bass player in a loud garage band. He’s still sort of nursing a broken heart from a painful break-up, and he’s taking a lot of crap for sort of dating a high school girl. But none of this matters when he meets new-girl-in-Toronto Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sky High). It’s love at first sight, but complications immediately ensue beyond the obvious fact that he’s already dating someone. Turns out that if Scott wants to date Ramona, he has to defeat her seven evil exes in giddy, video-game-style combat. There are quite a few witty one-liners, but the concept gets a little tired as the movie wears on. And the polymorphous sexuality that is continually discussed, if not displayed, amply earns the film’s PG-13 rating.
Megamind in 3D (B+). First of all, I say you don’t need to pay the 3D surcharge. The 3D effects are fine, but they added virtually nothing to this enjoyable animated feature. In an amusing twist on the Superman story, two alien babies are shot to Earth from a doomed solar system at the same time. The normal-looking one catches all the breaks and becomes a Superman-like superhero named Metro Man (Brad Pitt, Troy). The blue one with a freakishly large cranium becomes Metro Man’s nemesis, supervillain Megamind (Will Farrell, Stranger Than Fiction). Caught between them is savvy, saucy reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey, Baby Mama). But what would happen if Megamind unexpectedly won one of his epic battles with Metro Man? I thought this was a consistently amusing flick that tweaks lots of superhero conventions. Plus it was great to hear the voice of David Cross (TV’s Arrested Development) as Megamind’s minion — an alien fish named Minion.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (B). I heard good things about this 2007 documentary but missed it in the theaters. The bargain bin at Big Lots! gave me a shot at redemption (for the low, low price of $3!). Anyhoo, this movie is about a little-known subculture of nerds who are obsessed with playing old-school video games like Pac-Man, Centipede, Defender, and Donkey Kong. Apparently one of these fellows (and they’re all men) named Billy Mitchell set a record score in Donkey Kong back in 1982 and it held up for some 25 years. But then an unemployed fellow named Steve Wiebe got interested in the game, studied it to death, and became a contender to take away Mitchell’s title. Because Wiebe was an outsider, the gaming community kind of circled the wagons in favor of Mitchell, and the lines were drawn. Considering how low (negligible) the stakes were, this movie manages to build a lot of dramatic tension, and Wiebe and Mitchell become pretty compelling as the hero and the villain. Well worth seeing.
Suicide is not painless. It is final. It is tragic. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. This biopic is a cautionary tale of talent, success, adultery, and depression. It follows the late, great Ian Curtis and his cutting edge, post-punk band Joy Division from their start to their too soon demise. In short, Ian, the lead singer for Joy Division, struggles with his marriage to his childhood sweetheart and falls another woman while his band is touring Europe. During the tour he suffers several seizures during concerts. He is depressed over his medical condition and his affair. Just before the band is set to leave for its first American tour – he takes his life. The movie is shot in black and white. It feels like the late 70s or early 80s. It is grimy – just like England was during that time period. The movie shows why … “Love will tear us apart.” I give it an “A.”