Soul Surfer

New review from The Movie Snob

Soul Surfer (B-). This movie is based on a true story about a teenaged Hawaiian girl, Bethany Hamilton, who was a promising amateur surfer when the unthinkable happened — a shark attacked her and bit off virtually her entire left arm while she was out surfing. Miraculously, she survived, and even more amazingly she went on to become a competitive surfer again. AnnaSophia Robb (Because of Winn-Dixie) plays Bethany with plenty of pluck. Dennis Quaid (Flight of the Phoenix) and Helen Hunt (Cast Away) play Bethany’s concerned but supportive parents. Kevin Sorbo (TV’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) plays the family friend who basically saves Bethany’s life with his quick action. Carrie Underwood (TV’s American Idol) plays the Christian youth leader who helps Bethany get through tough times. It’s all very nice and uplifting (except for the shark attack, which is horrifying without being too gruesome), but it feels a little by-the-numbers.

The Red Garden (book review)

New from The Movie Snob

The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman (2011). Entertainment Weekly magazine gave this new novel a rave review, but the most I can say is that I liked it all right. (I’d stop trusting EW for book reviews, but it did lead me to one recent novel I really liked — I think it was called And Then We Came to the End.) Actually, this is really more of a collection of short stories than a novel. The book as a whole is about the people of the small town of Blackwell, Massachusetts, with the first chapter being about its founding in 1756 by a small rag-tag group, and each chapter moving chronologically forward usually roughly one generation. The characters are quirky, and there is a bit of what I guess they call “magical realism,” and it is well-written. But I guess I was really wanting more of a novel.

Hop

A new review from Nick at Nite

Hop

Wow. Santa should sue. He should bring a class action on behalf of all of the parents of the world that were forced to sit through this awful, mind numbing movie. The plot finds the Easter Bunny trying to pass off his title to his son, the son doesn’t want the job, and so he runs off to America. Here, young “EB,” finds an unemployed lout to be buddies and together they lean the value of hard work (from David Hasselhoff). I guess it is not all bad. I did learn a few things. For example, the Easter Bunny lives on Easter Island, the Easter Bunny and his progeny poop jelly beans, and bunnies live with Hugh Hefner (yep, this kids movie has not one, but two scenes filmed near the playboy mansion). I give this movie an “F.” It was that bad.  [Rated PG for “mild rude humor.”]

Hanna

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Hanna (B-). This movie is quite a change for director Joe Wright, who helmed the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice and also 2007’s Atonement. It’s a PG-13 thriller about a girl named Hanna who has been raised by her father in complete solitude in a remote part of Finland. There, her father (Eric Bana, Troy) has taught her survival skills, martial arts, and about a million different languages. Now about 16, Hanna wants to see the world, and soon enough she is on the run from the CIA, especially the cold-blooded agent Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). Hanna is played by the young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who deservedly gets top billing in this flick. I have liked her in everything I’ve seen her in — City of Ember, The Way Back, and Atonement, for which she was Oscar nominated. (Tom Hollander, who played the dorky Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice, turns up as a German assassin.) It’s a decent thriller, but I was never totally engrossed in it.

Born to Be Wild 3D

A new review from The Movie Snob

Born to Be Wild 3D (B+). Is it just me, or do they not make as many science-and-nature oriented IMAX documentaries as they used to? Maybe they just get crowded out by the Iron Men and TRONs that now always seem to come out in IMAX mode. Anyhoo, this is a nice, wholesome little movie about two women who made it their life’s work to care for orphaned wild animals. One works with orphaned elephants in Kenya, the other with orphaned orangutans in Borneo. I don’t think there were any upsetting shots of the baby animals with their deceased mothers, although they do describe how they found one elephant with the carcass of his mother, killed by poachers. At the end they show some of the grown-up orphans being released into the wild (or into a halfway house, for the elephants), but even that’s not really sad or upsetting. The 3D is used to pretty good effect. Worth seeing.

Just Go With It

New review from The Movie Snob

Just Go With It (C-). If I understand correctly, the original source material for this weak effort is a French farce that has already been made into a movie once, 1969’s Cactus Flower, starring Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman, of all people. Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer) plays Danny, a well-to-do plastic surgeon who hits on women by pretending to be unhappily married and pouring his soul out to them. Supposedly this works so well that he is able to basically defraud tons of beautiful women into having one-night stands with him. So our protagonist is, in my humble opinion, a creep from the get-go. Life throws him a curve when he falls in love with a 23-year-old schoolteacher named Palmer who looks like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model — which the “actress” who plays Palmer, Brooklyn Decker, actually is. Danny’s got 20 years on Palmer, but she’s still digging him until she finds the wedding band he uses to pick up chicks. Because the truth would make him look like an odious jerk, he comes up with a quick lie–he’s in the process of divorcing–and he cajoles his attractive office manager and good pal Katherine (Jennifer Aniston, The Switch) to play his soon-to-be ex-wife when Palmer insists on meeting her. And it gets a lot more complicated from there as the lies pile up. There were a few humorous moments, but on the whole, not very good. I would’ve liked it better if Danny had gotten a big comeuppance for his early caddish behavior. Oh, Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) has a small role as Katherine’s frenemy from her sorority days; she doesn’t have much to do, but she overacts it with great exuberance.

Certified Copy

New review from The Movie Snob

Certified Copy (C-). Or Copie Conforme, if you prefer the original title of this French-Italian-Belgian co-production starring Juliette Binoche (Dan in Real Life). I like Binoche, which is the main reason I sought this film out despite the mediocre review I saw in the Dallas Morning News. Although she won some sort of acting award at Cannes for her performance, I was not all that impressed with the performance or the movie. The movie begins at a press conference somewhere in Italy; an English author named James Miller is speaking about his new book, which is about the significance of originals and copies in the world of art. Binoche’s character, who is never named, attends part of the conference with a boy, apparently her son. Later, Miller goes to see the woman, and she takes him on a drive out into Tuscany, sans boy. Miller and the woman seem to have some sort of past, but what is it, exactly? The more they said and did, the less certain I was. Miller has to catch an evening train, and as time ticks away, the woman begins to come off as slightly unhinged, and he seems like a fairly standard-issue intellectualoid jerk. One scene provides a sad comment on modern European life: when she briefly ducks into a lovely old church, Miller waits for her outside and then asks her what she was doing in there — praying? — in a manner clearly indicating that an affirmative answer would be almost beyond belief. Intelligent modern Europeans, it seems, are allowed to seek answers to life’s big questions almost anywhere — art, love, reason — except in religion.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XVII

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII

The Crawling Eye. (B-) This box set starts with the very first scripted episode of MST3K ever. Despite being from the first season (obviously), this is decent episode. Mountain climbers are mysteriously dying and disappearing near a little Swiss village, and a mysterious radioactive cloud may be concealing the cause. A girl named Ann Pilgrim, who’s kind of cute except for seeming to have too many teeth (Crow remarks that she could eat corn on the cob through a picket fence), seems to have a weird psychic link to the aliens behind this strange phenomenon. As a bonus feature, this disc contains a short interview with Joel Hodgson about the making of The Crawling Eye.

The Beatniks. (B+) According to the original trailer, this 1960 release promised to explore the mysterious wave of rebellion and mutiny sweeping across America’s youth. In fact, there is hardly a beatnik in sight; just a gang of punks who apparently rob the same convenience store over and over. One of them improbably gets “discovered” for his singing talent, but his shot at stardom is threatened by the sociopathic tendencies of one of the other gang members. Entertaining episode, with an equally funny short clip from an old General Hospital to kick things off.

The Final Sacrifice. (A) This is a true MST3K classic. A scrawny little teenager named Troy is going through his deceased father’s old stuff when he is suddenly attacked by a horde of doughy, black-masked assassins. He escapes with a rather vague map drawn by his father, and he falls in with a drunken drifter with the totally awesome name of Zap Rowsdower. Seems there’s a murderous cult out there that really wants to get its hands on Troy’s dad’s old map. The film is Canadian, which gives Mike, Crow, and Servo all the more fodder for their riffing. This one is not to be missed.

Blood Waters of Dr. Z. (B). In this terrible monster movie, a former Nazi scientist (now transplanted to Florida) comes up with a chemical formula that turns him into a monster that looks more or less like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He plans to use other diabolical chemicals to turn fish into an aquatic army, although that part of the plan never really seems to go anywhere. At the same time, he plans to turn his formula to turn a human woman into a suitably scaly mate for himself. Meanwhile, a redneck sheriff and some hapless young scientist-type people try to figure out who or what is behind the terrible killing spree. Pretty amusing episode.

Of Gods and Men

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Of Gods and Men (A-). This is a movie based on true events, so I will speak frankly about the plot of the movie — read no further if you want to remain ignorant about how the movie ends. It is about a French Trappist (i.e., Catholic) monastery somewhere in rural Algeria in the mid-1990s. The eight monks there live in harmony with nature and with the Muslims in the nearby village, who appreciate the free medical clinic provided by one of the monks. But soon the shadow of violent Islamic extremists approaches the village, and the government warns the monks that they are in grave danger. The scholarly leader of the monastery, Brother Christian, is adamant that they should stay; the rest of the monks have various views on the subject. But ultimately they decided to stay, and in 1996 the Islamists came for them. It is a very moving film, especially for a Catholic like me. Non-Catholics may get a little tired of the many scenes of the monks at prayer, but then some Catholics might too. Highly recommended.

Limitless

New review from The Movie Snob

Limitless (B+). I thought this was a very good Saturday-afternoon popcorn flick. Bradley Cooper (He’s Just Not That Into You) plays Eddie Morra. When we meet Eddie in the opening scene, he’s standing on the ledge of some NYC highrise, contemplating a jump while some Very Dangerous Guys are trying to break into the apartment where he is. He then narrates an extended flashback to tell us how he got into his unhappy situation. Once about a time he was an average joe — a writer with a bad case of writer’s block who had just been dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish, Sucker Punch). Then he has a chance encounter with his skeezy ex-brother-in-law, who says he works for a pharmaceuticals company and gives him a mysterious pill that he says will make Eddie smart. Scary smart. Eddie’s at the end of his rope so he takes the pill, and it works. He’s new man, and the world is his oyster. Or is it? Is it any wonder that sinister forces and unpleasant side effects start to crop up? I thought it was a good ride.

Candide

Book review from The Movie Snob

Candide, by Voltaire. Although I went to a liberal-arts college with a strong “great books” orientation, it was a very conservative Catholic college, so this little book by a scourge of the Catholic Church during the Enlightenment was not on any of my reading lists. I thought it was very funny and quite enjoyable. The protagonist is a guileless fellow named Candide. He roams the world of the mid-1700s, always yearning to be with his true love, Cunegonde, and he suffers all sorts of trials and hardships, both natural and manmade. The philosophy of Leibniz, that this must be the best of all possible universes since God is all-powerful and all-good, is made fun of at every turn, and aristocrats and clergymen frequently feel the sting of Voltaire’s pen. But I am guessing Leibniz was no fool, and I have to wonder if his philosophy was not more subtle and sensible than Voltaire’s caricature. Anyway, the book is an enjoyable romp–kind of an anti-Don Quixote, since the mad Don roams the world trying to revive chivalry, and Candide conversely seems very modern in wanting simply to left alone with his beloved.

Persuasion

Another DVD review from The Movie Snob

Persuasion (B+). This is the 1995 production by BBC films, starring no one I was familiar with except Ciaran Hinds (TV’s Rome) as the redoubtable Captain Wentworth and Sophie Thompson from Emma in the role of Mary Musgrove. Of course it has a leg up, being based on one of Jane Austen’s novels. At 27, sensible and good-hearted Anne Eliott is virtually a spinster. Eight years earlier, she was in love with Captain Wentworth, but her closest confidante persuaded her to reject Wentworth’s proposal because he had no money and no family to speak of. Now, Anne’s father has spent them into a difficult financial position, and Captain Wentworth returns to the neighborhood a successful and wealthy man. Anne’s feelings for Wentworth have not changed, but her willingness to buck society’s expectations has. What are his feelings towards her? You can buy this CD for $5 at Target, so you have no excuse for not finding out!

The Switch

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Switch (B-). I didn’t see great reviews for this 2010 release, so I skipped it. But then I recently saw a column somewhere that gave it a few compliments, so I picked it up from the local Redbox. Jennifer Aniston (Management) gets top billing as Cassie, a 40-year-old New Yorker who decides to quit waiting for Mr. Right and to have a baby with the help of a sperm donor whom she will personally select. But the top billing rightfully belongs to Jason Bateman (Paul), who plays Wally, Cassie best friend, who has never been able to admit his feelings for her because they are buried so deeply under layers of Woody-Allen-style neurosis. Anyhoo, Cassie passes him over when it’s time to pick the baby daddy. After Cassie has her baby, she moves back to Minnesota for several years, but then she moves back to NYC with her son Sebastian, who sort of resembles Wally, oddly enough. It’s not bad flick. But is Jennifer Aniston ever going to get the movie she needs to really break out? And how long have we been asking that question now?