X-Men: First Class

The Movie Snob declines to be assimilated

X-Men: First Class  (B).  The Borg Queen panned this movie a few weeks ago (see her review here), but I have to disagree.  As everyone knows, this is a prequel about the origins of the mutants and Charles Xavier’s school for same.  First, we get a quick look at the childhoods of two of the first mutants, the telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Becoming Jane) and the metal-manipulating Erik Lensherr a/k/a Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Centurion).  Flash forward to the early 1960s, when the CIA becomes aware that sinister forces seem to be driving both the United States and the Soviet Union towards a nuclear confrontation.  The ubiquitous Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids) plays the savvy CIA agent who discovers that those sinister forces are evil mutants, and she seeks the aid of Xavier (at first not knowing he is a mutant himself).  I was surprised to see that Mystique (played here by Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone) is roughly the same age as Xavier, since she looks much younger than he in the later movies.  Anyhoo, I thought the movie was generally a good ride.  The X-Men movies in general seem to try harder to get at the humanity beneath the awesome superpowers.  The movie has its shortcomings–it’s too long, some of the characters seem to switch sides with little or no motivation, and the Borg Queen is right that there is a gratuitous scene of a bunch of half-naked women.  Also, I was annoyed when I sat through all the closing credits to see the usual final scene, only to discover that there wasn’t one.  But on the whole the movie was definitely worth watching.

Nacho Libre

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Nacho Libre (B-).  Honestly, I have no idea how this DVD made it into my collection.  It must have been in a super-bargain bin at Walmart way back when I thought Jack Black (School of Rock) was the greatest actor working.  Anyhoo, this is very strange movie.  Maybe not The Big Lebowski strange, but getting there.  Black plays Ignatio, who is a cook at a poor Catholic orphanage in Mexico.  (Why do so many people in Mexico speak to each other in English?  Beats me!)  His secret ambition, though, is to be a professional wrestler.  He teams up with a scrawny guy who used to steal food from him, and together they proceed to get beaten up in one amateur wrestling bout after another.  They embark on harebrained schemes to try to find a way to start winning some fights.  Meanwhile, a beautiful young nun comes to work at the orphanage and steals Ignatio’s heart.  It is a goofy mess of a movie, but I laughed out loud at some of the bizarre on-screen antics.  Worth a look.

The Ghost in Love (book review)

New from The Movie Snob

The Ghost in Love, by Jonathan Caroll (2008).  This is a trippy novel.  It’s about a guy named Ben Gould, who slips on the ice, falls, hits his head, and is supposed to die.  His ghost is standing by, ready to take over its ghostly duties as soon as Ben assumes room temperature.  But then, for some unknown reason, he doesn’t die.  The ghost’s boss, the Angel of Death, shows up and says there’s been some sort of glitch, so the ghost will just have to follow Ben around while the guys working behind the scenes try to figure out why Ben didn’t kick the bucket.  Ben’s ex-girlfriend German is an important character.  So is his dog, Pilot, whom the ghost is able to converse with.  Things get progressively weirder, as the numerous “rules” that supposedly govern the cosmos (according to the ghost) continue to break down with increasing speed.  As it gets weirder, the story also gets more and more philosophical about love, fate, and human nature.  It kind of reminded me of this old sci-fi novel I read eons ago, Dinosaur Beach, which was about time travel, and how these sophisticated time travelers would go around trying to undo the damage caused by the previous generation of time travelers, only to have even more advanced time travelers show up hot on their heels to undo the damage they were causing.  Anyway, The Ghost in Love is enjoyable enough if you’re into weird stories where the Angel of Death is a guy named Stan. I doubt they’ll be making a movie out of it anytime soon.

Thor

The Movie Snob records a dissent

Thor  (A-).  I see that my fellow judge Movie Man Mike gave this comic-book movie a B- about a month ago.  Maybe I was just in the right mood for a comic-book movie today, because I thought it was really top-notch.  First we get a ton of backstory about this race of alien immortals, led by Odin (Anthony Hopkins, The Wolfman), who saved the human race from a bunch of alien frost giants and got worshiped by the Vikings as a result.  Nowadays Odin and his kin live off on their own planet of Asgard, but Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, will still enable you to cross between the two realms (if its guardian Heimdall (Idris Elba, Obsessed) will let you).  Odin’s impetuous son Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Star Trek) disobeys his father and gets banished to Earth — minus his fabulous powers and awesome hammer Mjolnir.  But then Odin has a god-sized heart attack or something, leaving a power vacuum that Thor’s untrustworthy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Midnight in Paris) hastens to fill.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, a physicist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) tries to help Thor get his bearings as a mere mortal.  I’m not saying it’s Hamlet, but I thought it was a really good popcorn flick.

Bridesmaids

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Bridesmaids  (B).  The Bleacher Bum gave this comedy a B+ a few weeks ago, and I generally concur in his judgment.  There is something sweet and vulnerable about Kristen Wiig (Paul) as she plays Annie, a failed bakery owner and unsuccessful romantic who reacts like a cornered animal when her position as the best friend of the newly engaged Lillian (Maya Rudolph, A Prairie Home Companion) is threatened by the wealthy and gorgeous Helen (Rose Byrne, I Capture the Castle).  Jon Hamm (The Town) is hilariously loathsome as Annie’s pseudo-boyfriend, as is Melissa McCarthy (Pumpkin) as the overweight, let-it-all-hang-out sister of Lillian’s fiance.  There is one gross-out scene that you shouldn’t watch if you have a phobia about vomiting, and125 minutes got a little long, but on the whole I enjoyed it.

Green Lantern

Movie Man Mike takes on another superhero flick

Green Lantern (B).  I was a little skeptical about seeing this one.  The comic book character was in the second tier of superheroes and then I heard about the CGI of Ryan Reynolds’ body and wondered what that was all about.  After seeing this film, I concluded that it’s on par with all of the Spiderman movies, most—if not all—of the Superman movies, and some of the Batman movies.  In short, it’s good, clean Summer entertainment.  The story was good.  The message was good.  Ryan Reynolds did a nice job playing a superhero.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that Tim Robbins was in the film playing a U.S. Senator, and I got to hear the voice of Geoffrey Rush (which is never bad) as one of the Green Lanterns.  I recommend this film and would advise you to stay through the first, short set of credits to see a little bonus preview of the next installment in the series.

Repo Men

Movie Man Mike sends us this DVD review

Repo Men (C-).   This was a pretty dark and gruesome futuristic film about guys who repossess artificial body organs whose users have defaulted on the very expensive payments on the organs.   I was prepared to stop watching it early on because it was so bad, but once you get past the initial set up of the storyline, it gets a little better.  There are aspects of this theme that remind me a bit of Blade Runner, only Blade Runner is a superior film in so many ways.  I generally like Jude Law and Forest Whitaker and despite their nice performances in this film, they simply chose a bad script/concept to sign up for.   If you’ve already seen this, I’m sorry.  If you’re thinking about renting it as I did, don’t bother.

Super 8

New review from The Movie Snob

Super 8  (B).  The new project from director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) is a mixed bag, but on the whole I enjoyed it.  It’s 1979 in a small midwestern town.  Six kids are making their own zombie movie with a hand-held Super 8 movie camera, and they sneak out to an abandoned train station in the middle of the night to film a scene.  As they are filming, a train starts to go roaring by, then unexpectedly derails in a fiery disaster of epic proportions.  For some odd reason, the military immediately moves in and takes charge of the clean-up operation, and then lots of other weird things start to happen around town — missing persons, thefts of electrical equipment, stuff like that.  It feels kind of like a mash-up of The Goonies and War of the Worlds.  There are some good parts: the kids are generally pretty good actors, and I enjoyed the scenes in which they are trying to make their movie.  Elle Fanning (Somewhere) is a stand-out as the only girl in the band of kids; she’s a sad kid with no mother and an alcoholic father, and her character is very sweet.  And there are some good action sequences, like the big train derailment scene.  But it’s not a perfect movie by any means.  Some of the events are just way beyond credibility, even in a sci-fi movie like this, and some things just don’t seem to fit together.  The ending is kind of cheesy.  And The Borg Queen thought there was too much profanity, although I didn’t really notice all that much.  Although any profanity in the mouths of kids is really too much.  And there are some decently scary scenes that help earn the film its PG-13 rating.  Anyway, I thought it was a good popcorn flick, but nothing more.

This Is Where I Leave You (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob

This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper (2009).  This is a mainly comic novel about death and marital infidelity.  The first-person narrator is a Jewish fellow whose father has just died of cancer and who has just discovered that his wife is having an affair with his boss.  Then he learns that his father has requested that the family sit shiva, or stay together to mourn his passing for seven days, so for a solid week he has to deal with his mother, his three siblings, their spouses or significant others, and a stream of well-wishers.  I thought the book was pretty well written, but the characters are mostly way over the top, and so many crazy things happen that I just didn’t find it very believable.  It kind of reminded me of that novel from a few years back called I Love You Beth Cooper, which was OK but just had too many wild events packed into too short a time.  I am surprised that a bunch of magazines picked This Is Where I Leave You as one of the best books of the year.

Prom

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Prom  (C+).  What possessed The Movie Snob to see this warmed-over live-action Disney movie?  Well, my mom is in town visiting, and she doesn’t like movies very much, and she won’t tolerate movies with vulgarity in them.  (Remind me to tell you the story of how I once unwisely showed her the DVD version of Walk Hard.)  Anyhoo, I had read somewhere that this was a decent, wholesome piece of PG fluff, so I took a chance and dragged her down to the dollar theater for it.  Although it was quite predictable and not very well acted (or written), we both thought it was kind of cute.  No one who appeared in this movie was previously known to me (except I recognized Faith Ford in a tiny role), so I’ll skip the actors’ names.  It’s basically High School Musical without the musical bits.  There are lots of subplots, but the protagonist is a chipper blond overachiever with the unlikely name of Nova.  She’s in charge of her senior prom, and she’s dying to go to the dance with squeaky clean Blandon, I mean, Brandon.  Turns out he can’t go, and at the same time the principal orders high school bad boy, Jesse Richter, to help her with the physical work associated with putting the prom together if he wants to graduate.  So naive Nova has to the spend the three weeks leading up to prom hanging out with Jesse, who has a motorcycle, the looks of a younger version of Diane Lane’s lover in Unfaithful, and wouldn’t you know it, a heart of gold.  Three or four other tales of adolescent angst unspool alongside Nova’s, and I’ll leave you to speculate how it all turns out.  Kind of cute, and safely clean for the anti-vulgarity crowd.  (It’s rated PG for “mild language and a brief fight,” but I didn’t notice the bad language, apparently.)

X-Men: First Class

The Borg Queen beams us the following review

X-Men:  First ClassD

This is one of those movies where I was just waiting for it to end almost as soon as it started.  There was little, if anything, about the story or characters that I found interesting.  On the contrary, the movie was utterly predictable.  I knew how it would end.  I knew who would end up hurt or dead.  And I knew who would end up good or bad.  As you likely know, this is a pre-quel to the other X-Men movies and is the story about how Xavier founded the school of mutants.  It also is a story about how and why Xavier and his group became the good guys, and how and why Magneto and his group became the bad guys.  Aside from Mystique, most of the young mutants are people that were not in any of the later movies, so I found myself not caring about them one way or the other.  The story also takes place in the past, so the underlying story is about a potential atomic clash with Russia – really?  Granted, the idea of having a conflict with Russia during the time the story takes place is accurate, but as of the day I was watching this movie, it really did not cause me any concern.  There were times when the story seemed to drag – and I noticed I could hear people rustling in their seats and getting up to go to the bathroom during those times too, so I’m pretty sure it was not just me that felt the boredom.  In addition to all of this, there were several scenes where women were dressed in undergarments for absolutely no purpose other than to have dozens of women dressed in undergarments.  It added nothing to the story, while making the movie inappropriate for kids and, in my opinion, warranting an R–not PG-13–rating.  There was no applause at the end of the film, despite the jam-packed theater–that pretty much says it all.

Heart Attack Grill (dining review)

The Movie Snob rates Dallas cuisine.

Heart Attack Grill.  Some colleagues and I put our lives on the line in order to try this new hamburger joint in downtown Dallas’s West End district.  We cannot recommend it.  In fact, we urge you to steer clear.  Personally, I like the food at Hoffbrau in the West End much better, and there’s always The Angry Dog or Twisted Root if you’re willing to drive down to Deep Ellum.

First, the HAG is way too gimmicky.  The waitresses are dressed as nurses, and they make you put on a hospital-style wristband and hospital gown when you come in.  How often do they wash those gowns?

Second, the menu is quite limited.  You can get a burger with up to four meat patties, french fries fried in pure lard, buttermilk milkshakes, and beer, Coca-Cola, or bottled water to drink.  There are no plates, glasses, or ice.  Oh, and it’s cash only; no credit cards accepted.

Third, I could have overlooked the gimmicks and the small menu if the food had been good, but it just wasn’t.  Everything was way oversalted.  The fries were hard and tough.  I thought the burger was average, but my three dining companions all found their burgers overcooked and dry.  One of us had bacon on his burger, and he said it added no smoky flavor to his burger at all.  I should add that none of us got a milkshake, so they might be fine.

Finally, the place is too expensive.  A single-patty burger, fries, and a coke cost me $12 before tip.  Admittedly, the fries are large enough (or salty enough) that you could share an order with someone without going hungry and thereby save a buck or two that way.

I’m sorry to say it, but skip the Heart Attack Grill.

The Information (book review)

The Movie Snob delivers a book review

The Information, by Martin Amis (1995).  I don’t remember exactly what put me on the trail of this very black, very British novel–I think I read an article that recommended The Information as an honest look at the life of a professional writer.  It is not a life any normal person would want to live, that’s for sure!  Richard Tull is a failing novelist working on an unpublishable third novel called Untitled.  He is an abominable human being who drinks way too much, earns way too little to support his wife and twin sons, and seems to loathe everyone and everything around him.  At the top of the loathed list is his “friend,” a suddenly successful novelist named Gwyn Barry.  Barry is a pretty horrendous creature himself, unctuous, pretentious, and fatuous, and Tull decides to make it his personal mission to destroy Barry.  But Tull is almost as bad a saboteur as he is a novelist, and his schemes go awry as regularly as Wile E. Coyote’s traps for the Roadrunner.  The characters are so unsavory, and the humor so black, that I found it hard to enjoy this novel, but I can’t deny that I wanted to see how it would end.  You are warned!

Walking Dead (season one)

DVD review from Comic Book Guy

Walking Dead

Just finished Season One (6 episodes), which is available on DVD. This is based on the original comic book series by the same name (which won an Eisner Award last year). The series revolves around a small band of survivors following trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. What else do you need to know?  AMC picked it up and it doesn’t disappoint. I like AMC. Their other projects (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Killing) are well written and stylish with interesting characters and high production values.  This is another series that lives up to what the best of cable network can produce. And even if it didn’t have all that going for it, it has Zombies. Lots of Zombies. Zombies are like bacon; everything is better with them. Apocalypse: Good. Zombie Apocalypse: Better!  I give it an A. Check it out.

Jonah Hex

A new review from Comic Book Guy

Jonah Hex

I avoided this in the theatre but now wonder why. Sure, Jonah Hex is a little known DC comic book character but check this out. Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox (whose waist looks so small it made me wonder if it was a CGI effect.).  There may be no Oscar winning performances but I didn’t tune in for that reason. Just watch the first 5 minutes and you’ll get the flavor of this. Can you say carnage? Can you say creepy super power? Can you say John Malkovich being awesome? And Megan Fox being hot?  I give it a solid B. Well worth the 93 minutes it runs.