Lions for Lambs

The Bleacher Bum sends us this DVD review.

Lions for Lambs: Titan actors Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise star.  Redford directs. But viewers sleep thirty minutes in. Redford is a political science professor at USC trying to encourage his most talented student to take action to shape the world and the country.  Streep, a television journalist, is interviewing Cruise, a GOP Senator, on his strategy for the war in Afghanistan.. The movie tries to be a high-brow thought-provoking look at political and military action in America.  But the movie turns into a Sunday episode of Meet the Press. Peter Berg is great as an Army Colonel that sends soldiers on a dangerous mission based on Cruise’s plan. This movie was more lamb than lion. Grade D+

Project Nim

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Project Nim (B+).  Seems like there have been lots of documentaries released this year, and this is at least the fifth one I’ve seen.  It’s a good one.  Back in the 1970s, a linguist at Columbia University named Herb Terrace got the idea to try an experiment: what if a human family raised a chimpanzee from infancy and taught it sign language?  Could the chimp do it?  And what would we learn about language in the process?  Terrace got a baby chimp from a primate research facility in Oklahoma, and it was named Nim Chimpsky, I suppose after the famous linguist Noam Chomsky.  Terrace decided fairly quickly that he wasn’t getting results with the loosey-goosey ways of the hippie-ish family that first took the chimp, so he took Nim back and had some graduate students raise him on a rural estate somewhere else in New York.  Fortunately the project was heavily documented, so we have lots of photos and video from the 70s, plus lots of people involved in the project agreed to be interviewed and filmed in the present day as well.  Plainly some of them really fell in love with Nim, even though he was a wild animal that gave many of them plenty of occasions to get stitches.  Nim’s story took a sad turn when Terrace shut the project down after four or five years, and Nim got bounced around from various more-or-less unhappy situations after that.  But don’t be discouraged from seeing the movie on the assumption that it’s all sad and depressing, because it’s not (entirely) that way.  It’s just an interesting movie about the life of a chimpanzee lived out under highly unusual circumstances.

Something Borrowed

The Movie Snob survives another movie

Something Borrowed  (F).  OK, I wasn’t expecting Citizen Kane here.  Romantic comedy is hard, and precious few romantic comedies are any good.  But this one was truly horrendous in its own special way.  Ginnifer Goodwin (He’s Just Not That Into You), who is a very cute actress and may have some talent, plays Rachel, a 30-year-old lawyer whose best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson, Nine) is about to marry Dexter (Colin Egglesfield, Must Love Dogs), who is handsome and comes from a hugely wealthy family.  Problem is, Rachel has been in love with Dex since law school, but the horrificly obnoxious Darcy stole Dex right away from her.  So naturally, two months before the wedding, after Rachel’s 30th-birthday party, Rachel and Dex go back to her place and misbehave because it turns out he’s also in love with her.  In the real world, I expect such a turn of events would end Rachel and Darcy’s friendship but at least avoid the tragedy of a misconceived marriage.  But in Hollywood, it’s an excuse for 90 more minutes of increasingly painful scenes contrived to keep Rachel and Dex apart, Darcy in the dark, and the wedding plans on.  It’s hard to say whether the characters’ vulgarity or their stupidity is more painful to endure.  Poor John Krasinski (TV’s The Office) has a thankless, not to say humiliating, role as Rachel’s (and supposedly Darcy’s) pal Ethan.  Avoid this movie at all costs.

Page One: Inside the New York Times

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Page One: Inside the New York Times  (B+).  This documentary delivers what it promises, a look behind the scenes at how the New York Times runs.  But the bigger story these days, of course, is whether traditional newspapers, the Times included, have any future in this era of new media.  That question is very much on the minds of the people running the Times, not to mention their employees (100 or so of whom got early retired or laid off in the last couple of years).  And, not surprisingly, no one has an answer.  An odd fellow and former drug addict named David Carr is the newspaper’s top social-media reporter, so he figures prominently in the movie. Anyway, if you have any interest in the decline of American newspapers or curiosity about how a newspaper is put together, you should enjoy this movie.  And at 96 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Land of the Burning Sands (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Land of the Burning Sands, by Rachel Neumeier (2010).  This is book two of my cousin Rachel’s “The Griffin Mage” trilogy.  I recommend it wholeheartedly to all you readers who have a taste for fantasy.  The details of the first book, Lord of the Changing Winds, are a little hazy in my mind just now, but, as I recall, in that book the human kingdom of Casmantium embarked on a risky strategy of self-aggrandizement at the expense of the neighboring kingdom of Feierabiand and of the ancient race of griffins.  The gambit failed, and Casmantium was left much weakened.  In this new book, it seems as though the griffins are going to try to push their advantage against Casmantium to even greater effect–perhaps even to Casmantium’s utter ruin.  But the story’s focus is not on Casmantium’s king or its wizards, but on a lowly convict and slave named Gereint who sees the possibility of escape in the confusion sown by the advancing griffins.  He is a very likable protagonist, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story of how he gets caught up in Casmantium’s desperate attempt to stop the griffins’ advance.  We also get a much closer look at the mage Beguchren, who was a remote and ominous figure in the first book.  I can’t wait to read the final book, and I highly recommend this book if you enjoy fantasy literature at all.

Turtle: The Incredible Journey

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Turtle: The Incredible Journey  (C).  This 2009 nature documentary just showed up in our theaters here in Dallas.  It is about the life cycle of a female loggerhead turtle, starting with the famous mad dash of hundred of little hatchlings from the beach to the ocean, through the perilous first few years riding the Atlantic currents, and culminating with more or less permanent residence in the Caribbean, with occasional trips back to the Florida beach for the laying of eggs.  (The movie’s conceit is that it is following a single turtle for the first 20 years of her life, but surely they didn’t really find and follow a single turtle for 20 years.)  It’s the not greatest nature documentary by a long stretch.  There are long periods in which pretty much nothing happens except that we watch the turtle swimming around.  The 3D wasn’t necessary.  There is emphatic environmentalist voice-over narration, with only a quick acknowledgement at the end that measures were actually taken–by human beings!–to protect the nesting beach from encroaching real-estate development.  But I did learn some stuff, and turtles are pretty interesting critters.  Very little children might be disturbed by the opening scenes in which marauding crabs make off with some hatchling turtles, but they are even more likely to get bored during the 81-minute running time.

Beginners

New review from The Movie Snob

Beginners  (C).  This little independent flick stars Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!) as a 38-year-old guy named Oliver.  He’s sad because his mother died a few years ago, his father died a few months ago, and he’s an emotionally stunted guy who can’t keep a relationship going because he had to endure his parents’ unhappy marriage his whole life.  Even when a lovely actress named Anna (Melanie Laurent, The Concert) comes into his life, he seems duty-bound to mess it up.  The wrinkle is that, as we learn through extensive flashbacks, Oliver’s father Hal (Christopher Plummer, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) was gay and came out (very forcefully) after his wife died.  While Hal appears only in flashbacks relating only to his post-coming-out years, Oliver’s mother appears only in flashbacks going back to Oliver’s childhood (flashbacks in which Hal is conspicuously absent).  Why Hal’s wife stayed with him for 44 apparently unhappy years is never made clear, and Oliver is almost too much of a sad sack for us to root for him and Anna to make a go of it.  It’s well acted, but the movie just never really went anywhere that I could see.

The Tree of Life

Mom Under Cover warns against eating from this tree.

The Tree of Life (D)

This film by Terrence Malick has garnered lots of praise (including the prestigious Cannes Palme dʼOr). Perhaps seeing the movie with high expectations heightened my disappointment. I found it heavy handed and pretentious. Brad Pittʼs performance as a strict (read abusive) husband and father (Mr. OʼBrien) is spot on. The real star is first-timer Hunter McCracken as the young Jack OʼBrien who questions Godʼs existence. Malick intersperses scenes from Jackʼs childhood with grand imagery of Creation–Planet Earth style. A bizarre dinosaur scene had me fighting to stifle the kind of roll-on-the-floor laughter that will get you escorted out of a movie theater. Sean Penn as adult Jack does not get much screen time but participates another of the strange moments of the film: the zombie-esque march, presumably into the ocean, of all the characters in Jackʼs life at the age they were when he was 10 (yet Jack is middle-aged). Berliozʼ Requiem is an ominous presence in the background signaling the end of the world? Redemption? At least it signaled the end of the movie. The 2 hours and 15 minutes seemed like a lifetime in Purgatory to me.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

New review from The Movie Snob

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (D+).  I would say that Captain Jack Sparrow has finally worn out his welcome with me, but then again, did I really like any of the three earlier movies in this series?  Maybe the first one was okay, but I can hardly remember.  Anyhoo, Johnny Depp (The Astronaut’s Wife) is on a new quest — this time, he’s looking for the Fountain of Youth.  Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) returns as Jack’s one-time nemesis Barbosa, but the villain of this piece is none other than Blackbeard himself (Ian McShane, Scoop).  Penelope Cruz (Volver) adds the feminine element now that Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go) has jumped ship. An extended introduction set in London could easily have been lopped off (although it did permit a humorous cameo by a very well-known actress), and the rest of the movie is a bunch of very purposeful-looking rushing about by the various people who are trying to find the mythical Fountain.  Frankly, I found it a little yawn-inducing.  And, predictably, it was way too long (about 2 hours and 15 minutes).  But it’ll probably make a killing, and they’ll probably make another one….

Midnight in Paris

Our newest reviewer, Mom Under Cover, sends us this contribution

Midnight in Paris—(A)

Woody Allen’s latest film is a delightful fantasy, particularly for English Lit. majors.  Those who slept through art appreciation class may not be as enchanted.  This movie is a must see for Woody Allen fans (reminiscent of The Purple Rose of Cairo) but will be enjoyed by many.  Reportedly, it even “charmed the jaded veterans of the Cannes press screenings” so says Roger Ebert.

Gil (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter whose dream is to be a serious novelist, is on holiday in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents.  Gil is bewitched by Paris and disappointed that Inez is more interested in buying antiques and seeing the sights with a snobby couple who are acquaintances and happen to be vacationing in Paris at the same time.  (There is a lovely scene wherein Gil points out to the know-it-all art historian the true backdrop of a Picasso painting.) Rather than go dancing with Inez and the snobs, Gil finds himself wandering the streets, unable to find his hotel when the clock strikes midnight.

*****SPOILER ALERT*****:  Stop reading here if you don’t want to know more; however, there is no way to review the movie without discussing the fantasy.  As the clock strikes midnight, an old roadster approaches Gil on a deserted street.  The revelers within beckon him to join their party.  Gil reluctantly gets in the car and is inexplicably swept into the Jazz Age with the legends of the day.  Owen as Gil is the perfect incarnation of Allen (clearly Allen wrote the part of Gil for himself).  Gil begins to realize that Scott and Zelda are THAT Scott and Zelda; the pianist is in fact Cole Porter; the superbly masculine, erudite fellow is THAT Hemingway.  When Zelda tires of the jazz club, the group retires to the famous salon of Gertrude Stein (played well by Kathy Bates).   Through the course of the movie (and several more midnight adventures), Gil interacts with many of his heroes:  Picasso, Dali, Man Ray, “Tom” aka T.S. Elliott, Degas, Bunuel…you get the idea.

Gil finds an equally nostalgic cohort in Adriana (Marion Cotillard), the previous mistress of Modigliani, current lover of Picasso, who takes a liking to Gil.  Adriana, a modern woman of the 1920’s, yearns for the Belle Époque—and so another journey into the past begins.  Their fascination with earlier eras begs the audience to contemplate whether our fantasies—of whatever ilk—preclude us from engaging in and enjoying the present to the fullest.