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+

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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.