Law of the Broken Earth (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Law of the Broken Earth, by Rachel Neumeier (2010).  Full disclosure: Rachel is my first cousin.  But regardless of that relationship, I am confident I would have enjoyed her Griffin Mage trilogy of young adult fantasy novels.  This is the last book of the trilogy, so I don’t want to say anything that would spoil it for people who haven’t started reading it yet.  Suffice it to say, I thought the first book in the series (Lord of the Changing Winds) was very good, and the second book (Land of the Burning Sands) really kicked the quality up to an even higher level.  I’m happy to report that this last book maintains the high level of quality from the second book.  The characters are vivid and sympathetic, and the plot is exciting and involving.  The people of the Kingdom of Linularinum were mostly absent in the first two books, so as you might expect they are major players in this one.  They seem to have a knack for magic that’s akin to lawyering, and shockingly they don’t really come off as the kind of people you want to root for.  Anyhoo, do yourself a favor and check out this fine fantasy trilogy.

The Help

Another fresh review from Movie Man Mike.

The Help. (A-).  I loved this film.  So many people have read this book and also seen the movie.  It seems to have wide-spread appeal even though its setting—1960’s Jackson, Mississippi—has an almost unbelievable, fictional feel to it.  But I can believe it.  I may not have grown up in the deep south, but I experienced a similar upbringing to the one depicted in this film, and the film caused me to spend a lot of time reflecting on those experiences.  The film’s depiction of the historical dividing line between black and white is a reminder of just how far we’ve come as a country.  This film is well-acted and well-scripted, with lots of Oscar potential.  The dialogue and the plot are entertaining and well worth the price of admission.

Contagion

Movie Man Mike sends us this review.

Contagion. (C-).  The great cast in this film is what attracted me to see it.  Lawrence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Gweneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Elliott Gould.  That should be enough to make a good movie, right?  Nope.  This film had very little plot.  It’s more of a mockumentary.  A what-if scenario.  The film looks at what might happen if a supervirus were to get loose.  That’s too simple of a concept to drive a feature-length film.  A plot is needed.  In about 5 minutes time, you can see how a supervirus can multiply and spread across the globe.  The rest is pretty much filler.  Gweneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet are dead early in the film, so we don’t get to see much of them.  Jude Law plays a blogger and his character is just strange.  As a viewer, you don’t know whether you want to like him or hate him.  Marion Cotillard’s talents are wasted on a role that seems nearly pointless to the overall action.  In short, don’t waste your money on this one–either in the theaters or as a rental.

Moneyball

Dan in Reel Life sends this review to the plate.

Moneyball

In the film adaptation of the Michael Lewis best-selling book, Brad Pitt (The Mexican) stars as Billy Beane, general manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics.  Beane has a big problem:  how to compete against rich large-market teams like New York and Boston with the limited funds of his small-market Oakland organization.  Following an extremely successful (but non-championship) season, Beane can only watch helplessly while his marquee players are pillaged by wealthier teams during free agency.  Unwilling to be satisfied with anything less than ‘winning the last game of the season’, he becomes increasingly convicted that the A’s will not win it all using the conventional wisdom of scouting and roster-building followed religiously for years in the big leagues.

While on a trip to Cleveland to deal for players to replace his lost stars, Beane notices that an extremely young, decidedly ‘non-baseball’ person named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, Superbad) is wielding tremendous influence in the Indians’ front office.  Intrigued, he digs deeper and discovers that this Yale prodigy has a radical approach to evaluating baseball talent;  instead of the long-utilized statistics combined with a sort of ‘baseball sixth sense’ usually employed by talent evaluators, Brand’s method is based almost exclusively on the quantitative conclusions drawn from his studies of economics and statistics.  Sensing that Brand’s unorthodox thinking could be the new philosophy he needs to compete with the big guys, Beane hires Brand away from Cleveland and bets the farm on his approach.

As surely as people hate change, Beane encounters resistance from within and without the organization as he makes drastic moves to implement Brand’s unconventional strategies.  As his character attempts to navigate this turmoil, Pitt’s trademark charisma pulls you in and quickly has you rooting for Beane’s success.  The mentor/mentoree scenes with Beane and Brand are all memorable as Hill plays off of Pitt perfectly.  The trials and tribulations of the inexperienced Brand are relatable to anyone who’s endured a bruising post-college encounter with the ‘real world’.  Watching the initially hesitant Brand, suddenly plucked from cubicle-ville and promoted to assistant GM, come of age as a baseball front-office professional under Beane’s tutelage is a large part of the fun of this movie as well.

In Beane’s refusal to accept mediocre small-market standards for success we see inspiring hope for the little guy.  This movie is a home run, go see it.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

A new review from The Movie Snob

Crazy, Stupid, Love.  (B)  Was the annoying title punctuation really necessary?  Anyway, I went into this movie with fairly low expectations, despite Mom Under Cover’s favorable review from August 1.  To my pleasant surprise, I quite enjoyed it (even if it did get a little long).  Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine) plays a fashion-challenged and apparently rather dull guy named Cal who learns in the movie’s opening scene that his wife Emily (Julianne Moore, Children of Men) is having an affair and wants a divorce.  He moves out and starts frequenting a trendy bar, where a handsome player named Jacob (Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine) unexpectedly takes him under his wing and helps him out with his clothes and with the ladies.  For me, the relationship between Cal and Jacob was the heart of the movie, and both actors did a great job in bringing it to life.  But the subplots are generally handled pretty well too, such as the crush that Cal’s 13-year-old son has on the family’s 17-year-old babysitter Jessica, and the crush that Jessica in turn has on Cal.  There is a satisfying scene near the end that ties a lot of plot points together, and then a less-satisfying scene that I found kind of cliched.  But on the whole, I quite enjoyed the film.  A sidenote:  Near the beginning of the movie, I started wondering how many degrees of separation there are between Steve Carell and Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13).  Well, guess who else is in this movie?  That’s right, Kevin Bacon (Footloose).  How about that?

The Lion King

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Lion King  (A-).  I have always regretted that I didn’t see this movie in the theaters during its original run.  (Can you believe that was way back in 1994?)  Anyhoo, I was pleased to see the recent re-release and made sure to catch it this time around (although I did not spring for the 3D version; 2D was quite enough for me).  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Of course, everyone already knows the plot–the majestic lion Mufasa (voice of James Earl Jones, The Sandlot) is the king of the savannah.  As the movie opens, Simba, heir to the throne, has just been born.   This immensely annoys Mufasa’s weaselly and jealous brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons, Dungeons & Dragons), who plots and schemes to take the throne for himself.  Although I didn’t love it quite as much as I did Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, this is a superior Disney production.  But then, you already knew that, because you’ve probably already seen it half a dozen times.

Our Idiot Brother

A new review from The Movie Snob

Our Idiot Brother (C-).  I really wanted to like this movie, but it just didn’t work out between us.  Paul Rudd (Clueless), whom I usually like in just about anything, plays Ned, an amiable doofus who lives on an organic farm with his horrible girlfriend and who spends a few months in the slammer after he sells marijuana to a uniformed police officer.  When Ned gets out of the pokey, he finds he’s no longer welcome back at the farm and has to go sofa surfing with each of his three sisters in turn.  There’s unhappily married and unbearably frumpy Liz (Emily Mortimer, Match Point), tightly wound and unbearably witchy Miranda (Elizabeth Banks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), and free-spirited lesbian-but-not-always Natalie (Zooey Deschanel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).  Ned’s utter lack of guile and penchant for saying exactly what he thinks causes all sorts of angst for his sisters, and I imagine the actors had fun playing these extreme types.  But it’s not that entertaining, and certainly not very funny, to watch.  And of course, being an R-rated comedy, it’s very and unnecessarily crude and vulgar.  I don’t think I laughed once until they started playing some blooper reels during the closing credits.