Rules of Civility (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles (2011).  I really enjoyed this recent first novel by the unusually named Amor Towles.  It’s a first-person narrative, and the narrator is a woman by the unlikely name of Katherine Kontent.  Except for the prologue and epilogue, the whole book takes place in 1938, when the narrator is in her late 20s and running around footloose and fancy-free in New York City.  Smart, articulate, and (we gather) attractive, Kate moves with some ease among the glitterati of the Big Apple, although her own origins and situation are quite humble.  The night of New Year’s Eve, 1937, she and her best friend Eve meet a charming and wealthy banker named Tinker Grey, and their unspoken competition for his affections sets the rest of the book in motion.  The detail about life in the high society of the time helps bring the story to life, and Kate makes a very likeable heroine.  I have always imagined that it would be exceptionally difficult for an author to write a persuasive novel with a main character of the opposite sex, much less a first-person narrative like this one.  I’d be curious to know if female readers think Towles has made Kate a realistic character or not.  Anyway, I highly recommend this thoughtful book.

The Hunger Games

Comic Book Guy checks in with a review.

The Hunger Games:  This movie definitely exceeded my expectations. In case you’ve been living in a cave and know nothing about this story, it’s about a dystopian future where children are sacrificed in a gladiatorial reality TV spectacle. Kind of like American Idol meets Ultimate Fighting on steroids. I’ll confess, I enjoyed the books and I thought the film did the first one justice. You don’t need to be a fan to enjoy this film. What is interesting to me is what the film represents. Is it an indictment of pop culture? How ironic given that the Hunger Games personifies pop culture. How about a commentary on the federal  system where the oppressive Capital (the feds) has the impoverished Districts (states) participate in a grotesque spectacle against their will?  Think about the most recent arguments before the USSC. Is it about our national obsession with violence or sports? Or is it just a good action movie? At a run time of over 2 hours, I thought it could have been pared down just a bit, but the film doesn’t drag and is helped out by solid performances by Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson. Lenny Kravitz is a bonus although I think his character is marginal if you don’t know the back story. The writing is solid but unremarkable – although some of the scenes pack an emotional punch. I heard some stifled sobs in the packed theatre during the reaping and after the death of one of the tributes. The hand held camera works for the fight scenes and spares the viewer from too much gore. Again, a solidly crafted film. I give it an “A,” despite the absence of Zombies, Super Heroes or awe inspiring special effects.

A Separation

A new review from Movie Man Mike

A Separation (A).  This may be my favorite movie in a while.  The script is very well written, the story is intense, and the acting is superb.   This film gives us a glimpse into the culture and values in Iran.  The film opens with a husband (Peyman Moadi) and a wife (Leila Hatami) appearing before a judge and the wife is asking for a divorce.   This scene sets the stage for much of what is to come, as we learn that the wife wants to leave the country but the husband will not, because he is bound to care for his father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.  The wife wants to leave the country and take the couple’s daughter with her.  When asked why, she says it is because she doesn’t want to raise her daughter under conditions existing in the Country.  Because the husband will not agree to the divorce, there is no divorce.  The story then moves forward as we see the impact of the separation on the couple, the daughter, and the father.  The husband has to hire help to come care for the father during the day and we get a glimpse of the cultural life existing in Iran as well as the values of its people.  The story comes to a head when the caregiver (Sareh Bayat) has a miscarriage and accuses the husband of being the cause of it.  Things really get tense and interesting as relationships and values are tested.  This is a great movie and I highly recommend it.

Dracula (stage review)

The Borg Queen sends us this ballet review.

Dracula – A
 
I have always wanted to see a professional ballet (other than The Nutcracker) and was thrilled to see this production of “Dracula” by the Texas Ballet Theater at Bass Hall in Fort Worth, Texas.  I was not disappointed.  The dancing was exquisite, with step choreographed and danced beautifully.  The costumes were beautiful, and I especially enjoyed the costuming of Dracula’s numerous wives, who seemed to float across the stage like ghosts.  The set was also wonderful and detailed.  The music was appropriately ominous and fit the piece really well.  Of course, Bass Hall is a beautiful theater and just being there feels like a treat in itself.  My only complaint would be that the music seemed a bit low, as they used a recording rather than a live orchestra to save costs.  Having a live orchestra would have added to the power of the music.  Otherwise, this was a wonderful production and I hope I get to see another Texas Ballet Theater production soon!

John Carter

A new review from The Movie Snob

John Carter  (C).  I’m a fan of swords & sandals, but I’m afraid I agree with the critics about this particular entry in the genre — it’s a dud.  There’s a long prologue in which we see how a tough-as-nails Civil War veteran named John Carter is miraculously transported to Mars, or Barsoom as its inhabitants call it.  Since Mars’s gravity is weaker than Earth’s, Carter is kind of like Superman, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and he’s no slouch with a sword either.  Anyway, there are humans living on the Red Planet, but Carter falls in first with the tall green insectoids called Tharks.  I found this part of his adventure rather more interesting than the part when he gets mixed up in the war between the two human cities, Helium and Zodanga.  At 2:12, the movie started to feel a little long to me, even before the climactic battle, followed by an epilogue back on Earth.  But it was kind of fun to see Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) and Mark Antony (James Purefoy) from HBO’s Rome reunited as the leaders of Helium, and I certainly have no objection to the casting of Lynn Collins (13 Going on 30) as the Martian princess Dejah Thoris.  I hear that Disney stands to lose $200 million on this show, so I guess there won’t be a sequel?

MST3K: Volume XVIII

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVIII.  Another collection of four episodes of the beloved TV series.

Lost Continent  (B-).  This episode from season 2 is famous for its extended — and I mean REALLY extended — sequence of rock climbing by a band of intrepid explorers led by Cesar Romero.  I had heard about it before, but never seen it, so I was glad to fill the gap in my MST3K knowledge.  On the whole, this is a decent but not great episode.  In the movie, Cesar Romero and some other guys including the guy who played Ward Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver” go looking for a crashed military rocket, and they discover a prehistoric jungle where toy dinosaurs still roam the earth.  Some decent riffing, but the skits are all totally skippable.

Crash of the Moons (B).  Solid episode featuring a “movie” cobbled together from three episodes of 1950s TV series called “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.”  Two inhabited planets are going to crash into each other, and stoic space ranger Rocky Jones must persuade stubborn Queen Cleolandra that it would be better to evacuate her people than to let them die in the collision.  John Banner, who played Sergeant Schultz on “Hogan’s Heroes,” appears as the king of the other doomed world.  As a bonus, the show starts with a short clip from a very old “General Hospital” episode.  Good stuff.

The Beast of Yucca Flats (D).  The featured movie actually deserves an F.  It is such a terrible movie that even Mike and the robots can’t do much with it.  Tor Johnson stars as a Russian scientist accidentally turned into a homicidal beast by an atomic test explosion.  The director is so inept that he apparently couldn’t make a synchronized soundtrack, so all the dialogue is spoken by characters who are off-screen or turned away from the camera.  Some entertainment value is provided by the preceding shorts “Money Talks!” and “Progress Island, U.S.A.”

Jack Frost  (C).  I remembered this episode as being hilarious, so plainly on re-viewing I found it a disappointment.  It’s a Russo-Finnish movie about a lovely peasant girl with a wicked stepmother, a young man who gets turned into a bear by a mushroom elf, a wicked witch, and of course Jack Frost himself, a Santa Claus-like fellow whose magic sceptre freezes (and kills) anything it touches.  It’s a bizarre movie and a decent episode, but no better than average.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady, by Anita Loos.  I saw this 1925 novel touted in a magazine article as one of the funniest novels around.  I don’t know about that, but it was definitely entertaining enough.  The novel purports to be the diary of Lorelei Lee, an attractive blonde from Little Rock, Arkansas, who somehow makes ends meet in New York City thanks to her many gentlemen friends.  One of her friendly gentlemen suggests that she should keep a diary, and then another gentleman friend sends her on a tour of Europe, and before you know it Miss Lee is having all sorts of adventures, meeting the Prince of Wales and a famous doctor named “Froyd” and all sorts of other interesting characters.  It’s a breezy 156 pages, and I quite enjoyed it.