MST3K: Volume XIX

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIX.  They have been releasing new volumes of the MST3K collection faster than I can keep up with them lately.  This is a pretty good collection.

Robot Monster  (C-).  This first-season offering is clearly the weak link in this set.  It starts with two weak episodes from an old TV show called “Commando Cody: Radar Men From the Moon.”  The main event is a little better, a post-apocalyptic movie in which a tiny handful of human survivors are menaced by the alien being responsible for the catastrophe.  Apparently the earth was conquered by a single guy wearing a diver’s helmet and a super-padded gorilla suit.  The gang hadn’t yet hit its stride on its riffing technique, but the movie was sufficiently bizarre as to sort of make up for it, plus the heroine was pretty cute.  There’s also an entertaining bonus feature, an interview about Robot Monster with a film director named Larry Blamire.

Bride of the Monster (B).  This disc starts with an entertaining short called “Hired”, brought to you by Chevrolet.  Apparently selling cars door to door was pretty hard back in the old days!  The feature film was directed by the notorious Ed Wood (Plan 9 From Outer Space) and starred a fading Bela Lugosi (Dracula) as a mad scientist trying to create a race of atomic supermen.  It’s a pretty funny episode, and there’s an entertaining bonus feature about Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, and the making of this awful film.

Devil Doll (B).  This is a better-than-average episode about a creepy ventriloquist and his spooky dummy Hugo.  And as a bonus there’s an interview with the now very elderly producer of the movie.  I guess he took it in stride that the MST3K crew ridiculed his movie mercilessly.  He’s very mellow throughout the interview, and he insists it was a financially successful movie despite (or perhaps because of) its small budget.

Devil Fish (B).  Another good episode, this one is a 1980’s era Italian production in which a bunch of random Europeans are supposed to be Floridians facing off against a prehistoric half-shark/half-octopus creature that is terrorizing the coast.  The Satellite of Love crew has a good time riffing on the horrible editing, heavily synthesized soundtrack, and of course the lovably European actors and actresses.

The Kid With a Bike

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Kid With a Bike  (B+).  I really liked this French import.  Cyril is a little boy (I’ve read he’s supposed to be 11) who has been placed in some sort of orphanage.  In the first few scenes of the movie, we learn that his father is still alive but has apparently abandoned Cyril to the orphanage.  Cyril refuses to accept that his father isn’t coming back for him, and during one of his escapes to try to find his father he has a random encounter with a kind hairdresser named Samantha.  She agrees to be his foster parent on weekends, and the movie goes on from there as Cyril searches for his father, seeks friends among a gang of punks, and generally struggles to cope with his world’s being turned upside down.  The movie is very well-done, and although it seems defy every notion of common sense for Cyril to misbehave and treat Samantha so badly despite her being the one person who shows any genuine interest in him,I think it is actually very true to life.  Warmly recommended–even if you don’t like films with subtitles.

The Salt of Life

New review from The Movie Snob.

The Salt of Life  (C).  This is a little Italian movie starring and directed by a fellow by the name of Gianni Di Gregorio.  I really enjoyed another his movies a couple of years ago, Mid-August Lunch, so I made sure to catch this one in the theater before it slipped away.  This one, I didn’t like so well.  Gianni plays a 60-ish fellow named Gianni who is having something like a very late mid-life crisis.  He got laid off several years ago and hasn’t worked since.  His marriage is amicable but completely platonic.  His poker-playing 96-year-old mother summons him constantly over the most trifling things.  And, plainly, he fears getting old.  A lawyer friend of his senses his malaise and suggests that the tonic Gianni needs is a younger lover.  Gianni takes to the idea all too readily, and there are plenty of prospects in his orbit (his mother’s nurse?  his mother’s friend’s daughter?  the downstairs neighbor whose dog he frequently walks?), but his execution is lacking.  The movie just didn’t work for me.  Perhaps it would have been better if Gianni had been a little less single-minded in his quest and we had gotten to see a broader slice of his life.  I’m not sure.  Anyhoo, the acting was good, and the film really captured the feeling of being in The Eternal City without dwelling on the big landmarks (although Piazza Navona makes an appearance near the end, and I think the Ara Pacis does as well).  Still, I’d skip this one in favor of Mid-August Lunch.

Think Like a Man

New review from The Bleacher Bum.

Think Like A Man hit theaters on April 20th and has been the movie surprise of 2012.  The movie grossed $30,000,000 ($13,000,000 budget) in its opening weekend. It is the second largest opening weekend of a movie with a predominately African-American cast.  The movie looks at six guys and their relationships by using Steve Harvey’s best-selling book, “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man” as a guide.  I was worried that the movie would be the African-American version of Gary Marshall’s disappointing Valentine Day, but comedian Kevin Hart did not let that happen. Hart generates belly laugh after belly laugh throughout the movie.  And between laughs, you get to follow the ups and downs of six multi-faceted, interesting couples. Grade B+.

Damsels in Distress

New review from The Movie Snob

Damsels in Distress (B-).  I cannot remember ever looking forward to a movie with as much anticipation as I did this one.  (OK, maybe The Empire Strikes Back.)  Back in the 90s, this fellow named Whit Stillman wrote and directed three movies that I love: Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco.  They are mostly about romance among young adults (collegians and folks in their 20s), but they are not realistic.  The characters are generally thoughtful and hyperarticulate (to the point that Woody Allen seems tongue-tied by comparison), but they still suffer from flaws and blind spots, and his movies are as concerned about manners and morality as a Jane Austen novel.  Anyway, I urge you to give Metropolitan a try if you haven’t seen it, and then try the rest of Stillman’s work if you like it.

This new release is my least favorite of Stillman’s films, but I still liked it.  It’s about four female roommates at a fictional university called Seven Oaks, and mainly about their ringleader Violet (Greta Gerwig, No Strings Attached) and new transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton, Crazy, Stupid, Love).  Violet is extremely serious about everything she does — like making the world a better place, helping run the campus suicide prevention center, and trying to figure out the best kind of boys to date — and she constantly makes observations on these and other matters in polysyllabic Stillman fashion.  And I think Gerwig does a fine job of playing Violet straight, without ever winking at the audience or lapsing into parody.  Lily is more normal and brings a little bit of an outsider’s perspective to Violet’s clique.  Plotwise, the movie is more of a series of vignettes about the girls and their romantic misadventures than a conventional dramatic arc.

As I say, I enjoyed it pretty well.  You probably will too, if you have some taste for the absurd (like a fellow who says, in all earnestness, that he is of the Cathar religion, and another who never learned the names of the colors), and some tolerance for the fact that no real person talks (or probably thinks) like Stillman’s characters do.  But I was troubled by a couple of things.  First, characters say something vaguely derogatory about Catholicism on two occasions.  But I wasn’t too much bothered by it because the characters are so odd and because it seems likely that they’re not supposed to have any idea what they’re talking about.  Second, I was a little troubled by the film’s comic treatment of the campus suicide prevention center, and of mental illness more generally.  It comes to light that one of the characters suffered from OCD in childhood, and I’m not sure what to make of it. The film doesn’t make fun of it, but I’m not sure why it’s in there at all.  In conclusion, I’d say the film is just a little more absurd and less focused than Stillman’s earlier films, and not as satisfying.  But it’s definitely a different kind of moviegoing experience.  If it sounds interesting, look for it at your local arthouse theater, and maybe Stillman won’t wait 14 years before making his next film.

Wrath of the Titans

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Wrath of the Titans  (F).  Wow.  How could this movie go so wrong?  Okay, granted it’s a sequel to a remake of a 1981 movie that wasn’t very good in the first place.  Nevertheless, the original Clash of the Titans holds a very special place in my heart.  Thirteen-year-old me thrilled to the sight of ancient Greek hero Perseus (Harry Hamlin, TV’s L.A. Law) slaying Medusa, battling giant scorpions, and saving Princess Andromeda from a giant sea monster.  The bloated 2010 remake didn’t recapture the magic of the original, and it inexplicably introduced a second female character to distract Perseus from Andromeda, but it was not totally bereft of charm.  This movie, however, was quite bereft of charm — and logic, editing, and everything else that makes a movie good.  Well, with one exception; it does feature the lovely Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice), who replaces the original actress as Andromeda.  But unfortunately, Pike has nothing to do in this movie except follow Perseus around, get tossed like a rag doll in the occasional ancient Greek explosion or earthquake, and look gorgeous through the photogenic streaks of dirt and blood that appear on and disappear from her face at random.  And how much money did they have to dangle in front of Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) and Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) to get them to appear in this stinkbomb?  Anyhoo, the plot, such as it is, is something about Hades and Ares scheming against Zeus and the rest of the gods in order to release the ancient Greek titan Kronos, so Perseus has to pad out the film, er, I mean go on a mythical quest, to find out how to stop Kronos from destroying the universe.  Oog.  The stupidity was palpable.

Nice Work (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Nice Work, by David Lodge (Penguin 1988).  This is a pretty entertaining British novel about a 50ish engineer/senior-management guy named Vic Wilcox and a 30ish English professor named Robyn Penrose.  Vic is fretting because he’s trying to figure out, against all odds, how to make an old metalworking factory profitable.  Robyn’s fretting because her teaching position will end fairly soon, and permanent university-level teaching jobs are almost impossible to find in the Margaret Thatcher era of budget austerity.  Their worlds collide when some government bureaucrat’s half-baked idea that college and industry should collaborate results in Robyn’s being assigned to be Vic’s “shadow” one day a week for a semester, or maybe it’s a whole school year.  There is some decent humor as the gruff, pragmatic engineer and the theory-besotted feminist prof butt heads and try (half-heartedly) to gain some understanding of the other’s perspective.  I thought the story kind of lost its way at the end, but on the whole I still enjoyed it.

October Baby

New from The Movie Snob

October Baby  (B).  This is a little, very independent film about a young woman in college who discovers that she was adopted and sets out on a spring-break road trip to try to find her birth mother.  The very unusual twist to the story is that the protagonist, Hannah, finds out not only that was she adopted but also that she was born after an attempted abortion (explaining some chronic health problems she has had her whole life).  So she has even more issues to work through (I imagine) than the average adopted person would.  This is a message movie, and I cannot imagine a pro-choice person willingly sitting through the whole thing.  Like other recent movies with a Christian message (Fireproof comes to mind), this movie is unfortunately amateurish, especially in the early going.  The dialogue is clunky, and some scenes are awkward while others are just unbelievable.  But by the end, I thought it was a decently effective little melodrama.  John Schneider (TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard) stars as Hannah’s dad, and Jasmine Guy (TV’s A Different World) has a small role as a nurse who helps Hannah along on her quest.

Chop House Burger (dining review)

A dining review from The Bleacher Bum.

CHOP HOUSE BURGER is an upscale burger joint with a down home feel.  It is located in downtown Dallas on Main Street. The dine-in seating is very limited and the lunch crowd is pretty big.  The crowd is big because the burgers deliver the goods. They have a basic cheeseburger and five specialty burgers. They also provide a veggie burger and chicken sandwich. I tried the Buffalo Wild Burger. It made an impact.  The meat, cheese, and sauce were all flavorful but not overpowering. I ordered the parmesan french fries, and they were almost better than the burger. The only knock against CHB is that all the burgers can get quite messy, but there are napkins aplenty. Grade A-.

Yet Another “Hunger Games” Review

This one’s from The Movie Snob

The Hunger Games (B).   Like Movie Man Mike, I haven’t read the book, so I have to take the movie on its own merits.  As action flicks go, it is very good.  Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) is great as heroine Katniss Everdeen.  (If you liked this movie, you should really seek out Winter’s Bone, in which Lawrence’s character is surprisingly Katnisslike.)  The special effects are good.  It’s true that the editing is choppy, which is obviously to keep the gore factor down and the PG-13 rating safely in place, but I didn’t find it too distracting.  On the downside, the movie is very dark, since it is, after all, about 24 teenagers murdering each other for the entertainment of the cheering masses.  Even with the choppy editing, some of the carnage was a little hard to stomach.  I also can’t shake a feeling that the premise of the Hunger Games just didn’t make any sense.  The annual sacrifice of 23 kids was supposed to be a sign and strengthener of unity throughout the country?  For that to work, shouldn’t the capital city people have been sending two of their kids to the Games too?  And is it remotely plausible that the Districts are going to feel more united with each other and the capital after watching their kids kill each other?  But during the movie itself, I can’t deny I was pretty captivated by what was going on onscreen.

The Hunger Games

New review from Movie Man Mike.

Hunger Games (B-).  Given how this film has performed at the box office, I’m probably one of the last to see it.  First: the negatives: Surprisingly, this film left me wanting to check my watch 2 or 3 times to see how much longer it had to go, which is a shame.  The pace should have been driven by the action, but it was edited in such a way that the action didn’t really drive the pace.  Many things could have been improved in the way this was presented.  I would have liked to have seen a little more definition of what the relationship was between Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).  The filmmakers go to the trouble of showing you what great strength Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has, but then you never get to see him use any of that strength.  Donald Sutherland plays President Snow and he delivers a good performance as usual, but you don’t get enough of a glimpse of what motivates him.  Finally, I would have liked to have seen a little more character development of the bad guys.  You barely get a glimpse of who they are.  I also never really got a good feel for the relationships of the various districts to one another and to what seems to be the capitol city of the planet.  I am sure the books could afford to go into greater depth, but for someone who hadn’t read the books, I was left wanting more.  I had so many questions, like what were the other districts like?  Who was Seneca Crane and how did he get that position?  What was Donald Sutherland’s relationship to it all and how did he get his position?  What did Effie Trinket and Haymitch Abernathy do when they weren’t training and escorting District 12’s Hunger games participants around?  Now the positives: Woody Harrelson.  He delivers a great performance as Haymitch Abernathy-a former winner of the Hunger Games.  Stanley Tucci also gives a nice performance as Caesar Flickerman, the emcee of the games.  And I liked the idea for the story itself—a dystopian society where each year two participants from each district are selected to be part of the hunger games, which are a fight to the death.  The purpose of the games is to serve as a reminder of an ugly rebellion by the districts.  And, as Donald Sutherland puts it, the reason there is a winner at all is that it gives the people something to hope for.  What this film gave me to hope for was better presentation, more detail.  And it is for that reason (hope) that I will probably see the sequel.  Maybe then some of the background detail will be made more evident.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

New review from The Movie Snob

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (B).  The previews made this look like a pleasant little romantic movie built around a most unusual plot: A fabulously wealthy sheik wants to introduce salmon and salmon fishing into his native country of the Yemen.  The British company that handles his investments puts a bright consultant named Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (the lovely Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau) on the job, and she tracks down a top fish scientist, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor, Miss Potter), to head up the project.  With some added pressure from the prime minister’s formidable press officer Patricia Maxwell (played by the formidable Kristin Scott Thomas, Confessions of a Shopaholic), Dr. Jones reluctantly takes on what he sees as a ridiculous assignment.  Harriet and Alfred have an easy chemistry about them that could easily blossom into something more, but of course matters are more complicated than that.  For one, Harriet is crazy about her new boyfriend, Robert, who is a soldier and has just shipped out to some dangerous place like Afghanistan.  For another, Alfred is married, though we quickly find out that he is apparently no longer in love with his wife, Mary.  The film works, but I have a problem with movies that set us up to root for a character to leave his or her spouse because he or she has now found “true love.”  It just doesn’t seem quite right….

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (B+).  I didn’t really think I would care for this movie, and at first I thought I was right.  The affable Jason Segel (The Muppets) stars as Jeff, a 30ish slacker who lives in his widowed mother’s basement smoking marijuana and wondering what his destiny is.  A wrong number starts him wondering if someone named “Kevin” might be the key to his search for meaning.  But then his irritated mother (Susan Sarandon, Solitary Man) calls him from work and sends him on a more prosaic quest: to buy some wood glue to fix a broken shutter.  Jeff is easily sidetracked, and while wandering around the city (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) he encounters his older brother Pat (Ed Helms, Cedar Rapids), who has just had a horrendous fight with his wife Linda (Judy Greer, The Descendants).  More coincidental encounters ensue, leading the brothers to suspect that Linda is having an affair.  As I say, at first I was annoyed.  Thirty-year-old slackers are generally not that amusing to me, and Helms’s character is a thoroughly unlikeable tool, and coincidences continue to pile up at an unbelievable rate.  But then at some point I just started to go with it, and the film’s conclusion put a smile on my face.  I liked it much better than the directors’ last outing I saw, Cyrus.

Sucker Punch

New review from Comic Book Guy.

Sucker Punch: Perfect title for a flawed but interesting film by Zach Snyder, who brought us the greatness of the Dawn of the Dead reboot, 300, and Watchmen (but who also brought us strangely titled kids film Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole). Visually interesting. Lots of atmospherics. Freaky mash up soundtrack. Don’t worry about the story, just sit back and enjoy the extended video game like sequences, that includes nods to Manga, Kung Fu, Castle Wolfenstein and LOTR. The CGI and SFX are nicely done. The strong female cast is beautiful, even if they have to dress like Sailor Moon, and they totally rock the action sequences. There’s a lot to like in this movie. But there’s a lot to dislike, too.  The video game like quality and heavy reliance on effects shots underscores the lack of story. It’s predictable. The strong females are weakened by the overall misogynistic tone of the film. The action sequences feel a bit tired in the post-Matrix film world. Yeah, it’s great to look at but isn’t there something better on? Probably. And you’ll feel like you got sucker punched after you watch this mess. I give it  a C.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Movie Man Mike sends this review of an off-the-beaten-path movie.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (B).  The Reverend Thomas Malthus would have loved this film.  It just could be the solution to the population explosion.  We usually think of young children as being “innocent.”   Kevin dispels that notion.   Kevin is a rather unique boy with an inexplicable tie to his mother, played by Tilda Swinton.    The audience gets to see Kevin through the eyes of his mother and one begins to see how difficult parenting can be, but particularly so in Kevin’s case.  Kevin is a sociopath.  We get glimpses of the complexity of Kevin’s attachment to mom  throughout, like when he and mom are talking about the expected birth of Kevin’s baby sister.  Kevin reveals his understanding that he and his mother don’t like each other, but are “comfortable” with one another.  The one criticism I have about this film is that it’s one of those films where it jumps back and forth in time and it gets to be so jerky in its jumping that it is very difficult to discern what is past and what is present.  The audience is mostly left to piece it all together in their heads after the film.   The back-and-forth timeline is used as a device to tell the story, but it’s almost too confusing.  On the other hand, the format leaves the audience with lots of intense and disturbing little scenes so that afterwards you can fit the various puzzle pieces together and contemplate just how Kevin came to be and how hard it was for his mother to love and understand him.  This is a powerful movie with some great performances by all three actors playing Kevin and by Swinton.  I really recommend it, but you will want to be in the right frame of mind when you see it.

Mirror, Mirror

New from The Movie Snob

Mirror, Mirror  (C-).  I am no fan of Julia Roberts (The Pelican Brief), but the previews for this retelling of Snow White looked reasonably entertaining, so I decided to give it a chance.  It turned out to be a dud, feeling long and draggy.  As the story opens, an evil queen (Roberts) is ruining the kingdom–through runaway spending and high taxes, of all things!  She gives orders that Snow White (the rightful heir to the throne) is to be taken into the forest and killed, but instead Snow White runs away and falls in with a band of seven dwarfs.  A handsome but hapless prince (Armie Hammer, The Social Network) wanders blithely into the kingdom, and the queen decides she will marry him to get his riches and keep her insolvent kingdom afloat.  Meanwhile, the dwarfs train Snow White in the arts of thievery, swordfighting, etc., so she can stick up for herself and take her kingdom back.  On the plus side, there are a few amusing lines, the visuals of the kingdom are nice, and the gal who plays Snow White, Lily Collins (daughter of the incomparable Phil Collins), is absolutely beautiful.  But that’s about it; it’s a very long-feeling 95-minute movie.