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.

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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.