Safety Not Guaranteed

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Safety Not Guaranteed  (B+).  I really enjoyed this little independent movie.  Comic actress Aubrey Plaza (TV’s Parks and Recreation) really carries the film as a young woman named Darius.  She’s an unpaid and seemingly unhappy intern at a Seattle magazine, and she gets roped into helping one of the professional writers investigate a possible story about a mysterious guy who ran a classified ad looking for a partner to travel back in time with him.  They track the guy down easily enough, and Darius wins his confidence and starts training for the time-travel mission.  The guy (played by Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister) is obviously crazy, right?  Well, darned if enough odd things don’t start happening to make Darius think it is just barely possible he is telling the truth.  Plaza is strangely charming–she’s cute, but she has such a direct gaze and such a deadpan delivery that she seems to be rolling her eyes at everyone and everything around her all the time.  But somehow it works.  Duplass is much more likeable here than he was in Your Sister’s Sister.  And although the movie is only 86 minutes long, there’s even a nice subplot in which the sleazy writer who’s ostensibly supervising the investigation goes off and tries to reconnect with a long-ago ex-girlfriend.  I liked it.  And no, I won’t tell you how it ends.

Bernie

New review from Mom Under Cover

Bernie – A

If you have not seen Bernie, run, don’t walk, to a theater as soon as possible and be sure to stay for the extended interviews during the credits.  Confirmed bachelor (closet homosexual?) Bernie Tiede (played by a restrained Jack Black–Nacho Libre) moves to Carthage, Texas fresh out of mortuary school where he befriends a wealthy widow forty years his senior, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine).  Nugent is a sourpuss; Bernie teaches her how to enjoy life. Marjorie blooms under Bernie’s attention; Marjorie funds Bernie’s shopping habit. Marjorie becomes demanding; Bernie snaps. Because of strained relationships with her family, Bernie ultimately stands to inherit Marjorie’s millions.

Richard Linklater’s (Slacker, Dazed and Confused) offering of the late ’80 events in Panola County surrounding the death of Marjorie Nugent is spot on.  Linklater co-wrote the screenplay with Skip Hollandsworth (who penned  a 1998 Texas Monthly article detailing the story) and hired only actors from Texas or Louisiana so the accents would ring true.  Matthew McConaughey plays district attorney Danny Buck opposite Scrappy Holmes played by Brady Coleman.  McConaughey’s mother has a small role as one of the local gossips.  The Greek chorus of gossips (composed of actors and locals) pops in to move the story along and is by far the star of the show.   Having grown up in a small, Texas town, I can attest that the locals are the real deal–even Linklater cannot write dialog that authentic. (Watch the post credit interviews to find out if you guessed correctly which were actors and which were locals.) Both MacLaine and Black’s characters were somewhat caricature though Black was respectful in his portrayal of Tiede.  This black comedy will keep you laughing all the way home!

Moonrise Kingdom

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Moonrise Kingdom  (B).  Quirky director Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) returns with a quirky tale of young love between a couple of 12-year-old misfits, Sam and Suzy.  Suzy lives on a smallish island with her dysfunctional family, and Sam is an orphan in foster care.  Via flashback, we learn that they met cute a year earlier, became penpals, and hatched a scheme to run away together when Sam’s scout troop is on the island for a camping trip.  Once their disappearance is discovered, search parties are formed by the various semi-competent adults who are available–the earnest scoutmaster (Edward Norton, The Painted Veil), Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray, Ghostbusters; Frances McDormand, Fargo), the island’s policeman (Bruce Willis, Surrogates)–and quirky adventures ensue.  The relationship between Sam and Suzy is easily the movie’s strongest point, and Anderson makes it touching while keeping it believable.  Sam and Suzy’s affection is genuine, but it doesn’t keep them from hurting each other’s feelings once in a while.  The supporting elements are not as strong.  Stuff is odd without actually being funny, Murray’s character in particular is way underdeveloped, and using a hurricane as a plot element seems like overkill.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie as a whole.  It made me wonder what happened to that one particular girl who transferred into my elementary school at the beginning of 5th grade, didn’t come back for 6th grade, and in between made me get the worst grades in conduct I ever got….

Prometheus

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Prometheus  (B+).  I barely managed to see this new sci-fi/horror flick before it leaves the theaters, and I’m glad I made the effort.  Director Ridley Scott returns to the universe of his 1979 classic Alien for the tale of a space expedition to a remote world that may hold the secret to the origins of life on Earth.  Once the astronauts arrive, they discover huge alien structures full of dead humanoid aliens, not to mention weirder and slimier artifacts of disturbing import.  I found plenty to like about the movie–the acting was good, and Scott had no trouble ratcheting up the suspense and dread.  There is plenty of gruesome stuff, which will surprise no one who saw Alien or its sequel Aliens.  On the down side, it seemed like an awful lot of stuff was left unexplained, and some of the characters did some things that made very little sense, or that seemed physically impossible.  And I thought Charlize Theron (Young Adult) was sadly underused as the icy corporate representative on the mission.  But in the end, I enjoyed the movie and left the theater hoping there will be a sequel.  If you’re one of the few folks who hasn’t seen the original Alien, I do think you will enjoy Prometheus more if you take the trouble to screen a DVD of Alien first.

Katy Perry: Part of Me

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Katy Perry: Part of Me  (B).  This is what happens when you have a 13-year-old goddaughter.  But I can’t complain too much; as evidenced by my grade, I thought this was a pretty interesting little documentary about one of the moment’s biggest pop stars.  The temporal focus of the film is 2011, when Perry dominated the airwaves with her songs, the arenas with her concerts, and the tabloids with short-lived marriage to Russell Brand (Get Him to the Greek).  But the movie also lets us see how Perry got where she is.  We learn about her strict Pentecostal Christian upbringing, her eventual discovery of secular music (with a specific tip of the hat to Alanis Morissette), and her several painful years of gutting it out in the music biz until she finally got her big break.  There’s lots of 2011 concert footage, too.  Personally, I find some of her songs to be pretty catchy, but some are so vulgar and tawdry that it’s appalling to see so many young girls (and some boys) at her concerts.  And I’m no music critic, but her voice seems pretty unexceptional to me.  Still and all, she seems like a nice enough person, and you feel a little sorry for her when tour fatigue and her failing marriage threaten to really tear her up.  Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that her grandmother is a scene-stealing hoot.

The Paris Wife (book review)

A book review from Mom Under Cover.

The Paris Wife  A-

While Paula McLain tells the story of the romance and first marriage of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, the reader takes a romp through Paris in the early 1920’s–salons, larger-than-life characters and the like.  (Think Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris).  As the author puts it, this is when Ernest was Ernest and not HEMINGWAY.   Though written from the first Mrs. Hemingway’s perspective (there were ultimately four), Hadley’s character is somewhat one-dimensional and underdeveloped.  Perhaps this is McLain’s way of demonstrating the chasm between Hadley’s midwestern, demure personality and the intensity of Ernest’s.  Ms. McLain had access to Hemingway’s letters but not permission to quote them, which may explain some of the clumsiness. No doubt Hemingway was a cad and this novel does not attempt to sidestep his shortcomings.  It does, however, take the reader along the journey as he discovers bullfighting, motorcycle racing and struggles to become a writer rather than a journalist.  And, it is a journey worth taking.

Finally, for an interesting postscript, pick up A Moveable Feast – Restored Edition edited by Patrick Hemingway.  This memoir is Hemingway’s version of the same Paris years written near the end of his life and published posthumously in 1964.  The restored edition strips away Mary Hemingway’s (the fourth wife) filter in attempt to be true to the original manuscript.  Whether on account of the passage of time, the shock treatments, or the ever present depression, Hemingway writes of Hadley, … “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.”

 

Game of Thrones: Season One

The Bleacher Bum proffers a second opinion.

Game of Thrones, Season 1.  Game of Thrones is based on a series of fantasy/medieval novels by George R.R. Martin.  It is my understanding that Season 1 covers only the first book. I cannot confirm because I have not read the books. (I ordered the first book today.) I think it is important to note that I am a huge fan of this genre, and I have since learned to my dismay, some people are very much not.  With that said, I think everyone would be a fan of this show because it is entertainment personified.  It is about the battles, politics, bribery, murders, curses, marriages, relationships, betrayals, bloodlines, histories, and scheming of seven families in ancient times.  They are all trying to seize control of The Seven Kingdoms aka The Realm. The cast is massive. The performances are phenomenal. The writing and direction are exceptional. The sets and scenery are majestic.  The deaths are breathtaking.  Everything is bigger and better on this show. This show is HBO.  And as an HBO show, this show is not for children under the age of 16. But this show is for people that like to be pulled in about 1,000 different directions.  Grade: A.

Your Sister’s Sister

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Your Sister’s Sister  (D+).  I thought the set-up was promising, but this little indie flick really didn’t work for me.  Mark, an average guy in his mid-30s, is still in a depressive funk a year after the death of his brother Tom.  His best friend Iris—who dated Tom for a while—orders Mark to hop a ferry to an idyllic island where Iris’s dad owns a cabin that is currently vacant.  She instructs him to use the solitude to veg out and get his head on straight.  But when he takes Iris’s advice, Mark discovers someone else is already in the cabin doing the same thing—Iris’s half-sister Hannah, who is trying to get over the end of a seven-year relationship.  A bottle of tequila later, and despite what should be a certain fundamental incompatibility, Mark and Hannah quickly get to know each other very well indeed.  To complete the awkwardness of it all, Iris herself shows up at the cabin the very next morning.  (So much for the solitude plan—or was Iris secretly planning to show up all along?)  That’s the set-up; the rest of the movie is bad behavior and secret revelations galore, and I really just didn’t buy it.  Mark, played by Mark Duplass (director, Jeff, Who Lives at Home), is an unappealing and excessively foul-mouthed fellow.  The lovely Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) does her best with Iris, and the lovely Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) does her best with the rather more mysterious Hannah, but the script lets them down.  And the ending feels false.  In short, not very good.

Moonrise Kingdom

A new review from Movie Man Mike.

Moonrise Kingdom.  B.  The cast of this film creates some pretty big expectations.  Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, & Tilda Swinton.  And those are not even the main characters.  This was a cute and sweet film.  The two main characters are misfits in their respective worlds.  They meet and decide to run away together.  When the rest of the grown-up cast realizes it, an all-out search ensues and the results are quite amusing.  The entire cast gives a solid performance.  In my view the only weakness in the film was that I had higher expectations in the laughter department, given the cast and subject matter.  If you don’t see this one at the theater, it will make a great rental for a rainy day afternoon.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World  (B+).  I have wanted to see this movie ever since I first saw the previews for it a while back.  My keenly trained critic’s intuition told me that this was a movie that should really be titled Hoping Keira Knightley Will Date Me Because It’s the End of the World, and I rather like Keira Knightley.  Well, I saw the film today, and I can’t say my critic’s intuition was wrong.  As the movie opens, we learn from a handy TV news guy that the world is going to end in three weeks, smashed by a giant asteroid named Matilda that NASA has proved powerless to stop.  After that, we experience the last days of Earth as seen through the eyes of Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell, Little Miss Sunshine).  Dodge is a sad fellow, an insurance salesman whose wife Linda ran off pretty much as soon as the apocalypse countdown started.  Then Dodge meets his downstairs neighbor, the cute and free-spirited Penny (Knightley, Never Let Me Go).  Dodge accidentally acquires a dog, the city starts to get a little dangerous with all the rioting and looting, and next thing you know Dodge and Penny are on a joint road trip to accomplish their separate missions–he to find his long-lost high-school sweetheart, and she to find someone with a plane who can get her back to her family in England.  It’s a little sappy and sentimental (after a fairly dark opening act), but Carell and Knightley play appealing and likeable people, and the bottom line is that the movie worked for me.  Too bad it got mixed critical reviews and apparently sank like a stone at the box office; I say it deserved better.

Brave

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Brave  (B+).  The new offering from Pixar is set in a magical, medieval Scotland.  Big, boisterous King Fergus and his prim and proper wife Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson, Dead Again) have a high-spirited daughter named Merida who is a veritable Katniss Everdeen with a bow and arrow.  Now, Merida is getting to that age when an unfortunate ancient custom decrees that she must marry the heir of one of the nearby clans.  To refuse would risk triggering an all-out civil war.  What’s a girl to do?  I don’t think I’m committing a spoiler by saying Merida tries to buck the system, and consequences ensue.  All in all, I thought it was quite good.  The visuals live up to Pixar’s high standards–it must have taken a whole team of animators (or computer programmers) just to do Merida’s wild mane of red hair.  The portrayal of the fraught relationship between Merida and her mother is unusually well done.  And Merida’s much younger brothers, who appear to be triplets, are a hoot in their few appearances.  The thing that keeps me from giving it a grade in “A” territory is that it did feel just a little derivative of other movies.  Still, it’s a very good flick.  There are some scary fight scenes involving bears, so it is rated PG, but I would think only the littlest kids would be really scared.  The opening short, La Luna, is kind of cute but nothing to write home about.

After America: Get Ready for Armageddon

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, by Mark Steyn (Regnery 2011).

First, let me comment that this is the first book I have read on my new Kindle.  I bought it from a friend a few weeks ago in advance of a long trip, and I am generally happy with it.  The screen is easy to read, and it is certainly a small and lightweight device.  I don’t like the fact that you can’t flip around easily in the “book,” but there are probably ways to flag passages that you want to find again later.  I just haven’t figured them out yet.  Anyway, I like the Kindle well enough and it’s handy for trips, but I probably won’t use it much around the house.

Anyway, Steyn is my favorite doomsaying author.  A few years ago he wrote America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (reviewed here), in which he focused on the demographic decline of Western civilization and its probable destabilizing effect in the face of a simultaneous surge in the world’s Muslin population.  In the present volume, Steyn shifts his focus from Demographics to the related topic of Debt.  Despite outsourcing most of its defense spending to the USA, Europe has found itself unable to finance its welfare states, and the USA is fast following in Europe’s footsteps.  Steyn predicts America’s debt will swamp its economy (along with much of the rest of the world’s) if America doesn’t change course soon.  A secondary theme is that America’s dense web of microregulation is not only suffocating industry and innovation but also (and more worrisomely) infantilizing the citizenry.  In sum, Steyn argues, the nanny state has caused advanced societal decay in Europe and is in the process of doing the same in America, and he expects the results to be dire, if not catastrophic.  An interesting read, and generally persuasive, in my humble opinion….