The Forum and the Tower (book review)

From The Movie Snob.

The Forum and the Tower: How Scholars and Politicians Have Imagined the World, from Plato to Eleanor Roosevelt, by Mary Ann Glendon (Oxford 2011).  What a pretentious title, huh?  It’s awfully long for a 225-page book.  Harvard law professor Glendon’s purpose is to explore the uneasy relationship between scholars and politicians over the centuries.  Although the scholars’ influence can be considerable, Glendon highlights how seldom scholars achieve political power themselves (Cicero and Edmund Burke are primary exceptions she discusses; I imagine Woodrow Wilson also could have made the grade.)  It’s a pleasant and interesting read, consisting of short chapters discussing mostly dead white guys who are fixtures in any decent survey course in Western political thought–Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Tocqueville being some of the principal players.  If you’re already a politics scholar, you won’t learn anything new here, but for the amateur this is an enjoyable book.

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Celeste and Jesse Forever

New from The Movie Snob.

Celeste and Jesse Forever  (C).  This unsuccessful romantic dramedy stars Rashida Jones (I Love You, Man) as Celeste and the previously-unnoticed-by-me Andy Samberg (I Love You, Man) as her husband and best friend Jesse.  Despite their best friendship, Celeste and Jesse are in the process of divorcing, I guess because she’s a successful professional woman who works at a P.R. firm and he’s an unsuccessful artist who likes to go surfing and doesn’t own a pair of dress shoes.  So Jesse lives in an art studio behind Celeste’s house, and they still hang out all the time and carry on in a most annoying fashion–until something happens and Jesse decides he’s going to start seeing someone else.  The movie is really about Celeste and how she deals with this development, which is, of course, poorly.  But Jones never really gets us to care about Celeste, and Jesse is a cipher with no charisma or charm that I could detect.  Emma Roberts (Hotel for Dogs) has a couple of decent scenes as a petulant rock star who is using the services of Celeste’s P.R. firm, and the same for Chris Messina (Ruby Sparks) as a fellow who tries pick Celeste up after a yoga session, but they’re the only bright spots in this otherwise mediocre movie.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Beasts of the Southern Wild  (B).  This independent flick is about a remarkable little black girl named Hushpuppy (first-time actress Quvenzhane Wallis).  Hushpuppy lives on a Gulf-coast island of Louisiana known to its beyond-impoverished residents as the Bathtub, and she has never known anything else.  Her mother is long gone, and her father Wink is a sickly, occasionally scary drunkard.  He even makes Hushpuppy live in a hovel separate from his (at least until hers burns down).  Although Hushpuppy’s spirit is indomitable, life is hard in the Bathtub, and it only gets worse after a hurricane floods the island and the salt water kills everything the residents rely on for their livelihood.  Things are very realistic in the early going, but as the film goes on, things take on a more dreamlike quality, and we seem to see things more and more through Hushpuppy’s eyes and imagination.  There are moments that tug at your heartstrings, and little Wallis’s performance is outstanding (maybe even Oscar-nomination worthy?).  Worth checking out, for sure.

The Age of Miracles (book review)

From The Movie Snob.

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker (2012).  Has the end of the world always been such a popular topic?  Zombie apocalypses and doom-by-asteroid seem to be especially popular these days.  The menace in The Age of Miracles is much quieter than these: the earth’s rotation is inexplicably slowing down, causing the days and nights to get longer and longer and longer.  At first merely inconvenient, the phenomenon gets increasingly serious as ocean currents, weather patterns, and all sorts of animal and plant life are affected by “the slowing.”  But I’m giving you the wrong impression of this book, because this is really the story of Julia, an 11-year-old girl.  The slowing certainly affects her life, but it has to compete for her attention with the other trials of childhood–loneliness, a secret crush, family troubles, and the other usual difficulties of youth.  Walker, a first-time novelist, does a very nice job of making Julia a believable and likable character, and I really enjoyed the book.  At only 269 pages, it’s a pretty quick read, too.

Ruby Sparks

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Ruby Sparks  (B).  Okay, the premise for this independent flick is not the freshest.  Calvin (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine) is a well-known writer with a bad case of writer’s block and a recurring dream about a mysterious girl.  At his shrink’s suggestion, he starts writing a story about a stranger who meets him and likes his dog Scottie, and Calvin decides to make the story about his dreamgirl, whom he names Ruby Sparks.  Lo and behold, soon after he starts writing the story, the girl of his dreams materializes in his house.  Ruby, played by Dano’s real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan (The Savages), is clearly a graduate of the Zooey Deschanel Finishing School for Cute, Quirky Girls, and after verifying that he has not gone insane, Calvin understandably falls for her hard.  But Calvin is more than a little co-dependent, and when Ruby starts to want a little independence, a little space, Calvin is severely tempted to return to the typewriter (Yes, a typewriter.  Quirk!) whence she sprang and edit that particular aspect out of her personality.  I enjoyed it–Kazan wrote the screenplay and does a good job of making the characters behave pretty believably in a fantastical situation.  Worth a look.

Snow White and the Huntsman

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Snow White and the Huntsman  (D).  I never in a million years dreamed I would see this movie and look back fondly on Mirror, Mirror, but there it is.  In this version of the fairy tale, a beautiful witch named Ravenna (Charlize Theron, Prometheus) grabs a kingdom by killing its king and locking his daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart, Zathura), away in a dungeon.  I’m not sure why she doesn’t just have Snow White killed right then, but some years later Ravenna finds out she can use Snow White and become immortal somehow.  Then Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest, and Ravenna persuades a drunken brute known only as the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, The Cabin in the Woods) to track her and bring her back.  After that, it’s a long, boring slog through all sorts of hooey to get to the long, boring climactic battle.  The dialogue is terrible, the romantic angle is virtually nonexistent (even though a superfluous second suitor for Snow is eventually thrown into the mix), and nothing makes much sense.  I was also sad to see some real actors wasted playing the dwarfs, like Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) and Toby Jones (City of Ember).  Stewart continues to be a not very good actress, and she’s really not the fairest of them all.  Skip both this movie and Mirror, Mirror, and go see a decent fantasy movie like Brave or the recent live-action Alice in Wonderland.

P.S.  Yikes!  IMDB.com reports that Snow White and the Huntsman II may be in the works!

The Neighbors Are Watching (book review)

Another book review from The Movie Snob.

The Neighbors Are Watching, by Debra Ginsberg (2010).  This suspenseful little novel is set in a cul-de-sac in a quiet, middle-class area of San Diego, or maybe one of its suburbs.  The residents of Fuller Court have plenty of secrets, and one of them explodes into plain view one hot July day when restaurant manager Joe Montana and his wife Allison come home to find Joe’s very pregnant 17-year-old daughter Diana waiting for them in their driveway.  This comes as a bit of a shock, because Joe has never seen his daughter, and Allison had no idea she even existed.  Needless to say, Diana’s appearance rocks the Montanas’ world, and the ripple effects of her arrival touch several of the other homes on Fuller Court as well.

A couple of months later, some of California’s infamous wildfires are pressing towards Fuller Court.  The official word comes that everyone is supposed to evacuate.  And, amid the confusion, Diana disappears.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  The mystery of Diana’s disappearance is pretty compelling, and along the way Ginsberg does a good job of shifting the focus from house to house so that we get to know quite a few of the neighbors pretty well.  Some are relatively decent, others are pretty thoroughly bad, but all of them are believable.  I recommend it.