Frankenweenie

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Frankenweenie  (B-).  The latest film from the twisted mind of director Tim Burton (Dark Shadows) is a relatively low-key animated “horror” movie.  In the town of New Holland, young Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan, I Am Legend) is a budding film director with only one real friend, his dog Sparky.  When Sparky is killed in an accident, Victor decides to put the science he has been learning at school into practice.  His experiment is a success, but when his efforts to keep his discovery a secret fail, disaster threatens to strike!  I give Burton credit for trying to come up with a fresh story to tell, and I enjoyed the mash-up of so many old-timey horror-movie conventions.  Martin Landau (City of Ember) voices the weird, Vincent-Price-looking science teacher; Catherine O’Hara (Waiting for Guffman) voices Victor’s mom, and Winona Ryder (Star Trek) voices Victor’s sad next-door neighbor Elsa Van Helsing.  The film has an interestingly creepy look, being done in black and white stop-motion.  On the minus side, I didn’t think the story made a whole lot of sense.  Still, I appreciated the effort to make an original story, and I think this film is mild enough for all but the littlest children this Halloween.

Drive

A DVD review from Nick at Nite.

Drive

I loved this movie. Two words: Ryan Gosling. Two more words: Techno Beat. Combine them and you have a pulsating, action-minded getaway film that will leave you wanting more. Gosling stars as the quiet, methodical driver – he will get you out as long as you are on time, no questions asked. Things get difficult when he falls for the ex-con’s girl next door. He has to help the ex-con with a job that runs afoul of the Jewish mob bosses played by Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks. Should have gotten more Oscar buzz than it did. See it. Go. Now. You will not be disappointed.

Argo

Mom Under Cover checks in with a new review.

Argo  (A).  I have only vague recollections of the Iranian Hostage Crisis of the late 1970s; keeping up with foreign affairs wasn’t my top priority in junior high.  The details of this operation were de-classified in 1997 by President Clinton–so don’t despair if you have no memory of this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of CIA agent Mendez (Ben Affleck) extricating 6 U.S. diplomats from the Canadian embassy in Tehran by posing as a Hollywood film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi movie.  Director and star Affleck gets the pace just right.  Tension mounts appropriately–Argo is an energetic thriller (even if the real story did not end in the Hollywood-esque chase down the tarmac).   John Goodman (as make-up artist (Planet of the Apes) and CIA operative John Chambers) and Alan Arkin (a jaded Hollywood producer past his prime) deliver the needed humorous moments of the film–a reminder that Hollywood is Hollywood in 1979 or 2012.  The 6 “houseguests” are well-rounded characters.  Affleck delightfully under-plays Mendez. You won’t be disappointed!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower  (B+).  Possible alternative title: “And You Think You Had It Tough in High School.”  This is the story of Charlie, a newly minted high-school freshman who has struggled with some sort of mental-health issues in the recent past.  He looks to be headed for a lonely four years, but he gets adopted by a group of misfit seniors led by Patrick (Ezra Miller, City Island), who is gay, and his stepsister Sam (Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), who has a troubled past and a dark secret.  Oh, and it soon comes to light that Charlie’s best friend recently committed suicide.  Suffice to say, this is a very dark and heavy movie, and given the central themes of mental illness, suicide, and sexual abuse, I think the PG-13 rating may be misleading.  Aside from a few moments that I couldn’t quite buy, I thought this movie was very well done.  Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) does a good job as the introverted Charlie.  Several other recognizable actors show up, such as Paul Rudd (Our Idiot Brother) as an inspiring English teacher and Mae Whitman (TV’s Arrested Development) as a Buddhist control freak who gets a crush on Charlie.  Well worth seeing, but don’t expect to walk out smiling.

Taken 2

A new review from The Borg Queen.

Taken 2  (B).   The first movie in this series, Taken, from 2008 took me by surprise.  Taken 2 is a continuation of the same story.  It stars Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, who is a very talented, former CIA agent.  In the first movie, Bryan’s daughter, Kim, (played by Maggie Grace of Lost) is kidnapped with the intent to sell her as a sex slave to the highest bidder.  I absolutely loved the first film as it was full of great one-liners, action, thrills, and kept me on the edge of my seat as I waited impatiently to figure out if he would ever find his daughter.  The second movie picks up shortly after the first movie.  In the sequel, the father of some of the men killed in the first movie (I guess even really, really, really bad people have some people in the world that care about them) seeks revenge on Bryan and sets out to kidnap and kill Bryan, his estranged wife Lenore (played by Famke Janssen of the X-Men series) and Kim while they are in Istanbul.  The sequel had just as much entertainment and action as the first movie, and was definitely worth a full-price ticket.  But it did not quite have the same emotional punch or “how did he do that?” impact as the first movie.  My expectations were pretty high going into the film, so this may be one of those films that is actually more entertaining the second time you watch it.  Anyway, it is still a great flick, and Liam Neeson is always entertaining.

Independent People (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Independent People: An Epic, by Halldór Laxness (1946, Vintage ed. 1997).  Laxness (1902–1998) is Iceland’s only Nobel laureate; he won the prize for literature in 1955.  After visiting Iceland this past June, I decided I had to try a novel by its greatest author, and I easily found this translation by J.A. Thompson.  Set in the first few decades of the 20th century, this tale is about a peasant sheep farmer named Bjartur.  He has spent 18 years in some kind of servitude, and now he has saved enough money to buy a small sheep farm of his own, in a valley said to be cursed by a long-dead witch.  But Bjartur is a veritable Captain Ahab of the soil, obsessed with raising his sheep and remaining independent of all other people, and against all odds he manages to eke out a living on his marshy plot of land.  He marries unhappily, soon finding out his bride is probably carrying another man’s child, but he bears a strange tenderness towards the baby, a girl he names Asta Sollilja, or “beloved sun-lily.”  As the years go by, Bjartur’s obsession with independence costs him dearly in all his relationships, and the question looms whether his character flaws will ultimately doom him to a life of solitude and a lonely death.  I thoroughly enjoyed it—to the point that I limited myself to only a couple of chapters a day so the book would last longer.  Highly recommended.

Liberal Arts

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Liberal Arts  (C-).  I went to a liberal-arts college, so I was prepared to like this new movie set in and around such an institution.  Alas, I really didn’t care for it.  Josh Radnor (TV’s How I Met Your Mother) stars as Jesse, a 35-year-old man-boy with an unfulfilling job as a college admissions officer in NYC.  He jumps at a chance to revisit his alma mater, an unnamed liberal-arts college in Ohio, for a beloved professor’s retirement party.  He meets and immediately develops a strong bond with a rather direct sophomore coed named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen, Silent House).  But that’s not all; he also bonds with a mentally fragile kid named Dean, and with a holy fool named Nat (Zac Efron, 17 Again) who doesn’t even go to the school but apparently hangs out there all the time.  And he is struck dumb whenever he sees this iceberg of a professor who, like, totally changed his life with one class on the British Romantics.  So, there’s a lot going on in this movie, but little of it is convincing.  The dialogue is not great, and the plot has a going-through-the-motions kind of feel to it.  In sum, this is an eminently skippable movie.

The Red Shoes

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Red Shoes  (B-).  One of our Dallas art-house theaters is embarking on a series of special showings of classic movies, and it started with this 1948 classic that I had never heard of before.  It is about ballet, and it has a lot of ballet in it.  Still, it’s a pretty good melodrama.  It’s about the Lermontov Ballet company and its imperious impresario Boris Lermontov.  While the company is in London, Lermontov picks up a new assistant conductor named Julian and a beautiful aspiring ballerina named Victoria Page.  Page blossoms under Lermontov’s stern tutelage and rises to the top of the company, and she and Julian fall in love.  The problem is that Lermontov permits no division of loyalty and fired his last leading ballerina when she had the bad judgment to get married.  It’s a little stiff and stagey by today’s standards, but it’s not bad, and this restored print is gorgeous to look at.

End of Watch

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

End of Watch  (A-).  I had heard that this cop movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Source Code) and Michael Pena (Babel) was good, but it was even better than I was expecting.  Gyllenhaal and Pena are Brian and Mike, a couple of ordinary cops in Los Angeles, and basically the movie plays like a documentary about life on the beat.  (Brian is supposedly filming stuff for a film class, but that has no bearing on the plot.)  I have no idea how accurate the movie is to real life, but it felt very real.  Brian and Mike aren’t sticklers for the rules, but they are plainly decent guys who enjoy being cops and who are good at their job.  Along with plenty of tense moments in the field, we also get to see glimpses of their personal lives, with Mike’s pregnant wife and Brian’s new girlfriend (an unexpected Anna Kendrick, 50/50).  America Ferrera leaves Ugly Betty far behind as another cop on the force who turns up from time to time.  Suspense begins to build as the two buddies unwittingly cross a drug cartel that is trying to solidify a base in south-central L.A., and by the end I was on the edge of my seat.  I thought it was a very interesting movie with some fine performances.  It’s not for the squeamish, but I highly recommend it.

Total Recall (2012)

A new hatchet job from The Movie Snob.

Total Recall  (D).  The 1990 Schwarzenegger-starring original was no work of art, but it was head and shoulders above this thuddingly dull remake.  According to the credits, this film is “inspired by” a short story by sci-fi master Philip K. Dick, whose paranoia-laced work has inspired many other (better) movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.  Anyhoo, this movie is not too different from its 1990 predecessor, although I remember the original as being more outlandish and striving for a few moments of humor.  This version is much darker and grimier.  Colin Farrell (Crazy Heart) stars as Doug Quaid, a superspy who has been brainwashed into thinking he’s an ordinary schmoe with an extraordinarily attractive wife (Kate Beckinsale, The Last Days of Disco).  He finds out about the brainwashing about 15 or 20 minutes into the movie, and the rest of the 2-hour run time is pretty much an extended sequence of chases and fights.  Yawn.  Jessica Biel (Easy Virtue) plays a member of the rebel resistance that Quaid teams up with, and Bill Nighy (I Capture the Castle) has little more than a cameo as the rebel leader.  None of it makes much sense, but Beckinsale does get to strut around and look annoyed a lot as her fake husband constantly stays one step ahead of her and her team of goons.  Skip this turkey.