The Impossible

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Impossible  (B).  This is the based-on-a-true-story movie about the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that struck numerous countries in southeastern Asia and killed some 230,000 people.  Naomi Watts (King Kong) and Ewan McGregor (The Island) star as a British couple on vacation in Thailand with their three little boys.  It doesn’t take long for the tsunami to hit, and the mom and the oldest son are swept far away while the dad and two other boys manage to stay together near their hotel.  The rest is the tale of their efforts to survive and find each other in the post-catastrophe chaos.  It’s a competent movie.  The tsunami scenes are quite effective, illustrating that the junk that is in the water with you can be almost as dangerous as the water itself.  I’m quite sure I would’ve been dead in a hurry.  The acting is generally good, although I think Naomi Watts’s Oscar nomination is a little generous.  On the down side, the film is a little too overtly manipulative and sentimental.  The mushy music is way over the top, and the scenes near the end also seem too staged.  But it’s still interesting and worth seeing, in my opinion.

Zero Dark Thirty

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Zero Dark Thirty  (A).  Add my voice to the critical consensus–this is another excellent movie from director Katheryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker).  As you already know, this is the story of the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden, which took almost ten years after 9/11 to reach its successful conclusion in May 2011.  Except for the climactic raid on Osama’s compound in Pakistan, the movie is told almost entirely from the viewpoint of a single CIA analyst named Maya (Jessica Chastain, The Help), whose only job is to find Osama.  Early on, she gets a firsthand look at the abuse of detainees believed to possess valuable knowledge about Al Qaeda, and although she’s a little squeamish at first, she gets past it in a hurry.  Then it’s on to the long, frustrating years of detective work trying to track down the elusive terrorist.  I understand that the movie is supposed to be very accurate, but I wonder if there really is a single Maya out there, or if she was a composite of multiple analysts.  Anyway, Chastain does a nice job playing a character who seems to have very little personality but pursues her quarry with the single-mindedness of a heat-seeking missile.  The Navy SEAL raid on bin Laden’s compound is really well done.  It had me on the edge of my seat, even though I knew full well what was going to happen.  In short,  I loved this movie.  Check it out, and then get a copy of The Hurt Locker and watch that.  Unless you really hate violence in movies; then you’d probably better skip them.

The Green Child (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

The Green Child, by Herbert Read (first published 1935).  I read a favorable mention of this British novel a while back and made a note of it.  Now I have read the actual book, and I have to say it is one weird tale.  The story is told in three chapters.  The first chapter introduces the title character: a mysterious woman who suddenly appeared in a small English village in about the year 1830.  She appeared to be about four years old at the time, but she spoke no English, and her skin had a peculiar greenish tint.  She was taken in by an old woman and raised to adulthood, and she stayed in the village her whole life.  The action of the novel begins in 1861 or so, when a villager named Oliver who has long been away overseas finally returns and encounters the mysterious woman.  Then chapter 2 is a big digression relating Oliver’s adventures overseas.  And chapter 3 returns to the story of Oliver and the mysterious woman, with lots of meditations on philosophy and eternity and heavy stuff like that.  As I say, it is a weird story, but I kind of enjoyed just seeing where it was going to go.  And it’s only 194 pages, so it’s not a huge time commitment.

Sound of My Voice

A new review from The Borg Queen.

Sound of My Voice – C+

Ever since seeing Another Earth, which was written by its leading actress, Brit Marling, I was excited to see Sound of My Voice, another project by Ms. Marling.  Although I enjoyed most of the film, the ending was so unsatisfying that I ultimately felt like I wasted my time watching the film.

***  ARGUABLE SPOILERS FOLLOW ***

The story is about a journalist and his girlfriend who infiltrate a cult led by a mysterious woman named Maggie (played by Brit Marling).  Maggie claims to be from the year 2054 and to have come back in time to “save” people important to her (who, by some act of mystery, happen to be those who come into the cult) from some unspecified, catastrophic event.  The journalist and his girlfriend join the cult to make a documentary exposing Maggie as a fraud.  The question remains:  Is Maggie really from the future or is she a con artist?  Why does she collect blood from her cult members?  Ms. Marling plays Maggie with a magnetism that pulls you in, and you can understand why these cult members form a bond with her.  The journalist is also a substitute teacher, and there is a side story about a peculiar young girl in his class who bears a striking resemblance to Maggie.  She never takes off a red hat, has an inexplicable episode at school where she calls another girl a “terrorist,” and when she comes home she runs to her room every day to make strange structures out of nothing but black legos until her father comes in to put her to bed (where he injects her with something between her toes and then lies next to her in bed, presumably until she falls asleep).  Is this girl connected to Maggie?  What is the significance of the red hat and legos?  Is there abuse with the father taking place and, if so, how does that fit into the Maggie storyline, if at all?  There is also another side story about an FBI agent who acts quite strangly upon arriving at a hotel room.  Does she have a connection to Maggie?  Does she have proof that Maggie is a fraud?  Why does she want to find Maggie?  Throughout the film, questions continue to arise and you easily get pulled into the movie.  As in Another Earth, Ms. Marling has a unique appeal that is very pleasing to watch on screen.  The acting overall is excellent and the film is remarkably intelligent – except for the ending.  Without giving anything away, the end of the film fails to answer many questions.  Unfortunately, this is not a film where you can go back and watch it again looking for missed clues (though there might be some) to answer those lingering questions.  Upon reading an interview with Ms. Marling, I learned that she and her co-writer apparently wrote the the film to be left open to interpretation – something I wish I had known before hitting “play” on my DVD player.  I googled to see if there is any online explanation for the film – to find that none exists.  Like others, I praise Ms. Marling and her co-author, Zal Batmanglij, for striving to make intelligent films that depart from the norm, and I believe that Sound of My Voice is artistically exceptional.  But leaving the audience without a satisfying ending is no doubt the reason why critics enjoy the firm substantially more than we normal folks.  If you know going into the film that many questions will not be answered, and if you are fine with that, then I recommend you give this film a try.  Otherwise, watch Another Earth, which I enjoyed very much.

The Search for the Giant Squid (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

The Search for the Giant Squid: The Biology and Mythology of the World’s Most Elusive Sea Creature, by Richard Ellis (Penguin 1998).  I got this book for Christmas, somewhat as a gag gift but somewhat not.  When I was a kid, I was fascinated by all sorts of weird stuff, and I read as many books as I could about UFO’s, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and stuff like that.  I also loved stuff about ocean creatures, like those old Jacques Cousteau specials on PBS.  Anyhoo, I still kind of like that stuff, and this book was right up my alley.  Ellis starts out with a chapter about various famous sea-monster sightings, many of which I remembered reading about as a kid.  After that opening chapter, it’s everything you could want to know about the giant squid, a deep-sea critter that (as of 1998) no one had ever seen in its natural deep-ocean habitat.  According to Ellis, pretty much everything we know about the giant squid comes from dead and dying specimens washed up on the shore, floating on the ocean surface, or found as a by-product of catching sperm whales.  He lays the history and the results of scientific study of the giant squid out there in a very readable fashion, and because there’s really not that much of it, he also devotes chapters to related topics, such as the giant squid in literature and cinema, and the various models of giant squid you can see in various museums.  The only thing I didn’t like about the book was its age; I’m sure squid science has advanced a lot in 15 years, and I even seem to remember seeing something on the internet a few years back about a reasonably successful attempt to photograph the giant squid in the briny deep.

Parental Guidance

Another review from Nick at Nite.

Parental Guidance

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. I think Billy Crystal is funny. His SNL schtick was great. His Oscar songs are almost always tolerable. I am down with it all. This was not his best work. Billy and Bette Midler play inept grandparents that must watch their grandkids for a long weekend while the parents are away. I am sure you have guessed, things go badly and then get better. This movie cannot figure out what it is . . . slapstick, after-school special, Hallmark movie, or updated Parenthood (which is funnier and more meaningful). Marisa Tomei, why are you in this movie? I give it a C.

Iron Sky

Nick at Nite delivers this DVD review.

Iron Sky

Four words: Nazis on the moon. Yep, they could not win the war, but they could create a secret moon base from which they could plot a return to earth. I am thrilled this was available on Netflix. I thoroughly enjoyed the Palin-like President that must confront the threat. Also, the combination of ancient technology with the space feel gave it a real filmed-in-Yugoslavia quality. Like Springtime for Hitler this bizarre movie will make you giggle. I give it a C.