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.

The Best Movies I Saw in 2012, by The Movie Snob

Happy New Year to all the readers of The Movie Court.  It’s time for my annual round-up of the best movies I saw in 2012 (which may, and in fact does, include some 2011 releases that I saw for the first time in 2012).  I saw 63 movies at the theater in 2012, and a few of them are probably still out there if you hurry!

Movie of the Year.  It’s a tough call this year.  I gave an A- to four movies this year (no A’s or A+’s), and each was very different from the others.  Maybe I’m just picking it because it was the one I saw most recently, but I’ll give top honors to Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, and a host of others.  It’s two and a half hours long, but the time flies by.  It’s hard to imagine Day-Lewis not winning the Oscar for best actor, and I have to think Jones has a solid shot at best supporting actor as well.

Runner-Up.  Second honors go to Ben Affleck’s based-on-true-events thriller Argo.  I was around 12 during the Iranian hostage crisis, so I have some memory of it, but I have no recollection that several Americans managed to escape from the American embassy, avoid capture, and leave the country with fake Canadian passports.  Even though you know how it comes out, Affleck somehow generates plenty of suspense along the way.  Alan Arkin and John Goodman shine as two crusty old Hollywood hands who help the CIA put together a truly crazy escape plan.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  I didn’t see the last Bourne movie, and I still haven’t seen Skyfall, but even if I had I bet I would still pick End of Watch, a cop-buddy movie that had me engrossed from beginning to end.  Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are outstanding as Los Angeles police officers who unwittingly cross a major drug cartel.  Personally, I thought it was refreshing to see a movie in which the cops—all the cops—are actually the good guys.  Oh yeah, there was a little summer movie called The Avengers that I liked pretty well too, and The Hobbit wasn’t bad.  But superheroes and hobbits are no match for End of Watch’s men in blue.

Best Animated Movie.  I didn’t see very many of these this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Pixar production Brave.  It’s about a Scottish princess who prefers running around in the woods with her bow and arrow over the pomp and circumstance of the royal lifestyle.  Naturally she wants nothing to do with the lame suitors who want to become king by winning her hand in marriage.  Girl power!

Best Comedy.  Like most years, 2012 was a tough year for comedy as far as I’m concerned.  My three picks are certainly not straight comedies.  First, I’ll take a chance and recommend the little-seen Jeff, Who Lives at Home.  It’s an odd movie in which the always-shlubby Jason Segel plays a slacker who lives in his mother’s basement and can’t be trusted to handle a simple project like fixing a broken shutter.  Instead he wanders off on a quixotic quest of his own, and by the end I was really enjoying it.  Second, I’ll recommend the more widely seen and widely praised movie Bernie.  It’s also an odd movie—half documentary, half dramatization, based on a real-life murder committed by an east Texas funeral director.  But the characters involved are so outlandish that IMDb.com does indeed call it a comedy.  Jack Black delivers a terrific performance.  Finally, I’ll mention Safety Not Guaranteed, a quirky movie in which a young investigative reporter befriends a man who claims he is building a time machine and wants a companion to accompany him on a trip into the past.  Again, it’s not a straight comedy, but it has some droll moments.

Best Documentary.  I didn’t see any great documentaries this year, but I saw a couple of decent ones.  Disney’s Chimpanzee is a generally upbeat movie about an orphaned chimp who is surprisingly “adopted” by an older and apparently unrelated male.  Too bad they didn’t rein in Tim Allen’s over-the-top narration.  Katy Perry: Part of Me was an interesting look behind the scenes of the superstar’s recent world tour, with a few glimpses of her short-lived marriage to sleazy Russell Brand thrown in for good measure.  On DVD, I enjoyed my kid could paint that, a movie about a four-year-old girl who allegedly paints these fabulous abstract paintings.  Or is her dad helping her on the sly?  It’s a real art-world who-done-it.

Best Drama.  Setting Lincoln aside, I saw a few more contemporary dramas that I really liked.  One was the underrated and underseen Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley.  How would you spend your last days if you knew beyond doubt that the world was coming to an end?  Not everything in the movie was completely plausible, but I thought Carrell and Knightley created a couple of believable characters trying to keep their sanity amid the chaos.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower was also very good, although very dark indeed.  For these kids, high school really is tough.  And finally I’ll mention, with some misgivings, Silver Linings Playbook.  The more I think about it, the phonier it seems.  But Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is so amazing, I have to include it in my list anyway.

Best Foreign FilmThe Kid with a Bike really struck a chord with me.  Although it’s a French film, the story could have played out anywhere.  A single father can’t or won’t take care of his son, so he packs him off to an orphanage.  After a chance encounter, a good-hearted woman agrees to be the boy’s foster mother, but the boy’s pain and anger threaten to overwhelm her gentle love.  A very well-done movie.  I’ll give a second-place mention to A Separation, which is a pretty interesting tale of marital discord and its unfortunate consequences in modern Iran.

Best Science-Fiction Movie.  Science fiction doesn’t usually deserve its own category, but this year it really does.  I thought The Hunger Games was really top notch, so I’ll give it first place in this category.  Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong.  Men in Black 3 defied all my expectations and breathed life and freshness into a franchise that, in my view, never really had much of either.  It was a time-travel story, and so was the twisty and fairly gruesome Looper, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt is given the mission of assassinating the 30-years-older version of himself played by Bruce Willis.  Finally, I’ll say that I really enjoyed Prometheus, even though the Alien prequel didn’t explain much of anything and was pretty gross at times.

Best Silent Movie.  I don’t think I’ve ever needed this category, but I have to acknowledge The Artist, which I saw way back at the beginning of 2012.  It is really an excellent movie.  I know, you have no desire to see a silent movie, but go ahead and watch it anyway.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Honorable Mentions.  It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked Young Adult, a darkish movie in which Charlize Theron plays an unhappy woman who decides she can cure her unhappiness by stealing her old high-school boyfriend away from his newly pregnant wife.  For a less bitter drama, try Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which features nice performances from Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, and Kristin Scott Thomas.  I also liked the very independent drama Beasts of the Southern Wild, about survival in an impoverished Louisiana bayou, and the drama Smashed, starring scream-queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a recovering alcoholic.  It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I liked the pro-life movie October Baby.  In the world of comedy, I got a kick out of Will Ferrell’s odd Spanish movie Casa de mi Padre, and 21 Jump Street was decently funny as well.  I’m not a horror-movie fan, but The Cabin in the Woods, co-written by Joss Whedon, takes the genre in a whole new direction that I found quite entertaining.  Finally, I’ll give an honorable mention to Ruby Sparks, a quirky romance in which a blocked writer starts writing a story about a woman, and then thinks he has gone crazy when she suddenly materializes and behaves exactly the way he writes about her.  It could have been really stupid and predictable, but it wasn’t.

That’s it, and I’ll see you at the box office in 2013!

my kid could paint that

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

my kid could paint that  (B).  You never know when you might find a gem in the $3 DVD bin at Big Lots!  I picked up this 2007 documentary and gave it a watch.  It’s pretty good.  It’s about a four-year-old girl named Marla Olmstead, who became famous in 2004-2005 for her abstract paintings.  Her paintings came to the attention of an artist and dealer in her hometown of Binghamton, New York, and then her story got picked up by the local newspaper, The New York Times, and then the national news shows including 60 Minutes.  Her paintings began selling for thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars.  But then the 60 Minutes piece aired, calling into question Marla’s parents’ claims that she painted her paintings by herself, without her father’s help.  Where does the truth lie?  You’ll have to watch the movie and draw your own conclusions.  I didn’t really care for the way the filmmaker himself became personally involved in the story, but on the whole I thought it was an interesting and enjoyable movie.  And it’s only 83 minutes, so it’s not a huge time commitment.

This Is 40

Happy New Year from The Movie Snob.

This Is 40  (B).  Well, when you sign up for a film by director Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), you expect it to be vulgar and full of characters who swear like sailors.  But this movie features not only Apatow’s lovely wife Leslie Mann (17 Again) but also his two little girls Maude and Iris, so you think maybe he’ll dial the vulgarity down a notch.  Nope; the f-bombs fly as fast and furious as ever.  Anyhoo, the movie is about Pete (the ubiquitous Paul Rudd, Wanderlust) and Debbie (Mann), the married couple seen briefly in Apatow’s 2007 film Knocked Up.  Pete and Debbie are both turning 40, their finances are crumbling, and their marriage is fraying badly.  Although IMDb.com calls the movie a comedy, there are long serious stretches, and Pete and Debbie have some very ugly and unpleasant fights.  At 2 hours and 14 minutes, it is really too long.  And yet, there are some poignant moments and some comic ones that made the film at least somewhat worthwhile for me.  Also, it is amazing to see how many familiar faces Apatow managed to cast in supporting roles, such as John Lithgow (2010), Albert Brooks (Broadcast News), Megan Fox (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), and the hilarious Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids).   McCarthy has a pretty funny (and, of course, profane) tirade in the movie, but during the closing credits they show an outtake of that scene in which McCarthy cracked Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann up and had me positively crying with laughter.  Anyway, this movie is not going to be for everyone (Metacritic.com gives it only 58/100 at this writing), but I liked it enough, here and there, to justify a decent grade.