Parenthood (Season One)

New from The Movie Snob.

Parenthood – Season One  (B-).  Well, I thought this would be a show my mom and I could watch together when she’s visiting, but it turned out to be a little too, ah, frank about certain subjects that never got discussed on, say, The Donna Reed Show.  I thought it was pretty good but not great.  It’s all about the California-based Braverman family—the patriarch and matriarch, played by Craig T. Nelson (The Family Stone) and Bonnie Bedelia (Diehard), and their four grown children (Adam, Sarah, Crosby, and Julia), and their six grandchildren, none of whom is older than about 15.  Although the blurb on the cover calls it hilarious and heartbreaking, the emphasis is WAY on the heartbreaking side, and over the course of the season you start to wonder if these folks can ever catch a break, or if they ever even laugh for crying out loud.  Occasionally they say or do things that seem pretty unrealistic, just to ratchet up the conflict.  And the four grown siblings are awfully different from each other to be so close-knit.  But on the other side of the balance sheet, there are some likeable characters and some nice performances.  I have a big soft spot for Lauren Graham (Evan Almighty), whose Sarah is a refugee from a busted marriage who moves back home with two teenagers in tow.  I also like the responsible oldest sibling, Adam, (played by Peter Krause, The Truman Show) who has to juggle a successful career and two pretty demanding kids in addition to his somewhat crazy extended family.  And I like Adam’s wife Kristina, probably because she’s played by Monica Potter (A Cool, Dry Place), who’s kind of like a more attractive version of Julia Roberts.  I’ll probably check out Season Two one of these days.  Not many special features on the DVDs; a few deleted scenes and a short making-of featurette that is the standard love-in by the cast and directing crew.


New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Skyfall  (C-).  I barely caught the latest James Bond flick before it disappeared from the theaters, and I have to say I am glad I saw it in the dollar theater because it just wasn’t that good.  Mainly, it is too darned long–almost two and half hours–and it just kind of sags and drags along for a lot of that running time.  Do we really need to see Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) arguing with Judi Dench (Mrs. Henderson Presents) about how the nature of spying has changed, blah blah blah?  It’s nice that we get filled in on some backstory for M and even for 007 himself, but a little of that kind of stuff goes a long way.  Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) was decent as the villain, but the beautiful Berenice Marlohe has like three minutes of screen time as the “Bond girl” of this installment.  In short, I don’t really get the hype that Skyfall garnered, and it has made me start to wonder about the Bond franchise in general.  Aren’t most of them overly long, overly complicated, and really just not that good?  Hmmm.

56 Up

A new review from The Movie Snob.

56 Up  (A-).  I’ve already written about this series of British documentaries on this blog several times.  Basically, in 1963 or 1964, somebody gathered up a bunch of seven-year-olds from different social strata and interviewed them singly or in small groups.  Every seven years since then, director Michael Apted (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) has gone back and interviewed them again to see what has happened to them in life.  Some stopped participating along the way, but many have continued to participate.  Now they are 56 years old, and they seem more philosophical than ever as they deal with illnesses and deaths of loved ones, the growing-up of their own children, and the arrival, in many cases, of grandchildren.  The fellow who has struggled with mental illness still has his struggles, but he seems to be doing reasonably well living in a small village where he is active both in politics and in the church.  The kids from privileged backgrounds all seem to be doing quite well, but happily even the ones from the lower rungs of the social ladder (including the two boys who lived in a state-run home for a while) generally seem to be doing okay.  I think I was getting a little bored with the series, but I really enjoyed this entry.  See if you can find it on Netflix or something, and check it out.  (You can see my previous reviews in the series here:  49 Up, 42 Up, 35 Up, 28 Up, 21 Up, 7+Seven, and 7 Up.)

There’s Something About Mary

Mom Under Cover says, if you’re caught up on the Oscar contenders, pull out an oldie but goodie:

There’s Something About Mary – A

The Farrelly brothers originally released this film in 1998 with Cameron Diaz in the title role.  Ben Stiller, Chris Elliott and Matt Dillon play major roles.  (Don’t forget that surprise appearance near the end by a famous gridiron guy.)  If you saw this movie back in the day, there are a few scenes that are indelibly inked in your memory . . . they are just as funny when you know what’s coming.  Ostensibly about Stiller’s character wanting to reconnect with his high school crush, the film tells the tale of a gaggle of Mary’s admirers whose affections range from puppy love to psycho stalker.  Virtually every character in the movie is not what he or she appears, which makes for clever hilarity.  Not family friendly–but adults will be laughing long after the credits roll.

Six Days of War (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Michael B. Oren (2002).  I bought this tome a while back after reading a favorable review, but it has taken me a long while to tackle it.  Basically, Oren spends about thirty pages setting the stage with a chapter covering the period from creation of modern Israel in 1948 up to 1966.  Then he spends about 140 pages on the crises that led up to the Six Day War, about an equal number of pages on the war itself (June 5-10, 1967), and twenty pages or so on the aftermath.  It is a good book, but it is not light reading; the central part of the book covers events in very thorough detail.  As I understand it, Egypt and Syria more or less goaded each other into preparing, or at least appearing to prepare, for war with Israel.  Egypt deployed a huge proportion of its army into the Sinai Peninsula and blockaded Israel’s access to the Red Sea, and Israel eventually decided it had to attack Egypt first because a successful Egyptian first strike from Sinai could have destroyed the whole country.  The Israelis basically obliterated the Egyptian military, provoking Jordanian and Syrian attacks, and by the end of the sixth day Israel had conquered Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.  I found it interesting, although more detailed than a non-specialist like me really needs.  It did make me want to learn more about the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which I believe the Arabs unsuccessfully tried to turn the tables on the Israelis.  But don’t quote me on that.

Les Miserables

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Les Miserables  (B).  I get the impression that everybody and his grandmother thinks this is the greatest musical of all time, bar none.  The hype may have affected me when I finally saw a big traveling production of the show a few years ago, and I thought it was only average.  Aside from “Master of the House,” and a few bars of that “Red and Black” song, none of the tunes stayed with me, and from my nosebleed seats I wasn’t always sure who was who.  So I went to this new movie version with some ambivalence, and I left feeling pretty much the same way.  The plot is appealing enough–in the early 1800’s a French convict breaks his parole and tries to start a new life after a kindly clergyman “buys” his soul for Christ and saves him from going back to prison.  A merciless policeman is always on his heels.  By a twist of fate, he becomes the father figure to an orphaned girl, and he devotes his life to her happiness.  Meanwhile, revolution is again brewing in post-revolutionary and post-restoration Paris.  But somehow the movie just never really catches fire.  Neither Hugh Jackman (Australia) in the lead role nor Russell Crowe (Cinderella Man) as Inspector Javert impressed me with his singing ability.  Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) was pretty good, but her screen time is very limited.  The music still didn’t amaze me, and they buried “Master of the House” under so much commotion that I couldn’t understand most of the words.  But I did generally like the music better than I did before, especially the nice lament by Eponine.  And the conclusion really was pretty moving.  So I reckon it’s about a B, maybe a B-.

Lincoln – a second opinion

The Motor City Reviewer pays us a visit.


The fundamental concern of Lincoln is the passage of the 13th Amendment, and Lincoln’s struggles to make that passage happen in the House of Representatives. There is great drama in the floor-fights and speeches which led to the 13th Amendment’s adoption on January 31, 1865.  David Strathairn, who deserves a Best Supporting Oscar for his depiction of William Seward, conducts the back-room deal cutting necessary to assemble the requisite two-thirds majority, seconded by Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. The bad guys appear in the form of George Hunt Pendleton (the disappointed Democratic nominee for vice-president in 1864) and Fernando Wood, the sleazy New York Democrat.  Happily, when the final vote is taken, the bad guys lose.

Another plot line to the movie is a peace plan brewing with the South.  On the recommendation of General Grant, Lincoln sets up a meeting with the peace commissioners. He hopes to keep this under wraps, so as not to feed the Democrats’ campaign against the amendment, even to the point of concealing it from Seward. But the word leaks out all the same, and Lincoln escapes a debacle over the vote for the amendment only by issuing a written assurance that there are no Confederate commissioners in Washington. (They were not, of course, in Washington, but cooling their heels at Hampton Roads, where Lincoln would shortly meet with them, but no one in the Democratic caucus seems to have caught on to Lincoln’s lawyer-like evasion).

The movie delights in the rough-and-tumble of American politics. In an age when so many people complain about gridlock, lobbying, campaign money, and inefficiency, Lincoln embraces all of them, and good comes out of it. It is a movie of confidence – confidence in politics, confidence in a very skilled yet principled politician, confidence in the self-created mazes of our representative democracy.  Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln, haggard but smiling, tormented and yet fundamentally serene in his knowledge of doing right, carries the movie with the help of the excellent supporting cast.

Voss (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Voss, by Patrick White (1957).  According to Wikipedia, White is one of the most important English-language novelists of the 20th century.  I had never heard of him until recently, when this novel somehow came to my attention.  It is a weird book.  Set in the mid-1800’s, the novel is about a German explorer named Johann Ulrich Voss who decides to set out on an expedition to explore the unknown Australian interior.  Before he leaves Sydney behind, he makes the acquaintance of a young woman named Laura Trevelyan, and although they meet only a few times, some sort of spiritual bond quickly forms between them.  Then Voss sets out, and the book then shifts back and forth between the two.  As I say, I found it a weird book; White goes to great and unusual lengths to try to convey precisely the flitting mental and emotional states of his characters, Voss and Laura especially.  And they are odd characters themselves, with deep and intense interior lives, so it’s a little exhausting to try to keep up with them.  I can’t say I loved it, but it’s definitely different.