The Movie Snob takes a little trip on the mighty Mississip.
Mud (B). When a movie gets a 98% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I figure there must be something to it. This is writer-director Jeff Nichols’s third film, but the first I have seen, and I was duly impressed. It’s about a couple of 14-year-old boys living in a small Arkansas town on the Mississippi River. They’ve heard a rumor about a boat stuck up in a tree on some small island in the River, but when they go to claim it they discover that somebody is actually living in it—a scruffy vagabond who identifies himself only as Mud (Matthew McConaughey, Bernie). Mud tells them some of his story, and they agree to help him lie low and carry out some other plans he has. Is he telling them the truth? Is he dangerous? Who’s looking for him and why? Part suspense movie, part coming-of-age tale, this is a solid film featuring outstanding performances by McConaughey and the two youngsters. Reese Witherspoon (Four Christmases) plays a decidedly unglamorous gal by the name of Juniper. None other than Joe Don Baker of Mitchell fame also shows up in a small role. I thought the final act got a little unbelievable, but all in all I enjoyed this movie.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Apocalyptic offering is profane, narcissistic, campy, and yes, funny. For me, it succeeded best as a campy horror flick. The premise is simple: James Baruchel visits his buddy Rogen in Hollywood and the two attend a party hosted by James Franco. All the actors play themselves. Also attending the party are: Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kevin Hart, Martin Starr and Emma Watson. The Apocalypse happens during the party. Some people are immediately sucked up to Heaven in a tunnel of blue light; others fall into a crevice that opens up in front of Franco’s house. The rest (all male with the exception of Emma Watson for a short time in a funny ax wielding performance) are left to navigate the post-Apocalyptic world complete with strange anatomically (enhanced) correct monsters as well as limited food, water and resources. The actors make fun of themselves but primarily the humor is pure frat boy (read: pot jokes, sex jokes, flatulence jokes, masturbation jokes) and the movie drags a bit. Confession: I suspect you will find this movie more funny than I did if you are up on all the roles these actors have played. The ending is bizarre–in a “we-didn’t-know-how-to-end-the-movie” kind of way. The suspense is well timed. This movie deserves its hard R rating. Don’t take your mom or your children!
This buddy movie proves that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have a certain chemistry on-screen that was not a fluke (Wedding Crashers). Billy and Nick (Vaughn and Wilson) are forty-something salesmen out of a job because no one wears wrist watches anymore a la Willy Loman. They enroll in the University of Phoenix to qualify as “students” for an internship at Google (which is portrayed as Nirvana). Despite their hilarious interview via Skype, Billy and Nick secure spots as Nooglers. The movie is predictable — the youngsters eschew Billy and Nick, but in the end, the old geezers have something to share with their younger counterparts and are not obsolete after all; the team comes together–Kum-bay-ya. For those of a certain age, Billy and Nick’s ’80s cultural references that fly over the heads of the co-eds are pretty funny. Rose Byrne plays Wilson’s alluring love interest. Will Farrell has a cameo as a mattress salesman that is uncharacteristically flat. Go with low expectations and you will enjoy it.
Fill the Void (B-). This Israeli movie is a domestic drama set among the ultra-orthodox Haredi community in Israel. The set-up takes only a few minutes: an 18-year-old girl named Shira is looking forward to having her marriage arranged when her older sister Esther dies suddenly giving birth to her first child. Esther’s husband Yochay cannot care for an infant alone, and pretty soon a potential match is found for him. But his prospective bride lives in Belgium, and Shira’s mother cannot bear the thought of having her grandson move so far away. So she proposes that Shira should marry Yochay. Yikes! Yochay makes his peace with the idea pretty quickly, so the rest of the movie is basically will-she-or-won’t-she. It’s certainly an interesting look inside a community most people don’t know anything about, and I thought the actress who played Shira did a nice job. But, as my grade suggests, I was left wanting more. The bottom line, I think, is that I wanted more explanation as to why Shira makes the decisions that she does. That said, the movie has a high score on Metacritic, and maybe most people are more tolerant of ambiguity than I am.
I am not a fan of scary movies, and I absolutely loathe zombie movies. So, I’m not sure what possessed me to see World War Z. This movie centers on a United Nations employee (Brad Pitt) who is traveling the world trying to find a cure for a pandemic of unknown origins that is causing people to turn into zombies. One bite, and you’re a zombie seconds later. The movie wastes no time getting straight into the action and it’s a roller coaster ride all the way to the end. I was constantly on the edge of my seat (or, under it sometimes) and engaged with the film. The movie has its fair share of scares and, thankfully, is not gory. The camera work, especially in the action sequences, is too shaky for my taste, making it hard to see what is actually taking place at times. I also heard some people grumbling outside the theater about the movie being different from the book upon which the film is based. So, I guess if you’ve read the book, be open to differences. Overall, though, this movie is a fun night out.
Jacob: Unexpected Patriarch, by Yair Zakovitch (2012). This is a very interesting book in which a scholar at Hebrew University of Jerusalem engages in a close reading of the biblical story of Jacob. He tries to see where various influences were brought to bear on the story at various stages of the story’s editing—sometimes the editors were willing to show Jacobs warts and all, and at other times it is pretty clear the editors were trying to shape the narrative a little bit to put the patriarch in a more positive light. And he also detects tension between the editors who were supporters of the northern kingdom of Israel versus those who favored the southern kingdom of Judah. But he doesn’t really seem to doubt that there actually was a real person behind all the stories. Anyway, I thought it was a really interesting read.
Man of Steel (B-). I was reluctant to see this film. I’ve seen all of the Superman movies and did not really want to see the same story yet again. I was pleasantly surprised. Although many of the key aspects of the Superman story are in this film, the story is changed significantly. You can go see this film without knowing exactly how everything is going to play out or what is going to happen next. Although Amy Adams (Enchanted) is not exactly what I have in mind for Lois Lane (and still don’t), I really enjoyed Henry Cavill (TV’s The Tudors) as Superman. I thought he did a fantastic job and look forward to see him in future films. The move is long (2 hours, 23 minutes) but it keeps moving generally (though there are a couple of lulls). The special effects are also generally very good, although there are a few moments (though brief) where the animation was almost comical. Overall, this movie is certainly worth the price of admission, but I doubt seeing it in 3D adds much.