The Shining

New from The Movie Snob.

The Shining  (B).  I’m no horror buff, but a local Cinemark theater showed this Stanley Kubrick film as part of its classic film series, and I figured I should give it a try.  You’ve probably already seen it, or at least know the story.  There’s a big hotel/resort up in the Colorado mountains, and a fellow named Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, Wolf) gets a job as the caretaker for the winter, when the place is completely shut down.  So he moves in with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall, Time Bandits), and their very little boy Danny, and everybody else in the place leaves.  Things go downhill from there, because the place is severely haunted.  Not only did a previous caretaker go crazy and kill his whole family there some years earlier, but the whole place is apparently built on an ancient Indian burial ground.  Danny, who seems to have psychic gifts of some sort, has some freaky visions, and Jack starts a steep downhill slide into madness.  It is a pretty spooky film, in a Sixth Sense kind of way, much enhanced with spooky music and effective cinematography of the big spooky hotel and the spooky hedge maze.  But I can’t give it an A; too much stuff goes unexplained, and Nicholson’s performance is so over the top as to be pretty distracting by the end.  Still, it was fun to go see it on the big screen.

Enough Said

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Enough Said (B-).  I was lured into this movie by the favorable reviews (a score of 79 on Metacritic, 95% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and it was decent enough.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus (TV’s Seinfeld) stars as Eva, a divorced masseuse of a certain age who is fretting over her daughter Ellen’s imminent departure for college.  I was not a big Seinfeld fan, but I get the impression that Louis-Dreyfus specializes in playing characters who make bad and self-sabotaging choices.  That’s certainly the case here.  Eva starts dating a nice-enough fellow named Albert (James Gandolfini, Zero Dark Thirty), and she simultaneously picks up a new client named Marianne (Catherine Keener, The 40-Year-Old Virgin).  She quickly figures out that Albert and Marianne used to be married, but [bad decision #1] she decides not to tell either Albert or Marianne about this connection so she can get information about Albert from Marianne.  Meanwhile [bad decision #2], she latches onto her daughter’s needy best friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson, a dead ringer for a young Michelle Williams) as a surrogate daughter before her real daughter is even out the door.  Given the set-up, the outcome is a little over-determined.  Billed as a comedy, Enough Said really doesn’t generate many laughs.  But as a character study, it is not bad.

Gravity

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Gravity  (A-).  This is a terrific film.  It’s been the #1 movie in America for three weeks now, I believe, so you’ve probably already seen it.  Sandra Bullock (The Heat) and George Clooney (The American) play astronauts on a space-shuttle mission to work on the Hubble Telescope.  Things go horribly wrong when the Russians attempt to destroy one of their own satellites; although the Russian satellite is a long way off, the attempt sets off a chain reaction that sends a shower of deadly debris smashing into the space shuttle.  Before you can say “Houston, we have a problem,” Sandra and George are fighting for their lives and desperately trying to figure out some way to cross the 600 kilometers between them and Earth in a non-life-ending way.  It’s a taut (91 minutes) thrill ride, and the special effects are spectacular.  I saw it in IMAX 3D, and it made for a truly immersive experience.  I’ve liked all of director Alphonso Cuaron’s films that I’ve seen (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Great Expectations) but this one tops them all.

Vacation

The Movie Snob does some penance.

Vacation  (D-).  I occasionally get some flak for holding myself out as a movie critic when I have missed so many classic movies.  Well, the other night I addressed that deficiency by watching this well-known, if not exactly “classic,” comedy from the 1980s.  As the grade indicates, I was not amused.  Well, I think I laughed twice; that’s why I didn’t give the movie an F.  Chevy Chase (TV’s Community) stars as a hapless everyman who tries to drive his family from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit an amusement park called Walley World.  Chase’s bumbling shtick is not funny; in fact, virtually nothing in this crude movie is funny.  How director Harold Ramis went on to direct the true classic Groundhog Day is an utter mystery.  Trivia: the screenplay was by John Hughes, who went on to direct movies like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.  Eugene Levy, who went on to greater fame in movies like American Pie and Best in Show, has a small role as a car salesman.  I can hardly believe it, but a 14-year-old Jane Krakowski (TV’s 30 Rock and Ally McBeal) appears in the movie as cousin Vickie.   And Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac performed the song over the opening credits, plus one more song later on.  None of which is meant to imply that you should waste 98 minutes of your life on this movie.

John Fogerty (concert review)

A concert review from The Movie Snob.

John Fogerty (Oct. 18, 2013, at Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas).  How often do you get to see a rock and roll legend, much less one who performed at Woodstock?  I heard that Fogerty was coming to Dallas only last weekend, and I did not hesitate long before shelling out my $65 for a ticket.  (For a seat with a slightly obstructed view, as it turned out.  But three giant screens over the stage made that a minor annoyance.)  I was only four when Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up, but like every American over a certain age I’m reasonably familiar with CCR’s hits and a few of Fogerty’s solo efforts.  Fogerty, who is 68, put on a good show (with no opening act).  He played quite a few songs I wasn’t familiar with, but even they were reasonably enjoyable.  And he played plenty of songs I did know.  Off the top of my head, he played:

Hey Tonight
Born on the Bayou
Good Golly Miss Molly
Who’ll Stop the Rain
Green River
Lodi
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Fortunate Son
Down on the Corner
Looking out My Back Door
Long As I Can See the Light
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Pretty Woman
Midnight Special
Centerfield
The Old Man Down the Road
Bad Moon Rising
Proud Mary

I don’t remember much about the songs I didn’t recognize, although one called Mystic Highway was pretty nice.  Fogerty played a solid two-hour set, and his voice is still good.  He told a few interesting anecdotes, including a story about CCR’s performance at Woodstock.  CCR got the 9:30pm slot on Saturday night, right after the Grateful Dead, but the lack of organization, technical problems, and, well, the Grateful Dead kept CCR from taking the stage until about 2:30 in the morning, when most attendees were asleep.

The show was much louder than I had hoped it would be, but I went prepared with earplugs.  I noticed the middle-aged fellow in front of me put his fingers in his ears for the first few songs, and then an usher came by with a big cup full of earplugs and gave him a couple.  In sum, it was good show, and I was glad I went.  Go see him if you get the chance — but take some ear protection!

Retreat

A new review from Movie Man Mike.

Retreat (B+).  This was a riveting psychological thriller of a movie.  Kate (Thandie Newton) and Martin (Cillian Murphy of Inception) head to a private island cottage in hopes of rekindling their marriage, which has suffered some very difficult times.  After a couple of days on the island, Kate spots a stranger walking toward the cottage.  Enter Jack (Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot).  Jack is unconscious when then find him and has blood all over his face.  When he finally comes to, he seems a little crazed and begins to explain that he is in the military and there’s an airborne virus crossing the globe and it’s killing everyone it comes in contact with.  Kate and Martin are a bit skeptical, but what choice do they have but to follow Jack’s direction and seal up the cottage.  They are especially unnerved by the fact that they cannot reach anyone on the short-wave radio.  Events progress and things get really tense.  I’m purposely vague here so I don’t give anything away.  Let me just say that this was really a great rental, with a bit of a surprise ending.  Performances by all three of the main characters are solid.

Sweetwater

New review from The Movie Snob.

Sweetwater  (D-).  I can hardly believe it when a new Western gets made, and when a new Western stars January Jones (TV’s Mad Men) as a reformed prostitute turned Avenging Angel of Death, I pretty much feel obliged to see it.  Clearly, my sense of obligation is misplaced.  Jacob Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies) plays a psychopathic religious leader (does Hollywood know of any other kind?) out in the wild wastelands of frontier-era New Mexico.  Ed Harris (The Third Miracle) plays a loony lawman sent by the governor to find out if his niece’s husband disappeared on account of foul play.  (Hint: Yes, he did.)  And Jones plays Sarah Ramirez, a bad girl gone straight who just wants to be left alone with her nice husband on their poor dirt farm.  The movie is very violent, features some squalid and explicit sex, and is generally repulsive.  Only Jones’s impressive rampage for revenge at the end generates some suspense and saves this movie from the F it probably deserves.

Mad Men – Season 2

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

***  Spoilers about Season One follow ***

Mad Men – Season Two.  Has it really been four years since I watched season one?  I guess I didn’t love it that much.  Anyhoo, I have finally gotten around to watching season two.  It was okay, but I really don’t see what the hoopla about this show is, or was, all about.  As everyone knows, it’s a soap opera about the NYC advertising agency Sterling Cooper set in the 1960s, and it’s especially about one of the ad guys there named Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm, Friends with Kids).  Only Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper; from season one we know that he’s really a guy named Dick Whitman who switched lives with Draper during the Korean War after Draper was killed.  Whitman/Draper has built an entirely new life on this lie, complete with well-paying job, beautiful wife Betty (January Jones, X-Men: First Class), two kids, and a house in the suburbs.  And he keeps adding to the lies by having serial extra-marital affairs.  Don and Betty’s marital problems are front and center during season two, but somehow they don’t really come across as flesh-and-blood people.  What makes them tick?  Who knows?  There are lots of subplots involving the other folks at Sterling Cooper (and their spouses, like cute Alison Brie from Community), but they seldom seem to go anywhere or add up to much.  Still, it’s a watchable show, if only to enjoy the early 1960s fashions and manners.  It’s fun to be shocked by scenes of people smoking on airplanes and happy families casually leaving their litter all over a hillside after a picnic.  Colin Hanks (The House Bunny) has recurring guest role as a Catholic priest who is not a horrible human being, so that’s nice.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A DVD review by The Movie Snob.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)  (C-).  Well, Halloween is coming up, so I thought I should take the time to fill up an unfortunate gap in my movie-watching experience by watching the original Night of the Living Dead.  If I understand right, this film kind of established the basic rules that apply in most zombie movies.  For example, zombies are reanimated corpses that hunger for the flesh of living human beings.  A zombie can be killed by delivering severe trauma to its brain.  Zombies aren’t very intelligent and they are usually pretty slow-moving, but they often travel in numbers large enough to overwhelm lone humans or humans in small groups.  This movie features a small band of humans who, by chance, take refuge from the zombie menace in the same farmhouse.  They’re all white except for one black guy, and I thought it was interesting, given when the movie was made, that the black guy is generally the most level-headed and sensible person in the bunch.  Also interesting, I don’t think I ever heard the word “zombie” in the whole movie (the phrase “flesh-eating ghouls” did come up once or twice).  Anyway, I’m glad I saw it for purposes of historical research, but it’s no World War Z or Warm Bodies.

The Orphan Master’s Son (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (2012).  This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, and it was well-deserved.  It is set in North Korea, of all places, and it shines a spotlight on what it would be like to live under that country’s insane totalitarian regime.  How can one live when there is no predicting what will get you in trouble with the authorities and sent off to a prison camp from which no one ever returns?  Or, conversely, proclaimed a Hero of the People—which itself only leads to greater scrutiny and greater danger?  Years of research into modern North Korea went into this novel, and it makes for a compelling and utterly believable tale.  The hero is Pak Jun Do, who survives a childhood in a work camp for orphans, endures a spell as a professional kidnapper for the regime, and then enjoys a relatively happy period as a spy aboard a small fishing vessel.  But arbitrary violence and cruelty are always close at hand, and ability and loyalty to the regime are no defense to the whims of the powerful or the denunciations of the envious.  It truly boggles the mind that a place like this really exists, and that millions of real human beings suffer under such a regime.