DVD review from The Movie Snob.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII. Another collection of DVDs of one of my favorite TV shows. The idea is that these clever guys play really bad movies and make funny comments about them throughout.
Time of the Apes (C+). This episode is only fair. Apparently the Japanese went totally ape over Planet of the Apes back in the day, and somebody created a Japanese TV series in which an accident projects a woman and two kids into a future epoch that is, well, the time of the apes. Then a fellow named Sandy Frank took bits and pieces from the TV series, dubbed them into English, and called the resulting mess a movie. There are a few funny moments, but it’s not a particularly great episode.
Mighty Jack (B). This is another Japanese import cobbled together from a Japanese TV series. This one is about an international team of spies devoted to peace and justice, and the evil forces that they must do battle against. The bad guys have the sinister name “Q,” but the good guys are saddled with the ridiculous name “Mighty Jack.” The “movie” is amusingly preposterous, and the riffing by Joel and the robots is pretty funny too.
The Violent Years (A). This disc is clearly the highlight of the collection. It’s a twofer. The disc opens with a longish short called “A Young Man’s Fancy.” A dorky college guy brings his buddy home for a holiday, and the guy’s boy-crazy little sister Judy sets out to woo him through the magic of electric kitchen appliances. Very funny. The feature film was written by the infamous Ed Wood and is yet another 1950s morality play about the direct line between parental neglect and murderous teenaged delinquency—by a gang of girls, in this case! Also very funny. The special features on this disc are interviews with Delores Fuller, who was Ed Wood’s girlfriend, and Kathy Wood, Ed’s wife from 1956 until his death in 1978.
The Brute Man (B). The disc opens with a short called “The Chicken of Tomorrow,” which is very amusing like most MSK3K shorts. The feature film is a horror movie about a disfigured and possibly insane criminal who goes around murdering people. Oddly, he is constantly referred to in the movie as “The Creeper,” and never as “The Brute Man” that I can recall. There is a long bonus feature about the actor who played The Creeper, Rondo Hattan, and it is actually a sad story about how he developed the disfiguring disease of acromegaly after serving in the military during World War I. Another extra is an introduction by cast member Mary Jo Pehl who expresses some regret that they did this movie.
A DVD review from The Movie Snob.
Transsiberian (C-). I bought the DVD of this 2008 release from a discount rack a long time ago and finally got around to watching it. Maybe I was influenced by the 3.5 star rating it got from Roger Ebert, but more likely I just got it because I like the star, Emily Mortimer (Match Point). I did not care for it. Mortimer and Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) star as Jessie and Roy, a married couple taking a long train ride–the Transsiberian Express–from Beijing to Moscow after a church trip to China. They fall in with a slightly shifty couple, Carlos (Eduardo Noreiga, Sweetwater) and Abby (Kate Mara, sister of Rooney Mara, Side Effects). Suspense builds for a variety of reasons. Ben Kingsley (Ender’s Game) shows up, suitably reptilian, as a Russian narcotics cop. I thought the set-up was kind of hokey, and the movie just never really recovered for me. But it got a 72 on Metacritic, so maybe I’m being a little hard on it. Note that the film is rated R for “some violence, including torture, and language.”
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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (B-). I still haven’t read the books, so I went to this sequel simply as a moviegoer who likes sci-fi and who enjoyed the first installment. (See my review here. And other reviews of the first one here and here.) On the plus side, the movie moves along nicely and held my attention throughout its almost 2 1/2 hour running time. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) is good like she always is, and I thought a couple of the new arena fighters, Finnick (Sam Claflin, Snow White and the Huntsman) and Johanna (Jena Malone, Pride & Prejudice), were pretty cool. But I just didn’t enjoy this film as much as the last one. The idea that an oppressive regime would use these complicated and drawn-out gladiator contests to keep the restive provinces subdued just seems too far-fetched for me. The bland guy who’s in love with Katniss (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) is just as much a helpless Harry in this one as he was in the first one. And the arena part of the movie ultimately felt more dutiful than exciting this time around. Oh well, two down, two to go….
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12 Years a Slave (A). Let me add my voice to the chorus of praise for this very painful movie. Surely you know the story even if you haven’t seen the film: in the 1840’s, a free black man named Solomon Northup was lured to Washington DC from his home in New York state, kidnapped, and sold into slavery. Miraculously, he regained his freedom twelve years later and became a vocal abolitionist. I thought this movie was very well done, illustrating both the horrors of slavery and how it degraded the white slaveowners as well as the slaves. Director Steve McQueen (Shame) doesn’t shy away from graphic violence, but the movie is not the bloodbath that The Passion of the Christ was. Great performances all around, starting with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon. He has been doing solid work for years; I recommend the 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things if you haven’t seen it. Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) does a fine job as the evil slaveowner Epps. But the show is stolen by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o as Solomon’s fellow slave Patsey. I assume they’ll campaign for her to win the Oscar for best supporting actress since it is not quite a leading role, and I expect she will win it hands down–and rightfully so.
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The Third Man (A). A local theater is showing a series of classic movies on Tuesday nights, and this past Tuesday I checked out this 1949 film noir. After seeing a “classic movie,” I usually think, “Oh, that was nice,” or “Oh, that was interesting.” This is the first time I can remember thinking, “Wow, that was an awesome movie.” When the film opens, an American hack novelist named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten, Citizen Kane) is arriving in post-WWII Vienna, which is a divided city much like Berlin. He has come at the invitation of an old friend, Harry Lime, but it turns out he is just in time for Lime’s funeral after a fatal traffic accident. A British officer tells Martins that Lime was mixed up in some unsavory business and urges him to return to America at once, but Martins decides to poke around and see if Lime’s death was really an accident. He is quickly entranced by Lime’s lover, a beautiful actress named Anna (Alida Valli, Suspiria, who reminded me a lot of Vivien Leigh), and his suspicions about Lime’s death are aroused further as he interviews the few witnesses to the accident. Can Martins get to the bottom of the mystery without meeting a similar accident of his own? What will happen with Martins and Anna? I was thoroughly engrossed. Roger Ebert included The Third Man in his 2002 book The Great Movies, and he remarked, “Of all the movies I have seen, this one most completely embodies the romance of going to the movies.” Awfully high praise, but I can see why he said it. If you like movies, you owe to yourself to see The Third Man.
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We’re the Millers (D). Alas, my alleged snobbery did not save me from seeing this piece of cinematic trash down at the old dollar theater. It’s a “comedy” about a small-time Denver drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis, who is somehow the boyfriend of Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies), if I’m not mistaken) who owes his boss a ton of money he can’t repay. So to avoid getting beaten up or worse, he agrees to drive an RV into Mexico in order to smuggle some marijuana back into the USA, thereby repaying his debt. Reasoning that he will probably have less trouble at the border if he appears to be a family man, the drug dealer recruits three virtual strangers to pose as his family: a stripper (Jennifer Aniston, Management), a homeless girl (Emma Roberts, Hotel for Dogs), and a dorky teenaged boy who lives in his apartment building (Will Poulter, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader). Mishaps ensue, accompanied by vast quantities of profanity and vulgarity of all kinds. It was terrible. I think I laughed maybe once during the movie, and it’s almost 2 hours long. Sadly, the outtakes they showed before the closing credits were much funnier than anything in the movie itself. Please do not see this movie and encourage Hollywood to make more dreck like this. I regret giving the filmmakers my dollar.
For an interesting and entertaining cultural analysis of the movie, click here.
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How I Live Now (B-). What is the deal with this movie? It stars up-and-coming actress Saoirse Ronan, who has talent to spare (her recent appearance in The Host notwithstanding). It’s based on a supposedly-young-adult novel that won some awards and was presumably somewhat popular. Yet, I never saw a preview for it, and it opened in only two theaters in the Dallas area. And, in fact, I was the only person in the movie theater when I saw it! Anyhoo, it is an odd movie, and its R rating is well earned. Ronan plays Daisy, a Goth girl with some serious anger issues. Her mother is dead, and her father has shipped her from America to England to stay with some step-relatives. (It is important that they be step-relatives, because one of them is Edmond, a brooding hunk to whom Daisy is instantly drawn.) But this is a strange England, with tons of army guys everywhere on alert for some nameless threat. And suddenly, England is at war and apparently being invaded, and Daisy and her step-cousins are cut off and isolated in their little English farmhouse. After that, the movie gets surprisingly violent and ugly, and I emerged from the theater feeling a little shaken and brutalized. I cannot really recommend the movie in good conscience, but Ronan gives a good performance.