New from The Movie Snob.

Pompeii  (B).  It’s not often I willingly see a movie its opening weekend, but what can I say–I love stuff about ancient Rome, and that especially includes the doomed resort city of Pompeii.  So, despite the poor reviews, I caught a matinee of this new release and quite enjoyed it.  And why not?  Take Titanic, chop out almost 100 minutes of boring stuff, substitute a volcano for the iceberg, and voila!  You’ve got a perfectly serviceable B movie.  Kit Harington (TV’s Game of Thrones) stars as a slave-turned-gladiator.  Kiefer Sutherland (Stand By Me) co-stars as a slimy Roman senator.  Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) is the poor little rich girl caught between them.  Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) has a couple of scenes as the girl’s mom.  There’s lots of gladiatorial violence, and lots of CGI fire and brimstone.  Turn your brain off for 98 minutes and enjoy the ride.  Oh, and enjoy some pictures of the real Pompeii, circa 2007:

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Picture 266






Picture 270

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

A new review of an old movie, by The Movie Snob.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes  (B-).  The Magnolia Theater in Dallas continues to show classic movies on Tuesday nights, and I took advantage of the opportunity to see this 1953 release this past Tuesday.  As I understand it, the movie was not based directly on the 1925 novel by Anita Loos (reviewed here), but on a stage musical version of the novel.  Marilyn Monroe (All About Eve) plays Lorilei Lee, a blonde gold-digger from Little Rock, and Jane Russell (The Outlaw) plays her best friend Dorothy Shaw.  The plot (Lee wants her rich dork of a boyfriend to marry her; his father doesn’t) is a fairly thin excuse for some passable musical numbers and a boatload of mild double-entendres.  If you ever wondered where Madonna got the idea for her “Material Girl” video, look no further than Monroe’s show-stopping performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”  Not bad.


A new review from The Movie Snob.

Philomena (A-).  I’m a practicing Catholic, so movies portraying any of the Church’s many scandals are painful for me to see.  Nevertheless, this is undeniably a good one.  As you probably already know, it is based on a true story of an Irish woman who, way back in the 1950s, got pregnant out of wedlock, had nowhere to turn except a Church-run home for girls in such situations, and was badly mistreated there until the nuns finally took her toddler son away and adopted him out to an American couple.  Much later in life, the woman, Philomena, teamed up with a British journalist named Martin Sixsmith to try to find out what happened to her son.  This is their story.  The amazing Judi Dench (Pride & Prejudice) really makes the movie as Philomena, but Steve Coogan (The Lightning Thief) is not bad as Sixsmith either.  I had thought Cate Blanchett was an Oscar lock for Blue Jasmine, but I think Judi Dench gives her a run for her money in this film.  Director Stephen Frears adds another success to his impressive resume (The Queen, Dirty Pretty Things, High Fidelity).

The Bad News Bears (1976)

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The Bad News Bears  (B-).  The pickings are a little slim in theaters right now, so I thought I’d try to watch some of these DVDs that have been gathering dust on my shelves for years.  I hadn’t seen this movie since I was a kid–undoubtedly in a bowdlerized TV version.  In the unlikely event you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of a drunken bum named Buttermaker (Walter Matthau, I.Q.) who gets hired to coach a terrible Little League team called the Bears.  He recruits his ex-girlfriend’s daughter (a cute Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon) to pitch and a motorcycle-riding juvenile delinquent (Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children) to field and hit, and of course the Bears ultimately go to the championship game.  And it’s all set to the music of Carmen.  It’s a pretty good movie, but shocking to modern sensibilities for the vulgar language spouted by the kids–including some epithets that have become strictly taboo.  It’s like a time capsule from the 1970s….

The Lego Movie

The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the movies.

The Lego Movie  (B-).  This movie is getting high marks from the critics, but I just can’t go better than “pretty good.”  It’s an animated film about a world made of Legos—a world of bland conformity ruled by the Big Brother-like President Business (voice of Will Ferrell, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby).  But there is a prophecy that an ordinary Lego person will rise up and break Business’s stranglehold on Legoland, and it looks like The Chosen One may be an ordinary construction worker named Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt, her).  His potential chosenness is discovered by a nonconformist chick named Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks, Definitely, Maybe), who recruits him to join some sort of rebellion against Business and his main henchman, Bad Cop (voice of Liam Neeson, The Phantom Menace).  The movie has plenty of pluses.  The animation can be very striking, some of the humor is pretty good, and it is fun to pick out all the famous vocal talent at work, including Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), Will Arnett (TV’s Arrested Development), Jonah Hill (This Is the End), Alison Brie (TV’s Community), and many more.  On the down side, as in many regular action movies, many of the action scenes moved so fast in places that I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on.  It started to feel a little long after a while, and I didn’t think the climactic ending was all that great.  Still, I give the film makers credit for trying something reasonably fresh and original.  Oh, and the theme song “Everything Is Awesome” really is kind of awesome.

Community – Season Four

New DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Community – Season Four.  After a lackluster season three, Community went on hiatus for a while and then returned for a shortened 13-episode fourth season (without any participation by show creator Dan Harmon).  The fourth season was definitely an improvement, though not quite a return to the greatness of the first two seasons.  To quickly recap, Community is a Friends-ish kind of show about seven students at a terrible community college called Greendale.  In season one, the seven students formed a study group, and they have been together through thick and thin ever since.  The ringleader is a disgraced lawyer, the slick and cynical Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, The Informant!), while the heart of the group is the sweet and adorable Annie Edison (Alison Brie, The Five-Year Engagement).  Or maybe the heart is really Abed (Danny Pudi, Road Trip: Beer Pong), a Rain Man sort of fellow who comments on all the action as though he were watching a TV show.  Chevy Chase (Vacation) plays the least funny of the seven characters, and I hear he didn’t come back for season five.  Yay!

I’d say the first half of the season is above average, while the second half is a bit more mediocre.  There’s a decent ongoing story line in which Troy (Donald Glover, The Muppets) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) juggle their dating life against the demands of Troy’s relationship with his best friend Abed.  And Ken Jeong’s crazy Ben Chang turns up at Greendale purporting to suffer from “Changnesia” and to believe his name is now Kevin.  High points include a Halloween homage to Scooby Doo and a trip to a sci-fi convention.  I was also glad to see the writers give Britta a higher profile this season; her combination of extreme liberal do-goodism and lack of common sense can be very entertaining.  But the extras on the DVDs didn’t seem as good as in past seasons.

Faithful fans will be rewarded by tons of references to previous episodes and lots of returning bit characters like Todd, Vicki, Garrett, Leonard, and the much-loved Magnitude (Pop! Pop!).  Considering that Community has never been too big in the ratings, it somehow manages to attract plenty of interesting guest stars, including Fred Willard, Tricia Helfer, Luke Perry, Jenny Garth, James Brolin, Brie Larson, Sara Bareilles, and Jason Alexander.  If you haven’t tried Community yet (and if you like smart, absurdist humor), I urge you to give it a try.  Check out my reviews of seasons one, two, and three.


New review from The Movie Snob.

her  (B).  This is an interesting movie that sort of revisits issues raised in the 2001 flick A.I.  Suppose we do manage to create true artificial intelligence.  How will we relate to sentient mechanical beings?  Will we be able to love them?  Will they be able to love us back?  Her is set in the near future, in a gleaming but rather sterile version of Los Angeles.  Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely sad sack of a guy who’s about to get divorced from Catherine (Rooney Mara, Side Effects).  After hearing an advertisement he decides to get a copy of OS1, the world’s first intelligent computer operating system, and in two shakes he’s talking to and falling in love with “Samantha” (voice of Scarlett Johansson, We Bought a Zoo).  And why not?  Samantha is smart, lively (if that’s the right word), solicitous, sympathetic, and sounds like Scarlett Johansson.  She seems much easier to deal with than real women, like the nameless blind date (Olivia Wilde, Drinking Buddies) Theodore meets early in the movie.  On the other hand, as one might expect, there are certain downsides to “dating” an entity with no physical body and a godlike IQ.  Director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) gets some laughs from the weird situations that inevitably arise, but he generally plays it as a straight drama.  I enjoyed it.  It didn’t hurt that Amy Adams (American Hustle) co-stars as Theodore’s friend and neighbor Amy.

Original Sin: A Cultural History (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Original Sin: A Cultural History, by Alan Jacobs (2008).  This is an interesting book about how Christianity has grappled with the doctrine of original sin.  Jacobs focuses especially on people’s theories about how deeply our nature is wounded by original sin.  St. Augustine’s view, of course, has been a dominant one in Christian theology—we are so wounded by original sin that it is impossible for us to be good and do right without the aid of divine grace.  But there has always been a counterstrain of thought that cannot agree that God would create us in so warped and defective a condition, and folks adhering to that line of thinking have tended to conclude that we are capable of living good and sinless lives through our natural powers.  That happy theory is somewhat undermined, as Jacobs points out, by the fact that nobody (or almost nobody) actually does live that way.  Jacobs is an engaging writer, so if a historical survey of an important theological concept is your idea of a good time, seek out this book.  Maybe you can find it for $8 at Half-Price Books like I did.