Pirate Radio

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Pirate Radio  (C).  I kind of wanted to see this 2009 release back in the day; I just never got around to it.  Directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), this is a shaggy comedy based on some actual events.  Back in the mid-196os, British radio stations wouldn’t play rock and roll, so these enterprising “pirates” set up ships offshore to broadcast the forbidden and diabolical music to the impressionable youths of England.  Gauging from the level of debauchery aboard the ship featured in this movie, Her Majesty’s Government was right to be concerned.  Kenneth Branagh (Rabbit-Proof Fence) plays the uptight government minister who is trying to shut the pirates down.  The late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) plays a roguish American DJ who thinks his life will never be better than it is on the pirate ship.  Oh, there’s also a plot about a quiet college wash-out whose mother sends him to intern aboard the pirate ship; it kind of reminded me of Almost Famous.  Anyway, there are a few mild laughs, but it’s a mostly mediocre movie.  A lot of the fun was seeing familiar actors that I didn’t know were in the movie — there’s Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids)!  There’s January Jones (X-Men: First Class)!  There’s Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans)!  Bonus points if you recognize the nerdy guy’s mom behind her giant sunglasses.  In short, it’s a tolerable way to kill a couple of hours.  Oh, and the soundtrack is excellent.

Last Year at Marienbad

The Movie Snob delivers a new review of an old movie.

Last Year at Marienbad  (D).  One of Dallas’s art-house movie theaters showed this 1961 French film a few nights ago as part of a classic film series.  I had never heard of it, but I thought I would give it a try.  It was not my cup of tea.  It is set at some luxurious old baroque hotel with a large garden outside.  At first, the camera moves languidly through halls and salons, with a repetitious, hypnotic monologue describing the sumptuousness of the hotel in voice-over.  Then we start to overhear snippets of random conversations by small groups of people hanging out in the hotel.  Eventually, we figure out who our protagonist is, a handsome fellow (Giorgio Albertazzi, Once a Year, Every Year) who also delivered the opening voice-over.  He starts to encounter the same attractive brunette woman (Delphine Deyrig, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) repeatedly, and they have brief, disjointed conversations.  Sometimes they are outside, standing by a statute or walking very slowly through the garden.  He seems infatuated with her and insists that they have met before, but she seems not to remember.  Occasionally an unusual-looking and rather unattractive fellow (Sacha Pitoeff, Anastasia) interacts with them, and he seems to be the woman’s husband . . . or something.  It is all very mysterious and dreamlike, and it felt very long for a 94-minute movie.  My colleague the late Roger Ebert included this movie in his book The Great Movies, but he acknowledged that it is possible to find the movie “affected and insufferable.”  I didn’t think it was insufferable, exactly, but I certainly thought it was weird and not very good.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Movie Snob takes on the First Avenger.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier  (C).  I enjoyed the first Captain America story, but this one was just sort of meh.  Dislocated in time, square-jawed Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is not sure he’s really fitting into the shadowy ranks of the intelligence organization known as SHIELD.  For one, he doesn’t trust Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Deep Blue Sea), probably because he wears a sinister eye-patch.  For another, a bunch of SHIELD guys seem to want to kill him for some reason.  On top of all that, there’s this hot girl he maybe sort of likes, but she’s always trying to get him to ask other girls out–plus she’s a former KGB agent nicknamed the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, The Other Boleyn Girl).  But enough kidding around.  This movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes of earnest and dull.  There are lots of fights and explosions, of course, but nothing ever really seems to happen.  Robert Redford (Indecent Proposal) seems to have a good time slumming as a top SHIELD guy, and Cobie Smulders (The Avengers) effectively pulls off her tiny recurring role as Agent Intense Brunette Sidekick Of Nick Fury.  A few TV actors unexpectedly pop up in small parts, which was kind of fun.  But on the whole, the movie left me unfulfilled.

3 Days to Kill

A new review from The Movie Snob.

3 Days to Kill  (C).  Okay, I didn’t see this movie to check out Kevin Costner’s late-career renaissance, nor did I see it to see whether Hailee Steinfeld is fulfilling the potential she showed in True Grit.  I saw it because it is now playing at the dollar theater and because I wanted to see if the impossibly gorgeous Amber Heard (The Rum Diary, alongside current paramour Johnny Depp) could pull off the role of a senior CIA operative.  I think the answer is “not really,” but somehow I forgot to care.  Anyway, this is a fairly routine action flick in which Costner (The Company Men) plays a long-time CIA hit man who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He goes to Paris, aiming to spend his last few months trying to patch things up with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen, Gladiator) and daughter (Steinfeld).  But Heard upsets his plans by offering him an experimental drug that could save his life if he’ll take on one last mission.    The film is an unwieldy mesh of fight scenes, car chases, and amusing moments when the hardened hit man tries to deal with his rebellious teenaged daughter–sometimes consulting his victims for child-rearing advice.  It wasn’t terrible, and the price was right.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky’s Dune (B+). This is quite an interesting documentary about an eccentric (if not totally bonkers) Chilean stage and film director who attempted to make a movie of the classic Frank Herbert science-fiction novel Dune. If I may briefly digress, I absolutely loved the novel Dune when I was a kid. Written in 1965, Dune is a space opera set in a far distant future in which humanity has settled into a quasi-feudal sort of imperial government, with various noble families jockeying for position and power within the Empire. The whole civilization runs on a spice called mélange, which gives its users longer lifespans and, more importantly, allows some gifted people to see the future (which is essential to space travel). The spice comes from only a single planet, a harsh desert world called Dune, whose main natural inhabitants are monstrous and voracious sandworms that grow to be a quarter-mile in length. The hero of the story is Paul Atreides, young heir to the throne of one of the noble houses, possessor of some unusual mental and physical abilities, and possibly a political revolutionary, religious messiah, or both. I read Dune several times as a kid, and I think I did an oral book report on it when I was in about the seventh grade.  My brother and I even had a board game based on the novel.

Anyway, David Lynch made a movie of Dune in the 1980s starring Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Stewart, Sean Young, and Sting, and it is generally considered to be pretty terrible. I saw it back at the time, and I know I didn’t think it was very good. What I never knew was that a Chilean stage and film director named Alejandro Jodorowsky had already tried to make a movie of Dune (without actually reading the book himself) back in the mid-1970s. He is still alive today, in his mid-80s, and this movie consists mostly of interviews with him and with various art guys that he enlisted to draw up the storyboards and other supporting artwork so he could try to get a Hollywood backer for the project. For example, H.R. Giger, whose designs would later be used to such great effect in Alien, was one of Jodorowsky’s artists.   Jodorowsky tells lots of stories about the people that he got to commit (informally) to appearing in the movie: Orson Welles supposedly said he would play the evil and bloated Baron Harkonnen, Mick Jagger supposedly said he would play the evil and sensuous Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, and none other than Salvador Dali supposedly said he would play the Emperor of the Universe (for $100,000 an hour, and on condition that a burning giraffe appear in his scenes). I don’t know about all that stuff, but it is apparently true that Jodorowsky and his team spent a lot of time and money putting together an immense book of storyboards and artwork to use in shopping the film around in Hollywood, and we see a lot of that artwork during the course of the movie. Jodorowsky says he wanted to make a film that would have the same effect on the viewer as LSD, and if he had gotten the necessary funding he might have succeeded. But the studios all passed on the opportunity, and the French fellow who had backed all the pre-production pulled the plug on the project. It’s a crazy story, and a fun one if you’re a fan of movies or a fan of Dune.

Captain America: The First Avenger

The Movie Snob does his homework.

Captain America: The First Avenger  (B).  Well, I figured I should see this 2011 release before I head out to see the sequel that is currently crushing the box office.  It is a solid, workmanlike superhero movie.  Told almost entirely in flashback, it is the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, The Nanny Diaries), a skinny asthmatic kid who desperately wants to fight for America in WWII.  Rejected by the normal military, he willingly becomes a guinea pig in a top-secret government program to create super-soldiers.  Unfortunately, some bad guys blow up the program and kill the head scientist guy shortly after Steve’s gotten all buff, but how many Captain Americas do you really need to win a war?  Tommy Lee Jones (Hope Springs) is the gruff Army guy with a heart of gold.  Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) is the bad guy.  And the attractive Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) is given a decent amount of screentime and virtually nothing to do as a British agent attached, for some reason, to the super-soldier project.  It’s a decent, straight-ahead action movie, and I quite enjoyed it.  Its relative brevity (124 minutes) is another plus.

The Baker’s Wife (stage review)

New from The Movie Snob.

The Baker’s Wife  (B-).  This was my first experience with Pfamily Arts in Plano–in fact, I had never heard of this venue up in Plano until a week or so ago.  Then I saw a notice in The Dallas Morning News that this 1976 musical “may be one of the best musicals that never played on Broadway,” and that music and lyrics were by Stephen Schwartz, the composer behind Wicked.  So I made plans to go.  But then shortly before showtime I saw a review at TheaterJones.com that praised the production and performances but blasted the musical itself.  But lowered expectations can be a good thing, and I enjoyed it well enough.  A middle-aged baker moves into a small French village with his beautiful and much younger wife Genevieve, which sets the whole village talking.  Genevieve doesn’t seem too much in love with her husband, and a handsome young buck sets his sights on stealing her away.  And then he succeeds!  Scandal!  The baker quits baking, and the villagers try to find Genevieve and persuade her to go back to her husband.  The story is a little weak; I don’t think it was made clear why Genevieve married the baker in the first place, nor does her big number is which she explains why she decides to leave the younger guy really do much explainin’.  And, as TheaterJones points out, the village men are generally irritating or downright nasty.  But hey, not every musical can be Man of La Mancha, right?  The performances and set design were good, and the gal who played Genevieve kind of looked like Kate Beckinsale (Total Recall).  I didn’t regret seeing it.