My Beloved World (book review)

Mom Under Cover goes between the covers of Justice Sotomayor’s book.

My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor.  (B)

Justice Sotomayor’s autobiography (or are they all memoirs nowadays?) recounts her childhood and adult life until her nomination to the U. S. Supreme Court.  Readers familiar with The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls) will recognize a familiar story—a bright young girl whose parents are ill equipped to raise children.  Sotomayor’s writing is plodding and lacks literary style, but an authentic voice comes through.  Near the end I wanted to tell that voice to SHUT UP as she became preachy and grating. Nevertheless, I learned a number of things about her (she was diagnosed with diabetes as a child, married a high school sweetheart, and wanted to be a judge when she watched Perry Mason).  Sotomayor is a self-proclaimed product of affirmative action.  Her story demonstrates that in spite of meager circumstances (bordering on poverty), a child with at least one nurturing adult, some smarts, a chance to compete, and a little grit can make it after all.

The Other Woman

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Other Woman  (C-).  Well, the critical consensus is right; this revenge comedy starring Cameron Diaz (Charlie’s Angels) and Leslie Mann (This Is 40) isn’t very good.  Diaz plays Carly, a successful lawyer who, as the movie begins, is just starting a love affair with a handsome wheeler-dealer named Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Oblivion, TV’s Game of Thrones).  It doesn’t take too long for Carly to discover that Mark is married to Kate (Mann), and in an unlikely turn of events Carly and Kate become friends.  In another unlikely turn of events, the new besties discover that Mark has yet another mistress, a 21-year-old who could be a swimsuit model (Kate Upton, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue).  The movie is not overly funny, and I started looking at my watch about 20 minutes before it ended.  But it is almost worth watching for Leslie Mann’s performance, which gets most of the laughs in the movie.  Her Kate is not too bright, but she’s not entirely stupid either; she’s impulsive and needy and candid to a fault, but somehow also sweet and likeable.  I hope more movies take advantage of Ms. Mann’s talents in the future.

Godzilla (2014)

The Movie Snob chimes in.

Godzilla  (C+).  I can’t really disagree with Mom Under Cover’s assessment of this reboot of the classic giant-monster movie.  It’s loud, it’s kind of long (2 hours, 3 minutes), and it is wall-to-wall CGI destruction.  Even so, I kind of liked it, if only because it is a huge improvement on the disastrous 1998 version starring Matthew Broderick (Election).  The plot is simple — two giant monsters threaten to destroy mankind, and although the military will heroically do what it can, only Godzilla can save us from them.  (It’s never explained why Godzilla won’t then destroy mankind himself, but I got the sense it is because he is such a totally awesome alpha predator that destroying mankind is beneath his dignity.)  The cast is high caliber, even though almost nobody gets to do any real acting.  Let’s see, there’s Bryan Cranston (Argo), Juliette Binoche (The Horseman on the Roof), Ken Watanabe (Inception), Elizabeth Olsen (Liberal Arts), David Strathairn (Lincoln), and even cute little Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go-Lucky).  The star, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Anna Karenina), was unknown to me, but I thought he did a decent job as the Navy lieutenant who always seems to be on the scene when all heck breaks loose.  For a more interesting experience, see if you can find Monsters, a 2010 release that director Gareth Edwards made on a shoestring budget, using very basic computers to create the special effects.

Particle Fever

The Movie Snob gets a fever for the flavor of a boson.

Particle Fever  (B).  The Dallas Morning News loved this new documentary about the construction of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland and its “maiden voyage” just a few years ago.  I’ll give it two cheers.  I’m a lawyer, not a physicist, but I gathered from the movie that by the 1970s theoretical physics had gotten far ahead of experimental physics, meaning the theory guys had no way to test whether their outlandish theories were true.  To test the theories, physicists needed a huge and hugely expensive piece of machinery that would duplicate and record subatomic conditions that existed just after the Big Bang–and, they hoped, create the theorized particle known as the Higgs boson in the process.  A run was made at building the device near Waxahachie, Texas, but the government funding got pulled, and that was that.  So the European nuclear agency built it in Switzerland, at a cost of billions of dollars, and in 2011 and 2012, they actually got the thing up and running.  The film focuses on a few of the thousands of physicists involved, including a gal, apparently an American, who is doing her post-doctoral work right there at the LHC.  You already know that the thing worked and it didn’t create an Earth-destroying black hole like some people predicted.  The film gives only a minimal explanation of the significance of the LHC findings, but I was pretty much fine with that.  I just enjoyed the computer graphics and watching the nerds get all happy when their giant tinkertoy (eventually) worked without falling apart.

Godzilla (2014)

Mom Under Cover versus The Greatest Monster of All

Godzilla – C (cf, three 10-year-old boys rate this flick an A).

I freely admit I must be missing the gene that allows me to appreciate sci-fi.  I found this movie interminably long and boring.  Rubble, dust, destruction and more rubble.  The acting was surprisingly good (Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and briefly, Juliette Binoche).  And, there is an interesting plot deviation from the original. Even so, skip this one unless you are a glutton for punishment.

The French Connection

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The French Connection  (B).  I have a love-hate relationship with Dallas’s Magnolia Theater.  The parking situation is terrible, and I hate having to pick my “assigned seat” at the kiosk when I buy my ticket.  How is this an improvement over walking into the theater and picking your seat then?  On the other hand, some movies don’t play anywhere but the Magnolia, and it does have a great running series of classic films.  Tuesday night I saw their showing of this 1971 film, which won five Oscars including best picture, best director (William Friedkin, The Exorcist), and best actor (Gene Hackman, Heartbreakers).  I thought it was pretty good.  It’s a cop movie in which Hackman plays Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, a loose-cannon NYC cop on the narcotics beat.  He’s in the doghouse for some past screw-up that got another policeman killed, and when he hears rumors that a massive shipment of drugs is coming into New York from France, heaven help anyone who threatens to get between him and the bust.  Roy Scheider (Jaws) plays his calmer partner.  The movie is famous for an extended car chase, and it was good, but what struck me was the tedium of the cops’ job.  They do a lot of surveillance, which means a lot of following suspicious characters, losing track of the suspicious characters, and sitting in cars overnight watching to see what the suspicious characters are going to do next.  It is decidedly low-tech, and it does not look like a lot of fun.  Anyway, I enjoyed the film.

The Railway Man

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Railway Man  (B).  Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and the lovely Nicole Kidman (Stoker) star in this drama, which is based on a true story.  (We are told this right up front, to increase the emotional impact.)  The year is 1980.  Eric (Firth) and Patti (Kidman) meet cute on a train in Scotland, and straightaway they fall in love.  But Eric is wrestling with some serious post-traumatic stress disorder, and in desperation Patti seeks answers from one of Eric’s old army buddies, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård, Mamma Mia!).  Reluctantly, Finlay tells her what he knows.  During World War II, both men were captured by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore, and Eric was brutally tortured in ways even Finlay doesn’t know about.  A great deal of the movie is told in WWII-era flashbacks, and although the torture scenes aren’t terribly graphic by today’s standards, they were plenty strong enough for my taste.  Ultimately, 1980 Eric decides to return to Thailand and attempt to exorcise his demons at the scene of the crime.  Firth gives a nice performance, as does Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), who plays the young Eric.  Kidman isn’t given a whole lot to do but be worried and loving and supportive, but she looks nice doing it.  It’s really a pretty straightforward and predictable movie, but I thought it still packed enough of a punch to justify an above-average grade.

Only Lovers Left Alive

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Only Lovers Left Alive  (C).  Here’s a new take on the vampire genre.  In this film directed by Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers), the vampires are fairly traditional: they seem to be basically immortal, but they require human blood to survive, and they are vulnerable to sunlight and wooden stakes through the coronary region.  Otherwise, they seem reasonably human in personality (although they rather insultingly refer to human beings as “zombies”), and they can make their way through human society when need be (at night, of course).  The film focuses on a married couple of vamps, Adam and Eve (played by Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers, and the amazingly pallid Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel).  They’ve been separated for a long while, and Adam, a musician, is getting pretty depressed in his ramshackle house in the ramshackle city of Detroit.  Eve figures out that her hubby is really bad off, so she takes a night flight out of Tangiers to join him and cheer him up.  The movie is rather slow and talky; don’t go expecting a lot of gore (although there is a little) or hot werewolf-versus-vampire action (there is none).  Indeed, Adam and Eve are so civilized they prefer to do their grocery shopping on the medical black market rather than harvest their sustenance straight from the source.  Things perk up a little bit when Eve’s troublemaking little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska, Stoker) shows up uninvited, but otherwise this is a pretty low key and meditative sort of movie.

Under the Skin

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Under the Skin  (D).  Director Jonathan Glazer’s last movie was the 2004 release Birth, which I thoroughly disliked but saw anyway because it starred Nicole Kidman.  Now Glazer is back with this creepy sci-fi movie starring Scarlett Johansson (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) as . . . well, it’s hard to say exactly.  My best guess is that she is an alien in human form, kind of like Jeff Bridges in Starman, but she is definitely not just trying to get home.  Basically, she drives a van around Scotland, looking for men who are unattached and won’t be missed.  When she finds one, she lures him back to her lair (not difficult, since he is invariably lonely, and she looks like Scarlett Johansson with short dark hair) where something decidedly unpleasant happens to him.  But that makes the movie sounds more straightforward than it is.  It is extremely slow and arty and vague, and it sort of reminded me of another arty sci-fi film I really disliked, Upstream Color.  But if you’re in the mood for a slow, creepy, unsettling, confusing movie, this is the film for you.  Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence, and language.  In short, not recommended.