Soylent Green

The Movie Snob takes in a classic.

Soylent Green (B). I caught this movie the other day as part of The Magnolia’s ongoing classic film series. It’s a 1973 sci-fi flick set in New York City. The year is 2022, the Earth is overheated and overcrowded, and most of the impoverished population is fed with rations of unappetizing wafers called things like Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and yes, Soylent Green. When a director of the Soylent Corporation is murdered in his plush high-rise apartment, a somewhat crooked cop named Thorn (Charlton Heston, Antony & Cleopatra) takes on the case. It’s good, cheesy fun as Thorne follows the trail, uncovers Soylent’s ugly secrets, and cozies up to the decedent’s lovely mistress Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young, TV’s Peyton Place). The depiction of NYC as a dilapidated city coming apart at the seams has a Philip K. Dick feel to it, but the movie is actually based on a sci-fi novel by Harry Harrison called Make Room! Make Room! I recognized Dick Van Patten (TV’s Eight Is Enough) and Chuck Connors (Old Yeller), but not Joseph Cotten (The Third Man) in the role of the Soylent magnate who’s marked for murder.

Edge of Tomorrow

New from The Movie Snob.

Edge of Tomorrow (A-). Or, as I prefer to think of it, Emily Blunt: Action Hero. This big-budget sci-fi summer movie deserves the good critical buzz it has been getting. It borrows a page from Groundhog Day, as you probably know if you have seen the trailer. (It is also very similar to the unjustly overlooked 2011 flick Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan.) Mankind is locked in a life-and-death struggle with invading aliens that look kind of like spastic giant octopuses. An unwilling soldier named William Cage gets killed in a critical battle, only to discover he is trapped in a time loop—meaning every time he dies, he wakes up and it’s the day before the battle all over again. The lovely Emily Blunt (Looper) stars as Rita Vrataski, a modern-day Joan of Arc who was previously caught in a similar time loop and used the knowledge she gained to become a war hero in a previous battle against the aliens. Vrataski and Cage team up, and she trains Cage to exploit his predicament, fight the aliens, and search for a way to defeat them once and for all. It’s twisty and exciting as various scenarios and dead-ends play out. And—dare I say it aloud?—I think Emily Blunt may be on the verge of replacing Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man) as my favorite actress working today. Go see this movie! Also starring Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages) as William Cage.

Neighbors

The Movie Snob is sorely disappointed.

Neighbors (D). I knew this was a vulgar, raunchy comedy in the modern vein, but it seemed to be getting good enough reviews to justify a look. Not so! Seth Rogen (This Is the End) and the ubiquitous Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class) star as a married couple with a new baby who get all discombobulated when the Delta Psi fraternity buys the house next door to theirs. After a reasonably amicable meet-and-greet with the fraternity leader (Zac Efron, The Paperboy), things quickly deteriorate into all-out war between the fraternity and the squares. (Well, except these squares don’t mind drinking, and at least one of them enjoys marijuana. But still, they’re in a war with frat boys, so by definition they must be squares. I mean, they have a baby for crying out loud.) It is, as promised, vulgar from beginning to end, and I laughed very seldom. But I can’t deny that I did laugh once or twice, so it gets a D instead of an F. Take that, Delta Psi!

How to Train Your Dragon 2

The Borg Queen doesn’t love this sequel.

How to Train Your Dragon 2.  (C)

If you are looking for a funny, uplifting, happy movie, don’t go to see this sequel.  This movie takes place several years after the first How to Train Your Dragon, which I found quite charming and witty.  While I still enjoyed many moments between Hiccup (now about 20 years old) and his loyal dragon, Toothless, and some other humorous moments, the movie moved slowly and, at times, purposelessly.  I do not recommend this movie for very young children.  Dragons aren’t always treated terribly well, and there are deaths in the movie that remind me of Bambi, which scarred me for life.  I saw that movie once when I was very young in the theater, and left crying, and never saw it again.  I could see young children having that kind of reaction to this movie too.  I’d wait for the rental.

Dirty Dancing

The Movie Snob pens a new review for an old movie.

Dirty Dancing (B). Movie critic though I am, it has taken me over a quarter of a century to get around to this 1987 release starring Jennifer Grey (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and the late Patrick Swayze (Ghost). A local theater was showing it as part of a “Classic Movie Series,” so I decided to check it out. I thought it was an entertaining little movie, if a little predictable. In case you are truly the last person on the planet not to have seen this movie, I’ll give you the synopsis. In the summer of 1963, Frances “Baby” Houseman (Grey) is about to go off to college and then join the Peace Corps to change the world. But she takes some time out to go to a summer resort with her family, where there are lots of lame old people and lame old-people things to do. But the resort has a seamy underbelly—the young adults who work at the resort by day engage in wild, dare I say dirty, dancing parties by night. Does Baby discover this steamy subculture and promptly fall for the leader of the pack, Johnny Castle (Swayze)? Does the Pope wear a funny hat? The biggest surprise to me was that a botched illegal abortion is a major plot device, which probably contributed to the PG-13 rating. Well, that plus all the dirty dancing. Director Emile Ardolino had one more big hit, Sister Act (1992), and died at the age of 50 in 1993. One last bit of Dirty Dancing trivia—my fellow critic Roger Ebert gave this movie one star upon its release. Ouch!

Non-Stop

The Borg Queen stops long enough to send us this review.

Non-Stop  (B).  I enjoyed this film much more than I anticipated, and it even kept the interest of my teenage daughter, which is saying something.  The story centers on Bill Marks (played by the always entertaining Liam Neeson), an air marshal on a non-stop flight to London.  Shortly into the flight when most people are sleeping, he begins receiving text messages from an unknown number threatening to kill a person every 20 minutes if $150 million is not transferred into a specified account.  Chaos ensues.  Throughout the movie you keep wondering – how is a person going to be killed every 20 minutes when everyone is in such close quarters and he can see everyone?  How is this person getting away with texting Marks without anyone noticing?  It’s not the next Lord of the Rings by any means, but the movie maintains a good pace, is humorous at times, and keeps you guessing.  My daughter and I made a game out of trying to guess first who the culprit was and how they are doing it.  A good rental for a Saturday night with the family.

Maleficent

The Borg Queen checks in on a current release.

Maleficent  (A-)

The first thing my 15-year-old daughter said when this movie ended was, “I loved that movie!”  And I felt the same way.  This movie is a retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty from the vantage point of Maleficent, the fairy (though in the classic she is a witch) that casts the spell that sends Princess Aurora into a deep sleep.  The story keeps many of the basic elements of the original, but the story overall is quite different.  At 97 minutes, the story wastes no time and moves at a good pace.  The special effects were outstanding and Angelia Jolie’s portrayal of Maleficent is excellent.  It may have been a bit predictable, but even though you know how a rollercoaster comes to an end doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy the ride getting there–at least, not in this case.  The film is rated PG.  Although I think the film overall is good for children of most ages, very young children may be scared by some of the creatures.  There is also one highly dramatic scene that I have since learned is supposed to be a metaphor for rape and plays a large role in the events thereafter.  Though that concept was lost on me when I saw the film, reflecting back on the film now I am struck by how remarkably well Angelina Jolie and the writer captured the emotions of that scene and the events that followed.  Definitely worth your hard-earned money to see this one in the theaters.

We’re the Millers

Mom Under Cover indulges in a guilty pleasure.

We’re the Millers – B+.  If you missed this one in the theater, it’s worth a rent.  Definitely NOT family friendly (explicit language and themes) but several laugh-out-loud moments. All four main characters hold their own as a group of misfits on a road trip to bring back a load of pot and get a small-time drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) off the hook.  Jennifer Aniston plays the same character she always plays but has good chemistry with Sudeikis. Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric Roberts) and Will Poulter are terrific as the teenagers. Be sure to watch the out takes at the end.

For The Movie Snob’s rather different take on the movie, click here.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

New from The Movie Snob.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (B-). Here is yet another movie full of comic-book mayhem, the seventh movie in the X-Men franchise. I thought it was a mixed bag. On the plus side, the movie’s central character is Wolverine, and I just can’t help liking good old Hugh Jackman (The Wolverine) in that role. There are some decently cool action sequences. Some other quality actors turn up and give good performances (Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave).  On the minus side, there’s a fair amount of tedious exposition. The CGI magic eventually starts to feel less than magical. Cute little Ellen Page (Juno) is wasted in a tiny part. And the whole movie is about time-traveling to save the world, a gimmick that is getting a little tired.

Here’s a fun game you can play. Before I saw the movie, I read the beginning of one critic’s review in which he asserted that the whole movie is mediocre except for one stand-out, clever, delightful scene. I deliberately read no further in the review, and when I saw the movie I tried to guess which scene he was referring to. Turned out, I guessed right. See if you can too! I think this link will get you to his review.

Ida

The Movie Snob sounds off on a foreign flick.

Ida (A-). The first movie I ever saw Emily Blunt in was a little movie called My Summer of Love. It was directed by Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, and I thought it was decent but not great. This new Pawlikowski movie, on the other hand, I liked a lot—it’s probably my favorite 2014 release so far. It’s set in Poland in the early 1960s. A young woman named Anna is a nun who is approaching the time to take her final vows. But her Mother Superior insists that Anna must first go visit her only surviving relative, an aunt named Wanda who refused to take Anna in while Anna was growing up in an orphanage. Wanda, a bitter and cynical Communist apparatchik, gradually tells Anna (whose real name, unbeknownst to her, is Ida) the story of their family, and the two go on a road trip to fill in the gaps that are unknown even to Wanda. It’s a somber movie, accented by the director’s choice to shoot in black and white. But I thought it was really well done, far surpassing My Summer of Love, and even better than the director’s very good 2000 release Last Resort, about an abandoned Russian woman who seeks asylum in England. Check it out.

Heaven Is For Real

A new movie review from The Movie Snob.

Heaven Is For Real (B-). This movie is based on a best-selling nonfiction book, so you probably already know the basic story. Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear, Little Miss Sunshine) has a lot going for him. He’s the pastor of small Protestant church in Nebraska, and his congregation seems quite fond of him. He’s got an attractive wife (Kelly Reilly, Pride & Prejudice) and two adorable kids named Cassie and Colton. On the other hand, everything isn’t perfect—the Burpos have money problems, and some unspoken griefs hang in the air. But these woes are quickly overshadowed when four-year-old Colton suffers a ruptured appendix and comes close to death during his emergency surgery. After Colton pulls through, things take a turn for the weird as Colton begins to report visions he had during his operation—he could see what his parents were doing in different parts of the hospital, he saw angels, and he saw heaven and even Jesus Himself. Not surprisingly, Colton’s visions become the talk of his small Nebraska town; what I did find surprising was how Todd finds Colton’s visions upsetting and even faith-shaking. I didn’t quite get why a Christian minister would find reports of a near-death experience involving angels and Jesus so traumatizing. Anyhoo, faith-based movies have kind of a bad reputation for being amateurish and preachy, but I thought this one was pretty decent as these things go.

A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe, by Christian Meier (Oxford 2012). Seems like I just can’t get enough of those ancient Greeks and Romans. This is a dense book by a leading historian and scholar of our toga-clad forebears. Meier sets out to discover why a “culture of freedom” arose in ancient Greece and seemingly nowhere else. Interestingly, he focuses on the centuries before the part of Greek history that is usually written about—that is, he writes about the centuries before the rise of Athens, before the Greeks’ successful defenses against Persian invasion, and before the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Because the historical record is so thin, there’s necessarily a lot of speculation about what went on roughly 1200-500 B.C., but Meier seems to be the right man for the job. It’s not a fast read, but it’s an interesting and thought-provoking one.