The Movie Snob takes a trip.
The Trip to Italy (C+). Steve Coogan (Philomena) and Rob Brydon (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) play a couple of Brits who get the plum assignment of spending a week in Italy, driving through the countryside, staying in great hotels, and eating at great restaurants, all for the purpose of writing some review articles for a magazine back home. Amusingly, they play versions of themselves, so there’s a lot of talk about the movie biz and a little submerged rivalry that emerges as Brydon learns he is up for a part in a major American movie. The friends debate the merits of Alanis Morissette, occasionally muse about their own mortality, and do tons of celebrity impressions. It’s not a particularly weighty film, but it’s a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours. It’s a sequel to The Trip (2010), in which the guys apparently did the same thing in the north of England.
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Hercules (C). I did not expect the latest Dwayne Johnson (Get Smart) movie to be a masterpiece, and I was not disappointed. It had potential. In this version, the twelve labors are long behind Hercules, and he now leads a small band of mercenaries who wander throughout the known world looking for jobs that will pad their 401(k)’s. The film shows a little cleverness by gradually revealing that the legendary labors may have been mostly the product of good P.R. work, and that Hercules may in fact be nothing more than a muscularly gifted orphan rather than the son of Zeus himself. But on the whole it’s a pretty ordinary exercise in the old hack-and-slash. John Hurt (Snowpiercer) shows up as a king who hires Team Hercules to train up an army and defeat some marauders who may not be what they seem. The redoubtable Ian McShane (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising) is underused as the eccentric seer Amphiaraus. I was mostly distracted by the gal who plays the Amazonian warrior in Herc’s troop, Ingrid Bolsø Bergdal (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters). She looked an awful lot like a slightly bulked-up Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man), and she even sounded a little like her. I wonder if she has any more movies coming up . . . .
The Movie Snob goes alt-rock.
Frank (B-). A work colleague saw this movie, hated it, and basically dared me to see it. Truly, I didn’t think it was half-bad. Domhnall Gleeson (Calvary) stars as John, a forlorn British office drone who spends his days writing half-songs in his head and dreaming of rock-and-roll stardom. Through sheer chance, he becomes the keyboardist for an extremely alternative rock band whose lead singer—Frank (Michael Fassbender, X-Men: Days of Future Past)—wears a large plastic head over his own head and never takes it off. The band’s music is unlistenable (it reminded me of a blend of The Doors at their most pretentious and early Pink Floyd at its spaciest), but John doggedly tries to build up a following on the internet while simultaneously nudging the band—mostly in vain—to produce a slightly more accessible sound. It’s not clear who’s crazier—the older members of the band, or John for thinking he can domesticate them. I thought Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) was sadly underused as the band’s angriest member. Not bad for a matinee, if you’re up for an odd story about an odd rock band.
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Chef (C+). This movie has been playing in Dallas theaters since the beginning of the summer, so I thought I’d better see what could justify such a lengthy run. It was pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. Jon Favreau (Couples Retreat) writes, directs, and stars as Carl Casper, a well-known Los Angeles chef in a swanky restaurant. A Twitter feud with a snarky food critic gets Casper fired, and he decides to reconnect with his love for cooking—and with his 10-year-old son, whom he hasn’t had much time for since a divorce—by starting up a food truck. It’s a perfectly decent movie, but it felt a little slight for the big screen. And occasional brief appearances by big stars—Robert Downey, Jr.! Dustin Hoffman! A tatted-up Scarlett Johansson!—are more distracting than anything else.
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Magic in the Moonlight (B). Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) returns to a favorite preoccupation of his—the practical consequences of atheistic materialism. (See, e.g., Vicky Cristina Barcelona.) But he does it with a reasonably light touch, and this slab of hip nihilism is sprinkled with enough confectioner’s sugar to make it go down easy. The year is 1928, and Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth, The Railway Man) is our Woody Allen stand-in. He’s a traveling magician by trade, an evangelical ultra-rationalist by philosophy, and an avid debunker of spiritualists and mediums in his free time. A buddy of Stanley’s persuades him to visit the south of France, where a lovely young American seer named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone, Crazy, Stupid, Love) is beguiling her way into a wealthy family’s good graces. Will Sophie challenge Stanley to re-examine his rationalist prejudices? Will Stanley unmask Sophie as a fraud? And will skeezy old Woody, against all good taste, try to conjure some romantic sparks between the 53-year-old Firth and the 25-year-old Stone? The superficial stuff is entertaining enough, but I also enjoyed Stanley’s clear-eyed admissions that atheistic materialism is not the sort of philosophy that is going to make you very happy; if anything, it’s pretty depressing.
The Movie Snob catches up on a classic.
Scarface (B+). The Magnolia isn’t the only theater in Dallas that shows classic films; I caught this 1983 release last weekend at the Cinemark 17, and I think it was also playing at the AMC theater in Northpark Mall. Anyway, I thought Scarface was a wild and very entertaining piece of cinema. Al Pacino (The Godfather) stars as Tony Montana, a Cuban no-goodnik who makes his way to America in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. He’s good with a weapon and has bravado to spare, and he eventually finds a place working for a drug kingpin with a luminous young wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, Stardust). But Tony has big dreams, and director Brian De Palma (The Untouchables) lets Pacino run riot playing a character whose ambition really is larger than life. It’s a violent and profane movie, but I was never bored despite the long (170-minute) running time. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (The Abyss) co-stars as Tony’s little sister, F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) has a small part as a drug thug, and Oliver Stone (The Doors), of all people, wrote the screenplay. Roger Ebert included it in his book The Great Movies II. Definitely worth seeing.
From the desk of The Movie Snob.
Maleficent (B+). I just caught this one at the dollar theater, and I was glad I did. It’s a new take on tale of Sleeping Beauty, basically retelling the story from the perspective of the wicked witch, Maleficent. Of course, she’s pretty much pure evil in the classic animated version of Sleeping Beauty, so they have to nip and tuck the story to make Maleficent a more relatable character. She has a painful backstory, see, that explains that her seeming wickedness comes from a place of hurt, not pure evil. Anyway, it worked for me, more so than the similarly themed Oz the Great and Powerful. Angelina Jolie (Salt) plays the title character and chews the scenery in an entertaining fashion. As Princess Aurora, the adorable Elle Fanning (Super 8) isn’t given much to do but smile and be adorable, but she does it well. Definitely worth a look.
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Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (B). I do enjoy a good IMAX nature documentary, and this was a pretty good one. Morgan Freeman (Evan Almighty) narrates this 40-minute overview of the lemurs of Madagascar. We also meet an American scientist Patricia Wright, who has devoted her life to studying the critters and, of course, trying to protect their habitat from human destruction. The lemurs are pretty interesting, especially the adorable little mouse lemur (but note the thick gloves worn by the lab tech handling the little guy. I bet he has sharp little teeth!) And the scenery of Madagascar is pretty gorgeous too, with lots of huge stone formations jutting up unexpectedly out of the forests. This one is good for all ages–there aren’t even any disturbing scenes of animals getting killed or eaten or anything.
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The Fault in Our Stars (B). As previously recorded in these virtual pages, I liked the bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) decently well. Now I have finally gotten around to seeing the movie version, and I thought it was a pretty good weepy. Our heroine is Hazel (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants), a teenager who has temporarily fought off cancer but has to tote oxygen around with her everywhere to compensate for her weakened lungs. Against her wishes she goes to a cancer support group, where she meets a tall, charming cancer survivor named Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort, Divergent). Love is in the air, made all the more precious by Hazel’s fragile health and the omnipresent danger of relapse. The two stars made for a believable romance, and I thought Laura Dern (Blue Velvet) turned in nice supporting work as Hazel’s fearful mother. There weren’t too many clunky moments, although the subplot about the author of Hazel’s favorite book felt a little tacked-on. Still and all, not a bad movie if you’re in the mood for a tear-jerker.