5 to 7

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

5 to 7  (B).  I saw a good review, so I hurried out to see this independent flick.  I can’t deny my curiosity was piqued because it stars Bérénice Marlohe, who appeared in Skyfall for about three minutes but still managed to make an impression.  I thought it was pretty good.  A struggling writer in NYC named Brian (Anton Yelchin, Like Crazy) locks eyes with a gorgeous woman (Marlohe) taking a smoke break across the street.  Without hesitating, he crosses the street and chats her up.  She is a classy and ultra-sophisticated Frenchwoman named Arielle.  Naturally, he falls in love.  Complication: turns out she’s married, has two children, and has no intention of leaving her husband.  Solution?  Well, her husband is already having an affair, and he doesn’t mind if she has one too—as long as she is discreet and confines her private meetings to the hours between 5 and 7.  Naturally, good old all-American Brian is more than a little befuddled by this very French arrangement.  But Arielle is bewitching, and he is in love.  How will it end?  Who understands human nature better, the French or the Americans?  See it and find out.  Nice small performances by Glenn Close (The Stepford Wives) and Frank Langella (Starting Out in the Evening) as Brian’s parents, and a delightful quick cameo by Eric Stoltz (Anaconda).  And Marlohe, who reminded me of a brunette Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), is both beautiful and a capable actress.

Ex Machina

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Ex Machina  (B+).  The paper said this was a taut, twisty little sci-fi/suspense movie, and I have to concur.  Domhnall Gleeson (Frank) plays Caleb, a programming drone who works at a giant Google-type company.  He wins some sort of employee lottery, and lickety-split he gets whisked off to the remote, bunker-like hideaway of the genius-recluse founder of the company, Nate (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis).  There, Nate gives him a task—talk to Ava, a robot Nate has built, and see if Nate has successfully created true artificial intelligence.  The movie is unsettling from the start.  Nate clearly has some serious issues, and I sensed that he had a classic mad-scientist laugh pent up inside just waiting to be unleashed.  His ultra-high-security house is creepy.  Ava has the human face of the lovely Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina), but the rest of her body, shaped like that of a human woman, is either metallic or clear, exposing her inner wires and gizmos.  And what’s up with the weird Asian house servant, Kyoko, who allegedly can’t speak English?  Anyway, I thought it was top-notch.  First-time director Alex Garland is one to watch.  Check it out.

While We’re Young

The Movie Snob checks out an indie.

While We’re Young  (B).  Here’s the newest film from director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale).  I was hooked by the premise: a childless married couple about my age starts hanging out with a newly married couple in their 20s, with unpredictable results.  Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum) and that cute little buck-toothed Naomi Watts (St. Vincent) star as the older couple, and Adam Driver (Tracks) and Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) star as the younger couple.  It wasn’t really laugh-out-loud funny, but it was definitely amusing to watch Ben and Naomi try to keep up with the youngsters; not so amusing to watch Ben (playing someone exactly my age) try to come to grips with losing his youth.  (An arthritis diagnosis hits him particularly hard.)  The plot was so-so, but the characters were fun to watch.  I say check it out.

Danny Collins

New from The Movie Snob.

Danny Collins  (B+).  I am afraid my critical apparatus may be showing some signs of age.  Sappy, sentimental movies like last year’s St. Vincent and this current release are really striking a chord with me.  Al Pacino (Scarface) stars as the titular character, an aging rock star who lives and parties like Mick Jagger, even though the only hit song we hear him sing is a dreadful knock-off of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”  Anyhoo, we are quickly acquainted with Danny’s lifestyle, his mansion, his wise manager Frank (Christopher Plummer, Beginners), and his ridiculously too-young and too-uninhibited fiancee Sophie (Katarina Cas, The Wolf of Wall Street).  Then Frank surprises Danny with a thought-provoking gift, and Danny decides it is time to start squaring up some of life’s accounts.  Mainly, he sets out to meet the adult son he has long known about but never met.  It’s sappy, but it worked for me.  Nice supporting work by Bobby Cannavale (Chef) as Danny’s son Tom, Jennifer Garner (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) as Tom’s very pregnant wife, and Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) as the Hilton hotel manager that Danny attempts to court while visiting his son in New Jersey.  But Pacino steals the show as the flamboyant, often ridiculous, Danny Collins.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV.

Fugitive Alien (B+).  I got several big laughs out of this “movie” that was cobbled together from a Japanese TV series.  The “movie” is about a human-looking alien named Ken(!) who accidentally kills a fellow alien, becomes a fugitive from his own species, and joins a crew of human space travelers for some space-going adventures.  Oh, and because Ken killed her brother, Ken’s former lover is legally obliged to track him down, kill him, and take his head back to their home world.  Good riffing from Joel and the robots make this episode a treat.

Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (C-).  For some reason, this sequel to Fugitive Alien never really takes off.  The “movie” is just as bad as the first one, but the riffing never really gets going.  The really shocking thing is that Sandy Frank, the man responsible for importing these Japanese creations (and others, like Gamera) to America, actually agreed to be interviewed for this disc!  He comes off as a real wheeler-dealer kind of guy, and he has very little to say about his treatment at the hands of MST3K.

The Sword and the Dragon (B).  In this episode the guys riff on a 1956 Russian movie about a medieval peasant hero who rises up to help his prince defeat invading Mongol hordes and their three-headed dragon.  It’s a pretty good episode.  As extras, they’ve bundled onto the disc two MST3K shorts that weren’t originally associated with this episode, “Snow Thrills” and the truly hilarious “A Date With Your Family.”

Samson Versus the Vampire Women  (B).  This Mexican import is truly bizarre.  For about half the movie, it’s a standard, if lame, vampire yarn.  Some lady vampires need to abduct a specific young woman and turn her into their vampire queen, while the woman’s professor father, her fiancé, and the local police ineffectually try to protect her from the sinister but attractive vampiresses.  Halfway through the movie, a masked wrestler (complete with tight pants, cape, and no shirt) named Samson just shows up in the professor’s study and makes it his mission to defeat the vampires.  And nobody seems to think it is odd. The riffing is not bad, but the oddness of the movie alone is enough to make it worthwhile.

A Girl Like Her

The Movie Snob gets out to the movies.

A Girl Like Her  (B).  OK, what is a crusty old movie critic like me doing reviewing this movie about bullying in high school?  Well, I have a confession to make: I watch The Young and the Restless.  Yes, the soap opera.  My mom has been visiting me for a while, and she watches it, so now we watch it together.  It hasn’t taken long for me to see all the soap-opera stereotypes in their blazing, off-the-rails glory.  Long-lost identical twins.  Secret identities.  Blackmail.  Amnesia.  Year-long comas and miraculous recoveries.  And tangled intra-family dalliances that make the Oedipus family look like the Cleavers.

What this has to do with the movie is that a major cast member of Y&R (Hunter King, sister of Joey King from Oz the Great and Powerful) stars in A Girl Like Her as The Bully, and so I decided I just had to check it out.  The movie is quite a bit better than the lame after-school special I was expecting, and I thought King was actually a pretty good actress.  In the early going, bullying victim Jessica (Lexi Ainsworth, TV’s General Hospital) swallows a bunch of pills and lands herself in a coma(!).  For the rest of the movie, we are either following the investigation of this attempted suicide as it zeroes in on King’s character, Avery, or watching “flashbacks” courtesy of amateur videotaping by Jessica’s best pal Brian, who documented the bullying but tragically let Jessica prevent him from going to the authorities.  The movie is shamelessly manipulative—who wants to see Jessica’s nice parents crying in her hospital room? Or sweet Jessica crying after a bullying episode?—but it also does a decent job of humanizing Avery without excusing her awful behavior.  Not a bad movie.

A Literary Education, and Other Essays (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

A Literary Education, and Other Essays, by Joseph Epstein (Axios 2014).  I love Epstein’s writing.  I own several of his books, and this new collection of his essays may be my favorite yet.  He was a teacher of English and writing at Northwestern for many years, and he was also the long-time editor of Phi Beta Kappa’s quarterly publication The American Scholar.  And he is a very engaging writer himself.  The essays in this collections are grouped into several categories, and although I enjoyed them all, the autobiographical ones and the ones about the current state of higher education stand out as being exceptionally exceptional.  If you enjoy reading, you owe it to yourself to give Epstein a try.