A new movie review from the desk of The Movie Snob.
The Hero (B-). That voice. That mustache. The unmistakable Sam Elliott (Tombstone) has an unusual starring role in this little indie flick. He plays a washed-up actor who spends his days smoking marijuana with a buddy (Nick Offerman, We’re the Millers) and doing voiceover work for commercials. And, we quickly learn, he’s facing a serious cancer problem. So he wants to reach out to his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter, Big Eyes). He also, somewhat less credibly, starts dating a woman about half his age (Laura Prepon, TV’s Orange Is the New Black). Katharine Ross (The Graduate), who is actually married to Elliott, has a very small part as his ex-wife. All in all, the movie is a little pedestrian, a little predictable, a little off at times, but Elliott managed to keep me invested. And at 93 minutes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
P.S. I forgot to give a shout-out to Max Gail, who has a small part in this movie. I don’t know that I’ve seen him since his glory days at Detective Wojciehowicz on TV’s Barney Miller, but I recognized him as soon as he popped up in The Hero. Judging from IMDB, he has been working pretty steadily since his Miller days.
News from Berlin, by Otto de Kat (English translation 2014). This slim novel is by a Dutch author, of all things. The year is 1941. Dutch diplomat Oscar Verschuur is posted in Switzerland with vague duties. His wife is back in London; his only child, Emma, is living in Berlin with her husband Carl—a “good German,” working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One day, Emma and Carl make it to Geneva, and during her brief visit with her father, Emma drops the startling news that the Nazis are going to invade the Soviet Union on June 22. What should Oscar do with this information? How will it affect his family? I thought this 148-page story was interesting and well written (or well translated). If you like WWII stuff, I think you’d really like this book.
Rifftrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party (B). Last night Fathom Events delivered another live show by the Rifftrax usuals (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) and a slew of guest stars (Mary Jo Pehl, Bridget Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and a fellow who was new to me named Paul F. Tompkins). I assume that by now you know what these shows are–comedians who specialize in riffing on bad movies and other video material. This time around they aren’t riffing a full-length movie, but rather a bunch of “educational” shorts from I don’t know when–roughly the 50s through the 70s. Although this wasn’t one of the riffers’ greatest performances ever, I did think it was a solid outing with plenty of decent laughs. I would say the funniest shorts were (i) an old black-and-white number about a woman who graduates from secretarial school and works her way up in some bland office job, (ii) another black-and-white film about a surly high-school boy whose conscience is trying to get him to stop griping about everything, and (iii) a p.e. film featuring a bunch of dejected elementary-school kids being forced to roll and bounce big rubber balls around for no apparent reason. I know they sound terrible, but they’re pretty funny when the riffers make wisecracks about them throughout! The show will be rebroadcast on June 20, so head on over to fathomevents.com if you want more information.
Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece, by Noah Charney (2010). I had the pleasure of visiting Belgium a while back, and one of our tour guides strongly recommended this nonfiction book about the work of art known as the Ghent Altarpiece. Painted by Jan van Eyck and finished in 1432, the altarpiece is an immense, multi-part work, and this book describes the artwork, its creation, and several of the times it has been stolen in whole or in part. Alas, I found the book disappointing. The reproductions of the paintings in the middle of the book are too small, and the reproduction of the interior of the altarpiece goes across two pages so that the central features of the work disappear down into the spine of the book. The writing is not particularly good, in my humble opinion; it is repetitious in some places and obscure in others. A good chunk of the book, at the end, is given over to the tale of the altarpiece’s recovery from the Nazis, some of whom intended to blow up this and many other priceless artworks in the waning days of WWII. There’s some interesting stuff in this book, but on the whole I really can’t recommend it.