Ad Astra

The Movie Snob sees a current release!

Ad Astra  (C).  This movie has done very well with other critics—currently scoring 80 out of 100 on metacritic.com—but I was underwhelmed.  It’s a sci-fi flick set in the near future.  Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading) stars as Roy McBride, an astronaut so unflappably cool he makes Neil Armstrong look like a bowl of quivering jello.  Strange, deadly energy pulses from Neptune start threatening life on Earth (and on the moon and Mars, which have been colonized), and it seems that Roy’s father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman), who disappeared on a scientific mission to Neptune years before, may have something to do with it.  Before you can say “2001,” Roy is blasting off from Earth on a mission to contact dear, old dad and, with luck, save the world(s).  Lots of critics have compared Ad Astra to Apocalypse Now, which is fair, but to me the more obvious comparison is the 2007 space thriller Sunshine.  Anyhoo, I found the movie visually appealing but much lacking in the story and character departments.  Roy is so locked down he is hard to empathize with.  Donald Sutherland (Forsaken) pops up in a small role, and Liv Tyler (That Thing You Do!) has the tiny and thankless task of flashing on the screen a few times as Roy’s estranged wife.

Cool Hand Luke

The Movie Snob takes in another classic.

Cool Hand Luke (B).  I think it’s hard to rate a movie that is well-made and interesting but also bleak and depressing.  That’s how I found Cool Hand Luke, the 1967 film starring Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and co-starring George Kennedy (The Naked Gun) in an Oscar-winning supporting performance.  Newman plays the title character, a decorated war veteran who lands himself on a prison road gang in the deep South after drunkenly vandalizing a bunch of parking meters.  Luke’s blasé attitude and ability to absorb punishment make him an object of suspicion among the prison guards but admiration among his fellow prisoners, who are led by a loud-mouthed fellow called Dragline (Kennedy).  In Luke’s shoes, I’d do my best to keep my head down and survive my two-year sentence, but after his ailing mother dies he starts the shenanigans that will get him in increasing amounts of trouble with the sadistic Captain (who has the famous line “What we have here is failure to communicate”) and his goons.  What’s Luke’s deal?  He’s plainly made out to be a Christ figure, and the movie kind of plays like a drawn-out Garden of Gethsemane sequence.  But what’s his message?  Love thy neighbor doesn’t seem to fit.  Resist authority?  What about rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s?  Even if Luke’s punishment was excessive, he did vandalize public property, after all.  And why is he so rebellious?  He alludes to having grown up without a father, and maybe his wartime experience affected him somehow, but I still didn’t really get his motivation.  I guess some people are just ornery by nature.

Watch for Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider), Harry Dean Stanton (Escape from New York), and Wayne Rogers (TV’s M*A*S*H) in small parts as fellow prisoners.  Apparently Joe Don Baker (Mitchell) was in there too, but I didn’t spot him.

Yentl

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Yentl (C).  Hm, seems to me that the Magnolia Theater is pushing the limits of what counts as a “classic” in its Tuesday night classic-movie series.  Nevertheless, onward!  This was my first time see this 1983 musical starring (and directed by) Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl).  What can I say?  If you want an extra-hearty helping of Ms. Streisand, this is the movie for you.  The movie is set in “Eastern Europe” in 1904 (I think that’s what the caption said), and Streisand plays Yentl, a young Jewish woman who scoffs at marriage and wants only to be allowed to study Torah.  Alas!  Such study is reserved for men!  But that’s little obstacle for plucky Yentl, who skedaddles from her small town as soon as her dear old dad dies, disguises herself as a man, and joins the yeshiva in the next town over.  She soon falls for her passionate study partner Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin, The Princess Bride), but he’s madly in love with his fiancée Hadass (Amy Irving, Traffic).  Oh, and there’s the little detail that he thinks Yentl is a man (although he does seems to get kind of handsy in after-school horseplay with his younger study partner).  As the melodrama builds, Yentl pushes her cross-dressing scheme surprisingly far.  Anyhoo, the movie was okay, but I didn’t think much of the songs, and I couldn’t quite suspend disbelief at the idea that Streisand (then 40ish) could pass for a Jewish man too young to grow a beard.

Lolita (1962)

The Movie Snob takes in another classic(?)

Lolita  (B).  This past Tuesday evening I took in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita at the Magnolia Theater.  I’ve never read the book, so I didn’t quite know what to expect, but of course I knew the gist of the story, so I was prepared for a squirm-inducing experience.  A snooty, middle-aged British academic named Humbert Humbert (James Mason, A Star Is Born) moves to a small American town for a summer, and he immediately falls into a lusty obsession with his landlady’s under-aged daughter, who is named Dolores but nicknamed Lolita (Sue Lyon, The Night of the Iguana).  I read on the internet that she’s 12 in the book, but Lyon was 15 when the movie was filmed and looked older to me.  Skeezy things ensue, and Humbert and Lolita wind up traveling across country together.  Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank) is memorable as Lolita’s pathetic, desperate, and widowed mother.  Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove) turns in a scene-stealing performance as a bizarre character named Clare Quilty.  I hardly know what grade to give this odd movie about an untouchable subject, but I will say I was never bored and didn’t squirm all that often.

Easy Rider

The Movie Snob takes in another classic(?)

Easy Rider  (D).  I saw this one courtesy of Fathom Events’ classic film series.  I went in knowing virtually nothing about it except that (1) it stars Dennis Hopper (Giant) and Peter Fonda (Ulee’s Gold) and (2) it’s some kind of “hippie movie.”  Boy, is it!  In a quick opening, we see Billy (Hopper) and Captain America (Fonda) make a killing in a cocaine deal in what is apparently Los Angeles.  After that, they saddle up their motorcycles and hit the open road for New Orleans, where they hope to be in time for Mardi Gras.  On their quest, Billy is twitchy and paranoid, while Captain America is laid back and philosophical.  They visit a commune that seems destined for starvation.  They smoke a lot of marijuana.  Most memorably, they are joined for part of their journey by a small-town alcoholic attorney played by Jack Nicholson (The Shining), in what was apparently his break-out role.  The movie gets progressively darker as it goes along, but I won’t spoil the ending despite its being 50 years old this year.  Although it’s a pretty efficient piece of moviemaking–it’s only 95 minutes long–and it got nominated for two Oscars© and several other awards, I couldn’t appreciate it.  I just kept thinking things like Do these guys ever shower?  Or brush their teeth?  What do they smell like after all these days riding motorcycles through and sleeping in the desert?  I was pleased to read critic David Thomson wrap up his review in the book “Have You Seen . . . ?” this way:  “And it is unwatchable–unless you are benefiting from the illegal substances it advocates.”

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The Movie Snob finally returns to the movies.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  (B).  Well, I’m trying to get back into the swing of regular moviegoing, so I decided to see if the Magnolia Theater is still running its classic-movie series on Tuesday nights.  Lo, it is, and I caught this 1969 Western this past Tuesday.  I had never seen it before and still don’t quite know what to make of it.  It stars Paul Newman (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as the outlaws of the film’s title, and as best I can tell from extensive Wikipedia research the movie is actually fairly true to history.  It’s the late 1890s, and Butch, the Kid, and their Hole in the Wall gang are making a living robbing banks and trains—until they irritate some big plutocrat and he hires a very dangerous posse to bring them to justice.  So, in the interest of self-preservation, they make some unusual career choices after that.  Although IMDB.com categorizes the film as “Biography, Crime, Drama,” it has a strong comedic element, with Newman providing lots of amusing dialogue, Redford being amusingly laconic, and an oddly jaunty soundtrack playing in the background.  (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” won an Oscar.)  And yet, there is quite a bit of shooting and killing, albeit with very little blood visible.  Katharine Ross of The Graduate fame drops in for a while as the Kid’s love interest, but Butch shows more interest in her than the Kid ever does, and really this movie is a bromance between Butch and the Kid from start to finish.

Anyway, the film held my interest, but I still think it’s kind of an odd bird.  It’s #73 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies, so I guess it’s a classic.

Cruel Intentions

New from The Movie Snob.

Cruel Intentions (D).  I wanted to go see a movie, but no current releases were really grabbing me.  I noticed that this flick was in re-release for its 20th anniversary, and I remembered seeing and liking Dangerous Liaisons (on which it was based) many, many years ago, so I gave it a try.  Well, it’s not so great.  Sarah Michelle Gellar (I Know What You Did Last Summer) and Ryan Phillippe (Crash) star as conniving and wildly promiscuous step-siblings who love to seduce and ruin other young people.  None of it is believable in the least, but Gellar and Phillippe’s interactions are somewhat amusing, and it’s also entertaining to watch Gellar try and fail to be a convincing bad girl.  Reese Witherspoon (Just Like Heaven) is okay as a wholesome Midwestern gal that Phillippe sets out to ruin and accidentally falls in love with.  Poor Selma Blair (Hellboy) has a thankless role as a dimwitted naif that Gellar’s character wants Phillippe to ruin.  Not worth the $14+ I paid to see it, that’s for sure.  I usually go to matinees; when did normal movie tickets get so expensive?