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.

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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.

Destry Rides Again (1939)

Another classic reviewed by The Movie Snob.

Destry Rides Again (B).  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this 1939 Western starring Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation) and Marlene Dietrich (Witness for the Prosecution)—I had never heard anything about it and saw it pretty much on a whim.  But I must say that I rather enjoyed it—much more than the Dietrich movies in “The Glamour Collection” that I watched so long ago.  It’s rather tongue-in-cheek, as Westerns go.  It’s set in a typical rough-and-tumble Western town, with a typical villain, his typical gang of ruffians, and an atypical saloon songbird named Frenchie (Dietrich) who helps the villain fleece people in crooked card games.  When the town’s sheriff disappears under not-very-mysterious circumstances, the new sheriff sends for assistance in the person of Tom Destry (Stewart), son of a well-known lawman now deceased.  But Destry quickly becomes a town laughingstock when he refuses even to carry a gun.  Can he defeat the bad guys with nothing more than his wits?  And maybe woo Frenchie on the side?  It’s sort of goofy, but enjoyable.  Worth a look, especially since it’s only 95 minutes long!

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.

Rifftrax Live: The Giant Spider Invasion

The Movie Snob takes in another Fathomevents event.

Rifftrax Live: The Giant Spider Invasion  (A-).  This is the last Rifftrax Live event of the year, and it’s a good one.  The opening short clip is fairly meh; it’s a bizarre explanation of how the nation’s telephone system worked back in the days of party lines and rotary phones.  Did I mention it involves lots and lots of creepy marionettes?  But the main event more than makes up for the lackluster appetizer.  The Giant Spider Invasion is a uniquely terrible 1975 monster movie starring Alan Hale (Skipper on TV’s Gilligan’s Island) as the sheriff of a small town that’s getting invaded by some extraterrestrial tarantulas and one truly giant spider that will eat you if you cooperate by climbing up into its mouth.  They riffed this movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and it was one of the all-time great MST3K episodes.  This all-new riffing experience from the Rifftrax guys was just as funny.  If you can’t catch it at the theater (there’s an encore performance tomorrow night), it’ll be worth downloading from the Rifftrax website.  Warmly recommended . . . unless you have arachnophobia.

David Crosby: Remember My Name

A new review from The Movie Snob.

David Crosby: Remember My Name (B).  I caught this new documentary and learned a few things about music legend David Crosby, who is somehow still alive and making music at 76 despite doing an astonishing amount of drugs up into at least the 1980s.  For example, his father was Floyd Crosby, a photographer who won a Golden Globe for cinematography for High Noon.  He was a founding member of The Byrds, which I should have known but don’t think I did.  He didn’t like The Doors because Jim Morrison was rude to him once.  And none of the other members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are on speaking terms with him.  The film does a good job of conveying the trippy music scene of the 60s and 70s.  But it left me wanting to know more about Crosby’s personal life.  Like, what happened to his brother, who is mentioned as also being into music when they were kids?  And I think he mentioned in passing that he’s not on speaking terms with his daughter.  What’s the story there?  But it wasn’t bad, and I appreciated the efficient 95-minute run time.