MercatorNet’s picks for the best movies of 2016

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Pictures from an Institution (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy, by Randall Jarrell (1952).  I recently bought a Barnes & Noble tablet—I think it is called a Nook HD+ or something like that.  I bought it for its wi-fi/email capability, but I thought I would also try it out as an e-reader and see how I liked it.  (I had previously tried a little old Amazon Kindle and did not care for it.)  So I read this old novel on the Nook and, although I guess it was ok as a reading experience, it’ll be a while before I’m ready to give up dead-tree books entirely.  (I do think I might be willing to try a magazine subscription or two on the Nook though.  Such subscriptions seem to be less expensive, and I tried one issue and didn’t really mind reading it on the gizmo.)  Anyway, I thought this novel was decent but not particularly great.  It’s about a small women’s liberal-arts college back in the day, and a few of the people who populate it—like the vacuous president, the gimlet-eyed guest writing instructor who’s really just collecting observations for her next novel, and the resident composer, a European exile who is one of the most humane people in the bunch.  It’s a short book, and enjoyable enough, I suppose.

Drag Me to Hell

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Drag Me to Hell (B-). I enjoyed director Sam Raimi’s movies Evil Dead and Army of Darkness (especially the latter), so I gladly paid my $1.25 to see this movie at a local cheap cinema. I guess it was about what I should have expected, although I had no idea Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel) was in it. Young, fresh-faced Alison Lohman (Big Fish) plays Christine Brown, a loan officer who’s angling for a promotion. To show her toughness, she denies an extension to a hideous old gypsy woman whose home is being foreclosed upon. This sets a dire chain of events in motion as the gypsy attacks Christine in the parking garage after work and puts a terrible curse on her. The curse manifests itself in a series of creepy and disgusting supernatural assaults on the hapless Christine. Her bland boyfriend and a friendly psychic try to help her, but will she succeed in breaking the curse before she is . . . dragged to Hell??? It’s reasonably scary and unreasonably gross, so don’t say you weren’t warned!

Ireland (country review)

Notes from Abroad: The Movie Snob Does Ireland.

I just returned from a weeklong vacation on the Emerald Isle, and I thought I would share a few comments and observations.

C.I.E. Tours. This was my first time to go on a package-vacation sort of deal, getting thrown in with a bunch of complete strangers and getting chauffeured all over the place by tour bus. I have to say that I rather liked it. The company, C.I.E. Tours, is apparently some sort of affiliate of Ireland’s national transportation agency, and the whole vacation was pretty well planned. The only exception, I would say, was the day we arrived in Ireland. Like every other time I have gone to Europe, we all arrived in Dublin early in the morning, and C.I.E. really didn’t have anything for us to do until midafternoon. We were dropped off at our hotel, but we were there way too early to get into our rooms, so we left our luggage at the front desk and basically had nothing to do except wander around for a few hours before the tour got started in earnest. But this was a small glitch, and everything else was nicely organized and well-scheduled.

I would add that our tour director and bus driver, Brendan Heneghan, was a delight. He has been with this company for about 25 years, but if he is at all tired of driving American tourists around he never showed it. His love of Ireland was self-evident. I thoroughly enjoyed his frequent commentary on the landmarks, the countryside, and the Irish history behind the sights we were seeing. He even sang a few Irish songs for us and wasn’t half bad. Plus, he was an excellent driver; how he managed to maneuver that bus through all the tights spots and narrow turns we encountered (all while driving on the wrong side of the road) is beyond me.

Ireland. Absolutely beautiful, even in mid-October with the high tourist season in the past. We were very fortunate in the weather, getting only one really rainy day in the whole week. Although it was cool or chilly every day, it never got really cold. Our itinerary included two days in Dublin, followed by a drive through southwestern Ireland and stop at famous Blarney Castle. Then we spent two nights in Killarney as a base for a daylong drive around the famous “Ring of Kerry,” which is a scenic route around a particular peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. From there we moved to the more blue-collar city of Galway as our base for other scenic drives through the rugged terrain of the Connemara region, a visit to the famous Cliffs of Moher, and a catamaran ride in Killary Harbour, billed as Ireland’s only fjord. Along the way we drove through plenty of picturesque villages and past a million rolling green hills and meadows. I could finally sort of understand why the Irish make such a big deal about their homeland. It really is a jewel. Also, the booming Irish economy was evidenced everywhere by ubiquitous commercial and residential construction. According to our tour guide, Ireland’s population has finally started to grow again after being stagnant for 100 years or more.

Entertainment. I thought the highlight of the tour was the very first night we were there, when it was arranged for us to have dinner and then see some Irish dancing and music at a place in or at least near Dublin called The Abbey Tavern. The show started with a few Irish dances by three young folks, maybe even teenagers, demonstrating the fancy footwork that became so famous with the Riverdance craze ten years ago. Then a band of five older gentlemen and one younger woman took the stage to play some Irish music for us, and they were absolutely superb. They said they perform there seven nights a week, so if you ever go to Dublin I urge you to check out their show. I was so taken with the Irish music that I kept watching for another opportunity to see some more live music, and I actually did see a band called The Irish Weavers while we were in Killarney. They were good too, but the band at The Abbey Tavern was better.

The Ugly American. Our group consisted of 33 Americans, plus one young Australian woman who joined our group as we left Dublin. I witnessed no behavior that would put the USA in a bad light until the very last day of the tour, during the rather long morning bus ride to Shannon Airport. Our bus driver Brendan was doing his usual routine, mixing bad jokes in with colorful commentary about Ireland and the things we were driving by. He may have sung us another song. And at one point, he asked if anyone had any requests for him. I was sitting about a third of the way from the front of the bus, and I was mortified to hear one of our group (a middle-aged guy who had looked surly and unpleasant all week) sitting very close to the front say, “Yeah — shut up and drive.” I could not believe my ears. It was unspeakably embarrassing.

In summary, with only a couple of minor exceptions, it was a great trip. Ireland is a beautiful country, and you should seize any opportunity to pay it a visit.

Wild Safari 3D; A Mirror in the Roadway (book review)

A movie review from The Movie Snob

Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure (B). The parents were in town for the holiday weekend, and getting them to the movie theater can be a challenge. But they were pretty easily talked into checking out this new 3D movie at the local IMAX theater. The movie takes you on a tour of various wildlife preserves in South Africa in search of the so-called “big five”: elephants, rhinoceroses, cape buffaloes, leopards, and lions. Some of the movie is filmed from the back seat of an all-terrain vehicle driven by our cute and spunky tour guide Liesl, and other parts seem to be filmed from other vantage points very close to the animals. These animals are filmed in pretty much normal conditions—hanging out, drinking at water holes, eating what’s left of a kill—so they don’t really do a whole lot. Also, the narration was not all that informative, although I did learn that when leopards come together to mate, they do so up to 100 times over the course of three days. Good, but not great.

A book review from The Movie Snob

Morris Dickstein, A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World (Princeton University Press 2005). This is a collection of essays, mostly literary criticism about twentieth-century novels that I have not read. However, I read a very favorable review of the book in National Review, so I thought I would give it a try. It was quite good, and it pointed me to several books and authors that I will definitely try to read to improve my acquaintance with twentieth-century literature. (I should add also that the author brings no conservative agenda to the table, and in fact throws in the occasional anti-Reagan or anti-Gingrich remark, many of the essays having been written several years ago.) Interesting essays cover the work of Willa Cather, Upton Sinclair, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and others.

Groundhog Day (link)

A message from The Movie Snob:

If you are like me, you think that Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, is one of the best, most thought-provoking comedies that has ever come out of Hollywood. I just read a new essay of appreciation for this fine movie. Click here if you’d like to read it.