Born in China

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Born in China  (B-).  I don’t think I have seen one of these “Disneynature” Earth Day releases in a while.  This one focuses on several species indigenous to China.  Cranes and a certain kind of antelope get brief coverage, but the movie focuses on the giant panda, the snow leopard, and some kind of snub-nosed monkey I had never heard of before.  The photography is exceptionally good, as you would expect, but the narration (provided by John Krasinski, Leatherheads) is way too sentimentalized and occasionally downright goofy.  There’s very little gore, but there is still a death that might trouble the little ones and the exceptionally tenderhearted.  Personally, based on the previews, I’m hoping for more from Disneynature’s 2018 release Dolphins.

Rifftrax Live – Samurai Cop

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax Live: Samurai Cop.  (B+)  This is a solid effort by the riffers at Rifftrax.  (I saw the live show last night, but you can catch a rebroadcast next Tuesday night if you like!)  They started with an amusing short, an old black-and-white educational film in which a surly student learns about good manners from a preachy chalk drawing come to life.  Samurai Cop itself is a terrible 1991 knock-off of Lethal Weapon and other buddy-cop movies.  A Japanese gang with almost no Japanese members is getting into the L.A. drug scene, and a muscle-bound samurai cop with long, flowing hair and no discernible martial-arts skills comes up from San Diego to help out.  He and his African-American sidekick mostly drive around shooting people, but the samurai cop occasionally takes a time out to awkwardly hit on or make out with various women who are unfortunate enough to cross his path.  The riffing was very funny, and the movie was amusingly inept in its own right, so I give it a solid thumbs-up.

Be aware, however, that the Rifftrax show is rated R.  I was surprised to see that on my ticket, and it turned out to be because the movie has a lot of profanity in it–also some clumsy sexual banter, and some scenes in which the hero and heroine make out while wearing very small swimsuits.  (According to IMDB there is nudity in the original movie, but the Rifftrax folks deleted that out.)

To my surprise, the red-headed gal who runs with the bad guys in this movie was Gates McFadden’s stand-in on Star Trek: The Next Generation and actually had small parts herself in no fewer than 43 STTNG episodes!  How about that?

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard (2015).  I guess I will never tire of reading books about ancient Rome.  This is a good one.  It starts at the very beginning, examining the mythical founding stories of Romulus and Remus and the early dynasty of kings of Rome, and then marches up to the year 212 A.D. when emperor Caracalla made every free male inhabitant of the empire a Roman citizen.  Beard doesn’t focus much on the big names of Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Caesar Augustus, but Cicero gets quite of bit of ink.  Very readable, but I did get slightly irritated when Beard would interject little comments about how barbaric or how sexist some particular ancient practice seems by today’s standards.  I didn’t really need her to prove her up-to-date sensibilities to me.

The LEGO Batman Movie

A new review from The Movie Snob

The LEGO® Batman Movie  (C). I thought The LEGO Movie was kind of cute, but this sequel really didn’t do it for me.  The animation was kind of cool, but as usual in modern action movies everything moved so fast during the action sequences that I couldn’t even keep up with what was happening, much less appreciate the artistry.  The movie was crammed with references to all the previous incarnations of Batman, including the campy Adam West TV series, and I have to admit I did laugh out loud a few times at some of the off-the-wall references.  And it was kind of fun when the Joker managed to unleash a vast array of bad guys from The Phantom Zone, including Godzilla, King Kong, The Wicked Witch of the West, Voldemort, and even Sauron himself.  But the movie felt overly long, and the plot about Batman’s learning to work with others and to open himself up to a new family was pedestrian.  There was plenty of star power behind the voicework, though: Will Arnett (Blades of Glory) as Batman, Michael Cera (This Is the End) as Robin, Rosario Dawson (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) as Commissioner Gordon, Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I) as Alfred the Butler (rather than Voldemort, for some reason), Siri herself as the computer, and Zach Galifianakis (Birdman) as The Joker, just to name the main ones.

The Diary of a Young Girl (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.  I had never read this famous book before, but when I signed up for a vacation trip to Amsterdam I figured I should read it first.  I got about halfway through before my trip rolled around, but that was enough to help give me some context when I visited the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam.  I finished the book over the course of the trip.  Anyway, it is an interesting book, and Anne comes across as a lively, spirited, and strong-willed teenager.  It does get a little repetitive, perhaps, but how could it not, given that Anne lived in hiding in a tiny space with the same group of people for two years?

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night  (B-).  Somehow I missed this 2014 black & white foreign-language vampire flick during its original release, but happily a friend invited me to a special showing last night at the Alamo Drafthouse.  (Actually I tried to talk her into seeing Logan instead, but she wasn’t having it.  She’s been a big vampire fan ever since New Moon.)  It’s a weird movie, but interesting.  Our hero is some ordinary guy living in a bleak industrial town called Bad City.  His father is a junkie, and a drug dealer takes our hero’s beloved car because dad can’t pay his debts.  Then the drug dealer abuses a prostitute who works for him.  This draws the ire of our vampire (Sheila Vand, Argo), an ordinary-seeming woman who ghosts around town at night and can sprout fangs in a jiffy.  Later she menaces a little boy and takes his skateboard.  After that she meets our hero after he has gone to a costume party (as Dracula!), and instead of making a meal out of him she actually seems to start liking him.  But you’re never really sure if she’s eventually going to chomp on him or not; her affect is pretty flat.  More stuff happens after that, in a slow, moody, artsy kind of way.  It held my interest.

(I’m categorizing it as a foreign film because it’s in Farsi, but I have read that it was actually shot in California.  The director, Ana Lily Amirpour, is Iranian-American.)

This was my first trip to an Alamo Drafthouse, and it was a pretty interesting experience.  We got to our theater pretty early, and before getting to the real previews they showed a bunch of film clips and trailers from cheesy old horror movies back-to-back.  It was fine to set the mood, I guess, but it made conversation difficult.  I got food, which I seldom do at movie theaters, and got a mediocre Royale Burger with Cheese and some cold fries out of the deal.  The seats were comfy, though.

Kong: Skull Island

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Kong: Skull Island (C).  If my records are correct, this is the 1,600th movie I have ever seen, so I wanted to celebrate the milestone with something big.  This incarnation of Kong is plenty big, but overall the movie was disappointing.  The year is 1973, and an eccentric guy (John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane) somehow persuades a senator (Richard Jenkins, The Cabin in the Woods) to authorize military assistance for an expedition to an uncharted South Pacific island that looks kind of like a skull.  Goodman borrows a tough-as-nails colonel (Samuel L. Jackson, Unbreakable, at his Samuel L. Jacksonest) and a few more good men from the winding-down Vietnam War.  There are several other members in the expedition, but only Tom Hiddleston (Thor) and cute Brie Larson (Short Term 12) make any impression, as a British ex-special-ops guy and an anti-war photographer respectively.  The assembly of the team and the initial foray into the island are the best parts of the movie; once the monsters started to show up, I lost interest in a hurry.  It’s a long two hours.  Stay through the interminable end credits for a bonus scene.