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.

The Big Short

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Big Short  (B+).  This movie is entertaining and infuriating and unnerving at the same time.  It’s sort of an educational movie in that it tries to explain, at least in broad outline, what caused the housing bubble and the following economic crash in 2007.  (Greed, stupidity, and lack of oversight all seem to have played large roles.)  When the jargon starts to get too complicated, director Adam McKay lightens the mood by pausing and bringing in Margot Robbie (Z for Zachariah) and Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers) to explain and simplify things for us.  But the movie is mainly entertaining because it focuses on a handful of financial outsiders and oddballs who figured out not only that the bubble was bound to burst (and even roughly when it would happen) but also how to cash in when it did.  These characters are well played by Christian Bale (American Hustle), Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), Brad Pitt (Troy), and especially Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) as a tightly wound money guy who starts out thinking that the whole world is full of crooks and frauds and eventually realizes he still wasn’t cynical enough.  It’s not at all what I would have expected from McKay, director of Talladega Nights and Anchorman 2.  All in all, it’s a solid movie, but one that left me a little angry and a little nervous about the future.

The Best Movies I Saw in 2014, by The Movie Snob

Welcome to The Movie Snob’s “Best of 2014” column.  I will look back over the 71 movies I saw in the theater last year and tell you which movies you need to see if you haven’t already done so.  As happens every year, some of the movies mentioned will be releases from the previous year (2013), just because I didn’t get around to seeing them until 2014.

Movie of the Year.  I gave out seven “A-“ grades this year, which seems like a pretty high number for a tough grader like me.  It’s tough to single one out, but I’m going to go with Fury, an intense WWII combat movie starring Brad Pitt as a seasoned tank commander in the vanguard of the final American charge to Berlin.  It had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  Not for the squeamish, to be sure, but it’s a great adventure if you have the stomach for it.

Runners-Up.  I’m going to pick two this year.  One is a sentimental little movie called St. Vincent, starring a decidedly unsentimental Bill Murray as a cantankerous and boozy geezer who just might have a heart of gold.  Maybe.  The other is Jersey Boys, a biopic about the rise of pop music sensations Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  I think it was considered a bit of an underperformer, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  Hands down, my pick for this category is Edge of Tomorrow, a twisty time-travel/sci-fi story starring Tom Cruise and the delightful Emily Blunt.  This movie totally underperformed at the box office, and it deserved much better.  They’re trying to re-brand it on DVD by essentially renaming it “Live. Die. Repeat.,” so don’t be confused when you rush down to the Redbox to rent it.  As runner-up in this category, I’ll give a nod to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which I thought was the best movie in the Hobbit trilogy.  For lack of anywhere else to put it, I will also recommend Noah, starring Russell Crowe as the biblical patriarch himself.  As long as you don’t insist on a literal retelling of the Genesis story, you should like it fine.

Best Animated Movie.  I think it was a 2013 release, but Frozen was the best of the few animated features I saw in 2014.  Enough said; Elsa doesn’t need any promotion from me.

Best Comedy.  This is always a tough category.  I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel quite a bit, but it is hardly a straight comedy.  The same goes for the Woody Allen flick Magic in the Moonlight, which is a bit of a romantic comedy but has a little philosophical steel to it.  As for the new movies I saw that were straight comedies (e.g., 22 Jump Street, Neighbors)—forget about them.  They were terrible.

Best Documentary.  For sci-fi geeks like me, it would be hard to beat Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about a visionary science-fiction movie that never got made.  I also enjoyed Tim’s Vermeer, about an inventor who tries to figure out how Vermeer painted such awesome paintings, and Life Itself, a biopic about my late colleague Roger Ebert.  Particle Fever, about the superconducting supercollider in Europe, was also interesting and enjoyable.

Best Drama.  Well, the two best dramas I saw last year were foreign films, so I’ll save them for that category.  Instead, I’ll give this honor to a 2013 release, Philomena (which was apparently an American-British-French co-production).  It’s a sad movie, based on a true story about an Irish woman trying to find her son, who was taken away from her and adopted out decades earlier because she was an unwed mother.  Judi Dench is great in it, but then she’s always great, pretty much.  I also liked The Fault in Our Stars pretty well.

Best Foreign Film.  The Polish film Ida was one of my absolute favorite films of the year.  It’s a beautiful movie about a young woman—an aspiring nun—in 1960s Poland who must learn about her family’s mysterious and tragic past before she can decide how to move forward with her own life.  Close behind is The Past, a French/Iranian movie about some Iranians in Paris who are trying to sort out their very complicated domestic relations and move on with their lives.  And I’ll mention a third very good foreign film, the Swedish movie We Are the Best!, about a trio of teenaged girls who try to form a punk band in 1982.

Best Science-Fiction MovieEdge of Tomorrow is the clear winner here, but I already used it for Best Action/Adventure Flick.  Setting that film aside, I would pick Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway as intrepid astronauts trying to find a new home for humanity as Earth gradually becomes uninhabitable.  I also recommend the goofy Guardians of the Galaxy as a fun romp through space.  With a talking raccoon.

Honorable Mentions.  Here’s where I dump the best of the rest—movies that are worth your time and attention when you’re looking for something to “stream” on your fancy television.  In the drama category, consider The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.  Based on the trailers for the recently released Unbroken, the two movies have a lot in common, but The Railway Man also has Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.  I also recommend Heaven Is For Real, based on the true story of a little boy’s account of a near-death experience.  Begin Again is a nice little story about music and musicians, and it has Keira Knightley in it.  I also enjoyed the similar movies Tracks and Wild, based on true stories about women hiking alone through the wilderness.  The Hundred-Foot Journey is a pleasant dramedy, while The Skeleton Twins is a rather darker look at family, and specifically sibling, dysfunction.  For your Amy Adams fix, watch the current Tim Burton release Big Eyes.  If action is more your cup of tea, check out Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, the truly original Snowpiercer, or the more familiar comforts of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  And if you can handle a truly cheesy B-movie, give Pompeii a try.  Kiefer Sutherland makes a truly ridiculous evil ancient Roman senator, let me tell you.

And a few more oldies.  Thanks to the Magnolia Theater, I enjoyed several other classic movies in re-release that I had never seen before.  Robert Altman’s Nashville is an interesting slice of 1970s Americana.  The French Connection is a cop movie starring Gene Hackman that stands the test of time.  For an old-fashioned nail-biter, see Sorcerer, starring Roy Scheider.  I liked the old comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe.  I enjoyed Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston as a corrupt cop in a dystopian future America, and Scarface, starring Al Pacino as a ruthless Cuban crime lord.  Double Indemnity is a solid film noir, and Harold and Maude is . . . well, it’s kind of hard to describe, but if you like quirky you should give it a try.

Happy New Year!

Fury

New from The Movie Snob.

Fury  (A-).  It is April 1945, and the American army is driving deep into the heart of Nazi Germany.  But the Germans are continuing their desperate resistance, and military and civilian casualties are piling up at a sickening rate.  In Fury, we join the five-man crew of an American tank (nicknamed Fury), and we get a grounds-eye view of the final days of the war.  Brad Pitt (12 Years a Slave) plays the savvy sergeant in command, and Logan Lerman (Noah) plays Norman, the green recruit who has been plucked out of a clerk assignment to become the tank’s assistant driver.  There is mud and gore aplenty as Fury chugs along from one battlefield to the next, and we see how the war coarsens Norman as it has already brutalized the rest of the crew.  The battle sequences are truly top-notch, especially a pitched battle at close range between three American tanks and one far superior German tank. A scene in which the Americans conquer a German town is also fascinating as we watch to see if the Americans will treat the vanquished as badly as the Nazis did.  Director David Ayer (End of Watch) is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on, as only a few “Hollywoodized” and unbelievable moments mar this intense film.  Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout.

World War Z – a concurring opinion

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

World War Z  (B).  Zombie-apocalypse movies come and go, but not many can boast the star power of Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading).  For that matter, not many zombie movies also serve double-duty as big wet kisses to the U.N., but this one does.  Pitt plays a retired U.N troubleshooter who gets called back into active duty when a standard zombie plague threatens the survival of mankind.  He jets all over the world, searching for some way to defeat or at least defend against the ravenous undead.  Needless to say, he has lots of narrow escapes from creepy zombies along the way.  I thought it was an enjoyable movie, although it was almost spoiled by one scene in which the human defenders act so ridiculously stupidly that I would’ve thrown my popcorn at the screen if I had had any popcorn.  (For The Borg Queen’s review of this movie, click here.)

World War Z

The Borg Queen steps outside her comfort zone.

World War Z – B

I am not a fan of scary movies, and I absolutely loathe zombie movies.  So, I’m not sure what possessed me to see World War Z.  This movie centers on a United Nations employee (Brad Pitt) who is traveling the world trying to find a cure for a pandemic of unknown origins that is causing people to turn into zombies.  One bite, and you’re a zombie seconds later.  The movie wastes no time getting straight into the action and it’s a roller coaster ride all the way to the end.  I was constantly on the edge of my seat (or, under it sometimes) and engaged with the film.  The movie has its fair share of scares and, thankfully, is not gory.  The camera work, especially in the action sequences, is too shaky for my taste, making it hard to see what is actually taking place at times.  I also heard some people grumbling outside the theater about the movie being different from the book upon which the film is based.  So, I guess if you’ve read the book, be open to differences.  Overall, though, this movie is a fun night out.

Moneyball

A new review from Movie Man Mike.

Moneyball (B+).  Baseball is such a game of numbers and statistics, and this film takes the numbers to a new level.  I gained a real appreciation for baseball and for what Billy Beane tried to accomplish—to level the playing field and overcome the inequities in payrolls between ball clubs.  While I don’t follow baseball closely, I suspect that if all teams adopt the approach he championed, then the financial inequities are still there.  Nevertheless, the story is a perfect story of how the little guy triumphs now and then.  Brad Pitt gives a convincing performance as Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s.   Jonah Hill is perfect as the egg-head, whiz-kid who runs all the numbers on the players and challenges the old ways of recruiting players.    One of the weaknesses in this story, in my opinion, is that Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the coach of the Oakland A’s, is relegated to more of a background role.  I would have liked to have seen more direct evidence of the conflict and attitude he had with the new system.  It’s there, but it’s almost secondary because the story is presented through the eyes of Billy Beane.  I have to wonder if there was concern about changing the story from “the Billy Beane story” into the “Art Howe story.”  In any event, a very entertaining film and worth watching (even if you don’t follow baseball).

Moneyball

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Moneyball

Not the best baseball movie I have ever seen.  The best is either Bull Durham or The Natural.  I’d watch either repeatedly.  Moneyball not so much.  I’ve read the book.  It was engrossing.  Every baseball fan should read the book.  The movie – well – I got bored.  The book is an interesting blue print for making the Oakland A’s, the Red Sox, the Rangers, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays so successful (the A’s have fallen on hard times again).  I digress.  Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are an interesting odd couple.  The muscled (Pitt) and the out of shape (Hill prior to whatever brilliant diet he is on) trying to piece together a baseball lineup after the departure of the roided up Giambi and his mates.  They have little money so they must ignore their baseball scouts and put together a team based on what the statistics tell them.  It is a movie for nerds.  Baseball nerds.  I give it a “B.”  I do not give it a Golden Globe or an Oscar.

Moneyball

Dan in Reel Life sends this review to the plate.

Moneyball

In the film adaptation of the Michael Lewis best-selling book, Brad Pitt (The Mexican) stars as Billy Beane, general manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics.  Beane has a big problem:  how to compete against rich large-market teams like New York and Boston with the limited funds of his small-market Oakland organization.  Following an extremely successful (but non-championship) season, Beane can only watch helplessly while his marquee players are pillaged by wealthier teams during free agency.  Unwilling to be satisfied with anything less than ‘winning the last game of the season’, he becomes increasingly convicted that the A’s will not win it all using the conventional wisdom of scouting and roster-building followed religiously for years in the big leagues.

While on a trip to Cleveland to deal for players to replace his lost stars, Beane notices that an extremely young, decidedly ‘non-baseball’ person named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, Superbad) is wielding tremendous influence in the Indians’ front office.  Intrigued, he digs deeper and discovers that this Yale prodigy has a radical approach to evaluating baseball talent;  instead of the long-utilized statistics combined with a sort of ‘baseball sixth sense’ usually employed by talent evaluators, Brand’s method is based almost exclusively on the quantitative conclusions drawn from his studies of economics and statistics.  Sensing that Brand’s unorthodox thinking could be the new philosophy he needs to compete with the big guys, Beane hires Brand away from Cleveland and bets the farm on his approach.

As surely as people hate change, Beane encounters resistance from within and without the organization as he makes drastic moves to implement Brand’s unconventional strategies.  As his character attempts to navigate this turmoil, Pitt’s trademark charisma pulls you in and quickly has you rooting for Beane’s success.  The mentor/mentoree scenes with Beane and Brand are all memorable as Hill plays off of Pitt perfectly.  The trials and tribulations of the inexperienced Brand are relatable to anyone who’s endured a bruising post-college encounter with the ‘real world’.  Watching the initially hesitant Brand, suddenly plucked from cubicle-ville and promoted to assistant GM, come of age as a baseball front-office professional under Beane’s tutelage is a large part of the fun of this movie as well.

In Beane’s refusal to accept mediocre small-market standards for success we see inspiring hope for the little guy.  This movie is a home run, go see it.

The Tree of Life

Mom Under Cover warns against eating from this tree.

The Tree of Life (D)

This film by Terrence Malick has garnered lots of praise (including the prestigious Cannes Palme dʼOr). Perhaps seeing the movie with high expectations heightened my disappointment. I found it heavy handed and pretentious. Brad Pittʼs performance as a strict (read abusive) husband and father (Mr. OʼBrien) is spot on. The real star is first-timer Hunter McCracken as the young Jack OʼBrien who questions Godʼs existence. Malick intersperses scenes from Jackʼs childhood with grand imagery of Creation–Planet Earth style. A bizarre dinosaur scene had me fighting to stifle the kind of roll-on-the-floor laughter that will get you escorted out of a movie theater. Sean Penn as adult Jack does not get much screen time but participates another of the strange moments of the film: the zombie-esque march, presumably into the ocean, of all the characters in Jackʼs life at the age they were when he was 10 (yet Jack is middle-aged). Berliozʼ Requiem is an ominous presence in the background signaling the end of the world? Redemption? At least it signaled the end of the movie. The 2 hours and 15 minutes seemed like a lifetime in Purgatory to me.

Megamind in 3D

New review from The Movie Snob

Megamind in 3D (B+). First of all, I say you don’t need to pay the 3D surcharge. The 3D effects are fine, but they added virtually nothing to this enjoyable animated feature. In an amusing twist on the Superman story, two alien babies are shot to Earth from a doomed solar system at the same time. The normal-looking one catches all the breaks and becomes a Superman-like superhero named Metro Man (Brad Pitt, Troy). The blue one with a freakishly large cranium becomes Metro Man’s nemesis, supervillain Megamind (Will Farrell, Stranger Than Fiction). Caught between them is savvy, saucy reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey, Baby Mama). But what would happen if Megamind unexpectedly won one of his epic battles with Metro Man? I thought this was a consistently amusing flick that tweaks lots of superhero conventions. Plus it was great to hear the voice of David Cross (TV’s Arrested Development) as Megamind’s minion — an alien fish named Minion.

Burn After Reading

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Burn After Reading (B). This 2008 release by the Coen brothers (A Serious Man) was actually nominated for a best-comedy Golden Globe. It’s a pretty black comedy, but I enjoyed it well enough. A CIA analyst with a drinking problem (John Malkovich, Beowulf) gets fired and starts writing his memoirs. Through a series of unlikely events, a CD containing some of his memoirs ends up in the hands of two dim-bulb gym employees (Brad Pitt, Babel; Frances McDormand, Fargo), who try to blackmail him for money and then try to sell their “secret information” to the Russians at their embassy. Oh, and George Clooney (Fantastic Mr. Fox) is involved as a treasury agent who is sleeping with both McDormand’s character and the CIA analyst’s wife. Basically, almost everyone involved is an idiot, and the upper echelon CIA guys who hear bits and pieces of what is going on are completely baffled. A little slow in the early going, but entertaining if you like black comedy.

Troy

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Troy (B). I saw this movie once back when in was in the theaters, and I bought the DVD not too long after it came out, but I only recently got around to watching it. Clocking in at 2 hours and 43 minutes, it’s barely shorter than the Trojan War itself! (Especially as portrayed in the movie, in which the War seems to take about two weeks after the Greeks arrive on the shores of windy Ilion.) I like the movie, despite its many obvious departures from the Iliad. Brad Pitt (Babel) makes a brooding Achilles, Eric Bana (Star Trek) is an admirable Hector, and Peter O’Toole (Stardust) is pitiable as aging King Priam, ever-trusting that the gods will reward him for his piety. Chief among the film’s demerits is the goofy love story between Achilles and the captured Trojan priestess Briseis (Rose Byrne, I Capture the Castle). But if you like swords-and-sandals epics, I don’t see how you could fail to like Troy.

Three New DVD Reviews from Nick at Nite

Disturbia

Rear Window for the teen set. It is not exactly the same as the Alfred and Jimmy masterpiece, but it is pretty close. Teenager is placed in Martha Stewart lockdown at his house for three months over the summer after he punches his Spanish teacher. Teenager starts to spy on his neighbors and watch the goings on in the neighborhood. Of course, the goings on are bad goings on, and our teenager must deal with it. Even though it is a copy, it isn’t all bad. This is worth a rental. I give it a “B.”

Ocean’s Thirteen

Ocean’s Fourteen, Ocean’s Fifteen, Ocean’s Sixteen . . . as far as I am concerned they can keep making these movies until the end of time. I know it is a formula. I know it is campy. I know it is a continuation of a remake from the original rat pack. Still, I like ’em. These heist films are fantastic. The how-did-they-do-that and comedic bent make them better than the fare you normally see at the cineplex. Sure, my wife likes Pitt, Clooney, and Damon, but that is not main reason we like these movies. We have fun at them. Isn’t that what it is all about? You know, it looks like the actors had fun making this movie. I give it an “A.”

The Ex

I don’t know how I feel about this movie. It has a bunch of actors I like. Jason Bateman (Disconnect), Zach Braff (TV’s Scrubs), Charles Grodin (So I Married an Axe Murderer), Amanda Peet (Gulliver’s Travels), and Mia Farrow (The Great Gatsby). It has some laughs, I always like that. But, it also had some of those fleeting moments of uncomfortableness seen in What About Bob? (why won’t Billy Murray leave Richard Dreyfuss alone?), The Break Up (when it this gonna get funny?), and Swingers (did he really call ten times in a row?) that make my stomach hurt. I watched this with my wife, she kept saying she was going to be very unhappy if it did not have a happy ending. My point is this, when people make movies that are supposed to be funny, they need to be funny, when people want to make dramedies (dramas that have some funny moments), they should clearly label the DVD case or film poster as such. I give a “C+.”

Babel

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Babel 

“Babel” – Latin for slow, tedious, and sometimes boring. I ignored the recommendation of a movie buff friend and made the mistake of watching Babel last night. Babel is an odd cross between a Robert Altman film, Memento, and Not Without My Children. Anyone who has seen the Sally Field masterpiece Not Without My Children sees the weak link in the thread. Babel is four separate stories that are interrelated in some fashion. Standing alone some of the stories are not interesting at all. Other parts of the stories are not developed in a sufficient way to make me care about what is happening to the characters. Basically, some sheepherders in Morocco accidentally shoot Brad Pitt’s wife, Brad Pitt’s kids go missing in the Mexican desert, a deaf Japanese girl has mommy issues and possibly bipolar disorder, and there are no real terrorists in Morocco. These stories are all told on top of one another and in some cases out of order. I was really more focused by the end of the movie on just figuring out what happened and how it ended rather than just enjoying the show. Might have had more of an impact if more of the stories had ended in terrible, sad ways. I give it an “F” and wonder why it was nominated for an Oscar.

Babel

New from The Movie Snob

Babel (B+). I didn’t really intend to see this movie after one reviewer dubbed it “the feel-bad movie of the millennium.” But then I thought, hey, the millennium is still young, so maybe it’s not all that depressing. And you know, I was right. It’s not really best-picture caliber material, but it is a well-directed and well-acted movie with some interesting stories to tell. A vacation in Morocco turns into a nightmare for an American couple (Brad Pitt (Fury); Cate Blanchett (Cinderella)) when the wife is seriously injured by a gunshot out in the middle of nowhere. A Mexican nanny in San Diego takes her two young charges to her son’s wedding in Mexico, only to run into difficulties returning to the U.S. And in Japan, a deaf teenaged girl struggles to come to terms with her disability and her loneliness after the death of her mother. Okay, so the movie is a little dark. But it did keep me wondering what was going to happen next, and I did empathize with the characters. Maybe it is best-picture material after all . . . .

The Devil’s Rejects; Mr. and Mrs. Smith

New reviews from Nick at Nite:

The Devil’s Rejects

Wow. This movie is bad. Normally, I go for this kind of violent, depraved, no-redeeming-values kind of a film, but it stinks. I told a friend I wanted to see this movie because I had been so freaked out by Rob Zombie’s first film, House of a 1000 Corpses. House is a true horror type film done in a very over the top Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of a way. The Devil’s Rejects is a Thelma & Louise meets Natural Born Killers knockoff. I don’t recommend this movie to anyone. I cannot believe I watched it. I give it an “F.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Angelina Jolie (The Tourist) is one freaky woman. That said she looks pretty good on screen. My wife thought Brad Pitt (World War Z) looked pretty good, even if he shouldn’t have left Jennifer Aniston, so I think my wife and I are pretty even. This movie revolves around a husband and wife that have been keeping their real professions secret from one another. The secrets are tamping down the passion in their marriage. It is not until their secrets are revealed that the action gets revved up and their marriage is somehow saved. I give this move an “A” for action, an “A” for eye candy, and a “B” for plot. It ain’t great, but it is a wonderful Saturday matinee type film.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

A View from Mars

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (C-)

Well the summer can’t officially start until we get that first overhyped, big budget blockbuster that tanks critically. I’m here to say that summer has started! Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play the titular leads who are both trained assassins and happen to be married with their secrets intact. The movie’s plot device is that they both find out and are now out to hunt the other one down. Knowing full well that this was not a thinking man’s movie, I sat down with the intention of one cool ride. This did not happen. The movie started off slow, it dragged in parts throughout and the action was nothing new. The chemistry between the two leads was convincing, but then again I’m not a particular fan of either of these two actors anyways. Also, when Vince Vaughn shows up as the so called “comic relief,” try not to be distracted by how out of place he looks in this movie. This was a waste of 2 hours, so if you need to see something go to Cinderella Man and if you’ve already seen it, see it again, it’s better than this alternative.

Shrek 2; Troy

From That Guy Named David:

Shrek 2 (B+)

If you liked the first Shrek, you’ll enjoy the sequel. The movie starts off with a new song by San Francisco’s 2nd finest band, the Counting Crows (the Grateful Dead is still the Bay Area’s best). After this beginning musical scene (reminiscent of that great “I Love L.A.” scene in The Naked Gun), you are introduced to more of the same from the first Shrek. In this one, Shrek’s new bride is summoned back to see her parents (the King and Queen of Far, Far Away) and introduce her new husband to them. Of course, they think that she is coming back with Prince Charming, who was dispatched to save her from the castle in which they stuck her as a child when they realized she was a freak. You see, Prince Charming was supposed to kiss her and end the horrible curse that had turned her into a freak. Anyway, without going into any more painstaking detail, you can imagine how the plot evolves. I’ll admit that I thought the plot dragged at times (nothing like Master and Commander, but still relatively boring on occasion); however, the introduction of Puss in Boots (played by Antonio Banderas’s voice) really added a new spark to the movie that made it enjoyable throughout. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) was as entertaining as in the first, and there were multiple jokes relating back to various aspects of popular culture that made me laugh out of recognition at what was being spoofed. Good, light, summer movie that I’m sure will make a killing at the theaters.

And The Movie Snob adds his two cents’ worth on Troy.

I really liked this flick, maybe because it brought back fond memories of my college days when we were all reading The Iliad for freshman literature class. Sure, the director took some liberties. I sure don’t remember any romantic subplots in Homer’s original, which is all about wrath and honor and the quest for immortality through glory won in combat. But there’s plenty of that in the movie, as well as some close-up looks at the dirty, agonizing reality of war. The battle and combat sequences were all very good, and Eric Bana and Peter O’Toole as Trojans Prince Hector and King Priam actually give fine performances amid all the swordplay. (Although Bana should have bulked up a bit more to be a suitable opponent for Brad Pitt’s Achilles.) A few other comments–Diane Kruger, who played Helen, was very pretty, but did she really have “the face that launched a thousand ships”? I’m thinking Nicole Kidman might have been a better choice. Also, did they give Rose Byrne (from the excellent 2003 film I Capture the Castle) hazard pay for her performance as the captured Trojan priestess Briseis? She had to be black and blue after that shoot. Anyway, on the whole, I had a great time. I give Troy a strong B+, maybe even an A-.

Troy

A View From Mars:

Troy (B-)

Nothing screams summer like potato salad and tent-pole summer flicks. We are at that time of the year when Hollywood throws us their biggest and presumably best blockbusters in hopes of raking in tons of money. Van Helsing started it off and here we continue with Troy, which is noted as being inspired by Homer’s Iliad. It begins at the onset of the Trojan War, where Prince Hector (Eric Bana) and Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) are sent from Troy to Sparta on a peace mission. During this mission, young Paris falls for Helen (Diane Kruger) and decides right then and there that he should have her, so he does. Well this doesn’t sit too well with Helen’s husband and soon this act is the catalyst for the Greeks to invade Troy. Of course this movie is headlined by Brad Pitt who plays the renegade with the “devil-may-care” attitude, Achilles. He comes along for the ride at the bidding of Odysseus (Sean Bean) but in defiance of Greece’s overbearing and greedy ruler to all, Agamemnon (Brian Cox). After all, Achilles is the “greatest warrior” ever, so what would the “greatest war ever fought,” be without him. Etc., etc….battles…yada, yada, yada…Trojan horse…the end. This movie is popcorn fun entertainment and anytime a movie of this epic genre comes along it risks comparison to Gladiator and Braveheart, two Best Picture winners, and two personal favorites that are clearly in a higher plateau than this movie. What didn’t work for me was Pitt’s portrayal of Achilles. I like Pitt, but he played Achilles as too arrogant and self absorbed to be taken serious. He was trying to achieve Russel Crowe’s “loved by all because of his defiance” Maximus performance in Gladiator but he never came close. I had more compassion for the character of Hector and 2 hours into this (2 hour and 40 minute run time) I didn’t care what happened to Achilles. Despite this, the movie held up enough for me to grade it in the “B” range, barely. Just because a movie comes out during Hollywood’s summer blockbuster slot, don’t get suckered into thinking that everything will be gold.