Sicario

The Movie Snob enjoys a bit of the old ultraviolence.

Sicario (B+).  Think back, dear reader, to the winter of 2010.  Remember how Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt teamed up for that lame remake of The Wolfman, and we all thought, “<Sigh>  I wish Benicio and Emily would team up for a good movie sometime.  Maybe something about drug cartels.”  Well, our long wait is over.  Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent working the drug war in Arizona.  After one particularly horrific mission, Kate is recruited for some mysterious cloak-and-dagger ops being run by a shady agent named Matt (Josh Brolin, Men in Black 3) and an even shadier Colombian(?) named Alejandro (Del Toro).  Eager to go after some kingpins instead of the low-level guys she’s used to dealing with, Kate signs up.  But is she in over her head?  And will she make it out alive?  This is a well-made drama, but it’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart.  I must say that Del Toro is particularly good.  It’s been a long time since his Oscar-winning turn as a Mexican cop in Traffic, and it seems like war-on-drugs movies bring out the best in him.

Into the Woods

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Into the Woods  (B-).  I had never seen this musical before, and all I really knew about it was that it was some kind of mash-up of various fairy tales.  The film version brought together a lot of talent–lyricist Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd), director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and actresses Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect).  But the result was only a little better than mediocre, in my opinion.  The plot blends four familiar fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella) with one original one involving a baker, his wife, and a witch’s curse.  The performances were fine, and the musical numbers were fine but not particularly memorable.  (One notable exception was a duet by two charming princes about the agony of love; that one was pretty entertaining.  Chris Pine (Star Trek) made a fine comedic Prince Charming.)  The main thing I liked about the movie was that it was unpredictable; it definitely kept me curious about what was going to happen next.  Oh, and having Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau) in the movie certainly didn’t hurt.  I’d say it’s worth the price of a matinee.  Note that it is rated PG for thematic elements (whatever those are), fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

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!

Edge of Tomorrow

New from The Movie Snob.

Edge of Tomorrow (A-). Or, as I prefer to think of it, Emily Blunt: Action Hero. This big-budget sci-fi summer movie deserves the good critical buzz it has been getting. It borrows a page from Groundhog Day, as you probably know if you have seen the trailer. (It is also very similar to the unjustly overlooked 2011 flick Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan.) Mankind is locked in a life-and-death struggle with invading aliens that look kind of like spastic giant octopuses. An unwilling soldier named William Cage gets killed in a critical battle, only to discover he is trapped in a time loop—meaning every time he dies, he wakes up and it’s the day before the battle all over again. The lovely Emily Blunt (Looper) stars as Rita Vrataski, a modern-day Joan of Arc who was previously caught in a similar time loop and used the knowledge she gained to become a war hero in a previous battle against the aliens. Vrataski and Cage team up, and she trains Cage to exploit his predicament, fight the aliens, and search for a way to defeat them once and for all. It’s twisty and exciting as various scenarios and dead-ends play out. And—dare I say it aloud?—I think Emily Blunt may be on the verge of replacing Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man) as my favorite actress working today. Go see this movie! Also starring Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages) as William Cage.

Looper

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Looper (B+).  I don’t know whether sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (Ubik) ever wrote a story about time travel, but if he did, it’s probably a lot like Looper (but without so much graphic violence).  It’s been out for a couple of months, so you’ve probably already heard the premise.  A few decades in the future, America is a more grim and worn-out-looking place.  Among the criminal elite are a gang of assassins called loopers.  A criminal syndicate operating 30 years further in the future has discovered how to time travel, and they use it to make people “disappear” into the past, where the loopers blow them away as soon as they materialize.  A looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Dark Knight Rises) botches a job when the 30-years-older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom), comes back in time and manages to escape.  Both Joes become marked men; they separate, and young Joe hides out at the farm of the fetching Sara (played by the ubiquitous Emily Blunt, The Five-Year Engagement) while old Joe embarks on a mission to put the whole criminal syndicate out of business.  The film has its flaws—gratuitous nudity, the aforementioned graphic violence, and the logical holes that always seem to dog time-travel stories.  But as a twisty action-suspense flick, it is definitely above average.  Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia), Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks), and Dallas-born Piper Perabo (Cheaper by the Dozen) have small roles.

Your Sister’s Sister

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Your Sister’s Sister  (D+).  I thought the set-up was promising, but this little indie flick really didn’t work for me.  Mark, an average guy in his mid-30s, is still in a depressive funk a year after the death of his brother Tom.  His best friend Iris—who dated Tom for a while—orders Mark to hop a ferry to an idyllic island where Iris’s dad owns a cabin that is currently vacant.  She instructs him to use the solitude to veg out and get his head on straight.  But when he takes Iris’s advice, Mark discovers someone else is already in the cabin doing the same thing—Iris’s half-sister Hannah, who is trying to get over the end of a seven-year relationship.  A bottle of tequila later, and despite what should be a certain fundamental incompatibility, Mark and Hannah quickly get to know each other very well indeed.  To complete the awkwardness of it all, Iris herself shows up at the cabin the very next morning.  (So much for the solitude plan—or was Iris secretly planning to show up all along?)  That’s the set-up; the rest of the movie is bad behavior and secret revelations galore, and I really just didn’t buy it.  Mark, played by Mark Duplass (director, Jeff, Who Lives at Home), is an unappealing and excessively foul-mouthed fellow.  The lovely Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) does her best with Iris, and the lovely Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) does her best with the rather more mysterious Hannah, but the script lets them down.  And the ending feels false.  In short, not very good.

The Five-Year Engagement

New review from The Movie Snob.

The Five-Year Engagement  (C).  I was a little disappointed in this new rom-com produced by Judd Apatow (director of films like The 40-Year Old Virgin).  I had seen the trailer for this film a million times, and I was sort of afraid that all the funny parts were in the trailer.  Weirdly, a couple of the funny parts were only in the trailer–they weren’t actually in the movie at all!  Anyhoo, the premise is that these two really super-nice people, Tom (Jason Segel, The Muppets) and Violet (Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who live in San Francisco, get engaged, but then they postpone their wedding because Violet lands an academic position in remote Ann Arbor, Michigan.  And then they postpone it again because Violet’s two-year contract gets extended, which really takes a toll on their relationship.  Tom and Vi are nice, but they’re not funny (and I’d agree with John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard that Segel and Blunt unfortunately have very little chemistry).  And as the movie drags on for its two-hour running time, Tom and Vi’s relationship problems just become a drag.  Nevertheless, I did get a few laughs out of the movie, mainly thanks to the antics of the supporting characters.  (And no thanks to the worn-out cliche of the inappropriate/profane rehearsal-dinner toast.)  It was nice to see cute Alison Brie of TV’s Community as Violet’s sister Suzie, but she wasn’t given enough to do in my opinion.  Bottom line: very skippable.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

New review from The Movie Snob

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (B).  The previews made this look like a pleasant little romantic movie built around a most unusual plot: A fabulously wealthy sheik wants to introduce salmon and salmon fishing into his native country of the Yemen.  The British company that handles his investments puts a bright consultant named Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (the lovely Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau) on the job, and she tracks down a top fish scientist, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor, Miss Potter), to head up the project.  With some added pressure from the prime minister’s formidable press officer Patricia Maxwell (played by the formidable Kristin Scott Thomas, Confessions of a Shopaholic), Dr. Jones reluctantly takes on what he sees as a ridiculous assignment.  Harriet and Alfred have an easy chemistry about them that could easily blossom into something more, but of course matters are more complicated than that.  For one, Harriet is crazy about her new boyfriend, Robert, who is a soldier and has just shipped out to some dangerous place like Afghanistan.  For another, Alfred is married, though we quickly find out that he is apparently no longer in love with his wife, Mary.  The film works, but I have a problem with movies that set us up to root for a character to leave his or her spouse because he or she has now found “true love.”  It just doesn’t seem quite right….

Gulliver’s Travels

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Gulliver’s Travels (2010) (C-).  The explosive talent of Jack Black (High Fidelity) is wasted in this blah retelling of the Gulliver story.  Black plays a loser stuck in a dead-end job in the mailroom of some publishing company.  He has a crush on the travel editor (Amanda Peet, The Whole Ten Yards), and somehow manages to get himself assigned to do a story on the Bermuda Triangle.  Before you can say “S.S. Minnow,” he is magically transported to the land of Lilliput, where everybody is about three inches tall.  Lots of uninspired shenanigans follow as the former loser becomes the Big Man on Campus.  Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) are wasted in their small roles as Lilliputians.  Don’t waste your time on this study in mediocrity.

The Adjustment Bureau

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Adjustment Bureau (C).  I knew from the trailer alone that this movie had to be based on a story by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, whose paranoia-driven work has inspired such movies as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.  According to Bureau, there is a shadowy force of serious men wearing serious suits and hats that secretly controls everything that goes on in the world, making sure that everything happens according to “The Plan.”  But they aren’t quite infallible, or there wouldn’t be a movie.  A straight-talking New York congressman named David Norris (Matt Damon, True Grit) is running for the Senate.  Along the way, he briefly encounters a lovely woman named Elise (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada).  An agent from the Adjustment Bureau is supposed to prevent them from ever meeting again, but he drops the ball, and they meet again and fall in love.  This violates The Plan, so the Bureau goes into overdrive to try to minimize the “ripples” from this mistake–meaning they try to break David and Elise up by any means necessary.  It’s an interesting premise, but I didn’t think the movie generated any real sense of menace or urgency.  It was worth the $1.25 I paid for it, though.

The Wolfman

A new review from The Movie Snob

The Wolfman (C). I’m not familiar with any of this film’s famous predecessors (not even Teen Wolf), so I approached it with a fresh eye. It boasts a strong cast (Benicio del Toro of Traffic, Emily Blunt of The Devil Wears Prada, Anthony Hopkins of everything under the sun, even good old Geraldine Chaplin of Doctor Zhivago and BloodRayne) and buckets of gore, but that doesn’t make up for the lackluster plot and the lack of decently earned scares. Sure, you jump a couple of times when someones jumps into the frame from off screen, accompanied by a horrifically loud noise, but where’s the art in that? Anyway, some nasty critter is loose in the 1891 British countryside, killing Gypsies and Englishmen indiscriminately, and Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) takes it on himself to figure out what’s going on after his brother is killed by the monster. Lawrence gets bitten but survives. Bad Things ensue. The movie is adequate for a matinee, but I wouldn’t pay full price.

The Young Victoria

New review by The Movie Snob

The Young Victoria (B+). This independent flick stars Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning) as Victoria, Queen of Great Britain from 1837-1901. As the only heir apparent to the throne, Victoria has grown up a virtual prisoner in the palace, and she is not well-prepared to assume the duties of the monarchy. Relatives and politicians alike jockey for position and try to manipulate the young queen, most especially the prime minister Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany, Wimbledon). King Leopold of Belgium, who was Victoria’s uncle, sent his nephew (and Victoria’s first cousin) Prince Albert (Rupert Friend, Pride & Prejudice) to England to make his own play for the young queen, and it famously happened that the two fell in love and wed. The movie is most successful as a love story, and as such it works very well indeed. It falls a little short in explaining the politics of the period, such as why Victoria’s early decisions caused a public outcry against her, and its very brief coverage of events after the royal wedding might better have been left out. But as a romance I thought it was a very good little movie.

Sunshine Cleaning

A movie review by The Movie Snob

Sunshine Cleaning (C+). I think this movie is from the same producers who brought you Little Miss Sunshine — it even stars Alan Arkin, like Little Miss Sunshine did. But despite the efforts at sunniness by the two female leads, this is a pretty grim story. Amy Adams (Junebug) stars as Rose, a single mother who is burdened by a low-paying job working for a maid service, a pathetic affair with a married man (Steve Zahn, Management), and a little boy who’s getting into trouble at school. Her lover suggests she could make more money running a crime-scene clean-up service, and she drafts her ne’er-do-well sister to help her (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada). And we learn more stuff about their background that’s also very dark. It’s not a bad movie, but it somehow comes off a little contrived or forced or something.

Charlie Wilson’s War

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Charlie Wilson’s War (A-). Maybe this wasn’t really an A- movie, but I just enjoyed the heck out of it. You’ve probably heard all about it — Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies) plays a Texas congressmen who is exceptional in no way except for his willingness to stick up for the people of Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. He teams up with a Houston socialite played by Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) and a misfit CIA man played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and together they put together back-alley arms deals for the mujahedin worth a billion dollars. Next thing you know, Afghanistan = the USSR’s Vietnam. Hanks and Hoffman are great, and Roberts isn’t annoying like she usually is. The supporting cast is also great and easy on the eyes, including Amy Adams (Enchanted), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), and Shiri Appleby (TV’s Roswell). The movie does leave you very curious to know how much is fact and how much is fiction — from what I’ve heard, the real story was so unbelievable they had to tone it down for the movie.

The Jane Austen Book Club

New review from The Movie Snob

The Jane Austen Book Club (B+). Okay, my grade for this flick is probably a little high. It’s just a cute, somewhat predictable movie about five gals and a guy who start a book club to read (duh) Jane Austen. And wouldn’t you know it, their lives kind of mirror the various plots from the books they’re reading! Featuring a large cast that includes Maria Bello (The Cooler), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), Jimmy Smits (Revenge of the Sith), and Lynn Redgrave (Peter Pan, 2003 version), this is sort of like the movie version of comfort food. If you have read some or all of Jane Austen’s novels, you’ll probably enjoy it a little more than if you haven’t. And, if you’re like me, the movie will make you want to go read the ones you haven’t.

The Movie Snob’s Best of 2006

Hello, Gentle Readers! You know the drill — here I will announce my picks for the best movies of 2006. For a movie to be eligible for consideration, I had to see it for the first time in a theater during the calendar year 2006. Yes, that means that some late 2005 releases will be included in my list, but deal with it. For the record, I saw 45 movies in the theater last year, of which nine got a B+ or better. (My track record with DVDs was distinctly worse: 19 first-time views, and only one with a B+. Ben Hur, if you’re wondering.)

Best Drama: And best picture of the year, in my humble opinion, was the riveting United 93. Filmed in documentary style, it grabs you from the start and never lets go. How they persuaded some of the people who were on the ground on 9/11 to play themselves in this movie is beyond me. I would have been way too freaked out to relive those events. The runners up are also excellent films. First I’ll mention The Nativity Story, and I’ll urge you to catch it in the theaters if you still can, before the Christmas season is too faint a memory. I thought it was reverent and sensitive without crossing the line into sentimentality. Even if you’re not Christian, go see it and see part of what makes us tick. And second I’ll cite the outstanding 2005 release Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a terrific performance, but there’s not a sour note in this movie about a fascinating 20th century character. And I can’t omit The Queen, starring an outstanding Helen Mirren in a quasi-documentary about the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.

Best Comedy: I’m not sure it belongs in this category rather than Best Drama, but let’s put it here anyway since good comedies are in short supply — Little Miss Sunshine is a wonderful mix of the absurd and the genuinely sweet. A marvelous depiction of how even the most dysfunctional family can learn that it is, indeed, a family. Watch out for the language, though; this is not a movie the whole family can enjoy. Honorable mention to The Devil Wears Prada, especially the terrific performance by newcomer Emily Blunt as the office assistant that Ann Hathaway unintentionally elbows out of their boss’s favor.

Best Action/Adventure: King Kong takes this one, hands down. The critics didn’t go ape for Peter Jackson’s last effort, but I thought it was a terrific popcorn flick. I’m hard pressed to come up with any other contenders in this category. Let’s put The Illusionist here too, featuring yet another fine performance by Edward Norton, and outstanding supporting work by Paul Giamatti.

Best Documentary: Sorry, Al, I’m going to pass over An Inconvenient Truth in favor of an IMAX movie called Deep Sea 3D. But the Truth wasn’t nearly as hard to swallow as I thought it would be, so that’s something.

Honorable Mentions: Woody Allen’s thought-provoking Match Point, the inimitable Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents, Scarlett Johansson going Wilde in A Good Woman, architecture documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry, a fabulous performance by Gretchen Mol in The Notorious Bettie Page, suburban angst run amok in Little Children, Daniel Craig’s blond Bondshell in Casino Royale, and Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion. All well worth adding to your Netflix queue.

War of the Worlds; Howl’s Moving Castle; My Summer of Love

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

War of the Worlds (B). The buzz I had heard was that this movie keeps you on the edge of your seat almost the entire time, and I have to say that it delivered. For about five minutes, things are perfectly normal. Tom Cruise plays Ray, a swaggering, divorced New Jersey dockworker. He is charged with taking care of his surly teenaged son and ten-year-old daughter for the weekend while his ex-wife and her wealthy new husband go to Boston. Weird storms simultaneously crop up all over the world, knocking out power and communications, and before you know it invincible alien tripods are marching through cities and across the countryside. Ray takes off with his children, and the film is at its best when it focuses on their flight from the alien marauders. To my mind, the film faltered when it slowed down and zeroed in on Ray’s conflicts with his children or other humans, like an unhinged Tim Robbins hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse. I was also surprised at how much Spielberg seemed to borrow from Independence Day, although perhaps that’s unfair since ID itself apparently lifted its plot straight from the same source—H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Overall, a perfectly decent thriller.

Howl’s Moving Castle (C). This was my first experience with Japanese anime, and it left me completely befuddled. The visuals were undeniably stunning, but the setting and plot were baffling. In the movie’s universe, from what I could tell, most people live in kingdoms that look like something out of Europe circa 1900, but wizards, witches, and magic are also accepted as facts of life. Howl himself is a wizard who lives in a fabulous moving castle that looks like a junkyard on giant mechanical chicken legs. The film’s protagonist, Sophie, is an ordinary young woman who attracts a witch’s attention for some reason and gets put under a spell that turns her into an old woman. She finds the moving castle and attaches herself to Howl’s small retinue as a cleaning woman, hoping to get her spell reversed. Lots of weird stuff happens, but danged if I could tell you why, and there’s a cute fire demon voiced by Billy Crystal too. Definitely a different sort of movie experience.

My Summer of Love (C). The reviewer for the local newspaper loved this British movie, calling it a “triumph” and a “gem.” I was less impressed, finding it pretty ordinary and predictable. The protagonist is Mona, a poor, plain, teenaged girl with no parents and few prospects. She’s having a loveless affair with a married man, and her older brother, Phil, has turned away from a life of petty crime and become a religious fanatic, leaving her even more alone. Then a beautiful rich girl named Tamsin (Emily Blunt, in the first movie I ever saw her in) moves into the mansion situated just outside of town, informing Mona that she was asked to leave her boarding school for being a bad influence on the other girls. Mona is quickly pulled into this exotic creature’s orbit, and over the summer the two girls experiment with various illicit activities and substances. As I say, I thought it was really pretty predictable. And average.