The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the megaplex.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (C). Ugh! I’m on Day 10 of a cold. So I looked for some cinematic comfort food, and I settled on this sleeper hit that’s still hanging on from the Christmas season. According to IMDB, it has grossed about $370 million domestically on a $90 million budget, so not bad. I didn’t see the 1995 Robin Williams version, so I had no expectations (except that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be likable, which he of course was). It was a mediocre experience—utterly predictable, but with a few amusing scenes here and there. Four high schoolers get sucked into a video game, where they are given new bodies reflecting their in-game avatars. It’s somewhat entertaining that they are cast against type: the nerd becomes beefy Johnson (Moana), the jock becomes diminutive Kevin Hart (The Five-Year Engagement), the awkward loner girl becomes Lara-Croft-esque Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), and in the oddest twist the beautiful social-media queen becomes . . . Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels). They have to complete a quest to “win the game” and escape back into the real world. The suspense is less than minimal, but as I mentioned there are a few laughs here and there. And Gillan is very attractive, so there’s that. Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language (most of the latter two arising, I believe, from the situation of a high-school girl’s consciousness getting stuck inside a middle-aged guy’s body).
New review from Movie Man Mike.
Bernie (B+). This movie has been out for quite some time and I kept hearing good things about it, so I decided to check it out. It’s still selling out! Let me say up front that I am not really a fan of Jack Black or the genre of movies that he is known for, but I have to say that he was quite good in this film. This story is based upon actual events in Carthage, Texas, and has appearances of many of the actual townspeople from Carthage. The main character is a man named Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), who is an assistant funeral director. Bernie moves to town and wins the hearts and souls of the townspeople, including rich widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), which is amazing because nobody likes Marjorie. Bernie winds up killing Marjorie and is put on trial for the murder. You would expect the townspeople to turn on Bernie, but he is so beloved that the townspeople come to his aid. This is a black comedy and it has some hilarious lines in it, some of which appear to be impromptu commentary from actual residents of Carthage. If you don’t see this at the theater, by all means rent it. You won’t regret it.
New review from Mom Under Cover
Bernie – A
If you have not seen Bernie, run, don’t walk, to a theater as soon as possible and be sure to stay for the extended interviews during the credits. Confirmed bachelor (closet homosexual?) Bernie Tiede (played by a restrained Jack Black–Nacho Libre) moves to Carthage, Texas fresh out of mortuary school where he befriends a wealthy widow forty years his senior, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Nugent is a sourpuss; Bernie teaches her how to enjoy life. Marjorie blooms under Bernie’s attention; Marjorie funds Bernie’s shopping habit. Marjorie becomes demanding; Bernie snaps. Because of strained relationships with her family, Bernie ultimately stands to inherit Marjorie’s millions.
Richard Linklater’s (Slacker, Dazed and Confused) offering of the late ’80 events in Panola County surrounding the death of Marjorie Nugent is spot on. Linklater co-wrote the screenplay with Skip Hollandsworth (who penned a 1998 Texas Monthly article detailing the story) and hired only actors from Texas or Louisiana so the accents would ring true. Matthew McConaughey plays district attorney Danny Buck opposite Scrappy Holmes played by Brady Coleman. McConaughey’s mother has a small role as one of the local gossips. The Greek chorus of gossips (composed of actors and locals) pops in to move the story along and is by far the star of the show. Having grown up in a small, Texas town, I can attest that the locals are the real deal–even Linklater cannot write dialog that authentic. (Watch the post credit interviews to find out if you guessed correctly which were actors and which were locals.) Both MacLaine and Black’s characters were somewhat caricature though Black was respectful in his portrayal of Tiede. This black comedy will keep you laughing all the way home!
A new review from The Movie Snob.
Bernie (B+). Director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock) reunites with Jack Black (School of Rock) and Matthew McConaughey (Dazed and Confused) for this half-dramatization/half-documentary about a 1996 murder in the small east Texas town of Carthage. Black plays Bernie Tiede, a middle-aged mortician who moves to Carthage and becomes the toast of the town for his kindness. Shirley MacLaine (Steel Magnolias) plays Marjorie Nugent, a wealthy widow that Bernie befriends after her husband’s funeral. Marjorie is a mean old snake who is estranged from the rest of her family, and she gets her hooks into Bernie good–treating him to a high life of travel and culture, but also mistreating him as her personal slave. Until one day he finally snapped, shot her dead, and hid her body in her own deep freezer. Oh, the documentary aspect of the movie is that interspersed throughout the movie are numerous clips of interviews with actual citizens of Carthage who knew Nugent and apparently still know Bernie (and the county D.A., Danny Buck, played by McConaughey). Some of the things they have to say are priceless. You have to wonder how true to life the dramatized parts of the movie are, but they felt very authentic to me. Fine performances and a really interesting movie about a bizarre crime.
DVD review from The Movie Snob
Nacho Libre (B-). Honestly, I have no idea how this DVD made it into my collection. It must have been in a super-bargain bin at Walmart way back when I thought Jack Black (School of Rock) was the greatest actor working. Anyhoo, this is very strange movie. Maybe not The Big Lebowski strange, but getting there. Black plays Ignatio, who is a cook at a poor Catholic orphanage in Mexico. (Why do so many people in Mexico speak to each other in English? Beats me!) His secret ambition, though, is to be a professional wrestler. He teams up with a scrawny guy who used to steal food from him, and together they proceed to get beaten up in one amateur wrestling bout after another. They embark on harebrained schemes to try to find a way to start winning some fights. Meanwhile, a beautiful young nun comes to work at the orphanage and steals Ignatio’s heart. It is a goofy mess of a movie, but I laughed out loud at some of the bizarre on-screen antics. Worth a look.
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.
DVD review from The Movie Snob
Be Kind Rewind (B-). This recent release was written and directed by Michel Gondry, who directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So I was expecting something pretty weird and off-the-wall. This flick had some odd elements, but it’s a much more straightforward movie. And basically a sweet one as well. Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon 4) runs a decrepit old video store in Passaic, NJ that’s about to be condemned. He leaves town for a while, leaving the store to be run by his employee Mike (Mos Def, Monster’s Ball). While Elroy is gone, Mike’s bumbling and paranoid friend Jerry (Jack Black, School of Rock) accidentally erases every video in the store, and they try to keep the business going by reshooting their own versions of whatever movies get requested. To their surprise (well, maybe not Jerry’s), people actually like their productions. The film had some laughs, like watching the two buddies film their own version of Ghostbusters. And a couple of high-powered actresses drop in (Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby; Sigourney Weaver, Ghostbusters). An enjoyable enough little movie, but nothing to particularly write home about.
New from The Movie Snob
Tropic Thunder (B). I laughed out loud a few times during this movie, but I can see that it would not run to all tastes. A director is trying to film a Vietnam war movie in Vietnam, but his star-studded cast is giving him fits. The grizzled Vietnam vet who wrote the book the movie is based on (Nick Nolte, Another 48 Hours) proposes to take the pampered stars down a few pegs by dropping them deep into the jungle and making them rough it for a while. Unfortunately, they get dropped near a Burmese heroin-processing plant, and it takes the actors a while to realize they aren’t making a movie any more. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) is particularly funny as an multi-Oscar winning actor who utterly immerses himself in every role, including this one as a black army sergeant. His interaction with a black rapper who’s also in the cast is very entertaining. Ben Stiller (Meet the Parents), whom I usually don’t like, is decent (and directed the movie too!). Jack Black (School of Rock) doesn’t have much to do. As I say, not everyone will be amused. I thought one of the funniest scenes involves somebody getting blown up by a landmine, and Stiller’s character thinking it’s all special effects, but it is undoubtedly a little ghoulish too.
New from the desk of The Movie Snob
Margot at the Wedding (C). You’d think that a movie starring the radiant Nicole Kidman (The Human Stain) and the incredible Jack Black (whom I once recognized as the comedic genius of our time) would be totally awesome. Not so much, at least to me. Director Noah Baumbach made a bit of a splash with his last feature, The Squid and the Whale, which I did not see, but I wasn’t going to miss this one. Kidman plays Margot, a successful writer of short stories, who is dragging her young-adolescent son Claude to her sister Pauline’s wedding. Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Spectacular Now) is marrying Malcolm, who, since he is played by Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels), is by definition a somewhat buffoonish character. It quickly becomes clear that Margot is a terror. She excels at verbally hitting people where it hurts, and we are not surprised to hear that she caused the end of Pauline’s first marriage by strip-mining family woes for her fiction. The movie has some funny moments amid the tension and hostility, and the dialogue is generally good and believable. But it doesn’t really add up to anything much that I could see.
Nicole’s Margot is up a tree without a paddle
DVD review from The Movie Snob
The Holiday (B). In my opinion, romantic comedy is very difficult to pull off, so The Holiday‘s “B” is a very good grade coming from me. Cameron Diaz (The Other Woman) plays Amanda, a hard-charging entrepreneur living in L.A. who is so emotionally repressed that she hasn’t cried since she was 15. Kate Winslet (All the King’s Men) is Iris, a British newspaper writer who is emotionally destroyed when the man she loves gets engaged to another woman. On the spur of the moment, the two find each other through a home-exchange website and decide to swap houses for the Christmas holiday. Diaz meets Graham (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes); Winslet meets Miles (Jack Black, Bernie). Romantic-comedy hijinks ensue. I would pick some nits — at 2 hours and 18 minutes, it is way too long, and there are some draggy scenes that should have been trimmed. Although I believe that Jack Black is one of the comedic geniuses of our time, he is a fish out of water in this picture. Still, on the whole, I quite enjoyed it.
DVD review from CBG
Another comedy from the same director (Jared Hess) and writer (Jerusha Hess) that brought you Napoleon Dynamite. Nacho, a friar in an orphanage, is a disrespected cook. He longs to be a luchador – or professional wrestler – complete with outfit and mask. When a new nun shows up, Nacho strikes out (literally and figuratively) to pursue his dream to become a pro wrestler, win the love of Sister Encarnacion and help the orphans. Hilarity ensues, or at least it should. Unfortunately, Nacho Libre is mostly Nacho Muerto. Yes, Jack Black (King Kong) is funny. You can’t help but laugh as he prances around in wrestler’s tights and ad libs silly songs. And yes, Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera, Cowboys & Aliens) is muy caliente. But the Hess influence is clear – it’s Napoleon Dynamite South of the Border – just not as funny or original as the first.
The Movie Snob goes ape:
King Kong (A-). Director Peter Jackson delivers in this excellent remake of the adventure classic. A fly-by-night movie maker (Jack Black, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) hires a tramp steamer to take his film crew, screenwriter (Adrien Brody, Midnight in Paris), and actors (Naomi Watts, The Impossible; Kyle Chandler, Super 8) to an uncharted island in the South Pacific where he plans to film his next picture. There they encounter hostile natives, hostile dinosaurs, and a hostile 24-foot gorilla that the natives call Kong. But then, you already knew all that. The question is, does Jackson wrap you up in the moviegoing experience the way he did in Lord of the Rings? The answer is, generally yes. I’d quibble with a few things. The movie really doesn’t need to be over 3 hours long, and some of the fight scenes go on too long and strain credibility even under loose sci-fi standards. But for the most part, I totally bought into it, and Kong himself is a phenomenal, completely believable feat of special-effects prowess. Watts does a very good acting job, especially considering she was generally acting against a blank screen. Clear your calendar for an afternoon or evening and see it on the big screen, where it belongs.
From That Guy Named David:
School of Rock (B)
I’ll admit to being extremely skeptical about this movie after hearing the Movie Snob laud Jack Black as the “comedic genius of modern times” or some such something. Anyway, after watching this pleasant little movie, I’ll admit that I was probably a little harsh with my baseless criticism of Black after hearing the Snob go on and on and on about his “unbelievable wit and incredible ability to bring the audience to tear-inducing laughter.” The movie was pretty funny at times, except for the corniness of the plot in general. I still am not on the same line of thought as the Snob in thinking that Black is “the Bob Hope of the next generation,” but I do think that this movie has its moments. The little Asian kid made me laugh too. Not bad.
Master and Commander (C-)
Wow. Talk about a movie that had a lot of hype and then landed with a massive thud as I wasted a Sunday morning watching this dreadful display of Waterworld on steroids. Note to Russell Crowe: you were good in Gladiator, but there is no need to play that role again. There was nothing about this movie that I enjoyed. Okay, so they get attacked by a bigger ship, then float around trying to find it, stumble upon an island or two, and then, voila… they find the ship and have a battle with it again. Such great writing. Oh, and that other guy from A Beautiful Mind (you know, the guy that really didn’t exist), well, his performance is just as bland as Crowe’s. And to think that my friend Becky said this was a very good movie when she went and saw it several months ago. Makes me wonder if she actually watched any of the movie.
The Movie Snob’s favorites from 2003.
Well, my favorite movie that I saw for the first time in 2003 was actually a 2002 release, The Pianist. None of the 2003 releases I saw can really compare. It is a very powerful film about how one man survives the Holocaust in Warsaw, Poland. Check it out on DVD if you haven’t seen it yet.
Among comedies, A Mighty Wind is my pick for best movie of 2003. Maybe this faux documentary about folk singers from the 60’s getting together for a reunion concert isn’t quite as funny as Spinal Tap or Waiting for Guffman, but it is still very good. Running a close second is the instant classic School of Rock, starring the inimitable Jack Black. Freaky Friday and Finding Nemo get honorable mentions in this category.
For drama, my pick is Dirty Pretty Things, a gritty film about the harsh life of illegal immigrants in London. Mostly decent people, their desperation not to be deported exposes them to all sorts of dangers and indignities. Of course Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is in a class by itself, but in the end I thought it was just too much of a good thing. I Capture the Castle, an excellent romance and coming-of-age movie, was one of the few movies I saw in the theaters twice. For a slightly darker take on love and attraction, check out the little-seen indie flick xx/xy. And Mystic River was an effective and haunting movie, even if in the end I didn’t completely buy it.
From the Movie Snob.
School of Rock. (A-) The potential for disaster was substantial. Would Jack Black take the edge off his obnoxious, rock-and-roll-obsessed, High Fidelity persona in a quest for greater mainstream appeal? Would the preppy kids at the hoity-toity school where Jack Black fakes his way into a substitute-teacher job turn in unbearably cutesy or cloying performances? Would the ending flame out in a saccharine display of new-found maturity (for Black) and liberation (for the kids)? The answer to all these questions, for the most part, is no. The potty-mouth and the sex-and-drugs aspect of rock and roll are undeniably tamed down, but the movie avoids all major pitfalls and had me laughing out loud throughout. Go see it.