Schindler’s List

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Schindler’s List  (A-).  I did not get around to seeing the winner of the 1994 Oscar for Best Picture until last night — I had bought the DVD years ago, but could never bring myself to watch it.  It is, of course, as good and as powerful as I had expected it to be.  A young Liam Neeson (Clash of the Titans) plays Oskar Schindler, an amoral, womanizing entrepreneur who moves to Krakow, Poland, and hatches a very successful plan to profit from WWII by using cheap Jewish laborers to manufacture things for the German army.  Gradually, his eyes are opened to the Nazi horror, and by the end of the movie he has spent his entire fortune on the bribes necessary to save the lives of some 1,100 Jews.  Neeson turns in a fine performance (Tom Hanks beat him out for the Best Actor Oscar for Philadelphia), as does a young Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) as Amon Goeth, the psychotic Nazi commandant of the labor camp outside Krakow.  (Tommy Lee Jones beat Fiennes for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Fugitive.)  Ebert included Schindler’s List in his first book The Great Movies, and with good reason.

Non-Stop

The Borg Queen stops long enough to send us this review.

Non-Stop  (B).  I enjoyed this film much more than I anticipated, and it even kept the interest of my teenage daughter, which is saying something.  The story centers on Bill Marks (played by the always entertaining Liam Neeson), an air marshal on a non-stop flight to London.  Shortly into the flight when most people are sleeping, he begins receiving text messages from an unknown number threatening to kill a person every 20 minutes if $150 million is not transferred into a specified account.  Chaos ensues.  Throughout the movie you keep wondering – how is a person going to be killed every 20 minutes when everyone is in such close quarters and he can see everyone?  How is this person getting away with texting Marks without anyone noticing?  It’s not the next Lord of the Rings by any means, but the movie maintains a good pace, is humorous at times, and keeps you guessing.  My daughter and I made a game out of trying to guess first who the culprit was and how they are doing it.  A good rental for a Saturday night with the family.

The Lego Movie

The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the movies.

The Lego Movie  (B-).  This movie is getting high marks from the critics, but I just can’t go better than “pretty good.”  It’s an animated film about a world made of Legos—a world of bland conformity ruled by the Big Brother-like President Business (voice of Will Ferrell, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby).  But there is a prophecy that an ordinary Lego person will rise up and break Business’s stranglehold on Legoland, and it looks like The Chosen One may be an ordinary construction worker named Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt, her).  His potential chosenness is discovered by a nonconformist chick named Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks, Definitely, Maybe), who recruits him to join some sort of rebellion against Business and his main henchman, Bad Cop (voice of Liam Neeson, The Phantom Menace).  The movie has plenty of pluses.  The animation can be very striking, some of the humor is pretty good, and it is fun to pick out all the famous vocal talent at work, including Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), Will Arnett (TV’s Arrested Development), Jonah Hill (This Is the End), Alison Brie (TV’s Community), and many more.  On the down side, as in many regular action movies, many of the action scenes moved so fast in places that I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on.  It started to feel a little long after a while, and I didn’t think the climactic ending was all that great.  Still, I give the film makers credit for trying something reasonably fresh and original.  Oh, and the theme song “Everything Is Awesome” really is kind of awesome.

Taken 2

A new review from The Borg Queen.

Taken 2  (B).   The first movie in this series, Taken, from 2008 took me by surprise.  Taken 2 is a continuation of the same story.  It stars Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, who is a very talented, former CIA agent.  In the first movie, Bryan’s daughter, Kim, (played by Maggie Grace of Lost) is kidnapped with the intent to sell her as a sex slave to the highest bidder.  I absolutely loved the first film as it was full of great one-liners, action, thrills, and kept me on the edge of my seat as I waited impatiently to figure out if he would ever find his daughter.  The second movie picks up shortly after the first movie.  In the sequel, the father of some of the men killed in the first movie (I guess even really, really, really bad people have some people in the world that care about them) seeks revenge on Bryan and sets out to kidnap and kill Bryan, his estranged wife Lenore (played by Famke Janssen of the X-Men series) and Kim while they are in Istanbul.  The sequel had just as much entertainment and action as the first movie, and was definitely worth a full-price ticket.  But it did not quite have the same emotional punch or “how did he do that?” impact as the first movie.  My expectations were pretty high going into the film, so this may be one of those films that is actually more entertaining the second time you watch it.  Anyway, it is still a great flick, and Liam Neeson is always entertaining.

Excalibur

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Excalibur  (B).  This was my first time to see this 1981 version of the legend of King Arthur.  I have to say, I thought it was pretty good.  The special effects were a little cheesy, as befits a movie of that era, but I thought the numerous battle scenes were generally well done.  Nowadays, directors so often fudge big battle scenes (or even little fight scenes) by editing them into a jumble of quick cuts so that you have no idea what is going on.  But there are no such shortcuts in Excalibur, and you get the feeling this is something like how battles were back in the day—clamorous and confusing affairs, with men staggering and stumbling about in their armor, and hacking and bludgeoning about almost blindly.  Director and co-writer John Boorman (Deliverance) crams the whole Arthurian legend, including some backstory about Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon, into 2 hours and 20 minutes.  I had heard the movie was pretty racy for its time, and there is a bit of sex and nudity.  What’s shocking is when you listen to the director’s commentary and find out one of the young ladies involved is his own daughter!  And it is a little gruesome in parts, so the R rating is even more fully justified.  The guy who plays Merlin (Nicol Williamson, Robin and Marian) is kind of a kick, seeming only about half serious most of the time.  Another fun aspect of the movie is seeing all the actors who went on to become famous, such as Liam Neeson (Wrath of the Titans), Patrick Stewart (X-Men: The Last Stand), Helen Mirren (The Queen), Ciaran Hinds (John Carter), and Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects).  I enjoyed it.

Wrath of the Titans

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Wrath of the Titans  (F).  Wow.  How could this movie go so wrong?  Okay, granted it’s a sequel to a remake of a 1981 movie that wasn’t very good in the first place.  Nevertheless, the original Clash of the Titans holds a very special place in my heart.  Thirteen-year-old me thrilled to the sight of ancient Greek hero Perseus (Harry Hamlin, TV’s L.A. Law) slaying Medusa, battling giant scorpions, and saving Princess Andromeda from a giant sea monster.  The bloated 2010 remake didn’t recapture the magic of the original, and it inexplicably introduced a second female character to distract Perseus from Andromeda, but it was not totally bereft of charm.  This movie, however, was quite bereft of charm — and logic, editing, and everything else that makes a movie good.  Well, with one exception; it does feature the lovely Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice), who replaces the original actress as Andromeda.  But unfortunately, Pike has nothing to do in this movie except follow Perseus around, get tossed like a rag doll in the occasional ancient Greek explosion or earthquake, and look gorgeous through the photogenic streaks of dirt and blood that appear on and disappear from her face at random.  And how much money did they have to dangle in front of Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) and Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) to get them to appear in this stinkbomb?  Anyhoo, the plot, such as it is, is something about Hades and Ares scheming against Zeus and the rest of the gods in order to release the ancient Greek titan Kronos, so Perseus has to pad out the film, er, I mean go on a mythical quest, to find out how to stop Kronos from destroying the universe.  Oog.  The stupidity was palpable.

Clash of the Titans (2010)

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Clash of the Titans (B+). I’ll begin by confessing that the 1981 original version of this movie was very important to me in my youth. I was about 13 years old and way into science fiction and fantasy, not to mention Dungeons & Dragons. I didn’t see many movies back in those days, but I think I managed to get to this one at least twice. I’m sure the special effects were terrible, and the story made a hash of Greek mythology, but Perseus’s quest to find a way to save Princess Andromeda from being sacrificed to the monstrous Kraken was good enough to fire my imagination, especially since it involved the snake-haired Medusa, giant scorpions, the winged horse Pegasus, and heaven knows what else that I have since forgotten. Plus, even though the film was rated PG (or else my parents never would have let me see it), there were a couple of fleeting examples of female nudity. How that got past the MPAA, I will never understand. Maybe they loved Greek mythology as much as I did.

Anyhoo, enough reminiscing. This remake departs from the old version in many ways, but I don’t think the departures bring it any closer to mythological accuracy. In this version, mankind is rebelling against the capricious Greek gods, which somehow works to the advantage of Hades (Ralph Fiennes, The Reader) in his secret plot to overthrow Zeus (Liam Neeson, Batman Begins). As in the original, the Greek city of Argus gets cursed to be destroyed by the Kraken unless Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, The Mist) is sacrificed to the beast, and Zeus’s son Perseus (Sam Worthington, Avatar) goes on a quest to stop the curse from coming true. A sad-faced gal named Io (Gemma Arterton, Casino Royale), who’s laboring under some curse of her own, tags along with Perseus and his merry band and offers him pointers on how to slay Medusa. The movie doesn’t make any sense, but I just went along for the ride and enjoyed it just fine. I will say that I remember the original Medusa being a lot scarier than this CGI-looking version. The original one slashed her own arm open so she could poison arrows with her own blood, for crying out loud! It’s fun to pick out the many other familiar faces along the way. There was reliable old Pete Postlethwaite (The Usual Suspects), plus Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale), Polly Walker (TV’s Rome), and even Nicholas Hoult, all grown up from his performance in About a Boy, as one of Perseus’s faithful followers. Go with low expectations, and you’ll be entertained.

Oh, by the way, I heard the 3D version was terrible, so I opted for the 2D version and liked it just fine.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Movie Snob’s last review of 2005:

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (A). I never read the Narnia books, but I was generally familiar with the plot of the first one before seeing this movie version. (Seems like I saw an animated version when I was a kid, maybe.) As everyone knows, it is a very overt Christian allegory dressed up as kind of a fairy tale. Four children in WWII England find a magical wardrobe that is a gateway to the fantastic kingdom of Narnia. Narnia is ruled by the wicked White Witch (played wickedly by Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer), and it has been winter for 100 years but never Christmas. But the inhabitants of Narnia, such as a faun and talking beavers, await the return of the lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson, Wrath of the Titans), whom prophesies foretell will return and defeat the White Witch when four humans come to Narnia. The children (Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy) get caught up in these events, and there’s quite a bit of adventure and excitement. Although I had read that the moviemakers tried to soften the parallels to the story of Christ, I thought they were still extremely obvious — indeed, most of the plot would have had to be rewritten to avoid the parallels. A great movie to end the year with.

Batman Begins; The Final Cut

New reviews from Movie Man Mike:

Batman Begins. B+ (for this genre of movies)
I went to this movie as a skeptic. While prior Batman movies have been mixed in their success, I didn’t like the idea of yet another Batman movie being made with yet another actor playing Batman. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Christian Bale makes a pretty good Batman. And, it’s hard to criticize the all-star cast, including Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Kate Holmes. The psychological background on Batman is intriguing and includes a sketch of his early training. Some of the stunts are a little hard to believe and I found my self questioning how he did some of them even though he had state-of-the-art technology to assist him, but by suspending reality and enjoying the moment and the action, I found the movie really quite entertaining. In fact, I think it is my favorite of the Batman movies.

The Final Cut. B-
This is a 2004 film starring Robin Williams. It’s out on DVD and I decided to check it out because it got some pretty good reviews. This film reminded me a great deal of a film from the early 1980’s called Brainstorm, which starred Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood. The premise of The Final Cut is that technology has been developed to allow people to implant a chip in their head that will record everything the person sees or hears during his whole life. After the implanted person dies, the chip can be retrieved and surviving family members can relive the person’s life to help them to remember their dearly departed. The most interesting thing about the movie is that it makes you think about your own life and how you would feel to know that after you are gone, anyone could look back on all the things you did, good or bad. In the movie, Robin Williams plays the role of a “cutter” who’s job it is to take the implant chip and creates a “rememory” or condensed video of the deceased’s life for the benefit of his family. Williams’ character is pitted against a group of opponents to the technology who believe that cutters are distorting the truth and memories of the deceased. The ending of the film is a bit abrupt and leaves questions–as the director probably intended, but I am not really sure the questions are all that relevant to our every day lives. I enjoyed this film as a concept, but not immensely.

Batman Begins

A View From Mars:

Batman Begins (B+)

A little history . . . I liked Tim Burton’s gimmicky dark Batman back then, although I’m not sure it stands the test of time now. The second one had its moments, but I wasn’t too particularly fond of its villians, The Penguin and Catwoman. As for the last two, let’s just say Joel Schumacher killed the franchise then chopped it into little pieces and fed it to the sharks, etc. . . you get my point. I’m rather tired of the “franchise has been resurrected” label, but it is very fitting indeed. A fine step 1 was hiring independent minded Christopher Nolan (Memento) and letting him cast a very independent minded actor in Christian Bale to play the lead. Surround him with some A listers to play Alfred (Michael Cain), Lt. Gordan (Gary Oldman), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and you just might have something beyond decent here. I won’t go much into plot as there’s an origin story and some villians and personal demons to overcome, but I will say that more attention was given to the characters than to the special effects and the spectacles that they could have become. I’d almost go out on that limb and say that this was about as realistic as you can get for a comic book movie, but there were moments in the film in which that comment just doesn’t belong. Some just aren’t into comic book adaptations, but for the rest, this movie is a must see and definitely better than the Spidermans and X-Men of the movie comic book world.