Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (B). I do enjoy a good IMAX nature documentary, and this was a pretty good one. Morgan Freeman (Evan Almighty) narrates this 40-minute overview of the lemurs of Madagascar. We also meet an American scientist Patricia Wright, who has devoted her life to studying the critters and, of course, trying to protect their habitat from human destruction. The lemurs are pretty interesting, especially the adorable little mouse lemur (but note the thick gloves worn by the lab tech handling the little guy. I bet he has sharp little teeth!) And the scenery of Madagascar is pretty gorgeous too, with lots of huge stone formations jutting up unexpectedly out of the forests. This one is good for all ages–there aren’t even any disturbing scenes of animals getting killed or eaten or anything.
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.
Invictus (A). It is 1994 post-Apartheid South Africa, and President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is looking for a way to erase his country’s past racism and unite the South African people. Mandela’s answer to the struggle: rugby. Mandela saves the white-supported Springboks from black South Africans’ attempts to dismantle the team and asks Springbok captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to lead the team to a World Cup Victory. This tale of the underdog has the potential to lose its credibility in a series of feel-good Disney scenes, but director Clint Eastwood keeps things grounded: the Springboks fight for a team victory, Freeman delivers some incredible Mandela speeches while keeping his character human, and a country is not so much united as it is united behind a sports team. The only real breaking down of barriers is seen among Mandela’s secret service men who, initially apprehensive about working together, engage in a chummy rugby match on Mandela’s lawn. Nonetheless, it is a great depiction of South Africans’ post-Apartheid hope for the future of their country.
Feast of Love (C+). This is an independent film based on a Charles Baxter novel of the same name and directed by Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer). This ensemble piece is set in Oregon and is basically a commentation on love in its various incantations–friendship, father-son, father-daughter, husband-wife, brother-sister, and married man-mistress. There is also a homosexual relationship between two women, played by Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions) and Stana Katic (Quantum of Solace). The two main characters are Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman, Evan Almighty), a professor on leave after his son’s death, and Bradley Smith (Greg Kinnear, Heaven Is For Real), a good-natured coffee-shop owner seeking a relationship where his love can be returned. Morgan Freeman, who is a confidant to many of the characters in the movie, narrates at times about love and its effect on people. This is a thought-provoking movie that tends to linger in your thoughts after it’s over. Although it dragged in the middle, I thought it was a charming movie honest to reality with interwoven themes of spirituality. I would have given this movie a higher grade, but I dinged it for some unnecessary and graphic nudity (i.e., don’t watch this with kids). The movie also stars Radha Mitchell (Henry Poole Is Here), Jane Alexander (Kramer vs. Kramer), Billy Burke (Ladder 49), Alexa Davalos (The Mist), and Toby Hemingway (The Covenant).
Evan Almighty (B). I didn’t hear such great things about this movie, so I waited until it got to the dollar theater to see it. (Which, by the way, now costs $1.75.) I was pleasantly surprised, perhaps because my expectations were so low, or perhaps because Steve Carell (The Way Way Back) and Morgan Freeman (Batman Begins) lift the quality of any movie they appear in. It’s not really a comedy, even though there are some funny parts, but it’s more like a modern-day fairy tale. Carell plays Evan Baxter, a newly elected congressman who ran on the slogan “Change the World” and is naive enough to mean it. But his plans are derailed when God (Freeman) appears to him and directs him to build an ark. He resists, but God is not easily denied, especially since He can give you Old-Testament-prophet style hair and wardrobe any time He wants. The lovely Lauren Graham (Bad Santa) provides suffering and support as Baxter’s wife. I enjoyed it.