A new review from The Movie Snob.

Annihilation  (B-).  This new sci-fi movie starring Natalie Portman (Thor) is loosely based on a novel from just a few years ago.  I think I liked the book better (see my review here).  As in the novel, a weird phenomenon kind of like a dome has descended on some remote, swampy area (Florida maybe?), and weird stuff is going on inside.  The government occasionally sends a team into the mysterious area to investigate.  (Almost) no one ever comes back.  Portman plays a soldier–biologist named Lena who joins the latest mission, a five-woman expedition led by psychologist Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding).  Once they venture into Area X, it turns into sort of a horror movie, so don’t go if you’re squeamish!  Anyhoo, I didn’t like it as well as director Alex Garland’s previous effort, Ex Machina, but Annihilation still held my attention.

I saw Annihilation at a new Alamo Drafthouse here in Dallas, and I caught most of the pre-show.  It included a couple of old music videos of a children’s rock band that featured . . . a nine-year-old Natalie Portman!  It was pretty entertaining.

Jane Got a Gun

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Jane Got a Gun  (B-).  No, this isn’t a movie based on the 1989 Aerosmith tune.  It’s an even more unlikely concoction—a Western starring Natalie Portman (Closer) as the heroine and Ewan McGregor (Down With Love) as the bad guy.  Truly, I expected it to be terrible, like the recent Western Sweetwater.  But instead it turned out to be not half bad, like the recent Western The Homesman.  The set-up is nicely formulaic: Natalie’s husband comes riding up to their dusty New Mexico homestead all shot up, and he barely has the strength to warn her that the Bishop Boys are coming.  So Natalie has to convince a surly neighbor with whom she has a past to help her fight off the evil varmints that are riding her way and will probably arrive around High Noon.  The numerous flashbacks that fill us in on the backstory kind of bog the movie down, but eventually the movie picks up steam and gives us the shoot-em-up we’ve been waiting for.  Worth a look, if you like oaters.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D

Mom Under Cover gets her Jedi on.

Star Wars –The Phantom Menace in 3D–Grade C. 

Disclaimer:  I am not a Star Wars aficionado.  My Star Wars education consists of viewing the original Star Wars in the ’70s and logging quite a few hours putting together lego Star Wars kits with my children. The lego Death Star (partially completed) occupies a prominent position in our game room–with various Star Wars lego people strewn around. 

As for the movie, the 3D effects ranged from almost non-existent to average.  There were a few scenes that did seem truly 3D.  The first underwater adventure to the hidden city home of Jar Jar Binks was good.  Generally, you can take off the glasses and not see much difference.  The pod-racing scene went on too long, as did the light saber fight between Darth Maul and the young Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-gon (Liam Neeson).  I was confused as to whether Padme, the lady in waiting to Queen Amadala (so tempting to call her amygdala–which truly annoys my children) was the same person but some kind of hologram of the Queen–as I thought both characters were played by Natalie Portman.  I learned that the Queen (who was really the decoy) was played by Keira Knightley–obscured by the funky makeup.  I understood there was a switch going on and the Queen was a decoy but somehow it was still confusing.  The triumphant parade scene near the end totally cracked me up as the Jar Jar people with big elephant ears (surely they have a name?) marched along like some kind of funky marching band.  My advice–if you are forced to take your kiddos to this flick, be sure to see it at Studio Movie Grill where you can order a fairly decent skinny margarita–or two.  Otherwise, pass.

Your Highness

The Borg Queen transmits this DVD review.

Your Highness – F

If there was a grade lower than F, I would give it to this awful film that epitomizes much of what is wrong with society today.  The opening, gory scene glorifies and mocks rape, which unfortunately sets the tone for the remainder of the film.   In fact, the whole movie is about the “prince” saving his virgin bride (Zooey Deschanel) from being raped by some evil wizard – an event that somehow will create a dragon that he can control.   Scene after scene is all about masturbation, rape, molestation, sex with dwarves, bestiality, and women existing solely to please disgusting penis-and-breast-obsessed men – and joking about each and every one of those topics, as if that is okay.  The fact that people even made this movie is appalling.  The fact that people even think these are topics to joke about is disturbing.  Having forgotten the trailer I once saw for this film, I watched it because it features Natalie Portman, who is one of my favorite actresses.  She appears about a third of the way into the film.  Up until then, I was hoping that at least Queen Amadala’s, I mean Ms. Portman’s role would not be tarnished by the plethora of disgusting, indecent scenes plaguing the movie.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  In the scene wherein Ms. Portman enters the film a bunch of bare-breasted, painted women are cheering on a disgusting fat man controlling some snake-like monster trying to kill the main characters in a fighting ring.  She also appears in a scene in which a minotaur is raping a court squire – and then proceeds to appear in the rest of the movie wherein one man wears the bloody penis of the minotaur around his neck.  This is far and away the most disgusting, awful, offensive movie I have ever seen.  I simply can’t think of enough negative adjectives to describe this movie.   I should get a medal for even finishing it.  When this movie was made, the world became a worse place.  My only hope is that no one else will ever watch it – ever.


The Movie Snob records a dissent

Thor  (A-).  I see that my fellow judge Movie Man Mike gave this comic-book movie a B- about a month ago.  Maybe I was just in the right mood for a comic-book movie today, because I thought it was really top-notch.  First we get a ton of backstory about this race of alien immortals, led by Odin (Anthony Hopkins, The Wolfman), who saved the human race from a bunch of alien frost giants and got worshiped by the Vikings as a result.  Nowadays Odin and his kin live off on their own planet of Asgard, but Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, will still enable you to cross between the two realms (if its guardian Heimdall (Idris Elba, Obsessed) will let you).  Odin’s impetuous son Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Star Trek) disobeys his father and gets banished to Earth — minus his fabulous powers and awesome hammer Mjolnir.  But then Odin has a god-sized heart attack or something, leaving a power vacuum that Thor’s untrustworthy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Midnight in Paris) hastens to fill.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, a physicist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) tries to help Thor get his bearings as a mere mortal.  I’m not saying it’s Hamlet, but I thought it was a really good popcorn flick.


Movie Man Mike gets hammered.

Thor. (B-)  I didn’t much care for the comic book character; it was really kind of boring.  But the big screen, some CGI, and Chris Hemsworth combine to make his an engaging movie-going experience.   This is the first of a summer filled with action heros and it’s worth the price of admission.  The film has some big-name actors in it as well, with Anthony Hopkins playing Thor’s father, Odin.  Rene Russo is Thor’s mother.  Natalie Portman plays Thor’s earth-girl love interest.  And Tom Hiddleston, who has previously mostly had a TV career, is a quite good as Thor’s brother, Loki.

You’ll want to stay through the credits because there’s a preview of Thor’s next film—The Avengers—which is currently being filmed.  The Avengers is set for release in 2012 and will have an all-star cast and a whole line-up of superheros, some of whom will have their own stand-alone films out this summer.  You won’t want to miss these action-hero films if you want to be on the same page when The Avengers hits the big screen.   Also, The Avengers is being written and directed by Joss Whedon, who is known for his ingenious work with the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Serenity.

The Movie Snob’s 2010 Year in Review!

Welcome to The Movie Snob’s annual list of the best movies of the year. As usual, if I saw a movie in the theater in 2010, I may include it in this column even if it was technically a 2009 release. For the record, I saw 58 movies at the theater in 2010, and these are the ones you should try to see if you haven’t seen them yet.

Movie of the Year. This was not a tough decision — the year’s highlight for me was The Social Network, the popular and critically acclaimed dramatization of the invention of Facebook. It’s an engrossing story about how a bunch of greedy nerds built an empire — and then sued the pants off each other. I just saw a news item that the Winklevoss twins are trying to undo their $65 million settlement because they think they’re entitled to even more. Or maybe they’re just trying to lay the groundwork for a sequel.

Runner Up. It didn’t do so well at the box office, but I thought Never Let Me Go was an excellent adaption of a phenomenal book. I can’t say much about the plot, but it’s a sad tale set in a dystopian alternative reality. Thought-provoking without being (in my opinion) preachy. Put it in your Netflix queue. Wait — read the book first. Then put it in your Netflix queue.

Best Action/Adventure Flick. Will I lose my license to critique if I pick the remake of Clash of the Titans? As a kid, I loved the original, and I enjoyed the remake enough to see it twice in the theater — NOT the 3D version, which was brutally panned by the critics. It’s just good, stupid fun with mythology. Oh, I should mention Inception, because it was a fun, roller-coaster ride of a movie, even though I didn’t know what was going on half the time. And even though I’ll look like an idiot for preferring Clash of the Titans. Alice in Wonderland was pretty good too, and Alice’s duel with the Jabberwocky at the end was pretty action-y, so I’ll mention it in this category too.

Best Animated Movie. Unlike 2009, 2010 featured a bumper crop in this category. I’d give top honors to Toy Story 3, which had more exciting action and adventure than anything in the preceding category. But the quirky Fantastic Mr. Fox was also excellent, if a little offbeat. I also liked The Princess and the Frog quite a bit. But in addition to those films, I’d also recommend Megamind, Despicable Me, and How to Train Your Dragon as being well worth your time.

Best Comedy. I’m always hard-pressed to label any comedy “good,” much less recommend it as worth seeing. But I really, really liked a little-seen movie called City Island, starring Andy Garcia as an ordinary, blue-collar guy — a prison guard no less — who starts taking acting lessons on the sly. His wife thinks he’s having an affair; his teenage kids are complete mysteries to him; and then he inexplicably volunteers to take an ex-convict into his home. The plot clicks along very nicely, and I just enjoyed the heck out of it. The few other comedies I saw were wretched and don’t deserve a mention.

Best Documentary. I’ll go with the Johnny Depp-narrated When You’re Strange, which is about the short, strange career of the rock band The Doors. Nipping at its heels are the space documentary Hubble 3D (narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, I believe), and nature documentary Oceans (narrated by Pierce Brosnan).

Best Drama. Lots of strong contenders in this category this year. Maybe it’s just because I saw it very recently, but I’ll pick The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams. It’s just a solid boxing movie with an underdog hero you can’t help rooting for. Too cliched for your taste? I understand. Turn the clock back and go with An Education, a dark tale about a bright but naive British girl on the verge of womanhood who gets seduced by a sleazy cad. Or stay closer to home with the even darker Winter’s Bone, about a courageous teenage girl (Jennifer Lawrence, in her breakout performance) who has to stand up to her seriously dangerous, meth-cooking relatives in the Missouri Ozarks if she wants to save her family’s farm. One last honorable mention: I really liked The Young Victoria. You don’t have to be an Anglophile to empathize with a spirited young woman born into the straitjacket of royalty.

Best Foreign Film. I would like to pick The Concert, a moving melodrama about a blacklisted Soviet music conductor who schemes his way into a comeback concert. I really enjoyed it at the time. But it did resort to an unpleasant Jewish stereotype to get a cheap laugh once or twice, and I have a hard time recommending it unreservedly. I also really enjoyed Kisses, an Irish movie about a couple of poor kids with bad home situations who decide to empty their piggy banks and run away from home. Honorable mention to the Italian movie Mid-August Lunch, which is a short, sweet little movie about a basically decent guy who is strapped for cash and agrees to take in a few elderly women for the weekend while their own children go away on holiday.

Honorable Mentions. I’ve already mentioned most of the worthwhile films of the year as honorable mentions in the specific categories above, but I can rattle off a few more that are worth a look. Michael Douglas turns in a good performance in Solitary Man. He plays a shallow, Gordon Gekko-like character, but on a much smaller scale. I didn’t see the Wall Street sequel, but this movie had to be much better than that. I liked The Kids Are All Right, about a very unusual family situation that develops when a couple of kids being raised by lesbians look for and find their sperm-donor father. Although it’s not the action movie it was purported to be, I liked The American, starring George Clooney as a world-weary hit man. (Be warned, it’s got some pretty graphic sex scenes in it.) Ben Affleck’s latest movie, The Town, is an entertaining film about a gang of Boston bank robbers. And still in current release you can catch Natalie Portman as a ballerina who’s not-so-slowly losing her marbles in Black Swan.

First Seen on Video This Year. Just one movie I simply must mention: The Big Lebowski. How did I miss seeing this movie? I found it completely ludicrous and utterly hilarious. OK, one more — The King of Kong, about a nice guy who just wants to compete fair and square for the title of Donkey Kong champion of the universe. I defy you not to get hooked on this movie.

So that’s my 2010 in a nutshell. Thanks for reading, and please post a comment!