Annihilation

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.

Thor

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.

Thor

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!

Black Swan

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Black Swan (B). I wasn’t as bowled over by this movie as Movie Man Mike was, but it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re into freaky, psychological shenanigans. Natalie Portman (The Other Boleyn Girl) stars as Nina, a ballerina on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Her smothering mother (Barbara Hershey, Hannah and Her Sisters) and mean director (Vincent Cassel, Birthday Girl) don’t help matters any, but you get the feeling that most of Nina’s demons are the result of her own desperate quest for perfection. It’s not a horror movie, but there are a couple of startling moments. It’s worth seeing, and Portman gives a gutsy performance.

Black Swan

New review from Movie Man Mike

Black Swan. (A). Visually haunting and amazing. The images in this film stayed with me for days and visited me in my dreams. This film has been nominated for 4 Golden Globe awards and it is receiving some early Oscar buzz—and rightly so. Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a devoted, aspiring ballerina, who lives under the shadow of a controlling, suffocating mother, played by Barbara Hershey. Nina finally gets her chance to prove herself as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake when Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) is put out to pasture. But director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) has doubts as to whether Nina has it in her to also be the black swan-a darker, more sexual character. The pressure of it all pushes Nina into unexplored territory physically and mentally. The entire cast of this film is brilliant, including free-spirit Lily (Mila Kunis), who pushes Nina to the brink. At the end, you’ll ask yourself, where reality begins and ends. You gotta see this one. It’s good. My one criticism of this film are the little gasps of fear that come out of Portman during some of the dance scenes. It’s a bit annoying and probably not needed to express the emotion of the character.

The Other Boleyn Girl

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Other Boleyn Girl (B). I never read the novel, and I don’t know the real historical details of the story, so I may have liked this film the better for it. The failure of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana, Troy) to produce a male heir is about to rock England, and when the upper-middle-class Boleyns get the inside scoop that Henry is ready to throw over Catherine of Aragon, weak-willed Sir Thomas Boleyn does not hesitate to throw his daughters at the monarch. Conniving Anne (Natalie Portman, Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace) tries first and fails to impress the king, but her sweet sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson, Eight Legged Freaks) succeeds — for a time. Of course, history demands that Anne win out in the end, and once she elbows Mary aside events move so fast that there’s not even time to mention poor St. Thomas More. Critical reaction has been mixed at best, but I enjoyed it as a good, sudsy Saturday afternoon flick.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Nick at Nite goes to the dollar theater

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

The dollar theater is close to the house, so sometimes we see some strange or forgotten films. This was not strange, but it was forgotten. This Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate) and Natalie Portman (Black Swan) film must not have been too well received since we saw it in the dollar theater only a month after its release. The film deserves better treatment. It is a somewhat disjointed tale about a magical toy store, its owner, and the toy store manager. Jason Bateman (The Switch), plays an accountant who is thrown in as the straight man to all of the other characters in the movie. This is a good movie for the entire family. It is rated “G.” A rarity. It sends typical good messages of believing in yourself, finding a meaningful purpose to life, etc … As for plot the toy store has problems, its owner seems crazy, the toy store manager is a lost young adult, and the accountant is an unhappy bean counter living an unfulfilled life. Somehow they all work it out. I give it a “B.”

V for Vendetta

A DVD review from Comic Book Guy.

V for Vendetta.

Having worked in a comic book store (in the 80’s, when V was originally published), I have a soft spot for any comic adaptation that makes it to the big screen. Some, like V, translate well. Even if you missed the comics and the film, you know this story well: Oppressive totalitarian regime targets Muslims, homosexuals and other “undesirables” for elimination in the name of unity and faith. Said regime sacrifices its own to consolidate its powerbase. No, it’s not the Bush Administration—this is fiction. Set in the not too distant future, one man (?) sets about to undo a corrupt totalitarian state. With this backdrop, you’d expect the film has a lot to work with—and it does: individual vs. collective rights, truth and propaganda, the loss of freedom in the name of state security; terrorism; religious and cultural pluralism; the nature of freedom and the power of ideas. The list could go on and on (and it does at an sluggardly 2 and half hours). Despite this wealth of material, the movie only scratches the surface. Maybe it’s too much for a movie based on a comic book. This is not the Fantastic Four but somehow, it lacks the gravity you’d expect from the material. Maybe it’s the guy in the mask. Maybe it’s because it’s based on a comic book.

The combat sequence special effects would be awesome if the Wachowski brothers hadn’t already Matrixed us to death. Solid acting (except for the guy in the mask—and I’ll cut him some slack). Natalie Portman (Black Swan) is great. John Hurt relives his days from 1984.

Interesting, yes; but since the end of the cold war, Orwellian fare leaves me, well, cold. Even so, worth seeing, primarily because of what drives the action: principles worth fighting for. Judgment: B.

V for Vendetta

New from Nick at Nite

V for Vendetta. This is not your father’s made-for-television sci-fi mini-series. No alien lizard babies were birthed by human mothers in this movie, humans are not eaten by alien lizards in this movie, and humans do not rise up to destroy the alien lizards who suddenly reappear in a later television series. This is a better-than-most movie adaptation of a comic book intended for adults. It is a cross between The Count of Monte Cristo, 1984, Brazil, Zorro, and Moscow on the Hudson (okay, not so much Moscow on the Hudson). It is very entertaining, the acting is superb, and the story is an original twist on a well-known plot. Basically, through fearmongering a dictatorship takes over England (see George Bush and the Republican Party). A victim of the ruling junta rises up to challenge the dictatorship (junta meaning – military dictatorship). The masked victim, known as “V,” mobilizes the people who revolt against the ruling junta by planning a Guy Fawkes’ type demonstration (remember November 5th and big explosions). Natalie Portman (Thor: The Dark World) who plays a friend, acquaintance, confidant, aide, etc … to V, continues to make me think she will eventually be remembered as one of the greatest actresses of her generation (I think she is destined for Oscar glory). This movie was not well-received by the critics or the movie going public. I think they were wrong. I think they expected the Matrix Part IV since this movie was produced by the same Wachowski brothers. Well, it is not the Matrix. Get over it. The production values are the same, it is not as good as the first Matrix, but does not have the tired feel of the second two films. I think the critics bashed the movie because they don’t like the Wachowski brothers. They are strange, but that is no reason to dismiss the film. I say rent it. You won’t be disappointed that you did. I give it an “A.” Pay special attention to the monologue given by V, where he uses a series of words that start with the letter “v.” A very visceral venting by V.

Closer, Zathura

New DVD reviews from Nick at Nite

Closer

A tightly wound drama following four individuals who have little moral fiber and few redeeming qualities. It feels like a play, with long exchanges of dialogue followed by often abrupt changes of scenery. It feels like a play because it was adapted from one. I was sucked in from the very start. The writing is sharp and the actors are great. It is not a feel-good movie. The focus is betrayal, trust, and infidelity. Some of the characters are sad. Some are mean. Some are downright distasteful. Regardless, the movie is very entertaining. I will admit that when these actors cry, and trust me they all cry, it felt real, too real. The movie has a couple of interesting plot twists. I won’t give them away here. It is an adult movie, with adult themes. The language is colorful and the acts described shocking. Princess Amidala (Natalie Portman, Annihilation), where have you gone? She has gone to a better place. This a good movie. I gave it an “A.” Just don’t let your kids watch it or go to see it with the in-laws.

Zathura

I liked this movie alot better when it was Jumanji. Zathura is a pseudo-sequel to Jumanji. Both Zathura and Jumanji were books before they became movies and were written by the same individual. The fact that they were written by the same person is the only explanation for why those associated with Jumanji have not brought a plagiarism charge or copyright-infringement claim against those associated with Zathura. They are the same movie except one is set in the jungle and the other is set in outer space. Basic plot: kids fight, one of them finds old game, they play old game, bad things happen because game is “real,” and kids win game and bad things stop happening. It is PG for a reason. The description for the PG rating was peril. I give it a “B.” I give it a “C” if you have seen Jumanji. Take your gradeschooler; it is appropriate for them to see.

Closer; National Treasure

New DVD reviews from That Guy Named David:

Closer (B+)

As most followers of this site know, I kinda have a thing for Natalie Portman (that is, of course, until recently when she shaved her head; still relatively cute, but I’m ironically not a big fan of bald women). Nonetheless, my infatuation began with her appearance in Beautiful Girls, easily one of the top 20 movies ever made (slight exaggeration, but still one hell of a movie). I also loved her more recent endeavors such as Garden State. In Closer, she plays a much more grown-up role as the focal point of this story of the dysfunctional lives of four sexually-charged twenty-somethings in Europe. The performances by her, Jude Law, Clive Owen, and Julia Roberts were all exceptional, and the story kept my attention throughout, despite some dragging in the middle. The dialogue was a bit racy, but I appreciate relationship movies that are genuine and don’t pull many punches. The Movie Snob thought that the interactions between the characters were too over the top and not believable, given that they keep switching back and forth by sleeping with each other during the movie. I told him that he should have gone to law school at Tech. Anyway, good movie, but not one that your children should see until they are happily married.

National Treasure (C-)

Amanda (my girlfriend) refuses to watch movies starring Nicolas Cage. Obviously, she has not seen Valley Girl, when the young Nicolas Cage (then Coppola) made his debut in a starring role opposite the lovely Deborah Foreman. Anyway, back to this movie…. When I saw the preview in the theatre, I thought it looked relatively entertaining. Then, the movie came out and was slammed by the press. I tend to agree with my esteemed reviewing brethren on this one. Cage was great in Leaving Las Vegas and has been pretty damn horrendous in everything since (ex. The Rock, Con Air, Snake Eyes, Face Off, Gone in Sixty Seconds, on and on and on…). This movie is not much different. And to add to his ridiculous portrayal is the addition of the esteemed star of Anaconda, Jon Voight. Not to mention the fact that the story is so incredibly unbelievable (as in, there is no way you can fathom it to be remotely true, despite its attempt at portraying historical facts about this great country). In short, don’t waste two hours of your day watching this movie. Really bad.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

A review from The Movie Snob:

Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (B-). This movie is not about surprises. Every fan knows that several things have to happen between Episodes II and IV: the Jedi Knights must be crushed, the Republic must give way to the Empire, and Anakin Skywalker must father twins, turn to the Dark Side of the Force, and don the famous black armor of Darth Vader. The only question is whether George Lucas has made it an enjoyable ride. The answer is an equivocal yes. The action sequences are generally good, and the climactic battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin is very good. (I still don’t buy Yoda flipping around like a ninja version of Kermit the Frog, though.) The dramatic scenes are generally bad, and Lucas proves again that he can’t write dialogue. (I can imagine Natalie Portman’s sigh of relief when production wrapped on this thing; Padme’s role in this movie is pitiful.) I am also very confused about the philosophy underlying these movies. At one point, Obi-Wan criticizes the Sith (the bad guys) because only they deal in absolutes, but at the same time the Jedis are the ones with the strict code of ethics and seemingly “absolute” refusal to use the powers of the Dark Side. And yet, the Jedis are also looking for a “chosen one” to bring “balance” to the Force. Balance between what, good and evil? Beats me. Anyhoo, I rank this movie ahead of Episodes I and II and behind all the rest; my friends who saw the movie with me put it ahead of Return of the Jedi as well. You be the judge.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

A review from That Guy Named David:

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (B)

Being that I am not a huge Star Wars fan, I was a bit shocked to find myself at the premiere of the new Star Wars flick with the other couple thousand people who packed into a small theatre in Austin to see the newest installment. Nonetheless, I figured that since I had seen all the other episodes, I owed it to myself to finish the saga. To my surprise, I was not disappointed in the third/last feature from George Lucas and gang. Everyone knows the basic story of all the Star Wars stories, and if you’ve seen the original Star Wars (which every person on the planet has except a certain girlfriend of mine), you already know where this episode is heading. Therefore, there are no real surprises with this movie. Like the first two episodes (or the last two movies made), the special effects really stole the show. Also like the first two episodes, the acting was stilted and the dialogue was forced. It amazes me that Natalie Portman, who was exceptional in Garden State and Closer, looks like a rookie on the silver screen in all three most-recent Star Wars episodes. In addition, the guy who plays Anikan Skywalker really needs to attend some acting lessons. Horrible. Nonetheless, the story was well-scripted and the action was enough to make the movie a generally pleasant-going experience. If only the kid behind me had quit kicking my seat and the old man next to me had quit chewing ice, I would have had a really nice time at the theatre with the rest of central/south Texas.

Garden State

A video review from That Guy Named David:

Garden State (A-)

I must admit I am a big-time sucker for the introspective, “what the hell am I going to do with my life” type of movie (ex. Lost in Translation, The Graduate, Beautiful Girls, Wet Hot American Summer). This movie fits in that category. Plus, it stars Natalie Portman, one of the three current actresses over whom I have a mild obsession (Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Garner round out that list). As to the movie itself, the plot centers around a twenty-something that has gone home for his mother’s funeral. During the trip, he meets up with Portman (who is great in this role), does some drugs, hangs out with friends, and comes to the realization that he can feel emotions after years of being stuck on various medications. I wasn’t sold on the ending, but it didn’t ruin the movie for me. All in all, very good.

Closer

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Closer (C). This dark movie charts the relationships that form and dissolve and (possibly) re-form between two British guys (Clive Owen, the ubiquitous Jude Law) and two American women (Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman) over a four-year period. I freely admit that I have a hard time liking movies about unlikeable people, and at least three of the four protagonists in this flick are pretty unpleasant human beings (only Portman’s character is somewhat sympathetic). But my real problem was suspending disbelief that these four lovebirds could say and do the things they do and not kill (or at least maim) each other afterwards. Obsession, verbal cruelty, and betrayal are the hallmarks of these “love affairs,” and there is so much graphic sexual dialogue that you’ll forget there’s not a single sex scene in the movie. Definitely not a movie to see with your parents. Good performances offset the weak script to some extent, so I call it a C.

Garden State

A View from Mars:

Garden State (B+) First, allow me to set the stage for this review with an analogy befitting this movie court blog; Natalie Portman is to View from Mars as Nicole Kidman is to Movie Snob. Now, that being said, the bias will end there, but hopefully you’ll agree that this movie stands on it’s own without my schoolboy crush getting in the way. Zach Braff (of TV’s Scrubs) wrote, directed and starred in this simple movie about going home again. Braff plays a somewhat struggling actor in LA, who comes home to New Jersey for the first time in quite a while for his mother’s funeral. Awaiting him there is a psychiatrist father whom he rarely speaks to and a handful of friends that will probably be out of his mind the minute he returns to LA. During his somber encounters around town, he meets a local girl (Natalie Portman) in a doctor’s waiting room. They converse, they connect, they hang out, and he learns to get a better handle on life. Portman plays this role well and it’s her best acting since her all too brief role in Beautiful Girls. It even makes you forgive her for the Star Wars prequels. Braff did a great job as a triple threat with the story and his handling of the chemistry between the characters. In a summer filled with a lot of action/adventure duds, this little movie was a refreshing breath of air. It’s worth a look and probably the perfect renter when it comes out on video.

Addendum from The Movie Snob:

I saw this flick this weekend too, and Mars took some of the words right out of my mouth. Who is this Braff guy, and how did he pull this stunt off? Step 1: Write romantic screenplay. Step 2: Get Natalie Portman as female lead. Step 3: Get self cast as male lead. Step 4: Get self hired as director, so as to be able to require maximum number of retakes on romantic scenes. Nice work if you can get it. I wasn’t quite as sold on this movie’s charms as Mars, but it’s worth checking out. I’d call it a B-.