A Bigger Splash

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

A Bigger Splash  (C-).  Or perhaps more aptly, Lifestyles of the Rich and Decadent.  Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) stars as Marianne Lane, a big rock-n-roll star who is vacationing on a remote Italian island with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts, Black Book) after surgery on her vocal cords.  Their quiet interlude is shattered by the unexpected arrival of Marianne’s former lover, manic record producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes, Hail, Caesar!) and his 22-year-old daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson, How to Be Single).  Sexual tension runs in all sorts of directions as the quartet drink in the Mediterranean sunshine and, of course, large amounts of alcohol.  Watchable, but it didn’t really seem to add up to much.

Hail, Caesar!

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Hail, Caesar!  (B-).  With the glaring and painful exception of Barton Fink, I have yet to see a Coen brothers movie I didn’t like.  (Granted, I haven’t seen them all.)  True Grit, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother Where Art Thou? are all classics in my book.  Their current release has its pleasures, but I think it is definitely a lesser entry in the Coen canon.  It’s a pure comedy and a tribute to the movies of the 1940s and 1950s.  (Apparently there are a gazillion references to movies and Hollywood scandals of that era.  They went over my head, but I think I did catch an homage to Fargo.)  Josh Brolin (Sicario) stars as Eddie Mannix, a honcho for Capital Studios who is pulled in a million directions at once as he tries to keep his movies and his movie stars out of trouble.  George Clooney (Intolerable Cruelty) costars as Baird Whitlock, a matinee idol who is supposed to be starring in a big Ben Hur-like production but who has been kidnaped by a mysterious group called The Future.  And there are scads of other stars on hand, including Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as a fey director of costume dramas, Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) as a pregnant movie star in a mermaid suit, and Channing Tatum (She’s the Man) as the star of a South Pacific-like musical.  I enjoyed the energy of the picture, but it didn’t really seem to add up to much—except maybe to say gee, isn’t show biz crazy?

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.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A new movie review from The Movie Snob.

The Grand Budapest Hotel  (B).  I hardly know what grade to give the latest movie from writer-director Wes Anderson.  He is known (to me, anyway), as director of whimsical movies, some of which I have liked (Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and some of which I haven’t (The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket).  The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very watchable film, with a madcap story that barely pauses to let you catch your breath.  Although the movie is imaginative and occasionally amusing, it is so suffused with nostalgia and deeply felt loss that I left feeling pretty sad.  The cast is a who’s who of working actors, but Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) is the star and really steals the show.  He plays M. Gustave, a concierge at a fabulous resort hotel somewhere in eastern Europe just before World War II.  He takes a young refugee (from the Middle East, I think?) under his wing as the hotel’s new lobby boy, and the two have quite a series of adventures.  Among the many familiar faces who turn up are the lovely Saoirse Ronan (The Host), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Jeff Goldblum (Nashville), Jude Law (Side Effects), and Edward Norton (Fight Club).  If you like Wes Anderson, I think you will almost certainly like this movie.  But don’t go expecting a straight comedy.

Skyfall

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Skyfall  (C-).  I barely caught the latest James Bond flick before it disappeared from the theaters, and I have to say I am glad I saw it in the dollar theater because it just wasn’t that good.  Mainly, it is too darned long–almost two and half hours–and it just kind of sags and drags along for a lot of that running time.  Do we really need to see Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) arguing with Judi Dench (Mrs. Henderson Presents) about how the nature of spying has changed, blah blah blah?  It’s nice that we get filled in on some backstory for M and even for 007 himself, but a little of that kind of stuff goes a long way.  Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) was decent as the villain, but the beautiful Berenice Marlohe has like three minutes of screen time as the “Bond girl” of this installment.  In short, I don’t really get the hype that Skyfall garnered, and it has made me start to wonder about the Bond franchise in general.  Aren’t most of them overly long, overly complicated, and really just not that good?  Hmmm.

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.