Sunday, May 08, 2011

Check out our new site

Gentle readers, we are testing out a new site for our blog.

The "search" feature on this blog hasn't worked for months, and we are trying a new site that seems to have a functioning search feature. That way, you'll be able to find old reviews of ours with just a few keystrokes.

Look us up at!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


The Movie Snob reports on a recent release

Eclipse (D-). Seriously, do even teenaged girls really like these terrible Twilight movies? They are s-o-o-o slow! Nothing ever happens, and when it does, it's very seldom. In this latest installment, human Bella (Kristen Stewart, Zathura), vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson, New Moon), and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautin, New Moon) hang around and yak incessantly about who's in love with whom, who's not in love with whom, and if and when Bella is going to get changed into a vampire herself. Blah blah blah it goes. Meanwhile, really evil and good-looking vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, Terminator: Salvation) is inexplicably kept off the screen virtually the whole movie. So is the other attractive gal vampire Alice (Ashley Green, New Moon). What is up with that? This was a really painful experience. Avoid it!!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

49 Up

Movie review from The Movie Snob

49 Up (B-). Well, the Borg Queen and I are finally up-to-date on this series of British documentaries. To recap, in 1964 some British filmmakers rounded up a gaggle of 7-year-olds from various social classes. They interviewed them all about their attitudes, their likes and dislikes, and their expectations for the future. The result was the first entry in the series, 7 Up. Every seven years since then, the filmmakers have gone back, found those same kids, and interviewed them again for a new film. (I think they were mainly made for TV, but shows that 49 Up got a short theatrical release in the U.S.) As of 2005, when this one was made, the people are all about 49, and time has been hard on some of them but pretty good to others. It's an interesting experiment, but I have to say the series gets less interesting as it goes on. People just don't change as much after they're 21, or at least 28, and after 28 Up each episode has seemed kind of the same: people have mostly married, maybe had kids, maybe divorced, and probably lost a parent or two. The kids from the lower classes have generally had a tougher time than those from the upper classes. The most interesting part after the early episodes is that one of the participants, who was a really cute and happy-seeming child, developed mental illness, and you always wonder what each new episode will bring. For that reason alone, I hope they do make a 56 Up here in the next couple of years.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lord of the Changing Winds (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Lord of the Changing Winds, by Rachel Neumeier (Orbit 2010). Full disclosure -- Ms. Neumeier is a cousin of mine, so I may be prone to partiality here. Disclaimer aside, I thought this was a really good fantasy novel. It's subtitled The Griffin Mage: Book One, but it reads like a stand-alone book. In a world where magic is real, three human kingdoms exist side by side: Linularinum, Feierabiand, and Casmantium. Kes is a teenaged girl in a small village in Feierabiand, where nothing much ever happens--until a band of griffins (half-eagle, half-lion, all-killer) swoops out of the sky and begins to change the lush and fertile fields of Feierabiand into the scorched and lifeless desert they prefer. What is the cause of this unwelcome invasion? The mystery only deepens when a wizard appears and sweeps Kes away to the griffins' new home. I thought this was a good story, well told, and even better than Neumeier's debut novel The City in the Lake. One quibble -- did the griffins' names really need to be such jawbreakers? Try saying "Opailikiita Sehanaka Kiistaike" three times fast! And that's just one griffin! Quibble aside, I highly recommend Lord of the Changing Wind and look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Movie Man Mike is the first member of The Movie Court to see

Inception (A). Loved it! I don’t know who dreamed up the story idea for this movie about dreams, but it made for a fascinating experience. The dream-within-a-dream concept gave the writers a lot of liberties to show multiple timelines and storylines with some bizarre events that could only happen in dreams. The story format opens up opportunities for the viewer to question what may or may not be reality versus dream. The special effects were great. There are some nice action scenes created by the subconscious minds of the dreamer when the subconscious realizes that there may be some foreign element invading their dream space. And the actors are really good. Main characters Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are very good in their roles as dream invaders. If I had to find flaws in this film, it would be two things: They don’t really go into a lot of depth to explain this whole shared dream technology other than to say that it was devised by the military—as if that explains it. Second, Ellen Page, as Ariadne, is a little too quick to grasp the concept of dream invasion and she is a bit young and green to be advising Cobb (DiCaprio) about his psychoses. This is a criticism of the character, not the acting, which was otherwise good.

One thing that may have been a bit of a private joke on the part of the producers was the choice of music that the characters used to signal to the dreamers that time was running out in the dream. They used the music of Edith Piaf. Marion Cotillard played Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, but she also appears in this film as the deceased wife of Cobb. I can’t help but to think this was not a coincidence.

By all means, go see this film and don’t wait for the rental, as it’s probably better viewing on the big screen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Despicable Me

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Despicable Me (B). The name of this animated movie and the trailers for it that I saw a hundred times were both strikes against it. But it got a good review in the Dallas Morning News, so I was game for it. Steve Carell (The 40-Year Old Virgin) voices a villain named Gru. Although he aspires to supervillainy, he doesn't really have what it takes. (Instead of stealing the actual Statue of Liberty, he steals the one from New York, New York in Las Vegas.) To accomplish his supreme feat of supervillainy--stealing the moon itself--he first needs to steal a shrinking-ray gun from rival villain Vector. Here's where the real beating heart of the movie, which is totally missing from the trailers, comes in--to get access to Vector's lair, Gru adopts three adorable little orphan girls who have sold Vector a bunch of cookies and will be admitted to the lair when they deliver them to him. If you don't think the girls will melt Gru's heart--eventually--you don't know movies. I saw the 3-D version, but it didn't add a whole lot, in my opinion.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


A new review by The Movie Snob

Cyrus (B-). This is an odd little movie. The premise is simple. Sad sack divorced guy John (John C. Reilly, Chicago) starts dating attractive Molly (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler). They get along great, but the fly in the ointment is Molly's oddly close relationship with her 21-year-old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill, Get Him to the Greek), who still lives at home. You could take this set-up over the top and wind up with a comedy along the lines of Stepbrothers (which also starred Reilly). Or you could make Cyrus totally unbalanced and make some sort of Psycho-type flick out of it. But the directors of Cyrus play it straight -- Cyrus is maladjusted but he's not crazy, and his relationship with his mom is weird but not perversely so. I liked it well enough, and I certainly wanted to see how things were going to turn out.

Friday, July 16, 2010

American Austen (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

American Austen: The Forgotten Writing of Agnes Repplier (John Lukacs ed.,ISI Books 2009). How in the world did I come across this book of essays by forgotten writer Agnes Repplier? I got it as a free selection when I joined the ISI Book Club. Agnes Repplier lived in Philadelphia from 1855 to 1950, never married, and made a living as a writer/essayist. According to the dust jacket, she was "as esteemed in her own time as such writers as Dorothy Parker, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton." Hmmm. Anyhoo, her writing is very polished and pleasant to read, but only some of the essays in this book really held my attention. I enjoyed the one about her days as a convent schoolgirl, and her essays about writing and the literary way of life, and the group collected under the heading "biographical sketches." But her essays about Philadelphia, America, and politics did not really strike my fancy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

From the pen of Movie Man Mike

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (A-). Whew! Let me say this story wore me out. I was exhausted and needed a drink after watching it. The plot was so riveting, I pretty much forgot that the film is subtitled. It begins a little slow, and it's a little confusing at one point when they lay out all the members of the Vanger family, but if you can stick with it, it is well worth it. Noomi Rapace plays Lisbeth Salander, who is the girl with the dragon tattoo, and she is a fantastic character. I would never want to meet her in a dark alley. Salander is a computer hacker and is an unlikely partner to reporter Mikael Blomqvist, who is hired by Henrik Vanger to solve the mystery of his niece's death after 45 years afterwards. But the partnership produces some interesting leads, and the plot quickly thickens. Let me warn readers in advance that there are a couple of scenes with graphic sexual violence. I was not aware that the scenes were in the movie beforehand, and it caught me off guard. I totally understand the director's decision to put these scenes in the movie, because you cannot totally understand the dimensions of Lisbeth's character (assuming that is possible at all) without those scenes. Even if you don't catch this movie at the theaters, by all means rent it on DVD,

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Last Airbender

A new review from Movie Man Mike

The Last Airbender (C+). I liked the idea for the story for this film. I liked the special effects in this film. But its downfall is in the acting. The acting is reminiscent of an after-school special. I was impressed with the acting of relative newcomer Noah Ringer, who played a Dalai Lama-like character. Aside from Ringer's performance, the performances of the others don't support a big-budget, high-profile film like this. I wouldn't waste my money seeing this in the theaters. Wait for the DVD.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Toy Story 3

Movie Man Mike gives us his take on a recent release

Toy Story 3 (B+). This was a well-made film. It's a good addition to the prior two installments in this series. There were some very funny moments that made me laugh out loud. Andy, the owner of the toys, is grown up and going off to college, so it's fitting that the story and humor in this film mature somewhat for the audiences who have also grown up with Andy. The addition of Ken and Barbie was cute, but one of my favorite moments had to be when Mr. Potato Head became Mr. Soft Tortilla Head.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Get Him to the Greek (D). I know, I should have listened to That Guy Named David and skipped this movie. But I saw a decent review. Then I read that it features Rose Byrne (I Capture the Castle) as a pop diva, and I kind of like her. So I gave it a shot. To be sure, I did laugh a few times. But the film is wildly uneven in tone. The comic side involves the trials and travails of a nerdy record-company employee (Jonah Hill, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) as he tries to escort a washed-up British rock star (Russell Brand, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) from London to L.A. within 72 hours (in time for a big comeback concert). But there is a lot of somber, dark stuff about drug addiction and romantic betrayal too, which makes you not want to laugh when the movie tries to turn funny again. Also, like most or all of these Judd Apatow productions, this movie is stuffed to the gills with vulgar language and sexual perversions of various kinds, so probably no one really ought to watch it. Unlike That Guy Named David, though, I did like Sean Combs as the over-the-top record-company president or whatever he was. I take it Mr. Combs is a person of some note in the music industry in real life?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Woman of the Year

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Woman of the Year (C-). In this 1942 release, Spencer Tracy (Adam's Rib) plays Sam Craig, an ordinary guy who's a sportswriter for a New York City newspaper. He crosses paths with Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story), who also writes for the paper but is otherwise out of his league in more ways than one -- she's wealthy, she's on familiar terms with political leaders around the globe, she speaks about 7 languages, etc., etc. But they fall in love after he takes her to a baseball game, and the question inevitably arises whether a romance can work for long when the woman's achievements are so much greater than the man's. The first half of the movie is pretty good, and the early going of the romance is well done. But the picture falls apart during the second act to such an extent that I can't really recommend it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The City of Your Final Destination

A movie review from The Movie Snob

The City of Your Final Destination (B-). This is the latest from director James Ivory (Howards End), so if you're expecting a talky drama, you're right on the money. A young literature professor type named Omar is desperate to write an authorized biography of deceased author Jules Gund, but the trustees of his estate (his widow, his mistress, and his brother) send him a letter denying him permission. Omar's pushy girlfriend Dierdre pushes him into going to meet them face-to-face (and unannounced) to try to change their minds. The hitch is that they all live on a ranch called Ocho Rios -- in Uruguay! But Omar goes, and he uncovers some familial secrets as he gets to know the widow (Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me), the brother (Anthony Hopkins, The Wolfman), and the mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg, 21 Grams). It's not a bad story if you like this sort of thing, but Omar is such a wishy-washy dishrag of a dude I just wanted to slap him after a while.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Moonstone (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins. I had long heard of this 1868 novel, but I didn't really know anything about it until I bought this "Wordsword Edition" paperback at Half-Price Books for a dollar. It's a mystery, and according to a back-cover blurb by T.S. Eliot, it is "[t]he first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels." At 434 pages, it is certainly plenty long, but I enjoyed it well enough or I would never have finished it. The Moonstone is a huge diamond from India, captured by a British soldier during the conquest of India and sacred to the "Hindoos" as Collins refers to them. The possessor of the Moonstone wills it to his niece Rachel Verinder, and it is given to her at a party on the evening of her 18th birthday. That very night, it is stolen! Was it taken by the mysterious Indian jugglers who had been seen in the neighborhood? Or one of Rachel's relatives, or servants, or Rachel herself? A detective who bears some resemblance to Sherlock Holmes is called in on the case, but circumstances prevent a prompt resolution. Anyhow, it's undoubtedly a little corny by today's standards, but I liked it. I also enjoyed the introduction by some British professor guy, which I read after I had finished the novel. For a dollar, it was well worth the price.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ABBA - The Music (concert review)

From the desk of The Movie Snob

ABBA - The Music. Last night the Borg Queen and I went down to Dallas's Meyerson Symphony Center and enjoyed a concert by an ABBA tribute band called Waterloo. (You can see their official website at We got a little nervous at first -- they did the second song and most of the third in Swedish! But then they switched back to good old American for the rest of the concert, so all was well. They had two guest stars in tow -- musicians who had actually played with the real ABBA back in the day! They were a saxophonist and a drummer, and they seemed to enjoy sitting in on a few numbers. For the most part the band did sound reasonably like ABBA, and they mimicked some of the band's costumes and choreography from their old music videos. They did pretty much every song that hit the American charts, with a couple of minor exceptions. Lots of people were standing in the aisles, waving their arms in time with the music. In short, a good time was had by all, even us folks in the nosebleed seats.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Toy Story 3

From the Movie Snob

Toy Story 3 (B+). I enjoyed the first Toy Story but never got around to seeing the second one. But I don't think that really affected my enjoyment of this latest edition, which is getting rave reviews. Andy is getting ready to go off to college, so he's packing up his toys to store them in his mom's attic. A mix-up occurs, and instead they are packed off and donated to a day-care center. It seems like a great break for the toys -- until they are consigned to the play room for the toddlers, who play a little too rough for the toys' taste. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks, Cast Away) comes to the rescue! All this stuff is good but not particularly great. The ending, though, has the heart that the rest of the movie lacks. I got a little misty, I won't deny it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Philadelphia Story

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Philadelphia Story (C+). In this 1941 release, Katharine Hepburn (Adam's Rib) plays Tracy Lord, a wealthy Philadelphia socialite who is two years divorced from another upper-crust fellow named C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby). Tracy is on the verge of remarrying, to a rather dull and earnest self-made man named George Kittredge (John Howard, Lost Horizon). Dexter gums up the works by smuggling a tabloid reporter and photographer into the Lord house to document the nuptials, and the reporter (played by Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) and Tracy unexpectedly hit it off. This movie was apparently adapted from a Broadway play, and the dialogue gets a little speechy at times. But it's not a bad movie, and I did kind of look forward to finding out whom Tracy was going to end up with.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Adam's Rib

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Adam's Rib (D-). This 1949 film stars Spencer Tracy (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and Katharine Hepburn (Bringing Up Baby) as Adam and Amanda Bonner, a blissfully married couple that happen to both be attorneys. Their marriage comes under heavy stress when Adam is assigned to prosecute a woman for shooting and wounding her unfaithful husband, and Amanda decides to represent the defendant as part of her crusade for equal rights for women. The movie is terrible. The tone shifts back and forth abruptly from serious to unfunny comedy, the courtroom scenes are ridiculous, and there are inexplicable boring stretches like when Adam and Amanda have a dinner party and show everyone a dull home movie about when they bought a farm in the country. Skip this one at all costs.

Friday, June 25, 2010


From the desk of The Movie Snob

Ondine (C). This Irish movie is about a fisherman named Syracuse (Colin Farrell, Crazy Heart). He's a sad sort of guy -- he's a recovered alcoholic, his marriage is busted up, and his precious little girl Annie is in a wheelchair and has serious kidney disease. But his luck seems to change when his fishing net pulls in a seriously waterlogged woman with a strange accent. She calls herself Ondine and at first begs Syracuse not to let anybody else see her. He lets her stay as the seaside cottage his ma used to live in, but Annie sniffs out his secret soon enough and becomes convinced that Ondine is really a selkie -- a sort of water fairy that can change shape from a seal to a human, or something like that. Is she really? And if so, will her selkie husband come try to take her away from Syracuse and Annie? I can go along with this kind of fairy-tale stuff, but as my grade shows this movie didn't really work for me. I will add that I thought Ondine was only moderately pretty, but she has a great figure, and the director doesn't neglect to show it off....

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Iron Man 2

Movie Man Mike chimes in on a summer blockbuster

Iron Man 2: (B+). The general rule for sequels is that the second movie is not as good as the first. Not so with Iron Man 2. The sequel is at least as good as the first and probably better. Where the first movie was focused upon introducing the character and the concept, the second movie is able to develop the character further and bring some new challenges to Iron Man. This is a great Summer film because it's full of high-stakes action scenes. The conflict in this movie comes from the fact that the military sees the Iron Man technology as a potential threat and it wants the technology for its own purposes. Iron Man, played by Robert Downey, Jr., assures the military that the technology is safe in his hands. Little does he know, a Russian villain named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has the technology, and he develops his own super-suit. Add to the mix Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who's an arms dealer desperate to get the U.S. Government's business, and you have a recipe for a potential catastrophe. The cast has a lot of surprising big names (also Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson), all of whom play their parts well and add flavor to the mix. If you don't see this at the theaters, you should at least rent it. And if you haven't seen the first one, check it out too (although it's not a prerequisite to understanding and following the second film).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Solitary Man

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Solitary Man (B-). Michael Douglas stars as Ben Kalmen, a 60-year-old New Yorker who's part Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas in Wall Street) and part Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). You see, Kalmen was once a hugely successful owner of car dealerships and had a lovely family, but he threw the business away through crooked business dealings, and he busted up his family by deciding to chase every woman who crossed his path. When this movie catches up with Kalmen, he is desperately chasing one last shot to get back into the world of business, and he is still chasing every woman who crosses his path. Douglas is perfect for the role, and there are nice supporting turns by the likes of Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking), Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland), Danny DeVito (Other People's Money), and Jenna Fischer (TV's The Office). But even though Douglas convincingly portrays Kalmen in all his bleak soullessness, something about the movie just didn't quite ring true to me. The movie gave me the impression that Kalmen was a stand-up guy not all that long ago, and I didn't buy the ostensible reason he changed from New York's "honest car dealer" into a fraud and a lecher. But on the whole it was still a decent movie, albeit about a pathetic guy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cheating at Canasta

Book review from The Movie Snob

Cheating at Canasta, by William Trevor (Viking 2007). I picked up this collection of short stories at Half-Price Books for $6. At the time I could remember that I had read some of Trevor's stories before, but I couldn't remember how well I liked them. Probably not the best sign, but I bought it anyway. I thought these dozen stories were pretty decent. Some of the characters are a little odd, but there are some affecting and relatable stories too, like one about a widower who keeps a promise to his wife to return to their favorite restaurant in Venice. I reckon I'll always prefer novels to short stories, but this book wasn't bad.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Blind Side

Movie Man Mike sounds off with a DVD review

The Blind Side. (A) This is one of those feel-good Hollywood stories that will choke you up. But unlike many movie in this genre, this one choked me up right from the beginning and throughout. With Sandra Bullock narrating the replay of the old Joe Theismann football play that ended his career, you see quickly the central importance of football in the lives of Leah Anne and Sean Tuohy. But the real story isn't about the sport; it's about the character and class of Michael Oher. Michael Oher comes from a family so broken and dysfunctional that only a very few people could understand and identify with it. Probably the most amazing aspect of the story is not that the Tuohys take Oher in with the goal of lifting him up and helping him, but he lifts the whole Tuohy family up and changes them--for the better. The characters in this film are rich and wonderful. From Leah Anne Tuohy's (Sandra Bullock) bull-headed determination to little SJ's (Jae Head) comic relief. Aside from the story and the characters, the film may be worth watching just to hear some of the hilarious lines in it. I feel sure that Hollywood may have embellished this real life story for the big screen, but it's worth watching in spite of the embellishments and it left me a fan of Michael Oher. He is a role model, and I wish him continued success on the football field and in life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

That Guy Named David makes a triumphant return to The Movie Court!

Get Him To The Greek (C-)

Maybe I just don’t like British comedians. No, that can’t be it, because I enjoy John Oliver (from the Jon Stewart Show) and have laughed occasionally at Monte Python. Okay, maybe I just don’t like Russell Brand. Yeah, that’s probably it. Oh, and I’m not a big fan of that Jonah Hill kid either. And adding Puff Daddy to the ensemble really didn’t do it for me. My wife told me after the movie that she was tempted to just walk out around 30 minutes before the asinine conclusion. I wish we would have. I understand the idea was to try to capture a little of what resonated with everyone in The Hangover (which I thoroughly enjoyed); however, this one missed the mark for me. I just don’t find Russell Brand very funny. And considering the whole movie revolved around him trying to be funny, I would say that probably had a bit of role in what I didn’t like. So, the movie sucked. Don’t see it. Instead, I recommend watching The Hangover again.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mid-August Lunch

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Mid-August Lunch (B). This is a charming little (75 minutes) Italian movie about a tiny slice of real life. Gianni is a ordinary Italian guy on the high side of 50. He's out of work and getting into financial trouble with the condominium where he and his elderly mother live. The Italian mid-August holiday is coming up, and the condo's administrator offers to cut him some slack if he'll take the administrator's own elderly mother in for a couple of days. He agrees, and the administrator shows up with his mother -- and his Aunt Maria. Before long, a fourth elderly woman is added to Gianni's boarding house. There are no murders, sex scenes, or robots shooting lasers in this movie; just a glimpse of a couple of days in the lives of Gianni and these four ladies (played to perfection by four non-actresses, as it happens). Worth a look.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blue Angel (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

Blue Angel, by Francine Prose (2000). I read this novel based on a recommendation I saw in Commentary magazine, and I thought it was a pretty good book. The protagonist is Ted Swenson, a formerly successful novelist who has settled into a placid existence as a creative-writing professor at a small, private college in Vermont. He is a pitiful creature, somehow both completely self-absorbed and yet an utter mystery to himself. He has a lovely wife he seems incapable of appreciating and a sullen daughter who has gone off to college elsewhere. His world is suddenly upended when one of his students, a punked-out girl named Angela Argo, unexpectedly shows a wild talent for writing -- and a not-entirely-scholastic interest in Swenson himself. As I said, I enjoyed this book, although Swenson is such a clod that it is hard to believe he could have ever written the critically acclaimed novels that supposedly made his reputation. Also, the book makes me want to see the old Marlene Dietrich movie The Blue Angel, which is frequently mentioned in the story.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rome (The Complete Second Season)

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Rome (The Complete Second Season). Season 2 picks up immediately where Season 1 left off. (If you haven't seen Season 1 yet, be warned that Season 1 spoilers follow.) Julius Caesar lies dead on the floor of the Roman Senate, and Lucius Vorenus's wife Niobe has just committed suicide rather than suffer an honor killing at Vorenus's hands. The major question hanging over Season 2 (if you don't know your history) is who will emerge as the first man in Rome: Mark Antony or Octavian Caesar. As in Season 1, two ordinary Roman soldiers play important roles in the action and give us a look at life for non-noble Romans--Vorenus, who is put in charge of law and order in Rome's commercial district, and his comrade-in-arms Titus Pullo. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although Season 2 doesn't have quite the same narrative drive as Season 1--probably because it lacks a single dominating figure like Julius Caesar. But there are plenty of vivid secondary characters beyond Vorenus and Pullo: Cicero, Brutus and his scheming mother Servilia, Octavian's mother Atia and his sister Octavia, the Jewish strongman Timon, and of course, as the season winds down, Cleopatra. As in Season 1, there is ample graphic violence and nudity and graphic sex, so this is no show for children, but these flourishes do vividly illustrate the point that Roman customs and morality were a far cry from the Judeo-Christian ethic that still generally prevails in the modern West. I haven't watched all the mini-features on the five DVDs that make up this set, but the couple I have watched, like "Antony and Cleopatra," were definitely worth it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

New review from The Movie Snob

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (D+). Granted, I am not the target audience for this movie about a kid named Greg and his first year of middle school. I believe it is based on a popular kids' book that I have never read. And I never went to middle school -- where I went, there was an elementary school of grades 1-8 and a high school for grades 9-12. But still, it should have been easy enough to like a movie about a small-for-his-age kid and his totally uncool best friend Rowley as they try to navigate the treacherous social currents of a new school. I did get a couple of chuckles out of it, but I think I had the same problem with this movie that I did with the TV show "The Wonder Years" -- the protagonist was basically a narcissistic jerk. The Wimpy Kid even kind of looked like the Wonders Years kid. So I didn't even root for him to overcome his trials and travails, because he pretty much deserved whatever he got.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Plain, Honest Men (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, by Richard Beeman (Random House 2009). I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Beeman speak at a luncheon last year. His topic was constitutional interpretation, and his angle, as I recall, was that people who try to ascertain the "original intent" of the people who wrote the Constitution are doomed because there was no single original intent that was shared by all the authors when they wrote things like the "necessary and proper" clause or the Equal Protection Clause. He was selling autographed copies of his recently published book, so I picked one up. I had never read an account of the great convention that devised the Constitution, so it was pretty much all new to me, and I generally thought it was interesting. And I picked up one fact that was definitely new to me, that the Constitution had already been ratified by nine states (which was the magic number before the thing went into effect) before New York voted on it -- I had thought that New York's vote was critical, and that one reason we venerate The Federalist Papers is that they helped persuade New Yorkers to ratify. Anyway, if you have a particular interest in the subject, I highly recommend this book; for people whose interest is more casual, it is probably a little too detailed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


A new review from The Movie Snob

Oceans (B+). Okay, dude. When it comes to ocean-going documentaries, I've seen 'em all. The five-DVD set of "Blue Planet." Dolphins and Whales 3D. Aliens of the Deep. Ghosts of the Abyss. Deep Blue. Ocean Wonderland. Jaws. You name it, I've seen it. So I'm not that easy to impress anymore. Yet, this new Disney offering was undeniably impressive. Of course there were the usual money shots of frolicking dolphins, mighty humpback whales, giant schools of sardines getting eaten by everything in sight, and a few of hapless sea lions getting attacked by orcas or great white sharks. (Not too gruesome, but maybe upsetting for the littlest kids.) But there were some weird novelties too, like the weird blanket octopus, and a huge battle between armies of identical-looking crabs off the coats of Australia. And there was a remarkable sequence of a diver swimming unprotected alongside a great white shark at twice his length. But for all that, I still started to feel a little restless by the end. Still, if you haven't seen many ocean documentaries, this is a good one to see. Either this or Jaws.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


DVD review by The Movie Snob

Fanboys (D-). I went into this with low expectations, but I was still badly disappointed. Four Star Wars nerds in Ohio, 1998, decide to head off to California, where they will break into George Lucas's ranch and try to steal a copy of the as-yet-unreleased Episode I. They have a variety of unfunny encounters with equally nerdy Star Trek fans, gay bikers, and Las Vegas escorts. Their one female friend Zoe (Kristen Bell, When in Rome) has to come bail them out of jail and joins them for the rest of the quest. Several familiar folks make cameo appearances (Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, William Shatner, a couple of guys from TV's The Office). It adds up to a whole lot of nothing. Kristen Bell is cute, but she seriously needs to get a better agent. Skip it.

Monday, May 03, 2010


A new review from The Movie Snob

Sweetgrass (D+). The critic in the Dallas Morning News loved this movie, which is a documentary about sheep ranching in Montana. I was open to the possibilities -- I went and saw Winged Migration, for crying out loud. And I enjoyed Into Great Silence, the near-silent documentary about life in an austere French monastery. But this one left me cold. Sure, it was kind of interesting seeing sheep up close and personal. (Seeing a ewe give birth from extreme close range was kind of gross.) But two hours of it was a bit--or a bunch--much. And hearing a sad cowboy call his mom on a cell phone from some remote mountain ridge was just, well, sad.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

City Island

New review from The Movie Snob

City Island (A-). From the trailers, I thought this would be an unbearable ethnic-stereotype-based sit-com of a movie. Which was a shame, given the good cast: Andy Garcia (Dead Again), Alan Arkin (Sunshine Cleaning), Julianna Margulies (Ghost Ship), and Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island). But then I read some decent reviews and thought I should check it out. Good call! Yes, the Rizzo family is a bit of a caricature of a loud, obnoxious Italian family in the Bronx suburb of City Island. But the springs of the plot unwind like a well-oiled machine as the secrets kept by the various family members--and there are some doozies--gradually start to leak out. Everyone involved turns in a nice performance, and by the end I was feeling genuinely moved by the travails of this crazy brood. It may be too melodramatic for some tastes, but I say give it a try.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Secret of Kells

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Secret of Kells (C). My expectations were probably a little high for this Ireland-France-Belgium co-production that nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. In medieval Ireland, a stern abbot is overseeing the construction of a fortified town in the middle of a great forest. One day, Brother Aidan arrives from a distant monastery bearing a partially completed illuminated manuscript--and terrible news about the rampaging Vikings. Entranced by the illuminated manuscript, the abbot's young nephew Brendan disobeys his stern uncle and goes into the mysterious forest searching for the ingredients for ink, and there he befriends a fairy (left over from Ireland's pagan days, I guess). Visually, the movie is very interesting--aggressively simple and two-dimensional, but as eye-catching as anything Pixar or Disney ever puts out. The Vikings look like giant sword-wielding dominoes, for instance. But the visuals took me only so far, and the already-thin plot really lost steam and interest toward the end. I'd definitely go see How to Train Your Dragon again before I'd rewatch The Secret of Kells.

Friday, April 30, 2010


DVD review from The Movie Snob

Troy (B). I saw this movie once back when in was in the theaters, and I bought the DVD not too long after it came out, but I only recently got around to watching it. Clocking in at 2 hours and 43 minutes, it's barely shorter than the Trojan War itself! (Especially as portrayed in the movie, in which the War seems to take about two weeks after the Greeks arrive on the shores of windy Ilion.) I like the movie, despite its many obvious departures from the Iliad. Brad Pitt (Babel) makes a brooding Achilles, Eric Bana (Star Trek) is an admirable Hector, and Peter O'Toole (Stardust) is pitiable as aging King Priam, ever-trusting that the gods will reward him for his piety. Chief among the film's demerits is the goofy love story between Achilles and the captured Trojan priestess Briseis (Rose Byrne, I Capture the Castle). But if you like swords-and-sandals epics, I don't see how you could fail to like Troy.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Eclipse

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Eclipse (C). Part romance, part ghost story, this strange Irish hybrid doesn't fully work as either. Ciaran Hinds (Race to Witch Mountain) plays Michael Farr, a sad widower with two kids, a dog, and a job as a woodworking instructor at a college in a smallish Irish town. He volunteers to help with a literary festival, where he meets Nicholas Holden, a successful novelist and jerk played by Aidan Quinn (Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius), and Lena Morelle, a warm, decent woman who writes ghost stories, played by Iben Hjejle (High Fidelity). Michael's acquaintance with Lena comes in handy, because he has started to suffer from ghostly apparitions of the "Boo! Scare ya!" variety. Maybe I'm a little sensitive, but to me the ghostly encounters were sufficiently scary to knock the subtle drama of the Michael-Lena-Nicholas triangle right off its feet. But the acting was good, and I have wanted to see Hjejle in more movies ever since High Fidelity. She was in a little-seen but worth-seeing movie called The Emporer's New Clothes a few years ago. It was certainly more enjoyable than this odd (and short, at 88 minutes) movie.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

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. 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 my youth, 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.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

When You're Strange

Move review from The Movie Snob

When You're Strange (B+). This is a documentary about The Doors, a 60's era rock band that, according to the narration by Johnny Depp (Chocolat), still sells a million albums a year. I'm probably the perfect audience for the film--somebody who has long liked The Doors' music but has never been interested enough to read a book about them and doesn't really know their history. The entire movie consists of archival footage and photographs of the band, in and out of concert, and the narration traces the band's arc from 1965 to 1970. Of course the film focuses heavily on lead singer Jim Morrison, who drank himself to death at age 27, and there are lots of clips of Morrison driving through a desert, apparently from a film project that was never completed. The narration gets a little banal at times, but otherwise this is a solid, enjoyable film . . . if you like The Doors.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Love Happens

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Love Happens (D). This is what happens when you rely on The Borg Queen's Netflix subscription, people! I like Jennifer Aniston (Management) as much as the rest of America, but dang she has made some bad movies. This recent bomb stars Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking) as self-help guru Burke Ryan, whose specialty is grief counseling. His own wife died in a car crash three years earlier, and now he is on the motivational-speaking circuit touting his book "A-OK." But Ryan is plainly not okay as he blows into Seattle (where his wife died) for one of his gigs. He meets Eloise (Aniston), a local flower-shop owner fresh from a break-up, and tentatively goes after her. The movie is all over the place tonally -- the tentative romance gets no more screen time than Ryan's grief-therapy encounters with a seminar-goer named Walter, and on top of that Ryan has to deal some with his deceased wife's father (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now). Painful stuff.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The September Issue

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The September Issue (B). This is a documentary about Vogue magazine and its legendary editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour. (Wintour is supposedly the inspiration for Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.) The cameras just kind of follow her around as she does her things, which are primarily (1) going to fashion shows, and (2) making snap judgments about what pictures will and won't go into her magazine. The movie is more interesting when it follows Grace Coddington, who is one of Anna's top lieutenants. It's kind of fun to watch Anna torture Grace with her arbitrary decisions. Anyway, it's not the most earth-shattering topic, but it's an enjoyable documentary.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Movie Man Mike favors us with a review

How to Train your Dragon (B+). This is a surprisingly good animated film for both adults and children. I saw this in 3-D and the special effects are quite good. This film is rated PG, but I’m not sure why. I don’t recall any bad language or “adult situations.” I suspect that it got a PG rating only because “G” ratings have more of a drag on a film’s marketing than a PG rating. The storyline in this film is original and entertaining. Hiccup is the son of a Viking king. The Viking’s village has been plagued for centuries by dragon attacks. The King takes great pride in killing dragons, but poor Hiccup is this very small guy who pretty much embarrasses his father. Hiccup wants to fit in though and manages to shoot down a night fury dragon, which is a terror-of-a dragon, but which had never before been seen by a Viking. From that point on, Hiccup learns many secrets of the dragons and becomes a champion of the village as a result. The animation in this film is great, and so are the voices of the characters. I heartily recommend this film.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

MST3K: Volume XVI

DVD review from The Movie Snob

MST3K Volume XVI. Another collection of four episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The Corpse Vanishes. (D) This episode was from MST3K’s first year on regular cable TV, and sadly it is just not very good. Kevin Murphy had not yet taken over as the voice of Tom Servo, so that was a big strike against it right there. The movie is a lame horror movie starring Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist who kidnaps young brides and uses their blood to keep his frightful hag of a wife alive. There’s also a short, an episode from an old-timey space opera called “Commander Cody and the Radar Men from the Moon.” Lame episode, best forgotten.

Warrior of the Lost World. (B) This is a much more solid effort from a few years later. The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a bearded nonentity rides around on an annoying talking motorcycle and begrudgingly helps some rebels against a fascist dictatorship led by the always-reliable Donald Pleasance (Pumaman). I was astonished to see Persis Khambatta in the credits—she played the totally bald navigator in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and I thought she had virtually no other film roles after that. Then I started thinking maybe this was a renamed version of a terrible movie I saw back in the 80’s called Megaforce, which she was in, but no, apparently that was a different terrible movie. Anyway, this was a pretty entertaining exercise for the guys on the Satellite of Love. As a special bonus, we get a short interview with the director of Warrior, and to his credit he doesn’t really try to defend his movie.

Santa Claus. (B-). Not a bad episode. This is a Mexican Christmas tale depicting Santa as a snoopy old guy who lives in a castle on a cloud with a doddering old Merlin and lots of children from all over the world. A junior devil named Pitch is sent to Earth on Christmas Eve night to tempt children to behave badly and try to impede St. Nick’s progress with diabolical pranks. Amid all the goofiness is a surprisingly touching story about a poor little girl named Lupita who just wants a dolly for Christmas. (Even Tom Servo has to concede that she is “aggressively cute.”)

Night of the Blood Beast (B-). Another decent but not spectacular episode. In this old black-and-white sci-fi movie, a rocket pilot returns to Earth--dead. And a hideous alien has somehow stowed away on his ship. The other five people who work at NASA try to figure out what is going on when the dead guy comes back to life and is revealed to have alien babies incubating inside of him. Some decently funny riffs from Mike and the robots.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Shutter Island

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Shutter Island (B-). I'm generally not one much for twisty psychological thrillers, but what the heck -- it's Easter! Martin Scorsese again directs Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator), who plays federal marshal Teddy Daniels. When the film opens (in 1954), Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, You Can Count on Me) are on their way out to Shutter Island, a creepy asylum for the criminally insane run by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley, Species). It seems a female prisoner (Emily Mortimer, Match Point) has disappeared into thin air, and everyone on the island seems to be covering up some big secret. Teddy has a lot of baggage himself (a murdered wife and participation in the liberation of Dachau have taken their toll), and the place starts to get under his skin in a big way. The movie is more suspenseful but less scary than I had expected from the previews, which was a relief. Worth a look.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Alice in Wonderland (B). I don't really remember the original Disney animated version of this movie, but my vague recollection is that it was long on visuals and short on plot. This new version is much more plot driven. After a brief prologue with Alice as a young girl, we catch up with Alice as a young woman facing a marriage proposal from a dorky aristocrat. Of course she soon finds herself back in Wonderland, but it is rather different from when she first visited it. The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club) rules like a tyrant, while the good White Queen (Anne Hathaway, Get Smart) flits around her castle ineffectually, waiting for a champion. Unfortunately the obvious choice--Alice--thinks the whole thing is just a dream! It felt kind of like The Wizard of Oz, souped up into more of an action movie. I enjoyed it. Oh, the 3D effects were okay, but I don't think they made the movie or anything.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Box

A new review from The Borg Queen

The Box (D+). This movie you can probably skip. It starts with an intriguing concept about a mysterious stranger dropping off a box at the home of a typical suburban family. They are presented with the option of pushing the button in the box within 24 hours, and if they do they will receive a million dollars. The catch is that somebody they don't know will die. They set the stage to suggest that the family has financial issues, but frankly it was forced, and the financial issues they faced were hardly significant and certainly didn't warrant killing an innocent person. So of course they push the button (or there would be no movie), and a plethora of unintended consequences ensue. The problem is that not only is the movie predictable, extremely slow-moving and nothing special to look at, but it also doesn't make any sense from start to finish. I give it a "B" for effort but a "D+" for execution.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

A new review from The Movie Snob

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (C-). Just the title of this lame kids' action movie wears me out. Percy Jackson is an ordinary high school kid who's bummed because his dad walked out when he was a baby and his mom married a lazy lout who smells bad. (Joe Pantoliano, The Matrix, plays the lout--does he ever get to play someone who isn't a loser?) Then Percy discovers that the Greeks gods are real, and he's the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd, TV's Rome), and someone has stolen Zeus' thunderbolt. He's whisked off to a training camp for young demigods, where in true Harry Potter fashion he immediately becomes the best at everything without a lick of experience. Against the advice of the wise centaur Chiron (Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia!), Percy and two sidekicks go off on a quest to--no, not find the thunderbolt, but instead to rescue Percy's mother from Hades, who has kidnapped her. The plot doesn't make a lot of sense, and the battle scenes are yawners. The girl who plays Percy's pal Annabeth, daughter of Athena, is pretty cute, although she looks a little too old for Percy. Anyhoo, I imagine even kids would find this one kind of boring.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Two Weeks Notice

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Two Weeks Notice (D). Maybe I would not have loathed this movie so much if I had been able to slog through it all in one sitting. But as it happened, the first DVD I watched had a flaw in it that made it shut down at about the one-hour mark. Fortunately (?), the Borg Queen had a copy, so I finished watching it a few days after my initial attempt. Ugh. This movie is terrible. Sandra Bullock (Speed) plays a liberal do-gooder lawyer who goes to work for an immature, philandering real-estate magnate played by Hugh Grant (About a Boy). The title comes from the uninteresting fact that she eventually gets sick of it and gives him her two weeks notice. She's not even an interesting liberal -- saving some old community center on Coney Island from the wrecking ball is her main cause. There's lots of embarrassingly bad dialogue, although I think Hugh's character had a few decent one-liners in the early going. Learn from my mistake and avoid this movie.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Music and Lyrics

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Music and Lyrics (C+). This is a perfectly adequate little romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant (About a Boy) and Drew Barrymore (Whip It). Hugh plays a washed up 80's pop star who supports himself by performing in tiny venues for middle-aged women. But his box office is falling off, and he gets a desperately needed shot at rejuvenating his career when a Britny-esque starlet called Cora (Haley Bennett, Marley & Me) invites him to write a song for her. Hugh only writes music, so he needs a lyricist. No sooner can you say "deus ex machina" than it turns out the gal who's watering the plants in his apartment (played by Drew) is a born lyricist. So they have to spend a lot of time together writing the song, and things go in typical romantic-comedy fashion. Of course, it's kind of icky since Hugh is 15 years older than Drew is, but whatever.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Bringing Up Baby

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Bringing Up Baby (B-). This 1938 screwball comedy starred a young and attractive Katharine Hepburn (The African Queen) as eccentric heiress Susan Vance and a dashing Cary Grant (North by Northwest) as earnest paleontologist David Huxley who is fated to cross her path the day before his wedding. They have numerous misadventures, some involving Susan's tame leopard, Baby, which her brother sent to her from South America. Some of the movie is pretty silly, but some of it is still pretty amusing even 72 years later. I'm not saying run out and buy the thing, but you could easily do worse.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Scrubs: Season One

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Scrubs: The Complete First Season (B+). I have never watched this show in "real time," but I was looking for a diversion and thought I had heard good things about Scrubs, so I took a chance. It was a good gamble. This sit-com is set in a somewhat down-on-its-luck hospital called Sacred Heart; the main characters are three interns--sensitive J.D. (Zach Braff), neurotic Elliott (Sarah Chalke), and cool-dude Turk (Donald Faison)--plus nurse Carla (Judy Reyes) and a couple of crusty old doctors who make life hard for everyone else. The show is basically from J.D.'s perspective, and Braff plays him as an earnest, well-meaning guy with a vivid imagination (the contents of which are often acted out on-screen). Minor characters like the hospital's miserable in-house lawyer Ted are very funny in their own right. There are lots of laughs but also some poignant moments worthy of a serious doctor show like E.R. My only criticisms are that the show depends too much on sexual humor and that the characters' sexual morality is on a par with other harbingers of the end times like Friends and Sex in the City. Otherwise, I thought this was a superior sit-com, and I look forward to viewing the second season.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Wolfman

A new review from The Movie Snob

The Wolfman (C). I'm not familiar with any of this film's famous predecessors (not even Teen Wolf), so I approached it with a fresh eye. It boasts a strong cast (Benicio del Toro of Traffic, Emily Blunt of The Devil Wears Prada, Anthony Hopkins of everything under the sun, even good old Geraldine Chaplin of Doctor Zhivago and BloodRayne) and buckets of gore, but that doesn't make up for the lackluster plot and the lack of decently earned scares. Sure, you jump a couple of times when someones jumps into the frame from off screen, accompanied by a horrifically loud noise, but where's the art in that? Anyway, some nasty critter is loose in the 1891 British countryside, killing Gypsies and Englishmen indiscriminately, and Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) takes it on himself to figure out what's going on after his brother is killed by the monster. Lawrence gets bitten but survives. Bad Things ensue. The movie is adequate for a matinee, but I wouldn't pay full price.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

An Education

From the Movie Snob

An Education (A-). This 2009 release has been nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for young Carey Mulligan (Pride & Prejudice). I think the nominations are deserved. Mulligan plays Jenny, a bright British schoolgirl in 1961. Her dad (played by Alfred Molina, Chocolat) is a loutish fellow who is set on Jenny's going to Oxford, for all the wrong reasons. So when David, a suave fellow in his 30s, comes sniffing around Jenny, he easily gets dad to bless the relationship by pretending to be an Oxford man himself--with connections. A sordid affair begins, with David's friends Danny and Helen looking on. Peter Sarsgaard (The Skeleton Key) does a good job of playing David convincingly as someone that a naive schoolgirl could find attractive despite an underlying creepiness. A good film about a creepy subject--especially creepy considering that it is based on someone's memoir.

Friday, February 26, 2010

When in Rome

From the pen of The Movie Snob

When in Rome (D+). I planned to give this weak romantic comedy a D, but then I remembered that I gave Leap Year a D, and this movie was slightly less horrible than that one. Truly, all the best bits were in the preview (and a couple of amusing lines in the preview were excised from the movie!). Perky blond Beth (Kristin Bell, Couples Retreat) is a workaholic junior curator at the Guggenheim. She goes to Rome for her little sister's wedding, and in a state of drunken self-pity she fishes four coins and a poker chip out of the magical Fountain of Love. Four random strangers immediately fall in love with her and start stalking her. So does a hunky and suitable guy she met at her sister's wedding. Unfunny hijinks ensue. The "twist" ending is visible from miles away. There's a pretty funny gag involving Jon "Napoleon Dynamite" Heder, who plays one of the unfunny suitors, but it doesn't make the rest any less painful. Skip it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Investor's Manifesto (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

The Investor’s Manifesto: Preparing for Prosperity, Armageddon, and Everything in Between, by William J. Bernstein (2010). I bought and read this book because it was recommended by Dallas Morning News financial columnist Scott Burns. Not surprisingly, the advice contained in the book is pretty similar to what Burns always prescribes. Bernstein, a neurologist-turned-financial-guy, argues for a simple approach to personal finance. Don’t strive to get rich by investing; the proper goal is to achieve modest returns and avoid spending your golden years in poverty. Accordingly, start saving now, and save as much as you can. Diversify your investments widely, and minimize investment expenses. Expense minimization means avoiding the financial-services industry as much as possible. (His chapter about the industry is called “Muggers and Worse.”) Bernstein also includes some stuff about the best ways to estimate future returns on stocks and bonds, and he tries to dumb it down as far as he can, but he still lost me. To me, Bernstein’s practical advice on simple, effective investment strategies is the most important part of the book, and I liked it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wildfire: Feel the Heat

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Wildfire: Feel the Heat (B-). Once again, the Little Rock IMAX theater spurns the cutting edge in favor of the antiquated--in this case, a 1999 documentary about wildfires and the men and women who risk life and limb to fight them. It's actually fairly interesting. We get to see some of the training that American forest firefighters go through, follow some flame-jumpers down to fight a small Idaho blaze, and see some footage of ferocious California and Australia wildfires. Of course, it does leave you wondering how the technology in this area has improved since the 20th century....

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Leap Year

A new review from The Movie Snob

Leap Year (D). reveals that I am not alone in wondering whether Hollywood is capable of making a decent romantic comedy any more. I'm not complaining about the formula; the formula is fine. I'm complaining about Hollywood's apparent inability to make a formulaic movie that is believable. Here we have Amy Adams (Julie & Julia), cute and likable as ever as Bostonian Anna Brady. Anna's boyfriend of four years won't pop the question, so when he goes to Ireland for work, she chases after him in order to capitalize on a quaint Irish tradition that a woman can propose to a man during a leap year on February 29th. But inclement weather causes Anna to land rather a long way from Dublin, and before you can say It Happened One Night, she's off on a road trip with the brooding Irish hunk Declan as chauffeur. So far, so good -- It Happened One Night is a fun movie even after all these years. But Declan is such a jerk, and Anna is such a ding-dong, and so many ridiculous things pile up at the end of the movie that you just want to shake Amy Adams and ask why she doesn't demand a better script.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox

New from The Movie Snob

Fantastic Mr. Fox (B+). I was unfamiliar with the children's book this movie is based on, but I still got a kick out of the movie. Filmed in claymation, it is basically the story of an escalating war between Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney, Three Kings) and three mean farmers. In this world, foxes, badgers, possums, beavers, and rabbits live basically like civilized people (except they live mostly underground). The problem is that Mr. Fox cannot resist his natural urges to steal chickens and whatnot from the farmers, despite having promised his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia!) long ago that his stealing days were over. The movie is a treat visually, and the quirky dialogue and plot are perhaps no surprise given that the movie is directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums). The finger-snapping rat voiced by Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) steals every scene he's in. An odd, amusing, and entertaining little film. Even the soundtrack is odd, including the seldom-heard "Heroes and Villains" by the Beach Boys and a track by the almost-forgotten Bobby Fuller Four (known almost entirely for "I Fought the Law").

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Sherlock Holmes (D+). Based on the reviews I had seen, I expected Sherlock Holmes to be mediocre--but I didn't expect it to be this mediocre. As played by Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder), the supersleuth is not only a genius at deduction but also a formidable practitioner of the martial arts. With Dr. Watson (Jude Law, The Holiday) in tow, Holmes investigates a bizarre case in which a hanged murderer has apparently risen from the grave and threatens to take over England with an army of the undead, or something like that. Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers) has very little to do as American con artist Irene Adler. Choppily-edited fight scenes and overwhelmingly brown and gray cinematography do not add to the enjoyment. Suffice to say, it wasn't the best 2 hours and 15 minutes of my life.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Maltese Falcon

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Maltese Falcon (B). Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca) plays San Francisco private eye Sam Spade in this 1941 release. A beautiful and distraught woman hires him and his partner, Miles Archer, to tail a man who has supposedly run off with her sister. Next thing you know, Archer and the man he was tailing both turn up dead, and the woman's story about her sister is exposed as a lie from start to finish. Turns out instead that she and some other underworld types are in a race to find a fabulous gold-and-jewel-encrusted totem from the Middle Ages called the Maltese Falcon, and Spade will need all his wits to figure out what's going on and save his own neck. Not a bad little story, although Mary Astor, the femme fatale, didn't really strike me as all that gorgeous. Spade is a much meaner, colder character than Philip Marlowe, the private eye Bogart played in The Big Sleep. This film also stars Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, who would go on to appear with Bogart again in Casablanca, and Elisha Cook, Jr., who would appear with Bogart in The Big Sleep and would also turn up as a guest star on the original Star Trek TV series. Worth a look.

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