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?
A book review from The Movie Snob.
Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer, by Una LaMarche (2015). This is a collection of short humorous essays by a gal who was born in 1980. There are stories about her upbringing by hippie parents, her awkwardness in childhood, and her later adventures in driving, drinking, and having a baby. And yes, as a child, she had a unibrow, displayed in its full glory in the cover photo showing the author as an extremely happy-looking child. The author uses way too much vulgar language, but I must admit that I laughed out loud a few times while reading this book, so that makes up for a lot as far as I’m concerned.
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.
A new review from The Movie Snob.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (B). Remember American Sniper? If you enjoyed that movie—and I mean the battle scenes, not the back-at-home scenes—then you will like 13 Hours. This is the story of the September 11, 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. How accurate it is, I must leave to others, but as a movie-going experience, I enjoyed it. We experience the events mainly from the perspective of six CIA contractors—former Navy SEALS and the like who live at a secret CIA base not too far from the diplomatic compound. Thanks to their training and remarkable musculature, they are, of course, basically an army unto themselves, and they do almost all of the fighting in the movie. Unfortunately, they aren’t fleshed out too well as characters, and I had a hard time telling some of them apart. (It helped that two of them, John Krasinski and David Denman, used to be on The Office, where they played romantic rivals for the affections of receptionist Pam Beasley.) Of course, the main thrust of the movie is that the diplomatic compound was badly under-secured and that the State Department—or somebody—was at least criminally negligent for not sending whatever help was available. I didn’t perceive the movie as too much of an attack on the present administration or the then-secretary of state, but it definitely puts the lie to the administration’s and press’s initial reports that the attack was a local protest that got out of hand instead of a planned and premeditated assault. Anyway, I thought the battle scenes were engrossing and conveyed well the “fog of war” in a strange land where the enemies and friendlies were virtually indistinguishable. On the down side, there is a decent amount of cheesy dialogue to be endured. Still, it’s definitely one of the better efforts from director Michael Bay (The Island, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen).
A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.
Anomalisa (B). This is a strange movie—but it was written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), so it could hardly be otherwise. It’s a stop-motion animated movie made with felt puppets, rather like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But it’s justifiably rated R for “strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language,” so on the other hand it’s really not like Rudolph at all. The main character is Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I), a middle-aged guy who is deep in the grip of the existential blues as he lands in a rainy Cincinnati on a quick, banal business trip. But Lisa (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Spectacular Now), a nice young woman with self-esteem problems, rather steals the show. Anyway, the movie is a pretty effective portrayal of the loneliness, angst, and boredom of life. Is it more than that? Hard to say. But it kept my interest, and that counts for something.
Movie Man Mike finally reports in.
Brooklyn. A. There is a good reason this film got an Oscar® nomination for Best Picture. It’s terrific. Everything about it is terrific. The screenplay is well-written. The characters and their interactions are so very charming. From the little old lady who runs the boarding house where Eilis lives in Brooklyn to her rigid supervisor at the store where Eilis works, these characters are engaging and believable. What’s more, with the exception of Jim Broadbent and Domhnall Gleeson (both appearing in the Harry Potter films), the cast consists of relatively unknown actors. Yet each and every one nails their performance. Set in the 1950’s, the story is about a young woman named Eilis (Saiorse Ronan, City of Ember) living with her sister and mother in Ireland. The job market in Ireland is not good but America is the land of opportunity, so the family arranges through their church to send Eilis to America. The story follows Eilis on her journey to America and we get a glimpse of what life was like in the 1950’s for the single working woman. Eilis is homesick until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines), an Italian boy with an eye for Irish girls. As the story moves forward, Eilis finds herself in conflict over her love for Ireland and the place she makes for herself in Brooklyn with Tony. This is truly a beautiful story filled with rich characters. Sairose Ronan received a well-deserved Oscar© nomination for her role in this film.
A TV review from The Movie Snob — a guy who watches very little TV.
The Last Man on Earth: Season One (B). The premise of this sit-com intrigued me: Take a standard last-man-on-earth scenario, but play it for laughs. Will Forte (Nebraska) stars as Phil Miller, a very ordinary guy from Tucson who just happens to be the only survivor of a virus that seemingly wiped out everybody else on the planet. Including all the animals. The first season is only 13 episodes, but they are so packed with twists and surprises that I really can’t say anything else about the show without committing spoilers, so I’ll just say that I thought it was creative and occasionally pretty funny. The extras on the DVD set are nothing to write home about—some deleted scenes that aren’t particularly funny, a couple of episode commentaries that don’t add much to the experience, a couple of other short items about the creation and making of the show. Just watch the show itself and see if it’s your cup of tea.