The Salesman

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Salesman  (B-).  This is the new (Oscar©-nominated) movie by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi.  I liked his 2011 film A Separation, and I really liked his 2013 film The Past, so I was looking forward to The Salesman quite a bit.  Suffice to say, it is my least favorite of his films, but it’s still an interesting look at life in contemporary Iran.  Emad and Rana are a happily married couple who unexpectedly find themselves having to move in a hurry when their apartment building threatens to collapse.  A friend offers them a place, but it comes with some baggage—the previous tenant was a woman of doubtful virtue, and she has refused to come back and collect most of her stuff.  Short of options, Emad and Rana take the place.  Then someone—one of the previous tenant’s clients?—enters the apartment and attacks Rana.  Everyone agrees that going to the police would be pointless and would only expose Rana to a lot of painful scrutiny.  So Emad does his own sleuthing to try to find the culprit.  I just didn’t find the story as compelling as Farhadi’s previous films.  I may have missed some of Farhadi’s message because I am not familiar with the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman, which gives the movie its title and plays a significant role in the story.  Anyway, it’s worth seeing, but I encourage you to see The Past instead if your taste for subtitled Iranian films is limited.

Ancestral Shadows (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales, by Russell Kirk (2004).  I know of Russell Kirk mainly as an eccentric founding father of modern American conservatism and as the author of the 1953 classic The Conservative Mind.  But he apparently has a reputation as an author of ghost stories and gothic tales, so I gave this anthology a try.  The stories are strange—very religious in sensibility, and not really scary.  I didn’t care for the first few, but I thought they got better as they went along.  It isn’t Steven King or H.P. Lovecraft, but if you like weird fiction you might conceivably find this volume interesting.

Lion

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Lion  (B).  Based on a true story!  In 1987, a little boy in a crowded Calcutta orphanage has the amazing good fortunate to be adopted by a warm, loving Australian couple.  Twenty years later, Saroo seems to be doing great–he’s studying for a career, and he has a bunch of good friends and a sweet girlfriend.  But there’s a worm in the apple: Saroo is not an orphan, and he knows it.  He had a mother, brother, and sister in a remote Indian village, but through a chance misfortune he got locked in a train car that took him to Calcutta—1600km away.  He didn’t speak the language spoken there, and he didn’t know his own mother’s name or, apparently, the correct name of their village.  So he ended up in the orphanage.  But now, all these years later, there’s a little something called Google Earth™ that might hold the key to finding his long-lost family.  This is a pretty good movie, but I’m not sure it deserves all the Oscar© hoopla it has gotten.  I can buy the best supporting actress nomination for Nicole Kidman (Paddington) as the long-suffering adoptive mom.  But I don’t see best picture, or even the best supporting actor nod for Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as the grown-up Saroo.  Rooney Mara (Side Effects) has virtually nothing to do as the girlfriend.  The kid who plays young Saroo is pretty amazing, though.

The Edge of Seventeen

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Edge of Seventeen  (B-).  This new tale of teen angst stars Hailee Steinfeld (Begin Again) as Nadine, a miserable and thoroughly unpleasant high-school student whose entire wardrobe seems to consist of barely-there skirts and shorts.  Nadine doesn’t get along with either her mom or her older brother.  To make matters worse, her only friend in the world starts dating said older brother, which only makes Nadine more miserable and, amazingly, even more unpleasant.  Really, Nadine is so obnoxious and filled with self-loathing that I found it very hard to empathize with her,  She seemed borderline mentally ill.  The movie’s bright spot is Nadine’s friendship with her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, Management).  Bruner’s dryly sarcastic responses to Nadine’s various crises had the whole theater laughing out loud.  Basically, all the scenes involving Bruner are great, and the rest of the movie is so-so.  And please note that the R rating for language and sexual content is well deserved.

Rifftrax Live: Time Chasers

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax Live: Time Chasers  (B-).  Well, I didn’t actually see this 2016 show live; I just recently saw it on DVD.  But I was really, really looking forward to it because the guys riffed Time Chasers back in their Mystery Science Theater glory days, and in my mind it was one of the funniest MST episodes of all time.  Time Chasers itself is a hilariously low-budget 1994 time-travel movie about Nick Miller, a nerdy physics professor in Vermont who turns his little single-propeller airplane into a time machine with what looks like a Commodore 64.  Unfortunately Nick’s physics prowess far exceeds his common sense, and he rashly sells his invention to an evil corporation called GenCorp, embodied by its tangibly evil CEO J.K. Robertson.  The scene in which Nick visits the CEO in his “office” – a stairway landing in what I’ve read is the opera house in Rutland, Vermont – is one of the all-time greats.  So, Nick has to do more time traveling to try to stop himself from selling the time machine to GenCorp in the first place.

Unfortunately, the riffers just don’t do as good a job shredding Time Chasers as they did on Mystery Science Theater so many years ago.  While watching the movie, I often remembered the wisecracks from the MST version, and the new jokes just weren’t as good.  Don’t get me wrong—it was still an entertaining experience, if only because the movie itself is such a target-rich environment.  I just thought the Rifftrax version didn’t live up to the MST original.  There’s also a short about a chimpanzee that becomes a fireman, but it was nothing in particular to write home about either.

Passengers

New from The Movie Snob.

Passengers  (B).  The critics haven’t been too kind to this new sci-fi flick, but I liked it pretty well.  For this particular movie it’s kind of hard to know what would count as spoilers, so first I’ll just say what the movie is about based on the first ten minutes:  an awesome starship from Earth is on a 120-year journey to a new world, with 5,000 passengers and a couple hundred crew members all sleeping the voyage away in suspended animation.  But a little problem crops up, and a single passenger—a lowly engineer named Jim (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World)—is woken up 90 years too soon.  There’s no way he can put himself back into hibernation, and communicating with Earth is impossible, so he faces living the rest of his life completely alone.  The movie is about how he deals with that fate.

 

The rest of this review might contain spoilers if you haven’t seen any previews for this movie.

 

As the previews show, and as even the movie’s posters give away, Jim doesn’t stay alone.  Another passenger, the lovely Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook) also wakes up.  How that comes to pass, and how she and Jim get along after she wakes up, are among the most interesting parts of the movie.  Michael Sheen (TRON: Legacy) turns up as Arthur, the robotic bartender.  The movie’s final act gets rather less interesting as coincidences and unbelievable events pile up.  Still, I liked the movie overall.  I thought Pratt and Lawrence were very likable, kind of like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land.  If you like science fiction, I say give Passengers a try.

Rogue One

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  (C).  I saw this movie almost a week ago, but I have yet to muster up any enthusiasm for writing a review.  All I can really say is that I liked it better than The Force Awakens, but I still didn’t particularly like it.  Considering the critical and fan love Rogue One has gotten, I wonder if Star Wars and I are just finished as a couple.  I was a kid when the first one came out in 1977, and I loved the first trilogy, but it’s been downhill ever since.  Anyway, everyone knows what this movie is about–how a ragtag rebel band stole the plans to the original Death Star and got them into Princess Leia’s hands just before the events seen in the original Star Wars.  To me, the movie felt like a long, elaborate scavenger hunt, as our gritty heroes Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, Brideshead Revisited) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, Casa de mi Padre) skip from world to world, grittily doing the gritty things that need to be done to steal the plans to the original Death Star and get them into the hands of Princess Leia.  My favorite character: a reprogrammed Imperial droid voiced by Alan Tudyk (Serenity).  Otherwise, I thought this was a pretty forgettable movie.