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.

The Best Movies I Saw in 2016, by The Movie Snob

It’s time once again for my annual “best of” column.  I am really slowing down in my old age; I saw only 44 movies in the theaters in 2016.  Nevertheless, I hope this column may be of some assistance to you as you look for films worth your time to downstream or netload or do whatever tech-savvy people do nowadays in order to watch movies at home.

Best Movie of the Year.  I don’t think I have ever picked an animated movie as my movie of the year before.  But here it goes: My favorite movie of 2016 was Zootopia, an animated feature about prejudices and stereotypes and an adorable little rabbit who just wants to be a police officer.  Good fun for the whole family.

Runner Up.  A totally different kind of movie gets my nod for second place—the quiet drama 45 Years.  (It was released in 2015, but I didn’t see it until 2016.)  A British couple prepares to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, but their marriage is suddenly shaken by unexpected news concerning a long-ago tragedy.  It’s no feel-good movie, but I found it compelling.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  Marvel never ceases to surprise me.  I thought the previous Captain America movie was a bit of a drag, but I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War a lot.  If comic-book mayhem is your cup of tea, Civil War is for you.  I will also give a shout-out to 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi as an exciting war movie in the vein of American Sniper.

Best Animated Movie.  Obviously Zootopia takes top honors in this category.  But Moana was also an enjoyable romp in an unusual setting.  I will also mention a very different sort of animated movie, Anomalisa, in which the filmmaker uses puppets to bring modern alienation and isolation to life (so to speak).

Best Comedy or Musical.  I rarely have occasion to put a musical in my year-end list, so I have to tinker with the name of this category to make it fit.  I give top honors to the musical La La Land, which is still in the theaters so you can catch it!  I predict it will get lots of love from Oscar® this year.  I’ll list two comedies as runners up.  First is director Whit Stillman’s newest movie Love & Friendship.  Of course, it had an unfair advantage because it’s based on a story by Jane Austen, but Stillman did a good job bringing it to life, and Kate Beckinsale excels as the hilariously conniving and insincere Lady Susan.  If you like it, I urge you to check out Stillman’s other films, which are personal favorites of mine.  Second, I also enjoyed the quirky little indie comedy Maggie’s Plan, starring indie queen Greta Gerwig.

Best Documentary.  I saw only one in 2016, and it was pretty good.  Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, taught me a little something about 20th century art history.  I have forgotten it all since then, but I do remember enjoying the movie.

Best Drama.  This would be 45 Years, which I have already mentioned as my runner-up for Movie of the Year.  After that, I would pick the modern-day Western Hell or High Water, starring Chris “Captain Kirk” Pine and Jeff “the Dude” Bridges.  It’s a tight little crime drama with some nice Texas scenery that Bridges gives a vigorous chewing.  I also enjoyed the Jennifer Lawrence vehicle Joy, which I’m pretty sure was a 2015 release.

Best Foreign Film45 Years was a British production, so I guess it belongs in this category too.  But the best foreign-language movie I saw in 2016 was The Innocents.  Based on a true story, this movie is set in post-WWII Poland and depicts a French doctor’s efforts to help a convent of Polish nuns who were victimized by the Red Army in the waning days of the war.  I thought it was a really interesting and suspenseful movie.

Best Science-Fiction Film.  OK, I haven’t seen Rogue One yet, so there’s a gaping hole in my movie knowledge.  I did see two pretty good sci-fi movies in 2016, though.  The first was 10 Cloverfield Lane, a tense and claustrophobic movie featuring good performances by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman.  The other was Midnight Special, which was a suspenseful movie about a dad trying to protect his son from mysterious forces.  I know virtually all the critics loved Arrival, but it just didn’t do it for me.

Honorable Mentions.  I handed out a few “B” grades to movies that I haven’t mentioned yet, so I’ll rattle them off here, in the order I saw them.  For a decent Western, check out Forsaken, which stars two Sutherlands for the price of one.  I’m not much into horror movies, but I saw and liked the very spooky film The Witch: A New-England Folktale.  Maggie Smith is a force of nature in The Lady in the Van.  Tina Fey gives a nice performance as a journalist in over her head in Afghanistan in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.  Maybe the presence of Nicole Kidman sparked a little grade inflation, but I quite enjoyed Genius, also starring Jude Law and Colin Firth.  Finally, I enjoyed Woody Allen’s latest movie, Café Society.

And a couple of classics.  I saw a couple of old movies for the first time this year that I’d recommend.  One is the 1944 film noir Laura, which is a heck of a lot of fun and features the beautiful Gene Tierney.  The other is the 1967 shoot-em-up Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  I thought that was a really interesting and entertaining movie, even though you know how it’s going to end.

That’s a wrap!  I’ll see you at the cinema!

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Mystery Science Theater: Volume XXVII

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVII.

The Slime People (D).  This first-season offering just isn’t very good.  The movie is horrendous, about a handful of humans trying to survive an attack on Los Angeles by subterranean slime people.  Tedious in the extreme, and the riffing isn’t all that great either.  The highlight of the disc is actually a short interview with a woman who was in the movie, reminiscing about the experience and how horrified she was when she first saw the finished product because it was so bad.

Rocket Attack U.S.A. (C).  This second-season effort is not great but at least it’s better than The Slime People.  The 1961 film is a Cold War relic mainly about a spy sent to Moscow to figure out if the Soviets are planning to launch a nuclear attack.  Answer: Yes.  The first half of the movie features some pretty funny riffing by Joel and the robots, but they seem to lose steam towards the end.

Village of the Giants (C).  This okay episode features an old movie starring a young Beau Bridges (The Fabulous Baker Boys), a very young Ron Howard (TV’s Happy Days), and a timeless Toni Basil (the 1982 hit song “Mickey”).  Howard is a brainiac kid in the little town of Hainesville.  He accidentally invents a substance that, when eaten, makes the consumer grow to enormous size.  Unfortunately, Beau and his gang of unpleasant punk teenagers get a hold of the growth formula and proceed to terrorize the town.  Expect lots of unconvincing special effects and lots of whining from Beau’s gang about how adults are always pushing young people around with their rules and such.

The Deadly Mantis  (B).  My grade may be slightly inflated because of the weakness of the other movies in this collection.  This is a 1957 creature feature about a giant praying mantis that was frozen in arctic ice millions of years ago.  Somehow it gets defrosted and runs amok killing people.  There is very little plot beyond finding and killing the mantis, which seems to take an unduly long time.  The riffing is pretty good.  The two extras are an introduction by Mary Jo Pehl and a short documentary about Mantis producer William Alland, neither of which is of any special interest.

La La Land

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

La La Land  (B+).  To me, musicals are like Westerns—it’s such a novelty when a new one gets made, you just have to go see it.  But when I set out to see this new musical from the director of Whiplash, I had no idea it was getting so much love from the critics.  Apparently it has lots of Oscar buzz, especially for star Emma Stone (Magic in the Moonlight).  It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It hearkens back to the glory days of the movie musical, with a few big, show-stopping song-and-dance numbers, and with the simplest of plots.  Aspiring actress Mia (Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love) meet in Los Angeles, sing some songs, fall in love, sing some more songs, and hit complications in their relationship and their careers.  Stone and Gosling aren’t natural-born singers, but they have charisma and chemistry to burn, and they really make the show work.  If Rogue One is sold out, why not give La La Land a try?

Nocturnal Animals

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Nocturnal Animals  (D).  I knew this movie was supposed to be dark, but it stars all-American girl next door Amy Adams (Arrival), so how dark could it really be?  Very dark, as it turns out, and disturbing as well.  The opening scene is grotesque and disturbing.  Then we dig into the real story–Susan Morrow (Adams) is a miserable Los Angeleno in a loveless marriage.  Then she gets a package from her long-ago ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch).  It’s the manuscript of his new novel, Nocturnal Animals, and we see the novel play out on the screen as Susan reads it.  In the novel (and on the screen), a mild-mannered husband (also Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Isla Fisher, The Great Gatsby) and daughter (Ellie Bamber, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) are terrorized by a trio of west Texas rednecks who run them off the road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.  After this sequence, which is suspenseful AND disturbing, the husband turns to a laconic lawman (an excellent Michael Shannon, Midnight Special) to help him get justice.  Is Susan’s ex-husband trying to tell her something with his novel?  I’m not usually very attuned to subtext in movies, but it seems like director Tom Ford is beating us over the head with one here.  Anyway, this movie was too dark and disturbing, and ultimately unconvincing, for me.  Rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language — and they mean it.