The Way Back

New movie review from The Movie Snob

The Way Back (B+). Australian director Peter Weir (Witness) brings us this ode to human endurance. It’s based on a possibly true story (apparently there’s some controversy about this) about a small band of people who escaped from a Siberian gulag during WWII and walked all the way to freedom in India. Jim Sturgess (The Other Boleyn Girl) plays the group’s leader, a thoroughly decent young Polish fellow named Janusz whose wife was tortured by the Soviets until she accused her husband of being a spy. He is joined by several others–a hard-bitten American (Ed Harris, National Treasure: Book of Secrets), a Russian thief (Colin Farrell, Ondine), and a few more. Along the way they are joined by a Polish teenager who’s also on the run, an orphaned girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement). I really enjoyed it, although it’s certainly sad in parts. Ronan, whom I’ve liked ever since seeing her in City of Ember, is probably too pretty to be playing a supposedly starving orphan, but she certainly makes it believable that the men would adopt and protect her like a daughter. I think the film’s definitely worth seeing.

The Privileges (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee (2010). I enjoyed this recent novel, although the ending left me a little let down. It’s about modern life, but a very narrow slice of it. The first chapter is about the wedding of Adam and Cynthia Morey, two people from ordinary backgrounds who are themselves not at all ordinary. Smart, charismatic, and well-educated, they are impatient to get on with their lives together. They are completely certain their lives will be amazing — and they are. They have two kids, Adam becomes a fabulously successful finance guy in NYC, and the novel just dips into various periods in their family’s history from then on. An interesting and well-written look at how the elites, or at least our elites, live. But the characters are (perhaps intentionally) a little flat. Introspection is not the elder Moreys’ strong suit, although that is not so true of their son. Worth a read.

Somewhere

New review from The Movie Snob

Somewhere (C). This new movie from director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) won a “Golden Lion” award at the Venice Film Festival, whatever that means. I thought it was a promising but ultimately disappointing little movie. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, World Trade Center) is a successful Hollywood actor, but he’s existentially stuck. The fast sportscar, the booze, and the beautiful women don’t fill the void any more. He’s fond of his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, The Door in the Floor), but he just doesn’t see her that much. Coppola just kind of follows Marco around and observes like the proverbial fly on the wall. She shows the emptiness of his life pretty effectively, as he lives at a hotel that is apparently a known hangout for Hollywood types. (Benicio del Toro (The Wolfman) randomly appears at the hotel, sharing an elevator with Marco.) But then some scenes never really seem to go anywhere — a long scene of Cleo ice skating, for instance, or a short scene in which Marco’s car breaks down. I wasn’t satisfied with the ending, either. It’s nice to see Ellie Kemper from TV’s The Office in a movie, though.

Pride & Prejudice

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Pride & Prejudice (A-). This is the 2005 remake of the beloved Jane Austen novel, starring Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go) as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen (Robin Hood) as Mr. Darcy. Being a big Austen fan, I was predisposed to like it, and I still do. On watching the DVD, I was surprised to see Carey Mulligan (An Education, Never Let Me Go), whose career is quite hot at the moment, in the small role of Kitty Bennet. Apparently this was Mulligan’s first movie. The movie also features Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), who would also appear with Mulligan in An Education. Anyhoo, it’s a lovely adaptation of a great story. The “behind the scenes” extras on the DVD are not particularly insightful, but they do give a few facts about Austen and make it clear that the cast of the movie really enjoyed working together.

The Bishop’s Wife

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Bishop’s Wife (B). This black-and-white 1947 release stars Cary Grant (Bringing Up Baby) as Dudley, an angel wandering around a big city just before Christmas doing good deeds for people. He drops in on Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven, Murder by Death) and his lovely wife Julia (Loretta Young, The Farmer’s Daughter). You see, the good Bishop has been neglecting his marriage because he is so consumed with trying to raise funds to build a magnificent cathedral. So you expect Dudley to gently set the Bishop’s priorities straight. The pleasant surprise is that Dudley is not your usual saccharine kind of angel; he’s much more smug and self-satisfied with his little magic tricks. What’s more, he seems to have an appreciation for the fair Julia that is more than strictly cherubic! I enjoyed it. This disc had virtually no extra features, but it did have the movie’s trailer, which is one of the oddest I have ever seen.

Tangled

A new review from The Movie Snob

Tangled (B+). The latest animated Disney offering is a retelling of the story of Rapunzel, the girl who lives in a tower and has such long hair that it reaches all the way down to the ground. In this iteration, her hair also has the magical power to heal wounds and confer eternal youth, which is why a nasty old crone named Gothel kidnaped her as a baby and has raised her to believe that the outside world is a dangerous place she should never venture into. On the eve of her 18th birthday, Rapunzel gets her first visitor ever, a dashing thief named Flynn Rider, and adventures ensue. Although I thought it dragged a little toward the end, I enjoyed it overall, and it features wholesome Disney themes like having self-confidence, following your dreams, and making sacrifices for others. The animation is gorgeous–I saw the 2D version, and I hear that the 3D version is not worth paying extra for. And although there are no talking animals, Rapunzel’s pet chameleon Pascal is cute, and the horse Maximus steals every scene he’s in. Featuring the vocal talents of Mandy Moore (American Dreamz), Zachary Levi (TV’s Chuck), and many others.

Riverdance

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Riverdance. Apparently I’m one of the last people in America to see this production of Irish music and dance. My mom and I saw a matinee performance at Verizon Theater here in Grand Prairie, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s about a two-hour show (including the intermission), and it consists of a few sung musical numbers, a few instrumentals, and of course the famous Irish dancing itself. The songs were pretty, but not especially memorable; the instrumentals were more impressive; and of course the dancing was amazing. I guess the show as a whole is supposed to tell the tale of the Irish people, but it was pretty vague and abstract for the most part. Which was fine; you go to see some impressively thunderous and synchronous dancing, and the cast did not disappoint.

The Movie Snob’s 2010 Year in Review!

Welcome to The Movie Snob’s annual list of the best movies of the year. As usual, if I saw a movie in the theater in 2010, I may include it in this column even if it was technically a 2009 release. For the record, I saw 58 movies at the theater in 2010, and these are the ones you should try to see if you haven’t seen them yet.

Movie of the Year. This was not a tough decision — the year’s highlight for me was The Social Network, the popular and critically acclaimed dramatization of the invention of Facebook. It’s an engrossing story about how a bunch of greedy nerds built an empire — and then sued the pants off each other. I just saw a news item that the Winklevoss twins are trying to undo their $65 million settlement because they think they’re entitled to even more. Or maybe they’re just trying to lay the groundwork for a sequel.

Runner Up. It didn’t do so well at the box office, but I thought Never Let Me Go was an excellent adaption of a phenomenal book. I can’t say much about the plot, but it’s a sad tale set in a dystopian alternative reality. Thought-provoking without being (in my opinion) preachy. Put it in your Netflix queue. Wait — read the book first. Then put it in your Netflix queue.

Best Action/Adventure Flick. Will I lose my license to critique if I pick the remake of Clash of the Titans? As a kid, I loved the original, and I enjoyed the remake enough to see it twice in the theater — NOT the 3D version, which was brutally panned by the critics. It’s just good, stupid fun with mythology. Oh, I should mention Inception, because it was a fun, roller-coaster ride of a movie, even though I didn’t know what was going on half the time. And even though I’ll look like an idiot for preferring Clash of the Titans. Alice in Wonderland was pretty good too, and Alice’s duel with the Jabberwocky at the end was pretty action-y, so I’ll mention it in this category too.

Best Animated Movie. Unlike 2009, 2010 featured a bumper crop in this category. I’d give top honors to Toy Story 3, which had more exciting action and adventure than anything in the preceding category. But the quirky Fantastic Mr. Fox was also excellent, if a little offbeat. I also liked The Princess and the Frog quite a bit. But in addition to those films, I’d also recommend Megamind, Despicable Me, and How to Train Your Dragon as being well worth your time.

Best Comedy. I’m always hard-pressed to label any comedy “good,” much less recommend it as worth seeing. But I really, really liked a little-seen movie called City Island, starring Andy Garcia as an ordinary, blue-collar guy — a prison guard no less — who starts taking acting lessons on the sly. His wife thinks he’s having an affair; his teenage kids are complete mysteries to him; and then he inexplicably volunteers to take an ex-convict into his home. The plot clicks along very nicely, and I just enjoyed the heck out of it. The few other comedies I saw were wretched and don’t deserve a mention.

Best Documentary. I’ll go with the Johnny Depp-narrated When You’re Strange, which is about the short, strange career of the rock band The Doors. Nipping at its heels are the space documentary Hubble 3D (narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, I believe), and nature documentary Oceans (narrated by Pierce Brosnan).

Best Drama. Lots of strong contenders in this category this year. Maybe it’s just because I saw it very recently, but I’ll pick The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams. It’s just a solid boxing movie with an underdog hero you can’t help rooting for. Too cliched for your taste? I understand. Turn the clock back and go with An Education, a dark tale about a bright but naive British girl on the verge of womanhood who gets seduced by a sleazy cad. Or stay closer to home with the even darker Winter’s Bone, about a courageous teenage girl (Jennifer Lawrence, in her breakout performance) who has to stand up to her seriously dangerous, meth-cooking relatives in the Missouri Ozarks if she wants to save her family’s farm. One last honorable mention: I really liked The Young Victoria. You don’t have to be an Anglophile to empathize with a spirited young woman born into the straitjacket of royalty.

Best Foreign Film. I would like to pick The Concert, a moving melodrama about a blacklisted Soviet music conductor who schemes his way into a comeback concert. I really enjoyed it at the time. But it did resort to an unpleasant Jewish stereotype to get a cheap laugh once or twice, and I have a hard time recommending it unreservedly. I also really enjoyed Kisses, an Irish movie about a couple of poor kids with bad home situations who decide to empty their piggy banks and run away from home. Honorable mention to the Italian movie Mid-August Lunch, which is a short, sweet little movie about a basically decent guy who is strapped for cash and agrees to take in a few elderly women for the weekend while their own children go away on holiday.

Honorable Mentions. I’ve already mentioned most of the worthwhile films of the year as honorable mentions in the specific categories above, but I can rattle off a few more that are worth a look. Michael Douglas turns in a good performance in Solitary Man. He plays a shallow, Gordon Gekko-like character, but on a much smaller scale. I didn’t see the Wall Street sequel, but this movie had to be much better than that. I liked The Kids Are All Right, about a very unusual family situation that develops when a couple of kids being raised by lesbians look for and find their sperm-donor father. Although it’s not the action movie it was purported to be, I liked The American, starring George Clooney as a world-weary hit man. (Be warned, it’s got some pretty graphic sex scenes in it.) Ben Affleck’s latest movie, The Town, is an entertaining film about a gang of Boston bank robbers. And still in current release you can catch Natalie Portman as a ballerina who’s not-so-slowly losing her marbles in Black Swan.

First Seen on Video This Year. Just one movie I simply must mention: The Big Lebowski. How did I miss seeing this movie? I found it completely ludicrous and utterly hilarious. OK, one more — The King of Kong, about a nice guy who just wants to compete fair and square for the title of Donkey Kong champion of the universe. I defy you not to get hooked on this movie.

So that’s my 2010 in a nutshell. Thanks for reading, and please post a comment!

The King’s Speech

Movie Man Mike sends us this review

The King’s Speech. (A). Really solid film with terrific performances by Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, and Helena Bonham Carter—but then what would you expect from these actors? This film tells the story of the ascension of Prince Albert (Firth) to the English throne. In many respects, this story is about the relationship between Prince Albert and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Logue is a lowly commoner with no real credentials, except that his own success becomes his calling card. Prince Albert is royalty, but suffers from an embarrassing stutter, which threatens his ability to achieve greatness. When his brother (played by Guy Pierce) abdicates the throne so that he can marry Wallis Simpson, Prince Albert—now King George VI is put to the test as a public figure—particularly because it all comes on the eve of war with Nazi Germany. Logue is endearingly brilliant as he overcomes the prince’s own resistances and forges a friendship at the same time. This film is really worth seeing.

Morning Glory

The premiere review for new Movie Court member Dan in Reel Life

This just in: Stay away from Morning Glory. Seeking a respite from the chill of Winter’s Bone, and from the, well, grittiness of True Grit, my girlfriend and I sought shelter at the “dollar” theater ($2 on Saturday nights) for what we hoped would be fun, light-hearted fare. We left the theater laughing alright, but not for the reasons the film intended. The ridiculous premises and clichéd dialogue left us second-guessing ourselves for not walking out halfway through.

The film chronicles the efforts of its heroine, Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams, The Family Stone) in turning around a struggling morning network TV show. In the process she battles an executive (Jeff Goldblum, The Lost World: Jurassic Park) who clearly expects her to fail and yet harasses her for her poor performance, a preexisting unmanageable anchor she promptly fires, a mother who abdicates her parental duty to support her daughter with absurd one-dimensional cruelty (“your (deceased) father was wrong to encourage your dreams” she tells Becky), and an incompetent yet quirky staff accustomed to failure. But her biggest hurdle and the crux of the film’s tension is gaining the cooperation of the legendary but disgraced anchor Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford, Hollywood Homicide). Becky has forced him out of retirement due to an obscure clause in his contract that will deny him severance if he refuses the job. Ironically it would seem the producers of this film coerced Ford to take the part in this stinker by some similar ruse.

It’s tough to fault the actors for the mess that is this film because the screenplay could have been written by Michael Scott. Also, Diane Keaton (The Family Stone) was in the movie. The less said about this, the better.

Grade: D-

 

True Grit

A new review from Movie Man Mike

True Grit (A-). I’ll resist the urge to compare this film to the original starring John Wayne–mainly because it’s been too long since I saw the original version. I confess, however, that I was prepared to boycott this film because it seems wrong to push John Wayne deeper into the shadows by making another movie from the book. But when I saw the cast and directors, I couldn’t resist the lure to see it.

This 2010 film is very entertaining. A big part of what makes this movie so good is the witty dialogue. One of my favorite lines is delivered by spitfire Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) after Leboeuf stakes a claim to the outlaw Tom Cheney by telling Ross that he’s been pursuing Cheney hither and yon for a very long time: “Why have you ineffectually been pursuing Cheney?” But even good dialogue needs the actors capable of delivering it, and this film obviously has that, with Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn, Damon as the boasting bounty hunter from Texas, and Josh Brolin as the outlaw Tom Cheney, who killed Ross’s father. Relative newcomer Steinfeld rounds out the cast and proves that she’s an equal to her co-stars. If there is one weakness in this film, it comes at the end when you see a grown-up version of Mattie Ross. The grown-up version doesn’t really match what you’d expect Mattie to become as an adult. But this is a minor point.

I recommend seeing this film. You’ll be glad you did. I was.

Rabbit Hole

Movie review from the desk of The Movie Snob

Rabbit Hole (B+). This movie is a portrait of grief. Nicole Kidman (Nine) and Aaron Eckhart (Love Happens) play a married couple, Becca and Howie, whose 4-year-old son was killed in an auto accident eight months before the movie begins. Although Howie seems to be functioning more or less normally, Becca is a total mess. She gets sick of the “God talk” at their grief-support group and quits. She complains that one of her friends had not spoken to her since the tragedy, but she’s apt to go off on anyone who tries to speak a consoling word to her. That includes her mom (Dianne Wiest, Dan in Real Life), who compares Becca’s son to her own deceased son Arthur once too often. It’s no pick-me-up, but it’s a well-made movie. Kidman got a Golden-Globe nomination for her performance, which had to be rough on her since she’s a new mom herself.

Leave Her to Heaven

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Leave Her to Heaven (B-). In this 1945 flick, Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde, It Had to Be You) is a successful author taking a train to New Mexico. During the ride, he meets the beautiful Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney, Laura), and it turns out they’re going to the same ranch. Although Ellen is already engaged, she quickly decides that Richard is her man and jilts her fiance (Vincent Price, The House of Wax). Richard, a rather passive fellow, lets Ellen sweep him off his feet, and they are soon wed. But Ellen has a hint of the crazy eye about her, and it turns out she is extremely possessive of Richard and wickedly resents anyone who tries to share their time–such as Richard’s beloved and handicapped younger brother Danny (Darryl Hickman, The Tingler). Don’t get in Ellen’s way! The acting is perhaps not the greatest (although Tierney was Oscar-nominated for Best Actress), but I still enjoyed this movie well enough.