Boyhood

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Boyhood  (B+).  I missed this Oscar® contender during its original run, so I’m glad they gave it a re-release.  It’s a slice-of-life movie about a boy growing up in Texas in the 21st century — but it’s a very large slice.  Director Richard Linklater (School of Rock) filmed this movie over the course of 12 years, using the same actors in the roles so that the boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane, Fast Food Nation), and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) grow up right before our eyes.  Despite the 2:45 run time, my interest never really flagged.  But I have to say, the boy was far from the most compelling character in the movie.  I was much more interested in his divorced parents — his somewhat frazzled mom (Patricia Arquette, Ed Wood) who is raising him and his sister, and his laid back dad (Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight) who swoops in from time to time — and how they change over time.  Maybe I just found them more relatable because they’re closer to my age.  On the other hand, maybe mopey Mason just isn’t all that interesting a character.  Still, I enjoyed it.  Check it out before the Oscars©!

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Cold Comfort Farm (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons.  I read an article that called this British novel one of the funniest novels ever written.  Well, I can’t go that far, but I will say that I enjoyed it, especially as the crazy stuff piled up at the climax of the tale.  The novel was first published in 1932, and the back cover says it is a parody of the “earthy, melodramatic novels of the period.”  I’m not familiar with those novels, which may be why I didn’t find it uproariously funny.  Anyway, the tale is about a Flora Poste, a 20-year-old girl who finds herself suddenly orphaned and has to decide which of her more or less distant relatives to impose upon.  She picks the Starkadder clan of Cold Comfort Farm, and they are indeed a strange bunch of people.  Flora decides to embark on a program to improve the Starkadders and their dilapidated farm, with entertaining results.  Now I kind of want to see the 1995 BBC production starring Kate Beckinsale (The Last Days of Disco) and Ian McKellan (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), of all people!

American Sniper

A new review from The Movie Snob.

American Sniper  (B+).  If you liked The Hurt Locker, then I’ve got a movie for you.  Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima) directs this biopic about Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who served four tours of duty in Iraq and became the deadliest sniper in U.S. Navy history.  It is a solid piece of film-making.  Bradley Cooper (Limitless) bulks up to roughly the size of a Sherman tank for the lead role, and he delivers a fine performance.  Sienna Miller (Interview) doesn’t have as much to do as Kyle’s long-suffering wife, but she’s good in the role.  The scenes featuring Kyle in action in war-torn Iraq, of course, are the highlights, and the last firefight between Kyle’s little squad and the enemy forces zeroing in on them is a real nail-biter.  If you like war movies, you don’t want to miss this one.

Into the Woods

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Into the Woods  (B-).  I had never seen this musical before, and all I really knew about it was that it was some kind of mash-up of various fairy tales.  The film version brought together a lot of talent–lyricist Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd), director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and actresses Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect).  But the result was only a little better than mediocre, in my opinion.  The plot blends four familiar fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella) with one original one involving a baker, his wife, and a witch’s curse.  The performances were fine, and the musical numbers were fine but not particularly memorable.  (One notable exception was a duet by two charming princes about the agony of love; that one was pretty entertaining.  Chris Pine (Star Trek) made a fine comedic Prince Charming.)  The main thing I liked about the movie was that it was unpredictable; it definitely kept me curious about what was going to happen next.  Oh, and having Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau) in the movie certainly didn’t hurt.  I’d say it’s worth the price of a matinee.  Note that it is rated PG for thematic elements (whatever those are), fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

Downton Abbey – Season 5 premiere

Mom Under Cover returns to Downton.

*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***

“Principles are like prayers; noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”  –The Dowager Countess of Grantham

 Season 5: Downton Abbey is on fire! (Literally)

DA looks to be returning to its roots.  Violet (Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) continues to get some of the best lines. The personalities we love to hate seem to be coming back in spades.  Lady Mary donned an air of humility last season while mourning Matthew’s death and struggling to bring Downton into modernity along with brother-in-law Branson. However, this season she returns to her selfish ways stringing along both Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake.  Barrow continues to bully the servants downstairs and make trouble for downstairs-turned-upstairs chauffeur Branson by whispering to Robert that he found Branson upstairs with a girl from the village and implying there was more to the story than that.  We still don’t know whether Lady Edith’s beau is dead or alive in Germany—but their love child is toddling along and being raised by a pig farmer in the village who knows Edith’s secret.  The fire accidentally set by Edith was an odd sub-plot—but it secured conniving Barrow’s place downstairs after he saved Edith.  It also exposed (pun intended) James/Jimmy the footman’s illicit romp with former employer Lady Ansturther.  Look for Jimmy to get sacked next week.  Love is definitely in the air—Moesely is keen on Baxter; Lord Merton is interested in Isobel; and Carson and Mrs. Hughes have something going on. Change is also in the air; Labour is now in charge–giving the servants hope whilst signaling the end of an era to Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess.

Other musings:  How did Bates lose his limp?   Why doesn’t Julian Fellowes use Elizabeth McGovern to her full potential?  She seems to be wallpaper lately–maybe her band (Sadie and the Hotheads) are touring more…will Cora get the Spanish flu?

The Best Movies I Saw in 2014, by The Movie Snob

Welcome to The Movie Snob’s “Best of 2014” column.  I will look back over the 71 movies I saw in the theater last year and tell you which movies you need to see if you haven’t already done so.  As happens every year, some of the movies mentioned will be releases from the previous year (2013), just because I didn’t get around to seeing them until 2014.

Movie of the Year.  I gave out seven “A-“ grades this year, which seems like a pretty high number for a tough grader like me.  It’s tough to single one out, but I’m going to go with Fury, an intense WWII combat movie starring Brad Pitt as a seasoned tank commander in the vanguard of the final American charge to Berlin.  It had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  Not for the squeamish, to be sure, but it’s a great adventure if you have the stomach for it.

Runners-Up.  I’m going to pick two this year.  One is a sentimental little movie called St. Vincent, starring a decidedly unsentimental Bill Murray as a cantankerous and boozy geezer who just might have a heart of gold.  Maybe.  The other is Jersey Boys, a biopic about the rise of pop music sensations Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  I think it was considered a bit of an underperformer, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  Hands down, my pick for this category is Edge of Tomorrow, a twisty time-travel/sci-fi story starring Tom Cruise and the delightful Emily Blunt.  This movie totally underperformed at the box office, and it deserved much better.  They’re trying to re-brand it on DVD by essentially renaming it “Live. Die. Repeat.,” so don’t be confused when you rush down to the Redbox to rent it.  As runner-up in this category, I’ll give a nod to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which I thought was the best movie in the Hobbit trilogy.  For lack of anywhere else to put it, I will also recommend Noah, starring Russell Crowe as the biblical patriarch himself.  As long as you don’t insist on a literal retelling of the Genesis story, you should like it fine.

Best Animated Movie.  I think it was a 2013 release, but Frozen was the best of the few animated features I saw in 2014.  Enough said; Elsa doesn’t need any promotion from me.

Best Comedy.  This is always a tough category.  I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel quite a bit, but it is hardly a straight comedy.  The same goes for the Woody Allen flick Magic in the Moonlight, which is a bit of a romantic comedy but has a little philosophical steel to it.  As for the new movies I saw that were straight comedies (e.g., 22 Jump Street, Neighbors)—forget about them.  They were terrible.

Best Documentary.  For sci-fi geeks like me, it would be hard to beat Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about a visionary science-fiction movie that never got made.  I also enjoyed Tim’s Vermeer, about an inventor who tries to figure out how Vermeer painted such awesome paintings, and Life Itself, a biopic about my late colleague Roger Ebert.  Particle Fever, about the superconducting supercollider in Europe, was also interesting and enjoyable.

Best Drama.  Well, the two best dramas I saw last year were foreign films, so I’ll save them for that category.  Instead, I’ll give this honor to a 2013 release, Philomena (which was apparently an American-British-French co-production).  It’s a sad movie, based on a true story about an Irish woman trying to find her son, who was taken away from her and adopted out decades earlier because she was an unwed mother.  Judi Dench is great in it, but then she’s always great, pretty much.  I also liked The Fault in Our Stars pretty well.

Best Foreign Film.  The Polish film Ida was one of my absolute favorite films of the year.  It’s a beautiful movie about a young woman—an aspiring nun—in 1960s Poland who must learn about her family’s mysterious and tragic past before she can decide how to move forward with her own life.  Close behind is The Past, a French/Iranian movie about some Iranians in Paris who are trying to sort out their very complicated domestic relations and move on with their lives.  And I’ll mention a third very good foreign film, the Swedish movie We Are the Best!, about a trio of teenaged girls who try to form a punk band in 1982.

Best Science-Fiction MovieEdge of Tomorrow is the clear winner here, but I already used it for Best Action/Adventure Flick.  Setting that film aside, I would pick Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway as intrepid astronauts trying to find a new home for humanity as Earth gradually becomes uninhabitable.  I also recommend the goofy Guardians of the Galaxy as a fun romp through space.  With a talking raccoon.

Honorable Mentions.  Here’s where I dump the best of the rest—movies that are worth your time and attention when you’re looking for something to “stream” on your fancy television.  In the drama category, consider The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.  Based on the trailers for the recently released Unbroken, the two movies have a lot in common, but The Railway Man also has Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.  I also recommend Heaven Is For Real, based on the true story of a little boy’s account of a near-death experience.  Begin Again is a nice little story about music and musicians, and it has Keira Knightley in it.  I also enjoyed the similar movies Tracks and Wild, based on true stories about women hiking alone through the wilderness.  The Hundred-Foot Journey is a pleasant dramedy, while The Skeleton Twins is a rather darker look at family, and specifically sibling, dysfunction.  For your Amy Adams fix, watch the current Tim Burton release Big Eyes.  If action is more your cup of tea, check out Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, the truly original Snowpiercer, or the more familiar comforts of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  And if you can handle a truly cheesy B-movie, give Pompeii a try.  Kiefer Sutherland makes a truly ridiculous evil ancient Roman senator, let me tell you.

And a few more oldies.  Thanks to the Magnolia Theater, I enjoyed several other classic movies in re-release that I had never seen before.  Robert Altman’s Nashville is an interesting slice of 1970s Americana.  The French Connection is a cop movie starring Gene Hackman that stands the test of time.  For an old-fashioned nail-biter, see Sorcerer, starring Roy Scheider.  I liked the old comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe.  I enjoyed Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston as a corrupt cop in a dystopian future America, and Scarface, starring Al Pacino as a ruthless Cuban crime lord.  Double Indemnity is a solid film noir, and Harold and Maude is . . . well, it’s kind of hard to describe, but if you like quirky you should give it a try.

Happy New Year!