The Greatest Showman

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Greatest Showman  (B).  This musical has done only so-so with the critics (Metacritic.com score 45/100 last time I checked), but I must say that I was entertained.  The versatile and (to me) eminently likable Hugh Jackman (Logan) stars as P.T. Barnum in a film that is apparently very loosely based on the real Barnum’s life.  It is exceptionally sentimental, setting up all sorts of underdogs for us to root for—the impoverished child Barnum in love with the daughter of a rich meanie, the slightly less impoverished adult Barnum hatching his first scheme to entertain the masses, the gaggle of differently abled people (unkindly called “freaks” by some characters) Barnum recruits for his show, and even an inter-racial potential couple.  There are lots of songs, and I must say they mostly sounded kind of the same to me.  And the big song-and-dance numbers featuring Barnum’s performers resemble the big song-and-dance numbers you might see on “Dancing with the Stars,” and the lights and noise pretty well bludgeon you into submission.  Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful) isn’t given much to do as Barnum’s wife, but Zac Efron (Neighbors) and the formerly unknown to me Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) have nice supporting roles and a nice musical number together.  If you don’t mind a little sap and a little schmaltz, I say give The Greatest Showman a chance.

The 39 Steps

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The 39 Steps  (B).  Well, I intended to see a movie at the theater today, but I got some bad information from the internet and wound up seeing nothing.  So I decided to get some use out of my DVD collection and pulled down The Criterion Collection edition of this 1935 Hitchcock thriller.  Robert Donat (Goodbye Mr. Chips) stars as Hannay, an ordinary Londoner caught up in a web of intrigue when he takes a beautiful woman back to his flat one evening and she turns out to be a spy—and gets herself murdered that very night!  Suddenly, Hanney is on the run—wanted by the police on suspicion of murder and by sinister spies who are trying to steal British military secrets.  On a train to Scotland he has a meet-cute with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll, Secret Agent), and they later team up to try to foil the foreign plot.  The film is not terribly suspenseful but has some pleasant romantic-comedy aspects to it.  And at 86 minutes, it’s quite efficient.  I didn’t watch all the extras that Criterion packed onto the disc, but a short feature about Hitchcock’s film career in England before moving to Hollywood was interesting, and a critic’s discussion of The 39 Steps itself was also interesting and entertaining.

Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays, by Joseph Epstein (2016).  I’ve sung Epstein’s praises in this blog enough before.  I just really like his writing style and observations about life, literature, and everything.  The pieces in this collection, with only a couple of exceptions, are extremely short—like two pages long.  Many of them, I believe, came from Epstein’s contributions to the “Casual” feature in The Weekly Standard magazine, so I had probably read many of them before.  Still, it was a pleasure to read them again.  If you enjoy good writing, you owe it to yourself to give Epstein a try.

Commonwealth (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (2016).  A more descriptive title for this recent novel might be “Divorce American Style,” but maybe that didn’t have quite the same ring to it.  I was thoroughly engrossed by it.  In the first chapter we meet two families, one headed by a cop named “Fix” Keating and the other by a prosecutor named Bert Cousins.  Bert meets Fix’s beautiful wife Beverly at a party after the baptism of Fix and Beverly’s baby girl Franny, and things go from there.  After the opening chapter, the other chapter bounce around quite a bit chronologically (over several decades) as we see how the Keating and Cousins kids (six in all) fare after their parents’ bad behavior throws them all together.  I enjoyed the writing and the story, and I highly recommend it if it sounds like it might be your cup of tea.

The Best Movies I Saw in 2017, by The Movie Snob

Welcome to the Movie Snob’s Best of 2017 column!  Alas, circumstances conspired against me this year, and I saw a paltry 39 movies in the theater last year.  And, sadly, I haven’t yet seen some lauded late releases like Darkest Hour and Molly’s Game.  Still, I will give you my opinions, and you can take them for what they are worth!

Best Movie of the Year.   Can the year’s best really be a comic-book movie??  Yes, but not a typically flippant Marvel creation or gloomy DC downer.  My top honor goes to Logan, in which Hugh Jackman shines as an aging and ailing Wolverine.  Maybe the gory violence and R rating should knock it out of my top spot, but if you can see past that, this movie had as much heart as anything I saw this year.  Wolverine’s relationships with the broken-down Professor X and a mysterious little girl mutant are really wonderful.

Runner-Up.  My runner-up is usually something completely different from my top pick, and 2017 is no exception.  I’ll award the silver medal to Lady Bird, starring the incomparable Saoirse Ronan as a misfit high-school senior trying to find her way.  Laurie Metcalf also shines as the hard-working mother who loves her daughter ferociously but just can’t avoid butting heads with her.  Expect Ronan and Metcalf to contend for Oscars™!

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  The aforementioned Logan would win this category hands-down this year.  After that . . . let’s go with War for the Planet of the Apes.  This film wraps up a trilogy that is of consistently high quality.  Be warned that it’s pretty dark—Woody Harrelson is excellent as a sadistic military commander who actually has some logic behind his madness.  And Steve Zahn shines with a few moments of much-needed comic relief as Bad Ape.

Best Animated Movie.  Sorry, but I’ve got nothing in this category this year.  The LEGO Batman Movie left me cold, and Coco was only slightly better.  Thanks to my goddaughter, I saw 2016’s Moana several more times, and it has gone way up in my estimation.  Check it out!

Best Comedy or Musical.  Amazing—a comedy that actually made me laugh out loud!  And what’s even weirder, it’s based on a true story!  Yes, I’m talking about The Disaster Artist, a quasi-biopic about an eccentric amateur film-maker named Tommy Wiseau and the making of his amazingly, incredibly bad movie called The Room.  Can you enjoy The Disaster Artist even if you haven’t seen The Room?  My wager is yes, but I’m unsure.  James Franco and the movie have picked up Golden Globe© nominations, so I say take your chances and give it a watch.

Best Documentary.  I didn’t see any really great documentaries this year, but I’ll go ahead and give a shout-out to Disney’s nature special Born in China.  Who doesn’t love pandas?  The only other documentary I saw in 2017 was California Typewriter, and I’m sorry to say it was pretty mediocre.

Best Drama.  Maybe this one really belongs in the Action/Adventure category, but at any rate Dunkirk is certainly among the very best movies I saw this year.  Kind of like Fury did a couple of years ago, Dunkirk drops you right into the action and (I’m speculating) gives you a little taste of what it might be like to be lost in the terrifying fog of war.  By coincidence I also want to heap some praise on another WWII drama, Their Finest, about some brave Brits trying to keep morale high on the home front.  Too bad I didn’t make it out to see Darkest Hour, or this could have been a WWII trifecta!

Best Foreign Film.  If we include English-language foreign films, this category goes to Their Finest, mentioned just above under Best Drama.  But let’s set that one aside for a moment.  I’ll give a mention to The Salesman, an Iranian/French production directed by Asghar Farhadi.  But I must say, I liked his previous films A Separation and The Past noticeably more.  I also liked a 2014 release I just saw this year, the black-and-white vampire pic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  IMDB lists its country as USA, but the movie is in Farsi, so I’m calling it a foreign film.

Best Science-Fiction Film.  This was a 2016 release, and the critics generally didn’t love it (Metacritic score 41), but I rather liked Passengers—probably because it starred the generally awesome Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.  (Let’s don’t talk about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.)  I can understand the folks who didn’t like Passengers, but I say give it a chance.

Honorable Mentions.  Here’s a handful of other 2017 (and 2016) releases that I would say are worth your time and attention.  First, how about a Nicole Kidman double-header?  She got an Oscar® nomination for the tear-jerking drama Lion, and she also starred in a decent little Civil War drama called The Beguiled.  DC did manage to give us an above-average comic-book movie with Wonder Woman.  Or maybe just a far-above-average movie star named Gal Gadot?  For a romantic dramedy, you could do much worse than The Big Sick.  I may just be predisposed to like anything by Kenneth Branagh, but I enjoyed his take on Murder on the Orient Express.  And I also liked the quirky independent flick Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, although not as much as its 86 Metacritic score and six Golden Globe™ nominations might suggest.  I’ll wrap this section with soft shout-outs to The Edge of Seventeen, The Hero, Baby Driver, Brad’s Status, Thor: Ragnarok, and a little movie called The Last Jedi.

And one classic.  I saw Gaslight (1942) as part of a local theater’s ongoing classic film series, and I quite enjoyed it.  Ingrid Bergman shines as a sweet young woman who thinks she’s slipping into madness after she marries a fellow who seems to be the man of her dreams.  Definitely worth looking up!

That’s a wrap!  Happy movie-going in 2018!