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.

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.

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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