Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (B).  This is a tense, Coen-esque drama/black comedy from Martin McDonagh, who also wrote and directed Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges.  Frances McDormand (Fargo) stars as Mildred Hayes, a small-town divorcee who is consumed with grief over the unsolved rape and murder of her teenaged daughter Angela several months earlier.  Frustrated with local law enforcement, she rents three billboards just outside of town and posts an inflammatory message aimed at police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, War for the Planet of the Apes).  Willoughby is offended but understanding; his violent, racist underling Dixon (Sam Rockwell, Laggies), on the other hand, is infuriated and liable to lash out in any available direction.  The ripples spread through the small town of Ebbing as Mildred persists in keeping the billboards up, and secrets are gradually revealed.  Great performances from the three main actors, and nice supporting work from some others as well, including Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent), Abbie Cornish (Limitless), and Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom).  But a couple of noticeable flaws (such as Willoughby’s weird use of extreme profanity not just around but at his two adorable little girls) keep this movie out of the top tier, in my opinion.  Still, worth checking out.  Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.

Advertisements

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

The Movie Snob takes a train.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)  (B).  Mystery is not really my genre, either for movies or for books, so I went into this new version of the Agatha Christie classic completely cold.  (So why did I go see it?  Because my favorite pop-culture podcast, The Substandard, recently did an episode about this movie, and I wanted to see it before listening to the podcast.)  Given its middling Metacritic score of 52, I didn’t expect great things, and I was pleasantly surprised.  Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk) directs and stars as eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.  After a fun scene establishing Poirot’s Sherlock Holmesian powers of observation and deduction, he boards The Orient Express—a luxury train (the year is 1934) heading northwest from Istanbul.  The train is full of colorful characters played by famous actors, including Daisy Ridley (The Force Awakens), Michelle Pfeiffer (Stardust), Penélope Cruz (Volver), and Johnny Depp (The Tourist).  Then a passenger is murdered in the middle of the night, and an avalanche halts the train in a remote mountain pass.  Can Poirot solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?  To me, the whodunnit aspect of the movie is secondary; the fun is watching the peculiar detective interrogate the passengers and sniff out the clues.  I enjoyed it.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A new review from the pen of The Movie Snob.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (D).  OK, this art-house flick had a couple of things going for it.  Number one, it was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed the surpassing weird 2016 flick The Lobster.  And really number one, it stars the luminous Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!).  Unfortunately, the movie left me cold.  Colin Farrell (who was in The Lobster and recently appeared with Kidman in The Beguiled) plays Steven Murphy, a successful heart surgeon who is married to a successful eye doctor (Kidman) and has a beautiful house and two nice kids.  But as in The Lobster, everything is just a shade off; everyone is stiff, and every conversation is stilted.  And Steven has a mysterious relationship with an odd sixteen-year-old boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk), who imposes himself on Steven more and more as time passes.  I can say no more without committing spoilers, but suffice to say there are elements of suspense, horror, and black humor that get ratcheted up the deeper into the movie we go.  The performances are good (accepting that the director wanted his actors to act like strange, semi-anesthetized human beings), and none other than good old Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) pops up as Martin’s mom.  But at two hours the weirdness went on a little too long for my taste, and I didn’t think the ending was great.

Blade Runner 2049

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Blade Runner 2049  (C).  First, a confession.  Although I know I have seen some scenes from the original Blade Runner, I’m not sure I have ever seen the whole movie from beginning to end.  But I know the gist of it: in a gritty, dystopian future, a cop (Harrison Ford, (The Force Awakens) has to track down and kill some dangerous rogue androids who are trying to pass as humans.  I’ve even read the Philip K. Dick novel on which the movie was loosely based.

In 2049, thirty years after the events of Blade Runner, the future is still gritty and dystopian, and there are still rogue androids (or replicants, as they’re called) needing to be “retired.”  The twist is that our protagonist, android hunter K (Ryan Gosling, La La Land), is a replicant himself–and he knows it.  The opening sequence has him accomplishing an ordinary mission, but further investigation uncovers a mystery that he spends the rest of the movie (a long 2 hours and 44 minutes) unraveling.  The visuals are impressive, the music is deafening, and although I didn’t totally follow the convoluted plot it still mostly held my interest.  I thought Robin Wright (Wonder Woman) was very good as the world-weary police chief that K reports to.  But I thought the most interesting part of the movie concerned K’s “home life,” so to speak.  As a replicant himself, does he have emotions?  It appears he has some emotional response, or tries to, to a holographic digital assistant called Joi (Ana de Armas, War Dogs), but flesh-and-blood human beings don’t seem to interest him.  His connection with Joi called other movies to mind, particularly her, Ex Machina, and even the recent Marjorie Prime.  And it didn’t hurt that Joi herself was stunningly beautiful.  Nevertheless, on the whole, the movie didn’t gel for me.  It’s too long, the final act isn’t great, and I didn’t think the ending made any sense.  And although there are quite a few important female characters, the movie has a misogynistic vibe.  So, there you have it.

Atomic Blonde

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Atomic Blonde  (D).  So I was shooting the breeze with a couple of guys at work, and we were talking about movies.  Expecting no contradiction, I offered the opinion that Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot is probably the most beautiful movie star working today.  To my amazement, one of my colleagues demurred.  “Have you seen Atomic Blonde?” he asked.  Recalling that this was a poorly performing spy movie starring the admittedly gorgeous Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), I resolved to check it out.

Theron is gorgeous, but the movie is a mess.  During the last few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, a British super-spy-assassin (Theron) is sent to Berlin to find and recover a list of a bunch of spies from a KGB guy gone rogue.  Her connection there, the local British spy chief, is a squirrelly guy played by James McAvoy (Atonement).  A cute French spy played by Sophia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond) engages in some inappropriate spygames with Theron.  Oh, and the whole thing is told by Theron’s character in flashback, so we’re constantly getting yanked back into a boring room in London where she swaps supposedly hard-boiled dialogue with John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island) and Toby Jones (Morgan).  The highlights are the exquisitely choreographed fight scenes, and I must admit they are better filmed and more entertaining than the incomprehensibly cut gibberish you see in most action movies these days.  But I had problems even with the fight scenes.  I could suspend disbelief long enough to accept that Charlize Theron is such a supernaturally fast and agile fighter that she can defeat thugs two or three times her size simply because they can’t land a punch on her.  But I can’t accept that she can actually absorb full-on body-blows from the same thugs and still keep up the fight.  She may be a ninja, but come on, a supermodel-skinny woman is not going to get up after some of the punches she takes in this movie, no matter how much of a ninja she is.

Wind River

A new movie review by The Movie Snob.

Wind River  (B-).  Writer–director Taylor Sheridan wrote two recent movies I liked quite a bit (Hell or High Water and Sicario), so I had fairly high hopes for this one.  I didn’t like it as well as those two movies, but it’s not bad if you like crime stories (and have a strong stomach for pretty graphic violence).  Jeremy Renner (Arrival) plays Cory Lambert, a federal game & fish commission guy out in rural Wyoming.  He hunts wolves and mountain lions when they get out of hand, but then one day he discovers the body of a young Native American woman out in the snow.  This really hits Cory hard because his own teenage daughter died under mysterious circumstances some years before.  He teams up with Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, Captain America: Civil War), the lone FBI agent sent out to work on the case.  They get into some tight spots.  There is an intense flashback that shows the crime they’re investigating.  The movie is rated R for “strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language.”  You’ve been warned!

The Circle

The Borg Queen stops by with a new review.

The Circle  (C-).  When this movie ended, I said to myself, “I thought it was just getting started.” The movie never takes off. It is based on a young woman named Mae (Emma Watson, Noah) getting a job at a big brother version of Facebook that basically records and monitors multiple aspects of a person’s life (and physiology) as well as in society. Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) channels his inner Steve Jobs as the leader of the technology and social-media giant, making presentations to his Circlers with a coffee cup in hand showing off his latest technology on a stage. You get the gist that he has some sinister plan, but it was never clear to me what exactly it was, but maybe I just got bored. John Boyega (The Force Awakens) plays Ty, who actually founded the Circle but managed to go “off line” and lurk around the Circle mothership without anyone noticing or even knowing who he is for the most part. Ty befriends Mae rather quickly, but the relationship storyline doesn’t really go anywhere for a long time. It appeared to me to be simply a tool used near end of the movie, and then the movie suddenly ends. Overall I found the movie unrealistic and trying way too hard to be cool and mysterious, relying upon its casting over its storyline. Bill Paxton (Aliens) makes an appearance as Mae’s father. This was apparently his last role before his unexpected death and I’ve read that there is a dedication to him at the end of the credits. This movie is supposedly based on a book. If you like reading, I’d suggest trying the book instead.