Danny Collins

New from The Movie Snob.

Danny Collins  (B+).  I am afraid my critical apparatus may be showing some signs of age.  Sappy, sentimental movies like last year’s St. Vincent and this current release are really striking a chord with me.  Al Pacino (Scarface) stars as the titular character, an aging rock star who lives and parties like Mick Jagger, even though the only hit song we hear him sing is a dreadful knock-off of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”  Anyhoo, we are quickly acquainted with Danny’s lifestyle, his mansion, his wise manager Frank (Christopher Plummer, Beginners), and his ridiculously too-young and too-uninhibited fiancee Sophie (Katarina Cas, The Wolf of Wall Street).  Then Frank surprises Danny with a thought-provoking gift, and Danny decides it is time to start squaring up some of life’s accounts.  Mainly, he sets out to meet the adult son he has long known about but never met.  It’s sappy, but it worked for me.  Nice supporting work by Bobby Cannavale (Chef) as Danny’s son Tom, Jennifer Garner (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) as Tom’s very pregnant wife, and Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) as the Hilton hotel manager that Danny attempts to court while visiting his son in New Jersey.  But Pacino steals the show as the flamboyant, often ridiculous, Danny Collins.

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!


The Movie Snob catches up on a classic.

Scarface (B+). The Magnolia isn’t the only theater in Dallas that shows classic films; I caught this 1983 release last weekend at the Cinemark 17, and I think it was also playing at the AMC theater in Northpark Mall. Anyway, I thought Scarface was a wild and very entertaining piece of cinema. Al Pacino (The Godfather) stars as Tony Montana, a Cuban no-goodnik who makes his way to America in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. He’s good with a weapon and has bravado to spare, and he eventually finds a place working for a drug kingpin with a luminous young wife (Michelle Pfeiffer, Stardust). But Tony has big dreams, and director Brian De Palma (The Untouchables) lets Pacino run riot playing a character whose ambition really is larger than life. It’s a violent and profane movie, but I was never bored despite the long (170-minute) running time. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (The Abyss) co-stars as Tony’s little sister, F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) has a small part as a drug thug, and Oliver Stone (The Doors), of all people, wrote the screenplay. Roger Ebert included it in his book The Great Movies II. Definitely worth seeing.

Scent of a Woman

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Scent of a Woman

Al Pacino (Scarface) won an Oscar for his portrayal of an angry, injured warrior who is in serious need of a self-help book or twelve-step program. He joins up with Chris O’Donnell (Batman Forever), a scholarship student from the local prep school, for a thanksgiving trip to New York City. There Lt. Col. Slade and Charlie drive a fast car, ride in a limo, dance with Gabrielle Anwar (The Three Musketeers), and consider suicide. All in all a very nice time. This is actually a very good film. Has one of my favorite lines of all time. Lt. Col. Slade asks Charlie to hand him a glass of John Daniels. Charlie says don’t you mean Jack Daniels. Lt. Col. Slade says when you know him as well as I do, it is John Daniels. I give it an “A.”

The Merchant of Venice

A review from Movie Man Mike:

The Merchant of Venice (A-)

Shakespeare. Need I say more? Throw in some wonderful performances by Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes, and relative new-comer Lynn Collins, and you get a very rich and captivating tale. This is a story set in 16th century Venice. Antonio (Jeremy Irons) is the successful merchant. He borrows money from Shylock (Al Pacino) to finance a voyage by the youthful Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) so that Bassanio can court and marry the lovely Portia (Lynn Collins). Because Antonio has treated Shylock, a Jew, with such disrespect, Shylock insists that Antonio secure the debt with a pound of Antonio’s flesh. At the climax of the story, I was on the edge of my seat and I could hear a collective gasp from the audience (or maybe that was all in my mind) when Shylock discovers what his demand has reaped. Although the story and the performances make this film well worth seeing, if you don’t know the story, you may want to prepare yourself for the very definite anti-Semite bent to the story.

A Guy Thing; The Truth About Charlie; The Recruit

From The Movie Queen:

A Guy Thing. (D-) God-awful. I thought it would be a cute romantic comedy, but it wasn’t. It was worse than stupid, it was boring. I found myself fast-forwarding through parts so I could get to the end faster. I may have been tempted to walk out had I seen it in the theater. YUCK! Not worth my time or the $3 rental fee.

The Truth About Charlie. (C-) Remake of the old movie Charade. It starred Tim Robbins, Mark Wahlberg (aka Markie Mark of New Kids on the Block fame) and Thandie Newton. It was a pretty poor suspense thriller with so many silly twists and turns that you really didn’t care what the truth was about Charlie. The characters were flat, the acting poor and the overall story pretty weak. I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Recruit. (B) I was pleasantly surprised by this Al Pacino-Colin Farrell thriller. It was entertaining albeit a little predictable. I enjoyed it, maybe even worth seeing in the theaters and definitely worth a rental.

The Godfather III; The Pianist

Movie Reviews from Elder Stateman John:

The Godfather III. (A) Very good film. Excellent cinematography. Al Pacino is incredibly good as the aging, beleagured gangster philanthropist. Andy Garcia is also excellent as the up-and-coming big timer. The entire cast is excellent in fact, save and except for Sophia Coppola as the daughter of Michael and Kate Corleone. Her screen time is not as large as I had remembered so it’s not too distracting. That said, it’s the one character in the movie that isn’t believable. As Andy Garcia’s quasi-love interest, it is unclear why he’s so attracted to her–i.e. no real charisma/personality. It detracts from what is otherwise an excellent film. It was nominated for an Academy Award–had they cast Winona Ryder instead of Sophia (as originally planned) it could have possibly won the award. Still very much worth the watch.

The Pianist. (A) Another extremely compelling film, this one about a piano player and his family’s attempts to endure and survive the Nazi invasion of Poland. Evidently based on a true story–an autobiography written by the pianist. Well-acted and never dull in spite of a couple of long periods of relatively no interaction among characters. There was less music in the movie than I anticipated. While it is relatively easy to generate emotion when contrasting the cruelties imposed by the Germans in WW II with the perserverance and hope demonstrated by those subjugated to that cruelty, I thought that the director used excellent restraint when depicting that contrast. It is worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Adrien Brody is excellent and Roman Polanski’s directing is also Oscar nominee worthy.