Justice League

The Movie Snob checks in.

Justice League  (C).  Yep, even the presence of the beauteous Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) couldn’t save this piece of cinematic bombast from dull mediocrity.  As we recall from the last movie, Superman is dead.  This makes everybody sad, which somehow summons up yet another cosmic CGI super-villain bent on global domination.  Although said villain has the unlikely name of Steppenwolf, this movie is neither Born to be Wild nor a Magic Carpet Ride.  Instead it’s mostly about Batman (Ben Affleck, Gone Girl) looking for new super-recruits like Aquaman (Jason Momoa, TV’s Baywatch) and The Flash (Ezra Miller, City Island) to help him and Wonder Woman beat the bad guy.  Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane, Six Pack) drop in for a few seconds.  And the gorgeous ex-Mrs. Johnny Depp, Amber Heard (3 Days to Kill), has maybe a minute of screen time, as some relative of Aquaman I think.  Ultimately, of course, there’s a humongous battle that’s about as exciting as watching your little brother play a video game for forty-five minutes.  This is a yawner.

Nocturnal Animals

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Nocturnal Animals  (D).  I knew this movie was supposed to be dark, but it stars all-American girl next door Amy Adams (Arrival), so how dark could it really be?  Very dark, as it turns out, and disturbing as well.  The opening scene is grotesque and disturbing.  Then we dig into the real story–Susan Morrow (Adams) is a miserable Los Angeleno in a loveless marriage.  Then she gets a package from her long-ago ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch).  It’s the manuscript of his new novel, Nocturnal Animals, and we see the novel play out on the screen as Susan reads it.  In the novel (and on the screen), a mild-mannered husband (also Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Isla Fisher, The Great Gatsby) and daughter (Ellie Bamber, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) are terrorized by a trio of west Texas rednecks who run them off the road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.  After this sequence, which is suspenseful AND disturbing, the husband turns to a laconic lawman (an excellent Michael Shannon, Midnight Special) to help him get justice.  Is Susan’s ex-husband trying to tell her something with his novel?  I’m not usually very attuned to subtext in movies, but it seems like director Tom Ford is beating us over the head with one here.  Anyway, this movie was too dark and disturbing, and ultimately unconvincing, for me.  Rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language — and they mean it.

Arrival

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Arrival  (C).  The critics are giving this cerebral new sci-fi flick a lot of love, but I just can’t join the chorus.  The set-up is one you’ve probably seen before: giant alien spaceships suddenly appear in several different locations around the globe.  They appear to resist or ignore our efforts to communicate with them–at first.  A serious army guy (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland) recruits a top-notch linguist (Amy Adams, Man of Steel) to help with the communication efforts concerning a spaceship in Montana.  She teams up with a physicist (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker) who is somehow also supposed to be able to help crack the aliens’ language.  Meanwhile, military guys around the globe are getting really itchy trigger fingers.  Although I agree with the critics who are lauding Adams’s lead performance, the movie as a whole just didn’t really do it for me.  I liked director Denis Villeneuve’s last effort, Sicario, much better.  But maybe I just wasn’t smart enough for this one.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

The Movie Snob takes on Batman and Superman.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice  (C).  I liked Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot Man of Steel quite a bit, so I had high hopes for this one.  Sadly, it was a bit of a letdown.  The performances were okay; I didn’t even mind Ben Affleck (Gone Girl) as Batman.  But the movie is kind of a long, joyless slog.  Snyder filmed it in Gloom-O-Vision—everything is brown and grey, and it’s always overcast or raining or nighttime.  As the title indicates (and comic book fans probably all know), the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill, I Capture the Castle) are at odds in this movie, for reasons that didn’t really seem all that compelling to me.  It’s no secret that Wonder Woman is also slinking around in the background, in the form of gorgeous Israeli model Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious), but she’s not a huge part of the movie.  Amy Adams (her) reprises her role as Lois Lane, but it’s hard to stand out when you’re the only normal person in a team of superheroes.  Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) makes a pretty unhinged Lex Luthor.  I hear Wonder Woman is getting her own movie in 2017.  Here’s hoping it’s better than this!

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!

Big Eyes

The Movie Snob submits his last review of 2014.

Big Eyes  (B).  Director Tim Burton (Corpse Bride) delivers perhaps his most normal movie to date—although the people at the center of Big Eyes are anything but normal.  Indeed, this based-on-a-true-story movie reminded me a little of The Informant!, which left me thinking, “Did people really do these crazy things?  Really?”  This the story of Margaret and Walter Keane, who met in late 1950s San Francisco and got married.  Margaret (Amy Adams, The Fighter) was an amateur painter who liked to paint pictures of small children with unusually large eyes.  Walter (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained), a slick promoter, makes Margaret’s paintings famous, and eventually the paintings make them rich.  The problem is that Walter is a compulsive liar and tells everyone that they’re his paintings.  Why did Margaret go along with the sham?  And why did she stay with Walter, who is portrayed in the film as pretty seriously unhinged?  The movie doesn’t really get at the answers to those questions, probably because there are no good answers.  There are a few recognizable actors in small roles (Danny Huston, Wrath of the Titans; Jason Schwartzman, Moonrise Kingdom), but it is Adams and Waltz’s movie.  I enjoyed it, and I’ll be curious to see if the Academy shows Adams and Waltz some love for their solid performances.

her

New review from The Movie Snob.

her  (B).  This is an interesting movie that sort of revisits issues raised in the 2001 flick A.I.  Suppose we do manage to create true artificial intelligence.  How will we relate to sentient mechanical beings?  Will we be able to love them?  Will they be able to love us back?  Her is set in the near future, in a gleaming but rather sterile version of Los Angeles.  Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely sad sack of a guy who’s about to get divorced from Catherine (Rooney Mara, Side Effects).  After hearing an advertisement he decides to get a copy of OS1, the world’s first intelligent computer operating system, and in two shakes he’s talking to and falling in love with “Samantha” (voice of Scarlett Johansson, We Bought a Zoo).  And why not?  Samantha is smart, lively (if that’s the right word), solicitous, sympathetic, and sounds like Scarlett Johansson.  She seems much easier to deal with than real women, like the nameless blind date (Olivia Wilde, Drinking Buddies) Theodore meets early in the movie.  On the other hand, as one might expect, there are certain downsides to “dating” an entity with no physical body and a godlike IQ.  Director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) gets some laughs from the weird situations that inevitably arise, but he generally plays it as a straight drama.  I enjoyed it.  It didn’t hurt that Amy Adams (American Hustle) co-stars as Theodore’s friend and neighbor Amy.

American Hustle; Philomena

Mom Under Cover sets the record straight.

I liked American Hustle more than The Movie Snob.  I would give it an A and totally understand why it won the Golden Globe for best comedy/musical.  I found the opening scene a microcosm of the entire movie and a comment about life.  Christian Bale (who underwent quite a physical transformation from his Batman days) is putting the finishing touches on his elaborate comb-over as he prepares to leave for the day.  The things we do to feel comfortable going out in the world are a little bit of a con job.  How much of it do we believe?  How much are we really fooling others?  In some ways, we are all conning each other and ourselves—just as these characters do.  Sometimes we want to believe the façade we see even though clues abound.  Bradley Cooper’s complete and utter confusion when he realizes Amy Adams’ character is not British is a good example.  Cooper has the finesse to be totally believable as the FBI agent who thinks slightly higher of himself than he ought. J. Law rocks the ‘70s hair and makeup.  The crazy schemes are a wacky laugh-out-loud romp.

Another good movie I saw recently was Philomena. B+.  Judi Dench and Steve Coogan bring life to a real woman’s story about being forced by nuns to give her son up for adoption as an unwed, teenager mother.  Stephen Frears (The Queen; High Fidelity) directed a well-paced, heartwarming tale in the style of an odd-couple buddy movie.  The Catholic Church is scrutinized and found wanting for its treatment of young girls and their fatherless infants.  You will leave the theater googling to find out how much is true (hint:  all of it).  Seeing the real Philomena at the Golden Globes was a kick.

 

The Best Movies I Saw in 2013, by The Movie Snob

Once again, it is time for The Movie Snob’s annual “best of” column.  As always, the only rule is that I limit the list to films I saw for the first time during the last calendar year.  Thus, you can be sure some 2012 releases will be sprinkled in among the 2013 releases.

Movie of the Year.  It’s another tough call this year.  I gave three movies a straight “A” grade this year, but one of them was a 1949 release, so I’ll temporarily disqualify that one.  As between the other two, I’ll give top honors to 12 Years a Slave.  You’ve already heard all about this movie, if you haven’t seen it already, so I’ll just say it was an amazing, harrowing experience.  It’s a fitting companion to Lincoln, which was my pick for movie of the year last year.

Runner-Up.  If I had managed to see it in 2012, when it was released, I would have picked Zero Dark Thirty as my movie of the year in last year’s column.  If you missed this movie, correct your mistake and see it!  Jessica Chastain gives a fine performance as a CIA analyst consumed with the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the final act of the movie depicting the raid on bin Laden’s compound is a tour de force.

Old-school runner-up.  The third movie I gave a straight “A” to in 2013 was the 1949 classic The Third Man.  It’s just a great, great movie.  Look it up.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  I’ll pick Man of Steel as last year’s best action movie.  This Superman origin story held my interest from beginning to end.  Plus it featured Amy Adams, which is a plus even though she was kind of miscast as Lois Lane.  I still haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie, so we’ll see if it can give Superman a run for his money.  I also liked World War Z, and I think most zombie fans will too.

Best Animated Movie.  I saw and liked two last year.  Top honors go to Wreck-It Ralph, an entertaining and heart-warming story about the lives of a bunch of video-game characters “after hours.”  I also liked The Croods.  I didn’t have high hopes for that one, but the emotional ending really got to me.

Best Comedy.  This is always a tough category, and last year was no exception.  I didn’t think any of the comedies I saw were great, and the ones I thought were pretty good generally weren’t straight comedies.  I guess the best straight comedy I saw was In a World…, about a woman who is trying to grow up while also trying to break into the very male field of movie voice-over work.  Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 had some good moments, but it’s got a lot of very serious stretches amongst the amusing bits.  And I liked Warm Bodies, which is kind of a zombie romantic comedy, or zom-rom-com, but it is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste.

Best Documentary.  Hands down, my favorite of the year was 56 Up.  But don’t watch it until you’ve seen all the previous installments in this long-running British series of documentaries.  The series follows a double-handful of British kids from different social classes from their childhoods until now, when they are 56 years old.  Find the first one, 7 Up!, and watch them all.  You’ll thank me.  I saw a couple of other good ones in 2013 as well.  Twenty Feet From Stardom was an interesting look at the careers of some rock-and-roll back-up singers.  Blackfish is a grim, if one-sided, look at Sea World’s mistreatment of its captive killer whales.

Best Drama.  I’ll give top honors to The Spectacular Now, an effective dramedy about a high-school senior who needs to come to grips with his burgeoning alcohol problem, fast.  Another very good dramedy is The Way Way Back, about a young teenaged boy trying to come to grips with his mom’s relationship with a new, unpleasant boyfriend, played unpleasantly by Steve Carell.  I also urge you not to miss Woody Allen’s last movie, Blue Jasmine, starring the sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett, and Alexander Payne’s last movie, Nebraska, which may produce an Oscar nominee or two of its own.  Finally, Baz Luhrmann is not for all tastes, but I enjoyed his new version of The Great Gatsby quite a bit.

Best Foreign Film.  Setting aside the British documentary 56 Up, mentioned above, I’ll go with the Italian film The Great Beauty.  The movie is languid and episodic, but it’s still an interesting look at the life of an aging hedonist living among the splendors of modern Rome.  I also saw and enjoyed a couple of older Italian movies—Fellini’s 8 ½ and the post-war classic Bicycle Thieves.

Best Science-Fiction Movie.  Here’s another clear winner: Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Look for some Oscar nominations for this special-effects extravaganza about a couple of astronauts marooned in space.  I also liked the latest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Gravity.

Honorable Mentions.  What else should you put in your Netflix queue or your streaming list?  Here are a few suggestions.  For drama, you could go with the 2012 release The Impossible, about the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, or the recent remake of Les Miserables.  The Steven Soderbergh movie Side Effects is a pretty effective and twisty little thriller.  So is Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey.  At the risk of making myself a laughing stock among critics, I’m going to come right out and say I didn’t think The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, was half bad.  Just give it a chance!  Frances Ha is a decent little movie about a young woman trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.  Short Term 12 is a decent little movie about a home for troubled teenagers and the twentysomethings who try to watch out for them.  I liked American Hustle decently well, and you may still have time to catch that one in the movie theater.  Finally, I finally got around to seeing Kubrick’s The Shining, which is a pretty effective and entertaining chiller.  And I don’t usually like horror movies.

And that’s a wrap!

American Hustle

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

American Hustle (B).  Here’s the much-anticipated new movie from director David O. Russell, whose films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook I liked a lot.  He unites four of the main cast members from those movies for this fictionalized tale about the “Abscam” scandal of the late 1970s–Christian Bale and Amy Adams plays a couple of small-time con artists, and Bradley Cooper plays a loose-cannon FBI agent who traps them into helping him set up a sting operation that gets increasingly crazy as it goes along.  Current It Girl Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s wife, and she’s more than a bit of a loose cannon herself.  There’s a lot to like about the film.  It’s got a lot of energy, and the actors and actresses are at the top of their games.  But I didn’t love it, or like it as much as Russell’s last two films.  I think I just don’t like movies about con games.  Most of the time I get totally confused and have no idea what’s going on.  The con games going on in American Hustle aren’t as complicated as some, so I think I basically followed what was going on, but the movie just didn’t grab me.  Still, it’s a decent flick, and it apparently got seven Golden Globe nominations, so by all means, check it out and see what you think.

Man of Steel — a second opinion

The Movie Snob chimes in.

Man of Steel  (B+).  I agree with much of what The Borg Queen had to say about this movie (click here for her review), but I think her B- grade was a tad too low.  I was thoroughly entertained throughout this long (almost 2 1/2 hours) origin story about Superman.  Henry Cavill (I Capture the Castle) makes a fine Kal-El/Clark Kent, and I thought Kevin Costner (The Company Men) and Russell Crowe (Les Miserables) turned in nice performances as his adoptive and biological father, respectively.  The Borg Queen is perfectly correct that Amy Adams (Trouble With the Curve) was miscast as Lois Lane–hard-boiled reporter is just not in her range–but she’s such a peach I was willing to overlook that mistake.  The rock-em-sock-em ending was perhaps a little too long, but General Zod (Michael Shannon, Mud) was a very good villain.  In my humble opinion, this is a very good popcorn movie.  Hats off to director Zack Snyder (300) for breathing new life into the blue tights and red cape.

Man of Steel

The Borg Queen transmits a new movie review.

Man of Steel  (B-).  I was reluctant to see this film.  I’ve seen all of the Superman movies and did not really want to see the same story yet again.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Although many of the key aspects of the Superman story are in this film, the story is changed significantly.  You can go see this film without knowing exactly how everything is going to play out or what is going to happen next.   Although Amy Adams (Enchanted) is not exactly what I have in mind for Lois Lane (and still don’t), I really enjoyed Henry Cavill (TV’s The Tudors) as Superman.  I thought he did a fantastic job and look forward to see him in future films.  The move is long (2 hours, 23 minutes) but it keeps moving generally (though there are a couple of lulls).  The special effects are also generally very good, although there are a few moments (though brief) where the animation was almost comical.  Overall, this movie is certainly worth the price of admission, but I doubt seeing it in 3D adds much.

Trouble With the Curve – a second opinion

A second opinion, from Motor City Reviewer.

Trouble with the Curve — A nice movie, but not one anybody should rush out to see.  The premise is an aging baseball scout (Eastwood) is reunited with his somewhat estranged and emotionally unavailable daughter (a hard charging, big law associate – Amy Adams), and Justin Timberlake plays the love interest (someone Eastwood once scouted who hurt his arm and is now out of baseball).  Some mildly amusing moments.  Eastwood, Adams and Timberlake have good chemistry.  It is a little too formulaic, a little too predictable.  If you are paying attention, you should be able to guess the ending a third of the way into the movie.

Trouble With the Curve

New from The Movie Snob.

Trouble With the Curve  (C-).  I am not a particularly big Clint Eastwood fan, but I think Amy Adams (The Muppets) is a good actress and as cute as a button.  So I went out and saw this new release, fortified by a favorable review in the Dallas Morning News.  I was disappointed.  Eastwood (Unforgiven) plays Gus, an aging and ailing baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves.  Gus has been a widower for like 30 years, and he is not close with his only child, a daughter (Adams) named Mickey after Mickey Mantle.  She’s a driven lawyer on the verge of making partner at some big Atlanta law firm.  But when Gus’s pal Pete (played by a truly walrus-like John Goodman, O Brother Where Art Thou?) tells Mickey that Gus is having health problems (especially with his eyes), she drops everything to go on one last scouting trip with her old man.  As they follow some high-school hotshot through various podunk towns, Mickey attracts some romantic attention from Johnny (Justin Timberlake, The Social Network), a washed-up pitcher turned baseball scout.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the movie just isn’t very good.  The scenes and the dialogue are sort of clunky, and the big reveals that are supposed to explain these characters’ foibles aren’t very convincing.  And the romantic subplot feels tacked-on and arbitrary.  Sorry, but Trouble With the Curve struck out with me.

The Muppets

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Muppets  (C-).  Seems like this movie has been getting good reviews (Metacritic score 76), so I was kind of excited about seeing it.  I’m old enough to have watched “The Muppet Show” during its TV run, and I remember really liking it.  But this movie, I’m afraid, was a rather dull affair.  Jason Segel (I Love You, Man) plays a guy from Smalltown, USA who has a younger brother named Walter who just happens to be a muppet.  He also has a long-time sweetheart played by Amy Adams (Enchanted).  The three of them take a trip to L.A., where they find to their horror that the old muppet studios are about to be destroyed by a dastardly oil tycoon (Chris Cooper, Great Expectations).  So they go on a quest to reunite Kermit, Fozzie, and the whole gang to put on a telethon to raise the money to save the studio.  It’s sincere and earnest and frankly pretty dull.

It makes me wonder if the muppets TV show was really any good either.  The only sketch I really remember from it, and I do remember it vividly, is a musical number by a woman guest star in which she’s dressed up as a little girl and sings about how her family kidnaps anybody unlucky enough to stop by their house.  It’s still pretty funny; just search on youtube for “muppets” and “you’re always welcome at our house,” or something like that.

The Movie Snob’s 2010 Year in Review!

Welcome to The Movie Snob’s annual list of the best movies of the year. As usual, if I saw a movie in the theater in 2010, I may include it in this column even if it was technically a 2009 release. For the record, I saw 58 movies at the theater in 2010, and these are the ones you should try to see if you haven’t seen them yet.

Movie of the Year. This was not a tough decision — the year’s highlight for me was The Social Network, the popular and critically acclaimed dramatization of the invention of Facebook. It’s an engrossing story about how a bunch of greedy nerds built an empire — and then sued the pants off each other. I just saw a news item that the Winklevoss twins are trying to undo their $65 million settlement because they think they’re entitled to even more. Or maybe they’re just trying to lay the groundwork for a sequel.

Runner Up. It didn’t do so well at the box office, but I thought Never Let Me Go was an excellent adaption of a phenomenal book. I can’t say much about the plot, but it’s a sad tale set in a dystopian alternative reality. Thought-provoking without being (in my opinion) preachy. Put it in your Netflix queue. Wait — read the book first. Then put it in your Netflix queue.

Best Action/Adventure Flick. Will I lose my license to critique if I pick the remake of Clash of the Titans? As a kid, I loved the original, and I enjoyed the remake enough to see it twice in the theater — NOT the 3D version, which was brutally panned by the critics. It’s just good, stupid fun with mythology. Oh, I should mention Inception, because it was a fun, roller-coaster ride of a movie, even though I didn’t know what was going on half the time. And even though I’ll look like an idiot for preferring Clash of the Titans. Alice in Wonderland was pretty good too, and Alice’s duel with the Jabberwocky at the end was pretty action-y, so I’ll mention it in this category too.

Best Animated Movie. Unlike 2009, 2010 featured a bumper crop in this category. I’d give top honors to Toy Story 3, which had more exciting action and adventure than anything in the preceding category. But the quirky Fantastic Mr. Fox was also excellent, if a little offbeat. I also liked The Princess and the Frog quite a bit. But in addition to those films, I’d also recommend Megamind, Despicable Me, and How to Train Your Dragon as being well worth your time.

Best Comedy. I’m always hard-pressed to label any comedy “good,” much less recommend it as worth seeing. But I really, really liked a little-seen movie called City Island, starring Andy Garcia as an ordinary, blue-collar guy — a prison guard no less — who starts taking acting lessons on the sly. His wife thinks he’s having an affair; his teenage kids are complete mysteries to him; and then he inexplicably volunteers to take an ex-convict into his home. The plot clicks along very nicely, and I just enjoyed the heck out of it. The few other comedies I saw were wretched and don’t deserve a mention.

Best Documentary. I’ll go with the Johnny Depp-narrated When You’re Strange, which is about the short, strange career of the rock band The Doors. Nipping at its heels are the space documentary Hubble 3D (narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, I believe), and nature documentary Oceans (narrated by Pierce Brosnan).

Best Drama. Lots of strong contenders in this category this year. Maybe it’s just because I saw it very recently, but I’ll pick The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams. It’s just a solid boxing movie with an underdog hero you can’t help rooting for. Too cliched for your taste? I understand. Turn the clock back and go with An Education, a dark tale about a bright but naive British girl on the verge of womanhood who gets seduced by a sleazy cad. Or stay closer to home with the even darker Winter’s Bone, about a courageous teenage girl (Jennifer Lawrence, in her breakout performance) who has to stand up to her seriously dangerous, meth-cooking relatives in the Missouri Ozarks if she wants to save her family’s farm. One last honorable mention: I really liked The Young Victoria. You don’t have to be an Anglophile to empathize with a spirited young woman born into the straitjacket of royalty.

Best Foreign Film. I would like to pick The Concert, a moving melodrama about a blacklisted Soviet music conductor who schemes his way into a comeback concert. I really enjoyed it at the time. But it did resort to an unpleasant Jewish stereotype to get a cheap laugh once or twice, and I have a hard time recommending it unreservedly. I also really enjoyed Kisses, an Irish movie about a couple of poor kids with bad home situations who decide to empty their piggy banks and run away from home. Honorable mention to the Italian movie Mid-August Lunch, which is a short, sweet little movie about a basically decent guy who is strapped for cash and agrees to take in a few elderly women for the weekend while their own children go away on holiday.

Honorable Mentions. I’ve already mentioned most of the worthwhile films of the year as honorable mentions in the specific categories above, but I can rattle off a few more that are worth a look. Michael Douglas turns in a good performance in Solitary Man. He plays a shallow, Gordon Gekko-like character, but on a much smaller scale. I didn’t see the Wall Street sequel, but this movie had to be much better than that. I liked The Kids Are All Right, about a very unusual family situation that develops when a couple of kids being raised by lesbians look for and find their sperm-donor father. Although it’s not the action movie it was purported to be, I liked The American, starring George Clooney as a world-weary hit man. (Be warned, it’s got some pretty graphic sex scenes in it.) Ben Affleck’s latest movie, The Town, is an entertaining film about a gang of Boston bank robbers. And still in current release you can catch Natalie Portman as a ballerina who’s not-so-slowly losing her marbles in Black Swan.

First Seen on Video This Year. Just one movie I simply must mention: The Big Lebowski. How did I miss seeing this movie? I found it completely ludicrous and utterly hilarious. OK, one more — The King of Kong, about a nice guy who just wants to compete fair and square for the title of Donkey Kong champion of the universe. I defy you not to get hooked on this movie.

So that’s my 2010 in a nutshell. Thanks for reading, and please post a comment!

The Fighter

New review from The Movie Snob

The Fighter (B+). Mark Wahlberg (I Heart Huckabees) stars in this based-on-a-true-story movie about Mickey Ward, a boxer from the blue-collar Boston suburb of Lowell, Mass. Ward has grown up in the shadow of his older brother, Dickey (Christian Bale, Reign of Fire), who never fulfilled his potential as a boxer and has now descended into crack addiction. Worse, Dickey and the boys’ mother Alice (Melissa Leo, Everybody’s Fine) are terrible managers for Mickey and get him into fights he can’t possibly win. But then Mickey starts dating a tough bargirl named Charlene (Amy Adams, redeeming herself from Leap Year) who teaches him to stand up for himself, and he has a shot at building a real boxing career. It’s not the most original story, but the plot does throw a couple of minor curveballs to keep it interesting. And the acting is fine all the way around, especially Bale as the drug-addled and semi-crazy Dickey.

Leap Year

A new review from The Movie Snob

Leap Year (D). Metacritic.com reveals that I am not alone in wondering whether Hollywood is capable of making a decent romantic comedy any more. I’m not complaining about the formula; the formula is fine. I’m complaining about Hollywood’s apparent inability to make a formulaic movie that is believable. Here we have Amy Adams (Julie & Julia), cute and likable as ever as Bostonian Anna Brady. Anna’s boyfriend of four years won’t pop the question, so when he goes to Ireland for work, she chases after him in order to capitalize on a quaint Irish tradition that a woman can propose to a man during a leap year on February 29th. But inclement weather causes Anna to land rather a long way from Dublin, and before you can say It Happened One Night, she’s off on a road trip with the brooding Irish hunk Declan (Matthew Goode, Stoker) as chauffeur. So far, so good — It Happened One Night is a fun movie even after all these years. But Declan is such a jerk, and Anna is such a ding-dong, and so many ridiculous things pile up at the end of the movie that you just want to shake Amy Adams and ask why she doesn’t demand a better script.

Julie & Julia

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Julie & Julia (B-). This is a pleasant little diversion based on two true-life stories. One is about Julia Child, who famously brought the art of French cooking to America in the years after WWII. The other is about Julie Powell, a modern New Yorker who needs a goal. The goal she adopts is to cook every recipe in Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia!) plays Child as a generally happy giant of a woman, and it is fun to watch her navigate a Parisian cooking school and wrangle her acquired knowledge into a format that an American publishing company will buy. Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning) plays Powell as a bit of a self-absorbed sad-sack, with a soul-crushing job as a cubicle-dweller who spends all day on the phone dealing with claims and complaints relating to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Powell apparently spun a successful blog and then book out of her traversal of Child’s cookbook, but the movie left me wondering–did Powell ever get to meet her hero before Child’s death in 2004?

Night at the Museum 2

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (D). I disliked the first installment in what is looking frighteningly like a franchise, so why did I see the sequel? Well, it seemed to get marginally better reviews, and, well, okay, because Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning) just looked so darned cute in the previews as Amelia Earhart. She cutes it up with great vigor, but even her wide-eyed cutesiness isn’t enough to save this bland waste of celluloid. Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder) returns as Larry Daley, a former museum night watchman who finds himself up to his eyeballs in “adventure” when a magical Egyptian tablet is taken to the Smithsonian Institute and starts bringing all the exhibits to life. One of the exhibits-come-to-life is an evil Egyptian pharoah, played with zero menace but lots of lisp by Hank Azaria (Shattered Glass). He has a plan to take over the world, but if you’re like me, you’ll find it impossible to care. Skip it.

Sunshine Cleaning

A movie review by The Movie Snob

Sunshine Cleaning (C+). I think this movie is from the same producers who brought you Little Miss Sunshine — it even stars Alan Arkin, like Little Miss Sunshine did. But despite the efforts at sunniness by the two female leads, this is a pretty grim story. Amy Adams (Junebug) stars as Rose, a single mother who is burdened by a low-paying job working for a maid service, a pathetic affair with a married man (Steve Zahn, Management), and a little boy who’s getting into trouble at school. Her lover suggests she could make more money running a crime-scene clean-up service, and she drafts her ne’er-do-well sister to help her (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada). And we learn more stuff about their background that’s also very dark. It’s not a bad movie, but it somehow comes off a little contrived or forced or something.

Doubt

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Doubt (B). To avoid spoilers, I can only give the barest set-up of this play-turned-major-motion-picture. The setting is a Catholic grade school in Chicago, late 1964. The school principal is the classic nun-with-an-iron-fist, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep, Death Becomes Her). Apparently fairly new on the scene is Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages), whose efforts to make the Church more open and welcoming are not at all appreciated by the Iron Nun. In the middle is sweet, youngish Sister James (Amy Adams, Enchanted), who sees just enough unusual behavior to wonder if Father Flynn’s relationship with the only black student in the eighth grade is entirely proper. She confides what she saw to Sister Aloysius, and the plot is on its way. I thought the performances were pretty good, but the very last scene was a real clunker to me. It definitely cost the movie some points. On the whole, though, it wasn’t bad.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Competing opinions from Nick at Nite and The Movie Snob

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Nick at Nite:

On Saturday night, my wife and I enjoyed a British themed evening. We stopped at a pub for fish and chips, enjoyed a quick pint, and sauntered up the sidewalk to the picture house for the British comedy Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. A charming little film. A mix-up at an employment agency sends an unemployed, uptight, failed nanny (Frances McDormand) to be the social secretary for a flirty, carefree, wannabe actress (Amy Adams). Mishaps abound as different suitors vie for the affections of the actress. The film is set in the 1930s just before World War II. My wife says the costumes were worth the price of admission. It is not going to win any Oscars, but it is a very good diversion. I give it a “B.”

The Movie Snob:

I respectfully dissent from my esteemed colleague’s opinion. Amy Adams (Junebug) is predictably cute and perky, but her character is a strange mixture of Gisele from Enchanted and Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s–heavy on the Golightly. McDormand (Fargo) is given little to do except stand around and look befuddled. The accents were so thick I missed half of what was said for the first half of the movie. That said, things came together fairly decently at the end. Still, I cannot go better than a C- on this one.

Enchanted

New from The Movie Snob

Enchanted (B). I thought this looked like a cute movie from the very first preview I saw, and it delivers pretty much exactly what you would expect. The beginning is like a generic animated Disney feature—the beautiful damsel Gisele is pining for a prince charming, who suddenly appears and proposes that they get married immediately. His wicked stepmother senses a threat to her power as queen and, in disguise as an old crone, pushes Gisele down a bottomless well. Then the clever hook—Gisele emerges from a manhole in New York City as real woman (played with perfect wide-eyed innocence by Amy Adams, American Hustle). A handsome but skeptical divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) takes Gisele in, while the prince, the queen, and her schlubby henchman all make their way from animationland to live-action New York in hot pursuit. Cute antics follow. The movie sags a little in the middle, but on the whole it is good fun for the whole family.

Charlie Wilson’s War

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Charlie Wilson’s War (A-). Maybe this wasn’t really an A- movie, but I just enjoyed the heck out of it. You’ve probably heard all about it — Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies) plays a Texas congressmen who is exceptional in no way except for his willingness to stick up for the people of Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. He teams up with a Houston socialite played by Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) and a misfit CIA man played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and together they put together back-alley arms deals for the mujahedin worth a billion dollars. Next thing you know, Afghanistan = the USSR’s Vietnam. Hanks and Hoffman are great, and Roberts isn’t annoying like she usually is. The supporting cast is also great and easy on the eyes, including Amy Adams (Enchanted), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), and Shiri Appleby (TV’s Roswell). The movie does leave you very curious to know how much is fact and how much is fiction — from what I’ve heard, the real story was so unbelievable they had to tone it down for the movie.