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.

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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 rakes 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.