Thor: Ragnarok

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Thor: Ragnarok  (B-).  Of the making of comic-book movies, there is no end.  But, if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, you could do worse than seeing the third movie focused on second-tier Marvel hero Thor of Asgard (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman).  The story is the usual fare—a rising supervillain threatens massive destruction unless the heroic guy and his sidekicks can somehow save the day.  And the fight scenes, spaceships, and explosions are also the usual dull, video-game-looking affairs.

So what’s to like?  In a nutshell, it’s the comedy.  I laughed out loud more times during this movie than in any number of straight-up “comedies” I could name.  Fanboys may not appreciate the meta-jokes that poke fun at the silliness of the whole enterprise (like an offhanded joke about Loki’s goofy headgear), but I laughed every time.  Weaselly Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island) is back and always fun to watch.  Jeff Goldblum (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) is a hoot as the flamboyant impresario of a planet that looks like a giant garbage dump.  As the villainous Hela, Cate Blanchett—a two-time Oscar®-winning actress for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator, don’t you know—chews the CGI with a vengeance and sprouts some mighty impressive antlers whenever she gets ready to kill a bunch of people.  Plus there are fun cameos to watch for, and some other Avengers put in small or not-so-small appearances.  This movie was directed by Taika Waititi, a New Zealander who also directed and starred in the vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows.  This movie was even funnier.

Cinderella

From The Movie Snob.

Cinderella  (B+).  I managed to catch this latest live-action fairy tale before it disappeared from the theaters, and I’m glad I did.  It was charming.  But first I should mention that there’s a new Frozen animated short before the show.  It was cute.  Elsa (that’s the sister with the snow magic, right?) is trying to throw her red-headed sister the perfect birthday party–but she has a head cold that threatens to unleash all sorts of magical mayhem!  Then there was the main feature.  It felt very faithful to the animated original–so much so that summary is probably superfluous.  Lily James (Wrath of the Titans) is a beautiful, kind, and humble Cinderella, and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) is fine as the nasty stepmother.  Helena Bonham Carter (Dark Shadows) makes for an eccentric fairy godmother.  Of course, it’s a fairy tale, so the characters are a little two-dimensional.  But director Kenneth Branagh (Henry V) delivers lots of gorgeous visuals, and those plus James’s winning performance were enough to make the movie a winner in my book.

Cinderella (2015)

Mom Under Cover sums it up:

Cinderella is enchanting!  (A)

Downton Abbey‘s upstairs (Cousin Rose—Lily James in the title role) and downstairs (Daisy the kitchen maid—Sophie McShera as step-sister Drisella) meet in Kenneth Branagh’s live-action and somewhat diverse Cinderella.  This visually stunning, mostly traditional telling of the classic fairy tale is a crowd pleaser for young and young at heart.  Development of Ella’s back story adds substance to this Disney princess and explains her super power—kindness. Cate Blanchett is the only choice for the wicked step-mother and she delivers beautifully.  The King (Derek Jacobi) gives Prince “Kit” Charming (Richard Madden—Game of Thrones) the go-ahead on his deathbed to follow his heart rather than marry for advantage.  Helena Bonham Carter is the quintessential Fairy Godmother—if only she had a little more screen time.  The Oscar for costume design is in the bag for Sandy Powell. The computer animated transformation of pumpkin and mice to horse-drawn carriage is captivating. The lizards turned footmen are particularly clever.  The highly anticipated Frozen short before the movie will delight the Anna–Elsa fans.

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!

Blue Jasmine

New review from The Movie Snob.

Blue Jasmine  (B+).  Cate Blanchett (Hanna) shines in the title role of Woody Allen’s latest film.  Jasmine is a New York socialite whose world has been turned upside down.  Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin, The Cooler) was a high-flying finance guy, but it turned out he was a crook and a philanderer, so now Jasmine is broke, husbandless, and heavily dependent on alcohol and prescription meds to stave off a complete breakdown.  So she flees to the blue-collar home of her blue-collar sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky) in San Francisco.  To say that she clashes with Ginger and Ginger’s mechanic boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale, The Station Agent) would be an understatement.  I haven’t seen A Streetcar Named Desire in a long time, but this movie seems very similar to that one.  Nevertheless, I thought this was a good movie.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3D)

A new review from Mom Under Cover.

Peter Jackson’s first of three installations telling the tale of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit arrived in a myriad of formats.  I saw it in 3D.  Disclaimer:  I have not seen The Lord of the Rings movies nor read any of Tolkien’s book, so I had no expectations (good or bad) for this movie.  For the first 45 minutes I was pleasantly surprised.  Bilbo Baggins’ village and home were truly beautiful in 3D.  However, soon thereafter I became weary of the endless struggle.  Then, it hit me that I had seen all of this before (albeit with more women characters) . . . kindly wizard in a pointy hat, unlikely hero with mop-like hair who does not realize his destiny, weird forest with strange creatures, even a bi-polar creature who speaks of himself in the third person (Dobby, Gollum, who can keep them straight?).
For me, the movie was an hour and a half too long.  Fans of BBC’s Sherlock will enjoy Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson) as the young Bilbo.  Also appearing are Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Richard Armitage as Throrin and Andy Serkis as Gollum.  See it if you must, but be warned, the journey is unsatisfying.

Hanna

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Hanna (B-). This movie is quite a change for director Joe Wright, who helmed the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice and also 2007’s Atonement. It’s a PG-13 thriller about a girl named Hanna who has been raised by her father in complete solitude in a remote part of Finland. There, her father (Eric Bana, Troy) has taught her survival skills, martial arts, and about a million different languages. Now about 16, Hanna wants to see the world, and soon enough she is on the run from the CIA, especially the cold-blooded agent Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). Hanna is played by the young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who deservedly gets top billing in this flick. I have liked her in everything I’ve seen her in — City of Ember, The Way Back, and Atonement, for which she was Oscar nominated. (Tom Hollander, who played the dorky Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice, turns up as a German assassin.) It’s a decent thriller, but I was never totally engrossed in it.