Sicario

The Movie Snob enjoys a bit of the old ultraviolence.

Sicario (B+).  Think back, dear reader, to the winter of 2010.  Remember how Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt teamed up for that lame remake of The Wolfman, and we all thought, “<Sigh>  I wish Benicio and Emily would team up for a good movie sometime.  Maybe something about drug cartels.”  Well, our long wait is over.  Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent working the drug war in Arizona.  After one particularly horrific mission, Kate is recruited for some mysterious cloak-and-dagger ops being run by a shady agent named Matt (Josh Brolin, Men in Black 3) and an even shadier Colombian(?) named Alejandro (Del Toro).  Eager to go after some kingpins instead of the low-level guys she’s used to dealing with, Kate signs up.  But is she in over her head?  And will she make it out alive?  This is a well-made drama, but it’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart.  I must say that Del Toro is particularly good.  It’s been a long time since his Oscar-winning turn as a Mexican cop in Traffic, and it seems like war-on-drugs movies bring out the best in him.

Into the Woods

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Into the Woods  (B-).  I had never seen this musical before, and all I really knew about it was that it was some kind of mash-up of various fairy tales.  The film version brought together a lot of talent–lyricist Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd), director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and actresses Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect).  But the result was only a little better than mediocre, in my opinion.  The plot blends four familiar fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella) with one original one involving a baker, his wife, and a witch’s curse.  The performances were fine, and the musical numbers were fine but not particularly memorable.  (One notable exception was a duet by two charming princes about the agony of love; that one was pretty entertaining.  Chris Pine (Star Trek) made a fine comedic Prince Charming.)  The main thing I liked about the movie was that it was unpredictable; it definitely kept me curious about what was going to happen next.  Oh, and having Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau) in the movie certainly didn’t hurt.  I’d say it’s worth the price of a matinee.  Note that it is rated PG for thematic elements (whatever those are), fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

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!

Edge of Tomorrow

New from The Movie Snob.

Edge of Tomorrow (A-). Or, as I prefer to think of it, Emily Blunt: Action Hero. This big-budget sci-fi summer movie deserves the good critical buzz it has been getting. It borrows a page from Groundhog Day, as you probably know if you have seen the trailer. (It is also very similar to the unjustly overlooked 2011 flick Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan.) Mankind is locked in a life-and-death struggle with invading aliens that look kind of like spastic giant octopuses. An unwilling soldier named William Cage gets killed in a critical battle, only to discover he is trapped in a time loop—meaning every time he dies, he wakes up and it’s the day before the battle all over again. The lovely Emily Blunt (Looper) stars as Rita Vrataski, a modern-day Joan of Arc who was previously caught in a similar time loop and used the knowledge she gained to become a war hero in a previous battle against the aliens. Vrataski and Cage team up, and she trains Cage to exploit his predicament, fight the aliens, and search for a way to defeat them once and for all. It’s twisty and exciting as various scenarios and dead-ends play out. And—dare I say it aloud?—I think Emily Blunt may be on the verge of replacing Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man) as my favorite actress working today. Go see this movie! Also starring Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages) as William Cage.

Looper

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Looper (B+).  I don’t know whether sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (Ubik) ever wrote a story about time travel, but if he did, it’s probably a lot like Looper (but without so much graphic violence).  It’s been out for a couple of months, so you’ve probably already heard the premise.  A few decades in the future, America is a more grim and worn-out-looking place.  Among the criminal elite are a gang of assassins called loopers.  A criminal syndicate operating 30 years further in the future has discovered how to time travel, and they use it to make people “disappear” into the past, where the loopers blow them away as soon as they materialize.  A looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Dark Knight Rises) botches a job when the 30-years-older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom), comes back in time and manages to escape.  Both Joes become marked men; they separate, and young Joe hides out at the farm of the fetching Sara (played by the ubiquitous Emily Blunt, The Five-Year Engagement) while old Joe embarks on a mission to put the whole criminal syndicate out of business.  The film has its flaws—gratuitous nudity, the aforementioned graphic violence, and the logical holes that always seem to dog time-travel stories.  But as a twisty action-suspense flick, it is definitely above average.  Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia), Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks), and Dallas-born Piper Perabo (Cheaper by the Dozen) have small roles.

Your Sister’s Sister

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Your Sister’s Sister  (D+).  I thought the set-up was promising, but this little indie flick really didn’t work for me.  Mark, an average guy in his mid-30s, is still in a depressive funk a year after the death of his brother Tom.  His best friend Iris—who dated Tom for a while—orders Mark to hop a ferry to an idyllic island where Iris’s dad owns a cabin that is currently vacant.  She instructs him to use the solitude to veg out and get his head on straight.  But when he takes Iris’s advice, Mark discovers someone else is already in the cabin doing the same thing—Iris’s half-sister Hannah, who is trying to get over the end of a seven-year relationship.  A bottle of tequila later, and despite what should be a certain fundamental incompatibility, Mark and Hannah quickly get to know each other very well indeed.  To complete the awkwardness of it all, Iris herself shows up at the cabin the very next morning.  (So much for the solitude plan—or was Iris secretly planning to show up all along?)  That’s the set-up; the rest of the movie is bad behavior and secret revelations galore, and I really just didn’t buy it.  Mark, played by Mark Duplass (director, Jeff, Who Lives at Home), is an unappealing and excessively foul-mouthed fellow.  The lovely Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) does her best with Iris, and the lovely Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) does her best with the rather more mysterious Hannah, but the script lets them down.  And the ending feels false.  In short, not very good.

The Five-Year Engagement

New review from The Movie Snob.

The Five-Year Engagement  (C).  I was a little disappointed in this new rom-com produced by Judd Apatow (director of films like The 40-Year Old Virgin).  I had seen the trailer for this film a million times, and I was sort of afraid that all the funny parts were in the trailer.  Weirdly, a couple of the funny parts were only in the trailer–they weren’t actually in the movie at all!  Anyhoo, the premise is that these two really super-nice people, Tom (Jason Segel, The Muppets) and Violet (Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who live in San Francisco, get engaged, but then they postpone their wedding because Violet lands an academic position in remote Ann Arbor, Michigan.  And then they postpone it again because Violet’s two-year contract gets extended, which really takes a toll on their relationship.  Tom and Vi are nice, but they’re not funny (and I’d agree with John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard that Segel and Blunt unfortunately have very little chemistry).  And as the movie drags on for its two-hour running time, Tom and Vi’s relationship problems just become a drag.  Nevertheless, I did get a few laughs out of the movie, mainly thanks to the antics of the supporting characters.  (And no thanks to the worn-out cliche of the inappropriate/profane rehearsal-dinner toast.)  It was nice to see cute Alison Brie of TV’s Community as Violet’s sister Suzie, but she wasn’t given enough to do in my opinion.  Bottom line: very skippable.