A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Transsiberian  (C-).  I bought the DVD of this 2008 release from a discount rack a long time ago and finally got around to watching it.  Maybe I was influenced by the 3.5 star rating it got from Roger Ebert, but more likely I just got it because I like the star, Emily Mortimer (Match Point).  I did not care for it.  Mortimer and Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) star as Jessie and Roy, a married couple taking a long train ride–the Transsiberian Express–from Beijing to Moscow after a church trip to China.  They fall in with a slightly shifty couple, Carlos (Eduardo Noreiga, Sweetwater) and Abby (Kate Mara, sister of Rooney Mara, Side Effects).  Suspense builds for a variety of reasons.  Ben Kingsley (Ender’s Game) shows up, suitably reptilian, as a Russian narcotics cop.  I thought the set-up was kind of hokey, and the movie just never really recovered for me.  But it got a 72 on Metacritic, so maybe I’m being a little hard on it.  Note that the film is rated R for “some violence, including torture, and language.”

Our Idiot Brother

A new review from The Movie Snob

Our Idiot Brother (C-).  I really wanted to like this movie, but it just didn’t work out between us.  Paul Rudd (Clueless), whom I usually like in just about anything, plays Ned, an amiable doofus who lives on an organic farm with his horrible girlfriend and who spends a few months in the slammer after he sells marijuana to a uniformed police officer.  When Ned gets out of the pokey, he finds he’s no longer welcome back at the farm and has to go sofa surfing with each of his three sisters in turn.  There’s unhappily married and unbearably frumpy Liz (Emily Mortimer, Match Point), tightly wound and unbearably witchy Miranda (Elizabeth Banks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), and free-spirited lesbian-but-not-always Natalie (Zooey Deschanel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).  Ned’s utter lack of guile and penchant for saying exactly what he thinks causes all sorts of angst for his sisters, and I imagine the actors had fun playing these extreme types.  But it’s not that entertaining, and certainly not very funny, to watch.  And of course, being an R-rated comedy, it’s very and unnecessarily crude and vulgar.  I don’t think I laughed once until they started playing some blooper reels during the closing credits.

City Island

New review from The Movie Snob

City Island (A-). From the trailers, I thought this would be an unbearable ethnic-stereotype-based sit-com of a movie. Which struck me as a shame, given the good cast: Andy Garcia (Dead Again), Alan Arkin (Sunshine Cleaning), Julianna Margulies (Ghost Ship), and Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island). But then I read some decent reviews and thought I should check it out. Good call! Yes, the Rizzo family is a bit of a caricature of a loud, obnoxious Italian family in the Bronx suburb of City Island. But the springs of the plot unwind like a well-oiled machine as the secrets kept by the various family members–and there are some doozies–gradually start to leak out. Everyone involved turns in a nice performance, and by the end I was feeling genuinely moved by the travails of this crazy brood. It may be too melodramatic for some tastes, but I say give it a try.

Shutter Island

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Shutter Island (B-). I’m generally not one much for twisty psychological thrillers, but what the heck — it’s Easter! Martin Scorsese again directs Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator), who plays federal marshal Teddy Daniels. When the film opens (in 1954), Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, You Can Count on Me) are on their way out to Shutter Island, a creepy asylum for the criminally insane run by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley, Species). It seems a female prisoner (Emily Mortimer, Match Point) has disappeared into thin air, and everyone on the island seems to be covering up some big secret. Teddy has a lot of baggage himself (the murder of his wife and his participation in the liberation of Dachau have taken their toll), and the place starts to get under his skin in a big way. The movie is more suspenseful but less scary than I had expected from the previews, which was a relief. Worth a look.

Capote; Match Point

Good movies about bad men — new reviews from The Movie Snob:

Capote (A-). This movie could have been subtitled “The Writing of In Cold Blood,” because that aspect of Capote’s life is virtually the entire substance of the film. And a very interesting story it is. The movie opens in 1959 with Capote living the high life among the literati and glitterati of New York City. Homosexual and effete, he swims through that milieu like a fish through water. But that November he reads a newspaper story reporting the brutal murders of all four members of the Clutter family, a family of farmers in remote rural Kansas. For some reason, he is fascinated. He travels to Kansas with his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and gradually ingratiates himself with the community, the lead detective on the case, and, once they are captured, the killers. He conceives of the idea of writing a book about the event and the people, a “nonfiction novel” he calls it, and he rightly senses it will be a masterpiece. In his single-minded pursuit of the story, he is willing to feign interest, sympathy, affection, whatever it takes to get the information he needs. The friend I saw the movie with detected a human side to Capote, that he actually did grow to care about one of the two criminals, Perry Smith, and felt remorse about abusing Smith’s trust. I am not so sure; to me he came across as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, even a sociopath. Yet, I was totally engrossed in this movie, which doesn’t happen often when the protagonist is not sympathetic. Go see this movie, and then look for Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March) to take the Best Actor Oscar home this year.

Match Point (B). I’ve skipped the last few Woody Allen movies, but the critical hurrahs for this one got me back to the theater. It is a good telling of a sordid tale. Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Vanity Fair) is a young Irishman from a poor background. A former professional tennis player who never made it big, he moves to London to teach tennis at a posh club. He is a bit of a cipher, professing vague ambitions of wanting to make some sort of contribution with his life, but apparently having no direction whatsoever. Anyway, he soon falls in with the wealthy Hewitt family, first giving lessons to Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode, Stoker), then dating his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian), and then working for their father’s company. But he is dangerously attracted to Tom’s fiancée, an unsuccessful American actress named Nola (Scarlett Johansson, Hail, Caesar!). Complications ensue. I would probably have liked this movie even better except that it bears an awfully strong resemblance to the excellent Woody Allen picture Crimes and Misdemeanors. Even after having points deducted for lack of originality, though, this movie is still a good watch.

Off the Map; Dear Frankie

New movie reviews from The Movie Snob:

Off the Map (B+). I really liked this quiet, slow-moving movie about an eccentric family living in the New Mexican desert. The story is told from the perspective of Bo, a precocious little girl of 11 or 12, who is the home-schooled only child of Charlie (Sam Elliott) and Arlene (Joan Allen). They live literally “off the map,” out in the middle of nowhere, without electricity or telephone, mostly bartering for the things they can’t make themselves. Oh, and Arlene likes to garden in the nude. Anyway, the plot meanders a bit but focuses on two crises: first, Charlie is sunk deep in a paralyzing depression that he can’t explain or escape, and second, an IRS agent comes nosing around to inquire why the family hasn’t filed tax returns in seven years. A few surprising things happen, but mostly the movie is content to just watch these odd but decent folks try to deal with their problems and live their lives the way they like. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Dear Frankie (B). The appealing actress Emily Mortimer (Bright Young Things, Lovely and Amazing) stars in this manipulative but still enjoyable little melodrama. She plays Lizzie Morrison, a single mother who is constantly uprooting and moving her deaf 9-year-old son Frankie and her chain-smoking mother from place to place in England. The movie is slow to reveal what really happened to Frankie’s dad, but we quickly learn that Lizzie has raised Frankie to believe that his father is kept away because he’s a sailor on a globe-trotting ship called the ACCRA. She keeps up the charade by writing letters to Frankie, ostensibly from dad, but the plan goes awry when Frankie finds out that a real ship called the ACCRA is actually on its way to drop anchor briefly in their seaside town. So, with a friend’s connivance, Lizzie finds and hires a complete stranger to pretend to be Frankie’s dad for a day while the ship is in port. The premise is a bit far-fetched, and as I say I felt a bit manipulated, but it still jerked a couple of tears from me.

Bright Young Things

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Bright Young Things (B). A couple of things led me to check out this British production. First, it’s based on a story by Evelyn Waugh, who also wrote one of my favorite novels, Brideshead Revisited. Second, the movie stars actress Emily Mortimer, whom I found cute and competent in Lovely and Amazing. Anyhoo, This movie is about a gang of idle and unserious young Brits in pre-WWII London, and their wild parties are depicted with great energy and flair. But there is an obvious counter-current of sadness at work, particularly in the lives of the film’s two protagonists, the impecunious Adam and the flighty Nina. They seem to intend to get married, but Adam assumes he must continually defer the happy day until he can make his fortune, which always just eludes his grasp. Gradually, reality starts to catch up with the “bright young things,” with interesting results. I liked it.