Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (B).  This is a tense, Coen-esque drama/black comedy from Martin McDonagh, who also wrote and directed Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges.  Frances McDormand (Fargo) stars as Mildred Hayes, a small-town divorcee who is consumed with grief over the unsolved rape and murder of her teenaged daughter Angela several months earlier.  Frustrated with local law enforcement, she rents three billboards just outside of town and posts an inflammatory message aimed at police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, War for the Planet of the Apes).  Willoughby is offended but understanding; his violent, racist underling Dixon (Sam Rockwell, Laggies), on the other hand, is infuriated and liable to lash out in any available direction.  The ripples spread through the small town of Ebbing as Mildred persists in keeping the billboards up, and secrets are gradually revealed.  Great performances from the three main actors, and nice supporting work from some others as well, including Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent), Abbie Cornish (Limitless), and Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom).  But a couple of noticeable flaws (such as Willoughby’s weird use of extreme profanity not just around but at his two adorable little girls) keep this movie out of the top tier, in my opinion.  Still, worth checking out.  Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.

Burn After Reading

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Burn After Reading (B). This 2008 release by the Coen brothers (A Serious Man) was actually nominated for a best-comedy Golden Globe. It’s a pretty black comedy, but I enjoyed it well enough. A CIA analyst with a drinking problem (John Malkovich, Beowulf) gets fired and starts writing his memoirs. Through a series of unlikely events, a CD containing some of his memoirs ends up in the hands of two dim-bulb gym employees (Brad Pitt, Babel; Frances McDormand, Fargo), who try to blackmail him for money and then try to sell their “secret information” to the Russians at their embassy. Oh, and George Clooney (Fantastic Mr. Fox) is involved as a treasury agent who is sleeping with both McDormand’s character and the CIA analyst’s wife. Basically, almost everyone involved is an idiot, and the upper echelon CIA guys who hear bits and pieces of what is going on are completely baffled. A little slow in the early going, but entertaining if you like black comedy.

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.

Friends with Money

DVD review from Comic Book Guy.

Friends with Money

Just released on DVD, you’d think this movie would have something going for it. You’d be wrong. With four solid female leads (Joan Cusack, Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener and the lovely Jennifer Aniston) I thought I’d at least see some decent acting, but first-time director Nicole Holofcener (who also wrote this lame excuse of a movie – that should have been a warning sign), managed to drive this straight into the ground. Here’s the plot: four women are friends. Three of them are married. They each have their own problems. They talk about their problems, sometimes to each other. Yeah, that’s it. No snappy dialogue; no outstanding performances (although McDormand is the strongest of the four); none of the things that can save an otherwise mediocre film (Violence, Nudity, or Special Effects).

Oh yeah – here’s the moral: everybody has their own problems. Mind blowing revelation, huh? Granted, I don’t care much for these “I’ve got a bad case of middle-age angst” movies, but not even Jennifer Anniston dressed in a French Maid’s Costume having sex could save this. I’m still trying to figure out how this was allowed to open the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Maybe they show the bad films first so everything else will seem really good in comparison. Or maybe Holofcener was this year’s darling. Remember what happened to those guys who made Blair Witch Project? Yeah, me neither.

I should have known better than waste my time on this since I didn’t even remember it coming out at the theatre – that’s another warning sign. My wife did cry (maybe because it was so bad) although don’t read too much into that. Commercials make her tear up. I told her if she keeps putting this kind of crap in the Netflix cue, I’m taking over.

Judgment? Don’t Bother. You’d be better off spending the 88 minutes working on your own problems.

Potpourri from The Movie Snob

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

Roving Mars (C+). This new IMAX production is a tribute to the NASA Mars mission that successfully put two robotic rovers on the surface of the Red Planet. Once there, Spirit and Opportunity met and exceeded their builder’s hopes and expectations, successfully carrying out their experiments and lasting much longer than they had been designed to. This movie successfully conveys the monumental feat NASA’s engineers accomplished by safely landing these amazingly complicated machines on Mars after a seven-month journey traveling 60,000 miles per hour. Unfortunately, though, the visuals just aren’t that striking, and I couldn’t help being conscious most of the time that the views of the rovers on Mars and the Martian surface were digital creations and not actually movie footage. (It didn’t help that the kid next to me kept asking his dad, “Is this real? Is this trick photography?”)

Aeon Flux (C-). No, “Aeon Flux” is not some sort of digestive ailment that afflicts time-travelers. It is the name of the character played by Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman) in this post-apocalypse sci-fi shoot-em-up. Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has reverted to uninhabitable wilderness except for humanity’s last enclave, the city of Regna. Most of the Regnites seem reasonably content despite their fairly repressive government, but a band of rebels (led by an embarrassed-looking Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)) is out to topple the regime. Theron is a top rebel assassin, and she is assigned the mission of killing the Chairman himself. Naturally, nothing goes as planned. Despite the acrobatic fight scenes and thousands of rounds of ammo expended in the big finale, this is basically a yawner. Theron won’t be taking any Oscars home for this exercise in banality, although her futuristic pajamas definitely deserve some sort of special achievement award.

Bloodrayne (D). If you’re like me, you’ve been asking yourself one question ever since Terminator 3 came out: When is that babe who played the evil female Terminator going to make another movie? The wait is now over; Kristanna Loken is back! And this time she’s out for blood, as the damfir (that means half-human, half-vampire) character Rayne. She obviously chose this project with some care. First, it’s based on a video game, so she can take as much license with characterization as she likes (she goes with a flat, expressionless approach). Second, she has surrounded herself with talent: the Michael Madsen-Ben Kingsley team you loved in Species, Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago) for the older crowd, Michelle Rodriguez for Lost fans, Meat Loaf for I don’t know who. There’s even a “special appearance” by Billy Zane, the fiancee you loved to hate in Titanic! Third, she found costumers who understand that midriff tops have been popular throughout history, even in the Middle Ages. Throw in a sex scene that’s as embarrassing as it is gratuitous, plus buckets—no, geysers—of fake blood, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Okay, this turkey has virtually nothing to recommend it. But it was kind of funny when pretty-boy vampire-hunter Sebastian introduces Rayne to the art of human love-making and has to explain that we generally start by kissing on the mouth, not by going straight for the jugular.

Fargo

DVD review from The Movie Snob:

Fargo (B). Yes, I have only just now gotten around to seeing this modern film noir by the Coen brothers. It is a pretty dark tale about a sad sack’s desperate attempt to stave off bankruptcy by staging the kidnapping of his wife and having her wealthy father foot the ransom. Little goes according to plan, which is not surprising when Steve Buscemi (The Big Lebowski) shows up as one of the two kidnappers. Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom) won an Oscar, I believe, for her portrayal of the very pregnant small-town police chief who is a lot more on the ball than her frequent use of “jeez” and “you betcha” might indicate. She’s good, no question, but to me William H. Macy (The Cooler) steals the show as the poor schlub who concocts the scheme. Whether he’s quailing before his blustering father-in-law (and boss) or transparently lying to his customers at the car dealership where he works, Macy is picture-perfect as the pathetic loser whose plans spiral horribly out of control. Worth a viewing.

Zathura; Shopgirl; Laurel Canyon

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Zathura: A Space Adventure (B). I never saw Jumanji, but I get the idea that there is more than a passing resemblance between these two movies (based on books by the same author, I believe). Here, the protagonists are 10-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson, The Disaster Artist) and his 6-year-old brother Danny (Jonah Bobo, Crazy, Stupid, Love). Their parents are divorced, and they fight incessantly. When their dad leaves them alone in the house for a few minutes, Danny finds a beat-up old board game in the basement called “Zathura: A Space Adventure.” When he and Walter start to play the game, they are more than a little surprised to discover that their house has been ripped from the Earth and has become some sort of spaceship, orbiting a Saturnlike planet. Every time one of them takes his turn in the game, new dangers—or opportunities—arise, and it becomes apparent that they have to successfully finish the game in order to get back home. There are heart-warming (some might say treacly) messages about the importance of family and working together and stuff like that, and on the whole it’s a pretty good family-oriented movie. It is a little too long (113 minutes) and a little too scary for younger kids, and there is a little bad language that should have been excised. But it has some funny moments and generally keeps moving along at a nice adventuresome pace. I say check it out.  P.S. In my original review I didn’t note Kristen Stewart’s performance as the boys’ older sister, but since she’s famous now (in 2019) (see, e.g., New Moon) I guess I will.)

Shopgirl (C). Screenplay-writer Steve Martin (The Muppet Movie) swings and misses with this slight movie about a romance between young Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes, Stardust) and much older man Ray Porter (played by — what do you know? — Steve Martin). Mirabelle spends her days looking forlorn behind the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles, and we are told up front that she is a lost and lonely soul from Vermont, anonymous and adrift in the big city, with a boatload of student debt to boot. She meets a friendly but eccentric (and not very clean-looking) fellow named Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman, The Overnight) in a laundromat, and he is immediately smitten. But then she meets Ray, a computer tycoon who jets back and forth from Seattle, and soon Jeremy is out of the picture. Or is he? All three characters in this romantic triangle have issues, and Ray’s in particular remain opaque throughout. I just never felt invested in any of the characters, which spells doom for a romantic drama like this. Also, the Puritan in me can’t help objecting to how quickly and easily these people jump into bed together. O tempora! O mores!

Laurel Canyon (B-). I saw this movie on DVD and liked it a little better than I liked Shopgirl. Sam (Christian Bale, pre-Batman Begins) and his girlfriend Alex (Kate Beckinsale, Everybody’s Fine) are freshly minted Harvard M.D.’s, and she’s writing a dissertation on fruit flies to get a Ph.D. as well. Sam takes a residency in L.A., and they plan to stay in his mother’s house, which is supposed to be empty. To Sam’s great dismay, it is not. His mother Jane (Frances McDormand, Moonrise Kingdom) is a record producer, and she and the band are in the house, working, drinking, and smoking pot. Nevertheless, Sam and Alex move in, and soon enough the sheltered Alex is forgetting all about her fruit flies and experimenting with all sorts of bad behavior. Meanwhile, Sam is tempted to stray by a second-year resident at the hospital where he is working. The message I took away from the movie is, “Don’t move to L.A.; you’ll go crazy and mess up your life.”