Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

The Movie Snob takes a train.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)  (B).  Mystery is not really my genre, either for movies or for books, so I went into this new version of the Agatha Christie classic completely cold.  (So why did I go see it?  Because my favorite pop-culture podcast, The Substandard, recently did an episode about this movie, and I wanted to see it before listening to the podcast.)  Given its middling Metacritic score of 52, I didn’t expect great things, and I was pleasantly surprised.  Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk) directs and stars as eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.  After a fun scene establishing Poirot’s Sherlock Holmesian powers of observation and deduction, he boards The Orient Express—a luxury train (the year is 1934) heading northwest from Istanbul.  The train is full of colorful characters played by famous actors, including Daisy Ridley (The Force Awakens), Michelle Pfeiffer (Stardust), Penélope Cruz (Volver), and Johnny Depp (The Tourist).  Then a passenger is murdered in the middle of the night, and an avalanche halts the train in a remote mountain pass.  Can Poirot solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?  To me, the whodunnit aspect of the movie is secondary; the fun is watching the peculiar detective interrogate the passengers and sniff out the clues.  I enjoyed it.

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!

The Lone Ranger

A movie review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Lone Ranger (B+).  Why is so much hate getting dumped on this movie?  I thought it was a perfectly good action/adventure movie, and any movie that can keep me entertained for 2 1/2 hours has to have something going for it.  Armie Hammer (The Social Network) has charisma to burn in the title role, and Johnny Depp (The Rum Diary) plays Tonto as a sort of anti-Jack Sparrow: impassive and laconic, but with flashes of acerbic wit.  The two team up after Hammer’s lawman John Reid is nearly killed in an ambush, but their partnership is basically one of convenience; they argue constantly as they pursue their separate but related paths of vengeance.  The big fight scenes are well done, the main villain is an appropriately leprous-looking varmint played by William Fichtner (Blades of Glory), and there are a few sporadic scenes of surpassing weirdness apparently just to shake things up.   Seriously, I do not understand why this movie has been panned so badly or why it has done so poorly at the box office.  Do take the PG-13 rating seriously; it is pretty violent at times.

21 Jump Street

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

21 Jump Street  (B).  I have never seen the late 1980s TV show that inspired this movie, and there may have been some inside jokes that went over my head.  But I still enjoyed this somewhat shaggy tale about a couple of rookie cops who go undercover as high-school students to try to bust a dangerous drug ring.  The buddy cops are good in their roles: Jonah Hill (Superbad) is Schmidt, who was an unpopular nerd in high school, and Channing Tatum (She’s the Man) is Jenko, who was a popular jock back in the day.  But a mix-up in their class schedules accidentally sends Schmidt to mingle with the cool kids and Jenko to flounder with the nerds in AP chemistry.  Of course, Jenko comes to regret his past as a mean jock, and Schmidt starts to forget his police assignment as he gets accepted by the cool kids.  Ice Cube (Three Kings) has fun chewing the scenery as the buddies’ angry police captain.  And yes, Johnny Depp (TV’s 21 Jump Street) does make an appearance.  Rated R for lots of shoot-em-up violence but mainly, I expect, for constant bad language and some crude sexual talk.

Dark Shadows

The Movie Snob gives you fair warning.

Dark Shadows  (D).  Who would have thought that a joint enterprise by director Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland) and actor Johnny Depp (the same) could turn out to be so deathly dull?  Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a wealthy fellow in colonial Maine who gets turned into a vampire and buried in a chained-up coffin by a wicked witch (Eva Green, Casino Royale).  Fast forward 200 years to the early 1970s.  BC is set free and makes his way back to his ancestral mansion where the last few members of the Collins family live in a state of advanced aristocratic decay.  Oh, and the witch is still hanging around the area causing trouble for the Collinses.  Previews suggested that the film was a comedy, but it is not funny.  (Gags involving BC’s encounters with “modern” phenomena like lava lamps and the Carpenters inevitably fall flat.)  Nor is it exciting, scary, romantic, dramatic, or anything else that might make it the slightest bit interesting.  Avoid it unless you have 2 hours you really need to waste.

The Rum Diary

A new review from The Movie Snob

The Rum Diary  (D).  This movie is a total snooze.  According to a Q-and-A on, it is based on an unpublished manuscript by journalist Hunter S. Thompson that Johnny Depp (The Astronaut’s Wife) found in Thompson’s basement in 1998 while Depp was living with Thompson in preparation for filming Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  If the novel is as dull as the movie, there’s a reason it had remained unpublished.  Almost nothing happens.  The year is 1950.  Depp plays Paul Kemp, a writer who responds to an ad and goes to work for a struggling newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  He befriends a sozzled colleague named Sala who raises roosters for cockfighting on the side.  He’s enlisted in a land-grab scheme by a slimy American played by Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole).  He falls in love with the slimy American’s fiancee, a sizzling blond named Chenault (Amber Heard, Zombieland).  And he drinks enough rum to knock out a horse.  Otherwise, nothing much happens.  Skip this turkey.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

New review from The Movie Snob

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (D+).  I would say that Captain Jack Sparrow has finally worn out his welcome with me, but then again, did I really like any of the three earlier movies in this series?  Maybe the first one was okay, but I can hardly remember.  Anyhoo, Johnny Depp (The Astronaut’s Wife) is on a new quest — this time, he’s looking for the Fountain of Youth.  Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) returns as Jack’s one-time nemesis Barbosa, but the villain of this piece is none other than Blackbeard himself (Ian McShane, Scoop).  Penelope Cruz (Volver) adds the feminine element now that Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go) has jumped ship. An extended introduction set in London could easily have been lopped off (although it did permit a humorous cameo by a very well-known actress), and the rest of the movie is a bunch of very purposeful-looking rushing about by the various people who are trying to find the mythical Fountain.  Frankly, I found it a little yawn-inducing.  And, predictably, it was way too long (about 2 hours and 15 minutes).  But it’ll probably make a killing, and they’ll probably make another one….


A new review from The Movie Snob

Rango  (C).  This is a bizarre animated movie with a traditional plot.  Rango (voice of Johnny Depp, The Astronaut’s Wife) is a pet chameleon who, by a mishap, is suddenly lost in the Mojave Desert.  He makes his way to the town of Dirt, a classic Old West town populated by the most motley group of settlers you ever saw.  They all live in terror of a marauding hawk, so when Rango accidentally kills the fiend, he is quickly made the Sheriff of Dirt.  But darker forces are at work; the town’s water has mysteriously run dry, and Rango has very little time to unravel the mystery before the townspeople will have to sell out to the unctuous mayor and move away.  But this traditional plot is festooned with all sorts of weirdness.  One weird thing is that the animation is really awesome, but the characters are truly ugly, including all sorts of varmints like a horned frog, a bird that somehow survives with an arrow shot through one eye, and a bunch of moles.  Why take a lovely gal like Isla Fisher (Confessions of a Shopaholic) and make her voice an ugly brown lizard?  Beats me.  Anyhoo, it’s weird enough to be offputting, and yet somewhat compelling at the same time.  And be aware, it is rated PG for a few cuss words and adult references


A new movie review from Movie Man Mike

Rango. (C) My expectations may have been too high for this film. It does star the voice of Johnny Depp, after all. The story is a good one and it has a good message to convey to the kiddos. There’s an obvious attempt on the writers’ part to cross-market this to older and younger audiences. There are certainly “adult” jokes and language far too complex to be understood or followed by the kids. But then there is writing clearly meant to appeal to the toddler crowd as well. Overall, however, the jokes fell flat. I laughed only a few times, but wanted to laugh more. I had trouble discerning what animals all of the characters were supposed to be and I certainly question whether a young child would know what all the animals were. Perhaps the writers could have worked those explanations into the dialogue a little better. At the end of the movie, I was disappointed and felt that I had wasted my time and money, and I rarely feel that way about a film.

The Tourist

New review from The Movie Snob

The Tourist (C). I’d say my decision to wait for this movie to make it to the dollar cinema was a wise one. Angelina Jolie (Salt) plays Elise, a mysterious woman in Paris whose every move is being watched by an international team of police. She gets a mysterious message from a mysterious, unseen man, instructing her to take a train to Venice and pick out a stranger of the right height and build to make the police think the stranger is the mysterious, unseen man. The lucky stranger turns out to be Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp, Corpse Bride), an unassuming math teacher from Wisconsin. She chats him up, he’s enchanted, they reach Venice, and hijinks ensue because everyone thinks Frank is the mysterious, unseen Mr. X. It’s a hair too serious and violent to be a feel-good Romancing the Stone kind of movie, but it’s not serious enough to be a serious thriller. So it just kind of idles along without any real sense of urgency. But Venice is pretty, and if you like Jolie or Depp, that might be enough to carry the movie for you.

The Tourist

Nick at Nite goes sightseeing with The Tourist

The Tourist.

Sadly, this movie is not receiving a fair shake. Everyone wants to complain – Jolie and Depp have no chemistry, it is not an action film, it is not a romantic comedy, it doesn’t know what it is – well those complainers should come down from their ivory towers and give this film a chance. The Tourist is not the best movie ever made, but it is entertaining and worth the price of the ticket to a first run feature. It reminds me of some of the better 70s or 80s thrillers (not meant to be ironic). Think Three Days of the Condor and Robert Redford. The movie has some action, a plot, some twists, a few laughs, and a ton of scenery to chew on. Jolie plays the girlfriend of a financial thief. Depp is the hapless tourist that is thrust into Jolie’s intrigue. The co-star of this movie is Venice. Wow, I want to go there. I give this move an “A.” Ignore the other reviews. Go see it.

When You’re Strange

Move review from The Movie Snob

When You’re Strange (B+). This is a documentary about The Doors, a 60’s era rock band that, according to the narration by Johnny Depp (Chocolat), still sells a million albums a year. I’m probably the perfect audience for the film–somebody who has long liked The Doors’ music but has never been interested enough to read a book about them and doesn’t really know their history. The entire movie consists of archival footage and photographs of the band, in and out of concert, and the narration traces the band’s arc from 1965 to 1970. Of course the film focuses heavily on lead singer Jim Morrison, who drank himself to death at age 27, and there are lots of clips of Morrison driving through a desert, apparently from a film project that was never completed. The narration gets a little banal at times, but otherwise this is a solid, enjoyable film . . . if you like The Doors.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Alice in Wonderland (B). I don’t really remember the original Disney animated version of this movie, but my vague recollection is that it was long on visuals and short on plot. This new version is much more plot driven. After a brief prologue with Alice as a young girl, we catch up with Alice (Mia Wasikowska, The Kids Are All Right) as a young woman facing a marriage proposal from a dorky aristocrat. Of course she soon finds herself back in Wonderland, but it is rather different from when she first visited it.  The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, The Astronaut’s Wife) is apparently just kind of hanging out. The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club) rules like a tyrant, while the good White Queen (Anne Hathaway, Get Smart) flits around her castle ineffectually, waiting for a champion. Unfortunately the obvious choice–Alice–thinks the whole thing is just a dream! It felt kind of like The Wizard of Oz, souped up into more of an action movie. I enjoyed it. Oh, the 3D effects were okay, but I don’t think they made the movie or anything.

Public Enemies

Movie Man Mike provides a new movie review

Public Enemies (B). For a two-and-a-half-hour film, I wouldn’t expect to find myself wanting more when it was over, but I did want more. Maybe not more footage, but more story. Backstory, to be precise. This is the story of John Dillinger, who is played by Johnny Depp. The action in this film is solid. The film is loaded with big-name actors, but it’s the background of the characters depicted that’s missing. You don’t get much of a sense of the characters’ history, motivation, or personality from the portions of the stories told. Also, I didn’t get a good feel for how much time the story occurred over, whether it was a matter of months or years. One weakness in my view was Christian Bale’s character. Bale plays FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, whose job it is to hunt down Dillinger. Unfortunately, Bale seems to be stuck in “Batman” mode. He’s still got that whispered growl he used as the caped crusader. I’m not sure what’s up with that. Anyway, the film was entertaining, but one that I wished I had waited to see as a rental.

Sweeney Todd

New review from Movie Man Mike

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (B-). I probably give this movie higher marks than it deserves because I have a soft spot for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp and because I can appreciate the creativity in the lyrics of the musical numbers. But I had a hard time with the subject matter of this film and the graphic blood-letting. This is nothing short of a bad horror film. I mean really… a film about a barber who slits his clients’ throats and his landlady who cooks the body parts and then sells them as meat pies? And it’s a musical, no less! It doesn’t get much more gruesome than that. To be fair, the lyrics of the songs are clever, and Jamie Bower and Jayne Wisener demonstrate their considerable singing voices. I had to wonder if I would have had a different reaction to this one if the blood had not been so graphically displayed and if there had been a more comedic tone to the killing, but the seriousness with which the whole thing was presented was really unsettling. If you must see this one, you might wait for the DVD.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (B). I was not excited about going to see this movie. I thought the first installment was okay, but part two, Dead Man’s Chest, was a big confusing mess. I had no idea who was trying to do what, or why they were trying to do it. So I rather dreaded seeing At World’s End, especially since it clocks in at 2:45.

But, perhaps because my expectations were so low, I actually rather enjoyed it. I figured out that Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Troy) was trying to rescue his father from his fate as a member of the crew of The Flying Dutchman, captained by Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, Shaun of the Dead). I’m reasonably sure that Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands) was trying to find Davy Jones so that he could take his place and become immortal. What Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, King Arthur) was trying to do, I still have no idea, but she looked very fetching doing it. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech) chewed the scenery nicely. The movie could have been shorter, but I didn’t even mind the ridiculously long running time. Will there be a sequel? The ending certainly does not rule it out….

P.S. I did not stay through the end of the closing credits, but I just read that there is something to see after they finish rolling. I don’t know what it is, so whether it’s worth another 10 minutes of sitting I cannot say.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

From guest reviewer Derek D.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

The story picks up where the other movie left off with the wedding of William Turner, played by Orlando Bloom (Digging for Fire) and Elizabeth Swann, played by Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game). All the sudden everything goes awry, and William has to go find Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp (Murder on the Orient Express). Off they go on another adventure to find the Dead Man’s Chest. What is in the chest is a mystery but both know it has something to do with Davy Jones and his crew of pirate creatures. This film is full of great effects and sword fighting. I thought it was a pretty good film if you liked the first one. Little children will be scared because the pirates that belong to Davy Jones look very gross and there is a particular scene where a crow plucks out a person’s eye. It doesn’t show it in graphic detail but you see it for a second. The film does leave you hanging much like the Lord of the Rings series. They are coming out with the second half next year in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. I give this movie a B+.

Deep Sea 3D

From The Movie Snob:

Deep Sea 3D (B+). I can’t believe it has been almost a month since I last saw a movie! This was a good one to mark my return to the multiplex, a nice 3D IMAX nature documentary. Deep Sea is a cut above the usual IMAX nature fare. Good visuals and good use of 3D effects. Lots of variety–a few sharks, an octopus, the nasty Humboldt squid, sea turtles, starfish, some sort of weird sunfish looking things, and a friendly right whale. Ho-hum narration by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet that didn’t include a single reference to Finding Neverland, or at least not that I noticed. This one is worth taking the kids to.

Serenity; Corpse Bride

New reviews from The Movie Snob

Serenity (A-). I went into this movie without ever having seen an episode of Firefly, the short-lived television series it was based on, but that diminished my enjoyment not one bit. It’s a good old-fashioned space opera, like a grungier, lower-tech Star Wars. The deal is this–in the distant future, most of mankind is ruled by a government called the Alliance, which definitely does not put a premium on civil liberties. So there was a civil war, the Alliance won, and the losing rebels retreated to the remoter, less-civilized parts of the galaxy. Among the ruffians out on the frontier are Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, TV’s Castle), captain of the Millennium Falcon, er, I mean the Serenity, and his ragtag crew. They find themselves transporting a cargo that the Alliance very much wants to get its hands on–a mysterious and somewhat psychotic 17-year-old girl named River Tam who escaped from a secret government lab. If you liked Star Wars, or Star Trek, or Space Balls, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like Serenity. So get out there and see it so they’ll make a sequel.

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (B). This is some weird stuff (although maybe not so weird if you’ve seen The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I haven’t). This claymation fairy tale starts in a very grey, dour little village where nervous Victor (voice of Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland), son of a wealthy fishmonger, is about to be wed to sweet Victoria, daughter of an aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times. But Victor gets cold feet, wanders out into the forest the night before his wedding, and while practicing his vows suddenly finds himself married to the lovely Emily (Helena Bonham Carter, Cinderella)–who just happens to be, well, dead. She drags him down into the netherworld, and then things start to get really weird. This short (76 minutes) film is a visual treat, as Burton takes full advantage of the freedom of animation–for example, the townspeople are a collection of bizarre caricatures, some fantastically skinny and elongated, others impossibly short and squat. There are a few musical numbers that aren’t bad but aren’t particularly memorable either. This movie probably won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoyed it.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

That Guy Named David works through some issues:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (C)

Gene Wilder freaked me out when I was a kid. I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming to high heaven when I think about the boat ride he took on the chocolate river singing that creepy song, “There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going. There’s no knowing where we’re rowing, or which way the river’s flowing. Is it raining? is it snowing? is a hurricane a-blowing? Bah! Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing. Are the fires of hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing? YES! The danger must be growing, for the rowers are still rowing and they’re certainly not showing any signs that they are slowing! STOP THE BOAT!” Okay. . . just typing that out gave me the chills. Anyway, in the 2005 version, I think that Johnny Depp tried his damndest to recreate the weirdness exhibited by Wilder but managed to overact to such a degree that his attempt seemed hollow. Personally, I am a big fan of Depp and think he is one of the better actors out there today; however, his portrayal of Wonka was a bit much. What I did like about this version were the amazing special effects (a little better than what was available in 1971) and that the ending was more true to the book (I never liked the ending of the original because it left too many unanswered questions). I would recommend going to see this on the IMAX where you could be blown away by the special effects or renting it in a few months when it comes out on DVD. Maybe my expectations were a little high because of the past work of Depp and Tim Burton (who directed Big Fish and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, two of the greatest movies ever made). Oh well . . . I’ve learned to live with disappointment.

Oscar picks by A View From Mars

Oscar picks by A View From Mars:

It’s a rare occasion where I actually get to see all the movies that are up for best picture given that most of the time, my taste in films is the exact opposite of what the Academy chooses. So with this being said, here’s how I see ’em:

(5) The Aviator — Scorsese lost points with me based on his last feature Gangs of New York, and he didn’t do much to recapture them with this movie. I’m just not sure how interested I was in Howard Hughes and DiCaprio’s portrayal, although a bit young for the sell to completely be there, was Oscar worthy. The same can be said about Cate Blanchett’s role as Katharine Hepburn, but other than this, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this movie nor of it being nominated as one of the 5 best pictures. Clearly, I saw about half a dozen others that could have taken its place.

(4) Ray — Jamie Foxx was tremendous and he will no doubt walk away with the Oscar gold and the movie was good, possibly really good, just not great. I think I was overwhelmed with Foxx’s performance as Ray Charles that it took me out of the movie just a bit. Is it possible that an excellent performance by an actor can actually have a hand in detracting from the greatness of a movie?

(3) Finding Neverland — Loved both Depp and Winslet and the concept to make a movie about Peter Pan without focusing on Peter Pan but rather the creator of Peter Pan (phewww). This is my sentimental favorite and although it may not win best picture, I’m hopeful that it will take something home.

(2) Sideways — I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the buddy road trip movie, but this was about as perfect as it could get for my enjoyment in this genre. Clever writing and good performances all around although it was a shame that Giamatti was snubbed. Maybe I’m so fond of this movie because Giamatti nailed the role of That Guy Named David so well. When David and I were in college, I could have sworn I heard quite a bit of profanities aimed at the Merlot coming from his room.

(1) Million Dollar Baby — I could just go on and on about how darn tooting great this movie was, but it wouldn’t do it any justice. Clint Eastwood really hit this one out of the park (I’m tired of the knocked out, boxing euphemisms). I was also mightily impressed with Hillary Swank and couldn’t help but think that this picture might just stand the test of time . . . and this was just 30 minutes into it. It had the true feel of one of the classics. This is my Best Picture winner by unanimous decision (couldn’t help it).

The Movie Snob’s 2004 Year in Review!

The Movie Snob’s 2004 Year in Review.

I’ll say up front that a couple of these movies probably came out in 2003, but I saw them for the first time in 2004. Thus, they’re on this list. So sue me.

Best Drama: I’ll pick two, in no particular order. First, Friday Night Lights. I am not much of a sports fan, but I found this movie engrossing. It’s the true story of a single season of high school football in a small west Texas town that is consumed with football and demands nothing less than a state championship of its coach. Billy Bob Thornton is fine as the put-upon coach, but the young actors who play the stars of the team are really outstanding. Second, Finding Neverland is an excellent little movie about the life of playwright J.M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan. Johnny Depp was perfect for the part. Honorable mention to the comedy/drama Sideways, about two buddies facing down their midlife crises by drinking their way through the California wine country.

Best Action Flick: I’ll pick two again. The thinking man’s action movie would be Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Russell Crowe delivers another fine performance as the gruff and bluff Captain Jack Aubry, and the director did an amazing job of filming the sea battles between these old wooden sailing ships. For mindless schlock, I thoroughly enjoyed Troy. Sure, they reduced a war that lasted ten years to roughly two weeks, ignored the gods that started the whole thing, and changed Achilles’ motivation for sulking out half the war from timeless honor to [ick] love. But for all that, I enjoyed every minute of it. Honorable mention: Spider-Man 2. But I liked the first one better.

Best Comedy: Slim pickings in this category since the Spinal Tap crew didn’t put anything out this year. Surprise hit Napoleon Dynamite definitely had some laughs, but I felt a little guilty for laughing at people who seem to exist solely to be ridiculed by the rest of creation. Shaun of the Dead was a fun ride for a while, but it ran out of gas before the end. Mean Girls and I Heart Huckabees both had their moments, but were by no means great.

Best Documentary: I was sorry that there was no Winged Migration II this year, but happily another excellent documentary filled the void. No, I’m not talking about the Michael Moore atrocity. I mean the 2003 release My Architect, a fascinating biopic about architect Louis Kahn, who designed the Kimbell Art Museum over in Fort Worth. He lived a strange life, marrying only one woman but leaving children by three. His youngest child made this excellent film to try to understand the father he barely knew.

Best Melodrama: If you blinked, you missed I Am David, the tear-jerking tale of a little boy who escapes from a Communist concentration camp in 1952 Bulgaria. Yeah, it’s syrupy, and the plot has some holes in it, but I still loved it.

In a Class by Itself: The Passion of the Christ. Enough ink has been spilled about this movie to last a lifetime. I won’t add to it here.

Other Honorable Mentions:

The Barbarian Invasions – a French or Canadian or French-Canadian import about a father who is dying and his estranged adult son who reaches out to comfort him in his last months.

Big Fish – not the biggest, best, greatest movie of all time as That Guy Named David would have it, but definitely an enjoyable one.

The Station Agent – a very sweet little movie about friendship. An angry little person moves out to the middle of nowhere to get away from people, but he learns that getting away from people isn’t that easy.

Cold Mountain – good story, beautiful cinematography, fine cast. And Nicole Kidman somehow manages to run a pathetic little dirt farm throughout the whole Civil War without a hair out of place.

The Incredibles – fine movie, just a little long for my taste.

Bubba Ho-Tep – the best Elvis-versus-the-Mummy movie I have ever seen.

Finding Neverland

From The Movie Snob:

Finding Neverland (A-). Johnny Depp plays James Barrie, the British playwright who wrote Peter Pan back in the very early 1900’s, in this film that was “inspired by true events.” I thought this was a superb movie, and Depp turns in a great performance as the childlike Barrie. As the movie opens, Barrie’s latest play is flopping on the London stage, and his marriage is in trouble to boot. Then, during one of his frequent walks in the park, he meets the young widow Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four boys (including one named Peter). He starts to spend much more time with the Davies family than with his own wife, and they give him the inspiration for his next play — Peter Pan. This little drama doesn’t feature a lot of pyrotechnics (the friend I saw the movie with apparently fell asleep), so go find National Treasure if that’s what you’re after. But for a solid, thought-provoking, even tear-jerking experience, book a trip to Neverland.

Finding Neverland; Alexander

New reviews by A View From Mars:

Finding Neverland (B+) Just as I thought that I was growing rather tiresome of all these Peter Pan adaptations (Hook anyone), lo and behold, a different and refreshing take on an old classic. In this one, it’s not so much Peter Pan itself but rather how J. M. Barrie came to realize the boy who would not grow older. Johnny Depp plays the Scottish playwright in what might be one of his more subdued roles yet and even at this, he does a brilliant job. Kate Winslet plays the recently widowed mother of four young boys that Barrie befriends in the park one day. It should be noted that my knowledge of Peter Pan is pretty much relegated to the Disney animated version and even so, it’s been entirely too long. However, it was interesting to note how the characters and the story of Peter Pan came to be (even though the film facilitates this through direct and indirect references). The movie lends itself some liberties, but unless you are familiar with the history, you can have a fun time believing that the four boys and everything that was happening in Barrie’s life at the time were about as perfect as a muse that any writer can hope for. Solid acting, solid story . . . solid movie. Perfect for the holidays.

Alexander (C-) I’d heard bad reviews about this movie prior to seeing it, both from critics and people I knew, but still I forged on determined to indulge myself in an epic that I was not so knowledgeable in. I knew the basics and hoped to learn a little more about this “Great” guy, but this was not the case. I came out of there knowing about the same as when I entered, only with 3 hours less of my life. I’d been impressed with Colin Farrell in some of his earlier roles, but his performance as Alexander was not the problem for me, it was Alexander himself and his story. His conquering of Europe and Asia is a very impressive feat, but I don’t necessarily think that this equates to good film making. I didn’t think there was enough confrontation and despite that there were only two major battles shown, I was left with way too much dialogue (which I usually enjoy) about his story that I didn’t care for at all. To be honest, I would have had more fun sitting at home “conquering” Europe and Asia myself while playing RISK. Avoid this one, unless you consider yourself the historian who hasn’t had their fill of Alexander the Great.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. (B-) The Movie Snob did not go to this movie expecting a subtle tale rich with insight into the human condition. No, I expected swashbuckling action, comic-book style romance, and lots and lots of pirates. The movie delivered on every count–in fact, to an excessive degree on counts one and three. Who decided that all summer blockbusters need to be over two hours long? I have a bone to pick with him. Less would have definitely been more in this case, and I’d have given the movie a better grade if the filmmakers had trimmed about 30 minutes, especially from the interminable final battle involving the British navy, two bands of pirates, and our trio of heroic protagonists. Johnny Depp gives a fun performance as the generally good-hearted rogue Captain Jack Sparrow, but as my friend Scotty pointed out, he seemed to be channeling the spirit of Dudley Moore throughout much of the picture. (That’s not a good thing.)  Keira Knightley (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace) is fetching.