Laggies (DVD review)

From The Movie Snob.

Laggies  (C).  It seemed like this 2014 release was barely in the theaters at all, even though it stars the winsome Chloë Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows) and the toothsome Keira Knightley (Atonement).  It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t very good either.  Knightley stars as Megan, a 28-year-0ld Seattle woman who has failed to launch.  She’s been dating her high-school boyfriend for 10 years, and despite having some sort of graduate degree she “works” by twirling an advertising sign in front of her dad’s accounting firm.  She chances to meet some cool high-schoolers, and she winds up running away from her real life and staying with Annika (Moretz) and her divorced dad (Sam Rockwell, Moon) for a week.  Not sure I’d let some stranger move into my house for a week on my kid’s say-so, but okay.  Ellie Kemper (They Came Together) has a thankless supporting role as a humorless member of Megan’s old high-school posse.  Gretchen Mol (The Notorious Bettie Page) pops up in a tiny role.  It’s not a very believable movie, and Megan isn’t a particular believable (or likable) character.  Still, I liked this better than Your Sister’s Sister, also by director Lynn Shelton.

The Imitation Game

Mom Under Cover reviews an Oscar™ contender.

The Imitation Game-A

Another potential Oscar winner. Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s Sherlock) shows his acting chops.  I knew nothing of Alan Turing before this flick; Cumberbatch really inhabits this socially awkward savant who essentially created an early computer.  Allen Leech (TV’s Downton Abbey) is fun to watch as another of the brain trust recruited to crack the German secret code Enigma during WWII. Keira Knightly is likable (not always the case for me) as Joan Clarke–apparently the only woman qualified to work on the code cracking team.  Matthew Goode (who will join the DA cast as another potential suitor for Lady Mary) is dreamy as the cad of the bunch.  This biopic is one to see.

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!

Begin Again

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Begin Again (B). Remember that sweet little Irish movie Once from several years ago? Writer-director John Carney is back with another movie about the power of music, only this time it’s set in New York and he has actual movie stars in it.   Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) plays a down-and-out record executive named Dan who is stirred back to something like life when he hears a winsome gal named Greta (Keira Knightley, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) playing acoustic guitar and singing one of her own songs in a bar. She’s emotionally bruised herself, having been recently dumped by her rock-star boyfriend (Adam Levine, TV’s The Voice). Unable to get record-label attention without a demo, Dan and Greta set out to record an entire album in various NYC locales. It goes beyond being a feel-good movie; I’d have to call it a fairy tale, since some potentially serious problems (like Dan’s relationship with the adolescent daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, 3 Days to Kill) he ran out on) seem to just take care of themselves. But the actors turn in nice performances, and nobody does winsome like Keira Knightley, so just go with it and you should have a good time. There was a smattering of applause in the theater after the movie was over, so I’m not the only person who liked it.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World  (B+).  I have wanted to see this movie ever since I first saw the previews for it a while back.  My keenly trained critic’s intuition told me that this was a movie that should really be titled Hoping Keira Knightley Will Date Me Because It’s the End of the World, and I rather like Keira Knightley.  Well, I saw the film today, and I can’t say my critic’s intuition was wrong.  As the movie opens, we learn from a handy TV news guy that the world is going to end in three weeks, smashed by a giant asteroid named Matilda that NASA has proved powerless to stop.  After that, we experience the last days of Earth as seen through the eyes of Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell, Little Miss Sunshine).  Dodge is a sad fellow, an insurance salesman whose wife Linda ran off pretty much as soon as the apocalypse countdown started.  Then Dodge meets his downstairs neighbor, the cute and free-spirited Penny (Knightley, Never Let Me Go).  Dodge accidentally acquires a dog, the city starts to get a little dangerous with all the rioting and looting, and next thing you know Dodge and Penny are on a joint road trip to accomplish their separate missions–he to find his long-lost high-school sweetheart, and she to find someone with a plane who can get her back to her family in England.  It’s a little sappy and sentimental (after a fairly dark opening act), but Carell and Knightley play appealing and likeable people, and the bottom line is that the movie worked for me.  Too bad it got mixed critical reviews and apparently sank like a stone at the box office; I say it deserved better.

King Arthur

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

King Arthur  (C-).  This 2004 film is a very different version of the Arthurian legend from any I have seen before.  In fact, it’s more of a Roman epic like Centurion or The Last Legion (although much better than either of those turkeys).  In the mid-400s A.D., the Romans are pulling out of Britain, but Roman commander Artorius (Clive Owen, Children of Men), is sent north of Hadrian’s Wall to rescue a handful of Roman citizens from an approaching Saxon army.  He takes his handful of comrade knights, including Lancelot (Ioan Gruffud, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) and Galahad (Hugh Dancy, The Jane Austen Book Club), on his quest, and against great odds they succeed.  They also pick up a rather fetching local pagan named Guenevere (Keira Knightley, Never Let Me Go) along the way.  She persuades Artorius to stay and help her people, the Woads, oppose the wicked Saxons, who are led by the evil Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgard, Thor).  As you may have gathered, this movie is completely unlike Excalibur (Merlin is barely in it, and there’s no magic at all), but like Excalibur I give it credit for trying to have some decent fight scenes (although they go on and on a bit too long in the “director’s cut” that I watched).  Oh, I should note that, in Hollywood fashion, the movie makes the few Roman Christian characters out to be villains and it associates Artorius’s relative benevolence and love of freedom with his adherence to the early Christian heresy of Pelagianism.  Anyhow, it’s not a very good movie, but it’s a tolerable one.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D

Mom Under Cover gets her Jedi on.

Star Wars –The Phantom Menace in 3D–Grade C. 

Disclaimer:  I am not a Star Wars aficionado.  My Star Wars education consists of viewing the original Star Wars in the ’70s and logging quite a few hours putting together lego Star Wars kits with my children. The lego Death Star (partially completed) occupies a prominent position in our game room–with various Star Wars lego people strewn around. 

As for the movie, the 3D effects ranged from almost non-existent to average.  There were a few scenes that did seem truly 3D.  The first underwater adventure to the hidden city home of Jar Jar Binks was good.  Generally, you can take off the glasses and not see much difference.  The pod-racing scene went on too long, as did the light saber fight between Darth Maul and the young Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-gon (Liam Neeson).  I was confused as to whether Padme, the lady in waiting to Queen Amadala (so tempting to call her amygdala–which truly annoys my children) was the same person but some kind of hologram of the Queen–as I thought both characters were played by Natalie Portman.  I learned that the Queen (who was really the decoy) was played by Keira Knightley–obscured by the funky makeup.  I understood there was a switch going on and the Queen was a decoy but somehow it was still confusing.  The triumphant parade scene near the end totally cracked me up as the Jar Jar people with big elephant ears (surely they have a name?) marched along like some kind of funky marching band.  My advice–if you are forced to take your kiddos to this flick, be sure to see it at Studio Movie Grill where you can order a fairly decent skinny margarita–or two.  Otherwise, pass.