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.

Pride & Prejudice

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Pride & Prejudice (A-). This is the 2005 remake of the beloved Jane Austen novel, starring Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go) as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen (Robin Hood) as Mr. Darcy. Being a big Austen fan, I was predisposed to like it, and I still do. On watching the DVD, I was surprised to see Carey Mulligan (An Education, Never Let Me Go), whose career is quite hot at the moment, in the small role of Kitty Bennet. Apparently this was Mulligan’s first movie. The movie also features Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), who would also appear with Mulligan in An Education. Anyhoo, it’s a lovely adaptation of a great story. The “behind the scenes” extras on the DVD are not particularly insightful, but they do give a few facts about Austen and make it clear that the cast of the movie really enjoyed working together.

Never Let Me Go

Movie Review from The Movie Snob

Never Let Me Go (A-). I absolutely loved the 2005 novel of the same name on which this movie was based, so my grade may be a little inflated. But I don’t really think so; it is a moving story and the performances are very good. In the opening scene, Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan, An Education) stands in a hospital corridor watching the preparations for an operation. The rest of the movie is her extended flashback, going all the way back to her childhood at a British boarding school called Hailsham. If you’ve read the book–and I urge you to read it before seeing the movie if you can–then of course you know what is going on at Hailsham, and why it is just a little bit creepy. But before too long, one of the teachers at Hailsham (played by Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky) breaches protocol and bluntly tells the children the shocking truth. Then the children grow up, Kathy H. and her best friends Ruth (Keira Knightley, Atonement) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network). It is a story of love, betrayal,and loss. Judging from the sniffling in the theater, I’d say that mine were not only the only damp eyes in the house. Go see it!

Pride and Prejudice redux

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Seeing the play of Pride & Prejudice recently spurred me to go back and reread the book and then to watch the DVD of the Keira Knightley version from 2005. Both were very enjoyable experiences. The book is simply a treat, and it has an advantage over the play in that you get occasional glimpses inside Mr. Darcy’s head along the way. When you can only see his outward conduct, the plot really builds him up into such a jerk it is hard to change your opinion of him when the story calls for it. The movie is a little more successful at navigating this problem than the play because the camera can pause for a close-up of Darcy and give a hint at what he is thinking. The movie is very good, although it has to move very quickly in a few places to get everything in, and a viewer who is unfamiliar with the book is probably not going to easily and entirely understand how the characters get from point A to point B a couple of times. Also, I now see a bigger contrast between the book and the movie in the movie’s focus on romantic love in the modern sense, while the book carefully builds the protagonists’ love more on mutual respect and admiration than on romantic passion. Anyway, I highly recommend them both. I’m a little Pride & Prejudiced out right now, but eventually I’ll have to watch the 5-hour A&E version starring Colin Firth (The Last Legion).

Atonement

New from the desk of The Movie Snob

Atonement (A-). I have never read the novel on which this movie was based, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the heck out of the movie. The movie takes place in three discrete acts. In Act One, we are in 1935 Britain, on the country estate of some well-to-do folks. Keira Knightley (Love Actually) plays Cecilia Tallis, who belongs to the well-to-do family, and James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past) plays Robbie Turner, the hard-working son of one of the family’s servants who has actually done well for himself at college. It is quickly revealed that the two are passionately in love despite their differences in social rank, and complications ensue because of a single, serious misdeed by Cecilia’s 13-year-old sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan, a young actress to watch). To say more about the plot would be a disservice to you; I will conclude by reporting simply that I was always fascinated by what was happening on the screen and always wondering what would happen next.

Keira Knightley, in a very different movie

Atonement

New review from Movie Man Mike

Atonement (A). This is a powerful film. The acting is superb. The story is about an untoward event that takes place, a young child’s actions in response to the event, and the consequences of the child’s actions upon the people she cares about. It’s also about her coming to terms with her own guilt for her actions. Briony Tallis—the young child—is played by three different actresses, Saoirse Ronan (age 13) (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Romola Garai (I Capture the Castle) (age 18), and Vanessa Redgrave (a much older Briony). Each actress does a beautiful job of bringing this character to life, but I have to say that Redgrave just about steals the show with her final 8 minutes or so on the screen. She is simply fantastic. James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) as Robbie Turner and Keira Knightley (Begin Again) as Cecelia Tallis are each beautiful to look at and wonderful in their respective roles. Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness) plays a chocolate factory magnate whose performance is right on. The only scene I take issue with was a minor scene involving Robbie’s mother, Grace, where she is protesting the arrest of Robbie. I don’t think this scene was staged quite right because I just didn’t feel it. Otherwise, the film is beautifully directed and scripted. Although the film is a bit emotionally heavy, it’s one you ought to see.

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+.

Pride & Prejudice; Walk the Line

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

Just in time for the holidays we have been graced with two exceptional movies for your consideration.

Pride & Prejudice (A). It is apparently very difficult to make a bad movie from a Jane Austen novel. I loved both the delightful Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma and the wonderful Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and I have greatly enjoyed updated versions of JA’s work such as Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary. (Okay, the version of Mansfield Park from a few years ago didn’t stay with me, and the recent Bollywood Bride & Prejudice was a bit of a misfire. But still, they weren’t bad.) This P&P may be the best of them all (although I’ll confess I’ve never seen the popular A&E version starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). Keira Knightley (Laggies) is charming as the intelligent but headstrong Elizabeth Bennet, and Matthew MacFadyen (Anna Karenina) adeptly handles the difficult chore of making Mr. Darcy simultaneously unlikable and sympathetic. Great supporting performances too, including Rosamund Pike as the lovely but shy oldest Bennet daughter Jane (hard to believe Pike was also the icy villainess in Die Another Day,that James Bond movie with Halle Berry), and Judi Dench (Murder on the Orient Express) as Darcy’s monstrous snob of an aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourg. If you have the slightest fondness for costume dramas or romance, you must see this movie.

Walk the Line (B+). I simply don’t know how to write a review of the new Johnny Cash biopic without comparing it to Ray. Both are great movies featuring great performances, and the subjects’ lives had more than a little in common. Joaquin Phoenix (her) doesn’t really look much like Johnny Cash to me, but he still does a heck of a job, and I was blown away when I learned after seeing the movie that he did all of his own playing and singing. Reese Witherspoon (Four Christmases) is, if anything, even better as June Carter, the great love of Cash’s life. Her singing and playing are phenomenal as well. But if memory serves, I gave Ray an A-, while I just can’t elevate this one into the “A” category. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because Cash’s life just wasn’t as vividly eventful as Charles’s. Like Charles, Cash had big problems with drugs and family life, but unlike Charles he didn’t have crosses to bear like blindness and racism. I guess being madly in love with one woman when you’re married to another (with several children to boot) would be pretty bad, but Cash spends so much of the movie bottoming out on booze and pills that he lost a little of my sympathy and interest. (Although I recall reading that Ray gave the life of Charles a bit of a whitewash, so maybe a more honest movie would have lost a point or two in my book.) But if you’re even a casual fan of Johnny Cash’s music (and I’m the casualest), you’ll enjoy this movie. Plus you’ll probably get to check off several of next year’s Oscar nominees in one movie.

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.