Sully

Mom Under Cover is back in action!

Sully  (A).

Tom Hanks embodies Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in much the way he became Walt Disney.  Hanks and Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) as co-pilot Skyles are good partners in this movie.  Eastwood does not develop any of the other characters and did not use Laura Linney’s talent–as Sully’s wife, she is seen mostly tearful and on the phone.  Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), as one of the NTSB investigators, is also pretty one dimensional.  The movie tells a story we know and still manages to create drama and deliver a hero.  Be sure to stay for the credits (surely this goes without saying).

Genius

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Genius  (B).  This movie isn’t doing too well with the critics (current score of 56 over at metacritic.com) but I think they are somehow overlooking the fact that Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) is in the movie.  Just kidding!  Anyhoo, perhaps my low expectations led me to enjoy it more than I otherwise would have.  It’s a biopic about editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech) and novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow).  Back around the year 1929, Wolfe was a manic would-be writer out of North Carolina with a married mistress (played by Kidman), and Perkins was a buttoned-down family man with five daughters.  The movie basically just tells the story of their sometimes-difficult relationship as Perkins shaped Wolfe’s thousands of pages into manageable novels that met mainstream and critical success.  Other authors that Perkins edited also pop up, like a washed-up F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce, Memento) and a macho Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West, 300).  And the always-welcome Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) has a small part as Mrs. Perkins.  I thought it wasn’t a bad movie.  It may have helped that I had actually read one of Wolfe’s novels, Look Homeward, Angel; you can read my review here and see if it sounds like your cup of tea.

Mr. Holmes

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Mr. Holmes  (B+).  This movie features an Oscar-bait performance by Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) as none other than Sherlock Holmes himself.  But this Holmes is 93 years old and has long since retired from his work as a P.I.  Now he tends bees in a seaside village, looked after by a widowed housekeeper (Laura Linney, The Nanny Diaries) and her son Roger (Milo Parker, Robot Overlords).  There’s not a whole lot of plot, but mainly Holmes struggles with his failing memory and tries to recall the details of his last case—the one that spurred him to retire some 30 years earlier, even though he was still in full possession of his faculties.  It is a good little movie, anchored by McKellan’s performance, solidly supported by Linney’s and Parker’s.  I say check it out.

The Skeleton Twins

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Skeleton Twins (B-).  I wasn’t sure if this movie was really going to be my cup of tea, but I just like the heck out of star Kristen Wiig.  She was such a lovable basket case in Bridesmaids, and such a sweet naïf in Paul.  Well, she’s not so lovable in this tale of adult-sibling dysfunction.  As our movie opens, Milo (Bill Hader, Adventureland), a fairly flamboyant gay man, is unsuccessfully attempting to commit suicide.  After that, his equally depressed twin sister Maggie (Wiig) drags him away from L.A. to stay with her and her amiable husband Lance (Luke Wilson, The Family Stone) for a while in some small town in New York.  Milo and Maggie haven’t spoken for ten years, so it’s tough for them to live under one roof together, but they sort of try to help each other work through their issues in their dysfunctional, sabotaging sort of way.  Hader and Wiig are good actors, so I enjoyed it pretty well, but there have been better movies about the sometimes difficult relationships between adult siblings.  I’d recommend You Can Count on Me, starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, or The Savages, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and, again, Laura Linney.

The Squid and the Whale

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The Squid and the Whale  (C).  Alas, this is not a movie about a titanic clash between a sperm whale and a giant squid (although there is a connection, oddly enough).  No, this 2005 release is a family drama with a big old side of dysfunction.  The movie stars Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) in what I think was sort of a breakout role for him.  He plays Walt, the teenaged son of an unhappily married couple played by Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia) and Laura Linney (The City of Your Final Destination).  When their parents separate, Walt and his younger brother Frank have trouble dealing with the consequences.  The dad character, a college professor and fading novelist, is an insufferable jerk, and Walt shows disturbing signs of turning out the same way, such as in his dealings with his rather sweet girlfriend Sophie (Halley Feiffer, Margot at the Wedding).  Anna Paquin (X2) co-stars as one of the dad’s college students who is obviously trouble.  Anyway, it’s an okay movie for what it is, I guess, and at only 81 minutes long it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The City of Your Final Destination

A movie review from The Movie Snob

The City of Your Final Destination (B-). This is the latest from director James Ivory (Howards End), so if you’re expecting a talky drama, you’re right on the money. A young literature professor type named Omar is desperate to write an authorized biography of deceased author Jules Gund, but the trustees of his estate (his widow, his mistress, and his brother) send him a letter denying him permission. Omar’s pushy girlfriend Dierdre pushes him into going to meet them face-to-face (and unannounced) to try to change their minds. The hitch is that they all live on a ranch called Ocho Rios — in Uruguay! But Omar goes, and he uncovers some familial secrets as he gets to know the widow (Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me), the brother (Anthony Hopkins, The Wolfman), and the mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg, 21 Grams). It’s not a bad story if you like this sort of thing, but Omar is such a wishy-washy dishrag of a dude I just wanted to slap him after a while.

The Movie Snob’s 2008 Year in Review!

Happy New Year, and welcome to The Movie Snob’s Best of 2008 column. As usual, I will consider all movies I saw in a movie theater during calendar year 2008. As usual, this means that a lot of the previous year’s releases will be included, ’cause I didn’t see them until 2008. For the record, I saw 50 movies in theaters in 2008, down slightly from the 58 films that I saw in 2007.

Movie of the Year: My pick is The Savages, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings who are suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to find end-of-life care for their estranged and Alzheimer’s-stricken father. Hoffman and Linney give fine performances, and the whole movie just rings very true.

Runner Up: I also have to give high marks to Michael Clayton, a legal thriller that kept an iron grip on my attention from beginning to end. George Clooney stars as the title character, a lawyer at a top law firm who specializes in “fixing” things when particularly sticky problems come up. Things get real sticky when another lawyer in the firm, who has been the lead attorney defending some nasty environmental polluter, seems to go crazy and threatens to blow the whistle on the client.

Best Animated Feature: I mention this category next, because the fabulous movie Wall-E would also be my pick for the third-best movie I saw this year—which I think makes it my favorite movie actually released in 2008. Runner-up status goes to Persepolis, a very interesting movie about what it was like to grow up in Iran and to be a child when the Islamic Revolution swept the Shah out of power.

Best Drama: There were several other excellent dramas this year, to go with the four mentioned above. I loved The Visitor, about a lonely widower who is virtually brought back to life by the results of his unexpected discovery that two illegal immigrants are living in the apartment he kept in New York City. I thoroughly enjoyed Charlie Wilson’s War, even though it had Julia Roberts in it. Atonement also cast its spell over me, even though (or perhaps because) I never read the book on which it is based. And last but not least, and despite the mixed critical reaction, I really liked Australia, which just happens to star Nicole Kidman.A sheer coincidence, I am sure.

Best Comedy: No comedies really knocked my socks off this year. Forced to pick one, I’d probably go with Baby Mama, starring the ubiquitous and talented Tina Fey. I also got some decent laughs out of Role Models and Tropic Thunder. But all in all it was not a banner year for comedy.

Best Action/Adventure: The new Chronicles of Narnia movie, Prince Caspian, was a nonstarter for me as for most, and I haven’t yet gotten around to Quantum of Solace. That leaves The Dark Knight and Iron Man, and I enjoyed Iron Man distinctly more than I enjoyed the latest Batman flick. So Iron Man gets the nod in this category, although I liked Dark Knight well enough too.

Best Documentary: I saw a few good ones this year, but my pick for the best is American Teen, which is more than a little reminiscent of MTV’s The Real World set in a wholesome all-American high school in some small Midwestern town. Also getting thumbs up are a couple of IMAX movies I saw, Dolphins and Whales and Amazing Journeys. I think Amazing Journeys originally came out in 1999, though, so it’s probably even more out of place on this list than the 2007 releases I’ve been mentioning.

Best Foreign Film: I think I saw only one, and it was a good one—the French import A Secret, about a French boy who gradually learns about how his (Jewish) parents met, how they survived World War II, and various other dark family secrets. I recommend it. I also liked Happy-Go-Lucky, which was made in England, so I guess it counts as a foreign movie. The ever-happy-go-lucky main character (Sally Hawkins) won’t appeal to everyone, but I liked her.

Honorable Mentions. Other movies I would single out to recommend to you: Enchanted is perfectly enchanting, about the animated princess who is magically transported to real-world Manhattan. If, and only if, you are an ABBA fan, I would recommend Mamma Mia! to you—and then it’s pointless, because you’ve obviously already seen it. City of Ember, starring up-and-comer Saoirse Ronan, is a worthy effort in the science-fiction-for-young-adults category. Rachel Getting Married is a worthy effort in the big-star-plays-drug-addict category—kudos to Anne Hathaway for looking strung out and luminous at the same time. And I liked Hancock for its remarkable plot twist, Slumdog Millionaire for its unabashed celebration of true love, and The Other Boleyn Girl because, well, just because.

The Nanny Diaries

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Nanny Diaries (B-). I was surprised that this movie did not do better at the box office, considering how popular the book was. (I read and enjoyed the book, way back when, but have long since forgotten most of the details.) The movie is a pleasant-enough way to spend 106 minutes. Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin) is a young woman trying to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. By sheer happenstance, she finds herself hired on as the nanny for a fabulously wealthy family in Manhattan, with Mrs. X (Laura Linney, The Savages) as her exceptionally high-strung boss. She bonds with her charge, a kid by the name of Grayer (Nicholas Art, Syriana), and tries to flirt with the Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer) who lives in the Xes’ building, all the while knowing that the situation will have to come to an end–probably sooner than later, given Mrs. X’s temper. Linney steals the show, in my opinion, but then she’s always good. Worth a rental.

The Savages

Movie review from The Movie Snob

The Savages (A). If this movie doesn’t get some love at Oscar time, it will be a sin. Two of our finest actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War) and Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) play Jon and Wendy Savage, a brother and sister living in Buffalo and NYC, respectively. Out of the blue, they get word that their estranged father, who has been living in Arizona, needs their assistance. His long-time live-in girlfriend has died, and he is beginning to suffer from dementia. Dutifully and only somewhat resentfully, they get him back to New York and into a Buffalo nursing home. This is a matter-of-fact, slice-of-life drama, with realistic characters dealing with an all too realistic situation. Jon and Wendy have messy personal lives and have a few heated arguments, but they basically love each other and generally try to do the decent thing. Excellent movie.

p.s.; Titanica

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

p.s. (C-). My better judgment was to avoid this movie because its plot is so similar to that of the terrible Nicole Kidman vehicle Birth. But I plunged in anyway, mostly because it stars Laura Linney, whom I have liked ever since seeing her for the first time in the wonderful You Can Count on Me. I thought I saw somewhere that there’s some other connection between that movie and this one, maybe the same producer or something. But Linney’s fine performance can’t overcome the inherent problems of the storyline. In this movie, Linney is Louise Harrington, admissions director of Columbia’s fine arts program. Her life, which appears none too happy, is thrown into turmoil by the appearance of the grad-school application of one F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace, of That 70’s Show), who turns out to be the spitting image of Harrington’s long-deceased high-school sweetheart (who was also named Scott Feinstadt). Harrington quickly departs from the approved admissions process where young Feinstadt is concerned, and other disturbing behavior by other characters is discussed if not actually shown on screen. I liked it better than Birth, probably because this apparently reincarnated lover is at least in his early 20’s, instead of being ten. And I think the characters in this movie react to the bizarre coincidence of Feinstadt’s existence a little more believably than the characters in Birth did to their mystery boy. Still, is p.s. a good movie? No. Do yourself a favor and go rent You Can Count on Me instead.

Titanica (D+). While I was home for Thanksgiving, I made my usual pilgrimage to Arkansas’ only IMAX theater to check out the new movie. It turned out to be this very old and not very good movie about the Titanic. The focal point was a 1987 Soviet (!) expedition to the wreck, and there was some decent footage from the expedition’s deep dives to the site. And interspersed throughout the film were a few comments about the wreck from a survivor of the disaster (she was seven at the time). But the movie felt very padded, and ended quite abruptly. James Cameron’s 3-D IMAX movie about his expedition, Ghosts of the Abyss, was much better and more informative.

Love Actually

From the Movie Snob:

Love Actually. (B-) This is roughly 12 different movies about love, mostly of the romantic variety, crammed into a little more than two hours. Most of the dozen different plots intersect the others only tangentially (e.g., Laura Linney works in the same office as Alan Rickman, who is married to Emma Thompson, who is the sister of Prime Minister Hugh Grant . . . .). Inevitably, all of the individual stories are short-changed, and I really wished the director had chopped out some of the less interesting (and even unpleasant) story-lines and focused on the best two or three. Then the director could have explored some of the more interesting issues about love: the tension between romantic and familial love, the effects of infidelity and the temptation to infidelity, love across class and cultural lines, loss of a loved one, etc. But these issues have to compete with too much silliness and too much emphasis on the sexual aspect of love, so what’s left is a long, inconsistent romantic comedy with, admittedly, quite a few laughs along the way. And what’s with this song by Dido that seems to show up on so many soundtracks? I think it’s called “Here With Me,” and it was the theme song for the WB television show Roswell, then it was on the soundtrack for the movie Bounce, and now it crops up in this movie too. I like the song, but come on.

Mystic River

A joint review from Elder Statesman John and the Movie Snob.

This weekend we both saw Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood, and we both liked it. Although we find the rhapsodic critical praise for the movie a bit overblown, there is no question that Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon turn in Oscar-caliber performances.

(WARNING: the following review CONTAINS SPOILERS.) The movie is set in a blue-collar area of Boston. At the beginning, we see Penn, Robbins, and Bacon’s characters as children, playing hockey in the street. Robbins’s character is abducted and sexually abused by two men posing as police officers. He escapes a few days later, but not surprisingly the episode severely damages him and destroys the trio’s friendship. Fast forward 25 years. Bacon is a cop, Penn is an ex-convict running a corner store, and Robbins is, well, it’s not clear what he does for a living, but he is visibly haunted (consumed, even) by the ghosts of the past. Yet, somehow he is married and has a young son. (It is one of the movie’s weaknesses that it makes Robbins’s character pretty seriously messed up but gives him a very normal-seeming wife and child.) A new and terrible crime in the neighborhood pulls all three men back together. Great performances by the leads (and by Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney, as Robbins’s and Penn’s wives) elevate the movie well above the mark set by the Law and Order-style plot.

Movie Snob: I was ready to give it a B when I walked out of the theater, but this film has really stayed with me since then. It’s at least a B+, maybe an A-. Still, Unforgiven remains my favorite Clint Eastwood movie. Postscript–Laurence Fishburne gives a nicely understated performance as Kevin Bacon’s partner on the Massachusetts State Police.

Elder Statesman: Very good movie, which I recommend. That said, however, it’s not pure greatness. Penn and Bacon are superb, as they generally are. I was not as taken with Tim Robbins’s performance as some were. I would call it like the Snob: somewhere between B+ and A-.