Brad’s Status

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Brad’s Status  (B-).  Hm, Ben Stiller plays a guy facing a midlife crisis.  Didn’t he just do this a few years ago in While We’re Young?  Well, he’s at it again in this new dramedy, with fair to middling results.  Here it’s not just middle age that’s getting to Brad Sloan (Stiller), but also Facebook.  Brad, you see, has a perfectly decent middle-class life in Sacramento with a cute, loving wife (Jenna Fischer, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) and a musically talented teenage son (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns).  But his best friends from college (played by guys like Luke Wilson, The Skeleton Twins, and Michael Sheen, Passengers) are all (according to Facebook) wildly successful in various ways, and some 25 years after college they’re starting to leave Brad out of their get-togethers.  This eats away at Brad something fierce, and we hear his neurotic thoughts in frequent voiceovers.  And his unhappy thoughts provoke some awkward and embarrassing behavior when he and his son go tour some colleges in the northeast.  I didn’t think it was bad, and I particularly enjoyed a scene in which a perceptive Harvard student calls Brad out on his very First World problems.  Worth a look if Blade Runner 2049 is sold out.

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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 Movie Snob’s 2009 Year in Review!

Happy New Year, and welcome to my annual movie round-up. If I saw a movie in the theater in 2009, I consider it fair game for this column, even if it was technically a 2008 release. I saw 62 movies in the theater last year, and these are the most worthy of your attention.

Movie of the Year: My pick is The Hurt Locker, a taut thriller about the Iraq War that has a strong documentary feel to it. The actor who carries the movie, Jeremy Renner, does a heck of a job as a bomb-defusing expert. I think the movie recently came out on DVD, so check it out.

Runner Up: The number 2 spot goes to a 2008 release, The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke. He should have won the Oscar for his moving portrayal of a washed-up professional wrestler. The scenes in which he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, are especially moving, but the whole movie is excellent.

Best Action/Adventure Flick: And my pick for the 3d best movie I saw this year would be District 9, the out-of-nowhere sci-fi movie about a shantytown of extraterrestrials living outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, and the clueless bureaucrat whose job is to push all the aliens into an even more remote concentration camp. I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel to this one! Honorable mention goes to J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the Star Trek franchise, even if he rewrote Trek history in the process.

Best Animated Feature: With the caveat that I haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog yet, I’ll go with the obvious choice of Up, in which a grumpy old man ties enough helium balloons to his house to fly all the way to South America. But except for the awesome opening montage that tells the whole story of the man’s life in just a few minutes, I didn’t think Up was really all that great.

Best Comedy: I’ll stretch this category a teensy bit and pick My One and Only, a winsome little movie that is supposedly based on episodes in the life of George Hamilton during his teen years. The redoubtable Renee Zellweger plays George’s mother, a hapless Southern belle searching for love in all the wrong places. I’m probably exaggerating its merits, but I really liked it at the time. Same goes for Management, a romantic comedy starring Steve Zahn and Jennifer Aniston. It involves a totally impossible romance, but the leads are so likable I just had to like the movie. In the category of crude yet funny, I liked I Love You, Man.

Best Documentary: Let’s go with the obvious choice and pick Disney’s Earth. Who doesn’t love a good nature documentary? I love ’em, and I’ll go ahead and mention Under the Sea 3D as being worthwhile too.

Best Drama: Or maybe it belongs in the comedy category, but either way I really enjoyed Up in the Air starring George Clooney and directed by Jason Reitman. It’s still in the theaters, so get out there and see it! Another movie that straddles the dramedy line is the quirky (500) Days of Summer, starring the quirky yet adorable Zooey Deschanel. While you’re at it, check out the CD she sings on, under the name She & Him. I was also grabbed by the 2008 release The Reader, although I still don’t know quite how I feel about that movie. It’s a strange one.

Best Foreign Film: I don’t think I saw too many foreign films this year, but I liked A Woman in Berlin, about the Russian conquest of Berlin in 1945 as seen through the eyes of one German woman. It was brutal without ever feeling exploitative. I also recommend the book, which I think is still listed as authored by “Anonymous” even though the woman’s identity is known. Another good one was The Class, or Entre les murs, about a French teacher trying to deal with a very fractious and multicultural classroom. Also, Summer Hours, a French movie that’s just a simple little family drama, well-told.

Honorable Mentions: I have a bunch of them. There’s Wendy and Lucy, a little movie about a sad, down-on-her-luck young woman played by Michelle Williams, and her beloved dog. Adventureland is a good little coming-of-age story starring Jesse Eisenberg of Zombieland fame. Moon is a thought-provoking little sci-fi movie. In the Loop is a funny look at the run-up to a fictitious (?) war as seen through the eyes of low-to-mid-level American and British government staffers. The Informant! is a straight movie about a bizarre guy; you just can’t help asking, “Is this really based on a true story? No, really?” Ellen Page scores again in the roller derby movie Whip It. The Coen brothers ask unanswerable questions in A Serious Man. And finally I will mention, based solely on the strength of their visual effects, Disney’s A Christmas Carol and Avatar. See them in 3D, I insist!

First seen on video this year: I haven’t done this before, but I’ll go ahead and recommend a few movies I saw on video this year. The animated feature Bolt is a cute one, about a dog who thinks he has super powers — kind of like a canine Buzz Lightyear. The original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is still surprisingly good, and the 1963 version of The Haunting is still surprisingly scary. I also enjoyed the little-seen Luke Wilson movie Henry Poole Is Here, the classic Western The Gunfighter starring Gregory Peck, and the classics From Here to Eternity and To Have and Have Not.

So that’s my 2009 in a nutshell. Please post your comments and voice your own opinions!

Henry Poole Is Here

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Henry Poole Is Here (B). Luke Wilson (Old School) plays the title character, a middle-aged guy who looks like he is just about to implode. As the movie opens, he wearily buys a nondescript house in a nondescript California suburb, buys a shopping cart full of liquor and junk food at the supermarket, and looks like he is settling in to drink himself to death. But then his curious neighbor Esperanza (Adriana Barraza, Babel) pays him a visit, and she becomes convinced she sees the face of Christ in a water stain on the side of his house. And then Henry meets his other next-door neighbors–the lovely Dawn (Radha Mitchell, Finding Neverland) and her troubled six-year-old daughter Millie. (Does anyone really name their daughter Millie these days? The only Millie I have ever known is 60+ years old now.) What is Henry’s secret sorrow? And is there really a miraculous image on the side of his house? I was drawn in by this little movie, and if my little description remotely appeals to you, I urge you to give it a try.

Vacancy

Nick at Nite knows horror.

Vacancy

Luke Wilson (The Skeleton Twins) and that girl from the Underworld movies star in this under-budgeted, boring, low-rent horror film. Honestly, I am not sure that I understand to whom this movie is intended to appeal. It is not a slasher movie. It is not a suspenseful movie. It is not a scary movie. I think it is intended to be one of these, but it ends up being none of them. Basically, our unhappily married couple ends up with car trouble in the middle of the deserted backwoods in some unidentified state. They end up staying at a very creepy, very dirty, uninhabited hotel. Once in their room, weird things happen. Someone knocks on the door, yet when they open the door, no one is there. Someone calls on the phone, yet when the answer the phone, no one is there. They try to go to sleep and decide to pop in a video tape they found in the room “to help them sleep.” Turns out the video is of a murder that happened in the very room they are in. Then, they must escape. Bored? So was I. Don’t watch this movie. If you want something suspenseful, go see a Hitchcock film. If you want something gory, go see a George Romero flick. If you want a slasher flick, try Hellraiser. This just doesn’t cut it. I give it a “C.”