The Martian

The Move Snob is blown away.

The Martian  (A).  Woo-hoo!  The Movie Snob is back in action.  Recently I’ve been taking care of my mom after cataract surgery, so not much time for movie watching.  But today I got out and finally saw the latest movie from director Ridley Scott (Alien), and I thought it was great.  If you liked Gravity and Apollo 13, you need to get out there and see this film.  Matt Damon (Interstellar) plays a modern-day Robinson Crusoe—an astronaut on a mission to Mars who is separated from the rest of the crew in a terrible windstorm.  His comrades believe (with good reason) that he has been killed, and they have to blast off to save their own lives.  But he survives the storm, and the rest of the movie is about whether he can somehow survive long enough to get rescued.  The cast is full of big stars: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) as the mission commander.  Michael Pena (Ant-Man) as the pilot.  Sean Bean (TV’s Game of Thrones) as the earth-side head of the particular Mars mission.  Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as the overall head of the Mars program (if I understood right).  Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia) as the head of NASA.  Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) as the NASA public-relations person who mostly stands around and looks concerned.  Anyhoo, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I saw the 2D version, but I heard good things about the 3D version.  Check it out before it leaves the theaters.

Mystic Pizza

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystic Pizza  (B).  I found this 1988 flick in a bargain bin at Big Lots! for $1.50.  As fate would have it, I had just read a piece about it in Entertainment Weekly, so I decided to give it a try.  It stars a young Julia Roberts (Charlie Wilson’s War) as a poor young woman named Daisy.  Daisy is a waitress working at a pizza joint in Mystic, Connecticut, alongside her Yale-bound younger sister Kat (Annabeth Gish, Beautiful Girls) and their best pal Jojo (Lili Taylor, Ransom).  The movie spans several months in their lives as they try to deal with man problems—Daisy has attracted the attention of a rich but potentially untrustworthy suitor, Jojo can’t decide whether to marry the fisherman she loves, and Kat falls for a married man after she starts a part-time job babysitting his daughter.  It’s a pretty cheesy movie, but it apparently attracted a strong cult following, and I can see why.  The characters are appealing, and their trials and tribulations are fairly realistically drawn.  Director Donald Petrie would go on to direct Grumpy Old Men and Miss Congeniality.  Look fast and you may spot a young Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo) as the brother of Daisy’s rich suitor.

P.S.  This is the 1500th post on The Movie Court!

We Bought a Zoo

From the desk of The Movie Snob

We Bought a Zoo  (C+).  This was a nice enough little movie, but not good enough to give a strong recommendation.  Matt Damon (The Adjustment Bureau) plays Benjamin Mee, a recent widower and father to an angry 14-year-old son and an adorable 6- or 7-year-old girl.  He decides the family needs a change of scenery, so he starts house hunting.  Before you can say “resale value,” he has bought a house some 9 miles outside of town that is attached to, as the title indicates, a small, broken-down old zoo.  A small team of dedicated zoo employees led by the fetching Kelly (Scarlett Johansson, The Island) tries to help Benjamin get the place up to code so the jerkish state inspector (John Michael Higgins, A Mighty Wind) will let them reopen and start making money to keep the place afloat.  A nice concept, but at 2:04 the movie feels long, the relationship between Benjamin and Kelly is left curiously undercooked, and the talented Elle Fanning (Super 8) is wasted as the youngest zookeeper who inexplicably falls in puppy love with Benjamin’s rude son.  And a few curse words hamper the general family-friendliness of it all.  Its heart is in the right place, but you can definitely wait for the DVD.

Contagion

Movie Man Mike sends us this review.

Contagion. (C-).  The great cast in this film is what attracted me to see it.  Lawrence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Gweneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Elliott Gould.  That should be enough to make a good movie, right?  Nope.  This film had very little plot.  It’s more of a mockumentary.  A what-if scenario.  The film looks at what might happen if a supervirus were to get loose.  That’s too simple of a concept to drive a feature-length film.  A plot is needed.  In about 5 minutes time, you can see how a supervirus can multiply and spread across the globe.  The rest is pretty much filler.  Gweneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet are dead early in the film, so we don’t get to see much of them.  Jude Law plays a blogger and his character is just strange.  As a viewer, you don’t know whether you want to like him or hate him.  Marion Cotillard’s talents are wasted on a role that seems nearly pointless to the overall action.  In short, don’t waste your money on this one–either in the theaters or as a rental.

The Adjustment Bureau

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Adjustment Bureau (C).  I knew from the trailer alone that this movie had to be based on a story by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, whose paranoia-driven work has inspired such movies as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.  According to Bureau, there is a shadowy force of serious men wearing serious suits and hats that secretly controls everything that goes on in the world, making sure that everything happens according to “The Plan.”  But they aren’t quite infallible, or there wouldn’t be a movie.  A straight-talking New York congressman named David Norris (Matt Damon, True Grit) is running for the Senate.  Along the way, he briefly encounters a lovely woman named Elise (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada).  An agent from the Adjustment Bureau is supposed to prevent them from ever meeting again, but he drops the ball, and they meet again and fall in love.  This violates The Plan, so the Bureau goes into overdrive to try to minimize the “ripples” from this mistake–meaning they try to break David and Elise up by any means necessary.  It’s an interesting premise, but I didn’t think the movie generated any real sense of menace or urgency.  It was worth the $1.25 I paid for it, though.

True Grit

New review from The Movie Snob

True Grit (A). I am unfamiliar with the book and the John Wayne version of this movie, so I had no preconceived notions–except that I would probably like this movie because I’ve liked everything I’ve seen by the Coen brothers for a long time. (I still don’t get Barton Fink, though.) Obviously, I thoroughly liked this movie. Hailee Steinfeld is wonderful as Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl whose father has just been murdered in 1870s Fort Smith, Arkansas (on the border with the Indian Territory). Smart and determined, she persuades broken-down federal marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, Tron) to pursue the murderer into the Indian Territory for the promise of a $100 reward. Matt Damon (The Informant!) plays LaBoeuf, a Texas ranger who’s tracking the same guy for a crime he committed in Texas. The dialogue is strangely elevated, almost like a Whit Stillman film, but it somehow seems right. Mayhem is never far away as they track the villainous Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin, The Goonies). Good stuff!

True Grit

A new review from Movie Man Mike

True Grit (A-). I’ll resist the urge to compare this film to the original starring John Wayne–mainly because it’s been too long since I saw the original version. I confess, however, that I was prepared to boycott this film because it seems wrong to push John Wayne deeper into the shadows by making another movie from the book. But when I saw the cast and directors, I couldn’t resist the lure to see it.

This 2010 film is very entertaining. A big part of what makes this movie so good is the witty dialogue. One of my favorite lines is delivered by spitfire Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) after Leboeuf stakes a claim to the outlaw Tom Cheney by telling Ross that he’s been pursuing Cheney hither and yon for a very long time: “Why have you ineffectually been pursuing Cheney?” But even good dialogue needs the actors capable of delivering it, and this film obviously has that, with Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn, Damon as the boasting bounty hunter from Texas, and Josh Brolin as the outlaw Tom Cheney, who killed Ross’s father. Relative newcomer Steinfeld rounds out the cast and proves that she’s an equal to her co-stars. If there is one weakness in this film, it comes at the end when you see a grown-up version of Mattie Ross. The grown-up version doesn’t really match what you’d expect Mattie to become as an adult. But this is a minor point.

I recommend seeing this film. You’ll be glad you did. I was.

Invictus

A new review from guest reviewer Sarah W.

Invictus (A). It is 1994 post-Apartheid South Africa, and President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is looking for a way to erase his country’s past racism and unite the South African people. Mandela’s answer to the struggle: rugby. Mandela saves the white-supported Springboks from black South Africans’ attempts to dismantle the team and asks Springbok captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to lead the team to a World Cup Victory. This tale of the underdog has the potential to lose its credibility in a series of feel-good Disney scenes, but director Clint Eastwood keeps things grounded: the Springboks fight for a team victory, Freeman delivers some incredible Mandela speeches while keeping his character human, and a country is not so much united as it is united behind a sports team. The only real breaking down of barriers is seen among Mandela’s secret service men who, initially apprehensive about working together, engage in a chummy rugby match on Mandela’s lawn. Nonetheless, it is a great depiction of South Africans’ post-Apartheid hope for the future of their country.

The Informant!

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Informant! (B). Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) plays Mark Whitacre, a biochemist and executive at agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland. The company suspects industrial sabotage by a Japanese competitor, and the FBI gets involved. But when an FBI agent (Scott Bakula of Quantum Leap fame) goes out to Whitacre’s house to install a recording device on his telephone, Whitacre drops a bomb: ADM is involved in an international price-fixing conspiracy. He agrees to turn informant and help the Bureau build its antitrust case by wearing a wire. But Whitacre has some . . . difficulties with truth-telling, as it turns out, making the FBI’s job that much more difficult (to say nothing about the challenge Whitacre poses to his own lawyers). I thought it was an entertaining little film, kind of like Catch Me If You Can. On a side note, one of the FBI people is played by Ann Cusack, sister of John and Joan, and even though I couldn’t remember ever seeing her before, there was no mistaking the Cusackness of her voice. Also, old-school comedians Tom and Dick Smothers make cameo appearances.

The Bourne Ultimatum

From The Movie Snob

The Bourne Ultimatum (B+). For what it is, this movie is very good. Matt Damon (The Martian) reprises his role as Jason Bourne, a man who has lost most of his memory but possesses a startling array of skills that would be characteristic of, say, a top-secret CIA agent of some sort. As in the first two movies (as best I can recall), he’s on the run from the CIA because some top brass are afraid that Bourne will spill some of their ugly little secrets. But plot is almost superfluous; what counts are the action sequences in which Bourne must outfox his shady pursuers over and over again. These chase scenes are even more over the top than in the last movie, but everything is filmed so convincingly that I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Three New DVD Reviews from Nick at Nite

Disturbia

Rear Window for the teen set. It is not exactly the same as the Alfred and Jimmy masterpiece, but it is pretty close. Teenager is placed in Martha Stewart lockdown at his house for three months over the summer after he punches his Spanish teacher. Teenager starts to spy on his neighbors and watch the goings on in the neighborhood. Of course, the goings on are bad goings on, and our teenager must deal with it. Even though it is a copy, it isn’t all bad. This is worth a rental. I give it a “B.”

Ocean’s Thirteen

Ocean’s Fourteen, Ocean’s Fifteen, Ocean’s Sixteen . . . as far as I am concerned they can keep making these movies until the end of time. I know it is a formula. I know it is campy. I know it is a continuation of a remake from the original rat pack. Still, I like ’em. These heist films are fantastic. The how-did-they-do-that and comedic bent make them better than the fare you normally see at the cineplex. Sure, my wife likes Pitt, Clooney, and Damon, but that is not main reason we like these movies. We have fun at them. Isn’t that what it is all about? You know, it looks like the actors had fun making this movie. I give it an “A.”

The Ex

I don’t know how I feel about this movie. It has a bunch of actors I like. Jason Bateman (Disconnect), Zach Braff (TV’s Scrubs), Charles Grodin (So I Married an Axe Murderer), Amanda Peet (Gulliver’s Travels), and Mia Farrow (The Great Gatsby). It has some laughs, I always like that. But, it also had some of those fleeting moments of uncomfortableness seen in What About Bob? (why won’t Billy Murray leave Richard Dreyfuss alone?), The Break Up (when it this gonna get funny?), and Swingers (did he really call ten times in a row?) that make my stomach hurt. I watched this with my wife, she kept saying she was going to be very unhappy if it did not have a happy ending. My point is this, when people make movies that are supposed to be funny, they need to be funny, when people want to make dramedies (dramas that have some funny moments), they should clearly label the DVD case or film poster as such. I give a “C+.”

The Bourne Ultimatum

New review by Nick at Nite

The Bourne Ultimatum

I loved this movie. A good spy thriller is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. So few of these films are made that it is a special treat when one is released. So often sequels are a significant disappointment. Superman IV, Jaws III and IV, Back to the Future II and III, Matrix Revolutions, Three Men and a Little Lady, Bambi II, Rocky III and IV, Rambo II and III, Nine to Five II, Sense and Sensibility II, Taxi Driver II, The Fog II, and Braveheart II. It is nice when a sequel comes along that lives up to the hype and is actually better than its predecessors. Here we find Jason Bourne still struggling to figure out who he is and who is to blame for making him into the lethal killing machine that he has become. Most of the questions unresolved by the first two movies are answered in this film. The chase sequences are amazing. There is not a ton of dialogue from Mr. Bourne, but we don’t really need it. Matt Damon was asked, “is there any chance for another sequel?” He responded, “yes, we will call it the Bourne Redundancy.” Here is hoping they can find a way to do it. When it ain’t broken why fix it or change it. I give it an “A.”

The Departed

DVD review from Nick at Nite

The Departed

Stunning. A masterpiece. This is the type of storytelling that justifies going to the movies. Warning. It has some violence. Some would say it is quite graphic. It is not too over the top, especially in comparison to other films from the genre and Mr. Scorsese, e.g., no baseball bat beatings and no dumping of bodies in random cornfields. Nicholson (Anger Management) is fantastic as an Irish mob boss, Damon (Interstellar) is superb as the Irish mob boss’ conflicted crooked cop, and DiCaprio makes me forgive him for Titanic in his portrayal of the undercover cop. The movie is stolen by Alec Baldwin (The Cooler), who as a the head of the state task force on organized crime is playing a part that he was born to play. Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter) has a small, but integral part. It is no surprise he was nominated for an Oscar. I am not going to discuss the plot. Don’t want to give away any of the movie. I will say that the movie doesn’t seem to me to romanticize the real life Irish mob boss that Nicholson’s character is based on. I heard someone say during a radio critique of the movie that the movie somehow made us empathize with this crook. It doesn’t. Incidentally, in real life the Irish mob boss in on the FBI’s ten most wanted list. I give it an “A.” Check it out.

The Brothers Grimm

A new DVD review from Nick at Nite:

The Brothers Grimm

Hard to believe this is the type of crap I used to wait all summer to see. I used to eagerly await the next over-the-top Saturday matinee, however, unlike my experience with such summer greatness as Starship Troopers, Godzilla, Super Mario Brothers, Water World, Starship Troopers II, Deep Impact, and other movies The Movie Snob does not like, I was actually incredibly disappointed with The Brothers Grimm. Seriously, there has to be something better for Heath Ledger and Matt Damon to do. Perhaps they could make Brokeback Mountain II. This movie is the kind of cheese I expect to see from Ben Affleck. No plot. No action. No humor. The movie has no redeeming qualities. I think it is about two guys named Grimm who play on villagers’ fears in Europe to steal their money. Well, they end up in a village where bad things are actually happening and they get stuck in the middle of it. I hated this movie. I wish I had the 2 hours it took me to watch it back. When I die, I am going to wish I had used them doing something else . . . scrubbing a toilet, doing laundry, washing my car, working, anything. Simply, this movie sucked — and I normally like this crap. I give it an “F.”

Munich; Syriana; The Island

New reviews from That Guy Named David.

Munich (A-)

Coming into the this movie, I thought the Munich Olympic massacre occurred in 1968 instead of 1972, showcasing how very little I knew of the event. After the movie, I found myself surfing the internet to find out more about the hostage situation, as well as Israel’s response to the massacre over the next several years. To me, that is the sign of a good movie if it makes me want to learn more about the subject of the movie. The bulk of the movie follows the actions of a hit team organized by the Mossad (Israeli Secret Service) to track down and assassinate those responsible for the murder of the 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. While the movie does spend a significant amount of time showcasing the action scenes portraying each of the assassinations, Spielberg does a masterful job of setting forth the moral equivalency debate that such actions inevitably provoke. Throughout the film, you can see the actions of this hit squad incite reactions from the Muslim groups targeted by the Israelis. Spielberg did not attempt to sugarcoat the acts of Israel, nor justify the acts of the Muslim groups responsible for Israeli-targeted terrorism. However, Munich forces the audience to take in all the acts and make those judgments on their own. Very well-done. One of the best movies I have seen in quite a while.

Syriana (C+)

I saw on a “Best of 2005” movie show where the reviewer listed Syriana as the number 4 movie of 2005. He must have been vying for a position in Section 8 Productions, George Clooney’s production company, because I can name 20 films I saw this year (and some I didn’t see) that put this one to shame. Syriana is a complicated movie intended to set forth the complex relationship between oil companies, foreign governments, Muslim extremists, private and governmental lawyers, energy analysts, princes and emirs, presidents, and the always demonized Central Intelligence Agency. While generally these are the types of stories I find interesting, the way Syriana is made annoyed me more than it kept my attention. Basically, for the first hour or so, you have snapshot followed by snapshot followed by snapshot with absolutely no connections between any of them. Eventually (during the last 30 minutes or so), the director attempts to put the snapshots together to form a mosaic but instead gets a convoluted, confusing, and anti-climactic ending that leaves the viewer wondering what in the hell happened over the past 2+ hours. If you are in the mood for a heavy movie, see Munich. On a side note, they have one scene showcased in the movie that was filmed in Hondo, Texas, hometown of this reviewer. Needless to say, it was a little strange seeing my hometown of 6000 people acknowledged for a few seconds in a George Clooney/Matt Damon movie. Not enough to make me enjoy the movie, but still interesting.

The Island (B-)

Pleasantly surprised. I kinda have a thing for Scarlett Johansson (We Bought a Zoo), and my girlfriend has a major crush on Ewan Moulin Rouge! McGregor (I think we look very similar). Anyway, she refused to watch the movie because the plot line of human clones discovering their clonehood and then attacking their makers really didn’t appeal to her. Nonetheless, because I got bored with football about 8 hours in, I decided to conclude my holiday weekend with a mindless action movie. Not bad. There really isn’t a whole lotta substance to the movie, and the dialogue is weak, but for some reason, I enjoyed it. Maybe I was taken by the beauty of young Ms. Johannson, but in any event, not a bad rental.

The Bourne Supremacy

Slumming with The Movie Snob:

The Bourne Supremacy (B-). Matt Damon reprises his role as Jason Bourne, the amnesiac assassin with a heart of gold. Well, if not gold, then at least silver or bronze. I thought this was a decent spy/action flick except for one thing — the director used way too much hand-held camerawork during the action sequences, which left me disoriented and headachy. As That Guy Named David mentioned, this movie has nothing in common with the book by Robert Ludlum except for the lead character’s name. This was also largely true of The Bourne Identity. I read Identity years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so if you like these movies I encourage you to pick up the book. The sequels, as I recall, were not nearly as good, which may be why the moviemakers have completely abandoned them as source material.