Little Women (2019)

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Little Women (2019) (A-).  I haven’t seen any of the numerous prior dramatizations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, and I haven’t read the book itself in decades, so I was a fairly clean slate.  I just remembered it was the story of four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) living with their mother “Marmee” in the North while their father was off with the Union army in the Civil War.  Director and adapter Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) complicates the narrative by making the “present” some seven years later and having headstrong sister Jo (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) remember the Civil War-era events in extensive flashbacks.

At first, I didn’t care for the movie very much, but it quickly grew on me.  I think it was mainly the story—the little domestic squabbles, setbacks, and victories—that won me over.  Aside from Ronan, who’s always good, and Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated…) in a small but fun part as the girls’ rich and crusty spinster aunt, I thought the acting was merely adequate.  Emma Watson (This Is the End) didn’t have a lot to do as oldest sister Meg.  Laura Dern (Star Wars Episode VIII) mostly just beams happily at her wonderful daughters.  And I thought Amy, the youngest sister, was miscast.  I vaguely remember her as a flighty, spoiled, kid-sister type in the novel, but Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is a sturdy, husky-voiced gal who seemed more mature than all three of her “older” sisters.  I expect she’ll be a better fit for her part in the upcoming Marvel movie Black Widow.

Into the Woods

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Into the Woods  (B-).  I had never seen this musical before, and all I really knew about it was that it was some kind of mash-up of various fairy tales.  The film version brought together a lot of talent–lyricist Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd), director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and actresses Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect).  But the result was only a little better than mediocre, in my opinion.  The plot blends four familiar fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella) with one original one involving a baker, his wife, and a witch’s curse.  The performances were fine, and the musical numbers were fine but not particularly memorable.  (One notable exception was a duet by two charming princes about the agony of love; that one was pretty entertaining.  Chris Pine (Star Trek) made a fine comedic Prince Charming.)  The main thing I liked about the movie was that it was unpredictable; it definitely kept me curious about what was going to happen next.  Oh, and having Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau) in the movie certainly didn’t hurt.  I’d say it’s worth the price of a matinee.  Note that it is rated PG for thematic elements (whatever those are), fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

The Homesman

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Homesman (B).  Westerns are such exotic creatures, I like to try to see them whenever a new one is released.  Of course, they are frequently terrible, like the January Jones vehicle Sweetwater, but I admire directors who try to breathe life into this wheezy old genre.  I assumed this one would be laughably bad from the capsule reviews I read: Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) stars as Mary Bee Cuddy, a tough-as-nails farmer in the Nebraska Territory who agrees to transport three pioneer women back East because the three have gone stark raving mad from the tragedies and hardships of life on the frontier.  It turned out to be not half bad.  Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black 3) directs and co-stars as a crusty old ne’er-do-well who agrees to help Cuddy attempt the six-week trek through dangerous and desolate Indian country.  Swank gives a brave performance as a lonely 31-year-old spinster who gets told to her face, more than once, that she is a very plain-looking woman, and bossy to boot.  It’s a pretty grim tale, with some moments of dark humor to lighten (?) the mood.  I’d give it a higher grade but for a serious twist that seemed pretty unlikely to me.  You’ll be impressed at how many famous actors Jones persuaded to be in his pic, including Meryl Streep (Hope Springs), John Lithgow (Interstellar), James Spader (Lincoln), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), and Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers).  Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer (Frances Ha) plays one of the crazy women.

Hope Springs

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Hope Springs  (B).  Despite the presence of funnyman Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), this is no comedy.  Tommy Lee Jones (Batman Forever) and Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated) star as Arnold and Kay, a long-married couple out in Omaha, Nebraska.  Kay is desperately unhappy, and who can blame her?  He’s a gruff old coot who pays way more attention to TV shows about golf than he does to her.  Kay picks up a book about improving your marriage by Dr. Bernie Feld (Carell), and before you know it she has signed herself and Arnold up for a week of intensive couples therapy with Dr. Feld in the charming Maine town of Hope Springs.  Arnold, of course, fights tooth and nail against it the whole way, but of course he has to relent and go along with the therapy a little or else there’s no movie.  I thought it was pretty good, although perhaps a real-life week of intensive couples therapy for two sixty-somethings wouldn’t focus quite so single-mindedly on their sex life.(?)  Elizabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting) and Tom Cruise’s First Wife (Lost in Space) show up in bit parts.

Lions for Lambs

The Bleacher Bum sends us this DVD review.

Lions for Lambs: Titan actors Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise star.  Redford directs. But viewers sleep thirty minutes in. Redford is a political science professor at USC trying to encourage his most talented student to take action to shape the world and the country.  Streep, a television journalist, is interviewing Cruise, a GOP Senator, on his strategy for the war in Afghanistan.. The movie tries to be a high-brow thought-provoking look at political and military action in America.  But the movie turns into a Sunday episode of Meet the Press. Peter Berg is great as an Army Colonel that sends soldiers on a dangerous mission based on Cruise’s plan. This movie was more lamb than lion. Grade D+

The Living Sea

New review from The Movie Snob

The Living Sea (B-). Once again, Little Rock’s IMAX theater puts itself on the cutting edge by showing a fresh documentary from . . . 1995. Narrated by Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated), this is a pretty standard ocean-going documentary, placing a slight extra emphasis on the interconnectedness of all the oceans. There was some wasted time, as with extended footage of a bunch of surfers, but there were also some decent stretches, such as a look at a peculiar salt-water lake in the Pacific island nation of Palau. Considering the price tag was under $6 for the movie ticket, popcorn, and coke, I thought it was a pretty good deal.

It’s Complicated

DVD review from The Movie Snob

It’s Complicated (C-). With a cast headed by Meryl Streep (Manhattan), Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October), and Steve Martin (Bowfinger), you can’t really blame the cast for the lameness of this movie. I blame writer/director Nancy Meyers of The Holiday and Something’s Gotta Give fame. Oh. Well, it’s not like her other movies were any good either. Anyhoo, the versatile Streep stars as Jane Adler, a divorcee who has it all — a successful career as a cafe owner, a beautiful California house with ocean view, three lovely and virtually grown-up children, and enough money to hire architects to design a total remodel of said house. But she’s not over her ex-husband Jake (Baldwin), and even though he has remarried (a much younger and much less pleasant woman), Jane and Jake start an affair when they are reunited at their son’s college graduation. But her architect Adam (Martin) is a much nicer guy and is plainly interested in going out with her. What is a woman to do? It had a few laughs, but on the whole it was just kind of tawdry and unpleasant. Skip it.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

New from The Movie Snob

Fantastic Mr. Fox (B+). I was unfamiliar with the children’s book this movie is based on, but I still got a kick out of the movie. Filmed in claymation, it is basically the story of an escalating war between Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney, The Peacemaker) and three mean farmers. In this world, foxes, badgers, possums, beavers, and rabbits live basically like civilized people (except they live mostly underground). The problem is that Mr. Fox cannot resist his natural urges to steal chickens and whatnot from the farmers, despite having promised his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia!) long ago that his stealing days were over. The movie is a treat visually, and the quirky dialogue and plot are perhaps no surprise given that the movie is directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums). The finger-snapping rat voiced by Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) steals every scene he’s in. An odd, amusing, and entertaining little film. Even the soundtrack is odd, including the seldom-heard “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys and a track by the almost-forgotten Bobby Fuller Four (known almost entirely for “I Fought the Law”).

Julie & Julia

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Julie & Julia (B-). This is a pleasant little diversion based on two true-life stories. One is about Julia Child, who famously brought the art of French cooking to America in the years after WWII. The other is about Julie Powell, a modern New Yorker who needs a goal. The goal she adopts is to cook every recipe in Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia!) plays Child as a generally happy giant of a woman, and it is fun to watch her navigate a Parisian cooking school and wrangle her acquired knowledge into a format that an American publishing company will buy. Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning) plays Powell as a bit of a self-absorbed sad-sack, with a soul-crushing job as a cubicle-dweller who spends all day on the phone dealing with claims and complaints relating to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Powell apparently spun a successful blog and then book out of her traversal of Child’s cookbook, but the movie left me wondering–did Powell ever get to meet her hero before Child’s death in 2004?

Doubt

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Doubt (B). To avoid spoilers, I can only give the barest set-up of this play-turned-major-motion-picture. The setting is a Catholic grade school in Chicago, late 1964. The school principal is the classic nun-with-an-iron-fist, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep, Death Becomes Her). Apparently fairly new on the scene is Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages), whose efforts to make the Church more open and welcoming are not at all appreciated by the Iron Nun. In the middle is sweet, youngish Sister James (Amy Adams, Enchanted), who sees just enough unusual behavior to wonder if Father Flynn’s relationship with the only black student in the eighth grade is entirely proper. She confides what she saw to Sister Aloysius, and the plot is on its way. I thought the performances were pretty good, but the very last scene was a real clunker to me. It definitely cost the movie some points. On the whole, though, it wasn’t bad.

Mamma Mia!

New review from The Movie Snob

Mamma Mia! (B). I saw the traveling production of the musical Mamma Mia! when it came through Dallas a few years ago, and I was underwhelmed by everything except the volume, which was deafening. As you already know if you have the slightest interest in this musical/movie, it is a very thin plot stretched over a musculature of songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA. I like ABBA’s music (as do many others–Bono included, if I remember correctly), but I did not like the musical. The movie version, however, worked for me. Maybe it actually helped to have people who are not professional singers doing the singing. Maybe it helped to be able to see what was going on, which I couldn’t when I was sitting in the back of balcony at Fair Park Music Hall. Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) sings reasonably well and looks like she’s having a lot of fun. The ingenue (Amanda Seyfried, Letters to Juliet) who plays her daughter is pretty and ingenuous. Colin Firth (Before I Go to Sleep) is pretty much always good. And poor Pierce Brosnan (Mrs. Doubtfire)! Watching him strain to get the words of S.O.S. out is worth the price of admission. (He made a good James Bond, but he can not sing.) I feel safe in saying this one is for ABBA fans only.

The Devil Wears Prada – Take Two

From The Movie Snob

The Devil Wears Prada (B). We’ve already reviewed this one, so I’ll be brief. Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) plays Andy, a college graduate and aspiring journalist who has moved to NYC and who dreams of Making A Difference in the world. Yet, almost despite herself, she lands a job as the second assistant to the Miranda Priestly, the powerful and feared editor of a Vogue-like magazine. Meryl Streep (Death Becomes Her, A Prairie Home Companion) steals the show as the icy yet ferocious Priestly. The story arc is not exactly groundbreaking—naive but talented newcomer in the big city makes good but risks losing her soul in the process—but the doe-eyed Hathaway and the amazing Streep make the predictable material enjoyable. Worth a look.

The Devil Wears Prada

Review from The Bleacher Bum.

The Devil Wears Prada

This movie was written and directed with a specific audience in mind, and I can promise, I do not fit into that demographic. The movie stars Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Adrian Grenier (sans E, Drama, Turtle, and Ari) The movie is from the best-selling book of the same name by Lauren Weisberger. This story would be better served as a play instead of a movie. Andrea (Hathaway, Interstellar) takes a job at a fashion magazine in New York, and her boss is the demanding and ruthless Miranda (Streep, Into the Woods). The story lacked depth and true conflict, but it was comical and moved along. Streep was great and owns the role and the movie. She steals every scene, and when she is not around, you are just waiting for her to appear again. Tucci is sharp and funny as the movie’s conscience. The movie was made for girls’ night out and should only be watched as such.

Bleacher Bum Review Scale:
Homerun
Triple
Double
Single
Strikeout

The Devil Wears Prada: Double

A Prairie Home Companion

New review by The Movie Snob

A Prairie Home Companion (B). I saw this movie last weekend, but I’m only now getting around to blogging about it. It’s just a comfortable little movie with a few laughs and a lot of nostalgia. I’ve never listened to Garrison Keillor’s long-running radio show of the same name, but the premise of this movie is that his radio station up in Minnesota has been bought out by some soulless Texas corporation, and the action all takes place during his last show from this old-timey theater. It’s a variety show with performers like a past-their-prime sister act (Lily Tomlin, Nashville; Meryl Streep, Hope Springs) and a couple of joke-telling and singing cowboys (Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri; John C. Reilly, Walk Hard). A very skinny Lindsey Lohan (Mean Girls) shows up as Streep’s suicide-obsessed, bad-poetry-writing daughter. Kevin Kline (My Old Lady) is on hand as Guy Noir, the theater’s bumbling but dapper security chief. And Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman) shows up as the corporate heavy from the Lone Star State. An enjoyable wisp of a movie.

Review Potpourri from Movie Man Mike

Lots of reviews from Movie Man Mike:

Current releases:

An Inconvenient Truth  (A-). I had not planned to see this movie, but I wound up seeing it anyway. Man, am I glad I went to this. Yes, I have read many stories in the past year or two about global warming and the fact that scientists are now in agreement that the earth is getting warmer. But, this movie really takes the facts and makes them into a sobering picture of where our planet stands today. There are a few “political statements” in the movie, but it would be difficult to make this film without some reference to politics since it’s the political climate that controls the environmental climate–and this movie hopes to change both. I am glad to see Al Gore has gotten back to the subject he cares so deeply about, and his presentation is very smooth and compelling. I recommend this movie for all lovers of the planet.

Kinky Boots  (B). I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It was recommended to me by my neighbor, who happens to be the manager of the Angelika theater. This is a film about finding your place in the world and learning tolerance. Following his father’s death, Charlie Price reluctantly takes charge of his father’s shoe factory, only to discover that the factory is in deep economic trouble. Charlie’s efforts to save the factory result in a chance meeting with a drag queen, Lola. Together Charlie and Lola devise a scheme to transform the factory, and save the jobs of all its employees. The story is a lot of fun and very entertaining. Lola, played by Chiwetel Ejifior (Serenity) is a brilliant show-stealer.

On DVD:

Prime  (B). I never saw this film at the theaters, and I can’t imagine why. It’s cute and it’s a romantic comedy—a combination that generally does well at the box office. The film stars Meryl Streep (A Prairie Home Companion) who plays a Jewish therapist, and Uma Thurman (Percy Jackson . . . The Lightning Thief) who is one of Streep’s patients. The film begins with Thurman’s having broken up with a serious boyfriend. She soon meets a much younger man, who turns out to be Streep’s son. That’s when the story gets very strange, comical and interesting as Streep violates her ethical obligations and Thurman tells all sorts of private details to Streep during their sessions, to the point that Streep is unable to take it any longer. The story is one of personal growth, and love and learning. It was well worth the rental price.

On the stage:

Bombay Dreams (C). I was not impressed with this Summer Musical. Somewhere in the show there was a story that had potential, and maybe that was the “idea” that Andrew Lloyd Webber is credited with. The setting for the musical is Bombay, India. The story focuses upon themes of love, cultural class, and fame and fortune. The main character is a young man from the slums who has a dream of making it big in film. He succeeds in his dream and forgets about the friends and family in the slum, who were the motivation for his dream in the first place. As one might expect, he is shocked into acknowledging is roots and saving the community he grew up in. None of the musical numbers in this show are particularly memorable (at least not in a way you want to remember them). The cast had a few good vocalists, but this was not a good platform for showcasing their talents. I do not recommend this musical.

Prime

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Prime (C). This new movie starring Meryl Streep (The Homesman) and Uma Thurman (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) must be classified, I suppose, as a romantic comedy. The film is, however, relatively short on the comedy side; if you have seen the previews, you have already seen most of the funny stuff (and you already know something that the movie insists on treating as a surprise, albeit one revealed after only 20 minutes or so). So the romantic/dramatic side of the film has to do most of the work, and it is not particularly successful. The set-up is this: Rafi (Thurman) is 37, and she is an emotional wreck, largely due, we are led to believe, to her impending divorce. But no sooner is she divorced than she starts a whirlwind romance with aspiring artist David (Bryan Greenberg, Friends with Benefits), who appears to be her soulmate but for the inconvenient fact that he is only 23. Streep provides most of the comic relief as Rafi’s therapist. The funny bits are reasonably amusing, but the romance never really takes off. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is—maybe because Thurman’s character is underdeveloped, maybe because Greenberg isn’t particularly charismatic. I did find the movie somewhat thought-provoking on the whole age-difference business, perhaps because I happen to be 37 myself. What would it be like, I wondered, to date a 23-year-old? To the movie’s credit, it tries to deal with that issue fairly seriously. It’s not great, but there are plenty of worse movies out there.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

A new review from Movie Man Mike:

A Series of Unfortunate Events. (B-) To begin with, the most unfortunate event was that I went to see this movie at the theater. It will be more enjoyable if you don’t pay full price for it. J.K. Rowling has nothing to fear from this little upstart of a film series. The cast of this movie was promising, with Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, and an actor who looks suspiciously like John Cleese, but who is not credited as John Cleese. With the exception of Jude Law, who narrates, each of these actors plays intriguing and humorous characters. The story seemed to drag a little, which was surprising since it appears that the producers tried to fit 3 of the books into one movie. One thing missing from this film were some of the laughs. Most of the humor was mildly amusing. This movie might appeal more to children, but I personally would not recommend it for children because it’s a little dark given that it begins with the children learning that their parents were killed in a horrible fire. The rest of the film involves attempts to place the children with various relatives and the scheming of one relative, Count Olaf, to acquire the children’s inheritance even if it involves the killing of other relatives. The whole time I kept worrying about the impact of this film on my impressionable nieces and nephews. Leave the kids at home, and if you rent it, watch it after the kids have gone to bed.

Matrix Reloaded; 25th Hour; Adaptation; Bend It Like Beckham

A passel of reviews from Maggie, The Movie Queen:

Matrix Reloaded. (B-) Even though I am usually not a huge fan of this kind of movie, I liked the first Matrix because of the special effects and this one for the same reason. The acting is definitely NOT stellar. I mean, God love Keanu, but he is truly terrible. He should stick with Bill & Ted’s level of movies. The acting would maybe have really ruined the movie and therefore forced it into the C category, but there is so much action and so little dialogue, that it wasn’t too painful to put up with Keanu. I did think it got a little long, but it was well worth the matinee price and well worth seeing it on the big screen where the special effects could be well-appreciated.

25th Hour. (C-) This is the Spike Lee movie with Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson and Barry Pepper. The movie follows Edward Norton, who plays a drug dealer during his last day before being sent to prison for 7 years. It was typical Spike Lee–very preachy! I felt like half of the movie should have just been him, standing on a soapbox, preaching his slightly messed up morality. I usually like Edward Norton and I did think he was good in it, but the story was poor, the plot boring and the whole thing was much too slow. Even Mr. Norton couldn’t save this one.

Adaptation. (B) This is the movie with Nicolas Cage (who was up for the Oscar for Best Actor), Meryl Streep (I can’t remember if she was up for this one) and Chris Cooper (who won Best Supporting Actor Oscar). It is about a screenwriter, Cage who is trying to “adapt” a book Meryl Streep wrote about Chris Cooper into a screen play. The characters were definitely colorful, although, pretty sad and the story was good. However, I really felt like it fell apart at the end and went down a road that it just couldn’t recover from. I love Nick Cage, I mean the man was H.I. for God’s sake, so maybe I can’t be rational, but I thought he was exceptional in this movie. He played himself and his twin and did it very well. I was impressed—he has definitely learned a little bit since Raising Arizona, although he will never be as endearing as he was in that, the “mother of all movies.”

Bend it Like Beckham. (B) Girl-power movie about an Indian girl and her English friend who are passionate about playing football (that’s soccer for us Yanks). They both have to deal with unsupportive parents and some ridicule from other girls and boys, but who still struggle to keep playing and dream of going to America to play professionally. There is, of course, a little romance mixed in, just in case the fact that it is a total girl movie (in the same spirit of Blue Crush, but worlds above) hasn’t totally roped in all the potential female audience members. It was cute—sort of a cross between My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Blue Crush. Maybe worth a rental, especially if you girls have a night to yourselves or if the boys are really trying to impress a date!! (David, take note…aren’t you always in the market for a little dating advice?)

Okay, that is all from the Queen. I think that these new additions will help to secure my first place title. And, just in case you were wondering…The Queen is definitely back in business—no more of this motherhood thing distracting me from my true calling!!