The Greatest Showman

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Greatest Showman  (B).  This musical has done only so-so with the critics (Metacritic.com score 45/100 last time I checked), but I must say that I was entertained.  The versatile and (to me) eminently likable Hugh Jackman (Logan) stars as P.T. Barnum in a film that is apparently very loosely based on the real Barnum’s life.  It is exceptionally sentimental, setting up all sorts of underdogs for us to root for—the impoverished child Barnum in love with the daughter of a rich meanie, the slightly less impoverished adult Barnum hatching his first scheme to entertain the masses, the gaggle of differently abled people (unkindly called “freaks” by some characters) Barnum recruits for his show, and even an inter-racial potential couple.  There are lots of songs, and I must say they mostly sounded kind of the same to me.  And the big song-and-dance numbers featuring Barnum’s performers resemble the big song-and-dance numbers you might see on “Dancing with the Stars,” and the lights and noise pretty well bludgeon you into submission.  Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful) isn’t given much to do as Barnum’s wife, but Zac Efron (Neighbors) and the formerly unknown to me Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) have nice supporting roles and a nice musical number together.  If you don’t mind a little sap and a little schmaltz, I say give The Greatest Showman a chance.

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Oz the Great and Powerful

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Oz the Great and Powerful  (B-).  I think it helped to go into this movie with low expectations.  Sam Raimi of Spider-Man and Evil Dead fame directed this tale of how the Wizard of Oz actually arrived in that merry old land many years before Dorothy and Toto did.  Oz (James Franco, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is a small-time magician toiling away in a two-bit traveling carnival in nowhere Kansas.  Serendipity and a massive cyclone whisk him off to Oz.  It seems that Oz is plagued by a wicked witch (some things never change), and the people look to Oz to fulfill a prophecy that a great wizard will defeat the witch and return peace and prosperity to the land.  Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Rachel Weisz (About a Boy), and Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn) add some interest as Oz’s three resident witches, but I thought the show was stolen by a sweet little china girl (that is, a live figurine made of china) that Oz repairs and becomes a kind of foster father to.  Is it as magical as the original?  Of course not.  But it’s not a bad movie.  The PG rating is for some potentially scary action sequences and a couple of uses of profanity, and that seems about right to me.

My Week with Marilyn

From the desk of The Movie Snob

My Week with Marilyn  (C+).  In 1956, Marilyn Monroe went to England to film a fluffy comedy with Sir Laurence Olivier.  By chance, the movie was 23-year-old Colin Clark’s first job in the movies (as a third assistant director, meaning a gofer).  About 40 years later, he wrote a memoir and claimed to have gotten to know Ms. Monroe pretty darned well during the shoot.  And now there is this movie about Clark and Monroe.  It’s a pretty slight story, and I imagine most people are like me and have never even heard of the movie in question (The Prince and the Showgirl).  Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy) is getting raves for her performance as Marilyn Monroe, and I would agree she does a good job of playing Marilyn as a lost and insecure soul who could still make magic in front of a camera.  There are some pretty big-name actors in the movie, such as Kenneth Branagh (Dead Again) as Olivier, Judi Dench (Quantum of Solace) as some big-deal British actress, and Hermione Granger (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) as Lucy, the cute wardrobe girl that Clark fancies before Marilyn turns his head.  But somehow the movie just never grabbed me–it’s perfectly watchable, but not particularly memorable.  I imagine Williams will get some love come Oscar time, though.

Blue Valentine

New review from The Movie Snob

Blue Valentine (B).  This 2010 release is a pretty dark drama about a failing marriage.  Michelle Williams (Shutter Island) was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as the wife, Cindy, so when it hit our dollar theater I felt obliged to check it out.  It’s a well-made movie.  Ryan Gosling (Fracture) plays the husband, Dean.  Dean’s an ordinary joe; he works as a house painter and likes to drink too much, but he’s a loving father to the couple’s adorable little girl.  Cindy works as a nurse, and it soon becomes obvious that her heart is not in this marriage anymore.  As the movie goes on, it cuts to various flashbacks to when Dean and Cindy met and fell in love.  I suppose they are supposed to make the “present day” scenes of their rocky marriage more poignant, but it really seemed to me that they were mismatched from the start.  Anyway, it’s a decent drama, but I should caution that it has a lot of unnecessary nudity and sex in it.

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!

Wendy and Lucy

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Wendy and Lucy (B). Has it really been two weeks since I went to the movie theater? Disgraceful. This is a good little independent flick starring Michelle Williams (The Station Agent). She plays a young woman named Wendy who is rather like a miniature version of the U.S. economy. She has decided to drive from Indiana to Alaska with her dog Lucy in search of work. Unfortunately her 1988 Honda Accord is not up to the challenge, and she has only about $500 to her name. Things go downhill quickly when her car breaks down in Oregon. Then she gets caught trying to shoplift some dog food, and while she’s in the clink her dog disappears. It was very odd to hear my own sentiments — if you can’t afford dog food, you shouldn’t have a dog — coming out of the mouth of the punk teenager who catches her shoplifting. It is a touching movie, and you do feel for Wendy as her world crumbles around her because she seems like a perfectly nice person. But I still thought that if she would just get rid of the dog, she could probably afford a bus ticket to Alaska.