While We’re Young

The Movie Snob checks out an indie.

While We’re Young  (B).  Here’s the newest film from director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale).  I was hooked by the premise: a childless married couple about my age starts hanging out with a newly married couple in their 20s, with unpredictable results.  Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum) and that cute little buck-toothed Naomi Watts (St. Vincent) star as the older couple, and Adam Driver (Tracks) and Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) star as the younger couple.  It wasn’t really laugh-out-loud funny, but it was definitely amusing to watch Ben and Naomi try to keep up with the youngsters; not so amusing to watch Ben (playing someone exactly my age) try to come to grips with losing his youth.  (An arthritis diagnosis hits him particularly hard.)  The plot was so-so, but the characters were fun to watch.  I say check it out.

Birdman

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Birdman  (B-),  The latest film from director Alejandro Iñárritu (Babel) seems to be getting some award buzz, so I figured I should check it out.  Michael Keaton (Batman) plays Riggan Thomas, a once-successful actor who walked away from a popular superhero movie franchise to pursue . . . well, I’m not sure what, but something different.  Now, many years later, he is struggling to open a Broadway play that he has written, is directing, and plans to star in.  Everything is going wrong, of course; money is short, critics are sharpening their knives, and to top it off Thomas is starting to hear a scornful voice in his head—the deep voice of Birdman, the superhero role he left behind.  It’s a pretty entertaining movie with lots of star power.  Emma Stone (Magic in the Moonlight) plays Thomas’s in-and-out-of-rehab daughter.  Edward Norton (Fight Club) plays the temperamental actor who just might save the play.  Zack Galifianakis (The Hangover) is Thomas’s over-stressed lawyer, and Naomi Watts (St. Vincent) and Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion) are the actresses in Thomas’s play.  I’d have to say the film’s weakness is its length; at 119 minutes, it just started to feel a little long to me.  Cut out about 15 or 20 minutes towards the end, and I’d probably give it a solid B.

St. Vincent

A new review from The Movie Snob.

St. Vincent  (A-).  Okay, the grade may be slightly inflated, but what can I say?  I fell for this sappy little movie about a cranky old boozehound and the little boy who moves in next door and gets taken under his wing.  Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom) plays Vincent, a cranky old boozehound with a Russian stripper girlfriend (Naomi Watts, The Impossible) and a serious debt problem.  Melissa McCarthy (The Heat) plays the woman who moves in next door to Vincent.  She’s going through a tough divorce and works long hours, so she gets Vincent to watch her young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher, in his first movie) after school.  It’s Murray’s movie, but young Lieberher also turns in a great performance that really makes the movie work.  Chris O’Dowd (Calvary) has some good one-liners as a Catholic priest and teacher at Oliver’s school.  I described this movie to The Borg Queen, and she said, “It sounds like About a Boy.”  And you know, there is some similarity there, although I don’t think I’ve ever cried watching About a Boy.  Anyway, I’ll be curious to see if Murray gets an Oscar nom for this one.

The Impossible

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Impossible  (B).  This is the based-on-a-true-story movie about the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that struck numerous countries in southeastern Asia and killed some 230,000 people.  Naomi Watts (King Kong) and Ewan McGregor (The Island) star as a British couple on vacation in Thailand with their three little boys.  It doesn’t take long for the tsunami to hit, and the mom and the oldest son are swept far away while the dad and two other boys manage to stay together near their hotel.  The rest is the tale of their efforts to survive and find each other in the post-catastrophe chaos.  It’s a competent movie.  The tsunami scenes are quite effective, illustrating that the junk that is in the water with you can be almost as dangerous as the water itself.  I’m quite sure I would’ve been dead in a hurry.  The acting is generally good, although I think Naomi Watts’s Oscar nomination is a little generous.  On the down side, the film is a little too overtly manipulative and sentimental.  The mushy music is way over the top, and the scenes near the end also seem too staged.  But it’s still interesting and worth seeing, in my opinion.

The International

Movie Man Mike reviews a fairly recent release

The International (B-) This film had a lot of potential. It might have been better if it were written as a James Bond film. Instead, Louis Salinger, a former Interpol agent played by Clive Owen (Children of Men), is working for the New York District Attorney’s office alongside Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman, played by Naomi Watts (King Kong). The two are investigating some questionable banking transactions by the third largest bank in the world. Each time Salinger gets close to uncovering the bank’s big secret–that it is financing world conflict–his witnesses die and the trail nearly disappears. Ultimately, Salinger has to go outside the bounds of the law to bring the bank down. One of my favorite scenes is a shoot-out that takes place at the Guggenheim in New York. I’ll never be able to visit that museum again without an exit strategy and without constantly looking over my shoulder for gunmen. I enjoyed this film, but in the end, the resolution of the conflict was a little underwhelming.

The International

Movie review from The Movie Snob

The International (B-). I had kinda sorta wanted to see this movie just because it starred current cool dude Clive Owen (Children of Men) and cute little buck-toothed Naomi Watts (The Painted Veil). Well, it’s really Clive’s movie; Naomi is barely in it, and she has virtually nothing to do. But Clive does a good job as an Interpol agent who’s trying to bust a shady Luxembourg bank that’s dealing high-tech weapon systems to Third World countries. This is the kind of bank that has an assassin on permanent retainer, so you definitely don’t want to incur a lot of overdraft fees with them. The movie’s message is clear–giant international banks control everything, and they keep assassins on retainer, so don’t mess. Kind of a downer, don’t you think? Still, Clive is a pro, and there’s a massive shootout in the Guggenheim Museum that’s kind of fun to watch.

The Painted Veil

New from The Movie Snob

The Painted Veil (B). Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) and Naomi Watts (King Kong) star in this beautifully filmed tale of love and adventure in 1920s China. Norton plays a British bacteriologist working in Shanghai, and Watts is the socialite wife he adores but cannot make happy. When he discovers that she is having an affair, he signs up to go into the Chinese heartland to fight a cholera epidemic, and he drags his wife along with him to punish her. Their personal drama plays out against a backdrop of political, and especially anti-Western, turmoil. Good movie.

King Kong

The Movie Snob goes ape:

King Kong (A-). Director Peter Jackson delivers in this excellent remake of the adventure classic. A fly-by-night movie maker (Jack Black, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) hires a tramp steamer to take his film crew, screenwriter (Adrien Brody, Midnight in Paris), and actors (Naomi Watts, The Impossible; Kyle Chandler, Super 8) to an uncharted island in the South Pacific where he plans to film his next picture. There they encounter hostile natives, hostile dinosaurs, and a hostile 24-foot gorilla that the natives call Kong. But then, you already knew all that. The question is, does Jackson wrap you up in the moviegoing experience the way he did in Lord of the Rings? The answer is, generally yes. I’d quibble with a few things. The movie really doesn’t need to be over 3 hours long, and some of the fight scenes go on too long and strain credibility even under loose sci-fi standards. But for the most part, I totally bought into it, and Kong himself is a phenomenal, completely believable feat of special-effects prowess. Watts does a very good acting job, especially considering she was generally acting against a blank screen. Clear your calendar for an afternoon or evening and see it on the big screen, where it belongs.

I Heart Huckabees; What the #$*! Do We Know!?

The Movie Snob sounds off:

Have a touch of the existential blues? There are some films in current release that are just what the doctor ordered for people in our condition….

I Heart Huckabees (B). An impressive cast comes together for this philosophical comedy. The main character is a deadly earnest young fellow named Albert (Jason Schwartzman) who works for something called the Open Spaces Coalition or some such thing; his passion is the defense of undeveloped woods and marshes; and his current enemy is a mushrooming chain of department stores called Huckabees. But Albert is having a philosophical breakdown, proximately caused by his multiple coincidental encounters with the same Sudanese refugee, but encompassing the eternal questions about the meaningfulness/meaninglessness of life, the universe, and everything. More pressingly, he is getting squeezed out of his own organization by a smooth-talking Huckabees man named Brad (Jude Law). Albert turns to Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin), who are self-styled “existentialist detectives,” and they assure him that everything is connected and meaningful. They introduce him to fellow searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who is convinced that everything involving the use of petroleum is tainted with evil. Tommy and Albert are then beset by a mysterious Frenchwoman, Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), a former associate of Bernard and Vivian who now preaches that the universe is actually blind, cruel, and chaotic. Trying to figure out what Albert is up to, Brad goes to the existentialist detectives himself, with consequences that threaten to upset the equilibrium of his relationship with live-in girlfriend and Huckabees model Dawn (Naomi Watts). Not surprisingly, there are few philosophical answers on offer, and the possible existence of theological ones is not even considered. But the cast digs into the late-night-college-dorm-sounding script with gusto, and there are some laughs along the way. And Naomi Watts is always pleasant to watch.

What the #$*! Do We Know!? (B-). This is a very odd, very independent little movie that’s really two movies in one. The more important seeming part is more or less a documentary–a bunch of short clips featuring a bunch of talking heads, mostly doctors and physicists. They try to explain, in lay terms, the state-of-the-art thinking in two fields: the bizarre world of quantum physics, and the more fathomable but amazingly complex world of cellular biology and biochemistry. (Interestingly, genetics is left completely alone.) Their ruminations are frequently illustrated with cool animated effects. The other, less successful part of the movie is a series of vignettes about a depressed photographer named Amanda (Marlee Matlin), whose life more or less embodies whatever topic the talking heads are discussing at the moment. It’s an interesting film, and the weight of the “scientific” opinion surveyed in the movie definitely seems to side with the view that there is an underlying unity and connectedness to the universe. But the moral implications of their theorizing are murky, and a couple of the talking heads seem to want to jettison talk about right and wrong, good and evil, altogether. What is supposed to replace them, I’m not sure. The theological implications of their speculation are equally nebulous. A few of the heads clearly express belief in some sort of God or at least godlike rational substructure to reality, but no one has any kind words for religion or traditional views of God. Like Huckabees, the movie is long on questions and short on answers. Maybe they’ll get to the answers in the sequel, probably called something like Not a Whole %&@! of a Lot.

We Don’t Live Here Anymore

From The Movie Snob:

We Don’t Live Here Anymore (B). This is a movie about adultery, and not the glamorized kind of adultery you see in movies like Unfaithful. Jack & Terry and Hank & Edith are two married couples and best friends in a New England town where Jack and Hank both teach at the local community college. From the opening scene, it is clear that Jack is powerfully attracted to Edith, played by the always appetizing Naomi Watts, and that his marriage to Terry, played by the amazingly angular Laura Dern, is in trouble. Making matters worse, Hank & Edith have a little girl, and Jack & Terry have a little girl and a little boy. Most of the movie’s action, such as it is, consists of brutal fights between Jack and Terry, which struck me as utterly convincing and very painful to watch. None of the characters is particularly appealing, which is probably what inspires my middling grade — the movie held my interest because it successfully made me wonder what was going to happen next. But I never got past curiosity, or rooted for any particular character or outcome. Except to feel sorry for those poor kids.

Le Divorce

A DVD review from The Movie Snob:

Le Divorce (D). There is very little to enjoy in this 2003 Merchant-Ivory release. Naomi Watts (King Kong) is Roxeanne, an American poet married to a French painter. They live in Paris with their little girl, and Roxeanne is pregnant with their second child. The very day that Roxeanne’s younger sister Isabel (Kate Hudson, Almost Famous) arrives for a visit, the painter husband walks out on daughter and pregnant wife to be with his “true love.” (In a nice feat of timing, he walks out just in time to leave in the taxi that Isabel arrived in.) Although Roxeanne is understandably upset, impetuous Isabel can’t help soon starting an affair with a married man of her own. The distasteful main plot is accompanied by two stupid subplots about a deranged guy who seems to be stalking Roxeanne and a painting that may or may not be a lost masterpiece worth millions. The movie is bad, bad, bad. Avoid it.

21 Grams

From the Movie Snob:

21 Grams. (B-) An overripe melodrama with a twist: the director filmed a story about three strangers brought together by a single tragic event, chopped 2 hours of film into scenes of 1 to 3 minutes each, and then completely rearranged them. Thus, in one scene Sean Penn’s character is walking around perfectly fine, in the next he’s in a hospital bed stuck full of tubes, and in the next he’s staggering weakly around his house hooked up to an oxygen tank. The other two strangers are Naomi Watts, playing a happily married mother of two little girls, and Benicio del Toro as an ex-convict who has found Jesus and uses Him to subdue his darker impulses. To say more would be unfair to the viewer; suffice to say that I did not find this movie nearly as satisfying as many critics seemed to, and I found it difficult to tell whether Watts and del Toro really gave Oscar-caliber performances because the lack of chronology keeps you from growing along with the characters.