Bombshell

A new movie review from The Movie Snob.

Bombshell.  (B)  I had time to squeeze one last movie in before the end of 2019, so of course I opted for the one starring the flawless Nicole Kidman (Aquaman).  It’s based on the sexual-harassment scandal that engulfed the Fox News organization in 2016 and ultimately took down CEO Roger Ailes (played here by John Lithgow, Confessions of a Shopaholic).  I’ve never watched Fox News and paid no attention to the scandal, so it was all rather new to me.  The incomparable Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, a Fox personality who first got demoted, then got fired, and then sued Ailes individually for sexual harassment.  Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde) plays Megyn Kelly, an even higher-profile Fox newswoman who has to decide whether to protect her very successful career or come forward to corroborate Carlson’s story with her own account of Ailes’s misconduct some ten years earlier.  And then there’s Margot Robbie (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), who plays a wide-eyed up-and-comer who’s currently being victimized by Ailes.  Although the movie was interesting, I think it suffers from the fact that Robbie’s character is fictional (a composite of several women, I’ve read).  The main suspense of the action is whether any women who work at Fox will come forward to substantiate Carlson’s claims, and the movie sort of sets you up to expect that Robbie’s character will be the one to come forward because, unlike Kelly, she’s suffering from Ailes’s misconduct right now.  But then she doesn’t, presumably because she’s not a real person and the movie wanted to stick closer to the facts.  Anyway, I thought it was worth seeing, and I note that Theron and Robbie have picked up Golden Globe nominations for their performances (though not Kidman, criminally).

Also, I was again impressed by the Alamo Drafthouse’s pre-show entertainment, which included clips from Kidman’s first film, BMX Bandits, and a comic bit from Funnyordie.com in which Theron pretends to be practicing an Academy Award acceptance speech in her bathroom mirror.

Aquaman

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Aquaman (D).  Nicole Kidman (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) stars in a beautiful romance about two star-crossed lovers.  She’s royalty from the undersea kingdom of Atlantis; he’s a humble lighthouse keeper in Maine.  One stormy night in 1985 he finds her on the shore, badly wounded in the course of escaping from an arranged marriage to some king or other.  He nurses her back to health, she eats one of his goldfish, they fall in love, and a baby boy is born.  But alas!  The Atlanteans catch up with her, and to protect her husband and her son she must return to the ocean and become a fugitive.  But, she tells her husband, if she ever finds a way to return to him, she will appear at the end of their dock at sunrise.  She swims away.  The end.

Ha!  If only!  Unfortunately the director spends only about ten minutes on the Kidman love story and then assaults us with over two hours of sublimely ridiculous blather about the superhero Aquaman (Jason Momoa, TV’s Baywatch: Hawaii) and his quest to recover the super-duper magic trident of Old King Blizz Blazz, take his rightful place as king of Atlantis (which involves one-on-one combat strongly reminiscent of Black Panther), and stop an all-out war between the Atlanteans and the human race.  On the plus side, Aquaman does have a gorgeous sidekick in the person of Princess Mera (Amber Heard, The Rum Diary).  On the minus side, there is everything else.  And, by the way, Princess Mera seems every bit as competent as fishboy.  Why can’t she grab the golden trident and take care of everything?  Is it just because she’s a girl?  For all their awesome technology, the Atlanteans sure aren’t very woke.

P.S.  If this movie means that Nicole Kidman is going to start appearing at comic cons, I take it all back.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A new review from the pen of The Movie Snob.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (D).  OK, this art-house flick had a couple of things going for it.  Number one, it was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed the surpassing weird 2016 flick The Lobster.  And really number one, it stars the luminous Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!).  Unfortunately, the movie left me cold.  Colin Farrell (who was in The Lobster and recently appeared with Kidman in The Beguiled) plays Steven Murphy, a successful heart surgeon who is married to a successful eye doctor (Kidman) and has a beautiful house and two nice kids.  But as in The Lobster, everything is just a shade off; everyone is stiff, and every conversation is stilted.  And Steven has a mysterious relationship with an odd sixteen-year-old boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk), who imposes himself on Steven more and more as time passes.  I can say no more without committing spoilers, but suffice to say there are elements of suspense, horror, and black humor that get ratcheted up the deeper into the movie we go.  The performances are good (accepting that the director wanted his actors to act like strange, semi-anesthetized human beings), and none other than good old Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) pops up as Martin’s mom.  But at two hours the weirdness went on a little too long for my taste, and I didn’t think the ending was great.

The Beguiled

New review from The Movie Snob.

The Beguiled  (B-).  Director Sofia Coppola is back with another quiet, moody little flick (see, e.g., Lost in Translation, Somewhere).  The divine Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) stars as Miss Martha, the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school in 1864 Virginia.  (For all my Millennial readers out there, 1864 was during the Civil War.)  Most of her students are gone, but a few are still stranded there, along with one lonely teacher, Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst, Wimbledon).  The ladies are getting by, but everything changes when one of the younger students goes out to gather mushrooms and returns with Corporal McBurney, a handsome Union soldier (Colin Farrell, The Lobster) with a nasty leg wound.  The ladies’ fascination with the Irishman easily overrides their initial impulse to alert the Confederate authorities, and soon they are all vying for his attention—especially the oldest student, Alicia (Elle Fanning, Super 8).  And McBurney quickly figures out the school could be a nice refuge from the rest of the war if he plays his cards right.  But can he manage the ladies’ rivalries and his own building passion?

The movie held my interest, thanks mainly to nice performances from all involved—even the younger actresses get a few scenes in which to shine.  But the plot is rather slight, there are maybe a few too many languid shots of the stately plantation house and the surrounding forest, and I wasn’t convinced by one of the character’s behavior at the end.  Still, it was nice to see the luminous Ms. Kidman in a movie that wasn’t terrible.  And at 93 minutes, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome.  Finally, I learned in some long ago trivia game that Elvis Presley’s hit song “Love Me Tender” is written to the melody of a Civil War era song called “Aura Lee.”  I had never heard “Aura Lee” before, but I’ll be danged if one of the characters in this movie doesn’t sing a bit of it.  Nice.

Lion

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Lion  (B).  Based on a true story!  In 1987, a little boy in a crowded Calcutta orphanage has the amazing good fortunate to be adopted by a warm, loving Australian couple.  Twenty years later, Saroo seems to be doing great–he’s studying for a career, and he has a bunch of good friends and a sweet girlfriend.  But there’s a worm in the apple: Saroo is not an orphan, and he knows it.  He had a mother, brother, and sister in a remote Indian village, but through a chance misfortune he got locked in a train car that took him to Calcutta—1600km away.  He didn’t speak the language spoken there, and he didn’t know his own mother’s name or, apparently, the correct name of their village.  So he ended up in the orphanage.  But now, all these years later, there’s a little something called Google Earth™ that might hold the key to finding his long-lost family.  This is a pretty good movie, but I’m not sure it deserves all the Oscar© hoopla it has gotten.  I can buy the best supporting actress nomination for Nicole Kidman (Paddington) as the long-suffering adoptive mom.  But I don’t see best picture, or even the best supporting actor nod for Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as the grown-up Saroo.  Rooney Mara (Side Effects) has virtually nothing to do as the girlfriend.  The kid who plays young Saroo is pretty amazing, though.

Genius

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Genius  (B).  This movie isn’t doing too well with the critics (current score of 56 over at metacritic.com) but I think they are somehow overlooking the fact that Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) is in the movie.  Just kidding!  Anyhoo, perhaps my low expectations led me to enjoy it more than I otherwise would have.  It’s a biopic about editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech) and novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow).  Back around the year 1929, Wolfe was a manic would-be writer out of North Carolina with a married mistress (played by Kidman), and Perkins was a buttoned-down family man with five daughters.  The movie basically just tells the story of their sometimes-difficult relationship as Perkins shaped Wolfe’s thousands of pages into manageable novels that met mainstream and critical success.  Other authors that Perkins edited also pop up, like a washed-up F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce, Memento) and a macho Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West, 300).  And the always-welcome Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) has a small part as Mrs. Perkins.  I thought it wasn’t a bad movie.  It may have helped that I had actually read one of Wolfe’s novels, Look Homeward, Angel; you can read my review here and see if it sounds like your cup of tea.

Strangerland

New review from The Movie Snob.

Strangerland  (D+).  The beautiful and talented Nicole Kidman (The Others) returns to her roots Down Under for this unsuccessful tale of suspense and family dysfunction.  Katherine (Kidman) and Matthew Parker (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love) have moved their 15-year-old daughter Lily and their somewhat younger son Tom to a tiny god-forsaken town in the middle of nowhere Australia.  Tom is miserable, and Lolitaesque Lily is plainly way too fond of the skeezy older boys at the makeshift skatepark outside of town.  Then the two kids go missing just before a wicked duststorm shuts the place down.  The local lawman Rae (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix) is in way over his head as he tries to coordinate post-storm search efforts, figure out what the parents are hiding, ignore the fact that his girlfriend’s brother may have been involved in Lily’s disappearance, and control his attraction to the not-quite-all-there Katherine.  Kidman throws herself into her crazy role with abandon, kind of like she did in The Paperboy, but she unbalances the picture and blows Fiennes off the screen whenever they have a scene together.  The film is 112 minutes, but it feels WAY longer.  Skip it.

Paddington

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Paddington  (B-).  This family-friendly movie about a marmalade-loving bear has gotten strong reviews, but I thought it was only slightly better than passable.  Paddington is a talking bear who travels from darkest Peru to modern London in search of a new home.  Strangely, Londoners are completely unfazed by the presence of a bear in their midst—or by the fact that he can talk.  Alone and friendless, Paddington is taken in temporarily by a kindly family headed by Henry (Hugh Bonneville, TV’s Downton Abbey) and Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins, Never Let Me Go).  A wicked taxidermist played by the beautiful and talented Nicole Kidman (Trespass) is hot on Paddington’s trail, although it is beyond bizarre that a talking bear would be more valuable stuffed than alive.  I guess kids would like it, and this has to be Nicole’s highest grossing movie (about $76 million to date) in a very long time.

The Best Movies I Saw in 2014, by The Movie Snob

Welcome to The Movie Snob’s “Best of 2014” column.  I will look back over the 71 movies I saw in the theater last year and tell you which movies you need to see if you haven’t already done so.  As happens every year, some of the movies mentioned will be releases from the previous year (2013), just because I didn’t get around to seeing them until 2014.

Movie of the Year.  I gave out seven “A-“ grades this year, which seems like a pretty high number for a tough grader like me.  It’s tough to single one out, but I’m going to go with Fury, an intense WWII combat movie starring Brad Pitt as a seasoned tank commander in the vanguard of the final American charge to Berlin.  It had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  Not for the squeamish, to be sure, but it’s a great adventure if you have the stomach for it.

Runners-Up.  I’m going to pick two this year.  One is a sentimental little movie called St. Vincent, starring a decidedly unsentimental Bill Murray as a cantankerous and boozy geezer who just might have a heart of gold.  Maybe.  The other is Jersey Boys, a biopic about the rise of pop music sensations Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  I think it was considered a bit of an underperformer, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  Hands down, my pick for this category is Edge of Tomorrow, a twisty time-travel/sci-fi story starring Tom Cruise and the delightful Emily Blunt.  This movie totally underperformed at the box office, and it deserved much better.  They’re trying to re-brand it on DVD by essentially renaming it “Live. Die. Repeat.,” so don’t be confused when you rush down to the Redbox to rent it.  As runner-up in this category, I’ll give a nod to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which I thought was the best movie in the Hobbit trilogy.  For lack of anywhere else to put it, I will also recommend Noah, starring Russell Crowe as the biblical patriarch himself.  As long as you don’t insist on a literal retelling of the Genesis story, you should like it fine.

Best Animated Movie.  I think it was a 2013 release, but Frozen was the best of the few animated features I saw in 2014.  Enough said; Elsa doesn’t need any promotion from me.

Best Comedy.  This is always a tough category.  I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel quite a bit, but it is hardly a straight comedy.  The same goes for the Woody Allen flick Magic in the Moonlight, which is a bit of a romantic comedy but has a little philosophical steel to it.  As for the new movies I saw that were straight comedies (e.g., 22 Jump Street, Neighbors)—forget about them.  They were terrible.

Best Documentary.  For sci-fi geeks like me, it would be hard to beat Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about a visionary science-fiction movie that never got made.  I also enjoyed Tim’s Vermeer, about an inventor who tries to figure out how Vermeer painted such awesome paintings, and Life Itself, a biopic about my late colleague Roger Ebert.  Particle Fever, about the superconducting supercollider in Europe, was also interesting and enjoyable.

Best Drama.  Well, the two best dramas I saw last year were foreign films, so I’ll save them for that category.  Instead, I’ll give this honor to a 2013 release, Philomena (which was apparently an American-British-French co-production).  It’s a sad movie, based on a true story about an Irish woman trying to find her son, who was taken away from her and adopted out decades earlier because she was an unwed mother.  Judi Dench is great in it, but then she’s always great, pretty much.  I also liked The Fault in Our Stars pretty well.

Best Foreign Film.  The Polish film Ida was one of my absolute favorite films of the year.  It’s a beautiful movie about a young woman—an aspiring nun—in 1960s Poland who must learn about her family’s mysterious and tragic past before she can decide how to move forward with her own life.  Close behind is The Past, a French/Iranian movie about some Iranians in Paris who are trying to sort out their very complicated domestic relations and move on with their lives.  And I’ll mention a third very good foreign film, the Swedish movie We Are the Best!, about a trio of teenaged girls who try to form a punk band in 1982.

Best Science-Fiction MovieEdge of Tomorrow is the clear winner here, but I already used it for Best Action/Adventure Flick.  Setting that film aside, I would pick Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway as intrepid astronauts trying to find a new home for humanity as Earth gradually becomes uninhabitable.  I also recommend the goofy Guardians of the Galaxy as a fun romp through space.  With a talking raccoon.

Honorable Mentions.  Here’s where I dump the best of the rest—movies that are worth your time and attention when you’re looking for something to “stream” on your fancy television.  In the drama category, consider The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.  Based on the trailers for the recently released Unbroken, the two movies have a lot in common, but The Railway Man also has Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.  I also recommend Heaven Is For Real, based on the true story of a little boy’s account of a near-death experience.  Begin Again is a nice little story about music and musicians, and it has Keira Knightley in it.  I also enjoyed the similar movies Tracks and Wild, based on true stories about women hiking alone through the wilderness.  The Hundred-Foot Journey is a pleasant dramedy, while The Skeleton Twins is a rather darker look at family, and specifically sibling, dysfunction.  For your Amy Adams fix, watch the current Tim Burton release Big Eyes.  If action is more your cup of tea, check out Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, the truly original Snowpiercer, or the more familiar comforts of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  And if you can handle a truly cheesy B-movie, give Pompeii a try.  Kiefer Sutherland makes a truly ridiculous evil ancient Roman senator, let me tell you.

And a few more oldies.  Thanks to the Magnolia Theater, I enjoyed several other classic movies in re-release that I had never seen before.  Robert Altman’s Nashville is an interesting slice of 1970s Americana.  The French Connection is a cop movie starring Gene Hackman that stands the test of time.  For an old-fashioned nail-biter, see Sorcerer, starring Roy Scheider.  I liked the old comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe.  I enjoyed Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston as a corrupt cop in a dystopian future America, and Scarface, starring Al Pacino as a ruthless Cuban crime lord.  Double Indemnity is a solid film noir, and Harold and Maude is . . . well, it’s kind of hard to describe, but if you like quirky you should give it a try.

Happy New Year!

Before I Go to Sleep

The Movie Snob takes one on the chin.

Before I Go to Sleep  (D).  Good grief!  The Dallas Morning News ran a rave review of this new suspense movie starring my beloved Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man), and so I dutifully hurried out to see it.  I mean, Nic’s overdue for a good movie by now, right?  Well, now she’s even MORE overdue.  She plays a British woman who has that weird kind of amnesia that makes you forget everything every time you go to sleep.  (Didn’t Drew Barrymore have that in some lame rom-com not too long ago?)  Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight) plays the husband that she wakes up to every morning thinking he’s a complete stranger, and Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) plays a doctor who is trying to help her on the sly, without her husband’s knowledge.  Both are vaguely sinister.  Whom can she trust?  Who cares?  This is a lame woman-in-peril story that should have been made for cable, without Nicole Kidman.   Too bad, because writer–director Rowan Joffe also wrote The American, starring George Clooney, which I rather liked.

The Railway Man

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Railway Man  (B).  Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and the lovely Nicole Kidman (Stoker) star in this drama, which is based on a true story.  (We are told this right up front, to increase the emotional impact.)  The year is 1980.  Eric (Firth) and Patti (Kidman) meet cute on a train in Scotland, and straightaway they fall in love.  But Eric is wrestling with some serious post-traumatic stress disorder, and in desperation Patti seeks answers from one of Eric’s old army buddies, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård, Mamma Mia!).  Reluctantly, Finlay tells her what he knows.  During World War II, both men were captured by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore, and Eric was brutally tortured in ways even Finlay doesn’t know about.  A great deal of the movie is told in WWII-era flashbacks, and although the torture scenes aren’t terribly graphic by today’s standards, they were plenty strong enough for my taste.  Ultimately, 1980 Eric decides to return to Thailand and attempt to exorcise his demons at the scene of the crime.  Firth gives a nice performance, as does Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), who plays the young Eric.  Kidman isn’t given a whole lot to do but be worried and loving and supportive, but she looks nice doing it.  It’s really a pretty straightforward and predictable movie, but I thought it still packed enough of a punch to justify an above-average grade.

Stoker

New review from The Movie Snob.

Stoker (no grade).  It doesn’t happen often, but this movie stumps me as to what grade to give it.  It is well-made, suspenseful, and features a stand-out performance by young star Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland).  But the story is disturbing, even revolting.  So, I will describe the set-up for you, gentle reader, and let you make the call.  Richard Stoker has just died, leaving behind grieving widow Evelyn (Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy) and really weird daughter India (Wasikowska).   Richard’s brother Charlie (Matthew Goode, Leap Year), whom nobody but the elderly housekeeper has apparently ever seen before, shows up and moves into Evelyn and India’s large, creepy house to help them out for a while.  Charlie has all the warmth of an anaconda, but he quickly ingratiates himself with Evelyn.  His relationship with the sneaky, sulky, and generally weird India is more complicated.  The movie is rated R for “disturbing violent and sexual content.”  I’ll say.  You’ve been warned.

The Paperboy

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Paperboy  (D).  I swear, if Nicole Kidman (Days of Thunder) appears in 10 or 20 more terrible movies, she may stop being my favorite actress of all time.  In this overcooked slab of Southern Gothic, we are in some tiny Florida backwater in the early 1970s, and Kidman plays Charlotte Bless, who’s one of those strange women whose hobby is writing to all these violent prison inmates.  She falls in love with a swamp rat named Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack, Identity), who’s on death row for killing a sheriff.  Matthew McConaughey (Sahara) plays Ward Jansen, an investigative journalist who returns to his hometown to see if Van Wetter was unjustly convicted.  Zac Efron (17 Again) is Ward’s little brother Jack, who’s emotionally crippled from being abandoned by his mother at a young age and who quickly falls in love with the trampy Charlotte.  There are several embarrassing scenes, such as Charlotte and Hillary’s first meeting at the prison, and the scene in which Jack gets badly stung by a bunch of jellyfish and Charlotte helps him out by urinating on his wounds.  I strongly advise you to skip this movie, which shouldn’t be too hard since it seems to have gotten a very short, limited release.

Trespass

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Trespass  (F).  Why?  Why did Nicole Kidman (The Others), who is probably the most beautiful and talented actress the world has ever known, agree to be in this truly horrendous movie?  Not only is the movie terrible, but she plays the wife of the unappealing Nicolas Cage (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and even has to kiss him a couple of times.  She must have owed somebody a really huge favor is all I can think of.  Anyway, Cage plays a high-stakes diamond broker, and he and his family live in a fabulous house with a high-tech security system that is comically ineffective against the four masked robbers that take Cage, Kidman, and eventually their teenaged daughter hostage.  The lovely Kidman spends pretty much the entire movie screaming, cowering, and occasionally getting manhandled by the robbers.  There is no suspense, and the numerous plot “twists” are universally inane.  Only Kidman’s luminescence saves this turkey from an even lower grade.  When you celebrate Kidman’s birthday on June 20, I suggest you see one of her other movies instead.

“What do you mean, I have to kiss Nicolas Cage?”

Just Go With It

New review from The Movie Snob

Just Go With It (C-). If I understand correctly, the original source material for this weak effort is a French farce that has already been made into a movie once, 1969’s Cactus Flower, starring Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman, of all people. Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer) plays Danny, a well-to-do plastic surgeon who hits on women by pretending to be unhappily married and pouring his soul out to them. Supposedly this works so well that he is able to basically defraud tons of beautiful women into having one-night stands with him. So our protagonist is, in my humble opinion, a creep from the get-go. Life throws him a curve when he falls in love with a 23-year-old schoolteacher named Palmer who looks like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model — which the “actress” who plays Palmer, Brooklyn Decker, actually is. Danny’s got 20 years on Palmer, but she’s still digging him until she finds the wedding band he uses to pick up chicks. Because the truth would make him look like an odious jerk, he comes up with a quick lie–he’s in the process of divorcing–and he cajoles his attractive office manager and good pal Katherine (Jennifer Aniston, The Switch) to play his soon-to-be ex-wife when Palmer insists on meeting her. And it gets a lot more complicated from there as the lies pile up. There were a few humorous moments, but on the whole, not very good. I would’ve liked it better if Danny had gotten a big comeuppance for his early caddish behavior. Oh, Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) has a small role as Katherine’s frenemy from her sorority days; she doesn’t have much to do, but she overacts it with great exuberance.

Rabbit Hole

Movie review from the desk of The Movie Snob

Rabbit Hole (B+). This movie is a portrait of grief. Nicole Kidman (Nine) and Aaron Eckhart (Love Happens) play a married couple, Becca and Howie, whose 4-year-old son was killed in an auto accident eight months before the movie begins. Although Howie seems to be functioning more or less normally, Becca is a total mess. She gets sick of the “God talk” at their grief-support group and quits. She complains that one of her friends had not spoken to her since the tragedy, but she’s apt to go off on anyone who tries to speak a consoling word to her. That includes her mom (Dianne Wiest, Dan in Real Life), who compares Becca’s son to her own deceased son Arthur once too often. It’s no pick-me-up, but it’s a well-made movie. Kidman got a Golden-Globe nomination for her performance, which had to be rough on her since she’s a new mom herself.

Nine

New review from The Movie Snob

Nine (C). I’m totally unfamiliar with the source material for this new musical by Chicago director Rob Marshall. I didn’t even know there was a Broadway musical called Nine, and shamefully I have never seen Fellini’s 8 ½. Anyway, Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood) stars as Guido Contini, a beloved film director who is struggling to develop a script and start filming his new movie, “Italia.” As he struggles, he meditates on the various women in his life (his mother, his wife, his mistress, his frequent star, etc.), and the meditations are illustrated by musical numbers. Contini is a pitiful figure, to me, and the musical numbers range from tolerable to over-the-top histrionic. Nicole Kidman (The Invasion) is lovely as ever as Contini’s movie star/muse, but her song was pretty forgettable. Not great on the whole.

Dead Calm

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Dead Calm (C-). With the lovely Nicole Kidman’s 42d birthday less than a month away, there’s no better time than the present to cozy up with one of her films. I had not seen this one before, and I was not particularly impressed. A married couple played by Kidman (Margot at the Wedding) and Sam Neill (The Dish) are sailing across the Pacific in their fine yacht when they come across a derelict schooner. A delirious young man played by Billy Zane (BloodRayne) rows over to their boat from the derelict raving that everybody else on board his boat is dead from food poisoning. Neill’s character astutely rows back over to check out the death ship while the crazy guy is asleep. Turns out Zane’s character is a homicidal maniac, and he wakes up in time to take off with Neill’s yacht, his wife, and his little dog too. Neill goes into pursuit as best he can on his sinking tub. After that, it’s a pretty typical cat-and-mouse thriller with some typical stupidity on the parts of the good guys. Even Nic’s loveliness can’t keep this movie from capsizing.

The Movie Snob’s 2008 Year in Review!

Happy New Year, and welcome to The Movie Snob’s Best of 2008 column. As usual, I will consider all movies I saw in a movie theater during calendar year 2008. As usual, this means that a lot of the previous year’s releases will be included, ’cause I didn’t see them until 2008. For the record, I saw 50 movies in theaters in 2008, down slightly from the 58 films that I saw in 2007.

Movie of the Year: My pick is The Savages, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings who are suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to find end-of-life care for their estranged and Alzheimer’s-stricken father. Hoffman and Linney give fine performances, and the whole movie just rings very true.

Runner Up: I also have to give high marks to Michael Clayton, a legal thriller that kept an iron grip on my attention from beginning to end. George Clooney stars as the title character, a lawyer at a top law firm who specializes in “fixing” things when particularly sticky problems come up. Things get real sticky when another lawyer in the firm, who has been the lead attorney defending some nasty environmental polluter, seems to go crazy and threatens to blow the whistle on the client.

Best Animated Feature: I mention this category next, because the fabulous movie Wall-E would also be my pick for the third-best movie I saw this year—which I think makes it my favorite movie actually released in 2008. Runner-up status goes to Persepolis, a very interesting movie about what it was like to grow up in Iran and to be a child when the Islamic Revolution swept the Shah out of power.

Best Drama: There were several other excellent dramas this year, to go with the four mentioned above. I loved The Visitor, about a lonely widower who is virtually brought back to life by the results of his unexpected discovery that two illegal immigrants are living in the apartment he kept in New York City. I thoroughly enjoyed Charlie Wilson’s War, even though it had Julia Roberts in it. Atonement also cast its spell over me, even though (or perhaps because) I never read the book on which it is based. And last but not least, and despite the mixed critical reaction, I really liked Australia, which just happens to star Nicole Kidman.A sheer coincidence, I am sure.

Best Comedy: No comedies really knocked my socks off this year. Forced to pick one, I’d probably go with Baby Mama, starring the ubiquitous and talented Tina Fey. I also got some decent laughs out of Role Models and Tropic Thunder. But all in all it was not a banner year for comedy.

Best Action/Adventure: The new Chronicles of Narnia movie, Prince Caspian, was a nonstarter for me as for most, and I haven’t yet gotten around to Quantum of Solace. That leaves The Dark Knight and Iron Man, and I enjoyed Iron Man distinctly more than I enjoyed the latest Batman flick. So Iron Man gets the nod in this category, although I liked Dark Knight well enough too.

Best Documentary: I saw a few good ones this year, but my pick for the best is American Teen, which is more than a little reminiscent of MTV’s The Real World set in a wholesome all-American high school in some small Midwestern town. Also getting thumbs up are a couple of IMAX movies I saw, Dolphins and Whales and Amazing Journeys. I think Amazing Journeys originally came out in 1999, though, so it’s probably even more out of place on this list than the 2007 releases I’ve been mentioning.

Best Foreign Film: I think I saw only one, and it was a good one—the French import A Secret, about a French boy who gradually learns about how his (Jewish) parents met, how they survived World War II, and various other dark family secrets. I recommend it. I also liked Happy-Go-Lucky, which was made in England, so I guess it counts as a foreign movie. The ever-happy-go-lucky main character (Sally Hawkins) won’t appeal to everyone, but I liked her.

Honorable Mentions. Other movies I would single out to recommend to you: Enchanted is perfectly enchanting, about the animated princess who is magically transported to real-world Manhattan. If, and only if, you are an ABBA fan, I would recommend Mamma Mia! to you—and then it’s pointless, because you’ve obviously already seen it. City of Ember, starring up-and-comer Saoirse Ronan, is a worthy effort in the science-fiction-for-young-adults category. Rachel Getting Married is a worthy effort in the big-star-plays-drug-addict category—kudos to Anne Hathaway for looking strung out and luminous at the same time. And I liked Hancock for its remarkable plot twist, Slumdog Millionaire for its unabashed celebration of true love, and The Other Boleyn Girl because, well, just because.

Australia

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Australia (A-). The newest film from director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) will not be to everyone’s taste. It is quite long (2 hours, 45 minutes) and unashamedly melodramatic. But if you have half a romantic bone in your body, can sit still for three hours, and have a huge crush on Nicole Kidman, you might just enjoy it as much as I did. Kidman (The Invasion), looking fabulous, plays Lady Sarah Ashley, a British aristocrat who journeys to Australia on the eve of WWII to see what her ne’er-do-well husband is up to. Turns out he’s been murdered, and his remote cattle ranch called Faraway Downs is verging on ruin. A rugged cattle drover (Hugh Jackman, X-Men: Days of Future Past) is captivated by Lady Ashley’s flashing eyes and British pluck, and he agrees to help her drive hundreds of computer-generated cattle to the port city of Darwin, thereby breaking the beef monopoly of the unctuous King Carney. And, along the way, Lady Ashley becomes a surrogate mother figure to a good-natured half-aborigine boy named Nullah. So the cattle drive is like a whole adventure movie in and of itself. But there’s still at least an hour to go, and the stealthy approach of the Japanese military guarantees a whole second act full of even more romance and excitement. I heartily recommend it.

The Golden Compass

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Golden Compass (C-). I am at least an auxiliary member of the Religious Right, and Catholic to boot, but once I saw that this movie is floundering at the box office (in the U.S. anyway), I decided to go ahead and see what the hullabaloo was about. (And, what a pleasant surprise, Nicole Kidman (Days of Thunder) turned out to be in it!) It’s a weird story about a weird alternate universe where people’s souls have physical manifestations—they are like animal sidekicks that can talk and change shape when you’re a kid, but they lose those powers when you grow up. A malevolent authority called the Magisterium is conducting experiments on children to try to separate them from their souls, apparently as a means to extinguish their free will and yield a citizenry of compliant, soulless zombies. The heroine, Lyra, has a golden compass that supposedly reveals the truth in any situation. Confusingly, it seems to speak only in an obscure symbolic fashion the first time she uses it, but then after that it seems to give her much clearer visions to reveal what’s going on. My reaction to this movie is much like my reaction to the Harry Potter films—for all the wondrous goings-on, it is surprisingly unmagical. I can’t recommend it.

Margot at the Wedding

New from the desk of The Movie Snob

Margot at the Wedding (C). You’d think that a movie starring the radiant Nicole Kidman (The Human Stain) and the incredible Jack Black (whom I once recognized as the comedic genius of our time) would be totally awesome. Not so much, at least to me. Director Noah Baumbach made a bit of a splash with his last feature, The Squid and the Whale, which I did not see, but I wasn’t going to miss this one. Kidman plays Margot, a successful writer of short stories, who is dragging her young-adolescent son Claude to her sister Pauline’s wedding. Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Spectacular Now) is marrying Malcolm, who, since he is played by Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels), is by definition a somewhat buffoonish character. It quickly becomes clear that Margot is a terror. She excels at verbally hitting people where it hurts, and we are not surprised to hear that she caused the end of Pauline’s first marriage by strip-mining family woes for her fiction. The movie has some funny moments amid the tension and hostility, and the dialogue is generally good and believable. But it doesn’t really add up to anything much that I could see.

Nicole’s Margot is up a tree without a paddle

The Invasion

New review from The Movie Snob

The Invasion (C). I have never seen any prior version of this tale of body-snatching aliens, so I went in with no preconceptions — just a little joy that I was finally going to see a new Nicole Kidman movie. On the plus side, she is still one of the most beautiful women working in Hollywood, in my humble opinion. On the minus side, there is the rest of the movie. After a space-shuttle disaster rains debris down on a huge swath of the United States, it isn’t long before people start . . . changing. Like, getting all weird and unemotional. This quickly comes to the attention of D.C. area psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Kidman, Australia), who is soon on the run from the creepy pod people with her little boy Oliver, who coincidentally might be the key to defeating the titular invasion. Even suspending disbelief, I found the movie unbelievable, and the action sequences might have been pretty good if they hadn’t been edited into incomprehensibility. Daniel Craig (Casino Royale) is given nothing to do as Kidman’s friend/love interest. Skip it, unless you are as into Nicole Kidman as I am.

Birth

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Birth

I am so creeped out by this movie. Really, what could have possessed Nicole Kidman (Genius) to make it? Did she need the money? No. Was she bored? Can’t see how, what with all the drama in her personal life. Was it for the sake of art? If you believe this is art, then I have some blank canvasses to sell you. Personally, I think she did it to spite Tom Cruise. Basically, Ms. Kidman plays a widow who is taken by an eleven year old who claims to be the reincarnation of her deceased husband. Sound creepy? It is, especially when you know about the bathtub scenes. This makes it sound worse than it really is, but it is still pretty bad. To make matters worse, I am not exactly sure what happened in the movie. The ending makes no sense. Was it real, was it not, is Ms. Kidman crazy, was the kid crazy? Ultimately, I watched it to see what happened and because I could not take my eyes off of the train wreck. I give it an “F.”