A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Morgan  (D).  Okay, you are probably asking yourself, “Why did The Movie Snob waste his time with this poorly reviewed sci-fi thriller?”  Basically, I saw it because it features Anya Taylor-Joy, who was quite good in the recent spookfest The Witch: A New-England Folktale, and I wanted to see more of her acting chops.  Unfortunately, this movie was not a good showcase for anybody.  Kate Mara (The Martian) stars as Lee Weathers, a corporate honcho sent to investigate an “accident” at a secret research facility under a spooky old backwoods house.  Turns out that genetic experiments have resulted in the creation of Morgan (Taylor-Joy), a freaky smart and strong teenaged girl who is actually only 5 years old.  And we all know how playing God with genetic experiments goes.  There’s very little fun to be had, but it is sort of fun watching notable actors you didn’t know were in the movie pop up unexpectedly.  Hey, there’s Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Spectacular Now)!  And Paul Giamatti (Rock of Ages)!  And that guy who played Agamemnon in Troy!  But the movie is basically a stale retread of other movies, some better (Ex Machina, Hanna) and some not (Species).  The ending is a real howler.  Skip it.

San Andreas

A new review from The Movie Snob.

San Andreas  (D).  I went to this disaster flick with low expectations, but plainly they were not low enough.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Hercules) stars as a hot shot member of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s rescue team.  Massive earthquakes hit the left coast, and it’s up to The Rock to rescue his almost-ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino, Race to Witch Mountain) and their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) from the calamity.  The movie is terrible.  Vast computer-generated cities are levelled, huge computer-generated skyscrapers topple into each other, and I could barely muster a yawn over it.  Talented actors like Ioan Gruffudd (Amazing Grace) and Paul Giamatti (Win Win) are wasted in small parts.  There’s a scene that should be horrifying (and might be horrifying and upsetting to some people, especially parents who have lost a child), but it is so ridiculously unbelievable that I just rolled my eyes.  The movie’s sole bright spot is that the lovely Daddario has a fair amount of screen (and scream) time.  But that’s not enough to save this turkey.

Rock of Ages

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Rock of Ages  (D).  I had heard that this musical based on the music of the 1980s was not very good, but I just had to see it for myself.  After all, not only does it boast a soundtrack from the greatest decade pop music has ever seen, but it also features a truly star-studded cast, including Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Alec Baldwin (It’s Complicated), Paul Giamatti (Win Win), and Tom Cruise (Tropic Thunder) as the Axl-Rose-like rocker Stacee Jaxx.  But, what do you know, it really isn’t very good.  The main plot, I guess, is about two young lovers who both dream of being rock stars.  Julianne Hough (Footloose) is okay as the female lead, mainly because she’s so gorgeous, but Diego Boneta makes zero impression as her boyfriend.  Catherine the Great is wasted in a silly subplot in which she plays an uptight moralizer who’s trying to shut down Baldwin’s legendary club The Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip.  Although she proved her singing and dancing chops in Chicago, her big number here (to Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) is pretty ridiculous.  Only Cruise has a relatively decent part as the decadent Jaxx.  Skip it.

The Ides of March

The Movie Snob reviews a recent release.

The Ides of March (B-).  This political drama stars the ubiquitous Ryan Gosling (Crazy, Stupid, Love) as Stephen Meyer, a talented and idealistic member of a presidential campaign team who gets a crash course in hardball politics in the run-up to the Ohio Democratic primary.  His candidate and apparent hero is Michael Morris (George Clooney, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) who is the governor of Pennsylvania and sounds like Barack Obama would sound if he didn’t have to worry about polls and elections.  Rounding out the cast are luminaries like Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages) as Morris’s top campaign adviser, Paul Giamatti (Win Win) as Hoffman’s counterpart in the opposing camp, Marisa Tomei (Crazy, Stupid, Love) as a reporter for the Times, and Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler) as a luscious young intern on the Morris campaign team.  The movie kept my interest pretty well, but the whole thing got a little lurid and overheated for my taste.  It’s got a lot in common with the classic Robert Penn Warren novel All the King’s Men, so if you like The Ides of March, do yourself a favor and check a copy of All the King’s Men out of the library.

Win Win

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Win Win  (B).  I picked this movie up at a Redbox last night and quite enjoyed it.  Paul Giamatti (Barney’s Version), who is almost always good, stars as the movie’s protagonist, Mike Flaherty.  Mike is a decent enough guy–he has a wife (Amy Ryan, Dan in Real Life) and two very young daughters at home, he’s a lawyer who apparently specializes in representing elderly folks, and he coaches the local high school’s wrestling team.  But Mike’s business and his finances are suffering, and he is getting desperate enough to consider scuffing some rather clear ethical lines.  Around the same time, a 16-year-old boy named Kyle blows into town unannounced.  He’s the grandson of one of Mike’s clients who has just gone to a nursing home, and, having just fled a drug-addicted mother and her abusive boyfriend in another state, he needs a place to stay.  So the Flahertys put him up in their house, and it turns out he is not a bad kid, and is a stellar wrestler to boot.  Nothing flashy, just a nice little movie.

Barney’s Version

A new review from The Movie Snob

Barney’s Version (B). I sort of wanted to see this movie anyway because it features the lovely Rosamund Pike (An Education), and then Paul Giamatti (Sideways) won a Goldon Globe for his performance as Barney Panofsky, so I decided to go ahead and see it. It’s a pretty decent movie about a not-particularly-likeable guy. At the movie’s start, we learn that Barney is a sad older guy who’s apparently given to calling his remarried ex-wife Miriam in the middle of the night and saying rude things to her new husband. Most of the rest of the movie is a flashback, showing us how Barney reached this sad pass. Back in the 70s he was hanging out in Rome with some free-spirited artistic types, but somehow he wound up with a career producing a horrible Canadian soap opera. He smokes cigars, and he drinks too much. And a brief encounter with a detective early in the film tells us, intriguingly, that he is a suspect in a long-unsolved murder. But I have to say, although Giamatti gives his customary fine performance, Barney still came off as a bit of a cipher to me. Why would an elegant beauty like Miriam (played by Pike) fall for a schlubby, hockey-obsessed quasi-alcoholic like Barney? I’m not sure I get it.

Cold Souls

A new review from Movie Man Mike

Cold Souls. (B-). I wonder if my expectations for this film were too high. I like Paul Giamatti. The trailers for this film made it out to be a comedy. After seeing it, I agree that it is a comedy, but it’s more of a dry comedy and it’s also a drama. Ultimately, it was one of those movies where I wanted to laugh, but I seldom did or could. Paul Giamatti plays himself in the film. He’s acting in a Broadway play and he’s having trouble getting his character right because he’s all stressed out by his life. What does he do? He has his soul removed. Sounds like a good premise, but once he had his soul removed, he wasn’t really all that funny. It was only after he was implanted with the soul of another person that he became more animated and more funny, but then it got serious too—because this is a person’s soul we’re talking about after all. Then his original soul gets sold on the black market and he has to go in search of it to get it back. And in getting his soul back, he discovers that things really weren’t so bad to begin with. If you just have to see this, I say wait until it comes out on DVD.

John Adams (HBO)

Nick at Nite goes revolutionary

John Adams (Episodes 1 and 2)

The folks at HBO are impressive. I am certain they could do a mini-series on any two- or three-year period of my life and make it look interesting. So, when they get an actually interesting topic, e.g., the birth of our great nation, they can easily serve up a masterpiece. Paul Giamatti, the greatest actor of our generation, stars as John Adams, lawyer, statesman, and bald guy. I am two episodes in and I am hooked. It is a little hokey at times, but that is mostly because we used to do a ton of hokey things. Give this series a shot. You learn something and you will see a bunch of bald dudes with bad wigs. One warning. Do not get distracted by George Washington’s big nose. Seriously, avert your eyes when he is on screen. So far, I give it an “A.”

Shoot ‘Em Up

DVD review from Nick at Nite

Shoot ‘Em Up

Clive Owen (Children of Men) and Paul Giamatti (San Andreas) are golden. These days, these two seem to do little wrong. Owen should have been the new James Bond and Giamatti is Oscar worthy as the ultimate everyman in all of his roles. This frantic movie features Mr. Owen and Mr. Giamatti squaring off against one another with all sorts of gunplay and mayhem. The plot is a little hard to follow and is certainly late in developing. However, the plot is an inconvenient aside to all of the one liners and action sequences. This is not a particularly smart movie, but it is fun. If you have an aversion to violence and gunfire, sit this one out. If your favorite line in the first Matrix movie is “… we are going to need more guns …,” I suggest you buy this movie on DVD. I give it an “A.”

The Illusionist

DVD review by Nick at Nite

The Illusionist

A very satisfying film. Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) is very good, Jessica Biel (Total Recall) is beautiful (as in very attractive), and Paul Giamatti (San Andreas) proves again that he may well be the best actor of our generation. The real genius is that this movie tells a story that has been told hundred times, but does so in such an interesting way that you don’t feel cheated or bored by seeing the same story again. First, the movie is set in Vienna at the turn of the century. Basically, an uptown girl is not allowed to be with a downtown boy. The girl’s family disapproves. They are forcibly separated. The boy disappears for many years and eventually returns in search of his lost love. Of course, the girl is now attached to the evil prince whom the boy must now defeat (not because the girl loves the evil prince, but because the evil prince is mean and nasty). The hook is that the boy meets an illusionist and, fascinated by the magic, learns the illusionist’s craft and uses it to get close to the girl and wow the crowds in Vienna when he returns for his lost love. I won’t give away any more of the plot, but I will say the “how did he that part” is the best part of the movie. The real genius is that with all of the computer graphics and imaging that are used in movies these days, I was still left guessing how the illusionist did the things he did. I give it an “A.”

The Movie Snob’s Best of 2006

Hello, Gentle Readers! You know the drill — here I will announce my picks for the best movies of 2006. For a movie to be eligible for consideration, I had to see it for the first time in a theater during the calendar year 2006. Yes, that means that some late 2005 releases will be included in my list, but deal with it. For the record, I saw 45 movies in the theater last year, of which nine got a B+ or better. (My track record with DVDs was distinctly worse: 19 first-time views, and only one with a B+. Ben Hur, if you’re wondering.)

Best Drama: And best picture of the year, in my humble opinion, was the riveting United 93. Filmed in documentary style, it grabs you from the start and never lets go. How they persuaded some of the people who were on the ground on 9/11 to play themselves in this movie is beyond me. I would have been way too freaked out to relive those events. The runners up are also excellent films. First I’ll mention The Nativity Story, and I’ll urge you to catch it in the theaters if you still can, before the Christmas season is too faint a memory. I thought it was reverent and sensitive without crossing the line into sentimentality. Even if you’re not Christian, go see it and see part of what makes us tick. And second I’ll cite the outstanding 2005 release Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a terrific performance, but there’s not a sour note in this movie about a fascinating 20th century character. And I can’t omit The Queen, starring an outstanding Helen Mirren in a quasi-documentary about the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.

Best Comedy: I’m not sure it belongs in this category rather than Best Drama, but let’s put it here anyway since good comedies are in short supply — Little Miss Sunshine is a wonderful mix of the absurd and the genuinely sweet. A marvelous depiction of how even the most dysfunctional family can learn that it is, indeed, a family. Watch out for the language, though; this is not a movie the whole family can enjoy. Honorable mention to The Devil Wears Prada, especially the terrific performance by newcomer Emily Blunt as the office assistant that Ann Hathaway unintentionally elbows out of their boss’s favor.

Best Action/Adventure: King Kong takes this one, hands down. The critics didn’t go ape for Peter Jackson’s last effort, but I thought it was a terrific popcorn flick. I’m hard pressed to come up with any other contenders in this category. Let’s put The Illusionist here too, featuring yet another fine performance by Edward Norton, and outstanding supporting work by Paul Giamatti.

Best Documentary: Sorry, Al, I’m going to pass over An Inconvenient Truth in favor of an IMAX movie called Deep Sea 3D. But the Truth wasn’t nearly as hard to swallow as I thought it would be, so that’s something.

Honorable Mentions: Woody Allen’s thought-provoking Match Point, the inimitable Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents, Scarlett Johansson going Wilde in A Good Woman, architecture documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry, a fabulous performance by Gretchen Mol in The Notorious Bettie Page, suburban angst run amok in Little Children, Daniel Craig’s blond Bondshell in Casino Royale, and Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion. All well worth adding to your Netflix queue.

The Illusionist; The Wedding Date

Reviews from The Movie Snob

The Illusionist (B+). We’ve already posted a couple of reviews for this movie, so I’ll try to be brief. The readiest comparison is Wuthering Heights. Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) is Eisenheim the Illusionist, a sensational magician who takes Vienna by storm around the turn of the 20th century. By a quick flashback, we see that he was from a peasant family, and that in his youth he was in love with a girl from the aristocracy named Sophie. Their different social stations doomed their romance, and the lad disappeared for 15 years. Returning to Vienna as Eisenheim, he finds that Sophie (played surprisingly well by Jessica Biel, Total Recall) is romantically involved with none other than the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Eisenheim and Sophie quickly discover that their love is as strong as ever, but the emperor-in-waiting (Rufus Sewell, Hercules) is a suspicious and violent sort, and the conflict caused by love across class-lines is set up nicely. Paul Giamatti (Morgan) does a good job as the cynical but decent police inspector who tries to figure out what Eisenheim is up to and to persuade him not to incur the imperial wrath.

The Wedding Date (D+). Someday soon I am going to write a column listing good romantic comedies and bad ones; the second list will be much longer, and it will have The Wedding Date on it. This is a frequently vulgar and infrequently amusing rom-com about Kat (Debra Messing, The Women), a woman who hires a male escort to take her to her sister Amy’s wedding in England because Kat’s ex-fiance is going to be there and she can’t bear to go alone. Dermot Mulroney (Stoker) is Nick, the escort, and he is about what you would expect from a male escort: handsome, fit, suave, and deft on the dance floor, not to mention a virtual philosopher on the subject of love. You can guess the rest. Anyway, there are plenty of tawdry goings-on, there is virtually no character development, and most of the characters on display are highly unlikable for lack of either integrity or intelligence. Debra Messing is not my cup of tea, but she is surprisingly attractive during much of the movie, which explains the bonus “+”.

The Illusionist

A guest review by Scott M.

The Illusionist (2006)

In the turn-of-the-century Austrian countryside, a young peasant boy named Eisenheim wins the heart of Sophie, a young woman of royal lineage, with his unrefined, yet mesmerizing magical skills. However, he lacks the ability to overcome the social boundary between the two of them, and ultimately her royal family forbids the couple to see each other again. Fifteen years later they reunite when Eisenheim (Ed Norton – Primal Fear, Rounders, The Italian Job) returns to Vienna as a famous magician, Eisenheim the Illusionist. Eisenheim is surprised to find out that Sophie (Jessica Biel – TV’s 7th Heaven) is engaged to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell – Tristan + Isolde), but it is not long before Eisenheim and Sophie rekindle their prior love affair. Despite the warnings of the well-intentioned, yet duty-bound Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti – Sideways, Lady in the Water) to steer clear of Sophie, Eisenheim refuses and subtly utilizes his magical powers to undermine the Crown Prince’s power in an attempt to lure Sophie away from him. The remainder of the movie details the escalation of the tension and competition among Eisenheim and Leopold, putting Sophie and Chief Inspector Uhl in the middle – with (of course ) some magic tricks mixed in.

Despite some unquestionably interesting magic tricks and another compelling performance by Norton (who happens to be one of my favorite actors), and a strong performance by Giamatti, the movie fails to deliver any real “magic”. The characters and the plot both seemed borrowed from a variety of other movies and sources, and I felt myself saying “this seems familiar” way too often. In fact the movie’s biggest plot line has been overused way too often to be compelling (the “peasant boy falls in love with woman of royalty making those in the royal ranks non-too-happy” theme is less than original – they even used that one in Pirates of the Caribbean). But, it wasn’t until the end of the movie that I recognized the movie’s biggest theft – straight out of one of Shakespeare’s most memorable plays (albeit with a different ending). I left the movie with a ho-hum feeling and kept thinking that maybe the best trick the movie pulled off was making the $8 disappear from my wallet. Overall, I give it a B- (which on my “Golfing Guru” scale amounts to a “three-putt bogey”).

Lady in the Water

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Lady in the Water (C). The latest offering from M. Night Shyamalan—supposedly based on a bedtime story he made up for his children–just did not work for me. The director reteams with Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) as the title character in this modern-day fairy tale. The talented Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man) plays Cleveland Heep, a stuttering sad sack of a guy who is the superintendent of a rundown Philadelphia apartment building. He is suddenly given a purpose in life when Howard’s character, named Story, suddenly appears in the apartment swimming pool and claims to be a sea-nymph-type creature called a narf. She has come to our world to find and unblock a would-be writer whose writings could change the world for the better. Heep comes to believe her and does everything he can to aid her in finding this person and then returning home, which also involves protecting her from another supernatural being, a wicked wolf-like thing called a scrunt. Other eccentric tenants in the apartments also come to play important roles in the quest to help Story. On the plus side, I admit that I was constantly wondering what was going to happen next. On the minus side, I was annoyed at the . . . well, I can’t really say why I was annoyed without crossing over into spoilers. Let’s just say that the movie doesn’t have any major twists like most of Shyamalan’s movies do, but it has plenty of minor twists that kind of bugged me after a short while. And the movie was a little too long, as movies tend to be these days. Still, I’ll keep seeing M. Night’s films because he does at least try to do things that are interesting and different. Gotta give him credit for that.

Cinderella Man

A review from That Guy Named David:

Cinderella Man (A-)

As the great poets of the late 1980’s Cinderella said, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Well, that’s essentially the theme behind Ron Howard’s newest run at the Best Picture Oscar. Russell Crowe plays boxer Jim Braddock who, along with wife Mae (Renee Zellweger), attempts to keep food on the table and the electricity running in their one-bedroom shack through the early years of the Great Depression. Braddock had, at one time, been a rising contender in the heavyweight/light heavyweight ranks until a series of setbacks relegated him to “washed up” status in the sport at which he had made a good living prior to Black Tuesday and the stock market crash in 1929. The majority of the movie is a profile of Braddock and his wife as they struggle mightily to keep the family together during this tragic time in our nation’s history. However, this general theme is interlaced into the story of Braddock’s determination and drive to make the best out of his second chance in the ring, given to him by longtime manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti). The boxing scenes are intense, and the acting was sensational. I even enjoyed Renee Zellweger’s performance (something that I was almost certain would not happen given her last several performances (ex. Cold Mountain)). The movie (and in all likelihood, the Oscar), however, all belongs to Russell Crowe who once again demonstrates why is considered one of the best actors today. I was tired and cranky when I went into the theatre, and I left thinking I had just really enjoyed the previous couple of hours. Very impressive start to the summer movie season. Thanks to Ann C. for the free tickets to the early screening.

Oscar picks by A View From Mars

Oscar picks by A View From Mars:

It’s a rare occasion where I actually get to see all the movies that are up for best picture given that most of the time, my taste in films is the exact opposite of what the Academy chooses. So with this being said, here’s how I see ’em:

(5) The Aviator — Scorsese lost points with me based on his last feature Gangs of New York, and he didn’t do much to recapture them with this movie. I’m just not sure how interested I was in Howard Hughes and DiCaprio’s portrayal, although a bit young for the sell to completely be there, was Oscar worthy. The same can be said about Cate Blanchett’s role as Katharine Hepburn, but other than this, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this movie nor of it being nominated as one of the 5 best pictures. Clearly, I saw about half a dozen others that could have taken its place.

(4) Ray — Jamie Foxx was tremendous and he will no doubt walk away with the Oscar gold and the movie was good, possibly really good, just not great. I think I was overwhelmed with Foxx’s performance as Ray Charles that it took me out of the movie just a bit. Is it possible that an excellent performance by an actor can actually have a hand in detracting from the greatness of a movie?

(3) Finding Neverland — Loved both Depp and Winslet and the concept to make a movie about Peter Pan without focusing on Peter Pan but rather the creator of Peter Pan (phewww). This is my sentimental favorite and although it may not win best picture, I’m hopeful that it will take something home.

(2) Sideways — I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the buddy road trip movie, but this was about as perfect as it could get for my enjoyment in this genre. Clever writing and good performances all around although it was a shame that Giamatti was snubbed. Maybe I’m so fond of this movie because Giamatti nailed the role of That Guy Named David so well. When David and I were in college, I could have sworn I heard quite a bit of profanities aimed at the Merlot coming from his room.

(1) Million Dollar Baby — I could just go on and on about how darn tooting great this movie was, but it wouldn’t do it any justice. Clint Eastwood really hit this one out of the park (I’m tired of the knocked out, boxing euphemisms). I was also mightily impressed with Hillary Swank and couldn’t help but think that this picture might just stand the test of time . . . and this was just 30 minutes into it. It had the true feel of one of the classics. This is my Best Picture winner by unanimous decision (couldn’t help it).

Sideways; Troy

Reviews from That Guy Named David:

Sideways (B)

I think that every year since The English Patient won for Best Picture, the so-called critics have singled out one independent film a year and universally proclaimed it as the greatest thing since sliced bread. This year, it appears that Sideways has taken that label from the critics and run with it to numerous Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Based upon everything I have read and heard, I had really high expectations coming into this movie. As viewers of this site know, I am generally a big fan of the type of movie that Sideways is marketed to be. However, for whatever reason, this movie did not really connect with me. I thought that Paul Giamatti was absolutely perfect in his role as the down-and-out writer/wine connoisseur who, to a fault, values friendship and loyalty to his friend above all else (it’s a crime that he is not nominated for Best Actor). But the story seemed fragmented, and I could never really get into the flow of the movie. I recognized the fine performances by Giamatti, Church, and Madsen and think that they will deserve whatever awards they win; however, it was almost as if they were performing in a vacuum without enough of a plot to keep me from thinking about anything other than the fact that they were good acting performances.

Troy (C)

I already saw Gladiator.


From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Sideways (B+). In About Schmidt, director Alexander Payne painted a portrait of what you might call “retirement crisis,” as Jack Nicholson tries to find some meaning in life after he retires from his bland white-collar job and his wife passes away. In his new movie, Sideways, Payne turns the clock back a few decades and goes after a more familiar malady—the midlife crisis. Best friends Jack and Miles (Paul Giamatti, wonderful as always) head off for a weeklong vacation in California’s wine country before Jack’s wedding. Jack is a hedonistic doofus, while Miles is a soulful loser: he’s been divorced and depressed for two years, he’s an alcoholic, he’s bored with his job as a middle-school English teacher, and he’s about to give up hope of ever getting his monstrously huge novel published. In short, he’s a failure before the age of 40, and he knows it. Jack and Miles are counterbalanced by two women they meet early in their travels, Stephanie and Maya, and it is soon clear that Maya represents Miles’s chance at redemption, if only he could pull himself together long enough to take it. The whole movie is good, but the scenes with Miles and Maya really click. Definitely worth a look.