The Skeleton Twins

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Skeleton Twins (B-).  I wasn’t sure if this movie was really going to be my cup of tea, but I just like the heck out of star Kristen Wiig.  She was such a lovable basket case in Bridesmaids, and such a sweet naïf in Paul.  Well, she’s not so lovable in this tale of adult-sibling dysfunction.  As our movie opens, Milo (Bill Hader, Adventureland), a fairly flamboyant gay man, is unsuccessfully attempting to commit suicide.  After that, his equally depressed twin sister Maggie (Wiig) drags him away from L.A. to stay with her and her amiable husband Lance (Luke Wilson, The Family Stone) for a while in some small town in New York.  Milo and Maggie haven’t spoken for ten years, so it’s tough for them to live under one roof together, but they sort of try to help each other work through their issues in their dysfunctional, sabotaging sort of way.  Hader and Wiig are good actors, so I enjoyed it pretty well, but there have been better movies about the sometimes difficult relationships between adult siblings.  I’d recommend You Can Count on Me, starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, or The Savages, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and, again, Laura Linney.

Pirate Radio

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Pirate Radio  (C).  I kind of wanted to see this 2009 release back in the day; I just never got around to it.  Directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), this is a shaggy comedy based on some actual events.  Back in the mid-196os, British radio stations wouldn’t play rock and roll, so these enterprising “pirates” set up ships offshore to broadcast the forbidden and diabolical music to the impressionable youths of England.  Gauging from the level of debauchery aboard the ship featured in this movie, Her Majesty’s Government was right to be concerned.  Kenneth Branagh (Rabbit-Proof Fence) plays the uptight government minister who is trying to shut the pirates down.  The late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) plays a roguish American DJ who thinks his life will never be better than it is on the pirate ship.  Oh, there’s also a plot about a quiet college wash-out whose mother sends him to intern aboard the pirate ship; it kind of reminded me of Almost Famous.  Anyway, there are a few mild laughs, but it’s a mostly mediocre movie.  A lot of the fun was seeing familiar actors that I didn’t know were in the movie — there’s Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids)!  There’s January Jones (X-Men: First Class)!  There’s Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans)!  Bonus points if you recognize the nerdy guy’s mom behind her giant sunglasses.  In short, it’s a tolerable way to kill a couple of hours.  Oh, and the soundtrack is excellent.

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.

Doubt

From the desk of The Movie Snob

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

The Savages

Movie review from The Movie Snob

The Savages (A). If this movie doesn’t get some love at Oscar time, it will be a sin. Two of our finest actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War) and Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) play Jon and Wendy Savage, a brother and sister living in Buffalo and NYC, respectively. Out of the blue, they get word that their estranged father, who has been living in Arizona, needs their assistance. His long-time live-in girlfriend has died, and he is beginning to suffer from dementia. Dutifully and only somewhat resentfully, they get him back to New York and into a Buffalo nursing home. This is a matter-of-fact, slice-of-life drama, with realistic characters dealing with an all too realistic situation. Jon and Wendy have messy personal lives and have a few heated arguments, but they basically love each other and generally try to do the decent thing. Excellent movie.

Charlie Wilson’s War

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Charlie Wilson’s War (A-). Maybe this wasn’t really an A- movie, but I just enjoyed the heck out of it. You’ve probably heard all about it — Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies) plays a Texas congressmen who is exceptional in no way except for his willingness to stick up for the people of Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. He teams up with a Houston socialite played by Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) and a misfit CIA man played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and together they put together back-alley arms deals for the mujahedin worth a billion dollars. Next thing you know, Afghanistan = the USSR’s Vietnam. Hanks and Hoffman are great, and Roberts isn’t annoying like she usually is. The supporting cast is also great and easy on the eyes, including Amy Adams (Enchanted), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), and Shiri Appleby (TV’s Roswell). The movie does leave you very curious to know how much is fact and how much is fiction — from what I’ve heard, the real story was so unbelievable they had to tone it down for the movie.

Mission: Impossible 3

The triumphant return of That Guy Named David:

Mission: Impossible 3 (C+)

From watching t.v. over the past year, I have come to the conclusion that Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages) is crazy. Seriously, if you have seen the interviews with him, you can see he really should be institutionalized. Thus, it was with a degree of trepidation that I decided to pay my $6.50 matinee price (which is completely outrageous) to put money into Cruise’s pocket (and thus, the pocket of the rest of those crazy Scientologists) and see his latest endeavor. Yes, once again, special agent Ethan Hunt is out to save the world from almost certain destruction at the hands of [fill in the blank with the name of a really bad dude; this time played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages)]. In MI 3, Hunt once again uses his considerable super human skills to dodge approximately 2.3 million bullets, leap from building to building in downtown Shanghai and over a crater on a bridge that has been shot with about 20 missiles but manages to stay intact (seriously), survive self-electrocution to short circuit a bomb inserted into his brain through his nose (my personal favorite), escape from his car seconds before it is shot with one of the afore-referenced missiles (which amazingly doesn’t affect Hunt who is about 6 feet from the car when it explodes), and still manage to save the world. Oh yeah . . . and he does all of this while saving the life of the hottest girl this side of the equator (who also happens to be his main squeeze in this movie). But, I guess it’s a winning equation because now there have been three of these, and people (including myself) keep coming back. I hate myself for lacking the self-control to avoid trekking to the theatre to see these types of movies. I give it a C+.

Capote; Match Point

Good movies about bad men — new reviews from The Movie Snob:

Capote (A-). This movie could have been subtitled “The Writing of In Cold Blood,” because that aspect of Capote’s life is virtually the entire substance of the film. And a very interesting story it is. The movie opens in 1959 with Capote living the high life among the literati and glitterati of New York City. Homosexual and effete, he swims through that milieu like a fish through water. But that November he reads a newspaper story reporting the brutal murders of all four members of the Clutter family, a family of farmers in remote rural Kansas. For some reason, he is fascinated. He travels to Kansas with his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and gradually ingratiates himself with the community, the lead detective on the case, and, once they are captured, the killers. He conceives of the idea of writing a book about the event and the people, a “nonfiction novel” he calls it, and he rightly senses it will be a masterpiece. In his single-minded pursuit of the story, he is willing to feign interest, sympathy, affection, whatever it takes to get the information he needs. The friend I saw the movie with detected a human side to Capote, that he actually did grow to care about one of the two criminals, Perry Smith, and felt remorse about abusing Smith’s trust. I am not so sure; to me he came across as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, even a sociopath. Yet, I was totally engrossed in this movie, which doesn’t happen often when the protagonist is not sympathetic. Go see this movie, and then look for Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March) to take the Best Actor Oscar home this year.

Match Point (B). I’ve skipped the last few Woody Allen movies, but the critical hurrahs for this one got me back to the theater. It is a good telling of a sordid tale. Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Vanity Fair) is a young Irishman from a poor background. A former professional tennis player who never made it big, he moves to London to teach tennis at a posh club. He is a bit of a cipher, professing vague ambitions of wanting to make some sort of contribution with his life, but apparently having no direction whatsoever. Anyway, he soon falls in with the wealthy Hewitt family, first giving lessons to Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode, Stoker), then dating his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian), and then working for their father’s company. But he is dangerously attracted to Tom’s fiancée, an unsuccessful American actress named Nola (Scarlett Johansson, Hail, Caesar!). Complications ensue. I would probably have liked this movie even better except that it bears an awfully strong resemblance to the excellent Woody Allen picture Crimes and Misdemeanors. Even after having points deducted for lack of originality, though, this movie is still a good watch.

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

A passel of reviews from Maggie, The Movie Queen:

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

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

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

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

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