Little Women (2019)

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Little Women (2019) (A-).  I haven’t seen any of the numerous prior dramatizations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, and I haven’t read the book itself in decades, so I was a fairly clean slate.  I just remembered it was the story of four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) living with their mother “Marmee” in the North while their father was off with the Union army in the Civil War.  Director and adapter Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) complicates the narrative by making the “present” some seven years later and having headstrong sister Jo (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) remember the Civil War-era events in extensive flashbacks.

At first, I didn’t care for the movie very much, but it quickly grew on me.  I think it was mainly the story—the little domestic squabbles, setbacks, and victories—that won me over.  Aside from Ronan, who’s always good, and Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated…) in a small but fun part as the girls’ rich and crusty spinster aunt, I thought the acting was merely adequate.  Emma Watson (This Is the End) didn’t have a lot to do as oldest sister Meg.  Laura Dern (Star Wars Episode VIII) mostly just beams happily at her wonderful daughters.  And I thought Amy, the youngest sister, was miscast.  I vaguely remember her as a flighty, spoiled, kid-sister type in the novel, but Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is a sturdy, husky-voiced gal who seemed more mature than all three of her “older” sisters.  I expect she’ll be a better fit for her part in the upcoming Marvel movie Black Widow.

Lady Bird

A new movie review from The Movie Snob.

Lady Bird  (B+).  Indie actress Greta Gerwig (Mistress America) wrote and directed this indie dramedy about a high-spirited girl’s tumultuous senior year in a Sacramento Catholic school and her rocky relationship with her mother.  I enjoyed it, and it moved along with a brisk 94-minute run time.  Saoirse Ronan (The Way Back) shines as the title character (she’s named Christine McPherson, but she insists on being called Lady Bird), and we follow the ups and downs of her experience in Drama Club, her crushes, her relationship with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, Neighbor 2: Sorority Rising), her college aspirations, and most of all her relationship with her mother, a hard-working and long-suffering psychiatric nurse (Laurie Metcalf, TV’s Roseanne).  Based on Ms. Gerwig’s IMDB biography, I’d say this movie has a strong autobiographical component.  It also has a 94 score over on Metacritic.com, so what are you waiting for?

Brooklyn – a second opinion

Movie Man Mike finally reports in.

Brooklyn.   A.  There is a good reason this film got an Oscar® nomination for Best Picture.  It’s terrific.  Everything about it is terrific.  The screenplay is well-written.  The characters and their interactions are so very charming.  From the little old lady who runs the boarding house where Eilis lives in Brooklyn to her rigid supervisor at the store where Eilis works, these characters are engaging and believable.  What’s more, with the exception of Jim Broadbent and Domhnall Gleeson (both appearing in the Harry Potter films), the cast consists of relatively unknown actors.  Yet each and every one nails their performance.  Set in the 1950’s, the story is about a young woman named Eilis (Saiorse Ronan, City of Ember) living with her sister and mother in Ireland.  The job market in Ireland is not good but America is the land of opportunity, so the family arranges through their church to send Eilis to America.  The story follows Eilis on her journey to America and we get a glimpse of what life was like in the 1950’s for the single working woman.  Eilis is homesick until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines), an Italian boy with an eye for Irish girls.  As the story moves forward, Eilis finds herself in conflict over her love for Ireland and the place she makes for herself in Brooklyn with Tony.  This is truly a beautiful story filled with rich characters.  Sairose Ronan received a well-deserved Oscar© nomination for her role in this film.

Brooklyn

A new movie review from The Movie Snob.

Brooklyn  (B).  This new movie has generated tons of critical acclaim and lots of Oscar buzz for its star Saoirse Ronan (City of Ember), who also happens to be one of my favorite young actresses.  But as my grade indicates, I liked it; I didn’t love it.  It’s a straightforward and rather old-fashioned coming-of-age/romance tale.  Around 1950, a young Irish woman named Eilis (Ronan) is leaving her little seaside town in Ireland, where her prospects are poor, for New York City.  Her beloved older sister Rose has helped pay for Eilis’s passage, and Rose will stay behind and care for their widowed mother (who doesn’t seem like great company, so Rose is quite the martyr).  A kindly priest (Jim Broadbent, Another Year) has arranged for a job and a boarding house to be waiting for Eilis on her arrival.  She’s badly homesick for a while, but Eilis is a plucky gal, and the attentions of a nice young man named Tony ease the pain.  Life throws some curveballs at Eilis, and the rest of the movie is seeing how she deals with them.  This is Ronan’s picture, and I thought she gave a good performance.  And yet, somehow I was never quite swept away–never quite forgot I was watching a movie.  I think maybe the character is part of the problem.  Eilis is smart and seems to be basically nice, but she is pretty quiet, takes her time to make her mind up about things, and definitely doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve.  So she’s kind of hard to relate to or root for.  We’ll see what the Academy’s voters think soon enough….

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A new movie review from The Movie Snob.

The Grand Budapest Hotel  (B).  I hardly know what grade to give the latest movie from writer-director Wes Anderson.  He is known (to me, anyway), as director of whimsical movies, some of which I have liked (Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and some of which I haven’t (The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket).  The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very watchable film, with a madcap story that barely pauses to let you catch your breath.  Although the movie is imaginative and occasionally amusing, it is so suffused with nostalgia and deeply felt loss that I left feeling pretty sad.  The cast is a who’s who of working actors, but Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) is the star and really steals the show.  He plays M. Gustave, a concierge at a fabulous resort hotel somewhere in eastern Europe just before World War II.  He takes a young refugee (from the Middle East, I think?) under his wing as the hotel’s new lobby boy, and the two have quite a series of adventures.  Among the many familiar faces who turn up are the lovely Saoirse Ronan (The Host), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Jeff Goldblum (Nashville), Jude Law (Side Effects), and Edward Norton (Fight Club).  If you like Wes Anderson, I think you will almost certainly like this movie.  But don’t go expecting a straight comedy.

How I Live Now

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

How I Live Now  (B-).  What is the deal with this movie?  It stars up-and-coming actress Saoirse Ronan, who has talent to spare (her recent appearance in The Host notwithstanding).  It’s based on a supposedly-young-adult novel that won some awards and was presumably somewhat popular.  Yet, I never saw a preview for it, and it opened in only two theaters in the Dallas area.  And, in fact, I was the only person in the movie theater when I saw it!  Anyhoo, it is an odd movie, and its R rating is well earned.  Ronan plays Daisy, a Goth girl with some serious anger issues.  Her mother is dead, and her father has shipped her from America to England to stay with some step-relatives.  (It is important that they be step-relatives, because one of them is Edmond, a brooding hunk to whom Daisy is instantly drawn.)  But this is a strange England, with tons of army guys everywhere on alert for some nameless threat.  And suddenly, England is at war and apparently being invaded, and Daisy and her step-cousins are cut off and isolated in their little English farmhouse.  After that, the movie gets surprisingly violent and ugly, and I emerged from the theater feeling a little shaken and brutalized.  I cannot really recommend the movie in good conscience, but Ronan gives a good performance.

The Host

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Host (C-).  I knew this movie, based on a book by Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, was almost certainly going to be terrible, so why did I see it?  Because it stars Saoirse Ronan, a young Irish actress who has impressed me with her talent in pretty much every film I have seen her in (City of Ember, Atonement, Hanna, The Way Back).  I wondered, would she be able to overcome the almost certainly bad source material she’d be working with here?  The answer is: not entirely.  The premise is mostly Invasion of the Body Snatchers, mixed with a bit of Starman.  Aliens called “souls” have taken over the bodies of almost every human being on Earth, leaving only a few pockets of human resistance out in the hinterlands.  Ronan’s character, Melanie, gets captured and possessed by a soul within the first few minutes of the movie, but her alien possessor is surprised to find out that Melanie’s consciousness is still present inside her head and quite resentful of the occupation.  Melanie persuades the soul to go AWOL with her body, and the rest of the movie involves pursuit by a dogged alien “seeker” (Diane Kruger, Troy) and Melanie’s efforts to persuade the alien in her body that maybe it’s not so nice to steal other species’ bodies from them.  Unfortunately, the movie is weak in several respects.  It’s too long (2 hours and 5 minutes) and draggy.  The dialogue (including the occasional internal dialogue between Melanie and her alien soul) is frequently wooden, and the suspenseful moments are not very suspenseful.  Several of the actors are just not very good.  Still, Ronan deserves some credit for making her weird character at least somewhat believable and sympathetic despite the underwhelming script.  In sum, the movie’s not a complete turkey, but I really can’t give it a thumbs up.

Hanna

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Hanna (B-). This movie is quite a change for director Joe Wright, who helmed the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice and also 2007’s Atonement. It’s a PG-13 thriller about a girl named Hanna who has been raised by her father in complete solitude in a remote part of Finland. There, her father (Eric Bana, Troy) has taught her survival skills, martial arts, and about a million different languages. Now about 16, Hanna wants to see the world, and soon enough she is on the run from the CIA, especially the cold-blooded agent Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). Hanna is played by the young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who deservedly gets top billing in this flick. I have liked her in everything I’ve seen her in — City of Ember, The Way Back, and Atonement, for which she was Oscar nominated. (Tom Hollander, who played the dorky Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice, turns up as a German assassin.) It’s a decent thriller, but I was never totally engrossed in it.

The Way Back

New movie review from The Movie Snob

The Way Back (B+). Australian director Peter Weir (Witness) brings us this ode to human endurance. It’s based on a possibly true story (apparently there’s some controversy about this) about a small band of people who escaped from a Siberian gulag during WWII and walked all the way to freedom in India. Jim Sturgess (The Other Boleyn Girl) plays the group’s leader, a thoroughly decent young Polish fellow named Janusz whose wife was tortured by the Soviets until she accused her husband of being a spy. He is joined by several others–a hard-bitten American (Ed Harris, National Treasure: Book of Secrets), a Russian thief (Colin Farrell, Ondine), and a few more. Along the way they are joined by a Polish teenager who’s also on the run, an orphaned girl named Irena (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement). I really enjoyed it, although it’s certainly sad in parts. Ronan, whom I’ve liked ever since seeing her in City of Ember, is probably too pretty to be playing a supposedly starving orphan, but she certainly makes it believable that the men would adopt and protect her like a daughter. I think the film’s definitely worth seeing.

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.

City of Ember

From the desk of The Movie Snob

City of Ember (B). I enjoyed this little sci-fi adventure. Some sort of impending catastrophe will make the Earth’s surface uninhabitable for a long period of time. The best scientific minds come together and build the City of Ember far below the surface, where a remnant of humanity will survive for 200 years until the surface will, with luck, be habitable again. Now the 200 years have elapsed, but somewhere along the way the mayors have forgotten the City’s purpose and lost the instructions that reveal how to escape the crumbling City. Two teenagers stumble upon clues to the dire reality and the escape route, but the mayor and his cronies aim to stop them. Saoirse Ronan, who was excellent in Atonement, shines as Lina Mayfleet, and she receives able support from Harry Treadaway (The Lone Ranger) as her friend Doon Harrow. Bill Murray (St. Vincent) costars as the mayor, and Tim Robbins (Bull Durham) and Martin Landau (Ed Wood) also appear.

Atonement

New from the desk of The Movie Snob

Atonement (A-). I have never read the novel on which this movie was based, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the heck out of the movie. The movie takes place in three discrete acts. In Act One, we are in 1935 Britain, on the country estate of some well-to-do folks. Keira Knightley (Love Actually) plays Cecilia Tallis, who belongs to the well-to-do family, and James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past) plays Robbie Turner, the hard-working son of one of the family’s servants who has actually done well for himself at college. It is quickly revealed that the two are passionately in love despite their differences in social rank, and complications ensue because of a single, serious misdeed by Cecilia’s 13-year-old sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan, a young actress to watch). To say more about the plot would be a disservice to you; I will conclude by reporting simply that I was always fascinated by what was happening on the screen and always wondering what would happen next.

Keira Knightley, in a very different movie

Atonement

New review from Movie Man Mike

Atonement (A). This is a powerful film. The acting is superb. The story is about an untoward event that takes place, a young child’s actions in response to the event, and the consequences of the child’s actions upon the people she cares about. It’s also about her coming to terms with her own guilt for her actions. Briony Tallis—the young child—is played by three different actresses, Saoirse Ronan (age 13) (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Romola Garai (I Capture the Castle) (age 18), and Vanessa Redgrave (a much older Briony). Each actress does a beautiful job of bringing this character to life, but I have to say that Redgrave just about steals the show with her final 8 minutes or so on the screen. She is simply fantastic. James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) as Robbie Turner and Keira Knightley (Begin Again) as Cecelia Tallis are each beautiful to look at and wonderful in their respective roles. Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness) plays a chocolate factory magnate whose performance is right on. The only scene I take issue with was a minor scene involving Robbie’s mother, Grace, where she is protesting the arrest of Robbie. I don’t think this scene was staged quite right because I just didn’t feel it. Otherwise, the film is beautifully directed and scripted. Although the film is a bit emotionally heavy, it’s one you ought to see.