Cafe Society

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Café Society  (B).  I know Woody Allen is a skeezy old moral nihilist who married his lover’s adopted daughter.  Still, I have to say I have enjoyed at least some of his recent movies.  (Irrational Man was a pretty glaring exception.)  I caught a private screening of Café Society the other night and enjoyed it pretty well.  (Okay, it just happened that I was the only person in the theater that night.  Still, I felt special.)

Jesse Eisenberg (To Rome With Love) plays “the Woody Allen character.”  His name is Bobby Dorfman, and he’s a young man at loose ends in 1930s New York.  So he moves to L.A. where his uncle Phil (Steve Carell, Crazy, Stupid, Love) is a hotshot agent to all the top movie stars.  Bobby falls in love with Phil’s secretary Veronica (Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria), but she’s got a boyfriend.  Meanwhile, back in NYC, Bobby’s older brother Ben (Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris) is making a living as a thug and racketeer.  I can’t say more without committing spoilers, but I thought it was an entertaining picture.  Bobby is less loquacious and neurotic then most of the Woody-esque characters in Allen’s films, which is a nice change of pace.  I’m not sure Kristen Stewart is as pretty and interesting as the movie needs her to be, but I could suspend disbelief well enough.

The Big Short

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Big Short  (B+).  This movie is entertaining and infuriating and unnerving at the same time.  It’s sort of an educational movie in that it tries to explain, at least in broad outline, what caused the housing bubble and the following economic crash in 2007.  (Greed, stupidity, and lack of oversight all seem to have played large roles.)  When the jargon starts to get too complicated, director Adam McKay lightens the mood by pausing and bringing in Margot Robbie (Z for Zachariah) and Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers) to explain and simplify things for us.  But the movie is mainly entertaining because it focuses on a handful of financial outsiders and oddballs who figured out not only that the bubble was bound to burst (and even roughly when it would happen) but also how to cash in when it did.  These characters are well played by Christian Bale (American Hustle), Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), Brad Pitt (Troy), and especially Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) as a tightly wound money guy who starts out thinking that the whole world is full of crooks and frauds and eventually realizes he still wasn’t cynical enough.  It’s not at all what I would have expected from McKay, director of Talladega Nights and Anchorman 2.  All in all, it’s a solid movie, but one that left me a little angry and a little nervous about the future.

The Best Movies I Saw in 2013, by The Movie Snob

Once again, it is time for The Movie Snob’s annual “best of” column.  As always, the only rule is that I limit the list to films I saw for the first time during the last calendar year.  Thus, you can be sure some 2012 releases will be sprinkled in among the 2013 releases.

Movie of the Year.  It’s another tough call this year.  I gave three movies a straight “A” grade this year, but one of them was a 1949 release, so I’ll temporarily disqualify that one.  As between the other two, I’ll give top honors to 12 Years a Slave.  You’ve already heard all about this movie, if you haven’t seen it already, so I’ll just say it was an amazing, harrowing experience.  It’s a fitting companion to Lincoln, which was my pick for movie of the year last year.

Runner-Up.  If I had managed to see it in 2012, when it was released, I would have picked Zero Dark Thirty as my movie of the year in last year’s column.  If you missed this movie, correct your mistake and see it!  Jessica Chastain gives a fine performance as a CIA analyst consumed with the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the final act of the movie depicting the raid on bin Laden’s compound is a tour de force.

Old-school runner-up.  The third movie I gave a straight “A” to in 2013 was the 1949 classic The Third Man.  It’s just a great, great movie.  Look it up.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  I’ll pick Man of Steel as last year’s best action movie.  This Superman origin story held my interest from beginning to end.  Plus it featured Amy Adams, which is a plus even though she was kind of miscast as Lois Lane.  I still haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie, so we’ll see if it can give Superman a run for his money.  I also liked World War Z, and I think most zombie fans will too.

Best Animated Movie.  I saw and liked two last year.  Top honors go to Wreck-It Ralph, an entertaining and heart-warming story about the lives of a bunch of video-game characters “after hours.”  I also liked The Croods.  I didn’t have high hopes for that one, but the emotional ending really got to me.

Best Comedy.  This is always a tough category, and last year was no exception.  I didn’t think any of the comedies I saw were great, and the ones I thought were pretty good generally weren’t straight comedies.  I guess the best straight comedy I saw was In a World…, about a woman who is trying to grow up while also trying to break into the very male field of movie voice-over work.  Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 had some good moments, but it’s got a lot of very serious stretches amongst the amusing bits.  And I liked Warm Bodies, which is kind of a zombie romantic comedy, or zom-rom-com, but it is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste.

Best Documentary.  Hands down, my favorite of the year was 56 Up.  But don’t watch it until you’ve seen all the previous installments in this long-running British series of documentaries.  The series follows a double-handful of British kids from different social classes from their childhoods until now, when they are 56 years old.  Find the first one, 7 Up!, and watch them all.  You’ll thank me.  I saw a couple of other good ones in 2013 as well.  Twenty Feet From Stardom was an interesting look at the careers of some rock-and-roll back-up singers.  Blackfish is a grim, if one-sided, look at Sea World’s mistreatment of its captive killer whales.

Best Drama.  I’ll give top honors to The Spectacular Now, an effective dramedy about a high-school senior who needs to come to grips with his burgeoning alcohol problem, fast.  Another very good dramedy is The Way Way Back, about a young teenaged boy trying to come to grips with his mom’s relationship with a new, unpleasant boyfriend, played unpleasantly by Steve Carell.  I also urge you not to miss Woody Allen’s last movie, Blue Jasmine, starring the sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett, and Alexander Payne’s last movie, Nebraska, which may produce an Oscar nominee or two of its own.  Finally, Baz Luhrmann is not for all tastes, but I enjoyed his new version of The Great Gatsby quite a bit.

Best Foreign Film.  Setting aside the British documentary 56 Up, mentioned above, I’ll go with the Italian film The Great Beauty.  The movie is languid and episodic, but it’s still an interesting look at the life of an aging hedonist living among the splendors of modern Rome.  I also saw and enjoyed a couple of older Italian movies—Fellini’s 8 ½ and the post-war classic Bicycle Thieves.

Best Science-Fiction Movie.  Here’s another clear winner: Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Look for some Oscar nominations for this special-effects extravaganza about a couple of astronauts marooned in space.  I also liked the latest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Gravity.

Honorable Mentions.  What else should you put in your Netflix queue or your streaming list?  Here are a few suggestions.  For drama, you could go with the 2012 release The Impossible, about the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, or the recent remake of Les Miserables.  The Steven Soderbergh movie Side Effects is a pretty effective and twisty little thriller.  So is Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey.  At the risk of making myself a laughing stock among critics, I’m going to come right out and say I didn’t think The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, was half bad.  Just give it a chance!  Frances Ha is a decent little movie about a young woman trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.  Short Term 12 is a decent little movie about a home for troubled teenagers and the twentysomethings who try to watch out for them.  I liked American Hustle decently well, and you may still have time to catch that one in the movie theater.  Finally, I finally got around to seeing Kubrick’s The Shining, which is a pretty effective and entertaining chiller.  And I don’t usually like horror movies.

And that’s a wrap!

The Way Way Back

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Way Way Back  (B+).  Don’t get confused, now.  This is not The Way, which is about pilgrims on the El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, or The Way Back, which is about escapees from a Soviet concentration camp.  This is a new coming-of-age tale from the writers who brought you The Descendants (Nat Faxon, Jim Rash).  But I have to say I liked this movie quite a bit better than that one.  It’s about a miserable 14-year-old boy named Duncan, whose divorced mother (Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine) has dragged him to a beach house where they are going to spend the summer with her jerk boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell, Hope Springs) and his unpleasant daughter Stephanie.  Even a  hint of interest from Susanna, the cute girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb, Soul Surfer), can’t seem to cheer him up.  But then Duncan finds a surrogate family while working at the local water park, led by the goofball manager Owen (Sam Rockwell, Moon), and things seem to be looking up.  It’s kind of similar to the 2009 flick Adventureland, but I think I liked this one even a little better.

Hope Springs

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Hope Springs  (B).  Despite the presence of funnyman Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), this is no comedy.  Tommy Lee Jones (Batman Forever) and Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated) star as Arnold and Kay, a long-married couple out in Omaha, Nebraska.  Kay is desperately unhappy, and who can blame her?  He’s a gruff old coot who pays way more attention to TV shows about golf than he does to her.  Kay picks up a book about improving your marriage by Dr. Bernie Feld (Carell), and before you know it she has signed herself and Arnold up for a week of intensive couples therapy with Dr. Feld in the charming Maine town of Hope Springs.  Arnold, of course, fights tooth and nail against it the whole way, but of course he has to relent and go along with the therapy a little or else there’s no movie.  I thought it was pretty good, although perhaps a real-life week of intensive couples therapy for two sixty-somethings wouldn’t focus quite so single-mindedly on their sex life.(?)  Elizabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting) and Tom Cruise’s First Wife (Lost in Space) show up in bit parts.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World  (B+).  I have wanted to see this movie ever since I first saw the previews for it a while back.  My keenly trained critic’s intuition told me that this was a movie that should really be titled Hoping Keira Knightley Will Date Me Because It’s the End of the World, and I rather like Keira Knightley.  Well, I saw the film today, and I can’t say my critic’s intuition was wrong.  As the movie opens, we learn from a handy TV news guy that the world is going to end in three weeks, smashed by a giant asteroid named Matilda that NASA has proved powerless to stop.  After that, we experience the last days of Earth as seen through the eyes of Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell, Little Miss Sunshine).  Dodge is a sad fellow, an insurance salesman whose wife Linda ran off pretty much as soon as the apocalypse countdown started.  Then Dodge meets his downstairs neighbor, the cute and free-spirited Penny (Knightley, Never Let Me Go).  Dodge accidentally acquires a dog, the city starts to get a little dangerous with all the rioting and looting, and next thing you know Dodge and Penny are on a joint road trip to accomplish their separate missions–he to find his long-lost high-school sweetheart, and she to find someone with a plane who can get her back to her family in England.  It’s a little sappy and sentimental (after a fairly dark opening act), but Carell and Knightley play appealing and likeable people, and the bottom line is that the movie worked for me.  Too bad it got mixed critical reviews and apparently sank like a stone at the box office; I say it deserved better.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

A new review from The Movie Snob

Crazy, Stupid, Love.  (B)  Was the annoying title punctuation really necessary?  Anyway, I went into this movie with fairly low expectations, despite Mom Under Cover’s favorable review from August 1.  To my pleasant surprise, I quite enjoyed it (even if it did get a little long).  Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine) plays a fashion-challenged and apparently rather dull guy named Cal who learns in the movie’s opening scene that his wife Emily (Julianne Moore, Children of Men) is having an affair and wants a divorce.  He moves out and starts frequenting a trendy bar, where a handsome player named Jacob (Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine) unexpectedly takes him under his wing and helps him out with his clothes and with the ladies.  For me, the relationship between Cal and Jacob was the heart of the movie, and both actors did a great job in bringing it to life.  But the subplots are generally handled pretty well too, such as the crush that Cal’s 13-year-old son has on the family’s 17-year-old babysitter Jessica, and the crush that Jessica in turn has on Cal.  There is a satisfying scene near the end that ties a lot of plot points together, and then a less-satisfying scene that I found kind of cliched.  But on the whole, I quite enjoyed the film.  A sidenote:  Near the beginning of the movie, I started wondering how many degrees of separation there are between Steve Carell and Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13).  Well, guess who else is in this movie?  That’s right, Kevin Bacon (Footloose).  How about that?