That Thing You Do!

The Movie Snob goes back in time.

That Thing You Do!  (A-).  Today was way too cold to venture out and do anything, so I decided to revisit this old favorite.  I could hardly believe it was released in 1996!  Anyway, if you like feel-good movies, you should keep this one within arm’s reach at all times.  Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) wrote, directed, and starred in this rags-to-riches story about an Erie, PA garage band that hits it big circa 1964, with the help of a mostly benevolent manager (Hanks).  Tom Everett Scott (Hallmark TV’s Christmas Connection) plays the band’s drummer, a good-natured jazz-lover; Steve Zahn (Sahara) is the goofy guitarist; and cute little Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) plays the girlfriend of the band’s moody leader Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech, Flight 7500).  The film also features Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde) in a very early role as the drummer’s girlfriend.  Bryan Cranston (Argo) also pops up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role (as astronaut Gus Grissom!).  The DVD also contains a short making-of featurette, two trailers, several commercials, and two music videos of songs from the movie.  This movie is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, so get yourself a copy!

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War for the Planet of the Apes

New review from The Movie Snob.

War for the Planet of the Apes  (B).  And so the new Apes trilogy comes to an end.  (Spoilers of the first two films follow.)

My favorite was the first one, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which we see how a medical experiment gone wrong makes apes superintelligent and kills most of humanity.  The middle installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, was a solid if grim movie in which the apes and the surviving humans try to co-exist, with middling-at-best results.

The finale turns the grimness up to 11 as a human military band led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen) seems to be intent on wiping out the apes.  Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, Inkheart) decides to send most of his “people” on a quest for a safe haven while he and few trusted lieutenants set out to find and distract the Colonel.  Along the way they pick up a sweet mute human girl, whom they dub Nova (Amiah Miller, Lights Out), and then another talking ape, a not entirely sane chimpanzee who calls himself “Bad Ape” because that’s what his human captors called him before the plague.  As voiced by Steve Zahn (Sunshine Cleaning), Bad Ape provides some much-needed comic relief, because this War is dark dark dark.  But it’s well-made, on the whole.  (I did roll my eyes a little in the middle part when the Colonel momentarily turns into a James Bond villain and gives Caesar a massive lecture/monologue to explain why he’s doing what he’s doing and what’s going to happen for the rest of the movie.)

The Movie Snob’s 2009 Year in Review!

Happy New Year, and welcome to my annual movie round-up. If I saw a movie in the theater in 2009, I consider it fair game for this column, even if it was technically a 2008 release. I saw 62 movies in the theater last year, and these are the most worthy of your attention.

Movie of the Year: My pick is The Hurt Locker, a taut thriller about the Iraq War that has a strong documentary feel to it. The actor who carries the movie, Jeremy Renner, does a heck of a job as a bomb-defusing expert. I think the movie recently came out on DVD, so check it out.

Runner Up: The number 2 spot goes to a 2008 release, The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke. He should have won the Oscar for his moving portrayal of a washed-up professional wrestler. The scenes in which he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, are especially moving, but the whole movie is excellent.

Best Action/Adventure Flick: And my pick for the 3d best movie I saw this year would be District 9, the out-of-nowhere sci-fi movie about a shantytown of extraterrestrials living outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, and the clueless bureaucrat whose job is to push all the aliens into an even more remote concentration camp. I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel to this one! Honorable mention goes to J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the Star Trek franchise, even if he rewrote Trek history in the process.

Best Animated Feature: With the caveat that I haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog yet, I’ll go with the obvious choice of Up, in which a grumpy old man ties enough helium balloons to his house to fly all the way to South America. But except for the awesome opening montage that tells the whole story of the man’s life in just a few minutes, I didn’t think Up was really all that great.

Best Comedy: I’ll stretch this category a teensy bit and pick My One and Only, a winsome little movie that is supposedly based on episodes in the life of George Hamilton during his teen years. The redoubtable Renee Zellweger plays George’s mother, a hapless Southern belle searching for love in all the wrong places. I’m probably exaggerating its merits, but I really liked it at the time. Same goes for Management, a romantic comedy starring Steve Zahn and Jennifer Aniston. It involves a totally impossible romance, but the leads are so likable I just had to like the movie. In the category of crude yet funny, I liked I Love You, Man.

Best Documentary: Let’s go with the obvious choice and pick Disney’s Earth. Who doesn’t love a good nature documentary? I love ’em, and I’ll go ahead and mention Under the Sea 3D as being worthwhile too.

Best Drama: Or maybe it belongs in the comedy category, but either way I really enjoyed Up in the Air starring George Clooney and directed by Jason Reitman. It’s still in the theaters, so get out there and see it! Another movie that straddles the dramedy line is the quirky (500) Days of Summer, starring the quirky yet adorable Zooey Deschanel. While you’re at it, check out the CD she sings on, under the name She & Him. I was also grabbed by the 2008 release The Reader, although I still don’t know quite how I feel about that movie. It’s a strange one.

Best Foreign Film: I don’t think I saw too many foreign films this year, but I liked A Woman in Berlin, about the Russian conquest of Berlin in 1945 as seen through the eyes of one German woman. It was brutal without ever feeling exploitative. I also recommend the book, which I think is still listed as authored by “Anonymous” even though the woman’s identity is known. Another good one was The Class, or Entre les murs, about a French teacher trying to deal with a very fractious and multicultural classroom. Also, Summer Hours, a French movie that’s just a simple little family drama, well-told.

Honorable Mentions: I have a bunch of them. There’s Wendy and Lucy, a little movie about a sad, down-on-her-luck young woman played by Michelle Williams, and her beloved dog. Adventureland is a good little coming-of-age story starring Jesse Eisenberg of Zombieland fame. Moon is a thought-provoking little sci-fi movie. In the Loop is a funny look at the run-up to a fictitious (?) war as seen through the eyes of low-to-mid-level American and British government staffers. The Informant! is a straight movie about a bizarre guy; you just can’t help asking, “Is this really based on a true story? No, really?” Ellen Page scores again in the roller derby movie Whip It. The Coen brothers ask unanswerable questions in A Serious Man. And finally I will mention, based solely on the strength of their visual effects, Disney’s A Christmas Carol and Avatar. See them in 3D, I insist!

First seen on video this year: I haven’t done this before, but I’ll go ahead and recommend a few movies I saw on video this year. The animated feature Bolt is a cute one, about a dog who thinks he has super powers — kind of like a canine Buzz Lightyear. The original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is still surprisingly good, and the 1963 version of The Haunting is still surprisingly scary. I also enjoyed the little-seen Luke Wilson movie Henry Poole Is Here, the classic Western The Gunfighter starring Gregory Peck, and the classics From Here to Eternity and To Have and Have Not.

So that’s my 2009 in a nutshell. Please post your comments and voice your own opinions!

Management

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Management (B+). I went into this independent flick with low expectations. The Dallas Morning News reviewer gave it only a C, and I saw a trailer that made it look absolutely terrible. But it stars the irrepressible Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!), not to mention Jennifer Aniston (We’re the Millers), so I resolved to give it a chance (at a matinee). I was pleasantly surprised. Zahn is well-cast as Mike, a man-child who works (and lives) at a motel owned by his parents in a small town in Arizona. Aniston is Sue, an employee of a company back East that deals in corporate art, i.e., paintings you see in hotel rooms. Mike is understandably smitten when Sue checks into the motel, and he sets out to romance Sue in his own inept fashion–he’s rather like an older and much less worldly Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. His stalkerish behavior would make him totally unsympathetic–except that Sue, who is sad and dissatisfied with her own life, is not totally unreceptive to Mike’s overtures during her brief stay. That’s all the excuse Mike needs to spend his life savings on a one-way ticket to Baltimore, where he shows up at her office unannounced. Things unspool from there. Woody Harrelson (Zombieland), who is not one of my favorite actors, is perfect as Sue’s former boyfriend Jango, a former punk-rocker turned yogurt mogul. Maybe it was just my low expectations, but I really enjoyed this movie.

Sunshine Cleaning

A movie review by The Movie Snob

Sunshine Cleaning (C+). I think this movie is from the same producers who brought you Little Miss Sunshine — it even stars Alan Arkin, like Little Miss Sunshine did. But despite the efforts at sunniness by the two female leads, this is a pretty grim story. Amy Adams (Junebug) stars as Rose, a single mother who is burdened by a low-paying job working for a maid service, a pathetic affair with a married man (Steve Zahn, Management), and a little boy who’s getting into trouble at school. Her lover suggests she could make more money running a crime-scene clean-up service, and she drafts her ne’er-do-well sister to help her (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada). And we learn more stuff about their background that’s also very dark. It’s not a bad movie, but it somehow comes off a little contrived or forced or something.

Millions; Sahara

New reviews from The Movie Snob:

Millions (B-). Apparently this indie flick has gotten lots good reviews, but I thought it was just slightly better than average. A little boy named Damian is struggling to cope with the recent death of his mother, and he is fixated on religion and the saints. In fact, he sees and has conversations with various saints (he can rattle off the years in which they were born and died like baseball statistics), and he always asks them if they’ve met his mother in heaven. Into his fantasy world crashes a very real gym bag stuffed full of money. He thinks it came from God and wants to help the poor with it, while his more pragmatic older brother Anthony has other ideas. Interesting concept, but it just never gelled for me, and there are some pretty scary scenes that make this movie altogether inappropriate for younger kids.

Sahara (C). Plot summary is superfluous with a movie like this. Matthew McConnaughy does his Indiana Jones impression. Steve Zahn cracks wise as his trusty sidekick. Penelope Cruz is (ahem) an earnest U.N. doctor. Lots of stuff gets blown up real good. Have at it.