Ep. 112 – Red Sparrow, I, Tonya on Blu-ray, Oscars post-mortem, and a recap of La La Land live from the San Antonio Symphony

March 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” talk “I, Tonya” on Blu-ray, break down the 90th annual Academy Awards, and recap their visit to the San Antonio Symphony’s performance of “La La Land” live.

Click here to download the episode!

Ep. 106 – American Made, Battle of the Sexes, Gerald’s Game, Fantastic Fest recap, and home video reviews of Wonder Woman, The Big Sick and A Ghost Story

October 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

After some technical difficulties, The CineSnob Podcast is back for the 106th time with reviews of “American Made,” “Battle of the Sexes” and “Gerald’s Game.” Cody also fills us in on his time at Fantastic Fest, and reviews home video releases of “Wonder Woman,” “The Big Sick” and “A Ghost Story.”

Click here to download the episode!

Battle of the Sexes

September 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Directed by
: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”)

With a story as relevant today as it was in 1973, it’s easy to see how a dramatic portrayal the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs could strike a chord and bring to the forefront the relevancy of the lack of equality between men and women in areas from respect, to wages, and how those battles are still being fought today. It’s a shame that the film has no interest in doing that.

In protest of the pay gap between men and women for tennis tournaments, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) breaks from the professional tennis association and forms her own tennis circuit that tours the country. Meanwhile, tennis hustler and former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is struggling to pay off debts and deal with a gambling addiction. In an effort to drum up money and publicity, Riggs devises a plan: to take on King in a tennis match to determine the superior gender.

Though Stone and Carell are certainly good in the film, both suffer from a lack of well written characters. Carell’s Riggs is particularly one-dimensional and never fully feels like a fleshed out character. Instead, he seems like a desperate man who is either drunk or perpetually out of it, trying to drum up controversy for a big pay day. King, on the other hand, is subdued and struggling internally with her sexuality. It’s certainly an interesting take, and a complex story, yet it somehow feels out of place given the setting and early design of the film.

Rather than focusing on the pivotal Battle of the Sexes tennis match and the events that led up to it, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy chose to frame the movie through following a love-triangle of sorts, with King struggling to maintain her marriage with a man, while becoming involved with a woman. So much screen time is devoted to this plot line, that it’s almost easy to forget what movie you are watching. Stone and Andrea Riseborough are good here, but the film never really commits to this relationship hard enough to feel like a movie about King’s sexual awakening.

The biggest problem, however, is the way in which it treats the driving force behind the match itself, which is the attitude of Riggs and his persistent attitude that men are superior to women. By treating Riggs’ sexism as a publicity stunt to promote a tennis match, “Battle of the Sexes” severely undercuts any and all impact it makes as a statement of inequality. There is no context or worse, consequence, to any of his sexist statements or chauvinist attitudes and, subsequently, it all comes across as one big joke. It’s made even worse by having King partake in the publicity frenzy, having fun with Riggs and focused in her own world which makes her moment of catharsis completely unearned.

But beyond that, “Battles of the Sexes” is just a dull film that is more interested in telling a lustful love story than it is talking about equality, gender gaps or even tennis. The tone never sets in comfortably, leaving the film feeling disjointed and dispassionate. Worst of all, in a time where this story could draw a striking parallel to present day issues, it takes a route that virtually ensures that can’t be done. Ultimately, “Battle of the Sexes” feels like a missed opportunity.

Ep. 96 – Get Out, our Oscar picks, and Moonlight hits home video

February 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the new horror/comedy from Jordan Peele, “Get Out.” They also hand out their Oscar picks, and take look at “Moonlight” as it hits home release on Tuesday.

[00:00-17:45] Intro/inside podcast talk

[17:45-41:29] Oscar picks

[41:29-52:51] Review: “Get Out”

[52:51-1:04:50] No Ticket Required: “Moonlight”

[1:04:50-1:15:46] Wrap up/tease
Click here to download the episode!

La La Land

December 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Rosemarie Dewitt
Directed by: Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”)
Written by: Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”)

Taking his love for jazz music, director/writer Chazelle breathes new life into the old Hollywood musical genre much like 2011’s The Artist did for silent cinema. At the center of this charmer are an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a frustrated jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling), both of whom would like to find more success in their respected creative fields. Together, Stone and Gosling light up every scene they share and director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Damien Chazelle give the duo such a vibrant atmosphere to play on. We’re not talking Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers-level dance sequences, but the overall appeal is delightful. Driven by an exhilarating score and a handful of magical moments, “La La Land” is an adorable, choreographed-to-a-fault work of art.

Magic in the Moonlight

August 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Blue Jasmine”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

With the amount of features filmmaker Woody Allen has consecutively written and/or directed over the last 30-plus years (at least one annually since 1981!), not all of them can be winners. For every Oscar-winning script penned like “Midnight in Paris,” there‘s a picture like “To Rome with Love” that fails to reach the level of intellect and wit one would hope Allen could recreate in every project.

After writing and directing last year’s wonderful character study of an emotionally unstable and neurotic woman in “Blue Jasmine,” which won actress Cate Blanchett her second Academy Award, Allen has once again quickly churned out another screenplay with “Magic in the Moonlight” It is, however, one that evokes his lesser attempts and is sure to garner little attention after it’s release. While “Magic in the Moonlight” is, at times, charming and beautifully shot, the humor, romance and sharp dialogue are sorely lacking.

In the film Oscar winner Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) plays Stanley, a popular magician who performs under a stage name and behind a costume and is known for being able to debunk supernatural powers. Stanley is faced with his most challenging case when he meets Sophie (Emma Stone), a young woman claiming to be a spiritual medium who can connect with the dead and reveal things about someone’s past that would be impossible to know. Although Stanley refuses to allow himself to be cast under her spell and become a believer, he soon finds out there is more to Sophie than he first thought.

While the theme of logic versus faith is interesting, “Magic in the Moonlight” is far too predictable and lightweight to build on a fine performance by Stone, who shows some nice range as an actress coming into her own like she did in “The Help.” Firth, too, is substantial as he tries to separate what his heart and mind want. Without the dramatic confidence of some of Allen’s earlier films, however, “Magic in the Moonlight” sizzles out faster than Allen can type screenplays.

 

The Croods

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by: Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
Written by: Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”)

They may not be the modern-Stone Age family most are familiar with in the cartoon caveman world, but “The Croods” is just as satisfying as any brontosaurus burger you’re likely to find at a prehistoric drive-thru. Sure, the characterizations can sway into familiar territory, but with some overall rock-solid voice acting and directors/writers Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”) digging deep into their imaginations for some fun storytelling, “The Croods” is a family-friendly winner in any era.

While the title of the film isn’t a great way to introduce us to the family (they might as well have called them The Uncooths or The Roughinskys), “The Croods” makes up for it in entertaining albeit recognizable characters. Grug (Nicholas Cage) is the overly-protective patriarch of the family, who uses fear-mongering to get his family to always stay safe in the confines of their cave. Monstrous cat-like creatures roam the terrain, after all. His rebellious teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone), however, is curious to know what she is missing in a world so full of wonder (“Little Mermaid” anyone?). Rounding out the family tree is Eep’s mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), the logical thinker of the family who understands where her daughter is coming from; Eep’s dopey brother Thunk (Clark Duke), who is basically Chris Griffin (“Family Guy”) in woolly mammoth clothing; Gran (Cloris Leachman), who technically isn’t a Crood since she’s Grugs’s mother-in-law, but still delivers some old-lady laughs; and Sandy (Randy Thom), a toddler that acts more like a Gremlin than baby.

When the family meet Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a more civilized version their Neanderthal selves, Ugg is skeptical of all the fancy inventions he introduces them to like fire and shoes. Driven from their home after a natural disaster, the Croods are forced to journey through strange lands to find a new place to inhabit. During their barefoot road trip, the family learns that experiencing new things is all part of life and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be eaten whole by a Sabre-Toothed Tiger.

It’s a wonderful message for kids and stops short before rubbing their faces in it. The colorful and incredibly striking animation and funny sight gags and slapstick are what will keep children under the age of eight the most fascinated anyway. Parents, too, shouldn’t find themselves bored with a collection of exotic animals and settings. The creativity makes the Croods’ cave-hunting all the more exciting. The deeper family story also never slow the narrative down in any way. In fact, “The Croods” says a lot more about the father/daughter relationship than Pixar’s “Brave” said about mothers and daughters last year.

Like in some animated films, there is a scene-stealing secondary character like the Minions in “Despicable Me” or the sly penguins in the “Madagascar” franchise. So take heed parents because Belt, Guy’s loveable sloth who he keeps around his waist, will keep everyone laughing with his cliffhanger-inspired crooning. If you’re lucky, the plush version (and not the stinky alive version) will be on your kids’ Christmas lists this year.

Gangster Squad

January 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”)
Written by: Will Beall (TV’s “Castle”)

As enjoyable as director Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 film “Zombieland” was (and to a lesser extent “30 Minutes or Less” in 2011), his foray into the criminal world of the 1940s with “Gangster Squad” is far from having the entertainment value a cast of this magnitude demands. It’s a glossed-over crime drama that feels like it’s been pulled straight from the Sunday funnies.

Hamming it up for the camera is two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn as gang leader and former boxer Mickey Cohen (an over-the-top role much like Al Pacino played in “Dick Tracy). If you need to know anything about Mickey, it’s that he owns everything in the Chicago area. You want guns? Go to Mickey. You want drugs? Mickey’s your man. You don’t play by the rules? Guess whose sending his tommy gun-toting goons to fill you with holes. Mickey.

On the right side of the law is Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), who is given the task of recruiting a team of renegade police officers to do what very few lawmen would be brave enough to do: cross Mickey and his thugs and shut down his mob syndicate. Nevertheless, Sgt. O’Mara (with the help of his concerned wife, who “hand picks” the men she feels would best suit the job; a ridiculous notion) finds his men. They include Officers Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his right-hand man Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), the latter of whom has started to bed Mickey leading lady Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) because he can.

Aside from wishing it could be just as enticing as Brian De Palmas’ 1987 film “The Untouchables” (or any other acclaimed film in the genre of the last 75 years for that matter), “Gangster Squad” is not much more than a collection of talented actors playing dress up in their parent’s closet. Although the story based on true events, it’s diluted by Fleischer’s style-over-substance approach, which worked well in “Zombieland,” but not so much here. Will Beall’s screenplay also leaves much to be desired in character development. Each member of the skeleton crew Sgt. O’Mara fashions together is thinly-written.

What is a bit meatier, however, is Fleischer’s eye for ultra violence, which is bountiful throughout “Squad”  but ultimately gives the narrative minimal boost. If Fleischer and Beall focuses as much attention to the relationships and characters arcs as they did ripping a guy in half between two classic cars, “Gangster Squad” could’ve been a contender…at least in the amateur ranks.

The Amazing Spider-Man

July 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Directed by: Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”)
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves

With the first three Spider-Man movies raking in almost $2.5 billion worldwide at the box office from 2002 to 2007, there was no way Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures were going to allow the franchise to fade away just because their lead actor and director didn’t want to return for a fourth go-’round. Instead, Marvel hit the reset button like they did with Ang Lee’s underappreciated “Hulk” and like DC Comics did for their inspired rebirth of Batman via the ingenious mind of director Christopher Nolan. What we’re left with is “The Amazing Spider-Man,” an unnecessary and extremely average reboot of the series that offers slight tweaks to the overall story but never commands the mythology as its own.

In the newest adaptation, Toby Maguire (“Spider-Man 1-3”) is replaced by Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”), a capable young actor cast well in the title role. He gives Spidey a bit more emotional depth based on a screenplay focused more on the mysterious disappearance and death of Peter Parker’s parents than the original 2002 film. Secret files and research related to cross-species genetics left behind by his father prompts Peter to investigate his work with fellow scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Coincidentally, Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) interns for Dr. Connors while her cop father (Denis Leary) and the NYPD want to bring the webslinger to justice.

At its core, the story is a rehash of what we already know about Peter and his transformation into the masked vigilante: laboratories, a spider bite, teen romance, masterful sewing skills, revenge on a schoolyard bully, schizoid CGI villain. To have to re-watch everything play out again doesn’t benefit anyone, especially if the purpose of a reboot to this franchise was to give audiences something fresh and exciting.

Marc Webb’s modern take on the rom-com with “500 Days of Summer” in 2009 was a much-needed change from the usual Kate Hudson schlock the genre delivers, so it was logical to think his take on the superhero movie could provide a similar resurgence. Unfortunately, Webb doesn’t stray from the original tone and does little to build on the familiar themes that make Spider-Man such an interesting character. Raimi’s versions were far from perfect themselves, but Webb’s own voice is quickly engulfed by the big-budget comic-book universe that came before him.

The Help

August 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Tate Taylor (“Pretty Ugly People”)
Written by: Tate Taylor (“Pretty Ugly People”)

Not since the late Isabel Sanford put a shirtless Sidney Poitier in his place in the 1967 Academy Award-winning film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” has a maid had so much to say than the domesticated ladies of “The Help,” a moving and somewhat frustrating dramedy set in the midst of the simmering ’60s Civil Rights Era.

Adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestselling and controversial novel of the same name, “The Help” is set in Jackson, Miss., at the height of segregation during which many African-American women would make their living working as maids for the well-to-do white families of the town by cleaning their homes, cooking their meals, and raising their babies. It’s a bold, but short-sighted perspective given to director/screenwriter Tate Taylor by Stockett, who herself was raised by her family’s black housekeeper as a child during the same era.

As personal of a narrative as it may be for Stockett, Taylor doesn’t let any of the deep-seated emotion become unmanageable on screen. Like the novel, Taylor frames the film into three distinct perspectives and allows each of these characters to define themselves as their own strong-spirited women. It is these multidimensional personalities, emphasized with audaciousness and a much-needed sense of humor, that elevate “The Help” beyond the standard race-relations story.

Emma Stone (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”) plays Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, an independent college graduate with aspirations to become a journalist who writes about real issues. She finds her muse in her friend’s kindhearted maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), who she chooses to feature in an in-depth piece about the lives of “the help” in Jackson. Although initially scared about the ramifications of the anonymous writing project if anyone were to find out, other maids, including Aibileen’s outspoken best friend Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), join in during storytime as Skeeter anthologizes their personal experiences working for employers who won’t even allow them to use the indoor bathroom. Cruelty is personified in town socialite Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), a devil in a sundress whose position as President of the Junior League gives her a podium to spout off hate speech and peddle racist policies.

With very little insight given about the changing social structure outside ofJackson, it’s difficult to get the full dynamic of the injustices taking place. At times, the gap between social classes seems like it will cave in at any moment. But there are also scenes in the film that share the same type of tension amongst the queen bees as in “Mean Girls.” Taylor also dodges issues that would’ve served him better to take head on with more self-confidence. Why is Skeeter’s exploitation of these maids only skimmed over? It almost feels like she is doing them a favor by putting them in harm’s way.

Still, the performances prevail in “The Help” as Stone shows her range as a serious actress and Davis epitomizes courage through her somber eyes. Who needs delicate Southern charm when you have this much passion surging through your veins?

Easy A

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Alyson Michalka
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”)
Written by: Burt V. Royal (debut)

High school hierarchy is given a literary twist in “Easy A,” a teenage sex comedy that confuses clever dialogue with something better suited for the Diablo Cody school of excessive quick-wittedness. If you thought “Juno” was a bit too cheeky at times, there is no comparison to the number of silver-tongued characters brazenly stealing the spotlight from one another here.

Loosely inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mid-19th century masterpiece “The Scarlet Letter,” director Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”) transports the story from a small village in Boston to the halls of a gossipy high school where we meet our leading lady Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) doing everything she can to sully her goody-goody reputation.

It starts when Olive, under the duress of her nosey best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), is overheard lying about losing her virginity, a speck of information that quickly finds its way across campus through phone texts and good old-fashion whispering between classes.

Not very concerned with her newfound promiscuous status, Olive is actually surprised about how much attention she’s receiving for telling one little white lie. However, Olive spreads herself thin when her knack to stretch the truth without worrying about the consequences leads her to do charity work for some of the more unpopular boys of the school whose lives could quickly change for the better if Olive agrees to let people think she’s sleeping with them. In exchange, she’s paid with store gift cards to places like Office Max and Home Depot.

In a role too similar to Mandy Moore’s religious she-devil in 2004’s “Saved!,” Amanda Bynes plays Marianne, a Bible-thumping student who wants to save Olive’s soul before she ends up in hell with all the other floozies. The adults in Olive’s life include her hip parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) whose casual nature with their daughter works well for a generation that refers to their mom and dad by their first names. As married high school teachers, Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Hayden Church drag the plot into awkward territory.

If anything great comes out of “Easy A” it is the overall likeability of star Emma Stone. Regulated to more secondary roles in past movies like “Zombieland, “Superbad,” and “The House Bunny,” Stone proves she can carry a movie all on her own especially during the scenes where she video blogs to her online audience. Sure, she doesn’t have much help from co-stars this time around, but there’s something striking about Stone aside from her attractiveness. Look for her to scoop up all of the roles Lindsey Lohan would have earned if she wasn’t too busy passing out in her own vomit.

Despite Stone’s very enjoyable performance, “Easy A” is still all snap and no substance. First-time screenwriter Burt V. Royal was probably patting himself on the back as he churned out page after page of this script. On occasion it’s sharp. Most of the time it bludgeons us for the sake of a few one liners.

Zombieland

October 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (debut)
Written by: Rhett Reese (“Cruel Intentions 3”) and Paul Wernick (debut)
 
It’s all about survival of the fittest in the riotous new zom-com (zombie comedy) “Zombieland,” a surprisingly fresh crack at the subgenre by first-time director Ruben Fleischer. It’s also a farther step away from the type of movies director George A. Romero popularized in the late 60s. To put it simply: “Zombieland” isn’t your grandma’s zombie movie.
 
Zombie flicks first started evolving in 2003 when British director Edgar Wright and comedians Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made destroying a zombie’s brain a hilarious delight instead of a chore in the insanely clever “Shaun of the Dead.” Now, in “Zombieland,” Fleischer stylizes his own outrageous war against the undead and does it in a most amusing way.
 
Reminiscent of the book “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead,” in which author Max Brooks gives tips about how to survive in a world flooded with flesh-eaters, “Zombieland” serves up its own thoughtful pointers. Here to guide the audience through the post-apocalyptic United States is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a delicate young loner who has managed to avoid becoming a zombie’s midday snack by following his own personal rules for survival.

On his way to Ohio to see if his parents are still alive, Columbus (no one uses their real names to avoid personal attachment) teams up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), an eccentric, Twinkie-craving cowboy who packs some serious heat and loves showing off his zombie-killing skills whenever he gets the chance.

Tallahassee gets to do a lot of point-blank-range shooting since that’s basically what “Zombieland” is all about. Without much of a plot, Fleisher, who comes from the music video industry, pays specific attention to the crazy ways zombies meet their demise. Sisters Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) join the diverse group and set off on a road trip to a rumored zombie-free theme park. No one believes it’ll really be safe there, but what else are they going to do with their time?

As Tallahassee, Harrelson steals the show in the same manner as Robert Downey Jr. does in “Tropic Thunder.” Harrelson might not earn an Oscar nod like Downey did, but it’s definitely his funniest role since playing Roy Munson, a one-handed bowler in 1996’s Farrelly Brother comedy “Kingpin.” 

While it’s almost impossible to offer up anything new in zombie mythology (here the zombies emerge from a strain of mad cow disease), it’s the playful and mischievous dark humor that makes “Zombieland’ such a hoot.

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