Ep. 127 – Dark Phoenix, I Am Mother

June 10, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Fox’s X-Men swan song DARK PHOENIX and the Netflix sci-fi thriller I AM MOTHER.

Click here to download the episode!

The Homesman

November 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones (“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”)
Written by: Tommy Lee Jones (debut) and Kieran Fitzgerald (debut) and Wesley A. Oliver (debut)

Sometimes when I’m watching a movie that I find to be at least somewhat enjoyable, I’ll get a little twinge of delight in knowing that someone else I know personally will enjoy it even more so. As “The Homesman,” directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, unspooled before me, I instantly knew this would be a movie my dad would be fond of: a low-key western with a mildly cantankerous performance from Jones, one of my father’s favorite actors. That a man in his 60s will likely get more from the experience than a man in his 30s will shouldn’t be taken as a slight; it’s just a fact. While the first hour and a half of the film flirts with a revisionist take on the oaters of old, its boots end up firmly planted on more traditional western ground.

A strong, pious woman named Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) lives a life alone on her land in a 19th century Midwestern settlement. Cuddy pines for a husband, only to be turned down for being “plain as a tin pail” by one potential suitor. After a harsh winter, three women in the settlement become mentally ill due to various tragedies and need to be taken back east to be put in the care of a pastor and his wife. When none of the men prove worthy enough for the trip, Cuddy volunteers, seeking both adventure and an escape from the loneliness she faces. Along the way she meets George Briggs (Jones) at the end of a noose, left there for claim jumping another man’s land. Cuddy makes a deal with Briggs: she will free him if he will accompany her on her journey, working to keep them safe from Indians and other hazards. George reluctantly agrees, and the party heads off toward the Missouri River.

While both Jones and Swank turn in fine performances, the film features a shocking turn—which I won’t spoil here–that leaves the character arcs of both performers in question and the movie feeling like two different stories hastily hitched together. The strength and tenacity Cuddy exudes early in the film is undone in tragedy, while Briggs’ journey from claim-jumping outlaw to noble man of his word feels somewhat unearned, not to mention some brutal vengeance enacted by Briggs over a minor incident that ends up painting him as a murderous psychopath instead of a protector of broken women. Regardless, I know my dad will get a kick out of the whole thing, and that’s enough for me.

New Year’s Eve

December 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher
Directed by: Gary Marshall (“Valentine’s Day”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“Valentine’s Day”)

Forget about eating healthier or going to the gym more often. Don’t worry about watching less TV or cutting back on coffee in the morning. If you really want to make a New Year’s resolution that will benefit your well-being, promise yourself not to feed the holiday cinematic beast called “New Year’s Eve,” the second purposeless celebrity mishmash rom-com brought to you by Hollywood nice-guy director Gary Marshall (“Pretty Woman”).

It’s been quite a while since Marshall has given audiences anything with substance. Unless you liked the torturously unfunny “Valentine’s Day” of last year, there’s no need to subject yourself to the same humdrum narrative pattern screenwriter Katherine Fugate has tried once again to pass off as something resembling a logical script. As if “Valentine’s Day” never happened, Fugate fails to realize that squeezing a sizeable series of storylines into one movie is like force feeding a full person. There is literally no room to expand on anything and – more than likely – things are bound to get messy.

Even more curious than the shameful script is the fact that so many high-profile stars decided to add their name to the swelling cast. Sure, money (and what was probably a short production schedule) talks, but actors like Robert De Niro, Halle Berry and Hilary Swank can’t be that hard up for work to take on a project as thinly-written as this. They should’ve known something was wrong when the New York City they inhabit in this movie is one where comedian Seth Meyers has a chance to make babies with Jessica Biel.

Conviction

October 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver
Directed by: Tony Goldwyn (“The Last Kiss”)
Written by: Pamela Gray (“Music of the Heart”)

Rarely do we see a brother and sister relationship like the one we get in “Conviction,” a true story based on the life of Massachusetts resident Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), who in 1983 began an 18-year mission to help exonerate her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) from a wrongful murder conviction.

While the film manages to keep this devoted relationship at the core of the narrative and never skulk into areas of over-sentimentality, the emotional tug-o-war during Betty’s life-long journey is as conventional of a biopic as they come. Without Swank and Rockwell there at the forefront to enhance the script’s more standard choices, the Waters family story might have been better fitted for an updated “60 Minutes” news report.

It takes two years for police to officially arrest Kenny, put him on trial, and ultimately give him a life sentence for the murder of a local woman. Once in prison, Betty makes a deal with her brother after he attempts to take his own life. She promises if he never attempts suicide again she will do everything it takes to become a lawyer and find a way to clear him of the murder charges.

Eighteen years is condensed into nearly two hours as we watch Betty, a high school dropout, start by earning her GED then bachelor’s and eventually make her way into law school. There she meets best friend and voice of reason Abra Rice (Minnie Drive), who stands by Betty and her seemingly impossible goal.

But as most people who know how this story actually ends, Betty, with the help of Innocence Project founder Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher), is able to find the evidence she needs to prove Kenny’s innocence after she passes the bar exam. Supporting actresses Melissa Leo and Juliette Lewis play adequate antagonists; Leo as a corrupt policewoman with a grudge against Kenny and Lewis as a vindictive witness who lies during her testimony.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn (“The Last Kiss”) from a script by Pamela Gray (“Music of the Heart”), “Conviction” is a timely drama that will spark debate about the justice system and spotlight an organization like the Innocence Project that has since facilitated the release of over 250 wrongfully-accused individuals.

Aside from its good intentions, it’s the combination of Swank and Rockwell that are the saving grace of a film that is simply missing some key uplifting moments. Even with a hopeful ending (a conclusion controlled for Hollywood standards since the real-life story is much more tragic), “Conviction” is only somewhat successful in adapting a story ripped straight from the headlines.

Amelia

October 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Mira Nair (“The Namesake”)
Written by: Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”)

With as much fascinating insight that director Mira Nair offers into the life of legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the biopic “Amelia,” it would be impossible to fill in a few footnotes much less an entire film on the pilot’s contributions to female aviation. Nair simply fails to make the picture soar. In fact, it hardly gets off the ground.

Based on the biographies “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “Amelia Earhart: the Mystery Solved” by Elgin Long, “Amelia,” adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”) takes the all-too-familiar safe route and, in turn, does a disservice to the story’s precarious nature.

It is 1937 when we meet Amelia, a headstrong pilot who is attempting to become the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe. It’s a journey that would inevitably lead to her mysterious disappearance somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

Taking a straight-forward angle to Earhart’s story and tangling it up with flashbacks and ineffective narration, Nair and company mix stock footage, newsreel-type transitions, and murky aerial shots that will elicit a lukewarm response for those who want more heart and adventure from the narrative.

Instead, Nair focuses on Earhart as a celebrity and a wife more than she does a pioneer of her field. The attention paid to her character’s depth might have been useful if “Amelia” was aspiring to become something as epic as Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” but in Nair’s hands the film feels smaller in scale and significance.

We watch Earhart’s involvement with book publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), a relationship that starts off more like a business venture than it does a courting session. From their marriage to Earhart’s love affair with aviation professor Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), Nair hits all the plot points reasonably well but never enthralls us with drama or, more importantly, wonderment behind Earhart’s flights through the farthest reaches of the world.

Even when Nair does get Amelia up in the air, Bass and Phelan’s script reduces her adventurer’s spirit in heavy-handed metaphors about the freeing sensation of flying. Swank does Earhart justice – although she more than likely won’t be getting another Oscar nod this year for her portrayal – but her contribution to the picture is an afterthought.

“I fly for the fun of it,” Amelia reminds us during the movie. It’s too bad Nair didn’t follow suit with her filmmaking.