A Wrinkle in Time

March 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon
Directed by: Ava DuVernay (“Selma”)
Written by: Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”) and Jeff Stockwell (“Bridge to Terabithia”)

Adapted from the 1962 fantasy novel by Madeleine L’Engle, the cinematic version of “A Wrinkle in Time” is a massive mess. It’s unfortunate, especially since rising filmmaking star Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), who is breaking barriers for women of color behind the camera, will have to chalk this one up as her first dud in a young but impressive career that started with the 2012 award-winning sleeper drama “Middle of Nowhere.”

“A Wrinkle in Time” is a convoluted fairy tale that attempts to turn its nonsensical narrative into something compelling. Sadly, the story, which was considered by many in the industry to be unfilmable (so was “Life of Pi,” and that turned out brilliant), is a bad combination of technobabble plotting, underwritten characters and overdone and unrealistic CGI effects.

When scientist Mr. Murray (Chris Pine) finds a wormhole allowing him to time travel billions of light years, he makes the leap, but gets lost for four years somewhere, we suppose, in all the wrinkles. When his daughter Meg (Storm Reid) finds out she is the only one that can bring him home, she makes a journey to find him inside the depths of time with her little brother, friend and three enchanted beings – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).

Far from a future classic, “A Wrinkle in Time” will be relegated to the category where forgotten fantasy family fare like “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl” takes up space.

Home Again

September 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky
Directed by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer (debut)
Written by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer (debut)

I guess there’s an audience for the kind of movie “Home Again” is—a fluffy tale of a rich white woman in her 40s who, while more than comfortably wealthy, is struggling to start some basic bitch-type job like design or decorating for other latte-and-wine-sipping women, who then encounters decent men so saccharine, the woman invents problems to have with them, turning the guy missing a dinner (due to life-changing career opportunities, no less!) into a betrayal tantamount to infidelity. Oh, and don’t forget the woman’s adorably plucky daughters and her no-nonsense mother!

That audience doesn’t include me. But if the large contingent of women in their late 30s to late 40s that showed up to the screening I attended and laughed at every hackneyed joke and hissed at every extremely mild bad thing a man did, well…who am I to judge?

Oh, yeah, a film critic.

Anyway, “Home Again” opens with a flashback montage narrated by Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) as she remembers her late father, a philandering, genius director of romantic comedies in the ‘70s who fell in love with his leading lady Lillian (Candice Bergen), a pairing which begat Alice. His immaculate Los Angeles bungalow is now Alice’s, and she uses the home as ground zero for a fresh start with her two daughters after her marriage to record executive Austen (Michael Sheen) and fleeing New York City.

While out celebrating her 40th (oh no!) birthday, Alice runs into three good-as-gold 20-something filmmakers (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff), fresh off a hit short at SXSW out in L.A. to make it big—and due to sitcom-like circumstances, they all end up living in Alice’s opulent, well-furnished guest house. As the film chugs along to tinkly piano beats, Alexander’s director, Harry, falls for Alice and they begin a mildly naughty sexual relationship, while Rudnitsky’s writer, George, takes to Alice’s neurotic aspiring writer daughter, becoming her mentor. Meanwhile, Wolff’s actor character, Teddy, remains present in a lot of scenes without really doing anything. Conflict only arises artificially, though, when amazing career advancement opportunities come up for one character that mildly inconveniences another—Harry meeting with producers causes him to miss a dinner with Alice, George takes on a script polishing job, Teddy reads for a pilot, and Harry gets pissed because…I don’t know, he’s an auteur? Oh yeah, then Michael Sheen shows up to reclaim Alice from these young whippersnappers, and…eh.

Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, who herself is the daughter of romantic comedy directors Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, “Home Again” isn’t far off from her mother’s output—and weirdly ignorant of how actual one might be successful as a filmmaker in Hollywood. You know, if your parents aren’t successful filmmakers and give you a hand up in the business. And it’s also weird that you’d let three men–complete strangers, sort of a diet “Entourage” crew—shack up with you, as a single woman, with two elementary school age daughters just because your daffy old mom suggested you be a “patron of the arts.” There is no home in “Home Again,” at least not one that exists in any other world but the Meyers-Shyer family.

Ep. 48 – Tomorrowland, Poltergeist, Slow West, Simon Pegg’s comments rile up the internet, Reese Witherspoon to play live-action Tinker Bell, and we wrap up our visit to the San Antonio Symphony’s John Williams concert

May 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net review “Tomorrowland,” “Poltergeist,” and “Slow West.” They also discuss the San Antonio Symphony’s Star Wars and More – John Williams tribute concert, Simon Pegg’s controversial comments about spectacle movies, and Reese Witherspoon being cast in a live-action Tinker Bell movie.

[0:00-21:15] Intro, 1 year anniversary, San Antonio Symphony – John Williams tribute concert wrap up
[21:15-37:56] Simon Pegg’s comments on fanboy movies make people angry
[37:56-45:24] Reese Witherspoon to play live action Tinker Bell for Disney
[45:24-1:05:04] Tomorrowland
[1:05:04-1:16:10] Poltergeist
[1:16:10-1:27:22] Slow West
[1:27:22-1:38:19] Teases for next week and close

Subscribe to The CineSnob Podcast via RSSiTunes or Stitcher.

To give your feedback, e-mail us at podcast [at] cinesnob [dot] net, or leave a voicemail at 920-FILM-210.

Inherent Vice

January 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master”)
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”)

It’s always gratifying to be able to go back and revisit the work of auteur filmmaking genius Paul Thomas Anderson, especially when his narrative sprawls into something your head is unable to put together after only one viewing. Truth be told, it took me a handful of screenings of “Magnolia,” “Punch-Drunk Love,” and “The Master” to fall madly in love with each of them (it was love at first sight with “Boogie Nights” and “There Will Be Blood;” “Hard Eight,” his first film, is good but not great). With his seventh feature film “Inherent Vice,” Anderson has done something that I honestly didn’t think he was capable of doing as a storyteller. After only experiencing the film twice, very little of it absorbed me emotionally in the way any of his past six films have done and, for the first time, I don’t feel like any amount of times I see the film to discover all the nuances of it will make me like it much more.

Maybe it’s because Anderson adapted “Vice” from the novel of the same name by reclusive and complicated author Thomas Pynchon (the first time Pynchon has ever allowed his work to be made into a film) and decided to capture the essence of what the writer put on the page no matter how convoluted it might turn out. Maybe it’s because, like Anderson always does, he wanted to show audiences something they had never seen before and prove just how vast his range really is by making a comedy neo-noir film with a dash of slapstick. Whatever the case, “Vice,” unfortunately, is the first Anderson film I cannot recommend. It’s highly inspired filmmaking and Anderson recreates the haziness and hippiness of 1970s Los Angeles with appeal, not to mention all the characterizations are extremely unique, but that screenplay (oh, that frustrating, confusing screenplay) is not something I’d consider a triumph no matter how close to Pynchon he was able to get. As eccentric as some critics might call his past work, it doesn’t get close to the off-tempo mess that is “Vice.” Anderson plays to the beat of his own drum (and I love that about him), but he’s influenced here by a higher power. Pynchon is in his head and it shows for better or worse. That might be great for Pynchon’s diehard fans, but he uses Anderson as a link to the outside world and it’s Anderson who is the one that comes out with the short end of the stick.

Wild

December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
Directed by: Jean Marc-Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Written by: Nick Hornby (“An Education”)

Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”) becomes one with nature in “Wild,” an emotionally affecting biographical drama adapted from writer Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name about her 1,000-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail during a tumultuous time in her life. As a film that centers around a character’s self-discovery and redemption, “Wild” is genuine, heartbreaking and thoughtful and features what turns out to be a career-best performance by Witherspoon (not to take anything away from her roles in “Line” or “Election”).

In “Wild,” we watch Witherspoon disappear into the role of Cheryl, a damaged and self-destructive woman whose marriage ends in divorce because of her promiscuity, and whose loving and unwavering mother (Laura Dern) has just succumb to cancer. Cheryl also finds herself battling a serious drug addiction, which is fueling her mental instability and disregard for the value of her own life. When Cheryl commits to turning everything around for herself, she decides the only way she can do that is by wiping the slate clean and challenging herself to a solo walk from the Mojave Desert in California to Washington State. During her walk, Cheryl reflects on the choices she’s made to get her to the place she currently finds herself and meets people along the way that help shape her into the new person she’s supposed to become once her journey is completed.

Through mesmerizing flashbacks of the life Cheryl hopes to leave behind, we watch her relationships break apart as she loses herself to her addiction and nosedives into an existence she never planned for herself. We also see the connection with her mother Bobbi, someone she always credited for saving her family from unhappiness, but never fully appreciated until she was gone. As Bobbi, Dern epitomizes what it means to have a full heart but live a fragile life. Her scenes with Witherspoon are beyond moving. Witherspoon on her own, however, is equally transcending as this three-dimensional character who ventures into the vastness of the wilderness alone and vulnerable, yet motivated and self-confident.

In one scene, Cheryl, after fellow hikers joke with her about how massive her backpack is by calling it “Monster,” decides to get rid of some of the stuff she really doesn’t need to lug around so her pack can be manageable for the rest of her trip. It’s a perfect metaphor for what Cheryl is experiencing. Shedding the extra, painful weight off one’s shoulders should be paramount to any healing process. In “Wild,” Witherspoon’s Cheryl has hit rock bottom, but is equipped enough to make an inspirational climb we can all admire as heroic.

The Good Lie

October 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau (“Monsieur Lazhar”)
Written by: Margaret Nagle (debut)

As a tale of the events of the Second Sudanese War, “The Good Lie” is a narrative inspired by the true events of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Sudanese children who were displaced and forced from their homes during the Second Sudanese war. It’s a great opportunity to tell the harrowing story of an often-brutal journey, one that is seized and promptly released in favor of light family fare.

After traveling a thousand miles by foot, a group of Sudanese children escaping war find themselves at a refugee camp in Kenya. After spending more than a decade there, they are chosen via lottery to be sent off to live in the U.S. Separated from their group, the refugees must navigate American life while fighting to become reunited with a family member.

The film starts with a group of kids looking for shelter in Kenya after their Sudanese village is attacked and their families are killed. The conditions are harsh, with the children having to bear extreme heat, little to no food or water, and having to walk thousands of miles through dangerous occupied territories to stay safe. It is an incredibly effective portrayal of the conditions The Lost Boys had to face and among the best scenes in the film.

As the film moves into the adult versions of our surviving group, the film begins to table the more severe stories of hardship and turns to more typical story beats of assimilation. It is in these sections that “The Good Lie” begins to feel awfully familiar. It’s the same culture shock material that is familiar to anyone who has seen a film with people new to America: They marvel at McDonald’s and pizza. They are baffled by a telephone. They are unaware of basic social norms. It’s really hard to be amused by the same comedic ideas that have been around for years.

From a narrative and character perspective, “The Good Lie” opens a lot of storytelling threads, but fails to follow through with them. Motivations for coming to America are pushed to the side and potentially harmful lifestyle choices meet in a mild confrontation and are never spoken of again due to a screenplay that feels frequently underdeveloped.

Another major issue is that there are virtually no character arcs to speak of. Solid performances from actors who are real Sudanese refugees are often wasted by the stagnant nature of their character traits. Perhaps the biggest flaw of “The Good Lie” is Reese Witherspoon’s ill-fitting character Carrie, an employee agency counselor who attempts to assist the men in building a foundation for a new life in America. The character is extremely plain and makes no use of the Oscar winner’s talents and an actress. In fact, you could plug almost any other actress in the role and it would come out the same. Similar to the Sudanese characters, Carrie lacks any arc that connects her with the refugees. As she pops in and out of the film, increasingly wanting to provide more help, it never feels fully motivated or sincere.

Issues aside, “The Good Lie” is successful in earning a handful of its more moving moments, especially those between the Sudanese refugees and their family. As a theater experience, it’s easy to fall into its traps and find a sweet albeit unmemorable and glossy feel-good film of survival and strength. Look a little further, however, and the flaws begin to reveal themselves and “The Good Lie” looks more like a missed opportunity.

Water for Elephants

April 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“Constatine”)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese (“The Bridges of Madison County”)

While it deserves some recognition for creating a visually-pleasing spectacle (credit Oscar-nominated production designer Jack Fisk and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto), the Depression-era melodrama “Water for Elephants” isn’t the charming phenomenon one might’ve imagined based on the popularity of the 2006 historical novel by Sara Gruen from which it’s adapted.

Instead, the film lacks the romantic luster needed between its leads to match the enchanting, saga-like feel of the time.
Brooding as boyishly as ever, Robert Pattinson (“Eclipse”) plays Jacob, a veterinary student who spontaneously hops the rails and joins a traveling circus after tragedy strikes at home. Working his way up the ranks quickly, Jacob is entrusted with the training of the titular pachyderm. His animal instincts invite conflict when he becomes smitten with the circus’ star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who’s also the wife of the heartless ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz). Waltz isn’t as cold-blooded as his Nazi character in “Inglourious Basterds,” but he still runs his circus like part of the Third Reich.

In a small but touching Gloria Stuart/”Titanic”-type cameo, veteran actor Hal Holbrook (“Into the Wild”) gives the film its most tender moments as an elderly Jacob reminiscing about his year under the Big Top.

Monsters vs. Aliens

March 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie
Directed by: Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale”) and Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2”)
Written by: Maya Forbes (“The Rocker”), Wallace Wolodarsky (“The Rocker”), Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale”), Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda”), Glenn Berger (“Kung Fu Panda”) 

As 3-D technology becomes more and more visually satisfying with each retina it deceives, screenwriters are still kicking up dust trying to keep up.

I’m not talking about gimmicky offerings like the “Hannah Montana” concert movie or “My Bloody Valentine in 3-D,” which were a waste of perfectly good pairs of custom shades. Instead, it’s the animated family film that has been getting majorly digitized over the last couple of years. The latest of the bunch, “Monsters vs. Aliens,” is reasonably elaborate but falls under the same rating system all 3-D films should be judged. Ask yourself this: If you take away the 3-D graphics, can the movie carry itself on its own?

While “MvA” doesn’t fail as terribly as other recent 3-D animations like “Chicken Little” or “Fly Me to the Moon,” there’s quite a bit lacking in original ideas and overall story to make it anywhere close to out of this world. Think of this as a less-interesting version of what Guillermo del Toro was probably dreaming of when he was in pre-K.

In “MvA,” human existence as we know it is threatened by a ruthless alien named Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), who plans to take over the globe with countless clones. To defeat Gallaxhar, the U.S. government recruits a band of monsters they have imprisoned over the years and sends them out as Earth’s last hope. The group is led by Susan AKA Ginormica (Reese Witherspoon), the newest of the monster clan who is transformed from a mild-mannered bride-to-be to a woman the size of a skyscraper.

Coming along for the epic battle: Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), the Missing Link (Will Arnett), and last but definitely not least B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a one-eyed shapeless mass of blue goop who, along with the voice work of Stephen Colbert as the U.S. President, keep the laughs from dying out altogether.

Taking classic films like “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,” “The Blob,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and churning them out for kids who thought Pixar’s “Monster’s Inc.” was scary, “MvA” is harmless fantasy sci-fi with a few attention-grabbing graphics wasted on some joyless (excluding B.O.B.) characters.

Four Christmases

November 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“The King of Kong”)
Written by: Matt Allen (debut), Caleb Wilson (debut), Jon Lucas (“Rebound”), Scott Moore (“Rebound”)

You have to feel a little sorry for director Seth Gordon. After helming 2007’s “The King of Kong,” a well-received and very entertaining documentary about a video game rivalry between two Donkey Kong world-record holders, he somehow finds himself stuck with four unproven screenwriters during his first feature, “Four Christmases.”

To make matters worse, “Four Christmases” isn’t the kind of holiday family movie a writer can really use to spread his or her wings. It’s a basic Christmas slapstick comedy where most of the characters end up on their backs in the most painful ways and someone learns a valuable lesson about the importance of family.

Unlike other crappy Christmas comedies in recent years like “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Surviving Christmas,” the only thing “Four Christmases” has going for it is likeable albeit mismatched lead characters. Vince Vaughn (who was also pretty bad in last year’s holiday horror “Fred Claus”) and Reese Witherspoon star as Brad and Kate, a couple who decides to take a vacation to Fiji instead of visiting their families for Christmas.

The weather, however, doesn’t cooperate with their plans and Brad and Kate are forced to make four separate trips to their divorced parents when they’re caught on the local news trying to make a break for it at the airport.

Each home visit brings along its own cliché family calamity. For example, at the backwoods home of Brad’s dad Howard (Robert Duvall), social statuses clash when Brad’s cage-fighting brothers Denver (Jon Faveru) and Dallas (Tim McGraw) are offended when he buys the family expensive gifts. Other parents on the list to receive a yuletide house call: Brad’s mom Paula (Sissy Spacek) and her much-younger lover, Kate’s mom Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), who has started dating a church pastor (insert baby Jesus jokes here), and Kate’s dad Creighton (Jon Voight), who’s really the heart of the whole movie but is cut short by a thinned-out script.

Cheesy joke after cheesy joke, “Four Christmases” might not make you gag as badly as Brad does when he sees a baby puke, but you definitely won’t feel good after watching these family members butt heads under the mistletoe. Nor should director Gordon feel too terrible for squeezing as much as he possibly could from the mess he was handed. Making mansions out of matchsticks probably isn’t easy either.