Saturday, April 21, 2018

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Director: Lynne Ramsay. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov. 90 min. Rated R. UK/France/USA. Mystery/Thriller.

One of the most "morbid" hitman stories ever. As opposed to ... a "delightful" hitman story? Yes, because assassination of the evil carries a certain catharsis. But not this one. Joaquin Phoenix plays one of the most disturbed good guys you've seen on-screen; a man so haunted by past demons, even achievements at saving the innocent give him suicidal ideations. He's a robot with a death wish, either to take out or be taken out. Chilling cinematography and soundtrack elevate this to perfection, and since Ramsay also directed We Need to Talk About Kevin, I must seek out her other films.

Mo says:

Chappaquiddick (2017)

Director: John Curran. Cast: Jason Clarke, Ed Helms, Kate Mara, Bruce Dern. 106 min. Rated PG-13. Sweden/USA. History.

The Kennedy family's 1969 scandal, when a drunk Ted drove his car off a bridge and flipped it into a lake. With a girl inside. And he didn't report it until 9 hours later. So the entire film is about the incident, and the cover-up (or the lack thereof). There are some gripping father-son moments between a hemiplegic Kennedy Sr. (astonishingly embodied by Dern) and Ted (Australian Clarke struggling a Bostonian accent), but that's as far as character development goes. You never get to know how the man really felt about the incident. You mainly see the facade he maintained.

PS: After House of Cards, this is the second time Kate Mara is getting killed at the hands of a politician. She has potential to become the Sean Bean of actresses.

Mo says:

Les diaboliques (The Devils) (1955)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot. Cast: Simone Signoret, VĂ©ra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse. 117 min. France. Crime/Horror.

Two quotes on this sixty-something year old movie:

1. After it's done, we see this:

"DON'T BE DEVILS! Don't ruin the interest your friends could take in this film. Don't tell them what you saw. Thank you, for them."

So when Hitchcock said on his 1960 movie Psycho (made 5 years later): "Do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture ...", this is where he got that idea.

2. From Roger Ebert:

A man wrote to Alfred Hitchcock: "Sir, After seeing Diabolique, my daughter was afraid to take a bath. Now she has seen your 'Psycho' and is afraid to take a shower. What should I do with her?" Hitchcock replied: "Send her to the dry cleaners."

This ancient movie had an ending 5-minute sequence that truly frightened me. And that horror was about a dead body in a bathtub. So the French Hitchcockian film predated Hitchcock's most commemorated shower murder scene, and had repercussions that affected both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick in writing and directing The Shining's scariest moment.

I'm scoring this on a matter of principle.

Mo says:

Wonderstruck (2017)

Director: Todd Haynes. Cast: Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams. 116 min. Rated PG. Drama/Mystery.

The stories of two deaf teenagers, 50 years apart, told in parallel. So it's obvious from a mile away  there will be a 'big reveal' at the end, where we discover how these two people are related. After a few impossible coincidences pushing these two characters closer and closer, the 'big reveal' happens, and we say: "Okay ... so what?" Would've loved for the recreated 1977 New York City segments to go on forever, but that wasn't the purpose of the movie. The purpose, was the dumb 'big reveal'.

Mo says:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Beirut (2018)

Director: Brad Anderson. Cast: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris. 109 min. Rated R. Thriller.

In 1982, an ex-CIA operative, notified that an old colleague has been taken hostage in Lebanon, is coerced into negotiating his friend’s release. Again, Jon Hamm proves he can single-handedly command a major Hollywood production even through the twists and turns of a Tony Gilroy-written spy thriller, although dark grainy cinematography makes keeping up with those twists a challenge. The notion of groups banning the movie for stereotyping the Lebanese as terrorists is much ado about nothing, especially since the movie is much more critical of Israeli mentality and behavior - showing how terrorism is a by-product of their politics.

Mo says:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017)

Director: Alexandre O. Philippe. Cast: Peter Bogdanovich, Jamie Lee Curtis, Guillermo del Toro, Illeana Douglas, Danny Elfman, Walter Murch, Elijah Wood, Eli Roth, Gary Rydstrom. 91 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

IMO, Psycho is Hitchcock's best film, and together with The Exorcist and The Shining, rounds up the best three horror movies ever made. Case-in-point: an entire documentary, solely to analyze one scene in Hitch's masterpiece (on par with Hitchcock/Trufautt, an entire documentary about one Hitchcock interview). Some moments like Elijah Wood sitting on a couch with others watching it saying: "Wow ... ooooh ..." are quite dumb, but editing grand-master Walter Murch analyzing the 52 shots of the 78 second sequence, is movie-lover gold. See why Psycho's shower scene is taught in film school as one of the greatest ever created.

Mo says:

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Director: Steven S. DeKnight. Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny. 111 min. PG-13. USA/China/UK. Action/Fantasy.

Nothing in the story, no interesting characters, not a single slightly smart line of dialogue, and not even a city decimation by crashing robots and monsters we haven't already seen in the 436th Transformers movie. This isn't even worth 100 words of a review, so I'll stop right here. Good candidate for a worst-movie-of-the-year MoCrap score. We'll see.

Mo says:

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Director: Wes Anderson. Voices: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance, Roman Coppola, Anjelica Huston. 101 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Germany. Animation.

Incredible investment is again placed into an exquisitely detailed production (another stop-motion animation), where characters are positioned symmetrically or move in straight lines across the screen in typical Wes Anderson style, making this an immaculate celebration of form, but again ... somewhat falling short in content. The idea of a brutal (but feeble-minded and possibly kind-hearted) despot manufacturing a divisive factor as grounds to slaughter dogs may have Trumpian correlates, but that wasn't enough for me to feel: yes, such a grand effort was totally worth getting that message across. The film-maker's vocabulary just doesn't work for me.

Mo says:

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Quiet Place (2018)

Director: John Krasinski. Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe. 90 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

Krasinski? The comedian from 'The Office'? Making the perfect horror movie? A Quiet Place works two-fold: metaphorically, since an atmosphere where any squeak in the midst of the imposed utter silence is a death sentence, is an excellent analogy for totalitarian regimes; and socially, where the silence-induced horror forces the audience to respect its realm, become silent, and become one with the movie - through avoidance of talking, coughing, and yes ... even texting. That's how a horror movie should function. Suspension of disbelief prevails, and plot inconsistencies become negligible. I could hear a pin drop in the theater.

Mo says:

The Lovers (2017)

Director: Azazel Jacobs. Cast: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen, Melora Walters. 97 min. Rated R. Drama/Romance.

Long-married couple at the brink of dissolving their marriage from extramarital affairs each plan to announce this during their son's weekend visit, but suddenly ... something happens. Marriage is considered "the great mystery", so the plot is as unpredictable as they come. Unfortunately, the mysteriousness and unpredictability of the very personal story (probably autobiographical to the writer) works against the chances of it having a more universal message that can be applied to the viewer. And while thrilling action is not expected, a slightly faster pace would've helped. Alas, nice to see Debra Winger back in movies.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Downsizing (2017)

Director: Alexander Payne. Cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Udo Kier, Jason Sudeikis, James Van Der Beek. 135 min. Rated R. Comedy/Sci-fi.

Sci-fi concept of a community of miniaturized people opens as another interesting Trump era movie on racism and xenophobia (because 'American-born' still doesn't save someone from being considered an outsider ... right?), but then expands into a commentary on human societies, as even the most Utopian of utopias branched out from human civilizations will eventually corrupt into the usual social strata, with the rich exploiting the poor, reminiscent of Snowpiercer. And you know the further movie-end branching out won't cure the inherent decadence. So beware: if you’re expecting futuristic sci-fi ideas here (rather than a sociopolitical study), you’ll be disappointed.

PS: Thanks for the recommendation, JZ. I too was surprised newcomer Hong Chau wasn't nominated for an Oscar. Look how she has zero accent in real life.

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Ready Player One (2018)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance. 140 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Sci-fi.

I frowned at this being made by Spielberg. The man is an architect of 80's fandom - so why direct a movie to pay homage to ... himself? Even Tye Sheridan in the main role is too obvious as a young Spielberg lookalike. And while the movie is a dazzling spectacle, the innumerable 80's references are questionable: why the Back to the Future DeLorean, as opposed to any other car? One exception: a short sequence referencing iconic scenes of an iconic 80s horror movie, became one of my most fulfilling 2-minutes of the last decade. Wish the entire narrative was that relevant.

Mo says: