Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, James Franco, Guy Pearce. 122 min. Rated R. USA/UK/Australia/New Zealand/Canada. Horror/Sci-fi.

If you're sitting into Alien: Covenant expecting it to resolve questions posed in Prometheus, then Spoiler Alert!: it doesn't. But I'm content with that, because Prometheus' open ending hurled me into a movie-dreaming bliss I hadn't experienced in ages. Impressing, was how Scott, in our age, while lacking originality, had still managed to make a thrilling, entertaining movie ... on the sixth episode of a franchise! Seems he has two more prequel-sequels planned, but I predict he'll run into story continuity problems the way Star Trek did (if he hasn't already with Covenant). Just hoping a time-shift isn't in the works.

Mo says:

American Wrestler: The Wizard (2016)

Director: Alex Ranarivelo. Cast: George Kosturos, Ali Afshar, William Fichtner, Jon Voight. 117 min. Rated PG-13. USA. Drama/Sport.

True story of a young Iranian refugee, who wrestles his way to the top in the early 80s California, amid the brutal anti-Iran sentiment stemming from the hostage crisis. This is a movie that has many flaws, including excruciatingly predictable plot moments, and occasional laughable character reactions. But the movie has a heart, probably because it's based on a true story, probably because the real-life hero has a critical supporting role in the film. I recommend the movie, but can't forgive its faults.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017)

Director: George C. Wolfe. Cast: Rose Byrne, Oprah Winfrey, Reg E. Cathey, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Courtney B. Vance, Ellen Barkin. 93 min. Biography/Drama.

Based on the best-selling book about the groundbreaking discovery of HELA cells, the first immortal human cell line, from an African-American woman in the 1950s, Henrietta Lacks. The film tries to build upon that story, by portraying this as the crusade of Henrietta's daughter to make contact with her long-lost mother through ... grasping onto her cells. The idea is absurd, and that's where the movie fails. But once again, we're able to grasp how Blacks were and are exploited in this country, and once again, Oprah proves she can act.

Mo says:

Mommie Dearest (1981)

Director: Frank Perry. Cast: Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Xander Berkeley. 129 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

In preparation for Feud, after watching the splendid classics Mildred Pierce (1945) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), I succumbed to this. It contains my main movie pet-peeve: the director who wants to hurt you. We're subjected to long, agonizing sequences depicting Joan Crawford hurling cruelty after cruelty onto her adopted daughter, sprinkled with more scenes of moaning and groaning which have no role in the story, because there's no payback to them. Prolonging Crawford's own funeral scene at the end (including a young Xander Berkeley as Crawford's son) suddenly pushed me to giggling, so you get the idea.

Trivia: I learned two long hours too late, that the movie had received Golden Razzies for "Worst Picture of the Decade", and "Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years".

Mo says:

Their Finest (2016)

Director: Lone Scherfig. Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jeremy Irons. 117 min. Rated R. UK. Romance/Comedy.

England becomes active in propaganda film-making during WWII, so they hire a young woman to join a young man in the Ministry of Defense to act as screenwriters ... and to everyone's surprise, love is in the air! The movie offers an interesting viewpoint of how both sides of a war (yes, even the good guys) slightly manipulate the truth to achieve their goals. The problem is, it takes a masterpiece (like Linklater's Before series) to interest me in romance stories. So I was bored.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Graduation (Bacalaureat) (2016)

Director: Cristian Mungiu. Cast: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Lia Bugnar. 127 min. Rated R. Romania/France/Belgium. Drama.

From the Romanian director of the perfect 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, this has Asghar Farhadi written all over it - the whole idea of modern cinema creating questions rather than answers. A father is stuck in a moral dilemma: help his teenage daughter (victim of a recent assault) to cheat on her graduation finals, or leave her on her own to botch the exam and throw years of preparation (and other possible benefits for himself) away? The movie will put you in the position of "What would you do?", ... so don't expect simple answers by the end.

Mo says:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn. Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Sylvester Stallone. 136 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Adventure.

The whole idea of a "galactic family of misfits" was what made the original appealing; the action and dizzying CGI special effects were secondary. So for the sequel, they unsuccessfully try to expand the family concept (the Kurt Russell father/planet makes no sense at all), but multiply the secondary action/CGI element. The result, is a disappointment. There are some genuine laughs in there, but the distracting sensory overload is so severe, the fact that I only remember a worried Baby Groot sitting at the bottom a big spaceship seat in a huge battle scene, should give a hint.

PS: Five post-credit scenes? FIVE?

Mo says:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Colossal (2016)

Director: Nacho Vigalondo. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens. 109 min. Rated R. Canada/Spain. Fantasy/Drama.

An alcoholic woman realizes the movements of a monster wreaking havoc and destroying lives in Seoul, actually mirrors her own, walking in a suburban NY park. So early on in the movie, the metaphor is obvious. But while this could have become a powerful statement on alcoholism and domestic abuse, the comedic moments somewhat trivialize the gravity of the subject matter, and the story not abiding by its own rules (the monster/robot in Seoul should only exist within the confines of the park) further weakens the impact. A great opportunity, lost to box-office sensibilities.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Your Name. (Kimi no na wa) (2016)

Director: Makoto Shinkai. 106 min. Rated PG. Japan. Animation.

A teenage boy and girl, distant from each other (both location-wise, and other-wise), suddenly start switching bodies for an entire day, every few days. But this not a simple Freaky Friday situation: the two incorporate their characters into the other person's life, making this a switch of gender characteristics, not just mere bodies, and an animation wildly open to interpretation. My take, was a painful presentation of "out of sight, out of mind": no matter how long and close you've been with a person, no matter how hard you hold on, they start vanishing from your memory after their gone.

PS: This was Japan's highest grossing film of 2016, and the highest grossing anime film of all time worldwide.

PPS: Thanks again, Ali S! Although I was hoping that ending wouldn't happen ...

Mo says:

Power Rangers (2017)

Director: Dean Israelite. Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks. 124 min. Rated PG-13. Canada/USA. Action/Fantasy.

While possibly entertaining for kids, this is another good example of packaged, formulaic Hollywood. No effort to inject any new concepts, no deviation from any previously well-trodden paths. And the way they hide Elizabeth Banks under heavy make-up or only use Bryan Cranston's voice, makes you feel they're concerned employing a high-profile actor like Brando in a superhero movie like Superman was not a good idea after all. I never watched the 90s Power Rangers, but if this story is new to me and I'm still bored, trying to imagine how crushed the fans must be.

Mo says:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Personal Shopper (2016)

Director: Olivier Assayas. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger. 105 min. Rated R. France/Germany. Mystery/Thriller.

Anything I write about the story might spoil the entertainment, So I'll just limit to say: (a) from the get go you'll notice it's from the same director who made Clouds of Sils Maria, (b) it's the most intelligent, audience-respecting ghost story you'll ever see, (c) it provides undeniable proof of Kristen Stewart's acting skills, (d) the ending scene will have you scurrying what other writers' interpretation of it was. And since I did the same (the best one here) and therefore cheated in the process ... I can't give it a MoMagic. But it deserves one.

Mo says:

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Age of Shadows (2016)

Director: Jee-woon Kim. Cast: Kang-ho Song, Yoo Gong. 140 min. South Korea. Action/Thriller. 

My time-proven theory for watching a subtitled movie here, is that distributors predicted a profit in America's dumbed-down audiences, so it must be good. But South Korea's entry for the 2017 Oscars (which beat the captivating Handmaiden) doesn't make life easy: it's quite difficult to read the fast-moving subtitles and keep Jung Chae-San, Kim Woo-Jin, Lee Jung-Chool and Yun Gye-Soon apart. Nevertheless, patience during the first half of this long beautifully-shot cat-and-mouse spy thriller set in 1920s Korea, will deliver nail-biting moments of action and suspense during the second half that proves again you never leave a Korean movie unsatisfied.

Mo says: