Friday, March 24, 2017

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine, William Devane, 120 min. Rated R. Western.

Altman's famed "anti-Western". There's not much to the story: a gambler/entrepreneur embarks upon opening a bordello in a remote Old West mining town, and as soon as it becomes successful, a major corporation wants to take over. But it's not about the story. It's about Warren Beatty, playing against type under a bushy beard, making dumb business mistakes in this cold, gloomy town, and participating in a final showdown while not being the fastest gun in the West. You can physically feel how it felt to live in those times, and that's quite rare. Truly an anti-Western.

Mo says:

Naked Lunch (1991)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider. 115 min. Rated R. Canada/UK/Japan. Fantasy.

I'm sure William S. Burroughs was a prominent writer, and I know Cronenberg is a great film-maker. But there's a certain amount of abstraction one can take. This well-acted, beautifully-shot, bug-and-alien-infested chunk of delusion takes so many bizarre twists and turns, you already lose hope after the first half hour in any form of a coherent story - or even what the hallucinatory fantasies may represent. This is David Lynch on speed, and considering what Lynch was already on ...

Mo says:

Christine (1983)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Kelly Preston. 110 min. Rated R. Thriller.

High-school nerd becomes infatuated with a beautiful red 1957 Plymouth Fury ... which has a passion for killing. This does not function as a horror movie; rather, structured similar to The Shining, illustrates a loner who after becoming obsessed with an inanimate object with a mind of its own, slowly loses his mind. The film's smoldering creepy feeling must have been innovative for the 80s, and some lingering moments, such as the "self-rejuvenation" scene, and the car-in-flames speeding after its next victim, make this metaphor for America's car lust one of Carpenter's memorable films, and one of Stephen King's better adaptations.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lady Snowblood (1973)

Director: Toshiya Fujita. Cast: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon. 97 min. Not Rated. Japan. Action/Thriller.

The beautiful opening song, the revenge story of a betrayed heroine, the comic book sequences, the younger daughter waiting to avenge her parent's death at the hands of the heroine, the final discovery of a parent-sibling relationship, the climactic duel between two females in the snow, and of course, all the blood gushing out of bodies like geysers. A few weeks ago I thought Thriller: A Cruel Picture was the inspiration for Kill Bill. But no, Tarantino's masterpiece is actually a remake of this sword-wielding entertainment. Give it a try; you'll remember this film.

PS: Don't bother with the sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance, made the year after. It gets involved with politics and revolutions, and ruins the fun.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman. Rated PG-13. 120 min. Fantasy/Action.

A director in love with Apocalypse Now (and to a lesser extent, Predator) tackles the legend of King Kong - as though we needed this after Peter Jackson already did such a fine job. But no ... this should happen right after Vietnam, so they can tie it in with Godzilla, and give us a King Kong Vs. Godzilla in a few years. The CGI effects of Kong and other eye-popping creatures fighting and thrashing around are undoubtedly insurmountable, but this 2-hour roller coaster ride leaves nothing to contemplate about - even if admittedly, it's just a fantasy. Pre-packaged formulaic Hollywood; nothing unexpected.

PS: I've already spoiled the post-credits scene. But that was a no-brainer.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nashville (1975)

Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Barbara Harris, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould, Julie Christie. 160 min. Rated R. Musical/Drama/Comedy.

For those who haven't seen it, I'll do the favor of informing that Nashville is described as "... one of the greatest films ever made that is literally about nothing" - because for the first hour, I too was lost what the movie was about. But then it started growing on me, and while Altman perfected this method of interconnecting stories almost twenty years later in Short Cuts (1993), I ended it still wondering what specific theme I was following, but mesmerized about life in America in the early 70's, and the Nashville music culture. Maybe that's what it was all about.

PS: After watching the movie, check out Ebert's review, part of his "Great Movies" series. Yep, he was struggling with it too.

Mo says:

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)

Director: Bo Arne Vibenius (as Alex Fridolinski). Cast: Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf. 107 min. Unrated. Sweden. Action/Thriller.

Tarantino doesn't need to confess about this Kill Bill inspiration source: both the Bride (wronged white female martial arts avenger) and Elle Driver (the one-eyed female killer) are obvious adapted elements here. That in itself makes this originally-banned low-budget revenge cult movie with the famous Swedish pin-up girl in the lead worthy of attention - even though the super-slow-motion violence would be considered gratuitous, rather than interesting in a Peckinpah sort of way. Add to that the hardcore scenes, and you realize the director had (in his own words) resorted to "a commercial-as-hell crap-film", not knowing he was onto something trend-setting.

Mo says:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Danton (1983)

Director: Andrzej Wajda. Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak, Anne Alvaro. 136 min. Rated PG. France/Poland. Biography/History.

Another great one from decades ago, from a great director who died last year. Late 18th century, post-French revolution, and Danton and Robespierre (tremendously performed by Depardieu and Pszoniak) are political rivals. But the story is as good as new - particularly, how one avid Danton ally denounces the outspoken revolutionary and switches sides to the winning party, as soon he's confronted with the overwhelming risk of going under the guillotine (that's what people usually do). If you're looking for the cinematic rendition of "the Revolution devours its children ...", look no further.

Mo says:

Logan (2017)

Director: James Mangold. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook. 137 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Action.

Take the comedy out of Deadpool, transform The Unforgiven's look-alike Clint Eastwood into a superhero, inject The Terminator's car chase scenes... and you get Logan (and that's a compliment). It's 2029, mutants are nearly extinct, Wolverine is a foul-mouthed alcoholic losing his gifts, and Professor X a demented paraplegic. Meanwhile, the fresh material comes from a mutant girl with terrifying abilities, and the family relations between the three. Definitely a worthwhile superhero movie; another Marvel attempt at making the genre interesting. But the gritty endeavor comes at the expense of the Avengers or Spider-man not co-inhabiting the X-Men universe anymore.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele. Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford. 103 min. Rated R. Thriller/Horror.

This is the context: people may say they're not racist, you may say you're not racist ... but you really are. And if your actions show you're racist without even knowing it, that's considered 'scary' - and the basis for a horror movie. This comes at an extremely opportune time, when we're starting to believe what Blacks were already saying for decades - but never believed them. The metaphors are too poignant and too precise to ignore, and while I may regret my MoMagic score years or even months from now, as the first xenophobic movie of the Trump era, it's perfect.

Mo says:
Mo Magic!

My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette) (2016)

Director: Claude Barras. Voices: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud. 70 min. Rated PG-13. Switzerland/France. Animation.

This claymation gets right what The LEGO Batman Movie got wrong: through animation, it delivers an adult-oriented message ... to adults. Through animation, it pictures a child's perspective of being an orphan in an orphanage. You watch this "cartoon", and suddenly have an understanding of the world they see, and what they go through - a very complicated feat to accomplish. And strangely, the filmmakers manage to keep it lighthearted and funny. Not for kids, but a must-see for adults.

PS: Thank you, Ali S. I'm sure you had a good laugh at the "exploding cock" concept ...

Mo says:

Friday, February 24, 2017

My 2017 Oscars Predictions

It was just another year, with "regular" movies such as La La Land and Moonlight suddenly shooting to critical fame ... again. In his recent autobiography, Owen Gleiberman calls this concept "Media Mike": when it seems a mysterious microphone is singing praise of a certain movie into critics' ears all over the country, and critics all just sing along. Happens all the time, and Media Mike lives strong.

But then about a month ago, the President of the United States started persecuting minorities. A few nominees (including Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi) were temporarily banned from attending the ceremony, and since many Academy members are in the habit of showing the middle finger to organizations such as the government ... this changed things. The nominees that addressed the plight of refugees, immigrants and minorities suddenly came to the forefront - because after all, when have the Oscars ever been about art?

So in view of recent turn of events, I'm adding a "Trump Fallout" category to my predictions: movies that suddenly have a better shot at winning in spite of Trump's rescinded Executive Order. Actually, this is my way of chickening out of committing to my predictions, because the recent storm blurred the lines and blew everything out of the proportion, making it extremely difficult to predict an otherwise very predictable year.

Best Picture:

(Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight)

The front-runners here are La La Land and Moonlight. While the unwritten rules dictate La La Land should win, I'll go out on a limb on this one, and hope Academy voters will come to their senses, realize that La La Land wasn't actually about anything praise-worthy, then make a stand against current tides, and go for Moonlight - a movie about a black gay boy. Of course, my pick would've been my own favorite of the year.

Should Win: Manchester By The Sea.

Trump Fallout: Moonlight

Will Win: Moonlight

Best Director:


(Denis Villeneuve for Arrival, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By The Sea, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight)

Okay, everything is going for Damien Chazelle here. Compared to MoonlightLa La Land was a much more complicated movie to direct. But when it comes to difficult directorial efforts, none of the nominees beat Hacksaw Ridge in my book.

Should Win: Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge

Trump Fallout: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight

Will Win: Damien Chazelle for La La Land

Best Actor:

(Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea, for Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, for Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic, Denzel Washington for Fences)

The only element going against a Casey Affleck win is rape allegations that have recently propped up about an incident that occurred years ago. Otherwise, his should be a smooth win. Anti-Trump sentiments make Denzel a close competitor, but while his acting in Fences was superb as always, his attempt at directing it was not. Add to that, he already has two Oscars. Viggo Mortensen's nomination for Captain Fantastic was just an Academy nod to indie film-making, but a win would be a tough act to pull.

Should Win: Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea

Trump Fallout: Denzel Washington for Fences

Will Win: Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea

Best Actress:

(Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Ruth Negga for Loving, Natalie Portman for Jackie, Emma Stone for La La Land, Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins)

The Golden Globes for Best Actress went to the seasoned Isabelle Huppert, and the younger Emma Stone. Stone has since went on to win the Bafta and the Screen Actors Guild Award. The time-honored tradition has been that when choosing between the young and old, the Academy goes for the young. Ruth Negga, as the wife of a couple fighting for interracial marriage in the 60s, could become the dark horse of the resistance. Me? I pick Meryl Streep every time she's nominated.

Should Win: Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins

Trump Fallout: Ruth Negga for Loving

Will Win: Emma Stone for La La Land

Best Supporting Actor:

(Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals)

The Force is strong with Mahershala Ali - both because he won the SAG, and because he declared he converted to Islam at the podium after receiving the SAG. That should piss a lot of Trumpsters off. Producers tried to increase Dev Patel's chances by categorizing him as a supporting role, while he actually had a leading role in Lion - a trick that worked at winning him the Bafta. Also, Lion is about immigration, and many Trumpsters, especially immigrant-ancestor Trumpsters (ahem, all of them), don't like immigrants. Strangely, while not a strong movie in itself, among the nominees, Jeff Bridges' act in Hell or High Water stood out the most to me.

Should Win: Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water

Trump Fallout: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight or Dev Patel for Lion

Will Win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress:

(Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea)

The cards are all stacked in favor of Viola Davis. The minority card, the brilliant performance card, the Golden Globe/SAG/Bafta winner card, the three-time-Oscar-nominee-no-win card, and finally, the Mo-View approval card. Especially the Mo-View approval card.

Should Win: Viola Davis for Fences

Trump Fallout: Viola Davis for Fences

Will Win: Viola Davis for Fences

Best Original Screenplay:

(20th Century WomenHell or High WaterLa La Land, The LobsterManchester By The Sea)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(ArrivalFencesHidden FiguresLionMoonlight)

While there's suspicion that Casey Affleck might lose the Oscar to Denzel, there's minimal disagreement that Manchester By The Sea (i.e., Kenneth Lonergan) will at least win for the film's superb screenplay. On the same token, if Moonlight is destined to win only one Oscar, it'll be for its screenplay - especially since Barry Jenkins will likely lose Best Director to Damien Chazelle.

On the other hand, the Greek-written Lobster is the only Original Screenplay nominee that has an anti-establishment message, and Arrival is the only Adapted Screenplay nominee that doesn't have an anti-establishment message (although it can if you try).

Should Win: Manchester By The SeaLion

Trump Fallout: The Lobster, all except Arrival 

Will Win: Manchester By The SeaMoonlight

Best Documentary Feature Film:

(13th, Fire At Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, O.J.: Made in America)

Life, Animated is the one that has zero chance at winning. All other four nominees have some degree of a winning shot for reasons detailed above: 13thI Am Not Your Negro and O.J.: Made in Americafor elaborating on the plight of African-Americans in the US, and even more applying to Fire At Seafor detailing the plight of refugees. But the Academy will likely give the Oscar to the (deserving) near-8-hour O.J.: Made in America, for the added benefit of "the longest film ever to win an Oscar" - a cool record.

Should Win: O.J.: Made in America

Trump Fallout: Fire At Sea

Will Win: O.J.: Made in America

Best Animated Feature Film:

(Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life As A Zucchini, The Red Turtle, Zootopia)

My Life As A Zucchini is the only nominated feature I haven't seen yet. But again, like in the case of Viola Davis, not much of a contest here. Zootopia predicted and delivered a strong anti-Trump message far ahead of our time, and so far has won the major awards.

Should Win: Zootopia 

Trump Fallout: Zootopia 

Will Win: Zootopia 

Best Foreign Language Film:

(Land of Mine, A Man Called Ove, The Salesman, TannaToni Erdmann)

This is where the the main Trump showdown will take place. Toni Erdmann was the sweetheart up until a month ago, but then Trump's travel ban came along, Farhadi and his film's actress boycotted the ceremony, and suddenly, The Salesman inched closer from second place in the Foreign-Language Oscar race, to first.

To be honest, in my opinion, this is not fair. Farhadi already has an Oscar for A Separation, and while both are brilliant movies, Toni Erdmann was slightly better, because it describes a complicated situation in simple terms, while The Salesman describes a complicated situation in complicated terms. And the Oscars have always been about connecting to the masses.

Should Win: Toni Erdmann

Trump Fallout: The Salesman

Will Win: The Salesman

And for predictions in other categories:

- Best Editing: La La Land

- Best Production Design: La La Land

- Best Cinematography: La La Land

- Best Makeup: Star Trek Beyond

- Best Original Score: La La Land 

- Best Original Song: La La Land (for "City of Stars")

- Best Costume Design: La La Land 

- Best Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

- Best Sound Mixing: 
La La Land 

- Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

It would be interesting to see if the Academy will reward Rogue One's "philosophy" (and not technical expertise) of digitally making old actors young, and bringing dead actors back to life. I'm willing to bet it will not.

- Best Animated Short Film: Piper

- Best Documentary Short Film: The White Helmets (another famous refugee crusader) 

- Best Live Action Short Film:  Ennemis Intérieurs