Tuesday, September 19, 2017

It (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti. Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, 135 min. Rated R. USA/Canada. Horror/Drama.

A Stephen King adaptation that does right what most horror movies do wrong. Instead of insulting us with mind-numbingly dumb jump-scares, it takes its time, grounds the terrain by helping us understand each of these kids and their friendship in a familiar, old-fashioned way (exactly how Stephen King novels are), ... and then delivers its very effective jump-scares. Only error: thinking that hundreds of teeth make a monster look scary. But still, the perfect illustration of childhood fear, the perfect atmosphere of a haunted house, and Skarsgård's perfect portrayal of Pennywise, make this one of the best King adaptations ever.

Mo says:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Director: David F. Sandberg. Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Samara Lee, Miranda Otto. 109 min. Rated R. Horror.

We're seeing a strange new trend in the horror genre: prequels that are vastly better than their originals; first with Ouija and Ouija: Origin of Evil, and now with Annabelle - a movie that was so horrendous, you'd swear to stay away from that doll ... not because it was scary. The prequel has its fair share of horror cliches (characters making the dumbest choices, instead of just leaving the haunted house), but also creates a decent number of effective scares, nevertheless solely through lighting and sound. And the ending makes a sudden reference to the Charles Manson murders. Eerily intriguing.

PS: The post-credits scene is a shout-out to The Conjuring movies. That means a Marvel-style multi-movie cross-connecting horror franchise is in the works.

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The "Fitzcarraldo" Phenomenon

Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale, José Lewgoy. 158 min. Rated PG. West Germany/Peru. Biography/Adventure.

Burden of Dreams (1982)
Director: Les Blank. 95 min. Documentary.

Fitzcarraldo is Werner Herzog's magnum opus. It's not a documentary, but paradoxically famous for a surreal reality-inspired plot: the story of an insanely obsessed man who pulls an entire ship over an Amazon mountain. That sentence may sound poetic, but no ... the sight of this actually happening at the end of a long movie right before our eyes, blurs the line between reality and fiction in cinema. How can you call this a 'movie', when what you see accomplished without blue screens or green screens or CGI, is hard to imagine - even in real life?

So as expected, Burden of Dreams, which is Fitzcarraldo's "making of" documentary, simultaneously becomes another madman's (Herzog's, not Firtzcarraldo's) obsession to reach his own goal: a 4-year disaster project, which included its original actor (Jason Robards) leaving due to amoebic dysentery half-way through filming, huge bulldozers sliding down already-cleared muddy forest mountains, and three of the crew getting shot by Amazon tribesmen's arrows - among other calamities. If you ever have a difficult task ahead and start having doubts whether it can be completed, just watch this documentary. It'll clear all doubts.

A great example: read/watch Herzog's (hilarious) rant on his experiences filming in the jungle:

"Kinski always says it's full of erotic elements. I don't see it so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. It's just - nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotic here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and ... growing and ... just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they - they sing. They just screech in pain. It's an unfinished country. It's still prehistorical. The only thing that is lacking is - is the dinosaurs here. It's like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever goes too deep into this has his share of this curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here. It's a land that God, if he exists has - has created in anger. It's the only land where - where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at - at what's around us there - there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of... overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle - uh, we in comparison to that enormous articulation - we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel, a cheap novel. We have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication ... overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the - the stars up here in the - in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment."

And here's another good one, Klaus Kinski going off on the crew.

Mo says:

The Wizard of Lies (2017)

Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alessandro Nivola, Lily Rabe, Kristen Connolly, Hank Azaria. 133 min. Biography/Crime.

Movie biographies have become so advanced (Steve Jobs), they capture entire life stories by merely picturing a few vignettes. So for a seasoned director such as Levinson, much more than just "the story so far" is expected. Not only a journalist (probably playing the viewer's role) hammers Bernie Madoff in prison in a hard-to-believe manner, we're hardly offered a cinematic rendering of events, and never get a glimpse into the psychology of a man responsible for destroying thousands of lives, who then simply said: "I'm sorry". The story is interesting, no doubt. But it's supposed to be a movie.

Mo says:

Paprika (2006)

Director: Satoshi Kon. 90 min. Rated R. Japan. Animation.

"This is your brain on anime." That's the movie's tagline, and if another movie called Inception hadn't completely owned the concept four years later, I probably would have gone berserk over this. The concept of looking into someone's dream and injecting ideas into their mind using high-level technology is outlined incredibly well, through appropriately whimsical animated renditions, making the dreams look exactly like ... dreams. Nolan probably didn't steal the idea (he'd already written a draft for Inception by 2001), but this shows how Hollywood-driven exposure can help others 'own originality'.

PS: From the creator of Perfect Blue. This was one smart fellow.

Mo says:

Raw Meat (1972)

Director: Gary Sherman. Cast: Donald Pleasence, Sharon Gurney, David Ladd, Christopher Lee. 87 min. Rated R. UK. Horror.

Fun little British horror about cannibals (or cannibal, rather) roaming under the London tube for historical reasons that don't really make much sense, and occasionally pop up to take down another late night subway victim. Donald Pleasence plays against type as a charmingly grumpy wise-cracking police inspector, and Christopher Lee takes a questionably short MI5 role. While the long slow shots introducing the cannibal's creepy habitat have obviously inspired the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the having-fun-with-the-most-disgusting-creature-ever concept was eventually perfected by Sam Raimi, the film can't hold a candle to the significantly more advanced horror-comedies of later years.

Mo says:

Friday, September 8, 2017

Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016)

Director: Matt Schrader. 93 min. Documentary.

If you're not only fascinated by movie soundtrack, not only collect movie music and the names Elfman, Horner, Goldsmith and Zimmer carry a special meaning for you ... but also like me, listen to movie scores as a substitute for watching movies while driving, then this film is for you. As a documentary on film music, the excitement obviously relies on playing the most uplifting movie themes throughout the film (the mid-movie 10-minute segment dedicated to John Williams is pure magic), but the sight of living grand-masters divulging into the technicalities and intricacies of creating movie scores, is a treat nonetheless.

Mo says:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Alien Nation (1988)

Director: Graham Baker. Cast: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Terence Stamp. 91 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Action.

There must've been a time, pre-District 9, when movies about aliens being accepted and integrated into day-to-day human life sounded innovative. A time when you could tell such stories, devoid of any sociopolitical connotation, and still get away with it. But not anymore. Because a movie like Alien Nation, without much indication what makes injecting aliens into a story context different from any other LA-set 80's buddy cop movie, ends up becoming just that: another LA-set 80's buddy cop movie. The filmmakers realize that, because they even try to rip off the Blade Runner strip-bar scene. With ludicrous results.

PS: Okay, maybe the movie was a loser even for its own time. I swear I didn't read Ebert's review before writing this. Check it out.

Mo says:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lumière and Company (1995)

Director(s): Theodoros Angelopoulos, Vicente Aranda, John Boorman, Youssef Chahine, Alain Corneau, Costa-Gavras, Raymond Depardon, Francis Girod, Peter Greenaway, Lasse Hallström, Hugh Hudson, Gaston Kaboré, Abbas Kiarostami , Cédric Klapisch, Andrey Konchalovskiy, Spike Lee, Claude Lelouch, Bigas Luna, Sarah Moon, Arthur Penn, Lucian Pintilie, Helma Sanders-Brahms, Jerry Schatzberg, Nadine Trintignant, Fernando Trueba, Liv Ullmann, Jaco Van Dormael, Régis Wargnier, Wim Wenders, Yoshishige Yoshida, Yimou Zhang, Merzak Allouache, Gabriel Axel, Michael Haneke, James Ivory, Patrice Leconte, David Lynch, Ismail Merchant, Claude Miller, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Jacques Rivette.

Cast: Max von Sydow, Bruno Ganz, Isabelle Huppert, Neil Jordan, Liam Neeson, Lena Olin, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman, Pernilla August. 88 min. France/Denmark/Spain/Sweden. Documentary.

The 100th anniversary of inventing cinema. Forty directors are asked to film, using the original Lumière cinematograph, by three rules: 52-second sequence only, no 'synched' sound, no more than three takes. In between, directors are asked: 1. Is cinema mortal? 2. Why do you film? 3. Why accept this project? Look at the directors - the results are obviously fascinating, and in some instances, the behind-the-scenes more so. Some cleverly escape the rules (Haneke films a TV broadcast), some inject their own famous style (Lynch has a puzzle), and as expected, Kiarostami's the most mind-bending. All and all a treat.

Trivia: To film his own segment, John Boorman had visited the set of Niel Jordan's Michael Collins, which is why Neeson, Quinn, Rea, Rickman and Jordan himself are all present in his segment.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Director: Miguel Arteta. Cast: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Chloë Sevigny. 82 min. Rated R. Drama.

This reminded me of Desierto: poor small humble Mexican against big cruel megalomaniac American. Hayek as an 'alternative therapist', accidentally ends up at a dinner party where Lithgow as a real estate mogul (who may have destroyed her hometown), is a guest. The dinner goes on, and the rhetoric about this wronged girl and that mean awful man grows louder and louder. These are movies that preach to the choir, and never make the 'bad guy' in the audience (if he/she ever watches them) think twice. Forget about getting under the bad guy's skin using this approach.

Mo says:

It Comes at Night (2017)

Director: Trey Edward Shults. Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough. 91 min. Rated R. Horror/Mystery.

In a horror setting, a family of three takes shelter in the forest from a contagious infectious disease that has decimated humanity, and is threatened by ... xenophobia and paranoia. And there lies the paradox: the movie's title, its trailer, and almost entire length, suggests there's a beast lurking outside, but then we realize that beast was actually a concept, living within the characters. This packaging of an intellectual, thought-provoking Trump era theme as mainstream popcorn entertainment, is a commendable effort - but the ploy risks disappointing a huge audience, who came to 'see' the beast lurking in the woods.

PS: From the director Krisha. The man is becoming a pioneer for translating social crises to horror.

Mo says:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Harmonium (2016)

Director: Kôji Fukada. Cast: Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano, Kanji Furutachi. 120 min. Japan/France. Unrated. Drama.

Cape Fear-like opening: ex-convict shows up at his happily-married friend's door (someone who may or may not have been involved in the convict's imprisonment), and hauntingly inserts himself into the friend's family life. But then something awful happens, and the second half becomes the friend's slow-paced, stomach-churning revenge story, where the mood is so unbearably tense, each word of dialogue takes a screaming life of its own. Except for a few lapses (e.g., damning pictures too coincidentally discovered), this film is an unforgettable exercise in how long you can maintain the tension in drama, to elevate it to horror levels.

PS: This won the "Un Certain Regard" Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and currently runs a 100% score on the Tomatometer. Yep ... 100%.

PPS: It's all you again, Ali. S. Thanks a bunch.

Mo says: