Monday, August 31, 2015

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Director: David Gregory. 97 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

A remake of a movie that was already a beloved cult classic. A filming location that had some of the worst raining seasons known to mankind. A greatest actor of all time and a small new superstar, who were competing at sabotaging the project - just to have some fun. Of course, there's no way such a project could become anything watchable, and this documentary shows why the 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau became one of the worst movies ever. While I haven't seen the remake, the story behind the disaster (reminiscent of another great-movie-that-was-never-made) was worth it.

Mo says:

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014)

Director(s): Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz. Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Gabi Amrani. 115 min. Israel/France/Germany. Drama.

Per Wikipedia, a 'gett' is a divorce document under Jewish law, presented from husband to wife, during which the husband literally proclaims: "You are hereby permitted to all men." And that is the key component. A wife wants a divorce, merely because she doesn't love her husband anymore, the husband denies her of the divorce simply by not attending the proceedings, and the court, judged by rabbis, is pretty much on the religious husband's side. The result, is some fascinating courtroom drama, which in terms of women's rights, significantly questions Israel's claim to being the sole democracy of the Middle-East.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Water Diviner (2014)

Director: Russell Crowe. Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogan. 111 min. Rated R. Australia/USA/Turkey. War/Drama.

I wish I hadn't already known this was Russell Crowe's directorial debut. The truth-inspired story of an Australian father travelling to find his three sons who fought at Gallipoli during World War I, feels like a Saving Private Ryan in Turkey that is too self-conscious; through numerous close-ups on himself , Crowe keeps hammering in the "Hey, look everybody; I can direct" message. And some mistake are too obvious: both sides of a battle in different scenes are shown moving from left to right, disorienting the viewer. You're a great actor, but nobody forced you to direct.

Mo says:

While We're Young (2014)

Director: Noah Baumbach. Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Peter Bogdanovich. 97 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

So here's the premise: when approaching life, should you stick to the hardcore but long-winded and boring truth, or sweeten it up with some phony dramatization, as long as you get the message across? I have no problem with the latter, but I'm not sure this film has an opinion either way - and I'm not sure the question is immense enough to make an entire film around it anyway. Meanwhile, the intellectual New York comedy setting infringes too much on Woody Allen territory, chipping away at the film's originality. But then again, I'm not a huge Noah Baumbach believer.

Mo says:

Tomorrowland (2015)

Director: Brad Bird. Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw. 130 min. Rated PG. USA/Spain. Sci-fi/Adventure.

My main problem with Tomorrowland, was structure. Felt like multiple subplots, piled up on each other to create one big plot. Starting with a 1960's Disney-World subplot, throwing you into a bright futuristic action sequence, leading to a BladeRunner subplot about an android, then an evil nerdy secret society who's after the android, then discovering a Neo-like teenage girl who is "the one", etc. Not that it's confusing - it's just all tiring. Screenwriter Landelof's formula that made Prometheus intriguing and fascinating doesn't work for kiddie sci-fi, and George Clooney is in the wrong genre. Another mediocre Disney-ride-to-movies moneymaking attempt.

Mo says:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Dark Places (2015)

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Corey Stoll, Chloë Grace Moretz. 113 min. Rated R. UK/France/USA. Mystery/Thriller.

Yes, movies and books are two separate entities, and you shouldn't judge a movie by the book it's adapted from. But Gone Girl largely dispelled that theory, so when another Gillian Flynn adaptation doesn't go so well, you realize how Fincher's exquisite direction and Flynn's dexterity at scripting her own material made Gone Girl so superb. The power of this novel's characters and the gruesomeness of the story has been significantly watered down here, and the minor deviations from the novel have made it ambiguous. Watching Theron and the unrecognizable Hendricks boast their acting skills is the film's sole pleasure.

PS: It has finally happened: movies are sold online on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, ... a week before their theater release.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Delta Force (1986)

Director: Menahem Golan. Cast: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Robert Forster, George Kennedy, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters. 125 min. Rated R. USA/Israel. Action.

In all fairness. every sub-genre has its first walking steps, and for every terror hijacking masterpiece like United 93, you need a movie like ... Delta Force? No, no. no. This ludicrous movie is beyond any justification. Even by Rambo-driven 80's standards, a movie where every bad guy is either stupid or ugly (man, they're ugly!), and every plot-hole is impossible even by sci-fi extremes, is worthy of a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" session. I was smiling throughout, and 48 hours on, the horrendous soundtrack of its good composer, Alan Silvestri, has become my earworm. The sacrifices we make for movies.

PS: Check out Ebert's review. He points out the movie's numerous stupidities, but then sheds a positive light on each, and gives the movie three stars. In his autobiography, Ebert claims he gave a film a positive review at the request of its producers on only one occasion (Robert Altman's last film). I think it happened more than once.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Director: John Ford. Cast: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin. Lee Van Cleef, Woody Strode. 123 min. Western.

There's a reason Westerns never get old. They're set in a small part of the world, chronicling events between long-gone men in strange costumes. But the concepts they elaborate on pertain to any country or social circumstance. The director and actors of this classic are as iconic as they come, but John Wayne's gun-loving attitude accurately portrays NRA's current stance on fighting crime, and Jimmy Stewart's law-abiding position is considered the doctrine for any non-violent movement. Add Lee Marvin, Vera Miles and Lee Van Cleef, and this is one of those black-and-whites you'd want to watch, and enjoy the trance.

"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

PS: Amazing. Vera Miles is still around.

Mo says:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Red Army (2014)

Director: Gabe Polsky. 84 min. Rated PG. USA/Russia. Documentary.

Remember Miracle, the 2004 Kurt Russell-starring film about how in 1980, the US hockey team beat Russia, the greatest team on Earth? That was a dramatized account of the winners. But what about a documentary about that game's losers, whose government believed Cold War politics culminated in this game? Told in parallel to interviews with Russian hockey superstar Slava Fetisov, this is an incredible story of human endurance; about how under insurmountable odds, after decades of perseverance under a crushing environment, you can rise as the victor. That US hockey team win was nothing compared to what these guys won.

Mo says:

Baby Boom (1987)

Director: Charles Shyer. Cast: Diane Keaton, Sam Shepard, Harold Ramis, James Spader, Kristina & Michelle Kennedy. 110 min. Rated PG. Comedy.

A successful New York "Tiger Lady" inherits of all things ... a baby. Her life turns upside down, and she must choose between continuing her shooting-for-the-stars career, or becoming a mom. A lot of suspension of disbelief is involved in watching this typical 80's formula-driven movie with an unsustainable resolution to the dilemma and an insanely predictable ending speech - but Keaton's magic covers many plot-holes, and above all, you keep wondering how 30 years later, almost nothing has changed to alleviate the work vs. family situation for women.

PS: The only reason I watched this, was because I remember as a kid in the mid-80's for reasons unknown to me, we received a letter in the mail advertising auditions for baby twins for an upcoming movie named "Baby Boom", starring Diane Keaton. Just curious to see how the movie turned out. Here's an update.

Mo says:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Expendables 3 (2014)

Director: Patrick Hughes. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Robert Davi. 126 min. Rated PG-13. USA/France. Action.

Finally! Exactly how these films were supposed to be (or at least how I expected them to be). The gang of "had been" action heroes are now thinking: maybe a member's demise is because ... we're not as good as old times? A self-parody, with a minimum basic story, action scenes out of the Fast and Furious notebook, Gibson as a real menacing villain, Banderas as a hilarious sidekick, and Ford always there to save the day. Even makes fun of Snipes' real-life tax evasion, and Willis' unwillingness to participate. Now, can we please close the trilogy on a happy note?

PS: Yeah, maybe I'm biased, because I gave both the original and the first sequel a No-Mo score, and the fact that I wasn't fast-forwarding the action scenes here is considered a significant improvement. Hence, the Mojo score.

Mo says:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (Død snø 2) (2014)

Director: Tommy Wirkola. Cast: Vegar Hoel, Ørjan Gamst, Martin Starr. 100 min. Rated R. Norway/Iceland/USA/UK. Action/Comedy.

I've rarely seen a sequel's direction deviate so significantly from its original. While the first movie was your run of the mill cabin-in-the-woods gore-fest, the sequel sadly becomes English-language (probably due to promotional incentives), and while retaining the same comedic spoof qualities, becomes a LOTR-in-the-Nordic-suburbs action flick, with touches of Indiana Jones-like Nazi-fights on a tank, and numerous suspiciously irrelevant Star Wars references. It also tries to gross the viewer out on every infraction of the zombie lore imaginable, including zombie-human hybrids, and necrophilia. Post-credits scene opens up possibilities for a third installment, but I'm not sure I'm interested anymore.

Mo says: