Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Awakening (2011)

Director: Nick Murphy. Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton. 107 min. Rated R. UK. Horror/Thriller.

In post-WWI England, an expert at disproving hoaxes for a living is called in to investigate ghost sightings at a boarding school. The film has all the elements of an enchanting ghost story: gloomy cinematography, scares that are so self-assured they mainly happen in broad daylight, and great acting by the trio of Hall, West and Staunton. But what attracts the most is how the script goes beyond, and looks into the main characters' inner demons also. The final twist will certainly remind of one or two other groundbreaking movies, but reaching that conclusion is still a fun ride.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Friday, April 29, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Director: Dan Trachtenberg. Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., Bradley Cooper (voice). 103 min. Rated PG-13. Thriller/Fantasy.

Spoiler Alert!

I'll cut to the chase: What's the point of creating a tense, suspenseful environment in an underground doomsday bunker between three characters, with hour-and-half guessing what's going on outside/upstairs, while the final answer ends up being exactly what the conspiracy theorist character was predicting it to be? Especially since the film has "Cloverfield" in the title, which forecasts an alien invasion. I was hoping for some explanation other than what we already know, and not some impossible human-alien fight sequence. Or is this the first part of an Alien/Aliens-like duology, to complete a trilogy? Good script; mediocre story.

Mo says:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Son of Saul (Saul fia) (2015)

Director: László Nemes. Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn. 107 min. Rated R. Hungary. Drama/War.

And I thought James White was innovative for filming almost entirely in close-up. Because Oscar/Golden Globe/Cannes winner Son of Saul, from the same year, uses the same technique: following a Jewish worker in a Nazi death camp, who finds the body of someone he knows, and becomes obsessed with seeking him a proper burial, while we witness different stages of gassing, looting and cremating Jews in the background, in blurry detail (the blurriness makes it more horrifying). There are always theories about how Holocaust films conspiratorially win all the awards. But granted, they're damn good movies.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Midnight Special (2016)

Director: Jeff Nichols. Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard. 112 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Adventure.

I doubt great new director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) would deny Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. as his inspirations for Midnight Special: the story of parents protecting a boy with strange powers from government authorities to a rendezvous point based on geographical coordinates, are obvious references. But the beauty is how tremendously Nichols elevates those Spielbergian themes, replacing Elliot/E.T. with a sincere father-son relationship, and having Close Encounters' other world not far away, but quite close by. No further spoiling, because for sci-fi fans, it'll become one of the genre's most memorable films.

PS: Thank you, Ali S. Another MoMagic! to your credit.

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Invitation (2015)

Director: Karyn Kusama. Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch. 100 min. Horror/Thriller.

An estranged grief-stricken couple are brought together again for a dinner party, and things get seriously weird from the get go. Wouldn't spoil the story any further, but if what defines a Hitchcockian thriller is the viewer's inability to guess what's coming next, this is a psychological thriller that follows Hitchcock every step of the way. And by that, I mean the surprises kept coming till the very last scene. The violence towards the end is both gut-wrenching, and believable, because when you lose a child, the most bizarre parental behavior is expected - and that's what this story gets right.

Mo says:

James White (2015)

Director: Josh Mond. Cast: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Ron Livingston. 85 min. Rated R. Drama.

An intimate portrait of the relationship between a troubled young New Yorker and his terminally-ill mother. And when I say "intimate", it's literally photographic: almost the entire movie is filmed in close-up of the son's face (except for a segment in Mexico, where the son is away from his mother, and therefore filmed in long-shot). As a result, we experience the pain he is going through, up close and personal. With all its innovations and awards, watching someone's pain in such detail is not something I would recommend to anybody, or want to experience again.

Mo says:

The Jungle Book (2016)

Director: Jon Favreau. Cast: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling. 105 min. Rated PG. Fantasy/Adventure.

I never read the book, and honestly, never understood the brilliance of the Disney animation - the story seemed too shallow to become anything memorable. But Jon Favreau's live-action version has helped me realize: it's all about the experience. The feeling of growing up in an heavenly jungle, befriending ferocious animals, and wanting to be part of their world. If that wasn't enough, the mind-boggling CGI surprises how well (through an Apocalypse Now homage) a giant orangutan resembles Christopher Walken, ... or maybe Walken carries himself like an orangutan? This is magic that out-Disneys even Disney.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Director: Zack Snyder. Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Scoot McNairy, Lauren Cohan, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Rated PG-13. 151 min. Action/Fantasy.

Okay, yes, it's tough to get the two most beloved superheroes ever known to battle it out, and introduce another (female) superhero of comparable fame, and find an excuse for cameos of three other superheroes for future movies, all in the same film. But seriously, we're talking hallowed ground here. Affleck/Irons are not "believable" as Batman/Alfred, Lex Luthor begging to surpass the Joker in craziness becomes his caricature, and repeat reminders that "there's no inhabitants where they're fighting" looks like the filmmakers are repenting for their Man of Steel mass casualties. I struggled for at least a So-So.

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Director(s): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill. 106 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA/Japan. Comedy.

Major discovery: almost all of George Clooney's "lighthearted" movies are failures, and almost all his serious dramas are great. Another major discovery: the Coen Brothers were dying to make a Singin' in the Rain-style film-in-a-film musical - even if it would take disguising it as a 1950s comedy about the Hollywood film industry. Mix these two conclusions, and Hail, Caesar! is one of the Coens' weaker movies. Why this lame story with overlong musical sequences and vaguely-related subplots about Communists and tabloids and disgruntled cast and crew got so much attention, is beyond me.

Mo says:

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Forest (2016)

Director: Jason Zada. Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney. 93 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

I'd read about Aokigahara, Japan's "Suicide Forest", where people go to take their lives. I've thought the concept is mind-numbing scary (google images at your own risk), so it's fertile ground for a great horror story. But boy, did they botch the job. In this Oozaini genre film, Dormer (Game of Thrones' Margaery) searches the forest for her twin sister, and the number of shock shots are so desensitizing, the ending is so stupid and unresolved, you wonder why they chose this as their location, as dumb horror stories can happen anywhere. Good material in the hands of awful filmmakers.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Attack the Block (2011)

Director: Joe Cornish. Cast: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Nick Frost. 88 min. Rated R. UK/France. Sci-fi/Thriller/Comedy.

The movie that put John Boyega (Finn in the new Star Wars movie) on the map. An animal-like alien crashes into a London ghetto, a group of teenagers kill it, and look into how to sell its carcass on eBay (typical). But then, many more aliens follow. A nice indie sci-fi thriller that manages to keep the viewer engaged with a good mixture of suspense and comedy, and thanks to a tight screenplay, still keep everything low-budget. And this all from a first-time feature director, who later wrote the story for Ant-Man. Good example on how movie careers start.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Grandma (2015)

Director: Paul Weitz. Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, John Cho, Elizabeth Peña, Sam Elliott. 89 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

Disgruntled single grandmother is approached by teenage granddaughter for funds to perform an abortion. The movie was advertised as Lily Tomlin's "tour-de-force", but the only tour-de-force I saw was an anti-social trying to get her way by pissing everyone off. The knockout performance comes from Marcia Gay Harden, who in a short scene as the grandma's daughter/teenager's mom, entirely steals the show. An awards-aimed film that got almost no awards.

Mo says: