Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Good Lie (2014)

Director: Philippe Falardeau. Cast: Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Reese Witherspoon, Corey Stoll. 110 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Sudanese refugees end up in the US under a protection program. The story of the primitive foreigner saved by the great American has been told numerous times before (some quite convincing), but the script here is so sloppy, the character actions so suspicious, it makes you wonder how much the writers were "inspired" by the true story. The portrayed culture clash looks stupid (how would you trust a foreigner so unequipped to not do something crazy ... or dangerous?), and the haphazard direction is just not interesting. This is not how it feels to be a foreigner in the US.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014)

Director: Francis Lawrence. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer. 123 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

The third "Hunger Games" book was already the weakest, and now they've prolonged it into two parts, reducing Part 1 to two hours of boredom. To commit this betrayal of a decent franchise, they've changed the story, added completely useless sequences, dumbed down some of the book's better characters (such as the menacing President Coin played by Moore), and generally made this a film solely about a revolution's political propaganda. I'm giving this a NoMo to encourage you to wait till next year, and watch this somewhere for free before the last movie of the series. Better continuity; less loss.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver. 97 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK. Comedy/Drama.

Set in the 1920s, British atheist magician (of all occupations) runs into a young American psychic who may be "the real thing". This creates the context for numerous philosophical discussions about spirituality and the presence or absence of a God - the kinds of which may happen in any household. And although the film contains a few worthwhile moments, the solution to the mystery is predictable from a mile away. Like many Allen movies, it's good while it lasts.

Mo says:

Predestination (2014)

Director(s): Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig (as The Spierig Brothers). Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor. 97 min. Rated R. Australia. Sci-Fi/Thriller.

One of the most imaginative sci-fi story-lines I've ever experienced. The finished puzzle creates a picture so bizarre, it's almost as if the writers sacrificed the logical implications of the story just to get the "idea" of possible time-travel consequences out there. Writing anything about the story, starting from what happens at minute one, will spoil it. Let's just say we're dealing with multiple characters being one character, one character being multiple characters, one character switching genders, one character being both genders, ... you get the idea. With a surprising performance by newcomer Sarah Snook, this movie is one helluva discussion-maker.

Mo says:

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Director: Craig Johnson. Cast: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Joanna Gleason. 93 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

Twin brother who miraculously survives a suicide attempt is rejoined after ten years by a twin sister who is also contemplating suicide. Although this Saturday Night Live contributors' dark comedy has numerous funny but nonetheless morose moments, these twins are so messed up beyond repair, the obligatory happy Hollywood ending neutralizes whatever the movie had striven for before that. Or maybe it's just that SNL's TV-to-film migrations have almost never worked for me.

Mo says:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dracula Untold (2014)

Director: Gary Shore. Cast: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Charles Dance, Art Parkinson. 92 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy.

Remember the Dracula origin story in the opening of Bram Stoker's Dracula? When I first saw the trailer for this Dracula story prequel, I was so much hoping it would be an elaboration of that. Well ... it's definitely not. And starting off with introducing Vlad the 'Impaler' (for crying out loud), the most vicious warrior ever, as a kind-hearted family-loving prince, makes no sense whatsoever. But a few memorable moments, such as the mere presence of Charles Dance as an ancient vampire, and some beautiful cinematography, even though it looks predominantly CGI, made me feel my time wasn't wasted.

PS; This film employed not only Charles Dance, but also another Game of Thrones actor: Art Parkinson, as Dracula's son, who plays the crippled Rickon Stark in the TV series. I guess the actors of the show will be stuck with medieval-looking stuff for the time being.

Mo says:

Wild (2014)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, Michiel Huisman. 115 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

After her mother dies, a middle-aged woman goes down the heroin route, cheats on her husband, and essentially hits rock bottom. So she embarks on a 1,100 mile self-discovery hike through the Mojave desert. Based on a true story with Reese Witherspoon in another career-defining performance in the lines of 127 Hours, Into the Wild and her own 1993 movie, A Far Off Place, the film displays the hardships of the girl's journey, but isn't very clear why the trek transforms her - let alone convince us this was a good move. The release timing merely makes this Oscar fodder.

Mo says:

Friday, December 5, 2014

Foxcatcher (2014)

Director: Bennett Miller. Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall. 134 min. Rated R. Biography/Sport.

Inspired by the true story of a wrestling trainer/trainee triangle in the 80s that ended in tragedy. But the tragedy is not in the ending, but in the entire story, as almost nothing positive happens throughout, and the acting, lighting, camera angles, editing, ... make this slow, grinding film the darkest sports movie I've seen since One Day in September (which was actually a documentary). With no take-home message and even confusing character motivations, this is planned as a showcase for the skills of director Miller (Moneyball, Capote), and the entirely unexpected and towering talents of Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit) (2014)

Directors(s): Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione. 95 mi. Rated PG-13. Belgium/France/Italy. Drama.

A family-supporting young lady who has already had a nervous breakdown, goes door to door on a weekend, asking her 12 co-workers to forego a huge salary bonus and vote for her to keep her job instead. The moral dilemma is immense and very real: Would you make a sacrifice and vote for her? Cotillard, having repeated anxiety attacks at the drop of a hat, demonstrates a powerfully heartbreaking performance, and her slightly varying presentation at the door of each co-worker is proof of her skills. I wasn't a big Dardennes Brothers' fan before this, but now, I'm completely sold.

Mo says:

St. Vincent (2014)

Director: Theodore Melfi. Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard, Jaeden Lieberher. 102 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama.

I see Bill Murray as this huge reservoir of dark, cynical satire that almost always goes untapped (major exception being Jim Jarmuch's Broken Flowers), and Melissa McCarthy as a comedienne who paradoxically has a decent chance at dramatic roles. Murray's talents are somewhat employed but then utterly ruined here by the teary-eyed feel-good themes, and McCarthy shows some skill at handling serious issues. Then again, similar to Bad Words, the anti-social adult/bright kid relationship here has no chance in hell of happening. Other than Watts' unexpected display of a Russian accent, I'm not sure why this movie was made.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Theory of Everything (2014)

Director: James Marsh. Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson. 123 min. Rated PG-13. UK. Biography/Drama.

When I first heard about this Stephen Hawking biopic, I figured it would be a heartbreaking picture of his struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ... and nothing more. The filmmakers recognized this pitfall, and overcame it by making this not a Hawking biography, but about his relationship with his wife - to the point that the second half becomes Jane's dominating story. All "diseased genius and his enduring wife" stories pale in comparison to A Beautiful Mind, but still, even with its somewhat ambiguous character motivations, this is worthy of your time. Expecting Leading Oscar nomination for Redmayne, Supporting win for Jones.

PS: Similar to Interstellar, watching the Errol Morris' documentary on Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, will make this movie more enjoyable.

Mo says:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Housebound (2014)

Director: Gerard Johnstone. Cast: Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru. 107 min. Not Rated. New Zealand. Horror/Comedy.

After a hilariously botched burglary attempt, a twenty-something girl is confined to detention at her Mom's house ... which is haunted. Following the over-hyped Babadook, this other horror movie from Oceania (what's up with them and horror lately?) with a 95% score on the Tomatometer is a breath of fresh air: full of cliches, full of cheesy shock shots, and full of surprises - to the extant that you're not sure whether the next shock is going to be scary or funny. I hadn't enjoyed a horror-comedy this much since watching Evil Dead II a few years ago.

Mo says: