Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge) (2016)

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit. 80 min. Rated PG. France/Belgium. Animation.

A mesmerizing animation, probably because it has no dialogue; you know, the stuff that distracts you from enjoying the imagery. A man is marooned on a tropical island, and all his efforts to leave the island are sabotaged by ... a giant red turtle. The simple-looking yet exquisitely detailed animation (definitely taking a few lessons from Herge's "Tin Tin" books) makes you wish this story would go on forever - even though admittedly, I wasn't sure what the film's message was. This 2016 Cannes Special Jury Prize winner will be a strong Oscar contender.

PS: Okay, Ali S., now time to look for My Life as a Zucchini ...

Mo says:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Director: Kenneth Lonergan. Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick. 137 min. Rated R. Drama.

A rare movie that unintentionally but deeply hurts. A young man has been spiritually destroyed by soul-crushing tragedy, and isn't able to move on. Everyone around him has redefined their lives, but he just can't let go. Add to that, he inherits the guardianship of his teenage nephew. With a minimalist approach to obvious story elements, but detailing tiny life nuances to make the story ever more believable, the screenplay slowly hurls you into this doomed man's world. Casey Affleck excels as this crumpled, shattered character, and Michelle Williams has only three pivotal scenes - two of which get waterworks running.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Moana (2016)

Director(s): Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams. Voices: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson. 103 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Frozen. Zootopia. Moana. A feisty young girl decides to break through barriers imposed upon her since childhood, and with the help of a flawed but good-hearted male side-kick, wins against all odds and brings peace to her realm. This is all good, and Moana deserves a high score if solely for its endlessly beautiful Hawaii-backdrop animation, spiced with great musical numbers (my favorite was the wacky "Shiny" sung by the evil crab). But is there any chance Disney can expand its horizons on the subject?

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Loving (2016)

Director: Jeff Nichols. Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Bill Camp. 123 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Biography/Drama.

This was a surprise. The trailer describes a formulaic heart-wrenching story about racial tension in the 1950s, at a time when the State of Virginia criminalized interracial marriage. Actually, it's a slow-burning drama, about seeping racial hatred that is faceless (now we're suddenly amazed there was an outright fascist population in America), and how the basic exchange of love between a simpleton couple can slowly erode that hatred; and build the foundations of a country (close-ups of the protagonist building a house). While Edgerton and Negga astound with their quiet performances, Jeff Nichols proves he's America's great new director.

Mo says:

Monday, November 21, 2016

O.J.: Made in America (2016)

Director: Ezra Edelman. 467 min (7 hrs 47 min). Documentary.

I know. No way I can persuade you to watch an 8-hour documentary. No way you'd allot a huge chunk of life to learn about a trial with such a well-known ending. So I'll summarize my MoMagic score to saying: the O.J. Simpson trial was far greater than a "not guilty". It was decades of racism, celebrity worship, and an American sense of entitlement, that culminated in that verdict. And also that this might win the Best Documentary Oscar. If after the November 8th election, anybody is thinking about educating the next generation, this may be a good starting point.

PS: In case I've made anybody curious, the documentary is available to stream on Amazon. Just try the first of the five 90-minute chapters, and tell me you're not hooked to watch it till the very end.

PPS: Thank you for the recommendation, Matt!

Mo says:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Director: Mel Gibson. Cast: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths. 139 min. Rated R. Australia/USA. History/War.

Like everyone else, Mel Gibson has his personal demons, and that shouldn't affect how we judge his films ... because he's one helluva director. He tackles the true story of an WWII conscientious objector, who wouldn't even touch a gun, but enlists to save lives as a medic. The story inspires to stick with your principles no matter what, and while Gibson skillfully directs some of the most bewildering battle scenes (on par with Spielberg), this is actually an anti-war movie, comparable to Platoon and Das Boot: I cheered for the hero who helped a few Japanese soldiers along the way.

Mo says:

Elle (2016)

Director: Paul Verhoeven. Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Christian Berkel. 130 min. Rated R. France/Germany/Belgium. Thriller/Drama.

I admit: I don't understand the French. I mean ... knowingly having a pleasant dinner with your rapist? At times it's a comedy (and a very bitter one at that), but Paul Verhoeven's return to his Basic Instinct psycho-sexual thriller days was credible enough to be introduced by France as their Foreign-language Oscar competitor. With all its strange character interactions, I was still captivated by the story, and Huppert's acting and Verhoeven's direction had me hooked till the very end. This is a film impossible to predict where it's going, and that makes it most satisfying.

Mo says:

Snowden (2016)

Director: Oliver Stone. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Chaplin. 134 min. Rated R. France/Germany/USA. Biography/Drama.

Typical Oliver Stone spoon-feeding of a historical event: this is how I see it, this is how it happened, you should think as I do. Save for some arguments between Snowden and his girlfriend, at least in movie terms, we never get into Snowden's mind on major controversies: His thoughts on treason accusations? Or on Gen. Hayden's: "He's gonna die in Moscow; he's not coming home"? That's what was I was seeking here. Gordon-Levitt's intonation of Snowden's voice is astonishing, and the appearance of "the man" is a charm. But if you just want the story, watch the exceptional Citizenfour.

Mo says:

Doctor Strange (2016)

Director: Scott Derrickson. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong. Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Action.

Another Marvel attempt to reformat the superhero genre, and it works. This is exactly what Thor had attempted to achieve but failed: create an alternate universe with it own rules and entities, to make it look interesting and fresh. Add some thought-provoking Lincoln-type philosophical viewpoints for young adults (break a few rules, negotiate with the devil, all for the greater good), and you have a winner. Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange from the comics, and I'm still not buying into all the Hollywood white-washing accusations, for employing the skills of the superb Tilda Swinton.

PS: Interestingly, of the two post-credit scenes, one is Doctor Strange and Thor chatting. So someone's admitting their similarities. I even got confused watching Strange, thinking Rachel McAdams already played Thor's love interest in Thor - which was actually played by Natalie Portman.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Jason Bourne (2016)

Director: Paul Greengrass. Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp. 123 min. Rated PG-13. UK/China/USA. Action/Thriller.

You know what? This can go on forever. Jason Bourne remembers stuff, then gets chased, then remembers more stuff, then surprisingly, gets chased, then a light-bulb goes on and he remembers more, And you know what shockingly happens then? He gets chased! There's no variability in sight for the Bourne franchise story-line, other than slightly modifying each episode to its times (this one covers Snowden-type surveillance), and play some intriguing music when people are sitting around doing absolutely nothing. They've even given up on movie title creativity, and simply called it Jason Bourne. Next one will be: Same Old S---.

Mo says:

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan. Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas. 99 min. Rated PG-13. Japan/USA. Horror.

The original Ouija was truly awful, so only the jump from 7% to an astonishing 82% on the Tomatometer had me seek out the sequel (actually, it's a prequel origin story for the original). And while the first half lags with predictable cliches, to its credit, the second half intrigues with some tricky camerawork - specifically scenes showing the non-scary stuff in focus, while scary stuff happens in the foreground and background ... out of focus. That does lead to some effective creepiness. Still, I wouldn't call it 82% good.

PS: Nice to see a grown-up Elliot from E.T., here as a priest.

Mo says:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Arrival (2016)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg. 116 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Mystery.

Alien ships arrive on Earth, and humans try to communicate with them, but then maybe the bigger challenge is for them to communicate among themselves. Favorite new director Villeneuve borrows heavily from Close Encounters, but also employs Adams to bestow upon his film an identity of its own, and creates a thought-provoking puzzle for us to solve (which includes 'communicating' after the film to translate a pivotal Chinese line of dialogue). Arrival is an exquisitely designed and executed film, but somehow didn't stimulate me to figure out the mystery the way Christopher Nolan does. But that doesn't diminish the entertainment.

PS: Haven't we seen those alien heptapods in Villeneuve's previous film, Enemy?

Mo says: