Monday, September 1, 2014

Bus 174 (2002)

Director(s): José Padilha, Felipe Lacerda. 122 min. Rated R. Brazil. Documentary.

Another example of movies showing glimpses into lives in other countries, that would be impossible to see in a lifetime. In the wake of all the Brazilian World Cup glamour, here's the story of a man whose mother was slashed to death before his eyes as a kid, grew up in the streets, was incarcerated several times in Rio's hellholes, and ended up taking hostages on a bus in an infamous 2002 event that was televised live. The documentary analyzes how the system breeds these criminals, and how the public supports the eradication of these "invisibles" ... by merely killing them.

Unforgettable quote:

"A nation's true identity is revealed in a hostage situation."

PS: 99% on the Tomatometer. Your call.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

Director: Josh Boone. Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe. 126 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Romance.

Cancer. Living with the day-to-day notion that you will die soon. At a young age. I didn't necessarily find this film about the romance between two terminally ill youngsters, but more about how it feels to be that person, and how other people interact (or should interact) with you. Therefore, this is powerful, moving drama - the like of which I hadn't seen in years, probably since A Separation. Is it a tearjerker? Of course it is. It's two hours of it. You can cry your eyeballs out. But hey, Frank Capra made tearjerkers, and nobody ever had a problem.

PS: Thank you, Farshid. This one almost went under the radar.

Mo says:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ernest & Celestine (2012)

Director(s): Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Rattar. 80 min. Rated PG. France/Belgium/Luxembourg. Animation.

Last year's simply-rendered but pleasant Oscar-nominated feature animation, about the comedic forbidden friendship between a bear and a mouse, could be an allegory for many things: religious taboos, gay marriage, ... even the Arab-Israeli conflict. Which is exactly the point: Aren't we burdening our kids with too many complicated grown-up subjects? Are we giving them enough space to have fun with their own cartoons? Aren't we going overboard, trying to make sure every kid thinks the way we want them to think? I'm not sure which kid will get the final scene, of the literal crumbling of the judicial system.

Mo says:

Visitors (2013)

Director: Godfrey Reggio. 87 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

Godfrey Regio, the avant-garde creator behind the famed "Qatsi trilogy" (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi), which combines silent images with Philip Glass' haunting music to show the destruction of human civilization by technology, takes his style a step further here, and tries to enchant us by beautiful alternating black-and-white images of dilapidated buildings, natural panoramas, and people (and a gorilla) staring into the camera - for several minutes each. Why lie? With all its trance-like effects and beautiful soundtrack, I fast-forwarded half the movie. Must've been a deep film.

PS: Don't miss these IMDb reviews written by common people like me. Honestly. I read them after writing my own review, so don't be surprised by the similarities. My favorite line:

"[This movie] is like watching a screensaver with the same repetitive music playing on and on in the background. In fact, I have screen savers that are more entertaining."

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Goodbye, Lenin! (2003)

Director: Wolfgang Becker. Cast: Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova, Burghart Klaußner. 121 min. Rated R. Germany. Comedy/Drama.

It's very tough for a comedy, in a foreign language, about a sociopolitical issue, in East Germany ... to still be funny. But miraculously, Goodbye, Lenin! achieves that improbability. The story of an overzealous mother in Communist GDR, who goes into a coma while the Berlin wall fell, and wakes up to a son and daughter hiding her from the truth, has so many poignant moments embedded in reality, you don't have to be German to be affected by this profound satire: The old cling to a dead dream, and the young appease them by playing along with that dream.

PS: Ebert rounds it up well: "How many of us lie to our parents, pretending a world still exists that they believe in but we have long since moved away from? And are those lies based on love or cowardice? Sometimes, despite a doctor's warnings, parents have to take their chances with the truth."

PPS: Sorry, Ali S. If it weren't for some minor story implausibilities, you almost had another MoMagic!

Mo says:

Wuthering Heights (2009)

Director: Coky Giedroyc. Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln. 142 min. UK. Drama/Romance.

Embarrassingly, this was my first exposure to one of the greatest novels of all time. And the result was recommendable - uncertain whether because this revenge story of forbidden love was so captivating (Emily Bronte, writing it before her death at 30, must've been quite a male-female relations psychologist), or because watching one of the best new actors of our time in the ambivalently attractive role of Heathcliff was so refreshing. Either way, if you haven't read the novel, it's a good place to start getting accustomed. If you have, still watch it, as the ending's small change seems more logical.

PS: Thanks again, Maryam, for another entry into the romance genre.

Mo says:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Director(s): Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. Cast: Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysber, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Pive, Christopher Lloyd, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Lady Gaga. 102 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

Why oh why do they have to ruin great films with sequels? The haphazard piling of this three-part story (with Gordon-Levitt, Brolin/Rourke and Alba in the lead for each) is such an obvious attempt to capitalize on the innovative 2005 film, that at times you feel not even the filmmakers believe in the movie. Ironically, the digital camerawork and occasional color-in-black-and-white (the original's high point), are less gratifying than the original. All I remember of this film, is a camera in love with Eva Green's body, and the lack of a climactic ending to at least provide some emotional satisfaction.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lovely & Amazing (2001)

Director: Nicole Holofcener. Cast: Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blethyn, Dermot Mulroney, Jake Gyllenhaal. 91 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

A mother and her two middle-aged daughters struggle with a common issue: a severe sense of insecurity. The mother submits to cosmetic surgery, and the daughters are failures at finding jobs. So they act out on their significant others, and the inappropriate responses from those misunderstood others compounds the problem. Retrospectively for Holofcener, a director with later superior (Please Give) and far superior (Enough Said) films, this can be considered a pleasant warm-up. It also shows some inventiveness at creating colorful moments for characters to hurl obscenities at others behind their back - and sometimes in their face.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kids for Cash (2014)

Director: Robert May. 102 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

"All 193 UN member countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, except Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States." And so starts a shocking story, on how after the terror of the Columbine massacre, a single Pennsylvania county judge incarcerated thousands of kids in the 1990s and 2000s on minor offenses, how he was prosecuted for receiving a "finder's fee" for jailing the kids, and how the court proceedings ended. Communities played into the fear, and parents were coerced into destroying their own children's lives. It'll make you rethink the boundaries you set for your own kids.

Mo says:

The Unknown Known (2013)

Director: Errol Morris. 103 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

The long-awaited interview, especially now that the dust in Iraq has settled (well, maybe not). After interviewing McNamara in his Oscar-winning Fog of War, the great Errol Morris chats with another ex-Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, mainly: 'Why were we in Iraq?' Even if you were against the war (myself included), the man still deserves to be heard, and I was mesmerized numerous times in the process, rewinding a scene, watching Rumsfeld's direct gaze, taking in those very weighted pauses. Morris (correctly) doesn't press too hard, but still, with all his contradictions, you think: maybe the man was slightly misjudged. 

PS: Errol Morris dedicated his movie to Roger Ebert.

PPS: Godfrey Cheshire does a very nice piece on the film here, especially: 

""The Fog of War" and "The Unknown Known" are a strikingly matched pair, one a modernist masterpiece, the other dizzyingly post-modern. Robert McNamara's testimony in the first film offers the satisfactions of a genuinely deep and penetrating self-analysis, and that's obviously because he came from a world where there were clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, success and failure – words that at one time actually meant something and had real personal consequences. Rumsfeld in contrast belongs to a world in which there is no real accountability, either public or private, in large part because words can be bent to mean anything, or nothing. The proof of this in "The Unknown Known" amounts to a valuable if tremendously damning commentary on our current political culture."

Mo says:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Dog (2013)

Director(s): Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren. 100 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

John Wojtowicz, the homosexual who robbed a bank to finance his lover's sex-change operation, and whom Al Pacino's role in Dog Day Afternoon was based upon. This documentary nicely illustrates how to separate Hollywood glamour, from real-life filth. Pacino is a great artist with a glorious turn in a well-directed movie; Wojtowicz is just a petty low-life criminal whom even gay communities avoided, and after all these years, is still proud and thinks he won. And it's pathetic that this film provides him a microphone to broadcast his small mind. You can't pull a Godfather fascination in real life.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lucy (2014)

Director: Luc Besson. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi. 89 min. Rated R. France. Action/Sci-Fi.

Luc Besson is trying to improve upon the idea already offered in Limitless - that we only use 10% of our brain's capability during our lifetimes, so imagine the superhero (and the cinematic potential) created if someone can use 100%. In effect, we see Besson's usual spices of a strong female lead and wacky sci-fi. But then, he fills it with so many scientific and pseudo-scientific ideas and theories, that it's almost unfair to the viewer, and sloppy on the part of the film-maker. Many spectacular moments, but too confusing to even discuss the philosophical gibberish, and nothing that lingers afterwards.

Mo says: