Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Director: Matt Reeves. Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee. 130 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Drama/Sci-fi.

A major issue I have with live-action movies where the majority of characters are non-human, is the difficulty to sympathize with beasts/aliens/creatures. Dawn is the first movie I could remember, where the main heroes and villains are animals, and as a viewer, I was able to share their plight, their motivations, and their emotions ... to such a full extent. In itself, that's a miracle - making this a far superior movie compared to its mediocre predecessor. Looking forward to a third installment, to finally see how the Statue of Liberty got buried in the sands at the beach.

Mo says:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

City Slickers (1991)

Director: Ron Underwood. Cast: Billy Crystal, Jack Palance, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Helen Slater, David Paymer, Jeffrey Tambor. 113 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy.

I made the mistake of watching the 1994 sequel first, twenty years ago, which was funnier, and Jon Lovitz was a better replacement in The Legend of Curly's Gold for Bruno Kirby's supporting role here. The comedy of a NYC businessman who's experiencing a mid-life crisis and ends up cattle-herding with friends in the southwest, at some points becomes too dramatic, and you lose track which genre you're dealing with. Still, the late Jack Palance's Oscar-winning role (which led to the famous award ceremony push-ups) created the context for the best "He's right behind me, isn't he?" moment in history.

PS: Watch for a 10-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal in his first role ever.

Mo says:

The Odessa File (1974)

Director: Ronald Neame. Cast: Jon Voight, Maximilian Schell, Derek Jacobi. 130 min. Rated PG. UK/West Germany. Thriller.

Based on a novel by Fredrick Forsyth of "The Day of the Jackal" fame, and by The Poseidon Adventure director, this Jon Voight starring Nazi-hunt thriller takes some James Bond-inspired liberties from the original material, but still can't compete - even by 70s standards. Then again, I have a weak spot for cross-country chases of the era's movies (even if Sean Connery isn't driving), so I'll give this one a passing score.

Mo says:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It (1990)

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace. Cast: Richard Thomas, Tim Curry, Emily Perkins, Seth Green, John Ritter. 192 min. Not Rated. USA/Canada. Horror/Mystery.

I know this was presented as a TV miniseries, and I only watched it because it's based on a (yet unread by me) Stephen King novel. But boy ... was I in for a surprise. The casting, acting, and directing are ruthless to the viewer beyond imagination, and the story climax is so incredibly lame, it made me highly doubt this was how King intended it be. There's a very good reason why some actors can't make the jump from TV to movies, and this piece of moving pictures acts as a template.

Mo says:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Life Itself (2014)

Director: Steven James. 115 min. Rated R. Documentary/Biography.

Two people were pivotal in my obsession with cinema: George Lucas, and Roger Ebert. Lucas conceived it, and Ebert sustained it. This blog is a good example, because Ebert is the reason it happened. And this biography shows how many people's lives in movies "happened", because of Ebert. You need to know Siskel, Scorsese, Corliss, Herzog, Bahrani, and Morris, so when they praise Ebert, or when Scorsese chokes up about him, you understand what a great mind we have lost. Steven James (another progeny) has superbly detailed the man who changed film conversation, and made that conversation available to all.

Mo says:
MoMagic!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lone Survivor (2013)

Director: Peter Berg. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana. 121 min. Rated R. War/Biography.

Based on a true story, four Navy Seals in the Afghanistan mountains come under heavy attack by the Taliban, for making the mistake of following the rules of engagement. Which means if they'd gone against the rules, they'd have a better chance at survival (weird message). And then when you think they're the invading force in another country, the whole movie becomes one big moral dilemma. Of course, the Seals' efforts are heroic, but the heroism is overshadowed by the film's ethical ambiguity, and undermined by a very long repetitive 45-minute mid-movie battle sequence. The true enemy is war itself.

Mo says:

Chungking Express (1994)

Director: Kar Wai Wong. Cast: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Faye Wong, Tony Chiu Wai Leung. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Hong Kong. Romance/Mystery.

Definitely a movie that needs to be watched more than once. The seemingly unrelated romantic stories of two cops in bustling Hong Kong, which connect in only a fraction of a second midway through the film - but then ... are the similarities deeper than that? This movie strangely resonates as a more philosophical/funny/dream-like version of Pulp Fiction, where parts of people's lives interact (and interestingly, they were made the same year). Meanwhile, like a David Lynch movie, you're captivated by what you're seeing, and you don't know why. Take a look at this; you'll see what I mean.

PS: Thank you, Maryam, for the recommendation. Even though Ebert didn't connect much, he did a splendid job here.

Mo says:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu) (2013)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki. 126 min. Rated PG-13. Japan. Animation.

Alas, the great Miyazaki has put down his pencil, and stopped drawing. His last animated feature, which lost the Oscar this year to Frozen, is the life-story of Jiro Horikoshi, the young airplane enthusiast who designed the famed Japanese Zero. This is an opus of majestic proportions; the attention to detail on panoramic images is so exquisite, at some moments, I thought I was watching a live-action movie. Like all Miyazaki works, it's all about relaxing and enjoying the beauty of animation. But this time, it's accompanied by a heartfelt sadness that the world-renowned animator, will animate no more.

PS: Thanks again, Ali S. To me, Miyazaki's name has now become synonymous with your great, unrelenting movie recommendations.

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ida (2013)

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski. Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik. 80 min. Rated PG-13. Poland/Denmark. Drama.

This may sound strange, but I'm recommending this solely based on one element: its cinematography. There's not much in the story of a Jewish aunt and niece (which are a study in opposites) in 1960s Poland searching for their WWII-killed family members' grave, and the performances are not necessarily the last word in method acting. It's all about the mesmerizing, gloomy, black-and-white cinematography, that gives every aspect of this film depth and meaning. Some shots are constructed so that characters occupy a frame corner, and "you" decide where else you want to look. Trust me on this: just the cinematography.

Mo says:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley. 105 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Russia. Action/Thriller.

For a Jack Ryan re-invention, they start from 9/11 - meaning they're following the James Bond route: ignore all prior movies and start fresh (even Ryan's first killing happens in a bathroom, Casino Royale-style). They don't even attempt some minimal validity to the older films, like they did in Star Trek by creating an entire time-shift of events; probably thinking Chris Pine pulled it off as Kirk on the Enterprise, so he can pull it off here as Ryan in the CIA. But neither Pine has Harrison Ford's cinematic weight, nor does the franchise have the magnitude of James Bond.

PS: Sorry, you need to have watched at least four other movies (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, the 2006 Casino Royale, and the 2009 Star Trek), to understand what I just said above.

Mo says:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Scoop (2006)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Julian Glover, Charles Dance. 96 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Comedy.

Another light Woody Allen comedy, about a journalism student (Johansson) who literally gets a scoop from the dead on a British aristocrat's son (Jackman) who may be a serial killer, and together with a fossil magician (Allen) ventures to crack the case and gain her fame and fortune. The ending is predictable halfway through, and as opposed to other Allen comedies, I didn't find much of a take home message here. But the gags were out of this world.

- "I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism."

- "I never wanted to have kids. I didn't because you have kids... what is it? You know you're nice to them... you bring them up... you suffer... y-you take care of them... and then they grow up and... and... and they accuse... uh... you of having Alzheimer's."

- "Well, did you accomplish anything besides a possible pregnancy?"

- "I had a wife but sh... she dumped me if you can believe that. She thought I was immature and that I never grew up... I had a great rebuttal for her, I coulda nailed her, you know, but uh... I raised my hand, she would not call on me."

Mo says:

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Director: Jim Jarmusch. Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt. 123 min. Rated R. UK/Germany/Greece. Drama/Horror/Romance.

If there was ever anybody to write a "poetic" vampire movie with minimal body count and an incredible appreciation for music ... it was Jim Jarmusch. Swinton and Hiddleston play a gloomy but domineering vampire couple, who were possibly the first humans to ever walk on Earth, have seen whatever there was to see throughout history, and have now hit rock bottom, because humans ("zombies") of the 21st century are way more screwed up than they are. Swinton is as great as always, and Hiddlston (Thor's Loki) is as great as Swinton, but I would only recommend this to vampire lovers.

Mo says: