Sunday, August 13, 2017

Neruda (2016)

Director: Pablo Larraín. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Morán. 107 min. Rated R. Chile/Argentina/France/Spain/USA. Biography.

There's an old unwritten adage, that to introduce a foreign cinema entity, you do so by twos - show two of the country's films, or two of a director's films ... I forget which. In any case, that applies here: before 2016, only rare Chilean films such as No made any noise. But last year, we suddenly have two (Jackie and Neruda) from the same director. Both are slow-paced character studies, both are meditatively shot, and both eventually undermine the significance of their main character. I never knew Pablo Neruda before watching this, and wasn't any more eager to do so after.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Perfect Blue (1997)

Director: Satoshi Kon. Voices: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto. 81 min. Japan. Animation.

At the dawn of the internet, a popular young singer switches to acting, but then finds herself stalked by a fan, accusing her of "treason". After awhile, you're not sure - are events truly happening, or is it her guilty conscience going into hyper-drive? This plot may sound commonplace, but consider: the blood/gore/sex-filled psychological thriller was made 20 years ago, is highly prophetic of the concept of internet stalking, and ... is an anime. So what may have petered out as live action (wait ... the remake actually did in 2002), is strangely effective in "cartoon" form. The wonders of animation.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Promise (2016)

Director: Terry George. Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo, James Cromwell, Jean Reno. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Spain/USA. History/Drama.

Love triangle set during the World War I Armenian genocide by the Turkish army. Long movie, lavish production design and great actors (some playing the smallest cameo roles) prove only one thing: somebody/somebodies poured lots of money to make this happen - probably on the basis of principle. But all the money in the world cannot save this boring, linear story devoid of mysteries or subtleties (Flashbacks? Plot twists?). And the impossibly coincidental ending looks more like Titanic ripoff than dramatization of history. The Armenian genocide story will be told with heartbreaking impact someday ... but that day is not today.

Mo says:

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Medusa Touch (1978)

Director: Jack Gold. Cast: Richard Burton, Lino Ventura, Lee Remick, Derek Jacobi. 115 min. Rated PG. UK/France. Horror.

A blast from the past. I remember seeing this as a kid - a typical 70s horror movie concerned with devils and evil eyes and telekinesis, with three great British, French-Italian and American stars of the time (all three deceased a few years later) ... and tons of fun. On a revisit, amazing to note how the horror genre was obsessed with religion and nuclear power at the time, and how the crude special effects of a pre-9/11 toy plane crashing into the skyscraper of a toy city, never bothered us one bit. How "easy" watching movies used to be.

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Lost City of Z (2016)

Director: James Gray. Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero. 141 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/Adventure.

It's been awhile since we saw stories like this on the screen: crazed Lawrence of Arabia-type explorers, prepared to sacrifice their wealth, their family, and themselves, to reach dreamy destinations that might not even exist. But this too is based on a true story, and an account of the multiple early 20th century voyages that British explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett (with a small event in between called World War I) embarked upon to reach that mythical Lost City, achieves epic proportions. I guarantee: you will not be bored watching this long movie. Expecting Oscar nominations for Hunnam and Miller.

Mo says:

Chasing Coral (2017)

Director: Jeff Orlowski. 93 min. Documentary.

Another climate change documentary? That's the thought you start out with - especially after Chasing Ice (the film that motivated the main players here to seek cinematic documentation) was overshadowed by the shock of An Inconvenient Truth. But be patient, and you'll find the a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words message of Chasing Coral disturbing, heartbreaking, and revolting, as researchers show through simple but arduous underwater photography how coral reefs (upstream food source for 500,000 people around the world) are rapidly dying. This might become the first time you'll cry for a plant. And to think some narcissistic idiot recently pulled out of the Paris Accords ...

PS: It's by the same director of Chasing Ice. Expecting a third "Chasing" movie to complete a trilogy.

Mo says:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Director: Christopher Nolan. Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine (voice). 106 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Netherlands/France/USA. War.

Nolan extends his obsession with intersecting timelines and viewpoints (Memento, Inception, Interstellar) to a historical event, making a story with a known outcome (the Battle of Dunkirk) still fascinating to watch. And he's so self-assured of grabbing your attention, he even shows you outcomes of his three parallel timelines in the other! Add to that 70 mm panorama shots of attacks on a beach lined with 400,000 troops, or first-person experience of aerial dogfights over the sea, and you have one of the greatest World War II movies ever made. The rare movie you should watch solely in a theater.

Mo says:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Circle (2017)

Director: James Ponsoldt. Cast: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton. 110 min. Rated PG-13. UAE/USA. Sci-fi/Thriller.

This is a disaster. Not because it's a heavy-handed adaptation of the novel's palpable, foreboding story (boring static shots of people talking about a rousing subject), and not because it's a waste of great casting choices (most notably, Emma Watson). It's because the writers do what Ron Howard did with Inferno: changing the story's appropriately dark ending, to a happy ending. And not just any happy ending;  a stupid happy ending - where the villain (a brilliant actor) at the end claims: "We're f---ed." Yep, that's how we suddenly realize the good guys won and the bad guys lost. We're f---ed.

PS: Strange. Both Paxton and Headly, who play Watson's parents in the movie, have died in the past few months.

Mo says:

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2016)

Director: Joseph Cedar. Cast: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens, Hank Azaria, Charlotte Gainsbourg. 118 min. Rated R. Israel/USA. Drama.

The story of Norman: virtually a nobody with no resources, who talks himself into relationships and events to eventually make money ... out of nothing. His mere presence is so devastating, he even gets the Israeli Prime Minister into trouble. But then the Prime Minister feels a kinship to Norman, because some day, maybe he was a Norman too. It's not necessarily about a Jewish personality trait; we've all had Normans around us. And while the film leaves too many aspects of this mind-boggling nature unfulfilled, the fact that it touches upon it (with Gere's impeccable close-up acting) makes it worthwhile.

Mo says:

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves. Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller. 140 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Sci-fi.

The quest comes full circle. It's not about how well the ape CGI is done, or how the film provides an excellent explanation to why humans in the original 1968 Charlton Heston movie are mute. It's about how they performed this revolutionary task in the prequel trilogy, of starting out with a boring human-oriented narrative in the first movie ... to a deep, slow-paced but entirely engaging, character-driven, ape-oriented narrative - no matter how perfect Woody Harrelson portrays a Brando/Colonel Kurtz in his Ape-pocalypse Now. They've proved it possible: you can tell a great non-human tale, with humans as secondary elements.

PS: Hands down, the movie's best scene: Bad Ape.

PPS: And I'll probably buy Michael Giacchino's soundtrack.

Mo says:

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Director: Jon Watts. Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jennifer Connelly (voice), Chris Evans. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

I respect and value the dark territories Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan took Batman into. But when those dark moods also invaded Superman (and to some extent, Wonder Woman), you feel the DC universe is going a tad too far. Meanwhile, Marvel has managed to keep its superhero films appropriately light and fun. This nicely shows in Deadpool and Ant-Man, and now, after two average Andrew Garfield attempts, we have a lively, teenage-oriented film, with a successful turn by Tom Holland, who manages to carry the load - even with a narcissist Tony Stark around. It's good to have Spider-Man back.

Trivia: Iron Man's body armor AI, Jarvis (who later became Vision), was voiced/acted by Paul Bettany. Now Spider-Man's suit AI, Karen, is voiced by Bettany's wife, Jennifer Connelly. Seeing her in some physical superhero form in the future also?

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Free Fire (2016)

Director: Ben Wheatley. Cast: Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Noah Taylor. 90 min. Rated R. UK/France. Crime/Comedy.

An arms deal in a warehouse gone bad, told in 90 minutes, real time. That's all! In effect, no story ... and it couldn't be more entertaining. What makes the funny shootout between the two gangs possible to go on for more than an hour, is guns having an endless supply of bullets, and characters sustaining non-lethal (or even lethal!) gunshot wounds and continuously shooting. Meanwhile, you're just waiting to see who survives at the end. Scorsese is an executive producer here, but I would only attribute the characters' 70s regalia (and the copious amount of blood) to him.

Mo says: