Saturday, January 24, 2015

'71 (2014)

Director: Yann Demange. Cast: Jack O'Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris. 99 min. Rated R. UK. Action/Thriller.

During the chaos of a Belfast street riot, a young British soldier is separated from his unit, and hunted by the IRA through the night. If this is how Northern Ireland was in the 70s, then this is truly a shocking film, as the picture illustrated here is no different from an American soldier running for his life on the streets of Fallujah. Deservedly, there are a few breath-taking Bourne-type chase scenes, establishing the uncertainty of the soldier's chances making it alive till the morning. Even though I didn't understand half the Irish accent, this was well worth my time.

PS: Among more than 20 nominations and wins, the film is nominated this year for Best British Film and Outstanding Debut Director BAFTA Awards.

Mo says:

Time Lapse (2014)

Director: Bradley King. Cast: Danielle Panabaker, Matt O'Leary, George Finn. 104 min. Sci-Fi/Thriller. 

Three young people discover a huge camera next door to their apartment that has been taking daily pictures of them 24 hours into the future - so they plan to make monetary gain from their knowledge of the future. I found this very indie shoe-string budget film tense and engaging (and even a source of encouragement for people who want to crowd-fund their small projects), but the character decisions and motivations were quite questionable, and the story's time-travel logic was confusing to me long after the movie was done. Nice if you're looking for a "different" sci-fi.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Virunga (2014)

Director: Orlando von Einsiedel. 90 min. UK/Congo. Documentary.

Netflix's Leonardo DiCaprio-produced Oscar-nominated documentary takes a look at the Virunga National Park in Congo, home of the last surviving mountain gorillas, whose existence is threatened by a never-ending civil war and profit-hungry foreign oil investors. There are films (Blackfish, The Cove) that make you seriously care about wildlife; they make you react. With all of this film's journalistic merit (hidden cameras show actual bribes changing hands), it doesn't make a very strong case for the gorillas, as the investors promise universities, schools and roads for the destabilized, war-ravaged country. Curious how this ended up among the top five nominees.

Mo says:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unbroken (2014)

Director: Angelina Jolie. Cast: Jack O'Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson. 137 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/War.

Coen Brothers-written WWII story of Olympian runner Louis Zamperini, who spent 47 days in a raft on the Pacific Ocean, and was caught and tortured by the Japanese army. Traces of other movies are numerous: from the Saving Private Ryan opening, to the Cast Away sea perils, to The Bridge on the River Kwai POW camp, to the Rescue Dawn fight for survival. Nothing's boring in this fascinating true story, but nothing's new in this formulaic movie either. Although a significant improvement compared to her first feature, it's safe to say Angelina Jolie doesn't want to take chances.

Mo says:

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour. Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh. 99 min. Unrated. Horror.

Iranian vampire Western. It's tough to imagine these three words in the same sentence - let alone to describe a movie. And add to the mix the mood of the sex-and-violence-filled black-and-white B-movies of the Shah's time, and you're surprised to even get a coherent story (which this film actually has). If a young American-raised Iranian film-maker, heavily inspired by David Lynch (and to a lesser extent Tarantino), was to picture how she sees her delusional past generation, her hypocritical religious upbringing, and her vision of her own generation's doomed future ... this is exactly the movie she would make.

PS: 95% on the Tomatometer. Your call.

Mo says:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Big Eyes (2014)

Director: Tim Burton. Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Danny Huston, Terence Stamp. 106 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Canada. Biography.

In 1950s San Francisco, a swindler claims credit for the work of Margaret Keane, the now-famous artist of paintings picturing sad, big-eyed children. Burton's latest is quite successful in establishing why the male-dominated exploitation went as far as it did, but since a charade of such magnitude is difficult to imagine happening nowadays in a developed country, the director's interest in the subject (except for his eye fetish) was lost on me. Waltz's theatricals (which honestly, are getting a little repetitious) during the climactic trial were so extravagant, I had to do some fact-checking to see how much was dramatized.

Mo says:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Most Violent Year (2014)

Director: J.C. Chandor. Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Catalina Sandino Moreno. 125 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

In 1981, NYC's most violent year on record, a wanna-be Mafia boss is planning his last steps to become the biggest Mafia boss in the city, but hits major obstacles by rival groups. This is Michael Corleone, both in appearance and manner, trying not to step into the dark side - and the question till the very end, is whether he'll sell his soul to the devil like Michael did, or not. Although the high expectations from such an engaging context are unmet by the screenplay, both Isaac and Chastain glow with their overbearing presence in this otherwise darkly-lit, sobering movie.

PS: See? What did I tell you here about the young Pacino of our times? In addition to Chastain, add Isaac to the list of newcomers whose next movie I'm looking forward to. And I'm not just talking about the next Star Wars movie.

PPS: Margin Call, All is Lost, A Most Violent Year. Mojo scores on all of J.C. Chandor's first three features.

Mo says:

Still Alice (2014)

Director(s): Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, 101 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

No doubt that Julianne Moore does a superb job at demonstrating the crushing fear and devastation of being afflicted by Alzheimer's Disease. But Julie Christie had already done this in 2006, in the similarly heartbreaking Away From Her, receiving an Oscar nomination and winning a Golden Globe for it. The real story is, after 4 failed nominations (two in 2002!), Hollywood is prepping Moore for her Oscar win, and this film will finally be the one.

Mo says:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

American Sniper (2014)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller. 132 min. Rated R. Biography/War.

In a somewhat repetitious post-Hurt Locker mood, this is an American "good guy" in Iraq - and I'm not being sarcastic. A man who believes in a certain set of patriotic ideals, and is willing to sacrifice his family, and sell his soul, to uphold those ideals. So of course, the movie is made by the all-American hero, Clint Eastwood. It's possible that I'm reading too much into this, but after his bizarre empty-chair speech, maybe Eastwood is using this true life story to portray some sanity in America's gun-loving culture. If that's the case, he sure has my attention.

Mo says:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Top 10 Movies of 2014

As opposed to last year, 2014 was a much better movie year.

The numerous cinema talents we lost throughout the year notwithstanding, good films, starting from The Lego Movie in February all the way to last week's Selma, left room for a lot to cherish.

So to narrow down my top 10 list, I went for movies that provided a truly unique experience. That made a man in his car for the entire length of a film, a 3-hour visual experience of quantum physics, a better-than-the-book flashback flash-forward story about marriage, a 2-hour single-shot film about a superhero who wants to be super again, a sci-fi told in hand-held documentary format, and of course, a "hyper-realism" film made over 12 years, all inevitable choices for the list.

And as a result, I had to exclude a few MoMagic!s (The Fault in Our Stars, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Force Majeure), and even cheat, to appoint one slot to two great (but entirely different) documentaries.

By the way ... sorry: No animation, and no foreign movie made it to the final list.

Every year, I also try to find older goodies, and I thought it would be wrong to not make a special mention of the gems I've found among them. So from now on, in addition to my best and worst film of the year, I'll have a "Discovery of the Year", which may be a great film, director, actor, or movie concept I've run into from the past.

So here it goes, on the night before the Oscar nominations, my top 10 films of the year, in alphabetical order:

1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

2. Boyhood

3. Citizenfour and Life Itself

4. Gone Girl

5. Interstellar

6. Locke

7. Selma

8. Snowpiercer

9. Under the Skin

10. Whiplash

Best Movie of the Year: Hands down, Interstellar. No one had the guts to attempt what Christopher Nolan succeeded at in a very, very long time.

Worst Movie of the Year: Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For. As one critic put it, this film disappointed at every level the original was good at. And to imagine I paid two dollars extra online to see this on opening night ...

Discovery of the Year: Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and this year's Palme d'Or winner Winter Sleep, has made slow every day life interesting again.

Waiting for your top 10 lists!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Inherent Vice (2014)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Eric Roberts, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short. 148 min. Rated R. Comedy/Crime.

Semi-noir 70s mystery, about a hippie private investigator who gets involved in a convoluted case. I've seen quite a few movies, but it still took me awhile during this overlong movie to realize P.T. Anderson is doing something uniquely surreal: the detective is stoned. All he sees and hears are through the delusional perspective of a stoner. This adds a very rare comedic aspect to the film, and provides a playground for great performances. Similar to Anderson's Boogie Nights, I know this film will later grow on me; but for now, I need to be honest with my scoring.

Mo says:

Selma (2014)

Director: Ava DuVernay. Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Martin Sheen. 128 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. History/Biography.

A very short segment of Martin Luther King's life. The outlook of our times is so bleak, it amazes one that such people once existed. But then again, I guess Blacks saw the horizon even bleaker during the period of this movie's events - which makes MLK and his followers' crusade even more impossible to fathom. I really have nothing more to say, because any kind of praise for what oneself may not afford to perform, will sound hypocritical.

Mo says: