Friday, March 16, 2018

Tomb Raider (2018)

Director: Roar Uthaug. Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi. 118 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Action/Adventure.

Okay, they’re trying to de-sexualize the female action hero - but have they chosen an awful premise. Lara Croft embarks on a nonsensical adventure to find an intentionally hidden ancient Japanese tomb, begging the question why those who hid it left clues for it to be found later. The Indiana Jones rip-off aspect knows no end, as every booby trap (almost down to the rolling boulder) is copied here, and the climactic showdown is between Croft, her dad, and the villain ... in a cave! And didn’t James Cameron already create a much deeper version of this action heroine in Aliens?

Mo says:

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

Director: Martin Scorsese. Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Alfred Lutter III, Harvey Keitel, Dianne Ladd, Vic Tayback. 112 min. Rated PG. Drama.

Some filmmakers' genius is out on display right from the beginning. Before Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and Goodfellas exploded into our lives, before feminist movies were a thing, and far before Foster and Keitel became the icons they’ve now become, Scorsese made this little gem, that earned Burstyn ('after' her Exorcist mom success) an Oscar, and boasted a rapid flow of deep and witty dialogue that mesmerizes and makes you smile to this day. Then Vic Tayback as the diner chef shows up, and you suddenly realize this inspired the 10-year-running TV sitcom Alice. Talk about groundbreaking.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Greatest Showman (2017)

Director: Michael Gracey. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle. 105 min. Rated PG. Muscial/Biography.

You have a movie about an entertainer, who based on his own motto of "the noblest art is that of making others happy", conceivably admits to dazzling his audience by exhibiting 'fraudulent art'. But the point is, dazzle he did. Which is exactly what this P.T. Barnum biopic is: it's about filling your pockets by entertaining others through any means necessary, and achieves what its protagonist did through the most conventional rags-to-riches story arc, with a few magnificently uplifting songs to top it off. Many films aim high and fail; this one aims low and succeeds.

Mo says:

The Party (2017)

Director: Sally Potter. Cast: Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy. 71 min. Rated R. UK. Drama/Comedy.

A small gathering to celebrate the political success of a friend ends in discovering betrayal after betrayal after betrayal. The director tries to pull a Linklater by setting her entire play-like film in fashionable black-and-white in a small house between few characters, but is barely able to make it past the one-hour mark, and in the meantime, the viewer keeps ruminating: "Get to the point!" The back-and-forth dialogue at times becomes fun, but don't believe the film's 84% Tomatometer score; minimalist film-making is a skill not many possess.

Mo says:

Red Sparrow (2018)

Director: Francis Lawrence. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciarán Hinds, Bill Camp, Jeremy Irons, Sakina Jaffrey. 140 min. Rated R. Mystery/Thriller.

The trailer, the title, and even the first hour promise: J-Law is going to kick ass! But you wait and wait, and suddenly realize it's actually a spy-games thriller, as long and drawn out as any. Not a weakness in itself, but such films, in view of the structured double and triple-crossing of spies, usually require viewer patience and attentiveness, which is where some succeed, and some fail. Red Sparrow doesn't want to submit to such a risk, and therefore recruits a high-profile actress to hide that supposed shortcoming - while it may have never been one in the first place.

Mo says:

Friday, March 2, 2018

My 2018 Oscar Predictions

It's a year with no front-runner, too many distracting sociopolitical events, and not many masterpieces (IMO) among the nominees. In other words, it's a tough year to predict.

So let's just cut to the chase:

Best Picture:

(Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Mainly a three-way race between Three BillboardsThe Shape of Water, and Get Out. The only way Get Out has a chance is if the votes get divided between the first two. Otherwise, it's either Three Billboards,or The Shape of Water. And no matter how all predictions are gathering around The Shape of Water, remind me the last time a fantasy/sci-fi won Best Picture ("15" years ago, for LOTR). While I myself had a major issue with Three Billboards, it's a conversation starter about big social drama, also known as racism. And the Academy likes that.

Should Win: Dunkirk

Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director:


(Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, Jordan Peele for Get Out, Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird, Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread, Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water)

... so since they can't help The Shape of Water through Best Picture, they'll hand it Best Director - even though usually the two awards go hand-in-hand to the same film. Guillermo del Toro is a visionary, and it's high time he won an Oscar. Also, he's Mexican, which works as a middle finger to Trump.

Should Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

Best Actor:

(Timothée Chalamet for Call Me by Your Name, Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread, Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out, Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour, Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

This is one of the year's forgone conclusions. And totally deserved.

Should Win: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour

Will Win: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour

Best Actress:

(Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water, Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Margot Robbie for I, Tonya, Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird, Meryl Streep for The Post)

Both Frances McDormand and Soairse Ronan won Golden Globes (one for dramatic role, the other for comedy). Everybody is buzzing McDormand, McDormand, McDormand. Totally agree; she deserves a second Oscar for her Three Billboards performanceBut since when it comes to choosing between young and old, the Academy goes with young, I'm willing to risk on this one.

Should Win: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will Win: Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor:

(Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project, Woody Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water, Christopher Plummer for All the Money in the World, Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Ooooh ... I so much want Willem Dafoe to win. He's the seasoned actor with three nominations and no wins, and was the heart of The Florida Project - a beautiful film, with this being its sole nomination. Rockwell has raked up most of the awards, so statistically the Oscar should go to him, even though his character in the movie has received some recent backlash, due to portraying the semi-redemption of an irredeemable racist. Still, I'd rather not bet on a Dafoe win.

Should Win: Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project

Will Win: Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress:

(Mary J. Blige for Mudbound, Allison Janney for I, Tonya, Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird, Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread, Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water)

Another easy one. Allison Janney has won most of the major awards. But can you imagine a movie, where another actor can make Daniel Day-Lewis look ... small? Lesley Manville is always perfect.

Should Win: Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread

Will Win: Allison Janney for I, Tonya

Best Original Screenplay:

(The Big SickGet OutLady BirdThe Shape of WaterThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(Call Me by Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Logan, Molly’s GameMudbound)

The screenplay nominees I've predicted to win will win, because the Academy wouldn't want these two films left totally empty-handed by the end of the night. But if it was up to me: a) I have no doubt about Get Out's writing merits, and b) I think what master-screenwriter and first-time director Aaron Sorkin achieved in Molly’s Game, was beyond difficult.

Should Win: Get OutMolly’s Game

Will Win:  Get OutCall Me by Your Name

And for other categories ...

Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman

- Best Editing: Dunkirk

- Best Production Design: The Shape of Water

- Best Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049

- Best Makeup: Darkest Hour

- Best Original Score: The Shape of Water

- Best Original Song: Coco

- Best Costume Design: Phantom Thread

- Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk

- Best Sound Mixing: 

- Best Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes

- Best Animated Feature Film: Coco

- Best Animated Short Film: Dear Basketball

Best Documentary Feature Film: Faces/Places

- Best Documentary Short Film: Heroin(e)

- Best Live Action Short Film:  The Silent Child

What Happened to Monday (2017)

Director: Tommy Wirkola. Cast: Noomi Rapace, Glenn Close, Willem Dafoe. 123 min. UK/France/Belgium. Action/Sci-fi.

Perfect example of a great sci-fi concept ruined by a faulty screenplay. Noomi Rapace's talents are underemployed as the roles of seven identical sisters (hardly distinguishable, so why bother?), hunted down in an overpopulated dystopian future, where extra siblings are put to "cryo-sleep". And while the rapid pace and uncertainty about how many (or if any) of the sisters will be alive by the end are worthwhile nail-biting qualities ... major plot holes and flimsy dialogue (and the director's inability to catch them) work as constant annoyances. No wonder Netflix sent such an expensive production straight to streaming.

Mo says:

See You Up There (Au revoir là-haut) (2017)

Director: Albert Dupontel. Cast: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Albert Dupontel, Laurent Lafitte. 117 min. France/Canada. Drama/Comedy.

The whimsical dialogue. The fish-eye close-ups of major characters. The colorful production design. The bittersweet blend of romance, comedy, and tragedy. You'd probably think I'm describing a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie (Amelie, The City of Lost Children). But apparently these elements have become staples of modern French cinema. While lack of knowledge about certain post-WWI historical aspects impairs the ability to fully enjoy this for a non-French, director Dupontel has pulled off a very difficult feat, most prominently featuring some incredible acting (especially by the main actor ... behind masks!) and a heart-breaking ending, making this a memorable piece of cinema.

PS: Nominated for an astounding 13 Cesar Awards (the French Oscars), which are to be awarded in the next few hours.

PPS: Thank you Ali S! You need people in France to give you inside info on the best new French movies out there ...

Mo says:

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland. Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Benedict Wong. 115 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Sci-fi.

The toughest task reviewing Annihilation is to pinpoint exactly which social concept it's about, because it borrows both structurally and conceptually from so many pioneers (the designs of Aliens, the notions of Solaris) to form one perfect sci-fi monument, and then add some. The many directions it takes puts you in a trance, and makes interpretations quite subjective - the most prominent: how there is no "me", how we are constituted of our surrounding physical and mental elements, and whether an alien entity that influences everything is necessarily bad, or good, or just ... inevitable? Assimilation would've been a better title.

Mo says:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Breadwinner (2017)

Director: Nora Twomey. Voices: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus. 94 min. Rated PG-13. Ireland/Canada/Luxembourg. Animation.

No matter how you wrap it, no matter how enchanting the imagery, an animation about life under the Taliban is not something you 'enjoy' watching. This works like a Khaled Hosseini novel: nothing positive ever happens, and characters spiral down into the bowels of the hell on Earth called Afghanistan. I'm curious why Twomey, the director/co-creator of wondrous animated Irish tales such as The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea (sad tales, nonetheless), became interested in a Middle-East country to picture tyranny, grief and death in a child's world. Hardly a method to increase awareness.

Mo says:

Early Man (2018)

Director: Nick Park. Voices: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall. 89 min. Rated PG. Animation.

It's not about Nick Park, the Wallace and Gromit creator, who again presents smart British humor through brilliant claymation. It's about watching this in America, where they mistakenly call football ... soccer. Check out the trailer. The entire film is about the crucial match that will decide the fate of stone age traditionalists against bronze age technocrats (all that in the same sentence), but there's barely a mention of the game in the trailer, and it is solely referred to as "football" in the movie. With the gradual downfall of 'American football', we may soon see it replaced by real football.

Mo says:

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler. Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis. 134 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

There's no doubt the new Marvel superhero has elements that entirely separates it from others - my favorite being how it imagines those weird looking African tribes we used to see as kids in National Geographic were actually high-tech civilizations of dizzying magnitude in disguise, hiding their powers from the world. And while story-wise, it's independent from other Marvel movies, independent per se it is not: the style copies from James Bond (there's even a "Q weapon introduction" scene), and the African story follows, nonetheless, The Lion King (evil outcast relative taking the throne). Summarily, it's over-hyped, but still good.

Mo says: