Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Director: James DeMonaco. Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford. 103 min. Rated R. USA/France. Horror/Thriller.

After the original film didn't exploit enough a dystopian future where once a year any crime is permitted for 12 hours, now the sequel is getting there. As opposed to confining itself to one house defending against intruders, this one shows the street side of the annual event, exploring the social and political ramifications of the night through a Snowpiercer/Hunger Games conceptual combination, showing how the rich 1% rules the clueless 99%, and how American lust for guns can breed such a "patriotic" ritual. But then, maybe I'm impressed because it's a far cry compared to last year's film.

PS: The Annual Purge is on March 21st, which is Nowruz, the Persian New Year, or the first day of Spring. Hmmmmmm ...

Mo says:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Drop (2014)

Director: Michaël R. Roskam. Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts. 106 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

Written by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island) in a story Ben Affleck might have directed in Boston or one Cronenberg might have made in the 2000s, a bar-owner and his cousin bartender are victims of a robbery in the bar - a "drop" site where the dirtiest money in Brooklyn is regularly delivered. Revelation after revelation after revelation make this one of the smartest heist/crime movies I've seen, to the point that I wouldn't mind watching a prequel to these characters' life stories. And how can you avoid seeing Tom Hardy paired up with Gandolfini in his last movie?

Mo says:

Obvious Child (2014)

Director: Gillian Robespierre. Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann. 84 min. Rated R. Comedy/Romance.

A young stand-up comedian is dumped by her boyfriend, and is notified the next day she'll soon lose her job at the local bookstore. Before any chance for recovery, she learns she's pregnant from a boy she just met, and wants an abortion she can't afford. Newcomers Jenny Slate and Jake Lacey are the most charming couple in recent years, in the very first feature of its director, which is a bitter satire that will break your heart more often than you expect. Looking forward to Gillian Robespierre's (whose?) next projects.

Mo says:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Space Station 76 (2014)

Director: Jack Plotnick. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer, Marisa Coughlan, Jerry O'Connell Keir Dullea. 93 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama/Sci-Fi.

This one is full of surprises. It starts out as a postmodern sophisticated version of Spaceballs, and what 70's B-movie sci-fi thought the future would look like, with some prominent stars (including 2001's Keir Dullea in a small role). Then, it becomes a space soap-opera with no specific plot in sight (i.e., it becomes boring). Then, it ends with very tense drama in a final scene that left me hanging. You'll likely disagree with my score on this indescribable comedy/sci-fi/melodrama. All I can say is, it's fairly new, and thought-provoking. The opening monologue says it all:

"I've always been amazed that asteroids can fly in groups for millions of years, and never touch each other or connect. They're dead rock, so they find their perfect orbit, and stick to it. We also want to find that place of perfection. But we're not asteroids; we change, and that's the problem. The more you try to create a paradise, the more you will resent the prison, and all you're left with is dreams of a future that never happened."

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Felony (2013)

Director: Matthew Saville. Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson, Jai Courtney, Melissa George. 105 min. Australia/USA. Drama.

Honest good cop (actor/writer Edgerton) hits a bicycle-riding Indian boy while drunk-driving, and is ridden with guilt in a racially-divided Sydney. Older experienced good cop (Wilkinson) wants to cover it up because he believes in "team" more than the law. Younger inexperienced good cop (Courtney) has suspicions and wants the matter investigated because ... he's interested in the boy's young mother? The drama creates a very palpable moral dilemma, forcing you to take a side, but I felt the ending more of a cop-out of the difficult situation the screenplay had created. Expecting an Oscar nomination for the great Wilkinson.

Mo says:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai) (2004)

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda. Cast: Yûya Yagira, Ayu Kitaura, Hiei Kimur. 141 min. Rated PG-13. Japan. Drama.

Based on a true story, mother abandons her 12-year-old son and his three younger siblings in a Tokyo apartment to survive on their own. Another one of those instances where cinema miraculously creates empathy for humans living in a distant world thousands of miles away, and the young actor who played the son won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival. But boy ... is this movie slow. At least half an hour could have been cut to reach its inevitable dark ending. But then again, a slow rhythm may be the whole point, to 'feel' these kids' lives.

Mo says:

Capital (Le capital) (2012)

Director: Costa-Gavras. Cast: Gad Elmaleh, Gabriel Byrne, Céline Sallette, Liya Kebede. 114 min. Rated R. France. Drama.

Before 2008, there used to be only Wall Street. Now, there's a flurry of movies about the evil power-hungry CEOs who act as Robin-Hood-for-the-rich. Costa-Gavras' new film does much better than Cronenberg's boring Cosmopolis and Stone's underachieving Wall Street 2, but isn't as insidiously creepy as Margin Call - and Scorsese's later Wolf of Wall Street has pretty much sealed the deal. In lieu of a few loose ends blamed on an imperfect screenplay, I still found this story of a newly-appointed CEO of a powerful French bank engaging - acting as another warning about larger financial storms yet to come.

Mo says:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I Know That Voice (2013)

Director: Lawrence Shapiro. 90 min. Documentary.

Documentary aiming at signifying the importance of voice acting as an art. No doubt that the people interviewed (as they demonstrate) are incredibly gifted artists, but the film bogs down to a compilation of innumerable interviews with artists among whom, as expected, I only knew the screen actors (Mark Hamill, Hank Azaria, Ed Asner) - in contrast to a film like Side by Side, which delves into the painstaking technicalities of its subject, and as a result shows why the subject is important. The voice actors here complain why they aren't taken seriously; this documentary is unable to resolve that complaint. 

Mo says:

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Anjelica Huston, Mia Farrow, Alan Alda, Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach, Daryl Hannah. 104 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Comedy.

Now that I look back and watch a Woody Allen movie made 25 years ago, I'm able to assess where it stands in his overall career. Obviously inspired by "Crime and Punishment", here the director shows the tragic and comedic sides of "infidelity" (via the Landau/Huston and Allen/Farrow relationships, respectively), and presents a lighter and slower-paced version of a plot he later perfected in the much darker Match Point. Still, Crimes and Misdemeanors is more thought-provoking than his usual comedies, with a significantly less number of funny one-liners. Landau's ruminations and guilty conscience will bother you for awhile.

"If necessary, I will always choose God over truth."

PS: Beautiful job here by Roger Ebert.

Mo says:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On My Fifth Birthday: My Top 10 Movie Soundtracks

A friend recently sent me a clip, which I was trying to avoid watching for a few days at all costs. But then I watched it, and when you compare it to the real glorious event, it makes you think: what a fascinating concept film music is, and how (as shown in this simple example) it defines some of the cinema's greatest moments.

I mean, how can you even imagine a shark fin rising from the waters, a knife (supposedly) stabbing a girl in the shower, or a prehistoric ape smashing an animal's bones ... without hearing the soundtrack in the back of your mind? Those scenes don't exist without the soundtrack.

So I thought, for the occasion of the blog's fifth birthday, how about spicing it up by posting my 10 favorite soundtracks of all time? I'm neither counting movies with a compilation of songs as soundtracks (so unfortunately Grease and Saturday Night Fever and all Tarantino movies are out), nor any musicals (sorry, Sound of Music). The list is composed of original music written purely for the movie. Each composer gets only one chance - otherwise, John Williams would have grabbed at least 7 of the 10 slots.

And for each movie, I'll post the track the film reminds me of the most, ... so get ready for things to get a little strange here. In alphabetical order:

1. 1492: Conquest of Paradise (Vangelis, 1992)

Vangelis has quite a few great moments in the movie world, primarily the soundtracks of Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. But Ridley Scott made this incredible Christopher Columbus film (which I'm not sure why it bombed), and Vangelis composed its even greater soundtrack. Among the tracks, the actual moment Columbus and his crew set foot on America is made both victorious and menacing, because of Vangelis' music.

2. Dances With Wolves (John Barry, 1990)

I know, John Barry means James Bond soundtracks. But the guy got five Oscars for his works, and none of them were for Bond movies. Among the Oscar winners, I have some incredible sense of nostalgia for Dances With Wolves, and although this would be considered the film's most recognized theme, the following track resonates with me the most: the film is almost over, the Indians' lands will soon be lost, and their struggle was for nothing.

"Dances with Wolves! I am Wind In His Hair! Do you see that I am your friend?! Can you see that you will always be my friend?!"

3. Edward Scissorhands (Danny Elfman, 1990)

This movie seems to end up on all my ten favorite things of everything. But I can't elude its magic - especially the ending scene, where we finally realize where snow comes from (Edward is making ice statues on the hilltop). Listen to how the dream-like main them walks you through the climactic last scene, and blends in with the end credits, in "The Grand Finale":

4. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Ennio Morricone, 1966)

How can any favorite movie soundtrack list be complete without a mention of Ennio Morricone? In my very humble opinion, the entire Western genre culminates in this one greatest scene, when after hours (in our time) of searching ... Tuco is finally there. He's finally found the cemetery where the treasure is buried. All he needs to do, is to find the gravestone. So he keeps on looking - in circles and circles. Listen to how the music crescendos at a dizzying speed as he runs; how the glory of this moment would have been impossible without Morricone's music. Fortunately, I found the actual scene:

5. The Message (Maurice Jarre, 1977)

I guessed Maurice Jarre specialized in composing foreign melodies: Russian for Doctor Zhivago, Arabic for Lawrence of Arabia, Indian for A Passage to India. But he also wrote the Arabic-themed soundtrack for this lesser known movie in Western countries, The Message, about the life of Mohammad, which by some estimates is the most-seen movie of all time. Geographical setting aside, I've never heard of a soundtrack more appropriately "spiritual". And considering that Jarre also wrote the mesmerizing soundtrack for Jesus of Nazareth, I guess you can infer a certain amount about the man's spiritual side:

By the way, you can find the full movie here.

6. North by Northwest (Bernard Hermann, 1959)

When it comes to Bernard Hermann, not mentioning Psycho's soundtrack (chopped up lines in a background of choppy music, describing a shattered mind) would be a crime. But I can't help it. When I think of the names Hermann and Hitchcock, I hear the opening rumbles of North by Northwest first.

7. The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith, 1976)

As soon as I mention hardworking Goldsmith's only Oscar-winner, you may think of Ave Satani. But nothing matches the scene where Gregory Peck and David Warner are attacked by dogs at the cemetery. (Second mention of a cemetery; cemeteries must be very soundtrack-prone.) Without watching the film and just by listening, you can follow step by step what is happening in the scene. Which is actually the beauty of a great soundtrack.

I couldn't find a separate YouTube clip, but the above-described track starts from minute 32:30, ending at 35:50:

8. The Rock (Hans Zimmer, 1996)

With all his improvisations, Hans Zimmer is getting up there as one of the highest ranking soundtrack composers in movie history. But this was the one that introduced me to him first. The entire Rock soundtrack is an incredibly energizing experience, and if you listen to the music for the San Francisco chase scene (Nicholas Cage driving a Ferrari in hot pursuit of Sean Connery's Hummer), you may achieve road rage status. So seriously, don't listen to this while driving.

9. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (James Horner, 1982)

Interestingly, as crappy as the first Star Trek movie was, Jerry Goldsmith's music was so good, they used it for the New Generation TV series. But then James Horner (of later Aliens and Braveheart and Legends of the Fall and A Beautiful Mind and Titanic and ... soundtracks fame) came along, and wrote music of such power and allure for the second installment, that combined with the movie's memorable story, surpassed all expectation, and made The Wrath of Khan the best Star Trek movie to this day. You can find the entire soundtrack online, but my favorite track belongs to the film's most pivotal scene: a parallel editing between Kirk in the Enterprise, and Khan in the Reliant, when after so many years, Khan's moment of revenge has come, and he utters the lovely sentence:

"Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space ..."

10. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (John Williams, 1980)

When it comes to John Williams, how can one possibly choose? Which soundtrack? Which track? Do you go with the music accompanying ... humans communicating with the Mother Ship? The bicycle flying into the night? Indy on the rope bridge? Seeing the brachiosaurus for the first time? Or Oskar Schindler having a nervous breakdown? Utterly impossible.

So the best you can do, is to come up with the best compilation - the best "whole".

In that regard, three movies shine: Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. ANH is probably John Williams most recognized achievement, but when assessing a movie soundtrack in its entirety, I believe ESB is 'slightly' more profound. This soundtrack has so many everlasting moments: the Imperial March, the battle in the snow, the asteroid field scene, and even Yoda's beautiful theme. But in terms of movie background music, one track stands out, and I told you, this will get strange: "The Duel".

Starts out with Vader using the Force to hurl huge objects at Luke, then moves to Leia and Lando fighting their way through Bespin's corridors to reach the Millennium Falcon, R2-D2 decoding and opening the platform gate, and the ship swooping away with four uplifting notes. Listen, and you can actually "see" these events happening right before your eyes.

So ... which are your favorite soundtracks?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Coherence (2013)

Director: James Ward Byrkit. Cast: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon. 89 min. Sci-fi/Thriller.

Group of people gathered at a night party gradually realize the house across the street is a mirror image of their own reality - same people, some actions, ... and same frightened interactions with themselves. This creates a very bizarre philosophical situation, where people start forgetting which guest belongs to which side, which side is reality, and which side the alternate reality. With some suspense/horror undertones, this is an entertainingly complicated story, but other than the small point of "don't take anything for granted", the take-home message was lost on me. Of course our lives can take infinite alternative paths; so what?

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Willow Creek (2013)

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait. Cast: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson. 77 min. Unrated. Horror/Mystery.

In 'found footage' format, young couple hikes deep into California forests to visit the Patterson-Gimlin site where the only known footage of Bigfoot/Sasquatch was shot in 1967, and possibly even see the beast itself. The Blair Witch Project comparisons are inevitable, and the ending is predictable just by reading these few words. Still, the last third of the movie is a feat of "artistic terror" I've rarely experienced, and includes an extended night-time tent scene, with a completely still camera on its protagonists, and the sheer madness of forest noises ... for a full 16 minutes! Must-see for horror gurus.

Mo says: