Friday, October 2, 2015

Sicario (2015)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Victor Garber , Jon Bernthal. 121 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

Whenever movies show the filthiest corners of human society, they're either targeting violence involving children, or drug cartels. Here, Canadian film-maker Villeneuve combines both, so Sicario is no easy trip. Sicario means "hitman", and while the main mystery is which character of the story that term refers to, the exquisite directing and heart-pounding soundtrack occasionally makes the tension unbearable. Look at Villeneuve's profile; he's become the auteur for stomach-churning violence. Although Emily Blunt offers a career-defining performance, I hope Benicio gets his second Oscar, and Roger Deakins' mind-blowing cinematography earns him his first ... after being nominated 12 times already.

Mo says:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Black Mass (2015)

Director: Scott Cooper. Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, Juno Temple. 122 min. Rated R. Biography/Crime.

If David O. Russell made a Scorsese movie, this is what it would have looked like. It's another Departed rendition of Boston gangsters and FBI informants, told with a slow-paced flair of the 70s. The problem is that Scorsese has already defined these components so well, it's tough to enjoy the movie without being repeatedly reminded of the style's true origins. But the film's greatest asset is the Nosferatu-like Depp as James "Whitey" Bulger; he's so immersed in the role, at times I forgot it was Johnny Depp. The film is worth watching, if only to savor his presence.

Mo says:

The Visit (2015)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan. 94 min. Rated PG-13. Horror/Thriller.

Admit it: no matter how crappy Shyamalan's movies get, we still watch his next one, hoping for another breath-taking ending shock. And while The Visit's shock isn't as tremendous as The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, I didn't see it coming. Told in the hand-held camera format and borrowing too much from both The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, Shyamalan is able to maintain and build the film's tension up to the shock, but then holds on to the moment for too long, and creates viewer fatigue. He's a good director, but maybe not as sensible a storyteller.

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Gift (2015)

Director: Joel Edgerton. Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton. 108 min. Rated R. Australia/USA. Mystery/Thriller.

A creepy guy approaches a young couple who have just moved to California, and you know from the very beginning things will eventually get violent. The familiar Fatal Attraction/Cape Fear psychological thriller setting makes most of the plot twists predictable, which is why the few shattering surprises are very welcome. Since the main subject is so notoriously important these days, Joel Edgerton should be applauded for such a captivating directorial debut. And the homages aren't limited to the above: there's a hospital "Room 237" from The Shining, and a final separation scene perfectly inspired by The Godfather.

PS: Thank you, Mohi. This almost went under the radar.

PPS: This is almost (but not quite) another movie from the Oozaini genre, explained here.

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015)

 Director: Alex Gibney. 128 min. Rated R. Documentary.

On one hand, yes, the iPhone changed my life, and Apple products have changed the world. On the other, we have Steve Jobs, a deceitful, cunning, cruel businessman, who used any means necessary to achieve that change - and probably destroyed a few lives along the way. So while Jobs (with the help of small people who wait for hours in line for the next Apple product) compares himself to Lennon, MLK and Einstein as one of the "great changers" of our time, Alex Gibney's newest documentary exposes that hypocrisy; albeit unilaterally. You'll never look at your iPhone the same way.

Mo says:

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)

Director: Brian Knappenberger. 105 min. Documentary.

The number of documentaries I say "you owe it to yourself to watch this" are becoming too many, and this is another. Of course, you don't expect a genius like Aaron Swartz, who decided to single-handedly change the world and make the internet as free and available as possible, to live very long - but the concept of being powerless against a "democratic" government who decides to destroy you, is quite disturbing. Would've appreciated more about Swartz's personal life rather than his biography. But the film makes its mark, and compels one to support another Snowden/Assange/Manning/Swartz, whenever they rise.

Mo says:

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Z for Zachariah (2015)

Director: Craig Zobel. Cast: Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Pine. 95 min. Rated PG-13. Iceland/Switzerland/New Zealand. Drama/Sci-fi.

In a not-too-apocalyptic post-nuclear future, surviving religious girl living in the mountains befriends two drifters: one black, and one white. So it's not too hard to predict a gloomy ending, and the story makes a good point at illustrating that religious and racial tensions will never die - even after possibly causing nuclear armageddon. But then it was difficult to imagine how such a girl could have survived with all her naivete, and the motivations that led to the film's ending didn't make much sense. Maybe prior films have made me too pessimistic of such a story possibly happening.

Mo says:

Monday, August 31, 2015

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Director: David Gregory. 97 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

A remake of a movie that was already a beloved cult classic. A filming location that had some of the worst raining seasons known to mankind. A greatest actor of all time and a small new superstar, who were competing at sabotaging the project - just to have some fun. Of course, there's no way such a project could become anything watchable, and this documentary shows why the 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau became one of the worst movies ever. While I haven't seen the remake, the story behind the disaster (reminiscent of another great-movie-that-was-never-made) was worth it.

Mo says:

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014)

Director(s): Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz. Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Gabi Amrani. 115 min. Israel/France/Germany. Drama.

Per Wikipedia, a 'gett' is a divorce document under Jewish law, presented from husband to wife, during which the husband literally proclaims: "You are hereby permitted to all men." And that is the key component. A wife wants a divorce, merely because she doesn't love her husband anymore, the husband denies her of the divorce simply by not attending the proceedings, and the court, judged by rabbis, is pretty much on the religious husband's side. The result, is some fascinating courtroom drama, which in terms of women's rights, significantly questions Israel's claim to being the sole democracy of the Middle-East.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Water Diviner (2014)

Director: Russell Crowe. Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogan. 111 min. Rated R. Australia/USA/Turkey. War/Drama.

I wish I hadn't already known this was Russell Crowe's directorial debut. The truth-inspired story of an Australian father travelling to find his three sons who fought at Gallipoli during World War I, feels like a Saving Private Ryan in Turkey that is too self-conscious; through numerous close-ups on himself , Crowe keeps hammering in the "Hey, look everybody; I can direct" message. And some mistake are too obvious: both sides of a battle in different scenes are shown moving from left to right, disorienting the viewer. You're a great actor, but nobody forced you to direct.

Mo says:

While We're Young (2014)

Director: Noah Baumbach. Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Peter Bogdanovich. 97 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

So here's the premise: when approaching life, should you stick to the hardcore but long-winded and boring truth, or sweeten it up with some phony dramatization, as long as you get the message across? I have no problem with the latter, but I'm not sure this film has an opinion either way - and I'm not sure the question is immense enough to make an entire film around it anyway. Meanwhile, the intellectual New York comedy setting infringes too much on Woody Allen territory, chipping away at the film's originality. But then again, I'm not a huge Noah Baumbach believer.

Mo says:

Tomorrowland (2015)

Director: Brad Bird. Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw. 130 min. Rated PG. USA/Spain. Sci-fi/Adventure.

My main problem with Tomorrowland, was structure. Felt like multiple subplots, piled up on each other to create one big plot. Starting with a 1960's Disney-World subplot, throwing you into a bright futuristic action sequence, leading to a BladeRunner subplot about an android, then an evil nerdy secret society who's after the android, then discovering a Neo-like teenage girl who is "the one", etc. Not that it's confusing - it's just all tiring. Screenwriter Landelof's formula that made Prometheus intriguing and fascinating doesn't work for kiddie sci-fi, and George Clooney is in the wrong genre. Another mediocre Disney-ride-to-movies moneymaking attempt.

Mo says: