Thursday, October 19, 2017

Badlands (1973)

Director: Terrence Malick. Cast: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates. 94 min. Rated PG. Crime.

Before his camera-twirling days, Terrence Malick used to make great movies with actual stories. Here, he portrays the minds of two imbeciles, and how much damage they can inflict upon themselves and others when they roam free - twenty years before Oliver Stone thought up Natural Born Killers and the way people are fascinated by the criminal mindset, and nearly half a century before a similar crushing ignorant naivete brought the likes of Trump to power. Disturbing but captivating performances by Sheen and Spacek aside, you become amazed how advanced this director's thought process was for his time.

Mo says:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch. Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Bill Skarsgård, Jóhannes Jóhannesson. 115 min. Rated R. Germany/Sweden/USA. Action.

Same mistake they made with the recent Ghostbusters: placing superstar actress in an entirely macho role, but without any sign of her womanhood complimenting or improving the role, probably under the guise of equal opportunity and 'giving women a voice', but actually undermining them in the long run - because retrofitting females into male roles looks ridiculous. Nevertheless, there's one action scene where our 'lady John Wick' fights the bad guys up an elevator, down a spiraling staircase, through multiple rooms ... for at least 7 minutes, all in one take. That scene saved this movie from a NoMo.

PS: Honest to God truth: after writing this review, I found on IMDb that this movie's director was actually one of the original John Wick's two directors. Example of Hollywood doing formulaic disservice to women.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Maudie (2016)

Director: Aisling Walsh. Cast: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Ireland/Canada. Biography/Romance.

'Innocent' is the word that comes to mind throughout this biopic of Canadian painter, Maud Lewis. No matter how pitiful Hawkins plays the debilitated artist, no matter how brutal Hawke treats her as her husband, there's still a certain genuine innocence here, that keeps you hooked. Mysteriously, we're almost never told what the painter's ailment is, and we really don't care either, because the excruciating image of Hawkins twisting her body as Maudie, makes this more about her acting than the film. Hawkins' name is also being touted for The Shape Of Water, so this may become her Oscar-winning year.

Mo says:

American Made (2017)

Director: Doug Liman. Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones. 115 min. Rated R. Biography/Thriller.

TWA. CIA. IAC. FBI. DEA. USA. Three-letter abbreviations dominating the real-life story of pilot Barry Seal, a profiteer who worked for three-letter entities, and then for Nicaraguans (namely, Noriega), and the Colombia drug cartels (namely, Escobar), and eventually led to what what was later known as the Iran-Contra scandal. A story so wild, you keep asking: Did this all really happen? And since Doug Liman knows you'll be baffled, he intermittently interjects with actual Carter and Reagan footage, to prove major plot points were real, so there's only minor dramatization. So engaging, I didn't notice the two hours passing by.

PS: Lovely use of George Harrison's "Wah-Wah" during the end credits. Strangely, there was also a pivotal moment for Harrison's "What is Life" during the recent Battle of the Sexes.

PPS: Thank you, Payam! I'm usually hesitant when I see Tom Cruise's name, so I almost missed this one. 

Mo says:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Amityville: The Awakening (2017)

Director: Franck Khalfoun. Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bella Thorne, Kurtwood Smith. 85 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

You know it's the fourth attempt (after remake, "inspired by", and documentary) at jump-starting a failed horror franchise, so there's no way there's anything new here. But then you see Jennifer Jason Leigh's name, so she must've seen something worthwhile in it. Dead wrong. There's an inkling of hope for blurring horror/fiction and reality à la Blair Witch Project, when characters plan to watch the 1979 movie in the haunted house. But the rapidity of horror clichés and one-per-5-minute jump-scare rate leaves no air to breathe. So awful, distributors made it available free on Google Play, before its theater release.

PS: This was produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Harvey Weinstein was behind the production and/or distribution of True Romance, Pulp Fiction, The Crossing Guard, the Scream franchise, Princess Mononoke, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, Halloween H20, The Faculty, Shakespeare in Love, The Cider House Rules, Scary Movie, Malèna, Chocolat, the Spy Kids franchise, The Others, The Lord of the RingsGangs of New York, Chicago, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2, Master and Commander, Cold Mountain, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Aviator, Sin City, Grindhouse, The Mist, Rambo, The Reader, Inglourious Basterds, Piranha 3D, The King's Speech, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, August: Osage County, Big Eyes, Marco Polo (TV), Carol, The Hateful Eight, Lion, The Founder, ... among 300 others.

In view of recently exploding allegations of sexual abuse that go back for decades, I'm trying to imagine what a huge, black blot this would splatter on contemporary American art. Imagine how you'll feel the next time you see Harvey Weinstein's name on a movie's opening credits. Because you will see it.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spielberg (2017)

Director: Susan Lacy. 147 min. Documentary.

If you've followed Spielberg's career through 40 years (like, introduced to 'movies' in childhood, then lived his dreams through your teens, adulthood, and now middle age), many or most of the stories told here about the filmmaker won't be anything new. But wait - it's Marty, Francis, George and Brian telling those stories again, and you know his actors so well, voice-overs on scenes of his movies by Ford, Dreyfuss, Hanks, Neeson, Fiennes and Winfrey need no introduction to the voices themselves. That's what makes this biographical documentary so different - about the greatest director that ever lived. There, I said it.

Mo says:

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Hiam Abbass, Barkhad Abdi, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young. 163 min. Rated R. USA/UK/Canada. Sci-fi/Thriller.

Okay, too much to say, so just bullet points:

1. Materializes the original's mood by replicating its moments, but with renewed identity;
2. Impossibly provides new depth to and expands upon the original's plot points;
3. Villeneuve goes back to his Incendies 1+1=1 roots;
4. Reminds of Her: "GCAT .... or 1 and 0?", "Love ... or mathematical precision?";
5. Snow replaces rain for 'tears in rain';
6. Heart-melting Edward James Olmos cameo and Sean Young flashback;
7. Thirteen-time nominee Roger Deakins will finally win his Oscar;
8. Hans Zimmer fascinates again, while respecting Vangelis' masterpiece;
9. Worth every second of its 160 minutes.
10. To be marked as one of the greatest sci-fis of the 21st century.

Mo says:

Icarus (2017)

Director: Bryan Fogel. 121 min. Documentary.

I made the mistake (again) of watching this documentary's trailer before the film itself. It starts out with a filmmaker's Supersize Me-like research on himself, about whether he can pass a doping test while doping (in professional cycling). But then ... the film explodes into something else. That 'something else' is the surprise the trailer spoiled. Still, the fact that the film documents the issue parallel to real world events is so overwhelming, it makes you crave for more (how prevalent is this in other countries?). After this, watching sports will never be the same.

Mo says:

Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Director: Cate Shortland. Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt. 116 min. Rated R. Australia. Horror/Mystery.

The horror/thriller genre thrives from protagonists who've never watched a single horror/thriller. They go all alone to foreign countries, unable to speak the language, meet total strangers, and follow them into far-off abandoned apartments where nobody can hear them scream while they're getting chopped up. Curiously, the soundtrack, eerie at opportune times, understands our heroine's dangerous situation better than she does, and while rising star Teresa Palmer is terrific as someone suffering from Stockholm syndrome (likely the movie's namesake) ... either I'm too paranoid of such real-life risks, or the insane naivete of such characters totally undermines the premise.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Director(s): Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Fred Armisen. 121 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Sports/Biography.

The true story of the iconic 1973 tennis 'battle' between feminist Billie Jean King and chauvinist Bobby Riggs, and even if you didn't know the historical outcome, you can guess; otherwise, this film wouldn't have been made. Alas, it's about the journey, not the destination. While too much time is reserved for King's homosexual conflicts, the movie plays it fair, and by introducing King's husband, doesn't portray every single male on the planet as egocentric pigs - and the 'woman against the system' message is truly inspiring. Another movie that rings loud in Trump's America. Expecting an Oscar nomination for Silverman.

Mo says:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wind River (2017)

Director: Taylor Sheridan. Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene. 107 min. Rated R. UK/Canada/USA. Crime/Mystery.

Okay, while gathering my thoughts on this one, I cheated: Sheridan, the writer/director, also wrote Hell or High Water. So of course, the structure is exactly the same: huge build-up through deep character development, meticulous plot narration, and beautiful off-limits landscapes (here a snow-covered Wyoming Indian reservation) ... to eventually fizzle out during a loud and somewhat nonsensical payoff. But Renner, a hunter who's hunting down this murderer to compensate his shortcomings on a previous murder, has one moment-of-truth scene that shook me, just by him diverting his eyes. Believe it or not, that made the entire movie worth watching.

PS: Thanks for the recommendation, Negin!

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Ghost Story (2017)

Director: David Lowery. Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara. 92 min. Rated R. Drama/Fantasy.

The best advice I can offer here is: go see this fresh. Don't watch any trailers, don't read any reviews. Rather than a ghost story, this is merely a movie with a ghost in it: exploring the concept of a person close to you dying, their ghost wandering around you (including watching you for 6 minutes somberly eating a pie), and what it means for a ghost being confined to neither time nor space. This is an unbelievably mesmerizing piece of art, that had me thinking for days. So does that make this deserving of a MoMagic? Probably.

Mo says: