Friday, February 5, 2016

Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom (2015)

Director: Evgeny Afineevsky. 102 min. UK/Ukraine/USA.

A chronicle of 93 days in 2013-2014 when the pro-Western Ukrainians assembled in their "Maidan" (all countries seem to have a government-made 'Liberty Square' where people create problems for the government), and revolted against their democratically-elected pro-East president. That's all - it's no deeper than a CNN news story. We never hear the president supporters' side, or why Yanukovich preferred Putin to the West. He was bad, and people fought him. Sorry, but documentaries have become much more sophisticated than this. Surprised it's nominated for an Oscar, while The Wolfpack, Going Clear and Listen to Me, Marlon were out there.

PS: Except for the best of them (The Look of Silence), all other of this year's Oscar-nominated documentary features (Cartel Land, Amy, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and this) are available to stream on either Netflix or Amazon Prime. Actually two (this and Miss Simone) are Netflix productions - an improvement compared to last year's Netflix-produced Oscar-nominated Al-Maidan (yep, the Liberty Square where people revolted in Egypt).

PPS: In case Netflix has developed some kind of Liberty Square-revolution obsession, there was this thing that happened in a certain Liberty/Freedom Square a few years ago ...

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Theeb (ذيب) (2014)

Director: Naji Abu Nowar. Cast: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh. 100 min. United Arab Emirates/Qatar/Jordan/UK. Adventure/Drama.

During World War I, in the setting made famous by Lawrence of Arabia, two Bedouins (a young boy and his older brother) guide a British officer to his rendezvous point in the middle of the desert, while being followed by bandits. A slow (but not boring) movie that successfully uses the most simple screenplay maneuvers to create tension in its barren setting, to talk about themes of loyalty and brotherhood, but most attractively, to condemn the constant whining of nations who believe they are and have been exploited by others throughout history. Because after all, "the strong eat the weak".

Mo says:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cartel Land (2015)

Director: Matthew Heineman. 100 min. Rated R. Mexico/USA. Documentary.

This Oscar-nominated documentary can be considered a companion piece to last year's Sicario: how individuals on both sides of the US-Mexico border (predominantly the Mexicans), hopeless of their respective governments protecting them from drug cartels, have became vigilantes to provide their own security. This is an immensely uplifting story of people rising to the occasion, but similar to the feeling Syriana (2005) creates about the Middle-East crisis, it leads to the same kind of mental exhaustion: when talking drug wars, you never know who's on your side and who's helping whom, and eventually, you just let go.

Mo says:

Friday, January 22, 2016

When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mânî) (2014)

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi. 103 min. Rated PG. Japan. Animation.

I wouldn't be spoiling anything if I said in Studio Ghibli's second post-Miyazaki feature (after Princess Kaguya), a troubled teenage girl moves to the countryside and befriends ... a female ghost her own age. We know far ahead of time the mystery behind her death will be the climax of the entire story, and when it is revealed, we realize the story is based on a huge coincidence, which is somewhat disappointing. But similar to Miyazaki's last film, the audience here is not the kids - it's rather a young adult story. The enchanting animation is what makes it worth the ride.

Mo says:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Joy (2015)

Director: David O. Russell. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini. 124 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama.

I've always given David O. Russell good reviews. But suddenly, American Hustle tipped me off: is he just using great actors to boost his mediocre acts? Joy is the embodiment of that discovery. Based on his own terrible, disjointed script, containing numerous inconsequential scenes and characters, tiresome patent and finance techno-babble, and turning a woman's struggle to make it big in the business world into a comedy (I seriously did not see the humor), we're only left with great performances by Lawrence and Cooper, and embarrassments for DeNiro and Rossellini's career profile. David Russell, your honeymoon is over.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mustang (2015)

Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu. 97 min. Rated PG-13. Turkey/France/Qatar/Germany. Drama.

Five free-spirited sisters of a rural family in Turkey find destiny closing in on them, as they are physically locked in their own home and crushed by traditional customs into wedlock, one by one. Watching this, first a female equivalent of The Wolfpack came to mind, then Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides (even with an uncanny resemblance of one of the girls to Kirsten Dunst). But then with characters getting serially knocked off in an enclosed claustrophobic setting by 'monstrous' traditional values ... this is actually the space horror movie Alien, happening on Earth. The Turks are making good movies these days.

Mo says:

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

Director: Liz Garbus. 101 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

Same problem I had with another musician biopic this year, up for an Oscar (Amy): a documentary that fails to describe the importance of this person to a viewer who's coming to know her for the first time. Because for me, this film functioned almost the opposite: it's honest enough to disclose that Nina Simone, a crucial figure in soul music, was abused and abused others, suffered from bipolar manic-depressive disorder, and as part of the civil rights movement, literally asked her audience during concerts whether they're ready to blow up buildings and kill the white man. I mean ... seriously?

Mo says:

The Danish Girl (2015)

Director: Tom Hooper. Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sebastian Koch. 119 min. Rated R. UK/Belgium/USA. Biography/Drama.

I understand IMDb describing this as a "fictitious love story loosely inspired by" true events, because the relation between the 1920s transgender protagonist and his wife (played by Redmayne and Vikander, both nominated for Oscars last week) is hard to believe. When a woman first discovers her husband secretly wearing female underwear, does she just act as: oh that's okay I guess men usually do that? Numerous similar strange interactions undermine the entire movie. I'm suspicious the director (a decent one) was in such a rush for the attention of an LGBT movie, he failed to notice these 'minor' inconsistencies.

Mo says:

Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh ich seh) (2014)

Director(s): Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz. Cast: Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz. 99 min. Rated R. Austria. Mystery/Horror. 

Twin brothers (the creepiest twins since The Shining) find their mother home, returned from surgery, face extensively bandaged. They gradually suspect she's not their real mom. Along the lines of Shyamalan's Sixth Sense, spiced with some sadistic Michael Haneke-type storytelling (an Oozaini genre film), the film boasts an intricate screenplay, an incredibly eerie use of silence, and a climactic shock; but threw me off with two scenes (a nude woman's otherworldly appearance in a forest, a skeleton-filled cave), even though I was suspecting the shock midway through. In other words, like High Tension (2003), they cheat. Could've been a MoMagic.

PS: Just became available on Amazone Prime.

Mo says:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Top 10 Movies of 2015

When an Oscar season front-runner is a movie like Spotlight (at most, considered 'decent'), and the tides are turned by a last-minute Revenant entry, it's safe to say 2015 was not a very strong movie year.

A common theme we saw this year was the greats repeating themselves: Spielberg repeated himself, Tarantino repeated himself, Stallone repeated himself, Star Wars repeated itself, James Bond repeated to the point of failure, and George Miller repeated to new heights - with many critics saying he made the best movie of the year! And the fact that Golden Globe winner Sylvester Stallone may be on his way to win an Oscar for the same role he played 40 years ago, shows even the elite are desperate enough to cherish the situation. Such a drought of originality may lead to last year's Oscar winner for Best Director win the same award this year - because hey, these foreign directors are the rare ones who have anything new to say.

Half of my top 10 movies this year clearly show this trend, mainly being re-runs of what came before. So since my words have a major effect on the future of cinema (I'm definitely sure they do), to choose the top favorite movie this year, instead of my usual criteria of sheer movie-going satisfaction and entertainment, I'm going for originality.

My top 10 movies of 2015, in alphabetical order, are:

1. Inside Out

2. It Follows

3. Jupiter Ascending

4. The Look of Silence

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

6. The Revenant

7. Room 

8. Sicario

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

10. The Walk

Best Movie of the Year: Considering what I wrote above, sorry Star Wars, but I'm going with Inside Out. What this animation achieved in delivering a very unique and original concept, no movie (that I have seen or know of) has ever done before.


Worst Movie of the Year: Hands down, Terminator: Genisys. While thanking Ali S. and Mohi, who came up with the idea and logo, respectively, the idea of a MoCrap! score seemed desperately needed - to describe the lowest of the low. Unfortunately, it takes a while to know you've seen the worst movie of the year, but if I knew at the time, I would've definitely given the fifth Terminator installment this prestigious score, for the very first time.


Discovery of the Year: Even though the TV show seemed more groundbreaking than the movie, and even though it's quite old, Twin Peaks wins my vote. David Lynch has always been the man for presenting comedy, satire, thriller and horror, all at the same time; but here, he achieved perfection.

45 Years (2015)

Director: Andrew Haigh. Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay. 95 min. Rated R. UK. Drama/Romance.

During the week leading up to an elderly couple's 45th wedding anniversary party, the lady discovers that 50 years ago, her husband was engaged to another woman, who died in a mountaineering accident at the time. A hurricane of doubt overwhelms her: What if the girl had lived? Would her marriage had ever happened? Who has she been living with for nearly half a century? A film similar to Le Week-End, contemplating the regrets of old age, with a somewhat open-ended but logical resolution (that seems to be the only one). The superb Rampling acts solely by moving her eyes.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Lobster (2015)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos. Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Wishaw, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux. 118 min. Rated R. Ireland/UK/Greece/France/Netherlands/USA. Drama/Fantasy.

Without spoiling too much: in a dystopian society, marriage is mandatory (the unmarried are turned into, yes, animals); resulting in a resistance group of "loners", who are against marital/sexual relationships. Amid all this, true love happens - and to reach this critical plot point, a few story logic sacrifices are made. The style strongly reminded me of the similar Greek film, Dogtooth, and when this film too ended with  a major character's self-mutilation, lo and behold, I discovered it's the same writer/director, this time directing an English-speaking ensemble. Still, Mojo for the creative plot and numerous fascinating twists.

Mo says: