Friday, August 22, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Director(s): Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. Cast: Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysber, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Pive, Christopher Lloyd, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Lady Gaga. 102 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

Why oh why do they have to ruin great films with sequels? The haphazard piling of this three-part story (with Gordon-Levitt, Brolin/Rourke and Alba in the lead for each) is such an obvious attempt to capitalize on the innovative 2005 film, that at times you feel not even the filmmakers believe in the movie. Ironically, the digital camerawork and occasional color-in-black-and-white (the original's high point), are less gratifying than the original. All I remember of this film, is a camera in love with Eva Green's body, and the lack of a climactic ending to at least provide some emotional satisfaction.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lovely & Amazing (2001)

Director: Nicole Holofcener. Cast: Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blethyn, Dermot Mulroney, Jake Gyllenhaal. 91 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

A mother and her two middle-aged daughters struggle with a common issue: a severe sense of insecurity. The mother submits to cosmetic surgery, and the daughters are failures at finding jobs. So they act out on their significant others, and the inappropriate responses from those misunderstood others compounds the problem. Retrospectively for Holofcener, a director with later superior (Please Give) and far superior (Enough Said) films, this can be considered a pleasant warm-up. It also shows some inventiveness at creating colorful moments for characters to hurl obscenities at others behind their back - and sometimes in their face.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kids for Cash (2014)

Director: Robert May. 102 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

"All 193 UN member countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, except Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States." And so starts a shocking story, on how after the terror of the Columbine massacre, a single Pennsylvania county judge incarcerated thousands of kids in the 1990s and 2000s on minor offenses, how he was prosecuted for receiving a "finder's fee" for jailing the kids, and how the court proceedings ended. Communities played into the fear, and parents were coerced into destroying their own children's lives. It'll make you rethink the boundaries you set for your own kids.

Mo says:

The Unknown Known (2013)

Director: Errol Morris. 103 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

The long-awaited interview, especially now that the dust in Iraq has settled (well, maybe not). After interviewing McNamara in his Oscar-winning Fog of War, the great Errol Morris chats with another ex-Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, mainly: 'Why were we in Iraq?' Even if you were against the war (myself included), the man still deserves to be heard, and I was mesmerized numerous times in the process, rewinding a scene, watching Rumsfeld's direct gaze, taking in those very weighted pauses. Morris (correctly) doesn't press too hard, but still, with all his contradictions, you think: maybe the man was slightly misjudged. 

PS: Errol Morris dedicated his movie to Roger Ebert.

PPS: Godfrey Cheshire does a very nice piece on the film here, especially: 

""The Fog of War" and "The Unknown Known" are a strikingly matched pair, one a modernist masterpiece, the other dizzyingly post-modern. Robert McNamara's testimony in the first film offers the satisfactions of a genuinely deep and penetrating self-analysis, and that's obviously because he came from a world where there were clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, success and failure – words that at one time actually meant something and had real personal consequences. Rumsfeld in contrast belongs to a world in which there is no real accountability, either public or private, in large part because words can be bent to mean anything, or nothing. The proof of this in "The Unknown Known" amounts to a valuable if tremendously damning commentary on our current political culture."

Mo says:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Dog (2013)

Director(s): Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren. 100 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

John Wojtowicz, the homosexual who robbed a bank to finance his lover's sex-change operation, and whom Al Pacino's role in Dog Day Afternoon was based upon. This documentary nicely illustrates how to separate Hollywood glamour, from real-life filth. Pacino is a great artist with a glorious turn in a well-directed movie; Wojtowicz is just a petty low-life criminal whom even gay communities avoided, and after all these years, is still proud and thinks he won. And it's pathetic that this film provides him a microphone to broadcast his small mind. You can't pull a Godfather fascination in real life.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lucy (2014)

Director: Luc Besson. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi. 89 min. Rated R. France. Action/Sci-Fi.

Luc Besson is trying to improve upon the idea already offered in Limitless - that we only use 10% of our brain's capability during our lifetimes, so imagine the superhero (and the cinematic potential) created if someone can use 100%. In effect, we see Besson's usual spices of a strong female lead and wacky sci-fi. But then, he fills it with so many scientific and pseudo-scientific ideas and theories, that it's almost unfair to the viewer, and sloppy on the part of the film-maker. Many spectacular moments, but too confusing to even discuss the philosophical gibberish, and nothing that lingers afterwards.

Mo says:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Director: Anton Corbijn. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Nina Hoss, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Homayoun Ershadi, Daniel Brühl. 122 min. Rated R. UK/USA/Germany. Thriller.

Generally, spy thrillers are difficult to adapt from book to screen. The technical complexities of espionage that are easy to follow on page, end up making the movie boring. But in this case, Anton Corbijn (The American) has done a seamless job on the 2008 John le Carré novel, and incorporating multiple characters into the story of capturing a terrorist cell in Hamburg with a sudden, captivating twist ending, is every bit engaging. The additional treat, is great stars embodying those characters, with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead. Philip Seymour Hoffman. What a loss, man - what a loss.

Mo says:

Particle Fever (2013)

Director: Mark Levinson. Cast: David Kaplan, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos. 99 min. Documentary.

So what was the "God particle" hype all about two years ago?  A documentary has finally come along, through engaging animation and stylized editing (by 3-time Oscar winner Walter Murch, nonetheless), touching only the surface of complex theoretical physics concepts such as supersymmetry and multiverse, and elevating experimental physicists to rock-star status. But at the end of the day, it's mainly a documentation of the events that lead up to the first artificial particle collisions at the CERN super-collider in Switzerland, and the discovery of the Higgs boson - without much artistic yield. Actually, the film almost undermines its purpose:

"Wow, this movie is a poster child for what's wrong with big budget science. At the beginning they show clips of conservative members of congress, who are arguing that the American version of CERN should be defunded. I'm sure this was intended to be a hit/slam, but I found myself agreeing with the politicians. For the record, I'm a science geek, with a degree in engineering, who reads books about quantum mechanics for fun. 

"The female lead, well, she was super-impressed by a 5 story structure. Kaplan, one of the male leads, comes off as very unlikable, although I warmed up to him by the end of the movie. Then there's the guy who won't collaborate with more than 2 colleagues, but Nobel prizes can only be given to a most 3 people. Great, this guy's ego is so big that he'll sacrifice science to protect his reputation.   

"There's very little science here beyond what's in the headlines. Basically, all this money was spent on CERN, they were expecting the Higgs to be in one of two places, but they found something (it must be the Higgs!) in a different place, therefore it's pretty much back to the drawing board. Perhaps science is at its limits - but you know what, Einstein didn't need an expensive CERN to know that general relativity was true. Yes, something is WAY off here, and this movie just solidifies that for me.  

"I'd give this movie more stars if it could actually tell me WHY a Higgs imparts mass to other particles (or anything interesting!) because the personalities of the people they interviewed were simply not interesting to me."

- from IMDb

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)

Director: Frank Pavich. 90 min. Rated PG-13. USA/France. Documentary.

The story of "The Greatest Movie Never Made". In 1975, before David Lynch's crappy adaptation, mad Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky was to create the epic space-opera Dune, a 12-20 hour film based on Frank Herbert's famous novel. He'd employed "warriors" such as Dan O'Bannon, H.R. Giger, Pink Floyd (for the soundtrack), and Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger (as actors). It was the sci-fi phenomenon to change movie history before Star Wars did. But then the project fell apart - and later exuded into Alien, BladeRunner, Contact, Prometheus ... in decades to come. A must-see for any film history fan.

PS: Thank you, Amir D., for facilitating the process!

PPS: Comicbookgirl19 does a nice introductory job here.

Mo says:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Calvary (2014)

Director: John Michael McDonagh. Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, M. Emmet Walsh. 100 min. Rated R. Ireland/UK. Drama.

Ireland village priest is threatened in the confessional booth that he will be killed in a week by a patron, who says he was repeatedly raped as a child by another priest who is now dead. The priest first thinks he knows who threatened him, but as he sleuths around, he realizes the people are so messed up, anybody could be a suspect. The beautiful Irish vistas remind of Ryan's Daughter, and Brendon Gleeson delivers a towering Oscar-worthy performance as the priest, who with all his faults and doubts, tries to maintain his faith and do what he deems right.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Director: James Bobin. Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Céline Dion, Lady Gaga,  Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Chloë Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz. 107 min. Rated PG. Adventure/Comedy.

Another Muppets movie, trying to build on the success of the predecessor that rejuvenated the franchise, suddenly feels so ... dark. A master-criminal Muppet masquerades as Kermit, and the live performers who were the main reasons I saw the movie, are either conspiring with the villain (Gervaise), or acting as a Gulag prison guard with an annoying accent (Fey). Pixar animations have created a culture of making movies addressed to both kids and adults; in the case of the Muppets, the pendulum has swung slightly too far in favor of the adults. I would tell pre-schoolers to avoid this one.

Mo says:

Dom Hemingway (2013)

Director: Richard Shepard. Cast: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke. 93 min. Rated R. UK. Comedy/Crime.

Gangster/safe-cracker is out of jail after 12 years, but now demands to be paid handsomely by the boss for keeping his mouth shut through all this time. For a few actors (Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey, for example), there's one movie that suddenly makes me realize, this may not be a bad actor after all, and Jude Law's performance in Dom Hemingway, reminiscent of some good British Guy Ritchie gangster comedies, catapulted him up to that category. Nevertheless, the script's sudden dive into moral-teaching melodrama towards the end effectively diminished the film's power.

Mo says: