Saturday, October 31, 2009

Whatever Works (2009)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson. 92 min. PG-13. Comedy.

For some reason, Allen's repetitive style in comedy never gets old for me. The same NYC setting, the same neurotic hero (actually playing Woody himself), and the same never ending flow of funny, sarcastic memorable quotes. There's not much here that specifically makes this New York comedy stand out from his other New York comedies - except for Larry David, who does an excellent job in the role Woody has exclusively defined as his own.

Mo says:

The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos. 77 min. Rated R. Drama.

Shot in a hidden-camera format, Soderbergh continues his experimental style - this time offering a rare glimpse into the life of a high-profile New York call girl. This is a person whose outer personality is at the pleasure of her client, and the whole idea is whether the filmmaker is able to penetrate behind the iron poker-face mask of the girl, to show us the real person living behind it. For 1-2 minutes towards the end, we are shown the reality of that person, and it's not pretty. Worth the watch, but doesn't go beyond a glamorous HBO-style documentary.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Videodrome (1983)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry. 90 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Horror.

Another fleshy gooey sci-fi by the master of plastic body parts. Cronenberg made several of these gross bloody pictures in the 80s and 90s where a hand turns into mashed potato, and to be honest, it never worked for me (his goo-less Scanners is still the best). The story is obviously predicting the consequences of the 80s video craze, but then also gets involved in the concept of snuff movies (pretty unique for those days), and loses its grip on both. I like the Cronenberg of the 2000s much better, when he's not making horror sci-fi.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Director: Sacha Gervasi. Cast: Steve 'Lips' Kudlow, Robb Reiner. 90 min. Unrated. Documentary.

1984's This is Spinal Tap was a mockumentary about rockers, which was funny. Unfortunately, Anvil is a documentary. When you're confronted with the story of people who believe in a dream that doesn't exist, and hang on to the dream in the face of all evidence proving it doesn't exist, watching their fight becomes quite depressing. This is not a movie about heavy metal rockers. It's about asking yourself: If you were in their shoes, how far would you be willing to go? You may find yourself shedding a few tears watching these two musicians answer that question.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Director: Spike Jonze. Cast: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, Mark Ruffalo. 94 min. Rated PG. Fantasy.

How could you possibly turn a 10-sentence children's book into a feature length movie? Years ago, in a review on Jonze's Three Kings, someone wrote he is the filmmaker of the future. This film shows why. Jonze has accomplished the impossible feat of expanding Maurice Sendak's beloved story into a film that becomes an opportunity for self-reflection about yourself and your family relations. Where the Wild Things Are offers the creativity of some of Tim Burton's best works, or even deeper. The movie is not supposed to be about grown-ups, but it is; and welcomingly so. Highly recommended.

Mo says:

Monday, October 19, 2009

[REC] (2007)

Director(s): Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza. Cast: Ferran Terraza, Manuela Velasco. 78 min. Rated R. Spain. Horror.

For some reason, zombie movies usually have something new to offer - which is the reason for their longivity. In this case, [REC], a horror import from Spain, is entirely shot by handheld camera (interesting how this method accentuates the terror of the unknown). The catch is, throughout the movie, we never see the cameraman. The movie is a gorefest like any other zombie flick, but the final 15 minutes, which is actually goreless, builds up an impressive amount of tension. Recommended if you're up for some gut-wrenching suspense. Remade last year in the States by the title Quarantine.
Mo says:

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Director: Kelly Reichardt. Cast: Michelle Williams, Lucy (the Dog), Wally Dalton, Will Patton. 80 min. Rated R. Drama.

The story of a girl who has only two things left in life: a car, and a dog - and how she starts to lose both. Wendy and Lucy's whopping 84% on the Tomatometer was what enticed me to watch this, and to the filmmakers' credit, the movie is at times superb at showing the girl's absolute loneliness. But occasionally, I was bored. The movie is a showcase for Williams' considerable acting skills, and her final decision about her two mere possessions at the end was thought-provoking; but if you want to be entertained, don't go here.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Director: Oren Peli. Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat. 99 min. Rated R. USA. Horror.

Every five years or so, a true horror movie is made (the last one being The Ring). Using the most simple techniques, Paranormal Activity meets the criteria, and it is your worst nightmares come true. The sheer terror you'll experience during this movie, will remind you of the genre's true masterpieces. During the last minutes, I just wanted it to end, not because of any weakness in the movie, but because the fear I felt was becoming intolerable. Watch this at your own risk - the next time you hear something go bump in the night, you'll have difficulty sleeping.

Mo says:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Goodbye Solo (2008)

Director: Ramin Bahrani. Cast: Souleymane Sy Savane, Red West. 91 min. Rated R. Drama.

Indie director Bahrani's third film follows the same theme of lonely immigrants in America. An old American asking a Senegalese taxi driver to take him to a rendezvous to commit suicide, echoes Kiarostami's Palm d'Or winner, The Taste of Cherry; but Bahrani offers a different interpretation of the concept, and a different ending. Believe it or not, the only reason I'm giving this a Mojo, is because the final glance between the two main characters at end of the movie still haunts me as I write this review. Maybe because I'm always bewildered by a person who "decides" to die.

(Check out Ebert's review, for interesting facts about the two actors' background.)

Mo says:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Served the King of England (2006)

Director: Jiri Menzel. Cast: Ivan Barnev, Oldrich Kaiser. 120 min. Rated R. Czech Republic/Slovakia. Comedy.

A celebration of beauty. This movie boasts whatever mundane element you may consider "beautiful", without becoming excessive or vulgar. And since there's always a very fine line between beauty and vulgarity, the filmmakers do an impressive balancing act to keep the film on track. The last time I felt this way, was when I watched Cinema Paradiso, but the way the movie maintains a colorful attitude in the face of dark situations, reminds of Life is Beautiful. Watch this if you're looking for something different. Very different.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Amreeka (2009)

Director: Cherien Dabis. Cast: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Joseph Ziegler. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Being an Iranian-American, I wouldn't consider myself an "immigrant", but in illustrating the first few nights of coming here from a Middle Eastern country, Amreeka is right on. The movie humbly requests the audience to be more considerate towards "foreigners" (after all, they have a very good reason to be here), and orders those who have already landed here only one thing: Be strong. After watching this, you'll be convinced that quarrels between governments does not necessarily translate to quarrels between their peoples. (Actually sometimes, I feel these animosities brings the peoples closer.)

Mo says:

Two small notes ...

Dear Readers,

I've gotten a few suggestions for MoBlog by some friends. So here are some notes:

1. From now on I'll be adding the movie genre to the end of the movie info. Since I've been giving a summarized version of the reviews, I guess adding the movie genre would help readers choose which movie they may enjoy watching.

2. Since I have a few Iranian readers, I don't mind if you want to post your comments in Farsi.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

State of Play (2009)

Director: Kevin MacDonald. Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis. 127 min. Rated PG-13. Political/Thriller.

When a movie boasts so many interesting actors at every corner, and is made by a director who has "The Last King of Scotland" and "One Day in September" in his dossier, you obviously expect more. Don't get me wrong - "State of Play" is as intriguing as political thrillers get, and you'll be intently listening to every line of dialogue to keep up with the pace. But in the end, I was a little confused: Was this a movie inspired by and in condemnation of the Iraq Blackwater scandal, or about the value of newspaper over blogging?

Mo says:

Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)

Director: Matt Tyrnauer. Cast: Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti, Giorgio Armani, Gwyneth Paltrow, Claudia Schiffer, Donatella Versace. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

Believe me, I have no clue about the fashion world, and the fact that the fashion guru Valentino had retired two years ago was news to me. Call me a socialist, but I find some aspects of the capitalist life (brushing your dogs' teeth?!) disgusting. Watching the life and times of this most famous of all fashion designers wasn't boring, but for a more honest behind-the-scenes look at the fashion world, I would recommend Robert Altman's "Pret-a-Porter" (1994) - even though that is not a documentary.

Mo says:

The Uninvited (2009)

Director(s): Charles & Thomas Guard. Cast: Emily Browning, David Strathairn, Elizabeth Banks. 87 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

I generally stay away from movies that start with the line: "I love you, and I have a condom"; but being a sucker for horror movies, I reluctantly stayed on. I'm glad I did. Although the movie suffers from weak direction, it has a very surprising ending. You'll be guessing the story's mystery one way or the other, but I defy you to be able to guess correctly, even though the clues are there. Since the trick ending is duplicated from other films, I wouldn't give it a Mojo, but as a small weekend movie, it's worth the experience.

Mo says:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Dieter Dengler, Werner Herzog (narrator). 80 min. Documentary.

It happens every single time: when I watch a documentary by the great Herzog, I go into a trance. It happened in "Grizzly Man", it happened in "Encounters at the End of the World", and it happened again here. Herzog's static camera and his own mesmerizing German accent always gives the film a crude, straight-to-the-fact directness. Herzog's favorite "man against nature" theme successfully repeats itself here, telling the true story of a Vietnam POW. Apparently the story was so engaging, Herzog dramatized it in "Rescue Dawn" (2006), with Christian Bale in the lead.

PS: If you ever watch it, make sure you wait till the end of the end credits.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pale Rider (1985)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Carrie Snodgress, Chris Penn, Richard Kiel. 115 min. Rated R. Western.

I have yet to see a Clint Eastwood western I haven't enjoyed. The quiet "Man With No Name" formula always seems to work, and "Pale Rider" is no exception. Not sure if Eastwood gave the spaghetti western its insidious attraction, or vice-versa, but apparently whatever Eastwood decides for a western becomes the rule - to the point that even his magenta-colored coat is likable. Only major problem: a very interesting and cunning villain is created throughout the film, but doesn't get the glamorous ending he deserves. And I was really curious to know what was hiding behind the Preacher's collar.

Mo says:

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy. 123 min. Rated R. Action/Thriller.

Eastwood has been the director of our dreams for the past 10 years, but he has had some misses in his profile, and this is one of them. Big miss. Advertised as having "some of the most exciting mountain-climbing sequences ever filmed", the movie's real mountain climbing doesn't start till minute 94 (yes, I was checking). When it comes to mountains, I admit I've been raised on "Cliffhanger"-like experiences, but I enjoy the paranoia-driven 70s movies - I find them somewhat funny. But the heroes and villains here aren't funny; they're just plain farcical.

Mo says: