Friday, December 31, 2010

Black Swan (2010)

Director: Darren Aronofsky. Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder. 108 min. Rated R. Drama.

The fatality of method acting ... in the world of ballet. Aronofsky continues his tale of masochistic characters, as they self-destruct in the path to perfection - this time illustrating the female version of The Wrestler. Portman offers her fair share of method acting , making you guess at times: is she just acting, or has she become a delusional ballet dancer? I'm giving this a Mojo for the one crucial and incredibly-crafted scene, where accompanied by Tchaikovsky's tremendous Swan Lake, she literally transforms into the Black Swan. The image just doesn't let me go.

Mo says:

Tron: Legacy (2010)

Director: Joseph Kosinski. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen. 127 min. Rated PG. Sci-fi.

Considering the lame original 1982 movie, I underestimated this sequel. As a result, it completely blew me away. The brilliant 3D visuals are just extra frosting on the cake, as philosophical homages to The Matrix, Blade Runner, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (especially the beautiful dining scene) promote the film significantly above a glitzy and ignorable action-packed sci-fi event. The concept of a Zen-like battle with your own evil "anti-matter" prevails. Must be seen in a theater.

PS #1: Olivia Wilde, playing the role of software program Quorra, has a shot at stardom.

PS #2: Michael Sheen is becoming the Harry Dean Stanton of our time: any movie featuring him has a decent chance of being good.

Mo says:

I Am Love (Io sono l'amore) (2009)

Director: Luca Guadagnino. Cast: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini. 120 min. Rated R. Italy. Romance.

A Russian-born lady (Swinton in an incredible trilingual role) decides to revolt against her luxurious aristocratic Italian family, and rediscover her long-lost identity. It's all about having the courage to "be yourself", and avoid pretending to be another. This beautifully filmed work is featured in some of 2010's top 10 lists, but I have to admit: I couldn't relate. The drama was too distant for someone not in the situation to understand (or maybe I've been there but never noticed). Fans of Merchant-Ivory films (Howard's End, Remains of the Day) would have field trip here.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Other Guys (2010)

Director: Adam McKay. Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan, Damon Wayans Jr. 107 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy.

A pairing of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg ... for a buddy-cop comedy? Strangely, it works, and even stranger, Wahlberg may have some comedic talent. As always, great moments arise when Ferrell is yelling (no one forgets "Meatloaf!"), but surprisingly, the movie's best comic moments were the ones with Eva Mendes present. A notch higher than many Will Ferrell comedies.

Mo says:

The Milk of Sorrow (La teta asustada) (2009)

Director: Claudia Llosa. Cast: Magaly Solier, Susi Sánchez. 95 min. Spain/Peru. Drama.

Years after the civil war, women in Peru suffer from a metaphorical disease, transmitted through the breast milk of pregnant women abused or raped during or soon after pregnancy. The metaphor may apply to many countries, who somehow hang on to old debilitating traditions, while the younger generation struggles to forget past calamities and move on - shown here with the multitude of wedding parties being intolerable to the young girl afflicted by the disease. But boy ... is this movie slow. So slow, it's enough for this Oscar-nominated film to get a low score in my book.

Mo says:

Mother and Child (2009)

Director: Rodrigo García. Cast: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, David Morse, Elizabeth Peña. 127 min. Rated R. USA/Spain. Drama.

Three parallel stories of three mothers having, losing, or already lost a child. It's difficult to imagine whether this movie would have been as powerful without some mesmerizing acting (especially by the great Benning), as the first half contains very deep drama and strong emotional moments; just to fizzle out during the second half due to some dominating cheesy soap opera. This is a movie that would definitely be skewed toward a female audience - and rightfully so. Still worth the watch.

PS: The film is executive produced by the king of parallel stories, Alejandro González Iñárritu (Ameros Perros, 21 Grams, Babel).

Mo says:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Dinner Game (Le dîner de cons) (1998)

Director: Francis Veber. Cast: Thierry Lhermitte, Jacques Villeret. 80 min. Rated PG-13. France. Comedy.

"Never underestimate the power of the idiot." This hilarious French gem of a movie hurls its wise message with back-and-forth dialogue of such dizzying speed, you'll wonder how its 80 minutes passed by without noticing. And the bitter end of the story is, you'll say: I've known such an idiot before! I've known a person who wrecked my life ... unintentionally! To recommend this movie, enough to say that relaying the satire of a comedic situation is already tough in your own language - and I rarely remember laughing so hard watching a foreign language film.

PS: Remade this year in the US by the name of Dinner for Schmucks (with Steve Carrell), which apparently flopped.

Mo says:

Fair Game (2010)

Director: Doug Liman. Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, David Andrews. 108 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UAE. Political thriller.

Based on the true story of Valerie Plame, whose cover as a CIA agent was deliberately blown after her husband disclosed in a New York Times article that the Iraq War was built on a lie. The Watts-Penn powerhouse play the couple with such brutal honesty, it's impossible to not sympathize with them. But the main message here, is what Penn implies in a short but pivotal taxicab seen in the movie: that tougher than achieving freedom, is the task of maintaining it. Try selling that any third world country immigrant.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Maid (La Nana) (2009)

Director: Sebastián Silva. Cast: Catalina Saavedra, Claudia Celedón, Mariana Loyola. 94 min. Rated NC-17. Chile/Mexico. Drama.

A maid in modern-day Chile, for reasons undisclosed, falls into a vicious cycle of despair, after serving her master's family for than twenty years. This prompts the master to find her an assistant (or maybe a replacement?), pushing her even more into the abyss. Until one day a bystander holds onto her for just a few moments, and then leaves her to decide: does she want to keep falling, or does she want to rise again? This engaging movie isn't about the maid - it's about the bystander. Which leads you to ask yourself: Have I ever played that bystander?

(PS: I have no idea why this got an NC-17. It's very much an R.)

Mo says:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Director: Edgar Wright. Cast: Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzmann, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Thomas Jane. 112 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK/Canada. Comedy/Fantasy.

A Toronto twenty-something meets a new girl, and embarks to destroy her "seven evil exes" to win her heart. This youngter's perspective (literal) comic book homage to 90s video games and sitcoms comes to life by exhilarating visual treats, and Michael Cera's boyish charm - although not sure how many more times he can repeat the same nerdy introverted persona that made Juno and Superbad work. Wasn't a video game guru, so I probably didn't get a good grasp of the fun, but I predict this movie will achieve cult status. Would've worked better if it was shorter.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unstoppable (2010)

Director: Tony Scott. Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Action.

Not since Speed do I remember watching such a high-octane action-packed flick, during which you don't dare looking at your watch. There are a few train movies out there, but this is probably the most exciting - if not necessarily the most thought-provoking, like 1986's Runaway Train. Continuing the style of his recent movies, Tony Scott has a lot of fun with subtitles and visual cues to tell the story, and the incredible editing and cinematography make this one helluva thrill ride. Among all the Tony Scott-Denzel Washington collaborations, this is the best since Crimson Tide (no, not better).

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)

Director: Tom Six. Cast: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie. 92 min. Rated R. Netherlands. Horror.

Warning: A German surgeon kidnaps three people to surgically attach the anus of one to the mouth of the next, to form a continuous GI tract from the three, and create the first human centipede. This one-liner should serve as a warning to prevent you from watching this sadistic piece of cinema. I'm not writing this to incite your morbid sense of curiosity. I'm seriously warning you to avoid this. Suit yourself.

PS: The title implies there's a second or third sequence to come. We got a problem here.

Mo says:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

Director: David Slade. Cast: Same people from the last episode.

I'd heard the third episode was the best so far in the Twilight series. Wrong. It was as terrible as the last - or even worse. A typical quote from the movie, for you to judge:

"She doesn't love you. She loves me. She just doesn't want to admit it."

Or something of the sorts. Watching the final sequences, it suddenly dawned upon me why this franchise is so disappointing: I thought I was watching vampire movies. Surprise! These are cheesy teenage romance flicks. Plain and simple.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I'm Still Here (2010)

Director: Casey Affleck. Cast (as themselves): Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs, Edward James Olmos, Ben Stiller. 108 min. Rated R. Documentary.

An ingenious step in "mockumentary" filmmaking. Directed by brother-in-law Casey Affleck, the film documents Joaquin Phoenix's resignation from acting and his self-destructive transformation into a hip-hop artist, with critics in tears for what a tragedy it portrays. But when you consider this is most likely Phoenix's incredibly elaborate hoax for self-promotion, his temper tantrums and bouts of cursing heaven and hell becomes unbelievably funny. The even more audacious act, is that Phoenix complains everybody thinks this is a hoax! My only problem: Phoenix is not at such caliber to devastate anybody for quitting acting. So the hoax won't work.

Mo says:

Don't Look Now (1973)

Director: Nicolas Roeg. Cast: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie. 110 min. Rated R. UK/Italy. Horror.

A horror movie that is better described "strange". Or eerie. Sutherland and Christie are parents of a dead daughter, who search for the girl's spirit in the streets and waterways of Venice, through a blind medium. The distinguishing factor, is that the father unknowingly foresees the future - which creates a confusing combination of sequences where one cannot discern what is happening now, and what will happen then. Must have been an inspiration for David Lynch's story-telling style. Rare glimpses of red color create a striking contrast to the backgrounds. Many movies have occurred in Venice; this is the creepiest.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

127 Hours (2010)

Director: Danny Boyle. Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams. 94 min. Rated R. USA/UK. Drama.

Based on the true story of a Colorado hiker in 2003, whose arm was pinned behind a boulder, and after five days amputated his arm free. I was mainly looking forward to the ending, to see how the clever Danny Boyle handles the arm-cutting scene. The movie delivers with expertise (depicting delusion, fear, anger, acceptance) all the way up to the ending, and the climax is as gruesome as should be. Still, there's not enough material here for a feature-length film, and I was expecting more self-reflection about life, and the purpose of living. Not sure about the Tomatometer's 92%.

PS: Check how ingeniously the movie's title appears ... 20 minutes into the movie.

Mo says:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love (2010)

Director: Ryan Murphy. Cast: Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Romance.

A critic once said: "If nothing happens during the first ten minutes, nothing will happen till the end." I waited 50 minutes, and still nothing happened. Rarely do I stop watching a movie halfway through, but the utter lack of a story here was unbearable, and I didn't think I could keep on wasting my life for the entire 133 minutes.

So this was my first review of a movie I didn't watch to the end. Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted.

Mo says:

The Expendables (2010)

Director: Sylvester Stallone. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis. 103 min. Rated R. Action.

Boooooooring! Stallone goes into such tremendous effort to gather up all the big muscle men of our times, but then creates such a mainstream, no-risk, repetitious action fare, that doesn't challenge the viewer even once. I was hoping for something in the lines of Arnold's 1993 Last Action Hero, where the action star satirizes his own fame and identity - but no ... the times when Stallone used to direct intelligent screenplays are long gone. Like always, Micky Rourke provides the only noteworthy moments of a movie. I fast-forwarded the last 20 minutes of action scenes. Go figure.

PS: I admit this exchange between the three main hunks - Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis - was memorable:

- "What's his f***ing problem?"
- "He wants to be president."

Mo says:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

You Don't Know Jack (2010)

Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Al Pacino, Brenda Vaccaro, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Danny Huston. 134 min. Unrated (TV). Drama.

The life and times of the famous/infamous euthanizing physician Jack Kevorkian, a.k.a. Dr. Death. The brilliant aspect of the film, is that it neither portrays the man (played by the great Pacino) as a hero, nor a villain. It leaves that decision up to you. And the main question the movie asks its viewer, is not whether you approve euthanasia or not, but rather if the time comes, and you are in the deplorable health situations these people are in, ... would you want to be euthanized? I probably would.

(PS: Watch Danny Huston. He'll get an Oscar someday.)

Mo says:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tape (2001)

Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman. 86 min. Rated R. Drama.

Linklater is again here doing what he does best: placing two or three characters in a shabby motel room, having them confront each other for 90 minutes in real-time, and create miracles. The number of ethical situations that sprout from such a simple setting are endless. And how can one ignore the radiating power of Hawke and Thurman as two of the three perfomers? A large amount of dialogue is likely improvised, which makes the scene even more "hyperreal", as is Linklater's specialty. Worthy of repeat viewings.

Mo says:

Halloween II (2009)

Director: Rob Zombie. Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif. 119 min. Unrated. Horror.

Raw brutal violence. Rob Zombie knows the terrain, and has the skill to disturb the viewer. He doesn't create Friday the 13th-like farcical violence, and doesn't joke around with it like Tarantino. Every scene angle and lighting aspect skillfully contributes to the agenda. He plans it as repulsive as possible, and succeeds. So regardless of morality in movies, he deserves credit, as even I who consider myself desensitized to such brutality on film (not in real life), had difficulty stomaching it. If Zombie's purpose is to show how sickeningly self-gratuitous violence has become, he certainly makes a point here.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes. Cast: Mathew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Charlie Sheen, Ben Stein. 103 min. Rated PG. Comedy.

Classic or no classic - what's so funny here? Jokes as old as the Charles Chaplin days, where the villains foot gets stuck in the backyard garden mud? When teenagers go into all this trouble to skip school, you expect them to do something wild. But no, not this movie's heroes. Of all places, they go ... to the museum! Or sing at the local parade! Or go to the Sears Tower - sightseeing they could have easily done on a weekend. That's quite lame, even by 80s standards. The humor of this film was completely lost on me.

Mo says:

Inside Job (2010)

Director: Charles Ferguson. Narrator: Matt Damon. 120 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

The incredible feat Inside Job accomplishes, is that it makes the 2008 financial collapse understandable - and then uses that understanding to make you angry. The moments of guilty self-reflection the culprits of the collapse (mostly college professors) demonstrate when confronted with the intentions and consequences of their own greedy economical theories, are some of the brightest moments ever documented on film. The question still remains: if the system is legally corrupt, why blame the people who benefit from it? And why shouldn't we expect this calamity to happen again?

Mo says:

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Director: Grant Heslov. Cast: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick. 94 min. Rated . Comedy.

This is one of those movies where at the ending scene you say: "Oh, so that's what their goal was." And as I'm writing this, I've forgotten what that goal was. A friend once said George Clooney's policy is one for me, one for you: alternating one smart intelligent piece of art that has a specific thoght-provoking agenda in mind, with one brainless idiotic joke that only targets the box office (and fortunately fails at that). Guess which category this movie is. But I'm surprised Bridges, McGregor and Spacey were all in on it too.
Mo says:

Friday, November 12, 2010

High Plains Drifter (1973)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Geoffrey Lewis. 105 min. Rated PG. Western.

One of the better Eastwood westerns, with an iconic ending sequence: the hero literally fighting the villains in the bowels of hell. But its the disturbing story undertones that create a lasting effect, as the people of the town are the ones responsible for the hero's deep desire for vengeance. This concept was later perfected in Lars Von Trier's Dogville, where the whole village is (rightfully) massacred. Here, Eastwood prefers to leave the people live in their filth.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Triumph of the Will (1935)

Director: Leni Riefenstahl. Cast: Adolf Hitler, Josef Goebbels, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler. 114 min. Germany. Documentary.

The most famous film of history's most famous documentary filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, a cogwheel in the Nazi propaganda machine. Imagine a movie with Hitler, Goebbels, Hess and Himler as its main stars - and by "stars", I'm not being sarcastic. This skillfully-edited footage of the Third Reich's 1934 Nuremberg Party Rally literally presents Hitler as a mythological god-like figure, depicting his oratory expertise amidst an ocean of followers, and illustrating with chilling clarity how Germany fell under his spell. A haunting image of how even today the media can be used to mobilize the masses for any goal deemed necessary.

Mo says:

Entre nos (Between Us) (2009)

Director(s): Gloria La Morte, Paola Mendoza. Cast: Paola Mendoza, Sebastian Villada, Laura Montana. 80 min. Drama.

For 80 minutes, its just a lame repetitious story of a poor homeless Colombian lady with two kids in Queens looking for cans and bottles during the day and sleeping on benches at night - with its skilled cinematography the film's only noticeable feature. But then at the very end, a few subtitles suddenly gives the story a whole new meaning, making the time you spent watching it worthwhile. Amazing how just a few written words in a black background can save a lost movie.

Mo says:

Re-Animator (1985)

Director: Stuart Gordon. Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale. 86 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Horror.

Typical 80's sci-fi gore-fest, taking the Frankenstein legend to whole new levels you don't even want to know about. Desperately trying to copy Sam Raimi's style of gory horror-comedies, the story throws so many twisted ideas, after awhile it's just not funny anymore. Easily imaginable for this to have had a cult following - but I'm not sure I'm interested in watching the sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990), Beyond Re-Animator (2003), House of Re-Animator (2010), etc etc etc ...

Mo says:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Director: Tod Williams. Cast: Brian Boland, Sprague Grayden, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat. 91 min. Rated R. Horror.

They've done it again. They've ruined the beauty of the original by a sequel. Whatever scared us witless in last year's incredible low-budget masterwork is just ten times louder this time, insulting our intelligence. Yes, there are some clever plots elements here, but I'm still working on why a demon would get a kick out of dangling a toddler in mid-air. As the events are temporally parallel to the first movie, Katie makes a few visits to her sister's home here, but she's haunting even before going wacko - making the the spillover from the original the sequel's only entertaining moments.

Mo says:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes) (2009)

Director: Daniel Alfredson. Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre. 147 min. Rated R. Sweden/Denmark/Germany. Drama.

Finally, the Millenium Trilogy is over. Lisbeth Salandar wins our hearts full circle, and proves no matter how apathetic or how bizarre one's appearance, one can be a hero to sympathize with. The third episode of the trilogy is the weakest, as Lisbeth looks like Lisbeth only during the last hour, and is in action only during the last 15 minutes of this overlong movie; i.e. this episode really drags on. But maybe the anti-climactic approach is intentional, as the very rare moments Lisbeth and Mikael share a scene sparkle like a jewel. Hope the Swedes make more of these.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Winter's Bone (2010)

Director: Debra Granik. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt. 100 min. Rated R. Drama.

Common 17-year-old Missouri girl living in one of the most primitive places on Earth (let alone the US) searches for her crack-cooking father who's jumped bail, to avoid losing her home - and is prepared to confront every risk imaginable. Sound too simple? It should, because this is a profound exercise in simplicity. Watching these people interact and live makes one wonder about the impossibility of survival in such places. But no matter how disconnected we feel, the movie does put us in the midst of the situation, making us worry for the young heroine. In itself, that's a miracle.

(Trivia: This was this year's Sundance Film Festival's winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Screenwriting Award.)

Mo says:

Splice (2009)

Director: Vincenzo Natali. Cast: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac. 104 min. Rated R. Canada/France/USA. Sci-Fi.

What's up with the Canadians, and their slimey-gooey sci-fi flicks? Cronenberg was the innovator of such human/beast Frankenstein-like deviations (The Fly, Dead Ringers), and now another Canadian (Polley) stars in a movie set in Toronto about splicing human and fish/bird/reptile/(I lost count) DNA together, showing a very possible future in which humans create new species, and herald numerous bizarre ethical dilemmas. For instance, is copulating with your own spliced creation considered incest? Correct: this movie is not for the weak of heart. But it will make you think, and cause an urge to wash your hands when it's over.

(Trivia: Brody and Polley share character names (Clive and Elsa) with actors of the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein, Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchaster.)

Mo says:

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny, Udo Kier, Grace Zabriskie, Brad Dourif. 91 min. Rated R. USA/Germany. Drama.

When Werner Herzog (master realist) and David Lynch (master dreamer) make a movie together ... we got a problem. The outcome is neither as thought-provoking as the former's other works, nor as enchanting as the latter's. Not sure how Lynch got the idea to produce a Herzog film, but the resulting concoction of contradictory film-making styles obviously doesn't work. Using Michael Shannon (the intelligent nutjob in Revolutionary Road) and Grace Zabriskie (who stole the show in the chilling opening of Lynch's Inland Empire), is adding insult to injury. Herzog has great hits, and great misses. This is a great miss.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Get Him to the Greek (2010)

Director: Nicholas Stoller. Cast: Jonah Hill. Russell Brand, Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs. 109 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Producer Judd Apatow's formula is running out of gas. A new style of comedy that started with 40-Year Old Virgin, Superbad, and Knocked-Up, has exponentially declined to Pineapple Express, Funny People, and now this. Reason? Way-too-long comedies that keep repeating the same story elements again and again (in this case, Jonah Hill vomiting at the end of a party). Greek has a few genuine laughs, but other than what the title says (getting a singer to L.A.'s Greek Theater), is devoid of a story. Not even Hill's everlasting charm is able to hold this up. Surprised by the Tomatometer rating.

Mo says:

Psycho II (1983)

Director: Richard Franklin. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz. 113 min. Rated R. Horror.

No matter what, Norman and the Bates Motel are such sacred entities, any rendering is a delight. Vera Miles revives her Lila Crane role, and the plot does have one or two surprises. But aside from that, everything is wrong here: acting (yes, even Perkins), story (a Friday the 13th copycat), cinematography (going from black and white to color!), even makeup (ghastly Dennis Franz death scene). You must have nerve to make a sequel to Hitch's best work ever. Why can't they just leave classics in peace, rather than pieces?

Mo says:

The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Director: Guillermo Del Toro. Cast: Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi. 106 min. Rated R. Spain/Mexico. Fantasy.

Like the Japanese, the Mexicans have proven they can make good ghost stories. This one boasts the disturbing style Del Toro later perfected in his Pan's Labyrinth: combining a child's story with some bold bloody violence. But as the story goes on, too many events are left for the ghosts to handle, which dilutes the "believability" factor. For a much more haunting (and enjoyable) Mexican event, I would recommend another Del Toro produced flick, The Orphanage.

Mo says:

Oceans (2009)

Director(s): Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud. Narrator: Pierce Brosnan. 84 min. Rated G. France, Switzerland, Spain. Documentary.

Compared to the 2008 documentary Earth, which lied on a subtext of global warming, this DisneyNature feature is more concerned about environmental pollution, and contains a prominent human element in the footage - as opposed to Earth, in which no humans were present. Both are visually stimulating (the beauty of the blanket octopus provides a moment of meditation), and both movies are well worth the watch. But like the other water documentary Tapped, this one will make you think twice before you buy the next bottled water, and throw away the plastic.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Please Give (2010)

Director: Nicole Holofcener. Cast: Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet. 90 min. Rated R. Drama.

Being frank. It can be a source of friendship, understanding, closure, ... or uninhibited evil. Please Give delves into the consequences of being frank in social relations, and creates a great many moments where a character's actions reminds you of someone you know, or the sweet/bitter memory of some irrational thing you've done. The honesty of this movie made me wish it would never end. A great film for self-reflection.

(PS: I told you Rebecca Hall is on her way up!)

Mo says:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Robin Hood (2010)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, Mark Addy. 156 min. Rated PG-13. US/UK. Epic/Historical.

This was confusing. Never seen a prequel made before the ... sequel? original? post-prequel? Ridley Scott's version reminded me of the Dracula dilemma: If the Prince of Thieves can be twisted and manipulated with such wide variability each time, what was the real Robin Hood all about? (As though Dracula or Robin Hood really existed.) As great an actor he is, I had some difficulty picturing an old chubby Russell Crowe as Robin; as opposed to Blanchett, who works fine as Lady Marion - or any other role. Scream to high heaven: I still like the Kevin Costner version best.

(Trivia: This was Ridley Scott's fifth collaboration with Russell Crowe, after Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster, and Body of Lies. Apparently being obsessed with certain actors is a family trait: His brother Tony Scott is also preparing his fifth collaboration with Denzel Washington in Unstoppable, after working together on Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Deja Vu, and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.)

Mo says:

The Secret of Kells (2009)

Director(s): Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey. Voices: Evan McGuire, Brendan Gleeson. 75 min. France/Belgium/Ireland. Animation.

This Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature is a celebration of nostalgia for childhood cartoons. The Irish story of a child monk in medieval times who is obsessed with completing a "book of secrets" before the Vikings attack his village, is actually irrelevant. The power here, is the mesmerizing beauty and colorful simplicity of old pre-digital pre-3D cartoons, from a time when we (and the characters) had no concept of perspective. Watch this beautiful innocent animation, just to relax, and bring back to life some dreams from long ago - and ignore the fact that Up won the Oscar.

Mo says:

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Third Man (1949)

Director: Carol Reed. Cast: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli , Trevor Howard, Orson Welles. 104 min. UK. Noir.

Another missed classic. If you have any doubt how sometimes black & white works better than color, this is the movie for you - to watch how shadows hauntingly blend in with the background, and become a fascinating element to empower the story. No wonder Orson Welles was one of the greatest artists ever; his sudden mid-movie entrance is probably one the most memorable moments in cinema, and his cunningly fluent delivery of words in a famous Ferris wheel scene is the peak of an actor's cinematic charm. Watch this; get a sense how real movies used to be made.

(Incredible quote, spoken by Welles: "... You know what the fellow said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.")

Mo says:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

No One Knows About Persian Cats (كسي از گربه هاي ايراني خبر نداره ) (2009)

Director: Bahman Ghobadi. Cast: Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad, Hamed Behdad. 101 min. Iran. Musical.

Is this the same Iran I lived in for many years? Where you dive deep into Tehran's seediest neighborhoods, going deeper and deeper underground, to find people playing the most cerebral music imaginable ... in hiding? This community is not fussing about water or health or electricity. They are literally dying for their passion to create art. Makes you think how many other fields in this society are meeting such a fate of "intellectual suffocation" - and when (and how) this bubble is going to explode. Last year's Green Movement was probably just a walk in the park.

(PS: This was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at 2009's Cannes Film Festival. Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist who was arrested and charged with espionage in Iran last year, was the script co-writer.)

Mo says:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009)

Director: Jan Kounen. Cast: Anna Mouglalis, Mads Mikkelsen, Yelena Morozova. 119 min. Rated R. France. Drama.

Anna Mouglalis is a much more interesting Chanel compared to Audrey Tautou's in Coco Before Chanel of the same year, and Mad Mikkelsen has such a silent ominous presence, you expect him any moment to cry a tear of blood as he did with the James Bond villain in Casino Royale. But the main character here is neither Chanel nor Stravinsky, but his wife Katarina, a tragic figure who helplessly watches (and accepts) her marriage crumble before her eyes. Beautiful photography and an ingenious soundtrack work wonders in keeping the drama very much alive.

(Disclaimer: To enjoy this movie, know Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring", nicely featured in Walt Disney's 1940 animation Fantasia.)

Mo says:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Town (2010)

Director: Ben Affleck. Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper. 125 min. Rated R.

Ben Affleck. He's not much of an actor, but he knows how to write, and he definitely knows how to direct. This air-tight roller coaster of an heist flick is so well-written, the story's pace and character development so well done, you will not bat an eyelid till it's over. After Gone Baby Gone and this, Affleck is making Boston a favorite for good crime movies. Mad Men's Jon Hamm commands a strong presence as the FBI agent in charge, but watch out for Rebecca Hall: she's moving up in the world pretty fast.

Mo says:

Moolaadé (2004)

Director: Ousmane Sembene. Cast: Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maimouna Hélène Diarra, Salimata Traoré. 124 min. Senegal/France/Burkina Faso/Cameroon/Morocco/Tunisia.

Simple story in a small Burkina Faso village with incredibly amateur performances and idiot-proof dialogue, but since the subject is "female circumcision", without depicting anything gory, this film will be etched in your mind for quite awhile. Even the movie's symbolism is simple: at a time when batteries for transistor radios are as precious as daily bread, religious elders (mostly men) destroy radios as the source of knowledge at the foot of the village mosque, to keep female avoidance of the ghastly ritual at bay. Another movie guaranteed to spark discussions among friends.

(Trivia: Ousmane Sembene, the movie's 81-year old Senegalese writer/director, known as the first African director to receive international recognition, died three years after "Moolaade", his last full-feature.)

Mo says:

The Karate Kid (2010)

Director: Harald Zwart. Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson. 140 min. Rated PG. Sports.

I never thought much about the original 1984 flick, and this extra-long cliche-filled semi-tearjerker with throwaway characters and useless subplots, is filled with wise-sounding mumbo jumbo and not an intelligent script moment in sight (it's a mystery to me why every Chinese in the final tournament was cheering for the American kid). Jackie Chan employs his usual style of giving objects a different martial-arts-encoded meaning; but admittedly, regardless of his parental connections, Jaden Smith does have a future.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Seven Samurai (1954)

Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura. 207 min. War. Japan.

Is an uneducated person like me allowed to even admire such a classic? And where do I start? The film's engaging story? Mifune's incredible tragic/comedic performance? Kurosawa's meticulous plotting of the smallest details? Shimura's awe-inspiring Ben Kenobi-like presence? Or the film's audacity to delve into some very modern social concepts, while the setting is in the 1600s? A few words from Ebert should give an idea about the enormity of such a masterpiece:

"... This was the first film in which a team is assembled to carry out a mission--an idea which gave birth to its direct Hollywood remake, "The Magnificent Seven," as well as "The Guns of Navarone," "The Dirty Dozen" and countless later war, heist and caper movies. Since Kurosawa's samurai adventure "Yojimbo" (1960) was remade as "A Fistful of Dollars" and essentially created the spaghetti Western, and since this movie and Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" inspired George Lucas' "Star Wars" series, it could be argued that this greatest of filmmakers gave employment to action heroes for the next 50 years, just as a fallout from his primary purpose.

" ... Shimura's Kambei is the veteran warrior, who in an early scene shaves his head to disguise himself as a priest in order to enter a house where a hostage is being held. Did this scene create the long action-movie tradition of opening sequences in which the hero wades into a dangerous situation unrelated to the later plot?"

Nuff said. Sometimes there are movies out there, you feel embarrassed to have called yourself a cinephile before you'd seen them.

(PS: So this is where Star Wars' "rolling" scene cuts came from!)

Mo says:

Class of 1984 (1982)

Director: Mark Lester. Cast: Perry King, Timothy Van Patten, Roddy McDowall, Michael Fox. 98 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

Somehow I had the impression this was a groundbreaking movie in the high-school violence category. Either the film was weak even for the early 80s, or some movies don't age well: the partially-true story is hard to believe, the character development is poor, and the acting is horrible. And the decision the protagonist makes at the end (which is probably the movie's message) is downright immoral. Only Roddy McDowell has an engaging sequence as a teacher who loses it, pulling a gun on his own students. Watching a pre-fame adolescent Michael J. Fox act was treat.

Mo says:

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Favorites of Favorites

A colleague recently asked me to post my top favorite movies of all time on the blog. I've created my top 1o list several times, and I've repeatedly ended up excluding some dear-to-heart masterpieces. So I thought maybe I'll do it the other way around: I'll list the my favorite movie of each of my favorite directors. This will cover my top 10 ... and many more I feel inseparable from.

So here they are. Some will have you scratching your head (Paul Thomas Anderson?), and others will make you pull out your hair (watch out for my favorite Marty flick) - but there it is. It's a completely subjective list, of each director's movie that has emotionally affected me the most, or changed my life in some way or the other. My inclusion criteria was to list favorite directors of whom I've seen at least four of their movies.

Disgreements? Start screaming, write your own favorites, and remind me of any director I've missed (I've come up with 50 directors so far). Don't go looking for the likes of Orson Welles or Jean-Luc Godard; they're not my favorites.


Woody Allen: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Robert Altman: Short Cuts

Paul Thomas Anderson: Boogie Nights

Darren Aronofsky: Requiem for a Dream

Michael Bay: The Rock

Bernardo Bertolucci: The Last Emperor

Luc Besson: The Professional (Leon)

Mel Brooks: Spaceballs

Tim Burton: Edward Scissorhands

James Cameron: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Coen Brothers: Blood Simple

Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather

Wes Craven: Red Eye

David Cronenberg: A History of Violence

Frank Darabont: The Green Mile

Jonathan Demme: The Silence of the Lambs

Brian DePalma: Scarface

Richard Donner: The Omen

Clint Eastwood: Million Dollar Baby

David Fincher: Seven

Milos Forman: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Mel Gibson: Braveheart

Alfred Hitchcock: Psycho

Ron Howard: A Beautiful Mind

Peter Jackson: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Taylor Hackford: The Devil's Advocate

Werner Herzog: Grizzly Man

Abbas Kiarostami: Where is Friend's Home?

Stanley Kubrick: The Shining

Akira Kurosawa: Rashomon

David Lean: Lawrence of Arabia

Spike Lee: Do the Right Thing

Sergio Leone: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

George Lucas: Take a wild guess ...

Sidney Lumet: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

David Lynch: Mulholland Drive

Majid Majidi: The Color of Paradise

Michael Mann: The Last of the Mohicans

John McTiernan: Die Hard

Mike Nichols: Closer

Christopher Nolan: Inception

Wolfgang Petersen: Das Boot

Roman Polanski: Bitter Moon

Sam Raimi: Spider-man 2

Rob Reiner: A Few Good Men

Robert Rodriguez: Sin City

Martin Scorsese: Cape Fear

Ridley Scott: Blade Runner

Tony Scott: Crimson Tide

M. Night Shyamalan: The Sixth Sense

Steven Soderbergh: Traffic

Steven Spielberg: Jaws

Oliver Stone: JFK

Quentin Tarantino: Pulp Fiction

Lars Von Trier: Breaking the Waves

Peter Weir: The Truman Show

Robert Zemeckis: Back to the Future


Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

Director: David Fincher. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rashida Jones, Rooney Mara. 121 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

The story of our times. The world of the geek - a fast-talking, emotionally-disconnected, goal-oriented genius, swimming in money but lacking the skills to maintain one friend; and the pseudo-socializing internet world, where everybody knows each other, but is devoid of the means to have a cup of tea with the other. The tightly-written screenplay will keep you at the edge your seat, accomplishing this feat with mere dialogue. Conceptually, The Social Network is the Citizen Kane of the 21st century, depicting how one dies alone in their own castle. I smell Oscars in the directing, acting and screenplay departments.

Mo says:

Babies (2010)

Director: Thomas Balmès. 79 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

Sorry, but this is 79 minutes of "Awwwww, that's so cute." I'm apologizing, because I'm sure this is not what the filmmakers, who've documented the first year in the lives of a Namibian, a Japanese, a Mongolian, and an American baby, had in mind. It's supposed to be a comparison of these four lives, and the only thought-provoking one is the Namibian baby. But that doesn't merit a Mojo, does it? I'm positive this would have worked fine as a TV documentary.

Mo says: