Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Director(s): Ron Clements, John Musker. Cast (voices): Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman. 97 min. Rated G. Animation.

What a huge bore. Disney has obviously fallen behind Pixar and Dreamworks in the animation department. Making a politically-correct black version of the never ending line of Disney princesses should not be an excuse for such a pointless, plot-less New Orleans concoction. What's next - a gay princess? Don't let the Tomatometer score trick you.

Mo says:

The Fourth Kind (2009)

Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi. Cast: Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, Elias Koteas. 98 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK. Horror.

The opening looks like an extremely dumb imitation of The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, force-feeding us every minute that the story is based on true events - to the extent of disconnecting us from the dramatized sections. But then, some actual documented clips and recordings start becoming scary, until midway through the movie, I experienced one of the most frightening moments in cinema ever (i.e. the bedroom sequence). After watching the movie, a little research into the factual basis of the events made me realize again the sheer power of movies to create an emotional response.

(Warning: Do NOT research the factual basis of the movie before watching it. You'll see why.)

Mo says:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

12 Angry Men (1957)

Director: Sidney Lumet. Cast: Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden. 96 min. Unrated. Drama.

Now this is vintage Lumet. The genius of the script and direction is that from the very beginning, when you see eleven jurors of a homicide case voting guilty and one voting not guilty (for the simple reason of "Let's talk about it ..."), you know for a fact that by the end of the movie, the votes will drastically change. But the point is, how those votes change, and how Lumet performs his act as smooth, seamless and believable as you could imagine. The power of simple dialogue. A must see classic.

Mo says:

The Young Victoria (2009)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Cast: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent. 105 min. Rated PG. UK/USA. Historical.

The year 2009 must have been a sad year for actresses. Bullock got the Oscar, and Emily Blunt was Golden Globe nominated for her acting skills in ... this? As Queen Victoria, Blunt does not have the facial features of royalty (compare her to Cate Blanchett or Judy Dench as Queen Elizabeth), and her acting does not have the range to portray historical characters either. The only thing that keeps this movie going, is the beauty of its art direction, and the eye candy the film provides. I'm giving this a very borderline So-so.

Mo says:

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

Director: Sidney Lumet. Cast: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken. 99 min. Rated PG. Action.

I was expecting more from the great Lumet. Another New York movie and another heist movie (components Lumet always obsesses about) - but even the old age of a film and the abundance of great actors shouldn't allow a robbery plan to be so pointless and idiotic. Signifying flash-forwards in the story by weird sound effects was a creative way of giving the viewer info. This was the movie that "introduced" Christopher Walken to us.

Mo says:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

Director: Chris Weitz. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Anna Kendrick, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning. 130 min. Rated PG-13. Horror/Romance.

The second episode of the Twilight saga somehow reminded me of Seinfeld: how you can make a 2-hour movie about absolutely nothing. I'm not joking. New Moon has no story at all. I found the first Twilight movie interesting, just because it gave a new teenage twist to the vampire genre. Without reading them, I'm sure the Stephanie Meyers novels had something to warrant movie adaptations; but if that's the case, this is a very bad representation. That said, Kristen Stewart's repeating dark and depressing movie roles are never boring to me - which is this film's only saving grace.

Mo says:

The Hunger (1983)

Director: Tony Scott. Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Davide Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Dan Hedaya. 97 min. Rated R. UK. Horror.

Tony Scott must have been influenced by his brother's visual artistry in Bladerunner - the dark Gothic photography of the two movies are too similar. The Hunger even has a ruthless blond character played by David Bowie, similar to Rutger Hauer's in Bladerunner - both characters dying at a young age. Having a soft spot for vampire movies, I still enjoyed this very bloody story of an Egyptian vampire in New York. Contains a blood-sucking lesbian scene between Deneuve and Sarandon, apparently controversial by 80s standards.

Trivia: Watch for Willem Dafoe's split second role as an extra ("phone booth 2nd youth"!).
Mo says:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Informant! (2009)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula. 108 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Another little project by Soderbergh. Great performance by Matt Damon, in the role of an absolute idiot playing the whistle-blower on corporate fraud for the FBI, making you wonder this is another "Commie flick" about how backstabbing the US government is against its own citizens. But then after an hour, the story gradually transforms - and saying anything beyond this would be spoiling the movie. But at the end you realize: So that's how people with psychiatric disorders pleasantly ascend to higher levels of the society - or even become presidents.

Mo says:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Clash of the Titans (2010)

Director: Louis Leterrier. Cast: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth McGovern, Danny Huston. 106 min. Rated PG-13.

This is one of those instances where you know from the very first minutes you're dealing with a dumb movie. I was never impressed by the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans anyway, but the remake has such flimsy dialogue and such an idiotic plot (including the concept of Gods sitting up there, entertaining themselves by pissing off humans), it undermines the whole beauty of Greek mythology. Like always, Ralph Fiennes is an awesome villain, but one is amazed what some good actors see in such a screenplay to make them invest their credibility.

PS #1: As opposed to movies like Avatar, which were filmed 3D from the get go, the studio execs actually switched some copies of Clash of the Titans from 2D to 3D, just to make some extra money. To check the quality, I removed my 3D glasses from the beginning, and except for some mild background blurriness, the images actually looked better!

PS #2: I don't think Sam Worthington has much of a future. He has played the exact same inflexible character in all three of his blockbuster hits (Terminator: Salvation, Avatar, and Clash of the Titans).

Mo says:

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders. Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill. 98 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Very impressed. This is not what I'd expected. A simple animated viking story of a boy-dragon friendship, suddenly carries a deep educating message for youngsters, on how to rebuild connections with your blood-sworn enemies: as long as you don't step on their boundaries (as literally shown in the movie), you'll melt the mistrust between you, and make them your greatest ally against a common enemy (in this case, the mega-dragon that is exploiting them). As opposed to the dark movies of the Bush era, we're seeing some great works of cinema (like Avatar), asking us to reach out again.

Mo says:

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (2009)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Xzibit, Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon. 122 min. Rated R. Drama.

This is what happens when great directors fall prey to Hollywood. Why did Herzog even make this? Abel Ferrara's 1992 version of Bad Lieutenant was much more engaging, more well-acted, and definitely more brutal. Dealing with superstars like Cage or Kilmer is not Herzog territory (what was Kilmer even doing here?). Herzog has tried to make this boring cop movie interesting by inserting delusional images of crocodiles and iguanas (going along with his obsession with nature), but the story of a dirty cop with a conscience is not the place to play such art-house games. A useless effort gone awry.

(PS: It's official: any movie with Eva Mendes is bad.)

Mo says:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Secret of the Grain (La graine et le mulet) (2007)

Director: Abdel Kechiche. Cast: Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi. 151 min. Unrated. France. Drama.

Not only a food movie, but the only movie you'll see surrounding couscous, as the story's MacGuffin. The life of an old hard-but-aimlessly-working Arab in France spirals into oblivion, while a mother/daughter of his community use every trick in the book to keep their heads above the water. Patience is required to blend in with these people, to sit at their table, to enjoy their life. Regardless whether you like or dislike the final act, as the daughter makes an honest (but predictable) effort to literally keep up the show, I guarantee the ending will be etched in your mind.

Mo says:

Brothers (2009)

Director: Jim Sheridan. Cast: Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Carey Mulligan. 104 min. Rated R. Drama/War.

After mistakenly thought to be killed in action, traumatized soldier comes back from Afghanistan, and finds the life he had enjoyed falling apart, with himself playing an active role in the devastation - making some wish he had "stayed dead". Some powerful acting by Tobey Maguire (surprised he wasn't nominated for an Oscar). Call it a smaller, contemporary version of The Deer Hunter.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor) (2009)

Director: Niels Arden Oplev. Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube. 152 min. Sweden/Denmark/Germany/Norway. Suspense/Thriller.

Norman Jewison once said: "Forget the box-office, forget the gross - just find a good story". This couldn't have been more true than for Dragon Tattoo. Not much of a deep story, but the whodunit is so absorbing, the characters so well-defined, the direction so skillful, it'll be hard contemplating a bathroom-break during this 2-1/2 hour whirlwind of a thriller. The most enchanting character is Lisbeth, the street-smart punk with the dragon tattoo, who's as thin as an anorexic, but delivers such an aura of self-confidence without cracking a smile, the performance is worthy of award-recognition. Not to be missed.

Mo says:

Jennifer's Body (2009)

Director: Karyn Kusama. Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Lance Henriksen. 102 min. Rated R. Horror/Comedy.

Girl goes on a murderous rampage, tearing a testosterone-fueled teenage dominance to pieces. I'm always suspicious of movies that are specifically written for a certain actor/actress (in this case, Megan Fox), but since Diablo Cody (Juno) is the writer, the filmmakers are able to get away with it ("The Big Dance is going to be an all-you-can-eat boy buffet!"). There are some vague references to 9/11, but the connection to the subject matter is beyond me. The ending definitely leaves room for a sequel. For a better rendering of the subject, I recommend Teeth.

Mo says:

The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008)

Director: Cyrus Nowrasteh. Cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mozhan Marnò, James Caviezel, Parviz Sayyad. 114 min. Rated R. Drama.

Are adulterers stoned in Iran? Yes. Do people show mob mentalities? Of course they do. But this movie is a disgrace at illustrating these concepts. Whoever wrote or directed this, knows scarcely of Iran's villages, because this is not how villagers speak, it's not how they relate, and not even what they wear. This isn't even how people are stoned. I mean, you can't do everything for dramatization's sake. If creating a repulsive feeling towards stoning was the goal, documented footage of the barbaric process would've worked much better, than a slow, glamorized, masochistic recreation. An insult to the intelligence.

Mo says: