Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) (2009)

Director: Juan José Campanella. Cast:: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Carla Quevedo, Pablo Rago. 127 min. Rated R. Argentina/Spain. Drama.

This year's Foreign-Language Oscar winning masterpiece is profound on so many levels: the meaning of true friendship, the insanity of keeping your emotions deep inside, the hardcore bitterness of revenge, and even the origins of "thugocracy". One unbelievable very long Hitchcockian aerial shot hovering over a stadium and leading to a chase sequence within the stadium corridors, will have the viewer gasping: How the hell did they do that? And a line spoken by a character at the end is guaranteed to haunt you for some time:

"At least tell him to talk to me."

Mo says:

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Director: Wes Anderson. Cast (voices): George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson. 87 min. Rated PG. USA/UK. Animation.

Never been a Wes Anderson fan - slept through Rushmore; stopped watching Royal Tenenbaums halfway; entirely avoided Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited. If it wasn't for the stop-motion animation, an attractive form I hadn't seen for years, Mr. Fox would have probably met the same fate. But Roald Dahl's everlasting storytelling charm mixed with Anderson's raw comedy style, makes this a somewhat pleasant experience - especially during scenes in which characters look idiotically into the camera.

Mo says:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Messenger (2009)

Director: Oren Moverman. Cast: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi. 113 min. Rated R. Drama.

Finally, there are some powerful movies coming out of the Iraq War - first The Hurt Locker, now this. Harrelson and Foster are Casualty Notification Officers, notifying the next of kin of their loved ones' death, during some unbelievably heartbreaking sequences. The film has the courage to show that no matter how cold these officers handle the moment, they are also humans who may eventually break under the pressure. Harrelson has come a long way since his days on Cheers.

Mo says:

The Lovely Bones (2009)

Director: Peter Jackson. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli. 136 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK/New Zealand. Drama.

Haven't read Alice Sebold's bestselling novel, but not sure if fantasy guru Peter Jackson was the right choice for such emotionally intense concepts such as rape, murder or mutilation of a teenage girl. The film contains multiple cross-cuts between different locations on earth (consider: did you know what was happening to your daughter while you calmly had dinner?), and between heaven and earth, during which Jackson proves his expertise in fantasy imagery. Terrible acting by Rachel Weisz leads to a very implausible mother character, but Stanley Tucci is superb as the maniacal killer.

Mo says:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nine (2009)

Director: Rob Marshall. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson. 118 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Italy. Musical.

Call it Chicago ... without a story. The qualms and dilemmas of a Fellini-esque movie director is not enough to make full use of Day-Lewis' incredible acting skills, as he's mostly sitting in a corner, obsessing about his miserable life. And the over-abundance of superstar actresses is distracting at best. The only element that kept me going, was the beautiful photography (and of course, the stunning choreography). Surprisingly, Fergie's sequence is the best.

Mo says:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Director: Jon Favreau. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Garry Shandling, Paul Bettany (voice). 124 min. Rated PG-13. Action.

Forget the critics: Iron Man 2 is supposed to be pure entertainment, and that's exactly what it is. Not as character-driven as the other great superhero sequels, Spider-man 2 and Dark Knight, but still worthy of praise. Mickey Rourke as Whiplash is one of the most interesting supervillains ever - one of those whom you keep waiting for his next scene (with all his ugly features, I've yet to see a movie that isn't overshadowed by Rourke's movie charisma). And with all the quarrel that happened after replacing Terence Howard for Don Cheadle, I think Cheadle was the correct choice.

(PS #1: Watch for Captain America's shield in Tony Stark's lab.)

(PS #2: Wait till the end of the end credits! There's a big surprise from a future Avenger!)

Mo says:

Red Cliff (Chi bi) (2008)

Director: John Woo. Cast: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fengyi Zhang, Wei Zhao. 148 min. Rated R. China. War/Historical.

I hate to give such a glamorous and expensive John Woo movie a bad review, but this overlong epic based on an ancient Chinese tale, showing battle after battle after battle, has no substance at all. The void of interesting characters and the abundance of idiotic lines (a warrior asking her pregnant wife: "Are both of you OK?"; twice), made me doze off in the midst of some of the most intense battle scenes. If you enjoy interesting ancient war strategies, that's all you get here.

Mo says:

Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios) (1988)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Cast: Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano, María Barra, Fernando Guillén. 90 min. Rated R. Spain. Comedy.

Hailed by critics as one of Almodovar's best, the story revolves around an almost completely absent character (similar to how "Rebecca" is narrated). We're confronted with the same colorful Almodovar compositions about troubled family relations (with all the women on the verge of you-know-what), this time in a more comedic narrative - which I believe takes away the gravity of the story. Introduction to a young Antonio Banderas.

Mo says:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cold Souls (2009)

Director: Sophie Barthes. Cast: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson. 101 min. Rated PG-13. USA/France. Sci-fi/Comedy.

I could have sworn this was written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche, New York); the satire of a "soul-trading" business running between New York's Roosevelt Island and Russia (for unhappy souls, literally), could only be the brainchild of someone like Kaufman. A gloomy Paul Giamatti, playing Paul Giamatti the actor, requests his soul to be replaced by a happier-appearing poet's soul, but whose own soul is stolen and ends up in Russia. Intrigued? Check out this cerebral film if you want to experience the consequences of running soul-less.

Mo says:

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

Director: Terry Gilliam. Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Veme Troyer, Lily Cole, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Tom Waits, Peter Stormare. 123 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Canada/France. Fantasy.

After watching Jabberwocky, Brazil, and The Brothers Grimm, I discovered my severe difficulty relating to Terry Gilliam's fantasy world (12 Monkeys was a big exception, but that was sci-fi). Imaginarium adds to the list. The only reason to watch this is to experience Heath Ledger's last acting moments before his untimely death in 2008, halfway though this movie's production (the rest of his role was performed via a clever story ploy by Depp, Law, and Farrell). Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend this very bizarre reminder of Salvador Dali's surrealist paintings.

Mo says: