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: