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: