Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Warrior (2011)

Director: Gavin O'Conner. Cast: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton. 140 min. Rated PG-13. Sports.

Two out-of-luck sons of an alcoholic father through separate paths train to participate in a high-prize mixed martial arts tournament. So from the get-go you know the two brothers will fight each other in the final match. No surprise there. Question is: does the story offer a worthy ending to that final match? Somewhat. But it takes such a long time to get there; the screenplay has this strange repetitive pattern of one character being thick-headed about a decision, and another trying to persuade him/her to change his/her mind. 83% on the Tomatometer? Could easily edit out half an hour.

PS: Attractive presence here by Tom Hardy, who graced Inception, and is to play Bane, Batman's "back-breaking" nemesis, in the upcoming Dark Knight Rises.

Mo says:

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Descendants (2011)

Director: Alexander Payne. Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster. 115 min. Rated R. Drama.

"People who don't live in Hawaii think Hawaiian life is perfect; nothing but surfing, relaxing, and happiness ... while the life of an islander is just as stressful, the cancers are just as deadly, and life is as complex and frustrating as anywhere else. People think Hawaii is paradise. Paradise? Paradise can go f--k itself."

And with that to-the-point opening monologue starts another Alexander Payne melodrama, similar to (and almost as powerful as) About Schmidt, where a flawed hero discovers the heartbreaking/infuriating extramarital affair of his dead/dying spouse too late, and struggles with the ambivalence that comes along with it. Payne's slow rhythm is anything but boring, as we're constantly dealt the most extreme of human emotions - so have some napkins handy. While Clooney's Oscar nomination won't be surprising, I'm eager to see how the Academy rewards Woodley's breakthrough performance as the teenage daughter.

Mo says:


Monday, December 19, 2011

Terri (2011)

Director: Azazel Jacobs. Cast: Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Bridger Zadina. 105 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

Opening shot: a fat slob lying in a bathtub, too lazy to get up. A most disgusting image. But no ... Terri is about how appearances can deceive you, and how what we perceive as a chip on one's shoulder can actually be that person's strongest asset. Unless we accomplish the impossible feat of knowing people's inner core, or see through all the "pretend" games they play to assimilate into the society, any judgment is considered moot and ridiculous. Captivating performances by the always lovable John C. Reilly, and newcomer Wysocki. Do not let the slow rhythm dissuade you.

Mo says:

Hugo (2011)

Director: Martin Scorsese. Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Christopher Lee. 126 min. Rated PG. Family/Drama.

This may be Scorsese’s first venture into 3D-land. It may be considered the biography of George Méliès, the “inventor” of movie special effects. Heck, it may even be considered a showcase for how Paris can provide dazzling panoramas and tracking shots. But far and foremost, Hugo is about the love for cinema, and how people are obsessed with movies all their lives. We’ve always loved Scrosese’s exquisite gangster films ... but we wouldn’t mind if he makes more of these also.

DISCLAIMER: To fully enjoy Hugo, make sure you watch this 15 minute sci-fi film by Méliès made in 1902, called A Trip to the Moon. (Keep the audio on mute - the added music is a disaster.)

PS: Thanks again to my 32-year friend Ali S., for sending me the short film 48 hours before I saw the movie!

Mo says:


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jane Eyre (2011)

Director: Cary Fukunaga. Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Michael Fassbender, Sally Hawkins, Judi Dench. 120 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Drama/Romance.

I'm not a romantic movie type, but I have to admit: the new version of Bronte's classic novel mystified me. Maybe because of the authenticity of the story, maybe for the panoramic cinematography, maybe because of Wasikowska's captivating performance (an actress whom I'm not too fond of, just because she bombed Tim Burton's latest), or maybe because of the film's enchanting soundtrack by Oscar-winner Marianelli. I don't know. Whatever it was, it worked. And worked very well.

PS #1: Thank you, Maryam, for the movie recommendation.

PS #2: Check out Michael Fassbender's profile during the past three years: Hunger, Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class, and 2011's Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, and Shame. Check out the flexibility. His first feature movie on the silver screen was just 5 years ago, in 300, and soon he'll be the leading role in RIdley Scott's Prometheus, the Alien prequel. An actor to keep an eye on.

Mo says:

Page Eight (2011)

Director: David Hare. Cast: Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon, Judy Davis, Ralph Fiennes. 99 min. Mystery.

Don't you miss those good old intelligent British spy movies? An MI5 intelligence analyzer (Nighy in an engaging performance) stumbles onto evidence showing the British PM may have had knowledge of American prisoner torture camps around the world - and also evidence of a possible cover-up. Take a look at the incredible ensemble cast, and you're guaranteed to become nostalgic for political spy thrillers with great stories, most of them happening during the Cold War. Highly recommended.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Green Lantern (2011)

Director: Martin Campbell. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett. 114 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

Among all superhero movies this year, this was the weakest. Too many aliens and too little character development demolish any chance of creating sympathy for the perils the protagonists are going through. In the face of an all-star cast, the only mildly attractive character was played by Mark Strong as Sinestro (but he's another alien), and the film's message of "choosing will over fear" may amount to something. Sad what Martin Campbell (Edge of Darkness, GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) has come to.

Mo says:

Beginners (2010)

Director: Mike Mills. Cast:: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent. 105 min. Rated R. Drama.

In the director's autobiographical story, a middle-aged man's mother dies, a few months later his 75-year-old father (Plummer, in an Oscar-worthy performance) tells him he has cancer and was gay all along, and he himself is in a confused state about his relationship to the opposite sex. This becomes the central concept: What is considered a true relationship? What each individual defines, regardless of social norms ... or what the society considers normal? The filmmakers wisely avoid answering the question, and leave the discussion up to you. Watch this with a friend; each person will have their own perspective.

Mo says:

Cronos (1993)

Director: Guillermo del Toro. Cast: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook. 94 min. Rated R. Mexico. Fantasy/Horror.

In his feature directorial debut, del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth fame) sets his personal style in stone: a fantasy-like bedtime story, combined with gruesome, bloody violence. A Geppetto-esque antique dealer accidentally runs into a small golden century-old sought after device called the "Cronos", which runs with an internal live insect, and offers its owner eternal youth by embedding metallic claws into their skin. Not only that, it turns the owner into a blood-sucking vampire (smart way to provide eternal youth). Like other del Toro fantasies, the allegory was lost on me, so I could care less.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Director: Seth Gordon. Cast: Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx. 98 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Meh. Three employees (Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis) are abused by their employers (Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell, respectively), to the point that they decide to kill them. Although the basic concept of employers taking advantage of their employees' desperation during these high unemployment times provides a decent satire core, and I agree that any comedy storyline should be forgiven to be an exaggeration, I had a hard time believing these characters to be pushed so far as to commit murder for their abuse at work. Contains a few good laughs, but overall, it's just brainless entertainment.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Buck (2011)

Director: Cindy Meehle. 88 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

"I don't help people with horse problems; I help horses with people problems." Famous quote from Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer, based on real-life horse trainer Buck Brannaman - this documentary's subject. This is another example of how cinema provides a window into lives you'll probably never be exposed to in a lifetime, and the surprise was how the abused childhood of one man could later translate into such gentle training of horses in adulthood. Some moments (such as a horse attacking to bite someone's head off) make this film worthwhile, although the slow rhythm is probably not for all tastes.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Cable Guy (1996)

Director: Ben Stiller. Cast: Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Leslie Mann, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Eric Roberts, Janeane Garofalo, Owen Wilson. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy.

I hated this movie. The days of Jim Carrey's comedic style are long gone (and I can't imagine why I ever thought he was funny), but he really pushes it here. Imagine a comedy version of Cape Fear, where a psychopath terrorizes a family by ingeniously sadistic methods. And the filmmakers, unfortunately Ben Stiller included, expect us to laugh at the creepiness of it all, because they think it's funny. The ambivalent feeling was disgusting (at least Scorsese's psychopath was interesting), and I couldn't wait for the movie to end.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Melancholia (2011)

Director: Lars von Trier. Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier. 136 min. Rated R. Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany. Drama/Sci-Fi.

Dunst is the depressed bride who can "see" things, and around her wedding date, there's controversy whether the planet Melancholia which is sling-shotting towards Earth, will fly by, or hit Earth and end life. So the films studies how people living in their isolated countryside mansion react to these possibilities, and then poses the obvious question: How would you react, if you knew the world would come to an end by tomorrow? The final scene with its crescendo soundtrack is one of the most awe-inspiring moments I've experienced in cinema.

Mo says:

Sisters (1973)

Director: Brain DePalma. Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning. 93 min. Rated R. Horror/Mystery.

Why doesn't DePalma make movies like this anymore? One of a pair of separated Siamese twin sisters commits murder, and a nosy journalist neighbor tries to sleuth her way in. The elements that made DePalma famous are masterfully present, from voyeurism to bloody violence to his everlasting Hitchcock obsession (Psycho, Vertigo, The Rear Window and The Rope are all here, with a Bernard Hermann soundtrack). Add to that my weakness for 70s New York films (this one happening in Staten Island), and this is one gripping horror movie. Incredible acting by Margot Kidder, with an especially convincing French accent.

Mo says:

City of Life and Death (2009)

Director: Chuan Lu. Cast: Ye Liu, Wei Fan, Hideo Nakaizumi. 132 min. Rated R. China/Hong Kong. History/War.

The 1938 massacre of Nanking. This may seem like a mere two-hour narration of the murder, rape, and decimation of 300,000 Chinese by the Japanese army, where Nazis are actually the good guys (yeah, that bad). But it's more than that. This is another example of how the gloom and stark contrasts of black-and-white cinematography is the only option when picturing such devastating historical events (as was used in Schindler's List), and how directorial expertise does not allow one to look away even at the harshest moments. Clear harbinger of Japan's upcoming partnership with Germany in the immediate pre-WWII era.

Mo says:

Limitless (2011)

Director: Neil Burger. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish. 105 min. Rated PG-13. Thriller/Sci-Fi.

In a twist on the Jekyll and Hyde story, an out-of-work writer stumbles upon an experimental pill that significantly heightens brain activity, rendering him a genius in every field - with deadly consequences. Works decent as a thriller, and Cooper (who's always played supporting roles up to now) proves he can single-handedly manage an entire movie. But that's all.

Mo says:

Casino Jack (2010)

Director: George Hickenlooper. Cast: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz, Graham Greene, Kelly Preston. 108 min. Rated R. Biography/Crime.

Narrated in Scorsese's Casino and Goodfellas' style, the story of Jack Abramoff, the Washington super-lobbyist who swindled Native Americans out of millions and was sentenced to six years in prison. But this is everything but Scorsese. Abramoff's introductory monologue in front of a mirror is the filmmakers' copping out of his difficult character development process, and the repeated misuse of Spacey's expertise at impressions makes the story somewhat difficult to believe. Would've appreciated if the screenwriters offered a less "charming" mood (is Jon Lovitz here just for the laughs?), as their approach contradicts the real-life ruthlessness of such characters.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lemon Tree (2008)

Director: Eran Riklis. Cast: Hiam Abbass, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Ali Suliman. 106 min. Israel. Drama.

A Palestinian-owned lemon grove neighbors the newly-moved-in Israeli Defense Minister's mansion, and the Minister wants the grove confiscated and the trees cut down, for added security. The movie shows bad and good on the Israeli side, and only good on the Palestinian side. If you already root for Palestinians, you'll hate Israel even more after watching this. If you root for Israel, you'll hate the movie all together. For my own opinion, I quote from Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator, and tell the filmmakers:

"You bring tension and emotion to a scene that already has too much of both."

Mo says:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bug (2006)

Director: William Friedkin. Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr. 102 min. Rated R. Horror.

Is paranoid schizophrenia contagious? Maybe, especially if you're snorting cocaine. An Iraq War veteran who has hallucinations of bugs crawling under his skin, befriends an abused wife in a shabby motel in the middle of nowhere. After awhile, the girl is sucked into his world, and together they create a psychotic "formication" hell. Mind-blowing acting by both Judd and Shannon (who with all his mental roles is becoming the Jack Nicholson of our time), and some decent screenplay twists, directed by Freidkin of Exorcist fame. Not recommended for the faint of heart.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Life in a Day (2011)

Director: Kevin MacDonald. 95 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary

Ninety minutes out of 4,500 hours of video shot by people from 192 countries, answering a few simple questions, on July 24th, 2010. Werner Herzog has said our world is starving for images, and there's rarely a film in recent memory from which so many images were etched in my mind. Produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, take this as a sign of similarities between people, or as a sign of their differences around the world; but this short journey demonstrates how unbelievably interesting simple everyday life can be. Consider yourself a loser if you miss this film.

PS: This film, produced by YouTube, was appropriately the first time I watched a feature film on the website. You can watch it for free in HD here.

Mo says:

Mo Magic!

Tabloid (2010)

Director: Errol Morris. 87 min. Rated R. Documentary.

Story of Joyce McKinney, histrionic ex-beauty queen/pathological liar, who kidnapped and "raped" a Mormon in the 70s, and denies all allegations in the face of hardcore evidence - believing she was the victim of public lust for tabloids. You sit and watch this expertly made documentary, and think how every single word and every tear this lady sheds, is a very well-showcased lie. Towards the end the film goes on a tangent about her obsession with cloning her dead dog, which relevance was lost to me. For a more impressive work by Morris, I'd recommend The Fog of War.

Mo says:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Director: Michael Bay. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich. 154 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-Fi.

You know a project is really dumb when Megan Fox (of all people) walks away from it. So Transformers 3's fate is sealed even before it starts - rightfully so. But give them credit; at least the visual effects implemented in action sequences here are beyond imagination. Just that there's no story. Or acting. Or sense of direction. What happened to the director of fun movies like The Rock and Armageddon? You can watch the entire movie with the volume muted, as there's no need for dialogue in 2 and 1/2 hours of robots transforming into chairs, wallpaper, or yogurt.

PS: And they got the Iranian flag upside down.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Annie Corley. 135 min. Rated R. Drama/Romace.

Streep is a lonely farm town housewife in Iowa who falls for Eastwood, a National Geographic photographer who's passing by - and the burden rests on her shoulders to decide whether to leave this life, or stay and suffer for the rest of it. Not a romantic movie fan, but I have to admit: this story is very believable. No question that Eastwood is an eternal Hollywood icon, but even his acting in a few scenes paled in comparison to Streep. Still, the movie made me care for these people, and kept me thinking afterwards: What if ...

PS: Thank you, Shahram, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

The People vs. George Lucas (2010)

Director: Alexandre O. Philippe. 93 min. Documentary.

A documentary solely made for Star Wars fans. It very clearly shows why Star Wars is so important, and why it is ingrained in so many aspects of our lives. Then, it shows why the multitude of re-editions and the new trilogy created such major disappointments among fans - most points of which are right on target (although I'm glad the film's only criticism to my own beloved Episode III was bogus). At the end, with all their ups and downs, I'm sure we would all salivate at the news of another trilogy, if Lucas decides to embark on another.

Mo says:

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Director: Robert Wise. Cast: James Olson, Arthur Hill, David Wayne. 131 min. Rated G. Sci-Fi.

The Michael Crichton story of a virus falling from outer space and spreading a fatal disease with crazy features (a microscopic version of "War of the Worlds") may have been attractive for its own time, but boy ... is the movie slowed down with all the technicalities. Watching how Crichton elaborates on every scientific detail at the risk of boring the audience, makes you wonder at the genius of Spielberg who made Jurassic Park based on a novel by the same author, and still made the movie incredibly entertaining. Here, we're dealing with the director of The Sound of Music.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paul (2011)

Director: Greg Mottola. Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, Steven Spielberg (voice). 104 min. Rated R. USA/UK. Sci-Fi/Comedy.

An alien that talks and acts like ... Seth Rogen. But no, Paul is far beyond that. Like Galaxy Quest, Paul is a movie very specifically made for sci-fi nerds like me. And very brilliantly so. So if you're well-acquainted with every scene, dialogue and soundtrack clip from the original Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters, Indiana Jones, E.T., Aliens, Back to the Future, and so on, this is definitely the movie for you; because the homages are subtle, intelligent, and funny. If not, don't even bother; you won't get it.

PS: Thank you, Mohi, for the recommendation. I wasn't planning on watching this.

Mo says:

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Director: Edward D. Wood Jr. Cast: Gregory Walcott, Tom Keene, Bela Lugosi. 79 min. Sci-fi.

If Troll 2 is the best worst movie ever based on RottenTomatoes scores, Plan 9 is the best worst "classic" movie of all time. Books can be written about how idiotic this movie is, with all its cardboard sets, flying saucers dangling from very visible strings, dialogue stupid beyond imagination, and a narrator who narrates exactly what you're seeing on screen. To demonstrate the magnitude of the event, I'll post a few lines from the movie, but highly recommend you to check out the movie's trivia, especially to discover how Bela Lugosi starred in the movie after his death.

Please note that Plan 9 from Outer Space was not initially written as a comedy:


Eros:You do not need guns.
Jeff Trent:Maybe we think we do.


Paula Trent:...A flying saucer? You mean the kind from up there?
Jeff Trent:Yeah, either that or its counterpart.


Paula Trent:Now, don't you worry. The saucers are up there. The graveyard is out there. But I'll be locked up safely in there.


Air Force Captain:Visits? That would indicate visitors.


Colonel Tom Edwards:This is the most fantastic story I've ever heard.
Jeff Trent:And every word of it's true, too.
Colonel Tom Edwards:That's the fantastic part of it.


Lieutenant John Harper:But one thing's sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody's responsible.


Paula Trent:I've never seen you in this mood before.
Jeff Trent:I guess that's because I've never been in this mood before.


Lieutenant John Harper:It was a saucer.
Patrolman:A flying saucer?


Lieutenant John Harper:Kelton, Get down there and check it out!
Patrolman Kelton:Well, how do I do that sir?
Lieutenant John Harper:By going down there and checking it out!
Patrolman Kelton:Aww, why do I always get the spook details?

Mo says:

Bridesmaids (2011)

Director: Paul Feig. Cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy. 125 min. rated R. Comedy.

This comedy makes a dangerous move. It starts out as a very feminine overlong SNL skit, at the risk of losing all its male audience members. But then a turning point occurs: there's an incredibly funny sequence in a bridal gown shop, and after that, the movie pulls itself together and becomes a study of concepts such as honesty, loyalty, and friendship. Kristin Wiig is pleasant and very much at home in her role as the lonely character right out of a Jane Austen novel, but the true star here is Melissa McCarthy, who absolutely steals the show.

Mo says:

Play It Again, Sam (1972)

Director: Herbert Ross. Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts. 85 min. Rated PG. Comedy.

The Woody Allen version of Casablanca. The ever-neurotic Allen is recently divorced and in search of semi-true love, and after several failed attempts with advice from Humphrey Bogart's ghost along the way, finds it in his best friend's wife (played by Keaton), leading to a familiar but hilarious ending in the airport. A must-see for fans of the classic.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Win Win (2011)

Director: Thomas McCarthy. Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey. 106 min. Rated R. Drama.

A good-hearted New Jersey lawyer, faced with the possibility of going broke, stumbles on a supposed win-win situation: he obtains a court order to support a demented old man, then sticks him in a nursing home, and rakes in the monthly $1500 commission. This film has one giant flaw: terrible use of great actors - especially Amy Ryan. But it also has an ending, or better said, one beautiful ending scene, that makes the flaw forgivable. Consider the ending a simple solution to almost all financial problems families deal with.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2010)

Director: Morgan Spurlock. 90 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

The setting is paradoxical: Spurlock is making a documentary about the advertising world, to put the whole co-promotion/product placement process to shame - but is looking for one of those same advertisers to sponsor this film via product placement! And we're the audience to this search. He eventually succeeds to find 8 companies to self-depreciate (or actually self-promote) themselves by this film, and there are some eye-openers on the mind-controlling advertisement busniness, but I found the immense time allotted to Spurlock's search boring, and somewhat ... self-promoting. Nothing compared to his previous film, Supersize Me.

Mo says:

Angel-A (2005)

Director: Luc Besson. Cast: Jamel Debbouze, Rie Rasmussen. 91 min. France. Comedy/Fantasy.

A short dark-skinned gambling Moroccan low-life decides to commit suicide by jumping into the Seine, and meets a tall blond fair-skinned Swedish-looking girl trying the same. Then, she changes his life. Without spoiling anything, let's say this is heavily inspired by Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire. Worth the watch if only to be entertained by the site of this oddest of all odd couples, but I was slightly offended by the direct in-your-face morality lessons of "love yourself" or "value yourself" and all that crap. Still, I couldn't remember a more fitting reason for black-and-white cinematography in recent cinema.

PS: By The Professional/Leon and The Fifth Element, Luc Besson has shown great expertise in discovering new female acting talent (Natalie Portman and Milla Jovovvich, respectively). Surprised that six years after Angel-A, Rasmussen hasn't made it yet.

Mo says:

State of Siege (État de siège) (1972)

Director: Costa-Gavras. Cast: Yves Montand, Renato Salvatori, O.E. Hasse. 115 min. France/Italy/West Germany. Political/Thriller.

Costa-Gavras' political thrillers have this uncanny ability to deliver messages throughout decades, in lieu of the supposed worldwide spread of democracy. A Uruguay military dictatorship uses the help of American democracy-loving investors to crack down on the opposition (holding gruesome "torture classes" for the military and thugs along the way), keeps the country under a state of siege for years (while the democratic Constitution only allowed two weeks), and the opposition uses violent means to uphold non-violent democracy. Oh isn't this never-ending vicious cycle all so familiar. Not to be missed, even if only to hear Mikis Theodorakis' nostalgic soundtrack.

Mo says:

Everything Must Go (2010)

Director: Dan Rush. Cast: Will Ferrell, Jennifer Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace. 97 min. Rated R. Drama.

I love it when comedians play serious drama. Mix that with a Raymond Carver (Short Cuts) story, and it's impossible to fail. A man loses his job, is abandoned by his wife, and ends up living with his belongings on his frontyard lawn - all in the same day. Carver's super-cynical look on American life is rampant again: You're only as good as your connections, and start achieving value as a human being ... only if you give all your "material" away. Similar to Stranger than Fiction, this is a Will Ferrell dramedy worthy of viewing.

Mo says:

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Separation (2011) (جدايي نادر از سيمين)

Director: Asghar Farhadi. Cast: Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini. 123 min. Rated PG-13. Iran. Drama.

An incredible achievement in film making, both in form and content. The director continues his deep analysis into the concept of lying (which he started in About Elly) with hypnotic performances and breath-taking dialogue, and amazingly avoids the cliches that can hurtle such movies into an idiotic lesson in morality. The secret, is that the film portrays everyday common people, with very believable motivations and desires. Don't be surprised if you find yourself among the characters.

PS: This film, also known as Nader and Simin, A Separation, is to be distributed in the US on December 30th. Don't miss it.

Mo says:

Mo Magic!

Heart of Glass (Herz aus Glas) (1977)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Josef Bierbichler, Stefan Güttler, Clemens Scheitz. 94 min. West Germany. Drama.

If you thought the pace of Herzog's movies was slow, you're gonna love this one: he shot the film with the entire cast in hypnosis. An old German village whose livelihood depends on its glass factory is struck with calamity, as its only expert who knew the secret to making "ruby glass" dies. The village succumbs into superstition and the preachings of psychics, but then I had a hard time staying awake.

PS: I believe in Herzog as a great innovator, but that really didn't help here, and I don't care if Ebert categorized it as one of his Great Movies.

Mo says:

In a Better World (Hævnen) (2010)

Director: Susanne Bier. Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Markus Rygaard. 119 min. Rated R. Denmark/Sweden. Drama.

If someone hits you, what do you do? Hit them back, or let them go ... and let them hit you again? In a Better World starts out grappling with this seemingly unanswerable question (and does a convincing job at laying it out), but then descends into cheap melodrama - maybe because it can't answer the question. At least Invictus made a decent effort at analyzing various solutions; but not this movie. Surprised the film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film this year, while better options (namely, Biutiful and Incendies) were available.

Mo says:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Incendies (2010)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette. 130 min. Rated R. Canada/France. Drama/War.

Last year's nominee for Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, is a surprise gem of a movie. A supposedly Lebanese mother's dying request from her reluctant twin son and daughter in Canada, is to find both their long-lost brother and father. This sends them on a journey into the past, told in flash-backs and flash-forwards, leading to shocking revelation after shocking revelation (with negligible coincidences). The violence pictured is on-par with any civil war movie, but the brutality implied would even make Tarantino shudder. Is this a general statement against war, or an effort to put any religious/sectarian violence to shame?

Opening subtitle:

"Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." - Confucius

Mo says:
Mo Magic!

The Debt (2010)

Director: John Madden. Cast: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson. 113 min. Rated R. Drama/Thriller.

A rare heart-pounding thriller. Three Mousad agents are commissioned to East Berlin to capture and a send Nazi refugee ("the surgeon of Birkenau") to Israel to stand trial. They capture and are forced to kill him as he escapes. But wait ... there's a Hitchcockian twist there. No matter which side you're on, this highly unpredictable gripping tale will keep you guessing till the very end - and creates great doubt about the stories you hear from the post-WWII era. Incredible acting by Chastain and Mirren, as the young and old versions of the same character.

PS: You first read it here: Jessica Chastain is the next best thing in Hollywood.

Mo says:

The Verdict (1982)

Director: Sidney Lumet. Cast: Paul Newman, Jack Warden, Charlotte Rampling, James Mason. 129 min. Rated R. Drama.

Talking of insurmountable odds. A lawyer trying to prosecute a medical malpractice case, and every living creature on Earth (the defense, the judge, his girlfriend, ... even his own client!) are against him. This makes for a very appropriately bleak courtroom drama, during which predominantly the captivating performances of its legends (namely, Newman and Mason) got me through. A must-see for any Newman or Lumet fan.

Mo says:

Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children) (1987)

Director: Louis Malle. Cast: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette. 110 min. Rated PG. France/West Germany/Italy. Drama/War.

The director's auto-biography, about two schoolchildren in occupied WWII France, who initially portray as discrete opposites, but are drawn closer together as they realize they share a life-threatening secret. Without showing a single drop of blood, Louis Malle illustrates with insidious subtlety how the horror of war shatters childhood innocence - a message clearly verbalized in the movie's title.

Trivia (from IMDb): Before becoming a famous movie-director, Quentin Tarantino worked in a video store, where he referred to this movie as "the reservoir film", because he couldn't pronounce the title. He combined this with Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs to produce the title Reservoir Dogs.

Mo says:

Monday, September 19, 2011

On My Second Birthday: 10 Movies That Changed Me

It's Moblog's second birthday! The result of the past two years has been 100-word commentaries on up to 350 movies (at a somewhat creepy rate of a movie every two days), and a nurturing collaboration with readers around the world (including a great new film-loving friend: Toast!).

The highest 3 movie reviews viewed by readers during these two years, in descending order, have (weirdly) been: The Human Centipede, Inception and Thor, and the highest number of hits have been from USA, Iran, UK, Canada, and South Korea (then Germany, Malaysia, India, Ukraine, and France), while my only method of blog advertisement, has been internet communication among friends.

This year as a treat, I thought I might add another "list" - a list of a top something I've never seen among other writers (as I did in My Favorites of Favorites entry last year).

I'll list the top movies that changed me. These are neither the top 10 movies of my life, nor the top movies I would enjoy to see over and over again. These are films that contain a quote or a scene or a concept that have significantly changed the way I think, or who I am. I was trying to avoid making it a round number of 10 movies, because that would seem too fake - especially when we're talking about such an arbitrary subject. But somehow, it still strangely came down to 10 movies.

So here they are, the top movies that changed me, in order of date released - obviously an extremely subjective list. I've offered the reason the movie impacted me.


1. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

Another person's narration of an event, has almost no value in understanding the event. It's just a very circumstantial glimpse of the event. Huge lesson in sociology, and how much you believe in history.

2. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)

"I just want to talk ... It's not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first."

And the world has never been the same.

3. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

Too many quotes. Too many moments. But one stands out:

"Only don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry."

4. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

"No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try. "

5. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

"Don't let yourself get attached to anything you're not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."

6. Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)

The bells toll in the final scene: Even prostitutes go to heaven. Von Trier definitively deconstructs and reconstructs any notion of religion.

7. Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine (Bahman Farmanara, 2000)

Dying is a responsibility like any other. Plan ahead.

8. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)

"Maybe their best isn't good enough." 

Not proving yourself at a certain level justifies elimination.

9. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

Your enemies will change sides, as long as you give them a chance to spy on you.

10. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

The power of words for the inception of ideas into one's mind - or the lack thereof to prevent the spread of ideas. Changes history.


I'm sure you have your own list of movies that changed you. Care to share them?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Best Worst Movie (2009)

Director: Michael Stephenson. Cast: George Hardy, Michael Stephenson, Darren Ewing. 93 min. Documentary.

A true amusement, about Troll 2 (1990), confirmed by its Rotten Tomatoes' 0% rating to be the worst movie of all time. But how is it possible to make a perfectly bad movie, or ... what is the definition of a perfectly bad movie? That unanswered question is why Troll 2 has reached cult status, with droves of fans lining up for midnight screenings across the country. The original film's two main actors get together (here as director and lead actor) to revisit how this movie hilariously traumatized their lives. You'll find yourself smiling throughout the entire film.

Best quote: "You can't piss on hospitality! I WON'T ALLOW IT!"

PS: Troll 2 is available for Instant Viewing on Netflix. You don't need to watch the entire movie; the first half hour (which includes the above quote) is more than enough to demonstrate how bad the movie is.

Mo says: 


Circumstance (2011) (شرايط)

Director: Maryam Keshavarz. Cast: Sarah Kazemy, Nikohl Boosheri, Reza Sixo Safai. 107 min. Rated R. France/USA/Iran. Drama.

Hugely missed opportunity. The story of two Iranian lesbians in Tehran, which doesn't delve into their dilemmas as a result of living in a closely-knit society. Foreign movies making it to the international arena usually illustrate a local problem, with a universal message. Here, there's some sort of decoupling: local problems (religious hypocrisy) only locals could sympathize with, and a universal problem (gay rights) that could have happened in any country. What was the point of the story happening in Iran? Angry that I was lured into watching a movie with a controversial subject. And they got some details wrong.

Mo says:

Good Hair (2009)

Director: Jeff Stilson. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary/Comedy.

With Chris Rock acting as the researcher, this bizarre documentary is about one thing: African-Americans training their hair to stand straight. And paying thousands of dollars to keep it that way. Which makes you raise your eyebrows about their motivations in life - and how an average person of their community can afford such expenses. Interviews with the likes of Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou and Nia Long does make it entertaining; but being overwhelmed by the absurdity of the whole process was the sole effect the film had on me.

Mo says:

The Samaritan Girl (2004)

Director: Ki-duk Kim. Cast: Yeo-reum Han, Ji-min Kwak, Eol Lee. 95 min. Rated R. South Korea. Drama.

For some reason, Korean movies always deal with extremes. Two schoolgirls, one a prostitute, the other her solicitor. The prostitute jumps out a window and dies, so the other girl decides to sleep with all her friend's clients and return their money, to give them a guilty conscience (i.e., Samaritan Girl). Her father, who's a cop, finds out, and goes on a deadly rampage. How much more extreme does it get? A well-constructed film, but hard to relate with such a story. From the director of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, viewers may be divided on this one.

Mo says:

Bananas (1971)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlo Montalban, Howard Cosell. 82 min. Comedy.

Allen's fourth directed movie, an amusing satire on how everybody was gung-ho about revolutions in the 60s and 70s. Amazingly, some of the movie's memorable moments (especially the opening sequence, where a Latin America president is knowingly assassinated in public, and the US-propped dictator announces his love for democracy) maintain their poignancy even to this day. Watch for Sylvester Stallone in a very negligible role as a subway thug.

Mo says:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Evil Dead II (1987)

Director: Sam Raimi. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks. 84 min. Horror/Comedy.

And I thought Drag Me to Hell was the peak; while Sam Raimi had already perfected the horror-comedy subgenre he himself devised, by this sequel to the hilarious original Evil Dead (which is also the prequel to Army of Darkness). The insane gore, the cerebral bloody jokes, the "flying eyeball" point-of-views, and the ghoulish enitities who have no business in the world other than just being ... ghoulish, just don't get any better. Prepare yourself to laugh throughout (and strangely, not know even why), and for a very "gotcha" ending.

Best gag: The hero cuts off his own "possessed" hand, and to prevent it from getting away, stacks some books on top of it, most prominently "A Farewell to Arms".

PS: And thanks again, Toast! Kudos all around!

Mo says:
Mo Magic!

Requiem (2006)

Director: Hans-Christian Schmid. Cast: Sandra Hüller, Burghart Klaußner, Imogen Kogge. 93 min. Drama. Germany.

A very brave film. Based on the 1970s event of an epileptic teenage German girl, the victim of an exorcism leading to a tragic death (which The Exorcist was based on), this slow drama easily has the chance of descending into a glamorized Hollywood horror film - but avoids every pothole along the way. Instead, it's a character study, about how a perfectly sane girl is driven mad by religious superstition. The very simple ending scene (and the disturbing ending subtitles) will leave one in a daze, making the viewer wonder how many lives have been lost in similar ways.

PS: Thank you again, Toast, for the recommendation. On a sidenote, you described this movie's scenes "horrifiic". Are you sure you haven't mixed this with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, again based on the same event? Requiem was quite benign.

Mo says:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Little Fockers (2010)

Director: Paul Weitz. Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, Laura Dern, Harvey Keitel. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy.

No story, no new plot, no logical direction, and full of predictable cliche moments which aren't even funny. Tells you how Hollywood money can bring a large ensemble of legendary actors to work under a talentless director (Jay Roach, who directed Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers and all three Austin Powers movies, is absent here).

Disclaimer: OK, I confess: one scene laughed me tears, in a way I haven't laughed since Napoleon Dynamite. The epinephrine injection scene, and only because of the little son's long scream after it. Probably only I found that mind-burstingly funny, not the filmmakers.

Mo says:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Beaver (2011)

Director: Jodie Foster. Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence. 91 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

A severely depressed family man talks through a hand puppet, to distance himself from the negative aspects of his own self, apparently as a therapeutic method to start over again. Later, a form of psychosis develops from his split personality. Gibson and Foster are great actors, and they try with all their might to make the story believable, but I just couldn't stomach it. For instance, how a teenager could go to school while such a father is showcased on TV and not get laughed out of town, was beyond me. But Gibson (successfully) continues the trend of playing psychos.

Mo says: