Sunday, January 30, 2011

The American (2010)

Director: Anton Corbijn. Cast: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten. 105 min. Rated R. Thriller.

A meditative look into the day-to-day life of an assassin. If the movie's slow pace bores you, you're missing the point - because it wouldn't make sense even for a killer's life to be action-packed 24/7. Like The Professional/Leon, another great movie on the same subject, expression of emotion is the only factor that spells doom for a hired killer, and "Mr. Butterfly" here is no exception (remember that name; it plays a pivotal role in the story). Another mysterious piece of cinema, in which the rhythme and beautiful visuals (and Clooney's acting) almost put me into a trance.

Mo says:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Time That Remains (2009)

Director: Elia Suleiman. Cast: Saleh Bakri, Elia Suleiman. 109 min. UK/Italy/Belgium/France. Drama.

Bitter satire of the 60-year Arab-Israeli conflict, seen through Palestinian eyes. Early on, what the Zionists are doing to Palestinians are not dissimilar to what we've heard Nazis have done to them - but later as decades pass, the Palestinian community falls into submission and utter despair: the mute hopeless youth entertain themselves with petty activities such as karaoke, and the suicidal old cling on to their fossilized, idiotic logic on how to change things. The social correlates to people whose country has been "occupied" by a brutal force (such as in Iran), are more than a few. Beautiful cinematography.

(Favorite dialogue: The Israeli soldiers hold a gun to the Palestinian's head, telling him to count to ten while thinking to tell where the hidden guns are, before he blows his brains out. The Palestinian says: "Ten.")

Mo says:

Nowhere Boy (2009)

Director: Sam Taylor-Wood. Cast: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff. 98 min. Rated R. UK/Canada. Drama.

What happens here is what I was worried might happen. You have a movie about John Lennon's teenage years in 1950's Liverpool and the hell his family brought upon him, but if you take the name Lennon away from the character, there's not much of an excuse for a movie. It would be just like any other soap opera. So watch this only if you're a Beatles fan, to get an idea why Lennon had such a sarcastic personality later in life. But this is not groundbreaking cinema.

Mo says:

Devil (2010)

Director: John Erick Dowdle. Cast: Chris Messina, Jenny O'Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Matt Craven. 80 min. Horror.

After directing several hideous flops, each worse than the last, storywriter M. Night Shyamalan provides hope here that maybe he hasn't forgotten the storytelling roots that made him so interesting in the first place. The story of five people stuck in an elevator, one of them probably being the devil, may sound idiotic - but there is a nice blend of spiritual and material elements, a touch of horror, and a surprise ending which was a trademark of Shyamalan's earlier admirable works (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable). Nice weekend treat.

Mo says:

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Top 10 Movies of 2010

The Oscar nominees will be announced tomorrow morning, so here goes the annual tradition: My top 10 favorite movies of the past year, with apologies to incredible pieces like The Town, How to Train Your Dragon, Rabbit Hole, and Inside Job, for not making the top 10.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

1. Another Year

2. Black Swan

3. Buried

4. Cyrus

5. Inception

6. The Kids Are All Right

7. The King's Speech

8. Shutter Island

9. The Social Network

10. Toy Story 3

And my favorite movie of 2010, is Inception. The concepts mentioned in the film were too overwhelming. Too overpowering for any other movie daring to compete - at least in my mind.

For second place, believe it or not, I'm going for Toy Story 3.

So Oscar night ... here we come!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another Year (2010)

Director: Mike Leigh. Cast: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Peter Wight, David Bradley, Imelda Staunton. 129 min. Rated PG-13. UK. Drama.

Leigh, like Eastwood, seems to get better every year, and like Altman, has a strange expertise in making everyday life incredibly interesting. Broadbent and Sheen ("Tom and Gerri") are an adorable old couple, the sunshine in the lives of people around them - lives drowning in neuroses, depression, instability, and death. You'll watch this and get distracted several times throughout, thinking: "I know one of those people!" The most colorful character is played by Lesley Manville, a fragile extrovert lost in denial. Huge shame if she isn't nominated this Tuesday for a Supporting Actress Oscar (I'm rooting for a win).

Mo says:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Director: Oliver Stone. Cast: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Eli Wallach. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Is there some kind of Stallone syndrome going on? Because I'm not sure what the point of making this sequel was. Oliver Stone has rehashed the same elements of the original 1987 movie, only this time producing it lower quality. Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko is substituted by a weaker Josh Brolin, and the dizzying financial goings-on that made the original memorable are just here as an excuse to provide contrast to some cheesy teary-eyed melodrama. When Gekko finally combs back his hair and says: "Gordon Gekko is back!", we expect him to be, but he's not. What a bummer.

PS #1: What's up with Shia LaBeouf, trying to replace cinema icons? First it was Indiana Jones, now it's Gordon Gekko.

PS #2: I hope Eli Wallach never dies.

Mo says:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blue Valentine (2010)

Director: Derek Cianfrance. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka, John Doman. 112 min. Rated R. Drama.

The formation and disintegration of a male-female relationship, told through flashbacks and flash-forwards in documentary-style closeup; sometimes boring, sometimes sadistic. The movie predominantly shows the male side as the villain, and the female as the victim. I was planning on giving this a Soso, but then thought - wait a minute. The girl left the fence open for the dog to run out. The girl lured the boy in. The girl promiscuously got pregnant. The girl stopped the abortion. Rash behavior by the guy, as a result of being victimized by the girl. And the girl plays innocent all along.

(Favorite scene: Gosling idiotically plays and sings, while Williams idiotically dances, in the street.)

Mo says:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rabbit Hole (2010)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell. Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh. 91 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

I don't recall seeing such a tragic movie - ever. Yes, it's a tearjerker, but the emotional depth here is so profound, you'll sympathize with every minute to the core. Kidman and Eckhart play the grief-stricken parents of a recently lost 4-year old son, and there's no one to blame for the tragedy. The story slowly unfolds with astounding honesty, avoiding every cliche it could have fallen into, making the pain tangible as the characters cope with the devastation. It's just too real. And I can't imagine where we would be without Nicole Kidman.

Mo says:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Countdown to Zero (2010)

Director: Lucy Walker. 91 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

Like An Inconvenient Truth, this is a documentary you owe yourself to see. This incredibly discomforting film shows how many times by "accident", "miscalculation" or "madness", during the past 20 years we almost met total nuclear annihilation. Which leads the viewer to one conclusion: the need for complete nuclear disarmament throughout the world. But as opposed to An Inconvenient Truth, the solutions offered at the end are not feasible by the common man. After all, what can I do about it? Other than raising awareness, which this film does quite well.

Mo says:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cropsey (2009)

Director(s): Barbara Brancaccio, Joshua Zeman. 84 min. Documentary.

Staten Island, probably the biggest "dump" ever (of garbage, patients, psychos, you name it) becomes the inevitable breeding ground for a society that creates a folklore serial killer - and then looks for its human embodiment. A series of child abduction and murders in the 70s is the core of this creepy documentary, not necessarily focusing on who committed the crimes (although there is a central culprit here), but rather the psychosocial mentality that surrounds them. Crude evidence doesn't really matter; to determine a person's guilt, it mainly depends on who the witnesses are and where they're coming from.

Mo says:

Despicable Me (2010)

Director(s): Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud. Voices: Steve Carrell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnet, Kristen Wiig. 95 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Either Pixar has spoiled us ... or this is just too shallow. An eagle-nosed Russian with an obsession for becoming the greatest super-villain ever succumbs to the oh-so-cuteness of three little orphans. Almost every single joke falls flat on the face (and the sad part is, it feels as though the writers thought they were funny), and the story is devoid of any dramatic depth. There's no question the computer animation technique here is top-notch, but I was disappointed by the number of times I looked at my watch.

Mo says:

Salt (2010)

Director: Philip Noyce. Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor. 100 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Thriller.

has two halves, in both of which story logic is sacrificed for good action sequences. In the first, a Russian defector tells Jolie in the middle of a CIA complex with tens of cameras on him, that she's actually a sleeper spy. Wasn't there anywhere worse for him to say that? In the second half, Jolie is out on incredible missions, but we're clueless whose side she's on, so we're confused whether to root for her or not. The ending paves the way for a sequel using such idiotic story contraptions, you're back to square one: good action sequences.

PS: I can't believe this is the same person who directed Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.

Mo says:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Perfect Getaway (2009)

Director: David Twohy. Cast: Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez, Marley Shelton, Chris Hemsworth.

This is a very dishonest film, and I despise dishonest films. It is focused around a mid-movie story twist, which could have been a very interesting plot device in the hands of another screenwriter/director. But the filmmakers shamefully use extra misleading scenes and dialogue to make the story twist believable at any cost (e.g., if that couple were really who they turned out to be, why were they saying such and such in private?). In other words, the movie is cheating. Stay away to protect your intelligence from being insulted.

Warning: David Twohy is also the director of the two Pitch Black movies. The moral of the story is, avoid all David Twohy movies. Something similar to Uwe Boll.

Mo says:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

True Grit (2010)

Director(s): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper. 110 min. Rated PG-13. Western.

Haven’t seen the original 1969 version, and I’m glad I didn’t, because I wouldn’t have wanted Jeff Bridges dominating performance as the one-eyed drunk Marshall/mercenary to be tarnished by John Wayne’s Oscar-winning act. As always, I adore the Coens’ serious drama work rather than their comedies, and this has every element of a perfect Western: themes of loyalty and gritty betrayal, in the backdrop of stunning panoramas, sprinkled with the Coens’ own sudden bursts of explosive violence. Steinfeld’s breakout performance astonishingly keeps up with both Bridges and Damon. If you don’t see this in a theater, you’ll miss the beauty.

(PS: Curiously, my favorite scene: the strong-willed, thick-headed teenage Mattie, going horseback across the river, almost drowning. How inspiring. God bless the Westerns.)

Mo says:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The King's Speech (2010)

Director: Tom Hooper. Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi , Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall. 118 min. Rated R. UK/Australia. Drama.

There are so many grand elements here, a 100-word review would be an insult. Where do I start? Colin Firth's once-in-a-lifetime performance? The captivating Firth-Rush chemistry? The fascinating screenplay? The engaging subtlety of British wordplay? Or even ... the clever speech therapy session camera angles? Reminiscent of The Queen, this is a movie run entirely by the beautiful flow of words (or lack thereof, at moments of the protagonist's stammering). A good example where if any element in a film is anywhere less than perfect, the entire film may fall apart. Don't even dare betting against Colin Firth's Oscar win.

Mo says:

Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) (2009)

Director: Alain Resnais. Cast: Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny. 104 min. Rated PG. France. Drama.

Chance, or choice? An old man finds a wallet which has just been stolen from a red-haired woman walking out of a shoe store. Is this a sign that the two are destined to be together? This colorful movie creates a delicate balance between portions of fate that are out of our control, and the portions we "create" by our own strong motivations. Our fantasies about destiny-controlling life events are almost cinemetic, vastly different from reality, and the movie literally provides two endings: a cinematic ending, and a real-life one. Check it out if you have patience for arthouse movies.

PS: I have some brushing up to do on the movie's 88-year old French New Wave director, Alain Resnais, of whom this was the first movie I saw. George Lucas calls his Last Year at Marienbad (1961) one of his favorite movies ever, and Omid Rouhani, a famous journalist and old mentor in Iran, had the same feeling about his Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959).

Mo says:

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Director: Banksy. Cast: Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Rhys Ifans (narrator). 87 min. Rated R. USA/UK. Documentary/Mockumentary.

OK ... now this is weird. A Frenchman named Thierry Guetta with a handycam obsession is on the quest to find the most famous underground graffiti street-artists, especially the fairest of them all, pseudonym Banksy. The curious part is, Banksy is the film's director. So when Banksy is found, he turns the camera on Thierry, and asks hims to create art. Thierry goes an to create a huge gallery of Andy Warhol-ripoffs, and makes millions. Is this documentary a hoax, to prove the falsehood of modern art? If it is, it does makes its point in a rather thought-provoking way.

Mo says:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

Director(s): Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg. 84 min. Rated R. Documentary.

How ironic. A comedienne doesn't thrive in hope of receiving Oscars or Emmys or other awards. A comedienne only hopes to continue doing comedy - which tells a lot about the instability of the profession. And Joan Rivers spills out an incredibly honest portrayal of herself, her fears, and her insecurities. But not every performer has the chops for comedy, and Rivers shows in a pivotal scene (suddenly changing the tides against a heckler who attacks her for joking about deaf people), that at the age of 75, she definitely still has it. One of the better documentaries out there.

Mo says:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Fighter (2010)

Director: David O. Russell. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O'Keefe, Jack McGee. 115 min. Rated R. Sports.

One of the most exciting and humanistic boxing movies ever - so yes, it's comparable to Rocky. The fact that it's based on a true story makes it even more exhilarating. Wahlberg makes the huge mistake of going head-to-head with the acting powerhouses of Bale, Adams and Leo, and as a result, the three overwhelm and crush him into virtual non-existence (what was he thinking?). I cannot imagine any contender this year for Bale's ultra-narcissistic supporting actor role. He's a solid bet for an Oscar.

(Trivia: Sergeant Mickey O'Keefe plays his real life role as Wahlberg's boxing coach.)

Mo says: