Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il vangelo secondo Matteo) (1964)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini. Cast: Enrique Irazoqui, Margherita Caruso, Susanna Pasolini. 137 min. Italy/France. Biography/Drama/History.

Pasolini's black-and-white account of Christ is considered by many to be the story's best cinematic rendering ever. But I would go with Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (or even Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth) any day. One point to its credit, is that many crucial scenes are shot as though seen from the viewpoint of a bystander (e.g. from among a crowd), probably the director's. Nevertheless, Pasolini was a Marxist, an atheist, and a homosexual. Best Christ movie ever ... or the power of a camera in anybody's hand, at promoting any subject?

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop (San qiang pai an jing qi) (2009)

Director: Zhang Yimou. Cast: Dahong Ni, Ni Yan, Xiao Shen-Yang. 95 min. Rated R. China. Drama.

The Coen Brothers have only two serious (and great) dramas, Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men, and all their others are satires delightfully run by lampoons and idiots. This is Yimou's Chinese remake of Blood Simple, with a catch: it's a serious drama run by lampoons and idiots. The result of the mismatch is, that the movie doesn't work. Surely, the beautiful cinematography is the only element that holds the film together. But it was expected from the great Yimou to know better.

Mo says:

Iron Island (2005) (جزيره آهني)

Director: Mohammad Rasoulof. Cast: Ali Nassirian, Hossein Farzi-Zadeh, Neda Pakdaman. 90 min. Iran. Drama.

A community living on an abandoned oil tanker off the shore of the Persian Gulf is run by an old benevolent dictator, who loves his people, ignores the teacher's warning that the tanker is slowly sinking, and smuggles oil off the freighter at the slightest sign of an outside threat. So the allegory is obvious, representing a third world regime. Maybe too obvious, as during the second half the metaphors become central to the story rather than the story itself, to the point that you lose interest in the multitude of secondary characters.

(PS: This was directed by Rasoulof, who together with Jafar Panahi, have recently been committed in Iran to six years in prison, and banned from making any movies or traveling abroad or writing screenplays or interviewing with anybody (or probably sitting on the toilet) for 20 years. I guess that makes Panahi and Rasoulof's films important and worthy of watching.)

Mo says:

Enter the Void (2009)

Director: Gaspar Noé. Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy. 161 min. Drama. France/Italy/Germany. Drama.

This is Ghost, on drugs. An American drug-dealer is shot in Tokyo, giving us a spirit's point-of-view account if his life through flashbacks and flash forwards - with a large portion shot from a crane, watching from above. The sex and violence is as visceral and stomach-churning as Noe's other masterwork, Irreversible (doesn't get any more visceral than the point-of-view of a cervix, does it), but the last 20 minutes feels as though Noe is too much in love with his own style, and the psychedelic world gets a little boring. Worth a try for those interested in something different.

Mo says:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fish Tank (2009)

Director: Andrea Arnold. Cast: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing. 123 min. UK/Netherlands. Drama.

An angry 15-year old girl living with her promiscuous Mom and foul-mouthed younger sister has nothing to do but be a juvenile delinquent, or dance. When a mother's boyfriend sees her dancing in solitude and suggests for her to audition ... no, she doesn't win a competition. In contrast, her world turns upside down, as she learns who abused her, and what she may trust as true emotion - the hard way. Contains many lingering moments, but I found a little girl falling into a river, and our heroine pulling her out into a fierce hug, the most disturbing.

(PS: This BAFTA, Cannes, Chicago, London, and Edinburgh award winner was on the top 10 lists of a few critics for 2010, and Ebert called it one of the top 10 art films of last year.)

Mo says:

Dogtooth (Kynodontas) (2009)

Director: Giorgos Lanthimos. Cast: Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley and Aggeliki Papoulia. 94 min. Greece. Drama.

One of the most bizarre films you'll ever experience. An affluent but controlling father and mother imprison their teenage son and daughters (apparently since birth) to an isolated country estate, raising them completely disconnected from the outside world. What is this a metaphor for? The dangers of home-schooling? Or something more encompassing, such as totalitarian regimes, or even religion? The confined world starts to fall apart when outside elements (i.e. a few classical movies) accidentally make their way into the household. The ending scene of this Greek Oscar-nominated and Cannes Festival winner will keep you guessing. Highly thought-provoking.

(Warning: The movie is great fodder for discussion, but beware of some gruesome shocks along the way.)

Mo says:

Morning Glory (2010)

Director: Roger Michell. Cast: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum. 107 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama/Romance.

You initially wonder why old-timers like Ford and Keaton agreed to this lighthearted, semi-predictable comedy about news broadcasting. But then midway through, the movie starts to gradually gather momentum, and Rachel McAdams (as the ever-enchanting central powerhouse) carries the entire movie (together with its superstars) head-on into an ending that is very convincing. Nice to see great actors having fun with easy projects every once in while, and Ford's screenplay-choosing skills are always admirable - even when it involves wearing an apron to make an omelet on national TV.

Mo says:

Carlos (2010)

Director: Olivier Assayas. Cast: Edgar Ramirez, Alexander Scheer, Alejandro Arroyo. 330 min. France/Germany. Biography/Crime/Drama.

Incredibly engaging three-episode miniseries on the life of notorious Venezuelia-born international terrorist Ilich Ramirez, a.k.a. Carlos. The second episode is the story's most captivating portion, pertaining to the 1975 OPEC conference hostage crisis which made Carlos a household name. But the entire cinematic work, boasting a menacing performance by Ramirez, narrating the rise of a violence-promoting activist and fall of a mercenary who drowns in his own filth, is what makes this comparable to a Middle East Scarface. Definitely worth the 5 1/2 hour time.

Mo says:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Temple Grandin (2010)

Director: Mick Jackson. Cast: Claire Danes, Julia Ormond, David Strathairn, Catherine O'Hara. 103 min. Rated PG (TV). Biography/Drama.

The story of Temple Grandin, the autistic journalist who had a significant impact on livestock handling. Claire Danes' entrance from the very first seconds of the opening scene promises to be a powerhouse performance (deservedly winning an Emmy Award last year), but the movie would have benefited from clipping out a few scenes to make it shorter. The movie's message is quite inspiring: "I saw a door ... and walked through it."

Mo says:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2009)

Director: Alex Gibney. 117 min. Rated R. Documentary.

The curious point about this elaboration on the former New York Governor's scandalous affair with a high-end prostitute, is that a major portion of the documentary is an interview with Spitzer himself. So, does that mean Spitzer orchestrated this film, to redeem himself and set the stage for a future political comeback? Even if that is the case, the film is quite revealing (no pun intended) about the behind-the-scenes tactics that contribute to the rise and fall of a celebrity status politician - and on the sideline, how Ashley Dupree was actually a nobody in the whole affair.

Mo says:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Waiting for 'Superman' (2010)

Director: Davis Guggenheim. 111 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

Eye-opening documentary on America's handicapped education system, demonstrating the failure of "dropout factories" across the country, while the American teenager's confidence level is idiotically the highest in the world. Watching innocent children as their names were not being called out from a lottery system that appoints kids to one of the more successful public schools, was the excruciatingly painful part of the film. Would've worked better with a shorter duration, and if the director provided some tangible solutions on how to help solve the problem - as he did in An Inconvenient Truth.

Mo says:

Catfish (2010)

Director(s): Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Cast: Yaniv Schulman, Melody Roscher, Ariel Schulman. 87 min. PG-13. Documentary.

Great concept; terribly done. Told in hand-held documentary-style format, this is the story of insecure people creating fake friends and fake conversations on Facebook to fill their empty lives, luring other insecure people with empty lives into becoming their friends, leading to a vicious cycle; an "orgy of insecurity". Problem: the movie could have wrapped up in 1 hour, as the final 20 minutes is extra. Unforgivable problem: The movie asks us to feel sympathy for these lonely beings during those final 20 minutes. Cinema is not the place for morality lessons.

PS: Check your Facebook profile. If you're having a hard time remembering your 400 friends, you've got a problem, and this movie is for you.

Mo says:

True Grit (1969)

Director: Henry Hathaway. Cast: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall. 128 min. Rated G. Western.

A typically beautiful, rich, delightful John Wayne western. Put some time aside for a weekend afternoon, relax, and savor the beauty of how movies used to be made (and aren't made anymore). Even the corny opening song is a delight. Almost the same story, but a completely different entity from the darker, grittier 2010 Coen Brothers' remake, to the extent that the roles of John Wayne and Jeff Bridges in the original and remake are incomparable. Watch for Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall in memorable small roles.

Mo says:

Let Me In (2010)

Director: Matt Reeves. Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas. 116 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Drama/Fantasy/Horror.

One of those rare instances where the Hollywood remake is as good (or even better) than the original. Based on the Swedish horror movie, Let the Right One In, this story involves the strange relationship between two adolescents: a boy, and maybe a girl. The movie's dark tones are right on target, it adds a few interesting touches to the original, and Moretz regained my respect after the disappointment of Kick-Ass (she claims here she's not a girl, and during the first half, she seriously looks like a boy). Just not sure why the movie is set in the 80s.

PS: I love the tagline: "Innocence dies. Abby doesn't."

Mo says:

Get Low (2009)

Director: Aaron Schneider. Cast: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black. 100 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Germany/Poland. Drama.

Obviously, the entire movie is carried by Duvall's genius. As one of the rare actors alive today who can make an old hermit outcast for 40 years believable, his role as a man devising a scheme to attend his own funeral party is quite engaging. The problem is, the climax is an ending speech where he reveals in public why he's been away for all these years - and the climax doesn't deliver. There were many qualms this year why Duvall wasn't nominated for an Oscar this year; but the reason is in a weak story, which weakens great performances.

Mo says:

Z (1969)

Director: Costa-Gavras. Cast: Yves Montand, Irene Papas, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jacques Perrin. 127 min. Rated PG. France/Algeria. Drama/History.

Made by Costa-Gavras, the master of political conspiracies, this Best Foreign Language Oscar winner amazes us how the elements of bringing down a democracy (here in Greece) is always facilitated by a common tool: thugocracy. Plainclothes criminals, almost impossible to prosecute, are paid in droves to assassinate intellectuals and terrorize followers; and the bitter part of the story is, it works. This movie will leave you in despair - another common Costa-Gavras element, or any other political movie element.

PS: The Missing is still Costa-Gavras' best work I've seen so far.

Mo says:

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Gemma Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto, Antonio Banderas, Lucy Punch. 98 min. Rated R. USA/Spain. Comedy.

This is like many other Allen movies, where you watch a small 90-minute intelligent comedy, take home a good quote or two, and wait for his next. The multitude of familiar faces is always a treat with Allen, but here, he makes Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) shine like a star.

Mo says: