Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Director: Ruggero Deodato. Cast: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen. 95 min. Unrated. Italy. Horror.

One of the most famous Grindhouse gorefest classics of all time. Before The Blair Witch Project, an American professor went deep into the Amazon jungle to find traces of four youngsters who vanished there two months prior ... and instead finds the films they took before getting devoured by cannibals. By today's standards, the (real) animal brutality depicted here is much more repulsive than the (clearly staged) human brutality - especially the turtle killing scene. The "I wonder who the real cannibals are" message would be considered quite cliche nowadays, even if it was implied here first.

(PS: Death-Face, if you haven't seen this already, you may get a kick out of it - although it's categorized as one of UK's banned "Video Nasties".)

Mo says:

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Director: Nathan Juran. Cast: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers. 65 min. Sci-Fi.

One of the most famous cult classics of all time. Must have been poignant in its time for feminist and female rebellion messages, but watching it today, you'd be thankful for all the CGI effects we have available. Still, a delight to watch, reminding of the Godzilla movies you watched as a kid, making you think how easy getting entertained was not too long ago. It's only one hour Instant Viewing on Netflix! Give it a try.

Mo says:

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)

Director: Ray Muller. 180 min. France/UK/Germany/Belgium. Documentary.

Riefenstahl, the greatest female director ever, was banned from making films for half a century in Europe, for making one of the best documentaries ever (Triumph of the Will) at the service of the Nazis. Later known for her blatant lies in her own defense (demonstrated here with great expertise by showing her contradicting behind-the-scenes personality), at age 90, she does make a near-convincing case of separating superb art from political propaganda. But is art completely independent from its content? You be the judge. This would have benefited from cutting out a full hour, and therefore gets a Soso.

Mo says:

Greenberg (2010)

Director: Noah Baumbach. Cast: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rhys Ifans. 107 min. Rated R. Drama.

Rule: Comedians' best films are their serious dramas (Williams in Awakenings, Carrey in Man on the Moon, Sandler in Spanglish). Greenberg shows Stiller's serious side, and the result is remarkable. As a morose loner who hates everybody and everything (even himself), he initially portrays an offensive loser, but then you realize he's really not that far off, as some of what he says touches a nerve - reminiscent of the "insane" brother (Michael Shannon) in Revolutionary Road, the only sane person in the story. Hope to see Steve Carrell, Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais in serious drama one day too.

(Memorable: "Hurt people, hurt people.")

Mo says:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Made in Dagenham (2010)

Director: Nigel Cole. Cast: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Geraldine James. 113 min. Rated R. Drama/History.

A small group of women in Britain's late 1960s fight sexual discrimination for equal pay rights. No matter how repetitive the story sounds, this is a truly inspiring film that makes you want to make a difference even in your own life - and Sally Hawkins' acting is the core of what makes this dramatization believable.

Favorite quote:

- "What if Mrs. Castle says no deal? How will you cope then?"

- "Cope? We're women. Now don't ask such stupid questions."

Mo says:

Hereafter (2010)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind. 129 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Fantasy.

I struggled quite a bit before scoring this film from one of the most accomplished directors alive, but Eastwood seriously missed here. The three parellel stories of a tsunami survivor, a psychic, and the twin brother of a recently died child make a fabricated connection at the end of a 2-hour long wait, that just doesn't fly. After Invictus and this, apparently Eastwood is finding some true acting skills in Damon, so I'll look forward to another of their collaborations; but as in the case of Changeling, I kept scratching my head at why Eastwood even made this.

Mo says:

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Director: Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Bibi Anderson. 96 min. Sweden. Drama/Fantasy.

I first saw this most famous of all Bergman films 10 years ago, during the "pre-illumination" phase of my life. And I didn't get it. Now, watching it again, I've realized at what profund levels it works. Bringing up questions about God, death, faith, evil, and in other words the concept of doubt, is what makes this an everlasting classic. Some movies are not to be watched before a very specific age, or before a specific amount of self-reflection. Some movies need a lot of background for their true beauty to be grasped.

Mo says:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Waste Land (2010)

Director: Lucy Walker. Cast: Vik Muniz. 99 min. Brazil/UK. Documentary.

O, the places movies take us. Otherwise, how would you ever know about the life of a professional garbage-picker? Rio de Janeiro has plenty of them, working at the world's largest landfill. Modern artist Vik Muniz sees a simple beauty in their smelly lives, and creates huge canvasses of them, using actual pieces of garbage as paint. Watch this as a definite new experience, but don't expect the 100% Tomatometer satisfaction.

(PS: This and Man on Wire (another movie that achieved a 100% score) demonstrate the fault of the Rottentomatoes website scoring system - because obviously these are not the greatest movies of all time to get a 100% score. I'm assuming the system uses a binary qualitative scoring; e.g. if a critic has given a movie 2.5 stars out of 4, it's considered "fresh", or good, even though it only got 2.5 stars (vice-versa for a "rotten" movies). The correct way would be to make the critics review-based scoring as quantitative; if 100 critics give a movie 3 stars out of 4, it would get a 75% score on the Tomatometer, not 100% as the binary system would result in.)

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Tourist (2010)

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Cast: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell. 103 min. Rated PG-13. USA/France. Action/Drama/Romance.

A degenerate piece of junk. Including Salt, Jolie starred in two bad action movies last year, and on this one, the worse one, she also brings Depp (whom I once admired for never doing bad films) along for the ride. von Donnersmarck, who created the 2006 masterpiece, The Lives of Others, has succumbed to making one of the worst films of the year (just because Hollywood does that to people), and Depp and Jolie participate in some of the most boring action sequences ever filmed. Would you believe if I said I predicted the ending during the first 15 minutes?

Mo says:

Winnebago Man (2009)

Director: Ben Steinbauer. Cast: Jack Rebney, Ben Steinbauer. 85 min. Documentary.

Seen those idiots on youtube bloopers, caught unintentionally doing the weirdest things, laughing you to tears? Winnebago Man makes the most curious attempt: It finds one of these weirdos, and tries to get close to him. Who are these people? What happened to them during the last ten years since you've seen their clip and laughed your guts out? How does it feel to be one of them? This documentary successfully answers those questions - but at the same time takes the fun out of those clips, and pictures the occasional tragedy behind them.

Mo says:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

Director: Edward Zwick. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria. 112 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama/Romance.

Confession: I've never believed much in Edward Zwick. Glory, Courage Under Fire, The Last Samurai, Defiance, The Siege, and even Blood Diamond, are all examples of movies that just look good, but lack depth or substance (Legends of the the Fall is probably his only grand epic). Love and Other Drugs is a new low for Zwick, as I was confused for two hours what it was about: Drug reps? Parkinson's? Dirty doctors? Love? Viagra? Other drugs? I came to the conclusion that this movie was probably made to showcase Hathaway's physical attributes. Some may believe that's good enough reason.

Mo says:

Four Lions (2010)

Director: Christopher Morris. Cast: Will Adamsdale, Riz Ahmed, Adeel Akhtar. 97 min. Rated R. UK. Comedy/Drama.

Let me start with this hilarious trivia:

"According to [the director], Barry, the Jihadist group leader, was based on a former BNP member who in an attempt to out-knowledge the Asian youths he regularly assaulted, studied the Qur'an and as a result "accidentally converted himself" and became a Muslim."

That's the premise: four bumbling imbeciles (three Pakistani, one British) start a terrorist cell in London and plan to radicalize the Muslim movement in the UK. The movies narrates several of their idiotic foiled terrorist attempts, which are exaggerations of real events (e.g. people blowing themselves up by mistake), offering the film's core situation comedy. But the overall message, is that the terrorist threat is not as dire as we've been told. I'm giving this a Mojo, just because you'll definitely take a side either for or against that message, and be discussing it with whomever you watch it with.

Mo says:

The "Mesrine" Duology (2008)

Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Director: Jean-François Richet. Cast: Vincent Cassel, Cécile De France, Gérard Depardieu. 113 min. Rated R. France/Canada/Italy. Action/Biography/Crime .

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1
Director: Jean-François Richet. Cast: Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric. 133 min. Rated R. France/Canada. Action/Biography/Crime .

A two-part biography of the notorious French bank-robber, Jacques Mesrine (specifically pronounced "May-reen"), who managed to escape prison three times, each time more mind-boggling than the last. The street chase and shoot-out scenes and prison break sequences are some of the most thrilling of its kind, making you strangely root for this brutal celebrity-seeking killer. But there's not much of a take home message here, as Mesrine is as good as any other great action/crime movie - it's strongest (and most attractive) story element being its basis on a true story.

Mo says:

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

Director: Norman Jewison. Cast: Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman. 108 min. Rated G. Musical.

An incredible accomplishment. The story of Jesus, predominantly a tragedy, becomes an exhilarating and charming Hollywood remake of a Broadway musical. The opening and ending scenes, picturing an acting company arriving and leaving the desert for the show, offers some cushioning effect for those who may be offended by a musical adaptation of the Christ story, justifying that this is just a play - or maybe claiming the whole event is just a play. But the more subtle undertone is the interspersed images of the Arab-Israeli conflict, mainly critical of the Israeli side, while Jesus preaches a message of peace.

(Disclaimer: No, I haven't become Christian. I'm attending a workshop held at Stanford University by the great Iranian filmmaker, Bahram Beyzaei, on the subject of "Cinema and Mythology". The Gospel According to St. Matthew and Jesus Christ Superstar were the homework he gave us to watch for this week.)

Mo says: