Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thor (2011)

Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Rene Russo. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

Recent superhero movies have set the bar so high, anything less is considered mediocre, or even weak. While Superman-2 and Dark Knight had immensely character-driven plots, Thor is a throwback to the likes of Fantastic Four, where action is the only charm. The fact that the protagonist is one of the rare non-human superheroes, and half the movie occurs in other planets, doesn't help much in the lines of character development - as the only minimally interesting character is Elba's 2-3 minute "gatekeeper" role. True, I was not bored, but future generations will find the 78% rating just plain wrong.

PS #1: Like any Marvel superhero movie, wait till the end of the end credits! You leave, you lose!

PS #2: I was going to utter my amazement at how Kenneth Branagh ended up directing this, but couldn't say it any better than Ebert:

"The director given this project, Kenneth Branagh, once obtained funding for a magnificent 70mm version of "Hamlet." Now he makes "Thor." I wonder with a dread fear if someone in Hollywood, stuck with a movie about a Norse god, said "Get Branagh. He deals with that Shakespeare crap." "

Mo says:

The Way Back (2010)

Director: Peter Weir. Cast: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Drama.

Apparently based on a true story of a few who escaped Stalin's Gulag, and trekked 4,000 miles south on foot to reach India. "Apparently", because the film cuts short on the details of this humanly impossible feat. Certain perilous parts of the journey (how they got through the camp's barb wire; how they went on weeks in the Gobi desert without food) have been edited out. The screenplay's faults make this otherwise well-acted "road movie" (with the usual phenomenal performance by Harris) somewhat difficult to digest. Worthy of viewing, but incomparable to Weir's Dead Poets Society, Truman Show, or Fearless.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Pope's Toilet (El baño del Papa) (2007)

Director(s): César Charlone, Enrique Fernández. Cast: César Troncoso, Virginia Méndez, Mario Silva. 90 min. Uruguay/Brazil/France. Drama.

Ever seen a movie from Uruguay? Inspired by a real event in 1988, poverty-stricken villagers prepare themselves for the greatest event in history: the Pope is to pass through their tiny village. But the preparation takes incredibly materialistic turns, as each and every villager come up with ways to make the most financial benefit from the presumed thousands of tourists gathering for the event - and among the villagers, a smart trafficker endeavors on making a public toilet. The result, is a sad statement on how religion becomes a means for (not necessarily spiritual) self-satisfaction. A wildly anti-religion satire.

Mo says:

The Illusionist (L'illusionniste) (2010)

Director: Sylvain Chomet. 80 min. Rated PG. UK/France. Animation.

An old magician becomes a nobody as he's drowned in the pop culture craze of his time. The gloomy story may sound repetitious, but watching any handmade animation from the creator of The Triplets of Belleville is a delight. The striking element in both this and Chomet's prior more superior feature, is the cartoonist's power in telling a story with almost no dialogue - and even the rare dialogue is understood without any subtitles. Ends with a poignant kiss of death: "Magicians don't exist." Even though we know they do.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Somewhere (2010)

Director: Sofia Coppola. Cast: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan. 97 min. Rated R. Drama.

Sofia Coppola isn't the most acclaimed filmmaker out there, but she's definitely perfecting her style. Fixating the viewer on a trance-like single scene for the longest time using a stationary camera, has become her repeating method to portray attractive washed-out characters (remember Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation). The washed-out character here is a world-famous Hollywood superstar who is actually a depressed loser, struggling to maintain a minimally decent relationship with his daughter (the opening shot of a Ferrari racing in circles is the giveaway). Coppola is obviously offering first-hand knowledge on the Hollywood elite; but my problem was: Who cares?

Mo says:

Rabid / Rage (1977)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver. 91 min. Rated R. Canada. Horror.

One of Cronenberg's early horror flicks, which in the post-Sam Raimi era may be satirical or even funny at times. Marilyn Chambers, the late Ivory Snow lady and pornstar, stars as an accident survivor who goes under skin reconstruction surgery, but later realizes (for reasons beyond me) the reconstructed skin stabs a blood-thirsty phallic-like tentacle into whoever gets close. If the story is considered an allegory for feminist revenge, choosing Chambers for the role actually makes sense. For a more evolved (but opposite organ) satire in the same lines, watch Teeth.

PS: I definitely have a soft spot for cheesy 70s movies.)

Mo says:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tangled (2010)

Director(s): Nathan Greno, Byron Howard. Voices: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett. 100 min. Rated PG. Animation.

As expected from any 21st century adaptation of a 19th century tale, Disney's rendition of the Brothers Grimm "Rapunzel" is a significant deviation from the original story - the long blond hair being one of the rare surviving elements. Nevertheless, this is a 100-minute delightful eye candy experience, with the scene of hundreds of lanterns rising in the calm of the night establishing a glorious peak in the history of Disney animation. Relax, watch the soothing imagery, listen to the uplifting music, and just enjoy the show.

Mo says:

GasLand (2010)

Director: Josh Fox. 107 min. Documentary.

A 2010 Oscar-nominated eye-opening documentary on the process of hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), which like many other environment protection films, you owe yourself to watch. Money-hungry groups (most prominently Halliburton) drill shale rock from the Earth's crust across the US to produce natural gas. The result: your tap water goes up in flames by the flicker of a lighter - amid other environmental travesties. You may want to know more about the process, as it may come to your door soon.

Mo says:

Certified Copy (Copie conforme) (2010)

Director: Abbas Kiarostami. Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell. 106 min. France/Italy/Belgium. Drama.

Kiarostami is back in form with his thought-provoking new act. A French antique-dealer (Binoche) meets a British writer in Italy, and they tour a Tuscany village, discussing whether there's any difference between original art, and a very well-made copy of original art. Then, amid their conversation, something extraordinary happens, which leaves you guessing about their true relationship, as they provide a very live example of what they're discussing. Is a copy as effective as its original? This is a definite discussion-creator. If I'd seen this sooner, it would've grabbed a spot in my 2010 top 10 list.

Mo says: