Sunday, August 28, 2011

Scarface (1932)

Director(s): Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson. Cast: Paul Muni, Karen Morley, Osgood Perkins, Ann Dvorak, George Raft, Boris Karloff. 93 min. Rated PG. Crime/Film-Noir.

And you thought the DePalma/Pacino version was a masterpiece. Not only all the story elements of the 1983 remake of Scarface are based on this original (all the way down to "The World is Yours" sign), but also Pacino and Pfeiffer's personas are exactly molded on this film's main characters - which makes it a very noteworthy classic. If you think you can't be entertained by a movie written more than 80 years ago, think again. Muni's performance as Scarface alone is enough to keep you going.

Mo says:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Deep Red (Profondo rosso) (1975)

Director: Dario Argento. Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicoldi, Gabriele Lavia. 104 min. Rated R. Italy. Horror/Mystery.

A pianist accidentally witnesses a murder through a window (DePalma, anyone?), and as he hunts the murderer, suddenly becomes the hunted. First saw this as a kid, and remember it scared the bejesus out of me at the time - but obviously lacks the same kick after almost 30 years. The performances (including Hemmings') are terrible, the dubbed dialogue is a nuisance, and the plot has too many holes to count, as the killer eliminates victims without the script cluing us into how he knows they're onto him. Still found the fake Italian gore and the mind-screwing soundtrack somewhat charming.

PS: I saw the shorter (cleaner) version streaming on Netflix. Apparently there's a longer 126 min version containing on-camera animal cruelty. What's up with the Italians and animal cruelty?

Mo says:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stroszek (1977)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Bruno S., Eva Mattes, Cemens Scheitz. 115 min. West Germany. Drama.

An alcoholic, a prostitute, and an old scientist are disenfranchised from life in Germany, and migrate to Wisconsin in search of their dreams. But in America, they drown in all the "things" they can buy, and fall behind on their mobile home payments. They're depicted as dancing chickens, moving to the tune of American materialism. Bruno S. repeats the exact persona he played in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, probably because he's not acting at all - as he was known to be mentally challenged in real life.

Great quotes:

Eva: "No one kicks you here, Bruno."

Bruno: "Not physically; here they do it spiritually."

PS: Herzog has a strange affinity for actors (namely, Klaus Kinski and Bruno S.) who were known to be mentally disturbed in real life. Check out their biographies here and here.

Mo says:

Woyzeck (1979)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Klaus Kinski, Eva Mattes, Wolfgang Reichmann. 74 min. West Germany. Drama.

Nominated for Cannes' Palm d'Or at its time, but I didn't find much material here. A simpleton soldier in an old German village is psychologically abused by the villagers, until he finally loses it and commits murder. Ironically, his words show that in better circumstances, he might have turned out to be a bright fellow. It's another presentation of Herzog's favorite theme: man's battle against his environment. And Kinski's perfomance makes you think maybe he sympathized with the character. Or mayber was the character.

Mo says:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

[REC] ² (2009)

Director(s): Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza. Cast: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Zafra. 85 min. Rated R. Spain. Horror/Thriller.

More of the same, not much different from the original [REC] - only this time, they've added some ludicrous religious/exorcism crap to the flesh-eating zombie story. Again, we have a character holding on to the camera throughout the movie while in great danger of getting his eyeballs eaten out of their sockets in a fraction of a second; and the protagonists' goal (trying to obtain a blood sample from the worst zombie of them all) under such circumstances is just preposterous. This is one sequel that should not have been made.

Mo says:

My Tehran for Sale (2009) (تهران من حراج)

Director: Granaz Mousavi. Cast: Marzieh Vafamehr, Amir Chegini, Asha Mehrabi. 96 min. Australia/Iran. Drama.

Filmed in Tehran but produced in Australia, this is a very common snapshot from a third world country, most unfamiliar to a western viewer's eyes. A female representative of Iran's intellectual community is both outcast by her own family, and crushed under the laws of a theocratic regime -and the sad part is ... she can't even leave the country. As she screams into the Tehran horizon, while the call to prayers is heard from the city's minarets in the background, you may find yourself in tears at how an entire well-educated, culturally-hip generation is doomed to plunge into oblivion.

PS: The female lead, Marzieh Vafamehr, was incarcerated in Iran for appearing here with her shaved hair uncovered.

Update: Check out the first comment.

Mo says:

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990)

Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Akira Terao, Mitsunori Isaki, Toshihiko Nakano, Martin Scorsese. 119 min. Rated PG. Japan. Fantasy.

This multi-episodic film from the master of enchanting imagery, is exactly what the title says: a string of a Kurosawa's scattered dreams, from childhood to middle age, inspired by the beauty of nature to the fight for survival to the brutality of war to the horrors of nuclear annihilation, with a common theme of respecting nature. I found the dream of a general followed through a tunnel by ghosts of his wiped-out army the most disturbing, and the one having Scorsese play Van Gough (with a Brooklyn accent) the weakest. Worthy of consideration, but not for all tastes.

Mo says:

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Director: Brad Furman. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillipe, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Pena, Frances Fisher. 118 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

A hotshot (dirty) lawyer finds himself in very deep doo doo, as he's manipulated into defending a filthy-rich punk whom he highly suspects to be guilty as charged. With a noteworthy ensemble cast, has several amusing screenplay twists; but A Few Good Men set the bar on courtroom dramas so high, any court's cross-questioning twist pales in comparison. And I wasn't convinced how signficant the lawyer's Lincoln automobile was to the story, to justify fitting it into the film's title - unless they're planning on stereotyping the character for future sequels.

Mo says:

The In-Laws (1979)

Director: Arther Hiller. Cast: Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, Richard Libertini, David Paymer, James Hong. 103 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Adventure.

Still truly charming, after more than 30 years. In-laws Arkin and Falk (the former a regular New York dentist, the latter a CIA agent gone rogue), create incredible chemistry as one of the oddest couples imagineable, on a quest to topple the international monetary system and prop a nutcase Latin America dictator to rule the world. Makes you seriously miss Falk. Remade in 2003, with Michael Douglass and Albert Brooks in the lead.

PS: Memorable quote: "Serpentine!"

Mo says:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Miral (2010)

Cast: Julien Schnabel. Cast: Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave. 112 min. Rated R. France/Israel/Italy/India. Drama/History.

From the very beginning, Schnabel makes it clear: the movie is anti-Israeli/anti-Zionist. Or is it? Showing the Palestinians' plight through most of the film's length will make both pro-Palestinians and pro-Israelis angry (for empathy from the former, and condemnation of the latter). But towards the end, a Jewish girl asks a Muslim girl: Can't we live together? Instead of a two-state solution, how about a more modern one-state solution, you and me living in peace? The first olive branch is coming from the Israeli side, which makes me frown why Schnabel was fiercely attacked for the film. Pinto shines again.

Mo says:

Source Code (2011)

Director: Duncan Jones. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright. 93 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-Fi/Thriller.

A rare event: a very good sci-fi film. Jake Gyllenhaal is an army recruit who is repeatedly sent back in time through a program called Source Code, to experience the last 8 minutes of another person's life, and prevent a terrorist bomb from exploding the train that person was on. The catch: he gets involved with the person's companion, and tries to reconcile with his own father, during those 8 minutes. That's what separates this from any other sci-fi film: it has a heart. Ideal for weekend entertainment.

PS: With this and Moon his only two features, Duncan Jones is proving his expertise in emotionally charged sci-fi flicks.

Mo says:

Swamp Thing (1982)

Director: Wes Craven. Cast: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, David Hess. 91 min. Rated PG. Horror.

Cheesy fun B-movie classic, about a man-plant monster who is the result of a scientific experiment gone wrong, and displays delightfully terrible makeup effects. But to be honest, I'm not sure if the whole movie was about the monster, or the monster's love interest Adrienne Barbeau (John Carpenter's wife at the time) in a very crucial scene - namely, the scene that was edited out in the newer cleaned-up version. You be the judge.

PS: Debating whether to watch the sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing (1989).
Mo says:

Last Train Home (2009)

Director: Lixin Fan. 85 min. Canada/China/UK. Documentary.

Each year millions of Chinese workers struggle to get home from distant places in time for New Year, creating the largest human migration of our times. But it's not as simple as that. The absence of parents from home throughout the year leads to an almost complete disconnect between older and younger generations, culminating in a heartbreaking scene where a teenage daughter breaks into a fistfight with her dad, just because he's never had a role in her upbringing (and I think she has a point). Considering the extreme respect Asian cultures have for elders, the message is quite poignant.

PS: This documentary won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and Ebert named it as one of 2010's top 10 documentaries.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Insidious (2010)

Director: James Wan. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye. 103 min. Rated PG-13. Horror/Thriller.

Paranormal Activity meets The Amityville Horror meets Ghostbusters ... with Darth Maul as the main villain. From the director of Saw and produced by the creator of Paranormal, this classic ghost story follows a bell-shaped curve: starts with a few cheap throwaway scares, halfway through peaks to some very intriguing spiritual fanfare, and towards ends offers a few cheesy moments. But still, I was impressed that even nowadays the filmmakers could tell a fairly decent haunted house story. This is a fun scary movie, which deserves at least a borderline Mojo.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Director: Rupert Wyatt. Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox. 105 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-Fi/Thriller.

We finally learn how apes got smarter than humans, and Charlton Heston got into that whole mess so many years ago. Franco develops a serum to improve cognitive functions in Alzheimer's, but tests it on primates, and sees their IQs going sky-high. If he'd watched any man-playing-God movie (Terminator, Jurassic Park, Deep Blue Sea), he'd known this'll end in no good. But he's in such denial (Spoiler Alert!), he ultimately seems to believe the apes deserve to run the planet. Wild camerawork, mind-blowing ape SFX, and a well-synchronized soundtrack, make this incredibly entertaining - but don't expect any engrossing afterthoughts.

PS: Or maybe I just don't like James Franco.

Mo says:

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Woody Allen, Carrie Fisher, Max Von Sydow, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, J.T. Walsh, John Turturro, Daniel Stern, Richard Jenkins, Sam Waterston. 103 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Romance.

Heralded as one of Allen's best; but I've seen much better by him. The story of three sisters (Farrow, Hershey, Weist) and their cross-matching husbands/lovers is narrated in parallel to the story of Allen's own neurotic persona in search of a God (or lack thereof) - but I was never convinced what the connection between the two stories was, other than lengthening movie time or providing an opportunity for Allen's forever-welcome comedic presence. Makes you wish he acted more often.

PS: Older readers may disagree, but compared to the Woody Allen of the 70s and 80s (Annie Hall and Manhattan included), I find the Allen of the new century (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point, Midnight in Paris) much more interesting.

Mo says: