Friday, September 30, 2011

A Separation (2011) (جدايي نادر از سيمين)

Director: Asghar Farhadi. Cast: Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini. 123 min. Rated PG-13. Iran. Drama.

An incredible achievement in film making, both in form and content. The director continues his deep analysis into the concept of lying (which he started in About Elly) with hypnotic performances and breath-taking dialogue, and amazingly avoids the cliches that can hurtle such movies into an idiotic lesson in morality. The secret, is that the film portrays everyday common people, with very believable motivations and desires. Don't be surprised if you find yourself among the characters.

PS: This film, also known as Nader and Simin, A Separation, is to be distributed in the US on December 30th. Don't miss it.

Mo says:

Mo Magic!

Heart of Glass (Herz aus Glas) (1977)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Josef Bierbichler, Stefan Güttler, Clemens Scheitz. 94 min. West Germany. Drama.

If you thought the pace of Herzog's movies was slow, you're gonna love this one: he shot the film with the entire cast in hypnosis. An old German village whose livelihood depends on its glass factory is struck with calamity, as its only expert who knew the secret to making "ruby glass" dies. The village succumbs into superstition and the preachings of psychics, but then I had a hard time staying awake.

PS: I believe in Herzog as a great innovator, but that really didn't help here, and I don't care if Ebert categorized it as one of his Great Movies.

Mo says:

In a Better World (Hævnen) (2010)

Director: Susanne Bier. Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Markus Rygaard. 119 min. Rated R. Denmark/Sweden. Drama.

If someone hits you, what do you do? Hit them back, or let them go ... and let them hit you again? In a Better World starts out grappling with this seemingly unanswerable question (and does a convincing job at laying it out), but then descends into cheap melodrama - maybe because it can't answer the question. At least Invictus made a decent effort at analyzing various solutions; but not this movie. Surprised the film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film this year, while better options (namely, Biutiful and Incendies) were available.

Mo says:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Incendies (2010)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette. 130 min. Rated R. Canada/France. Drama/War.

Last year's nominee for Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, is a surprise gem of a movie. A supposedly Lebanese mother's dying request from her reluctant twin son and daughter in Canada, is to find both their long-lost brother and father. This sends them on a journey into the past, told in flash-backs and flash-forwards, leading to shocking revelation after shocking revelation (with negligible coincidences). The violence pictured is on-par with any civil war movie, but the brutality implied would even make Tarantino shudder. Is this a general statement against war, or an effort to put any religious/sectarian violence to shame?

Opening subtitle:

"Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." - Confucius

Mo says:
Mo Magic!

The Debt (2010)

Director: John Madden. Cast: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson. 113 min. Rated R. Drama/Thriller.

A rare heart-pounding thriller. Three Mousad agents are commissioned to East Berlin to capture and a send Nazi refugee ("the surgeon of Birkenau") to Israel to stand trial. They capture and are forced to kill him as he escapes. But wait ... there's a Hitchcockian twist there. No matter which side you're on, this highly unpredictable gripping tale will keep you guessing till the very end - and creates great doubt about the stories you hear from the post-WWII era. Incredible acting by Chastain and Mirren, as the young and old versions of the same character.

PS: You first read it here: Jessica Chastain is the next best thing in Hollywood.

Mo says:

The Verdict (1982)

Director: Sidney Lumet. Cast: Paul Newman, Jack Warden, Charlotte Rampling, James Mason. 129 min. Rated R. Drama.

Talking of insurmountable odds. A lawyer trying to prosecute a medical malpractice case, and every living creature on Earth (the defense, the judge, his girlfriend, ... even his own client!) are against him. This makes for a very appropriately bleak courtroom drama, during which predominantly the captivating performances of its legends (namely, Newman and Mason) got me through. A must-see for any Newman or Lumet fan.

Mo says:

Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children) (1987)

Director: Louis Malle. Cast: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette. 110 min. Rated PG. France/West Germany/Italy. Drama/War.

The director's auto-biography, about two schoolchildren in occupied WWII France, who initially portray as discrete opposites, but are drawn closer together as they realize they share a life-threatening secret. Without showing a single drop of blood, Louis Malle illustrates with insidious subtlety how the horror of war shatters childhood innocence - a message clearly verbalized in the movie's title.

Trivia (from IMDb): Before becoming a famous movie-director, Quentin Tarantino worked in a video store, where he referred to this movie as "the reservoir film", because he couldn't pronounce the title. He combined this with Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs to produce the title Reservoir Dogs.

Mo says:

Monday, September 19, 2011

On My Second Birthday: 10 Movies That Changed Me

It's Moblog's second birthday! The result of the past two years has been 100-word commentaries on up to 350 movies (at a somewhat creepy rate of a movie every two days), and a nurturing collaboration with readers around the world (including a great new film-loving friend: Toast!).

The highest 3 movie reviews viewed by readers during these two years, in descending order, have (weirdly) been: The Human Centipede, Inception and Thor, and the highest number of hits have been from USA, Iran, UK, Canada, and South Korea (then Germany, Malaysia, India, Ukraine, and France), while my only method of blog advertisement, has been internet communication among friends.

This year as a treat, I thought I might add another "list" - a list of a top something I've never seen among other writers (as I did in My Favorites of Favorites entry last year).

I'll list the top movies that changed me. These are neither the top 10 movies of my life, nor the top movies I would enjoy to see over and over again. These are films that contain a quote or a scene or a concept that have significantly changed the way I think, or who I am. I was trying to avoid making it a round number of 10 movies, because that would seem too fake - especially when we're talking about such an arbitrary subject. But somehow, it still strangely came down to 10 movies.

So here they are, the top movies that changed me, in order of date released - obviously an extremely subjective list. I've offered the reason the movie impacted me.


1. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

Another person's narration of an event, has almost no value in understanding the event. It's just a very circumstantial glimpse of the event. Huge lesson in sociology, and how much you believe in history.

2. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)

"I just want to talk ... It's not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first."

And the world has never been the same.

3. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

Too many quotes. Too many moments. But one stands out:

"Only don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry."

4. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

"No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try. "

5. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

"Don't let yourself get attached to anything you're not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."

6. Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)

The bells toll in the final scene: Even prostitutes go to heaven. Von Trier definitively deconstructs and reconstructs any notion of religion.

7. Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine (Bahman Farmanara, 2000)

Dying is a responsibility like any other. Plan ahead.

8. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)

"Maybe their best isn't good enough." 

Not proving yourself at a certain level justifies elimination.

9. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

Your enemies will change sides, as long as you give them a chance to spy on you.

10. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

The power of words for the inception of ideas into one's mind - or the lack thereof to prevent the spread of ideas. Changes history.


I'm sure you have your own list of movies that changed you. Care to share them?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Best Worst Movie (2009)

Director: Michael Stephenson. Cast: George Hardy, Michael Stephenson, Darren Ewing. 93 min. Documentary.

A true amusement, about Troll 2 (1990), confirmed by its Rotten Tomatoes' 0% rating to be the worst movie of all time. But how is it possible to make a perfectly bad movie, or ... what is the definition of a perfectly bad movie? That unanswered question is why Troll 2 has reached cult status, with droves of fans lining up for midnight screenings across the country. The original film's two main actors get together (here as director and lead actor) to revisit how this movie hilariously traumatized their lives. You'll find yourself smiling throughout the entire film.

Best quote: "You can't piss on hospitality! I WON'T ALLOW IT!"

PS: Troll 2 is available for Instant Viewing on Netflix. You don't need to watch the entire movie; the first half hour (which includes the above quote) is more than enough to demonstrate how bad the movie is.

Mo says: 


Circumstance (2011) (شرايط)

Director: Maryam Keshavarz. Cast: Sarah Kazemy, Nikohl Boosheri, Reza Sixo Safai. 107 min. Rated R. France/USA/Iran. Drama.

Hugely missed opportunity. The story of two Iranian lesbians in Tehran, which doesn't delve into their dilemmas as a result of living in a closely-knit society. Foreign movies making it to the international arena usually illustrate a local problem, with a universal message. Here, there's some sort of decoupling: local problems (religious hypocrisy) only locals could sympathize with, and a universal problem (gay rights) that could have happened in any country. What was the point of the story happening in Iran? Angry that I was lured into watching a movie with a controversial subject. And they got some details wrong.

Mo says:

Good Hair (2009)

Director: Jeff Stilson. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary/Comedy.

With Chris Rock acting as the researcher, this bizarre documentary is about one thing: African-Americans training their hair to stand straight. And paying thousands of dollars to keep it that way. Which makes you raise your eyebrows about their motivations in life - and how an average person of their community can afford such expenses. Interviews with the likes of Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou and Nia Long does make it entertaining; but being overwhelmed by the absurdity of the whole process was the sole effect the film had on me.

Mo says:

The Samaritan Girl (2004)

Director: Ki-duk Kim. Cast: Yeo-reum Han, Ji-min Kwak, Eol Lee. 95 min. Rated R. South Korea. Drama.

For some reason, Korean movies always deal with extremes. Two schoolgirls, one a prostitute, the other her solicitor. The prostitute jumps out a window and dies, so the other girl decides to sleep with all her friend's clients and return their money, to give them a guilty conscience (i.e., Samaritan Girl). Her father, who's a cop, finds out, and goes on a deadly rampage. How much more extreme does it get? A well-constructed film, but hard to relate with such a story. From the director of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, viewers may be divided on this one.

Mo says:

Bananas (1971)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlo Montalban, Howard Cosell. 82 min. Comedy.

Allen's fourth directed movie, an amusing satire on how everybody was gung-ho about revolutions in the 60s and 70s. Amazingly, some of the movie's memorable moments (especially the opening sequence, where a Latin America president is knowingly assassinated in public, and the US-propped dictator announces his love for democracy) maintain their poignancy even to this day. Watch for Sylvester Stallone in a very negligible role as a subway thug.

Mo says:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Evil Dead II (1987)

Director: Sam Raimi. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks. 84 min. Horror/Comedy.

And I thought Drag Me to Hell was the peak; while Sam Raimi had already perfected the horror-comedy subgenre he himself devised, by this sequel to the hilarious original Evil Dead (which is also the prequel to Army of Darkness). The insane gore, the cerebral bloody jokes, the "flying eyeball" point-of-views, and the ghoulish enitities who have no business in the world other than just being ... ghoulish, just don't get any better. Prepare yourself to laugh throughout (and strangely, not know even why), and for a very "gotcha" ending.

Best gag: The hero cuts off his own "possessed" hand, and to prevent it from getting away, stacks some books on top of it, most prominently "A Farewell to Arms".

PS: And thanks again, Toast! Kudos all around!

Mo says:
Mo Magic!

Requiem (2006)

Director: Hans-Christian Schmid. Cast: Sandra Hüller, Burghart Klaußner, Imogen Kogge. 93 min. Drama. Germany.

A very brave film. Based on the 1970s event of an epileptic teenage German girl, the victim of an exorcism leading to a tragic death (which The Exorcist was based on), this slow drama easily has the chance of descending into a glamorized Hollywood horror film - but avoids every pothole along the way. Instead, it's a character study, about how a perfectly sane girl is driven mad by religious superstition. The very simple ending scene (and the disturbing ending subtitles) will leave one in a daze, making the viewer wonder how many lives have been lost in similar ways.

PS: Thank you again, Toast, for the recommendation. On a sidenote, you described this movie's scenes "horrifiic". Are you sure you haven't mixed this with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, again based on the same event? Requiem was quite benign.

Mo says:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Little Fockers (2010)

Director: Paul Weitz. Cast: Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, Laura Dern, Harvey Keitel. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy.

No story, no new plot, no logical direction, and full of predictable cliche moments which aren't even funny. Tells you how Hollywood money can bring a large ensemble of legendary actors to work under a talentless director (Jay Roach, who directed Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers and all three Austin Powers movies, is absent here).

Disclaimer: OK, I confess: one scene laughed me tears, in a way I haven't laughed since Napoleon Dynamite. The epinephrine injection scene, and only because of the little son's long scream after it. Probably only I found that mind-burstingly funny, not the filmmakers.

Mo says:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Beaver (2011)

Director: Jodie Foster. Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence. 91 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

A severely depressed family man talks through a hand puppet, to distance himself from the negative aspects of his own self, apparently as a therapeutic method to start over again. Later, a form of psychosis develops from his split personality. Gibson and Foster are great actors, and they try with all their might to make the story believable, but I just couldn't stomach it. For instance, how a teenager could go to school while such a father is showcased on TV and not get laughed out of town, was beyond me. But Gibson (successfully) continues the trend of playing psychos.

Mo says:

Silent Running (1972)

Director: Douglass Trumbull. Cast: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin. 89 min. Rated G. Sci-Fi.

Directed by the Oscar-winning SFX supervisor of 2001, Close Encounters, and BladeRunner. But considering the films we've seen, the story of an obsessed botanist who's ordered to annihilate his huge space-greenhouse, but kills his crewmates to prevent this, is incredibly boring. Then again, signs that this may have inspired some of the greatest sci-fi flicks of our time: robots with personalities/feelings (Star Wars), blurring the line between human and robot (BladeRunner), robots uploaded with software to expertly perform procedures (Matrix), and most prominently, the claustrophobia of being alone in a huge spaceship (Alien), are included here. Still, it was boring.

Mo says:

Cobra Verde (1987)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Klaus Kinski, King Ampaw, José Lewgoy. 111 min. West Germany/Ghana. Adventure/Drama.

The fifth and last Herzog-Kinski collaboration follows the same themes they developed in Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcaraldo: A crazy man on a crazy expedition in a crazy environment. A feared bandit in the 1800s is sent to Africa to revitalize the slave-trade business, but in reality he's sent there to see the end of him. Surprisingly, he almost succeeds through bizarre struggles and methods (e.g., surviving an execution, creating an army of women). But the beautiful photography and panorama shots are much more engaging than the story. Recommended, probably only for die-hard Herzog fans.

Mo says: