Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Cable Guy (1996)

Director: Ben Stiller. Cast: Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Leslie Mann, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Eric Roberts, Janeane Garofalo, Owen Wilson. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy.

I hated this movie. The days of Jim Carrey's comedic style are long gone (and I can't imagine why I ever thought he was funny), but he really pushes it here. Imagine a comedy version of Cape Fear, where a psychopath terrorizes a family by ingeniously sadistic methods. And the filmmakers, unfortunately Ben Stiller included, expect us to laugh at the creepiness of it all, because they think it's funny. The ambivalent feeling was disgusting (at least Scorsese's psychopath was interesting), and I couldn't wait for the movie to end.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Melancholia (2011)

Director: Lars von Trier. Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier. 136 min. Rated R. Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany. Drama/Sci-Fi.

Dunst is the depressed bride who can "see" things, and around her wedding date, there's controversy whether the planet Melancholia which is sling-shotting towards Earth, will fly by, or hit Earth and end life. So the films studies how people living in their isolated countryside mansion react to these possibilities, and then poses the obvious question: How would you react, if you knew the world would come to an end by tomorrow? The final scene with its crescendo soundtrack is one of the most awe-inspiring moments I've experienced in cinema.

Mo says:

Sisters (1973)

Director: Brain DePalma. Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning. 93 min. Rated R. Horror/Mystery.

Why doesn't DePalma make movies like this anymore? One of a pair of separated Siamese twin sisters commits murder, and a nosy journalist neighbor tries to sleuth her way in. The elements that made DePalma famous are masterfully present, from voyeurism to bloody violence to his everlasting Hitchcock obsession (Psycho, Vertigo, The Rear Window and The Rope are all here, with a Bernard Hermann soundtrack). Add to that my weakness for 70s New York films (this one happening in Staten Island), and this is one gripping horror movie. Incredible acting by Margot Kidder, with an especially convincing French accent.

Mo says:

City of Life and Death (2009)

Director: Chuan Lu. Cast: Ye Liu, Wei Fan, Hideo Nakaizumi. 132 min. Rated R. China/Hong Kong. History/War.

The 1938 massacre of Nanking. This may seem like a mere two-hour narration of the murder, rape, and decimation of 300,000 Chinese by the Japanese army, where Nazis are actually the good guys (yeah, that bad). But it's more than that. This is another example of how the gloom and stark contrasts of black-and-white cinematography is the only option when picturing such devastating historical events (as was used in Schindler's List), and how directorial expertise does not allow one to look away even at the harshest moments. Clear harbinger of Japan's upcoming partnership with Germany in the immediate pre-WWII era.

Mo says:

Limitless (2011)

Director: Neil Burger. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish. 105 min. Rated PG-13. Thriller/Sci-Fi.

In a twist on the Jekyll and Hyde story, an out-of-work writer stumbles upon an experimental pill that significantly heightens brain activity, rendering him a genius in every field - with deadly consequences. Works decent as a thriller, and Cooper (who's always played supporting roles up to now) proves he can single-handedly manage an entire movie. But that's all.

Mo says:

Casino Jack (2010)

Director: George Hickenlooper. Cast: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz, Graham Greene, Kelly Preston. 108 min. Rated R. Biography/Crime.

Narrated in Scorsese's Casino and Goodfellas' style, the story of Jack Abramoff, the Washington super-lobbyist who swindled Native Americans out of millions and was sentenced to six years in prison. But this is everything but Scorsese. Abramoff's introductory monologue in front of a mirror is the filmmakers' copping out of his difficult character development process, and the repeated misuse of Spacey's expertise at impressions makes the story somewhat difficult to believe. Would've appreciated if the screenwriters offered a less "charming" mood (is Jon Lovitz here just for the laughs?), as their approach contradicts the real-life ruthlessness of such characters.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lemon Tree (2008)

Director: Eran Riklis. Cast: Hiam Abbass, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Ali Suliman. 106 min. Israel. Drama.

A Palestinian-owned lemon grove neighbors the newly-moved-in Israeli Defense Minister's mansion, and the Minister wants the grove confiscated and the trees cut down, for added security. The movie shows bad and good on the Israeli side, and only good on the Palestinian side. If you already root for Palestinians, you'll hate Israel even more after watching this. If you root for Israel, you'll hate the movie all together. For my own opinion, I quote from Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator, and tell the filmmakers:

"You bring tension and emotion to a scene that already has too much of both."

Mo says:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bug (2006)

Director: William Friedkin. Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr. 102 min. Rated R. Horror.

Is paranoid schizophrenia contagious? Maybe, especially if you're snorting cocaine. An Iraq War veteran who has hallucinations of bugs crawling under his skin, befriends an abused wife in a shabby motel in the middle of nowhere. After awhile, the girl is sucked into his world, and together they create a psychotic "formication" hell. Mind-blowing acting by both Judd and Shannon (who with all his mental roles is becoming the Jack Nicholson of our time), and some decent screenplay twists, directed by Freidkin of Exorcist fame. Not recommended for the faint of heart.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Life in a Day (2011)

Director: Kevin MacDonald. 95 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary

Ninety minutes out of 4,500 hours of video shot by people from 192 countries, answering a few simple questions, on July 24th, 2010. Werner Herzog has said our world is starving for images, and there's rarely a film in recent memory from which so many images were etched in my mind. Produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, take this as a sign of similarities between people, or as a sign of their differences around the world; but this short journey demonstrates how unbelievably interesting simple everyday life can be. Consider yourself a loser if you miss this film.

PS: This film, produced by YouTube, was appropriately the first time I watched a feature film on the website. You can watch it for free in HD here.

Mo says:

Mo Magic!

Tabloid (2010)

Director: Errol Morris. 87 min. Rated R. Documentary.

Story of Joyce McKinney, histrionic ex-beauty queen/pathological liar, who kidnapped and "raped" a Mormon in the 70s, and denies all allegations in the face of hardcore evidence - believing she was the victim of public lust for tabloids. You sit and watch this expertly made documentary, and think how every single word and every tear this lady sheds, is a very well-showcased lie. Towards the end the film goes on a tangent about her obsession with cloning her dead dog, which relevance was lost to me. For a more impressive work by Morris, I'd recommend The Fog of War.

Mo says:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Director: Michael Bay. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich. 154 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-Fi.

You know a project is really dumb when Megan Fox (of all people) walks away from it. So Transformers 3's fate is sealed even before it starts - rightfully so. But give them credit; at least the visual effects implemented in action sequences here are beyond imagination. Just that there's no story. Or acting. Or sense of direction. What happened to the director of fun movies like The Rock and Armageddon? You can watch the entire movie with the volume muted, as there's no need for dialogue in 2 and 1/2 hours of robots transforming into chairs, wallpaper, or yogurt.

PS: And they got the Iranian flag upside down.

Mo says: