Sunday, December 30, 2012

Killer Joe (2011)

Director: William Friedkin. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon. 102 min. Rated NC-17. Crime/Drama.

In a combination of Strangers on a Train and Red Rock West, a father and son hire a professional dirty cop (“Killer Joe”) to murder the mother, so they can inherit her $50,000 life insurance – and of course, everything that could go wrong does. Well-written script keeps you guessing till the end, although I was expecting a more satisfying ending. With far more disturbing R-rated movies around (Se7en, Natural Born Killers, Passion of the Christ, you name it), the NC-17 rating is surprising. After watching Bernie and this, I’m thinking, maybe Matthew McConaughey isn’t such a bad actor after all.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Director: Stephen Chbosky. Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Nina Dobrev, Paul Rudd, Melanie Lynskey, Joan Cusack. 102 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Lonely 16-year-old is a complete high school misfit, and gets "adopted" by a brother-sister pair, who've probably been through the same in their own freshman year. Exceptionally honest (and heartwarming) movie about adolescence, dealing with all aspects: self-esteem, sexual awareness, and even mental illness. Lerman as the lead role isn't anything groundbreaking, but I couldn't imagine anybody more perfect as the sister and brother than Emma Watson (Harry Potter) and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin). By the surprise end, I felt I knew these characters in and out, and wished they were my friends in high school.

PS: Great quote: "You can't choose where you come from, but you can choose where you go from there."

Mo says:

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Director: David France. Cast: 120 min. Unrated. Documentary.

The story of how homosexuals dealt with the AIDS pandemic, from the early 80s when they were almost denied hospital admissions, to the mid 90s when an acceptable drug treatment was found - while millions died during the struggle. Inspiring documentation of a fight for survival, which will keep you wondering which of these HIV-infected activists will live to see the cure, and make it to the film's final interviews, at old age. Definitely makes one reflect upon one's attitude towards gays.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Django Unchained (2012)

Director: Quentin Tarantino. Cast: Cast:Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Jonah Hill, Quentin Tarantino. 165 min. Rated R. Western/Action.

Tarantino should probably be named "The Great Entertainer", because like all his other movies, Django Unchained has the same satisfying proportions of a captivating story, beautiful dialogue, an uplifting soundtrack ... and an endless reservoir of cinematic blood and gore. And like all his other movies, Django doesn't really have any take-home message. It's just all about pure entertainment, and the love for movies. As slavery era bounty hunters, Foxx and Waltz create one of the most memorable film duos ever, and DiCaprio and Jackson's villains are gems to cherish. I just wish QT would make movies more often.

PS: "And the Friendly Participation of Franco Nero." What's that supposed to mean?

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ted (2012)

Director: Seth MacFarlane. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Stewart (voice), Norah Jones, Tom Skerritt. 106 min. Rated R. Fantasy/Comedy.

Similar to Paul, the movie starts out with the fictitious but hilarious and engaging friendship of a human and a foul-mouthed non-human entity (this time a teddy bear), and shows how the relationship is not much different from human-human ones. But then the last half hour tries to spice up the scene by resorting to action (with references to the Indiana Jones movies, among a multitude of other '80s homages), and the movie suddenly loses its charm. I wish MacFarlane had continued the drama till the very end.

Mo says:

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hitchcock (2012)

Director: Sacha Gervasi. Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, James D'Arcy, Danny Huston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Kurtwood Smith. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/Drama.

This was a strange experience. I was ready to give a NoMo score, mainly because even under heavy makeup, Anthony Hopkins does not resemble Hitchcock at all (far less than Johansson, whom in some scenes I could hardly discriminate from a young Janet Leigh); and also, a star-studded back story film of another film (even if its one my most beloved films ever), was boring and made no sense. But then suddenly, I found the incredibly well-orchestrated climax of the very first audience reaction to Psycho's shower murder scene,  exhilarating beyond belief. Hitchcock gets a Mojo, for very personal reasons.

PS: Thank you, Maryam, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Hope Springs (2012)

Director: David Frankel. Cast: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue, Mimi Rogers. 100 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Comedy.

Old-age couple realize they're just living under the same roof rather than being married, and seek marriage counseling assistance. Although the setting is quite engaging, I had many problems with the story: mainly, in an effort to clarify the magnitude of the couple's problem, the writers dig themselves so deep into portraying the characters as helpless opposites, any chance of rectifying the marriage seems impossible. And surprise surprise, the ending is extremely contrived. Streep and Jones are top-notch (as always), but I'm amazed at how Carell pulls off every role he plays, in lieu of almost no flexibility between acts.

Mo says:

The Hole (2009)

Director: Joe Dante. Cast: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Terri Polo, Bruce Dern. 92 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Fantasy.

Joe Dante (The HowlingGremlinsSmall Soldiers) has a history of making horror/fantasy/comedy movies targeted for a very limited age group - somewhere around 8-12 years, making his movies too scary/adult for under that age range, and too childish for over. Same thing happens here, where a teenage boy and his elementary school brother find a bottomless pit in their basement, and together with the screenwriter pretty much don't know what to do with it. If the approach on how to handle the primary concept had tilted either towards kids or adults, the results would have been much more satisfying.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Director: Peter Jackson. Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood. 169 min. Rated PG-13. USA/New Zealand. Adventure/Fantasy.

Okay - Peter Jackson is one of the best directors ever, his panoramas are some of the most magical in movie history, and his action sequences are difficult to surpass. But honestly, haven't we already been here before, in LOTR, or even King Kong? Do we really need another trilogy offering the same bone-rattling thrills, the same ghoulish characters (and Gollum), the same perilous journey of heroes trying to get somewhere? I had a feeling there were subplots just to jack the duration up to 3 hours. With all its enchanting beauty and entertainment, a Mojo would be a disservice.

Mo says:

Game Change (2012)

Director: Jay Roach. Cast: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, Sarah Paulson, Ron Livingston. 118 min. History/Drama.

Hard to imagine a political movie based on a presidential election campaign to be so entertaining; and the fact that you followed the events as they unfolded in 2008 has nothing to do with the film's sheer entertainment. The success can be attributed to Moore or Harrelson's incredible performances (as Sarah Palin, and McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt, respectively), or the astounding image of a brainless but egocentric lady having a shot at a superpower's second highest executive position. Interestingly,  Palin's social/political maneuvers after the election corroborates the essence this movie claims about her character. Not to be missed.

PS: Jay Roach directed this?! The same Austin Powers Meet the Fockers Jay Roach?

Mo says:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Savages (2012)

Director: Oliver Stone. Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Demián Bichir, John Travolta. 131 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

Two wild California boys have "scientific" ways of creating the best weed in the world, and live the high life with their common girlfriend, until they run into problems negotiating a deal with a vicious Mexican drug cartel. One of the better movies about drug wars, with great directing, editing and acting all around. After several duds (Alexander, World Trade Center, Wall Street 2), it's great to see Oliver Stone has his groove back. A recommendable movie, only if you have the stomach for some brutal violence, because as he proved when writing Scarface, Stone has something for chainsaws.

Mo says:

Total Recall (2012)

Director: Len Wiseman. Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, Bryan Cranston, John Cho. 118 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Canada. Sci-fi/Action.

Not as bad as they were saying. Obviously, the special effects are incredibly better than the 1990 Arnold-starring original, Ferrell fits into the protagonist role, and Beckinsale upgrades the attractive villain (originally played by Sharon Stone). My only gripe is the innate problem with all remakes: you already know the story, so all the good twists are spoiled. Still, as the movie pays some homages to the original, it also makes decent efforts to circumvent the above problem, most prominently during the customs scene where the weird lady opens up her head. And I'm not going to spoil that one.

Mo says:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Director: Ang Lee. Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu. 127 min. Rated PG. Adventure/Drama.

An Indian teenager is lost at sea, ... with a Bengal tiger in his lifeboat (and you thought you had it bad). This ambitious film is a spectacular feat in CGI effects, and with every awe-inspiring sea creature you're waiting for another visually stunning showcase - which is exactly the problem: there's almost no story here, and if you take away the special effects, what's left? A good example of a film with SFX in the foreground, instead of the other way around. If it wasn't for a decent philosophical twist at the end, this would've been a Soso.

PS: Most consider the incredible range of sub-genres in Lee's film-making profile (classical romance in Sense and Sensibility (1995), American suburban drama in The Ice Storm (1997), Civil War in Ride With the Devil (1999), martial arts/spirituality in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), superheroes in Hulk (2003), homosexuality in Brokeback Mountain (2005), sex in politics in Lust, Caution (2007), 60s music in Taking Woodstock (2009) ), as his great asset. Honestly, as opposed to all great directors, I've never understood what makes Ang Lee tick, and I can never grasp a common theme in his movies - so please guide me if you know better. As a prominent critic says: "Lee is a director whose works I've admired more than loved."

Mo says:

The Queen of Versailles (2012)

Director: Lauren Greenfield. 100 min. Rated PG. USA/Netherlands/UK/Denmark. Documentary.

David Siegel and his wife, billionaire owners of the world's largest timeshare company and builders of a Versailles-like palace in Florida, define the American dream as: live rich, or feel rich, or die. Then the 2008 financial breakdown comes along, and they're struggling to make their ahem*disgusting*ahem consumerism ends meet. Strangely, I neither envied their lifestyle when they were in paradise, nor felt sympathy when they were in crisis mode. The reason is well-conceived at the end: they pray that one day, things will get better, so they can go back to their material-worshiping habits again. They just never learn.

Mo says:

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)

Director: Alison Klayman. 91 min. Rated R. Documentary.  

Life of artist turned political activist Ai Weiwei, who designed the 2008 Beijing Olympic stadium and was later imprisoned, accused of conspiring to "subvert" the Chinese government. Sorry, but seeing how the artist roams the streets and tweets on Twitter, with supporters allowed to film a typical police station visit (as opposed to places like Iran, where political prisoners claim to have been raped in prison or heads stuck in toilets full of feces), made me feel Weiwei has it pretty good. But you have to credit the man for his sheer ingenuity, as his resistance maneuvers are quite creative.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Director: Benh Zeitlin. Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry. 93 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Fantasy.

Winter's Bone meets Pan's Labyrinth, in Louisiana. A little black girl, who by our "normal" living standards appears to inhabit another planet (the "Beasts" in the title probably referring to humans also), fights the daily insurmountable stress of a friendly/abusive father, a Katrina-like storm, and the concept of death, by using her childhood fantasy as a weapon. Quite a few images are still etched in my mind, most prominently an opening scene of the girl running towards us, flares in both hands. Dizzying performance by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis may make her the youngest star ever to win an Oscar.

Mo says:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Director: David O. Russell. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles. 122 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama/Romance.

Winner of this year's Toronto Film Festival People's Choice Award, and destined to be an Oscar contender. The story of two individuals with a history of a nervous breakdown in the past, as the most unmatchable people on the planet. I really don't want to spoil anything further, because you need to experience the honesty that exudes from every corner of this film on your own. In accordance with other Russell films (especially The Fighter, with its suburban Philadelphia setting), there's great writing and great acting all around. Not a romantic movie fan, but this is hands-down the genuine article.

Mo says:

Ruby Sparks (2012)

Director(s): Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening,Antonio Banderas, Aasif Mandvi, Steve Coogan, Deborah Ann Woll, Elliott Gould. 104 min. Rated R. Comedy/Fanatasy/Romance.

A famous nerdy writer is debilitated by writer's block, and when he finally does start writing, his young female character literally comes to life. This could have been a great movie if its "careful-what-you-wish-for"  message was original (Bedazzled (2000) comes to mind), the imaginary character was a much more "dream-like" actress than Kazan (the likes of Zooey Deschanel or Emma Stone would've worked better), and the mid-portion of the story wouldn't drag on. But the movie ends on a mesmerizing note, and Paul Dano is perfect in his role. Giving this a very marginal Mojo.

Mo says:

Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Director: Matt Piedmont. Cast: Will Ferrell, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Genesis Rodriguez. 84 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Maybe it's just me, but in the realm of movies, I never find Will Ferrell interesting when he tries to be funny (he's always interesting when he doesn't try to be funny, à la Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go). And maybe that's exactly the problem: you shouldn't try to be funny; rather, you should be innately funny by becoming the victim of circumstance. Anyway, this farcical Mexican soap opera with Tarantino-style humorous violence does have some moments where you might crack a smile. But in general, Ferrell speaking and singing Spanish and all, it just doesn't work.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Brood (1979)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle. 92 min. Rated R. Canada. Horror/Sci-fi.

Another one of those corny 70s gooey horror-thrillers by Cronenberg, about another bizarre fictitious medical-mental disorder, this time called "psychoplasm", a disease where a female bears deformed children and controls their minds remotely to commit gruesome murders. Yuck. But that doesn't mean I was bored or anything - especially during a climactic cross-cut sequence at the end, which is still thrilling/scary after more than 30 years. Further research shows this movie has achieved cult status.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lincoln (2012)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader , Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris. 150 min. Rated PG-13. USA/India. Drama/History.

Another one of those movies that 100 words would be a great disservice to describe. Let's just say after watching so many films, again, this one came along and changed how I thought about humanity, specifically politics, and politicians. About how morally ambiguous the whole process is, and how while trying to do good, politicians step into a dark abyss, and commit actions that haunt them for the rest of their lives. Spielberg performs miracles again, by upgrading a somewhat simple segment of history (passing a Constitutional Amendment), to cinematic masterpiece. Expecting this to be the year's main Oscar winner.

PS: How about stating with this great article? Thanks, JZ.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mirror, Mirror (2012)

Director: Tarsem Singh. Cast: Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham, Sean Bean. 106 min. Rated PG. Comedy/Adventure.

The best description I can come up with for this version of the Snow White story, is "cute". After all, Julia Roberts (as the Queen) is utterly unable to play a villain, and the dwarves are here just to (successfully) fill the movie with comedic moments. As expected from one of Hollywood's most visually entertaining directors, Tarsem Singh creates family-friendly sceneries of lavish costumes in panoramic CGI backgrounds that never fail to mesmerize, so much in contrast with the disconcerting violence of his masterpiece, The Cell (2000). Recommended only if you're looking for something light.

Mo says:

Get the Gringo (2012)

Director: Adrian Grunberg. Cast: Mel Gibson, Kevin Hernandez, Peter Stormare. 96 min. Rated R. Action/Crime.

Midnight Express meets A Fistful of Dollars meets Coma, ... in Mexico. Gibson as the "man-with-no-name" ends up in a hell-on-Earth Mexican prison, and lures two rival gangs running the prison into demolishing each other. Wish there was more credibility to the technical/medical aspects of the organ transplant theft subplot, because it's always nice to see Mel Gibson back in action.

Mo says:

The Sessions (2012)

Director: Ben Lewin. Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy. 95 min. Rated R. Drama.

A 38-year old quadriplegic hires a sex surrogate to help him experience intercourse for the first time. Based on (or probably just "inspired by") the real-life story of Mark O'Brien, previously documented in the 1996 Oscar-winning short, Breathing Lessons, I found the story and characters very hard to believe - especially the relationship between the therapist and her husband, who is jealous of a quadriplegic sending his wife love poems (Hello? Any idea what your wife does for a living?). Hawkes is great as O'Brien, but again, that's nothing compared to Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. Significantly over-hyped.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Director: Wes Anderson. Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban. 94 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Romance.

First, just read the introductory statement I wrote here. Read it? OK, I can't connect with Wes Anderson films, I don't find his humor funny, and I don't know why everybody praises his films. I believe his style is just a ploy to look artistic, and to win critic admiration, à la "The Emperor's New Clothes": critics says it's good because they don't understand it. I hope I never put time into watching another Wes Anderson movie again.

Mo says:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Director: John Madden. Cast: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton. 124 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA/UAE. Comedy/Drama.

A dream cast of some of greatest British actors alive tell the story of seven Englishmen/women who lose all hope in their own lives in the UK, and venture out to live in a dilapidated retiree home in Jaipur, India. Crafted by the director of Shakespeare in Love, the movie has an engaging rhythm filled with thought-provoking one-liners, and I was expecting a somewhat cliche ending ... but not that cliche. The story takes almost no risk at the end. Splendid acting by Dench, Smith and Wilkinson, as always.

Mo says:

In Darkness (2011)

Director: Agnieszka Holland. Cast: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann and Agnieszka Grochowska. 145 min. Rated R. Poland/Germany/Canada. Drama/War.

A war-profiteering weasel in WWII Poland decides to make some money out of hiding Jews in the sewers, and finds himself risking his life for them along the way. This Oscar-nominated film from Holland, the famed Polish director, is actually a "Schindler in the sewers" - which is why it loses it's kick halfway through: Spielberg already told this story 20 years ago. But you still may need nerves of steel to get though this one, especially if you have kids.

Mo says:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bernie (2011)

Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey. 104 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama.

A kind small-town Texan mortician whom everybody loves befriends a millionaire widow, but on sudden impulse (Spoiler Alert!) shoots her to death. So here's the question: should the court be lenient towards the killer, just because he's "nice"? If I see someone being too nice to me for no reason, I usually run for cover. But that's not how the people of this town felt, and apparently, this is based on a true story. Unexpected great performance by Jack Black, but I didn't think there's enough material to warrant a feature film, even from a great writer/director such as Linklater.

Mo says:

Ryan's Daughter (1970)

Director: David Lean. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Sara Miles, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Leo McKern. 195 min. Rated R. UK. Drama/Romance.

Would I have the audacity to give a David Lean film a "Soso"? Well, this almost got a "NoMo" score, if it weren't for an unbelievably thrilling storm sequence. Lean's usual incredible panoramas are the backdrop for this sprawling three-hour plus movie ... about a very simple love triangle. Which means only the cinematography kept me from getting bored to death. But as this major critic wrote forty years ago, every great director's movie is worth seeing at least once.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

Director:  Sam Mendes. Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw. 143 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Action/Adventure.

During the past three movies, the James Bond franchise has become almost unrecognizable from the prior 20 films. Bond looks different, he acts different, the villains are not caricatures, and the Bond girls are not just tag-alongs. So if we accept this new territory, Skyfall is a significant achievement; especially after the dismal Quantum of Solace. The opening sequence is a huge thrill, Craig continues the superb character revival he started in Casino Royale, Bardem creates one of the most sadistic megalomaniac villains, and Dench couldn't get any better as "M". Even Adele's title song is one to be cherished.

Mo says:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Flight (2012)

Director: Robert Zemeckis. Cast: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Nadine Velazquez. 138 min. Rated R. Drama.

Back home many years ago, I remember someone recommended me to watch a film, but "just the first half hour is good". What did that mean? Leave the theater after the first half-hour? Funny part was, he was right. That's exactly what happened during Flight. The first half hour has this unbelievable plane crash sequence that will blow your mind away (and proves what a great director Zemeckis can be, "if he puts his mind to it"), but then the rest of the movie is just a drag about alcoholism. You can leave the theater after the first half hour.

PS: OK, one credit: John Goodman's few minute presence here deserves a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Just amazing.

Mo says:

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Director: Colin Trevorrow. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni. 86 min. Rated R. Comedy/Sci-fi.

Amateur journalists follow a rural guy to check out whether a time-travel ad he's posted in the local newspaper is authentic, or he's just a nutcase. The movie does a good job at keeping the viewer guessing throughout its entire length between these two possibilities, and offers some genuine laughs and heartfelt moments along the way, but I don't buy the 94% on the Tomatometer. Not at all.

Mo says:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Grey (2011)

Director: Joe Carnahan. Cast: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo. 117 min. Rated R. Action/Drama.

This was a surprise. Reading the ads, I presumed it would be about men trapped in the Alaska snow, eaten by wolves one by one. But The Grey goes much deeper. It is meditative about death, offering self-reflective moments to understand how one dies, not necessarily by being ripped apart by wolves, but by losing the will to live. Neeson's actions as the leader didn't all make sense to me, but he makes the role believable; the recent death of his wife Natasha Richardson must've had a major role in strengthening the performance. This is a movie you can feel.

PS: Wait till the end of the credits for a final scene. I really don't like the way this trend is growing in movies, but heck, this one is worth the wait.

Mo says:

The Invisible War (2012)

Director: Kirby Dick. 93 min. Not rated. Documentary.

Tragic documentary about the prevalence of rape in the US army, and how it's sweeped under the rug by the highest authorities, in somewhat ridiculous ways. Could've been a short documentary rather than a feature-length, as the film is almost solely constructed of repetitive interviews; i.e. after awhile, the intense topic becomes boring, which is a disservice to the victims involved. If the prevalence of rape is so high (20%) that the government pathetically categorizes it as an "occupational hazard", why are women in the army in the first place? Or at least why aren't their quarters separate from men?

PS: For a better documentary by the same director, watch This Film is Not Yet Rated.

Mo says:

The Warriors (1979)

Director: Walter Hill. Cast: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, Deborah Van Valkenburgh. 92 min. Rated R. Action.

Corny 70s comic-book style story happening some time in future, of a "good" Coney Island gang being hunted down by bazillion "bad" gangs across New York City, ... for a crime they didn't commit (yeah, very funny). Actually, I found the narrative quite entertaining, and the manner of cutting through sequences similar to leafing through a comic book (copied these days in superhero movies) must have been creative for its own time. From my own memories of Manhattan in the 70s, I wouldn't fault the filmmakers for their predictions of a future NYC turning out so wrong.

Best line: Someone shrieking: "Warrioooooors ... come out to plaaaaaaaaay! Warrioooooors ... come out to plaaaaaaaaay!" Repeat that five more times.

Mo says:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Keith David, Ben Whishaw, James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandon. 172 min. Rated R. Germany/USA/Hong Kong/Singapore. Sci-fi/Mystery.

Complicated film, almost at an Inception level. Six parallel stories, spanning five centuries from the past into the future, narrating the interactions of character pairs (lawyer/slave, music grandmaster/pupil, reporter/nuclear scientist, writer/lost lover, rebel/robot, tribal native/high-tech futurist), mostly sharing a birthmark, and all representing different reincarnates of each other - suggesting how actions/thoughts transcend through generations. The Wachowskis continue their Matrix and V for Vendetta warnings about an evil domineering global power, with a touch of Soylent Green (1973). Writing and editing must've been hell, but not sure whether such a complicated story-telling style was needed to get the message through.

PS: Almost all major actors (Hanks, Berry, Grant, Broadbent, Weaving, Sturgess, Bae) play up to six roles here, one in each story. Expect an Oscar for Best Make-Up, for the same reason.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The "Paradise Lost" Trilogy


Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
Director: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky. 150 min. Documentary.

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (1999)
Director: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky. 130 min. Documentary.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)
Director: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky. 121 min. Documentary.

Multiple times, I've lost hope that movies are able to change anything or anybody, and I've accepted that they're merely a source of (sometimes smart) entertainment. But this was the first time I was definitively proven wrong. This documentary trilogy, made several years apart, changed how people thought about three youngsters accused of brutally murdering three schoolchildren (the "West Memphis 3"), and eventually got them out of prison after rotting in there for 18 years. These movies saved lives. Yes, we're talking 7 hours of film; but if you dedicate this amount of time, you will change too.

PS: The first episode got 96% on the Tomatometer. The second got 90%. The third got 100%, and won this year's Oscar for Best Documentary. Are you persuaded?

Mo says:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chico & Rita (2010)

Director(s): Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba. 94 min. Not Rated. Spain/UK. Animation.

I take back what I said two posts below. Maybe last year did offer some good animation after all. Chico & Rita, the Oscar-nominated story of a constantly-feuding pianist and a singer who can't let go of each other no matter how far apart around the world they are, is a celebration of Cuban music, a celebration of Cuban culture, but above all, a celebration of life. The "adults-only" animation's enchanting 3D perspectives and well-drawn shadows made this one of the most memorable I'd ever seen. This should have won the Oscar last year; not Rango.

PS: Chico & Rita is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Higher Ground (2011)

Director: Vera Farmiga. Cast: Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Dagmara Dominczyk, John Hawkes, Taissa Farmiga. 109 min. Rated R. Drama.

Vera Farmiga's (The Departed, Up in the Air) directorial debut is a promising one. She directs herself as a small-town girl brought up in a setting where there's no other ideological possibility than becoming a firm Christian believer. But then without any distraction from the world outside this setting, she starts doubting her faith, because of all the unanswered questions. The script makes the wise choice of ending without a definite conclusion, and leaves it up to the audience's interpretation of events to decide who's side they're on. Looking forward to see what else Farmiga has in store for us.

Mo says:

A Cat in Paris (Une vie de chat) (2010)

Director(s): Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol. 70 min. Rated PG. France/Netherlands/Switzerland/Belgium. Animation.

Nominated in 2012 for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar (lost to Rango), this has all the creativity of a visually-pleasing animation, and it's fun to watch a non-Pixar cartoon from time time. But A Cat in Paris lags in the story department, as it's just a childish game of jewel thieves and betrayals. I know cartoons were originally supposed to be for kids, but hey, even Disney and Pixar always have something in there for adults too. Maybe 2011 just wasn't a good year for animation.

Mo says:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Frankenweenie (2012)

Director: Tim Burton. Cast (voices): Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau. 87 min. Rated PG. Animation/Horror/Comedy.

An expanded version of Burton's original 1984 short black-and-white animation, is nothing but an expanded version of a short animation. Which means there's not much material here to supply a feature-length movie. Of course, we're talking about Tim  Burton, and the imagery of the director's unique style (you know ... droopy eyes, long limbs, ghostly characters) is superb, but after The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, The Corpse Bride, ... can't we expect something new? Even though this one had a great homage to Vincent Price?

Mo says:

Ikiru (To Live) (1952)

Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Takashi Shimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Shin'ichi Himori. 143 min. Japan. Drama.

The movie opens: a semi-retired office man discovers he has stomach cancer, and suddenly realizes he's never had fun in his life. To be precise, for the past twenty years, he's been a walking corpse - and his beloved son is just waiting for him to die. But meeting a lively young woman changes something in him. Ikiru has moments that hit hard, and definitely makes you imagine the day this will happen to you. I can guarantee whoever wrote About Schmidt was inspired by this.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Argo (2012)

Director: Ben Affleck. Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin. 120 min. Rated R. Historical/Thriller.

After a succinct illustrative 5-minute animated prologue (describing why the Iran hostage crisis really happened), Argo narrates the factual-based story of how the CIA helped 6 Americans hidden in the Canadian ambassador's home escape Iran during the crisis, under the guise of a sci-fi film crew. Affleck does a tremendous job at avoiding this becoming a propaganda-laden piece by keeping scenes showing Iranians to a minimum (rare commoners, mostly authorities), and the simulated Tehran settings are incredibly realistic, far superior to any I've ever seen. Ends in a heart-pounding climax, which apparently is significantly dramatized. No Oscar-contender, but immensely entertaining.

Mo says:

Friday, October 12, 2012

End of Watch (2012)

Director: David Ayer. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera. 109 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

There's only one profession I believe to be tougher than medicine, and that's police work. This film clearly demonstrates it. Showing two good-natured cops (Gyllenhaal and Peña) patrolling the filthiest neighborhood in the worst city on Earth (south-central LA), the hand-held documentary style photography places you right in the scene, and makes you wonder how these people survive even a month on the job. And amazingly, the movie has a well-written story with robust character development, leading to a very surprising ending. End of Watch performs the impossible task of making you respect these people, without being formulaic.

PS: Thank you, Reza, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Stand by Me (1986)

Director: Rob Reiner. Cast: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard Dreyfuss. 89 min. Rated R. Adventure/Drama.

Yes, watched it for the first time. It's a weird age, when you're growing out of superhero fantasies, but you're not a teenager yet. You're confused, but don't even know you're confused, and best friends (who are as confused as you are) become your only shelter. In a road movie setting, Stand by Me depicts this age very well, as four pre-junior high buddies embark on a quest on foot to find an allegedly hidden dead body, 20 miles from their homes. Classic Stephen King heroes, villains and locales, make this a memorable movie to watch with same-aged friends.

PS: Similar to Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption), Rob Reiner (Misery) has been one of those rare directors that's managed the seemingly impossible task of adapting Stephen King novels.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Harakiri (Seppuku) (1962)

Director: Masaki Kobayashi. Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Shima Iwashita. 133 min. Drama/Action. Japan.

Again, we have a masterpiece, 50 years old, in stark black-and-white, with not even a boring moment. A young masterless Samurai (a ronin), walks into a great clan house, requesting to use their forecourt to perform a "harakiri" - a ritual suicidal disembowelment. The clan believes this to be an extortion ploy, and forces the Samurai to perform the ritual, shown in full bloody detail. Violence breeds violence, and the movie ends in climactic sword fights of captivating cinematic perfection. Harakiri is an anti-Samurai film as much as Unforgiven was an anti-Western; showing how Samurai honor, is just a facade.

Mo says:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Duck, You Sucker (A Fistful of Dynamite, Once Upon a Time ... the Revolution) (1971)

Director: Sergio Leone. Cast: Rod Steiger, James Coburn, Romolo Valli. 157 min. Rated PG. Italy. Western.

Why has this Leone gem been so obscure? It has most of the components that made The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly so lovable: a slick explosives expert (Coburn instead of Eastwood's sharpshooter) and a filthy clown-like bandit (Steiger instead of Wallach's "Ugly") form an unlikely alliance in the setting of an historical event (the Mexican Revolution substituting the Civil War) in search of, obviously, gold. Flashbacks to Coburn's life in the IRA, reminiscent of Once Upon a Time in the West's structure, made me wonder: maybe people found this Leone work too repetitious. But I loved it.

Trivia: This is the second episode of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time trilogy, starting with Once Upon a Time in the West and ending with Once Upon a Time in America.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Looper (2012)

Director: Rian Johnson. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels. 118 mi. Rated R. Action/Sci-fi.

Maybe I had high expectations, but one of my pet peeves is movies that don't play it fair. Looper is advertised as a time-travel movie with all its paradoxes, but then contains another sci-fi element that encompasses at least half (if not more) of the story: telekinesis. Almost as if the writer/director needed two story gimmicks to write a whole movie, because he didn't have enough story with only one. Major rip-offs from X-Men 3's telekinesis scenes, a supposedly action movie that's quite slow, and Gordon-Levitt's terrible make-up as a young Bruce Willis, all spoiled the fun for me.

Mo says:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Director: Rupert Sanders. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones. 127 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Action.

Love it when I'm given dark adult-themed versions of childhood fairy tales (Robin Hood, The Dark Knight), to show what really happened - and I wasn't told because I was too young to understand. So eat your heart out Walt Disney; the cat's out of the bag. This creative Lord of the Rings version of Snow White is more to be seen than heard, as the gloomy visuals are hypnotic, Theron and Stewart are perfect in their roles, and the seven dwarfs are a stellar cast. Expecting cinematography, costume and make-up Oscar nominations. Disappointed by the 48% on the Tomatometer.

Mo says:

Arbitrage (2012)

Director: Nicholas Jarecki. Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling, Tim Roth, Laetitia Casta. 107 min. Rated R. Drama.

Wall Street tycoon juggles his business, his family, a charity foundation, a mistress, a dead body, and a collapsing merger, all at the same time. So there’s great story potential here, but it’s the casting department where Arbitrage falls short. The daughter shows anti-matter acting skills, Sarandon is a fifth-wheeler, and Gere … I don’t know.  Probably a dream role for any actor, but I couldn’t imagine Gere being such a slick persona, and his excited outbursts at times of crisis didn’t help (remember how cool Don Corleone was?). For such a role, Alec Baldwin might have been my pick.

Mo says: