Saturday, March 31, 2012

Miss Bala (2011)

Director: Gerardo Naranjo. Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Noe Hernandez, Irene Azuela. 113 min. Rated R. Mexico. Drama.

A teenager in Mexico is excited about the prospects of entering the "Miss Baja California" beauty pageant, but ends up dealing with some brutal drug cartels. A depressing movie throughout, mainly because there's no chance one could survive as a hero in such a world. And there's full use of a famous movie cliche: the TV is always telling news exactly about the movie's story. So the only reason to watch this is to check out the protagonist's (Sigman's) acting, as her haunting stare should give her a shot at stardom. Future would tell.

Mo says:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Carnage (2011)

Director: Roman Polanski. Cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz. 80 min. Rated R. France/Germany/Poland/Spain. Comedy/Drama.

A boy brutalizes his classmate, and their well-educated parents gather at the victim's apartment to make amends in a "civilized" way. Lo and behold, these people are no better than cavemen. The message is loud and clear, and the most despicable character in the beginning (Waltz) turns out to be the most logical one, as we realize the other parents were actually hypocrites who believed in what he publicly practiced. I felt an element of overacting, especially in Foster's performance, as though these actors didn't believe in their lines, and were trying to compensate by abusing their superb acting skills.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Director: Gary Ross. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland. 142 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

Twelve districts of a future America, who years ago revolted against the Capitol, are annually forced to submit teen participants in gladiator-like games, till the last man/woman stands. Story has numerable sociopolitical correlates to our own world, where reality-TV-hungry audiences cherish watching the most despicable acts on TV, as long as it's live. But then again, we as viewers are good examples, as the latter half showing the deadly games is the more entertaining. The novel is narrated in first person, and the filmmakers wisely shoot the majority in close-up to translate that to film. Can't wait for the sequels.

PS: I'm delighted that this young adult franchise will be replacing Harry Potter.

Update (3/29/2012): I found myself thinking about the movie for several days. That means my first movie of 2012 deserves an upgrade to a MoMagic status.

Mo says:


Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Director: Sean Durkin. Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes. 102 min. Rated R. Drama.

A female teenager escapes an abusive Jonestown-like cult to live with her sister and brother-in-law, but can't escape her past with the cult, as she's afflicted by "Stockholm syndrome": the hostage falling in love with her captor. Elizabeth Olsen (sister of the Olsen twins) gives a haunting performance in a role that blurs the boundaries between reality, hallucination, and psychosis - even for the viewer. Reminds of the Steven Weinberg quote:

"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Mo says:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Interrupters (2011)

Director: Steve James. 125 min. Unrated. Documentary.

A group of courageous Chicago suburb locals try to crack down on the uncontrolled crime rate by simply talking gangs into calming down, thereby interrupting the vicious crime cycle. I was expecting more from a documentary that got a 99% on the Tomatometer, which some have labelled as the best documentary of 2011, made by the famed documentary filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams). Don't get me wrong: this is a very inspiring film, but I believe it would have benefited from a shorter duration, as the concepts in some scenes are repetitious. Check it out for yourself.

Mo says:

Quest for Fire (1981)

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud. Cast: Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nicholas Kadi, Rae Dawn Chong. 100 min. Rated R. Canada/France/USA. Adventure.

Eighty-thousand years ago, cavemen honor fire as the basis for survival, and the lack of knowledge on how to create it forces clans to clash among one another to keep it in their own possession. So we have a movie which cleverly maintains an entire story without the benefit of any discernible dialogue - which in itself is quite of feat. Strangely, you believe this is how cavemen must have lived. Some wise casting choices, especially embodied in Ron Perlman, whom I always thought looks like a Neanderthal, even without makeup.

PS: Another impressive recommendation by Toast. Thanks.

Mo says:

City Island (2009)

Director: Raymond De Felitta. Cast: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Emily Mortimer, Alan Arkin. 104 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama.

Watching this, I could almost swear it was written by the writers of Little Miss Sunshine, as the structure is exactly the same: through comedic quarrels and coincidences, a super-dysfunctional family headed by Andy Garcia, slowly get to know each other better, and realize they have more in common then their differences portray. To make it more Sunshine, even Alan Arkin is in there. But then the ending suddenly becomes so contrived and tacked on, everything falls apart, and you lose confidence in a great movie opportunity that was just lost.

Mo says:

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Better Life (2011)

Director: Chris Weitz. Cast: Demián Bichir, José Julián. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Mexican illegal immigrant father and son struggle to make ends meet in LA. The reason I saw this movie was Bichir's Oscar nomination for Best Actor (the nominee that kicked DiCaprio in J. Edgar or Fassbender in Shame out of this year's race); but boy, was this mediocre acting in a mediocre melodramatic movie. Maybe Bichir's performance stood out just because the son makes such a pathetic effort at acting. After all, everything's relative. In any case, the experience was nothing special.

Mo says:

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Director: George Nolfi. Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terence Stamp. 106 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Thriller.

Chance, or choice? Right down to the villains in hats and black raincoats, this Philip K. Dick adaptation is actually a simplified version of the great philosophical 1998 sci-fi flick, Dark City, where aliens manipulated our daily lives to see the results and use it to their own benefit. As opposed to that deep movie, where the hero contemplates the fate of humanity and the world, this one is obsessed with a couple's love affair. So if you've already seen Dark City, you'll hardly be impressed by this. Except that the chemistry between Damon and Blunt is perfect. Just perfect.

Mo says: