Friday, August 31, 2012

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Director: Stanley Kramer. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, William Shatner. 186 min. Not Rated. Drama/History/War.

One of those classics where at the end you ask yourself: how come I never saw this incredible piece of movie history before? A golden ensemble of actors play out this trial of four judges who cooperated with the Nazi regime. Although Schell deservedly won an Oscar as the defending council, I'm amazed how Tracy and Lancaster were left empty-handed. The beautifully-written screenplay (another Oscar-winner) makes you take sides with the last person who makes an argument in the courtroom - which makes the very last person who speaks in the movie's last scene the ultimate winner.

Mo says:

Premium Rush (2012)

Director: David Koepp. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Aasif Mandvi. 91 min. Rated PG-13. Thriller. 

A full-throttle, high-energy, 90-minute ride through Manhattan's busy streets, seen through the eyes of a few bike couriers, trying to help a Columbia University Chinese student get her son on board to the US, via delivering a 50k ticket to a Chinatown boss. A multitude of flash-backs and flash forwards, fast editing, and cool GPS-style mapping of the city leaves no room to get bored. Pure entertainment; no take-home message.

Mo says:

Army of Darkness (1992)

Director: Sam Raimi. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert. 81 min. Rated R. Adventure/Comedy.

Maybe I had too many high hopes for this. The third installment of the Evil Dead trilogy, set in the medieval times, takes a nosedive from the perfection of the second episode, as it lacks the horror component of the comedy/horror combo, and after some idiotic visual effects set in, loses the comedy part too. This almost bears no relation to the trilogy's first two episodes. It's a boring goofy fantasy/adventure film on its own terms.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

ParaNorman (2012)

 Director(s): Chris Butler, Sam Fell. Voices: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, John Goodman. 93 min. Rated PG. Animation/Horror/Comedy.

In a smart twist on The Sixth Sense, a boy who sees ghosts, discovers he's the only one to save his hometown from a curse placed by a witch burned at the stake 300 years ago. Made in eye-popping 3D animation, the film carries a valuable message for kids about the evils of bullying, but I was amazed that such an intense cartoon would be directed toward children (and receive a PG rating in the process): some scenes would've the scared the bejesus out of me as a kid. Maybe today's children are tougher, but I wouldn't take that risk.

Mo says:

Ushpizin (2004)

Director: Giddi Dar. Cast: Shuli Rand, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, Shaul Mizrahi. 90 min. Rated PG. Israel. Drama.

Similar to Fiddler on the Roof, you don't need to be religious to enjoy this movie. Actually, you might enjoy it even more if you're not religious. An Orthodox Jewish couple invite two escaped convicts as guests from hell into their home during a 7-day religious ceremony, and their anger management skills are tested to the extreme. If there was any role for religion in one's life ... this is it. But the question is: how efficient is religion in training such angels? Watch this with friends; you'll hear some amazingly honest group therapy thoughts.

PS: Thank you, Mohi, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Children of the Corn (1984)

Director: Fritz Kiersch. Cast: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G. Armstrong. 92 min. Rated R. Horror.

There have been quite a few horrendous Stephen King adaptations, but this one sets the bar so low, I'm wondering whether the original story was terrible in the first place. Even if it was, this is just a sad piece of film crap. The acting, the plot, and the visual effects are all an insult to humanity. The photography, since almost the entire horror story happens in broad daylight, could've been its only saving grace, but no ... I don't even want to provoke the slightest inclination to watch this. Don't be fooled (like me) by the film's numerous sequels.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

King of Devil's Island (Kongen av Bastøy) (2010)

Director: Marius Holst. Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Benjamin Helstad, Kristoffer Joner. 120 min. Norway/France/Sweden/Poland. Drama.

The true story of a group of delinquent adolescents who in the early 1900s revolted against the brutal  authority of a correctional facility in Norway. The story may sound repetitious, but I found myself significantly moved, either by the beautiful icy photography, the tragic fate of some characters, or Stellan Skarsgaard's complex character as "the Governor", who continued to be a mysterious but ruthless villain throughout the film. I'm giving this a MoMagic instead of a Mojo, because I want to attract your attention to this obscure gem.

PS: The movie is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011)

Director: Angelina Jolie. Cast: Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic, Rade Serbedzija. 127 min. Rated R. Drama/War.

Angelina Jolie's directorial debut. She has a lot more to learn in the realm of directing. And writing. And probably producing. It's a love story between the two sides of the Bosnian War; but to be more accurate, it's a hodgepodge of a few heart-wrenching violent events that happened during the war, without any logical story elements linking them. The characters' motivations are unclear, and therefore it's impossible to sympathize with them in their perils. Of course, the attractive production elements prove how much money Jolie poured into the project. But she is no filmmaker.

PS: For a much more skillful approach to the Bosnian War, try Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo (1997).

Mo says: 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Kwaidan (1964)

Director: Masaki Kobayashi. Cast: Rentarô Mikuni, Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe, Takashi Shimura. 183 min. Unrated. Japan. Fantasy/Horror.

Have you ever heard of a "beautiful" horror movie? Or one that tells its story just by lighting, changing colors, or background music? Look no further. Kobayashi narrates four horror stories from ancient Japanese folklore, but this is more an experiment in audiovisual beauty, and how one can manipulate the human psyche merely by manipulating the atmosphere. The first episode is obviously inspired by Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), but the last episode must have been the inspiration for The Ring (2002)'s famous scene (the girl crawling out the TV). The third episode's dreamy river battle sequence is a blast.

PS: Thank you, Hooman, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (2011)

Director: Constance Marks. Cast: Kevin Clash, Whoopi Goldberg (narrator), Frank Oz. 80 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

If you know Jim Henson, if you know the Muppets, if you've watched Sesame Street, or if you've ever been mesmerized by a puppet as a kid (so that includes everybody on planet Earth), ... you owe it to yourself to watch this - about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo. I found myself glued to the screen, blown away by the amount of delicacy in designing every puppet, planning their every gesture, translating every human emotion into moving an inanimate object. If you think this is baby stuff, think again. And Jim Henson? What a loss. What a loss.

Mo says:

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Director: Christopher Nolan. Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy. 164 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK. Action/Drama.

How can the finale to the great Nolan's Batman trilogy be watched, without having high expectations created by 2008's The Dark Knight? How could Bane, the movie's cool villain, ever upstage the Joker's powerful presence from the last? So be fair; watch Dark Knight Rises in its own context. Opening with a well-crafted slow rhythm, it makes thought-provoking jabs at the Occupy Wall Street movement, and ends in an incredible climax. Ann Hathaway surprises as Catwoman, and even though Nolan has bid the series farewell, he's kind enough to provide a Robin for future installments. What huge shoes to fill.

PS #1: Comic Book Girl 19 rounds it up pretty well.

PS #2: Watch for a cameo by the Scarecrow, the villain of Batman Begins (2005)!

After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet) (2006)

Director: Susanne Bier. Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Rolf Lassgård. 120 min. Rated R. Denmark/Sweden/UK/Norway. Drama.

A Scandinavian working in a poverty-stricken school in India, comes home to negotiate a large donation from a Danish billionaire, who casually invites him to his daughter's wedding. At the wedding, he discovers he's the father of the bride - a daughter he never knew he had. Interesting melodrama, huh? But the movie isn't merely a tearjerker. It takes steps for a broader message, and nicely demonstrates the universality of emotions such as betrayal, love for family, and fear of death. Great acting by the versatile Mikkelsen (the blood-teared villain in Casino Royale). Nominated for a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says: