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:

Dredd 3D (2012)

 Director: Pete Travis. Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey. 95 min. Rated R. USA/UK/India. Action/Sci-fi. 

Die Hard meets BladeRunner. In a post-apocalyptic future where mankind lives in a fortified city stretching from Boston to D.C., a government agent who's cop/jury/judge all at once, is trapped in a 200-floor apartment complex, trying to bring down a drug kingpin. Not much of a story, but the action-packed visuals are an experience of a lifetime. Let's just say it's as crucial as Avatar to watch this in 3D. Never thought the Stallone version of Judge Dredd (1995) was as terrible as they said, but if this is what the comic book is all about, wouldn't mind a sequel.

Mo says:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Director: Drew Goddard. Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins. 95 min. Rated R. Horror/Thriller.

Anything I tell about the story would spoil the fun. Let's just say this is a combination of Evil Dead's horror/comedy mixture, and The Truman Show's deep look into how a governmental authority controls us by feeding our imagination with macabre entities (and as an homage, there's a character called Truman). The way the movie intelligently uses some famous movie cliches (the deformed gas station attendant who shows our heroes the wrong direction) to step up the story, is just brilliant. And I loved the choice of a famous actress cameo at the end. Screenwriter Joss Whedon has scored again.

Mo says:

Oslo, August 31st (2011)

Director: Joachim Trier. Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava. 95 min. Not Rated. Norway. Drama.

A former drug addict comes out of rehab, and embarks on a quest to regain his previous life and search for a prestigious job as a magazine editor. Very soon, he realizes the society is not forgiving, and he is quite alone. This is a very sad story which is likely not far from the bitter truth, but I can neither explain Ebert's four stars nor the movie's 98% on the Tomatometer.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Brave (2012)

Director(s): Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell. Voices: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson. 100 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Long story short ... it's all about hair. The long fuzzy red Irish hair, because everything else falls short. There's no doubt that Pixar works miracles by detailing the heroine's hair, to the point that when it's covered in the archery competition sequence, its deficiency proves it already has a character of its own. But there's not much going on in terms of story or character development or take-home message for kids beyond that. And we have the obligatory second arrow slicing the first one in half on the bulls-eye - this time in slow-motion.

Mo says:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I'm Three Years Old!

It's September, and my blog is three years old now. The scary rate of watching movies (in lieu of the addition of a third member to the family) continues, as I watched more than 130 movies during the past year, approximately a movie every three days. I'm glad that this year, finally another movie (Prometheus, probably to become my favorite film of 2012) surpassed The Human Centipede in terms of number of blog entry hits.

So in keeping with my annual tradition of providing a treat on the blog's birthday (here are my first and second birthday treats), this time it'll be: My 10 Favorite Movie Openings. These films may not necessarily be masterpieces, and some of them may actually be pitiful movies, but all 10 were openings that blew me away, making me ask: "What the hell is this? Where did this come from?", and created a rare crave to watch the rest of the film, in search for another high.

Here's the list, in chronological order, with a youtube clip showing why they're so incredible. Feel free to post comments and your own favorite movie openings. The curious common point amongst almost all of mine, is their great soundtrack. At the core, it's really the music that makes them so good:

1. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1969)

Ten minutes, almost entirely without dialogue. The soundtrack is the ticking of a telegraph, the buzz of a fly, the squeal of a locomotive entering the station, where three mercenaries await the arrival of an old foe. And when the characters do speak, in a background of Ennio Moriccone's captivating music, the result is just hypnotic:

- "You bring a horse for me?"

- "Hehe. Looks like ... looks like we're shy of one horse."

- "You brought two too many."

2. The Cassandra Crossing (George P. Cosmatos, 1976)

The movie itself may not be much, but that's one hell of an opening. And for the pre-Spielberg 70s, watching three German terrorists enter the WHO headquarters in Geneva, only to be a infected by deadly bacteria, must have been quite charming for its own time. Again, the soundtrack prevails, this time by Jerry Goldsmith:

3. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

The genius that started it all. The moment that defined my love for movies. An Imperial Star Destroyer, invading my life as strong as it enters the story, descending from the heavens above:

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

O, John Williams. How do you make grabbing the golden idol out of that cave in Peru still "sound" so good after all these years?

Nope, couldn't find the clip on youtube.

5. Cliffhanger (Renny Harlin, 1993)

Look at the girl's eyes, going down. Harlin may not be much of a director, but he sure knows how to make action scenes.

6. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

It's actually the opening credits sequence here that's different from any other. The filth that exudes from these two minutes is so disturbing, it sets the mood for the entire film so perfectly, you feel like washing your hands when it's done. On this one, the credit goes to the cinematographer, Dariush Khonji.

7. Scream (Wes Craven, 1996)

I don't care how the rest of the movie went, and I don't care how idiotic the sequels were and are to this day. That opening (with its popping popcorn on the stove) was explosive. Wes Craven knows his craft.

- "You never told me your name."

- "Why do you want to know?"

- "Because I want to know who I'm looking at."

8. The Matrix (Andy and Lana Wachowski, 1999)

Everything green. Everything in pixels. Characters connecting to virtual worlds through phone lines, as the internet age was born. The camera circling 360 degrees around Carrie Ann Moss, as she jumped up in the air. With that opening, something strange had been introduced into cinema. Someone once said this was the sci-fi revolution The Phantom Menace of the same year was supposed to be.

9. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2010)

A captain dies, another one takes his places, an entire ship is evacuated and blown apart, and in the meantime, Captain Kirk is born - all in a matter of minutes. It's hard to beat that. Watch this again, and see how brilliant Abrams' mind works.

10. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

The dream collapses, and suddenly a whole new world of artistic concepts pour in - because it takes a whole two and half hours (and maybe repeat viewings) to explain what those first five minutes meant. And there is a chance that Hans Zimmer is the new John Williams.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Footnote (Hearat Shulayim) (2011)

Director: Joseph Cedar. Cast: Shlomo Bar-Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Aliza Rosen. 103 min. Rated PG. Israel. Drama.

Opens as a semi-comedy, but there's so much deep drama embedded here. An old history professor, severely bitter for not having received a prestigious science award after twenty years of hard work, is finally given the news that his turn has come. But then... the unexpected happens. Won't spoil anything from here; just leave with the notion that the son (another prominent scholar) and his relations with his father are excruciatingly put to the test. And the curious part is, it's very believable - to the extent that you'll definitely ask yourself what you would've done in the son's place.

Mo says:

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Director: Guy Ritchie. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry. 129 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Adventure.

Not even sure why I wasted so much time on this, when I was already traumatized by the original. With Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes under his belt, Downey Jr. is (like Harrison Ford) making a career out of creating protagonists for multi-episode movie franchises. But that's not enough. And the camerawork here is dazzling, but that's just Guy Ritchie's signature trademark. I only wish the purported ending here truly happened, so a third "acclaimed" episode in the future wouldn't make me curious to waste even more time on the series.

Mo says:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Director: David Gelb. Cast: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono. 81 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

Jiro, an 85-year-old sushi chef master, runs a 10-seat bar in Tokyo, selling sushi at up to $300 a plate. But no, this isn't a documentary about fancy cuisines. It's about respect for discipline and perfection; about investing your life and thriving for excellence at your game, regardless of monetary compensation. There is a strange serenity and sense of security in watching Jiro at work - something significantly lacking in the commercialized American way of life. Even if you haven't been to his bar, after watching this, you'll never look at sushi the same again.

Mo says:

Trust (2010)

Director: David Schwimmer. Cast: Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Liana Liberato, Viola Davis, Noah Emmerich. 106 min. Rated R. Drama.

A teenage girl falls prey to an online predator - and her family falls apart. Coming from Friends' actor David Schwimmer, I was blown away. This is not a movie that chickens away from such a tough subject. It analyzes how such a tragedy affects every single member of the family and their internal relationships, and most of all, how the rape victim copes or is paralyzed by the event. The characters and their motivations are believable, and the performances are superb all around. Highly recommended, even if you don't have a teenage child.

PS: Ebert does a splendid job here.

Mo says: