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: