Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Imposter (2012)

Director: Bart Layton. 99 min. Rated R. UK. Documentary.

I was recently watching a documentary on film history, which said ever since we saw those planes hitting the towers on 9/11, watching real life drama unfold on-screen has become much more captivating than fiction. The Imposter is an attestation to that claim. A family in Texas, whose 13-year-old disappeared three years ago, are told their son has been found ... in Spain. But is it the same person? I wouldn't spoil anything beyond that, because this true story is so mysterious and twists on itself and changes gears so many times, you'll just be dumbfounded at the end.

Update: This is available for free on YouTube, here. Thank you, Maryam, for the heads up.

Update #2: Fascinating interview with "The Imposter" himself, Frédéric Bourdin, here. Beware: spoilers abound.

Update #3: Reza tells me the YouTube link doesn't work anymore. Bummer.

Mo says:

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Director: Malik Bendjelloul. 86 min. Rated PG-13. Sweden/UK. Documentary/Biography.

Imagine this: You're minding your own business, living your humble life, but woken up at 2:00 am in the morning by a call from another country, say, Finland or Mozambique or any far off exotic land, and told you are that country's biggest pop culture sensation, bigger than Elvis or the Beatles. Impossible? Well, this actually happened. I wouldn't want to give away any part of this engaging documentary's intriguing detective-like true story, so experience it on your own, and enjoy the beautiful music that's on par with other contemporary greats.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jesus Camp (2006)

Director(s): Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady. 87 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

Watching this Oscar-nominated documentary was the strangest experience. No, not because it perplexes you how kids' minds are molested, indoctrinating them into an Evangelical brainwashing boot camp; but because save for some creepy soundtrack music, there's almost no intervention by the filmmakers (in terms of narration) to show how evil the events are. They just use evocative camera angles, ominous close-ups, and suggestive editing techniques such as juxtaposed sequences, to give an aura of evil throughout the film. And the ironic part is, Evangelicals are probably proud how truthfully they've been presented here. The magic of (unilateral) documentary film-making.

PS: Thank you, Shahriar, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

5 Broken Cameras (2011)

Director(s): Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi. 94 min. Not Rated. Occupied Palestinian Territory/Israel/France/Netherlands. Documentary.

A Palestinian's cameras are broken one after the other during protests, as he films the slow occupation of the West Bank by Israeli settlements. Initially looks like an anti-Israel documentary, amazingly getting nominated for an Oscar this year. But then reality sets in, merely showing a group of people repeating the same useless protests day after day after day, expecting different results. And lo and behold, they keep failing, while their wounds are healed at benevolent Tel Aviv hospitals. Makes you think people use non-violent protest as a guise, just because they're not strong enough to be violent.

Mo says:

Phenomena (1985)

Director: Dario Argento. Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence, Daria Nicolodi. 110 min. Rated R. Italy. Horror/Mystery.

After re-watching Deep Red (1975), my childhood nightmare, I've been trying to catch up on Dario Argento's other horror flicks, maybe because during his heyday he was proclaimed to out-Hitchcock Hitchcock. But boy, this guy's films don't age well. His Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) was the same Deep Red formula, and I was ashamed to even write anything about his Suspiria (1977). The only reason I'm writing about Phenomena, is that I just want to document I saw the movie where a young Jennifer Connelly jumps into a pool full of maggots. The things people do for fame.

Trivia: Incredible. Argento helped Sergio Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci write the screenplay for Once Upon a Time in the West.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Amour (2012)

Director: Michael Haneke. Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert. 127 min. Rated PG-13. France/Germany/Austria. Drama.

Haneke is the master of manipulating human emotions. Although I abhorred his sadistic Funny Games, it still proves together with Cache and The White Ribbon, his ability to seduce. Here, he takes that expertise a notch higher, using a slow rhythm and long static shots of two octogenarian actors, to show the extent of their love for one another, and tell the tale... of "aging" - which miraculously is not a tearjerker. Watching it, you'll say: this will happen to me someday. And don't become too complacent, because the shocking ending will keep you under its spell for some time.

PS: This was the Palm d'Or winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival. After winning it for The White Ribbon also, Michael Haneke has won this most prestigious movie award of all, twice in three years. Amazing.

Mo says:

Mama (2013)

Director: Andrés Muschietti. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier. 100 min. Rated PG-13. Spain/Canada. Horror.

A stupid, fun and funny old-fashioned horror film, with ghosts and haunted houses and shock shots at a rate of one every five minutes; you'll jump at plenty moments that have no place in a story that makes no sense at all. One of those movies that Guillermo Del Toro probably produces in his leisure time just to have some fun. Signs of not only a sequel but also a prequel are in abundance. Merely good for a fun weekend night scare with family and friends - although it is enjoyable to see what a flexible actress Jessica Chastain is.

Mo says:

Straight Into Darkness (2004)

Director: Jeff Burr. Cast: Ryan Francis, Scott MacDonald, David Warner, Linda Thorson. 95 min. Rated R. War/Drama.

If you thought Saving Private Ryan showed the stark grittiness of WWII, think again. This haunting gem by the director of numerous horror B-movies (notably, Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), integrates the creepy horror style into historical war drama, creating a very innovative atmosphere that in some sequences is almost dream-like, making it difficult to differentiate drama from nightmare. And when we're talking "the horror" of war, maybe that is the appropriate feeling a film should create. Michael Convertino's original soundtrack makes this an even more chilling experience. Highly recommended if you're looking for a different take on the war genre.

PS: Thank you, Clay, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Director: Martin Scorsese. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Geraldine Chaplin, Stuart Wilson. 139 min. Rated PG. Drama/Romance.

The same zooms, the same introductory opening sequences, the same long travelling shots with a narrator introducing every major and minor character the camera closes up on (in other words, some reasons Goodfellas and Casino were so lovable), are used in a 19th century New York romance. Not saying these techniques don't work, but they seem out of place here, and no one said a grand-master's unique style can be applied to every genre. If Scorsese was trying his hands on a non-gangster film, I would've preferred him to go out all creative, like he did in Hugo.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Director: Rich Moore. Cast (voices): John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch. 108 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Another pleasant surprise. I thought this story of a depressed arcade game bad guy who after 30 years wants out, to become the game's good guy, will just be another homage to 80s pop culture. But then Sarah Silverman's character (as a computer "glitch") shows up, and flips the entire film on its head, creating one of the most memorable animated characters in recent years. A few unexpected and plausible (at least in a cartoon's world) story twists at the end, make this a possible Oscar winner for Best Animation.

Mo says:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Top 10 movies of 2012

The year 2012 was such a great time for movies, I was almost thinking of not limiting my favorites of the year to ten - because during the past week, eliminating some movies to narrow down the list was a pure heartbreak. Even NPR's David Edelstein had to list his "Top 12 of 2012". But then I thought: what's the fun of making a top ten list ... if there's more than ten in there? Might as well make it a top 23 or 25 or whatever.

So with apologies to great moments such as Silver Linings Playbook, The Avengers, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Dredd 3D, and while I haven't yet seen some other critically-acclaimed ones such as Amour, Rust and Bone, The Intouchables, and This is Not a Film; just to stick to my annual rule of posting the top ten the night before the Oscar nominations, here's the list, in alphabetical order. There's one documentary and two historicals in the mix (no, Tarantino's isn't historical), but the rest are mostly sci-fi, my ever-favorite genre:

1. Bully

2. Cloud Atlas

3. The Dark Knight Rises

4. Django Unchained

5. End of Watch

6. The Hunger Games

7. Lincoln

8. Prometheus

9. Skyfall

10. Zero Dark Thirty

And my top favorite movie of the year, the one that created a huge population of lovers and haters (but no in-betweens), is obviously ... Prometheus. Among all great movies this year, no other film created such a sense of wonder, forced me to think philosophical thoughts for weeks, or had the ability as a prequel to build a whole new universe upon its original and give the old immense new meaning (what prequels should do in the first place).

Lincoln comes in second place, for predominantly the same reasons.

(No, Lincoln wasn't a prequel).

Love to hear your 2012 favorites, if you think otherwise.

And let's see who's nominated tomorrow.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Impossible (2012)

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona. Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Geraldine Chaplin. 114 min. Rated PG-13. Spain. Thriller/Drama.

A family of five gets caught in the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami during their pleasant Christmas vacation. I found this movie a well-choreographed dishonest, distasteful, selfish tearjerker, manipulating the viewer's emotions and manufacturing numerous moments of fake suspense. Anything I say to prove my claim would spoil the story for those who haven't seen it. Okay, how's this for a hint: it's based on a Spanish family's true story, but in the movie, they've been switched to a British family. You can start from there.

PS #1: It got an 80% rating on the Tomatometer, and Ebert gave it four stars. So what?

PS #2: You can also watch the trailer, which heroically gives away the ending.

Mo says:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Homayoun Ershadi, Stephen Dillane. 157 min. Rated R. History/Drama.

The dilemma of a movie based on the hunt to kill Bin Laden, like any history-based drama, is that even though we know the ending, is the film able to maintain the tension till the very end? In this case, the answer is a big fat Yes. The movie's long duration works similar to films such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, where the longer the movie is, the crescendo-like pacing to reach the treasure at the end become increasingly tense and pleasing. I found the final 20 minutes one of the most suspenseful sequences ever. Incredible movie.

Mo says:

The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan maut) (2011)

Director:  Director: Gareth Evans. Cast: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy. 101 min. Rated R. Indonesia/USA. Action/Crime.

Because of my love for Dredd 3D, I saw somewhere that The Raid: Redemption was a good movie along the same lines; this one being "Die Hard in Indonesia". Yes, it is well-made, and the pacing keeps you hanging. But with all my love for Tarantino's comedic violence, I stay away from the self-gratuitous kind. These martial arts foes just keep punching and chopping and kicking each other forever, and the screenwriters come up with the most creative ways for people to get killed. Or maybe martial arts just isn't my thing. All its awards notwithstanding, I wouldn't recommend this.

Mo says.

Les Misérables (2012)

Director:  Tom Hooper. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks. 157 min. Rated PG-13. UK. Musical/Drama.

If I were to be left alone on an island, "Les Misérables " would've been my book of choice. After all, it's the greatest story ever told, so the movie had already won points before it even started. But the film musical improves upon the Broadway show, as a theater play falls short at portraying the story's epic scenes - and who would pass the opportunity of watching Hollywood stars (yes, even Russell Crowe) sing those heartbreaking songs? The movie goes on a tad too long; some songs could've been cut out. Expecting an Oscar nomination (or even win) for Hathaway.

Mo says: