Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Director: Adrian Lyne. Cast: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello, Matt Craven, Jason Alexander, Ving Rhames, Macaulay Culkin. 113 min. Rated R. Mystery/Horror.

Robbins plays a Vietnam War veteran who recently lost his preschool son, and experiences hallucinations of demons living among people in New York City (well, you don't need to be a war veteran to notice that). Similar to a David Lynch film, differentiating dream from reality throughout the movie is the main mystery, and some very vivid hallucination sequences (including a terrifying hospital scene), and an ending that gives multiple meanings to "Ladder" in the title, make this a very memorable one. Let's just say it must have been a great source of inspiration for a famous 1999 movie.

Mo says:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My 2013 Oscars Predictions

This was the first year that except for Best Foreign Language and short subject categories, I was able to watch all nominees in the 20 other categories. As though that changes anything.

So here are my predictions for tomorrow night's show. As usual, I've separated what I want to win, from what I predict will win. Make sure you do some heavy gambling on the latter.

Best Picture:

(Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty)

The announcement of the main award winner will probably be the depressing moment of the night. Artistically, technically, and historically (Oscar history, I mean), a movie like Lincoln should win, nine times out of ten. But then Argo won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the AFI awards for Best Picture of the Year. I sincerely try not to buy into the conspiracy theory that movie awards are politically motivated - or at least not to the extent of naming a Iran-hostage crisis themed movie as the best film of the year, when there were so many superior options out there. But if Argo wins, I wouldn't fathom any other way to explain it.

Should win: Lincoln

Will win: Argo

Best Director:


(Michael Haneke for AmourAng Lee for Life of Pi, David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild)

When it comes to the Oscar for Best Direction, look for grand scale events. Amour  Silver Linings, and Beasts were all small movies. I loved Lincoln (or better said, I love whatever Spielberg touches), but the sheer magnitude of directing film like Life of Pi must have been a killer. Spielberg already has two Oscars; Ang Lee has one. Lee may become the surprise of the night, but I'm still betting on Spielberg.

Should win: Steven Spielberg

Will win: Steven Spielberg

Best Actor:

(Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook, Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables, Joaquin Phoenix for The Master, Denzel Washington for Flight)

Don't even bother betting on anybody else. Daniel Day-Lewis has proven he's the best actor alive. No, not De Niro, not Hanks, not Pacino. Daniel Day-Lewis is the best actor alive.

Should win: Daniel Day-Lewis

Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress:

(Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty, Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook, Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Naomi Watts for The Impossible)

I believe hyping about Riva and Wallis being the oldest and youngest Best Actress nominees ever, respectively, is just part of the show. The main competition here is between Chastain and Lawrence, as both received a Golden Globe - Chastain for best in a drama role, Lawrence for best in a comedy role. Critics say Lawrence was brilliant at giving her character's manic-depressive personality a comedic tone in Silver Linings; I say Chastain was able to personify the frustration, the anger and the hopelessness of hunting down the world's most wanted man in Zero Dark Thirty. But I'm predicting Lawrence to win, just because she also won the Screen Actor's Guild Award.

Should win: Jessica Chastain

Will win: Jennifer Lawrence

Best Supporting Actor:

(Alan Arkin for Argo, Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman for The MasterTommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained)

As opposed to every year where Best Supporting Actress is the toughest category to predict, this year Best Supporting Actor is almost impossible to predict. All five nominees are prior Oscar winners, and Arkin probably has the lowest chance here. Otherwise, Waltz got the Golden Globe, Jones got the Guild Award, and Entertainment Weekly gives De Niro the highest odds at winning ...  but by only 1% over Jones (31% to 30%, respectively). Still, I'm voting for Jones; his Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln was a centerpiece against the hulk of Day-Lewis in the sprawling movie.

Should win: Tommy Lee Jones

Will win: Tommy Lee Jones

Best Supporting Actress:

(Amy Adams for The Master, Sally Field for LincolnAnne Hathaway for Les Misérables, Helen Hunt for The Sessions, Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook)

It's Hathaway, all the way. She's another one of those Hollywood sweethearts the movie business invests in, and are sooner or later bound to get an Oscar. And her unimaginably-long close-up singing and crying "I Dreamed a Dream" was one of the year's best movie moments. And this may be the Academy's apology for leaving her out there to dry by her weird co-host during the horrible Oscar telecast two years ago.

Should win: Anne Hathaway

Will win: Anne Hathaway

Best Original Screenplay:

(AmourDjango UnchainedFlight, Moonrise KingdomZero Dark Thirty)

Watch the movies, look at the list. It's obvious Django had this year's best original screenplay, because dialogue is Tarantino's greatest asset. But he already got an Oscar for Pulp Fiction's screenplay, and considering the number of times the N-word is used in Django, if he wins this one, there will probably be a riot. Zero Dark Thirty had the most fascinating script, but the subject was so caught up in controversy,  rewarding it seems too risky. The Academy will likely go with Michael Haneke's more mellow but very compelling screenplay - a deep drama almost entirely happening between an old couple in a small apartment, which is no easy feat.

Should win: Django Unchained

Will win: Amour

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(ArgoBeasts of the Southern WildLife of PiLincolnSilver Linings Playbook)

A no-brainer. Historians believe the screenplay written by Tony Kushner (of Munich and Angels in America fame), not only dived into the history of Lincoln politics, but also expanded upon it. And we're talking about a US president whose decisions have vastly contradictory historical interpretations.

Should win: Lincoln

Will win: Lincoln

Best Documentary Feature Film:

(5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Searching for Sugar Man)

Wow, what a year for documentaries. And two that I thought were among the year's best (Bully and The Imposter) didn't even make the nominees' list! Predictions are that Searching for Sugar Man has a good chance to win (and I'm not denying that it was a decent film), but when it comes to documentaries, anything related to the Holocaust or the Arab-Israeli conflict is in priority. This year, two films (5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers) matched those criteria - the former from the Palestinian side, the latter the Israeli side. The latter is far superior, on multiple levels.

Should win: The Gatekeepers

Will win: The Gatekeepers

And for predictions in other categories, mainly based on hearsay:

- Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

- Best Animated Feature Film: Wreck-It Ralph

- Best Animated Short Film: Paperman

- Best Documentary Short Film: Inocente

- Best Live Action Short Film: Death of a Shadow

- Best Editing: Argo

- Best Art Direction: Anna Karenina

- Best Cinematography: Life of Pi (Remember that underwater shot of the sinking ship?)

- Best Makeup: Les Misérables

- Best Original Score: Life of Pi

- Best Original Song: Skyfall (You know, Adele. Skyfall.)

- Best Costume: Anna Karenina

- Best Sound Editing: Skyfall

- Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

- Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi (Remember ... the whole movie?)


Anna Karenina (2012)

Director: Joe Wright. Cast: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Olivia Williams, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Emily Watson. 129 min. Rated R. UK. Drama/Romance.

Don't trust my rating on this one, because I'm not a romance novel fan, I haven't read Tolstoy's original story to conclude how well the adaptation was done, ... and I don't like Keira Knightley. Showing the story pan out on a theater stage was quite creative, probably to enhance the feeling of how a world audience watches and perceives the heroine's scandalous life. But I struggled to get through this one. And I don't like Keira Knightley.

Mo says:

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Gatekeepers (2012)

Director: Dror Moreh. 95 min. Rated PG-13. Israel/France/Germany/Belgium. Documentary.

Year 2012 was a great time for documentaries, and The Gatekeepers is one that excels. Six previous Shin Bet chiefs are interviewed, about their experiences running the organization previously known as the Mossad, during the past 30 years. The result is dizzying: how moral ambiguity has become the norm, how friend is no longer discernible from foe, how Israel (as one ex-chief says) is winning every battle ... but losing the war. Reminiscent of the McNamara documentary, Fogs of War, the sobering lessons here merely demonstrate what a bottomless pit the Israel-Arab conflict is. Guaranteed to shake you up.

Mo says:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Master (2012)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Laura Dern. 144 min. Rated R. Drama.

I'm a hardcore P.T. Anderson fan. His Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood have all been mesmerizing to the point of becoming disturbing, and I find myself reflecting upon his films from time to time. The Master uses his same long slow-rhythm character study style devoid of a climactic ending, for an (alleged) Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard-inspired biopic. But this time, it really doesn't work. I was lost the entire time where this movie was heading, and couldn't relate to any of the characters. Superb acting by Phoenix, but that's possibly because he's a nut-job anyway.

PS: Yeah, it got 86% on the Tomatometer.

Mo says:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Director: John Moore. Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir. 97 min. Rated R. Action/Thriller.

The Die Hard formula is among the most die-hardest in film industry, because a paradoxically cool/panicking one-man-army taking on everything under the sun and improvising through insurmountable odds and sky-high explosions for two straight hours, is definitely something we can all relate to- right? But in this fifth episode, they reverse the Indiana Jones father-son relationship, try to give it a new look by filming predominantly in close-up (where you consequently lose orientation of the major action scenes), and for the first time in the franchise barely get enough material in past 90 minutes. The most mediocre Die Hard so far.

PS: The first and third episodes were directed by John McTiernan, the second by Renny Harlin, and the third by Len Wiseman. All accomplished action directors. Now who in the world is John Moore?

Mo says:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Devil Inside (2012)

Director: William Brent Bell. Cast: Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Suzan Crowley. 83 min. Rated R. USA. Horror.

O... the funny, stupid insanity. Every exorcism movie follows the same formula founded in the 1973 original: body fluids spurting out, the protagonist arching her back (it's always a "her") in 360-degree loops, hurling imaginative obscenities at the priests, etc. And the cliches never get old. Similar to The Last Exorcism (I guess they got the "Last" wrong there!), this rip-off is done in handy-cam documentary style - you know, a buddy keeps filming while blood gushes out of the next victim. With all the stupidity, there are some extremely tense moments, which kept me engaged till the very end.

Best Line: Opening subtitles enlighten us that "The Vatican did not endorse this recording". Hahaha, very funny.

Mo says:

The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza) (2008)

Director: Lucrecia Martel. Cast: María Onetto, Claudia Cantero, César Bordón. 87 min. Unrated. Argentina/France/Italy/Spain. Drama/Mystery.

Middle-aged woman runs over something (a kid? a dog?) on the road and leaves the scene, but the burden of guilt she feels puts her in a dysfunctional state of confusion, memory loss and apathy. This Cannes Palm d'Or nominee is apparently a metaphor for Argentina's intentional amnesia during its post-dictatorship era, when the general public tried to forget their own behavior during those times. Due to my historical ignorance, I didn't get that message, but I was fascinated how well the movie distills the most innocent daily gestures, into a paranoid feeling of everybody knowing you've done something bad.

PS: After the mind-blowing The Secret in Their Eyes, this was my second exposure to Argentina's cinema. Apparently these Argentinians make some pretty cerebral stuff.

Mo says:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Side by Side (2012)

Director: Christopher Kenneally. 99 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

Keanu Reeves interviews ... George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, the Wachowskis, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Lars von Trier, Robert Rodriguez, Joel Schumacher, Richard Linklater, Dennis Muren, Walter Murch, Vilmos Zsigmond, Lena Dunham - to ask them for a side-by-side analysis of film's crossover from celluloid to digital, pioneered at the turn of the century by Lucas. The documentary describes the most sophisticated stages of the film-making process in lay terms, and amazingly, makes even you have an opinion whether film is better, or digital. My opinion? As a viewer, I still prefer celluloid.

Mo says:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Director: Martin McDonagh. Cast: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Abbie Cornish, Harry Dean Stanton, Gabourey Sidibe, Olga Kurylenko. 110 min. Rated R. UK. Comedy/Crime.

Somewhat confusing. The title suggests it's about seven psychopaths, and an opening sequence introduces (subtitled) "Psychopath No.1", so you assume all seven would be introduced early on, and they'll group up for some funny psychotic crime. But then we realize "Seven Psychopaths" is the title of Farrell's (non-psycho) character's screenplay, some of the psychos may or may not be real, and some of the seven characters in the  movie's poster are definitely not psycho. Could've been a funny Tarantino/Guy Ritchie mash-up, and Rockwell's performance stands out among others. It's just the victim of bad marketing and plot development.

Mo says: