Sunday, March 31, 2013

Room 237 (2012)

Director: Rodney Ascher. 102 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

I was looking forward to watching this documentary about fan conspiracy theories on clues hidden in Kubrick's horror masterpiece, The Shining, and its 95% on the Tomatometer very much whetted my appetite. But how wrong I was. The material provided here can only be the concoction of insane minds. It's true that some pieces of art have a life of their own after their creator's death, but what is deduced here from elements of the original movie can only be described as sheer madness. Stay away, with a ten-foot pole.

Mo says:

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære) (2012)

Director: Nikolaj Arcel. Cast: Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard. 137 min. Rated R. Denmark.Sweden/Czech Republic. Drama/History.

Great foreign movie, lost last year under Amour's bright light. In 18th century Denmark, the presumably crazy King Christian marries the King of England's daughter, who in turn falls in love with the King's "enlightened" personal doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee. The doctor uses his influence on the King to enlighten the country, but his scandalous affair is his biggest obstacle; leading to great cinematic drama. Never knew there was such an interesting character in Europe history, and I have yet to see a Mads Mikkelsen movie (Casino Royale, After the Wedding, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky) that wasn't worthy of watching.

Mo says:

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Director: Simon West. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Nan Yu. 103 min. Rated R. Action.

Don't know why I watched this. Actually, I do know why I watched this. Action is not a very profound genre anyway, but even after their first failure, I still couldn't pass the chance to see so many action superstars again in the same movie. And again, they blew it. The fact that Simon West (the creator of the  lousiest action movies ever) directs should've been a hint, and that the villain's name is "Vilain" (I kid you not) should've sealed the deal in terms of creativity. Okay, the following back-and-forth was interesting, but I wanted more of its kind:

Arnold: "I'll be back!"

Bruce Willis: "You've been back enough! I'll be back."

Arnold: "Yippee-ki-yay ..."

PS #1: The DVD has a great half-hour documentary about how the 80's action sub-genre came to be and why it was so pertinent during the Reagan era; good enough to solely watch the documentary and forego the movie itself. Unfortunately, the filmmakers (above all, Stallone) are under the illusion that the factors that made the sub-genre important 30 years ago are still relevant today.

PS #2: Who in the world is Nan Yu? If they wanted an Asian female action star, weren't Michelle Yeoh or Lucy Liu available? Ughhhhh, this movie has so many problem as it is.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Side Effects (2013)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones. 106 min. Rated R. Drama/Crime.

An intriguing story about psychotropic drug side effects and big business, becomes a John Grisham novel/movie style whodunit mystery. Well-written, well-directed and well-acted all around, with Rooney Mara apparently unable to get rid of her Girl With a Dragon Tattoo creepiness. But when an interesting, prolific directer like Soderbergh says this may be his last movie, I expect something deeper. Much deeper.

Mo says:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Django (1966)

Director: Sergio Corbucci. Cast: Franco Nero, Eduardo Fajardo, José Bódalo, Loredana Nusciak. 92 min. Unrated. Italy/Spain. Western.

Hard to decide whether the delight of the opening song "Django!", was because it reminded of Tarantino's beautiful work, or because it accompanied the unique image a lone hero pulling a coffin behind him in the muddy dunes. Yes, the tale of a man who hurls a town's two rival gangs at each other's throats isn't new (see Yojimbo (1961), A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Last Man Standing (1996), Lucky Number Sleven (2006), etc). But Django has moments unmatched even for today's audience; among them, an army of 48 red-hooded gunslingers walking toward their doom. This is epic Spaghetti Western.

Mo says:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Interview with the Assassin (2002)

Director: Neil Burger. Cast: Dylan Haggerty, Raymond J. Barry, Renee Faia. 88 min. Rated R. Drama.

A mockumentary, in its best form. An old neighbor tells an out-of-job reporter he was the second gunman at Dealey Plaza in Dallas when President Kennedy was shot, and his dying wish is to have his last statements recorded. You know throughout the film it's all fake, but still, it does a fascinating job at keeping its grip on the viewer. Not necessarily a must see for conspiracy theorists, but one for the common viewer, to see how cinema can be used to emotionally stimulate the audience based on an entirely fictional narrative.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux prunes) (2011)

Director(s): Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi. Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Edouard Baer, Maria de Medeiros, Golshifteh Farahan, Isabella Rossellini. 93 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

A talented violinist (read: an ex-patriot) loses his beloved violin (his only means of connection to his former self), and his one-time true love, a woman named Iran (the country, duh), whose strict father (traditions/religion) prevented their marriage, doesn't recognize him anymore, and no other violin can replace his own. So the metaphors are blatantly obvious. But in addition to the mixture of 3D animation and live-action footage giving the movie a somewhat disjointed look, I couldn't understand why the characters speak French, when the movie's message is not so universal. Satrapi's Persepolis (2007) was significantly superior.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

13 Assassins (Jûsan-nin no shikaku) (2010)

Director: Takashi Miike. Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yûsuke Iseya. 125 min. Rated R. Japan/UK. War.

Made in old-fashioned Kurosawa style (and obviously inspired from The Seven Samurai), a small group of rogue Samurai are assigned to a suicide mission, to kill an evil sadistic lord, protected by an army of 200 men. In the opening 15 minutes, the movie manages to create one of the most fearsome villains I can remember in recent years, but most noteworthy is the ability to dedicate almost its entire second hour to the climatic battle, without a hint boredom. With all the blood splattering everywhere, now you know why older Japanese movies (and Kill Bill Vol. 1) resorted to black and white.

Mo says:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Intouchables (2011)

Director(s): Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano. Cast: François Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot. 112 min. Rated R. France. Drama.

A few days ago on Paper Moon, I complained: "Why don't they make movies like this anymore?" Well, here's one of "those" movies. A character-driven film based on a beautiful true story. A white paraplegic zillionaire and a black male nurse from the streets form a relationship so captivating, after awhile you're not sure who is nurturing whom. The mesmerizing opening sequence (with the Earth, Wind, & Fire music) will have you hooked, and after that, you want to cruise through their interaction forever. Another shame for this year's Oscars: this wasn't even nominated in the Best Foreign-Language Film category.

PS: Shahriar and Ali S., thank you for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Pact (2011)

Director: Nicholas McCarthy. Cast: Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Agnes Bruckner. 89 min. Rated R.

A touch of Psycho, a touch of The Omen. A little of The Ring here, a little Paranormal Activity there. The Pact uses ingredients from all these well-trodden paths, and still manages to create a very original-looking horror atmosphere. No shock-shots, minimal use of gore, and maximal use of visual and sound editing techniques building up to some truly terrifying moments. And even newcomer Caity Lotz is impressive in her starring role. The haunted house story bravely happens in broad daylight, but I wouldn't recommend watching this at night.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012)

Director: Alex Gibney. 106 min. Documentary.

Devastating documentary. We've all heard about the Vatican child sex abuse scandal, but this film portrays how insanely widespread the disaster is. Thee fact that the recently resigned Pope Benedict/Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of investigating (and protecting) all these child molesters for years, and that he was chosen to become Pope in lieu of his overseeing the crimes and keeping them silent, sends shivers down your spine. By the way, the same Cardinals will go into conclave again in a few days to choose the new Pope.

PS: Thank you, Mohi, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Rhino Season (2012) (فصل كرگدن)

Director: Bahman Ghobadi. Cast: Behrouz Vossoughi, Monica Bellucci, Yilmaz Erdogan. 88 min. Iran/Turkey. Drama.

A political prisoner is held captive by the Iranian government for 30 years, while his wife is told he's dead and she weeps on an empty grave. Supposedly based on a true story, but so heavily dramatized/fictionalized and adapted (i.e. ripped off) from The House of Spirits (1993), Incendies (2010) and most prominently, Oldboy (2003), any chance of an audience effect backfires, and nearly becomes a disservice to the real political prisoners. Appointing starring roles to an old Iranian superstar (Vossoughi) and a non-Iranian actress hugely popular among Iranians (Bellucci), proves Rhino Season is more a show than a statement.

Trivia: Interestingly, this movie was produced by Scorsese. Sadly, the director has done much better before, such as this film.

Mo says:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

This Is Not a Film (2011) (اين فيلم نيست)

Director(s): Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi. Cast: Jafar Panahi. 77 min. Not Rated. Iran. Documentary.

A day in the life of "dissident" Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who awaits the appeal results of his 20-year ban on filmmaking (and 6-year prison sentence); hence, the film's title. Since he's not banned from reading screenplays, he decides to literally read his last un-filmed one live on camera, but then realizes that doesn't make sense, because film is an extension of real life, and a ban on filmmaking is a ban on life itself. Interesting concept, but I found this more to be Panahi's plea of self-pity, and that hurts the film's power to seduce.

PS: Ebert was affected more by the film than I was. I seriously wasn't moved by the ending.

Mo says:

Paper Moon (1973)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich. Cast: Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal, Madeline Kahn. 102 min. Rated PG. Comedy/Drama.

What a lovely movie.  Ryan O'Neal is a Depression era con-artist, who employs the talents a feisty 9-year-old girl, who may or may not be his daughter. But that's not the point. Every moment of this duo's friendship-quarrel-friendship cycle and fast-witted back-and-forth dialogue is so well-written, you won't notice the time passing by. It's as fun as The Little Rascals, and as heart-breaking as Chaplin's The Kid. Well-deserved Oscar for Tatum O'Neal, the youngest actor ever to win. Why oh why don't they make movies like this anymore?

Mo says: