Friday, November 29, 2013

The Way Way Back (2013)

Director(s): Nat Faxon, Jim Rash. Cast: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet. 103 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy Drama.

Coming-of-age story, by the creators of The Descendants and Little Miss Sunshine (hence, Steve Carell and Toni Collette): the most insecure teenager on the planet goes on a summer trip with his mother and stepfather, and starts believing in himself through the most unexpected friendship with a wacky extroverted water-park manager. The beauty, as in the above-mentioned works, is almost entirely in the dialogue, but Sam Rockwell's delivery of his hilarious wisecracks creates such a memorable and likable character in the manager, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination shouldn't be a surprise. So pleasant, I didn't want this to end.

Mo says:

Philomena (2013)

Director: Stephen Frears. Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Mare Winningham, Michelle Fairley. 98 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA/France. Drama.

This isn't just based on a true story about an Irish old lady, whose child was sold into adoption by the Catholic Church to wealthy Americans because he was born out of wedlock, and her search to find him 50 years later. This is a perfect "road movie", where two extreme opposites (simple-minded religious old Dench and sarcastic middle-aged atheist Coogan) start their common search on humorous terms, end up with anger and forgiveness, and learn something about themselves and each other along the way. Judy Dench was always my hero; now I've found a new one in Steve Coogan.

PS: Huge winner at this year's Venice Film Festival.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Twixt (2011)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, David Paymer. 88 min. Rated R. Horror/Thriller.

Stephen King-wannabe writer is promoting his new book in a small town that doesn't have a bookstore and everybody minds their own business, and befriends Edgar Allen Poe in his dreams to draw inspiration from a serial child murder case that happened in the town's old motel years ago, and write a novel about vampire executions. I know, sounds weird. But Coppola's revisit of vampire territory is slightly enchanting, and the beautifully photographed black-and-white dream sequences are mesmerizing as post-modern renditions of Gothic horror. Coppola continues to experiment with new styles and instruments; let's see when he hits gold again.

PS: Exes Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley are a husband and wife here who only speak together through Skype, and Kilmer calls her his inspiration for his novels on witchcraft. Nice sense of humor.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Company You Keep (2012)

Director: Robert Redford. Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Brendan Gleeson, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci, Sam Elliott. 125 min. Rated R. Drama/Thriller.

Forget the story; look at the cast. How can you ignore this, and pass on the chance of seeing these screen icons interact? Yes, the political conspiracy story is flimsy, and Redford seems stuck in his own All the President's Men Three Days of the Condor past. But hey, we're talking Sarandon, Nolte, Christie, Gleeson, taking short roles in a cinema legend's film. Even the recently-famed actors such as Jenkins, Kendrick and Howard have taken tiny parts, because they must've been up in the clouds when they got the call. This is Robert Redford as Hollywood demigod, flexing his muscles.

Trivia: Jackie "Britain's Got Talent" Evancho plays the main character's daughter, and she doesn't even sing.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club (2013).

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn. 117 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

Racist homophobic heterosexual Texan electrician tests HIV+ in the mid 80s, and goes on a crusade to smuggle non-FDA approved AIDS drugs into the country. Set McConaughey and Leto's incredible Oscar-worthy performances aside, and there's really not much left to the movie. The entire hospital strangely appears to have only clerk working all the shifts, the entire Dallas only one policeman popping up at every corner, and the entire country only one DEA agent. And Garner is not a good actress. Just didn't get what the take-home message here was. Watch this for a much better film on the subject.

Mo says:

Parkland (2013)

Director: Peter Landesman. Cast: Paul Giamatti, Marcia Gay Harden, Zac Efron, Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Welling, Colin Hanks, Jackie Earle Haley, Jacki Weaver. 93 min. Rated PG-13. History/Thriller.

A snapshot. That's all. The film's goal is to portray how it felt 50 years ago on this day, to have been in Parkland Memorial Hospital, when they brought in a popular president with a blown skull - and succeeds magnificently. The movie completely avoids any conspiracy theory about the Kennedy assassination, and sticks to the tense, crushing atmosphere of the day, and the three days after. For our generation, 9/11 was the day the world changed, and we know how it felt. This film projects the feelings of the day the last generation's world changed. Seemed as bad.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Purge (2013)

Director: James DeMonaco. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey. 85 min. Rated R. USA/France. Horror/Thriller.

Year 2022. "Crime is at an all-time low, because one night a year, all crime is legal." So the premise is perfect for a philosophical movie about human psychology, to become a memorable cult horror film. But then ... the screenplay becomes distracted to a situation right out of Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, where a lone man, who actually believes in the Annual Purge, defends his home and family against the purgers. This well-directed and beautifully-shot story had so many sociopolitical aspects to explore (because the extravagant themes don't seem too extravagant), but feels content to a simple gory thriller. Wasted creativity.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Blackfish (2013)

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite. 83 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

Former Sea World trainers describe how the institution has captured, trained and treated killer whales, in a manner that has gradually forced them into psychosis, and lead to several horrible trainer injuries and deaths throughout its 40-year history, while the institution keeps the fatalities in shadows and runs the business unscathed. This is not some kind of propaganda against Sea World; rather, it makes you think why humans continue to manipulate forces which consequences they cannot even fathom. This documentary will make you re-think your next trip to the zoo. It's one those rare films you owe yourself to watch.

Mo says:

The Heat (2013)

Director: Paul Feig. Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans. 117 min. Rated R. Comedy/Crime.

A very entertaining female buddy cop movie that solely works due to McCarthy's body language and delivery of the lines. After Bridesmaids and this, I'm just surprised it took so long to discover this huge talent. But The Heat has nothing else to offer.

PS: Watch for "Biff" from Back to the Future as the police chief.

Mo says:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Europa Report (2013)

Director: Sebastián Cordero. Cast: Embeth Davidtz, Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist. 90 min. Rated PG-13. Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.

The first manned mission to find life on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, ends in disaster ... because there's something lurking under the moon's ice. Told in the by-now-old "found footage" format, the movie's spacewalks might have had a better chance at impressing if they hadn't already been overshadowed by one of the year's greatest films. Amazing how the Alien style of storytelling (down to the last detail of a female being a final survivor - and I'm not spoiling anything by mentioning that) still influences films more than 30 years later.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Director: Alan Taylor. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgård, Chris O'Dowd, Benicio Del Toro. 112 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

Okay, I get it. Marvel is on this crusade of mass producing superhero movies, because each character needs multiple sequels before they can prepare for the next Avengers movie; to the extent that the "secret" post-credits sequence is now becoming more fruitful and interesting than the movie itself. People's hands get chopped off and grow back out, characters keep on dying and coming back to life again, because hey, we need them for the next movie. No story, no imagination, nothing new. Not even Hiddleston as the great villain Loki can prevent this insult to the intelligence (and the pocket).

Mo says:

Barbara (2012)

Director: Christian Petzold. Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Bock. 105 min. Rated PG-13. Germany. Drama.

East Germany, 1980. Female physician who cooperated with the West, is banished (after her incarceration) to work in a rural hospital, in a village where even the cats and dogs seem to hate her. So will she try to escape to West Germany, or stay and live up to her duties as a doctor?  I was expecting a more sophisticated answer than what the movie provides, but the movie's 93% on the Tomatometer suggests critics who reviewed this film aren't accustomed to how people in countries with authoritarian governments struggle with this question every single day. Every single day.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Passion (2012)

Director: Brian DePalma. Cast: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth. 102 min. Rated R. Germany/France. Crime/Mystery.

Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, DePalma. The generation of filmmakers who defined modern-day Hollywood. Among them, Spielberg and Scorsese heroically stayed in the game, solely because they kept "re-inventing" themselves; an attribute DePalma is most resistant to. In this murder-mystery of backstabbing female bosses and employees, DePalma again gives us the same twin sister whodunits, half-screen side-by-side storytellings, shower/elevator suspense sequences, and "gotcha"s of characters waking up from nightmares - the same as he did 40 years ago. Brian DePalma was a director who made good movies in the 70s and 80s. That filmmaker is now in permanent retirement.

Mo says:

Friday, November 8, 2013

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Director: Steve McQueen. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Quvenzhané Wallis. 134 min. Rated R. USA/UK. Biography/Drama/History.

I almost gave this a NoMo. The next-to-nothing story is summarized in its title, it's way too long, and I couldn't wait for it to end. But then, 24 hours has passed ... and it keeps bothering me. An image of the lynched black hero, while child slaves play ignorantly and gleefully in the background. A whipping scene that's so devastating, you want to look away. An ending image of Ejiofor, gazing at you, burning right through you. This movie does for slavery what Schindler's List did for the Holocaust. This is not a fun movie to watch. It hurts bad.

PS #1: Hunger, Shame, and now this. Steve McQueen is making a career out of disturbing films looking into the dark corners of the human soul.

PS #2: And Paul Dano has made a career out of playing the most "punchable" characters in Hollywood.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ender's Game (2013)

Director: Gavin Hood. Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley. Viola Davis. 114 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

Earth is threatened by an alien invasion, and army generals decide to recruit teenagers to lead the attack against the alien planet. Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel is directed towards teenagers, and that's why the movie feels ... childish. Yes, the visual effects are (literally) uplifting, and there a few good moral points about thinking twice before completely annihilating your enemy, but when nearly the entire running time of a movie is focused on the military training kids (even when a few Oscar-nominated kids are among them), it's hard to be inspired the way sci-fis inspire.

Mo says:

Fantastic Planet (La planète sauvage) (1973)

Director: René Laloux. 72 min. Rated PG. France/Czechoslovakia. Animation.

Giant aliens in a planet right out of Salvadore Dali paintings exploit humans and treat them as household pets, while stray human colonies stage a rebellion using the aliens' knowledge and technology. This Czechoslovakian animation (PG-rated, but clearly for adults) was supposedly a metaphor for the Soviet occupation, and considering it was made before the late 70s' space sci-fi boom, the immense imagination and creativity at work picturing an alien world, together with the eerie soundtrack, is quite baffling. Maybe if I was old enough to watch it at the time, it would've taken my breath away.

Mo says: