Thursday, May 29, 2014

Non-Stop (2014)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra. Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong'o. 106 min. Rated PG-13. UK/France/USA. Action/Mystery/Thriller.

Federal Marshall discovers a terror threat on a passenger plane, but is simultaneously framed by the terrorist, and becomes the main terror suspect by both the passengers and people on the ground. This is a taut thriller with multiple up-and-coming actors (Mary from "Downton Abbey", Rep. Peter Russo from "House of Cards", and Nyong'o oblivious to her looming Oscar success) in supporting roles, and Neeson in another action role that used to go to Bruce Willis - not to say he doesn't fit the part. But with such tight pacing and story-telling, I had expected a much less confusing ending.

Mo says:

Friday, May 23, 2014

Like Someone in Love (2012)

Director: Abbas Kiarostami. Cast: Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, Ryô Kase. 109 min. Not Rated. France/Japan. Drama.

In his previous great work set in Italy, Certified Copy, Kiarostami posed a question through a stunning mid-movie revelation: Is it any different, if the copy is as good as the original? Here, set in Japan, he takes the question one step further, and through another mid-movie revelation asks: What if we didn't even know which was the original, and which was the copy? What if a girl you met, has a completely separate life as a prostitute, and you never knew? Would it matter? I"ll be waiting for Kiarostami to take this even further, and complete his "identity" trilogy.

Mo says:

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Director: Bryan Singer. Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Kelsey Grammer, Famke Janssen, James Marsden. 131 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

What else can one ask for? The brilliant young film-maker who started it all, directs some of the greatest actors of both past and present generations, in a story that although heavily inspired by a recent Star Trek story-line, doesn't leave much room to look at your watch throughout its entirety. Of course the plot has major time-travel paradox flaws, but I was willing to suspend disbelief, just to watch more Stewart-McKellen interactions. If it wasn't so heavily dependent on the past six X-Men movies (while its best scene involved a new mutant, Quicksilver), this would've been a sure "MoMagic!".

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gloria (2013)

Director: Sebastián Lelio. Cast: Paulina García, Sergio Hernández, Diego Fontecilla. 110 min. Rated R. Chile/Spain. Drama/Comedy.

Aging upper-class divorcee goes around, spends time in bars, sets herself up for the next dysfunctional relationship, and essentially (in my opinion) ... does nothing with the rest of her life. With echoes of About Schmidt, this is a very illustrative picture of a person who has no plans for retirement age, and the reason for the appropriately slow pace is probably to imply how it feels to live in this person's shoes. I'm assuming the reason that literally 99% of critics enjoyed it, may be because many of them are around the protagonist's age. I wasn't, so I couldn't sympathize.

PS: Among numerous other awards, star Paulina García won the Silver Bear at last year's Berlin Film Festival for her role as Gloria.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Lunchbox (Dabba) (2013)

Director: Ritesh Batra. Cast: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.104 min. Rated PG. India/France/Germany/USA. Drama/Romance.

Through the famously efficient Indian dabbawala lunch delivery system, a soon-to-retire older widower in an insurance company mistakenly receives a tasty lunch from an unhappy young housewife, and as both catch on to the error, paper correspondence via the lunchbox (and romance) ensues. A delightful drama with a tin box working as the MacGuffin, superb acting by Irrfan Khan, and powerful moments to remind us how we take people around us for granted, and how we should cling on to life and love while it lasts. After all, "... Sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right station."

PS: The film was the winner of almost 50 awards and nominations at international film festivals.

Mo says:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards. Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn. 123 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Japan. Action/Sci-fi.

After interesting opening credits, we have a story-line that doesn't make sense, riddled with numerous cliches (yes, including the whistling teapot when someone's angry), and we're wondering why Juliette Binoche even bothered to play a role here; or Watanabe, or Olsen, or Hawkins, or Strathairn for that matter. Or why the giant lizard is present for only a few minutes. This was supposed to compensate for Roland Emmerich's 1998 disaster; but the indiscriminate destruction of San Francisco (again!) reminds of another 2013 travesty. Maybe the incredible climactic spectacle would've made this worthy of a So-so. But no ... not even that.

PS: I spotted an Easter Egg in the movie: there's a glass tank in the main character's old house with the name "Mothra" scribbled on it. This franchise is far from over.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Blue Ruin (2013)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier. Cast: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves. 90 min. Rated R. Thriller.

John Wayne once said: “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” The same can be said about this film's protagonist: he's out for bloody revenge on a recently-released convict who killed his parents, and he's weak, scared, and alone - but saddles up anyway. Tarantino is the expert on revenge movies, and even last year's Out of the Furnace had a similar story; but those characters were strong and self-assured, and taking violent revenge didn't look as close-to-home and excruciating as what this guy is going through. Hell ... this movie even helped me understand America's love for guns.

PS: The movie's 95% on the Tomatometer is well-deserved.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

Director: Felix van Groeningen. Cast: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse. 111 min. Not Rated. Belgium/Netherlands. Drama/Romance.

Mind-numbing disaster strikes a Dutch-speaking American country music-singing Belgian couple (!), and their atheistic/religious struggle with the aftermaths crushes the heart and breaks the will. The pain is so severe, you almost want to reach out and help this couple. And curiously, the American references (music, flag, 9/11, Elvis) are not artificial - they each take a real part in this spiritual journey. With amazing performances by the award-winning lead actress and the screenplay-writing lead actor, this Foreign Language Oscar-nominated movie will keep you in a daze for awhile. How about leaving it up to what Tribeca said last year:

"The Broken Circle Breakdown is a true original, starting with the eclectic ingredients in its dynamic screenplay: a romance of opposites, a battle between spiritual faith and secular humanism, triggered by unthinkable tragedy, a Flemish bluegrass band. With dialogue that spans the sweetly flirtatious and the operatically confrontational -- and with dollops of humor and a pure, deep love of music - the film leaps nimbly back and forth in time to conjure vivid characters who face down literal life-or-death issues. They win both our rapt interest and our greatest empathy; they make us both think and feel."

PS: This is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Mo says:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

All About Eve (1950)

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Cast: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe. 138 min. Rated PG. Drama.

The beauty of classics. You rarely see movies these days where all the characters are likable, rarely where the use of black and white and different shades of gray are such an appropriate metaphor for the stark characters, rarely where even Marilyn Monroe in a small role was as glamorous as could be. It's not just the story of a conniving upstart idolizing an aging theater star and then insinuating herself to take her place; it's about sitting back, and enjoying how through rich dialogue, old screenwriters and directors were experts at illustrating the darker corners of the human mind.

PS; Thanks again, Maryam, for recommending another great classic.

Mo says:

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Director: Marc Webb. Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Paul Giamatti, Campbell Scott. 142 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

Great action scenes. Awesome villain. Terrible romance. Bad choice of superhero actor. Overlong movie. That sums it up for another mediocre superhero film, that's coming out every half hour these days. They should've just stuck with the Sam Raimi/Toby Maquire/Kirsten Dunst trio.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku) (1963)

Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Takashi Shimura. 143 min. Not Rated. Japan. Crime/Mystery.

Adapted from the brilliant Ed McBain crime novel, "King's Ransom", Kurosawa's thriller is almost cut in half: the first half a humanistic dilemma about whether a millionaire shoe-factory-owner-to-be will sacrifice his entire wealth to save his chauffeur's kidnapped son; and the second half a police procedural about the effort to find the kidnapper. The first half is breath-taking; the second half boring. The first half includes Toshiro Mifune as the millionaire; the second half almost devoid of his presence. Amazing how one great actor can change the game, even in a great director's movie.

Mo says:

Locke (2013)

Director: Steven Knight. Cast: Tom Hardy. 85 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Drama/Thriller.

Following the tradition of films like Buried and All is Lost, we have Tom Hardy in a one-man show, driving his BMW through highway traffic towards London, on the phone, in real-time, for 80 minutes .... throwing his life away to make a wrong right. Sound impossible to watch? I found it impossible to leave, because watching a soft-speaking British-accented Hardy (in huge contrast to his masculine American TDKR, Warrior and Lawless roles) is beyond enchanting. Wouldn't call this a thriller, but at times, the drama had me gnashing my teeth. May I predict Tom Hardy is the future of acting?

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

Director: Randy Moore. Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber. 90 min. Rated R. Fantasy/Horror.

Middle-aged guy vacationing with his family at a Disney World resort hears he's been fired from the job, and goes into a psychotic mid-life crisis, metaphorically blasting the Disney corporation. There are stories about how the filmmakers used guerrilla techniques to film at Disney World without Disney's permission, which inherently rise the viewers' expectations. But the film does not live up to those expectations, and I found the movie's final act exaggerated and repulsive, no matter how much distaste you feel for corporate America. At least Disney has put a smile on quite a few faces around the world.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Transcendence (2014)

Director: Wally Pfister. Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Lukas Haas. UK/China/USA. Mystery/Sci-Fi.

An AI scientist who believes in combining the human brain with a computer is killed by a resistance group, but brought back to life through circuitry that would make Mary Shelley cringe. Directed by Christopher Nolan's usual cinematographer and including performances by the usual Nolanites, this is a slow-paced, beautifully photographed, thought-provoking sci-fi about a dark, not too distant future. If Her astounded me for the incredible advancement of AI technology, this film slightly scared me (probably what The Net was planning on in 1995). And once again, we're proven that the critics are unable to understand and enjoy sci-fi.

Mo says: