Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley. 105 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Russia. Action/Thriller.

For a Jack Ryan re-invention, they start from 9/11 - meaning they're following the James Bond route: ignore all prior movies and start fresh (even Ryan's first killing happens in a bathroom, Casino Royale-style). They don't even attempt some minimal validity to the older films, like they did in Star Trek by creating an entire time-shift of events; probably thinking Chris Pine pulled it off as Kirk on the Enterprise, so he can pull it off here as Ryan in the CIA. But neither Pine has Harrison Ford's cinematic weight, nor does the franchise have the magnitude of James Bond.

PS: Sorry, you need to have watched at least four other movies (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, the 2006 Casino Royale, and the 2009 Star Trek), to understand what I just said above.

Mo says:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Scoop (2006)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Julian Glover, Charles Dance. 96 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Comedy.

Another light Woody Allen comedy, about a journalism student (Johansson) who literally gets a scoop from the dead on a British aristocrat's son (Jackman) who may be a serial killer, and together with a fossil magician (Allen) ventures to crack the case and gain her fame and fortune. The ending is predictable halfway through, and as opposed to other Allen comedies, I didn't find much of a take home message here. But the gags were out of this world.

- "I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism."

- "I never wanted to have kids. I didn't because you have kids... what is it? You know you're nice to them... you bring them up... you suffer... y-you take care of them... and then they grow up and... and... and they accuse... uh... you of having Alzheimer's."

- "Well, did you accomplish anything besides a possible pregnancy?"

- "I had a wife but sh... she dumped me if you can believe that. She thought I was immature and that I never grew up... I had a great rebuttal for her, I coulda nailed her, you know, but uh... I raised my hand, she would not call on me."

Mo says:

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Director: Jim Jarmusch. Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt. 123 min. Rated R. UK/Germany/Greece. Drama/Horror/Romance.

If there was ever anybody to write a "poetic" vampire movie with minimal body count and an incredible appreciation for music ... it was Jim Jarmusch. Swinton and Hiddleston play a gloomy but domineering vampire couple, who were possibly the first humans to ever walk on Earth, have seen whatever there was to see throughout history, and have now hit rock bottom, because humans ("zombies") of the 21st century are way more screwed up than they are. Swinton is as great as always, and Hiddlston (Thor's Loki) is as great as Swinton, but I would only recommend this to vampire lovers.

Mo says:

Enemy (2013)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini. 90 min. Rated R. Canada/Spain. Mystery/Thriller.

I'm worried that Villeneuve will be hit by the Shyamalan curse: that after two masterpieces (Incendies and Prisoners, both MoMagic!s), he'll start showing a downward trend. Enemy, which was made between the two films, is the Jose Saramago-based story of a depressed history teacher who discovers there's an exact lookalike of him out there - with very creepy consequences. There are some strange, hard-to-believe, enchanting and even discomforting moments here, and although I think I understood the David Lynchian ending, it didn't have the tremendous punch of ViIlleneuve's other films. Still, I'm hoping for better films to come.

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chef (2014)

Director: Jon Favreau. Cast: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Sofía Vergara, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, 114 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Why do I feel Favreau (Iron Man) has insecurity issues? He wrote/produced/directed/starred in this story about a James Gandolfini-lookalike chef who's too passionate to keep his mouth shut, and ends up driving a food truck with a bruised ego. But this movie is long, with too many shots, too many lame jokes, and an abundance of throwaway dialogue, all focused on providing Favreau exclusive screen time and Twitter product-placement time, to the point of annoyance. With all its good father-son moments, a comedy should not be more than 90 minutes, unless it has something more to say.

Mo says:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Monsters (2010)

Director: Gareth Edwards. Cast: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga. 94 min. Rated R. UK. Drama/Sci-Fi.

This was the debut film that incited producers to recruit Gareth Edwards for the new Godzilla movie, because Edwards did prove himself here. Unfortunately, the minimalistic approach towards the story of an American couple struggling across alien-invaded Northern Mexico that worked very well here, didn't work for Godzilla. The slow pacing and focus on human relations reminded me of Deep Impact (as opposed to Armageddon), and an illustration of how a sci-fi event affects human interactions, rather than showing the sci-fi event itself.  Recommended for monster-movie lovers, because this is a rare movie that doesn't portray monsters as "monsters".

Mo says:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Omar (2013)

Director: Hany Abu-Assad. Cast: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani. 96 min. Palestine. Drama/Thriller.

A Palestinian resistance fighter climbs the wall every day, to meet a young leader and carry out the next plan against the Israelis ... and to see his sister. After being caught and tortured, he's sent back to expose the leader, but also finds himself caught in a love triangle. So which one will he prioritize: his national/religious ideals, or his personal emotional affairs - the two of which somewhat contradict each other? I found myself increasingly absorbed towards the end of this Oscar-nominated film. A thought-provoking discussion-maker, which doesn't necessarily focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict as similar films usually do.

PS: This became available on Netflix just a few days ago.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

Director: Seth MacFarlane. Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, Wes Studi. 116 min. Rated R. Comedy/Western.

The story isn't much: a sheep-herder in 1882 Arizona tries to proves himself to his girl, but learns there's more to life than that. The imagery is heavily inspired by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade's opening scene, and gags mostly involve vulgarity, bodily functions, and people falling down, causing numerous eye-rolls. But the noteworthy effort MacFarlane makes, is to break past the ever-constricting taboos of political correctness, by giving Blacks, Muslims, Jews and every other possible minority a run for their money. For that reason only, I hope many people watch this - because people nowadays seriously need to relax.

PS: Lots of cameos, great mid-movie Spielberg/Zemeckis homage, and mid-credits and post-credits scenes. Don't miss 'em.

Mo says:

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong. 99 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy/Comedy.

I enjoy John Carpenter's sense of goofiness. It's his style, and he knows we know it's his style. That's why his nonsensical plot-lines aren't annoying. But here, he takes it too far, falling into the abyss of making the story (probably based on some kind of satirical Chinatown phobia) so fantastically bizarre and the story twists so illogically open, the viewer has no worries about the heroes falling into any peril, because at the end, you know they'll all come out unscathed. When you render the viewer so detached, what's the point of making a movie?

Mo says:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Director: Doug Liman. Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson. 113 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Action.

There are so many cinematic inspirations to behold here, and Groundhog Day is just for starters. The story of an army major who during an apocalyptic alien invasion suddenly acquires the ability to go back in time every time he's killed in combat, takes pieces from Independence Day, Starship Troopers, The Matrix Reloaded, Aliens ... you name it. And the best part is, it works - and even dares to play out philosophical concepts: When you realize the future is "written", will you still make your best effort to change it? I didn't notice the two hours passing by.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Director: Chris Columbus. Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Maia Brewton, Keith Coogan, Maia Brewton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Penelope Ann Miller, Bradley Whitford. 102 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Crime.

Typical Chris "Home Alone" Columbus movie. Rich suburban house, kids and teenagers in constant survival mode, framed in a snapshot of 80's hairdo/clothes/language. And there's a mid-movie on-stage improvised blues sequence, that is so well-written and choreographed, it makes you wonder why this film hasn't received more attention. But then you realize the reason: numerous cliches and eye-rolling coincidences in the second half, that sadden you why a movie that started so gracefully, fell apart so pathetically. But that blues scene was still amazing.

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Crossing Guard (1995)

Director: Sean Penn. Cast: Jack Nicholson, David Morse, Anjelica Huston, Robin Wright, Piper Laurie, John Savage. 111 min. Rated R. Drama.

Although a great filmmaker, I wouldn't exactly call Penn a "fair-minded" artist. But here is a sincere effort to show both sides of a tragedy: a father who lost a daughter to a drunk-driving accident and is hell-bent on revenge; and the driver who is crushed under the guilt and is released after a five-year sentence. The father wants to kill; the convict is fine with being killed. The film, with all its melodrama, illustrates how powerless one is when dealt with a catastrophic card. And makes you nostalgic for the days Nicholson and Huston used to take great roles.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Director: Charles Crichton. Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, John Cleese, Michael Palin. 108 min. Rated R. USA/UK. Comedy/Crime.

After a successful London heist, a group of backstabbing double/triple-crossing thieves try to run off with the diamonds. I know this is a classic, but watching it for the first time, I was constantly bothered by how many comedic situations were driven by a main character not seeing an event that was obviously in his/her field-of-view. And to be honest, I never thought Kevin Kline, as a creator of the comedy, was funny - as opposed to John Cleese, who as a victim of the comedy, is always funny. Or maybe I just enjoy British humor better.

PS: Okay, okay, I confess "He thought that the Gettysberg Address was where Lincoln lived!", and "The  London Underground is not a political movement!", are funny.

Mo says:

Maleficent (2014)

Director: Robert Stromberg. Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple. 97 min. Rated PG. USA/UK. Fantasy.

This is all Angelina Jolie. Yes, the image wizardry is pleasing to the eyes, and the battle scenes are moments to be watched in a theater. But the directing is weak, the choppy story-telling looks as if the entire first half is an introduction, a few sequences are complete throwaways, and the newly-devised twists to the original Sleeping Beauty tale are predictable from miles away. It is solely Jolie's astronomical star power that carries this movie. And finally, after all these years, we have a very good reason for the Disney logo castle at the beginning of a film.

Mo says:

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Director: Stephen Herek. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin. 90 min. Rated PG. Adventure/Comedy/Sci-Fi.

Whoever wrote this time-travel weirdness (that put Keanu Reeves on the front page) probably didn't read Isaac Asimov's "A Sound of Thunder", where changing an event in ancient times has a chain reaction-type butterfly/ripple effect on events today. But that was probably the point. Because watching these two imbeciles (helped by George Carlin) travelling though time and collecting famous figures for a history class report was neither interesting, nor fun, nor funny. Regardless of its cult status, here we see the birth of the Hilton/Kardashian culture, where stupidity is praised, and teenagers are taught that "dumb is good".

Mo says:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Room (2003)

Director: Tommy Wiseau. Cast: Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero. 99 min. Rated R. Drama.

Known as "The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made", "The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies", watching this indie-ineptitude was a joy-ride. It's not bad; it's wrong. The camera angles are wrong, the characters' reactions to one another are wrong, the story makes no sense, and inserts, dialogue and lighting are probably there because director/producer/writer/star Tommy Wiseau thought they're cool. It's so wrong, it's lead to cult midnight screenings, and its actor wrote a book about the disaster. Watching it, waiting for the next stupidity, I don't recall laughing out loud during a movie in a very long time.

PS: Thank you, Mohi, for prompting me to watch this delightful film. It truly helped me understand how difficult movie-making is, and reach a better appreciation of cinema. Seriously.

PPS: Just take a look at the trailer. It should give you an idea. Or even better, watch Hitler's reaction to the movie. God this is so hilarious. I'm even laughing writing this review. And we thought Troll 2 was bad. Watch this and tell me you're not laughing to tears.

Mo says: