Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

Director: Josh Boone. Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe. 126 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Romance.

Cancer. Living with the day-to-day notion that you will die soon. At a young age. I didn't necessarily find this film about the romance between two terminally ill youngsters, but more about how it feels to be that person, and how other people interact (or should interact) with you. Therefore, this is powerful, moving drama - the like of which I hadn't seen in years, probably since A Separation. Is it a tearjerker? Of course it is. It's two hours of it. You can cry your eyeballs out. But hey, Frank Capra made tearjerkers, and nobody ever had a problem.

PS: Thank you, Farshid. This one almost went under the radar.

Mo says:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ernest & Celestine (2012)

Director(s): Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Rattar. 80 min. Rated PG. France/Belgium/Luxembourg. Animation.

Last year's simply-rendered but pleasant Oscar-nominated feature animation, about the comedic forbidden friendship between a bear and a mouse, could be an allegory for many things: religious taboos, gay marriage, ... even the Arab-Israeli conflict. Which is exactly the point: Aren't we burdening our kids with too many complicated grown-up subjects? Are we giving them enough space to have fun with their own cartoons? Aren't we going overboard, trying to make sure every kid thinks the way we want them to think? I'm not sure which kid will get the final scene, of the literal crumbling of the judicial system.

Mo says:

Visitors (2013)

Director: Godfrey Reggio. 87 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

Godfrey Regio, the avant-garde creator behind the famed "Qatsi trilogy" (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi), which combines silent images with Philip Glass' haunting music to show the destruction of human civilization by technology, takes his style a step further here, and tries to enchant us by beautiful alternating black-and-white images of dilapidated buildings, natural panoramas, and people (and a gorilla) staring into the camera - for several minutes each. Why lie? With all its trance-like effects and beautiful soundtrack, I fast-forwarded half the movie. Must've been a deep film.

PS: Don't miss these IMDb reviews written by common people like me. Honestly. I read them after writing my own review, so don't be surprised by the similarities. My favorite line:

"[This movie] is like watching a screensaver with the same repetitive music playing on and on in the background. In fact, I have screen savers that are more entertaining."

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Goodbye, Lenin! (2003)

Director: Wolfgang Becker. Cast: Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova, Burghart Klaußner. 121 min. Rated R. Germany. Comedy/Drama.

It's very tough for a comedy, in a foreign language, about a sociopolitical issue, in East Germany ... to still be funny. But miraculously, Goodbye, Lenin! achieves that improbability. The story of an overzealous mother in Communist GDR, who goes into a coma while the Berlin wall fell, and wakes up to a son and daughter hiding her from the truth, has so many poignant moments embedded in reality, you don't have to be German to be affected by this profound satire: The old cling to a dead dream, and the young appease them by playing along with that dream.

PS: Ebert rounds it up well: "How many of us lie to our parents, pretending a world still exists that they believe in but we have long since moved away from? And are those lies based on love or cowardice? Sometimes, despite a doctor's warnings, parents have to take their chances with the truth."

PPS: Sorry, Ali S. If it weren't for some minor story implausibilities, you almost had another MoMagic!

Mo says:

Wuthering Heights (2009)

Director: Coky Giedroyc. Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln. 142 min. UK. Drama/Romance.

Embarrassingly, this was my first exposure to one of the greatest novels of all time. And the result was recommendable - uncertain whether because this revenge story of forbidden love was so captivating (Emily Bronte, writing it before her death at 30, must've been quite a male-female relations psychologist), or because watching one of the best new actors of our time in the ambivalently attractive role of Heathcliff was so refreshing. Either way, if you haven't read the novel, it's a good place to start getting accustomed. If you have, still watch it, as the ending's small change seems more logical.

PS: Thanks again, Maryam, for another entry into the romance genre.

Mo says:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Director(s): Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. Cast: Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysber, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Pive, Christopher Lloyd, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Lady Gaga. 102 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

Why oh why do they have to ruin great films with sequels? The haphazard piling of this three-part story (with Gordon-Levitt, Brolin/Rourke and Alba in the lead for each) is such an obvious attempt to capitalize on the innovative 2005 film, that at times you feel not even the filmmakers believe in the movie. Ironically, the digital camerawork and occasional color-in-black-and-white (the original's high point), are less gratifying than the original. All I remember of this film, is a camera in love with Eva Green's body, and the lack of a climactic ending to at least provide some emotional satisfaction.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lovely & Amazing (2001)

Director: Nicole Holofcener. Cast: Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blethyn, Dermot Mulroney, Jake Gyllenhaal. 91 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

A mother and her two middle-aged daughters struggle with a common issue: a severe sense of insecurity. The mother submits to cosmetic surgery, and the daughters are failures at finding jobs. So they act out on their significant others, and the inappropriate responses from those misunderstood others compounds the problem. Retrospectively for Holofcener, a director with later superior (Please Give) and far superior (Enough Said) films, this can be considered a pleasant warm-up. It also shows some inventiveness at creating colorful moments for characters to hurl obscenities at others behind their back - and sometimes in their face.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kids for Cash (2014)

Director: Robert May. 102 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

"All 193 UN member countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, except Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States." And so starts a shocking story, on how after the terror of the Columbine massacre, a single Pennsylvania county judge incarcerated thousands of kids in the 1990s and 2000s on minor offenses, how he was prosecuted for receiving a "finder's fee" for jailing the kids, and how the court proceedings ended. Communities played into the fear, and parents were coerced into destroying their own children's lives. It'll make you rethink the boundaries you set for your own kids.

Mo says:

The Unknown Known (2013)

Director: Errol Morris. 103 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

The long-awaited interview, especially now that the dust in Iraq has settled (well, maybe not). After interviewing McNamara in his Oscar-winning Fog of War, the great Errol Morris chats with another ex-Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, mainly: 'Why were we in Iraq?' Even if you were against the war (myself included), the man still deserves to be heard, and I was mesmerized numerous times in the process, rewinding a scene, watching Rumsfeld's direct gaze, taking in those very weighted pauses. Morris (correctly) doesn't press too hard, but still, with all his contradictions, you think: maybe the man was slightly misjudged. 

PS: Errol Morris dedicated his movie to Roger Ebert.

PPS: Godfrey Cheshire does a very nice piece on the film here, especially: 

""The Fog of War" and "The Unknown Known" are a strikingly matched pair, one a modernist masterpiece, the other dizzyingly post-modern. Robert McNamara's testimony in the first film offers the satisfactions of a genuinely deep and penetrating self-analysis, and that's obviously because he came from a world where there were clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, success and failure – words that at one time actually meant something and had real personal consequences. Rumsfeld in contrast belongs to a world in which there is no real accountability, either public or private, in large part because words can be bent to mean anything, or nothing. The proof of this in "The Unknown Known" amounts to a valuable if tremendously damning commentary on our current political culture."

Mo says:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Dog (2013)

Director(s): Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren. 100 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

John Wojtowicz, the homosexual who robbed a bank to finance his lover's sex-change operation, and whom Al Pacino's role in Dog Day Afternoon was based upon. This documentary nicely illustrates how to separate Hollywood glamour, from real-life filth. Pacino is a great artist with a glorious turn in a well-directed movie; Wojtowicz is just a petty low-life criminal whom even gay communities avoided, and after all these years, is still proud and thinks he won. And it's pathetic that this film provides him a microphone to broadcast his small mind. You can't pull a Godfather fascination in real life.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lucy (2014)

Director: Luc Besson. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi. 89 min. Rated R. France. Action/Sci-Fi.

Luc Besson is trying to improve upon the idea already offered in Limitless - that we only use 10% of our brain's capability during our lifetimes, so imagine the superhero (and the cinematic potential) created if someone can use 100%. In effect, we see Besson's usual spices of a strong female lead and wacky sci-fi. But then, he fills it with so many scientific and pseudo-scientific ideas and theories, that it's almost unfair to the viewer, and sloppy on the part of the film-maker. Many spectacular moments, but too confusing to even discuss the philosophical gibberish, and nothing that lingers afterwards.

Mo says:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Director: Anton Corbijn. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Nina Hoss, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Homayoun Ershadi, Daniel Brühl. 122 min. Rated R. UK/USA/Germany. Thriller.

Generally, spy thrillers are difficult to adapt from book to screen. The technical complexities of espionage that are easy to follow on page, end up making the movie boring. But in this case, Anton Corbijn (The American) has done a seamless job on the 2008 John le Carré novel, and incorporating multiple characters into the story of capturing a terrorist cell in Hamburg with a sudden, captivating twist ending, is every bit engaging. The additional treat, is great stars embodying those characters, with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead. Philip Seymour Hoffman. What a loss, man - what a loss.

Mo says:

Particle Fever (2013)

Director: Mark Levinson. Cast: David Kaplan, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos. 99 min. Documentary.

So what was the "God particle" hype all about two years ago?  A documentary has finally come along, through engaging animation and stylized editing (by 3-time Oscar winner Walter Murch, nonetheless), touching only the surface of complex theoretical physics concepts such as supersymmetry and multiverse, and elevating experimental physicists to rock-star status. But at the end of the day, it's mainly a documentation of the events that lead up to the first artificial particle collisions at the CERN super-collider in Switzerland, and the discovery of the Higgs boson - without much artistic yield. Actually, the film almost undermines its purpose:

"Wow, this movie is a poster child for what's wrong with big budget science. At the beginning they show clips of conservative members of congress, who are arguing that the American version of CERN should be defunded. I'm sure this was intended to be a hit/slam, but I found myself agreeing with the politicians. For the record, I'm a science geek, with a degree in engineering, who reads books about quantum mechanics for fun. 

"The female lead, well, she was super-impressed by a 5 story structure. Kaplan, one of the male leads, comes off as very unlikable, although I warmed up to him by the end of the movie. Then there's the guy who won't collaborate with more than 2 colleagues, but Nobel prizes can only be given to a most 3 people. Great, this guy's ego is so big that he'll sacrifice science to protect his reputation.   

"There's very little science here beyond what's in the headlines. Basically, all this money was spent on CERN, they were expecting the Higgs to be in one of two places, but they found something (it must be the Higgs!) in a different place, therefore it's pretty much back to the drawing board. Perhaps science is at its limits - but you know what, Einstein didn't need an expensive CERN to know that general relativity was true. Yes, something is WAY off here, and this movie just solidifies that for me.  

"I'd give this movie more stars if it could actually tell me WHY a Higgs imparts mass to other particles (or anything interesting!) because the personalities of the people they interviewed were simply not interesting to me."

- from IMDb

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)

Director: Frank Pavich. 90 min. Rated PG-13. USA/France. Documentary.

The story of "The Greatest Movie Never Made". In 1975, before David Lynch's crappy adaptation, mad Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky was to create the epic space-opera Dune, a 12-20 hour film based on Frank Herbert's famous novel. He'd employed "warriors" such as Dan O'Bannon, H.R. Giger, Pink Floyd (for the soundtrack), and Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger (as actors). It was the sci-fi phenomenon to change movie history before Star Wars did. But then the project fell apart - and later exuded into Alien, BladeRunner, Contact, Prometheus ... in decades to come. A must-see for any film history fan.

PS: Thank you, Amir D., for facilitating the process!

PPS: Comicbookgirl19 does a nice introductory job here.

Mo says:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Calvary (2014)

Director: John Michael McDonagh. Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, M. Emmet Walsh. 100 min. Rated R. Ireland/UK. Drama.

Ireland village priest is threatened in the confessional booth that he will be killed in a week by a patron, who says he was repeatedly raped as a child by another priest who is now dead. The priest first thinks he knows who threatened him, but as he sleuths around, he realizes the people are so messed up, anybody could be a suspect. The beautiful Irish vistas remind of Ryan's Daughter, and Brendon Gleeson delivers a towering Oscar-worthy performance as the priest, who with all his faults and doubts, tries to maintain his faith and do what he deems right.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Director: James Bobin. Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Céline Dion, Lady Gaga,  Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Chloë Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz. 107 min. Rated PG. Adventure/Comedy.

Another Muppets movie, trying to build on the success of the predecessor that rejuvenated the franchise, suddenly feels so ... dark. A master-criminal Muppet masquerades as Kermit, and the live performers who were the main reasons I saw the movie, are either conspiring with the villain (Gervaise), or acting as a Gulag prison guard with an annoying accent (Fey). Pixar animations have created a culture of making movies addressed to both kids and adults; in the case of the Muppets, the pendulum has swung slightly too far in favor of the adults. I would tell pre-schoolers to avoid this one.

Mo says:

Dom Hemingway (2013)

Director: Richard Shepard. Cast: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke. 93 min. Rated R. UK. Comedy/Crime.

Gangster/safe-cracker is out of jail after 12 years, but now demands to be paid handsomely by the boss for keeping his mouth shut through all this time. For a few actors (Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey, for example), there's one movie that suddenly makes me realize, this may not be a bad actor after all, and Jude Law's performance in Dom Hemingway, reminiscent of some good British Guy Ritchie gangster comedies, catapulted him up to that category. Nevertheless, the script's sudden dive into moral-teaching melodrama towards the end effectively diminished the film's power.

Mo says:

Oculus (2013)

Director: Mike Flanagan. Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane. 104 min. Rated R. Horror.

An ancient mirror is supposedly the cause of the death of every one of its owners since the past 100 years, and a brother and sister, whose parents were its latest victims, decide to scientifically prove the curse and destroy the mirror. By simultaneous juxtaposition of past and present events during flashbacks, the movie does a splendid job at blurring the line between reality and mirror-induced hallucinations, but then the script plays this hand too frequently, resulting in loss of viewer interest, and the ending is quite predictable far in advance. A little more subtlety would've worked wonders.

Mo says:

Boyhood (2014)

Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater. 165 min. Rated R. Drama.

I have a theory: What if in horror movies, they used real blood instead of fake blood? Would the real blood carry a certain spiritual vibe, that makes the movie scarier? Boyhood tests that theory. Filmed over 12 years, it upgrades Linklater's 'hyperrealism' experimentation from the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, and follows a boy/actor (with his family/other actors) from childhood to teenage years. The resulting coming-of-age story is profoundly ... real ; making it impossible to not sympathize with critical points of the boy's life. And like always, the best scenes are the ones with Ethan Hawke in them.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Other Woman (2014)

Director: Nick Cassavetes. Cast: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Don Johnson, Nicki Minaj. 109 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy.

There was only one reason (actually, two reasons) this movie was made, and that is fully illustrated in the trailer. So I just saved you two hours of your life. You're very welcome.

(Believe me, I was on an overseas plane, and had nothing else to watch.)

Mo says:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Director: Wes Anderson. Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban. 100 min. Rated R. USA/Germany/UK. Comedy.

Okay, I caved in and broke my Wes Anderson oath again, and watched another one of his highly-acclaimed, star-showered quirky comedies. And although again I did not find the story particularly funny (maybe cute, maybe charming, but not funny), Anderson's usual symmetric frame compositions are very pleasing to the eyes, Alexander Desplat's score works wonders, and Ralph Fiennes remains one of the most award-ignored actors in Hollywood. This movie is engaging, but I am yet to understand the point behind Anderson's comedies. If there are any.

PS: Thank you, Maryam, for urging me to watch this. While I give it a So-so, I'm glad I gave Wes Anderson another chance. Let's see what he comes up with next.

Mo says:

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Director: James Gunn. Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Karen Gillan, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro. 121 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Adventure/Sci-fi.

If you're not a sci-fi fan (i.e., you have imagination shortcomings), stay away. But if you are an avid sci-fi/fantasy follower ... this movie is heaven on Earth. Or outer space. Because in a very short time, it is able to introduce the wackiest, most colorful characters since Star Wars, and then construct a "plausible" story, in a background of some of the most beautiful 70s pop songs. And it works. Look, there's a yammering raccoon in the movie. And I'm saying it works. Can't wait for the Avengers/Guardians match-up.

Trivia: Wikipedia says Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" was featured in the films Boogie Nights (1997), Invincible (2006), Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), Lovelace (2013) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). They fail to mention it was in Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects (2005) also.

Mo says:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Tim's Vermeer (2013)

Director: Teller. 80 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

Produced and directed by the famous Penn and Teller magician team, this documentary follows the story of inventor Tim Jennison, who without any painting skills, ventures to discover the painting (or cheating?) techniques of acclaimed Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" fame), and create an exact replica of one of his works. I guess it wouldn't be spoiling anything if I say whether he succeeds or not, because the film poses a great philosophical question mentioned in Kiarostami's Certified Copy: is a copy of any lesser value compared to the original?

Mo says: