Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu. Cast: Stars: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan, Andrea Riseborough. 119 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

We've all heard this is an ironic movie, because of all actors, Michael Keaton plays a stage actor who used to be famous for a superhero role he once played (Batman, anyone?). But this movie is far beyond that. By upgrading to Earth-shattering levels Hitchcock's technique of filming an entire movie in a single shot (contains flashbacks, and happens over several days!), Iñárritu tells the enchanting story of a man who's ready to die to fulfill a dream. It doesn't matter what others think; it only matters if he thinks he accomplished that dream. Trust me, you'll remember this one.

Mo says:

The Judge (2014)

Director: David Dobkin. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Leighton Meester. 141 min. Rated R. Drama.

Hotshot city lawyer's father, the presiding judge of his small hometown for 42 years, is accused of DUI-related manslaughter. The son goes to defend him in court; the father despises his antics. This courtroom drama makes beautiful use of two great movie personas we've come to know: the arrogant egotistical presence Downey Jr. created in Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, and the grandfather-like figure Duvall has lived for decades. But the movie goes on for too long, with subplots and characters (the daughter, the high school sweetheart) reiterating what we already know. And Billy Bob could've been so much better.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Begin Again (2013)

Director: John Carney. Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Mos Def, Catherine Keener. 104 min. Rated R. Drama/Musical.

I guess if I hadn't already known this was from the writer/director of the beautiful film Once, I would've enjoyed it more. But this is the New York City version of Once, without that film's sense of mystery rooted in the couple's Irish/Czech cultural differences. Carney tries to fill that gap by adding charming locales of that most wonderful of all cities to the background of his songs (sung by Knightley!) and benefitting from Adam Levine's star power - but still, I couldn't help but remember this is a rehash of his 2006 movie.

Mo says:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Annabelle (2014)

Director: John R. Leonetti. Cast: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard. 99 min. Rated R. Horror.

A terrible prequel to James Wan's truly scary movie, The Conjuring. The horror cliches are overflowing, the acting is simply annoying, and the Child's Play possessed doll plot is so stupid, at one point I was laughing wholeheartedly (I'm referring to an elevator scene where Satan, yes, Satan, growls like he's burping). There's even a Paranormal Activity leg-pulling scene in there. Yeah, that cliche.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Camp X-Ray (2014)

Director: Peter Sattler. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi. 117 min. Rated R. Drama.

A new female sergeant at Guantanamo in charge of suspected terrorist "detainees" (not prisoners - otherwise they'd be covered by the Geneva Convention) slowly becomes acquainted with a Pakistani inmate, and becomes disillusioned by his imprisonment. To my knowledge, this is the first feature film on the subject of Gitmo detainees, and as such, the story doesn't take any huge risks. But it does at least make an attempt to bridge the huge ethical gaps, and both Stewart and Moaadi are perfect for their roles. A very borderline Mojo.

Mo says:

Ilo Ilo (2013)

Director: Anthony Chen. Cast: Yann Yann Yeo, Tian Wen Chen, Angeli Bayani. 99 min. Not Rated. Singapore. Drama.

During a 1990s recession, a middle-class Singapore couple hires a twenty-something Filipino girl to take care of their spoiled brat son, and as the pregnant mom and depressed dad make risky financial moves, the relationship between the maid and boy grows. This is a very honest movie that doesn't shy away from tough story situations. Other than that, the reason it won more than 20 international awards, including the coveted Golden Camera (given to first-time directors) at last year's Cannes Film Festival, was lost on me.

Mo says:

Fury (2014)

Director: David Ayer. Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Jim Parrack. 134 min. Rated R. UK/China/USA. War.

Similar to Saving Private Ryan, this WWII movie leaves no stone unturned in the violence department, but tries to deliver a different message that makes more sense: there is no heroism or bravery in war - you either kill, or get killed. The only motivating factor for victory is survival, not bravery. But then the ending climactic battle of red and green laser-like gunfire (?) goes on for too long and the body count of this "5-man army in a tank" goes unimaginably high, edging the movie into boredom. Still, the main message (and Brad Pitt's strong presence) makes this worthwhile.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Cast: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel. 157 min. Not Rated. Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina. Crime/Drama.

At dusk, government officials take a murderer to the outskirts of Anatolia, Turkey, to find where he buried his victim. He's not cooperating, so the story drags on through the night. And I mean drags on. But it's a two-and-a-half hour story that needs to be told slowly, because as in real life, the characters realize truths about themselves and each other ... gradually. Which means there was no other way to tell this story, and you'll find yourself mesmerized along with the characters. This won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, for very good reason.

Mo says:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Audrey Rose (1977)

Director: Robert Wise. Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Marsha Mason, John Beck, Susan Swift. 113 min. Rated PG. Drama/Horror.

I watched this film made in the great movie year of 1977, for two reasons: it's director, who made The Sound of Music, The West Side Story, I Want to Live!, ...; and because I remember the novel's very cool cover since childhood. What a mistake, on both ends. Wise's direction is a laughable ripoff of The Exorcist (with the India flashbacks reminiscent of an Airplane!-like Zucker Brothers spoof), and the film isn't even as scary as the book cover. Or not scary at all! Anthony Hopkins' presence doesn't help, and the ending is terrible. Just terrible. What a mess.

Mo says:

Fireworks Wednesday (2006) (چهارشنبه سوری)

Director: Asghar Farhadi. Cast: Hamid Farokhnezhad, Hediyeh Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti. 102 min. Iran. Drama.

Before About Elly, and before A Separation, Farhadi made this little film - and his common theme of lies acting as the plague of the society, is as prominent as his other works. In a plot heavy on both dialogue and point-of-views, a domestic dispute is seen from a house worker's perspective, as the wife accuses her husband of infidelity. Dishonesty and paranoia in the setting of Iran's annual Fireworks Wednesday explosions, spiced with a few story surprises, create the context for a very combustible (and tragic) marital crisis. If you enjoyed Farhadi's other films, definitely go for it.

PS: Thank you, Maryam, for sending the movie a very long time ago!

Mo says:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bad Words (2013)

Director: Jason Bateman. Cast: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall. 89 min. Rated R. Comedy.

A 40-year-old antisocial and (admirably) politically-incorrect loser finds a way around the rules and participates in the National Spelling Bee - to the annoyance of everybody on the planet. As though that wasn't enough, he befriends a young Indian contestant à la Charlie Chaplin's The Kid. Jason Bateman shines in the starring role of his very amusing directorial debut, but in the end, the plot is so preposterous, the entire event loses its charm. Nevertheless, this should serve Bateman the way Limitless served Bradley Cooper: placing him on the map as a multi-talented artist that can take charge of major future projects.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pride (2014)

Director: Matthew Warchus. Cast: Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Jessica Gunning. 120 min. Rated R. UK. Comedy/History.

This movie contains an extraordinary concept. It's the real-life story of gays and lesbians in 1980s UK, who fight for the rights of miners on strike under Thatcher's reign. In lieu of their astronomical differences, the gays feel a sense of sovereignty with the miners, because both groups have been disenfranchised. The film shouldn't have been titled "Pride", because it's not about gay pride - it's about fighting for other people's rights regardless of the risks involved; because you believe in their rights, and not because you calculate whether they'll win or lose their struggle. This movie will make you think.

Mo says:

The Best Offer (2013)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore. Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Sutherland. 131 Rated R. Italy. Crime/Drama/Mystery.

Suave old antique-dealer falls for a severely agoraphobic young woman, who has hired him to catalog her vast collection; but not everyone is as sincere as they seem. Years after Cinema Paradiso and Malena, Tornatore's voyeuristic quest to understand the female nature continues, but his efforts at metaphors (a subplot involving an automaton, constructed as the dealer gradually learns about the woman) are so obvious and open-handed, the enchanting power of his prior films are somewhat absent. Rush's acting and the skillful direction make the repetitive screenplay interesting, but I was still left asking: Why did Tornatore make this movie?

Mo says:

The Crow (1994)

Director: Alex Proyas. Cast: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson, Bai Ling, Rochelle Davis, Tony Todd, Michael Massee. 102 min. Rated R. Action/Fantasy.

The beautiful gothic cinematography combined with Brandon Lee's untimely death during the shoot made this a cult phenomenon in its own time, but after Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy upgraded the same material (flying comic book-based crime-fighting crusader who vanishes as soon as characters turn their back - with people remindng: "He does that ...") by multiple levels, watching this 20 years later doesn't strike any chord. Too many close-ups of "The Crow" himself depletes him of any sense of mystery, and makes you wonder how he came back from the dead. Still, nice second feature by the intelligent Alex Proyas.

PS: The IMDb back-stories are probably more engaging:

"A scene required a gun to be loaded, cocked, and then pointed at the camera. Because of the close-range of the shot, the dummy cartridges loaded had real brass caps, bullet, but no powder. After the cut, the props master dry-fired the gun to get the cock off, knocking the projectile/bullet into the barrel of the gun ... Lee entered the set carrying a bag of groceries containing an explosive blood pack. The bullet that was stuck in the barrel was blasted at Lee through the bag he was carrying, killing him."

"The footage of his death was subsequently developed and used as evidence in the investigation into his death. As part of the lawsuit settlement, the footage was later destroyed."

"Lee cut himself when he broke the glass in Gideon's shop. The glass was breakaway glass and it is very rare for anyone to get cut by it. During the first day of shooting in North Carolina, a carpenter suffered severe burns after his crane hit live power lines. On subsequent days, a grip truck caught fire, a disgruntled sculptor crashed his car through the studio's plaster shop, and a crew member accidentally drove a screwdriver through his hand."

"Although he was not at fault for the death of Brandon Lee, Michael Massee stopped acting for a year because he was so traumatized by the incident. He has never seen the film."

"Linda Lee Cadwell, the widow of Bruce Lee and mother of Brandon Lee, filed a negligence case against producer Edward R. Pressman, actor Michael Massee and 12 other defendants over the death of her son on-set. She settled out of court to the tune of $3 million."

Mo says:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

Director: David Fincher. Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Sela Ward. 149 min. Rated R. Drama/Mystery.

Whoever has read the voluminous "Gone Girl", knows adapting such a book to film is by no means easy. But I dare say the screenplay, adapted by the author herself and directed by the seasoned Fincher, is a well-thought and well-implemented summarization, showcasing the novel's main message even better than the book itself; which is: How well do you know your spouse? The implications of that question are grounds for a horror movie, which including a masterfully-directed hard-to-forget murder scene at the end, is exactly what this film becomes. The end-result will make you self-aware about the concept called marriage.

PS; Reading the book, I had Paddy Considine and Reese Witherspoon in mind as people who could play the roles of Nick and Amy. But Affleck and Pike work just fine too. And Witherspoon is actually one of the producers. Some empathy, perhaps?

Mo says: