Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Theory of Everything (2014)

Director: James Marsh. Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson. 123 min. Rated PG-13. UK. Biography/Drama.

When I first heard about this Stephen Hawking biopic, I figured it would be a heartbreaking picture of his struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ... and nothing more. The filmmakers recognized this pitfall, and overcame it by making this not a Hawking biography, but about his relationship with his wife - to the point that the second half becomes Jane's dominating story. All "diseased genius and his enduring wife" stories pale in comparison to A Beautiful Mind, but still, even with its somewhat ambiguous character motivations, this is worthy of your time. Expecting Leading Oscar nomination for Redmayne, Supporting win for Jones.

PS: Similar to Interstellar, watching the Errol Morris' documentary on Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, will make this movie more enjoyable.

Mo says:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Housebound (2014)

Director: Gerard Johnstone. Cast: Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru. 107 min. Not Rated. New Zealand. Horror/Comedy.

After a hilariously botched burglary attempt, a twenty-something girl is confined to detention at her Mom's house ... which is haunted. Following the over-hyped Babadook, this other horror movie from Oceania (what's up with them and horror lately?) with a 95% score on the Tomatometer is a breath of fresh air: full of cliches, full of cheesy shock shots, and full of surprises - to the extant that you're not sure whether the next shock is going to be scary or funny. I hadn't enjoyed a horror-comedy this much since watching Evil Dead II a few years ago.

Mo says:

Days of Heaven (1978)

Director: Terrence Malick. Cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard. Cast: 94 min. Rated PG. Drama/Romance.

Turn-of-the-century laborer accidentally kills his employer, and flees with girlfriend (pretending to be his sister) to a rural agricultural community. But then, the new master falls for his "sister". Ebert reviewed this as one of his "Great Movies", and Malick's distinct style full of lingering moments (voices obliterated by roars of machines, distant lone mansion in the wheat farm horizon, fat black man dancing on a wooden board) is hard not to fall in love with. If I had seen this before Malick had perfected his technique (Tree of Life, To The Wonder), I would've given it a higher score.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Heartburn (1986)

Director: Mike Nichols. Cast: Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, Maureen Stapleton, Stockard Channing, Richard Masur, Catherine O'Hara, Milos Forman. Kevin Spacey, Mercedes Ruehl. 108 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

Marriage, from the first cute meeting, to the wedding, to building a home, to having kids, ... all the way to getting on each other's nerves, to the infidelities, to the breakups, to the reconciliations, and so on. Written by the late Nora Ephron who defined comedy in cinema relationships, marriage is shown not only through the strange-by-today's 80s perspective (instead of leaving the adulterous man, women hope he would die), but also carries certain equations that are fresh even today (a broken bond can never be fixed). Mike Nichols' poignant comedy pacing is perfect, and the heartbreaking ending is inevitable.

PS: Watch for a young Kevin Spacey in a very small but pivotal role as a subway thief.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Brief History of Time (1991)

Director: Errol Morris. 88 min. Rated G. UK/Japan/USA. Documentary.

Amazing how whenever I think "this is why movies are made", it's on the occasion of a film that materializes on-screen the wildest fantasy, scientific or sci-fi phenomenon. Here we have a film about a man, our greatest living mind, interspersed with schematics and animations about his far-reaching theories about the universe, while family and friends offer perspectives on what a 'normal' guy he is. And of all genres ... it's a documentary! The result, combined with Philip Glass' ever-haunting music, is a picture of fascination and awe, of this disfigured, disabled man. Errol Morris has done it again.

PS: Thank you, Ali S. - if you hadn't pushed me to read the book ... I would have never seen the film!

PPS: Mohi and JZ - you need to see this film.

Mo says:

Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

Director(s): John Maloof, Charlie Siskel. 83 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

A portion of more than 150,000 negatives of a late 'nanny photographer' are accidentally found in an auction. The photos (which are truly beautiful) are developed, and no one knows why such a talented photographer went intentionally unknown her entire life. This film shows the process of one man to find the mystery behind Vivian Maier, but I'm not sure there's enough engaging material here for a feature documentary (or a 94% Rotten Tomatoes score). Of course, everybody has a story - but if we had some answers, this might have been a story to tell.

Mo says:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Whiplash (2014)

Director: Damien Chazelle. Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser. 107 min. Rated R. Drama/Musical.

Young drummer attending a music academy is 'tortured' by his mentor (a music world's R. Lee Ermey) to become the greatest. There's two perspectives: 1) Drummer's side: will you sacrifice everything (and I mean everything) to become the greatest in your field? 2) Mentor's side: How far do you push your prodigy to become the greatest? How far is too far? The uniquely absorbing film leaves these questions unanswered (because they're probably unanswerable), and assigns the task to you. It's the movie that will shoot Miles Teller to stardom, and likely earn J.K. Simmons a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job'."

Mo says:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rosewater (2014)

Director: Jon Stewart. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani. 103 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

A chronicle of Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari's 4-month confinement in Tehran's Evin Prison, after reporting on Iran's disputed 2009 election. But that's all it is - a chronicle. Other than the flawless depiction of Iran during the election days, and some powerful moments between Bahari and the ghosts of his late father and sister, there's no sign of cinematic flare: neither Stewart's direction nor his screenplay add anything to the repetitive imprisonment scenes. Bahari's fear here is nowhere close to what he describes in his book, and his interrogator ('Rosewater') is definitely not as ominous. Sorry, but Stewart is off target.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ouija (2014)

Director: Stiles White. Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Lin Shaye. 89 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

Another movie based on a board game (good God ...) aims for a Ring-like structure, opening with two teenage girls fooling around with a mysterious object and one of them ending up dead, and even a climax scene where a long-dead girl comes out of an opening to freak us out. Nevertheless, the dialogue and character decisions make this piece of celluloid more laughable than scary. The film's 7% on the Tomatometer (and the fact that it's PG-13!) should've been sufficient warning, but I can't help my addiction for the horror genre.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The White Diamond (2004)

Director: Werner Herzog. 90 min. Not Rated. Germany/Japan/UK. Documentary.

Werner Herzog's repeating theme of a lone man against nature ... this time falls flat on its face. A British adventurer has this dream to pass over an insanely treacherous waterfall in Guyana, Latin America, riding a helium-filled airship. The man is clearly an idiot. He doesn't follow safety measures, has already gotten a friend killed, and almost gets Herzog killed on camera. Herzog's superb Grizzly Man was a retrospective on a crazy man who was killed for his dream. The after-death tense made the film mesmerizing. Watching a crazy man do his crazy stuff before he's killed: not so fun.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Interstellar (2014)

Director: Christopher Nolan. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, William Devane. 169 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK. Sci-fi.

To summarize what one sees in Nolan's recent film in 100 words, is utterly impossible. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Contact to this film (with McConaughey in two of them), the story of interstellar travel has been so ingrained with quantum physics, captivating audiences is the job of a miracle-worker - as people left the theater on Kubrick's premiere screening. But with all its narrative flaws, Nolan's sheer audacity to create a 3-hour spectacle of pure imagination, is what defines the joy of watching movies. Similar to Gravity, if people criticize this film, it means they're unable to love cinema.

Mo says:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Big Hero 6 (2014)

Director(s): Don Hall, Chris Williams. 108 min. Rated PG. Animation.

I know I'm supposed to love this spectacular new Disney animation, but ... I don't know. It's full of great ideas, but not any new ideas. It's The Incredibles updated with Iron Man glamour, and even though picturing "science nerds" as superheroes is very noble, it's still an animated superhero movie, with another origin story, another dazzling climactic battle, and another obligatory scene to shed a tear for a hero. I also found the idea of projecting white people as society's villains or idiots, slightly racist. But then again, that goes along with setting the story in a futuristic 'San Fransokyo'.

PS: I didn't stay for the post-credits scene, but as explained here, apparently Disney is starting a Marvel-like superhero universe. God help us all.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure) (2013)

Director: Roman Polanski. Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric. 96 min. Not Rated. France/Poland. Drama.

Polanski had already performed the "minimal characters in single location" act in Death and the Maiden (1994), and performed it very well. This time he creates a similar opportunity for Amalric, as a playwright who adapts an old sadomasochistic story, and his real-life wife Seigner, as the actress who auditions for the role, in a theater, told in real-time. The dialogue is smart, subtle and engaging, but 20 years from her Bitter Moon days, Seigner looks too old for a femme fatale role, and the bizarre climactic payoff, far from fulfilling, borders on creepy. Better luck next time.

Mo says:

The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013)

Director: Bill Siegel. 86 min. Documentary.

Opening scene, TV broadcast, 1968: "This man is a disgrace to his country, his race, and to what he laughingly describes as his profession. He's a simplistic fool, and a pawn." Then the same man is shown receiving the Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States in 2005. That sums up the entire film. It's neither about Mohammad Ali's affiliation with Islam, nor about his dodging the Vietnam draft as a "conscientious objector". It's about a man standing up for what he believes in against all crushing odds, and standing up proud in the end. Very inspiring.

PS: This is available for streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

John Wick (2014)

Director(s): David Leitch, Chad Stahelski. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, Alfie Allen, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane. 101 min. Rated R. China/Canada/USA. Action/Thriller.

Russian mob kills the dog of an ex-hitman that was a gift from his recently deceased wife, and he ventures to take revenge. That's all folks! The rest is just numerous highly-stylized action sequences with very loud music. Keanu Reeves continues on his quest to remain "The One", but the result is similar to the action movies Arnold, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson used to do in the 80s and 90s. And Alfie Allen (the guy who lost his you-know-what in Game of Thrones) continues to play the greatest loser of all time.

PS: The font style of the Russian subtitles switched mid-movie, making me feel the film was directed by two directors. Lo and behold! I later discovered the film truly had two directors.

Mo says:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nightcrawler (2014)

Director: Dan Gilroy. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed. 117 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

I don't know if it was the movie's annoying trailer (which spoiled more than three quarters of the film), or the notion of media "creating" negative news to attract viewers, already dramatized on film as far back as the Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies, that significantly smothered the chances of enjoying this tightly-directed movie. Still, even in lieu of his "shattering-your-image-in-the-mirror" cliche, Jake Gyllenhaal's turn as the creepy manipulative video-reporter crawls under your skin, and creates one of the most memorable movie psychos. If you lose faith in humanity as a result of watching this film, it's credited to Gyllenhaal.

PS: End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and now Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal is on fire.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Babadook (2014)

Director: Jennifer Kent. Cast: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall. 93 min. Australia. Horror.

A horror movie of all places ... from Australia! And a very decent one at that. Seven-year-old whose father died in a crash taking the pregnant mom to the hospital, and his mother stumble upon a monster storybook, 'Mister Babadook' - and then realize the monster has entered their lives. Well-acted and well-directed, with a grim production design that upgrades the horror level; but tries to hurt the viewer (including suggestions of child harm and lots of screaming in our face). I have problems with movies that try to hurt me. When I watch a horror movie, I want to have fun.

PS: So far, 96% on the Tomatometer. Again, not a bad movie - just that I wouldn't recommend it.

Mo says:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Director: Dean DeBlois. Cast (voices): Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hil, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington. 102 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Another case of not letting originals live in peace. Four years ago, How to Train Your Dragon was full of charm, boasted brilliant animation, and had a story that was both uplifting and had a good point or two for kids. The sequel is not even a rehash of the original. It's just a cartoon full of action, with an artificial story that's parasiting off the success of the previous film. If it wasn't for the eye-candy animation, this would've gotten a No-Mo.

Mo says: