Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Marley (2012)

Director: Kevin Macdonald. 144 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK. Documentary/Biography.

Everything you always wanted to know about Bob Marley, from his birth in Jamaica as the son of a white plantation owner, to his death from metastatic melanoma at the age of 36 - and everything in-between. The first half was turning out to be a slow year-by-year account of his growing up in Jamaica (including details about Rastafarian-ism), but then the second half delved into what reggae music is all about, and how he actively and significantly affected the political climate of his time; solely by his music. For a documentary, it's quite long, but well worth the time spent.

PS: Streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Friday, February 20, 2015

My 2015 Oscars Predictions

The movies snubbed from Oscar nominations has been minor news every year. This year, it was major news. I'd rather not jinx it, but there were so many prominent contenders snubbed in almost all categories, that in the absence of an Earth-shattering surprise, predicting the winner among the remaining contenders has become relatively easy. The issue is so striking, this year I've added the major Oscar snubs to the descriptions of each category, just to get a grasp.

But fortunately, Boyhood and Birdman have been behaving so discordantly during the awards' season, the excitement of the show will be focused on its final moments: Best Director, and Best Picture.

And just before you read my predictions: Leonardo DiCaprio won't be getting an Oscar this year.

Best Picture:

(American Sniper, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash)

Oscar snub: Interstellar

Check out IMDb: if you take the number of awards into consideration, both Boyhood and Birdman have won and been nominated for 250-300 awards around the world. Birdman's conceptual and artistic merits were huge, but I have a hard time believing the Academy will forego an historical 12-years-in-the-making cinematic event called Boyhood, and recognize Birdman as the best film of the year.

(Almost always Best Editing and Best Picture go to the same film. Since Birdman virtually had no "conceivable" editing as the entire film appears to be one shot, that's another point in favor of a Boyhood Best Picture win. Crazy, huh?)

Who do I think should win? Considering that my own personal favorite, Interstellar, didn't even make it to the list ... none of them. Among the eight films, Whiplash and Selma affected me the most. But while Whiplash creates momentary emotional storms, Selma's reach and effect is way more everlasting.

Should Win: Selma

Will Win: Boyhood 

Best Director:


(Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Richard Linklater for Boyhood, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game)

Oscar snub: Ava DuVernay for Selma

The time-honored tradition is that Best Picture and Best Director go hand-in-hand. So my prediction is Richard Linklater, the man who personifies American independent film-making. Mexicans are making waves in Hollywood, but Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar win last year as Best Director for Gravity has already stole the spotlight from Alejandro González Iñárritu, and I doubt the Academy will award two Mexican directors two years in a row - no matter how great Iñárritu is (and he really is).

Should Win: Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Will Win: Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Best Actor:

(Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game,  Michael Keaton for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything)

Oscar snub(s): Jake Gyllenhal for Nightcrawler, Tom Hardy for Locke, David Oyelowo for Selma, Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner.

With all these snubs, the usually difficult Best Actor race has narrowed down this year to Keaton and Redmayne. Both won Golden Globes; Keaton for Comedy role, Redmayne for Drama. And although dramatic roles always have better chances, Keaton's role in Birdman was a once-in-a-lifetime event played by an actor who's been acting forever, while Redmayne is a relative newcomer who still has a long career ahead of him.

Should Win: Michael Keaton for Birdman

Will Win: Michael Keaton for Birdman

Best Actress:

(Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night, Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore for Still Alice, Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon fir Wild)

Oscar snub: Jennifer Aniston for Cake

There's really no point betting against Julianne Moore. She's had the most prolific career among the five (more than 70 films), and the most number of Oscar nominations among them (four) without a win. But for me, Marion Cotillard's struggle in Two Days, One Night really hurt.

Should Win: Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night

Will Win: Julianne Moore for Still Alice

Best Supporting Actor:

(Robert Duvall for The Judge, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood, Edward Norton for  Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher, J.K. Simmons for Whiplash)

Nothing to get bent out of shape about. No rushing, nor any dragging. J.K. Simmons is the winner. If you disagree, ... that's not quite my tempo.

Should Win: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash

Will Win: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress:

(Patricia Arquette for Boyhood, Laura Dern for Wild, Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game, Emma Stone for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Meryl Streep for Into the Woods)

Oscar snub: Amy Adams for Big Eyes, Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year

I wasn't too impressed with Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, but everybody's going crazy about her, so whatever. Among the nominees, I believe Emma Stone is the only one who stands out; in a few scenes in Birdman, you could see Michael Keaton's reactions to her words ... by looking at her face.

Should Win: Emma Stone for Birdman

Will Win: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood

Best Original Screenplay:

(Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)BoyhoodFoxcatcherThe Grand Budapest HotelNightcrawler)

Oscar snub: Selma

I can imagine Birdman's screenplay was extremely difficult to write; maintaining narrative continuity in a whirlwind of events happening continuously in and around a Broadway theater is not an easy feat. But in the past few weeks, there has been a large amount of hype surrounding Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, and even though I'm not a huge fan of the director, this was his first movie that at least grabbed my attention. To top it off, Anderson won the Writers Guild Award a few days ago, which makes it lock for an Oscar (while Birdman wasn't even nominated by the Guild).

Should Win: Birdman

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(American SniperThe Imitation GameInherent ViceThe Theory of EverythingWhiplash)

Oscar snub: Gone Girl

Even before the nominations were announced, I thought Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is the obvious winner. But we saw how that turned out. Again, the hype is circling around The Imitation Game - a decent movie, but one that contained a few cliche moments for which the screenplay should be blamed. On the other hand, Inherent Vice had some quirky, innovative screenplay twists, and its clever 6-time nominated writer/director, P.T. Anderson, hasn't won an Oscar yet.

Should Win: Inherent Vice

Will Win: The Imitation Game

Best Documentary Feature Film:

(CitizenFour, Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth, Virunga)

Oscar snub: Life Itself

Again, the race was between Life Itself, the Roger Ebert documentary, and CitizenFour, the Edward Snowden documentary. Ebert is out, so Snowden wins - deservedly so.

Should Win: CitizenFour

Will Win: CitizenFour

Best Animated Feature Film:

(Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya)

Oscar snub: The Lego Movie

People started screaming when they realized The Lego Movie wasn't among the five. How to Train Your Dragon 2 won the Golden Globe, and it will suck if it wins the Oscar too, because it's a movie that parasiting on the splendor of its original. In the meantime, Studio Ghibli's product this year was a two-hour plus animation of "simply sophisticated" wonders.

Should Win: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Foreign Language Film:

(Ida from Poland, Leviathan from Russia, Tangerines from Estonia, Timbuktu from Mauritania, Wild Tales from Argentina)

Oscar snub: Force Majeure, Winter Sleep

Even though Leviathan won the Golden Globe, and even though Timbuktu's director won two awards at Cannes, Ida won the BAFTA, and it has beautiful black-and-white cinematography, and it's about a favorite Academy subject: the Holocaust. Actually, it's about the children of Holocaust survivors. But that's good enough.

Should Win: (haven't seen them all)

Will Win: Ida 

And for predictions in other categories:

- Best Editing: Boyhood

- Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

- Best Cinematography: Birdman

- Best Makeup: Guardians of the Galaxy

- Best Original Score: The Theory of Everything

- Best Original Song: Selma

- Best Costume Design: Into the Woods

- Best Sound Editing: American Sniper

- Best Sound Mixing: American Sniper 

- Best Visual Effects:  Interstellar

- Best Animated Short Film: Feast

- Best Documentary Short Film: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1  

- Best Live Action Short Film: Boogaloo and Graham

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beyond the Lights (2014)

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood. Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Danny Glover. 116 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Musical.

In a competition for profits, a black superstar singer is prostituted to fame by the studio system and her own mother (who of course, is white), until she falls for a cop (who of course, is black) and discovers "the true meaning of life". The movie proves that Gugu Mbatha-Raw, similar to last year's newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, is up for one helluva career; meanwhile, as she showed in her Secret Life of Bees, director Prince-Bythewood makes decent films, but when getting African-American issues across, is still unable to deliver punches the way 12 Years a Slave or Selma do.

Mo says:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Paddington (2014)

Director: Paul King. Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Whishaw (voice), Imelda Staunton (voice), Michael Gambon (voice), Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent. 95 min. Rated PG. UK/France. Comedy/Family.

I know: it's based on Michael Bond's beloved children's books, the CGI-animated bears are mind-boggling, and it's supposed to be fun for kids. But I tried real hard to put myself in a child's mindset (something I'm pretty good at), and was still unable to understand the charm of this movie - which received a shocking approval by the critics. It reminded me of my sense of detachment watching the boring 2000 movie, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Just doesn't make sense.

Mo says:

The Ward (2010)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker. 89 min. Rated R. Horror/Mystery.

It's a John Carpenter movie, so how can you not see it? Curiously, the man has been directing films before I was born, while his latest (after a 4-year hiatus) suggests he's run out of creative juices, because it's obviously inspired by TV's American Horror Story: teenage girls in a mental asylum are treated under a sadistic head nurse and suspicious psychiatrist, and a ghost roams the ward. The significant ending twist makes the movie worthwhile, but there's no doubt that Carpenter's heyday is long gone.

Mo says:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Code Unknown (Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages) (2000)

Director: Michael Haneke. Cast: Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Luminita Gheorghiu. France/Germany/Romania. 118 min. Drama.

Four characters (a French actress, her photographer husband, an Arab music instructor, a Romanian illegal immigrant) whose lives interconnect in strange ways, are told in vignettes, depicting racism and intolerance in modern-day France. The vignettes may or may not be in chronological order, but in many, with a slight change in camera angle or minimal dialogue or character action in the frame, you're surprised at how the essence of the scene suddenly changes. Haneke's mastery at mind games reaches a peak during an extremely tense subway scene towards the end. The entire movie is worth watching that one scene.

PS: Available on Netflix.

Mo says:

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Director(s): Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean. 127 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Fantasy.

The Wachowskis have made a wildly creative multifaceted sci-fi movie, about intelligent beings who à la The Matrix are exploiting humanity and want a certain female (Kunis) destroyed, and in the manner of The Terminator, a rival group sends a bodyguard (Tatum) to protect her through some of the most mind-popping actions sequences I've seen in ages. And then critics give this immensely entertaining piece of cinema a mere 22% on the Tomatometer, because critics are unable to enjoy movies that are made to enjoy. In the meantime, I hope the Wachowskis continue making movies for a very long time.

Mo says:

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Last Days in Vietnam (2014)

Director: Rory Kennedy. 98 min. Documentary.

April, 1975. The one element that Communist North Vietnam feared (Nixon) is out of office, and there's nothing to slow them from trampling the Peace Accords and invading South Vietnam. While Saigon is to fall any day, a brave American ambassador sees the evacuation of 6,000 Americans and 160,000 "deserving" Vietnamese, as a sign of defeat. In our nowadays ocean of negativity swirling around US foreign policies, this is a film about Americans trying to do good overseas - rules and regulations be damned. Even Richard "be-prepared-to-go-back-to-the-Stone-Age" Armitage gets a redeeming moment. A well-made lesson in contemporary history.

Mo says:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

[REC]³: Genesis (2012)

Director: Paco Plaza. Cast: Leticia Dolera, Diego Martín, Ismael Martínez. 80 min. Rated R. Spain. Horror.

Again and again, I fall into the trap of watching the next installment of an engaging franchise, fully prepared it's going to be bad, and again and again ... I'm surprised. Ironically, as zombie-infested events unfold during a wedding, early on, the film-makers drop the hand-held "found-footage" style prior [REC] movies were titled for, resort to regular camerawork, and then proceed to spoof the franchise, inserting religious satire and literally picturing the groom as a "knight in shining armor", out to save his bride. And how can one resist Kill Bill's blood-soaked bride, determined to protect the sanctity of ... her day?

PS: The 2014 installment, [REC] 4: Apocalypse, has already jumped up to 77% on the Tomatometer ...

Mo says:

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (2013)

Directors: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine. 120 min. USA/Ecuador/Germany/Norway. Documentary.

In the 1930s, a few European couples embark on a hermit's life in the Galapagos Islands, and tragedy ensues. You don't run too often into a creepy documentary about a bizarre lesser known crime that happened 80 years ago, and Cate Blanchett's familiar voice as one of the narrators makes this critically-acclaimed film more marketable. But other than the everlasting notion that human civilization has never changed the innate caveman lust for property and power, the take-home message (don't become a hermit? be nice to your neighbors when you become a hermit?) was lost on me.

Mo says:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Director: Peter Strickland. Cast: Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Guido Adorni. 92 min. Not Rated. UK. Horror/Thriller.

This may not sound politically correct, but do sub-genres originating from a specific demographic, tell us anything about its people? Do the blood and gore-soaked Italian giallo horror movies (Deep Red, Suspiria) mean Italians are accustomed to violence? Whatever your beliefs are, this movie gets pretty close to that concept. An English sound engineer joins a gruesome giallo film crew, and realizes he needs to become one of them to succeed. While expecting a better ending, the film helped me understand how the genre's shot angles, sound mixing and editing techniques made even rotten vegetable look scary.

Mo says: