Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him (2013)

Director: Ned Benson. Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, William Hurt, Isabelle Hupert, Ciaran Hinds. 100 min (Her), 89 min (Him). Rated R. Drama.

When I watched The Disappearance ... : Them three months ago, I never thought I'd go back to experience the sad story again ... twice. Well, I did, because this is how the story was originally meant to be seen: Eleanor Rigby's story (Her), and Eleanor Rigby's story from her husband's perspective (Him). Parallel to showing Eleanor and Conor's personal stories, new-coming director Ned Benson plays a brilliant Rashomon game, demonstrating how the common moments between them are interpretted by them differently, by being filmed differently - opening a lot to imagination. After Them, the extra 3-hours-plus I spent here was definitely worth it.

Mo says:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

It Follows (2014)

Director: David Robert Mitchell. Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi. 100 min. Rated R. Horror.

Open-angle wide-view shot, in broad daylight, of an average-looking person in the middle of a scene, slowly coming from the far background towards the camera. Impossibly terrifying? It is. It Follows performs horror genre miracles rarely seen in years. Except for one opening grisly image, it scares our pants off with virtually no violence; just terrifying concepts, locations, soundtrack, and atmosphere, following in the steps of John Carpenter's Halloween (evil following you) and The Ring (evil passed along to save oneself), all hovering around the familiar horror themes of teenage sex. Nevertheless, it's still a macabre entity on its own.

PS: The more terrifying notion, is the that possibility of endless sequels is very open.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Faults (2014)

Director: Riley Stearns. Cast: Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Ellis, Beth Grant. 89 min. Drama.

Loser/charlatan cult expert is approached by desperate old parents to save their daughter, who's under the influence of "Faults", a bizarre cult. The expert plays along for the money, kidnaps the daughter for a five-day cure, and then ... things start to get weird. The setting makes every minute of this strange indie engaging: in the ensuing cat-and-mouse game, you're not sure who's curing and who's being cured, and while the ending twist is unexpected, it's deeply satisfying. Although Winstead was first recognized as John McClane's daughter, with Spectacular NowSmashed and now this, she's becoming an indie scene heroine.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Voices (2014)

Director: Marjane Satrapi. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver. 103 min. Rated R. USA/Germany. Comedy/Crime.

I don't think it would be spoiling too much to mention the film's namesake: Reynolds is a likable factory worker ... who hears his pets' voices, and talks to them. So we're already in very creepy territory, and the film-makers satisfy every expectation - especially with a shocking mid-movie Beautiful Mind moment, when Reynolds takes his prescribed medications for the first time, momentarily gets better, and demonstrates the horror he lives in. Satrapi (Persepolis) not only proves that in addition to animation, live-action is her forte, but also skillfully guides her mainstream actors to a very eccentric ending, that breaks story-telling rules.

PS: Thank you, Ali S. ... for "salvaging" this one!

Mo says:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)

Director: Tom Harper. Cast: Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox. 98 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA/Canada. Horror.

Yet another decent horror movie destroyed by an atrocious sequel. While watching this film and its nonsensical story (why on Earth during WWII would you shelter schoolkids in a haunted house at the end of a treacherous road?!), I had some moments of revelation. For instance: Why would ghosts sneak up from behind you and scream in your face? Why? When film-makers place silent still-motion shots in a movie, don't they know we know a horror shock is coming? How many horror movies a year do they watch? How many horror movies in total have they seen? Do producers who invest ...

Mo says:

Top Five (2014)

Director: Chris Rock. Cast: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Luis Guzmán, Kevin Hart. 102 min. Rated R. Comedy/Romance.

I think I know what Chris Rock is trying to do here. He provides comedic arguments and counter-arguments on how the entertainment industry is exploiting the black community, how blacks undermine each other by feeding into that environment and competing to be exploited, and how each of them undermine themselves by coming up with outrageous conspiracy theories that blow any discussion out of proportion. The reason "I think I know", is that this mishmash of concepts leaves the viewer confused what Chris Rock's own stance is. I guess even he doesn't really know.

Mo says:

Monday, March 16, 2015

Black Sea (2014)

Director: Kevin Macdonald. Cast: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn. 114 min. Rated R. UK/USA/Russia. Adventure/Thriller.

Naval mercenaries are hired to find gold in the depths of the Black Sea, in a WWII-sunken Nazi U-Boat. Although after films like Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot and Tony Scott's Crimson Tide (and even Aliens-like doomed-mission themes, with evil corporate guy in the midst and all), making a noteworthy submarine movie requires the elements of a miracle, this film is still able to hold on its own till the very last minute - and Jude Law makes a credible impression as the crazy no-nonsense captain. It's not a bad film; just that we've already been here before.

Mo says:

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi. Cast: Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh. 86 min. New Zealand/USA. Comedy/Horror.

My problem with Noah: it made no sense to create a personal version of an already contested story. The same thing happens here ... but ends in a brilliant victory. A supposed camera crew follows a group of four New Zealand vampires in their home, in reality TV format, showing the difficulties of daily life based on the vampire myths we already know. The result is so smart and charming, I was smiling throughout the entire film. And the unique horror-comedy perspective was so similar to another New Zealander, Housebound, I could've sworn they were made by the same director.

Mo says:

Farewell My Concubine (Ba wang bie ji) (1993)

Director: Kaige Chen. Cast: Leslie Cheung, Fengyi Zhang, Li Gong. 171 min. Rated R. China/Hong Kong. Drama/Historical.

The story of two 20th century Chinese opera actors/singers, both male, one playing the King and one his female concubine (that's correct), and how their identity is gutted through World War II, the Communist takeover, and the Chinese cultural revolution. Ring any bells? Not to sound too unsophisticated, but I had a hard time watching this 3-hour long epic and not be reminded every 10 minutes of Bertolucci's masterpiece, The Last Emperor. But even if you have seen that film, you can never remind enough how ideological fanaticism forces people to become their own anti-thesis.

Mo says:

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Director: David Gelb. Cast: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters. 83 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Horror.

A research team comes up with a "Lazarus serum" to bring recently-died beings back to life. With the sequence of first a dead dog and then a dead person coming back to life, and both resorting to evil deeds, obviously the film-makers are using Stephen King's "Pet Semetary" as a template (and they're humble enough to mention both King's "Kujo" and Hitchcock's Vertigo). But reminders of "Frankenstein", Flatliners, and unfortunately and coincidentally, last year's Lucy (using more than 10% of one's brain leading to telekinetic powers), and the multitude of expected shock-shots, devoid this short horror film of originality.

Mo says:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Chappie (2015)

Director: Neill Blomkamp. Cast: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Yo-Landi Visser, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver. 120 min. Rated R. USA/Mexico. Action/Sci-Fi.

A film instructor friend once told me a story rule long ago: if there's a minor character in the story whom the audience's heart beats for ... never kill that character off! Blomkamp's Chappie borrows prohibitively from Robocop, climaxes with concepts from Her and Transcendence, and breaks the above cardinal rule, smashing the audience's heart to smithereens (you know which character, if you've seen the movie). Since Elysium was such a downer, I'm beginning to think Blomkamp is a modern day Shyamalan, whose District 9 was just an accidental masterpiece. Similar to District 9, they've left room for a sequel here.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

3 Women (1977)

Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule. 124 min. Rated PG. Drama. 

My theory about Altman films, is that all his characters were idiots - which while demonstrating his outlook of the world, also made his films so endearing. But here, his three female protagonists live in such a dreary dream-like world and so strangely switch identities after traumatic life events, I thought maybe one was the figment of another's imagination. They're not just idiots; they're creepy, just because they're lives are so idiotically creepy. This film, who many believe is one of Altman's greatest, made me feel uncomfortable in a David Lynch sort of way; and I'm not sure why.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Director: Matthew Vaughn. Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill. 129 min. Rated R. UK. Action/Comedy.

In a post-Austin Powers era, when we've been robbed of old James Bond cheesy fun, such a movie was so much needed. It's an action treat not only showcasing the beauty of British class (as opposed to the stark contrast of Samuel Jackson's American sloppiness), but also spicing up the genre with eye-popping violence, perpetrated by of all people, Colin Firth (whom strangely, I enjoyed for the first time!). With numerous Star Wars references (master-apprentice relations, Hamill's presence, Guinness' name on the walls, princess saved from dungeon, etc. ...), this is a rare film I'd love to see starting a franchise.

PS: More on Matthew Vaughn's love for Star Wars here.

PPS: Thank you, Mohi and Peter. I almost waited this one out till its DVD arrival.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Crazy Love (2007)

Director(s): Dan Klores, Fisher Stevens. 92 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

A young lawyer in the 1950s falls (literally) madly in love with a woman, and does something (physically) terrible to her to make her his own. And what happens between them afterward is considerably worse than the initial traumatizing event. I found this film disgusting, because it shows while the same act by men in underdeveloped countries is called savagery and barbarism, in a developed country, it's sugarcoated with money lust and lawyer sweet-talk, and presented to us as "love". Similar to The Dog, these are modern society losers and low-lifes, who don't deserve advertising via a glamorized documentary.

Mo says:

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Director: Terry Gilliam. Cast: John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Robin Williams, Uma Thurman, Oliver Reed, Jack Purvis, Jonathan Pryce, Sting. 126 min. Rated. PG. UK/Fantasy. Fantasy/Comedy.

Terry Gilliam is another director whom I have a love-hate relationship with. His Monty Python satires (Holy Grail, Life of Brian) are pitch perfect, and his no nonsense sci-fi (12 Monkeys) works as some of the best. But when he mixes sci-fi and fantasy and comedy, whether it's Jabberwocky or Brazil (the latter known as one of the best sci-fis of all time), I can't relate. Baron Munchausen is one of those Don Quixotic concoctions, and as a general rule, you shouldn't make a fantasy so fantastical and ludicrous that there's no logic to connect the dots.

(PS: Robin Williams' name is strangely absent from the credits. Explanation here.)

Mo says: