Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Happy Valley (2014)

Director: Amir Bar-Lev. 98 min. Documentary.

The story of Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, and the 2011 Penn State football child sex abuse. The story that will shake you up, whether you're a parent or not, and make you even more vigilant about children's extra-curricular activities. Deservedly, the film initially focuses on whether Paterno, the small town's father figure, fulfilled his moral obligation towards Sandusky's crimes, after fulfilling his legal obligation of reporting it. But then the last third fizzles out on the crucial question of doing the right thing, even at the cost of the entire society's collapse. This could have been a very good discussion.

PS: HBO has been planning on dramatizing the story into a film, with Brian DePalma as director and Al Pacino in the lead as Paterno. Imagine the prospects.

Mo says:

Leviathan (Leviafan) (2014)

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev. Cast: Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Roman Madyanov. 140 min. Rated R. Russia. Drama.

A local in rural Russia finds himself in a legal battle with the mayor over his house ... but that's just the beginning of his problems, as he watches his entire livelihood fall apart. He's up against an insurmountable leviathan-like force. Critics have interpreted this as an allegory for Putin's corrupt Russia, but with the emphasis on religion and church-going politicians, I found the film posing the question: at which point of a disaster does a non-believer seek help from God? The long-winding duration of the story in the outskirts reminded me of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's, whose films are far superior.

Mo says:

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Green Prince (2014)

Director: Nadav Schirman. 101 min. Rated PG-13. Germany/USA/UK/Israel. Documentary.

Remember hearing the Middle East is complicated? Well, probably Israel/Palestine is the most complicated focus of contradictory concepts, as proven in this documentary - about the son of a Hamas leader who became a Shin-Bet (Mossad) agent for more than a decade. WHAT? The country breeds contradictions of Orwellian proportions: the film's chapters are titled "Lies", "Responsibility", "Game", ..., but each word heralds new meanings as the story progresses. Similar to The Gatekeepers, this fascinating tale begins with great promise, but then loses steam towards the end, as we learn who the game's real winners and losers are.

PS: Available on Netflix.

Mo says:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ex Machina (2015)

Director: Alex Garland. Cast: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac. 108 min. Rated R. UK. Sci-fi/Thriller.

With Her, Transcendence, InterstellarChappie, this movie, and upcoming Avengers and Terminator sequels, artificial intelligence cinema (mostly warning of its dangers) is becoming the era's sub-genre on its own. A coding expert wins a lottery and is invited to a far-off compound to perform the Turing test on a crazed genius' newly-constructed "female" robot, to determine whether he has created a sentient A.I - with thriller-horror aftermaths. Similar to Her, sexuality plays major role in the process (makes sense), but if you've already seen that other more over-arching film, Ex Machina's themes probably won't come as much of a shock.

Mo says:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, Hiam Abbass, Golshifteh Farahani. 150 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA/Spain. Drama/Religious.

Back home, we had these government-issued religious movies, where directors were provided heaps of money to make films preaching a very narrow-minded ideology that served the ruling system's purposes. Very similar here. Ridley Scott is an extremely intelligent film-maker who knows the terrain (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven), but has created an idiotic piece of trash with laughable characters delivering the most ludicrous lines (on his wedding night, Moses' wife tells him: "Proceed."). So outrageous, it's almost as if Scott is sticking it to the Hollywood hands who hired him to show who are the rightful owners of the promised land.

Mo says:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Kill Team (2013)

Director: Dan Krauss. 79 min. Documentary.

Imagine being fully armed, but bored to death, at war, in the country you've invaded. Then watching other bored invading soldiers create scenarios to set up the locals, and kill them for fun. And then facing lethal A Few Good Men-like punishments if you snitch on your comrades. This actually happened in Afghanistan, and this is the blood-curdling story of one whistle-blower, who while stuck in an "Emperor's New Clothes" situation in a community of fun-loving killers, paid dearly for doing what he thought was right. You'll suspect previous atrocities at Abu-Ghraib weren't done by just "a few bad apples".

Mo says:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Furious Seven (2015)

Director: James Wan. Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, Djimon Hounsou. 137 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Japan. Action.

I get it. They make movies, with a group of heroes from every race and gender and ethnicity (I was expecting a hermaphrodite to show up), with almost no story (quite a task, considering the 2-and-1/2 hour duration), and glue you with breath-taking chase scenes already spoiled by the trailer (again incredible, considering the 2-and-1/2 hours). Brainless movies appealing to the lowest common denominator, that make lots of money. The reason I don't give this a bad score, is because it delivers what it promises to deliver, and ends with a decent tribute to the late Paul Walker.

PS: I dearly hope they don't ruin that nice ending with an eighth installment.

Mo says:

The Sheik (2014)

Director: Igal Hecht. 95 min. Canada. Documentary.

The Iron Sheik. An Iranian professional wrestler, who actually fled Iran before the revolution (in fear not of Khomeini, but of the Shah), and after seeing the opportunity in public stupidity of hating anything Iran-related during the hostage crisis, exploited the fake American sport/entertainment called pro wrestling. Then became the ladder for other wrestlers (like Hulk Hogan) to step on and rise to their own fame. Then became a drug addict. Then became famous again, simply by trash-talking. And he's adored by fans as a hero. Similar to The Dog, I was thinking: what's here to be inspired from?

PS: Since I know Iranian readers would love to see this ... it's on Netflix.

Mo says:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Eden Lake (2008)

Director: James Watkins. Cast: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Jack O'Connell. 91 min. Rated R. UK. Horror/Thriller.

In our teens, we'd coined a horror sub-genre, called "Oozaini": films that whatever wrong could happen to the heroes happened, and whatever wrong couldn't happen, still happened via sick plot twists. Examples are Haneke's Funny Games, the Saw films, Compliance, etc. I watch them, but never write about them, because I despise Oozaini films for two reasons: they betray the viewer's emotional investment, and they're big holes in my scoring system - they engage till the very end (Soso), but should be avoided (NoMo). Eden Lake is a typical Oozaini film, and it proves not every Michael Fassbender film is watchable.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Overnighters (2014)

Director: Jesse Moss. 102 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

It has accrued 98% on the Tomatometer, so you probably can't go wrong here. It's about a very palpable moral/religious dilemma: can you "love thy neighbor" ... when your neighbor is (suppose) a registered sex offender? It carries a strong message: no matter how much good you do, one evil deed will haunt you for the rest of your life. And although its shocking final act seems discordant with the rest of it, in actuality, it's very concordant. Just one problem: some moments of this documentary are so intimate, I'm suspicious some of it is staged. That undermines its power.

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Director: Kurt Kuenne. 95 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

Compared to the "unfair" deaths we read about every day, the number of lives lost in this true story is a bare minimum. But boy, this is one of the saddest stories ever. The magnitude of grief and utter failure of the judicial system to prevent tragedy is so profound, that similar to The Imposter, it's one of those stories you have a hard time believing ever happened. My Mojo score, is because the incredible editing and smart story-telling technique raises it above others, and because with all the negativity, it dares to end with a positive note of hope.

PS: This is available on Netflix.

Mo says:

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Chaser (Chugyeogja) (2008)

Director: Hong-jin Na. Cast: Yun-seok Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Yeong-hie Seo. 125 min. South Korea. Thriller.

A pimp, who's also a former detective, discovers his girls are disappearing one by one, and falls into hot pursuit of the serial killer. I'm very accustomed to Korean cinema's extreme brand of violence (here, here, here and here), but this one just went too far for me - maybe because the film is not very hesitant at depicting violence towards women and children. And when towards the end, an absurdly coincidental moment sets the scene for the film's most gratuitously violent moment, I concluded that this film (83% on the Tomatometer, 3-and-1/2 stars by Ebert) was not for me.

Mo says:

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Director: Sofia Coppola. Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Scott Glenn, Danny DeVito. 97 min. Rated R. Drama.

Watching Sofia Coppola's creepy debut feature, about five sisters whose fate is spelled out in the title, I realized her common theme isn't just human loneliness, but a girl's loneliness/distance from her father: in The Virgin SuicidesMarie Antoinette, and The Bling Ring, the absence of a dependable father figure is striking; in Somewhere, she's practically searching for one; in Lost in Translation she finds one (but then loses him). Is she telling us something about her relationship with her own world-renowned father? In any case, Coppola has successfully cemented her own style, so I'll wait for her masterpiece.

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

Mo says:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Director: Alex Gibney. 119 min. Documentary.

The Church of Scientology. Their con-artist founder L. Ron Hubbard. Their billion-dollar tax-exempt status. Their Hollywood celebrity endorsements. Their human rights abuses. And their Nazi-like propaganda, that puts the likes of Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl to shame. This great documentary by Alex Gibney of Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark SideWe Steal Secrets, Mea Maxima Culpa and Client 9 fame, is recommended to all those who ridicule Middle Eastern faith-based religions - because the enemy is right here at home, governed and followed by very smart people. And to all Tom Cruise lovers.

PS: Thank you, Mohi ... for providing the means!

Mo says:

Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes) (2014)

Director: Damián Szifrón. Cast: Darío Grandinetti, María Marull, Mónica Villa, Ricardo Darín. 122 min. Rated R. Argentina/Spain. Comedy/Drama/Thriller.

Six 10-30 minute bizarre "tales" told in sequence, with the common notion of how fate ultimately catches up with you (and also, the strange presence of a fire extinguisher in most of them). Together with The Secret in Their Eyes and The Headless Woman, curious how Argentinian cinema is obsessed with the concept of fate - as though they're communally guilty of some dark deeds in their past. The first few tales are magnificently structured and engrossing, but the stories lose steam towards the end, with the last one (the wedding party), although satirical, completely out of touch with reality.

Mo says: