Sunday, May 24, 2015

Good Kill (2014)

Director: Andrew Niccol. Cast: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood. 102 min. Rated R. Drama/Thriller.

U.S. Air Force pilot, confined to a cubicle in Las Vegas to guide drone airstrikes at targets in Afghanistan, slowly loses his mind. The setting is supposedly about the contradictions of dealing with barbaric terrorists half a globe away, as the means (easily killing innocent civilian bystanders) is barbaric in itself. But then the movie shifts towards the pilot's main scruple: he can't physically "fly" to the target and kill the terrorists (and the innocent civilian bystanders). So the film-makers seem confused about which is the main moral crisis here. A wasted opportunity to talk about something important.

PS: Nice discussion here by Matt Zoller Seitz.

Mo says:

Heartbreak Ridge (1986)

 Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marsha Mason, Mario Van Peebles, Everett McGill. 130 min. Rated R. Action/Comedy.

Great director, but there was a period when Clint Eastwood made movies that couldn't stand the test of time. Before A Few Good Men made marines look invincible, before Full Metal Jacket created the iconic image of the mean army instructor, there was this film, following Top Gun's formula of a group of army trainees going through simulations, but ending up in real war (watching it, I predicted the closing act would be Grenada). These trainees are so Police Academy-style clownish, 30 years on. the film looks like another failed Eastwood attempt at comedy.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slow West (2015)

Director: John Maclean. Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Caren Pistorius, Ben Mendelsohn. 84 min. Rated R. UK/New Zealand. Western.

A teenager from Scotland is in search for his long lost love in the Western frontier, while a bounty hunter rides along. This film barely has any story (its 80 minute running time is an attestation to that), has characters/sequences that are inserted without much of a role in the narrative, and plot twists (why the ruthless bounty hunter has a sudden change of heart to help the kid) that kept me puzzled. Like any Western, the cinematography is its strong asset, but the film's 91% on the Tomatometer is a mystery to be solved.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Homesman (2014)

Director: Tommy Lee Jones. Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, William Fichtner, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, Meryl Streep. 122 min. Rated R. France/USA. Western/Drama.

In another Tommy Lee Jones "Western road movie", a single God-loving lady and a drifting low-life join forces to transport three mad women in a prison wagon from Nebraska across the country to their families. After directing himself in his first two features, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and this (both Westerns), Palme d'Or-nominated Jones is becoming a modern day Clint Eastwood, but is also advancing the genre into very bleak, self-reflecting territories, focusing on spirituality and death. With his own captivating performance and the film's entrancing cinematography, it's surprising the film wasn't nominated for any Oscars last year.

PS; Check out the multitude of acting talent here, all playing small roles; Tommy Lee Jones must be loved in Hollywood. The film just became available on Netflix.

Mo says:

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2014)

Directors: Dave LaMattina, Chad N. Walker. 90 min. Documentary.

I was expecting another inspiring "Sesame Street" origin story, like what we saw in Being Elmo. But this is at the other end of the spectrum, because when we're talking Carroll Spinney, the man who's been Big Bird's puppeteer for more than 45 years, it's not a question of inspiration - but a matter of longevity, and ... mortality. Although the documentary is slightly slowed down by repetition, two shocking moments mentioned here (the explosion of a certain space shuttle, and of course, the death of the beloved Jim Henson), will make you think twice before you squabble about trivial things.

PS: ... or maybe after hearing the news of a 23-year old relative diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and a 40-year friend with stage III breast cancer, both in the matter of a week, I'm just too sensitive these days.

Mo says:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Director: George Miller. Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne. 120 min. Rated R. Australia/USA. Action/Sci-fi.

Huge oil rig chased in post-apocalyptic desert by murderous bandits in deadly vehicles. How much can you expand upon that? Miller proved he can do it for a breath-taking 20 minutes in Road Warrior; here he outperforms for almost an entire movie, to a mind-blowing chaotic but insanely well-paced and well-choreographed extent. And yes, it does a have a story, with bizarre elements defining a sci-fi world, fast-forwarded scenes adding a bitterly humorous component to the violence, and Theron as a badass heroine entirely overshadowing the main character. This will be known as one of the greatest action movies ever filmed.

Mo says:

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Eichmann Show (2015)

Director: Paul Andrew Williams. Cast: Martin Freeman, Anthony LaPaglia, Rebecca Front. 90 min. UK. Drama/Historical.

The story behind the 1960s Israeli televising of Adolf Eichmann's trial - the Nazi who orchestrated killing millions of Jews during WWII. While taking a simplistic approach to dialogue (probably to make the story idiot-proof), the film dares to throw in a few engaging discussions: What is evil? Are there humans, completely devoid of humanity? If the Nazis were evil, how is the Israeli takeover of the Arab lands justified? But then, the ending either succumbs to answers as simplistic as the dialogue, or doesn't provide any answer at all. Wish the film-makers had taken their audience more seriously.

Mo says:

Miss Julie (2014)

Director: Liv Ullmann. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton. 129 min. Rated PG-13. Norway/UK/Canada/USA/France/Ireland. Drama.

The Swedish play was written in 1888, the first film adaptation (1951) won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, the second remake (1999) was directed by Mike Figgis, and this third remake directed by the great Liv Ullman, Ingmar Bergman's famous muse. And actually, the subject matter is quite significant, believably showing how sexual relations can entirely reverse the power roles before and after sex is committed. But then, I'm proven wrong that every Jessica Chastain movie is good, because I was slitting my wrists from boredom by the end of the movie. Two hours-plus was way too long.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Russian Ark (Russkiy kovcheg) (2002)

Director: Aleksandr Sokurov. Cast: Sergey Dreyden, Mariya Kuznetsova, Leonid Mozgovoy. 99 min. Russia/Germany/Japan/Canada/Finland/Denmark. Fantasy/History.

The grand-master says of this film:

""Russian Ark" is one of my favorite films. It's a 95-minute movie all done in one shot. It was done in a museum in St. Petersberg. I don't know if you've all seen "Russian Ark," but you should all treat yourselves to it. It's one shot. He only did three takes; the first two stopped after 20 minutes because there were mistakes but the last take went right through to the end. The cameraman almost died using the steadicam; it was an extraordinary experience. I would not want to make a movie in one shot."

- Steven Spielberg

I have to admit, I dozed off during the first half hour. But then, it grew on me. As it went on and I became more cognizant that all 95 minutes was one unedited shot (as opposed to The Rope's 10-minute fragments), the more I was confounded, almost horrified, at the immensity of the feat. But this goes beyond a technical miracle. As the film tours St. Petersburg's Hermitage museum (and isn't a real-life museum tour, continuous and unedited?), it recreates the site's historical moments through flashbacks, with iconic figures passing by. You're not touring a museum - you're witnessing history.

PS: Tales have been told about this film's production. Read some of them here.

PPS: Available on Netflix

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Blackhat (2015)

Director: Michael Mann. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang. 133 min. Rated R. Action/Crime.

From L.A. dramas to gangster movies, Michael Mann has proven himself a crime genre expert. But here with a shift towards global cyber-terrorism, it's almost as if he's running out of ideas. The thriller uses the structure of one his most admired films, Heat (long frustrating cat-and-mouse chases, with mid-story machine gun battles in the streets), while becoming too reminiscent of the late Tony Scott's cyber-thrillers (Enemy of the State, Spy Games). But neither Hemsworth is even distantly of Pacino or DeNiro's caliber, nor is the climax as fulfilling as a Tony Scott film. All and all, nothing new.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mommy (2014)

Director: Xavier Dolan. Cast: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément. 139 min. Rated R. Canada. Drama.

A single mother has an impossibly hard time keeping his teenage son-from-hell under control. But the key is those three words: "keeping under control" - because maybe this boy is not the devil incarnate, but merely a person who does not conform to the standardized norms of a society, and is prematurely being thrown into a vicious cycle using labels such as ADHD, mental disorder, etc ... This reminded me of Revolutionary Road, where the only seemingly mad person of the story, is the only one who can see and speak the truth. And we're left to live with our little norms.

PS: This is Mo-View's 1001st entry! Looking forward to another thousand film reviews.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Phoenix (2014)

Director: Christian Petzold. Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf. 98 min. Germany/Poland. Drama/History.

Post-war Berlin. Disfigured Jewish survivor comes into a huge inheritance after her family is killed in the war. While she's searching for her beloved husband (who may have betrayed her to the Nazis), he (who doesn't recognize her) wants her to act as his "former" wife ... to grab the money. Twisted setting? It works. And there's a troubling underlying theme there, about whether we should forget the overwhelming betrayals in a past life, and move on to live with those who betrayed us, just to achieve normalcy. Great performance by Nina Hoss, who was also directed by Petzold in Barbara.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Director: Joss Whedon. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Delpy, Andy Serkis. 141 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

Let's face it: Marvel's superhero-making machine is running out of steam. Yes, the whole project is hugely entertaining. But again, we have 9/11-level city destructions, dizzying close-up street chases, Avenger in-fightings, additions of one or two (in this case three) new Avengers, and actors accumulating from prior movies that have become too numerous to count, in an unnecessarily overlong film. There's even a slightly original Scarlet Witch subplot, that perhaps mistakenly overshadows the main Ultron plot. I was expecting more than just an Avengers/Captain America 2/Iron Man 3 rehash. Unless they've really run out of ideas.

Mo says: