Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Timbuktu (2014)

Director: Abderrahmane Sissako. Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Abel Jafri, Toulou Kiki. 97 min. Rated PG-13. France/Mauritania. Drama.

A film about how ISIS rules a small village in Mali does not need a story-line. Regardless of how radical Islamists govern them, watching how every aspect of these people's lives is resolved by spilling blood, is baffling to the Western eye. But Timbuktu still adds another layer to the drama, showing ISIS members not as monsters, but as humans. And that's what makes them so terrifying; that regular humans are vulnerable to such indoctrination. Another film that opens a window into a world we as viewers may never come into close contact with - so it's worth the view.

PS: After Ida, Leviathan, Tangerines, and Wild Tales, this commentary concludes my review of last year's Foreign-Language Oscar nominees.

Mo says:

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)

Director(s): Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton, John Landis, Robert K. Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Michelle Pfeiffer, Arsenio Hall, Phil Hartman, Griffin Dunne, Joe Pantoliano, Sybil Danning, Lana Clarkson, David Alan Grier, B.B. King, Steve Guttenberg, Bryan Cranston, Jenny Agutter, Kelly Preston, Russ Meyer, Andrew Dice Clay, Carrie Fisher, Ronny Cox, Robert Loggia. 85 min. Rated R. Comedy.

From his National Lampoon's Animal House to his Thriller video for Michael Jackson, John Landis films work as time capsules: they accurately project the mood and feeling of their own era. This charming Landis-produced multi-segment mishmash of comedy, spoofs and satires directed by five directors and featuring numerous stars who were either relevant at the time or would become relevant later, works the same way - and even though Ebert gave it a negligible half-star at the time, considering how some segments act as a prophecy for today, I bet he would've appreciated it more three decades later.

PS: Thank you, JZ, both for recommending the film ... and for providing the means!

Mo says:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)

Director: David Zellner. Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard. 105 min. Drama.

Confession: I've never understood the value of the movie Fargo. I've never been able to relate. So the setting of Kumiko, the story of a lying, stealing, delusional Japanese girl who becomes obsessed with travelling all the way from Tokyo to freezing Minnesota to find the money suitcase buried in the snow at the end of Fargo, was already a loser to me; I empathize with cinema obsession, not with dysfunctional/psychotic obsession. But this movie achieves the strange goal of successfully portraying that delusional obsession (as A Beautiful Mind did). So be warned: the ending might make you angry.

Update (6/29/2015): Here's a documentary about the real Kumiko. Thank you, Toast.

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

We Are Still Here (2015)

Director: Ted Geoghegan. Cast: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie. 84 min. Not Rated. Horror.

Imagine a character sitting in a chair, and a vase next to him on a side-table suddenly bursting into pieces for no reason. The character should be following up why this happened, right? In this haunted house movie, multiple events like this go uninvestigated ... for a full hour of movie time. And the family stays in the house, just freaking out at each event, and then ignoring it till the next one occurs. Drives you nuts. To add insult to injury, the ending is copied off John Carpenter's The Fog. Why did I watch it? Look at its Tomatometer score.

Mo says:

Inside Out (2015)

Director(s): Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Cast (voices): Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Oz. 94 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Pixar is known for writing animation with both kids and grownups in mind. But this time, the pendulum has swung waaaaaay towards adults. The story, where different moods in a young girl's mind play the protagonists, has so many deep concepts about the human psyche, memory and the reasons behind social interactions, it almost works as a schematic animation of a university course on psychiatry. It's so original, I could not recall a similar film to compare. Obviously, Pixar has no competition out there, so it keeps competing with itself - and creates hope that Hollywood still has new ideas.

PS: The same can be said about the opening short animation before the movie, Lava. A love story between two volcanoes? That actually works? What kind of genius comes up with this stuff?

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Spy (2015)

Director: Paul Feig. Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Bobby Cannavale, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz. 120 min. Rated R. Comedy/Action.

Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy. There are/were comedians for whom scripts were written, solely having them in mind to play the lead role - and if they rejected the role, the film wouldn't work. Melissa McCarthy has been added to that list now, because I can't imagine any other female using her "overbearing" physical presence, her quirkiness and unsure manner, and her paradoxical ability to hurl obscenities, all simultaneously, and still remain hilarious and interesting. Nevertheless, this film's best moments are its vulgar humor, and I've never seen that as cinematic virtue; because vulgar jokes are inherently funny anyway.

Mo says:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jurassic World (2015)

Director: Colin Trevorrow. Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D'Onofrio, Irrfan Khan. 124 min. Rated PG-13. USA/China. Sci-fi/Adventure.

Long ago, a great director made a movie that revolutionized the use of special effects around a core sci-fi concept, with almost no story at all. Since then, there have been three attempts (including one by the great director himself) to repeat that master-stroke, and all have come back empty-handed. Jurassic World finds the solution in taking every great moment of that original movie, and making it multiple times bigger, louder, more numerous, and more in-your-face. Hugely entertaining, but except for the concept of human-dinosaur interaction (and promise in Chris Pratt as a future Indiana Jones), there's nothing new here.

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Maze Runner (2014)

Director: Wes Ball. Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson. 113 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

Another young adult futuristic dystopian adventure, following The Hunger Games' success, on the heels of the sub-par Divergent and The Giver, and the disappointing Hunger Games sequel. Since they're so rapidly milking the territory to death, I wasn't expecting much. But in lieu of its plot-holes, this was pleasantly surprising: keeping you guessing till the end about the purpose of imprisoning a few youths in such an elaborate, menacing maze, and even a message of daring to change rather than adhering to the pathetic status quo. As opposed to Divergent, I'm looking forward to the movie's sequel, slated for September.

Mo says:

Sunday, June 7, 2015

[REC] 4: Apocalypse (2014)

Director: Jaume Balagueró. Cast: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Héctor Colomé. 95 min. Rated R. Spain. Action/Horror.

The [REC] films continue, breaking Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's record for the number of a foreign franchise's episodes I've followed. Clever setting this time: gather survivors from the past three movies' zombie-virus outbreaks in a mid-ocean ship, with scientists experimenting on them to find a cure. But after the inevitable on-board outbreak, when crew members are infected/eliminated on the claustrophobic ship, believe it or not, there's a ship self-destruct situation, where the remaining heroes are rushing to jump ship. Yep, it's an Alien rip-off. So after gaining some momentum with the previous episode, we're back to NoMo.

Mo says:

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Director: Peter Jackson. Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Billy Connolly. 144 min. Rated PG-13. New Zealand/USA. Fantasy/Adventure.

The late Richard Corliss had said "Everything is worth seeing", and so even though I had made it my New Year's resolution not to watch this, I finally caved in, and discovered that no, not everything is worth seeing - especially when it's 140 minutes long. Yes, the visuals are stunning, but you don't watch movies just to watch beautiful pictures. The only good thing that came out of this, is that maybe now you can watch The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in proper order.

Mo says:

The November Man (2014)

Director: Roger Donaldson. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Will Patton. 108 min. Rated R. USA/UK. Action/Thriller.

After Jason Bourne and the blond James Bond redefined the territory, tight-action spy thrillers of the 80s/90s have become a thing of the past - a concept that neither the makers of the Jack Ryan prequel, nor Roger Donaldson (No Way OutThe Recruit) realize. So for example, when bad guys falls to their death in slow-motion here, it's laughable. Only Pierce Brosnan continues to wear the role of the old retired dark-haired James Bond well, as he did in Tailor of Panama, After the Sunset, and The Matador. Just not sure how much longer he can keep wearing it.

Mo says:

Von Ryan's Express (1965)

Director: Mark Robson. Cast: Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard, James Brolin. 117 min. Unrated. Action/War.

The elements of this WWII oldie created the urge to look up its chronology among other WWII Hollywood fare. Hundreds of Allied POWs in a prison camp trying to escape is obviously borrowing from The Great Escape (1963) of two years before, and the concept of each Allied troop single-handedly gunning down hundreds of Nazis to meet their maker was copied three years later in Where Eagles Dare (1968). So there's a WWII film supply chain at work here, with the lone American playing the savior hero, and an ending predictable from a mile away. Still, oldies are always fun.

Mo says:

Testament of Youth (2014)

Director: James Kent. Cast: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson. 129 min. Rated PG-13. UK. Biography/Drama.

Real-life story of British author Vera Brittain, who loses her loved ones to World War I. The story goes on for too long, and becomes quite predictable at times (contains famous last words: "I'll marry you the next time I'm back from the front."). While it was refreshing to see newcomers Vikander (android in Ex Machina) and Harington (Jon Snow from 'Game of Thrones') in different roles, an ending speech on "killing-is-evil-no-matter-which-side-you're-on" was so tuned-in to our times, I became suspicious of its authenticity. Includes an homage to the famous Gone With the Wind wounded soldiers crane shot.

Mo says: