Monday, July 27, 2015

Red Army (2014)

Director: Gabe Polsky. 84 min. Rated PG. USA/Russia. Documentary.

Remember Miracle, the 2004 Kurt Russell-starring film about how in 1980, the US hockey team beat Russia, the greatest team on Earth? That was a dramatized account of the winners. But what about a documentary about that game's losers, whose government believed Cold War politics culminated in this game? Told in parallel to interviews with Russian hockey superstar Slava Fetisov, this is an incredible story of human endurance; about how under insurmountable odds, after decades of perseverance under a crushing environment, you can rise as the victor. That US hockey team win was nothing compared to what these guys won.

Mo says:

Baby Boom (1987)

Director: Charles Shyer. Cast: Diane Keaton, Sam Shepard, Harold Ramis, James Spader, Kristina & Michelle Kennedy. 110 min. Rated PG. Comedy.

A successful New York "Tiger Lady" inherits of all things ... a baby. Her life turns upside down, and she must choose between continuing her shooting-for-the-stars career, or becoming a mom. A lot of suspension of disbelief is involved in watching this typical 80's formula-driven movie with an unsustainable resolution to the dilemma and an insanely predictable ending speech - but Keaton's magic covers many plot-holes, and above all, you keep wondering how 30 years later, almost nothing has changed to alleviate the work vs. family situation for women.

PS: The only reason I watched this, was because I remember as a kid in the mid-80's for reasons unknown to me, we received a letter in the mail advertising auditions for baby twins for an upcoming movie named "Baby Boom", starring Diane Keaton. Just curious to see how the movie turned out. Here's an update.

Mo says:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Expendables 3 (2014)

Director: Patrick Hughes. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Robert Davi. 126 min. Rated PG-13. USA/France. Action.

Finally! Exactly how these films were supposed to be (or at least how I expected them to be). The gang of "had been" action heroes are now thinking: maybe a member's demise is because ... we're not as good as old times? A self-parody, with a minimum basic story, action scenes out of the Fast and Furious notebook, Gibson as a real menacing villain, Banderas as a hilarious sidekick, and Ford always there to save the day. Even makes fun of Snipes' real-life tax evasion, and Willis' unwillingness to participate. Now, can we please close the trilogy on a happy note?

PS: Yeah, maybe I'm biased, because I gave both the original and the first sequel a No-Mo score, and the fact that I wasn't fast-forwarding the action scenes here is considered a significant improvement. Hence, the Mojo score.

Mo says:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (Død snø 2) (2014)

Director: Tommy Wirkola. Cast: Vegar Hoel, Ørjan Gamst, Martin Starr. 100 min. Rated R. Norway/Iceland/USA/UK. Action/Comedy.

I've rarely seen a sequel's direction deviate so significantly from its original. While the first movie was your run of the mill cabin-in-the-woods gore-fest, the sequel sadly becomes English-language (probably due to promotional incentives), and while retaining the same comedic spoof qualities, becomes a LOTR-in-the-Nordic-suburbs action flick, with touches of Indiana Jones-like Nazi-fights on a tank, and numerous suspiciously irrelevant Star Wars references. It also tries to gross the viewer out on every infraction of the zombie lore imaginable, including zombie-human hybrids, and necrophilia. Post-credits scene opens up possibilities for a third installment, but I'm not sure I'm interested anymore.

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Paper Chase (1973)

Director: James Bridges. Cast: Timothy Bottoms, John Houseman, Lindsay Wagner. 113 min. Rated PG. Drama.

Before R. Lee Ermey, before J.K. Simmons, there was the late John Houseman, playing the feared Harvard law professor. Ermey and Simmons demolished their recruits/pupils by screaming in their faces; Houseman would just stare them down, and achieve the same effect. Yeah, there's a plot here about a struggling law student who becomes romantically involved with the professor's daughter (Wagner, who later played "The Bionic Woman"). But still, throughout the film, you're waiting for Houseman's next scene. Interestingly, Houseman, Ermey and Simmons all won Best Supporting Actor Oscars, because their respective movies would be impotent without them.

PS: The movie was the inspiration for the not-so-successful TV series of the same name, with Houseman playing the same character.

PPS: Streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dead Snow (Død snø) (2009)

Director: Tommy Wirkola. Cast: Jeppe Beck Laursen, Charlotte Frogner, Jenny Skavlan. 91 min. Not Rated. Norway. Comedy/Horror.

In a movie self-admittedly inspired by Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, including villains' wandering point-of-view shots, gory blood-spurting comedy, and even a box that invites evil when opened, a group of youngsters hike up to a cabin in the middle of snow-covered mountains, and are attacked by ... Nazi zombies. Feels like a double-spoof of a genre spoof: in addition to heroes acting stupid like typical cabin-in-the-woods teenagers, when the zombie commander actually started hurling orders, it looked as if the film was satirizing the Nazis' typical "easy villain" status in movies. Encouraged to watch the better-reviewed sequel.

Mo says:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ant-Man (2015)

Director: Peyton Reed. Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Bobby Canavale, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery. 117 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

In a post-Nolan period, when superhero movies are becoming darker to succeed, imagine how silly an ant-sized superhero could turn out. So the genius trick to pull it off was: present it as a comedy in the first place! The plot is structured similar to Iron Man, but a comedy writer (Wright), a comedy director (Reed), and a comedy star (Rudd) create a light, funny, energetic action film, that nicely blends in with the rest of the already fatigued Marvel universe, and works. The kind of superhero movie we loved as kids, unfortunate to have been slapped with a PG-13.

Favorite quote: "That's a messed-up looking dog!"

PS: Watch how nicely they incorporate this with the Captain America films, during both opening and post-credits sequences.

Mo says:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Casino Royale (1967)

Director(s): Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge. Cast: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, William Holden, John Huston, Deborah Kerr, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jacqueline Bisset. 131 min. UK/USA. Comedy/Action.

It's inherently cruel to write bad reviews for 50-year-old films; you're not living in the time, so you don't know the circumstances of the movie's era. But this movie was horrible. Carrying the name of Ian Fleming's first James Bond title and containing an incredible ensemble of comedic talent, it must have been innovative as the first Bond spoof of numerous to come (actually, Austin Powers is a remake of this). But it was made by five directors (it shows), and includes six characters named James Bond. Okay, Woody Allen was funny. Meanwhile, I fast-forwarded the entire last scene.

Trivia: David Prowse, the actor who embodied Darth Vader, plays the Frankenstein monster here. Yeah ... that bad.

Mo says:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Wolfpack (2015)

Director: Crystal Moselle. 80 min. Rated R. Documentary.

Guaranteed to be one of the strangest documentaries you've ever seen. Seven siblings are imprisoned by their paranoid father, in an apartment, in the middle of New York City, for 16-17 years - and they watch movies (and reenact favorite scenes) as a window to the outside world. Cinema becomes their savior; their monolith to a concept they cannot fully grasp - until one of them leaves the apartment in an act of insurrection. Other than the above few words, I couldn't get much of a message out of this story. But in itself, it's a very disconcerting, bizarre snapshot.

PS: Won the award for Best Documentary at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Mo says:

The Son's Room (La stanza del figlio) (2001)

Director: Nanni Moretti. Cast: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Jasmine Trinca. 99 min. Rated R. Italy/France. Drama.

An Italian therapist is leading a normal life with his wife and teenage son and daughter, until tragedy shatters the family, and they go through the grueling process of piecing life back together. If I had seen this melodrama (my first exposure to Italian auteur, Nanni Moretti) before similar films like Rabbit Hole or The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, I probably would've achieved greater admiration; but after those traumatizing films, this family's mending process looks somewhat ... easy. Those films got it right: you never recover from such a disaster. You become a different person. You never heal.

Mo says:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Director: David Lynch. Cast: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Moira Kelly, Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland, Kyle MacLachlan, David Lynch, Miguel Ferrer, David Bowie, Heather Graham, Jürgen Prochnow, Frank Silva. 135 min. Rated R. France/USA. Horror/Mystery.

Watched this 15 years ago; no clue. Watched it again after seeing the cult TV show, and everything fell into place. This prequel (and single-line-sequel: "The good Dale is in the lodge and can't leave ...") to the 1990-1991 "Twin Peaks", works as a powerful educator: how Lynch's themes, released from the confines of TV and with some changes in camera angles and lighting, could metamorphose his TV mystery/comedy into full-fledged cinema horror. It's not about resolving the mystery; it's about cherishing the atmosphere while it lasts. Forget how critics trashed it; I'm scoring the entire mystery.

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Fury (1978)

Director: Brian DePalma. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning. 118 min. Rated R. Drama/Thriller.

Proof that DePalma was a significantly better filmmaker in the 70s and 80s than he is now. A secret government agency recruits telekinetic psychics to use them as weapons, and Douglas is out to rescue his son from among them. The thriller, obviously a followup to DePalma's Carrie, is average by today's standards. but when you consider it a source of inspiration for some of the best sci-fi/thriller moments that came after, from exploding someone with your mind (Scanners) to touching people to learn about their past (Unbreakable), you realize how much the man has contributed to the genre.

Mo says:

I Am Evel Knievel (2014)

Director(s): Derik Murray, David Ray. 90 min. Documentary.

Yes, I had an Evel Knievel wind-up motorcycle toy as a kid too. And maybe if I was an adult in the 60s-70s, I too would've been thrilled out of my mind about his next motorcycle jump or him flying over the Grand Canyon. But you expect film-makers and interviewees like Matthew McConaughey to act more maturely than to speak so passionately about someone who was a petty criminal in his youth, and whose goal in his "daredevil" life was more booze, more women and more cars. You watch documentaries to be inspired by great concepts and people, not low-lifes.

Mo says:

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Spring (2014)

Director(s): Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. Cast: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker. 109 min. Not Rated. Romance.

From Dusk Till Dawn was my first experience with the shock of genre-switching movies (in that case, crime drama to vampire horror). Wouldn't dare spoil anything, but Spring is another such movie, with a Before Sunrise opening of an American guy in romantic Italy, almost getting boring, while a mid-movie event suddenly jerks the viewer to full attention (the image of the girl lying on the floor will be etched in your mind). This film's unique charm, is that it persists on the first half's genre, and combines it with the second half's switched genre, till the very last scene.

PS: Thank you, Maryam! Nice recommendation.

Mo says:

Terminator Genisys (2015)

Director: Alan Taylor. Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons.125 min. PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

I loved the Star Trek revival, but it taught Hollywood a cruel trick: Run out of sequel/rehash ideas? Easy! Just create a parallel universe time-shift, disregard all prior episodes/events, and start over again. First it was X-Men, now it's Terminator- to an insulting level. Add a lame excuse why Arnold is so old, and a politically-correct Asian T-1000, re-use every good moment of the first two installments, and you're set. The time-travel paradoxes here are so convoluted, I couldn't figure out whether Kyle Reese fathered Arnold or vice-versa. But this probably won't stop you from seeing the movie anyway.

Mo says: