Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Love & Mercy (2014)

Director: Bill Pohlad. Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti. 121 min. Rated R. Biography/Musical.

And I thought Danny Boyle's style for the Steve Jobs biopic was innovative, while this film was already thriving from the same artistic ether: during pivotal moments in the youth and middle age of Beach Boys song-writer Brian Wilson, played in flashbacks and flash-forwards by Dano and Cusack, respectively, we watch how a diagnosis of paranoid-schizophrenia almost destroyed the artist's life. Add Banks and Giamatti to make a quartet ensemble of skilled actors, and Amadeus-like music-writing sequences (for "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations"), and this is another memorable musician biopic along the lines of Ray and Walk the Line.

Mo says:

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga. Cast: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Emmanuel Affadzi. 137 min. Drama/War.

From Blood Diamond and War Witch to the failed Kony 2012 attempt, the concept of a child soldier is devastating. And while this territory has already been tread upon, the new film by Cary Fukunaga (Sin NombreTrue Detective) compliments additional elements to keep the long movie engaging; namely, a cute opening that makes the main story even more heart-wrenching, a dominating presence by Elba ("This guy killed your fatha ..."), and beautiful cinematography by Fukunaga himself that should not be watched on a small screen. Those unable to see a kid slash a man's head with a machete ... stay away.

Mo says:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Steve Jobs (2015)

Director: Danny Boyle. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston. 122 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

They can call it fictitious (and of course, there's no way some scenes here could've happened in real life), but this is exactly how biographies should translate to movies: projecting the "essence" of what a personality must have been like from reading their stories, and not necessarily a moment-by-moment compilation of documented events. Aaron Sorkin's screenplay shows how during three life events (the launch of the Macintosh, NeXT, and iMac), Steve Jobs' personality traits exploded onto those around him, and no one was safe while he manipulated his way to success. Danny Boyle has flipped the biography genre on its head.

Mo says:

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan. 141 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/History.

It's a Spielberg movie, so nothing, neither artistically nor technically, goes wrong. But in an era of severe disillusionment with government policies, Spielberg and Hanks teaming up again to tell a Cold War tale of American idealism seems out-of-sync to our times - as though they're trying to remind us some moral lesson, from some bygone era of shiny black-and-white ethical movie-making Spielberg himself invested in. I mean, still using contrasting photography for East and West Berlin? The single bright star here is Mark Rylance's performance as the Russian spy. But I can't give the movie a pass because of that.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Walk (2015)

Director: Robert Zemeckis. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Guillaume Baillargeon. 123 min. Rated PG. Biography/Adventure.

The 2008 documentary on Philippe Petit, who illegally high-wired between the Twin Towers confounded me: Why would a slow film about a trivial event, score 100% on the Tomatometer, and win a Best Documentary Oscar too? The Walk, the dramatized version of the story, is the answer to that frustration: the final half hour of the film, with Gordon-Levitt dangling above the majestic NYC, is an unparalleled heart-pounding sequence that had me on the edge of my seat - even though I knew the outcome. It's all about the spectacle, and Zemeckis has created the cinematic equivalent of "accomplishing your dreams".

Mo says:

Poltergeist (2015)

Director: Gil Kenan. Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Jared Harris. 93 min, Rated PG-13. USA/Canada. Horror.

As far as I recall, the original 1983 Poltergeist, in lieu of all its ghouls and apparitions, was an horror allegory for the addictive effects of TV in the 80s - as the TV set literally "swallows" the little girl. The remake has its fair share of shocks and spooks (some of which are genuinely good), but the story is the same; there's no current day allegory for the horror (kid/teenage attachment to smart phones would have been a perfect subject). Alas, nobody asked my opinion on the script, so I'll accept this as a great opportunity lost.

Mo says:

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple. 119 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Romance/Drama.

It's based on a classic novel, it's beautifully photographed, the acting is impeccable, and it's heaven for Jane Austen fans. But forget it - I was bored to the point of suffocation, waiting to see who she weds. So I won't bore you any further.

Mo says:

The Martian (2015)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor. 144 min. Rated PG.

This is the flip side of Gravity - a movie that was criticized for bending a few scientific rules for the sake of dramatization, but enchanting viewers out of their minds because of it. Now we have The Martian, a Matt-Damon-stranded-on-Mars story that adheres so tightly to science, it probably shouldn't even be categorized as fiction, and by sacrificing the thrill of sci-fi, except for a final climactic scene, runs the risk becoming slow and dull. Nevertheless, Scott's flawless directing (and a star-filled ensemble) are admirable for making such a science-based Apollo 13 on Mars, an engaging piece of art.

Spoiler #1: End of Watch. Fury. Ant-Man. The Martian. Michael Peña has solidified his role in movies as the loyal sidekick.

Spoiler #2: Sean Bean doesn't die here.

Spoiler #3: Don't watch this in 3D. It'll ruin the experience.

Mo says:

Southpaw (2015)

Director: Antoine Fuqua. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris, 50 Cent, Oona Laurence. 124 min. Rated R. Sport/Drama.

It's difficult to feel sympathy for a character who's become rich by punching people in the face and getting punched in return, and whose wife is killed due to his own stupidity. But alas, that is Southpaw's premise. Jake Gyllenhaal has been enjoying a string of extraordinary acting accomplishments, but when you sign up for a project just because the subject is proven to be historically successful with Academy voters (boxing, that is) ... it shows. Better luck next time.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal.. 105 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama.

Think Perks of Being a Wallflower, add severe sarcasm to the impossibly unfunny subject of The Fault in Our Stars' teenagers with cancer, and you get this film: about two boys who befriend a dying leukemic girl. You'll find yourself laughing unexpectedly at so many difficult situations, it feels strange how comedy can be found in such tragic themes. One of those movies where the dialogue is so intrusive and intelligent about simple facts of life, it makes you too self-aware of your surroundings, wondering how you can talk to "smart people in trouble", without offending them.

Mo says:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sicario (2015)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Victor Garber , Jon Bernthal. 121 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

Whenever movies show the filthiest corners of human society, they're either targeting violence involving children, or drug cartels. Here, Canadian film-maker Villeneuve combines both, so Sicario is no easy trip. Sicario means "hitman", and while the main mystery is which character of the story that term refers to, the exquisite directing and heart-pounding soundtrack occasionally makes the tension unbearable. Look at Villeneuve's profile; he's become the auteur for stomach-churning violence. Although Emily Blunt offers a career-defining performance, I hope Benicio gets his second Oscar, and Roger Deakins' mind-blowing cinematography earns him his first ... after being nominated 12 times already.

Mo says: