Friday, December 30, 2016

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Director: Maren Ade. Cast: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek. 162 min. Rated R. Germany/Austria/Romania. Comedy/Drama.

One of the most unforgettable movies you'll ever experience. The story of an eccentric lonely father forcefully injecting himself into his unrelenting, workaholic daughter's life, slowly develops, keeps getting more outrageous, until the lunacy of the final half hour reaches such unexpected levels, you can't predict what will hit you next. While the narrative of this long movie becomes somewhat repetitious, I wasn't bored the least bit. And the best part is, there's a message there, along the lines of: "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans." Possibly this year's Best Foreign-Language Oscar winner.

Mo says:

La La Land (2016)

Director: Damien Chazelle. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend. 128 min. Rated PG-13. Musical.

This modern West Side Story is based on three assumptions: everybody believes LA is heaven, everybody loves jazz, everybody is in a jolly mood for a cheery, romantic musical. And since the first two assumptions are false, and 2016 was too crappy for the third to be true, this movie didn't work for me. The movie relies on Chazelle's superb direction, the film's exquisite cinematography and choreography, and Emma Stone's star power, ... because the first hour has almost no story, and the "What if" ending message was much more powerfully delivered in Woody Allen's recent Café Society.

Mo says:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Inferno (2016)

Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, Omar Sy. 121 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Hungary. Action/Adventure.

While "Inferno" is not one of my favorite Dan Brown/Robert Langdon novels, at least it has the audacity to have a dark, non-formulaic ending. Ron Howard's version of the story, while well-made and incredibly well-edited (almost considered a change of style for the director), does not have Brown's courage, and climaxes in very formulaic, Hollywood-style action-packed final moments. I understand a film should be judged in isolation and based on its own merits, but I was disappointed to see we are not trusted by the powers to contemplate on anything but a happy ending.

Mo says:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Julieta (2016)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Cast: Adriana Ugarte, Rossy de Palma, Emma Suárez. 99 min. Rated R. Spain. Drama.

Through a story told almost entirely in flash-back (with Almodóvar's familiar style of voice-overs and uplifting colors), a mother loses touch with her daughter, and while there are hints at the reasons for this catastrophe, we're still never definitively sure (or convinced) why the daughter deliberately removed herself from her mother's life - as though the vague motivations are intentional. And that's where Almodóvar lost me, because he makes this a study of how the mother slowly unravels from within, without making a strong case for whether her suffering is necessary in the first place.

Mo says:

Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins. Cast: Alex R. Hibbert, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes. 111 min. Rated R. Drama.

Three segments of a young black man's rough life (childhood, teenage, adulthood). The film is flawless: the performances are top-notch, the screenplay leaves no emotional stone unturned, the setting helps you understand what these characters are going through. Nevertheless, this reminded me of Brokeback Mountain, and how I was "told" by the entire world this is a masterpiece, but I was not able to connect. Not only House of Cards' Mahershala Ali and the new Miss Moneypenny Naomie Harris may win Best Supporting Actor Oscars, but the film may even win Best Picture. But I was not able to connect.

Mo says:

Jackie (2016)

Director: Pablo Larraín. Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, John Carroll Lynch. 100 min. Rated R. Chile/France/USA. Biography/History.

A character study of Jackie Kennedy, during the week after her husband's death - so wisely, the screen presence of the President himself is at a bare minimum (although the assassination recreation scenes are shocking). I'm skeptical whether the film praises the former First Lady, or portrays her as a confused, shallow individual, who had an identity crisis after she lost her husband, because her own identity depended upon his. You wonder: what makes Jackie any different from others who've lost husbands, far more tragically? And Sarsgaard is a wrong choice for Bobby Kennedy; he doesn't even attempt a Bostonian accent.

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Denial (2016)

Director: Mick Jackson. Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott. 109 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Biography/History.

One word to describe this film: "honest". The true story of an American Jewish professor, sued in the 90s for publishing offensive remarks about a British holocaust denier. Honest, because it's brave enough to elaborate on holocaust deniers' logic (even though it doesn't respond to it all), and because it accurately portrays educated Jewish scholars who are unable to keep their emotions in check in the face of the slightest antagonism, to everyone's annoyance and even their own detriment. The protagonist refused to debate any denier, but we need more films like this to start a debate on any subject.

Mo says:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Director: Gareth Edwards. Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, James Earl Jones. 134 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

I can watch movies with known endings (it's about the journey, right?), watch another parallel editing of disabling a shield (another shield?!), or buy stories with glaring holes (the Empire believes you serve them, even after they've killed your wife?). What I can't stand, is a slap in the face: eliminating the SW-defining opening crawl, omitting SW-defining Jedi characters and lightsaber duels, or Disney saying: "Sorry, we just have to make one Star Wars a year." Not that I was bored; I just don't see myself buying the soundtrack, or watching it again. And that's a first for me.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare ) (2016)

Director: Gianfranco Rosi. 114 min. Italy/France. Documentary.

Italy's foreign-language entry for next year's Oscars - so I guess Italian cinema must've been pretty slow in 2016. It's about the island of Lampedusa, the destination of thousands of Africa's refugees who brave the seas, many to die along the way. But in parallel to the refugee plight (the film's sole engrossing scenes), equal time is given to show the islanders' slow lives, oblivious to events on their shores. This is where the film goes all Herzog on us, trying to be introspective, showing an Italian family slurping spaghetti for 5 minutes. That's just one of numerous long, patience-defying moments.

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tower (2016)

Director: Keith Maitland. 80 min. Documentary.

Before Columbine, before Virginia Tech, before Newtown ... there was the University of Texas clock tower, where in 1966, a sniper randomly opened fire, killing 14 and injuring 32 more during a 96-minute rampage. The documentary is fascinating for two reasons: 1. There isn't much footage available from the event itself, so the filmmakers "created" footage by rotoscope animation of actors, projecting the same feeling; 2. The film gives near-zero info on the killer, because as opposed to today's filth-promoting media, it glorifies the "life" of the rescuers that day, not the death and tragedy unleashed by a coward/lunatic.

Mo says:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Director: Tim Burton. Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O'Dowd, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell. 127 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Belgium/USA. Fantasy.

As far back as 2010, Tim Burton has become a major disappointment, churning out mediocre to plain boring movies - both visually and story-wise. Miss Peregrine shows some signs of hope, that maybe the spark of genius we enjoyed in the 90's is back. While reminiscent of Harry Potter and X-Men, the imaginative visuals and creative story elements still provide it with an identity of its own, and Green and Jackson create a memorable heroine and villain. And again, we're reminded how useless MPAA ratings have become: a scene shows adults feasting on children's eyeballs, and the film got a PG-13.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Director: Tom Ford. Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen, Jena Malone. 116 min. Rated R. Drama/Thriller.

Art gallery owner runs into first-draft manuscript of a revenge novel. The novel's story is told parallel to flashbacks of the artist's own life, while we start wondering which revenge this movie is really about. I admit I was glued to the screen, but this used my major pet peeves to attract an audience: using shocking images (film opens with fat women dancing nude), and efforts to emotionally hurt the viewer (the same reasons I hated The Neon Demon so). Nocturnal Animals boasts great acting, but doesn't really leave you much afterthought, because it's the product of an inexperienced director.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge) (2016)

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit. 80 min. Rated PG. France/Belgium. Animation.

A mesmerizing animation, probably because it has no dialogue; you know, the stuff that distracts you from enjoying the imagery. A man is marooned on a tropical island, and all his efforts to leave the island are sabotaged by ... a giant red turtle. The simple-looking yet exquisitely detailed animation (definitely taking a few lessons from Herge's "Tin Tin" books) makes you wish this story would go on forever - even though admittedly, I wasn't sure what the film's message was. This 2016 Cannes Special Jury Prize winner will be a strong Oscar contender.

PS: Okay, Ali S., now time to look for My Life as a Zucchini ...

Mo says:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Director: Kenneth Lonergan. Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick. 137 min. Rated R. Drama.

A rare movie that unintentionally but deeply hurts. A young man has been spiritually destroyed by soul-crushing tragedy, and isn't able to move on. Everyone around him has redefined their lives, but he just can't let go. Add to that, he inherits the guardianship of his teenage nephew. With a minimalist approach to obvious story elements, but detailing tiny life nuances to make the story ever more believable, the screenplay slowly hurls you into this doomed man's world. Casey Affleck excels as this crumpled, shattered character, and Michelle Williams has only three pivotal scenes - two of which get waterworks running.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Moana (2016)

Director(s): Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams. Voices: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson. 103 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Frozen. Zootopia. Moana. A feisty young girl decides to break through barriers imposed upon her since childhood, and with the help of a flawed but good-hearted male side-kick, wins against all odds and brings peace to her realm. This is all good, and Moana deserves a high score if solely for its endlessly beautiful Hawaii-backdrop animation, spiced with great musical numbers (my favorite was the wacky "Shiny" sung by the evil crab). But is there any chance Disney can expand its horizons on the subject?

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Loving (2016)

Director: Jeff Nichols. Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Bill Camp. 123 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Biography/Drama.

This was a surprise. The trailer describes a formulaic heart-wrenching story about racial tension in the 1950s, at a time when the State of Virginia criminalized interracial marriage. Actually, it's a slow-burning drama, about seeping racial hatred that is faceless (now we're suddenly amazed there was an outright fascist population in America), and how the basic exchange of love between a simpleton couple can slowly erode that hatred; and build the foundations of a country (close-ups of the protagonist building a house). While Edgerton and Negga astound with their quiet performances, Jeff Nichols proves he's America's great new director.

Mo says:

Monday, November 21, 2016

O.J.: Made in America (2016)

Director: Ezra Edelman. 467 min (7 hrs 47 min). Documentary.

I know. No way I can persuade you to watch an 8-hour documentary. No way you'd allot a huge chunk of life to learn about a trial with such a well-known ending. So I'll summarize my MoMagic score to saying: the O.J. Simpson trial was far greater than a "not guilty". It was decades of racism, celebrity worship, and an American sense of entitlement, that culminated in that verdict. And also that this might win the Best Documentary Oscar. If after the November 8th election, anybody is thinking about educating the next generation, this may be a good starting point.

PS: In case I've made anybody curious, the documentary is available to stream on Amazon. Just try the first of the five 90-minute chapters, and tell me you're not hooked to watch it till the very end.

PPS: Thank you for the recommendation, Matt!

Mo says:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Director: Mel Gibson. Cast: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths. 139 min. Rated R. Australia/USA. History/War.

Like everyone else, Mel Gibson has his personal demons, and that shouldn't affect how we judge his films ... because he's one helluva director. He tackles the true story of an WWII conscientious objector, who wouldn't even touch a gun, but enlists to save lives as a medic. The story inspires to stick with your principles no matter what, and while Gibson skillfully directs some of the most bewildering battle scenes (on par with Spielberg), this is actually an anti-war movie, comparable to Platoon and Das Boot: I cheered for the hero who helped a few Japanese soldiers along the way.

Mo says:

Elle (2016)

Director: Paul Verhoeven. Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Christian Berkel. 130 min. Rated R. France/Germany/Belgium. Thriller/Drama.

I admit: I don't understand the French. I mean ... knowingly having a pleasant dinner with your rapist? At times it's a comedy (and a very bitter one at that), but Paul Verhoeven's return to his Basic Instinct psycho-sexual thriller days was credible enough to be introduced by France as their Foreign-language Oscar competitor. With all its strange character interactions, I was still captivated by the story, and Huppert's acting and Verhoeven's direction had me hooked till the very end. This is a film impossible to predict where it's going, and that makes it most satisfying.

Mo says:

Snowden (2016)

Director: Oliver Stone. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Chaplin. 134 min. Rated R. France/Germany/USA. Biography/Drama.

Typical Oliver Stone spoon-feeding of a historical event: this is how I see it, this is how it happened, you should think as I do. Save for some arguments between Snowden and his girlfriend, at least in movie terms, we never get into Snowden's mind on major controversies: His thoughts on treason accusations? Or on Gen. Hayden's: "He's gonna die in Moscow; he's not coming home"? That's what was I was seeking here. Gordon-Levitt's intonation of Snowden's voice is astonishing, and the appearance of "the man" is a charm. But if you just want the story, watch the exceptional Citizenfour.

Mo says:

Doctor Strange (2016)

Director: Scott Derrickson. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong. Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Action.

Another Marvel attempt to reformat the superhero genre, and it works. This is exactly what Thor had attempted to achieve but failed: create an alternate universe with it own rules and entities, to make it look interesting and fresh. Add some thought-provoking Lincoln-type philosophical viewpoints for young adults (break a few rules, negotiate with the devil, all for the greater good), and you have a winner. Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange from the comics, and I'm still not buying into all the Hollywood white-washing accusations, for employing the skills of the superb Tilda Swinton.

PS: Interestingly, of the two post-credit scenes, one is Doctor Strange and Thor chatting. So someone's admitting their similarities. I even got confused watching Strange, thinking Rachel McAdams already played Thor's love interest in Thor - which was actually played by Natalie Portman.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Jason Bourne (2016)

Director: Paul Greengrass. Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp. 123 min. Rated PG-13. UK/China/USA. Action/Thriller.

You know what? This can go on forever. Jason Bourne remembers stuff, then gets chased, then remembers more stuff, then surprisingly, gets chased, then a light-bulb goes on and he remembers more, And you know what shockingly happens then? He gets chased! There's no variability in sight for the Bourne franchise story-line, other than slightly modifying each episode to its times (this one covers Snowden-type surveillance), and play some intriguing music when people are sitting around doing absolutely nothing. They've even given up on movie title creativity, and simply called it Jason Bourne. Next one will be: Same Old S---.

Mo says:

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan. Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas. 99 min. Rated PG-13. Japan/USA. Horror.

The original Ouija was truly awful, so only the jump from 7% to an astonishing 82% on the Tomatometer had me seek out the sequel (actually, it's a prequel origin story for the original). And while the first half lags with predictable cliches, to its credit, the second half intrigues with some tricky camerawork - specifically scenes showing the non-scary stuff in focus, while scary stuff happens in the foreground and background ... out of focus. That does lead to some effective creepiness. Still, I wouldn't call it 82% good.

PS: Nice to see a grown-up Elliot from E.T., here as a priest.

Mo says:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Arrival (2016)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg. 116 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Mystery.

Alien ships arrive on Earth, and humans try to communicate with them, but then maybe the bigger challenge is for them to communicate among themselves. Favorite new director Villeneuve borrows heavily from Close Encounters, but also employs Adams to bestow upon his film an identity of its own, and creates a thought-provoking puzzle for us to solve (which includes 'communicating' after the film to translate a pivotal Chinese line of dialogue). Arrival is an exquisitely designed and executed film, but somehow didn't stimulate me to figure out the mystery the way Christopher Nolan does. But that doesn't diminish the entertainment.

PS: Haven't we seen those alien heptapods in Villeneuve's previous film, Enemy?

Mo says:

Certain Women (2016)

Director: Kelly Reichardt. Cast: Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Jared Harris. 107 min. Rated R. Drama.

Three stories, connected by supporting characters, about women playing major roles in society, but whose voices are literally "not heard". Not sure if this was intentional, but the film poses the question: Are these women truly not being heard, or do they just perceive as being ignored themselves? The main problem is, a little narrative stimulus would've helped, because the stories are so boring. (The core of one is simply a man talking to another man and ignoring a woman.) And I still don't understand why Stewart, with all her attractiveness, is considered such a firecracker at acting.

Mo says:

Monday, November 7, 2016

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (2016)

Director(s): Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady. 91 min. Unrated. Documentary.

The life story of the 92-year-old TV writer and producer Norman Lear, the Jewish kid from Connecticut, who created All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude, ... or virtually every important subject people laughed at on TV in the 60s and 70s - from stereotyping to bigotry to minority rights to women's rights to gay rights. Tomorrow is Election Day, and it is easy to see how what titans like Lear founded and fought for for decades, can be easily unraveled within a day. Democracy is that fragile.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (2016)

Director: Chan-wook Park. Cast: Min-hee Kim, Kim Tae-ri, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo. 144 min. South Korea. Drama.

A young female forger is coerced into tricking a rich heiress to marry a con-artist, so they can dump her in a mental asylum and run away with the goods. If you think I'm spoiling anything ... that doesn't even scratch the surface of this convoluted tale of betrayal, suicide, perverse sex, and gruesome violence, which delivers surprise after surprise in flash-backs and flash-forwards. Add to that some mesmerizing cinematography in a countryside backdrop, and you have one memorable movie. After all, nothing less is expected from the Korean director of Oldboy - who even reminds of his fascination for octopus here.

Mo says:

Into the Inferno (2016)

Director: Werner Herzog. 104 min. UK/Germany/Canada. Documentary. 

Herzog's narrative on volcanoes sets a goal of showing us the beauty of flowing lava, exploding mountaintops, and bellowing smoke covering distances from horizon to horizon. In that, it entirely succeeds, because for some reason, one can keep watching lava rising and falling in a crater to no end. But then the films uses this to go on some tangents, for a long duration showing how excavators find human fossils, and what the inner machinations of North Korea look like. What's missing here, is some human introspection - the kind Herzog has made his own style and is famous for.

PS: Produced by and streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Shivers (1975)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry. 87 min. Rated R. Canada. Horror/Sci-fi.

Before Alien, there was Shivers. In a (for its own time) modern but isolated apartment complex near Montreal, a parasitic species transmits by sexual encounter. While Cronenberg's early feature exudes low production values, it carries an eerie 70s authenticity, and may be conceptually considered creepier than the later Alien: as opposed to the space horror, hosts here form a protective symbiotic relationship with the parasite, and while characters are not in outer space to prevent them from leaving ... they still just can't leave the apartment grounds. If you can deliver so much with so little, you've definitely got a career.

Mo says:

Sausage Party (2016)

Director(s): Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon. Voices: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Salma, Hayek, James Franco, Edward Norton, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd. 89 min. Rated R. Animation.

Inanimate food items in a grocery store have feelings of their own à la Pixar tradition, hoping to be bought and leave the store for the "great beyond", not knowing it's a slaughterhouse out there. The movie tries to dispel the notion of God and promote religion coexistence, but loses steam because it: 1) adheres loosely to its own rules of interaction between humans and talking/walking food, and 2) makes irrelevant use of food-based sexual innuendo and saying the f-word a thousand times to project deep philosophical content. The film-makers don't realize that religious people avoid these types of movies.

Mo says:

Desierto (2015)

Director: Jonás Cuarón. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo. 94 min. Rated R. Mexico/France.

Rogue "patriot" American rifleman pursues and takes out a group of Mexicans in the desert crossing the border, one by one. Made by Alfonso Cuarón's son as part of the Mexican wave taking over US cinema in the past years, the movie features superb cinematography, flimsy dialogue, and near-zero character development. While the simplistic "us good Mexicans vs. them bastard gringos" suffuses the entire film, the heart-pounding suspense is worth it all. Looking forward to watching more sophisticated films by Cuarón junior, where the political rhetoric is toned down - because he does have some directing chops.

PS: After that Walking Dead Season 7 premiere and this, Jeffrey Dean Morgan sure is building a reputation for the most hated villain of 2016.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Under the Shadow (2016)

Director: Babak Anvari. Cast: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi. 84 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Qatar/Jordan. Horror.

I, like millions of other Iranians, had first-hand experience of the city-to-city missile attacks during the Iran-Iraq War. It was ... "scary". Now, first-time director Anvari has used that real fear as a context, added foreboding metaphysical, political, and religious elements from his native Iran, and created a milestone in horror film-making. Taking elements from The Shining, The Amityville Horror, and modern Japanese horror (The Grudge, Dark Water - all creepy apartments), the film is still unique on its own, because both in terms of story and scares, it hits every note right. And all without spilling a single drop of blood.

PS: Currently hitting 98% on the Tomatometer. Available on-demand from Amazon.

PPS: This is UK's entry for the 2017 Foreign-Language Oscar race.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

My Top Scariest Movie "Scenes" Ever

For this year's Halloween, I will list, not my top 10 scariest movies, but my top 10 scariest movie scenes. If you exclude all the "jump scares" from movies (most of which are fake scares), making such a list wouldn't be too difficult - because you're listing scenes that have created the most excruciating tension/suspense you've ever experienced, without necessarily being gory or macabre.

So here it is, in order of production year, with the scene included. Would love to hear yours:

1. Spider walk, from The Exorcist (1973):

2. Discovering the truth, and Mrs. Baylock, The Omen (1976):

3. Twins in the hallway, The Shining (1980):

(This was the greatest movie scare of all time. No competition.)

4. The hobbling scene, Misery (1990):

5. Candyman appearing, Candyman (1992):

6. "Hey, come on", from The Sixth Sense (1999):

(Admittedly a jump scare, but still unique.)

7. Samara crawling out of the TV, The Ring (2002):

(Okay, this makes a pretty good argument for #1 also.)

8. The empty orphanage, The Orphanage (2007):

9. Door moves an inch, Paranormal Activity (2007):

Clip unavailable. This clip of the door slamming shut is on YouTube, but in terms of scariness, pales in comparison to the scene I have in mind, which occurs far earlier in the movie.

10. The 16 minute tent scene, Willow Creek (2013):

(Just a 5 minute taste.)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Nice Guys (2016)

Director: Shane Black. Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Keith David, Kim Basinger. 116 min. Rated R. Crime/Comedy.

The pairing of a hunky non-nonsense Russell Crowe with a thin whining Ryan Gosling as two 70s PIs in a comedy, is already strange casting, and their attempt to appear as a new generation Abbot and Castello (notably Crowe acting as the wiser of the two, and Gosling's soundless screams when he's scared) is hard to stomach. But somehow, it works. They do manage a few genuine laughs, and their rapport in an elevator scene, without actually doing anything, is the movie's peak. Wouldn't be surprised if there's talks of an upcoming franchise.

PS: There is.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Don't Breathe (2016)

Director: Fede Alvarez. Cast: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette. 88 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

A nail-biting surprise. Three young skilled burglars break into the house of a blind Army veteran (Avatar's Colonel Quaritch) to steal his award from a prior court settlement, but soon realize he is far better equipped at handling himself than any healthy person. Would call this a thriller rather than a horror, because the clever screenplay and dark cinematography make superb narrative use of the victim's blindness, and in lieu of some medical nonsense towards the end, I was impressed how the movie kept me on the edge for almost its entire length, without even a breather.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years (2016)

Director: Ron Howard. 110 min. UK/USA. Documentary.

There are "n" number of Beatles documentaries out there, and every single one of them excite me. They make me nostalgic for the days they were at the height of their fame - even though I wasn't even born at the time. Images of these singers and their fans going wild never cease to lose their attraction, and Ron Howard's take was no exception. I just didn't understand ... what's new here? And what prompted a prominent filmmaker to make the effort? Okay, the short clip of a young Sigourney Weaver at a Beatles concert was cool.

Mo says:

13th (2016)

Director: Ava DuVernay. 100 min. Documentary.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery ... except as a punishment for a crime. That loophole is the subject of Ava DuVernay's documentary. She claims that white people used that loophole to continue slavery, by mass criminalizing and incarcerating Blacks - and even making a profit out of privatizing the prison system. My only issue, was that the film, while not outright saying it, seems to imply Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton, all intentionally created this system. Nevertheless, this is a very compelling and eye-opening film, and I'd prefer the calm, wise DuVernay to the angry, self-promoting Spike Lee any day.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Director: Matt Ross. Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd, Missi Pyle. 118 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

Father forces an intense mental and physical education on his six children in the forest; also known as child abuse/torture. Imposing ideologies on children by selfish parents is not limited to hermits in a forest, but rather the rule (religious upbringing, anyone?). So the film is controversial from the get-go. The problem is, under the guise of "playing fair", the film-makers avoid taking sides, and fail miserably. You're not sure what their take-home message is, and the final 20 minutes can easily be cut out without affecting the story. Either take a stand, or don't make a disputable movie.

Mo says:

Friday, October 14, 2016

Nerve (2016)

Director(s): Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Cast: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade, Juliette Lewis. 96 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Hong Kong. Crime/Thriller.

I remember the 1995 Sandra Bullock movie, The Net, making baffling claims about the Internet's power and reach, but already expiring by the time of its release (the lack of imagination in the movie's title shows). In Nerve, astonishingly coinciding with Pokemon Go, the Catfish directors refine their ideas, picturing a society obsessed with reality-based video-games, to a (very believable) point of provoking another player's murder. While the story's ending resolution is hard to stomach, and I predict the movie will fall behind the real world by next year, the warning it provides makes it worthwhile. At least for 2016.

PS: Thanks for the recommendation, Mohi. Emma Roberts usually has me running.

Mo says:

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Director: Stephen Frears. Cast: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson. 111 min. Rated PG-13. UK. Biography/Comedy/Drama.

The hard-to-believe funny/heartbreaking true story of the rich Florence Foster Jenkins, who in 1940s New York attempted to sing in the most reputable places ... with the most god-awful voice. Aside from beautiful production design, the movie is above all a triumph in casting: Big Bang Theory's Helberg is perfect as Jenkins' ultra-hesitant pianist, Hugh Grant walks the incredibly meandering tightrope of showing true love for his wife while enjoying her immense wealth, and the great Meryl Streep performs the impossible task of playing a character who's trying to sing good, but actually sings bad. Imagine pulling that one off.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Witness (2015)

Director: James D. Solomon. 89 min. Documentary.

In 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in NYC while screaming for help. The New York Times reported 38 people saw/heard/knew what was happening, but did nothing; thus symbolizing urban apathy. Since then, her brother has been on a crusade (which included losing both legs in Vietnam) to understand why this happened. And that's where the film falls short: neither we, nor his family, understand why 50 years later, he cannot let go - regardless of whether the city was apathetic or not. The documentary's importance is splendidly described here; to me, William Genovese borders on masochism.

Mo says:

Suicide Squad (2016)

Director: David Ayer. Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Common, Ezra Miller. 123 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

Superhero movie producers are so desperate for new story-lines, they're painting the good guys in shades of grey (here, here, and here). But with this one, they're testing the opposite: How about looking at the bad guys' bright side? The idea seems absurd, but strangely, it works. They manage a coherent story, composing super-villains you can root for, and while Leto as The Joker is quite disappointing (who can top Heath Ledger anyway?), Will Smith leads the pack with a heart, and Delevingne as the "real" villain both looks and acts interesting. This was a very difficult job, well accomplished.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tickled (2016)

Director(s): David Farrier, Dylan Reeve. 92 min. New Zealand. Rated R. Documentary.

A New Zealand documentary TV show host accidentally runs into a "Tickling Endurance Contest" in LA, is threatened not to pursue the story when he becomes curious, and then discovers the very bizarre world of tickling fetish, and an underworld of privileged organizers who blackmail contestants, without even much financial gain. So that's all there is to it: some weird subject about some psychotic sadists. I'm not sure painstaking investigative journalism on out-of-this-world subjects, let alone giving them cinematic forms, is worth anyone's time.

Mo says:

Friday, October 7, 2016

Amanda Knox (2016)

Director(s): Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn. 92 min. Denmark/USA. Documentary.

Jung once said: “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” That's how the film opens: If you believe Amanda Knox was innocent, then she's innocent, and if you believe she was guilty, then she was. Thus starts the story of Meredith Kercher's disturbing murder in an Italy town, how her fun-loving, crazy-acting roommate Knox was accused of it, and how the media spun it far after a credible culprit was found. This is about whether a personality like Knox is "asking for it" when she acts as she does, or the society is expected to think rather than judge.

PS: Streaming on Netflix. Don't miss it.

Mo says:

Life, Animated (2016)

Director: Roger Ross Williams. 89 min. Rated PG. France/USA. Documentary.

I had previously heard about this on the Radiolab episode "Juicervose",  about the boy who was rescued from the abyss of autism, by his connection to Disney cartoons. And the first half of the documentary is actually both heartbreaking and fascinating, showing in scattered beautiful animated segments what happened to little Owen Suskind can happen to any child, and how there is hope for any child. But then the second half shows him trying become independent in his 20s, and the film significantly loses its charm. Makes you suspicious if and to what extent Disney contributed to producing the film.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Blair Witch (2016)

Director: Adam Wingard. Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid. 89 min. Rated R. Horror.

I loved the original Blair Witch Project: the first movie to introduce the found footage sub-genre into the mainstream, and make ingenious use of the newfound phenomenon called "the world-wide-web" as a promotional vehicle. I researched the movie, wrote articles about it ... even gave talks about it! But that level of originality can never be reached. So repeating the same elements, with almost everything redone in an offensive way, sprayed with numerous painfully unnecessary shock-shots, and lots and lots of intolerable screaming, will not change anything - neither one year after the original, nor seventeen years, nor a hundred.

Mo says:

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Innocents (Les innocentes) (2016)

Director: Anne Fontaine. Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza. 115 min. Rated PG-13. France/Poland. Drama/Historical.

If there's a story about a few nuns in a faraway land (Magdalene Sisters, Philomena), it's usually dark and depressing (Americans get Sister Act). I'd rather not disclose anything about this one, other than this too is of the former kind, and that something indescribable happens to nuns in a Polish convent at the end of the War. Otherwise, if you want the shock I received, go in watching this fresh. While the film would've benefited from a shorter duration, it proves that solely being a woman (and not necessarily a nun) at times of war, is considered a hazard.

Mo says:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Blood Father (2016)

Director: Jean-François Richet. Cast : Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, Steve Buscemi. 88 min. Rated R. France. Action/Crime.

Mel Gibson has nurtured a career as the loner down the path to avenge his fiancee/wife/daughter/family's death. But starting from The Beaver, he's added the "social outcast" persona, probably to correspond with his personal life - and combined both here, as an ex-con who tries to protect her daughter from a drug cartel. A Tarantino favorite shows up in a great supporting role, and the early demise of another known actor gives away the fact that he's not really dead. But I enjoyed the simple story, and Gibson's return to his action days. He's fit for the role.

Mo says:

The Intervention (2016)

Director: Clea DuVall. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter, Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Alia Shawkat, Cobie Smulders. 90 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

A few friends gather in a mansion on a weekend, to convince two friends to get a divorce. I'm guessing this synopsis sounded interesting (it definitely worked on me), but when panned out in a movie, you suddenly realize how ludicrous it is. I mean, if you have friends who secretly make such plans for you, you must have some god-awful theories about friendship. DuVall has written interesting dialogue and characters for her directorial debut (especially for Lynsky), but the core concept just bogs the movie down, and having seen some movies helps you predict the ending.

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Director(s): Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert. Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. 97 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

A guy on the verge of suicide befriends a corpse with extreme flatulence (among other pronounced bodily functions). I understand that both Dano and Radcliff do a fine job at playing these bizarre roles, and that when it comes to movies, saying something new, anything new, is considered a virtue. But that should not be the sole purpose of making a movie. Yes, even when it comes with an underlying message of "cherish life" ... it's still not worth the extremes or the (literal) insanity this film experiments with. Not that I'm spoiling anything.

Mo says: