Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Attack the Block (2011)

Director: Joe Cornish. Cast: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Nick Frost. 88 min. Rated R. UK/France. Sci-fi/Thriller/Comedy.

The movie that put John Boyega (Finn in the new Star Wars movie) on the map. An animal-like alien crashes into a London ghetto, a group of teenagers kill it, and look into how to sell its carcass on eBay (typical). But then, many more aliens follow. A nice indie sci-fi thriller that manages to keep the viewer engaged with a good mixture of suspense and comedy, and thanks to a tight screenplay, still keep everything low-budget. And this all from a first-time feature director, who later wrote the story for Ant-Man. Good example on how movie careers start.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Grandma (2015)

Director: Paul Weitz. Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, John Cho, Elizabeth Peña, Sam Elliott. 89 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

Disgruntled single grandmother is approached by teenage granddaughter for funds to perform an abortion. The movie was advertised as Lily Tomlin's "tour-de-force", but the only tour-de-force I saw was an anti-social trying to get her way by pissing everyone off. The knockout performance comes from Marcia Gay Harden, who in a short scene as the grandma's daughter/teenager's mom, entirely steals the show. An awards-aimed film that got almost no awards.

Mo says:

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Taxi (2015)

Director: Jafar Panahi. Cast: Jafar Panahi, Nasrin Sotoudeh. 82 min. Iran. Comedy/Drama.

A Taxi driver (Panahi) documents daily interactions between his passengers and himself, with small cameras planted in the cab. With that setting, you'd assume this is a documentary. It's not. The fact that the scenes are staged become relevant from the very first interaction, and that somewhat dampens the fun. But considering this is Panahi's third film after being banned from directing in Iran, he gets an 'A' for creativity - making films that don't look like he's directing them, while he is. This Golden Lion winner at last year's Berlinale was just a step away from becoming a masterpiece.

PS: Without spoiling anything, the last scene may confirm this as Iran's first "found footage" film. With all his films' shortcomings, Panahi has stayed in Iran, and is fighting the good fight. A true hero.

PPS: Recently became available to stream on Netflix.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Macbeth (2015)

Director: Justin Kurzel. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Sean Harris. 113 min. Rated R. UK/France/USA. Drama/War.

When it comes to a Macbeth remake, it's all about whether there's any new twist on "that scene": how the three witches look, how Duncan's assassination is managed, how ominous Banquo's ghost looks at the dinner banquet, how Macbeth meets his end. Polanski's version of Macbeth introduced me to the play, and Kurosawa's version expanded the concept, but in lieu of the attractive cinematography here, I was expecting a more memorable performance by Fassbender and Cotillard in the lead. They're entirely replaceable by other actors.

Mo says:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Zootopia (2016)

Director(s): Byron Howad, Rich Moore, Jared Bush. Cast (voices): Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira. 108 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Another "cartoon", which similar to Inside Out, carries more lessons for grown-ups than for kids. If that film was a fast-track on neuroscience, this is a college course on sociology: how we're taught to stereotype, how today's attempts to neutralize stereotyping have fallen flat on the face, how those band-aid attempts have led to bottling-up people with fear of their misunderstandings, and how that fear is used to control the masses (quite opportune, in the midst of Trump's rants). This'll surely go over a pre-schooler's head, but Disney has come a long way since princes saved princesses, and that's good.

Mo says:

Truth (2015)

Director: James Vanderbilt. Cast: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, Dermot Mulroney. 125 min. Rated R. Australia/USA. Biography/Drama.

The flip side of Spotlight. A movie that chooses the honorable subject of journalism, but then misses every target. The "Killian documents scandal" of 2004, when '60 Minutes' tried to prove Bush went AWOL during his service in the National Guard, with documents later proven to be forgery. The subject is irrelevant today (Bush won the presidency anyway), the screenplay is boring, and a great ensemble of actors (a ploy that worked perfectly fine in Spotlight) are just wandering around, waiting for their next scene. Hence, the message of "exposing the truth at all costs" never lifts off the ground.

Mo says:

Knight of Cups (2015)

Director: Terrence Malick. Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Armin Mueller-Stahl. 118 min. Rated R. Drama.

I am a Terrence Malick fan. I love his "poetic cinema"; his constantly-in-motion camera that avoids the tempting closeups of his stars, treating them as real people rather than celebrities. But after Tree of Life and To the Wonder, as the third part of a trilogy, I believe he's gone too far. Two hours of imagery with painstaking editing and an admittedly fitting soundtrack, just to picture the world of a screenwriter who wakes up (literally) by an earthquake to the decadence surrounding him, is 'unfair' to the viewer. Wish Malick could use the same style, to fresher grounds.

Mo says:

Deadpool (2016)

Director: Tim Miller. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller. 108 min. Rated R. USA/Canada. Action/Comedy.

Marvel understands they've out-grossed us with too many superhero movies, so now they're branching it out. Ant-Man was an attempt at comedy, and now with Deadpool, they're spoofing the genre. It works splendidly during the opening credits, and dialogue scattered across (Deadpool breaking the fourth wall, Deadpool confusing the McAvoy/Stewart X-Men timelines) helps towards that goal, but the film-makers still couldn't avoid a repetitious action ending with mutants hurling their superpowers at each other - while a huge tongue-in-cheek joke could've ended the movie with a blast. How they'll blend the vulgar Deadpool with other X-Men stories, is beyond me.

Mo says: