Thursday, May 26, 2016

Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle) (1983)

Director: Luc Besson. Cast: Pierre Jolivet, Jean Bouise, Jean Reno. 92 min. Rated R. France. Sci-fi.

The Last Battle, Besson's first feature, a black-and-white film, with no dialogue. A post-apocalyptic fight-for-survival sci-fi story about people who for some reason have lost their vocal cords (hence, no dialogue), made at a time when there was no CGI, made on a shoe-string budget, with pots and poles and pans standing in as weapons. And guess what? It looks so clever and easy, makes you want to produce a sci-fi movie of your own. No wonder such a movie jump starts its creator to direct spectacle-driven dizzying movies like The Fifth Element.

Mo says:

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Finest Hours (2016)

Director: Craig Gillespie. Cast: Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana. 117 min. Rated PG-13. History/Drama.

I look at this movie's 64% RT score (translated to mediocre at best), and cannot understand what critics expect from a movie. Based on a true event in 1952, when a tanker broke in half in a blizzard off the shores of Massachusetts, and a small Coast Guard group braved the seas to save the survivors. It's a simple heroic tale, without any claim on philosophical depth, but told in dazzling, exhilarating spectacle. With that goal, the movie succeeds with flying colors, and deserves much better praise than movies that aim for artistic heights but you can't even understand.

Mo says:

Fame (1980)

Director: Alan Parker. Cast: Eddie Barth, Irene Cara, Lee Curreri, Laura Dean. 134 min. Rated R. Musical/Drama.

Fame? You hadn't seen Fame? No, I hadn't seen Fame - and I'm glad I'm watching it 36 years late, because you can appreciate how gracefully some movies age. Alan Parker uses a sepia-toned NYC background (so nostalgic today) to chronicle the lives of several teenagers attending a high school for performing arts, and makes each musical piece immensely memorable - a style he later perfected in Pink Floyd's The Wall. Irene Cara shines so bright from her very first scene, I had to check IMDb mid-movie to realize, oh, so that's Irene Cara. Entertaining all around.

Mo says:

Friday, May 13, 2016

High-Rise (2015)

Director: Ben Wheatley. Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss. 119 min. Rated R. Ireland/UK/Belgium. Drama/Sci-fi.

A fictional high-rise apartment is governed like a society: the higher ruling class lives on the upper floors, the lower class on the lower floors. After awhile, the lower floors start to revolt. Snowpiercer, anybody? While that perpetual-motion train story was much more imaginative, High-Rise, based on a 1975 J.G, Ballard novel (with a 70s vibe that is wisely incorporated into the movie), suffers from a sense of imposed wackiness - what brought Snowpiercer to life, doesn't quite work here. Tom Hiddleston is the movie's only strong point, and I could so much see him as the next James Bond.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Family Fang (2015)

Director: Jason Bateman. Cast Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, Kathryn Hahn. 105 min. Rated R. Drama.

Avant-garde 70s parents have their own definition of art: something unexpected that provokes a true visceral reaction in the viewer. It's a concept worthy of an intelligent discussion, but no, these parents include their kids in their experiments too, and the kids (Bateman and Kidman) almost grow up to become paranoid cuckoos. Similar to Bateman's directorial debut, Bad Words, the story has plausibility issues, but that doesn't undermine its core concept, because the critique of parenthood hits a nerve. I haven't seen much flexibility in Bateman's acting, but he's a fine director, and I'm waiting to see his masterpiece someday.

Best quote:

"You think we damaged you? Fine. My parents damaged me, her parents damaged her. You have kids, you're gonna damage them. That's what parents do."

Mo says:

Green Room (2015)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier. Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart. 95 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

Punk rocker band plays at a neo-Nazi bar in the middle of nowhere, accidentally sees a fatal stabbing, and is threatened with elimination. The major flaw is an inability to connect viewers to the wronged heroes; after all, people with such lifestyles looking for a job at such places run a very good chance of dying. So cry me a river. The film is obsessed with showing gory violence in extreme close-up, and Patrick Stewart's effort to repeat Ben Kingsley's menacing presence in Sexy Beast (2000) fails, because someone who surrounds himself with so many idiots, doesn't look too intelligent.

PS: For a much smarter film by the same up-and-coming director, watch Blue Ruin (2013).

Mo says:

Farewell, My Queen (Les adieux à la reine) (2012)

Director: Benoît Jacquot. Cast: Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen. 100 min. Rated R. France/Spain. History/Drama.

July, 1789. The French Revolution is erupting, and it's the end for Versailles, Marie Antoinette, and ... her reader. Played by Seydoux, we see her among other servants, how they react to the news during those fateful nights, what went on in those long hallways. The movie repeats its central theme to a fault, and Kruger is not how paintings portray Antoinette. But there's a critical concept: no matter how devoted (and loyal) you are to a prominent figure, they may not even acknowledge your existence, or easily throw you under the bus for their own interests. Don't get too close.

Mo says:

Monday, May 9, 2016

Elstree 1976 (2015)

Director: Jon Spira. 90 min. UK. Documentary.

You'd think a documentary titled Elstree 1976 is about the cinematic revolution filmed in the recognized England studios then. You'd expect a tale of some weird, uplifting atmosphere during the filming of Star Wars. But you'd be disappointed. It's merely the life-story of a few extras, and two actors (David Prowse and Jeremy Bulloch as Vader and Boba Fett, whose faces are covered in the film so who cares). Could've been about any acclaimed film's extras, and their tour of the fan convention circuit. Maybe the film-makers' goal is to humanize these people. But if you thought otherwise, you're nuts.

Mo says:

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Director(s): Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, illiam Hurt, Martin Freeman, John Slattery, Hope Davis, Alfre Woodard, Marisa Tomei. 147 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

Good stuff: current-day palpable concept of Avengers ignoring sovereign borders and their need to get in line (which ironically, Captain "America" is against), the new immature Spider-Man, the Winter Soldier (again a strong point), a giant Ant-Man (an oxymoron), the "Hey, Manchurian candidate, you're killing me" quote, the twist about Tony Stark's parents, the soundtrack, Marisa Tomei (even if for a few seconds). Weak stuff: Too long, too many superheroes, having a hard time remembering who's on whose side, rotoscoping action sequence (hurts the eyes), no major super-villain.

Mo says:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Dheepan (2015)

Director: Jacques Audiard. Cast: Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby. 115 min. France. Crime/Drama.

In this 2015 Palm d'Or winner, a Tamil fighter, a young woman, and a 9-year-old girl artificially pose as a family, to flee Sri Lanka to France. As their situation forces them under the same roof and exposes them to the culture shock of migration, they function exactly like any family: an emotional/territorial husband, a logical/protective wife, and a shelter-seeking child. But the question is, how much of his Sri Lanka war has the man brought to France? Without spoiling anything, let's just say a sense of protection exploding into violence, brings a certain Scorsese ending to mind ...

Mo says:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Eye in the Sky (2015)

Director: Gavin Hood. Cast: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Northam, Barkhad Abdi. 102 min. Rated R. UK. Thriller/War.

Drones. Good Kill started but failed the discussion; now this film has elevated it to a cinematic masterpiece. Narrating a single fictitious drone strike in Kenya but based on real concepts and moral dilemmas, this is a taut "thriller" about people sitting at tables and talking (hard to believe?), and the vast complexities of their enormously consequential decisions - making you hope there's always some very skilled and intelligent people calling the shots. When the movie was over, I sat in the dark thinking: do as Spock once said, the needs of the many, truly outweigh the needs of the few?

PS: Alan Rickman, we genuinely miss you.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Awakening (2011)

Director: Nick Murphy. Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton. 107 min. Rated R. UK. Horror/Thriller.

In post-WWI England, an expert at disproving hoaxes for a living is called in to investigate ghost sightings at a boarding school. The film has all the elements of an enchanting ghost story: gloomy cinematography, scares that are so self-assured they mainly happen in broad daylight, and great acting by the trio of Hall, West and Staunton. But what attracts the most is how the script goes beyond, and looks into the main characters' inner demons also. The final twist will certainly remind of one or two other groundbreaking movies, but reaching that conclusion is still a fun ride.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says: