Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Neon Demon (2016)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn. Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves. 118 min. Rated R. France/Denmark/USA. Drama.

I never thought much about Drive. Now the same director (a Cannes sweetheart) has made a film about pathologically narcissistic women who submit themselves to the sad, sad glamorous world of modelling, splashing it with color, blood, loud music, and necrophilia. If the despicable story was an allegory for the depths of filth these women descend to, I would've actually commended the movie. But the director obliquely signs his film's beginning and ending with the initials "NWR" (similar to YSL's logo) - which means all this shock and gore is an act of self-promotion, and an abhorring insult to the intelligence.

PS: This film caused walkouts during the Cannes Film Festival last month. I wonder why.

Mo says:

Child 44 (2015)

Director: Daniel Espinosa. Cast: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke, Paddy Considine, Vincent Cassel, Charles Dance. 137 min. Rated R. Czech Republic/UK/USA/Russia. Crime/Historical.

"Child 44", the novel, isn't a literary masterpiece, but makes good on story: the idea of "there is no murder in paradise" in Stalin's Soviet Union is so dominant, a spree of child murders goes untouched. But the story's center is a brother-brother relationship, which the movie hovers around in the most subtle undetectable ways, making the story arc meaningless, and rendering this one of the most disappointing film adaptations ever. We're left with some beautiful cinematography, some engaging production values, and an ensemble of some great actors (Hardy, Oldman, Rapace, Dance) who've become notorious for never winning an Oscar.

PS: ... although I am starting to have some reservations about Hardy.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cujo (1983)

Director: Lewis Teague. Cast:Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Danny Pintauro, Ed Lauter. 93 min. Rated R. Horror/Thriller.

Bat bites dog. Dog becomes rabid. Dog kills people. There's no more sophistication to it - other than people saying and doing amazingly stupid things under (okay, I agree) stressful circumstances, and a director/screenwriter who intentionally try to annoy the viewer (thinking that's scary). Because it's an 80s movie that probably just didn't age too well, and because it's adapted from a Stephen King novel (which should be much more thoughtful), I tried hard to give this the benefit of a doubt. I failed.

Mo says:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Shallows (2016)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra. Cast: Blake Lively. 87 min. Rated PG-13. Thriller.

Twenty-something surfer is stuck in the waters just 200 yards from shore, attacked by a great white shark. Like any good shark movie, by default it's compared to Jaws ("Open wide you son-of-a-bitch!" is replaced by "F--- you"), and while the film is immensely thrilling both in terms of story and visuals, the script is dumbed down (subtitles keep reminding us "25 minutes to high tide"), the ending climactic battle is hard to believe, and the feel-good epilogue scene is entirely unnecessary. Still, the sheer magnitude of entertainment makes these mistakes forgivable. The film that made Blake Lively a superstar.

Mo says:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Finding Dory (2016)

Director(s): Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane. Voices: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney. 103 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Pixar is achieving something extraordinary in a sequel here: it's using the exact same setting and the exact same elements of the original Finding Nemo, to create an almost entirely independent story. The major difference, is that compared to the bubbly Nemo, Dory's world, whose owner suffers from short-term memory loss, is slightly but deservedly darker than the original. Nevertheless, the repeating and resonating theme of "be the best at who you are" in this case, is completely fitting for kids. This could've been the original movie instead of the sequel, and no one would have been the wiser.

Mo says:

Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente) (2015)

Director: Ciro Guerra. Cast: Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis. 124 min. Not rated. Colombia/Venezuela/Argentina. Adventure/History.

I get it: showing the lush jungles of the Amazon in panoramic black-and-white contrast, automatically provokes the viewer to imagine how beautiful the geography actually is in color. But this backdrop for the parallel narration of two real-life German scientists 40 years apart, guided by the same shaman at young and old ages, on an expedition to find a healing plant, was so lengthy, during the final third it had me gasping for the movie to be over. And an artsy 2001: Space Odyssey-like ending really didn't help.

PS: After Mustang, Son of Saul, Theeb and A War, this concludes my review of this year's foreign-language Oscar-nominated movies. And I don't remember ever giving any such nominee in previous years a bad score. (Instead of Son of Saul, probably Mustang should've won.)

Mo says:

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Director: James Wan. Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O'Connor. 134 min. Rated R. Horror.

The first Conjuring was interesting: the case files of a real-life ghost-hunting couple. Then in the sequel, you say your movie is based on a true story, but take so many ferocious liberties in exaggerating it, the numbed viewer doesn't know what to believe. In effect, an engaging Amityville haunting opening, followed by a re-telling of the Enfield Haunting, "the most witnessed poltergeist case in history", just becomes another horror movie filled with numerous predictable screaming shock-shots. Compared to the better-documented (but dull) TV movie, Conjuring 2 makes you wish creepier, more effective horror movies like The Witch were around.

Mo says:

The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no ko) (2015)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda. 119 min. Rated PG-13. Japan. Animation.

Werner Herzog once said: "We are surrounded by worn-out images, and we deserve new ones." He probably didn't have an animation in mind when he said that, but this Japanese cartoon (yes of course, only a Japanese cartoon) entails that notion all the same, giving us new images to cherish. And by that, I mean a dark warrior with a hole in his heart, becoming a giant whale in a busy Tokyo street, to defeat an enlightened warrior, whose master has metamorphosed into a golden sword to embed into and strengthen his apprentice's heart. Yeah, you get the idea.

PS: Another great animation, and another great recommendation. Thank you, Ali S.

Mo says:

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015)

Director: Francis Lawrence. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Natalie Dormer, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Gwendoline Christie. 137 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Germany. Sci-fi/Adventure.

Another franchise handled so bad, like The Hobbit, we can say thank God it's over. The weakest book of the series, weakened further by dividing into two movies, has ended with a fourth episode that has so many throwaway scenes, you'd think the writers were dying to push the movie over two hours, just to prove the money-making division was the right decision. While I doubt anybody unaccustomed to the books would remember what "tracker-jackers" were or who "Plutarch" was, the ending scene, showing Katniss with her baby, proves we were watching a boring soap opera all along.

Mo says:

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Irrational Man (2015)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey. 95 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

Woody Allen is like a mass-producing movie-incubating machine: he makes a perfect chick every five movies or so (like Vicky Christina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris), but that means we also have tolerate the other four anomalous chicks (like Irrational Man) to find his perfect one. We've already seen his passion for "Crime and Punishment" in Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point to a significantly higher quality, and although he confesses his Dostoevsky inspirations in this very old-fashioned, predictable and coincidental story, I think somebody needs to tell him to get over it.

Mo says:

Friday, June 3, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Director: Bryan Singer. Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Munn, Hugh Jackman, Ally Sheedy. 144 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Action.

Another 2-hour-plus X-Men, with the first 20 minutes giving us 4 origin stories (introducing Oscar Isaac as a more memorable villain), Hugh Jackman in a short scene (again), Quicksilver in the film's best scene (again), disregard for previous timelines (in The Last Stand, older Professor Xavier and Magneto meet Jean Grey when she's a girl; here, the young Professor is training a teenager), and the obligatory slug-fest at the end. It's the Marvel formula, with nothing new. Oh, sorry: in the first X-Men prequel we discovered how the Professor became paraplegic; in this third prequel, we discover why he's bald.

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Director: Mark Hartley. 106 min. Rated R. Australia/USA/Israel/UK. Documentary.

Enter the Ninja, Death Wish 3, Breakin', Delta Force, Cobra, Murphy's Law, Over the TopSuperman IV, Bloodsport. I lived in the Middle-East during the 80s, and these were a handful of movies I either saw or heard of at the time. The magnitude of rubbish involved always made me theorize these films were probably solely packaged for those countries. Later, I discovered Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who produced more than 200 films in their 30-year Cannon Films history, were behind a movement which dominated not only Hollywood, but the world. This is their hard-to-believe success story.

PS: Available to stream on Netflix.

Mo says: