Thursday, July 28, 2016

Café Society (2016)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Blake Lively, Anna Camp, Sheryl Lee, Tony Sirico, Woody Allen (voice). 96 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Romance.

There are old directors out there that make you wish you'd have such acumen (of any kind) when you grow to the same age. One of them is Woody Allen. There's no doubt that Vittorio Storaro's enchanting cinematography (with his 1930's orange and yellow hues) is the ringleader here. There's no doubt that both Eisenberg and Stewart portray exactly how it feels to be in the relationship shown in this story. But I'm baffled at how good Allen is at playing this out, and how he hasn't lost his magic touch after making more than 50 movies.

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

April and the Extraordinary World (Avril et le monde truqué) (2015)

Director(s): Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci. 105 min. Rated PG. France/Belgium/Canada. Animation.

This wonderful animation from France will remind you of numerous other films. The animated old/futuristic mechanical elements reminds of The Iron Giant and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the "normally-talking" animals are straight out of a Miyazaki feature, and of course, the old-fashioned adventurism is from none other than Herge's "Tintin". But then again, the film preserves of a certain unique authenticity, making you paradoxically feel the entire landscape is original. A rare animation that needs to be enjoyed on a wide screen. Betting on an Oscar nomination next year.

PS: You rock, Ali S.!

Mo says:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Director: Justin Lin. Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin,  Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Shohreh Aghdashloo. 120 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

Maybe because I knew J.J. Abrams didn't direct it. Maybe because I knew the Fast & Furious director (who inserted, yes, a motorcycle chase) directed it. Or maybe because the past two Star Trek films had significantly better direction. But the scrambled script, juggling numerous characters and merely providing the means for the next fast-edited, eye-squinting action sequence in close-up, made me feel lost. While a last-minute attempt to bring the franchise back to its sci-fi roots was admirable, till the very end, I never understood why the villain, an unrecognizable Idris Elba under layers of make-up, was so pissed.

Mo says:

Sing Street (2016)

Director: John Carney. Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy. 106 min. Rated PG-13.  Ireland/UK/USA. Comedy/Musical. 

I never thought I would do this some day, but in my review for John Carney's previous film, Begin Again, replace "Dublin" for "New York City". Mostly, the same review applies. So even though Sing Street is off to a very good start, a sense of repeating the director's profile again and again severely bogs it down, and in my book ends it up with a NoMo. The critics who've given this a mind-blowing 97%, probably haven't seen the director's other films.

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

Director: Paul Feig. Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Zach Woods, Charles Dance, Bill Murray, Michael Kenneth Williams, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver. 116 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Fantasy.

It's good to strive for an equal-opportunity environment. It's really good. But the Ghostbusters remake epitomizes Hollywood's (or the country's) band-aid approach to the issue. Just give four females the exact same male roles as the 1984 movie (down to their skin color), have them play out the exact same story, with the exact same sequence of events. Not a single story reason why females were substituted. And then call it an equal opportunity environment. I'm sure the producers had a good laugh at the end credits saying: "Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis"- the original script went untouched!

Mo says:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Director: Roland Emmerich. Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Robert Loggia. 120 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

I actually liked the original ID4. Twenty years later, the sequel feels like two hours of film-makers saying "Yeah, whatever": You want bigger ships? Yeah, whatever. Will Smith sitting this one out? Yeah, whatever. Showing a female President being trigger-happy stupid? Yeah, whatever. Repeating the same story, down to saving the dog? Yeah, whatever. Although the idea of incorporating alien technology from prior attacks into everyday life in the sequel was a nice touch, I was blurry throughout which part of the world was getting decimated, and constantly felt Emmerich was under no pressure at all to make something worthwhile.

Mo says:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Purge: Election Year (2016)

Director: James DeMonaco. Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson. 105 min. Rated R. France/USA. Horror/Sci-fi.

The first Purge had a notoriously creative idea, but messed up the story; the second one upended the original by expanding the concept, and ending on a positive note. The third (hopefully completing a trilogy, to avoid more sequels) creates an obvious Trump vs. Hillary substitute, while replacing the Trump buffoon with an NRA-head buffoon, here called the NFFA - a Christian-backed society reaping in financial benefits from mass murdering lower socioeconomic strata. Although according to Snowpiercer logic, decimating the lower class undermines the upper class, the movie makes valuable, well-timed use of cinema to picture just one sickness plaguing America.

Mo says:

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Wailing (2016)

Director: Hong-jin Na. Cast: Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Woo-hee Chun. 146 min. Not Rated. South Korea. Horror/Mystery.

A ghost-story whodunit? Starts as a bungling mystery/comedy (in the veins of Memories of Murder, with the Korean trademark of copious splattered blood), then becomes creepy with a possibility of ghosts and demons, then ends in full-fledged, hardcore horror. The miracle is, it achieves these results with not even a single screaming shock-shot or horror gimmick. Yes, there are some police procedural plausibility issues (and an unnecessary zombie sequence), but as soon as you're on for the ride, you're on till the final astounding mystery-resolving moment. A must for "true horror" lovers (not the Babadook/Conjuring/Annabelle/... screaming-in-your-face kind).

Mo says:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Tale of Tales (2015)

Director: Matteo Garrone. Cast: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly. 133 min. Rated R. Italy/France/UK. Fantasy.

Based on the writings of 17th century author Giambattista Basile, whose interwoven fairy tales of three kings, in terms of grotesqueness, put the Brothers Grimm to shame. The engaging story-lines, the mesmerizing cinematography, the hypnotizing soundtrack (predictably by the great Alexander Desplat), all make it very hard to look away - no matter how bizarre the narrative gets. There's the constant nagging question of what the film's message is all about, but if there's a film-maker who's brave enough to project such weird ideas and images on a screen, I'd buy his product any day.

PS. Thanks again Amir D., for making it possible!

Mo says:

Cell (2016)

Director: Tod Williams. Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacy Keach. 98 min. Rated R. Horror/Sci-fi.

I enjoyed Stephen King's novel (especially its opening segment), but as soon as I saw his name as screenwriter, I knew this wouldn't turn out well. And it didn't; because with all of King's genius for storytelling, he's not an expert on horror-movie psychology (the way Kubrick, Reiner or Cronenberg have shown). Samuel Jackson's character looks too calm and all-knowing, the main villain's role is degraded to zilch, and the film just should've been longer for the story to pan out. Ironically, the ending scene is ripped off of The Shining, the movie adaptation King is known to have scorned.

PS: 0% on Rottentomatoes. Nice.

Mo says:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Zero Days (2016)

Director: Alex Gibney. 116 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

Alex Gibney keeps getting better and better. A documentary initially looking into the Stuxnet cyber-attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, mushrooms into the discovery of how the US/Israeli-made malware, unbeknownst to the US, was unleashed by Israel on all computers of the world, including yours and mine, just to attack those in Iran. Watch this to understand how we can all be sent back to the stone age at the blink of an eye, and how we're not even allowed to discuss it because nobody wants to be found culpable by discussing it. Watch this, and be afraid.

PS: Also, check out Godfrey Cheshire's 4-star review on

Mo says:

Friday, July 8, 2016

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman, Zoey Deutch. 117 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Dazed & Confused was the last days of high-school; this is a few days in 1980 before college. Both Linklater films have no story at all, both merely project powerfully nostalgic feelings of a bygone era, both boast immortal songs from that era, and like D&C, EWS will launch its no-name actors into stardom. Character mannerisms remind of a time when people didn't know what "gay" was, and recreating 70s hairstyle, clothes, cars, dance moves, pocket video games, soda cans, architecture, ... must have been production design hell. But I still wouldn't have minded just a teeny weeny bit of story.

Mo says:

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Elvis & Nixon (2016)

Director: Liza Johnson. Cast: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Colin Hanks, Johnny Knoxville, Evan Peters. 86 min. Rated R. History/Comedy.

You'd wonder how an infinitesimally unimportant event such as a short meeting between Elvis and Nixon could ever have a chance of becoming a movie. And you'd be right, because nothing historically major really happened during the talk. But this is where movie magic comes in: to project to viewers how it must have felt to be around "The King", to watch two powerful actors who have no resemblance to either Nixon or Elvis play these two, just because we love watching the two actors onscreen. I had fun, I was smiling throughout, I was entertained.

PS: Thank you, Mohi, for recommending another movie I may have not bothered watching. I mean ... Elvis and Nixon? Spacey as another president? Shannon as Elvis? ...

Mo says:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015)

Director: Kent Jones. 79 min. Rated PG-13. France/USA. Documentary.

Yes, I too in my teens used the "Hitchcock/Truffaut" book as a Bible, as soon I recognized film as art instead of mere entertainment. I too would gobble up what these two grand-masters discussed about each Hitchcock film, as soon as I watched one. So a documentary about that book, and how living auteurs (Scorsese, Fincher, Linklater, Anderson) praise the master, isn't far-fetched. Instead of large segments analyzing Vertigo and Psycho, I was expecting a more even-handed approach to all of Hitch's films (there's near-zero talk of Rear Window or Dial M for Murder). Nonetheless, this a movie-lovers' gem.

Mo says:

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The BFG (2016)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader. 117 min. Rated PG. UK/Canada/USA. Adventure/Fantasy.

Saying Spielberg's adaptation of Roald Dahl's book is similar to E.T. is cheating: while both were written by the late Melissa Mathison, they have entirely different settings. It's a kids movie gem in terms of concept (a giant blowing good dreams into children's heads at night), characters (movie giants were never this friendly; I checked), and even pacing (although grownups may find it slow). What annoyed me, was what led to Jack the Giant Slayer's downfall: the awkward reliance on CGI-tailored giants, which constantly kept pulling me out of the dream. But this is a landmark in film-making for kids.

Mo says: