Monday, August 29, 2016

Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Director: Jon M. Chu. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine. 129 min. Rated PG-13. USA/China/UK/Canada. Thriller/Comedy.

Maybe because the incredibly fun original NYSM deservedly didn't take itself too seriously that I don't remember its story details. But whatever the reason, the sequel's dependence on the original's story is a mistake. Adding nonsensical mystery (why'd the old Chinese lady hide her knowledge of English?), another mistake. Replacing the dominating Isla Fisher with a cuckoo Lizzy Caplan in the sequel, and making Harry Potter a pseudo-psycho villain, more mistakes. We're left with a nicely choreographed mid-movie card heist sequence, and again a perfectly uplifting soundtrack, which just aren't enough to make this a memorable sequel.

Mo says:

Krisha (2015)

Director: Trey Edward Shults. Cast: Krisha Fairchild, Alex Dobrenko, Robyn Fairchild. 83 min. Rated R. Drama.

After several years away, a mother returns to her extended family on Thanksgiving, and everyone is hesitant at mingling with her; especially her own son. The secret is how she devastated her family in the past. It takes some patience to slog through this film, particularly since the revelation comes at minute 50 of the 80 minutes. But the film is laudable because of the extremely simple production (the film-maker cast his own family, about one of their own family members), and how the script offers two endings, leaving it up to you to decide which is the true one.

Mo says:

Hell or High Water (2016)

Director: David Mackenzie. Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham. 102 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

All the elements of a traditional Western (bandit brothers, small-town bank robberies, rude sheriff with a heart of gold, panoramic landscapes, climactic shootout) are here, and Jeff Bridges became one of those actors who makes movies awesome just by being in them, a long time ago. But eventually, I wasn't sure was this movie was bout. Racism? Greedy banks? Second Amendment rights? Jeff Bridges? Somebody needs to do something about the Tomatometer: 99%, for crying out loud.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016)

Director: Werner Herzog. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates have warned that a sentient A.I. would be the end of human civilization. Werner Herzog's new documentary, with several random thoughts told in ten chapters, from the internet's inception to its glory to its dark side to its future, is an expansion of that warning by the technology titans. But films and shows like Zero Days and Mr. Robot have already drawn a very somber picture of how our lives could collapse in a blink of an eye, so I was expecting a stronger meditative punch by Herzog. Still, worth the watch.

Mo says:

A Hologram for the King (2016)

Director: Tom Tykwer. Cast: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Tom Skerritt, Ben Wishaw. 98 min. Rated R. UK/France/Germany/USA/Mexico. Comedy/Drama.

The vignette is exactly how I felt visiting an affluent Arab country in the middle of the desert: you have no clue what's going on, everyone else very calmly knows what's going on, and 'people' (not the infrastructure) decide whether things will work (or won't work) at a whim. So when Tom Hanks enters filthy-rich Saudi Arabia as a businessman, the lost feeling is as troubling as a tumoral growth on his back. Director Tykwer is making a noble attempt here to bridge the East-West gap. But knowing the depth of the divide, just not sure how successful he'll be.

Mo says:

Friday, August 19, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Director: Travis Knight. Cast (voices): Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Rooney Mara. 101 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Finally, something original! Young boy learns his warrior father was killed by his evil grandfather, and the grandfather is coming after him next. What makes this so refreshing, is the eye-popping stop-motion/CGI animation, the Japanese action/horror combination in a kids movie, and a finale that is not determined by the blade of a sword, but by the "two strings" mentioned in the title. Best of all, Hollywood has made an effort to stylize Japanese culture through an American movie. If they could only reach out even more to this vast wealth of story-worthy material out there.

Mo says:

The Childhood of a Leader (2015)

Director: Brady Corbet. Cast: Tom Sweet, Bérénice Bejo, Liam Cunningham, Robert Pattinson, Stacy Martin. 115 min. UK/France/Hungary. Historical/Mystery.

If you're wondering which historical leader the title is referring to, forget about it. Not only attempting to answer that will somewhat spoil the movie, it'll distract from the film's core concept. Because if there ever was a sequel to Michel Haneke's White Ribbon, this is it, as one of that movie's pre-WWI children is distantly exposed to the War's end, and intimately experiences punishment, betrayal and sexual repression, to later become a fascist leader. With a captivating orchestral soundtrack, the film also makes brilliant use of one actor in two roles, solving at least part of the title's mystery.

Best quote:

"... The tragedy of war, is not that one man has the courage to be evil, but that so many have not the courage to be good."

PS: First-time director Brady Corbet also starred in Haneke's sadistic Funny Games. He must have picked up a few ideas from the great director along the way.

PPS: Based on Godfrey Cheshire's review, I learn the film is based on a story written by Jean-Paul Sartre, in 1939 ... before WWII, before Hitler did what he did. Clever man, this Jean-Paul Sartre.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pete's Dragon (2016)

Director: David Lowery. Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban. 103 min. Rated PG. Fantasy/Adventure.

As much as Pixar animators are pushing into adult territory, Disney is going back to what they reveled at in the old days: movies solely made for kids. But while there was nothing wrong with The Jungle Book remake and The BFG being entirely child-oriented, I was (unfortunately) feeling bored at times watching this remake, waiting through long conversations discussing whether there really was a dragon out there. And the movie's second half follows E.T.'s footsteps, point by point, including camera angles of people saying goodbye. Similar to how they treated Star Wars, Disney isn't adding much to the genre.

Mo says:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Weiner (2016)

Director(s): Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg. 96 min. Rated R. Documentary.

Seligman: No matter how much I try, I can't find anything laudable in pedophilia.

Joe: That's because you think about the, perhaps 5%, who actually hurt children. The remaining 95% never live out their fantasies. Think about their suffering. Sexuality is the strongest force in human beings. To be born with a forbidden sexuality must be agonizing. The pedophile who manages to get through life with the shame of his desire, while never acting on it, deserves a bloody medal.

                                                                   - Nymphomaniac: Vol. II (2013)

I've occasionally thought about that quote from von Trier's bizarre movie; most so when watching this documentary about disgraced NY Congressman, Anthony Weiner (of all possible names), a "sexting" addict who continued his act even after resigning from Congress, decimating his own later run for NYC Mayor. The problem with the likes of him and Bill Clinton, is that they're also politicians, with personal lives open to scrutiny. Based on the above quote, Weiner may deserve a medal for his perseverance, but considering how these people take down their faithful partners (Huma and Hillary), they've probably chosen the wrong career.

Mo says:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Money Monster (2016)

Director: Jodie Foster. Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito. 98 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

Jim Cramer-type TV show host, who handles people's financial lives as entertainment, is threatened by suicidal loser that he'll blow up the studio on live TV. In a story-line very similar to The Negotiator (hostage gradually realizes hostage-taker was wronged in the first place), Jodie Foster is onto something here, making the George Clooney TV host a disgusting but later admirable character, ready to bring Wall Street down, to expose ... a fake miner strike in South Africa? That is not the problem with Wall Street. Wish Foster had questioned the entire system, the way Spike Lee did in Inside Man.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary) (2015)

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda. Cast: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose. 128 min. Rated PG. Japan. Drama/Comedy.

Three sisters attend the funeral of a father who left them for another woman, and invite their step-sister to live with them. Calling this a slow melodrama by the award-winning director of long slow-paced movies, is the understatement of the year. But there's a silver lining: watching the movie, you not only experience the regular ups and downs any teenage or twenty-something girl goes through, but also get to know how it sounds and feels to live in rural modern-day Japan for two hours. That's quite a feat, happening from the comfort of a movie theater, or living room.

Mo says:

Rams (Hrútar) (2015)

Director: Grímur Hákonarson. Cast: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving. 93 min. Rated R. Iceland/Denmark/Norway/Poland. Drama/Comedy.

In a small far-off Iceland village, an old man, estranged from his brother for four decades, starts a dumb rumor about his brother's sheep ... which mushrooms into disaster for the entire village. As the description shows, the movie and its story are fittingly simple, because you don't need a complex scenario to bring down a society. Contemporary real-life examples show how seemingly simple but baseless comments ("The election is rigged!") can spell doom for an entire generation. While slightly overplayed, this movie works splendidly at displaying that concept.

Mo says:

Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015)

Director(s): Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna. 102 min. USA/UK. Documentary.

In 1970, Steve McQueen, "The King of Cool", embarked on producing a movie titled Le Mans, to offer viewers first-hand experience of car racing. The problem was, there was no script, and no story. But McQueen was so obsessed with the project, he started anyway, put his own and other people's lives at risk, and destroyed careers along the way. This reminded me of another documentary on a different subject, on how individuals with insatiable egos would rather have people die to achieve their grandiose dreams. Apparently, Steve McQueen was a man unable to differentiate his on-screen persona from reality.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Director: David Yates. Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent. 110 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Adventure.

Wise decision not to make another origin story. They find Tarzan in England, happily married to Jane, and invite him to Congo to do some more Tarzan stuff; making this a sequel. While the action sequences (including swinging from a single vine over a mile onto a speeding train) reach Transformers level insanity, Alexander Skarsgård's sudden anger spells show he hasn't shaken off his "True Blood" Eric the Vampire persona yet, and the vagueness of the story logic makes you wonder why the movie was made in the first place, compared to this year's other summer pics, I was entertained.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lights Out (2016)

Director: David F. Sandberg. Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia. 81 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

I'm neither giving this a NoMo because almost the entire story is ruined in the trailer, nor because it copies winning script elements from the 2002 horror, The Ring (young heroine, younger boy, evil female entity from psychiatric ward, victimized innocent boyfriend, ...). It fails, because the viewer is dragged to an ending (unspoiled by the trailer!) that makes no narrative sense, not even within its fantasy/horror logic. An entity can either materially/spiritually exist in the outside world and terrorize characters, or be an abstraction of one character's mind and torture that one person. You can't have both.

PS: Batman v Superman, The Conjuring 2, X-Men: Apocalypse, Independence Day: Resurgence, CellGhostbusters, The Purge 3, Star Trek Beyond. I don't remember ever branding so many summer movies with back-to-back NoMos and SoSos. And now Lights Out earns 77% on the Tomatometer! It's a bad sign when The Shallows is your summer's most entertaining movie.

Mo says:

Into the Forest (2015)

Director: Patricia Rozema. Cast: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella. 101 min. Rated R. Canada. Drama/Sci-fi.

For uncertain reasons (but through a scenario made completely believable by Zero Days), the country loses power indefinitely, and access to gasoline, food, supplies, and the internet all go out the window. A father and his two daughters hone their survival skills in their woodland home, and the sister-sister interaction becomes the core of the drama. The characters' decisions may seem strange, but similar to Melancholia, end-of-days stories benefit from mapping out uncharted territory, subjecting us solely to the writers' imagination. Here, I found their narrative compelling, and the Page-Wood chemistry is perfect, even though they don't look like sisters.

Mo says: