Friday, December 30, 2016

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Director: Maren Ade. Cast: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek. 162 min. Rated R. Germany/Austria/Romania. Comedy/Drama.

One of the most unforgettable movies you'll ever experience. The story of an eccentric lonely father forcefully injecting himself into his unrelenting, workaholic daughter's life, slowly develops, keeps getting more outrageous, until the lunacy of the final half hour reaches such unexpected levels, you can't predict what will hit you next. While the narrative of this long movie becomes somewhat repetitious, I wasn't bored the least bit. And the best part is, there's a message there, along the lines of: "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans." Possibly this year's Best Foreign-Language Oscar winner.

Mo says:

La La Land (2016)

Director: Damien Chazelle. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend. 128 min. Rated PG-13. Musical.

This modern West Side Story is based on three assumptions: everybody believes LA is heaven, everybody loves jazz, everybody is in a jolly mood for a cheery, romantic musical. And since the first two assumptions are false, and 2016 was too crappy for the third to be true, this movie didn't work for me. The movie relies on Chazelle's superb direction, the film's exquisite cinematography and choreography, and Emma Stone's star power, ... because the first hour has almost no story, and the "What if" ending message was much more powerfully delivered in Woody Allen's recent Café Society.

Mo says:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Inferno (2016)

Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, Omar Sy. 121 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Hungary. Action/Adventure.

While "Inferno" is not one of my favorite Dan Brown/Robert Langdon novels, at least it has the audacity to have a dark, non-formulaic ending. Ron Howard's version of the story, while well-made and incredibly well-edited (almost considered a change of style for the director), does not have Brown's courage, and climaxes in very formulaic, Hollywood-style action-packed final moments. I understand a film should be judged in isolation and based on its own merits, but I was disappointed to see we are not trusted by the powers to contemplate on anything but a happy ending.

Mo says:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Julieta (2016)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Cast: Adriana Ugarte, Rossy de Palma, Emma Suárez. 99 min. Rated R. Spain. Drama.

Through a story told almost entirely in flash-back (with Almodóvar's familiar style of voice-overs and uplifting colors), a mother loses touch with her daughter, and while there are hints at the reasons for this catastrophe, we're still never definitively sure (or convinced) why the daughter deliberately removed herself from her mother's life - as though the vague motivations are intentional. And that's where Almodóvar lost me, because he makes this a study of how the mother slowly unravels from within, without making a strong case for whether her suffering is necessary in the first place.

Mo says:

Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins. Cast: Alex R. Hibbert, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes. 111 min. Rated R. Drama.

Three segments of a young black man's rough life (childhood, teenage, adulthood). The film is flawless: the performances are top-notch, the screenplay leaves no emotional stone unturned, the setting helps you understand what these characters are going through. Nevertheless, this reminded me of Brokeback Mountain, and how I was "told" by the entire world this is a masterpiece, but I was not able to connect. Not only House of Cards' Mahershala Ali and the new Miss Moneypenny Naomie Harris may win Best Supporting Actor Oscars, but the film may even win Best Picture. But I was not able to connect.

Mo says:

Jackie (2016)

Director: Pablo Larraín. Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, John Carroll Lynch. 100 min. Rated R. Chile/France/USA. Biography/History.

A character study of Jackie Kennedy, during the week after her husband's death - so wisely, the screen presence of the President himself is at a bare minimum (although the assassination recreation scenes are shocking). I'm skeptical whether the film praises the former First Lady, or portrays her as a confused, shallow individual, who had an identity crisis after she lost her husband, because her own identity depended upon his. You wonder: what makes Jackie any different from others who've lost husbands, far more tragically? And Sarsgaard is a wrong choice for Bobby Kennedy; he doesn't even attempt a Bostonian accent.

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Denial (2016)

Director: Mick Jackson. Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott. 109 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Biography/History.

One word to describe this film: "honest". The true story of an American Jewish professor, sued in the 90s for publishing offensive remarks about a British holocaust denier. Honest, because it's brave enough to elaborate on holocaust deniers' logic (even though it doesn't respond to it all), and because it accurately portrays educated Jewish scholars who are unable to keep their emotions in check in the face of the slightest antagonism, to everyone's annoyance and even their own detriment. The protagonist refused to debate any denier, but we need more films like this to start a debate on any subject.

Mo says:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Director: Gareth Edwards. Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, James Earl Jones. 134 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

I can watch movies with known endings (it's about the journey, right?), watch another parallel editing of disabling a shield (another shield?!), or buy stories with glaring holes (the Empire believes you serve them, even after they've killed your wife?). What I can't stand, is a slap in the face: eliminating the SW-defining opening crawl, omitting SW-defining Jedi characters and lightsaber duels, or Disney saying: "Sorry, we just have to make one Star Wars a year." Not that I was bored; I just don't see myself buying the soundtrack, or watching it again. And that's a first for me.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare ) (2016)

Director: Gianfranco Rosi. 114 min. Italy/France. Documentary.

Italy's foreign-language entry for next year's Oscars - so I guess Italian cinema must've been pretty slow in 2016. It's about the island of Lampedusa, the destination of thousands of Africa's refugees who brave the seas, many to die along the way. But in parallel to the refugee plight (the film's sole engrossing scenes), equal time is given to show the islanders' slow lives, oblivious to events on their shores. This is where the film goes all Herzog on us, trying to be introspective, showing an Italian family slurping spaghetti for 5 minutes. That's just one of numerous long, patience-defying moments.

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tower (2016)

Director: Keith Maitland. 80 min. Documentary.

Before Columbine, before Virginia Tech, before Newtown ... there was the University of Texas clock tower, where in 1966, a sniper randomly opened fire, killing 14 and injuring 32 more during a 96-minute rampage. The documentary is fascinating for two reasons: 1. There isn't much footage available from the event itself, so the filmmakers "created" footage by rotoscope animation of actors, projecting the same feeling; 2. The film gives near-zero info on the killer, because as opposed to today's filth-promoting media, it glorifies the "life" of the rescuers that day, not the death and tragedy unleashed by a coward/lunatic.

Mo says:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Director: Tim Burton. Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O'Dowd, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell. 127 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Belgium/USA. Fantasy.

As far back as 2010, Tim Burton has become a major disappointment, churning out mediocre to plain boring movies - both visually and story-wise. Miss Peregrine shows some signs of hope, that maybe the spark of genius we enjoyed in the 90's is back. While reminiscent of Harry Potter and X-Men, the imaginative visuals and creative story elements still provide it with an identity of its own, and Green and Jackson create a memorable heroine and villain. And again, we're reminded how useless MPAA ratings have become: a scene shows adults feasting on children's eyeballs, and the film got a PG-13.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Director: Tom Ford. Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen, Jena Malone. 116 min. Rated R. Drama/Thriller.

Art gallery owner runs into first-draft manuscript of a revenge novel. The novel's story is told parallel to flashbacks of the artist's own life, while we start wondering which revenge this movie is really about. I admit I was glued to the screen, but this used my major pet peeves to attract an audience: using shocking images (film opens with fat women dancing nude), and efforts to emotionally hurt the viewer (the same reasons I hated The Neon Demon so). Nocturnal Animals boasts great acting, but doesn't really leave you much afterthought, because it's the product of an inexperienced director.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge) (2016)

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit. 80 min. Rated PG. France/Belgium. Animation.

A mesmerizing animation, probably because it has no dialogue; you know, the stuff that distracts you from enjoying the imagery. A man is marooned on a tropical island, and all his efforts to leave the island are sabotaged by ... a giant red turtle. The simple-looking yet exquisitely detailed animation (definitely taking a few lessons from Herge's "Tin Tin" books) makes you wish this story would go on forever - even though admittedly, I wasn't sure what the film's message was. This 2016 Cannes Special Jury Prize winner will be a strong Oscar contender.

PS: Okay, Ali S., now time to look for My Life as a Zucchini ...

Mo says:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Director: Kenneth Lonergan. Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick. 137 min. Rated R. Drama.

A rare movie that unintentionally but deeply hurts. A young man has been spiritually destroyed by soul-crushing tragedy, and isn't able to move on. Everyone around him has redefined their lives, but he just can't let go. Add to that, he inherits the guardianship of his teenage nephew. With a minimalist approach to obvious story elements, but detailing tiny life nuances to make the story ever more believable, the screenplay slowly hurls you into this doomed man's world. Casey Affleck excels as this crumpled, shattered character, and Michelle Williams has only three pivotal scenes - two of which get waterworks running.

Mo says: