Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, James Franco, Guy Pearce. 122 min. Rated R. USA/UK/Australia/New Zealand/Canada. Horror/Sci-fi.

If you're sitting into Alien: Covenant expecting it to resolve questions posed in Prometheus, then Spoiler Alert!: it doesn't. But I'm content with that, because Prometheus' open ending hurled me into a movie-dreaming bliss I hadn't experienced in ages. Impressing, was how Scott, in our age, while lacking originality, had still managed to make a thrilling, entertaining movie ... on the sixth episode of a franchise! Seems he has two more prequel-sequels planned, but I predict he'll run into story continuity problems the way Star Trek did (if he hasn't already with Covenant). Just hoping a time-shift isn't in the works.

Mo says:

American Wrestler: The Wizard (2016)

Director: Alex Ranarivelo. Cast: George Kosturos, Ali Afshar, William Fichtner, Jon Voight. 117 min. Rated PG-13. USA. Drama/Sport.

True story of a young Iranian refugee, who wrestles his way to the top in the early 80s California, amid the brutal anti-Iran sentiment stemming from the hostage crisis. This is a movie that has many flaws, including excruciatingly predictable plot moments, and occasional laughable character reactions. But the movie has a heart, probably because it's based on a true story, probably because the real-life hero has a critical supporting role in the film. I recommend the movie, but can't forgive its faults.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017)

Director: George C. Wolfe. Cast: Rose Byrne, Oprah Winfrey, Reg E. Cathey, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Courtney B. Vance, Ellen Barkin. 93 min. Biography/Drama.

Based on the best-selling book about the groundbreaking discovery of HELA cells, the first immortal human cell line, from an African-American woman in the 1950s, Henrietta Lacks. The film tries to build upon that story, by portraying this as the crusade of Henrietta's daughter to make contact with her long-lost mother through ... grasping onto her cells. The idea is absurd, and that's where the movie fails. But once again, we're able to grasp how Blacks were and are exploited in this country, and once again, Oprah proves she can act.

Mo says:

Mommie Dearest (1981)

Director: Frank Perry. Cast: Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Xander Berkeley. 129 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

In preparation for Feud, after watching the splendid classics Mildred Pierce (1945) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), I succumbed to this. It contains my main movie pet-peeve: the director who wants to hurt you. We're subjected to long, agonizing sequences depicting Joan Crawford hurling cruelty after cruelty onto her adopted daughter, sprinkled with more scenes of moaning and groaning which have no role in the story, because there's no payback to them. Prolonging Crawford's own funeral scene at the end (including a young Xander Berkeley as Crawford's son) suddenly pushed me to giggling, so you get the idea.

Trivia: I learned two long hours too late, that the movie had received Golden Razzies for "Worst Picture of the Decade", and "Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years".

Mo says:

Their Finest (2016)

Director: Lone Scherfig. Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jeremy Irons. 117 min. Rated R. UK. Romance/Comedy.

England becomes active in propaganda film-making during WWII, so they hire a young woman to join a young man in the Ministry of Defense to act as screenwriters ... and to everyone's surprise, love is in the air! The movie offers an interesting viewpoint of how both sides of a war (yes, even the good guys) slightly manipulate the truth to achieve their goals. The problem is, it takes a masterpiece (like Linklater's Before series) to interest me in romance stories. So I was bored.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Graduation (Bacalaureat) (2016)

Director: Cristian Mungiu. Cast: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Lia Bugnar. 127 min. Rated R. Romania/France/Belgium. Drama.

From the Romanian director of the perfect 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, this has Asghar Farhadi written all over it - the whole idea of modern cinema creating questions rather than answers. A father is stuck in a moral dilemma: help his teenage daughter (victim of a recent assault) to cheat on her graduation finals, or leave her on her own to botch the exam and throw years of preparation (and other possible benefits for himself) away? The movie will put you in the position of "What would you do?", ... so don't expect simple answers by the end.

Mo says:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn. Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Sylvester Stallone. 136 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Adventure.

The whole idea of a "galactic family of misfits" was what made the original appealing; the action and dizzying CGI special effects were secondary. So for the sequel, they unsuccessfully try to expand the family concept (the Kurt Russell father/planet makes no sense at all), but multiply the secondary action/CGI element. The result, is a disappointment. There are some genuine laughs in there, but the distracting sensory overload is so severe, the fact that I only remember a worried Baby Groot sitting at the bottom a big spaceship seat in a huge battle scene, should give a hint.

PS: Five post-credit scenes? FIVE?

Mo says:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Colossal (2016)

Director: Nacho Vigalondo. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens. 109 min. Rated R. Canada/Spain. Fantasy/Drama.

An alcoholic woman realizes the movements of a monster wreaking havoc and destroying lives in Seoul, actually mirrors her own, walking in a suburban NY park. So early on in the movie, the metaphor is obvious. But while this could have become a powerful statement on alcoholism and domestic abuse, the comedic moments somewhat trivialize the gravity of the subject matter, and the story not abiding by its own rules (the monster/robot in Seoul should only exist within the confines of the park) further weakens the impact. A great opportunity, lost to box-office sensibilities.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Your Name. (Kimi no na wa) (2016)

Director: Makoto Shinkai. 106 min. Rated PG. Japan. Animation.

A teenage boy and girl, distant from each other (both location-wise, and other-wise), suddenly start switching bodies for an entire day, every few days. But this not a simple Freaky Friday situation: the two incorporate their characters into the other person's life, making this a switch of gender characteristics, not just mere bodies, and an animation wildly open to interpretation. My take, was a painful presentation of "out of sight, out of mind": no matter how long and close you've been with a person, no matter how hard you hold on, they start vanishing from your memory after their gone.

PS: This was Japan's highest grossing film of 2016, and the highest grossing anime film of all time worldwide.

PPS: Thanks again, Ali S! Although I was hoping that ending wouldn't happen ...

Mo says:

Power Rangers (2017)

Director: Dean Israelite. Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks. 124 min. Rated PG-13. Canada/USA. Action/Fantasy.

While possibly entertaining for kids, this is another good example of packaged, formulaic Hollywood. No effort to inject any new concepts, no deviation from any previously well-trodden paths. And the way they hide Elizabeth Banks under heavy make-up or only use Bryan Cranston's voice, makes you feel they're concerned employing a high-profile actor like Brando in a superhero movie like Superman was not a good idea after all. I never watched the 90s Power Rangers, but if this story is new to me and I'm still bored, trying to imagine how crushed the fans must be.

Mo says:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Personal Shopper (2016)

Director: Olivier Assayas. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger. 105 min. Rated R. France/Germany. Mystery/Thriller.

Anything I write about the story might spoil the entertainment, So I'll just limit to say: (a) from the get go you'll notice it's from the same director who made Clouds of Sils Maria, (b) it's the most intelligent, audience-respecting ghost story you'll ever see, (c) it provides undeniable proof of Kristen Stewart's acting skills, (d) the ending scene will have you scurrying what other writers' interpretation of it was. And since I did the same (the best one here) and therefore cheated in the process ... I can't give it a MoMagic. But it deserves one.

Mo says:

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Age of Shadows (2016)

Director: Jee-woon Kim. Cast: Kang-ho Song, Yoo Gong. 140 min. South Korea. Action/Thriller. 

My time-proven theory for watching a subtitled movie here, is that distributors predicted a profit in America's dumbed-down audiences, so it must be good. But South Korea's entry for the 2017 Oscars (which beat the captivating Handmaiden) doesn't make life easy: it's quite difficult to read the fast-moving subtitles and keep Jung Chae-San, Kim Woo-Jin, Lee Jung-Chool and Yun Gye-Soon apart. Nevertheless, patience during the first half of this long beautifully-shot cat-and-mouse spy thriller set in 1920s Korea, will deliver nail-biting moments of action and suspense during the second half that proves again you never leave a Korean movie unsatisfied.

Mo says:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Founder (2016)

Director: John Lee Hancock. Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Biography.

No spoiler: as soon as you see Michael Keaton as "The Founder" of McDonald's, while his last name in the movie is not McDonald, you know it's the story of an ambitious, exploiting back-stabber, who swindled the McDonald brothers out of their rights to one of the most popular franchises in the world. And although Keaton does great work here, you're skeptical about him overacting in the role, especially after his Birdman Oscar loss. Nevertheless, this is a story about the bitter realities of capitalism that needs to be seen.

Mo says:

Prevenge (2016)

Director: Alice Lowe. Cast: Alice Lowe, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie. 88 min. Rated R. UK. Comedy/Horror.

The title says it all: a pregnant woman takes revenge on those whom she believes wronged her. But while the film by director/writer/lead actress Lowe may serve to expose how the standards of Western societies actually undermine and weaken a pregnant woman's standing, the fact that it's a horror/comedy about pregnancy-related psychosis trivializes and deflates the movie's (assumed) intended message; i.e. the lady is crazy, so we can ignore her issues. And the protagonist's grotesque make-up at the end is suspicious for the writer's intent to "create" a cult movie, which is weird.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Jagged Edge (1985)

Director: Richard Marquand. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Glenn Close, Peter Coyote, Robert Loggia, Lance Henriksen. 108 min. Rated R. Mystery/Thriller.

In a courtroom thriller by the director of Return of the Jedi based on a screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, a man is accused of killing his wealthy wife. If you've seen similar later movies with structures perfected by the likes of Eszterhas himself (Basic Instinct immediately comes to mind), you can guess the ending from a mile away - which renders the entire film somewhat lame. And while a twist during the final scene comes as a shock, quite a bit of story logic is sacrificed to make that twist work. With more ambition, this could have become an important landmark.

Trivia: Marquand died of a stroke just two years after this film, at the age of 49.

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Life (2017)

Director: Daniel Espinosa. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds. 104 min. Rated R. Horror/Sci-fi.

Strange phenomenon: while structured like a darker version Gravity, by reiterating Alien's best segments, the movie audaciously admits to be a copy of it but then manages to keep you engaged. The calm-before-the-storm interaction with the alien, the parasite's oral penetration and bursting out of a host, the incredibly fast-growing predator, the deceiving crew member who's trying to protect the species ... they're all here. And even though it's dumbed down by giving the seaweed-like alien an angry face, there's a clever ending twist that I didn't see coming. Proves again what a powerful groundbreaking film the 1979 classic was.

Mo says:

The Accountant (2016)

Director: Gavin O'Connor. Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow. 128 min. Rated R. Action/Crime.

Rain Man meets Jason Bourne. Autistic man uses his passion for accuracy to take on a life as a hired accountant and mercenary. The opening scenes interested me that maybe we're seeing a different Affleck persona - one where he's a quiet, eccentric and calculating but ruthless killer. But then he gets into action, and his doomed prospects of rivaling buddy Matt Damon as both Will Hunting and Jason Bourne combined, somehow reminded of the way he flexed his muscles in Gigli. Ben Affleck seriously needs to quit acting, and just stick to what he's actually good at: directing.

Mo says:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Excalibur (1981)

Director: John Boorman. Cast: Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Nicol Williamson, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Ciarán Hinds. 140 min. Rated PG. USA/UK. Fantasty/Epic.

There are much older and less glamorous movies you watch for the first time today, and they're as captivating as they come. Excalibur is not one of those. While I'm sure this King Arthur epic, a good place to learn the story, was a visual feat for its own time, the lame dialogue squashes any chance of 'epic-ness', Merlin lacks the awe to cast any spell on the imagination, and some up-and-coming actors who later became 1990s titans (Stewart, Byrnes, Neeson) look plain silly in their over-acted roles. A Peter Jackson-level version of the King Arthur legend is long overdue.

PS: Rated PG! The rating system was definitely not working well in the 80s.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Director: Bill Condon. Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. 129 min. Rated PG. Fantasy/Musical.

After the live-action remake of Cinderella turned out so unworthy-of-a-review 'ordinary', my expectations had diminished. But this remake of the 1991 animated masterpiece achieves the impossible: it upgrades it. The gorgeous uplifting scenery (specifically during the new splendidly elaborated opening narration) reawakened inner feelings of child wonder, and Emma Watson is surprisingly perfect as Belle. The concept of the re-imagined delightful songs and inspiring story being as entertaining as the cartoon, reminded of "Les Misérables": no matter how many versions of the story you see, the magic never gets old. Hadn't enjoyed a kids movie such in a long time.

PS: The whole fiasco over LeFou being the first gay Disney character, is ludicrous. The suggestion is unbelievably subtle for kids.

PPS: During the ending credits, it was fun to see actors from the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and X-Men franchises had all participated in the project.

Mo says:

Friday, March 24, 2017

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine, William Devane, 120 min. Rated R. Western.

Altman's famed "anti-Western". There's not much to the story: a gambler/entrepreneur embarks upon opening a bordello in a remote Old West mining town, and as soon as it becomes successful, a major corporation wants to take over. But it's not about the story. It's about Warren Beatty, playing against type under a bushy beard, making dumb business mistakes in this cold, gloomy town, and participating in a final showdown while not being the fastest gun in the West. You can physically feel how it felt to live in those times, and that's quite rare. Truly an anti-Western.

Mo says:

Naked Lunch (1991)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider. 115 min. Rated R. Canada/UK/Japan. Fantasy.

I'm sure William S. Burroughs was a prominent writer, and I know Cronenberg is a great film-maker. But there's a certain amount of abstraction one can take. This well-acted, beautifully-shot, bug-and-alien-infested chunk of delusion takes so many bizarre twists and turns, you already lose hope after the first half hour in any form of a coherent story - or even what the hallucinatory fantasies may represent. This is David Lynch on speed, and considering what Lynch was already on ...

Mo says:

Christine (1983)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Kelly Preston. 110 min. Rated R. Thriller.

High-school nerd becomes infatuated with a beautiful red 1957 Plymouth Fury ... which has a passion for killing. This does not function as a horror movie; rather, structured similar to The Shining, illustrates a loner who after becoming obsessed with an inanimate object with a mind of its own, slowly loses his mind. The film's smoldering creepy feeling must have been innovative for the 80s, and some lingering moments, such as the "self-rejuvenation" scene, and the car-in-flames speeding after its next victim, make this metaphor for America's car lust one of Carpenter's memorable films, and one of Stephen King's better adaptations.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lady Snowblood (1973)

Director: Toshiya Fujita. Cast: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon. 97 min. Not Rated. Japan. Action/Thriller.

The beautiful opening song, the revenge story of a betrayed heroine, the comic book sequences, the younger daughter waiting to avenge her parent's death at the hands of the heroine, the final discovery of a parent-sibling relationship, the climactic duel between two females in the snow, and of course, all the blood gushing out of bodies like geysers. A few weeks ago I thought Thriller: A Cruel Picture was the inspiration for Kill Bill. But no, Tarantino's masterpiece is actually a remake of this sword-wielding entertainment. Give it a try; you'll remember this film.

PS: Don't bother with the sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance, made the year after. It gets involved with politics and revolutions, and ruins the fun.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman. Rated PG-13. 120 min. Fantasy/Action.

A director in love with Apocalypse Now (and to a lesser extent, Predator) tackles the legend of King Kong - as though we needed this after Peter Jackson already did such a fine job. But no ... this should happen right after Vietnam, so they can tie it in with Godzilla, and give us a King Kong Vs. Godzilla in a few years. The CGI effects of Kong and other eye-popping creatures fighting and thrashing around are undoubtedly insurmountable, but this 2-hour roller coaster ride leaves nothing to contemplate about - even if admittedly, it's just a fantasy. Pre-packaged formulaic Hollywood; nothing unexpected.

PS: I've already spoiled the post-credits scene. But that was a no-brainer.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nashville (1975)

Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Barbara Harris, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould, Julie Christie. 160 min. Rated R. Musical/Drama/Comedy.

For those who haven't seen it, I'll do the favor of informing that Nashville is described as "... one of the greatest films ever made that is literally about nothing" - because for the first hour, I too was lost what the movie was about. But then it started growing on me, and while Altman perfected this method of interconnecting stories almost twenty years later in Short Cuts (1993), I ended it still wondering what specific theme I was following, but mesmerized about life in America in the early 70's, and the Nashville music culture. Maybe that's what it was all about.

PS: After watching the movie, check out Ebert's review, part of his "Great Movies" series. Yep, he was struggling with it too.

Mo says:

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)

Director: Bo Arne Vibenius (as Alex Fridolinski). Cast: Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf. 107 min. Unrated. Sweden. Action/Thriller.

Tarantino doesn't need to confess about this Kill Bill inspiration source: both the Bride (wronged white female martial arts avenger) and Elle Driver (the one-eyed female killer) are obvious adapted elements here. That in itself makes this originally-banned low-budget revenge cult movie with the famous Swedish pin-up girl in the lead worthy of attention - even though the super-slow-motion violence would be considered gratuitous, rather than interesting in a Peckinpah sort of way. Add to that the hardcore scenes, and you realize the director had (in his own words) resorted to "a commercial-as-hell crap-film", not knowing he was onto something trend-setting.

Mo says:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Danton (1983)

Director: Andrzej Wajda. Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak, Anne Alvaro. 136 min. Rated PG. France/Poland. Biography/History.

Another great one from decades ago, from a great director who died last year. Late 18th century, post-French revolution, and Danton and Robespierre (tremendously performed by Depardieu and Pszoniak) are political rivals. But the story is as good as new - particularly, how one avid Danton ally denounces the outspoken revolutionary and switches sides to the winning party, as soon he's confronted with the overwhelming risk of going under the guillotine (that's what people usually do). If you're looking for the cinematic rendition of "the Revolution devours its children ...", look no further.

Mo says:

Logan (2017)

Director: James Mangold. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook. 137 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Action.

Take the comedy out of Deadpool, transform The Unforgiven's look-alike Clint Eastwood into a superhero, inject The Terminator's car chase scenes... and you get Logan (and that's a compliment). It's 2029, mutants are nearly extinct, Wolverine is a foul-mouthed alcoholic losing his gifts, and Professor X a demented paraplegic. Meanwhile, the fresh material comes from a mutant girl with terrifying abilities, and the family relations between the three. Definitely a worthwhile superhero movie; another Marvel attempt at making the genre interesting. But the gritty endeavor comes at the expense of the Avengers or Spider-man not co-inhabiting the X-Men universe anymore.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele. Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford. 103 min. Rated R. Thriller/Horror.

This is the context: people may say they're not racist, you may say you're not racist ... but you really are. And if your actions show you're racist without even knowing it, that's considered 'scary' - and the basis for a horror movie. This comes at an extremely opportune time, when we're starting to believe what Blacks were already saying for decades - but never believed them. The metaphors are too poignant and too precise to ignore, and while I may regret my MoMagic score years or even months from now, as the first xenophobic movie of the Trump era, it's perfect.

Mo says:
Mo Magic!

My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette) (2016)

Director: Claude Barras. Voices: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud. 70 min. Rated PG-13. Switzerland/France. Animation.

This claymation gets right what The LEGO Batman Movie got wrong: through animation, it delivers an adult-oriented message ... to adults. Through animation, it pictures a child's perspective of being an orphan in an orphanage. You watch this "cartoon", and suddenly have an understanding of the world they see, and what they go through - a very complicated feat to accomplish. And strangely, the filmmakers manage to keep it lighthearted and funny. Not for kids, but a must-see for adults.

PS: Thank you, Ali S. I'm sure you had a good laugh at the "exploding cock" concept ...

Mo says:

Friday, February 24, 2017

My 2017 Oscars Predictions

It was just another year, with "regular" movies such as La La Land and Moonlight suddenly shooting to critical fame ... again. In his recent autobiography, Owen Gleiberman calls this concept "Media Mike": when it seems a mysterious microphone is singing praise of a certain movie into critics' ears all over the country, and critics all just sing along. Happens all the time, and Media Mike lives strong.

But then about a month ago, the President of the United States started persecuting minorities. A few nominees (including Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi) were temporarily banned from attending the ceremony, and since many Academy members are in the habit of showing the middle finger to organizations such as the government ... this changed things. The nominees that addressed the plight of refugees, immigrants and minorities suddenly came to the forefront - because after all, when have the Oscars ever been about art?

So in view of recent turn of events, I'm adding a "Trump Fallout" category to my predictions: movies that suddenly have a better shot at winning in spite of Trump's rescinded Executive Order. Actually, this is my way of chickening out of committing to my predictions, because the recent storm blurred the lines and blew everything out of the proportion, making it extremely difficult to predict an otherwise very predictable year.

Best Picture:

(Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight)

The front-runners here are La La Land and Moonlight. While the unwritten rules dictate La La Land should win, I'll go out on a limb on this one, and hope Academy voters will come to their senses, realize that La La Land wasn't actually about anything praise-worthy, then make a stand against current tides, and go for Moonlight - a movie about a black gay boy. Of course, my pick would've been my own favorite of the year.

Should Win: Manchester By The Sea.

Trump Fallout: Moonlight

Will Win: Moonlight

Best Director:


(Denis Villeneuve for Arrival, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By The Sea, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight)

Okay, everything is going for Damien Chazelle here. Compared to MoonlightLa La Land was a much more complicated movie to direct. But when it comes to difficult directorial efforts, none of the nominees beat Hacksaw Ridge in my book.

Should Win: Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge

Trump Fallout: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight

Will Win: Damien Chazelle for La La Land

Best Actor:

(Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea, for Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, for Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic, Denzel Washington for Fences)

The only element going against a Casey Affleck win is rape allegations that have recently propped up about an incident that occurred years ago. Otherwise, his should be a smooth win. Anti-Trump sentiments make Denzel a close competitor, but while his acting in Fences was superb as always, his attempt at directing it was not. Add to that, he already has two Oscars. Viggo Mortensen's nomination for Captain Fantastic was just an Academy nod to indie film-making, but a win would be a tough act to pull.

Should Win: Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea

Trump Fallout: Denzel Washington for Fences

Will Win: Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea

Best Actress:

(Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Ruth Negga for Loving, Natalie Portman for Jackie, Emma Stone for La La Land, Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins)

The Golden Globes for Best Actress went to the seasoned Isabelle Huppert, and the younger Emma Stone. Stone has since went on to win the Bafta and the Screen Actors Guild Award. The time-honored tradition has been that when choosing between the young and old, the Academy goes for the young. Ruth Negga, as the wife of a couple fighting for interracial marriage in the 60s, could become the dark horse of the resistance. Me? I pick Meryl Streep every time she's nominated.

Should Win: Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins

Trump Fallout: Ruth Negga for Loving

Will Win: Emma Stone for La La Land

Best Supporting Actor:

(Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals)

The Force is strong with Mahershala Ali - both because he won the SAG, and because he declared he converted to Islam at the podium after receiving the SAG. That should piss a lot of Trumpsters off. Producers tried to increase Dev Patel's chances by categorizing him as a supporting role, while he actually had a leading role in Lion - a trick that worked at winning him the Bafta. Also, Lion is about immigration, and many Trumpsters, especially immigrant-ancestor Trumpsters (ahem, all of them), don't like immigrants. Strangely, while not a strong movie in itself, among the nominees, Jeff Bridges' act in Hell or High Water stood out the most to me.

Should Win: Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water

Trump Fallout: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight or Dev Patel for Lion

Will Win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress:

(Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea)

The cards are all stacked in favor of Viola Davis. The minority card, the brilliant performance card, the Golden Globe/SAG/Bafta winner card, the three-time-Oscar-nominee-no-win card, and finally, the Mo-View approval card. Especially the Mo-View approval card.

Should Win: Viola Davis for Fences

Trump Fallout: Viola Davis for Fences

Will Win: Viola Davis for Fences

Best Original Screenplay:

(20th Century WomenHell or High WaterLa La Land, The LobsterManchester By The Sea)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(ArrivalFencesHidden FiguresLionMoonlight)

While there's suspicion that Casey Affleck might lose the Oscar to Denzel, there's minimal disagreement that Manchester By The Sea (i.e., Kenneth Lonergan) will at least win for the film's superb screenplay. On the same token, if Moonlight is destined to win only one Oscar, it'll be for its screenplay - especially since Barry Jenkins will likely lose Best Director to Damien Chazelle.

On the other hand, the Greek-written Lobster is the only Original Screenplay nominee that has an anti-establishment message, and Arrival is the only Adapted Screenplay nominee that doesn't have an anti-establishment message (although it can if you try).

Should Win: Manchester By The SeaLion

Trump Fallout: The Lobster, all except Arrival 

Will Win: Manchester By The SeaMoonlight

Best Documentary Feature Film:

(13th, Fire At Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, O.J.: Made in America)

Life, Animated is the one that has zero chance at winning. All other four nominees have some degree of a winning shot for reasons detailed above: 13thI Am Not Your Negro and O.J.: Made in Americafor elaborating on the plight of African-Americans in the US, and even more applying to Fire At Seafor detailing the plight of refugees. But the Academy will likely give the Oscar to the (deserving) near-8-hour O.J.: Made in America, for the added benefit of "the longest film ever to win an Oscar" - a cool record.

Should Win: O.J.: Made in America

Trump Fallout: Fire At Sea

Will Win: O.J.: Made in America

Best Animated Feature Film:

(Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life As A Zucchini, The Red Turtle, Zootopia)

My Life As A Zucchini is the only nominated feature I haven't seen yet. But again, like in the case of Viola Davis, not much of a contest here. Zootopia predicted and delivered a strong anti-Trump message far ahead of our time, and so far has won the major awards.

Should Win: Zootopia 

Trump Fallout: Zootopia 

Will Win: Zootopia 

Best Foreign Language Film:

(Land of Mine, A Man Called Ove, The Salesman, TannaToni Erdmann)

This is where the the main Trump showdown will take place. Toni Erdmann was the sweetheart up until a month ago, but then Trump's travel ban came along, Farhadi and his film's actress boycotted the ceremony, and suddenly, The Salesman inched closer from second place in the Foreign-Language Oscar race, to first.

To be honest, in my opinion, this is not fair. Farhadi already has an Oscar for A Separation, and while both are brilliant movies, Toni Erdmann was slightly better, because it describes a complicated situation in simple terms, while The Salesman describes a complicated situation in complicated terms. And the Oscars have always been about connecting to the masses.

Should Win: Toni Erdmann

Trump Fallout: The Salesman

Will Win: The Salesman

And for predictions in other categories:

- Best Editing: La La Land

- Best Production Design: La La Land

- Best Cinematography: La La Land

- Best Makeup: Star Trek Beyond

- Best Original Score: La La Land 

- Best Original Song: La La Land (for "City of Stars")

- Best Costume Design: La La Land 

- Best Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

- Best Sound Mixing: 
La La Land 

- Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

It would be interesting to see if the Academy will reward Rogue One's "philosophy" (and not technical expertise) of digitally making old actors young, and bringing dead actors back to life. I'm willing to bet it will not.

- Best Animated Short Film: Piper

- Best Documentary Short Film: The White Helmets (another famous refugee crusader) 

- Best Live Action Short Film:  Ennemis Intérieurs

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Eagle Huntress (2016)

Director: Otto Bell. Narrator: Daisy Ridley. 87 min. Rated G. UK/Mongolia/USA. Documentary.

Another one of those worlds you wouldn't experience in a lifetime - other than in a movie. Kazakh nomads use eagles to help them hunt in the freezing cold, and a cheery 13-year-old girl struggles to become the first eagle huntress ever. Reports like these (and similar arguments made in the film) undermine the claim that women should have entirely equal job opportunities to men, but this documentary proves a few exceptional females can handle it. And when you add the stunning cinematography, this is a film delivering a healthy dose of art and reflection to all members of the family.

Mo says:

The Birth of a Nation (2016)

Director: Nate Parker. Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley. 120 min. Rated R. Biography/History.

True story of slave/preacher Nat Turner, who organized the 1831 violent uprising against white slave-owners. From beginning to end, the plot follows Braveheart's structure, and while the atrocities portrayed here makes your blood boil the way 12 Years a Slave did, you wonder: Is Parker trying to make freedom-seeking Black-against-White violence look heroic, the way Gibson made freedom-seeking Scottish-against-English campaigning look in Braveheart? I doubt that's an advisable alternative for our times. This movie didn't fail because of Parker's rape scandal; it failed because it is agenda-driven, countering D.W. Griffith's century-old pioneering but KKK-promoting film of the same name.

Mo says:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Allied (2016)

Director: Robert Zemeckis. Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan. 124 min. Rated R. UK/USA. War/Thriller.

The entire first hour of the movie is already spoiled in the trailer: Canadian and French agents meet during a WWII assignment in Morocco, marry, work for England, then the husband is told his wife may be a German spy. Although Zemeckis handles the husband's ambivalent state after the debriefing admirably, two problems: 1. Why does the husband go through such a life-threatening endeavor to prove his wife's innocence/guilt, when the British intelligence already instructed him an easier path? 2. We're passed the times when people watch entirely fictional WWII stories. Audiences have gone truth-based, or at least truth-inspired.

PS: A few words on the story's veracity (or lack thereof) here.

PPS: Inglourious Basterds, Fury, Allied. I can imagine a "Brad Pitt: WWII Hero" DVD package coming out soon.

Mo says:

The Love Witch (2016)

Director: Anna Biller. Cast: Samantha Robinson, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Laura Waddell. 120 min. Unrated. Horror/Comedy.

You need to be part of a small eccentric group of movie-lovers to appreciate what's been done here. We always groan they don't make movies like they used to, but director Anna Biller has done exactly that: she's recreated one of those corny low-budget sex-and-violence-filled colorful movies of the 70s, where the plot was laughable, the acting was somewhat intentionally awful, the soundtrack was so Ennio Morricone, and the copious blood looked like light-colored ketchup (Tarantino is famous for these grind-house resurrections). Except in those times, nobody appreciated them. Now we do; especially the pain to reawaken the same feeling.

Mo says:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Monster Calls (2016)

Director: J.A. Bayona. Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones. 108 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Spain. Fantasy/Drama.

A youngster struggles with his terminally-ill mother's impending death, through fantasizing about a tree-like monster who tells him three stories, in exchange for one of his own. It's heart-wrenching melodrama, for (in the film's own words) kids who are "too old to be a kid, too young to be a man", but still a necessary work of art for the unfortunate child in the same situation. While Weaver displays an awful British accent, young newcomer McDougall does an astonishing job, and both the animated sequences and the Monster's CGI effects are beyond satisfying.

PS: Watch for Liam Neeson in a picture frame in the final scene to discover the Monster's identity.

Mo says:

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

Director: Raoul Peck. Narrator: Samuel L. Jackson. 95 min. Rated R. France/USA. Documentary.

If just two years ago I was shown a documentary about a Black scholar debating that "America is not real", I would've brushed it off as reverse racism - a Black conspiracy targeting Whites. But now, after watching first-hand how half the Americans were 'okay' with a blatant racist as their President, I believe it. The tale of James Baldwin, whose three activist friends (Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X) were assassinated, is similar to 13th: arguing that racism in America never got better; it just changed form. This film isn't just relevant today. It is today.

Mo says:

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Director: Chris McKay. Voices: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate, Conan O'Brien, Billy Dee Williams, Zoë Kravitz, Eddie Izzard. 104 min. Rated PG. Denmark/USA. Animation.

The new norm of recent years has been to create children's animation that works on two levels: fun for kids, messages for adults. The successful Lego Movie adhered to the same formula, so they thought to apply it to a Lego Batman movie, but the other way around: a complicated adult message ... addressed to kids. As a result, kids got confused figuring out existential concepts such as 'appreciating your enemy's presence by hating them a lot'; because believe it or not, that's what this movie was about. At the end, my 5-year-old said: "I like Robin more than Batman."

Mo says:

Monday, February 13, 2017

They Live (1988)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster. 93 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Horror.

An oldie but goodie. If you can ignore the clunky dialogue, ignore the horrendous lead actor (whom I'm glad to have seen for the first and hopefully last time), and avoid exploding from laughter at the super-long mid-movie street fight sequence ... you might actually enjoy how well the famed director tells a story with such small productions values, and hurls surprise after surprise till the very end. Only John Carpenter-lovers, those who understand his minimalist blockbuster film-making technique (if there is such an oxymoron), will have fun here - and even find significant correlates to Trump's America today.

Mo says:

Friday, February 10, 2017

20th Century Women (2016)

Director: Mike Mills. Cast: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Alia Shawkat. 119 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

The 70's ... and how that greatest of all American decades ended, heralding some ominous days to come. Bening, a washed-out fifty-something year old born in the Great Depression, who thinks she's seen it all and knows it all, has a teenage son, runs a rental house, and is chain-smoking her way to cancer. All other characters and subplots of this plot-less film aside, I felt sorry for the great actress, who as a four-time Oscar nominee, incorporates part of her own reality here, making one last (failed) effort at nabbing the award. Maybe look forward to an Honorary Oscar.

Mo says:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Paterson (2016)

Director: Jim Jarmusch. Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani. 118 min. Rated R. USA/France/Germany. Drama/Romance.

A soft-spoken mild-mannered poet named Paterson, who is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, sees events repeating themselves every day: he sees twins, hears repeating dialogue, and notices recurring themes (I bet that's why Jarmusch chose Adam "Driver" for the role). His wife is interested in making everything black-and-white (clothes, cabinets, curtains, cupcakes - all "c"s). What those two concepts mean, I have no clue. That's the definition of an 'art-house movie': a director throws cryptic concepts at you, and you may or may not decipher them. But everyone still raves about them. At least 96% of everyone.

Mo says:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Passengers (2016)

Director: Morten Tyldum. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne. 116 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Romance.

In this "Robinson Crusoe in space", one of 5,000 passengers of a deep space flight is woken up from hibernation, before reaching the destination, ... 90 years early. With only four actors (and an unnecessary cameo by Andy Garcia), the story-line is able to keep the viewer engaged in its slick but confined CGI-ridden setting. While the main criticism to the movie has been its ending, I didn't have a problem with it - not only because there wasn't any other way to close the circle, but also because it's as brave as Interstellar at approaching the impossibility of love in space.

Mo says:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Tanna (2015)

Director(s): Martin Butler, Bentley Dean. Cast: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa. 100 min. Australia/Vanuatu. Drama/Romance.

Marking the first time I've seen (and most likely you'll ever see) a movie from the country called "Vanuatu", this Foreign-Language Oscar nominee delves into the true story of forbidden love deep in a Pacific island jungle, where the nearby active volcano becomes a metaphor for the fire erupting in these two lovers. This is not a movie for every taste, but shows no matter how modernized and evolved humans become, the caveman concepts of tribal prejudice and revenge, and the merits of forgiveness, never change. You probably won't ever visit Vanuatu, so this is your only chance.

Mo says:

Miss Sloane (2016)

Director: John Madden. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sam Waterston. 132 min. Rated R. France/USA. Drama/Thriller.

The life of a Washington lobbyist. The plot is about how she is recruited to help consolidate the National Rifle Association's claws on politics, how she switches sides against the gun lobby, and how they pledge to destroy her. But the real theme is the lobbyist's cold way of thinking, acting and living - and that, is an image we've rarely been exposed to on film. Chastain (like always) is superb at undertaking that cold presence, and while the twist ending is hard to believe, it scores high for enchanting entertainment.

Mo says:

The Monster (2016)

Director: Bryan Bertino. Cast: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine. 91 min. Rated R. Horror/Thriller.

The spirit of indie film-making. On a shoestring budget working as a metaphor for the beast called 'alcoholism', you have two unknown but brilliant actresses, a rainy road in the middle of the forest. smart lighting, and a cheap-looking monster which (in Jaws fashion) you see for the first time two-thirds into the movie, and ... there you go: you're hooked for one and a half hours. You need zero digital effects to make an entertaining movie. The Monster is proof of that.

Mo says:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Director: David Yates. Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Johnny Depp. 133 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Adventure/Fantasy.

A prequel to the Harry Potter stories, set in New York, with occasional references to "Hogwarts" and "Dumbledore", just to keep the story grounded. The soft-spoken Redmayne and numerous comedic moments make this (deservedly) much more lighthearted than the Harry Potter films, and the sudden switch at the very end from one famous actor to another to reveal the main villain (and prepare for the next episode) was a surprising touch. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Mo says: