Sunday, November 19, 2017

Kedi (2016)

Director: Ceyda Torun. 79 min. Unrated. Turkey/USA. Documentary.

The cats of Istanbul. That's it! A documentary about the cats of Istanbul. This may sound like a trivial subject, but we're talking modern day Turkey, and imagine elaborating on any subject in that country's most prominent city, avoiding topics like politics, religion and femininity, and still staying focused. In other words, Kedi is an exercise in how not to show, rather than what to show. Look at it that way, and you'll be amazed how you can appreciate these people (and their human-feline relationships) like any other people in the world. No easy feat.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Logan Lucky (2017)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank. 118 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Crime.

A fun, entertaining heist movie, comparable to Soderbergh's other fun, entertaining heist movie(s), the Ocean's trilogy - with one huge difference: the lovable Las Vegas thieves in the Ocean movies are introduced as smart and sassy; here, Soderbergh already plays out his North Carolina heroes as dumb, low-life idiots from the get-go. So when they plan and pull off such a brilliant, intricate job (with a little help from that script device called 'co-incidence'), expecting us as viewers to suspend disbelief becomes the understatement of the year. Literally "introducing" a new actor named Daniel Craig was fun though.

PS: Wow. The Girlfriend Experience, Che, The Informant!, Contagion, Haywire, and this. All 'So-So' scores. I guess Soderbergh can hardly impress me.

Mo says:

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Director: Noah Baumbach. Cast: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Grace Van Patten, Emma Thompson, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver, Candice Bergen, Sakina Jaffrey. 112 min. Comedy/Drama.

My (self-proclaimed) legions of fans already know: as opposed to the rest of the world, I'm not crazy about Noah Baumbach. Here he tells the (probably autobiographical) story of an old narcissistic father and his two sons, who collectively freshen up the term 'dysfunctional family'. You'll find pieces of these relationships in your own family, and some moments will haunt you, but by choosing his central character a Jewish New Yorker has-been artist with a Bohemian wife and successful/loser sons, Baumbach has limited his scope and reach. Don't know - maybe I'll change my mind about this in the future.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman. 114 min. Rated PG-13. Malta/USA.

The reason I always found Agatha Christie's whodunits far superior to Arthur Conan Doyle's, was that Christie often incorporated a human element in Hercule Poirot's expertise at solving mysteries - a talent Sherlock Holmes generally didn't portray. Ironically, that is what was missing from Sidney Lumet's well-done 1974 adaptation of the famous novel, and that's what Kenneth Branagh has managed to capture in his remake. While the stunning cinematography and Poirot's unexpected crowbar mustache here are characters on their own, Branagh's direction is what makes that baffling ending twist very emotional, and very memorable.

PS: I'm glad there's an ending reference to another famous Poirot whodunit, "Death on the Nile". Looking forward to seeing Branagh in this role again.

Mo says:

Good Time (2017)

Director(s): Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie. Cast: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi. 101 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

Robert Pattinson, as a small-time thief, manipulates his mentally-challenged brother to accompany him in his own life of crime, then attempts to rescue him when the brother gets caught instead. After a taut, thrilling first half (you suddenly notice the credits rolling at minute 17!) and a brilliant mid-movie twist, the story gradually loses momentum, and becomes like any other crime movie. While the central idea is how one criminal is able to destroy so many lives (himself included), I was amazed at how Pattinson has managed to completely reinvent himself since his deplorable Twilight days.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Director: Matt Spicer. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O'Shea Jackson Jr.. 98 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

A smart satire with great potential. The whole Californian (or just American) way of life, where a sub-human materialistic mentality combines with nauseating social media obsession, and creates imbecile mini-monsters unable to observe beyond a two-feet perimeter around them. Aubrey Plaza is perfect as a loser who actively falls prey to the adulation of an "Instagram star" (whatever that is). And while the story sets everything up for a very brave ending, suddenly and disappointingly, it chickens out of that brave ending. We need something that's ready to take this all the way.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Director: Luc Besson. Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Rutger Hauer. 137 min. Rated PG-13. France/China/Belgium/Germany/UAE/USA/UK/Canada. Adventure/Fantasy.

There are original stories like "Dune" and "Valerian", which people claim Star Wars stole ideas from, and if their movies had premiered before Star Wars, each would've revolutionized cinema the way Star Wars did. Well, sorry - they didn't. So now, post-Star Wars, what's left of the films based on that source material, is just repeated plot points ... and blasting visual and sound effects. I kept watching this very long movie, and kept thinking: other than spectacular computer animation, what motivated the illustrious Luc Besson to make this? Is gloating over CGI effects, the sole reason to make a movie?

PS: The title for the original French comic book that inspired this was "Valérian and Laureline". Considering that Cara Delevingne's enchanting screen presence (as Laureline) entirely blows her male counterpart (as Valerian) into oblivion, I'm surprised there hasn't been a female revolt over the movie's title. They simply excluded her.

Mo says:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos. Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Bill Camp, Alicia Silverstone. 121 min. Rated R. UK/Ireland/USA. Fantasy/Horror.

From the director of Dogtooth and The Lobster, displaying all the familiar staples of a Yorgos Lanthimos film: bizarre fantasy/horror situation, satirically stoic catatonic characters, dark moody cinematography, and even an obligatory self-mutilation scene. But while the first half's theme is similar to Spielberg's Duel (something catastrophic is happening to you, and you don't know why) accompanied by references to The Shining's chilling soundtrack, the presence of a sadistic character should've warned me this will devolve into my greatest film-viewing pet-peeve: a movie that betrays its viewer's emotional investment. Because this film's ending is truly abhorrent.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Director: Taika Waititi. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi (voice), Rachel House, Sam Neill, Matt Damon. 130 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Action/Comedy.

Describing a movie as "breathing fresh air into the superhero genre" has become so cliché, it's more of a testimony to a dying genre than a compliment to its most recent flick. But considering the first and second Thor movies have been the most boring of the 17 Marvel films so far, anything is an improvement. Ironically, by adding his own unique touch of humor (here and here), New Zealand director Waititi actually does breath fresh air into the genre. A funny and entertaining movie all around, reminding of the fun of the first Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.

PS: Considering all the buildup to the moment Thor's unrivaled opponent in the gladiator arena is shown, would've helped if the identity of that opponent wasn't spoiled a thousand times in the trailers.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Cast: Haruhiko Katô, Kumiko Asô, Koyuki. 118 min. Rated R. Japan. Horror.

Another modern Japanese horror, astonishingly ahead of its time. Similar to The Ring, it uses audiovisual technology (here, the advent of the internet) to delve into the horrors of loneliness in our supposed 'era of connectivity' - even forecasting the duplicity of social media at bringing people together. Add to that, the mastery of sound effects during moments of silence and ambiguous lighting of the backgrounds, create some truly terrifying sequences. But then, the second half loses steam quite fast, due to lack of a coherent script to connect these incredibly imaginative moments of terror. A hugely missed opportunity.

PS: Inspired a Wes Craven-written 2006 remake which apparently flopped.

Mo says:

Monday, October 30, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017)

Director(s): Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk. 98 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

Initially you think, more of the same: another climate change documentary, that by no means will carry the Earth-shattering (no pun intended) effect the original 2006 film had. But then the movie goes along, and you realize Al Gore is not only summarizing the worsening environment status since the original, but also shockingly predicting the recent rapid succession of four devastating hurricanes hitting the US, and the rampant Northern California wildfires ... after the film's premiere. But of course, there's mention of that imbecile pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Accords - something the entire world worked so hard to accomplish.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Happy Death Day (2017)

Director: Christopher Landon. Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

A horror version of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, with literally an entire hour of its hour and half duration already summarized in the trailer. And I correctly guessed the killer halfway through the movie, even though what the killer accomplishes is logistically impossible! So what remained for me was ... why is this girl stuck in a time loop? I have no qualms spoiling, that that question is never answered. Newcomer Jessica Rothe demonstrates unquestionable star power, and while I look forward to her future endeavors, this movie made me felt cheated.

Mo says:

Friday, October 27, 2017

Gerald's Game (2017)

Director: Mike Flanagan. Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas. 103 min. Horror/Thriller.

What starts as a sex game after a mere 10 minutes becomes a struggle for survival. The closest Stephen King-based movie to this is Misery (1990), all the way down to a cringe-worthy scene towards the end equivalent to that movie's hobbling scene. And like many of King's best stories, isn't just satisfied with a climactic protagonist battle, but continues on to an epilogue. Since we've already been told she's hallucinating, the epilogue 'fairly' flips all we've already seen on its head, and concludes with a message of female empowerment. Great minimalist thriller, from the filmmaker who rejuvenated Ouija.

PS: I guess Mike Flanagan is big buddies with Henry "E.T.-Elliot" Thomas.

PPS: This too made by and available on Netflix.

Mo says:

First They Killed My Father (2017)

Director: Angelina Jolie. Cast: Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompheak, Sveng Socheata. 136 min. Cambodia/USA. Biography/History.

Angelina Jolie is finally getting it. She tells the story of the 1975-1979 genocide of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, based on the memoirs of survivor Loung Ung. As it goes along, the movie becomes less in-your-face preachy, and the camera angles and minimum dialogue more mature, showing the viewpoint of its heroine child, keeping a safe distance but still letting us understand her pain. From Blood and Honey's NoMo to Unbroken's SoSo to this, Jolie is learning the trade. And that God's-eye view of the child walking through a minefield while runners explode around her, won't let you go.

PS: Cambodia's entry for this year's Oscars, made by and available on Netflix.

Mo says:

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Director: S. Craig Zahler. Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier. 132 min. Not Rated. Crime.

Vince Vaughn takes his "ruthless criminal with a heart of gold" persona from True Detective ... to the extreme. As an ex-boxer caught in the crossfire of a drug deal horribly gone wrong, he's threatened with harm to his unborn baby, unless he takes out another criminal residing in maximum security. Thus starts a gruesome trail of cracking bones and crushing skulls. Lots of skulls. And while the hole-riddled plot was admittedly engaging, at the end, I couldn't believe in Vaughn as such a psychotically brutal killer. Seemed the director was more interested in him crushing skulls, than him acting.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Thunderheart (1992)

Director: Michael Apted. Cast: Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, Graham Greene. 119 min. Rated R. Crime/Mystery.

Rookie mixed-blood FBI agent (Kilmer) joins experienced investigator (Shepard) to solve a homicide on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota. This is not a mystery just happening on Indian grounds; Indian culture and mysticism is actually incorporated into the crime-solving process, which makes this unique compared to all other Graham Greene-featured movies about Indians. Shepard's dominating presence in a supporting role is the only factor that makes the ending twist unforeseeable and believable - and his passing of 3 months prior a great loss.

PS: Thank you, JZ. Great recommendation of an obscure gem.

Mo says:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Una (2016)

Director: Benedict Andrews. Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed. 94 min. Rated R. Drama. UK/Canada/USA. Drama.

Some subjects are so difficult, cinematic approach becomes questionable. The middle-age man/underage girl relationship is one of them, and even Kubrick threw in some comedy to make Lolita possible. Here the woman, still haunted by such a relationship 15 years later, finds the man, and in his workplace tries too ... punish him? Guilt-trip him? Persuade him into re-opening the affair? Not sure even the director knows, because sympathizing with these characters is a tall order. And while I enjoy movies that leave the ending to the viewer, this just has none. The film suddenly ends without any lingering thought.

PS: I later discover we have a problem here similar to what occurred with Fences: playwright turns his/her own powerful stage play into a screenplay, and due to lack of experience with the medium, fails.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Badlands (1973)

Director: Terrence Malick. Cast: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates. 94 min. Rated PG. Crime.

Before his camera-twirling days, Terrence Malick used to make great movies with actual stories. Here, he portrays the minds of two imbeciles, and how much damage they can inflict upon themselves and others when they roam free - twenty years before Oliver Stone thought up Natural Born Killers and the way people are fascinated by the criminal mindset, and nearly half a century before a similar crushing ignorant naivete brought the likes of Trump to power. Disturbing but captivating performances by Sheen and Spacek aside, you become amazed how advanced this director's thought process was for his time.

Mo says:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch. Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Bill Skarsgård, Jóhannes Jóhannesson. 115 min. Rated R. Germany/Sweden/USA. Action.

Same mistake they made with the recent Ghostbusters: placing superstar actress in an entirely macho role, but without any sign of her womanhood complimenting or improving the role, probably under the guise of equal opportunity and 'giving women a voice', but actually undermining them in the long run - because retrofitting females into male roles looks ridiculous. Nevertheless, there's one action scene where our 'lady John Wick' fights the bad guys up an elevator, down a spiraling staircase, through multiple rooms ... for at least 7 minutes, all in one take. That scene saved this movie from a NoMo.

PS: Honest to God truth: after writing this review, I found on IMDb that this movie's director was actually one of the original John Wick's two directors. Example of Hollywood doing formulaic disservice to women.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Maudie (2016)

Director: Aisling Walsh. Cast: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Ireland/Canada. Biography/Romance.

'Innocent' is the word that comes to mind throughout this biopic of Canadian painter, Maud Lewis. No matter how pitiful Hawkins plays the debilitated artist, no matter how brutal Hawke treats her as her husband, there's still a certain genuine innocence here, that keeps you hooked. Mysteriously, we're almost never told what the painter's ailment is, and we really don't care either, because the excruciating image of Hawkins twisting her body as Maudie, makes this more about her acting than the film. Hawkins' name is also being touted for The Shape Of Water, so this may become her Oscar-winning year.

Mo says:

American Made (2017)

Director: Doug Liman. Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones. 115 min. Rated R. Biography/Thriller.

TWA. CIA. IAC. FBI. DEA. USA. Three-letter abbreviations dominating the real-life story of pilot Barry Seal, a profiteer who worked for three-letter entities, and then for Nicaraguans (namely, Noriega), and the Colombia drug cartels (namely, Escobar), and eventually led to what what was later known as the Iran-Contra scandal. A story so wild, you keep asking: Did this all really happen? And since Doug Liman knows you'll be baffled, he intermittently interjects with actual Carter and Reagan footage, to prove major plot points were real, so there's only minor dramatization. So engaging, I didn't notice the two hours passing by.

PS: Lovely use of George Harrison's "Wah-Wah" during the end credits. Strangely, there was also a pivotal moment for Harrison's "What is Life" during the recent Battle of the Sexes.

PPS: Thank you, Payam! I'm usually hesitant when I see Tom Cruise's name, so I almost missed this one. 

Mo says:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Amityville: The Awakening (2017)

Director: Franck Khalfoun. Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bella Thorne, Kurtwood Smith. 85 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

You know it's the fourth attempt (after remake, "inspired by", and documentary) at jump-starting a failed horror franchise, so there's no way there's anything new here. But then you see Jennifer Jason Leigh's name, so she must've seen something worthwhile in it. Dead wrong. There's an inkling of hope for blurring horror/fiction and reality à la Blair Witch Project, when characters plan to watch the 1979 movie in the haunted house. But the rapidity of horror clichés and one-per-5-minute jump-scare rate leaves no air to breathe. So awful, distributors made it available free on Google Play, before its theater release.

PS: This was produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Harvey Weinstein was behind the production and/or distribution of True Romance, Pulp Fiction, The Crossing Guard, the Scream franchise, Princess Mononoke, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, Halloween H20, The Faculty, Shakespeare in Love, The Cider House Rules, Scary Movie, Malèna, Chocolat, the Spy Kids franchise, The Others, The Lord of the RingsGangs of New York, Chicago, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2, Master and Commander, Cold Mountain, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Aviator, Sin City, Grindhouse, The Mist, Rambo, The Reader, Inglourious Basterds, Piranha 3D, The King's Speech, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, August: Osage County, Big Eyes, Marco Polo (TV), Carol, The Hateful Eight, Lion, The Founder, ... among 300 others.

In view of recently exploding allegations of sexual abuse that go back for decades, I'm trying to imagine what a huge, black blot this would splatter on contemporary American art. Imagine how you'll feel the next time you see Harvey Weinstein's name on a movie's opening credits. Because you will see it.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spielberg (2017)

Director: Susan Lacy. 147 min. Documentary.

If you've followed Spielberg's career through 40 years (like, introduced to 'movies' in childhood, then lived his dreams through your teens, adulthood, and now middle age), many or most of the stories told here about the filmmaker won't be anything new. But wait - it's Marty, Francis, George and Brian telling those stories again, and you know his actors so well, voice-overs on scenes of his movies by Ford, Dreyfuss, Hanks, Neeson, Fiennes and Winfrey need no introduction to the voices themselves. That's what makes this biographical documentary so different - about the greatest director that ever lived. There, I said it.

Mo says:

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Hiam Abbass, Barkhad Abdi, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young. 163 min. Rated R. USA/UK/Canada. Sci-fi/Thriller.

Okay, too much to say, so just bullet points:

1. Materializes the original's mood by replicating its moments, but with renewed identity;
2. Impossibly provides new depth to and expands upon the original's plot points;
3. Villeneuve goes back to his Incendies 1+1=1 roots;
4. Reminds of Her: "GCAT .... or 1 and 0?", "Love ... or mathematical precision?";
5. Snow replaces rain for 'tears in rain';
6. Heart-melting Edward James Olmos cameo and Sean Young flashback;
7. Thirteen-time nominee Roger Deakins will finally win his Oscar;
8. Hans Zimmer fascinates again, while respecting Vangelis' masterpiece;
9. Worth every second of its 160 minutes.
10. To be marked as one of the greatest sci-fis of the 21st century.

Mo says:

Icarus (2017)

Director: Bryan Fogel. 121 min. Documentary.

I made the mistake (again) of watching this documentary's trailer before the film itself. It starts out with a filmmaker's Supersize Me-like research on himself, about whether he can pass a doping test while doping (in professional cycling). But then ... the film explodes into something else. That 'something else' is the surprise the trailer spoiled. Still, the fact that the film documents the issue parallel to real world events is so overwhelming, it makes you crave for more (how prevalent is this in other countries?). After this, watching sports will never be the same.

Mo says:

Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Director: Cate Shortland. Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt. 116 min. Rated R. Australia. Horror/Mystery.

The horror/thriller genre thrives from protagonists who've never watched a single horror/thriller. They go all alone to foreign countries, unable to speak the language, meet total strangers, and follow them into far-off abandoned apartments where nobody can hear them scream while they're getting chopped up. Curiously, the soundtrack, eerie at opportune times, understands our heroine's dangerous situation better than she does, and while rising star Teresa Palmer is terrific as someone suffering from Stockholm syndrome (likely the movie's namesake) ... either I'm too paranoid of such real-life risks, or the insane naivete of such characters totally undermines the premise.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Director(s): Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Fred Armisen. 121 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Sports/Biography.

The true story of the iconic 1973 tennis 'battle' between feminist Billie Jean King and chauvinist Bobby Riggs, and even if you didn't know the historical outcome, you can guess; otherwise, this film wouldn't have been made. Alas, it's about the journey, not the destination. While too much time is reserved for King's homosexual conflicts, the movie plays it fair, and by introducing King's husband, doesn't portray every single male on the planet as egocentric pigs - and the 'woman against the system' message is truly inspiring. Another movie that rings loud in Trump's America. Expecting an Oscar nomination for Silverman.

Mo says:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wind River (2017)

Director: Taylor Sheridan. Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene. 107 min. Rated R. UK/Canada/USA. Crime/Mystery.

Okay, while gathering my thoughts on this one, I cheated: Sheridan, the writer/director, also wrote Hell or High Water. So of course, the structure is exactly the same: huge build-up through deep character development, meticulous plot narration, and beautiful off-limits landscapes (here a snow-covered Wyoming Indian reservation) ... to eventually fizzle out during a loud and somewhat nonsensical payoff. But Renner, a hunter who's hunting down this murderer to compensate his shortcomings on a previous murder, has one moment-of-truth scene that shook me, just by him diverting his eyes. Believe it or not, that made the entire movie worth watching.

PS: Thanks for the recommendation, Negin!

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Ghost Story (2017)

Director: David Lowery. Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara. 92 min. Rated R. Drama/Fantasy.

The best advice I can offer here is: go see this fresh. Don't watch any trailers, don't read any reviews. Rather than a ghost story, this is merely a movie with a ghost in it: exploring the concept of a person close to you dying, their ghost wandering around you (including watching you for 6 minutes somberly eating a pie), and what it means for a ghost being confined to neither time nor space. This is an unbelievably mesmerizing piece of art, that had me thinking for days. So does that make this deserving of a MoMagic? Probably.

Mo says:

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Beguiled (2017)

Director: Sofia Coppola. Cast: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning. 93 min. Rated R. Drama.

Wounded Union Civil War soldier shows up at a girls' school in Virginia, and awakens the girls' womanhood - both their inner beauties and inner viciousness. In her 2017 Cannes award-winning remake of the 1971 Don Seigel film, Sofia Coppola not only explores her favorite theme of human loneliness (that usually ends in tragedy), but also tells men not to take women for granted, or else ... you might find yourself castrated of your masculinity. Beautiful cinematography using natural lighting and a Kidman/Farrell/Dunst/Fanning powerhouse ensemble make this one of Coppola's most memorable movies, on par with The Virgin Suicides.

Mo says:

Friday, September 29, 2017

47 Meters Down (2017)

Director: Johannes Roberts. Cast: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine. 89 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA/Dominican Republic. Adventure/Horror.

Another shark movie, feeding off the success of last year's The Shallows, again with every desperately good moment placed on a scale to compare with Jaws - because the entire flimsy story is a Jaws concept in itself: person lowered into shark-infested waters, in a cage; in this case, 47 meters below. The plot makes no sense, most of the dialogue is mind-numbing laughable, and while the film doesn't even make the 90-minute mark, a portion of the climax excitement is the heroine's dream! I admit I was on the edge of my seat, so that saves this from a NoMo.

Mo says:

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson. 112 min. Rated R. Crime/Comedy.

It's film noir, and its main character is Philip Marlowe, so you know even before the story starts rolling, that the female employing our hero's services is criminally complicit in her own qualms, and he's being led into a trap to cover the lady. But that's not the point. The point is how Altman beautifully stylizes what Raymond Chandler, Howard Hawkes and Humphrey Bogart canonized in the 40s into the 70s, ... and the range of emotions Elliot Gould delivers through mere facial expressions. If film noir ever happened in the wacky 70s, this is exactly how it would be.

Trivia: Watch for Arnold as one of the gangster's henchmen!

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mother! (2017)

Director: Darren Aronofsky. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson. 121 min. Rated R. Horror/Mystery.

Everyone will have their own take, but in my opinion, this is yet another movie based in pregnancy-induced psychosis. I liked Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, but taking that hallucinatory first-person narrative and multiplying it ten-fold, just means you're desperately trying to throw the viewer into a 2-hour tailspin - a weird, unwelcome goal in my book. By the movie's last scene there may be an embedded philosophical theme of recurring realities and timelines, but by then I was already so glad the movie was over. This may end up becoming my worst movie experience of the year, but for now ...

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

It (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti. Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, 135 min. Rated R. USA/Canada. Horror/Drama.

A Stephen King adaptation that does right what most horror movies do wrong. Instead of insulting us with mind-numbingly dumb jump-scares, it takes its time, grounds the terrain by helping us understand each of these kids and their friendship in a familiar, old-fashioned way (exactly how Stephen King novels are), ... and then delivers its very effective jump-scares. Only error: thinking that hundreds of teeth make a monster look scary. But still, the perfect illustration of childhood fear, the perfect atmosphere of a haunted house, and Skarsgård's perfect portrayal of Pennywise, make this one of the best King adaptations ever.

Mo says:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Director: David F. Sandberg. Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Samara Lee, Miranda Otto. 109 min. Rated R. Horror.

We're seeing a strange new trend in the horror genre: prequels that are vastly better than their originals; first with Ouija and Ouija: Origin of Evil, and now with Annabelle - a movie that was so horrendous, you'd swear to stay away from that doll ... not because it was scary. The prequel has its fair share of horror cliches (characters making the dumbest choices, instead of just leaving the haunted house), but also creates a decent number of effective scares, nevertheless solely through lighting and sound. And the ending makes a sudden reference to the Charles Manson murders. Eerily intriguing.

PS: The post-credits scene is a shout-out to The Conjuring movies. That means a Marvel-style multi-movie cross-connecting horror franchise is in the works.

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The "Fitzcarraldo" Phenomenon

Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale, José Lewgoy. 158 min. Rated PG. West Germany/Peru. Biography/Adventure.

Burden of Dreams (1982)
Director: Les Blank. 95 min. Documentary.

Fitzcarraldo is Werner Herzog's magnum opus. It's not a documentary, but paradoxically famous for a surreal reality-inspired plot: the story of an insanely obsessed man who pulls an entire ship over an Amazon mountain. That sentence may sound poetic, but no ... the sight of this actually happening at the end of a long movie right before our eyes, blurs the line between reality and fiction in cinema. How can you call this a 'movie', when what you see accomplished without blue screens or green screens or CGI, is hard to imagine - even in real life?

So as expected, Burden of Dreams, which is Fitzcarraldo's "making of" documentary, simultaneously becomes another madman's (Herzog's, not Firtzcarraldo's) obsession to reach his own goal: a 4-year disaster project, which included its original actor (Jason Robards) leaving due to amoebic dysentery half-way through filming, huge bulldozers sliding down already-cleared muddy forest mountains, and three of the crew getting shot by Amazon tribesmen's arrows - among other calamities. If you ever have a difficult task ahead and start having doubts whether it can be completed, just watch this documentary. It'll clear all doubts.

A great example: read/watch Herzog's (hilarious) rant on his experiences filming in the jungle:

"Kinski always says it's full of erotic elements. I don't see it so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. It's just - nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotic here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and ... growing and ... just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they - they sing. They just screech in pain. It's an unfinished country. It's still prehistorical. The only thing that is lacking is - is the dinosaurs here. It's like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever goes too deep into this has his share of this curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here. It's a land that God, if he exists has - has created in anger. It's the only land where - where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at - at what's around us there - there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of... overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle - uh, we in comparison to that enormous articulation - we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel, a cheap novel. We have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication ... overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the - the stars up here in the - in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment."

And here's another good one, Klaus Kinski going off on the crew.

Mo says:

The Wizard of Lies (2017)

Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alessandro Nivola, Lily Rabe, Kristen Connolly, Hank Azaria. 133 min. Biography/Crime.

Movie biographies have become so advanced (Steve Jobs), they capture entire life stories by merely picturing a few vignettes. So for a seasoned director such as Levinson, much more than just "the story so far" is expected. Not only a journalist (probably playing the viewer's role) hammers Bernie Madoff in prison in a hard-to-believe manner, we're hardly offered a cinematic rendering of events, and never get a glimpse into the psychology of a man responsible for destroying thousands of lives, who then simply said: "I'm sorry". The story is interesting, no doubt. But it's supposed to be a movie.

Mo says:

Paprika (2006)

Director: Satoshi Kon. 90 min. Rated R. Japan. Animation.

"This is your brain on anime." That's the movie's tagline, and if another movie called Inception hadn't completely owned the concept four years later, I probably would have gone berserk over this. The concept of looking into someone's dream and injecting ideas into their mind using high-level technology is outlined incredibly well, through appropriately whimsical animated renditions, making the dreams look exactly like ... dreams. Nolan probably didn't steal the idea (he'd already written a draft for Inception by 2001), but this shows how Hollywood-driven exposure can help others 'own originality'.

PS: From the creator of Perfect Blue. This was one smart fellow.

Mo says:

Raw Meat (1972)

Director: Gary Sherman. Cast: Donald Pleasence, Sharon Gurney, David Ladd, Christopher Lee. 87 min. Rated R. UK. Horror.

Fun little British horror about cannibals (or cannibal, rather) roaming under the London tube for historical reasons that don't really make much sense, and occasionally pop up to take down another late night subway victim. Donald Pleasence plays against type as a charmingly grumpy wise-cracking police inspector, and Christopher Lee takes a questionably short MI5 role. While the long slow shots introducing the cannibal's creepy habitat have obviously inspired the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the having-fun-with-the-most-disgusting-creature-ever concept was eventually perfected by Sam Raimi, the film can't hold a candle to the significantly more advanced horror-comedies of later years.

Mo says:

Friday, September 8, 2017

Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016)

Director: Matt Schrader. 93 min. Documentary.

If you're not only fascinated by movie soundtrack, not only collect movie music and the names Elfman, Horner, Goldsmith and Zimmer carry a special meaning for you ... but also like me, listen to movie scores as a substitute for watching movies while driving, then this film is for you. As a documentary on film music, the excitement obviously relies on playing the most uplifting movie themes throughout the film (the mid-movie 10-minute segment dedicated to John Williams is pure magic), but the sight of living grand-masters divulging into the technicalities and intricacies of creating movie scores, is a treat nonetheless.

Mo says:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Alien Nation (1988)

Director: Graham Baker. Cast: James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Terence Stamp. 91 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Action.

There must've been a time, pre-District 9, when movies about aliens being accepted and integrated into day-to-day human life sounded innovative. A time when you could tell such stories, devoid of any sociopolitical connotation, and still get away with it. But not anymore. Because a movie like Alien Nation, without much indication what makes injecting aliens into a story context different from any other LA-set 80's buddy cop movie, ends up becoming just that: another LA-set 80's buddy cop movie. The filmmakers realize that, because they even try to rip off the Blade Runner strip-bar scene. With ludicrous results.

PS: Okay, maybe the movie was a loser even for its own time. I swear I didn't read Ebert's review before writing this. Check it out.

Mo says:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lumière and Company (1995)

Director(s): Theodoros Angelopoulos, Vicente Aranda, John Boorman, Youssef Chahine, Alain Corneau, Costa-Gavras, Raymond Depardon, Francis Girod, Peter Greenaway, Lasse Hallström, Hugh Hudson, Gaston Kaboré, Abbas Kiarostami , Cédric Klapisch, Andrey Konchalovskiy, Spike Lee, Claude Lelouch, Bigas Luna, Sarah Moon, Arthur Penn, Lucian Pintilie, Helma Sanders-Brahms, Jerry Schatzberg, Nadine Trintignant, Fernando Trueba, Liv Ullmann, Jaco Van Dormael, Régis Wargnier, Wim Wenders, Yoshishige Yoshida, Yimou Zhang, Merzak Allouache, Gabriel Axel, Michael Haneke, James Ivory, Patrice Leconte, David Lynch, Ismail Merchant, Claude Miller, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Jacques Rivette.

Cast: Max von Sydow, Bruno Ganz, Isabelle Huppert, Neil Jordan, Liam Neeson, Lena Olin, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman, Pernilla August. 88 min. France/Denmark/Spain/Sweden. Documentary.

The 100th anniversary of inventing cinema. Forty directors are asked to film, using the original Lumière cinematograph, by three rules: 52-second sequence only, no 'synched' sound, no more than three takes. In between, directors are asked: 1. Is cinema mortal? 2. Why do you film? 3. Why accept this project? Look at the directors - the results are obviously fascinating, and in some instances, the behind-the-scenes more so. Some cleverly escape the rules (Haneke films a TV broadcast), some inject their own famous style (Lynch has a puzzle), and as expected, Kiarostami's the most mind-bending. All and all a treat.

Trivia: To film his own segment, John Boorman had visited the set of Niel Jordan's Michael Collins, which is why Neeson, Quinn, Rea, Rickman and Jordan himself are all present in his segment.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Director: Miguel Arteta. Cast: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Chloë Sevigny. 82 min. Rated R. Drama.

This reminded me of Desierto: poor small humble Mexican against big cruel megalomaniac American. Hayek as an 'alternative therapist', accidentally ends up at a dinner party where Lithgow as a real estate mogul (who may have destroyed her hometown), is a guest. The dinner goes on, and the rhetoric about this wronged girl and that mean awful man grows louder and louder. These are movies that preach to the choir, and never make the 'bad guy' in the audience (if he/she ever watches them) think twice. Forget about getting under the bad guy's skin using this approach.

Mo says:

It Comes at Night (2017)

Director: Trey Edward Shults. Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough. 91 min. Rated R. Horror/Mystery.

In a horror setting, a family of three takes shelter in the forest from a contagious infectious disease that has decimated humanity, and is threatened by ... xenophobia and paranoia. And there lies the paradox: the movie's title, its trailer, and almost entire length, suggests there's a beast lurking outside, but then we realize that beast was actually a concept, living within the characters. This packaging of an intellectual, thought-provoking Trump era theme as mainstream popcorn entertainment, is a commendable effort - but the ploy risks disappointing a huge audience, who came to 'see' the beast lurking in the woods.

PS: From the director Krisha. The man is becoming a pioneer for translating social crises to horror.

Mo says:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Harmonium (2016)

Director: Kôji Fukada. Cast: Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano, Kanji Furutachi. 120 min. Japan/France. Unrated. Drama.

Cape Fear-like opening: ex-convict shows up at his happily-married friend's door (someone who may or may not have been involved in the convict's imprisonment), and hauntingly inserts himself into the friend's family life. But then something awful happens, and the second half becomes the friend's slow-paced, stomach-churning revenge story, where the mood is so unbearably tense, each word of dialogue takes a screaming life of its own. Except for a few lapses (e.g., damning pictures too coincidentally discovered), this film is an unforgettable exercise in how long you can maintain the tension in drama, to elevate it to horror levels.

PS: This won the "Un Certain Regard" Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and currently runs a 100% score on the Tomatometer. Yep ... 100%.

PPS: It's all you again, Ali. S. Thanks a bunch.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tank Girl (1995)

Director: Rachel Talalay. Cast: Lori Petty, Ice-T, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell. 104 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Comedy.

Not a translation, but an actual 'transliteration' of what a comic book would look like on screen. The lighting, colors, comical tones, and even self-ridiculing action sequences, all represent a live-action version of the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-inspired British comic book - which is why Lori Petty's absurdist approach makes her perfect for the role (as opposed to Naomi Watts in her first Hollywood gig, who takes things too seriously and loses charm). So we're really not sure what the director's own input was. And I don't understand who would dare invest on such a wacky premise anyway. This movie must've bombed.

PS: It did. Four million box office returns against a 25 million budget.

Mo says:

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Big Sick (2017)

Director: Michael Showalter. Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano. 120 min. Rated R. Comedy/Romance.

Based on Kumail Nanjiani's true-life story, a Pakistani-American stand-up comedian starts (within Middle-Eastern standards) a hopeless relationship with an American girl, but then the girl falls into a coma. So the movie's title may be referring to the girl's condition ... or their relationship. The film's approach to the impossibility of the affair and current anti-Muslim sentiments, while laugh-out-loud funny, is quite realistic - most notably in the story resolution. But like any other Judd Apatow-produced comedy, it's too damn long. A few sequences could've easily been snipped out without affecting the story, or character development. Nevertheless, Holly Hunter deserves another Oscar.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Neruda (2016)

Director: Pablo Larraín. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Morán. 107 min. Rated R. Chile/Argentina/France/Spain/USA. Biography.

There's an old unwritten adage, that to introduce a foreign cinema entity, you do so by twos - show two of the country's films, or two of a director's films ... I forget which. In any case, that applies here: before 2016, only rare Chilean films such as No made any noise. But last year, we suddenly have two (Jackie and Neruda) from the same director. Both are slow-paced character studies, both are meditatively shot, and both eventually undermine the significance of their main character. I never knew Pablo Neruda before watching this, and wasn't any more eager to do so after.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Perfect Blue (1997)

Director: Satoshi Kon. Voices: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto. 81 min. Japan. Animation.

At the dawn of the internet, a popular young singer switches to acting, but then finds herself stalked by a fan, accusing her of "treason". After awhile, you're not sure - are events truly happening, or is it her guilty conscience going into hyper-drive? This plot may sound commonplace, but consider: the blood/gore/sex-filled psychological thriller was made 20 years ago, is highly prophetic of the concept of internet stalking, and ... is an anime. So what may have petered out as live action (wait ... the remake actually did in 2002), is strangely effective in "cartoon" form. The wonders of animation.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Promise (2016)

Director: Terry George. Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo, James Cromwell, Jean Reno. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Spain/USA. History/Drama.

Love triangle set during the World War I Armenian genocide by the Turkish army. Long movie, lavish production design and great actors (some playing the smallest cameo roles) prove only one thing: somebody/somebodies poured lots of money to make this happen - probably on the basis of principle. But all the money in the world cannot save this boring, linear story devoid of mysteries or subtleties (Flashbacks? Plot twists?). And the impossibly coincidental ending looks more like Titanic ripoff than dramatization of history. The Armenian genocide story will be told with heartbreaking impact someday ... but that day is not today.

Mo says: