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:

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Medusa Touch (1978)

Director: Jack Gold. Cast: Richard Burton, Lino Ventura, Lee Remick, Derek Jacobi. 115 min. Rated PG. UK/France. Horror.

A blast from the past. I remember seeing this as a kid - a typical 70s horror movie concerned with devils and evil eyes and telekinesis, with three great British, French-Italian and American stars of the time (all three deceased a few years later) ... and tons of fun. On a revisit, amazing to note how the horror genre was obsessed with religion and nuclear power at the time, and how the crude special effects of a pre-9/11 toy plane crashing into the skyscraper of a toy city, never bothered us one bit. How "easy" watching movies used to be.

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Lost City of Z (2016)

Director: James Gray. Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero. 141 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/Adventure.

It's been awhile since we saw stories like this on the screen: crazed Lawrence of Arabia-type explorers, prepared to sacrifice their wealth, their family, and themselves, to reach dreamy destinations that might not even exist. But this too is based on a true story, and an account of the multiple early 20th century voyages that British explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett (with a small event in between called World War I) embarked upon to reach that mythical Lost City, achieves epic proportions. I guarantee: you will not be bored watching this long movie. Expecting Oscar nominations for Hunnam and Miller.

Mo says:

Chasing Coral (2017)

Director: Jeff Orlowski. 93 min. Documentary.

Another climate change documentary? That's the thought you start out with - especially after Chasing Ice (the film that motivated the main players here to seek cinematic documentation) was overshadowed by the shock of An Inconvenient Truth. But be patient, and you'll find the a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words message of Chasing Coral disturbing, heartbreaking, and revolting, as researchers show through simple but arduous underwater photography how coral reefs (upstream food source for 500,000 people around the world) are rapidly dying. This might become the first time you'll cry for a plant. And to think some narcissistic idiot recently pulled out of the Paris Accords ...

PS: It's by the same director of Chasing Ice. Expecting a third "Chasing" movie to complete a trilogy.

Mo says:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Director: Christopher Nolan. Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine (voice). 106 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Netherlands/France/USA. War.

Nolan extends his obsession with intersecting timelines and viewpoints (Memento, Inception, Interstellar) to a historical event, making a story with a known outcome (the Battle of Dunkirk) still fascinating to watch. And he's so self-assured of grabbing your attention, he even shows you outcomes of his three parallel timelines in the other! Add to that 70 mm panorama shots of attacks on a beach lined with 400,000 troops, or first-person experience of aerial dogfights over the sea, and you have one of the greatest World War II movies ever made. The rare movie you should watch solely in a theater.

Mo says:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Circle (2017)

Director: James Ponsoldt. Cast: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton. 110 min. Rated PG-13. UAE/USA. Sci-fi/Thriller.

This is a disaster. Not because it's a heavy-handed adaptation of the novel's palpable, foreboding story (boring static shots of people talking about a rousing subject), and not because it's a waste of great casting choices (most notably, Emma Watson). It's because the writers do what Ron Howard did with Inferno: changing the story's appropriately dark ending, to a happy ending. And not just any happy ending;  a stupid happy ending - where the villain (a brilliant actor) at the end claims: "We're f---ed." Yep, that's how we suddenly realize the good guys won and the bad guys lost. We're f---ed.

PS: Strange. Both Paxton and Headly, who play Watson's parents in the movie, have died in the past few months.

Mo says:

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2016)

Director: Joseph Cedar. Cast: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens, Hank Azaria, Charlotte Gainsbourg. 118 min. Rated R. Israel/USA. Drama.

The story of Norman: virtually a nobody with no resources, who talks himself into relationships and events to eventually make money ... out of nothing. His mere presence is so devastating, he even gets the Israeli Prime Minister into trouble. But then the Prime Minister feels a kinship to Norman, because some day, maybe he was a Norman too. It's not necessarily about a Jewish personality trait; we've all had Normans around us. And while the film leaves too many aspects of this mind-boggling nature unfulfilled, the fact that it touches upon it (with Gere's impeccable close-up acting) makes it worthwhile.

Mo says:

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves. Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller. 140 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Sci-fi.

The quest comes full circle. It's not about how well the ape CGI is done, or how the film provides an excellent explanation to why humans in the original 1968 Charlton Heston movie are mute. It's about how they performed this revolutionary task in the prequel trilogy, of starting out with a boring human-oriented narrative in the first movie ... to a deep, slow-paced but entirely engaging, character-driven, ape-oriented narrative - no matter how perfect Woody Harrelson portrays a Brando/Colonel Kurtz in his Ape-pocalypse Now. They've proved it possible: you can tell a great non-human tale, with humans as secondary elements.

PS: Hands down, the movie's best scene: Bad Ape.

PPS: And I'll probably buy Michael Giacchino's soundtrack.

Mo says:

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Director: Jon Watts. Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jennifer Connelly (voice), Chris Evans. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

I respect and value the dark territories Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan took Batman into. But when those dark moods also invaded Superman (and to some extent, Wonder Woman), you feel the DC universe is going a tad too far. Meanwhile, Marvel has managed to keep its superhero films appropriately light and fun. This nicely shows in Deadpool and Ant-Man, and now, after two average Andrew Garfield attempts, we have a lively, teenage-oriented film, with a successful turn by Tom Holland, who manages to carry the load - even with a narcissist Tony Stark around. It's good to have Spider-Man back.

Trivia: Iron Man's body armor AI, Jarvis (who later became Vision), was voiced/acted by Paul Bettany. Now Spider-Man's suit AI, Karen, is voiced by Bettany's wife, Jennifer Connelly. Seeing her in some physical superhero form in the future also?

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Free Fire (2016)

Director: Ben Wheatley. Cast: Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Noah Taylor. 90 min. Rated R. UK/France. Crime/Comedy.

An arms deal in a warehouse gone bad, told in 90 minutes, real time. That's all! In effect, no story ... and it couldn't be more entertaining. What makes the funny shootout between the two gangs possible to go on for more than an hour, is guns having an endless supply of bullets, and characters sustaining non-lethal (or even lethal!) gunshot wounds and continuously shooting. Meanwhile, you're just waiting to see who survives at the end. Scorsese is an executive producer here, but I would only attribute the characters' 70s regalia (and the copious amount of blood) to him.

Mo says:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Director: Rupert Sanders. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt. 107 min. Rated PG-13. USA/India/China/Japan/Hong Kong/UK/New Zealand/Canada/Australia. Sci-fi/Action.

My minimal experience with anime says the reason such stories are told through animation, is that their extravagance makes any live-action film-making prohibitive. So here we have a live-action iteration of a famous anime, and now I'm thinking maybe the sensory overload of such dizzying sci-fi makes even live-action film the wrong medium. There's an interesting concept here, that we still carry a human soul residue, no matter how electronically "enhanced" we become. But Scarlett Johansson's white-washing (no explanation why the Japanese heroine doesn't look Asian) is just too blatant and distracting for the film to create any lasting effect.

PS: Nice analysis here.

Mo says:

Monday, July 3, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Director: .Chad Stahelski. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane. 122 min. Rated R. Action.

So the sequel to the original, which consisted of John Wick killing people, contains .... killing, killing, killing, then a little bit more killing, then killing, then a lot more killing, and then killing. Then the movie makes a heartbreaking effort at a structured story, but then there's killing. Then some more killing. Until it's not even funny. And then finally, the last scene promises a third installment. I wonder what that's going to be about.

PS: This one too. Same flight. Forced to watch.

PPS: Okay - Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, together again. That was cool.

Mo says:

Collateral Beauty (2016)

Director: David Frankel. Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren. 97 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

The death of a child. Probably the most crushing event a human being can experience. You have movies like Rabbit Hole or The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which make good use of it to tell a good story, and there are ones like this, which make good abuse of it to tell a shamefully sentimental story, where every character is a psychoanalyst, and ends with not just one, but two nonsensical twist endings. And when you see so many great actors in such a movie, you realize even movie stars sometimes say: Hey man, I gotta make a living too.

PS: I was forced to watch this on a transatlantic flight. Nothing better to watch or do.

Mo says:

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Okja (2017)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho. Cast: Seo-Hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins. 121 min. Sci-fi/Adventure. South Korea/USA.

It's a Bong Joon-ho movie (you know, this and this), so you're expecting something magnificent. And again, magnificent happens. You have the superb Tilda Swinton (in two roles), an evil conglomerate trying the feed the world in devious ways, a "good" PETA-like secret opposition who are well-aware of their own hypocritical philosophy, heart-pounding action sequences, and finally, a young innocent girl trying to help her huge pet escape the authorities, à la E.T. What else could you ask for? Not as deep as Snowpiercer, but one helluva ride.

PS: Yeeaaaah! Glenn is back!

PPS: Netflix-produced. Available on Netflix.

Mo says:

The Bad Batch (2016)

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour. Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Jayda Fink, Keanu Reeves, Diego Luna, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi. 118 min. Rated R. Romance/Sci-Fi.

In a dystopian future, young female ex-con ends up in a cannibal community south of the border, and fights her way to gain I'm not really sure what. Amirpour's second feature (after the groundbreaking A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) shows she's developing her own stylistic elements: tattoos, attraction for human flesh (vampires, cannibals, ...), and bad-ass heroines. And while the cinematography is top-notch, the director's effort to emulate Tarantino-style iconography feels too forced, as though she made an entire movie just to focus on a girl with one arm, one leg, and yellow shorts with a winking emoji.

Mo says:

Friday, June 30, 2017

Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright. Cast: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey. 113 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Action/Crime.

Some of the best choreographed car-chase scenes in movie history, accompanied by perfectly-timed songs, and the director's nod to Star Wars in the form an iconic hero with a Han Solo costume, could have made this one of the best action movies in a decade. But then, the story relies too heavily on coincidence, to the point where towards the end, the hero hopes for a plot vehicle (literally and figuratively), and a car appears at that most opportune time. The pitiful part is, the coincidences were completely avoidable. Oh whatever; it's a fun ride.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cars 3 (2017)

Director: Brian Fee. Voices: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion , Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Kerry Washington, Margo Martindale, John Ratzenberger, Cheech Marin, Paul Newman. 109 min. Rated G. Animation.

I enjoyed the original Cars, didn't bother watching the sequel due to dismal reviews, and to summarize, was bored through this third installment. But then ... the demolition derby racers, with their Southern accents, are not shed in a good light, and the climactic moments of the movie has an 'American' car yelling at a 'female Latino' car: "You don't belong on this track!", and her responding: "Yes, ... I do." Although the story was obviously plotted well before the November 2016 elections, looks like Pixar is on Trump and the Trumpsters' case.

Mo says:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Risk (2016)

Director: Laura Poitras. 92 min. Germany/USA. Documentary.

Yet another documentary on Julian Assange. Since this covers events occurring over 15 years, all the way up to Trump's election, some documented by the director herself (including footage from her recent masterpiece, Citizenfour), one assumes Poitras has snips and pieces on a variety of subjects, and edits them into whole films whenever she deems appropriate - which is why this film looks so choppy and disjointed (Lady Gaga interviewing Assange?). There are some good moments here, questioning Assange's own ego-maniacal stance, but that was already previously covered by Alex Gibney.

PS: Of course! I see this on IMDb, after writing the above review:

"Director Laura Poitras and the distributor of Risk (2016) gave misleading statements after the new version of the documentary was finally released in May 2017. In an act of re-writing film history, the official premiere at the Directors' Fortnight of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival was now suddenly declared a "work in progress" screening. This is factually incorrect, since the Directors' Fortnight screening was presented as the finished film, without any additional warning, that changes were likely to be made. This is the reason why many reviews were written and published shortly after the Cannes 2016 screening. Poitras even started to give interviews in Cannes to journalists, for example The Wrap's Steve Pond (published online on May 19, 2016), and talked about "Risk" like it was a past project. In that interview she says only positive things about Julian Assange and Jacob Appelbaum."

More weird stuff here.

Mo says:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dangal (2016)

Director: Nitesh Tiwari. Cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh. 161 min. Unrated. India. Sports/Drama.

I can't specifically point out why I loved this Disney-produced Indian movie, based on the true story of a professional wrestler who trained her daughters to fulfill his own dreams of winning gold for India - because the endearing pull of a sports movie, the tear-jerking father-daughter relationship, even the mandatory final slow-motion shot ... they're all here. But you'll still find yourself engaged and rooting for the heroes. The film would've benefited from summarizing the final matches to a shorter length, but then again, Indian movies are rarely applauded for brevity. Highly recommended for a family setting.

Mo says:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

Director: Patty Jenkins. Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis. 141 min. Rated PG-13. USA/China/Hong Kong. Action/Fantasy. 

Going in to watch the "first major female superhero movie", I was hoping to see one thing: a superhero whose superpowers were rooted in her femininity, not some macho masculinity. To that end, Wonder Woman delivers entirely. From the elegance and nobility Gal Gadot portrays in her robes (overshadowing Lynda Carter), to how the heroine compliments an ice-cream vendor ("You should be very proud ..."), to her final message of why humankind deserves survival (while beating the crap out of WWI Germans), this is a role no man could succeed at. Handing this to a female director was the right decision.

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Babette's Feast (Babettes gæstebud ) (1987)

Director: Gabriel Axel. Cast: Stéphane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel. 102 min. Rated G. Denmark. Comedy/Drama.

Two old sisters in a small 19th-century Danish village take in a French refugee as a maid. She wins the lottery, and as a token of appreciation, throws a feast to commemorate their religious father's 100th birthday. While almost a third of this Foreign-Language Oscar winner details the dinner feast, the funny, light-hearted tone can't hide how deep it digs into the the contrast between traditionalism and modernism: how modernists absent-mindedly serve the rigid conservative, and how the conservative benefit from modernism while simultaneously (and very loudly) despising it. A message that rings true to this day.

Mo says:

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Director(s): Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg. Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley. 129 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Fantasy.

After the nosedive of the third and fourth installments, someone came up with a bright idea: for the fifth episode, let's just repeat the winning elements of the first! So again we have a trio of heroes (Jack Sparrow, young man, young women) going after an army of dead pirates. But what really makes this a success, is that it opens with a thrilling Fast and Furious-type heist, Johnny Depp still manages to keep his character fresh, Javier Bardem keeps getting the best villain roles in town, and there's one popular character with a great story arc, that ends here.

PS: I didn't get Paul McCartney's joke in his cameo appearance. A skeleton ordering a beer and a mop in a bar? Oh wait ... now I get it.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Becoming Bond (2017)

Director: Josh Greenbaum. Cast: George Lazenby, Kassandra Clementi, Jane Seymour, Dana Carvey. 92 min. Biography/Comedy.

A 90-minute interview with Australian "non-actor" George Lazenby (accompanied by re-enactments), the only man to play James Bond in only one movie - which some believe is the best Bond movie ever, some believe is the worst (yours truly considers OHMSS second worst, after License to Kill). The first half tells of Lazenby's younger days, the adventurous story of any youth, making you wonder where this is all going. But then the final 10 minutes hits you, telling the reason Lazenby walked away from a 7 Bond-movie deal with a $1 million signing bonus. That's a story worth telling.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Raw (2016)

Director: Julia Ducournau. Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf. 99 min. Rated R. Italy/France/Belgium. Horror.

I'm not against violence in movies per se, but I do have a problem when violence is solely there to shock you. The story of a teenage girl who gradually realizes she's a cannibal (while some already knew but hid it from her), could have been told without the in-your-face feasting, and therefore could have become much more creepy. The underlying theme of "don't make a woman angry" simmers, but seriously, scare tactics won't help any female cause. While the movie has won lots of accolades, I didn't get the point. So what; she's a cannibal.

Mo says:

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: