Friday, May 18, 2018

Revenge (2017)

Director: Coralie Fargeat. Cast: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe. 108 min. Rated R. France. Thriller.

Three men abuse and leave a young woman for dead in the middle of the desert, and she returns for retribution. That simple. You may say the fact that every man in this world is evil, or that the heroine’s major pain for half the movie being a phallus-like structure sticking out of her body, tells volumes about the female director’s stance towards men - but it’s not hard to predict with its minimalist cast, stunning cinematography, tense screenplay, occasionally humorous gore, and especially opportune timing during the #MeToo movement, this little film will become an icon of our times.

Mo says:

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica) (2017)

Director: Sebastián Lelio. Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco. 100 min. Rated R. Chile/Germany/Spain/USA. Drama.

There are Almodóvar films, or films like Tangerine where a character is by-the-way-also-transgender, but I don't recall a movie dedicated to the life of a transgender. As a minor character speaks for us here, we don't even know how to react to this man/woman, let alone feel how she feels when she loses her only loved one. Numerous shots show her holding onto something, literally being blown away by the wind, or watching her "other" self in a mirror - even a wobbly, unstable self. Intentional or not, you will feel sorry for this person, and think about her afterwards.

PS: This year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner.

Mo says:

Game Night (2018)

Director(s): John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein. Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, Michael C. Hall, Danny Huston. 100 min. Rated R. Comedy/Mystery.

A well-devised screenplay stunt. A game night between a few couples that is supposed to be a fake kidnapping mystery, becomes a real kidnapping. So during the first half characters are clueless about a crime taking place right before their eyes but the viewer is fully aware, and then during the second half the characters become aware but then the viewer is not sure - is this still real, or fake? With Bateman and McAdams (like always) shining in main roles and Plemmons (like always) as the creepy neighbor, this is entertaining till the very end ... but no further.

Mo says:

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Borg vs McEnroe (2017)

Director: Janus Metz. Cast: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård. 107 min. Rated R. Sweden/Denmark/Finland. Biography/Sport.

The historic 1981 match between stressed-out anxiety-driven 4-time Wimbledon champion, Björn Borg, and self-loathing obscenity-hurling newcomer, John McEnroe. I didn't follow the match at the time, so the ending was a surprise to me. But that's not the point. Similar to Foxcatcher, with its dead-pan cinematography and lingering close-ups, the film sets a "mood": how an uber-competitive sport like tennis may not be such a fun game to play (the same feeling in Andre Agassi's memoir, "Open"). And I cannot imagine how they found a carbon copy of Borg in actor Sverrir Gudnason.

Mo says:

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)

Director: Matt Brown. Cast: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Stephen Fry, Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam. 108 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Biography/Drama.

The true story of Newton-level genius Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who in the 1910s resisted racism to gain acceptance at Cambridge's Trinity College. Like any shark movie that will be compared to Jaws, any mathematician film will have A Beautiful Mind looking down on it, and that's where The Man Who Knew Infinity cannot keep up. There's even an attempt at melodrama between Dev Patel and his wife waiting for him back home in India, but compared to the romance Jennifer Connelly pulled off with that other distracted genius mind, this doesn't hold a candle.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts ) (2017)

Director: Fatih Akin. Cast: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar. 106 min. Rated R. Germany/France. Crime/Drama.

This Golden Globes Best Foreign-Language Film winner and Cannes Best Actress winner opens with unfathomable calamity befalling a German mother - and ends with a concept which people of a certain region of the world are commonly accused of subscribing to. A mention of the concept would entirely spoil the ending, but the movie skillfully demonstrates how when desperate, any of us are capable of performing such acts. It's not about which country you're from or how you're brought up. The film suggests ... it's human nature.

Mo says:

Network (1976)

Director: Sidney Lumet. Cast: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty. 123 min. Rated R. Drama.

'In 2005, in preparation for what would eventually be a scrapped project for a live television adaptation of this film, George Clooney screened the film for a group of teens and young adults in order to determine their reactions to it. He found, much to his surprise, that none of the young people recognized the film as satire. "I couldn't understand it", Clooney told the Associated Press. Then he "realized that everything Paddy Chayefsky wrote about had happened." '

That IMDb trivia fact is key. You just need to replace the word "television" for "internet" through the entirety of this major Oscar winner, and it would become as relevant today as it was in the 70s (ironically, you don't need to change the title - "Network" works just fine). Re-watch Holden, Dunaway and Duvall in their prime, and how Finch screamed his way 'mad as hell' to the first posthumous Oscar ever awarded. Then come to understand how every generation has their own media horror.

Mo says:

The Commuter (2018)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra. Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern. 105 min. Rated PG-13. UK/France/USA. Action.

Speeding train without brakes is almost derailing.

Conductor yells: "Remain calm!"

Passenger asks: "... Why?"

That sums up the movie: a package of preposterous lines and implausible moments. A movie with a so-called 'idiot plot', where the villains' most elaborate impossible scheme to eliminate a witness to a crime could've been avoided simply by bonking him/her on the head. Parading famous actors in the beginning and then suddenly forgetting them exposes their roles as surprise villains, and while the movie begs for Neeson to remain an action star, I honestly never saw him as one in the first place.

Mo says:

Paterno (2018)

Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Al Pacino, Riley Keough, Kathy Baker. 105 min. Biography.

Levinson has recently been tackling prominent figures (Jack Kevorkian, Bernie Madoff), but his look into Joe Paterno, the disgraced Penn State football coach who "could've done more" when he heard his assistant Jerry Sandusky was committing pedophilia right under his nose, is a notch above the rest. He wisely avoids focusing on Sandusky, and dedicates the film to what a winning coach's position in the society is, what Paterno was thinking, and in effect, what you as a viewer would've done - because is there any such thing as an "innocent bystander"? The final line ("... you said 1976?") is screenwriting gold.

PS: For a documentary version of the events, check out Happy Valley. It's cool to have reported on the coming of this Pacino-starring movie 3 years back - even though DePalma didn't direct it.

Mo says:

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Director(s): Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Chris Pratt, William Hurt, Letitia Wright, Carrie Coon. 149 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi. 

They slowly and painstakingly developed 18 movies, brick by brick, over 10-15 years, to prepare for this movie; then entertained our collective consciousness for 2-1/2 hours of battle after battle in this movie, to finally hurl us into ... that ending. What. An. Ending. Doesn’t matter whether upcoming films leading up to Avengers 4 next year reverse that ending or not. It’s about how they've professionally built a most complex structure with an impossible number of characters, to deliver one of the greatest cliffhangers of all time. This is the Hollywood machine at its best: unbeatable, mainstream commercial film-making.

Mo says:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Winchester (2018)

Director(s): Michael and Peter Spierig. Cast: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook. 99 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

'Inspired by actual events' (yeah, sure), about a hundred-year-old house located some minutes from my home. So there was a certain obligation - a 14% Tomatometer score notwithstanding. But the jump-scares kept coming at such rapidity and hilarity (there's a moving roller skate jump-scare, I kid you not), I started experiencing abdominal pains. The Spierig Brothers have proven they're not idiots, so the laughs and narrative push toward a Sixth Sense-like outcome made me suspicious: is this a horror spoof in disguise? If The Room has taught us anything, it's that laughing during a horror movie is still considered having fun.

Mo says:

Faces Places (Visages villages) (2017)

Director(s): JR, Agnès Varda. 89 min. Rated PG. France. Documentary.

Old French New Wave director (Varda) and young photographer/muralist (JR) roam the country in search of obscure people in France's countryside, take pictures of them, and create huge murals. That simple. But then you start thinking: these people, with their own stories to tell, are not just ... people. If only the film-makers could've held onto that profound effect; because at the end they suddenly go on a self-congratulatory journey to meet up with Jean-Luc Godard, another iconic New Wave director - the self-aware atmosphere significantly impacting the documentary feeling, making the final heartfelt moment look like a setup.

PS: Last week, JR made it to Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2018.

Mo says: