Wednesday, December 30, 2009

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Director: Marc Webb. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel. 95 min. Rated PG-13. Romance.

I generally avoid romantic movies, because the mix of romance and Hollywood illusions almost always leads to disaster. But (500) Days is a rare gem. It shows real people with real relations through real words. There's no delusional ideation or dream-like reactions here. Although it is a semi-comedy, the film manages to make intelligent statements about human emotions, human character, coincidence, fate, and even love. And I was impressed how it flash-backed and flash-forwarded time, simply by running numbers on the screen. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Mo says:

Invictus (2009)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon. 134 min. Rated PG-13. Sports.

I guess in recent years, Clint has made us so used to masterpieces, anything less than perfect is considered mediocre. Invictus' first half works brilliantly as Freeman does the masterful job of portraying Nelson Mandella, and familiarizes the viewer, especially those interested in non-violent opposition, with the mechanisms of such movements. But then the second half succumbs into the usual cliches of sports movies (and of course, including the final obligatory slow motion shot of the main rugby player's last shoot/throw/jump). Still, I'm willing to forgive Eastwood, just because of the inspiring first half.

Mo says:

Che: Part 1 ("The Argentine"); Che: Part 2 ("The Guerilla") (2008)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir, Julia Ormond, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Lou Diamond Phillips, Franke Potente, Matt Damon. 269 min (total). Rated R. France/Spain/USA. Political/Historical.

Watching more than 4 hours about the life and times of Ernesto "Che" Guevara (first part in Cuba, second part in Bolivia) wasn't exactly boring, but I kept asking myself: Why did Soderbergh make this? Why such a grand effort? Del Toro (like always) does a fabulous job in portraying the world-renown guerrilla, but don't look at this as a history lesson. The complete absence of the people component in both the successful Cuban and the failed Bolivian "revolutions" is striking throughout both movie parts - but maybe that's the point. Maybe only arms/violence were the basic underlying mechanisms.

(PS: I loved the geography lesson at the beginning of each episode!)

Mo says:

An Education (2009)

Director: Lone Scherfig. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike. 95 min. PG-13. UK. Drama.

An Education is one of those obscure jewels that makes you wonder how many other unknown masterpieces are out there you've never heard of. In a powerful performance, Mulligan plays a 16-year old girl in London's 60s, confronted with the question: Why do we really go after an education? Just because my Daddy told me so? Just because our parents were ... afraid? Playing like a more dramatic version of Woody Allen's recent Whatever Works, An Education is guaranteed to stir discussions among you and whoever you watch it with. Oscar possibilities here for Mulligan.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Up in the Air (2009)

Director: Jason Reitman. Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliot, Melanie Lynsky. 109 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Satire in movies seldom becomes so bitter. This is supposedly a comedy, but the absolute void of humanity and human relations pictured here leaves no room for a smile. Unemployment is no laughing matter, and Clooney, playing a businessman who is hired to fire people, does the tremendous job of keeping a detached pleasant face while breaking probably the worst news an employee will ever hear. Like in Juno, Reitman creates a fresh young female star in Anna Kendrick, and the screenplay has so many great one-liners, I had a hard time keeping up with the pace.

(PS: We're at the turn of another decade, and like the last decade and the case of the 2000 Oscar sweeper American Beauty, Up in the Air may ironically become another depressing story about American life that may win the Oscar for Best Picture.)
Mo says:

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

Director: Lee Daniels. Cast: Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz. 110 min. Rated R. Drama.

I do not enjoy watching other people's misery. I've seen movies much more depressing than Precious, but at least somewhere, at some point, they offer a small glimmer of hope - a tiny possibility of a solution. Precious offers none of that, and tries to torture the viewer for a full two hours by the story an obese black 16-year-old girl who has two kids out of incest, from a father who was HIV positive. The director's exploitation of the sad girl's story occasionally becomes sadistic. I found myself dozing off at times.

(PS: There's probably an Oscar nomination (or even a win) for Mo'nique in the Best Supporting Actress category here.)

Mo says:

About Elly (درباره الي) (2009)

Director: Asghar Farhadi. Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Shahb Hosseini, Merila Zare'i, Taraneh Alidoosti. 119 min. Iran. Drama.

Lying. Some would merely ignore it as an acceptable sin. About Elly shows how it can undermine the entire infrastructure of a society. People lying to each other randomly, over the most mundane issues, without understanding the consequences of their random acts, or how their simple lies disastrously change the chain of events for others. And when they make a feeble attempt at honesty, they break into coughing spasms, or prick their fingers. The final scene, showing 7-8 people unable to move their drowning car out of the sand, is a powerful allegory on how dysfunctional this society has become.

Mo says:

Timecrimes (Los cronocrímenes) (2007)

Director: Nacho Vigalondo. Cast: Karra Ellejalde, Candela Fernandez, Barbara Goenaga, Nacho Vigalondo. 92 min. Rated R. Spain. Sci-fi/Suspense.

The paradoxes of time travel stories are always fun to absorb, but Timecrimes focuses more on the paradox, and less on the story. In a Rear Window fashion, a character sees a crime, but later discovers the crime happened after a present day character returned back in time. So how/why was that crime "placed" in that time in the first place? Hard to explain. You'll enjoy this movie during its hour and half length (especially while you discover the reasons for the characters' apparently unrealistic actions), but at the end, I preferred not to struggle anymore with the confusing elements.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar (2009)

Director: James Cameron. Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Wes Studi. 162 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-fi/Fantasy.

No wonder Cameron hadn't directed a feature-length movie for 12 years; obviously, creating Avatar mandated such time. Touches of Aliens and Dances with Wolves are scattered throughout, but for a true allegory, I believe Avatar is Star Wars for the new generation. The superb mix of fantasy, spiritual, philosophical, and political themes raises the story beyond any sci-fi concept seen in decades, and the additional message for humans to blend with their green environment is one to cherish. After 160 minutes, I did not want this visually stunning masterpiece to end, because I had seen my top movie of 2009.

(Disclaimer: Although Cameron had planned this mainly to be watched in 3-D, I chose to watch the 2-D screening, just because I wasn't sure I could tolerate more than 2 hours of 3-D without getting a headache. Maybe I'll try 3-D on the second round.)

Mo says:

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)

Director: Steve Carr. Cast: Kevin James, Keir O'Donnell. 91 min. Rated PG. Comedy.

Sometimes you're watching a movie, thinking: Which studio executive thought this screenplay was "good"? Who thought money should be invested on this? Watching Paul Blart, I literally had that feeling every five minutes. These are the movies that have a devastating effect on people's intelligence. These are the ones you feel embarrassed for even placing the disc in the DVD player. Stay away from this movie if you're concerned about your offspring's gene pool.

(PS: This movie was given to me as a gift. I hope whoever was kind enough to do so isn't reading this!)

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Cove (2009)

Director: Louie Psihoyos. Cast: Richard O'Barry, Joe Chisholm. 92 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

You may think of this as a mere wildlife documentary about dolphins, but that description doesn't even touch the surface. Working like a heist movie, The Cove is very successful at exposing the scandal behind what is happening in Japan to 23,000 dolphins every year (it's been awhile since I saw a movie with the Japanese as the bad guys). Disclosing that this documentary contains a literal illustration of "sea of blood" should make you curious enough to watch it - and after that, you will think twice about buying that discounted ticket to Sea World.

Mo says:

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008)

Director: Uli Edel. Cast: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Bruno Ganz. 150 min. Rated R. Germany. Political.

For those (including myself) who don't know much about the RAF, the German terrorist organization of the 60s-70s, The Baader-Meinhof Complex works perfectly as a history class - but nothing beyond that. Although the film has an explosive opening 15 minutes, it doesn't sustain the same rhythm for the remaining 2 hours, and there's not much of the director's personal viewpoint about the RAF anywhere throughout. Maybe the only take-home message here, is that the concept of "resistance/revolution" (as opposed to "protest") is just a way to vent out some repressed internal rage; rather than a true altruistic cause.

Mo says:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Play Misty for Me (1971)

Director: Clint Eatswood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, Don Seigel. 102 min. Rated R. Suspense.

Clint's directorial debut appears to be a Hitchcockian effort (the detective's death scene is so Psycho), but his inexperience in keeping his grip on the viewer is a far cry from the master of suspense's works. I'm willing to forgive the movie's long dumb romantic scenes, because Play Misty was obviously the inspiration for great successes such as Fatal Attraction. Jessica Walter's screams become annoying after a while (you can even see that on the movie's poster), and even though I don't consider this "one of the most shocking psycho-thrillers ever", it may be worth a try.

(PS: Why did blood in the old days always look like tomato paste?)

Mo says:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bruno (2009)

Director: Larry Charles. Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten. 81 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Common point of Bruno and Borat: both were disgusting. Difference between the two: Borat was funny. Apparently Cohen didn't get why Borat was such an ingenious effort in comedy: he gave an exaggerated description of Americans' mental image of foreigners, then showed Americans weren't much better off themselves - and therein delivered a poignant message. Bruno offers such a bizarre and unrecognizable portrait of a homosexual, it makes the character look like a cretin. The final failed attempt to save the movie (pushing famous singers into the last scene) proves how distressed the filmmakers were. Don't waste your time.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lifeboat (1944)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast:Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak. 97 min. War.

A 90-minute movie happening entirely on a lifeboat? Not even today anybody dares such a feat. Hitch reminds again of his style of making movies (a movie without editing, a movie without soundtrack, a movie filmed from a window, ...) that if ever repeated, people would say: "Hitchcock did that first!". By sticking a few survivors of a WWII ship with the Nazi captain who torpedoed their ship, on the same lifeboat, Hitchcock creates an environment that does not leave his hate for Nazis to imagination. Interesting how much more complicated the "enemy among us" has become in movies these days.

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

'Breaker' Morant (1980)

Director: Bruce Beresford. Cast: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown. 107 min. Rated PG. Australia. Drama.

So this is where the masterpiece called A Few Good Men came from! Although I found no evidence of Morant being the inspiration for the former, the plots are so similar (this one happening in 1901 South Africa), I believe the credit of such a magnificent courtroom drama should go to Morant (made 9 years before Good Men was written). Additionally, this is a deeper film; it dares to delve into the motives of the few soldiers who commit the crime (Good Men cops out by pleading: "We were just obeying orders."). This is an honest movie to be watched.

(Trivia: The film's main actor, Edward Woodward, died just two weeks ago.)

Mo says:

Raging Bull (1980)

Director: Martin Scorsese. Cast: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent. 129 min. Rated R. Sports.

Another re-visit. I had a better grasp of Jake La Motta's character analysis this time around, and realized the power of the movie's camerawork, as though during the boxing matches, De Niro was punching me instead of his opponent, to vent off his self-repressed sexual/physical rage. But I still couldn't understand why some critics say this was the best film of the 80s. I believe the Scorsese-De Niro partnership has offered us much better jewels in Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, and Cape Fear. Especially Cape Fear.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

2012 (2009)

Director: Roland Emmerich. Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover. 158 min. Rated PG-13. Action.

Based on hearsay, I was planning on giving this movie a bad review, even before seeing it. But why lie? I honestly enjoyed it. The story's logic has so many plausibility holes, it makes Swiss cheese look good, and even a 1000-word review wouldn't cover it. But the spectacular immensity of the special effects was far beyond anything I'd ever anticipated. I believe years later, 2012 will be an example of how human imagination has no boundary in cinema. As such, it would be unfair to comfortably label such an incredible effort as "bad". See it in a theater.

Mo says:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rashomon (1950)

Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori. 88 min. Rated PG-13. Japan. Drama.

Guilty confession: This was my first Kurosawa movie! And I loved it! The murder of a Samurai in a forest is narrated by 4 people in an ancient court. The narratives are absolutely contradictory, except in one fact: the murder itself. This leads to an ingenious cinematic Rorschach test: Every person sees the truth only as they perceive it, not as it actually happened. The truth is never revealed, because it really doesn't matter - it's only pertinent how we react to the truth. And we're talking about a movie made 60 years ago. Stay tuned for more Kurosawa followups.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gomorra (2008)

Director: Matteo Garrone, Cast: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Salvatore Cantalupo. 137 min. Rated R. Italy. Drama.

Produced by Scorsese, it's almost as though Gomorra was directed by himself. The concept of children and teenagers getting lured into the seducing power of crime families, eloquently illustrated in GoodFellas, happens here in Italy, but in a much more grittier and ruthless setting, devoid of Marty's glamorous Hollywood approach. The film runs longer than 2 hours as it intertwines several stories - so you need to have some patience, watching as the various plots unfold, to be engrossed in the mesmerizing ending. A must for gangster-movie lovers.

Mo says:

Four Rooms (1995)

Director(s): Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino. Cast: Valeria Golino, Madonna, Lili Taylor, Jennifer Beals, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Kathy Griffin, Quentin Tarantino, Marisa Tomei, Tim Roth, Bruce Willis. 98 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Being a Tarantino-lover, I revisited this funny 4 episode movie after more than 10 years. People don't get famous for nothing. I still thought Rodriguez and Tarantino's episodes were the most delightful, Bandaras still stood out by far among the others, and Madonna still needs to do us all a great favor and leave acting for good (She hasn't acted since Die Another Day! Success!). But the element that grabbed my attention this time, was Tim Roth, who is superb as "Ted the Bellboy", the cornerstone of all four stories. Roth's versatility throughout his career has been quite impressive.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Event Horizon (1997)

Director: Paul Anderson. Cast: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan, Jason Isaacs. 96 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Horror.

Recommended by friends who knew about my love of space movies, Event Horizon borrows from Alien, Aliens, Kubrick's 2001, and even The Shining (or maybe those films were just too overpowering). But it's main source is Tarkovsky's Solaris, describing a material setting feeding on its inhabitants' dreams, passions, and feelings of guilt. By delving into the philosophy of parallel universes, and the visual and conceptual illusion of hell, the film bridges into the realm of horror; and manages to differentiate itself from your regular run-of-the-mill space fantasy. But bad direction, weak acting, and superficial dialogue prevents it from becoming memorable.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Director: Wes Craven. Cast: David Hess, Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, Jeremie Rain, Fred Lincoln. 84 min. Rated R. Horror.

After 37 years, even by today's standards, this is a very disturbing movie to watch. Wes Craven has made a career out of making "fun" horror films, but the raw violence shown up close here is absolutely no fun - which is what makes it powerful enough to create a feeling of revulsion towards violence. Craven resonates the tension by juxtaposing the idiocies of a sheriff and his deputy, with the brutal rape/murder of the two girls; but the eerily pleasant songs played during the violent scenes was what bothered me even more. You may lose sleep over this movie.

(Trivia: "Krug", the name of the movie's main villain, later became the origin for another famous Wes Craven horror character, Freddy Krueger.)

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thirst (Bakjwi) (2009)

Director: Chan-wook Park. Cast: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim. 133 min. Rated R. Horror. South Korea.

This 2009 Cannes Film Festival winner (from the Korean filmmaker of Oldboy fame) was probably the weirdest vampire movie I'd ever seen - and definitely the bloodiest. Like any good vampire flick, Thirst adds a new aspect to the lore: a conscientious priest becomes a benevolent vampire. But at times, the overlong movie becomes so abstract, I had a hard time keeping track who's supposed to suck whose blood. It seems vampires are becoming an international genre, but if you're looking for a more captivating story, I would recommend last year's Swedish Let the Right One In.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Director: Stephen Sommers. Cast: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller, Dennis Quaid, Christopher Eccleston, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo, Brendan Fraser. 118 min. Rated PG-13. Action.

Sometimes, Hollywood excels in the realm of stupid, and GI. Joe is a record breaker. It's director, Stephen Sommers, had already proven in Van Helsing and the Mummy trilogy to be a master of ripping off other franchises; here, I had a hard time counting the number of franchises he'd blessed with his brainless screenplay (the Bond movies? X-Men? Star Wars? Nightmare on Elm Street? ...). The acting is insultingly amateur, the dialogues are excruciatingly dumb, and the plot only provides an excuse to showcase every other Hasbro G.I. Joe toy in recent memory. What a piece of junk.

(PS: The Paris chase scene was OK. I'll give 'em that.)

Mo says:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

Director: Tony Scott. Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, James Gandolfini. 106 min. Rated R. Action.

Just another remake. Tony Scott can be credited for having his own style, but I don't buy it. His flashy camera shots, high-tech maximizing/minimizing computer windows, and flow of subtitles on the screen are becoming quite repetitious; as though he's trying to glamorize a lost movie with some cheap technical tricks. And either Travolta talks too much, or I'm just comparing him to Robert Shaw's quiet heavy presence in the original; but the way Washington handles his lines proves his huge superiority. Wish we could go back to the days when the Scott/Washington duo made movies like Crimson Tide.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Christmas Carol (2009)

Director: Robert Zemeckis. Cast (voices): Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes. 96 min. Rated PG. Animation.

This is cinema. This is why we love movies. We've heard and read and watched this story a hundred times, but Zemeckis has become such an expert in 3D animation, I defy anybody not to be dazzled by this incredible piece of entertainment. I found myself much more excited from the imagery here compared to what I saw in Up, and rarely have I seen Jim Carrey's (literally) cartoonish facial expressions to have been employed to such approproiate extent (the last time being Mask). Highly recommended for a true cinematic experience, preferrably in 3D, preferrably in IMAX.

Mo says:

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains (2007)

Director: Jonathan Demme. 125 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

Coverage of Carter's "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid" book tour, with a behind-the-scenes look at the interviews, and Carter's personal life. What makes this documentary engrossing, is watching the power of free speech in igniting controversy, and creating a chance for dialogue on supposedly taboo subjects. No matter how you feel about the Israel-Palestine peace process (or lack thereof), you'll end this film with a feeling of respect for the former president of the United States - a man who apparently has no personal gain in fighting for peace in the Middle East.
Mo says:

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Director: Joseph Sargent. Cast: Walter Mathau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam. 104 min. Rated R. Action.

There's not much to say here, except for the pure pleasure of watching great late perfomers such as Mathau and Shaw in action. Obviously, this was in preparation to watch this year's remake, "The Taking of Pelham 123", but I don't regret the chance to experience an obscure oldie. Give it a try only if you feel nostalgic for the 70s.
(Trivia: Tarantino was inspired by the characters' names in this movie (Mr. White, Mr. Green, Mr. Blue, ...) for his first gangster flick, "Reservoir Dogs".)

Mo says:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Michael Jackson's "This is It" (2009)

Director: Kenny Ortega. 112 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

This is not cinema, and those who'll make this a blockbuster are not necessarily movie-lovers. This is a 2-hour concert. I was expecting to know more about Michael Jackson's inner truth. The film does not meet that expectation, but instead, offers a fuller picture of the music-making machine we knew. At moments, I had a hard time figuring whether MJ was more man or music. The director makes a wise decision in avoiding any notion of the singer's death at the end, and just keeps the film full of life by beautiful music. But that's all this is: beautiful music.

(PS: And again, "Billie Jean" was undeniably his best.)

Mo says:

Food, Inc. (2008)

Director: Robert Kenner. 94 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

You may feel the urge to slam this documentary as a Commie flick; but Food, Inc. is more respectful of its viewers than that. It just shows you the facts about where the food on your table comes from, and leaves the decision on how to deal with that data up to you. In the process, the movie reminds us of our three-times-a-day chance to vote "No" on the current manner of food processing. After watching Supersize Me, I haven't stepped into a McDonald's joint again; Food, Inc. extended that feeling of disgust to a great many other food items.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

Director (and narrator): Michael Moore. 127 min. Rated R. Documentary.

After watching Sicko, I had lost confidence in Michael Moore. Capitalism regained some lost trust. The film is still riddled with Moore's usual super-biased style of filmmaking, shoving whatever he believes down your throat. But some concepts elaborated upon were difficult to ignore. I'm ill-equipped with financial knowledge (and I'd appreciate whoever's gracious enough to guide me on the film's claims), but apparently good old capitalism has changed over the last 10-15 years, and Moore does a decent job illustrating this. At the end, you'll be asking yourself: Does capitalism really need to be eliminated?

(PS: The movie ends with some amazing unseen footage of Franklin D. Roosevelt, announcing the need for a second Bill of Rights. Don't miss it.)

Mo says:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Whatever Works (2009)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson. 92 min. PG-13. Comedy.

For some reason, Allen's repetitive style in comedy never gets old for me. The same NYC setting, the same neurotic hero (actually playing Woody himself), and the same never ending flow of funny, sarcastic memorable quotes. There's not much here that specifically makes this New York comedy stand out from his other New York comedies - except for Larry David, who does an excellent job in the role Woody has exclusively defined as his own.

Mo says:

The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos. 77 min. Rated R. Drama.

Shot in a hidden-camera format, Soderbergh continues his experimental style - this time offering a rare glimpse into the life of a high-profile New York call girl. This is a person whose outer personality is at the pleasure of her client, and the whole idea is whether the filmmaker is able to penetrate behind the iron poker-face mask of the girl, to show us the real person living behind it. For 1-2 minutes towards the end, we are shown the reality of that person, and it's not pretty. Worth the watch, but doesn't go beyond a glamorous HBO-style documentary.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Videodrome (1983)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry. 90 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Horror.

Another fleshy gooey sci-fi by the master of plastic body parts. Cronenberg made several of these gross bloody pictures in the 80s and 90s where a hand turns into mashed potato, and to be honest, it never worked for me (his goo-less Scanners is still the best). The story is obviously predicting the consequences of the 80s video craze, but then also gets involved in the concept of snuff movies (pretty unique for those days), and loses its grip on both. I like the Cronenberg of the 2000s much better, when he's not making horror sci-fi.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Director: Sacha Gervasi. Cast: Steve 'Lips' Kudlow, Robb Reiner. 90 min. Unrated. Documentary.

1984's This is Spinal Tap was a mockumentary about rockers, which was funny. Unfortunately, Anvil is a documentary. When you're confronted with the story of people who believe in a dream that doesn't exist, and hang on to the dream in the face of all evidence proving it doesn't exist, watching their fight becomes quite depressing. This is not a movie about heavy metal rockers. It's about asking yourself: If you were in their shoes, how far would you be willing to go? You may find yourself shedding a few tears watching these two musicians answer that question.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Director: Spike Jonze. Cast: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, Mark Ruffalo. 94 min. Rated PG. Fantasy.

How could you possibly turn a 10-sentence children's book into a feature length movie? Years ago, in a review on Jonze's Three Kings, someone wrote he is the filmmaker of the future. This film shows why. Jonze has accomplished the impossible feat of expanding Maurice Sendak's beloved story into a film that becomes an opportunity for self-reflection about yourself and your family relations. Where the Wild Things Are offers the creativity of some of Tim Burton's best works, or even deeper. The movie is not supposed to be about grown-ups, but it is; and welcomingly so. Highly recommended.

Mo says:

Monday, October 19, 2009

[REC] (2007)

Director(s): Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza. Cast: Ferran Terraza, Manuela Velasco. 78 min. Rated R. Spain. Horror.

For some reason, zombie movies usually have something new to offer - which is the reason for their longivity. In this case, [REC], a horror import from Spain, is entirely shot by handheld camera (interesting how this method accentuates the terror of the unknown). The catch is, throughout the movie, we never see the cameraman. The movie is a gorefest like any other zombie flick, but the final 15 minutes, which is actually goreless, builds up an impressive amount of tension. Recommended if you're up for some gut-wrenching suspense. Remade last year in the States by the title Quarantine.
Mo says:

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Director: Kelly Reichardt. Cast: Michelle Williams, Lucy (the Dog), Wally Dalton, Will Patton. 80 min. Rated R. Drama.

The story of a girl who has only two things left in life: a car, and a dog - and how she starts to lose both. Wendy and Lucy's whopping 84% on the Tomatometer was what enticed me to watch this, and to the filmmakers' credit, the movie is at times superb at showing the girl's absolute loneliness. But occasionally, I was bored. The movie is a showcase for Williams' considerable acting skills, and her final decision about her two mere possessions at the end was thought-provoking; but if you want to be entertained, don't go here.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Director: Oren Peli. Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat. 99 min. Rated R. USA. Horror.

Every five years or so, a true horror movie is made (the last one being The Ring). Using the most simple techniques, Paranormal Activity meets the criteria, and it is your worst nightmares come true. The sheer terror you'll experience during this movie, will remind you of the genre's true masterpieces. During the last minutes, I just wanted it to end, not because of any weakness in the movie, but because the fear I felt was becoming intolerable. Watch this at your own risk - the next time you hear something go bump in the night, you'll have difficulty sleeping.

Mo says:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Goodbye Solo (2008)

Director: Ramin Bahrani. Cast: Souleymane Sy Savane, Red West. 91 min. Rated R. Drama.

Indie director Bahrani's third film follows the same theme of lonely immigrants in America. An old American asking a Senegalese taxi driver to take him to a rendezvous to commit suicide, echoes Kiarostami's Palm d'Or winner, The Taste of Cherry; but Bahrani offers a different interpretation of the concept, and a different ending. Believe it or not, the only reason I'm giving this a Mojo, is because the final glance between the two main characters at end of the movie still haunts me as I write this review. Maybe because I'm always bewildered by a person who "decides" to die.

(Check out Ebert's review, for interesting facts about the two actors' background.)

Mo says:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Served the King of England (2006)

Director: Jiri Menzel. Cast: Ivan Barnev, Oldrich Kaiser. 120 min. Rated R. Czech Republic/Slovakia. Comedy.

A celebration of beauty. This movie boasts whatever mundane element you may consider "beautiful", without becoming excessive or vulgar. And since there's always a very fine line between beauty and vulgarity, the filmmakers do an impressive balancing act to keep the film on track. The last time I felt this way, was when I watched Cinema Paradiso, but the way the movie maintains a colorful attitude in the face of dark situations, reminds of Life is Beautiful. Watch this if you're looking for something different. Very different.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Amreeka (2009)

Director: Cherien Dabis. Cast: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Joseph Ziegler. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Being an Iranian-American, I wouldn't consider myself an "immigrant", but in illustrating the first few nights of coming here from a Middle Eastern country, Amreeka is right on. The movie humbly requests the audience to be more considerate towards "foreigners" (after all, they have a very good reason to be here), and orders those who have already landed here only one thing: Be strong. After watching this, you'll be convinced that quarrels between governments does not necessarily translate to quarrels between their peoples. (Actually sometimes, I feel these animosities brings the peoples closer.)

Mo says:

Two small notes ...

Dear Readers,

I've gotten a few suggestions for MoBlog by some friends. So here are some notes:

1. From now on I'll be adding the movie genre to the end of the movie info. Since I've been giving a summarized version of the reviews, I guess adding the movie genre would help readers choose which movie they may enjoy watching.

2. Since I have a few Iranian readers, I don't mind if you want to post your comments in Farsi.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

State of Play (2009)

Director: Kevin MacDonald. Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis. 127 min. Rated PG-13. Political/Thriller.

When a movie boasts so many interesting actors at every corner, and is made by a director who has "The Last King of Scotland" and "One Day in September" in his dossier, you obviously expect more. Don't get me wrong - "State of Play" is as intriguing as political thrillers get, and you'll be intently listening to every line of dialogue to keep up with the pace. But in the end, I was a little confused: Was this a movie inspired by and in condemnation of the Iraq Blackwater scandal, or about the value of newspaper over blogging?

Mo says:

Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)

Director: Matt Tyrnauer. Cast: Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti, Giorgio Armani, Gwyneth Paltrow, Claudia Schiffer, Donatella Versace. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

Believe me, I have no clue about the fashion world, and the fact that the fashion guru Valentino had retired two years ago was news to me. Call me a socialist, but I find some aspects of the capitalist life (brushing your dogs' teeth?!) disgusting. Watching the life and times of this most famous of all fashion designers wasn't boring, but for a more honest behind-the-scenes look at the fashion world, I would recommend Robert Altman's "Pret-a-Porter" (1994) - even though that is not a documentary.

Mo says:

The Uninvited (2009)

Director(s): Charles & Thomas Guard. Cast: Emily Browning, David Strathairn, Elizabeth Banks. 87 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

I generally stay away from movies that start with the line: "I love you, and I have a condom"; but being a sucker for horror movies, I reluctantly stayed on. I'm glad I did. Although the movie suffers from weak direction, it has a very surprising ending. You'll be guessing the story's mystery one way or the other, but I defy you to be able to guess correctly, even though the clues are there. Since the trick ending is duplicated from other films, I wouldn't give it a Mojo, but as a small weekend movie, it's worth the experience.

Mo says:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Dieter Dengler, Werner Herzog (narrator). 80 min. Documentary.

It happens every single time: when I watch a documentary by the great Herzog, I go into a trance. It happened in "Grizzly Man", it happened in "Encounters at the End of the World", and it happened again here. Herzog's static camera and his own mesmerizing German accent always gives the film a crude, straight-to-the-fact directness. Herzog's favorite "man against nature" theme successfully repeats itself here, telling the true story of a Vietnam POW. Apparently the story was so engaging, Herzog dramatized it in "Rescue Dawn" (2006), with Christian Bale in the lead.

PS: If you ever watch it, make sure you wait till the end of the end credits.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pale Rider (1985)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Carrie Snodgress, Chris Penn, Richard Kiel. 115 min. Rated R. Western.

I have yet to see a Clint Eastwood western I haven't enjoyed. The quiet "Man With No Name" formula always seems to work, and "Pale Rider" is no exception. Not sure if Eastwood gave the spaghetti western its insidious attraction, or vice-versa, but apparently whatever Eastwood decides for a western becomes the rule - to the point that even his magenta-colored coat is likable. Only major problem: a very interesting and cunning villain is created throughout the film, but doesn't get the glamorous ending he deserves. And I was really curious to know what was hiding behind the Preacher's collar.

Mo says:

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy. 123 min. Rated R. Action/Thriller.

Eastwood has been the director of our dreams for the past 10 years, but he has had some misses in his profile, and this is one of them. Big miss. Advertised as having "some of the most exciting mountain-climbing sequences ever filmed", the movie's real mountain climbing doesn't start till minute 94 (yes, I was checking). When it comes to mountains, I admit I've been raised on "Cliffhanger"-like experiences, but I enjoy the paranoia-driven 70s movies - I find them somewhat funny. But the heroes and villains here aren't funny; they're just plain farcical.

Mo says:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tyson (2008)

Director: James Toback. Cast: Mike Tyson. 90 min. Rated R. Documentary.

Mike Tyson? Crying? Yeah, I was surprised too to see tears swell up in his eyes, remembering his late coach. The picture we've seen of this man (the wife abuser who bit off an opponent's ear during a match) is probably of one of the meanest athletes ever. But think again. "Tyson" offers the professional boxer's human side, and makes you wonder how being mean was probably the only weapon he had to survive childhood. And Toback's cut-frame photography helps prevent this from becoming a boring, 90 minute interview. Give it a try.

Mo says: