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: