Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski (1999)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog (narrator), Eva Mattes, Claudia Cardinale. 95 min. UK/Germany/Finland/USA. Documentary.

Please note: The title is not "My Best Friend". Because that's what Kinski was to Herzog - a fiend. Kinski , the volcano-tempered maniacal actor, had the leading role in five of Herzog's best films. I assume the reason Herzog kept craving for this crazed collaboration, was Kinski offering Herzog a physical embodiment for his own obsession (commonly shown in his films): the lone man's quest to overcome the brutality of nature. The filmmaker makes the wise decision of not posting any subtitles for Kinski's raging rants in German, as showing the rage is the point - not the rant.

(Quote by Herzog: "Every grey hair on my head, I call Kinski.")

Mo says:

Repulsion (1965)

Director: Roman Polanski. Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser. 105 min. Unrated. Horror.

The actual demonstration of insanity by Catherine Deneuve here is so strong, I'm thinking the only way Polanski could have been so accurate, is to have experienced a touch of psychosis himself (but then you could ask: "How do you know?"). We're in the psychological genre territory again: If the story told is from the point-of-view of a psychotic person, which part of what we see or hear is a delusion/hallucination? Some of it? All of it? The simple horror of the very final scene is devastating. If you haven't seen this yet, don't call yourself a Polanski fan.

Mo says:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Trouble the Water (2008)

Director(s): Carl Deal, Tia Lessin. Cast: Kimberly Rivers Roberts, Scott Roberts. 93 min. Unrated. Documentary.

This handycam-driven documentary on the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina, narrated by a strong-willed black couple who lose their livelihood in the disaster, eventually downgrades itself by playing into a Kanye West "you whites hate us" commentary on living in America - which is what makes its second half boring. There are some mesmerizing moments (e.g. the wife singing a haunting rap into the camera), but if it had stuck to the opening theme of illustrating how black communities struggle in a void of outside help (and had left the judging to us), this documentary could have been a gem.

Mo says:

Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos) (2009)

Director: Pedro Almodovar. Cast: Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo. 127 min. Rated R. Spain. Drama.

Another Almodovar project about colorful confusions and hatred in parent-sibling relationships, but this time in a film-within-a-film context, illustrating metaphorical concepts such as a filmmaker who cannot see, a film that cannot be heard, or a movie without an ending. I've always had some difficulty getting in touch with Almodovar's world, and showing the blind filmmaker here feeling the beauty of two lovers on screen by touching the screen, with all its cinematic creativity, is really pushing it. I still liked Volver better.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Ghost Writer (2010)

Director: Roman Polanski. Cast: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, James Belushi, Eli Wallach. 128 min. Rated PG-13. France/Germany/UK. Political/Suspense.

Polanski's latest has obvious parables to his own life as an exile in another country: an ex-British PM, accused of war crimes, is forced to stay in the US until further notice. But this beautifully crafted political thriller goes far beyond a filmmaker's quibbles about life. The plot's conspiracy theory (involving the ex-PM's origins) are quite outrageous; but Polanski's skills in creating paranoia while delicately putting the viewer in the hero's shoes (as he pieces together evidence in a whodunit-style story, reminiscent of Polanski's The Ninth Gate), offer pure delight. It's nice watching great directors occasionally take on small projects.

(PS: And again, I can't believe Eli Wallach!)

Mo says:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Director: Tim Burton. Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee. 108 min. Rated PG. Fantasy.

Never a fan of Lewis Carroll's 1865 story - but knowing the genius Burton is, I was hoping he would transform it into something enchanting. I was wrong. A more teenage-attracting 19-year-old Alice and an epic action-packed LOTR-style plot loses steam midway, and Johnny Depp (who is always good), repeating the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory persona, is not able to save the day either. The art direction is unquestionably top-notch, but I found myself yawning during the second half, waiting for the movie to end. Never thought I'd give a Tim Burton film a bad score.

Mo says:

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Director: Sydney Pollack. Cast: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow. 117 min. Rated R. Thriller.

An oldie but goodie. And how can you go wrong with Pollack, directing Robert Redford, Max Von Sydow, and Faye Dunaway? By today's tension-driven standards, Condor's story may be considered a bit dull, but watching every move of these golden stars in a classic 70s spy movie is not something you can easily pass by. Makes you nostalgic for the pre-Lucas/Spielberg/Cameron era, before they redefined the whole business.

Mo says:

Ponyo (2008)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Voices (English dubbed version): Noah Cyrus, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cloris Leachman, Frankie Jonas, Lily Tomlin, Betty White. 101 min. Rated G. Japan. Animation.

The Miyazaki style (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle) is very recognizable: A visually stunning animation of bizarre fantasy characters, in a storyline that is probably portraying an abstract philosophical/social concept. Ponyo follows the same lines, but somehow, I found this Miyazaki experience much more visually fulfilling; the scene with Ponyo running atop the huge fishes following the hero's car, is the pinnacle of Japanese animation (the rapid tapping of her wet feet will definitely ring in your ears for awhile). I always enjoy watching Miyazaki's work, and I don't know why. Tell me if you figure it out.

Mo says:

Shutter Island (2010)

Director: Martin Scorsese. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch. 138 min. Rated R. Thriller/Horror.

We've seen psychological thrillers with a twist, but Shutter Island expands the genre one step further. In The Sixth Sense, A Beautiful Mind, or The Others, a crucial story twist suddenly gives every plot element a different meaning. Shutter plays a very different (and mind-boggling) game: At the end, is DiCaprio really ___ , or is he not? Scorsese makes us as the viewer doubt our own sanity. I always thought Cape Fear (another psychological thriller) was Scorsese's best. Shutter proves Scorsese's as good at this genre as gangster movies. Very highly recommended, even though it'll mess up your mind.

(Warning: A reader advised me to warn parents about watching this movie. Not to warn about the kids watching it; to warn the parents about watching it.)

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz. 107 min. Rated PG. West Germany/France. Horror.

Who would have thought Master Herzog could make the creepiest Dracula movie ever? Just imagine the famous tale devoid of all Hollywood glamor; what you get is a film with evil seeping through and pouring out. Herzog provides moments to just sit, listen to the eerie soundtrack, and meditate on the impending doom. I can comfortably say I've never seen a Count Dracula like Klaus Kinski's to be so ... intimate. Avoiding his hypnotic gaze looking straight into the camera, is a nearly impossible feat. This is at a truly different level than any vampire movie you've ever experienced.

Mo says:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My 2010 Oscars Predictions

Tomorrow's the big night, so I'll cut to the chase. Since I believe during Oscars predictions, people usually mix up what they think "should win" with what they predict "will win", like prior years I'll separate the two:

Best Picture:

(Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air)

I can't believe Best Picture this year has become the toughest Oscar to predict. Obviously the choice is between Avatar and The Hurt Locker. And even though there's been a huge amount of publicity for Avatar as best film of the year (at least it was my top movie of the year), there's been some gaining interest in The Hurt Locker during the past weeks.

Should win: Avatar

Will win: The Hurt Locker

Best Director:

(James Cameron for Avatar, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds, Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Jason Reitman for Up in the Air)

Not much of a competition here.
Cameron already has an Oscar for Titanic, and the Academy loves titles like "first ---- Oscar winner ever!" (fill in the blank with "female, black, gay, hermaphrodite, quadriplegic, etc). So the Oscar will go to Cameron's ex, Kathryn Bigelow, the first female director Oscar winner ever.

Should win: James Cameron

Will win: Kathryn Bigelow

Best Actor:

(Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, George Clooney in Up in the Air, Colin Firth in A Single Man, Morgan Freeman in Invictus, Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker)

Jeff Bridges has been acting forever, has been nominated 4 times before without a win, and his Crazy Heart performance was a tour de force.

Should win: Jeff Bridges

Will win: Jeff Bridges

Best Actress:

(Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, Helen Mirren in The Last Station, Carey Mulligan in An Education, Gabourey Sidibe in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire", Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia)

If you're asking me, Carey Mulligan should win for An Education (unfortunately nobody ever asked me). But she's a nobody in Hollywood, so the award will go to a somebody. Streep has been nominated n times before, and hasn't won for the past 28 years since Sophie's Choice, so she may become the wild card Sunday night. But Hollywood has a reputation of preferring to glamorize younger performers, so Sandra Bullock's authoritarian tear-jerker performance in the cliche-filled The Blind Side will take home the prize.

Should win: Carey Mulligan

Will win: Sandra Bullock

Best Supporting Actor:

(Matt Damon in Invictus, Woody Harrelson in The Messenger, Christopher Plummer in The Last Station, Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones, Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds)

Among the nominees, I've only seen Invictus and Inglourious Basterds. But you can bet your house on it: Waltz is the winner. He's won every award under the sun - and deservedly so.

Should win: Christoph Waltz

Will win: Christoph Waltz

Best Supporting Actress:

(Penélope Cruz in Nine, Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart, Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air, Mo'Nique in Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire).

Same story here. Mo'Nique will win . Don't even ask. But I personally prefer Maggie Gyllenhaal to win, because her presence in Crazy Heart was almost as dominating as Bridges, and I also didn't like Precious.

Should win: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Will win: Mo'Nique

Best Original Screenplay:

(The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The Messenger, A Serious Man, Up)

There's been some talk about The Hurt Locker winning this one. But you know what? I can't imagine how QT's Inglourious Basterds could not win. The bastard (no pun intended) virtually rewrote WWII history! Now who could have ever had such audacity?

Should win: Inglourious Basterds

Will win: Inglourious Basterds

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(District 9, An Education, In the Loop, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Up in the Air)

Poor former front-runner Up in the Air is going to lose in all other categories, so it'll win this one. And to be honest, it's a great metaphor of our times.

Should win: Up in the Air

Will win: Up in the Air

Best Foreign Language Film:

(Ajami - Israel, El Secreto de Sus Ojos - Argentina, The Milk of Sorrow - Peru, Un Prophète - France, The White Ribbon - Germany)

This category acts strangely every once in a while. In 2008 Departures won over Waltz with Bashir, in 2006 The Lives of Others won over Pan's Labyrinth, in 2004 The Sea Inside won over The Chorus, in 2002 Nowhere in Africa won over El Crime del Padre Amaro, and in 2001 No Man's Land won over Amelie; while in each of these years, the latter film was the critics' favorite.

This year Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon appears to be the obvious winner (it won the Palm d'Or at Cannes, and its message is too strong to ignore), but during the past weeks, there's been some major buzz surrounding Un Prophète (A Prophet) from France - it won the BAFTA award (UK's Oscar equivalent) for Best Foreign Film, and the Best Film of the European Film Awards. Although I believe The White Ribbon is worthy of great recognition, I'm taking a risk on this category.

Should win: The White Ribbon

Will win: Un Prophète

And predictions for other categories:

- Best Animated Feature Film: Up (Pixar always wins.)

- Best Animated Short Film: A Matter of Loaf and Death (The Academy loves Wallace and Gromit.)

- Best Documentary Feature Film: The Cove.

- Best Documentary Short Film: Music by Prudence

- Best Live Action Short Film: The New Tenants

- Best Editing: The Hurt Locker (Because the Editor's Guild said so!)

- Best Art Direction: Avatar

- Best Cinematography: Avatar

- Best Makeup: Star Trek

- Best Original Score: Up

- Best Original Song: Crazy Heart (for "The Weary Kind")

- Best Costume: The Young Victoria

- Best Sound Editing: Avatar

- Best Sound Mixing: Avatar

- Best Visual Effects: Avatar

* * *

So even though apparently Avatar will win huge in terms of number, the most memorable Oscars (the ones that will make it "X movie's year") will go to The Hurt Locker.

See you after the show! (Or even before the show, as you're very welcome to post your predictions, if you disagree with me.)

In the Loop (2009)

Director: Armando Iannucci. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Steve Coogan. 106 min. UK. Political/Comedy.

O, those English comedies. They're probably the only intelligent ones out there. This political comedy about the preliminary US/UK negotiations that lead to war on "the Middle East country", has such a rapid onslaught of back-and-forth witty dialogue (and one of the highest f-word counts in recent memory), makes you wonder how thick the script must have been. Shot in The Office style format, the idiotic squabble between political middlemen and their word games (with a nice touch by Gandolfini) is quite disconcerting, considering these people may be running our lives. Worth a shot if you're looking for smart satire.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Antichrist (2009)

Director: Lars von Trier. Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg. 108 min. Not Rated. Denmark/France/Germany/Sweden/Italy/Poland. Drama.

With every movie, Lars von Trier is becoming more and more ... insane. That's the best word I can come up with. After the masterpiece called Breaking the Waves, the negativity of Dancer in the Dark, Dogville and Manderlay was tolerable. But the utter self-hatred depicted in Antichrist was something I had rarely experienced in movies before. Eradicating evil by mutilating sex organs? I wouldn't be surprised if someday we hear von Trier has committed suicide. And no wonder Gainsbourg won the Best Actress award in Cannes last year; I'm amazed she physically survived this role.

Mo says:

Monday, March 1, 2010

New York, I Love You (2009)

Director(s): Fatih Akin, Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Brett Ratner, Randall Balsmeyer, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman.
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Robin Wright Penn, Ethan Hawke, Orlando Bloom, Blake Lively, Hayden Christensen, Christina Ricci, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper, James Caan, Julie Christie, Andy Garcia, Drea de Matteo, Eli Wallach, Cloris Leachman.
103 min. Rated R. Drama. France/USA.

This isn't what New York is about. New York is not about some eccentric, artistic hermits scattered across the city, desperately waiting to make contact with another species. New York is about being alive, feeling the community, simply watching the beauty of people walking by. The followup to 2006's Paris, je t'aime (Paris, I Love You) isn't boring, but doesn't pay NYC the respect it deserves either. I know the studio was giving the younger generation of filmmakers a chance, but when we're talking movies and NYC, shouldn't there be at least a tiny homage to Scorsese, Allen, or Lumet?

PS #1: Among the whole crowd, Ethan Hawke again does the best job.

PS #2: I cannot believe Eli Wallach. Tuco is still acting at the age of 95.

Mo says: