Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Warrior (2011)

Director: Gavin O'Conner. Cast: Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton. 140 min. Rated PG-13. Sports.

Two out-of-luck sons of an alcoholic father through separate paths train to participate in a high-prize mixed martial arts tournament. So from the get-go you know the two brothers will fight each other in the final match. No surprise there. Question is: does the story offer a worthy ending to that final match? Somewhat. But it takes such a long time to get there; the screenplay has this strange repetitive pattern of one character being thick-headed about a decision, and another trying to persuade him/her to change his/her mind. 83% on the Tomatometer? Could easily edit out half an hour.

PS: Attractive presence here by Tom Hardy, who graced Inception, and is to play Bane, Batman's "back-breaking" nemesis, in the upcoming Dark Knight Rises.

Mo says:

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Descendants (2011)

Director: Alexander Payne. Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster. 115 min. Rated R. Drama.

"People who don't live in Hawaii think Hawaiian life is perfect; nothing but surfing, relaxing, and happiness ... while the life of an islander is just as stressful, the cancers are just as deadly, and life is as complex and frustrating as anywhere else. People think Hawaii is paradise. Paradise? Paradise can go f--k itself."

And with that to-the-point opening monologue starts another Alexander Payne melodrama, similar to (and almost as powerful as) About Schmidt, where a flawed hero discovers the heartbreaking/infuriating extramarital affair of his dead/dying spouse too late, and struggles with the ambivalence that comes along with it. Payne's slow rhythm is anything but boring, as we're constantly dealt the most extreme of human emotions - so have some napkins handy. While Clooney's Oscar nomination won't be surprising, I'm eager to see how the Academy rewards Woodley's breakthrough performance as the teenage daughter.

Mo says:


Monday, December 19, 2011

Terri (2011)

Director: Azazel Jacobs. Cast: Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Bridger Zadina. 105 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

Opening shot: a fat slob lying in a bathtub, too lazy to get up. A most disgusting image. But no ... Terri is about how appearances can deceive you, and how what we perceive as a chip on one's shoulder can actually be that person's strongest asset. Unless we accomplish the impossible feat of knowing people's inner core, or see through all the "pretend" games they play to assimilate into the society, any judgment is considered moot and ridiculous. Captivating performances by the always lovable John C. Reilly, and newcomer Wysocki. Do not let the slow rhythm dissuade you.

Mo says:

Hugo (2011)

Director: Martin Scorsese. Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Christopher Lee. 126 min. Rated PG. Family/Drama.

This may be Scorsese’s first venture into 3D-land. It may be considered the biography of George Méliès, the “inventor” of movie special effects. Heck, it may even be considered a showcase for how Paris can provide dazzling panoramas and tracking shots. But far and foremost, Hugo is about the love for cinema, and how people are obsessed with movies all their lives. We’ve always loved Scrosese’s exquisite gangster films ... but we wouldn’t mind if he makes more of these also.

DISCLAIMER: To fully enjoy Hugo, make sure you watch this 15 minute sci-fi film by Méliès made in 1902, called A Trip to the Moon. (Keep the audio on mute - the added music is a disaster.)

PS: Thanks again to my 32-year friend Ali S., for sending me the short film 48 hours before I saw the movie!

Mo says:


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jane Eyre (2011)

Director: Cary Fukunaga. Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Michael Fassbender, Sally Hawkins, Judi Dench. 120 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Drama/Romance.

I'm not a romantic movie type, but I have to admit: the new version of Bronte's classic novel mystified me. Maybe because of the authenticity of the story, maybe for the panoramic cinematography, maybe because of Wasikowska's captivating performance (an actress whom I'm not too fond of, just because she bombed Tim Burton's latest), or maybe because of the film's enchanting soundtrack by Oscar-winner Marianelli. I don't know. Whatever it was, it worked. And worked very well.

PS #1: Thank you, Maryam, for the movie recommendation.

PS #2: Check out Michael Fassbender's profile during the past three years: Hunger, Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class, and 2011's Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, and Shame. Check out the flexibility. His first feature movie on the silver screen was just 5 years ago, in 300, and soon he'll be the leading role in RIdley Scott's Prometheus, the Alien prequel. An actor to keep an eye on.

Mo says:

Page Eight (2011)

Director: David Hare. Cast: Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon, Judy Davis, Ralph Fiennes. 99 min. Mystery.

Don't you miss those good old intelligent British spy movies? An MI5 intelligence analyzer (Nighy in an engaging performance) stumbles onto evidence showing the British PM may have had knowledge of American prisoner torture camps around the world - and also evidence of a possible cover-up. Take a look at the incredible ensemble cast, and you're guaranteed to become nostalgic for political spy thrillers with great stories, most of them happening during the Cold War. Highly recommended.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Green Lantern (2011)

Director: Martin Campbell. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett. 114 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

Among all superhero movies this year, this was the weakest. Too many aliens and too little character development demolish any chance of creating sympathy for the perils the protagonists are going through. In the face of an all-star cast, the only mildly attractive character was played by Mark Strong as Sinestro (but he's another alien), and the film's message of "choosing will over fear" may amount to something. Sad what Martin Campbell (Edge of Darkness, GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) has come to.

Mo says:

Beginners (2010)

Director: Mike Mills. Cast:: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent. 105 min. Rated R. Drama.

In the director's autobiographical story, a middle-aged man's mother dies, a few months later his 75-year-old father (Plummer, in an Oscar-worthy performance) tells him he has cancer and was gay all along, and he himself is in a confused state about his relationship to the opposite sex. This becomes the central concept: What is considered a true relationship? What each individual defines, regardless of social norms ... or what the society considers normal? The filmmakers wisely avoid answering the question, and leave the discussion up to you. Watch this with a friend; each person will have their own perspective.

Mo says:

Cronos (1993)

Director: Guillermo del Toro. Cast: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook. 94 min. Rated R. Mexico. Fantasy/Horror.

In his feature directorial debut, del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth fame) sets his personal style in stone: a fantasy-like bedtime story, combined with gruesome, bloody violence. A Geppetto-esque antique dealer accidentally runs into a small golden century-old sought after device called the "Cronos", which runs with an internal live insect, and offers its owner eternal youth by embedding metallic claws into their skin. Not only that, it turns the owner into a blood-sucking vampire (smart way to provide eternal youth). Like other del Toro fantasies, the allegory was lost on me, so I could care less.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Director: Seth Gordon. Cast: Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Colin Farrell, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx. 98 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Meh. Three employees (Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis) are abused by their employers (Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell, respectively), to the point that they decide to kill them. Although the basic concept of employers taking advantage of their employees' desperation during these high unemployment times provides a decent satire core, and I agree that any comedy storyline should be forgiven to be an exaggeration, I had a hard time believing these characters to be pushed so far as to commit murder for their abuse at work. Contains a few good laughs, but overall, it's just brainless entertainment.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Buck (2011)

Director: Cindy Meehle. 88 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

"I don't help people with horse problems; I help horses with people problems." Famous quote from Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer, based on real-life horse trainer Buck Brannaman - this documentary's subject. This is another example of how cinema provides a window into lives you'll probably never be exposed to in a lifetime, and the surprise was how the abused childhood of one man could later translate into such gentle training of horses in adulthood. Some moments (such as a horse attacking to bite someone's head off) make this film worthwhile, although the slow rhythm is probably not for all tastes.

Mo says: