Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fright Night (2011)

Director: Craig Gillespie. Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. 106 min. Rated R. Horror/Comedy.

Remake of a 1985 original. High-school kid (Yelchin) becomes suspicious that his neighbor (Farrell) is a vampire. Nothing deep there, but I dare you show me a vampire flick that isn't entertaining. Would've appreciated if the neighbor's identity was kept a mystery in the beginning (as in the Swedish Let the Right One In, or its American remake, Let Me In), but that structure probably would've missed many comedic opportunities presented here. By the way, maybe Farrell isn't such a bad actor after all - his "Jerry the Vampire" is quite menacing. Or maybe vampires are just great villains.

Best quote: "F---en eBay!!!"

Mo says:

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Director: Tomas Alfredson. Cast: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds. 127 min. Rated R. Mystery/Thriller.

I have all the respect in the world for Gary Oldman (and he has such a quiet, powerful presence here), but this Cold War spy movie was mind-numbingly boring. In fact, I've felt the same about most John le Carré-based movies (Russia House, The Tailor of Panama), and even with its captivating ending, reading through his "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" was quite a challenge. Maybe le Carré's books are just not "filmable".

PS: OK, The Constant Gardener was an exception.

Mo says:

50/50 (2011)

Director: Jonathan Levine. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston. 100 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

Twenty-seven-year-old Gordon-Levitt has a malignant spinal tumor. That's all. But you can create a whirlwind of stories and social interactions around this concept, and 50/50, even with Rogen's hilariously comedic presence, successfully puts you into this person's world. The most attractive relationship here is Gordon-Levitt's with his young therapist, played by Kendrick (the subtlety of which is reminiscent of another of his films, (500) Days of Summer). I wouldn't recommend this movie to everybody, because it punches the viewer too hard; to the extent that I was imagining: "That's how I would act if I had cancer". Yeah, that hard.

Mo says:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Director(s): Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Cast: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Katie Featherston. 83 min. Rated R. Horror.

I can't believe these people. They're just pushing the great original 2007 horror film further down the toilet with each new episode. The third installment of the franchise (this time a prequel) rehashes every scary moment of the past two episodes in such a pathetically artificial manner, it's insulting. Only the final scenes here become slightly creative (in a Satanist ritual sort of way), but that's no saving grace.

Mo says:

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Top 10 Movies of 2011

Time to wake-up again tomorrow at 5:30 AM! The Oscar nominees will be announced, and my annual tradition is to list my top 10 favorite movies of the year the night before. Again there were some casualties this year, as I had to leave out Almodovar's great The Skin I Live In, in favor of the small gem called Another Earth that came along at the last moment, and pushed Almodovar off the list.

(Funny that last year, the same thing happened with another "Another" movie: Mike Leigh's Another Year.)

So, in alphabetical order, my top 10 movies of 2011:

1. Another Earth

2. The Artist

3. The Descendants

4. Hugo

5. Life in a Day

6. Melancholia

7. Midnight in Paris

8. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

9. A Separation

10. Super 8

And for my favorite movie of the year ... I mean, c'mon. To call any movie other than A Separation as the best movie of 2011, would be blasphemy.

(If you haven't seen it yet, no worries: It'll open in wide release in the US this coming weekend, January 27th.)

Another Earth (2011)

Director: Mike Cahil. Cast: Brit Marling, William Mapother. 92 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Fantasy.

A drunk-driving teenager with her whole life ahead of her, crashes and kills a professor's wife and boy. Four years later out of prison, she takes the rough road of making amends with the professor. But there's also "another Earth" approaching, which is the mirror image of life on Earth - and the possibilities are endless. One of the most emotionally intense dramas I'd seen in recent years, with a script that won't let go till the very last scene. The philosophical question: If you could see yourself as a bystander, what would you see? What would you expect?

Mo says:


Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

Director: Brad Bird. Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan. 133 min. Rated R. Action/Thriller. USA/UAE.

Boy, was I surprised. If you long for a great James Bond movie, look no further. The amazing gadgets, the mind-blowing action scenes, the looming WWIII nuclear threats, and the Russian megalomaniac planning to blow up the world - they're all here. And with all his crazy antics, with his near 50 years of age, when it comes to action films, Tom Cruise definitely still has it. It's the James Bond formula, and it works. Just how can I ever forget the Burj Khalifa skyscraper sequence? I promise you haven't seen an action movie this good in a long time.

Mo says:

Young Adult (2011)

Director: Jason Reitman. Cast: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt. 94 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

(Spoiler Alert!)

A self-proclaimed "famous" author who writes teenager novels is down on her luck, and decides to go back to her hometown to steal her high-school sweetheart, whose married and has a new baby girl. Her efforts ... are just pathetic. Because she won't wake up. SHE JUST WON'T WAKE UP! (Watching Theron made me want to shout.) After an astounding climactic scene at the baby-naming party, she concludes she must be mentally disturbed. But here's the ticker: the society convinces her she's their idol. Made by the Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody (Juno) team, this is a must-see for Theron fans.

Mo says:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Ides of March (2011)

Director: George Clooney. Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright. 101 min. Rated R. Political/Drama.

A modern-day idealistic presidential campaign staffer (Gosling) rallies around an energetic "change"-promising candidate not unlike Obama (Clooney), finds himself grappling with the cruel politics and backstabbing involved managing his idol's campaign, and eventually becomes the very foe he was up against. Remarkably intelligent screenplay, as every word and dialogue cuts through the air, and incredible actors popping out of every corner (I'm finally coming to accept that Gosling may be good actor). Directed, written, and produced by Clooney. This guy keeps getting better every day.

Mo says:

The Guard (2011)

Director: John Michael McDonagh. Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham. 96 min. Rated R. Ireland. Comedy/Crime.

Irish rural cop Gleeson and FBI agent Cheadle are the oddest of all imaginable odd couples in this police buddy movie set in Ireland, where the entire screenplay is founded on the most hilarious racist prejudices. So the story itself is all in the background. Very reminiscent of how the 2008 In Bruges was structured - and strangely, Gleeson starred in that one too. Even stranger, I smelled possibilities of a sequel at the end.

Mo says:

The Iron Lady (2011)

Director: Phyllida Lloyd. Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Olivia Colman. 105 min. Rated PG-13. UK/France. Drama/Biography.

First things first: the film's trailer makes the huge mistake of advertising it as a biographical history lesson of Britain's Thatcher era; while this is anything but. It's about what any leader goes through: how they make tough decisions entirely alone, and live with the emotional and personal consequences for the rest of their lives. In effect, a large portion of this well-scripted/well-directed film contemplates on Thatcher during her older years, as she reflects upon her past, while even her senile dementia isn't safe from decades-old stress. Streep's performance is (again) breathtaking, especially at portraying the older Thatcher.

Best Quote: "Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become, habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think ... we become."

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Director: Jon Favreau. Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano. 119 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

So James Bond and Indiana Jones join forces in an action flick that is a gritty Clint Eastwood western meets Independence Day and Alien, with a touch of Men in Black. In other words, it's a hodgepodge. This is the first time I notice Harrison Ford being overshadowed by a co-star, as Craig's charismatic presence makes one delighted (again) that he was chosen as the new Bond. Actually, Ford's role could have been played by anybody, so was his presence here a calculated decision, or is he just getting too old? Entertaining throughout, but nothing to be taken seriously.

Mo says:

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Help (2011)

Director: Tate Taylor. Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek. 146 min. Rated PG-13. USA/India/UAE. Drama.

Initially looks like another heart-wrenching drama about racism in the 60s, but then The Help expands into something far more thought-provoking. It's a picture of how not only African-Americans, but any ostracized group of human beings should react to a demeaning, exploiting power. It also provokes subtle questions along the way, such as: If a maid (not a slave) is told to leave a room, is she allowed to disobey, just because she feels disrespected? Not since Steel Magnolias do I remember a similar all-star female cast, with Bryce Dallas Howard playing one hellava memorable villain.

PS: The Tree of Life, The Debt, Take Shelter, and The Help. Jessica Chastain (similar to Michael Fassbender) has been one of the great discoveries of 2011.

Mo says:

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) (2011)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet. 117 min. Rated R. Spain. Drama/Thriller.

Almodóvar ploughs through gender identity problems and family relationship crises all the time ... but he's really done it this time. Anything I say about this movie's incredible story would be a spoiler, as surprise after surprise hits you. Let's just say Almodóvar uses today's sex-changing technology to its full extent to fool the viewer, and make you think: Does the skin we live in define at all who we are? Watch this, and you're entire concept of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and trans-sexuality will change.

Mo says:

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Cast: Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee. 114 min. Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Spain/Netherlands. Drama/Fantasy.

Here we go again. 89% on the Tomatometer, and winner of the Palm d'Or at Cannes.

Is this supposed to be a joke?

Mo says:

Le Havre (2011)

Director: Aki Kaurismaki. Cast: André Wilms, Blondin Miguel, Jean-Pierre Darroussin. 93 min. Rated PG. Finland/France/Germany. Comedy/Drama.

Sometimes, I get sick at how the most mediocre movies are elevated to the most obnoxious levels, probably because they have a famous director, or are in a foreign language, or are admired in a must-be-good-but-maybe-I-just-didn't-understand-it sort of way; as wisely noted in "The Emperor's New Clothes". This one is by a famous Finnish filmmaker, in French, about an old guy who ignores his dying wife to help smuggle an African refugee boy from Normandy to London. Got a 98% Tomatometer score, and Ebert called it one of the best 20 movies of 2011. Maybe I just didn't understand it.

Mo says:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel. 99 min. Rated R. UK/Germany/Canada/Switzerland. Biography/Drama.

Carl Jung (Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) have endless discussions on psychoanalysis theories, and about whether Yung is emotionally involved with one of his patients (Kinghtley) or not. That pretty much sums it up. Add to that Knightly's artificial "overacting" as a mental patient, and I really didn't see the cinematically imperative point of making such a movie. Cronenberg has come a very long way since the time he made corny sci-fi thrillers, but I wouldn't count this as a major accomplishment.

Mo says:

Moneyball (2011)

Director: Bennet Miller. Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymor Hoffman, Robin Wright. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/Sports.

Not a baseball fan, and don't know much of its technicalities. But this two-hour plus film fully grabbed my attention, because its strokes are much broader than just a sports movie. The true story encourages taking risks against all odds, and deeply contemplates the concept of "superstition" - not only in baseball, but how it undermines life plans. If Brad Pitt takes any credit for his work, he owes it to his incredible chemistry with Jonah Hill (tall and thin, fat and short). Again and again, Hill shows how pivotal a supporting role can be to a film's success.

PS: No wonder the screenplay was so attractive. It's written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, the powerhouses who collectively have the screenplays of Awakenings, Schindler's List, Gangs of New York, and American Gangster (Zaillian), and A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Charlie Wilson's War, and The Social Network (Sorkin) under their belt.

Mo says:

Monday, January 9, 2012

War Horse (2011)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis. 146 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/War.

A thoroughbred horse is trained by a youngster, but then falls into different hands on both sides of World War I. Simple story with a somewhat contrived ending (with Spielberg almost going back into Saving Private Ryan territory to show the brutality and idiocy of war), but most prominently, this is a movie from a director who refuses to come down from his highest rank among filmmakers. Every panorama, every angle, every camera movement exudes with cinematic beauty and perfection in direction. Even if it had no storyline, War Horse would still be just a pleasant movie to "see".

Mo says:

Contagion (2011)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Elliott Gould. 106 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UAE. Drama/Thriller.

Very informative movie on what happens when a viral pandemic occurs; how the disease is spread, what the CDC does, how mass hysteria occurs, and so on. Which means there's no story here whatsoever. Which means this a dramatized documentary, played by an ensemble of great actors, directed by a brilliant director. Which is still fine.

Mo says:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg. 107 min. Rated PG. USA/New Zealand. Animation/Adventure.

O Stevie, if you wanted to make another Indy movie, why bother with Tintin? Not even the soundtrack composer is anyone but John Williams, to at least give the movie a different feeling from another Indiana Jones episode. And not only is the action-packed story a world apart from Herge's "Secret of the Unicorn", I couldn't understand why in this brilliant computer-animated/live action (!) film, everyone looks exactly the way Herge had illustrated them, except Tintin and Snowy? Long story short: Tintin-lovers may be annoyed, or even offended; newcomers may have a good time, because Indy was never a miss.

Mo says:

Hanna (2011)

Director: Joe Wright. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana. 111 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Thriller.

A rogue CIA agent trains her 10-year-old daughter to become ... a rogue CIA agent. Enchanting action sequences with exhilarating background music, as director Joe Wright continues his Atonement tradition of garnishing a disappointing story with highly-stylized cinematography. The lack of substance here makes you scratch your head at times (really, why did the father come out of hiding?), and the supposed twist at the end is more of a story gimmick than a twist (abnormal DNA, whoopee). By the way, this movie contains a significant amount of running.

Mo says:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Shame (2011)

Director: Steve McQueen. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale. 101 min. NC-17. UK. Drama.

This is a movie about a sex addict. No, ... this is not a movie about a sex addict. It's about a common person who is so proud of his independent high-end lifestyle, and has become so impotent in social relations, he has become a sex addict. And when you think of those roots, and the possibility that we may all harbor them, this film becomes very disturbing - and very scary. Fassbender has proven himself as a powerful actor, showing the ability to convey a multitude of messages by the mere glimpse of an eye. Beware this dark movie.

Mo says:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Director: Simon Curtis. Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson, Judy Dench, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper, Zoë Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi. 99 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Drama/Biography.

A movie about the world's and the protagonist's (and the director's) infatuation with Marilyn Monroe. In other words, this movie is about nothing. It's as if 40 years from now you made a movie about Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian - talentless retards/businesswomen who are only famous because of their looks (and the film excels at showing Monroe as a retard). That said, Michelle Williams does a superb job as the bombshell; she actually is Monroe. But that wasn't enough to keep me interested. If you're obsessed with Monroe, you may enjoy this; I'm not, so it wasted my time.

Mo says:

The Artist (2011)

Director: Michel Hazanavicius. Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell. 100 min. Rated PG-13. France/Belgium. Drama/Romance.

Making a silent black-and-white feature film today is an incredible accomplishment in itself. Knowing this beforehand, I was also looking to see whether the film goes anything beyond its "cool" postmodern style. Well, it does. The 1930s switch from silent films to talkies and how actors struggled during the switch, is apparently a metaphor on how one should literally scream to survive. But the astonishing elements here are the soundtrack (actually performing the dialogue), and the casting of Dujardin and Bejo, whom you fall in love with from the very beginning. Interesting to know how they would do in "talkies".

Mo says: