Saturday, April 28, 2012

Project Nim (2011)

Director: James Marsh. 93 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Documentary.

A chimp is taken from her mother at birth, and raised among humans in a project to teach him sign language. No, this isn't a prequel to Planet of the Apes. It's an unsettling documentation of how we selfishly impose our theories about nature (or anything), and test them to reach the conclusions we want, without the slightest regard to emotions - including humans'. And when our theories fail, we easily ignore the damage we've caused and go on to the next test. Result: the chimp gradually evolves from a cute baby, to a vicious animal. Just because we could.

PS: Quite evident from the style that this is made by filmmakers of the 2008 documentary, Man on Wire. The remarkable fact is how some filmmakers can create the most engrossing documentaries out of the most seemingly bland and innocuous film footage.

Mo says:

Le Samouraï (1967)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Cast: Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon, François Périer. 105 min. Rated PG. France/Italy. Crime/Drama.

Delon plays a hitman with a heart, who is witnessed by a lounge singer during one of his hits, and then double-crossed by the people who hired him. It's a film that will make you long for the good old days, when movies were character-driven and meditative, when you weren't constantly being bombarded by fast editing and special effects, when you had time to absorb the scenes and pay attention to detail. Another Frenchman's more recent The Profesional/Leon (1994) must have definitely been inspired by this, and if I hadn't seen the latter first, I'd have given this a Mojo.

Mo says:

Bully (2011)

Director: Lee Hirsch. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

A film that will hook onto you from the very first minute. The concept of bullying that is so severe at school, victimized children are committing suicide, or taking it out on people through extremely rash actions. How do we solve such a devastation? Two problems: (1) No clear-cut definition for what is called bullying; (2) Is a child who kills himself for being bullied considered ... weak? Solutions aside, this is one of those movies that  kids and parents alike owe it to themselves to watch, even though it's one of the saddest films you'll ever see.

PS: I hope you already know the story of how Harvey Weinstein fought the MPAA to switch the committee's original R-rating judgment on the film to a PG-13, just so kids could watch it. Here's a rundown.

Mo says:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) (1980)

Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken'ichi Hagiwara. 180 min. Rated PG. Japan/USA. War/Epic.

A revered Japanese warlord appoints a double for his protection, but when he's suddenly killed in battle himself, his clueless "shadow" must take his place to avoid the chance of enemies discovering he's already dead. Similar to Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), there's a grander concept here: the masses' perception of a leader's power defines how powerful he is, not his physical power per se. And similar to his later Ran (1985), this is a movie of stunning visual brilliance, especially during a hypnotizing dream sequence. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, this is one of The Emperor's greatest epics.

Mo says:

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Silent House (La casa muda) (2010)

Director: Gustavo Hernández. Cast: Florencia Colucci, Abel Tripaldi, Gustavo Alonso. 86 min. Uruguay. Horror/Thriller.

Remade last year in the US, so obviously, I watched the original. A teenager stays with her father in a dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere, and as weird things start to happen, she realizes there's no way out. The beauty is in the technicalities: similar to Hitchcock's The Rope, almost the entire film is one single shot. There are some true horror moments here, but there's a sudden twist at the end, and the last 10 minutes become extremely sadistic, and psychotic. Despite plausibility problems, it's not a bad movie - just that I wouldn't recommend it.

Mo says:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Into the Abyss (2011)

Director: Werner Herzog. 107 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK/Germany. Documentary.

Capital punishment. Which side are you on? Herzog's latest compelling documentary will force you to take a side. From the very beginning he makes it clear he's against the death penalty, but then through documented police footage and numerous interviews, narrates how two teenagers brutally killed three family members to steal their red Camaro, how one was condemned to death in 2010, and how this affected the lives of all involved. Beware: some aspects people provide here will haunt you for some time. If I had seen this earlier, it would have taken a spot in my top 10 of 2011.

Mo says:


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)

Director: Stephen Daldry. Cast: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, John Goodman, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright. 129 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

A boy whose father died in 9/11, finds a key in his father's belongings, and sets out to find which NYC lock it opens. The directing, editing, and acting (especially by newcomer Horn, and of course, Max von Sydow) are all perfect, but the script repeatedly and intentionally manipulates the viewers' emotions. When the subject matter is already so emotionally powerful, such trickery is unnecessary. September 11 for America is becoming the cultural counterpart of the Holocaust for the Jews; one day there will be its cinematic equivalent of Schindler's List and Life is Beautiful. This movie is not it.

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson. Cast: Kal Penn, John Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo, Elias Koteas, Patton Oswalt. 90 min. Rated R.

This is exactly what the title says: a disgusting visceral Harold & Kumar movie, a Christmas movie, but worst of all, a 3D movie. Literally, it's a movie with a story centered around every opportunity to create a 3D extravaganza. For the chance of a road sign to be hurled at the audience, a road crash scene is implemented into the script; for the opportunity of cocaine powder balls to fill the screen, a drug cartel shootout scene is created; and so on. This is the lamest 3D movie you can imagine, targeted to the brain dead. Steer clear.

Mo says:

Carnal Knowledge (1971)

Director: Mike Nichols. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Arthur Garfunkel, Candice Bergen, Ann-Margret. 98 min. Rated R. Drama/Comedy.

Nicholson is a misogynistic freak who employs women for his own grandiose pleasure, but ironically, almost comically, is outwitted by even the most naive ones. In terms of the rapid succession of sharp, witty dialogue and the small number of characters, this is very similar to Nichols' other great film about male-female relationships, Closer (2004); so if you liked that one, this is a must-see. Spell-binding performances by Nicholson and Ann-Margaret, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and featuring Art Garfunkel, who with Paul Simon made another Nichols movie (The Graduate, 1967) and its "Mrs. Robinson" memorable.

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011)

Director: Alex Stapleton. 95 min. Rated R. Documentary.

If you know Roger Corman (and the guilty pleasure of exploitation movies), this documentary is a treat. If you don't know him, you need to improve your cinema knowledge, by watching this biographical on the B-movie king who produced/directed more than 350 films, and gave some names an initial shot in the movie business: Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner, Sylvester Stallone, Ron Howard, Tommy Lee Jones, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Jonathan Demme. The fact that some Corman proteges (David Carradine, Dennis Hopper) are already dead, and many are interviewed here, makes this a must-see for film fans.

Mo says:

The Muppets (2011)

Director: James Bobin. Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, James Carvel, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, Judd Hirsch, Mickey Rooney, Jack Black. 103 min. Rated PG. Comedy/Family.

Some movies are made solely for you and your generation, and no one else will appreciate them. If you grew up with the Muppets like I did, this is the movie for you. Jason Segel and Nick Stoller manage to revitalize the franchise, and make it as original and authentic as it could ever get, with numerous memorable lines along the way. They even show the audacity of attempting an unconventional ending that will surprise. Take a look at the cast: amazing how many famous performers went for the honor of a cameo role in the film - deservedly so.

Favorite line: Swedish chef: "Say hello to my little friend!!!"

Mo says: