Sunday, June 24, 2012

Coriolanus (2011)

Director: Ralph Fiennes. Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain. 123 min. Rated R. UK. War/Drama.

How sad. How sad that last year, Ralph Fiennes' great directorial debut went under the radar. The Shakespearean play about an army general who is forced into politics, disappoints, is banished from his homeland, and then joins forces with the enemy against his own country, has so many contemporary correlates, picturing the story in anything other than a 21st century society would have been wrong; and the characters' "strange" poetic language makes the impact even stronger (although I admit I watched the whole thing with subtitles). And remind me: why wasn't Vanessa Redgrave nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar?

PS: Thank you for the recommendation, Brad.

Mo says:

The Natural (1984)

Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Richard Farnsworth, Joe Don Baker, Michael Madsen. 134 min. Rated PG. Sports.

Do American movies get any more formulaic than this? Is there any doubt that Robert Redford, that great heart-warming presence, will not make a winning home-run at the end? And that the last whack at the ball will not be in slow-motion? Of course, there are movies that don't take any chances, and are solely written for the American audience. But the ball hitting a single stadium light and all the rest bursting in a firecracker-like shower over our heroes, was really pushing it. Another movie that doesn't age well. Last year's Moneyball did a significantly better job on baseball.

Mo says:

Underworld: Awakening (2012)

Director(s): Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein. Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Charles Dance, Wes Bentley. 88 min. Rated R. Action/Fantasy.

I like the Underworld franchise, and I like Kate Beckinsale. And the presence of a few good actors here (even though it's the fourth episode of a series) show some people think Underworld is good. But this is one episode it could have done without.

Mo says:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Too Big to Fail (2011)

Director: Curtis Hanson. Cast:John Heard, James Woods, William Hurt, Topher Grace, Paul Giamatti, Cynthia Nixon, Edward Asner, Billy Crudup, Bill Pullman, Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Modine, Dan Hedaya. 98 min. Drama.

Incredibly tense narration of the few days in September 2008, when the world's entire economy almost collapsed. As opposed to other movies about those critical days, which hint at those in-charge as devils scheming behind the scenes, this one shows the events from Paulson and Bernanke's point-of-view: What would you have done if you were in their shoes? One caveat: This is not cinema. Similar to Contagion, it's a semi-documentary played out by great actors (the number of newsreels shown is a testimony to that). There's zero character development, maybe because there's too much story to compact into 2 hours.

Mo says:

Prometheus (2012)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce. 124 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Thriller.

Making prequels has become an art, and the successful ones are those that build a world which illuminate the original in a new light. That's exactly what Prometheus does to the 1979 Alien, ingeniously connecting loose ends 33 years later, and throwing in new philosophical questions about the origins of life and existence to ponder upon. There are a few wobbly narrative moments here, but the setting is so mesmerizing, the concepts so well-orchestrated, and the visual effects so enhancing, I'm waiting to see if any 2012 movie will impress me more. Highly demanding a sequel to this.

PS #1: I ran into a few great articles, such as here, here, and especially here. Also, there's a very interesting back story interview with Ridley Scott himself. Prometheus already seems to be positioning itself as one of cinema's sci-fi masterpieces.

PS #2: Ebert interestingly notes that compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey's opening sequence, Prometheus' jump from prehistoric times to the year 2089 has now grabbed the record for the longest-spanning flash forward in movie history. Cool.

PS #3: Thank you, Mohi, for recommending to watch the original Alien again before watching this movie. It was definitely a prerequisite, especially to see the "space jockey" scene again.

Mo says:


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Men in Black III (2012)

 Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bill Hader. 106 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Action/Sci-Fi.

This sets out to revive the lovable 90s franchise (an attempt that failed miserably in 2002), and succeeds at hitting every target it aims for. It's fun, it's funny, and it's even emotionally engaging. Brolin does a tremendous job in portraying a younger Tommy Lee Jones in his 20s, when Smith goes back in time to prevent a time-traveling monster from killing his colleague - to the point that I almost felt Jones looked like Brolin (and not vice versa). With a memorably grotesque villain and cool-looking aliens, it's as good as the original, and how sequels always should be.

PS: The Mojo is just for that final scene, where a tip at a diner prevents a meteor from hitting the Earth.

Mo says:

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

Director: Louis Malle. Cast: Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory. 110 min. Rated PG. Drama.

It's exactly what the title claims: A 2-hour film of two people talking over dinner. Ebert celebrates it as one of the 1980s top 10 films, and some subjects the two improvising actors (playing themselves, both in name and character) discuss are truly interesting, but ... you can't do that to viewers. The whole point of novels/movies is to put a concept into a narrative context; not just talk about it on screen. That's the problem with philosophers making movies: philosophy should be in the background of entertainment, not the other way around. I dozed off too many times.

PS: Vincent Canby of The New York Times put it best in 1981, the year the film was made:  

''"My Dinner with Andre'' is not a conventional movie, but it is a movie. However, I wouldn't advise anyone to see it after a satisfyingly big dinner."

 Mo says:

Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru) (2000)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku. Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Takeshi Kitano, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto, Chiaki Kuriyama. 114 min. Japan. Action/Thriller.

Reportedly, the inspiration for "The Hunger Games" novels. Under a governmental program, forty 9th-grade classmates are given three days to kill each other in a deserted island, with the last one to stand as the winner. Advantages to The Hunger Games: Faster-paced action, with the games starting right off the bat (took an hour for the latter), and the violence is appropriately gruesome. Disadvantages: The reason for the whole "Battle Royale" program was fuzzy, and the story had many holes (e.g., machine guns firing forever). Still, for the common viewer, proves how many great ideas there are in foreign movies.

PS: Obviously, this was as much an inspiration for Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 too, as the blood-spraying violence is taken right out of this movie. Tarantino even employed one of its actresses (Chiaki Kuriyama) as the ball-and-chain-hurling schoolgirl for Kill Bill.

Mo says:

Fata Morgana (1971)

Director: Werner Herzog. 79 min. West Germany. Documentary. 

Herzog's films are all meditative, but among the twenty-one of his films I've seen, this was by far the most. Long traveling shots of the Sahara Desert (mirages being the common point of many), with background Leonard Cohen music, is what I would call experimental at best. No, it's not boring - Herzog has always been the master of putting the most mundane images into a different perspective and making them attractive, as an opening repetitious shot of planes landing at an airstrip should easily prove. But I wouldn't describe this as entertainment, which was the original purpose of movies.

Mo says: