Sunday, December 30, 2012

Killer Joe (2011)

Director: William Friedkin. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon. 102 min. Rated NC-17. Crime/Drama.

In a combination of Strangers on a Train and Red Rock West, a father and son hire a professional dirty cop (“Killer Joe”) to murder the mother, so they can inherit her $50,000 life insurance – and of course, everything that could go wrong does. Well-written script keeps you guessing till the end, although I was expecting a more satisfying ending. With far more disturbing R-rated movies around (Se7en, Natural Born Killers, Passion of the Christ, you name it), the NC-17 rating is surprising. After watching Bernie and this, I’m thinking, maybe Matthew McConaughey isn’t such a bad actor after all.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Director: Stephen Chbosky. Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Nina Dobrev, Paul Rudd, Melanie Lynskey, Joan Cusack. 102 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Lonely 16-year-old is a complete high school misfit, and gets "adopted" by a brother-sister pair, who've probably been through the same in their own freshman year. Exceptionally honest (and heartwarming) movie about adolescence, dealing with all aspects: self-esteem, sexual awareness, and even mental illness. Lerman as the lead role isn't anything groundbreaking, but I couldn't imagine anybody more perfect as the sister and brother than Emma Watson (Harry Potter) and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin). By the surprise end, I felt I knew these characters in and out, and wished they were my friends in high school.

PS: Great quote: "You can't choose where you come from, but you can choose where you go from there."

Mo says:

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Director: David France. Cast: 120 min. Unrated. Documentary.

The story of how homosexuals dealt with the AIDS pandemic, from the early 80s when they were almost denied hospital admissions, to the mid 90s when an acceptable drug treatment was found - while millions died during the struggle. Inspiring documentation of a fight for survival, which will keep you wondering which of these HIV-infected activists will live to see the cure, and make it to the film's final interviews, at old age. Definitely makes one reflect upon one's attitude towards gays.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Django Unchained (2012)

Director: Quentin Tarantino. Cast: Cast:Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Jonah Hill, Quentin Tarantino. 165 min. Rated R. Western/Action.

Tarantino should probably be named "The Great Entertainer", because like all his other movies, Django Unchained has the same satisfying proportions of a captivating story, beautiful dialogue, an uplifting soundtrack ... and an endless reservoir of cinematic blood and gore. And like all his other movies, Django doesn't really have any take-home message. It's just all about pure entertainment, and the love for movies. As slavery era bounty hunters, Foxx and Waltz create one of the most memorable film duos ever, and DiCaprio and Jackson's villains are gems to cherish. I just wish QT would make movies more often.

PS: "And the Friendly Participation of Franco Nero." What's that supposed to mean?

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ted (2012)

Director: Seth MacFarlane. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Stewart (voice), Norah Jones, Tom Skerritt. 106 min. Rated R. Fantasy/Comedy.

Similar to Paul, the movie starts out with the fictitious but hilarious and engaging friendship of a human and a foul-mouthed non-human entity (this time a teddy bear), and shows how the relationship is not much different from human-human ones. But then the last half hour tries to spice up the scene by resorting to action (with references to the Indiana Jones movies, among a multitude of other '80s homages), and the movie suddenly loses its charm. I wish MacFarlane had continued the drama till the very end.

Mo says:

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hitchcock (2012)

Director: Sacha Gervasi. Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, James D'Arcy, Danny Huston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Kurtwood Smith. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/Drama.

This was a strange experience. I was ready to give a NoMo score, mainly because even under heavy makeup, Anthony Hopkins does not resemble Hitchcock at all (far less than Johansson, whom in some scenes I could hardly discriminate from a young Janet Leigh); and also, a star-studded back story film of another film (even if its one my most beloved films ever), was boring and made no sense. But then suddenly, I found the incredibly well-orchestrated climax of the very first audience reaction to Psycho's shower murder scene,  exhilarating beyond belief. Hitchcock gets a Mojo, for very personal reasons.

PS: Thank you, Maryam, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Hope Springs (2012)

Director: David Frankel. Cast: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue, Mimi Rogers. 100 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Comedy.

Old-age couple realize they're just living under the same roof rather than being married, and seek marriage counseling assistance. Although the setting is quite engaging, I had many problems with the story: mainly, in an effort to clarify the magnitude of the couple's problem, the writers dig themselves so deep into portraying the characters as helpless opposites, any chance of rectifying the marriage seems impossible. And surprise surprise, the ending is extremely contrived. Streep and Jones are top-notch (as always), but I'm amazed at how Carell pulls off every role he plays, in lieu of almost no flexibility between acts.

Mo says:

The Hole (2009)

Director: Joe Dante. Cast: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Terri Polo, Bruce Dern. 92 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Fantasy.

Joe Dante (The HowlingGremlinsSmall Soldiers) has a history of making horror/fantasy/comedy movies targeted for a very limited age group - somewhere around 8-12 years, making his movies too scary/adult for under that age range, and too childish for over. Same thing happens here, where a teenage boy and his elementary school brother find a bottomless pit in their basement, and together with the screenwriter pretty much don't know what to do with it. If the approach on how to handle the primary concept had tilted either towards kids or adults, the results would have been much more satisfying.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Director: Peter Jackson. Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood. 169 min. Rated PG-13. USA/New Zealand. Adventure/Fantasy.

Okay - Peter Jackson is one of the best directors ever, his panoramas are some of the most magical in movie history, and his action sequences are difficult to surpass. But honestly, haven't we already been here before, in LOTR, or even King Kong? Do we really need another trilogy offering the same bone-rattling thrills, the same ghoulish characters (and Gollum), the same perilous journey of heroes trying to get somewhere? I had a feeling there were subplots just to jack the duration up to 3 hours. With all its enchanting beauty and entertainment, a Mojo would be a disservice.

Mo says:

Game Change (2012)

Director: Jay Roach. Cast: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, Sarah Paulson, Ron Livingston. 118 min. History/Drama.

Hard to imagine a political movie based on a presidential election campaign to be so entertaining; and the fact that you followed the events as they unfolded in 2008 has nothing to do with the film's sheer entertainment. The success can be attributed to Moore or Harrelson's incredible performances (as Sarah Palin, and McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt, respectively), or the astounding image of a brainless but egocentric lady having a shot at a superpower's second highest executive position. Interestingly,  Palin's social/political maneuvers after the election corroborates the essence this movie claims about her character. Not to be missed.

PS: Jay Roach directed this?! The same Austin Powers Meet the Fockers Jay Roach?

Mo says:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Savages (2012)

Director: Oliver Stone. Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Demián Bichir, John Travolta. 131 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

Two wild California boys have "scientific" ways of creating the best weed in the world, and live the high life with their common girlfriend, until they run into problems negotiating a deal with a vicious Mexican drug cartel. One of the better movies about drug wars, with great directing, editing and acting all around. After several duds (Alexander, World Trade Center, Wall Street 2), it's great to see Oliver Stone has his groove back. A recommendable movie, only if you have the stomach for some brutal violence, because as he proved when writing Scarface, Stone has something for chainsaws.

Mo says:

Total Recall (2012)

Director: Len Wiseman. Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, Bryan Cranston, John Cho. 118 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Canada. Sci-fi/Action.

Not as bad as they were saying. Obviously, the special effects are incredibly better than the 1990 Arnold-starring original, Ferrell fits into the protagonist role, and Beckinsale upgrades the attractive villain (originally played by Sharon Stone). My only gripe is the innate problem with all remakes: you already know the story, so all the good twists are spoiled. Still, as the movie pays some homages to the original, it also makes decent efforts to circumvent the above problem, most prominently during the customs scene where the weird lady opens up her head. And I'm not going to spoil that one.

Mo says:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Director: Ang Lee. Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu. 127 min. Rated PG. Adventure/Drama.

An Indian teenager is lost at sea, ... with a Bengal tiger in his lifeboat (and you thought you had it bad). This ambitious film is a spectacular feat in CGI effects, and with every awe-inspiring sea creature you're waiting for another visually stunning showcase - which is exactly the problem: there's almost no story here, and if you take away the special effects, what's left? A good example of a film with SFX in the foreground, instead of the other way around. If it wasn't for a decent philosophical twist at the end, this would've been a Soso.

PS: Most consider the incredible range of sub-genres in Lee's film-making profile (classical romance in Sense and Sensibility (1995), American suburban drama in The Ice Storm (1997), Civil War in Ride With the Devil (1999), martial arts/spirituality in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), superheroes in Hulk (2003), homosexuality in Brokeback Mountain (2005), sex in politics in Lust, Caution (2007), 60s music in Taking Woodstock (2009) ), as his great asset. Honestly, as opposed to all great directors, I've never understood what makes Ang Lee tick, and I can never grasp a common theme in his movies - so please guide me if you know better. As a prominent critic says: "Lee is a director whose works I've admired more than loved."

Mo says:

The Queen of Versailles (2012)

Director: Lauren Greenfield. 100 min. Rated PG. USA/Netherlands/UK/Denmark. Documentary.

David Siegel and his wife, billionaire owners of the world's largest timeshare company and builders of a Versailles-like palace in Florida, define the American dream as: live rich, or feel rich, or die. Then the 2008 financial breakdown comes along, and they're struggling to make their ahem*disgusting*ahem consumerism ends meet. Strangely, I neither envied their lifestyle when they were in paradise, nor felt sympathy when they were in crisis mode. The reason is well-conceived at the end: they pray that one day, things will get better, so they can go back to their material-worshiping habits again. They just never learn.

Mo says:

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)

Director: Alison Klayman. 91 min. Rated R. Documentary.  

Life of artist turned political activist Ai Weiwei, who designed the 2008 Beijing Olympic stadium and was later imprisoned, accused of conspiring to "subvert" the Chinese government. Sorry, but seeing how the artist roams the streets and tweets on Twitter, with supporters allowed to film a typical police station visit (as opposed to places like Iran, where political prisoners claim to have been raped in prison or heads stuck in toilets full of feces), made me feel Weiwei has it pretty good. But you have to credit the man for his sheer ingenuity, as his resistance maneuvers are quite creative.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Director: Benh Zeitlin. Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry. 93 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Fantasy.

Winter's Bone meets Pan's Labyrinth, in Louisiana. A little black girl, who by our "normal" living standards appears to inhabit another planet (the "Beasts" in the title probably referring to humans also), fights the daily insurmountable stress of a friendly/abusive father, a Katrina-like storm, and the concept of death, by using her childhood fantasy as a weapon. Quite a few images are still etched in my mind, most prominently an opening scene of the girl running towards us, flares in both hands. Dizzying performance by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis may make her the youngest star ever to win an Oscar.

Mo says:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Director: David O. Russell. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles. 122 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama/Romance.

Winner of this year's Toronto Film Festival People's Choice Award, and destined to be an Oscar contender. The story of two individuals with a history of a nervous breakdown in the past, as the most unmatchable people on the planet. I really don't want to spoil anything further, because you need to experience the honesty that exudes from every corner of this film on your own. In accordance with other Russell films (especially The Fighter, with its suburban Philadelphia setting), there's great writing and great acting all around. Not a romantic movie fan, but this is hands-down the genuine article.

Mo says:

Ruby Sparks (2012)

Director(s): Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening,Antonio Banderas, Aasif Mandvi, Steve Coogan, Deborah Ann Woll, Elliott Gould. 104 min. Rated R. Comedy/Fanatasy/Romance.

A famous nerdy writer is debilitated by writer's block, and when he finally does start writing, his young female character literally comes to life. This could have been a great movie if its "careful-what-you-wish-for"  message was original (Bedazzled (2000) comes to mind), the imaginary character was a much more "dream-like" actress than Kazan (the likes of Zooey Deschanel or Emma Stone would've worked better), and the mid-portion of the story wouldn't drag on. But the movie ends on a mesmerizing note, and Paul Dano is perfect in his role. Giving this a very marginal Mojo.

Mo says:

Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Director: Matt Piedmont. Cast: Will Ferrell, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Genesis Rodriguez. 84 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Maybe it's just me, but in the realm of movies, I never find Will Ferrell interesting when he tries to be funny (he's always interesting when he doesn't try to be funny, à la Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go). And maybe that's exactly the problem: you shouldn't try to be funny; rather, you should be innately funny by becoming the victim of circumstance. Anyway, this farcical Mexican soap opera with Tarantino-style humorous violence does have some moments where you might crack a smile. But in general, Ferrell speaking and singing Spanish and all, it just doesn't work.

Mo says: