Friday, May 31, 2013

After Earth (2013)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Kravitz. 100 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Sci-Fi.

Father and son crash-land on a futuristic uninhabitable Earth, and the injured father sends his son on a grueling trek to find and activate a beacon in the broken-off tail of the ship, 100 kilometers away. M. Night Shyamalan has taken a nose-dive since his two break-out films, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but this can be considered a redemption. It contains messages of protecting the environment, respecting family values, and zen-like approach to confronting your fears ("Fear is a choice."). I was entertained, dazzled, mystified, and repeatedly moved throughout the film. But again, I have a weak spot for sci-fi.

PS: I cannot fathom why the critics blasted this movie, but I can imagine why Will Smith had to forfeit playing Django in Tarantino's movie (with Jamie Foxx ending up with the role). After all, he wrote this movie's story, and it's a great vehicle for both him and his son.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna) (1964)

Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara. Cast: Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida. 147 min. Not Rated. Japan. Drama/Thriller.

I rarely write about old movies, unless I'm recommending them; and I highly recommend this one. An entomologist is lured by villagers and trapped in a dune sandpit, as a "helper" to a woman living there, to shovel the sand out every night. They shovel, and sand keeps accumulating; they don't shovel, and they'll get buried. So... "Do you shovel to live, or live to shovel?" The concepts and allegories are so far-reaching, the enigmatic but obvious ending so perfectly describes the mechanisms of totalitarian governance, I was confounded how we still grapple with paradoxes mentioned in 50-year-old Japanese films.

PS: You know what? Ebert's four-star review on this Cannes Jury Prize winner does a much more splendid job here. Read it after you've watched the movie.

"You cannot escape the pit. But you can make it a better pit. Small consolation is better than none."

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Director: Derek Cianfrance. Cast:: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Harris Yulin, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta. 140 min. Rated R.

Three consecutive stories: a criminal and his 1 year-old son, a rookie cop and his 1 year-old son, and the two sons accidental interaction/friendship 15 years later. This gripping melodrama about family relationships is as dark as director Cianfrance's previous film, Blue Valentine, and the notion of how the past will always come back to haunt you, is relentless. Initially, I never thought of Gosling as serious acting material, but since his above-mentioned other collaboration with the same director, he's been growing on me. And Ray Liotta is always such an enjoyably menacing bad guy. Well worth the extra-long movie time.

PS: I can guarantee the director/writer is a huge Star Wars fan. The dialogue between the mechanic and the criminal's son about how his father was the fastest motorcyclist he'd ever known, is right off of Ben Kenobi's words. Even the sunglasses he hands down the kid from his father kid is green-rimmed - the color of the light-saber Ben hands down to Luke.

Mo says:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Regarding Henry (1991)

Director: Mike Nichols. Cast: Harrison Ford, Annette Bening, Bill Nunn, John Leguizamo. 108 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Cold-hearted hotshot lawyer becomes entirely dysfunctional after being shot during a robbery, and transforms into another person post-recovery; or rather, starts clean as a whiteboard. Mostly predictable, and disturbingly implausible - a person who couldn't read or write just a few days ago, is suddenly able to sniff out his own pre-trauma deceptive legal defenses. Nice tear-jerker (with some great Ritz Cracker product placement), but twenty years on, not a movie that ages very well. I was expecting more from both director Mike Nichols ... and writer J.J. Abrams.

Mo says:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Central Park Five (2012)

Director(s): Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon. 119 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

Master documentarian Ken Burns, his daughter, and his son-in-law, capture the essence of the racism rampant in the 80s' NYC, and how this led to the arrest and prosecution of five black teenagers for the assault and rape of a white jogger in Central Park - who went on to serve 7 years in prison based on false confessions obtained under lengthy coercing interrogations. The film is evidence of how bitterly defective the justice system of even a civilized society is, but this expertly-done work would've impacted me harder if I hadn't already seen the similar-themed HBO grand slam, Paradise Lost.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Great Silence (Il grande silenzio) (1968)

Director: Sergio Corbucci.  Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Vonetta McGee, Luigi Pistilli. 105 min. Italy/France. Western

Although Tarantino derived the name of his recent movie from Corbucci's Django, I bet he was inspired by this film for its story. Only here the bandits are the good guys; the bounty-hunters the villains. The hero is a sharpshooter named Silence, who lives up to his name: he never speaks a word throughout the film (and you thought Eastwood's Man With No Name was a tough sell). Kinski again proves his genius as the villain, but with all its unique elements and surprises, it's the baffling ending that makes this one of the best Spaghetti Westerns I've ever seen.

PS: Thank you, Toast. This has probably been your best movie recommendation ever.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hitler's Children (2011)

Director: Chanoch Zeevi. 83 min. Not Rated. USA/Germany/Israel. Documentary.

The descendants of Himmler, Goering, Hoess, and Amon Goeth (made famous by Schindler's List) among others, are interviewed about how their feeling of guilt drove them to change their names, write books chastising their forefathers, and sterilize themselves so they wouldn't pass on their "Nazi genes". Does a decent job at showing the crushing pressure they're living under, but occasionally becomes cliche (one telling a class of Israeli children he would kill his grandfather Rudolph Hoess if he was here), and fails to explain why these people feel such a huge burden, when they had no say in the matter?

Mo says:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Director: J.J. Abrams. Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller. 132 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-Fi.

Abrams continues his reincarnation of the Star Trek franchise ... and I did not even think about looking at my watch for the full 130 minutes. The interactions between the young characters have matured, we see their inner strengths and weaknesses, we're given a strong homage (maybe too strong) to an older Star Trek episode, and we watch one of the most evil, calculating and fascinating movie villains in recent memory. A scene involves shooting two characters from one starship to another, in deep space. Do I have your attention now? So glad Abrams is directing the next Star Wars movie.

PS: Would it be a spoiler if I told you Robocop plays Captain Kirk's father-in-law here?

Mo says:

Holy Motors (2012)

Director: Leos Carax. Cast: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue. 115 min. Not Rated. France/Germany. Drama/Fantasy.

An actor accomplishes different "assignments" of playing an extreme variety of roles through a 24-hour period in Paris. There's no filming crew, implying how an actor's life is a blend of dream and reality, without any defining borders. But isn't that how life is in general, people continuously playing "roles" in different settings, each losing sight of their true identity? Works like a David Lynch movie; you're not sure what it's all about, but the bizarre imagery and engaging flow keeps you intrigued till the final scene (especially the final scene). I'll be thinking of that imagery for some time.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Paperboy (2012)

Director: Lee Daniels. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Scott Glenn, Macy Gray. 107 min. Rated R. Drama.

A reporter goes back to his hometown in Florida to prove the innocence of a man on death-row. Aside from that, never seen so many good actors in such a compilation of weird junk in my life - and never knew the eternally-good-boy John Cusack had it in him to play such a disgusting character. I hate movies that find joy in hurting the viewer, and I hated this movie. Maybe I shouldn't go near a Lee Daniels movie ever again.

Mo says:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mud (2012)

Director: Jeff Nichols. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon. 130 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

Jeff Nichols, best known for his great Take Shelter, tells a Huckleberry Finn story of two boys on the Mississippi who befriend a wanted fugitive, but through the friendship learn some hard lessons on the extent that female emotions can be trusted. Amazing how the simple story engages till the very end, and portrays some glamorous Hollywood superstars (one showing up very unexpectedly midway through) in an earthly, mundane light, suiting the director’s indie style. It’s a harsh terrain, but strangely, except for a Mafia subplot, no major character is a villain here. So far, the best movie of 2013.

Mo says:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sinister (2012)

Director: Scott Derrickson. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, Vincent D'Onofrio. 110 min. Rated R. Horror/Mystery.

A true-crime writer (insanely) moves his family into a home where a grisly massacre occurred, to find material for his next bestseller. Hawke always boasts the ability to make his characters both plausible and likable, and I'm thankful for that, because the content here is so dark and disturbing, you'll want to go on a vacation after it's done. If it wasn't for his acting and the incredible cinematography, I would have given this a NoMo, because the film is filled with idiotic shock shots, and believe it or not, I predicted the ending just by watching the trailer.

Mo says:

Fast Five (2011)

Director: Justin Lin. Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson, Joaquim de Almeida. Cast: 130 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Thriller.

Hesitant to watch this, because I stopped following the brainless Fast & Furious franchise after the second installment. Not that in terms of storyline, or character development, or acting, or any philosophical ideation this fifth episode impressed me in any way - not at all. But this movie has some car chases, even I with no sense of car fetish couldn't resist feeling admiration for whomever thought them out; and now I'm curious to see what this summer's sixth episode has in store. Won't spoil the fun by pointing out what the scenes or their choreography contain. Just see for yourself.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Robot & Frank (2012)

Director: Jake Schreier. Cast: Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jeremy Sisto. 89 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

A good idea, crudely done. In the "near future", an aging kleptomaniac is losing his long-term memory to Alzheimer's, and his children buy him a caretaker robot to substitute their own presence around him. Sadly, the old man makes a stronger bond to the robot than to his own children. This could have been a bitter metaphor of how low human relations have stooped, but there are inconsistencies, mostly in the form of some cops acting like clowns, that takes away the gravity of the drama. Amusing, but a skilled director would've avoided the pitfalls.

Mo says:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Director: Shane Black. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany. 130 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-Fi.

It's the third film of a trilogy, always under the black cloud of becoming the worst. But fortunately, Iron Man 3 breaks its way through, and tries to create its own identity by following Spider-man 2's lead of humanizing the superhero (the egotistical Tony Stark has anxiety attacks!), and even making political statements (the OBL-like Mandarin is just a facade). Still, this doesn't improve upon the Marvel superhero sub-genre, and merely stays at the level of a very entertaining action movie. The sky-diving rescue sequence blew me away, but I doubt this will be on my top 10 list for 2013.

Mo says:

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Director(s): Glen Ficarra, John Requa. Cast: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Josh Groban. 118 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Comedy/Romance.

Stellar-casted light romantic comedy, with multiple interconnecting stories revolving around the truth or absurdity of love. Takes the risk of dragging on for too long, and contains two subplot coincidences (one involving Marisa Tomei, the other Emma Stone), the eye-rolling latter ruining the fun of the surprising former. Ends with an attempt at a tear-jerking speech. Weakest point: a dumb 4-way fight between the male stars. Strongest point: Tomei's return to her comedy days.

Mo says:

Friday, May 3, 2013

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Cast: Katie Featherston, Matt Shively, Stephen Dunham. 88 min. Rated R. Horror.

The progression of how I scored this wonderfully-started but shamefully deteriorated horror franchise (demonstrated here, here, and here, in sequence) shows why after the previous installment, I stopped going to the theaters and just waited for the DVD. Now I believe I shouldn't have even waited for the DVD. Dora the Explorer is scarier than this. The only new thing here, was to learn how the Xbox Kinect works. That part was quite engaging.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Battleship (2012)

Director: Peter Berg. Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano. 131 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-Fi.

This was the first time since Napoleon Dynamite where while watching a movie, I went from NoMo, to Soso, to Mojo. Similar to the Total Recall remake, wasn't as bad as the critics said, and similar to 2012, manages to become what it's destined to be: a fun summer blockbuster with lots of excitement and explosions. Some (or most) parts are brainless beyond belief, but does make an attempt for some Prometheus-like sci-fi logic (if there is such a thing), and the board game inspirations are absolutely ingenious. I know Rihanna's part is a throwaway (among others), but hey, that's Hollywood.

PS #1: Thank you, Farshid, for recommending this a long time ago. I guess I should have watched it sooner.

PS #2: Wait till the very end - there's a post-credits scene.

Mo says: