Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Late Quartet (2012)

Director: Yaron Zilberman. Cast: Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Imogene Poots. 105 min. Rated R. Drama.

I once read somewhere: "Aim at my ego, and I'll aim your entire existence." Yes, it's that severe of a sin. The older member of an acclaimed quartet is diagnosed with Parkinson's, and the group starts to fall apart. But this is not a movie about Beethoven's music. It's a deep character study, concerning the moment you realize, you're not as important to your closest people as you thought you were. We've all been there, and we've all crashed at the moment. I'm aghast such powerful movies fall through the cracks, and fail to attract a wider audience.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Warm Bodies (2013)

Director: Jonathan Levine. Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Horror/Romance.

We know what the zombie sub-genre stands for: consumerism, ignorance, greed, etc. But you need to be very creative to build upon these metaphors, and introduce new elements of comedy (Shaun of the Dead, Fido, Zombieland), let alone comedy and romance. That's what Warm Bodies successfully achieves. A zombie eating a character's brain and incorporating his memories into his own is a method to define that character in flashbacks, and the final scene points at the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yeah ... that creative. The imagination runs so wild here, I thought you'd hate me if I gave it a Mojo.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

Director: Joseph Kosinski. Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. 124 min. Rated PG-13. Sci-Fi/Action.

Kosinski is a sci-fi director to keep an eye on. After face-lifting Tron through a philosophical 2010 sequel, here he creates an extremely intelligent version of a famous (but lousy) 1990s alien invasion sci-fi, by telling the story of a couple who after succeeding an apocalyptic battle with aliens, stay behind to maintain drones that secure the remains of a devastated Earth. Twist after twist after satisfying twist, makes you wonder about the components of human identity, and what is defined as "us" as opposed to "them". I'm eager to see what Kosinski has in store for us next.

PS: Sina and Mohi, you were right. This was better than After Earth.

Mo says:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Gangster Squad (2013)

Director: Ruben Fleischer. Cast: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Giovanni Ribisi. 113 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

If you're ripping off a classic, at least be nice; be respectful. This "inspired" tale of a late 40s anti-gangster squad tries to repeat The Untouchables' success, by copying the story and burdening it with the most cliche and lame dialogue imaginable, and a laughable childbirth scene. The Irishman of the former movie has been split into an African-American and a Mexican on this one, and the character equivalents of people who died in that movie, meet the same fate here! The only beauty, is the appropriate sepia-colored cinematography. But no, by no chance am I giving this a Soso.

Mo says:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

Director: Julia Leigh. Cast: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake. 101 min. Not Rated. Australia. Drama.

Remember the famous ceremony scene from Eyes Wide Shut? This film tries to show the dark side of the moon: Who are these affluent people, who are so powerful, they manage to create these complex secret societies, solely designed to satisfy men's carnal pleasures? What kind of people are the employers, the clerks, ... the employees? The movie even attempts the exact symmetric frame compositions, the eye-level camera angles, and the slow rhythm from Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining - but never achieves the cold, haunting Kubrick touch. Decent effort to imitate the master, though.

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Cast (voices) Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gillian Anderson. 134 min. Rated PG-13. Japan. Animation.

To just call this a "cartoon", is a cruel understatement. Miyazaki always impresses with his lush beautiful imagery, and that would have sufficed to make this a memorable piece of art, but here he goes above and beyond by telling the epic story of a young boy who's infected by a forest demon, and launches a crusade to cure himself, and bring peace and harmony to battling beasts and humans. Rarely do I remember being so engrossed in such a long animated fantasy tale. The movie tagline calls it: "The Star Wars of animated features!". I can imagine why.

PS: Thank you, Ali, for the thrilling recommendation.

Mo says:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

Director: Zack Snyder. Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne. 143 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Fantasy.

Some superheroes should just be left alone. After the rise and fall of the 70s/80s Superman, and the failed 2006 Bryan Singer attempt, this desperate overlong Christopher Nolan effort results in Dark Knight meets Transformers: after an engaging opening 20-minute sequence on planet Krypton (where inhabitants communicate through caviar), gloomy cinematography throws us yet another origin story where Lois Lane already knows Superman's identity from the get-go, and the second half headaches of explosions and falling skyscrapers puts Michael Bay to shame. Towards the end, I just wanted to shut my eyes and ears, and doze off.

PS: No, there's no post-credits sequence.

Mo says:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Now You See Me (2013)

Director: Louis Leterrier. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Crime/Thriller.

Heist movies are always fun. Always. But this one adds a touch of magic, and even reaches out for a Life of Pi-like message: do you want to believe in magic and enjoy the fun, or root out the tricks and spoil it all? Perfect casting, dizzying camerawork, an exhilarating soundtrack that keeps you on your toes, and no SFX distractions (unless obviously needed in a story about magicians), make this a most memorable, fun summer movie. Ashamed how late I'm finally realizing, what a great actor Woody Harrelson is.

PS: Whenever I see Melanie Laurent, I want to shout: "Au revoir, Shoshana!!!"

PS #2: Thank you, Mohi, for the recommendation. I almost missed watching this in the theater. Movie critics ironically appear unable to enjoy movies.

Mo says:

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Cast (voices): Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly. 86 min. Rated G. Japan. Animation.

Every Miyazaki animation works like a meditative relaxation technique. Miyazaki's world is so far from Hollywood's (even Disney's) universe of fast-paced mind-numbing editing, you can just sit back and watch the bright beautiful images and pleasant slow story go by. Here, two girls with an ailing mother living with their father, befriend fantasy creatures in the woods, and the storyteller's imagination goes wild. But does it really matter what the story is? As I said, just sit back, watch, and relax.

Mo says:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cosmopolis (2012)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gordon, Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Jay Baruchel. 109 min. Rated R. Drama.

I guess for many great thinkers and artists, there is a time when after going through a maturation process, they suddenly reach a peak, and after that people seem like petty insects. You can see the change in their work. Cosmopolis appears to represent that moment in Cronenberg's lifetime, where after a decade of great films, he makes this despicable movie about a despicable filthy-rich young Wall Street tycoon, portraying him and his entourage through all-knowing condescending camera angles, talking philosophical gibberish non-stop, without any story on the horizon. I couldn't wait for this movie to be over.

Mo says:

The Dictator (2012)

Director: Larry Charles. Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Aasif Mandvi, Horatio Sanz, Megan Fox. 83 min. Rated R. Comedy.

Charming comedy, about a fictional Gadhafi/Ahmadinejad inspired billionaire dictator who at a random turn of events loses his status and ends up with his opposite: a peace-loving, politically-correct, vegetarian girl running a simple grocery store in Manhattan. The hilarious stereotypes and vulgar racially-charged satire is very similar to Cohen's Borat, and the ending repeats that movie's style of self-criticism: dictatorships we so despise are not much different from America's own system of governance. And since it's repetitive, it loses its traction.

Mo says:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Before Sunrise (1995) / Before Sunset (2004)

Due to popular demand (actually, only two people requested), I'm re-posting the reviews I wrote in December 2004 on my old blog (where I didn't confine myself to a 100-word limit), on the two lovely movies, Before Sunset and Before Sunrise. Check below: It's ironic how I ended the review of the second movie years ago, and how I ended the review of Before Midnight last week.

Thanks again to Maryam for retrieving these from the darker corners of the internet.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy. 105 min. Drama.

These characters are so real! Think about the setting: One day, you run into a total stranger somewhere, knowing that you'll be seeing him/her for just a few hours and never again afterwards, and talk to him/her with complete honesty about anything that comes up during those few hours, assured that there will be no aftermaths, and none of what you are saying will ever come back to haunt you, because you'll never be seeing that person again. Take this into mind, as opposed to seeing a psychiatrist, since the other person is also chiming in some input about what he/she feels about what you think. Then listen to yourself, or in this case, watch these two people, talk. You'll understand why "Before Sunrise" is so acceptable and enjoying.

It's hard to believe how we go to the movies to watch something out of this world, but then every once in a while we run into a film which is merely a camera stuck in front of two people just talking about everyday life events happening around them. Suddenly we notice: Wow, these conversations are so interesting! The reason is, they are interpreting events EXACTLY the way we interpret them, and we can so strongly sympathize with them, because they are as regular as we are. They're not Hollywood actors anymore; they're just everyday "normal" people. Very much along the lines of Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" or P.T. Anderson's "Magnolia", but "Before Sunrise" is much more true to form. 

Before Sunset (2004)

Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy. 80 min. Drama.

Fortunately, I rented “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” at the same time, and when the first movie ended, I had no choice but to pop in the sequel and go on. Although “Before Sunset” is both made and the story happens 9 years after the first movie, I again found myself drowning in these two characters’ conversations. And how much more real can a Hollywood movie with Hollywood actors get? This time the story happens in real time, and reaches the “hyper-reality” Linklater is trying to achieve, more than ever. Would it be exaggerating to call the movie a documentary? The sequel answers the burning question left hanging at the end of the original movie: Did Jesse and Celine ever meet again 6 months after the first movie, as they had promised to each other?

The point I couldn’t understand was that the director has excellent opportunities for up to 20 minute long shots (a dream for the famous Hitchcock-lover, Brian DePalma), but cuts them into at most 10 minute shots, which is still an accomplishment in itself. Maybe the reason is the actors were so enjoyably improvising some of the dialogues on the first take that when the take was somehow interrupted, he didn’t want to repeat it, knowing he wouldn’t get the same effect. It's interesting to see how over the years a major portion of these two characters' innocence had turned to cynicism. I still could have easily watched them talk for hours without getting bored. Hope there is a third film in progress to complete a trilogy, and I would prefer it to be sooner than another 9 years.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chasing Ice (2012)

Director: Jeff Orlowski. 75 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

Astonishing documentary about global warming, using time-lapse photography to show how the arctic glaciers are melting. If you've already seen Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, then other than the captivating panoramas, this won't be considered significantly new to you. Also, as opposed to the above-mentioned 2006 film, this one terrifies but doesn't offer any solution what needs to be done. Shocking how almost nothing is being done by governments about the issue. Shocking.

PS: The ending credit Oscar-nominated song is sung by ... Scarlett Johansson?

Mo says:

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Before Midnight (2013)

Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy. 108 min. Rated R. Drama.

Every time I see another episode of the Linklater/Hawke/Delpy saga, I'm astounded: How can they pull off an entire movie of two characters walking and talking ... about the boring subject of love?! Well, after Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, they pull it off again in Before Midnight, and they do it to perfection. Similar to Michael Apted's 7-Up documentaries, we live with these magnificent screenplays every nine years, and Ethan Hawke's Jesse (almost my age) again talks with Julie Delpy's Celine right from my mind. They can keep making these every nine years, and I'll keep watching them forever.

PS: Three MoMagics in two weeks! I'm on a roll here!

Mo says: