Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kon-Tiki (2012)

Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg. Cast: Pål Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgård. 118 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Norway/Denmark/Germany/Sweden. Adventure/History.

In post-war 1940s, a Nordic explorer becomes obsessed with the idea that the 5000-mile distance across the Pacific ocean from Latin America to Polynesia can be traveled using the most primitive navigation methods, and riding oceanic currents - seeing them as "roads" rather than obstacles. Based on a true story, this is a movie of sheer beauty, adorned by the exact same elements as Life of Pi, but without the fake glamour of mind-boggling special effects. It's the story of a few adventurous madmen who brave the odds and conquer nature. Think of it as Lawrence of Arabia meets Jaws.

Trivia: This Oscar-nominated movie is a dramatized remake of the 1951 Best Documentary Oscar winning film of the same name.

Mo says:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Elysium (2013)

Director: Neill Blomkamp. Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner, Diego Luna. 109 min. Rated R. Action/Sci-fi.

I guess District 9 worked so well, the director thought exaggerating the same formula would work even better. Wrong! Elysium overdoes the anti-Apartheid message of District 9 so far, it almost looks like a Commie movie, with the discriminated anarchist socialists trying to bring down selfish capitalists who are mean to the poor for no specific reason. Even Copley as the likable hero of District 9 (Blomkamp's childhood friend) fails miserably here as the macho villain (again, nasty for no reason). Numerous plot holes, confusing character motivations and a hard-to-believe story, almost made this last important summer movie a NoMo.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ginger & Rosa (2012)

Director: Sally Potter. Cast: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, Annette Bening. 90 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Denmark/Canada/Croatia. Drama.

In the 1960s London, two teenage girls, best friends since childhood, are active against a possible nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis, and ... compete for the affection of one of the fathers. I was surprised what so many good actors (including Christina Hendricks with a British accent!) saw in this slow rhythm film, as the relevance of the subject matter to our times was lost on me. Keep an eye on Elle Fanning: she will become a star bigger than her sister, Dakota.

Mo says:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Director: Billy Wilder. Cast: Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Elsa Lanchester. 116 min. Drama/Mystery.

Roger Ebert once said if nothing happens in the first 10 minutes, nothing is going to happen. I believe you can determine during the first 5 minutes of a movie whether it's worthy of viewing. I tried the first few minutes of this half-century-old Agatha Christie-based story, and it locked its clutches on me for a full two hours - even though I already knew the twist ending. Maybe it was Laughton's captivating delivery of dialogue, maybe Dietrich's omni-devilish screen presence, or maybe just the luscious stark black-and-white photography. Another reminder of a bygone era of incredible film-making.

PS #1: It's available here in beautiful HD resolution. I can't make it any easier.

PS #2: Watch for Elsa Lanchester (the Bride of Frankenstein), in a terrifically engaging role as the bossy nurse.

PS #3: Thank you, Maryam, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Trance (2013)

Director: Danny Boyle. Cast: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel. 101 min. Rated R. UK. Crime/Mystery.

Forget the great director. Forget the notable actors. The plot of this "psychological heist movie" (if there is such a thing) is so preposterous, is not even worth writing a synopsis. Disappointing turn for Danny Boyle, the creator of the enchanting 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire. And the worst part is, the stylized technique and the effort the actors put into this, makes you feel they thought they're in something deep. I know I'm causing some morbid curiosity to see what the movie is all about, but trust me: it's not worth anybody's time.

Mo says:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Director: George Miller. Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston. 94 min. Rated R. Australia. Action/Thriller.

I know: strange to be watching this classic post-apocalyptic film for the first time. But even stranger, it hadn't lost it's charm after more than 30 years. The second installment of the Mad Max trilogy, with the villains' weird sadomasochistic attire, the goofy heroes and animal-like child, the ancient technique of fast-forwarding action sequences to induce dynamism, all looked ... stupid. But somehow the stupidity works. Maybe because the car-chase sequences are so well-choreographed, the entire movie demands the viewers' attention. The concept of enemies chasing the hero's truck during very long sequences must have been James Cameron's inspiration for T2.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Amityville Horror (2012)

Director: Eric Walter. 88 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

The most famous haunted house ever is one of those childhood horror stories I never seem to lose obsession with (the Jonestown mass suicide is another one), and reading the Jay Anson book, watching the bogus movies, and even seeing the house on 112 Ocean Ave up close, haven't helped to quench the thirst. This documentary takes the creative approach of showing how one Lutz family member has been dealing with the crushing stress through the decades, provides new theories, and interviews Lorraine Warren (recently made famous by this movie). Fascinating all around, even if you believe it's a hoax.

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Trouble with the Curve (2012)

Director: Robert Lorenz. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard. 111 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Sports.

Baseball melodrama with Eastwood playing his by-now-too-repetitive angry old man persona, as a worn-out baseball scout who's losing his eyesight, and Adams as the estranged daughter he never understood coming to the rescue. Made me wonder why to star in a movie not directed by himself for the first time in 20 years, Eastwood honored a rookie filmmaker; just watch how the exhilarating climax is ruined by a formulaic ending. Timberlake still amazes me at how he can always stand his ground, even among great actors.

Mo says:

Parental Guidance (2012)

Director: Andy Fickman. Cast: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei. 105 min. Rated PG. Comedy.

Crystal and Midler babysit the "perfectly" reared grandchildren they haven't seen in a year, with predictable terrible results. Some good upbringing messages here (notably, ridiculing the whole pathetic concept of not saying "No" to kids in fear of affecting their self-esteem), but the supposed comedic situations are so ludicrously lame and lousy, it would be embarrassing to recommend this to anybody. Crystal is a good comedian, but his zero flexibility in movies makes him forgettable.

Mo says:

42 (2013)

Director: Brian Helgeland. Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Alan Tudyk. 128 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/Sports.

The story of Jackie Robinson, the first Black Major League Baseball player. The movie's slow rhythm almost projects the slow timing of baseball itself, and would have benefitted from editing out a few scenes. But aside from the mediocre direction, curious how non-violence (supplemented with a lot of patience) makes giant strides at overcoming bigotry. Although new-to-movies Chadwick Boseman has some impressive moments as Robinson, in an easy year, Harrison Ford's likable Branch Rickey has a shot at a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Mo says:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg. 98 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Comedy.

Two adopted sisters living a world apart (both figuratively and geographically - if you consider New York to San Francisco a world distance) have a running streak of bad relationships with men. The story of the affluent sister (Cate Blanchett) is told in flashbacks, and even though the dialogue is as flawless as any Allen script, the structure makes the ending quite predictable; to the extent that the final half hour becomes slightly boring. Powerhouse performance by Blanchett (as Allen's usual lead neurotic character) makes her a sure bet for an Oscar nomination this year.

Mo says:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Jack Reacher (2012)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie. Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall. 130 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Thriller.

It dawned upon me: Tom Cruise is in love with himself. He produces this Jason Bourne/Sherlock Holmes combo, going to extreme lengths to project himself as the McQueen, the Newman, the Redford of our time, not understanding that these legends were "The Man", just because of their mere physical presence; not as the result of weird camera angles or extra-long pauses or all-knowing gestures. Hell, he can't even project a Bruce Willis. Just watch him lose ground talking to Robert Duvall. Although further undermined by some idiotic story moments, Jack Reacher may have had a chance with another actor.

PS: Master documentarian Werner Herzog may become a great villain ... in another movie.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Director: Ryan Coogler. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand. 85 min. Rated R. Drama/Biography.

Finally, a film showing black people as regular humans. They're neither clowns, nor angry cops, nor gangsters with huge rings and jeweled teeth. They're like Oscar: an honest youth, with his own flaws and outbursts of anger and a heart of gold, who just wants to survive and watch her playful little girl grow. That he was murdered in a 2009 New Year's Eve Oakland police shooting, makes him such a tragic figure; far more tragic than movies like Crash ever dream to portray. With incredible performances by Jordan, Diaz, and (as usual) Spencer, this movie shook me up.

PS: This devastating indie was a great award winner this year, both at Cannes and Sundance. Steven Boone does a splendid job on the movie here. I've come to believe among all of the late Roger Ebert's website contributors, Boone writes the most "satisfying" reviews.

Mo says:

Friday, August 2, 2013

Spring Breakers (2012)

Director: Harmony Korine. Cast: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, James Franco. 94 min. Rated R. Drama/Crime.

Teenage college girls have fun and party and experiment with drugs (with opening shots ironically juxtaposing this to a college professor lecturing about the 60s teens' sociopolitical movements), then commit burglary to fund their spring-break trip to Florida, ... to have more fun and experiment with more drugs.  This is a scary snapshot of today's youth - a selfish, self-indulging generation of low-achievers, who will go to any extent, just to live in their own little paradise. I was surprised how well this movie was able to disgust me, and for the first time, how good an actor James Franco is.

PS: Amazing how similar to Cabin in the Woods, studios advertise their movies as something they are absolutely not, just for a few more bucks. In the case of Cabin, the trailers promoted it as a teenage slasher movie, while it was actually a horror spoof. In this case, the posters advertised the film as a chick flick, while it's obviously a dark crime drama. The result of such erroneous campaigns, is that those who are interested in the advertised genre are disappointed, and those who want to watch the actual types these movie represent, never go to see it.

Mo says:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pieta (2012)

Director: Ki-duk Kim. Cast: Min-soo Jo, Jeong-jin Lee. 104 min. South Korea. Drama.

When it's from South Korea, I brace myself for a disturbing story about the extreme behavior of people on-edge; but expected this (from the director of the gentle Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring) to be an exception. Nevertheless, the tale of a mind-numbingly ruthless loan shark who suddenly finds the mother who abandoned him 30 years ago at his door, leaves little room for sweetness. Conceivable how the mere physical presence of a parent can change one's life. Final scene: a sprayed line of blood trailing behind a pickup truck in the early morning hours. You get the idea.

PS: This film was the winner of the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, among a multitude of other awards.

Mo says: