Friday, March 28, 2014

The Iran Job (2012)

Director: Till Schauder. 90 min. Not Rated. USA/Iran/Germany. Documentary.

It's the basketball version of The Bad News Bears, about an African-American, playing the Walter Matthau role, who goes to Iran, ... and it's a documentary. The story of NBA-hopeful Kevin Sheppard, who was contracted to play in Iran for a year to lead a junior upstart team into the playoffs. Of course, this American who fears Iran and sees himself as a savior to these poor Middle-Easterners will change and be humbled, and learn that life is not all about basketball. That part is obvious. But again, it's not about the destination - it's about the journey. Watch, and be inspired.

From IMDb: "One can't help feeling that the world would be a much more peaceful place if ordinary people simply got to know one another."

PS: This is streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Out of the Furnace (2013)

Director: Scott Cooper. Cast: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker. 116 min. Rated R. USA/UK. Drama/Crime.

Simplistic small town revenge story of two brothers (Bale and Affleck) and a low-life (Harrelson), who are clearly the good guys and bad guys, respectively, from the very first seconds they enter the screen. Slow-paced predictable story with no subtleties and without a satisfying payoff - just people making life decisions based on vague motives, and bad people who are just bad for unclear reasons. If it weren't for the great performances of the incredible ensemble cast, this would've been a major disappointment.

PS: Look at Sam Shepherd's resume. Doesn't this great ever-supporting actor deserve more than just one Oscar nomination?

Mo says:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Wadjda (2012)

Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour. Cast: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdullrahman Al Gohani. 98 min. Rated PG. Saudi Arabia/Germany. Drama.

Every country has their own local movie industry, but when you watch a "foreign" movie, you're expecting a universal message; something that applies to you too, even though you carry no relation to that country. Wadjda tells an engaging story of a teenage Saudi Arabian girl and her struggle ... to ride a bike in public, while her mother worries about her father's plans for a second wife. It's probably based on scattered true events, and does a fine job at picturing the current status of Saudi women, but at the end, I felt I'd just watched some personal anti-Saudi propaganda.

PS: The film has been awarded with up to 35 wins and nominations at international film festivals.

PSS: Nice perspective by Omar Mozaffar on Roger Ebert's website here, especially:

"... it is interesting that all the voices of compulsion are women. The principal and the unseen grandmother wield unchecked power; one asserts her authority through her office, imposing restrictions through a religious hue, while the other asserts her authority through cultural demands. Perhaps they aspire to nurture and rear their students and children; instead, they disempower them. This is a powerful statement on the nature of oppression: at some point, subjugation breeds subjugation. Perhaps al-Mansour places the source of the oppression on God, Islam, the Qur'an, Saudi culture or men. But in this film, women enact the coercion, and suffer from it. If the problem is patriarchy, it gets internalized, embodied and perpetuated."

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen) (2010)

Director: Baran bo Odar. Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Claudia Michelsen, Wotan Wilke, Katrin Saß, Burghart Klaußner. 118 min. Not Rated. Germany. Crime/Drama.

An 11-year-old is brutally murdered by a pedophile (and his passive accomplice), and the crime is repeated 23 years later. Following the European style of film-making (but also inspired by Silence of the Lambs' parallel editing), the film does not divulge much into story, but rather into characters: how the victim's family, the criminal's family, and the criminal himself, are destroyed by the crime for decades, regardless of whether the criminal is caught or not. How the pain never subsides, and just becomes a chronic part of life. This is a movie that hurts, but also helps to understand.

Mo says:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Counselor (2013)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Rubén Blades, Édgar Ramírez, Goran Visnjic, John Leguizamo. 117 min. Rated R. USA/Uk. Crime/Drama.

A naive lawyer thinks he can make his way into the drug world, and boy, is he wrong. Written by the famously nihilistic Cormac McCarthy, this is a good example of how great novel-writers are not necessarily great screenwriters. It's beautifully directed and acted, but no matter how glamorous you make people look, seriously, this is not how people talk; quite hard to imagine drug lords going into philosophical rants on the meaning of life and grief and death. When it comes to cinema, great words should be translated into great images, sounds, and moments - not just great words.

PS: The movie contains one of the most memorably gruesome death scenes of a famous actor in recent years. Considering Anton Chigurh's oxygen tank in No Country for Old Men, apparently McCarthy has a knack for implementing weird murder weapons in his stories.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dracula 3D (2012)

Director: Dario Argento. Cast: Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento, Rutger Hauer. 110 min. Not Rated. Italy/France/Spain. Horror.

Prehistoric digital effects, terrible acting (the worst coming from Argento's daughter, Asia), and confusing "soap opera"-like lighting makes this one of the corniest Draculas in recent memory. And Argento's own liberties on Bram Stoker's original story (Dracula can change into any animal, ... and I mean any animal) don't help much. Still, I found an (ex-) master of horror's take on the story with all its B-movie charm somewhat amusing. Coppola's and Herzog's versions are still the best, and similarities between the actress playing Mina to Winona Ryder proves Argento agrees. Only recommended if you've previously followed the director's career.

Mo says:

Friday, March 14, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

Director: Noam Murro. Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro. 102 min. Rated R. Action/War.

If a good movie is one that satisfies what it's "destined" to be, then the 300 sequel may be called a good movie. We were expecting outlandish historical inspirations in CGI background of men with six-pack abdomens filled with cranberry juice-like fluids that burst upon impact in slow-motion, and that's exactly what we're offered here - except that last time the battles happened on the ground, and this time they're at sea (expect air combat in the third episode). Eva Green makes an interesting villain as Artemesia, the Greek naval commander who joined the Persians, but she's in the wrong movie.

Mo says:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

In Fear (2013)

Director: Jeremy Lovering. Cast: Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert, Allen Leech. 85 min. Rated R. UK. Thriller.

A young couple drive on a first date looking for an obscure "paradise" hotel, and get lost in a maze of roads. Similar to Buried, this is an exercise in creating a horror/thriller in a confined space; this time predominantly happening in a car. But the motivations of the stalkers (and "stalkees") are vague till the very end. This may have been an intentional gimmick to create an unknown, suspenseful atmosphere, but having so many loose ends without a sense of closure (including quasi-metaphysical moments like the girl's hair pulled from outside the car), leads to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Mo says: