Thursday, December 31, 2015

Carol (2015)

Director: Todd Haynes. Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler. 118 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Drama/Romance.

To declare that Carol, an illustration of the impossible 1950s homosexual relationship between the elegant Cate Blanchett and the always poker-faced Rooney Mara, is one of mankind's most advanced treatment for insomnia, would be the understatement of the year. People can hail Blanchett's acting achievement, critics can go berserk how great the movie is, and you may feel differently about it - but watching it, I lost track how many times I looked at my watch.

Mo says:

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Director: Quentin Tarantino. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Channing Tatum, Zoe Bell. 168 min. Rated R. Western/Thriller.

I was always suspicious Tarantino's creative juices would some day come to an end, and that day seems to be on the horizon. The same multi-chaptered story-telling, the same piecemealing information to keep the viewer engaged, the same beautiful dialogue written by a movie-lover for movie-lovers. But Tarantino can only keep that up for so long. It's unnecessarily lengthy, and if there ever was a reason to stamp this with a Mojo score, it would've been for the great Ennio Morricone's haunting soundtrack, written original for this film. But this was the first time Tarantino did not blow me away.

Mo says:

Crimson Peak (2015)

Director: Guillermo del Toro. Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain. 119 min. Rated R. USA/ Canada. Fantasy/Horror.

Guillermo Del Toro doesn't work for me. You can't make an elaborate haunted house movie, and make the haunted house the only thing done elaborately. The cinematography and production design are exquisite, and the movie is just beautiful to look at, but the story of two British siblings luring a naive American girl to England to benefit from her father's fortunes had so many plot holes, I lost interest in the view way before the end. And Chastain was in the wrong role for the very first time. I understand everybody's crazy about Del Toro. I just don't get him.

Mo says:

Creed (2015)

Director: Ryan Coogler. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Drama/Sport.

The late Apollo Creed's teenage son (who for some reason loves to fight) is pulled out of a juvenile correctional facility, and later seeks out his father's opponent Rocky Balboa to train him to fame - without using the benefit of his dad's name. It's the beloved underdog story: while the younger Creed fights to become champion, the older Balboa fights his own physical and mental demons. If there ever was a fitting sequel to the Rocky movies, this is it. But they really need to stop doing this. You can't make an Avengers-type franchise out of a 70s Oscar-winner.

Mo says:

99 Homes (2014)

Director: Ramin Bahrani. Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern. 112 min. Rated R. Drama.

Critics may consider this a change of pace for the independent Bahrani, due to the use of big name Hollywood stars. But the themes are same: watching American life through the ethical (almost pitiful) point-of-view of a director with an Iranian upbringing. That description may sound like the film is preachy, but it's not - it shows the reality of the level of filth a prominent portion of the American housing market has stooped down to. This movie is tense and hurting, because it may be about you (as victim or aggressor). Best Supporting Actor Oscar possibilities for Michael Shannon here.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Director: J.J. Abrams. Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, Domhnall Gleeson, Simon Pegg, Kenny Baker, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Warwick Davis, Max von Sydow. 135 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Adventure/Fantasy.

Seriously? Does it matter what anyone writes now about this movie? After all the brainwashing hype and advertising, if I give it a positive review, even a MoMagic score, you'd say: "Just another Star Wars fan" (after the Phantom Menace debacle, even I can't trust my own positive score), and if I see negative reviewers (4 out of 140 currently on the Tomatometer), I'd label them as attention-seekers. All I know is, Abrams directed it, and Kasdan wrote it, and I trust them to make a splendid movie. Other than that, we need a year for the dust to settle.

Mo says:

Go watch it for yourself.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Amy (2015)

Director: Asif Kapadia. 128 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Documentary.

Is this a documentary about a celebrity who was also a drug addict/alcoholic, or a picture of a drug addict/alcoholic who was also a celebrity? Amy Winehouse fans may believe it is the former; for me, unfamiliar with her or her music before her untimely death, it's the latter - because Amy, poignant as it is, was unable to bridge that gap. That's considering we're living in an era where documentaries such as Searching for Sugar Man, Part of Me or Shine a Light are making certain singers attractive to non-fans. And those singers aren't even dead yet.

Mo says:

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Youth (2015)

Director: Paolo Sorrentino. Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda. 118 min. Rated R. Italy/France/Switzerland/UK. Drama.

Ahhh, that great up and coming poet, Sorrentino. After watching About Schmidt, I thought I'd understood what senility was all about. But that was a comedy, and reality is much harsher. Youth will put you into that daze, feeling how it feels to be this once great composer, who never even considered the wife he so adored, who's been invited to conduct for the Queen but resists the temptation because he's never had fun in his life and now it's too late. The beautiful Great Beauty was mesmerizing, but you won't notice the time passing by on this one.

Mo says:

Pawn Sacrifice (2014)

Director: Edward Zwick. Cast: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lily Rabe. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Biography.

I read once that ever since those two planes hit the twin towers on live TV, documentaries have become more interesting than movies. This is demonstrated here very well. The 2011 documentary was a fascinating account of Bobby Fischer, genius chess grandmaster and paranoid schizophrenic. You'd think Zwick would take advantage of all the amazing possibilities movie dramatization has to offer. He doesn't much. Tobey Maguire and Liev Schrieber are awesome as Fischer and Spassky, and the soundtrack makes some tense moments more tangible, but the film never adds any new emotion to what I'd already sensed about the man.

Mo says:

Meru (2015)

Director(s): Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. 87 min. Rated R. India/USA. Documentary.

Unfortunately, I had the same problem here I had with Everest some days ago. Even a documentary was unable to help me understand why one with a wife and kids would knowingly risk their life, and accept the risk of their friends dying, for an admittedly impossible climb such as the Meru Wall in the Himalayas. Is the motive anything other than, "Please look at me"? Again, the cinematography here is breath-talking, but again, so is the idiocy.

Mo Says:

Brooklyn (2015)

Director: John Crowley. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Domhnall Gleeson. 111 min. Rated PG-13. Ireland/UK/Canada. Drama/Romance.

For a very long time, I thought this movie about a young lady immigrating alone in the 1950s from Ireland to America, is either about Saoirse Ronan's blue eyes, or about how slow a movie can be paced. But that was preamble to a story that applies to any immigration, even today (experienced first-hand by myself): do you stick to what you grew up with, or dare new values in the new land? Curiously, I saw Entertainment Weekly has written what I'd told a relative a week before: this is the year's best movie to watch with your Mom.

Mo says:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Spotlight (2015)

Director: Tom McCarthy. Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d'Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup. 128 min. Rated R. History/Drama.

We've heard the story before, both in the news and in the movies, probably more crushing in documentary form: the Catholic Church child molestation scandal. Spotlight is the story of how it first exploded in the media in the early 2000s - originating from The Boston Globe, a newspaper that (at least on film) works exactly like a police crime unit. But if it wasn't for the mesmerizing acting talents of Keaton, Ruffalo, McAdamas and Tucci, this repeating narrative would've hardly seen the light of day. The Academy sure made a mistake at not giving Keaton his Oscar last year.

Mo says:

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Best of Enemies (2015)

Director(s): Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville. 87 min. Rated R. Documentary.

Chronicling the TV debates between two liberal and conservative intellectuals, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr., during the 1968 presidential campaign - which apparently was more interesting than the presidential campaign itself, because instead of discussing viewpoints, the debate became a boxing match for personal attacks and personality exposé. The documentary brings up the side (or probably main) question: if you are given a chance to publicly humiliate your opponent's character through his/her ideology, would you proceed? The film made me despise the debate winner, even though I usually lean towards his philosophy.

PS: Thank you, Mohi, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Monday, November 30, 2015

Everest (2015)

Director: Baltasar Kormákur. Cast: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Keira Knightley. 121 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Biography.

In 1996, a private climbing expedition to Mount Everest (of the expensive type) runs into problems when climbers are hit by a severe storm. Educating at offering a step-by-step guide to methods and perils of climbing such a mountain, but somehow, the question kept coming up: What's the point? Is the sole motivator for risking your life and abandoning your family for such a journey ... an ego trip? Even the characters discuss this among themselves, as though the screenwriter was dumbfounded about it. Spectacular panoramas and an outstanding cast notwithstanding. this film left me unsatisfied for leaving the question unanswered.

Mo says:

Tangerine (2015)

Director: Sean Baker. Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian. 88 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

This is a comedy (supposedly filmed with an iPhone) about the world of transgender prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers and junkies, set in those seediest corners of the planet called Hollywood and Sunset Blvd. During some moments, the filth of the paraded concepts was so overpowering, for the very first time I felt nauseated watching a movie - let alone think any of it was funny. But 24 hours later, I'm still thinking about these characters. And doesn't any movie that induces such a strong reaction deserve a Mojo? Try it for yourself; it'll be a contemplative movie experience you can't ignore.

Mo says:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie. Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin.  131 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Hong Kong/China. Action/Thriller.

I watched this on the heels of the new Bond movie, and it's ironic how Bond-inspired franchises are doing significantly better than Bond himself. Of course, like any Mission Impossible movie, the best sequence is when they're infiltrating some top-secret high-security compound - it's an underwater facility in this one, and they dive in without oxygen tanks, holding their breath the whole time for excitement's sake (because they know we're watching). In lieu of its star's bizarre ideology, it's hard to deny the entertainment value of this fifth installment - even if it doesn't reach the peak the fourth movie did.

Mo says:

Listen to Me Marlon (2015)

Director: Stevan Riley. 103 min. UK. Documentary.

Before his death in 2004, Marlon Brando had hundreds of hours of voice recordings, ruminating about his life, his movie career, and the concept of acting; how his father abused him, how he believes acting is a lie like any other form of success-driven lying, how his thoughts on social injustices were decades ahead of his time. But the magic here is how director/writer/editor Riley juxtaposes his recorded words with scenes from his movies and activism, making us realize Brando was actually playing out his personal life on film. Watch this and experience method acting in its purest.

Mo says:

Spectre (2015)

Director: Sam Mendes. Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw,  Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott. 148 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Adventure.

MGM decided to re-invent James Bond by bringing in Daniel Craig for Casino Royale, and it worked. Then Quantum of Solace made the mistake of expecting viewers to remember Royale's details. After the splendid Skyfall, Mendes has repeated that mistake: restoring characters from all three prior movies, making it too personal to serve the fans. The overlong show feels like a drama piece, with a few action scenes thrown in because hey, it's a James Bond movie. Okay, the well-choreographed opening tracking shot and the origin of Blofeld's scar were cool; but that's it. The Daniel Craig experiment is over.

PS: Léa Seydoux in the final scene in the passenger seat of the Astin Martin, was Pussy Galore all over again.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mr. Holmes (2015)

Director: Bill Condon. Cast: Ian McKellen, Milo Parker, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada. 104 min. Rated PG. UK/USA. Drama/Mystery.

How would Sherlock Holmes have been if he lived to old age, and suffered from senile dementia? Bill Condon's newest feature felt like watching his Gods and Monsters all over again: the interactions between an old protagonist (McKellan in both films), a younger boy (although a child in this one), and a domineering female (Linney here and Oscar-nominated Redgrave there). And in both cases, I had to fight the urge to doze off. McKellan shows some serious acting chops here, and an octogenarian/nonagenarian Sherlock is well-imagined, but then again ... what was the point of making this film?

Mo says:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wildlike (2014)

Director: Frank Hall Green. Cast: Ella Purnell, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, Ann Dowd. 104 min. Drama/Adventure.

Managing to achieve what Into the Wild did with tremendous cynicism, and what Wild tried to achieve but tremendously failed. The more optimistic Wildlike follows the story of one unlucky teenage girl, whose father died the year before and is sent under the care of her twisted uncle in Alaska. The result: she becomes a runaway, befriends an older unlucky soul, and finds the remedy for the filth of human civilization in the Alaskan wild. Another movie that should not be watched on a small screen, because it's all about grasping the atmosphere, not resolving a definite story ending.

PS: The film's 100% score on the Tomatometer (albeit with only 11 reviews) should provide a clue.

PPS; Thank you JZ, for the recommendation.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Director: Wes Ball. Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aidan Gillen, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Nathalie Emmanuel.

The first installment was engaging, because in addition to the continuous running (implied in the title), there was a sense of mystery, regarding why these youngster were stuck in a dystopian arena. Here, they're already out of the maze, and except for the opening act, the mystery element is out, and we're left with youngsters running. And they just keep running. Running here, escaping there. Until finally, the main character says he's tired of running - even though some prominent actors show up (and one is killed for no intelligent reason). But he still promises more running for the third installment.

PS: Look up Aidan GillenNathalie Emmanuel,and Thomas Brodie-Sangster. They may have been working towards a "Game of Thrones" reunion here.

Mo says:

Friday, November 6, 2015

Room (2015)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson. Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, William H. Macy. 118 min. Rated R. Ireland/Canada. Drama.

This film contained a scene that was one of the most tense movie moments I had ever experienced (and I've seen some film). It also significantly undermines the concept of parenthood towards the end. Other than that, anything else I say would spoil the impact of its first viewing. Go in cold - don't read anything about it, and thank me later. Also, bet at least on Brie Larson's chances for an Oscar nomination, among the film's other awards (it already won Toronto's People's Choice Award). One of the greatest movies of 2015.

Mo says:

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Director: Guy Ritchie. Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris. 116 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Comedy.

Two films reincarnating the Bond-inspired spy shows of the 60s were screened this year: Kingsman, which was a marvelous event and one I would like to see sequels to; and this, based on the TV show of the same name, which I hope would end right here (although the ending clearly takes away all hope of that). None of the three main actors demonstrate enough chemistry to carry an action film, and I'm losing confidence Guy Ritchie is capable of making anything worthwhile anymore. But boy, does Henry Cavill look like Christopher Reeve.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)

Director: Josh Trank. Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson. 100 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Germany/UK/Canada. Adventure/Sci-fi.

With every superhero movie comes the question: has this added anything to the genre? This case begs another question: has this added anything to the previous Fantastic Four, to justify a remake? In both cases, the answer is no. The origin story gobbles up more than half the movie, and as soon as Dr. Doom enters the picture and things start getting interesting, only 20 minutes is left. Ironically, the ill-fated 2005 version was better at casting (no way Jamie Bell's persona would say "It's clobberin' time!" when he becomes The Thing). Some mistakes are better left in the past.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Love & Mercy (2014)

Director: Bill Pohlad. Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti. 121 min. Rated R. Biography/Musical.

And I thought Danny Boyle's style for the Steve Jobs biopic was innovative, while this film was already thriving from the same artistic ether: during pivotal moments in the youth and middle age of Beach Boys song-writer Brian Wilson, played in flashbacks and flash-forwards by Dano and Cusack, respectively, we watch how a diagnosis of paranoid-schizophrenia almost destroyed the artist's life. Add Banks and Giamatti to make a quartet ensemble of skilled actors, and Amadeus-like music-writing sequences (for "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations"), and this is another memorable musician biopic along the lines of Ray and Walk the Line.

Mo says:

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga. Cast: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Emmanuel Affadzi. 137 min. Drama/War.

From Blood Diamond and War Witch to the failed Kony 2012 attempt, the concept of a child soldier is devastating. And while this territory has already been tread upon, the new film by Cary Fukunaga (Sin NombreTrue Detective) compliments additional elements to keep the long movie engaging; namely, a cute opening that makes the main story even more heart-wrenching, a dominating presence by Elba ("This guy killed your fatha ..."), and beautiful cinematography by Fukunaga himself that should not be watched on a small screen. Those unable to see a kid slash a man's head with a machete ... stay away.

Mo says:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Steve Jobs (2015)

Director: Danny Boyle. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston. 122 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

They can call it fictitious (and of course, there's no way some scenes here could've happened in real life), but this is exactly how biographies should translate to movies: projecting the "essence" of what a personality must have been like from reading their stories, and not necessarily a moment-by-moment compilation of documented events. Aaron Sorkin's screenplay shows how during three life events (the launch of the Macintosh, NeXT, and iMac), Steve Jobs' personality traits exploded onto those around him, and no one was safe while he manipulated his way to success. Danny Boyle has flipped the biography genre on its head.

Mo says:

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan. 141 min. Rated PG-13. Biography/History.

It's a Spielberg movie, so nothing, neither artistically nor technically, goes wrong. But in an era of severe disillusionment with government policies, Spielberg and Hanks teaming up again to tell a Cold War tale of American idealism seems out-of-sync to our times - as though they're trying to remind us some moral lesson, from some bygone era of shiny black-and-white ethical movie-making Spielberg himself invested in. I mean, still using contrasting photography for East and West Berlin? The single bright star here is Mark Rylance's performance as the Russian spy. But I can't give the movie a pass because of that.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Walk (2015)

Director: Robert Zemeckis. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Guillaume Baillargeon. 123 min. Rated PG. Biography/Adventure.

The 2008 documentary on Philippe Petit, who illegally high-wired between the Twin Towers confounded me: Why would a slow film about a trivial event, score 100% on the Tomatometer, and win a Best Documentary Oscar too? The Walk, the dramatized version of the story, is the answer to that frustration: the final half hour of the film, with Gordon-Levitt dangling above the majestic NYC, is an unparalleled heart-pounding sequence that had me on the edge of my seat - even though I knew the outcome. It's all about the spectacle, and Zemeckis has created the cinematic equivalent of "accomplishing your dreams".

Mo says:

Poltergeist (2015)

Director: Gil Kenan. Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Jared Harris. 93 min, Rated PG-13. USA/Canada. Horror.

As far as I recall, the original 1983 Poltergeist, in lieu of all its ghouls and apparitions, was an horror allegory for the addictive effects of TV in the 80s - as the TV set literally "swallows" the little girl. The remake has its fair share of shocks and spooks (some of which are genuinely good), but the story is the same; there's no current day allegory for the horror (kid/teenage attachment to smart phones would have been a perfect subject). Alas, nobody asked my opinion on the script, so I'll accept this as a great opportunity lost.

Mo says:

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple. 119 min. Rated PG-13. UK/USA. Romance/Drama.

It's based on a classic novel, it's beautifully photographed, the acting is impeccable, and it's heaven for Jane Austen fans. But forget it - I was bored to the point of suffocation, waiting to see who she weds. So I won't bore you any further.

Mo says:

The Martian (2015)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor. 144 min. Rated PG.

This is the flip side of Gravity - a movie that was criticized for bending a few scientific rules for the sake of dramatization, but enchanting viewers out of their minds because of it. Now we have The Martian, a Matt-Damon-stranded-on-Mars story that adheres so tightly to science, it probably shouldn't even be categorized as fiction, and by sacrificing the thrill of sci-fi, except for a final climactic scene, runs the risk becoming slow and dull. Nevertheless, Scott's flawless directing (and a star-filled ensemble) are admirable for making such a science-based Apollo 13 on Mars, an engaging piece of art.

Spoiler #1: End of Watch. Fury. Ant-Man. The Martian. Michael Peña has solidified his role in movies as the loyal sidekick.

Spoiler #2: Sean Bean doesn't die here.

Spoiler #3: Don't watch this in 3D. It'll ruin the experience.

Mo says:

Southpaw (2015)

Director: Antoine Fuqua. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris, 50 Cent, Oona Laurence. 124 min. Rated R. Sport/Drama.

It's difficult to feel sympathy for a character who's become rich by punching people in the face and getting punched in return, and whose wife is killed due to his own stupidity. But alas, that is Southpaw's premise. Jake Gyllenhaal has been enjoying a string of extraordinary acting accomplishments, but when you sign up for a project just because the subject is proven to be historically successful with Academy voters (boxing, that is) ... it shows. Better luck next time.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal.. 105 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama.

Think Perks of Being a Wallflower, add severe sarcasm to the impossibly unfunny subject of The Fault in Our Stars' teenagers with cancer, and you get this film: about two boys who befriend a dying leukemic girl. You'll find yourself laughing unexpectedly at so many difficult situations, it feels strange how comedy can be found in such tragic themes. One of those movies where the dialogue is so intrusive and intelligent about simple facts of life, it makes you too self-aware of your surroundings, wondering how you can talk to "smart people in trouble", without offending them.

Mo says:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sicario (2015)

Director: Denis Villeneuve. Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Victor Garber , Jon Bernthal. 121 min. Rated R. Crime/Drama.

Whenever movies show the filthiest corners of human society, they're either targeting violence involving children, or drug cartels. Here, Canadian film-maker Villeneuve combines both, so Sicario is no easy trip. Sicario means "hitman", and while the main mystery is which character of the story that term refers to, the exquisite directing and heart-pounding soundtrack occasionally makes the tension unbearable. Look at Villeneuve's profile; he's become the auteur for stomach-churning violence. Although Emily Blunt offers a career-defining performance, I hope Benicio gets his second Oscar, and Roger Deakins' mind-blowing cinematography earns him his first ... after being nominated 12 times already.

Mo says:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Black Mass (2015)

Director: Scott Cooper. Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, Juno Temple. 122 min. Rated R. Biography/Crime.

If David O. Russell made a Scorsese movie, this is what it would have looked like. It's another Departed rendition of Boston gangsters and FBI informants, told with a slow-paced flair of the 70s. The problem is that Scorsese has already defined these components so well, it's tough to enjoy the movie without being repeatedly reminded of the style's true origins. But the film's greatest asset is the Nosferatu-like Depp as James "Whitey" Bulger; he's so immersed in the role, at times I forgot it was Johnny Depp. The film is worth watching, if only to savor his presence.

Mo says:

The Visit (2015)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan. 94 min. Rated PG-13. Horror/Thriller.

Admit it: no matter how crappy Shyamalan's movies get, we still watch his next one, hoping for another breath-taking ending shock. And while The Visit's shock isn't as tremendous as The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, I didn't see it coming. Told in the hand-held camera format and borrowing too much from both The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, Shyamalan is able to maintain and build the film's tension up to the shock, but then holds on to the moment for too long, and creates viewer fatigue. He's a good director, but maybe not as sensible a storyteller.

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Gift (2015)

Director: Joel Edgerton. Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton. 108 min. Rated R. Australia/USA. Mystery/Thriller.

A creepy guy approaches a young couple who have just moved to California, and you know from the very beginning things will eventually get violent. The familiar Fatal Attraction/Cape Fear psychological thriller setting makes most of the plot twists predictable, which is why the few shattering surprises are very welcome. Since the main subject is so notoriously important these days, Joel Edgerton should be applauded for such a captivating directorial debut. And the homages aren't limited to the above: there's a hospital "Room 237" from The Shining, and a final separation scene perfectly inspired by The Godfather.

PS: Thank you, Mohi. This almost went under the radar.

PPS: This is almost (but not quite) another movie from the Oozaini genre, explained here.

Mo says:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015)

 Director: Alex Gibney. 128 min. Rated R. Documentary.

On one hand, yes, the iPhone changed my life, and Apple products have changed the world. On the other, we have Steve Jobs, a deceitful, cunning, cruel businessman, who used any means necessary to achieve that change - and probably destroyed a few lives along the way. So while Jobs (with the help of small people who wait for hours in line for the next Apple product) compares himself to Lennon, MLK and Einstein as one of the "great changers" of our time, Alex Gibney's newest documentary exposes that hypocrisy; albeit unilaterally. You'll never look at your iPhone the same way.

Mo says:

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)

Director: Brian Knappenberger. 105 min. Documentary.

The number of documentaries I say "you owe it to yourself to watch this" are becoming too many, and this is another. Of course, you don't expect a genius like Aaron Swartz, who decided to single-handedly change the world and make the internet as free and available as possible, to live very long - but the concept of being powerless against a "democratic" government who decides to destroy you, is quite disturbing. Would've appreciated more about Swartz's personal life rather than his biography. But the film makes its mark, and compels one to support another Snowden/Assange/Manning/Swartz, whenever they rise.

Mo says:

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Z for Zachariah (2015)

Director: Craig Zobel. Cast: Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Pine. 95 min. Rated PG-13. Iceland/Switzerland/New Zealand. Drama/Sci-fi.

In a not-too-apocalyptic post-nuclear future, surviving religious girl living in the mountains befriends two drifters: one black, and one white. So it's not too hard to predict a gloomy ending, and the story makes a good point at illustrating that religious and racial tensions will never die - even after possibly causing nuclear armageddon. But then it was difficult to imagine how such a girl could have survived with all her naivete, and the motivations that led to the film's ending didn't make much sense. Maybe prior films have made me too pessimistic of such a story possibly happening.

Mo says:

Monday, August 31, 2015

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Director: David Gregory. 97 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

A remake of a movie that was already a beloved cult classic. A filming location that had some of the worst raining seasons known to mankind. A greatest actor of all time and a small new superstar, who were competing at sabotaging the project - just to have some fun. Of course, there's no way such a project could become anything watchable, and this documentary shows why the 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau became one of the worst movies ever. While I haven't seen the remake, the story behind the disaster (reminiscent of another great-movie-that-was-never-made) was worth it.

Mo says:

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014)

Director(s): Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz. Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Gabi Amrani. 115 min. Israel/France/Germany. Drama.

Per Wikipedia, a 'gett' is a divorce document under Jewish law, presented from husband to wife, during which the husband literally proclaims: "You are hereby permitted to all men." And that is the key component. A wife wants a divorce, merely because she doesn't love her husband anymore, the husband denies her of the divorce simply by not attending the proceedings, and the court, judged by rabbis, is pretty much on the religious husband's side. The result, is some fascinating courtroom drama, which in terms of women's rights, significantly questions Israel's claim to being the sole democracy of the Middle-East.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Water Diviner (2014)

Director: Russell Crowe. Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogan. 111 min. Rated R. Australia/USA/Turkey. War/Drama.

I wish I hadn't already known this was Russell Crowe's directorial debut. The truth-inspired story of an Australian father travelling to find his three sons who fought at Gallipoli during World War I, feels like a Saving Private Ryan in Turkey that is too self-conscious; through numerous close-ups on himself , Crowe keeps hammering in the "Hey, look everybody; I can direct" message. And some mistake are too obvious: both sides of a battle in different scenes are shown moving from left to right, disorienting the viewer. You're a great actor, but nobody forced you to direct.

Mo says:

While We're Young (2014)

Director: Noah Baumbach. Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Peter Bogdanovich. 97 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

So here's the premise: when approaching life, should you stick to the hardcore but long-winded and boring truth, or sweeten it up with some phony dramatization, as long as you get the message across? I have no problem with the latter, but I'm not sure this film has an opinion either way - and I'm not sure the question is immense enough to make an entire film around it anyway. Meanwhile, the intellectual New York comedy setting infringes too much on Woody Allen territory, chipping away at the film's originality. But then again, I'm not a huge Noah Baumbach believer.

Mo says:

Tomorrowland (2015)

Director: Brad Bird. Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw. 130 min. Rated PG. USA/Spain. Sci-fi/Adventure.

My main problem with Tomorrowland, was structure. Felt like multiple subplots, piled up on each other to create one big plot. Starting with a 1960's Disney-World subplot, throwing you into a bright futuristic action sequence, leading to a BladeRunner subplot about an android, then an evil nerdy secret society who's after the android, then discovering a Neo-like teenage girl who is "the one", etc. Not that it's confusing - it's just all tiring. Screenwriter Landelof's formula that made Prometheus intriguing and fascinating doesn't work for kiddie sci-fi, and George Clooney is in the wrong genre. Another mediocre Disney-ride-to-movies moneymaking attempt.

Mo says:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Dark Places (2015)

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Corey Stoll, Chloë Grace Moretz. 113 min. Rated R. UK/France/USA. Mystery/Thriller.

Yes, movies and books are two separate entities, and you shouldn't judge a movie by the book it's adapted from. But Gone Girl largely dispelled that theory, so when another Gillian Flynn adaptation doesn't go so well, you realize how Fincher's exquisite direction and Flynn's dexterity at scripting her own material made Gone Girl so superb. The power of this novel's characters and the gruesomeness of the story has been significantly watered down here, and the minor deviations from the novel have made it ambiguous. Watching Theron and the unrecognizable Hendricks boast their acting skills is the film's sole pleasure.

PS: It has finally happened: movies are sold online on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, ... a week before their theater release.

Mo says:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Delta Force (1986)

Director: Menahem Golan. Cast: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Robert Forster, George Kennedy, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters. 125 min. Rated R. USA/Israel. Action.

In all fairness. every sub-genre has its first walking steps, and for every terror hijacking masterpiece like United 93, you need a movie like ... Delta Force? No, no. no. This ludicrous movie is beyond any justification. Even by Rambo-driven 80's standards, a movie where every bad guy is either stupid or ugly (man, they're ugly!), and every plot-hole is impossible even by sci-fi extremes, is worthy of a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" session. I was smiling throughout, and 48 hours on, the horrendous soundtrack of its good composer, Alan Silvestri, has become my earworm. The sacrifices we make for movies.

PS: Check out Ebert's review. He points out the movie's numerous stupidities, but then sheds a positive light on each, and gives the movie three stars. In his autobiography, Ebert claims he gave a film a positive review at the request of its producers on only one occasion (Robert Altman's last film). I think it happened more than once.

Mo says:

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Director: John Ford. Cast: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin. Lee Van Cleef, Woody Strode. 123 min. Western.

There's a reason Westerns never get old. They're set in a small part of the world, chronicling events between long-gone men in strange costumes. But the concepts they elaborate on pertain to any country or social circumstance. The director and actors of this classic are as iconic as they come, but John Wayne's gun-loving attitude accurately portrays NRA's current stance on fighting crime, and Jimmy Stewart's law-abiding position is considered the doctrine for any non-violent movement. Add Lee Marvin, Vera Miles and Lee Van Cleef, and this is one of those black-and-whites you'd want to watch, and enjoy the trance.

"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

PS: Amazing. Vera Miles is still around.

Mo says:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Red Army (2014)

Director: Gabe Polsky. 84 min. Rated PG. USA/Russia. Documentary.

Remember Miracle, the 2004 Kurt Russell-starring film about how in 1980, the US hockey team beat Russia, the greatest team on Earth? That was a dramatized account of the winners. But what about a documentary about that game's losers, whose government believed Cold War politics culminated in this game? Told in parallel to interviews with Russian hockey superstar Slava Fetisov, this is an incredible story of human endurance; about how under insurmountable odds, after decades of perseverance under a crushing environment, you can rise as the victor. That US hockey team win was nothing compared to what these guys won.

Mo says:

Baby Boom (1987)

Director: Charles Shyer. Cast: Diane Keaton, Sam Shepard, Harold Ramis, James Spader, Kristina & Michelle Kennedy. 110 min. Rated PG. Comedy.

A successful New York "Tiger Lady" inherits of all things ... a baby. Her life turns upside down, and she must choose between continuing her shooting-for-the-stars career, or becoming a mom. A lot of suspension of disbelief is involved in watching this typical 80's formula-driven movie with an unsustainable resolution to the dilemma and an insanely predictable ending speech - but Keaton's magic covers many plot-holes, and above all, you keep wondering how 30 years later, almost nothing has changed to alleviate the work vs. family situation for women.

PS: The only reason I watched this, was because I remember as a kid in the mid-80's for reasons unknown to me, we received a letter in the mail advertising auditions for baby twins for an upcoming movie named "Baby Boom", starring Diane Keaton. Just curious to see how the movie turned out. Here's an update.

Mo says: