Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Theeb (ذيب) (2014)

Director: Naji Abu Nowar. Cast: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh. 100 min. United Arab Emirates/Qatar/Jordan/UK. Adventure/Drama.

During World War I, in the setting made famous by Lawrence of Arabia, two Bedouins (a young boy and his older brother) guide a British officer to his rendezvous point in the middle of the desert, while being followed by bandits. A slow (but not boring) movie that successfully uses the most simple screenplay maneuvers to create tension in its barren setting, to talk about themes of loyalty and brotherhood, but most attractively, to condemn the constant whining of nations who believe they are and have been exploited by others throughout history. Because after all, "the strong eat the weak".

Mo says:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cartel Land (2015)

Director: Matthew Heineman. 100 min. Rated R. Mexico/USA. Documentary.

This Oscar-nominated documentary can be considered a companion piece to last year's Sicario: how individuals on both sides of the US-Mexico border (predominantly the Mexicans), hopeless of their respective governments protecting them from drug cartels, have became vigilantes to provide their own security. This is an immensely uplifting story of people rising to the occasion, but similar to the feeling Syriana (2005) creates about the Middle-East crisis, it leads to the same kind of mental exhaustion: when talking drug wars, you never know who's on your side and who's helping whom, and eventually, you just let go.

Mo says:

Friday, January 22, 2016

When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mânî) (2014)

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi. 103 min. Rated PG. Japan. Animation.

I wouldn't be spoiling anything if I said in Studio Ghibli's second post-Miyazaki feature (after Princess Kaguya), a troubled teenage girl moves to the countryside and befriends ... a female ghost her own age. We know far ahead of time the mystery behind her death will be the climax of the entire story, and when it is revealed, we realize the story is based on a huge coincidence, which is somewhat disappointing. But similar to Miyazaki's last film, the audience here is not the kids - it's rather a young adult story. The enchanting animation is what makes it worth the ride.

Mo says:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Joy (2015)

Director: David O. Russell. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini. 124 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama.

I've always given David O. Russell good reviews. But suddenly, American Hustle tipped me off: is he just using great actors to boost his mediocre acts? Joy is the embodiment of that discovery. Based on his own terrible, disjointed script, containing numerous inconsequential scenes and characters, tiresome patent and finance techno-babble, and turning a woman's struggle to make it big in the business world into a comedy (I seriously did not see the humor), we're only left with great performances by Lawrence and Cooper, and embarrassments for DeNiro and Rossellini's career profile. David Russell, your honeymoon is over.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mustang (2015)

Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu. 97 min. Rated PG-13. Turkey/France/Qatar/Germany. Drama.

Five free-spirited sisters of a rural family in Turkey find destiny closing in on them, as they are physically locked in their own home and crushed by traditional customs into wedlock, one by one. Watching this, first a female equivalent of The Wolfpack came to mind, then Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides (even with an uncanny resemblance of one of the girls to Kirsten Dunst). But then with characters getting serially knocked off in an enclosed claustrophobic setting by 'monstrous' traditional values ... this is actually the space horror movie Alien, happening on Earth. The Turks are making good movies these days.

Mo says:

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

Director: Liz Garbus. 101 min. Not Rated. Documentary.

Same problem I had with another musician biopic this year, up for an Oscar (Amy): a documentary that fails to describe the importance of this person to a viewer who's coming to know her for the first time. Because for me, this film functioned almost the opposite: it's honest enough to disclose that Nina Simone, a crucial figure in soul music, was abused and abused others, suffered from bipolar manic-depressive disorder, and as part of the civil rights movement, literally asked her audience during concerts whether they're ready to blow up buildings and kill the white man. I mean ... seriously?

Mo says:

The Danish Girl (2015)

Director: Tom Hooper. Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sebastian Koch. 119 min. Rated R. UK/Belgium/USA. Biography/Drama.

I understand IMDb describing this as a "fictitious love story loosely inspired by" true events, because the relation between the 1920s transgender protagonist and his wife (played by Redmayne and Vikander, both nominated for Oscars last week) is hard to believe. When a woman first discovers her husband secretly wearing female underwear, does she just act as: oh that's okay I guess men usually do that? Numerous similar strange interactions undermine the entire movie. I'm suspicious the director (a decent one) was in such a rush for the attention of an LGBT movie, he failed to notice these 'minor' inconsistencies.

Mo says:

Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh ich seh) (2014)

Director(s): Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz. Cast: Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz. 99 min. Rated R. Austria. Mystery/Horror. 

Twin brothers (the creepiest twins since The Shining) find their mother home, returned from surgery, face extensively bandaged. They gradually suspect she's not their real mom. Along the lines of Shyamalan's Sixth Sense, spiced with some sadistic Michael Haneke-type storytelling (an Oozaini genre film), the film boasts an intricate screenplay, an incredibly eerie use of silence, and a climactic shock; but threw me off with two scenes (a nude woman's otherworldly appearance in a forest, a skeleton-filled cave), even though I was suspecting the shock midway through. In other words, like High Tension (2003), they cheat. Could've been a MoMagic.

PS: Just became available on Amazone Prime.

Mo says:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Top 10 Movies of 2015

When an Oscar season front-runner is a movie like Spotlight (at most, considered 'decent'), and the tides are turned by a last-minute Revenant entry, it's safe to say 2015 was not a very strong movie year.

A common theme we saw this year was the greats repeating themselves: Spielberg repeated himself, Tarantino repeated himself, Stallone repeated himself, Star Wars repeated itself, James Bond repeated to the point of failure, and George Miller repeated to new heights - with many critics saying he made the best movie of the year! And the fact that Golden Globe winner Sylvester Stallone may be on his way to win an Oscar for the same role he played 40 years ago, shows even the elite are desperate enough to cherish the situation. Such a drought of originality may lead to last year's Oscar winner for Best Director win the same award this year - because hey, these foreign directors are the rare ones who have anything new to say.

Half of my top 10 movies this year clearly show this trend, mainly being re-runs of what came before. So since my words have a major effect on the future of cinema (I'm definitely sure they do), to choose the top favorite movie this year, instead of my usual criteria of sheer movie-going satisfaction and entertainment, I'm going for originality.

My top 10 movies of 2015, in alphabetical order, are:

1. Inside Out

2. It Follows

3. Jupiter Ascending

4. The Look of Silence

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

6. The Revenant

7. Room 

8. Sicario

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

10. The Walk

Best Movie of the Year: Considering what I wrote above, sorry Star Wars, but I'm going with Inside Out. What this animation achieved in delivering a very unique and original concept, no movie (that I have seen or know of) has ever done before.


Worst Movie of the Year: Hands down, Terminator: Genisys. While thanking Ali S. and Mohi, who came up with the idea and logo, respectively, the idea of a MoCrap! score seemed desperately needed - to describe the lowest of the low. Unfortunately, it takes a while to know you've seen the worst movie of the year, but if I knew at the time, I would've definitely given the fifth Terminator installment this prestigious score, for the very first time.


Discovery of the Year: Even though the TV show seemed more groundbreaking than the movie, and even though it's quite old, Twin Peaks wins my vote. David Lynch has always been the man for presenting comedy, satire, thriller and horror, all at the same time; but here, he achieved perfection.

45 Years (2015)

Director: Andrew Haigh. Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay. 95 min. Rated R. UK. Drama/Romance.

During the week leading up to an elderly couple's 45th wedding anniversary party, the lady discovers that 50 years ago, her husband was engaged to another woman, who died in a mountaineering accident at the time. A hurricane of doubt overwhelms her: What if the girl had lived? Would her marriage had ever happened? Who has she been living with for nearly half a century? A film similar to Le Week-End, contemplating the regrets of old age, with a somewhat open-ended but logical resolution (that seems to be the only one). The superb Rampling acts solely by moving her eyes.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Lobster (2015)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos. Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Wishaw, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux. 118 min. Rated R. Ireland/UK/Greece/France/Netherlands/USA. Drama/Fantasy.

Without spoiling too much: in a dystopian society, marriage is mandatory (the unmarried are turned into, yes, animals); resulting in a resistance group of "loners", who are against marital/sexual relationships. Amid all this, true love happens - and to reach this critical plot point, a few story logic sacrifices are made. The style strongly reminded me of the similar Greek film, Dogtooth, and when this film too ended with  a major character's self-mutilation, lo and behold, I discovered it's the same writer/director, this time directing an English-speaking ensemble. Still, Mojo for the creative plot and numerous fascinating twists.

Mo says:

The Look of Silence (2014)

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer. 103 min. Rated PG-13. Documentary.

The Act of Killing hit us with a blast, and Oppenheimer's companion piece is as deeply contemplative as the first. The family of one of Indonesia's 1965 political massacre victims finally set their fear aside, and interview the killers, face-to-face. You come to the shocking reality that the killers' re-enacting/acting out the murders in the first film was not to suppress a guilty conscience, but to deflect responsibility. And if the need arises again today, they'll do it again. The families of the killers appear apologetic, but they're human, and you're not too sure about humans. A hideous experience.

Mo says:

Monday, January 11, 2016

Concussion (2015)

Director: Peter Landesman. Cast: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Paul Riser, Luke Wilson. 123 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Australia/USA. Biography/Sports.

The true story of how a Pittsburgh-based Nigerian neuro-pathologist in 2002 discovered "chronic traumatic encephalopathy", a neurologic disease caused by repetitive head trauma (football, boxing) - and how the NFL tried to silence him, similar to how tobacco companies persecuted whistle-blowers. A well-developed and engaging medical drama, with superb editing and a surprising acting turn by Will Smith, which is bogged down by minor nuances (some undeveloped secondary characters, questionable close-ups on characters' hands). If football is ever unraveled in the US, this film will be go down in history as the starting point.

Mo says:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Director: F. Gary Gray. Cast: O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti. 147 min. Rated R. Biography/Musical.

The real-life story of Easy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and their NWA, and how the group brought rap music into the mainstream in the 80s and 90s. Considering my severe unfamiliarity with the music, the fact that the film engaged me for its full two-and-half hour length, should be considered a miracle - which is actually what music biopics should do, and not just preach to the choir. Using Ice Cube's real life son to play his part was a brilliant ploy to help you believe the story. Watch this not for the music, but to understand the history.

PS: Paul Giamatti skillfully plays almost the same role in the year's two decent music biopics: this, and Love & Mercy.

Mo says:

Anomalisa (2015)

Director(s): Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman. Cast (voices): David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan.. 90 min. Rated R. Animation.

The night and next morning of a man's business trip to Cincinnati, where he has some dirty laundry from a past life. In this stop-motion animation, Charlie Kaufman continues his favorite theme of a society of egocentric individuals; almost an extension of Being John Malkovich. People are semi-robots, and the hero hears every one's voice as the same male voice - culminating in a moment of artistic brilliance, when the only person who was attractive enough to have a female voice, also loses its attraction. You'll have to see it to get what I mean, and then, you'll never forget the moment.

Mo says:

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Revenant (2015)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter. 156 min. Rated R. Adventure/Thriller.

Crazy director makes movie with crazy success-driven actor without much of a story in crazy filming conditions. Iñárritu adds yet another film to his bizarre profile, about loners obsessed with death - and this time, his hero is hell-bent on revenge. If that wasn't enough, the bear mauling scene was a reality I hadn't experienced in a very, very long time. In a low-competition year, DiCaprio has finally secured himself an Academy Award, but I wouldn't really call this 'acting': he seems to be physically experiencing the torture. One of the rare great movies of this year's Oscar season.

Mo says:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Big Short (2015)

Director: Adam McKay. Cast: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Jeremy Strong, Melissa Leo. 130 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

Wall Street. Glengarry Glen Ross. Margin Call. Every movie with a story based on complicated economics subjects has a rough time engaging the audience; so they rely on different ploys, mainly involvement of great actors. The Big Short, a movie studying the real-life characters who predicted the 2008 financial crisis, uses comedy, a quartet of great actors, inserts of celebrities (Margot Robie, Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez) explaining the concepts, and literal subtitles defining the terms. And it all works - baffling you where the world is going, and how these parasites are feasting on us.

Mo says:

He Named Me Malala (2015)

Director: Davis Guggenheim. 88 min. Rated PG-13. UAE/USA. Documentary.

I've always had suspicions about Malala Yousafzai (and this film acknowledges I'm not alone): that propping her up is just a publicity stunt by the West, to clear their conscience about hundreds of Malalas suffering under regimes either enabled or ignored by the West. To dispel that theory, the documentary makes great effort to show her as a prominent anti-Taliban activist in Pakistan, even before she was shot. But it's ironic how in several scenes she is clearly posing for the camera with her father, and considering her female-empowering agenda, how low-profile her mother is in the picture.

Mo says:

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Trumbo (2015)

Director: Jay Roach. Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg, Elle Fanning, Louis C.K., Alan Tudyk, John Goodman. 124 min. Rated R. Biography.

All McCarthyism movies are fascinating (Guilty by Suspicion (1991) being my favorite). They test the limits of human morality and put you in the hero's shoes, but at the same time suffer from the "what if" question: what if this truly was a "witch"-hunting, and America would have gone Communist if nobody had intervened? Trumbo, the story of probably the most famous black-listed Hollywood artist, is no less fascinating, and Cranston is almost unrecognizable in the role - but alas, the pitfall remains, the movie is just a story what happened and who said what, and offers nothing new.

PS: Yep, it's from the same director who made the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents movies.

Mo says:

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley. 122 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Australia/Spain/UK/Canada. Adventure/Biography. 

The true events that inspired Herman Melville to write "Moby Dick"; the Jaws-like story of 19th century whalers running into a whale with the mentality of a human predator, and committing an abominable act to survive. While its mention is the narrative peak of the movie, the act didn't end up in the book - which makes you wonder why this film was made. Howard has lots of average movies, a few good movies, and one exceptional movie. With all its awe and intensity, and even with a good moral message at the end, this is one of his average ones.

Mo says: