Friday, December 29, 2017

Loveless (Nelyubov) (2017)

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev. Cast: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Varvara Shmykova. 127 min. Rated R. Russia/France/Germany/Belgium. Drama.

I don't recall watching a movie where characters thrived through such simmering hate - without inflicting bodily harm on each other. The story is about a couple going through an ugly divorce, and the gnarling hatred between them (and an in-law) is so brutal, it's eating them alive ... in lieu of their son going missing. Not sure if this is a reliable snapshot of the current Russian society, as the director has been accused of casting a negative spotlight on his country. Still, I found myself deeply involved, wondering how these characters are able to function, carrying such heavy burdens.

Mo says:

I, Tonya (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie. Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale. 119 min. Rated R. Biography/Sport.

In preparation, I recently watched the 30 for 30 documentary, The Price of Gold. Then during I Tonya, realized the movie attempts something confusing: it assumes you already know the story with all the details (weird expectation), but never uses the extra luxury it provided itself by passing that narrative hurdle, to deliver director/writer level introspection into the real-life characters; which begs the question: is this solely an opportunity for Margot Robbie to prove how well she can impersonate? Because after all, she's one of the producers. Supposed to be a movie; not a half-baked reiteration. Not a photo-op.

Mo says:

The Shape of Water (2017)

Director: Guillermo del Toro. Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg. 123 min. Rated R. Canada/USA. Fantasy. 

Guillermo del Toro continues his Pan's Labyrinth style of telling fairy-tales for grownups containing sex, violence and profanity, but fairy-tales nonetheless. Here he counteracts an American subculture of racism and homophobia by trying to promote and normalize diversity, through (of all things) ... bestiality. The ensemble of Hawkins, Shannon, Spencer and Jenkins shine throughout, and del Toro again boasts his usual strong, captivating visual style, but I have yet to click with the man's concept of a good movie - even though evidence (e.g., the Netflix documentary Five Came Back) suggests he's probably a lovely guy to chat with.

Mo says:

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Director: Luca Guadagnino. Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg. 132 min. Rated R. Italy/France/Brazil/USA. Drama.

This tale of unrequited homosexual love set in 1983 Italy (possibly intentional, right before the AIDS scare), makes the age-old mistake of LGBTQ films: to create a palatable setting, it switches heterosexual and homosexual demographics, and creates an imaginary world where the majority of people are homosexual, and the last remaining heterosexuals never blink an eye. For every Call Me by Your Name, I would take a The Kids Are All Right, which takes place in the real world and talks about real interactions. But of course, people will be admiring this film in droves ... many before even seeing it.

Mo says:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Darkest Hour (2017)

Director: Joe Wright. Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane. 125 min. Rated PG-13. UK. Biography/History.

Scent of a Woman was all about Al Pacino, There Will Be Blood was all about Daniel Day-Lewis, and there's not a single moment in Darkest Hour you're not thinking about the actor, buried under all the makeup, who plays Churchill. Of course, the movie is about how Churchill persevered against Nazi appeasers during WWII, how he "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle". But while Gary Oldman doesn't look like Churchill one bit, by the end of the movie, you're thinking maybe Winston Churchill mysteriously looked like Gary Oldman; you just never noticed. Expecting an Oscar win.

PS: The second time Dunkirk is being mentioned in a major movie the same year.

Mo says:

Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Director: Stephen Frears. Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Micahel Gambon, Olivia Williams. PG-13. 111 min. UK/USA. History.

In the late 19th century, Queen Victoria finds an unlikely acquaintance in a significantly younger Indian teacher. Judi Dench is an actress whose mere presence is sufficient to watch a movie, but her motivations to strike a relationship with a socially inferior constituent of the British Empire in such a astoundingly racist court, are quite vague. How come only she is so enlightened? Does she have a crush on this man, or just feels indebted for his teachings? Either way, is offering him such high honors considered ... wise? These ambiguities are never resolved, and the viewer is abandoned in confusion.

Mo says:

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. (2017)

Director: Macon Blair. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood. 93 min. Comedy/Crime.

Comically-easy setting to empathize: middle-aged female wonders why every single living creature around her is a jerk. So she decides to fix one such occasion, and with the help of a weird associate, sets out to deliver vigilante justice on someone who robbed her home. This derails the story off its original concept, into a violent realm that's not quite funny anymore. In the meantime, I'm amazed (and admire) how out of the Winslet-Lynskey duo first recognized in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures (1994), one become Titanic-level famous, while the other to this day successfully continues to brave the indie scene.

Mo says:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

Director: Elio Petri. Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, Florinda Bolkan, Gianni Santuccio. 115 min. Rated R. Italy. Crme/Drama.

Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner boasting an interesting concept. Vain police chief murders female companion, just to prove to himself he's above the law. Even when an innocent person is implicated, he drops clues for the investigation to reroute them towards himself, because hey ... if an innocent is taken in, that wouldn't prove he's untouchable, right? The story is mixed with Italy's contemporary fascist politics to further advance that point, but the grand message of how humans behave when absurdly secured in their comfort zone, even without the ingredient of fascism, holds true to any time or place.

Mo says:

Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson. Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Justin Theroux, Frank Oz. 152 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Adventure.

It'd been so long since we'd seen a real Star Wars story. So long since we'd seen worlds we never knew we craved, since we were untouched by the wonders of the Force ...  we were losing hope. Then The Last Jedi came along, and the impossible became possible. From showing the origins of blue milk to some of the most breathtaking light-saber fights to undiscovered uses of the Force to surprise after surprise after surprise, Rian Johnson has delivered: he has satisfied fan expectations. Recall that even Lucas came up short in that department. And I didn't spoil a thing.

Mo says:

Stronger (2017)

Cast:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Frankie Shaw. 119 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

It's a Boston marathon survivor true story, so you predict it'll be another "if-we-give-up-the-terrorists-will-win" kind of movie. But then you realize it's a heart-wrenching exploration into a handicapped person's life: how he/she is totally misunderstood, how close ones act out by annoyingly rambling on, how others compensate by just quietly leaving the room. You build hope that this movie is different. But then ... the last half hour, with admirable intent, devolves into another "if-we-give-up-the-terrorists-will-win" kind of movie. Of course it's an inspiring tearjerker, but if not for spellbinding performances by Gyllenhaal, Maslany and Richardson, this would've been a So-So.

Mo says:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Director: James Franco. Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Megan Mullally, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Bob Odenkirk, Kevin Smith, Keegan-Michael Key, Danny McBride, Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan. 104 min. Rated R. Biography/Comedy/Drama.

Movie adaptation of how The Room became the worst movie of all time. Too much to discuss, including:

a) how James Franco translates exactly the feeling from reading the book,
b) why divide art to "good" and "bad", when you can enjoy the bad even more than the good,
c) what the meaning of loyalty in friendship is, and how far you'll take it,
d) when to cooperate with versus stand up to a friend's delusions,
e) how to deal with a friend's delusion when uncertain whether it's a real delusion, or there's secondary gain involved ...

The list goes on.

PS: Stay for a post-credits scene starring none other than the great master, Tommy Wiseau himself.

Mo says:

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (2017)

Director: Chris Smith. 94 min. Canada/USA. Documentary.

Briefly in the 90s, Jim Carrey was a phenomenon.We laughed at his body-contorting comedy, but then ... we saw through him. He turned to dramatic roles, married Jenny McCarthy, joined the Anti-Vax movement - none of which worked. So in a final redemptive attempt, he reminisces on his role in Man on the Moon (one of the greatest of 1999), where he method acted Andy Kaufman to life. And while Carrey offers some good philosophical mesmerizing, we're never sure addressing his own "Andy" in third person is the real thing, or just another gratuitous publicity stunt. Just look at the film's title.

Mo says:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mudbound (2017)

Director: Dee Rees. Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige. 134 min. Rated R. Drama.

There is a powerful vignette on display in Mudbound: two young officers, one black and one white, return from WWII Europe to their common Mississippi hometown, both to learn that in terms of the racism and hatred gnarling through America's South, the devastation of war was immensely more preferable to what they see at home. Considering now there's doubt whether that Southern mentality has improved much during the past 70 years, this is a shocking concept. If not for a few distracting subplots which unnecessarily prolong the movie, Mudbound could've been one of this year's masterpieces.

PS: Also created by and available on Netflix. For the past 10-15 years, from mail-in DVDs to online streaming to creating their own original material, the Netflix platform has truly changed (IMO, worsened) the 'movie-going experience'. Mudbound is an epic movie that should've been watched on a big screen, not on your insignificant smartphones.

Mo says:

Voyeur (2017)

Director(s): Myles Kane, Josh Koury. 96 min.

Initially reminding me of The Dog, this documentary made me wonder why waste time on a motel-owner who was spying on guests for thirty years. But the film was not about voyeurism. Rather, about humans falling prey to their vanity, their search for fame, their search for something as 'dumb' as money - and risking their entire reputation in pursuit of those goals. And by that, ... I don't only mean the voyeur of interest here. In an era when sketchy journalism, "tailoring" facts, and prioritizing "appearance" to core reality (metaphors scattered throughout the film) are magnified, Voyeur becomes an important story.

PS: Available on Netflix.

Mo says:

Friday, December 8, 2017

Wonder (2017)

Director: Stephen Chbosky. Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin. 113 min. Rated PG. USA/Hong Kong. Drama/Family.

We already know: a film about a facially disfigured boy, how he is bullied at school, creates a network through hardship, and builds some courage to react. But that's just the surface. The core is, we're living in dark times, and rarely do you see a movie exude such innocence, reminiscent of Spielberg's 80s concept of 'family'. Which is what makes the honesty in Roberts' and Wilson's performance so appropriate and powerful (noticed how they've never played villains?). We need more movies like this ... to calm us down. Bring some napkins along.

PS: Thank you for recommendation, Peter J. Almost brushed it off.

Mo says:

Brad's Status (2017)

Director: Mike White. Cast: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson. 102 min. Rated R. Drama.

Before taking his teenager on an East Coast college tour, academic father has a mid-life crisis that is triggered by ... Facebook pics of former classmates boasting how financially successful they are. In other words, the setting is somewhat pathetic. While the dialogue is engaging (and funny), and even though during the course of the film he is told how petty his first-world scruples are, I was still never able to empathize with this character. Similar to The Meyerowitz Stories, Ben Stiller falls into crying spells, which makes you think: maybe some of his own personal issues are playing out here.

Mo says:

Brigsby Bear (2017)

Director: Dave McCary. Cast: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Claire Danes, Andy Samberg. 97 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Drama.

I bet SNL star and writer Kyle Mooney watched Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, the story of kids held captive in their house by parents who've brought them up in an imaginary world, then asked himself: What if one of those teenagers escaped, and impossibly tried to adjust to the new, real world? Because that's where the tough questions start. Brigsby Bear shows different possibilities, one of which includes shouting and yelling in hope of ramming your logic into your opponent's brain. And that is why this movie is important for our times. Or any time.

Mo says:

Monday, December 4, 2017

Tulip Fever (2017)

Director: Justin Chadwick. Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O'Connell, Zach Galifianakis, Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, Cara Delevingne. 105 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Drama/Romance.

Seventeenth century Amsterdam, two parallel story-lines: one the period's tulip business craze, the other some trickery between two women (one pregnant, none feverish). The hilarious part is, except for one common character, the two stories almost never meet! Even worse, there's some parallel editing between two! So if one was planned as a metaphor for the other (tulip for pregnancy, or pregnancy for tulip), that metaphor was lost on me. We're dealt a movie with a nonsensical structure, and popular actors in throwaway roles - who probably just signed up to pay the bills (Vikander did 5 obscure movies in 2017).

Mo says:

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Detroit (2017)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Cast: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Hannah Murray, John Krasinski. 143 min. Rated R. History/Crime.

When projecting the feeling of the 1967 Detroit riots, Kathryn Bigelow takes a page out of Ava DuVernay's Selma notebook by interposing actual footage, and expanding that technique throughout the opening moments; filming documentary-style, without claiming to be a documentary. But the major blow comes from Bigelow reminding us of a feeble-minded official's recent "very fine people on both sides" quote: that if a narrative is told or interpreted by a low intellect mindset, even KKK members could be considered 'fine'. This is a long movie, but it made me think ... maybe Trump is honestly unable to analyze any better.

Mo says:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Director: Martin McDonagh. Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Clarke Peters. 115 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Drama/Comedy.

Martin McDonagh's third feature (In BrudgesSeven Psychopaths) is a film that juggles too many subjects, and almost resolves none. And by that, I don't mean the seemingly incomplete ending, which is actually perfect. You're not sure what the director's main concern here is, but my guess: the universal racism embedded in all of us. This in itself could be an opportune message for our times, but then you have subplots that almost take over the main plot, and a pivotal while impossibly coincidental moment towards the end. As a result, you have superb acting wasted on unforgivable mistakes.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Director: Matthew Vaughn. Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal, Michael Gambon, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Elton John, Jeff Bridges, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson. 141 min. UK/USA. Action/Comedy.

Compared to the original, which included multiple Star Wars references, the sequel goes back to its roots with numerous James Bond homages (metallic claw-arm, knife-jabbing shoe, etc). But that's all the sequel does: stays at its roots. We have the same comedic gruesome violence and slow-motion/camera-spinning action shots, simply substituting bad guy Samuel Jackson here with bad girl Julianne Moore. There was an interesting theme with a Trump-like President sanctioning American death and skilled professionals following him to a tee - but hey, you don't want to alienate half your viewers, do you? Avoid the controversy; keep the cash flowing.

Mo says:

Crooked House (2017)

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Cast: Christina Hendricks, Honor Kneafsey, Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close, Max Irons, Stefanie Martini, Terence Stamp, Amanda Abbington, Julian Sands. 115 min. Rated PG-13. UK. Crime/Mystery.

You see those names among the cast, and resisting the urge to watch another Agatha Christie adaptation becomes quite a task - even though you've read the book decades ago and vaguely remember whodunit. And while American actresses (Close and Anderson) faking British accents or the boring quarrels of a typical English mansion may all wake you out of your movie dream, you still don't mind. What amazed me, was how the creepy and twisted ending, which may have been blasphemous for the time of the novel's writing, has now become quite acceptable. The times, they are a changin'.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder. Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Amber Heard, Joe Morton. 120 min. Rated PG-13. USA/UK/Canada. Action/Fantasy.

Justice League's main success ... is that it manages to avoid being as awful as its predecessor, Batman v Superman. Otherwise, this is just a superhero movie like any other, big monstrous villain and collection of heroes clobbering each other around through the most minimal plot. Primarily Gal Gadot (as Wonder Woman) and secondarily Ezra Miller (as Flash) are the rare specimens that keep the character dynamics interesting, but Ben Affleck once again proves he was one of the worst possible choices for Batman. How disappointing that the movie we could only dream about since childhood, eventually turned out like this.

Mo says:

Monday, November 27, 2017

Lady Bird (2017)

Director: Greta Gerwig. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein. 93 min. Rated R.  Drama/Comedy.

All of us have experienced teenage angst, so the idea of a film playing out such a commonplace theme on screen sounds dull. Conclusively, making an engaging film on the subject is extremely difficult. That's the incredible goal Greta Gerwig (in her second directorial effort, first in ten years) achieves here. I'm not a teenage girl with a jobless dad and a mother hounding me down, but I exactly understood how this protagonist felt, because the film manages to show real people with real issues. Linklater's Before trilogy was the last time I experienced such 'hyper-realism' at portraying day-to-day life.

PS: Not only 100% on the Tomatometer, but the best reviewed film of all time? I mean, it's good, but not that good ...

Mo says:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Coco (2017)

Director(s): Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina. Voices: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt. 109 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Not to set general rules, but beside questionable religious edicts, American culture is not well-equipped with assisting kids deal with non-material concepts - and could use a helping hand from other cultures. Coco does them the favor of defining 'death' in an entirely new way, by setting up a 'land of the dead' with its own simple rules, and creating a story more engaging than in the land of the living. That, and an animation so stunning, it could've been an entity on its own. Waiting to see if Pixar will ever run out of insanely unique ideas.

PS: There's this well-known social media post:

Pixar, 1995: What if toys had feelings
Pixar, 1998: What if bugs had feelings
Pixar, 2001: What if monsters had feelings
Pixar, 2003: What if fish had feelings
Pixar, 2004: What if superheroes had feelings
Pixar, 2006: What if cars had feelings
Pixar, 2007: What if rats had feelings
Pixar, 2008: What if robots had feelings
Pixar, 2009: What if dogs had feelings
Pixar, 2012: What if Scotland had feelings
Pixar, 2015: What if feelings had feelings

I would like to add:

Pixar, 2017: What if the dead had feelings ...

PPS: If you plan on seeing this is in a theater, plan on showing up 40 minutes late. Come early, and have Disney molest your brain with probably the worst animation short they've ever done.

Mo says:

Playtime (1967)

Director: Jacques Tati. Cast: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, Rita Maiden. 115 min. No Rated. France/Italy. Comedy.

I don't read reviews before movies, or before writing my own. But then there's the rare phenomenon many believe must be seen in its original 70 mm projection, Spielberg paid homage to by The Terminal, and Truffaut called "a film from another planet". I enjoyed it, but broke my own rule, read a review, and realized how groundbreaking it was - and how well the critic described my impression better than I ever could. So why bother writing a review, or waste your time reading it? Watch the movie, read Ebert's review, and be glad there's a profession called film criticism.

Mo says:

In This Corner of the World (2016)

Director: Sunao Katabuchi. 130 min. Rated PG-13. Japan. Animation.

The story is set in Hiroshima ... before the war. So for a film showing the very mundane daily lives of common villagers, the mere initial mention of that location in itself works to create a ticking clock towards the fateful day of August 6th, 1945: a tense juxtaposition against the characters' countryside innocence. And what better way to picture innocence, than animation? This will remind you of the far more devastating Grave of the Fireflies, and while it digs into these themes a tad too long, it's still worth the trip - considering the saber-rattling shenanigans of two current world leaders.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Kedi (2016)

Director: Ceyda Torun. 79 min. Unrated. Turkey/USA. Documentary.

The cats of Istanbul. That's it! A documentary about the cats of Istanbul. This may sound like a trivial subject, but we're talking modern day Turkey, and imagine elaborating on any subject in that country's most prominent city, avoiding topics like politics, religion and femininity, and still staying focused. In other words, Kedi is an exercise in how not to show, rather than what to show. Look at it that way, and you'll be amazed how you can appreciate these people (and their human-feline relationships) like any other people in the world. No easy feat.

Mo says:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Logan Lucky (2017)

Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank. 118 min. Rated PG-13. Comedy/Crime.

A fun, entertaining heist movie, comparable to Soderbergh's other fun, entertaining heist movie(s), the Ocean's trilogy - with one huge difference: the lovable Las Vegas thieves in the Ocean movies are introduced as smart and sassy; here, Soderbergh already plays out his North Carolina heroes as dumb, low-life idiots from the get-go. So when they plan and pull off such a brilliant, intricate job (with a little help from that script device called 'co-incidence'), expecting us as viewers to suspend disbelief becomes the understatement of the year. Literally "introducing" a new actor named Daniel Craig was fun though.

PS: Wow. The Girlfriend Experience, Che, The Informant!, Contagion, Haywire, and this. All 'So-So' scores. I guess Soderbergh can hardly impress me.

Mo says:

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Director: Noah Baumbach. Cast: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Grace Van Patten, Emma Thompson, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver, Candice Bergen, Sakina Jaffrey. 112 min. Comedy/Drama.

My (self-proclaimed) legions of fans already know: as opposed to the rest of the world, I'm not crazy about Noah Baumbach. Here he tells the (probably autobiographical) story of an old narcissistic father and his two sons, who collectively freshen up the term 'dysfunctional family'. You'll find pieces of these relationships in your own family, and some moments will haunt you, but by choosing his central character a Jewish New Yorker has-been artist with a Bohemian wife and successful/loser sons, Baumbach has limited his scope and reach. Don't know - maybe I'll change my mind about this in the future.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman. 114 min. Rated PG-13. Malta/USA.

The reason I always found Agatha Christie's whodunits far superior to Arthur Conan Doyle's, was that Christie often incorporated a human element in Hercule Poirot's expertise at solving mysteries - a talent Sherlock Holmes generally didn't portray. Ironically, that is what was missing from Sidney Lumet's well-done 1974 adaptation of the famous novel, and that's what Kenneth Branagh has managed to capture in his remake. While the stunning cinematography and Poirot's unexpected crowbar mustache here are characters on their own, Branagh's direction is what makes that baffling ending twist very emotional, and very memorable.

PS: I'm glad there's an ending reference to another famous Poirot whodunit, "Death on the Nile". Looking forward to seeing Branagh in this role again.

Mo says:

Good Time (2017)

Director(s): Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie. Cast: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi. 101 min. Rated R. Crime/Thriller.

Robert Pattinson, as a small-time thief, manipulates his mentally-challenged brother to accompany him in his own life of crime, then attempts to rescue him when the brother gets caught instead. After a taut, thrilling first half (you suddenly notice the credits rolling at minute 17!) and a brilliant mid-movie twist, the story gradually loses momentum, and becomes like any other crime movie. While the central idea is how one criminal is able to destroy so many lives (himself included), I was amazed at how Pattinson has managed to completely reinvent himself since his deplorable Twilight days.

Mo says:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Director: Matt Spicer. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O'Shea Jackson Jr.. 98 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

A smart satire with great potential. The whole Californian (or just American) way of life, where a sub-human materialistic mentality combines with nauseating social media obsession, and creates imbecile mini-monsters unable to observe beyond a two-feet perimeter around them. Aubrey Plaza is perfect as a loser who actively falls prey to the adulation of an "Instagram star" (whatever that is). And while the story sets everything up for a very brave ending, suddenly and disappointingly, it chickens out of that brave ending. We need something that's ready to take this all the way.

Mo says:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Director: Luc Besson. Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Rutger Hauer. 137 min. Rated PG-13. France/China/Belgium/Germany/UAE/USA/UK/Canada. Adventure/Fantasy.

There are original stories like "Dune" and "Valerian", which people claim Star Wars stole ideas from, and if their movies had premiered before Star Wars, each would've revolutionized cinema the way Star Wars did. Well, sorry - they didn't. So now, post-Star Wars, what's left of the films based on that source material, is just repeated plot points ... and blasting visual and sound effects. I kept watching this very long movie, and kept thinking: other than spectacular computer animation, what motivated the illustrious Luc Besson to make this? Is gloating over CGI effects, the sole reason to make a movie?

PS: The title for the original French comic book that inspired this was "Valérian and Laureline". Considering that Cara Delevingne's enchanting screen presence (as Laureline) entirely blows her male counterpart (as Valerian) into oblivion, I'm surprised there hasn't been a female revolt over the movie's title. They simply excluded her.

Mo says:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos. Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Bill Camp, Alicia Silverstone. 121 min. Rated R. UK/Ireland/USA. Fantasy/Horror.

From the director of Dogtooth and The Lobster, displaying all the familiar staples of a Yorgos Lanthimos film: bizarre fantasy/horror situation, satirically stoic catatonic characters, dark moody cinematography, and even an obligatory self-mutilation scene. But while the first half's theme is similar to Spielberg's Duel (something catastrophic is happening to you, and you don't know why) accompanied by references to The Shining's chilling soundtrack, the presence of a sadistic character should've warned me this will devolve into my greatest film-viewing pet-peeve: a movie that betrays its viewer's emotional investment. Because this film's ending is truly abhorrent.

Mo says:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Director: Taika Waititi. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi (voice), Rachel House, Sam Neill, Matt Damon. 130 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Action/Comedy.

Describing a movie as "breathing fresh air into the superhero genre" has become so cliché, it's more of a testimony to a dying genre than a compliment to its most recent flick. But considering the first and second Thor movies have been the most boring of the 17 Marvel films so far, anything is an improvement. Ironically, by adding his own unique touch of humor (here and here), New Zealand director Waititi actually does breath fresh air into the genre. A funny and entertaining movie all around, reminding of the fun of the first Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.

PS: Considering all the buildup to the moment Thor's unrivaled opponent in the gladiator arena is shown, would've helped if the identity of that opponent wasn't spoiled a thousand times in the trailers.

Mo says:

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Cast: Haruhiko Katô, Kumiko Asô, Koyuki. 118 min. Rated R. Japan. Horror.

Another modern Japanese horror, astonishingly ahead of its time. Similar to The Ring, it uses audiovisual technology (here, the advent of the internet) to delve into the horrors of loneliness in our supposed 'era of connectivity' - even forecasting the duplicity of social media at bringing people together. Add to that, the mastery of sound effects during moments of silence and ambiguous lighting of the backgrounds, create some truly terrifying sequences. But then, the second half loses steam quite fast, due to lack of a coherent script to connect these incredibly imaginative moments of terror. A hugely missed opportunity.

PS: Inspired a Wes Craven-written 2006 remake which apparently flopped.

Mo says:

Monday, October 30, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017)

Director(s): Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk. 98 min. Rated PG. Documentary.

Initially you think, more of the same: another climate change documentary, that by no means will carry the Earth-shattering (no pun intended) effect the original 2006 film had. But then the movie goes along, and you realize Al Gore is not only summarizing the worsening environment status since the original, but also shockingly predicting the recent rapid succession of four devastating hurricanes hitting the US, and the rampant Northern California wildfires ... after the film's premiere. But of course, there's mention of that imbecile pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Accords - something the entire world worked so hard to accomplish.

Mo says:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Happy Death Day (2017)

Director: Christopher Landon. Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine. 96 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

A horror version of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, with literally an entire hour of its hour and half duration already summarized in the trailer. And I correctly guessed the killer halfway through the movie, even though what the killer accomplishes is logistically impossible! So what remained for me was ... why is this girl stuck in a time loop? I have no qualms spoiling, that that question is never answered. Newcomer Jessica Rothe demonstrates unquestionable star power, and while I look forward to her future endeavors, this movie made me felt cheated.

Mo says:

Friday, October 27, 2017

Gerald's Game (2017)

Director: Mike Flanagan. Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas. 103 min. Horror/Thriller.

What starts as a sex game after a mere 10 minutes becomes a struggle for survival. The closest Stephen King-based movie to this is Misery (1990), all the way down to a cringe-worthy scene towards the end equivalent to that movie's hobbling scene. And like many of King's best stories, isn't just satisfied with a climactic protagonist battle, but continues on to an epilogue. Since we've already been told she's hallucinating, the epilogue 'fairly' flips all we've already seen on its head, and concludes with a message of female empowerment. Great minimalist thriller, from the filmmaker who rejuvenated Ouija.

PS: I guess Mike Flanagan is big buddies with Henry "E.T.-Elliot" Thomas.

PPS: This too made by and available on Netflix.

Mo says:

First They Killed My Father (2017)

Director: Angelina Jolie. Cast: Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompheak, Sveng Socheata. 136 min. Cambodia/USA. Biography/History.

Angelina Jolie is finally getting it. She tells the story of the 1975-1979 genocide of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, based on the memoirs of survivor Loung Ung. As it goes along, the movie becomes less in-your-face preachy, and the camera angles and minimum dialogue more mature, showing the viewpoint of its heroine child, keeping a safe distance but still letting us understand her pain. From Blood and Honey's NoMo to Unbroken's SoSo to this, Jolie is learning the trade. And that God's-eye view of the child walking through a minefield while runners explode around her, won't let you go.

PS: Cambodia's entry for this year's Oscars, made by and available on Netflix.

Mo says:

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Director: S. Craig Zahler. Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier. 132 min. Not Rated. Crime.

Vince Vaughn takes his "ruthless criminal with a heart of gold" persona from True Detective ... to the extreme. As an ex-boxer caught in the crossfire of a drug deal horribly gone wrong, he's threatened with harm to his unborn baby, unless he takes out another criminal residing in maximum security. Thus starts a gruesome trail of cracking bones and crushing skulls. Lots of skulls. And while the hole-riddled plot was admittedly engaging, at the end, I couldn't believe in Vaughn as such a psychotically brutal killer. Seemed the director was more interested in him crushing skulls, than him acting.

Mo says:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Thunderheart (1992)

Director: Michael Apted. Cast: Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, Graham Greene. 119 min. Rated R. Crime/Mystery.

Rookie mixed-blood FBI agent (Kilmer) joins experienced investigator (Shepard) to solve a homicide on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota. This is not a mystery just happening on Indian grounds; Indian culture and mysticism is actually incorporated into the crime-solving process, which makes this unique compared to all other Graham Greene-featured movies about Indians. Shepard's dominating presence in a supporting role is the only factor that makes the ending twist unforeseeable and believable - and his passing of 3 months prior a great loss.

PS: Thank you, JZ. Great recommendation of an obscure gem.

Mo says:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Una (2016)

Director: Benedict Andrews. Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed. 94 min. Rated R. Drama. UK/Canada/USA. Drama.

Some subjects are so difficult, cinematic approach becomes questionable. The middle-age man/underage girl relationship is one of them, and even Kubrick threw in some comedy to make Lolita possible. Here the woman, still haunted by such a relationship 15 years later, finds the man, and in his workplace tries too ... punish him? Guilt-trip him? Persuade him into re-opening the affair? Not sure even the director knows, because sympathizing with these characters is a tall order. And while I enjoy movies that leave the ending to the viewer, this just has none. The film suddenly ends without any lingering thought.

PS: I later discover we have a problem here similar to what occurred with Fences: playwright turns his/her own powerful stage play into a screenplay, and due to lack of experience with the medium, fails.

Mo says:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Badlands (1973)

Director: Terrence Malick. Cast: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates. 94 min. Rated PG. Crime.

Before his camera-twirling days, Terrence Malick used to make great movies with actual stories. Here, he portrays the minds of two imbeciles, and how much damage they can inflict upon themselves and others when they roam free - twenty years before Oliver Stone thought up Natural Born Killers and the way people are fascinated by the criminal mindset, and nearly half a century before a similar crushing ignorant naivete brought the likes of Trump to power. Disturbing but captivating performances by Sheen and Spacek aside, you become amazed how advanced this director's thought process was for his time.

Mo says:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch. Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Bill Skarsgård, Jóhannes Jóhannesson. 115 min. Rated R. Germany/Sweden/USA. Action.

Same mistake they made with the recent Ghostbusters: placing superstar actress in an entirely macho role, but without any sign of her womanhood complimenting or improving the role, probably under the guise of equal opportunity and 'giving women a voice', but actually undermining them in the long run - because retrofitting females into male roles looks ridiculous. Nevertheless, there's one action scene where our 'lady John Wick' fights the bad guys up an elevator, down a spiraling staircase, through multiple rooms ... for at least 7 minutes, all in one take. That scene saved this movie from a NoMo.

PS: Honest to God truth: after writing this review, I found on IMDb that this movie's director was actually one of the original John Wick's two directors. Example of Hollywood doing formulaic disservice to women.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Maudie (2016)

Director: Aisling Walsh. Cast: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Ireland/Canada. Biography/Romance.

'Innocent' is the word that comes to mind throughout this biopic of Canadian painter, Maud Lewis. No matter how pitiful Hawkins plays the debilitated artist, no matter how brutal Hawke treats her as her husband, there's still a certain genuine innocence here, that keeps you hooked. Mysteriously, we're almost never told what the painter's ailment is, and we really don't care either, because the excruciating image of Hawkins twisting her body as Maudie, makes this more about her acting than the film. Hawkins' name is also being touted for The Shape Of Water, so this may become her Oscar-winning year.

Mo says:

American Made (2017)

Director: Doug Liman. Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones. 115 min. Rated R. Biography/Thriller.

TWA. CIA. IAC. FBI. DEA. USA. Three-letter abbreviations dominating the real-life story of pilot Barry Seal, a profiteer who worked for three-letter entities, and then for Nicaraguans (namely, Noriega), and the Colombia drug cartels (namely, Escobar), and eventually led to what what was later known as the Iran-Contra scandal. A story so wild, you keep asking: Did this all really happen? And since Doug Liman knows you'll be baffled, he intermittently interjects with actual Carter and Reagan footage, to prove major plot points were real, so there's only minor dramatization. So engaging, I didn't notice the two hours passing by.

PS: Lovely use of George Harrison's "Wah-Wah" during the end credits. Strangely, there was also a pivotal moment for Harrison's "What is Life" during the recent Battle of the Sexes.

PPS: Thank you, Payam! I'm usually hesitant when I see Tom Cruise's name, so I almost missed this one. 

Mo says:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Amityville: The Awakening (2017)

Director: Franck Khalfoun. Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bella Thorne, Kurtwood Smith. 85 min. Rated PG-13. Horror.

You know it's the fourth attempt (after remake, "inspired by", and documentary) at jump-starting a failed horror franchise, so there's no way there's anything new here. But then you see Jennifer Jason Leigh's name, so she must've seen something worthwhile in it. Dead wrong. There's an inkling of hope for blurring horror/fiction and reality à la Blair Witch Project, when characters plan to watch the 1979 movie in the haunted house. But the rapidity of horror clichés and one-per-5-minute jump-scare rate leaves no air to breathe. So awful, distributors made it available free on Google Play, before its theater release.

PS: This was produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Harvey Weinstein was behind the production and/or distribution of True Romance, Pulp Fiction, The Crossing Guard, the Scream franchise, Princess Mononoke, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, Halloween H20, The Faculty, Shakespeare in Love, The Cider House Rules, Scary Movie, Malèna, Chocolat, the Spy Kids franchise, The Others, The Lord of the RingsGangs of New York, Chicago, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2, Master and Commander, Cold Mountain, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Aviator, Sin City, Grindhouse, The Mist, Rambo, The Reader, Inglourious Basterds, Piranha 3D, The King's Speech, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, August: Osage County, Big Eyes, Marco Polo (TV), Carol, The Hateful Eight, Lion, The Founder, ... among 300 others.

In view of recently exploding allegations of sexual abuse that go back for decades, I'm trying to imagine what a huge, black blot this would splatter on contemporary American art. Imagine how you'll feel the next time you see Harvey Weinstein's name on a movie's opening credits. Because you will see it.

Mo says:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spielberg (2017)

Director: Susan Lacy. 147 min. Documentary.

If you've followed Spielberg's career through 40 years (like, introduced to 'movies' in childhood, then lived his dreams through your teens, adulthood, and now middle age), many or most of the stories told here about the filmmaker won't be anything new. But wait - it's Marty, Francis, George and Brian telling those stories again, and you know his actors so well, voice-overs on scenes of his movies by Ford, Dreyfuss, Hanks, Neeson, Fiennes and Winfrey need no introduction to the voices themselves. That's what makes this biographical documentary so different - about the greatest director that ever lived. There, I said it.

Mo says: