Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Director: Christopher Nolan. Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine (voice). 106 min. Rated PG-13. UK/Netherlands/France/USA. War.

Nolan extends his obsession with intersecting timelines and viewpoints (Memento, Inception, Interstellar) to a historical event, making a story with a known outcome (the Battle of Dunkirk) still fascinating to watch. And he's so self-assured of grabbing your attention, he even shows you outcomes of his three parallel timelines in the other! Add to that 70 mm panorama shots of attacks on a beach lined with 400,000 troops, or first-person experience of aerial dogfights over the sea, and you have one of the greatest World War II movies ever made. The rare movie you should watch solely in a theater.

Mo says:
MoMagic!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Circle (2017)

Director: James Ponsoldt. Cast: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton. 110 min. Rated PG-13. UAE/USA. Sci-fi/Thriller.

This is a disaster. Not because it's a heavy-handed adaptation of the novel's palpable, foreboding story (boring static shots of people talking about a rousing subject), and not because it's a waste of great casting choices (most notably, Emma Watson). It's because the writers do what Ron Howard did with Inferno: changing the story's appropriately dark ending, to a happy ending. And not just any happy ending;  a stupid happy ending - where the villain (a brilliant actor) at the end claims: "We're f---ed." Yep, that's how we suddenly realize the good guys won and the bad guys lost. We're f---ed.

PS: Strange. Both Paxton and Headly, who play Watson's parents in the movie, have died in the past few months.

Mo says:

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2016)

Director: Joseph Cedar. Cast: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens, Hank Azaria, Charlotte Gainsbourg. 118 min. Rated R. Israel/USA. Drama.

The story of Norman: virtually a nobody with no resources, who talks himself into relationships and events to eventually make money ... out of nothing. His mere presence is so devastating, he even gets the Israeli Prime Minister into trouble. But then the Prime Minister feels a kinship to Norman, because some day, maybe he was a Norman too. It's not necessarily about a Jewish personality trait; we've all had Normans around us. And while the film leaves too many aspects of this mind-boggling nature unfulfilled, the fact that it touches upon it (with Gere's impeccable close-up acting) makes it worthwhile.

Mo says:


War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves. Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller. 140 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Sci-fi.

The quest comes full circle. It's not about how well the ape CGI is done, or how the film provides an excellent explanation to why humans in the original 1968 Charlton Heston movie are mute. It's about how they performed this revolutionary task in the prequel trilogy, of starting out with a boring human-oriented narrative in the first movie ... to a deep, slow-paced but entirely engaging, character-driven, ape-oriented narrative - no matter how perfect Woody Harrelson portrays a Brando/Colonel Kurtz in his Ape-pocalypse Now. They've proved it possible: you can tell a great non-human tale, with humans as secondary elements.

PS: Hands down, the movie's best scene: Bad Ape.

PPS: And I'll probably buy Michael Giacchino's soundtrack.

Mo says:
MoMagic!

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Director: Jon Watts. Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jennifer Connelly (voice), Chris Evans. 133 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Sci-fi.

I respect and value the dark territories Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan took Batman into. But when those dark moods also invaded Superman (and to some extent, Wonder Woman), you feel the DC universe is going a tad too far. Meanwhile, Marvel has managed to keep its superhero films appropriately light and fun. This nicely shows in Deadpool and Ant-Man, and now, after two average Andrew Garfield attempts, we have a lively, teenage-oriented film, with a successful turn by Tom Holland, who manages to carry the load - even with a narcissist Tony Stark around. It's good to have Spider-Man back.

Trivia: Iron Man's body armor AI, Jarvis (who later became Vision), was voiced/acted by Paul Bettany. Now Spider-Man's suit AI, Karen, is voiced by Bettany's wife, Jennifer Connelly. Seeing her in some physical superhero form in the future also?

Mo says:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Free Fire (2016)

Director: Ben Wheatley. Cast: Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Noah Taylor. 90 min. Rated R. UK/France. Crime/Comedy.

An arms deal in a warehouse gone bad, told in 90 minutes, real time. That's all! In effect, no story ... and it couldn't be more entertaining. What makes the funny shootout between the two gangs possible to go on for more than an hour, is guns having an endless supply of bullets, and characters sustaining non-lethal (or even lethal!) gunshot wounds and continuously shooting. Meanwhile, you're just waiting to see who survives at the end. Scorsese is an executive producer here, but I would only attribute the characters' 70s regalia (and the copious amount of blood) to him.

Mo says:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Director: Rupert Sanders. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt. 107 min. Rated PG-13. USA/India/China/Japan/Hong Kong/UK/New Zealand/Canada/Australia. Sci-fi/Action.

My minimal experience with anime says the reason such stories are told through animation, is that their extravagance makes any live-action film-making prohibitive. So here we have a live-action iteration of a famous anime, and now I'm thinking maybe the sensory overload of such dizzying sci-fi makes even live-action film the wrong medium. There's an interesting concept here, that we still carry a human soul residue, no matter how electronically "enhanced" we become. But Scarlett Johansson's white-washing (no explanation why the Japanese heroine doesn't look Asian) is just too blatant and distracting for the film to create any lasting effect.

PS: Nice analysis here.

Mo says:

Monday, July 3, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Director: .Chad Stahelski. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane. 122 min. Rated R. Action.

So the sequel to the original, which consisted of John Wick killing people, contains .... killing, killing, killing, then a little bit more killing, then killing, then a lot more killing, and then killing. Then the movie makes a heartbreaking effort at a structured story, but then there's killing. Then some more killing. Until it's not even funny. And then finally, the last scene promises a third installment. I wonder what that's going to be about.

PS: This one too. Same flight. Forced to watch.

PPS: Okay - Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne, together again. That was cool.

Mo says:

Collateral Beauty (2016)

Director: David Frankel. Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren. 97 min. Rated PG-13. Drama.

The death of a child. Probably the most crushing event a human being can experience. You have movies like Rabbit Hole or The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which make good use of it to tell a good story, and there are ones like this, which make good abuse of it to tell a shamefully sentimental story, where every character is a psychoanalyst, and ends with not just one, but two nonsensical twist endings. And when you see so many great actors in such a movie, you realize even movie stars sometimes say: Hey man, I gotta make a living too.

PS: I was forced to watch this on a transatlantic flight. Nothing better to watch or do.

Mo says:

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Okja (2017)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho. Cast: Seo-Hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins. 121 min. Sci-fi/Adventure. South Korea/USA.

It's a Bong Joon-ho movie (you know, this and this), so you're expecting something magnificent. And again, magnificent happens. You have the superb Tilda Swinton (in two roles), an evil conglomerate trying the feed the world in devious ways, a "good" PETA-like secret opposition who are well-aware of their own hypocritical philosophy, heart-pounding action sequences, and finally, a young innocent girl trying to help her huge pet escape the authorities, à la E.T. What else could you ask for? Not as deep as Snowpiercer, but one helluva ride.

PS: Yeeaaaah! Glenn is back!

PPS: Netflix-produced. Available on Netflix.

Mo says:
MoMagic!

The Bad Batch (2016)

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour. Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Jayda Fink, Keanu Reeves, Diego Luna, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi. 118 min. Rated R. Romance/Sci-Fi.

In a dystopian future, young female ex-con ends up in a cannibal community south of the border, and fights her way to gain I'm not really sure what. Amirpour's second feature (after the groundbreaking A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) shows she's developing her own stylistic elements: tattoos, attraction for human flesh (vampires, cannibals, ...), and bad-ass heroines. And while the cinematography is top-notch, the director's effort to emulate Tarantino-style iconography feels too forced, as though she made an entire movie just to focus on a girl with one arm, one leg, and yellow shorts with a winking emoji.

Mo says:

Friday, June 30, 2017

Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright. Cast: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey. 113 min. Rated R. UK/USA. Action/Crime.

Some of the best choreographed car-chase scenes in movie history, accompanied by perfectly-timed songs, and the director's nod to Star Wars in the form an iconic hero with a Han Solo costume, could have made this one of the best action movies in a decade. But then, the story relies too heavily on coincidence, to the point where towards the end, the hero hopes for a plot vehicle (literally and figuratively), and a car appears at that most opportune time. The pitiful part is, the coincidences were completely avoidable. Oh whatever; it's a fun ride.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cars 3 (2017)

Director: Brian Fee. Voices: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion , Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Kerry Washington, Margo Martindale, John Ratzenberger, Cheech Marin, Paul Newman. 109 min. Rated G. Animation.

I enjoyed the original Cars, didn't bother watching the sequel due to dismal reviews, and to summarize, was bored through this third installment. But then ... the demolition derby racers, with their Southern accents, are not shed in a good light, and the climactic moments of the movie has an 'American' car yelling at a 'female Latino' car: "You don't belong on this track!", and her responding: "Yes, ... I do." Although the story was obviously plotted well before the November 2016 elections, looks like Pixar is on Trump and the Trumpsters' case.

Mo says:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Risk (2016)

Director: Laura Poitras. 92 min. Germany/USA. Documentary.

Yet another documentary on Julian Assange. Since this covers events occurring over 15 years, all the way up to Trump's election, some documented by the director herself (including footage from her recent masterpiece, Citizenfour), one assumes Poitras has snips and pieces on a variety of subjects, and edits them into whole films whenever she deems appropriate - which is why this film looks so choppy and disjointed (Lady Gaga interviewing Assange?). There are some good moments here, questioning Assange's own ego-maniacal stance, but that was already previously covered by Alex Gibney.

PS: Of course! I see this on IMDb, after writing the above review:

"Director Laura Poitras and the distributor of Risk (2016) gave misleading statements after the new version of the documentary was finally released in May 2017. In an act of re-writing film history, the official premiere at the Directors' Fortnight of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival was now suddenly declared a "work in progress" screening. This is factually incorrect, since the Directors' Fortnight screening was presented as the finished film, without any additional warning, that changes were likely to be made. This is the reason why many reviews were written and published shortly after the Cannes 2016 screening. Poitras even started to give interviews in Cannes to journalists, for example The Wrap's Steve Pond (published online on May 19, 2016), and talked about "Risk" like it was a past project. In that interview she says only positive things about Julian Assange and Jacob Appelbaum."

More weird stuff here.

Mo says:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dangal (2016)

Director: Nitesh Tiwari. Cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh. 161 min. Unrated. India. Sports/Drama.

I can't specifically point out why I loved this Disney-produced Indian movie, based on the true story of a professional wrestler who trained her daughters to fulfill his own dreams of winning gold for India - because the endearing pull of a sports movie, the tear-jerking father-daughter relationship, even the mandatory final slow-motion shot ... they're all here. But you'll still find yourself engaged and rooting for the heroes. The film would've benefited from summarizing the final matches to a shorter length, but then again, Indian movies are rarely applauded for brevity. Highly recommended for a family setting.

Mo says:


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

Director: Patty Jenkins. Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis. 141 min. Rated PG-13. USA/China/Hong Kong. Action/Fantasy. 

Going in to watch the "first major female superhero movie", I was hoping to see one thing: a superhero whose superpowers were rooted in her femininity, not some macho masculinity. To that end, Wonder Woman delivers entirely. From the elegance and nobility Gal Gadot portrays in her robes (overshadowing Lynda Carter), to how the heroine compliments an ice-cream vendor ("You should be very proud ..."), to her final message of why humankind deserves survival (while beating the crap out of WWI Germans), this is a role no man could succeed at. Handing this to a female director was the right decision.

Mo says:

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Babette's Feast (Babettes gæstebud ) (1987)

Director: Gabriel Axel. Cast: Stéphane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel. 102 min. Rated G. Denmark. Comedy/Drama.

Two old sisters in a small 19th-century Danish village take in a French refugee as a maid. She wins the lottery, and as a token of appreciation, throws a feast to commemorate their religious father's 100th birthday. While almost a third of this Foreign-Language Oscar winner details the dinner feast, the funny, light-hearted tone can't hide how deep it digs into the the contrast between traditionalism and modernism: how modernists absent-mindedly serve the rigid conservative, and how the conservative benefit from modernism while simultaneously (and very loudly) despising it. A message that rings true to this day.

Mo says:

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Director(s): Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg. Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley. 129 min. Rated PG-13. Adventure/Fantasy.

After the nosedive of the third and fourth installments, someone came up with a bright idea: for the fifth episode, let's just repeat the winning elements of the first! So again we have a trio of heroes (Jack Sparrow, young man, young women) going after an army of dead pirates. But what really makes this a success, is that it opens with a thrilling Fast and Furious-type heist, Johnny Depp still manages to keep his character fresh, Javier Bardem keeps getting the best villain roles in town, and there's one popular character with a great story arc, that ends here.

PS: I didn't get Paul McCartney's joke in his cameo appearance. A skeleton ordering a beer and a mop in a bar? Oh wait ... now I get it.

Mo says:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Becoming Bond (2017)

Director: Josh Greenbaum. Cast: George Lazenby, Kassandra Clementi, Jane Seymour, Dana Carvey. 92 min. Biography/Comedy.

A 90-minute interview with Australian "non-actor" George Lazenby (accompanied by re-enactments), the only man to play James Bond in only one movie - which some believe is the best Bond movie ever, some believe is the worst (yours truly considers OHMSS second worst, after License to Kill). The first half tells of Lazenby's younger days, the adventurous story of any youth, making you wonder where this is all going. But then the final 10 minutes hits you, telling the reason Lazenby walked away from a 7 Bond-movie deal with a $1 million signing bonus. That's a story worth telling.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Raw (2016)

Director: Julia Ducournau. Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf. 99 min. Rated R. Italy/France/Belgium. Horror.

I'm not against violence in movies per se, but I do have a problem when violence is solely there to shock you. The story of a teenage girl who gradually realizes she's a cannibal (while some already knew but hid it from her), could have been told without the in-your-face feasting, and therefore could have become much more creepy. The underlying theme of "don't make a woman angry" simmers, but seriously, scare tactics won't help any female cause. While the movie has won lots of accolades, I didn't get the point. So what; she's a cannibal.

Mo says:

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, James Franco, Guy Pearce. 122 min. Rated R. USA/UK/Australia/New Zealand/Canada. Horror/Sci-fi.

If you're sitting into Alien: Covenant expecting it to resolve questions posed in Prometheus, then Spoiler Alert!: it doesn't. But I'm content with that, because Prometheus' open ending hurled me into a movie-dreaming bliss I hadn't experienced in ages. Impressing, was how Scott, in our age, while lacking originality, had still managed to make a thrilling, entertaining movie ... on the sixth episode of a franchise! Seems he has two more prequel-sequels planned, but I predict he'll run into story continuity problems the way Star Trek did (if he hasn't already with Covenant). Just hoping a time-shift isn't in the works.

Mo says:

American Wrestler: The Wizard (2016)

Director: Alex Ranarivelo. Cast: George Kosturos, Ali Afshar, William Fichtner, Jon Voight. 117 min. Rated PG-13. USA. Drama/Sport.

True story of a young Iranian refugee, who wrestles his way to the top in the early 80s California, amid the brutal anti-Iran sentiment stemming from the hostage crisis. This is a movie that has many flaws, including excruciatingly predictable plot moments, and occasional laughable character reactions. But the movie has a heart, probably because it's based on a true story, probably because the real-life hero has a critical supporting role in the film. I recommend the movie, but can't forgive its faults.

Mo says:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017)

Director: George C. Wolfe. Cast: Rose Byrne, Oprah Winfrey, Reg E. Cathey, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Courtney B. Vance, Ellen Barkin. 93 min. Biography/Drama.

Based on the best-selling book about the groundbreaking discovery of HELA cells, the first immortal human cell line, from an African-American woman in the 1950s, Henrietta Lacks. The film tries to build upon that story, by portraying this as the crusade of Henrietta's daughter to make contact with her long-lost mother through ... grasping onto her cells. The idea is absurd, and that's where the movie fails. But once again, we're able to grasp how Blacks were and are exploited in this country, and once again, Oprah proves she can act.

Mo says:

Mommie Dearest (1981)

Director: Frank Perry. Cast: Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Xander Berkeley. 129 min. Rated R. Biography/Drama.

In preparation for Feud, after watching the splendid classics Mildred Pierce (1945) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), I succumbed to this. It contains my main movie pet-peeve: the director who wants to hurt you. We're subjected to long, agonizing sequences depicting Joan Crawford hurling cruelty after cruelty onto her adopted daughter, sprinkled with more scenes of moaning and groaning which have no role in the story, because there's no payback to them. Prolonging Crawford's own funeral scene at the end (including a young Xander Berkeley as Crawford's son) suddenly pushed me to giggling, so you get the idea.

Trivia: I learned two long hours too late, that the movie had received Golden Razzies for "Worst Picture of the Decade", and "Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years".

Mo says:

Their Finest (2016)

Director: Lone Scherfig. Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jeremy Irons. 117 min. Rated R. UK. Romance/Comedy.

England becomes active in propaganda film-making during WWII, so they hire a young woman to join a young man in the Ministry of Defense to act as screenwriters ... and to everyone's surprise, love is in the air! The movie offers an interesting viewpoint of how both sides of a war (yes, even the good guys) slightly manipulate the truth to achieve their goals. The problem is, it takes a masterpiece (like Linklater's Before series) to interest me in romance stories. So I was bored.

Mo says:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Graduation (Bacalaureat) (2016)

Director: Cristian Mungiu. Cast: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Lia Bugnar. 127 min. Rated R. Romania/France/Belgium. Drama.

From the Romanian director of the perfect 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, this has Asghar Farhadi written all over it - the whole idea of modern cinema creating questions rather than answers. A father is stuck in a moral dilemma: help his teenage daughter (victim of a recent assault) to cheat on her graduation finals, or leave her on her own to botch the exam and throw years of preparation (and other possible benefits for himself) away? The movie will put you in the position of "What would you do?", ... so don't expect simple answers by the end.

Mo says:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn. Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Sylvester Stallone. 136 min. Rated PG-13. Fantasy/Adventure.

The whole idea of a "galactic family of misfits" was what made the original appealing; the action and dizzying CGI special effects were secondary. So for the sequel, they unsuccessfully try to expand the family concept (the Kurt Russell father/planet makes no sense at all), but multiply the secondary action/CGI element. The result, is a disappointment. There are some genuine laughs in there, but the distracting sensory overload is so severe, the fact that I only remember a worried Baby Groot sitting at the bottom a big spaceship seat in a huge battle scene, should give a hint.

PS: Five post-credit scenes? FIVE?

Mo says:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Colossal (2016)

Director: Nacho Vigalondo. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens. 109 min. Rated R. Canada/Spain. Fantasy/Drama.

An alcoholic woman realizes the movements of a monster wreaking havoc and destroying lives in Seoul, actually mirrors her own, walking in a suburban NY park. So early on in the movie, the metaphor is obvious. But while this could have become a powerful statement on alcoholism and domestic abuse, the comedic moments somewhat trivialize the gravity of the subject matter, and the story not abiding by its own rules (the monster/robot in Seoul should only exist within the confines of the park) further weakens the impact. A great opportunity, lost to box-office sensibilities.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Your Name. (Kimi no na wa) (2016)

Director: Makoto Shinkai. 106 min. Rated PG. Japan. Animation.

A teenage boy and girl, distant from each other (both location-wise, and other-wise), suddenly start switching bodies for an entire day, every few days. But this not a simple Freaky Friday situation: the two incorporate their characters into the other person's life, making this a switch of gender characteristics, not just mere bodies, and an animation wildly open to interpretation. My take, was a painful presentation of "out of sight, out of mind": no matter how long and close you've been with a person, no matter how hard you hold on, they start vanishing from your memory after their gone.

PS: This was Japan's highest grossing film of 2016, and the highest grossing anime film of all time worldwide.

PPS: Thanks again, Ali S! Although I was hoping that ending wouldn't happen ...

Mo says:

Power Rangers (2017)

Director: Dean Israelite. Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks. 124 min. Rated PG-13. Canada/USA. Action/Fantasy.

While possibly entertaining for kids, this is another good example of packaged, formulaic Hollywood. No effort to inject any new concepts, no deviation from any previously well-trodden paths. And the way they hide Elizabeth Banks under heavy make-up or only use Bryan Cranston's voice, makes you feel they're concerned employing a high-profile actor like Brando in a superhero movie like Superman was not a good idea after all. I never watched the 90s Power Rangers, but if this story is new to me and I'm still bored, trying to imagine how crushed the fans must be.

Mo says:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Personal Shopper (2016)

Director: Olivier Assayas. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger. 105 min. Rated R. France/Germany. Mystery/Thriller.

Anything I write about the story might spoil the entertainment, So I'll just limit to say: (a) from the get go you'll notice it's from the same director who made Clouds of Sils Maria, (b) it's the most intelligent, audience-respecting ghost story you'll ever see, (c) it provides undeniable proof of Kristen Stewart's acting skills, (d) the ending scene will have you scurrying what other writers' interpretation of it was. And since I did the same (the best one here) and therefore cheated in the process ... I can't give it a MoMagic. But it deserves one.

Mo says:

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Age of Shadows (2016)

Director: Jee-woon Kim. Cast: Kang-ho Song, Yoo Gong. 140 min. South Korea. Action/Thriller. 

My time-proven theory for watching a subtitled movie here, is that distributors predicted a profit in America's dumbed-down audiences, so it must be good. But South Korea's entry for the 2017 Oscars (which beat the captivating Handmaiden) doesn't make life easy: it's quite difficult to read the fast-moving subtitles and keep Jung Chae-San, Kim Woo-Jin, Lee Jung-Chool and Yun Gye-Soon apart. Nevertheless, patience during the first half of this long beautifully-shot cat-and-mouse spy thriller set in 1920s Korea, will deliver nail-biting moments of action and suspense during the second half that proves again you never leave a Korean movie unsatisfied.

Mo says:


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Founder (2016)

Director: John Lee Hancock. Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson. 115 min. Rated PG-13. Biography.

No spoiler: as soon as you see Michael Keaton as "The Founder" of McDonald's, while his last name in the movie is not McDonald, you know it's the story of an ambitious, exploiting back-stabber, who swindled the McDonald brothers out of their rights to one of the most popular franchises in the world. And although Keaton does great work here, you're skeptical about him overacting in the role, especially after his Birdman Oscar loss. Nevertheless, this is a story about the bitter realities of capitalism that needs to be seen.

Mo says:

Prevenge (2016)

Director: Alice Lowe. Cast: Alice Lowe, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie. 88 min. Rated R. UK. Comedy/Horror.

The title says it all: a pregnant woman takes revenge on those whom she believes wronged her. But while the film by director/writer/lead actress Lowe may serve to expose how the standards of Western societies actually undermine and weaken a pregnant woman's standing, the fact that it's a horror/comedy about pregnancy-related psychosis trivializes and deflates the movie's (assumed) intended message; i.e. the lady is crazy, so we can ignore her issues. And the protagonist's grotesque make-up at the end is suspicious for the writer's intent to "create" a cult movie, which is weird.

Mo says:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Jagged Edge (1985)

Director: Richard Marquand. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Glenn Close, Peter Coyote, Robert Loggia, Lance Henriksen. 108 min. Rated R. Mystery/Thriller.

In a courtroom thriller by the director of Return of the Jedi based on a screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, a man is accused of killing his wealthy wife. If you've seen similar later movies with structures perfected by the likes of Eszterhas himself (Basic Instinct immediately comes to mind), you can guess the ending from a mile away - which renders the entire film somewhat lame. And while a twist during the final scene comes as a shock, quite a bit of story logic is sacrificed to make that twist work. With more ambition, this could have become an important landmark.

Trivia: Marquand died of a stroke just two years after this film, at the age of 49.

Mo says:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Life (2017)

Director: Daniel Espinosa. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds. 104 min. Rated R. Horror/Sci-fi.

Strange phenomenon: while structured like a darker version Gravity, by reiterating Alien's best segments, the movie audaciously admits to be a copy of it but then manages to keep you engaged. The calm-before-the-storm interaction with the alien, the parasite's oral penetration and bursting out of a host, the incredibly fast-growing predator, the deceiving crew member who's trying to protect the species ... they're all here. And even though it's dumbed down by giving the seaweed-like alien an angry face, there's a clever ending twist that I didn't see coming. Proves again what a powerful groundbreaking film the 1979 classic was.

Mo says:

The Accountant (2016)

Director: Gavin O'Connor. Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow. 128 min. Rated R. Action/Crime.

Rain Man meets Jason Bourne. Autistic man uses his passion for accuracy to take on a life as a hired accountant and mercenary. The opening scenes interested me that maybe we're seeing a different Affleck persona - one where he's a quiet, eccentric and calculating but ruthless killer. But then he gets into action, and his doomed prospects of rivaling buddy Matt Damon as both Will Hunting and Jason Bourne combined, somehow reminded of the way he flexed his muscles in Gigli. Ben Affleck seriously needs to quit acting, and just stick to what he's actually good at: directing.

Mo says:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Excalibur (1981)

Director: John Boorman. Cast: Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Nicol Williamson, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Ciarán Hinds. 140 min. Rated PG. USA/UK. Fantasty/Epic.

There are much older and less glamorous movies you watch for the first time today, and they're as captivating as they come. Excalibur is not one of those. While I'm sure this King Arthur epic, a good place to learn the story, was a visual feat for its own time, the lame dialogue squashes any chance of 'epic-ness', Merlin lacks the awe to cast any spell on the imagination, and some up-and-coming actors who later became 1990s titans (Stewart, Byrnes, Neeson) look plain silly in their over-acted roles. A Peter Jackson-level version of the King Arthur legend is long overdue.

PS: Rated PG! The rating system was definitely not working well in the 80s.

Mo says:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Director: Bill Condon. Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. 129 min. Rated PG. Fantasy/Musical.

After the live-action remake of Cinderella turned out so unworthy-of-a-review 'ordinary', my expectations had diminished. But this remake of the 1991 animated masterpiece achieves the impossible: it upgrades it. The gorgeous uplifting scenery (specifically during the new splendidly elaborated opening narration) reawakened inner feelings of child wonder, and Emma Watson is surprisingly perfect as Belle. The concept of the re-imagined delightful songs and inspiring story being as entertaining as the cartoon, reminded of "Les Misérables": no matter how many versions of the story you see, the magic never gets old. Hadn't enjoyed a kids movie such in a long time.

PS: The whole fiasco over LeFou being the first gay Disney character, is ludicrous. The suggestion is unbelievably subtle for kids.

PPS: During the ending credits, it was fun to see actors from the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and X-Men franchises had all participated in the project.

Mo says:
MoMagic!

Friday, March 24, 2017

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine, William Devane, 120 min. Rated R. Western.

Altman's famed "anti-Western". There's not much to the story: a gambler/entrepreneur embarks upon opening a bordello in a remote Old West mining town, and as soon as it becomes successful, a major corporation wants to take over. But it's not about the story. It's about Warren Beatty, playing against type under a bushy beard, making dumb business mistakes in this cold, gloomy town, and participating in a final showdown while not being the fastest gun in the West. You can physically feel how it felt to live in those times, and that's quite rare. Truly an anti-Western.

Mo says:

Naked Lunch (1991)

Director: David Cronenberg. Cast: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider. 115 min. Rated R. Canada/UK/Japan. Fantasy.

I'm sure William S. Burroughs was a prominent writer, and I know Cronenberg is a great film-maker. But there's a certain amount of abstraction one can take. This well-acted, beautifully-shot, bug-and-alien-infested chunk of delusion takes so many bizarre twists and turns, you already lose hope after the first half hour in any form of a coherent story - or even what the hallucinatory fantasies may represent. This is David Lynch on speed, and considering what Lynch was already on ...

Mo says:

Christine (1983)

Director: John Carpenter. Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Kelly Preston. 110 min. Rated R. Thriller.

High-school nerd becomes infatuated with a beautiful red 1957 Plymouth Fury ... which has a passion for killing. This does not function as a horror movie; rather, structured similar to The Shining, illustrates a loner who after becoming obsessed with an inanimate object with a mind of its own, slowly loses his mind. The film's smoldering creepy feeling must have been innovative for the 80s, and some lingering moments, such as the "self-rejuvenation" scene, and the car-in-flames speeding after its next victim, make this metaphor for America's car lust one of Carpenter's memorable films, and one of Stephen King's better adaptations.

Mo says:


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lady Snowblood (1973)

Director: Toshiya Fujita. Cast: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon. 97 min. Not Rated. Japan. Action/Thriller.

The beautiful opening song, the revenge story of a betrayed heroine, the comic book sequences, the younger daughter waiting to avenge her parent's death at the hands of the heroine, the final discovery of a parent-sibling relationship, the climactic duel between two females in the snow, and of course, all the blood gushing out of bodies like geysers. A few weeks ago I thought Thriller: A Cruel Picture was the inspiration for Kill Bill. But no, Tarantino's masterpiece is actually a remake of this sword-wielding entertainment. Give it a try; you'll remember this film.

PS: Don't bother with the sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance, made the year after. It gets involved with politics and revolutions, and ruins the fun.

Mo says:


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman. Rated PG-13. 120 min. Fantasy/Action.

A director in love with Apocalypse Now (and to a lesser extent, Predator) tackles the legend of King Kong - as though we needed this after Peter Jackson already did such a fine job. But no ... this should happen right after Vietnam, so they can tie it in with Godzilla, and give us a King Kong Vs. Godzilla in a few years. The CGI effects of Kong and other eye-popping creatures fighting and thrashing around are undoubtedly insurmountable, but this 2-hour roller coaster ride leaves nothing to contemplate about - even if admittedly, it's just a fantasy. Pre-packaged formulaic Hollywood; nothing unexpected.

PS: I've already spoiled the post-credits scene. But that was a no-brainer.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nashville (1975)

Director: Robert Altman. Cast: Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Barbara Harris, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould, Julie Christie. 160 min. Rated R. Musical/Drama/Comedy.

For those who haven't seen it, I'll do the favor of informing that Nashville is described as "... one of the greatest films ever made that is literally about nothing" - because for the first hour, I too was lost what the movie was about. But then it started growing on me, and while Altman perfected this method of interconnecting stories almost twenty years later in Short Cuts (1993), I ended it still wondering what specific theme I was following, but mesmerized about life in America in the early 70's, and the Nashville music culture. Maybe that's what it was all about.

PS: After watching the movie, check out Ebert's review, part of his "Great Movies" series. Yep, he was struggling with it too.

Mo says:

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)

Director: Bo Arne Vibenius (as Alex Fridolinski). Cast: Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf. 107 min. Unrated. Sweden. Action/Thriller.

Tarantino doesn't need to confess about this Kill Bill inspiration source: both the Bride (wronged white female martial arts avenger) and Elle Driver (the one-eyed female killer) are obvious adapted elements here. That in itself makes this originally-banned low-budget revenge cult movie with the famous Swedish pin-up girl in the lead worthy of attention - even though the super-slow-motion violence would be considered gratuitous, rather than interesting in a Peckinpah sort of way. Add to that the hardcore scenes, and you realize the director had (in his own words) resorted to "a commercial-as-hell crap-film", not knowing he was onto something trend-setting.

Mo says:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Danton (1983)

Director: Andrzej Wajda. Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Wojciech Pszoniak, Anne Alvaro. 136 min. Rated PG. France/Poland. Biography/History.

Another great one from decades ago, from a great director who died last year. Late 18th century, post-French revolution, and Danton and Robespierre (tremendously performed by Depardieu and Pszoniak) are political rivals. But the story is as good as new - particularly, how one avid Danton ally denounces the outspoken revolutionary and switches sides to the winning party, as soon he's confronted with the overwhelming risk of going under the guillotine (that's what people usually do). If you're looking for the cinematic rendition of "the Revolution devours its children ...", look no further.

Mo says:

Logan (2017)

Director: James Mangold. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook. 137 min. Rated R. Sci-fi/Action.

Take the comedy out of Deadpool, transform The Unforgiven's look-alike Clint Eastwood into a superhero, inject The Terminator's car chase scenes... and you get Logan (and that's a compliment). It's 2029, mutants are nearly extinct, Wolverine is a foul-mouthed alcoholic losing his gifts, and Professor X a demented paraplegic. Meanwhile, the fresh material comes from a mutant girl with terrifying abilities, and the family relations between the three. Definitely a worthwhile superhero movie; another Marvel attempt at making the genre interesting. But the gritty endeavor comes at the expense of the Avengers or Spider-man not co-inhabiting the X-Men universe anymore.

Mo says:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele. Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford. 103 min. Rated R. Thriller/Horror.

This is the context: people may say they're not racist, you may say you're not racist ... but you really are. And if your actions show you're racist without even knowing it, that's considered 'scary' - and the basis for a horror movie. This comes at an extremely opportune time, when we're starting to believe what Blacks were already saying for decades - but never believed them. The metaphors are too poignant and too precise to ignore, and while I may regret my MoMagic score years or even months from now, as the first xenophobic movie of the Trump era, it's perfect.

Mo says:
Mo Magic!

My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette) (2016)

Director: Claude Barras. Voices: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud. 70 min. Rated PG-13. Switzerland/France. Animation.

This claymation gets right what The LEGO Batman Movie got wrong: through animation, it delivers an adult-oriented message ... to adults. Through animation, it pictures a child's perspective of being an orphan in an orphanage. You watch this "cartoon", and suddenly have an understanding of the world they see, and what they go through - a very complicated feat to accomplish. And strangely, the filmmakers manage to keep it lighthearted and funny. Not for kids, but a must-see for adults.

PS: Thank you, Ali S. I'm sure you had a good laugh at the "exploding cock" concept ...

Mo says: