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:

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: