The Crucible

Movie Review #840: Not even the great Daniel Day-Lewis can save ‘The Crucible’ from its horrendously stiff dialogue and poorly executed storytelling.

★½
By Red Stewart

crucible

Drama, History
Rated PG-13 for intense depiction of the Salem witch trials
124 minutes

The Crucible is a failure, an attempt at creating a relevant metaphor only to fall so far. I’m talking about the Arthur Miller play of course, but seeing as how the film is a word-for-word adaptation by him, the same can sadly be said for it.

A retelling of the 17th century Salem Witch Trials, “The Crucible” follows the chain of events that emerge when a group of girls are seen participating in a ritual in the woods by a reverend (what they were even doing is never made clear). To avoid punishment, the girls, lead by Abigail Williams (Ryder) claim witchcraft as the cause of their weird behavior, instigated by the Devil possessing various people around them. This antic grows into mass paranoia, tearing the community apart despite the efforts of a local man named John Proctor (Day-Lewis), whom Abigail had an affair with.

Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory for McCarthyism; the 1950s era where communists were hounded, blacklisted, and possibly executed out of Cold War fear. Miller was particularly inspired by the House Un-American Activities Committee’s (HUAC) case of director Elia Kazan (“On the Waterfront”, “A Streetcar Named Desire”), in which Kazan ratted out eight of his friends to lessen his punishment. Using a historical witch hunt to show the ridiculousness of a modern-day one is a noble and interesting prospect, but that’s about all Miller does correct. Right from the start we have to listen to this agonizing drivel spouted by every character that honestly made me want to rip my ears off. Imagine Gilbert Gottfried speaking in a monotonous voice and you’ll have an idea of what it’s like to hear the dialogue. It’s so bad that it seems like almost every actor is overacting, from the judges to the townsfolk. Did people honestly talk like this back then?

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Nymphomaniac: Volume II

Movie Review #839: ‘Volume II’ weakly wraps up the four-hour film, save for its brilliant finale.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

nymphomaniac_ver19

Drama
Rated NR
123 minutes

I’m going to be brutally honest here. “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” was a masterpiece. “Nymphomaniac: Volume II” is not a masterpiece. It’s a half-baked mess of sex scenes, which now are marked with violence that did not appear in the first installment. I would not go as far as to call it smut, but this certainly is not what I would refer to as art. Lars von Trier’s style still pervades this finishing entry, but it’s still extremely difficult to believe that “Volume I” and “Volume II” were originally intended to stand as a single, four-hour movie.

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Hey all,

Starting August 13th, Cinemaniac Reviews will be taking a brief hiatus. I’ll be back by the 24th of August with reviews as usual.

Just thought I’d figured I’d give you all three weeks’ notice, instead of announcing the hiatus immediately. I’m guessing “the earlier, the better” would be true in this case.

Peace.

–Alexander “The Cinemaniac” Diminiano

Nymphomaniac: Volume I

Movie Review #838: The first volume of ‘Nymphomaniac’ is a psychological tour de force.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

nymphomaniac_ver18

Drama
Rated NR
118 minutes
Uncut: 145 minutes

“Nymphomaniac: Volume I” is a sick and twisted, yet sickly brilliant poem. It’s detestable, addictive, enthralling, and fascinating, all at the same time. It’s psychological. It’s dark, and at times, it’s sardonic. It tells the first five parts of its titular character’s story, and it leaves no room for guessing or imagination. It’s all there before our eyes, and we see it in the style of director Lars von Trier, which offers a brooding, discomforting, psychological experience for the viewer. We watch the titular character recount–and often condemn–her lust-ridden existence.

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Small Time Crooks

Movie Review #837: It’s just like any other Woody Allen movie, and among his better movies.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

small_time_crooks

Comedy, Crime
Rated PG for language
94 minutes

“Small Time Crooks” opens with Hal Kemp’s “With Plenty of Money and You” and moseys on into a story about materialism. It starts more as a companion piece to “Take the Money and Run”, with the Woody Allen we know and love planning on returning to his life as a bank robber. His plan? For his wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) to front a cookie shop, while he and his friends are in the back drilling a hole in the wall. But the bank robbery proves unnecessary as a means of gettin’ rich fast. The cookies are selling like crazy, so much that his wife’s dodo cousin is hired to front the store with her. They’re on the news, and even the two of them are having trouble handling the masses that are gathering into their cookie store. They put a sandwich board outside the shop that says, “Limit: 3 cookies!” Within a year, they’re a worldwide franchise, and they’re filthy stinkin’ rich. But she worries she just has too much stuff and not enough class, and he doesn’t like being rich, after all.

“Small Time Crooks” was a 2000 release, and it proves a step up from Allen’s last two films.  In ’98, “Celebrity” was an unspeakable disaster, and while “Sweet and Lowdown”, the following year, was a significant step up, it was entertaining because of its charm, not its humor.  “Small Time Crooks” brings back that biting attitude we want in any Woody Allen movie. Save for the ever-annoying Jon Lovitz, the cast delivers the script wonderfully. Allen and Tracey Ullman are the perfect team here.  They can’t just agree to disagree.  On more occasions than I can count, the two begin volleying criticisms and complaints back and forth at each other.  We can routinely expect their bickering to end with Ullman shouting, “Oh, take a hike!”

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Melancholia

Movie Review #836: Depressing and unconventional.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano
melancholia_ver3

Drama, Sci-Fi
Rated R for some graphic nudity, sexual content and language
136 minutes

“Melancholia” opens with a rather polarizing prologue. I became more and more unsure of what I was watching at this early point in the film. What is Lars von Trier trying to say? I kept asking myself. This is a director who gives us ten whole minutes of “2001: A Space Odyssey”-esque visuals to open his movie. In other words, we’re led to think his strange preface is told by means of symbolism and virtually nothing else. This isn’t so, though. The opening to “Melancholia” is incredibly straightforward, in fact, and all it is doing is setting up the story for what will come into play later on.

The film is separated into two somewhat distinct parts. Part one is called “Justine,” and part two is called “Claire.” Justine and Claire are sisters in “Melancholia”, and while Justine plays a more prominent role in the movie, their rivalry is driven to the proverbial “point of no return” in the story. Even from the very beginning, we can tell this isn’t going to be a happy story. A wedding has just happened, and although the bride is seen smiling, wearing white, and touched by the rays of the sun flowing through the window, all the happiness in these shots is washed away by the taunting, nervous cinematographic technique. The camera is like its own character in this way: an antagonist residing in Hell, and we see every moment and action through its demonic little eye.

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Cassandra’s Dream

Movie Review #835: ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ is dreadful, uneven, dreadfully uneven…


By Alexander Diminiano

cassandras_dream

Crime, Drama, Romance
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexual material and brief violence
108 minutes

“Cassandra’s Dream” (2007) is the third entry in Woody Allen’s unofficial London trilogy, following “Match Point” (2005) and “Scoop” (2006). Though those three films aren’t often referred to as a collective trilogy, because only one of them is even worth watching. It’s sad that after the beautiful noir that “Match Point” was, Allen had to settle for a schlock like “Scoop”. It’s even sadder that after that flop, he didn’t even try to make a good third London movie.

This is a rather hokey mystery movie. It’s not a comedy, nor does it intend to be a comedy, but at times it becomes one, regardless. Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor are extremely believable as brothers, and they perform well in their roles. But they seem like they’re part of a larger entity throughout the whole film, and I am convinced that that larger entity is called Mystery Inc. I couldn’t tell which of them was supposed to be Shaggy and which one was supposed to be Scooby. Now that I think about it, Shaggy seems more likely than Scooby to get depressed, drink heavily, and take pills excessively, so perhaps Colin Farrell is Shaggy, and Ewan McGregor is Scooby.

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Antichrist

Movie Review #834: ‘Antichrist’ is disturbing and unpleasant, but outstanding.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

antichrist_ver8

Drama
Protestant Version:
Rated NR
108 minutes
Catholic Version:
Rated NR
100-104 minutes

Editor’s Note: This is a review of the “Protestant Version” of the film, which runs 108 minutes. The “Catholic Version” is cut and runs 100 to 104 minutes, depending on the location of where this version is found.

“Antichrist” opens in beautiful black and white to a brilliant and all the while disturbing prologue. We are given the illusion of serenity, but we slowly realize there is nothing peaceful about the film, and there will never be. The disillusionment is also offered later in the film’s epilogue, and even if the epilogue itself offers nothing incredibly shocking, it’s all over the rest of the film.

Though I dare not spoil the epilogue, simply because it does not make sense out of context. The way we are introduced to “Antichrist” in its six-minute prologue is truly remarkable. Director Lars von Trier sets the stage for us without a word, just the sound of “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s opera Rinaldo, and in constant slow-motion. We watch a five-year-old boy enter his parents bedroom in the middle of the night, sleepwalking. Moments later, he leaps out the window to his death. His parents are awake, but do not notice any of the tragedy that has just occurred, as they are distracted making love.

The story, from thereon, consists of four chapters: Grief, Pain, Despair, and The Three Beggars, each chapter more dark, disturbing, and psychological than the last. “Antichrist” tells of the parents after the death of their son. The wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) mourns the death to the point at which it maddens her. Her husband, a therapist (Willem Dafoe), tries persistently and yet fails to help her. Eventually, her husband takes her to the woods of Eden, the place she is more afraid of than anything else in the world, hoping that it will distract her from her son’s death. Incidentally, the one thing that she wants as a method of distraction is exactly the distraction that made her son’s death unpreventable: sex.

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Endless Love

Movie Review #833: Boy meets girl. Girl’s father interferes. Relationship has its ups and downs. Audience experiences déjà vu.

★½
By Alexander Diminiano

endless_love

Drama, Romance
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief partial nudity, some language and teen partying
104 minutes

Hmm, let’s see what we have here. Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) is antisocial. She’s been that way all through high school. But then she meets David and decides she’s in love with him. And that she wants to throw a party, which of course is something antisocial people probably do all the time. And when she has her party, she opens up without hesitation to this guy she likes. After all, antisocial people are never really that shy. And she escapes her house once the party’s over so she can make out with this guy. Because not being social means you’re just a lot braver than everybody else.

I have three things to say about this. One, “Endless Love” is a pathetic mess of clichés. Two, Jade barely knows the guy she’s so desperate to make out with. She’s convinced she’s in love with him. To be fairly honest, this makes not one but of sense to me. And three, this is not how antisocial people act, damn it! In fact, it’s just the opposite.

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Movie Review #832: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is a terrifically (of the) fun (of the) time.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_ver6

Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language
130 minutes

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” tells an intriguing B-movie story and wears a gratifying costume of a $150 million Hollywood production. Both of those together can only be said of only the most memorable sci-fi movies, and to call “Dawn” a memorable might be a slight understatement.

This is a movie that not only develops but goes as far as to understand its characters. Each and every ape is presented in the likeness of a human being. They speak their own sign language, and the way they speak it isn’t forced; in fact, it’s conversational. While we’re led to agree with the humans’ logic, we’re led to sympathize with the apes.

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