Best of Enemies

Movie Review #1,007

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Sundance Film Festival: January 23, 2015. San Francisco International Film Festival: April 24, 2015. USA Film Festival: April 26, 2015. Seattle International Film Festival: May 16, 2015. Limited release: July 31, 2015. Documentary/History/News. Runs 87 minutes. This film is rated R for some sexual content/nudity and language. Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media.

INFORMATIVE AND, AT TIMES, TREMENDOUSLY ENGAGING.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

I’ve always considered the ’60s my favorite period of American history. Kennedy, the Cuban missile crisis, Bay of Pigs, the moon landing, Medicare, Medicaid, counterculture, and yada yada yada. Of course I was born three decades later, so my vision of the ’60s comes entirely from history textbooks, but if there’s any one reason at all that I wish I were fifty years older, it’d be so that I could’ve experienced the 1960s as a young adult just beginning to learn about politics and the world around him in that sense. I’d imagine the ’60s would have been a fascinating time to live through at that age.

I’ve held to my love for the ’60s over any other decade for quite some time. I don’t know everything though, and I’m surprised by a lot of what I don’t know. One of those events I just was never unaware of, were the Buckley-Vidal debates. I’d heard of Vidal only because his name appeared in the title of a Netflix documentary. I had no clue he was, though, and I hadn’t even heard of Buckley, until I watched “Best of Enemies”.

I know a lot more about both individuals now. “Best of Enemies” is informative, and for that, it is very engaging. Granted, it doesn’t go much beyond the point of providing information, but still, it’s a gripping documentary. I suppose that’s all that truly matters, anyway.

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Straight Outta Compton

Movie Review #1,006

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Wide release: August 14, 2015. Biography/Drama/Music. Runs 147 minutes. This film is rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use. USA. Universal Pictures.

IN THE WORDS OF N.W.A. THEMSELVES: “DAMN, THAT S%#T WAS DOPE!”

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

One thing I absolutely love about film is that when it’s truly art, it reflects society’s mentality. “Straight Outta Compton” does that. It may chronicle a true story from the late ’80s through the early ’90s, but it’s mainly about today, in that it reflects the thought of 2015 America. You can’t deny it: racism exists, and so do racial oppression and the abuse of power. They’re unfortunately very prominent concerns today. “Straight Outta Compton” speaks to those issues more powerfully than any film since “Fruitvale Station”. You gotta give it to Hollywood here: they’ve finally matched one of the best independent films of recent on an emotional level.

“Straight Outta Compton” is just as dynamic, but its focus is a lot more empowering. I’m not just talking about the stand it takes against racism. The movie also deals with the art vs. marketing debate, and hits just as hard in this facet. As far as I’m concerned, N.W.A. were essentially the avant-garde pioneers of a genre that grew into something mainstream. We don’t necessarily have gangsta rap music anymore, but I doubt we’d have rap music without this group. If we did, it wouldn’t be nearly the same. I was sure of this going in, but “Straight Outta Compton” was as definite a reminder as their record of the same name.

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The Gift

Movie Review #1,005

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Wide release: August 7, 2015. Mystery/Thriller. Runs 108 minutes. This film is rated R for language. USA. STX Entertainment.

IT’S NOT MY BIRTHDAY.  I WASN’T ASKING FOR THIS.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have always wanted to leave the city of Chicago and live a more quiet life. Now they can pursue this dream. Simon has found a job in Los Angeles, and a luxurious house in the suburbs. I guess that’s an unexpected surprise for a married couple, but once they move in, they face an even more surprising, albeit less pleasant, surprise. While they’re out shopping for furniture, they’re approached by Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a socially awkward man whom Simon knew back in high school. Simon can’t look at Gordo without remembering what a weird kid he was, but nonetheless, he and Robyn invite him over for dinner. Gordo then goes further to welcome them to the neighborhood. On separate occasions, he buys them fish for their koi pond and leaves a bottle of wine at their doorstep. Robyn is flattered by his kindness and feels bad for his social awkwardness, but Simon feels that Gordo might have a hidden agenda. He makes it clear to Gordo that he does not want to stay friends—a brutal mistake, because now Gordo’s insidious agenda will begin to take full-fledged action.

Joel Edgerton’s performance as Gordo is rather chilling. That’s not all the work he did on “The Gift”, though. Edgerton also serves as writer and, for the first time ever, as director. Frankly, he should stick to acting and nothing more, because that’s clearly where his talent sits. “The Gift” wants to convince us that it’s not as typical a stalker movie as the trailer had promised. Let’s be clear: the movie binges on clichés. Its definition of a Hitchcockian thriller is one that features a “shower scene,” for instance. But I guess “The Gift” is different from the average thriller, since it’s a whole lot more complicated. I don’t know about you, but I’m just not a fan of complicated thrillers. I’m a sucker for complex thrillers, but not at all for complicated ones. There’s a difference. If you’re throwing us for loop after loop with red herring after red herring, and all these twists and turns are as engrossing as the last, then your movie is complex. However, if you think you’re throwing us a whole bunch of red herrings, when your idea of a red herring is the sudden addition of a useless plot point, then your movie is complicated. “The Gift” would have been fine at the 90-minute mark, but Edgerton’s writing spends 20 minutes searching through Simon and Gordo’s past. Simon’s problem is that he just can’t move on and reconcile, and the movie’s own problem is quite similar: it would rather explore a past that feels frivolous and nearly unrelated to the story, than leave that chunk of the story behind and focus on what’s truly relevant.

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Movie Review #1,004

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Premiere: July 23, 2015, Vienna. New York City release: July 27, 2015. Wide release: July 31, 2015. Action/Adventure/Thriller. Runs 131 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity. USA. Paramount Pictures.

ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING MOVIES OF 2015.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Christopher McQuarrie is usually associated with one of two branches of his career. One is his plot-driven screenplay for “The Usual Suspects”, twenty years ago, and another is his more recent collaboration with Tom Cruise, as both writer and director. Films that entertain because they’re intriguing, and films that entertain because they’re exciting. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” takes the best of both worlds. The balance between the two is almost divine.

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Ricki and the Flash

Movie Review #1,003

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Wide release: August 7, 2015. Comedy/Drama/Music. Runs 101 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language. USA. Sony Pictures Releasing.

MERYL STREEP AND RICK SPRINGFIELD ARE MEMORABLE, BUT NOT MUCH ELSE IS.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Screenwriter Diablo Cody is at her absolute best when she’s telling a coming-of-age story, and generally one that doesn’t follow the traditional adolescent subject. Remember “Young Adult” (2011)? That’s what I mean. Her script for “Ricki and the Flash” plays along the same lines. Granted, it’s not nearly as biting, as honest, or as reaistic as that last movie, but it’s still pretty decent.

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American Ultra

Movie Review #1,002

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Wide release: August 21, 2015. Action/Comedy. Runs 95 minutes. This film is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content. USA. Lionsgate.

THERE’S THREE SLACKERS HERE: THE TWO PROTAGONISTS, AND THE WRITER.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner. He works at a convenience store that seems ready to go out of business at any day. No customers, no employees but him, and his uniform consists of a bathrobe and really nothing else. He spends his days behind the check-out counter, snacking on things he’s pulled off the shelves, drafting out his new comic book, smoking weed, talking to his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart).

The first half hour indicates that this movie does, in fact, have potential. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have great chemistry, particularly as stoners. His paranoid rants and their nonsensical banter offer up most of the laughs in the movie. The setup bears a striking resemblance to “The Big Lebowski”, except where these two movies ultimately differ is that one actually worked out because of its sense of direction. As a general rule of thumb, or screenplay is the biggest factor to determine whether your movie is any good. Somewhere around thirty pages in, Max Landis completely obliterates his chance of an outlandishly funny movie, and instead goes for the movie equivalent of pressing “shuffle” on your iPhone.

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Woman in Gold

Movie Review #1,001

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Limited release: April 1, 2015. Wide expansion: April 10, 2015. Drama. Runs 109 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief strong language. USA/UK. The Weinstein Company.

NOTHING’S REALLY “GOLD” HERE, SAVE FOR HELEN MIRREN’S PERFORMANCE.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Helen Mirren is pretty much Great Britain’s answer to Meryl Streep. We could be faced with most lackluster drama of the year, and her performance alone will make it a worthwhile viewing. That seems to be the case with “Woman in Gold”. The way Mirren resurrects the movie with her electric performance, the movie might as well be Frankenstein’s monster. Her portrayal of a Holocaust survivor is utterly riveting.

This is a prime example of an actress carrying a movie. It’s Mirren that keeps us interested, and frankly, we should be interested. The story is important by any standard. Despite her vow never to return to Austria after fleeing to America during the Holocaust, Maria Altmann (Mirren) decides he will travel to Austria to reclaim Woman in Gold, a painting that was stolen from her family by the Nazis several decades ago and is now worth at least $100 million. She recruits a much younger, Jewish lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) to help her sue the Austrian government, which has refused restitution of the stolen artwork.

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Irrational Man

Movie Review #1,000

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Cannes Film Festival: May 15, 2015. Limited release: July 17, 2015. Wide expansion: August 7, 2015. Drama/Mystery. Runs 95 minutes. This film is rated R for some language and sexual content. USA. Sony Pictures Classics.

ANOTHER RETURN TO FORM FOR WOODY ALLEN.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“I couldn’t remember the reason for living, and when I did it wasn’t convincing.” – Joaquin Phoenix as Abe Lucas

“Irrational Man” isn’t the first Woody Allen film to deal with an affair, or a murder, or both in the same film. (And as if to acknowledge its similarity to “Match Point” in this sense, Allen uses a tennis table as a plot device during the movie’s most pivotal scene.) None of this feels strikingly unoriginal, though. Allen’s newest film stands, if for nothing else, to remind us once again that every one of his films is the same yet completely different from the previous.

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She’s Funny that Way

Movie Review #999

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Venice Film Festival: August 29, 2014. Limited release: August 21, 2015. Comedy. Runs 93 minutes. This film is rated R for some language including sexual references. USA, Germany. Lionsgate Premiere.

THE LATEST ATTEMPT FROM THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PETER BOGDANOVICH.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

I’m going to be perfectly honest: I don’t have a single clue why I’m reviewing “She’s Funny that Way”. What’s the point of reviewing a movie if nobody is going to watch it in the first place? Sadly, this has been the case with Peter Bogdanovich’s movies for many years. With one exception (1985’s “Mask”), I’d bet that very few actually remember anything he directed after the 1970s. Until “She’s Funny that Way”, his last film had been 2001’s “The Cat’s Meow”, with Kirsten Dunst and Cary Elwes. If it’s any consolation, I hadn’t heard of the movie, either, and I had no clue that the two of them had actually collaborated.

I’m not exactly sure what Bogdanovich had been during in the fourteen years since, but he clearly wasn’t scouting out ideas for his next movie. You don’t spend fourteen years brainstorming new material, only to settle on something that feels completely unoriginal. Unless you’re senile, which may just be the case with Bogdanovich, at this point. Or perhaps senility isn’t the problem here; maybe Bogdanovich is simply delusional. He seems to truly think that he’s Woody Allen here, and his attitude toward that filmmaker feels like one of creative robbery, not of homage. “She’s Funny that Way” feels like the bastard child that resulted from “Mighty Aphrodite” and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”. Though it’s not as bad as it could have been. I will admit, the film feels a little more modest thanks to Bogdanovich’s decision to rip off two mediocre films, and not one of Allen’s better works.

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