Team America: World Police

Movie Review #964


Premiered in Hollywood, California on October 11, 2004. Nationwide release on October 15, 2004. Animation, Action, Comedy. An American-German co-production. Runs 98 minutes. This film was released unrated. Theatrical version rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language – all involving puppets. Directed by Trey Parker. Written by Trey Parker & Matt Stone & Pam Brady. Voice cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie, Maurice LaMarche, Chelsea Marguerite, Jeremy Shada, Fred Tatasciore, and Josiah D. Lee.


By Alexander Diminiano

NOTE: This is a review of the unrated version, which received an NC-17 rating upon its submission. Forty seconds from this cut were removed for the theatrical version. Why they even needed to be removed to retain an R rating, is beyond me.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created an absolute masterpiece. They’ve started with the idea of marionette animation, as popularized in the 1960s TV series Thunderbirds, and from there, they’ve created something completely original, completely adult, completely aberrant, completely hilarious, and completely brilliant. On one level, “Team America: World Police” is just a movie about puppets that swear like sailors and screw like animals. On another level, it’s a spoof of action movies and their most tired tropes. And on yet another level, it’s a brilliant satire on the American government and its obsession with policing the world (hence the title).

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La grande bellezza

Movie Review #962


Limited release on November 15, 2013. Nationwide release on March 14, 2014. Drama. Runs 141 minutes. This film is not rated. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Story by Paolo Sorrentino. Screenplay by Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Contarello. Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Giorgio Pasotti, Massimo Popolizio, Serena Grandi, Vernon Dobtcheff, Anita Kravos, and Isabella Ferrari.


By Alexander Diminiano

“La grande bellezza” (or “The Great Beauty”, as it is known in the USA) is a cinematic time machine, its controls set for the 1960s. The heyday of Italian cinema, kinged by none other than Federico Fellini. His muse Marcello Mastroianni’s conflicted psychological standpoint in “8½” is practically reborn in “Bellezza” for the characterization of our aging, burdened protagonist, Jep (Toni Servillo). His wild, party-like atmosphere from “La Dolce Vita” translates in “Bellezza” as just that. One moment, we’re beelining to everywhere and back in a nightclub, and the next, we’re faced with the grave but eager desire to recall past experiences.

Our director, Paolo Sorrentino, owes a great deal to Fellini, but he’s certainly made “La grande bellezza” an exceptional film in its own right. The title is well-deserved—so much that I can’t fathom how it was snubbed of a Best Cinematography Oscar. The shots of Rome are absolutely beautiful, and I say this with regard not only to the exteriors but also the interiors. The fusion of sight and sound in various nightclub scenes creates a fierce, sultry, adrenalized environment for this modern ode to Rome. Such scenes are absolutely anything but calm, and yet their power is matched by the serenity of most every landscape in sight.

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Movie Review #962


Limited release on November 14, 2014. Biography/Drama. This film is rated R for language including some crude references, and violent content. Runs 103 minutes. Directed by Jon Stewart. Screenplay by Jon Stewart. Based on the book “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival” by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy. Cast: Gael García Bernal.


By Alexander Diminiano

Political comedy isn’t a sport fit for the village idiot. One must first of all know what one is talking about in order to make us laugh. One must also be able to take any political topic seriously, and to understand it inside-out and backwards, from the view of any political comedy, any faction.

Thus, Jon Stewart’s 16 years of success as the host of The Daily Show wouldn’t have been if he didn’t understand that that key to his brand of humor. Politics itself is not a joking matter; rather, what one can make of it is.

This time, though, it’s not a joking matter Stewart makes of politics, and wherever he does utilize comedy, it’s for effect. It shouldn’t take us aback that Jon Stewart chose to adapt a prison memoir, or that he chose to adapt it into a most serious political drama. He knows the ins and outs of politics. He has to.

“Rosewater”, Stewart’s directorial debut, isn’t an account of Iran’s poor treatment of its citizens. It’s a wakeup call to what could be a red scare in Iran. Not unlike Americans’ widespread fear of communists in the post-World War I era and in the 1950’s, Iran is shown as both fearful of and angry at the western world. How accurate the film is at depicting this, I cannot quite say, but “Rosewater” brings the issue to our attention. What’s most interesting here is that Maziar Bahari is portrayed by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal. Given his history in Spanish-language comedies (“Y Tu Mamá También” and various Almodóvar films), it’s difficult to fathom just how Bernal turned in such a good performance as an Iranian-Canadian in such a heavy drama. Bahari was born and raised in Iran, but his family brought him up in a westernized household. One of his fondest memories happens to be of a certain Leonard Cohen LP, for example. Bahari has lived in Britain during his time as a writer for Newsweek. He has a wife in Britain, who is expecting their first child. But when Bahari travels to Iran on a business trip, he is accused of spying on the Iranian government.

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Movie Review #961


Nationwide release on March 13, 2015. Drama/Family/Fantasy. This film is rated PG for mild thematic elements. Runs 105 minutes. An American-British co-production. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Screenplay by Chris Weitz. Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, and Derek Jacobi.


By Alexander Diminiano

Aside from the few who were with their kids, I was quite likely the only guy in the theater with a ticket for “Cinderella”. It’s a fact that I had expected, but frankly, I find it sad. Kenneth Branagh’s take is not a dreamy movie for little girls. Okay, maybe it can be looked at as that, but it’s not so specifically targeted at little girls as the 1950s animated movie was. It is a nostalgic restoration of that original Disneyfication, with a spirited, whimsical attitude that can be appreciated by all who appreciate the value of the original tale.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story (and if that happens to be you, I might recommend a few quick Google searches that could improve your cultural literacy), this is the ultimate rags-to-riches tale. The movie gives it a few slight twists. For example, Cinderella (Downton Abbey’s Lily James) is known as Ella for the majority of the film. She’s only given the moniker when her wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her self-centered stepsisters mock her as she sweeps the cinders, among so much other elbow-grease that is guaranteed not the slightest bit of appreciation. But what we might automatically call a “retelling” from Branagh is not a retelling at all. 2015’s “Cinderella” isn’t modernized, and that’s major nonconformity when we consider that modernization has become a trend for Walt Disney Pictures. There’s two hints of the modern age hidden in here. One is the empowering casting of an African-American as having a major role in the royal castle. I find this element to be highly commendable, an assertion of society in 2015, to substitute what was most likely assumed to be an all-white castle in 1812 when the Brothers Grimm wrote their account. The other minute suggestion of modernization in the most recent account isn’t as admirable: a bubblegum pop song that appears over the closing credits. It took me right out of the period piece setting and straight into Disneyland.

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Furious 7

Movie Review #960


Wide release on April 3, 2015. Action/Crime/Thriller. This film is rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language. Runs 137 minutes. An American-Japanese co-production. Directed by James Wan. Written by Chris Morgan. Characters by Gary Scott Thompson. Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson, Lucas Black, Kurt Russell, Luke Evans, and Djimon Hounsou.


By Alexander Diminiano

It’s been at least two years since I’ve had this much fun at the movies. “Furious 7″ is good news for 2015: a movie that is nothing more and nothing less than the ultimate summer movie. (And ironically, it’s ahead of the game by two whole months.) You can imagine that it was just as fun to make as it is to watch, because it’s not casually mindless; it’s infatuated with its own mindlessness, and that, seemingly, has made all the difference here.

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Hiatus Update

Hey all,

I didn’t expect to be saying this, but for various reasons, I am extending this hiatus.  Instead of Tuesday, March 31st, I will be returning Monday, April 20th.  (In other words, you can celebrate something else that day, along with Hitler’s birthday and National Pot Day.  I kid, I kid.)

See you then, and apologies that I’m unavailable for so long.  Though if I find that I’m able to return before the 20th, I most definitely will.

Thank you all for understanding.

– The Cinemaniac

Temporary Hiatus 

Dear followers,

Cinemaniac Reviews will be on hiatus for three weeks. We shall return on March 31st with reviews as usual, starting with a review of Dear White People from Red and a review of Rosewater from me.

I wasn’t planning on scheduling the hiatus for another three months, but I am getting so busy these days that I haven’t had a second, much less a full hour, to sit down and craft a movie review. I apologize for my inability to notify all of you of this earlier, as I have missed several days on my posting schedule due to unwritten movie reviews.

–Alexander Diminiano


Movie Review #959


Released in New York City, New York and to the internet on November 7, 2014. Documentary/War. This film is not rated. Runs 100 minutes. A British-Congolese co-production. Written and directed by Orlando von Einsiedel.


By Alexander Diminiano

“Virunga” documents the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a nation plagued by war and unrest since 1960. The nation finally regained stability after the Second Congo War ended in 2003, but only nine years later, the Congo fell back again as a result of the M23 Rebellion.

But note the movie’s title. It’s not “Congo”, but “Virunga”, because the film also centers on Virunga National Park. Veering National Park, we are told, has been thwarted in their every conservation effort by the evil British Soco International as they illegally exploit the property in search for oil.

“Virunga” plays out as a call to action. The message it offers seems to be that Virunga National Park is in a state of crisis, and that if we donate to them, their efforts for conservation will become enough to save the Congo from their wartime crisis. That kind of logic, though, makes bringing stability to a third-world country seem easy. The great misfortune here is that despite having a subject matter that could grip an audience’s emotions for a subtle call for action, Orlando von Einsiedel, Joanna Natasegara, and Jon Drever—the three who produced “Virunga”—just want your money. Sure, this was the first feature film to be distributed through Netflix in the United States, so the movie itself is free with a subscription. But twice during the movie, we are told to visit a certain website to “learn more about” Virunga Park. One of these instances appeared in a title card right before the end credits; the other in a subtitle that went by as quickly as three seconds. I am reminded of a scene in “The Simpsons Movie” where Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? is jokingly advertised in a banner across the bottom of the screen.

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Basic Instinct

Movie Review #958


Nationwide release on March 20, 1992. Drama/Mystery/Thriller. This version of the film is unrated. Theatrical release rated R for strong violence and sensuality, and for drug use and language. Originally rated NC-17. Runs 128 minutes. Theatrical release runs 127 minutes. A French-American co-production. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Written by Joe Eszterhas. Cast: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Denis Arndt, Leilani Sarelle, Bruce A. Young, Chelcie Ross, Dorothy Malone, Wayne Knight, Daniel Von Bargen, Stephen Tobolowsky, Benjamin Mouton, Jack McGee, Bill Cable, Stephen Rowe, and Mitch Pileggi.


By Alexander Diminiano

Note: This is a review of the Unrated Director’s Cut.

“She’s evil! She’s brilliant!” That line right there is perhaps the finest set of four words in the great (in both a meaningful and a sarcastic sense) screenplay that is “Basic Instinct”. Follow that line with “She’s Sharon Stone!”, and you have a tagline for the movie that fits it better than any–one that evokes the low-key, even hokey, but nonetheless grin-inducing attire Paul Verhoeven captures.

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Fahrenheit 9/11

Movie Review #957


Released in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on June 23, 2004. Nationwide release on June 25, 2004. Documentary. This film is rated R for some violent and disturbing images, and for language. Runs 122 minutes. An American production. Written and directed by Michael Moore. Featuring Michael Moore. Archive footage featuring George W. Bush.


By Alexander Diminiano

“Fahrenheit 9/11″ is the highest-grossing documentary ever to hit our screens. It made north of $119 million at the American box office alone, and as a matter of fact, it’s the only documentary that has ever grossed a total of nine figures domestically. On top of its domestic rentals, “Fahrenheit” made a total of $222 million worldwide. Which means that even with an audience strictly made up of voting Americans, the film also grossed over $100 million in countries outside of the U.S.–and is ironically the only documentary film to have ever done so.

For what it’s worth, we can say that Michael Moore at least did his best to get what he wanted, even if his desires weren’t actually satisfied. We can tell he has a reason for making “Fahrenheit 9/11″ just within the first ten minutes: he wants George Bush Jr. out of office, and he wants to allow him no chance of a second term. Any morals Moore once had, have been obliterated in the creation of this documentary, save for one: his Machiavellian philosophies.

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