The Birdcage

Movie Review #875

“‘The Birdcage’ features excellence from both its cast and its writing. Anyone want seconds?”

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

birdcage

Released March 8, 1996 (nationwide)
Comedy
Rated R (contains profanity)
117 minutes

“So this is Hell, and there’s a crucifix in it.” – Robin Williams in “The Birdcage”

It seems that, following his marriage to Diane Sawyer in 1988, director Mike Nichols began to embrace a political side of moviemaking. It’s rather obvious in “The Birdcage”, but if anything, it works out well for this film. This is a remake of the Franco-Italian film “La Cage aux Folles”, concerning a gay, Jewish couple in South Beach, Florida who makes a living running a drag show on the floor below their apartment. Everything is going well, until they start facing the troubles of their son’s oncoming marriage. The woman he is going to wed is the daughter of an unmistakably Republican U.S. Senator and his unmistakably Republican wife. They want to meet the in-laws, but they aren’t exactly aware of how little they would approve of them.

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La Dolce Vita

Movie Review #874

“This is the poster child for extravagance in cinema. It boasts the auteur’s brilliance in an irresistible manner.”

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

la_dolce_vita

Premiered February 3, 1960 (Italy)
Released April 19, 1961 (USA, nationwide)
Re-released July 23, 2004 (USA)
Comedy, Drama
Not Rated (contains mild sexual content)
174 minutes

I never have seen nor will I ever see something quite like “La Dolce Vita”, unless I do the inevitable, which is to watch it again. This is a foreign-language film, but certainly not a foreign film. The term “foreign” implies that it is emotionally, culturally, and conceptually inaccessible. “La Dolce Vita” presents accessibility that can be termed as universal. So many English-language films are endlessly more foreign.

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Blood Diamond

Movie Review #873

“‘Blood Diamond’ suffers from a slow first hour, but makes up for it with galvanizing performances and shocking insights into its horrid world.”

★★★
By Red Stewart

blood_diamond_ver2

Released December 8, 2006 (nationwide)
Adventure, Drama, Thriller
Rated R (contains graphic violence, strong language)
143 minutes

There are a lot of atrocities that go on in our world, but I’ve always felt like blood diamonds (or conflict diamonds) are the most understated. Innocent civilians are forced to mine for gems by sick warlords to sell and fund their battles with insurgents. It wasn’t until 2003 that a flawed certification known as the Kimberley Process was established to prevent mainstream consumers from purchasing (and unintentionally supporting) these illegal commodities.

“Blood Diamond” may tell a fictional account about the lead-up to the Kimberley Process, but many of the story elements seen in the film are tragically happening to this day. After getting separated from his son, a Mende fisherman named Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is drafted into a mining workforce where he discovers and hides a large pink diamond. Though Vandy and the other miners are soon incarcerated by the government, he is freed by a Rhodesian mercenary named Danny Archer (DiCaprio), who agrees to help Vandy find his son in exchange for the diamond.

Like most Edward Zwick films, the scope of “Blood Diamond” is large and bears a long exposition as a result. While the backstory could’ve been said in 20 to 30 minutes, it takes a good hour to fully play out. But once the film gets past this small trifle it really kicks into gear, with Vandy and Archer exploring the Sierra Leone landscape and witnessing the aforementioned horrors associated with conflict diamonds, including: child soldiers, tortured civilians, and psychopathic businessmen. This in turn ties in with a subplot where Archer undergoes a morality change after realizing that he’s been playing a strong part in all this.

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Out of Sight

Movie Review #872

“Fun in the moment, and memorable for its creativity, ‘Out of Sight’ is not out of mind.”

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

out_of_sight

Released June 26, 1998 (nationwide)
Comedy, Crime, Romance
Rated R (contains profanity, graphic violence)
123 minutes

The title “Out of Sight” refers to the proverb “out of sight, out of mind.” It also denies that proverb. It explains that even if you see someone for a few minutes, they could still cross your mind in a matter of years later.

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American Gangster

Movie Review #871

“‘American Gangster’…American masterpiece.”

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

american_gangster_ver3

Premiered October 19, 2007 (New York City, New York)
Released November 2, 2007 (nationwide)
Biography, Crime, Drama
Unrated Extended Version:
Not Rated (contains material not included in the theatrical version)
175 minutes
Theatrical Version:
Rated R (contains mature themes, drug content, violence, strong language, nudity, sexual content)
157 minutes

Editor’s Note: This is a review of the Unrated Extended Version.

Ridley Scott is a damn fine director. The kind that you remember for his several masterpieces, because they’re plentiful, and his stinkers are there, but they’re forgettable. I immediately associate his name with “Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Thelma & Louise” (1992), “Gladiator” (2000), and “Prometheus” (2012). I don’t immediately tend to recall that two of his films that I’ve seen I very much disliked. Those were “Hannibal” and “Black Hawk Down” (both 2001), which I’d almost forgotten existed until I did a quick Google Search on the director.

As far as I’ve seen, Scott hasn’t yet made an average film. They’re all either way above average, or considerably below average. Even considering this man’s résumé, I was surprised, and still am, by what a great movie “American Gangster” is. It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller that functions as a biopic. (Maybe it’s two biopics, but the focus here is on Frank Lucas more than his pursuer.) But the term “biopic” doesn’t even seem to fit, because while this is essentially a true story retold, it’s not about two men who are going with whatever situations life leads them into. It’s about two men who fight aggressively for what they want. We could debate for hours about whether or not they’re great minds, but they do think alike. Their approach to everything they wish to accomplish is entirely Machiavellian. Neither one of them cares what damage they do to get what they want. They’ll move on from any deaths that result, and if they succeed, it can only be because they haven’t done anything wrong.

But this is only “wrong” in its shallowest sense; “morally wrong” is given no consideration in “American Gangster”. Admittedly, this is a very immoral movie. Though immoral as it may be, “American Gangster” is immensely engaging. Ridley Scott not only directed but also produced the movie, through Scott Free Productions (his production company for every film he has directed since 1991, save for “1492: La conquête du paradis”). To a certain extent, this means he had final cut authority over “American Gangster”. The “unrated extended” cut runs 175 minutes, a time of around 20 minutes longer than the theatrical release, and every minute added heightens the film’s intensity.

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Movie Review #870

“‘Inglourious Basterds’ plays out like an epic poem brought to life on the big screen.”

★★★★
By Red Stewart

inglourious_basterds_ver9_xlg

Premiered July 28, 2009 (Berlin)
Released August 21, 2009 (nationwide)
Adventure, Drama, War
Rated R (contains graphic violence, profanity, mild sexual content)
153 minutes

I’ll confess right here that “Inglourious Basterds” was my first Tarantino film, so I imagine watching it must’ve been like how everyone felt seeing “Pulp Fiction” for the first time twenty years ago. The genre blending, the long conversations that end in violence, the artistic style in each scene…it just all comes together so beautifully that I now realize why Tarantino is universally praised by audiences.

I describe “Inglourious Basterds” as an epic poem because it’s literally divided into five long chapters, each connected and each entertaining. Acting as an alternate take on World War II, the United States sends a Jewish group of soldiers known as the Basterds to wage a war of attrition on the Nazis, lead by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). In other parts of Germany, a Jewish girl named Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) plans revenge on Nazi officials following the murder of her family years ago. Connecting both of these arcs is the high-ranking Nazi official Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), who aims to carry out Hitler’s Final Solution to the very end. Waltz’s performance has earned more praise than I could ever offer, so I’ll let his awards (including the Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor) speak for themselves.

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Charlie Wilson’s War

Movie Review #869

“Flawed, but funny and poignant at the same time.”

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

charlie_wilsons_war

Premiered December 10, 2007 (Universal City, California)
Released December 21, 2007 (nationwide)
Biography, Comedy, Drama
Rated R (contains strong language, nudity, sexual content, war violence, drug use)
102 minutes

In “The Graduate”, director Mike Nichols revealed to us a woman named Mrs. Robinson in a fashion that defied all our first impressions of her. She’s a fiftysomething woman who has been friends with Benjamin Braddock’s parents for his whole life, and she appears a very courteous woman. Before 15 minutes are through in that movie, she’s already tricked Benjamin into driving her back home from his graduation party, and has begun to seduce him.

Nichols offers the same sort of fast-paced opening in “Charlie Wilson’s War”, a film of his that came as much as four decades after “The Graduate”. The film opens with the titular character (Tom Hanks) receiving the CIA’s Honored Colleague Award for his congressional efforts during the Cold War. Wilson is a member of the United States House of Representatives from Texas’s 2nd district. We see two title cards. One bears the film’s own title, and the next reads, “The following is based on a true story.” And then we cut to a scene in a hot tub, where Wilson is seen partying hard with cocaine, strippers, and a great deal of alcohol.

Charlie Wilson is an intriguing character. He secretaries are all beautiful, young women who he refers to as “jail bait.” Not only is he a bigot, he spends some the movie trying to get the press out of his face when allegations are made about his cocaine use. But this is more than likely because has better issues to deal with then to think about what he’s done wrong. It takes an idiot to look at him and realize that this man doesn’t exactly live the most proper lifestyle, but he cares deeply about the world around him.

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Dune

Movie Review #868

“David Lynch makes David Bowie’s music video version of ‘Star Wars’, starring Sting and featuring music by Toto.”

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

dune_ver1

Released December 14, 1984 (nationwide)
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13 (contains sci-fi violence)
137 minutes

Rather than writing this as a conventional review, I have critiqued “Dune” as an open letter to the director:

8/5/2014

Dear Mr. David Lynch:

I first watched “The Elephant Man” two years ago. It is an absolutely incredible film. As I learned after quickly falling in love with your work, incredible is the word for just about everything you touch with your surrealist director’s hand. I have grown to appreciate “Blue Velvet”, “Mulholland Dr.”, “Eraserhead”, and your TV series Twin Peaks (as well as the film “Fire Walk with Me”, which provided a satisfying prologue and epilogue) as masterpieces in their own separate ways. Granted, I don’t feel I understood one bit of “Mulholland Dr.”, but then again, who does? It’s wonderfully told through the point of view of an amnesiac.

You are noted as frequently refusing to discuss your third film “Dune” during interviews, and it seems that when you do discuss the film, you often speak about your lack of final cut authority. You sometimes explain that that is what led to the outstanding badness of the film. I honestly enjoyed “Dune”, but not as I enjoy most your work. I enjoyed it as a “guilty pleasure.” And I feel you might understand why I didn’t like it as much as I should’ve, even as a “guilty pleasure.”

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I just can’t believe it.

Locke

Movie Review #867

“‘Locke’ is compelling from beginning to end.”

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

locke_ver2

Released April 25, 2014 (limited)
Drama
Rated R (contains strong language)
85 minutes

“Locke” is an 85-minute movie consisting of one scene, one character, and many, many phone calls. The hero/villain in this one-man show, Ivan Locke, takes a midnight drive on the highway, answering calls from three different individuals: his boss, his wife, and his mistress. All are involved in some way with the drive he is taking. His company needs him back at work the next day, but Locke is miles away. His family wants him back home the next day, but Locke might not be able to get back so soon. And the purpose of the trip is to visit his mistress in the hospital, as she gives birth to their son.

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