The Fly

Movie Review #735


Directed by Kurt Neumann. Writer: James Clavell. (Story: George Langelaan.) Produced by Kurt Neumann for Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Uncredited producer: Robert L. Lippert. Starring Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Charles Herbert, Kathleen Freeman, and Betty Lou Gerson. Uncredited cameo: Torben Meyer. Premiered in San Francisco, California on July 16, 1958. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in limited release on August 29, 1958. PCA #19036: Approved. Runs 94 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

I guess it’s something about human nature that we all hate flies. For some reason, their very presence is alarming. So 1958′s “The Fly” has a sly and rather manipulative way of grabbing our attention. Especially in the opening credits sequence, the buzzing noise of a fly can be used for a misleading effect. In other cases, it’s also used for suspense. Whichever reason for the buzzing sounds, they’re there, and it’s our natural inclination to freeze our eyes directly toward the screen, or wherever else the sound might be coming from in our viewing environment. Not that any film needs our adrenaline to have our attention, but “The Fly” is a decent movie, because it had my full attention–buzzing or no buzzing.

But let’s be clear that “The Fly” isn’t for just any audience. It’s very much a B-movie, and in fact it’s from the Golden Age of B-movies. The director, Kurt Neumann died just a week before the film’s general release, and he still had three more movies on queue. Maybe he thought it was “just another movie,” but there’s a reason “The Fly” was Neumann’s biggest hit, or a few reasons, maybe. To go for a simple argument, this film is very suspenseful. By the final third, the movie has turned into an eerie, Halloweenish movie, mostly thanks to its music and costume design. (I can definitely see why many claim to be scared to death of this movie, after seeing it on TV as a kid.) The screenplay isn’t exactly the best. You’ll find obvious lines like these are, in fact, the best in stock:

“You said you killed your husband. That means you murdered him.”

But we can’t overlook the fact that the story is interesting, and–despite the appearance of a man with a god-awful French accent in the beginning–the acting is fine, overall. Al Hudison is spectacular as the titular creature; the concept is that a man and a fly became a hybrid through a failed science experiment, and Hudison totally sells that to us. The set which became his lab, however, deserves museum preservation. Maybe the movie itself isn’t, but that laboratory is as classic as the imitating set in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.


Pain & Gain

Movie Review #734


Directed by Michael Bay. Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. (Based on the magazine articles by Pete Collins.) Produced by Michael Bay, Ian Bryce, and Donald De Line for De Line Pictures, presented by Paramount Pictures. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong, Michael Rispoli, Keili Lefkovitz, Emily Rutherfurd, Vivi Pineda, Yolanthe Cabau, Brian Stepanek, Persi Caputo, and Bill Kelly. Credited cameos: Nicholas X. Parsons, Trudie Petersen, Mike Tremont, Sabrina Mayfield, Chaz Mena, William Erfurth, Rey Hernandez, and Jerry Lantigua. Premiered in Miami, Florida on April 11, 2013. Distributed by Paramount Pictures in wide release on April 26, 2013. Rated R: bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use. Runs 129 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

I’ll give the story in simplest terms. This movie is about a trio of bodybuilders. Not just any bodybuilders, but the kind that believes bodybuilding is patriotic. And they get involved with kidnapping, murder, and extortion. With its outrageous story and characters, “Pain & Gain” could have been colossally entertaining. With its inspiration from several crime comedies, it could’ve been a hysterical black comedy. Without an actual director, however, the results are only mildly entertaining, and everything feels stupid and derivative. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have made one terrible mistake here, and that was in selling their script to the wrong producers. The wrongest of whom is Michael Bay, the so-called director of this movie.

Bay retains all the substance in “Pain & Gain”, and it’s a huge relief that he does at least that, because he takes a mighty hard dump on the style. It’s pretty sad when the coolest thing we see in the film is slow motion. Especially when a song as awesome as Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” is on the soundtrack…yeah, talk about misusing great rock music. “Pain & Gain” should be an outrageous, daring, and tasteful crime movie. The director himself called it a cross between “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo”. Those being two of very few films that I have cited as my very favorite film (and I still cite the former). “Pulp Fiction” paid an (almost) humorous homage in “Pain & Gain”, in a specific scene that includes a) an accidental murder, b) the cleanup of that accidental murder, and c) a loony woman in a drug-induced coma.

That’s not all the comparisons to great crime flicks of the ’90s, though. Cited on the Blu-ray jacket is Kyle Smith (critic for New York Post), who refers to the movie as “‘Goodfellas’ on steroids.” Well, yeah, but let’s face it, Martin Scorsese is the only man on this planet who could’ve (and did) make a masterpiece out of “Goodfellas”. It’s no wonder “Pain & Gain” is a copycat bore. See, there’s the script, which is excellent, and then there’s the complete movie, which just isn’t. Wherever the aforementioned masterpieces are wild and audacious, “Pain & Gain” feels like a juvenile, ludicrous bloodbath. The results amount to barely a thing more than a loud, contrived movie, with a cast of characters who bask in the glory of working out, dropping F-bombs, snorting coke, and killing people.

Postscript: Apparently, “Pain & Gain” is based on a true story. I doubt it’s as convoluted as they’ve made it seem.



Movie Review #733


Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Arnon Milchan, and Mary Parent for Protozoa Pictures and Disruption Entertainment, presented by Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises. Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolte, Mark Margolis, Leo McHugh Carroll, Marton Csokas, Finn Wittrock, Gavin Casalegno, Nolan Gross, Skylar Burke, Dakota Goyo, Ariane Rinehart, Adam Marshall Griffith, and the voice of Frank Langella. Uncredited cameos: Joseph Basile, Clem Cote, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, and Joseph Garcia Quinn. Premiered in Mexico City on March 10, 2014; in Berlin on March 13, 2014; in Madrid on March 17, 2014; in New York City, New York on March 26, 2014; in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Dublin on March 29, 2014; in London on March 31, 2014; and in Paris on April 1, 2014. Distributed by Paramount Pictures in wide release on March 28, 2014. Rated PG-13: violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content. Runs 138 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

Director Darren Aronofsky has always managed to fascinate me with his inventive approach to story. I’ve seen his entire oeuvre (save for “The Fountain”), and he’s always found my gratitude in reusing the same setup. The idea is that, once a character grows obsessed with something, he or she is on a path toward self-destruction.

Thus “Noah” is a Biblical epic told from the stance of a psychologist. It’s definitely not the view of a historian, and as a psychological representation of the titular character, it’s truly riveting. The film can be properly separated into three acts: Act I, the Preparation for the End; Act II, the End of Mankind; and Act III, the Creation of the New World. Or, for those who would rather look at it as a flood story than as a biopic, the three acts are the Omens, the Flood, and the Aftermath. Either way, Noah is more likeable than any choice character from Aronofsky’s canon. He’s a good-natured, kindhearted family man. The script and Russell Crowe’s performance intertwine to make this man natural and relatable to us. Additionally, the written effort from Aronofsky and Ari Handel offers an elaborate, convincing vision of the Biblical hero.

For every second of its two hours, eighteen minutes, “Noah” has our undivided attention. The film engages mainly because of its dark, intense, and unconventional look at the antediluvian patriarch. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the third act is rattling and absolutely brilliant. The climactic moments have us at the edge of our seats, even if that’s what we most expect, given the adrenalizing finales Aronofsky conducted in “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) and “Black Swan” (2010).

“Noah” features a distinct array of fantastical elements. Many of these are there to enhance the mystery and miracle that we find in flood story that encompasses four chapters of the Book of Genesis. Sometimes, however, the movie gears toward something of a high fantasy. It has good intentions in that latter area. We’re introduced to the “Watchers”. These are angels that were sent to earth to protect the innocent from evil. It gives them enough credibility that they freely admit to Noah how hopeless they feel, thanks to how corrupt the earth has become. A great idea, but it’s difficult to see how an angel can look like a walking pile of rocks. Whether this was a CGI problem or a script problem, I felt strangely as if I were watching The Lord of the Rings.

In substance, “Noah” is a psychological drama. In style, it’s a Biblical epic. Clint Mansell (“Lux Æterna”) composed the score, which matches up precisely with not only the movie’s demanding and ambitious nature, but also Noah’s demanding and ambitious character. Same for the set decoration and the keen-eye editing. Best of all is the genius Matthew Libatique. Underrated as he may be, Libatique has taken the reins once again with his magnificent cinematography. When Russell Crowe tells his family the story of Creation, every one of these elements comes to a peak and is absolutely breathtaking. I do guarantee that “Noah” is a beautiful, touching piece. For those who enjoy solid, crafty entertainment, “Noah” should be seen, and for all the cinematic beauty it offers, it deserves to be seen at the theater.

OF INTEREST: Darren Aronofsky directed five feature films before he directed Noah. Adjusted separately for inflation, the combined budget of his first five films is less than $67 million. Noah alone cost $125 million to make.


100 Years of Suspenseful, Tragic Stories

Movie Review #732

The Tragic Story of Nling

Directed by Jeffrey St. Jules. Written by Jeffrey St. Jules. Produced by Larissa Giroux for Intrepid Film Arts. Starring Tom Barnett, Steven McCarthy, Kate Campbell, and the voice of John Neville. Premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in September 2006; and at Sundance Film Festival in January 2007. Not rated by the MPAA. Runs 14 minutes.

“The Tragic Story of Nling” was a Canadian short film created in 2006, but it’s very stylistically convincing as a 1940’s movie. That’s a high point, or might I say, the high point. Everything else runs from confusing to blah. Yeah, the use of stop-animation is neat, but this could have been so much better as a live-action short. And as far as substance, it’s about a desolate island named Nling where a guy who’s suffering an alcohol shortage with his donkey friend. Or maybe that’s just a human being with a donkey head. Whichever it was, I was reminded so thoroughly of Bottom in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is a grueling, abstract film that really gives the alcoholic’s frame of mind. But I struggle with something huge. Is it even a tragedy? Or is it actually a comedy? Whichever one it truly is, this is a really silly short film.

100 Years at the Movies

Directed by Chuck Workman. Produced by Chuck Workman for TCM. Archive footage: Clara Bow, Rin Tin Tin, Eugen Sandow. Distributed in 1994. Not rated by the MPAA. Runs 9 minutes.

Turner Classic Movies’s centennial celebration of cinematic evolution is just as good as any of the movies it spotlights. (I must be honest: it’s also a whole hell of a lot better than some of them). This may be “just” a short film, but yes, it’s absolutely riveting for anybody who cherishes the movies half as much as I do. We do tend to take for granted how much movies have changed over the years and even if this short is two decades old now, it’s still completely relevant and thoroughly moving. The single most amazing aspect “100 Years at the Movies” has to offer is the art of brilliant choice of music and triumphant movie clips, and absolutely no dialogue. It’s quite remarkable, just watching how we came from one heavyweight epic (“The Birth of a Nation”) to another (“Schindler’s List”)—with films of all shapes, sizes, and colors in between. It’s remarkable, and too fascinating to believe it’s only nine minutes.


Directed by Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber. Scenario by Lois Weber. Produced for Rex Motion Picture Company. Starring Lois Weber, Val Paul, Douglas Gerrard, and Sam Kaufman. Uncredited, unconfirmed cameo: Lon Chaney. Distributed by Universal Film Manufacturing Company in wide release on July 6, 1913. Not rated by the MPAA. Runs 10 minutes.

As old as it is, “Suspense” is actually very suspenseful. This is a 1913 short from Lois Weber, often referred to as cinema’s first female director. However, the directing credit jumped around a number of male directors (including D. W. Griffith and Phillips Smalley, who is still co-credited) for decades. The story concerns four key characters: The Wife (Lois Weber), The Husband (Valentine Paul), The Pursuer (Douglas Gerrard), and The Tramp (Sam Kaufman). Incidentally, the ten minutes that those four account for could very well be—and, I don’t doubt, has already been—elongated to a feature-length story. The fact that so much happens in this little film feels fast-paced and exciting. A woman and her infant alone in their isolated house. A tramp discovers how to break in, but not before the woman sees him lurking about her house. When she calls for help, complications begin to unfold. Maybe that’s a story we could find today without trying too hard, but the absolute apex of what “Suspense” offers is its cinematography. This film was released over a century ago, and many filmmakers today fail to match the creative camerawork we see here.

“Short Film Smorgasbord” is Cinemaniac Reviews’s spotlight for the movies we most pitifully tend to overlook. Independent filmmakers, don’t hesitate to submit! Contact and we’ll feature your short film.


I’m going to France!

This time tomorrow, I’ll be headed to the airport, where I’ll be in (yes!!) France for a week. I’m very excited, people, and as you might guess, I’m planning to take some of my spare time to buy some Region B Blu-rays. (I think my Blu-ray player is region-free, but if not, who says I can’t collect French Blu-rays?)

Anyway, if you happen to be in France at the same time, give me a wave. I’m excited, as I’ve said, especially to visit Normandy, which I believe was where Saving Private Ryan was partially filmed. (I know, there’s some historical value there, too. Movies haven’t blinded me that much.)

If you have any French movies to recommend me, fire away. I won’t be able to review them immediately, but you all know that whatever video store will be as heavenly for me as the Louvre.

Black Swan

Movie Review #731


Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andrés Heinz and John McLaughlin. (Story: Andrés Heinz.) Produced by Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, and Brian Oliver for Protozoa Pictures and Phoenix Pictures, presented by Fox Searchlight Pictures, made in association with Cross Creek Pictures and Dune Entertainment. Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau, Janet Montgomery, Sergio Torrado, Mark Margolis, Tina Sloan, and Stanley B. Herman. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 1, 2010; and in New York City, New York on November 30, 2010. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Fox Searchlight Pictures in limited release in the USA on December 3, 2010; and in wide release on December 17, 2010. Rated R: strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use. Runs 108 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

“Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go.”

“Black Swan” is twistedly, heart-stoppingly original. It’s a tale of desire, power, obsession, and any combination between the three. For every time we take the involuntary chance to blink during the film, director Darren Aronofsky takes two seemingly natural chances to delve further into his psychosis of the protagonist. I can’t put the film any other way than to say it’s brilliant.

I’ll say it again: its approach and accomplishment are both sublimely original. And yet I struggle with the paradox, that it’s also retelling the classic Swan Lake. Nina (Natalie Portman) is anything but happy that she has received the role of the Swan Queen in Chaykovsky’s ballet; she’s more worried about winning, succeeding, attaining perfection in the role. She can’t lose, and making sure she doesn’t involves frequent paranoia, devastation, and ultimately, self-destruction. It’s no accident that the story’s journey through the mind, in fact, parallels the tale of Swan Lake.

The ballet Swan Lake ends with the White Swan leaping off a cliff to her death, and it is no spoiler to say that the protagonist in “Black Swan” meets her end the same way. Darren Aronofsky has made self-destruction a staple to his catalog of directed films. He’s also made character a staple, but never like this. We’re really put into Nina’s head in “Black Swan”.  Natalie Portman delivers an absolute tour de force performance here. Between her performance and the masterful cinematography of Matthew Libatique, the film’s most engaging game is in letting us guess what’s real and what’s just in the mind. Where this opus most succeeds, though, is in its distance from reality.

“Black Swan” is a lurid, bizarre, and hypnotic experience. Its dark, demented psychodrama vastly outweighs “The Wrestler”, Aronofsky’s 2008 film to which it is a companion piece. Indeed both films look at all the dangers that surround human nature’s greatest fantasy (perfection), but in comparison, “The Wrestler” only glanced at the concept.


R.I.P. Mickey Rooney


R.I.P. Mickey Rooney
1920 — 2014

Earlier this morning, it was discovered that 93-year-old Mickey Rooney had died yesterday. No cause is known (particularly with the man’s extraordinary health), and a location has yet to be reported, but if one thing is indeed known, it’s that Rooney was a great for many years of Hollywood.

“At 93 years young,” an IMDb biography states, “he show[ed] no signs of slowing down or retiring.”

Mickey Rooney began acting at 17 months old in his parents’ vaudeville act. It was in 1926, at the age of only six years, that he entered the film business. In his almost nine decades with Hollywood, Rooney directed three feature films (My True Story, The Bold and the Brave, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve). Some of the 340 titles he acted in included over 180 feature films and his own The Mickey Rooney Show. The series, unfortunately, lasted only one season, with a pilot on August 28, 1954, and the 33rd and final episode “The Robot” airing on May 7, 1955. Another show, Mickey, featured him from September 16, 1964, to January 13, 1965, lasting only 17 episodes.

Mickey Rooney was not done with the movies. Two films, Fragments from Olympus: The Vision of Nikola Tesla and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, were in production at the time of his death. Both are set for October releases, and we hope to see his face in both. Additionally, Rooney was rumored to star in Old Soldiers, another film currently in production; no release date has been announced. We await whatever swan song should come of this great actor, and we celebrate his past.

I ask that if and when you start to read this letter, please finish it.

Dear Followers,

I would like to take a moment and say that I’m proud of this blog. I don’t mean that as a megalomaniac, which I kind of am, in some aspects, anyway. I mean that I’m proud of myself for keeping it going so prosperously and for so long. Whenever I look at my statistics, all I can think about is, “I need more hits!” But deep down, I really, truly appreciate the fact that I’m still writing about movies, even when I could have given up a hundred, two hundred, five hundred, or seven hundred thirty reviews ago. I had very few expectations of my blog when it first started, if I remember, or maybe there were some things I just didn’t consider. I never considered how long the blog would last. Since projects of mine tended to come and go at the time, I don’t think I would have expected Cinemaniac Reviews to last more than a year. Here I am, two years, eight months, and four days later. The blog still exists.

I don’t think I considered that at this time in my life, I would lose all the time I’d had on my hands. Which is good, because if I had considered that, I would have “chickened out” on creating this majestic baby of mine. Anyway, I was in eighth grade when I started Cinemaniac Reviews. Neither then nor in my freshman year of high school have I had to worry about when to watch movies. A little bit of homework, and the hardest thing really was keeping myself from watching movies on the weekdays so that they didn’t kill my grades. Now I’m in the latter half of my sophomore year. I know there’s some people who have even less time on their hands, but I’d die if I were them. My biggest struggle isn’t where to fit movies into my schedule. My biggest struggle is my schedule. My biggest struggle categorizes under such commitments as completing excessive amounts of homework, studying to the point of catatonia for one specific class that will never benefit me at all, driving with a learner’s permit, trying to have a social life, volunteering, going to church despite my lack of faith, daily meditation, getting exercise (I suddenly see why America has a wild obesity problem), needing to take my finals a week or two early, going to school, getting sleep, playing the piano, playing the guitar, playing the violin, finishing season four of Breaking Bad (so I can move on to season five), reading, screenwriting, applying for jobs…

There’s more, and I hope you all understand that this is why I suddenly have a lack of reviews. I am going on what you could call rolling hiatus. It might be in the dictionary, but as far as I know, I coined the term, and it means (in my case) that there’s no longer a strict schedule for my movie reviews. I’ll write one when I see a movie, and I’ll set it to publish for that Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, whichever is closest. The time will still be 2:00 PM. If, however, you object to the 2:00 PM time, please leave a comment on this post, tweet me at @moviefreakblog (preferably with the hashtag #RollingHiatus), or email me at

Thank you all for supporting my blog. For that, I love you all.

–The Cinemaniac

The Spectacular Now

Movie Review #730


Directed by James Ponsoldt. Screenplay by Scott Neustadter an Michael H. Weber. (Novel: Tim Thorp.) Produced by Michelle Krumm, Andrew Lauren, Shawn Levy, and Tom McNulty for 21 Laps and Global Produce, presented by ALP. Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013. Distributed by A24 in limited release on August 2, 2013; and in wide release on September 13, 2013. Rated R: alcohol use, language and some sexuality – all involving teens. Runs 95 minutes.

A great movie is either too complex to put into words or simple enough to put into few words. Though if we narrow down “The Spectacular Now” to “boy meets girl,” it seems inaccurate. That’s the description of some of the most tasteless romances and, as “The Spectacular Now” pleasantly reminds, some of the most beautiful.

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are greatly in control of this dramedy. Their relationship is set up on conversation, not circumstance. Think of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in “Before Sunrise”. It’s much like that, except there’s more focus on establishing depth in the story, particularly during the final third, where the movie takes its chance to subvert our expectations. Though in getting to this end, character is a factor of equal pertinence; these are simple, familiar characters that are compelling because we know them, not of them. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have reprised the same paradox they introduced in their 2009 romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer”: that the story and characters are completely familiar, yet something feels extremely unconventional. Better yet, what exactly is unconventional isn’t quite so obvious as it was in their earlier nonlinear script.

“The Spectacular Now” is pretty, witty, and bright. Its celebration of “the now” is convincing, enthralling, and optimistic–even in moments of pure tragedy. It’s a dialogue-fueled, springtiming escapade with such freedom and vibrancy, that it may as well be set in the summer.


Remember this?

This is my way of making Cinemaniac Reviews even more enjoyable to you, and a more likely website for readers like you to stop by.  Every now and then, for those who are new to the blog (by the way: welcome!), I conduct a brief survey just so I know how I can ensure that Cinemaniac Reviews is living up to its potential.  In other words, I keep track of it and make sure it is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

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