Thirteen

Movie Review #983

thirteen

Premiere: January 17, 2003, Sundance Film Festival. Limited release: August 20, 2003. Wide expansion: September 19, 2003. Biography/Drama. Runs 100 minutes. This film is rated R for drug use, self destructive violence, language and sexuality – all involving young teens. An American production. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Written by Catherine Hardwicke & Nikki Reed. Cast: Nikki Reed, Evan Rachel Wood, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Holly Hunter, and Brady Corbet.

THE HEAVIEST, MOST GRIPPING FILM ABOUT THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLDS YOU MAY EVER SEE.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

From its very first moments, “Thirteen” is unique, heavy (even somewhat disturbing), and brutally engaging. The film begins in medias res. We open to two thirteen-year-old girls (Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed) inhaling from a can of computer cleaner, hitting each other hard and feeling nothing, splitting their lips on a bedside table and not caring.

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Ted

Movie Review #982

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Wide release: June 29, 2012. Comedy/Fantasy. Runs 106 minutes. This film is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use. An American production. Directed by Seth MacFarlane. Screenplay by Seth MacFarlane & Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild. Story by Seth MacFarlane. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, Patrick Warburton, Matt Walsh, Jessica Barth, Aedin Mincks, Bill Smitrovich, and the voices of Seth MacFarlane and Patrick Stewart.

AN AWESOME REVAMP FOR THE STONER GENRE.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

“Ted” is an awesome revamp for the stoner genre, maybe the best of its kind since “The Big Lebowski” in 1998. It starts off as a wonderfully sardonic, though deceptively wholesome, send-up of children’s movies. I was reminded of Adam Mansbach’s satirical children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep.

There’s even a moral we can draw from the opening. In fact, Patrick Stewart states it himself, in his amusing voiceover narration. “Now if there’s one thing you can be sure of,” Stewart explains, “it’s that nothing is more powerful than a young boy’s wish. Except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns and missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine.” At nine years old, John Bennett is a lonely boy. He is left out, picked on, and teased by the other kids in his neighborhood. All he wants for Christmas is a best friend for life, and such is what he receives: a talking teddy bear whom he names Ted. John and Ted gain comfort from each other’s presence during thunderstorms. They even create a song to shoo away the thunder, and they promise to be “thunder buddies for life.”

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Spielberg, Jaws & Why I Write Movie Reviews

Public Service Announcement ahead.

For those who don’t use Twitter, don’t read the news, or just plain are not aware, today is the 40th anniversary of Jaws.  It was the first movie to cross $100 million at the box office, and it stayed at #1 for 13 weeks–from its release on June 20, 1975, all the way through September 21.  That’s damn impressive.

It’s also the reason many of you don’t go in the water, and it’s also the reason I write movie reviews.  One of them, at least, but if there’s any one filmmaker I will credit for igniting my love for all things cinematic, it’s Steven Spielberg.  And if there’s any one movie that got me interested in Spielberg (and all of the facets of film production, believe it or not), it was Jaws.  This was back about 8 years ago that I first saw it, and I’ve seen it many times since, but somehow, never during my time as a blogger.  What a perfect night to finally give it the 6th or 7th go.  Right?

So I urge all y’all to join me.  Rent Jaws tonight, or if you happen to have it on home video, then pop it into the DVD player (or Blu-ray player, VCR, LaserDisc player, etc.) and watch along.  It certainly is one of the greatest movies ever made.

Trois couleurs: Blanc

Movie Review #981

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Berlin International Film Festival: February, 1994. Limited release: February 18, 1994. Comedy/Drama/Mystery. Runs 91 minutes. This film is rated R for some sexuality and language. A French-Polish co-production, with additional involvement from Switzerland. Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. Scenario by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Scenario collaborators: Agnieszka Holland and Edward Zebrowski and Edward Klosinski. Dialogue translation by Marcin Latallo. Cast: Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy.

VERY PROFOUND, IF A BIT LESS THAN “BLEU” AND A BIT TOO GROUNDED.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

First thing’s first.  “Trois couleurs: Blanc” is well acted by its leading lady, Julie Delpy, and brilliantly scripted by Krzysztof Kieślowski; it carries the first two indications of a great film, and then some.

However—the story feels far more grounded than that of “Bleu”, to the extent that plot begins to take a hierarchical jump above metaphor.  “Blanc” features a distinct revenge plot—not a complex one, and not a particularly violent one, but certainly not a threaded plot such as the one that made “Bleu” so moving.  If there’s anything that “Bleu” had set in stone for the two “Trois couleurs” films that were to follow, it was the importance of metaphor; despite this, “Blanc” feels a bit less of an art film than its predecessor.

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Jurassic World

Movie Review #980

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Premiere: Paris, May 29, 2015. Wide release: June 12, 2015. Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi. Runs 124 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. An American production, with additional Chinese involvement. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly. Story by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver. Characters by Michael Crichton. Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, and BD Wong.

THANKFULLY, IT’S GOOD, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO MAKE IT WORTH THE WAIT.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Film criticism doesn’t exactly require that I state the obvious, but I’m going to anyway: we’re not supposed to look at “Jurassic World” as an allegory.  To do so is depressing.  Take a look at the two  leads.  Chris Pratt portrays a Velociraptortrainer, heavily concerned with developing a sense of mutual trust with his raptors.  His unlikely partner throughout this journey is Bryce Dallas Howard, the operational officer for Jurassic World, who is borderline-obsessed with making sure the park turns a profit.  You look at it as an allegory, and you realize that these two stand for the executives at the very film company that made “Jurassic World” possible.  Pratt represents the executives concerned with marketing and appealing to the audience, while Howard is concerned with making sure the movie turns a profit.  It’s a depressing allegory and I highly doubt it was intended, but sadly, its message—that “Jurassic World” is ultimately a game a finance over aesthetic—works.

I don’t want to cast aspersions on “Jurassic World”.  It’s a good, fun movie.  If it weren’t, I doubt it would have turned such an incredible profit in its opening weekend.  Given the amount of time this spent (12 years) in development hell, and how long it’s been (14 years) since the last entry, most of us doubted that it would be the first film to cross $500 million in its opening weekend.  Granted, the movie isn’t as great as the original “Jurassic Park”, but it’s beyond impressive that the story here actually seems to win in comparison to the first story.  It’s similar, but different.  22 years after the events of the first film, a new theme park called Jurassic World has been opened on an island called Isla Nubar.  Here, they don’t just bring back dinosaurs using their DNA.  They genetically modify them. Their latest endeavor is the Indominus rex, which laughs at the inferiority of the T. rex.  Only the lab that designed it knows its genetic components; it’s part T. rex, but the rest is classified.  The few officers in the park who do know about this endeavor have been keeping it in containment and have not yet begun to use it as a public display for the park.  But when the Indominus rexbreaks out of captivity, all hell is going to break loose.

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It Follows

Movie Review #979

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Cannes Film Festival: May 17, 2014. Toronto International Film Festival: September 7, 2014. AFI Fest: November 7, 2014. Sundance Film Festival: January 23, 2015. Film Comment Selects: February 25, 2015. Limited release: March 13, 2015. Wide release: March 27, 2015. Horror/Mystery. Runs 100 minutes. This film is rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language. An American production. Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. Cast: Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Maika Monroe, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto, Bailey Spry, Debbie Williams, Ruby Harris, Leisa Pulido, and Ele Bardha.

FOR THE FIRST HOUR, IT AMAZES. AFTER THAT, IT CRUMBLES.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“It Follows” is an atmospheric, surreal horror movie. It follows the classic layout for a slasher movie (no pun intended), and yet there is hardly any onscreen violence here. It pays homage to John Carpenter almost pervasively, delivering its plot with as much voyeurism as its looming cinematography, leaving us constantly afraid for the protagonist. She’s being followed around everywhere by a certain “thing” that can take the form of anything and can only be seen by her. Her boyfriend passed it to her by having (consensual) sex with her, and the only way for her to get rid of it is to have sex with somebody else.

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Inherent Vice

Movie Review #978

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New York Film Festival: October 4, 2014. AFI Fest: November 8, 2014. Limited release: December 12, 2014. Wide release: January 9, 2015. Crime/Drama/Mystery. Runs 148 minutes. This film is rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence. An American production. Written for the screen and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon. Cast: Joanna Newsom, Katherine Waterston, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeannie Berlin, Josh Brolin, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Maya Rudolph, Michael Kenneth Williams, Hong Chau, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Jaeger, Timothy Simons, Jillian Bell, Martin Short, Sasha Pieterse, and Jefferson Mays.

FLAWED BUT NONETHELESS BRILLIANT, ENGAGING, AND CRAZY FUN.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Shasta: “I went on a boat ride. They told me I was precious cargo that couldn’t be insured because of inherent vice.”
Doc: “What’s that?”
Shasta: (laughs) “I don’t know.”

This is the kind of dialogue you get when you have Paul Thomas Anderson (referred from hereon as PTA) as your writer. Dialogue that flows along in a carefree manner; dialogue that feels nice to listen to. Dialogue that isn’t always on-topic or on-point, but makes the movie much more fun. Dialogue that we take for granted, and have to piece apart to realize its brilliance.

That’s most of what makes “Inherent Vice” so entertaining: the script. It’s how PTA handles his utterly confusing story that makes the movie ten times more fun than it could ever warrant under the lead of another director. We’re led to rock along with a movie, often without concern for its plot, and I guess that’s a good thing. “Inherent Vice” is a mad clusterf—k of stories. Thomas Pynchon obviously made a mess of the characters and their situations when he wrote the novel on which the film is based, back in 2009. But PTA makes style out of incoherence, and he certainly brings it to life.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Movie Review #977

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Wide release: February 13, 2015. Action/Adventure/Comedy. Runs 129 minutes. This film is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content. A British production. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Screenplay by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn. Based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Cast: Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, and Taron Egerton.

A VERY FUN MOVIE, WITH MUCH INSPIRATION FROM TARANTINO.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

The third time’s always a charm. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is director Matthew Vaughn’s third comic book adaptation, following “Kick-Ass” (2010) and “X-Men: First Class” (2011). While those two were merely decent, “Kingsman” is a whole lot of fun.

Much of that is because of the fact that Vaughn has finally grounded his style, which feels heavily inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s body of work. The movie opens with homages to the killing of Frank Whaley’s character and Christopher Walken’s gold watch soliloquy from “Pulp Fiction”. Less than two minutes later, it’s out of the gates with the sort of sudden, fast-paced action sequences that Tarantino had fun with in his first volume of “Kill Bill”. And as is true of Tarantino, Vaughn’s action sequences benefit extraordinarily from his music choices. “Give It Up” by KC and the Sunshine Band during a hand-on-hand combat, for example, or even better, a riot that takes place inside a church that is matched with a cover of “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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Ex Machina

Movie Review #976

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South by Southwest Film Festival: March 14, 2015. Limited release: April 10, 2015. Wide release: April 24, 2015. Drama/Sci-Fi. Runs 108 minutes. This film is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence. A British production. Written and directed by Alex Garland. Cast: Domnhall Gleeson, Corey Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, and Symara A. Templeman.

A BRILLIANT CONTEMPLATION ON THE POWER OF TECHNOLOGY.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Ex Machina” is surreal, carefully narrated sci-fi. At its core, it is a brilliant fable that traces the fine line between man’s consumption of technology, and technology’s consumption of man himself. The film offers a view of the future–our future–that is so above the normal, it almost feels like a hallucination.

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R.I.P. Christopher Lee

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Earlier this morning, the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital issued a statement that Christopher Lee had died on June 7, 2015.  Lee had been admitted recently for respiratory problems and heart failure, and celebrated his 93rd birthday in the hospital just over two weeks ago.  Still, his death comes as a major surprise.  Lee, a heavy metal singer on top of his vast work in film, had just released an EP titled Metal Knight this past December.  His final film, Angels in Notting Hill, is due to be released sometime in 2015.

Shortly after serving the Finnish and British militaries from 1939 to 1946, Lee began acting in B-movies.  His career spanned nearly seven decades, over which he turned in more than 250 performances in television and film.  Lee is best remembered for his height (6’5″) and his demeanor, both which have distinguished him as one of the most legendary movie villains in movie history.  He became recognizable in the late 1950’s for his portrayal of Dracula in the film of the same name, and played the character ten more times between 1966 and 1976.  His roles in recent films include Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, and other roles in Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryHugoThe Golden Compass, and Dark Shadows.  Though his transition from B-movies to Hollywood is somewhat recent, Lee has nonetheless established himself as an integral part of mainstream cinema.  He is most certainly missed.

Picking a movie has never been this easy.

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