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

Virunga

Movie Review #959

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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.

IF DOCUMENTARIES WERE PHONE CALLS, “VIRUNGA” WOULD BE A TELEMARKETER, AND I WOULD NOT HESITATE TO HANG UP FOR A SECOND.

★★
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.

Continue reading Virunga

Basic Instinct

Movie Review #958

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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.

ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE NEO-NOIRS OF THE NINETIES.

★★★
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.

Continue reading Basic Instinct

Fahrenheit 9/11

Movie Review #957

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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.

INTERESTING? DEFINITELY. CONVINCING? NOT REALLY.

★★★
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.

Continue reading Fahrenheit 9/11

White Bird in a Blizzard

Movie Review #956

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Internet release on September 25, 2014. Limited release on October 24, 2014. Drama/Mystery/Thriller. This film is rated R for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use. Runs 91 minutes. A French-American co-production. Directed by Gregg Araki. Screenplay by Gregg Araki. Based on the novel by Laura Kasischke. Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, Ava Acres, Thomas Jane, Mark Indelicato, Dale Dickey, and Sheryl Lee.

MORE LIKE A SNOWBALL THAN A “BLIZZARD”. IT STARTS AT THE TOP, THEN IT JUST STARTS ROLLING DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, GATHERING MORE BOREDOM.

★½
By Alexander Diminiano

“White Bird in a Blizzard” starts out as an interesting movie. It hooks us with its purely avant-garde nature. The story here is told on two separate levels here. One is the story in its natural state; the other, a surreal recount. It transforms the movie into something deceptively simple.

As it turns out, this movie is simple, in more than just one sense of the word. As the story goes on, “White Bird” becomes hokier. Director Gregg Araki can’t seem to take the arthouse genre seriously, even if he’s worked with it for over a decade. The surreal side of the storytelling spectrum in “White Bird” simply does not exist without explanation, which I suppose takes away the idea of it being “surreal” to begin with. Every dreamlike moment in the film, Araki forces to represent a literal dream that the film’s female protagonist (Shailene Woodley) has during the night, or when this lazy teenager falls asleep during the middle of the day with nothing better to do. In case I haven’t put it bluntly enough, Araki screws up his movie by turning its most awesomely creative, mind-warpingly stylish moments into tired Hollywood clichés.

Continue reading White Bird in a Blizzard

Better Living through Chemistry

Movie Review #955

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Nationwide release on March 14, 2014. Comedy/Drama. This film is not rated. Runs 91 minutes. An American-British co-production. Written and directed by Geoff Moore & David Posamentier. Cast: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Jane Fonda, and Ray Liotta.

HOW ABOUT A BETTER MOVIE THROUGH CHEMISTRY, AS WELL?

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Better Living through Chemistry” is as original as the phrase itself. It originated as a slogan for DuPont in the 1930’s. The full slogan was actually, “Better things for better living…through chemistry.” But people caught onto the ease of marketing that phrase as their own, simply by modifying it to “better living through chemistry” because only the full slogan had been trademarked. Likewise, the movie of the same name is doing nothing new. Maybe I hadn’t watched the movie with this exact title or cast or crew before, but I swear I’ve seen it before in at least one (and probably a couple more than that) permutations. At the base of things, it’s just one drip in the nouvelle vague américaine of quirky indie comedy.

Continue reading Better Living through Chemistry

Oscar Night! – Final Oscar Predictions

Do I even need to preface this? I’m writing this post a few weeks in advance to save you some time. I tend to ramble a lot when I’m excited about something, and I can imagine it’s rather obnoxious. I don’t want to ruin the fun. It’s Oscar tonight–not as I’m writing this, but when you’re reading this, it will be–and it’s time for my final predictions. Last time, I predicted 21 out of the 24 Oscar categories accurately. (I only missed the Documentary Feature, Live Action Short Subject, and Animated Short Subject categories.) Here are my predictions for this year’s winners:

Best Picture

WILL WIN:
BIRDMAN
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BOYHOOD

Best Director

WILL WIN:
RICHARD LINKLATER (BOYHOOD)
POSSIBLE UPSET:
ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU (BIRDMAN)

Best Actor

WILL WIN:
EDDIE REDMAYNE (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING)
POSSIBLE UPSET:
MICHAEL KEATON (BIRDMAN)

Best Actress

WILL WIN:
JULIANNE MOORE (STILL ALICE)

Best Supporting Actor

WILL WIN:
J. K. SIMMONS (WHIPLASH)

Best Supporting Actress

WILL WIN:
PATRICIA ARQUETTE (BOYHOOD)

Best Original Screenplay

WILL WIN:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BIRDMAN

Best Adapted Screenplay

WILL WIN:
WHIPLASH
POSSIBLE UPSET:
THE IMITATION GAME

Best Animated Feature Film

WILL WIN:
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BIG HERO 6

Best Foreign Language Film

WILL WIN:
IDA
POSSIBLE UPSET:
LEVIATHAN

Best Documentary – Feature

WILL WIN:
CITIZENFOUR
POSSIBLE UPSET:
VIRUNGA

Best Documentary – Short Subject

WILL WIN:
CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1

Best Live Action Short Film

WILL WIN:
THE PHONE CALL

Best Animated Short Film

WILL WIN:
FEAST
POSSIBLE UPSET:
THE DAM KEEPER

Best Original Score

WILL WIN:
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
POSSIBLE UPSET:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Best Original Song

WILL WIN:
“GLORY” (SELMA)

Best Sound Editing

WILL WIN:
AMERICAN SNIPER
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BIRDMAN

Best Sound Mixing

WILL WIN:
AMERICAN SNIPER
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BIRDMAN
LONG SHOT:
WHIPLASH

Best Production Design

WILL WIN:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Best Cinematography

WILL WIN:
BIRDMAN

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

WILL WIN:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Best Costume Design

WILL WIN:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
POSSIBLE UPSET:
INTO THE WOODS

Best Film Editing

WILL WIN:
BOYHOOD

Best Visual Effects

WILL WIN:
INTERSTELLAR
POSSIBLE UPSET:
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

The 3rd Annual Cinemaniac Awards – WINNERS

As promised, I’ve picked out the winners by today–just in time for the Oscars to come along into the scene and override the tongue-in-cheek Cinemaniac Awards.  Of course, we all know that the Academy is wrong and I am right, but whatever, they’re always gonna be so much more prestigious than this über-small, comparatively recent blog of mine.

Anyway, here are the real winners, before the Academy tries and tell you otherwise:

Outstanding Feature

Boyhood

OUTSTANDING FEATURE

Best Screenplay

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

BEST SCREENPLAY

Outstanding Director

Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR

Best Ensemble

Boyhood (Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke)

BEST ENSEMBLE

Best Actor

Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)

BEST ACTOR

Best Actress

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

BEST ACTRESS

Best Supporting Actor

J. K. Simmons (Whiplash)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Best Cinematography

Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Best Score

Birdman (Antonio Sanchez)

BEST SCORE

Best Visual Effects

Interstellar

FILM - INTERSTELLAR

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Milena Canonero)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Best Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen)

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Best Film Editing

Boyhood (Sandra Adair)

BEST FILM EDITING

Note: I have nothing against the Oscars.  I kid in my first two paragraphs.  Just putting that out there in case anybody suspected I was anti-Oscar.  As a matter of fact, I’m so darn excited for the Oscars tomorrow, and you better be, too.

Bowling for Columbine

Movie Review #954

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Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 15, 2002. Limited release on October 11, 2002. Nationwide release on November 15, 2002. Limited re-release on February 14, 2003. Documentary. This film is rated R for some violent images and language. Runs 120 minutes. A Canadian-American co-production, with additional German involvement. Written and directed by Michael Moore. Featuring Michael Moore, Mike Bradley, Arthur Busch, Michael Caldwell, Richard Castaldo, Dick Clark, Mike Epstein, Denny Fennell, Prof. Barry Glassner, Dick Herlan, Charlton Heston, Jimmie Hughes, Amanda Lamante, Mary Lorenz, Marilyn Manson, Tom Mauser, Evan McCollum, James Nichols, Sheriff Robert Pickell, Nicole Schlief, Matt Stone, and Mark Taylor.

INTRIGUING AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

If there’s ever an instance where Michael Moore and I agree on any political matter, it’s probably because one of us has developed a severe psychological disorder. Among the many things we disagree on is gun control, which Moore investigates in “Bowling for Columbine”.

Remarkably, I was fascinated by this documentary. At the same time that he digs deep into a prominent political issue (one that retains every bit of relevance over a decade later), his film places far less value on opinion than on explanation of opinion. Which, particularly for something from an infamously dogmatic director, is incredible.

Continue reading Bowling for Columbine

Fifty Shades of Grey

Movie Review #953

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Premiered in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2015. Nationwide release on February 13, 2015. Drama/Romance. This film is rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language. Runs 125 minutes. An American-Canadian co-production. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Screenplay by Kelly Marcel. Based on the novel by E.L. James. Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden, Rita Ora, Max Martini, and Dylan Neal.

“FIFTY SHADES OF GREY” GIVES EVERY GUILTY PLEASURE ON THE HORIZON THIS YEAR A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

E L James’s recent resurrection of erotic literature is without a doubt a cult classic. Though it’s important to note that the Fifty Shades trilogy did not start as three separate novels. In fact, it started as fan fiction about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, posted regularly on a website devoted specifically to Twilight fanfics. Frighteningly, she was nearly 50 years old when she started doing this, but I suppose that’s beside the point. This was until the owners of the site asked James to remove her Twilight fanfic because it was too sexually explicit. At this point, James revised and expanded her story, which we now know as the Fifty Shades trilogy.

This back story effectively foreshadows the written quality of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the eponymously titled cinematic treatment of the first Fifty Shades book. So much of the dialogue seems as if it were written by someone whose talents just don’t reach beyond the grasps of fan fiction. For instance, there’s an entire scene where a supposed “business meeting” escalates into our two protagonists—Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan)—talking dirty to each other. Except that’s not exactly what it sounds like they’re doing. It sounds like they’re reciting steamy poetry written by a lustful college girl. Moments of strange dialogue seem to make “Fifty Shades” a lot more enjoyable than it deserves to be. There’s actually a number of one-liners to pull from the script, but I only dare mention them here.

Continue reading Fifty Shades of Grey

Time is money, and bad movies are never free.

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