Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Inside Llewyn Davis

Movie Review #736

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Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen. Produced by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, and Scott Rudin for Mike Ross Productions (uncredited) and Scott Rudin Productions (uncredited), presented by CBS Films and StudioCanal, in association with ACE. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, John Goodman, and Garrett Hedlund. Cameo: F. Murray Abraham. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2013. Distributed by CBS Films in limited release on December 6, 2013; and in wide release on January 10, 2014. Also released in France on November 6, 2013; and in the UK on January 24, 2014. Rated R: language including some sexual references. Runs 104 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

When “Inside Llewyn Davis” ended, I was willing to forgive it. Now I was bored to hell, back, and there again by the movie, but I thought, maybe, it was so dull because this was my first time watching an in-flight movie. I was willing to forgive it on the basis that this was exactly why movies should never be shown on screen the size of index cards. But a few hours later, I turned on “The Wolf of Wall Street” on the in-flight entertainment system. Just as when I saw it in the theater, an hour of the three-hour movie flew by like ten minutes. It almost angered me to contrast this scenario with my earlier encounter with “Inside Llewyn Davis”: a hundred-minute movie that slothed out as if it were twice that length.

Joel and Ethan Coen–the brothers who, as with any film in their oeuvre, wrote, produced, edited, and directed–have no problem with repeating history. “No Country for Old Men” was certainly reminiscent of “Blood Simple.”, even “Fargo”. Arguably, that’s their magnum opus. Why they suddenly fear to retrace their best steps is beyond me. “Inside Llewyn Davis” could have been set up much like “The Big Lebowski”, albeit with a completely different character in the center, and played out similarly as a series of misadventures. Instead, the misadventures are all shoved in the first ten minute. In the opening scenes alone, we learn that Llewyn Davis is struggling to find work in the music business, sheltering a neighbor’s cat that tends to run away, helping a woman who hates him to get abortion before her boyfriend discovers she’s pregnant, dealing with the fact that she might be pregnant might be his child, and oh god what else is there. “The Big Lebowski”, 15 years before the fact, succeeded from giving a quick, fleeting focus to each of the Dude’s concerns, as if to brush them all off. Whereas in “Inside Llewyn Davis”, each bit is dragged out over the course of the film as if every single thing that happens is terribly important. That tightly wound writing makes the movie endless.

The one thing the script does have to offer is common among all Coen films. It’s the humor that keeps our attention for at least the first thirty to forty-five minutes. (No, it doesn’t last.) Fortunately, the aesthetic rest of the film is beautiful. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. This is a somewhat uncommon but clearly applaud able case in which it’s not the angles that the camera delivers that matter. It’s the lighting, and to be clear, every ray, beam, stream, and flood of light captivates the moment, be it in an apartment, an office, or on the stage. On the stage are the musicians Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake, who are both spectacular in their recording of the soundtrack (which, like the biopic-ish movie, is a convincing cover of music out of the Greenwich folk scene). I’ll mention specifically Isaac, though, for his performance as the leading wanderer, which is pretty remarkable. That’s something you’ve probably heard before, maybe witnessed. I find that witnessing once, however, was enough. While Isaac stands out as remarkable in the movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis” seems, ultimately, like not much more than a forced escapade about a guy, his cat, his guitar, and his woman.

Pain & Gain

Movie Review #734

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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.

PAIN & GAIN IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

Noah

Movie Review #733

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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.

NOAH IS IN THEATERS.

Black Swan

Movie Review #731

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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.

BLACK SWAN IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

The Spectacular Now

Movie Review #730

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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.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

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.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

Veronica Mars

Movie Review #729

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Directed by Rob Thomas. Screenplay by Rob Thomas & Diane Ruggiero. (Story: Rob Thomas. Characters: Rob Thomas.) Produced by Dan Etheridge, Danielle Stokdyk, and Rob Thomas, for Spondoolie Productions and Rob Thomas Productions, presented by Warner Bros. Digital. Starring Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Krysten Ritter, Enrico Colantoni, Andrea Estella, Ken Marino, Francis Capra, Ryan Hansen, Daran Norris, Max Greenfield, Jerry O’Connell, Duane Daniels, Amanda Noret, Christine Lakin, and Lisa Thornhill. Credited cameo: Jamie Lee Curtis. Uncredited cameo: James Franco. Premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival on March 8, 2014. Special screenings in Mexico City, Stockholm, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney on March 13 and 14, 2014. Distributed by Warner Bros. and Warner Bros. Digital Distribution in wide release on March 14, 2014. Rated PG-13: sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language. Runs 107 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two and a half stars

Veronica Mars lives in the fictional town of Neptune, California.  She claims it’s not just a place where movie stars go and hang out, but then again, her colleagues exchange stories about Brad Pitt, and she can contact James Franco pretty easily.  Anyway, she’s retired from her life as a sleuth for a whole nine years.  This matches the seven years that separate the third season of the neo-noir TV series Veronica Mars from the film adaptation/followup of the same name.

All I really know of the story is what Kristen Bell and company presented in this year’s version.  I know that the three seasons of TV’s Veronica Mars (2004-2007) featured the titular heroine as a teenage sleuth, and I know that Veronica’s father became a private investigator after he lost his job as the sheriff in the beginning of the series.  I also know that Veronica herself is a private eye, and that she began by helping out her father on his private investigations.  But I don’t really “get it.”  I don’t understand half of the back story in the movie, because the script chooses to give brief, shallow explanations of what happened throughout the course of the TV series. “Veronica Mars” is for fans of the character, and maybe only those fans. Those who hold little familiarity with the series will find the setup rather confusing.

Though the characters are rather interesting, and interesting enough to make me curious about the original series. The story, as well, possesses quite some intrigue. This is a neo-noir, but it’s an unusual one with a genuinely quirky screenplay. The search for the man or woman who murdered a certain celebrity (who Veronica knows from high school) is told with style and charisma from director Rob Thomas, who also co-writes, produces, and created the TV series. Editing and cinematography are worth their mention, too; they’re just about top-notch.

If only that story was told more pointedly, this would be a much more gripping movie. “Veronica Mars” suffers from movie ADHD, and eventually, it’s created enough subplots that it’s not longer a movie; it’s just a reincarnated season of the TV show, minimized to two hours. I’m getting the sense that the TV series was a cult phenomenon in its time, and that this movie version is the final execution of a plan held since its cancellation: to bring back Veronica’s character. Apparently that was basically all they wanted in this movie. Even with great performances from Kristen Bell and Krysten Ritter, plus everything else I’ve commended the film for, the newfangled, 2014 “Veronica Mars” feels like less than enough.

VERONICA MARS IS IN THEATERS. IT IS ALSO AVAILABLE THROUGH VIDEO ON DEMAND SERVICES.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Movie Review #728

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Editor’s note: Technically, this is a TV movie I’m reviewing, which is against the rules I know. But since I had to submit the following movie review anyway to my history teacher (in whose class I watched the movie), I figured I may as well let the rest of you read it, as well. Plus, it got a limited release in a few European countries, so I guess it kind of qualifies…

Directed by Delbert Mann. Screenplay by Paul Monash. (Novel: Erich Maria Remarque.) Produced by Norman Rosemont for Norman Rosemont Productions, in association with Marble Arch Productions and ITC Entertainment Group. Starring Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgine, Donald Pleasence, Ian Holm, Dai Bradley, George Winter, Mark Drewry, Colin Mayes, Ewan Stewart, and Drahomira Fialkova. Distributed by CBS in the USA on November 14, 1979. Not Rated. Runs 150 minutes. Alternate versions run 123 minutes and 131 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

The 1930 adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s revered novel All Quiet on the Western Front has long been considered a classic in its own right. It’s been considered one of the sound era’s earliest and sturdiest paragons of a motion picture. Many, for sure, would go as far as to call the film one of the founding fathers of the war genre, and to top all of that off, it won the third-ever Academy Award for Best Picture. The film had many films to stand above in its time, as filmmakers and moviegoers were still in love with World War One movies for a whole two decades after the Great War had ended. 1930′s rendition of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, therefore, follows a cinematic trend, but it is considered the absolute and unarguable best of this trend.

But this isn’t the version of the story that I’m reviewing. I am reviewing the 1979 remake, the second adaptation of Remarque’s novel, and a complete schlock. It is crucial that one remembers not to confuse the adaptations. I have yet to see the original rendition of the story, or to read the novel, but I can only imagine that, had he been alive to watch it, Remarque would have gouged his eyes out.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” was released three months after “Apocalypse Now”, which to this day remains a far better war movie. Much unlike that classic, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is as cheesy as a grilled cheese sandwich. Speaking of grilled cheese sandwiches, I’m dying to have one, and I’d rather discuss grilled cheese sandwiches than discuss this dragging, uneventful snoozer. I mean, don’t we all love a grilled cheese sandwich now and then? It’s a mighty fine culinary joy.

But I digress. There’s no calling “All Quiet on the Western Front” a mighty fine cinematic joy (and in fact, it’s utterly joyless), but it is indeed possible to look at the film as a work of art. Should one look at it for its magnificent ability to produce poor-quality acting, then it’s a wonder to behold, because even the best of the best appear here. Donald Pleasence, a year before the fact, delivered a stellar performance as the detective in “Halloween”. Now he’s the target of our laughter. And Ernest Borgnine established his career with endlessly acclaimed war movies (“From Here to Eternity”, “The Dirty Dozen”). He always seems to play the one guy we listen to and connect with. Not that he’s at his absolute worst here, but watching him as a mentoring figure to the protagonist in “All Quiet on the Western Front”, it’s quite difficult to take him seriously.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is ambitious in its story, but that’s given a cliché screenplay and a director with absolutely no vision of the project. Come on now, these hospital scenes got so rowdy, they reminded me of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”! Could the Delbert Mann listed as the film’s director even possibly be the same Delbert Mann who earned an Oscar for his directorial debut, 1955′s “Marty”? Anything that should be emotionally effective often comes off as laughable. The movie does have its moments, the strongest of which depicts euthanizing a horse. Scenes like these let us see the horrors of war through the characters’ reactions. But for the most part, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a hopeless movie. It’s clearly positioned as an anti-war movie, and “war is hell” does come through here and there. More often than that, though, it’s “war is boring as hell.”

Attention!

Cinemaniac Reviews will have a new posting schedule, effective immediately. Until further notice, there will be only three reviews every week: a Monday review, a Thursday review, and a Saturday review.

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT IS AVAILABLE ON DVD AND VHS.

The Wizard of Oz

Movie Review #727

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Directed by Victor Fleming. Uncredited directors: George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor (director: Kansas scenes). Screenplay by Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. (Adaptation: Noel Langley. From the book by L. Frank Baum.) Uncredited writers: Arthur Freed, William H. Cannon, E.Y. Harburg. Uncredited contributing writers: Irving Brecher, Herbert Fields, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash, Robert Pirosh, George Seaton, Sid Silvers. Uncredited additional dialogue: Jack Haley, Bert Lahr. Produced by Mervyn LeRoy, presented by MGM, produced by Loew’s Incorporated. Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe, Clara Blandick, Toto, and the Singer Midgets (also credited as The Munchkins). Premiered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939. Distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer in wide release on August 25, 1939. Re-releases: April, 1949 (limited); June, 1949; June 17, 1955; November 6, 1998 (re-mastered version); September 20, 2013 (limited, 3-D version). Rated PG: some scary moments. Runs 102 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

I’ve been reading a lot on the history of film, and as you might guess, “The Wizard of Oz” is a staple to this subject. This wasn’t the first movie musical (in fact, movie musicals were a huge trend all throughout the 1930′s), but it was the first movie that dared to go into a completely new realm of special effects, and it came around when children’s movies were only in bloom. So it’s not surprising that the production was difficult. What’s surprising is how difficult everything turned out to be. Looking at a small portion of it, there were five directors. One is credited, and that’s Victor Fleming, but George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor also helmed the project. Remarkably, the film coheses of L. Frank Baum’s timeless story. In fact, an extra flow of beauty swarms in when transitioning from Vidor’s Kansas scenes, into the fantastical Munchkinland.

Although the movie was universally spat upon in its initial release, “Oz” has become one of the most belovèd films by all ages. If you haven’t seen it by now, my review will not be the one to convince you. Can you claim to have a childhood? An adulthood? I’m not saying the movie’s the greatest movie ever made, but it’s certainly a must. It’s a matter of momentary mistakes that keeps me from hailing the movie as perfect. What makes it a classic is the fact that, 75 years after its release, it’s still one of the twenty, if not the ten most cinematically, historically, and culturally important movies there ever was.

And importance doesn’t always imply entertainment for a film as old as seventy-five years, but that is undisputedly the case here. The screenplay, written by almost twenty individuals, can be most accurately assessed as wonderful. Among its most enthusiastic deliverers stand Judy Garland as Dorothy, Terry as Toto, Frank Morgan as the titular fellow, and most especially Margaret Hamilton as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. As for the friends Garland meets on her way to see the Wizard of Oz, they’re debatably the three most crucial features to her journey, the story a westernized individual knows as well as his or her own date of birth. They’re the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, portrayed respectively by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr. I’ll note the first two for their enthusiasm, but as far as Lahr, the enthusiasm goes disturbingly over the top. Over time, though, some things just manage to lose what initially made them great, and that might explain why Lahr’s performance seems so awful nowadays. It’s a wonder the entire rest of “Oz” stayed intact over seven and a half decades.

Tomorrow’s Review

All Quiet on the Western Front

THE WIZARD OF OZ IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.

Need for Speed

Movie Review #726

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Directed by Scott Waugh. Screenplay by George Gatins. (Story: George Gatins & John Gatins.) Produced by John Gatins, Patrick O’Brien, and Mark Sourian for Electronic Arts and Bandito Brothers, presented by DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment. Starring Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, and Imogen Poots. Uncredited cameo: Mary Ellen Itson. Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Touchstone Pictures in wide release on March 14, 2014. Rated PG-13: sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language. Runs 130 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews one star

Apparently Aaron Paul isn’t quite done breaking bad. He’s done with the hit AMC series, and now he’s broken bad as the starring actor in “Need for Speed”. What I mean by this is “Need for Speed” is bad. It’s downright and outrageously bad. It’s awful. Terrible. Insultingly, childishly written, and I bet you all a million–no, make that a billion dollars that a nine-year-old wrote the screenplay. Even if you discount the eye-roller scenes where a co-racer strips nude in his office building just to ensure he’s lost his job for good, or when Paul and his girlfriend-to-be are pretty much fighting to the death over whose eyes are bluer, the movie is juvenile, formulaic, and excruciating to watch.

“Need for Speed” is one of those movies that has two purposes: to show off those cars and to show off them women. It’s rather jaw-dropping that it actually fails in both these aspects. I mean, come on, failing under that sort of ambition is akin to a couch potato aiming to take a walk halfway down the street and back, and consequentially not being able to get off the couch. The “Are you kidding me?” reaction is pretty much the same here. The cars, first and foremost, are CGI. C. G. I. Computer generated imagery. Yeah, um, okay…see, I kind of thought I was going to the movies and watch some street racing, you know, as in actual, realistic-looking motor vehicles, in competition to see which one can go fastest. It’s even worse that when these guys are going 234 mph, it hardly looks like 117. When they’re going 53, it looks suspiciously like 106. And all this is muddled by dizzying camerawork, which is so bad that I almost doubt it was meant to excite.

Then there’s the women. Or, woman. There’s only one woman in the whole movie that had a speaking role, anyway, which is entirely sexist. She’s the leading woman, thank god, but she can’t act at all. Clearly, though, it’s more about beauty than talent for director Scott Waugh. Which makes me wonder, why didn’t he just cast a model?

Speaking of the dying female race that exists in the movie, how is it that this woman has absolutely no idea what the hell Paul could mean by “900 horsepower,” but she can identify the engine in automobile jargon that I completely fail to understand? That’s pretty sad character development, but you know, there isn’t a single character in “Need for Speed” who is remotely compelling. Therefore it’s a pretty boring more-than-two hours, and dear mother of god, do I feel sorry for Aaron Paul, who gives the one half-decent performance in sight.

I’d say that only the feat of a genius could explain why I didn’t totally tune this movie out, but then again, writer George Gatins and Scott Waugh are not geniuses. As their abominable execution of “Need for Speed” has made clear, they’re idiots. (And I intend no offense unto them.) The best of what this schlock offers is questions for the viewer to answer, and I do have several questions about the movie. First of all, how can a movie with such awesome sound mixing be awful, to the point at which we don’t really care how good the sound mixing is? Why does this screenwriter feel the need…the need for stupid, stupid, stupid claps of dialogue (i.e. “I’m here to make peace…and money”)? Why do they think they can remake “Bullitt” and take a video game as source material? Have they even seen “Bullitt”, let alone heard of it? I mean, they are making a car movie. The least they could do is watch a great movie with the greatest car chase ever produced. And who performed those covers of “Back in the Saddle” and “All Along the Watchtower”? ‘Cause whoever they are, they suck. Do we really need product placement in a movie this loathsome? Does a bear [BLEEP] in the woods? Why do movies insist on wasting valuable 3-D technology on showing us trash bags flying way the hell up in the air toward the camera, rather than giving us some impressive shots of, I don’t know, that Ford Mustang? Why was this aspect so obvious when I watched “Need for Speed” in 2-D?

And why did I watch it in 2-D? Why did I put myself through “Need for Speed” at all? The movie has very little to offer in terms of, well, a movie. It’s a video game, except the controller, much alike our interest, is disconnected.

Tomorrow’s Review

TBD

NEED FOR SPEED IS IN THEATERS.

The Bodyguard

Movie Review #725

bodyguard

Directed by Mick Jackson. Written by Lawrence Kasdan. Produced by Kevin Costner, Lawrence Kasdan, and Jim Wilson for Kasdan Pictures, Tig Productions, and Warner Bros. Starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. Cameo: Debbie Reynolds. Distributed by Warner Bros. in wide release on November 25, 1992. Rated R: language. Runs 129 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two and a half stars

“I Will Always Love You” is at the heart of this movie. It’s first performed by John Doe (the stage name of John Duchac), while Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston are seen discussing it. Whitney’s character refers to it as a “cowboy song” and points out the melancholia in the lyrics. Something written for her character to be an interesting analysis, but I can’t quite call it an agreeable one. As you might guess, the song is also performed at the very close of the film, by Whitney herself. And that finale feels so unforgettably powerful, but only for one reason. It’s not really the scene itself that has any power. It’s just that song. Whitney’s earth-shattering voice makes a better movie out of “The Bodyguard”, and while it’s all a pretty likable flick, it’s hard not to feel that a song sung with such passion and conviction, not to mention a cover version that vastly exceeds the original artist’s recording, deserved a more poignant movie.

“The Bodyguard” had so much room for potential, but in all, it really isn’t a bad movie. It’s utter trash, which is why it’s so much fun to watch. And again, it’s nothing special at all without Whitney’s music. A good rule of thumb is, if you don’t really like the soundtrack (because there isn’t a human being that creepeth upon the land who hath not heard it yet), then don’t watch the movie. Your enjoyment of R&B music is pretty much what weighs the film as trash or treasure. The story plays out like a two-hour special edition episode of a television crime procedural. We learn that the victim is Rachel Marron (Whitney) and her bodyguard is Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner). Marron famous, to put it in simplest terms. Farmer is apparently great at the job, since he worked as a Secret Service agent for a number of years, though he made his sudden retirement and went to live in the mountains after Reagan was shot. Farmer wasn’t there, he was just afraid his reputation would be ruined. Anyway, Marron isn’t told as immediately as she wishes, but she’s being stalked by one of her fans. So “The Bodyguard” is mostly about that. It’s also about Marron’s inability to to adequately respect the bodyguard without having sex with him. It makes for a really entertaining but eventually really cheesy story, especially when you know from the moment they look at each other that they’re going to fall in love.

The execution of the premise is with limited fuel. By the subplot, when Frank and Rachel travel to the mountains, I began to lose interest in the film. Fortunately it picks up by the end, but this is pretty surprising considering how much fun I was having at any moment prior. The character development is rather amusing. Frank does so much to protect Rachel, and yet he’s so assertive and defensive of himself, insisting he only do what’s in his job description. Just help the poor woman out, will ya? Or don’t, and deliver a completely hilarious line like, “I’m here to keep you alive, not help you shop.” The script fails even when trying to deliver the “movie within a movie” technique. Of all movies, Whitney and Costner go and see “Seven Samurai” on their first date. Yes, the 1950′s, black-and-white, Japanese samurai epic that exceeds three hours. I mean, I liked the movie, and apparently so did Whitney’s character, but to think that that was Costner’s character’s sixty-second time seeing the movie!? No offense to Akira Kurosawa, but I’d be sick of the film before I’d seen it seven times!

Kevin Costner might be the only one who suffers from the screenplay. His performance is just so good! Then again, the way he takes his role so seriously makes every “whoops” in Lawrence Kasdan’s (“The Empire Strikes Back”, “Return of the Jedi”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) script stand out even more. Whitney’s character just downright confuses me, and it has nothing to do with her delivery, aside from the fact that she just isn’t convincing in the role of an Oscar winner. But where the logic is most lacking in her character is that I can’t imagine any celebrity has such vast amounts of time on his or her hands, especially if they’re singing on tour. “The Bodyguard” is one of the paramount definitions of the word “cheesy.” Think of the Tejano pop star Selena having James Bond protecting her every second of the day. That’s a pretty accurate image of what you’d find in this flick.

Tomorrow’s Review

Need for Speed

THE BODYGUARD IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.




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