Palo Alto

Movie Review #936

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Internet and limited releases on May 9, 2014. Drama. This film is rated R for strong sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and pervasive language – all involving teens. Runs 100 minutes. An American production. Directed by Gia Coppola. Screenplay by Gia Coppola. Based on short stories by James Franco. Cast: Jack Kilmer, Emma Roberts, James Franco, Zoe Levin, Chris Messina, Margaret Qualley, and Keegan Allen.

“PALO ALTO” IS A REVELATION IN INDEPENDENT FILMMAKING. A BRILLIANT COMING-OF-AGE FILM, RECOMMENDED FOR THE 15-30 DEMOGRAPHIC.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

“Palo Alto” is a promising debut for writer-director Gia Coppola. It’s a wise, dark cautionary tale for the modern teenager, concerning a cast of adolescents who go to high school together in Palo Alto, CA. But in what we might perceive as conformist behavior (i.e. drugs, alcohol, sex, partying, slacking), they ironically isolate themselves from the community that they know so well.

Despite our own predilections, “Palo Alto” doesn’t affirm or refute that their behavior identifies them as “conformists.” But whatever the answer might be, the film does not criticize. It exposes–but does not exploit–these high schoolers’ poor decisions, but it also employs vagueness as an art. The one thing we never know about any of these teens is what motivates them to make such irrational decisions.

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Blue Ruin

Movie Review #935

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Limited release on April 15, 2014. Crime/Drama/Thriller. This film is rated R for strong bloody violence, and language. Runs 90 minutes. An American-French co-production. Directed by Jeremy Saulnier. Writer: Jeremy Saulnier. Cast: Macon Blair.

LET’S STAY POSITIVE. IT COULD BE WORSE.


By Alexander Diminiano

“Blue Ruin”! What a title, right? I can’t think of a single title that fits this movie any better. For one, this is a sad movie. I’m not saying it intends to be that way, but at the end of the day, the subject matter in this movie really puts you in a gloomy mood. So there’s the “blue” part. Then there’s the “ruin” part, which is just that this film is a piece of shit as a result of Jeremy Saulnier’s ruining it.

I refuse to play lightly with this film. I refuse to cut slack for a rookie filmmaker because it’s their “first time.” When I wrote a movie review for the first time, I thought it was excellent, but that was more than three years ago; looking back, that first time sucked. It was a learning experience.

I’m not saying all first films–or all first-time endeavors–are learning experiences and not a shred more. Look at what Martin Scorsese did with “Who’s that Knocking at My Door”, or what Quentin Tarantino did with “Reservoir Dogs”, or even what Wes Anderson did with “Bottle Rocket”–a rather poor film, especially when compared to his later works, but still a whole lot better than “Blue Ruin”. My point is, I’m a film critic, not a kindergarten teacher, and so I’m not going to sit here and clap for Jeremy Saulnier because he made a “good effort.”

It scares me to think that there are actually independent filmmakers who believe that the art of success lies entirely in a good effort. If I could round every one of them up–Saulnier most certainly included–in an embarrassingly large screening room and show them all Andy Warhol’s “Empire”, then perhaps they’d abandon their vapid philosophy. After sitting and staring at a silent, unmoving shot of the Empire State Building for 6 hours, let’s see who among them has the nerve to say the movie is a masterpiece because of all the effort Warhol had to make to convince the State of New York to let him film it.

I digress.

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The Trip to Italy

Movie Review #934

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Released in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on August 15, 2014. Comedy/Drama. This film is not rated. Runs 108 minutes. A British production. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Writer: Michael Winterbottom. Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon.

SO VERY AMUSING.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“The Trip to Italy” starts off with its two British stars, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, humbling the movie’s sequeldom. It’s lately become an overused joke in the movies, but Brydon and Coogan make it work nicely. They discuss how strange it is that four years after commissioning them to scavenge a score of restaurants across northern England, The Observer has now asked them to go on a second journey, except this time to Italy. (Though in their eyes, they’re following in the footsteps of great 19th century English poets, who would travel to Italy on a traditional Grand Tour.) They discuss how their second journey is kind of like a sequel, and how sequels tend to be worse than the original works. It’s true in many, many cases–just not here.

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Blue Hawaii

Movie Review #933

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Nationwide release on November 22, 1961. Comedy/Musical. This film is rated PG for mild sensuality. Runs 102 minutes. An American production. Directed by Norman Taurog. Story by Allan Weiss. Writer: Hal Kanter. Cast: Elvis Presley, Angela Lansbury, Howard McNear, and Pamela Kirk.

IF IT WERE ANY CORNIER, IT’D BE AN EXPLOITATION FILM.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“On you, wet is my favorite color!”
– Elvis as Chad in “Blue Hawaii”

Boy, does this movie crumble over 53 years of aging. I’d imagine that Elvis Presley’s fans loved seeing him in Hawaii for the first time (and in a Hollywood movie for the eighth) back in 1961. They didn’t even have to ask for good music. That comes naturally with Elvis, and even the dumbest songs in “Blue Hawaii” might just get you movin’. But those Elvis fans, they probably got so caught up in their excitement, they never even asked for a good movie.

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Super-Sized R-Rated Version

Movie Review #932

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Nationwide release on February 28, 2014. Comedy. This film is rated R for language, drug use, sexual material and references. Runs 143 minutes. American production. Directed by Adam McKay. Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay. Characters by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay. Cast: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Dylan Baker, Meagan Good, Judah Nelson, James Marsden, Greg Kinnear, Kristen Wiig, Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, and Harrison Ford.

IT’S GOOD, BUT NO MATCH FOR THE THEATRICAL CUT.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

As I’ve said many times, I don’t usually watch movies more than once. “Anchorman 2″ is a rare movie: after seeing it in theaters, I knew I’d want to see it again. It surprises me that it’s taken me so long–an entire year–to get around to watching it again.

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” didn’t need any more than its theatrical version, but there’s no harm in having the extended cut that is the “Super-Sized R-Rated Version”. If you saw the theatrical, PG-13 cut (and do, please), then it’s hard not to see this version as a letdown. The one-sheet boasts that this director’s cut, if you will, features a grand total of 763 new jokes. (Part of me wonders if that number was pulled out of a hat, or if somebody actually took the time to count. My estimate would be somewhere between 150 and 200, which is still quite a lot, regardless.)

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October Sky

Movie Review #931

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Nationwide release on February 19, 1999. Biography/Drama/Family. This film is rated PG for language, brief teen sensuality and alcohol use, and for some thematic elements. Runs 108 minutes. American production. Directed by Joe Johnston. Based on the book “Rocket Boys” by Homer H. Hickam Jr. Screenplay by Lewis Colick. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen, William Lee Scott, Chad Lindberg.

A SOLID DISNEY MOVIE, SAVE FOR THE FACT THAT UNIVERSAL PICTURES RELEASED IT.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

You ever read a biography where the author loves the subject just a bit much? Maybe not; maybe you’ve seen a movie like that, though, and perhaps that movie is “October Sky”. This isn’t so much a biography about Homer Hickam as it is a love letter to him. You can tell where it’s taking its creative license, because it tends to take it far. The movie ends on a note that’s so positive, it’s almost asking us not to believe it: Seriously, Hickam is seen receiving college scholarships galore and meeting Wernher von Braun–his idol, and one of the men considered the Father of Rocket Science–for the achievement he made in the field of rocket science in his small town. Now I’m a pretty gullible person, but I didn’t buy the ending as factual.

I most certainly do not wish to dismiss the fact that “October Sky” is a worthwhile movie. But there’s no denying that it comes with its flaws. Director Joe Johnston sugarcoats the movie like chruściki. It’s amazing to think that this is a Universal release when it’s got “Walt Disney Pictures proudly presents” written all over it. I wouldn’t quite call the movie fluffy, or cheesy, but it’s undeniably Disneyfied. I couldn’t help but wonder what was omitted and/or changed in Hickam’s story for the sake of wholesomeness, and why.

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If I Stay

Movie Review #930

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Premiered in New York City, New York on August 18, 2014 and in Los Angeles, California on August 20, 2014. Nationwide release on August 22, 2014. Drama/Music/Romance. This film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material. Runs 107 minutes. An American production. Director: R.J. Cutler. Screenplay: Shauna Cross. Novel: Gayle Forman. Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Liana Liberato, Stacy Keach, Gabrielle Rose, and Jakob Davies.

“IF I STAY” IN FRONT OF THIS MOVIE ANOTHER MINUTE, I MIGHT PUKE.


By Alexander Diminiano

Wanna know how uninteresting the protagonist in “If I Stay” is? Okay, so she plays the cello, she has a little brother who loves classic rock music, two parents who are obsessed with classic rock music, and a boyfriend who plays rock music in a band of his own. But the cello isn’t why she’s uninteresting. It’s that her life is so boring and typical for a Hollywood romance, and that unless she’s reading music and needs to play well, she doesn’t seem capable of using her brain at all. For those who are familiar with last year’s “What Maisie Knew”–a much better tearjerker that will actually make you, you know, CARE for its characters–it’s as if the observant five-year-old from that film grew up and became an idiot.

One fine day, school is cancelled because of the snow, and her parents are dumb enough to go out driving on back roads. Her parents are the kind of people who shouldn’t be parents, the kind of people who surprisingly don’t live in their own parents’ basements, regardless of the fact that they’re both forty-something. So they’re both probably hungover when they’re driving. Where was I?

Okay, yeah, so this protagonist gets in a car crash. Her brother and parents die. She’s in a coma, and apparently she has the power to choose whether she survives or not. She gets two different visions of herself from hereon. One is what her life would be like if she kept living it. Basically, she would argue with her boyfriend, have sex with her boyfriend, complain about her boyfriend, complain to her boyfriend’s face, go to her boyfriend’s concerts, and complain constantly to him about how she doesn’t want him to be so busy. So basically, if she lives, everything’s about her boyfriend, though she’s for some reason beginning to question whether she actually loves her boyfriend.

The other vision she sees is when she watches over her comatose body in the hospital. That consumes half the movie, as if the other half isn’t boring enough. And I don’t know why it takes her so long to decide to keep on living. It seems like such an obvious decision. I just wish she actually had the sense to realize this before wasting two hours of my time trying to decide whether she feels like living. If this character was actually decisive, I could have spared myself a terrible movie.

It’s extremely rare that I’ll choose to watch a movie dubbed, but it seems I’ve just made a bit of an exception. “If I Stay” is a very, very boring movie–so boring that I felt compelled to watch the last 30 minutes in French just to keep myself awake. Watching this movie is like counting sheep, except instead of sheep, you’re counting every little Hollywood cliché that you swear you’ve seen a million times before.

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Unbroken

Movie Review #929

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Premiered in Sydney on November 17, 2014. Nationwide release on December 25, 2014. Biography/Drama/Sport/War. This film is rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language. Runs 137 minutes. An American production. Director: Angelina Jolie. Screenplay: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen and Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson. Book: Laura Hillenbrand. Cast: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Takamasa Ishihara, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, John D’Leo, Alex Russell, Talia Mano, and Savannah Lamble.

“UNBROKEN” IS DECENT, BUT IT HAD THE POTENTIAL TO BE SO MUCH MORE.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

First thing’s first. “Unbroken” is an uplifting story. It’s channeled well from Laura Hillenbrand’s book of the same name to the screenplay by nothing short of a supergroup of modern Hollywood screenwriters: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson. But we’re not so quick to appreciate the screenplay, because Angelina Jolie’s directorial vision has butchered it. A screenplay can ideally be broken down into eight different sequences, and for Jolie, moving from one sequence to another apparently means changing genres. “Unbroken” is a sports movie, then it’s an adventure, then it’s a survival drama, and that’s all in its first half, before it finally settles down and becomes a war epic–the one thing we expected it to be in the first place.

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The Interview

Movie Review #928

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Premiered in Los Angeles, California on December 11, 2014. Internet release on December 24, 2014. Limited release on December 25, 2014. Action/Comedy. This film is rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence. Runs 112 minutes. An American production. Directors: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen. Screenplay: Dan Sterling. Story: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg & Dan Sterling. Cast: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, and Randall Park.

FORGET LIMITED RELEASE, AND FORGET SONY’S ORIGINAL IDEA OF CANCELLING IT. “THE INTERVIEW” SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN MADE, PERIOD.

½
By Alexander Diminiano

“The Interview” is a travesty. A hulking, uninspired, unfunny, uninformed, stupid, half-brained, dimwitted, shameful travesty.

And it has absolutely no right to be. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have spent several successful years in the world of modern comedy. They’ve done behind-the-camera work since 2007, as the writers of “Knocked Up”, but only very recently have they tried their hands at directing. Their first effort was “This Is the End”, which happens to be one of my favorite films of 2013. God only knows how they went from that to directing “The Interview”, a film that I have few doubts is worse than any other I’ve seen this year.

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