We Are the Best!

Movie Review #950

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Limited release on May 30, 2014. Internet release on June 20, 2014. Drama/Music. This film is not rated. Runs 102 minutes. A Swedish-Danish co-production. Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson. Comic book by Coco Moodysson. Cast: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, and Liv Lemoyne.

JA, DU ÄR BÄST!

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“We Are the Best!” (known as “Vi Är Bäst!” in its native country of Sweden) centers on two 13-year-old girls who refuse to believe that punk music is dead. It’s 1982, and they still dress like Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten. Behind their parents’ backs, they form a band between the two of them to create their own punk music. They write their first (and only) song, called “Hate the Sport”, inspired by their disapproval of their phys-ed teacher. They don’t have the slightest clue how to play a musical instrument, so they bring in a third member from their school to teach them. Even with such little musical experience, it’s only a matter of months before they have their first gig to perform “Hate the Sport”.

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Citizenfour

Movie Review #949

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Limited release on October 24, 2014. Documentary. This film is rated R for language. Runs 114 minutes. A German-American co-production. Directed by Laura Poitras. Featuring Edward Snowden.

THOUGH HAMPERED A BIT BY CLICHÉ CAMERAWORK, “CITIZENFOUR” IS A MUST-SEE DOCUMENTARY.

★★★½
By Red Stewart

I’m under the impression that when the NSA leaks first happened, most Americans either had one of two immediate reactions:

1) They weren’t surprised.

2) They didn’t care.

The former no doubt stems from generations of people living through the Cold War Communist paranoia. The latter, however, appears to have grown out of this mindset many people have that “if I’m not doing anything wrong, I have nothing to worry about.”

What I love about “Citizenfour” is how it makes a very compelling case as to why this philosophy is dangerous and why we should take an active interest in the government’s Big Brother-esque programs. While marketed as a biographical look into Edward Snowden’s life, the film goes much deeper than that–transcending its documentary roots into a realistic political thriller that, like “Foxcatcher”, should’ve been distributed wider for everyone to see.

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Jersey Boys

Movie Review #948

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Nationwide release on June 20, 2014. Biography/Drama/Music. This film is rated R for language throughout. Runs 134 minutes. An American production. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay and musical book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice. Cast: Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young, Christopher Walken, Michael Lomenda, Renée Marino, Joseph Russo, Erich Bergen, Mike Doyle, Grace Kelley, Alexis Krause, Elizabeth Hunter, Troy Grant, and Freya Tingley.

MY EYES DID NOT ADORE THIS ONE.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Oh what a night. Late January, 2015, I sat down after a long, long day and figured, “Why not watch ‘Jersey Boys’?” I’d heard the mixed reception, and I was just trying to stay optimistic about the fact that this was Clint Eastwood directing a musical. “Jersey Boys” reaffirms that you can be optimistic about absolutely anything, though, and it doesn’t change the result. A more famous example of this useless optimism was once demonstrated by Germans who were sure they were going to win World War I.

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The Loft

Movie Review #947

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Nationwide release on January 30, 2015. Thriller. This film is rated R for sexual content, nudity, bloody violence, language and some drug use. Runs 108 minutes. A Belgian-American co-production. Directed by Erik Van Looy. Screenplay and story by Bart De Pauw. Screenplay by Wesley Strick. Cast: Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Isabel Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Rhona Mitra, Valerie Cruz, Kali Rocha, Elaine Cassidy, and Margarita Levieva.

THIS CALLS FOR A SIMPSONS QUOTE: “SMITHERS, TAKE MY HANDS AND CLAP THEM SARCASTICALLY.”


By Alexander Diminiano

To classify this idiocy as a movie is a major league insult to real movies with real directors who put real efforts into making their movie because they have real passion for their craft, which is not just filmmaking, but real filmmaking. And no, I’m not trying to pun tirelessly on the word “real” because “reel” is a cinematic term. If that was the point, then I’d write slogans for companies that claim to be the next Redbox. I don’t write slogans. I write movie reviews, and I’m hammering down that word “real” simply because “The Loft” isn’t.

Maybe if you’re someone who considers silk roses to be real because they’re real silk, then you’ll consider “The Loft” a real movie simply because you can watch it in a real movie theater. I feel bad for Open Road Films for being the one to raise its hand and offer to distribute “The Loft”. Just so everybody knows, I work at a Cinemark theater, not a Regal theater, and not an AMC theater. I don’t want anybody thinking I work at AMC or Regal, because AMC and Regal co-own Open Road Films, and are therefore in some way responsible for contaminating the public with “The Loft”. I have nothing to do with “The Loft”, other than the fact that I saw it, and the fact that I almost fell asleep in the movie theater. Now I’ve never fallen asleep in a movie theater, but I came so close watching “The Loft”. My eyelids closed for about thirty seconds, and then all of a sudden my head naturally jolted forward and I was awake for the next two hours. It was like my brain was trying to tell me that I needed to watch the rest of this movie, except I still don’t see any logic in doing that.

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The Imitation Game

Movie Review #946

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Limited release on November 28, 2014. Nationwide release on December 25, 2014. Biography/Drama/Thriller. This film is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking. Runs 114 minutes. A British-American co-production. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges. Screenplay by Graham Moore. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, and Matthew Beard.

WELL DONE TO ALL, MOST ESPECIALLY CUMBERBATCH.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Twitter is possibly the greatest thing a human has ever invented. I know, random point to start on, but bear with me. Twitter, anyhow, is amazing, but if we can prove that chimps are smarter than humans, then maybe it would have been safer to give chimps access to the social network than humans. Because humans can be really, really stupid. I really don’t get how the sociology of microblogging works: I have something around 3,000 followers, and there’s little chance that I’ll get any responses when I praise Daniel Day-Lewis, maybe one retweet. But I distinctly remember the time I called out Benedict Cumberbatch, in less than 140 characters, and denied his acting abilities–I even called him (cue gasp) overrated!–and I had to hear about how wrong I was from so many of my followers, plus a couple who probably hadn’t come across my Twitter handle until then.

I wouldn’t go back and “unsend” those tweets, because at that time, I hadn’t seen anything but overacting from Cumberbatch. But I don’t think I’d ever consider knocking him again–not after watching his performance as Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”.

“The Imitation Game” has all the tension of a WWII movie, and that’s largely because of the story’s intrigue and the script’s dialogue. The placement of various news stories from the time of war is authentic. In effect, these clips work as a montage, putting Turing’s battle–a race against the clock and a battle to prove that his solution to the Enigma machine is the most valid–into the perspective of military attacks, an equally tense aspect of WWII that we most immediately associate with it.

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Taken 3

Movie Review #944

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Premiered in Berlin on December 16, 2014. Nationwide release on January 9, 2015. Action/Thriller. This film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong language. Runs 109 minutes. A French production. Directed by Olivier Megaton. Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen. Characters by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen. Cast: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, and Dougray Scott.

THOUGH OLIVIER MEGATON’S DIRECTION REMAINS HIT-AND-MISS, THE INCREASED ACTION SPECTACLE AND BETTER STORY MAKE “TAKEN 3″ AN ENJOYABLE POPCORN FILM.

★★★
By Red Stewart

Critics are thrashing “Taken 3″ left and right, some saying it rips off “The Fugitive”, others that its action is sloppy and poorly directed. While these are valid points, I’m under the impression that the main reason behind all this negativity is franchise fatigue, or rather, Neeson fatigue. Let me clarify: the “Taken” series has only had three entries, but in the time between the first and third, Neeson has done 5-6 successful thrillers (depending on your definition) that have established him as a believable action star on equal footing with such heavy hitters as Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis.

Mainstream critics, many of whom were primarily exposed to Neeson through “Schindler’s List”, have given a mixed response to this transition, with some no doubt likening it to Nicolas Cage’s 21st century career choices. As a fellow reviewer, I personally feel this is wrong of them, as each movie in an actor’s filmography should be reviewed independent of their other cinematic decisions.

With that said, I actually liked “Taken 3″, though I certainly had a few big problems with it as well. The story is similar to “The Fugitive” in that it follows protagonist Bryan Mills getting framed for the murder of a close one, but to call it a copy is akin to calling “Avatar” a ripoff of “Dances With Wolves”- similar plot structures do not justify plagiarism charges. To put it bluntly, “The Fugitive” is much more story-driven while “Taken 3″ is action-driven, though I will say that this is Besson’s best script since “Léon: the Professional”.

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Big Eyes

Movie Review #944

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Premiered at Film Independent at LACMA on November 13, 2014. Nationwide release on December 25, 2014. Biography/Drama. This film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. Runs 106 minutes. An American-Canadian co-production. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski. Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, and Danny Huston.

NOT BAD, BUT THERE’S NOT MUCH HERE THAT SAYS THIS IS TIM BURTON’S MOVIE.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

“The ’50s were a great time, if you were a man.”
– narrator’s opening line in “Big Eyes”

“Big Eyes” chronicles the life of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), known for her surreal paintings of waifs with caricatured eyes. At least that’s what she’s known for nowadays. The ’50s and ’60s should have been her heyday, but instead, it was her second husband’s. Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) won Margaret’s heart by making himself out to be an adventurous man, married her so that she didn’t have to give custody of her daughter to her first husband (at least that’s how the film tells it), and then grew an empire for her paintings. Well, his paintings, except she drew them. Here’s what I’m getting at. This guy was a lying son of a bitch who sold his wife’s paintings like hotcakes, and sure he split the earnings with her, but he made sure no one–not even their own daughter–knew that he wasn’t the one who painted them. The fact that Margaret would simply sign the paintings “Keane” left him all that room to lie.

I understand that Tim Burton is a Keane collector, but if he wanted to make a movie about Keane and her life, he should have rewritten the script so that it appealed to his own filmmaking style. Only on two occasions did the film strike me as something Burton would direct. One was a scene in which Margaret goes to the market. She looks around and every face she sees is marked by the same sort of gigantic, round eyes that she loves to paint. I sat frozen watching this scene because it was so damn creepy, but it’s also Burton making real into surreal when we least expect it. If I wasn’t frozen, I might have clapped.

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Whiplash

Movie Review #943

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Premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 16, 2014. Limited release on October 10, 2014. Drama/Music. This film is rated R for strong language including some sexual references. Runs 107 minutes. An American production. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, and Melissa Benoist.

I DEMAND AN ENCORE.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

The first scene in “Whiplash” is our first clue that we’re in for a terrific movie. We start on a black screen, and we hear a tap. Another tap. Another. Another. The tapping starts out at the musical rhythm of 60 beats per minute, then gradually, the speed begins to build. And build. And build, until we’re hearing 8 taps inside of every second then faster and faster and faster faster fasterfasterfasterfaster–

Bang. A silent bang, if there ever was one. At that same moment, the black screen becomes the perspective of nineteen-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller) from down a narrow hallway. He’s sitting at the drum kit. He was the prodigy playing what we just heard. And now he adjust his seat and starts to play again. We draw closer to him, and closer, and closer…

I’m not trying to review a movie as if I were writing a poem; rather, I am attempting to illustrate how director Damien Chazelle turns a simplistic intro into an evocative poem. Chazelle has a superb mind for sight and sound, and he works them together as one entity in “Whiplash”. He uses those two elements to complement the film’s dialogue, its narrative, its characters, and practically every other part of his screenplay.

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Movie Review #942

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Limited release on October 17, 2014. Nationwide release on November 14, 2014. Comedy/Drama. This film is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence. Runs 119 minutes. An American-Canadian production. Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu & Nicolás Giacobone & Alexander Dinelaris Jr. & Armando Bo. Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Merritt Wever, Edward Norton, Amy Ryan, and Lindsay Duncan.

PROFOUND, HYSTERICAL, SURREAL SHOWBIZ SATIRE. IT BLEW ME AWAY.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

I can’t get over what an incredible this was. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is incredible in ways you’ve never seen. It’s Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s first comedy, and at that, it’s a profound, hysterical, surreal showbiz satire.

Michael Keaton has never done better than he does in “Birdman”. He delivers stupendously in the role of a split-personality character, resembling a celebrity’s internal struggle to choose his own path in the entertainment business, when haunted by a pressuring, suppressed desire for fame. The psychological drama here is dark and brilliant, largely due to Keaton’s performance. He plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who became famous quite some time ago when he starred in a trilogy about a superhero named Birdman. His fans want a fourth film, but he’s been refusing for the last twenty years. In fact, he’s now turned to a career as an actor and director for the stage. Except he’s not thinking along the lines of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. He’s actually adapting a melodrama based on the short story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by Raymond Carver. (We are told that Riggan chose to become an actor because of a note Carver once wrote to him on a cocktail napkin.)

It’s not the pressure from fans, though, that drives Riggan crazy. It’s the voice of Birdman, a figment of his imagination who appears to Riggan constantly, tempting him to believe that he belongs in the action movies that made him famous, not a stage drama that nobody will give a damn about.

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American Sniper

Movie Review #941

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Limited release on December 25, 2014. Nationwide release on January 16, 2015. Action/Biography/Drama. This film is rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references. Runs 132 minutes. An American production. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Jason Hall. Based on a book by Chris Kyle and Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Kyle Gallner, Ben Reed, Keir O’Donnell, Kevin Lacz, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Sammy Sheik, Mido Hamada, Sam Jaeger, and Chance Kelly.

IT HITS THE TARGET, JUST NOT THE BULL’S EYE.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Clint Eastwood is a good director, but also an overrated one. Sure, there’s many films he’s made behind the camera that I thoroughly enjoyed–however, a good director gives us something for us to enjoy, whereas a great director gives us something for us to marvel at. With the exception of “Letters from Iwo Jima”, I’ve reacted to every Eastwood-directed movie the same way. Entertained, but expecting just a bit more.

My reaction has remained unchanged as of “American Sniper”. This film really connects with the emotions with its audience. The true story it recounts proves unmistakably poignant and exciting through Jason Hall’s screenplay. But how much of the screenplay was cut from the final product, I wonder? My immediate reaction once the credits started rolling was a disbelieving “That’s all?”

It’s important to note that the title is “American Sniper”. The keyword is not “sniper,” and if it were, we wouldn’t have such an emotionally built movie. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) may be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, with 160 reported kills, and likely many more. But he doesn’t relish this statistic at all. In fact, what makes Kyle a respectable hero in “American Sniper” is that he dedicates himself to his country. This is a true patriot, a man who would never lay a finger on another human being if it weren’t to protect the United States of America. What’s saddest about this is watching Kyle come home from each tour of duty. He serves in four of them over in Iraq, and he never manages to return to his family as the same man he was before the war. Bradley Cooper performs convincingly as the man afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder–the man who can never come home from war except physically.

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