Shaun the Sheep Movie

Movie Review #997

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Sundance Film Festival: January 24, 2015. Wide release: August 5, 2015. Animation/Adventure/Comedy. Runs 85 minutes. This film is rated PG for rude humor. UK, France. StudioCanal, Aardman & Lionsgate.

APPARENTLY, ANTHROPOMORPHIC BARN ANIMALS ARE A JOY FOR ANY AGE.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Hollywood seems to have established a trend of multilayering animated films. Most recently, movies like “Inside Out” and “Minions” function as an escapade for kids to enjoy, on one level, and then something more sophisticated, deeper, or wittier, on another level. It’s a very honorable trend, in terms of both creativity and marketing.

Perhaps the trend doesn’t exist in the United Kingdom. British animation studio Aardman Animations goes against that American grain. That’s been previously evident in their debut film “Chicken Run” and their Wallace and Gromit shorts, as well as their Shaun the Sheep shorts, on which “Shaun the Sheep Movie” is, of course, based. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the movie functions only as a fast-paced escapade, though. If deeper meaning is what you’re looking for in a medium about farm animals who act like humans, then go read Animal Farm. Okay so maybe “Shaun the Sheep Movie” could have been a tad better if there was some “sophisticated” humor now and then, but I found myself laughing at the movie quite a bit, nonetheless.

There a refreshing quality to a movie like this, where we laugh at what the animals are doing, not what they’re saying. While sometimes we’ll hear one of them bleet or bark, Shaun the Sheep and his barn friends appear to communicate amongst one another by means of nonverbal communication. They’re essentially mimes, which is a rare quality for most comedies, but it’s very much alive and kicking in “Shaun the Sheep Movie”. Watching their intentions get lost in translation can be very funny. At one point, a dog is locked out of a building where dogs aren’t allowed, so he straddles himself on a nearby bench bench in a casual, humanlike position, hoping the owner will notice him and realize that he is “human.” That moment feels like something right out of a Far Side cartoon.

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Minions

Movie Review #996

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Premiere: June 11, 2015, London. Wide release: July 10, 2015. Animation/Comedy/Family. Runs 91 minutes. This film is rated PG for action and rude humor. USA. Universal Pictures.

A FUN TIME. WHO SAYS WE ASKED FOR ANYTHING MORE?

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Hello, Papagena. Tu le bella comme le papaya.”
– Stuart the Minion to a fire hydrant

All those CaféPress t-shirts were absolutely right: what we really need are, in fact, Minions. In either “Despicable Me” movie, these cute creatures were by and large the most enjoyable moments. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t get enough of them, and I was pretty darn excited when I heard they’d be getting their own spinoff.

“Minions” progresses as freely as observational comedy. One moment, the Minions (all voiced by Pierre Coffin, the film’s director) are in their natural habitat of Antarctica in the 1960s. They were once a happy tribe, always serving an evil, villainous master (because, for those who haven’t seen the seminal movies, that’s what Minions do). However, they’ve ended up accidentally killing so many of their masters, and now they are left all on their own, with no one to bow down to. Soon enough, three Minions—Kevin, Stuart, and Bob—have ended up on a voyage to New York City, separating from their tribe by happy accident. They are now in a New York apartment when they discover Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock) on a secretive TV ad that appears when one of them starts playing with the rabbit-ear antennas on the TV. They travel to Villain-Con in search of her, and it’s only a matter of time before they’ve become her servants. Her evil plan is to steal the crown from the Queen of England, but she’s starting to wonder if the Minions are truly going to help her with that. Despite their best intentions, they seem so inept in what they do that they might end up stymieing her every effort.

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Vacation

Movie Review #995

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Wide release: July 29, 2015. Adventure/Comedy. Runs 99 minutes. This film is rated R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity. USA. Warner Bros.

IF YOUR IDEA OF VACATION IS LOCKING YOURSELF IN AN IRON MAIDEN, THEN PERHAPS THE TITLE FITS.

NO STARS
By Alexander Diminiano

I dare mention great literature in a review of terrible cinema, but there is, in fact, a moment in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that seems prevalent to this review. Referring to Gatsby’s wild and failing dream to reunite with Daisy once and for all, Nick tells him, “You can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby doesn’t understand. “Why, of course you can!” he replies.

Over the course of several decades, Gatsby became New Line Cinema, Daisy became the classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation” films, and Gatsby used his large amounts of money to finance the piece of shit that is almost laughably called “Vacation”. To be perfectly honest, the title is the one thing that even comes close to laughable here. Vacations are supposed to be fun and memorable, so it’s rather ironic that a movie called “Vacation” would be one that gives its audience the feeling of being locked in an iron maiden, and one that we beg to forget.

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Spy

Movie Review #994

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South by Southwest Film Festival: March 15, 2015. Premiere: Buenos Aires, June 1, 2015. Wide release: June 5, 2015. Action/Comedy/Crime. Runs 120 minutes. This film is rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity. USA. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

QUITE POSSIBLY THE FUNNIEST MOVIE OF THE SUMMER.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Starting off, you wouldn’t even guess that it’s even a comedy. Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law play two CIA agents who are also involved romantically. The intense seriousness that permeates the opening is enough to make Daniel Craig’s Bond movies look like Roger Moore’s. We have McCarthy at her desk, monitoring Law as he interrogates the enemy at gunpoint. The very person in front of him is the only person who may know the location of a certain briefcase that contains a nuke. Unfortunately, Law’s gun goes off when he sneezes, just moments before retrieving the necessary information.

This is Paul Feig’s creative hand at work. He hasn’t written a movie in twelve years, and in fact, “Spy” is his first comedy. It turns out that as good as he is at directing comedy, he’s even better when he’s writing it as well. Feig’s screenplay underscores the greatest kind of self-conscious humor. He sends up spy movies, but at the same time, he also crafts a substantial one of his own.

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Paper Towns

Movie Review #993

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Premiere: Bueno Aires, July 13, 2015. Wide release: July 24, 2015. Drama/Mystery/Romance. Runs 109 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 for some language, drinking, sexuality and partial nudity – all involving teens. USA. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

WHAT’S REALLY “PAPER” HERE IS THE PROTAGONIST.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber seem to have a knack for unconventional romantic dramedies. That’s become more obvious with every movie they’ve made, up to now. “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Spectacular Now” both benefitted from the candid, free-spirited nature of their writing. Ditto last year’s “The Fault in Our Stars”, the duo’s first adaptation of a novel by John Green. it sounded rather promising that the duo had signed on to write another Green adaptation, “Paper Towns”. But I guess the two of them realized that Green has a sizable fanbase who will accept anything that bears his name at face value.

We’ve seen the pattern before in book-based teen dramas. I bet many will recall 1983’s “The Outsiders”, but not its followup “Rumble Fish”. Likewise, I highly doubt “Paper Towns” will be very well remembered 30 years from now. It isn’t a very memorable movie. I often felt like I was watching a watered-down, YA version of last fall’s “Gone Girl”. The only real difference here is that it’s the protagonist’s neighbor that goes missing, not his wife. Clearly, the protagonist, whose name is Q, wants it the other way around, but the neighbor, whose name is Margo, just isn’t interested. After all, she hasn’t spoken to Q in about nine years.

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Mommy

Movie Review #992

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Cannes Film Festival: May 22, 2014. TIFF: September 9, 2014. London Film Festival: October 16, 2014. Philadelphia International Film Festival: October 17, 2014. AFI Fest: November 12, 2014. MoMA – The Contenders: December 1, 2014. Limited release: January 23, 2015. Drama. Runs 139 minutes. This film is rated R for language throughout, sexual references and some violence. Canada. Roadside Attractions.

AS ENGROSSING AS IT IS DISTURBING.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Mommy” is one difficult movie to watch—and that’s at the heart of what writer-director Xavier Dolan is trying to do here. He’s a rare breed: a filmmaker who can make a movie that is equally shocking, discomforting, and powerful. The guy is everything that Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier have been in their addictive yet repulsive cinematic journeys. What sets Dolan apart from those two is that he implements moments of calm and sweetness, as if to undermine the film’s harrowing, tense atmosphere. Better yet, these scenes feel so genuinely euphoric that they act as complements to the more brutal scenes in “Mommy”. It only becomes a more aggressive experience to endure.

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Happy 4th Anniversary to Cinemaniac Reviews!

Has it really been four years? I’m kind of amazed. Actually, I’m really amazed, and I’d like to thank you all for making these past four years possible.

As you may or may not have noticed, we’re coming up on Review #1,000, as well. Here’s to four more great years and 1,000 more great (or awful, depending on how you look at my prose) reviews.

Peace, y’all.

— The Cinemaniac

Inside Out

Movie Review #991

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Cannes Film Festival: May 18, 2015. Los Angeles Film Festival: June 9, 2015. Premiere: Buenos Aires, June 17, 2015. Wide release: June 19, 2015. Animation/Adventure/Comedy/Family. Runs 94 minutes. This film is rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action. USA. Disney & Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

PIXAR’S MAGNUM OPUS.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Should I scourge myself over the fact that my favorite movie of the summer (and of 2015, thus far) is an animated movie? Absolutely, positively not. If there’s any movie that stands to represent animation as a form of art, rather than a class of kids’ movies, it’s “Inside Out”. The movie is brilliant on so many levels, and it just might be Pixar’s greatest film. It just so happens, too, that it’s the only film of theirs that couldn’t possibly fit into the likeness of a live-action movie. And that’s just a good 5% of what makes this movie so magical.

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While We’re Young

Movie Review #990

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TIFF: September 6, 2014. New York Film Festival: September 28, 2014. Limited release: March 27, 2015. Wide release: April 17, 2015. Comedy/Drama. Runs 97 minutes. This film is rated R for language. USA. A24.

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Everything about “While We’re Young” seems to work out perfectly. I went in looking for something to pick at, and found nothing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s flawless, and enjoyably so. You have, first and foremost, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts starring as a pair. That may seem like a radical idea, until you see it come to life. Stiller and Watts are far better together as an onscreen couple than they’d ever deserve to be. Quite honestly, I wish they’d play a married couple more often.

Then you have the script. Writer-director Noah Baumbach speaks the language of the human condition fluently. His words are natural and realistic, and they offer every bit of what the story in “While We’re Young” is trying to say. The film offers a deep and engrossing perspective on life as we know it. You have a story of self-reflection, where a Gen X couple (Stiller and Watts) meets a Gen Y couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) and learns to enjoy life to its fullest, as if they were 25 years old again. They gradually evolve out of their workaholic lifestyle.  They step out of their apartment and finally begin to realize that there’s every opportunity for fulfillment surrounding them in the Big Apple–late-night dinners, hip-hop classes, parties, raves, drug-fueled Egyptian rituals.  The list goes on.

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Pixels

Movie Review #989

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Wide release: July 24, 2015. Action/Comedy/Sci-Fi. Runs 105 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments. USA. Columbia Pictures & Sony Pictures Releasing.

BEING EATEN BY PAC-MAN SEEMS LIKE A FAR MORE PLEASANT EXPERIENCE.


By Alexander Diminiano

For a while, Chris Columbus was on a roll. You’ve gotta respect the guy who comes out with “Home Alone”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, and the first two “Harry Potter” movies all within the same span of 12 years. It’s rather impressive, because let’s admit it, all four of those movies are usually considered classics by now. That heyday ended in 2002, though. It’s seems that ever since, he’s been trying to turn his target audiences against him. I’ve heard some of the biggest musical nuts complain about “Rent”; some of the most senseless romcom pushovers complain about “I Love You, Beth Cooper”; some of the most obsessive readers of YA fiction complain about “Percy Jackson & the Olympians”. Up until now, he’s been at DEFCON 2, which I guess is the level at which we pity him. “Pixels” notches Columbus up to DEFCON 1, the level of pure infuriation that might be more clearly described as what-the-f**k-were-you-thinking mode.

It’s been a long time since anyone took such a radically dumb approach to making a movie. There’s one director that can do it right. He’s dead, and his name is Ed Wood. Though, if you replace Bela Lugosi with classic video games, maybe “Pixels” resembles “Plan 9 from Outer Space” a little. The difference? “Plan 9” was so bad it was good, but “Pixels” is just plain bad.

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