Saw II

Movie Review #903

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Nationwide release on October 28, 2005. Horror/Mystery. This film is rated R for grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content. Runs 93 minutes. American-Canadian co-production. Director: Darren Lynn Bousman. Written by: Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman. Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Erik Knudsen, and Franky G.

“SAW II” IS ANOTHER THRILLING NOIR/HORROR MOVIE, DESPITE ITS FLAWS.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

“Saw II” kicks off with a man waking up in a dark room, his head caught in a device that has been nicknamed a “Venus flytrap” by its maker. We all know who the maker is: John Kramer, or “Jigsaw” (Tobin Bell). He tells his victim that if he doesn’t find the key to unlock the trap within a minute, it’ll close on him like an iron maiden. The scene plays out almost shot for shot like the “reverse bear trap” scene in the first “Saw”. Except this time, the victim fails.

But if we’re looking for the scene that’s as great as the “reverse bear trap” scene, it’s not the one that imitates it. Director Darren Lynn Bousman really heightens the tension in a “needles pit trap” scene. Truly the only thing worse than trying to find a needle in a haystack, can be searching frantically for a key somewhere in a pit of needles, all loaded with some sort of drug. Focus on the word frantically. These characters only have one minute to do so. The seeming impossibility of such a task is successfully, thrillingly attained.

The most major compliment I have for “Saw II” is for its editing. I’ll say it: it’s clever. Director Darren Lynn Bousman really has a creative eye for this sequel. His scene-to-scene transitions are as witty as South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s, while his rapid fire mixing and matching of shots mimics James Wan’s style in the first film.

The story hasn’t yet fallen flat. It’s taken a different path, though. In “Saw II”, we find a cop who has been enjoying every moment that he doesn’t have to spend with his son…until his son is locked in a house with several strangers and countless deadly traps. A deadly nerve agent is permeating the house and will kill him and the others within three hours, but as he has been asleep for an hour of this time, he only has two hours to escape. Doing so requires finding a certain code that will unlock a safe, in which he will find an antidote, if he’s lucky enough to make it that far.

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Interstellar

Movie Review #902

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Premiered in Los Angeles, California on October 26, 2014. Premiered in London on October 29, 2014. Premiered in Buenos Aires on November 4, 2014. Limited release in the USA on November 5, 2014. Wide release in the USA on November 7, 2014. Adventure/Sci-Fi. This film is rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language. Runs 169 minutes. American-British co-production. Director: Christopher Nolan. Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Matthew McConaughey, John Lithgow, the voice of Bill Irwin, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, the voice of Josh Stewart, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain, Topher Grace, and Matt Damon.

AN EXHILARATING STORY AND A BREATHTAKING TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN HAS STRUCK GOLD ONCE AGAIN.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Preface: Every word of this review is SPOILER-FREE.

Call it a paradox, but “Interstellar” works as such an exhilarating science fiction movie because it’s so well grounded into the reality of its near-future setting. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer. That’s what he does for a living, at least now. He had once worked as a test pilot for NASA, but that changed when America faded into an agrarian society. Naturally, it’s assumed that the administration is defunct, but Cooper is led to discover otherwise. NASA has been operating privately for years, and they’ve even brought back data from a series of manned capsules aptly named the Lazarus Mission, and have found the presence of a wormhole orbiting Saturn. They want to follow that mission with the Endurance mission, a further exploration of the wormhole which they want Cooper to pilot.

Matthew McConaughey’s role as Cooper builds on the success he’s created recently with “Dallas Buyers Club” and True Detective. His performance is quite accessible. Piloting this mission means leaving his family, and god only knows for how long. Years after he has left, his daughter Murph still resents his absence. This role is a welcome return for Jessica Chastain, who hasn’t been in a major motion picture since “Mama”, released in the earliest weeks of 2013. Though it’s really a comeback from her Oscar-nominated performance in “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012). Her performance highlights the emotional drama in “Interstellar”. If her performance as the thirtysomething Murph doesn’t earn her a nomination, as well, then the Academy must really not like science fiction.

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St. Vincent

Movie Review #901

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Released in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on October 10, 2014. Limited release on October 17, 2014. Nationwide release on October 24, 2014. Comedy. This film is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language. Runs 102 minutes. American production. Director: Theodore Melfi. Screenplay: Theodore Melfi. Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, and Terrence Howard.

BILL MURRAY GIVES ONE OF THE MOST COMMENDABLE PERFORMANCES ALL YEAR.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Vincent (Bill Murray) is as cantankerous as he is outgoing. He’s a war veteran in his late sixties, but he lives like he’s still in his twenties. His daily schedule seems to consist of drinking until he gets kicked out of the bar, betting on horses even though he’s short on money, and receiving a visit from a prostitute named Daka (Naomi Watts). Daka is pregnant, and who knows if it’s Vincent’s baby. Also, who knows whether Vincent’s wife knows he’s having an affair while she’s dying in the hospital. Vincent’s daily visits to the nursing home appear, at first, to be the only justifiable thing he does on a daily basis.

Next-door to Vincent, a recently-divorced woman named Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in. Maggie isn’t exactly fond of Vincent, but she doesn’t know anything about him, either. When she realizes it might not be okay to leave Oliver at home by himself, she trusts Vincent to pick up her son from school and watch him until she gets home from work. Maybe not the smartest move, but considering they have no friends in the area–and in fact, they hardly know the area–it’s her only move.

Oliver begins to realize, through his accord with Vincent, that this old man’s actually not as mean and awful as he’d thought. The story is all too familiar: grumpy old man turns out to be a lot sweeter than we thought. But writer-director Theodore Melfi takes pride in the familiarity of his story. We know where the story’s headed, and we know the end result, but he’s clearly eager to tell the story, far more than those who have tackled the “grumpy old man” premise for its simplicity.

Even more than the freshly modeled screenplay, it’s the cast that makes “St. Vincent” a wonderful movie. And if there’s any reason to see this film, it’s for Bill Murray’s performance. Murray is one of the most curious method actors alive. He’s infamous for showing up late and not following the script, and in “St. Vincent”, it really adds to the carefree nature of his character. His improvisation is flawless.

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Seven Up!

Movie Review #900

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Released in the UK only on May 5, 1964. Documentary/Short/Biography. This film is not rated. Runs 39 minutes. British production. Director: Paul Almond. No writer credited. Cast: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Suzanne Dewey, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Michelle Murphy, Susan Sullivan, and Tony Walker.

OPENS OUR EYES AND MINDS TO THE REALITY THAT CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE, AND THE POSSIBILITY THAT THEY’RE A GREAT DEAL SMARTER THAN WE THINK.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Seven Up!” is a miracle. You don’t find films like this in cinema very often. Genuine, intimate documentaries that are as intriguing as fiction, that depict their subjects so vividly that we feel as if we know them. “Seven Up!” accomplishes this in a matter of thirty-nine minutes.

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The Trip

Movie Review #899

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Limited release on June 10, 2011. Comedy/Drama. This film is not rated. Runs 107 minutes. British production. Director: Michael Winterbottom. No writer credited. Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Paul Popplewell, Margo Stilley, and Claire Keelan.

IN MY BEST MICHAEL CAINE VOICE: “WE WERE ONLY SUPPOSED TO LAUGH OUR BLOODY LUNGS OFF!”

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

The word “entertaining” is as vacuous a word as anything the English language could offer. It doesn’t mean a thing until you surround it with more words. Sure, the film could be entertaining, but how entertaining And even then, it can still be quite a challenge to convey one’s thoughts accurately.

So if you came here wondering if “The Trip” is an entertaining film, then yes, it is. But I’m not gonna recommend it. The fact that it’s simply entertaining shouldn’t mean very much to you. Especially when, in all honesty, its power to entertain occurs sporadically.

I am thankful of at least one thing at the moment, and that is that I watched the American release of the film. In the USA, “The Trip” was released to cinemas as a film of less than two hours in running time. However, this is nothing more than a trim-down from what it was in Great Britain: a BBC Two series consisting of six half-hour episodes.

This is a movie that uproots from a nice idea, but doesn’t exactly realize the idea as something nice. I use the word “nice” because I’m feeling generous this week. I could use terms like, I don’t know, “unoriginal.” I could point out that this is exactly like the Alexander Payne film “Sideways”, except its characters are on a road trip for food rather than wine, are seriously undeveloped, and have disgusting teeth. (Not that my intention is to imply that Brits are naturally born with poor teeth, but yes, “The Trip” is a British movie.)

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Saw 10th Anniversary

Movie Review #898

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Wide release on October 29, 2004. Re-release on October 31, 2014. Horror/Mystery. This film is rated R for strong grisly violence and language. Rated NC-17 before appeal; edited for rerating. Runs 103 minutes. American-Australian co-production. Director: James Wan. Written by: Leigh Whannell. Story: James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Cast: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, and Tobin Bell.

MUCH OF THIS MOVIE DEMANDS TO BE SEEN IN THEATERS, EVEN 10 YEARS LATER.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

The experience of working at a movie theater is infinitely rewarding. I’ve loved every moment of it from the second I was hired. Research has shown that those who enjoy their work tend to lead far healthier lives than those who do not, which suggests that at this rate, I’ll still be smiling a full set of teeth when I’m a century old.

If you ask me, the best part of the job is tearing tickets. It’s like looking at living, breathing box-office statistics. It becomes obvious rather quickly whether the film will rake in much money, whether it’ll be well-liked, and what crowd might be seeing it.

But all that almost seems irrelevant to the 10th anniversary rerelease of “Saw”. Who got excited when they heard the original 2004 cult classic was going to be coming back into wide release for one week only? I sure did. I made sure I went and saw it on Halloween. Was I the only one? Kind of. The film made $650,000 in over 2,000 theaters this weekend. Which means that if we suppose that the average theater screened the movie twice a day from Friday through Sunday, then each screening nationwide averaged less than 6 patrons.

It’s a damn shame, because I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun on Halloween Night. (For the record, I watched “Rocky Horror” last Halloween and “The Exorcist” a year earlier. Try arguing that those two weren’t fun.)

“Saw” is James Wan’s “Se7en”. It’s a wicked twist of detective noir and haunted house horror, whose greatest trick is its crafty ability to seem far simpler than it actually is. The film opens with two distinctly opposite men waking up on opposite sides of a dank restroom. Each of them is chained by the foot to one of the pipes on their respective ends of the room. The less I tell you about the film, the less of this cleverly unraveling mystery I spoil. So I’ll keep it as simple as possible. There’s a dead body in between the two guys, and–as they quickly begin to discover–clues all around them. Clues that lead them to realize how they ended up in this dingy locale, and what will happen to them if they don’t find their way out in time. Or, what will happen if one of them doesn’t put the the other out of his misery in time. Clearly, these two did not come here by will, and the monster who brought them here calls it all a “game.” The question is whether or not it’s all for his strange amusement, or if there’s a proverbial “method to his madness.”

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Good Morning, Vietnam

Movie Review #897

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Limited release on December 23, 1987. Nationwide release on January 15, 1988. Comedy/Drama/War. This film is rated R. Runs 121 minutes. American production. Director: Barry Levinson. Written by: Mitch Markowitz. Cast: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, and J.T. Walsh.

“GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM” SHINES A DIFFERENT LIGHT ON THE THEMES OF A WAR MOVIE, AND FEATURES A TOUR DE FORCE DELIVERY BY WILLIAMS.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

The one thing nobody’ll ever tell you about Adrian Cronauer is that he was hiding several ounces of crack cocaine under his desk during his time working for the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Services) in Vietnam, and smoking it whenever he was about to go on air. Granted, the reason you won’t hear this is because it’s not true. But judging from Robin Williams’s performance as Cronauer, there’s no way it isn’t true.

The majority of Williams’s radio broadcasts in “Good Morning, Vietnam” were fully improvised. He only delivers what he has to as far as actual news is concerned. Then he’ll crack a joke about the news of the world and before you know it, you’re being piled on with an avalanche of tangent after tangent of his ingenious comedy. So many characters, so many voices, and if he’s ever trying to make a point during his broadcast, God knows what in the world it could be. This is the story about a sophisticated man who comes to Vietnam not to serve in the armed forces, but to give the soldiers a wake up call more entertaining than they could have ever dreamed of, every single morning. His jokes come left and right and sometimes, they’re amusing double entendres or witty puns. But it’s more often than not Williams’s wild, crazed, off-the-wall character that makes him such a hoot. He’s just funny because, well, he’s funny.

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Monster

Movie Review #896

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Premiered in the USA on December 17, 2003. Released in New York City, New York on December 24, 2003. Released in Los Angeles, California on December 26, 2003. Limited release on January 9, 2004. Nationwide release on January 30, 2004. Biography/Crime/Drama. This film is rated R for strong violence and sexual content, and for pervasive language. Runs 109 minutes. American-German co-production. Director: Patty Jenkins. Written by: Patty Jenkins. Cast: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, and Lee Tergesen.

THERON’S PERFORMANCE IS AT A LEVEL FEW GREAT ACTORS AND ACTRESSES CAN REACH. THE REST OF THE MOVIE, HOWEVER, ISN’T QUITE SO BRILLIANT.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“I remember I was just a kid and the 4H club set up this beautiful gigantic wheel and let up to nite sky. We call it the Monster. When I was a kid I thought this was about the coolest thing I ever seen. Then I couldn’t wait to ride it. Sure enough, I finally got my chance, I got so scared and nauseous, I threw up all over myself before it made a full turn.” – Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in “Monster”

Watching Charlize Theron transform into Aileen Wuornos is disturbing, painful, and at the same time, wonderful. Theron leaves no trace of her actual self, or her other characters, in this role. She put on 30 pounds and wore prosthetic teeth for the role, and as a result, she bears endlessly more resemblance to the real Aileen Wuornos than to herself. But that’s just a small part of it. Theron has never given a better performance in a movie. Maybe a dozen actors have given a better performance in all of cinema’s history.

What’s best about this performance is that we’re drawn into the character and the fact that she is a character to this movie. We’re led to immediately ignore the title card that reads “Based on a True Story” and to treat Aileen Wuornos as if she were merely the center of a fable. The story is clearly “Taxi Driver”-inspired, and it follows in those footsteps. Not since Travis Bickle’s incarnation in 1976 has a movie character blurred the lines between hero and villain so well.

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John Wick

Movie Review #895

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Premiered in New York City, New York on October 13, 2014. Nationwide release on October 24, 2014. Action/Thriller. This film is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use. Runs 101 minutes. Chinese-Canadian co-production, with additional American involvement. Directors: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski. Screenplay: Derek Kolstad. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, and Daniel Bernhardt.

Don’t even bother lighting this “Wick”.


By Alexander Diminiano

I don’t very often consider movies to be a waste, but god what a waste “John Wick” was. I spent eight bucks in this movie instead of going to see “St. Vincent”, starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. It was an innocent decision, in my defense, because I actually felt that “John Wick” might be a decent movie. I wasted over ninety minutes of my life learning just how wrong I was. “Decent” is a huge compliment to this film, and it’s not even worth complimenting in the first place.

On top of that I’ve washed at least thirty trees trying and failing again and again to come up with a satisfactory review, crumpling each attempt up after I deemed it inadequate. I just wish the producers of “John Wick” could have done the same: crumpled up every scrap of the full and throwing it out for the birds to munch away at. I’m sure they’d realized the movie was worth throwing out, but I’m sure they also wanted money, and no matter what I say about “John Wick”, there’s nothing I can say that will change the fact that this movie will turn a profit.

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Scarface

Movie Review #894

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Premiered in New York City, New York on December 1, 1983. Nationwide release on December 9, 1983. Crime/Drama. This film is rated R. Rated X before appeal. Runs 170 minutes. American production. Director: Brian De Palma. Screenplay: Oliver Stone. Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Shenar, and Harris Yulin.

“SCARFACE” IS THE TALE OF A CRIMINAL WHOSE WEAKEST SPOT IS CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

It seems like the most common misconception about “Scarface” is that it’s a gangster movie. It’s worth pointing out that Tony Montana, the antihero who is taken off the page into a whole new dimension by Al Pacino’s performance, seems to have some sort of posse in the movie. But it’s not a gang. An easy way to put it is that they’re in a position of authority, but Montana is the totalitarian leader–authority schmauthority, because all they can do in their power is really to carry out his orders.

Montana is a childlike, spontaneous, self-pious, ruthless, and, in all those ways, vengeful human being. He’s no more a priest than he is a gangster. He’s simply a very angry man who has come to America, a political refugee from Cuba during Fidel Castro’s early presidency. No doubt, he is a criminal, whose surprising claim is that he’s never been to jail more than once. He’s brought two kilos of cocaine into the States, he reveals an adoration for firing automatic weapons at people even when he has no motive for doing so, and he finds himself suited in the business of producing counterfeit money. He’s a criminal, and he’s a really, really angry boy, but a boy is in fact all this man is. He’s in love with crime happening as he sees it, but he’s way too sophomoric to handle any organized crime. As if I couldn’t be any more redundant, he is not a gangster.

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Time is money, and bad movies are never free.

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