Annabelle

Movie Review #886

ABOUT AS SELF-AWARE AS A COMEDY, AND IT’S ABSOLUTELY HYSTERICAL.

★½
By Alexander Diminiano

annabelle

Premiered September 29, 2014 (Hollywood, California)
Released October 3, 2014 (nationwide)
Horror
Rated R (contains disturbing content, violence)
98 minutes

I hate to say it, but I was the annoying moviegoer this time. Sorry. I did everything I could to lighten the mood when I was watching “Annabelle”. It’s hard not to treat it as a comedy, and when it wasn’t funny enough, I made fun of it myself. Soundtrack gets so quiet after a giant musical crescendo, and I’m prompted to softly sing the first two lines of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”. Camera focuses on blood dripping into the eye of the titular doll, and I comment, “That’s not healthy, her eyes are, quite literally, bloodshot!” Heroine screams “Who are you!?!” at the demon-possessed Annabelle doll, I start humming the chorus of “Who Are You” by The Who.

Actually, Annabelle may not have been possessed by demons at that point of the movie. There’s no explanation as to whether she’s possessed the whole movie, and if not, when she becomes possessed. In fact, the movie lacks a lot of explanation for a movie that has been billed as a prequel to last year’s “The Conjuring”. Aren’t prequels supposed to explain what we didn’t understand the first time around? Isn’t the story supposed to dig deeper, or am I for some reason supposed to be thankful that there is a story?

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Halloween

Movie Review #885

ROB ZOMBIE HAS CRAFTED A SURPRISINGLY INTRIGUING “HALLOWEEN” REMAKE, DESPITE ITS TENDENCY TO GO (WAY) OVER THE TOP.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

halloween

Released August 31, 2007 (nationwide)
Horror
Unrated Version
Not Rated (contains material not included in the theatrical version)
121 minutes
Theatrical Version
Rated R (contains frequent graphic violence, frequent disturbing content, sexual content, graphic nudity, profanity)
109 minutes

Editor’s Note: This review regards the Unrated Version. At the time, I was not aware this was the version I was watching. It contains 12 minutes of additional carnage.

Those who haven’t seen the original “Halloween” might enjoy stereotyping it as the “father of the slasher genre,” and so might those who have seen it. But those who have seen it also understand that it’s not just a slasher. John Carpenter’s directorial technique makes all the difference in the movie: he turns it into a hybrid of slasher and psychological horror.

Rob Zombie wants to achieve the same thing with his reimagining of “Halloween”. Except the only psychological horror left in his technique is Carpenter’s score for the original movie, which was more than likely kept in this remake for the sake of tradition. The psychological horror is all in story here. Rather than a single opening sequence of Michael Myers’s first murder—his sister, on Halloween night—we are treated to thirty-eight minutes of backstory, wherein we watch the realization of Michael’s murderous abilities, followed by his time in a mental asylum when he grows obsessed with masks. This is all when he is ten years old.

There’s still horror formula. I’m not sure why, but titillation has become as expected a reaction to horror movies as cowering in fear. It’s kind of laughable how desperate Zombie’s “Halloween” remake is to arouse its audience. Michael’s mother is a stripper, and we are shown scenes of her gig at a strip club on Halloween night. Plus, there’s far more nudity during the sex scene that Michael’s sister enjoys right before her death, and the scene lasts several minutes, not seconds.

And of course there’s blood. Gallons and gallons of it. Rather than killing only his sister on Halloween night, Michael also kills his father and his sister’s boyfriend. Earlier in the day, before any of this has happened, he also bashes a bully’s brains out in the woods. Each death is extensive and elaborately played, though unrealistic and sickening. This accounts for half of the backstory in the film, and it makes the original snippet of backstory seem like “Bambi”.

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Adventureland

Movie Review #884

BENEFITING FROM GREG MOTOLLA’S SINCERE DIRECTION, “ADVENTURELAND” IS A WHIMSICAL BLEND OF HUMOR, NOSTALGIA, AND DRAMA.

★★★½
By Red Stewart

adventureland_ver2

Released April 3, 2009 (nationwide)
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated R (contains profanity, drug use, suggestive dialogue)
107 minutes

If you’ve never worked a crappy job in your life, I have two things to say: A) Consider yourself lucky and B) Don’t bother watching this film. If you have however, then you’ll find “Adventureland” to be a humorous reflection on those awful days spent dealing with horrible customers and shooting the breeze with your fellow co-workers.

While everyone’s job may have been different, the experience was no doubt the same. For me it was a McDonald’s, but for James Brennan (Eisenberg) it’s Adventureland; a theme park he’s forced to work at after his parents find out they can’t pay his college tuition. He immediately becomes familiar with his colleagues; a ragtag group of good people that are trying to pass the long days catering to the annoying masses. In particular, Brennan finds himself attracted to the street-smart Em Lewin (Stewart) who, little does he know, is involved in a deep love/angst circle with a lot of the other employees.

On the outset, “Adventureland” seems more like a stereotypical vision of the teenage life than a legitimate depiction of it. You have everyone smoking pot, reminiscing about the future, and constantly fantasizing about sleeping with the hottest guy/girl. But in reality this is all a very sly ploy constructed by writer/director Greg Motolla to give insight into how young adults really feel about their radically-changing world. It’s often said that the hardest years of someone’s life are the ages 18-22, and we truly see that here as, though everyone puts up a facade in the park, at their core they’re normal human beings with feelings. They recognize their own faults and have a breaking point to the amount of criticism they can take, whether that be from parents, friends, or complete outsiders. The amount of honesty the characters displayed was the most surprising thing to me given that most teen films settle for trite and tired tropes.

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Gone Girl

Movie Review #883

“GONE GIRL” MAY JUST BE THE MOST EXCITING MOVIE OF 2014.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

gone_girl

Released October 3, 2014 (nationwide)
Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Rated R (contains a scene of graphic violence, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, profanity)
149 minutes

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

I’m sure companies love product placement, at least when their products are the ones showing up.  I don’t.  I don’t like product placement one bit.  Granted, I like pointing it out in old movies, and doing so can really put a nice grin on my face, because we don’t expect products like National Geographic to make an appearance in movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946).

And I won’t deny that I more than likely screamed when I saw Lisbeth eating McDonald’s in David Fincher’s remake of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011).  I was fine with seeing her use her MacBook, because I’ve accepted as much as the rest of us that Apple Inc. and new world order are the exact same thing.  But seeing her eat a freaking Happy Meal made me angry.

Product placement is approached differently in “Gone Girl”.  Dare I say uniquely.  Not since “The Gods Must Be Crazy” has product placement contributed to satire so directly.  And let’s be clear that in “Gone Girl”, it’s not just a bottle of Coca-Cola.  It’s a can of Diet Coke.  And a Big Lots store.  And a Sony TV.  And FOX.  And Google.  And more.  It’s all there, bit by bit, to stand for excessive desire, and it reinforces that theme in its central characters: an insatiable couple that seeks happiness in shallow waters when their love for each other no longer satisfies…and, in some ways, can be dissatisfying.

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The Hangover Part III

Movie Review #882

“PART III” DOESN’T QUITE MATCH UP TO THE ORIGINAL, BUT IT’S FUNNIER THAN THE PREVIOUS ENTRY.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

hangover_part_iii_ver7

Premiered May 20, 2013 (Los Angeles, California)
Released May 23, 2013 (nationwide)
Comedy
Rated R (contains frequent profanity, suggestive dialogue, violence, drug content, brief graphic nudity)
100 minutes

If you haven’t seen “The Hangover” or “The Hangover Part II”, don’t bother seeing “The Hangover Part III”. Or, just watch the first two, and then watch “Part III”. It’s filled to the brim with in-jokes. Of course they’re funny—if you’ve seen and can appreciate the first two. A newcomer to the trilogy would be clueless. And yes, I am no less than obligated to call this a trilogy, because it fits very well as one. “Part III” develops a story from consistently tying back to the last two movies, as it tries to bring the trilogy full-circle. Events that happened in Vegas the first time around, and in Bangkok the second time around, come back to haunt the Wolfpack—the beloved “Hangover” quartet starring Bradley Cooper as Phil, Ed Helms as Stu, Zach Galifianakis as Alan, and Justin Bartha as Doug.

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Movie Review #881

THIS ONE’S A WEAKER STAR IN THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

captain_america_the_winter_soldier_ver12

Premiered March 13, 2014 (Hollywood, California)
Premiered March 17, 2014 (Paris)
Released April 4, 2014 (nationwide)
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13 (contains frequent sci-fi violence)
136 minutes

Captain America (Chris Evans) wants to retire. He wants to retire so badly that he even moves from New York to Washington, D.C. to live in isolation. That way, he’ll have no need to save the world. Right? Wrong. It’s not very long after he’s retired that he’s entrusted with a hard drive containing classified information. He discovers that a past member of S.H.I.E.L.D. (the CIA-type organization that Cap works for) has become involved in a plan to possibly destroy the world, with aid from a dangerous, but otherwise unknown villain who identifies as the Winter Soldier. With the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Cap digs deeper into this conspiracy, in an effort to, you know, save the world.

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A Walk Among the Tombstones

Movie Review #880

“A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES” IS BURDENED BY A SLOW PACE AND UNNECESSARY SUBPLOT, BUT ULTIMATELY EXCELS IN LIAM NEESON’S PERFORMANCE AND SOME TRULY SHOCKING MOMENTS.

★★★
By Red Stewart

walk_among_the_tombstones

Released September 19, 2014 (nationwide)
Crime, Drama, Mystery
Rated R (contains graphic violence, disturbing content, profanity, brief nudity)
113 minutes

Ever since “Se7en”, I’ve been waiting for another R-rated crime film that would match the gruesomeness and intensity of that thriller. “L.A. Confidential” and “Road to Perdition” came close, but neither Curtis Hanson nor Sam Mendes seemed as interested in fully exploring the vice of their worlds as David Fincher did with his John Doe character.

First-time director Scott Frank suffers from no such limitations, but it’s his amateur pacing and bloated script that ultimately prevent “A Walk Among the Tombstones” from achieving the heights a Lawrence Block novel adaptation deserves. Here, we have the pitch-perfect casting of Liam Neeson as alcoholic private eye Matt Scudder, who is hired by a drug trafficker to find the men who brutally murdered his wife. As he delves further into the mystery, Scudder realizes that these guys have a long history of killing and aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

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David Lynch’s Rabbits

Movie Review #879

“RABBITS” IS ONE OF THE MOST LYNCHIAN PIECES DAVID LYNCH HAS EVER CRAFTED.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

1390292532-038519666ca0d292451842df9bd7fb07

Released 2002 (available on DavidLynch.com w/ subscription)
Re-released November 18, 2008 (David Lynch: The Lime Green Set)
Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery
No MPAA Rating (contains disturbing content)
43 minutes

I cannot quite tell if “Rabbits” is aesthetically one precise medium. It evokes equal parts of a film, a stage play, a TV show, and a painting. David Lynch describes this as his “sitcom,” which is probably only half-true. It’s not a sitcom, though it’s his sitcom, and yet there’s so much more to it than just that.

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The Black Godfather

Movie Review #878

“THE BLACK GODFATHER” IS A BASIC EXPLOITATION FILM: SOMETIMES ITS FUN, WHILE OTHERS, IT’S OFFENSIVE.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

black_godfather

Released August 15, 1974 (Oakland, California)
Released October 16, 1974 (Los Angeles, California)
Crime, Drama
Rated R (mature themes, graphic violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language)
90 minutes

It’s been forever since I last watched an exploitation film. It’s hard to forget the style of such a genre.  The style’s so much fun because so much of it isn’t intended–it comes generally from an inexperienced producer’s difficulty handling a very low budget.  But even so, I felt when I was watching “The Black Godfather” as if I’d somewhat forgotten how much fun exploitation films are to watch.

I’d also forgotten just how awful they were.

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The Drop

Movie Review #877

“THE DROP” IS SOLID, WELL-ACTED, ENTERTAINING.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

drop_ver5

Released September 12, 2014 (nationwide)
Crime, Drama
Rated R (contains graphic violence, frequent profanity)
106 minutes

“You woke up this morning
Got yourself a gun,
Mama always said you’d be
The Chosen One.”
– Alabama 3, “Woke Up This Morning” (Theme Song from The Sopranos)

Possibly the most satisfying thing about “The Drop” is that its title does not indicate anything about the quality of the film. This is the fourth adaptation from work by crime author Dennis Lehane, following in the clever footsteps of “Mystic River” (2003), “Gone Baby Gone” (2007), and “Shutter Island” (2010). I have yet to see “River”, but “Gone” and “Island” both earned the equivalent of three stars on my current grading scale. I liked them substantially, but I hardly consider either of them classics. “The Drop” meets precisely the same fate. It’s an enjoyable time at the movies, no doubt. (And no doubt Lehane is just a three-star kinda guy.)

Read the rest of this review…

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    Mon. 11/24
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    Thurs. 10/16
    IRRÉVERSIBLE (Review #888)

    Mon. 10/13
    THE JUDGE (Review #887)

    Sun. 10/12
    ANNABELLE (Review #886)

    Thurs. 10/9
    HALLOWEEN (Review #885)

    Tues. 10/7
    ADVENTURELAND (Review #884)

    Sun. 10/5
    GONE GIRL (Review #883)

    Sat. 10/4
    THE HANGOVER PART III (Review #882)

    Thurs. 10/2
    SECOND OPINION – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (Review #881)

    Tues. 9/30
    A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (Review #880)

    Mon. 9/29
    DAVID LYNCH’S RABBITS (Review #879)

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    THE BLACK GODFATHER (Review #878)

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    THE DROP (Review #877)

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    THE FLY (Review #876)

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    THE BIRDCAGE (Review #875)

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