Cinderella

Movie Review #961

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Berlin International Film Festival: February 13, 2015. Wide release: March 13, 2015. Drama/Family/Fantasy. This film is rated PG for mild thematic elements. Runs 105 minutes. An American-British co-production. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Screenplay by Chris Weitz. Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, and Derek Jacobi.

“CINDERELLA” IS MARVELOUS, THANKS TO ITS ENTHUSIASTIC CAST AND KENNETH BRANAGH’S NONCONFORMIST VISION.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

Aside from the few who were with their kids, I was quite likely the only guy in the theater with a ticket for “Cinderella”. It’s a fact that I had expected, but frankly, I find it sad. Kenneth Branagh’s take is not a dreamy movie for little girls. Okay, maybe it can be looked at as that, but it’s not so specifically targeted at little girls as the 1950s animated movie was. It is a nostalgic restoration of that original Disneyfication, with a spirited, whimsical attitude that can be appreciated by all who appreciate the value of the original tale.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story (and if that happens to be you, I might recommend a few quick Google searches that could improve your cultural literacy), this is the ultimate rags-to-riches tale. The movie gives it a few slight twists. For example, Cinderella (Downton Abbey’s Lily James) is known as Ella for the majority of the film. She’s only given the moniker when her wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her self-centered stepsisters mock her as she sweeps the cinders, among so much other elbow-grease that is guaranteed not the slightest bit of appreciation. But what we might automatically call a “retelling” from Branagh is not a retelling at all. 2015’s “Cinderella” isn’t modernized, and that’s major nonconformity when we consider that modernization has become a trend for Walt Disney Pictures. There’s two hints of the modern age hidden in here. One is the empowering casting of an African-American as having a major role in the royal castle. I find this element to be highly commendable, an assertion of society in 2015, to substitute what was most likely assumed to be an all-white castle in 1812 when the Brothers Grimm wrote their account. The other minute suggestion of modernization in the most recent account isn’t as admirable: a bubblegum pop song that appears over the closing credits. It took me right out of the period piece setting and straight into Disneyland.

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Furious 7

Movie Review #960

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South by Southwest Film Festival: March 16, 2015. Premieres: Buenos Aires, March 31, 2015; Brisbane, April 1, 2015. Wide release: April 3, 2015. Action/Crime/Thriller. This film is rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language. Runs 137 minutes. An American-Japanese co-production. Directed by James Wan. Written by Chris Morgan. Characters by Gary Scott Thompson. Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson, Lucas Black, Kurt Russell, Luke Evans, and Djimon Hounsou.

THE ULTIMATE SUMMER MOVIE, DESPITE ITS APRIL RELEASE.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

It’s been at least two years since I’ve had this much fun at the movies. “Furious 7″ is good news for 2015: a movie that is nothing more and nothing less than the ultimate summer movie. (And ironically, it’s ahead of the game by two whole months.) You can imagine that it was just as fun to make as it is to watch, because it’s not casually mindless; it’s infatuated with its own mindlessness, and that, seemingly, has made all the difference here.

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Hiatus Update

Hey all,

I didn’t expect to be saying this, but for various reasons, I am extending this hiatus.  Instead of Tuesday, March 31st, I will be returning Monday, April 20th.  (In other words, you can celebrate something else that day, along with Hitler’s birthday and National Pot Day.  I kid, I kid.)

See you then, and apologies that I’m unavailable for so long.  Though if I find that I’m able to return before the 20th, I most definitely will.

Thank you all for understanding.

– The Cinemaniac

Temporary Hiatus 

Dear followers,

Cinemaniac Reviews will be on hiatus for three weeks. We shall return on March 31st with reviews as usual, starting with a review of Dear White People from Red and a review of Rosewater from me.

I wasn’t planning on scheduling the hiatus for another three months, but I am getting so busy these days that I haven’t had a second, much less a full hour, to sit down and craft a movie review. I apologize for my inability to notify all of you of this earlier, as I have missed several days on my posting schedule due to unwritten movie reviews.

–Alexander Diminiano

Virunga

Movie Review #959

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Released in New York City, New York and to the internet on November 7, 2014. Documentary/War. This film is not rated. Runs 100 minutes. A British-Congolese co-production. Written and directed by Orlando von Einsiedel.

IF DOCUMENTARIES WERE PHONE CALLS, “VIRUNGA” WOULD BE A TELEMARKETER, AND I WOULD NOT HESITATE TO HANG UP FOR A SECOND.

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Virunga” documents the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a nation plagued by war and unrest since 1960. The nation finally regained stability after the Second Congo War ended in 2003, but only nine years later, the Congo fell back again as a result of the M23 Rebellion.

But note the movie’s title. It’s not “Congo”, but “Virunga”, because the film also centers on Virunga National Park. Veering National Park, we are told, has been thwarted in their every conservation effort by the evil British Soco International as they illegally exploit the property in search for oil.

“Virunga” plays out as a call to action. The message it offers seems to be that Virunga National Park is in a state of crisis, and that if we donate to them, their efforts for conservation will become enough to save the Congo from their wartime crisis. That kind of logic, though, makes bringing stability to a third-world country seem easy. The great misfortune here is that despite having a subject matter that could grip an audience’s emotions for a subtle call for action, Orlando von Einsiedel, Joanna Natasegara, and Jon Drever—the three who produced “Virunga”—just want your money. Sure, this was the first feature film to be distributed through Netflix in the United States, so the movie itself is free with a subscription. But twice during the movie, we are told to visit a certain website to “learn more about” Virunga Park. One of these instances appeared in a title card right before the end credits; the other in a subtitle that went by as quickly as three seconds. I am reminded of a scene in “The Simpsons Movie” where Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? is jokingly advertised in a banner across the bottom of the screen.

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Basic Instinct

Movie Review #958

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Nationwide release on March 20, 1992. Drama/Mystery/Thriller. This version of the film is unrated. Theatrical release rated R for strong violence and sensuality, and for drug use and language. Originally rated NC-17. Runs 128 minutes. Theatrical release runs 127 minutes. A French-American co-production. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Written by Joe Eszterhas. Cast: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Denis Arndt, Leilani Sarelle, Bruce A. Young, Chelcie Ross, Dorothy Malone, Wayne Knight, Daniel Von Bargen, Stephen Tobolowsky, Benjamin Mouton, Jack McGee, Bill Cable, Stephen Rowe, and Mitch Pileggi.

ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE NEO-NOIRS OF THE NINETIES.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Note: This is a review of the Unrated Director’s Cut.

“She’s evil! She’s brilliant!” That line right there is perhaps the finest set of four words in the great (in both a meaningful and a sarcastic sense) screenplay that is “Basic Instinct”. Follow that line with “She’s Sharon Stone!”, and you have a tagline for the movie that fits it better than any–one that evokes the low-key, even hokey, but nonetheless grin-inducing attire Paul Verhoeven captures.

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Fahrenheit 9/11

Movie Review #957

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Released in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on June 23, 2004. Nationwide release on June 25, 2004. Documentary. This film is rated R for some violent and disturbing images, and for language. Runs 122 minutes. An American production. Written and directed by Michael Moore. Featuring Michael Moore. Archive footage featuring George W. Bush.

INTERESTING? DEFINITELY. CONVINCING? NOT REALLY.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Fahrenheit 9/11″ is the highest-grossing documentary ever to hit our screens. It made north of $119 million at the American box office alone, and as a matter of fact, it’s the only documentary that has ever grossed a total of nine figures domestically. On top of its domestic rentals, “Fahrenheit” made a total of $222 million worldwide. Which means that even with an audience strictly made up of voting Americans, the film also grossed over $100 million in countries outside of the U.S.–and is ironically the only documentary film to have ever done so.

For what it’s worth, we can say that Michael Moore at least did his best to get what he wanted, even if his desires weren’t actually satisfied. We can tell he has a reason for making “Fahrenheit 9/11″ just within the first ten minutes: he wants George Bush Jr. out of office, and he wants to allow him no chance of a second term. Any morals Moore once had, have been obliterated in the creation of this documentary, save for one: his Machiavellian philosophies.

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White Bird in a Blizzard

Movie Review #956

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Internet release on September 25, 2014. Limited release on October 24, 2014. Drama/Mystery/Thriller. This film is rated R for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use. Runs 91 minutes. A French-American co-production. Directed by Gregg Araki. Screenplay by Gregg Araki. Based on the novel by Laura Kasischke. Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, Ava Acres, Thomas Jane, Mark Indelicato, Dale Dickey, and Sheryl Lee.

MORE LIKE A SNOWBALL THAN A “BLIZZARD”. IT STARTS AT THE TOP, THEN IT JUST STARTS ROLLING DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, GATHERING MORE BOREDOM.

★½
By Alexander Diminiano

“White Bird in a Blizzard” starts out as an interesting movie. It hooks us with its purely avant-garde nature. The story here is told on two separate levels here. One is the story in its natural state; the other, a surreal recount. It transforms the movie into something deceptively simple.

As it turns out, this movie is simple, in more than just one sense of the word. As the story goes on, “White Bird” becomes hokier. Director Gregg Araki can’t seem to take the arthouse genre seriously, even if he’s worked with it for over a decade. The surreal side of the storytelling spectrum in “White Bird” simply does not exist without explanation, which I suppose takes away the idea of it being “surreal” to begin with. Every dreamlike moment in the film, Araki forces to represent a literal dream that the film’s female protagonist (Shailene Woodley) has during the night, or when this lazy teenager falls asleep during the middle of the day with nothing better to do. In case I haven’t put it bluntly enough, Araki screws up his movie by turning its most awesomely creative, mind-warpingly stylish moments into tired Hollywood clichés.

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Better Living through Chemistry

Movie Review #955

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Nationwide release on March 14, 2014. Comedy/Drama. This film is not rated. Runs 91 minutes. An American-British co-production. Written and directed by Geoff Moore & David Posamentier. Cast: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Jane Fonda, and Ray Liotta.

HOW ABOUT A BETTER MOVIE THROUGH CHEMISTRY, AS WELL?

★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“Better Living through Chemistry” is as original as the phrase itself. It originated as a slogan for DuPont in the 1930’s. The full slogan was actually, “Better things for better living…through chemistry.” But people caught onto the ease of marketing that phrase as their own, simply by modifying it to “better living through chemistry” because only the full slogan had been trademarked. Likewise, the movie of the same name is doing nothing new. Maybe I hadn’t watched the movie with this exact title or cast or crew before, but I swear I’ve seen it before in at least one (and probably a couple more than that) permutations. At the base of things, it’s just one drip in the nouvelle vague américaine of quirky indie comedy.

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Oscar Night! – Final Oscar Predictions

Do I even need to preface this? I’m writing this post a few weeks in advance to save you some time. I tend to ramble a lot when I’m excited about something, and I can imagine it’s rather obnoxious. I don’t want to ruin the fun. It’s Oscar tonight–not as I’m writing this, but when you’re reading this, it will be–and it’s time for my final predictions. Last time, I predicted 21 out of the 24 Oscar categories accurately. (I only missed the Documentary Feature, Live Action Short Subject, and Animated Short Subject categories.) Here are my predictions for this year’s winners:

Best Picture

WILL WIN:
BIRDMAN
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BOYHOOD

Best Director

WILL WIN:
RICHARD LINKLATER (BOYHOOD)
POSSIBLE UPSET:
ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU (BIRDMAN)

Best Actor

WILL WIN:
EDDIE REDMAYNE (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING)
POSSIBLE UPSET:
MICHAEL KEATON (BIRDMAN)

Best Actress

WILL WIN:
JULIANNE MOORE (STILL ALICE)

Best Supporting Actor

WILL WIN:
J. K. SIMMONS (WHIPLASH)

Best Supporting Actress

WILL WIN:
PATRICIA ARQUETTE (BOYHOOD)

Best Original Screenplay

WILL WIN:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BIRDMAN

Best Adapted Screenplay

WILL WIN:
WHIPLASH
POSSIBLE UPSET:
THE IMITATION GAME

Best Animated Feature Film

WILL WIN:
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BIG HERO 6

Best Foreign Language Film

WILL WIN:
IDA
POSSIBLE UPSET:
LEVIATHAN

Best Documentary – Feature

WILL WIN:
CITIZENFOUR
POSSIBLE UPSET:
VIRUNGA

Best Documentary – Short Subject

WILL WIN:
CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1

Best Live Action Short Film

WILL WIN:
THE PHONE CALL

Best Animated Short Film

WILL WIN:
FEAST
POSSIBLE UPSET:
THE DAM KEEPER

Best Original Score

WILL WIN:
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
POSSIBLE UPSET:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Best Original Song

WILL WIN:
“GLORY” (SELMA)

Best Sound Editing

WILL WIN:
AMERICAN SNIPER
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BIRDMAN

Best Sound Mixing

WILL WIN:
AMERICAN SNIPER
POSSIBLE UPSET:
BIRDMAN
LONG SHOT:
WHIPLASH

Best Production Design

WILL WIN:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Best Cinematography

WILL WIN:
BIRDMAN

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

WILL WIN:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Best Costume Design

WILL WIN:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
POSSIBLE UPSET:
INTO THE WOODS

Best Film Editing

WILL WIN:
BOYHOOD

Best Visual Effects

WILL WIN:
INTERSTELLAR
POSSIBLE UPSET:
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Picking a movie has never been this easy.

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