The Trip

Movie Review #899

trip

Limited release on June 10, 2011. Comedy/Drama. This film is not rated. Runs 107 minutes. A production of the UK. 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. A co-production of the USA and Australia. 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. A production of the USA. 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. A co-production of the USA and Germany. 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. A co-production of China, Canada, and the USA. 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. A production of the USA. 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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Venus in Fur

Movie Review #893

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Limited release on June 20, 2014. Drama. This film is not rated. Runs 96 minutes. A co-production of France and Poland. Director: Roman Polanski. Play: David Ives. Screenplay: Roman Polanski & David Ives. Novel: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric.

STRANGE, DARK, AND ABSOLUTELY HYSTERICAL, ‘VENUS IN FUR’ IS MORE OF ROMAN POLANSKI AT HIS VERY BEST.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

Editor’s Note: Yes sir, I am bringing back my tradition of reviewing French movies in English and French.  I’ve only been a student of the French language for, what, 3 years now, so I figure, why not?  It’s good practice for me, and practice makes perfect.

Review in English:

Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur” is hardly like anything he’s previously directed. It’s got a cinematic flavor that evokes “Blue Velvet” and “Eyes Wide Shut”, not “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Pianist”. It’s a surreal, atmospheric movie that turns Paris into a city that seems to have emerged from a dream. Everything is plausible here, though; that is, up until the finale, which awesomely turns our anticipations into something twenty-eight times more enjoyable–and disturbing.

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You’re Next

Movie Review #892

ONCE YOU GET PAST THE DUMB WRITING AND UNEVEN ACTING, “YOU’RE NEXT” IS AN EFFECTIVE MIX OF BLOOD, SCARES, AND BLACK HUMOR.

★★½
By Red Stewart

youre_next_ver6

Released August 23, 2013 (nationwide)
Horror, Thriller
Rated R (contains graphic violence, profanity, sexual content, nudity)
95 minutes

In recent decades, horror fans have been treated to an influx of so-called “splatter” films that replace genuine scares with scenes of extensive gore. It’s this flooding of the market with such amateur works that’s made me fear that horror afficiandos will grasp at any new movie that attempts to return to form, no matter how much it fails in doing so.

Such is the case with “You’re Next”, a home invasion thriller that provides some powerful scares but is ultimately brought down by the problems plaguing many low-budget films today; bad writing. The premise is something we’ve seen one too many times already; a rich family get-together turns into a nightmare as everyone is hunted by a pack of killers, no doubt hired by someone to secure their inheritance (a motivation so old, even the Greeks dropped it soon in their folktales).

But of course, no one watching “You’re Next” is here for the story. They want to be frightened by the terror that grips the household as the body count rises and paranoia grips the masses. However, I have to ask these people, is there really a point in getting tensed up if the next scene has as good a chance of ruining the immersion as accentuating it?

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Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Movie Review #891

ONE OF THE GREAT FOUNDING FATHERS OF MODERN-DAY INDEPENDENT CINEMA.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

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Released August 4, 1989 (Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York)
Drama
Rated R (contains sexual content, suggestive dialogue, profanity, partial nudity)
100 minutes

The ‘90s was essentially the Reformation Era of independent movies. “Pulp Fiction”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Clerks”, “The English Patient”, “Fargo”, “Shakespeare in Love”, and “Good Will Hunting” were among the John Calvins of that time. Before them, though, was “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”, the Martin Luther who came to fruition in the summer of ’89.

It’s pretty clear in “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” why this inspired so many to become independent filmmakers. It effectively deals a plot that isn’t mainstream, and proves entertaining to a Hollywood audience from its methodical storytelling. “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” is a soap opera of a movie, except it’s suspenseful, gripping, and dramatic, not melodramatic.

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Fury

Movie Review #890

THE MOST REALISTIC WAR MOVIE SINCE “SAVING PRIVATE RYAN”.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

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Released October 17, 2014 (nationwide)
Action, Drama, War
Rated R (graphic war violence, disturbing content, frequent profanity)
134 minutes

“Fury” hits pretty darn hard on its audience. Every scene is either exciting, heartbreaking, reassuring, reveling, comforting, or terrifying. The scary part is you never know which one of these the movie’s about to become. “Fury” doesn’t ask you to prepare yourself for what comes next. Director David Ayer wants to come up from behind and attack. He likes to make us think that everything is all right. In an early scene, the American soldiers are seen throwing innuendos back and forth at each other, passing the time as they make their way onto the front. You can never expect when that moment of fun is going to be interrupted by enemy gunfire.

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Time is money, and bad movies are never free.

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