Saw VI

Movie Review #918


Nationwide release on October 23, 2009. Horror/Mystery. This film is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and language. Runs 90 minutes. Canadian-American co-production, with additional British and Australian involvement. Director: Kevin Greutert. Screenplay: Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan. Cast: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Mark Rolston, Betsy Russell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Athena Karkanis, Samantha Lemole, and Tanedra Howard.


By Alexander Diminiano

“Once you see death up close, then you know what the value of life is.”
– John Kramer (Tobin Bell) in “Saw VI”

Finally! A sequel that’s actually of the same caliber as the very first “Saw”. It’s almost too good to be true, especially when this is the sixth movie.

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A Most Wanted Man

Movie Review #917


Released in New York City, New York on July 22, 2014. Limited release on July 25, 2014. Nationwide release on August 1, 2014. Thriller. This film is rated R for language. Runs 2 hours, 2 minutes. A British-American co-production, with additional German involvement. Director: Anton Corbijn. Screenplay: Andrew Bovell. Novel: John le Carré. Additional writing: Stephen Cornwell. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Brühl, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Homayoun Ershadi, Mehdi Dehbi, Neil Malik Abdullah, Nina Hoss, and Vicky Krieps.


By Alexander Diminiano

“A Most Wanted Man” is a most uninteresting movie. The structure is pretty simple: talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, sudden action sequence, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. That sudden action sequence serves the same purpose of an alarm that’s coming on again after your fist has just come down on the snooze button. Except we’d actually to have these sorts of scenes appearing more often than just once. Not necessarily action sequences, but anything more enthusiastic than this tritely written dialogue.

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Movie Review #916


Limited release on May 2, 2014. Drama. This film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking. Runs 82 minutes. Polish-Danish co-production, with additional French and British involvement. Director: Pawel Pawlikowski. Screenplay: Pawel Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, David Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski, Halina Skoczynska, and Joanna Kulig.


By Alexander Diminiano

“Ida” is an incredible film. As far as mise-en-scène goes, you won’t find very many films that produce it as finely as this one. The cinematography is complex. It is filmed in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which has remained virtually unused by feature films since the early 1950’s, and offers a more constrictive atmosphere through its nearly square image. Particularly with the bleakly applied black-and-white, this is really evocative cinematography. The set design is entirely spartan, as a contribution to the feeling of emptiness felt by the main character. And yet director Pawel Pawlikowski takes every bit of it into account. He tells this story delicately. Fragilely.

“Ida” narrates the experiences of Anna, a young nun in 1960’s Poland whose vows cannot be accepted by the Catholic Church until she visits her family. She consults her Aunt Wanda, a lawyer with ties to the Stalinist regime. Anna learns that she was born a Jew with the name Ida Lebenstein. Her parents, both Jewish, were killed during the Holocaust. (At this point in history, antisemitism still affects the mentality of Polish Catholics.) Anna was never aware that her parents had died, though. Even if her prioress may never accept her vows to the Catholic Church, Anna wants more than ever now to visit her parents’ resting place, wherever that might be.

Continue reading Ida

Saw V

Movie Review #915


Nationwide release on October 24, 2008. Horror/Mystery. This film is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, language and brief nudity. Originally rated NC-17. Runs 92 minutes. American-Canadian co-production. Director: David Hackl. Screenplay: Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan. Cast: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Julie Benz, Meagan Good, Mark Rolston, Carlo Rota, and Greg Bryk.


By Alexander Diminiano

“All the young dudes
Carry the news.
Boogaloo dudes
Carry the news.”
– Mott the Hoople, 1972

The good news is that this isn’t quite as violent as “Saw III” or “Saw IV” were. The bad news is that it’s still pretty darn violent. And that the story has dumbed down more than ever before. And that there really isn’t much interesting here. I could go on with the bad news. Lord knows I will bring on more of the bad news.

Let’s start at the beginning. The opening credits suck. The font looks like the nameplate you’d put on the door of an iron maiden, and the backdrop looks like wood. Ugly, ugly wood. Maybe if this were a movie about medieval torture, that first part would work. Still not sure why the backdrop has to look like the bark of an ugly, dying tree.

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Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill for

Movie Review #914


Premiered in Los Angeles, California on August 19, 2014. Wide release on August 22, 2014. Crime/Thriller. This film is rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use. Runs 102 minutes. Cypriot-American co-production. Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. Written by: Frank Miller. Graphic novels: Frank Miller. Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Halbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, and Jeremy Piven.


By Alexander Diminiano

We’ve all heard the line “You look like shit” before. It’s easily one of the most overused Hollywood lines ever. I didn’t notice it used in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill for”, and that comes as a serious surprise to me. The script recycles so many other lines out of the dumpsters of Los Angeles, that you’d really expect that one to show up at one point or another.

Now that I mention it “Sin City: A Dame to Kill for” probably refrains from using that phrase because it fits it perfectly. This movie looks like absolute scheiße. I liked the first movie’s look. It was like watching a cross between a film-noir and a graphic novel, with lots of blood and sex. I did get kind of excited when I heard that a sequel was coming, and that it would be released in 3-D. But Robert Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have changed a lot since the last “Sin City”, which was 9 years ago. They’re not visual craftsmen anymore. They’re now they’re more obsessed with 3-D than any one filmmaker this year. What was once clever, smokey black-and-white has now become a sorry excuse to throw debris in the audience’s face and partially colorize every other shot. If this was brilliance, then Steven Spielberg could have done better with “Schindler’s List”, by filming it entirely on 3-D cameras and writing the symbolic girl with the red coat as the story’s protagonist.

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Second Opinion – The Crucible

Movie Review #913


Nationwide release on November 27, 1996. Drama/History. This film is rated PG-13 for intense depiction of the Salem witch trials. Runs 124 minutes. American production. Director: Nicholas Hynter. Play: Arthur Miller. Screenplay: Arthur Miller. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Bruce Davison, Rob Campbell, Jeffrey Jones, Peter Vaughan, and Karron Graves.


By Alexander Diminiano

Editor’s Note: This is a second-opinion review. Judging from his review a few months ago, Red didn’t like it either.

“For the next few days, we’ll be watching ‘The Crucible’ in class.” I kind of rejoiced, either internally or externally, when I heard my Literature teacher say that a few weeks ago. Because who doesn’t love it when you’re allowed to watch movies in class? We were going to have to take notes, but who cares? I mean, I’m kind of used to taking notes on movies, but it’s a movie for crying out loud. What better way to spend four days?

But those were my thoughts before, when I rejoiced before we watched the movie. I may as well have rejoiced afterward, simply because it was over. And I should’ve clapped too. It would save me the fear that if I didn’t clap, the director would come to me five minutes later, put me in a headlock, and demand that I clap for him. The movie is massively over-performed. Its demand for ovation is obnoxious.

How tremendously ironic that the tragic hero in this story is a preacher. It’s ironic because the movie gives us the preachiest account I could imagine of the Salem witch trials. The moral? “Everyone is evil! Be glad the Puritan Age ended a couple hundred years ago, because if it hadn’t, the Puritans around you would be out to get you!” It’s not clear that John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis), our tragic hero, is the good guy. We don’t feel very sorry for him. We don’t think anybody’s doing wrong to him. Everybody around him is evil not because they’re wrongdoers but because their actions are selfish and puerile. We feel more emotion toward the villains here (curiously, that seems to be everybody but Proctor and his wife), and even if it’s the emotion of disgust, it’s strong enough to make us forget that the seemingly indifferent Mr. and Mrs. Proctor exist. I mean, the fact that John Proctor is played by Sir Daniel Day-Lewis, whose greatness speaks for itself, helps this tragic hero become somewhat more noticeable.

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Dumb and Dumber To

Movie Review #912


Wide release on November 14, 2014. Comedy. This film is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, partial nudity, language and some drug references. Runs 109 minutes. American production. Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly. Screenplay: Sean Anders, John Morris. Writers: Mike Cerrone, Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, Bennett Yellin. Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden, Rachel Melvin, Kathleen Turner, and Brady Bluhm.


By Alexander Diminiano

Harry and Lloyd are back, and though they may have physically aged 20 years since we last encountered them, they’ve aged backward mentally. You only needed one inner child to enjoy “Dumb and Dumber” (1994). You might need as many as seven to enjoy “Dumb and Dumber To”.

What’s good about this from the get-go is that it completely ignores that there already has been a follow up to “Dumb and Dumber”. Remember “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd”, from back in 2003? Yeah, it sucked all right. There’s flashbacks in “Dumb and Dumber To”, but none that pay any sort of mind to that forgettable prequel. “Dumb To” is nothing like that failed attempt to follow the ’90s classic. One thing’s for sure: only Jim Carrey is Lloyd Christmas, only Jeff Daniels is Harry Dunne, and only the Farrelly Bros. have the unexplainable funny power to direct the two of them.

The poor critical reception “Dumb and Dumber To” has received continues to escape me. I laughed my ass off at the movie. Just when I was under the impression that Jim Carrey’s sense of humor was permanently in the dumps, and that I’d never see Jeff Daniels in another movie again, here we are with the two of them doing just what they did twenty years ago. The whole point of “Dumb To” is to make us laugh with whatever stupid antics they can pull, but is that very much different than the first one? All right, this one does kind of slack off on its narrative end. It’s structure seems pretty shallow, once you realize that the movie’s playing out almost exactly as the first movie did.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Movie Review #911


Premiered in London on November 10, 2014. Wide release on November 21, 2014. Adventure/Sci-Fi. This film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material. Runs 123 minutes. American production. Director: Francis Lawrence. Screenplay: Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Adaptation: Suzanne Collins. Novel “Mockingjay”: Suzanne Collins. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, and Elizabeth Banks.


By Alexander Diminiano

There’s no point in splitting Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay into two distinct movies–on paper, at least. It works in actuality. Peter Craig and Danny Strong have terrifically translated Suzanne Collins’s novel (excuse me, the first part of it) into a screenplay. They’ve successfully matured this story from an action thriller about televised fights to the death, into a politically influenced parable that documents every bit of tense, fearful preparation for civil war.

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Saw IV

Movie Review #910


Nationwide release on October 26, 2007. Horror/Mystery. This film is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language. Originally rated NC-17. Runs 93 minutes. American-Canadian co-production. Director: Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay: Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan. Story: Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan and Thomas Fenton. Cast: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Athena Karkanis, Justin Louis, Simon Reynolds, and Donnie Wahlberg.


By Alexander Diminiano

If I had to choose between watching “Saw IV” again and listening to Julia Gillard speak for an hour and a half, I’d pick Miss Gillard in a heartbeat. I have yet to hear a public voice more obnoxious than hers, but “Saw IV” is in and of itself a whole onslaught of annoyances.

The only thing more annoying than director Darren Lynn Bousman’s fascination with splatter is editor Kevin Greutert’s weird, rapid cutting between shots. Or maybe it’s David A. Armstrong’s bizarrely unfocused cinematography. Or maybe it’s the fact that Charlie Clouser has finally run out of ideas, having written scores now for four “Saw” movies, and has resorted to composing nothing new music-wise. Unless you say there’s some newness to arranging twenty different variations to the “Hello Zepp” theme Clouser composed for the very first “Saw”.

It’s hard to imagine that a story can stoop so low after only four movies. Or maybe I should be glad that “Saw” has lasted, though on a thread, for four movies. The script constantly attempts to remind us that Jigsaw wants his victims to appreciate their lives. But if he’s torturing them and giving them no way out, regardless of their desperation to save themselves, I think that motive’s expired.

The good news, I suppose, is that “Saw IV” returns to the detective movie setup used in the first two films. Except this time, it’s all just banal, wishy-washy dialogue during the investigation scenes. Talking, and none that we care about. The film as a whole seems a lot like a really dumbed down version of “The Silence of the Lambs”, with heavy reliance on gore and jump scares. Actually, that’s a description I could have used in my review of “Hannibal”, Ridley Scott’s “Silence of the Lambs” sequel. For those who haven’t seen it, don’t. My review overrates it, and it’s utter trash. But “Saw IV” is even worse.

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Movie Review #909


Limited release on September 30, 2005. Nationwide release on February 3, 2006. Biography/Crime/Drama. This film is rated R for some violent images and brief strong language. Runs 114 minutes. American-Canadian co-production. Director: Bennett Miller. Screenplay: Dan Futterman. Book: Gerald Clarke. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., and Mark Pellegrino.


By Alexander Diminiano

Perhaps one of the greatest literary curiosities of the 20th century is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Anything we can say about the book, its author, the events, sound like urban legend. Since the 1940’s, Truman Capote had been a revolutionary and wildly successful (if wildly controversial) journalist, author, celebrity, pundit. In 1959, he became fascinated with a homicide that had occurred in Kansas. He declined to write a story about it for the New Yorker and instead decided to write a nonfiction novel about the homicide. (“Nonfiction novel” being a medium he actually invented for the purposes of writing In Cold Blood.) The book took him as much as seven years to write. It was greatly anticipated and extraordinarily successful, but Capote never finished another book after In Cold Blood.

Not much more is known about events that surrounded In Cold Blood. Readers have spent as much as five decades speculating on why the novel was so challenging to write, and why it singlehandedly plagued Capote with writers’ block. Bennett Miller’s “Capote” is, therefore, a highly fictionalized account of the author’s struggle to write his magnum opus. That’s not to say it isn’t a terrific movie. What “Amadeus” was for an enigmatic musician, this is for an equally mysterious writer.

Forget Bennett Miller’s excellent direction of “Capote”.  Forget Dan Futterman’s powerhouse writing (quite impressively, this was his first screenplay), and forget Catherine Keener’s stellar performance as Capote’s longtime friend Harper Lee.  Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the movie.  He becomes the movie.  He overthrows anything and anyone that could possibly get in the way of his performance and takes hold of the role of Truman Capote by the scruff of the neck.  He captures every nuance of Capote’s voice, his attitude.  When the movie is finished with, we see Capote as a more mysterious character than we ever had before.

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Time is money, and bad movies are never free.


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