Posts Tagged ‘2013’

Pain & Gain

Movie Review #734


Directed by Michael Bay. Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. (Based on the magazine articles by Pete Collins.) Produced by Michael Bay, Ian Bryce, and Donald De Line for De Line Pictures, presented by Paramount Pictures. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong, Michael Rispoli, Keili Lefkovitz, Emily Rutherfurd, Vivi Pineda, Yolanthe Cabau, Brian Stepanek, Persi Caputo, and Bill Kelly. Credited cameos: Nicholas X. Parsons, Trudie Petersen, Mike Tremont, Sabrina Mayfield, Chaz Mena, William Erfurth, Rey Hernandez, and Jerry Lantigua. Premiered in Miami, Florida on April 11, 2013. Distributed by Paramount Pictures in wide release on April 26, 2013. Rated R: bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use. Runs 129 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

I’ll give the story in simplest terms. This movie is about a trio of bodybuilders. Not just any bodybuilders, but the kind that believes bodybuilding is patriotic. And they get involved with kidnapping, murder, and extortion. With its outrageous story and characters, “Pain & Gain” could have been colossally entertaining. With its inspiration from several crime comedies, it could’ve been a hysterical black comedy. Without an actual director, however, the results are only mildly entertaining, and everything feels stupid and derivative. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have made one terrible mistake here, and that was in selling their script to the wrong producers. The wrongest of whom is Michael Bay, the so-called director of this movie.

Bay retains all the substance in “Pain & Gain”, and it’s a huge relief that he does at least that, because he takes a mighty hard dump on the style. It’s pretty sad when the coolest thing we see in the film is slow motion. Especially when a song as awesome as Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” is on the soundtrack…yeah, talk about misusing great rock music. “Pain & Gain” should be an outrageous, daring, and tasteful crime movie. The director himself called it a cross between “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo”. Those being two of very few films that I have cited as my very favorite film (and I still cite the former). “Pulp Fiction” paid an (almost) humorous homage in “Pain & Gain”, in a specific scene that includes a) an accidental murder, b) the cleanup of that accidental murder, and c) a loony woman in a drug-induced coma.

That’s not all the comparisons to great crime flicks of the ’90s, though. Cited on the Blu-ray jacket is Kyle Smith (critic for New York Post), who refers to the movie as “‘Goodfellas’ on steroids.” Well, yeah, but let’s face it, Martin Scorsese is the only man on this planet who could’ve (and did) make a masterpiece out of “Goodfellas”. It’s no wonder “Pain & Gain” is a copycat bore. See, there’s the script, which is excellent, and then there’s the complete movie, which just isn’t. Wherever the aforementioned masterpieces are wild and audacious, “Pain & Gain” feels like a juvenile, ludicrous bloodbath. The results amount to barely a thing more than a loud, contrived movie, with a cast of characters who bask in the glory of working out, dropping F-bombs, snorting coke, and killing people.

Postscript: Apparently, “Pain & Gain” is based on a true story. I doubt it’s as convoluted as they’ve made it seem.


The Spectacular Now

Movie Review #730


Directed by James Ponsoldt. Screenplay by Scott Neustadter an Michael H. Weber. (Novel: Tim Thorp.) Produced by Michelle Krumm, Andrew Lauren, Shawn Levy, and Tom McNulty for 21 Laps and Global Produce, presented by ALP. Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013. Distributed by A24 in limited release on August 2, 2013; and in wide release on September 13, 2013. Rated R: alcohol use, language and some sexuality – all involving teens. Runs 95 minutes.

A great movie is either too complex to put into words or simple enough to put into few words. Though if we narrow down “The Spectacular Now” to “boy meets girl,” it seems inaccurate. That’s the description of some of the most tasteless romances and, as “The Spectacular Now” pleasantly reminds, some of the most beautiful.

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are greatly in control of this dramedy. Their relationship is set up on conversation, not circumstance. Think of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in “Before Sunrise”. It’s much like that, except there’s more focus on establishing depth in the story, particularly during the final third, where the movie takes its chance to subvert our expectations. Though in getting to this end, character is a factor of equal pertinence; these are simple, familiar characters that are compelling because we know them, not of them. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have reprised the same paradox they introduced in their 2009 romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer”: that the story and characters are completely familiar, yet something feels extremely unconventional. Better yet, what exactly is unconventional isn’t quite so obvious as it was in their earlier nonlinear script.

“The Spectacular Now” is pretty, witty, and bright. Its celebration of “the now” is convincing, enthralling, and optimistic–even in moments of pure tragedy. It’s a dialogue-fueled, springtiming escapade with such freedom and vibrancy, that it may as well be set in the summer.


The Wizard of Oz

Movie Review #727


Directed by Victor Fleming. Uncredited directors: George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor (director: Kansas scenes). Screenplay by Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. (Adaptation: Noel Langley. From the book by L. Frank Baum.) Uncredited writers: Arthur Freed, William H. Cannon, E.Y. Harburg. Uncredited contributing writers: Irving Brecher, Herbert Fields, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash, Robert Pirosh, George Seaton, Sid Silvers. Uncredited additional dialogue: Jack Haley, Bert Lahr. Produced by Mervyn LeRoy, presented by MGM, produced by Loew’s Incorporated. Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe, Clara Blandick, Toto, and the Singer Midgets (also credited as The Munchkins). Premiered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939. Distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer in wide release on August 25, 1939. Re-releases: April, 1949 (limited); June, 1949; June 17, 1955; November 6, 1998 (re-mastered version); September 20, 2013 (limited, 3-D version). Rated PG: some scary moments. Runs 102 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

I’ve been reading a lot on the history of film, and as you might guess, “The Wizard of Oz” is a staple to this subject. This wasn’t the first movie musical (in fact, movie musicals were a huge trend all throughout the 1930′s), but it was the first movie that dared to go into a completely new realm of special effects, and it came around when children’s movies were only in bloom. So it’s not surprising that the production was difficult. What’s surprising is how difficult everything turned out to be. Looking at a small portion of it, there were five directors. One is credited, and that’s Victor Fleming, but George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor also helmed the project. Remarkably, the film coheses of L. Frank Baum’s timeless story. In fact, an extra flow of beauty swarms in when transitioning from Vidor’s Kansas scenes, into the fantastical Munchkinland.

Although the movie was universally spat upon in its initial release, “Oz” has become one of the most belovèd films by all ages. If you haven’t seen it by now, my review will not be the one to convince you. Can you claim to have a childhood? An adulthood? I’m not saying the movie’s the greatest movie ever made, but it’s certainly a must. It’s a matter of momentary mistakes that keeps me from hailing the movie as perfect. What makes it a classic is the fact that, 75 years after its release, it’s still one of the twenty, if not the ten most cinematically, historically, and culturally important movies there ever was.

And importance doesn’t always imply entertainment for a film as old as seventy-five years, but that is undisputedly the case here. The screenplay, written by almost twenty individuals, can be most accurately assessed as wonderful. Among its most enthusiastic deliverers stand Judy Garland as Dorothy, Terry as Toto, Frank Morgan as the titular fellow, and most especially Margaret Hamilton as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. As for the friends Garland meets on her way to see the Wizard of Oz, they’re debatably the three most crucial features to her journey, the story a westernized individual knows as well as his or her own date of birth. They’re the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, portrayed respectively by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr. I’ll note the first two for their enthusiasm, but as far as Lahr, the enthusiasm goes disturbingly over the top. Over time, though, some things just manage to lose what initially made them great, and that might explain why Lahr’s performance seems so awful nowadays. It’s a wonder the entire rest of “Oz” stayed intact over seven and a half decades.

Tomorrow’s Review

All Quiet on the Western Front


Movie Review #723


Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Scenario, adaptation and dialogue: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix. Adapted from: the comic book “Le bleu est une couleur chaude” by Julie Maroh. Produced by Brahim Chioua, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Vincent Maraval for Quat’sous Films and Wild Bunch, in partnership with CNC. Co-production: France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Vértigo Films, and RTBF. Participation: Canal+, Ciné+, FR2, and France Télévision. Support: Eurimages, Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pictanovo, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, and Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2013. Distributed by Wild Bunch and Sundance Selects (subtitled) in limited release on October 25, 2013. Also released in France and Belgium on October 9, 2013; and in Spain on October 25, 2013. Rated NC-17: explicit sexual content. Runs 179 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

Story is as much an epidemic for the romance epic as the black death was for Europe. This isn’t a matter of having a story, just a matter of having too much story. Look at the best of the genre. “Gone with the Wind”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “Reds”. All three being spectacular films, but they could’ve grabbed even more of our emotions if there wasn’t so much concern over the political ordeals the characters were dealing with. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a different and (arguably) improved romance. In all its three hours, not once is politics a concern, and why should it be when we’re engrossed in its love story?

In other words, it’s all about character, and the dynamics of the picture are that character controls story. We begin with a fifteen-year-old Adèle. She is pressured into going out with a guy in her class, but nothing really works out between the two of them. While she’s on a date with him, she notices someone else: a blue-haired, young woman who she finds rather attractive. Later on, after calling her relationship with her boyfriend off, the underage Adèle visits a bar and finds the blue-haired woman once again. They quickly fall in love, and over the years, their relationship transforms from a life-changing experience to a longlasting passion.

What makes the movie so dynamic is that it’s absolutely honest. It doesn’t embrace the struggles that Adèle faces, namely being a lesbian despite what her friends think of this. It scratches the surface with that, but once Adèle can accept what she believes over what those around her believe, this becomes a story about love. What’s best about this is that the casting is brilliant. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux command their performances perfectly. Their relationship is entirely believable, however, due to the fact that they’re unfamiliar faces: Seydoux had almost unnoticeable roles in Midnight in Paris and Inception; Exarchopoulos makes her debut here.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a modern classic. The cinematography makes for a wonder to behold, particularly during its closeups. Just take a look at that shot on the poster. That entire scene is unforgettable. The French title for “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is La vie d’Adèle – chapitres 1 et 2 (The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 and 2). An accurate title, given that the movie can be evenly divided: chapter one being a coming-of-age film, and chapter two being a full-blown romance. The two chapters do seem to flow into one another as one film, but even if considered two separate films, any part of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” signifies a masterpiece.

POSTSCRIPT: Before you take up my recommendation, I ask (for the sake of not receiving complaints) that you keep the fast-forward button handy or be fully prepared for anything that should show up onscreen. The NC-17 is quite accurate.

Tomorrow’s Review



Blue Is the Warmest Color

Movie Review #723


Warning: French review ahead, so stay tuned, anyone who doesn’t speak the language. English transliteration comes tomorrow.

Realisé par Abdellatif Kechiche. Scénario, adaptation et dialogue: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix. Adapté du bande-dessinée «Le bleu est une couleur chaude» par Julie Maroh. Produit par Brahim Chioua, Abdellatif Kechiche, et Vincent Maraval pour Quat’sous Films et Wild Bunch, en association avec CNC. Co-production: France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Vértigo Films, et RTBF. Participation: Canal+, Ciné+, FR2, et France Télévision. Support: Eurimages, Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pictanovo, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, et Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Avait pour vedettes Léa Seydoux et Adèle Exarchopoulos. Débuté en Cannes Film Festival le 23 mai 2013. Distribué par Wild Bunch et Sundance Selects (avec sous-titres) en distribution limitée le 25 octobre 2013. Aussi distribué en France et en Belgium le 9 octobre 2013; et en Espagne le 25 octobre 2013. Raté NC-17 par l’MPAA: contenu sexuel évident. Courrant par 179 minutes.

Intrigue est épidémie pour le film au grand amour aussi que la «mort noir» était pour Europe. Ceci n’est pas une affaire d’avoir une intrigue, mais c’est juste une affaire d’avoir trop de cette intrigue. Regard le crème de la crème au genre. «Gone with the Wind», «Doctor Zhivago», et «Reds». Chaque de le trois est un film spectaculeur, mais ils pouvait saisir plus que les émotions de l’audience, si il n’y avait pas beaucoup d’intrigue de la politique. «Blue Is the Warmest Color» est un film d’amour qui est très différent film d’amour. En tous les trois hours de lui, rien fait partie de l’intrigue sauf l’amour des caractères principaux. Et ça, c’est parfait, pour on s’interesse à cet amour.

En autres mots, le film, il est tout de caractère, et dans ce film, caractère contrôle l’intrigue. On commence avec l’introduction d’Adèle, qui a quinze ans. Elle est tenté de sortir avec un mec dans sa classe, mais rien vraiment marche entre lui et elle. Pendant que elle est au rendez-vous avec son petit-ami, elle remarque une autre personne: une femme jeune avec cheveux bleus qui elle trouve assez belle. Plus tard, après elle se brisait avec son petit-ami, Adèle rend visite à un bar et trouve le femme aux cheveux bleus encore. Elles rapidement se tombe en amour, et eventuellement, leur accord est devenu une passion éternel.

Le film est très dynamique parce qu’il est absolument honeste. Il n’embrasse pas les difficultés qu’Adèle passe, particulairement d’être une lesbienne malgré que ses amis croient de cela. Il gratte sur ça, mais la momente qu’Adèle peux accepter qu’elle croit plutôt que les peuples autour d’elle croient, ce film devient une histoire d’amour. Lequel est le meilleur de ça, c’est que le casting est fantastique. Adèle Exarchopoulos et Léa Seydoux dominent leurs rôles parfaitement. Leur accord est entièrement crédible, toutefois, à cause du fait qu’ils sont acteurs inconnu: Seydoux a eu presque rôles à peine visible en «Midnight in Paris» et «Inception»; Exarchopoulos fait sa début là.

«Blue Is the Warmest Color» est une classique moderne. Le cinématographie émerveille, spécifiquement pendant ses gros plans. Simplement jeter un coup d’œil ce photo de l’affiche. Cette scène entière est inoubliable. Le titre en France pour «Blue Is the Warmest Color» est La vie d’Adèle – chapitres 1 et 2. Un titre précis, donné que le film peut être divisé également: chapitre un d’être un film sur le passage à l’âge adulte, et chapitre deux d’être un film d’amour complètement. Les deux chapitres faisent s’infiltrer dans l’un l’autre comme un film; même si considéré deux films séparés, n’importe quel pièce de «Blue Is the Warmest Color» signifie un chef d’œuvre.

Tomorrow’s Review

Blue Is the Warmest Color [English-language review]


Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Movie Review No. 721


Directed by Lee Daniels. Written by Danny Strong. Article: “A Butler Well Served by This Election” by Wil Haygood. Produced by Lee Daniels, Cassian Elwes, Buddy Patrick, Pamela Oas Williams, and Laura Ziskin for Follow Through Productions, Salamander Pictures, Laura Ziskin Productions, Lee Daniels Entertainment, Pam Williams Productions, and Windy Hill Pictures. Starring Forest Whitaker, Michael Rainey Jr., Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Aml Ameen, Clarence Williams III, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo. Premiered in New York City, New York on August 5, 2013. Distributed by The Weinstein Company in wide release on August 16, 2013. Rated PG-13: some violence, disturbing images, sexual content, thematic material and smoking. Runs 132 minutes.

In the opening scenes, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” wreaks of a movie that we’d much rather call “12 Years a Slave”-lite. Then we realize, this sort of cruelty isn’t in a movie set in the 1800′s. It’s 1926! Now let’s fast-forward to 1957, when Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) was no longer a man growing up under an avalanche of powerful racists in the Jazz Age. He was now a butler for the President of the United States.

In getting to this, the movie sets up too quickly, almost unconvincingly, but even so, “The Butler” makes itself clear in delivering its message about racism. Which does seem obvious at first, but an elaboration on the subject matter doesn’t hurt, especially when the message is delivered through the right individual. At the beginning of Gaines’s career, he served the Eisenhower Administration. He retired under the Reagan Administration. That’s seven Presidents this butler worked for. He learned something valuable from each one of them, or maybe that’s just my catching eye of movie formula.

“The Butler” is a very superficial movie, but it does get to a certain spot in our hearts that finds compassion and familiarity to the issues dealt with. Certain protest scenes and a particularly disturbing KKK scene had me surprised that what I was watching was PG-13. Maybe we have faith in a small part of it, because it so reverently and honestly tells of a cultural issue we’re all aware of.

There’s no telling why none (I repeat: none) of these performers look like the figures they’re portraying, but they do so well at it. James Marsden may not look a thing at all like Kennedy, and Alan Rickman may have required a lot of makeup to appear as Reagan, but their personas fit. What I feared of “The Butler” was that it would be cheesy. As I’ve said, it’s superficial. But not cheesy. Superficial, and I’m not really sure whether I can say I’m disappointed or pleased with its outcome. As is the definition of an acceptable movie, “The Butler” met every last one of my expectations. But with a fair bit of woodshed on the project, all my expectations could have been well exceeded.

Tomorrow’s Review

Son of God



Movie Review #720


Blue Lake Media Fund
Bona Fide Productions
Echo Lake Productions

Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish

Directed by Alexander Payne. Produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa. Written by Bob Nelson.

Rated R by the MPAA – infrequent profanity. Runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2013; at Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival and Vancouver International Film Festival on September 26, 2013; at Hamburg Film Festival on September 28, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 3, 2013; at New York Film Festival on October 10, 2013; at London Film Festival on October 11, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 13, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 16, 2013; at Austin Film Festival on October 25, 2013; at Thessaloniki International Film Festival and Cork International Film Festival on November 9, 2013; at Stockholm International Film Festival on AFI Fest on November 11, 2013; at Napa Valley Film Festival on November 12, 2013; at Ljubljana International Film Festival on November 13, 2013; and at Camerimage Film Festival on November 18, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 15, 2013. Wide release in the USA on January 24, 2014.

Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach. Also starring Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray, Angela McEwan, Glendora Stitt, Elizabeth Moore, Kevin Kunkel, Dennis McCoig, Ronald Vosta, Missy Doty, and John Reynolds.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

“Nebraska” takes some time to get going, as far as its story, but there’s one thing that’s almost impossibly evident from the very beginning. From the opening imagery (a Paramount logo that stands as stock footage from the 1950’s) all the way up to the final shot (a depiction of Bruce Dern and Will Forte driving off into the distance), the movie is thoroughly graced with the most breathtaking landscape shots you’d find of the rural areas the father-son duo travel. It’s all filmed in the Beautiful Black and White, which can be (and, in this case, is) the very definition of the Nostalgic Now. For proof that such a paradox does exist, “Nebraska” is very much worth watching.

And let’s admit, the plot isn’t a story you see everyday. Can we truly say that we’ve seen a comedy-drama, or anything for that matter, about a father and a son who go cross-country for the possibility of a million dollars? (I say “the possibility” because sweepstakes are involved.) I sure don’t think that story’s the most usual one. This isn’t a new idea for director Alexander Payne, though. Remember “Sideways”? Yeah, the one about the guys who went a-ways just for some good wine. That’s kind of what this reminded me of, in its humorous side. Because no one goes all the way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska for a million-dollar scam. Oh and remember “About Schmidt”? The sentimental side of this movie seemed to put Bruce Dern in Jack Nicholson’s shoes as he searches his past. It’s a good bit of familiar territory.

This is more of a sentimental movie, however, so comparisons to “About Schmidt” seem significantly more welcome. (The acting, as well, is of a very similar caliber, particularly from Bruce Dern and June Squibb.) Rarely does it go overboard with its heart. It’s atmospheric in a way that’s compassionate, with characters that ultimately surprise us with how much they care about each other. No, this isn’t the dysfunctional family we saw in Payne’s “The Descendants”, but June Squibb (the mother) does not seem very approving of her son taking her husband, who likely has Alzheimer’s, to chase his dream. Actually, she doesn’t seem to approve of anybody, and there’s some good comedy that seems to result from this. “I’m going to go pay my respects,” she says, convincing husband Dern and son Forte to come with her to the graveyard. It’s not long before she finds the headstones of everyone of her deceased in-laws, and starts mocking their lives.

Indeed “Nebraska” is a flawed movie. There’s product placement left and right. Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Miller Lite, Coors, Coors Lite, Vizio, Kia, Mountain Dew, Bose, Onkyo, and more. You don’t really expect that of a movie so reminiscent of cinema’s Golden Age. But if there’s any one scene that best exemplifies the movie’s stronghold of beauty through all of this, it’s that graveyard scene. Or the fifteen minutes of finale. Eh, let’s go with both of ‘em.

Tomorrow’s Review…

Lee Daniels’ The Butler



Movie Review #717


8:38 Productions
Madhouse Entertainment

Presentation: Alcon Entertainment
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Produced by Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Adam Kolbrenner, and Andrew A. Kosove. Written by Aaron Guzikowski.

Rated R by the MPAA – frequent profanity; disturbing content; infrequent, graphic violence. Runs 2 hours, 33 minutes. Premiered at Belgrade on September 18, 2013. Wide relase in the USA on September 20, 2013.

Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette, and Erin Gerasimovich. With a credited cameo appearance by Michelle Keller.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

Time to make a pretty personal confession, if only to make this review a bit easier to write. I can sit through movies about the most depraved people. I often say I’m “immune” to movies, because you can make a movie about a guy who commits this and that crime time and again. I’ll willingly watch it. I might even enjoy the movie. But involve that character in child molestation, child murder, child abduction, and that’s when I’m done for. I still wonder why it’s only this topic that gets me, but anything that specifically involves putting children’s lives in danger is, by its own nature, just too disturbing for me.

Ergo two things. One, I face great trouble in saying that I “enjoyed” “Prisoners”. But I won’t deny that it’s a good movie. Two, the movie is, in my book, effective without having to do more than show up; it could be the most offensively awful movie ever made, and I’d still find it effective for the subject matter.

But “Prisoners” is a good movie, and there’s better ways of saying that. Several. If TV crime procedurals actually worried about more than name-dropping, being sponsored, making money, etc., they’d have a script with drama. I’d say that even the best of those scripts could only be half as good as “Prisoners”. Most of this is due to strong character development. Its way of identifying its ensemble cast is clever and well conceived: we’re not concerned with the happenings between characters during one crime, because once one crime has led to a few more (all involving prisoners, not so surprisingly), the whole thing’s about what Character X is hiding from Character Y. And how to slap a label on Character Z–the encompassing “whodunit.”

Now and then, the plot actually thins a little. Now and then. As in, not that often, but it’s easy to tell just why this movie is an inspired one. In the very first scene, a man shoots a deer. Not sure why, but that’s the most common opening scene I’ve noticed. Later on, “Psycho” and “The Silence of the Lambs” are paid homage. Not that you have to look for it, so long as you can automatically recall the Buffalo Bill manhunt when you see an identical basement.

On the plus side, the movie is impressively faithful to classical film-noir. Jake Gyllenhaal looks, sounds, acts like a 1950′s flick detective, but it’s really (drum roll) the camera that so definitively establishes style here. The camerawork practices the inventive effect that has been on the “wanted” list since John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. The cinematography (from that very first shot of the deer, moving back toward the gun) is incredible. Maybe I’m not the voice of reason, but I’d wager that it’s haunting all on its own, complemented by the use of simplistic music. The sound mixing, I might additionally note, adds to the intensity of this thriller.

“Prisoners” is a David Fincher movie from a director who doesn’t answer to that name. I say this having Fincher in my top ten: very little could he have added to the outcome. And if anything, he’s already done it, maybe even on a lesser level. “Prisoners” is much of the same mosaic full of red herrings that was “Zodiac” in 2007. Except “Zodiac” isn’t set in a neighborhood, and it doesn’t deliver its narrative so personally.

Tomorrow’s Review…

La Strada



Movie Review #716


BBC Films
Baby Cow Productions
British Film Institute (BFI)
Magnolia Mae Films

Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation – The Weinstein Company
Country: UK – USA – France
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Stephen Frears. Produced by Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward, and Gabrielle Tana. Screenplay: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope. Book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”: Martin Sixsmith.

Rated PG-13 on appeal – mature themes; infrequent, strong profanity. Runs 1 hour, 38 minutes. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2013; at Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 6, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12, 2013; at Hawaii Film Festival on October 14, 2013; at BFI London Film Festival on October 16, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 17, 2013; and at Austin Film Festival on October 24, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 22, 2013. Wide release in the UK on November 1, 2013; in the USA on November 27, 2013; and in France on January 8, 2014.

Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, and Michelle Fairley. Also starring Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Ruth McCabe, Peter Hermann, Sean Mahon, and Anna Maxwell Martin.

In her younger years, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was separated from her young son by an Irish convent. This was kept a secret only she and the nuns knew for the longest time. Fifty years later, she wishes to find her son. She is assisted by an ex-reporter for channel 10 news (Steve Coogan); he also reported for, as she puts it, “that other job.” But this is only to figure out that her son has been dead for years.

I’ll spoil no more than that of “Philomena”. From the very beginning of the movie, I was reminded of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. This is a movie about a journalist teaming up with a disturbed woman to investigate a crime he will report on. Which I’m sure is a common premise, but “Philomena” earns the comparison. As if the true story it narrates isn’t horrifying enough, what director Stephen Frears gives us to chew on is absolutely disturbing.

That is why I’m a bit puzzled as to why on earth this was actually a dramedy. It works, but given the plot, any notion of comedy doesn’t make sense, logically. Flashbacks pervade the movie to illustrate Philomena’s haunted past. So does spirited conversation between the two leads (her and the reporter). The sudden shifts from the dismal into the charming feel uneven for a little while, but to much surprise, the script overall seems to pull it off rather masterfully. Philomena’s past (which she has kept secret for several decades) affects the way she behaves around people. Much to our enjoyment, she’s actually more whimsical and full of life than the average old lady.

“Philomena” is a slow moving but gripping and entirely rewarding movie. Steve Coogan’s performance is powerful; Dench’s, an absolute tour de force. Watch her conquer the whole movie, as the disturbed woman who cannot forget her past, as well as the spirited chatterbox who details the book she’s reading ever so thoroughly to someone who just doesn’t care. It definitely is flawed. But god do I hate to write something so meaningless about “Philomena” as much as you hate to read it. It’s like saying, “I looked for a flaw and, as you might guess, I found one.” There’s only one significant flaw that actually gets in the way of “Philomena”, and I’ve already mentioned that one. With the pathos that glows throughout the movie, it definitely COULD have been a great deal worse.

Tomorrow’s Review



The Armstrong Lie

Movie Review #714


Jigsaw Productions
The Kennedy/Marshall Company
Matt Tolmach Productions

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Alex Gibney. Produced by Alex Gibney, Frank Marshall, and Matthew Tolmach. Writer: Alex Gibney.

Rated R by the MPAA – profanity. Runs 2 hours, 4 minutes. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2013; at Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2013; at Zurich Film Festival on September 29, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12, 2013; at London Film Festival on October 16, 2013; and at American Film Festival on October 25, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 8, 2013.

With Reed Albergotti, Betsy Andreu, Frankie Andreu, Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Daniel Coyle, Michele Ferrari, George Hincapie, Phil Liggett, Steve Madden, Bill Strickland, Jonathan Vaughters, Emile Vrijman, and David Walsh.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

It’s the way Alex Gibney opens his documentary that tells me he really believed in Lance Armstrong. The disappointment is audible in his voice as he explains how this film, “The Armstrong Lie”, originally started as a chronicle of Lance’s return to le Tour de France. I have to say, though, that after doping was proven to be the reason for Lance’s domination of les Tours de France for seven straight years, Gibney should’ve just dropped the documentary. As someone who grew up in a family that supported the pantheon of cyclists, at the top of which stood Lance Armstrong, the documentary should have had an effect on me in the way hearing about him in the news at any other time did. I find it strange that I feel far more pissed off at Lance as I write this review than I did watching the documentary.

The movie’s approach is rarely anything new; when it is, it’s repetitive and unnecessary. There’s far too much focus on the drugs Lance used, his plans on how to use those drugs without getting caught. An interesting topic at first, but it often feels like a feature-length report on performance-enhancing drugs like EPO. That I learned more about how red blood cells are key to one’s success in pro cycling, than about how (and why) Lance has lied to us over the years, is terribly unexpected. As someone says early on in the documentary, “This is not a story about doping, it’s a story about power.” It’s so tiresome having to go through two hours hearing about how this nut was cracked. A movie with a title that is “The Armstrong Lie” should explore a much broader topic only fleetingly mentioned: Lance’s manipulation of his fans. His abuse of the power he had as a celebrity. The documentary is often times depressing and disgusting, but I’m led to believe that that comes naturally. I went in with an actual documentary in mind, something on the hamartia of Lance the Deplorable. I came out feeling like I’d just rewatched “Trainspotting”.

Coming Reviews

La Strada
Young Adult


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