Keep Cinemaniac Reviews alive!

Hi, everybody!

Just wanted to let y’all know that I added a “donate” button to the sidebar, as many, many people have urged me to do. If you’re feeling generous, then I implore you to donate and help me keep my blog alive and running.

Why should I donate?  My blog had its “heyday” from the third quarter of 2012 through the second quarter of 2013, and publicity has dropped significantly in the time since.  To give y’all a sense of what that looks like, I averaged 82 hits per day in 2012, but have averaged 44 per day (a 46% drop) over the past ten months.

Where will my donations go?  I’d previously said that 100% of donations will be used for movie tickets, but as I look back at my stats, I am noticing that there is virtually no correlation between the number of movies I see in theaters and the number of views my site gets.  Therefore, I’m taking a much more straightforward (and much less foolish) route: 100% of every donation will be recorded and used for advertising.

Thank you greatly.


Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment


Depressing but effective, if inconclusive.
Movie Review #1,020


I like cake. It doesn’t rank quite as high among my favorite dessert foods as crême brulée, but if it’s made right, it can be really good. In fact, I’ve eaten cake twice within the last week. My sister made me a chocolate bundt cake for my birthday, and it was so good that I ate a fifth of it before realizing it hadn’t been iced yet. I also had chocolate cake with popcorn ice cream at the famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema a few days ago.

My point? A word like “cake” is very positive. I’m not exactly sure why Daniel Barnz would use it as the title for such a depressing film. It refers to a minor event in the movie that most of us won’t even remember. I can think of at least fifteen better one-word, four-letter titles that aren’t as much of a four-letter word as this one.

That’s the weakest thing “Cake” has to offer–its title. It’s definitely marked with other imperfections, as well. One of such is its inconclusive ending. Barnz has our attention through the whole film, but it’s not until the very end that we start to wonder if the film has actually gone somewhere. It seems that “Cake” ends on its most emotional note, rather than on its most logical. There’s an overwhelming “Huh?” when the movie cuts from its last shot–a wrenching, cathartic frame of Jennifer Aniston’s face–because the movie feels unfinished. We wonder what happens next, not because the film is thought-provoking (although it is indeed), but because Barnz has decided to close shop fifteen minutes early.

It’s a shame that the film ends just when we are most engaged in it. “Cake” betters every minute at gripping its audience. Seeing Jennifer Aniston sans makeup and in a tremendously solemn role is a bit off-putting at first, but we quickly begin to appreciate the lifelike degree that her performance reaches. Her portrayal of a woman with chronic pain disorder is a bit difficult to watch; she nearly makes her character’s pain tangible to the audience. Her obsessive desire to know more about the suicide of her best friend (Anna Kendrick, who makes in an unconvincing pair with Aniston in every possible way) adds a great deal of gravity to the movie. It’s really her performance that makes “Cake” worthwhile. You know how sometimes an actor or actress can “carry a movie”? Well, that certainly is the case here.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Far from the Madding Crowd

“Far from” perfect, but a well-made romance.
Movie Review #1,019


If you are capable of reading while listening to music, then I’ll recommend finding The Who’s “I Can See for Miles” and letting it play as you read this review. Why? Forgive me for starting out on an utterly corny note, but when you’re looking at “Far from the Madding Crowd”, you really can see for miles (and miles and miles and miles and miles). Thomas Vinterberg is a great director. We’ve seen this in his Danish works, and we see it now in his first British film, although we don’t see it quite as much. I’d like to say that there’s nothing he really could’ve done to make the film less predictable, but, in the words of Samuel L. Jackson, that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is, Mr. Vinterberg is the director, and when his vision of “Far from the Madding Crowd” turns out roughly as predictable as the average Nicholas Sparks movie, that’s his own damn fault.

“Far from the Madding Crowd” focuses on three men of different social status who are pining for the same woman. Within the first ten minutes, we already know who the heroine is going to end up falling for. Watching two hours devoted to goings-on among the only four people who don’t seem to know this can make for a less interesting experience, but maybe that’s the only thing the film doesn’t have going for it. The film is magnificently opulent, even for a period piece where such expectations are warranted. The music, from the increasingly versatile and brilliant mind of Alexandre Desplat, is majestically resemblant of late Romantic Era music. It’s a combination of the two that makes the ending so beautiful, we almost forgive it for being entirely foreseeable. But even so, they aren’t the best the film has to offer. It’s Carey Mulligan that makes “Far from the Madding Crowd” into a memorable film. At her best, she’s dissolved into the mind, body, and soul of the character; at her worst, she forms an emotional connection between character and audience. If she’s not nominated for the Best Actress Oscar this year, I blame Fox Searchlight Pictures for releasing the film so early in the year.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment


In execution, it’s as captivating and intense as Cheryl Strayed’s story, though with one defining flaw.
Movie Review #1,018


Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is a woman who acts on emotion rather than reason. That explains her former lifestyle of heroin addiction and sleeping around. It’s when her life starts to go downhill that she decides to take a step back. She’s financially unstable. Her marriage is falling apart. She’s had to abort an unwanted pregnancy that resulted from one of her many affairs. The breaking point, however, is when her mother dies of cancer. Strayed decides she wants to put everything behind her, and uses her irrationality for the better, this time: she’ll hike 1,000 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail, because that will be enough to clear her mind and help her start anew.

Under the command of progressivist director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”), the film handles its range of heavy subject matters with deep and emotional impact. Cheryl’s difficulty in enduring her hike is channeled in our own endurance of the film. In the very first scene, we watch Strayed pull the nail off her big toe. Although I’m practically desensitized to grotesque imagery in movies, I still cowered. It’s a sight that gives the piss-drinking scene in “127 Hours” a run for its money. There’s a multitude of equally revolting, if only momentary, scenes throughout the film depicting Strayed’s sex and drug addictions in full form. It’s not the easiest film to watch, and it tends to be a slow burner, but it’s no less an interesting watch.

“Wild” is every bit the strongest example of a feminist film since “Erin Brockovich”. It’s well-anchored by Reese Witherspoon’s performance. She depicts Strayed in various states of mind throughout various stages of her life. If there’s any doubt of the actress’s versatility, the film renders it invalid. However, “Wild” crosses a line. It’s feminist, but it’s also somewhat misandrist–thus triumphantly combatting one form of sexism while lightly promoting another. There’s not one truly admirable male character in the movie. Each and every one is ultimately depicted as either sketchy, unambitious, or misogynist. Whether this is indeed true to Strayed’s story, I’m not sure. If she took away from her experience a message that “men are bad,” that’s one thing. Witnessing it secondhand, I’d rather not find that sort of discriminatory message in any movie.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Without a doubt, the best documentary of 2015.
Movie Review #1,017


“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is a difficult film to assess. Perhaps that’s because it’s just as difficult to take in–and it deserves a great hand for that. This is a masterful amalgamation of the experimental, the narrative, and the nonfiction. How much of it is actually true is impossible to determine, but we don’t care to determine it, either. “Montage of Heck” could be 100% fiction, and it still has our eyes glued to the screen.

We’ve never gotten a more personal account of Kurt Cobain, or any artist, on film before. It’s a vivid, graphic, lurid, and shockingly enthralling montage (as the title promises) of virtually anything that Cobain ever created. Forget the interviews with Kurt’s friends, neighbors, and family–these are what make the film into such a heavily personal account. Super 8 footage, haphazard notebook sketches, demos, budgets, love letters, autobiographical tape recordings, diary entries. The embellishments that have emerged through the production of the film add another dimension to its reality. We hear a variety of Nirvana songs not in their pure and produced forms, but in strange, surreal orchestrations by Jeff Danna. Whenever Kurt narrates his life story, it’s depicted in “Waking Life”-esque animation sequences.

I’ll note that the film is intrusive on the life of Cobain and his wife Courtney Love. They couple is seen either naked or doing drugs several times throughout the latter half of the film. But it certainly adds to the affinity the film allows us to feel with Cobain. The film is a brutal work of art in that the more filth and depravity it reveals in Cobain’s life, the more it hooks us, and the more we begin to identify with the artist. His much-talked-about death is mentioned in nothing more than a ten-second title card, and for a film that both explores his life, that’s all that truly needs to be said about his death. We end up feeling sorry for Cobain’s unfortunate (and sudden) demise, but more than that, we find ourselves celebrating the genius that was present for that short period.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

A fascinating dive into Steve’s success, his brilliance, his Machiavellianism.
Movie Review #1,016


Steve Jobs was a genius. There’s no denying it. What was once an idea Jobs had in college based on his experience with blue boxes and phone phreaking, became what is now one of the biggest business superpowers known to man, and easily the most well-known. That’s impressive. But the man was also an arrogant asshole. A title like “The Man in the Machine” is telling. His public appearance was inviting and likable, but that’s as far as most knew of him. He was a master at succinct slogans and a wordsmith in public appearances. Even after his death, there’s still much talk about the slogan “Think Different”, as well as his 2004 commencement address at Stanford University. And yet, as director Alex Gibney reveals in his shocking documentary, this is the same man who claimed he was infertile in court to avoid the responsibility of parenthood; the same man who took 90% of Steve Wozniak’s share when they first created Breakout for Atari.

Almost every Alex Gibney documentary focuses on one theme: corruption, and its omnipotence in American icons. He’s covered Enron, Lance Armstrong, and many more in between. Individuals and businesses who have succeeded thanks to corrupt behavior, and later fallen due to the discovery of their corruption. “The Man in the Machine” is different. Gibney reveals that Jobs is neither the man we imagined him as, nor is he entirely corrupt. His methods and personality are pragmatic, but not corrupt. It’s worse because he gets away with everything. “The Man in the Machine” focuses on this dark side of the auteur. You’d think that there’d be at least some doubt about how much of the information here is actually true, and you’d be wrong. Everything Gibney presents here is 100% convincing, and quite stunningly so.

But there’s one more thing. If there’s something I can guarantee more than anything else about the documentary, it is that it will change your perspective on Jobs.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Wild Tales

Implausible, violent, and hysterical.
Movie Review #1,015


There’s a Simpsons episode called “Revenge Is Best Served Three Times”. It’s exactly as the title would indicate. Marge, Lisa, and Bart all take turns narrating three separate revenge stories, each one separated by a commercial break. Damián Szifron’s “Wild Tales” is sort of the same thing, except this anthology film offers twice as many tales of sweet revenge, each about three times as long and nine or ten times more outlandish.

The opening segment acts as a teaser for the rest of the film. The humor is ironic and very, very dark. These first ten minutes are set around a woman who has boarded a plane and gets talking with the passenger next to her. First we discover that he’s a music critic. Then we discover that her ex-boyfriend was a musician for some time. Then we discover that she’s sitting next to the very critic who ruined her ex-boyfriend’s career with a bad review. Slowly, we begin to realize that they’re not at all the only ones on the plane who have some affiliation with this man. Soon enough, everybody has stood up and explained how they know this one man. Finally, the scene ends when the stewardess emerges from the cockpit and announces that the plane is going to crash soon. The man who was initially just an ex-boyfriend and musician, is now a pilot who has gathered everyone who has ever done him wrong onto a plane and is trying to kill them all at once.

Some might find this sort of situation sad. If you get that reaction to this ouverture to “Wild Tales”, then turn the movie off. You don’t need or deserve to see the rest of this ingenious comedy. The movie grows funnier, more violent, and more ridiculous with every segment. Every act of vengeance here far outweighs the original infliction. The second segment involves a loan shark who stops by a restaurant where the waitress is the daughter of a man he had killed. She and the cook debate over whether to kill him, and when the waitress is too afraid to poison his food, the cook decides to go ahead and stab him to death. In the next segment, a man gets a flat tire after giving another driver the finger. The other driver turns around and breaks his windshield before taking a dump on it. Then they enter a state of guerrilla warfare, which only ends when one of them lights the gas tank on fire while they are both inside of the car. Next, a demolitions expert’s car is towed despite the fact that he has parked legally. He complains to the DMV, but they keep demanding his money and continually refuse to hear him out, so he blows up the DMV.

In one of the less interesting segments, a pregnant woman is killed in a hit-and-run by a teenager who has been smoking marijuana, and her husband swears vengeance on the kid. But the movie has hoisted itself right back on its feet again by its grand finale: the final, longest, and best segment, where a bride hazes her husband at their wedding party, after having discovered that he had cheated on her with one of her guests. This is additionally by far the most developed of the stories, insomuch that the bride, Romina (Érica Rivas), is an incredible femme fatale. The segment is outstanding over, but the real icing on the cake is the early climactic moment when she has with the kitchen janitor to get back at her husband.

The great thing about the segments in this anthology is that they’re succinct. They don’t intend on revealing a whole story. The man’s motive for crashing the plane in the first segment is never revealed, but then again, we never really inquire it. “Wild Tales” is so “wildly entertaining” because of its punchy storytelling. Every segment is the first paragraph of a news article, rather than the entirety of it, in that it gives us exactly what we want to know, and nothing more.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Magic Mike XXL

A repeat of the first movie, with more humor and less plot.
Movie Review #1,014


If you enjoyed the first “Magic Mike”, chances are you’ll enjoy its sequel. I’ll tell you up front, though, what not to expect: do not expect a movie as serious as the first one. “XXL” flips the dark drama that Steven Soderbergh’s penultimate film was onto its head, and turns it into a free-spirited, upbeat comedy. Do expect to have a lot of fun with this movie. I must admit, I had quite some fun. But don’t expect much else.

I have trouble putting my finger on exactly what “Magic Mike XXL” entails. Its plot is very elementary. Like its predecessor, it’s about male strippers. Mike has taken a break from stripping for some time. You might say he’s been handling his wood more directly these days, as he’s been focusing mainly on his construction business. But all of a sudden, he runs into his buddies and they decide they’ll all head down south to Tampa where they all belong. They’re going to compete in a stripper convention there.

By the end, they’ve arrived at the stripper convention, and we no longer see anything but exotic dancing from the likes of men. Though be that as it may, I understand that this is a road movie, and thus it’s the journey that matters more than the destination. But what is there in the journey that we really care all too much about? Aside from hither-and-thither scenes featuring some impressive and, dare I say, incredible dance moves from Channing and the gang, there’s really only one pitstop they make that’s truly worth mentioning here. It involves a few stereotypical Southern Baptist women who start to let loose once Mike and the gang show up. It’s fun and hilarious, and at the end of the day, it’s the handful of scenes like that that make the movie memorable.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Soaked in Bleach

Nevermind this documentary.
Movie Review #1,013


If you’re good at your craft, then you can make a great many people want to listen to you, and you can convince many of them that you’re right. I wouldn’t say that Benjamin Statler is exactly good at his craft of documentary filmmaking. He’s not bad either, though. I’ll admit that he does one of those two things: he makes us want to listen to him. His documentary “Soaked in Bleach” is interesting. It just isn’t very convincing at all.

You can look at the title through two different lenses. It’s a direct reference to a line from the Nirvana song “Come as You Are”, but more than that, it intends to suggest that the cause of Kurt Cobain’s death isn’t as we might believe. “Soaked in Bleach” deeply analyzes the incident and many of the situations that surrounded it. Maybe his death was not a suicide, and maybe it was in fact a murder for which his widow, Courtney Love, is responsible. Those are the intentions of a documentary film. Indeed, half of it is comprised of interviews with Tom Grant that make him out to be a feeble conspiracy theorist, rather than the private investigator who was hired to investigate the murder. I suppose that’s technically what “Soaked in Bleach” is, but I have trouble referring to it as such. At least thirty percent of the movie depicts Sarah Scott and Daniel Roebuck reenacting the real-life conversations between Courtney Love and Private Investigator Tom Grant. The fact that Love’s depiction feels like a shallow, disgraceful caricature makes it unconvincing enough. It makes the film even more unconvincing that the dialogue spoken by actors in these scenes is sporadically overdubbed by tape recordings of the real conversations between these two back in 1994. Now I’m not the greatest documentarian, but I do know this is bad filmmaking. It’s akin to reading a term paper in which nine out of ten phrases is a quotation. We start to question the validity of everything that isn’t heard on a tape recording in this film. We also get the impression that Statler is just trying too hard to prove his point, or perhaps not in the right ways.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Wolfpack

As some who loves movies, I found it impossible not to love “The Wolfpack”.
Movie Review #1,012


“The Wolfpack” documents the Angulo family, six boys and one girl, whose father wanted to live in Scandinavia and whose mother wanted to live in the Midwest where she grew up. Neither place was affordable, though, and they wound up living in a public housing project in New York City. It’s a completely different lifestyle for all of them, especially since their father does not let them out of the apartment. Now and then, he’ll bring them somewhere under his strict supervision. The most they’ve ever done this, however, is nine times in a single year, and there are in fact some years where they do not exit the apartment at all.

The film takes two sides on the father to help us better understand him. Initially, we get the impression that he’s overprotective. We wonder what kind of individual would ever do this to his children (and, to an extent, his wife, as well). But beyond the extreme protection that goes into this decision of his, there’s also the fact that he’s worried for his children’s safety. We can all agree that New York is as unpredictable a city as any, and particularly so for two parents who have never before lived in a city. We learn to understand his reasoning for keeping his kids inside all day every day, and we grow to admire him quite a bit. We begin to realize that he’s not putting his family last–in fact, he’s putting them first, far in front of whatever is second.

As someone who values cinema more than anything else in this world, I found it impossible to not enjoy “The Wolfpack”. The film largely focuses what the kids do when they’re not being homeschooled: they engross themselves in the world of movies. They watch over 5,000 movies together, and this is how they get to know the world around them. Sometimes, one of them will write down every line so they can reenact the movie later on. Their reflection on the consequences of their reenactments offer the best moments of the movie. When the oldest sibling is 15 years old, he decides to leave the apartment unsupervised. He wears a Michael Myers masking to avoid being seen by his father, who is out shopping for groceries. Inevitably, somebody calls the police, and he is arrested and put in a mental institution. At another point, the police come to their apartment with a search warrant, because someone reported possession of weapons, having noticed them through the window reenacting “Reservoir Dogs” with cardboard guns. These scenes are, on one hand, sad because the Angulo kids don’t know society enough to be able to operate properly when society is watching. But at the same time, they summon our inner child in an amusing and rejuvenating way.

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment