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Power Rangers photo
Power Rangers

Nick reacts to the new Power Rangers look


We're not Iron Man
May 05
// Matthew Razak
We got our first look at the Power Rangers movie villain and we know the cast, but now we finally get to the see the Rangers in their suits. As our resident Power Rangers expert we shall now go to Nick Valdez for his ini...

Review: Captain America: Civil War

May 03 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220556:42944:0[/embed] Captain America: Civil WarDirectors: Anthony and Joe RussoRated: PG-13Release Date: May 6, 2016 Civil War is basically the Avengers movie we all hoped Avengers 2 would be. At the end of my review for that film I worried that the MCU might be buckling under its own weight thanks to the inconsistencies in the film, but Civil War abolishes that worry faster than the Hulk smashing Loki. It's tightly paced, full of both the fun and action we've come to know from Marvel's films and never feels rushed or bloated despite its more than two hour running time. Maybe we needed Avengers 2 to get us here, but this is the one you were waiting for. After the events of Avengers 2 (and any other Marvel film that came along since then) we find that people are getting a little tired of the world getting destroyed by super powered people. Enter the Sokovia Accords, a U.N. resolution that the Avengers and all powered people will not act without permission from the U.N. Captain America (Chris Evans), who distrust of the government was beautifully set up in Winter Soldier, finds himself disagreeing with this new law while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) supports it. Most of the known Avengers split up to one side or the other with Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) hopping in on Caps side, Spider-Man  (Tom Holland) -- making his triumphant debut to the MCU -- on Iron Man's team and Black Panther somewhere in the middle (Chadwick Boseman). From there throw-downs ensue as Cap tries to save Buckey (Sebastian Stan) from being framed for killing the King of Wakanda. There is a big bad guy operating in the background, of course, but unlike in previous MCU films this one is impressively well toned and developed. The character perfectly supports the true themes of the film without being big or flashy. He's a refreshing divergence from what we've seen before and should come as a surprise to many. This all sounds like a lot for any movie to handle. BvS could barely handle three characters and Marvel is here telling a deep and emotional story with 12. They can pull it off easily thanks to experience and history. In fact it all banks on that history. What would traditionally be an overcrowded movie doesn't feel overcrowded at all because all the normal stuff (intros, character development, etc.) has already been done previously. In fact there's almost 10 years of it to work with. This allows breathing room in the script to introduce both Black Panther and Spider-Man with ease despite also developing Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) more, introducing a fantastically banal (in all the right ways) villain and covering that whole civil war thing. Oh, and the best action the MCU has ever seen. The Russo brothers outshine every other director in the MCU when it comes to their action sequences. There are moments in this film that will make your jaw drop because you've never seen anything like it before. The fights are fantastically choreographed and shot so well that they pull you to the edge of your seat breathless. Despite seeing most of these folks fight before everything feels fresh and powerful. Each hero has their own fighting style making every battle unique. Avengers and Avengers 2 may have given us giant action catastrophes, but Civil War brings the action to a personal level allowing for some truly amazing fight sequences littered with iconic shots ripped straight from the comics. There's plenty to be said about both Black Panther and Spider-Man, but to start it must be mentioned just how good Downey Jr. is as Stark/Iron Man. The hero, racked over guilt from his previous actions, is progressively more and more worn down throughout the film and Downey Jr. delivers what is probably his best performance as the character. The bravado steadily peeling away to reveal a truly flawed character. I'm surprised they didn't introduce the character's alcoholism here, but maybe they're just not going to tackle it at all. With the way the character is going they hardly need it at this point.  Meanwhile everyone else brings their A game as well. Boseman is sleek and confident as the Black Panther, pulling off a character that feels drastically different from the rest of the cast -- as he should. Even his movements and fighting style feel new and different, making it hard to wait for his stand alone film. Holland's Spider-Man is much the same, especially since Marvel smartly glazes over origins to get us right into the wise-cracking Spidey. It makes the wait for Homecoming even harder. Hell, every character makes the wait for their next movie even harder and we once again have to ask ourselves why Hawkeye and Black Widow don't at least have their own joint film if not stand alone ones. It's the strength of all these characters, lovingly developed over the years, that makes Civil War work so well. It also works because Marvel knows how to make these movies. If you've been dying for a massive divergence from the MCU's general feel (aside for Guardians) this isn't going to do anything for you. It's the exact right balance of emotion, humor and action that Marvel knows works so well because... it really does work so well. The film keeps things light when it needs to be, heavy when it should be and still progresses a universe building plot without getting in the way of the movie itself. It is the classic Marvel movie formula executed once again, and while you thought that might be getting stale you're once again forced to admit that it just works.  Did I mention the score? It's fantastic. Henry Jackman wonderfully mixes in new themes and old to deliver a musical triumph that never overpowers what is going on onscreen, but always works.  The film's biggest flaw is that it's a Captain America movie. This means that most of the plot and action revolve around him, and we seem to miss out on a bit of the other characters because of it. This leads to it being almost impossible to be on any side but #TeamCap. Yet it is an absolutely fantastic Cap story that helps bring Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Buckey to the forefront. The second biggest flaw may be for newcomers who might be lost without the context of the previous films. However, anyone who hasn't kept up a little with the MCU probably won't be seeing this movie in the first place and if they do the action is enough to keep you glued to the screen. By this time one would think that the Marvel formula was getting old and that it wouldn't work anymore, and yet the studio just keeps making it better. At some point they may truly stumble (maybe you think they already have), but it sure as hell isn't with Captain America: Civil War. 
Civil War photo
Biceps
I can guarantee one thing about Captain America: Civil War. When you come out of the theater you will have an incredible appreciation for Chris Evans' biceps. Like... woh. I can almost guarantee another thing (though some people are just crazy): you're absolutely going to love it. 

Review: Eva Hesse

May 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220557:42943:0[/embed] Eva HesseDirector: Marcie BegleiterRating: NRRelease Date: April 27, 2016 (NYC, with future limited release in select cities) Hesse began her career as a painter and illustrator, and her early work could be described as abstract expressionist or post-abstract expressionist. She'd later flourish by combining painting and sculpture, using texture, repetition, humor, protrusion, interruption, surrealism, and absurdity to create a style all her own. The film develops connections between the work, Hesse's Jewish identity, and her strained or distant personal relationships, and with varying degrees of success. It's all engaging, yet I felt the movie was in a more comfortable groove when in the thick of the art and the art scene. Hesse's best known works are generally her post-minimalist sculptures crafted from industrial materials like resin, fiberglass, plastic, and rubber. Many of these materials were purchased along Canal Street back when New York City was a bohemian wonderland. Like all movies about that creative boom period, the images of dangerous and affordable squalor left me wistful for a place and a scene that no longer exists. Pearl Paint was still there, today it's no more. Director Marcie Begleiter uses Hesse's diaries, letters, and calendars to structure a intimate portrait of the artist and her work. Yet Begleiter is careful in her approach, suggesting connections between life and work without delving into the psychological drives or underpinnings. Writer Lucy Lippard, a friend of Hesse's who's interviewed in the film, even stops herself mid-answer from making any definitive psychological pronouncements about the work. It's a careful balance, the difference between appreciation and diagnosis, and while the life is the material of the work just as much as string and resin, the work is more than just the manifestation of an irresolvable turmoil. Hesse is anxious over a trip to Germany given her childhood anxieties and strife about her homeland, and yet she's able to find her own voice as an artist by being there. Later as Hesse struggles with her health, her reliance on chance, gravity, and materials that degrade may suggest a kind of resignation and acceptance. As a nice correlative, Begleiter punctuates a celebration of the artist's legacy with a memento mori straight from Hesse's journals. Even without this knowledge, Hesse's work has this beguiling power given its singular vision. This may just speak to the autobiographical nature of encountering artwork. It's an imperfect Venn diagram: the life and times of the artist and the life and times of the person encountering the art meet in the middle-space of the work itself. Selma Blair reads excerpts from Hesse's journals with a lulled sadness, sort of like an adult Wednesday Addams, yet Blair's croaks and pauses in delivery have bruises in them. We only hear Hesse's real voice once in the film, and it's totally different from Blair's line reading. Hesse's New York accent is thick and endearing and vulnerable in its own way. It got me wondering about the different ways we read and interpret writings aloud, and how there's a seriousness about reading from diaries and letters that's never quite present in our extemporaneous speech. Even when Blair's voicing letters between Hesse and her friends, the read is more like a monologue than a conversation. Maybe even private writings are really conversational. Whatever minor qualms I might have about form and content, it doesn't detract from the documentary's primary focus, which is an appreciation of Eva Hesse the artist and Eva Hesse the woman. Hesse's life, like her work, leaves an impression, a little fingerprint on a plastic vessel, or the drip of resin on the floor of a Bowery loft.
Review: Eva Hesse photo
The artist is her material
Almost every creative work is inescapably autobiographical. We can't get outside ourselves, so whatever's been experienced finds expression in the work, whether consciously or unconsciously. Even formal attempts to divest the...

Space Jam 2 photo
Welcome to the god damn Jam!
Holy mother of pearl, it's happening. It's really happening. We're about to return to the Jam and Lebron James is coming with us (also Justin Lin). THR is reporting that the basketball star is set to star in the Looney Toons ...


Review: Keanu

May 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220303:42784:0[/embed] KeanuDirector: Peter AtencioRelease Date: April 29, 2016Rating: R  Because I know just what my audience wants from comedy film reviews, let's talk about race! (But, fortunately for most of us, not in the way you might think.) I've now seen Keanu twice: First at a press screening in New York City early last week, and then again yesterday at a movie theater in Seekonk, Massachusetts. The former was packed, in a large theater. But the audience wasn't just large; it was also mixed. There were all sorts of people there, from all walks of life. (Many NYC press screenings that take place in regular movie theaters allow for members of the public to join in, so it isn't just stuffy old critics.) The theater in Seekonk was nearly empty. As I walked in, I saw a group of half a dozen teenagers get turned away by the ticket taker. I assume they were trying to get into Keanu (because they sure as hell weren't trying to see Mother's Day). I was surprised, upon getting into the theater, to find it was occupied almost exclusively by old white people. Given the territory, I wasn't super surprised by the ethnicity, but I was surprised by the age. I think of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as comedians for the younger generation, and so I assumed that any movie that starred them would attract people my age, not twice or three times my age. It was fascinating, really, but what was much more fascinating was the response; specifically, the lack of response, from many of the people in the second theater versus those in the first. I could, probably fairly, argue that the first crowd laughed too often. When Key showed up for the first time, people laughed. It was like they didn't know he was going to be in the movie and this was a comedic surprise. In Seekonk, no one laughed. Stony silence.  But I preferred the former, obviously. Several years ago, I saw a film that ranks among my favorite of all time, Sunny. In my review, I mentioned how weird it felt to see the movie alone, because I spent so much time laughing hysterically, but there was no one there to share that with. Comedy isn't just about laughter; it's about shared laughter. I will always prefer a comedy with an audience, a receptive audience in particular.  The white crowd, however... I think they were uncomfortable. Some objectively great jokes early in the film were met with crickets, but many of them were not necessarily racially charged but were racially tinged. Some minor laughs here and there felt uncomfortable. And I stifled my own laughter as a result of it. There was a key moment in the film involving a backflip that marked the turning point. The characters' immediate reactions to said move are straight-up hilarious, and even stuffy old white men couldn't help themselves. It loosened them up, and that made the rest of the film more enjoyable for all of us. So, what's my point? If you can, see Keanu with a diverse crowd. That is, undoubtedly, an odd thing to say, and some part of me feels uncomfortable saying it, but... it's true. The fact that Key and Peele are biracial has always been a fundamental part of their comedy, and that is reflected in what they've done here. So: Big crowd. Diverse crowd. (We made it, y'all! Race talk, over! Let's talk about cats now!) The Keanu in the title refers to a kitten, who after escaping the site of a brutal massacre, shows up at the door of Jordan Peel's Rell. Rell is in a funk, because his girlfriend broke up with him, and at first you think that the movie might be about helping Rell get over that sadness, but... nope. Keanu shows up, and Rell is better by the time Key's Clarence gets to the door to help him out. Instead, Keanu is stolen by the leader of the Blips (the gang that replaced the Bloods and the Crips), and Rell decides it's time to go get their cat back. In the process, they are mistaken for the Allentown Brothers, two hitmen types (also played by Key and Peele), and it goes from there. But the crucial thing about all of it is that this truly is a film about one man's relationship with a cat that he has known for a very short period of time. Yeah, Clarence and Rell have their family whatever, and each character grows in some fun ways, and there are certainly other meaningful interactions, but when it comes down to it: Keanu. That's what this is all about. And you couldn't ask for a better heart to the movie. That cat is ludicrously adorable. A recent addition to the cast of New Girl is an animal talent agent, and I like to imagine a character like his bringing this kitten into the audition. I can't imagine that they didn't take one look and say, "We're done. This is the only kitten that anyone will ever need ever." Some people go to war over women, but Rell and co. go to war over a cat, and I think they're entirely justified in their actions, no matter how many terrible things they may have to do in the process. Keanu steals the show whenever he's onscreen, doing some of the best animal work I can think of in any show. I spent as much time thinking about how adorable he was as I spent awed by what the trainers were able to make him do. He's got a bright future ahead of him as a cat star, and I would be oh-so-okay with that, because he is the most adorable thing in the world. And honestly, what more to do you need? I could have actually talked about the movie in this review, but why? You don't need me to list my favorite moments to do that (I could, though (the followup to that backflip is really, really high on the list (just saying))). If you didn't see that cat and say, "Yup. I'm in," then there's nothing left for us to talk about. Of course you should see Keanu. Just, ya know, don't forget to see it with a crowd.
Keanu photo
Meow
I think everyone can agree that Key and Peele was a great show, and I think all of us were at least a little bit sad when it ended. Though it didn't hit with every sketch or every episode, the team's consistent creativity has...

Flash loses director photo
Flash loses director

Director Seth Grahame-Smith runs from Flash movie over creative differences


A DC cinematic universe slow down?
Apr 30
// Hubert Vigilla
Looks like the DC cinematic universe has run into a problem, and we don't mean the box office slowdown for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Director Seth Grahame-Smith has dashed from The Flash over creative differences, which leaves star Ezra Miller stranded at the starting line.
Shinobu movie photo
Shinobu movie

Sega's Shinobi will get the cinematic treatment because ninjas = money


Other Sega titles also being considered
Apr 30
// Hubert Vigilla
The 1980s were a boom period for being a ninja. There were tons of ninja movies, loads of ninja games, and almost everywhere you went, people were going to college to major in Ninjutsu. (Full disclosure: I majored in Philosop...
Punisher photo
One batch, two batch
If you watched this last season of Daredevil you know that someone finally nailed Punisher. Jon Bernthal absolutely stole the show with his slightly psychotic and entirely compelling portrayal of Frank Castle. People lov...

Review: Mother's Day

Apr 29 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220546:42940:0[/embed] Mother's DayDirector: Garry MarshallRated: PG-13Release Date: April 28, 2016  I think Mother's Day is supposed to be about being a mom because it's called Mother's Day, which seems like it would be the name of a movie about being a mom. It really isn't though. We find Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), a divorced mom with two kids still kind of pining over her ex-husband who has recently married a 20-year-old. There's Miranda (Julia Roberts), a HSN host who is somehow actually famous. And then Jesse (Kate Hudson) who has married an Indian man, Russell (Aasif Mandvi), without her racist parents knowing. Finally Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) has just lost his wife and is raising two daughters. Children actually play a very small part in this film as it's more about romantic relationships than being a mom -- don't worry, it fails at romance as well. There are plot lines in here involving children and becoming a parent, but they're buried under what has to be the worst screenplay written this year. It's seriously bad, and I'm not even discussing the casual racism it tosses around for no reason. The movie feels like the its four screenwriters (two male, two female) got together and wrote conversations for a group of women characters based on advice from an alien race who had only experienced conversations between females by watching soap operas. It is easily the most stilted tripe to ever pour out of any of these actors mouths. Watching the legendary Julia Roberts stoop so low in such a bad wig as some sort of favor to Garry Marshall was revolting.  The entire movie is revolting, especially since it somehow mistakes flat out racism for comedy. When Jesse's parents find out she's married to Russell as he accidentally walks in after they surprise her with a visit their first reaction is to wonder what a "towel head" is doing in her house. The audience at my screening instantly gasped and then sat there in horror as it only got worse. For some reason the filmmakers thought that the parents' flat out offensive and racist actions would be charming and whimsical, as if we're supposed to laugh along at those silly old folks who just disowned their grandchild for being "a little dark." No really, someone says that. I want to make it perfectly clear that jokes about race can be hilarious. Comedy is one of the best ways to address race issues, but this movie confuses using race for humor with actually being racist. None of the lines are actually jokes, they're just racist (and sexist and homophobic) statements said out loud as if that's enough to make something funny. Just because you say you're a comedy doesn't mean you can say offensive things without a punchline. There's no deeper meaning here either. Sure, in the end everyone comes around and no one is racist anymore (because it's that simple), but it's handled with such dull-witted ineptitude that you can only sit there with your jaw open and wonder if anyone making the movie actually understood the history humanity. I want to really stress just how incredibly out of touch with reality this film is. We'll ignore the fact that all the characters are cliches, none of the actors seem to actually care that they're there and that it easily has one of the worst soundtracks in the past ten years. We're ignoring all of this because at the end of Mother's Day Asif Mandvi, the only minority in the vehicle, gets out of an RV and a group of cops go to pull their guns on him. This is a joke. In the middle of a crisis of violence on minorities by police this film deems it appropriate to have an Indian man pinned to the ground as a group of white people, who very recently called him racial slurs, stand around gawking. That's it by the way. That's the joke. It just happens and everyone is OK with it once one of the cops RECOGNIZES THE INDIAN GUY AS HER DOCTOR. If I was Mandvi I would have walked off the set faster than an American Indian in an Adam Sandler film.  The only reason this movie didn't get a zero is because Jason Sudeikis is so damn charming even when he's stuck in crap like this. Crap where his meet cute is based around awkwardly buying tampons and then followed up by a second meet cute where his hand is stuck in a candy machine. Only that man could make something that stupid work, and even then one has to ask oneself why, in a movie called Mother's Day, one fourth of the lead characters needs to be a father. I get that it's supposed to be about the hole a mother leaves when she dies, but it really isn't at all and it makes for just another bit of sexism to add into this already turgid pile of crap.  There's about 50 other things wrong with this movie like why all the women seem to be constantly working out or why the only minority character aside from Mandvi and his mother is a sassy black woman. It would be impossible to catalog every way this movie is the film equivalent of the KKK projectile vomiting onto celluloid while a group of men attempt to write a screenplay about women with their penises, but I'll digress because I'm getting too angry and this human excrement of a movie isn't worth it.
Mother's Day photo
A racist, sexist, unfunny pile of crap
I'm not going to pull punches here because Mother's Day is easily the worst movie I have seen in years. It is unfathombly offensive, boring, unfunny and terrible in every way possible. I didn't head into it thinking it was go...

Review: Ratchet & Clank

Apr 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220548:42938:0[/embed] Ratchet & ClankDirectors: Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe Rated: PGRelease Date: April 29, 2016 There's nothing really wrong with Ratchet & Clank. It's a perfectly standard set up that pulls from all your other favorite science-fiction classics. Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a Lombax mechanic on a remote desert planet who dreams of being like his hero, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), but when tryouts for Qwark's team of heroes roll around he's laughed out of the building by the man himself. Luckily for him Clank (David Kaye) has just escaped from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), who have a dastardly plan to blow up some planets and make a new one. Due to a crash landing Clank meets Ratchet, the two become friends and adventure ensues all culminating in that oh-so traditional children's film lesson that you can be whatever you want with the support of friends and a wide array of weaponry. There is not really much more to it. You can insert almost every standard joke you've come to expect from tongue-in-cheek children's films and then add a few references to the game. They actually really under utilize the latter. For a game that's known for its funky and fun weapons the movie barely plays around with them. There is the expected montage of weapon use, but from there on out most of the action could rely on the basic blaster. Maybe that's a super meta commentary the directors had about the game's gameplay, but I seriously doubt it. That's not the only opportunity missed. One of the mainstays of the games (or the first two at least) was the great dynamic between the excitable Ratchet and the reserved Clank. The film barely touches this. We have to be introduced to the characters separately, of course, but once they're together the action keeps tearing them apart. Their dynamic is sidelined in favor of more Captain Qwark and the Galactic Rangers. This isn't all bad as Qwark has some of the funniest lines, but you still feel like the movie is more about Ratchet on his own than his friendship with Clank.  However, judging a movie for what it is not, especially a children's movie, is a bit unfair. Ratchet & Clank does move along at a perfectly good clip and the plot holes are all within acceptable range for the target audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sight gags, which kids will most likely love, and the screenplay puts in enough jokes to keep any parent relatively entertained even if you've heard almost every one before. This isn't a movie that's out to top Pixar, but it will stand with your more basic Dreamworks animations any day.  The animation itself is good too, though nothing stellar. Having just come off the revolutionary The Jungle Book my eye might be a bit jaded, but just as there's nothing that will wow you in terms of animation there's also nothing that's going to put you off. It's just middle of the road throughout as with the rest of the film.  That goes for the voice acting as well, which was very clearly taken more seriously by some. The filmmakers brought in the game's voices for Ratchet, Clank and Captain Qwark and it shows. The actors' performances stand out among phoned in turns from the "name" actors, especially John Goodman who sounds like he wasn't quite sure what movie he was reading for the entire time. Thankfully those roles are smaller in scale and never bad enough to break the film, just to keep it at its constant level of acceptability.  No one was really expecting stellar things out of Ratchet & Clank and if you go in with that mindset you're going to come out having definitely seen a movie that fit it. I can't see hardcore fans of the franchise coming out of the film upset in any way because the movie is so inoffensive. I can't see anyone really coming out of the theater too excited except for a five-year-old wanting a pet lombax... and then having his dreams crushed when he finds out they don't exist.
Ratchet & Clank photo
Clanking along
Ratchet & Clank is the epitome of a film that doesn't do anything wrong, but that doesn't make it right. I suppose I should start by saying that I have not kept up with the games this movie is based on. I played the ...

The new Lara Croft photo
Another Oscar winner as Lara Croft
Alicia Vikander has been cast as the new Lara Croft for the Tomb Raider reboot, which starts a fine tradition of casting Academy Award winners in the role. Angelina Jolie won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Girl, Interrup...

Review: The Family Fang

Apr 28 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220426:42899:0[/embed] The Family FangDirector: Jason BatemanRating: RRelease Date: April 29, 2016 (limited); May 6, 2016 (wide, VOD) Caleb and Camille Fang are a pair of performance artists who used their two children to stage happenings around town. In the opening scene, the Fangs enter a bank, stage a lollipop robbery, and then have a shootout. The fake blood is sweet. It's an absurd flashback as seen through an Instagram filter, but it offers and idea of the Fang family's artistic MO, which is the MO of most performance art: to disrupt the regular flow of life, to make others pay attention, to cause a scene, which itself is a singular artistic act. Decades later, Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman) is a dysfunctional actress while her brother Buster (Jason Bateman, who also directed the film) is a dysfunctional writer. He suffers a potato gun injury while out on assignment, which makes the dysfunctional Fang parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett) offer to drive their son home. The children want to live their adult lives, the parents want to force their children to make disruptive art. Dysfunction ensues. After a nasty fight, Caleb and Camille leave their children. Their car is found on the side of the road with evidence of a violent abduction, which leaves Annie and Buster wondering if this is just another art-prank of if their parents are really in danger. There's so much possibility with set-up and the cast, so perhaps the ultimate disappointment is that The Family Fang feels so toothless. I haven't read the Kevin Wilson's acclaimed novel the film is based on, but I suspect there's something lost between text and screen. Every now and then, Bateman cuts to a documentary about the Fang parents and the art they created. They're important cult figures in the art world (think Chris Burden and Marina Abramovic), yet they've failed to create anything meaningful since their children left home. What's more, their art has an ugly domineering aspect to it, and they're oblivious to the ways they've hurt their children in selfish pursuit of their own interests. Art has consequences, and I sense that kind of conversation is easier to explore in text rather than on film. Debate can be carried on in every line and with periodic asides, yet in the film version of The Family Fang, that idea seems to be explored only out of obligation to the theme rather than full interest. There's also a tidiness to The Family Fang that's disappointingly pat. This is a story about people who are hurt and who hurt others because of it (themselves, most often), yet David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay keeps the edges of the characters clean rather than jagged and more complicated. The mystery element is compelling enough to follow the story to its end, but the film never fully inhabits moments that should be more painful and honest. Consequently there's no catharsis or emotional release even though there are gestures made at both. If unhappy families are supposed to be unhappy in their own way, it's because of how richly the characters are rendered. In The Family Fang, I still felt like these were character types in a dysfunctional family movie rather than actual people dealing with a dysfunctional upbringing. The Fang MO is to make others wake up, yet the Fangs themselves emotionally sleepwalk through this trying time in their lives. Which is a shame since Kidman seems engaged yet relaxed in her character, enough that her accent occasionally slips--I can accept that as an Annie Fang artistic affectation. Walken is also good as Caleb Fang, though he never gets a chance to really let go. Ditto Plunkett, who's underused Camille Fang hints at a much deeper internal life than what shows up on screen. The same is true of Buster, the deadpan screw-up writer (all screw-up writers are alike, by the way). You sense that the Fang family members are each on the verge of some breakthrough, but, like the film, it never comes in a satisfying way.
Review: The Family Fang photo
The aesthetics of family dysfunction
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way... well, unless you're an unhappy family in a movie, in which case you're pretty much alike. Distant/absent parents. A dictatorial patriarch. A stran...

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'Batman: The Killing Joke' Trailer Released, Rated-R


Apr 28
// Rick Lash
The trailer for Batman: The Killing Joke has been released and set the stage for a true-to-graphic-novel adaptation. This is the first time a DC Comics movie will be R-rated a fact which is actually not attributable...
Netflix photo
Netflix

Netflix announces Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later


Do we all have our act together?
Apr 27
// Matthew Razak
Netflix brought back Wet Hot American Summer last year and it was pretty glorious. Evidently it was pretty glorious for them too as they've just announced a sequel... or is it a second season? I'm not sure. It's either t...
Sherlock Holmes photo
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes 3 gets screenwriter


Remember this is still a thing?
Apr 26
// Matthew Razak
The two Robert Downey Jr. Led Sherlock Holmes movies made a crap ton of money and, in all fairness, were a descent amount of fun. You'd think in this sequel hungry world that means we'd see another one as quick as possible, b...

Tribeca Review: Rebirth

Apr 26 // Nick Valdez
RebirthDirector: Karl MuellerRating: NRRelease Date: April 17, 2016 (limited) Rebirth stars Fran Kranz as Kyle, a husband and father who's lives a well off life. But he's been a bit unfulfilled lately as his college dreams have been pushed aside in favor of his family and a boring desk job. When his old college buddy Zack (Adam Goldberg) invites him to a retreat for a weekend, and won't stop talking about how great this "Rebirth" seminar is, Kyle decides to go for it. But Kyle soon realizes that "Rebirth" might be a more twisted program then they initially let on. Despite their mantra of "You're free to leave whenever you want" escaping the seminar proves tough.  Rebirth is a Netflix Original production and the choices within reflect that. It's full of these quirky little details that releasing on streaming services would help it get away with. The film is open to to risks and, more often than not, those risks pay off. Unfortunately, the entertainment is too reliant on those little quirks to succeed. The film is fairly predictable and you can pretty much guess how it's going to get from point A to B, and because of this, the little detours every now and again are that much more interesting. They're often non-sequiturs, so as to not derail the main plot, so these little jokes feel more refreshing. For example, Kyle ends going through several different types of seminar rooms during his escape attempt. Each room has its own theme with the ultimate goal of keeping Kyle around, so the film spends time with each room and plays around with how they'd try and brainwash Kyle. Each of these moments are inconsequential, but fun.  These little touches may not be needed, but they help elevate the rest of the film. It's dark blend of humor and chills turns out to be the perfect take on its premise. And its loose structure of stumbling on room after room, along with Kranz's key performance, amplifies the plot's inherent frustration. You'll start feeling frustration as Kyle continues to fail and seeing how goofy some of the rooms and Rebirth's denizens are will only make you angrier. So while they're inconsequential to the plot, it helps the film's overall vibe and tension. What also helps is just how game everyone is with the film. Each actor turns in a kooky performance as the know exactly what kind of film Rebirth wants to be.  I love Adam Goldberg, and it's always a pleasure to see him pop up in a project. He's slightly underutilized here, but seeing as he steals every scene he's in that's probably best. Fran Kranz does a great job leading the film along, however. His neurotic, terrified performance gives the premise the credibility and weight it needs even when the seminar doesn't seem as dangerous as he's perceiving it to be. Rebirth is also shot in an interesting way with long periods of stillness coupled with short bursts of following Kyle through the dingy house the seminar is in. We're effectively put into Kyle's shoes and when the film truly goes off the rails, we're along for the ride.  Rebirth isn't a bad film at all, but it's not necessarily great either. But it's got such a well crafted personality and it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a fun little romp that doesn't overstay its welcome. You won't exactly feel a rebirth afterwards, but you won't die either. 
Rebirth Tribeca Review photo
Cult of personality
Festivals are a great time to try out films you would never consider in your personal time. Like a Netflix queue, the options are endless and each film only has a short premise and cast listing to get our attention. Since m...

Donkey Kong short photo
Donkey Kong short

Live-action short film does the first board of Donkey Kong


Not as hot as Billy Mitchell's sauce
Apr 26
// Hubert Vigilla
The first board of Donkey Kong is easily recognizable. It may be on the same iconic level as the Pac-Man maze and 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. It's the stuff of playgrounds, construction sites, and obstacle courses, and Banks h...
Civil War TV spot photo
Civil War TV spot

Latest Captain America: Civil War TV spot has an eensy-weensy bit of new Spider-Man footage


That's what I'd say
Apr 26
// Hubert Vigilla
The last Captain America: Civil War trailer let the cat out of the bag: yes, Spider-Man is in the movie. The latest TV spot has just an eensy-weensy bit more of Spidey in action, doing whatever a carefully negotiated shared i...
#SickBernBurn photo
#SickBernBurn

College Humor's Why Bernie Sanders Is Actually Winning accurately recreates delegate discussion with people who #FeelTheBern


There's math and there's Bernie Math
Apr 26
// Hubert Vigilla
If this year's Democratic primary has reaffirmed one truth, it's that smart people will believe dumb things as long as these things confirm their biases. Full disclosure: I say this as someone who voted for Bernie Sanders in ...

Tribeca Review: The Banksy Job

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220520:42931:0[/embed] The Banksy JobDirectors: Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan HarveyRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: UK  AK47 is the head of the art collective Art Kieda, a self-described "arto-politico humorist movement" (because who else would describe it that way?). He becomes obsessed with Banksy after the artist refused to sign a print purchased at a party. AK47 could have purchased a signed print from the same party, but he wanted to save money. Out of spite, he steals The Drinker. Seriously. Is a Heist a Work of Art? Maybe. The heist itself plays out like a sloppy, slackery bit of municipal roadwork, but there's a kind of brazen moxie about it all. If it's not a work of performance art, it may be a great bit of silliness. You get a sense watching AK47 that he views everything as a kind of lark, from his previous careers as a rave organizer and amateur porn star/pornographer to his current attempts at art making. And yet saying it's a work of art might be off--is any act a work of art simply because someone says so, even if they're taking the piss? The way AK47 giggles and preens during and in retrospect, it almost seems as if he's also having a wank. Is AK47 an artist? AK47 calls himself an art-terrorist, and to the extent that this entire act of thievery caused a kind of interruption of routine he's accurately described himself. And yet in stealing the art and later trying to sell it (after a series of unexpected complications), he offers a weird exercise in the philosophy of art. AK47 delves into the origins of The Drinker's creation and presents the audience with the kitsch equivalent of the Theseus' Ship Paradox. Maybe AK47 is an artist who relies on the work of others--Banksy, Al Qaeda, Plutarch, Exit Through the Gift Shop--to arrive at salient aesthetic ideas. It's sort of like being drunk and finding the $20 that someone else left in the ATM at the bar.  Is The Banksy Job Just Taking the Piss? Like Exit Through the Gift Shop, much of The Banksy Job leaves the viewer wondering how much is real, how much is invented, and how much is just a series of weird half-truths. There's a bit of everything in there, including a recitation of the Art Kieda code, yet something tells me the collective isn't quite the army AK47 suggests. Banksy appears in the film as an interviewee, or at least it's some guy with his face blacked out and his voice digitally altered to protect his identity. It fits the AK47/Art Kieda aesthetic, though--whether real or not, it's all pretty much about taking the piss. Okay, But Is It Art? Good question. Hell if I know. The safe answer is "Maybe?"
Review: The Banksy Job photo
Taking the piss, but is it art?
There are cock and bull stories and there are shaggy dog stories and there are complete piss-takes. The Banksy Job is kind of a mix of all three. At its center is a Bansky obsessive who goes by the artsy sobriquet AK47. His r...

Tribeca Review: Nerdland

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220434:42928:0[/embed] NerdlandDirector: Chris PrynoskiRating: NRRelease Date: April 14, 2016 (limited) At the heart of Nerdland is veritable slacker stereotypes, Elliot (Patton Oswalt), an aspiring screenwriter who'd rather spend his days masturbating than write, and John (Paul Rudd), a film blogger who dreams of pursuing an acting career. When the two of them lose their jobs, they decide they've had enough with failure and venture on a last ditch effort to get their work recognized. The two slackers are willing to literally throw their lives away blindly hunting for fame and they'll do whatever to whoever to get what they want.  Nerdland has a strong core concept. Initially setting out to be a parodic take on the new wave of entitlement that's come from the digital age and increased publicity for the 'nerd' archetype, the film shines an ugly light on an ugly subset. This take works for a while as every aspect of the film contributes to this ugliness. The grungy art style and gross out humor establish an icky setting, Oswalt and Rudd adopt darker tones for their voice acting (but Rudd borders on being completely absent), and every character is a vapid shell of some kind. The style is a grand pastiche of the Hollywood/Tinseltown thought era, but all of that goes out the window the second a character speaks. Clearly the film's style and writing weren't developed jointly. There's definitely a better, or even good film lying underneath all of the garbage but it's being crushed.  Nerdland is trying its best to be a quirky dark comedy, but it reaches so far it becomes unintelligible. For one, there's no cemented plot. It's just a set of disjointed scenes with plot points capable of carrying several movies. The main story arc is intended to highlight how far Elliot and John fall, but even that arc is sullied by how nonsensical the plot seems. The character decisions are no longer informed by desperation but by how twisted the plot needs them to be at any given moment. Rather than a sign of devolution, their growth lacks fluidity and always breaks the flow of whatever plot Nerdland wants to cook up at the time. In a weird way, it's like the film realizes its own faults and resorts to just throwing whatever idea they have at a dartboard and hope one of those ideas leaves a lasting impact.  Treating your film with reckless abandon may be worth some credit, but it's absolutely worthless to the viewer. When the film literally becomes a veritable orgy of bad ideas, it's debilitating. There's a scene in Nerdland, about an hour in, so devoid of thought or even dark humor it sapped all good will I had. Since there's no natural progression of character or plot, the scene sticks out so much it's almost as if they created an entire film just to show two minutes of pure inanity. Don't get me wrong, it's not the concept I have a problem with it's the execution. There's an difference between mining a dark subject for humor (and the original thought behind it seems to be exaggerating violence in animation would merit a laugh) in a mature way and focusing on the most juvenile, low hanging fruit of a subject.  I'm not sure where Nerdland went so wrong. It's such a complicated mess of a film, so juvenile, so low reaching that it sets back adult animation for several years. You know, it's not even egregious enough to be offensive. It just kind of happens to you whether you like or not. It's so boring, so paper thin, that Nerdland is offensive to the very people who made it. It'd be a blight on everyone's career if it weren't guaranteed forgotten a few days after its release.  At least Hannibal Buress is good in it. Love that guy. 
Nerdland Tribeca Review photo
Nerds don't rule after all
Nerdland was the first film to stand out to me when I first signed on to cover the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Everything about it appealed to me. It's the first full length feature from Titmouse, an animated company mos...

Tribeca Review: High-Rise

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220425:42900:0[/embed] High-RiseDirector: Ben WheatleyRating: RRelease Date: March 18, 2016 (UK); May 13, 2016 (USA)Country: UK Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is a brain surgeon who's taken a flat in a new luxury high rise. In the apartment above there's Charlotte (Sienna Miller), a flirty socialite who makes eyes with the good doctor as he sunbathes nude on his balcony. Building designer Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives in the penthouse, where his wife rides white horses on the rooftop garden and he looks down on his grand social experiment: all the comforts one could need, a hermetic society. And yet the parties and the supermarket and the pool access is never enough to keep people compliant. They isolate themselves, they become tribal. The opening of the film, which looks downright post-apocalyptic, shows how far the high rise life has decayed. Laing scavenges the dumpsite foyer of his building for food, dressed in the tatters of a business suit. He's gone from doctor to concrete pirate. There's no food, but thank goodness for stray dogs. Like the upper-middle-class residents of the skyscraper, I'm not sure director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump get what they want out of High-Rise; the same may go for the audience. Adapted from the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, it's a sordid and decadent movie about people going native in their own crowded living quarters, but it's even looser and sloppier than that. As society crumbles, the narrative structure of the film breaks down as well. The last half of the movie eschews traditional narrative and tells the rest of the building's decay in a series of loud vignettes and montages. I can pinpoint the exact moment midway through High-Rise where I lost a lot of my patience. Before a raging bastard of a man named Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) goes on a dominating rampage, he tapes his own voice in a cassette recorder. He repeats "I am Richard Wilder!" On the one hand, I get it (Wild, yes, and you're wilder than others, like this is the wild, okay), but on the other hand I rolled my eyes because I couldn't have not gotten it already (yeah, Dick wilder, I noticed). The scene that follows it is ugly and uncomfortable; obviously by design, and yet. High-Rise isn't bad so much as it's convoluted in its execution and maybe wishy-washy with its cultural critique. There's something Gilliam-esque about some of the scenes. The aristocratic party in 18th century garb is a nice bit of upper class affectation, and ditto the block party out in the hall. Similarly, the growing squalor of the building looks like something out of Brazil combined with a third-world landfill. The lights flicker out periodically, and nothing quite works the way it should in this place, and yet one carries on. Laing is no Sam Lowry from Brazil, however. Like some of the characters in High-Rise, Laing is passive and content to sit back as the world around him devolves and crumbles, which sort of squanders Hiddleston's natural charisma. He exists as a metaphor, a symbol, not a person. Meanwhile, others act or are acted upon; most of them also metaphors or symbols rather than people. It's the difference between facades and actual domiciles. There's a clinical lens about High-Rise, which makes sense since the breakdown is about observing the devaluation of others. It's like watching a crowded cage full of rats who are bound, at some point, to destroy each other just given the crowding and the lack of resources. And yet it's not quite like that since our ability to observe this cannibalization is interrupted. The sense of cause-and-effect is broken up, it feels like there's something missing. The vignettes that comprise the final half of High-Rise become frustrating since we're rarely offered a chance to explore the emerging tribes of the building. Here are tribal cultures and subcultures organizing themselves inside of a multi-tiered concrete petri dish (e.g., a matriarchal society of women and orphaned children), and we barely get an opportunity to observe their method of survival. MILD SPOILERS ABOUT THE FINAL SCENE The final words of the film don't belong to any of the characters we've spent time with. Instead it's the voice of Margaret Thatcher extolling the virtues of capitalism. Nevermind that there's little in the movie about capitalism per se. Maybe this is Thatcher suggesting capitalism as a solution to the egalitarian nightmare whose failure we just watched? And given our place in time, maybe the state of nature isn't quite as bad as the current state of government-approved inequality. High-Rise is a work of interesting and extreme architecture, but I'm still not sure what to make of its design.
Review: High Rise photo
Going native in a concrete jungle
High-Rise is a bit all over the place, and it's a bit of a mess, but it also seems to be that way by design--a sort of warped architecture. I'd gone in sort of expecting a vertical version of Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer, but i...

Tribeca Capsule Review: The Last Laugh

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
The Last LaughDirector: Ferne PearlsteinRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD  It seems a cop out to say your mileage may vary, and yet that seems the only viable answer. Mel Brooks appears in the film doing an excellent Hitler impersonation using a black comb. (A subtle adjustment of the comb and he becomes Joseph Stalin--tada!) Brooks will mock Hitler relentlessly and delights in it, but could never make a joke about The Holocaust itself. It's his personal limit. The Spanish Inquisition is fine, though--jokes are all about the timing. Sarah Silverman, on the other hand, goes all out. There's even mention of the mixed response to Hogan's Heroes and Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, with polarized opinions coming from comedians, filmmakers, and a representative from the Anti-Defamation League. The discussions aren't particularly new since any discussion of the uses of comedy has to consider the limits (if any) of comedic material. There's the idea of inflicting ridicule as a type of power for the powerless and the idea of hope and the idea that certain communities and groups are able to make certain kinds of jokes while others aren't--with Holocaust jokes, the suffering is a Jewish experience and so should be the comedic catharsis. What's interesting is the juggling act between Firestone as a survivor and an speaker at museums who shares her pain and the comedians who never had to live through her experiences. A generational aspect is added to the subjective one. Yet the two sides don't quite gel, which makes the movie feel like a bit of a Venn diagram--two separate docs with something common between them. There's probably a more substantive discussion about comedy, its limits, and what comedians should consider when making jokes about oppressed groups or about a particularly dark period in history. The Last Laugh might not delve much deeper into that discussion about the art of comedy, but that's fine. It gives a human face to a survivor of the worst indignities of the 20th century. That Renee smiles is hopeful. We can't possibly laugh at her, and it's presumptuous to say we laugh for her just given the subjectivity of humor. We laugh with her because she's still able to do so herself; maybe we laugh because otherwise we'd just cry.
Review: The Last Laugh photo
There's no accounting for bad taste
As I've gotten older, I've noticed more conversations and thinkpieces about what topics are off-limits for comedians, such as racist jokes, jokes about rape, jokes about The Holocaust, and so on. This might stray into a large...

Review: Green Room

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220533:42929:0[/embed] Green RoomDirector: Jeremy SaulnierRating: RRelease Date: April 22 and 29, 2016  At the center of Green Room is small town punk band The Ain't Rights, four kids Sam, Pat, Reece, and Tiger (Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole and Callum Turner respectively). Everything goes awry during a performance at a Neo-Nazi den when they suddenly witness a murder and now they've got a veritable army of Nazis and their leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) hunting them. Deciding to hole themselves up in the venue's green room, The Ain't Rights and their new ally, the mysterious Amber (Imogen Poots), try to survive the terrifying night to come.  To put it bluntly, at its core, Green Room is a film you've seen before. With its premise, it's easy to make comparisons to home invasions films or anything where it's one against many (Assault on Precinct 13 or even Die Hard come to mind), but that's where all of the similarities and predictability ends. Green Room takes the time to build an entire world around its tiny setting and it's all the more effective because of it. The film feels lived in, and it's almost as if we're jumping into a point of these kids' lives. The Ain't Rights themselves have a wonderful chemistry. An almost effortless gelling informs their life long friendship and I bought into it immediately. The four are given enough time as their characters to get comfortable and let each actor imbue themselves with little quirks and touches. In fact, some of the film's finest moments are early on when we're just getting to know the band. Because of the attention to the build up, it's all the more devastating when things come down around them.  I don't feel like I can stress this enough. Green Room is entirely unpredictable. The initial transition from humor to horror is seamless. Because of the care put into the characters, the audience essentially ends up in the confined space with them. The emotional stakes rise almost instantly and there's nary a bump in the production. It's like an emotional punch to gut, and that's before any violence takes place. Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart own these scenes in particular when the two of them speak on opposite ends of a door. Yelchin is constantly on the verge of tears (thus making us closer to him on a whole) while Stewart's eerily calm demeanor hides sinister motives. And just when you think you've got the film figured out, it changes tone completely. With controlled spontaneity through violence, Green Room continuously raises its stakes and never once feels overbearing in its tension.  The entire film's production is lined with a chilling vibe. From its metal and punk heavy soundtrack, its lighting (making sure everything is just dark enough to be unnerving while still making sure everything is visible and digestible), there's a special sense of dread permeating throughout and it's naturalistic. The crafted tone grounds its characters and setting begetting fear from a human place. Darcy's frightening introduction and speeches juxtapose Stewart's unassuming demeanor. It's kind of like how Breaking Bad slowly transformed Bryan Cranston's Walter White into Heisenberg over six seasons instead crammed into less than 90 minutes. Sometimes it doesn't work completely, but it's still utterly effective and damning. Thanks to the cast playing off of each other in such a tight space (and a stellar performance from everyone involved), it's an emotional thriller rather than a physical one. There are certainly visceral payoffs (and they're increasingly shocking in their brutality), but if you don't enjoy the film's emotional stakes then you won't connect as much overall.  Before seeing Green Room you need to know what you're getting yourself into. It's a nail biting thriller for sure, but if you're expecting some sort of all out knuckle brawl you'll be severely disappointed. This film is a thriller horror film in the traditional sense, so there's very little "action." When it does finally resort to such measures, Green Room excels. It's satisfying in such a weird, weird way.  And that's Green Room in a nutshell. It's disarming, gruesome, macabre, hilarious, cartoonish, will make you squirm, but it's a fun experience through and through. I'm going to remember this one for a while.
Green Room Review photo
Spontaneously brutal
Over the last few years, A24 has quickly become my favorite production studio. They've overseen everything from huge award winners like Room, Amy, and Ex Machina, critical darlings such as Spring Breakers and The End of the T...

Ghostbusters photo
Ghostbusters

Ecto Cooler returns and some pictures


5-year-old me is really excited
Apr 25
// Matthew Razak
One of the greatest things to come out of Ghostbusters aside from really good movies and toys was Hi-C's Ecto Cooler, which was basically a green sugar drink in a juice box. I couldn't tell you how it tasted, but I do kn...
Apocalypse Trailer photo
This is the best trailer yet
If you were somehow not convinced to see X-Men: Apocalypse, you sure will be after the final trailer for it. We get a little more footage than we have in the past, some cool looking fight scenes, a little bit of information f...

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See PAPA: Hemingway in Cuba early and free


Apr 25
// Matthew Razak
I'm not sure what the quality of PAPA: Hemingway in Cuba will be, but it is the first Hollywood film to be shot in Cuba since Obama loosened restrictions to it does get some historical credit. You can find out if it's ac...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Apr 24 // Nick Valdez
Abortion: Stories Women TellDirector: Tracy Droz TragosRating: NRRelease Date: April 18, 2016 (limited) Abortion: Stories Women Tell is eye opening. I'm not going to sit here and pretend I knew everything about the subject, so some of the film's perspectives are heartbreaking. Stories follows two women for the most part: one who's about to undergo the procedure because she doesn't want another child (and has way too many responsibilities already) and one who's protesting the procedure because of religious beliefs. The doc takes care to normalizing the subject just in case you were squeamish to any part of the process. It's treated as just another part of life, another facet of heatlhcare, and regardless of your personal feelings the subject is standing on neutral ground. Sure there are some digs into either side in the way it's being filmed, but those are viewpoints the audience has to infer for themselves. It's great the final product is basically the open start to a conversation, presenting as many arguments as possible.  While this make the documentary sound weaker overall, it's true purpose is to inform rather than to judge. It's astounding to see how many viewpoints are represented here. Reflecting how wide open the subject is, and how many opposing views of it there are, Stories cast a wide net and talks to women of various ages, races, and creeds. And while Stories may follow one or two particular women for the majority, the audience is just witness to a particular moment of their lives. We're given a brief look into who these women are, but never enough to form attachment. Stories never loses sight of its subject for an instant, and that makes it all the more powerful. It's handled so well, in fact, I'm left wondering why it's regulated as much as it is now. But given the opposition opposes it so strongly, it's easy to see why. But as I mentioned before, the judgment is entirely ours to make as a viewer. This doc just wants to make sure you know what's going on.  Abortion: Stories Women Tell was the strongest documentary I'd seen at Tribeca. A strong, fair, and ultimately open ended film that captures a pocket of the frustration surrounding the issue. For letting me in on a fraction of what the women presented are feeling, this documentary has done a lot more for the issue than anything has done in the past.  To anyone unknowledgeable about abortion or the debate surrounding, you owe it yourselves to watch and listen to Abortion: Stories Women Tell. 
Stories Capsule Review photo

Although it's been technically legal ever since the famous Roe v. Wade legal battle in the 60s and 70s, states across America still do as much as they can to limit healthcare, and by extension abortion, to the nation's women....

Tribeca Review: Holidays

Apr 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220526:42927:0[/embed] HolidaysDirectors: Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Kolsch, Sarah Adina Smith, Kevin Smith, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Gary Shore, Scott Stewart, Dennis WidmyerRating: RRelease Date: April 15, 2016 (limited) As its title suggests, Holidays is an anthology all based around holiday horrors. Each short is around 12-15 minutes long, with the director and holiday revealed after. There are eight shorts in total, all set in chronological horror: Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day. Easter, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Each short pretty much ends in the way you'd expect a short horror story to, so it's all in the journey rather than the destination. Despite what I'm about to say in the next few paragraphs, I can't ever say Holidays is bland. The film overall is a slick production with each short looking completely different from what came before or after. Each director has their own style, and while some may have better camerawork than others (St. Patrick's Day is the standout in this case), there's a care into getting the horror tone just right.  Out of the eight films, I especially enjoyed Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Father's Day. Valentine's Day is the most straightforward story, but revels in 80s synth storytelling (likening it to other big recent throwbacks like The Guest) coupled with dream-like lighting and a kickass electropop soundtrack. Father's Day is strong and silent with very little dialogue from its main character (ably played by Jocelin Donahue) and is the creepiest film in the entire package. It's also the one I'd argue is closest to actually being "horror" rather than the twisted joke the rest of the shorts play with. On a smaller note, Mother's Day is much stronger given it's paired with this testosterone laced (and somber) short. But the best overall is most definitely St. Patrick's Day. It's got the best camera work, quick edits do a lot with the little time it has, Ruth Bradley steals the show, and its twist ending is the most effective given how absurd and cartoonish it gets. It's just a shame Holidays never quite reaches this peak again.  Since it's all in chronological order, there's no narrative cohesiveness. Other than lucking out with Father's/Mother's Day, the shorts never feel like they're in the same package. With very little narrative buffer in between each short (explaining why we're seeing these eight shorts for example), it's disjointed. Some shorts have a humorous ending, some end on a jump scare, but regardless it's all less effective since nothing really lingers. Since there's no narrative flow between each short, they become all about the formula. Nothing but build-up until a pop at the end of the short. And when you've come to expect the same kind of ending halfway in, the last four segments lose all their pizazz. This is not at all helped by the final four's weaknesses, either.  For example, Kevin Smith's Halloween segment is the most, uh, "divisive." It's the most obscene of the shorts and its tone is unlike any other. But it's entirely reliant on your personal tastes to succeed. It's a revenge short that has to instantly reach for the most extreme circumstances due to its length, and since it's not entirely earned, your enjoyment of it varies on whether or not you like seeing the guy from Epic Meal Time have a sex toy forced up his rear. And because of the film's chronological order, Holidays just comes to an unsatisfying end. It can't end with its best film (and furthered hindered by having the best shorts come first), and it gives New Year's Day too much responsibility. It isn't as bad of a short as Easter or Halloween, but it's clearly not a short designed to bring a fulfilling resolution.  Like other horror anthologies before, Holidays stumbles more often than not. That's just the nature of setups like these, and while the overall film is visually captivating it just doesn't keep the same level of tension or entertainment throughout. Maybe if it were organized into a more cohesive package, the less successful films wouldn't have seemed as bad.  But as it stands, you don't have to go home for the holidays. 
Holidays Tribeca Review photo
"Like a squeaky violin"
Horror anthologies are all the rage now. Get a couple of creatives together, pick a theme, and they're allowed to explore one of the smaller ideas they have in their heads. At best, you're in for a good time overall, at worst...

Review: A Touch of Zen

Apr 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220492:42919:0[/embed] A Touch of Zen (Xia Nu, 俠女)Director: King HuRating: NRRelease Date: April 22, 2016 (New York, with subsequent expansion)Country: Taiwan A Touch of Zen is such a singular sort of movie. After the success of Come Drink with Me and Dragon Inn, Hu had the creative freedom to do what he wanted, and the result was a movie of different moods and different modes. There is the wuxia element centered around a heroic fugitive named Yang (Feng Hsu), a swordswoman fighting for her life after corrupt government officials have murdered the rest of her family. She's one of Hu's many female heroes, though this movie doesn't have the same level of gender role confusion seen in other martial arts films. Yang is a woman but never mistaken for a man (the common genre convention), and she's the most capable fighter in the film. The centerpiece fight in the bamboo grove is an exhilarating bit of old school swordsman action. When A Touch of Zen was released as two films, the bamboo fight concluded the first movie and opened the second. Hu further adapts the theatrical movements of Peking Opera and the visual style of Japanese samurai pictures (en vogue at the time) to a swashbuckling cinematic form uniquely suited to Chinese martial arts. Trampolines give the heroes and villains a kind of superheroic flair as they clash with one another on rooftops and treetops. Hsu slashes, evades, and ripostes, and Hu cuts the action together to add intensity to the elegant movements on display. The action in A Touch of Zen feels like a transition period in fight choreography between the stage-like combat of the 1960s to the faster-paced cinematic combat that would be pioneered by later Shaw Brothers filmmakers Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-Leung. Yet the first fight doesn't occur until at least one hour into the film. Instead of rollicking adventure, A Touch of Zen opens with the banal rhythms of pastoral life. We follow a bumbling mama's boy/artist-scholar named Ku (Chun Shih), who takes an interest in Yang and a blind man (Ying Bai) who are hiding in an abandoned ruin. Ku is an archetypal fool, and a great vessel for the audience into the story (which has an archetypal opening: a stranger comes into town). While he's crafty, Ku's a coward and he falls in love too easily, which is a great contrast to Yang's ruggedly stoic heroism. Before A Touch of Zen, Chun Shih played the hero of Hu's Dragon Inn. In a subversive move, Hu has a previous star play against type and also against gender stereotype. And then there's the Zen Buddhism, which pervades the film's visual style emphasizing nature, seasons, and impermanence. I mentioned patience at the beginning of the review, and Hu's return to slow rhythms and long takes seems to give the audience a chance to breathe and take in each scene. A group of Buddhist monks show up when Yang is on the run, and they are unstoppable force and immovable object. They're shot with diffuse or star-filtered light emanating from behind them, and they seem to be followed by a supernatural veil of mist. The Zen aspects figure heavily in the film's unexpectedly bonkers finale, which I can only be described as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets El Topo.  The 4K digital restoration looks great during the daytime shots--you can make out the dust on King Hu's camera lenses as he lovingly absorbs hillsides and waterfalls and sky--though I noticed some major issues with image noise during the nighttime scenes. One of the pivotal action sequences in the last half of the film is at night, and it was often difficult to make out what was happening in each scene. Part of it may be the limitations of lighting and photography that Hu had to work with back then, though I sense there might have been an issue with the projection and/or the copy I saw during my screening. I'm curious to see A Touch of Zen again now that it's out in theaters, just to see for myself if the digital noise has been eliminated/addressed. Besides, I could use a little more patience and adventure in my life.
Review: A Touch of Zen photo
The beguiling wuxia masterpiece in 4k
A Touch of Zen is King Hu's masterpiece, yet unless you're patient and a bit adventurous, it may not be the best introduction to his work. Dragon Inn, his straightforward wuxia classic from 1967, might be a more palatable ent...


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