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Tell us something we didn't know

In the interest of fairness, journalistic integrity, and the pursuit of happiness, I will admit that I've not seen the Liongsgate CEO, Jon Feltheimer, actually say The Divergent Series: Allegiant is terrible. Or even bad. Rather, what's being widely circulated in film circles is that he admitted in a conversation with Wall Street analysts that the studio may have rushed the film's development and production to hit a date. It's unspoken, sure, but it's there. Trash. Thanks for telling us something we don't know, Jon: the film was already basking in the glory of a 12% rotten critics rating on (including a hearty 0% from top critics--a distinction it shares with other champions of the film world like: The Ridiculous 6, Jaws: The Revenge, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, and Look Who's Talking Now!--in other words, films and sequels that should never have been made).

But the box office numbers should have told Lionsgate what we already know. The film had a $29 million bow its opening weekend, down from an average of $53 million for its predecessors. It's world wide box office take was $170 million on a $110 million budget (this does not include marketing costs).

What I love about the story is that it's not the 12% approval rating that warranted an admittance of error from the studio head, it was the abysmal box office numbers. Obvious, true, that a studio would be concerned with appeasing investors rather than its audiences, but also a highly troubling reality. Critical response was already telling the tale with a 40% rotten tally for Divergent and a 29% red flag for Insurgent (audience approval ratings have declined as well: 70%, 59%, and 46%).

The good news is that there's still a fourth film coming, Ascendant (2017), with which the studio fan finally get things right learning from their past mistakes cut the budget in response to Allegiant's dismal numbers and produce even worse fare.

I only saw DystopianHot Chick I and Dystopian Hot Chick II: DHC meets DHDude because my girlfriend made me. No plans to increase the box office a tic for the third, or fourth. My advice to Lionsgate: if you're going to attempt to follow a formula, at least follow it well enough to produce the same entertainment value for the audience. Seriously, these are bad movies that hardly make any sense. Please do not reboot them when the fourth bombs.

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Fruit Ninja movie photo
All is lost

It was bound to happen. After The Angry Birds Movie came out (and did well at the box office), it would only be a matter of time before other time-waster mobile games were turned into feature films. Enter Fruit Ninja.

Yes. They are making a live-action family comedy out of Fruit Ninja. (Fun Fact: That last sentence was how Revelation 8:1 originally began.)

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Tripp Vinson will produce the movie under the Vinson Films banner, and has partnered with Halfbrick Studios. The script about ninjas cutting up produce will be written by J.P. Lavin and Chad Damiani.

There have been more than 1 billion downloads of Fruit Ninja. Which means people want to see a movie of it? Oh well.

Who would you cast in Fruit Ninj-- Okay, I can't do it. This sounds dumb and awful and we're probably going to get a Candy Crush movie greenlit in the next few months. Time to work on a good photoshop for future Fruit Ninja movie news...

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Review: Hard Sell

May 23 // Rick Lash

I want to say nice things about this film. That's the feeling I'm left with as I'm watching it. I believe I understand where the Writer/Director, Sean Nalaboff, is coming from. Hard Sell is "a coming-of-age tale ... [about] a high school senior navigating teenage life with his unstable mother." That's from the film's own junket. I, we, understand that movie. But somewhere along the way, someone confused genres and we got something that isn't sure if it's that, or a teenage sex comedy and the results are less than harmonious or hilarious.


Hard Sell
Director: Sean Nalaboff

Release Date: May 20, 2016 (direct to video)
Rating: NR

Skyler Gisondo is Hardy, a high school senior, presumably, who lives alone with his imbalanced mother and sick dog. There's a father that's not in the picture, and Hardy is doing it all--his mother can't be relied on to do even simple things. OK. Despite this, Hardy attends an upscale private school on Long Island's "Gold Coast." How this happens, we don't know, nor do we need to.

The movie is kicked into gear when Hardy, lounging about campus, is approached by a guidance counselor who tells him that colleges love extra-curriculars and maybe he should try volunteering at a soup kitchen. OK. Hardy takes the advice and soon finds himself working side by side with the beautiful Bo (Katrina Bowden). They become friendly and by happenstance Hardy witnesses Bo deal with some young adolescents by taking them into an ally so that they can pay her to flash them. At this point, Hardy, enterprising young man that he is, posits, Bo, why don't we form a 50/50 partnership in which I arrange for the young men of my school to pay you to flash them. OK.

Here's the problem though: Bo is a runaway from a psychiatric hospital. Hardy's mother is extremely unbalanced (with what, we don't know, nor do we need to). Bo attempted suicide by overdose. Mental illness is not comedic material. Sure, it's been done and used with success (I'm thinking of Something About Mary which handled it delicately enough as a plot device, not as a major plot element), but when the movie revolves around the subject it's not so humorous.

It's easy to understand that a teenage boy who is running the homestead will grasp for straws when trying to save the family dog (a dog that both he and his mother clearly care deeply for). And I can believe that he'd suggest the cash for boobs scenario in his desperation and ignorance. But Bo is apparently post-college and far less ignorant (as is the audience). When Bo flashes some kids as a one-off, we're dealing in reality. When they enterprise the activity, with minors, on private property, at a school no less, in a movie that approaches its own world with gravitas, not pure comedy, the rules change.

It's all about context in filmmaking. In a Harry Potter film, I can believe it when people walk through walls, fly broomsticks, and perform incredible feats. It's called suspension of disbelief, and it's based on the rules of the film. In a comic book movie, the same principles apply, but when things get too fantastical for the realm, audiences will balk. 

Just this past week, I was watching American Pie 2, a comedy that is nothing but. As it with most comedies, it references serious life points, annecdotes, and morales, but they are they to make the story whole, they are not there as the whole story with brevity thrown in. When Stifler, the quintessential college frat boy breaks into a home to confirm that two "chicks are lesbians" he is committing a number of crimes up to and including sexual harassment. It works out though--the women don't call the police, instead they turn the tables on the college bros and everyone has a great time.

Hard Sell is not American Pie 2, nor is it Risky Business, the film that launched Tom Cruise to stardom as an entrepreneurial teenager turned amateur pimp. And that's a problem for Hard Sell as it is basically telling that angle of a story but outside the comfortable world of a comedy wherein people can do things with little fear of repercussions, where laughs trump reality and consequences. And even in that world, viewing this film now, with my slightly more mature mind (the film debuted in 2001), I almost have issues with the irresponsibility.

When Hardy is ultimately brought before the eponymous authority figures to 'fess up' he launches into an impassioned defense based on his belief that his school is an uninspiring place that confines its students behind walls while teaching them nothing. He does not address his own shortcomings or possible criminal actions and he subsequently walks out the authority figures without anyone raising any objections or fear of police intervention. It's just not realistic.

I can only imagine that Mr. Nalaboff grappled with the story he wanted to tell and was torn between wanting to tell a serious story about a boy and his mother and their struggles and wanting to tell a comedy in the vein of many that came before it. Only, the drama clearly ended up framing the film, not the comedy, and the comedic elements don't feel at home, and more troubling is that the film is not self-aware enough to pick up on the jarring nature of the incongruities.

A film dealing with a struggling family, issues of mental health, and suicide cannot open with multiple shots of one of its three main characters escaping from a hospital in an open medical gown showing off her naked body in a pair of hot point panties. It's sexualizing her when she should not be sexualized. When Hardy jokes that he may be a rapist, it doesn't come off as humorous. Rape is never funny, but within certain confines the context can desensitize the seriousness of the topic. Here, we are not desensitized, and this lack of awareness appears again and again, as with when a pair of over the top comedic young actors play the role of dramatic high school couple seeking therapy from Bo at the local country club. Their giddy back and forth dialogue is eerily out of place.

Mr. Nalaboff may even have been somewhat aware of the dichotomy, after all, he doesn't have students paying Bo to sleep with her, only to see her naked. He does tone it down, but all this does is further the sense of unreality: why would these pay hundreds of dollars to see a girl naked when several of them are clearly already sexually active?

In my mind, it comes down to that same unfocused storytelling and perhaps a lack of attention to detail (the Metro North automated voice recordings on the train announcing Hudson on Hastings when we're purportedly on Long Island was an obvious oversight).

These are heavy criticisms to level at a film, again, that I want to say nice things about. Kristen Chenoweth, as Hardy's mother, plays the unbalanced individual to a T. Both Gisondo and Bowden are great in their respecitve roles, and I was happy to see them get expanded roles at that, as I've enjoyed their work previously. The cinematography has a great, soft touch that would lend to a more developed story, but does make the film reminiscent of adolescence and the experience of going through it. But, ultimately, the film's not knowing which genre it should live in hurt it more than the cast and filmmaking skill could overcome.


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Back in December, Paramount released the first trailer for Star Trek Beyond and basically it told us one thing: it's a sabotage! That was according the Beastie Boys track of the same name that was the entire musical score for the full 1:35 length of the piece.

Fast forward half a year and the second trailer drops and we're in a different world. So long cleverly choreographed, action-packed, pop culture music driven trailers of the past. This is a serious trailer, with John Williams sounding stuff to sing along to, and plot, and voiceover, and boy oh boy is it better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the first category of trailer, if done well. Emphasis on if. Suicide Squad did it pretty well.

Anyway, one of the main criticisms with the first trailer for the third film in the Trekkie reboot franchise as that it was all action. And this is true. It was stunt after stunt after explosion and featured, I'm certain, every motorcycle (1) and kung-fu sequence (maybe 2) in the movie. This one corrects it fritter brother's ambitions and delivers a glimpse into what may be an actual story with character development (and all the cool trimmings, too).

Trekkie I am not, but I love what the reboots have done for the franchise and this trailer restores faith that maybe team behind them has still got the formula right.

Strangely enough, J.J. Abrams who helmed Star Trek (2009) and Into Darkness (2013) stepped back from this one to let Just Lin (Fast and Furious 3-6) have a go behind the wheel ... errr, warp drive. Maybe the shift in trailer style was Abrams reapplying his hold on the PR push ... it would make sense stylistically: trailer one is very Lin, while trailer two fits Abrams.

Look for all the major characters to be reprised by their counterparts: Chris Pine (Kirk), Zoey Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), Karl Urban (Bones), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), and John Cho (Sulu).

Star Trek goes where several movies and TV series have gone before on July 22.



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Beauty and the Beast photo
What? You gotta admit it's catchy.

I'm still weirded out by the fact that Disney is making adaptations of their adaptations of famous fairy tales, but so far they've been pretty good or even revolutionary so let's roll with it. The next one up is Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson as Beauty and Dan "You Should All Watch The Guest" Stevens as The Beast. Here's the first trailer for it.

This one is playing hard of nostalgia with the same score, almost exact same visuals as the Disney classic and even the #BeOurGuest hashtag. That worries me a bit. What's made these adaptations work is that they've actually differentiated themselves from the originals with the likes of Cinderella going way off book and things like Jungle Book only nodding to the original before breaking into its own thing. 

Then again, Beauty and the Beast might be Disney's most iconic animation. You'd be hard pressed to do it better so why try.


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Farewell Mr. Bunting photo
I sing my song for all to hear

I'm not sure about kids today, but high school students of a certain age always wound up watching Dead Poets Society in English class. Its memorable final scene features a class full of boys bidding a powerful adieu to the man who inspired them to think for themselves by unorthodox means.

The season finale of SNL (hosted by Fred Armisen) spoofed/parodied that final scene of Dead Poets Society with this short sketch titled Farewell, Mr. Bunting. Just watch it.


Well... that was unexpected.

Happy Monday.

[via YouTube]

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Angry Birds box office photo
This header image will never die

Over the weekend we saw The Angry Birds Movie duke it out with Captain America: Civil War (#TeamBird v #TeamCap). #TeamCap believes in personal freedom and accountability in the face of a system that may be inherently corrupt and susceptible to influence, even though it also acknowledges the difficulties and consequences of foreign intervention. #TeamBird, by contrast, believes in being merely better than awful and making money.

The Angry Birds Movie won out, earning roughly $39 million. Captain America: Civil War was pushed to the two spot with $33.1 million. Rounding out the weekend, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising earned $21.7 million (#TeamNeighbors) and The Nice Guys took in $11.2 million (#TeamNice).

Even though Captain America 3 was dethroned, we should also note that Civil War has earned more than $1 billion worldwide in less than a month of release, with $347 million from domestic ticket sales alone. By comparison, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (#TeamDisappointment) has earned $870 million worldwide, with $328 million in domestic ticket sales.

While Captain America: Civil War being knocked down is notable, I only wrote this up to use the Sean Penn/El Chapo image again.

[via Box Office Mojo]

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Review: The Angry Birds Movie

May 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220589:42956:0[/embed] The Angry Birds MovieDirectors: Clay Kaytis and Fergal ReillyRating: PGRelease Date: May 20, 2016  At the center of The Angry Birds Movie is Red (Jason Sudeikis), a bird with an unchecked anger issue because he's been alone his entire life. He's been separated from the rest of the birds in town until he's forced to spend time in anger management which leads him to his future partners in crime Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride). When a ship full of pigs, led by the sneaky Leonard (Bill Hader), pulls up to bird island claiming to be friendly, Red leaves in search of the legendary hero known as Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) for help. After shenanigans from the pigs, it's up to Red, Chuck, and Bomb to find the hero and save the island.  Before getting into the nitty gritty, I want to take some time out to comment on how much work went into Angry Birds. It is honestly refreshing to see decent production and time on what seemed like a total cash-in project (from its inception to its last couple of trailers the film reeked of things other than quality) has . The animation is slick, the bird designs have a simple, easy to manipulate geometry (utilizing both hard angles and softer, cutesy spherical shapes), and the cast handles the material as well as they can. Sudeikis has already proved his capacity to lead a film time and time again, and now he can add voice over work to that list. Red's as charming as he needs to be without the script resorting to the same types of "kooky" dialogue the rest of the characters are subjected to. None of the actors come across as phony, with the weakest performance coming from Hader's Leaonard. Then again, even a weak Hader is better than you'd expect so it's a roundabout positive.  Once you get past the bread, you realize there's not a lot of meat on this chicken sandwich. Trying as hard as the visuals might, The Angry Birds Movie simply can't shake off how generic it is. It may not have the luxury of a videogame narrative to adapt, but that doesn't excuse a lot of its choices. While the freedom of a creating a whole universe brings about some neat little oddities differentiating it from other animated films (like anger management having weight in the plot, for example), the same is true for the opposite end of the spectrum. Quite a few quirks and dialogue choices should have been reconsidered. At one point, Angry Birds crosses the line into full-on annoying territory when Chuck and Bomb degenerate into incessant noise making machines for two minutes just so it can get a reaction from its kid audience.  The Angry Birds Movie is at a constant state of flux. Battling between originality and what's easier to write, the film is always holding itself back. In fact, it even takes a hit whenever it has to reference the videogame series. Like when the series' famous slingshot is introduced, it feels forced in. But in that same breath, that very slingshot leads to a well storyboarded climax. So it's an odd toss up between the film's potential audiences. Rather than create a film that's ultimately appealing to the widest demographic possible, you have a film that appeals to folks with select scenes. Some scenes will appeal to the two year olds who like to repeat funny sounds, the three year olds who like gross out humor, the adult who appreciates good animation, or that one parent in my screening who lost his mind the entire time. I'm glad at least that guy had a good time.  I'd hate to end a review with nothing more than an "it could've been worse" sentiment, but honestly that's all I feel about The Angry Birds Movie. It came, it went, it's probably coming back (or at least confident in a sequel enough to promote it during the credits and the extra scene available on mobile phones), and yet it doesn't really deserve any hearty emotions.  The Angry Birds Movie is not terrible enough to earn your rage, but it's not good enough to earn your praise either. A decent outcome from a numerous range of negative potential outcomes earns the film a small victory. 
Angry Birds Review photo
Nothing to get too angry at

With videogame adaptations becoming more common, it was only a matter of time before we would end up in this situation. A videogame popular for its gameplay and mechanics rather than its story would get the big screen treatment as is the case with Rovio's Angry Birds. Oddly enough, having no narrative to rely on benefits The Angry Birds Movie way more than you'd think. 

All the upcoming big screen adaptations like Space Invaders, Centipede, Tetris, Fruit Ninja  take note, The Angry Birds Movie is how you make the best out of a terrible situation. Although it's not necessarily a good experience, it could've been much, much worse. 

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Marvel just announced some major additions to its third Thor film, Thor: Ragnarok including Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, and Tessa Thompson. Oh, and another guy you might have heard of, Mark Ruffalo, as a little green man, apparently under the misnomer of, The Hulk. Oh, he's not little? Got it. That hulk. YES. THE Hulk will be in the next Thor movie, continuing Marvel's kickass trend of actually building a universe that resembles the pages of the comics these characters were pulled from: that is, people just show up ... ALL. THE. TIME.

Equally exciting is the addition of Karl Urban who is no stranger to viking themed movies having starred in 2007's Pathfinder. You know what they say, once a viking, always a viking. Just ask Randy Moss.

According to Marvel, "Cate Blanchett [will play] the mysterious and powerful new villain Hela ... Tessa Thompson ... will bring the classic hero Valkyrie to life ... and Karl Urban will add his might to the fray as Skurge." Jeff Goldblum will presumably be there to reprise his role as the human fly, or to destroy the aliens, once again, a skill he previously perfected in Independence Day.

More on


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Review: The Nice Guys

May 20 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220584:42955:0[/embed] The Nice GuysDirector: Shane BlackRated: RRelease Date: May 20, 2016 If you've seen the cult classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang you know that Sean Black knows his way around the tropes and cliches of noir film and knows how to subvert them beautifully. His return to the genre is exciting to say the least. The Nice Guys starts up as many noir films do with narration from one of our lead private eyes: Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). He is soon joined in his narration efforts by Holland March (Ryan Gosling) as the two team up to find a missing girl -- Jackson out of misplaced duty and Holland out of greed. Tagging along is Holland's daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). A 70s, drug-fueled mystery unfolds replete with femme fatales, conspiracies, tragic downfalls and everything else you'd expect from a noir. Stir in some buddy cop banter (Black's other genre strong suit) and you've got yourself a perfect example of neo-noir on your hands. There's a lot to unpack here, especially since Black is clearly spending a lot of the movie simply deconstructing the noir genre. Sadly, the movies plot seems to suffer because of it. While it's two lead characters are fantastic, it's comedy crisp and its direction clever the film's story never lives up to any of it. Relying far too heavily on deus ex machina and cheap plot twists the mystery seems to be more in service of the themes than the other way around. That might be fine for an art house film, but this isn't that and it makes watching the movie start to get a bit boring. Thankfully, Crowe and Gosling are pretty fantastic together. Their chemistry takes a bit to work up, but once it does they're flinging insults off each other wonderfully. It helps that the two characters are really representations of the two major facets of noir gumshoes. Crowe's is the hard-edge moral code that classic noir anti-heroes abide by and Gosling's is the rampant self destruction and selfishness that makes them not entirely likeable. Together they basically make Humphrey Bogart in 70s suits and Hawaiian shirts. It's a wonderfully smart look at noir film archetypes made even more fun by the charm the two actors bring to the role.  On the other hand you have Holly, whose character seems almost unnecessary except to move the plot along. Her character is the worst aspect of the buddy cop movie (the unwanted sidekick) and feels especially out of place in a film crammed full of adult content. The emotional ticks she plays a part in could have been executed just as easily without her, and her involvement in some of the scenes feels inappropriate at times. She also seems out of place overall with the tone and genre of the film. A bit of 90s buddy cop movie pushing in a bit too much on what should be a noir with just a sprinkling of that genre.  I will say that the 70s are the perfect setting for neo-noir. The last decade of abandonment tinged with the knowledge that all the drugs, sex and crime we're leading to a crescendo that was the 80s. The movie doesn't quite make enough of its setting except to play off the emergence of pornography in cinema and show of some epic 70s fashion. It's another aspect that works really well for the noir part of the film, but feels like a gimmick when the more buddy cop tones play in.  The Nice Guys is a strange combination of what Sean Black does best, but his neo-noir feels awkward mixed with buddy cop. Maybe he was emboldened by his success at mashing together genres in Iron Man 3, but in this case Black should have stuck with what he does best: turning noir on its head in order to redefine it.
Nice Guys photo
Shane Black doing it oh so nice

There's something a little off about The Nice Guys. It should work really well. Two great actors who play off each other fantastically with director/writer Shane Black bringing his talents back to the neo-noir genre. Plus, it's all set in the ever so fun 70s. Yet, it doesn't quite click like it should as it's plot doesn't stand up to it's premise.

The movie was evidently originally pitched as a TV show, and I almost wish it had been one (on HBO so the hard R rating could stand) because by the end of the film I wanted to see another better one. TV is great for being able to skip over bad episodes, movies not so much.

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Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

May 20 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220574:42953:0[/embed] Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Director: Nicholas StollerRating: RRelease Date: May 20, 2016  A few years after the events of the first film, parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are selling their home because they're expecting their next child. But not realizing what they had agreed to, the two end up in escrow. Meaning they have to keep their home buyer friendly for 30 days lest they end owning two homes. At the same time, Shelby (Chloe Grace-Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) are three college girls who find out sororities aren't allowed to throw parties. Deciding to start a sorority of their own, and with the help of first film antagonist Teddy (Zac Efron), they move in next door to Mac and Kelly. After a series of shenanigans, Mac and Kelly once again find themselves in a prank war against the rowdy college kids next door.  Although Neighbors 2 tries its best to be different, it falls into the same traps most comedy sequels do. Given the nature of comedies in general, with each of them intentionally being a one-off story, all any sequel can do is try and capture what worked before and improve what did not. So if you enjoyed the first film, you might not enjoy this one. Everything's basically the same between the two films and there's not a lot added here to differentiate. There's the same air-bag gag, the same weak jokes about Rogen's body compared to Efron's, and despite poking fun on the mysoginistic voice of the first film, there's the same type of penis jokes. Which means that what it's trying to do thematically, presenting a "feminist" comedy (despite being written by five white men), is already worse for wear. It's hard to take anything seriously when one huge sequence ends with Zac Efron dancing until he shows his privates to a huge crowd.  Even if it doesn't change much of the story elements, Neighbors 2 still does an admirable job in turning the comedy sequel on its head. Simultaneously ridiculing and reveling in the premise, each of the characters have been surprisingly developed. Capitalizing on the character's ages (and further expanding on the "Dad Rogen" type introduced in the first film), there's a slightly compelling emotional current underneath all of the penis jokes. As everyone tries to figure out their identity in the film (whether Mac and Kelly can admit to being bad parents or Zac Efron's Teddy realizing he needs to move forward in life after being stuck in his millenial childlike state), Neighbors 2 touches on a slightly more level headed take on uncertain futures. But sadly this is all in between bursts of juvenile story telling. It's a shame too because when Neighbors 2 does distance itself from standard bro comedy jokes, it's quite refreshing. Despite being a film where terrible people do terrible things to one another, the few moments where it acknowledges the shortcomings are pretty great. Once again, Zac Efron steals the show. Elaborating on the lovable loser story from the first film, Teddy's become even more pathetic as he's basically aged out of the genre. A lot of the jokes in this revolve around how the entire crew would rather be doing something else (down to Mac and Kelly's terrible absentee parenting) and this nihilism is charming in a roundabout way. If you look in a little deeper, it's almost as if the film is telling Zac Efron to go ahead and move on to even bigger roles. It's pretty much time anyway. In that same breath, he's the only one that gets this kind of attention. Every other character is practically window dressing to Teddy's evolution, and it only makes you wish for a film that focused on this theme alone. I want to reward these attempts at new types of humor and themes, but they never quite go anywhere. For example while the sorority in the film is sincere and founded on equal rights ideals, the girls themselves aren't characterized well enough to truly make an impact of any kind. It's impossible for a comedy to accomplish that within 90 minutes, so these ideals feel like an afterthought. It feels like the change from a fraternity to a sorority is more cosmetic and a feminist lead character was only added only to be a plot contrivance to start the whole prank war. In fact, one character in the film literally says the sorority is "untouchable" in order to speed up the extremeness of Mac and Kelly's actions. Neighbors 2 does deserve credit for adding these elements when it could've been just another bro comedy, but it's not enough to acknowledge issues or inherent problems with the bro comedy genre while still trying to utilize the cruder elements of it.  Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising isn't the best film, or the funniest, but it's at least visibly trying to do something different. It's a groundbreaking comedy sequel in that it's not just doing the exact same thing over again for quick money. I mean it is still doing a lot of the same stuff, and while the new ideas aren't explored enough to warrant any kind of real change, the fact there is a refreshing seeming film at the end of the day is pleasant.  The only problem overall is both films just aren't memorable. It's not like you'll be quoting its jokes years later or even remember what happened a week down the line. 
Neighbors 2 Review photo
Well, at least it tried

In my long tenure here at Flixist I've carved out a niche for myself. If you see a review for a Seth Rogen film or a sequel to a comedy, chances are it's my words you're reading. So little did I know I'd stick around here long enough for those two niches to crossover. Since the first Neighbors was the weakest Rogen/Goldberg film to date, it seemed the least likely to get a sequel. Yet, here we are. 

Like most comedy sequels before it, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is pretty much the same film with a new coat of paint. While that new coat of paint makes the house more appealing to the eye, it's only distracting you from the burial ground it's built on. 

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Review: Cash Only

May 20 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220586:42954:0[/embed] Cash OnlyDirector: Malik BaderRelease Date: March 13, 2016 Rating: NR Elvis Martini is down on his luck. After he inadvertently murdered (manslaughtered?) his wife in an arson attempt to get some insurance money from his house, he finds himself the landlord of a janky apartment building renting to some terrible tenants who, for the most part, don't pay their rent or, ya know, care about anything at all. He lives with his daughter, who plays video games all day (at least two console generations behind, but more like three to five), because her father can't afford to keep her in school. He owes some people money, and in the process winds up on the wrong side of some dangerous people. His daughter gets kidnapped, and suddenly he needs to get $25,000 together by midnight in order to get her back. For this story to work, you have to find Elvis Martini a relatable character, one you can root for and feel for. You need to develop a bond that will override your general distaste for the bad things he does and the way he hurts people in order to deal with the aftermath of a very stupid thing that he did. If you don't make that connection, then you're just watching a bad guy do bad things. But not, like, interesting ones. Just bad ones. At one point, soon after his daughter is taken, Martini asks one of his tenants for help. The tenant, a weed grower living in the basement, says no, because Martini's a bad dude who did bad things and is getting what he deserves. It feels like cruelty on the grower's part, like the movie wanted me to think, "Wow! What a terrible human being!" And, sure, that's not a great look for the character, but he was right. Plus, the entire movie is about how terrible Martini is at paying back his debts. The grower has no obligation to give his landlord thousands of dollars (that he'd probably never see again) for any reason. As a person who doesn't want to see anyone's daughter get eaten by dogs, I wanted him to help, but I really can't blame the guy for saying no. And maybe I wouldn't have felt that way were it not for Cash Only's biggest problem: It is anchored around a performance that never quite clicks. Everything about Nickola Shreli's performance just feels the slightest bit off. The words are fine (and written by Shreli, which is interesting), but there's a disconnect between the words and the voice at times, and there's almost always a disconnect between the voice and the body. This is especially true near the end, where Shreli' lack of affect becomes downright bizarre as it's played against an admittedly over-the-top caricature of an Eastern European mob boss. This scene, which I'm fairly sure was supposed to inspire tension, merely elicits confusion, because everything is in place... but it doesn't quite work. Parts of it do, but the overall effect is just kind of flat. There's yelling and screaming and barking, but it's – to quote people smarter than me quoting Hamlet – full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But it goes beyond the narrative into the production itself. It doesn't feel motivated. Take the camerawork: I like handheld camera movement. I use it a lot in my own projects, because I think it can be extremely effective at adding a sense of urgency to a moment or giving the whole moment an air of instability. And, given its sequence of events, it makes sense that Cash Only is a film that heavily utilizes handheld camera work. There are a lot of shaky shots, sharp pans, etc. But the problem is that there is a fine line between Effective and Exhausting, and Cash Only doesn't walk it so well. Sometimes the intensity of the movement felt unmotivated; other times, particularly during runs, it felt like the operator forgot they were supposed to be pointing the camera at something in the first place. It's just shake for the sake of shake. And that's what this movie is, really. Shake for the sake of it. Story for the sake of it. Action for the sake of it. Cash Only isn't bad or anything, and there are worse ways you could spend 88 minutes, but it's not particularly good either, and there are a whole lot of better ones too. Like rewatching Taken. Yeah, just do that instead.
Cash Only Review photo
For a Klondike Bar

What would you do to get your daughter back from an Eastern European mob man? Your first answer is probably, "Become Liam Neeson." And that's basically the correct answer, even if it's laughable for a whole host of reasons.

But it's true that Taken has forever tainted the "Kidnapped Daughter" genre of films. No matter what the non-Taken film is or is trying to be, it's going to make people think about Taken and how great (also terrible) a dad Liam Neeson is.

And so any movie about a father trying to save his kidnapped daughter exists in Taken's shadow. And that's unfortunate for all of them, because it's fairly likely that none of them are ever going to be as good. Case in point: Cash Only.

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James Bond photo
Bond is dead. Long live Bond.

Daniel Craig is leaving the Bond franchise according to the Daily Mail, which is more of a gossip rag than anything else. The actor may have turned down a £68 million deal to star in the next two Bond films, which included endorsements, profit shares, and a role for him working as a co-producer. Their sources said that the actor was just getting too old and tired to pull the movies off.

"Daniel is done – pure and simple – he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted ... He had told people after shooting that this would be his final outing, but the film company still felt he could come around after Spectre if he was offered a money deal."

Craig himself was previously quoted as saying he'd return for the right amount of money, which is why this whole report may just be crap. No one actually knows these things yet nor does a decision have to be made any time soon. The BBC has already refuted the claims made. It's just too far away from the next film to have any idea of what's going on and Craig has not made a decision they say.

Whatever your thoughts on Craig are (I loved him as Bond), you have to admit he re-energized a franchise that was feeling a little stale after Die Another Die. Casino Royale still stand as one of the best Bond films made and Skyfall is up there too. If anything Spectre was a good farewell with Craig's Bond walking off into the sunset with his new love. If Craig leaves on this note it'll make it much easier for the franchise to simply go back to ditching the last film's continuity for each movie and turn back into single adventures. 

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Star Trek photo
It's new, new, new!

News of a new Star Trek got me very excited, especially when I heard it would take place in the original universe not Abrams. I enjoy Abrams verse, actually, but I think a TV show is better suited for the old verse. This teaser doesn't look like the old universe, though. There's enough lens flare going on and "videogame" style looks that it's making me wonder if we'll be getting the action-oriented Star Trek and not the thought provoking one. 

And yet, when the original theme kicked in I was two steps away from actually signing up for CBS All Access. I'm such a sucker. 

I am a huge Star Trek fan, but I am not a huge fan of paying CBS a monthly fee just to watch the show (and their other shows). I can't subscribe to every channel, and that's what CBS is trying to make us do by not dropping their shows on Hulu until after the season is over if they do it at all. I understand they want to be another Netflix, but I've only go so much money in my wallet. At least we'll be able to check out the first episode of Star Trek for free. 

At the same event that CBS dropped this trailer they also announced the second show for All Access will be a  The Good Wife spin-off. They'll need to to do a bit more to make paying them worthwhile. 


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Ghostbusters Oozes Out 2nd Trailer: Yep, it's a reboot

May 19 // Rick Lash
Kind of similar, don't you think? Let our four heroes that no one believed in assemble on the stage to uproarious applause and adulations!
Ghostbusters photo

In case you didn't know, the new Ghostbusters, releasing on July 15, is a reboot, not a sequel.

The trailer that Sony just released for the film confirms this in unimaginative glory as voiceover narrative mixed with snippets of dialogue outline the plot, characters, and even key events to follow closely with events of the original movie:

  • Disgraced (laughingstock) academic: check.
  • No one believes in ghosts or the ghostbusters: check.
  • Ghost are real anyway: check.
  • End of the world scenario--we all know who to call: check and check.

I'm not sure the trailer confirming that Slimer makes an appearance is enough to pull on my nostalgia's heartstrings, but the scene mixing the Ghostbusters with a packed concert and stage sure did ... just for the wrong franchise. It was eerily reminiscent of the conclusion to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Only, their movie had Vanilla Ice, and did it 25 years earlier. Maybe the Ghostbusters crew didn't realize they were remaking the wrong movie.

Do you still have hope for the franchise, or are you fearing (not ghosts) the worst, like me?



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Behind-the-scenes Warcraft footage shows ILM making lifelike orcs

May 18 // Hubert Vigilla
Haircraft? Adorable. Though brief, this look at the CG is pretty interesting. We mentioned earlier there was debate about touch-up work on the CGI leading into release. I sense that debate may continue since the quality of the CG (as with every major special effects spectacle) varies from shot to shot. I still stand by an assessment I made from a post on a Warcraft TV spot: "Something about Warcraft just looks synthetic and artificial--less like Lord of the Rings and more like The Hobbit." What do you think about the orcs in this video? How about the CG in Warcraft in general? Warcraft comes out June 10th. [via YouTube]
Warcraft VFX photo
Should've cast real orcs

Here at Flixist, we've been both cautiously optimistic and also somewhat skeptical about the Warcraft movie. We like director Duncan Jones a whole lot, but we're still left a little cold about the movie given the various character posters, TV spots, and trailers. The concern, at least for me, is that this winds up being Generic Fantasy Film: The Movie rather than a film with a bit more personality.

All of this comes down to the story, a good deal of which seems to center on the orcs. This new behind-the-scenes footage of Warcraft briefly covers some of the work ILM's done to make the mo-cap CG orcs look extra-orcy. Give it a watch below.


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Warner Bros. picks Geoff Johns and Jon Berg to oversee DC cinematic universe

May 18 // Hubert Vigilla
Berg is an Executive Vice President of creative development and production at WB, though the addition of Johns is most intriguing. Johns has been one of DC Comics' marquee writers and creative voices for 15 or 16 years. His film experience goes back to the mid-90s, when he interned for Richard Donner's production company. The DC movies will still apparently be director-driven, so more details have to emerge about what kind of supervisory role Johns and Berg will play. If these are just symbolic positions without any creative impact, this may just be a symbolic reshuffling of the deck chairs. I also wonder a bit about Johns' role with DC television shows and how this may affect this glut of films for the next few years. Will some of the flavor of The Flash on CW seep into these grim and gritty meathead dreckfests? How do you feel about this mild shakeup with the DC cinematic universe? Let us know in the comments. [via THR]
DC/WB Exec Shake Up photo
Fallout from Batman v Superman

While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has made around $870 million worldwide, it's been considered a disappointment for Warner Bros. By comparison, Captain America: Civil War has already made $957 million worldwide in two weeks. Batman v Superman's underperformance even caused Warner Bros to reconsider its companywide release strategy.

With so much riding on this fledgling DC cinematic universe, Warner Bros. has finally picked its pseudo-equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Kevin Feige. Late yesterday, Geoff Johns and Jon Berg were tapped to run DC Films.

Better late than never, right?

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Thoughts on the documentary Weiner by Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg

May 17 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220420:42870:0[/embed] Weiner is cringe comedy at its most painful, with so much said in clenched jaws, nervous posture, and sad eyes. What's most fascinating is how, at least for me, the initial schedenfreude turned into empathy. I felt bad for Weiner, sure, but more so for and his wife, Huma Abedin, who suffers the failed campaign mostly in silence. Huma's appearances are brief but momentous. When she occasionally looks at the camera and emotes, I'm reminded of Jim from The Office or Buster Keaton; when the camera catches her in a candid moment, I'm reminded of seeing distressed strangers suffering through some private turmoil on the subway. While watching Weiner, I kept thinking about Marshall Curry's 2005 documentary Street Fight, which covered Cory Booker's run for mayor of Newark. Booker remains a rising star in the Democratic Party (though he seemed to burn brighter as a mayor than he currently does as a US senator), and Street Fight is all about his high-minded, aspirational campaign which was characterized by an inexhaustible surfeit dignity. Weiner, on the other hand, is all about exponentially expanding indignity, both on the part of the candidate and also on the part of a media obsessed with salaciousness, moral outrage, and sanctimony. [embed]220420:42872:0[/embed] The early buzz over Weiner is that the film's release could have an impact on the general election. Huma is a close confidante of Hillary Clinton and currently serves as vice chairwoman of Clinton's presidential campaign. I don't think this will have much sway on the primaries or the big vote in November, but it may help people reflect on what matters in politics. With so much focus on personality and personal lives, the focus on policy gets lost. In other words, Dick Pics > The Middle Class. As we watch Weiner struggle to get his message out on the campaign trail, all anyone can talk about are his personal indiscretions and how they affect perceptions of trustworthiness. Some express moral outrage, and use it as an excuse for the worst kind of bullying. How much of this is rooted in legitimate concern for New York City politics, and how much of it is just a love of political theater? [embed]220420:42871:0[/embed] I developed a strange admiration for Weiner as the documentary progressed. Part of that is how we begin to feel bad for a person when they've been publicly humiliated, but Weiner is also a fighter. When I first heard about him several years back, it was because of his passion as a Congressman when advocating for 9/11 first responders. The first sexual disgrace would come a year later, but that fighting spirit carried on in his comeback/mayoral bid, though he became a total palooka for the public. Even with everything collapsing, he continued into the fray, taking punch after punch after punch, and yet, against all good judgement, he decided to stand and fight rather than fall. Is it odd to admire the punching bag and the punch-drunk? The big question is if Weiner believed he could salvage his comeback or if it was just the weight of expectation and obligation that kept him going. Most likely both. Maybe it was also a kind of public flogging that he secretly agreed with. It's weird to admire that, but people are strange and complicated, and sometimes they run for office. Whether or not I'd vote for them is a different matter entirely.
Weiner documentary photo
Politics (and dick pics) in our time

Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's Weiner was one of the must-sees at New Directors/New Films earlier this year. The documentary chronicles the inspiring comeback and catastrophic implosion of Anthony Weiner's 2013 bid to become mayor of New York City. If you remember that fiasco and the painful death spiral that ensued, you can imagine how uncomfortable Weiner is to watch.

We'll have an actual review of Weiner later this week to coincide with the theatrical release of the film, but I did want to share a few preliminary thoughts on the movie since it may be one of the best documentaries on American politics in recent memory.

[A version of this article originally ran with our coverage of New Directors/New Films 2016. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]

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New DC logo photo
The bullet logo was still the best

DC Comics unveiled a brand new logo to coincide with big Rebirth event this summer, which pretty much looks like a mea culpa for that New 52 stuff from a few years ago. The comic is an 80-page one-shot written by Geoff Johns that will kick off a company-wide reboot/relaunch. It hits stands on May 25th.

This new logo will be seen across all DC properties, including their comics, their shows, their live-action films, their animated films, their breakfast cereals, their flamethowers, and their talking Yogurt from Spaceballs dolls. That means Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will have the old DC logo, while Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, and other DC movies in the future will have this new logo. (At least until the 2019 logo reboot.)

I'm a bit old-fashioned and love the 1976 bullet logo the best, and I find this new logo really bland overall. At least the 2005 swirl had personality. This looks rigid and stodgy, like something for a corporate summer softball league rather than one of the world's most important comic book companies. I'm still surprised how simple yet effective that mighty modern Marvel font and no-frills logo has proven over the years.

In the gallery, the previous DC Comics logos. What do you think of the new one? Do you have a favorite classic logo? Let us know in the comments.

[via /Film]

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Transformers 5 gets an official title and teaser image

May 17 // Nick Valdez
Tran5formers  photo
Sadly not Tran5formers or Transformer5

Because the Transformers films still make more money than the GDP of many small countries put together (and with Age of Extinction holding strong as China's biggest box office opening ever). work on the next film in the franchise is speeding forward. Paramount and Hasbro even put together two different writers' think tanks to both figure out the future of the Transformers franchise and to possibly work on a Hasbro toy cinematic universe. 

Regardless of how it turns out, we're getting a lot of Transformers. Announced on social media (and Michael Bay), the next Transformers is officially titled Transformers: The Last Knight. Presumably referring to the ending of the last film, the title implies the film will be a movie where an angry Optimus Prime (confirmed as the last knight of Cybertron and frontman of the band, Knights of Unicron) fights some other alien robots. The film begins production in Cuba next week with Mark Wahlberg returning and Jerrod Carmichael and Isabel Moner joining the cast. 

Transformers: The Last Knight releases June 23, 2017, with a follow up planned for June 2018, June 2019, and every June until the heat death of the universe. 

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Tetris Trilogy photo
Form rows in the theater for points

This year we have four videogame adaptations hitting theaters and there's no sign of stopping anytime soon. The only problem with this is none of these films look particularly gripping with Warcraft, Assassin's Creed, and The Angry Birds Movie hoping to change that soon. Average as they are, at least these adaptations make sense. According to Deadline, we're about to get more videogame movies than we can handle. 

Tetris The Movie is now moving forward as an $80 million dollar budgeted joint effort between China's Seven Star Works and Larry Kasanoff's (Mortal Kombat) Threshold Entertainment Group (now officially united as Threshold Global Studios). Treating the film as the first in a trilogy, Tetris the Movie will begin filming in China next year and, according to Kasanoff, is a sci-fi thriller and a "cool surprise."

Regardless about how you feel about videogames or videogame movies, we can all agree this is f**king stupid, right? Not as stupid as, say, a movie about PEZ, but stupid nonetheless. 

[via Deadline]

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Harley Quinn to get her own movie

May 16 // Matthew Razak
Harley Quinn photo
Gee, Mr. J! My very own movie!

Suicide Squad isn't even out yet, but DC is pretty sure they've got something good with Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. THR is reporting that Warner Bros. will be launching a stand-alone Harley Quinn movie... or a movie centered around Harley Quinn and a host of other female DC characters. 

Not much has leaked out about the film except that Robbie was the impetus for the movie as she fell in love with DC's female characters after diving into research for Suicide Squad. She got a screenwriter and then pitched the idea to WB who snapped it up. There's no confirmation of anything, but Batgirl and the ladies of Birds of Prey have been mentioned as possible characters to show up. 

This is a pretty big no-duh for WB as Harley Quinn is sure to come out of Suicide Squad as one of the more popular characters even if the movie itself turns out poorly. She's already got a cult following and with Deadpool leading to more R-rated superhero flicks we might get to see her in all her psychotic glory. It's also interesting that this means that DC will have two villain-based films, an approach Marvel has not taken yet. 

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X-Files photo
But do we want to go back?

I watched X-Files when I was growing up like Malcom McDowll watched propaganda. You couldn't tear my eyes away. I couldn't even finish the season 10 reboot. That's why it's with much trepidation that I'm reporting that Fox CEO and chairman Dana Walden said on a recent earnings call that she believes that David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and creator Chris Carter should all be returning for an 11th season.

She reportedly didn't seem entirely sure of this fact so this isn't official confirmation that it's coming, but CEOs don't usually spout out things like this unless things are pretty far along. She went on to explain that they're in talks right now and that scheduling issues may mean we'll have to wait a bit for season 11. She thinks we'll know more by this time next year meaning we probably won't seen the show until late 2017 or early 2018.

I'm really not sure I want this to happen. Season 10 felt just so incredibly forced and out of place. The X-Files je ne sais qoui was completely missing or entirely outdated. It felt like a 90s show trying to play in the new millennium and entirely out of place. There were moments that were fun, but overall season 10 just made me wish they'd never tried at all. 

And yet... maybe they can get it right this time. They could update the show and make it feel like it's made for television today instead of being ripped out of the 90s. If they're going to move forward with this then they need to make X-Files relevant again, not just try to ape what worked before. 

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Supergirl photo
That Flash crossover was too successful

Finally! All of my DC Comics superheroes will be one station. The strain of trying to remember two three digit HD channels was beginning to take its toll. Why just last week I left the supermarket with the wrong kid. When trying to keep this many things straight, something usually gives.

But with CBS's announcement that the freshman hit was renewed for a second season, but moving to the CW, all that worry is a thing of the past. Supergirl will join CW DC regulars The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. It's no marvel cinematic universe, but it's a start. These acronyms are taxing though. 

While Supergirl performed moderately well, averaging nearly 10 million viewers and winning the 42nd People's Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama, it's per episode budget may have been too costly for the show's modest final (broadcast big 4) numbers.

The move makes sense beyond the finances, too. Two of the three program developers are also responsible for the CW's current slate of DC series. The likelihood for one consistent universe, crossovers happening every other week, and the CW changing it's name to the DC, is high. As is the probability I'll forget to wear pants out of the house tomorrow. I'm actually sensing a Tom Welling revival around the corner.

[via Deadline]

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Voltron Trailer photo

Adding to the mass of nostalgia, and to Netflix's ever growing original programming, is Voltron: Legendary Defender. Studios have been trying to figure out what to do with Voltron for years with a movie in mind and a failed Nickelodeon show (which did have the cool idea of swapping the heads around to form different variations), but maybe it's a better fit for Netflix. 

With a cartoon season you can watch in an entire sitting, I'm sure Voltron will find new fans. Besides, it's got The Legend of Korra alums Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery at the reins (contributing to the vibe altogether) so how bad can it be? 

Voltron: Legendary Defender hits Netflix June 10th. 


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Black Panther  photo

Captain America: Civil War may have technically been Captain America's movie, but the shining stars were definitely Spider-Man and Black Panther. In fact, I'm more excited for Black Panther's solo outing than anything else in their line up. Chadwick Boseman was fantastic, that "Move" woman is the best choice Marvel's ever made, and the casting for it is reaching Doctor Strange levels of talent and it's pretty amazing. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael B. Jordan have joined the film. Lupita (not a stranger to Disney's films) will play Panther's love interest and Jordan's character hasn't been clarified yet. THR thinks he could play the villain and either way it's awesome. Given that director Ryan Coogler was responsible for my favorite film of 2015, Creed, this casting is just icing on the cake. My hype levels are pretty much through the roof now. 

Black Panther releases February 16th, 2018. 

[via THR]

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Review: High-Rise

May 12 // 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 it's not that at all. This is its own strange edifice about social class and social order.

High-Rise isn't concerned with organized class warfare. The middle-class, upper-middle-class, and upper-classes mingle together for drugs and booze and sex. Personal enmities spur the violence rather than aggressive class resentment, and there's a sense of inward class cannibalization rather than an outright revolt by the lower classes to lay siege on the people high above them. What we have is more like people going absolutely Hobbesian--a war of all against all.

[This review was originally published as part of our coverage of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the domestic release of the film.]

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Review: The Lobster

May 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219844:42633:0[/embed] The LobsterDirector: Yorgos LanthimosRating: n/aRelease Date: October 16, 2015 (UK); May 13, 2016 (USA)Country: UK, Greece, France  In the world of The Lobster, single people are social pariahs. After the death of a spouse or a divorce, a single person is forced to check into a hotel filled with other single people. They have forty-five days to pair up and get married, otherwise they are killed and have their consciousness transferred to an animal. Lots of people choose dogs, but throughout the movie we also see horses, pigs, and peacocks. Our hero David (Colin Ferrell, with a slight gut) chooses a lobster; he brings his brother (who is now a dog) with him to the hotel. You can earn extra time to prevent metempsychosis by hunting down single people in the woods with a tranquilizer gun. The hotel operates with business-like efficiency, providing scheduled social activities like some bad singles cruise from hell. To reinforce the importance of relationships, the hotel staff puts on skits: A single man pantomimes eating a meal alone, he chokes, he dies; a man and his wife pantomime eating a meal together, he chokes, she administers the Heimlich maneuver, he lives--applause. To determine whom you can pair up with, you're asked whether you're straight or homosexual (the latter sounds so much like business-ese in the context of the film). David asks if there's a bi-sexual option and is shot down--you can only choose one or the other, not both. Paper or plastic, soup or salad, efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. And it's blackly hilarious. The international cast adds to the oddball appeal of The Lobster, and they deliver their lines in an intentionally stilted manner. Olivia Colman's hotel manager strikes just the right balance between clinical, supportive, and fascistic to make her moments memorable. As for the guests, at times they seem like awkward pre-teens going through the early stages of adolescence. David befriends men played by John C. Reilly (with a slight lisp) and Ben Wishaw (with a slight limp), but they act like boys in the schoolyard. In some scenes the lines are bumbled or devoid of actual human emotion, like they're reading a script or they're pod people acting like humans are supposed to act. Flirtation is no longer about attraction or fun but learned behaviors about how people are supposed to flirt, or the desperation of a ticking clock scenario; relationships are a form of mutually beneficial transaction (i.e., we get to remain humans) that's not necessarily satisfying. Some of the best moments in The Lobster come from Lanthimos' exploration of the various forces that urge people to get into relationships against their will. The time limit might be taken as a biological imperative to have kids, or even just a desire to get married by a certain age; the pressures of the hotel staff are the different cultural, familial, and religious expectations attached to marriage and relationships. Any time your relatives have nagged you about dating, marriage, or kids, you have occupied a room in Lanthimos' hotel. Lanthimos also pokes fun at the arbitrary ways we sometimes choose who we want to be with. Limping Wishaw is looking for a woman who also has a limp, because something in common (no matter how arbitrary) might mean greater compatibility. Sometimes shared interests or traits are an arbitrary reason to get into a relationship. Does he or she really need to like your favorite band? Is a 99% match on OK Cupid really a guarantee of compatibility? A number is just a number like a limp is just a limp, and what people share together isn't a matter of arithmetic or mere reflection; there's a kind of private language and grammar that develops between people who are really fond of one another, and these things can't be forced or imposed from the outside. Since The Lobster is rooted in binaries, we also get to learn about the harshness of single-life out in the woods. In the wild and the damp, we meet the leader of The Loners played by Lea Seydoux, who's both a kind of political revolutionary and a radicalized kook. She asserts her own absurd will over The Loners that is in stark contrast to the rules of the hotel--instead of relationships, it's all about forceful solitude. And yet like the hotel, her rules are equally arbitrary, equally absurd, and also blackly hilarious. It's no longer a case of "paper or plastic" among The Loners, but rather "with us or against us." Lanthimos is equally suspicious of these denials of attraction and the repression of our desire to connect with someone else; it's another imposition on human nature and individual choice. In the woods, animals who were single people wander through shots. They're probably better off. For all the absurd and anarchic humor throughout The Lobster, the movie loses momentum before it comes to an end. It's as if Lanthimos exhausted the possibilities of his conceit and didn't figure out the final pivot his story could take. (I mentioned Barthelme earlier, and his best stories often have a sort of pivot near the end, revealing an additional train of thought that's been operating, parallel or hidden, all along.) The Lobster can feel a little one-note at times, but I suppose it's really one note that's played by two opposing sides, a kind of tyranny of logic. During the New York Film Festival press conference after the screening, Lanthimos said his screenplay was very logical. The comment drew some giggles from the press, yet it's true. The Lobster adheres to the logic of its conceit, and maybe too much. But there's still enough to love.
Review: The Lobster photo
Love is strange (so is loneliness)

I still haven't gotten around to seeing Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, though I intend to. The blackly surreal 2009 film was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar and drew favorable comparisons to the work of Luis Bunuel and Michael Haneke. And yet most of my friends hate it (the ratio is roughly four out of five). There is no in-between for their opinions.

And yet this might have been ideal conditions to jump into The Lobster, the latest Lanthimos film and his first English-language production. I could see the Bunuel and Haneke, sure, though I was also reminded of the stories of Donald Barthelme, which take a bizarre conceit and bring it to a strangely logical conclusion.

I also noticed that The Lobster is built around black and white distinctions rooted in the ideological heart of the film: you're either in a relationship (or you die) or you're single (or you die).

[This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2015 New York Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the domestic release of the film.]

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Assassin's Creed Trailer photo
With arms wide open

I guess Jimmy Kimmel Live is the place to go for trailer premieres since the first trailer for Assassin's Creed hit last night. Regardless, I've been interested in this for a while. Based on Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed videogame series, Michael Fassbender stars as Callum, a man who's stuck into a machine called the Animus and forced to live the life of one of his ancestors, an assassin in 19th century Spain. 

At first glance you probably wouldn't associate this with a videogame. It looks good, the parkour action flows well, and it's really hard to look at Fassbender and Marion Cotillard and not take it seriously. But this year we've seen some decent videogame films and some not so decent, so it's all up in the air at this point. I'm hoping this is the first universally good one. 

Assassin's Creed releases December 21st. 


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Captain America: Civil War - #TeamIronMan v #TeamCap and Obama-era foreign intervention

May 11 // Hubert Vigilla
Both Iron Man and Captain America's sides are justified in-character by their experiences over the course of 12 other films. It might speak to the strength of long-form stories allowing characters to develop through choices and actions over time, and to then have a major interpersonal conflict stem from the ideological differences between characters. Given the collateral damage and technology-run-amok in Avengers: Age of Ultron, it makes sense for Tony Stark to consider international approval. It would keep his own ideas in check (i.e., creating something like Ultron) if there had to be political consensus before moving forward, and that consensus could then justify direct action and mitigate any personal guilt over the deaths of innocent people. This makes more sense than Tony Stark going full neoconservative fascist douchebag as he did in the Civil War comic by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. HYDRA's decades-long infiltration of the US government and SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier leads to Steve Rogers' distrust of oversight, which may involve parties with motives and interests outside of the greater good. On top of that, we're talking about the United Nations as the overseeing body, an organization which stood idly by during the Rwandan genocide and whose actions these days include strongly worded letters of condemnation. Could you imagine the Avengers assembled to draft a letter? In a way, Tony's trust in his own judgment backfiring so badly led him to the security of the Sakovia Accords. On the other side, the complete failure of those in power to stop HYDRA led Steve away from the compromise and institutional oversight of the Sakovia Accords. There's also a generational conflict that tempers the Iron Man and Captain America worldviews. Tony Stark has grown up in the era after Vietnam with a certain gray or cynical view of military conflict. This is not a doveish view on Tony's part, however, but maybe one that adds ambivalence to the view of intervention and combat. Captain America, on the other hand, is a product of the greatest generation who could align in a black-and-white good-vs-evil battle against the Axis powers, HYDRA (i.e., science Nazis), and fascism. Of course, Cap doesn't really talk much about Dresden or the atomic bomb--that would complicate the moral arithmetic of utilitarianism. Civil War doesn't talk about the possibility of non-intervention and the use of diplomacy, but that sort of discussion would be silly in the context of superhero films. The Avengers fight massive hordes of faceless alien/robot/science Nazi goons hellbent on eradicating humanity. When that's the situation, the only viable option in the particular story being told is some sort of large-scale action set piece. (You don't bring a strongly worded letter to a gun fight.) It's maybe no surprise that in Alan Moore's Watchmen, the grand solution to fixing a world at war involves something extraterrestrial. Real life situations are far more complicated and can't be treated with the cavalier sense of moral righteousness seen in superhero movies. The foreign interventions of the Obama administration show how even careful deliberation or a humanitarian goal can backfire. Drone strikes are meant to eliminate select terror targets and reduce civilian deaths, but innocent men, women, and children have been murdered by American drones (see National Bird). The moral righteousness of Captain America's stance does nothing to mitigate the heartbreak and tragedy (and potential war crimes charges) of airstrikes against Doctors Without Border hospitals in Afghanistan or Yemen; Presidential apologies are of little consolation either. With regard to the Syrian Civil War, the complexities of the various factions involved, interfactional alliances, allegiances to various outside parties/countries, and a host of other factors have meant little direct or immediate action by the United States, which is still trying to figure out the quagmire it caused in Iraq under Bush; ditto the ISIS-led power vacuum the US created when Obama, under the counsel of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, used airstrikes along with French, British, and other NATO forces to assist Libyan rebels in the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi. All superhero movies often have something inherently hawkish and/or libertarian about them, sometimes occupying various ideologies at once. Some may have a more activist streak (many are vigilante stories, after all), while others are more authoritarian (many are world police stories, after all), and these Avengers movies tend to be all about the positive things that the Earth's mightiest heroes can do even when they accidentally kill innocent people. As our own Jackson Tyler pointed out last year, The Avengers is all about American exceptionalism, unable to commit to a full critique of its own ideological foundation. They're power fantasies, after all, and like fairy tales or myths or any fantastical stories that are told, maybe there are certain limitations in what can be addressed. These are simplifications of conflicts, and rarely with a one-to-one conversion regarding its real world referents. Superheroes can do a lot when it comes to embodying certain aspirations, ideals, and anxieties, but there isn't much room in a tentpole blockbuster to address the complications and nuances of real world national and international politics. The closest Captain America: Civil War can get to nuance is its ambivalence about the #TeamIronMan v #TeamCap argument. It comes down on neither side explicitly, allowing both to exist as the correct solution to a narrow hypothetical situation involving the world of the film. These are still heroes (again, the foundation remains), but one is a sheriff while the other is the gunslinger who turns in his tin star, one is the by-the-book cop while the other is the loose canon who lost his badge. This isn't neocons taking on liberals, it's more like Buzz Lightyear v Woody. Similarly, Captain America: Civil War isn't a diagnosis and treatment of the current state of the world but more of a collection of symptoms. I'm reminded of a two-page Superman story from 1940 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The Man of Tomorrow soars through the air, kidnaps Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and then brings them both to justice before the League of Nations. All that power, and he rights major wrongs so easily and justly, preventing the deaths of countless millions in the process. If only real world foreign policy were that easy. In retrospect, it's a very sad Superman story.
Civil War and politics photo
Imperfect solutions, true believers

Now that we've all seen Captain America: Civil War, it's about time to open up the #TeamIronMan v #TeamCap debate.

On the one hand, you have Iron Man as a guilt-addled pragmatist who feels UN/international oversight is a necessary step forward when it comes to The Avengers and their role in terrestrial and extraterrestrial conflict. Captain America, on the other hand, feels that The Avengers are above the bureaucratic red tape of oversight and need to act immediately and independently given the existential threats they face.

What interested me in all this was the distinct era-specific concerns of the new movie and its source material. While the Civil War comic was all about the Bush era war on terror and its impact on individual freedom and civil liberties, the Civil War movie is about the Obama era and the ways institutions and individuals try to mitigate the consequences of foreign intervention.

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