Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around


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 sequel with Lin directing, and the dreams of every 90s child funding it all. 

Seriously, we've been talking about a Space Jam sequel since the first film came out and now here it is. Lebron has been wanting to be in it for years, and we all thought it was going to never happen at one point.  But it is now.

Lin will be writing the screenplay along with some other folks and then everyone is going to start believing they can effing fly. R. Kelly will start hanging out in corn fields again. Bill Murray will make a surprise appearance to save the day. All our dreams will come true.

Well, except the one where 1990s Michael Jordan teleports to the future and makes Space Jam 2 because no one else can really do it (sorry, Lebron), especially not present day, once had a Hitler-stache, weirdo Michael Jordan. 

... read + comment

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 created some truly classic moments, some of the best sketch comedy to ever grace the small screen. And they decided to go out on a high note, rather than burning out or falling out of favor. At the height of their power, they moved on. (This is a particularly interesting thought now, because more than a few critics feel that Amy Schumer has now outgrown her own show and should have moved on as well.)

Even so, I will admit to being a little apprehensive about Keanu. Not everyone successfully navigates the transition from movie parodies to parody movies, and I'm not particularly looking forward to the movie based on Mr. Garvey, Keegan-Michael Key's Substitute Teacher character, who I found grating after a couple of appearances. My concern that that film will feel like an overstuffed TV sketch resulted in less excitement for Keanu, to the point where I probably would have skipped it at first if I hadn't been invited by a friend.

In short: That would have been a massive mistake, because Keanu is great.

... read + comment

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

Apr 30 // Hubert Vigilla
To jog your memory, Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay for The Flash as well as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (from his partial-novel). The Flash would have been Grahame-Smith's directorial debut, and perhaps a major hurdle for a first-timer, but he's no longer involved with the Scarlet Speedster and can hoof it wherever he pleases. This may be best for DC as well since they initially handed the baton to someone who doesn't have the legs for the big race. Thankfully The Flash wasn't sprinting to the big screen any time soon, meaning that DC can bounce back really quick. The film is still slated for a March 3, 2018 release, and DC isn't necessarily in a major rush to find a new director. Still, they should probably pick up the pace and hurry up since the time will fly by really fast. Gene Shalit has a mustache, he makes puns, and he is now your ruler. Bow to him. Bow! Pun about this story in the comments, puny mortal. [via THR]
Flash loses director photo
A DC cinematic universe slow down?

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.

... read + comment

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

Apr 30 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220553:42942:0[/embed] As someone who lived in the world of ninjas, I can say it's pretty much like art school, but with more ninjas and less art or school. Collider also notes that Stories International is developing other Sega properties for various platforms, including adaptations of Altered Beast, Golden Axe, Virtua Fighter, and Crazy Taxi. I'm particularly interested in Golden Axe as a film along the lines of John Milius' Conan the Barbarian and Virtua Fighter done as a classic Shaw Brothers kung fu movie. Of course, we'll have to wait for details on all of these projects. No love for Fantasy Zone, Alex Kidd, or that snail maze game. What do you think about these Sega projects on deck? Are you excited? Are you a ninja? Did you also major in Ninjustsu? Show your stealth in the comments. [via Collider]
Shinobu movie photo
Other Sega titles also being considered

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 Philosophy but minored in Ninjustsu.) Sadly, that ninja jazz age has passed, but it may be coming back: there's an adaptation of Sega's 1987 classic Shinobi in the works.

Marc Platt (whose credits include Bridge of Spies, Drive, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and his production company have partnered with Stories International, Inc. to bring the ninja tale to the big screen. 

Platt said the following about the adaptation:

We love the Shinobi games and believe that the world of ninjas has never been properly explored onscreen. We now have the opportunity to do just that. With Shinobi, we hope to make a film that honors the essence of the games and brings this fascinating world to life for moviegoing audiences.

... read + comment


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 loved it and evidently Marvel and Netflix noticed because they've just announced that Punisher will be getting his own series.

You can check out the announcement video below, which says almost nothing, but is just so insanely perfect with Bernthal reciting the children's rhyme his character is now known for. This is even more exciting because a Punisher series was not part of the original Netflix/Marvel deal. That only included Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. This expansion is great news for those of us who like the smaller, darker Marvel Cinematic Universe on show in the Netflix series. 

The series will star Jon Bernthal and has Hannibal's Steve Lightfoot will serve as showrunner.

[embed]220551:42941:0[/embed]

... read + comment

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 going to be great, but I figured it would be on par with previous ensemble cast holiday movies. You know the genre: lots of famous people have multiple interweaving stories about love.

Mother's Day is not that. To be that it would have to have a redeeming value somewhere in it. You'd have to laugh at at least one of the jokes. At the end maybe you got a warm fuzzy feeling. No, this movie crawled out of the bottom of some sort of barrel where they keep things that should die in the fires of hell. I went in expecting mediocre, I came out ashamed of every actor who agreed to star in this film and with serious concerns about the human race in general. 

... read + comment

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 original and sequel when they first arrived on the Playstation 2, but since then have fallen off. If that invalidates my review for you then you should probably stop reading, though it really shouldn't seeing as the film's relation to the game amounts to a few inside jokes and a lamb.

What I do remember from the games was that on top of some fantastic gameplay they had a sharp sense of humor and great interplay between the titular characters. It's possible I've got some rose tinted glasses on there, but it's how I remember it. 

Ratchet & Clank the movie tries to recapture the game's feel almost exactly. The problem is what made for great dialog in a videogame in 2002 makes for cliche in the midst of an animation renaissance in 2016. 

... read + comment

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, Interrupted, and Viaknder won a Best Supporting Actress statuette earlier this year for The Danish Girl. Vikander also starred in Ex Machina, which is a better movie than any of the other movies listed in this paragraph.

The Tomb Raider reboot will be directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug, with a screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet. Uthaug's other movies include The Wave and Escape; Robertson-Dworet's sci-fi screenplay Hibernation made the 2012 Black List. Roar Uthaug is also a fun name to say out loud. Try it!

You may recall that Daisy Ridley was also being eyed for the role, but Vikander should be more than capable for it. Besides, Ridley is probably busy doing those low-budget indie Star Wars movies.

What do you think of this casting news? Has anyone even watched those Jolie Tomb Raider movies in the last 10 years? Let us know in the comments.

[via THR]

... read + comment

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 strange childhood whose psychological fallout takes decades to recognize, and that must be dealt with in adult life in order to finally self-actualize.

That common narrative of dysfunction, real or imagined, might be the biggest issue with The Family Fang. I couldn't help but think of The Royal Tenenbaums and The Savages and countless other dysfunctional family narratives while watching the movie. There's some missing ingredient in The Family Fang, a flavor of distinction I can't quite name but can recognize when it's absent.

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

... read + comment

 photo

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 to 2016's successful R-rated Marvel comic book adaptation of the Ryan Reynold's driven Deadpool as the rating for The Killing Joke was announced in October, last year.

The brooding trailer confirms that the animated feature will stay true to the original material in its handling of the dark story that concludes with the crippling of Batgirl.

[embed]220549:42939:0[/embed]

Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively (comfortable roles, as both have been portraying their characters since 1992 saw Batman: The Animated Series premiere).

Batman: The Killing Joke centers around the Joker's capture and torture of Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, and her father, Police Commissioner, James Gordon, and the Joker's efforts to prove that anyone, even an upstanding citizen, can be driven insane due to "one bad day."

The animated feature is set for release straight to Blu-Ray and DVD in July.

... read + comment

Netflix photo
Do we all have our act together?

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 the third one in a trilogy or the second season and the movie doesnt' count. Whatever. We're getting more. 

The show is coming in 2017, which, as the trailer shows, is exactly when they all planned to meet. Burning questions like whether or not they'll all be there by 9:30 are not answered yet, mostly because this is just a clip from the original movie. We're going to guess that everyone is going to be back again, and now with the success of the first show we should get even more great cameos. 

[embed]220547:42937:0[/embed]

... read + comment

Sherlock Holmes photo
Remember this is still a thing?

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, but it's been five years since Game of Shadows released and left us all on a cliffhanger. That's mostly because Downey Jr. has been incredibly busy with Marvel things. 

It seems everyone, including Warner Bros., co-start Jude Law and director Guy Ritchie is, interested in coming, but schedules are mess. Despite that Warner Bros. has screenwriter James Coyne rewriting Drew Pearce's screenplay for the third Sherlock Holmes. That screenplay has been sitting around a while so breathing new life into it may mean we'll be seeing Holmes sooner rather than later. 

Coyne isn't that an adept screenwriter. He's credits include include Dominic Purcell-directed Vikingdom and the actioner Puncture Wounds, both of which were not well received. Still, these Holmes films are much more style over substance that play more off of Holmes as a hero than diving deep into his character. With Downey Jr. saying they'll be getting to the movie this year we may see a new mystery on screen soon.

[via Deadline]

... read + comment

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 my scheduled permitted cramming in one more film than I thought I would be able to do, I figured I'd go see Rebirth. 

Going in, all I knew about Rebirth was that it's dark comedy about a cult and it starred Fran Kranz and Adam Goldberg. And it's just that. But damn is it entertaining. 
[This film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]
... read + comment

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

Apr 26 // Hubert Vigilla
For what it is, this isn't all that bad. Sure, Banks goes overboard with mentioning "Banks" everywhere and often--in case you didn't catch it everywhere else, here it is again--but it's an okay recreation of the board and a decent proof of concept... with a dubstep breakdown. Pobody's nerfect. I'd like to see an actual scaffold and girder version of this Donkey Kong board done in real life. It's been done before, but I'd like to see it done again in absolute defiance of common sense and OSHA standards. What did you think of Donkey Kong Classic? Let us know in the comments. [via /Film]
Donkey Kong short photo
Not as hot as Billy Mitchell's sauce

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 has made a short film that recreates the perils of that board.

Give Donkey Kong Classic a watch below:

[embed]220543:42935:0[/embed]

In case you were wondering how this was done, here's a behind-the-scenes video for Donkey Kong Classic:

[embed]220543:42934:0[/embed]

... read + comment

Civil War TV spot photo
That's what I'd say

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 intellectual property can.

Thwip.

Give the new TV spot a watch below. (If a higher-res version of the video appears online, we'll be sure to replace this one.)

[embed]220542:42933:0[/embed]

You'll notice all the big hype for the film in those early reviews. Disney and Marvel Studios are so confident with the quality of the movie that they've allowed critics and fans to review the film weeks ahead of time. The reviews have been enthusiastic overall.

Captain America: Civil War will be out next week. Check Flixist for our review next Friday.

Thwip.

[via The Verge]

... read + comment

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

Apr 26 // Hubert Vigilla
Seriously, guys, the math isn't on his side and it hasn't been for a while. Calm down, don't look at me that way. I mean, come on, even though Robert Reich remains a true believer, he sees the writing on the wall. What was that? Dude, I don't care what Seth Abramson tweeted or what you read on US Uncut, and Jeff Weaver's "let's flip super delegates" strategy totally undermines the Bernie "will of the people" ethos. No, I don't think he should drop out early, and no, I don't think Hillary Clinton is all that great either (she consistently gives me reasons to eye-roll and facepalm), but she's still a better option than electing Donald Trump (aka Silvio Berlusconi with a ragtop and an orange paint job). When will this f**king primary season end? Go on, call me a neoliberal cryptofascist or a paid shillary in the comments below. [via College Humor on YouTube]
#SickBernBurn photo
There's math and there's Bernie Math

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 the New York primary but who always believed his chances at getting the nomination were slim at best. (Full disclosure: all of my full disclosures are intended to make my judgement sound unimpeachable.)

On the eve of today's Democratic primary contests, College Humor released the short Why Bernie Sanders Is Actually Winning, an accurate recreation of delegate math discussions with Bernie Sanders diehards.

[embed]220541:42932:0[/embed]

... read + comment

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 real name is Andy Link, and he's an aggressively grating caricature of a guy who outwardly expresses artistic aspirations but inwardly just craves notoriety. At a party, he's someone you watch from a distance but might dread actually having to talk to.

The entire existence of The Banksy Job requires some familiarity with Banky/his street art and the 2010 Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. AK47 is the man who orchestrated the theft of Banksy's sculpture The Drinker (a piss-take on Rodin's The Thinker), and The Banksy Job seems like a bit of aggrandizement about the act and himself.

[This film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]

... read + comment

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 most associated with Adult Swim's works, it stars Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd, and it's about two slacker creatives who're trying to find their way in Hollywood. 

On paper Nerdland sounds like the ultimate indie project. Feature length animation for adults is few and far in between and out comes an edgier cartoon comedy from a place that understands edgier material. But how the hell did we end up with this mess? Nerdland is full of terrible ideas that only terrible people will enjoy. 

[This film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]

... read + comment

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 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 film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]

... read + comment

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 larger conversation about trigger warnings and political correctness, but what it all might come down to is matter of taste. The scale of personal offense differs from person to person, and what one person might find acceptable for joke fuel (so long as the joke is good) may be terrible to someone else.

During one scene in Ferne Pearlstein's documentary The Last Laugh, Holocaust survivor Renee Firestone watches a few stand-up comedians do their Holocaust jokes. Renee doesn't find them funny, and nor should she. And yet, is it wrong to laugh, even just out of audacity, knowing full well how tasteless the joke is? Similarly, knowing how offensive the material may be, should comedians make those sorts of jokes?

[This film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]

... read + comment

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 Tour, and some of my personal favorites in Obvious Child and Locke.  They're a studio still taking risks in a industry where taking risks is increasingly punished as film budgets soar higher and higher. 

I was instantly attracted to Green Room because of A24's involvement and everything announced after was just further icing on the cake. All I knew going in was Patrick Stewart's casting as a Nazi figurehead and Jeremy Saulnier, director of the also harsh Blue Ruin, was set to direct. I'm so glad my blind faith was rewarded.

Green Room is an intense experience from beginning to end and I'm still thinking about it days later. Look for it on everyone's "Best of 2016" lists this year. 

... read + comment

Ghostbusters photo
5-year-old me is really excited

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 know that as a kid it was awesome. Thus, even if the new Ghostbusters movie sucks I call its creation a success as Hi-C is bringing the Ecto Cooler back.

Coca-Cola, who owns the brand will bring the tangerine (?) flavored drink back on May 30, but you can also enter to win some before that on Twitter and Facebook. You can pick it up in cans (lame) and juice boxes (awesome). 

Also, Empire has released a host of images and banners from their upcoming issue that looks at the movie. We get a really good look at Slimer this time and the banners have some quotes that make me worry even more about the quality of the film. 

... read + comment

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 for fans (and it's a pretty good gag, surprisingly), and someone very special is teased at the end. 

I have no idea how they managed to keep it under wraps this close to release. The timelines of these films may be confusing, but I don't really care. It's going to be awesome. 

X-Men: Apocalypse releases May 27th. 

[embed]220539:42930:0[/embed]

... read + comment

See PAPA: Hemingway in Cuba early and free

Apr 25 // Matthew Razak
Screening Details  PAPA: HEMINGWAY IN CUBA Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema Tuesday, April 26th at 7:00pm  
 photo

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 actually worth remembering in the annals of film history by grabbing some passes. If you'd like one just email [email protected]

Screening details are below. Remember to arrive early and come back and tell us what you thought. 

... read + comment

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. There are states with regulations so egregious, the subject has become the center of yet another furious debate as women are forced to resort to crazier methods to get the care they need. 

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is a documentary that gives you every single side of the story from the people who matter the most in this situation. It gives you enough information to make your own judgment on the matter and never pushes you one way or another. It's the deepest, most respectful tackle of abortion yet. 

[This film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]

... read + comment

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, each of the short films fail to hit their mark and the entire thing feels like a slog. But it turns out there's an even worse fate than that. 

You could have a few good shorts, but the majority are so average that those good ones seem worse in comparison. Holidays is an anthology where enjoyment of it relies on whether or not you find chopping off a penis hilarious. 

[This film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]

... read + comment

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 entry point into King Hu's filmography for most people. (Like A Touch of Zen, Dragon Inn has also undergone a 4K restoration and will have a theatrical run followed by a Criterion Collection release. Look for our review of Dragon Inn in the coming weeks.)

Filmed over three years and released as two films in Taiwan in 1970 and 1971, A Touch of Zen was bolted together as a single three-hour picture for its foreign release. The epic was lauded at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, and it remains one of the most influential wuxia movies ever made.

Without A Touch of Zen, you don't have contemporary prestige/art-house-friendly wuxia like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, or House of Flying Daggers; you might not have the Venom Mob movies of the 70s either, for that matter. Yet this isn't a wuxia movie per se; it might be more accurate to think of the film as an art movie about Zen Buddhism with a touch of wuxia. This sounds like warning, or it might sound like a challenge. If you sensed the latter, you ought to accept the call to adventure.

... read + comment

Tribeca Review: A Kind of Murder

Apr 22 // Nick Valdez
A Kind of MurderDirector: Andy GoddardRating: RRelease Date: April 17, 2016 (limited) Based on The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith, A Kind of Murder follows Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson), an architect who has everything you'd expect from someone living the high life in the 60s: his short mystery writing hobby has landed him in magazines, a beautiful wife Clara (Jessica Biel), a fancy home, money, and as many cigarettes as he could smoke. But almost instantly, the veneer of his life starts to unravel. His wife has mental health issues, their marriage is falling apart, he begins sleeping with the mysterious singer Ellie (Haley Bennett), and his tendency to follow murder stories in the paper catches up with him. When his wife suddenly dies, and the scene of her murder looks eerily close to the murder of the local bookshop owner Kimill (Eddie Marsan)'s wife, Stackhouse has to clear his name and move on with his life.  Murder does everything in its power to define its 60s setting and tone. Paying respect to its pulp-mystery origins, there is a heavy use of shadow and angular shots. Bouts of silence coupled with deep reds help sink you into the film's deep tone. Sets are well lit enough to see what's going on, while still being blacked out enough to leave you a little bit confused. Unfortunately, the score doesn't help or detract from the film so Murder is left with only its visuals to accomplish its goals. It's just a shame that once everyone starts talking, everything else falls apart. It's almost impossible to keep a consistent tone when some actor's performances are anachronistic and some are pulpy to a fault.  As examples of both extremes, Jessica Biel's Clara and Lucas Bentley's Detective Jackson are overwritten and overacted. Each time they're on screen. the energy from the scene is completely drained. Biel seems to be trying her best, but she can't get a grip on Clara's character. It doesn't help that the script doesn't seem to know what's wrong with Clara either. There's some sort of hint at a mental health issue, and while that's a strong characterization for a pulp mystery story (but out of place and time, for sure), we're stuck seeing it through Stackhouse's misogynystic POV. He's a terrible person, and it's reflected in how the story's told. We never quite get the full mystery or figure out why characters make certain decisions because we're stuck watching Stackhouse make his own baffling choices. For one, he's constantly lying to everyone. Namely, Bentley's terrible Detective whos' characterization is so rooted in the setting, he's sticks out like a cartoon.  The most important thing for a mystery is not its setting or tone, it's the integrity of the mystery itself. Whether you're focusing on a crime or the mystery of a character's personality, there needs to be a solid foundation for everything else to succeed. Unfortunately, Murder never quite figures out what kind of story it wants to tell. There's a secondary plot revolving Kimill and the murder of his wife, but Eddie Marsan doesn't add necessary layers to his performance to keep his story interesting. He's consistently sinister throughout and when a plot point is revealed later on, it didn't come as much of a surprise. He's effectively taking the air of mystery out of the mystery. And when the performances don't help, the holes in the story stick out that much more. We're left without so much crucial information seemingly happening off screen so there's no real way to connect and stick with the Murder.  At first it seemed like A Kind of Murder had all the pieces for success, but it gets so caught up in capturing the essence of its source material that it forgets to make everything else as engaging. A floundering mystery spawning waves upon waves of disconnect, it's few good elements are completely snuffed by its poor organization. 
Tribeca Murder Review photo
A kind of mess

Patrick Wilson just can't catch a break. No matter how hard he tries, he has yet to break through into credible leading man territory. He's been wading in the shallow ends of roles landing somewhere between genre film and B movie territory. But while he isn't hugely popular, his films still gross a respectable amount of money (and considering their usually low budgets, his starring films always have a huge return on investment) so I've always respected the talent he must have waiting to reveal. 

I had hoped that A Kind of Murder would be Wilson's time to shine, but there's evidence here that he may not be ready to tackle something concrete when he's left to bear the weight of the entire project. Especially when the film can't seem to find a footing of its own. 

[This film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]

... read + comment

Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War

Apr 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220532:42925:0[/embed] The Huntsman: Winter's WarDirector: Cedric Nicolas-TroyanRating: PG-13Release Date: April 22, 2016 As its title suggests, The Huntsman: Winter's War shifts its main focus to its titular huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth). Before the events of the first film, the Evil Queen Raveena (Charlize Theron) had a younger sister named Freya (Emily Blunt). After the death of her daughter, Freya gains ice powers and goes off to form her own kingdom (complete with a ban on love), kidnapping children and training them as huntsman along the way. Eric ends up falling in love with another huntsman, Sara (Jessica Chastain), but Freya puts a stop to that. Then seven years later (and after the events of the first film), Freya vows to get Raveena's magic mirror and take over Snow White's kingdom.  Just as with the first film, Winter's War oozes with style. While some of its visuals borrow heavily from other fantasy worlds (such as the design of the huntsman themselves), costume design is still top notch. Capitalizing on one of the better aspects of the first film, Raveena and Freya's outfits are outlandish and gaudy in the best way. And although it results in less gaudy but fabulous dresses, the set design has also received an upgrade. Scene settings are more varied and feel more inspired, such as the jungle look of the goblin's den (and the gold chained gorilla goblins), but there's a definite lack of budget that knocks the film's overall presentation down a peg. The film's CG isn't always seamless, but the film tries its best to make sure at least the central women look good. At least Winter's War succeeds in that regard. Because their looks are perfected, Theron and Blunt are free to chew the scenery as they see fit.  And boy does Charlize Theron run the show. It's just a shame that the film keeps her separated from Blunt for the majority of it. The scenes where she's allowed to cheesily tear into Blunt's Freya turns Winter's War into a fantasy version of Dynasty as the two actresses try to out soap opera each other. It's the only time Blunt seems bothered enough to try, and her scenes with Theron clearly make Blunt's performance ring hollow the rest of the time. At least Chris Hemsworth get more to do this time around. The first film was before his breakout in The Avengers, and now he's got this affable personality which helps ease some of Winter's War's more troublesome attempts at humor and personality. But while mostly everyone involved is having a good time, no one really seems to care about what they're saying. It's halfhearted throughout.  Winter's War is further crippled by its poor storytelling. When it succeeds it can be funny, or even compelling, but thanks to its need to clutch to the first film rather than reset everything, the film makes no damn sense for the first thirty minutes or so. Thanks to a weird flashback story then a time jump seven years into the future, everything is rushed. We're never given the time to invest in Eric and Sara's relationship because all we get between the two is a few make out sessions (that linger on for a bit too long) before they're separated. It doesn't help that Hemsworth and Chastain are clearly phoning it in. Their scenes together seem to take the longest, and their faux scottish accents are so heavy, they're almost parodic. These scenes make you wonder when Theron's going to show up again. Given that she's really only in the film for about 20 minutes, the wait seems even longer. Give up the ghost already and give us a full Charlize Theron ham sandwich, Universal.  The Huntsman: Winter's War is a piecemeal fantasy that's just other fairy tales duct taped together into a two hour project. There's clearly an underlying effort being drowned by everyone's apathy (there's not even an effort to keep background skeletons from looking like they were bought in one of those pop up Halloween shops), and Winter's War barely cares it exists. It just does.  Going in I was hoping Universal re-examined the Huntsman series and kept what worked and threw out what didn't. But it did the complete opposite. The Huntsman: Winter's War is less of what we want, and more nonsense we don't need. 
Winter's War Review photo
What is it good for? Absolutely nothing

Despite Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Saunders being pulled from the series after allegations of an affair, bumping up visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan to debut as director, and the first film getting poor reviews, Snow White and the Huntsman got a sequel.

Despite all odds, The Huntsman: Winter's War wants to pick up the pieces of its broken series and try to tell a story that can stand on its own and possibly bring more films to come. But seeing how this one turned out, no one's going to want anymore of this. 

... read + comment

Tribeca Capsule Review: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four

Apr 21 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220511:42918:0[/embed] Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio FourDirector: Deborah EsquenaziRating: NRRelease Date: April 20, 2016 (limited) In 1994, four women, Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh, were charged with the sexual assault of two underage girls, Elizabeth's nieces. And thus began a weird trial where the four defendants had to deal with a litany of accusations all stemming from their sexuality. With accusations ranging from the deplorable to the highly nonsensical (such as suggesting the crime committed was some sort of satanistic ritual), the four women just want to clear their names and be freed from the system that condemned their lifestyles. Thanks to the seemingly never ending nature of the trial, the four women are still contesting their convictions to this day and with the latest development happening only two months prior to the film's release. Unfortunately, with that big of a period to cover, Southwest of Salem fails to catch everything. As the case is constantly developing, we never quite get the full picture of it. Instead the film feels like an attempt at advocacy rather than a full fledged documentary. We're only told one side of the case, and it's clear what the filmmaker believes. But we're not given enough information to make a decision ourselves, and are instead told to believe what director Esquenazi believes. In the same breath, Southwest excels at telling that single side.  Since we're not given enough information on the case (Neither members of the prosecution nor expert testimony on the "bogus science" scrutinzed later on in the case were interviewed), director Esquenazi chooses to anchor the documentary with emotion. Following the four women on different stages of their incarceration and later release, Southwest benefits from having credible and highly personal footage for each of the women. Opting to capture a slice of each woman (namely Anna Vasquez, who's become the "face" of the four)'s life, the film creates a connection between the audience and subjects. Some of the footage is incredibly heartbreaking as the film manages to capture integral moments like their initial release from prison or home movies depicting the women's final moments of freedom. Southwest of Salem makes sure you care about the San Antonio Four. As the film's main goal is awareness, most of the film is dedicated to moments like these. And because of that laser focus, the film's emotion and heartache feels earned rather than manipulative.  Regardless of how you feel about the technical flaws of this documentary, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four is a heartbreaking look into a little discussed case. Some of the developments are baffling. You'll feel rage, sadness, and hopelessness, and you'll still only feel a fraction of what these four women are going through. But for even capturing even a fraction of that feeling, Southwest of Salem is powerful, flaws and all. 
Salem Tribeca Review photo
Devastating

Growing up in San Antonio you witness a lot of things like gang violence, racial and class divides, and the occasional public drunkeness, but twenty two years ago something happened in my small town that changed it forever. It may not have gotten the same amount of press as higher profile cases like the Central Park Five but the case of the San Antonio Four was far more devastating. 

Trying its best to wrangle the entirety of the tumultuous case, Southwest of Salem doesn't always manage the film's execution. Instead it focuses on what's really the heart of the case, the four women themselves, and goes on to be an emotionally stirring feature. 

[This film is playing as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, running from April 13-24 in New York City. For tickets and more information, click here.]

... read + comment


Auto-loading more stories ... un momento, corazón ...