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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. 
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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 gettin...

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. 
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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. I...

Review: A Hologram for the King

Apr 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220438:42905:0[/embed] A Hologram for the KingDirector: Tom TykwerRating: RRelease Date: April 22, 2016 And you may ask yourself,"How can they make movie trailers that awful?"And you may ask yourself,"Is this portrayal of Saudi Arabian culture problematic or simply the use of a foreign land as a pretext for self-discovery (i.e. Japan in Lost in Translation [which, come to think of it, may be inherently problematic])?"And you may tell yourself,"This is a lot like the plot in a Cameron Crowe movie (i.e., a lost man needs the love a good woman to show him the way)."And you may tell yourself,"The first half of the movie is quirky, likable enough, and not so bad." Letting the days go byAlan Clay (Hanks) is waiting for the Saudi KingLetting the days go byThe king seems like he'll never show up in a vast, unmade desert megalopolisDriving around againAlan's showing the king holographic teleconferencing technology"Once in a Lifetime"Is a recurring motif that's introduced and dropped after two scenes Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... (Alan thinks again and again about working for Schwinn, his gig before this IT job. He downsized the bike company and outsourced factory jobs to China. This mix of jetlag and class guilt causes him to wake up later and later each day, requiring the services of a private driver named Yousef played by Alexander Black to shuttle him from his hotel to the unmade desert megalopolis. Black is at once a guide through Saudi Arabian life and yet also a kind of silly and maybe even condescending caricature of the Saudi working class who loves prog rock and American AM radio hits. This may be unavoidable given the western outsider perspective that the story takes, and it allows someone to play sidekick to the archetypal good-old-fashioned American that Hanks excels at portraying at this point of his career. But yeah, problematic. It's as if all people and all things are tools to be used by this visiting outsider, each thing he encounters a potential mid-life crisis lesson rather than a thing unto itself. A consequence of globalization: American mid-life crises take hold anywhere around the world the narrative chooses.) A cyst forms on Alan's back, and the cyst needs to be removedThe cyst is a metaphor for the sadness/guilt of the American upper middle classAlan finds solace in a place he'd never intended to travel toHe might find home by leaving the place he's lived in all his life Letting the pat life lessons go byOne involves a camping trip with Alan's dadLetting the expedient romance go byDr. Zahara played by Sarita Choudhury is an interesting and nuanced character, though a utilitarian love interestDriving around againShe's struggling with culture and modernityOnce in a lifetimeIf only the middle-age romance that develops wasn't so trite and treacly And you may ask yourself,"Would I watch this on cable if it was free?" (Maybe just the first half, but maybe not)And you may ask yourself,"Could more have been done with the quirkiness at the start?" (This definitely doesn't feel like a Tykwer movie in general, it's a bit staid)And you may ask yourself,"Should I have gone to a different screening this morning instead?"And you may say to yourself,"My God!...What have I done?!" Letting the days go byUnresolved subplots keep pulling the movie downLetting the days go byHanks sustains the lulls with his affability, but it only goes so farInto the blue againYousef's car is colored blueUnder the quirks and veilsThe movie's just a competent shrug Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was...Look where my mind went by the second halfThe interest isn't holding upTime is an asteriskSame as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was...Yeah, the gimmick review's overHere comes the review scoreSame as it ever was...
A Hologram for the King photo
Eat, Pray, Love, Sell IT Solutions
And you may find yourself sitting in a press screening for A Hologram for the KingAnd you may find yourself wondering if Tom Hanks can pull off another mid-life crisisAnd you may find yourself wondering if you should have rea...

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Not that magnificent
When you're discussing The Magnificent Seven you're discussing some serious pedigree. The movies it is based on are two of the greatest of the genres (samurai and western) so remaking it is a daunting task. I thought tha...

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The Founder gets its first trailer and Michael Keaton shows off


Anyone want a Big Mac?
Apr 21
// Matthew Razak
It might be possible that you haven't heard of Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonald's what it is today, but you're about to. The Founder has all the hallmarks of a possible academy award winner, and it's all about the man...

Tribeca Review: My Scientology Movie

Apr 19 // Hubert Vigilla
My Scientology MovieDirector: John DowerRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Gibney's documentary--an adaptation of Lawrence Wright's book of the same name--is a top-to-bottom takedown of the entire Church of Scientology, looking at the group's origins via the eccentric L. Ron Hubbard to its current state. Sweeney's Panorama pieces were more upsetting. The first, Scientology and Me, and featured Sweeney getting stalked and harassed by high-level members of the Church of Scientology; the follow-up, The Secrets of Scientology, revealed how the Scientology operatives intimidated Sweeney, with the go-ahead coming from Scientology leader David Miscaviage himself. I mention the above works for their clarity of purpose and strong execution. Theroux's movie is more impish by comparison just based on circumstance. He'd originally intended to make a documentary on Scientology and sought full cooperation of the cult. The Church of Scientology declined his request. They no longer allow journalists access to the church, perhaps because of Sweeney's damning work, which revealed just how nuts the organization is at its core. Undeterred, Theroux makes his own movie about Scientology featuring dramatic recreations and reinterpretations of events. There's an open casting call for people to play David Miscaviage and Tom Cruise, the former played by an alarmingly talented guy named Andrew Perez. For accuracy and insight into his film (and to bait the Church of Scientology), Theroux also contacts Mark Rathbun to help as a consultant. Rathbun was a former high-ranking member of the Church of Scientology, at times a brutal protector and enforcer for the church. He's now an apostate who suffers continual harassment from Scientology operatives. My Scientology Movie sort of reminded me of Theorux's 2003 special Louis, Martin & Michael, in which he tried to get an interview with Michael Jackson but instead wound up hanging out with Michael's father and Uri Gellar. By not getting directly to Michael Jackson, Theroux got a great portrait of the strange world that Michael lives in. Similarly, by not working directly with the Church of Scientology, Theroux maybe gets a more unique portrait of Scientology. The film isn't a takedown in the Gibney mode and it's nowhere near as intense as Sweeney's pieces, but Theroux's clever ability to disarm offers a roundabout look at Scientology and how it affects former members. One of the film's recreations centers around a detention center for misbehaving Scientologists. We witness the kind of intimidation and humiliation that church members endured at the hands of their leader. Perez shifts into Miscaviage mode, becoming an abusive, self-righteous demon eager to demean as he is to shove and to strike and to break furniture to make a point. The Church of Scientology sends its team of stalkers to see what Theroux is up to. What might be unnerving is oddly undone thanks to Theroux's unshakable calm. Theroux does what he's always done best in these sorts of situations: he renders scary things absurd. Theroux does get to apply his trademark naivete, though it's on Rathbun rather than a current cult official. Rathbun's the closest that Theroux can get to the church directly, and he tries to ask questions, discern original motives, and get into the mind of a high-level Scientologist. Rathbun is practiced in the art of manipulation and intimidation, however, and a resentment builds between them. Those awkward moments in a Theroux piece are compelling to watch because they are such unguarded moments. Theroux is able to get a slight glimpse at the innerworkings of Rathbun, a complicated man who is much more of a mystery (and maybe more interesting) than whatever's going on in the Church of Scientology.
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A Theroux perspective, but not thorough
Louis Theroux won me over many years ago with the show Weird Weekends. In each episode, Theroux embedded himself in a subculture and use his extreme mild-mannered niceness to disarm his subjects. He'd hang out with porn stars...

Tribeca Review: Equals

Apr 19 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220427:42901:0[/embed] EqualsDirector: Drake DoremusRating: PG-13Release Date: July 15, 2016 In order to maintain a tranquilized world, the characters of Equals avoid intimate contact with one another, living alone in apartments that are modular and compartmentalized to maximize space. Everything has a kind of mechanical efficiency, including the way people walk purposefully like automatons. We're told of a wild outside world early in the film as Silas (Nicholas Hoult) works on images for a book of speculative non-fiction. He begins to show symptoms of emotions, which the world of the film refers to as "switched on syndrome" or SOS. High-level SOS is considered terminal. Part of Silas' SOS is rooted in his growing attraction to co-worker Nia (Kristen Stewart). Stewart's withdrawn and wounded gaze suggests she may be going through the same surge of emotions. They give in to this growing desire, because if two centuries of dystopian literature has taught us anything, love, sex, and the basic biological imperatives of lust offer some private liberation--an act of rebellion, even-- from the prisons that characters have imposed upon them. The world of Equals is a world of individuals kept apart but level through drugs and the trappings of an egalitarian society, which gives Silas and Nia's trysts in a company bathroom an added charge. Being human: it's messy, it's clumsy, but it feels great sometimes. Silas and Nia are essentially a pair of gaga-eyed teens, and they exchange the kind of first-love niceties you'd have with a high school boyfriend or girlfriend. Their words have an embarrassing earnestness to them, but it's because the words hang between them, connect them, and bring them closer together. Their fear of getting caught leads them to a sympathetic band of SOS patients who can offer sympathy and maybe even a way out. This all sounds a little too familiar, sure, and the clean aesthetic and cool-to-warm color scheme are predictable, albeit so competently often effectively executed. It's the nature of the subject matter and the long history of tropes associated with dystopias; the same goes for science fiction about deadening or mastering human emotions. Director Drake Doremus and screenwriter Nathan Parker don't bring much novelty to their future world, and yet I found something potent in the way Equals explored the stigmatization of depression, much of which is self-imposed. When Silas' co-workers discover he has SOS, they treat him as if he's got an infectious disease. They isolate him so they won't catch what he has, and he internalizes this aversion, which seems to increase his degree of SOS; isolation begetting isolation. People who conceal their undiagnosed SOS are called "hiders," a not too subtle reference. Equals is something of a cutter narrative or teenage depression narrative with just a touch, however chintzy, of Romeo and Juliet. While the world Silas and Nia inhabit is superficially utopian but a dystopia within, characters with SOS are inwardly depressed or dysphoric but forced to hide beneath an even-keeled veneer. They're the perfect kinds of citizens for this medicated hellscape. It's those little things that made Equals enjoyable. Its metaphor held solid while I acknowledge the elements surrounding it seemed shaky. If not shaky, then maybe too similar to things I've seen before. But again we have that outer/inner distinction that I've continually mentioned in this review. On the outside Equals is your standard-issue dystopian yarn with just a little bit of love for the misfit teenage set, but within there's something different and more messily human than the surface suggests.
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Star-crossed depression and dystopia
Any society that appears outwardly utopian is really just a nicely packaged dystopia. The orgiastic bacchanal of Logan's Run was really just an ugly form of institutionalized ignorance and population control. Gattaca was a st...

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Power Rangers

Here's the first image of Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa


Green with evil
Apr 19
// Nick Valdez
I've gone back and forth over Lionsgate's upcoming Power Rangers movie too many times to count now. Everyone has specific fandoms they know too much about and one of mine happens to be the Power Rangers. So for the first time...
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Magnificent Seven

First look at Denzel Washington in The Magnificent Seven


Still not as cool as Steve McQueen
Apr 19
// Matthew Razak
As far as remakes go (or in this case remakes of remakes) it's pretty easy to actually get excited for The Magnificent Seven. Antoine Fuqua is directing Denzel Washinton in a Western. After The Equalizer that's pretty ea...
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Golden Globes to prevent dramas from competing as comedies


Sorry Matt.
Apr 19
// Geoff Henao
The Golden Globes were an unfunny joke this year, anchored by its comparatively unfunny Best Comedy, The Martian. The film's win, paired with lead actor Matt Damon's Best Comedy Actor win, was met with almost unanimous ire. H...
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A dimension of sound, sight, and of mind
BioShock director Ken Levine is teaming with Interlude to explore the intersection of gaming and film: his next stop is The Twilight Zone. According to Wired, Levine and Interlude are finalizing their deal to use the tropes a...

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See the Green Room early and free


Washington DC Screening
Apr 19
// Matthew Razak
Patrick Stewart as the villain in a horror film. You're sold, right? Good, because we have some tickets for you that will get you into a free screening of The Green Room. The slasher has been getting solid buzz since it's pre...

Tribeca Review: National Bird

Apr 18 // Hubert Vigilla
National BirdDirector: Sonia KennebeckRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD We're introduced to three American whistleblowers involved with drone warfare in Afghanistan--two women and a man--each of them haunted by their role in the U.S. Air Force program. There are supposed to be checks between various operatives in charge of a drone strike, and yet something is bound to go wrong. We've all read or watched stories about innocent victims of this type of warfare, and in the most disturbing and important moment of National Bird--maybe the primary reason the documentary exists and is essential--we watch actual footage of a drone strike mistake. Targets enter vehicles and they drive down a road in no particular rush. They stop somewhere to pray. They drive again. Prior to this tense situation we're told that the Air Force trains their people to distinguish between civilians (particularly women and children) and actual terror suspects, but from so high up they're just black and white blobs. Two voices recreate the conversation between operatives, who receive incentives to strike rather than show discretion. They're like sadistic children waiting above a trail ants with magnifying glasses. There is no human regard in their words. We watch the strike and its aftermath. The explosions are like a futurist nightmare, and victims rush away waving for mercy. Cutting from the cameras in the sky, we go to cell phone footage on the ground of the murdered men, women, and children. The images are from their relatives. The up-close footage is thankfully grainy, and the bodies are difficult to discern in the digital noise, but you can easily make out the wails of grief and rage from their loved ones. There were 23 deaths in this strike, none were militants. According to a report from The Intercept, the United States killed more than 200 people using drone strikes between January 2012 and February 2013; only 35 of them were the intended targets. These tragedies are common, and given the increased reliance on unmanned warfare, they tragedies may become even more common. Even U.S. optimistic numbers suggest that innocent civilians are killed between 10% to 15% of the time. Despite the power the film achieves in its final half, I can't help but think there's a structural flaw in National Bird. Kennebeck spends a long time with the whistleblowers in the United States first, introducing their issues with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and overwhelming guilt for their role in the deaths of civilians. Yet in many ways the film doesn't really begin until we get to the sequences in Afghanistan. It's Afghan innocents that ground the film since its their tragedy that drives the three whistleblowers to speak out. The last half of the movie lends the first half some much needed weight, but I wondered if there was a way to braid the stories of drone-strike victims with the whistleblower narratives rather than saving the Afghan side of the story for later. At one point of National Bird, we watch dozens of Afghani amputees getting fit for prostheses. Many of them are victims of drone strikes and the other hazards of war. Back in the United States, one of the whistleblowers talks about her depression and PTSD, and she breaks down in uncontrollable sobs. Kennebeck sends a camera drone over an American suburb, and in those images of houses laid in a grid there's a hypothetical implication: someday someone might use drones to attack people within the United States. The technology is there, and time moves forward. The fear is the reality: we can't go back.
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Eyes in the sky
One of the most memorable passages in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five involves World War II played in reverse. Bombers flying backwards rebuild cities, and the dead become high school students and babies, and everything r...

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Angry Birds Movie trailer

New trailer for The Angry Birds Movie is a decent excuse to reuse this Sean Penn image


Angry birds do Angry Birds things
Apr 18
// Hubert Vigilla
Last time we reported about The Angry Birds Movie, we mentioned that Sean Penn will be grunting alongside the rest of the cast as a big red bird. The Sean Penn bird is in this new trailer for The Angry Birds Movie, which feat...

Tribeca Review: After Spring

Apr 17 // Hubert Vigilla
After SpringDirector: Ellen Martinez and Steph ChingRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD A man gets an order on the phone: pizza for delivery. We're in the Zaatari camp. The pizza man makes the pie in a small oven, boxes it up, and has his son deliver the pizza on his bike. It's strange (is it condescending to use the word "strange"?) to think of a Syrian pizza parlor that delivers in a Jordanian refugee camp, yet this is the new normal for those who no longer have a home. In Zaatari, there are restaurants and rows of shops. After arriving at the camp, displaced Syrians decided to rebuild the quotidian as best as they could. You can buy cell phones, you can rent formal wear, you can buy little toys and bric-a-brac. New arrivals tend to stay in tents first before given mobile trailers to live in. There are 80,000 people in the camp, and more than half of them are children. It's not Syria before the war, but it'll do, at least for now--a prolonged now. Martinez and Ching divide their focus between families who live in Zaatari and a handful of the aid workers there. The head of the camp, Kilian Kleinschmidt, has years of experience in humanitarian aid, and he approaches his job with equal measures of optimism and grim reality. Zaatari is one of the biggest and most well-known refugee camps in the world, and Kleinschmidt hopes to leverage the camp's profile to attract celebrities and world leaders to visit, make donations, and raise awareness, There's an air of marketing in this approach, but maybe that's what donors will respond to more than the moral obligation to the refugees per se. Ching and Martinez rarely leave Zaatari in their film, a spend most of the documentary chronicling the daily rhythms of displaced life. Babies are born, aid requests are made, and some of the people in camp even contemplate a return to Syria. Life outside of the camp is much more difficult, even outside of Syria. Ching and Martinez catch up with one woman and her family who left Zaatari to live in Jordan, but her struggles have made her consider a return to the camp. Getting to the camp was difficult enough, but leaving its confines might prove more difficult. Jon Stewart added his name to After Spring as an executive producer, which will hopefully get more eyes on the movie. With the new wave of international Islamophobia spurred by the ISIS attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Brussels, After Spring is much-needed counterweight. It's a humanizing movie, one about empathy and our duty to others (literally millions) in need. It's far too easy to discount the lives of other people when they're just an abstract ethnic group or religious group. After Spring gives faces to the Syrians similarly affected by the war. One of the refugees at Zaatari mentions bringing down Bashar al-Assad toward the end of the film, and that sudden injection of politics and factionalism reminded me that the conflict within Syria is maybe as irresolvable as this humanitarian crisis. With so many children in the camps, one of the aid workers sets up a taekwondo academy to provide structure and discipline. There's hope in this--something so simple and suburban, yet it provides a center that holds. Like ordering a pizza for delivery, here's a reminder of the comforts that give people a sense of home, and the little things people do to restore humanity to others. It's a small bloom in the desert, a fragile and beautiful thing.
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A day in the life of a Syrian refugee
The Syrian Civil War has led to a humanitarian crisis that's only getting worse. As of now, roughly 4.6 million Syrians have left the country, many of whom have fled to neighboring Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, with others fle...

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"Top-secret" bidding war for live-action Pokemon movie comes to light


Calling all Poke Fans!
Apr 15
// Geoff Henao
Despite never getting a proper Pokemon game for consoles, we might get the next best thing in the form of a live-action Pokemon film! Last night, The Hollywood Reporter shed light on a "top-secret" bidding war for a live-acti...

Review: The Jungle Book

Apr 15 // Matthew Razak
The Jungle BookDirector: Jon FavreauRated: PGRelease Date: April 15, 2016 [embed]220509:42914:0[/embed] As a property it's hard to believe that one could bring something new to The Jungle Book. Mogli's (Neel Sethi) story has been told so many times in so many different ways that retelling it again seems a bit redundant. This seems especially true since this version is part of Disney's ongoing effort to remake or reimagine their animated classics as live action films (see: Cinderella or Maleficent). Yet despite the fact that this new version of The Jungle Book once again finds Mogli raised by a pack of wolves and the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), hunted by the villainous tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) and eventually hanging out with the laid back bear Baloo (Bill Murray), it feels dramatically different from previous tellings of the story. The plot may be mostly the same as Disney's animated classic, but striking visuals and Favreau's surprisingly fluid direction make it an entirely new experience. Those visuals, though. You will spend half this movie wondering what is real and what isn't while marveling at the individual hairs on Baloo's back or how Baheera moves perfectly or how the fat on King Louie (Christopher Walken) is disturbingly realistic. If ever a film has crossed the uncanncy valley it is The Jungle Book. Yes, there are still some parts that get stuck in the low end of that valley, but overall it is a visual masterpiece. The most impressive part is that they did it all while featuring talking animals in situations that are sometimes entirely human. Everything feels real and yet is somehow full of the magic and wonder that more traditional animation brings. It is this combination of reality and magic that make The Jungle Book work so well. Hats off to Favreau for being able to pull this movie together. His direction is often striking and far more than you'd expect from a traditional children's film. Some shots seem to be pulled from an art house independent while others are pitch-perfect horror moments (still suitable for children). Most impressive though is the fluid way he moves Mogli and company through the jungle. Taking advantage of his almost entirely digital setting, Favreau stitches together fluid shots that make you feel like you're there. It helps that the IMAX 3D is simply breathtaking on the big screen and that digital animation always looks better in that setting. Though Favreau may miss a few beats here and there, they're mostly because he's playing towards a crowd of children who expect certain things from their movies.  The only truly inconsistent thing about the movie is Sethi, who, in all fairness, had an incredibly daunting task before him since he's the only actual person in the entire film. It's clear that he became more comfortable with that fact as shooting went on as his performance varies from absolutely stellar (banging out a rendition of "The Bear Necessities") to horribly awkward (being hypnotized by the snake Kaa, played by an utterly wasted Scarlet Johansson). Still, he performs admirably overall, and it's his animal counterparts who steal the show anyway. Murray's Baloo is both perfect casting and the chance to hear him sing Baloo's classic song would make any movie worth the price of admission. Throw in a rollicking scene with King Louie that has Walken delivering a mafia routine and a chilling rendition of "Be Like You" and it's hard not to be drawn in by the performances not to mention stopping your foot from tapping. Much of their performance can be chalked up to the stellar animation, especially Elba's Shere Khan, who lurks around the screen fearsomely while the actor's silky voice drips with menace.   This is a children's movie overall, however. In the end Disney wants kids to be pretending they're hanging out with Baloo, and the movie plays like that. It's almost a contradiction as they hyper-realism of the film means the darker parts have that much more impact and the scary parts are that much scarier. Often the look and tone of the film don't jive with each other, though that's probably only a complaint an adult would have.  That look is so good, however, that it almost doesn't matter if the tone feels off sometimes. This is a major step forward in what we should come to expect from our CGI, but more importantly to that target audience, it's actually fun. 
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More than the bear necessities
At this point in my jaded film critic life it takes a lot to actually impress me with special effects. We've seen Transformers and giant blue aliens and everything in between on screen by now, and great digital effects are al...

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AMC

Update: AMC to consider allowing texting in theaters


I'm avoiding AMC theaters
Apr 14
// Matthew Razak
Maybe I'm going to sound like some sort of grump old man here, but damn these kids and their cell phones! Unable to keep themselves from texting for the running time of most movies the younger generations enjoy whipping their...
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Scarlett Johansson contemplates life in first Ghost in the Shell image


Major ScarJo Kusanagi.
Apr 14
// Geoff Henao
Earlier today, Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures announced that production has officially started for their live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. To commemorate, they have released the first official ima...
Shin Godzilla photo
Shin Godzilla

Japanese trailer for Toho's Shin Godzilla is pretty much a dream come true


"EEEERRRRRRRRRRRNGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH"
Apr 14
// Nick Valdez
When Gareth Edwards and Legendary released a so-so Godzilla, the giant lizard's original creators Toho decided that it wasn't good enough and announced they were working on a Godzilla of their own. A more proper one, per se. ...

Tribeca: Allumette showcases the game-changing potential of immersive VR storytelling

Apr 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220506:42913:0[/embed] Allumette centers on a girl and her mother who sell large, magical matchsticks around town. The world they inhabit is sort of like Venice by way of Hayao Miyazaki and classic Final Fantasy--a city in the clouds with bridges and tiers, and little docks for the airships that course through the sky. Allumette is essentially a 20-minute silent movie, with the characters communicating in hums and sighs, expressing emotions through body language like classic pantomime. "Alfred Hitchcock said that to be good with spectacle you had to be a simplifier," Chung noted. "Painters and writers can be complicators, but when you're working in spectacle (i.e., cinema and now VR) you have to simplify. So you have to take something and strip it down to its core elements." The heart of the story concerns a mother's love for her child and the sacrifices people make, all rendered with simplicity and sincerity. Even if the core of the spectacle is simplified, there's lots of room for the viewer to explore. The very beginning of Allumette seems to invite a look around. As the opening credits appear against a black background, a window lights up as if watching a building across the street. The window dims. Then another window, then another in your peripheral vision, and then windows all around as you turn in a full circle. It's as if you're surrounded by dots of candlelight, each one a window, and you can walk up and peer in a little closer at the shadow puppet story inside of it. I found myself pacing around the virtual set of Allumette. At first I was trying to frame shots of these characters, like I was cinematographer, leaning in for close-ups, bending down for a slightly different angle, even trying to simulate a slow tracking shot. But every now and then I would feel less self-conscious about the HTC Vive on my face. In those moments of total immersion, I was just a bystander in the imaginary city watching a mother and daughter do their thing. Occasionally I'd stray too far to one side--there are edges to this virtual world--and I'd feel a gentle tap on my shoulder from someone nearby just to get me centered again. The mother and daughter's airship is one of the great elements of Allumette, and a source of wonderment as well. It docked in front of me after I'd watched it descend from above. Just through the headphones I heard Jimmy Maidens, lead technical director at Penrose, say that I could look inside. Until Maidens mentioned it, the thought had never occurred to me. The sense of immersion made me feel like there was an actual boundary between this object and me. My mind thought it was physical, real, like a dollhouse, but I could actually peer into it, as simple as dunking my face into a pool of water. The airship interior was a miniature world within this virtual world. It was one of many strange moments of realization, like when I first looked down at the lower level of the setting in Allumette. I expected to see my feet; instead, clouds and sky and a town square. This mix of emotion and technology seems to fit with Chung's own sensibilities. His mother was a CPA, and his father was an opera singer. "I've always had this duality of left-brain/right-brain all throughout my career, which is important for VR," he said. Even before founding Penrose, the duality is evident: Chung attended NYU Film School and Harvard Business School, he worked in production at Pixar and then became a venture capitalist. Allumette is the second project by Penrose Studios. The San Francisco-based startup is just a few months old but has assembled a team of artists, engineers, and storytellers with backgrounds at Oculus, Pixar, and Dreamworks. The company's previous VR piece, The Rose and I, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was very well-received. Penrose has other VR projects in the works, though they have yet to announce their slate. They've been experimenting with an interactive component to VR at the moment, though Chung explained it's really a matter of how the interactivity can be used effectively as part of the storytelling experience of a piece. "Presence is that feeling of being someplace else; storytelling is storytelling," he said. He added, "When you're given agency, it changes the way you perceive the story." With the way things are looking, VR might change the world of storytelling.
Allumette VR storytelling photo
An immersive and emotional experience
Watching Allumette is almost like watching a Pixar movie as an immersive theater experience, but even that description seems to sell the film short. It's difficult to describe VR storytelling without using familiar contexts. ...

Spider-Man photo
Spider-Man

Sony's Spider-Man reboot gets an official title


Also that MiB/21 Jump Street crossover
Apr 13
// Nick Valdez
Ever since Sony and Marvel announced their unprecedented deal to have joint custody of Spider-Man films, and after we all got a first taste of him with the latest Captain America: Civil War trailer, we've all turned our atten...
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Ben Affleck directing, starring in solo Batman film


No (April) fooling.
Apr 13
// Geoff Henao
It was easy to poke fun at Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for our April Fool's Day shenanigans this year, given its divisive nature across the internet. While the jokes increased in wackiness as the day went on, it s...
Doctor Strange Trailer photo
"Teach me."
Since we're finally past all of Marvel's big moves like The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War, we're finally entering Marvel's weirder titles. It's also coincidentally the material I know the least about. All I know abo...

Screenings photo
Screenings

See The Dark Horse Early and Free


Washington DC Screening
Apr 12
// Matthew Razak
We've got a last minute giveaway for you to an interesting looking movie called The Dark Horse.  Based upon a powerful true story, The Dark Horse is the uplifting portrait of a man searching for the courage to lead, des...
TMNT Trailer photo
TMNT Trailer

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows gets a cartoony trailer


Apr 11
// Nick Valdez
I'm much more interested in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows than I thought I'd be. After the first film's poor reception, everyone on board went back to the drawing board and added some stuff fans might like....
Suicide Squad photo
Suicide Squad

David Ayer says Suicide Squad reshoots are not about humor


Funny story
Apr 11
// Matthew Razak
With a new trailer landing that's jam-packed full of one-liners and bravado you'd be hard pressed to understand why Suicide Squad would need to go back for reshoots to add to its humor, but after BvS's dour turn you migh...
Fantastic Beasts Trailer photo
Colin Farrell is a wizard
We're currently in the midst of a new wave of Harry Potter mania. With its Universal Studios park finally opening, J.K Rowling releasing a written version of the newest stage play (which is book eight for all intents and purp...

Boss v Batman v Superman photo
Boss v Batman v Superman

The Boss edges out Batman v Superman at the box office


Tony Danza v Bruce Springsteen
Apr 11
// Hubert Vigilla
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would inevitably drop to second place at the box office--such is the law of diminishing returns--yet who would have predicted that Melissa McCarthy's The Boss would knock the boys out? The B...
Suicide Squad Trailer photo
Suicide Squad Trailer

Newest Suicide Squad Trailer is trying its best to be different


Apr 11
// Nick Valdez
Remember the MTV Movie Awards? WB/DC sure hopes you did! Capitalizing on that all so precious 18-24 demographic (and most likely younger given MTV) is the newest trailer for Suicide Squad. It's got a better handle on itself a...

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