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Indie

Tribeca Review: Jackrabbit

Apr 28 // Hubert Vigilla
JackrabbitDirector: Carleton RanneyRelease Date: n/aRating: n/a In Jackrabbit, an event has left the world in a kind of 80s techno stasis. Cities are sealed away pockets of civilization that people are not allowed to leave. Hacking is alive and well despite pervasive government surveillance, with a lo-fi look to the tech that recalls Darren Aronofsky's Pi. The two leads are Max (Ian Christopher Noel), a paranoid anti-establishment type whose name might be a reference to Pi, and Simon (Josh Caras), a sellout who takes a job with an Apple/Microsoft analog. A mutual hackeer friend killed himself but left behind a mysterious hard drive. And then stuff happens, but the events are so thin and so glacially paced that I lost interest pretty early. Jackrabbit s a thriller without thrills. Even Max and Simon don't seem too engrossed in the mystery, leisurely plodding from place to place and scene to scene. They meet a friend of their dead friend (I think?) named Grace (Joslyn Jensen), and they hang out with her. They listen to a record and drink some whiskey, and Jackrabbit continues its odd stasis, generating a mood rather than using its mood to help propel a story. In my notes I wrote, "At least they look like they're having fun." What's interesting about the VHS impression movies like Jackrabbit and Beyond the Black Rainbow is precisely that disconnect between mood per se and mood in service to or an outgrowth of a story or characters. Jackrabbit is successful at recreating the look and feel of a VHS film, but it exists only as an impression. I remember some images more than I remember the film itself, which might be a testament to the visual sense of the production design and how well shot it is despite its budget limitations. Yet I don't think the film is as successful as Beyond the Black Rainbow (which I didn't even like), which had greater ambition and virtuosity in its images than Jackrabbit. Maybe virtuosity that goes beyond mere impression allows people to mine larger ideas from the succession of images. Jackrabbit feels like a mere impression, though, both in terms of how vaguely I can recall it and in terms of how it recreates the work of the VHS era. It may have been more memorable if its mood were in service to something other than mood itself. Maybe I want more from a movie than the accurate recreation of the kind of movie I'll mostly forget about.
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An impression of the 80s but not memorable
The vibe of Jackrabbit, a no-budget dystopian cyberpunk thriller, was inspired by trips to the video store. Its whole mood is defined by vaguely remembered VHS box art, and the types of films that fill a person's childhoo...

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Hobson, and Joely Richardson Discuss Maggie

Apr 24 // Hubert Vigilla
Arnold Schwarzenegger on playing his character in Maggie:“We focus so much on the people, and the dilemma that this man is in—this strong farmer that normally can handle anything. And also the baggage I bring to the movie of being the action hero; all of a sudden, I cannot handle this challenge, and I become very vulnerable as a character. So that's what appealed to me in the first place.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on physical action roles vs. dramatic roles:“The brain takes much more energy than the body does. Just look at it. When people do something mentally draining, and when you have to do a lot of thinking and negotiating— I remember when I was in the Governor's office, I was totally wiped out in the evening with the kinds of responsibilities I had and all this. The same thing here [making Maggie]. It's tough but at the same time it's not tough because you're having such a great time doing it.” Henry Hobson on keeping Maggie human and grounded:“The art direction, the costumes, the makeup; everything was very real and raw, and that allowed for the setting and space to feel as real as possible, [to make it easier as a kind of transition point] to really live and breathe in that grounded world.” Joely Richardson on the challenges of performing on Maggie:“Okay, weird comparison, but say [you're acting] in 101 Dalmatians, and you're playing with little puppies, and it's a life or death situation; and then you're doing a zombie film and your stepdaughter comes in covered with blood. They're not everyday emotions, you know what I mean? It's just going with the premise, but I my most difficult scene winds up being my easiest, and vice versa.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on working on a small, independent production:“I think there's something to be said about working on small movies, because the camaraderie and the way we worked together and the way we really got into it was different than on a big action movie. It was quite unique. Whatever performance that I delivered I have to credit to everyone around me, because they acted so well that it brought out the best in me.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on shooting quick, fast, and spontaneous: “We were shooting a scene in front of the house and all of a sudden [Henry] saw the lighting going a certain way and he felt, 'Oh, this would be a great shot out in the field; let's burn the field!' It was like from one minute to the next. What I thought was so fascinating was not how quickly we responded and ran with him out into the field, but how quickly the camera crew did. There was no one screaming 'I have to change batteries!' or 'I have to get a cable!' or 'This is impossible!' da-da-da-da. 'I need someone to carry the camera so I can roll again.' There was none of that that you normally hear on sets because of union rules and all this stuff. Everyone got their stuff together within seconds, and we all ran out in the field and shot that scene, and it was really the perfect lighting and it was very quick the way [it was done] because he's such a visual person. That's what you need to do in these kinds of movies, but it's that kind of spirit that you don't see in big movies.” Henry Hobson on the challenges of shooting in Louisiana:“The difficulty with Louisiana for Maggie is that we wanted a farmhouse, and Louisiana, when you're smack dab in the middle of New Orleans, is that there's just water all the way around, and then there's plantation houses. We ended up using four different houses to make the one house. It's a combination of the backroom, the bathroom, the other bedroom—all in different places—the porch in another place. It was a way of creating this kind of Everytown house. What we wanted was a relatability, so people couldn't quite place where it is in the country but felt there's some kind of connection to it.” Joely Richardson on working with Henry Hobson:“He gave us all very specific notes, exactly what he wanted. And he had the balls— If he didn't like what Arnold was doing or I was doing or Abigail, he would say how he wanted it. That takes courage and vision.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on working with director Henry Hobson:“People ask me, 'How do you trust [Henry]? He's never done a movie. He's done a lot of commercials and graphic design and stuff.' But to me it's not so much 'How many movies have you done?' but 'Do you have a vision?' [Henry] had a really clear vision. He had this album with all these photographs of different looks he wanted in the movie, and the way he interpreted the characters. It was very clear that I would be in good hands. There was never even a question there.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on how he helped Henry Hobson as a first-time director:“I just wanted to make sure that he's protected as a director, and that I can be a producer and let that be my responsibility, to make sure someone doesn't come in and say 'I want you to shoot this differently' or 'We want to have a different ending' and stuff like that. First-time directors need to be protected so that they can do their work. James Cameron doesn't need to be protected, you know? [laughs] I want to make sure that Henry can really put on the screen his exact vision. That's why he was hired, that's why he was put together with this project, so now let's have him do that.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on co-star Abigail Breslin:“Abigail was so good and made it feel so real. I never felt that she was acting; I always felt that she was dying. That's how skilled she is in her profession.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on if he sees a future in smaller films and dramatic roles:“25 ago, 30 years ago, I would not have been able to do that. First of all, I wouldn't have had the time, because there were so many big projects then. I was chasing the big money, and working my way up to being the highest paid actor. Today that doesn't mean anything to me because I've made a lot of money and I'm in a different place in my life. So when I get an offer to do Terminator 5, I'm very excited about that. When Universal calls me and says 'We're almost finished with writing the script for a new Conan movie,' I'm excited about that. But I'm also very excited when I read a script like Maggie, and I believe that I can be that character and then work with the director and work with the actors together like that. So yes, I will be looking for dramatic roles.” Arnold Schwarzenegger if working on Maggie reminded him of being Governor of California:“I think movies are movies and politics is politics, even though they have a lot of similarities.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on if we could take photos at the end of the press conference:“If you're nice.”
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Highlights from the New York City press conference for Maggie
Maggie, the post-apocalyptic zombie drama starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. As we noted in our review of Maggie, the film features a surprisingly emotive and vulnerable perfo...

Review: Two Night Stand

Sep 26 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]218376:41854:0[/embed] Two Night StandDirector: Max NicholsRelease Date: September 26th, 2014Rating: R  I first came to this realization when the film began its protracted flashback sequence, following newly single Megan’s (Analeigh Tipton) quest for some red-hot man meat. Tipton is doing her worst Emma Stone impression here, reminding the world why Emma Stone’s particular brand of quirk consistently works; it’s completely natural. Megan feels like an especially unfunny SNL character in search of a punchline. She gets high, starts to dance, and demands her sex partner look away, because if he watches her dance, he will fall in love with her. The following dance sequence is framed in such a way that suggests aforementioned sex partner is feeling the first pangs of True Love. The flashback not only shows off how remarkably irritating the dialogue is, but also how much this movie loves its own god damn script. Two Night Stand opens with a fairly clever expository sequence of Megan setting up a dating site profile. (No Tinder? What is this, 2012?) It’s effective, and tells us just about everything we need to know about the character and her situation. When she hovers over the ‘relationship status’ checkbox, that moment of hesitation sets up just the right amount of intrigue, setting the stage for a potentially interesting scene later. This cool idea goes totally unused, as the film proceeds to spend over 20 minutes telling the audience point-blank exactly what is going on with Megan in a sequence that must have been cribbed from an unused fall comedy pilot. Eventually, we get to the film’s premise. Megan has completed her one-night stand with Alec (Miles Teller) and the morning after hasn’t gone all that well. She’d like to escape Alec’s Brooklyn apartment as soon as possible, but -- Oh no! -- New York has been covered in a The Day After Tomorrow-esque apocalyptic snowstorm. Instead of making plans to start doing something about global warming, Alec and Megan decide to hunker down in the apartment until the plows get working again. Miles Teller is fairly entertaining as per usual, but I’m beginning to wonder if “lovable dick” isn’t just about all he can do. Although maybe ‘lovable’ is stretched a bit towards the end of the film, when Alec does something that any sane person would consider grounds for a restraining order. You know how this goes, it’s the end of the second act, the lovers have been separated (because that hasn’t been done a million times before), all seems lost, but then a grand romantic gesture is made! It’s like that, except replace “grand romantic gesture” with “potentially ruining someone’s life.” The rest of the admittedly minimalist cast fills a role admirably. I can just imagine the conversation between these actors and their respective agents. The smart money is on “It’s not much, but it’s something” being a recurring phrase. Megan’s roommate Faiza (Jessica Szohr) is there just to move the plot along; Faiza’s boyfriend Cedric (Scott Mescudi) fills the same role, but with a nicer smile; Daisy (Leven Rambin) and Megan’s ex-fianceé are even lesser plot devices. Everything revolves around Alec and Megan, so the other characters feel more like arms of the screenwriter than real people. When Two Night Stand isn’t jamming quirk down your throat like an artisanal cronut, it’s just boring. The aforementioned dancing scene didn’t register at the time, because it was astoundingly dull in a sea of tepid moments. I chuckled every so often, as is par for the course when Miles Teller is stuck with a mediocre script, but your brain will likely jump to life whenever something particularly stupid happens. There is one decent joke towards the end, where a loser straight out of Reddit’s deepest, darkest hole attempts to woo Megan, but that is the only point when the movie’s otherwise lifeless heart rate monitor reports a single beep. From the snow, to the dialogue, to Alec’s bachelor pad, to the on-screen protagonists, everything about Two Night Stand is ridiculously white. I can only recommend this film if you’ve seen every other movie currently available twice and you will literally die if you do not enter a theater as soon as possible. Otherwise, why bother?
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I couldn't stand it
Is there nothing in this world more tiresome than movies about supposedly wise beyond their years, quirky, white, directionless youth philosophizing about the nature of sex/life/interpersonal relationships? I sure as hell c...

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PSA: The Skeleton Twins is not about skeletons


The Lego Movie, this ain't
Jul 29
// Mike Cosimano
We get a lot of press releases here at Flixist Dot Com, but never before have I felt the need to report on one before now. Now, I don't know about you guys, but when I see an email with "THE SKELETON TWINS" in the header, I c...

Review: Begin Again

Jun 27 // Matthew Razak
Begin AgainDirector: John CarneyRated: RRelease Date: June 27, 2014  [embed]217941:41626:0[/embed] Begin Again is not a new tale unfortunately. In fact the plot initially turned me away from the film as it hints that the emotion, feeling and musical power of Once have been sacrificed here in order to tell a happy message. Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is an alcoholic music producer who has just been kicked out of the record label he founded. On a drunken bender he winds up in a bar where he sees Greta (Keira Knightly) perform and instantly realizes she could be a star. Greta has recently broken up with her boyfriend, Dave (Maroon 5's Adam Levine), after traveling to America with him because he became a big musical star. The two connect as their lives fall apart and decide to put an album together themselves and do it by recording all over the streets of New York. Sadly you can easily tell where the film is going from the start, though thankfully Dan and Greta never become romantically entwined. The characters development is as basic as you can get as they follow the exact lines two people meeting in a movie should. The problem is that this is the plot of a bad romantic comedy and lacks the depth of anything real. Things are just a bit too easy for everyone and where Once felt raw and truthful this feels idealistic and naive by comparison. Don't be mistaken that a film must be sad to be truthful, but the lives of the New Yorkers presented in the movie is the idyllic down on your luck stuff that should be present in lesser films. I say lesser films because Begin Again's music and actors pulls it out of the normal rote material that the plot is. Although never as good as Once's painfully heartbreaking "Falling Slowly" Carney shines again as a songwriter. His music strikes the chords that plot refuses to, hitting emotional beats that would be completely missing if it wasn't there. Knightly delivers surprisingly strong vocals as the main singer and a scene in which her opening song is re-imagined by a drunk Mark Ruffalo is easily the high point of the film.   Ruffalo and Knightly are damn near too charming together, and one of the only parts of the film that rings a bit deeper is their tug of war between romance and friendship. That line plays out far better because the two layer their performances fantastically. Ruffalo's drunken Dan is particularly enjoyable in the first half of the film and Knightly avoids her usual waifishness as she powers through some emotional songs. A lot will probably be said about Levine since he isn't completely terrible, but the singer shows little promise as than a guy who can sing and won't ruin your acting scenes. Anything more complimentary is far over estimating his role in the film. Carney direction is the last piece of the puzzle that makes the film more than its characters and story make it be. That same raw style that was present in Once returns here, and while the idea of recording on the street is the most unoriginal original idea out there it offers Carney the chance to capture New York wonderfully as he films his actors basically rolling around singing. It elevates the already great music into enjoyable to watch music and turns some truly useless moments into at visually pleasing ones. The fact that the story is clearly influenced by his experiences after blowing up for Once doesn't hurt things either. With Begin Again Carney has lost the characters and narrative that made Once such a powerful and stirring movie. However, a fantastic cast, engaging direction and truly good music mean that the movie can elevate itself above its stale story and two-dimensional characters into something else that just can't quite deliver what it really wants to. There's plenty of good to watch here, but this time around Carney's soul seems to be missing. 
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Play it again, John Carney
Director/Writer John Carney is establishing a little nitch for himself in the film industry. A modern take on the backstage musical except now the stage is the studio and the music is far less grandiose. With Once, his academ...

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First trailer and poster for Birdman with Michael Keaton


Surprisingly close to Harvey Birdman it turns out
Jun 12
// Matthew Razak
Birdman might not be the Birdman movie we've all always needed, but damn if it doesn't look like the Birdman movie we deserve. A surreal comedy about a washed up action hero trying to mount a Broadway comeback that star...
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Wish I Was Here gets a full trailer


Guy love on the big screen!
May 19
// Jonathan Wray
The first full trailer for Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff's Kickstarter film, has appeared online. Braff himself debuted it this morning on The Today Show. It reveals quite a bit more about the film's plot, and it finally shows...
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Check out the trailer for indie drama Hellion starring Aaron Paul


May 16
// Liz Rugg
Now that Breaking Bad is over, actor Aaron Paul is branching out into the silver screen with Hellion, a tense family drama from indie director Kat Candler. Hellion stars Paul as a father struggling to raise his two young son...

Review: Soft in the Head

Apr 21 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217633:41464:0[/embed] Soft in the HeadDirector: Nathan SilverRelease Date: April 18, 2014 (NYC)Rating: NR  Natalia’s life is terrible. Really, truly depressing. But it’s hard to feel for her. I couldn’t tell if there was something fundamentally wrong with her or if she’s just a pathetic drunk with no hope or future, but it seemed to be the latter, and that’s hard to sympathize with. All she ever does is alienate everyone and everything around her in the most bizarre ways. In the opening scene, her boyfriend is shouting at her because she’s dressed up for someone else; she just slurs in response. After a minute, he pulls off the wig she had apparently been wearing, and I got really, really confused. The “Why?”s started going off in my head, not about the film but about her. Why was she wearing a wig? Why was she wearing that wig? After the ensuing fight, he is her ex-boyfriend. She hits the bottle hard, and while she drinks, she messes up everybody around her. Part of the issue with her character, though, is that there’s never a good side. Soft in the Head never demonstrates why, exactly, anybody likes her in the first place. Are people just a sucker for accents (she has some sort of European accent by the way)? Was she a good person in the past? She’s already on the downward spiral when the film starts, and there’s no redemption or even sense of what redemption could look like. Natalia is a hopeless case, and while there are undoubtedly people like that in reality, it doesn’t really make for a compelling arc. Things get bad, worse, worse, worse, worse, worse, much worse, and then the movie ends. And the whole thing takes place in close-ups. Hope you like watching faces, because I’d estimate that two-thirds of the film is a medium-close-up or closer, and I could count on one hand the number of shots that are wider than a medium. This means that there is never a real release of tension and the spatial relationship of characters and their environments are never clear. It builds for the entire 70-ish minutes of the runtime. Fortunately, the short runtime means that it doesn’t really get frustrating, but it’s disorienting and just a bit exhausting. At times, though, this seems less like an intentional framing choice and more of a result of its aspect ratio. Like any “serious” feature film, the film is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with black bars above and below the image. Nothing special, except the movie doesn’t feel like it was intended for those bars. The way the top and bottom of the frame so frequently cuts off… well, everything, makes it feel like a decision made at the last minute.  I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking extensively about the use of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and how it fits/does not fit certain types of shots. Wider shots are made more personal, but close-ups can become a bit too personal. Still, there is one benefit of the overuse of close-ups: the actors can really show off their chops. If the performances couldn’t hack it, the film would completely fall apart, but all of the actors do a good job of embodying their characters. Some are definitely better than others, but I had few complaints. The two most interesting characters are Nathan and David, each of whom clearly suffers from some sort of mental illness. Painfully long scenes show the world failing to understand their issues, and it’s honestly sad. I felt for both of these characters more than any others, and that’s a testament to the performances. Theodore Bouloukos’s turn as David is especially powerful, because he’s put in some particularly uncomfortable positions, and it’s hard to believe that he enjoyed degrading himself in the way he did. And it would be interesting to see how David (and any of the other characters) were portrayed in Soft in the Head’s script, especially in terms of dialogue. While the dialogue never comes off as ad-libbed, it also rarely felt vital, and much of it is never heard. During the numerous group scenes, multiple people talk simultaneously, turning everything into garbled noise. And since there’s no overarching narrative other than “Natalia goes places and interacts with people” (except for one scene where the film leaves her entirely, which is kind of bizarre), each scene has its own sort of emotional mini-arc, but it doesn’t come out in the dialogue, which always devolves into people yelling at each other. It really is a bizarre film watch, and I often just had to wonder why.
Soft in the Head Review photo
Sometimes you have to wonder...
Every once in a while, I see a movie that feels truly unique, and when that happens I tend to obsess over the process instead of the result. For better or worse, some films are just different, and while I definitely appreciate that difference, sometimes I really just have to wonder why. Soft in the Head is different, and I spent much of the film wondering. I never found an answer.

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Trailer: Refuge


Mar 21
// Liz Rugg
In Refuge, Krysten Ritter plays a young woman who is struggling to take care of her younger brother and sister after their parents abandoned them when she meets Sam, a boy who may or may not be a good influence on her and he...

Review: Detroit Unleaded

Feb 28 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]217369:41280:0[/embed] Detroit UnleadedDirector: Rola NashefRelease Date: March 1, 2014 (Video on Demand)Rating: Unrated  Sami (E.J. Assi) is the owner of an unnamed gas station in the pits of Detroit. A once ambitious young man, Sami was forced to take over the station after the death of his father. He runs the store with his cousin Mike (Mike Batayeh), barely scraping by every day. Mike has his eye on franchising, but Sami wants nothing more to do with the gas station. One day, Najlah (Nada Shouhayib), an associate of Mike’s (it’s not really clear what their relationship is) comes to the station with a long distance phone card delivery, and Sami is almost instantly smitten. But -- wouldn’t you know it -- Najlah’s brother doesn’t approve of their romance! So the couple must go behind everyone’s back while figuring out what it is they want from life. Detroit Unleaded isn’t original, by any means. It’s hard to pick out a plot point I haven’t seen before: forbidden romance, ambition crushed by familial obligations, the usual. Unleaded sets itself apart with surprisingly nuanced takes on racial identity, immigration, the American Dream™, and companionship. You see, Sami is the son of Arabic immigrants; his mother doesn’t even speak English. His family and close friends pepper their conversations with Arabic phrases. The various aspects of Arab-American culture depicted are subtle, and feel like they were taken straight from the life of a regular person. There’s also an undercurrent of discomfort throughout the entire film. The rival gas station down the road is an effective background antagonist. All things equal, who knows how both stations would end up. But Sami’s gas station entered the game with a handicap. The rival station is privilege incarnate: a cappuccino machine, the ability to drop their prices out of spite, and a neon “God Bless!” sign in the window.  Sure, the rival gas station is basically a giant sign that reads “WHITE PEOPLE,” but in an age where the “show, don’t tell” rule has been all but obliterated, I appreciate proper use of cinematic techniques. Besides, this kind of symbolism doesn’t need to be one of those things where some film genius points it out after the fact and everyone slaps their head. It’s crucial that the audience understands the plight of Sami on some level, be it conscious or subconscious. It’s definitely well-written, although the acting could have been improved. Everyone delivers their lines with just the slightest hint of boredom; not one delivery feels entirely natural. The acting isn’t bad, just stilted. This flaw is particularly noticeable when it’s time for Sami and Najlah to romance each other. The side characters -- the ones that jump in and out of the film, circling the gas station like seagulls around a pile of dead fish -- are on a different level, thankfully. Without a cast of side characters, the film wouldn’t be as effective. Detroit Unleaded needed to accurately portray the ins and outs of working a menial service job. As someone who currently (sadly) works in such an industry, I speak with some authority when I say Unleaded absolutely nails it. One aspect in particular about the customers really stood out: their sense of humor. The line “Hey, when are you gonna lower the gas prices?” is an oft-repeated “joke.” I cannot possibly begin to count how many customers I’ve encountered who are under the impression they are the most original comedian on the face of the planet. “Hey, when are the coffee prices gonna go down?” they quip, as if they’re Louis goddamn C.K. Apparently, director/screenwriter Rola Nashef drew from her real-life experiences to make Detroit Unleaded, and it shows. Unfortunately, there are the usual rom-com staples. It’s 2014, and we are still pulling out the “OH NO THE COUPLE BROKE UP BECAUSE OF MISUNDERSTANDING/FAMILY” cliche. It’s especially painful when you combine that old plot point with some generally stilted acting. For the time being, Nashef is certainly not a talented director of actors. You can see the potential in this cast, but I’m willing to bet something was lost in the direction. It's a little hard to describe to someone who's never seen the film, but the actors constantly feel like they're right on the edge of a great performance. All they need is a solid push, but said push never came during the production. Detroit Unleaded is at its best when you’re not trying to pick it apart. What it’s trying to do is fairly obvious, and that’s a good thing. It’s content with showing you the lives of some regular people. Like I said earlier, let the movie simply wash over you, and you’ll probably walk away satisfied. Unleaded is the best kind of film to watch on a lazy summer afternoon. If you find yourself bored on a Sunday in the next couple months, give it a rent. It’ll fit the bill perfectly.
Detroit Unleaded Review photo
What's an "up-do" girl?
Detroit Unleaded is a film that you have to let wash over you. The acting isn’t stellar, and it’s a little hard to figure out who’s related to who at first, but the film gives the audience a compelling, almost voyeuristic look into the world surrounding an inner-city gas station. It may not be the heartiest meal, nor the healthiest, but it’s filling nonetheless.

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Independent Spirit Awards nominations have arrived


12 Years a Slave and Nebraska all up in there
Nov 26
// Matthew Razak
It's getting to be that time of year! Awards season is coming upon us and the early nominations award nominations are in. The Independent Spirit Awards are kind of the indy Oscars, but everyone gets drunk and actually has fun...
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Our Day Will Come clip

A clip from Romain Gavras's Our Day Will Come


The gingers of the world will one day have their retribution!
Oct 22
// Flixist Staff
Our Day Will Come (Notre jour viendra) is the debut feature film of Romain Gavras, best known as the music video director behind "No Church in the Wild" by Kanye West and Jay-Z and "Born Free" by M.I.A. Released in France in...
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Kickin' it old school, rockin' it full frame
Here's the first trailer for Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it looks old-timier than usual. Note the full frame aspect ratio throughout most of the trailer, which was probably a conscious decision to help evoke...

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First poster for Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel


Oct 15
// Liz Rugg
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson's next movie, and judging by this poster, I already want to see it. Budapest Hotel, like Anderson's 2012 movie Moonrise Kingdom, will have a killer lineup of acting talent; from Anders...

NYFF Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Oct 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216442:40783:0[/embed] Only Lovers Left AliveDirector: Jim JarmuschRating: TBDRelease Date: December 5th, 2013 (Russia); December 19th, 2013 (Germany); Spring 2014 (US/UK) Only Lovers Left Alive feels like it could occupy a space alongside some of Jarmusch's classic films, like Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train, or Down By Law. There's a similar kind of playful boredom in the dialogue and the acting, as if everything's a little worn down and worn out and lived in too long. Occasionally the film gets too cute about name dropping and and its little references, like a precocious child that's eager to show off what he or she has learned from the cool aunt or uncle. The vintage guitars that Adam's obsessed with ooze vintage chic, sure, but for every smirking wink at the cultural treasures we long for, there's maybe a too-loving glance at a book that seems like it's given screen time for its indie cred. Still, the big references usually work. Take John Hurt's role. He plays the vampire Christopher Marlowe (yes, that Christopher Marlowe), and he has one of the funniest lines involving a long-standing literary conspiracy. When the film begins, our lovers are separated, though not in any romantic way. They're still very much in love. Eve is out in Tangier while Adam is out in Detroit. He's severely depressed, and even contemplates suicide, which isn't so easy for vampires. Eve eventually joins him in Detroit to cheer him up, and when they're together, there's a comfortable fondness about their every second in the same space. The passion muted but it's familiar and it's warm. When they're side by side or in each other's company, there's such a sense of ease, as if they really have had centuries of shared life between them. This gets a bit upended when Eve's little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) -- "not by blood" Eve deadpans -- shows up from Los Angeles. The snobbery of our lovers is rooted in their disdain for thoughtless humanity. They call the worst of the human race "zombies," one of those clever little ideas in a film full of them -- an elitist distinction among the undead. Of course the vampires are thinking, classy, brained-things; the dumb humans are the unthinking, crass, virtually brain dead things. So much of the film is tinged with a kind of regret about the world's impending end at the hands of the zombies, whether by pollution, by war, by overpopulation, or by just plain old human incompetence and shortsightedness. "Impending" may take ages -- what's another century when you've lived centuries? -- but given the population booms and the collapse of economies and cities, every day must seem like some part of a zombie apocalypse to Adam and Eve. Setting this sort of story in Detroit makes lots of sense. Jarmusch plays with the tropes of vampire mythology, keeping certain well-known ideas while discarding others to invent his own. One of the notable aesthetic additions is the wearing of leather gloves. I still have no idea what the rule is behind them, but it just looks cool. Jarmusch also adds a concern over the cleanliness of human blood. With so many drugs, pharmaceuticals, and pollutants entering people's bodies, the vampires need a pure supply so they don't get sick. Adam's got a hook-up with a steady stream of the clean stuff. This all puts me in mind of organic and GMO-free diets as well as notions of being authentic in the cred sense and also being straight edge. (Ironically, the vampires look like they're shooting up when they drink blood, their fangs visible and coated in a dark red that's the color of cough syrup.) Like most Jarmusch movies, Only Lovers Left Alive isn't driven by plot. Instead, it seems driven by a mood and the slow exploration of this mood. The funny stuff takes place in the quiet moments, and as vampires, Adam and Eve are sort of perfect beings to deliver the deadpan dialogue. They've seen too much to be too shocked, but they at least register a quiet bemusement. It's the difference between actually laughing at a joke and just saying "That's funny." Maybe most Jarmusch movies have secretly been vampire movies. I might need to watch Only Lovers Left Alive again to figure out how I really feel about the film as a whole. I was pleasantly entertained, but I didn't quite get the immediate hit I sensed from watching Down By Law or Night On Earth. It's not that the human element is missing from Only Lovers Left Alive, it's just aged so much that it's somewhat detached. Maybe it's just the difference between liking a movie a lot and just saying "That's charming." The movie is more than that, at least I want to think so since I'm a Jarmusch fan; maybe I was just a bit of a zombie on my first watch.
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They're like a really, really, really old married couple
On its surface, a vampire film is the last thing I'd expect out of Jim Jarmusch. Then again, the same can be said about a hitman movie (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, The Limits of Control) and a western (Dead Man). And s...

Review: Zero Charisma

Oct 11 // Geoff Henao
[embed]215045:39792:0[/embed] Zero CharismaDirectors: Katie Graham and Andrew MatthewsRating: N/ARelease Date: October 11, 2013 (VOD/iTunes, New York) Scott (Sam Eidson) is a late 20-something living with his grandmother while hosting a weekly tabletop RPG with his friends as the sometimes overbearing Game Master. When an opening comes up in the three-year-long game and with no interest from any of Scott's other "friends," he desperately recruits Miles (Garrett Graham). However, when his friends begin to gravitate towards the much cooler, hipper Miles, a psuedo-rivalry is started between the two. Zero Charisma hones in on these two drastically different types of nerds, as Flixist Editor-in-Chief and I defined as the nerds and "the nerds."There's Scott, who is sometimes narcissistic, constantly demeaning towards his friends, and a generally unlikable guy. Then there's Miles, who's cool, calm, and collected, yet prone to moments of being "holier than thou" with his undercover nerdiness.  The funny thing about Zero Charisma is that these characters are people I've both known and seen in my life. Their portrayals are extremely accurate, right down to the wardrobe choices of Scott and Miles. They contrast between Scott's metal-inspired vests and shirts and Miles' cardigans and band shirts. But beyond their physical appearances, their performances were remarkable. You can't help but laugh when Scott goes into a hissy fit, yet immediately feel terrible about it right after. It's this sincerity that helped make Zero Charisma so good. Scott is unlikeable character from beginning to end, but you can empathize with him. Again, this might be due in part because I'm accustomed to people like him, but you understand that his personality isn't rooted in bad thoughts but in a troubled past where he found an escape in tabletop gaming. Once that is taken away from him, you feel for him. He's still rotten and acts outrageously, but at least you can understand why. Zero Charisma is a funny film that has just as much heart as it does laughs. Honestly, I wasn't really expecting a heartfelt, feel-good film going in, but I'm glad that it ultimately was an entertaining film. Considering the process the filmmakers went through to create the film, it's great that Zero Charisma was an ultimately good film. Alec Kubas-Meyer: I wrote about Zero Charisma before it was finished, back when it was running a second IndieGoGo campaign hoping to raise finishing funds to get it to South by Southwest. I asked the filmmakers some questions and did something both because I found it interesting and because I hoped it would help out. But somewhere in the back of my mind was a nagging fear that the final product wouldn't have been worth my time or my readers' money. When the first reviews came out of SXSW, I breathed a sigh of relief, because I didn't want . I was excited for the film to come to NewYork, so I could see for myself what I had recommended to people.  Fortunately, the film had its New York premiere at Comic-Con. I honestly can't think of a more perfect place to play it. The press was corralled together in two rows while the regular moviegoers were scattered throughout the audience. I only mention this because it was interesting to see what different groups laughed at. Sometimes the critics would laugh hysterically while the rest of the room was relatively quiet. But there was constant laughter, not because it was bad (like the subject of the Best Worst Movie, Troll 2, which was the directors' previous project), but because it was genuinely funny. I know nothing about Dungeons and Dragons; table top RPGs have never particularly appealed to me even as several of my friends have joined a weekly game and told me of their exploits on the high seas. It's one of those areas where most of the people in that room probably grasped some of the subtleties a lot more than I did, but it didn't make a difference in the end. This isn't really a story about the game, even if that is the apparent focal point. It's a story about the people who play the game, and what it can make them do, and what it means to play games. It's a strange film, in part because its main character never really grows up. He's an aging man, but he acts like a teenage brat, and that's true for almost the entire movie. The ending gives him the slightest bit of redemption, but for the most part it's an unending downward spiral. Scott does something stupid, then something stupider, then something stupider, and Zero Charisma follows him down that rabbit hole. But that's how people are sometimes, and the interplay between him and the others was consistently fascinating, even if it hurt me to watch some of the more awkward scenes. But even then, I laughed and laughed and laughed. The film is a celebration of nerd culture that will appeal to people who aren't nerds. That's one hell of an accomplishment. 81 - Great
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+9 Hilarity
There are nerds, and then there are nerds. Nerds may like to flash a retro gaming shirt or spout Star Wars trivia, whereas nerds tend to obsess over their interests and fascinations. It's cool to be proud and comfortable...

NYFF Review: Nebraska

Oct 10 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216441:40772:0[/embed] NebraskaDirector: Alexander PayneRating: RRelease Date: November 15th, 2013 We open in Montana. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) wanders the highway on foot en route to Nebraska. He's received a sweepstakes notice in the mail saying that he may have already won $1 million. He's crotchety, he's not all there mentally, and he's so convinced it's legit that he's tried to make the schlep several times on his own. His son David (Will Forte) is going through a rough, dead-end time in his own life and decides to drive his dad to Nebraska. If anything, it'll shut him up and will lead to some quality time with the old man. Before hitting the sweepstakes headquarters, it's a stop his mom and dad's hometown where everyone -- family, friends, acquaintances -- slips out from behind the chintzy wood-paneling for a handout. In my notes I wrote down that Nebraska was like Raising Arizona by way of The Last Picture Show. It's not quite accurate. The black-and-white photography and the settings have the look of a post-bubble Last Picture Show, but while Nebraska is wacky to a degree, it's nowhere near as wacky as Raising Arizona. There's a weird sadness to Nebraska as well as a warmth, as if every one of its characters is suffering from some secret wound that's been scabbed over with eccentricity. What's great about the way the film unfolds is that the wounds affecting our principle characters are rarely disclosed outright. Most of the hints are single lines or little looks or steady accretions of detail. We get enough of a sense of what's the matter to understand them and empathize. It's a bit like how the long takes and wide cinematography in Nebraska function: Payne holds on the shot long enough so that the composition, the performances, the duration, or combinations of all three disclose the underlying beauty and tone of the moment. For part of its duration, Nebraska is a road movie, which is familiar territory for Payne given About Schmidt and Sideways. Bob Nelson's script expresses a strange truth about father-and-son bonding on the road: there's a lot of awkward silence. Woody's described as "not the talkative type" or something like that, and it's all that needs to be said to typify a certain generation and a certain set of rural, working-class values. If you've had a distant relationship with your dad that lasted well into your adulthood, it's a bit too accurate. David resents his dad for being a drunk, and at this point in life, Woody doesn't seem able to make heartfelt disclosures or apologize for anything. Forte again demonstrates a knack for playing the occasionally funny straight man. His performance in Run and Jump was similarly dutiful, though he played a character with a much greater sense of agency and self-worth. Dern is pretty phenomenal as a the gnarled Woody. He may not be the talkative type, but when he talks, he can say a lot by saying very little. Or perhaps he says a lot by saying something contrary to the truth. Most of Dern's performance is posture and eyes, especially when Woody slips into a ruminative fog. I don't know if I can always read Woody's thoughts -- the character is well-realized while his of-the-moment inner workings are purposefully opaque -- but I can always tell that he's thinking. Nebraska really comes into its own when Kate (Woody's wife/David's mom) shows up. Kate propels this film, allowing Payne more opportunities to explore the past of the Grant family. Kate's played by June Squibb, who's a mix of dynamite and battle axe. By mid-film, any time Squibb's on screen it's hard to take your eyes off her in anticipation of what she might say or do. Squibb's a shoe-in for some sort of Best Supporting Actress honor because she makes such a lasting impression. She may seem one-note to start, but there's so much more that's obliquely revealed about why Kate is the way she is and what she really feels deep down. It's so rare that movies contain rich parts for older women, which is probably why Squibb stands out so much in Nebraska. So many talented actresses no longer have a place in the film world and are forced to find work on the stage or television once they get close to middle age. Squibb's take on Kate serves as a reminder of the untapped potential for older female characters with such personality and gusto. The reminders come every few years, almost always from indie movies, and the plaudits usually well-deserved. I don't expect Squibb's example to change things for the better, but I hope it does. What's most fascinating about Dern and Squibb's performances isn't their age. It's that they're both so consistent from beginning to end, but the little character ticks deepen in meaning and significance. I don't necessarily think these characters change -- change is difficult after a certain age -- but our understanding of them certainly does. Much of this is the undeniable strength of Dern and Squibb, but I also think a lot of it has to do with Nelson's script and its ability to accept the eccentricities of its characters as a given and try to understand them. That may be the unspoken role for David in Nebraska: accept and understand. He haplessly maneuvers the perils of his extended family and his father's past actions, and he's an all right vessel for the audience encountering these little towns and shag carpeted living rooms. Part of me wishes there'd been a meatier part for Bob Odenkirk, who plays David's brother Ross, but maybe one Grant boy is enough for the majority of this journey; David has more to gain from the experience. It's too late to go back and change things, and there's no reliving lost time. All David can hope to do is help his dad reach a Nebraska state of mind and maybe figure out where his own life is headed on the way. [Nebraska will screen at Alice Tully Hall on Saturday, October 12th. For tickets and more information, click here.]
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Advanced studies in family dynamics
Before I was old enough to actually understand the jokes about sex and relationships, one of the movies I used to watch all the time as a kid was Making Mr. Right starring John Malkovich. (It had an android in it, so that was...

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Coldwater trailer, poster feature Flixist quote


I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl right now!
Oct 08
// Geoff Henao
One of my most surprising films of this year's SXSW was Coldwater. Directed by Bellflower's Vincent Grashaw, the film's depiction of an abusive, questionably run reform/boot camp resonated with me strongly, attaini...
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Zero Charisma Trailer

Trailer for Zero Charisma has nerds and nerd accessories


NEEEEEEEEEEEERDDSSSSSSS
Sep 17
// Nick Valdez
This trailer for the crowdfunded independent comedy, Zero Charisma, is pretty damn great. It's a story of two nerds. There's the older, conventional nerd who's angry that his friends and Dungeons & Dragons game is slowly...
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Penn Jillette turns to crowd funding for a new film


The funding campaign will launch September 19th
Sep 13
// Hubert Vigilla
The staff at Flixist has a lot of opinions about celebrity Kickstarters/crowd funding. Good or bad, you can now add Penn Jillette to the list of crowd funding celebs. (Personally I think it's good, like a free Frogurt.) The f...

Review: Electric Man

Sep 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216459:40646:0[/embed] Electric ManDirector: David BarrasRelease Date: 9/10/13 (DVD)Country: Scotland There's nothing really new about Electric Man's plot. Two down-on-their-luck comic book shop owners, Jason and Wolf, have to come up with £5000 in a week or else their store will be closed down. In a crazy mishap, they acquire an ultra-rare mint copy of Electric Man #1, one of the rarest comics on earth, and one that is worth £100,000. Problem solved, right? Not quite! Other people want the comic, people who are dangerous and will destroy the property of, taze, or possibly even kill the people in the way. (Worth noting: I kind of missed what was going on in the first minute or two because there were some pretty impressive accents on display, but either that first scene is an anomoly or my Babel fish started kicking in. If you tend to have difficulty understanding not-Americans speak English, your mileage may vary. But I did learn how to pronounce "Edinburgh" properly so that's something.) So you've heard this story before, even if not in exactly this configuration, but that's not necessarily a problem. In this case, though, it just means the story is uninteresting. You know exactly where it's going at any moment, and any attempt at a twist can be seen coming from the above description. And while we're at it, let's talk about borderline-offensively-stupid romantic subplot. Jason is attracted to a generally attractive female, fine, but beyond that exactly nothing makes sense. Lauren's entire character is based on falsehoods and fabrications, but somehow underneath it all we're supposed to believe that there's something genuine about her commitment(?!) to someone who she met yesterday and spent about thirty seconds talking to before kissing? Also, she followed up that kiss (the first of unnecessary and illogically many) with the semi-outraged exclamation "A hooker? Jesus Christ!" because I guess she didn't ask for money, so she's not a prostitute? Or something? I don't know. The issue with the story means that Electric Man relies on its technical aspects to wears its low-budget on its sleeve. Almost every single shot screams "indie film," and even though it's got some cinematic widescreen going on, it reeks of unprofessionalism. There's nothing wrong with not having a budget, but flaunting it is just silly. In a world where zero-budget YouTube videos can look really, really good, a low-budget look just doesn't cut it anymore. The couple of scenes where the film pulls from film history come off as tacky rather than clever, and really give the whole thing a student-film feel. The wooden acting makes it even worse. Basically everyone is incompetent at best, and some performances are actually cringe-inducing (specifically Fish (actual name), who plays the theoretically dangerous Uncle Jimmy) Toby Manley, who plays Jason, is competent and seems to be doing as well as he can with the shoddy writing, but he hardly saves the show and actually just highlights how bad everyone else is. I could go on, but I really don't feel like bashing the film anymore. It seems like it was made earnestly by people who were trying to make something silly and quirky, and it has its moments, but those moments are too few and far in between. And those credits held so much promise... Give Electric Man his own movie. A mid-30s period piece superhero movie. Now that could be something worth watching.
Electric Man Review photo
Can't hold a charge
In the animated title sequence for Electric Man, the audience is treated to a motion-comic showing the genesis of the titular character. A depression-era construction worker zapped by lightning, he becomes a super-powered crimefighter. It's a pretty cool scene. Unfortunately, it seems that all of the film's creativity was spent on making it pretty cool, at the expense of basically everything else.

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Flix for Short: "Reflektor" by Arcade Fire


Title track from the forthcoming Arcade Fire record
Sep 10
// Hubert Vigilla
Arcade Fire is back, and they've got themselves a mirrorball and some papier mache. Their new album Reflektor (produced by James Murphy of the late LCD Soundsystem) will be out on October 28th, and they've just released a mu...
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The Young and Prodigious Spivet lands images and trailer


Sep 04
// Matthew Razak
So you know how you like Amélie, but you sometimes think, "Man, I wish that movie could be even more adorable and heartwarming." Check out the trailer for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's (director of Amélie...

Review: Our Nixon

Aug 30 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216260:40623:0[/embed] Our NixonDirector: Penny LaneRating: NRRelease Date: August 30, 2013 (limited)  Most home movies are boring and fascinating simultaneously. If you were to look at some of the video footage that your parents shot when you were young, you'd likely find shaky Christmas pageants, interminable birthdays, or these banal moments with the rest of the family (e.g., a summer day by the pool, a dinner, a trip to the museum). Often times these moments aren't noteworthy, and yet they offer up these honest observations about daily life that come tinged with nostalgia. I think about the opening credits to early seasons of The Wonder Years, and that home movie footage is a perfect encapsulation of that time and that attitude. That sense of nostalgia is captured in the Super 8 footage of Our Nixon. Lane even opens her film like it's the opening credits to an old TV show. There are funny bits of Super 8 footage that pop up that are so cliched yet so real, like the inevitable moment where two people film each other filming each other, or those random shots of squirrels and flowerbeds. Those are the shots that you watch again (if you even re-watch what was shot) and you wonder why you shot it. Rather than rely solely on the Super 8 footage, Lane also goes to news reports, the audio recordings from the Oval Office, and other archival material. This is a parallax view-style assemblage documentary, which means a conversation is set up between the highs and lows of the Nixon administration as wells as the historical and personal. The Super 8 footage came from White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman, and deputy assistant Dwight Chapin. During the Watergate investigation, the FBI seized 500 reels of footage. We get to see Halderman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin in the brightest days of the Nixon White House as well as in the years after Watergate. Their change in demeanor is more striking than the effects of age. Whereas the home movie footage showed an enthused group of young go-getters, the later interview footage shows troubled men looking back painfully at a moment and a person that had meant the world to them. This is the power of juxtaposition: the joyous banality of the moment where you can chat idly about All in the Family with your boss, and the unfortunate gravity of history where your boss (and you) will forever be yoked with scandal. The conversation of Our Nixon emerges from these collisions of large/historical scope and small/intimate focus. As a counterpoint, perhaps, to the lenses of Halderman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin, there's the intense scrutiny of the news and the critical voices of anti-war protesters. What fascinated me most from watching Our Nixon is the way that this combination of perspectives gave a strong feel for that moment in history that never quite gets communicated in recreations of the era or in restagings of these events. I guess both scope and the focus are necessary to understand the real complexities not just of Nixon but the tumult of the late 60s and early 70s. As for the many candid moments caught on Super 8, the ones that stuck out for me were the ones that were personal and actually a little banal. We see images of Nixon watching the Apollo landing and shedding tears, and we also see his daughter's wedding, and there he is doing business aboard the old Air Force One, and then he's out gladhanding on the campaign trail amid the God-fearing and flag-loving (and all of them know that McGovern is toast). Some of the archival footage Lane used in the film also has the feel of a home movie in that unexpected moments get caught like insects in amber. There's a White House music performance that goes from totally square to totally punk rock in the course of two or three sentences. I anticipate more and more archival docs to be made in the future, and I hope the ones to come take an approach like Our Nixon. I come back to that idea of scope and focus, and it seems like to be able to engage in a meaningful conversation about an event using existing footage, a combination of scope and focus is necessary to bring new and vital ideas into view, even about the past. And yet Nixon himself, even seen from different angles, will always be an enigma.
Our Nixon Review photo
A portrait of a period through the home movies of the Nixon administration
There have been a number of documentaries in recent years that have mostly been comprised of reassembled footage as an exploration of a topic. These are assemblage films in many respects, though I think the official term is "...

Review: I Declare War

Aug 30 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216375:40618:0[/embed] I Declare WarDirector: Jason LapeyreRating: NRRelease Date: August 30 (Theatrical) | July 27 (Digital Download/VOD/iTunes) There are no adults in I Declare War, nor does the film ever leave the battleground. A few characters come and go from the woods, but never the camera. So this is the story of a game of War, not the characters participating (as much as the film might want you to believe otherwise). War is an awesome game, and I wish I had played it when I was a kid. Two teams make bases, have their "weapons" (sticks, mostly, that take the form of guns thanks to "imagination"), and shoot each other. A shot paralyzes someone; a direct hit by a blood grenade will remove them from the game. They have to go home. End of story. PK, who heads team Protagonist, has never lost a game of War, but according to a rather expository monologue, it turns out that this is the first real game he's ever played. Quinn, who heads team Antagonist, uses tactics. Then again, aside from one early display of potential, we never get to see those tactics. Quinn is killed off by one of his angry, mutinous soldiers almost immediately. So I Declare War is a game of P. K. the Champion vs. Skinner the Loser. Unfortunately for the audience, that game is far less interesting, because Skinner has no idea how to play War. He just knows how to yell a lot and torture little Asian boys, which he does, and that's cool, I guess, except for the fact that it's not. It's just disturbing and weird, because I mean like actual-could-possibly-kill-the-kid torture. But no one seems to think about the consequences when they all get home and the parents see bloody rope marks around the kid's wrists, and by the credits it actually seems like what he did was completely forgotten.  And that right there is the second biggest problem with I Declare War,  and the one I highlighted before the jump: it just doesn't make sense. There is no cohesive narrative. In fact, one of the main characters in the film isn't even real. He's a freaking hallucination by the one female character, whose entire motivation is to get the guy she likes to like her back. That's her entire character. She just wants love. Sure, stereotype dictates that that's the only thing characters care about (and sure, one of the male characters also has infatuation as a primary character trait, but that hardly balances it out). It's almost like the writers thought, "Hmm? What do 13 year old girls care about? I know, love! And boys!" Well, here's some truth: that's not all they think about. Maybe 40% at most. They've got too much girl drama  going on to only care about boys. Source: my 13 year old sister. ... Kind of lost the thread there, but it still goes back to the writing. It just doesn't hold up under any kind of scrutiny. In fact, the entire final big confrontation between Skinner and PK, where you find out why this whole thing is happening in the first place, shouldn't even happen. The things Skinner does leading immediately up to that moment completely negates everything that comes after. PK should know that, but instead he does something stupid in the name of strategy, when strategy is completely irrelevant. At so many points throughout the film. And what kind of teenager would walk through the woods and take rocks to the face for three bucks? I mean, come on. That wouldn't even buy you a bag of Watermelon Pull-N-Peel Twizzlers (not with tax anyhow).  It really is like the film was written by a 13 year old boy. The male characters, for the most part, are consistent (even if they're consistently stupid) and have enough variance to stay interesting, but anybody who isn't a thirteen year old boy (and sure, there are only two of them, but 0 for 2 is a pretty terrible record) is way off the mark.  This is exacerbated by the biggest problem with the film: the acting. Oh the acting... There are good child actors out there. I've worked with some of them. My sister's actually a pretty decent actress. But these kids? Terrible. Their inflections are wrong, their expressions don't match up with dialogue, and they just kill any kind of emotional weight that the film could have had. Aidan Gouveia, who plays Quinn, is the worst culprit, with a performance that wouldn't be out of place in something like Troll 2, but nobody rises above mediocre, or even bad for that matter. Flashes of acceptability are occasional but only serve to highlight just how bad everything else is. Even Alex Cardillo and Dyson Fyke's Frost and Sikorsky, who seem the most like real characters, just can't keep it together. I could go on and talk about what I Declare War should have been, but that's a pretty fundamental "Don't" for reviewing, and it wouldn't do any good. And it's not like it's the worst film I've ever seen. It's pretty good looking and has some not-bad action (even if it makes no sense that a not-grenade would cause someone to momentarily lose their hearing, but whatever). I imagine that there is an audience for I Declare War, but I haven't the faintest idea what it's comprised of. The film's excessive use of expletives means it's clearly not for kids, but its massive logical holes will bother pretty much anybody or the age of 15. The emotions at play, even if they had good performances behind them, are very specific to children ("Oh no, I'm 13 and my life is over! I'm going to die a loser. Wah wah wah.") and nobody's going to care. Still, it got picked up by Drafthouse films and it hasn't been uniformly panned by critics, so clearly it's resonating somewhere. Go figure. But it just didn't do anything for me. Minutes after finishing I Declare War, I picked up my sister from a friend's house. She proceeded to complain about another friend saying bad things about her because of a simple misunderstanding made worse by the fact that they're both girls in their early teens. They're young, dumb, and I really can't relate to their problems at all. And just for a moment, I felt like I Declare War's credits had never rolled.
I Declare War Review photo
All's fair, I guess
I wish that director Jason Lapeyre was a child. It would be great if a 13 year old kid had gotten together with some friends, stolen some nice camera equipment and a couple of "How to" books from their rich friend's parents, ...

Review: You're Next

Aug 23 // Matthew Razak
[embed]215074:40602:0[/embed] You're NextDirector: Adam WingardRated: RRelease Date: August 23, 2013 You're Next is a home invasion thriller/slasher. You know the ones where a group of people are holed up somewhere and they start getting picked off one by one by some psychotic killer. Those can be fun, but rarely does one come along with a story as clever as You're Next'. Erin (Sharni Vinson) arrives at her new boyfriend's rich parent's house for their 35th wedding anniversary. We're quickly introduced to the disjointed family which consists of mom and dad, three brothers, one sister and their significant others. In short, plenty of people to kill. And kill they do, as a group of men in creepy animal masks starts to slaughter them off. These killers, however, didn't count on Erin being a trained survivalist and all around ninja. It's this little point that turns the move from a slasher with some cool kills in it into something a whole lot smarter. By empowering the clichéd female lead into a total kick-ass (her first kill is something out of a kung-fu movie) they flip genre conventions on their heads to the point that you wonder who the real psychotic killer is. It makes for a great story and an even better horror movie since it's actually, you know, interesting. Vinson also lends the semi-ridiculous character of Erin a bit more believability by presenting a far more layered heroin than you'd expect from a film where machetes penetrate multiple skulls. Of course this is a slasher film, and all the genre analysis and clever story telling don't matter a lick if the kills aren't good. You're Next's kills are some of the best I've seen in a long while, which is even more impressive because most of them are so simple. Director Adam Wingard takes kills we've seen a thousand times (machetes, slit throats, arrows, etc) and either reinvents them or delivers them in such a great way that they seem utterly original. Plus, the penultimate kill at the end is easily one of my favorites in any film and had me applauding when it landed. One last note is the movie's soundtrack, which absolutely blew me away (a bit too literally as the theater's sound system was cranked to 11). It's a modern update on the driving scores of 80s slasher films and almost perfectly executed. Sound is such an important aspect of horror films and You're Next's score is what ties this film together and turns what could have simply been a lot of great blood and gore into something that is truly scary and thrilling. Now that Lionsgate has picked it up this is a movie you're going to need to track down and see once it hits theaters in August. Even if it doesn't get a wide release this will hit VOD and start spreading as a classic thanks to word of mouth. Smart, inventive and wickedly fun, You're Next is what should be next in your horror movie lineup. Alec Kubas-Meyer: You're Next gets something of a pass because, even though it's being released in 2013, it was made before Cabin in the Woods did its modern deconstruction of the horror genre. It's still unforgivable that the characters split up when in danger (and the survivalist protagonist lets them do it), but less so. In 2013, that stuff won't fly, but in 2011, it could tepidly get off the ground. But even though the movie's a few years old, it's still one heck of a good time. You're Next isn't really traditional horror, and it certainly isn't a traditional home invasion story. Once the motivation's out of the bag, it goes from a horror film to more of an ultra-violent thriller-comedy. The thrills are great, the comedy is freaking awesome, and the violence great too, even if some of the kills (especially at the end) are over-the-top in a bad way. If any of that sounds good to you, it's hard not to recommend this one to anybody who wants to see both rich people and their assailants get mercilessly slaughtered. Good times, mate. 83 - Great
You're Next Review photo
Up next: great horror
It's been a long road for You're Next. The indie horror film has been in development since the earlier 2000s and even once it was finished it took more than a year to find a distributor who would get it out there. Lionsgate e...

Review: Drinking Buddies

Aug 22 // Geoff Henao
[embed]215041:40597:0[/embed] Drinking BuddiesDirector: Joe SwanbergRating: RRelease Date: August 23, 2013 Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are really close co-workers working at a craft brewery in Chicago (Revolution Brewing, specifically). Besides making and selling the beer, their days and nights are spent drinking. Their tight-knit friendship, however, begins to inch towards uncharted territories when they inadvertently find themselves spending a lot of time together during a weekend outing with their significant others, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick). Suddenly, the line begins to blur as their attraction to one another begins to blossom into something more. Further complicating matters are Kate's and Chris' problems, as well as Jill's pushiness for Luke to seriously consider marriage. With every beer downed, the tension rises between the two until a breaking point hits. Drinking Buddies focuses on those close, platonic friendships everybody has that always flirts with the notion of developing into something more. Swanberg hones in on the cautious flirtation and uncomfortable awkwardness that tends to result from such scenarios for the film's humor. Its appeal is broad, yet the jokes aren't ever fully thrown into the audience's face. Don't get me wrong: you'll be laughing out loud by some of the banter between Wilde and Johnson, but there are subtle cues that'll have you nudging the "close friend" sitting next to you. Kendrick shines in these scenes where the humor is low key as her facial expressions help sell the awkwardness between Jill and Livingstone's Chris. There's one scene in particular where a simple pause in her tracks sets the joke. The film is full of these little nuances accentuated by the actors' performances. The chemistry between Wilde and Johnson is spot-on and truly reflect the types of friendships I've had and seen in my life. Johnson just has this everyman appeal to him that perfectly fits his laid-back character, while Wilde is able to blend her sex appeal with a "one of the guys" disposition. Like I wrote in the review's subtitle, Drinking Buddies really is as refreshing as a cold beer on a hot summer day, whether it's a PBR or a local craft IPA.
Drinking Buddies Review photo
As refreshing as a cold beer on a hot summer day
Everybody always has that one platonic friendship where the line is constantly tiptoed upon that could lead to something more. As always, that move can never be made due to outside circumstances, such as a boyfriend or girlfr...

Interview: Drinking Buddies (Cast and Director)

Aug 21 // Geoff Henao
I had a video interview maybe half an hour ago. It was the first time I had makeup on. It’s weird. Anna Kendrick: Do you feel like you’re wearing a mask? No, not really. It’s very subtle, so I think she just touched up my natural beauty. I’m just kidding. AK: You’re glowing. Am I? Yeah. It’s beautiful. Jake Johnson: It’s probably a pregnancy. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was going to be set in Chicago. That’s my hometown, born and raised. How important was that to you [Joe Swanberg] to have it set in Chicago? And Revolution [Brewing], too, of all breweries. That’s actually a really amazing brewery. Joe Swanberg: It was really important, and [was] actually one of the things that Jake and I talked about at the very beginning. The possibility came up of maybe shooting it somewhere else. It was almost like if we don’t do it in Chicago, we might as well not make the movie. JJ: The financiers wanted us to go do it in Boston, and everything got very real. Joe and I had this talk where, “Okay, it works in Boston, and here’s how.” It just doesn’t. It’s a Chicago movie. JS: When I thought about the idea… It’s the first film I made where I was location-specific in that way, and I had ideas in mind. In the beginning, I wanted them drinking at the Empty Bottle; I wanted them playing pool in that specific pool room. How I pictured shooting it, and once I went in that direction, then it was fun to go all the way there and really make it a Chicago movie. But also, hopefully not in that kind of celebratory inside baseball way that I’ve seen in some films sometimes, where it’s like, “Alright, we get it! It’s Chicago!” But if you live in Chicago, it feels right to you. It’s the kinds of places these characters live. JJ: It doesn’t feel like it’s on a sound stage at CBS where they’re like, “We love Chicago!” JS: Let’s stick up [Chicago] Cubs stickers everywhere. That’s how I felt. It felt really natural to me, but still has that appeal to people who don’t live in the city, or aren’t aware of the city. They’ll understand, “Oh, a big brewery! A really nice bar/venue place, pool table, very distinct.” What was the… poop, I’m brain farting right now. AK: Did you just say poop instead of shit? Yeah. AK: Awesome. Sorry. What was the influence for the film? What inspired you to direct it? JS: A couple of things. Definitely craft beer. Just being, for about five years now, I’ve sort of been immersing myself in that world, and just really discovering it, just figuring out that there were such a thing as a craft brewery, and feeling like those companies were pushing the envelope. Also, there’s kind of a David and Goliath thing going on in craft beer right now anyway because the macro breweries control something like 92% of the market, and every craft brewery combined is the other 8%. It’s tough for them to get shelf space, it’s tough for them to convince people, especially in a bad economy, to spend extra money on a product that they could get for really cheap. All that stuff was interesting to me to think about, characters working in that world. I have friends that I went to high school with and friends that I’ve met since that work at breweries around Chicago, so I kind of starting to learn a little about that. I also wanted to make a movie… I just wanted the films to kind of grow up with me and sort of always reflect where I was at certain points in my life. As I look around at people that are going from their late-20s into their early-30s now, I’m seeing a lot of friends of mine really getting serious about the marriage question, and the idea of settling down. People have different responses to it: some people are really excited to make that commitment and do that, and other people really freak out and buck against it. I just wanted to throw a bunch of characters into that point in a relationship. The ending itself is kind of muted. That last scene is very silent, and it’s not the way more films like that would conclude. Did you have any other ideas? Did you shoot any other endings? JS: We thought about taking it a little… The additional ending wouldn’t have changed anything, but it was one of those instances where in the editing room, it became abundantly clear to me that that other scene wasn’t going to add anything to the movie. I’m really trying to think about that lately, making each scene important and valuable. And also, a lot of the influence from other movies I’m taking and thinking about lately have to do with having a somewhat satisfying ending, which is nice to finish a movie and walk out with a smile on your face. I think some part of me used to think that was really lame, and these days, I’m actually really excited about that. Ron Livingston: Well Joseph, you’re getting older. You got a son now. You got to think of the future. JS: I think you can get away with more. If you let the audience walk out with a smile on their face, they’ll forget that you rubbed their face in shit, maybe, for 90 minutes. I think it buys you a little bit with those people. That scene at the table, which was initially the second to last scene, as soon as I put it into the cut, I was like, “Okay, we’re done telling that story.” How do you guys feel about your characters? Jake, your character, I think, was probably the most innocent in that he never really crossed over that boundary, but was still tiptoeing that line a lot. How do you feel about your character’s guilt? JJ: I think that’s interesting. Olivia [Wilde] and I were talking about that, but I think that, and Anna and I had a discussion on this, but I think that Luke is pretty guilty. I think the lines are blurred. I don’t think there are necessarily good guys or bad guys in this movie, and it’s what I like about it. I think it’s a realistic look of people… I don’t think Luke is ready to get married. I think he’s very scared of that, but I don’t think he’s ready to lose Jill, so he’s in that tough spot that I think a lot of people get into. It’s like, “I’ve been in this long-term relationship. I don’t want to lose it, but I’m not ready to grow up and get married and take that last step.” This is his last kind of tango with this fantasy girl where everything falls into a perfect line of his fiancée, or soon-to-be fiancée is gone, here’s this other girl coming on hard, and then in the movie, he gets beaten up, cut up, and then he realizes he wants to go home. I feel that he’s guilty, and what he did, he shouldn’t be proud of, but in this movie, everybody’s got blood on their hands. Even Ron’s character, when I was re-watching, I’ve seen the movie three times… That’s a good segue, by the way. JJ: He’s a snake, too! They were on that hike, and I didn’t realize it in the first sitting, but he was planting these seeds of, “Oh, he’s making moves on her from the beginning!” There were a lot of laughs in the audience when you pulled out the wine. JS: I was so happy. When you say, “Had I met someone like her, you…” Obviously, when we were shooting it, [the reaction] was exactly what I was looking for. It’s so difficult to know whether that’s going to play. And it played so well. It hit well. It hit really well. JS: And everybody was instantly, “Ooooh!” JJ: Well, I missed it watching it. JS: Yeah, that’s what I mean. JJ: And when I saw it up there [at its premiere], I thought he was just like… I really like that thing of I missed it before. AK: I think I was worried, in that moment, it would feel just [controversial], and I could feel the audience going, “What’s her face doing?! What’s happening, what’s happening?! What is this moment?!” JS: I’m sorry to detour a little bit, but that’s why movies always still need to be shown in movie theaters. It’s great that people can order it and download it and watch it on their laptops, but you do not catch moments like that as well on your laptop. You just don’t. JJ: Well, I missed it until last night, because that whole thing you [Livingston] were saying about the whole, “15 years ago, if I would have…” I just thought Chris is just kind of thinking, and talking out loud, and getting into character. I didn’t realize he was making a play right then until the audience laughed, and I went like, “..what? Oh my god, this fucking snake’s at it!” When Anna did the move of, “I’m feeling nervous right now,” when I saw that, she’s taking the reins, so this is on Jill, but really from the beginning, when [Chris said], “Oh, you’re a teacher? That’s really impressive,” I was sitting there like, “Oh, he was making plays from the start!” Yeah, she was feeding off of his lines. And what you [Swanberg] were saying, too, about the crowd participation, you definitely miss that if you’re at home, in your dark room, on your laptop. AK: Also on your cell phone. JS: And checking your email occasionally. AK: Like just opening a window. I won’t miss anything important. JS: I can still hear it. Going off of what Jake said with your reactions. Your character is very awkward sometimes, and I really like that, because… I don’t know, you play that well. AK: Awkward? Thanks... yeah. I didn’t mean anything negative about that, sorry. Your character was very nervous, but she was innocent, too, except for that one moment. JJ: I get the feeling you were late with that part. AK: I mean, yeah. When we were making it, and then even, which surprised me, when I was watching it, I kept thinking like, “I should just say something. Just say something.” And I wasn’t sure what Joe was going to end up using, and I knew if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t use it. But even so, I was like, “Oh Anna, you are fucking it up. Say something!” But I think that’s who she is. She’s comfortable with silence. I don’t think it’s as much that she’s nervous. I mean, there are certainly plenty of moments where she’s nervous, because she’s in uncharted territory a little bit sometimes, but I think for the most part, she knows who she is, and that’s based on a person I know whom I’m very impressed with. I just wanted her to be comfortable just listening because she’s cool and she knows who she is and she doesn’t have to constantly chatter, which I have a tendency to do. What I meant with the awkwardness thing, your facial expressions, that’s what I meant. You play them off, like especially in that scene where Ron’s character starts spitting game at you, laying down that line. AK: Yeah, I think she is a little unsure of what to do with that… RL: Spitting game? JJ: The subtitle of this is going to be, “Ron Livingston is spitting game.” Sorry, that’s my hometown vernacular coming out. JJ: It’s perfect. He was. I’m a professional, guys. I’m wearing a tie! JJ: I didn’t realize he was spitting fucking game. AK: This is a girl who has been in a relationship since she was 21 and has just been comfortable with that and hasn’t really noticed other guys that much. And then it’s like, “Something… what is happening?” I think she’s a little in uncharted territory, and then she does decide to go for it, it’s not like she’s a victim. But I think that’s exciting that she’s like, “Oh, is something… is something happening?” JS: I think she’s so brave, too, to tell him… It’s something that I’m taking from Kris [Williams Swanberg], my wife. She’s so good at just talking to me and telling me things, whereas for me, any kind of indiscretion or thing I’m embarrassed about or anything, I’m just like, “That’ll get bottled up and never see the light of day.” That stuff starts to eat at you a little bit. Over the course of your entire life, all of the things you should have told somebody, but didn’t… those aren’t necessarily good to just live inside of you. I think that’s such a hard, brave thing to do to look at somebody you love and acknowledge to them that you hurt them or did something wrong to them. But then that’s how people heal and get over things. If everybody in a relationship was just, “Well, I did that thing, but I’m big enough to live with it. I don’t need to bother them with it. I don’t want to hurt them.” You’re just collecting scars over time. I really wanted that character… I think it’s just so admirable. It’s really important to me that that confession happen. And that he [Johnson’s character, Luke] doesn’t confess. He’s just like, “Oh, it’s fine. You’re forgiven.” What he’s really saying is, “I did it, too, but I’m not big enough to acknowledge it to you. I can’t reciprocate right now.” RL: I think that character is the one who, of all of them, is the most able to… She lives and dies by naming the elephant in the room, whether it’s, “We have to talk. The marriage thing is the big elephant in the room.” This kiss thing is the elephant in the room. I feel like, in a way, she kind of teaches everybody else, like you guys, you [Johnson] and Olivia, spend the whole movie getting to that scene in the end where it just hits you in the stomach where Olivia is like, “I’m single,” and it’s like [Luke goes], “Don’t go there, don’t go there, don’t go there.” But you finally need to go there and name what is this thing. And I actually like the fact that, I think Chris kind of gets from interacting with Anna, he actually becomes able to name the thing in the room saying like, “I’m too old for you. This doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know what we’re doing.” I don’t think he’s going to do any better. I think he’s probably either go do the same shit until he’s just old and dead, or find somebody his own age, but I don’t think he’ll ever be able to manage that. But that elephant in the room thing is big in this movie. I agree. Just like a little sidebar back to what you [Kendrick] were saying, you kind of implied that there was some ad-libbing and improvising. Did you stay as close to the script as possible? Everyone: There was no script. Oh really? Oh wow. AK: There was no script. There was no paper. JJ: There was an outline, so we knew what was happening. We knew what the story was, we knew what the scene was, and everything was blocked out, but all of the dialogue was improvised. The story was in place, but the dialogue was improvised. So the chemistry amongst you guys was real then. AK: Things got really weird. RL: It’s funny, because that goes a long way. We get to that first apartment, and you look around and it’s like, “Well, I guess I’m playing a guy who lives here. I guess he’s persnickety because this place is persnickety.” And then he says, “You need to put a drink on a coaster,” and it’s like, “Who puts Olivia Wilde’s drink on a coaster?” And it’s like, “Well, he’s that guy.” It’s like more constricting than having a bunch of lines. That’s true. That’s also how Chicago is. Every neighborhood is segregated, it’s a different a lifestyle, there’s different people. The area fits. Okay, final question: Beers. Do you guys have favorite beers? Especially considering [the film]. JS: I could talk five hours about it. Yeah, right now, if I had to take one beer to an island, it would be Three Floyds Zombie Dust. It’s an IPA. But that changes all the time. That’s just my “right now” beer. What about you guys? Any particulars? AK: I just tried a beer from my hometown called Allagash Curieux. It’s really nice. Jake? JJ: I’ll take a Stoli on ice. Ron? RL: Yeah, I’m going to demure on this one. Alright, thanks guys. That was awesome. 
Drinking Buddies Inter. photo
Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Joe Swanberg, and Jake Johnson walk into a bar...
On an early afternoon in Austin, TX, I had a chance to sit down with the cast and director of Drinking Buddies, which consisted of Anna Kendrick (End of Watch), Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed), Ron Livingston (Office Spa...

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Flix for (Not So) Short: Clapping for the Wrong Reasons


Will this have you clapping for the wrong reasons, too?
Aug 19
// Geoff Henao
Last month, Donald Glover (Community) released a mysterious trailer without context for a project called Clapping for the Wrong Reasons. Last week, it was revealed that the project was a short film written by Glover and dire...

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