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The Modern Ocean photo
The Modern Ocean

Shane Carruth's The Modern Ocean will be a big-budget seafaring adventure

More bucks than Primer & Upstream Color
Sep 23
// Hubert Vigilla
Shane Carruth's two films, Primer and Upstream Color, are great works of micro-budget indie filmmaking. Each one is its own idiosyncratic puzzlebox, with Primer tackling the repercussions of time travel and Upstream Color rum...
The Witch trailer photo
The Witch trailer

Watch a chilling trailer for Sundance horror sensation The Witch

Does she weigh less than a duck?
Aug 19
// Hubert Vigilla
This year's Sundance Film Festival showcased two notable horror movies. One was Rodney Ascher's sleep paralysis documentary The Nightmare, and the other was Robert Eggers' 17th century period piece The Witch. Of the two, ...

Deep Analysis: The End of the Tour - Is it capital-T Truth or capital-B Bulls**t?

Aug 14 // Hubert Vigilla
Although of Course You End Up Being Different Things to Different People"Simple thing: everyone sees him differently." -- David Lipsky, Although of Course...   David Foster Wallace is a person and an idea. That split is impossible to avoid, and more complicated than the Platonic notion that I've seemed to present. There's the person who existed, and then there's this other level, a kind of public version or public perception of the person who existed, or an idea of Wallace through his writing and interviews--a text. While the real Wallace was available to his friends and family, for everyone else there's just a public version or a text. There's something about the intimacy of writing, and I think this is discussed in Lipsky's book, that makes readers think they know an author. That seems to hold true for lots of creatives since so much ineffable stuff about your inner life is communicated through creative acts. Any connection that's made through art might seem more profound because of this ability to articulate a common yet personal feeling of joy, sadness, or affection between people who've never met. Art can make you feel less alone, and it can help you understand someone else. But often only so far or just a facet. There's another layer to this person/persona split, of course. I'm not judging the propriety of it (at least for now), but people can do whatever they want with that public idea of a person. They can find meaning in the persona, impose their own meanings on the persona, reconsider the persona without considering the actual multi-faceted person behind that public idea. It's one reason why David Foster Wallace winds up meaning different things to different people, or being a different person to different people--a literary wunderkind, a rockstar of the book world, the next _______, the voice of _______, a friend, a confidant, a relative, etc. Recently, a piece by Molly Fischer ran in New York Magazine's The Cut considered David Foster Wallace a hypermasculine hub for chauvinistic literary bros. (Sometimes a big, hard novel is just a cigar. A really big, hard cigar.) Kenny in his piece for The Guardian touches on this when he writes, "Something I've noticed since Wallace's suicide in 2008 is that a lot of self-professed David Foster Wallace fans don't have much use for people who actually knew the guy. For instance, whenever Jonathan Franzen utters or publishes some pained but unsparing observations about his late friend, Wallace's fanbase recoils, posting comments on the internet about how self-serving he is, or how he really didn't 'get' Wallace." Kenny and Wallace were friends who met and corresponded regularly or at least semi-regularly. Lipsky, by contrast, was an outsider sent to observe Wallace for a few days and then left. Kenny takes issue with the way Lipsky presented Wallace in the book, writing: In the opening of Yourself, Lipsky describes Wallace speaking in "the universal sportsman's accent: the disappearing G's, 'wudn't,' 'dudn't' and 'idn’t' and 'sumpin.'" Segel takes Lipsky's cue. But in my recollection, Dave spoke precisely, almost formally, the "Gs" at the ends of gerunds landing softly, not dropped. I can't help but feel both of these perceptions and ideas of Wallace were accurate simply given the nature of these respective relationships. People act differently around friends and colleagues than they do around strangers, particularly journalists. There's a constant self-consciousness that Wallace has when talking to Lipsky, mentioning how Lipsky can craft an image of Wallace that may not be the real Wallace. To that I wonder how much of the sportsman's accent was Wallace's own way of maintaining control of his persona, presenting a certain type of David Foster Wallace for this interview. Ditto the various asides to high culture (e.g., John Barth) and low culture (e.g., "movies where stuff blows up"). Wallace suggest he and Lipsky play chess against each other in the book during an early interview. Make of that what you will. (Sometimes a game of chess is just a metaphor for a sword fight with cigars.) These differences in proximity to Wallace, intimacy with Wallace, and personal perception of Wallace don't delegitimize Kenny or Lipsky. It's just pointing out that they each saw facets of a man and each came away with their own assessment. Wallace was Kenny's friend, and Kenny saw more facets of the man over a longer period of time. For Lipsky, he got a glimpse of Wallace at age 34 at the end of a book tour during "one of those moments when the world opens up to you." Although of Course You End Up Becoming a Fictional Version of Yourself"So we've ended up doing Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner with Andre." -- David Lipsky, Although of Course...   So there's a persona, and then there's a movie, and that's where these issues of proximity, intimacy, perception, and propriety become even more difficult. The End of the Tour, even though I enjoyed it, is a recreation and fictionaliziation of real events and real people, all of which is depicted at various divides from the real thing. Since so much of the basis for The End of the Tour is Lipsky's book, the film presents a version of David Foster Wallace as filtered through Lipsky's perceptions. Though Lipsky tried to be unobtrusive in the transcript, there are numerous observations in book, ones that wonder what Wallace is thinking in the moment, that assume certain answers are calculated deflections, that editorialize the nature of Wallace's smile in just the choice of adjectives. On top of that, The End of the Tour is the book as restructured by screenwriter Donald Margulies, tweaked further by director James Ponsoldt, with an additional layer of interpretation by the two lead actors who are reciting the real-life dialogue. While the lines may be straight from Lipsky's book, there is a gulf between the real people and the page and the screen. Lipsky, even in just the book, points out an artifice of a subject and journalist in forced-interaction that occasionally feels like something genuine. He likens an exchange they have to something out of Louis Malle's My Dinner with Andre. (When not engaged in a kind of big brother/little brother semi-envious duel, Lipsky in the film generally plays Wallace Shawn to Wallace's sage-like Andre Gregory.) This series of divides from the real events to the film are less like photo copies of photo copies that become blurrier and blurrier with each subsequent version, but more like interpretations of interpretations that are distorted but perhaps share an amorphous-something in common from iteration to iteration. (This simile might be just be my charity for the film since I liked it.) Short version: real life and the film are a long way apart, and one is left to wonder if there's mostly capital-T Truth between the two or mostly capital-B Bullshit. There may be another layer to all of this that gets a bit more difficult. Anytime a writer writes about writers or writing, there's inevitably a little bit of the writer's own ideas about writing that wind up in there. So while the film is a recreation of conversations between two real writers, the way it's framed seems to allow Donald Margulies to write about his own ideas about writers to some degree. Lipsky gets to represent a type of male writer, Wallace another kind of male writer, and a dynamic of masculine opposition, jealousy, and respect emerges as these personas interact. Margulies introduces a fabricated moment of sexual competition between Wallace and Lipsky, and also a mute hostility or resentment leading into the last act. Both of these fictions play into a larger theme of control and writerly chess that was real in the text at a subtextual level, but mostly they're also just inventions to facilitate a dramatic arc. The moments of The End of the Tour I liked least were the parts that seemed too bent or overshaped, particularly in the framing narrative, which was dominated by certain kinds of writerly cliches (e.g, watching a writer type in a fit of inspiration). It may have been Ponsoldt and Margulies' ways of incorporating an idea from Lipsky's book regarding Wallace's death to lend this wandering conversation a path: "Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction." To that, while reading Although of Course..., I couldn't help but pause anytime Wallace brought up killing himself in passing, as if it were just some self-deprecating remark. I'm not sure The End of the Tour necessarily needed any explicit or neat emotional arc since these things rarely exist in real life. As a movie, The End of the Tour could have just done the My Dinner with Andre thing (or the Richard Linklater thing, if you prefer) and existed as this peripatetic meeting of minds on the road. And yet I liked some of the invented moments since they reminded me of other exchanges I've had with friends, or experiences with people I know, or trips I've been on, or that secret insecurity when talking with writers I admire who are way further in their careers than I am. Sometimes bullshit feels true even if it's not factual. (This might be a messy but succinct definition of Werner Herzog's "ecstatic truth.") Then again, like Kenny brought up earlier, this justification of invention might ultimately be self-serving. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Impossible to Encapsulate"They already feel as if they know you--which of course they don't." -- David Foster Wallace in Although of Course... by David Lipsky   Eisenberg's portrayal of David Lipsky hasn't gotten much flak, but that's because Lipsky's alive and not a major/mythologized persona in the literary world. (You don't read any essays that reduce his work to dick-wagging.) Lipsky's role, in the book and the film, is predominantly a vessel into the thoughts of David Foster Wallace. Segel's been widely praised for his performance as DFW, though I think Kenny's criticisms of his performance are worth noting since they highlight differences in perception, person, and persona between people: Physically, Segel's got Wallace all wrong too: bulky, lurching, elbowy, perpetually in clothes a half size too small. This, too, contradicts my own memory of Dave as a physically imposing but also very nearly lithe and graceful person. But as Segel's exuberantly horrible dancing at the end of the film practically blares in neon, this awkwardness represents Segel's conception of a Genius Who Was Just Too Pure And Holy For This World. Kenny also wrote that the David Foster Wallace of The End of the Tour is "for those people who cherish This Is Water as the new Wear Sunscreen: A Primer For Life." It's like Kenny's Lloyd Bentsen burn: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." This comes back to the idea of facets of people and the way The End of the Tour winds up being these layers of interpretation by different parties about a real person. As much as I like Segel in the film and think his performance is strong, it's not David Foster Wallace in the way that all portrayals of real people are not the real thing. Christopher Walken impersonations are generally caricatures of his start-stop vocal rhythm; all Michael Caine impressions are just people just saying, "My name's my cocaine." Segel can't possibly recreate all of the small facial expressions, body sways, or winces of David Foster Wallace, or even the same physiology, but he offers an impersonation suited to the film. (Good vs. good enough. Another writerly concern?) If Lipsky's a vessel into Wallace's thoughts, Segel's Wallace is an interpretation of a persona. People and their personas, while linked, aren't the same. So what to make of the propriety of The End of the Tour? Wallace died less than 10 years ago, and here's a movie that the estate was not involved with in which Wallace's death is a framing device. It's painful, and it may always be too soon for anyone who knew Wallace personally. The End of the Tour aims to be a tribute to a writer, as if that makes the pain more bearable, and yet the movie veers dangerously close to hagiography. David Foster Wallace, the film persona, embodies an idea of a good writer with a troubled soul, maybe too troubled to live in a fallen world. That might not be overstating it either given the way the movie concludes. My friend Leah Schnelbach of also liked the movie, but she rightly used the term "St. Dave" to describe some of the uncomfortable fawning over DFW when it's not offset by his depression and underlying sadness. Maybe tributes unintentionally and inartfully stumble into hagiography or near-hagiography as they try to make a final sincere statement about the subject. There's no neat wrap-up to these rambling thoughts on The End of the Tour, because even though I'd meant to write this a while ago, these ideas remain unresolved and half-formed. I still think it's generally a very good film about writers despite some of those weaker bits, but that might be because it's so rooted in the actual conversation of two writers. Even when they're not talking about writing, it sounds like writers talking. As for David Foster Wallace, the persona on film as portrayed by Jason Segel, he's just an interpretation of one part of the real David Foster Wallace during a particular point in his life.While many times removed from the real thing, this persona makes the actual man's absence more apparent.
The End of the Tour photo
The blend of truth, fiction, and reality
I really enjoyed James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour, which primarily covers the last days of David Foster Wallace's 1996 book tour for Infinite Jest. Wallace committed suicide in 2008 after his antidepressants proved no lon...

Screening photo

See Dope early and free

Washington DC and Baltimore screenings
Jun 11
// Matthew Razak
Dope came out of Sundance with a ton of good press, and when that happens it means the film is sure to be talked about around Oscar time so make sure you're in the loop. You can grab some passes to what folks are calling...
The End of the Tour photo
The End of the Tour

See Jason Segel's award-caliber performance in the trailer for The End of the Tour

Learn to love David Foster Wallace
May 28
// Hubert Vigilla
The End of the Tour was a major hit at Sundance, leading to rave reviews for stars Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel, who play real-life writers David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace, respectively. Based on Lipsky's 2010 non-fi...
Sundance Fave photo
Sundance Fave

First trailer for Diary of a Teenage Girl touts accolades

So much brown
May 26
// Matthew Razak
Diary of a Teenage Girl came tearing out of Sundance with a lot of buzz around it. It's an indie coming of age story so that makes a lot of sense since the festival eats that stuff up with a spoon. Judging from the trail...

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.
Jackrabbit review photo
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.”
Maggie Press Conference photo
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?
Two Night Stand Review photo
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...


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. 
Begin Again Review photo
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...


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...

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...

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.


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.


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...
Our Day Will Come clip photo
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...
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...


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.
Only Lovers Left Review photo
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
Zero Charisma Review photo
+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.]
Nebraska Review photo
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...


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...
Zero Charisma Trailer photo
Zero Charisma Trailer

Trailer for Zero Charisma has nerds and nerd accessories

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...

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.


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...

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...

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