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Every clip of Tom Cruise running in a movie, EVER

Oct 18
// Rick Lash
Maybe it’s a coincidence that Burger Fiction published this Tom Cruise running compilation a week befoe Jack Reacher: Never Go Back drops in theaters, maybe not. But I definitely got a targeted Reacher ad when I played ...
Brooklyn Drafthouse open photo
After an unfortunate and unexpected delay, the Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is finally set to open with a firm date in place. The drink and dine-in theater will start showing movies on Friday, October 28th, just in time f...

BHFF Review: The Master Cleanse

Oct 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220967:43149:0[/embed] The Master CleanseDirector: Bobby MillerRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD  During the 1980s there was a glut of creature movies, spurred mostly by the popularity of Gremlins. After that came movies like Ghoulies and Critters and Hobgoblins. The Master Cleanse is like a cousin to these films, a few times removed. In some ways this link to the creature features of the not-so-distant past is a detriment to the film, but we'll come back to that point later. Writer/director Bobby Miller embeds the creature feature elements within a movie about self-help and fad diets as a solution for existential problems. Paul (Johnny Galecki) is a classic schlub who's heartbroken and aimless and in search of direction. He decides to check out a mystery retreat in the woods to deal with his woes. He's attracted to a fellow retreatee, an actress named Maggie (Anna Friel). The two meet in an chintzy orientation meeting that reeks of bad multi-level marketing scams. In the woods, the participants agree to an all-liquid diet of specially formulated sludge that will help rid them of their problems. Miller and his cast relish the awkward humor of these moments, which also tap into an underlying first-world sadness. Who else but the lost and desperate would even try these sorts of things? How many bad weeks are we from being where these people are? It's such a clever set up to watch unfold, even with such a small cast. A lot of the credit goes to how invested the ensemble is in their characters and the premise. Galecki channels a mix of sympathy and patheticness perfect for his downtrodden everyschlub. As the creatures make their way into the narrative, I was charmed by the movie's use of practical effects. There's something pretty wondrous about the conceit Miller presents. The creatures and the characters are linked in an unexpected way, which adds some life to the puppets and the people we're watching. There's so much to work with and so much to like about The Master Cleanse, but it wraps up way too soon. That may be the narrative expectations I have from those creature features I mentioned before. As The Master Cleanse quickly winds down, it feels like it would have been the beginning of third act in another film--a point where the world expands. I wonder if the budget was an issue, or the desire to keep the film at a very brief 80 minutes, or maybe this was a conscious choice to keep the story very small. I could have spent another 15 to 20 minutes in the world of the film no problem; it almost feels like the emotional payoff would have been bigger with a little more time. There's so much potential, such a fine tone, so many other things I would have liked to see, and characters I would have liked to spend more time with. The Master Cleanse is a movie where vomiting and diarrhea are fetid versions of Chekhov's gun. I mean this as a high compliment--what other movie does this? So many questions about excretions. While The Master Cleanse falls short at the end--a good example of  a logical conclusion that isn't necessarily a satisfying one--there's enough in there to enjoy. It's almost like I went on the retreat and did the cleanse diet myself. I drank it all in and it's all out of my system. Gosh am I hungry.
The Master Cleanse Review photo
The small-scale creature feature
I'm curious how they're going to market The Master Cleanse. I went into the film knowing very little about it, and many of my favorite parts involve its little surprises. I hope those surprises aren't spoiled in the trailer. ...

BHFF Review: Child Eater

Oct 16 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220938:43148:0[/embed] Child EaterDirector: Erlingur Ottar ThoroddsenRating: TBDRelease Date:  TBD The Child Eater monster is a mix of familiar elements. The fingers and ears and baldness of Nosferatu's Count Orlok, the hulking menace of a Jason Vorhees, the coat a bit Candyman, the sunglasses like the ones worn by the Butterball cenobite from Hellraiser. (An eerie moment with feathers descending in the night also recalls a dream sequence in Hellraiser.) He's scary, and the local legend around him evokes the spooky stories spread around small towns that happen to have a notorious figure/incident in their past. Maybe a little too familiar is just plain too familiar. There's a babysitter in peril named Helen (Cai Bliss) whose dad is a sheriff. There's a cute but also creepy little boy she's looking after named Lucas (Colin Critchley). And then there's the monster. After a moody flashback sequence in the opening credits, the events unfold over the course of a single day and night. That becomes an issue considering wounds certain a certain character sustains; an hour or so later, this character runs around without acknowledging the injury. Come to think of it, where was that police backup two or three hours before? Oh, no matter. There's are some solid ideas and images to play with in Child Eater. The gore effects and the moody images are fine--a sequence with Lucas being chased in a makeshift network of tunnels is menacing for what it is--but maybe it's all just fine. There are a lot of familiar horror tropes thrown in that feel perfunctory. Helen's a capable final girl for a horror movie, but she feel more like an archetype than a distinct character. Like memorable movie monsters, unique final girls are hard to come by--not everyone is a Laurie Strode or a Nancy Thompson. What I really wanted from Child Eater was a moment when the film becomes its own beast. Rather than ticking off a checklist of tropes, I was hoping it would go in some wild and unexpected direction. Writer/director Erlingur Ottar Thoroddsen originally did a short film version of Child Eater that can be viewed online, and many of those elements are planted throughout the feature-length version of the story. As far as the original elements, the tunnels I mentioned earlier offered a possibility, and an eerie game of hide and seek was squandered before achieving maximum effect. A creepy side character played by Melinda Chilton also felt like a wasted opportunity for Child Eater to build out its own identity as a film. This isn't to say Child Eater is bad. Again, it's competent. It just needs more of a sense of individuality to stand out. Soup in need of salt; maybe a better stock, homemade and new.
Review: Child Eater photo
Meet new monster, same as old monster
Creating a new face of horror is difficult. For every Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers, there are countless forgettable imitators. These lower-tier boogeymen may look good, and their mythology may have promise, but they never...

NYFF Review: Elle

Oct 16 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220908:43150:0[/embed] ElleDirector: Paul VerhoevenRating: RRelease Date: November 11, 2016 (limited)Country: France  Elle starts with the rape, in media res. Verhoeven shoots the scene with surprising restraint. There's the noise of the assault off camera. Helen's pet cat looks on blankly. The rapist, dressed in black with a ski mask, stands and wipes blood from his hip and groin and then walks away. Helen tidies up around the kitchen and continues about her day in a daze. She's in shock, but it's subtle. A brief bubble bath scene is so artfully done and haunting. Helen's a bit angrier at her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) when he comes to visit than she would be otherwise. Vincent asks about the bruise on the side of her face. She says she fell off her bike. The rape goes unreported. When Helen finally mentions it to anyone, she waits for the most awkward moment possible to bring it up. She says what happened as if she lost a credit card. Is it a coping mechanism or is it just the movie playing provocateur? Elle aims for the uncomfortable laugh, and for a while it succeeds in doling out its cringe humor. At a certain point, it's just cringes. While dealing with horrible things in life, one hundred other genres may be occurring in the world simultaneously. A portion of the film plays like a thriller, with Helen narrowing down the suspects in her life while her attacker stalks and harasses her. As this thriller plays out, there's a family dramedy: Helen's jealous about her ex-husband's new girlfriend, annoyed by her son's screwed up relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, and can't stand her mother's new boyfriend either. Then there's the matter of her father and an infamous trauma in her past, one essential to Helen's character but never explored substantively in the story. Huppert's a saving grace for the film in that she plays everything so straight, even Helen's unexpected actions and reactions. Yet these are just actions in a performance, not necessarily actions stemming from a character. I could rarely get a handle on who Helen was or how she interpreted the world and the events around her. The rape is replayed explicitly in the film, and then played again as a kind of revenge fantasy. Later, Helen seems to invite victimization. There's a harrowing scene in which Helen seems turned on by the idea of the man she's with raping her, recreating the trauma that opened the film. Is she feeling pleasure? Is that pain and masochistic shame? Is it a mix of both, and if so, what then? Huppert wears an inscrutable mask before, during, and after the scene. The moment is never discussed afterward. I don't need on-screen psychoanalysis or to be handheld through a narrative, but I'd like to be given some hint of what Helen feels about what's happened. Elle avoids exploring the emotional impact of rape. Instead the film tries to offer Helen's detachment as some opaque and oblique portrait of her psychology, but even this amounts to a blank gray page. This is all extremely difficult and sensitive territory to explore, especially when Helen's motives are so ambiguous. Sure, there's never a single correct way for someone to respond to trauma, but rather than provide an alternative portrait of recovery or greater insight into this personality in flux, I felt as if Elle was simply pushing buttons and inverting the traditional rape-revenge narrative for the shock value. That's easier and less painful than really getting into someone's interior life after such a traumatic experience. The film's MO seems to be keep the focus on the inscrutable surface, and make it shocking. It doesn't help that Elle's perspective is male dominated; it's directed by Verhoeven from a script by David Birke, and adapted from a novel by Philippe Dijan. Am I watching a woman's experience as she struggles to retake power as all the men in her life rob her of agency? Or am I just watching a male interpretation of all this that indulges in a little bit of rape fantasy? This might all be up for audience interpretation, which makes me surprised that so many critics have written that the film is so empowering to women and makes bold statements. I don't think it says anything at all, or intends to empower anyone; it's just well-orchestrated provocation. No surprise that by the end of Elle, I was left feeling a sour and empty frustration. Helen is the head of a video game company, though this portion of Elle serves as a mild subtextual and metatextual backdrop. They're making a medieval action-adventure--think Warcraft by way of Assassin's Creed with really antiquated graphics. During a meeting, one of her designers--a man who may be the rapist--says that Helen's pretentious literary background has gotten in the way of the game's basic playability. I think Verhoeven's penchant for provocation might have gotten in the way of the fundamental human concerns of Elle.
NYFF Review: Elle photo
Provocative, but is it saying anything?
Elle has been billed as a rape-comedy, but that's a misnomer. It's a comedy in the classical sense given the events of the story, but it's not necessarily funny (there are funny scenes, though). And yes, it's about rape. Elle...

Review: The Accountant

Oct 14 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220965:43147:0[/embed] The AccountantDirector: Gavin O'ConnorRelease Date: October 14th, 2016Rating: R  The Accountant feels like a television pilot, an origin story with a little bit of Case of the Week madness thrown in. Ben Affleck plays the eponymous accountant, constantly creating new identities based on famous people who were interested in math (at the start of this story: Christian Wolff) and then discarding them whenever his situation becomes compromised. And why would it do that? Because he works for some of the most dangerous people in the world: terrorists, thieves, cartels, you know name it and he does their books. Key to his success is his autism, which causes a number of problems but also unlocks an incredible ability to solve puzzles and make connections. He can do the work of a half-dozen neurotypicals in half the time. And he always finishes what he starts. I can only think of one other action movie with an autistic star, which would be Thai film Chocolate, by Prachya Pinkaew. In that film, an autistic girl watches martial arts movies and becomes a master. I bring it up solely because I think you should see it, because The Accountant isn't really like it at all, though Mr. Wolff is a more-than-capable fighter. He was trained by his father, a military man, and the men that his father hired to make sure he could take care of himself. The flashbacks to his younger self, often at his worst, in the midst of meltdowns or other crises, demonstrate the difficulty of having a child with autism while also showing a fascinating sort of respect for what it can do. I'll admit that my experience with autism is fairly limited, but what I saw felt pretty right. On the whole, the film is trying to make a pretty clear point: Autism is not a disorder or an illness; it's just a different way of being. It's not worse or better, just its own thing. And credit where credit is due: That's awesome. How many times have we seen an autistic protagonist who can genuinely take care of themselves in a major motion picture? Have we ever seen that? I'm honestly curious, so someone please tell me if that's a thing. Certainly it wouldn't be something like The Accountant. No, The Accountant is different. I mentioned in the intro that this is a film with a genuinely strange structure, and what I mean by that is that the story itself comes out in bursts that feel sort of haphazardly placed. After big action sequences we'll end up with long stretches of exposition that totally kill whatever intense pacing the film may have been building up. There is a lengthy subplot involving a pair from the Treasury trying to track him down, and as that story develops, we learn a lot about J.K. Simmons' character. None of that really felt necessary, and it kind of bogs down the movie in its second half, but it also felt a little bit like, "Why not?" The characters in general feel like they're being introduced for something grander, and we'll learn more about them in future episodes. J.K. Simmons is set to retire, so this is probably the last we'll be seeing of him. It was his time in the spotlight. Next week, we'll learn more about someone else. And while we're getting a lot of character exposition about Affleck and Simmons, we're getting pretty much nothing about the actual story itself. So, blah blah blah someone is cooking books. Affleck finds out about it. People need to die. Etc. We learn about the motivations of the bad guy, but his actual place in the film is so minor (and ultimately inconsequential) that the film may as well have no story at all. You might think that one of Wolff's obviously dangerous clients is after him, but that isn't it at all. As far as the film is concerned, he has successfully stayed off the grid. No one knows where to find him, so he only has to worry about the people right in front of him.  Which means that we're probably in for a franchise, assuming The Accountant does well at the box office. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger or anything, and it doesn't need a sequel, but the character and his work is structured in such a way that it would be exceedingly easy to make one. You'd think that Affleck's got his hands full with the whole Batman thing, but I imagine the dramatic work involved in The Accountant is a bit more satisfying. It's possible that the action is too, because the movie actually has some pretty great fight scenes, ones that don't need a whole bunch of purdy CGI to be cool. (Think Batman v. Superman's warehouse fight, which is easily the best part of that movie (except it's okay when Batman kills people in this one).) And so I hope this does become a franchise, and I hope we get to see more of Anna Kendrick in fights, because in the one fight where she has a minor role, she's a total badass about it. I heard a guy complaining after the film that she didn't seem Damsel-in-Distress-y enough. And thank gosh; she's way more interesting that. And I have to give the film credit for that, too. It treats pretty much all of its characters with a certain amount of dignity; they are (well, most of them) more complex than I had expected, and that made some of those slow, exposition-heavy moments a lot more bearable than they could have been. There are many things about The Accountant that I genuinely loved and nothing that I really disliked. Sure, some of its issues, particularly around structure and pacing, are irritating. They keep The Accountant from being truly brilliant. But they don't keep it from greatness. Bring on The Accountant Chapter 2. 
The Accountant Review photo
Ben Affleck's John Wick
I remember seeing the first trailer for The Accountant a few months back and thinking, "That's a hilarious premise that looks like it could be terrible, but I bet it's going to be awesome." It seemed like the kind of bizarre ...

BHFF Review: We Are the Flesh

Oct 13 // Hubert Vigilla
TRAILER IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK (NSFW) [embed]220963:43146:0[/embed] We Are the Flesh (Tenemos le carne)Director: Emiliano Rocha MinterRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: Mexico  We Are the Flesh reminds me of early Clive Barker splatterpunk stories; one scene in thermal vision even recalls Barker's little-seen short film The Forbidden. There's also a hint of Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man, though it's shorn of the technological madness and kinetic stuff--this transgression is luridly organic. Maybe Tetsuo by way of Gaspar Noe, with occasional outbursts of hysterical excess straight out of Andrzej Zulawski (Possession). The film also has some moist, mucus-rich makeup effects that wouldn't be out of place in a Brian Yuzna movie (Society, From Beyond). This paragraph is either a warning or a recommendation--if you want blood, you got it. There's a man with a demonic smile (Noe Hernandez) who lives in an abandoned building. He gets high on homemade gasoline and gets off on solitude. A boy (Diego Gamaliel) and a girl (Maria Evoli), siblings, enter his building. They're desperately in search of food and shelter. The man lets them stay as long as they help him construct a claustrophobic landscape within the building. Think of something like a cave and a uterus complete with a pseudo birth canal; a psychoanalytic hellscape where the id can thrive. All the while, the man tries to coerce the boy and the girl to break social, sexual, and interpersonal taboos. Minter builds up dread through whispers and shouts as he mounts transgressions upon each other. There's incest, rape, murder, cannibalism, on-camera sex, and necrophilia, and even now I can't say what it all adds up to. We Are the Flesh may not add up to anything, to be honest. Even though Hernandez and Evoli give the film their all--Evoli in particular goes for psychotic broke--the movie may just be images and noise with the intent to shock. I think there's a political allegory about Mexico and poverty, that a lack of means reduces us to some base state of nature in which social mores no longer matter. But it's a bit of a guess. It might be a stretch. Sometimes extreme cinema is just extreme cinema, but I can't help but sense something more meaningful behind all of this given how repulsed yet affected I felt. When someone lets out a blood-curdling scream, there has to be a reason, right? Maybe? Or was it just the desire to scream? This struggle for meaning is probably an intentional provocation from Minter. When confronted with something shocking, I usually feel challenged to interpret it. Yet Minter evades overt meaning making. There seems to be 10 minutes missing from the final act of the 80-minute film. Several events take place off camera unexplained, and it leads to total narrative disorientation. We Are the Flesh was a feverish nightmare already, and then that skimpy dream logic breaks down completely. No order, not for this this movie. What Minter provides is a sustained sense of unease, however. That feeling remained with me even after a less than satisfying conclusion. Even if We Are the Flesh only prompts exasperation and disgust, it's such a strange trip into the abyss I want to send others down there into the dark who are willing. Minter, like or hate it, is a Mexican filmmaker to watch. I'm reminded of something Clive Barker said about movies once (paraphrased): I want to feel something, even if it's just disgust; better that than thinking, okay, let's go for a pizza. After We Are the Flesh, pizza was the last thing I wanted.
Review: We Are the Flesh photo
The ecstasy of pure id
Reviewing We Are the Flesh from writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter is tricky. On the one hand, it's a deeply flawed film aimed at a limited audience. It's transgressive in the extreme, sexually explicit bordering on pornog...

Rogue One Trailer photo
Gimme dat sweet Mads
The idea of getting a new Star Wars film every year might be overwhelming, but after checking out this final trailer for Rogue One, I don't think it's going to be a problem. With our best look at the film yet, I am completely...

BHFF Review: Let Her Out

Oct 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220939:43143:0[/embed] Let Her OutDirector: Cody CalahanRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: Canada Helen (Alanna LeVierge) never knew her mother personally, just what she did for a living. Her mom was a prostitute who worked out of a seedy motel. One night she's raped by a mysterious john. She commits suicide not long after that because she's become suddenly and supernaturally pregnant. Twenty-three years later, Helen gets into an accident that triggers the growth of a brain tumor. (It was in the parking lot of an ostensibly abandoned motel. Why was someone driving there?) Inside of that cluster of cells grows a long-dormant vestigial twin. The twin begins to take over, making Helen act like someone else entirely. The look and feel of Let Her Out are great, and sort of reminiscent of a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. On a couple of occasions I was reminded of Neon Demon. Like Refn's latest, the pinks are seductively warm, and the blues are chilly for contrast. Stephanie Copeland provides a sinister synthesizer score that nods to Cliff Martinez. Even as the film gets wobbly, director of photography Jeff Maher lenses each scene with care. Shaun Hunter and Carly Nicodemo offer up some fine special effects and practical makeup, particularly as the movie draws to a close. There are a few memorable moments that involve Helen's twin trying to get out, and it's gooey and gross and offers up some fine moments of body horror. But the look and feel of the film is just one half of the whole. That other half of Let Her Out--the story, characters, and performances--leave a lot to be desired. Helen abhors everything salacious in life; it reminds her of who her mother was, and that's the last thing she wants to be. At least I think that's the case. I never got to know Helen beyond some basics. What's more, her mother never plays a role outside of the introductory flashback, so any contrast between mother and daughter (and mother and daughters) has to be inferred. Helen's mom is just a nameless rape victim and suicide rather than an actual character--that's a major problem. While I'm on the subject of problematic things, the film's views on sex and sex work seem way too puritanical on top of that. Let Her Out pushes a virgin/whore dichotomy when it seems like the film's take on sexuality could have been far more layered. Playing with the sins of the mother and/or the repression of the daughter would have been interesting, and it would have added some needed psychological horror. Sadly the screenplay written by Adam Seybold lacks depth. The supporting cast isn't rendered all that well either. Helen's roommate Molly (Nina Kiri) and her scumbag boyfriend Ed (Adam Christie) are stock characters--Molly the self-absorbed theater person, Ed the self-absorbed dude-bro. One moment Molly is supportive, the next she chastises Helen for not showing up to a play. You'd think she'd take her roommate's brain tumor into account, but no, that was two or three scenes ago. Empathy has a short shelf life. Just a little more time and care with these characters, their situations, and their motivations could have made Let Her Out much better. It would have also given the actors more to work with, and might have led to performances that weren't so synthetic. For everything good, there's a missed opportunity, for every set-up, there's a missing pay off. In my gut I think the movie could have used another draft and, more importantly, a woman's insight. (The film's story was by Seybold and director Cody Calahan.) The subtext of Let Her Out is how Helen assumes different roles out of necessity or expectation; in the case of Helen and her absent mother, it's about being the exact opposite. Maybe with a woman's pass at the script, the more terrifying and unsettling film would have emerged like a parasitic twin and taken over.
Review: Let Her Out photo
The good half and the bad half
Feeling frustrated by a movie isn't unusual. The best/worst kind of frustration is when the hints of a better film are evident. It's like eating a meal and knowing just from flavor or texture what's missing--not enough salt, ...

NYFF Review: Toni Erdmann

Oct 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220911:43142:0[/embed] Toni ErdmannDirector: Maren AdeRating: RRelease Date: July 16, 2016 (Germany); December 25, 2016 (USA)Country: Germany/Austria I love Groucho Marx as a character, but I would never want someone like that as a father. In some ways, Toni Erdmann is what it would be like if Groucho Marx was Margaret Dumont's dad. Ines (Sandra Huller) is our girl Dumont. She's a high-level consultant working in Romania to negotiate an outsourcing deal. Like so many women in the business world, she needs to work twice as hard as her male counterparts, fighting the entrenched sexism of the workplace while out-politicking others in the office. She's always working and seems to get off on forceful shows of control. While trying to unwind at a day spa, she complains that her masseuse was too gentle. "I want to be roughed up," she smiles. Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is her dad Groucho. Rather than a painted mustache, Winfried's got a pair of ugly false teeth and a wig. It's not hard to see why Ines' mother divorced Winfried, or why Ines tries to avoid her dad. He imposes, he mocks, he's a bit of a chaos agent. The man can't take anything seriously. After his dog dies, Winfried spontaneously vacations in Romania to connect with his daughter, eventually adopting the persona of Toni Erdmann. The name sounds so serious and German (redundant?), but in English the name apparently translates into "Toni Meerkat". Ines is too ruthless and needs to lighten up, and her father is a potential catalyst for that change. Questions of value are pretty common in works about corporate life (i.e., human value vs. the bottom line), and these are often the weakest parts of Toni Erdmann because they're familiar in an obvious way. Perhaps Ade sensed this when sculpting the final edit; a character and a plot thread totally vanishes from the movie at a certain point. For a film that strays into unconventional territory, Ines' reconnection with the world of the common folk is expected. Toni isn't just her Groucho but her Drop Dead Fred. Ade even uses the common grammar of these contrasts between wealth and poverty in the globalized world: from Ines' office window, she can look over a Romanian hovel. When Toni Erdmann lets go, it's at its best. Huller plays so many of her scenes like she's at the verge of a breakdown. She's a great straightwoman, but there are moments of absurd release that hint at the person Ines was before she bought into the quest for status. There are different Ines facades for the different roles she has to play or the tasks thrust upon her, but rarely does she get to be herself. Winfried is a little more one-note on the surface since his solution for everything is a joke, but there are moments of vulnerability between father and daughter that suggest that jokes are all he has left. Connecting with someone emotionally can be painful and awkward, and humor is one way of circumventing those difficulties. If the only tool you have is a hammer, you wind up hammering everything. That goes for both father and daughter. A lot of what works in Toni Erdmann depends on what the audience brings to it, which might be the case of any movie about parents and children. The way we measure other families inevitably winds up being our own family experiences, which is what makes Toni Erdmann familiar in a surprising way. What is it about Ines that I see in myself, or Winfied in my own dad, or vice versa? Sometimes I look at these on-screen family relationships and see myself or people I know. Other times I see versions of characters. Families are weird like that, and when Toni Erdmann is at its weirdest, it's also its most heartfelt.
NYFF Review: Toni Erdmann photo
Estranged daughter, strange father
There's no way Toni Erdmann could ever live up to its hype. Reviews from Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival touted the German film as a 162-minute screwball comedy masterpiece, packed with high emotional stake...

NYCC: John Wick: Chapter Two takes place four days after the original

Oct 11 // Nick Valdez
If you were somehow worried the sequel wouldn't have the same amount of love as the original, there's no need to worry. One thing the panel highlighted was how much care was going into Chapter Two. Before the panel proper we were treated to a behind the scenes video showing off the film's stunt work (and a couple of the set pieces). Things I could skim from the video were another prominent car fight, and a bit more of that lobby and alleyway shootouts in the trailer. But the important fact is that each of these stunts is very real. Director Chad Stehelski emphasized the practicality of the effects and that each actor was put through the ringer in order for the film's action to feel as real as possible. Common even mentioned how this film is the most intense action he's been a part of (and after a look at his fight with Reeves, that's definitely an understatement). But the better part of the panel went into a good amount of juicy story details.  The best part of the first John Wick was the Continental Hotel, and it's making a return in the sequel. Ian McShane also noted how there's an Italian version of it and fighting through it leads to Wick killing "about 80 Italians." The specificity of the statement was a bit weird, but whatever it's all good. Keanu Reeves detailed the plot as such: When Wick first left the assassin world, he made a deal with someone in order to hide his existence completely (using the specific "blood oath" phrase). And as such, when returned to action he broke that oath and now someone is out to "cash in" on that deal. Not only does he have to deal with someone chasing him down, Reeves also teased a new mysterious organization called The High Table which may or may not be connected to the Continental. And the kicker? The sequel takes place just four days after the original film. John Wick gets no rest.  Other things of note are the new setting and new dog. The sequel is headed to Italy for stylish killing action, and director Stehelski couldn't confirm whether or not this new dog was going to be safe. It's a high point of contention for some people in the first one, but although he couldn't confirm whether or not the new dog was going to be safe he did say we'd like it. So, I'm sure this new doggo will be just fine. Maybe cutely falling asleep through everything or something.  That's all from Lionsgate's Power Rangers/John Wick: Chapter Two panel! The film releases next February and it's going to be a hell of a wait. 
John Wick 2 photo
More guns, more hotel, more...Italians?
Lionsgate had a weird, disjointed panel at New York Comic Con. With two properties that couldn't be more disparate.there wasn't a proper amount of hype or negativity. Thankfully after Power Rangers' lackluster showing, John W...

NYCC: Power Rangers might be both fun and boring

Oct 11 // Nick Valdez
First thing's first, we did get a few key bits of info that my fan brain was able to parse out. One thing the cast seemed to emphasize at the panel was the fact they had to do a lot of stunt work themselves, which is great (and what I wanted all along). RJ Cyler (Billy) had a pretty fun anecdote about how he learned how to do an "axe kick" from his stuntman. So this at least confirms that we'll be seeing them fight outside of suits, but if the trailer is anything to go by, these fights are most likely mixes of martial arts and superpowers. As for the Zords, we still didn't get a look at them as it seemed that the teaser trailer was really all that was ready to show off for now. It's a little lame but I get not wanting to release it all early.  My biggest concern going forward, however, is how well this cast will work together. At the panel they were telling stories of how much they bonded as a group, but their behavior told a different story. They seemed stiff around each other with no natural chemistry. In fact, the only ones happy to be there were the previously mentioned RJ Cyler and Becky G (Trini), who not only color coordinated their outfits but also are the only experienced actors in the teenage cast. It didn't help matters when the host clearly didn't understand what was going on, so there was no push for more stories of their time on set together. The last bit of new info is both director Dean Isrealite and Elizabeth Banks mentioned Goldar and the Putty Patrol. Not a hard confirmation, but it's good to know these characters will be back in some regard.  But since they thought the teaser was good enough to show twice, I might as well breakdown some things here. As I mentioned in that post, I'm a little torn. After spending some time away from it and the fan bubble, I've come to realize a few things. I'm not sure what I expected, but I totally forgot Lionsgate is the reason Young Adult books made so much money. The Hunger Games, Twilight, they all play a part here. While the opening logos promise a rainbow colored adventure (even spilling out into the first shot of the trailer with Jason and his red car,  and yellow, pink and blue bikes), the rest of the film gives way to the same grim color palette the rest of the Young Adult films have. But in a weird way, this totally works when stuff like the power coins are highlighted. While the overly dark lighting might get tiresome, maybe the colors will pop more. Sort of a silver lining situation. But that's pretty much where the positives end. I'm thinking this reboot, an origin story as the trailer confirms, is going to be both fun and boring. As evidenced by the Breakfast Club like setup (where a bunch of latchkey kids come together in detention, including a red ranger wearing a house arrest anklet), these kids are meeting other for the first time before bonding over becoming superheroes. While I don't like their Spider-Man esque powers (complete with the Tobey Macguire "look I have abs now" scene), I get it. Power Rangers has always been about regular people who get caught up in irregularity, and it's been done in the series proper, but this direction only works when the characters are defined well. If you remember, it took the original show sixteen episodes of team building before it could tell an actual story ("Green With Evil"). I'm also guessing that's why we've seen so little of the Ranger action as of yet. Which is a shame since that's what is going to separate the movie from all the other boring teen films.  The most grim prediction I can make regarding this tease is that we're only going to get about 15-20 minutes of them in the actual suits. At least the panel confirmed that the suits are physical (with CG enhancements, most likely), but I'm sure most of this origin is going to be spent getting to know these kids since the film doesn't have the luxury of getting 22 mins of air time every weekend. At least it looks like they'll free Rita when they nab the power coins. Since there's an image of her trapped in some kind of rock, I'm assuming it's the same the rock Billy blows up in the trailer. It'd be neat to connect Rita directly to the Rangers that way.  Overall, I am a bit disappointed with the way the NYCC panel went down. Once I took off my fan hat, and put on my critical one however, I did ease up. But not by much. As always, I remain highly skeptical. I don't like some of the changes to the story, but I do like some of the changes it brings (the fact Rita can say "kill" instead of "destroy" is a huger deal than we're making out of it). And it seems the trailer is doing a lot to grab non-fans of the series, which is always a huge plus. I just don't want to watch a series of movies I dislike, so I hope these can be good. Then again, since this could have been much worse I'll take what I can get.  Oh yeah, don't expect the Green Ranger anytime soon. 
Power Rangers NYCC photo
Goldar and the Puttys are a comin'
There was only one panel I was looking forward to during New York Comic this year, and it's been a long wait for it. On Saturday, Lionsgate held a dual panel featuring both Power Rangers and John Wick: Chapter Two. Suffice to...

NYFF Review: My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea

Oct 11 // Hubert Vigilla
My Entire High School Sinking Into the SeaDirector: Dash ShawRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD The set-up is at least sort of promising. An earthquake sends a high school on a hill by the ocean crashing down into the water. Students have to swim from floor to floor for air and survival, with a stratified class hierarchy--freshmen on the bottom and seniors on top. There's something questlike about it all, structured like a videogame with different kinds of levels--one sequence is even presented like a screen from the original Double Dragon, with characters throwing punches and jumpkicks with the same poses as Billy and Jimmy Lee.  But Shaw takes all of these potentially interesting ideas and dials them down to the same level of slacker disinterest. The voice actors deliver their lines in a uniform indifferent monotone, as if they've begrudgingly recorded their dialogue one afternoon and left. The jokes are never distinct from the asides or the exposition. Apart from the heroic Lorraine the Lunch Lady (voiced by Sarandon), everyone sounds interchangeable. None of the voices stand out, which makes the all-star indie cast seem like needless stunt casting for the indie cachet. Lots of the dialogue gets lost in the audio mix, with any hint of personality drowned in the repetitive, overbearing, wall-to-wall score. This is a 72-minute movie that just drones on and on. It doesn't help that the protagonist, Dash (Schwartzman), is the least interesting character in the entire film. He's a self-important high school journalist and stand-in for the real life Dash Shaw. Yes, how twee, this fictional story is supposed to be semi-autobiographical. Dash is the type of tepid lead who gets in the way of the more worthy supporting players. His fellow staff members on the newspaper, Assaf (Watts) and Verti (Rudolph), have a warmth to them as well as a burgeoning crush that would have been great to watch unfold front and center. Even Dunham's overachieving all-goodnik Mary could have been the compelling hub of the story--a class president go-getter in survival mode. But no, it's boring old Dash, the "ugh, that guy" sort of hipster dude. There are brief moments of beauty in My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, like the opening animation of Dash in silhouette running to class, or select flashbacks rendered with great care, or parts of the conclusion that have a zen-like quality. Most of it, though, looks like a hodgepodge of watercolor, acrylic, and magic marker, with a wonky, unrefined aesthetic. It simulates the stuff made while screwing around in a high school art class. The choice makes sense, but it's not always interesting to look at in full wobbly motion. It's animation with a sort of haphazard craft--art as marginalia rather than a point of focus, a creative assignment hastily put together the night before. I was particularly put off by the film's defensiveness. At points, Dash and Assaf brag about being great writers whose genius and talent no one will understand. That metatextual boast always irks me. I rarely feel that a creative work should gird itself against criticism so overtly, and in such an insecure manner. Especially in this case, in which there's so little at stake and so little offered. Why be so precious over an animated shrug?
NYFF Review photo
A shrugworthy mumblecore cartoon
There are so many possibilities in My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, the directorial debut of indie comics artist Dash Shaw. There's the image of an entire high school building adrift on the ocean and sinking. Think...

NYFF Review: The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

Oct 09 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220930:43141:0[/embed] The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait PhotographyDirector: Errol MorrisRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD "Nice" is such a loaded word. It's often equivocal, a sly insult hidden in a mild compliment rather than a genuine endorsement of character. Stephen Sondheim parsed the word in the musical Into the Woods, noting that nice and good are two different things. (The latter is always preferable to the former.) It's telling that Dorfman uses it as part of her self-description. She's so humble and self-effacing on camera. It's the sort of goodness that can be passed off as niceness and/or mistaken for mere shyness. I got the feeling that this is how she is off camera as well. Morris' adoration for Dorfman comes through in the way he comments on her work and chronicles her career. These warm feelings wouldn't be possible if he subjected his friend to the Interrotron. Dorfman initially seems more like a friend's mom or an aunt than an artist, as if these identities are mutually exclusive. That distinction is ridiculous. Dorfman was something of a fixture in the New York literary scene in the 1960s, taking photos of literary luminaries passing through the city. It's there that she started a lifelong friendship with poet Allen Ginsberg. She would take portraits of him and with him for the next few decades. She's wistful when she looks at Ginsberg's portraits, and while I wondered what she was thinking, I didn't feel like prying. It's not as if I could. The large Polaroids shared in The B-Side are a mix of famous people and everyday folks. In addition to Ginsberg, Dorfman has a few images of Modern Lovers frontman Jonathan Richman. Richman's earnest, wonkily cool/uncool music might be the proper sonic equivalent to Dorfman's portraiture and personality. The intimacy is palpable throughout The B-Side. Morris recreates the experience of hanging out with a good friend and looking at their body of work. If not looking through a portfolio, it's at least the experience of flipping through photo albums and mementos with a live commentary. This sounds merely nice, but there's more to it. Like the little details in a photo that bring it to life, there's an ineffable humane quality to The B-Side, and I think it has as much to do with Dorfman's personality as  her chosen medium. Polaroids are a "nice" format. There's a retro-chic about them, which explains their appeal--cooler than a disposable film camera--but they're impractical by today's standards. What's more, they're intended for common images and not the domain or typical format for high art. Dorfman is essentially offering a Polaroid photobooth experience (photobooths = nice), but she magnifies the internal life in her images. In her own self-portraits, there's an overwhelming domesticity, but her hand-written captions are revealing in the way that diaries and journals are revealing. The portraits themselves are art in plenty of ways: in how they play with expectations, in the way they hint at some story or feeling beneath the surface, in the way their material (Polaroid film) made me rethink the common uses of the material. When the meaning of the film's title is explained, the whole collection Dorfman's shared gains new and endearing meaning. There's something so likable about this nice Jewish girl who's been doing this since the 1970s. There's something charming about these imperfect images in this mostly dead format. There's something so delightful about The B-Side. It's not Morris' best film in terms of scope or depth, but it's also not just nice. I think The B-Side is Morris' most generous movie, and it's generous in a way that only friends can be to one another.
Review: The B-Side photo
There's something about Elsa
The B-Side is an atypical Errol Morris documentary. He doesn't use the Interrotron at all, his tool that allows interviewees to stare directly into the camera. Instead, the camera's just off to the side. The score is delicate...

Iron Fist photo
Fisting all over the place
When Marvel announced their series of shows that would eventually lead up to a Defenders show the biggest question mark was definitely Iron Fist. Since then Netflix and Marvel have been pretty open with the other series,...

The Defenders photo
The Defenders

Sigourney Weaver to play villain in The Defenders

Yea, that got the crowd excited
Oct 08
// Matthew Razak
As a final surprise at NYCC it was announced that Sigourney Weaver would be joining the cast of The Defenders as the villain. She came out on stage and everyone went pretty damn crazy. No word on who she will be playing, but it's a pretty massive pull.  We'll bring you more as it unravels. 
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"Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back!"
John Wick was one of the biggest surprises of 2014. What looked like a B movie starring Keanu Reeves turned out to be one of the most confident and competent action films of the last few years. Flixist as a whole has been loo...

NYFF Review: Manchester by the Sea

Oct 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220919:43136:0[/embed] Manchester by the SeaDirector: Kenneth LonerganRating: RRelease Date:  November 18, 2016 (limited) Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a handyman who lives in a small room in Boston. He's prickly and withdrawn, a brooding guy who spends a lot of time alone. When his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passes away, Lee reluctantly returns to his hometown to help settle affairs with Joe's teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Whenever Lee's name is mentioned, people around town perk up. They're surprised, shocked, that Lee Chandler, the Lee Chandler, is back. He's got a reputation for something. There's a reason he's avoided home. Affleck's troubled quiet is remarkable to watch. It's a nuanced performance built around restraint. I found myself wondering throughout the film what moments would cause his stoic facade to collapse. There's such an immense heartbreak and guilt in him, which is clear even before his past is revealed, yet he doesn't want to share his emotional and psychological burden with anyone else. As penitent as he is, an intimate human connection would hurt even more. He'd rather get drunk and get beat up. Lonergan drops several telling flashbacks, and he finds elegant ways to loop the past into the present and then out again. It adds dimension to Lee, and Affleck is superb at playing the same man in different keys. Michelle Williams plays Lee's ex-wife Randi, whose character is similarly constrained by her emotions. She wants to speak about their history together, but doing that may be more painful than staying bottled up. A phone call early in the film captures the tense awkwardness of two people who want to say more, say everything, but can't bring themselves to say much of anything. Williams has always been an excellent and underrated actress, and part of me wanted more of her in the film. It would be a different sort of movie. Manchester by the Sea is more about Lee and to a certain extent his nephew Patrick and the shortcomings of masculine tropes when it comes to raw emotional life. On the one hand the male-dominated story feels like a missed opportunity, but maybe it also emphasizes Lee and Patrick's solitude. With regard to family, this man and this boy are all that's left in each other's lives. The restraint in the lives of the characters may explain why I responded so much to the emotional highs and lows of Manchester by the Sea. It's the catharsis for the audience that the characters can't give themselves. All of the funny and sad material gives an alternately absurd and humane texture to these lives. Even the material that doesn't seem like it fits in a streamlined narrative--such as an unexpected but perfect cameo appearance, or Patrick's teenage horndog shtick--enrich the sad, beautiful whole. Admittedly this seismographic portrait of people's lives doesn't work for everyone. I had a pretty spirited back-and-forth with my friend and fellow film critic Nathanael Hood, and he was lukewarm on the film's jagged contours. Lonergan finds quiet and stillness amid mood swings, and also offers the actors ample room to emote or withhold. Chicken falls from the freezer and a person finally breaks down; someone offers a small tip for service and the other person doesn't know how to interpret that sort of kindness. I laughed, I cried, and I laughed. Yet I ultimately realize that all the funny moments of are punctuated by an unremitting sadness. Lee is comically bad at small talk and social gatherings, but the reasons for it, like so much about Manchester by the Sea, are so personal and painful.
Manchester by the Sea photo
Life is heartbreaking, and funny, too
Watching Manchester by the Sea, I was reminded of two lines from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch: "I cry, because I will laugh if I don't" and "I laugh, because I will cry if I don't". Kenneth Lonergan's latest film is ...

Power Rangers photo
After 10,000 years...
So it's a bit earlier than planned and it's definitely taken the wind out of my sails in more ways than one. But here's the first Power Rangers reboot trailer. I'm not sure what to think. At first watch, it's pretty generic b...

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NYCC: Underwold: Blood Wars gets its first trailer

Vampires and things
Oct 07
// Matthew Razak
The first film in the Sony panel was Underworld: The Blood Wars. There was some discussion on the movie itself, but it was mostly just banter about how sexy everyone was, which is admitedly true. No spoilers or plot points were really dropped, but this trailer was. It looks a lot like an Underworld movie full of blue, leather and dead mythic creatures. Check it out.   
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Resident Evil

NYCC: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter really is the final chapter

... or not
Oct 07
// Matthew Razak
One of the bigger spots for NYCC was the upcoming Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Somehow this franchise has survived and brought us kicking and screaming with it through the ups and downs. We've seen the first trailer, but...
Apparition Popup Art Show photo
Apparition Popup Art Show

NYC: Check out Apparition Popup Art Show on Saturday 10/8 (Brooklyn Horror Film Festival)

Art and free alcohol--the horror!
Oct 07
// Hubert Vigilla
While the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival gets underway next week, there's a launch event at Catland Books on Saturday, October 8th starting at 6:00pm. The event is free to the public, and there will be free drinks. Art, free a...
Class photo

NYCC: First look at Doctor Who spin-off Class (Updated)

Class looks kind of awesome
Oct 07
// Matthew Razak
Updated: The teaser is now here. Class has had Doctor Who fans going a little crazy. Is it going to be too kiddy or too weird or too whatever. At NYCC we got the first look at an extended trailer that had a lot of the D...
Brooklyn Horror Film Fest photo
The inaugural horror fest in Brooklyn
The inaugural Brooklyn Horror Film Festival starts next Friday, October 14th. The BHFF will screen more than a dozen features and 25 shorts, with additional events going on through the weekend, including Grady Hendrix's one-m...

NYCC: War of the Planet of the Apes is going to be dark

Oct 06 // Matthew Razak
At the event Reeves, Serkis and the series' producer Dylan Clark talked a bit about the making of the new film (and the previous two) while showing off the first teaser and a seven minute, unfinished clip. The basic theme for the night though was that War is really big in every way possible. First it's a war so it's a much bigger film than the previous two in terms of scope, but more importantly for Reeves and Serkis it's bigger in emotional power.  "“It has been the most psychologically intense and physically challenging part of this arc," Serkis said. That's probably because Serkis' character, Caesar, is going to go through some tough stuff this time around. The movie picks up two years after the last film and Caesar is steadily becoming more and more jaded thanks to the war with the humans and his guilt over not being able to stop it from starting. The filmmakers likened him to a much more vengeful Dirty Harry -- a but more action and violent oriented.  In the clip we saw he and a few other apes from the past films come upon a house where they encounter a man. Caesar shoots the man after he attempts to pull a gun on them, but then finds out that he was simply a father trying to defend his daughter. Unlike in the previous films Casesar's empathy is fading as he goes on a suicidal quest to kill off Woody Harrelson's character.  It was actually really interesting seeing the unfinished product as animation moved in and out of the shots and the actors, in their dots and motion capture suit, popped in. A major focus of the event was applauding the performance of the mocap actors, especially Serkis. The mention of academy award nominations was once again brought up, but the reality of that happening is pretty slim still... even if it should.  Finally, we saw a teaser for the film. Oddly, after all three men spoke most of the event about how the movie was more emotional and about the apes not the humans the first teaser trailer was focused on the action and the humans. We saw a group of soldiers hunting in a cave before being taken out by Caesar and some other apes. Then a monologue  by Harrelson's character played over the rest of the film as apes and humans clashed. The end result is a trailer that plays up the action and battle and not the humanity. Hopefully the film itself is more like the event and less like the trailer. 
Planet of the Apes photo
Also there will be war
The Planet of the Apes franchise took an interesting turn when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes came out: it got really good. Like, really, really good. Director Matt Reeves somehow turned a stale franchise into an emotion...

NYCC 2016 photo
Cons bring all the nerds to the yard
Like every other year before, New York Comic Con is underway and Flixist is there to check it out for you. We're doing a little better this year since we already have a bigger crew, and we've got some cool stuff lined up for ...

Review: Under the Shadow

Oct 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220388:42856:0[/embed] Under the Shadow (زیر سایه)Director: Babak AnvariRating: PG-13Release Date: October 7, 2016 (limited)Country: Iran  It's easy to spot shadows everywhere in Anvari's film given the nature of the beast. Set in 1980s Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War, there are frequent air raid sirens and the threat of missiles coming down on civilian targets at any moment. Anvari sets up a particularly memorable tableau of an unexploded missile that's come through an apartment ceiling. An elderly man lies prone on the ground as if pinned there beneath the shell; the pointed nose seems to have pierced him through the heart. Our hero Shideh (Narges Rashidi) lives in the apartment below, and that particular attack has left her ceiling a mess of cracks. For the characters who live in the building, their meager defense against being blown to pieces involves taping their windows and waiting in the basement for the terror to pass. There's more than the threat of bombs. Under the Shadow opens with Shideh getting kicked out of medical school because of her activism during the Iranian revolution. She's maintained a defiantly western mentality even after the Shah was exiled. Shideh rarely wears a hijab or chador (traditional headscarf and cloak, respectively), and she owns a VCR--a Jane Fonda aerobic workout is a form of dissent. When her husband is called away to the frontlines, Shideh is left alone to look after their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). The rest of the building seems to be fleeing, and there's talk of djinn, an ancient evil of legend, riding on the wind. Anvari gets a lot of thematic mileage out of the chador and masking tape on windows. Ana Lilly Amirpour, writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, said that wearing a chador felt very bat-like to her, which helped inspire her chic vampire film (sort of like the Persian-language cousin of Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive). For Shideh in Under the Shadow, the chador is a stifling metaphor: an invisible specter delineated in a sheet, a manifestation of Iran's political oppression, the symbol of a gender role she's disavowed. These things cannot be kept out by putting masking tape on windows. At various times in the film, the tape is peeling away. Anvari was born in Iran and lived there 17 years, but is now based in the UK. While he's sometimes distanced himself from the film's politics to emphasize the personal story between Shideh and Dorsa, it's hard for me to view Under the Shadow apolitically. It's a political movie because Shideh's a politically involved hero. Even if it's not always front and center, her actions speak to her politics. Shideh's struggles to keep the bombs and the djinn out aren't just for her own dignity but for Dorsa's future. Dorsa's little doll goes missing amid the chaos, and by extension we're left to wonder what future Dorsa's daughter might face if they were to remain in Iran. (Under the Shadow was shot in Jordan given numerous government restrictions/requirements when making films in Iran.) I'll admit I didn't find much of Under the Shadow scary, but I rarely find horror movies scary. It's eerie, however, and well-crafted. Most times I appreciate a horror movie for being memorable more than being scary. Rashidi is a solid emotional anchor for the film. Manshadi's not given as much to do acting-wise, but that says more about the nature of Dorsa as a character, who's a little one-note adorable. Rashidi plays Shideh with that exasperated air of a parent pushed to her limit, a woman who cares for her daughter so much yet can't help but feel she's also failing her in some way. It might be the all the other worries of country and career that makes her feel this way, pressing down more and more. The cracks begin to show, and they grow bigger, and it's always getting darker.
Review: Under the Shadow photo
Darkness, darkness everywhere
Some of the most notable indie horror movies of the last few years have been by women or about women. For example, see Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, and Robert Eggers' The Witch. Each ...


Marvel's Iron Fist series drops in March

Luke Cage who?
Oct 05
// Matt Liparota
Netflix's Luke Cage series has been out for six whole days already. That means the bulletproof man is old news – we've seen his trick already, and we're ready for the new stuff. Marvel knows we've got all the attention ...

Review: American Honey

Oct 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220902:43130:0[/embed] American HoneyDirector: Andrea ArnoldRelease Date: October 7, 2016 Rating: NR  In 2013, at the New York Film Festival press screening of Claire Denis’s Bastards, a film critic (I don’t know who it was) asked a painfully stupid question, something to the effect of, “When I am watching the film, I think of the camera like an eye. And I want to know whose eye am I seeing this film through?” Denis also thought this was a stupid question and told the audience so. In that moment, I appreciated her candor. (I appreciated it less when we had a painfully awkward interview just a couple days later, where I opened with “I liked [insert film of hers here],” and she just said “Why?” (It only got worse from there.)) But I bring this up because, while I don’t believe that a camera has to be anyone’s eye, in American Honey, it is rather explicitly. This is a film about Sasha Lane’s (spectacular turn as) Star; it is her Instagram. She leaves an extremely disturbing home life and joins a bunch of societal rejects who drive around the country and sell magazines. It’s a simple narrative, one where nothing happens except for everything. It's told with all the complexity you would hope, everything required to capture a life. And the film works hard to capture Star’s specifically: the camera almost never leaves her side. We witness the events of the film pretty much the same way she does. When she (and by extension we) first sees Shia LaBeouf’s Jake, it’s from a distance. When we see him again, the two closer, but it’s still from Star’s perspective and not the film’s (whatever that means). We don’t cut to a closeup of his antics at the grocery store (set to Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s “We Found Love,” just one of a number of excellent musical cues that seem well outside the budget range for this film but somehow (very happily) make it in). You might expect his face doesn’t fill the frame as he looks at her in that way that only Shia LaBeouf can, to get that little moment to make you swoon. But we don’t get that. We see him as Star does, from where she does. This serves to make a film that is intensely personal, despite being in large part an ensemble piece. American Honey is about Star, but it’s also about the kind of people who Star would align herself to. And this, in part, serves to further develop Star as a character. Her interactions with the outside world say a whole lot about her, but the moments with the ragtag group of misfits in the van say even more. Even sitting in silence, we understand her. It’s a beautiful thing. I have no doubt that there is a cut of American Honey that is at least 11 hours long. It’s just that kind of movie. So much time is spent with the ragtag group of misfits sitting in a van, singing and talking and drinking and just existing. I said that they serve to expand on Star’s character, but let’s be clear: Each member of the group their own little backstory, and even if we don’t get much of it, each character was clearly defined. We may not know much about them, but we get a feeling for who they are on a fundamental level. You don’t always need words to express it, and the film embraces that. Even in their relatively small amounts of screentime, we got a whole bunch of People. Wikipedia tells me that most of the cast was just found around the place, so it’s entirely plausible that most of them aren’t playing characters at all. They’re just being themselves for the camera. And maybe that’s not the case, but it doesn’t matter. Each feels lived-in, and it feels like each could have been the star of (at the very least) their own short. It also feels like the proverbial cutting room floor of the film is probably so littered with character moments that someone could make short films about each and everyone else. If American Honey has a failing, it’s that it has a 2:43 runtime in an era where people claim to not have the attention span for two-thirds that length. I’d fully believe that none of the characters in American Honey would even give American Honey a chance because of its length. (I know that if I hadn’t heard so many great things about it, I probably would have skipped it myself.) But I had a sort of surprising reaction to the length: I checked my watch about an hour in and then never again – usually it’s quite the opposite. It’s not that the first hour is boring, but I was keenly aware of just how long it was going to be during that time. Around the hour mark, I settled into the rhythm of the film. It’s on a very particular wavelength, and if you can’t get into it, then you’re probably going to suffer for those 163 minutes. But if it grabs you, and it certainly grabbed me, then you’ll feel like you’re vicariously living as part of these peoples’ lives. I would never do what Star did or does, nor am I anything like any of the people in that van, but I am pretty damn sure I’d follow each and every one of them on Instagram.
American Honey Review photo
The social network
American Honey is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, where the image is approximately 1.33 times wider than it is tall. Movies looked like that a long time ago; TV looked like that much more recently. Neither looks like that anymore...

NYFF Review: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Oct 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220905:43129:0[/embed] Abacus: Small Enough to JailDirector: Steve JamesRelease Date: TBDRating: TBD  Thomas Sung seems like a model for the Asian-American immigrant experience. He helped found the Abacus Federal Savings Bank in Chinatown during the 80s to serve the local community. He knows his customers, he does right by them, and the bank has given his kids opportunities for success. His two eldest daughters, Vera and Jill, help run the bank and will eventually take over. Here's a healthy slice of promising Americana served in Chinatown. But then, Murphy's Law: a handful of Abacus employees commit loan fraud, and then the housing crisis strikes, and then the great recession. Rather than go after Chase, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office throws the book at Abacus. Even though Abacus cooperated fully with authorities for a loan fraud investigation and did everything ethically and by the books in the aftermath, they were considered easy prey. At the beginning of the documentary, Thomas and his wife, Hwei Lin, are watching Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. James returns to that yuletide staple again and again, finding parallels between George Bailey's savings and loan and the Thomas Sung's Abacus. Similarly, the Sungs come across as Capraesque heroes--the set-upon optimists, the embattled idealists, everymen and everywomen always trying. This might be why the film doesn't feel like most other Frontline documentaries. Abacus is in many ways a character-driven film. I feel odd thinking about real people in documentaries as characters, but the Sung family is comprised of memorable personalities. James films them alone and in conversation with one another. The interactions can get nervy and uncomfortable, but they're all well-picked given how well they reveal the family dynamic. James offers another compelling thread in his exploration NYC's Chinese community. Chinatown residents (Abacus' primary clientele) tend to be tight-knit and insular, which goes back to the formation of family-based support groups. The representatives from the DA's office interviewed in the film are baffled by what goes on there. Jurors on the case similarly don't understand how Chinatown operates. I worried that this confusion from non-Chinese people would affect the case. There's such a fascinating contradiction at play. The closeness of the Chinese community gives them a collective strength that they wouldn't have otherwise as a minority group, but the foreign nature of these cultural practices and their minority status make the residents of Chinatown more vulnerable. I mentioned that a sense of Capraesque optimism pervades the film, and yet I couldn't help but read a larger brand of pessimism into the proceedings. The little guy can always get picked on. While it's nice to see the little guy fight, there's a knowledge that this won't be the last time it happens. What about the major banks, who really should have been held accountable somehow for what they've done? But the world isn't so kind to those that are easily trampled. And yet. This reminds me of one the great lines about disillusionment in film: "Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown."
NYFF Review: Abacus photo
Mr. Capra Goes to Chinatown
Steve James may be incapable of directing a bad documentary. His films includes Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters, and Life Itself. With Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, James continues his record as one of America's most relia...

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