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Review: Ratchet & Clank

Apr 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220548:42938:0[/embed] Ratchet & ClankDirectors: Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe Rated: PGRelease Date: April 29, 2016 There's nothing really wrong with Ratchet & Clank. It's a perfectly standard set up that pulls from all your other favorite science-fiction classics. Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a Lombax mechanic on a remote desert planet who dreams of being like his hero, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), but when tryouts for Qwark's team of heroes roll around he's laughed out of the building by the man himself. Luckily for him Clank (David Kaye) has just escaped from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), who have a dastardly plan to blow up some planets and make a new one. Due to a crash landing Clank meets Ratchet, the two become friends and adventure ensues all culminating in that oh-so traditional children's film lesson that you can be whatever you want with the support of friends and a wide array of weaponry. There is not really much more to it. You can insert almost every standard joke you've come to expect from tongue-in-cheek children's films and then add a few references to the game. They actually really under utilize the latter. For a game that's known for its funky and fun weapons the movie barely plays around with them. There is the expected montage of weapon use, but from there on out most of the action could rely on the basic blaster. Maybe that's a super meta commentary the directors had about the game's gameplay, but I seriously doubt it. That's not the only opportunity missed. One of the mainstays of the games (or the first two at least) was the great dynamic between the excitable Ratchet and the reserved Clank. The film barely touches this. We have to be introduced to the characters separately, of course, but once they're together the action keeps tearing them apart. Their dynamic is sidelined in favor of more Captain Qwark and the Galactic Rangers. This isn't all bad as Qwark has some of the funniest lines, but you still feel like the movie is more about Ratchet on his own than his friendship with Clank.  However, judging a movie for what it is not, especially a children's movie, is a bit unfair. Ratchet & Clank does move along at a perfectly good clip and the plot holes are all within acceptable range for the target audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sight gags, which kids will most likely love, and the screenplay puts in enough jokes to keep any parent relatively entertained even if you've heard almost every one before. This isn't a movie that's out to top Pixar, but it will stand with your more basic Dreamworks animations any day.  The animation itself is good too, though nothing stellar. Having just come off the revolutionary The Jungle Book my eye might be a bit jaded, but just as there's nothing that will wow you in terms of animation there's also nothing that's going to put you off. It's just middle of the road throughout as with the rest of the film.  That goes for the voice acting as well, which was very clearly taken more seriously by some. The filmmakers brought in the game's voices for Ratchet, Clank and Captain Qwark and it shows. The actors' performances stand out among phoned in turns from the "name" actors, especially John Goodman who sounds like he wasn't quite sure what movie he was reading for the entire time. Thankfully those roles are smaller in scale and never bad enough to break the film, just to keep it at its constant level of acceptability.  No one was really expecting stellar things out of Ratchet & Clank and if you go in with that mindset you're going to come out having definitely seen a movie that fit it. I can't see hardcore fans of the franchise coming out of the film upset in any way because the movie is so inoffensive. I can't see anyone really coming out of the theater too excited except for a five-year-old wanting a pet lombax... and then having his dreams crushed when he finds out they don't exist.
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Clanking along
Ratchet & Clank is the epitome of a film that doesn't do anything wrong, but that doesn't make it right. I suppose I should start by saying that I have not kept up with the games this movie is based on. I played the ...

The new Lara Croft photo
Another Oscar winner as Lara Croft
Alicia Vikander has been cast as the new Lara Croft for the Tomb Raider reboot, which starts a fine tradition of casting Academy Award winners in the role. Angelina Jolie won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Girl, Interrup...

Review: The Family Fang

Apr 28 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220426:42899:0[/embed] The Family FangDirector: Jason BatemanRating: RRelease Date: April 29, 2016 (limited); May 6, 2016 (wide, VOD) Caleb and Camille Fang are a pair of performance artists who used their two children to stage happenings around town. In the opening scene, the Fangs enter a bank, stage a lollipop robbery, and then have a shootout. The fake blood is sweet. It's an absurd flashback as seen through an Instagram filter, but it offers and idea of the Fang family's artistic MO, which is the MO of most performance art: to disrupt the regular flow of life, to make others pay attention, to cause a scene, which itself is a singular artistic act. Decades later, Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman) is a dysfunctional actress while her brother Buster (Jason Bateman, who also directed the film) is a dysfunctional writer. He suffers a potato gun injury while out on assignment, which makes the dysfunctional Fang parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett) offer to drive their son home. The children want to live their adult lives, the parents want to force their children to make disruptive art. Dysfunction ensues. After a nasty fight, Caleb and Camille leave their children. Their car is found on the side of the road with evidence of a violent abduction, which leaves Annie and Buster wondering if this is just another art-prank of if their parents are really in danger. There's so much possibility with set-up and the cast, so perhaps the ultimate disappointment is that The Family Fang feels so toothless. I haven't read the Kevin Wilson's acclaimed novel the film is based on, but I suspect there's something lost between text and screen. Every now and then, Bateman cuts to a documentary about the Fang parents and the art they created. They're important cult figures in the art world (think Chris Burden and Marina Abramovic), yet they've failed to create anything meaningful since their children left home. What's more, their art has an ugly domineering aspect to it, and they're oblivious to the ways they've hurt their children in selfish pursuit of their own interests. Art has consequences, and I sense that kind of conversation is easier to explore in text rather than on film. Debate can be carried on in every line and with periodic asides, yet in the film version of The Family Fang, that idea seems to be explored only out of obligation to the theme rather than full interest. There's also a tidiness to The Family Fang that's disappointingly pat. This is a story about people who are hurt and who hurt others because of it (themselves, most often), yet David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay keeps the edges of the characters clean rather than jagged and more complicated. The mystery element is compelling enough to follow the story to its end, but the film never fully inhabits moments that should be more painful and honest. Consequently there's no catharsis or emotional release even though there are gestures made at both. If unhappy families are supposed to be unhappy in their own way, it's because of how richly the characters are rendered. In The Family Fang, I still felt like these were character types in a dysfunctional family movie rather than actual people dealing with a dysfunctional upbringing. The Fang MO is to make others wake up, yet the Fangs themselves emotionally sleepwalk through this trying time in their lives. Which is a shame since Kidman seems engaged yet relaxed in her character, enough that her accent occasionally slips--I can accept that as an Annie Fang artistic affectation. Walken is also good as Caleb Fang, though he never gets a chance to really let go. Ditto Plunkett, who's underused Camille Fang hints at a much deeper internal life than what shows up on screen. The same is true of Buster, the deadpan screw-up writer (all screw-up writers are alike, by the way). You sense that the Fang family members are each on the verge of some breakthrough, but, like the film, it never comes in a satisfying way.
Review: The Family Fang photo
The aesthetics of family dysfunction
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way... well, unless you're an unhappy family in a movie, in which case you're pretty much alike. Distant/absent parents. A dictatorial patriarch. A stran...

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'Batman: The Killing Joke' Trailer Released, Rated-R


Apr 28
// Rick Lash
The trailer for Batman: The Killing Joke has been released and set the stage for a true-to-graphic-novel adaptation. This is the first time a DC Comics movie will be R-rated a fact which is actually not attributable...
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Netflix

Netflix announces Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later


Do we all have our act together?
Apr 27
// Matthew Razak
Netflix brought back Wet Hot American Summer last year and it was pretty glorious. Evidently it was pretty glorious for them too as they've just announced a sequel... or is it a second season? I'm not sure. It's either t...
Sherlock Holmes photo
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes 3 gets screenwriter


Remember this is still a thing?
Apr 26
// Matthew Razak
The two Robert Downey Jr. Led Sherlock Holmes movies made a crap ton of money and, in all fairness, were a descent amount of fun. You'd think in this sequel hungry world that means we'd see another one as quick as possible, b...

Tribeca Review: Rebirth

Apr 26 // Nick Valdez
RebirthDirector: Karl MuellerRating: NRRelease Date: April 17, 2016 (limited) Rebirth stars Fran Kranz as Kyle, a husband and father who's lives a well off life. But he's been a bit unfulfilled lately as his college dreams have been pushed aside in favor of his family and a boring desk job. When his old college buddy Zack (Adam Goldberg) invites him to a retreat for a weekend, and won't stop talking about how great this "Rebirth" seminar is, Kyle decides to go for it. But Kyle soon realizes that "Rebirth" might be a more twisted program then they initially let on. Despite their mantra of "You're free to leave whenever you want" escaping the seminar proves tough.  Rebirth is a Netflix Original production and the choices within reflect that. It's full of these quirky little details that releasing on streaming services would help it get away with. The film is open to to risks and, more often than not, those risks pay off. Unfortunately, the entertainment is too reliant on those little quirks to succeed. The film is fairly predictable and you can pretty much guess how it's going to get from point A to B, and because of this, the little detours every now and again are that much more interesting. They're often non-sequiturs, so as to not derail the main plot, so these little jokes feel more refreshing. For example, Kyle ends going through several different types of seminar rooms during his escape attempt. Each room has its own theme with the ultimate goal of keeping Kyle around, so the film spends time with each room and plays around with how they'd try and brainwash Kyle. Each of these moments are inconsequential, but fun.  These little touches may not be needed, but they help elevate the rest of the film. It's dark blend of humor and chills turns out to be the perfect take on its premise. And its loose structure of stumbling on room after room, along with Kranz's key performance, amplifies the plot's inherent frustration. You'll start feeling frustration as Kyle continues to fail and seeing how goofy some of the rooms and Rebirth's denizens are will only make you angrier. So while they're inconsequential to the plot, it helps the film's overall vibe and tension. What also helps is just how game everyone is with the film. Each actor turns in a kooky performance as the know exactly what kind of film Rebirth wants to be.  I love Adam Goldberg, and it's always a pleasure to see him pop up in a project. He's slightly underutilized here, but seeing as he steals every scene he's in that's probably best. Fran Kranz does a great job leading the film along, however. His neurotic, terrified performance gives the premise the credibility and weight it needs even when the seminar doesn't seem as dangerous as he's perceiving it to be. Rebirth is also shot in an interesting way with long periods of stillness coupled with short bursts of following Kyle through the dingy house the seminar is in. We're effectively put into Kyle's shoes and when the film truly goes off the rails, we're along for the ride.  Rebirth isn't a bad film at all, but it's not necessarily great either. But it's got such a well crafted personality and it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a fun little romp that doesn't overstay its welcome. You won't exactly feel a rebirth afterwards, but you won't die either. 
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Cult of personality
Festivals are a great time to try out films you would never consider in your personal time. Like a Netflix queue, the options are endless and each film only has a short premise and cast listing to get our attention. Since m...

Donkey Kong short photo
Donkey Kong short

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


Not as hot as Billy Mitchell's sauce
Apr 26
// Hubert Vigilla
The first board of Donkey Kong is easily recognizable. It may be on the same iconic level as the Pac-Man maze and 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. It's the stuff of playgrounds, construction sites, and obstacle courses, and Banks h...
Civil War TV spot photo
Civil War TV spot

Latest Captain America: Civil War TV spot has an eensy-weensy bit of new Spider-Man footage


That's what I'd say
Apr 26
// Hubert Vigilla
The last Captain America: Civil War trailer let the cat out of the bag: yes, Spider-Man is in the movie. The latest TV spot has just an eensy-weensy bit more of Spidey in action, doing whatever a carefully negotiated shared i...
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#SickBernBurn

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


There's math and there's Bernie Math
Apr 26
// Hubert Vigilla
If this year's Democratic primary has reaffirmed one truth, it's that smart people will believe dumb things as long as these things confirm their biases. Full disclosure: I say this as someone who voted for Bernie Sanders in ...

Tribeca Review: The Banksy Job

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220520:42931:0[/embed] The Banksy JobDirectors: Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan HarveyRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: UK  AK47 is the head of the art collective Art Kieda, a self-described "arto-politico humorist movement" (because who else would describe it that way?). He becomes obsessed with Banksy after the artist refused to sign a print purchased at a party. AK47 could have purchased a signed print from the same party, but he wanted to save money. Out of spite, he steals The Drinker. Seriously. Is a Heist a Work of Art? Maybe. The heist itself plays out like a sloppy, slackery bit of municipal roadwork, but there's a kind of brazen moxie about it all. If it's not a work of performance art, it may be a great bit of silliness. You get a sense watching AK47 that he views everything as a kind of lark, from his previous careers as a rave organizer and amateur porn star/pornographer to his current attempts at art making. And yet saying it's a work of art might be off--is any act a work of art simply because someone says so, even if they're taking the piss? The way AK47 giggles and preens during and in retrospect, it almost seems as if he's also having a wank. Is AK47 an artist? AK47 calls himself an art-terrorist, and to the extent that this entire act of thievery caused a kind of interruption of routine he's accurately described himself. And yet in stealing the art and later trying to sell it (after a series of unexpected complications), he offers a weird exercise in the philosophy of art. AK47 delves into the origins of The Drinker's creation and presents the audience with the kitsch equivalent of the Theseus' Ship Paradox. Maybe AK47 is an artist who relies on the work of others--Banksy, Al Qaeda, Plutarch, Exit Through the Gift Shop--to arrive at salient aesthetic ideas. It's sort of like being drunk and finding the $20 that someone else left in the ATM at the bar.  Is The Banksy Job Just Taking the Piss? Like Exit Through the Gift Shop, much of The Banksy Job leaves the viewer wondering how much is real, how much is invented, and how much is just a series of weird half-truths. There's a bit of everything in there, including a recitation of the Art Kieda code, yet something tells me the collective isn't quite the army AK47 suggests. Banksy appears in the film as an interviewee, or at least it's some guy with his face blacked out and his voice digitally altered to protect his identity. It fits the AK47/Art Kieda aesthetic, though--whether real or not, it's all pretty much about taking the piss. Okay, But Is It Art? Good question. Hell if I know. The safe answer is "Maybe?"
Review: The Banksy Job photo
Taking the piss, but is it art?
There are cock and bull stories and there are shaggy dog stories and there are complete piss-takes. The Banksy Job is kind of a mix of all three. At its center is a Bansky obsessive who goes by the artsy sobriquet AK47. His r...

Tribeca Review: Nerdland

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220434:42928:0[/embed] NerdlandDirector: Chris PrynoskiRating: NRRelease Date: April 14, 2016 (limited) At the heart of Nerdland is veritable slacker stereotypes, Elliot (Patton Oswalt), an aspiring screenwriter who'd rather spend his days masturbating than write, and John (Paul Rudd), a film blogger who dreams of pursuing an acting career. When the two of them lose their jobs, they decide they've had enough with failure and venture on a last ditch effort to get their work recognized. The two slackers are willing to literally throw their lives away blindly hunting for fame and they'll do whatever to whoever to get what they want.  Nerdland has a strong core concept. Initially setting out to be a parodic take on the new wave of entitlement that's come from the digital age and increased publicity for the 'nerd' archetype, the film shines an ugly light on an ugly subset. This take works for a while as every aspect of the film contributes to this ugliness. The grungy art style and gross out humor establish an icky setting, Oswalt and Rudd adopt darker tones for their voice acting (but Rudd borders on being completely absent), and every character is a vapid shell of some kind. The style is a grand pastiche of the Hollywood/Tinseltown thought era, but all of that goes out the window the second a character speaks. Clearly the film's style and writing weren't developed jointly. There's definitely a better, or even good film lying underneath all of the garbage but it's being crushed.  Nerdland is trying its best to be a quirky dark comedy, but it reaches so far it becomes unintelligible. For one, there's no cemented plot. It's just a set of disjointed scenes with plot points capable of carrying several movies. The main story arc is intended to highlight how far Elliot and John fall, but even that arc is sullied by how nonsensical the plot seems. The character decisions are no longer informed by desperation but by how twisted the plot needs them to be at any given moment. Rather than a sign of devolution, their growth lacks fluidity and always breaks the flow of whatever plot Nerdland wants to cook up at the time. In a weird way, it's like the film realizes its own faults and resorts to just throwing whatever idea they have at a dartboard and hope one of those ideas leaves a lasting impact.  Treating your film with reckless abandon may be worth some credit, but it's absolutely worthless to the viewer. When the film literally becomes a veritable orgy of bad ideas, it's debilitating. There's a scene in Nerdland, about an hour in, so devoid of thought or even dark humor it sapped all good will I had. Since there's no natural progression of character or plot, the scene sticks out so much it's almost as if they created an entire film just to show two minutes of pure inanity. Don't get me wrong, it's not the concept I have a problem with it's the execution. There's an difference between mining a dark subject for humor (and the original thought behind it seems to be exaggerating violence in animation would merit a laugh) in a mature way and focusing on the most juvenile, low hanging fruit of a subject.  I'm not sure where Nerdland went so wrong. It's such a complicated mess of a film, so juvenile, so low reaching that it sets back adult animation for several years. You know, it's not even egregious enough to be offensive. It just kind of happens to you whether you like or not. It's so boring, so paper thin, that Nerdland is offensive to the very people who made it. It'd be a blight on everyone's career if it weren't guaranteed forgotten a few days after its release.  At least Hannibal Buress is good in it. Love that guy. 
Nerdland Tribeca Review photo
Nerds don't rule after all
Nerdland was the first film to stand out to me when I first signed on to cover the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Everything about it appealed to me. It's the first full length feature from Titmouse, an animated company mos...

Tribeca Review: High-Rise

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220425:42900:0[/embed] High-RiseDirector: Ben WheatleyRating: RRelease Date: March 18, 2016 (UK); May 13, 2016 (USA)Country: UK Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is a brain surgeon who's taken a flat in a new luxury high rise. In the apartment above there's Charlotte (Sienna Miller), a flirty socialite who makes eyes with the good doctor as he sunbathes nude on his balcony. Building designer Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives in the penthouse, where his wife rides white horses on the rooftop garden and he looks down on his grand social experiment: all the comforts one could need, a hermetic society. And yet the parties and the supermarket and the pool access is never enough to keep people compliant. They isolate themselves, they become tribal. The opening of the film, which looks downright post-apocalyptic, shows how far the high rise life has decayed. Laing scavenges the dumpsite foyer of his building for food, dressed in the tatters of a business suit. He's gone from doctor to concrete pirate. There's no food, but thank goodness for stray dogs. Like the upper-middle-class residents of the skyscraper, I'm not sure director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump get what they want out of High-Rise; the same may go for the audience. Adapted from the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, it's a sordid and decadent movie about people going native in their own crowded living quarters, but it's even looser and sloppier than that. As society crumbles, the narrative structure of the film breaks down as well. The last half of the movie eschews traditional narrative and tells the rest of the building's decay in a series of loud vignettes and montages. I can pinpoint the exact moment midway through High-Rise where I lost a lot of my patience. Before a raging bastard of a man named Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) goes on a dominating rampage, he tapes his own voice in a cassette recorder. He repeats "I am Richard Wilder!" On the one hand, I get it (Wild, yes, and you're wilder than others, like this is the wild, okay), but on the other hand I rolled my eyes because I couldn't have not gotten it already (yeah, Dick wilder, I noticed). The scene that follows it is ugly and uncomfortable; obviously by design, and yet. High-Rise isn't bad so much as it's convoluted in its execution and maybe wishy-washy with its cultural critique. There's something Gilliam-esque about some of the scenes. The aristocratic party in 18th century garb is a nice bit of upper class affectation, and ditto the block party out in the hall. Similarly, the growing squalor of the building looks like something out of Brazil combined with a third-world landfill. The lights flicker out periodically, and nothing quite works the way it should in this place, and yet one carries on. Laing is no Sam Lowry from Brazil, however. Like some of the characters in High-Rise, Laing is passive and content to sit back as the world around him devolves and crumbles, which sort of squanders Hiddleston's natural charisma. He exists as a metaphor, a symbol, not a person. Meanwhile, others act or are acted upon; most of them also metaphors or symbols rather than people. It's the difference between facades and actual domiciles. There's a clinical lens about High-Rise, which makes sense since the breakdown is about observing the devaluation of others. It's like watching a crowded cage full of rats who are bound, at some point, to destroy each other just given the crowding and the lack of resources. And yet it's not quite like that since our ability to observe this cannibalization is interrupted. The sense of cause-and-effect is broken up, it feels like there's something missing. The vignettes that comprise the final half of High-Rise become frustrating since we're rarely offered a chance to explore the emerging tribes of the building. Here are tribal cultures and subcultures organizing themselves inside of a multi-tiered concrete petri dish (e.g., a matriarchal society of women and orphaned children), and we barely get an opportunity to observe their method of survival. MILD SPOILERS ABOUT THE FINAL SCENE The final words of the film don't belong to any of the characters we've spent time with. Instead it's the voice of Margaret Thatcher extolling the virtues of capitalism. Nevermind that there's little in the movie about capitalism per se. Maybe this is Thatcher suggesting capitalism as a solution to the egalitarian nightmare whose failure we just watched? And given our place in time, maybe the state of nature isn't quite as bad as the current state of government-approved inequality. High-Rise is a work of interesting and extreme architecture, but I'm still not sure what to make of its design.
Review: High Rise photo
Going native in a concrete jungle
High-Rise is a bit all over the place, and it's a bit of a mess, but it also seems to be that way by design--a sort of warped architecture. I'd gone in sort of expecting a vertical version of Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer, but i...

Tribeca Capsule Review: The Last Laugh

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
The Last LaughDirector: Ferne PearlsteinRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD  It seems a cop out to say your mileage may vary, and yet that seems the only viable answer. Mel Brooks appears in the film doing an excellent Hitler impersonation using a black comb. (A subtle adjustment of the comb and he becomes Joseph Stalin--tada!) Brooks will mock Hitler relentlessly and delights in it, but could never make a joke about The Holocaust itself. It's his personal limit. The Spanish Inquisition is fine, though--jokes are all about the timing. Sarah Silverman, on the other hand, goes all out. There's even mention of the mixed response to Hogan's Heroes and Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, with polarized opinions coming from comedians, filmmakers, and a representative from the Anti-Defamation League. The discussions aren't particularly new since any discussion of the uses of comedy has to consider the limits (if any) of comedic material. There's the idea of inflicting ridicule as a type of power for the powerless and the idea of hope and the idea that certain communities and groups are able to make certain kinds of jokes while others aren't--with Holocaust jokes, the suffering is a Jewish experience and so should be the comedic catharsis. What's interesting is the juggling act between Firestone as a survivor and an speaker at museums who shares her pain and the comedians who never had to live through her experiences. A generational aspect is added to the subjective one. Yet the two sides don't quite gel, which makes the movie feel like a bit of a Venn diagram--two separate docs with something common between them. There's probably a more substantive discussion about comedy, its limits, and what comedians should consider when making jokes about oppressed groups or about a particularly dark period in history. The Last Laugh might not delve much deeper into that discussion about the art of comedy, but that's fine. It gives a human face to a survivor of the worst indignities of the 20th century. That Renee smiles is hopeful. We can't possibly laugh at her, and it's presumptuous to say we laugh for her just given the subjectivity of humor. We laugh with her because she's still able to do so herself; maybe we laugh because otherwise we'd just cry.
Review: The Last Laugh photo
There's no accounting for bad taste
As I've gotten older, I've noticed more conversations and thinkpieces about what topics are off-limits for comedians, such as racist jokes, jokes about rape, jokes about The Holocaust, and so on. This might stray into a large...

Review: Green Room

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220533:42929:0[/embed] Green RoomDirector: Jeremy SaulnierRating: RRelease Date: April 22 and 29, 2016  At the center of Green Room is small town punk band The Ain't Rights, four kids Sam, Pat, Reece, and Tiger (Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole and Callum Turner respectively). Everything goes awry during a performance at a Neo-Nazi den when they suddenly witness a murder and now they've got a veritable army of Nazis and their leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) hunting them. Deciding to hole themselves up in the venue's green room, The Ain't Rights and their new ally, the mysterious Amber (Imogen Poots), try to survive the terrifying night to come.  To put it bluntly, at its core, Green Room is a film you've seen before. With its premise, it's easy to make comparisons to home invasions films or anything where it's one against many (Assault on Precinct 13 or even Die Hard come to mind), but that's where all of the similarities and predictability ends. Green Room takes the time to build an entire world around its tiny setting and it's all the more effective because of it. The film feels lived in, and it's almost as if we're jumping into a point of these kids' lives. The Ain't Rights themselves have a wonderful chemistry. An almost effortless gelling informs their life long friendship and I bought into it immediately. The four are given enough time as their characters to get comfortable and let each actor imbue themselves with little quirks and touches. In fact, some of the film's finest moments are early on when we're just getting to know the band. Because of the attention to the build up, it's all the more devastating when things come down around them.  I don't feel like I can stress this enough. Green Room is entirely unpredictable. The initial transition from humor to horror is seamless. Because of the care put into the characters, the audience essentially ends up in the confined space with them. The emotional stakes rise almost instantly and there's nary a bump in the production. It's like an emotional punch to gut, and that's before any violence takes place. Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart own these scenes in particular when the two of them speak on opposite ends of a door. Yelchin is constantly on the verge of tears (thus making us closer to him on a whole) while Stewart's eerily calm demeanor hides sinister motives. And just when you think you've got the film figured out, it changes tone completely. With controlled spontaneity through violence, Green Room continuously raises its stakes and never once feels overbearing in its tension.  The entire film's production is lined with a chilling vibe. From its metal and punk heavy soundtrack, its lighting (making sure everything is just dark enough to be unnerving while still making sure everything is visible and digestible), there's a special sense of dread permeating throughout and it's naturalistic. The crafted tone grounds its characters and setting begetting fear from a human place. Darcy's frightening introduction and speeches juxtapose Stewart's unassuming demeanor. It's kind of like how Breaking Bad slowly transformed Bryan Cranston's Walter White into Heisenberg over six seasons instead crammed into less than 90 minutes. Sometimes it doesn't work completely, but it's still utterly effective and damning. Thanks to the cast playing off of each other in such a tight space (and a stellar performance from everyone involved), it's an emotional thriller rather than a physical one. There are certainly visceral payoffs (and they're increasingly shocking in their brutality), but if you don't enjoy the film's emotional stakes then you won't connect as much overall.  Before seeing Green Room you need to know what you're getting yourself into. It's a nail biting thriller for sure, but if you're expecting some sort of all out knuckle brawl you'll be severely disappointed. This film is a thriller horror film in the traditional sense, so there's very little "action." When it does finally resort to such measures, Green Room excels. It's satisfying in such a weird, weird way.  And that's Green Room in a nutshell. It's disarming, gruesome, macabre, hilarious, cartoonish, will make you squirm, but it's a fun experience through and through. I'm going to remember this one for a while.
Green Room Review photo
Spontaneously brutal
Over the last few years, A24 has quickly become my favorite production studio. They've overseen everything from huge award winners like Room, Amy, and Ex Machina, critical darlings such as Spring Breakers and The End of the T...

Ghostbusters photo
Ghostbusters

Ecto Cooler returns and some pictures


5-year-old me is really excited
Apr 25
// Matthew Razak
One of the greatest things to come out of Ghostbusters aside from really good movies and toys was Hi-C's Ecto Cooler, which was basically a green sugar drink in a juice box. I couldn't tell you how it tasted, but I do kn...
Apocalypse Trailer photo
This is the best trailer yet
If you were somehow not convinced to see X-Men: Apocalypse, you sure will be after the final trailer for it. We get a little more footage than we have in the past, some cool looking fight scenes, a little bit of information f...

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See PAPA: Hemingway in Cuba early and free


Apr 25
// Matthew Razak
I'm not sure what the quality of PAPA: Hemingway in Cuba will be, but it is the first Hollywood film to be shot in Cuba since Obama loosened restrictions to it does get some historical credit. You can find out if it's ac...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Apr 24 // Nick Valdez
Abortion: Stories Women TellDirector: Tracy Droz TragosRating: NRRelease Date: April 18, 2016 (limited) Abortion: Stories Women Tell is eye opening. I'm not going to sit here and pretend I knew everything about the subject, so some of the film's perspectives are heartbreaking. Stories follows two women for the most part: one who's about to undergo the procedure because she doesn't want another child (and has way too many responsibilities already) and one who's protesting the procedure because of religious beliefs. The doc takes care to normalizing the subject just in case you were squeamish to any part of the process. It's treated as just another part of life, another facet of heatlhcare, and regardless of your personal feelings the subject is standing on neutral ground. Sure there are some digs into either side in the way it's being filmed, but those are viewpoints the audience has to infer for themselves. It's great the final product is basically the open start to a conversation, presenting as many arguments as possible.  While this make the documentary sound weaker overall, it's true purpose is to inform rather than to judge. It's astounding to see how many viewpoints are represented here. Reflecting how wide open the subject is, and how many opposing views of it there are, Stories cast a wide net and talks to women of various ages, races, and creeds. And while Stories may follow one or two particular women for the majority, the audience is just witness to a particular moment of their lives. We're given a brief look into who these women are, but never enough to form attachment. Stories never loses sight of its subject for an instant, and that makes it all the more powerful. It's handled so well, in fact, I'm left wondering why it's regulated as much as it is now. But given the opposition opposes it so strongly, it's easy to see why. But as I mentioned before, the judgment is entirely ours to make as a viewer. This doc just wants to make sure you know what's going on.  Abortion: Stories Women Tell was the strongest documentary I'd seen at Tribeca. A strong, fair, and ultimately open ended film that captures a pocket of the frustration surrounding the issue. For letting me in on a fraction of what the women presented are feeling, this documentary has done a lot more for the issue than anything has done in the past.  To anyone unknowledgeable about abortion or the debate surrounding, you owe it yourselves to watch and listen to Abortion: Stories Women Tell. 
Stories Capsule Review photo

Although it's been technically legal ever since the famous Roe v. Wade legal battle in the 60s and 70s, states across America still do as much as they can to limit healthcare, and by extension abortion, to the nation's women....

Tribeca Review: Holidays

Apr 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220526:42927:0[/embed] HolidaysDirectors: Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Kolsch, Sarah Adina Smith, Kevin Smith, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Gary Shore, Scott Stewart, Dennis WidmyerRating: RRelease Date: April 15, 2016 (limited) As its title suggests, Holidays is an anthology all based around holiday horrors. Each short is around 12-15 minutes long, with the director and holiday revealed after. There are eight shorts in total, all set in chronological horror: Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day. Easter, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Each short pretty much ends in the way you'd expect a short horror story to, so it's all in the journey rather than the destination. Despite what I'm about to say in the next few paragraphs, I can't ever say Holidays is bland. The film overall is a slick production with each short looking completely different from what came before or after. Each director has their own style, and while some may have better camerawork than others (St. Patrick's Day is the standout in this case), there's a care into getting the horror tone just right.  Out of the eight films, I especially enjoyed Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Father's Day. Valentine's Day is the most straightforward story, but revels in 80s synth storytelling (likening it to other big recent throwbacks like The Guest) coupled with dream-like lighting and a kickass electropop soundtrack. Father's Day is strong and silent with very little dialogue from its main character (ably played by Jocelin Donahue) and is the creepiest film in the entire package. It's also the one I'd argue is closest to actually being "horror" rather than the twisted joke the rest of the shorts play with. On a smaller note, Mother's Day is much stronger given it's paired with this testosterone laced (and somber) short. But the best overall is most definitely St. Patrick's Day. It's got the best camera work, quick edits do a lot with the little time it has, Ruth Bradley steals the show, and its twist ending is the most effective given how absurd and cartoonish it gets. It's just a shame Holidays never quite reaches this peak again.  Since it's all in chronological order, there's no narrative cohesiveness. Other than lucking out with Father's/Mother's Day, the shorts never feel like they're in the same package. With very little narrative buffer in between each short (explaining why we're seeing these eight shorts for example), it's disjointed. Some shorts have a humorous ending, some end on a jump scare, but regardless it's all less effective since nothing really lingers. Since there's no narrative flow between each short, they become all about the formula. Nothing but build-up until a pop at the end of the short. And when you've come to expect the same kind of ending halfway in, the last four segments lose all their pizazz. This is not at all helped by the final four's weaknesses, either.  For example, Kevin Smith's Halloween segment is the most, uh, "divisive." It's the most obscene of the shorts and its tone is unlike any other. But it's entirely reliant on your personal tastes to succeed. It's a revenge short that has to instantly reach for the most extreme circumstances due to its length, and since it's not entirely earned, your enjoyment of it varies on whether or not you like seeing the guy from Epic Meal Time have a sex toy forced up his rear. And because of the film's chronological order, Holidays just comes to an unsatisfying end. It can't end with its best film (and furthered hindered by having the best shorts come first), and it gives New Year's Day too much responsibility. It isn't as bad of a short as Easter or Halloween, but it's clearly not a short designed to bring a fulfilling resolution.  Like other horror anthologies before, Holidays stumbles more often than not. That's just the nature of setups like these, and while the overall film is visually captivating it just doesn't keep the same level of tension or entertainment throughout. Maybe if it were organized into a more cohesive package, the less successful films wouldn't have seemed as bad.  But as it stands, you don't have to go home for the holidays. 
Holidays Tribeca Review photo
"Like a squeaky violin"
Horror anthologies are all the rage now. Get a couple of creatives together, pick a theme, and they're allowed to explore one of the smaller ideas they have in their heads. At best, you're in for a good time overall, at worst...

Review: A Touch of Zen

Apr 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220492:42919:0[/embed] A Touch of Zen (Xia Nu, 俠女)Director: King HuRating: NRRelease Date: April 22, 2016 (New York, with subsequent expansion)Country: Taiwan A Touch of Zen is such a singular sort of movie. After the success of Come Drink with Me and Dragon Inn, Hu had the creative freedom to do what he wanted, and the result was a movie of different moods and different modes. There is the wuxia element centered around a heroic fugitive named Yang (Feng Hsu), a swordswoman fighting for her life after corrupt government officials have murdered the rest of her family. She's one of Hu's many female heroes, though this movie doesn't have the same level of gender role confusion seen in other martial arts films. Yang is a woman but never mistaken for a man (the common genre convention), and she's the most capable fighter in the film. The centerpiece fight in the bamboo grove is an exhilarating bit of old school swordsman action. When A Touch of Zen was released as two films, the bamboo fight concluded the first movie and opened the second. Hu further adapts the theatrical movements of Peking Opera and the visual style of Japanese samurai pictures (en vogue at the time) to a swashbuckling cinematic form uniquely suited to Chinese martial arts. Trampolines give the heroes and villains a kind of superheroic flair as they clash with one another on rooftops and treetops. Hsu slashes, evades, and ripostes, and Hu cuts the action together to add intensity to the elegant movements on display. The action in A Touch of Zen feels like a transition period in fight choreography between the stage-like combat of the 1960s to the faster-paced cinematic combat that would be pioneered by later Shaw Brothers filmmakers Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-Leung. Yet the first fight doesn't occur until at least one hour into the film. Instead of rollicking adventure, A Touch of Zen opens with the banal rhythms of pastoral life. We follow a bumbling mama's boy/artist-scholar named Ku (Chun Shih), who takes an interest in Yang and a blind man (Ying Bai) who are hiding in an abandoned ruin. Ku is an archetypal fool, and a great vessel for the audience into the story (which has an archetypal opening: a stranger comes into town). While he's crafty, Ku's a coward and he falls in love too easily, which is a great contrast to Yang's ruggedly stoic heroism. Before A Touch of Zen, Chun Shih played the hero of Hu's Dragon Inn. In a subversive move, Hu has a previous star play against type and also against gender stereotype. And then there's the Zen Buddhism, which pervades the film's visual style emphasizing nature, seasons, and impermanence. I mentioned patience at the beginning of the review, and Hu's return to slow rhythms and long takes seems to give the audience a chance to breathe and take in each scene. A group of Buddhist monks show up when Yang is on the run, and they are unstoppable force and immovable object. They're shot with diffuse or star-filtered light emanating from behind them, and they seem to be followed by a supernatural veil of mist. The Zen aspects figure heavily in the film's unexpectedly bonkers finale, which I can only be described as 2001: A Space Odyssey meets El Topo.  The 4K digital restoration looks great during the daytime shots--you can make out the dust on King Hu's camera lenses as he lovingly absorbs hillsides and waterfalls and sky--though I noticed some major issues with image noise during the nighttime scenes. One of the pivotal action sequences in the last half of the film is at night, and it was often difficult to make out what was happening in each scene. Part of it may be the limitations of lighting and photography that Hu had to work with back then, though I sense there might have been an issue with the projection and/or the copy I saw during my screening. I'm curious to see A Touch of Zen again now that it's out in theaters, just to see for myself if the digital noise has been eliminated/addressed. Besides, I could use a little more patience and adventure in my life.
Review: A Touch of Zen photo
The beguiling wuxia masterpiece in 4k
A Touch of Zen is King Hu's masterpiece, yet unless you're patient and a bit adventurous, it may not be the best introduction to his work. Dragon Inn, his straightforward wuxia classic from 1967, might be a more palatable ent...

Tribeca Review: A Kind of Murder

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

Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War

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

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

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

Review: A Hologram for the King

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

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

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The Founder gets its first trailer and Michael Keaton shows off


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

Tribeca Review: My Scientology Movie

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

Tribeca Review: Equals

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