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Review: A Most Violent Year

Jan 30 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218877:42166:0[/embed] A Most Violent YearDirector: J.C. ChandorRelease Date: January 30th, 2015Rating: R Taking place in New York City, 1981, statistically the most violent year in the city's history, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is a young man from an immigrant family who's just trying to run a legitimate heat and oil company without succumbing to the crooked nature of the business. But thanks to his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), and an ongoing investigation into the mafia from District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo), Abel is put through the ringer and it's up to him to decide whether or not to keep his hands free of corruption.  A Most Violent Year is an intense breakdown of the mafia genre. While the film does display a lot of the cornier characteristics of mafia films (meetings of all the head honchos, one mysterious man who dictates everything), the film's filter helps to dilute the inherent cartoonishness usually found. Thanks to its gritty, but not overtly so tone, the story is grounded within realistic bounds. Thanks to Abel's hands off approach, the criminal underworld is always kept on the sidelines and Year is left to critique its approach from an open perspective. It's a smart balance between utilizing the themes of the genre while telling a unique story. It turns out to be far more compelling watching Abel distance himself as you root against the American Dream.  You see, A Most Violent Year is one of the few films with a positive Latin protagonist (although the way everyone says his first and last name bugs me a bit), and for once it's what defines the film rather than a consequence. For example, the messages about the American Dream (in which we watch Abel, a successful man from an immigrant family, interact with Julian, a struggling man from an immigrant family) hit a bit harder given that you can feel the amount of struggle from a place of non-privilege. And a smaller, but important step forward is that it's never once implied that Abel is struggling because he's an non-white character. Sure it seems like a weird, non-sequitur of a critique but I can't help but celebrate well put together Latin characters.  What really helps the film sink in is the cast. While the deliberate pace of the film will turn some folks off (the narrative admittedly isn't engaging in certain spots), the cast helps anchor the film and once again reigns in the genre. For example Chastain's character Anna is completely stereotypical, but her performance adds a layer of depth not found in the writing (like that one speech about respect found in the trailer should've been completely flat, but is one of the best scenes in the film). It's a shame she's not in the film enough. A lot of the film's lines and sequences would've failed if weren't for the performances. They're kind of hokey and on the nose, but it's hard to care when Isaac and Chastain are allowed to play off each other. Good thing Oscar Isaac is going to be in more things too. He's fantastic in this.  A Most Violent Year is also a most exquisite one. While some of the scenes and dialogue don't mesh well with the film's grounded tone and serve to almost break the film's reality (and become the film it seeks to reinvent), the cast never once lets that get to them. With a Latin protagonist, a setting used in a new way (although the backdrop is "the most violent" in New York's history, violence never clouds the narrative), and a well thought out take on an aging genre, A Most Violent Year is definitely one of my favorites.  Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain should just be in every movie from now on. 
A Most Violent Review photo
This year shouldn't end
I had no idea what A Most Violent Year was before my screening. This was even before the smaller, limited release managed to gain traction and before I realized how good the cast assembled was. With little to no advertising, ...

Unsettling at best.
UPDATE: We've passed the point of beating around the bush. This has gone from hacking some emails to threatening full out violence against people who would consider seeing some damn movie. Sony has taken the next step and is ...

Review: A Hard Day

Nov 20 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218601:41982:0[/embed] A Hard Day (Kkeutkkaji Ganda |  끝까지 간다)Director: Seong-hoon KimRating: NRCountry: South Korea A Hard Day would be funny if it weren't so sad. I mean, it still is kind of funny, but it's not really "Ha ha" funny so much as "?!?!?!" funny. Go Geon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) is having a bit of a hard life, what with his mother dying and everything, but that's just the start of his issues. In fact, it's the least of his issues. And when the least of your issues is the tragic death of your mother? Well, that's just a hard day right there. It all starts when Go Geon-soo hits someone with his car on the way to his mom's funeral. And it's not really his fault, because it was nighttime and the guy did sorta just run out in front of him, but now the guy is dead and that's what matters. Then a series of unfortunate events befalls him before the big one strikes: Someone knows what he did, and begins harassing him at work. And here is where things really start to take off. There are a couple of moments in A Hard Day that shocked me not just because they were shocking moments in and of themselves but because of the way they played out onscreen. I have talked a lot about long takes in the past, but two moments in particular here are spectacular uses of long takes not because the camera does anything particularly unique but because I immediately followed the moment up with, "Could they have done that more than once?" And if it was CG in either case, it was some spectacular use of CG, because even though one of the two things looked a little bit off at first, it looked less like straight up CG and more like a very specifically crafted launching mechanism. (Honestly, it probably would have been easier to just blow the thing up.) When you watch a film about things getting worse, you start to guess what's going to happen next. "How will he get screwed over this time? What other horrible thing will he be subjected to and/or forced to do to get himself out of it?" And there are moments of setup, where you know something bad is about to happen and it almost dares you to guess what it could be. But your guess will be wrong, because what actually happens is even more ridiculous than you expect. One of those two aforementioned shots literally dropped my jaw, because I had been guessing and guessing and guessing what was about to happen, and then it turns out I was so wrong and the people behind that sequence are both creative geniuses and deeply disturbed individuals. Which is probably an accurate way of describing the entire series of events. Each moment is extremely well constructed, and even if bits and pieces of Geon-soo's plan don't technically make sense and the things he does go beyond what's really possible, it works in context and that's what matters. Importantly, it never veers into the realm of straight-up unbelievability, even at its craziest. This is crucial to its impact, because if suddenly aliens came and abducted Geon-soo or something, then it wouldn't have just been a matter of "WHAT?!" it would have been "Oh, bullshit!" And by avoiding that line, A Hard Day makes itself a consistently compelling and surprising thriller. Much of the film's success hinges on Lee Sun-kyun's performance, because the character of Geon-soo has to be sympathetic for the film to work. If the audience isn't invested in him or his hard day, then it's just a cat and mouse game without stakes. You have to want to see Geon-soo succeed. And you do, for two reasons: One: Lee Sun-kyun is lovable. He's a good looking guy, but he's not rugged. He's more cute than handsome, and it results in him appearing to be a fish out of water, which in and of itself makes him sympathetic. His performance bears that out, as he runs from scene to scene like a chicken with its head cut off.  Two: he's never scary. Even when he's doing things that are terrible, they aren't horrific. He's kind of a bad guy, but he's not evil. Even when he goes to a place that might seem like too far, it doesn't really feel that way. Geon-soo appears justified in his actions throughout. Plus, they're all motivated by fear, which is an emotion pretty much anybody can relate to. You can say that he should have done this or shouldn't have done that, but he's afraid (terrified, even), and when you're terrified you don't always make the best decisions. That's understandable. And because it's understandable, you want to see Geon-soo make it through. You root for him every step of the way, following him through thick and thin. And when it's all over and you pick up your jaw off the floor, you breathe a sigh of relief and thank whatever you believe in that your life isn't as bad as his. [A Hard Day will be screening at 9:40 PM on Friday, November 21 at BAM.]
A Hard Day Review photo
A hard day indeed
Every so often, I see a film and think that the title is a perfect encapsulation of its very existence. If I were to name the film, those are exactly the words I would have chosen. A Hard Day is that exactly, in par...

Nightcrawler Trailer photo
Nightcrawler Trailer

This trailer for Nightcrawler makes me want it more

"If you want to win the lotto, you gotta make the money to buy the ticket."
Aug 22
// Nick Valdez
I had no idea Nightcrawler even existed before that awesome teaser released a few weeks back, and now I can't get it off my mind. And thanks to the newest trailer for it, looks like I'm not going to stop thinking about it an...
Nightcrawler Trailer photo
Nightcrawler Trailer

Full trailer for Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal

Jul 25
// Nick Valdez
Remember that very brief, but very awesome teaser for Nightcrawler the other day? It had a twisted tone, and sickly looking Gyllenhaal all to great effect. Now that we have the full trailer for the film, I'm still very excit...

FlixList: Ten Crimes I'd Commit During a Real Purge

Jul 24 // Nick Valdez
(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Wear white after Labor Day, eat cereal without milk, shoot Mr. Burns (again) 10. Start the day without a well balanced breakfast Pssh, can't commit the worst of crimes on an empty stomach. I'm just going to fill it with junk food like pizza bagels, cheese sticks, and gummi bears. Ooh, maybe gummi bear cereal. Is there a gummi bear cereal? I'll invent one and charge a ludicrous amount for it.  9. Rip the tag off my mattress This thing's been bothering me forever. It'll be the first to go.  8. Bring back free Napster and download all of Metallica's albums  I've always wanted to pirate music, but I'm afraid someone'll crack down on me. I'll use the time to get all sorts of music, listen to it once, and promptly never listen to it again until it shows up during shuffles.  7. Jaywalk through a busy intersection naked Floppin' around the 'ole fishin' hole 6. Steal several "I Love New York" shirts and knit them into a quilt Sometimes it's cold at night.  5. Wear parachute pants filled with yogurt Sometimes it's hot at night.  4. Break into the zoo and eat six koalas Why six? Because six sounds like a good number to eat. Why koalas? Because they look damn delicious. I'd say something like "bald eagles," but they're probably going to be very hard to find and I've only got 12 hours to do all of this. Oh, I'd bite a hippo. Not because it's a crime or because it looks tasty or anything, I just want to do this.  3. Wear Crocs with socks the entire time Fashion crimes are the worst crimes. 2. Refuse to shower I'd make sure to take the time out for social crimes like not courteously maintaining good hygiene. I'll probably wallow in something too. What are they going to do, huh? Arrest me?  1. Tattoo "You're Two Thousand and Late" on my chest Because I'm so three thousand and eight and got that boom boom boom.  Got any crimes you'd like to commit? Comment here or on our contest post with your crimes. Note: Flixist does not endorse committing crime, no matter how cool/awesome/unique they make you look! Also, I may disappear for awhile for completely unrelated reasons.
#CrimeDay photo
On Crime Day, the holiest of holidays
With The Purge: Anarchy in theaters and another #CrimeDay in the history books, I've been thinking about crime for a bit now. In the series, everyone and their mothers are so focused on committing violent crimes they don't se...

The Drop Trailer photo
The Drop Trailer

First trailer for The Drop, starring Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini

Apr 03
// Nick Valdez
The Drop has the unfortunate stigma of being James Gandolfini's final film. Whether or not it's spectacular, there's always going to be a sense of dread watching the film knowing we've lost a man with such potential. Like wi...
Pink Panther photo
Pink Panther

MGM wants a live action/CGI Pink Panther to exist for some reason

Apr 03
// Nick Valdez
MGM is once again trying to bring back long lost franchises for some reason. The Pink Panther is definitely a series that's struggled to keep afloat after the death of Peter Sellers (who played Detective Clouseau in the origi...
Scarface photo

Scarface remake in the works, Tony is now Mexican

"This is the tale of Tony Montana! Cubano flame with the Miami nuts!"
Mar 25
// Nick Valdez
Growing up, my dad brought me to quite a few Lowrider car shows. They're different from your average car show because they're certainly skewed toward a certain demographic. And that demographic loved themselves some Scarface....

Review: Need for Speed

Mar 13 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217317:41268:0[/embed] Need for SpeedDirectors: Scott WaughRelease Date: March 14th, 2013Rating: PG-13 Since the Need for Speed videogames aren't exactly known for their narrative caliber, the film had to come up with a story from scratch. If you have any familiarity with car films of the past (The Cannonball Run, Bullit, and most importantly, Smokey and the Bandit), you'll feel at home here as NfS seeks to emulate the fun of those past films. The main problem here, however, is it stops just short of the finish line. Before I get into the synopsis, I do need to get something off my chest here. I'm a huge fan of racing films as I've been raised on them. There's a certain air about them, a lighthearted fun, that's entirely needed or they all just fall flat. If a car film takes itself too seriously, people will realize how ridiculous a film's logic is when every character makes their decisions according to how fast their cars can drive.  So let's get into Need for Speed's story. The film follows Tobey (Aaron Paul), a guy who's running a failing auto shop with his friends after the death of his father threatens to forclose it. His former racing rival, Dino (Dominic Cooper), who's currently dating Tobey's ex-girlfriend, gets Tobey to build a Shelby Mustang for lots and lots of money. After Dino sells the Mustang, he decides to race Tobey and the comic relief Pete, and during that race kills Pete. After serving two years in prison for being framed for the death of his friend, Tobey vows to enter The Deleon, a super secret race run by The Monarch (Michael Keaton) and avenge Pete's death.  See what I'm talking about? Need for Speed's main constraint is that it's a film whose engine needs work. It's got so many ideas and themes, it becomes needlessly convoluted leaving most ideas without expansion. And what is explored feels entirely hokey because you have the dramatic tension of vengeance juxtaposed with how cartoonish the physics work within the film. Don't get me wrong, it is possible to work with a serious tone (i.e. The Fast and The Furious) but most folks will walk away from the film feeling lost at how goofy the end product is (i.e. The Fast and The Furious). But the saddest aspect of watching all of this go down is, when the film truly lets loose and has fun, Need for Speed is a great movie.  There are brief glimpses of brilliance hidden within this murky mess. If you're like me and are a little tired of how CG has taken over, then you'll love NfS's reliance on practical effects. When Need for Speed explores its various stunts, it's the Smokey and the Bandit of the modern era. There are long car chases, two big jumps (one involving a helicopter), cute nicknames for each of the vehicles ("Beauty," "Beast," and one "Smokey" tossed in for good measure in case you didn't catch the homage), and the police officers are competent. And that's actually a big deal, cop competency. I've grown tired of recent street racing films as the heroes have gotten so driving proficient, the police officers look like fools as they're constantly thrashing about on the wayside. But it's notably different here as some of the best stunts in the film are because the police are so good at what they do. It's a refreshing change of pace.  Unfortunately as noted, those fun bursts are few too far in between. One of my personal rules as a critic is to never argue a film is "too long" as that's always a judgment deep rooted in personal taste. But it just seems applicable here. Need for Speed feels like three movies in one that were stitched together into Frankenstein's Monster. On principal alone, a film titled Need for Speed should not exceed two hours as it does. No matter how invested you may be in the characters (as hard as that may be to believe), by the time Tobey gets to race in the Deleon, you realize you have to watch another 20 minutes of driving before you actually get to leave the theater.  As far as videogame adaptations go, there are certainly much worse out there (as there are only slight homages to the game series). But the few instances of fun to be had are not worth sitting through the rest of it. Aaron Paul and crew do the best with what they have to work with, but it's nowhere near enough. If you're expecting a cheesefest, you may find it here, but it's been done better elsewhere too. With all of that said, Need for Speed sits firmly in the middle of the pack. It's good enough to start the race, but nowhere near good enough to finish in first place. 
Need for Speed Review photo
Needs more speed
Need for Speed is in a tight spot. As a videogame adaptation it not only has to be a well made film, but also needs to please fans of the videogame series. It's got to do an odd little dance where it needs to show just enough...

Need for Speed  photo
Need for Speed

Need for Speed screening free in 100 theaters tomorrow

Feb 18
// Nick Valdez
Do you have a need? Maybe for speed? Although the upcoming Need for Speed movie isn't opening until March 14th, it's screening for free in 100 cities tomorrow night. Whether or not you're looking forward to Not Fast &...
Transporter reboot photo
Transporter reboot

Transporter series getting rebooted with a new trilogy

Transporter 4,5, and 6 get the greenlight
Feb 10
// Nick Valdez
With all of the reboots and sequels going around these days, it was only a matter of time that we rebooted a series whose last installment hit less than six years ago. But since that's at least twenty years in Internet time, ...
Sabotage Trailer 2 photo
Sabotage Trailer 2

Listen all of y'all it's the second trailer for Sabotage

So listen up cause you can't say nothin'. You'll shut me down with a push of your button?
Dec 23
// Nick Valdez
End of Watch was my favorite film of 2012. This second trailer for David Ayer's Sabotage (formerly titled Ten reflecting the ten million stolen from their drug bust), however, doesn't look like the excellent follow up I was ...

CIFF Review: Burn it Up Djassa

Oct 12 // Geoff Henao
[embed]216649:40779:0[/embed] Burn It Up DjassaDirector: Lonesome SoloCountry: France/Ivory CoastRelease Date: October 12, 2013 (CIFF)  
Burn It Up Djassa Review photo
A valiant, low-budget/DIY film.
Burn It Up Djassa tells the story of an Abidjan ghetto and one young man whose embrace of the ghetto ultimately led to his demise. Tony is a young cigarette seller who finds luck gambling in the ghetto. Despite his polic...

The Nut Job Teaser photo
The Nut Job Teaser

First teaser for The Nut Job is just so darn nutty

Sep 30
// Nick Valdez
The Nut Job is a heist film in which a group of woodland creatures (featuring the voices of Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Maya Rudolph and Katherine Heigl) want to steal a whole host of nuts. The trailer may seem a bit lackluste...
Fast and Furi-YES photo
Fast and Furi-YES

Lucas Black joins Fast & Furious 7, 8 and 9

That much closer to FasTen your Seatbelts
Sep 17
// Nick Valdez
Lucas Black, who played Sean (the main character) in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, has now signed on as a regular cast member in the next three Fast & Furious movies. Lucas Black returning to the series is a...

NRH's Weekly Analysis: Scarface & Heisenberg

Sep 16 // Nathan Hardisty
Werner Heisenberg was a German theoretical physics who (probably) helped Hitler try to build an atomic bomb. The Nazis came dangerously close during the war. Heisenberg is probably more well known for also being Walter H. White of Breaking Bad fame, or perhaps for his 'Uncertainty Principle'. The principle is that the more we know where a particle is, the less we know how fast it's going. You cannot know both. This means that photons can behave, simultaneously, like particles and waves. The very act of human observation changes their existence; quantum theory essentially breaks the 'reality' of our world, like seeing the cracks or code of a video-game. Scarface follows Tony Montana as he slowly ascends up the ladder rungs of the coke-criminal underworld. He too, throughout many points, changes based on observation. At some points he tells us about how much he "loves kids" and doesn't act crass, crude or violent around them either. He practically sacrifices his very druglord-dom for these principles. In other parts, however, he is a brutal and disgusting man who yells at his wife and brags about his fiefdom of the Miami coke kingdom. These two men: Scarface and Montana seemingly co-exist within the same space. They change based on perception. Even from the start we have a man full of attitude - "what you call yourself, "I work a lot with my hands" - but someone with brutal ambition. A lot of the opening section is Tony questioning his friends about whether they "wanna be like a sheep?" Tony sets himself up as way ahead of the flock, and the eighties materialism could very well bleed with the quantum theory. Tony sees that "they all sound the same to me" and during the pop-song bleached sequences, in which he stares out or sits awkwardly in the Babylon club, we're led to believe that this whole world is full of bland, concrete sheep who exist only within a singular state. Tony Montana, as a protagonist, is still attractive as a character even by the end given his duality. He fluctuates between particle and wave; calm wit and total destructive. The white noise that drowns his vision when he sees his sister in danger, sexual advance or in the arms of his best friend? That's him crossing the threshold, that's when a particle can also be a wave. What goads Tony into his ambition is perhaps a breathless sense of envy and panic. He is told multiple times about how he's low-class scum, "dishwasher", "Cuban crime wave", "the help", and he questions at one point, about Frank, "what's he got that I don't have?" All Tony has is his life, his minimal criminal skill and charm. When being observed by children and folks on the beach, he is jovial and makes fun of his best friend's attempts with a female. When he's handcuffed to the rail of a bathtub while his friend is chainsawed up in front of him, he literally spits in the face of death. Tony is confident in both states, but his level of violence and numbness to the excessive changes dramatically. It's not just Tony who changes upon observation either but also brief moments involving other characters. While Manny talks about his injury, the bullet that went straight "through me", Tony looks up and sees Elvira descend down a steel elevator that is practically shaped in the image of that fateful ammunition. There's symmetrical chaos, punctual poetry, to how things can change upon new observation. At first we may see love going straight "through" Tony as Elvira descends, or perhaps he is faced with the absolute symbols of the violent drug-lord lifestyle; bullets, beautiful girls and alcohol. Tony even describes, perfectly, the stages of ascension; "When you get the money, when you get the power, then you get the women." In order to 'acquire' the lifestyle he chooses to let himself be seen by criminals, to take on the culture of fear and subvert himself into the world of death. Ignoring all compassion and shrugging off family matters, he gifts his sister a whole boutique at one point, he allows himself to become soaked up in the drug-lord lifestyle. Tony chooses to see himself as the thing, that "the world is yours" but his drug-habits and former cares come back to haunt him. His care for children and his sister are his eventual downfall, even if they're elements of his leftover persona. No matter how hard Tony Montana tries, even by his Scarface end, he is still Tony Montana. Both states exist even by the end of the picture, he is both particle and wave. There's a shot in which Tony acquires Frank's power in which he is framed against a wall-length picture of a palm beach sunset. It's the very Caribbean image, and it's a reminder that Tony cannot escape his roots. He can choose to take on this power, but he will always be that "Cuban immigrant" who cares about family and children, even at the height of his being he will return to this state. "Every dog has his day" and so it is true of Tony Montana. For he can exist as both particle and wave, he cannot be both. Tony finds depression in being Scarface and loss in being himself. The ending, a coked-up suicide rush of blind violent hubris, is a punctual and fitting end to the unstable destructive being. Quantum theory can tell us a lot about humanity and Tony-Scarface is one of the many lenses we can use to see our own visage. We too exist in multiple states, but we can't escape our birth-rights. Much like Gatsby and many other American classics, we always come home.
Weekly Analysis photo
Quantum physics and Tony Montana
Scarface doesn't exactly breathe quantum physics theory now does it? It is practically eighties tragedy incorporated complete with synth and cocaine. When I think of Scarface I do think of the setting, the slow dism...

Fast and Furi-YES photo
Fast and Furi-YES

Kurt Russell in talks for Fast & Furious 7

Aug 30
// Nick Valdez
While we haven't covered it on here, there have been some major casting additions to the seventh film in the Fast & Furious franchise (which could possibly be a 70s revenge thriller). First UFC fighter Ronda Rousey joins ...
Getaway Trailer photo
Getaway Trailer

Second trailer for Getaway gets away with nothing

It taaaaakes my breeeeath awaaaaaaaaaaaaay
Aug 21
// Nick Valdez
If Ethan Hawke is the thunder and Selena Gomez is the lightning, does everything come naturally in this second trailer for Getaway? Is their team up meant to be? Regardless of whether or not it actually is, this second trail...

Now You See Me conjures up a sequel

Aug 09
// Matthew Razak
You know, Now You See Me wasn't a horrible film, but I didn't think it was as great as all that. I, however, am in the minority (your wish is coming true, Sean) as the movie was one of the surprise hits of the ...

David Yates is close to directing a Scarface reboot

Aug 01
// Matthew Razak
Scarface is a double classic already with Howard Hawks' original being a sterling example of pre-code gangster films and Brian DePalma's version perfectly capturing the grandeur of its updated setting. Why the studios wa...

American Hustle gets all up in the 70s in first trailer

Jul 31
// Matthew Razak
David O. Russell is back and this time the movie looks a bit more interesting than his overrated Silver Linings Playbook. This is definitely the O. Russel that I recognize, with plenty of drama, style and personality crammed...
This movie looks tough as hell
Martial arts superstar Donnie Yen has been keeping busy. He's got The Monkey King and Iceman 3D coming out soonish, there's the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel shooting next year, and there's still talk about Ip M...

Frozen Ground Trailer photo
Frozen Ground Trailer

Trailer: The Frozen Ground

Jun 10
// Nick Valdez
Nic Cage is a detective tracking a serial killer played by John Cusack. In order to find him he enlists the help of one of Cusack's almost victims, the stripper Vanessa Hudgens. Apparently this is based off some sort of true...

Review: Violet & Daisy

Jun 07 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215729:40198:0[/embed] Violet & DaisyDirector: Geoffrey FletcherRating: RRelease Date: June 7, 2013 The key thing about all of the Tarantino rip-offs is that they were playing it safe. That's the comfort of being derivative: you don't have to risk anything because the person you're copying did all the innovation for you. With a rip-off, you're not just bowling with bumpers in the gutter, you're bowling with a tube slide for the ball that's the length of the lane. Each punctuation of violence, each choice on the soundtrack, each pop culture reference is already rendered accessible. Risk -- which is the key to any successful and innovative work -- would come from taking your own chances rather than taking the chances that someone else has already taken. (There's a difference between Donald Barthelme's postmodern genre pastiches and Boondock Saints, for instance.) Movies that don't risk can still be entertaining, but Violet & Daisy is not one of these movies, and a lot of it has to do with that awful smugness I mentioned above. Violet (Alexis Bledel) is a seasoned hired gun with a new partner named Daisy (Saoirse Ronan). They do hits for Russ, played by Danny Trejo, who shows up briefly and then hits the ejector seat on this movie. Their first on-screen hit together involves dressing up as nuns from a Catholic-themed pizza place (ooh, how drole) and then totally smoking guys with a gun in each hand like it's a John Woo movie (ooh, how edgy). Their next job together is to kill Michael played by James Gandolfini, a lonely middle-aged man with an estranged daughter (ooh, how sad). Violet & Daisy wants its audience to make those "ooh" comments because the film only exists as a collection of references, bits, and familiar pieces. There's a moment of fantasy and hallucination during the film in which Violet sees Daisy as some sort of spectral airline stewardess standing over the wreck of a plane. It looks good, it's stylish, but it's so incredibly empty because the movie made me feel nothing (other than contempt) the entire time. Same goes for the oversized moon that takes up most of the sky in certain night shots. It's style for style's sake and nothing more. And yet for some it's enough. When confronted with superficial things that are otherwise successful, "ooh" is the reaction. "Ooh" shouldn't be sufficient. Violet & Daisy seems to want to have things both ways: it wants the ironic, ultra-cool posturing of hip 90s movies, but it also wants an emotional weight that shines through the irony. Since the film lacks real emotional substance, it tries to use treacly sentimentality instead. Michael's loneliness and isolation is meant to engender "awws" of sympathy, but it's a manipulative ploy, one that's as transparent as the film's implication of a rape. And amid this fumbling manipulation, the movie gets cutesy. Michael serves his killers milk and cookies, Violet and Daisy get obsessed with some nebulous Barbie fashion thing, and there are games of pat-a-cake because... Well, I don't know. Probably to make the audience ooze more vowel sounds rather than think about what they're actually watching, which doesn't amount to much. And that's just the stuff off the top of my head, and much of it is tonal. I haven't even touched the flimsy story of the film. There are some gaping plot holes in Violet & Daisy, particularly when Daisy makes a series of confessions to Michael about her own life. What she reveals undoes lots of the movie. This all made me wonder about the machinery of the film's world and the clockwork in the hearts of its characters. Sometimes Violet & Daisy operates like it's a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and other times like it's a shaky melodrama. I think a sense of inconsistency that reveals a deeper consistency is the source of good drama and comedy in oddball storytelling, but here the inconsistency reveals a lack of care or a total lack of consideration. Things happen just because, and not because of something deeper. It's surprising that this film is written and directed by Geoffrey Fletcher, who won an Oscar for adapting Precious to the big screen. It's most surprising because the dialogue, though rapid fire, says nothing; words, words, words, but all verbal blanks. When characters in Tarantino movies make small talk, they do it to talk around something else that matters, and they do it with the stylishness of Elmore Leonard. In Violet & Daisy, people talk in clipped sentences and they don't talk about much of anything. Think of witty exchanges but bled of the wit. But it makes sense because maybe sheer velocity of language will distract from the sheer emptiness of the language. It's all of a piece. Violet & Daisy is a movie that wants to reduce audience reactions to a series of vowel sounds because in terms of style and substance, there's really nothing to talk about. Ooh, what a waste of time.
Violet & Daisy Review photo
Take off those glasses, you look ridiculous
There was a point in the mid-to-late 1990s when a bunch of lesser filmmakers tried to make movies like Quentin Tarantino. It was the style of Tarantino -- the pop-culture savvy, the soul music, the violence, the coolness, the...


Trailer: Runner Runner

Two of the biggest names in entertainment show up in this?
Jun 06
// Matthew Razak
Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck can pretty much do whatever the hell they want in Hollywood. Timberlake is insanely popular after the release of his new album and Affleck couldn't be hotter after Argo. Runner Runner i...

Trailer: The Family

Jun 05
// Liz Rugg
In Luc Besson's The Family, Robert DeNiro returns to one of his best forms - a mobster trying to stay out of trouble, and failing. The movie centers around DeNiro's character and his tough-as-nails family; his wife played by...

BFF Review: Black Out

Jun 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215735:40175:0[/embed] Black OutDirector: Arne ToonenRating: TBDCountry: The NetherlandsRelease Date: TBD On the day before his wedding, Jos (Raymond Thiry) wakes up in bed next to someone else: a corpse with a bullet in his face. Jos has apparently shot the man, and has somehow lost 20 kilos of cocaine, but he can't remember how any of this happened. "There's a hole in my memory," he explains to his friend Bobbie (Bas Keijzer) while trying to dispose of the body. "That guy's also got a hole in his memory," Bobbie replies. Somehow Jos has to get the coke back and get married tomorrow, but obviously it's more complicated than that. Black Out follows Jos for the next 24 hours or so, and the film packs that time with strange characters and twisty convolutions of plot. There's a former Russian ballet dancer turned gangster who now manages a bowling alley played by Simon Armstrong, who reminded me of Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds mixed with Henry Gibson's pissy old gay man from Magnolia. There's Alex van Warmerdam as the inadvertently racist cop on Jos's tail, and Edmond Classen as Charles, an elderly gangster who pretends to be senile and to hide his criminal doings. Charles is still able to headbutt people into submissiveness, and has two movie-savvy sexpot enforcers named Charity and Petra (Katja & Birgit Schuurman) who carry a cricket bat and an axe decorated with the tasteful flair of WWII fighter planes. Somehow Black Out also folds in two hapless dog groomers trying to make a quick buck, another gangster who's new on the scene, Jos's old criminal associates, Jos's soon-to-be father-in-law, and, of course, Jos's fiancee Caroline (Kim van Kooten). Van Kooten wrote the first few script pages for Paul Verhoeven's Tricked, a movie where the crowdsourced screenplay was written by hundreds of others. It was an interesting experiment, though the film wasn't as unpredictable as I would've imagined -- more controlled than controlled-chaos. To be honest, I thought Tricked would have the same kind of energetic weirdness of a film like Black Out. Whereas Tricked was carefully pieced together, in Black Out stuff will pop into frame and smack people in the face. It's fascinating what happens when filmmakers riff on other filmmakers. Later in the week I'll be reviewing another movie that's also a pastiche of Tarantino and Ritchie, but I don't think that one worked. What makes Black Out different is that it's not content to just play with references as a crutch or as a sign of cleverness. Using the familiar style of Tarantino and Ritchie, Toonen and screenwriter Melle Runderkamp are basically upending a toy box and playing with anything that would make sense in the bends of the story. Black Out stitches together different action play sets and joins different action figures -- it feels like playtime rather than just pastiche; less like adults winking as if to say "Are you clever enough to get this reference?" and more like kids maniacally laughing. A big part of the appeal to Black Out is the pervasive cartoon logic. There's the requisite Mexican stand-off scene, and the payoff is nicely done and treated like a well-constructed joke. (The scene actually begins with a badly told joke that's funny nonetheless.) There are set-ups and punchlines throughout the movie, and they're done with style and speed -- it's a story that's constantly moving, looks good doing it, and knows what it's doing. All the while, Jos is clueless and propelled by either good fortune or bad fortune. Just when everything seems to be going all right, another complication means more playtime, and more of that childlike maniacal laughter. So far Black Out has no US distribution, but it'll probably happen since there's a lot to enjoy about it. I'd actually like to watch it again, if only to see it without the digital noise and really enjoy the lush colors and visual gags. Black Out is not a movie that re-invents the wheel or deconstructs the wheel, but it doesn't have to. Sometimes just rolling a wheel along is fun enough, especially down a bumpy, winding road. Black Out screens Monday, June 3rd. For tickets and more information, click here.
Black Out Review photo
♫ It's like losing 20 kilos of cocaaaaaine before your wedding day ♫
Two things struck me when the opening credits of Black Out came on: 1) there was a lot of style and flash in a good way, and 2) the festival's digital copy was low res. As the text appeared, so did fuzzy squares and breaks in...

More like SEXY-cop photo
More like SEXY-cop

Crime is happening in new Robocop set photos

Now it only sort of looks like that suit from Crysis.
May 14
// Nick Valdez
I normally don't like talking about set photos since things normally look a lot better in post production, but for these Robocop reboot images I'll make an exception (it's probably because that Max guy isn't a thing anym...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Northwest

May 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215495:40051:0[/embed] Northwest (Nordvest)Director: Michael NoerRating: TBDCountry: DenmarkRelease Date: TBD Caspar (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) lives with his family in a rough part of Copenhagen. He's a petty thief who makes a living by breaking into houses, taking whatever he can, and selling the goods to a local heavy. The jobs aren't particularly sophisticated, and they don't pay all that well either, but it's a living. Caspar's life takes a turn for the better -- before making a big dip downward -- when he gets involved with another crime boss and then gets his brother Andy (Oscar Dyekjær Giese) involved. It starts with driving hookers to their johns, but it becomes much more complicated as the film goes on. The sense of reality in Northwest is thanks in large part to director Micharl Noer. Northwest is only his second narrative feature, but he has a background in documentary filmmaking, which serves this grim and gritty story well. At least half of the found footage films made today should take note: dump the idea of being found footage and simply go handheld like this. It makes the movie visceral without any of the difficult contrivances of found footage films. An additional sense of truth comes from the two first-time actors playing Caspar and Andy, who are real-life brothers and naturals on screen. The rest of the cast also feel authentic; there's character to their faces and mannerisms, and the acting is inhabited rather than affected. There'a one point in Northwest where Caspar and Andy share a quiet moment together. It's late at night after a job and they've only just begun their downward spiral, but things are going great for now. Brief triumph in lives that have known little of it. Andy finishes off a Red Bull and tosses the can away. Noer's camera holds steady and observes as the can rolls down a sloping bit of concrete into the shadows. The pull of gravity and the nature of momentum is unstoppable, the darkness seems infinite. These two brothers are about to make a similar journey. The Red Bull can gets off easy by comparison.
Northwest Review photo
Youth is rotting in the state of Denmark
In some ways Northwest could be written off as another movie about how crime doesn't pay. There's an escalation of criminal activity, there's the brief taste of a modest sweet life, there's the tragic inflation of egos, and t...

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