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Drama

Review: Hard Sell

May 23 // Rick Lash
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I want to say nice things about this film. That's the feeling I'm left with as I'm watching it. I believe I understand where the Writer/Director, Sean Nalaboff, is coming from. Hard Sell is "a coming-of-age tale ... [abo...

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...

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.
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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...

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...


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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...
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Golden Globes to prevent dramas from competing as comedies


Sorry Matt.
Apr 19
// Geoff Henao
The Golden Globes were an unfunny joke this year, anchored by its comparatively unfunny Best Comedy, The Martian. The film's win, paired with lead actor Matt Damon's Best Comedy Actor win, was met with almost unanimous ire. H...
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The Survivalist

Watch the trailer for The Survivalist, a moody post-apocalyptic drama/thriller


One of my favorites from Tribeca 2015
Jan 26
// Hubert Vigilla
The Survivalist was one of my favorite movies from last year's Tribeca Film Festival. (You can read my review at another site here.) It was a moody, memorable indie drama set in the overgrown woods of a post-apocalyptic futur...
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House of Cards

House of Cards trailer makes me want to watch


So this show is good, huh?
Jan 11
// Matthew Razak
Please don't kill me, but I haven't watched a single episode of House of Cards. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that I haven't. Yes, I've probably been watching a bunch of other shows that aren't as good, and I keep ...
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Screenings

See Concussion early and free


Washington DC, Baltimore and Norfolk
Dec 15
// Matthew Razak
I'm not sure why, but Will Smith's performance in Concussion is flying a bit under the radar. Yes, he's getting nominations, but no one is considering him a contender and they really should be. Don't believe me? Check ou...

Review: Seven Weeks (Nononanananoka)

Dec 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220169:42720:0[/embed] Seven Weeks (野のなななのか, Nononanananoka)Director: Nobuhiko ObayashiRelease Date: March 2, 2014 (Japan)Rating: n/aCountry: Japan There's a line in Neil Gaiman's Sandman that goes, "If you keep [stories] going long enough, they always end in death." Ironically, death is also a great place to start a story. When a friend or relative passes away, loved ones gather to mourn and remember, and in the process they find something useful for the future. Seven Weeks opens on a similar note, commemorating the real-life passing of a director before saying that each time someone dies, someone else is born to take his or her place. So stories keep going, and there's death, but it's not necessarily the end; it's more like a continuing historical process. That's the broad shape of Seven Weeks. A family's 92-year-old patriarch, Dr. Suzuki Mitsuo (Shinagawa Toru), passes away, and the film proceeds to explore the town he lives in, his secret past during WWII, and the lives of his surviving family and friends. The film is set in Ashibetsu, a mining town whose population has dwindled as reliance on coal has declined. The characters in the film often have rapid, funny exchanges with one another, especially in the first hour, which plays out with the speed of a screwball comedy. It's not just Mitsuo's surviving family members doing the talking. The ghost of Mitsuo also has a chance to comment on his own life and death, which he does at length. Even though I'm only mildly familiar with the history and politics of post-war Japan, the setting is essential for Obayashi's concerns, which are at once distinctly Japanese and yet also universal. So many of the anxieties of every generation are rooted in the inability to account for a world that's constantly changing. Moving from coal power, Japan settled on nuclear energy, and yet with nuclear power comes a reminder of the atomic bomb and, more recently, the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. What next, where to go, what to do? When Mitsuo's family brings these concerns up, Seven Weeks feels like a message movie about green energy, albeit a sincere one. The local economy in Ashibetsu isn't what it used to be and may continue to decline, and yet Obayashi lovingly photographs the rural landscape, always finding beauty and grace in the hillsides. It's as if somewhere in the past, in the very soil of this place, there's an answer, or at least a chance for beautiful reflection that can inspire worthwhile solutions. I sensed a few nods to Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, which is apt. Similar concerns of place and tradition come from a few of Mitsuo's drunk contemporaries, who talk about the loss of a traditional Japanese culture, the west exerting more cultural influence on the country and its youth in the post-war period. Mitsuo's own struggles with the past suggest an unwillingness to let go, haunted by a poem and the memory of a woman. His clinic even has an adjoining local history museum, which suggests different ways and reasons why we hold on to events from our past. Seven Weeks clocks in at nearly three hours. Some long films feel much shorter, but Seven Weeks feels like it's three hours. That's not really a bad thing, but anyone expecting the movie to be brisk will be disappointed. Anyone expecting an experience like Hausu will be especially disappointed. Seven Weeks contains a few flashes of anarchic experimentation like Hausu, but it's mostly a grounded affair given the subject matter. The characters are quirky, but mostly only just. There's a monk who plucks and admires his comically large ear hair, which has a nice payoff in a scene in which one of Mitsuo's grandsons starting picking his own nose hair. A few uses of blue screen and green screen to convey the passing of time and the change in the seasons are jarring since they look spotty, but for the most part there's a slow, deliberate confidence in much of Seven Weeks that reveals an old director in complete control of his material. There's an overture played throughout Seven Weeks by a group of marching ghosts. The spectral musicians are motif I've seen in a few other Japanese movies, though I'm still never quite sure what to make of them. The melody they play is rather charming, and the slow yet beautiful dazzle of the tune seems mirrored in the pace of the film. The ghosts walk the landscape and play their song, and they're a calming presence in Seven Weeks. The whole film has a calming and contemplative presence, in fact, like a grandfather telling a story. Sometimes we drift in and out when listening to the tale, but there are details and textures we recall vividly, and it's just nice to hear that voice.
Review: Seven Weeks photo
Past, present, future
Even though most people in the US know Nobuhiko Obayashi for his 1977 cult classic House (Hausu), he's remained a prolific filmmaker in Japan. His body of work is varied, including the body swap comedy Exchange Students ...

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Screenings

See The 33 early and free


Washington DC, Baltimore and Norfolk
Nov 06
// Matthew Razak
Hollywood turns movies around pretty quick these days. It's only been a few years since the Chillean miners were trapped, but they've already got what appears to be a stirring film about their ordeal. You can be one of the fi...

Review: Experimenter

Oct 16 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219963:42636:0[/embed] ExperimenterDirector: Michael AlmereydaRating: PG-13Release Date:  October 16, 2015 In my review of Steve Jobs, I mentioned how Aaron Sorkin avoided the trap of the traditional biopic by creating a three-act structure. With Experimenter, writer/director Michael Almereyda also avoids the traditional biopic, in this case by treating his film like a kind of posthumous memoir. Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) goes about his life, but he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera with some commentary. Milgram also provides narration throughout the film, a kind of guided tour through his own life, or maybe through a fictional journal he kept in the afterlife. Though not identical, Experimenter reminded me at times of the Harvey Pekar movie American Splendor. The Milgram of the movie even gets to see a fictionalized version of himself on a TV shoot. Experimenter has moments of visual whimsy as well. When noting the links between his shock experiments and the rise of Nazism, an elephant stalks behind him in the hall. Backgrounds are sometimes projected onto a screen, which give a few moments the chintzy feel of a made-for-TV movie as well as a theatrical flair. A lot of Experimenter feels as if it could have been done on stage. I'm still note sure if the whimsy is justified--justifying whimsy makes me sound like a killjoy--but it keeps Experimenter visually interesting even if whimsy is just some play with the biopic form. The idea of deception is key in the ethical discussions about Milgram's shock experiments, so that may also be a loose justification for all the meta material and artifice. Since his breakthrough in Boys Don't Cry, Sarsgaard has been one of America's most reliably good and yet underrated actors. Even when the role isn't that great, Sarsgaard has a knack for at least making it work. As Milgram, Sarsgaard provides a sense of scientific remove. The delivery is clinical yet ruminative, as if every few lines should be followed by a curious hum. Winona Ryder plays his wife, Sasha, and though never given a lot to do in the film, she's solid with what she's given. The same could be said of the rest of the cast, which is filled with other recognizable character actors and that-guy/that-gal performers, like comedian Jim Gaffigan, Dennis Haysbert, Taryn Manning, Anthony Edwards, and John Leguizamo. The first third of Experimenter is centered on the shock experiments and meeting Sasha, and the eventual fallout of the experiments in terms of Milgram's career. His methods are questioned since they are dependent on an ethical breech, but the film's concern isn't just the moral issue of the experiment or the ethical conundrums of Milgram's methods. It branches outward, showing Milgram's other work as a social psychologist and contributions to his area of study and pop culture. One of Milgram's other experiments, briefly depicted, involved how we're all roughly six degrees of separation from one another--it's from Milgram that we got that phrase. If Experimenter falters, it's because it loses focus and a sense of momentum after the shock experiments are over, which might mirror the public interest in Milgram's post-shock work. We follow Milgram as he grows facial hair and as fashions change, but there's not necessarily an underlying thesis to latch onto, or a neatly shaped narrative to this take on Milgram's life. At a certain point, I was watching mostly for Sarsgaard, who held my interest like he usually does. Maybe Experimenter is a little too clinical and too removed from the urgent human stuff. There's an overarching sense about moral obligations to help others, and a fundamental interconnectedness about humanity that should make us feel less alone in the world. And yet instead of feeling moved emotionally, I was swayed intellectually. It's the sensation of hearing someone say something intelligent and showing assent with a hum.
Review: Experimenter photo
Stanley Milgram's noble experiment
If you've taken an Intro to Psychology class, you've heard about Stanley Milgram. His most famous experiments involved obedience and how normal people succumb to the effects of authority. The set up: Subject A is asked to tes...

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Concussion

Trailer for Concussion turns NFL evil


Even more so
Aug 31
// Matthew Razak
By now the NFL's flagrant disregard for their players health has been well documented. I myself am a football fan, which makes it all the more difficult to watch the trailer for Will Smith's upcoming Concussion, the true stor...

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

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

We'll finally see Jerry Lewis' infamous Holocaust film The Day the Clown Cried (in 10 years)

Aug 07 // Hubert Vigilla
Yes, it was supposed to be a comedy, albeit a bleak one. In a 1992 article in Spy Magazine, Shearer said of The Day the Clown Cried: With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. "Oh My God!"--that's all you can say. So, we'll eventually get to watch a legendary, unseen oddity, and I am fascinated by the prospect of seeing it. The Day the Clown Cried is one of those movies I've been aware of since the early 2000s, so the fact it's going to eventually see the light of day took me aback, ditto the fact that the print is from Lewis. Share your thoughts on The Day the Clown Cried in the comments [The LA Times via The Playlist]   YOUR OFFICIAL COUNTDOWN CLOCK TO THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED [embed]219740:42533:0[/embed]
The Day the Clown Cried photo
A notorious unseen oddity of a film
The Day the Clown Cried is one of the most infamous movies ever made. Jerry Lewis shot the controversial Holocaust film in 1972 and never released it. The plot concerns a Jewish circus clown in Nazi Germany who is sent to Aus...

The End of the Tour photo
The End of the Tour

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


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

First trailer for Diary of a Teenage Girl touts accolades


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

First clip for Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Macbeth


All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king
May 14
// Matthew Razak
It's been a bit since we've landed some good ol' Shakespeare on the big screen and even longer since we've had a solid Macbeth so it's easy to see why folks are getting excited for the Michael Fassbender and Ma...

Tribeca Review: Maggie

May 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219246:42343:0[/embed] MaggieDirector: Henry HobsonRelease Date: May 8, 2015 (limited)Rating: PG-13 Wade (Schwarzenegger) brings his daughter Maggie home from the city after she's attacked by a zombie. Bite victims slowly turn. Symptoms include necrosis, cataracts, dizzy spells, respiratory problems, and a heightened sense of smell. It's only a matter of time before Maggie will need to be killed or sent to a quarantine center, and the latter may be a worse fate. At certain points of Maggie, I was struck by how Schwarzenegger has aged in an interesting way. The texture of his face is like tree bark from certain angles and in certain light. More than that, the expressiveness of his brow and his eyes has increased. Same goes for his mouth, as if the stoic straight line we're accustomed to from his blockbusters is able to communicate more with age. It's not just a one-liner dispenser, and his scowls seem layered. Patiently holding a shot on Schwarzenegger has the potential to reveal his inner emotional machinery. This unexpected depth in Schwarzengger's performance comes mostly from the film's quiet moments. In one scene, like something out of a Terrence Malick film or an Andrew Wyeth painting, Wade wanders a field introspectively. His silhouette from behind has a heftier grimness in the dimming light. It's impossible to forget he's Arnold Schwarzenegger, and yet maybe the moment works better than it would otherwise because it's Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to negate his own Arnold-Schwarzenegger-ness for the sake of the story. Maggie is at its best when it uses zombie-ism to explore the impending loss of a loved one to a terminal illness. In Maggie's case, it's about coming to terms with the inevitability of death. Had Schwarzenegger not been cast, the film would have been billed as a showcase for Breslin. She carries at least half of the film. (She's the title character, after all.) When not succumbing to fits of dread, Maggie tries to live just like a teenager. There's a normalcy about living with her condition. In a brief sidetrip from the farmhouse, we see Maggie with her friends being carefree before going back to high school in the fall. Infected or not, to them, at least for now, she's still Maggie. The film's handful of missteps have less to do with the performances than the occasional saccharine note in the script. Bits here and there feel a little too much like "father and daughter bonding" beats in a movie. Breslin and Schwarzenegger perform them well, but the actors seem more natural when exchanging small looks and little lines together throughout the film rather than dedicating a full scene to semi-expository bonding. An accretion of affection is almost always preferable to a tenderness dump. For a film that's propelled more by its quiet moments, the wind down of Maggie features an overbearing bombast in the sound design and David Wingo's otherwise low-key score. It undermines some of the control that Hobson maintains for the film, and I wonder how much better a scene or two would play if they were muted. This might be one of the few times that anyone's called for an even quieter and more delicate finale to a movie featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but in Maggie, the performances are able to do the emotional heavy lifting on their own.
Maggie Review photo
I know now why you cry
Maggie is one of the last things you'd expect out of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Abigail Breslin, who plays the title character? Okay. Joely Richardson, who plays Maggie's stepmother? Sure. But not Arnie. Though Maggie's a post-ap...

Review: Boy Meets Girl

Apr 28 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218923:42200:0[/embed] Boy Meets GirlDirector: Eric SchaefferRelease Date: February 6th, 2015 (NYC)Rating: NR  My business card is classy. It's the kind of thing you might see in American Psycho, except on less sumptuous cardstock. It says: Alec Kubas-MeyerWriter | Editor | Critic | Filmmaker That is how I think of myself and how I present myself. Some days I'm more of a filmmaker. Right now I'm more of a critic. Writer/Editor is a bit vaguer but probably more marketable. What matters here, though, is "critic" (and, to a lesser extent, editor). As a critic, I have some sort of duty to critique a film, to write compelling criticism. As Reviews Editor of Flixist, I have a duty to uphold the words codified in the Review Guide that I wrote. But while I watched Boy Meets Girl as a critic, I experienced it as a human, and my experience as a human radically differed from my experience as a critic. The highest score I've given to a film was my ludicrously high 97 given to The Raid 2. But that review was tempered by an acknowledgement that the film's narrative beyond its action was flawed. Having just seen it for a third time, the narrative drags even more than I remembered. But the film deserves that score. It changed the game, raised the bar. But acknowledging the potentially controversial nature of this decision to rate a film that is fundamentally flawed so highly, I made a YouTube video about it. It has over 8,000 views. 138 of the 139 people who decided to take a stance liked it. That one person who didn't like it is a bad person. Boy Meets Girl's main character has a YouTube channel and posts fashion videos weekly. Her channel has 1100 subscribers. I wouldn't watch her videos if I came across them on YouTube. They're underproduced (much like the film they're portrayed in). For a video about fashion, it's a problem that they're really not much to look at. My video's not much better, though I have to admit to liking my background painting. I still have that painting. Maybe I'll make a video about this review. (As if the next several thousand words (buckle in, y'all) aren't more than enough. (They're not.)) "So why am you talking about all of this?!" I'm sure you're thinking that by now. "What the heck does this have to do with Boy Meets Girl? Get to the damn point already!" That's fair enough, but bear with me. This review is going to be weird, because of the thing I discussed two paragraphs ago. I had two radically different reactions to this film, both valid in their own way, and as such this review is not really a criticism so much as a philosophical exploration of what this film is, what it needed to be, and whether or not it matters that it's a cracked mirror and not something pristine. As such, it will (after a few more thoughts) be structured as a kind of discussion with myself, between my critical, logical side that spent the 108 minutes deconstructing each piece of dialogue, edit, camera movement, lighting choice, etc. and my human, emotional side.  Alec the Critic is going to write in bold. Alec the Human will not. Spoiler: The human side ultimately prevails. It is probably worth mentioning here that all critics are put in this same position now and again, and implying that critics are cold and calculating is ludicrous. The chasm between feelings may not often be wide enough to cause some kind of existential crisis, but what makes a critic interesting is the way they play that line between emotional and logical reactions. Purely emotional reactions can fail to examine what makes a film work and purely logical reactions don't give the reader anything to grab onto. There are exceptions of course, but by and large, good criticism falls somewhere in the middle. As I walked out of the theater, someone said, "This film is important." I don't think he liked it. There was an implied "but..." there. He just repeated that sentence and that was it. "This film is important." It is important. Last year, Jared Leto won an Oscar for his performance as a transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club. It was a brilliant performance, but I didn't know that Jared Leto was playing a transgender character. In retrospect, that makes a whole lot of sense, but my vision of his performance was colored by the fact that I'd seen more than a few people refer to him as a transvestite. It was only in retrospect that I realized that what they were saying was ignorant and etc. When people complained that they hadn't cast an actual transgender person in that role, it was a valid point not just because... ya know, duh, but because it would have removed that confusion. Everyone knows who Jared Leto is. Everyone knows Jared Leto is dude. And even if his performance as a transgender woman is spectacular, it's still a performance by a dude when it could have (perhaps should have) not been. Michelle Henley was born a man. In Boy Meets Girl, she plays a character who was also born a man. She makes a hilarious joke (seen in the trailer) about it: Some old women are complaining about their experiences at the local high school. "I was fat." "I had terrible acne." Ricky retorts, "And I was a boy... so that sucked." It's a great moment. The entire audience laughed, myself included. It's the biggest laugh in a film that has a few good ones. I'm sorry I ruined that, but the trailer ruined it first. But what's important isn't that joke. It's the context of that joke. Ricky is at a fancy party at a beautiful estate. The people there are posh, probably all Republicans. Some of them definitely are, which we know because the film shows them talking about Democratic policies bankrupting the country and this/that/the other thing. It's all very stereotypical, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that Ricky makes that joke, and the response isn't revulsion but laughter (and some confusion). For the most part, people accept Ricky for who she is. Even the people who don't like Ricky as a concept do like Ricky as a person and can see past the whole gender thing. Only two people in the entire film really raise any serious objections to it, and one of them is a hypocrite of the highest order. The other one makes a speech that is among the most real and poignant in the entire film. But it's not filled with hate, or even really disgust. It's cutting, but it's oddly tempered. This is the South. If we're going with stereotypes here, where's the hate? (This is important, and I will talk about it at even more length later on.) Boy Meets Girl was shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio, commonly referred to as "Flat" (as opposed to the 2.XX:1 "Scope" format). Many indie movies are shot that way. Documentaries are too. Paul Thomas Anderson shot his last two movies Flat. It happens. But it's rare. When people think Cinematic, one of the things they think of is that ultra widescreen. Boy Meets Girl does not look cinematic. It doesn't "look" like a movie. Here's an experiment you can try: Take a 16:9 image and simply chop off the top and bottom. Make a 1920x1080 image 1920x816 (or even 1920x800). Crop it or just add black bars. Instantly, the image will look more cinematic. It's fascinating, but we really do associate that with the real cinematic look. But of course, Boy Meets Girl doesn't need to "look" like a movie. The visuals exist to push the story forward and do nothing more. In that sense, they are serviceable at best, but they work. Be that as it may, it creates a rift when the characters talk like they're in a movie. Nobody in Boy Meets Girl ever really sounds like a person. They have the perfect, hyperrealistic responses you'd expect from a screenplay that has been given serious thought and revision. It's what you expect... from a movie. But because the characters in Boy Meets Girl talk like they're in a movie that doesn't really look like a movie, there's a level of dissonance. It's harder to suspend the disbelief. I can't argue with myself here, and the weakest thing about Boy Meets Girl is probably its script. A movie that's ostensibly about humans needs to have characters who sound like humans. And on that level, the movie fails. Everyone says exactly what they're thinking when it comes time for them to give their big speeches, and nothing is really left for interpretation. "This is how the world is," they say, but that's only half true. I was disconnected from the dialogue, because the characters seemed disconnected from what they were saying. That crushed me, because I wanted to believe in these characters at all times. There were times when I did, probably more often than not, but even some of the key dramatic moments fall flat because they feel like plot mechanisms rather than honest human revelations. But it's also that these characters are basically perfect. They're not flawed. I don't need Ricky to be an anti-hero, but when the worst thing any given character has done is have sex at boarding school and then pretend to be a virgin... come on, y'all. And then she cheats on her fiance, but even that is "justified" in the dialogue and ultimately doesn't really affect anyone's life. Everything works out in the end. For everyone. That isn't how life works. It's how life should work. It would be amazing if every transgender boy or girl in the South had loving friends and family. If they were able to overcome prejudice and do what they love. But it's hard to believe. So, so hard. But you know what? That's why we have Boys Don't Cry. That's why we have a film where things go horribly wrong, that show a more realistic side to things (though even that film is somewhat idealized from the original story, which is even worse). Boy Meets Girl doesn't owe the audience the reality of prejudice and hatred. The tiny little nuggets, to those who see them as symptomatic of society rather than one-off instances of transphobic characters (one of whom isn't actually transphobic, despite appearances to the contrary... a plot twist that kind of undermines its effectiveness. That hatred that the character initially spews is accurate. I've heard people say those things, seen them write those things on anonymous chat boards. Hell, when I first learned about transgender people (I was in high school), I felt some of those same things. I've grown up since then, at least a little bit. (I hope I have, anyhow.) Plus, the way that character (who looks annoyingly like Zayn from One Direction) fits into the other romantic subplots is too neat and tidy, as is the ultimate result of all of the various romantic threads. True, but shut up. It's my turn now. Fine. That's enough raining on Boy Meets Girl's parade. It's finally time to talk about the metaphorical mirror in the introduction, and the things that affected me. And this is going to require me to admit to something that's really weird and probably says something about me, though I don't have any idea what that might be: I can't watch characters kiss onscreen. Whenever lips lock, I avert my eyes. It's been that way for the better part of a decade. I don't know what started it or where it came from, but it bothers me. I feel uncomfortable watching it. Which made me extremely uncomfortable during Boy Meets Girl, because there is a lot of kissing in that movie. And the things that happen around that kissing are the reasons this film succeeds despite each and every flaw. Because the moments where this film is human and real are in its discussions about sex. How many romance movies have featured two characters kissing and then discussing sexual histories in order to clarify that they've used protection. That's a legitimate concern, and a legitimate conversation. It's something that's necessary... but it's also exactly the sort of thing films gloss over. In the heat of the moment, passion takes over and there's nothing more to it. Kiss. Sex. BOOM. We never see the sex. We do see the moments before (and the moments after). We see the awkward movements and dialogue that are ever-so-crucial. We get Ricky as she asks her partner whether they're okay with what they're doing, whether they understand the implications of going down that road. (Though here, again, this is undermined by the nearly utopian vision where a well-connected conservative leader does not go after a transgender woman (pre-sexual reassignment surgery, I might add) who slept with his daughter (thus, as far as anyone knows, taking her virginity). Bullshit. Absolute fucking malarkey.) But I digress... That Boy Meets Girl is willing to have frank discussions about what defines sex (in conversations outside of sexual contexts) matters. Those are rare. Less rare in indie film, but rare enough that it merits consideration. But the fact is that by sheer virtue of having a female transgender character (really, the pre-op thing is vital, and takes center stage in a climactic moment that reminded me just a little bit too much of the ending of Sleepaway Camp (minus the severed head)) at the center of these conversations, one who is experimenting with her own sexuality throughout the film, it propels itself far beyond its glaring technical problems and becomes something that is truly affecting. It's a sexual coming of age tale that has probably never been told quite like this. There have been dozens (hundreds) of movies about straight couples in these sorts of positions, and even a few about gay ones (the devastating and incredible Blue is the Warmest Color comes to mind), but transgender? Nah. That's something else. But it's something necessary.  Bruce Jenner, of the famous (and infamous) Kardashian household, just came out as transgender. He (not for much longer) is beginning a transition into womanhood. That public spotlight will matter. It will get people talking. It will put issues that are kept quiet out in front of everyone. That's what reality TV does best. It stirs up controversy and gets people talking. This will make people talk and make people think. Boy Meets Girl comes at a perfect time to stay one step ahead of that conversation. It lets people like me (and probably you too) into an experience that it's nearly impossible to imagine. I can't conceive of looking down and thinking, "No. That's not right." It's something I've wrestled with for a long, long time. It really is, and I've done that with varying degrees of sensitivity to the people who do have that experience. I can be rough and abrasive (no shit, right?) and there will probably be more than a few people I met in college who hear that I'm writing about transgender issues and cringe. They'll be right to. I can't say I've exactly turned over a new leaf and I'm going marching in the streets tomorrow, but I think I just understand it better now. There was something missing, some vital piece of the puzzle that I just hadn't locked into place. I saw my own prejudices in the mirror. During some of the more intimate scenes, I felt less comfortable than I think I would have if Michelle Hendley were not biologically male (though I would have been uncomfortable either way). I felt that little bit extra, and I was mad at myself. How dare I judge this on an emotional level? This wasn't something that I could objectively point to and say, "Nope, wrong!" the way people could in response to Blue is the Warmest Color's awkward and unrealistic sex scenes. I wish I could hide behind that. It would make me feel better about my visceral reaction, but I couldn't and can't. I need to own it, understand it, and be better for it. I need to get over myself.  Laverne Cox's excellent performance in Orange is the New Black did a lot to give a powerful voice to a transgender character, but Ricky is in such a different position. Ricky is still a kid. She wants to go to college in New York. That's her dream, and she waits for the letter from the Fashion Institute each and every day. Ricky doesn't have a vagina. Sophia gives an in-depth explanation of how vaginas work (she would know); Ricky has to ask her best friend for advice on getting a girl "wet" and asking how vaginal sex compares to anal, her only point of comparison. That's a different voice, and it's one we need. And even if Michelle Hendley's performance occasionally dips into the melodramatic, it all comes from an honest place that makes her fascinating to watch. In the end, she is the only character who truly feels real. And if Boy Meets Girl had to do anything, it was get that right. It had to make Ricky human, someone who anybody could empathize with.  I can complain all day about this or that, but to what end? What am I trying to prove by focusing on the bad instead of celebrating the good? This film made me think about my own feelings more than any film in recent memory. It showed me my own prejudices, but it didn't judge me for them. At least, not explicitly. And so now I have things to think about, and they're things I'll continue to think about. Everybody should see Boy Meets Girl. It should be required viewing in every high school sex ed class in the country. I urge you to see it. To tell your friends and family and vague social media connections. Get the word out, because even if they don't see Boy Meets Girl, they should know about it. They should know that it exists, because the fact that it exists matters too. It marks a turning point. One can only hope that the future is brighter.
Boy Meets Girl Review photo
Identity crisis
Boy Meets Girl is an antique magic mirror. The kind of thing you'd see in a movie. In an old, cobweb-filled antique shop, the camera slowly pans up an old, cracked and unpolished mirror. It's not really much to look at, ...

Black Mass Trailer photo
Black Mass Trailer

First trailer for Black Mass starring Johnny Depp


Apr 24
// Nick Valdez
While Johnny Depp hasn't lost his taste for dressing up in weird outfits, it looks like he's finally using his powers for good again. Black Mass, based on the exploits of Whitey Bulger, a gangster who became an FBI informant ...

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Hobson, and Joely Richardson Discuss Maggie

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

Southpaw Trailer photo
Southpaw Trailer

First trailer for Southpaw starring Jake Gyllenhaal


Mar 27
// Nick Valdez
After Enemy and Nightcrawler, I've been really looking forward to what Jake Gyllenhaal would do next. Thankfully the wait looks completely worth it with this first trailer for Southpaw. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Da...
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Maggie trailer has Arnold Schwarzenegger and his zombie daughter


Yeaugh yeaugh choppa yeaugh headshot yeaugh Turbo-Man!
Mar 25
// Hubert Vigilla
Arnold Schwarzenegger's played diverse roles throughout his career: a barbarian, a cybernetic organism, a concerned father, a cop (you idiot), a soldier, a secret agent, a pregnant man, a governor of the state of California,...
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Selma returning to theaters this weekend with BOGO deal


A second chance to get angry at the Academy's snubs
Mar 18
// Matthew Razak
Did you miss Selma when it was in theaters? You shouldn't have because it was probably the best film of the year and because it's important historically. Basically you're a bad person if you did. However, redemption awai...
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New poster for Welcome to Me starring Kristen Wiig


Feb 16
// Ciaran McGarry
Kristen Wiig's latest is a comedy drama in which she plays Alice Klieg, a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery. She promptly throws away her psychiatric meds, buys herself a talk show and uses it...
Compton Trailer photo
Compton Trailer

First trailer for N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton


Feb 09
// Nick Valdez
I'm normally not a fan of biopics as they're usually hokey, but this first Red Band trailer for N.W.A.'s biopic Straight Outta Compton looks much better than other other ones out right now. It doesn't seem cheesy like those ...
All is lost photo
All is lost

Lost River, Ryan Gosling's directorial debut, not coming to a theater near you


Going straight to VOD
Dec 30
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
Critics didn't particularly like Lost River, Ryan Gosling's directorial debut. It received a critical thrashing when it premiered at Cannes, and that likely played into the newly announced decision to bring the film stra...

Review: Foxcatcher

Dec 29 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218769:42086:0[/embed] FoxcatcherDirector: Bennett MillerRelease Date: November 14th, 2014 (limited), December 19th, 2014 (wide)Rating: R Foxcatcher is based off of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) and his "training" of Olympic wrestlers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) Schultz in his home of Foxcatcher ranch. As John invites Mark to train at his state of the art facility for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Mark agrees to escape the shadow of his more successful brother. But Mark quickly learns that John is throwing his money behind the Schultz brothers in order to earn the respect of his mother and the world around him.  Foxcatcher is the argument against giving directors freedom from studio interference. Most of the time when you hear of heavy studio involvement, you hear of the bad things like censorship or hard to work conditions. But in an era where films see it fit to run an ungodly length of time (we've lost our chance at a concise masterpiece) just because they can, and every film in theaters is two hours plus, that's when the studios come in and adjust things. Regardless of the actual reason for those adjustments (budget reasons, for example), the tighter leash forces directors to think more creatively and effectively utilize what little run time they're allotted. But if a director is given all of this freedom but chooses not to use the empty space between narrative beats, you get long stretches of nothing. That's Foxcatcher in a nutshell.  It's just a shame too as there are quite a few interesting dramatic moments in between all of the filler.  Tatum as Mark Schultz is wonderful. An intentional stonefaced delivery complete with nuanced physicality, Tatum certainly has a future in films like these. I can't wait to see Tatum challenge himself more. Foxcatcher is at times intense and unforgiving, and during these brief scenes, it's compelling. For example when John du Pont is introduced, he gives this brief speech and Carell fills the air with a sinisterness by just breathing. In fact, Carell deserves whatever awards nominations or wins that he gets in the future. He is a commanding, yet fragile presence. A slightly unhinged individual with shallow breath, you spend the entire film waiting for the him to completely unravel. But if you already know the story that inspired Foxcatcher, there won't be payoff for you and all of the waiting you had to endure will be for naught. In fact, you'll wish it came sooner.  Foxcatcher could've been an interesting character study had it attempted to diversify its tone. There's never any attempt to present these individuals as something other than broken, and when you don't attempt to mask it (or explore that brokenness), there's very little in the narrative to chew on. There's never any attempt to bring the audience in, and your always left on the sidelines waiting for something to happen. When Foxcatcher gives you yet another pregnant pause, or yet another landscape shot, you've lost interest in all of it as you realize the narrative would rather wallow in its pretentiousness than dissect it.  Foxcatcher is a film where you watch a fox chase a rabbit for over two hours, taking time every now and then for a nap. By the time the fox actually catches the rabbit, you've been lulled into such a sleepy state it's impossible to stay invested in anything that happens on screen. It all just fades into the background.  It's a damn shame too as what is in that background is fantastic work. A good show of talent for all of the cast involved with a story based off a little known true story, and some fantastic transitions between scenes. But as mentioned, it's buried under tons and tons of bad pacing. When the most educated criticism I can come up with after immediately watching is "it's boring," I have no idea what to blame. Maybe myself. Maybe there's something here I just didn't connect with, but as it stands, Foxcatcher catches little. 
Foxcatcher Review photo
Catches cold
Foxcatcher quickly grabbed a lot of attention for its stark representation of some big named actors. While Steve Carell has tackled heavier material before, he had never looked as sinister as he did in the first couple of ima...

Review: Big Eyes

Dec 26 // Matthew Razak
[embed]218765:42091:0[/embed] Big EyeDirector: Tim BurtonRated: PG-13Release Date: December 25, 2014 Rounding out the "based on a true story" fare for Christmas (see: Selma, American Sniper, and Unbroken), Big Eyes tells the tale of "Big Eye" artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). If you lived through the 50s and 60s you probably know who she is as her art work was everywhere and basically revolutionized how artwork was distributed and made money. There was great debate over whether or not her work, which featured small children with large sad eyes, was actually art or just kitsch. That isn't what the film is about, though. The film is about how Margaret Keane's husband, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), took credit for her work for nearly two decades. Now you're interested, hug? What is so incredible about this story is just how incredible it gets. Bouncing from one unbelievable twist to the next and all of them entirely true. By the end of the film you're simply stunned by just how great a conman Walter is. The star of this film is actually truth. It would be hard for any director to mess up a story that's just this compelling and ridiculous. Burton, however, does more with it. The story is so fantastical that his slightly otherworldly tilt to the proceedings lends it the perfect air. His characters push close to caricature levels, and yet seem right at home in the ridiculous story of the film. Waltz's Walter Keane is especially ridiculous, yet disturbingly dark. This tempered back Burton is surprisingly adept at minutia and tone.  Burton does lose a little credit by avoiding some of the greater themes that surround the story. The focus is definitely on Margaret and the absurdity of the entire situation, and this leads to an avoidance of just how brilliant Walter Keane was at marketing himself (or his fake self) and the greater debate over what art is. The New York Times art critic who routinely tears down "Big Eyes" is too much of a stereotype to truly develop into a discussion on art. It's too bad as the film could have had a lot to say on the subject as "Big Eyes" art is the perfect example of popular art that isn't high art. The movie even opens with a hint of the discussion forming with a quote from Andy Warhol, "I think what Walter Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it." It's a bold statement that says popularity makes art, but the movie never truly dives into this. Instead it is content to agree with the statement and carry on telling it's story. Luckily it's story is great so the lack of actual debate on the subject of art has a minimal effect, but it is definitely missing.  Big Eyes delivers an incredibly strange true story, with great help from two strong performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. While it may not be the thought provoking picture it could have been, it's still a stellar story to see. Burton dives head first into telling it with a passion that is clear. The story alone is interesting, what Burton does with it takes it to an even better place. 
Big Eyes Review photo
Eyes wide open
Everyone, I'm about to shock you to your core. Big Eyes is a Tim Burton film and it is quite possible that the color black doesn't appear once. Shades of greys and shadows, yes, but the Gothic trendings of the director a...


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