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Fantasy

Review: The Dark Tower

Aug 04 // Matthew Razak
[embed]221796:43721:0[/embed] The Dark TowerDirector: Nikolaj ArcelRelease Date: August 4, 2017Rated: PG-13 The Dark Tower is one of those movies that you're going to get a lot more out of if you've read the books despite the fact that it is really only loosely based on them at all. There are hints and allusions to bigger things that readers will pick up on, but much of the massive quest that Roland (Idris Elba), Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) and their ka-tet (those bound by fate) go on in the books as they confront the Man in Black/Walter (Matthew McConaughey) is missing. The film pieces together key parts here and there, dropping entire characters in what feels like an attempt to put much of the quest into a 90 minute running time.  In our world we find Jake having dreams of the Dark Tower and the Man in Black/Walter, a powerful wizard who can kill simply by telling people to stop breathing. He is nigh-invulnerable and more akin to a comic book super villain than the mysterious trickster of the books. Using the "shine" of children kidnapped from the many worlds that are all connected by the tower, Walter is attempting to destroy it in order to let the blackness in from the outside. Enter the gunslingers of Mid-World, of which Roland is the last one. His sole quest is to kill Walter in order to get revenge for the death of his father and the fall of his homeland Gilead. Eventually Jake, who is gifted with the most powerful amount of shine ever, finds his way into Mid-World and the two set off on a universe-hopping quest to stop Walter. That, my friends, is the least complicated way of explaining the plot that the film has attempted to cram into a 90 minutes. There's a lot of lore and other items that get shoved in here and there too, but instead of opening up the story all the different themes and myths make it more obtuse and unfocused. As a reader of the books I understood a lot of the background that was going on and where ideas came from, but coming from an outside perspective it must feel more like idea vomit -- a bunch of tropes pushed onto the screen one after the other. It makes for a flat film that peaks the few times it focuses on its characters and not the world. Those characters do work, but thanks to the limited running time we never really get to know them. Idris Elba's gunslinger shows hints of the depth behind his fantastically stoic front, but he's never able to turn it into anything thanks to the movie heavily focusing on the far less interesting Jake and overplaying Walter. McConaughty is fantastically slimy as the wizard/magician/evil-person, and a far better choice of casting than I thought he would be, but instead of an air of mystery about the character they turn him into a big bad that plays generic. Taylor meanwhile plays Jake well enough for a child actor, but as the linchpin for the film his character feels more like a McGuffin than an actual person.  This isn't all to say that The Dark Tower is a bad movie, but instead of the tent pole of a large franchise it feels like a half-baked standalone. In that light it could be seen as a moderate success, delivering some interesting concepts here and there. Roland's gun fighting shines every so often as interesting, and Walter's ability to have people do anything he wants is played up for effect pretty well. The action itself is pretty interesting, but limited as well. Roland's expertise with the six-shooters delivers some memorable moments, but Arcel can't piece together a coherent enough action sequence to make anything truly stand out. There's things that work here, just not in a big picture way. They work in a single scene way. Walter's nearly unlimited super powers are a great example of this. They seem immeasurable and unstoppable, which makes for some enjoyably evil scenes, but on the whole make more of a mess. They raise questions about why a man who can hurl massive chunks of buildings that could easily crush our hero doesn't do just that the second he wants to. Roland is supposedly a bit immune to Walter's magic, but he's clearly not immune to being crushed, stabbed, or run over by large objects, which in turn are not immune to Walter's ability to hurl them through the air at Roland.   This leads directly to the biggest issue the film may have. Since Walter is turned into a super villain instead of the enigmatic torturer of Roland he no longer acts as a convincing foil. The great metaphorical duel between the two characters is nothing more than a shootout since the film doesn't spend any time developing the cat and mouse game it wants the two to be playing. There is no true tension there. Roland and Jake's relationship is a bit better, with the replacement father/son story line giving charm to the two, but it again often feels forced thanks to the movie's breakneck pace to get to its conclusion. I do have to applaud the film for avoiding a direct adaptation. While King's first book in the series could have maybe kind of been turned into a film it would have been a mess from there out. Instead The Dark Tower takes a cue from the books and presents the story as the last time around the wheel (another reference fans will love, but newcomers won't understand). It's a good move that means the film (and still in the works TV show) can forge their own path that isn't bound by the idiosyncrasy of the books, and if the movie was anything other than dull it could have worked. I stress this because I'm not upset that the film isn't like the books, but that it isn't that good on its own. The Dark Tower series has some magic in its world that is engrossing, but this movie can't find it. It's not an issue with ignoring the source material, it's an issue of making a good movie. 
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The elevator pitch of an epic
If you've read Stephen King's prolific Dark Tower saga you know it's a weird, wonderful, flawed, brilliant, mess of an epic that touches so many genres it's hard to classify it at all. It bounces from western to sci...

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The Dark Tower is the latest blockbuster to be filled with production problems


This is becoming a thing
Aug 02
// Matthew Razak
Based on reports from some inside sources Variety is reporting that The Dark Tower had a very rock production. This might not come as a surprise since the entire process of bringing Stephen King's book series to any size...
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Netflix's Bright trailer has will Smith taking on orc criminals


You know... as you do
Jul 21
// Matthew Razak
Despite the giant pile of crap that was Suicide Squad, David Ayers is still a director I get excited for. And despite his recent spate of lackluster films, Will Smith is still an actor I think can deliver some great performan...
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There's a trailer for Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water, has a weird merman thingy


Is that the fish guy from Hellboy?
Jul 20
// Drew Stuart
'Tis the season of San Diego Comic Con, and as such, we're getting loads of trailers to sort through here at Flixist. And one of the best trailers we've seen so far comes to us from none other than the visionary director Guil...

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First A Wrinkle in Time trailer brings style to a classic


It's OK to get excited now
Jul 17
// Matthew Razak
Our first look at Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time left me a little underwhelmed. I just wasn't seeing the sort of magic that the book captured. The first trailer, however, is bringing back my excitement. This looks pret...
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I got your OATS Shorts right here


Get 'em while they're still weird
Jul 09
// Anthony Marzano
I have to admit when Neill Blomkamp said he was going to be releasing a bunch of new short films for free through both Steam and YouTube I was skeptical about the quality of them or how much I would enjoy them. This is not to...

Review: Okja

Jun 28 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221603:43630:0[/embed] OkjaDirector: Bong Joon-hoRating: N/ARelease Date: June 28, 2017 (Netflix, limited theatrical)Country: South Korea/United States Okja opens with a press conference as preface. CEO Lucy Mirando announces the creation of special mutant super pigs made to address the world's food shortages revamp its brand. She's played by Tilda Swinton, who looks and acts like a character in a Christopher Guest movie. Those bangs, those braces, and later, that twitchy, insecure overbite. The initial super pigs have been given to farmers around the globe, and in 10 years the best one will be picked to publicly launch a line of tasty, savory mutant food products. Okja, the only pig we follow, was raised in the mountains of Korea by Mija and her grandfather (Byun Hee-Bong). The film lingers with Mija and Okja a while as they spend afternoons in the forests eating persimmons in sun and swimming by a waterfall. Bong builds the kinship between his lead and his digital warm-cuddly; there's a shorthand for 10 loving years in 10 or so lackadaisical minutes. The lush mountaintop idyll also works as a counterpoint to the madness that follows--colors darken down below as our characters descend. Okja is taken away, and the movie becomes a series of pursuits. A daring chase through the streets of Seoul is one of the highlights of the film. In America, Okja goes through a series of upsetting and disturbing events that reveal the ugly side of Mirando's shiny new product. A little past the midway point of Okja, I can see some people souring on the movie because of what happens in the plot. Rather than make a family film for all ages, Bong's story gets much darker than the initial fun in the sun would suggest. (More Babe: Pig in the City than Babe.) This darkness follows logically and diegetically, however, and it's the point. This mutant movie, among other things, is an indictment of factory farming and corporate culture. It's why Mija just wants to bring Okja back up to the mountain, above all of those concerns. Like any CG creature, Okja looks better in some scenes and worse than others. When it works, she's got the expressiveness of an actual animal, with mannerisms less like a pig and more like a lumbering puppy/hippo. (She even poops like a hippo. Okja is the sort of movie in which the bowel movements of an animal figure into the plot. Glorious.) Something about Okja's eyes and snout, and maybe a certain floppiness or articulation of her ears, communicate a fair amount of emotion. When Mija is there to react, she complements and enhances the CG performance. Other times, Okja is clearly just a big digital thing dropped into a shot. I was generally able to stay with the world of the movie even when the CG was obvious. The world of Okja is messy and cartoony, and the CG is never too bad to be totally distracting from everything else that's going on. And there's a lot going on. Mija is an immutable moral center in the movie, and though she's a newcomer, Ahn is good as a determined lead. The supporting characters are varying levels of quirky, and many get to play off Ahn as the straightwoman. Paul Dano is very Paul Dano as Jay, the leader of an Animal Liberation Front group. His misfit band of eco-terrorists squabble over the carbon footprint of cherry tomatoes and suckle on asparagus spears. Bong and co-writer Jon Ronson mock the ideological minutiae of some ALF characters (extremism is inherently funny), but they're careful not to target the core humanity of their beliefs. Jay and his band are goofy, but they're also the good guys. The most overblown performance is surprisingly not Tilda Swinton but Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays Dr. Johnny Wilcox, a nasally TV wildlife personality. Off-camera, he's like an evil Ned Flanders by way of bizarro Ace Ventura and Rip Taylor; a sadistic narcissist who hides his ugly-streak under layers of gee willikers and aww shucks. When the camera is on Dr. Johnny, his persona changes. His voice lowers and slows and he speaks from the diaphragm rather than the nose. The highs and lows of Gyllenhaal's performance may best the representation of Okja's highs and lows. The man contains multitudes, some hilarious and some terrifying. (Jaeil Jung's score also contains multitudes: a little bit of folk, a little bit of traditional orchestral music, and there's also something for the oompah band fans out there.) If the tone shifts and genre-bending don't push away some viewers, I sense that Bong's preachiness might do the trick. Okja isn't particularly subtle about its stance on GMOs and the food business; the subtlest the film gets is a brief and passing implication that Okja is such a healthy and hearty mutant super pig because she is a free-range mutant super pig. Yet subtlety might be unnecessary here, and the same goes for genre and tone conventions. Netflix gave Bong final cut and full creative control over Okja. The result is free-range Bong Joon-Ho, which is, admittedly, an acquired taste, but it's linked to the love people have for their favorite childhood pet. That's a familiar, perennial flavor--narrative comfort food. As Lucy Mirando tells us at the start of Okja, the most important thing is that the mutant super pig tastes f**king good. And it does. Weird but good, sure, but good mainly because it is so weird.
Review: Okja photo
That'll do, mutant super pig, that'll do
Bong Joon-Ho's Okja is a chimera of genre and tone. It's a lovable mutant like its titular super pig--the best super pig, we're told, the superlative like something out of Charlotte's Web. Which makes sense. As a director, Bo...

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New trailer for HBO's Game of Thrones Season 7 satisfies


Winter is here on July 16
Jun 21
// Drew Stuart
It's been roughly a month since the last trailer for HBO's Game of Thrones dropped, but when you're hotly anticipating one of the best shows on TV, that wait can become an agonizing struggle. On top of that, GoT is premiering...
Okja posters photo
Okja posters

New posters for Bong Joon-Ho's Okja describe the characters in terms of choice cuts


Pleased to meat you
Jun 05
// Hubert Vigilla
Bong Joon-Ho's Okja looks like a hoot--a Spielbergian eco-adventure about a brave girl and her mutant super pig. Reviews out of Cannes have been generally positive, and Bong himself seems pleased with Netflix allowing him to ...
Gilliam's Don Quixote photo
Gilliam's Don Quixote

Terry Gilliam finished shooting The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria


More setbacks to come, I'm sure
Jun 05
// Hubert Vigilla
Somehow, after 17 years of hell, Terry Gilliam has finished shooting The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. No, this is not a joke. He did it. Gilliam finally did it. And he lived to tell the tale on Facebook over the weekend. Gilli...
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HBO's Game of Thrones Season 7 has a real trailer, finally


7.16 HBO and I are gonna Netflix & chill
May 25
// Rick Lash
While HBO released a teaser spot for Game of Thrones season 7 two months ago, it was more of a narrative reminder of what's to come based off of existing soundbites. No new footage was revealed. This was a problem for the rab...
The Dark Crystal photo
Scariest childrens movie ever
Netflix -- because it evidently doesn't have enough things to get excited about -- has announced that it is working with the Jim Henson Company to produce a 10 episode prequel to the classic film The Dark Crystal, called The ...

Trailer: Bong Joon Ho's Okja looks like a gorgeous, Spielbergian eco-terror adventure

May 18 // Hubert Vigilla
As The Playlist notes, Bong decided to partner with Netflix for his newest film to avoid the distribution and release headaches he experienced working with the Weinsteins on Snowpiercer. (Ugh, ol' Harvey Scissorhands.) Okja's international cast includes An Seo Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Okja will be out on Netflix and in select theaters on June 28th. Let us know how you think and what that cuddly super-pig creature might taste like in the comments. (I mean, yeah, bacon, but with notes of what, exactly?) [via The Playlist]
Trailer: Okja photo
Tastes f**king good
Bong Joon Ho is one of Korea's most acclaimed and beloved filmmakers, and one of the most respected directors in the world. He made an international name for himself with 2003's Memories of a Murder, and went on to craft The ...

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Masters of the Universe finally gets release date


We may have the power in 2019!
Apr 27
// Matthew Razak
Sony has been teasing us with a He-Man and the Master of the Universe Movie for years now, but I always thought it was one of those things that was never going to happen. I mean, is anyone really chomping at the bit for ...
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Eliza Dushku developing, starring in adaptation of Glen Cook's The Black Company


Else, you'd be like who? If pic current
Apr 26
// Rick Lash
The Black Company, a fantasy series written by Glen Cook and begun in 1984 spanning ten books, deals with magic, and an elite mercenary unit. It's kind of right up Eliza Dushku's alley, as you may remember her from her time o...

Tribeca Capsule Review: November

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221420:43534:0[/embed] NovemberDirector: Rainer SarnetRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: Estonia/Poland November is an adaptation of various Estonian folktales which are mashed together yet don't quite cohere. There's a werewolf girl in love with a peasant boy, but the peasant boy is in love with a sleepwalking girl who's part of the gentry. There's the threat of the coming plague, which leads villagers to resort to foolish remedies. The Devil wanders the woods at night, and for a little bit of blood he can give your kratt at soul. Somewhere and somehow these different threads might have braided together, but they instead feel too discrete. Even though I loved how strange these disparate tales were (though some of them didn't have any sense of an ending), strangeness alone isn't always sufficient. I longed for something more to care about than just weirdness--plot, character, a sense of direction, some basic set-ups and payoffs. Admittedly, my disconnect from November may be cultural. There are probably aspects of Polish and Estonian history and the national character that would have informed my viewing of the film. Instead I watched in a kind of baffled awe, wondering where it was going, just going with it, and not knowing what to make of things once I arrived at the end of the film. If anything, November is so exquisitely shot that I wasn't necessarily bored by it. There's always something beautiful or strange to look at. The kratts (which sadly don't play a major part in the story) are works of brilliant tool shed/junk pile puppetry. There's a procession of ghosts in the woods at night that only really comes up once, but it's so hauntingly beautiful, with figures in white moving past torches and trees with an elegiac grace. The sumptuous black and white imagery plays with shadow and fog so well that even when my mind check out of the story by the halfway point, my eyes were transfixed from beginning to end.
Review: November photo
At least it looks really good
I want to describe the opening scene of Rainer Sarnet's November because it's absolutely bonkers. There's a sentient creature comprised of three scythes and a cow skull. It moves in a herky-jerky fashion using its scythe...

Last Jedi/Force Awakens photo
Last Jedi/Force Awakens

Watch the Last Jedi and Force Awakens trailers side by side for Star Wars teaser symmetry


It's like poetry, so that they rhyme
Apr 16
// Hubert Vigilla
The first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi brought the hype. There's some beautiful imagery as Rey trains with Luke Skywalker; ditto when those landspeeders leave brilliant red smoke in their wake while racing across a de...
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Jude Law is young Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts sequel


Well, Jude is a Fantastic Beast...
Apr 14
// Rick Lash
  Yesterday, news broke that Jude Law will portray Albus Dumbledore, beloved character and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in the sequel to 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fantas...
40 Years of Star Wars photo
40 Years of Star Wars

Watch the 40 Years of Star Wars panel from 2017's Star Wars Celebration


That's a lot of years, dude
Apr 14
// Hubert Vigilla
We're all expecting the first trailer for Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi today. Down at the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, the panel for The Last Jedi starts at 11:00am EST. It truly is a good Friday. (I...
Mary and Witch's Flower photo
Mary and Witch's Flower

New Mary and the Witch's Flower trailer showcases magic from ex-Ghibli talent


From Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Apr 13
// Hubert Vigilla
Even though Hayao Miyazaki is no longer retired, Studio Ghibli is in a transition period. The venerable studio went on a hiatus in 2014. The following year, producer Yoshiaki Nishimura and other Ghibli members started their o...
Thor: Ragnarok trailer photo
Ahhhhh-ohhhh-aaaaaaaah-AAAAH!
If you asked me two years ago if I'd be excited about a new Thor movie, the answer would be, "No, not at all." Enter Thor: Ragnarok from Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople). It's... it... Guys...

Joe Manganiello DnD photo
Joe Manganiello DnD

Joe Manganiello wants to make a Dungeons and Dragons movie, has co-written script


Roll for initiative
Apr 10
// Hubert Vigilla
Dungeons & Dragons has plenty of high-profile devotees, from Stephen Colbert to Vin Diesel to Junot Diaz. You can add Joe Manganiello to the list. He's been open about his geekdom before, and recently played D&D at Ne...

Review: Colossal

Apr 05 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221367:43490:0[/embed] ColossalDirector: Nacho VigalondoRating: RRelease Date: April 7, 2017 (limited) Gloria (Anne Hathaway) skulks into her boyfriend's apartment and gets kicked out. She's an alcoholic and self-absorbed, and like any real life fuck-up, Gloria excels at fucking up her attempts at getting un-fucked-up. She moves into her empty childhood home. She sleeps on the floor in an uninflated air mattress; she rolls into it like the filling in a burrito. A childhood friend named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) helps get her back on her feet with a job at his bar and a little bit of furniture. And for some reason, whenever Gloria does a certain thing in the morning, a giant monster shows up in Seoul, South Korea. And for some reason, Gloria is able to control it. I love absurd conceits like this. The weirdness is the whole allure of the world created, and it serves as a foundation for some larger metaphor. Once the goofiness of the set-up clears (it doesn't entirely), Vigalondo and his cast take it deadly serious, as if all this strangeness has life-or-death consequences. That's weirdness wielded right rather than weirdness for its own sake. All of this is in service to a pomo allegory about (initially) fucking up. Using the kaiju as a guide, I could see Gloria drunkenly careening through her entire life without any regard for the lives she's affected. When you're drunk or depressed or your life is in such haze that you've become oblivious to the world around you, it can be difficult to see that you're hurting others. In Gloria's case, pissing off bosses or boyfriends is nothing, but now she sees news footage of how bad choices lead to the suffering of dozens, even hundreds, of total strangers. The guilt is immense because the scale of moral consequence is magnified to an absurd level. It's an inversion, and I think an intentional one, of the idea that one death is a tragedy while a million deaths are a statistic. For Gloria, those interpersonal, everyday interactions aren't enough to cause a major existential reassessment, but at this scale with so many people at stake, suddenly the implication of a city in peril calls attention to a one-on-one ethical interaction. To put it another way, the cries of a hundred strangers somehow magnify the faces of the people in front of her. Ditto her own face in the mirror. Hathaway has a great way of conveying the moral shock of it all in her eyes and on her face. Sometimes she winces with a "Did I do that?" expression, like spilling a drink. Other times she's doubled over with guilt, bawling, as if watching people in front of her suffer; worse, she feels too helpless to do anything about it. And yet there's more to Colossal than this single metaphor played out to its logical conclusion. The conclusion is not so clear cut. There are different kinds of monsters in Colossal. Without giving anything away, the film focuses just as much on the people we know as it does on the inner demons we're not quite acquainted with. The monster in Seoul gives the audience a projection of Gloria's interior life. As I watched Gloria with her ex-boyfriend and certain people in her hometown, I got a clear, sad, familiar portrait of her interpersonal life filled with "nice guys", toxic masculinity, and different forms of abuse. Most men treat her like a child, like a sexual conquest, like an irredeemable fuck up, like someone beneath and always dependent on them. Maybe Gloria's monster, destroyer of cities, is not just a kaiju made of her many fuck-ups. Maybe it's also a response to the men who put her down, demean her, and try to keep her compliant, weak, insecure, and small. It's self-destruction writ large on the one hand, but maybe it's also a strong and ennobling part of Gloria. Good symbols have different--sometimes even contradictory--facets to them, just like complicated people and lovable stories. From one angle, a dazzling light, from others a murky view of the world, but it's all of a piece. I keep turning Colossal around in my mind, admiring its angles and performances, how it fits together in an asymmetrical way. Mostly, though, I love how seriously it takes Gloria in the face of such gargantuan weirdness.
Review: Colossal photo
The genre mash, it was a kaiju smash
One of my least favorite movie cliches goes something like this: A person who lives in the city has an existential crisis. They reluctantly return to their hometown, where things are much simpler and quieter. The main charact...

Terry Gilliam is quixotic photo
Terry Gilliam is quixotic

Quixotic Terry Gilliam tries to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote yet again


Impossible Dream v Unstoppable Dreamer
Mar 14
// Hubert Vigilla
You'd think that Terry Gilliam would have given up on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by now. The original 2000 production of the film was plagued by awful luck and fell apart, the process chronicled in the 2002 documentary Lo...
Okja trailer photo
Okja trailer

Watch a teaser trailer for Bong Joon-Ho's Okja with Tilda Swinton, which hits Netflix in June


It's like an adorable hippo monster
Feb 28
// Hubert Vigilla
It's been nearly a decade since I watched The Host. It was my first Bong Joon-Ho film, and I was hooked. Anything he makes, I'll give it a watch, whether it's something like 2003's Memories of Murder or as ambitiously off the...
Trailer: The Lure photo
Trailer: The Lure

Trailer: The Lure looks like the sexy cannibal mermaid musical the world needs (NSFW)


But is it the one Gotham deserves?
Jan 06
// Hubert Vigilla
I had no idea about The Lure until last night even though it played at Sundance last year. The Lure is now one of my most anticipated movies of 2017. The debut film from Agnieszka Smoczynska, The Lure is a horror/fantasy musi...
David Bowie Gandalf photo
David Bowie Gandalf

David Bowie was considered for Gandalf in Lord of the Rings but didn't audition


Gandalf was Maiar, jamming good with...
Dec 19
// Hubert Vigilla
David Bowie's passing was one of many painful deaths in 2016. In the aftermath, we reported that Bowie auditioned for The Lord of the Rings. While Bowie was considered to play Gandalf in the film, it turns out he never really...
Mononoke back in theaters photo
20th anniversary, 76th birthday
Hayao Miyazaki (who is no longer retired from filmmaking) turns 76 years old on January 5th. His film Princess Mononoke turns 20 years old in 2017. To celebrate these two landmark occasions, GKIDS and Fathom Events are bringi...

9-min Great Wall trailer photo
9-min Great Wall trailer

9-minute trailer for Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall is more than just Matt Damon


Maybe the trailer is overcompensating?
Dec 01
// Hubert Vigilla
The old myth was that astronauts could see The Great Wall of China from space. A new 9-minute trailer for Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall has been released, and I'm pretty sure it can be seen from space. They have free wifi up t...

Review: Evolution

Nov 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220389:42858:0[/embed] EvolutionDirector: Lucile HadzihalilovicRelease Date: November 25, 2016 (limited/VOD)Rating: NRCountry: France The world of Evolution is mysterious from the get go, which is due largely to the coastal locale where the film is set. We don't know what year it is, or quite where this place is either. It's all so otherworldly, the sort of setting for tales, allegories, and de Chirico paintings. There are white stucco buildings built near the water, and the sand is black leading to the turbulent shore. It's beautiful in how stark it is. In the distance, there's a medical facility that looks like it was abandoned years ago, but boys and their mothers walk back and forth for periodic examinations. There are only grown women and young boys on this island. There are no men, there are no girls, and the mothers have a sinister uniformity about them. At night, the mothers leave their homes carrying hand lanterns and congregate near the water. The boys are just boys but are in the dark about their caretakers. The boys are raised on a diet of mashed kelp and something like worms, one of those foods that while heated in a saucepan still looks cold when it's served. Evolution centers primarily on Nicolas (Max Brebant) and his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier), and what Nicolas discovers about this town and where babies come from. We follow him into the night, down long corridors, to water in the dark, and in the process participate in the act of discovery, unwrapping the allegory along with Nicolas, sharing in his repulsion and curiosity. Roughly midway through Evolution, this dive into the unknown slows, maybe too much for what's revealed about the mothers and their boys. Yet even what's revealed is just enough to suggest larger possibilities and delve deeper into the thematic territory of the movie--sex, childbirth, asexuality, violation, flesh, reproduction, biological processes. I sensed in the film's lull that Hadzihalilovic was signalling a move away from an explicit exploration of the plot and the machinery of the world to a series of ruminative brushstrokes, each one a deliberate move to the film's finale, which is more conceptual than visceral. In the immediate aftermath of Evolution, I felt a little let down, expecting more of a resolution to what's introduced early on. Yet the movie has this strange, lingering quality thanks to its pervasive otherworldliness. I mentioned Lovecraft and Cronenbeg earlier, but Hadzihalilovic makes this movie her own, invested with unique hobbyhorses and a fascinating sensibility. It's rare to see a movie that sticks around in your mind after an initial sense of disappointment. The fact I'm still thinking about Evolution, and deeper now than in the hours after the first viewing, have made me reevaluate Hadzihalilovic's languid pace, which unfolds with the same speed as a dream verging on a nightmare but never quite arriving there. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse does a magnificent job in rendering these images and giving them such a haunting quality that I can't get several of them out of my head. Evolution's grown on me, like a skin graft or like coral, or maybe it's grown in me, like the stuff of recurring bad dreams.
Review: Evolution photo
Lingering, haunting, and yet
There's so much going for Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Evolution, a film expertly lensed from the deliberate first shot: looking up to the sky from underwater. From beneath, the ripples and waves on the ocean surface produce undul...


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