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FlixList: The Ten Worst Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror Stories

Oct 30 // Nick Valdez
Dis-Honorable Mentions: Wanted: Dead, Then Alive, Heck House, Oh the Places You'll D'Oh, Tweenlight, There's No Business Like Moe Business, Mr & Mrs. Simpson, Wiz Kids, Easy-Bake Coven, and The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms 10. Homer's Nightmare ("If I Only Had a Brain") (Treehouse of Horror II) That's right, the bad ones were actually off to an early start. In the same episode that brought us the great Lisa's Nightmare and the so-so Bart's Nightmare, we have the clunky Homer's Nightmare. In this short, Mr. Burns is attempting to create a super worker but ends up putting Homer's brain in that super worker so the end result is what you'd expect. I'll chalk this one's badness to growing pains as it was the first true sequel in the series. The show was still trying to figure out what to do with their Halloween specials and I'm sure every idea seemed viable.  9. Terror at 5 1/2 Feet (Treehouse of Horror IV)  As you'll find out later in this list, The Simspsons doesn't nail every spoof it tries. Taking on the Twilight Zone classic "Terror at 20,000 Feet," this short gives Bart a little Gremlin problem. Sure there's a good joke involving Hans Moleman, but the rest of the story is particularly rote. And in the same episode as The Devil and Homer Simpson and Bart Simpson's Dracula, it's egregious awfulness sticks out even more so. Maybe it's just an average story caught in between two particularly great ones, but that's just how the cookie crumbles. But at least it's not as bad as everything else here.  8. The Thing and I (Treehouse of Horror VII)  Okay, now we're getting into it. When Bart finds out he's got a long lost, potentially evil twin named Hugo chained up in the basement, everything falls apart both literally and figuratively. I distinctly remember realizing these weren't going to be that great anymore. The short's so haphazardly thrown together that it's obvious no one involved really cares about what's going on in it. The jokes aren't there, the premise isn't strong, and it screams laziness. Yet, it isn't the laziest story on this by far.  7. In the Na'Vi (Treehouse of Horror XXII) You know how I mentioned that The Simpsons doesn't nail all of its spoofs? This is what I was referring to. Several years after Avatar hit theaters (which made this short seem all the more depressing), Treehouse featured a terribly conceived Simpsons version with Bart in the lead role. Reading this list you're probably thinking that Bart's involvement has a lot to do with the poor quality of these stories and you'd be right for the most part. The show never really knows what to do with him outside of his normal parameters. That's why Bart's always in the background of others' stories or is paired with Lisa so the writers have someone to bounce him off of. Without that, you realize how poorly Bart's been written in the post 20s. 6.Master and Cadaver (Treehouse of Horror XXI) While the post-20 Treehouse stories have been pretty bad all around, they're more average and bland than outright terrible. But one story manages to tip over that line into a story that's so bad it brings the rest of the special down. Sitting right in the middle of the pretty entertaining War and Pieces and regrettable Tweenlight, this short is based off the film Dead Calm (and guest stars Hugh Laurie) as Homer and Marge save this guy who may or may not have killed a ship full of people. In traditional Simpsons, but non-traditional Treehouse, fashion the man poised no real threat and it's all a series of explainable coincidences. It's just so darn boring. More so than season 20 era Simpsons, more so than weak Lisa episodes, I'm glad this story's so short. The reason it's not higher on the list is because it's thankfully over before it's begun.  5. Untitled Robot Parody (Treehouse of Horror XIX) So here we have the laziest Treehouse of Horror short in series history. It's so lethargic, they didn't even think to give it a name. A terribly conceived Transformers spoof that's neither funny (complete with a rote sex toy transformer joke) nor even has a reason to exist. This blurb is more attention that this short even deserves.  4. You Gotta Know When to Golem (Treehouse of Horror XVIII) Introducing a little used movie monster to the Treehouse format seems fit for a good time but, like the 1915 film it's based on, this story's stuck entirely in the past. A story with jokes rooted in dated Jewish sterotypes ever further aggravated by casting Richard Lewis and Fran Drescher as caricatures of themselves, Golem is just a bad idea that somehow made it to air. I don't even know who this short was for, but this kind of insular comedy is what deters fans from the series. Then again, thanks to bottom three stories, fans have walked away years ago.  3. Frinkenstein (Treehouse of Horror XIV) Ugh. 2. Hex and the City (Treehouse of Horror XII)  It took me years to see this one all the way through because I hated this special so much. In fact, I never saw how XII ended until about six years ago when I decided to run through a good chunk of the Treehouse specials. In Hex and the City, Homer angers a gypsy and is cursed for life (resulting in Marge's beard, Bart's long neck, and Lisa's horse legs). His response is to sick a lepraechaun on her resulting in their wholly gross union. It's entirely asinine and coupled with the episode's other bland shorts like Wiz Kids and this seemed even worse overall. It has to be the worst opening story in Treehouse history. 1. Starship Poopers (Treehouse of Horror IX)  Okay, so I've got quite the problem with Starship Poopers. First of all, it's a terrible final story for a special that wasn't bad so the nosedive is even more noticeable. Secondly, it was incredibly dated then (yes even more so than Citizen Kang, which was rooted in 90s politics) and even more so now. I mean, the short ends with an entirely too long Jerry Springer riff. By the time the short aired, Springer was already on his way out so it seemed even more desperate than I'm sure was intended. Thirdly, even after watching season 26's frustrating "The Man Who Came to be Dinner" (which brought Kang and Kodos into the series proper, rather than just feature them in the non-canon Halloween specials) this is still the worst Kang and Kodos appearance by far. There's so much more I want to say, but I just can't do it anymore. 
Treehouse of Horror photo
It was the blurst of times
You know, it's always great to reminisce about The Simpsons in their heyday but in order to truly celebrate the Halloween holiday, we need to talk about some truly horrific things: The awful Treehouse of Horror specials. Sure...

FlixList: The Ten Best Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror Stories

Oct 28 // Nick Valdez
Honorable Mentions: Desperately Xeeking Xena, Reaper Madness, Lisa's Nightmare (The Monkey's Paw), The Terror of Tiny Toon, Attack of the 50ft Eyesores, Life's a Glitch, Then You Die, The Others, Clown Without Pity 10. The Day the Earth Looked Stupid (Treehouse of Horror XVII) "Oh yeah? Why don't I punch you in the nose, bud?" "...Nosebud..." Folks may have counted out much of the later seasons, and while I'd be inclined to agree for the most part, a few good episodes always manage to go unnoticed. XVII was one of the last good Treehouse specials before they took a dive in the 20s, and it went out on a high. The show's film spoofs don't always work, but I absolutely loved this one. Maurice LaMarche put on his best Orson Welles again as the classic play ended up duping Springfield into wallowing in the dirt like animals. It doesn't make any sense, it looks great, and it's so perfectly Simpsons. Mostly because it actually nails the ending, which is something these specials always struggle with, as the episode ends with the bleak and soft The Ink Spots' "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire."  9. Send in the Clones (Treehouse of Horror XIII)  "Homer I must say, you've had the energy of twenty men lately!" "Twenty three!"  I don't what it is, but seeing a group of Homers play off each other is incredibly satisfying. A natural progression of Homer's self-deprecating humor, laziness, and superiority complex creates an army of clones that only want donuts and for Lenny to pick up the tab at Moe's ("Anything for Homers!"). This segment's also jam packed with jokes from the randomness of killing Flanders and "Paul Newman's gonna have my legs broke!," sights gags like Season One Homer and Peter Griffin, to the fact it all started because of a magic hammock. It's stupid Homer x 1000 and it turned out pretty well.  8. Homer3 (Treehouse of Horror VI) "It's like something outta that twilighty show about that zone..." VI was fantastic all around. Attack of the 50ft Eyesores and Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace were both pretty good, but I've got to hand it to the segment that blew my mind as a kid. Of course it earns its place on the list because it holds up beyond its 3D gimmick because it's pretty funny ("May I take your coat?" "Uh, can I also take your coat?"), but it's hard to gush about its visuals. CG pretty much unheard of in 1995, so the show was able to mine the relatively new technology for comedy. It may not exactly be like Tron (which no one has seen, apparently), but it's close enough. Also, the bit where Homer shows up in our world still blows my mind. I don't know how they pulled it off back then, but I'm glad they spent all of that money on an erotic cake joke.  7.  Citizen Kang (Treehouse of Horror VII) "Abortions for some, miniature American flags for all of us!"  You would hope the political jokes in Citizen Kang wouldn't ring as true 19 years later, but like most things, the Simpsons predicted a lot of things. A parody of major elections sees the Halloween special stalwarts Kang and Kodos vying for American votes with nonsensical speeches and explicit pandering (which leads to one of the best lines in series history, which I had to highlight above) it's crazy how timeless this special really is. Although the candidates are dated, you can replace them with pretty much anyone and it'll still work. So go ahead, throw your vote away! 6. The Homega Man (Treehouse of Horror VIII) "I'm the last man alive and I can do everything I've always wanted!" Treehouse segments are full of movie parodies, but one of the stories that absolutely nails it is this one. Parodying 1971's The Omega Man, which itself was adapted from Richard Matthenson's novel I Am Legend, this short stars Homer as the last man alive in Springfield after the French ("Stupid frogs.") bomb them for their remarks. After Homer enjoys the time alone, he realizes he's not truly alone and every second is so funny. There's a hidden joy in noting how long it takes Homer to realize everyone's dead. In fact I love this segment so much, I'm thinking of getting a tattoo on my arm of "the rest."  5. Night of the Dolphin (Treehouse of Horror XI) "" What? A segment from the double digits in the top five? Absolutely! Written by Carolyn Omine (who also wrote Halloween of Horror, which turned out to be the best Simpsons episode in seven-eight years), after Lisa frees Snorky the dolphin, Springfield finds out he's actually king of the dolphins and they want to claim the land the humans have stolen from them. On top of the great send ups to random monster horror films (think films like Black Sheep), there are plenty of laughs. Especially when the end of the story sees the town in a big fight with the dolphins before their hilarious loss. It's always in my annual rotation each year.  4. The Devil and Homer Simpson (Treehouse of Horror IV)  "Mmm...forbidden donut..." These next few stories definitely fall into the line of "classic" Simpsons episodes that folks like to reference over and over again. It's for good reason as The Devil and Homer Simpsons absolutely holds up to this day. A tight story where Homer makes a deal with the devil that manages to squeeze in a lot within its short run time. Random John Wayne gags ("I'm already up"), a great showing from Lionel Hutz, Blackbeard in a high chair, and of course, "But I'm so sweet and tasty!" 3. Dial 'Z' for Zombies (Treehouse of Horror III) "Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!" "He was a zombie?" I feel like the only way I can fully appreciate this is by quoting it endlessly:  "To the book depository!"  "Is this the end of zombie Shakespeare?" "John Smith 1882?" "My mistake!" The zombies that plagued our town are now just corpses rotting in the streets." "Yay!" So good.  2. The Raven (The Simpsons Halloween Special/Treehouse of Horror)  "Quoth the Raven... 'Nevermore.'" The Simpsons first began their Halloween special tradition back in season two, and it made sure to leave a lasting impression. Despite the many years gone by, this short sticks with me far more than anything else. Although it's not the best one (since it's hard to give the episode total credit for its success), it's definitely the most distinct. Putting visuals (and Simpson personality thanks entirely through Dan Castellaneta's performance) to Poe's famous poem vigorously read by the magnanimous James Earl Jones, this short was actually how I was introduced to Poe's work. That's something a lot of these better stories have done too. Inspired by how much I enjoyed the parody, I often sought out the original works. That's especially true of the final entry on this list.  1. Treehouse of Horror V "This is indeed a disturbing universe." So this is a bit of a cheat considering I said that I'd limit my choices to one story per episode, but after deciding on my favorite Treehouse of Horror I couldn't really decide on my favorite of the three stories. As each special usually has a weak story or two, it's incredibly rare to have three incredibly strong segments. Couple that with a running joke of Willie getting axed in the back and you've even got a unified special to boot. From its highly quotable Shining parody, The Shinning "No TV and no beer make Homer something something." "Go crazy?" "Don't mind if I do!," to the well written Time and Punishment ("Oh I wish I wish I hadn't killed that fish." "That's right Mr. Peabody!" "Quiet you!" "What the hell are you smiling at?," and the one story that managed to give me nightmares as a kid, Nightmare Cafeteria ("Now you march into that school, look your teacher straight in the eye and say 'Don't eat me!'"). It's definitely the best Halloween special Simpsons has to offer, and suffice to say, it's also one of the best episodes of the series.  Then again, regardless of which The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror specials you decide to revisit this Halloween you'll have a good time...unless you pick one of the blurst ones. 
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It was the best of times...
I've invested the greater part of my life into The Simpsons, and while there may have been more downs than ups lately, it's still consistently bringing me laughs with each offering. Most of them happen to come with their annu...

FlixList: The Ten Best Horror Films on Netflix Instant (2015 Edition)

Oct 26 // Nick Valdez
Honorable Mentions: Let the Right One In, American Mary, Children of the Corn, The Lazarus Effect, The Sacrament, the V/H/S series, Teeth, Starry Eyes, Stage Fright, Vampire in Brooklyn, Odd Thomas, We Are What We Are [embed]218490:41925:0[/embed] Tucker and Dale vs. Evil Although Tucker and Dale is more of a parody of the horror genre (as teens find themselves in precarious violent situations while the two try to save them), that doesn't mean it isn't full of the same suspense or gore you'd expect. If gruesome deaths are your horror bag, then this film's for you. If not, there are quite a lot of laughs mined from those gross moments.  [embed]218490:42673:0[/embed] The Babadook Not all horror monsters are the same. While some are in your face and some are barely noticed at all, Babadook somehow creates a truly terrifying monster without showing up at all. This magnetic thriller all takes place within a fever dream of a mother who's pushed too far and just wants to punch her annoying child in the mouth. It's not perfect, but it's too different to ignore.  [embed]218490:41928:0[/embed] All Cheerleaders Die With a name like All Cheerleaders Die, you'd be forgiven for writting off this neat little flick. It's not as overtly sexual as the name implies, and is fact a nice twist on that pulpy horror "sexy beast" gimmick. It's not until the finale kicks in that you really see what kind of horror film it is, but it's worth it.  [embed]218490:41930:0[/embed] Scream Out of all the slasher films on Netflix Instant, I'd have to pick Scream as my favorite. Maybe it's because this one stars Neve Campbell too, but it's the first film I remember utilizing the meta narrative that's exploited so much today. It was a hipster horror film before hipster horror was even a thing. A film you can ironically and un-ironically enjoy. Also let me just mention Neve Campbell one more time. So good. [embed]218490:42674:0[/embed] Monster Squad It's certainly not the best, or the funniest, or even a horror film, but I just like it so much I had to put it here. Plus Monster Squad reminds me of Space Jam because it sounds like the result of smashing the Monstars and the Tune Squad together.  [embed]218490:42675:0[/embed] A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night The most intriguing entry on this list by far, A Girl Walks is incredibly chilling. It's superbly put together with its black and white tone creating a stark eerineess that never once lets up. Despite its horror premise, it's a film that can be seen throughout the year with no problems. It's a work of art, and it's a brilliant debut from writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour. Blending new age with a sort of vintage style, yet still rotted in her Iranian culture, A Girl Walks is just something that needs to be experienced.  [embed]218490:41933:0[/embed] Battle Royale In Battle Royale, a group of Japanese schoolmates are randomly chosen each year to kill each other in order to appease the adults. Although I'm no longer at the age where this premise has a direct effect on me, it's still chilling. I guess if you're not into foreign films, just watch The Hunger Games for a lighter take on this idea. As long as the horrific themes sink in, you're golden.  [embed]218490:42676:0[/embed] Creep I love me some Mark Duplass, but I had no idea what to think when Creep was first revealed during SXSW. It's a found footage thriller where one man is hired to film Duplass' character Josef as he plans as series of events for his unborn son. But as the film progresses, you realize Josef's a bit more unhinged than he lets on (putting an ad on Craigslist should've been the tipoff, really). This film's only really horror thanks to the icky feeling you get while you watch, but isn't that just the best? [embed]218490:41931:0[/embed] Rosemary's Baby This film continues to give me nightmares to this day. Whether it's a fear of children, of women, of punishment for sexual desires, a paranoia of those around me, or the Devil itself, Baby taps into all of them and cripples me each time I see it. In fact, I'm getting goosebumps right now just thinking about it. And it's not just the horror aspects, Baby is just a damn good film. With an outstanding performance from Mia Farrow, excellent set design, and pulsing score, it's a film I'd recommend to everyone above all else.  [embed]218490:42677:0[/embed] The Guest From the awesome duo who brought you You're Next (which is on Netflix too!) comes The Guest, a film so good I couldn't stop talking about it for weeks after its release. A thriller with a killer soundtrack, great acting, a fantastic finale, and with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. Few horror films, or films in general, will bring a bigger smile to your face this season. 
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Do you like scary movies?
The tradition of watching scary movies during the Halloween season is now easier to keep up with than ever thanks to Netflix Instant. But with all the content available on the service, how do you know which ones are truly wor...

Snaxist NYCC Edition: Nestle's Star Wars Coffee-mate Creamer

Oct 09 // Nick Valdez
Since there's no point in drawing this out (because I've only got a few hours of life left), I'll give you some mini-reactions with each flavor. There are five in total, and for each flavor I drank a new cup of coffee. In order to get the most out of the creamer, I did half coffee, half creamer for each cup. At the time it seemed like a good idea to drink all of these in one sitting, but retrospection makes fools of us all. I have no idea why I did this. Was I worried they were going somewhere? I knew they'd be around all weekend, but for some awful, awful reason I felt compelled to keep drinking. It's all for you I guess.  C-3PO's Hazelnut First of all, I don't like what this flavor's insinuating. The less coming out of C-3PO, the better. Other than that, it's a very generic flavor. Not too pungent, but not too inviting either. It's just too bland to register a taste. Good thing it went first.  R2-D2's French Vanilla With how generic hazelnut turned out to be, I had no hopes for vanilla. When you think bland, you think "vanilla," so what were the chances it'd be good? Surprisingly, it's my favorite of the creamers. It's super sweet, but very tasty. It's what I needed to wash the Hazelnut out of my mouth.  Boba Fett's Italian Sweet Creme At this point, I've already had way more caffeine than I'm used to so I'm going to blame what happened here on all of that. I don't really remember this registering any of kind of flavor. I just couldn't stop laughing at how weird "Boba Fett's sweet creme" sounded when spoken aloud. I don't remember how loud I actually was, but it garnered a few worried looks. That's a memory I'll certainly carry to my early grave.  Darth Vader's Espresso Chocolate (New Limited Edition Flavor) At this point my palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy, vomit on my sweater already. I think it was mom's spaghetti. I had double vision. So much caffeine, so many random thoughts. Like do you think Vader had enough time to create this chocolate blend? You think there's an coffee based laboratory in the Empire? Is that why they blew up the Death Star? For its chocolate recipes? Either way, this was once again way too sweet. It tasted like I shoved a chocolate bar down my throat before a coffee chaser. Just hook it to my veins if you want to drown me in it. But it's the better of the two new flavors.  Chewbacca's Spiced Latte (New Limited Edition Flavor)  I'd hesitate to actually say this is a "flavor." But since I was more coffee than man at this point. I had to forge ahead. I was too far in to give up, and I one more cup wasn't going to give me double vision. Well, that's pretty much what happened. This one was the only time I physically wretched after drinking, and boy was it bad. It's got this over-confident cinnamon on the way down and hits you with something completely different in the after taste. I'd had enough. As soon as I started walking away, it's like all five cups hit me at once. I don't know how I got home, but I feel as I've come closer to death. I just, just know that's what happened. I did all for you, so come visit my grave. Then pour creamer on it. 
NYCC Snaxist photo
It's basically terrible
I'm not a huge coffee drinker. I don't drink the stuff daily, nor do I even drink it on occasion, but I've recently found that as I get older, it's harder and harder to wake up. Seeing as how I actually needed coffee for once...

The Ten Best Korean Films Streaming on Hulu (2015 Edition)

Oct 06 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
SunnyDirector: Kang Hyeong-Cheol When people ask me what my favorite Korean film is, I usually tell them Sunny. It's not necessarily true (though it might be), but I say it to gain street cred. Most people (at least in America) haven't heard of Sunny, but every Korean person I've mentioned it to has known it. A couple of them have told me I couldn't get it because I'm not Korean. I don't think that's quite fair, though I sort of understand where they're coming from. There are politics that I don't understand, but I think it's ridiculous to say that me not quite getting the context means I can't love the film for how I see it. Because even if that plays around the backdrop (or a backdrop), what matters is the human drama that plays out in the foreground. It's often hilarious, occasionally heart-breaking, but always wonderful. Sadly, the Director's Cut, which adds two scenes (one of which is arguably the most impacting in the entire film), isn't available, but even so, Sunny is a spectacular film. I fell in love with Sunny long before I saw the Director's Cut. You will too. Watch it here! MossDirector: Kang Woo-Suk  Moss was among the first Korean films I reviewed for Flixist. I wasn't quite new to Korean cinema at the time, but it was one of the catalysts for what would end up being a reasonably deep dive. It was my first introduction to actor Park Hae-Il, though, who has become one of my favorite Korean actors. He's a pretty small guy, but he more than makes up for it with an abundance of presence and talent. What I particularly enjoy about Moss is the fact that it's a film where not only was I concerned about the main character in the general "Always care about the protagonist" sense but also the "Oh shit, this guy might actually get killed by these people" sense. The intensity of it (and a history of that kind of thing in other Korean thrillers) meant that his fate wasn't all that certain. It meant that the "thriller" was particularly thrilling, and though it's a bit on the long side, it never drags. It's got you, and it keeps you right up until the end.  Watch it here! Memories of MurderDirector: Bong Joon-Ho  Here's the thing: Memories of Murder is probably the biggest item on this list, but not because I think it's the best. Everyone else thinks it's the best. This was not just Bong Joon-Ho's breakout film, but for many it was Korean cinema's breakout film. This retelling of a tragic and senseless violent act and the ensuing investigation is disturbing and intense and important in ways that I will admit to not understanding (political things again). And on those grounds alone you should watch it, and the fact that it's here is awesome. On a personal level, I think this is a far less compelling film than Bong Joon-Ho's followup, The Host. I take particular issue with the comedic aspects of the film (including a particular transition that is overtly funny to the point of being parody), because they work against an otherwise deadly serious narrative. It's an issue that plagues Korean films in general, honestly, and Bong Joon-Ho's work in particular. To be clear: I like the film quite a bit, just not quite as much as everyone else. Perhaps since it's here, I'll give it another shot. Watch it here! SilencedDirector: Gong Ji-Young In my Netflix list, I lamented the loss of Silenced from Netflix's catalog. It's a soul-crushing movie, one of those bleak looks into the evils of humanity (it's based on a true story) and the horrific things that are allowed to happen (no one was charged). To make a film about something like this requires the utmost skill and ability to navigate horrors without succumbing to them. This film could have easily turned into something truly vile, but it doesn't. It's a film that makes you angry at society, indignant about the justice system, and depressed about the future of our species. But it's also an extremely compelling drama and one that is well worth your time. Just block off a few hours afterwards. Ya know, for the sobbing. Watch it here!   Joint Security AreaDirector: Park Chan-Wook  Speaking of debuts (sort of), Park Chan-Wook's Joint Security Area is the film that put the director on the map. It may have been his third film, but JSA was the breakout movie. He would follow this up with The Vengeance Trilogy, and even though it's a very different type of film, you could see that talent in full swing. It's a fascinating film about the relationship between North and South Korea, one that is all the more poignant as tensions heat up at the border of the countries again. It's also interesting as a film that crosses cultural boundaries. It's hard to really understand what goes into the constant standoff like this (particularly for someone who wasn't around for the height of the Cold War), but the movie isn't really about that, simply using it as a backdrop for more relatable drama. The message – we're not so different, you and I – isn't the most original, but the execution is more than enough to make up for that. Watch it here! Sex is ZeroDirector:  Yoon Je-kyoon  And while we're on the topic of obscure-ish films, Sex is Zero is a film I've yet to see on other services. For a while, its sequel was available on Netflix (no longer, but it's on Hulu), but I had trouble tracking down the original. I've always found Korean romantic comedies fascinating, but the number of them available to see is always fairly low. Perhaps it's an issue of the comedy not crossing cultures (or distributors not thinking they'd cross cultures) or maybe it's something else entirely, but I see less of that than I'd like. I heard of Sex Is Zero years ago when looking up the "Best of Korean Cinema" years ago (I'm the target audience for this list, by the way) and it showed up on multiple Best Comedy lists. Is it one of the best comedies? I dunno, but it's a whole lot of fun, and the kind of thing that you should definitely check out while it's available. Watch it here! Nameless GangsterDirector: Yoon Jong-Bin  Nameless Gangster is just a great gosh darn movie. An excellent one, even. One of my favorite mob films. That's a function of a lot of things, but as always, Choi Min-sik's performance is the key thing here. Following years of the ultra-corrupt civil servant-turned gangster's life, we get to see the seedy underbelly of 1980s Korea and the role that family plays in it. Most mob movies that head this way are about the Italian mob, and obviously we know that family is a big deal there, but it seems like the blood thing runs even deeper in Korea, and that makes it a particularly interesting film to watch. The violence is intense as well, and the distinct lack of shoot-outs due to the general difficulty of procuring weapons honestly makes for far more interesting and visceral confrontations. If you're familiar with (and perhaps tired of) American mob movies, this one will serve as a breath of fresh air. Watch it here! BedevilledDirector: Jang Cheol-Soo This film sits in an odd place for me. I wrote about it at the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival. It was one of the first reviews I ever wrote. I was also fairly new to Korean cinema at the time, only having spent a couple years prior getting into it, and certainly not getting into the country's deep cuts. I gave the film a 94, which at the time was an even more significant measure of quality than the currently very-difficult-to-reach level we have now. It meant that a film had to be effectively perfect and then some. I called the film better than the Vengeance Trilogy. I think I was a little caught up in everything.  Context matters when seeing a film. I saw Bedevilled with a crowd, and that crowd was rowdy and ugly and I didn't enjoy being there with them. I was so angry at their shouting and still liking the movie quite a bit that I think I over-compensated. I loved this movie, not because it was better than the Vengeance Trilogy, but because the people who actively attempted to get in the way of my investment in the story failed. This is one of those films that I find quintessentially Korean. You're subjected to horrors, maybe you receive some catharsis, but in the end it's all meaningless. There is no victory here. Nowadays, my score would have been lower, but I still think it's a film worth seeing. Watch it here! Bleak NightDirector: Yoon Sung-Hyun  I saw Bleak Night a couple years ago. I wanted to review it. Tried to. I wrote six different introductions to the review and bits of a body, but I hated every single one. It's a hard film to talk about, because suicide is a hard topic to discuss. The name is an apt one; this film is extremely bleak, and it doesn't leave you with a whole lot of hope. But that says nothing about its quality (and it's hardly the most depressing film on this list). Films should be challenging like this, making you consider your own actions and the way you treat people. It's a film about consequences and the chain of events that could lead someone to end their life. It begins with the suicide and works its way back. You know the ending, which makes it all the more crushing to see. But as long as you go in expecting the emotional impact, you will find it more than worth your while. Watch it here! The WhistleblowerDirector: Yim Soonrye Speaking of films I saw and wanted to write about but never did, The Whistleblower is a film that I saw at the most recent New York Asian Film Festival and really, really loved. Like, it was one of my favorites at the fest, but I didn't write about it. Why? Because I didn't feel like I could do my feelings justice. Due to time and other constraints, I was forced to write mostly capsule reviews, and I refused to condense my feelings on this film into a couple hundred words. And the reason is that this film affected me less because it's a great movie (though it is) but because of the context in which I saw it. Not long before , I was internet-attacked fairly viscously for reasons too stupid to get into here. But even though my life was never actually in danger (there were some threats or at least implications of threats in there, though), much of the public smearing that the lead character undergoes while just trying to do his job resonated in a very personal way. It was the film I wanted and needed to see at that point.  You will not have that context when you see it. You'll just get an interesting thriller about an interesting historical-ish event in modern Korean history. You'll see what pride and nationalism force people to do and the struggle to combat that in the face of absolute truth. It's fascinating, and I wish I'd had time to write about it. But I got that chance here, albeit briefly. Thanks, Hulu! Watch it here!
Best Korean Movies on Hul photo
That aren't available on Netflix
Last month, we posted our list of best Korean films available on Netflix. But I made the point there that Netflix's supply has been drying up lately. Over the course of this year, the number of available films has quite liter...

Flixist's seriously stupendous Fall/Winter movie preview

Sep 28 // Matthew Razak
Crimson PeakDirector: Guillermo del ToroRelease Date: October 16, 2015Trailer  While Pacific Rim 2 may be on hold indefinitely (or it may not be stalled), fans of Guillermo del Toro at least have Crimson Peak to look forward to. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain, the trailers and stills from the film make it look like an extremely stylish bit of Gothic horror; the sort of lush period piece we rarely see in the horror genre these days. Thankfully this is not a period found footage movie. (Though someone should consider making a short with this conceit, like a haunted Lumiere brothers movie or something.) Stephen King reportedly saw an early screening of Crimson Peak and said it was "gorgeous and just f**king terrifying." I understand this King fellow knows a bit about horror. Crimson Peak is rated R rather than PG-13, which means that so long as Del Toro keeps some of his indulgences in check, he might be delivering some of the most beautiful and mature scares of career. -- Hubert Vigilla GoosebumpsDirector: Rob LettermanRelease Date: October 16th, 2015Trailer Halloween is almost upon us—time for spookems and hobgoblins to start roaming the streets and causing some mischief while skeletons and witches dance around in the moonlight. Oooooh, spooky-scary! Okay so you’re probably a little “mature” for that version of Halloween now. In fact, you’re probably more interested in the kind of Halloween where co-ed tummies are sliced open with rusty hooks and gritty zombie survivalists roam the Earth. But we mustn’t lose touch with our childlike wonder with Halloween, and the upcoming Goosebumps film wants to remind us what Halloween used to be all about. Taking the popularized meta approach to an old franchise, Goosebumps takes a fictionalized R. L. Stine (Jack Black) and a bunch of kids and pits them against every baddy from the kids’ books as they run amok in the real world. Werewolves, giant bugs, gnomes, vampires, and yes, even Slappy, the ventriloquist dummy, all escape from Stine’s books which were made to serve as a prison to keep the terrors housed up for good. This family friendly comedy-horror is definitely set to reintroduce both new children and nostalgic millennials to Goosebumps, but still looks like it could be a fun Kid’s Halloween Adventure romp in the vein of something like The Monster Squad that just about anyone could enjoy. -- John-Charles Holmes Beasts of No NationDirector: Cary FukunagaRelease Date: October 16, 2015Trailer  Beasts of No Nation might be the most important Netflix streaming release to date; a real potential game changer in terms of film production and distribution. In this adaptation of the Uzodinma Iweala novel of the same name, Idris Elba plays a charismatic mercenary leader in an unnamed African country who leads child soldiers into a brutal civil war. The film is directed by True Detective's Cary Fukunaga, and early reviews from the Venice Film Festival have been quite positive. (Even though I thought True Detective season 1 was good but extremely overrated, it was undeniably well-directed and atmospheric.) To secure a spot in awards season, Beasts of No Nation will have a limited theatrical run while simultaneously debuting on Netflix. Big theaters chains are angry about all this. They might be a little worried too. -- Hubert Vigilla SpectreDirector: Sam MendesRelease Date: November 6, 2015Trailer Despite the fact that Sam Smith's Bond song suck a big fat one, I am still irrationally excited for Spectre. With the conclusion of Skyfall the franchise promised to return to its roots now that we've established how Bond became Bond and boy is it ever. Blofeld is coming back, the advertising has been full of subtle throwbacks to Bonds of old and of course there's a giant evil organization trying to dominate the world from an over blow base (or really large table).  More interesting will be whether or not they actually go old school and completely detach this film from the previous ones. Before Casino Royale Bond had very little continuity, but the last three have all been loosly connected (though Skyfall was all about erasing that connection). We'll get our answer early; Daniel Craig has yet to have a full blown gun barrell walk across the screen to open a film. If the screen opens with him strutting across in a tux we'll know Bond is back (again). – Matthew Razak SpectreDirector: Sam MendesRelease Date: November 6, 2015Trailer Yeah, that's right. Spectre. Again. One of the first things you learn as a new hire at Flixist is that our esteemed EiC has first dibs on any and everything Bond-related. So when I said, "I WANT TO WRITE ABOUT SPECTRE" for the preview, I was laughed at. But here I am, writing it after Matt, because if it's worth mentioning, it's worth mentioning twice. Of all the films releasing this year, Spectre is by far my most anticipated. In a year that brought up the genuinely enjoyable Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation and the at-times-fairly-interesting Man from U.N.C.L.E., it all seems to just be build-up to the real super-spy thriller. Skyfall was gosh damn amazing, and I expect Spectre to be on that level at least, and that means it'll easily be one of the best films of the year. I don't know enough about Bond history to really be so excited that Blofeld is back, but I certainly like the idea of a true arch enemy, and Christoph Waltz looks suitably creepy in that teaser. In general, the footage that's been released looks fantastic, both technically any conceptually. I'm probably not as excited about this as Matt is, but I'm pretty flipping close.  – Alec Kubas-Meyer The Peanuts MovieDirector: Steve MartinoRelease Date: November 6th, 2015Trailer With all the news of cartoons being mined for nostalgia money lately, I originally wrote off The Peanuts Movie as one of the many failures to come. The project sounded like it was doomed to fail: development from Blue Sky Studios (Rio), Paul Feig was a producer, and the fact that the old Peanuts films still work to this day. But after getting a glimpse at the actual project? I can't believe it exists. It's absolutely gorgeous, the cast is full of not well known children, and it's been approved by the Schultz estate. I'm not sure if I should let myself be as excited as I am, but if this can capture any of the magic the holiday specials have I might be a kid again. The biggest kid in theater, sure, but a kid all the same -- Nick Valdez By The SeaDirector: Angelina JolieRelease Date: November 13, 2015 Trailer So of all the more art house movies coming out during awards season I choose By the Seas? A movie that's getting most of it's hype from the fact that Brangelina are starring in it together. Yes. For a few reasons. One is that Jolie is seems to have learned some lessons from Unbroken, where her desperation to be taken seriously as a director seemed to overwhelm the film. This time it looks like she's going for a far more subtle approach that reflects a more French art-house style. The film should also be stunning to look at thanks to its French setting. This one just feels like it should have been Jolie's directorial debut and that is kind of exciting. Also, Brad and Angelina on screen again! -- Matthew Razak The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2Director: Francis LawrenceRelease Date: November 20, 2015Trailer I was surprised by how much I liked the first Hunger Games film. I was less surprised by how much I liked the second one. By the third one, I was just glad that they seemed to be keeping the quality up. I've heard that the first proper trailer for this one looks... not so hot, but that doesn't necessarily bode poorly for the film. It could just mark the end of the career of that particular editor. I'm not going to see it, though. I never saw any of the trailers before going into the films. I never read the books either, for that matter; I've gone in blind every time, just looking for an enjoyable story and maybe some cool action. I'm less looking for awkward teen romance, but that's what I get for following a YA adaptation. Can't really fault it for that. Either way, I have no idea what this film is about or what's going to happen, but I'm excited to see this saga to the end. – Alec Kubas-Meyer The Good DinosaurDirector: Peter SohnRelease Date: November 25th, 2015Trailer For the first time ever, it turns out we’re getting two Pixar films in a single year. The first was this summer’s amazing Inside Out and the second will be The Good Dinosaur, releasing in theaters this Thanksgiving. The movie poses the radical question of what would’ve happened if the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs actually missed planet Earth and humans and dinosaurs ended up co-existing. We follow an Apatosaurus named Arlo who gets separated from him family and must travel back to find them with the help of a human child named Spot, whom he keeps around like a puppy. The movie looks equally adorable and awe-inspiring from the trailers we’ve so far with tons of sprawling mountain vistas as the backdrop for the film. The Good Dinosaur will no doubt be Disney’s final smash hit for the year, but hopefully the film that stand up to the massive success of the critically acclaimed Inside Out from earlier this year, despite going through numerous production changes and delays over the past few years since announcement. -- John-Charles Holmes The Night BeforeDirector: Jonathan LevineRelease Date: November 25thTrailer Have we had a truly good bromance in a while? I don't think so. The genre has become so flooded with films after Apatow turned it into a thing that it's just become a cliche of itself. The last one that really worked for me was off the top of my head was 50/50. Well, The Night Before has Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt back together with Anthony Mackie thrown in for good measure. And guess what it's directed by 50/50 director Jonathan Levine. From the trailer it looks like it's just the right amount of comedy mixed with bromance and drama. It's a hard balance to nail, but something tells me Levine is going to do it again with this one and we may have a new adult Christmas classic on our hands. -- Matthew Razak Creed Director: Ryan CooglerRelease Date: November 25th, 2015Trailer You know how I got my start on this site three years ago? I once wrote a treatise on the montage in Rocky and decided to publish it here on a whim. It was something in the works for school, so I was hoping the folks on Flixist would enjoy it. And they did! It got put on the main page, and ever since then, I got hooked to writing about film and started me on the path I'm on now. That's just one of the many special memories the Rocky saga has provided me. It's my father's favorite series, he passed on his love of it to me, and although Rocky Balboa provided the best ending I could've hoped for, just seeing Stallone embody the persona again was enough to make me emotional. It may be a spin-off, it may not be directed by Stallone himself (but it's got his approval), but it already feels like a logical step forward. This is the biggest film of the year for me and I'm ready for it. -- Nick Valdez Star Wars: The Force AwakensDirector: J.J. AbramsRelease Date: December 18, 2015Trailer  I know I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but I'm actually excited for the new Star Wars movies. It's been long enough since the prequels. In fact, with the more diverse cast and a sense of forward momentum, this feels like some truly 21st pop-sci-fi whereas the prequels felt like treading water or a step backwards. To put it another way, it seems like Star Wars is in way better hands now that producer Kathleen Kennedy is overseeing the series rather than George Lucas. Kennedy promised these new films would embrace practical effects rather than rely almost exclusively on CG, and there's something both nostalgic and novel about revisiting this universe. J.J. Abrams may be a divisive director in some parts, but I want to believe this will all work out well and he's going to be more than capable. Of all the movies on this preview, The Force Awakens is the one I will definitely be seeing in theaters opening night. -- Hubert Vigilla The Revenant Director: Alejandro González IñárrituRelease Date: December 25, 2015Trailer I really liked Birdman. And having read some negative criticism from others, it occurs to me that the reasons I think it is so fascinating are fairly different from the reasons that pretty much anyone else does. Nonetheless, as a team, Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski are capable of some technically brilliant work, and I expect as much from The Revenant. The first film shot on the Alexa 65 and done entirely in natural light, this movie will look unique and undoubtedly gorgeous. Oh, there's a movie in there too. I dunno what it's about, but it has Leonardo DiCaprio, and he's a pretty great actor. (I watched the trailer, but I just remember snow and horses and guns and Leonardo DiCaprio. Maybe that's all there is to it. I dunno. But it was pretty.) It was also shot in hellish conditions that I expect will serve to make the film visceral in a really interesting way. So I'm excited for this film, whatever it ends up being. Maybe it'll be a mess, but I'm along for the ride anyway. – Alec Kubas-Meyer The Hateful EightDirector: Quentin TarantinoRelease Date: December 25, 2015Trailer  Quentin Tarantino's playing with the western genre again, and he's one hell of a cast along for the ride, including Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth (aww, I've really missed him in Tarantino movies), Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern. The set up seems simple--seven cowboys and one bounty (Leigh) take shelter during a blizzard, a bunch of genre tropes and savvy monologues ensue--but there's likely to be a lot of intrigue, betrayal, and violence once everyone gets locked in the same place. Tarantino shot The Hateful Eight in 70mm, and is making sure that the select theaters showing the film during its initial release are outfitted with the proper projectors for the film. -- Hubert Vigilla
Fall/Winter Preview photo
What are you looking forward to?
The Fall/Winter movie season is probably the best of the year. We get horror with October and then roll on into big blockbusters, holiday greatness and awards season. It's the best time to watch movies, even though it can be ...

Fall 2015 TV Premieres: What to Watch and When

Sep 21 // Nick Valdez
September Tuesday, September 8th The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS, 1035PM) Wednesday, September 9th The League (FXX, 9PM) You're the Worst (FXX, 930PM) Thursday, September 10 Longmire (Netflix) Friday, September 11 Z Nation (SyFy, 9PM) Continuum (SyFy, 10PM) Tuesday, September 15 The Mindy Project (Hulu) Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris (NBC, 9PM) The Bastard Executioner (FX, 9PM) Wednesday, September 16 South Park (Comedy Central, 9PM) Moonbeam City (Comedy Central, 930PM) Saturday, September 19 Doctor Who (BBC, 8PM) Monday, September 21 Gotham (FOX, 7PM) Minority Report (FOX, 8PM) The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 7PM) Life in Pieces (CBS, 730PM) Scorpion (CBS, 8PM) Castle (ABC, 9PM) Blindspot (NBC, 9PM) Tuesday, September 22 The Muppets (ABC, 7PM) Fresh Off the Boat (ABC, 730PM) Scream Queens (FOX, 8PM) Limitless (CBS, 9PM) Wednesday, September 23 The Middle (ABC, 7PM) The Goldbergs (ABC, 730PM) Modern Family (ABC, 8PM) Black-ish (ABC, 830PM) Rosewood (FOX, 7PM) Empire (FOX, 8PM) The Mysteries of Laura (NBC, 7PM) TripTank (Comedy Central, 10PM) Thursday, September 24 Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 7PM) Scandal (ABC, 8PM) How to Get Away with Murder (ABC, 9PM) Heroes Reborn (NBC, 7PM) The Player (NBC, 9PM) Friday, September 25 Hawaii Five-O (CBS, 8PM) Blue Bloods (CBS, 9PM) Saturday, September 26 Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney XD, 9PM) Sunday, September 27 Bob's Burgers (FOX, 630PM) The Simpsons (FOX, 7PM) Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX, 730PM) Family Guy (FOX, 8PM) Last Man on Earth (FOX, 830PM) Once Upon a Time (ABC, 7PM) Blood & Oil (ABC, 8PM) Quantico (ABC, 9PM) CSI Two Hour Series Finale (CBS, 8PM) Monday, September 28 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central, 10PM) Tuesday, September 29 Grandfathered (FOX, 7PM) The Grinder (FOX, 730PM) Agents of SHIELD (ABC, 8PM) Wednesday, September 30 Criminal Minds (CBS, 8PM) Code Black (CBS, 9PM) October Thursday, October 1 Bones (FOX, 7PM) Sleepy Hollow (FOX, 8PM) The Blacklist (NBC, 8PM) Saturday, October 3 Saturday Night Live (NBC, 1030PM)0 Sunday, October 4 Madam Secretary (CBS, 7PM) The Good Wife (CBS, 8PM) Homeland (Showtime, 8PM) The Affair (Showtime, 9PM) The Leftovers (HBO, 8PM) Tuesday, October 6 The Flash (The CW, 7PM) iZombie (The CW, 8PM) Finding Carter (MTV, 9PM) Wednesday, October 7 Casual (Hulu) Arrow (The CW, 7PM) Supernatural (The CW, 8PM) American Horror Story: Hotel (FX, 9PM) Thursday, October 8 The Vampire Diaries (The CW, 7PM) The Originals (The CW, 8PM) Haven (SyFy, 9PM) Friday, October 9 Undateable (NBC, 7PM) Reign (The CW, 7PM) Sunday, October 11 The Walking Dead (AMC, 9PM) Monday, October 12 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW, 7PM) Jane the Virgin (The CW, 8PM) Fargo (FX, 9PM) Thursday, October 15 Nathan For You (Comedy Central, 9PM) Friday, October 23 Hemlock Grove (Netflix) Saturday, October 24 Da Vinci's Demons (Starz, 7PM) Monday, October 26 Supergirl (CBS, 730PM) Tuesday, October 27 Wicked City (ABC, 9PM) Friday, October 30 Grimm (NBC, 8PM) Saturday October 31 Ash vs. Evil Dead (Starz, 8PM) November Friday, November 5 Mom (CBS, 8PM) Angel From Hell (CBS, 830PM) Elementary (CBS, 9PM) Saturday, November 6 Master of None (Netflix) Sunday, November 15 Into the Badlands (AMC, 9PM) Friday, November 20 The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime) December Thursday, December 3 The Wiz Live (NBC, 7PM) Friday, December 4 Transparent (Amazon Prime) Monday, December 14 Childhood's End (SyFy, 7PM) The Expanse (SyFy, 9PM) January Sunday, January 3 Downton Abbey (PBS, 8PM) Sunday, January 10 The 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards (NBC, 7PM) Sunday, January 17 Shameless (Showtime, 8PM) Billions (Showtime, 9PM) Sunday, January 24 The X-Files (FOX, 6PM) - Special Premiere Event Monday, January 25 The X-Files (FOX, 7PM) - Regular Spot 
Fall TV Preview photo
Fall TV is best TV
I have a pretty outstanding relationship with television. More so than movies (it's so weird that I work here, right?), TV practically raised me from the mean streets of Sesame to the well adjusted adult that I am now. This f...

FlixList: The 8 Best Steven Universe Episodes

Sep 18 // Matt Liparota
Space Race (Episode 28) What makes this episode memorable to me—aside from its enticing premise, adorable montages, and chillingly sweet conclusion—is what it has to say about Pearl. Up to this point, most of the episodes (surprisingly) have been about Pearl, but this is the first one where we begin to understand who Pearl really is. She may seem stuck up and prissy, but she’s more nostalgic for her old home than her new life on Earth. We’ve all been Pearl in this situation before, where missing our old previous life brings us some comfort, but it’s in the small moments in the here and now that we find not only more comfort, but fulfillment too. In future episodes, Pearl’s anxieties are portrayed in a much more antagonistic light, but in "Space Race," for just a moment, Pearl feels more human than she ever has before or since. For Steven Universe to follow up one of its biggest high stakes episodes with one of its softer character pieces shows a strong restraint on the part of the writers and artists, as well as fundamental understanding of their own characters' needs. Plus this episode features some of the absolute best background music in the series to date. -- John-Charles Holmes [embed]219932:42620:0[/embed] Tiger Millionaire (Episode 9) Given how far the show has come in the past year, you'd be surprised to know that Steven Universe was off to a rough start. I was grabbed by the premise, and that cute "Cookie Cat" jam for sure, but SU took a few episodes to get its feet on the ground. About seven episodes in, with the introduction of his best friend Connie in "Bubble Buddies," the show really found its own voice. While I almost put that episode on this list, the show first combined sublime humor with deep storytelling in "Tiger Millionaire." You wouldn't think a wrestling pastiche, where Steven becomes the ultimate heel (the titular "Millionaire"), would be full of brilliant character work, but this is just an example of the many surprises the show is full of. Like its parent series Adventure Time, this episode proved that Steven Universe could too provide a thematically rich through line (as you realize Amethyst is wresting for a hidden, personable reason) while never forgetting it's a show for kids. It's also got everything the best SU episodes have: a killer soundtrack, the Beach City townspeople, and some great one liners. Now there's no sodas for anybody.   -- Nick Valdez [embed]219932:42617:0[/embed] Steven and the Stevens (Episode 22)  Time-travel is pretty well-worn territory for any kind of high-concept, vaguely sci-fi storytelling, so it’s no surprise that Steven Universe eventually went to that well. Leave it to Steven to put its own unique spin on the trope, though; after very briefly dabbling in trying to alter history, Steven decides to form a boy band…with himself. It falls apart within all of 30 seconds, as the “original” Steven quickly realizes how annoying he can be, which leads to a battle across time culminating in a scene in which literally dozens of Stevens disintegrate into nothing in probably the creepiest way possible (for a lighthearted kids’ show). “Steven and the Stevens” isn’t the most monumentally important episode of Steven Universe, not by a long shot, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s a prime example of the show firing on all cylinders, taking a core concept and playing it out in a way that feels both fresh and completely true to the characters involved (the scene where the four Stevens try and figure out their band personas cracks me up every single time). It’s also got one of the earliest instances of Steven Universe being just great at musical numbers (give or take a Giant Woman). -- Matt Liparota  [embed]219932:42618:0[/embed] Island Adventure (Episode 30) Man, this episode holds a lot of feelings for me. First of all, SU was so confident in its audience that it was willing to capitalize on Lars and Sadie's relationship and hoped you caught all the action happening on the sidelines. There's such a deft amount of work done between the characters through background interactions with Steven that they feel like real people. It all came to a head here as Lars, Sadie, and Steven are trapped on a mysterious island and Steven plays the tune "Be Wherever You Are." Not only is the montage great, but the song's lyrics and musicality are well crafted. A personal bit: I moved from Texas to New York a few months ago and this song was the first thing I listened to as song as I touched down.  I was a nervous wreck, and the song helped me calm down a little bit. It's such a beautiful message. Don't stress and just be wherever, whoever, and whatever you are. -- Nick Valdez [embed]219932:42624:0[/embed] Jail Break (Episode 52)  Okay, so let’s get the “big” stuff out of the way, the huge mythology stuff that puts this episode in any top 10 all on its own. First, you’ve got the gem-shattering reveal that Garnet is actually a fusion of two heretofore-unknown-gems, Ruby and Sapphire (something fans had long theorized and is blatantly obvious in retrospect) – in essence, she’s a living relationship. That’s immediately followed up by an incredible musical number-turned-fight sequence, “Stronger Than You,” which manages to feel climactic, expository and emotional all at once; the fact that it’s a legitimately great piece that you want to listen to over and over again certainly doesn’t hurt.  Ultimately, though, that’s not really what the episode is about. Like so much of Steven Universe, this episode touches on what makes Steven himself unique and indispensable, not just as a Crystal Gem but as a person. It’s only because of Steven’s unique status as a gem-human hybrid that he’s able to escape and set the entire episode in motion, as well as attack Peridot head-on when the time comes. Steven has all kinds of amazing abilities, but his real super-power is his big, human heart – something that the Crystal Gems have learned over the course of the series, and something that villainous Jasper can’t seem to fathom. Ultimately, that’s the heart of Steven Universe – one sensitive little boy who loves with all his heart and will do anything for his friends (and maybe even his enemies). -- Matt Liparota [embed]219932:42623:0[/embed] Winter Forecast (Episode 42)  Steven Universe, by its very nature of being a cartoon, is all about visual storytelling. The thing about getting this kind of storytelling just right is that you have to carefully nail all the little details. Not only does "Winter Forecast" do this, but the episode is all about the little details you can see. In this episode, Garnet bestows Steven with temporary “future vision” (the ability to see the future by seeing all possible outcomes before they happen) as an approaching snowstorm threatens to keep the Universe family from getting Steven’s best friend Connie home safely. What follows is a sequence of events of how things could go more and more horribly wrong with the more irresponsible decisions Steven could choose to make. What links these decisions together are small yet incredibly memorable details that makes for an episode full of subtle unforgettable moments—Greg’s cherry sweater (I’m the cherry man!), puddles freezing over into slick patches of ice, and even small unspoken glances between characters. The details come together to tell a cohesive story that makes even the viewers at home feel like they can really see the future. Top it off with one of the sweetest and by far quietest moments in all of Steven Universe, and you’ve got one of the best episodes of the entire show that reminds you that big moments are made from little details… as long as you’re always willing to give them a chance. -- John-Charles Holmes [embed]219932:42619:0[/embed] Alone Together (Episode 37)  My favorite character by far is Connie. I like to joke with my friends and say that someday I'd hope to have a friendship that's as great as Steven and Connie's, and that's because Connie's such a well realized character. She's not relgated to the romantic interest in Steven's hero's journey and he needs her just as much as she needs him. All of that comes to a head with "Alone Together." An experiment in SU's already established gender fluidity, sex metaphors (as the Steven half of their fused form constantly checks to make sure Connie is comfortable), and character relations, the two kids fuse together and it's as awkward as you'd think. It's such a natural trajectory for their relationship too as the two enjoy being "not one being, not two beings, but an experience" and only find fault with it when one of them is truly uncomfortable. The thing of it is, it's played straight. The fact that a boy and girl are the same person isn't mined for jokes and it's a serious discussion about identity. That's way more than any kids cartoon has done thus far. -- Nick Valdez Joy Ride (Episode 54) Much like its spiritual successor Adventure Time, one of the best things about Steven Universe is its extensive cast of colorful secondary characters, and the show has spent a lot of time developing and connecting them in unexpected ways. Beach City’s surly, rebellious teens are just a handful of those characters, and they also happen to be unexpectedly hilarious, going back to their first appearance in “Lars and the Cool Kids.” “Joy Ride” takes that development a step further, adding some real shading to characters who by this point had largely been rather broad. One of the best things about Steven Universe is the way that secondary characters’ initial impression of Steven is that he’s just a naive, goofy kid, but as they spend more time with him they realize just how infectious his enthusiasm for life is. This episode is perhaps the pinnacle of that – the Cool Kids all have semi-normal teen problems, but they pale in comparison to Steven’s burdens post-“Jail Break” – but as they note, his upbeat attitude almost never wavers. Despite first appearances, Steven’s not naive - he’s got real problems that put ours to shame - but he’s not going to get swallowed up by despair, either. “Joy Ride” is, if nothing else, a fun demonstration of how much depth the show’s secondary characters have gained since the show began. -- Matt Liparota
Best Steven Universe photo
Keep Beach City weird
In the nearly two years since it first debuted, Steven Universe has done something few kids' shows do. Created by Adventure Time alum Rebecca Sugar, Steven Universe is a show that manages to be fun, hilarious, exciting but al...

The Thirteen Best Korean Films Streaming on Netflix Instant (2015 Edition)

Sep 08 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
The Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance)Director: Park Chan-Wook  When you're trying to get into Korean cinema, The Vengeance Trilogy is both the best and worst place you could possibly start. Best because it's one of the strongest trilogies in cinema history and each film is fascinating in and of itself. Worst because it's one of the strongest trilogies in cinema history, which means that it's pretty much all downhill from there.  I'm frequently asked which film in the trilogy is my favorite, and it's hard to choose. I love them all for different reasons. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the most visceral, Oldboy is a narrative marvel, and Lady Vengeance (especially the fade-to-black-and-white version, sadly not available on Netflix) is simply gorgeous. Many people would just put Oldboy here and be done with it, possibly relegating the other two to separate entries, but that does a disservice to everyone involved. Absolutely watch Oldboy, but don't watch it in a vacuum. Watch Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance here, Oldboy here, and Lady Vengeance here! The Man From NowhereDirector: Lee Jeong-Beom  I like The Man From Nowhere quite of lot, and many people like it a whole lot more than me. It's definitely one of the more enjoyable Korean action/martial arts films, following a mysterious protagonist as he works his way through a criminal ring that takes children and forces them to drug-related labor. It's an intense film with some truly badass moments (the through-the-window shot is among my favorite in recent memory), and even if it sometimes feels a bit too... American (it often feels like the film pulls punches in a way that something like The Chaser does not), it's well worth a watch. Watch it here! Lee Jeong-Beom's follow, No Tears for the Dead, is also available, and it has some pretty awesome moments as well. There's a whole bunch of crazy shootouts, explosions, and a ridiculous amount of blood. I don't know if it's better than The Man From Nowhere, but it's definitely worth checking out. Watch it here! The HostDirector: Bong Joon-Ho  Snowpiercer (also on Netflix) may have done more to bring Bong Joon-Ho's films to a wider audience, but The Host is definitely the better film. (Memories of Murder, which cemented his status as an essential Korean director, is sadly no longer available for streaming.) I could go on and on about how great The Host is, but I think Scott Tobias said it best on Twitter a little while back: [embed]218531:41946:0[/embed] A monster movie set during the day? Freaking genius. And it works. Oh boy does it work. For people who are a fan of giant monsters wrecking things, this is an easy recommendation. But even people who aren't really into that sort of thing should see it, because it's a spectacular and unique take on a very familiar concept. Watch it here! The Good, the Bad, and the WeirdDirector: Kim Jee-Woon  Kim Jee-Woon is my favorite director. It's not just that The Good, The Bad, and The Weird is an amazing film (although it's certainly that); the way it fits into Kim's filmography is so appropriate and bizarre. Following up A Bittersweet Life (among my favorite gangster films of all time) and A Tale of Two Sisters (a fascinating horror film that goes on and off of Netflix with unfortunate regularity), a straight-up comedy Western seems like a hardcore turn away. But it goes back further, and it's more reminiscent of Kim's second film, The Foul King, which is a comedy about a wanna-be Luchador wrestler. While The Good, The Bad, and The Weird turns things up to 11, it serves as a reminder of just how versatile a director Kim is. Watch it here! I Saw the DevilDirector: Kim Jee-Woon  Remember that time when I said that Kim Jee-Woon is my favorite director? Yeah, this list could have turned into a Kim Jee-Woon-fest if there were any more of his films on Netflix. This is quite probably the most depressing Korean revenge thriller, which you may know is a particularly depressing subgenre. Sometimes it seems like the film is delighting in just how fucked up it is and just how soul-crushing it can be, but that does nothing to diminish the artistry of it all. You need to be in a particular frame of mind to watch I Saw the Devil, but if you go in prepared for serious emotional pain, you'll only have your night ruined and not your entire life. (And it's worth that much.) Watch it here! New WorldDirector: Park Hoon-Jung  When Choi Min-sik told me about New World at the New York Asian Film Festival in 2012 (damn, time flies), he compared it to The Departed. I found that fascinating and just a little bit offensive. Was he implying that, as a white person, I hadn't seen Infernal Affairs and had only seen Scorsese's American-ized version? Problem was: I hadn't seen Infernal Affairs yet. I'd had a copy waiting for me at home for at least a year by that point, but I never got around to seeing it. Now I've seen Infernal Affairs, and it's a great movie that I highly recommend to those of you who have also been putting it off for inexcusable reasons. You know what else is great? New World. Watch it here! A Company ManDirector: Lim Sang-Yoon I've said in the past that A Company Man is the kind of film I joke about when I joke about the ultra-violence of Korean cinema. Here is a film that goes all-freaking-out in service of a message that really doesn't justify the bloodshed. Yes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but even Jack Torrence didn't bring an M-16 to the office. So it's kind of problematic, and its message is hit-you-over-the-head-and-shoot-you-fifty-times blunt... but that didn't stop it from being enjoyable. It's certainly not on the level of Lesson of the Evil, which I still question my response to every so often, although it's also not quite as well-crafted as that film. Still, it's an interesting film and an enjoyable one. As long as you can handle bloodshed, you'll certainly be intrigued and most likely have a good time. Watch it here! PoetryDirector: Lee Chang-Dong  I knew that Poetry was going to be on this list from the moment I decided to write it. That moment was more than a year before I saw the film. For a long time, I simply neglected the works of Lee Chang-Dong. I don't have any good excuse for having done so, but he was the one big name in arthouse Korean cinema that I was aware of but seemed to be avoiding. I'm not avoiding him any longer. If you have neglected his works as well, I suggest fixing that immediately. But, like other films on this list, Poetry hits hard. It hits really, really hard. This is a film that will make you sad, and then it will just keep making you sad until the exceedingly sad ending. There is no catharsis, no hope, no redemption. There is simply life. Perhaps it's poetic, beautiful in some twisted way, but it goes straight for the heart, and once it latches onto you, it doesn't let go.  Watch it here! Hide and SeekDirector: Huh Jung  Hide and Seek is a movie that's terrifying in its plausibility. It's a creepy and tense thriller following a family that is being stalked by a helmeted murderer. They don't know why, and they don't seem to be able to stop it. The ultimate reveal is fascinating and also really freaking scary, and it gets at an interesting societal problem, one that may be Korea-focused but is certainly more broadly applicable. You can't sympathize with the murderer, but even understanding what might drive them to do this puts this a step above most films of its sort. I wish I could say more, but... it's best if you just see it for yourself. Watch it here! BreathlessDirector: Yang Ik-June  Breathless is like nothing else on this list, for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one you notice from the very first frame. Most films on this list are gorgeous. They've got high production value. They look and feel like cinema. Breathless... doesn't. It's ugly. It looks like a movie shot on tape in the late 1990s early 2000s. The audio isn't particularly well-mixed, high quality, or even apparently functional. There are weird bouts of silence throughout that seem like mistakes, though I don't think they were. It's also painfully slow... but none of that matters. This is a bleak and unrelenting look at a part of society that people try to ignore and/or forget, where bad people do bad things to innocents and everyone has to deal with the consequences. It takes a very long time to get into it, but commit and you'll be rewarded with something unique, fascinating, and depressing as hell. Watch it here!
Best Korean Netflix Films photo
This would be one hell of a marathon
For the past six or seven years, I've told people that my favorite type of international cinema is Korean. And even though I've been a little less in the loop recently than I was a few years ago, I still have a deep love for ...

FlixList: Wes Craven's Five Best Films

Sep 03 // Nick Valdez
My Soul to Take "Wake up and smell the Starbucks." I had a hard time narrowing Craven's films to five (I really could've just put everything here), and almost went with Red Eye or The Hills Have Eyes, but My Soul to Take is just so weird. It's Craven's take on small town myth horror, and it's got all sorts of weird sensibilities that make it stand out from the rest. It's got a guy who's probably a demon, teen archetypes who get zero development, a killer who talks to himself, and a supernatural thread tying it all together. Are the souls of the seven kids actually connected or is the main kid just crazy? Unlike his other films, Soul has a very deliberate tone and pace that sort of treads lightly and lets the tension build. It's quite a film.  Scream 4 "Forgot the first rule of remakes, Jill. Don't fuck with the original." Scream may have changed my life (and turned my crush on Neve Campbell into full blown love), but Scream 4 absolutely nails it. Starting with New Nightmare all those years ago, Scream 4 is a film that could've only existed after Craven spent a career honing his craft and paying attention to the route horror was going in. With Hollywood's fixation on reboots and sequels, Craven churned out one last sequel and capitalized on Scream's meta-contextual narrative with a reboot and sequel that works. Horror reboots hardly ever work, and sequels never truly live up to the standard of the original, but here's one that surpasses even the original idea. Setting a new status quo as it simultaneously enforces the old one all the while somehow bringing the series to an ultimate, satisfying conclusion? It's insane how well it works. Great cast, great writing, great editing, and even super heroics. Just greatness.  The People Under the Stairs "May they burn in hell." "Forever and ever in hell." This film is special to me for numerous reasons. First, it's the first horror film I saw with a non-white protagonist. Secondly, it's the first horror film I saw willingly acknowledging the wage disparity among classes. And finally, it's basically a twisted kid adventure film. Think of a slightly more dark and horrific Goonies, and you'll realize why a dude is wearing a gimp suit while trying to kill this kid as he makes friends with some monsters and discovers a hidden treasure. People Under the Stairs is tense, gruesome (Ving Rhames' body is used as a literal puppet distraction at one point), there are explosions, intrigue, and it's even a straight action movie leading toward raining money at film's end. It's non-traditional in the best way, and I'm so glad it exists.  The Last House on the Left "Are you sure we're not going to put you folks to any trouble?" "Oh nonsense, our home is yours." You can't talk about Craven's best work until you talk about his first. Bursting onto the scene with a twisted home invasion film, Last House is aggressive, disturbing, and it's full of such provocative imagery it sticks with you forever. Even way back then Craven was capable of masterful work with a film that had you rooting for the bad guys' end. It's his most demented piece of art and it'll forever be a staple which all other home invasion films compare to. It's like the whole BC/AD thing. There's Before Last House on the Left (BLHOTL) and after (ALHOTL).  A Nightmare on Elm Street "Whatever you do...don't fall asleep." It'd be impossible to write out a list like this and not include the big dog. The film that made something as pleasant as sleep seem like the worst thing in the world. Combing all sorts of primal fears like helplessness, death, and children, Elm Street pretty much started my addiction to caffeine. Through the years the fear has been alleviated thanks to The Simpsons, but Freddy's always coming. Nightmare changed the game completely. Rap songs, Mortal Kombat, tons of films, changing from horror to comedy and back to horror again without fail, and even had a crossover with another horror juggernaut and it wasn't the worst thing ever. Thanks to Wes, there'll always be a nightmare on our streets.  These may be his five best, but his other works were all just as good. We're gonna miss you. What are your favorite Wes Craven works? 
Wes Craven's Best photo
"What's your favorite scary movie?"
I've never been a big horror fan. I get squeamish with bloody action, jump scares always catch me, and I don't really like looking at disturbing images in general. But when a horror film is well crafted, I can't seem to look ...

12 films based on Nintendo games we need (right now)

Aug 25 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
What: Metroid Who: Duncan Jones  Why: In 2004, Nintendo teamed up with John Woo for a Metroid film, and I'm glad that fell through. As much as I enjoy Woo's films, the bombast and slow-motion doves don't really fit with what makes Metroid such an interesting franchise. It's about isolation. It's about being in an alien world and surviving. Duncan Jones made Moon, which is all the evidence you need that he could pull this film off. Plus, he was behind the underappreciated Source Code, which Jones himself likened to a video game. As far as I'm concerned, that's street cred enough to make this film happen. I think Darren Aranofsky would also be a solid choice, but he'll be a bit too busy working on: What: The Legend of Zelda  Who: Darren Aranofsky Why: The Legend of Zelda is a lot of things at once. It's about adventure and intrigue. It's about solving puzzles and fighting giant monsters. It's not really about the intensely introspective things you often see in Aranofsky's films... but so what? That doesn't mean it couldn't be. This is not the only Zelda film I'll list, but let's try something a little different. Link is the eternal blank slate, even in the entries where he has some amount of backstory. It would be like Noah. Hell, that film already had the rock people. Noah was a really interesting film, and it was proof that Aranofsky could do something on a larger scale. I don't think Zelda would never to be any bigger than that. I don't even know that it would have to be as big as that. Regardless, I think an Aranofsky Zelda film could be really special. What: Captain Rainbow Who: Sion Sono Why: I bet you forgot about this game, right? That would make sense, since it never came out in America and is among the stranger things Nintendo has put out. But, whenever I think, "Weird Japanese shit," I think immediately of Sion Sono. I think he could take the franchise and do something completely bonkers with it. It wouldn't even necessarily be good, but it would absolutely be unique and a little (or lot) bit crazy. With a franchise like Captain Rainbow, I think that's really the most important thing. What: Fire Emblem  Who: Peter Jackson  Why: We know that Peter Jackson can do fantasy epics, and perhaps giving him something of the sort outside of the Tolkein universe would do everyone some good. It would have to be more Lord of the Rings than The Hobbit, but if he can tap into his former self, then I don't know that there's anyone better to give an adaptation an appropriate focus on both the quiet intimate moments and also the intense, battle-driven ones. It could probably be argued that he would also be a good fit for Zelda (especially with regards to fights with giant boss-like creatures), but we've got more than enough Zelda entries on this list already. What: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time  Who: Steven Spielberg Why: Here's where the adventure comes in. Few people can do adventure like Spielberg can, and I think it would be all kinds of awesome to see him take on something like this. Think about all of those crazy dungeon puzzles. This is the man who made Indiana Jones. It would be a film that really focuses on those sequences and on the struggle to save Zelda. And Spielberg has already shown an interest in videogames (and Nintendo platforms in particular) with his role in creation of the extremely enjoyable Boom Blox. (I mean, nothing he could do with the series could be more ridiculous than the nuked fridge sequence in Indiana Jones 4.)  What: Super Smash Bros  Who: Gareth Evans Why: I mean, duh. Nobody does close quarters combat quite like Gareth Evans. And the only version of a Super Smash Bros. movie that could possibly work is one that takes full advantage of the physical capabilities of its characters. Realistically, the cute and cuddly Nintendo characters would need to have humanoid films and the variety of art styles would have to be toned down, which would be all kinds of weird... but if the action was good enough, I think we'd all forgive them. And if there's one thing you can guarantee with Gareth Evans, it's that the action will be great. What: Animal Crossing   Who: Richard Linklater Why: An Animal Crossing film would have to be a slice-of-life sort of film, one that makes seemingly mundane tasks interesting. Few directors can do that as well as Linklater. And sure, much of that comes from the brilliance of his characters, but an Animal Crossing film could be a spectacular ensemble. There is already a cast of cooky characters, and there's definitely more that could be done with that. It could take place over a year, with the film checking in on holidays much in the same way that the game does. What's the Halloween party? How's Christmas? Let's do some fishing or insect catching. Let's get more bells to pay back our debts. Done properly, this could be a really compelling, low-key film. If anyone could pull it off, it would be Richard Linklater. What: Mario Kart  Who: George Miller Why: This one's kind of obligatory. Cars, power ups, explosions, yada yada yada. It would be awesome. Maybe take some elements from F-Zero like Mario Kart 8 did and you'd have something pretty cool. But... we have Mad Max already, and it's not like that's done. What would we get from a hypothetical Mario Kart that we wouldn't get from Mad Max? I'm not sure. But if anyone was going to do it, I'd want it to be him.  What: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Who: George Miller Why: But, I mean... imagine this. Imagine a film that does for horse combat what Fury Road did for car combat. Imagine crazy stunts and epic action. This would be a radically different Zelda than Aranofsky's or Spielberg's, going full-on, balls-to-the-wall crazy. But it would be fitting. Much like Mad Max, each Zelda could be its own self-contained narrative. A chance for filmmakers to play with style and build a fascinating world. Imagine a badass (female!) Link that crashes her way through dungeons and crushes giant beasts on the way to become a hero. The setpieces would be epic, the stunts practical, and the end result a masterpiece (probably). What: Super Mario Bros.  Who: Brad Bird Why: Of all of these, coming up with this name was the hardest. We've seen how terribly a Mario film can go, and though I think many Nintendo franchises could work better as animated films, I think it would be a necessity for Mario. You can't turn bowser into a human. It doesn't work, and it doesn't make sense. But you know who can make some damn fine animated films? Brad Bird. Somewhere between The Incredibles and Ratatouille lies the perfect Mario film. It's probably a fair bit closer to the former than the latter, but regardless, the man has shown off plenty of versatility and could make up for the 1993 disaster. What: Pikmin Who: Guillermo del Toro Why: This might seem like an odd choice for what would almost certainly be a children's film. He's better known for horror and action, but del Toro is great at science fiction, which is what Pikmin is. The man knows how to tell a tale of adventure on a grand scale -- even if that grand scale is garden sized -- and in all honesty pikmin are kind of creepy. There's a certain level of horror to a swarm of living plants and the giant creatures that attack them that del Toro could deal with quite nicely. Pikmin would also have to be an odd mix of introspective character development following Captain Olimar's isolation on a strange planet and epic set pieces following the Pikmin's adventures trying to help him, and del Toro can handle both these things as Pan's Labyrinth and Pacific Rim showed us respectively.  What: The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker Who: Hayao Miyazaki Why: OK, maybe we're going a little over board on the Zelda adaptations, but that's what makes the franchise so wonderful: it's so malleable and adaptable to varying styles thanks to the fact that it, at its heart, is simply a reoccurring legend espousing themes of adventure, wonder, growth and exploration. Who better captures those themes on screen than the legendary Hayao Myazaki and Studio Ghibli? That sense of childish awe that Windwaker created as a new island crept up on horizon is what Miyazaki has been doing his entire career. We'd wager his work inspired the cel-shaded Zelda adventures. Maybe Nintendo can coax him out of retirement.
Top 12 Nintendo Films photo
And the filmmakers we need to make them
Video game movies are, nine times out of ten, not awesome. There have been exceptions, but generally speaking a movie is just a shade of the franchise it's supposed to represent. Why watch it when you can play it? But with Ni...

Bojack Horseman is the Spec Ops: The Line of TV Shows

Aug 07 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219724:42536:0[/embed] Spec Ops: The Line is probably in my top five games ever. It's incredible, and if you haven't played it, you need to do so. If you have played it and don't understand how incredible it is, go play it again. Maybe read Brendan Keogh's Killing Is Harmless while you do. The game is a triumph, and the bravest thing it did is to convince you it was generic before pulling the rug out from under you. (Much like, you guess it, Bojack Horseman.) Spec Ops: The Line was made with the Unreal Engine. It stars a military man voiced by Nolan North. He looks and sounds like every other Unreal Engine-based cover shooter out there. It feels... fine. The gameplay is completely and totally acceptable. Stop and pop. You're fighting generic foreign militants. The other. It's easy to kill them, because that's what you're used to doing. That's the role that these sorts of people play in video games. (And in movies, as brilliantly profiled by GQ a couple weeks ago.) In Bojack Horseman, you follow a generic former-Hollywoo[d] superstar. He's voiced by Will Arnett, and he's a jackass. He lives in an amazing house overlooking the city, but he's pretty much a worthless being. On his couch lives the "comic relief," Todd, voiced by Aaron Paul. He's dumb, but Bojack keeps him around, because... whatever. Bojack wants to relive the Good Old Days. Perhaps it's not quite your typical animated show, but it's not an uncommon comedy. And for a while, the jokes are funny but the underlying narrative feels a little old. But, of course, that's the point. Spec Ops hits you with big moments several times. First, you go from fighting generic "terrorists" to fighting US military. That's, well, unexpected. And then there's the scene where you have to do something horrible to progress that turns out to be something really horrible. It keeps going down (literally), as we follow Captain Walker into the deep recesses of his mind. And it's not a great place to be. Because Captain Walker is not a good person. He believes he is, or at least that he can be, but he isn't. And he leaves nothing but destruction in his wake. Throughout, the game taunts you, and it taunts hyper-violent games in general. (And yes, it is effectively critiquing the genre by "succumbing" to its tropes.) [embed]219724:42537:0[/embed] Bojack doesn't have that moment in quite the same way, at least in its first season. It's a gradual realization that what you're watching isn't quite what you thought it was. You thought you were getting a comedy-of-sorts about a former star who wants to relive his glory days. What you get is something far darker, and far more interesting. Because Bojack Horseman is definitely not a good... horse. (I'm going to call him a person from now on, because referring to him as a "horse" is weird.) He wants to be good, I guess, but behind him lies only chaos. And in the second season especially, he does some very, very bad things. The Verge posted their review of the show's second season a bit prematurely, I thought. Both the headline – "In its second season, Bojack Horseman quits beating a depressed horse" – and subtitle – "More animal puns, less animal pathos" – prove to be, um, false. Because the second season of Bojack Horseman tricks you again. Sure, watching the first few episodes (which are great, by the way), you might think that the show had changed and become perhaps a bit more whimsical. Watching the episode where Todd creates his own, extremely dangerous Disneyland (and wins a lawsuit allowing him to use that name on a technicality) lulls you into a false sense of security. This is a show that has found its groove, or something like it. That groove may not be as interesting as the previous season, but it's something. And the screeners that Netflix sent to critics beforehand would lend credence to that. The first six episodes, especially in comparison, are fun. They're light and silly.  And then there's "Hank After Dark." "Hank After Dark" is an incredible episode of television. And it's incredible not just because of what it but how absolutely bleak its ending is. At this point, everyone knows about the downfall of Bill Cosby. And it all started because of a joke by comedian Hannibal Buress. He made a joke about public information, and suddenly everything came crashing down. The time since has been incredibly disturbing, and each new bit of evidence has only made it worse. But that's not what happens in Bojack Horseman, because Bojack Horseman isn't just replicating the events that led to the downfall of an icon; it's representing a parallel universe where a woman was the one who brought up the horrors of a beloved TV star as an aside. Diane is on a book tour for Bojack, but she can't shut Pandora's Box once she's opened it. Mr. Peanutbutter asks her to hold off, and everyone else tells her she's a horrible person for defaming a good man's name. She keeps fighting, until she's confronted by Hank Hippopopalous himself. And then she gives up. The season doesn't get cheerier after that. Whether it's the intense discussion on live TV between Mr. Peanutbutter and Bojack about the latter's Diane come-on last season or the thing that happens in the penultimate episode, the back half of Bojack Horseman's second season hits and hits hard. To be sure, the show continues to be very funny. There are more than a few good laughs per episode, but aside from a couple bits here and there, those aren't the things I'll be thinking about in a year from now. Good TV makes you think, perhaps even obsess. But with Bojack Horseman, it's not some communal obsession with unraveling mysteries. It's an introspective sort of obsession. Do you see yourself in Bojack? What about Todd or Mr. Peanutbutter or Diane or Princess Carolyn? These characters are all fleshed out this season, and you learn fascinating things about all of them. (Princess Carolyn has a particularly interesting arc, and I cannot tell you how glad I was when they ended the Vincent Adultman subplot early on.) But, of course, the focus is on Bojack, on his inability to change course. His drive to push forward towards certain doom. And that is truly where Bojack and Captain Walker's journeys converge. Both of them set in motions series of events that can only end badly, but the decision to set them in motion was a choice. Maybe at the time it didn't feel like one, but it was. To point to what is perhaps the most obvious example, Bojack did not have to up and leave to see a girl he was sort of in love with decades ago. He didn't have to stay with her family when he found out she had one. He didn't have to... ya know. He could have walked away. And ultimately, that's what Spec Ops: The Line is about. It's about walking away, or at least the need to walk away (in a meta sense). Walker doesn't do that. He never stops to think about what he's doing or what he's done. Unlike Bojack, he thinks he's helping people (at least at first... by the end? who knows). Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Bojack Horseman matters. It's one of the best shows on television right now. Literally. And that's significant not just because it is in and of itself a significant statement. It's significant because it's a show that, on the face of it, is so easy to dismiss. But once you get past all of that, you're pulled along for a fascinating and often poignant journey through something truly great. It's not the thing you expect, but you eventually realize that it's exactly what you wanted.
Bojack Horseman 4 Lyfe photo
Subversion and sadness
The first season of Bojack Horseman sort of came out of nowhere, at least as far as I was concerned. Back then, I was underemployed and watched pretty much anything that seemed vaguely interesting. I generally trust...

Snaxist: Denny's Slamtastic Four Menu

Aug 05 // Nick Valdez
The Invisible Woman Slam Usually I take on these foods alone, so I had grown accustomed to getting one dish at a time. As I finished one I'd slowly make my way to the next in an effort to become one amorphous blob of constant digestion. But on this trip I hadn't calculated how bringing others would alter the rhythm and that was the first of my many, many mistakes. They had brought us all of the food at once (sans desserts because I'm not made of money, you jerks) and it was certainly a sight to behold. In fact, I had become intimidated by the beast in front me. Staring the lion in the eyes, frozen until one of us made our move. If I had been alone, this would've been the end of my journey. Thankfully, one of my compadres began eating and I snapped out of my fear coma.  The Invisible Woman Slam's main feature are its blueberry pancakes topped with other fruit as everything else is what you'd expect from a standard grand slam. Covered with a sickly sweet glaze from the fruit, it was quite tasty really. Pancakes weren't too doughy, and it was definitely better before you added syrup. Lots of soaked in flavors (without feeling like I ate a stick of butter), but very heavy. But this would be far from the heaviest thing on the menu.  The Fantastic Four-Cheese Omelette As this was the first dish I took on alone, I felt ill prepared. I had recently moved to New York and grown accustomed to a lighter diet lacking in all of the heavy meats and cheeses I used to eat back in my hometown of Viking Land. It's like I wanted to climb Mt. Everest after retiring thirty years prior. But like with any massive undertaking, I couldn't climb the mountain until I took the first step. But I was still so nervous. What would this beast do to me? How would I change? Could I just go back to the modern world once I've become one of the savages? So I took the first bite and, nevertheless, slowly became the monster I used to know.  The Fantastic Four Cheese Omelette (neglecting a representation for Mr. Fantastic since that dude's such a nerd, and nerds don't eat food) was touted as stuffed with cheddar, swiss, parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses and it certainly delivered on that front. As a startup meal (or if it's you're only dish seeing as how the rest of you are smart thinking adults) it's perfectly fine, but it's basically the same as any other omelette du fromage. I never did get my two pieces of toast though. I know I had I food mountain in front of me, but I feel like I really did miss out on that toast.  The Thing Burger  Before I knew it, the omelet was gone. I faded in and out slowly. The plates in front of me were just some random blurring motions. Yet, I still felt the hunger. It compelled me forward as my conscious mind begged for it to stop. "Why are you doing this to yourself?" "Please, stop." and "Is this truly what you want out of life?" were all questions my body seemed to ignore as I moved toward the next dish. I felt my jaw unhinge in order to completely destroy the meal in front me. In my savage mind, it was the only way. But my body was slowly changing. Palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy, and there was vomit on my sweater already, mom's spaghetti... The Thing Burger was the item I most looked forward to. It's the only truly different item on the menu as the other dishes are variations of ones available on the other movie menus. A burger patty topped with hash browns, bacon, an egg, and something called "The Thing Sauce" (seriously) all between two cheesy buns. It's the perfect breakfast burger, and I'll go as far to say it's the best thing on the new menu (pun intended). Each bite was great, and I'd imagine this would taste wonderfully after a night of getting drunk off your ass. Couldn't figure out what the sauce was as the taste of the burger kind of blended into one indistinct flavor (though the bottom bun was soaked from the grease), but at least the taste was interesting overall. Fries were good, too.  The Human Torch Skillet The burger was eliminated, so I was ready to move on to the final dish. But thanks to my inner turmoil, my monstrous form was weakened. Staring into the face of the dish's black abyss I thought of my family back home. What would they say if they saw me now? How would they judge what their son has become? Are you proud of me now, Ma? Are you proud of your son? Look what they've done to me! Look at what I've done to them! I've reached into the abyss and pulled out the heart of god!  The Human Torch Skillet is a spicy variation of the skillet available on Denny's other movie menus.  With jalapenos, pepper jack cheese (which I didn't notice until I packed the dish into a to go plate because it blended in with the egg) and pico de gallo, there was no way I could finish this. It's smothered in cholula (which is a smoky hot sauce) and that completely killed the rest of the dish's flavor. Even as I tried mixing it with the cheese or sausage, all I tasted was cholula. That's also why the dish was so dark. It's a shame since this could've been good. It's the furthest thing from spicy, and it's the furthest thing from tasty.  Overall, this was a fun trip and Denny's is the only restaurant that experiments with its food like this. Sure my stomach is pretty much demolished at this point, but I always love the madness of it all. But, sadly, I'll never be the same again. 
Snaxist photo
It's sloberrin' time
Every so often, there'll be a product with a spark of genius. Something that comes along and makes you think, "Why wasn't this a thing already?" like donuts based on Ghostbusters, Avengers cereal, and even that time Denny's c...

Don't bother with MTV's Scream TV Series

Aug 04 // Nick Valdez
We're at the halfway point in the series (episode six is premiering later this evening), and I feel like I'm hate watching just to see how much worse things could get. This completely goes against the showrunners' initial philosophy of getting the viewers at home to care about the characters as much as possible before offing them one by one. It's also a terrible way to watch slasher films. When you start rooting for the killer themselves, the film isn't taken very seriously. Take mid-franchise Nightmare on Elm Street, for example. When those films started making themselves all about Freddy's antics (and only served to develop his personality rather than any of his victims), the goofy tone made it a horror franchise in name only. While there's definitely an audience for that kind of property, it's definitely not what MTV's Scream wants.  But I don't know where it all went wrong. Things started off sort of promising in the pilot episode (written by film series writer Kevin Williamson), but that episode was full of so many problems. Pointed dialogue, archetypes, and its intro, while well done, only mirrored the series' openings thus far. It seemed adapting the films was a fool's errand as Scream 4 completely destroyed its own existence already. The fourth film already did what you'd expect a modern Scream to do: used new technologies in an interesting way, break down existing archetypes, and establish a new status quo (which was, hilariously, the old one). So when the TV series seemed to be taking a step back, it already lost. It would've been fine had any of its new choices felt compelling.  What are those new choices? Existing in a universe completely separated from the films (its yet to be confirmed if the "Stab" movies exist, so I'll assume this is just a new timeline or something), it's set in a town named Lakewood where a killer named Brandon James once terrorized kids in a high school. The new Ghostface's mask is based on that guy's face, too. So the main mystery of the series is figuring out how much this new set of deaths has to do with the old one. But, five episodes in, I don't care about any of it. Everyone in this show is terrible. Terrible characters make for good TV all the time, but that's when there's adequate drama to be mined from their poor decisions. Here it just seems like there's some deficiency in each character's core that causes a disconnect with the audience. It doesn't help that there's a noticeable drop in quality in each episode where someone doesn't die.  For as many missteps Scream has had, there's definitely some hope. With only a few episodes to go before season end, there's plenty of potential for the show to hit that "so bad, it's good" sweet spot. Episode three "Wanna Play a Game?" was great in that regard. It was so bad, all of the terrible decisions actually coalesced into a great sequence. Spoiler, I guess if you still want to watch this show despite me asking you not to, one girl dies while facetiming and her last words are "I can see the stars." It's magical, and the series has yet to bring that same kind of ingenuity to the table again. I'm hoping that it'll happen once more, but that's a thin hope. It's like hoping the garbage doesn't smell so bad after you've been forced to take in it so many times.  [embed]219713:42526:0[/embed] It might be gauche to judge a TV series based on a few episodes (judge the first one posted above for yourself), but I really tried to stick it out. After MTV announced it's getting a second season, I really don't see this working out. Unless it means we'll be getting a brand new cast and story each season, with some returning characters a la the Scream sequels, I can't see this show continuing. There's a semblance of an endgame in sight, but it's going to be quite a struggle to get there.  So why even struggle? Don't bother with this at all. 
MTV's Scream photo
Do you like scary TV shows? I'm sorry.
Back when MTV first announced they were developing a pilot based on the Scream films, I thought it was a great idea. I have a huge fondness for the films themselves, and barring Scream 3, no other series did more for the slas...

How to Do It BETTER: Howard the Duck

Jun 22 // Sean Walsh
1. Send Howard to Earth When we last saw him, our stalwart protagonist (who would be voiced once again by Seth Green) was hanging out in Knowhere with Benecio del Toro's Collector and Cosmo the Space Dog. That's all well and good, but Guardians really has captured the market on Marvel's space-y real estate, and with Captain Marvel's Kree background, we'll assuredly get more space stuff there. Howard would be swallowed up surrounded by other extra-terrestrial characters and locales. So, naturally, we need Howard "trapped in a world he never made." That world, of course, is Earth. A surly, walking, talking duck on a planet of talking mammals is full of potential humor.  2. No Origins, Please Why spend two and a half hours dealing with where he came from when you can tell a wacky story (more on that below) out of the gate? Just do like The Incredible Hulk did and get that all out of the way in the opening credits. Even his trip to Earth can be told during the opening titles. Hell, Guardians 2 could deal with that. The film should start like a film noir, with Howard staring out the window of his crappy private eye's office drinking a glass of scotch, doing his best Jon Hamm from Mad Men. If you have to do an origin, have him narrate it to the audience during this opening scene. 3. Cast the Right Redhead If we're going to go the private duck (ha!) noir direction, you need a dame. In walks Beverly Switzler, played by gorgeous redhead Jane Levy (Suburgatory, the Evil Dead remake). Levy is funny, sharp as a tack, and certainly worthy of the "of all the run-down private eye offices in New York, she had to walk into mine" treatment. We'll remove the 'nude' from 'nude model' on her resume, but make her pretty enough for Howard to recognize and even lust after. You see, Beverly's photographer boyfriend Chuck has gone missing down in Florida and she needs help finding him. But why come to Howard the Duck all the way in New York? Well, you see, there are some weird circumstances to his disappearance. Something about a swamp, a monster...something a normal private eye wouldn't take seriously. Howard So you came to the one PI in New York City that's a talking duck? Beverly nods. Beverly Yeah, exactly.  Howard looks down at his feet. Howard (exasperated) Waugh... 4. Give Them Their Very Own Groot! So, Beverly pays Howard's fees and the two set a course for Florida, flying first class (jokes abound). They arrive in Florida, drive out to the small, backwoods town where Beverly's boyfriend was last seen and Howard does his detective thing. Naturally, it is an uphill battle as he is a talking duck in a small swamp town. But eventually, he gets a lead and they make their way to the swamp where Chuck vanished. Of course, not before an old man warns them both of the swamp monster that protects his territory. Crazy Old Man It's some sort of...thing...that walks a man! Howard rolls his eyes. Howard Like, a Man-Thing? The old man eagerly nods, his eyes wide. Crazy Old Man Just like a Man-Thing! Disregarding the old coot, the two make their way to the swamp. It isn't long before they come upon the Man-Thing in all his mossy glory. Howard quacks in fear and pulls out his pistol, which causes the creature to reach out for him. Beverly, she of the steel nerves, puts herself between them. The creature isn't there to hurt them, she tells Howard. Its simply there to protect something. She explains to the Man-Thing that they are looking for her boyfriend, Chuck. The creature, it seems, understands her, and leads them further into the swamp. Think Groot, just without the whole "I am Groot" thing. Also, if you're wondering what the connection is betwixt our feathered friend and a giant plant golem is? Well, fun fact: Howard the Duck first appeared in issue #19 of Man-Thing's original comic, Adventure Into Fear, and the two have crossed paths on numerous occasions. It seems only right to bring them together for the first time on the big screen. 5. Expand the Universe(s) Now, I'm sure Dr. Strange is going to make the MCU a little bigger, but if there's one thing that Marvel has in spades (besides Spider-People, line-wide crossover events, and D-list villains), it's alternate realities. Deep in the heart of Man-Thing's swamp lies the Nexus of All Realities. We don't know what it's called yet, of course, but that's what it is. Before they discuss what it is, something comes out through the other side. Something weird. A vampire ninja, maybe. Or a cybernetically-animated superhero corpse (a la Deathlok, specifically from the Uncanny X-Force arc full of Deathlok heroes). Man-Thing quickly dispatches of the visitor with its massive strength and corrosive touch. Beverly Does that...happen a lot? The Man-Thing nods. It would seem, Beverly deduces, that Chuck fell into the Nexus. Howard informs her that he is not getting paid enough and that his own reality is weird enough. Beverly offers to triple her fee and our hero gracefully accepts. Howard, Beverly, and their new friend Man-Thing step through. Things get...weird from here. 6. Give Them a Familiar Bad Guy in a New Context The trio of unsuspecting heroes find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a war zone. A paltry resistance is crushed by giant war machines, all of which are marked with the HYDRA insignia. HYDRA troops surround our heroes. Howard H-hail HYDRA? A HYDRA trooper tazes him into unconsciousness. When Howard awakens, he and Beverly are in a high-tech prison cell. Man-Thing is gone, but who should be locked in the cell next to theirs but Chuck (played by someone hunky and relatively popular, like Robbie Amell or the Teen Wolf guy)! Reunited at last, but under fairly dismal circumstances. A guard comes to take them away. But not just any guard. It's Ward from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! That son of a gun. He has come to take Howard to HYDRA's labs to be dissected. It is at this point, upon the cell being opened, that Howard is finally able to display one of his greatest talents: Quack-Fu. He quickly and easily dispatches Ward and frees Chuck. Beverly is clearly impressed by his martial arts prowess but Howard shrugs it off, the consummate cool cucumber. He wants to escape, but Beverly insists they can't leave Man-Thing behind. Howard goes to object, but she points out that it's their ticket home. Guessing that the monster is in the laboratory, the three make their way there. Along the way Chuck tells them about the reality they're in. Back in the 40's, the Red Skull successfully defeated Captain America, and using the power of the Tesseract, took over the world. There are no heroes (even the Asgardians had fallen to the might of the Tesseract) and aside from pockets of resistance like the one we saw upon their arrival in this reality, HYDRA is the world of the day. But Red Skull is not in charge anymore, no sir, his most trusted adviser, Arnim Zola (the ineffable Toby Jones), betrayed him, killed him, and took control of HYDRA and subsequently the world. Now, obviously this is to get around the Red Skull, Cap, and the rest. But that's not to say that Ward would be the only cameo, no sir. 7. Make It a Great Escape Their suspicions are correct: Man-Thing is on the cutting table. The two scientists operating on him? Why, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, also from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In this reality, they, like Ward, have German accents as a result of HYDRA's global control. The trio watch them bicker briefly before taking them out and freeing the Man-Thing. Unfortunately, Simmons triggers an alarm before Beverly can knock her out. A whole squad of HYDRA goons storms the lab and it looks like our heroes are done for. But then the Calvary arrives, literally. The wall explodes and The Resistance has arrived, led by none other than Phil Coulson himself. With him are Melinda May (possibly having become Deathlok herself), Antoine Triplett, Alphonso "Mack" MacKenzie, Inhuman Daisy Johnson (Quake, if you're nasty), and her father Cal, along with a whole squad of rag-tag resistance members. Howard Who are you? Coulson We're S.H.I.E.L.D. Howard What's that stand for? Coulson Been a little busy trying to liberate the world from HYDRA, haven't had a lot of time to think up acronyms. With Daisy's abilities, Howard's Quack-Fu, Man-Thing's brute strength, and Coulson's leadership, they make short work of the HYDRA forces they come up against. But it isn't long before they come up against the big man himself, Zola, and his number two: an unscarred Crossbones (total badass Frank Grillo). Zola has taken on his familiar form in the comics, a face on a monitor on a robot body. Zola and Coulson exchange words and a big climatic fight ensues. In the fracas, Crossbones is scarred by Man-Thing but left alive (mirroring his fate in Cap 2), Howard very nearly sacrifices himself to save Chuck and Beverly from Zola, and finally, Zola is defeated. However, the war against HYDRA isn't over. This was just one of Zola's many bodies and as a digital consciousness ("cut off one head" and all that), he's already up and at them elsewhere. The only way to truly defeat him is to find his central consciousness and destroy it. On the bright side, S.H.I.E.L.D. has a Helicarrier now. Coulson offers Howard, Chuck, and Beverly spots in S.H.I.E.L.D. Howard and Beverly decline, but Chuck accepts. Beverly pleads with him to change his mind, but Chuck says he found his calling. They share one last kiss and everyone says their goodbyes. Man-Thing teleports Howard and Beverly to that reality's swamp and they go through the Nexus. Howard could teleport this whole time? Man-Thing shrugs its shoulders. Howard (frustrated) WAUGH! 8. Give It A Happy Ending Howard, Bev, and Man-Thing are back home. Howard and Beverly bid farewell to their jolly green friend and make their way back to civilization. Beverly is obviously still very broken up about Chuck. Howard tries to find the words to comfort her, but gives up and takes a different route. Howard Hey, Bev? Beverly (sniffles) Yes, Howard? Howard You wanna grab a drink at that bar we stopped at earlier? Beverly The one you almost got murdered in? Howard shrugs. Howard After almost getting turned into roast duck by a Nazi robot with a TV for a face, a couple'a bikers don't seem so scary in retrospect. Beverly thinks about it. Beverly You know what, Howard? That sounds really nice. My treat. She reaches out a hand as they walk. Howard stares at it for a moment and then takes it in his. He looks at the screen and smiles. Howard (happily) Waugh. 9. Get the Tone Right We're talking about a sarcastic, angry duck-man here. If anything, Howard the Duck should be a dark comedy first, with action and adventure thrown in to give the audience what they want. People can accept a super-soldier, tech genius, and hunky Norse god. A talking duck detective is going to have it a little harder. There's all sorts of humor and pathos to be found in Howard's trials and tribulations, and sticking him in the middle of a warzone is sure to have plenty of comedic opportunities. 10. Get the Right Director Obviously, James Gunn would be my first choice but he'll probably have a pretty full dance card by the time Avengers: Infinity War Part II has come and gone. It would be important to have somebody fully capable of big, over-the-top actions scenes, humor, and noir. Honestly, there's only one name on my least: the unlawfully handsome Robert Rodriguez. He has pretty stellar range and experience with the aforementioned areas between films like Planet Terror, Machete, and Sin City. Sure, next to Edgar Wright he is my favorite director, but there are plenty of good reasons for that. 11. Make the Mid and Post-Credits Scenes Matter  Sure, this is a Howard the Duck movie, but it can still lend itself to good world-building. I think it's more or less universally agreed that Iron Man 2 is one of the weakest links in the Cinematic Universe's chain (I, myself, liked it just fine), but I'll be damned if people didn't lose their minds when they saw Mjölnir in the desert. For the mid-credits scene, show us the result of Howard and Bev returning the the bar. Have them both looking exhausted with their beers, then slowly pull away to reveal a bar-full of unconscious bikers. That's Quack-Fu, baby. Then, after the credits? Maybe return to the other reality. Arnim Zola blinks to life in a new body, as predicted. He reflects to himself that maybe his time on Earth has come to an end and activates a device. A wormhole opens. Zola smiles. Arnim Zola Next stop: Dimension-Z. He enters it and the wormhole closes behind him. Cut to black. Dimension-Z is a world dominated by Zola in Rick Remender's Captain America, where Steve Rogers ends up in for over a decade. Of course, Rogers won't be Cap anymore by the time Howard the Duck rolls around, but there's no reason we can't adapt the storyline to accommodate for Buck Barnes, the new Captain America (with an 11-movie contract, it's pretty obvious he won't be the Winter Soldier forever). It's a fun dystopian story full of action, adventure, and mad science. We certainly haven't seen anything like that yet from Marvel Studios! Just imagine: Captain America: Escape From Dimension Z! 12. Can't Forget the Stan Lee Cameo! Since Stan the Man is immortal, obviously he will make a cameo complete with requisite one-liner. Maybe as a drunk biker in the first bar scene or the guy in the cell on the other side of Howard and Beverly's! I can see it now: Howard looks over at the cell on the other side of his. An OLD MAN with a black eye sits on the prison cot. Howard What happened to you? A grin washes over the man's face. Old Man You should see the other guy! So, there you have it. That's how you make a Howard the Duck movie. Lots of laughs, lots of surly sarcasm, lots of action, a liberal dose of easter eggs (Howard: Yeah, we're on an adventure, Adventure Into Fear!), and Marvel makes another few hundred million. Aside from Howard's CG, there's not a whole lot in the way of budgetary drains, especially working largely with television actors. Despite his decades of relative obscurity, people are already aware of Howard courtesy of Guardians, which is a big step in the right direction. In the hands of a capable director like Rodriguez, with a cast consisting of Green, Levy, and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and Kyle Maclachlan, that beautiful son of a gun), Howard the Duck could be Marvel's next Guardians.  Did I just write the pitch for the first new movie of Phase Five? Am I way off base? Think your Howard the Duck idea is better than mine? Sound of in the comments.
HTDIB: Howard the Duck photo
[How To Do It BETTER takes a look at films that already exist that could use the tender love and care only a reboot can bring. Some were good, some were...not. Either way, Flixist takes an in-depth look at how to make it bett...

5 dinosaur movies you should watch instead of Jurassic World

Jun 12 // Nick Valdez
We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story Ah, We're Back. Truth be told, I had no idea this films existed for a long time. My only run in with it was seeing the awesome looking poster art on the cover of its VHS. It was a little bit after that where I finally watched it and I wasn't disappointed. So I'm guessing the same will happen for you. Instead of watching terrifying super monsters chase a bunch of dumb people around a park for the fourth time in a row, watch some dinos hang out in the Natural History museum.  Besides it was produced under Steven Spielberg's Amblimation line and stars John Goodman, so you know that's a good sign. Clearly it's better than Jurassic World.  The Land Before Time Ugh, this movie is so saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad. Why would I recommend thiiiiiis? At the very least, I can argue that a young group of dinos that want to find their families will make you cry because it's well written and not because it's badly animated like Jurassic World. In fact, just cry this weekend and cut out the middle man.  Theodore Rex Remember this? Whoopi Goldberg wishes you didn't. Why not rub this terrible decision in her face while you pretend she's actually stuck in that one manga, Gantz. Or you can just keep crying since you're so alone and would rather write about a movie than go see one yourself. it's not like you have friends to go with you anyway.  Dinosaurs I remember when I had a family once. I used to watch movies with them all the time. I actually saw the first Jurassic Park with my dad. He didn't like it much, so it pretty much changed how I felt about it too. But you know what I had a good time with? ABC's Dinosaurs. If I remember correctly, it was part of the early TGIF block and had a lot of good puppet work. But they always get to be a happy family by episode's end. That's more than I ever got. God, I'm so lonely. My family. Where have you gone? I miss you so much.  Jurassic Park But the best choice is to deny the future and head back into the past. I was much happier back then. With my family, with my loving home, with my friends. Maybe if I watch Jurassic Park instead of Jurassic World, the future will never happen? I can trap time within this little capsule and repeat it for as long as I want! Everything new is old and everything old is new again!  Birth, life, death, rebirth, relife, redeath, rerebirth, rerelife, reredeath, rererebirth, rererelife, rereredeath, rerererebirth, rerererelife, rerereredeath, rererererebirth, rererererelife, rererereredeath Those are my suggestions for five things you can watch that aren't Jurassic World! Are you going to see it? 
Dinosaurs  photo
More than the world
While Jurassic World takes the *ahem* world by storm, I never really connected with the idea. I don't have as big of a connection with Jurassic Park as a lot of folks do, but at the same time, I love me some dinosaurs. Good t...

Seven movies that need a black and white re-release

Jun 03 // Flixist Staff
Grand Budapest Hotel is arguably the most compelling film in a particularly compelling filmography. One of the things that makes it so fascinating is its use of aspect ratios, using visual cues to define different periods within the timeline of the narrative. It's also gorgeous and full of vibrant colors, as are all Wes Anderson films. But I would love to see The Grand Budapest Hotel in black and white for exactly the same reason that Stephen Soderbergh released a version of Raiders of the Lost Ark in black and white: Because without the color, you're forced to focus on everything else. Everyone knows how fantastic the compositions are in Wes Anderson films, but without color, you can get a whole different appreciation for the man's artistry. This is more academic, perhaps, because you would unquestionably lose something in the translation, but I think you could learn a whole heck of a lot from seeing those colors completetly desaturated. But on another level: rather than having an ultra-vibrant past, going black and white would have a very different feel to it. It would fit with the 4:3 aesthetic, which is most commonly associated with (at least in film) black and white movies. By using it as a specific choice for certain sequences rather than across the entire film, Wes Anderson would subvert audience expectations in a massive way. Color is such a fundamental part of his craft. But that's not all he has to offer. A black and white release of The Grand Budapest Hotel would prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. - Alec Kubas-Meyer The Coen brothers have a knack for visual style that emphasizes contrast and sharp distinctions between light and dark. (They even did the black and white The Man Who Wasn't There in 2001.) So many of their films are candidates for black and white viewing, from noir/noirish fare like Blood Simple (1984), Miller's Crossing (1990), and Fargo (1996) to the screwball homage The Hudscuker Proxy (1994). My vote, though, is 1991's Barton Fink, which is somewhere in my Coen brothers top three. While there'd be something lost when the color is absent, the costuming, textures, and performances might help get that color across. Fink himself, played by John Turturro, cuts such a striking silhouette whenever he's on screen, like some pretentious ancestor of Henry from David Lynch's black and white masterpiece Eraserhead. - Hubert Vigilla Would anyone even notice? - Alec Kubas-Meyer The Wachowskis' first film, and arguably the one that's aged the best, Bound (1996) is a stylish noir thriller and lesbian romance shot on a shoestring budget. The financial limitations made the Wachowskis focus on the craft of their camera and their visual storytelling. After a string of ambitious, big-budget boondoggles (most recently Jupiter Ascending), going back to Bound-territory might be the best idea for the Wachowskis' next film. There's such stark contrast in so many shots of Bound, and a loving attention to the way that hard shadows and defined lines can enhance a scene and its mood. The leads Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon have this multi-era femme fatale look about them, as if they could exist alongside classic female leads like Barbara Stanwyck on the one hand and 90s-it-girls like Sharon Stone on the other. On top of its style, Bound is also noteworthy for being a sex-positive lesbian movie at a time when this was mostly unheard and taboo. - Hubert Vigilla Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998) was one of the least appreciated movies of the 90s and one of my favorite movies in high school. (I am so old.) A mix of hard-boiled noir, science fiction, and fantasy, the movie was made with light and shadow in mind. So much of the imagery goes back to masters of German expressionism like Fritz Lang, with plenty of nods to Metropolis (1927) and Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). The casting and the costumes help keep the world of the film in this noir-like state that would be perfect for black and white viewing. Dark City would look gorgeous in black and white, like some peculiar noir film from another dimension. The Strangers, the pale-faced subterranean villains of the film, would be particularly chilling in stark contrast, and the occasional bright spots in the nocturnal film would seem like sunlight on a big screen. Later tonight, I may give the film a watch in black and white just to see what it's like. - Hubert Vigilla What makes black and white look good is contrast. The difference between the light and the shadows is everything in making a compelling black and white image. Honestly, that's true in any image, but particularly when there's no color to distract you. The film noir "look" is black and white not just because it was cheaper to shoot black and white and they wanted to save a few bucks; it's because the high contrast, colorless look fits the atmosphere they created. Cigarette smoke (smoke in general, really) also looks particularly compelling in black and white. They create an intense, dramatic mood. Blade Runner is a noir. I'm certainly not the first person to say that (I'm not even the first person on this website to say that), but that doesn't make it any less true. You look at those images, and they have exactly that kind of gorgeous high contrast look that you get from an old classic. But it's in color. And while it's a spectacular use of color, a black and white version of the film would heighten that noir style. It certainly couldn't replace the particular (and particularly gorgeous) color palette of the original, but as a companion piece? It'd be fascinating and beautiful. And hell, it's been eight years since the Final Cut was released. I think Blade Runner is due for some new alterations. - Alec Kubas-Meyer I love the films of Kelly Reichardt. She has a unique ability to force the best performances out of her actors, but the reason her movies should get a black and white treatment is her distinct way to tell a story through the environment the characters inhabit, be it how it is captured through the lens or how the actors and props interact with it.  The is especially true in Meek's Cutoff, which follows Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano and others on a track through the dangerous Oregon desert. Meek's Cutoff, like The Grand Budapest Hotel, is shot in an untraditional aspect ratio (1. 33: 1) and these portrait movies lend themselves especially well to the simple beauty of black and white photography (see last years Ida for proof). I would love to see every Reichardt movie in black and white, but Meek's Cutoff is a no-brainer in my eyes. It needs to happen. - Per Morten Mjolkeraaen  The Godfather Part III is easily the weakest of Coppola's masterpieces. That's not to say it isn't great, but it has it's issues. One of the main ones is Gordon Willis' cinematography, which goes way overboard on the shadows and lighting. It's clear to see why, as this is the most somber and dark of the the three films, but maybe an all or nothing attitude wasn't the best call in this case. Just check out the image above and they heavy shadow crossing over Al Pacino's face. But wait, it actually looks pretty good. That's because it's in black and white. Ditching the color for the film would allow it's darkness to shift from overbearing to dramatic. The negative space created in black and white is perfect for a film where shadows creep out of every corner of every shot. It also fits the tone of the film fantastically, which is nihilistic and focuses heavily on Michael Corleone's gilt. Finally, it would be a great nod to the classic gangster films that inspired Coppola. As the film comes full circle with Michael holding an orange and dying so too would the black and white of this, the third film in the franchise, bring the genre back to its beginnings. - Matthew Razak
B&W For Everyone! photo
It ain't just for arthouse
When director George Miller mentioned that his preferred version of Mad Max: Fury Road (aka The Best) is in black and white, there was a resounding, "Um, what?" followed by a unanimous "OH HELL YES!" When he announced th...

The Cult Club: Putney Swope (1969)

May 31 // Hubert Vigilla
Some people come up to me and say, 'You the guy that made Putney Swope?' And I'll say, 'Yeah.' [And they say], 'Well, you really changed my life!' And my answer is, 'I'm sorry. You might have been better off without it.' -- Robert Downey, Sr., 2008 Reelblack interview The surreal anarchism of Putney Swope is established in the first minute, with contradictions played for laughs and all things intentionally off-balance, free-floating, a potential set-up for a punchline or a punchline per se. The film opens on a vertiginous, spiraling aerial shot of New York City interrupted by a dissonant piano chord. We see an older biker in a helicopter descend. A Jolly Roger and a Confederate Battle Flag flap in the wind. The chopper lands at a pier, and the biker steps out with a suitcase secured with a length of chain. On the back of his denim vest, "MENSA." The music is impending and sinister as he approaches a stooped-over square in a suit. They slap each other five and on comes a triumphant 60s groove, as if to say, "Yeah, we cool." In the board room scene that sets the plot in motion, the chairman of an ad agency dies while delivering a spiel, stuttering on his last word. The execs treat it like a game of charades. The nasaliest of boardroom weasels asks constantly, even after the chairman's clearly dead, "How many syllables, Mario?!" The other execs pick the corpse's pockets--ugly capitalist vultures. With the corpse on the table, the board votes for a new leader. The only stipulation is that they're not allowed to vote for themselves. And so they accidentally elect the one person they figured no one else would vote for: the company's token black guy, Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson). (Downey dubbed in his own voice for Swope's since Johnson purportedly kept forgetting his lines.) That's just the first 12 minutes. Revolution and selling out ensues. There's a gritty DIY-ness to Putney Swope that's in service to its irreverence and popular revolutionary vibe. It's at once a kind of guerrilla filmmaking and guerrilla sketch comedy. Anything is possible in the weird world of the film--a midget in a hard hat is POTUS, and bags of money are passed and hookshot off the backboard into an open-top case. Louis CK said he was inspired by Putney Swope's confident nonsense when he hosted a screening of the film in LA late last year. (Excerpts from the event and Q&A with Downey, Sr. can be read here on The Moveable Fest). CK had just moved to New York and bought a VCR, and he found a copy of Putney Swope at the videostore. According to the WTF podcast, Marc Maron was there with him when it happened. CK's early short films such as Hello There and Hijacker have Swope written all over them, as do the stranger segments of his show Louie. The jokes of Putney Swope come in various forms and with different targets. Downey delivers visual gags, verbal gags, quick gags, long-form gags, slapstick, and gallows humor. There are the one-liners, which seem like the stuff of the Marx Brothers and even A Hard Day's Night. I also can't help but hear shades of Dr. Strangelove's "You can't fight here--this is the War Room" in Swope's oft-repeated "Brothers in the black room" line. The zany, all-over-the-place approach is like those early Woody Allen movies as well, or perhaps those edgier 90s sketch shows like The Kids in the Hall and Mr. Show. The sex humor is gleefully vulgar (if The Guardian is correct, this is the first movie to use the word "jism"). The race jokes, sexuality jokes, and gender jokes are built on stereotypes being broken down, reaffirmed, or forced into an uneasy dance of doing both. The grittiness of the picture plays into the film's gritty, unwashed brand of comedy. The film critic for the New York Daily News in 1969 gave Putney Swope a negative-one-star review and wrote, "Vicious and vile. The most offensive picture I've ever seen." Putney Swope isn't just offensive. It's also politically incorrect, though political incorrectness isn't an end in itself, and nor should it be. These days many jagoffs use political incorrectness as a self-congratulatory badge of honor for tastelessness, but they wear the badge without acknowledging that political incorrectness takes many forms. Context is key since not all political incorrectness is created equal. The healthy, beneficial, and most complicated strand of political incorrectness is the satirical kind. I don't know if it's necessarily about punching up or punching down because legitimate targets and topics for satire come from all levels of social strata, but maybe effective satire that's politically incorrect is more about an awareness of what's being punched and why it deserves to be. Maybe that's the point. Maybe humor has a higher function. In other words, the offensive joke that someone tells makes you laugh, and if your politics are progressive or you care about your fellow human, you reconsider why you laughed and whether or not you should have laughed, digging into the real cultural meaning of the gag and the mindset of the culture as a whole. The satirist telling the joke, similarly, isn't just laughing at himself or herself. There's more than self-amusement at stake. The joke isn't just a bit of offensiveness--a fart in church that people will politely suffer through and forget--but a meaningful conversation with the culture, its makers, and its members. There's a predictive element about Putney Swope that seems especially important given its place in 60s counterculture. There's an assassination attempt on Swope, which recalls the biggest political assassinations of the decade (JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King, Malcom X). Yet as Film Crit Hulk points out in his appreciation of Putney Swope, the person who tries to kill Swope bears an uncanny resemblance to Mark David Chapman, the man who would shoot and kill John Lennon in 1980. (In another bizarre coincidence, Downey joked in a LIFE Magazine profile published November 28, 1969 that the only book he'd ever read was J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Chapman, after shooting Lennon, sat down and read a copy of The Catcher in the Rye.) [embed]219426:42415:0[/embed] The primary prediction by Putney Swope, however, is an eventual shift that the counterculture of the 1960s made, transforming from activists and political idealists into the members of the self-absorbed "Me generation." The transition might have been expected, an inevitable comedown after the decade of love ended with such painful disillusionment. Sometimes it's not about changing the world since that might be impossible. The heroes have been killed, the hippies have cannibalized themselves, and now the whole enterprise seems like bullshit. Sometimes it's just about getting paid, and that's the most you can hope for. We see it in Putney's own desire to not just rock the boat but sink it, which he hopes to do by refusing to advertise cigarettes, alcohol, and war toys. What else, though, is more quintessentially American than the Marlboro Man, Kentucky bourbon, and G.I. Joe (aka my first military-industrial complex)? Swope's whole enterprise is doomed from the start--he's an ideological terrorist armed with only truth and soul. To use the words of Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) from Network, "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Swope." When he spoke about Putney Swope late last year, Louis CK said, "This was made in 1969--it's that way a movie can be like a note in a bottle, this beautiful thing that just stays [the same]." The film captures its era, and yet I think it's also timely because the primal forces of nature, those larger political systems and corporate systems, also stay the same, and will stay the same. The system can't be dismantled, and the boat ain't sinking. Hell, it can barely even get rocked. That sounds hopeless, I know, but the good thing, at least, is that Putney Swope and other satires help you find a better deck chair on this awful ship we're on. [embed]219426:42414:0[/embed] Next Month... June 30th marks the DVD/Blu-ray release of Penelope Spheeris' critically acclaimed Decline of Western Civilization trilogy, a landmark trio of documentaries on the Los Angeles punk scene, metal scene, and the plight of homeless youth. All three films are going to be available for the first time ever on DVD/Blu-ray. To coincide with the release of The Decline of Western Civilization, we're going to look at one of the seminal cult movies of the 80s that's rooted in the ugly aggro-nihilism of the 80s LA punk scene. Yup, we're finally doing Alex Cox's classic Repo Man (1984). PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) The Last Dragon (1985) Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992)
Cult Club: Putney Swope photo
"How many syllables, Mario?!"
New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, in one of his signature recurring gags, wrote that Mad Max: Fury Road was rated R because it featured "A ruthless critique of everything existing." The same might be said of Putney Swope...

Five movies you love that aren't as good as Mad Max: Fury Road

May 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Why it's beloved: Gravity is a technical marvel. It's the kind of film you have to see in theaters, because the scope of it is literally infinite. It's about swirling alone in the blackness of space, where the slightest mistake can kill you at any moment. We gave it a 100. I wouldn't have given it a 100, but I understand why Matt did. It's a technical marvel, and you spend much of the film wondering how the heck they did it. (Short answer: Computers. Long answer: Extremely complicated technical rigs and setups and choreography. Also, computers.) Seen on the biggest possible screen in 3D, there's nothing quite like it.  Why Mad Max is better: But the issues arise as soon as you decide to think less about the impeccable technique on display and more about what it is they're displaying. Mad Max may not have the same quality of CG or 3D that Gravity has, but it's the same sort of spectacle. For every moment Gravity had that made me gasp, Mad Max had ten. But it's not just about the look of it. Gravity's fundamental failing is its inability to let viewers figure things out for themselves. Everyone just keeps talking, even when it literally threatens their lives. They should be conserving breath. But instead, the audience needs to be told everything, or else... I mean, how could we possibly figure it out? Gravity assumes we're dumb.  Mad Max doesn't.  Mad Max knows that we can figure things out. Only a handful of things are ever explicitly stated, and it never feels like dialogue for the sake of dialogue. They don't sound like they're speaking to the audience. They sound like they're speaking to each other. Like people. We're shown things rather than told them. You learn everything you need to know from damn good filmmaking, not an overlong screenplay. Why It's Beloved: In my review of The Raid 2, I hailed it as the best action film ever made. I had a lot of reasons for that. You're welcome to read about them. But now, just over a year later, I'm at a crossroads. I say that The Raid 2 is the best action movie of all time, but... Why Mad Max Is Better: This has been eating at me since about halfway through my first viewing of the film. If The Raid 2 is the best action movie, but Mad Max is a better movie, and Mad Max is an action movie... does that make it the best action movie of all time? I still don't know the answer, but I do know this: Mad Max is, on the whole, a superior viewing experience. The action in The Raid is beyond incredible, and the "fights" are undoubtedly better than the ones in Mad Max, but after the first viewing, those long sequences of political blather start to grate. By the third time I saw The Raid 2, I was rolling my eyes. (Worth noting: The original The Raid doesn't have this problem. It is also not as good as Mad Max, but it is fundamentally closer to Mad Max than its sequel is.) It's fine, but it's definitely not as good as what Mad Max has to offer. The few moments of downtime in Mad Max are all excellent. They drive forward the characters and/or the narrative in interesting ways. There isn't a single wasted frame in the entire goddamn movie. You could cut half the political bullshit in The Raid 2 and the film would be better for it. But every last second of Mad Max is essential. Given a choice, I would probably rewatch individual action sequences from The Raid 2 over those from Mad Max. But if I had to choose one film to watch all the way through over and over and over again? No contest. Mad Max is is. Why It's Beloved: Joss Whedon took a group of superheroes and made an ultimately fascinating and extremely enjoyable team film. With the added charm that is so uniquely Whedon, I mean, what's not to love? It's big, it's funny, and it's got people wearing silly costumes. Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: The second time I saw Mad Max, I went with my friend Brian. He doesn't really like Joss Whedon. After Guardians of the Galaxy (also not as good as Mad Max: Fury Road) came out, he said, "That's the movie that proves Joss Whedon is a hack." After we got out of Mad Max, he said it again. "This movie clinches it." He called the movie "life-changing." He would definitely give it a 95 or higher on the Flixist review scale. He would not be wrong to do so. I didn't name The Avengers 2 here intentionally. Not just because the critical response has been much more muted, but because the film's treatment of women has come more under fire than the original The Avengers (not that it was the best there either). Point is: Joss Whedon is known for writing strong female characters. That's his claim to fame. But none are as strong and as badass as the team in Fury Road. Let's be clear: A 78 year old woman does her own stunts. But here's the thing: A 78 year old woman has stunts to do. You know what that is? The. Best. Suck it, Whedon. Why It's Beloved: Last year's Academy Award Winner should not have won the Academy Award, but that didn't stop it from being an incredible film. But what really makes it so freaking amazing is the way it uses its technical prowess to create something uniquely cinematic. When most films are so same-y, it takes something like Birdman to kick you awake and remind you that movies can be and are magical things. Film is a magical medium. It takes reality and can bend it almost to the breaking point without you even noticing it's happened. You think you're looking at a straight path but it's curving you around. And suddenly you realize that you had no idea what was happening and now you're on a different path entirely. Birdman's one-take conceit does all of that and more. Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: But it doesn't do it as well as Mad Max. Mad Max isn't a two hour take; it's a two hour car chase. But here's the thing: That car chase feels so much more real than anything in Birdman. Even ignoring the way Birdman breaks the rules in order to bring you into Riggan Thompson's head, it shatters illusions in order to wear its point on its sleeve. Birdman hits you over the head with its message because the characters monologue about it constantly. It's all very nihilistic, and though it's (extremely) compelling, it's less compelling than watching people develop during a car chase. The characters in Mad Max develop subtly but poignantly. No one in Birdman really develops at all. And while that may work with the narrative that's being told, watching Michael Keaton be sad after monologuing about things is far less momentous than watching Tom Hardy give a tiny thumbs up to a woman who he had been pointing a gun at minutes before. Why It's Beloved: Drive was the best movie of 2011. It was the first film that I saw at a press screening that I would later pay to see. And... I'm not actually sure there has ever been another example of that. I love the film. The nearly silent but completely deadly driving protagonist was pretty darn compelling. And though it has ultra-violent action in it, it's the journey of a Real Human Being that made everyone love it. (I mean, that soundtrack, though.) Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: You may have guessed that I intentionally reduced the character of Driver to "nearly silent but completely deadly driving protagonist" in order to make the comparison between him and Max even easier, but the reality is that they both fit into the same mold. But the difference is that Driver spends the film trying to keep a woman safe because she can't fend for herself. What Max is doing is far more interesting. He's helping Furiosa and the others, not saving them. He doesn't have to be the one to get revenge, because at any given moment, he's not the biggest badass in the truck. The focus on cooperation between two equals without any need for a romance makes Mad Max an ultimately more meaningful film. 
Mad Max Is Better photo
#6: Literally everything else
I've seen Mad Max: Fury Road twice in the past week. Crucially, I paid New York City movie ticket prices to see Mad Max twice in the past week. Next week, I will all-but-definitely pay to see it a third time. I don'...

Review: Pitch Perfect 2

May 15 // Jackson Tyler
[embed]219455:42387:0[/embed] Pitch Perfect 2Director: Elizabeth BanksRelease Date: May 15, 2015Rated: PG-13  As the movie opens, the Bellas (our A Capella heroes) are performing for none other than President Obama himself, inserted into the audience with cheesy stock footage. Every member of the team gets their moment in this welcome back performance, building up to the reveal of fan favourite Fat Amy, hanging from a curtain and belting out a solo. Then, her trousers get ripped, and she ends up exposing herself to the entire audience, who react with abject horror. Ha ha, a fat person has a vagina! How disgusting! Roll titles! It's an opening indicative of what to come. For one thing - it isn't funny. Pitch Perfect 2 is disappointingly light on laugh out loud moments, perhaps the only memorable one coming from an unexpected cameo. The scenes play out with a sense of obligation to them, a been here done that feeling that is oh so familiar to leagues and leagues of comedy sequels, and the jokes are often little more than references to the prior movie. Bumper's back, and he flirts with Fat Amy at a party! Again! *nudge nudge, wink wink* Pitch Perfect 2 is also approximately seven years long, squeezing in about six incongruent and unfocused character arcs in the gaps between the many, many musical setpieces that make up the 115 minute running time. It takes a twenty minute detour to David Cross' house half way through the movie in order to do a reprise of the popular sing-off scene from the first film. It's perhaps one of the movie's better scenes, but it's far too elaborately constructed and belaboured for something that amounts to nothing more than a tangent.  Whilst it's easily the most out of place scene in the film, it's less a problem itself and more a symptom of deeper structural flaws. The scenes don't flow, the story isn't constructed for a thematic or emotional ends, it's a conveyor belt of stuff that has to be there. The music scenes have little to do with the character scenes which have little to do with the comedy scenes. All the required elements are present, but haphazardly thrown onto the screen with no attempt to bind them into a strong narrative. But all of that would be completely forgivable, if the movie's core was solid. After all, Pitch Perfect's aims are important - it positions itself as a story of empowerment, essentially a franchise of coming of age movies about a group of girls being best friends. And if it achieved that, structural flaws and indulgent reference humour would ultimately be only surface level criticism. But that dream dies in the opening scene. The movie's humour often springs out of this crass and nasty place, consistently aiming its sights on anyone who isn't slim, conventionally attractive and white. Fat Amy's confidence isn't played as a response to a harmful culture that consistently shames and dehumanises her, it's a setup to a joke that is always being told, and the punchline is her fatness. In between the movies, the group has picked up a new member from Guatemala, who constantly references her impending deportation. Hana Mae Lee's character isn't just the quiet, timid asian girl from the original, now she's a ninja too!  It's hypocritical for Pitch Perfect 2 to stake its claim at empowerment, when it's filled to bursting with harmful jokes, and its core musical gimmick isn't far removed from Acoustic Covers of Rap Songs. While it's disappointing, it isn't exactly surprising, these problems existed in the first film, and the sequel has only doubled down on the upsetting elements. The movie is a two hour adaptation of Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech, its feminist politics defined by a lack of self awareness and intersectional thinking, as it cuts back and forth between scenes of the Bella sisters bonding to thirty seconds of hilarious racist transphobia. But hey, then they sing a song.
PP2 Review photo
A Capella Wordplay Indicating Failure
Everybody loves a song. It can be the perfect emotional climax to a movie. From The Blues Brothers to School of Rock to Linda Linda Linda to, hell, the original Pitch Perfect, the final performance as cathartic...

The Mad Max Trilogy: Look Back in Anger

May 12 // Hubert Vigilla
Mad Max (1979) - Lawless Ozploitation Mad Max, the film that started it all, wasn't post-apocalyptic. It's pre-apocalyptic. The world in the film is lawless and rowdy (i.e., the Platonic form of Australia?), but not the rusty, dusty S&M wasteland that would be seen in the subsequent films in the series. What we get instead is a solid Ozploitation revenge movie, one reminiscent of a drive-in biker picture or a western about bandits hunting down the lawmen that done killed one of their kin. The first Mad Max is an origin story that the other movies will riff on and play with. Max is a leather-clad cop in a muscle car who kills a punk called The Nightrider in a car chase. The Nightrider's posse rolls into town looking to even the score. Revenge, mannequin molestation, eccentric music cues, and general Ozplotation mayhem ensues. When not running down goons and making them cry, Max is back at his seaside house with his saxophone-playing wife Jesse and their cute toddler Sprog. (The hell kind of name for a kid is Sprog?) Home offers a semblance of order in a world that's otherwise falling apart and unable to be saved. Which inevitably means this domesticity is doomed. You know things aren't going to end well for Max and his wife because they have a cute way of saying "I love you." This is generally a sign of someone's eventual death in a movie, sort of like when a character develops a sudden and persistent cough. The police force is in shambles, just holding on to some shred of order like the rest of civilization. After the grisly murder of one of his friends on the force, Max wants to quit so he can lead a normal life. His chief, Fifi, tries to convince him to remain on the force and delivers a key line: "They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes." Max goes on holiday with his family to clear his head, which leads to a chance run-in with The Nightrider's friends and the eventual tragedy that pushes Max over the edge. By the end of the film, Max's ordered and peaceful world is gone. He goes vigilante to get revenge, goes full anti-hero in his methods, and instead of returning to his seaside home, he leaves society for the road. Off he drives out into the lawless wild, which is where he now belongs. One of the final shots of Mad Max is our hero driving off as an explosion goes off in the background. That's not just an act of revenge carried out, it's the obliteration of the ordered world. Fifi's line about the return of heroes sets up Max's recurring reluctant heroism in the other films. In the next two Mad Max movies, Max's motives begin as self-interested and self-serving, he eventually shows his true qualities as a character. In the process, he aids in the founding of two separate societies, giving others a chance to rebuild the civilization he's abandoned. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) - Post-Apocalyptic Anarchy From Mad Max to The Road Warrior, we go from lawlessness to anarchy. There's no vestige of the civilized world. Now it's a land of bondage gear and crossbows. To get by, people scavenge and murder. Max's badass vehicle has gone from shiny to a dusty matte black. Both the man and the machine are amply battle-scarred; Gibson appears to have aged 10 years in movie-time even though this sequel was released just two years after the first film. Welcome to the apocalypse—ain't it grand? The Road Warrior is easily the best movie of The Mad Max Trilogy, and a remarkable achievement in reckless action filmmaking. Stunt performers leap off speeding cars, hurtle through the air, break bones on impact with the Australian dirt. The vehicles—which look like someone played Frankenstein in a junkyard—are gloriously expendable, colliding at high speeds and creating the scrap metal equivalent of a Bloomin' Onion®. The western vibe of the first Mad Max is here again—rather than bandits out for revenge against lawmen, it's outlaws raiding a mining town—though there's also the air of a samurai film, particularly Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. The film follows Max as he tries to bargain for some gas from a small outpost of peaceful survivors. He eventually agrees to help them leave their besieged settlement for a seaside paradise (as seen in postcards). If the survivors were to remain, they'd be killed by the tyrannous Lord Humungus and his band of barbarian perverts clad in assless chaps and football pads. As a character, Max begins to take on the traits of classic cinematic nomads, particularly Toshiro Mifune's character from Yojimbo and Sanjuro and Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name from Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Max is even called "The Man with No Name" by the Bartertown announcer. (He's also called "Raggedy Man," which walks the line between badass and adorable.) We begin to see the recurring Mad Max motifs here: the ripped version of the MFP uniform, the bad leg, the sawed-off shotgun, his car bobby-trapped with a bomb. Max is surrounded by a lot of colorful supporting characters in The Road Warrior. There's Bruce Spence as the gyrocopter pilot, and also a feral child with a razor-sharp boomerang. Lord Humungus makes a strong impression with his bulging scalp, his metal hockey mask, and He-Man physique. The whole look of the Humungus posse carries forward into Thunderdome, and seems to partly inspire the goons in Fury Road. (The influence extends to the pro-wrestling tag team The Road Warriors, later known as The Legion of Doom. The movie also inspired Tonka's Steel Monsters toyline, which featured a hefty post-apocalyptic vehicle and action figure; as a kid, I had a Masher truck, which was driven by a Lord Humungus knock-off named Metal Face.) Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) - A Kooky Melange As far as sequel subtitles go, "Beyond Thunderdome" is the post-apocalyptic equivalent of "Electric Boogaloo." That and the Tina Turner song "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" are probably the lasting legacies of the film. (Unpopular opinion: "One of the Living," the Tina Turner song during the beginning credits, holds up better than "We Don't Need Another Hero.") Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome carries the series out of its Ozploitation past and sticks it right in the middle of the 80s. And a bunch of kids. Not only is Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome the most 80s entry of the trilogy, it's also the most blockbustery in execution. The vibe is less western and samurai movie and more Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There's also a disappointing lack of vehicular action in Beyond Thunderdome until the finale. Max enters an outpost known as Bartertown (the outback's Mos Eisley) in search of some stolen goods. In the process, he becomes embroiled in a power struggle between Bartertown's founder Aunty Entity and a duo known as Master Blaster. Master Blaster runs the underground pig shit refineries that produce methane, the town's super-fuel. There's a fight in Thunderdome, which is an early highlight, featuring chainsaws and bungee cords and raucous chanting from the post-apocalyptic masses. Thunderdome gets beyond Thunderdome in about 25 minutes, though. Max eventually winds up rescued by a tribe of children who are convinced he's a savior who'll fly them to Sydney, Australia (as seen in a View-Master). Thunderdome was apparently inspired by Russell Hoban's post-apocalyptic novel Ridley Walker, which explains the fractured/restructured speech patterns of the child tribe. The film feels like it grafts Max into this sort of story, and his previous skill set of hard-driving and vehicular cunning are not particularly valuable for this adventure. Instead, Max uses his fists and some of his wits (and a whistle... and a monkey), and yet he feels a little off. It's the difference between the Han Solo of The Empire Strikes Back and the Han Solo of Return of the Jedi—Mad Max goes soft. Thunderdome introduces some fascinating disjunctions to the continuity of The Mad Max Trilogy. Bruce Spence, the actor who played the gyrocopter pilot in The Road Warrior, shows up in Beyond Thunderdome as the pilot of a small plane. It's unspecified if Spence is playing the same character in both movies or two separate pilots. Max's car also appears again in Thunderdome, though it was blown up real good in The Road Warrior. (Maybe it's another tricked-out Interceptor, like a second pair of black jeans just in case?) The story of Thunderdome doesn't entirely cohere on its own either. It feels like a Mad Max tale told by a child, which figures since the story is all about Max helping children establish a new society elsewhere. If we think of Max as serving a function in the foundation myths of the societies he's helped create, this wildly plotted fairy tale version of a Mad Max story might have been entirely intentional. Mad Max's Pseudo-Continuity - A Tankful of Juice or The Legend of Mad Max There are a few ways to think of the loose continuity of The Mad Max Trilogy (and possibly even Fury Road), and I'm glad the series has a kind of pick-and-choose mentality, like we're able to co-create the post-apocalyptic world to a certain degree. Apart from straight continuity, you can think of The Mad Max Trilogy as a kind of loose continuity, with the same character wandering off and going on different adventures, and bits and pieces not always fitting together neatly. The best example of this is probably the Zatoichi films, a series of 26 movies that star Shintaro Katsu as the title character. In each film, the blind samurai known as Zatoichi tries to escape his ruthless past but is then confronted with its repercussions. Instead of a sawed-off shotgun, he's got a sword concealed in his walking stick. There are slippages in continuity in the Zatoichi films when viewed sequentially. In one movie, Zatoichi's sword is broken, but then it's perfectly fine in the next. It's like Max's car showing up again in Thunderdome. Another option is to think of Max as the same character-type/archetype in the films but not the same character throughout the series. It's like the Zelda games in this regard: there's a guy named Link who wears green, carries a sword, gathers certain items, and he goes on adventures. Maybe each Mad Max film is its own discrete Mad Max film, with each inhabiting a different world but with recurring elements and common motifs persisting between the worlds. You can also think of this in terms of Jack tales—Jack referring to the archetypal stock hero of stories such as "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Jack the Giant Killer," and "Little Jack Horner." In this case, we'd have "Max the Mad," "Max the Road Warrior," and "Max the Guy Who Went Beyond Thunderdome." To that, one could also think of The Mad Max Trilogy as a thematic trilogy that's loosely connected, sort of like Leone's Dollars Trilogy. The Man with No Name may or may not be the same character from film to film, but he embodies a character-type that's already equipped with certain storytelling machinery (i.e., the gunslinger, the loner, the ronin). The archetype allows Leone to explore different kinds of stories that are thematically linked. There's another possibility I've been considering that provides an in-story explanation for the inconsistencies in continuity. In this possibility, Max is the name given to a mythic figure who helped various societies try to re-establish order in the post-apocalyptic world. Note that The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome are both presented as histories that are recounted by people in the future, each one in their newly established civilization for which Max is partly responsible. Max is a hero in the foundation myths of these new, separate societies. The tellings of a Max story differ since each society is defined by its own values and own history. If the first Mad Max is closest to an agreed-upon canon, it would make sense why The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome offer divergent stories that don't fit perfectly together—they're the myths of two societies that have never interacted that share a mythic figure in common. The recurring Bruce Spence pilot may not be the same person, but maybe he serves the same mythopoeic or folkloric function in the two different societies, sort of like the tanuki in Japanese folklore, or the spider in African folk tales, or other kinds of tricksters who manifest themselves in different forms. Miller knows his Joseph Campbell, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is one way he's put his cinematic hero to good use. This brings me back to Fifi's lines in the first Mad Max: "They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes." If this mythic read of The Mad Max Trilogy holds, we see Max abandon his own dying civilization, help build new civilizations, and become a hero to these new socities. Max has succeeded in giving people back their heroes, and in the process has helped seed a little bit of hope for the future. And yet the hero at the end of each of the Mad Max sequels cannot go back to society. It's something he's known, he's loved, but that he cannot recapture. Instead, he gives the new world to others. It's like my favorite line from the book The Return of the King, which Frodo says at The Grey Havens: I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. It makes me wonder how many other times Max has given up the world so that others could rebuild it and enjoy it, and how many other Max tales there are, and how they differ, as if the new civilization has played a game of mythopoeic telephone with the legend of the Raggedy Man. One reason I think "One of the Living" is better than "We Don't Need Another Hero" are the lines "You've got ten more thousand miles to go" and "You've got ten more thousand years to go." In other words, a hero's work is never done. [embed]219429:42374:0[/embed]
Mad Max Trilogy photo
"The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!"
I have yet to see Mad Max: Fury Road, which comes out this week, but I did get a chance to see the first three Mad Max movies over the weekend at a friend's place: Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad M...

The Cult Club: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

May 08 // Hubert Vigilla
Hubert: Salo is one of the grandaddies of extreme cinema, and anyone who's curious about notoriously disturbing movies will eventually encounter Salo at some point of his or her life. But Salo feels like it comes from a different pedigree than other films frequently seen on "Most Disturbing Movies" lists like Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust or the Guinea Pig series. Salo is an art movie from hell, so painterly in its unpleasantness, so carefully composed; it has more in common with Ken Russell's The Devils (though not as manic) or the work of Lars Von Trier than I Spit on Your Grave. Maybe Salo's best contemporary unit of comparison is Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film, but even that movie's extremism is so different in tone. There's something about Pasolini's use of long shots during most of the sadism that gives the events of Salo a sense of absolute spiritual death. There's also a philosophical rage in its content which can be read as anti-fascist as well as anti-capitalist--both have a tendency to reduce humans to functions or mere objects. Where would you situate it in the cult canon and the canon of extreme cinema? Alec: It's hard to disagree with your assessment there. Salo stands pretty much apart from everything else. If I were to choose a direct comparison, I think The Devils is probably the best. Because whereas most extreme cinema feels gratuitous for the sake of it, The Devils feels gratuitous because the world that it takes place in is gratuitous. (That film is pretty high up on my re-watch list, by the way. I got about halfway through a second viewing a couple months back and had to turn it off, but it's been on my mind ever since.) Salo is the same sort of thing. But what makes Salo so intense is both its use of long shots and also wide shots. It's filmed from a distance, with everything you could possibly want (and much, much more) in the frame. And as such, there's rarely any "immediacy" to the "action." Your blood doesn't get pumping. There isn't any sort of sensory overload. You're acutely aware of who is doing what to whom when and how. It's voyeuristic in a very different way from most extreme films. In a way that is more fundamentally horrible, because you are a passive observer. It's more documentarian than experiential. It's like an anti-found footage film, in that regard. (Though that's an odd comparison to make, since it predated the found footage concept by several years.) Hubert: That distance may be what makes viewers feel so helpless, like all they can do is watch these teens get degraded and tortured. There's one moment a little before the "Circle of Shit" title card comes up, signaling the next ugly chapter of Salo and a further descent into hell. One of the girls says, "I can't take any more" like she's giving up her will to live. And you feel it. It's a phrase synonymous with "I want to die." But things are only going to get worse. And at that moment, watching the movie again, even knowing the end, I got this sad chill through my body. I was struck by this terrifying realization that no one was going to save the day, there's no hope of fighting back, and that all I could do was watch these victims be destroyed. There's that one scene later when it seems like one of the kids will at least be executed quickly with a pistol, but it's not even loaded. One of the libertines gets in the boy's face and says, "You must be stupid to think that death would be so easy. Don't you know we intend to kill you a thousand times? To the end of eternity, if eternity can have an end." The idea that death might be a release is turned on its head--there is only death, over and over again, and no escaping it. And all we can do is watch. Absolutely chilling. Though on the note of that scene, it's the disgusting punchline to a contest to decide who has the best ass. Salo is full of so much sadistic and perverse humor or amusement, or at least from the point of view of the libertines. How did you feel about its fascistic comedy, like the jokes that keep getting told? Alec: On some level, I think it could be argued that Salo is the darkest of comedies. I remember reading an IMDB trivia that said that some of the actors were absolutely shocked when they saw the final product, because the experience on set had actually been relatively light. I don't know that that's true, but rewatching the film I can see how (at least in parts) it might be. Certainly there is a lot of laughter by many of the characters. Early on, there is laughter during the stories, and the libertines and their accomplices laugh throughout, telling (terrible) jokes and just generally feeling pretty good about the whole thing. (Especially Lazy Eye, less so Combover.) To them, this is pure entertainment, which is absolutely and entirely horrific, but it brings up the question of perspective. You're seeing these actions at a distance, but you spend most of your time with the fascists. Obviously it's not a pro-fascist film, but they are the central characters, not their victims. Their victims are there to be actors in the the play that the libertines have created and can engage in at will. For us and the victims, it's a horrorshow, but for them it's the best sex-comedy imaginable. And the constant jokes and the levity just makes the whole thing far more unsettling than if it was deadly serious. Actions speak louder than words, but the words in context with the actions make for a particularly disturbing combination. Hubert: There's such an ugly flippancy to what the libertines do and how they do it. If torture and humiliation without reprisal weren't enough, the ability to laugh in the face of the hell they're creating for these victims might be the ugliest demonstration of their power. Though on the note of what you said about the fascist point of view, Salo is so effective of tapping into that mindset in which anything is permissible against the powerless. Do you remember how or when you first heard about Salo? For me it was probably 1999, and I was just starting college and really into extreme cinema and finding VHS bootlegs of stuff. (This makes me sound so old.) Salo was completely out-of-print back then, and the initial Criterion DVD release was selling on eBay for something like $250. I first saw Salo on a degraded pan-and-scan VHS around 2002 with some friends, which wasn't so unnerving, but watching it a second time a few years ago, it was much more unnerving and effective, like I finally understood Pasolini's filmmaking grammar. Alec: I imagine it was during my extreme cinema phase. There was a period of a few years where I would look up lists of the Most Disturbing Films Of All Time. I look back on that now with a bit of disdain (which we discussed in our, um, discussion of cinematic garbage), but I imagine that I learned about it around the same time that I learned about Cannibal Holocaust and the others. That was probably mid 2000s, but I couldn't put an exact date on it. I know that I saw it for the first time after I had entered college, because I distinctly remember watching it. More specifically, I distinctly remember how little I felt while watching it. I had gone through A Serbian Film and Cannibal Holocaust and the August Underground films at that point, and I was expecting something to beat them all. It wasn't. I remember eating Pad Thai during the coprophagia scene and thinking, "This is probably disgusting." But the entire thing was so detached that it didn't phase me at all. It was horrible, but the effect was kind of numbing. And it took me a while to realize just how brilliant that was. I'm going to compare it to The Act of Killing, actually, because that film is about how mundane these horrible things are. Salo is the same way. It's so relentless and so evil and so clinical that you just sit there, munching on Pad Thai and looking at some of the most awful (yet artistic) images ever put to celluloid. Hubert: The Act of Killing is a great point of comparison. Salo and The Act of Killing are movies about the banality of evil, and every act of depravity, while shocking, also has an air of a common ritual or business proceeding--this isn't murder, it's an undertaking; this isn't murder, it's an act of killing. In Salo, the days have a schedule, there's a structured repetition of stories and meals, and this sense of order allows these acts to be carried out with a kind of boredom on the part of the libertines. They can make jokes because this is like another day at the office, and maybe the most chilling aspect of that is that this could be yet another round of commonplace depravity, just the latest set of teenagers that fascistic libertines murder a thousand times over to achieve a sadistic pleasure that is never sated and continually slips into boredom. The libertines say they're the ultimate anarchists, but this adherence to order and structure reveals them to be the ultimate fascists. When I interviewed Joshua Oppenheimer about The Act of Killing, he mentioned how normal everything seemed to the killers he encountered. One of the anecdotes Oppenheimer shared is something he caught on camera, and it appears toward the end of his follow-up film, The Look of Silence. It's two men recounting their killings in the place where they slaughtered hundreds of people, and then they do something so normal that it's terrifying. ( The Look of Silence comes out later this. I saw it at last year's New York Film Festival, and it's probably going to be my pick for the best movie of 2015.) One of the most aphoristic lines in Salo: "Nothing is more contagious than evil." History proves that. Evil is contagious and unstoppable. Alec: To that point, it's sort of interesting that Pasolini was murdered just before the release of Salo. It would have been fascinating to see how he reacted to the reaction. But more than that, I want to have seen the follow-up. The film was apparently intended to be the first in a three part "Trilogy of Death" following up his "Trilogy of Life." To think that Salo was the start of something is simultaneously revolting and amazing. It's entirely possible that had he lived, we would be talking about a different film entirely. (I cannot imagine what that might have been.) But perhaps we should go back to this idea of art. What really fascinates me about Salo is the fact that it is a part of The Criterion Collection. I can't imagine A Serbian Film or Cannibal Holocaust or any of those other horrific films getting the same level of recognition. More than anything else, that is a statement about its worth as a film. Honestly, being chosen for the Criterion Collection is about as bold a statement as can be made, at least in a certain sect of cineaste circles. All of the films are pretty much equally revolting in terms of content (maybe), but Salo stands apart. I wonder, though, if it's a function in part of the filmmaker behind it. Pasolini was a respected director who had a history of making films that were not Salo, so his decision to take on that project makes it even more unique. Do you think that if the exact same film had been made by a newcomer with a twisted mind, it would have the same impact on the art film community, or do you think it would be written off sort of like A Serbian Film as something that's just grotesuqe? Hubert: On the idea of a "Trilogy of Death" as a follow-up to his "Trilogy of Life," I wonder if the other two Death films would have also been inspired by classic works of literature. The Trilogy of Life is blossoming with eroticism and a joy about the body, and Salo is the negation of all that and the reduction of the body to an orifice/instrument/commodity. Nearly all sex is sadism in Salo. The two exceptions being secret trysts like brief escapes from hell, but even those end badly soon after they're discovered. These reprieves from hell are only discovered because the other victims are willing to rat out others to save their own skin. The fascists have broken any sense of solidarity and humanity among their victims, which may be their most awful triumph. I'm trying to think of what other books might have been part of a Death Trilogy, which would also play into Pasolini's disillusionment with capitalism. Voltaire's Candide? George Bataille's Story of the Eye? Titus Andronicus? Oedipus? Maybe Mein Kampf? I think Salo's cachet is precisely because it was made by Pasolini. Had a no-name newcomer made the same film, it probably would have been written off by its then-contemporary audience as crass obscenity with pretensions of being called art. And yet had a newcomer made the same film, I still think it would be discussed in the future (assuming someone rediscovered it) since there's an artfulness to the perversion that suggests a grander thesis. It's an approach that's much different than A Serbian Film (the most obvious modern-day heir to Salo) since Salo stands back from the horror rather than getting up close, as we mentioned. That distance that makes the evil mundane is also what makes the film more effective and more artful in what it's trying to accomplish. If someone other than Pasolini directed it, it wouldn't be in the Criterion Collection, that's for sure. I remember you mentioned a while back that you feel like A Serbian Film belongs in the Criterion Collection. For you, how does A Serbian Film (which is a metaphorical version of the decade of real-life horror that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia) compare to Salo? Alec: The thing about these films (Cannibal Holocaust too, actually) is that once you know what the point is, you sometimes feel like it's screaming the point in your face. Admittedly, it's probably impossible to be simultaneously shocking and subtle, but there's not a lot of subtlety in the presentation of their ideas. I think both subscribe to the belief that enacting any kind of social change requires you to shock the masses out of complacency, even if that means that every so often The Point Of The Film leaps out of the screen and screams in your face. A Serbian Film is far more guilty of this than Salo, but they both have it. But what I think makes A Serbian Film so compelling in context with Salo is that they both refuse to let up on the viewer, but they do so in nearly opposite ways. Even as A Serbian Film uses closeups and shaky camera movements and all of that, you're never left wondering what, exactly, you're seeing. You always have enough to understand just how fucked up the entire thing is. But it's a modern version of that. It's like the difference between The Raid and an old Jackie Chan film. The camera in those films did almost nothing. Everything was on the actors and choreography. The Raid has excellent choreography, but the camera is a part of it too. You are a part of it and not just a passive observer. This is the exact same thing. Had the film been made in 1975, I think it probably would have looked more like Salo (and I think if Salo had been made in 2010, it probably would look more like A Serbian Film). I think both are products of their time, taking the cinematic language and twisting it to create an affecting experience. And that's why I think in the long term A Serbian Film will be a significant film like Salo is, because it is a representation of current cinema taken to the most extreme of extremes. Hubert: Without getting too sidetracked on martial arts movies, I think the first Ong-Bak is the most Jackie Chan-like movie that we're going to get post-1980s in terms of camera placement and movement in the frame. (One day we should do a Cult Club about a seminal 1970s kung-fu movie.) But yes, Salo and A Serbian Film are products of their time and their region, and their respective aesthetics are defined by that. Still, I think even just one feature film in, Spasojevic is a very different kind of filmmaker than Pasolini, but he seems more thoughtful about cinematic transgression than someone like Tom Six (The Human Centipede) who's out to upset without trying to say something substantive. Before we talk about the final scenes of Salo, one last digression. It might be worth addressing the elephant in the room, which is extreme cinema as an artform, of which Salo is one of the exemplars. There's the political dimension and aesthetic dimension to good extreme cinema that shows a social value and artistic merit that can transcend mere shock, but I wonder if there's also a kind of cinematic machismo to it. In other words, are certain movie fans playing a game of chicken with extreme films and extreme filmmakers? I mean, seeing Salo on a list of disturbing films felt like a dare to me when I was a young man. Unless something's changed that I'm not aware of, these sorts of movies still tend to appeal to the curiosity of teenage males and men in their twenties more than other groups of movie watchers. Is it the thrill of the forbidden, maybe? If these movies are crossing the upper limits of contemporary good taste to explore a taboo outland, are they also a proving ground for personal limits regarding bad taste? Alec: I think this gets a bit into that discussion we had back in the day about what I deemed cinematic trash. Films that show up on Most Disturbing Lists are being sold to a very specific audience. Cannibal Holocaust and August Underground are being sold to a very specific audience. A Serbian Film is a little bit different. Salo is more different still. But I think you're guessing high. It's not men in their 20s. It's kids in their teens. I was a teenager when I found the list that convinced me to watch a Cannibal Holocaust and August Underground. And though I was in my 20s when I saw Salo and A Serbian Film, those seeds were sown well before (and, as we've discussed, have withered quite a bit in recent years). But Salo's spot on those lists should come with a huge asterisk, because it's not a film for teens. Not just because the content is a bit much, but because the context requires, well, context. And without the context, the film's reputation precedes it. It is not nearly as "shocking" as many other disturbing films, despite being so disturbing, for all of the reasons stated here. This is where Salo "standing out" becomes particularly relevant. It doesn't have the fucked up appeal of Cannibal Holocaust. It's not something that you can really watch with a bunch of friends and laugh about. And I think that makes it a perfect litmus test, actually, along with maybe Irreversible, because they're art films with a hardcore edge. But if you get through all of Irreversible, that says a lot more than if you just see the first few scenes and turn it off. If you actually experience Salo and feel it and wrestle with it, then that's something different. The people who go into those films looking for sick thrills will either come out underwhelmed or transformed. They'll see that ultraviolence can be used to provoke something more than just a reaction, which is what so much of extreme cinema wants. It doesn't even matter what the reaction is, just that there is one. But Salo wants more than that. It wants a specific type of reaction, one that results from a very specific mindset. And with that, I think it's time to talk about those final scenes. Hubert: As if the feast of human shit wasn't infamous enough, there's the torture-filled finale. Watching Salo again, one of the striking things about that last sequence is where it's held and how it's depicted. It's on that estate somewhere, but it's in a place distinctly lacking the lush vegetation that's seen elsewhere outdoors. It's this lifeless enclosure of dirt and brick. And we're viewing these final acts of degradation silently and from an added distance, shot from the POV of a libertine at a high window using binoculars. After the descent through the Circles of Mania, Shit, and Blood within this wretched estate, we'd arrived at the deepest circle of hell, or its deepest pit, but we're overlooking this place from a window. Pasolini's use of space in these final shots is unnerving, and sound as well. (On that note, those war planes that groan in the background of some scenes are more ominous than any score.) We don't hear any of the screams of the victims, but just the radio in the room and the occasional voice of the libertine who's watching. And course, the creepiest of the libertines tells a joke about death since that's been his gimmick this entire time and a cavalier display of his power. We talked about jokes earlier, and I think Pasolini winds up making laughter one of the most terrifying sounds in the film. We never get to see what happens after this ritual of torture and murder is completed. The libertines on the ground do the can-can in hell, but there are still more tortures and more victims. There's no clean up, no departure from the estate, no sense of the libertines exhausting their desire for murder. Instead, we have a dance between the young guards to the song that opens the movie. I once thought there was some glimmer of hope in that final shot, but I've come to realize that this is a movie without any hope. The movie is its own circle of hell containing these other circles. The libertines succeed, the center of hell is just outside the window, and the future dances without doing anything about it. Alec: The image of the young man with his tongue being pulled by pliers is one of the most recognizable from the film, I think (primarily because it was featured on the cover of Criterion's original DVD release), but it's hardly the most grotesque image in that sequence. After a film of horrific actions but relatively minimal violence, the bloodletting comes as a particular shock. You see a cut throat and some bullet wounds, but nothing particularly gory. It's matter of fact and then it's done, even if the camera lingers on that cut throat for quite some time. But in that finale, the punishments come and they come hard. As the libertines watch from the window through their little binoculars, we are treated for the first time to the real closeups of violence that the film has never given us. But it's also the most overtly voyeuristic sequence. I mentioned before that the detached nature makes you feel a bit like a peeping tom, but in this sequence the rules change. For the first time, you are a part of it. You see through the eyes of the libertines as they revel in the torture and death of these kids. For once, you're complicit. As an aside, I find it fascinating that the one libertine who we see a more depressed side of throughout the film is the one who does not get to enjoy the sights from the comfort of the throne. He's always in the thick of it. All of this is an assault on the audience, though, the moments that truly hope to shock them out of complacency. The ending, in its apparent hopefulness, is the same. It's resigned to failure, to the belief that the battle against fascism has been lost. These kids get to dance, as do the libertines, while the unwashed masses lie dead and dying in the dirt. They get to think about their future, about going home to their girlfriends. They get to have a future, and there will be no punishment. Even worse, you get to see them revel in it. To quote your review of Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse: "Just how bleak can it get? None more bleak." Later This Month... You're going to get a double dose of The Cult Club this month since we had to push Salo back for the Tribeca Film Festival. And this time we're going with much lighter fare. With the fifth season of Louie winding down on FX, we're going to look at a cult movie that was extremely influential to Louis CK: Robert Downey Sr.'s 1969 satire Putney Swope. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB The Last Dragon (1985) Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992) Six-String Samurai (1998)
The Cult Club: Salo photo
"All's good if it's excessive"
Peir Paolo Pasolini's final film, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, is one of the most notorious arthouse movies ever made and frequently cited among the most disturbing movies of all time. Inspired by the Marquis de Sade'...

Your (New) Guide to the Flixist Reviews Guide

May 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217286:41235:0[/embed] One thing has not changed since our inception: We want our review scores, especially at the extremes of the scale, to matter. They do matter. They matter a lot. We've reviewed more than 1000 films since our inception. Of those, only six have scored a 95 or higher. Seriously.  I'm proud of that. We are proud of that. People talk about using the entire scale. Some outlets try. Most don't. We try, and we succeed. Only five films have scored below a 20, and only one below a 10. A score is not an afterthought, and we don't treat it like one. It is a fundamental part of the review. But a score represents a word, and that word represents a blurb. That blurb, ideally, represents the review itself. Flixist launched with a 200 point scale and has since dropped to 100. The specific requirements a film had to meet to reach any given category have changed. We have done this to make it easier for you, the reader, to understand where we are coming from. And also for us, the writers, to get our own feelings across as effectively as possible. It was with that in mind that we revised those little blurbs. So without further ado: --- 100: Legendary. One of the best and most influential films ever made. Period. 95 – 99: Ultimate. I was blind but now I see. This has literally changed what I think films are capable of. 90 – 94: Spectacular. An instant classic, one of the best films I have ever seen. 85 – 89: Exceptional. One of the best films of the year. You should see it immediately. 80 – 84: Great. Definitely check this one out. I wholeheartedly recommend it. 70 – 79: Good. I liked this one, and you will too. 60 – 69: Decent. Yes, this could have been better, but it is still worth your time. 50 – 59: Average. By the time you read this, I will have already forgotten about this movie. 40 – 49: Subpar. I kind of want to like this movie, but I can't. It is not worth your time. 30 – 39: Bad. I do not like this movie, and I'm not even going to try. 20 – 29: Terrible. Do. Not. See. This. You and everyone involved should feel ashamed for wasting your time if you do. 10 – 19: Atrocious. I cannot believe I subjected myself to this. You will be furious if you do, livid if you pay to do so. 0 – 9: Repulsive. My hatred for this horrible, morally repugnant movie will literally consume me. If it shows up on your TV, throw it out the window. It has been sullied forever. --- We have used every single part of this spectrum. I've personally used all but the top honors. Some of those numbers come easily, some only after a serious discussion with other members of the staff. But all of them come from the heart. And by removing the royal "we" found in previous versions, we have decided to embrace that. Modern Method has always prided itself on the personalities of its writers. We're not nameless, faceless soldiers working in the MM army. We are individuals, with our own feelings and beliefs. It's why we've embraced second opinions, allowing other writers to add their own thoughts to the main review, serving as confirmation or condemnation of the Official Flixist Opinion, as though such a thing could ever exist. I know that some people will see my byline and think, "I trust this guy." Others will say the exact opposite. I'm the same way with other critics, and I get it. That's fine. In fact, it's great. It's that disagreement that creates compelling critical discourse. And that's really what we're all after. Because movies are great by yourself, but the real fun begins when you share your feelings (good and bad) with the rest of us. If you're new to Flixist and you made it this far, welcome. We hope you like it here. And we hope that, whether you agree with us or not, you at least understand that what we say is what we truly believe.  
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Behind the scenes of the Best Damn Movie Reviews on the Internet
One of the perks of being a writer at Flixist is that you get to read my super awesome, overly long reviews guide. I've been Flixist's Reviews (and Features) Editor editor for so long that I had to check my LinkedIn to see ju...

The All-American Avengers

May 01 // Jackson Tyler
Tony Stark is an evil, evil man. We lose sight of that, because we see through his eyes, and his evil is humanised, sanitised, then finally redeemed. We get to see him as a tortured soul, a man whose failings come from fear and whose heroics reveal the truth of his nature. But he is the arms dealer for whom redemption is to keep all the weapons to himself. In doing so, he gets to be celebrity and underdog, both a born billionaire with immense destructive power at his fingertips, and just one man against a world out to get him. Make no mistake about it, Tony Stark is evil. And so are his Avengers. Age of Ultron tries to grapple with this. It tries valiantly, it tries desperately, but it is ultimately a failure through and through. For by the end of the movie, the heroes must be heroes and the villains must be villains, the ideological critiques of the movie written off as untrue as the credits roll, or the audience may not return next year. Whatever themes or philosophies the movie is attempting to convey are crushed by the weight of the Marvel franchise machine. It's a far cry from The Avengers, which was perhaps the most thematically coherent and successful movie in the MCU. However, The Avengers thematic aims were a full 180 degrees from those of its sequel. It functions as superhero propaganda, an unabashed celebration of American Exceptionalism, positively dripping in 9/11 imagery. Nick Fury calls the events of the movie his promise to worlds unknown, and to the members of the security council that supposedly oversee him: this is why we need superheroes, he says, and this is how they have to be. And a promise it was too, from Marvel to the audience. The Avengers was the studio’s go big or go home moment, an ideologically condensed statement that had to not only sell the audience on its interconnected commercial strategy, but invest them in the values of the Marvel universe. The Avengers may lack the outward awfulness of say, Transformers: Age Of Extinction but ideologically, it aims for an incredibly similar spot. It is an all-american story of the power of individualism, the might of an intelligence and defence organisation shown through a chosen powerful few conflicting personalities, as they fight a childish and incompetent god who leads a faceless, heartless, identical army. It was a runaway success, and marked the moment when people stopped showing up to see their favourite characters banter, and started showing up for the Marvel brand. After such a strong statement of intent, there was nowhere for Marvel to go thematically but inwards. It had to start truly interrogating its own values, for to do otherwise would bely a dangerous lack of self awareness, any long running storytelling franchise finds longevity through thematic introspection, otherwise it stagnates. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was Marvel's first substantial attempt at self-examination, as Captain America begins to question his loyalties to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the moral integrity of the Good Guy organisation is for a brief moment, uncertain. Alas, the movie does not have fully have the courage of its convictions to go all the way. S.H.I.E.L.D. is brought down due to the discovery of a Hydra infiltration, an easy audience signifier for villainy, rather than due to failings on its own terms. Nick Fury, the man initially behind the Insight Project, gets to remain a hero due to his refusal to "having the courage not to [murder 20 million people]." Black Widow's monologue on capitol hill at the flies completely in the face of the movie's commitment to critiquing American imperialism and overreaching surveillance, as well as the War On Terror: "You're not gonna put any of us in a prison, you know why? Because you need us. Yes the world is a vulnerable place, and yes we helped make it that way. But we're also the ones best qualified to defend it." But such a monologue is necessary to maintain the integrity of the Marvel universe, for without it the fantasy would be broken. Our heroes must be above the law, above consequence and under all circumstances necessary. I don't mean to make The Winter Soldier to sound like a total failure in how it deals with these themes, because it isn't. It does a lot right, including using Steve Rogers, an in-universe tool of American military propaganda, as the main force for criticism of the current military and surveillance system. And ultimately, S.H.I.E.L.D. still falls, and it is made clear that such an organisation is unsalvageable. The Winter Soldier's criticisms are often unconfident, but they are, for the most part, coherent. Not so with Age of Ultron, a movie far angrier and pointed in its criticism. The movie positively seethes at the notion that the Avengers could possibly be a force for good in the world. The Avengers themselves are, for all intents and purposes, a privatised S.H.I.E.L.D., funded by Stark and managed by Maria Hill. On top of that, the setup of the movie is strikingly similar to The Winter Soldier; Stark's motivations are identical to those of Alexander Pierce. He wants to create a device to end the war before any can begin. Like all good villains, Stark is driven to the acts he commits for human reasons, in his case an egotistical fear that everyone he knows and loves could die in another alien invasion, and if that happens, it would be his fault for not acting. So he creates Ultron. Ultron is the perfect antagonist for the Avengers, a character created to ideologically challenge the values of the characters, and by association, the audience. "You protect the world, but you don't want it to change," he says in one of his now twitter famous trailer speeches. Ultron's position is that the Avengers are bastions of a harmful status quo, forcing their ideals on those who do not want them, the very thing standing in the way of progress. The movie's opening action scene features Stark's unmanned "Iron Legion" flying into a Sokovian city, only to be greeted by a crowd of unhappy locals who never asked to be saved. Until the final setpiece, Ultron's a relatively sedate villain, staying out the way as the Avengers travel the globe, leaving a trail of immense destruction in their wake all by themselves. After the hoo-rah celebration of The Avengers, and the uneasy criticism of The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron tackles head on the American Exceptionalism of its titular superheroes. And nowhere is its anger more pronounced than in the characters of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, known here as The Twins. They submitted themselves to Hydra experiments, because they were orphaned as children, trapped in rubble for three days, with nothing but a unexploded Stark Industries shell for company. They are the human cost of Stark's actions, previously kept helpfully offscreen. In one of the movie's best scenes, again using Steve Rogers as the harshest American critic, he defends The Twins to Maria Hill, who's so far been giving them a dismissive villain exposition. Hill: "File says they volunteered for Strucker's experiments. That's nuts."Cap: "Right, what kind of monster would let a German Scientist experiment on them to protect their country?"Hill: "We're not fighting a war."Cap: "They are." The Twins have a clear desire: to get revenge on Stark, and an empathetic backstory that hooks the audience into their desire. In storytelling terms, they are the closest thing the movie has to a protagonist. Which is what makes the movie's eventual climax so hollow. The Twins are good guys, and the Avengers is where good guys belong. The 'reward' for their goodness is to be assimilated into the very culture that they were railing against. The movie spends two thirds of its running time ideologically tearing down the inherent imperialism that the Avengers stand for, and then throws up its hands and begins a hoo-rah crowdpleasing final setpiece in the style of the original film. Surprise! Ultron doesn't just want to take out the Avengers, he wants to end all life on earth, but not if the Avengers punch him in the face first. As the final sequence begins, Cap says "It's not just about stopping Ultron, it's about whether he's right," and yet at no point is there even an opportunity for them to prove him wrong. There are no thematic stakes to the final battle, nothing close to say, Return of the Jedi, which is maybe the most famous example of a blockbuster ending in a battle of philosophies. The movie wraps up with a distressing sense of obligation, and all of its ideological perspectives are thrown out the window for a punching match, because to truly confront them is incompatible with the needs of the Marvel brand. Those critical themes need to be there to give the villain credibility, so they may speak threatening monologues that will go viral when teenagers hear them in trailers. But they cannot be allowed to be more than window dressing, lest they overshadow or call into question the core values that The Avengers succeeded on. There is another film next year, and when the audience leaves the cinema, they need to want it. I suspect this unresolved tension is at the heart of Age Of Ultron's more muted reaction than the original. On paper, it does all the things that The Avengers does, it has the same crowdpleasing action, the same commitment to small moments of character work, but on a deeper level, the movie is at war with itself over what it wants to say and what it wants to be. When the dust settles, Vision and Ultron talk philosophy for just thirty seconds, and we get perhaps our best glimpse into the more quiet, painful and introspective movie that Whedon consistently said he wanted to make.Then Ultron dies, and Thor begins spouting off a trailer for Infinity War. The status quo is restored, but it is not earned, and a palpable sense of apathy hangs over the epilogue. They'll all be at it again in Civil War anyway.  In the very last scene, Wanda, the only surviving Maximoff flies into frame, cementing herself as a full time, All-American Avenger. But neither her or her brother confronted Stark, their very real pain was never resolved, it just evaporated when the plot required. After everything, her character motivations are rendered irrelevant, and her arc crushingly inevitable: the Marvel universe is one of heroes and villains, and the heroes all fight under the same flag.
American Marvel photo
American Exceptionalism in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
“With everything that's happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.”--Agent Phil Coulson, The Avengers. 

Snaxist: Kellogg's Avengers: Age of Ultron Cereal

Apr 30 // Nick Valdez
A little bit of background. I'm a cereal connoisseur, and I've spent the greater part of my life eating all sorts of sugary, life threatening cereals. From the ill-fated Oreo O's, King Vitamin, and Rice Krispy Treats, to the always welcome Waffle Crisp (RIP). Basically, I've worked for years on fine tuning my palette so I'd like to think I know a bad cereal when I eat one. But that doesn't mean I don't dig in on Malt-o-Meal every now and then. Oh, boy I better stop beating around the bush then and get right to it. This cereal isn't terrible, nor is it fantastic. It's aggressively average. That's the saddest cereal could ever be.  If the name didn't inspire any confidence, neither did the cereal's box itself. The front was clearly just bad photoshop, and the back had a neat little decryption puzzle, but nothing about this was screamed effort. The cereal itself is basically a generic Lucky Charms. But where Lucky Charms makes an effort to at least mold the little marshmallow pieces into distinct shapes, this cereal does the opposite. The marshmallows are all circular: one green, one blue and red, and one red. As you can see in the image below, the rest of the cereal is like if Alpha Bits only came in squares. Are Alpha Bits still a thing? I miss Alpha Bits. The amount in the box was enough for four bowls (but only three man sized ones), and I only paid three dollars so it was pretty much what it was worth.  As for the milk, I have some lactose issues sometimes so I always drink vanilla almond milk. It's fantastic stuff. I'd highly recommend almond milk over this cereal. I don't mean over as in on the cereal, but like instead. Do you get what I mean? I like milk. Anyway, where does the milk come out of? Is it just a name or is there a guy whose job it is to milk almonds? Or is it like a crushed almond juice or something? Would that be just a general paste then? That's why I only drink the flavored ones. The chocolate one is the worst, however.  Anyway, don't eat this damn cereal if you don't need to. But do drink milk. Heard it does a body good. 
Snaxist photo
Diabeetus assemble
This is the kind of promotion I've been waiting for. When I started Snaxist with Max Roahrig (RIP) some years ago with Denny's ill advised Hobbit Breakfast Menu, it was the fact that'd I'd be able to talk about cereal someday...

Ultron 101 photo
So what the hell is an "Ultron," anyway?
With comic book movies, it’s not always easy keeping up with all the influences and references that the filmmakers draw upon from the wealth of source material. Comic Movies 101 serves as a primer for newcomers to the...

Will Darth Vader return in Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

Apr 16 // Matt Liparota
Before we lose our heads, there are definitely ways to explain away this (apparent) discrepancy. The line pretty clearly evokes the moment in Jedi in which Luke explains his family tree to Leia and the voice very clearly sounds like Mark Hamill – but that doesn't necessarily mean it's Luke speaking. If we assume it is, however, it's possible that director J. J. Abrams was just trying to keep the line as faithful to the original dialogue as possible while still putting a fresh spin on it – and hey, the fact that someone is holding Vader's old, destroyed helmet as the line is spoken seems to indicate the big guy is gone, right? And yet, doubt lingers, all hinging on one little word. "Has." The dialogue has already been adjusted to fit whoever we presume Luke is speaking to – likely a child, either his or Leia's – so it's not as though the audio was lifted directly from Jedi. Why not adjust the first part of that line to be past tense? There's certainly some precedent for people coming back from the dead in the Star Wars universe – for starters, Alec Guinness spent most of his screentime in the original films as a ghost. In addition, one of the most well-regarded pieces of Expanded Universe literature – which, to be fair, is no longer considered canon – is Dark Empire, which sees Emperor Palpatine resurrected by way of clone. Is it possible we'll see a fresh-faced Hayden Christiansen palling around with cranky old Mark Hamill in the weirdest father-son team-up ever? Obviously this is pure speculation, and we'll have to wait until Christmas to find out how much of it is just internet posturing. Perhaps the bigger question is what it would mean for the series' biggest villain/tragic hero to return from the dead. It would be a huge, seismic twist on the level of "Luke, I am your father" to be certain, but we're not sure it's one that would sit all that well with fans.Vader's redemptive death at the end of Jedi is a lynchpin of the series, and one given extra weight once we've seen Anakin's rise and fall in the prequels (regardless of quality). Bringing Vader back, even as a clone, could very well undermine that moment and thus Vader's journey over the course of the original trilogy. Bringing back the series' iconic villain is a hell of a way to set The Force Awakens apart in this new era of the franchise, but in a way that would cheapen the classics. What do you guys think? Are we crazy? Take another look at the trailer and let us know. [embed]219301:42332:0[/embed]  
Vader is Alive? photo
One little word from the new trailer has us all worked up
The latest trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens – revealed this morning at the Star Wars Celebration – has us all worked up here at Flixist. We've already watched it dozens upon dozens of times and analyzed it...

Why It Sucks To Go To The Movies In London

Apr 03 // Jackson Tyler
I live in the most expensive city on earth, and like many people in that city, I am incredibly poor. I’ve been living unemployed for the last year, on temporary half-rate employment support allowance, because after all this time, my case has yet to be processed. My ticket to Fast and Furious 7 today will cost me almost a quarter of said weekly allowance. As somebody who tries to keep relatively current with movies in order to write about them on the internet, such a massive cost inherently changes my relationship with them. Making regular cinema trips is an intense financial burden, and as such, I have to be choosy about those which I go out and see. Yet, I don’t often make that choice myself. I mean, I do, I’m not getting into free-will or anything here, but decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. I’ll see a movie on opening weekend if more people are going to be talking about it so I can avoid spoilers and get in on the zeitgeist. I’ll see a movie on opening weekend if I’m going to review it. I’ll let a potential masterpiece slide if I’ve got something to do at home and want to afford milk for the weekend. It’s not hard for me to argue that if my criticism is driven by what I watch, and what I watch is driven by what is deemed culturally relevant for me to watch, that I am a bad critic. After all, that is the manner in which the status quo remains dominant regardless of how harmful or stagnant it may be. People always decry the amount of sequels and remakes, but they make the most commercial sense for everyone involved. Studios get a pre-existing audience to market to, movie websites get to survive because people are looking for information on them, thus creating more and more interest in the movies that already had an audience. It’s an incredibly successful and self-sustaining system that tends towards hegemony. Because the film industry is just that, an industry. It relies on the consistent exploitation of both its workers and its audience in order to maintain the profit margins that it creates. By engaging with movie culture on its terms, I am feeding into a system of my own exploitation, and the exploitation of others. Instead of heading to the Odeon on a Friday, I could stay at home and watch a cheap second hand DVD I picked up two years ago for 25p, and have enough money to afford something better than frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. Maybe with that leftover money I could put it towards a cause that would work against the way the government treats the poor and the disabled and improve the quality of life for others as well. I don’t, though. And honestly, I think that last paragraph ends on a dangerous line of thinking. It’s the same line of thinking that blames poor people for the exploitative labour practises of amazon, because they can’t afford to drive to the shops. Ultimately, I can’t truck with any thought that puts the responsibility for change on those that are already struggling and desperate. The idea that the public have the final say under capitalism is clearly a fallacy, because people’s choices are so often dictated for them. Anyone who says “Vote with your dollar!” gets serious side eye from me. When I have so few dollars to vote with, and those with power and status so many, is it any wonder we keep getting the same results? This is how the same voices get to be heard over and over in criticism. Those with the established jobs, those with access to pre-release screeners, or those that can afford to keep up with the increased prices of regular tickets, tend to be straight, white, cis men. These economic processes are the same processes that lead to the experiences and thoughts of marginalised being pushed to the side-lines within criticism, when they’re the people who need to be heard. Criticism is being written that dismantles these harmful ideologies, often later when these movies become widely available, or cheaper, or even pirated, and then I see it written off by established people so often as “inevitable tumblr backlash.” Tumblr isn’t a monolith, I’m not saying its perfect, but to write off important criticism because it doesn’t come from a legitimate established platform is only helping to sustain a system that is ultimately harmful and exploitative for all but a minute number of people. I haven’t got an answer, I don’t have a fix, and I wouldn’t trust anybody who says they do. All of these problems in movie culture are merely the problems of western culture writ small, No Ethical Consumption Under Capitalism and all that jazz. And when forced to be complicit in your own exploitation, the only thing you can do is try not to feel guilty. My band aid of a quick-fix is just: be empathetic, help others where you can, and try not to think about it. When thinking about a film I ignore my relationship to it as a product, because otherwise every time I wrote anything I’d probably break into a rant about the death of post-war socialism and that doesn’t help anyone who wants to know about The Avengers. But one thing I can do, when faced with any harmful elements of a culture or sub-culture, is to try to find or build my own alternative niches to engage with. In this case, what it means is I want to make it a personal goal to write more about movies that aren’t new releases, that aren’t in the news, that aren’t about to get a sequel. Hopefully you’ll see more words from me that are worth reading because they’re good words rather than because they’re relevant and topical, and I encourage you to find more critics who operate this way, because there’s like a million of them better than me even on this here website. Read alternate voices, support marginalised perspectives, and if we can’t get rid of an awful system, at least we can build cooler, safer spaces within it. Anyway. Enough of this, I’m heading out to watch Fast and Furious. Can someone spot me a tenner?
London Movies photo
How Much Does A Movie Ticket Cost?
Earlier this week, I complained errantly on twitter, as I am wont to do, about my local cinema’s increasing of prices to £11.80. (Which, for those of you in America, comes to $17.51 for a standard 2D ticket). I w...

Flixist Discusses: Neill Blomkamp

Mar 11 // Jackson Tyler
[embed]219104:42263:0[/embed] Jackson: Let’s start with District 9. To me, it’s a very muddy film from a talented first-time director, one with incredibly strong and affecting moments, but more than a little incoherent, thematically speaking. There’s stunning moments, like Wikus’ eviction tour through the District, and the weapon test scenes. But it just doesn’t know what to do after that first act; it’s made its point about apartheid, its made its point about the evils of bureaucracy, and then the arcs just feel perfunctory. Wikus redeems himself, technically, but that doesn’t have any bearing on what the film is trying to say. It’s a great example of a short film expanded to full length that just couldn’t support it. This is opposed to Elysium, which I think makes the story an active part of its metaphor, not just a necessary element of a movie that exists to slap an allegory to (but we’ll get to that later). What did you think of District 9? Matt: Reading that, I don’t think our opinions on District 9 differ all that much, Jackson. I don’t hate the film – far from it – but I think it’s a very flawed film that struggles to find a deeper message, if it has one at all. As you said, that first act is pretty great – it’s thematically rich and visually interesting, leaning on the mockumentary format to immerse the viewer into this world that’s so similar to our own yet so different. Even if the viewer is ignorant of the historical apartheid that District 9 draws inspiration from, Blomkamp really sells the horror and injustice of the setting. But I think it kind of loses steam after that first act – it all but drops the mockumentary format, and it moves into more generic sci-fi territory. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily; not every science fiction story has to have some deeper message about the real world nestled within, although some of the best often do. It’s just that that first act is so rich in that sense that I can’t help but find the rest of the film disappointing – it feels like Blomkamp says what he wants to say on a deeper level in the first 20-30 minutes but keeps going until he hits a more feature-friendly length.  Jackson: Exactly, Blomkamp made his point tonally rather than narratively. It was a metaphor that existed to be a metaphor, it drew parallels and then once that world was established, it tacked a story on to the back of that. The manner in which Christopher’s mission is carried out is ultimately weak, and doesn’t tell us anything about him, his race or his world. It’s strange when you watch the movie, because District 9 changes in front of your eyes from pointed and angry, to bland and generic. And don’t get me wrong, I really like District 9, because like you say, a film doesn’t have to be this perfectly coherent thing to be good, but I don’t think its inaccurate to say that both its flaws and successes are those of a relative newcomer. Then - and I think this is why everyone was put off - in Elysium, Blomkamp proceeds to drop the realism, the documentary gimmick, and double down on the generic elements. Elysium is a silly genre movie much like the back half of District 9 is, It never reaches his prior film’s heights, but as a whole piece, it’s more assured and together. I know my Elysium opinions are far from the norm, so I’m curious as to how you saw that movie. Matt: I think you’re correct when you say Elysium is ultimately a more assured piece than District 9, but I also think some of that movie's narrative and constructive flaws are more apparent in Elysium. Blomkamp’s second feature outing again puts us in a not-so-out-there sci-fi world - this time a little more than 100 years in the future instead of District 9’s alternate present - in which he seems to be crafting a narrative to comment on very relevant social issues. The message seems to be kind of muddled from the start though - is he commenting on wealth inequality? Class warfare? Labor issues? Immigration? Access to healthcare? It seems to shift which of those it’s “about” at any given moment during the first act and, while it’s true that those issues have a tendency to overlap in the real world, in Elysium it just comes out feeling muddy and confusing. Of course, this is just for the first act - like District 9, Elysium seems to largely abandon the prospect of a deeper message after that first act in favor of something akin to a heist movie and a more generic sci-fi action sequence to cap things off. I can never shake the feeling that Blomkamp seems to establish really interesting worlds ripe for exploration (both thematically and visually) which are quickly set aside in favor of material I consider less compelling. Don’t get me wrong - Blomkamp has a hell of a style, and his films are visually interesting throughout and his action scenes are kinetic and fun to watch; I just find it drops most of the intellectually engaging material after the first act. But I’ve rambled on enough for now - I have a feeling my view is fairly in line with popular opinion and you suggested yours deviates from that, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Jackson: So to me, Elysium is a film about revolution. The reason for Elysium’s success is every character’s clear, selfish motivation. It sets up all those ideas of wealth inequality, class warfare, immigration, what have you, in order to build this broad strokes world in which every character is desperately trapped. The key scene is when Matt Damon is arrested for making a joke, his humanity repeatedly denied as he’s passed from robot to robot, and reminded of his throwaway nature to this society. Elysium is not a movie about any of those ideas individually, it is about when all of those factors add reach a breaking point, and the status quo can no longer sustain itself. It got a lot of flack for being a preachy film, but I feel this is a thorough misunderstanding of the movie’s message. Nobody in Elysium is a good person, none of those who carry out the revolution are doing it because it is the right thing to do. They’re doing it because they are desperate, because they have a need that isn’t being fulfilled by the world as it is, and they have an opportunity to change it for themselves. What Elysium lacks in nuanced social critique, it by far makes up for in the understanding of systemic inequality as a concept. What Blomkamp presents is not the heroic few fighting for their freedom, but merely the collapse of a system that is incapable of sustaining itself. And he does all that within a film that is far more content to be this ridiculous genre piece. Look at Sharlto Copley’s knife! This isn’t a film that wants to be capital I Important in the way that District 9 did, it wants to be this ridiculous, silly sci-fi action flick that just happens to be backed up by a broad but clear thematic push. Like a Verhoeven movie, or even Jupiter Ascending (which, shocker, I’ll also defend for days). Matt: You make a really strong case there, Jackson. I think where our opinion differs is that I see what you see, but really only in the first act, maybe the first half of the film if I’m being generous. That sort of understanding of inequality is used as a means to an end, to motivate characters into positions where they can take part in big action setpieces. Contrast that with, say, Verhoeven, who finds a way to keep the darkly satirical commentary running throughout his films. At this point, though, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point out the impact that marketing and buzz and hype have had on Blomkamp’s movies and my mindset while viewing them. It’s sort of taken for granted that Blompkamp is a director with something to say – some of that is the way his movies have been marketed to the general public, some of that is the way his movies have been covered prior to release, some of that is from the movies themselves. It’s possible I’ve lost the ability to take his movies at face value and am judging them by what I expect them to be – which is, generally, more meaningful and socially relevant than they tend to be. Maybe that’s not a great way to try and consume these films, but isn’t that how all of us analyze our movies, in part? Besides, nothing exists in a vacuum and Blomkamp has certainly cultivated that reputation as a big ideas director, which seems to persist to this day, for reasons I can’t quite comprehend. Jackson: That's a key reason that I believe Chappie is, in many ways, a Blomkamp maturation. By this point, the veneer of making an important allegorical film is completely worn away: this is just a Verhoven movie, through and through. It’s tonally all over the place, it’s visually garish, and it’s a weird mix of violent action and childish earnestness that clearly comes from someone for whom Robocop was a formative experience. I mean: the plot of the movie is "A robo cop fights that robo cop from RoboCop!" I know some people consider that kind of aesthetic to be juvenile, but I honestly think embracing that sci-fi silliness in an earnest manner is a maturation. We’re getting a sense for Blomkamp’s voice by now, and it’s not at all the one he was originally pegged with. Where Chappie falls down, is that it’s thematically bankrupt. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what the movie is about, and I saw it about three hours ago. I enjoyed it immensely, though I couldn’t really call it a good movie. It’s a failure, landing far short of every ambition it has, but the manner in which it falls down is glorious to behold. And like you say, much like Jupiter Ascending, this is another silly sci-fi film let down by its advertising (maybe we’ll get one of those every month this year! I should be so lucky). The advertisements - and even the opening moments of the movie itself - frame it as this grand story of artificial intelligence and humanity, and if you’re expecting that then of course you’re going to be disappointed. I saw comparisons to A.I. multiple times, but its approach to questions of humanity have way more in common with Total Recall. But as you say with Verhoven, his satire is strong, pointed and consistent, and whilst I do think Elysium’s counts (though I understand why others disagree), Chappie goes out of its way to be targetless and ends up saying nothing at all. That final act is a beautiful, incoherent disaster that really has to be seen to be believed.  Matt: I’m not sure I entirely agree that Blomkamp drops the veneer of having big ideas and something to say with Chappie. It’s a movie about artificial intelligence and what it means to be alive and to be human, but again, it walks right up to the door of saying something interesting about those ideas – or anything at all – and chooses to walk away and head home instead of ringing the doorbell. It’s got all the thematic depth of Short Circuit (or worse, Short Circuit 2), but with better cinematography and nicer set-pieces; though, Chappie might have been better served if he had gone 80s gutter-punk and chased down a mobster to Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero." It flirts with some really big ideas that would have been really interesting to explore. Hell, Chappie introduces a huge, seismic concept in the last 20 minutes of the movie andnone of the characters seem interested enough to comment on it even in passing, not even the one character directly impacted. But though Blomkamp’s worst tendencies are on display, some of his best are, too – his world-building and visual design is top-notch, and the dude can stage a killer action scene like few others, big scenes that pop even when two of the primary actors aren’t even real people. I enjoyed Chappie (though at some points more than others) but I don’t think it was a good movie or that I even liked it all that much, if that makes sense. Jackson: Chappie has ideas, but it doesn’t really care about them in the way that its prior efforts do. Those final twenty minutes are why I say it’s a film about nothing, because it includes all these sci-fi concepts, all these very serious topics that have been debated in film after film, then throws them in the air and (spoiler) turns all the main characters except south african macklemore into robots! It suddenly decides it’s going to be Lucy and all the characters are like “sure, I guess we’re gonna be robots now!” It’s entertaining to watch, even though the movie itself is thoroughly incoherent. It’s the rare kind of ‘bad movie’ which ends up making me more interested in the director’s forthcoming work. Before Chappie’s neon melodrama, I knew exactly in my mind what Blomkamp’s Alien movie was going to be. Now, I have no idea, and to me, that is incredibly exciting. Matt: Yeah, I think that last 20 minutes is where Blomkamp really reveals that he’s not terribly interested in exploring those big ideas. Dev Patel's Deon treats having his consciousness transferred into a robot as a curiosity, a minor annoyance at worst. This seems like it would be a big, big moment – not only has Chappie learned what consciousness is, he’s figured out how to transplant it, effectively opening the door for humanity to become immortal! Deon has just had his life irrevocably altered in ways he couldn’t have imagined, but Chappie glosses over this and all the big questions it raises without so much as a passing mention (not to mention how Deon just sort of rolls with it even before he puts that helmet on – you couldn’t have asked to be taken to the hospital?). In that way, I think, Chappie is sort of demonstrable of Blomkamp’s entire body of work (so far) and what I hope I’ve gotten across here – full of lofty ideas but entirely unwilling to engage with them in any real way, thus making the whole endeavor an extremely vapid affair that’s very, very enjoyable to look at. I guess when you get right down to it I can’t say I hate any of Blomkamp’s work, but I don’t think he deserves nearly as much praise as he tends to get. I’m intrigued by Blomkamp on Alien, in part because I hope working on an existing franchise will reign in some of his more troublesome filmmaking tendencies. But right now I can’t say I’m all that excited for it. Jackson: I don’t want him to reign in his more troublesome tendencies; if a franchise film smoothed Blomkamp’s rough edges that would be a tragedy. I want him to keep being him, striking out, and if he manages to hit gold, then that’s great. But ultimately, I don’t think “is Blomkamp good or bad?” is even a question worth asking. In a genre dominated by sequels and comic book adaptations, he’s at least trying to put out films with a unique voice, and at this point I’m along for the ride. I want him to keep reaching further than his grasp allows, because whether he falls or makes it, the end result is so much more more worthwhile than another Man Of Steel. If he starts making good but bland movies that could have been made by anyone? That’s worse than ten Chappies in a row.
Blomkamp Discussion photo
Which kamp do you fall into?
This past weekend saw the release of Chappie, third feature film from Neil Blomkamp, and it's safe to say reactions have been mixed. Per wrote a great review if you're on the fence about checking it out, but for those of...

FlixList: The Top 10 Movie Robots

Mar 06 // Nick Valdez
10. Wall-E (from Wall-E) I didn't like Wall-E, but even I'll admit how important of a robot Wall-E is. Although its nostalgic design and lack of speech was a shameless pull at cuteness, Wall-E is still a robot that lives in a future that reminds of of Mike Judge's Idiocracy. And anything that reminds me of Idiocracy automatically deserves a place on any list.  9. T-1000 (from Terminator 2: Judgment Day)  Although the T-1000 spent most of its time resembling the dance sequence from TLC's "Waterfalls" music video, it is the best machine in the Terminator franchise. Even more so than Schwarzenegger's T-800 and especially greater than whatever the hell the T-X (I assume the X stood for boobs) was. The only reason the T-1000 lost because it was the villain and was cheated. I imagine if there was a rematch now between the T-1000 and the current Schwarzenegger, things would end a lot differently.  8. Astro Boy (from Astro Boy)  Astro Boy is one of Osamu Tezuka's best works, and should be heralded as one of the best robot fictions overall, but since I can only count movies (and not the awesome manga or anime) it's only at number eight. The 2009 film adaptation of the series looked good, but just lacked the spark of the originals. Also, the kid has friggin' rocket boots man. Every kid wants rocket boots.  7. Robot (from Robot & Frank) Robot & Frank is a deliciously charming film. It's about a retired burglar named Frank who's slowly receding into dementia as his son buys him a robot companion, named Robot, who helps him steal an antique copy of Don Quixote (in one of the hilariously inspired moments of the film). As the film goes on, Robot somehow develops a personality (as one is projected onto him) and becomes just as endearing as Frank. And when the ending hits, I challenge you to keep your eyes dry.  6. 80s Robot (from The Muppets) 80s Robot seemed like a throwaway gag, but quickly became one of the funnier (and self-referential) inclusions in 2011's The Muppets. Its simple R.O.B. like design, its Dial-Up modem, and its offerings of Tab and New Coke make a perfect additions to this list. Sure Robocop may be cool at stomping down crime, but has he offered anyone a cool beverage? NO.  5. MechaGodzilla (from Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla) Since Pacific Rim is essentially a reboot of Godzilla Vs MechaGodzilla, it only feels right to add MechaGodzilla to the list. How is it not the fifth best robot ever? It's everything Godzilla wishes it could be but with robot parts, it was built by a planet of apes who lived in a black hole or something, and Godzilla can only defeat it by ripping its head off! I mean, come on!  4. SICO (from Rocky IV) "Happy Birthday, Paulie"  3. SAINT Number 5/Johnny 5 (from Short Circuit) When a robot develops feelings, normally that's when you dismantle the thing. Yet Short Circuit's Johnny 5 gets away with it for being so damn adorable. What other robot immediately makes you think of Lou Bega? What other robot could smooth talk a woman and win her over with "More Than a Woman"? Does Robocop care whether or not a woman is more than a woman? Do the evil cowboy robots from Westworld have enough of a heart and will to get into a woman's underclothes? Does A.I.'s Gigolo Joe- wait, yeah he'd probably care. Whatever, Johnny 5 is super cool and is the reason Wall-E was so well received.  2. Good/Bad Robot Bill and Ted (from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey) Bad Robot Bill and Ted were rude, crude, and totally removed. They killed Bill and Ted, were rude to the Princesses, and even try to take over Battle of the Bands. Then Station (an alien recommended by God who can split himself into two) builds the Good Robot Bill and Ted and the then they all fight and holy maloney this was all this the same movie. It was one of the greatest climaxes in movie history. Can't wait to see what Bill and Ted 3 brings, so I hope Good/Bad Robot Bill and Ted could make a comeback.  1. Iron Giant (from The Iron Giant) Vin Diesel stars as a giant robot that teaches an entire town the true meaning of #FAMILY and not-Communism. Which means The Iron Giant is secretly Fast and Furious Part 10 (Fasten Your Seatbelts), a sequel in which Dominic Toretto has passed on and now lives as an alien artificial intelligence. As he grows closer to a child (which brings flashbacks of his time as a Pacifier), he remembers that life is really all about fast cars and then throws himself at meteor as redemption for forgetting that life lesson.  Did I forget your favorite movie robot? Did I just forget Robocop on purpose? What are robots anyway? Feel free to talk it out below! 
Top 10 Movie Robots photo
Domo arigato, Mister Roboto.
[This feature originally ran with the release of Pacific Rim two years ago, but with the new robot movie Chappie now hitting theaters, I figured it'd be a fun revisit!]  In honor of Pacific Rim releasing July 12, I,...

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