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8:00 AM on 09.19.2014

Review: The Maze Runner

As  Flixist's resident Young Adult novel correspondent, I've seen lots of forgettable teen films. With studios betting huge fortunes on these films becoming successful franchises (like Twilight and The Hunger Games), mos...

Nick Valdez


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Review: The Guest photo
Review: The Guest
by Nick Valdez

When I saw the first trailer for The Guest I wasn't particularly interested in the film. It looked generic, bland, and seemed like yet another trite thriller that comes out around Halloween for a cheap buck. But like You're Next (written and directed by the same duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett) last year, there's more here than I initially gave it credit for. 

You're Next went on to become one of my favorite films of 2013, and now The Guest joins alongside as my favorite film of 2014 so far. It exceeded my expectations. Fantastic, thrilling, exquisite, nail biting, hilarious, captivating...

There simply aren't enough buzzwords to capture how much I loved The Guest. 

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Review: The Pirates photo
Review: The Pirates
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Every so often, a film comes along that completely shatters your expectations. You think you've got it figured out and then it throws a curveball. Then another. Then five more. Soon you realize you can't figure the film out and you have to just let it happen, because even hazarding a guess at what happens next will just make you look silly. It's rare for something so consistently bizarre to be released, and even rarer for it to be a blockbuster, even a foreign one.

But The Pirates is one of those films. And I'm still reeling from the impact.

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Review: The Drop photo
Review: The Drop
by Matthew Razak

The Drop is one of those little crime thrillers that comes out and no one really hears about it and you aren't sure why it was made. Possibly the studio thought it could grab some award love or something, but nothing is actually going to come out of it. This is too bad because Tom Hardy gives a performance that you could never see coming from the man.

The Drop sadly isn't up to its star's performance, but that only makes Hardy stand out more. There is nothing more fantastic than watching an actor completely embody a role. There are few things more upsetting than watching the movie surrounding it never match it.

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Review: Kundo: Age of the Rampant photo
Review: Kundo: Age of the Rampant
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

When I decide to watch a movie, it is usually based on two thing:

  1. Whether or not the press picture implies some kind of action.
  2. The runtime.

While there's obviously some leeway on the first one, once a movie pushes past the two hour mark I tend to weigh my interest more carefully. I'll take a random chance on an 80 minute movie or a 100 minute. But a movie that's 135 minutes? That's past the limits of the "Why not?" attitude. I'm not sure what it says about my psychology, but that's the way it is.

The press notes for Kundo show a bald man wielding two giant butcher knives (check!) and gave a 100 minute runtime (check!). That sounded right up my alley.

But while it definitely has the action I was looking for, the runtime on the press notes was off by 35 minutes. That was an unwelcome surprise.

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Review: The November Man photo
Review: The November Man
by Matthew Razak

The fact that Pierce Brosnan was returning to spy movies pretty much made me one of the most excited people around. The November Man would be a harder, R-rated James Bond with some good action and maybe a little throwback feel to the spy films of the 90s. I'd be quite happy with even the most mediocre of old-school thrillers with that set up.

It says a lot that I am not happy with this movie at all, not even with Pierce Brosnan.

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Review: Cam2Cam photo
Review: Cam2Cam
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In past reviews, I've written about the problems with poor subtitles on foreign films. Improper use of language serves as a distraction from the comedy or drama and makes the experience worse. I love the English language. It's my lifeblood and my livelihood. So when I see it mangled, I get angry. When it comes to foreign films, I can at least forgive the fundamental language barrier. It's the reality of a love of foreign films, and I am willing to cut some slack.

But though Cam2Cam takes place in Bangkok, the film is in English and was ostensibly written by someone whose first language was English. I say ostensibly because I have trouble believing that's true.

Then again, what was I supposed to expect from a movie called "Cam2Cam"?

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Review: When the Game Stands Tall photo
Review: When the Game Stands Tall
by Matthew Razak

I'm a sucker for sports movies. You give me a gang of lovable underdogs, a few training montages and a triumphant final game and I'm in your pocket. It's just so easy to get caught up in a sport film even when their bad. They hit all the right points that we love and when done even remotely right you at least feel a little bit of joy when those underdogs win the big game. What I'm saying is that it is really hard to make a sports film that you just stop caring about. 

When the Games Stands Tall does this. Not only does it go on for way longer than it should, but it doesn't grab you in the first place. It's as if the filmmakers had never seen a sports film before. No, check that. It's as if they had never seen any movie before.

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Review: The Giver photo
Review: The Giver
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

It's been more than 20 years since Lois Lowry's The Giver first hit shelves, and more than a decade since I first read it. It's one of those transformative books, and before the recent YA trend towards totalitarianism, the first exposure most people had to dystopias. It's not really 1984 for children (because it's not really for children, despite everyone I know having reading before middle school), but what it says about the world and about imagination is formative for a lot of people. It definitely was for me.

When I heard it was being adapted, I wasn't excited about it, but I also wasn't totally put off. It's a story about imagery, and actually seeing some of the images that are discussed in the book (and the way they affect the view of a colorless, lifeless world) struck me as potentially compelling.

But as I sat in the theater, I realized that I was wrong: The Giver isn't about imagery at all.

It's about imagination.

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Review: The Expendables 3 photo
Review: The Expendables 3
by Nick Valdez

The Expendables could've been a good series had it been advertised differently. First touted as a return to form for aging 80s action stars as they wax nostalgic about their glory days, The Expendables turned out to be a greyish blob that somehow muddied up the colorful personalities which inhabited it.

Then the same thing happened in the sequel. The actors got a bit more room to play, but as the cast ballooned, the little joy to be had was smothered by more generic shooty bang bang. With the advertising for The Expendables 3 copying Fast & Furious 6's font, Stallone making a big deal about dropping Bruce Willis from the cast, and adding a bunch of relative nobodies to the roster, the third film looked to follow in the same pattern. 

This better be the last one. 

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Review: Into the Storm photo
Review: Into the Storm
by Matthew Razak

Into the Storm is one of those movies that you wonder where it came from. Natural disaster films are so early 2000s and this one feels particularly ancient. Clearly the thinking was that with all the super storms hitting us the time was ripe to pick the genre again, but it really isn't and Into the Storm isn't the film to do it in.

While you don't have to do much to be a competent natural disaster movie there are a few rules. The biggest one is not to actively insult people who have actually been affected by cataclysmic disasters. Into the Storm fails at this, and while it may succeed at a few other things because of that it fails completely. 

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Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles photo
Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by Matthew Razak

OK, we've all seen the new look of the Ninja Turtles, and if you haven't there it is up there in the header. It's hideous. They look really weird and totally ugly. That doesn't change in this movie. We're just all going to have to live with it (unless the movie flops and we don't get a direct sequel). Thanks to that I won't be discussing their look anymore. It just is.

How does one reboot a franchise that's already been rebooted repeatedly in multiple formats. There's one key factor that makes the Ninja Turtles work. It isn't the ninja factor or the mutant turtle factor or the teenage factor. What makes it work is that the turtles are actually interesting characters with a family dynamic that always pays off. Rewatch the original live action film. It's fun, but it's also a fantastic movie because they treat the turtles as real characters and when that's done it's easy to see why the franchise is eternal.

Of course a film produced by Michael Bay doesn't exactly hint at strong character development, does it?

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Review: Behaving Badly photo
Review: Behaving Badly
by Nick Valdez

If you've followed my reviews here on Flixist, you'll realize that I'm particularly drawn to smaller VOD projects in between the big releases for any bevy of reasons. Whether it's because it features pretty ladies, pretty gentleman, or pretty rocks, I like taking gambles and possibly stumbling on something great that I would've missed otherwise. 

Unfortunately, sometimes I gamble and lose. I wanted to review Behaving Badly because it stars a few people I'm interested in, and figured they'd never intentionally choose something awful for themselves. Boy, was I wrong. 

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy photo
Review: Guardians of the Galaxy
by Nick Valdez

I should admit this outright. Whether it's the nature of my job, or the seemingly endless deluge of Marvel Studios news that we write on everyday, I've succumbed to Marvel fatigue. That's why I was instantly drawn to Guardians of the Galaxy. From the first trailer on it promised something entirely unique within the Marvel formula, and although it too is a stepping stone within Marvel Studios' grander scheme, it stood out for good reasons. 

With a quirky director whose only done smaller projects, a star studded cast painted green and voicing things like animated raccoons and trees, its 70s rock inspired soundtrack, and its complete foray into comic book oddities, Guardians of the Galaxy could've easily been Marvel's biggest failure.

Good thing it's not. 

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Review: Hercules photo
Review: Hercules
by Nick Valdez

I've been anticipating Hercules' release for a while now. I love Dwayne Johnson, and want to see him in more leading roles that aren't just kid films. I figure he's got the charisma and talent just buried somewhere in there and needs the proper outlet.

So when the first trailer for Hercules looked okay, I was stoked. It looked dumb, but the right kind of dumb. The more I waited, the more I ignored all the red flags. It's directed by Brett Ratner (who once screwed up the X-Men films so bad, it took them four more movies to recover), there were no screenings prior to its release (which usually signals a bad film), and each trailer after the first one showed off the same scenes (which means they're the only good ones). But I desperately wanted Hercules to be entertaining. Johnson deserves this after all his years of work. 

Unfortunately, Hercules somehow makes "The Rock Yelling at Things While Shirtless" a bad idea. 

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Review: Kill Team photo
Review: Kill Team
by Hubert Vigilla

The war in Afghanistan is the longest military conflict in which the United States has been involved. The operation is nowhere near as successful as hoped, which is part of the reality of fighting a war in Afghanistan, a lesson that the Soviet Union learned in the 1980s. Much of the logistic difficulty comes from the terrain and the size of the country. For the US, this difficult was compounded by its attempts to rebuild infrastructure and develop trust with the civilian population. Part of the issue here may be some of the troops themselves.

The documentary Kill Team chronicles one instance of egregious war crimes that US troops perpetrated against the people of Afghanistan. One army unit played a game in which they'd murder innocent civilians and pretend that they were enemy combatants.

One of the most chilling things about Kill Team is the matter-of-fact way that one of the troops characterizes these kinds of war crimes: it happens way more than we think, they were just the ones who got caught.

[This review was original posted as part of our coverage of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. It is being posted to coincide with its theatrical release.]

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Review: The Purge: Anarchy photo
Review: The Purge: Anarchy
by Nick Valdez

The Purge came and went without much fanfare. It had an interesting premise (which spawned the #CrimeDay Twitter game here on Flixist), but wasted it with a by-the-numbers home invasion film. When The Purge: Anarchy was first announced (along with the sentiment that we'd get a new Purge film every year), I was initially against the idea of yet another mediocre franchise getting run into the ground. 

But, Anarchy has something no other Blumhouse Productions film has (the company that's responsible for Paranormal Activity and Insidious): Quality. For once, I found myself okay with getting more of the same series. 

If every Purge film can be as good as Anarchy going forward, then we're in for a hell of a good time. 

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Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photo
Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
by Nick Valdez

When a prequel to Planet of the Apes was first announced, it seemed like yet another cynical cash in. Yet Rise of the Planet of the Apes tried its hardest to prove everyone wrong with top notch visuals, acting, and score. Although its eventual finale made it seem more like a reboot of Harry and the Hendersons than Planet, it was a good step in the right direction despite its problems.

Which is why Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sticks out so much. Could a sequel accomplish what its predecessor didn't? Could it finally live up to the technological advances of the first? It turns out, I had no reason to worry. Dawn far exceeds Rise, and it's the rare sequel that even makes the original film a better experience. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes definitely did not make a monkey out of me. 

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Review: Deliver Us From Evil photo
Review: Deliver Us From Evil
by Mike Cosimano

In all my years seeing movies, I don’t think I’ve seen a collective shrug quite like the one my theater experienced upon leaving Deliver Us From Evil. A passive gesture of that magnitude could only have been triggered by a film destined to fall into obscurity the instant Wal-Mart removes it from the featured DVD rack.

You will not hate Deliver Us From Evil, but I’ll bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that you won’t remember it long after you’ve left the theater. (Unless clinging on to memories of sub-par movies is part of your job, in which case, you have my sympathies.)

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Review: Tammy photo
Review: Tammy
by Matthew Razak

Tammy is a film you really want to be good. An almost entirely female led cast in a raunchy comedy is still a rarity despite Bridesmaids showing us all it can be done successfully. This is the kind of movie we need to diversify the comedy scene and give us something else than Judd Apatow and Wayans brothers films.

That is it would be the kind of movie if it was any good at all. Unfortunately Tammy is a complete and total mess of a film devoid of much humor and suffering from even less character development. If you name your film after its lead character she better be damn interesting and Tammy is not. 

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NYAFF Recommendation: Han Gong-Ju photo
NYAFF Recommendation: Han Gong-Ju
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Han Gong-Ju is incredible. It's easily the best film I've seen at the New York Asian Film Festival thus far and among the best I've seen in a long time.

It's also extremely depressing, to the point where I'm not sure I can really write about it. But I can't in good conscience not give it my sincerest recommendation. If you're in New York, it's playing at MoMA for the next week. Tickets can be bought here.

Whether we end up with a full review or not, go see Han Gong-Ju.

[For the next month, we will be covering the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and the Japan-centric Japan Cuts. Click here for more information, and check back here and here for all of the Asian film coverage you can shake a stick at.]

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Review: Begin Again photo
Review: Begin Again
by Matthew Razak

Director/Writer John Carney is establishing a little nitch for himself in the film industry. A modern take on the backstage musical except now the stage is the studio and the music is far less grandiose. With Once, his academy award winning film, he nailed the sort of real world drama musical and he returns to that new genre again with Begin Again except this time he has big name stars and an American budget.

Carney is clearly a talented and emotional musician and returning to this form allows him to flex those muscles once again. Can he have the same impact as he did on his debut feature film or does upping the ante in almost every department mean a bit of soul is lost? In a film about finding the soul of art and yourself it's a bit ironic what the answer to that question is. 

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