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4:00 PM on 10.16.2014

Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

You should see Birdman. In fact, you need to see Birdman. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is something truly special, and were it not for the fact that Boyhood finally saw its release, it would u...

Alec Kubas-Meyer


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

I thought the good folks over at the NYFF were kidding when they described Whiplash as "Full Metal Jacket at Julliard." I've been burned by their film descriptions before, so I couldn't trust something that just sounded so brilliant. I mean, that's one hell of a pitch. But sticking with my rule of going into films blind, I left it at that. I didn't watch the trailer, nor did I seek out the short film that raised the money to fund the feature. I didn't even listen to "Whiplash."

But that pitch pulled me in. And much to my surprise, it's shockingly fitting. And to be honest, it's even better than it sounds.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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Review: Dracula Untold photo
Review: Dracula Untold
by Matthew Razak

Everyone listen. I'm going to pretty much surprise the crap out of you because by writing the next sentence I'm surprising the crap out of myself. I enjoyed Dracula Untold. I know. You've probably just decided that maybe you don't want to trust my opinion anymore, but hear me out. 

Dracula Untold is a Universal monster movie. You know those old classics from back in the day that starred Dracula and the Wolfman and the Mummy. In fact they're making an entire film universe for those guys to star in. The point is that those movies were meant to be fun and kind of ridiculous and that is exactly what Dracula Untold is despite its many flaws.

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Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day photo
Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Matthew Razak

To start this will be the only time I am typing the full name of the movie: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. There, got that over with. From here on out we'll be referring to the film as Horrible, No. Everyone else is calling it Alexander so we'll be different.

Horrible, No is quite the surprise as from trailers you probably thought it was a bottom of the barrel adaptation of a classic children's book that Disney just threw a few actors at and dumped into the October slumps. You'd be wrong. While it isn't the most original film out there, it is one of the better family comedies put onto the screen in a while. The jokes may be a bit tired, but there pulled off with such aplomb and pluck that at the end of the day it all turns out good.

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Review: Gone Girl photo
Review: Gone Girl
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Gone Girl is the book of the moment. Much as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was The Big Thing when David Fincher adapted it for US screens, Gillian Flynn's novel seems to be ubiquitous. Everyone is reading it and talking about it, and those who aren't are certainly aware of its presence.

I expect this is partially because of the David Fincher adaptation. The book was released in 2012, and though it quickly hit the New York Times Best Seller List, I didn't hear about it until the announcement of its cinematic release. I considered reading it, but I never got around to it. (Flixist Editor-in-Chief Matt Razak has been hounding me to do so now, though, so I may pick it up.)

Walking around New York City, posters for the film are unavoidable. This adaptation is a big deal. The Big Book is about to be The Big Movie.

And it's going to get people talking.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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Review: This is Where I Leave You photo
Review: This is Where I Leave You
by Matthew Razak

The dramatic family comedy. A staple in our modern day film scene. Throw is some folky pop music and a few stars and you've got yourself a big giant cliche ready for the theaters. There are ways to do it right, though. If you can pull your film out of melodrama and into actual emotion then you can hit the nail on the head. It happens.

It only half happened here. This Is Where I Leave You boldly teases at pushing its characters and feelings in interesting directions, but holds back far too much. It leaves us with a family dramedy that works on basic levels, but never transcends its genre. 

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Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones photo
Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones
by Matthew Razak

Looking back over Liam Neeson's career since Taken turned him into an action hero one could argue that he's basically made the same movie over and over. A vengeful individual in some sort of manly battle involving life and death. And, yes, that is a valid argument. But it also isn't. 

See, while Neeson's films have all been pushed the same way, they actually haven't all been that similar (both in tone and quality). From the outstanding The Grey too the awful Taken 2 Neeson has basically played around with the theme of the bad ass, elder hero in a variety of ways. Now they haven't always worked, but one thing remains consistent: Neeson is awesome. That pretty much describes A Walk Among the Tombstones perfectly. It doesn't always work, but Neeson is awesome.

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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: 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: 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: 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: 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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Review: Particle Fever photo
Review: Particle Fever
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I like physics. I probably have as good a grasp of the field as any film critic, and I frequently read articles about things like the Large Hadron Collider and the revelation of the mass of the Higgs Boson and how that revelation has impacted supersymmetry theory.

You've probably heard of the Large Hadron Collider (possibly as that thing that didn't actually destroy the world) and the Higgs Boson (sometimes called the God particle), but it's less likely that you know what supersymmetry (affectionately called SUSY) is. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, much of the science in Particle Fever is going to fly right over your head. 

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't see it. Because Particle Fever succeeds not because of its discussion of this particular science, but that of what science means and why it matters.

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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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Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction photo
Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction
by Matthew Razak

I'm going to tear this movie apart. It's coming right below the jump. Just be ready for it. Because of that I want to open with this: Optimus Prime riding Grimlock into battle in Hong Kong is frickin' awesome. There's just no denying how cool Transformers can be and that Michael Bay can pull off some awesome stuff. There are parts of this film that will blow you away.

It's just that the rest of it is so bad it isn't worth it.

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