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SXSW Midnighters photo
SXSW Midnighters

SXSW announces films in the Midnighters

Feb 10
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
One of my favorite parts about any big film festival is the collection of atypical films you'll find on the slate. Such is the case with South by Southwest's "Midnighters" section, which features ten "scary, funny, sexy, cont...

SXSW 2015 film lineup released

Let's get this party started
Feb 03
// Matthew Razak
SXSW is my favorite festival to cover and one of the few I do regularly. I won't be able to attend this year because of the impending birth of my first child, but it looks like I'll be missing out on some great stuff. Plenty ...

Review: Predestination

Jan 09 // Nick Valdez
PredestinationDirector: Michael and Peter SpierigRated: RRelease Date: January 9th, 2015 An adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's short story, "All You Zombies," Predestination stars Ethan Hawke as a Temporal Police Officer who's assigned to his final mission after a previous mission leaves him with a reconfigured face. His one regret as an officer is his failure to catch the Fizzle Bomber, a notoriously evasive criminal whose bombs have killed countless people. As the officer begins his last mission, he meets a mysterious stranger (Sarah Snook) who tells the officer of his childhood troubles. And you can probably tell from the synopsis that when someone says Predestination is just Minority Report, they're looking at the bare minimum. Ethan Hawke's occupation as a time cop is where the similarities end. Predestination is much more thoughtful than Minority Report could ever hope to be.  Unfortunately if you've read Heinlein's original short, then you know the direction of the story. It's pretty much a direct adaptation, but with added flair for the screen version. The plot itself is fantastic. It's a quietly drawn out mystery which rewards the viewer when the viewer guesses something correctly. It's so tightly wound if one fact, or subject was misplaced or explained incorrectly, the entire thing would unravel. While that tightness works to the film's benefit, it's also a huge detriment to the enjoyment of the film. There's never any relaxation period, no time to absorb the information given before being presented with copious amounts of new info. Thank goodness the cast holds it together.  You know, I was initially worried for Predestination when I heard it was being directed by the Spierig brothers. Their last notable work, Daybreakers (about the futuristic society of vampires), also had a really neat concept idea but failed in the execution. But I'll hand it to them, they really know how to pick the cast. While Ethan Hawke might be top billed, he's not the central star. That honor goes to relative newcomer, Sara Snook. Snook delivers a powerful performance as the mysterious Jane. As she begins to detail the tragic events of her life, her emotional resonance carries the film even when it begins to derail into nonsense. Her narration is given the appropriate amount of emotional weight, and the crazy things she's put through may not have been believable if Snook didn't sell it so well.  You may have noticed that as I'm trying to discuss interesting aspects of the film, I'm purposefully trying to be as vague as possible. Although you'll know what happens in Predestination if you've read the original short, the majority of the mystery reveals are much better if you haven't had them spoiled for you. But the weird thing about these reveals is chances are you'll figure it out before the film gets to grandstand them. While some of the reveals are completely out of left field, and therefore unpredictable, some of them fail to land because they're so drawn out you've put the pieces of the puzzle together yourself. So when the film finally gets to the matter at hand, you're left with a period of staleness. But at least Ethan Hawke is great. He really nails his part also. Especially toward the end when he's so out of character, it works.  While Predestination is a clever mystery, it takes a while to unfurl. It's like a seductive dance that goes on for so long, it loses its original allure. But when given the time to breathe, and there's an appropriate amount of time given to fleshing out the futuristic world in which Jane and John live, it's wonderful.  Predestination could've fallen apart miserably. But because it has a great central cast, unique twist on time travel, and interesting mystery, greatness is inevitable. 
Predestination Review photo
Destined for greatness
Predestination is one of those festival films that you have no idea exists but, when you finally see it, you wonder where it's been your entire life. I'm not the biggest time travel movie fan, nor do I really enjoy science fi...

Review: Open Windows

Nov 07 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217384:41308:0[/embed] Open WindowsDirector: Nacho VigalondoRated: RRelease Date: November 7, 2014 Open Windows stars Elijah Wood as Nick (which is one of the many reasons I found myself identifying with him), a lonely man who runs a fan website for actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). Nick won a contest to eat dinner with Goddard, but that contest was promptly canceled. As Nick finds himself in a hotel room playing with his laptop, Chord (Neil Maskell) hacks into his computer and states that Jill Goddard is a diva who selfishly always gets what he wants. As Chord walks Nick through various levels of hacking into Jill's life, Nick realizes there may be a more sinister plan at work.  First of all, Open Windows' main draw is its presentation. Presented entirely through electronic devices (mainly Nick's laptop, but later expands to camera phones, dashboard cameras and the like), Windows blends multiple threads together. The POV creates a far more intimate and interesting outing and makes it easier to find yourself in Nick's shoes. Honestly, this whole presentation would've fallen flat if not anchored by Elijah Wood. He's charming and charismatic enough that even the most "Hollywood" aspects of the film's technology were able to swallow. If I had one thing to say about the presentation, however, is sometimes not even Wood is enough to keep the logic afloat.  Windows asks for quite a bit of bent logic from the viewer as hacking takes on a more fantastical role as the film progresses. Rather than stay rooted, and believable on Nick's laptop, eventually (in order to keep the film from going visually flat) the changes in scenery notably jolt you out of perspective and force you to question how long the battery on Nick's laptop could truly last. The unfortunate thing is, however, is that you'll find yourself wanting the film to go back to the intimate beginning. As the mystery of the film slowly reveals itself and becomes cartoonish, it loses sight of that initial spark. There's a very interesting idea at play here that's unfortunately forgotten as the film tries to become a satire of other things.  You see, when the film opens, you get a lonely man sitting in front of his computer as he idolizes a famous someone he will never meet. This is where I became involved with the film. I've been there, and I know exactly what the awkward feeling of longing does to you. As Jill becomes more of a fleshed out character, the film neatly satirizes the very nature and attitude of the Internet. Grey is perfectly cast as the famed actress as I'm sure Grey knows a thing or two about idolization. There's a question of control at play during Nick and Jill's initial interactions that unfortunately aren't explored as Windows sees fit to throw those interesting ideals out the window and become a jumbled mess before concluding.  No matter how much you enjoy Open Windows, there's no way you're going to make it through the muddy finale without feeling a tad bit confused. Although there are slight hints of a greater mystery throughout the film, there aren't enough to save it from the complete derailment within its final ten minutes. Characters are introduced, thrown into weird perspectives, and odd visual choices don't necessarily help matters. But oddly enough, they don't hurt matters either.   While the conclusion is awfully jolting and makes little sense, the intentionally skewed point of view creates a great sense of suspense as you'll find yourself trying harder just to try and *see* who's who. It's neat little payoff of the original idea. Once again, it all relates back to the idea of control. When given control what would you do? Would you take advantage of another? But when you find yourself in the opposite position, and that control is taken away, what would you do then? I found myself thinking about all of things as the film went on, but unfortunately realized that the general nature of the questions were completely unrelated to the film at hand.  Open Windows is a great, stripped down narrative in the beginning, but sadly devolves into mush as it rolls on. It's got an interesting idea at play, but never quite hits its mark. 
Open Windows Review photo
You'll never want to use your computer again
Open Windows was the first film I saw during SXSW 2014. I've never covered the festival before, so I had no idea what kind of features I'd end up exposing myself to. Going in I was awkward, tense, but mostly curious. As the f...

Review: Chef

May 09 // Nick Valdez
ChefDirector: Jon FavreauRated: NRRelease Date: May 9, 2014  Jon Favreau stars as Chef Carl Casper, a chef who's been in the game for several years and wants to change up his routine. When a famous critic (Oliver Platt) gives a poor review of his restaurant, Casper's outrage at the whole ordeal ends up becoming a major hit on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Now that he's lost his job, Casper buys a food truck and travels across the United States in order to sell the food he loves as well as reconnect with his estranged son Percy (Emjay Anthony).  Since Favreau wrote the feature, it's natural to hope for a Swingers-like quality of excellence in the screenplay. His last film, Couples Retreat, failed to do this as it mainly grasps at straws that didn't exist in the first place. Thankfully, that isn't completely the case with Chef. There are spots of brilliance within the dialogue as the jokes seem to come from relatable, and realistic sources. For example, when Casper and his Sous Chef (played by John Leguizamo) finally open the food truck, the film opens up and allows the two to play off each other. In fact, those scenes where the food truck travels from place to place (where Casper is coincidentally the happiest) are some of the best sequences of the film. Unfortunately for Chef, it doesn't all take place there. While the dialogue is sharp and entertaining for the most part, there are a few wavering lines that miss their mark. When outside of the truck, the film truly falls apart. If the film was meant to be seen as thoroughly disappointing in order to reflect Casper's negative assertions toward himself, then it completely works. But unfortunately that would mean that about 3/4 of the film was intended to fall flat. The saddest aspect of this is it's filled with a wonderful cast who really don't get anything to do. Beyond Leguizamo doing the best he can with his standard "Latino" casting (his gets an "immigracion" joke in there) and Robert Downey Jr making the most of a glorified cameo, everything just sort of meanders about until you get to the haphazard conclusion.  While Casper is trying to figure out his own life as the film tries to set itself up as an "evolving journey" type, the film loses its sense of direction. No characters know exactly what they're doing or where they're going, and that's reflecting on the product itself. But this problem could've been easily avoided if the film chose to highlight characters rather than use detrimental amounts of filler (there are so many musical interludes and montages, and one where we stare at Scarlett Johansson for a few minutes for no real reason). But the odd part about all of this is despite the film's meandering pace, there's still plenty of heart to chew on.  While Favreau might have lost his touch with the overall frame of the story, it's hard not to like a film that celebrates food (and Cuban!) culture like this. There are some scenes that are at face value frivolous, that help add to the overall character of the piece. At one point Casper stops in Austin for a few scenes and stops by local restaurants filled with the real people that work there. That attention to detail and care is hard to come by now. But how much of that corazón hits the mark when the rest of the film is bogged down by poor choices?  I'm in a weird stasis with Chef. I loved the humor, shout outs to Latino culture, good song selection, and cast, but I disliked some of the humor, the wonky pace, overplayed montages, and the overall misuse of that cast. As for now, I'll label it as something you should keep an eye on when it officially releases. It's certainly a film worth discussing further.  I mean, I haven't even touched on how much Twitter is mentioned. Hope you like learning how Twitter works! 
Chef Review photo
Lacking some flavor
Before attending this year's SXSW, I had no idea Jon Favreau's Chef even existed. Given the nature of my job (as I constantly write about films months, and even years before their official release), it's rare that film goes u...

Review: Neighbors

May 09 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217423:41316:0[/embed] NeighborsDirector: Nicholas StollerRated: RRelease Date: May 9, 2014  Neighbors is all about Mac (Seth Rogen) and his wife Kelly (Rose Byrne) as they put all of their savings on a new home. When they're getting comfortable, Teddy (Zac Efron), the president of Delta Psi, moves his rowdy fraternity into the house next door. After Mac calls the cops, Teddy and fraternity fight back, leading to an escalating back and forth prank war.  With a simple premise like this, the film is completely reliant on the strength of its cast to succeed. The raunchier and cartoonish the pranks and arguments get, the easier for them to devolve into some sort of mushy mess. Thankfully, the problems with the film aren't with the cast. Seth Rogen is essentially every role Rogen's played (so whether or not you've enjoyed him in the past will definitely anchor your enjoyment) with lots of added nudity, and Rose Byrne is as adorable as she always is, but given a layer of sex appeal. Everyone beyond Zac Efron is just playing the same characters they always have before. It's essentially a negative given we've seen that formula used before, but it's hard to argue against something that works.  The one surprising actor in all of this is Zac Efron. While he's not exactly given a varied range, he pulls of the fraternity jerk very well. And when the film decides to add layers to characters about midway through the feature, he surprisingly pulls through. Of course there are the standard shirtless scenes, but he's got some comedic chops that I hope get explored in the future. Only trouble is that while he's got those chops, they're still a bit rough. Some of his jokes fall flat, and are notably covered up by his shirtlessness. Given a tighter screenplay, Efron could finally show us what he's capable of.  That seems to be the main issue in Neighbors. It's incredibly raunchy (complete with dildo fights and gross sequences), but a lot of it fails to be funny. It tows the line between gross-funny and gross-gross. But that all depends on your personal taste I suppose. I'll admit, however, one of the jokes is so incredibly disgusting it's hilarious. It was an odd situation to be in. Besides the raunch, Neighbors has an issue with length. There's one notable sequence during the prank war which the film will be much better without. It derails the direction and pace, and loses its fun as it drags beyond the borders of its humor.  It's not a perfect comedy by any means, but it's still entertaining. Best way to see Neighbors is in a crowd, perhaps a college party as the film so heartily recommends. It looks good (those party scenes are fantastically shot), it's got plenty of eye candy (Efron's shirtless at least two thirds of the film), and you may even get a laugh or two. Neighbors isn't going to redefine how you see comedy, but it does its job.  And most of the time, that's all you need. A comedy that does its job then goes back home to party. 
Neighbors Review photo
As smart as a bag of dildos
I had completely written off Neighbors. Coming off of Seth Rogen's last starring role in This is the End, the first trailer for Neighbors underwhelmed me. I've gotten used to Rogen acting, writing, and directing his own films...

Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Michael Pena, America Ferrera, Gabriel Mann (Cesar Chavez)

Mar 28 // Nick Valdez
There's quite a bit of pressure on this because Latinos don't really get a lot of representation, and the fact that Cesar Chavez finally has a movie is a big deal. How was it taking part in this film knowing everything was going to be heavily critiqued? America Ferrera (AF): I would urge especially someone who has a vested interest in Latino stories being told. I think the other point of view is to say "This is the film about this story being made" which is shocking, and it shouldn't be the first and it shouldn't be the only. The hope is that a story this big with this many perspectives, characters, and events, and issues would need so many stories, movies, TV shows, books to really get the scope of it. Diego is incredibly brave by being the first because as you say, one way to look at it is there is an enormous amount of criticism on the first to be all things to everyone and it's just impossible to expect one film to be all of those things, so what we hope more than anything is our own community, the Latino community, shows up to support this film because it's the only way more films like it are going to be made. It doesn't have to be the last word, it's just the beginning of the conversation. Michael Pena (MP): You're just opening up the book on this one. It's funny, in a perfect world there's got to be someone that steps out and takes a stance. Diego Luna was one of them. In a perfect world this would be a 30 to 40 million dollar movie, and we would have way more days, way more extras, and it would be a three hour movie. Gandhi was a three hour movie. You need to know where the person started from and how he got there. We're taking diagonally the last ten years of what he did. I think it's great to have a movie like this out.  Gabriel Mann (GM): I think also when you approach a project, you can never approach it from a place of fear. I think if you were to approach from the fact that "Oh there's so much pressure on everyone to get the story right" then it would never get made. Honestly those are the things that start to come into play more now, and maybe that was the case for Diego and the people who pulled all of this together.  Speaking of fear, knowing you're going to play the "villain," do you have to get into a certain mindset?  GM: What was great about this movie and Diego's approach as a storyteller was that nothing was black and white. There were a lot of subtleties. When I looked at it, I wasn't looking at him as villain. These people felt justified, the grape growers and business owners, and the behavior they were involved with. That's the way I approached it, and when it all came together, it all became clear who was on the right side and who was on the wrong side of history.  So Michael, I know you've done comedic stuff on the side, but you're able to come back to the drama quite well. What influences your dramatic work?  MP: Everybody has humor, but when I started looking at my own life, when I was living in shit, in the ghetto, that's one of the best times I ever had. We didn't know we lived in the ghetto or that life was hard, that was just our life. And I had great parents. Cesar had the same kind of mentality. He had a great partner in Helen. He tried to make the best of what it was, and this story has a lot to deal with that. Yeah you're doing something that's going to be beneficial and it's going to change America, but you're still trying to enjoy life because if not, why do it? This guy was courageous, a reluctant hero. I'm just glad his story's being told.  Do you have to have a certain mindset in order to rally, to shout "Huelga!" MP: For me it's always good to work in present time. My brother got fired from a bank, I used to work at a bank. I caught some heavy resentment toward these guys who were giving themselves bonuses when they got a bailout. It was really shitty, to be honest with you. You know, you scuk at your job, the country's suffering for it, you go bankrupt, and then you give yourself and your colleagues bonuses? I thought that was straight bullshit. And I think it's kind of what Chavez thought at the time. It's unjust, unfair, unnecessary, and somebody's taking advantage of whatever loopholes they can. I think that's what happened. When you deal with it in front of your face, mistreated in front of you, that's when you have to speak up. Somebody has to, and thank god Cesar did.  How were you [to Michael] first approached for the role of Cesar Chavez? MP: When I was first emailed about Cesar Chavez, I was like "Whoa, wait, is Cesar Chavez the boxer or civil rights activist? Cause if it's the boxer, they should get someone Mexican. And thank god it was the civil rights activist because I had heard about him. But I didn't really know his story until I started doing the research and figured that's a great reason to do the movie. And I like it because it's almost like voting where you say "my voice doesn't matter," but if one person in every town voted that didn't think their voice was important, then it would make a difference in every election.  AF: And that's especially true in the Latino community today. There are a lot of issues that Latinos care about in the same way Americans do: healthcare, access to education. But we don't show up to represent ourselves. If we don't vote or educate our communities then the things we care about are not going to be put on the table. And as we've seen in recent years, just the tiniest notch up of Latinos showing up at the polls created an entire conversation around immigration reform. So in order for the things we care about to be on a political agenda, we have to show up for ourselves politically. Was Cesar was fighting for then was engagement, show up, stand up for yourselves is the same message that we should be sharing with our communities today. 
Cesar Chavez Interview photo
Yes we about Cesar Chavez!
My final interview of SXSW was a three on one with Michael Pena, America Ferrera, and Gabriel Mann. I had just seen the screening for Cesar Chavez the night before, and we were all kind of pumped to talk about the movie. Just...

Review: Cesar Chavez

Mar 28 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217414:41317:0[/embed] Cesar ChavezDirector: Diego LunaRated: PG-13Release Date: March 28, 2014  Cesar Chavez details the life and work of equal rights advocate, Cesar Chavez. As migrant farm workers faced harsh work environments for unfair wages, Chavez (Michael Pena) organizes the workers into a union. And as the film runs through about 12 years of his work (from organizing the union, to facing down several large business, to his hunger strike) all the way until he succeeds at getting his union fair wages. The story focus in the biopic also looks toward the effects of the Union on his family with Chavez's wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his son.  With the synopsis, you should notice a problem right away. As one of the few biographical films under two hours, Chavez has to cram as much information as it can while still maintaining the narrative. It's a difficult balance as you find the major struggles Chavez faced are sped through in order to get to another poignant moment. While it hits all the major beats in a Sparknotes-like fashion, it unfortunately dampens the narrative as there are few scenes given time to breathe. And when left to breathe, some moments feel generic as there are quotes goofily given too much weight. Whether or not the run time is a question of budget or script, it still leaves a lot to be desired.  An unfortunate effect of the film's relative short time is Chavez becomes heartily skewed toward a single demographic. While Latinos definitely deserve our time in the spotlight, it comes at the cost of making everyone else look cartoonishly awful. For example John Malkovich as Bogdanovich, really seems like he's phoning it in. And if he's trying his hardest, there's a noticeable disconnect from what he's saying and how he's presenting himself as he says it. Rather than give off a layered character, or at least present him as a sympathetic business owner caught in his old ways, he becomes a villain in all senses of the word. And that's what happens to the non-ethnic characters. Each one, other than Gabriel Mann as Bogdonaovich's son surprisingly enough, just comes off as needlessly aggressive. It's more black and white than the film intends.  But the cast does the best with what they've got. Michael Pena is an appropriate Cesar Chavez, delivering lines with the right amount of power and confidence (the film would lose a lot of sincerity without him). America Ferrera gets one poignant moment as his wife and leads to one of the best scenes in the film. There is enough of a representation of the different factions of Chavez's labor union that can lead to a nice historical debate after completing the film. If only there were a bit more bite, or darkness to Chavez's overall life. While we get all of the necessary greatness from Chavez's life's work in the film, we don't necessarily get a complete picture of the man himself. While the film teases a failing relationship with his son (and sees to end the film on that note), there's unfortunately not enough time devoted to that relationship (or Chavez isn't given enough darkness to give the son reason for distancing himself from his father other than "Your work is too important!") for it to really make a difference.  I'm in a conflicted space with Cesar Chavez. I liked some of the grander scenes and rallies, but the film's length leaves much to be desired. I'd definitely recommend this film for someone in the same demographic as myself (Latino American), but will have a hard time arguing why it's useful for everyone else. And that's a shame because I want this film to be everywhere. Chavez's story is one that deserves to be told. This is a film we need, but not necessarily the one we deserve.  All I can hope is Cesar Chavez makes enough of a stamp it inspires more films like it. The fact this film even exists should warrant celebration, but what we have here is a look at the surface of history. We need something deeper. 
Cesar Chavez Review photo
A step in the right direction
There is a lot riding on Diego Luna's Cesar Chavez to succeed. Latinos aren't exactly given a lot of representation in fiction, and if there's one man, one figurehead we can rally behind, it's the activist Cesar Chavez. As ot...

Review: Bad Words

Mar 28 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217407:41313:0[/embed] Bad WordsDirector: Jason BatemanRated: RRelease Date: March 28, 2014 Bad Words follows Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman), a 40 year old man who has never passed the eighth grade and is using a loophole in order to enter a The Golden Quill (a national spelling bee) for mysterious reasons. During the bee he meets Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a young boy who wants to become best friends with Guy.  The greatest decision the screenplay actually makes is its brisk pace. You can't accuse Bad Words for overstaying its welcome (even when confronted with some dubious decision making). Instead of running the gamut of Guy competing in several different bees before entering the national competition, it starts right off at the Regional Championship. This introductory sequence sets a fun tone for the film that unfortunately is never lived up to. But the weird thing is, it's visually appealing. As mentioned before, the faults with the film can't really be attributed to the direction as Bateman actually makes some wonderful filmic choices.  Surprisingly enough, the film is shot beautifully. The entire film is laced with a green hue that sets this Spelling Bee within a fantastical world. Each character is either dressed or referred to in a way that purposefully muddies the time period Words is supposed to take place in. Just when you're thinking "just how seriously are these parents taking this Spelling Bee?" you realize one of the moms is dressed in a jean shirt and an up do. A neat visual clash between the nostalgic and the current takes place as Guy seems to be the only one in this film world who's allowed to dress like he's from our present time. But as teased earlier in the review, the visuals seem to be the only appealing aspect of the film.  Your response to the humor in the film relies entirely on how much you enjoy Jason Bateman's standard roles. With Guy, he has a bit more of a dramatic resonance, but it eventually devolves into the stuff Bateman's done in the past. He's the jerk you're supposed to love. But by necessitating a need to pity Guy for his poor development and harsh childhood, it throws a wrench into Bateman's dynamic. It's one of those "laughing with versus laughing at" problems that really seems like a better idea on paper.  But that's just Bad Words in a nutshell. A film packed with neat ideas that isn't executed well because of a rough screenplay. It's just kind of sad because all of the cogs are running properly as some scenes look fantastic, some scenes are inspired, and the world is established well. If only it could've decided whether or not it wanted to be taken seriously. Honestly if the film would've had a more dramatic angle and the pity toward Guy's character was explored further, we would've had a great film on our hands.  But as it stands, we've got a film rooted firmly in the middle. You may get a laugh or two at some of the more "outrageous" jokes,but most of the time you'll be left wondering why you started watching the film in the first place. 
Bad Words Review photo
The title accurately describes this movie
Bad Words is Jason Bateman's directorial feature (although he's technically been directing television for years now), so there's plenty riding on the film to see if Bateman's truly got the chops to make a future out of it. Wh...

SXSW Interview: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Mar 27 // Nick Valdez
I was interested in how you create a film, whether you start with the visuals or start with the script, or do you just come up with an idea and run with it?  Wes Anderson (WA): With different movies, I have a different order of events. But with [Budapest], I started with this one character, played by Ralph, and think what that character is like, with a little bit of story for that character, and then eventually having an idea of the setting. That is was gonna be this sort of European, war background kind of movie, then making the script. Than all the visual stuff and figure out how to go about making the movie, that all came after the script was finished.  How did you come to Ralph Fiennes? He's not an actor who is considered someone who has a large body of comedy in his resume. What did you see in him that you felt would be right for the role of M. Gustave?  WA: In Bruges is a film I thought of, because he's so funny in it. I then I had seen him in this play God of Carnage that he was very funny in, and especially this movie that Bob Balaban directed called Bernard and Doris. It was a very quiet role he plays. But then also I got to know him personally over the years, quite a bit. And he even knows, the person that this character is inspired by, he knows my friend. So he even had a sense of what the real guy is like, so it was that combination. As much from just being around him a little bit personally as anything else. Where do you get the ideas for character details, such a M. Gustave's collection of perfumes, and how do you make sure they don't retract from the story?  WA: Usually most of the things come from, the thing with the perfume for instance, that's this real person who wears this Versace perfume everyday and he sprays it on. You can't miss it. And he will talk about that freely. Often it's from something in real life. But having said that, I thought the mustache was something he thought up, Tony Revolori, but the other day he denied that when we were doing an interview the other day. Like he didn't want credit for that idea. Some of it is just imagination, and when it's just imagination, it's probably stolen from something that we forgot what it is. But as often it's about somebody in real life. Either someone I'd read about, or the person I'm writing with has read about, or someone we know, or ourselves.  Speaking to the real life influences, there's an interesting quote in the film that's repeated twice about the last speck of humanity within brutality. Can you explain where this idea came from?  WA: That's a way of expressing something that's in Stefan Zweig's work. He writes about in his memoir Vienna, where he was growing up in before 1914 and the Europe of that time. Their newspaper had whatever news there was, but it also had poetry and philosophical texts. It was a different kind of writing. Their rock stars were playwrights, and there was new music happening all the time. He describes a thing which, at this time nationalism begins, he sees his country shifting to a more nationalistic world view. At the same time where sport became a big thing. Suddenly the thing that was cool to be into shifted into this physical thing and it's all leading to a war like mentality. His story is this person who's so invested in this one culture that then is slowly and then quickly destroyed. He ended up fleeing Europe[...], but still didn't survive the war because he ended up committing suicide. So that line you're talking about it some kind of condensed version of what I just described.  [laughs] In Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tennenbaums you kill a dog, and in this one you kill a cat. Was that a conscious decision?  WA: Human actors often want to have a death scene to play. So in a way it's to just share this opportunity with other animals. I'm just trying to write a good part for a cat.  [laughs] Can you talk about the process of turning the hotel into a central character in the film, and where you start from in terms of design? WA: First we tried to find a hotel where we could do this, the perfect place. Is it in Switzerland, is it in Hungary, where is this place? We traveled all over Central Europe, and we went to a million hotels, we went to castles, went to hospitals, abandoned things, operating things, and we gathered many ideas, but we couldn't find a place. The world is just not like that [...] Our big location scout turned into a big research scout. We figured out that we'd need to create our hotel. We found this department store in the town of Görlitz that gave us this opportunity to make something is this real location, and then we designed miniatures and other things so we could use all the things we really liked and make exactly the hotel we wanted in a more impressionistic way of using these old movie techniques. In a way of us getting exactly what we wanted while not having it really exist. 
Wes Anderson Interview photo
The man, the myth, the really cool dude
My final roundtable interview of SXSW was with Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Since it was my first true Anderson film experience (which I loved), I had plenty of questions for him. But since I had to compete...

SXSW Interview: Jason Bateman (Bad Words)

Mar 26 // Nick Valdez
Your co-star, Rohan, is a very intelligent young man. With that said, was it challenging to throw out those expletives his way?  Jason Bateman (JB): No, the film was not improvised. He and his parents knew what was coming and were certainly prepped for it. I had extensive conversations with him and his parents about the kind of tone and spirit in which all of these prickly scenes were coming from, the deeper slightly more sophisticated agenda at play was. I just asked them to trust that I was going to build a film, an aesthetic, that wouldn't feel gratuitous or arbitrary to the audience. that this wasn't going to be something embarrassing, hopefully. This was a drama to everyone inside the movie. This guy got his feelings hurt, and he's just not properly equipped to deal with that. And we, the sane audience, laugh at his inability to manage his life. But it is a drama to them, and that would hopefully be the spine of the movie therefore make those prickly things feel a little less sophomore. Can you talk a little bit about where Arrested Development falls into where you're allowed to make your directorial debut? JB: Arrested Development is the father and mother of my career. I was a working actor for the decade between the Hogan family and Arrested Development, but I certainly was not making a lot of choices. I was basically taking what I got, and AD provided a project that was embraced by those who hand out jobs in Los Angeles. And that was really, really fortunate. I would've taken a job that was half as good. That perhaps would've stayed on the air twice as long.  [laughs] You know, but it's respect of quality is the fuel of longevity as opposed to fame and fortune. That certainly gave me a great deal of much needed credibility, and a basic reset button on some of the stuff that I had done in the past. And I'm just gonna try my damndest not to screw it up and stay at the party for another thirty years.  A lot of hubub has been made that this is your directorial debut, but you've been directing television since you were 18?  JB: Yeah, with the exception of Arrested Development, all the directing has been multi-camera. Which I do not mean to belittle, but it is a different job as a director. Your mandate there is to corral the rehearsal, make the comedic writing work, have its rhythm stay intact. It's shot proscenium style, it's three walls, it's theater. Of course there's an audience, so it's a different process. When you direct single camera you are choosing lenses, and there's a lighting strategy, the whole environment that the director is allowed to build. Television is a bit more of a writer/producer's medium where you work for the pleasure of them, and in film, you've got the kind of creative autonomy that is extremely exciting to me and very challenging. Talking about the aesthetic a bit more, I saw the tiniest twinge of Wes Anderson. Has anyone said that to you?  JB: No, that's certainly high praise. Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, the Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, and Spike Jonze; These guys have a rawness to the aesthetic, the palette that they use, the way that they the visual element of this medium to perform. That is a character in the film. It sets a mood for the audience that hopefully allows the audience to be a bit more accepting of a fringe society that these filmmakers usually like to tell their stories in. The characters are usually people that you drive by, but you don't often talk to. Situations that you usually skirt because we're a bit more functional[...]. One of the main things that attracted me to this script is that would be a necessary world and pallette to establish for the audience because we're dealing with a group of people in awkward positions, and if it looks like today, it would just kind of feel broad and winky. But if it feels real, feels raw, then you accept the eccentricities of the story and the characters.  Kathryn [Hahn] was talking about how a lot of what was there was very much in the script, and I'm very curious is all of this in the script or did you get to kind of play around and try different retorts? JB: Well I've never been a fan of actors who talk about what they wrote and what the writer wrote cause that’s very unfair to the writer. Andrew was incredibly collaborative for a long time, all the way through the process. I invited him to be on set for the shoot, and he was there every day. But we worked long and hard on the script for about a year before we ended up shooting it. And there were two phases of that. One where it was just me as a director trying to funnel all that was in the script into the aesthetic that I wanted to use. And then once I decided to play the lead character, then we went through it again and I knew the way I was going to play that part specifically. Very specifically. So certain words might be inconsistent with that approach, and certain words might better enhance with that approach. But not a lot of improv? JB: There certainly was some, which I’m a fan of because once something becomes three dimensional and the other actors start doing things that you can’t predict the night before when you’re practicing your faces in the mirror. Things are different, and you need to pivot. Sometimes there are words that are better, but for the most part, Andrew and I got that exactly the way we wanted it. And all the way down to the shooting everything was shot listed and storyboarded, and I knew exactly the way I wanted to shoot it. We knew we had a pretty abrriviated schedule, and that I was going to be splitting my duties, so everything was planned out.  Can you talk about that color palette? Because it’s more of a drama palette. And that’s in sharp contrast to the HD scenes where we see the live television. JB: We wanted to make sure the television had a different look than the film. What you’re privy to in the audience versus what the audience watching the TV show is privy to. So we shot that on that different equipment, and the overall palette of the film was something that was very desaturated. The greens and the blues, things that lend themselves to a melancholy introspective position for the audience. Because ultimately that’s where I wanted the audience to start and to remember as they started experiencing all of the humor of the veneer of Guy. I wanted them to remember this is a guy who’s raw and wounded inside. Something that’s oversaturated, something that’s super lit, something that’s on wide angle lenses, usually feels a little bit safer. It’s all parts of the process that I’ve never been able to participate in. The fact that this film, this script, demanded that was one of the big draws. Speaking of script demands and prep that goes into spelling the big words, would you be still be able to spell “floccinaucinihilipilification”? JB: I get close, but everything was written on big white boards. But the fun part was that we had to write them on multiple boards around the auditorium, so that I could three letters there, three more there, so it didn’t look like I was reading it. Were any of those words ones you could’ve said “Yeah I could do that.” JB: I was in one spelling bee in grade school, and I lost in the first round when I forgot the “W” in “Answer.” I’m not bookish. 
Jason Bateman Interview photo
Some (not) bad words with the Bad Words director
Taking place after the roundtable interview with Kathryn Hahn, Jason Bateman strolled in immediately grabbing the room's attention. Good thing I was no longer too nervous to speak as Bateman had plenty of knowledge stored awa...

SXSW Interview: Kathryn Hahn (Bad Words)

Mar 25 // Nick Valdez
Is it okay to look at you while we ask questions?  Kathryn Hahn (KH): No! Please avoid eye contact. Don't look at me. I have to ask, was that somehow drawn from personal experience? KH: That's from the sicko mind of Andrew Dodge,  our writer. That was kind of the parameters of the sex scene. Her saying "Don't look at me!" When you're looking at that in the script, you're thinking "Oh my god, I can't wait" to do that. KH: Cannot wait. I knew it was going to be twice. And I knew also that with Bateman that it was going to be a beautiful launching pad for us to kind of fill it out. Which I think happened. Very, very funny. And I love that every time he looks at her, she just has to start completely over. Literally from the very beginning.  Was that also one of those things that while you're shooting it, you're trying it in a variety of different ways of doing that? KH: I mean, we shot in a practical janitor's closet at the lovely Sportsman's Lodge in Burbank, California. In the parameters of that, there's like six of us in there, so there wasn't a lot of room for trying different positions. We knew that were stuck in a very "Ye Olde Missionary." But you know, Andrew Dodge wrote such a crazy tight, economic gem that there really wasn't a ton that we had to do. I think that would've diffused what was there.  Jason mentioned you guys have a personal friendship, and how that could make that scene pretty awkward. KH: Yeah! So I really was like "Don't look at me! If you look at me, I'm going to break, and we'll never get it back!" But we had a pillow between us, a few pillows.  Is that how you got on to the project in the first place?  KH: Yes. We've been friendly for a couple of years. I adore him, huge crush on his wife. I knew when the script was sent to me, that whatever he decided was going to be his first time out as a feature director was going to be something special. I've always just trusted his taste. I just think as an audience member, I'm always checking in with Jason Bateman on screen because I just know that is where the brains are. I just know his POV I trust.  That dynamic of working with an actor and a director, but then adding friend into that as well. You don't ever want your friend to be your boss.  KH: It sounds so cliche, but it was a ball. You can tell that he was having the time of his life. I think he was saying in a interview that he had done so much prep work, so that he armed himself with, that by the time we had started shooting, he was so calm, so comfortable. It would be very hard not to micromanage. I could imagine your first time out to bat, especially with a world that is so specific. He created such a visual, tonal world, it would've been very difficult to just relax have you not done all the work up until that point.  Obvious question here, talk about your own spelling bee experiences, good or bad.  KH: Awful. I never did an actual spelling bee, but I took Latin in high school. So I thought I had a leg up on the root words, so I can usually did a root word out of something but not every good at spelling.  Were you familiar with any of the words?  KH: Nougat. Very familiar with nougat.  [laughs] There's a lot of cursing in this film. Some people might say "The classier the woman, the less they curse." Do you agree with that? KH: No. I like a broad!  What are some of the life situations that would get you to start letting them fly? KH: Anything, name your poison! I love a swear word, I really do. But again because I have the two peanuts at home, gotta edit yourself big time because they take it all in. Do you have a favorite swear word?  KH: A favorite child, yes.  [laughs] KH: I love just a simple "fuck." [laughs] KH: That was so horrible to actually say that out loud, but that's true. In a pinch guys, it covers a lot of it. I grew up in Ohio, I don't know if this is particular to my parents, but there was a lot of "Oh, poop on a stick!" When you almost just wish they had let it fly, so it would've been a little less embarrassing.  What do you like about playing characters that are a bit shameless, and you seem to have a couple of those under your belt, what about that sort of thing do you like about this movie?  KH: I'm a fan of bite in comedy. As a character, comedy or drama, it doesn't matter the genre  to me. I like a woman that's on the edge of an abyss. A precipice. I'm always just interested in exploring that leap into the unknown. 
Kathryn Hahn Interview photo
Exchanging a few bad words with Kathryn Hahn
This was my first time covering the SXSW festival, so I was very nervous. My first big press job was to sit in a roundtable interview (where a bunch of press folks get to interview an actor/actress) with Kathryn Hahn for her ...


Watch: video recap of the Mondo & Disney gallery show at SXSW

Mar 21
// Liz Rugg
At this year's SXSW, Mondo - the collectible poster and merchandise division of Austin's Alamo Drafthouse - did something pretty special: they partnered with legendary animation powerhouse Disney to commission new works base...

Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Tom Savini, Alexander O. Phillipe (Doc of the Dead)

Mar 20 // Nick Valdez
Because we're talking about a zombie movie, I guess we'll just start off with, "What's your favorite type of zombie?" Tom Savini (TS): Favorite type? Usually they ask us what would be the scariest zombie. The answer to that is when they get together and herd, come at you thirty at a time, that's the scary one. But favorite? I don't know there's been, like even in Dawn of the Dead we had the nun and the baseball player, and in the remake we had the Jay Leno zombie. But favorite? You know what, it's hard to pick a favorite because they're all my children. You can't pick a favorite child.  Alexander O. Phillipe (AOP): Yeah, I feel the same way. I would say if I had to pick one, I would probably go with Bob in Day of the Dead. I think he's a really interesting zombie. I like the kind of remnant of humanity, but yeah I'm definitely more of a slow, classic zombie type of guy.  TS: I haven't thought about that in Dawn. Yeah, David Emge [Stephen in Dawn of the Dead], to me, that was a zombie performance. As an actor in the movie who turns into a zombie, you got the guy who got bitten in the neck. He's one of my favorites. For his performance, for the way he walked. Even though he was a dead person brought back to life, he incorporated that shot in the leg, and the bite in the neck... AOP: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah, right! TS: He incorporated that stuff into his performance.  Speaking of performances and zombies, you know how The Walking Dead enroll the extras in a "school" to teach them how to act a certain way, do you think it advances performances in the zombie field?  TS: It doesn't, it doesn't. It all boils down to "just walk slow." In the previous interview we were talking about, when I did Night of the Living Dead, we hired a "movement instructor" who conducted classes. Telling people that, "You're no longer in your body, your body was left hanging someplace. Something took it over, and is making it move. You know, something that perhaps never moved a human body before. So how would they know how to walk?" Then the people were doing incredibly hilarious [makes awesome gestures] crap. So we stopped it. We stopped and said, just walk slow. That got the best performances  [laughs] But, but in World War Z! Speaking of zombie performances, those were zombie performances.  AOP: That was freaky stuff, yeah.  TS: they were crazy, individual performances of zombies. So I love that. It wasn't just some guy with make up on, walking slow, there were performances.  So there's a personality behind the death?  TS: Personality as perceived by what you put together when you meet somebody. Their look, based on how they speak, or how they move. These are all things that come together maybe in your mind differently. So personality wise, you only get what you get. All you got from that one guy was (chatters teeth), and that's all you needed. You were afraid. You were afraid of him. So Mr. Phillippe, what exactly do you want people to take away from Doc of the Dead?  AOP: Well you know, here's the thing. What we worked really really hard on is to make sure that this is a film that was obviously going to appeal to zombie fans. So I think even the most hardcore zombie fans are going to find things and discover things that they may not be aware of, or at the very least, have a very, very large amount of fan service. I think it's a lot of fun for zombie fans. But I also wanted to make a film that is very accessible to people who, you know, may be just wondering what is going on right now, what is happening in culture. Maybe they stumbled upon a zombie walk and asked "What is this all about?" So I think people who have no understanding or no knowledge, or zombies will also get a lot from that. So, that's the hope.  TS: I like what you said in there, you're appealing to the nerds and greeks.  AOP. Greeks?  [laughs] TS: Being nerds and geeks ourselves, just imagine. I haven't seen the film, but you know what it's about, imagine the theater filled with the nerds and the geeks drooling, loving the fact that there's something about all aspects of zombies.  AOP: Absolutely, I think zombies are going to love it. You know we've been interviewed already by a few publications that are zombie centric and they seemed to have loved the film, so that's a good sign.  TS: Zombie centric? I like that (laughs). You know Pittsburgh is zombie centric.  AOP: Of yeah, of course.  There have been some complaints, on the internet... TS: You mean "The Asylum"? [laughs]...that there is, maybe an oversaturation of zombie culture. And a film like Doc of the Dead may be adding on to that. Do you have any response to that? AOP: I totally disagree with that. I think Doc of the Dead is exactly, and I'm very passionate about pop culture, so I will defend that time and time again. This idea that pop culture is very important and needs to be documented. So if there is too much of zombies out there, then now's the time to document it because, you know 20 or 30 years down the road, we are going to look back at some point and say "What was happening then?" And I also disagree that there's too much, the fact that there's so many zombies out there is awesome! TS: I think it's impossible. It's impossible to say there's an oversaturation because the movie's talking about what's already been out there. It's not creating a whole new wave, a new zombie movie. So if you think what's already out there is oversaturation, are you kidding? The nerds and the geeks will never get enough. Never get enough.  AOP: I'm never gonna get enough. You know I want to watch more zombie movies. I feel it's exciting in this day and age, when it seems like everything has been done, and yet people still come up with new stuff. That's what's exciting to me.  TS: Like World War Z.  Now that World War Z has advanced the idea of a moving herd, what's your best guess of the next evolution of the zombie?  TS: You know you're asking the question that a bunch of creative, brainstorming people who get together for the next zombie movie try to come up with. So that's a good one. I don't know, maybe they all speak in British accents.  [laughs]  But I have, there's a possible movie that I'm involved in called Death Island, where all the zombies are black. And they're covered in mud and scars, which sort of makes them look camoflauged, and they kind of blend into the scenery. There's a great scene where the director's talking to a woman, there's an uncomfortable pause as you're looking at the trees. And the 18 zombies that have been standing there the whole time, come forward. It shows you, this is a suspense gimmick, okay? In the daytime you won't be able to see them. So, that's a unique thing. Also, I want to incorporate a zombie point of view. In Night of the Living Dead I wasn't allowed to show a zombie point of view. I wanted a decrepit, kind of black and white, weird, myopic point of view. And George Romero said, no because that would give life into them. Yeah, but they're walking into each other. They're not walking into buildings. They clearly they can see. And my reason to do it would be as a suspense gimmick. Like if we're sitting here talking, and you see a zombie point of view of us from 30 feet away, as soon as you cut back to us the scare has started. Because you know they're in proximity. The best scares come from suspense. So that hasn't been done yet, so don't steal it, don't use it, it's in my god damn movie. [laughs] AOP: I think what we're going to see more of, and we're already seeing it, is the zombie comedies, zombie romantic comedies, PG-13 zombie movies, kids. TS: Oh there's books, there's children's books now. Zombie Squirts is one. It's a book against bullying, using zombie kids as the metaphor. But when you think about it, these are dead kids there. that's horrible! (laughs) You took Greg Nicotero under your wing a while back, did you expect him to blow up into the big artist he is today?  TS: To be the King of Zombies? No, not back then. The best zombies that exist today are things he's creating on The Walking Dead. And he's giving homages constantly to my zombies. There's been a Bub zombie in the Walking Dead, the David Emge zombie, and maybe I should talk about it because it hasn't happened yet, but there's a few more homages coming up.  AOP: There's a screwdriver zombie too, isn't there? The one who gets it in the eye?   Yeah, there's one that gets it in the eye.  TS: But I've known Greg since he was 14. I'm just so proud of him. So proud of what he's doing.  One final question to go out on. If an apocalypse were to break out right now, how prepared are you?  TS: Very. I don't know about him. AOP: Not at all. Not all all.  TS: All the windows of my house have bars on them, not because of zombies! Because of people! I'm afraid of people!  I have quite the huge gun collection, lots of ammo, so I'm ready.  AOP: And you know why I'm not, right? Cause it's not gonna happen.  TS: It's in the movies, but there are people that are preparing. And believing that there really is going to be an apocalypse. But these are the people that believe in wrestling.  [laughs] 
Doc of the Dead Interview photo
Talking zombies with two zombie gurus
For those of you who don't know Tom Savini, he's a big idol of mine. A special effect mastermind who's created some of the best creatures in the business. You might remember him from his stints in Knightriders, From Dusk Till...

Best of SXSW photo
Best of SXSW

The best of SXSW

SXSW was awesome. Here's why.
Mar 20
// Matthew Razak
SXSW wrapped up last week and now that we've had a chance to reflect and take it all in we're here with the best of the best from the festival. Nick and I awarding the best six films with a coveted spot on our list. It's cove...

Watch Jason Schwartzman in new Alamo Drafthouse PSA: Dont Talk

Mar 14
// Liz Rugg
If you've been keeping up with SXSW coverage, you'll know that Jason Schwartzman was recently in Austin, Texas for the SXSW screening of Wes Anderson's newest movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. Apparently while he was in town, ...

SXSW Review: Que Caramba es la Vida

Mar 14 // Nick Valdez
Que Caramba es la VidaDirector: Doris DörrieRated: NRRelease Date: TBD Que Caramba es la Vida is a documentary detailing the lives of several female musicians in Mexico struggling to make a name for themselves within an already packed Mariachi music genre. As the film begins, you see several hundreds of Mariachi men littering the streets of Mexico as they earn a measly ten or twenty Pesos per song (that's less than two American dollars) in order to live their dream as a musician. The documentary follows Maria Del Carmen (or Wendy, as her mother refers to her), a single mother who earns her living each day by singing at the plaza, a mecca of Mariachi music and has to compete for her earnings with chauvinistic men who refuse to let her sing with them.  One of the more interesting facets of Que Caramba is it takes account of different generations of Mariachi women and their different philosophies of the profession. While some of the newer ones notably earn their living off of the music (like Maria, it's the only money they can to count on), a few of the older women label the younger generations as vain and money hungry. It's an interesting dynamic in the film which sheds light that not only do women have to struggle against the men in their culture, but other women as well. While there's a true unity between members of a single group, there is a harshness toward outside groups. To add on to all of this pressure to succeed, some of the Mariachi have to deal with unaccepting parents.  But you see, the genius of Que Caramba is that the Mariachi aren't the only ones given attention. As the narrative expands to later include performers of all types, Que Caramba questions the very necessity of artistry within Mexico's bleak landscape. Throughout the film, we actually get a better picture of Mexico City's faith culture. It's ultimately depressing since each individual believes death is constantly above them, but there's a certain integrity and hope that comes from uniting with that depression and fear to fuel a performance. When each Mariachi performs a folk song, you realize how sad each song is. There's one about bird singing that's especially dark since one of the translated lyrics is "Please wait until I die before you sing again, Little Bird." The stark contrast between dark lyrics and moving, soulful music creates an odd blend of happiness.  These artists perform to accept their lives. All they can do is live day by day, and push forward in their music as a way of both accepting their struggle and mocking it. Each performer, each Mariachi understands that their life choice was a tough one, but they remain in their profession with grace. It's really all they can do when faced with terrible surroundings. And the women who chose to fight an additional layer of darkness are the strongest of all. They do it because that's what they love to do.  Que Caramba es la Vida made me see Mariachi in a way I never have before. My only qualm with the film may be its length and skewed demographic, but hopefully others witness this cultural marvel. It's a universally translated fight to maintain artistry and craft. In order to provide others with happiness, the Mariachi must accept and constantly battle against their bleak world. I'm sure that's a message many can understand. 
Que Caramba Review photo
"Bien es mal. Excelente es bien."
Growing up as a young Latino boy in San Antonio, Texas, I've had quite a few experiences with Mariachi groups. There was a Mariachi club in my high school, and on several occasions, my great uncle would hire groups to sing at...

SXSW Review: Doc of the Dead

Mar 14 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217452:41323:0[/embed] Doc of the DeadDirector: Alexandre O. Phillipe Rated: NRRelease Date: March 15, 2014 (EPIX channel)  Doc of the Dead is a documentary, directed by Alexander O. Phillipe and contains interviews from all of the zombie bigwigs (George Romero, Tom Savini, Bruce Campbell, Simon Pegg, and so on). It details the evolution of zombie fandom from the birth of the genre and brings it to the present day. If you've never seen a zombie movie, then you're in for quite a treat as there's plenty of information for your brain to devour. If you're heavily invested in zombies, and know a lot about them already, unfortunately you won't benefit as much from the information presented here. But then again, if you're in the latter camp, Doc of the Dead isn't quite right for you.  While Doc of the Dead is more of an "outsider looking in" type of documentary, it's still a film for the fans by the fans. It's a celebration of the genre and sort of dissects the deeper ideals creeping around. There's the separation between fact and fiction, the aspect of the collective mind, whether or not a zombie apocalypse could actually take place, and the major businesses that have sprung up to capitalize on the zombie mania. That's actually the most interesting aspect of the documentary. When Doc of the Dead begins exploring the people who seek to take advantage of the poor chaps who're so enamored with "survival," it hits a high point. There's a dark side to zombie fandom, the fact that it's so easily bent toward things. But unfortunately these smaller philosophical quandaries aren't fully explored as we sort of zip from one subject to the other.  There are scientific and psychological discussions for the spread of zombie mania, but it never quite dissects the philosophical nature of them. There's no true answer or debate as to why people enjoy them so much. Is it because of an innate fear of death and dressing like a zombie helps keep that fear at bay? Do folks enjoy zombies because everyone secretly holds a desire to be accepted by everyone? Or are people more drawn to the idea of becoming one of the last survivors and "fighting back" because of our intrinsic desire for brutality? Doc of the Dead left me with more questions than answers.  But for those who are even slightly interested in zombies and why the idea of them has become so prevalent, Doc of the Dead is the perfect documentary for you. 
Doc of the Dead Review photo
Dead doc walking
Zombies are some of the most divisive creatures in the horror genre. They've become such a big entity, the zombie film has grown into a genre all its own complete with multiple variations, multiple looks, and multiple medias....

SXSW Review: Joe

Mar 13 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217428:41320:0[/embed] JoeDirector: David Gordon GreenRated: RRelease Date: April 11, 2011 Adapted from Larry Brown's novel, Joe, Nicolas Cage stars as Joe Ransom, an ex-con with a mysterious past (the film never quite explains why we went to prison in the first place) who meets a young drifter, Gary (Tye Sheridan) and eventually becomes an unlikely role model and caretaker for the boy when he realizes the boy comes from a broken home. Although this story has been told a few times before (and therefore nothing is truly revolutionary about the setting or direction), it has never felt so natural. Last year's Mud (which Roadside Attractions also distributed) comes to mind in its similarities, but while that film swung more toward the fantastical, Joe remains grounded and ultimately easier to connect with.  But Joe's not about its story, oddly. Joe's about the quieter moments in between narrative set pieces. Joe bends the distance and stagnancy between scenes and necessitates a dramatic well of emotions from its characters. The film is more about exploring how the characters react (or fail to react) to the events of their life rather than showcase those events. I know this statement makes little sense, but it's hard to put into words how well crafted the overall "vibe" in Joe is. It's a naturalistic setting (taking place in the outskirts of Texas), filled with what honestly seem to be people rather than actors acting like people. For example, Joe's the boss of a crew who help destroy trees by sticking acid in them. That crew is filled with African Americans who speak in such a manner, it would've labeled racist in any other film. It all just flows properly because these people never once act like they're pretending as they just talk the way they always do.  This natural and comfortable vibe carries the film even when there's a distinct lack in movement. While the film is successful at playing with stagnancy most of the time, it does falter on a few occasions. Whether or not this is a case of festival fatigue or not, the woman I sat next to during my screening fell asleep during the middle of the film. Aside from some pacing issues, Joe truly shines when it delves into quiet exchanges between characters. Tye Sheridan brings his chops as he did previously in Mud and delivers a stellar performance. His Gary is one of the most honest and heartfelt characters this year. You want this kid to succeed, and are devasted when things don't go well. Joe could've easily flopped if Tye weren't so engrossing.  As for Cage, he's finally given a role that doesn't rely on the campy style he's adopted in his previous line of films. He's given a gritty, almost shady individual. And as hard as this is to say, it's the only film that's pushed this level of performance from the man. In fact, his character Joe Ransom is given an extra level of mystique when you consider Cage's acting past. As I watched Cage on screen, I kept expecting Ransom to explode into fits of insanity and there's an excellent play on that expectation. Joe wisely keeps Ransom's penchant for craziness bubbling just under the surface. Even when others challenge him, there's always a hesitation to his actions where Cage just might let the rage out. It's a nuanced take on a character that we haven't seen from Cage in years.  Joe isn't perfect by any means (it's got a plot that doesn't make any revolutionary decisions, the pace noticeably drags during the second act, and some of the character's motivations don't make too much sense) but it's got a lot of good going for it. It's got a sympathetic villain that maintains that sympathy even when he devolves into a cartoon (in fact, Gary's father, Ronnie Gene Blevins, delivers the standout performance of the entire feature), it's anchored by multiple great performances, and even has bit of humor to even all of it out (where Cage just gets to let loose and be Cage).  As of now, Joe is one of my favorite films of 2014. I expect it to stay that way as the year goes on. 
Joe Review photo
Nicolas Cage in his best role yet
Before my screening of Joe, I wondered what kind of Nicolas Cage I'd be subject to for its duration. As good of an actor as he is, he has had a varied career. From "the bees" to voodoo make up in Ghost Rider, you never quite ...


Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Hugh Sullivan and Hannah Marshall (The Infinite Man)

Time travel, love and Australia with Infinite Man director Hugh Sullivan and star Hannah Marshall
Mar 12
// Matthew Razak
Coming out of the still ongoing SXSW film festival The Infinite Man was easily the biggest surprise. I expected very little and got a whole lot, including what's probably the best comedy of the festival. I was intrigued ...

Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Mar 12 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217427:41318:0[/embed] The Grand Budapest Hotel Director: Wes AndersonRated: RRelease Date: March 7, 2014 (limited) I'm sure you've heard this by now, but The Grand Budapest Hotel recently set a new box office record for grossing over $800,000 dollars releasing on only four screens. That's insane. But you know what? It absolutely deserves it. Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, Budapest takes place at the titular hotel as Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) talks to a young writer (Jude Law) about how he came to own the now failing hotel and his young adventures with M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, a man who was falsely accused of murder and was sent to prison after he's left with a famous painting from the victim's will. The synopsis for the film does not do it justice as there are multiple complex layers of story to be told. First of all the entire film takes place within a novel, but as the film begins, the novel's author (within the novel, mind you) begins telling the story after explaining that the world makes stories for writers.  The visual of that opening scene (the hotel itself is flat but slightly curves inward to a further in horizon line, creating a cone of vision) married with the new perspective (to keep a constant reminder that the film is a story, within a story, within a story) helps sinks you in further and further. It's a refreshing change of pace to find that a film has enough confidence in you to follow along. It's never once condescending, pandering, or insulting. It just exists as is, and the more you get invested in the adventure, the more you want the stories to sink into each other. And this is all before the film begins proper. Once it gets going, it really never stops being fabulous.  You'd figure a film so deftly packed with characters and famous Anderson actor cameos would be a recipe for disaster, but each person makes so much use of the little screen time they get. Thanks to impressive attention to detail, even when given a part with little dialogue, each character is a distinct personality. Whether they have a particularly crafted mustache (mustaches and beards are actually a big deal in Budapest, hilariously), birthmark in the shape of Mexico, or finely dressed in suits with the different colors of the rainbow. And it's not just all visual. Each actor (even the ones with the bit scenes) gives their performance a distinct flair. Jason Schwartzman takes his small role as M. Jean and gives one of the best visual asides of the film (as you get used to every inch of frame being taken up by visual details, he parodically pops in a corner during a conversation. It's much funnier than I'm describing it, trust me).  And that seems to be the name of the game. Take the little amount of time a moment gets (as stories flow into one another) and make sure it sticks. Not a single second of time is wasted, not a single millimeter of screen space is wasted. Everything is filled to the brim with information, humor, and darling visuals. Speaking of visuals, Budapest has a few stop motion animated asides (from his work on Fantastic Mr. Fox), and when we peer out into the landscape it's all painted on an easel, there are cardboard cutouts juxtaposed with solid characters, and that's just the beginning of a level of greatness that I can't even put into words.  But the visuals would fall apart if they weren't anchored to a great center. Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave is perfect. He's sympathetic, has some of the best comedic timing, and turns a relatively goofy man (who has a collection of perfumes and sleeps with elderly women) into a great, fully fleshed out character. And it seems that the newest, young addition to the Anderson filmverse, Tony Revolori (as Zero, the Lobby Boy) has got a great future ahead of him if he can keep churning out strong performances like this. And of course, there's still the analytical core of Budapest that bears more research.  You see, The Grand Budapest Hotel feels entirely reflective of the writer (Anderson) and his influence, Stefan Zweig. It's almost as if Anderson wrote a film about his process of scriptwriting. M. Gustave seems like a physical representation of his feelings as there are several random screenwriter asides like when someone says "the plot thickens," Gustave responds with "What does that even mean? Are we talking about soup?" And notably, when the film is about halfway through and threads upon threads of stories have been weaved, M. Gustave yells something along the lines of "F**k (Yes, that expletive is necessary)! I've had enough of all of this!" when someone began summarizing the entire story of the film in full. In that moment, both we and Gustave realize the ridiculous journey we've been on. Oh and not to mention the abrupt resolutions to plots that are just too hilarious to spoil here.  There are lots of little, naturalistic breakthroughs in the script too. While the setting, costume design, and majority of the dialogue exist within some sort of time bubble, there are refreshing bursts of current foul language. All of a sudden you hear Adrien Brody scream, "Blast your candy ass!" and it's just ridiculous enough to not only briefly take you out of the moment, but bring you back in. There's just so much more I want to mention about The Grand Budapest Hotel (Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe!), but I'm running out of space and time. If only I could exist within the Hotel too. A living, breathing entity with its own personality and grace.  I never once felt uncomfortable within my short stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel. My only problem with the film may be that while everything is packed to the brim with visual information, it does tend to be overwhelming at times. But that's honestly a small thing. Even if you don't catch everything in the background, what's at the center is still enthralling. And if you felt compelled enough to watch again, all of the background information and loving details give you something to look forward to in subsequent viewings. With Budapest, there's always something new to find during each stay. I've never been one to watch Wes Anderson films before, but this film has inspired me enough to make a run through his catalog.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that can only exist thanks to years of effort, work, and experience. A stunning work of art. 
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Absolutely stunning
Let me be frank. Since this was going to eventually come to light, I may as well admit I've only seen one Wes Anderson film. When I was tasked with the review for Anderson's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was anxious bec...

SXSW Review: Space Station 76

Mar 09 // Matthew Razak
Space Station 76Director: Jack PlotnickRated: TBDRelease Date: TBD When Space Station 76 begins you'll be instantly impressed with just how well it captures a future that never actually occurred. This is the future of the 70s and it looks exactly like you remember it from cheesy science fiction films that had futuristic dates like 2001. Colors are muted and everything is brightly lit and white. In a straight comedy it would be hilarious, in Space Station 76 its an intriguing commentary on a future that never was and the faults that lie in the mad rush to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s. Getting kind of deep, right? Plot wise the film isn't anything to get overly excited about as its main strengths lie in its themes and metaphors. As the name suggests the movie takes place on Space Station 76 in a future where mankind has expanded to the stars and is living in amongst them. Arriving to 76 is new co-pilot Jessica (Liv Tyler), who finds herself under the command of Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson). Also on the ship are Misty (Marisa Couglan), her husband Ted (Matt Bromer) and their daughter Sunshine (Kylie Rogers). Misty and Ted's marriage isn't going so well as Misty spirals into self-centered depression and Ted starts yearning for Jessica. Meanwhile Captain Glenn is struggling with some repressed homosexuality and Misty is having an affair with another ship resident. What you have is a very complex suburban dark comedy set in a 1970s future. It can get a bit weird. As the film starts its hard to piece everything together, especially since conflict is sparse with the movie choosing to slowly burn into its characters lives instead of charge into them. As you start to realize that the movie is addressing more than the humor of 70s future style it opens up and gets far more interesting with the personal relationships and social undercurrents building and shaping the film. Unfortunately its hard to get all this while watching the movie. The problem is that Space Station 76 functions better as a metaphor than a story. After watching it there's a ton to analyze and think over, but during the watching of it the film just sits. It's so focused on its message that it often misses having as much fun as it should. As a striking visual metaphor and social commentary the film is fantastic, as an engaging film it falls flat. For the most part the performances work with Wilson's Captain Glenn being a stand out as he somehow channels every cliche space captain you've ever seen while still creating an actual character. Tyler waifs her way through the performance delivering her usual style while Couglin keeps things balanced between humor and darkness despite her character verging into caricature. The stand out performance probably belongs to Rogers who holds her own very well in a group of talented actors. While its great to have good performances they still have the same fault as the film overall, which is that they're driving the themes and not the story. It makes a bit of sense since the movie is based on a stage play where metaphor can play a bit of a stronger role, but Space Station 76's best attribute is also its biggest flaw. Post movie you'll have plenty to discuss, its just too bad you won't enjoy it as much while you're watching.
Space Station Review photo
Back to the future of the past
Space Station 76 is a bit of an odd duck. It's outward appearance of a riff on 1970s science fiction makes it appear to be an oddball comedy full of visual puns and hilarious jokes at the expense of dated future technology. T...

SXSW Review: Veronica Mars

Mar 08 // Matthew Razak
[embed]217402:41314:0[/embed] Veronica MarsDirector: Rob ThomasRated: PG-13Release Date: March 14, 2014  Despite writer/director Rob Thomas's fervent statements to the contrary this is a movie for (and by) the fans. While the opening does a quick job of recapping three seasons of mystery solving greatness if you have never watched the show this movie is not going to play as well for you. It's simply impossible to recreate the three seasons worth of character building and relationships in two hours and so plenty of major emotional moments unfortunately mean a lot less to non-fans despite hitting perfectly with fans. There's an easy solution to this issue though: go watch Veronica Mars. Now that you're a fan this is your movie and you're going to love it. (Warning if you want to go into this completely blind read no further as the review fills in some of the history since the show ended but there are no big plot spoilers.) Now that you're all caught up the film finds Veronica (Kristen Bell) working in New York and about to become a high powered lawyer having abandoned her private eye days. Her and Piz (Chris Lowell) have rekindled their relationship and things look good. Then Logan Echolls (a constantly smoldering Jason Dohring) gets accused of murder (some things never change) and Veronica rushes back to Neptune to help him find a good lawyer. Of course she can't stay away from a good case, especially one involving Logan, so she dives back in despite the worry of her father Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) and with the help of best friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (an incredibly grown up Tina Majorino). Oh, and everyone else ever from the show. Like... ever. Since you took my advice above and watched the show you'll be happy to know that despite a 10 year break this is the Veronica Mars you fell in love with. Rob Thomas's writing for Veronica is just as sharp as ever and Kirsten Bell delivers it just a bitingly as she did ten years ago. The screenplay flows wonderfully from past references to great one liners to "epic" moments. Fans won't be disappointed with how the movie feels because it feels like an extra long episode of Veronica Mars.  Part of that credit has to go to the cast, who it appears has been rehearsing their parts for the past ten years. Everyone falls right back into it effortlessly, especially Bell and Colantoni, whose father daughter relationship is as wonderful as ever even if it isn't on screen for enough time, begging the question of why the movie isn't four to five hours long so that all our fan dreams can come true. As for the romance of the film Dohring and Bell are still as electric together as ever. Even a die hard team Piz member such as myself can see the two spark on screen and their relationships is one of the few that should have all the same feeling whether you're a fan of the show or not. Dick (Ryan Hansen) is just as wonderfully horrible as you remember with Hansen clearly ravishing every insult he gets to toss. The only weak link is Jerry O'Connell's Sheriff Lamb (older brother of the not so dearly departed original Sheriff Lamb), whose character feels forced and undeveloped -- basically there to make sure the cops of Neptune are still idiots.  He's a minor bump for any fan, though. If you're not a fan, however, this film is just not going to play as well. It probably really shouldn't considering how it was made, but if you get brought to this by a fan it's going to be hard to connect. Outside of the Logan/Veronica relationship some of the cameos and returning characters can feel forced. They're amazing if you know who and what people are, but if you don't you might just be scratching your head. I'm sorry to say that Wallace is horribly underused and Eli Navarro (Francis Capra) could pretty much be entirely removed from the film without much consequence plot wise. This also isn't one of Veronica's strongest mysteries. Thanks to all the awesome fan service and rebuilding of character's relationships the mystery itself comes a distant second. Figuring out who actually killed Logan's ex-girlfriend (yes, again) isn't one of Veronica's toughest cases and it plays out relatively predictably. It's definitely the sacrifice the film makes in order to be more about the character's people love. If you're a fan you're not going to care one bit about this, because that sacrifice is what you want, but outside of the fan base you won't be as pleased. This isn't to say that Veronica Mars fails as a mystery. Thomas's writing is still smart and crisp enough to keep the film running at a great and intriguing clip, and it must be remembered that the mystery is coming in second to the wonderful development of characters that people already love. For fans Veronica Mars is everything you could want out of a Veronica Mars movie. It's amazing that the film feels like it was made the day after filming on the show stopped and not 10 years later. This is the Veronica Mars you've been dying for, and if that means non-fans aren't going to have as good a time as fans at the movie then screw them, they should be fans in the first place. Hopefully after catching this they'll be prompted to go back and watch the show.
Veronica Mars Review photo
Dear fans, your movie is here
I'm going to open this with one thing: the Veronica Mars movie was a triumph before it debuted today at SXSW. A historic film that showed that crowdfunding can launch a movie and that film distribution can be done in a d...

SXSW Review: The Desert

Mar 08 // Matthew Razak
The DesertDirector: Cristoph BehlsRated: TBDRelease Date: TBD  Director Christoph Behls film confronts many of the issues that traditional zombie films do: the breakdown of societal rules, the social implications of surviving, the extent people will go to survive, love. It does all this in a far more intimate and confrontational way, however. Instead of skimming over issues like sexuality that most zombie flicks ignore it dives head long into it without so much as a blink, confronting these issues in stark and unrelenting ways as the group's dynamic slowly breaks down. That group is two men, Axel (Lautaro Delgado) and Jonathan (William Prociuk), and a woman, Ana (Victoria Almedia). We're thrust into their world, which consists of a run down 1-bedroom apartment, well into the zombie apocalypse eventually discovering that Jonathan and Ana are in a relationship while Axel is stuck lusting after her. The driving conflict does not come from the zombies, but from Axel and Ana's love/hate relationship as they find themselves more attracted to each other despite Ana being with Jonathan. Jonathan meanwhile has no issues sharing Ana, but the trio clings to societal relationship norms despite the lack of society, setting up a series of rules based on the games they play. The back story unfolds mostly through the three recording themselves in video diaries, a pretty old trick being used more and more often, but the performances are so sincere that it works incredibly well in the film. This is especially true once Axel and Ana begin to flirt with each other through their videos, watching each others and then replying. The two are able to connect through this removed method while entirely unable to sustain a relationship in the real world. It adds a very interesting extra layer to the film's social commentary about how we currently connect with other people. The strong performances coupled with these incredibly close studies of the characters make for a film that can definitely get intense as well as interesting. The film does have its flaws, especially the treatment of Ana's self worth being almost completely dependent on the two men's gaze upon her. While the film may be making a statement about the overt sexuality that would obviously arise in this situation Ana as a character is often relegated to simply her sex and the film's conclusion seems to establish that her meaning in life is dependent on the opinion of the men. This could actually be psychologically true were the situation to occur as Ana would feel great regard for the two men who rescued her, but the incredibly obvious sexualizing of her can often make her feel like less of a character and more of a plot device. At other times the movie begins to drag a bit as it gets lost in itself. These characters are incredibly interesting as well as the themes they're exploring, but many times the point is delivered and then dragged out too long. The tension gets lost as the message is hammered home. The movie can simply be very heavy handed at points leading to a few missed opportunities to be as good as it could be. The Desert is trying, which is something you can't say for a lot of films in the genre. There's something different about its approach and its goals and its stark look at the sexuality and violence of the situation. While it may not always work as well as it wants to it still gives us a refreshing take on a genre that sorely needs them.
The Desert Review photo
A zombie movie without the zomies
The Desert is a strange beast. A low-budget Argentinian zombie film where the main way money was saved was by having almost no zombies in the film at all. In fact the camera almost never leaves the house the three protagonist...

SXSW Review: Wetlands

Mar 08 // Matthew Razak
[embed]217403:41312:0[/embed] WetlandsDirector: David WnendtRated: R Country: GermanyRelease Date: August 22, 2013 (Germany)  What is supposed to be so controversial about Wetlands, which is based on a controversial book of the same name, is its lead's predilection with bodily fluids and kinky sexual escapades. Helen is a teenage girl who we learn is obsessed with bodily fluids and sex to the extent that she gets sexual pleasure from her hemorrhoids and is on a lifelong mission to see just how dirty she can make her vagina (we witness her rubbing it on a urine covered toilet seat). However, after a lifetime of not treating her hemorrhoids she causes an anal fissure while shaving and must be rushed to the hospital. There she concocts a plan to get her separated parents back together while she treats her male nurse to more and more vivid sexual fantasies.  The first issue arises that the movie just isn't that terribly shocking to anyone who has ever been on the Internet. Maybe there's a generational gap somewhere so that older audiences are still appalled and shocked by blatant sexuality on screen, but most of what you see can be easily found on the web in even more graphic fashions. The movie, while full of many gross out moments, is more disturbing than it is truly shocking. There are definitely boundaries pushed in one sense, but they've all been broken in another. A bit of shock coupled with an interesting character makes for a great movie, though and the first 15 minutes of the film actually seem to be leading to this. A jaded viewer can't ding a film too much for simply not shocking them. The real problem arises when you realize that shock is all there is. The first 15 minutes of the film establishes an interesting character as we're sucked into Helen's world of sexual deviance, but the moment she is whisked away to the hospital the film seems to entirely forget about the protagonist it was developing, instead focusing in on her boring relationship with her parents. Helen becomes a character you're no longer interested in and because of that the "shocking" fantasies (four men orgasming onto her pizza) the film starts exploring seem like just attempts to shock instead of actual looks into the character.  Wetlands does attempt to play with the unreliable narrator concept a bit as Helen's fantasies and realities start to blur together. We're never quite sure what she's imagining and what she isn't by the end of the film, leaving the overly tidy conclusion to the film to be somewhat suspect in its truth. This approach does add an extra level of interest to the film overall, but it hardly saves Helen as an interesting character and thus hardly saves the movie. Thanks to a lack of well constructed characters and the film's abandonment of its most interesting aspects in the beginning Wetlands becomes shocking simply to shock and that does not make a good movie. You'll probably continue to hear a lot about it because people love talking about mainstream films that push sexual boundaries, but it really isn't worth the conversation since it doesn't do anything with the frontiers it pushes to.
Wetlands Review photo
All the shock, none of the value
Wetlands came out of Sundance with plenty of buzz for being shocking for its disturbing sexual content and brazen display of sexual acts. It was that movie every year that someone got up and walked out of because they we...

SXSW Review: 13 Sins

Mar 08 // Matthew Razak
[embed]217404:41311:0[/embed] 13 Sins Director: Daniel StammRated: RRelease Date: April 14, 2014  Mark Webber stars as a down on his luck salesman whose life is going out of control after he loses his job and his racist father wants to move back in with him, his pregnant wife and his mentally challenged brother. Then a phone call comes him offering money to complete a challenge. The more challenges he completes the more money he can make. They start off innocent enough (killing a fly), but start to escalate from there as the film tries to address just how far someone will go to save their own skin.  The what would you do concept is as old as dirt and unfortunately 13 Sins doesn't add much to it. The general concept behind this version is that there is a secret organization that has been running this game for hundreds of years, seeing how far human beings will go just for fun. It could be interesting, but 13 Sins squanders it by feeling mostly pedantic throughout. While director Daniel Stamm keeps things moving well enough the movie never elevates into true tension. Even when the situations Webber finds himself in push into absurdity and Stamm smartly veers the tone of the movie into a sort of surrealistic slant its not enough to really pull you into the entire concept. The issues really arise when the film starts to deliver its twist and turns, thinking its far more clever than it actually is. The film's unfolding plot isn't constructed well enough to truly deliver a great ending and the character development, especially Perlman's, leads to an ending that's more disappointing than a revelation. Even with Perlman and Webber delivering strong performances there's just no hook to grab you and make the film special. While the move does have some visually striking moments, and a fantastic mobed kill to push it into slasher territory it can't put its interesting pieces together into something that thrills or scares. Even the sociological ideas behind the film don't present themselves strong enough, especially as the too sappy ending crashes much of what the film has tried to establish about how far we as humans will go when pushed. It's a tepid attempt to say something that has some of the right ideas, but none of the right execution. 
13 Sins Review photo
Committing a few too many sins
13 Sins was the headliner for SXSW's midnight screeners. Those are the late night horror/thriller films that everyone stays up late to check out. As such I figured it was going to be something a bit special. Hell, it had...

SXSW 2014 photo
SXSW 2014

SXSW 2014: Get hype!

M and N X SXSW
Mar 06
// Nick Valdez
Hey Flixistentialists, it's your friendly neighborhood News Editor, Nick Valdez! Over the next week, Matthew Razak and I are going to be providing lots of interesting coverage for this year's SXSW festival in Austin, TX! Alth...

Review: These Birds Walk

Oct 30 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215136:39827:0[/embed] These Birds WalkDirectors: Omar Mullick and Bassam TariqRelease Date: November 1, 2013 (New York), limited release to followRating: NR The Edhi Foundation was started by Abdul Sattar Edhi. The charitable organization has many facets to it, including ambulance service, women's shelters, foster care, nursing homes, and rehab clinics. We see Edhi himself, a man in his late 80s or early 90s, bathing children using buckets and a basin. While directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq could have made a traditional documentary profile on the group and the man -- something inspirational and expected (which I don't mean in a dismissive way) -- Edhi instead says that they can find a portrait of who he is in the work his group does and the normal people that his organization employs and helps. The filmmakers turn their focus on an ambulance driver named Asad and the runaway children of a Karachi orphanage, particularly a boy named Omar. He's seen at the opening of the film rushing toward the Arabian Sea with an excited kind of abandon. I couldn't tell if it was twilight or dawn -- it's that uneasy in-between look of the sky and the light that always throws me -- but Omar's joy is palpable, both in running and in finally hitting the water; it's what being carefree looks like. As the film unfolds, we watch Omar and the other children of the orphanage fluctuate from piety, innocence, vulnerability, and rage. One child leads prayer with due diligence while a few of the other kids slap at each other and goof around. In little conversations between the children, none of whom could be older than 10 or 11 tops, they insult each other and smack each other around but then apologize like brothers. The only adults present are the filmmakers and their camera, which was probably held at abdomen or hip level to help immerse the audience in the world of these kids. I'd briefly mentioned the idea of the observer effect in my review of Matteo Garrone's Reality last week, and I think it's appropriate to bring it up here as well. Even though the vérité doc is meant to capture reality, the mere presence of an observer means that the observed will act differently. (It seems even more likely if the observer has a camera.) There's an extended scene where we watch the runaways play together. Amid the laughter and smiles, Omar sprints back and forth along a corridor, occasionally leaping into the air -- like his small, handmade kite on a short string, this is the closest he can get to a full sensation of flight. But then things get brutal. A skirmish begins between Omar and one of the other kids, which escalates into a full-blown fight. Omar gets pinned and the bigger kid keeps telling him to calm down and apologize. Instead Omar just shouts a muffled, "I'll fuck your sister," his face on the ground. It's so raw, it's so real, and maybe some of it's an act of some kind. I have no doubt these kids get rowdy -- they're expressing a rage of abandonment and bleak future, but also expressing the freedom for boys to be boys -- but I wonder if some of it was played up because someone was actually paying attention to them. In the Q & A after the screening, Mullick and Tariq both acknowledged this, and this kind of acknowledgement is made in These Birds Walk as well. Though they also said that the children have barely seen any films, maybe just one or two Bollywood movies in their lives, so their sense of vamping for the camera is much different than people from the West, or more well-off citizens of Pakistan, I'd imagine. What's interesting is how Mullick and Tariq refuse intervention, let their camera hold the moment, and do their best to observe and do only that. If the moment of roughhousing was initially a kind of acting out for the camera, it suddenly becomes real again -- it's only the moment of roughhousing and suffocation, the second where the camera disappears and there is only the need to break free from being held down. It's a wonder that the directors were able to find some beauty in all this heartache and sadness, which may be another one of those distancing things about documentaries -- we are with the world of the film because we feel a closeness to the subjects but always apart from it through our ability to aestheticize. The children sleep by candlelight, and in that half-lift dark, Omar says a prayer to be reunited with his family. The camera is on him, but he is absolutely sincere about what he's saying. He doesn't countenance the camera. There is only the flame and his wish for family rather than temporary foster care, for real siblings rather than this brotherhood of the lost and abandoned. It's beautiful, it's heartbreaking; we are with Omar but only always watching. Asad, who I mentioned earlier, drives an ambulance for the Edhi organization, but is also charged with picking up runaways and returning runaways to their actual families. We watch different kinds of reunions. One is tearful while the other foreboding. Some of these runaways left their homes because of abuse or neglect, and to return to that home means something far less desirable than the care of the Edhi Foundation. Perhaps returning home is more dangerous than life out on the streets. Omar's family lives in a very dangerous part of Pakistan, one which people would generally avoid given its close association with the Taliban. Yet Asad has to make the trek to return this boy to his home, which should be an answer to Omar's prayers. And yet given the other children, given the reality of Omar's life, I wondered what would happen. Going back to that shot at the sea, we're at a spot in between day and night. Omar asks Asad to stop at a mosque so that he can pray before they continue his return to his family. Once out of the ambulance, Omar takes off running. The camera darts through the crowd trying to keep up. Is he running away again? Is he simply excited? In moments like this, my intellectual concerns about observer effect and the way filmmakers affect reality are moot. This moment -- the excitement and all the ambiguity wrapped up in it -- is true. The camera struggles to capture reality like chasing a runaway kite.
These Birds Walk Review photo
A vérité look at Pakistani runaways and a group that helps them
Many people who hop into documentaries casually expect a certain amount of overt filmmaker guidance -- voiceover narration, talking head interviews, infographics, archival footage; anything to help impart information. Yet the...

Review: Zero Charisma

Oct 11 // Geoff Henao
[embed]215045:39792:0[/embed] Zero CharismaDirectors: Katie Graham and Andrew MatthewsRating: N/ARelease Date: October 11, 2013 (VOD/iTunes, New York) Scott (Sam Eidson) is a late 20-something living with his grandmother while hosting a weekly tabletop RPG with his friends as the sometimes overbearing Game Master. When an opening comes up in the three-year-long game and with no interest from any of Scott's other "friends," he desperately recruits Miles (Garrett Graham). However, when his friends begin to gravitate towards the much cooler, hipper Miles, a psuedo-rivalry is started between the two. Zero Charisma hones in on these two drastically different types of nerds, as Flixist Editor-in-Chief and I defined as the nerds and "the nerds."There's Scott, who is sometimes narcissistic, constantly demeaning towards his friends, and a generally unlikable guy. Then there's Miles, who's cool, calm, and collected, yet prone to moments of being "holier than thou" with his undercover nerdiness.  The funny thing about Zero Charisma is that these characters are people I've both known and seen in my life. Their portrayals are extremely accurate, right down to the wardrobe choices of Scott and Miles. They contrast between Scott's metal-inspired vests and shirts and Miles' cardigans and band shirts. But beyond their physical appearances, their performances were remarkable. You can't help but laugh when Scott goes into a hissy fit, yet immediately feel terrible about it right after. It's this sincerity that helped make Zero Charisma so good. Scott is unlikeable character from beginning to end, but you can empathize with him. Again, this might be due in part because I'm accustomed to people like him, but you understand that his personality isn't rooted in bad thoughts but in a troubled past where he found an escape in tabletop gaming. Once that is taken away from him, you feel for him. He's still rotten and acts outrageously, but at least you can understand why. Zero Charisma is a funny film that has just as much heart as it does laughs. Honestly, I wasn't really expecting a heartfelt, feel-good film going in, but I'm glad that it ultimately was an entertaining film. Considering the process the filmmakers went through to create the film, it's great that Zero Charisma was an ultimately good film. Alec Kubas-Meyer: I wrote about Zero Charisma before it was finished, back when it was running a second IndieGoGo campaign hoping to raise finishing funds to get it to South by Southwest. I asked the filmmakers some questions and did something both because I found it interesting and because I hoped it would help out. But somewhere in the back of my mind was a nagging fear that the final product wouldn't have been worth my time or my readers' money. When the first reviews came out of SXSW, I breathed a sigh of relief, because I didn't want . I was excited for the film to come to NewYork, so I could see for myself what I had recommended to people.  Fortunately, the film had its New York premiere at Comic-Con. I honestly can't think of a more perfect place to play it. The press was corralled together in two rows while the regular moviegoers were scattered throughout the audience. I only mention this because it was interesting to see what different groups laughed at. Sometimes the critics would laugh hysterically while the rest of the room was relatively quiet. But there was constant laughter, not because it was bad (like the subject of the Best Worst Movie, Troll 2, which was the directors' previous project), but because it was genuinely funny. I know nothing about Dungeons and Dragons; table top RPGs have never particularly appealed to me even as several of my friends have joined a weekly game and told me of their exploits on the high seas. It's one of those areas where most of the people in that room probably grasped some of the subtleties a lot more than I did, but it didn't make a difference in the end. This isn't really a story about the game, even if that is the apparent focal point. It's a story about the people who play the game, and what it can make them do, and what it means to play games. It's a strange film, in part because its main character never really grows up. He's an aging man, but he acts like a teenage brat, and that's true for almost the entire movie. The ending gives him the slightest bit of redemption, but for the most part it's an unending downward spiral. Scott does something stupid, then something stupider, then something stupider, and Zero Charisma follows him down that rabbit hole. But that's how people are sometimes, and the interplay between him and the others was consistently fascinating, even if it hurt me to watch some of the more awkward scenes. But even then, I laughed and laughed and laughed. The film is a celebration of nerd culture that will appeal to people who aren't nerds. That's one hell of an accomplishment. 81 - Great
Zero Charisma Review photo
+9 Hilarity
There are nerds, and then there are nerds. Nerds may like to flash a retro gaming shirt or spout Star Wars trivia, whereas nerds tend to obsess over their interests and fascinations. It's cool to be proud and comfortable...

Review: Don Jon

Sep 27 // Allistair Pinsof
Don JonDirector: Joseph Gordon-LevittRating: NRRelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival), March 11, 2013 (SXSW) Jon lives in an era of the transparency of porn. Hard cocks and jiggling boobs are shown in detail and freely available every waking hour on the internet. Sexual suggestion is now reserved for TV ads of a girl in tank top eating a cheeseburger while almost but not quite having an orgasm. Don Jon is a tool, a Guido, a chump, to be dismissed on first glance. Yet, Gordon-Levitt makes him a likeable guy and a sympathetic victim of his environment. Jon would fit right in with the cast of Jersey Shore, but somehow his machismo is endearing, calling to mind John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever or Rocky. He`s self-centered but not without heart. Wanting to discover a new plateau in his sex life (excluding porn), Jon courts ("long-term game") Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), an inarguable "diamond" according to Jon. Though he can`t see the point of romantic films any better than his older female friend (Julianne Moore) can see the point of him watching porn, Jon surprises himself with the lengths he goes to win this girl over. In the end, the sex is just sex -- a far cry from his coveted porn collection. Gordon-Levitt gives Don Jon a repetitive rhythmic pace in both editing and scripting. Sequences of porn browsing, club encounters, and road rage repeat throughout the film, mirroring the loud energetic but ultimately monotonous music blaring at the clubs Jon frequents. The camera work is also accelerated, often circling around scenes with great speed. The persistent use of music paints a strange mood around the film, blending hyper club anthems with a traditional string score and electronic glitch effects. Don Jon is a familiar love story that never feels like one. After all, it's a film about a narcissistic macho man who falls in love with sex. What makes Don Jon so great is the personality Gordon-Levitt brings to his material in both direction and performance. Undeterred, Gordon-Levitt examines porn's effect on society while keeping the film innocent and insightful. Geoff Henao: Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his writing/directorial debut with the fascinating Don Jon. While still fundamentally a romantic comedy, Gordon-Levitt touches on much deeper themes, such as the "stereotypical" portrayal of masculinity and how men feel as if they have to live up to such expectations, as well as a look at unrealistic depictions of sex in porn and how "real" sex is nowhere like the fantasy sex displayed online. However, Gordon-Levitt uses comedy and humor to address these issues. What results is a smart (probably the smartest) rom-com that isn't heavy-handed. Sometimes, the move from being in front of the camera to behind the camera can be hard, but with Gordon-Levitt's many years in the business, the transition was fine-tuned. From the editing to the acting to the script, Don Jon just feels like a labor of love. I hope and pray Gordon-Levitt acts for the rest of his life, but if he ever does decide to permanently move behind the camera, Don Jon is proof that he'll be perfectly fine in the director's seat. 85 -- Exceptional
Don Jon Review photo
That's some good jerkin'
Our rabid consumption of media informs our lives and habits as much as our upbringing. For Jon, that media obsession is porn. When he isn't debating what number to rate a girl at the club, he is masturbating three times a day...

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