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NYFF Review: Bridge of Spies

Oct 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219841:42639:0[/embed] Bridge of SpiesDirector: Steven SpielbergRating: PG-13Release Date: October 16, 2015 Based on a true story, Bridge of Spies centers on James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), a lawyer in Brooklyn who's asked to defend Colonel Abel (Mark Rylance). Abel is a suspected Russian spy, and the film opens on him as he goes about his daily routine. He's a good artist, though he uses his talents as subterfuge in order to get around the city and receive messages from his superiors. The opening minutes of the film are without dialogue, and showcase some nice bits of spycraft. Rylance remains stonefaced but vigilant. Donovan's expected to deliver a mere token defense for Abel. He's a speed bump en route to a commie's execution. Donovan's a principled litigator, however, and he wants to extend Constitutional protections to the captured spy. Donovan even urges the judge to avoid the death penalty. A spy of Abel's caliber--Donovan constantly refers to him as "a good soldier"--would be a worthwhile bargaining chip if the US ever had to negotiate with the Soviets. Donovan's neighbors and colleagues begin to turn on him for taking a stand. Casting Tom Hanks as Donovan is a given. There's an innate trustworthiness about Hanks' screen presence, and he exudes the kind of everyman likability you'd expect out of your favorite friend or neighbor. At a party, people may ask when Tom's showing up. Since the early 90s, Hanks has become the go-to common-man good-guy in the mold of Jimmy Stewart; if Bridge of Spies were made decades ago, Stewart would probably play Donovan. (Okay, maybe not. If it were made decades ago the entire crew would be blacklisted and seated before a HUAC hearing.) Then there's Mark Rylance as Colonel Abel. His performance is all about the poker face. Colonel Abel's low-key and could pass as a plain old man, but to the intelligence community, they know what's up. He plays so dumb that he's obviously got a lot secrets. There's a lot to read into Hanks' and Rylance's performances when they share the screen together--what's being said and not said, what they're saying with looks--but there's also a kind of mutual respect; not just something lawyer-client based but an admiration for such staunch resoluteness. Bridge of Spies switches from a courtroom drama to small-scale espionage movie for the last half or two-thirds. US government sends Donovan to negotiate the release of a US soldier named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) who's being held by the Soviets. Good thing Donovan fought so hard to keep his chip from the chair. And so we go from Brooklyn to Berlin, where the wall has just gone up and a clash between Soviet and East German interests might complicate the deal that Donovan has been sent to broker. Bridge of Spies tries to braid in two additional threads of narrative over the Donovan-driven and Abel-driven dramas. It's here that some seams become visible--it's easy to spot seams in an otherwise handsome film. Powers' mission helps get across the amount of spying going on between the US and Russia, and it culminates in a daring set piece involving a spy plane, but it doesn't quite flow with the legal drama unfolding on the ground. At least it has some creative smash cuts and cross cuts. The film gets much clunkier as we introduce the other thread involving an economics student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who's suspected of being an American spy in East Germany. It's introduced and dropped as a narrative expedient--a story for the main story but not a story on its own. It's almost like a stray movie lost in the bigger one, and some of the brief drama involving Pryor and his girlfriend are never touched on again. Even with the seams and loose threads, Bridge of Spies is steadily carried by Hanks' amiability and Spielberg and his craft. Once we're back with Donovan, the film regains its footing (and handsomeness). I sense some audiences might be put off by the film's high-mindedness. Conservatives in particular may take issue with Donovan's heroic idealism even if it's so earnestly American. There's one speech Donovan makes before the Supreme Court that's Capraesque bordering on cloying. Even if taken directly from a transcript, the speech seems like it's directed at a contemporary audience rather than the Justices of the 1950s. Donovan speaks about the heart of the country and the fundaments of the Constitution and how it ought to be applied even to America's enemies. The contemporary read is not about Soviets but soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq who are detained in Guantanamo. Spielberg even seems to offer an indictment of prisoner abuse by contrasting Powers in a Soviet prison with Abel in an American one. The appeal is clear and you don't even have to look that hard--we're Americans, and we should be good even to our enemies. This kind of black-and-white appeal to good old-fashioned American decency works in movies since it's about an abstraction of Jimmy Stewart America or Gregory Peck America--a kind of aspirational Platonic form of what people in America can strive to be. (Ronald Reagan's America is probably more pervasive. Make of that what you will.) In that way, Bridge of Spies shares some Constitutional connective tissue with Amistad and Lincoln, while also being a kind of post-war counterpart to Saving Private Ryan--it's a mission to bring our boys home. It's hokey, but the takeaway is to be the best the country has to offer, or at least to try. If that corny idealism isn't good old-fashioned American decency, I don't know what is.
Review: Bridge of Spies photo
When Spielbergian goes Capraesque
Watching Bridge of Spies, I realized almost immediately the difference between a beautiful film and a handsome film. Steven Spielberg's latest movie is handsome. It's cleanly shot, polished, glossy, with impeccable acting in ...

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

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

Flash photo
Not a flashy choice
The DC cinematic universe has a job to do building up its on screen roster, but they're getting there. One of the next steps is a Flash movie, probably called The Flash. Seth Grahame-Smith is in talks to write and direct the ...

Fear the Walking Dead Season Finale Recap: "The Good Man"

Oct 05 // Nick Valdez
With the encroaching danger of the arena filled with thousands of zombies (which I'm glad we didn't know about until the last episode, it could've been stupidly teased through all six episodes and became more annoying than not) and the military abandoning El Serreno, the gang makes plans to break into the military compound in order to rescue Nick and (the now dead) Griselda. It's generic stuff to be sure, but it's interesting how we get to that point. First, Travis decides to spare The Faculty military guy since he says he knows where everyone is. Then Daniel decides to weaponize the arena full of zombies and lets them loose on the military compound. It's pretty goofy how a horde would walk up without anyone realizing, but it gives Daniel a bonafide badass moment ("You should save your ammunition.") as he strolls away. Then we finally get the action people have been clamoring for. A nicely laid out kitchen fight, several tense moments (one of which comes into play during the finale's final scene), and several nice character bits.  There are too many good bits to talk about, but here are a few of my favorites. These scenes managed to squeeze in genuine emotion in between all of the action, something that the parent series hasn't been able to do for some time: The doctor gives up and presumably kills herself with her cattle gun as she loses hope in the military, an infected soldier runs head first into a helicopter blade, Nick nearly gets a heroic death with his silent "Go" through the door before being saved at the last minute (and made me think there might be something else to his character after all), Daniel and Ofelia see the piles of ash and bodies that Griselda is now a part of (that's one of the most striking images I've seen in either of the shows. It's far more upsetting than seeing characters do it themselves), after The Faculty soldier shoots Ofeila Travis beats him to death, regretting his decision to let him go, Strand gets his cuff links back, and the military shows that the characters can't rely on anyone other than themselves.  But the best part of the finale? Oddly the one I hate the most due to increasingly stupid peaceful nature, Travis begins to change as the world changes. Becoming more like Daniel (and thus capitalizing on the duality set up in previous episodes), Travis begins making these violent choices for the benefit of his family. For one, he doesn't tell any of his former neighbors that the military has abandoned them, and two, he basically kills everybody without hesitation. Like Rick, Travis is slowly changing, but unlike Rick, it's much more interesting to watch Travis' hope be crushed. Leading to the episode biggest moment, Liza's unfortunate demise. As the group makes it to Strand's beach side residence, as he details his plans to get to his ship Abigail, you'd think all of the main characters would be in the clear. But unfortunately, after being attacked in that kitchen scene, Liza reveals she's been infected. After giving Madison and Travis all of the knowledge she gained from the military (that it's pretty much hopeless as everyone comes back after they die), she decides she doesn't want her son to see her in that state. Rodriguez absolutely kills it here, and this scene hits harder than you'd expect thanks to her acting.  It sucks since I was getting attached to her, but I'm guessing no one really knew what to do with her character anymore. Although her death provides a more hopeless situation (changing Travis and Chris, losing the only one with any kind of medical knowledge), it sort of reeks of that "kill the woman to make the man more interesting" thing. They're losing a great actress, but I'm confident the show knows what it's doing. The major death of this episode is an intimate moment, and it's reflective of how this show's been handled. It's also something I can't say of the parent series, that for the first time, I actually cared that someone was dying off in one of these shows. It's genuinely unexpected, it's quiet, and then it's over but its lingering effects will be felt as the series rolls on. It's potential that the parent series failed to capitalize on, and as long as Fear avoids those same trappings, it can be a much better show. It's already had a much better first season.  Final Thoughts:  "You can keep the watch." Strand is so f**king cool.  Speaking of Strand, his character is pushing this into comic book-y territory, but he's so interesting I won't be bothered to care. His strict self-preservation's going to clash with the main cast soon, and it'll be fun to see which side of the new world folks will stand on.  You can argue that no one in this show is likable or interesting, and it'd be hard to argue, but later episodes will hopefully utilize all of the nuance laid out early on.  Nick's "everyone's catching up to me" speech was pretty dumb. Reminds me too much of this PSA. Fear's miniseries Flight 462, which will introduce a character for season two, premieres during each episode of the Walking Dead but I'll probably wait until it's all over to talk about it. No point in discussing a minute long episode each week.  So that's it! Thanks for sticking with me, folks. I'll be back next week with the series proper. Stay tuned!  Want to see more of our TV coverage? Check out our TV Recaps and Reviews! 
FTWD Recap photo
Can't wait for season two
Just like with its parent series, Fear the Walking Dead has been experiencing some growing pains within its very short, six episode first season. As the biggest draw, the zombies, took a backseat to a more intimate story of f...

NYFF Review: Steve Jobs

Oct 05 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219839:42637:0[/embed] Steve JobsDirector: Danny BoyleRating: RRelease Date: October 9, 2015 Even though he was an ideal public persona for Apple products, Steve Jobs was not a good person behind the scenes. There are numerous examples of Steve Jobs being a giant jerk, and the Steve Jobs of the film played by Michael Fassbender is superbly unrepentant. Before the launch of the original Macintosh computer, Steve throws tantrums. He's abusive to his staff, and he continues to avoid his financial and personal responsibilities to his daughter Lisa and her mother. (He's only 94.1% likely to be Lisa's father, he keeps pointing out.) Steve Jobs was a self-centered prick, a long-view Machiavellian entrenched in the tech industry, and there are times in this film that he verges on pure supervillainy. But he was also a savvy businessman. Based on this performance, you know who would make a great Lex Luthor? Michael Fassbender. (Also, Steve Jobs.) With some historical figures, we ponder the link between madness and genius. With Steve Jobs it's maybe more a question of morality and genius. The big conversation that the film wants to provoke is whether Steve Jobs could have been successful if he weren't such a raging douchebag. There's a pivotal argument in the third act with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who calls Jobs out for all of his persistent moral shortcomings. Fassbender plays Steve Jobs as this ethically challenged, emotionally unmoored figure, and the rest of the cast helps make this work by playing moral counterpoint for the wretch. Picture people holding down a hot air balloon with rope. The task is to keep this thing grounded as much as possible. Rogen's Wozniak is one of these people, and he's mainly seeking recognition for his hard work. There's also steady and loyal Andy Hertzfeld played by Michael Stuhlbarg, and a warmly paternal Jeff Daniels as former Pepsi and Apple CEO John Sculley. The most set upon moral figure in the film, though, is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). She's portrayed as a kind of power-personal assistant to Steve Jobs, though her marketing roles at Apple and NeXT were probably far different. Ditto her overall career trajectory. Hoffman apparently retired in 1995, years before the iMac launch, though she's at Jobs' side in the film in each act. This deviation makes sense for the sake of the screenplay, which requires a character as morally resolute as Jobs is morally aloof. In real life, Hoffman was considered the person who was best able to stand up to Jobs, and that kind of figure--the immovable moral object to Steve Job's unstoppable narcissistic force--is necessary in this particular type of story. Winslet disappears into the role. I didn't even realize it was her until the second act of Steve Jobs. Many of the best scenes involve Winslet verbally grappling with Fassbender. There are Sorkin-isms throughout the briskly paced Steve Jobs (e.g., the walk-and-talks, the trivia, the impeccable ripostes), and Boyle does a good job of differentiating the look and feel of each section of the film. The world of 1984 is shot in a grainy 16mm, for instance. The film's acts were shot independently, which allowed the actors to tailor their performances to each year before reconsidering their character for the next. Certain gags or lines or ticks in a performance call back to others. As strong as Steve Jobs is for its first two-thirds, it gets a little soft by 1998. I don't know if it's the Hollywood aspect (or Danny Boyle) shining through at this point, but the movie begins making these overtures of Steve Jobs' redemption, all with a heavy dose of crowd-pleasing schmaltz. I didn't buy any of it. A cringeworthy cutesiness also creeps into the iMac section of the movie. Here and there, Steve critiques the limitations of 1990s technology and hints at 21st century Apple products, as if we're watching a winky retroactive commercial. The lines are clunkers when they come, and one of them is a total eyeroller. It doesn't help that I'd been rolling my eyes at the triumphalism that the movie takes on in the final act even as elements of the script do its best to keep the man and the story on the ground. The argument between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak I mentioned earlier offers a great encapsulation of the film's underlying concerns. And sure, while the story chronicles one man's ability to overcome years of failure, Steve Jobs does this mostly by screwing over other people. During the NeXT section of the film, Jobs calls it "playing the orchestra." In real life, most people call it "being a dick." In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has his three visions, wakes up in the morning, and reforms. In Steve Jobs, there are three products and a hint of a better Steve Jobs in the future. Bah humbug. In real life, Steve Jobs woke up after the iMac was released and was still Steve Jobs.
Review: Steve Jobs photo
A better way to do a biopic about a jerk
I was texting a friend about Steve Jobs over the weekend, the new biopic written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle. Sorkin thankfully avoided the birth-to-death biopic that we've all seen and grown tired of by now. ...

NYFF Review: Where to Invade Next

Oct 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219845:42640:0[/embed] Where to Invade NextDirector: Michael MooreRating: n/aRelease Date: TBD We start the invasion in Italy. Moore sits down with a couple in their living room to discuss what their paid vacation situation is like in the country. They get more than a month off, not including national and local holidays, and any unused vacation time rolls over into the next year. Moore's mouth is agog most of the time--he was genuinely learning all of this for the first time. But there's more. The wages tend to be better, the lunches are longer, and employees tend to be more productive on the job because they are so relaxed. Moore's invasion continues through Europe, with stops in France, Germany, Finland, Slovenia, and Portugal, continuing over the Mediterranean to Tunisia, then across the Atlantic to Iceland. Each time, there's a novel innovation, and each time Moore seems surprised and inspired. He focuses on one thing each country seems to be doing right. In Slovenia, for instance, all college is free, even for students who've come from abroad. In Finland, they've abolished homework. Moore admits that these countries have their own problems and he's mostly accentuating the positive. My job is picking the flowers and not the weeds, he says. He's also picking cherries, but that's not the biggest problem with Where to Invade Next, which, when it works, offers a fine rebuke of the "Fuck you, I got mine" mentality that pervades much of American culture. Moore's generally at his best when he's a deadpan observer rather than a fiery polemicist. Roger and Me is still his finest film (even though he did fudge the timeline of events) since it's mostly Moore as a citizen journalist documenting others. While framed around Moore trying to get an audience with General Motors CEO Roger Smith, the movie is driven by people who get to tell their own stories about the painful decline of Flint, Michigan. As Moore's clout grew, he became a more prominent figure in his films, and in turn his movies were more about Michael Moore's opinions on a subject rather than the subject itself. Moore develops a feel-good thesis in Where to Invade Next. These innovations in other countries could make America a better place, and they all have a shared origin. But Moore oversteps his skills as a documentary essayist through sloppy thinking and oversimplification. He walks past part of an old section of the Berlin Wall with a friend, and they reminisce about being there as it came down. Hammering and chiseling--the solution was so simple, they say. Well, no. History doesn't work that way. The Berlin Wall didn't come down just because some people in West Germany began chipping away at it for a few nights. There were decades of global history that culminated in that moment, and none of it was easy. While Moore smartly identifies the systemic racism underlying the US drug war, he dumbs down cause and effect in other parts of the film to suggest that the catalyst for change is something really simple. By that logic, the Arab Spring was easy as pie: all it took was for someone to self-immolate. No problemo. The systems themselves are simple and elegant, and yet the implementation of these solutions--free college, prison reform, education reform, greater gender representation in government--would have to be accomplished through legislative action and, even more difficult, a fundamental ideological shift in American attitudes regarding the bullshit of global capitalism and antiquated gender roles. These aren't so simple, they'll take time. But they're worth fighting for, which is why there's an oddly ennobling aspect to Where to Invade Next even for its flaws. In my head during each slip up, all I could think was, "Your argument is facile, but yeah, I agree, Michael." Moore's rhetorical missteps in Where to Invade Next come from a genuine place of concern. It's like a bad college essay. The larger point is good, but it's articulated and argued inartfully, whether through selective anecdotes rather than facts, or through emotional appeals rather than reason. The pat close of the movie is mushy and inspirational at the same time. Moore references a well-known fairy tale that takes place in the Midwest, and in the process made me think of another work about the contradictory relationship between political ideology and voting against your best interests in the Midwest (Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas). When film critic Stephen Whitty reviewed Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004, he wrote that Moore tends to worry liberals about as much as he infuriates conservatives. "They're people who agree with what Michael Moore says--but refuse to defend to the death the way he insists on saying it," he wrote. Some things don't change.
Review: Where to Invade photo
A feel good movie (but oversimplified)
Michael Moore and Donald Trump have something in common. No, seriously. They want to make America great again. In Where to Invade Next, Moore pretends he's been sent by the Pentagon to invade other countries. His mission: to ...

Review: The Martian

Oct 02 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219989:42650:0[/embed] The MartianDirector: Ridley ScottRated: PG-13Release Date: October 2, 2015  Despite what you might think from the title The Martian does not have any actual aliens in it. This isn't John Carter. This is science fiction at its most sciencey and its least fictiony. On what is now a relatively routine trip to study mars Mark Watney is left behind by the rest of his crew during an evacuation. The Martian is about his survival. It's also about his rescue. The crew, consisting of Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Rick Martinez (Michael Peña), Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara), Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie), are on a months long trip back to earth thinking he's dead. Meanwhile NASA, led by director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Mars lead Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) struggle to find a way to save Watney. If you've read the book you probably already recognize that Damon is the perfect casting for the wisecracking Mark Watney. The character might be one of the most likableprotagonists ever. Damon brings a layered performance to the stranded astronaut that not only captures the charm of the character from the book, but adds an extra layer of fear and anger that is sometimes missing from the prose. He turns the Watney of the page into an actual person and it is a powerful performance. The rest of the cast keeps pace, though they obviously don't take up as much screen time. Especially surprising is Daniels' performance, which takes an all out heel from the book and makes him far more relatable. There are other changes from the book. For the sake of time and the elimination of hours worth of exposition dialog the science has definitely been dumbed down a bit. More importantly, though, our time with Watney is far less. Since it's a film with less time the NASA parts are brought in earlier and we get less Watney on Mars action. It's a elimination that had to be made, especially to fit in the movie's stunning ending, but it means less Watney. That's actually a testament to just how well the movie plays. If you're sitting in your seat wishing it could have been an hour longer just so you could watch Matt Damon drive around what is basically a big red desert then a film has done something right.  In all honesty the subtraction of more Watney time makes the film work better. Drew Goddard shaped this film into a finely honed screenplay that retains the humor and passion of the book. It jumps back and forth perfectly between Mars and Earth. Tension is derived not from big action sequences (except the aforementioned thrilling conclusion), but instead human interaction and tiny drams. There's a great fluidity to the film that somehow helps contrast the wonder of Mars with the doldrums of Earth. Looking at this movie you can't help but want to strap on a suit and launch into space to explore whatever is out there because it's going to be amazing. Mars is vibrant red, stunningly beautiful and engrossingly alive despite not hosting any actual life. Earth by contrast is dull, full of cramped office space and dreary colors. The film is a visual explanation of humanity's love for exploring even if there was no sound. This may be Ridley Scotts best film since Gladiator and it's definitely his best science fiction since Blade Runner. Prometheus was Scott trying to be philosophical, but The Martian is him getting back to his grounded roots and that's what he's good at. At the intersection of science fiction and thrillers is where Scott hits his sweet spot and it's very evident with this film. He's a master of building tension, especially when isolation is involved. And yet, The Martian is drastically different from his previous science fiction movies. It is both humorous and hopeful. Space is still out to get us, but it's not something to run away from, but a challenge to be conquered. Maybe this is why it is just so awe inspiring. Years of Scott's pent up love for all things outer space seem to flow out onto the screen in this film. There has never been and may never be a better advertisement for NASA or a better explanation of why it's so important for us to explore. Sometimes we need a little great science fiction to know just what reality can be. 
Martian Review photo
Un-sciencing the sh*t out of this
If you haven't read The Martian you should because it's better than whatever you're reading now (most likely). It's one of the most enthralling pieces of science fiction to come along in ages and it's an incredibly quick...

Trevor Noah did fine on his Daily Show debut, so everyone relax already

Sep 29 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219982:42644:0[/embed] When Colin Quinn took over for Norm MacDonald on SNL's Weekend Update, he did a bit about going to your favorite bar and meeting the new bartender. Noah opened The Daily Show on a similar note: "Jon Stewart was more than just a late night host. He was often our voice, our refuge, and in many ways our political dad. And it's weird, because dad has left. And now it feels like the family has a new stepdad. And he's black." You could almost see the relief and confidence shine through Noah's smile when his jokes landed. Noah seemed to do a whole body sigh at the end of his intro, vowing to carry on The Daily Show's legacy: "Thank you for joining us as we continue the war on bullshit." Noah proceeded to barrel through the show's first segment. He sometimes talks a bit too fast--nerves, probably--but he was charming as he discussed The Pope's visit, which is necessary when making papal dick jokes. It led into a bit about House Speaker John Boehner's impending resignation from Congress. (Boner joke.) The biggest laugh from me came from his impression of a shocked Marco Rubio frightened by applause. The second segment of the show introduced new correspondent Roy Wood Jr., who discussed the news of running water found on Mars in a solid bit about race. (I wonder how many late night comedians made jokes about water on Mars but none in California.) I believe it was Dana Stevens from Slate who likened the late night talk show to a literary form, like a sonnet or a sestina. Though not a traditional late night talk show, The Daily Show has its own format, and Trevor Noah is sticking to it. A lot of Jon Stewart's writing staff is still in place as well, which will help with this transition as Noah finds his own identity as host. For now, the only notable differences are visual--the logo has become sans serif (works for The Daily Show, but not for Google), the set is busier/more involved, the graphics are reminiscent of Sky News and the BBC, and, oh yeah, the host is black. (There's a nice gag, probably recurring this week, about using the words "international" and "global" to refer to Noah's blackness/South African roots.) The first episode wasn't without its snags. The aides/AIDS joke and the crack/Whitney Houston joke both drew loads of ire online, and they'll probably fuel some thinkpieces today about what comedians should and shouldn't joke about. (Expect references to Noah's bad jokes on Twitter in said thinkpieces.) I wonder whether or not the benign violation theory of humor even applies to either the aides/AIDS joke or the Whitney Houston joke. The issue is as much a question of tone and delivery as the actual content. To be honest, I wasn't offended by either, but I sometimes like a good uncomfortable groaner. Besides, South Park already did an aides/AIDS joke. As for the crack/Whitney Houston joke, just remember: when making a joke about crack, the safe punchline, even though he passed away more recently, is Marion Barry. Noah's interview skills could also use some work. His first guest was Kevin Hart, and Noah seemed a bit stilted, downright robotic, early on. He stared at a box of neck ties (Hart brought a gift) as if they were live squid, then proceeded to do some C-3PO dancing before finally laughing off his nerves. Their conversation together never quite flowed or found a rhythm, but that will come with time. In the literary form of the late night show, the interview is often the trickiest part. Noah's also got to work on his spit-take. That's some weaksauce spray he's got there. When I looked at Stephen Colbert's debut on The Late Show, I mentioned that it's unfair to judge a late night show on its first episode. (Supposedly Trevor Noah's first week on The Daily Show should be treated like a miniseries.) But I think you can kind of judge whether or not a host will be okay captaining the ship early on. Noah is off to a good start. And so a nation that takes its moral cues from television programs can finally unclench.
Trevor Noah Daily Show photo
Continuing the war on bulls**t
Trevor Noah had one of the least enviable jobs in comedy last night. Jon Stewart transformed The Daily Show into a bastion of media criticism and political analysis. It wasn't just a comedy program anymore. Some considered Th...

The Simpsons Season 27 Premiere Review: Stunt Gone Wrong

Sep 28 // Nick Valdez
If you've followed any kind of entertainment news, you've probably heard of how Fox was promoting Homer and Marge's separation (along with Lena Dunham's cameo) as the next big thing to happen to the family. In recent years (more so in the upper 20s than not), the series has relied on these big events to draw in viewers. It kind of sucks since these kinds of events are usually saved for shows on the brink of cancellation as they gasp for air, and this show has never been starved for viewers. It's more telling that the event was advertised like a big deal, forgoing all of Homer and Marge's history (they were technically not married between Season 8's "A Milhouse Divided" and Season 16's "There's Something About Marrying") and not focusing on the why it happens. I guess when I finally sat down to watch this, I had hoped we'd get a well written story out of all of this nonsense. I mean, we're looking at a couple that's withstood an entire town riot, multiple opportunities to cheat, and several failed mortgages. So what finally rips them apart? Narcolepsy.  When Homer is diagnosed with narcolepsy (featuring the only funny segment in the episode as Dr. Hibbert notes the family's been on way too many wacky vacations), he uses the prescription to avoid all sorts of responsibilities. Marge's finally had enough, and after visiting a marriage counselor, decides to legally separate. Homer then ends up dating the kooky pharmacist Candace (Lena Dunham) and it leads to cheating on Marge, Marge quickly marrying Candace's dad, and the Simpsons kids welcoming their new predicament. The thing is, I can totally see this premise working in an earlier season. It's all just badly handled. I don't see Homer's laziness finally breaking Marge down since she's been through so much, and it's a shame that we don't get any other point of views. It's yet another formulaic "Homer is a dope" episode that doesn't treat any of its happenings with any weight. You know why? Because it's all a dream sequence. That's right, the big separation Fox has been pushing has been one of Homer's narcoleptic dreams. And when I thought for a second that the series wouldn't return to the status quo by episode end (since most of the series' future episodes laid out Homer and Marge's divorce as canon), the rug's pulled out several times. A "dream within a dream within a dream" bit would've been enjoyable had it been funny, or at least well written, but this wasn't the case.  This premiere has just been the latest in a long line of examples (the big "death" promoted last season, big guest stars in bit parts) why the show ain't what she used to be. I've stuck it out through these later seasons out of loyalty and the occasional nuggets ("500 Keys," "Holidays of Future Passed," "Eternal Moonshine of the Spotless Mind"), but this premiere feels more like a spit in my face than ever. I don't care if it's all a dream, but it's just so lazy. It neglects years of character work in favor of the "now." In an episode that references obscure oddities like the Springfield Atom, the Space Coyote, Fatov, or the one time Germans owned the power plant, it's hard to believe that they'd forget that Homer would never cheat on Marge. Every time they've been separated, he's always been a pitiable recluse full of blind love, and that's always been one of the reasons Marge finally takes him back. To see him do such a 180 is ridiculous, even for a supposed dream. Not to mention, there's no real reason Candace should go out with Homer. He's completely negative, washed out, and bashes her friends.  To do a premise like this properly, we'd have to take time and look at both and Homer and Marge. I would've welcomed them actually separating since it would've opened up all sorts of story potential. We've seen so much of this family as a unit, it would've been a good late season shake up to have them be apart for longer than an episode. But it feels like we're going in terrible circles. If the rest of the season is like this, I don't know if I can hang on anymore.  Final Thoughts:  Good to hear the rest of the Girls cast came along as Candace's friends, but their roles are wasted. Maybe a full on millenial episode like the Portlandia tribute "The Day the Earth Stood Cool" would've been a better idea.  Seriously, the opening bit at the hospital had some good meta jokes. Lots of Dr. Hibbert means that Harry Shearer definitely would've been missed.  My roommate's got a Space Coyote tattoo, so I'm sure he would've enjoyed that visual. That whole fantasy sequence wasn't too bad either.  Want to see more of our TV coverage? Check out our TV Recaps and Reviews! 
The Simpsons photo
No more cheap stunts please
I've been a big supporter of The Simpsons for as long as I can remember. Literally, one of my first memories was asking to watch the show. And if you ask my mother, she'd tell you I'd move around in my high chair in order to ...

Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 Recap: "Cobalt"

Sep 28 // Nick Valdez
All season long, Fear has been struggling to find its voice, i.e. what's going to set it apart from its parent series and other zombie media. Rather than tackle the endless feelings of depression and creeping mortality, Fear is once again making this an intimate apocalypse. As society begins breaking down, it's also leading to the dissolution of the intimacy of relationships. As evidenced by the series' newest, and coolest, character strand (Colman Domingo) in an opening monologue (given for the explicit purpose of driving weaker individuals out), society is crumbling and only those who can evolve along with the new world will survive. This also leads to the episode's central focus: the duality of Daniel and Travis. One's been bred through war and struggle in El Salvador, and the other's a guy who'd rather not incite violence. For the first time, Travis isn't annoying. I've discussed in length about how much his blind ignorance has bothered me seeing as how the rest of the family has accepted the new situation, but seeing him slowly come around has been oddly entertaining.  As the military force becomes way more political, seeing as how heavy patriotism and dehumanization of the zombies has become a coping mechanism for their strenuous mission, their cracks are starting to show. We're also learning how the world ended up the way it is in TWD as even the military forces fall apart due to sheer number of infected and soldiers wanting to return home to their families. It took even more "I'm a bad guy nyaaah" from the general to get Travis to snap out of whatever the hell he was thinking (and them trying to get Travis to shoot the gun was a very bad idea. He seriously could've hurt himself. His eye on the scope would've given him a black eye), but it works. That brings us back to Daniel Salazar and his torture. In order to get information from the kid from The Faculty his daughter was using, he begins torturing him. But I'm impressed with how Fear handled it. It didn't linger on any violence, but instead chose to enforce why Daniel thought it was a good idea. The series has been giving Daniel more and more darkness as it goes on, and this was just icing on the cake. Since he's experienced societal breakdown before (as he and Griselda fled to the US during Salvadorian civil war), he's figured out torture was one of the only ways to survive. Compare that to Travis and his inability to evolve, and Daniel's pretty much one end of the spectrum. His torture brings us to the crux of the episode as it leads to the season finale. As Liza steps into the military medical facility (and as Nick is trapped within), she's witnessing how they're handling things. We don't see the big picture, but that's not really important because there's a sense of imminent danger from all of it. The military's been using the facility to figure out the disease and pretty much puts down anyone who seems like a viable threat. It also meant that at one point, 2000 or so people were locked into an arena once infection broke. And that also brings the title of the episode as "Cobalt" refers to them abandoning the encampment and "humanely" terminating the people there less they become zombies later.  So after a slow buildup, we're finally going to see society crumble. The military's struggling as communication breaks down and human nature takes over, that arena's going to burst open and force our characters out of LA, and as the coolest character Strand notes, the only thing that's going to push folks forward is their "obligation" to other people and their relationships. Fear's made the most out of its personal apocalypse and the characters have become a bit more interesting than Rick's gang of comic book characters.  Final Thoughts:  Alycia and Chris still are the worst characters, but their combined storyline of discussing class issues while wrecking a rich person's home led to some interesting areas. That's more than I can say for previous episodes which gave them nothing to do.  Seeing as how Strand is super interesting, I see Fear holding off on killing another Black character for a bit. Good for them! Teaming up with the annoying Nick (going through withdrawals) is more evidence in Fear's confident long game.  "I'm an addict." "No, you're a heroin addict. That's the gold standard. Don't sell yourself short."  Just like the parent series, Fear's first season has been all set up for the second season. Let's hope it ends better than Walking Dead did.  Want to see more of our TV coverage? Check out our TV Recaps and Reviews! 
FTWD photo
Whoa, what show is this?
The show's been very confident in its long game. After immediately getting picked up for a second season, I'm sure the showrunners knew they'd have time to build up to a satisfying story. It may have been rough before the Lab...

Flixist's seriously stupendous Fall/Winter movie preview

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

NYFF Review: The Walk

Sep 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219838:42632:0[/embed] The WalkDirector: Robert ZemeckisRated: PGRelease Date: September 30, 2015 Throughout The Walk, Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his associates speak of artists as anarchists. Artists shake things up, cause people to reconsider the world around them, do things because they are beautiful and new. Yet these statements about the anarchic qualities of artists and their art feel like a form of unintentional self-indictment. The Walk is so painfully conventional, a shiny Hollywood product that wants to inspire its audience to dream big while simultaneously suffering from a deficit of imagination. The biopic cliches are everywhere. While the events in France may be true to Petit's life, Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne make them feel like part of a screenplay checklist: tightrope origin story (check), disowned by parents (check), finds begrudging mentor (check, Sir Ben Kingsley), finds love interest (check, Charlotte Le Bon), establish flaw(s) to be overcome in film's third act (check), fails first attempt at vocation (check) only to triumph immediately after (check), mentor becomes father figure (check). Because these moments feel so perfunctory and familiar rather than lived-in, the first half of The Walk drags. The meet-cute between Philippe and Annie is particularly embarrassing—there's mime involved, and also rain (check). They go from adversaries to lovers bathed in candlelight (check) over the course of an afternoon. But Annie isn't given much to do throughout the rest of the film. She's just there to be Philippe's girlfriend. In another act of unintentional self-indictment, Annie tells Philippe that she's here to help him realize his dream, but she ultimately has to find a dream of her own. The film's finale is 110 stories in the air, but The Walk can't even get over the low hurdle of the Bechdel test. Yet this isn't just Annie's plight. Most of the side characters in the film are generally devoid of personality; they are Philippe's props. Philippe comes across as an angry narcissistic madman in The Walk rather than a charismatic madman, and it's unclear why anyone would want to work with him the way he's written in this film. Once The Walk winds up in New York, the movie picks up the pace and finally becomes enjoyable. Rather than a schlocky, inspirational biopic, the film goes into heist-movie mode. The plan starts to come together, and rhythm becomes brisk, and the movie has an enjoyable breeziness to it. Heist-mode is brief, but it's a welcome reprieve from the biopic stuff, and it sets up the big walk along the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, there are moments of heightened artificial drama (e.g., one of Philippe's friends is extremeley acrophobic). The walk itself is good as a set piece but not all that great. For all the hype about the use of 3D, Zemeckis never exploits image depth to its fullest ability. Staring down from the towers in 3D creates an illusion of height, that's true, but it felt to me like 20 feet (maybe) rather than 1,350 feet. There's little sense of weight or gravity to this world; it's all just lightness. It doesn't help that the towers, the sky, and the city below all feel like CG. Actual photos taken of Petit's walk show a New York that's cool and gray-toned, muted, in the dawn. Zemeckis instead bathes the towers and the digital cityscape in gold and pink hues. The eye notices; the real world is not a Thomas Kinkade painting. The coda to The Walk is a series of uncomfortable allusions to 9/11 that feel cheap and exploitative, even borderline offensive. At one point someone praises Philippe for giving the buildings a soul and making people love The Twin Towers, and they look up longingly into the night sky. It's a cringeworthy attempt to earn your tears. Gordon-Levitt's narration throughout the film doesn't help matters. He speaks French like Inspector Clouseau, situated atop the torch of The Statute of Liberty with the World Trade Center visible in the skyline behind him. It's CG, it's garish, it's surprisingly chintzy, though the worst case of bathos may be a certain moment in the movie that involves a CG bird. In real life there's no actual film footage of Philippe Petit's walk along The Twin Towers. This was likely the impetus for The Walk. It's admirable that Zemeckis would want to re-create a singular event, but I can't help but feel like this is also the reason the event shouldn't be recreated on film. In Man on Wire, Marsh shows stills of the moment accompanied by the quiet, melancholy beauty of Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie No. 1." (In The Walk, we hear Beethoven's "Fur Elise," which has never sounded more cliched.) In Let the Great World Spin, McCann recreates the New York of 1974 from different characters and perspectives. Using Petit's singular act, Marsh and McCann invite their viewers/readers to co-create the event in their minds—to be up with Petit, or below watching a dot in the sky from the ground. At no point during The Walk's major set piece did I think, "It feels like I'm there" or "I wish I was there." Zemeckis doesn't give any room for the audience's imagination or co-authorship. There is more danger and beauty in a still photo of Petit on a wire than the whole of The Walk's recreation of the moment. That might speak to the power of Petit's actual work of art.
Review: The Walk photo
A collection of weightless cliches
It's impossible to watch The Walk without thinking about James Marsh's 2008 film Man on Wire. The Academy Award-winning documentary chronicled French tightrope walker Philippe Petit's high-wire act between the towers of the W...

Fast and Furious photo
People don't want money
When Furious 7 turned into a massive hit we all probably thought that James Wan would be back to direct for Furious 8, but after the truly stressful shooting thanks to Paul Walker's untimely death the director was allowe...

The Muppets Pilot Review: Not Really for Kids, But That's Okay

Sep 23 // Nick Valdez
There's a bit of a jarring transition going into this new status quo. The show follows the Muppets backstage as they work on a late night talk show starring Miss Piggy (think The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or The Tonight Show and you've gotten the idea). There's also traditional bits of character work for the show moving forward: Fozzie's in a relationship where his girlfriend's parents don't approve of their daughter dating a bear, The Electric Mayhem may have substance abuse problems (but that's in side jokes, don't worry), and the afortmentioned Kermit and Miss Piggy have split up but maintain a working relationship the best they can. The biggest change has to be Kermit's new personality. Maybe it's due to being walked on over the years, or stress from his managerial gig, but this new Kermit's kind of a jerk. A funny jerk, mind you, but a jerk nonetheless. At least he's got all sorts of new facial expressions to toss around. The folks at work have made some great renovations to Kermit's puppetry. He's also got a new girlfriend, Denise.  That's the kind of stuff I'm referring to when I say The Muppets aren't really for kids anymore. They've been all ages for years, so there are probably tons of examples you could point to of when the Muppets had adult-oriented humor. But this is the first time I noticed a clear barrier of entry. By the time Kermit refers Miss Piggy as "sexy," it's already put all the nails in the coffin for kids. But while the whole family can't enjoy, I'm sure the Muppets can draw a lot from this new level of sophisticated humor. I laughed quite a few times during this pilot, and they weren't due to the same kind of slapstick gags or easy jokes you'd expect. Drawing from the more successful aspects of the two films, there's a greater emphasis on joke writing and staging. So there's a better balance of the classic Muppets charm without an over-reliance of some of the cornier jokes. Then again, this could all just be too early to tell if the strength of the writing can hold out for the following weeks.  At the end of the day, it's The Muppets in a brand new package. You don't know exactly what you're getting anymore, but it's the most interesting The Muppets have been in some time.  Final Thoughts:  Imagine Dragons: "Why won't you come on tour with us?" Animal: "Too many cities. Too many women." "You went into a room full of dancing stars and came back with Tom Bergeron?"  "What can I say? I have a thing for pigs." Elizabeth Banks totally kills her guest spot.  Riki Lindhome showed up in both this and Fresh Off the Boat last night, and the world clearly needs more of her. Her presence is always welcome.  Want to see more of our TV coverage? Check out our TV Recaps and Reviews! 
The Muppets TV photo
Tom Bergeron can't catch a break
The Muppets have made quite a comeback the last few years. After two successful films, the latest Muppet project brings them to ABC in a mockumentary style format similar to shows like Parks and Recreation or The Office (henc...

Scream Queens Series Premiere Recap: "Pilot/Hell Week"

Sep 23 // Nick Valdez
I'm not sure if Fox's plan to premiere two episodes in a row was a good thing. When succumbed to that much of Murphy's work at once, the cracks always show. It's one of the rare cases where the pilot fared much better than the first episode of the series proper. For example, the show opens in a particularly interesting way as a girl (in 1995, no less) gives birth to a baby in a bathtub during a sorority (Kappa Kappa Tau) party. The other girls ignore her when TLC's "Waterfalls" comes on, thus leading to her death and a mysterious cover up that's sure to be one of the running threads throughout the series. It's a pretty impressive hook for any pilot and perfectly captures the tone the Glee trio of Murphy/Falchuk/Brennan is looking for. It's darkly humorous, creepy, informative of the show's universe, and there's a splash of pop culture reference. But other than one other scene which I'll get to in a bit, it never quite reaches that height again.  There's always been something that bothered me with Murphy's work. Because he's a marginalized individual, he's always been okay with exploiting other margins in the sake of comedy. The same problems that have plagued his shows appear here as well. There are racial stereotypes (though I'm sure Keke Palmer is just playing Keke Palmer despite arguments otherwise), thickly laid homoeroticism that borders on the homophobic, and a "Queen Bee" character in Emma Roberts the trio uses as a funnel for every terrible (ultimately non-humorous) thing they could think of. But what separates Queens from a show like, let's say, Scream, is that it doesn't dwell on these characters and takes them seriously. It's a show full of dumb caricatures making terrible choices, and we're going to want to watch them get murdered week to week. From the looks of how much humor it can mine from gleefully killing its characters, I'm sure they're be style in spades. Just by watching these first two episodes, I've figured the modus operandi of Scream Queens is to revel in its quirk so much it won't be bothered to actually develop any of its characters. There's some surprising level of depth to Emma Roberts' Chanel (which make the other Chanels look lacking in comparison), but if she's expected to lead the series instead of the final girl archetype Grace (Skyler Samuels), I don't know how much of her I can take. There are definite narrative nuggets to her character, so I hope I can chalk it up to growing pains. As for everyone else, Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Jonas are definitely the standouts. Curtis is basically playing Coach Sue Sylvester with a dark twist, and Jonas' secretly gay-but-not-secretly gay Boone is full on cheese and it's the best. But you know who gets the biggest scene? Ariana Grande. Not because of her acting or her character, but because a well crafted and staged scene that perfectly encapsulates the show's potential.  Since Scream Queens is an homage to B-grade films, but still wants to poke fun at the current state of horror, we get this awesome scene where Chanel No. 2 is murdered by the series' killer, the Red Devil, through text messages. It nets the biggest laugh and is oddly proactive as Chanel tries her best to tweet out her death. She isn't just silently killed off into the night, but does her best to prevent it even when locked into a goofy sequence. The same can't be said for the series' next two deaths, but so far, each death sequence has been unique and pretty damn funny. Once you get past the show's awkward writing, the rest of the package is great. It's interesting enough that I've decided to talk about it for the next few weeks.  Final Thoughts:  Chad Radwell, the stereotypical rich jerk who's cool with his best friend being gay, is by far my favorite character in the show thus far. I'm sure his death scene is going to be fantastic.  Lea Michele's Hester takes a maniacal turn in episode two and I'm not sure I like it yet.  Abigail Breslin as Chanel No 5 hasn't really made a name for herself yet. I thought she was the good girl who was just stuck in her terrible sorority, but her turn in the second episode proved that wrong.  I'm also not sure what to think of Niecy Nash and Nasim Pedrad's characters. They're the wackiest characters in the show by far, but it's too early to tell if that's a good thing or not.  At least this isn't as bad as The New Normal was.  Remember that VH1 reality show Scream Queens, where 8 actresses went through challenges in order to land a role in one of the Saw movies? That was a good time. They should do that again.  Want to see more of our TV coverage? Check out our TV Recaps and Reviews! 
Scream Queens Recap photo
Glee and AHS had an awkward baby
You folks don't know this, because we'd only recently begun covering television in earnest, but I was a huge fan of Glee. I bought the soundtracks, I bought the seasons on DVD (this was before Netflix took over and ruined EVE...

Limitless Pilot Review: Limited in Scope

Sep 23 // Nick Valdez
Taking place sometime after the events of 2011's Limitless, a drug known as NZT taps into the brain's potential and removes a set of limiters which hold our thought processes back. As Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) feels like a failure (his dad's sick, his band isn't getting anywhere, and he's yet to hold a steady job), he's introduced to NZT and suddenly gets framed for murder when his best friend is killed. In order to prove himself innocent, he starts hunting down and taking more NZT in order to stay ahead of the police and lead Detective Rebecca (Jennifer Carpenter, who always gets stuck looking after a dude with major problems in these shows). After all of the shenanigans, and finding out Brian's immune to the drugs' physical toll, Rebecca chooses to work with Brian in order to use his super brain as a police resource.  I try my best not to compare a piece of media to other things, but it's much harder to do with television. This time of season we'll get a lot of shows with the same core formula, but only the ones with the strongest hook or writing manage to last into the winter. As Limitless becomes yet another cop procedural, it's hard not to compare with shows that use its tropes better. A female cop teams up with a guy outside of the force? It's done better in Castle. A guy who's super smart and has all the answers? Check any of the leading network shows for white men who solve problems. Heck, it's even in CBS's own Elementary right now. Unfortunately, the only thing that could've made this show interesting (having Brian slowly degenerate through the series due to the drug's effects) is brushed away by a Bradley Cooper cameo. I'm not sure why the show refused to follow a broken lead, but broken characters always make for better TV. Just imagine if later in the series Brian became a wild and reckless junkie doing whatever he needed to for his next fix in order to stop other crimes. But with the police providing his drugs and with the narrative mistake of never showing what it does to his brain, there's a lack of tension. Even when's he's scrambling around for it in the pilot, it never once feels like he's in any kind of trouble. All we're left with is a super successful man successfully succeeding.  Seeing the film's lead character (who's now running for Senator) adds legitimacy, but it only reminded me of how much I was willing to brush off the film due to Cooper's charismatic nature. I was okay with Motta's rampant success because Cooper is a guy you want to see work things out. I'm not sure if the show will lead to the violent places the film did, but I don't think I care. Unfortunately for Jake McDorman, he doesn't have any kind of personality yet. I hope he can build it through the series, but he's sort of a brick wall. His scenes with Carpenter are a travesty. It's like she's talking to air as McDorman gives her nothing to bounce off of. As for the show's direction, the less said the better. There's nothing distinguishing this from CBS's other cop procedurals. It's the same drab looks, the same weird CG, and lacks any kind of distinct characteristics. It's entirely relying on the fact it's based off a film and hopes we'll enjoy the hook of the super drug enough to stick around.  But seeing as how much Limitless is limiting its own storytelling potential, feel free to pass on this show.  Final Thoughts:  This guy feels like a failure at 28? F**k this guy.  It really is nice of Bradley Cooper to do things like this. He really didn't have to show up and be the mysterious guy who knows everything (even if he's the executive producer), but it makes sense for the world building. Cooper should really consider more villainous roles.  Speaking of Cooper's cameo, he's a talking CG baby at one point. Yeah, I don't know what happened there.  I wished the pilot made more time for Brian to have fun with his new abilities. The montage where he experiments with his new brainpower is the best scene of the episode. McDorman actually has some personality here, and I hope there'll be time for that later. The serious tone the show takes later in the episode completely snuffs out this Brian. 
Limitless photo
Could use some of that super brain drug
If you haven't been paying attention to the TV scene lately, it's been getting more and more impressive. Shows are getting better budgets, a higher class of actors, and their getting all sorts of social media attention. It's ...

Minority Report Pilot Review: It's Basically Already Canceled

Sep 22 // Nick Valdez
Taking place ten years after the events of Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (which the pilot has to remind folks existed) and the end of the PreCrime Unit (where the police arrested folks based on murders that hadn't yet happened), one of the "Precognitives" Dash (Stark Sands) has grown tired of hiding as his murder visions grew worse and worse. He eventually teams up with Detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good of Cousin Skeeter fame)  and their adventures in policing begin or something like that.  Pilots are under an extreme amount of pressure. They've got to hook their respective viewers within the first fifteen minutes or so while showing why the world they inhabit is worth investing in. Report actually accomplishes this pretty well. The opener follows Dash as he frantically dashes toward the scene of a crime while showing off the pilot's impressive budget (which I don't expect to hold weight through the rest of the series, much like Almost Human). It's a subtle and intelligent sequence as Dash struggles knowing the entire time he'll fail. But there's never any hand holding during this, and we're left to infer it from his actions. And when he does indeed fail to stop the murder, it's as simple as watching him turn away from the scene since he's witnessed so much of it already. Unfortunately, that same light touch doesn't extend past that point. After the first ten or some minutes, Report basically becomes every cop show ever. I don't really understand why, but for some reason Report constantly exposits story details. Lines like "They remind you of having no parents, that's why you came to me." or along those lines. It loses that subtlety in favor in overtly stating how other characters relate to other ones, and it's not like those relationships are particularly inventive either. You'd figure with a world 50 years in the future, the future police would have better conversations than "I'm a future police." That's not really what they say, but I hope you get my point. I guess I'm still sour about Almost Human. That show had a much better handled premise. It's not all bad as there are a few nuggets that might prove interesting later, but this pilot had a ton of rough edges. Normally I'd say to forgive a pilot's bad writing if the cast or premise were gripping enough, but I don't feel that way here. I'd love for Meagan Good to have a great starring vehicle, but since she yet again plays second fiddle to some white guy, I'm over it.  Either way you fall on this, Fox will cancel this after the first season...if it even gets to that point.  Final Thoughts:  Meagan Good is great, but I wish the pilot exploited her body less. It really undermines how good of a detective she is when we're all ogling a picture of her in a bikini.  We're all lucky I didn't use "Meagan Bad"  Wilmer Valderama is here. That's all I have to say about that.  "When I was your age, we used this thing called Tinder. It's how I met your father." I don't care what year it is, no one ever will refer to Iggy Azalea's "Trouble" as an "oldie."  I totally believe The Simpsons will still be on the air 50 years from now. 
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I miss Almost Human
As television grows more and more influential thanks to its ready availability through streaming services, networks have been putting more and more money and effort into their offerings. One of the weird consequences of this ...

Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 Recap: "Not Fade Away"

Sep 21 // Nick Valdez
We're two episodes away from the season finale (and before the season six premiere of the parent series), so whatever the seeds the show has been planting had to emerge now more than ever. It's a shame to took something major like the US military (or whatever this is a semblance of, actually) to shake stuff up. But whatever. At the end of last week's episode, a military convoy showed up and bordered off the suburb. In this episode, it's been nine days since the military took over (coupled with a stupidly ironic cover of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day") and characters have settled into new rhythms that'll carry through the season finale: Travis grows accustomed to the military and becomes the middle man between them and the citizens (because of course he would), his son Chris discovers people asking for help outside of the fence, his ex-wife Liza fakes being a nurse in order to give people peace of mind, Madison and Daniel are suspicious of the military, Ofelia is working a military dude for drugs, and Nick is going through MacGuyver-esque lengths for a new fix.  And like the previous episode, this one comes down to activity vs. inactivity. As a way to enhance the series' focus on intimacy (as evident through the copious close up shots), the familial drama and the apocalypse finally combine into a legitimate threat. Rather than follow its parent series' focus on how each individual decides to survive (as we watched Rick slowly evolve into a shadow of his former self through six seasons), Fear seems to focus on how the family wants to survive together. And that's become the show's greatest strength. Rather than fall onto water cooler zombie attacks to keep itself going, one of "Not Fade Away" biggest moments comes from a mother and son. As Madison literally (and more importantly, lovingly) tries to knock some sense into her junky twerp of a son, it's the closest I've ever felt to her. For once, Madison felt human instead of just being the show's main character. The military's lack of info forces Madison out of her pragmatic nature and causes her to make some pretty reckless situations as she escapes from the fence and sees the chaos outside.  Although this stuff seems minimal, it's still very exciting. The military finally reveals their ugly (but strangely logical) motive and starts removing slighted damaged people from the safe zone. I could've done without all of mustache twirling from the army general (as he plays golf and says things like "don't make me take him down"), but the end result is worth it. Fear actually had a tense moment as the military comes into Madison's home and takes her son away along with Daniel's wife Griselda under the guise of medical help. This was set up wonderfully too as Fear takes advantage of its ethnic characters as Daniel tells a horrific story of the government taking people away in El Salvador. There's a brewing distrust and all of it seems like its leading to a season finale where Madison, Daniel (and Travis now that his innocence and trusting nature has been crushed) break into a compound to bust them out. Walking Dead seems to love ending in military compounds.  Final Thoughts:  We need more scenes of Madison and Daniel together. Clearly there's a major benefit in letting the series' two best actors work off each other.  Shawn Hatosy (who I remember from The Faculty) was cast as the military guy who Ofelia is trying to work over for her mother's medicine. He'll surely take a sinister turn later when the military folks decide to take care of themselves rather than the citizens.   "Free medical, care of the United States of America" "Not a lot of traffic these days." I'm kind of impressed with how Nick gets a drug fix in this episode. Hopefully that all comes to a stop. He's become rather annoying. 
FTWD Recap photo
It's better to burn out than fade away
I've been one of the many people decrying Fear the Walking Dead's lack of anything interesting to latch on to. It's a slow burn of a show, but was poorly handling why we needed to stick around to see the result. But surprisin...

FlixList: The 8 Best Steven Universe Episodes

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

Review: Cooties

Sep 18 // Nick Valdez
[embed]219880:42604:0[/embed] CootiesDirectors: Jonathan Milott and Cary MurnionRated: RRelease Date: September 18, 2015 At the center of Cooties is Clint, a guy who moved to the bright lights of New York City after graduation to become a big shot writer. But after a few failed attempts has moved back home and is forced to take a substitute teaching gig at his old elementary school. There he meets his old school crush Lucy (Alison Pill), her meathead boyfriend Wade (Rainn Wilson), and a bevy of other weird faculty members like the evolution debunker Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad) and the socially inept bio teacher Doug (Leigh Whannell). When a contaminated shipment of chicken nuggets (as seen through such a grossly awesome intro, you won't eat chicken nuggets again) turns the kids of the school into flesh eating monsters, Clint and the other teachers have to escape the school to survive.  The biggest draw, or warning sign depending on your humor, is the writing duo of Saw's Leigh Whannell and Glee's Ian Brennan. The two have crafted a wonderfully twisted horror premise, but the dialogue is distinctly Brennan's. As someone who religiously followed Glee through its six seasons (including, but not limited to, buying the Glee karaoke games and soundtrack CDs and watching the short lived Glee Project reality show on Oxygen), I can safely attribute the brunt of the film's humor to him. That's probably going to shy folks away, however. Just like Glee, Cooties' idea of parody is to come of with jokes that are a few years too old. A post 9/11 kid who wants to join the army named Patriot? A closeted gay teacher making innuendos? The vice principal (Brennan himself) saying "Stop it, kids!" before getting ripped apart? Yeah, those jokes are as tired as they seem. As the film's humor gets sidetracked with these weird jokes, it never quite takes the premise as far as it could. But the cast's ability to complete gel with what they're saying is fantastic.  In Cooties, it's the cast that makes it work. They're completely game with the film's wacky tone, and their performances elevate the film to awesomely cartoonish levels. Since you can't get too overtly violent with children and still try and be a comedy, the action has to be more humorous than not to succeed. Since directors Milott and Murnion can't seem to handle action scenes (as most of the action involves the teachers moving from one room to the other and staying there for a few scenes), the cast should be commended for their ability to command attention. As the film itself strays and lingers on a few scenes, the cast is delivering the dialogue with the quickness it needs to make it work and helps make the hokey bits a little more digestible. As Elijah Wood has shown in the past with films like The Faculty, he's perfectly capable of leading a horror comedy. He's still charming as ever even when he starts, literally, pooping himself. The scene stealer, however, is Leigh Whannell. His stunted delivery finally works for his awkward bio teacher as he delivers the film's hilarious science.  While the directors may not handle action scenes too well (leading to a ending scene that feels convoluted and tacked on while completely undermining the film's bittersweet climax), the duo have got a good grasp on imagery. Cooties looks fantastic. Insidious reds, taut greens and shading, and you definitely get the most out of zombie kids. The kids are covered in gross puss and blood (instead of becoming too gruesome, it goes for the comedic route) and aren't too horrendously attacked, there's a girl playing jump rope with an intestine, a kid riding a tricycle covered in blood, zombie kids playing blood hopscotch, and so on. It's pretty much the embodiment of the "kids are terrifying" mantra. The film never quite reaches the level of visual you'd hope with a premise like this, but what is here is well crafted. There's definitely an attention to detail in the visuals even if there's a lack of it elsewhere.  Cooties has its share of faults, but none of them are completely damaging to the overall package. There'll be stuff within the film that bothers you here and there, but when watching the cast and the kids enjoy themselves it's hard not to follow in their footsteps. For every hokey joke, there's one that works. For every clunky action scene, there's a hilarious conversation between two characters.  By the time it makes the egregious mistake of going on past its natural ending, you won't even care too much. You'll have a big smile on your face. 
Cooties Review photo
Might not need that cootie shot
Zombies are everywhere. Name an object and add zombie or "of the dead" to it, and I guarantee there's a film out there with that title. Bong of the Dead? Exists. Toilet of the Dead? Surprisingly a thing. Redneck or stripper z...

Review: Everest

Sep 18 // Matthew Razak
Everest is based on the real life events of what was then the deadliest day in the mountain's history. A collection of poor decisions, freak occurrences and bad luck that led to the death of eight climbers in 1996. Famed climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) leads Everest climbing expeditions for groups of climbers, however, in their push for the summit they make a series of poor decisions and a dangerous storm catches them leading to the death of multiple people and daring rescues. I suppose some spoiler alerts should have gone there, but I think we're well past the time limit for this story on those. Interestingly the film is not based on Jon Krakauer's (Michael Kelly) book, Into Thin Air, and ditches much of the editorializing that the book did about the issues with an overcrowded Everest making safety measures a concern. This is both a boon and a bane for the film. The loss of this commentary does mean that the film loses some of its punch. We're never given an overall cause for the events of that day and so the movie can feel pointless in its story. On the flip side we're allowed far more focus on the characters because commentary is removed. It ditches the why for the who and instead of placing blame focuses on the tragedy of the event. This is why, despite being redundant, the isn't a failure. I believe that part of what is supposed to be different about this film is that it's in IMAX 3D. The sweeping vistas and digital recreations of Everest are definitely something to behold on a massive screen for sure, but not enough to excuse the fact that we've seen it all before. The movie does look great, but there's legitimate IMAX Everest movies that look even better that anyone who has been to a natural history museum in the past 35 years has seen. We've also been flooded with disaster movies in this format so it's getting harder and harder to make "Oooo pretty" into something worth putting your money down. As a selling point Everest's grandeur doesn't really work. Thankfully it doesn't just rely on that, nor does it rely on being a disaster flick. While the movie ratchets up the action here and there it's surprisingly more human focused. Aside from a bit in the middle when the storm hits the film is almost entirely character driven, focusing on the lives of these people and not their deaths. It's a great move, especially with the actors they have. A film simply full of destruction would have felt cheap in the face of so much death. Instead we spend the majority of the opening finding out about the characters before we watch them slowly die on the mountain side. Emotionally Everest can pack a punch, and that's where it stands out from the lesser survival films out there whose main focus is to put their characters into harrowing situations. The cast is pretty all star (Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllyenhal, Keira Knightly, Sam Worthington and a bunch of "that guys") so it stand to reason that they can handle the deeper stuff. Most of the emotional punch comes from the folks not climbing, though. It's their reactions that hit you in the gut as they slowly listen to more and more climbers die. The ones on the mountain are covered in snow and winter coats so it means the guys on the ground are where we get the feeling from.  Everest may not be doing anything new, but it does a good enough job of nailing what has already been done. It looks gorgeous and piles on the drama instead of the action. While it might not be anything that's going to change how you see survival movies it will reconfirm one thing: climbing a mountain is not something you want to do.
Everest Review photo
Now in 3D!
You've seen Everist before. Not just in the sense that we've all seen a billion movies about mountains killing people or in the sense that it's based on the same true story that Into Thin Air was based on. You've se...

Review: The Beauty Inside

Sep 14 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219909:42609:0[/embed] The Beauty InsideDirector: Baek Jong-yeolRelease Date: September 11, 2015Country: South Korea  As a remake, The Beauty Inside is an interesting beast. It takes a 40 minute, episodic experiment and makes it two hours long. It keeps some many of the same moments, but there are some crucial changes that speak to broader cultural differences between America and Korea. Early on I had thought that The Beauty Inside 2015 might go exactly where the 2012 film did. It didn't, of course, and what it does is ultimately far more compelling and meaningful, but the fact that I had those expectations (and that the American version of the story met those expectations) says a lot of things. It seemed like a logical conclusion. But then again, I also thought it would have been a bit too neat, tying things off too nicely at the expense of a greater message. TBI2012 does that. The Beauty Inside does not. But while we're thinking about cultural differences, let's think about the title. I spend a lot of time thinking about movie titles. In the grand scheme of things, they're all sort of irrelevant (especially with translated titles, since they're often different (which is, in and of itself, kind of interesting), but there's something significant in the way a film is presented. Someone(s) thought that any given name was the best way to sell it. "The Beauty Inside" made me think of another Korean film: 200 Pounds Beauty. When I first saw that film, I expected it to have a message like The Beauty Inside, that looks are only skin deep and what really matters is who you are underneath. Cliches, etc. That's not what the film is about. It almost seems like it's going to be... but then it turns out the actual message is that you have to be both interesting and extremely attractive to get the guy. I had a big problem with that. Sure, it's better than just being pretty... but come on. I get it, superficial culture and all that, but that's bad. The Beauty Inside doesn't have that message, though its inspiration's parting note is closer to that than I think anyone involved would like to admit. [embed]219909:42608:0[/embed] Kim Woo-jin wakes up every day as a different person. His running internal monologue (always the same voice) is the only thing we really have to latch onto. One day, an old woman; the next day, a young boy. And on and on. Some days he's extremely attractive, goes out, and has a one night stand (which he runs from in the morning). Other times he just does his work. He's a furniture designer, half of the brains behind the customizable furniture company ALX. He has one friend – the other man behind ALX – and his mom, both of whom know his secret and accept him. But, as is wont to happen, something is changed by the power of love. Not the secret, but Woo-jin's reaction to it. He was cool with the whole isolation thing, but then he fell for Yi-soo, a furniture saleswoman. And eventually, she falls for Woo-jin too. But there are a lot of questions there, big ones, existential ones, for both sides of the relationship.  It's not easy. Obviously. There was a movie I saw at the Japan Cuts Film Festival this year called Forget Me Not. I liked it a whole bunch but I couldn't bring myself to write about it. It was a romance about a high school girl who is forgotten by everyone around her: her teachers, her classmates, even her parents. I didn't write about the film because the whole thing was just too damn bleak. I couldn't get up the energy to write something that did it justice. I bring Forget Me Not up because I was absolutely terrified for about two thirds of The Beauty Inside that it would turn out a similar way. When I figured out that it wasn't going to end the way the 2012 film did, I thought that maybe it would go there; eventually E-soo would forget about him or something to that effect. There's already a supernatural element, so why not add another one? Woo-jin is easy to forget. Everything about him changes from day to day. Some days he can't even speak Korean, but he can always understand it. (This is particularly interesting, since he doesn't actually learn this new language, as evidenced by a back-and-forth in Japanese and Korean where his conversation partner slips into Japanese and he can't translate.) And so some day, he could easily just disappear and no one would ever know.  What makes The Beauty Inside fundamentally more interesting than its source material is its focus on society. In the original experiment, it was just the two characters. But Yi-soo has a family and colleagues and friends. She's not isolated, and so dating becomes a Thing. Colleagues start rumors about her, saying she goes through a new man every day. And... they're right, sort of. But that starts to wear on her. How does she respond to that? How would she introduce him to her family? Where does all of this lead? These are those existential questions, and the way they motivate the characters is fascinating to watch.  This may be a bit too clinical, but I sort of think of it as its own kind of experiment. We take a guy who, every day since he turned 18, has become a new person. We take a woman who, it turns out, he gets on rather well with. Then they just go. It has a very naturalistic style (ripped straight from the social film), and so the whole thing feels oddly real. It looks like a movie, but it feels distinctly non-cinematic. It feels like a bizarrely good looking documentary. The whole thing played out in a way that felt right, and with a narrative like this that's crucial. When things are sad, any overtly manipulative move feels cheap, but so does any deus ex machina. Things don't just get better because they get better. If they get better, it has to feel natural and earned. It may leave plenty of questions open, but you don't need to have all the answers all the time. It's about the moment and making that moment feel as honest as possible. And that's where The Beauty Inside succeeds. It feels honest. And a film (a romance at that) that can feel honest when its protagonist is played by 123 different people is a special one indeed. 
The Beauty Inside Review photo
Thankfully more than skin deep
The Beauty Inside is a remake of sorts. It's taken from a 2012 social film of the same name. "Social film" is a term I learned while writing this introduction. Social films are episodic and feature integration with socia...

Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 Recap: "The Dog"

Sep 14 // Nick Valdez
At the end of last episode, Travis, his ex-wife and son ended up in the care of the Salazar family. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on how you see it) we don't get to explore this time long as this episode begins with all of them having to leave. It's a well storyboarded scene as the two families make their way through the riots and the shots are appropriately hectic. There's even a zombie attack amidst the chaos, and it's so frantic you can actually feel the two families trying to make sense of it all. While they were running, the chaos leads to Griselda Salazar getting hurt and the Salazar's decide to stay with Travis while talking of "debts" and the like. This also is one of the reasons I'm starting to hate Cliff Curtis' Travis as a character. The fact he doesn't suggest taking in the Salazars after they helped him is pretty petty. Also, I'm not really sure what to think of the Salazar family yet. It's pretty neat that a Latino family is at the forefront of one of these shows, but I don't like how typical they've become.  Ruben Blades' Daniel is headstrong and stuck in this standard Latino ideology that one doesn't do something without owing something in return. I'm not exactly confident that the series can explore it well, but it's at least some sort of characterization. I just hope he branches out from the typical image he's given right now. It seems so since he judges Travis as weak. And as much as Madison has annoyed me in previous episodes, her arc has been the most compelling thus far (and I thought the drug addict Nick would provide more entertainment). As The Walking Dead deals with people surviving in the apocalypse, Fear wants to watch how these people will slowly change. And if Fear is smart, it'll only focus on that stuff. As much as I love watching failing societies, I love watching people crumble under it. As Madison realizes that, illness or not, these dead people are still dangerous, she just might the decision to be active.  That's the overall direction this season: activity vs. inactivity. Characters bicker as to whether or not they need to find a better shelter, Travis refuses to actually put down a zombie (which might lead to a well deserved death) and accept the world is ending, Madison is just trying to keep her family together, Daniel wants to stay and take care of his family while the others march to their deaths, Nick has to decide whether or not to pursue drugs, Alycia finds out more and more about the new world, parts of the city are rioting while the suburban area seems to live life as usual, and all of this is just fantastic...until the ending.  You see, Fear the Walking Dead throws all of this away and introduces the military as they come in and literally save the day. I don't know where any of this is going, but it put a literal stop to all of the forward momentum the episode had going for it. I've had enough of these crooked military stories.  Final Thoughts:  When you find out why this episode is titled "The Dog," you'll be as sad as I was.  Travis somehow thinks the zombies are sick even after watching one get run over multiple times a few episodes ago. I just don't get it. Also he's staunchly opposed to guns. Either the show's setting up for a big downfall or his character's going to go through one of those "dark turns."  The same person has directed the three episodes so far, that's probably why there's a welcome feeling of consistency.  You're probably wondering why the episode took a few seconds to focus on a plane flying over, but someone on that plane will be joining season 2. AMC's planning some mini-episode detailing all of that. 
FTWD Recap photo
A dog eat dog world
I stand by what I said last time and believe the Labor Day week off was definitely a death knell for Fear the Walking Dead. Though it needs to finish its six episode season before The Walking Dead premieres next month, it did...

Jessica Jones photo
Solving super powered mysteries
Netflix has announced, in a oddly trippy teaser for the show that you can see below, that Jessica Jones will be landing at 12:01 a.m. on November 20th. That's only two months away guys! Anyone who dug Daredevil shou...

Black Mirror Netflix photo
Confession: I loved the pig episode
Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror was given new life when Netflix added it to its streaming library in late 2014. Many a thinkpiece ensued, and pretty much everyone you knew probably asked if you'd seen it at some point or ...

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

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

Review: The Transporter Refueled

Sep 04 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219881:42589:0[/embed] The Transporter RefueledDirector: Camille DelamarreRated: PG-13Release Date: September 4, 2015  The Transporter Refueled is basically The Transporter, but with a different actor and four girls instead of one. Yes, there's some minor plot differences, but the general gist is that a professional driver, Frank Martin (Ed Skrein), is called into a job and then gets sucked into some drama he doesn't want to be in. In this case it involves a group of sex slaves led by Anna (Loan Chabonal) and his father Frank Sr. (Ray Stevenson). The premise, much like in the first films, is that this is very against Frank's rules and his personal coda. The problem with that premise is that it's never executed. Unlike in the original film where you felt like Frank was constantly upset by this shift in his life this time around it feels like he's all in from the start. It takes away one of the unique edges that the franchise had and instead of a character you get an archetype. Frank stoically goes from fight sequence to chase sequence on the most predictable path there is. His character never really gets pushed into interesting places, and that makes the rest of the flaws in the film stand out even more. Of course part of the charm of the original character was what Jason Statham brought to the role. Skrein brings none of it. Statham's charm, wit and style are replaced by what appears to be a very handsome wood carving. Skreim lacks the every-man demeanor that Statham brings to a role and that means that his Frank Martin is just boring. It doesn't help that he clearly doesn't have the fighting skills to handle the role. He's slow in the sequences he's in and the director has to overly rely on quick edits to make it seem like fights have impact. Not that Camille Delamarre (another failed Luc Besson protege) does very much with his directing. There are admittedly some fantastic ideas for fights and action sequences in this film, but Delamarre can't piece them together no matter how hard he tries. Chases are disjointed to the point of confusion leaving them uninteresting despite copious amounts of flipping cars. A fight sequence in an enclosed hallway with small drawers on its walls is completely wasted while the premise of Frank fighting along side his slowly moving car is awesome, but never executed in a way that makes it feel so. I made the horrible mistake of watching Mad Max: Fury Road the night before this. It was like watching the London Symphony Orchestra perform and then listening to a five-year-old smash his hands into a Casio keyboard. That's clearly not a fair comparison. Comparing anything to the best action movie ever isn't fair, but I'll do it anyway because we should start expecting more.  The film never commits to a style of action either. Switching randomly between a serious car chase movie and ridiculous uber-action, the movie just feels awkward all the time. When some sort of physics defying stunt occurs it feels out of place instead of awesome. If you're going to be ridiculous be ridiculous. Don't try to be grounded and then have your hero fly off a jet ski through a car window with pin point accuracy. Also, jet skis aren't cool. They're never cool. As an action film Refueled fails pretty hard, but it's even worse in terms of its treatment of women characters. Not to keep bringing up Mad Max, but this is the exact opposite of how that film perfectly pulled off a plot about kept and abused women. The four fleeing sex workers in Refueled were all kidnapped as children and forced into the trade. The movie attempts to turn their story into one of triumph over an evil doer, but they're still basically there as sex objects for Frank and his father to play with. What's the first thing these abused women do when Frank helps them escape? They show up in lingerie and reward him with sex. Haven't we moved past crap like that? Do we really need some empty love story just so we can have a sex scene, especially for a character whose entire drive is to be detached. The original at least kept its female "lead" clothed for the majority of the film. This one has them stripping as an older man ogles their body in the first 15 minutes.   Maybe I'm coming down incredibly harsh on The Transporter Refueled. After all it's just supposed to be a dumb action flick. The problem is it can't even pull that off. It's failure at even being popcorn fun opens it up to deeper and deeper ridicule. Honestly, we should expect more from our action flicks anyways. The world of action cinema has improved drastically since the original film released and yet this franchise seems to be going in reverse.
Transporter photo
Empty tank
Many people brush off the Transporter films as crappy, but the first two are actually great examples of 2000s action. The first was around for the birth of the cheap European action flick. Taken also falls into...

FlixList: Wes Craven's Five Best Films

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