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Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Aug 19 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220794:43057:0[/embed] Kubo and the Two StringsDirector: Travis KnightRated: PGRelease Date: August 19, 2016 Kubo is a bit of a departure for Laika both visually and thematically. While their animation style still seeps through Kubo is far more inspired by Japanese art and anime than their previous work. It's also their most serious plot to date. Kubo is a young boy who lives with his mother in a cave hiding from his grandfather, who, when Kubo was a baby, stole his eye. His grandfather is now after his other eye for nefarious reasons. One day, when Kubo doesn't make it home before dark, his mother's evil sisters find him and adventure begins to find three pieces of magical armor in order to defeat Kubo's grandfather, the Moon King. Having to set out on his own, Kubo is accompanied by Monkey and Beetle on his grand adventure. It is a very traditional quest adventure, but the story is infused with themes of family, love and loss. If it weren't for the stop motion animation you would easily thing that this was a Pixar movie the story is so well executed and characters so likable. Kubo's tale isn't just one of high adventure, but also deep sorrow. It, like Pixar films, believe in the intelligence of the children it is geared towards and instead of pandering to them executes and story that engages both young and old.  It is, of course, easy to engage when your visuals are probably some of the most stunning of the year. You'll want to pause every scene to see the clear and crisp details while marveling at just how they could possibly do half the things they do with some lumps of clay. Even the simplest movements seem to stand out more thanks to the stop motion. The painstaking creation seeping through every scene.  Director Travis Knight, who is CEO of Laika but has never directed, paces what could be a very dull story beautifully. Despite the standard set up the story unfolds wonderfully, building tension between the characters fantastically. He also has an eye for pushing scary things just enough. Never letting them get so overwhelming that children won't enjoy it, but actually making villains menacing and powerful. Kubo is also being pushed hard in Dolby's new digital theaters where new projectors bring forth some the sharpest images you'll ever see and surround speakers shake the seats. It is possibly one of the best advertisements for these theaters, though whether or not the fantastically crisp picture and blacker than black blacks are worth the extra cost is up to you. I can only tell you that the movie looked better than anything I've seen outside of true IMAX. It isn't what size screen you see Kubo on or how earth shattering the sound is. Those things can make it better, but what make it great is its imagination. It's a stunning world that's hard to forget, and in that world a poignant story is told. The title may only mention two strings, but it will easily pull on all of your heart strings. 
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Stunning
If you know the name Laika then you know they do amazing things with stop motion. They may be the only ones doing it at the scale they do it too. Anyone who has seen Coraline or ParaNorman or any of their other work...

Review: Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

Aug 15 // Geoff Henao
[embed]220778:43047:0[/embed] Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XVDirector: Takeshi NozueRating: PG-13Release Date: August 19, 2016  Kingsglaive takes place in a fantasy world (Eos) made up of multiple countries that historically held magical crystals with extraordinary powers. In the present world, however, the kingdom of Lucis is the only nation to possess a crystal, which they use to create a force field to protect its citizens. The crystal grants powers through the Ring of the Lucii, which has traditionally been passed down the line of Lucis' kings. Meanwhile, the empire of Niflheim has used their advanced weapon technology to conquer all of the world's kingdoms, leaving Lucis as the only nation able to withstand its attacks. The film opens with an introduction to the world and its governmental mythos, specifically introducing us to Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII (Bean) and his son, Noctis, in the country of Tenebrae, where Noctis was recovering from an undisclosed near-death illness. However, their meeting is ambushed by Niflheim soldiers attempting to assassinate both Regis and Noctis, leaving the queen of Tenebrae murdered. Regis attempts to flee with Noctis and the Tenebrae princess, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret (played as an adult by Headey), but she decides to stay behind to protect her injured brother. Ten years pass, and the war between Niflheim and Lucis is still raging on. Regis has created an army force, the Kingsglaive, to protect Lucis against both monster and Niflheim attacks. Kingsglaive centers itself on three primary members - Nyx (Paul), Crowe, and Libertus. Nyx is the hero/savior type, Crowe is the stereotypical female badass, and Libertus is the well-meaning, but over-emotional friend. Sensing that Lucis will succumb to Niflheim's relentless attacks, Regis agrees to relinquish control over all of Lucis' territories outside of Insomnia, where the palace resides, and marry Noctis to Lunafreya, in order to sign a peace treaty. However, this peace agreement causes waves among the Kingsglaive that will change the face of Lucis forever. Gamers that have played modern Final Fantasy entries will feel at home with Kingsglaive's visuals. The entire feature feels like an exended cutscene taken directly out of the games. However, in saying that, it feels too gamey. While the film looks damned good, it never felt like it could stand toe-to-toe with any other Hollywood CGI feature film. Visual Works, the division within Square Enix that primarily developed Kingsglaive, has the ability to create something truly worthwhile, as seen in the multitude of action scenes and dating as far back as Advent Children. If only they had the freedom to create something new and original without the need to tie to a video game, but Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within still casts a large enough shadow to prevent Square Enix from taking that leap of faith. And it's this fear that ultimately holds the entire film back. Set as a prequel to Final Fantasy XV, many of the plot points and characters in Kingsglaive are meant to be Kingsglaive-exclusive and will probably have no real bearing or mention in Final Fantasy XV beyond easter eggs or "wink-wink" references to die-hard fans. Yes, Regis, Lunafreya, and the Niflheim antagonists will play large roles in the game, but Final Fantasy XV's main brotherhood of Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus aren't present in the film outside of a post-credits scene. Kingsglaive is meant to set the tone for Final Fantasy XV's world and to flesh out themes and plots that were too large to be explored in the game proper, but I couldn't help but brush off how greatly unnecessary it is in the grand scheme of things. Will I appreciate Final Fantasy XV more because of Kingsglaive? Probably. Will you miss out on key story arcs and plot points in Final Fantasy XV if you skip Kingsglaive? Definitely not. It's a shame, too, because Kingsglaive does have the star power of Paul, Headey, and Bean to help make Kingsglaive better than what it's supposed to be; honestly, I feel these castings were meant to add surface-level levity and PR fluff to an otherwise average film. The performances themselves are pretty standard of what you'd expect from Headey and Bean, although Paul's performance had flashes of his ability to break out of the typecasting his successful take on Breaking Bad unfortunately left him.  It's hard to critique a multimedia tie-in of its own accord rather than how it stands on its own when said tie-in's purpose is to supplement the main product. It's because of this that Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV ultimately fails to stand up as a true self-contained piece. If Kingsglaive were to be shed of its relationship to Final Fantasy XV and given the space and freedom to tell its own story, this would be an entirely different review. As a gamer who will dedicate at least 100 hours into Final Fantasy XV, I can appreciate Kingsglaive for what it is. As a film critic, however, I can't look past Kingsglaive's inherent fluff factor. With that said, correlate your expectations of the film with you interest in Final Fantasy XV before you decide to devote time to watching the film.
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Prequel: Final Fantasy XV
Gamers know the storied saga of Final Fantasy XV's decade-long production marred by platform changes, thematic upheavals, and personnel moves. It wasn't until this past spring that the scope of the Final Fantasy XV Universe w...

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We came for Phelps gold. We stayed for Star Wars gold. Or was it the other way around? For some, I'm sure it was. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story stole the evening from a series of memorable 2016 Rio Summer Olympics moments by f...

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Is that a triple barrel shotgun?
If you had told me that back in 2002 the Resident Evil movie -- a fun enough action horror flick -- would spawn one of the longer running and relatively successful action series in cinematic history I would have cut you ...


Suicide Squad v Guardians of the Galaxy: A Tale of Two Soundtracks

Aug 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220753:43036:0[/embed] Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is an actual artifact that exists in Guardians of the Galaxy. The Suicide Squad soundtrack is just a soundtrack. This difference cannot be emphasized enough. The Awesome Mix is a mix tape from Peter Quill/Star-Lord's dead mother made just for him. A mix tape means curation, careful consideration, that time was taken to make something, and that something personal is trying to be communicated to someone else through an arrangement of songs. In short, mix tapes show someone you care. It's also important that the Awesome Mix is era-specific, with songs from the '70s and '80s, mixing a bit of AM radio kitsch--"Escape (The Pina Colada Song)," "Hooked on a Feeling"--with some Top 40/punk/glam favs--"Moonage Daydream," "Come and Get Your Love," "Cherry Bomb." This marks a time that Star-Lord will never know, lived by a parent he'll never see again, from a planet he was taken from. Sure, the songs are loads of fun, but there's an underlying sadness to a simple little cassette tape: Quill's last connection to his home planet is an antiquated bit of technology and (since few people make physical mixes these days) a dead cultural practice. By contrast, there's nothing curated about the Suicide Squad soundtrack (aka The Basic Bastich Playlist). It doesn't exist in-story and there's a general willy-nilly-ness to all of it. Looking at the tracklist, it doesn't feel like a mix tape made for anyone but rather for everyone and in the blandest way possible. The soundtrack feels like a bunch of songs some Warner Bros. studio exec downloaded on Napster when he was in college, plus three new ones. Those three new songs are relegated to the closing credits, by the way. That's probably where Skrillex & Rick Ross belong, but a shame to waste a Grimes track. [embed]220753:43037:0[/embed] The choices are so obvious, from "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "The House of the Rising Sun" to "Super Freak" and "Sympathy for the Devil." I couldn't help but think of better movies that made better use of these songs (e.g., Wayne's World, Casino, Little Miss Sunshine, Interview with the Vampire). On that note, The Basic Bastich Playlist even has a song from Awesome Mix Vol 1 ("Spirit in the Sky"). That may explain the general been-there-done-that quality to much of Suicide Squad. The movie does things that other movies have done, but it fails to distinguish itself or excel at anything uniquely on its own. The pop songs come frequently in Suicide Squad. The film's turgid, repetitive prologue feels like three different intro scenes in 20 minutes, with a new pop song creeping up every two minutes. Rather than carefully doling out the needle drops to punctuate a scene or create a character leitmotif, Ayer and his editors feel like cheap wedding DJs looking for a quick reaction from the crowd. "Want some tension and attitude in a scene lacking both? Here's 'Seven Nation Army' and 'Without Me.' Now get ready for the dollar dance." I'm surprised they didn't play "We Are Family," "I Will Survive," and "The Macarena" at some point. The overuse of licensed music is probably the result of the reshoots and subsequent re-edits of the film prior to release. Warner Bros. suits felt like audiences wanted a movie like the first Suicide Squad trailer, so they added more comedy and hired a company that specializes in editing trailers to rework the movie. Consequently, Suicide Squad feels more like a series of trailers than an actual cinematic story. Coming back to the Awesome Mix, I think it just emphasizes the main problem with Suicide Squad, and perhaps even WB/DC as they try to rush their own cinematic universe. The Awesome Mix is a compelling component of a story in which lonely characters join to form a surrogate family. The Basic Bastich Playlist is something a studio used to distract audiences from a story that barely even holds together.
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Basic Bastich Playlist v Awesome Mix
As Matt pointed out in his review, Suicide Squad feels like two movies clumsily stitched together. One movie (the better movie) is a grim Dirty Dozen/Wild Bunch homage about bad guys fighting even worse guys. That sounds righ...

Review: The Little Prince

Aug 06 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220747:43032:0[/embed] The Little PrinceDirector: Mark OsborneRated: PGRelease Date: August 5, 2016  Mark Osborne's (Kung Fu Panda 3) The Little Prince isn't a direct adaptation of its source material. Much like other children's book adaptations such as Where the Wild Things Are and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Prince creates its own original tale. But it takes an interesting angle as the original story serves as more of a delivery system for the original text. As Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) deals with an overbearing, but well meaning. mother (Rachel McAdams), she meets The Aviator (Jeff Bridges, who also serves as weathered narrator from the book) who tells her about the time he met a Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who traveled across the stars. Essentially, it's a story within a story. Seeing as how difficult it might've been to translate the obtuse themes from Saint-Exupery's writing, this is probably the best possible solution.  But the main problem with taking this approach is when Prince isn't telling the book's story directly, it falls short. The film has a conventional style with character design resembling most animated films. The thin, angular bodies of Dreamworks, the larger heads of Pixar, all mash together into something resembling Hoodwinked! with a more flexible budget. That's not to say it's not done well, it's just utterly generic when juxtaposed with the incredible stop motion paper sequences directly adapting the book. These sequences are so endearing and artful, it begs the question of why we couldn't get an entire film that way. The score during these sequences is fantastic with a light jazz/French ensemble paying tribute to the book's origin and tone, the packed cast delivers humble, weighted dialogue, giving more weight to themes overall, and no matter how much you see paper style, it remains surprising. But the other 2/3 of the film feels like filler. Rather than emphasize the stop motion sequences, making each one a reward, it's like they're being held at bay.  While adapting the text as a "story within a story" seems like a good solution, Prince unfortunately waters down the thematic resonance Saint-Exupery's text is remembered for. I won't go into too much detail about what exactly it does, but suffice to say when a now adult Prince has to remember his youth, Prince loses all of the beautiful subtlety. The original novella was a fable about holding on to youth and the hope that comes from imagination, but it never explicitly said any of these things. There were slight hints about the troubles of adulthood, but it was left up to the reader to find it. The film crosses over into "preaching" territory as metatext gives way to explicit statements. It's a little too direct for comfort and becomes yet another animated film trying to teach a lesson.  The problem is wondering what could've worked better. Would the film have worked if director Osborne had gone with one style over the other? Would it have succeeded with the original book's vignette narrative? But how would that film work among current animation film needs? It's the best case scenario in a tremulous situation. Rather than encapsulate the spirit of the original text, making it viable for children and adults alike, it's more of a tribute to those who enjoyed the book as a child. In some cases, it's better to please as many people as you can.  The Little Prince distances itself from its source material more than it desired. Treating the original novella with an almost untouchable reverence, it never gives the audience time to enjoy the story and dive into it themselves. Instead Prince tells us how we should feel about it, thereby ignoring what made the original book so memorable. Essentially mirroring the actions of adults we're told to avoid.  In trying to pay tribute to Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, the film mistakes an elephant in a boa constrictor for a simple hat. At least it's a nice hat. 
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Lost in translation
Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince is one of the most famous children's books of all time. Translated into over 200 languages, it's become a treasure worldwide. But as with all adaptations, things were bound to chan...

Review: Suicide Squad

Aug 05 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220744:43031:0[/embed] Suicide SquadDirector: David AyersRated: PG-13Release Date: August 5, 2016  There have been plenty of very harsh words thrown around about Suicide Squad already, and they really aren't all that deserved. This isn't a terrible movie, it just isn't great. What is happening is that the loss of potential and the clear mishandling of this film is making some overact to its flaws. In many ways Suicide Squad is a perfectly acceptable, if unremarkable, superhero (villain) flick, but it could have been more. That fact screams out through frame after frame of this film. The premise here is ripe for intrigue. Government agent (and most intriguing character of the film) Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has the bright idea to make a "superhero" team from a collection of super villains in order for the government to save the day, but also have plausible deniability when things go wrong. She convinces everyone this is a good idea gathers up Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margo Robbie), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and Slipknot (Adam Beach). Then the world gets threatened so the team goes into action. The main thrust of this one is exceptionally lacking. That didn't have to be a problem. The characters here are varied and all have the chance to be incredibly interesting, even the guy who just throws boomerangs. The film chooses to focus especially on Deadshot and Harley Quinn. There's good reason for that: both Smith and Robbie are on their A game throughout the entire thing, often turning pedantic dialog into something that actually works. Robbie's Harley Quinn is especially on point and one can't help but wish she and Deadshot had their own films prior to this to actually flesh out the characters. Diablo is the other surprise of the film as most people won't even know who he is, but he delivers probably the most compelling story line of them all. Sadly, despite these individual strong performances the film is far too cramped to actually deliver the character study director David Ayers clearly wanted it to be. An awkward opening that was reportedly redone multiple times gives you a glimpse of the two films competing with each other as the competing styles are awkwardly mashed together. One is a comical action flick and the other is a look at bad people doing good things. The latter should have won out with hints of the former, but instead the movie often feels tone deaf to itself as it lurches from dark tones to one-liners. This balance can be handled well, but it isn't here as many of the jokes failed and often the comradely building got lost as the action movie took over. Ayers' action is also all over the place. His gritty style would have been a perfect fit for a much different Suicide Squad film, but instead he chops scenes together so roughly that it is hard to keep track of what is going on let alone stay within the momentum of a scene. He desperately needed the R rating to make the movie really work, but instead has to cut around a bunch of bad guys doing violence. The final fight, which is probably the weakest part of the film thanks to a paper-thin villain and plot, never earns its payoff and so the audience is left with a bit of fun, but no emotional conclusion. Meanwhile the most intriguing part of the story involves not the big bad, but Waller and her machinations. Mistakenly, it is pushed aside for a big flashy villain.  Speaking of big and flashy: Jared Leto's Joker. Early reports were that he had a small part in the film, but he probably gets more screen time and more to do than half of the Suicide Squad. Honestly, the man had the impossible feat of following up Heath Ledger's masterpiece. I'll give him credit for doing something different with the smooth, deranged, "pimp" Joker, but the performance lands awkwardly between Mark Hamill in the animated series, Ledger and a hint of the campy Cesar Romero. In short, it doesn't really land at all. One struggles to see this Joker facing off against Affleck's deadly serious Batman.  It's easy to come down harshly on the plethora of problems in Suicide Squad, but it's also easy enough to enjoy the movie once disappointment wares off. While the plot may feel horribly cliche, it is tried and true and checks all the right boxes. Smith and Robbie deliver enough to keep the rest of the rushed character development feel slightly acceptable and when the jokes hit they actually work. There is just enough here to enjoy yourself, which is more than I could say for BvS.  Suicide Squad feels like a knee jerk reaction to BvS, in fact. After WB was blindsided by the bad reviews and middling box office we know they ordered re-cuts of Suicide Squad to lighten it up. What they fail to realize is that the tone that BvS, a movie about redemption and hope, set was wrong for that movie, but would have worked wonders for Suicide Squad, a movie about bad guys doing bad things. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is often codified it at least allows the tones of its films to vary with the characters that are in it. Suicide Squad may work as a very basic film, but it isn't enough to pull DC's comic films into the light. Next up to bat: Wonder Woman.  Also, stop trying to make a Guardians of the Galaxy type soundtrack happen, Suicide Squad. It's not going to happen.
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Death by a thousand cuts
Do I need to open this review explaining how important Suicide Squad was to DC and WB? After the poor reception that Batman v. Supermanm received and the less-than-expected box office this movie was what was going t...

Review: Jason Bourne

Jul 29 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220732:43028:0[/embed] Jason BourneDirector: Paul GreengrassRelease Date: July 28, 2016Rating: PG-13  Let’s talk about that name: Jason Bourne is an epically lazy name. The first three Bourne movies were named like novels, which makes sense because they were named after novels, though weren’t really based on them. The Bourne Legacy was also a novel. Since then: The Bourne Betrayal, The Bourne Sanction, The Bourne Deception, The Bourne Objective, The Bourne Dominion, The Bourne Imperative, The Bourne Retribution, The Bourne Ascendency, and (very recently) The Bourne Enigma. All of these are, I guess, perfectly accepted names for a new movie. Perhaps it’s because Jason Bourne wasn’t in the last film, and they really, really wanted you to know that Matt Damon was back to kick ass. Or maybe they just got bored taking names from books. I’m not sure which of those names would be most appropriate for Jason Bourne, but a little bit of creativity would have been appreciated. Then again, look at the number of Jason Bourne books there are. The original trilogy was written by one man, Robert Ludlum, over 10 years. Then he put down the mantle, and it was picked up by Eric Van Lustbader two years after the , who’s been pumping them out ever since. I can’t speak to the quality of any of these books, but it says something about franchising more broadly. Here was a trilogy that set out to do a thing, did that thing, and then its creator was done with it. Years later, someone else decides to continue it.  Jason Bourne feels like that. Sure, Paul Greengrass, who directed Supremacy and Ultimatum, helms this one as well, but it feels like a story that haphazardly thrown together just… because. I mean, Cinema Sins is going to have a field day with this movie; there are so many different levels on which the narrative doesn’t really work, but the problem for me was less the incoherence than the ludicrousness of its attempts to sound modern. I don’t really remember the earlier movies well enough to know how much technology was being used to track everything, but I know that technology plays a much more fundamental role in the world today and the film makes attempts to use that. There's a big narrative Point about the question of privacy versus security, centered around a Google/Facebook-analog called Deep Dream (which constantly made me think of Daydream, Google's upcoming Android VR platform), and it comes down pretty firmly on the side of governmental access to privacy. Normally, I might delve into that topic here, but honestly the film doesn't deserve it. It makes some vague platitudes about helping the good guys (i.e. the government), but it doesn't really do anything worthwhile with it, and it doesn't make any real arguments. Normally, I'd probably deconstruct it here... but it's just not worth it. The bigger issue than the film's politics is just how silly the use of tech is. You don't need to know much to know that the things these characters do are completely impossible. (My favorite moment is when a flip phone is remotely hacked into by the CIA and how that action somehow allows for a nearby laptop to have its hard drive wiped (lolwut); the "ENHANCE" moment is pretty good too (and, ya know, good on Alicia Vikander for not laughing while doing it).) In a film that's very, very serious, overtly ridiculous actions like these undermine any sense of drama. This is a fantasy film set in a fantasy world. The fairly realistic intrigue that I'm pretty sure the original trilogy had is nowhere to be found in Jason Bourne. But what we do have are some genuinely fantastic action sequences. Whether they're close-quarters fights or city-spanning car chases, Jason Bourne delivers that visceral intensity that I wanted from the movie. Yeah, the shaky cam is in full effect, making certain moments a bit, well, impossible to follow, but it's still more effectively utilized than 90% of the films that have aped the style since. It's disorienting, but it's just coherent enough that you can tell a whole bunch of awesome stuff has happened and that your brain will be registering it in 3... 2... WHOA THAT WAS COOL. And that's the film. In its narrative moments, it layers on the twists and double crosses and triple crosses seemingly at random, failing to create an ultimately satisfying series of events (though I'll be honest, I did like the ending, because I think it sets up a potentially more interesting (inevitable) sequel than I was expecting based on the previous few scenes). In its action moments, it hits hard and just keeps on hitting. I know some people who found it a bit overwhelming and almost desensitizing, but I didn't think that was the case. The scale keeps expanding, and the sequences themselves are different enough to make each new setpiece feel unique and exciting. You know, sort of, how it's going to end (someone with lines is going to die, but it won't be Jason Bourne), but how it gets there is consistently and thoroughly enjoyable. If you go into Jason Bourne expecting anything other than great action loosely strung together by stupid, stupid character moments, you're going to be sorely disappointed. But if you know what you're getting yourself into, then you can just sit back and enjoy it. Jason Bourne is not as good as the Matt Damon films that preceded it, but it's still a perfectly decent way to spend a couple of hours.
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Punch punch crash crash boom
My memory of the first three Bourne films is a bit like Jason Bourne’s memories of, well, everything: It’s fuzzy, jumpy, and full of Matt Damon hitting things. I remember liking the movies, though being disoriente...

Doctor Strange SDCC photo
Odd.
Marvel's taken their strangest hero and given him quite an impressively stacked film. Not only is Doctor Strange packed to the brim with crazy talent (with Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Chiwe...

Justice League footage photo
The Flash, you kidder
Big things happening today for the DC Cinematic Universe. In addition to the Wonder Woman trailer at San Diego Comic-Con, here's your first taste of Zack Snyder's Justice League movie. It seems goofier and more lighthearted t...

Wonder Woman trailer photo
It's Wonder Woman, suckas!
Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman was one of the highlights of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. She was a real hero in a movie filled with mopey people. Her appearance whetted everyone's appetite for Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman mov...

Blair Witch photo
The Woods is actually Blair Witch!
In an era where it's practically impossible to hide anything from the Internet, we were completely surprised by two projects kept under wraps. Joining 10 Cloverfield Lane is Blair Witch, a project only known as The Woods unti...

Marvel photo
First looks galore
Netflix came out swinging at this year's Comic Con. Not only did they drop a trailer for the upcoming Luke Cage movie, but also teasers for Iron Fist and The Defenders. As you may or may not know the latter of those...

Review: Star Trek Beyond

Jul 22 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220689:42999:0[/embed] Star Trek BeyondDirector: Justin LinRated: PG-13Release Date: July 22, 2016  While many Trek fans will probably balk at this idea, Justin Lin was the exact right man to helm a Star Trek. We'll never be returning to the all out, slow-pan-around-a-star-ship, philosophical, socially aware, political format of Star Trek of yesterday because that's not what makes money, but we can have a strong mixture of action and heart. Lin brought that to the Fast and the Furious franchise in spades, turning a crappy series into something spectacular that people want to see. He did this not just through action, but by turning a cast of characters into a #family. That's what he's done with Star Trek Beyond too. The crew of the Enterprise is finally on their five year mission. In fact, they're three years into it and, as Captain Kirk's (Chris Pine) captain's log tells us, they're all getting a little bored with the daily grind of exploration. Kirk is questioning whether he wants to be a captain anymore and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is shocked to find that his elder self has passed. Luckily they're docking for resupplies at the newest and largest Star Fleet space station, but before they can settle in an alien shows up requesting help to rescue her crew from an uncharted part of a nearby nebula. The crew of the Enterprise jumps into action and promptly gets the ship torn to shreds, crash landing on an alien planet run by an evil alien named Krall (Idris Elba).  The separation of the crew after the crash landing and the relatively small scale of the story overall delivers a Star Trek that is far closer to the original series in tone than either of the previous two films. The removal of larger political pictures and the Enterprise itself means the focus lands squarely on the crew and that works wonders for finally delivering a Star Trek where you feel the crew is anywhere near the family that the crew of the original series was. Spock and McCoy's (Karl Urban) relationship is especially fleshed out while Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) actually become characters instead of plot devices. It's clear that screenwriters Pegg and Dough Jung along with Lin have a far better understanding of what makes Star Trek special than Abrams and crew did. That doesn't mean that the movie turns its back on the new Trek formula. This is still an action movie first and a space drama second. Lin, of course, is really good at action. Again, though, the fights feel more personal and well executed than the previous films. The action is possibly even more over-the-top, and yet it feels more grounded. More importantly Lin keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout every sequence. By the time the now obligatory Beastie Boys song comes on its hard not to be cracking a massive smile no matter how much of a dour original Trek fanboy you are (and I am a big one).  It's even more refreshing that Beyond finally pulls the rebooted franchise out of the shadow of its predecessors. Into Darkness's misguided attempts to recreate Wrath of Khan made the crew seem trite and the story not hit when it was supposed to. Beyond is finally its own story, defining its own crew and creating its own feeling. While it still makes a nod here and there to the original films, it is finally telling its own story -- even if that story isn't all that groundbreaking. I must also champion the film for finally ditching the under armor uniforms that made it look like they were all on the way to bro out at the gym for a bit. The new costume design is spot on and feels much more like something the crew of a starship would wear. The redesign (yet again) of the Enterprise is pretty stellar as well.  For all the fun (and it is really fun) of the movie it isn't really pushing any new boundaries. The story may be new and the cast finally feels like it's gelling, but the plot is paper thin overall. You don't really have time to catch your breathe and think about it while you're watching, but Beyond doesn't go very far beyond in terms of pushing ideas or themes. Maybe, in this case, it doesn't have to. It's focus on the characters overrides its need for a strong plot line and it clearly cares more about hashing out the crew as people than making a profound social statement.  That focus on the crew means that this is by far almost every actors best turn in the role. Pine seems especially comfortable as a more laid back, experienced Captain Kirk while Urban's McCoy becomes less homage to the original and more something of his own. Yelchin finally gets a chance to turn Chekov into something else than a funny accent and nails it, and it's a shame we won't get to see him take the character any further.  Star Trek beyond feels like a very big budget episode of the television show, and while that was a insult for Star Trek: Insurrection, here it is a compliment. The original series and all its progeny had a sort of magic to them, and it stemmed from a crew that felt like a family. That, it turns out, was missing from this new Star Trek thanks to Into Darkness's attempts to replicate instead of create. Thankfully, Beyond brings it back and turns the franchise into something you definitely want to see live long and prosper.
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Going where no new Trek has gone before
The rebooted Star Trek franchise hasn't really had a bad movie. J.J. Abrams put together two highly entertaining pieces of cinema back to back. However, if you're a Star Trek fan Into Darkness was concerning. A...

Nerd rage over all-female Ghostbusters reinforces negative stereotypes about male geek culture

Jul 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220588:42985:0[/embed] If we're going to be fair here, Ghostbusters 2 did more to "ruin" the original Ghostbusters than the new all-female Ghostbusters. Honest Trailers does a pretty good job of summing it up (see above). And yet all the nerd rage is focused on the new Ghostbusters movie, probably because it's got women in it. No, scratch that, it's totally because it's got women in it. If the internet existed in its current form in 1989, a bunch of awful jerks probably wouldn't be whining online about how Ghostbusters 2 ruined their childhood because it at least had the original cast. Remakes and reboots will face some level of scrutiny given the weight of the original (e.g., RoboCop 1987 vs. RoboCop 2014), but with the Ghostbusters remake, the level of handwrining and vitriol is absolutely ridiculous and unwarranted. A lot of that is sexism, plain and simple. Once gender becomes an issue, suddenly everything is suspect, from the motives to the actresses to the characters. I can't help but think of the Mary Sue accusations about Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and ditto the sexism over Felicity Jones' character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It's almost like if you're a woman in geek culture (real or a character), you're either not good enough or too damn good and simply not afforded a space between extremes. By the way, you know who else was offended by an all-female Ghostbusters? Not Hitler, but close. There's a fair amount of MRA froth online about how the movie is pushing a social justice warrior agenda, as if "SJW" is some kind of damning pejorative and political correctness is destroying the fabric of American democracy. Conversely, there's been a fair amount of pushback from progressive and left-leaning culture writers about the importance of representation in media, with some even suggesting that Ghostbusters is a feminist call to arms that sticks it to the patriarchy. Before seeing the film, I felt some of the feminist reads of Ghostbusters were a bit of a stretch, and maybe even hoping for too much for the film's politics--it overreaches as a reaction to total dismissal. This is a Sony movie rebooting a lucrative IP. Its primary function is to make money, launch a franchise, sell toys, and advertise for media and corporate partners via blatant product placement (e.g., even though the Ghostbusters live in New York City, they order Papa John's Pizza). As it turns out, the Ghostbusters reboot pits our four heroes against a sad, dopey, male nerd stereotype named Rowan (Neil Casey). That's right, the villain in Ghostbusters is essentially some men's rights activist on Reddit (sans fedora). It's almost fitting that a movie that's prompted so much hatred from angry male nerd-bros is all about defeating an angry male nerd-bro. Rowan is an outcast, an exclusionary guy, someone who wants to harness power and influence and make the world fear his superior intellect. And he's a pasty dude who lives in a basement and has no friends. It's not subtle. The movie rarely is. Meanwhile, pasty dudes and basement dwellers take to YouTube and keyboards and rail against the movie, trying to deter others from enjoying the new Ghostbusters rather than giving people a chance to decide for themselves whether or not they like the film. But the nerds crave power and respect and have a persecution complex, which is why Rowan feels justified in destroying the world and toxic geeks in real life feel like the mere existence of an all-female Ghostbusters is a personal affront to a cherished childhood memory. Nerds really are the fucking worst sometimes. As I watched Ghostbusters, I couldn't help but think about its odd similarities to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The best scenes of the Ghostbusters reboot felt like Ghostbusters fans playing Ghostbusters in a Ghostbusters movie. As A.A. Dowd put it, the best parts of The Force Awakens felt like Star Wars fans playing Star Wars in a Star Wars movie. Both movies feature villains--Kylo Ren and Rowan--that embody the dark side of male geek identity. And like The Force Awakens, Ghostbusters gets hemmed in and struggles when it slavishly sticks to the story beats of the source material, and also when it gets a little too precious with dropping references to the original. That may be why Ghostbusters and The Force Awakens feel a little flat at the end, with the new characters weighed down by the checklist-feel of the script; without a little pause or modulation in tone, not much feels like a surprise in that final act, and nothing pops quite as much as it could. Even when Holtzmann (who is a little bit Poe Dameron, a little bit Rey) gets her moment to shine, it feels a little small, much like when Rey finally takes up the lightsaber against Kylo Ren. Again, Ghostbusters isn't perfect, but it's got some perfect moments. It needs space between being too damn good and not good enough. It shouldn't be held to a higher standard just because it's got women. Similarly, it shouldn't be viewed with malice just because you watched the original a lot growing up. You're not a special snowflake just because your folks had a VCR; your personal attachment to the film is yours and will always be yours, and four women in a movie isn't going to change that, you silly, silly nerd. Maybe the best lesson for toxic geek culture comes not from the original Ghostbusters but from another 80s movie directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray and Harold Ramis: [embed]220588:42988:0[/embed]
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Calm down, bros, your childhood is safe
Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot opened last week and came in second at the box office, earning $46 million. It wasn't a bad showing for the film, and there's talk about a sequel (because obviously). Melissa McCarthy, Kristin ...

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Kirk's dad got famous
We all heard the rumors, but now it is official. Star Trek will carry on into a fourth film, which probably isn't too surprising to anyone. The rebooted franchise has been a moneymaker for the studio and the movies haven't th...

Star Wars photo
What are you bringing to the table?
Update: Official poster added. Original: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story might actually excite me more than the the main franchise films. Gareth Edwards directing what is basically a space samurai/war film in the orig...

Review: Ghostbusters

Jul 15 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220661:42986:0[/embed] GhostbustersDirector: Paul FeigRated: PG-13Release Date: July 15, 2016  Ghostbusters is a hard reboot, though it finds plenty of ways to give some clever nods to the original while still staying its own thing. Like The Force Awakens, this is basically the same movie as the original, and yet unlike that movie it stands easily on its own. We find Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) attempting to get tenure at Columbia when her book about ghosts that she coauthored with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) pops up online. She rushes to find her old friend, who she abandoned after deciding to not believe in ghosts, but gets carried away into a ghost hunt along with Abby's assistant Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon). Turns out ghosts do exist and as legitimate scientists the gang decides to catch one and thus the Ghosbusters are formed. The team is eventually rounded out when Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) joins. Let's just say this outright: this cast is fantastic and hilarious and wonderful. Those crappy jokes from the original trailer were the weak ones from the film. Who knows why the chose them, but maybe it was because so much of the movie's best comedy comes when the cast is riffing with each other and you just can't get that in a trailer. Director and co-writer Paul Feig's screenplay is full of comedy that is both perfect for its cast and incredibly meta for a film franchise. Despite some hefty plot holes (pretty much the same ones that appeared in the original) it works. It even makes a rock and roll concert actually function again as a plot device, which hasn't been done since Secret of the Ooze made it truly cliche.  Ghostbusters purists may not be happy with some of the changes, but (1) get over over yourself, and (2) they make the movie better for the most part. For one it's a bit more action oriented, with the proton beams turning into more whip-like weapons and plenty of random ghost busting toys (a ghost shredder?) being used. This one is far more comedic than the original, darker film was too. The first Ghostbusters, and to a lesser extent the second, played it a bit straight with its characters. This new one is more flat out comedy, though it never tumbles into full on parody. It all works, and helps to make this film different from the predecessors not just because it has a cast of women, but because it actually justifies its creation beyond a cash in on a brand.   Chris Hemsworth's character deserves an entire paragraph in and of himself. He plays Kevin, the new Ghosbuster's idiotic, but oh-so-pretty-to-look-at secretary, and he might be the most clever aspect of the film. MRAs may point to him as a perfect example of a double standard as half the lines said about him would be torn to shreds if a group of men were saying it about a woman, but that's probably the point. All the comedy at his stupidity and hotness has been used over and over again to make gags about dumb, pretty women since the film industry started and Kevin is a fantastic commentary on that. He's clearly not just there to be sexy and stupid, but to be the final, meta-commentary in a female lead film. Maybe one day we won't need that and it will come across as crass, but for now it's hilarious.  The movie is flawed in a few ways. While much of it comes together fantastically, especially when its relying on the chemistry of its cast (much like the original), other parts are just too cliche to pull off. It can fall into rote tropes too often, though the cast is always there to liven them up and make them work for the most part. There's a scene of them trying out new ghost busting tools that is so clunky not even the cast's comic timing can save it, and at points the story gets rushed through too quickly. Thank goodness Feig had the good sense to cut out a dance number that plays over the credits from the main film. Yes, I know that sounds exactly like something that happens in a really terrible remake, but that's just it: Feig cut it out. Ghostbusters is crisp and funny and it lets its stars chemistry steal the show over ghost busting action and special effects. That's what made the original work and that's what makes this one work. Men or women, what it comes down to is does the cast play off each other and these four do wonders. Hollywood has been churning out old franchise remakes pretty constantly now, and the best ones make a case for themselves as their own thing. Ghostbusters does that. It's its own movie.
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It's good. Stop being assholes.
Look, I wasn't that excited for a Ghostbusters reboot. It had nothing to do with the cast being women and everything to do with my boredom of Hollywood reboots and a really terrible initial trailer. It just didn't look g...

Unlimited Facepalms: MoviePass deserves to lose customers and goodwill

Jul 11 // Hubert Vigilla
If you go on the MoviePass website right now, they still tout $30 as the starting price for service. Anecdotally, it seems as if the service changes weren't done across the board for all users but only affected some MoviePass users. This included early adopters who may have been with the company since it started in 2011. Meanwhile, other customers who may be newer to the service may not be subject to these restrictive or expensive rate hikes and service changes. New users, for instance, may get the one movie every 24 hours version of MoviePass service rather than having to choose between the $40/$50 package and the $99 package. (Also, $99? Guys, that's a passive-aggressive $100.) Then again, I'm relatively new to the program. I've only been using MoviePass since March. Fellow Flixist writer Alec Kubas-Meyer has had MoviePass longer than I have, though as of the weekend, he had not received an email about service changes. This makes me wonder if the number of movies seen during each billing cycle played a part in who got the email of doom, but that's purely speculation at this point. Based on what I've seen online, it seems like long-term MoviePass users were given no option to grandfather their previous plan despite their loyalty to the company over the years. It was the same limited menu of options: pay more for basically less, pay more than double for additional formats, or leave. Lolo Loves Films has been especially critical about these MoviePass changes, with many of their tweets devoted to this issue. MoviePass contacted Lolo Loves Films and discussed the matter with them by phone. Sadly the representative they spoke to offered no answers about reverting to the old service, no option of older users keeping their previous service, or any other matters regarding these pricing and services changes. They simply listened, offered gentle apologies, and that was it. That's all the customer service reps can do, really, since this wasn't their decision and they're probably just as bummed out as the customers that the higher-ups have messed up the company. Even though they listened, it doesn't seem like MoviePass cares. This isn't the first time the company has implemented changes that upset customers. Ryan Scafuro, producer of the documentary Bending Steel, mentioned that he'd been a MoviePass member at the beginning, when the company allowed customers to see one movie per day without the 24-hour restriction. The 24-hour restriction started in October 2013, at which point Scafuro dropped MoviePass. "That may be a petty reason but it really annoyed me and seemed like a shady move," Scafuro explained. "Now [with the new changes] it doesn't seem worth it at all." "I was a pretty early adopter to the program (I think I signed up in 2012)," Scafuro said. "When I called customer service I expected the rep to offer me some sort of grandfather clause. He was basically like 'I can refund your subscription,' which seemed like a tactless 'f**k you' seeing that they were still in the early stages of operation." Even though MoviePass in its current (and fallen) form could potentially offer savings, there's the principle of it all. The changes have been forced on customers without their input or a dialogue, and the changes have been applied unevenly, targeting certain people rather than all of the customer base. It seems unfair because, well, it's unfair. (I think Yogi Berra said that.) Had MoviePass issued a customer survey of some kind across the board prior to implementing any changes, there'd be more goodwill from customers. There'd be a sense of choice and involvement in the service moving forward, a service that many of these customers liked. Even just a little bit of input would go a long way to easing the change. Instead, MoviePass has basically said, "Here are your choices. Now s**t or get off the pot, kiddo." There's also an issue of the limitations in the new services and the immediate psychological response to having your choices taken away from you very suddenly. I don't care about 3D movies, so paying $5 more to see only six movies a month seems like a limitation on my ability to choose. That's not a good way of maintaining customer loyalty, which is why I can't recommend the service to anyone anymore. As of this writing, MoviePass has yet to publicly respond to the criticism it's received online and from individual members about these price and service changes. On July 5th, they posted a letter to customers on their blog, which was received with overwhelming negativity. Just read them comments. I sent an email to customer service over the weekend when I canceled, though I don't expect to get a response. If there's one thing that seems clear in all this, it's that MoviePass doesn't care what you think anyway.
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Roll out of service changes poorly done
As we noted yesterday, MoviePass is raising prices and changing its service plan for select customers. Prior to these changes, MoviePass allowed members to see one 2D movie at participating theaters every 24 hours for as low ...

Review: The Conjuring 2

Jun 10 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220610:42965:0[/embed] The Conjuring 2Directors: James WanRating: RRelease Date: June 10, 2016  Inspired by the events of the Enfield Poltergeist in 1970s London, and six years after the events of the first film, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren find themselves in London where single mother Peggy (Frances O' Connor) and her four children are experiencing paranormal activity in their home. When the youngest, Janet (Madison Wolfe), begins acting strangely and claims to be the home's deceased previous owner, Ed and Lorraine are dispatched by the church to prove whether or not there's actually a spirit in their home. But in that search, darkness from the Warren's past comes back to wreck things for everyone.  As a sequel, Conjuring 2 makes a few interesting choices. First of all, it's left behind the metaphysical horrors of the first film and instead chooses a more physical force for the Warrens to combat with. In comparison, the only physical interaction the Warrens had with a ghost in the first film were a few things flying around the finale's exorcism. With a physical force resembling something from Wan's other well known horror series, Insidious, Conjuring 2 is directed with a more action heavy flow. The film's opening scene, which is the most important, tone establishing scene of any horror film, is punctuated by snaps so loud and at such a high frequency the scene loses the terror momentum. It abuses the "jump scare" (a sudden appearance of something punctuated by a loud noise) so much it exaggerates the action of the scene rather than revel in the horror. That's not necessarily a bad thing since the rest of the film adapts to this newer, more heightened pace and tone, but there's definitely a loss.  The newer direction undervalues the film's particularly creepy visuals. Now that there is something concrete to defeat, the tension comes from whether or not the Warrens can defeat the foe rather than the poltergeist in question getting under the audience's skin. Wan directs the brunt of the film's fear factor toward its characters and thus makes it "less scary" overall to the audience. It's fulfilling the need for suspense (and does make for a more gripping film once it gets going), but backs away from true terror. I am also not sure why it's rated R to begin with since most of the film's horror visuals are toned down in favor of this new, more exciting direction. This is also the reason comparisons to the first film are apt since it tends to cruise through the same plot points, hoping this new tone would make the story different. But try as it might to change itself, The Conjuring 2 never fully commits to either direction. It loses horror for its action, but never makes that action as compelling as it could be.  Conjuring 2 is just confused. What's most interesting about this confusion is that it births interesting elements where a more focused take would have benefited. When Wan truly dives into the horror setting, you get some unique and revelatory sequences (like with the upside down crosses or the painting scene). But it is in between horror build up that lacks the necessary pace to keep the film enthralling until the Warrens get there. For a chunk of the film I found myself waiting for the Warrens to pop in again rather than being creeped out by the setting. With such a confused take, nothing in the film quite grabs. The setting, the plot, and every character but Ed and Lorraine are entirely unremarkable. But when the Warrens finally show up to do some things, the film's action-y pace takes hold and it gets a shot in the arm.  Since The Conjuring 2 loses its horror focus, it is not too compelling when an action isn't taking place. But in that same breath, there are enough unique individual elements to make it enjoyable overall. To put it bluntly, the first film was "scarier" but the sequel handles itself better. It makes the kind of choices with its direction that serve to better the series moving forward.  To think we will get a series where an exorcist couple throws witty banter back and forth as they fight demons three or four films from now. There is just too much potential to miss. 
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Conjures a good time
The Conjuring became quite the hidden gem when it was released three years ago. A nostalgic return to classic horror haunting roots, it breathed new life into the genre by shifting the focus to paranormal hunters Ed and ...

Review: Warcraft

Jun 08 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220615:42967:0[/embed] WarcraftDirector: Duncan Jones Rated: PG-13Release Date: June 8, 2016  I will say off the bat that I have not been involved in the Warcraft universe in many years, and even then only with the RTS games, but I'm assuming that there's a very in depth, thought out and complicated world in place by now. It may help the film a lot if you know about this world, but coming from an outsider's eyes the world of Warcraft (sorry) feels hollow and cliche. Maybe that's because the game's basis was originally much the same, but however the game's world has evolved the movie can't capture it, and it's commitment to trying to do that may be it's greatest weakness. We open on some impressively done CGI and motion capture orcs as we're introduced to Durotan (Toby Kebell), a chieftain who has reservations about the obviously-evil Gul-dan's plan to use a an evil green magic gate to invade the human world as the orc's world is dying. Evil plan executed, a small team of elite orc warriors, some corrupted by said evil green magic, enter the human world and begin to build a new gate so as to open a path for the rest of the orcs. The humans (and other Alliance creatures) quickly realize they're being attacked and call upon  powerful magic being The Guardian (Ben Foster) to help protect them. Things are amiss, however, and the battle rages on with knight Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), magic guy Llane Wryne and sexy orc hybrid Garona (Paula Patton) taking the lead in orc killing.  The overarching premise is that there are good orcs out there. Durotan attempts to broker a peace with the humans as he realizes that Gul-dan's magic is evil and is what caused the death in the orc home world. It's clear this theme of telling both sides of a war is what Jones really wanted to do with the film, and at points he almost succeeds. There's a very interesting Game of Thrones political fantasy buried deep in Warcraft, but it never gets the chance to see the light of day. Warcraft has a pretty slavish dedication to the look and feel of the games, and that does it no favors. Instead of the awe-inspiring vistas of The Lord of the Rings the overall look of the film feels cheap. Armor and costume design feel like they were pulled out of a high-schooler's math class doodles, which, in fairness, most likely would be influenced by World of Warcraft. Sets are often small and fake looking and overall it just feels very cheap, like we're watching something out of early 00s SyFy. You've seen almost all of this before and done better.  It's especially odd because for the most part the orc stuff is absolutely fantastic. Character design, animation and setting all feel fresh and interesting. The motion capture and CGI technology for the orcs is spot on, though can sometimes hit the uncanny valley really, really hard. When that combines with the plastic-looking human world the entire affair feels like a shell of a fantasy world: empty except for pretty pictures and ideas too big to be executed well. The screenplay is unfortunately unbalanced as well. At points it actually shines, and you can see Jones' skills with handling genre material with a deft touch. The next moment its as clunky as as the massive orcs who are speaking it. Characters and their motivations get picked up and dropped as easily as the plethora of human knights thrown about by orcs. Massive plot points are glazed over and world creation often feels as if it was forgotten. Part of this stems from the film seeming to assume that we all have a basic foundation in Warcraft lore and part of it stems from the fact that sequels are blatantly already in the works. The story starts to stretch thin by the end and the conclusion really stops making much sense. It is far from the worst fantasy story ever put to screen by miles, but it never rings with the emotional power of truly great fantasy film making.  Jones does his best with his direction. It's easy to get into the action as he weaves together some impressive battle sequences, even using some top down aerial shots to reflect Warcraft's RTS roots. He actually does some really cool stuff that makes the film fun to watch even when it's not working as well as it could. It's just another way that glimpses of what the movie could be break out before being buried under the hollowness of it all. Have I used the term hollow enough? Warcraft isn't really a bad movie, it's a hollow one. It's surprisingly well executed visually at times, but there's nothing behind the pretty pictures. Its story is actually intriguing, but it never feels important. Its characters have depth to them, but it's never shown. Its not a mess because there is nothing to spill. The world of Warcraft (sorry, again) is a big, pretty, empty shell. 
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Not one reference to Leeroy Jenkins
When Warcraft (then World of Warcraft) was first announced with Sam Raimi directing, I thought that was pretty perfect. Raimi has a deft touch for handling things that are slightly absurd. His almost tongue-in-...

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Jun 03 // Matthew Razak
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the ShadowsDirector: Dave GreenRated: PG-13Release Date: June 3, 2016] If you saw the first move you know that the films definitely bumped up the realism of the turtle design, and threw in a sexy April O'Neil (Megan Fox). The basics of the turtles are still the same, though. We find Leonardo trying his best to learn how to lead; Donatello acting all nerdy; Raphael having temper issues; and Michelangelo providing comic relief and pizza. The Shredder escapes from imprisonment with the help of Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) and opens up a portal to another world where Krang, an evil brain housed in a robot body, strikes a deal to bring his Technodrome to Earth. Meanwhile, Casey Jones (Stephen Armell) shows up to beat up bad guys as well, like the new created Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (wrestler Sheamus). It's a plot so contrived  and cliche (*cough* Avengers *cough*) and stupid it feels torn right from a Saturday morning cartoon, and in this case I just can't be angry at that. When the first film worked it was when it was focusing on the turtles themselves and this is once again true here. Despite a clunkly script that basically tells the actors to say every emotion they're feeling out loud, the filmmakers once again nail the ninja turtles themselves. While their character arc is simply a retread of the original's plotline (brothers argues, brothers come back together to fight bad guy), it plays well thanks to some great motion capture performances and a general feel for the characters. It's fun to watch Mikey crack wise while Raph gets angry and stomps off. They also surprisingly nail Bepop and Rocksteady, making the two as comically idiotic as they are in the cartoon, and pushing the kid-geared humor up a notch (fart jokes, slapstick, etc.) At it's base the movie just gets the turtles and villains, even if it's attempts at almost everything else are ham-fisted.  Well, that's not entirely true. Much like the first movie the action sequences in this are pretty impressive. Possibly thanks to the entirely CGI makeup of its heroes the move pulls some ridiculous stuff off including a fight in an cargo plane that's fantastic. The turtles don't get to show off as much of their actual ninja fighting skills this time around, but the big action set pieces are a blast to watch. Plus, the turtle van makes an appearance so that was my childhood dreams come true. This is director Dave Green's first big action film, and at points it's clear he needs some practice getting action to flow together, but there's promise there and an eye for what makes action work.  Outside of the turtles things are a little rougher. Megan Fox's April seems to have only made it into the movie for exposition and eye candy, the latter of which is a bit contradictory to the clear target audience of the movie. Armell's Casey Jones is charming enough, but that's really only because Armell is charming, not because of the character himself. The screenplay does no favors to either character passing most of the good lines over to Will Arnett, returning as Vernon Fenwick. Somehow Laura Liney also accidentally accepted a role in the film. I think she may have been drugged, but it's pretty clear she doesn't want to be there. Out of the Shadows doesn't quite work as well as its predecessor overall, either. It's very clear that now that they've got the green light to move forward with the series they want to make their own ninja turtle universe. Baxter, Krang and Shredder are all set up for returns, which is great, but the problem is the the film sometimes feels like its playing for the future instead of focusing on the film itself. That's pretty evident in the movies piecemeal plot and often overbearing exposition.  Still, when it comes down to seeing the ninja turtles in action the movie delivers. While many of the same issues that the first film had are still present, and at times worse, Out of the Shadows delivers the team of mutants as they've should be. It's a fun, if not entirely well executed, bit of cinema that's geared not towards the elder nostalgia nerds, but the children who it probably should be. 
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These aren't your turtles
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot happened I was mostly just worried since I'm of the age where I like to pretend that my generation can lay claim to the heroes in a half shell. But that's pretty ridiculous co...

Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Jun 03 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220607:42964:0[/embed] Popstar: Never Stop Never StoppingDirectors: Jorma Taccone, Akiva SchafferRelease Date: June 3, 2016Rating: R Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a mockumentary, and a great one at that. Following, primarily, the story of Conner 4 Real, a member of the Style Boyz, who broke off on his own after a fight with whoever Akiva Schaffer played. (Not gonna lie, I don't remember his character's name or Jorma Taccone's; then again, I probably wouldn't remember Conner's if it hadn't been seared into my retina from the repeated viewings of "Finest Girl.") Anyways, he's got a documentary being made about his life to coincide with the release of his second album. People went crazy for the first one, and now he's trying to top it, by hiring a metric fuckton of producers and making something that just... doesn't work. (Except to me, obviously. I thought it was all gold, but I understand why the fictional humans in this mockumentary might not take to it.) This is the first mockumentary I've seen in a while, or at least the first one I remember seeing. It was big for a while and then kinda fell by the wayside. I get that. The joke can get stale pretty quickly, which makes Popstar's brisk, 90-ish minute runtime perfect. There's enough variety to keep you entertained but not so much stuff that it ever feels padded or overlong. The only jokes that go on are the ones where that is, in fact, the joke, and the film only goes to that well a couple times (i.e. not enough to be irritating or gratuitous).  One of the potential issues with the format is that there are only so many places it can go. And, sure enough, from the moment Popstar begins, you can (successfully) guess every single story beat. Nothing about the narrative is even sort of surprising... but so what? For a film from The Lonely Island, that's pretty much exactly what I wanted. I wanted something that felt good and comfortable and also made me laugh while putting some new music into my head to obsess over for a little while. And the film absolutely succeeded on both those counts. The "Finest Girl" song actually plays a big early role in the film, and it was kinda cool for me to see how much different and also the same the "In Concert" version of the song was compared to the music video. And I loved his song about Equal Rights (I'm so excited for when that hits Spotify), being Humble (which is already there), the Mona Lisa (ditto), and everything else. Seriously, the music here is just stellar from start to finish. If this was actually just a concert film, I would still have loved it. [When this was written, the album hadn't hit Spotify yet. It's now up, but the Equal Rights song is not available. Which is hot garbage. - Ed] But there's more to it. It's a damning indictment of our modern pop culture and the way we treat our stars. (Sort of.) Conner gets big, in part, because he connects directly with fans. He records himself brushing his teeth and posts it. Everything is out there for the world to see. As someone who watches at least a couple of Youtubers consistently, it really struck a chord not just because it was funny but because it was real. Everything about the way his persona goes from public idol to public ridicule feels genuine, even if it's turned up to 11. So many moments are exaggerated versions of real headlines. (The music-in-your-appliances dig at Apple and U2? Spot on.) It's a parody of modern music, but it's also a celebration of the same. You can tell that everyone involved is genuinely enjoying what they're doing. This extends to an expectedly large cast of cameos, who really help sell the whole thing. The likes of Usher, Nas, and A$AP Rocky all help to ground the film in a bizarre alternate reality, and every one of them puts in a killer performance. I don't really want to ruin all the cameos, and we're not talking Muppets-level stuff here, but it's a pretty packed group, many (if not most) of whom are playing themselves. Usher is particularly compelling, and when says that it was the Style Boyz who made him want to start dancing, for just a moment, I totally believed him. Because, like, duh. The Donkey Roll is an awesome dance. How could it not inspire Usher to become Usher?  It's been a good Spring for comedies. Between The Boss (which I liked, despite knowing that no one else does), Neighbors 2 (which Nick didn't like but is awesome), and The Nice Guys (which isn't as good as Neighbors 2 and has some issues with the way it handles the "hilarity" of death but is the most genuinely original comedy I've seen in a while), there's been a lot to recommend. And though I recommend all those films, to varying degrees, Popstar stands above. This is The Lonely Island at the top of their, years after leaving SNL and mostly dropping off the map. They're back and as good as (if not better than) ever. If you don't like The Lonely Island, this film won't convince you to. But if you do, you're going to love each and every moment.
Popstar Review photo
Amazing 4 Real
A couple weeks ago was the finale for the forty-first season of Saturday Night Live. At one point, fairly late in the show, a familiar title screen came up: "An SNL Digital Short" For people who loved everything from "Lazy Su...

Review: Hard Sell

May 23 // Rick Lash
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I want to say nice things about this film. That's the feeling I'm left with as I'm watching it. I believe I understand where the Writer/Director, Sean Nalaboff, is coming from. Hard Sell is "a coming-of-age tale ... [abo...

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What? You gotta admit it's catchy.
I'm still weirded out by the fact that Disney is making adaptations of their adaptations of famous fairy tales, but so far they've been pretty good or even revolutionary so let's roll with it. The next one up is Bea...

Review: The Angry Birds Movie

May 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220589:42956:0[/embed] The Angry Birds MovieDirectors: Clay Kaytis and Fergal ReillyRating: PGRelease Date: May 20, 2016  At the center of The Angry Birds Movie is Red (Jason Sudeikis), a bird with an unchecked anger issue because he's been alone his entire life. He's been separated from the rest of the birds in town until he's forced to spend time in anger management which leads him to his future partners in crime Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride). When a ship full of pigs, led by the sneaky Leonard (Bill Hader), pulls up to bird island claiming to be friendly, Red leaves in search of the legendary hero known as Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) for help. After shenanigans from the pigs, it's up to Red, Chuck, and Bomb to find the hero and save the island.  Before getting into the nitty gritty, I want to take some time out to comment on how much work went into Angry Birds. It is honestly refreshing to see decent production and time on what seemed like a total cash-in project (from its inception to its last couple of trailers the film reeked of things other than quality) has . The animation is slick, the bird designs have a simple, easy to manipulate geometry (utilizing both hard angles and softer, cutesy spherical shapes), and the cast handles the material as well as they can. Sudeikis has already proved his capacity to lead a film time and time again, and now he can add voice over work to that list. Red's as charming as he needs to be without the script resorting to the same types of "kooky" dialogue the rest of the characters are subjected to. None of the actors come across as phony, with the weakest performance coming from Hader's Leaonard. Then again, even a weak Hader is better than you'd expect so it's a roundabout positive.  Once you get past the bread, you realize there's not a lot of meat on this chicken sandwich. Trying as hard as the visuals might, The Angry Birds Movie simply can't shake off how generic it is. It may not have the luxury of a videogame narrative to adapt, but that doesn't excuse a lot of its choices. While the freedom of a creating a whole universe brings about some neat little oddities differentiating it from other animated films (like anger management having weight in the plot, for example), the same is true for the opposite end of the spectrum. Quite a few quirks and dialogue choices should have been reconsidered. At one point, Angry Birds crosses the line into full-on annoying territory when Chuck and Bomb degenerate into incessant noise making machines for two minutes just so it can get a reaction from its kid audience.  The Angry Birds Movie is at a constant state of flux. Battling between originality and what's easier to write, the film is always holding itself back. In fact, it even takes a hit whenever it has to reference the videogame series. Like when the series' famous slingshot is introduced, it feels forced in. But in that same breath, that very slingshot leads to a well storyboarded climax. So it's an odd toss up between the film's potential audiences. Rather than create a film that's ultimately appealing to the widest demographic possible, you have a film that appeals to folks with select scenes. Some scenes will appeal to the two year olds who like to repeat funny sounds, the three year olds who like gross out humor, the adult who appreciates good animation, or that one parent in my screening who lost his mind the entire time. I'm glad at least that guy had a good time.  I'd hate to end a review with nothing more than an "it could've been worse" sentiment, but honestly that's all I feel about The Angry Birds Movie. It came, it went, it's probably coming back (or at least confident in a sequel enough to promote it during the credits and the extra scene available on mobile phones), and yet it doesn't really deserve any hearty emotions.  The Angry Birds Movie is not terrible enough to earn your rage, but it's not good enough to earn your praise either. A decent outcome from a numerous range of negative potential outcomes earns the film a small victory. 
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Nothing to get too angry at
With videogame adaptations becoming more common, it was only a matter of time before we would end up in this situation. A videogame popular for its gameplay and mechanics rather than its story would get the big screen treatme...

Review: The Nice Guys

May 20 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220584:42955:0[/embed] The Nice GuysDirector: Shane BlackRated: RRelease Date: May 20, 2016 If you've seen the cult classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang you know that Sean Black knows his way around the tropes and cliches of noir film and knows how to subvert them beautifully. His return to the genre is exciting to say the least. The Nice Guys starts up as many noir films do with narration from one of our lead private eyes: Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). He is soon joined in his narration efforts by Holland March (Ryan Gosling) as the two team up to find a missing girl -- Jackson out of misplaced duty and Holland out of greed. Tagging along is Holland's daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). A 70s, drug-fueled mystery unfolds replete with femme fatales, conspiracies, tragic downfalls and everything else you'd expect from a noir. Stir in some buddy cop banter (Black's other genre strong suit) and you've got yourself a perfect example of neo-noir on your hands. There's a lot to unpack here, especially since Black is clearly spending a lot of the movie simply deconstructing the noir genre. Sadly, the movies plot seems to suffer because of it. While it's two lead characters are fantastic, it's comedy crisp and its direction clever the film's story never lives up to any of it. Relying far too heavily on deus ex machina and cheap plot twists the mystery seems to be more in service of the themes than the other way around. That might be fine for an art house film, but this isn't that and it makes watching the movie start to get a bit boring. Thankfully, Crowe and Gosling are pretty fantastic together. Their chemistry takes a bit to work up, but once it does they're flinging insults off each other wonderfully. It helps that the two characters are really representations of the two major facets of noir gumshoes. Crowe's is the hard-edge moral code that classic noir anti-heroes abide by and Gosling's is the rampant self destruction and selfishness that makes them not entirely likeable. Together they basically make Humphrey Bogart in 70s suits and Hawaiian shirts. It's a wonderfully smart look at noir film archetypes made even more fun by the charm the two actors bring to the role.  On the other hand you have Holly, whose character seems almost unnecessary except to move the plot along. Her character is the worst aspect of the buddy cop movie (the unwanted sidekick) and feels especially out of place in a film crammed full of adult content. The emotional ticks she plays a part in could have been executed just as easily without her, and her involvement in some of the scenes feels inappropriate at times. She also seems out of place overall with the tone and genre of the film. A bit of 90s buddy cop movie pushing in a bit too much on what should be a noir with just a sprinkling of that genre.  I will say that the 70s are the perfect setting for neo-noir. The last decade of abandonment tinged with the knowledge that all the drugs, sex and crime we're leading to a crescendo that was the 80s. The movie doesn't quite make enough of its setting except to play off the emergence of pornography in cinema and show of some epic 70s fashion. It's another aspect that works really well for the noir part of the film, but feels like a gimmick when the more buddy cop tones play in.  The Nice Guys is a strange combination of what Sean Black does best, but his neo-noir feels awkward mixed with buddy cop. Maybe he was emboldened by his success at mashing together genres in Iron Man 3, but in this case Black should have stuck with what he does best: turning noir on its head in order to redefine it.
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Shane Black doing it oh so nice
There's something a little off about The Nice Guys. It should work really well. Two great actors who play off each other fantastically with director/writer Shane Black bringing his talents back to the neo-noir genre. Plus, it...

Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

May 20 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220574:42953:0[/embed] Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Director: Nicholas StollerRating: RRelease Date: May 20, 2016  A few years after the events of the first film, parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are selling their home because they're expecting their next child. But not realizing what they had agreed to, the two end up in escrow. Meaning they have to keep their home buyer friendly for 30 days lest they end owning two homes. At the same time, Shelby (Chloe Grace-Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) are three college girls who find out sororities aren't allowed to throw parties. Deciding to start a sorority of their own, and with the help of first film antagonist Teddy (Zac Efron), they move in next door to Mac and Kelly. After a series of shenanigans, Mac and Kelly once again find themselves in a prank war against the rowdy college kids next door.  Although Neighbors 2 tries its best to be different, it falls into the same traps most comedy sequels do. Given the nature of comedies in general, with each of them intentionally being a one-off story, all any sequel can do is try and capture what worked before and improve what did not. So if you enjoyed the first film, you might not enjoy this one. Everything's basically the same between the two films and there's not a lot added here to differentiate. There's the same air-bag gag, the same weak jokes about Rogen's body compared to Efron's, and despite poking fun on the mysoginistic voice of the first film, there's the same type of penis jokes. Which means that what it's trying to do thematically, presenting a "feminist" comedy (despite being written by five white men), is already worse for wear. It's hard to take anything seriously when one huge sequence ends with Zac Efron dancing until he shows his privates to a huge crowd.  Even if it doesn't change much of the story elements, Neighbors 2 still does an admirable job in turning the comedy sequel on its head. Simultaneously ridiculing and reveling in the premise, each of the characters have been surprisingly developed. Capitalizing on the character's ages (and further expanding on the "Dad Rogen" type introduced in the first film), there's a slightly compelling emotional current underneath all of the penis jokes. As everyone tries to figure out their identity in the film (whether Mac and Kelly can admit to being bad parents or Zac Efron's Teddy realizing he needs to move forward in life after being stuck in his millenial childlike state), Neighbors 2 touches on a slightly more level headed take on uncertain futures. But sadly this is all in between bursts of juvenile story telling. It's a shame too because when Neighbors 2 does distance itself from standard bro comedy jokes, it's quite refreshing. Despite being a film where terrible people do terrible things to one another, the few moments where it acknowledges the shortcomings are pretty great. Once again, Zac Efron steals the show. Elaborating on the lovable loser story from the first film, Teddy's become even more pathetic as he's basically aged out of the genre. A lot of the jokes in this revolve around how the entire crew would rather be doing something else (down to Mac and Kelly's terrible absentee parenting) and this nihilism is charming in a roundabout way. If you look in a little deeper, it's almost as if the film is telling Zac Efron to go ahead and move on to even bigger roles. It's pretty much time anyway. In that same breath, he's the only one that gets this kind of attention. Every other character is practically window dressing to Teddy's evolution, and it only makes you wish for a film that focused on this theme alone. I want to reward these attempts at new types of humor and themes, but they never quite go anywhere. For example while the sorority in the film is sincere and founded on equal rights ideals, the girls themselves aren't characterized well enough to truly make an impact of any kind. It's impossible for a comedy to accomplish that within 90 minutes, so these ideals feel like an afterthought. It feels like the change from a fraternity to a sorority is more cosmetic and a feminist lead character was only added only to be a plot contrivance to start the whole prank war. In fact, one character in the film literally says the sorority is "untouchable" in order to speed up the extremeness of Mac and Kelly's actions. Neighbors 2 does deserve credit for adding these elements when it could've been just another bro comedy, but it's not enough to acknowledge issues or inherent problems with the bro comedy genre while still trying to utilize the cruder elements of it.  Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising isn't the best film, or the funniest, but it's at least visibly trying to do something different. It's a groundbreaking comedy sequel in that it's not just doing the exact same thing over again for quick money. I mean it is still doing a lot of the same stuff, and while the new ideas aren't explored enough to warrant any kind of real change, the fact there is a refreshing seeming film at the end of the day is pleasant.  The only problem overall is both films just aren't memorable. It's not like you'll be quoting its jokes years later or even remember what happened a week down the line. 
Neighbors 2 Review photo
Well, at least it tried
In my long tenure here at Flixist I've carved out a niche for myself. If you see a review for a Seth Rogen film or a sequel to a comedy, chances are it's my words you're reading. So little did I know I'd stick around here lon...

James Bond photo
Bond is dead. Long live Bond.
Daniel Craig is leaving the Bond franchise according to the Daily Mail, which is more of a gossip rag than anything else. The actor may have turned down a £68 million deal to star in the next two Bond films, w...

Thoughts on the documentary Weiner by Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg

May 17 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220420:42870:0[/embed] Weiner is cringe comedy at its most painful, with so much said in clenched jaws, nervous posture, and sad eyes. What's most fascinating is how, at least for me, the initial schedenfreude turned into empathy. I felt bad for Weiner, sure, but more so for and his wife, Huma Abedin, who suffers the failed campaign mostly in silence. Huma's appearances are brief but momentous. When she occasionally looks at the camera and emotes, I'm reminded of Jim from The Office or Buster Keaton; when the camera catches her in a candid moment, I'm reminded of seeing distressed strangers suffering through some private turmoil on the subway. While watching Weiner, I kept thinking about Marshall Curry's 2005 documentary Street Fight, which covered Cory Booker's run for mayor of Newark. Booker remains a rising star in the Democratic Party (though he seemed to burn brighter as a mayor than he currently does as a US senator), and Street Fight is all about his high-minded, aspirational campaign which was characterized by an inexhaustible surfeit dignity. Weiner, on the other hand, is all about exponentially expanding indignity, both on the part of the candidate and also on the part of a media obsessed with salaciousness, moral outrage, and sanctimony. [embed]220420:42872:0[/embed] The early buzz over Weiner is that the film's release could have an impact on the general election. Huma is a close confidante of Hillary Clinton and currently serves as vice chairwoman of Clinton's presidential campaign. I don't think this will have much sway on the primaries or the big vote in November, but it may help people reflect on what matters in politics. With so much focus on personality and personal lives, the focus on policy gets lost. In other words, Dick Pics > The Middle Class. As we watch Weiner struggle to get his message out on the campaign trail, all anyone can talk about are his personal indiscretions and how they affect perceptions of trustworthiness. Some express moral outrage, and use it as an excuse for the worst kind of bullying. How much of this is rooted in legitimate concern for New York City politics, and how much of it is just a love of political theater? [embed]220420:42871:0[/embed] I developed a strange admiration for Weiner as the documentary progressed. Part of that is how we begin to feel bad for a person when they've been publicly humiliated, but Weiner is also a fighter. When I first heard about him several years back, it was because of his passion as a Congressman when advocating for 9/11 first responders. The first sexual disgrace would come a year later, but that fighting spirit carried on in his comeback/mayoral bid, though he became a total palooka for the public. Even with everything collapsing, he continued into the fray, taking punch after punch after punch, and yet, against all good judgement, he decided to stand and fight rather than fall. Is it odd to admire the punching bag and the punch-drunk? The big question is if Weiner believed he could salvage his comeback or if it was just the weight of expectation and obligation that kept him going. Most likely both. Maybe it was also a kind of public flogging that he secretly agreed with. It's weird to admire that, but people are strange and complicated, and sometimes they run for office. Whether or not I'd vote for them is a different matter entirely.
Weiner documentary photo
Politics (and dick pics) in our time
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's Weiner was one of the must-sees at New Directors/New Films earlier this year. The documentary chronicles the inspiring comeback and catastrophic implosion of Anthony Weiner's 2013 bid to be...


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