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Review: San Andreas

May 29 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219506:42413:0[/embed] San AndreasDirector: Brad PeytonRelease Date: May 29, 2015Rated: PG-13  At some point in the last 20 years or so CGI and ever more impressive special effects have allowed a new genre to crop up. The destruction genre is a subset of action that, as the name suggests, revels in the destruction of a place or the entire world. This destruction is usually caused by some natural disaster, but the end result is always the same: buildings tumble, millions of people die, and one group of people makes it out alive. It's always the same and by now the shine of seeing a city fall apart has worn off. We've seen it 100 times before in 100 different ways so if you're making some destruction porn you better have something more than just stunning visuals of a building falling over. That is all San Andreas has. It is a destruction movie functioning on the belief that we're still impressed by this stuff despite that fact that it is no longer impressive. Does it look good? Sure, but so does every other movie in the genre, and we literally just saw San Francisco destroyed last year in Godzilla. It just isn't exciting anymore without something behind it and there is nothing behind San Andreas. It is, in fact, so boring and vapid that its lack of character ruins its destruction sequences because, damn it, you just want everyone to die. Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is an LAFD helicopter rescue pilot and he and his crack team are the best of the best so when the San Andreas fault starts to cause massive earthquakes stretching from Hoover Dam to San Francisco he hops into action... by ditching his team, hi-jacking a government helicopter and saving his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) in L.A. then flying to San Francisco to rescue his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Meanwhile Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a scientist at Cal Tech has, figured out a way to predict earthquakes and has warned all of San Francisco that an even worse one is coming. Prolific destruction ensues as millions die and Blake loses layer after layer of clothing in order to show her breasts off.  It's dumb to expect too much depth in a destruction movie, and you really shouldn't, but the lazy nature of San Andreas is particularly insulting. The plot is so paint-by-numbers that I expected the screenplay credits to be attributed to a coloring book. The "estranged couple pulled back together by disaster" trope is so old and so poorly executed that not even Johnson's charm can salvage how ineptly it is handled. Meanwhile you've got Blake falling in love with a guy she just happened to meet ten seconds before the world started shaking and his little brother following them around for comic relief. It is surprising then, considering just how little creativity went into the screenplay, that they could screw it up so badly. You'd think with most of the characters and plot already developed a million times over in tons of other movies they could have pieced together something coherent, but instead the movie can't even hold onto its own basic plot threads. We're introduced to Ray's crack team of rescuers, but they disappear once the destruction starts. The film can't even give it's villain a proper farewell as Emma's new boyfriend, who is routinely made more unbelievably douchey, plot line consists of him being a douche and then (spoilers) dying.  But, you say,who cars about plot when you've got the Golden Gate bridge being crushed by a tsunami (after it miraculously survives a 9.6 earthquake). Suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride. It's just hard to enjoy a ride that you've been on 20 times and isn't executed very well in the first place. Brad Peyton brings almost no creativity to the job, content to let his CGI department make some pretty pictures and then piece them together into a "story." Tension barely builds in action sequences thanks to the fact that he can barely hold a scene together. Near the end, when Ray must rescue Blake from drowning at one point, the sequence falls apart about like the building the two are trapped in. Maybe if San Andreas felt even slightly aware of just how cliche and unoriginal it was then it could be fun, but instead it takes itself deadly seriously. At one point Paul Giamatti looks directly into the camera and says, "Pray for the people of San Francisco." It's a line so campy it should have been played up as such. Instead it only highlights the film's inability to capture either the true emotion of massive destruction and death or the awe that these kinds of films use to be able to pull out of us simply from visual splendor. One more note. The timing of this film could not be worse given the situation in Nepal. While Warner Bros. has provided information on how people can contribute to relief efforts in marketing campaigns and agreed to match dollar for dollar every contribution their employees make to Nepal what they didn't do was make a movie that inspires any of the emotions that this tragedy deserves. San Andreas just wants to show destruction and it wants you to revel in it.That's nearly impossible given the timing of the release and the fact that reveling in nothing but glorified destruction got old at least five years ago. 
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A lot of faults
I'm going to preface this by coming out as a lover of big dumb action. I do this because critics get a lot of crap for coming down on "fun" movies where we're supposed to go in with our expectations low and just enjoy the "fu...

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Makes me want to jump off a cliff
Remaking Point Break was a dumb thing to do, but remaking it as what looks like a deadly serious action film with extreme sports is even dumber. If I already wasn't that excited for this movie I'm even less now. Not even...

Review: Slow West

May 25 // Per Morten Mjolkeraaen
[embed]219486:42403:0[/embed] Slow WestDirector: John MacleanRelease Date: May 15, 2015Rated: R   In its short runtime (just 85 minutes), Slow West introduces us to the odd couple, Jay (Kodi Smith-McPhee) and Silas (Michael Fassbender), who wander through the 19th Century frontier to a reach Jay's lost love, Rose (Caren Pistorius). Jay and Rose were born and raised in Scotland, and where Jay sees a love interest, Rose sees the younger brother she never had. For reasons unknown, Rose and her father (Game of Thrones' Rory McCann) emigrated to the outskirts of Colorado. They live in a small house in the midst of a vast field of corn and grass, like a picturesque postcard of colorful and untouched nature. Their home is an idyllic one, representing calmness and solitude, and where the only disturbance seems to be a friendly native that once in awhile shows up to partake in their freshly made coffee. It represents the destination of Jay and Silas' journey across the treacherous lands, and it is an enviable one. However, danger lies between them in more ways than one, as a small group of bounty hunters are following their tracks, lead by Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). This concept of beauty and calmness is recreated and reinforced by the cinematography of Robbie Ryan. He manages to use the New Zealand woodlands to capture a lost age on film, and every frame is composed with care and dedication. His magnum opus is a late action scene, where he singlehandedly strengthens the entire movie with his observant lens. As gunmen appear and disappear in a low cornfield – like a bloody game of Whack-A-Mole – the stationary composition makes for a fantastically hilarious scene, and one would have been dead on arrival in the hands of a lesser cinematographer. As the film rushes by – and it does – our two compadres cross paths with a handful of fun and interesting characters, from a Swedish family to a mysterious, lone researcher and, of course, a run-in or two with the bounty hunters. They are all caricatures of the Western genre. Silas is the archetypical lone wanderer who cares little – and says even less – but may find redemption through an unlikely friendship. Jay is the innocent and pure, who follows his heart and still believes there is love in a world where a single coin could have you killed. The bounty hunters are... bounty hunters, but Ben Mendelsohn almost steals the show as Payne. Although he only makes a few appearances, the man in the comically large fur coat makes plenty of it with a love for absinthe and drunken gibberish.  Although the dialogue is fairly scarce, Slow West seems intent on saying something with it. Mendelsohn's Payne is a fair example (so is Fassbender's Silas), but most intriguing is the lone researcher. I hesitate to quote him, as I always support the idea of seeing a movie as blind as possible, but his short appearance is mysterious in more ways than one. The best way I can describe him is with a parallel to the video game, Red Dead Redemption, where you can meet a man dressed all in black, who appears and disappears as he pleases – always with a thought-provoking word for you. What it all means, if anything at all, is up for you to decide. In any case, this mysterious researcher in Slow West lingers in my mind still.  And thus we've come to the movies biggest draw: its comedy. Slow West is absolutely hilarious at times. It is bleak and black, like something pulled straight from a Coen brothers movie or a less-polished Tarantino gag. At one point, Jay and Silas comes across a skeleton crushed by a tree, with an ax in its hand. They make dispassionate comments about Darwinism and move on. In the final action sequence, the entire crew must have had a field day a work as it may be the funniest explosive climax to a Western movie since Django Unchained. However, the comedy isn't omnipresent and disappears completely in certain scenes, leaving us with a movie lost between two states.This is not to say I dislike cross-genre movies, au contraire, I can really love them, but to attain my love, it has to function as a whole. Whenever a movie can't function like this – caught between two genres – the end result is one which struggles to find its own identity. A movie can be as beautifully shot, directed or acted as it wants to, but without its own identity – its own soul – it will never be remembered for long.  Slow West is without a doubt a fun and, above all, efficient ride. Too many movies overstay their welcome, and there's something to be said for a filmmaker who respects the audience's time. Maclean proves this with Slow West.
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Michael Fassbender is Sad Silas
John Maclean's feature debut, Slow West, is an ambitious one. It is a pastiche of the classic American westerns – a celebration of the genre – and comparisons and parallels to master directors like Quentin Taranti...

Review: The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)

May 25 // Sean Walsh
[embed]219487:42404:0[/embed] Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)Director: Tom SixRelease Date: May 22, 2015Rated: Unrated Dieter Laser returns to the franchise he made famous as Bill Boss, racist, sexist, malevolent warden of a prison in the middle of the desert. Laurence R. Harvey, villainous manbaby star of Human Centipede 2, plays his sidekick/prison accountant Dwight Butler. These two men find themselves with a problem on there hands when Governor Hughes (Eric Roberts for some reason) threatens to fire them if they can't fix their crappy prison. Butler suggests to Boss, "Hey, let's make the prisoners into a giant Human Centipede like those two movies." And then they do. That's the whole plot. Were you expecting Kubrick? I don't have a lot to say about this film, to be honest. It's graphically violent, really racist, really sexist, and has little redeeming quality to it beyond Dieter Laser's super over-the-top performance as Bill Boss. It has a premise, and follows it to the end. It was competently made. But it just doesn't have anything going for it beyond that. So instead, let me give you a list of all the messed up/notable stuff that happens in chronological order to sate your curiosity and save you the 102 minutes you won't ever get back. SPOILERS AHEAD. The film starts with the credits of the first two movies, because meta Lots of general hardcore racism and talk of rape Dieter Laser graphically breaks Tom Lister Jr.'s arm Dieter Laser spends most of the movie eating from a jar of dried clitorises he got from Africa (Bree Olson eats one later, not knowing what they are) A man is waterboarded by Laser with three buckets of boiling water and then the washcloth is peeled off the man's boiled face We get to see Dieter Laser loudly climax from oral sex (performed off-camera by former adult film star Bree Olson, the film's sole female character, Laser's secretary/living sex toy) Dieter Laser graphically castrates Robert LaSardo, rubs the blood from the wound all over his face and then later eats the man's balls for lunch (breaded and everything) In a bizarre fantasy sequence, Robert LaSardo shivs a helpless Laser and has sex with the wound Tom Six shows up and gives them permission to use his idea and explains about how he consulted a real doctor about the medical accuracy of making a human centipede  During a screening of the films, Laser tells the prisoners he's going to make them into a human centipede and they riot, which leads to Bree Olson (again, the single female character) being beaten into a coma by Tom Lister Jr. During the surgery segment, Laser inserts his revolver into a man's stoma and shoots him, shoots a disabled man, and decides to attach a man with chronic diarrhea in front of Robert LaSardo Laser has sex with a comatose Bree Olson When Tom Six sees Laser's "special" project (that involves cutting off arms), he vomits on a glass door and exits the film After the 500-person centipede is unveiled, we are shown that the only female character in the film, who spends the entire film being used for sex before being beaten into a coma and raped in her comatose state, is sewn into the centipede for reasons(?) Laser unveils to Governor Eric Roberts his special project, the Human Caterpillar, made from the limbless torsos of the lifetime and death row inmates After Roberts says that Laser and Harvey are insane and will get the chair, Laser shoots the prison doctor, then Roberts comes back and tells them he changed his mind, leaves again, and Laser shoots Harvey so he can take the credit for himself The film ends with a naked Laser screaming nonsense through a megaphone from a guard tower overlooking his centipede as patriotic music swells To say this film is problematic is to put it lightly. It is virulently racist for reasons unknown, treats the single female character as an object to stick male genitalia in (and, again for reasons unknown, throws her into the centipede because why not?), and generally delights in inflicting pain on both its characters and its audience. But you should know what you're getting into where a film's central theme involves people being sewn ass-to-mouth. Like I say in the image above, Human Centipede 3 is indeed 100% the third Human Centipede film. If you like watching racist, cruel men castrate dudes and have sex with women in comas with the titular centipede happening in the background, then boy this film is for YOU! If you liked the first two films, you'll probably like this one. If you're only lukewarm on them, you can probably skip this one. Bottom line: Human Centipede 3 is competently made schlock. Tom Six is an edgy dude with some weird stuff (and quite possibly issues with women) rattling around in his head, but he can make a good-looking movie. Hopefully his next series has more merit. Happy Memorial Day, everybody.
Review: Human Centipede 3 photo
"100% a film that was made"
I did not care for the first Human Centipede. It was a generic torture porn with a couple gimmicks in the centipede itself and the claim of being 100% medically accurate. As a jaded horror fan, I spent most of it yawning (cri...

Five movies you love that aren't as good as Mad Max: Fury Road

May 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Why it's beloved: Gravity is a technical marvel. It's the kind of film you have to see in theaters, because the scope of it is literally infinite. It's about swirling alone in the blackness of space, where the slightest mistake can kill you at any moment. We gave it a 100. I wouldn't have given it a 100, but I understand why Matt did. It's a technical marvel, and you spend much of the film wondering how the heck they did it. (Short answer: Computers. Long answer: Extremely complicated technical rigs and setups and choreography. Also, computers.) Seen on the biggest possible screen in 3D, there's nothing quite like it.  Why Mad Max is better: But the issues arise as soon as you decide to think less about the impeccable technique on display and more about what it is they're displaying. Mad Max may not have the same quality of CG or 3D that Gravity has, but it's the same sort of spectacle. For every moment Gravity had that made me gasp, Mad Max had ten. But it's not just about the look of it. Gravity's fundamental failing is its inability to let viewers figure things out for themselves. Everyone just keeps talking, even when it literally threatens their lives. They should be conserving breath. But instead, the audience needs to be told everything, or else... I mean, how could we possibly figure it out? Gravity assumes we're dumb.  Mad Max doesn't.  Mad Max knows that we can figure things out. Only a handful of things are ever explicitly stated, and it never feels like dialogue for the sake of dialogue. They don't sound like they're speaking to the audience. They sound like they're speaking to each other. Like people. We're shown things rather than told them. You learn everything you need to know from damn good filmmaking, not an overlong screenplay. Why It's Beloved: In my review of The Raid 2, I hailed it as the best action film ever made. I had a lot of reasons for that. You're welcome to read about them. But now, just over a year later, I'm at a crossroads. I say that The Raid 2 is the best action movie of all time, but... Why Mad Max Is Better: This has been eating at me since about halfway through my first viewing of the film. If The Raid 2 is the best action movie, but Mad Max is a better movie, and Mad Max is an action movie... does that make it the best action movie of all time? I still don't know the answer, but I do know this: Mad Max is, on the whole, a superior viewing experience. The action in The Raid is beyond incredible, and the "fights" are undoubtedly better than the ones in Mad Max, but after the first viewing, those long sequences of political blather start to grate. By the third time I saw The Raid 2, I was rolling my eyes. (Worth noting: The original The Raid doesn't have this problem. It is also not as good as Mad Max, but it is fundamentally closer to Mad Max than its sequel is.) It's fine, but it's definitely not as good as what Mad Max has to offer. The few moments of downtime in Mad Max are all excellent. They drive forward the characters and/or the narrative in interesting ways. There isn't a single wasted frame in the entire goddamn movie. You could cut half the political bullshit in The Raid 2 and the film would be better for it. But every last second of Mad Max is essential. Given a choice, I would probably rewatch individual action sequences from The Raid 2 over those from Mad Max. But if I had to choose one film to watch all the way through over and over and over again? No contest. Mad Max is is. Why It's Beloved: Joss Whedon took a group of superheroes and made an ultimately fascinating and extremely enjoyable team film. With the added charm that is so uniquely Whedon, I mean, what's not to love? It's big, it's funny, and it's got people wearing silly costumes. Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: The second time I saw Mad Max, I went with my friend Brian. He doesn't really like Joss Whedon. After Guardians of the Galaxy (also not as good as Mad Max: Fury Road) came out, he said, "That's the movie that proves Joss Whedon is a hack." After we got out of Mad Max, he said it again. "This movie clinches it." He called the movie "life-changing." He would definitely give it a 95 or higher on the Flixist review scale. He would not be wrong to do so. I didn't name The Avengers 2 here intentionally. Not just because the critical response has been much more muted, but because the film's treatment of women has come more under fire than the original The Avengers (not that it was the best there either). Point is: Joss Whedon is known for writing strong female characters. That's his claim to fame. But none are as strong and as badass as the team in Fury Road. Let's be clear: A 78 year old woman does her own stunts. But here's the thing: A 78 year old woman has stunts to do. You know what that is? The. Best. Suck it, Whedon. Why It's Beloved: Last year's Academy Award Winner should not have won the Academy Award, but that didn't stop it from being an incredible film. But what really makes it so freaking amazing is the way it uses its technical prowess to create something uniquely cinematic. When most films are so same-y, it takes something like Birdman to kick you awake and remind you that movies can be and are magical things. Film is a magical medium. It takes reality and can bend it almost to the breaking point without you even noticing it's happened. You think you're looking at a straight path but it's curving you around. And suddenly you realize that you had no idea what was happening and now you're on a different path entirely. Birdman's one-take conceit does all of that and more. Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: But it doesn't do it as well as Mad Max. Mad Max isn't a two hour take; it's a two hour car chase. But here's the thing: That car chase feels so much more real than anything in Birdman. Even ignoring the way Birdman breaks the rules in order to bring you into Riggan Thompson's head, it shatters illusions in order to wear its point on its sleeve. Birdman hits you over the head with its message because the characters monologue about it constantly. It's all very nihilistic, and though it's (extremely) compelling, it's less compelling than watching people develop during a car chase. The characters in Mad Max develop subtly but poignantly. No one in Birdman really develops at all. And while that may work with the narrative that's being told, watching Michael Keaton be sad after monologuing about things is far less momentous than watching Tom Hardy give a tiny thumbs up to a woman who he had been pointing a gun at minutes before. Why It's Beloved: Drive was the best movie of 2011. It was the first film that I saw at a press screening that I would later pay to see. And... I'm not actually sure there has ever been another example of that. I love the film. The nearly silent but completely deadly driving protagonist was pretty darn compelling. And though it has ultra-violent action in it, it's the journey of a Real Human Being that made everyone love it. (I mean, that soundtrack, though.) Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: You may have guessed that I intentionally reduced the character of Driver to "nearly silent but completely deadly driving protagonist" in order to make the comparison between him and Max even easier, but the reality is that they both fit into the same mold. But the difference is that Driver spends the film trying to keep a woman safe because she can't fend for herself. What Max is doing is far more interesting. He's helping Furiosa and the others, not saving them. He doesn't have to be the one to get revenge, because at any given moment, he's not the biggest badass in the truck. The focus on cooperation between two equals without any need for a romance makes Mad Max an ultimately more meaningful film. 
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#6: Literally everything else
I've seen Mad Max: Fury Road twice in the past week. Crucially, I paid New York City movie ticket prices to see Mad Max twice in the past week. Next week, I will all-but-definitely pay to see it a third time. I don'...

Review: Tomorrowland

May 21 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219474:42399:0[/embed] TomorrowlandDirector: Brad BirdRelease Date: May 22, 2015Rated: PG-13  Unlike Bird's other writing/directing efforts Tomorrowland is a blunt hammer that uses almost no subtly or panache to tell a story about the contradictions inherent in human nature and our inability to save ourselves. The screenplay is lump of dialog put together simply to once again inform us that we're destroying the earth and if we don't change it's all going to end. What's at fault for this inevitable calamity? Who knows. Politics, money, video games, movies, reality television; everything is wrong and nothing is right. That is, of course, unless we hold on to our hope and try to make a better... sorry, I just threw up a bit in my mouth. Again and again this movie comes back to our destruction of the world. In this case it's literal as there's a count down to doomsday. The move opens with a painfully done "talking to the camera" narration that only serves to highlight the thud of a screenplay. Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) -- yes, naming a lead character Newton is about as subtle as the movie gets -- are telling the story of how they came to be where they are now. It turns out that when Frank was a child he was whisked away to a wondrous city called Tomorrowland by a girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy). We flash forward a few decades and Frank is living in a run down house while Casey finds a magic pin that takes her to Tomorrowland, but all is not right and the three must join together to save the future.  Narratively the film is a mess, with cause and effect having little consequence and tension building at a snails pace as the movie spews one cliche ideal after another. The problem isn't the ideals (I agree with almost all of them), but their execution. Tomorrowland screams about a lot of problems and offers almost no solutions. At times hypocritically complaining about action movies and then rolling right into an action sequence. It feels more like the film is saying what it thinks it should be instead of what it believes in, and Bird doesn't help it along any with his uncharacteristically heavy-handed direction. At times the overwhelmingly obvious cues of environmental friendliness and peace illicit eye rolls instead of agreement. We get it. Wind power is awesome and we shouldn't kill each other, you don't need to remind us with every cut. I will admit that despite being burdensome, Tomorrowland's optimism is a bit refreshing. It is truly always happy and excited for itself. In a landscape of movies that are often dour, even from Disney themselves, this one stands out for always, always, always being upbeat even when it's not. Maybe that's part of it's biggest problem, though. Because the film, and Casey especially, are always looking at the bright side and always exclaiming how amazing everything is then nothing is. Except for one scene involving the Eiffel Tower almost nothing from the film is truly amazing.  That goes especially for the movies special effects, action and acting... which is basically the entire film. There's a massive dependence on digital effects for the movie and they aren't where they need to be, especially after seeing what can be done with practical stunts last week. We're supposed to be awed by Tomorrowland itself, but it never feels original or special. When action does come it is routinely basic and incoherent. Bird seems as sloppy as the screenplay in his direction of anything that moves fast.  Almost every actor could be swapped out for any other actor. Clooney especially feels rough in the role, as if he doesn't care enough to really work with it. The only stand out is Cassidy who offers the film's best line and the only serious depth in any character. Finally, the movie is oddly violent. In another instance of hypocrisy, actual murders occur on screen. There's no blood, but people are vaporized at random and a human-looking robot has its head torn off in a fight sequence that would have given the film an R-rating had the combatants not been robotic. It all feels woefully out of context in a film that is decrying our ever escalating enjoyment of violence in media and more importantly is intended for children.  Tomorrowland is nostalgic for a future that never happened, much like Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is for a past that never happened, but it loses its fun and love in its overbearing effort to send a message. It's flat plotline and dud action mean that nothing ever sparkles despite the actors repeatedly telling you that it does. Does it actually care about its message? It's unclear. If it does it's doing such a terrible job of sending it that it feels disingenuous. Great films have meaning to their message, all Tomorrowland does is shout from the mountain top that we're doing it all wrong. Well, Brad Bird, so are you.
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The future is a letdown
If you're like me you were pretty excited for Tomorrowland. Almost everything Brad Bird touches is magic and his obsession with nostalgia made a perfect fit for a film based off a Disneyland park whose future never came to be...

Review: Pitch Perfect 2

May 15 // Jackson Tyler
[embed]219455:42387:0[/embed] Pitch Perfect 2Director: Elizabeth BanksRelease Date: May 15, 2015Rated: PG-13  As the movie opens, the Bellas (our A Capella heroes) are performing for none other than President Obama himself, inserted into the audience with cheesy stock footage. Every member of the team gets their moment in this welcome back performance, building up to the reveal of fan favourite Fat Amy, hanging from a curtain and belting out a solo. Then, her trousers get ripped, and she ends up exposing herself to the entire audience, who react with abject horror. Ha ha, a fat person has a vagina! How disgusting! Roll titles! It's an opening indicative of what to come. For one thing - it isn't funny. Pitch Perfect 2 is disappointingly light on laugh out loud moments, perhaps the only memorable one coming from an unexpected cameo. The scenes play out with a sense of obligation to them, a been here done that feeling that is oh so familiar to leagues and leagues of comedy sequels, and the jokes are often little more than references to the prior movie. Bumper's back, and he flirts with Fat Amy at a party! Again! *nudge nudge, wink wink* Pitch Perfect 2 is also approximately seven years long, squeezing in about six incongruent and unfocused character arcs in the gaps between the many, many musical setpieces that make up the 115 minute running time. It takes a twenty minute detour to David Cross' house half way through the movie in order to do a reprise of the popular sing-off scene from the first film. It's perhaps one of the movie's better scenes, but it's far too elaborately constructed and belaboured for something that amounts to nothing more than a tangent.  Whilst it's easily the most out of place scene in the film, it's less a problem itself and more a symptom of deeper structural flaws. The scenes don't flow, the story isn't constructed for a thematic or emotional ends, it's a conveyor belt of stuff that has to be there. The music scenes have little to do with the character scenes which have little to do with the comedy scenes. All the required elements are present, but haphazardly thrown onto the screen with no attempt to bind them into a strong narrative. But all of that would be completely forgivable, if the movie's core was solid. After all, Pitch Perfect's aims are important - it positions itself as a story of empowerment, essentially a franchise of coming of age movies about a group of girls being best friends. And if it achieved that, structural flaws and indulgent reference humour would ultimately be only surface level criticism. But that dream dies in the opening scene. The movie's humour often springs out of this crass and nasty place, consistently aiming its sights on anyone who isn't slim, conventionally attractive and white. Fat Amy's confidence isn't played as a response to a harmful culture that consistently shames and dehumanises her, it's a setup to a joke that is always being told, and the punchline is her fatness. In between the movies, the group has picked up a new member from Guatemala, who constantly references her impending deportation. Hana Mae Lee's character isn't just the quiet, timid asian girl from the original, now she's a ninja too!  It's hypocritical for Pitch Perfect 2 to stake its claim at empowerment, when it's filled to bursting with harmful jokes, and its core musical gimmick isn't far removed from Acoustic Covers of Rap Songs. While it's disappointing, it isn't exactly surprising, these problems existed in the first film, and the sequel has only doubled down on the upsetting elements. The movie is a two hour adaptation of Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech, its feminist politics defined by a lack of self awareness and intersectional thinking, as it cuts back and forth between scenes of the Bella sisters bonding to thirty seconds of hilarious racist transphobia. But hey, then they sing a song.
PP2 Review photo
A Capella Wordplay Indicating Failure
Everybody loves a song. It can be the perfect emotional climax to a movie. From The Blues Brothers to School of Rock to Linda Linda Linda to, hell, the original Pitch Perfect, the final performance as cathartic...

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

May 14 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219448:42382:0[/embed] Mad Max: Fury RoadDirector: George MillerRelease Date: May 14, 2015Rated: R  If you're not a child of the 80s and you subsequently ignored everyone telling you to watch at least one of the Mad Max films for the past 20 years then it's possible you don't know the premise of the franchise. That really isn't a problem. One of the strangely wonderful things about this series is that continuity is the last thing it cares about. Instead its focus is on its themes and the mythic creation of a man called Max.  There are a few key elements, of course. It's somewhere in the post-apocalyptic future. Water, gas and areas that aren't desert are scarce. Man has fallen into lawlessness and still wears far more leather than you'd expect. The world is dependent on despots who run small fiefdoms where they control the supplies and the cars -- car chases are really popular in the future. Max (Tom Hardy) is a loner haunted by something terrible that happened in his past (possibly the tragic ending of the first film, but it's never made clear).  He's taken prisoner by one of these fiefdoms run by a mutated man named Immortan Joe, who has developed a war like cult around his control of water. On a routine gas run Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) steels the tanker she's carrying so she can rescue five women from being bred by Joe. A chase across the desert ensues in which both Max and one of Joe's half-life warriors, Nux (Nicholas Hoult) join the fray. It may sound like I'm simplifying much of the film with that last sentence, but I'm not. Once Fury Road gets started on its chase premise it holds onto it until the very end, only stopping every so often to deliver exposition of some surprisingly sentient plot points. It is as non-stop as a film can be and it works magically. Characters are developed almost entirely through actions leaving dull blather and burdensome world creations (I'm looking at you, Jupiter Ascending) in the background. At first it may feel like the movie is being horribly unclear because it refuses to hold your hand, but then you realize that by letting the story ride along with the car chases its not holding your hand, but yanking you along with it screaming, "Shut up and enjoy the damn ride!" Miller's blend of actual stunts and limited CGI is a master work in cinematic action. The only person who could even come close to him right now is Gareth Evans of The Raid and The Raid 2 fame, and he owes much of his style to Miller's original trilogy. It's the kind of action that makes you shift your thinking from "this is fun and dumb" to "this is fun and art." The kind of relentlessly, perfectly contstructed set pieces that prove just exactly what's wrong with the likes of lazy action direction we get from Michael Bay types. The difference is just how relentlessly old school Miller is in his direction. It's as if Miller didn't get the memo that over-cranking to speed things up just isn't done anymore or that pushing into an extreme close up at high speed is considered tacky now. No one told him and so he just does it and it works. It works so damn well and feels so original that even the most jaded action connoisseur will be on the edge of their seat during the film's climatic final chase. This all despite the fact that really each sequence is the exact same thing (tanker getting chased by cars). That's not a problem, though, because in reality the movie is just one long, beautiful action sequence. It's the tanker chase from Road Warrior drawn out across an entire film and it's glorious. This isn't to say that there's nothing to bite your mental teeth into. Mad Max isn't really about the nitty gritty of characters, but more a study of archetypes, humanity and the ever present lone wolf hero. Max isn't a character, he's a symbol for survival, rebirth and redemption. That's why the films have almost no continuity between them. It's why Tom Hardy's almost monosyllabic performance is so spot on. It's why the characters around him are the driving force of emotion while he is simply the hammer that triggers change. If anything Theron's Furiousa is the star of this film as she takes the role of the heart -- albeit one that can kick some serious ass. All this is why the movie's use of the rescue of a group of "pure" women trope actually works despite the cliche. Fury Road is delivering an incredibly meta, two-hour action think piece on the genre itself. You may think I'm over analyzing all this, and that's absolutely fine. You can come out of Fury Road thinking everything I just said is idiotic, but you can't come out of it thinking you saw anything but a kick in the ass to action cinema. Mad Max is actually mad, and weird and strange and different. It features a double-guitar-flameflower playing mutant strapped to the top of a car that is basically a massive speaker system. It has people wearing ridiculous clothing and some of the maddest dialog this side of a David Lynch production.  Fury Road may be a "sequel," but it feels entirely original, and that might be the real reason it stands out so well. In an industry that has become so cannibalistic, to the point that it could destroy itself, Fury Road is undeniably unapologetic about being different. If this is what is on the other side of the superhero movie apocalypse then sign me up. 
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Way beyond Thunderdome
You might be wondering just why a franchise (or whatever Mad Max films are) to a trilogy that came out in the 80s and starred Mel Gibson is getting a sequel now. The real reasons probably have something to do with money and c...

First outrageous trailer for Jem and the Holograms

May 13 // Nick Valdez
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Bit less outrageous than I'd hoped
I've made it no secret that I've been looking forward to Jem and Holograms ever since it was announced (and put in production just a month later), and after the awesome set of images we got the other day. I was really hoping ...

Luc Besson announces sci-fi adaptation Valerian, also joins social media

May 12 // Matthew Razak
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Welcome to the Internet, Luc
Evidently Luc Besson is not much for the social medias, but something has brought him on board and that something is an adaptation of the French science-fiction comic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Evidently it'...

The Mad Max Trilogy: Look Back in Anger

May 12 // Hubert Vigilla
Mad Max (1979) - Lawless Ozploitation Mad Max, the film that started it all, wasn't post-apocalyptic. It's pre-apocalyptic. The world in the film is lawless and rowdy (i.e., the Platonic form of Australia?), but not the rusty, dusty S&M wasteland that would be seen in the subsequent films in the series. What we get instead is a solid Ozploitation revenge movie, one reminiscent of a drive-in biker picture or a western about bandits hunting down the lawmen that done killed one of their kin. The first Mad Max is an origin story that the other movies will riff on and play with. Max is a leather-clad cop in a muscle car who kills a punk called The Nightrider in a car chase. The Nightrider's posse rolls into town looking to even the score. Revenge, mannequin molestation, eccentric music cues, and general Ozplotation mayhem ensues. When not running down goons and making them cry, Max is back at his seaside house with his saxophone-playing wife Jesse and their cute toddler Sprog. (The hell kind of name for a kid is Sprog?) Home offers a semblance of order in a world that's otherwise falling apart and unable to be saved. Which inevitably means this domesticity is doomed. You know things aren't going to end well for Max and his wife because they have a cute way of saying "I love you." This is generally a sign of someone's eventual death in a movie, sort of like when a character develops a sudden and persistent cough. The police force is in shambles, just holding on to some shred of order like the rest of civilization. After the grisly murder of one of his friends on the force, Max wants to quit so he can lead a normal life. His chief, Fifi, tries to convince him to remain on the force and delivers a key line: "They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes." Max goes on holiday with his family to clear his head, which leads to a chance run-in with The Nightrider's friends and the eventual tragedy that pushes Max over the edge. By the end of the film, Max's ordered and peaceful world is gone. He goes vigilante to get revenge, goes full anti-hero in his methods, and instead of returning to his seaside home, he leaves society for the road. Off he drives out into the lawless wild, which is where he now belongs. One of the final shots of Mad Max is our hero driving off as an explosion goes off in the background. That's not just an act of revenge carried out, it's the obliteration of the ordered world. Fifi's line about the return of heroes sets up Max's recurring reluctant heroism in the other films. In the next two Mad Max movies, Max's motives begin as self-interested and self-serving, he eventually shows his true qualities as a character. In the process, he aids in the founding of two separate societies, giving others a chance to rebuild the civilization he's abandoned. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) - Post-Apocalyptic Anarchy From Mad Max to The Road Warrior, we go from lawlessness to anarchy. There's no vestige of the civilized world. Now it's a land of bondage gear and crossbows. To get by, people scavenge and murder. Max's badass vehicle has gone from shiny to a dusty matte black. Both the man and the machine are amply battle-scarred; Gibson appears to have aged 10 years in movie-time even though this sequel was released just two years after the first film. Welcome to the apocalypse—ain't it grand? The Road Warrior is easily the best movie of The Mad Max Trilogy, and a remarkable achievement in reckless action filmmaking. Stunt performers leap off speeding cars, hurtle through the air, break bones on impact with the Australian dirt. The vehicles—which look like someone played Frankenstein in a junkyard—are gloriously expendable, colliding at high speeds and creating the scrap metal equivalent of a Bloomin' Onion®. The western vibe of the first Mad Max is here again—rather than bandits out for revenge against lawmen, it's outlaws raiding a mining town—though there's also the air of a samurai film, particularly Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. The film follows Max as he tries to bargain for some gas from a small outpost of peaceful survivors. He eventually agrees to help them leave their besieged settlement for a seaside paradise (as seen in postcards). If the survivors were to remain, they'd be killed by the tyrannous Lord Humungus and his band of barbarian perverts clad in assless chaps and football pads. As a character, Max begins to take on the traits of classic cinematic nomads, particularly Toshiro Mifune's character from Yojimbo and Sanjuro and Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name from Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Max is even called "The Man with No Name" by the Bartertown announcer. (He's also called "Raggedy Man," which walks the line between badass and adorable.) We begin to see the recurring Mad Max motifs here: the ripped version of the MFP uniform, the bad leg, the sawed-off shotgun, his car bobby-trapped with a bomb. Max is surrounded by a lot of colorful supporting characters in The Road Warrior. There's Bruce Spence as the gyrocopter pilot, and also a feral child with a razor-sharp boomerang. Lord Humungus makes a strong impression with his bulging scalp, his metal hockey mask, and He-Man physique. The whole look of the Humungus posse carries forward into Thunderdome, and seems to partly inspire the goons in Fury Road. (The influence extends to the pro-wrestling tag team The Road Warriors, later known as The Legion of Doom. The movie also inspired Tonka's Steel Monsters toyline, which featured a hefty post-apocalyptic vehicle and action figure; as a kid, I had a Masher truck, which was driven by a Lord Humungus knock-off named Metal Face.) Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) - A Kooky Melange As far as sequel subtitles go, "Beyond Thunderdome" is the post-apocalyptic equivalent of "Electric Boogaloo." That and the Tina Turner song "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" are probably the lasting legacies of the film. (Unpopular opinion: "One of the Living," the Tina Turner song during the beginning credits, holds up better than "We Don't Need Another Hero.") Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome carries the series out of its Ozploitation past and sticks it right in the middle of the 80s. And a bunch of kids. Not only is Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome the most 80s entry of the trilogy, it's also the most blockbustery in execution. The vibe is less western and samurai movie and more Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There's also a disappointing lack of vehicular action in Beyond Thunderdome until the finale. Max enters an outpost known as Bartertown (the outback's Mos Eisley) in search of some stolen goods. In the process, he becomes embroiled in a power struggle between Bartertown's founder Aunty Entity and a duo known as Master Blaster. Master Blaster runs the underground pig shit refineries that produce methane, the town's super-fuel. There's a fight in Thunderdome, which is an early highlight, featuring chainsaws and bungee cords and raucous chanting from the post-apocalyptic masses. Thunderdome gets beyond Thunderdome in about 25 minutes, though. Max eventually winds up rescued by a tribe of children who are convinced he's a savior who'll fly them to Sydney, Australia (as seen in a View-Master). Thunderdome was apparently inspired by Russell Hoban's post-apocalyptic novel Ridley Walker, which explains the fractured/restructured speech patterns of the child tribe. The film feels like it grafts Max into this sort of story, and his previous skill set of hard-driving and vehicular cunning are not particularly valuable for this adventure. Instead, Max uses his fists and some of his wits (and a whistle... and a monkey), and yet he feels a little off. It's the difference between the Han Solo of The Empire Strikes Back and the Han Solo of Return of the Jedi—Mad Max goes soft. Thunderdome introduces some fascinating disjunctions to the continuity of The Mad Max Trilogy. Bruce Spence, the actor who played the gyrocopter pilot in The Road Warrior, shows up in Beyond Thunderdome as the pilot of a small plane. It's unspecified if Spence is playing the same character in both movies or two separate pilots. Max's car also appears again in Thunderdome, though it was blown up real good in The Road Warrior. (Maybe it's another tricked-out Interceptor, like a second pair of black jeans just in case?) The story of Thunderdome doesn't entirely cohere on its own either. It feels like a Mad Max tale told by a child, which figures since the story is all about Max helping children establish a new society elsewhere. If we think of Max as serving a function in the foundation myths of the societies he's helped create, this wildly plotted fairy tale version of a Mad Max story might have been entirely intentional. Mad Max's Pseudo-Continuity - A Tankful of Juice or The Legend of Mad Max There are a few ways to think of the loose continuity of The Mad Max Trilogy (and possibly even Fury Road), and I'm glad the series has a kind of pick-and-choose mentality, like we're able to co-create the post-apocalyptic world to a certain degree. Apart from straight continuity, you can think of The Mad Max Trilogy as a kind of loose continuity, with the same character wandering off and going on different adventures, and bits and pieces not always fitting together neatly. The best example of this is probably the Zatoichi films, a series of 26 movies that star Shintaro Katsu as the title character. In each film, the blind samurai known as Zatoichi tries to escape his ruthless past but is then confronted with its repercussions. Instead of a sawed-off shotgun, he's got a sword concealed in his walking stick. There are slippages in continuity in the Zatoichi films when viewed sequentially. In one movie, Zatoichi's sword is broken, but then it's perfectly fine in the next. It's like Max's car showing up again in Thunderdome. Another option is to think of Max as the same character-type/archetype in the films but not the same character throughout the series. It's like the Zelda games in this regard: there's a guy named Link who wears green, carries a sword, gathers certain items, and he goes on adventures. Maybe each Mad Max film is its own discrete Mad Max film, with each inhabiting a different world but with recurring elements and common motifs persisting between the worlds. You can also think of this in terms of Jack tales—Jack referring to the archetypal stock hero of stories such as "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Jack the Giant Killer," and "Little Jack Horner." In this case, we'd have "Max the Mad," "Max the Road Warrior," and "Max the Guy Who Went Beyond Thunderdome." To that, one could also think of The Mad Max Trilogy as a thematic trilogy that's loosely connected, sort of like Leone's Dollars Trilogy. The Man with No Name may or may not be the same character from film to film, but he embodies a character-type that's already equipped with certain storytelling machinery (i.e., the gunslinger, the loner, the ronin). The archetype allows Leone to explore different kinds of stories that are thematically linked. There's another possibility I've been considering that provides an in-story explanation for the inconsistencies in continuity. In this possibility, Max is the name given to a mythic figure who helped various societies try to re-establish order in the post-apocalyptic world. Note that The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome are both presented as histories that are recounted by people in the future, each one in their newly established civilization for which Max is partly responsible. Max is a hero in the foundation myths of these new, separate societies. The tellings of a Max story differ since each society is defined by its own values and own history. If the first Mad Max is closest to an agreed-upon canon, it would make sense why The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome offer divergent stories that don't fit perfectly together—they're the myths of two societies that have never interacted that share a mythic figure in common. The recurring Bruce Spence pilot may not be the same person, but maybe he serves the same mythopoeic or folkloric function in the two different societies, sort of like the tanuki in Japanese folklore, or the spider in African folk tales, or other kinds of tricksters who manifest themselves in different forms. Miller knows his Joseph Campbell, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is one way he's put his cinematic hero to good use. This brings me back to Fifi's lines in the first Mad Max: "They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes." If this mythic read of The Mad Max Trilogy holds, we see Max abandon his own dying civilization, help build new civilizations, and become a hero to these new socities. Max has succeeded in giving people back their heroes, and in the process has helped seed a little bit of hope for the future. And yet the hero at the end of each of the Mad Max sequels cannot go back to society. It's something he's known, he's loved, but that he cannot recapture. Instead, he gives the new world to others. It's like my favorite line from the book The Return of the King, which Frodo says at The Grey Havens: I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. It makes me wonder how many other times Max has given up the world so that others could rebuild it and enjoy it, and how many other Max tales there are, and how they differ, as if the new civilization has played a game of mythopoeic telephone with the legend of the Raggedy Man. One reason I think "One of the Living" is better than "We Don't Need Another Hero" are the lines "You've got ten more thousand miles to go" and "You've got ten more thousand years to go." In other words, a hero's work is never done. [embed]219429:42374:0[/embed]
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"The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!"
I have yet to see Mad Max: Fury Road, which comes out this week, but I did get a chance to see the first three Mad Max movies over the weekend at a friend's place: Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad M...

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Eight is great
If ever a film had a strange road to the screen it's The Hateful Eight, but after a cancellation and a strange live reading it is coming and we now have our first look at the titular eight. EW brings to us the line up of all ...

The Cult Club: Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

May 08 // Hubert Vigilla
Hubert: Salo is one of the grandaddies of extreme cinema, and anyone who's curious about notoriously disturbing movies will eventually encounter Salo at some point of his or her life. But Salo feels like it comes from a different pedigree than other films frequently seen on "Most Disturbing Movies" lists like Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust or the Guinea Pig series. Salo is an art movie from hell, so painterly in its unpleasantness, so carefully composed; it has more in common with Ken Russell's The Devils (though not as manic) or the work of Lars Von Trier than I Spit on Your Grave. Maybe Salo's best contemporary unit of comparison is Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film, but even that movie's extremism is so different in tone. There's something about Pasolini's use of long shots during most of the sadism that gives the events of Salo a sense of absolute spiritual death. There's also a philosophical rage in its content which can be read as anti-fascist as well as anti-capitalist--both have a tendency to reduce humans to functions or mere objects. Where would you situate it in the cult canon and the canon of extreme cinema? Alec: It's hard to disagree with your assessment there. Salo stands pretty much apart from everything else. If I were to choose a direct comparison, I think The Devils is probably the best. Because whereas most extreme cinema feels gratuitous for the sake of it, The Devils feels gratuitous because the world that it takes place in is gratuitous. (That film is pretty high up on my re-watch list, by the way. I got about halfway through a second viewing a couple months back and had to turn it off, but it's been on my mind ever since.) Salo is the same sort of thing. But what makes Salo so intense is both its use of long shots and also wide shots. It's filmed from a distance, with everything you could possibly want (and much, much more) in the frame. And as such, there's rarely any "immediacy" to the "action." Your blood doesn't get pumping. There isn't any sort of sensory overload. You're acutely aware of who is doing what to whom when and how. It's voyeuristic in a very different way from most extreme films. In a way that is more fundamentally horrible, because you are a passive observer. It's more documentarian than experiential. It's like an anti-found footage film, in that regard. (Though that's an odd comparison to make, since it predated the found footage concept by several years.) Hubert: That distance may be what makes viewers feel so helpless, like all they can do is watch these teens get degraded and tortured. There's one moment a little before the "Circle of Shit" title card comes up, signaling the next ugly chapter of Salo and a further descent into hell. One of the girls says, "I can't take any more" like she's giving up her will to live. And you feel it. It's a phrase synonymous with "I want to die." But things are only going to get worse. And at that moment, watching the movie again, even knowing the end, I got this sad chill through my body. I was struck by this terrifying realization that no one was going to save the day, there's no hope of fighting back, and that all I could do was watch these victims be destroyed. There's that one scene later when it seems like one of the kids will at least be executed quickly with a pistol, but it's not even loaded. One of the libertines gets in the boy's face and says, "You must be stupid to think that death would be so easy. Don't you know we intend to kill you a thousand times? To the end of eternity, if eternity can have an end." The idea that death might be a release is turned on its head--there is only death, over and over again, and no escaping it. And all we can do is watch. Absolutely chilling. Though on the note of that scene, it's the disgusting punchline to a contest to decide who has the best ass. Salo is full of so much sadistic and perverse humor or amusement, or at least from the point of view of the libertines. How did you feel about its fascistic comedy, like the jokes that keep getting told? Alec: On some level, I think it could be argued that Salo is the darkest of comedies. I remember reading an IMDB trivia that said that some of the actors were absolutely shocked when they saw the final product, because the experience on set had actually been relatively light. I don't know that that's true, but rewatching the film I can see how (at least in parts) it might be. Certainly there is a lot of laughter by many of the characters. Early on, there is laughter during the stories, and the libertines and their accomplices laugh throughout, telling (terrible) jokes and just generally feeling pretty good about the whole thing. (Especially Lazy Eye, less so Combover.) To them, this is pure entertainment, which is absolutely and entirely horrific, but it brings up the question of perspective. You're seeing these actions at a distance, but you spend most of your time with the fascists. Obviously it's not a pro-fascist film, but they are the central characters, not their victims. Their victims are there to be actors in the the play that the libertines have created and can engage in at will. For us and the victims, it's a horrorshow, but for them it's the best sex-comedy imaginable. And the constant jokes and the levity just makes the whole thing far more unsettling than if it was deadly serious. Actions speak louder than words, but the words in context with the actions make for a particularly disturbing combination. Hubert: There's such an ugly flippancy to what the libertines do and how they do it. If torture and humiliation without reprisal weren't enough, the ability to laugh in the face of the hell they're creating for these victims might be the ugliest demonstration of their power. Though on the note of what you said about the fascist point of view, Salo is so effective of tapping into that mindset in which anything is permissible against the powerless. Do you remember how or when you first heard about Salo? For me it was probably 1999, and I was just starting college and really into extreme cinema and finding VHS bootlegs of stuff. (This makes me sound so old.) Salo was completely out-of-print back then, and the initial Criterion DVD release was selling on eBay for something like $250. I first saw Salo on a degraded pan-and-scan VHS around 2002 with some friends, which wasn't so unnerving, but watching it a second time a few years ago, it was much more unnerving and effective, like I finally understood Pasolini's filmmaking grammar. Alec: I imagine it was during my extreme cinema phase. There was a period of a few years where I would look up lists of the Most Disturbing Films Of All Time. I look back on that now with a bit of disdain (which we discussed in our, um, discussion of cinematic garbage), but I imagine that I learned about it around the same time that I learned about Cannibal Holocaust and the others. That was probably mid 2000s, but I couldn't put an exact date on it. I know that I saw it for the first time after I had entered college, because I distinctly remember watching it. More specifically, I distinctly remember how little I felt while watching it. I had gone through A Serbian Film and Cannibal Holocaust and the August Underground films at that point, and I was expecting something to beat them all. It wasn't. I remember eating Pad Thai during the coprophagia scene and thinking, "This is probably disgusting." But the entire thing was so detached that it didn't phase me at all. It was horrible, but the effect was kind of numbing. And it took me a while to realize just how brilliant that was. I'm going to compare it to The Act of Killing, actually, because that film is about how mundane these horrible things are. Salo is the same way. It's so relentless and so evil and so clinical that you just sit there, munching on Pad Thai and looking at some of the most awful (yet artistic) images ever put to celluloid. Hubert: The Act of Killing is a great point of comparison. Salo and The Act of Killing are movies about the banality of evil, and every act of depravity, while shocking, also has an air of a common ritual or business proceeding--this isn't murder, it's an undertaking; this isn't murder, it's an act of killing. In Salo, the days have a schedule, there's a structured repetition of stories and meals, and this sense of order allows these acts to be carried out with a kind of boredom on the part of the libertines. They can make jokes because this is like another day at the office, and maybe the most chilling aspect of that is that this could be yet another round of commonplace depravity, just the latest set of teenagers that fascistic libertines murder a thousand times over to achieve a sadistic pleasure that is never sated and continually slips into boredom. The libertines say they're the ultimate anarchists, but this adherence to order and structure reveals them to be the ultimate fascists. When I interviewed Joshua Oppenheimer about The Act of Killing, he mentioned how normal everything seemed to the killers he encountered. One of the anecdotes Oppenheimer shared is something he caught on camera, and it appears toward the end of his follow-up film, The Look of Silence. It's two men recounting their killings in the place where they slaughtered hundreds of people, and then they do something so normal that it's terrifying. ( The Look of Silence comes out later this. I saw it at last year's New York Film Festival, and it's probably going to be my pick for the best movie of 2015.) One of the most aphoristic lines in Salo: "Nothing is more contagious than evil." History proves that. Evil is contagious and unstoppable. Alec: To that point, it's sort of interesting that Pasolini was murdered just before the release of Salo. It would have been fascinating to see how he reacted to the reaction. But more than that, I want to have seen the follow-up. The film was apparently intended to be the first in a three part "Trilogy of Death" following up his "Trilogy of Life." To think that Salo was the start of something is simultaneously revolting and amazing. It's entirely possible that had he lived, we would be talking about a different film entirely. (I cannot imagine what that might have been.) But perhaps we should go back to this idea of art. What really fascinates me about Salo is the fact that it is a part of The Criterion Collection. I can't imagine A Serbian Film or Cannibal Holocaust or any of those other horrific films getting the same level of recognition. More than anything else, that is a statement about its worth as a film. Honestly, being chosen for the Criterion Collection is about as bold a statement as can be made, at least in a certain sect of cineaste circles. All of the films are pretty much equally revolting in terms of content (maybe), but Salo stands apart. I wonder, though, if it's a function in part of the filmmaker behind it. Pasolini was a respected director who had a history of making films that were not Salo, so his decision to take on that project makes it even more unique. Do you think that if the exact same film had been made by a newcomer with a twisted mind, it would have the same impact on the art film community, or do you think it would be written off sort of like A Serbian Film as something that's just grotesuqe? Hubert: On the idea of a "Trilogy of Death" as a follow-up to his "Trilogy of Life," I wonder if the other two Death films would have also been inspired by classic works of literature. The Trilogy of Life is blossoming with eroticism and a joy about the body, and Salo is the negation of all that and the reduction of the body to an orifice/instrument/commodity. Nearly all sex is sadism in Salo. The two exceptions being secret trysts like brief escapes from hell, but even those end badly soon after they're discovered. These reprieves from hell are only discovered because the other victims are willing to rat out others to save their own skin. The fascists have broken any sense of solidarity and humanity among their victims, which may be their most awful triumph. I'm trying to think of what other books might have been part of a Death Trilogy, which would also play into Pasolini's disillusionment with capitalism. Voltaire's Candide? George Bataille's Story of the Eye? Titus Andronicus? Oedipus? Maybe Mein Kampf? I think Salo's cachet is precisely because it was made by Pasolini. Had a no-name newcomer made the same film, it probably would have been written off by its then-contemporary audience as crass obscenity with pretensions of being called art. And yet had a newcomer made the same film, I still think it would be discussed in the future (assuming someone rediscovered it) since there's an artfulness to the perversion that suggests a grander thesis. It's an approach that's much different than A Serbian Film (the most obvious modern-day heir to Salo) since Salo stands back from the horror rather than getting up close, as we mentioned. That distance that makes the evil mundane is also what makes the film more effective and more artful in what it's trying to accomplish. If someone other than Pasolini directed it, it wouldn't be in the Criterion Collection, that's for sure. I remember you mentioned a while back that you feel like A Serbian Film belongs in the Criterion Collection. For you, how does A Serbian Film (which is a metaphorical version of the decade of real-life horror that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia) compare to Salo? Alec: The thing about these films (Cannibal Holocaust too, actually) is that once you know what the point is, you sometimes feel like it's screaming the point in your face. Admittedly, it's probably impossible to be simultaneously shocking and subtle, but there's not a lot of subtlety in the presentation of their ideas. I think both subscribe to the belief that enacting any kind of social change requires you to shock the masses out of complacency, even if that means that every so often The Point Of The Film leaps out of the screen and screams in your face. A Serbian Film is far more guilty of this than Salo, but they both have it. But what I think makes A Serbian Film so compelling in context with Salo is that they both refuse to let up on the viewer, but they do so in nearly opposite ways. Even as A Serbian Film uses closeups and shaky camera movements and all of that, you're never left wondering what, exactly, you're seeing. You always have enough to understand just how fucked up the entire thing is. But it's a modern version of that. It's like the difference between The Raid and an old Jackie Chan film. The camera in those films did almost nothing. Everything was on the actors and choreography. The Raid has excellent choreography, but the camera is a part of it too. You are a part of it and not just a passive observer. This is the exact same thing. Had the film been made in 1975, I think it probably would have looked more like Salo (and I think if Salo had been made in 2010, it probably would look more like A Serbian Film). I think both are products of their time, taking the cinematic language and twisting it to create an affecting experience. And that's why I think in the long term A Serbian Film will be a significant film like Salo is, because it is a representation of current cinema taken to the most extreme of extremes. Hubert: Without getting too sidetracked on martial arts movies, I think the first Ong-Bak is the most Jackie Chan-like movie that we're going to get post-1980s in terms of camera placement and movement in the frame. (One day we should do a Cult Club about a seminal 1970s kung-fu movie.) But yes, Salo and A Serbian Film are products of their time and their region, and their respective aesthetics are defined by that. Still, I think even just one feature film in, Spasojevic is a very different kind of filmmaker than Pasolini, but he seems more thoughtful about cinematic transgression than someone like Tom Six (The Human Centipede) who's out to upset without trying to say something substantive. Before we talk about the final scenes of Salo, one last digression. It might be worth addressing the elephant in the room, which is extreme cinema as an artform, of which Salo is one of the exemplars. There's the political dimension and aesthetic dimension to good extreme cinema that shows a social value and artistic merit that can transcend mere shock, but I wonder if there's also a kind of cinematic machismo to it. In other words, are certain movie fans playing a game of chicken with extreme films and extreme filmmakers? I mean, seeing Salo on a list of disturbing films felt like a dare to me when I was a young man. Unless something's changed that I'm not aware of, these sorts of movies still tend to appeal to the curiosity of teenage males and men in their twenties more than other groups of movie watchers. Is it the thrill of the forbidden, maybe? If these movies are crossing the upper limits of contemporary good taste to explore a taboo outland, are they also a proving ground for personal limits regarding bad taste? Alec: I think this gets a bit into that discussion we had back in the day about what I deemed cinematic trash. Films that show up on Most Disturbing Lists are being sold to a very specific audience. Cannibal Holocaust and August Underground are being sold to a very specific audience. A Serbian Film is a little bit different. Salo is more different still. But I think you're guessing high. It's not men in their 20s. It's kids in their teens. I was a teenager when I found the list that convinced me to watch a Cannibal Holocaust and August Underground. And though I was in my 20s when I saw Salo and A Serbian Film, those seeds were sown well before (and, as we've discussed, have withered quite a bit in recent years). But Salo's spot on those lists should come with a huge asterisk, because it's not a film for teens. Not just because the content is a bit much, but because the context requires, well, context. And without the context, the film's reputation precedes it. It is not nearly as "shocking" as many other disturbing films, despite being so disturbing, for all of the reasons stated here. This is where Salo "standing out" becomes particularly relevant. It doesn't have the fucked up appeal of Cannibal Holocaust. It's not something that you can really watch with a bunch of friends and laugh about. And I think that makes it a perfect litmus test, actually, along with maybe Irreversible, because they're art films with a hardcore edge. But if you get through all of Irreversible, that says a lot more than if you just see the first few scenes and turn it off. If you actually experience Salo and feel it and wrestle with it, then that's something different. The people who go into those films looking for sick thrills will either come out underwhelmed or transformed. They'll see that ultraviolence can be used to provoke something more than just a reaction, which is what so much of extreme cinema wants. It doesn't even matter what the reaction is, just that there is one. But Salo wants more than that. It wants a specific type of reaction, one that results from a very specific mindset. And with that, I think it's time to talk about those final scenes. Hubert: As if the feast of human shit wasn't infamous enough, there's the torture-filled finale. Watching Salo again, one of the striking things about that last sequence is where it's held and how it's depicted. It's on that estate somewhere, but it's in a place distinctly lacking the lush vegetation that's seen elsewhere outdoors. It's this lifeless enclosure of dirt and brick. And we're viewing these final acts of degradation silently and from an added distance, shot from the POV of a libertine at a high window using binoculars. After the descent through the Circles of Mania, Shit, and Blood within this wretched estate, we'd arrived at the deepest circle of hell, or its deepest pit, but we're overlooking this place from a window. Pasolini's use of space in these final shots is unnerving, and sound as well. (On that note, those war planes that groan in the background of some scenes are more ominous than any score.) We don't hear any of the screams of the victims, but just the radio in the room and the occasional voice of the libertine who's watching. And course, the creepiest of the libertines tells a joke about death since that's been his gimmick this entire time and a cavalier display of his power. We talked about jokes earlier, and I think Pasolini winds up making laughter one of the most terrifying sounds in the film. We never get to see what happens after this ritual of torture and murder is completed. The libertines on the ground do the can-can in hell, but there are still more tortures and more victims. There's no clean up, no departure from the estate, no sense of the libertines exhausting their desire for murder. Instead, we have a dance between the young guards to the song that opens the movie. I once thought there was some glimmer of hope in that final shot, but I've come to realize that this is a movie without any hope. The movie is its own circle of hell containing these other circles. The libertines succeed, the center of hell is just outside the window, and the future dances without doing anything about it. Alec: The image of the young man with his tongue being pulled by pliers is one of the most recognizable from the film, I think (primarily because it was featured on the cover of Criterion's original DVD release), but it's hardly the most grotesque image in that sequence. After a film of horrific actions but relatively minimal violence, the bloodletting comes as a particular shock. You see a cut throat and some bullet wounds, but nothing particularly gory. It's matter of fact and then it's done, even if the camera lingers on that cut throat for quite some time. But in that finale, the punishments come and they come hard. As the libertines watch from the window through their little binoculars, we are treated for the first time to the real closeups of violence that the film has never given us. But it's also the most overtly voyeuristic sequence. I mentioned before that the detached nature makes you feel a bit like a peeping tom, but in this sequence the rules change. For the first time, you are a part of it. You see through the eyes of the libertines as they revel in the torture and death of these kids. For once, you're complicit. As an aside, I find it fascinating that the one libertine who we see a more depressed side of throughout the film is the one who does not get to enjoy the sights from the comfort of the throne. He's always in the thick of it. All of this is an assault on the audience, though, the moments that truly hope to shock them out of complacency. The ending, in its apparent hopefulness, is the same. It's resigned to failure, to the belief that the battle against fascism has been lost. These kids get to dance, as do the libertines, while the unwashed masses lie dead and dying in the dirt. They get to think about their future, about going home to their girlfriends. They get to have a future, and there will be no punishment. Even worse, you get to see them revel in it. To quote your review of Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse: "Just how bleak can it get? None more bleak." Later This Month... You're going to get a double dose of The Cult Club this month since we had to push Salo back for the Tribeca Film Festival. And this time we're going with much lighter fare. With the fifth season of Louie winding down on FX, we're going to look at a cult movie that was extremely influential to Louis CK: Robert Downey Sr.'s 1969 satire Putney Swope. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB The Last Dragon (1985) Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992) Six-String Samurai (1998)
The Cult Club: Salo photo
"All's good if it's excessive"
Peir Paolo Pasolini's final film, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, is one of the most notorious arthouse movies ever made and frequently cited among the most disturbing movies of all time. Inspired by the Marquis de Sade'...

Tribeca Review: Maggie

May 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219246:42343:0[/embed] MaggieDirector: Henry HobsonRelease Date: May 8, 2015 (limited)Rating: PG-13 Wade (Schwarzenegger) brings his daughter Maggie home from the city after she's attacked by a zombie. Bite victims slowly turn. Symptoms include necrosis, cataracts, dizzy spells, respiratory problems, and a heightened sense of smell. It's only a matter of time before Maggie will need to be killed or sent to a quarantine center, and the latter may be a worse fate. At certain points of Maggie, I was struck by how Schwarzenegger has aged in an interesting way. The texture of his face is like tree bark from certain angles and in certain light. More than that, the expressiveness of his brow and his eyes has increased. Same goes for his mouth, as if the stoic straight line we're accustomed to from his blockbusters is able to communicate more with age. It's not just a one-liner dispenser, and his scowls seem layered. Patiently holding a shot on Schwarzenegger has the potential to reveal his inner emotional machinery. This unexpected depth in Schwarzengger's performance comes mostly from the film's quiet moments. In one scene, like something out of a Terrence Malick film or an Andrew Wyeth painting, Wade wanders a field introspectively. His silhouette from behind has a heftier grimness in the dimming light. It's impossible to forget he's Arnold Schwarzenegger, and yet maybe the moment works better than it would otherwise because it's Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to negate his own Arnold-Schwarzenegger-ness for the sake of the story. Maggie is at its best when it uses zombie-ism to explore the impending loss of a loved one to a terminal illness. In Maggie's case, it's about coming to terms with the inevitability of death. Had Schwarzenegger not been cast, the film would have been billed as a showcase for Breslin. She carries at least half of the film. (She's the title character, after all.) When not succumbing to fits of dread, Maggie tries to live just like a teenager. There's a normalcy about living with her condition. In a brief sidetrip from the farmhouse, we see Maggie with her friends being carefree before going back to high school in the fall. Infected or not, to them, at least for now, she's still Maggie. The film's handful of missteps have less to do with the performances than the occasional saccharine note in the script. Bits here and there feel a little too much like "father and daughter bonding" beats in a movie. Breslin and Schwarzenegger perform them well, but the actors seem more natural when exchanging small looks and little lines together throughout the film rather than dedicating a full scene to semi-expository bonding. An accretion of affection is almost always preferable to a tenderness dump. For a film that's propelled more by its quiet moments, the wind down of Maggie features an overbearing bombast in the sound design and David Wingo's otherwise low-key score. It undermines some of the control that Hobson maintains for the film, and I wonder how much better a scene or two would play if they were muted. This might be one of the few times that anyone's called for an even quieter and more delicate finale to a movie featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but in Maggie, the performances are able to do the emotional heavy lifting on their own.
Maggie Review photo
I know now why you cry
Maggie is one of the last things you'd expect out of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Abigail Breslin, who plays the title character? Okay. Joely Richardson, who plays Maggie's stepmother? Sure. But not Arnie. Though Maggie's a post-ap...

Vacation reboot gets a trailer and it is what it is (NSFW)

May 07 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219416:42367:0[/embed]
Vacation reboot trailer photo
Is Walley World really worth it?
If you're of a certain age than National Lampoon's Vacation is pretty much sacred comedy territory. A movie that you fondly remember watching repeatedly on VHS or whatever random station it popped up on, followed, of cou...

Review: Reality

May 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219356:42363:0[/embed] RealityDirector: Quentin DupieuxRelease Date: May 1, 2015Rating: NR On some level, this review is the third part in a series on Quentin Dupieux's absurdist rollercoaster. In March of 2013, he blew me away with Wrong, making it the first film I ever broke the nearly-impossible-to-break 95+ barrier for. It changed the way I viewed cinema, the requirement for such a high score. It proved to me that absurdist cinema is a thing that can exist in a way that’s every bit as brilliant as absurdist theatre. It was eye-opening, and I loved it. Later that year, he released Wrong Cops. To put it bluntly, Wrong Cops is garbage. My review of the film features the line, "I wanted to punch a baby." With Wrong, I called Dupieux a modern-day auteur. With Wrong Cops, I wondered if it had just been a fluke. Wrong received a 95, Wrong Cops a 35. (Undoubtedly the most severe drop in scores seen on this site.) But whereas Wrong Cops was built on the premise of the previous film (while learning absolutely none of the lessons from it), Reality was something new. The only image I saw, the one on the poster, looked like the kind of thing I had wanted from Wrong Cops and gotten from Wrong. I was willing to chalk Wrong Cops up as the fluke, not Wrong. So for me, there was a lot riding on Reality, because I really, really wanted to like it.  Reality is at its best when it embraces its absurdist roots. Wrong Cops' fundamental failing was its inability to create a world where everyone accepted that things were weird. There were absurdist characters in a real-ish world. Reality threatens to be that sometimes. Case in point: The film opens with a man killing a wild boar. He brings it home and guts it. In the boar is a blue VHS tape. He simply throws it into the trash along with all the intestines. So far so good. At dinner, the young girl asks why there would be a video tape in a hog. There is a discussion about the fact that that wouldn't make any sense. For a moment, I was worried that we were in Wrong Cops: Round 2. It turns out, though, that the movie we are watching is, probably (and I emphasize probably), a movie within this movie. And suddenly it is acceptable again. People in the movie within the movie can comment on things that don't make sense. And, honestly, questioning the logistics of any given action can work in a grand sense as long as the response is always something to the effect of, "Because duh. That's why." There are plenty of times when characters in Reality question their surroundings, but the answers to their questions never actually answer the questions. In fact, they rarely even acknowledge the question's intent. This world makes sense to them, and if someone else is a little bit confused, it's fine, because they'll get into it before too long. There is no one in the film who is simply incapable of accepting the absurdities of the world, even if they are mildly annoyed by some of the specifics. And so the pendulum swings back. And as the film delves further and further into its own demented logic, all worries fade away. This is absurdism. And though it isn't as universally effective as Wrong, it has its own contributions to the genre. Wrong 2 would be stale. So we need to go somewhere else. In fact, Reality comes off as a response to Wrong's single sorta-failing. Late in the film, a series of events happen, only to be revealed as a dream or hallucination or something to that effect. When I realized what that meant for the narrative, I was originally sorta angry, before realizing that it totally didn’t matter in any way, shape, or form. It simply was, whether it happened or not. Reality is that sequence taken to its logical extreme. You might have expected that, considering it’s called Reality. You never know if something is real, a dream, a movie, a movie within a dream, a dream within a movie, a dream within a dream within a movie, or any number of other options. Any given moment could be any number of these things. It’s probably several at once. You don’t know it at first, of course, because you’re stuck within one version of reality, but as soon as it starts to bend, suddenly the genius of the whole thing becomes clear. Rubber would have been more interesting as a play. Wrong is more interesting as a movie, but it could become a reasonably compelling play without any fundamental changes to its narrative. Reality is a movie, and there is no way it could be translated to the stage. Of course, the fact that it’s about movies and about making movies helps that, but it’s more complicated than that. Take a punchline that comes relatively early on: A film producer is complaining to a director about how he uses too much filmstock because he won’t just say cut. The camera just keeps rolling for no reason. And then we move to a new character driving a jeep. And driving. And driving. And driving. It’s amazing. It’s perfect, even. (Honestly, the entire sequence that follows is flawless and is easily my favorite part of the film.) It’s also uniquely cinematic. And many of the tricks used to obfuscate reality (e.g. blatantly obvious continuity errors) are medium-specific as well. When Reality’s credits rolled, I thought, “Thank god.” Thank god that Wrong Cops was a fluke, because we need someone like Quentin Dupieux. But I also thought that it was still a step back from Wrong. And in many ways, it absolutely is. But though it may be a few steps back, it also takes some important strides forward. Reality makes sense as a follow-up to Wrong. He’s proved that the medium can be home to brilliant, absurdist narratives. And now he’s pushing those boundaries that he created. He may not be as wildly successful on every level, but it would be more disappointing to see something stagnant. Reality is new, and it paves a pathway for the future of the genre. And I’m positively giddy about what that future might hold.
Reality Review photo
Or something like it
I imagine that the script for Reality is caustic. That it antagonizes the reader and makes for something that is even less comprehensible on paper than it is on screen. Rather than following the regular format, it's prob...

Indiana Jones 5 photo
Why did it have to be sequels?
When Disney bought LucasFilm pretty much everyone got excited about Star Wars, but they picked up another franchise that was in series need of saving: Indiana Jones. We all remember where we left that one, right? Space aliens...

Your (New) Guide to the Flixist Reviews Guide

May 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217286:41235:0[/embed] One thing has not changed since our inception: We want our review scores, especially at the extremes of the scale, to matter. They do matter. They matter a lot. We've reviewed more than 1000 films since our inception. Of those, only six have scored a 95 or higher. Seriously.  I'm proud of that. We are proud of that. People talk about using the entire scale. Some outlets try. Most don't. We try, and we succeed. Only five films have scored below a 20, and only one below a 10. A score is not an afterthought, and we don't treat it like one. It is a fundamental part of the review. But a score represents a word, and that word represents a blurb. That blurb, ideally, represents the review itself. Flixist launched with a 200 point scale and has since dropped to 100. The specific requirements a film had to meet to reach any given category have changed. We have done this to make it easier for you, the reader, to understand where we are coming from. And also for us, the writers, to get our own feelings across as effectively as possible. It was with that in mind that we revised those little blurbs. So without further ado: --- 100: Legendary. One of the best and most influential films ever made. Period. 95 – 99: Ultimate. I was blind but now I see. This has literally changed what I think films are capable of. 90 – 94: Spectacular. An instant classic, one of the best films I have ever seen. 85 – 89: Exceptional. One of the best films of the year. You should see it immediately. 80 – 84: Great. Definitely check this one out. I wholeheartedly recommend it. 70 – 79: Good. I liked this one, and you will too. 60 – 69: Decent. Yes, this could have been better, but it is still worth your time. 50 – 59: Average. By the time you read this, I will have already forgotten about this movie. 40 – 49: Subpar. I kind of want to like this movie, but I can't. It is not worth your time. 30 – 39: Bad. I do not like this movie, and I'm not even going to try. 20 – 29: Terrible. Do. Not. See. This. You and everyone involved should feel ashamed for wasting your time if you do. 10 – 19: Atrocious. I cannot believe I subjected myself to this. You will be furious if you do, livid if you pay to do so. 0 – 9: Repulsive. My hatred for this horrible, morally repugnant movie will literally consume me. If it shows up on your TV, throw it out the window. It has been sullied forever. --- We have used every single part of this spectrum. I've personally used all but the top honors. Some of those numbers come easily, some only after a serious discussion with other members of the staff. But all of them come from the heart. And by removing the royal "we" found in previous versions, we have decided to embrace that. Modern Method has always prided itself on the personalities of its writers. We're not nameless, faceless soldiers working in the MM army. We are individuals, with our own feelings and beliefs. It's why we've embraced second opinions, allowing other writers to add their own thoughts to the main review, serving as confirmation or condemnation of the Official Flixist Opinion, as though such a thing could ever exist. I know that some people will see my byline and think, "I trust this guy." Others will say the exact opposite. I'm the same way with other critics, and I get it. That's fine. In fact, it's great. It's that disagreement that creates compelling critical discourse. And that's really what we're all after. Because movies are great by yourself, but the real fun begins when you share your feelings (good and bad) with the rest of us. If you're new to Flixist and you made it this far, welcome. We hope you like it here. And we hope that, whether you agree with us or not, you at least understand that what we say is what we truly believe.  
Flixist Reviews Guide photo
Behind the scenes of the Best Damn Movie Reviews on the Internet
One of the perks of being a writer at Flixist is that you get to read my super awesome, overly long reviews guide. I've been Flixist's Reviews (and Features) Editor editor for so long that I had to check my LinkedIn to see ju...

John Wick sequel photo
People keep asking...
People keep asking if I'm back. Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back. We didn't review John Wick here on Flixist (which was a major oversight on my part because I saw it during my vacation that weekend and totally didn't write on it...

Force Awakens Set Photos photo
... and he sure looks stunning in black
May the fourth be... NO! I will not do it, I will not say those words. Luckily, Vanity Fair will, and with them, they posted a handful of new set photos from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, revealing a few juicy details.  ...

The All-American Avengers

May 01 // Jackson Tyler
Tony Stark is an evil, evil man. We lose sight of that, because we see through his eyes, and his evil is humanised, sanitised, then finally redeemed. We get to see him as a tortured soul, a man whose failings come from fear and whose heroics reveal the truth of his nature. But he is the arms dealer for whom redemption is to keep all the weapons to himself. In doing so, he gets to be celebrity and underdog, both a born billionaire with immense destructive power at his fingertips, and just one man against a world out to get him. Make no mistake about it, Tony Stark is evil. And so are his Avengers. Age of Ultron tries to grapple with this. It tries valiantly, it tries desperately, but it is ultimately a failure through and through. For by the end of the movie, the heroes must be heroes and the villains must be villains, the ideological critiques of the movie written off as untrue as the credits roll, or the audience may not return next year. Whatever themes or philosophies the movie is attempting to convey are crushed by the weight of the Marvel franchise machine. It's a far cry from The Avengers, which was perhaps the most thematically coherent and successful movie in the MCU. However, The Avengers thematic aims were a full 180 degrees from those of its sequel. It functions as superhero propaganda, an unabashed celebration of American Exceptionalism, positively dripping in 9/11 imagery. Nick Fury calls the events of the movie his promise to worlds unknown, and to the members of the security council that supposedly oversee him: this is why we need superheroes, he says, and this is how they have to be. And a promise it was too, from Marvel to the audience. The Avengers was the studio’s go big or go home moment, an ideologically condensed statement that had to not only sell the audience on its interconnected commercial strategy, but invest them in the values of the Marvel universe. The Avengers may lack the outward awfulness of say, Transformers: Age Of Extinction but ideologically, it aims for an incredibly similar spot. It is an all-american story of the power of individualism, the might of an intelligence and defence organisation shown through a chosen powerful few conflicting personalities, as they fight a childish and incompetent god who leads a faceless, heartless, identical army. It was a runaway success, and marked the moment when people stopped showing up to see their favourite characters banter, and started showing up for the Marvel brand. After such a strong statement of intent, there was nowhere for Marvel to go thematically but inwards. It had to start truly interrogating its own values, for to do otherwise would bely a dangerous lack of self awareness, any long running storytelling franchise finds longevity through thematic introspection, otherwise it stagnates. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was Marvel's first substantial attempt at self-examination, as Captain America begins to question his loyalties to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the moral integrity of the Good Guy organisation is for a brief moment, uncertain. Alas, the movie does not have fully have the courage of its convictions to go all the way. S.H.I.E.L.D. is brought down due to the discovery of a Hydra infiltration, an easy audience signifier for villainy, rather than due to failings on its own terms. Nick Fury, the man initially behind the Insight Project, gets to remain a hero due to his refusal to "having the courage not to [murder 20 million people]." Black Widow's monologue on capitol hill at the flies completely in the face of the movie's commitment to critiquing American imperialism and overreaching surveillance, as well as the War On Terror: "You're not gonna put any of us in a prison, you know why? Because you need us. Yes the world is a vulnerable place, and yes we helped make it that way. But we're also the ones best qualified to defend it." But such a monologue is necessary to maintain the integrity of the Marvel universe, for without it the fantasy would be broken. Our heroes must be above the law, above consequence and under all circumstances necessary. I don't mean to make The Winter Soldier to sound like a total failure in how it deals with these themes, because it isn't. It does a lot right, including using Steve Rogers, an in-universe tool of American military propaganda, as the main force for criticism of the current military and surveillance system. And ultimately, S.H.I.E.L.D. still falls, and it is made clear that such an organisation is unsalvageable. The Winter Soldier's criticisms are often unconfident, but they are, for the most part, coherent. Not so with Age of Ultron, a movie far angrier and pointed in its criticism. The movie positively seethes at the notion that the Avengers could possibly be a force for good in the world. The Avengers themselves are, for all intents and purposes, a privatised S.H.I.E.L.D., funded by Stark and managed by Maria Hill. On top of that, the setup of the movie is strikingly similar to The Winter Soldier; Stark's motivations are identical to those of Alexander Pierce. He wants to create a device to end the war before any can begin. Like all good villains, Stark is driven to the acts he commits for human reasons, in his case an egotistical fear that everyone he knows and loves could die in another alien invasion, and if that happens, it would be his fault for not acting. So he creates Ultron. Ultron is the perfect antagonist for the Avengers, a character created to ideologically challenge the values of the characters, and by association, the audience. "You protect the world, but you don't want it to change," he says in one of his now twitter famous trailer speeches. Ultron's position is that the Avengers are bastions of a harmful status quo, forcing their ideals on those who do not want them, the very thing standing in the way of progress. The movie's opening action scene features Stark's unmanned "Iron Legion" flying into a Sokovian city, only to be greeted by a crowd of unhappy locals who never asked to be saved. Until the final setpiece, Ultron's a relatively sedate villain, staying out the way as the Avengers travel the globe, leaving a trail of immense destruction in their wake all by themselves. After the hoo-rah celebration of The Avengers, and the uneasy criticism of The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron tackles head on the American Exceptionalism of its titular superheroes. And nowhere is its anger more pronounced than in the characters of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, known here as The Twins. They submitted themselves to Hydra experiments, because they were orphaned as children, trapped in rubble for three days, with nothing but a unexploded Stark Industries shell for company. They are the human cost of Stark's actions, previously kept helpfully offscreen. In one of the movie's best scenes, again using Steve Rogers as the harshest American critic, he defends The Twins to Maria Hill, who's so far been giving them a dismissive villain exposition. Hill: "File says they volunteered for Strucker's experiments. That's nuts."Cap: "Right, what kind of monster would let a German Scientist experiment on them to protect their country?"Hill: "We're not fighting a war."Cap: "They are." The Twins have a clear desire: to get revenge on Stark, and an empathetic backstory that hooks the audience into their desire. In storytelling terms, they are the closest thing the movie has to a protagonist. Which is what makes the movie's eventual climax so hollow. The Twins are good guys, and the Avengers is where good guys belong. The 'reward' for their goodness is to be assimilated into the very culture that they were railing against. The movie spends two thirds of its running time ideologically tearing down the inherent imperialism that the Avengers stand for, and then throws up its hands and begins a hoo-rah crowdpleasing final setpiece in the style of the original film. Surprise! Ultron doesn't just want to take out the Avengers, he wants to end all life on earth, but not if the Avengers punch him in the face first. As the final sequence begins, Cap says "It's not just about stopping Ultron, it's about whether he's right," and yet at no point is there even an opportunity for them to prove him wrong. There are no thematic stakes to the final battle, nothing close to say, Return of the Jedi, which is maybe the most famous example of a blockbuster ending in a battle of philosophies. The movie wraps up with a distressing sense of obligation, and all of its ideological perspectives are thrown out the window for a punching match, because to truly confront them is incompatible with the needs of the Marvel brand. Those critical themes need to be there to give the villain credibility, so they may speak threatening monologues that will go viral when teenagers hear them in trailers. But they cannot be allowed to be more than window dressing, lest they overshadow or call into question the core values that The Avengers succeeded on. There is another film next year, and when the audience leaves the cinema, they need to want it. I suspect this unresolved tension is at the heart of Age Of Ultron's more muted reaction than the original. On paper, it does all the things that The Avengers does, it has the same crowdpleasing action, the same commitment to small moments of character work, but on a deeper level, the movie is at war with itself over what it wants to say and what it wants to be. When the dust settles, Vision and Ultron talk philosophy for just thirty seconds, and we get perhaps our best glimpse into the more quiet, painful and introspective movie that Whedon consistently said he wanted to make.Then Ultron dies, and Thor begins spouting off a trailer for Infinity War. The status quo is restored, but it is not earned, and a palpable sense of apathy hangs over the epilogue. They'll all be at it again in Civil War anyway.  In the very last scene, Wanda, the only surviving Maximoff flies into frame, cementing herself as a full time, All-American Avenger. But neither her or her brother confronted Stark, their very real pain was never resolved, it just evaporated when the plot required. After everything, her character motivations are rendered irrelevant, and her arc crushingly inevitable: the Marvel universe is one of heroes and villains, and the heroes all fight under the same flag.
American Marvel photo
American Exceptionalism in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
“With everything that's happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.”--Agent Phil Coulson, The Avengers. 

Review: The Ladies of the House

May 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
The Ladies of the HouseDirector: John WildmanRelease Date: May 1, 2015 (iTunes)Rating: NR  At the end of Rugerro Deodato's infamous Cannibal Holocaust (spoilers for a movie that's older than I am), one of the characters opines to no one in particular, "Who are the real cannibals?" Up until that point, we'd been subjected to the brutality of the cannibals, sure, but so too were we shown the horrors of the Americans who set upon their tribe. They were documenting their own atrocities. "Who are the real cannibals?" it asks. "US!" It's always stuck with me. I was surprised that Cannibal Freaking Holocaust was trying to say something about anything. I'd expected less of it. But silly as it is (and it is silly), I find myself quoting it with probably alarming regularity. "Who are the real cannibals?" Minutes into The Ladies of the House, I nearly shouted at the screen, "THE REAL CANNIBALS ARE MEN!" Instead, I said, "Oh! I get it!" followed immediately by, "Ugh. I don't want to see this..."  To be clear: I wasn't saying I didn't want to watch the rest of the movie (I did), but I could already tell that these soon-to-be victims wouldn't be so, um, victim-y. They would deserve what was coming to them, because they're pigs. They would incite the violence, and when things went badly (as the flash-forwards heavily implied they would), you wouldn't feel bad. Because fuck those guys. In the past year or so, I've realized that I have an active aversion to masculine manly men who treat women like shit. Some films that I've been told were great I just refused to watch because I don't need to see more abuse. The world's depressing enough. And even though I knew there would be vengeance, and it would be sweet (cause they're cannibals, get it?!), I wasn't super excited by the idea of subjecting to myself to more misogyny. Ladies of the House was written by John Wildman and his wife, Justina Walford. I heard about it years ago from some other critics, but last November I attended a Genre movie discussion and Wildman and Walford were on the panel. It was an interesting one, and afterwards I talked with them a little bit. The movie was pitched to me as "Lesbian cannibals in a house." I said, "Cool. When do I get to see it?" (Which is the first thing I say any time anybody tells me they've made anything.) He said, "Next year." And I said, "That sucks." It's one heck of a pitch, though, right? And if you hadn't seen the movie, you might think it sounds like a male fantasy of sorts. I can imagine a bunch of dude bros scrolling by this movie on VOD and stopping. "Sexy lesbian cannibals? Woo! PARTY!"  If I had to guess, those people will be disappointed. They'll like the opening, which takes place in a strip club. They'll like the parts with the lesbians doing their thing. But they probably won't like the rest of it, because it sure as heck doesn't like them. It's important that The Ladies of the House was co-written by a woman, much in the same way it's important that Gone Girl was written by a woman. Misogynistic dialogue is different when it's written by a woman. The words might be the same, but they definitely don't have the same meaning. No one in their right mind could accuse this film of misogyny. It is very obvious what the film is going for and trying to say with its use of over-the-top derogatory language, but at first it isn't so over-the-top. In the strip club, it's disgusting but it's also entirely plausible. There are people who talk and think like that. If you're not paying attention, you might miss the point. At least at first. When it gets into it, you'll know damn well that this is a feminist slasher flick through and through. And you'll say, "A feminist slasher flick? Whoa! Party?" It's definitely a party. A gruesome one, too. Very much so. It takes a while for blood to spill, but once it does, it just goes. It's probably why the film flashes forward early on. In the middle of an uncomfortable moment, suddenly you see this man you're watching being tortured. It's dark and it's quick, but you know what it means. You know his fate. Soon after, you know the second guy's fate. And when you don't see the third, well, you sort of know his as well. But for people who happen on the film and don't know what it is or what it's about, it's important that they see that. They need to know what they're getting themselves into. Not because they should mentally prepare themselves for the horror (though maybe that too), but because there's a whole lot of non-violence that has to happen before it gets to that point. And they need to know there's going to be some payoff. Otherwise, why would they stick around? (Aside from the fact that it's really just a fundamentally compelling narrative, of course.) It's a stylish movie. Sometimes a bit too stylish, perhaps, but I have to give it credit for choosing a look and committing to it. I've never loved the heavy wide-angle/fish-eye effect, but I understand why it's used and how it can be used effectively. It's used here. A lot. A lot a lot. And it works, for the most part, as do all the other little flourishes, but every so often I was paying more attention to the shot composition than what was being composed.  But it doesn't detract (or even really distract) from the narrative that's presented here. In fact, the only thing that really affected my investment in the events was the not-awesome performance by the one guy who could be considered good. He's the voice of reason when his friend and brother are being piggish. He wants his brother to leave the strip club. He doesn't want to go into the lady's house. He doesn't want things to go out of control. But he's soft-spoken and not particularly convincing. It's actually kind of fascinating in context, though, and works in the greater scheme of the narrative. This character "fights" it but doesn't actually put up a fight. He can't put his foot down, and then terrible things happen to him and those around him. Maybe his subpar performance is commenting on weakness of men who don't have the balls to say, "Hey, leave her the fuck alone." Intentional or not, that reading does make his emotionless delivery a bit more bearable. Interestingly enough, the best male performance comes from the worst of the characters. That one who you just can't wait to see die. And you will see it. And keep seeing it. Pretty soon, you'll be uncomfortable with how excited you were to see him punished in the first place. But you'll keep seeing it. Because The Ladies of the House doesn't let you off the hook. Because that "sexy lesbian cannibals" fantasy is just the pitch. It's the thing that gets you in the door. But once you're inside, you realize you're getting a whole lot more than you bargained for. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Ladies of the House photo
Men are kinda the worst, huh?
At one of the various Tribeca press screenings, I was sitting around and talking with a few other NY critics. We were talking about what was coming up the rest of the year, and discussion inevitably turned to the New York Fil...

Snaxist: Kellogg's Avengers: Age of Ultron Cereal

Apr 30 // Nick Valdez
A little bit of background. I'm a cereal connoisseur, and I've spent the greater part of my life eating all sorts of sugary, life threatening cereals. From the ill-fated Oreo O's, King Vitamin, and Rice Krispy Treats, to the always welcome Waffle Crisp (RIP). Basically, I've worked for years on fine tuning my palette so I'd like to think I know a bad cereal when I eat one. But that doesn't mean I don't dig in on Malt-o-Meal every now and then. Oh, boy I better stop beating around the bush then and get right to it. This cereal isn't terrible, nor is it fantastic. It's aggressively average. That's the saddest cereal could ever be.  If the name didn't inspire any confidence, neither did the cereal's box itself. The front was clearly just bad photoshop, and the back had a neat little decryption puzzle, but nothing about this was screamed effort. The cereal itself is basically a generic Lucky Charms. But where Lucky Charms makes an effort to at least mold the little marshmallow pieces into distinct shapes, this cereal does the opposite. The marshmallows are all circular: one green, one blue and red, and one red. As you can see in the image below, the rest of the cereal is like if Alpha Bits only came in squares. Are Alpha Bits still a thing? I miss Alpha Bits. The amount in the box was enough for four bowls (but only three man sized ones), and I only paid three dollars so it was pretty much what it was worth.  As for the milk, I have some lactose issues sometimes so I always drink vanilla almond milk. It's fantastic stuff. I'd highly recommend almond milk over this cereal. I don't mean over as in on the cereal, but like instead. Do you get what I mean? I like milk. Anyway, where does the milk come out of? Is it just a name or is there a guy whose job it is to milk almonds? Or is it like a crushed almond juice or something? Would that be just a general paste then? That's why I only drink the flavored ones. The chocolate one is the worst, however.  Anyway, don't eat this damn cereal if you don't need to. But do drink milk. Heard it does a body good. 
Snaxist photo
Diabeetus assemble
This is the kind of promotion I've been waiting for. When I started Snaxist with Max Roahrig (RIP) some years ago with Denny's ill advised Hobbit Breakfast Menu, it was the fact that'd I'd be able to talk about cereal someday...

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Apr 30 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219375:42359:0[/embed] Avengers: Age of UltronDirector: Joss WhedonRelease Date: May 1, 2015Rated: PG-13  Have you been keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It doesn't especially matter. Even the world shattering destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: Winter Soldier doesn't seem to have changed much for our rag-tag team of superheroes. They're still a team backed by some sort of funding and they're still chasing after Loki's scepter in order to return it to Thor's people. This task is accomplished early on in the film after a fantastic action sequence (they're all fantastic) and the Avengers return home to have a party. But before that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) decide to use the technology in Loki's scepter to create an A.I. that can protect the world. Of course, as with all well-intentioned A.I., it quickly realizes the best way to protect the world is to destroy humanity or in this case evolve it. Building itself a body after being mysteriously activated, Ultron (James Spader) emerges, promptly kicks everyone's ass and then flies off to recruit the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to his evil plan. Imbued with Stark's sarcasm and programmed to save humanity he decides to create the next evolution of man, a hybrid of machine and bio material, and force everyone else to evolve as well by holding the world hostage or else he'll blow it up. Avengers assemble... again. The biggest issue with Age of Ultron is that it's just the first film with more characters. The plot is almost identical. A big bad guy shows up and the team argues over how to handle it showing fractures. Then, in the end, they come together. It's not a bad plot, and it could have worked again, but the film is incredibly poorly paced. Ultron is rushed out the door thanks to an uncharacteristic lack of foreshadowing for Marvel and then we're carried along from action sequence to action sequence with sparse emotional build. By the time the final showdown occurs you've been on high so long that the big payoff barely pays off. Sadly, Age of Ultron isn't a very good MCU universe builder and it's because it can't do everything it wants. In a perfect world Marvel wouldn't have wasted Iron Man 3 on a side story or at least have hinted at the creation of Ultron thus giving Spader's villain far more time to grow.  Ultron is sadly not given that time. Spader is fantastically evil and arrogant as the crazed robot, but he isn't given enough time to shine, eventually being relegated to bad one-liners as he yells at the Avengers. His opening speech is a fantastic monologue and his concluding dialog is sadly touching, but in between there's far too little of him to develop a truly compelling villain.  The three new additions to the team, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Vision (Paul Bettany), face much the same fate as Ultron. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are hurried into the proceedings, though we did get a hint at them previously, but by the end their story arch is actually far better executed. Again, the pacing of it is off, but the eventual payoff works. Vision on the other hand comes along late in the film, which is too bad because the contradictions between him and Ultron are some of the best themes of the film. There's so much to dig into there, but thanks to how the plot unfolds we get almost none of it. Even more of a let down is that just who and what Vision is is rushed through. A brief explanation of powers would have helped before he started shooting beams of light out of his forehead and shoving his fists through robots.  Ultron does do some of it's characters right. Banner/Hulk is once again front and center, which is fantastic since he's so great, but he also causes some of the pacing problems. The lack of ability for Marvel to have stand-alone Hulk films means they have to cram all his character development in Avengers movies. It's great to watch, but it makes the movie a mess. The Hulk Buster scene everyone has been going crazy over seeing is really great and fantastically executed, but in terms of pacing the entire scene could have been cut for something else if it had appeared in another film. Still, this is the world we live in (or Marvel puts us in) and they do great things with Hulk. Ruffalo once again steals the show as Banner.  Then he gets the show stolen from him by the most unlikely source: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Long accused of being damned near useless, Ultron turns him into a character and it's here where the film shines. When the movie isn't rushing to get its characters where they need to be, it shows us who they need to be. Just as in the best comics this is what makes superheroes shine. Renner's Hawkeye becomes the grounding force of a team of gods. It's a fantastic turn for a character most deemed useless and not only delivers Hawkeye as a great character, but eventually makes the development of the characters around him better. It would be possible to devote entire reviews to each hero in this film. That's the power of having multiple franchises collide. If you compared all these reviews of different characters you'd have wildly different outcomes. Maybe that's just the nature of the game when you've got a big team movie like this, but it's still annoying. Iron Man is sadly never given the hard edge he needs because they want to keep him a good guy (despite what we all know is coming in Civil War), Captain America is shuffled to the side and Thor is almost entirely ignored except to give exposition that helps tie this all into Thanos and the upcoming Infinity Wars. It's a mixed bag, and depending on what you're looking for you're either going to be wonderfully excited or disappointed.  What you won't be disappointed in is any of the action, which is good since it takes up most of the movie. Despite the fact that the film is always on high, those highs are very high. Whedon shows once again that he can masterfully handle complex action sequences, and delivers an incredible panning shot near the end that almost makes up for every flaw in the film. The action is rock solid and brilliantly cohesive. It's not easy weaving together set pieces with a team of this size, but Whedon does it and then does it again and again. It's unfortunate the movie's plotting doesn't build the tension as well as it should or these action sequences would be even more of a pay off.  By the end of the film we're clearly set up to roll into the next phase of Marvel's MCU, but it feels like they forced it to get there. Evidently, Whedon's original cut was 3.5 hours long, and it's easy to see why. There's just too much here to pull off in the time allotted. Whedon does his best, but in the end we're left with a big, fun, sometimes functional mess. It's one you're going to want to see because when it shines, it shines bright, but Avengers: Age of Ultron is just a little worrying that the universe is already buckling under its own weight. 
Ultron Review photo
Avengers disassembled
This review will most likely be overly critical, as I think many reviews of Avengers: Age of Ultron are going to be. It's a good, solid, action-filled comic book movie, and five years ago it may have had me giddy with ex...

Review: Boy Meets Girl

Apr 28 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218923:42200:0[/embed] Boy Meets GirlDirector: Eric SchaefferRelease Date: February 6th, 2015 (NYC)Rating: NR  My business card is classy. It's the kind of thing you might see in American Psycho, except on less sumptuous cardstock. It says: Alec Kubas-MeyerWriter | Editor | Critic | Filmmaker That is how I think of myself and how I present myself. Some days I'm more of a filmmaker. Right now I'm more of a critic. Writer/Editor is a bit vaguer but probably more marketable. What matters here, though, is "critic" (and, to a lesser extent, editor). As a critic, I have some sort of duty to critique a film, to write compelling criticism. As Reviews Editor of Flixist, I have a duty to uphold the words codified in the Review Guide that I wrote. But while I watched Boy Meets Girl as a critic, I experienced it as a human, and my experience as a human radically differed from my experience as a critic. The highest score I've given to a film was my ludicrously high 97 given to The Raid 2. But that review was tempered by an acknowledgement that the film's narrative beyond its action was flawed. Having just seen it for a third time, the narrative drags even more than I remembered. But the film deserves that score. It changed the game, raised the bar. But acknowledging the potentially controversial nature of this decision to rate a film that is fundamentally flawed so highly, I made a YouTube video about it. It has over 8,000 views. 138 of the 139 people who decided to take a stance liked it. That one person who didn't like it is a bad person. Boy Meets Girl's main character has a YouTube channel and posts fashion videos weekly. Her channel has 1100 subscribers. I wouldn't watch her videos if I came across them on YouTube. They're underproduced (much like the film they're portrayed in). For a video about fashion, it's a problem that they're really not much to look at. My video's not much better, though I have to admit to liking my background painting. I still have that painting. Maybe I'll make a video about this review. (As if the next several thousand words (buckle in, y'all) aren't more than enough. (They're not.)) "So why am you talking about all of this?!" I'm sure you're thinking that by now. "What the heck does this have to do with Boy Meets Girl? Get to the damn point already!" That's fair enough, but bear with me. This review is going to be weird, because of the thing I discussed two paragraphs ago. I had two radically different reactions to this film, both valid in their own way, and as such this review is not really a criticism so much as a philosophical exploration of what this film is, what it needed to be, and whether or not it matters that it's a cracked mirror and not something pristine. As such, it will (after a few more thoughts) be structured as a kind of discussion with myself, between my critical, logical side that spent the 108 minutes deconstructing each piece of dialogue, edit, camera movement, lighting choice, etc. and my human, emotional side.  Alec the Critic is going to write in bold. Alec the Human will not. Spoiler: The human side ultimately prevails. It is probably worth mentioning here that all critics are put in this same position now and again, and implying that critics are cold and calculating is ludicrous. The chasm between feelings may not often be wide enough to cause some kind of existential crisis, but what makes a critic interesting is the way they play that line between emotional and logical reactions. Purely emotional reactions can fail to examine what makes a film work and purely logical reactions don't give the reader anything to grab onto. There are exceptions of course, but by and large, good criticism falls somewhere in the middle. As I walked out of the theater, someone said, "This film is important." I don't think he liked it. There was an implied "but..." there. He just repeated that sentence and that was it. "This film is important." It is important. Last year, Jared Leto won an Oscar for his performance as a transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club. It was a brilliant performance, but I didn't know that Jared Leto was playing a transgender character. In retrospect, that makes a whole lot of sense, but my vision of his performance was colored by the fact that I'd seen more than a few people refer to him as a transvestite. It was only in retrospect that I realized that what they were saying was ignorant and etc. When people complained that they hadn't cast an actual transgender person in that role, it was a valid point not just because... ya know, duh, but because it would have removed that confusion. Everyone knows who Jared Leto is. Everyone knows Jared Leto is dude. And even if his performance as a transgender woman is spectacular, it's still a performance by a dude when it could have (perhaps should have) not been. Michelle Henley was born a man. In Boy Meets Girl, she plays a character who was also born a man. She makes a hilarious joke (seen in the trailer) about it: Some old women are complaining about their experiences at the local high school. "I was fat." "I had terrible acne." Ricky retorts, "And I was a boy... so that sucked." It's a great moment. The entire audience laughed, myself included. It's the biggest laugh in a film that has a few good ones. I'm sorry I ruined that, but the trailer ruined it first. But what's important isn't that joke. It's the context of that joke. Ricky is at a fancy party at a beautiful estate. The people there are posh, probably all Republicans. Some of them definitely are, which we know because the film shows them talking about Democratic policies bankrupting the country and this/that/the other thing. It's all very stereotypical, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that Ricky makes that joke, and the response isn't revulsion but laughter (and some confusion). For the most part, people accept Ricky for who she is. Even the people who don't like Ricky as a concept do like Ricky as a person and can see past the whole gender thing. Only two people in the entire film really raise any serious objections to it, and one of them is a hypocrite of the highest order. The other one makes a speech that is among the most real and poignant in the entire film. But it's not filled with hate, or even really disgust. It's cutting, but it's oddly tempered. This is the South. If we're going with stereotypes here, where's the hate? (This is important, and I will talk about it at even more length later on.) Boy Meets Girl was shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio, commonly referred to as "Flat" (as opposed to the 2.XX:1 "Scope" format). Many indie movies are shot that way. Documentaries are too. Paul Thomas Anderson shot his last two movies Flat. It happens. But it's rare. When people think Cinematic, one of the things they think of is that ultra widescreen. Boy Meets Girl does not look cinematic. It doesn't "look" like a movie. Here's an experiment you can try: Take a 16:9 image and simply chop off the top and bottom. Make a 1920x1080 image 1920x816 (or even 1920x800). Crop it or just add black bars. Instantly, the image will look more cinematic. It's fascinating, but we really do associate that with the real cinematic look. But of course, Boy Meets Girl doesn't need to "look" like a movie. The visuals exist to push the story forward and do nothing more. In that sense, they are serviceable at best, but they work. Be that as it may, it creates a rift when the characters talk like they're in a movie. Nobody in Boy Meets Girl ever really sounds like a person. They have the perfect, hyperrealistic responses you'd expect from a screenplay that has been given serious thought and revision. It's what you expect... from a movie. But because the characters in Boy Meets Girl talk like they're in a movie that doesn't really look like a movie, there's a level of dissonance. It's harder to suspend the disbelief. I can't argue with myself here, and the weakest thing about Boy Meets Girl is probably its script. A movie that's ostensibly about humans needs to have characters who sound like humans. And on that level, the movie fails. Everyone says exactly what they're thinking when it comes time for them to give their big speeches, and nothing is really left for interpretation. "This is how the world is," they say, but that's only half true. I was disconnected from the dialogue, because the characters seemed disconnected from what they were saying. That crushed me, because I wanted to believe in these characters at all times. There were times when I did, probably more often than not, but even some of the key dramatic moments fall flat because they feel like plot mechanisms rather than honest human revelations. But it's also that these characters are basically perfect. They're not flawed. I don't need Ricky to be an anti-hero, but when the worst thing any given character has done is have sex at boarding school and then pretend to be a virgin... come on, y'all. And then she cheats on her fiance, but even that is "justified" in the dialogue and ultimately doesn't really affect anyone's life. Everything works out in the end. For everyone. That isn't how life works. It's how life should work. It would be amazing if every transgender boy or girl in the South had loving friends and family. If they were able to overcome prejudice and do what they love. But it's hard to believe. So, so hard. But you know what? That's why we have Boys Don't Cry. That's why we have a film where things go horribly wrong, that show a more realistic side to things (though even that film is somewhat idealized from the original story, which is even worse). Boy Meets Girl doesn't owe the audience the reality of prejudice and hatred. The tiny little nuggets, to those who see them as symptomatic of society rather than one-off instances of transphobic characters (one of whom isn't actually transphobic, despite appearances to the contrary... a plot twist that kind of undermines its effectiveness. That hatred that the character initially spews is accurate. I've heard people say those things, seen them write those things on anonymous chat boards. Hell, when I first learned about transgender people (I was in high school), I felt some of those same things. I've grown up since then, at least a little bit. (I hope I have, anyhow.) Plus, the way that character (who looks annoyingly like Zayn from One Direction) fits into the other romantic subplots is too neat and tidy, as is the ultimate result of all of the various romantic threads. True, but shut up. It's my turn now. Fine. That's enough raining on Boy Meets Girl's parade. It's finally time to talk about the metaphorical mirror in the introduction, and the things that affected me. And this is going to require me to admit to something that's really weird and probably says something about me, though I don't have any idea what that might be: I can't watch characters kiss onscreen. Whenever lips lock, I avert my eyes. It's been that way for the better part of a decade. I don't know what started it or where it came from, but it bothers me. I feel uncomfortable watching it. Which made me extremely uncomfortable during Boy Meets Girl, because there is a lot of kissing in that movie. And the things that happen around that kissing are the reasons this film succeeds despite each and every flaw. Because the moments where this film is human and real are in its discussions about sex. How many romance movies have featured two characters kissing and then discussing sexual histories in order to clarify that they've used protection. That's a legitimate concern, and a legitimate conversation. It's something that's necessary... but it's also exactly the sort of thing films gloss over. In the heat of the moment, passion takes over and there's nothing more to it. Kiss. Sex. BOOM. We never see the sex. We do see the moments before (and the moments after). We see the awkward movements and dialogue that are ever-so-crucial. We get Ricky as she asks her partner whether they're okay with what they're doing, whether they understand the implications of going down that road. (Though here, again, this is undermined by the nearly utopian vision where a well-connected conservative leader does not go after a transgender woman (pre-sexual reassignment surgery, I might add) who slept with his daughter (thus, as far as anyone knows, taking her virginity). Bullshit. Absolute fucking malarkey.) But I digress... That Boy Meets Girl is willing to have frank discussions about what defines sex (in conversations outside of sexual contexts) matters. Those are rare. Less rare in indie film, but rare enough that it merits consideration. But the fact is that by sheer virtue of having a female transgender character (really, the pre-op thing is vital, and takes center stage in a climactic moment that reminded me just a little bit too much of the ending of Sleepaway Camp (minus the severed head)) at the center of these conversations, one who is experimenting with her own sexuality throughout the film, it propels itself far beyond its glaring technical problems and becomes something that is truly affecting. It's a sexual coming of age tale that has probably never been told quite like this. There have been dozens (hundreds) of movies about straight couples in these sorts of positions, and even a few about gay ones (the devastating and incredible Blue is the Warmest Color comes to mind), but transgender? Nah. That's something else. But it's something necessary.  Bruce Jenner, of the famous (and infamous) Kardashian household, just came out as transgender. He (not for much longer) is beginning a transition into womanhood. That public spotlight will matter. It will get people talking. It will put issues that are kept quiet out in front of everyone. That's what reality TV does best. It stirs up controversy and gets people talking. This will make people talk and make people think. Boy Meets Girl comes at a perfect time to stay one step ahead of that conversation. It lets people like me (and probably you too) into an experience that it's nearly impossible to imagine. I can't conceive of looking down and thinking, "No. That's not right." It's something I've wrestled with for a long, long time. It really is, and I've done that with varying degrees of sensitivity to the people who do have that experience. I can be rough and abrasive (no shit, right?) and there will probably be more than a few people I met in college who hear that I'm writing about transgender issues and cringe. They'll be right to. I can't say I've exactly turned over a new leaf and I'm going marching in the streets tomorrow, but I think I just understand it better now. There was something missing, some vital piece of the puzzle that I just hadn't locked into place. I saw my own prejudices in the mirror. During some of the more intimate scenes, I felt less comfortable than I think I would have if Michelle Hendley were not biologically male (though I would have been uncomfortable either way). I felt that little bit extra, and I was mad at myself. How dare I judge this on an emotional level? This wasn't something that I could objectively point to and say, "Nope, wrong!" the way people could in response to Blue is the Warmest Color's awkward and unrealistic sex scenes. I wish I could hide behind that. It would make me feel better about my visceral reaction, but I couldn't and can't. I need to own it, understand it, and be better for it. I need to get over myself.  Laverne Cox's excellent performance in Orange is the New Black did a lot to give a powerful voice to a transgender character, but Ricky is in such a different position. Ricky is still a kid. She wants to go to college in New York. That's her dream, and she waits for the letter from the Fashion Institute each and every day. Ricky doesn't have a vagina. Sophia gives an in-depth explanation of how vaginas work (she would know); Ricky has to ask her best friend for advice on getting a girl "wet" and asking how vaginal sex compares to anal, her only point of comparison. That's a different voice, and it's one we need. And even if Michelle Hendley's performance occasionally dips into the melodramatic, it all comes from an honest place that makes her fascinating to watch. In the end, she is the only character who truly feels real. And if Boy Meets Girl had to do anything, it was get that right. It had to make Ricky human, someone who anybody could empathize with.  I can complain all day about this or that, but to what end? What am I trying to prove by focusing on the bad instead of celebrating the good? This film made me think about my own feelings more than any film in recent memory. It showed me my own prejudices, but it didn't judge me for them. At least, not explicitly. And so now I have things to think about, and they're things I'll continue to think about. Everybody should see Boy Meets Girl. It should be required viewing in every high school sex ed class in the country. I urge you to see it. To tell your friends and family and vague social media connections. Get the word out, because even if they don't see Boy Meets Girl, they should know about it. They should know that it exists, because the fact that it exists matters too. It marks a turning point. One can only hope that the future is brighter.
Boy Meets Girl Review photo
Identity crisis
Boy Meets Girl is an antique magic mirror. The kind of thing you'd see in a movie. In an old, cobweb-filled antique shop, the camera slowly pans up an old, cracked and unpolished mirror. It's not really much to look at, ...

If other cinematic comic book characters had forehead tattoos like The Joker

Apr 27 // Hubert Vigilla
Batman Superman Captain America Iron Man Black Widow The Incredible Hulk Spider-Man Wonder Woman Groot Daredevil Aquaman Doctor Doom Deadpool Bane Lex Luthor Scarlet Witch Quicksilver Green Lantern Loki Nick Fury
Comic Book Forehead Tats photo
Wanna know how I got these facial tattoos?
We all know what Jared Leto's version of The Joker will look like in Suicide Squad. It's a little overdone (by "a little" I mean "completely"), but it's all about the execution in the actual film and Leto's performance in the...

Ultron 101 photo
So what the hell is an "Ultron," anyway?
With comic book movies, it’s not always easy keeping up with all the influences and references that the filmmakers draw upon from the wealth of source material. Comic Movies 101 serves as a primer for newcomers to the...

Tribeca Review: Monty Python: The Meaning of Live

Apr 26 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219309:42350:0[/embed] Monty Python: The Meaning of LiveDirectors: Roger Graef and James RoganRating: NRCountry: United Kingdom  I'm on the younger side of New York film critics. I'm certainly not the youngest (not anymore), but I know a whole bunch of critics more than twice my age. And that means that many of the people who I saw The Meaning of Live with were alive when Monty Python was big, and a fair number of those were probably old enough to remember them. Those people were laughing at the film for different reasons than I was. Those people were laughing because they were seeing sketches they knew by heart for the hundredth time, though with the added quirk of thirty years. Monty Python is no longer made up of spring chickens. They're older, grayer, and feeling the effects of those first two things. Going between clips from back in the day and the modern iterations, the sketches themselves haven't changed much, but the people definitely have. Seeing John Cleese in a wig as a young man was funny. Seeing him in a wig as an old man is freaking hilarious. The film isn't just about the stage show, though. It's also about the past, about their time in Britain and then going abroad. It's about what led them to split up in the 80s and then return in the 2010s. It's about the entire Python timeline. And it's all fascinating, because they're fascinating people. And they're funny. I mean, of course they're funny, but that doesn't make it any less noteworthy. Watching them talk and interact, seeing how they do this thing and then talk about what they did, it's all enjoyable because they're just enjoyable to watch. Near the end of the trailer, John Cleese is in a hallway and he trips over his own feet. He's on camera, but he's not doing it for the audience. He's doing it for the two workers in the hallway with him. He turns it into a bit, doing it a few times, just to get some laughs out of the people who are doing all of the thankless work to get him up on stage. It's a wonderful moment, and it makes you fall in the love with man yet again. The Meaning of Live feels like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, even though it's professionally done. The camera people honestly aren't that great at their job, and frequently try to find focus as everyone involved walks around. It looks kind of guerilla, to be honest, and that's unfortunate. Even if the show that's being filmed has some technical hangups, there's no excuse for the film to as well. Moments of brilliance were obscured in a camera operator's inability to find focus. I've filmed things like this before, and I know how difficult it is to do this job, but that doesn't excuse it. They should have been on point. Because everyone else was.  Whether you could recite Monty Python sketches in your sleep or just have vague memories of hearing someone discuss a holy hand grenade, there's something in this movie for you. You don't need to know Monty Python to find their story fascinating. I expect you'll get more out of it if you do, but it's hardly a requirement. Really, the only thing you need to bring is a sense of humor. And that shouldn't be a problem. If Monty Python can't make you laugh, then you're definitely dead inside. 
Monty Python Review photo
Always look on the bright side
Even though Monty Python ended their run in the 1980s, they're still curtural icons. Even for people like me, born after their disbanding, films like Monty Python and the Holy Grain (though less their Flying Circus roots...

Tribeca Review: Thank You for Playing

Apr 22 // Hubert Vigilla
Thank You for PlayingDirectors: David Osit and Malika Zouhali-WorrallRelease Date: TBDRating: TBD Just seeing Joel on screen is heartbreaking. It's the way his eyes cross, which seems troubling, not a routine case of strabismus that lots of kids have. A whole flood of emotions winds up in the content of That Dragon, Cancer. The first-person experiential game allows players to push Joel on a swing, to feed ducks with Joel at sunset, to catch Joel coming down a slide as he giggles--it's his real laugh. There are also visits to the clinic, mournful walks through dark rooms of the house, and even a metaphorical flourish of indoor rain, like something out of a Tarkovsky movie magnified to Biblical proportions. While That Dragon, Cancer offers a space to participate in the life of the Green family, it also conveys a sense of helplessness. There's only one outcome to all of this. Ryan and Amy are people of faith, and it seemed that an underlying pain of their situation is how God could let this happen. I never sensed that their faith was in question--it's something stable--and the game and the documentary convey the frustration of trying to find hope when none seems possible. For instance, in the design of the game, Joel's face lacks features. By not particularizing Joel's face, it opens up the possibility for a more universal experience of the loss. Yet there's also the facelessness of the real Joel. He should be verbal at his age and have more of a personality, but his development has been stunted. Ryan says that he loves his son, but he doesn't really know him and he'll never get to really know him. Directors David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall play a difficult balancing act since their film is both a making-of documentary about That Dragon, Cancer as well as a chronicle of a family's sadness along the lines of Kurt Kuenne's Dear Zachary. There are times when the making-of aspects of the film feel at odds with the heartache in the Green family, but they're generally all of a piece. Art gets made to address an experience, so the creative process of making That Dragon, Cancer is an essential interpretive component to the movie. There's little division between lived life and creative life. There's a scene in which Ryan records some dialogue for the game. His lines seem like private poetry if you just read them as words on a screen: "Fear is cancer's preservative; cancer's embalming oil. And you, oh Accuser, are Fear's oil salesmen." He reads his lines again, this time with something to wrap his hands around, like he's choking the Devil, or cancer, or his anxieties, or death itself. He reads with so much conviction, and he brings to life all of the ineffable emotional stuff that his words alone can't convey. There's another important function to art that comes across in both That Dragon, Cancer as well as Thank You for Playing: it's to remind others that no matter what, whether in joy or in grief, we are not alone.
Thank You for Playing photo
Love letters, memorials, videogames
There are moments of Thank You for Playing that are so painful because the documentary feels so personal. It's about Joel Green, a boy with terminal brain cancer, and how his parents try to cherish the little joys in life whi...







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