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dark comedy


Flix for Short: Johnny Express

May 09
// Liz Rugg
The year is 2150. Johnny is a great delivery man. He is however, incredibly lazy. All Johnny wants is to sleep in his automated space delivery ship. All he has to do is deliver the packages he's sent. However, his deliveries...

Reviews: Whitewash and Big Bad Wolves

May 06 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]215491:40054:0[/embed] WhitewashDirector: Emanuel Hoss-DesmaraisRelease Date: May 2, 2014 (VOD)Country: Canada Whitewash is a story of solitude. In the middle of a blinding snowstorm, Bruce (Thomas Haden Church) accidentally drives his small snowplow into a man wandering in the road. He covers the body and then drives the plow out into the forest. He wakes up to find that the snowplow is stuck, and he is lost and alone. He has no food, he is on the verge of running out of gas (the plow can't move, but it can provide heat), he has no real supplies, and he is also a killer. It's just him, the forest, and his big yellow snowplow. He comes across people throughout the film, as treks out to find supplies and keep himself alive, but these interactions are brief and uncomfortable. But Whitewash also goes into the immediate past. It turns out that, even if that man's death was accidental (which it seems to have been), the two of them had met before. It would be disingenuous to say they were friends, but they had spent the days leading up the incident together. In fact, Bruce had stopped the dead man from committing suicide (a more beautiful irony I cannot comprehend) and then taken him in. As with any good nonlinear narrative, each new flashback drastically changes how the viewer perceives both Bruce and what he's done. By the end, I probably would have hit the guy with a snowplow myself. Big Bad WolvesDirectors: Navot Papushado and Aharon KeshalesRelease Date: January 17, 2014 (VOD)Country: Israel Big Bad Wolves deals with a much more serious subject matter, but it deals with it much less seriously. A man has been torturing, raping, and killing young girls and though the police believe they have found the man responsible, a video of some of their enhanced interrogation techniques is posted to the internet and they are pressured to let him go. After another girl is found raped and beheaded, the girl's father decides to take matters into his own hands. He kidnaps the suspected killer, ties him up in the basement of a new house purchased for this purpose, and goes to work. He brings with him another man, the police officer whose enhanced interrogation techniques meant the man walked in the first place. What follows is gruesome, unpleasant, and comical. And that last part is where things start to come undone. I have written on multiple occasions about the use of either child rape or child murder as a plot device (and I don't know if that says something about me or about cinema in general), but every time the same question comes into my head: did the film earn the right to use that as a plot device? Death is often treated lightly in film, but child death is something else entirely. Broaching a taboo subject like that is not inherently problematic, but not treating that subject properly turns a film from effective to exploitative. In Whitewash, there is a scene where Bruce, hiding out in a family's cabin in an attempt to get warm, is discovered by a little girl. She is obviously horrified to find a big man with a gravelly voice rivaled only by Batman, and he tries to keep her quiet by grabbing her and covering her mouth. The following scene is played for laughs, as the girl's father confronts him (from a distance), but what Bruce did, motivations be damned, is treated in the way that sort of scene deserves. Big Bad Wolves should be able to offer that same weight, but it doesn't. The scenes involving child abduction and the aftermaths of the violence aren't played for laughs, but so much of the violence and horror surrounding them are that the scenes actually seem worse for that. The line between comedy and drama is so tenuous that things that should be funny come off as horrific and things that should be horrific are funny. I laughed a lot when I was watching the film, and that was by design, but it's a flawed design. Tonal consistency is really important for a film like this, and Big Bad Wolves can't keep its tone. For the most part, it is played as a comedy. Whether it's breaking a man's fingers with a hammer or having an extremely Jewish mother cry about her son refusing to let her visit him while he's "sick," there's a joke in there somewhere, except in those rare moments where it seems like a taboo could go too far. But that actually draws attention to itself, and it makes those scenes feel even more exploitative, like they are from the wrong movie. Whitewash seems like a drama from the outset, but the comedy grows into it organically. Admittedly, I felt a little weird the first time I laughed, because I hadn't noticed the subtleties of the shift, but soon it just made sense. The line between drama and comedy (the film never really goes into the horrific) is occasionally blurry, but it works and the filmmakers clearly understood their subject material. Death and isolation are two extremely difficult topics to deal with. Not quite as difficult as those dealt with in Big Bad Wolves, but difficult nonetheless, and so director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais and co. should be commended for their work.  Had I not seen Big Bad Wolves so soon after Whitewash, it's possible that I would have been slightly kinder to it here, or at the very least have more trouble articulating why it doesn't work. Looking at the two films side-by-side, two films that are different in every way except their broad genre definition, it's possible to pick apart the successes and failings from each in the context of the other. Further discussion about the failings of Big Bad Wolves would delve too heavily into spoiler territory (I could write several hundred words about the final shot alone), but suffice it to say that there are plenty of things that could be discussed. Now, I'm not advocating not seeing the film. I think it has some merit and I know several people who were able to see past these flaws. But it's impossible to overlook those issues, especially when dealing with something so inherently disturbing. And let me also say that Whitewash is not a perfect work either. It's good, and I enjoyed it quite a lot, but it didn't blow me away. In a head-to-head fight with Big Bad Wolves, it comes out the clear victor, but it isn't groundbreaking cinema. But not everything needs to be groundbreaking. Sometimes, movies just need to be good. Whitewash is good, and the score in the big box below reflects the quality of Whitewash. Big Bad Wolves, on the other hand, doesn't deserve that score. Instead, that film gets a 60. It's "Decent." Barely.
Whitewash, Big Bad Wolves photo
The success and failure of comedy in the face of tragedy
I like film festivals for a lot of reasons, but one of the best is the way films are forced into context with a number of other, entirely unrelated films. The act of watching multiple films in a day alone creates all sorts of...

Obvious Child Trailer photo
Obvious Child Trailer

First trailer for Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate

Apr 16
// Nick Valdez
Obvious Child is one of the films I regret missing out on during SXSW. It stars Jenny Slate, in her first starring role (though she's played numerous, fabulous supporting roles), as a comedienne who's life takes an unexpecte...

Trailer: The Angriest Man in Brooklyn starring Robin Williams

Take a chill pill, man.
Apr 09
// Isabelle Magliari
Robin Williams is cranky! And director Phil Aiden Robinson's (Field of Dreams) made him that way. In Robinson's upcoming film The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, Williams plays delightful curmudgeon Henry Altmann, a man whose...

Watch: BaneCat - a villainous cat that torments his owner

Mar 28
// Liz Rugg
The Dark Knight Rises' evil Batman antagonist Bane has one of the most recognizable and most fun to parody voices ever. Enter: BaneCat, a short video about a villainous cat who torments his owner. It's a pretty funny little ...

NSFW: Red band trailer for Filth sure is filthy

Mar 21
// Liz Rugg
James McAvoy stars in Filth as Scottish Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, a man with a lot of vices who'll do anything to get his way. This red band trailer for Filth is very NSFW, so you can check it out below, along with ...

SXSW Review: Space Station 76

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

Review: Cheap Thrills

Feb 24 // Sean Walsh
[embed]217292:41239:0[/embed] Cheap ThrillsDirector: E.L. KatzRelease Date: February 21, 2014 (VOD), March 28, 2014 (theatrical)Rating: NR  Craig (Pat Healy) is in a bind. Laid off from his crappy job, with a wife and infant child at home and an eviction notice to deal with, he finds himself at the bar. There, he runs into his old friend Vince (Ethan Embry), a guy in the business of 'collections.' Before long, they make the acquaintance of the super-rich Colin (David Koechner) and his smoking hot wife Violet (Sara Paxton). It's Violet's birthday, and Colin has money to burn, which results in him paying Craig and Vince to perform a series of ridiculous tasks. Before long, they wind up back at Colin's house, and things quickly escalate. Pat Healy makes a perfect everyman loser. Everything ultimately hinges on his need to provide for his wife and child and he takes to the role very well. Ethan Embry plays one of those guys you were friends with for a long time, but eventually grew apart from because he keeps fighting guys for no reason while you're out on the town, and plays that guy well. The really great thing about David Koechner is that every character he plays is essentially a lovable goof. Cheap Thrills adds a certain desensitization to that character that works perfectly for him. It's the Koechner we know and love, but he's so rich that other people are just pawns in his weird game. Sara Paxton spends most of the movie looking pretty and texting on her phone, only getting directly involved to further the game, and she's surprisingly effective. Cheap Thrills is a simple movie, really. Guy needs money, an opportunity presents itself, and that opportunity takes guy to a dark place. There a two main locations, a main cast you can count on one hand, and not much in the way of special effects. It's a very lean movie, but boy did it suck me in. I instantly was sucked into Craig's plight, myself barely existing from paycheck to paycheck, and have often thought of what I would do for easy money, and how much I would do it for. On top of that, I watched this movie with my girlfriend, and she asked me "Would you do X or Y to pay the rent?" She also walked out about two-thirds of the way through due to the subject matter. Any movie that sparks a dialogue and repels the squeamish gets high points in my book. There's really not a lot to say about Cheap Thrills. It has a great cast, a simple plot, and an effective execution. It's gross, it's violent, it's a little sexy, and it gets its point across without belaboring it. If you're in the mood for a dark comedy that will make you ask yourself the same questions posed to the protagonist of the film, Cheap Thrills is the one for you. And you get to watch two dudes race each other to poop on someone's floor. What's not to love?
Cheap Thrills Review photo
Dark, brutal, and David Koechner
Any movie synopsis that includes "black comedy" and "David Koechner" is an instant sell for me. Toss in Empire Records' Ethan Embry and the two leads from Ti West's The Innkeepers and my expectations will be through...


New Wolf of Wall Street featurettes look awesome

Yes, please
Dec 30
// Isabelle Magliari
Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio's latest collaboration, Wolf of Wall Street, is the fast paced, R-rated Christmas release we've all been waiting for. Scorsese's latest dark comedy follows the drug-fueled exploits...

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Dec 24 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217055:41032:0[/embed] The Wolf of Wall StreetDirector: Martin ScorseseRated: RRelease Date: December 25, 2013  The Wolf of Wall Street is a gorgeously grotesque film. An adaptation of Jordan Belfort's The Wolf of Wall Street memoir, the film lies somewhere in between biography and fantasy. As Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) takes it upon himself to tell his story, it blurs the line between what could be real and what is an illusion brought on by quaalude overdose. Scorsese crafts the film in an admittedly odd way, but it ultimately yields the best rewards. By relying on an unreliable narrator (as Belfort's character seemingly remembers parts of the story on the fly), the film's sequences don't immediately have a tangible connection from one to the other until you think about them later. Why is Belfort remarking how attractive his wife is (coupled with a gratuitous image of her in underwear) important? It's not immediately until he decides to explain why later. This disconnected storytelling could be a detriment if the film's sequences didn't at least make sense in the grander plan.  Now to address the elephant in this review. WOWS nearly missed its release this year due to editing issues Scorsese had with the film. To bring the film down to its current hefty 179 minute run time and R rating, Scorsese (and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker) had to buckle down and cut the film from its rumored NC-17 (missing its original November 15th mark) in order to get it out by Christmas Day. The problem with all of that was Scorsese reportedly had trouble letting any of it go, and it's easy to see why. WOWS may sound like a heavy investment, as telling anyone a movie is three hours is likely to turn them off, but the flow of the film does its best to alleviate that inherent issue. It's not always perfect in that sense, as there are definitely lapses in pace when it slightly struggles during the second act to place the direction of the film, but every scene in the film is full of so much hilarious personality.  And hilarity is the name of the game. When boiled down, WOWS is a film about terrible people doing terrible things for money. That doesn't always make a bad movie, but WOWS could've been an entirely different beast if played straight. Thankfully, WOWS takes place in an exaggerated world full of thinly veiled cartoons. Once again due to Belfort's narration, each of the film's characters is framed with a comic insincerity that adds a nice layer to them regardless of whether or not they actually develop through the course of the film. The people Befort surrounds himself with are crooked drug pushers and should seem entirely despicable as you see what Belfort slowly evolves into when he surrounds himself with them. Yet the beauty of WOWS is they're entirely likable in that jerk kind of way. For example, there are numerous disgusting party scenes. Copious sex and drug use radiate within, but it's framed hilariously with a mix of funny facial expressions and montage song choice.  Speaking of lovable jerks, DiCaprio completely throws himself into Belfort, both physically and metaphorically. Jordan Belfort is so cartoonishly despicable, I wouldn't believe he actually existed if you told me outright. As he narrates WOWS, his arc becomes one of the best things I've seen all year. It's grandiose in nature as Belfort becomes a tragically heroic character who's blinded by the glitz and glamour of the gritty stock market underworld. It also helps that Belfort is so damn personable. His exacted influence over other people would be arguably null if DiCaprio didn't portray him as well as he did. He's put on the right amount of sleeze mixed with his already established "good guy" persona. There are a number of the scenes in WOWS that are entirely DiCaprio delivered speeches, and in a lesser movie, those speeches would seem to drag on the already heavy run time. What DiCaprio manages to do here, however, is manipulate his charismatic personality (coupled with Scosese's choice to always focus on Belfort in these scenes without cutting away) in order to draw you in along with the film's characters. It's a wonderful introspection into what would influence you and how far you'd go for a lovable person. Casting DiCaprio feels like a given in retrospect (as he's successfully worked with Scorsese in the past), but he also tends to struggle with material. He was the worst aspect of The Departed and The Aviator, and always notably loses his grip with Scorsese's material. But something clicks here. The Wolf of Wall Street capitalizes on DiCaprio's entire career and molds it into his most defining moment as a character actor. It takes the physicality of Arnie from What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, the sly grime of Calvin Candie from Django Unchained, the false dignity of Gatsby from The Great Gatsby, and even Brandon Darrow's need to yell from Celebrity. Coupled with Scorsese's little touches of pop culture influence, and it all leads into one of the most distressing yet comedic scenes I've seen in a long, long time. It's a complete surprise, yet it makes so much sense despite its admittedly extraneous existence.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a f**king great film. There's no real way around it. Although the gratuitous nature of the film will turn most away, and some of the scenes in the film could be removed for brevity, what is here is brilliant. It's the kind of film that you have trouble finding words for, and it's one you sort of have to cap off with an expletive.  It struggles a bit in the middle and not everyone will gel with its cartoonish yet grotesque humor, but it's a wonderfully yet unreliably told story. It's the sort of story you'd hear from the guy in the corner of the bar. He'd tell you he used to be a multi-millionaire and you'd shrug him off because he smells funny. But the one time you decide to sit down and listen to his story, you'd walk away feeling much better with your own life choices.  The Wolf of Wall Street is my favorite Scorsese/DiCaprio film to date, and it may well be my favorite Scorsese overall. I'm so glad it released this year.  Matthew Razak: I really can't wait for the 4-5 hour director's cut to release of this movie because then I can sit down and watch it how it should be watched: as a series of separate vignettes about the greed an excess of Wall Street. There isn't a single bad scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, but much like its characters it has almost no control in how it uses its own wealth. While every scene is fantastic the film doesn't hold together as a whole as it stretches on and on. There's plenty of amazing here, but it needed another month in the editing room for it to become the film it really should have been. Great - 84
WOWS Review photo
Sitting down to write this review, I had trouble figuring out the sub header you see above. I normally like to put a joke or pop culture reference there, but I simply can't seem to. The more and more I think about The Wolf of...

Review: Don Jon

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


All Is Bright brings the (dark) Christmas spirit

Sep 06
// Matthew Razak
Christmas movies with cheery people and overwrought emotions are a dime a dozen. Christmas movies that are dark comedies? Not so much. That's what All Is Bright looks like it's shaping up to be. Well, that and another f...

Review: Kick-Ass 2

Aug 15 // Matthew Razak
Kick-Ass 2Director: Jeff WadlowRated: RRelease Date: August 16 [embed]215782:40177:0[/embed] Kick-Ass 2 picks up a few years after Kick-Ass. Regular people dressing up as superheroes is a more normal thing now, though Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has quit the superhero thing and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) is operating in secret since she was adopted by a friend of her now dead father. After a few brief lines explaining why he's going back to being Kick-Ass, Dave joins back up with Hit-Girl/Mindy and the two start fighting crime together. Unfortunately that doesn't sit well with Mindy's new dad so she promises she'll stop, leaving Dave alone until he joins a new team of heroes led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has gone a bit insane since Kick-Ass killed his evil father and decides he'll be the world's first super villain. Donning tight latex and hiring a group of henchmen he turns himself in The Motherfucker. Things start to really escalate from there as the film takes the same road as the original and starts to realistically show what would happen if you dressed up like a superhero while also somehow still being a ludicrous superhero movie. It's that dichotomy that the original nailed so well, but the second film really struggles with. While the dark tone and over arching themes of the original made for a movie that fully embraced its contradictions this one loses its way. There is plenty of focus on the characters, which is great, but their development almost feels like a rerun of the original and the darker edges of the first film are unfortunately buried under a bit too much comedy. The film is stretching for meaning, but never really gets there. Wadlow's direction sends things too far into the comedic zone when the movie should be sitting in the dark comedy area.  Part of that issue is that Mortez is now older and wiser so her performance reflects that. Much of the film deals with her character attempting to be a normal person after her father spent her life training her to fight crime, but there's never any real struggle there for the character. You never once believe she won't go back to fighting crime, so all the interesting character questions the first film was able to raised are lost behind stereotypical teenage drama stuff. There's definitely an interesting film in there, but Kick-Ass 2 turns the role into a cliche that doesn't really address the contradictions in the two worlds that Mindy is trying to inhabit. It tries hard, but can never pull it off. Otherwise the cast is actually pretty awesome. Taylor-Johnson does a good enough job playing second fiddle in a movie named after his character, but it's the supporting cast that should get most of the credit. Carrey's performance is spot on, and surprisingly restrained for the actor. Instead of going over-the-top with an over-the-top role he tampers it into a restrained insanity that works wonders. Meanwhile Mintz-Plasse just goes all out crazy, performing admirably in more latex than he probably ever thought he'd wear in life.  It's a rarity that the characters come before the action, but that was clearly the goal of Kick-Ass 2. Not that the action is shabby. There's actually some truly brutal and well constructed sequences in here that definitely deliver on your hunger for folks getting beat up or killed creatively. Unfortunately, the focus on character doesn't work thanks to a change in tone that's more comedic than thoughtful. The original wasn't some super intellectual film, but there was a lot to dig around in it. Kick-Ass 2 contains almost all the same themes and ideas, but it wears them on its sleeve and in its  openness loses the very themes it was so obviously trying to express. 
Kick-Ass 2 Review photo
More like acceptable-but-lesser-sequel-ass
Kick-Ass was one of the bigger surprises for me when I first saw it. Having not read the comic the film's dark overtones, commentary on violence in media and perturbing escalation of said violence left me coming out of t...


Trailer: The Family

Jun 05
// Liz Rugg
In Luc Besson's The Family, Robert DeNiro returns to one of his best forms - a mobster trying to stay out of trouble, and failing. The movie centers around DeNiro's character and his tough-as-nails family; his wife played by...

Check out the Birdman costume and disheveled Keaton

No it's still not a Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law movie
Jun 03
// Logan Otremba
A little while ago, we reported that Michael Keaton was confirmed to be starring in director Alejando González Iñárritu’s (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) Birdman. It is a dark comedy that follows K...

Review: Sightseers

May 09 // Xander Markham
[embed]213878:39223:0[/embed] SightseersDirector: Ben WheatleyRating: URCountry: UKRelease Date: May 10, 2013 Truth is, Sightseers' humour feels so specific to British stereotypes and insecurities that it's difficult to imagine the movie travelling with much success. Attack The Block was occasionally met with confusion at the density of the characters' accents, but Ben Wheatley not only wheels out the regional voices, but concerns too: does any other nation share the love-hate relationship with its countryside as Britain does, or the people who inhabit (or visit) it? What will Americans make of the movie's amused respect for such inane eccentricities as a pencil museum, crumbling viaducts, or tour guides dedicated to the history of tramlines? Other countries may have their share of nutcases, but Britain seems the only one to consider them national treasures even while acknowledging their lunacy. That dichotomy is where the movie mines its pitch-black comedy. The plot sends a reclusive middle-aged woman named Tina on a caravan holiday, as much to escape her manipulative mother as embark on the 'sexual odyssey' promised by her cheerful, if somewhat bitter new boyfriend, Chris. As they trawl the many ridiculous tourist 'attractions' littering rural England, it becomes clear that Chris' passive-aggressive streak is tied to a murderous self-righteousness. As his body count rises, Tina's fear gives way to a newfound sense of liberation, revealing a psychotic streak even wilder than that of her boyfriend. The movie delights in finding increasingly gory ways to exterminate such stereotypes as the private school-educated over-achiever, the pernickity environmentalist, the debauched bride-to-be on her hen night celebrations. The irony, naturally, is that as much as Chris and Tina are infuriated by these people, so too do they share many of their traits. Chris' first kill revolves around avenging the inconsiderate littering of a public place, an annoyance expressed against Tina by his second victim. Tina, too, may have nothing but contempt for the loose morals of the woman wrapping her tongue around her boyfriend's tonsils, but is in the midst of a depraved sexual revolution of her own. These vignettes give the movie an episodic feel which prevents the story from flowing completely smoothly, but the thematic thoroughfare is so strong and each grisly murder framed in such stunning countryside vistas (making it one of the year's most beautiful movies) that any complaints become incidental. The movie shares a number of traits with last year's barmstorming Kill List, not to mention Wheatley's cinematic debut Down Terrace, particularly a fascination with psychotically unstable relationships and a refusal to offer concrete answers to the topical ideas - the recession's creation of an angry, unemployed underclass is briefly but powerfully hinted at - it plays around with. In addition to having written the screenplay, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram give powerful, layered performances which make Tina and Chris fascinating and entertainingly unhinged company, despite becoming increasingly unsympathetic as their week-long journey proceeds. Lowe, in particular, transitions her character from buttoned-up wallflower to lusty psychotic without a hint of contrivance, rooted in her need to break out of the mental shackles her loathsome mother (Eileen Davies) bound her in. Apart from nebbish innocent Martin - who gets a great sight gag with a runaway sleeping pod - the supporting cast is restricted to cameos, but are great fun as fodder for the central pair's murderous impulses. The symbolism and ironic music choices may be laid on a little thick, and anyone expecting a laugh-a-minute comedy will come as unstuck as those who went into Kill List expecting a routine hitman thriller, but Wheatley's genre-blending revisionism and eye for dramatic visuals make Sightseers every bit as distinctive, exciting, and almost certainly divisive, as its predecessor. Great Britain may have spent the past year enrapturing the world in patriotic pagentry, but where Bond and his Queen (Elizabeth, not M) celebrated the country's historic romanticism, it's two complaining, cagoule-wearing caravaners slaughtering their way across the countryside who prove unexpectedly perfect embodiments of the messy, bleakly funny reality.
Sightseers Review photo
The Great British countrycide
In a year where Great Britain has been celebrated by its Queen's jubilee, a successful Olympics and the fiftieth anniversary of its greatest cinematic icon, there's something gleefully appropriate about the year's final sho...

Tribeca Review: Fresh Meat

May 02 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215496:40041:0[/embed] Fresh MeatDirector: Danny MulheronRating: TBDCountry: New ZealandRelease Date: TBD Fresh Meat sets its tone and agenda pretty early on: there's nudity and a lesbian school girl shower scene within the first minute or two of the film. No time wasted. Given, it's playful and relatively chaste, but lesbian shower scenes are lesbian shower scenes no matter how you want to classify them. This is how we're introduced to Rina, played by first-time actress Hanna Tevita. She's a sweet young Maori woman returning home to the suburbs to visit her family after being away at school. In a genteel movie without the lesbian shower scene in the first two minutes, the opening to Fresh Meat could have been the set-up for a lighthearted coming-of-age and coming-out comedy. That plot gets thrown off course, however, because Rina's parents have something of their own they want to reveal. It turns out that while Rina was away at school, both mum (Nicola Kawana) and dad (Temuera Morrison) have decided to dabble in cannibalism. It's around then that their home gets invaded by a group of bumbling criminals on the run. A similar act of agenda setting occurs when we're introduced to Gigi (Elliott), the film's other female lead. Gigi first appears coming out of a car and ready to raise hell. She's like a cross between Tura Satana and Milla Jovovich: hot pants, knee-high stockings, a Bettie Page haircut, and a shotgun. She's the exploitation film equivalent of the femme fatale; some adolescent boy fantasy of sex and violence all rolled into one. Or in this case, Gigi's also a school girl fantasy of sex and violence -- she looks a lot like one of Rina's drawings of a sultry superheroine. Mulheron had mentioned in our interview that the tone of Fresh Meat was like a Road Runner cartoon, which is a good way of looking at it given the film's goofy violence and comedy. It's not a hardcore horror movie in any way, and scares are light even though there's a decent amount of blood. I think there are two other cartoon examples that also feed into what Fresh Meat is all about in terms of its thrills and titillation -- Tex Avery cartoons and Heavy Metal. In the case of both, there's a nascent wolf-whistling, va-va-vooming, and marveling that happens with any hint of sexiness, which is exactly what my 15-year-old mind would have felt had I seen this movie all those years ago. Fresh Meat also dabbles in a little social satire about the BS of suburban attitudes and values. One of Rina's friends who just wants to get into her pants co-opts the Maori culture in order to seem more worldly and more sincere even though he's just a bland and horny kid. Rina's mom is a celebrity chef, which has led her to the ultimate kind of ho-hum social and literary cachet. Rina's dad is a resentful failed writer who sinks all of his dreams (and his family's lives, really) into the mad beliefs in his history book about a spiritual leader/cult leader. None of the characters are really aiming high in life even though they think they are, and that lack of self-reflection is part of the trap of the suburbs. These are all empty people living in a neighborhood devoid of personality. While that touch of social satire is going on far in the background, in the foreground Gigi is pouring milk all over her body in the kitchen in slow-mo while Rina makes gaga eyes at her. In my head, my inner 15-year-old triumphantly high-fives my friends's inner 15-yeas-olds. (I have no idea why these other teenage selves are in my head.) While Fresh Meat is a lot of fun, it feels like the movie is holding back. I was left hungry for more at the end. It's like eating Chinese food (or possibly a Chinese person). Just having more offensiveness, more extreme gore, more violence could have pushed the film even further. Not only would that have appealed to the slapstick gorehound in me, it probably would have made this an even better send-up of the suburbs and the values of the upper middle class. And while Elliott and Tevita are good at playing their cartoon roles (shotgun seductress and fawning young femme), Morrison's comic timing seems a little off, like he's a shirt that's overstarched. Part of Fresh Meat's sense of withholding may come from budget and time constraints, but I think more of it comes from the attempt to get an R16 rating, which allows for a better box office. It's understandable, though to the detriment of the movie's high points. Fresh Meat is tasteless to a point, and there's a desire in older-me to see that arbitrary limit of taste eradicated and transgressed; it's as strong as the desire in the 15-year-old-me to see boobs and intestines (though not at the same time). I guess even then, it's not all bad since the film is still an enjoyable romp with lesbianism, girls with guns, and cartoon mayhem. The moments of restraint are probably fitting, actually. Fresh Meat is a cannibal splatter film with some manners -- this is the suburbs, after all.
Fresh Meat Review photo
Never invade the suburban homes of cannibals who happen to be Maori
Before interviewing director Danny Mulheron and actress Kate Elliott about Fresh Meat, I was talking to another film blogger/journalist about the movie. She  brought up the idea of brew and views with her friends: double...

Review: All American Zombie Drugs

Apr 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]215107:39987:0[/embed] All American Zombie DrugsDirector: Alex BallarRating: PG-13Release Date: April 23, 2013 (VOD and DVD) All American Zombie Drugs is about two drug users, named Vinny (Wolfgang Weber) and Sebastian (Beau Nelson), who are in constant search of their next high. Then one day they get the idea to go into the drug business for themselves. After a deal goes awry (and Vinny and Sebastian are left with an ineffective drug batch), the two friends just decide to make the drugs themselves. Which, of course, leads to shenanigans.  Now part of me doesn't want to be entirely critical of AAZD just because it's a small independent, digital release film, but most of me can't seem to ignore the brunt of the film's major flaws. There are a few positive aspects to be had, but they are sporadic in nature. AAZD attempts to criticize the major character's life through the film's sluggish pace. Whether or not this was intentional (I'd like to think it is), the film takes a startling amount of time for any character development, story, or action to take place. Normally I'm not someone who asks for quick resolutions or rushed character arcs, but AAZD takes a long time to really get going (the first major event of the film, Vinny and Sebastian decide to go into business for themselves, doesn't take place until about 20-25 minutes into the film). If this apathetic story direction is intentional, then the pace is fantastic.  You see, Vinny and Sebastian are two drug using loafers. It would make sense for them to take longer than average to get anywhere. The still growth of the film's two leads (although the heavier focus is placed on Vinny as he is the only one with conflict), becomes a criticism of the stagnancy permeating through youth drug culture. The rest of the film however, leads me to believe that this criticism wasn't the desired conclusion. One of the more glaring problems of the film (even more so than the pace), is the film's delivery of exposition. While the dialogue exchanges between the drug using characters are delightfully naturalistic, AAZD struggles a bit when it tries to deliver story beats. The main focus of the film is Vinny's struggle with his current drug life. You get a sense that he has a desire to leave it behind, but does not have the fortitude to do so. Unfortunately, the only reason the viewer's aware that Vinny has any internal struggle at all is his heavy handed conscience. During certain drug trips, Vinny's recently deceased brother becomes the physical manifestation of that conscience and delivers several speeches pleading for Vinny to get his life on a more positive track (when you realize his brother is played by the film's writer, Alex Ballar, there's a small knowing chuckle, but the problem then seems a lot more glaring that it should).  But hey, All American Zombie Drugs is a comedy! Even if there are hiccups, it wouldn't necessarily matter if the film is funny, right? While I won't try to dissect the humor for this review (as humor is one of the more subjective criticisms of a film), just know when the humor works, it works. And when it doesn' reaaallly doesn't. I will mention, however, that I enjoyed the nature of the film's humor as it is mainly rooted in smaller character beats or when it knowingly laughs at its own absurdity. Sebastian is a character completely rooted in that absurdity. At first he is a grating individual. He's constantly in a drug induced haze (which causes him to essentially sexually assault things in the environment), he berates his user girlfriend, and he laughs at Vinny's misfortune. But when you realize his role in the story is to act as a negative parallel to Vinny, his actions slowly make sense and start becoming more humorous as the film rolls on.  Despite the film's glaring problems with pace and story delivery, I was a little won over by the film's end. When the titular zombies are introduced and the film delves completely into its preposterous setting, it's endearing. Without going into spoilery details, All American Zombie Drugs' emotional resolution feels earned within it's drug stained world, while at the same time, making the rest of the film look worse overall. If the film could have committed toward it's ending point sooner, it could have had a much more profound effect.  Unfortunately, the stumbling nature of story and lack of commitment toward its main character is what keeps All American Zombie Drugs from becoming a spectacular film. It can't decide what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a stoner comedy? Is it a zombie horror? Is it a stoner horror comedy? Is it an after school special? Until All American Zombie Drugs figures out its genre, it's stuck in the middle of nowhere. 
All American Zombie Drugs photo
At a zombie's pace.
What should you expect with a film titled All American Zombie Drugs? It can go one of two ways. Either the film is going for B-movie style horror or the title is a reference to the pulpy nature of its art house take on drugs....


Flix for Short: Everything I Can See From Here

Apr 18
// Liz Rugg
Everything I Can See From Here is a beautiful little film by artists Sam Taylor and Bjorn Aschim. The dark comedy features two guys and their dog minding their own business, playing some football in a dystopian, industrial la...

Tribeca Review: V/H/S/2

Apr 15 // Allistair Pinsof
V/H/S/2 (S-VHS)Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Edúardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason EisenerRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: June 6, 2013 (VOD); July 12th (theatrical) V/H/S is a film that I said doesn't need a sequel and S-VHS doesn't do much to change that opinion. That position wasn't based on growing tired of the concept so much as feeling that the creative forces behind the first exhausted their options in prime material. S-VHS has a different group of directors, some with films you heard of (Blair Witch Project) and some of which you'll here about soon (You're Next). They bring their own unique take to the horror compilation, but even with new blood it's clear that creative minds are being strained to not retread on familiar ground. After some setup, S-VHS (thanks for not making me type those slashes, guys!) opens with a rather straight forward haunted house story with a twist. The twist being that we see through a man's robotic camera eye; the same eye that now permits this unfortunate host to see ghosts in his home. It's nothing all that shocking but the delivery is perfect, getting my blood running over something I thought stopped scarring me long ago. Like the first film, S-VHS is full of clever lines, timing, and details that make all the difference in the genre of horror. Though this opener is uninspired, it contains one of those rare horror moments where I felt like laughing and crying out at the same time. Nailing dark comedy and horror at the same time is something that S-VHS' directors constantly aim for but not always with success. The following four shorts are more camp than scary, focusing on aliens, devil babies, evil cults, and other subjects that one can't take seriously so the directors don't bother all that much trying to either. Instead, these frameworks are used to get to ridiculous places that I dare not discuss here because spoilers (and I don't want to throw up my lunch.) All these films contain shocking and shockingly hilarious scenes but they don't always work as a whole. Despite having a larger budget, the special effects often get in the way of creative writing. No where is this clearer than the final short that starts as a charming story about brothers spooking their sister, but then becomes an alien hunt full of nothing but flashing lights and sirens. Also, the acting is hit-and-miss which I never felt about the first. GoCams, doggy cams, surveillance cameras, eye cameras, spy cameras -- I can't deny that the directors of S-VHS made the most of the material, crafting a better looking sequel. Then again, it's a sequel that needs it because it can't always rely on the strength of its performances and script. Don't let this discourage you from seeking out S-VHS. It might be a step down from the original but it's still a skyscraper above other found footage films. Not to mention, this is a film where a man literally fucks away a ghost. It kind of sells itself, doesn't it? Allistair's Score: 74 Alec Kubas-Meyer: I don't really like seeing horror movies in theaters. I'm kind of a wimp sometimes, and I'd rather not freak out in front of a whole bunch of strangers (let alone other critics) over basically nothing. So I'm glad that I saw the original V/H/S on a TV after its VOD release, because it actually made me jump once or twice, and doing that in front of my friends was embarrassing enough. For the same reason, I'm glad that V/H/S/2 isn't a straight horror film. It's more of a horror-comedy, following in the footsteps of sequels like The Evil Dead 2 andThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as they turned to humor after their scare-centric starts. Fortunately, V/H/S/2 is also consistently stronger than its predecessor. The stories all play with found footage in interesting ways (although the shakiness of Jason Eisener's segment was too distracting), and Safe Haven, the short by Gareth Evans (director of The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto, is by far the best part of either film. That short alone is worth the price of admission, and everything else is really just extra. Really awesome extra. 84 -- Great Hubert Vigilla: When working with the found-footage genre, I sometimes wonder why people don't just drop the camera, But if the story's involving, I'm willing to suspend disbelief and go with it. What makes V/H/S/2 so much fun is the way the various shorts address the issue. For more the most part, there are in-story reasons why the camera wouldn't be dropped, and they're played with to mostly good effect. The result is a really enjoyable and inventive horror-comedy anthology (even though the framing/connecting narrative, almost by necessity, isn't too strong). The two standouts of V/H/S/2 are right in the middle. A Ride in the Park by Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez uses the conceit of a helmet cam to great effect, and the laughs in this segment consistently connect. The best of the anthology by far is Safe Haven by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, which begins with the necessary slow burn until it goes absolutely bananas. The other two entries -- Adam Wingard's Clinical Trials and Jason Eisener's Alien Abduction Slumber Party -- are solid enough to round out the film. It all makes me wonder what this anthology series has in store for the next installment. On a related note, I'm disappointed they changed the title from S-VHS to V/H/S/2. It makes sense from a marketing and brand recognition standpoint, but I was really looking forward to Laserdisc (or maybe LD), VCD, or Beta Max as sequel titles. 76 -- Good
V/H/S/2 Review photo
A monster of a sequel
In the original V/H/S, numerous tapes littered the apartment of the film's depraved gang of psychos, leaving the viewer to wonder what else those cassettes contained and whether the viewer can stomach to watch any more. S-VHS...

Review: It's a Disaster

Apr 12 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215286:39947:0[/embed] It's a DisasterDirector: Todd BergerRating: RRelease Date: March 5, 2013 (VOD); April 12, 2013 (limited theatrical, additional cities in the coming weeks) The idea of good things going bad is present at the very start of the film. During the opening credits, there's a soothing image of a beach. As the camera zooms out, it reveals the looming mushroom cloud of an atom bomb going off in the water. It's Bikini Atoll as a punchline and a bit of foreshadowing -- the danger isn't the immediate blast but the eventual fallout. The terrorist threat of It's a Disaster isn't planes into buildings or explosives in crowded areas. Instead it's dirty bombs spreading hazardous material through the air. The enemy has cut off communication: no cell service, no landlines, no internet. No electricity, even. The threat is invisible and unstoppable. The only choice is to hunker down and avoid the outside until the end comes or help arrives (if it even will). The set-up makes for close-quarters drama and awkward comedy, though it's also a convenient way to keep costs and locations down on a micro-budget indie film. It's a Disaster could easily be performed as a play. As with any ensemble piece filled with eccentric characters, I watched It's a Disaster wondering which person I was most like, and then worrying about what that said about me. We start the film with Tracy (Julia Stiles) and Glen (David Cross), who've only been dating a brief while. For Glen, this is a kind of trial by fire since everyone at the brunch knows Tracy already; for Tracy, she's just hoping she's with someone who isn't nuts. The hosts of the brunch are Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller), who have a big announcement to make that no one knows about. Rounding out the group are Hedy (America Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Grace), a high school chemistry teacher and her geeky fiance, and the hippy-dippy duo of Lexi and Buck (Rachel Boston and Kevin Brennan). In some ways the dirty bomb attack makes the brunch more tolerable. Emma and Pete intended to use the gathering to tell everyone that they're getting a divorce. (Bad news needs to be broken over vegan stew and quiche, I guess.) Now with the terrorist attack, everyone can focus on things that matter, like not dying. The divorce brunch would have been amusing based on the cast and the situation, but adding immanent death to the mix turns this collection of neurotics into a cage full of frightened lab rats -- feelings get heightened, desperation is enhanced, and maybe the humor is more effective because of it. If it bends, it's funny; if it breaks, it's not funny; if it destroys downtown LA, it's funny again. The laughs in It's a Disaster come from watching everyone's reactions to this dire situation. Some of them spring into action, others go catatonic, and some get incredibly paranoid. Lexi and Buck, however, continue to be infuriatingly chirpy, like it's just rain outside rather than a potentially fatal attack. It was a little annoying at first, especially Lexi's brand of devil-may-care, but it fits with their characters and actually reminded me of some people I know. About midway through the movie it became apparent that without Lexi and Buck, It's a Disaster wouldn't be able to walk that line between gallows humor and slapstick. There aren't any weak performances here, but a greater testament to the cast is that none of the performances dominate the others. They all play off each other in a way where the personalities are distinct and realized. Cross and Stiles are like the straight men of the movie -- their drama is comparatively small, their personalities modulated -- which makes them vessels for the audience's experience of this group. I've never watched Ugly Betty, so can't compare Ferrera's performance to that, but it was amusing to see what a little bit of death can do to a straight-laced person with a vacant, pop-culture-obsessed partner like Shane. Hayes and Miller have to do most of the dramatic heavy-lifting since its their divorce that precedes the end of society, and they do it well. Writer/director Todd Berger appears in the film as a next door neighbor in a Hazmat suit. He's the person who lets the house know what's going on outside of this little bubble -- dirty bombs, infrastructure attacks, the scope of the damage. We only get two or three other indications of how bad the damage is later on in the film, and they're both played for laughs. During Berger's appearance, the most important thing to his character is that he wasn't invited to the brunch. This neurotic bit of personal offense is like an inverted riff on the the "hanging out at the end of the world" movie. The mantra of those films is that the big stuff gets destroyed but the little personal relationships survive. Here a social faux pas between acquaintances becomes worse than the end of the world. It's a shattering betrayal. All the little offenses take on an apocalyptic character while the end of the world is just something going on outside. And that might be another true and funny thing about It's a Disaster, as if it's painting another kind of apocalyptic portrait of the early 21st century: we often overmagnify the events of our daily lives and forget that there's more going on outside ourselves. Divorce, misunderstandings, regrets, mistakes -- they're difficult situations and can change our lives, but they're not the end of the world. Then again, maybe the end of the world isn't so bad either if it puts all that in perspective. Pity that there isn't much to do after that realization, though.
It's a Disaster Review photo
It's the end of the world as we know it, and I could sure go for a mimosa right about now
There seems to be more and more movies about the end of the world these days. Maybe it's a reflection of how vulnerable people feel given the notable events of the 21st century: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, man-made ...

Michael Cera dies in this photo
Michael Cera dies in this

Trailer: This is the End (Red Band)

Emma Watson has an axe. You want to see this now, don't you?
Apr 03
// Nick Valdez
This new Red Band trailer for This is the End has enough new content and hints of plot (it seems to be a biblical apocalypse) to help you figure out what kind of movie it's going to be. It's filled to the brim with comedians...

RFC Review: The Suicide Shop

Mar 05 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]214709:39746:0[/embed] The Suicide Shop (Le magasin des suicides)Director: Patrice LeconteRating: TBDCountry: FranceRelease Date: TBD The world of The Suicide Shop is one of cold, gray drudgery. Long-faced people crowd the rainy streets. We watch a weary pigeon swoop around the city's uninspired utilitarian architecture, dodging dozens of jumpers from tall buildings. Eventually, the pigeon itself succumbs to its own depression. But there's an odd layer of bureaucratic farce to all this death. Just like in real life, if you attempt to kill yourself, you can receive a citation and have to pay a fine. The cops show up a few times in the film to stuff tickets into the mouths of the recently deceased, leaving them where they lay as they drive off. That's where the Suicide Shop fits into the story. Want to avoid a fine and make sure you do the job right? Then head to the dark alley and enter that well-lit, cute-looking boutique. The store's been run by the Tuvache family for a few generations, and we learn about how great it is in song. "Vivre suicide" the family rejoices (rough translation: "long live suicide"), or at least it's the closest they come to rejoicing. Enthuse is more like it, but not a happy kind of enthusing. The Tuvaches don't enjoy life and rarely smile. Anything jovial they say may ruin the sale of poison, a noose, a razor blade, or a poisonous snake. It takes the depressed to help depressives kill themselves. The Tuvaches are like the Addams Family on downers. Three of the family members are named after famous suicides. The two Tuvache children are named after Vincent van Gogh and Marilyn Monroe, and the Tuvache patriarch is named after Yukio Mishima, the great Japanese novelist who killed himself in 1970 by committing seppukku after a failed government coup. The world gets upended for the family with the birth of a son named Alain. Rather than hating life, Alain loves living. He's a happy child who hums and skips and throws paper airplanes. Alain's parents are afraid their son will ruin the family business, but as he gets older, that's precisely what he wants. The Suicide Shop is Patrice Leconte's (The Man on a Train, Ridicule) first attempt at directing animation, though the animation is oddly flat. That's part of a choice on his part, however, and it works in a charming way. Rather than having a traditional hand-drawn look or the gloss of CG, The Suicide Shop is more like watching something that's part flash and part paper puppet show. There are very clear foregrounds and backgrounds in each frame, and the puppet Tuvaches zip through them, often occupying the same middle plane(s) in each shot. Only occasionally will you get a sense of full depth in a frame. Watching The Suicide Shop in 3D adds to the 2D puppet effect. It's almost like watching an animated pop-up book in that regard, and it's quaint. Like most films, the 3D doesn't enhance the story, but it doesn't detract from The Suicide Shop either. Leconte's film wouldn't work if it didn't embrace the gallows humor. In addition to the suicide tickets, Mishima only sells his customers a single bullet. "You only need one if you do it right," he says. The film injects dark material with moments of levity because the story is more about enjoying life than about wanting to die. I think sometimes it takes those dark hours of the soul to make you realize why life is worth living. Alain Tuvache experiences these dark hours only dimly, and only because everyone else around him is so depressed and can't see how beautiful it is to live. When Alain tells his sister she's beautiful, she runs off crying and insists that she's ugly; the rest of the family is also appalled at Alain's tactlessly polite behavior. Alain and his friends seem the only change agents in this sickly little world. At one point Alain even sings (if I remember the translated lyric right) "death to suicide" or "death to death." All smiles, he rallies his friends in an act of life-affirming revolution/sabotage. Just when it seems like the story's winding down, it goes on an extra absurd beat, and all the better. In some ways The Suicide Shop is too short even though it's thoroughly entertaining. As gray and depressing as its reality is, I wanted to linger in the shop and streets a little longer, and especially learn more about Vincent Tuvache, the teenage artist who draws gothy skulls, landscapes, and landscapes that incorporate gothy skulls. But it's not the briskness of the storytelling that's the weak link in The Suicide Shop. It's the music. The first song that introduces us to the Tuvache family and their store is fun -- a mix of gloom and goofiness reminiscent of Danny Elfman. But the rest of the songs blend together, and there are no memorable melodies. It's not bad music by any means, but it lacks a sense of personality. One lyric later in the movie stands out, however: Life is a plate of diarrhea served with a good Bordeaux. It's better than Forrest Gump's "Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get." (The X-Files's riff on that is great, by the way -- "Life is like a box of chocolates: a cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable, because all you get back is another box of chocolates.") I think the silliness of the diarrhea and wine analogy exemplifies the best qualities of The Suicide Shop and its underlying message, which is the stuff of old school French existentialism: life can be hard and it can wear you down; it can be lonely and miserable, too, but these feelings will end, even if just briefly. After you clean your plate, at least you can look forward to something that'll cleanse your palate and make life worth living. Death to death. [The Suicide Shop will screen will screen at the IFC Center on Thursday, March 7th and at the Walter Reade Theater on Friday, March 8th and Saturday, March 9th.]
The Suicide Shop Review photo
An animated musical dark comedy about a family-run business that helps you die
[Over the next few days we'll be looking at some of the films from Rendez Vous with French Cinema 2013, an annual showcase of contemporary and classic French films running from February 28th to March 10th. The screenings will...

Review: 21 and Over

Mar 01 // Nick Valdez
[embed]214924:39723:0[/embed] 21 and OverDirector: Jon Lucas and Scott MooreRating: RRelease Date: March 1, 2013 Three best friends from high school (who have lost touch), Miller (Miles Teller), Casey (Skylar Astin), and Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) meet up in order to celebrate Jeff Chang's 21st birthday. Jeff Chang (his full name is always used) doesn't want to celebrate at first since he has a med school interview the next morning, and his overbearing father (François Chau) has high expectations for him. But of course through Miller's persistance, semi-realistic college kid decision making, and shenanigans, Jeff Chang parties anyway. When Jeff Chang gets unconsciously drunk and Miller and Casey forget where Jeff Chang lives, they go from party to party in order to find someone who does.   From the short synopsis, you can probably gauge the film's familiarity. So much of it sounds like it has been done before. Whether or not that's a consequence of sharing the same writers as The Hangover and The Change Up is yet to be determined. What you can figure out is how much those two films, and many films of the 80s-early 90s influence (expect Rocky references) how 21 and Over plays out. For instance during much of the film, Jeff Chang is unconscious, and as a result, Miller and Casey are forced to drag him around, throw him from high places, and shove him into tight areas, much like Weekend at Bernie's. And like Weekend at Bernie's, while an unconscious Jeff Chang is good for a few funny sight gags, it wears thin through overuse. Unfortunately, running a joke into its inevitable unfunny exaggeration is the root of 21 and Over's problems.  That's why it was so important for me to mention the profanity and man butt at the beginning of this review. Many college party films of the past used male nudity as a punchline. In 21 and Over, it's used as the set-up, the punchline, and everything else you can think of. In fact, the opening shot of the film is the two lead's behinds. And like with the unconscious Jeff Chang, its shock appeal and hilarity wanes as your succumbed to their behinds over and over again. The profanity in the film is just as bad. Now I'm not the first one to tire of profanity, but it's an issue when every other word out of the characters mouths is an F-word. The excessive profanity not only grows tiresome, but it's debilitating to growth in a film that tries to emphasize that it has characters.  As mentioned earlier, 21 and Over is written by the same people who wrote The Hangover, so a lot of its predecessor's hangups are notable here. Like Hangover, Jeff Chang has an important event the next morning but parties anyway, one of the friends is the "immature" caricature that never grew up (and although there is a commendable attempt at giving him a character arc, its trajectory is so predictable within the dialogue that there's almost no point in trying), and in the end (spoilers?) everything works out for everyone.  Although 21 and Over doesn't know when to end its jokes, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the couple of things it does well. Although the characters aren't real characters at all (and only defined through base stereotypical attributes), their decisions, and the consequences of their actions, are realistically immature. I never once questioned the logic of something because I was able to write it off as something "dumb and drunk kids would think of." And although most of the film is predictable, Jeff Chang's character arc has a refreshing darkness to it. At some revelations about his character's past, I was notably taken by surprise (and his ending is refreshing complex given the nature of the film).  Unfortunately when you take away the few moments of promise of something deeper, all you're left with is a film with the naked butts of drunk men. Then they proceed to wave their butts in your face and yell, "Aren't I funny?" But those man butts prove to be nothing more than distractions from a lacking, considerably average comedy.  You'll probably enjoy 21 and Over the most if you're blackout drunk during someone's party and it happens to be playing on the TV in front of you. You won't really know what's going on because the music's so loud and you're barely conscious, but you might get a chuckle out of looking at naked butts. 
Review: 21 and Over photo
An immature comedy for the under 21 crowd
In case you didn't know what you were in for with a film like 21 and Over, let me ask you one thing. How comfortable are you with man butt? If you're uncomfortable, 21 and Over is going to challenge you with its hefty amount ...


Trailer: The Brass Teapot

Feb 28
// Liz Rugg
The Brass Teapot stars Juno Temple and Michael Angarano as a young husband a wife, in love and broke. One day Alice (Temple) finds a brass teapot at an antique shop, but the star-crossed lovers quickly realize that this is n...

ABCs of Death directors answer YOUR questions on Reddit

15 out of 26 ain't bad
Feb 20
// Sean Walsh
Did you see The ABCs of Death? Do you have burning questions that you'd like answers? Do you go on Reddit? Well, then do I have news for you! Starting today at 11:00 PST - 2:00 PST, fifteen of the twenty-six directors and two of the producers of The ABCs of Death will be doing an AMA on Reddit! Check out the list of directors and producers below!

John Leguizamo is Fugly in new autobiographical comedy

Feb 07
// Nick Valdez
I'm a huge fan of John Leguizamo's comedy. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to think the same way. He's always typecast as the "zany Mexican guy who makes faces" and has to keep the same accent in each film. Thankfully, he's...

Sundance Review: Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes

Jan 25 // Allistair Pinsof
Emanuel and the Truth About FishesDirector: Francesca GregoriniRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Emanuel is not likely to escape comparisons to Lars and the Real Girl (in which a man keeps a blowup doll for a girlfriend, insisting it's real even as others point out it's not) as it is a more dramatic take on Lars' plot. A few (non-notable) alterations, take out charmer Ryan Gosling, and you have a very similar film that is as dull and twice as slow. Instead of a man in love with a blowup doll, Emanuel is centered around middle-aged "mom" Linda (Jessica Biel) with a doll for a daughter. The titular character (played well by Skins' Kaya Scodelario) is a snotty, young girl with clever lines delivered to whoever will listen, mostly her father, step-mom, co-worker, and some boy on the bus she sees everyday. With nothing better to do than be a jerk and dance around to French pop, she picks-up a new job as Linda's baby sitter. After some puzzling scenes that heighten tension around this mysterious baby that is never witnessed, Emanuel finally gets to hold this porcelain doll. Instead of notifying someone, she plays along and embraces Linda's maladjusted reality. Like Lars and the Real Girl, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes stumbles around the same jokes and obstacles for the remainder of the film until the rote emotional climax. Emanuel is a joyless film with a dull finale, outside a neat dream sequence near the end that depicts Emanuel swimming in her house. Yes, the baby isn't real and Linda thinks it is. I'm not sure if that's funny the first time, but it's definitely not funny the fifth or seventh. Maybe Emanuel and Linda unloading their troubled pasts would be cathartic if it weren't so obvious from the start or so cliche when it occurs. This review too is un-noteworthy. What can I say about a film that doesn't stir me one way or another? I look at my notebook that reads: "Emanuel ... Lars and the Real Girl." The rest of the page is empty. And, so it is with the film.
Emanuel Review photo
Blank page
Throughout the entirety of Sundance, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes was the only movie I didn't take any notes on. I guess this is what is implied by "noteworthy," and Emanuel is not. For the life of me, I couldn't pick up my pencil and write anything of note, because something of note would have to exist in the first place.


New TV spot for Michael Bay's Pain & Gain

The Rock and Marky Mark want to pump you up!
Jan 22
// Thor Latham
The more I see of Pain & Gain, the more I think that Michael Bay have been grossly misleading his career up until this point. I've never really been a fan of Bay's films or his style, but I seriously believe that this ma...

Sundance Review: Virtually Heroes

Jan 19 // Allistair Pinsof
Virtually HeroesDirector: G. J. EchternkampRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)If anyone is wondering why the Spike Video Game Awards were kinda awful instead of very awful, this year, it might be due to the writing staff disembarking to ghostwrite Virtually Heroes. It’s a theory I’m working on. From the publicity stills, description, and cast, it was always certain that Virtually Heroes would be awful. I just needed to find out whether it’d be fun-awful or awful-awful. Somewhere between flashing “Achievement Unlocked: Teabag That Ho” on screen and the main characters (two male soldiers) being awarded a “No-Homo Bonus” after settling a dispute, it became very clear where Virtually Heroes sits and that I wish I was sitting anywhere outside the theater. No, this isn’t a film where a soldier teabags a corpse. Virtually Heroes is a film where a soldier teabags a corpse five times. So, yes, awful-awful. The film uses its concept of two soldiers trapped in a videogame, which resembles something between Contra and Call of Duty, to supply an endless series of videogame jokes. Here’s a brief list of topics covered: Enemies that look identical Using bandages to recover health Not having to reload a rocket launcher Glitches, invisible walls, and broken A.I. Carrying 10+ guns Just when you think every possible game trope has been covered, Virtually Heroes comes up with a boat that steers like Pac-Man (okay, that bit is actually funny.) This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a worthwhile plot and funny characters to support the endless parade of on-the-nose parodies. Instead, we have two meatheads: One on a quest to save "sexy newsreporter girl," and the other on a quest to find the mythical Enchanted Forest, where naked girls await. I can see talented writers making something of Virtually Heroes concept. Videogames are ripe and ready for parody, and there is something interesting about following two meathead soldiers that discover they are in an endless loop of violence and explosions within a videogame. Virtually Heroes does have its moments, like when one soldier says to the other that he thinks they are stuck in a bad videogame, which would explain the dumb A.I. enemies and NPCs that run into walls, or when something resembling a midi track from Doom blares over the soldiers gunning down droves of Vietcong. These are literally seconds within a 84 minute film. A film that neither entertains game enthusiasts (viz. me) nor presents a story that would remotely make sense to those who never picked up a controller. Virtually Heroes makes me embarrassed to like videogames. It suggests to audiences that this is what entertains us and that this is what games are all about. And then Mark Hamill shows up, ruining the entirety of my childhood in one swift swoop. How'd we go from Indie Game: The Movie to this, Sundance?
Virtually Heroes Review photo
Lulz or GTFO, n00bz
There was once a time when videogame enthusiasts were happy to see the presence of games represented on the big screen, anyway they could have it. Yes, the Super Mario Bros. film is terrible but -- shit man, it`s Mario! Maybe in those halcyon years there would be some small sect of people that would embrace Virtually Heroes' crass and obvious parodies of videogame tropes.

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